Thursday, May 16, 2019

Who else could finish "Game of Thrones"?

HBO's "Game of Thrones" comes to an end on Sunday. Many fans have been upset with this last season that a petition to remake the entire season has attracted almost half a million signers. Of course, there is no cost at all to signing these sorts of Internet petitions, and you have to wonder how much money the signers would be willing to pay to realize their dream. At an estimated $15 million per episode, with six episodes in season 8, it would cost $90 million or more. So each signer would have to pay on average $180....

Anyway, I've never subscribed to HBO, and I ditched cable years ago, so I am stuck in the story at the end of "A Dance With Dragons," which was published in 2011. To put that in context, "Leviathan Awakes" -- the first novel in "The Expanse" series -- was published in 2011, just a month before "A Dance of Dragons" was.

That's an interesting comparison because "The Expanse" novels are kind of like "Game of Thrones" in space, with the same kind of dense political intrigue, layered characterization, factions, and realistic violence.

Since then, author James S.A. Corey has published seven more novels, not to mention a few novellas, with the ninth and final novel scheduled for publication next year. I think the probability that the last Expanse novel comes out before "The Winds of Winter" (book 6 in the "Game of Thrones" series) is pretty near 100%. I don't gamble, but if I were to, that's a bet I'd make.

Anyway, Corey is actually the pen name for two guys, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Franck, it turns out, used to work for "Game of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin as a research assistant. Hmmmmm....

Maybe book fans should get together and petition Martin to turn the writing of books 6 and 7 to someone else who will actually finish them. It sounds like James S.A. Corey should be free.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

NYT rates the 20 best shows since "The Sopranos" -- and my response

A while ago, the New York Times ran an interactive article identifying the 20 best shows (in the author's view) to have aired since "The Sopranos" debuted 20 years earlier.

Several of the shows on NYT list are also on my post-"Sopranos" list -- indeed, some of these would even make my all-time favorite TV show list, including:

  • "The Shield": Simply brilliant in terms of how it made you root for who would ordinarily be the antagonists of a show. I felt dirty hoping that corrupt cop Vic Mackey would get away with his schemes, which is a testament to the writing and the acting. Yeah, it wasn't as realistic as "The Wire," but it was far more interesting.
  • "Battlestar Galactica": The ending didn't make much sense, and it tended to sag in the middle of each season. But it was so dark, gritty, and intense in its peak episodes, with a more or less continuous story lasting 4+ years (counting the mini-series and "Razor" movie). I'm reading the unauthorized oral history of BSG (both incarnations), So Say We All, and I just got to the section about the mini-series.
  • "Lost": Another show whose ending (indeed, the entire last season) didn't make sense, but was still captivating throughout its entire run. The framework of mixing present day scenes with flashbacks (and then that mindblowing flashforward!) was subsequently adopted by one of my all-time favorites, "Once Upon a Time." [Strangely, "Once Upon a Time" did not make the NYT list, perhaps because it was too mainstream?]
  • "Veronica Mars": A teen noirish mystery that launched Kristen Bell's career. I didn't watch the third/last season, and haven't gotten around to the movie either, but that first season was twisty.

On the "just missed the cut list" of the NYT:

  • "Justified": This would also make my all-time list. I used to think Captain Kirk was the coolest character on TV, and Jack Bauer was the most interesting. Kirk has been supplanted by Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, whose misadventures in Harlan County, Kentucky, were laconically intriguing. I loved how Givens' character could be summed up in an eight word sentence he once told a bad guy: "You make me pull, I'll put you down." And of course he would make sure that he was justified in shooting.

But there are also a number of shows on the list that I, while possibly acknowledging their greatness, never watched or tried to watch but never really got hooked on:

  • "The Wire": I know that it is a common opinion that this is the best show ever in the history of television. I just found it dull and populated with boring characters. It's not that I don't appreciate characters with shades of gray -- notice that I loved "The Shield," and the main character in that is a bad guy! Pretty much every actor in "The Wire" that I've seen elsewhere has been better elsewhere, from Lance Reddick in anything, to Wendell Pierce in Amazon's "Jack Ryan," to Michael B. Jordan in "Black Panther."
  • "Grey's Anatomy": I've never watched this, so it isn't entirely fair for me to question its placement, but another procedural/soap opera didn't sound interesting to me. (It's also weird to me that this made the list but "Scandal" did not. See below for more on that.)
  • "The West Wing": This has seemed to me like the left-wing version of "24." Each presents a fantasy world where its proponent's fears are being realized, and stopped only through the proponent's heroism.
  • "Breaking Bad": I need to watch this. A major reason I haven't yet is that I'm not ready for my image of the goofy dad from "Malcolm in the Middle" to be overwritten by Walter White/Heisenberg.

And then there are the post-Sopranos shows that are on my list but absent from the NYT:

  • "24": Yes, it's more fantasy than "Battlestar Galactica" in a lot of ways, but for sheer adrenaline rush, there's nothing like it. I watched every season as it aired starting halfway through season 2, then watched them all on DVD, and then over the course of several months streamed them all while running on the treadmill. My wife has asked me how I can watch it over and over, and the answer is, I can never get enough of Kiefer Sutherland's intensity as Jack Bauer, yelling, "Tell me where the bomb is!! There's no time!!"
  • "Once Upon a Time": I didn't think this would be good, but I TiVo'd the pilot episode to give it a try. Within 10 minutes, I was hooked by the magical look of the Enchanted Forest in the flashbacks, and the puzzle of matching the present day residents of Storybrooke to their fantasy counterparts. And this is a show that featured multiple strong female characters (Emma Swan. Regina/Wicked Witch, Mary-Margaret/Snow White) who easily satisfied the Bechdel test every episode. (I didn't watch the last season, though, which was a soft reboot; the season 6 finale seemed to me to be a very good series finale.)
  • "The Last Ship": Military valor, end of the world pandemic, conspiracies -- yeah, I'm a sucker for all of that.
  • "Scandal": Another show that was basically fantasy, but it was as addictive as "24" was. I loved it whenever Olivia Pope was in "I'm in control" mode, which was most of the time. I liked it a lot less when she in "I'm moping over President Grant" mode.
  • "Star Trek: Discovery": I get that it's controversial. It's a lot darker than the usual Trek series (even "Deep Space Nine"). But I like that. Based on season 1 (I watched the DVDs, so can't watch season 2 yet), it's my second favorite Trek series. It could move up to #1 with more excellent seasons. It would have to get a lot worse to drop to #3.
  • "Hawaii 5-0": I don't claim that "Hawaii 5-0" is good in the ways that critics view shows. I find it hilariously entertaining, less so in the mystery of the week than in the character interaction (no show is complete with McGarrett and Dann-o bickering, and without the shrimp truck guy), and it's the only show on TV I can think of that features multiple regular actors who are of Asian descent, which is worth supporting alone for the Asian diversity factor (even if the show ended up making Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park leave because they weren't paid the same as Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan).