What to watch…

There are maybe half a score of people whose judgement about “must see” TV I trust. Being that we live in the golden age of at home entertainment, they do their best to keep me well advised about what’s new, exciting, and generally worth the investment of time to see. Sure, most of the fandoms I subscribe to are well into their second or third decade now, but, I appreciate others proselytizing programming that I probably wouldn’t even consider otherwise.

The thing is, I’m quite sure I’m letting most of these people down. They always sound just a little bit crestfallen when I admit that no, I haven’t watched whatever show they recommended a few weeks ago. I promise, friends, it’s not you, it’s me.

Yes, if I’m awake and at home, the TV is almost always on… sometimes more than one of them. It’s usually tuned into something that passes for news or edutainment. Most of the time it’s purely there to be a dull hum in the background while go about doing other things. With the exception of whatever is featuring in the evenings when I sit down for dinner and actually focus in on a program, I’m rarely actually watching the television at all – and often enough that dinner hour watching is given over to old favorites like Buffy, West Wing, or Seaquest (Shut up. Don’t judge me).

There’s a wealth of television worth watching out there right now. I’m slowly getting through some of it, one or two episodes at a time. The simple fact is that when I do have long stretches of free time at my disposal, I’d rather allocate that most limited resource to sticking my nose in a book than binging whatever the cool new show is. I’ll see a good portion of them eventually – one episode at a time scattered over a period of weeks or months – but the chance of me sitting down and charging through eight or ten episodes at a time is hugely limited except under some pretty exceptional circumstrances.

All games must end…

There are probably thousands of websites where you can get all the hot takes, spoliers, and analysis of eight seasons of Game of Thrones, especially now that it has come to an end. I had to let the series finale sit with me for a couple of days before offering up my own opinion.

I was a latecomer to the series and didn’t start watching until someone recommended it to me in 2012. After a bit of binging through seasons one, though, I had the fervor of a convert. Episode-for-episode, I think it stands up as some of the best drama ever put on television – with even its weaker episodes and seasons standing tall against most competition.

That brings us to the ending. Was it everything I had hoped for? No, it wasn’t. The compressed final two seasons made scenes out of what in early days would have been entire episodes. I would have gladly watched as many more hours as HBO would have aired. The ending wasn’t how I’d have wrapped things up – but unlike another storied HBO series, at least there was an ending that felt like a reasonable place to let the story stop.

It’s easy to raise hell and cast the producers and writers as villains. The thing is, though, I didn’t have $100 million to throw at making a television program. The decisions on what to put in and what to keep out rested with others. Although I was invested in the fandom, I’m a rational enough fan to realize those decisions belonged to someone else. They made the artistic and financial decisions and then brought the curtain down.

As Ramsay Bolton famously said, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” Maybe that one line is the thread that really binds the entirety of the series together. No one has ever been all happy about the way the game played out.

All games must end…

This weekend I finished my end-to-end re-watch of Game of Thrones. With 47 years between seasons it’s easy to forget just how good a show it is episode after episode. It was a good reminder of why season eight has been worth the wait.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Thrones is popular because its characters are so universally identifiable, although I like to think that each fan sees something of themselves – or something they wish they saw in themselves – in at least one of the characters. I mean who wouldn’t want at least a touch of the bold certainty of a Mother of Dragons, the stiff honor of a Ned Stark, or the ability to drink and know things a la Tyrion Lannister? We collectively see something in these characters and this story that elevated Game of Thrones beyond just Sunday night television. 

In a few brief weeks our watch is ending. At least one entertainment journalist is prognosticating that upwards of a billion people will tune in to see the series end… and that’s just accounting for it’s “official” numbers without tallying all those who find a “less expensive” way to tune in. 

I’m pulling hard for my dragon queen to sit the throne when it’s all over, but in a George R.R. Martin universe it’s hard to imagine a character he raised so high won’t come plummeting back to earth in some utterly horrific fashion. At this point, part of me will just be glad if the execs don’t give us an ending as deeply unsatisfying as The Sopranos.

But seriously, if anyone needs me for the next six weeks, I’ll be busy looking for a way to block any website that contains the words “game” and “thrones” in a probably hopeless quest to avoid spoilers.

