Recency bias…

Game of Thrones is kind of known for it’s big set piece battle scenes. The Battle of the Blackwater. The Battle of the Wall. The Battle of the Bastards. All are real standouts for their own reasons. Last night, in what I’m pretty sure was the shortest episode of the entire series to date, our friends over at HBO gave us another battle – and in a lot of ways it’s the one that most fans have been waiting a long, long time for.

There are a thousands sites where you can go for a recap of the actual episode, but I’ll just say that Spoils of War ranks well into my top five episodes at the moment. That’s not so much because of the battle itself but because it has finally brought cast members back together who had been separated for so long. In past seasons you could cheer for the Dragon Queen in Essos without worrying about your favorite characters in Westeros. Now, though, long time favorites find themselves head to head – and given that the story springs from the mind of George R.R. Martin, any of them could be fair game for a painful death.

It may just be the recency bias talking, but last night was the first episode of this shortened season that made the long wait for Season 7 really feel worth while… and now my heart is breaking that there are only three episodes left before the next long wait.

Picking easier…

With of the ludicrous cost of cable television I’ve toyed off and on for about a year with cutting the cord and trying to cobble together a collection of streaming services that would get the job done. After some exhaustive research, the real problem became the fact that to get all of my non-negotiable programming I was going to end up needing essentially all the streaming services.

I’m grudgingly forced to admit that cost not withstanding, cable is just the most convenient way of getting what I want. Getting those 40 channels means I end up paying for 300. As much as I hate writing that monthly check, I’m resigned to the fact that I’m just going to go ahead and keep paying for the convenience of having it all piped in through the same service.

For the better part of a decade I’d been living with my old 40-inch 780p plasma screen in the living room. Its picture quality didn’t justifying the full HD experience and I’d always resisted handing over the extra $10 a month for HD channels. The 58-inch monstrosity now residing in my living room, though, made standard signals look like absolute rubbish. So I gave in and took a Saturday side trip to my “local” Comcast storefront.

I have to confess the swap out to HD boxes all around was quick and easy. The truth is, I’m tremendously impressed with the picture quality that’s getting sent over the wire. I’m impressed enough at least to keep paying the bill until a real industry disruptor comes along.

I set out last weekend to make my life cheaper and easier and was forced into a choice between the two. Under those circumstances I’m going to pick easier just about every time.

The Crown…

I’m an unreconstructed anglophile. I like the Brits for their humor, their television, and their food. I like them for clinging to aristocratic pretense and the trappings of monarchy
long after it’s supposedly gone out of favor. I like them for their sense of history and place.
I like them for their stiff upper lip and determination in the face of crisis. I like them for
the-crown-season-2-770x433.jpgthe single fact that England is a place and that almost everything I hold dear here in its former colony can draw a line, whether direct or indirect, back to that small island in the North Atlantic. I like the fact that England is.

I watch a fair amount of British television and though I won’t claim to like it all, they have a better hit percentage for my viewing time than most of what’s made here in the states. Last weekend, I may have binge watched my way through the first season of The Crown, which is based on the life and times of Elizabeth II. Sure, they punched up the drama a bit and took a few liberties with the story, but I found it a perfectly enchanting period piece that drifts through 50’s era England and paints the House of Windsor in far more familial tones that we’re use to seeing. More important, maybe, is its attempt at presenting a case study in personal desire versus duty.

I commented to a friend who sometimes shares my affinity for the English that it’s sweet and it’s sad and it’s funny in that uniquely British way. I’m a fan. If you’ve got ten hours to kill and want to watch something other than reality TV or the continuing disintegration of the republic on the nightly news, you’d be hard pressed to find something better to watch. Truly Netflix has embiggened us all.

Political drama…

When I’m tinkering around on the computer in the evenings I’ve gotten into the habit of running long since cancelled television shows as background noise. Currently I’m playing my way through season four of The West Wing… which after watching the utter jackassery of a real presidential debate last night reminds me how much more I’d rather live under a Sorkin scripted presidency. Even with some of his more unpleasant left-leaning tendencies.

I wish I had something more insightful to say on the topic of the real candidates, the actual debate, or the current state of American politics. Unfortunately there isn’t, so I’m stuck with dreaming of a world that resembles a nearly 20-year old political drama far more than it resembles our reality.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Brain fog. Perhaps worse than actually being sick is the pharmacologically induced brain fog that comes from trying to stave off the more obnoxious effects of the human condition. It makes everything happen just a little bit slower and makes it well near impossible to craft well formed and coherent sentences. Don’t even ask how badly it tends to mangle spelling and grammar usage, which isn’t a particularly strength of mine to begin with. Despite the annoyance, I’ve got a few more days of self medicating left before letting the stuff work its way out of my system. Until then I’ll continue to be the poster boy for short attention spans.

2. Two months. We’re still two months from the 2016 presidential election. I usually like this stuff