It’s just a Game…

I read the Entertainment Weekly article on Game of Thrones’ eighth season this morning. I almost wish I hadn’t. Although it feels like it has been years since season seven ended and I’ve been giddy at the thought of the kind of monumental television the season might be, I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be over. I almost feels like it might be better if the 8th season went unaired so that it remains forever subject to imagination.

That’s not practical, of course. HBO expects a hefty return on their investment. There are spinoffs to market. And all, stories do eventually reach an end… even if we find their end unsatisfying (I’m looking at you here Sopranos).

I like a lot of television programs. There aren’t many of them that I feel invested in, though. Series come and go and for the most part once they’re gone I don’t spend much time thinking about them. TV is ephemera – something to be consumed in the moment rather than to be dwelled upon. Thrones is different not just because it’s occupied my imagination for nine years now, but because the story it tells and the characters themselves are just so damned compelling.

It’s just television – just a Game – but knowing that winter, at long last, is upon us, leaves me wishing the long summer had lasted just a little bit longer. I’m desperate to see who wins and who dies, but I’m just a little bit heartsick at seeing it all drawing to an end.

I know Jack…

I want to like Amazon’s new series about the life and times of Jack Ryan. In fact I didn’t just want to like it. I wanted to love it. I wanted to wrap myself in the well-known and comfortable embrace of the Cold War. I have a long history of being willing to read or watch anything if you slap Tom Clancy’s name on the package and this new show isn’t an exception.

The problem isn’t really with the show per se. If you’d have called the lead character Bob Smith it would have made compelling television if you’re a fan of the terrorist hunter genre. My real problem is I’m steeped in the Jack Ryan backstory. Where they’ve changed it to fit this new universe feels jarring – Like the young Ryan having an economics degree and coming out of a big city financial firm instead of a history degree and landing at the CIA by way of a professorship at the Naval Academy or Cathy being an infectious disease specialist in Washington instead of eye surgeon at Hopkins. They’re messing with details I’ve lived with in book and film for decades now.

For me, Jack Ryan and the universe he inhabits are and ought to be products of the Cold War. He should be fighting Commies instead of tracking terrorists through every third-world hell hole we’ve ever seen on the news.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a fine show. I’m going to watch it and probably enjoy it instead of shunning it like some kind of disgruntled fan boy. Good as it may be, though, it’s not the Jack Ryan I’d hoped to see on the small screen.

Nostalgia television…

I’ve largely taken a pass on the latest trend towards nostalgia television – Unless you include that one time I skipped senior year Russian history class to watch Walter Cronkite in the CBS anchor chair during John Glenn’s return to space on the shuttle Discovery, I just haven’t found it all that compelling.

Last night I did tune in to see what the Conner’s had been up to after twenty years off the air. I approached it with some trepidation, because even at the hight of the original run’s popularity, I hadn’t been a diehard fan of the show. In the end, though, this reboot won me over. The set piece comedy against the backdrop of a kitchen and living room that are as familiar to me as the ones I grew up in offered a trip down memory lane that I’m happy to take.

Maybe I haven’t entirely missed the boat on this trend towards nostalgia… Now if we could just convince someone to pick up a new season of Buffy, I’d climb fully on this bandwagon.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Every six months the or so they put a slightly cheaper brand of paper towel in the dispenser. Eventually I expect we’ll just have a damp wood plank sticking out of the wall. Look, I know we should all be looking for ways we can stretch a dollar, but at some point quality really does matter. If we’ve reached a point where the budget is so thin that drying your hands may result in splinters, it may be time to take a hard look at where we can save a few dollars in other places and stop trying to balance the books on line items for the men’s room.

2. eBay. I ordered two items last week on Monday and Tuesday. As of today I don’t have any shipping information or other confirmation other than the receipt from eBay. Coupled with several items I’ve had to return recently for undisclosed damage or damage due to shit packaging, I think my my days of using eBay for anything that’s not a bulk or commodity item are pretty much over.

3. Netflix. Another email from Netflix. Another price increase. Yes, I’ll probably give them another $12 a year, but they’re starting to tread close to the point where I’ll deem them too expensive for just a “nice to have” streaming service. The entertainment line item in the budget is only going to tolerate so much upwards creep between cable and individual content providers before the ax falls.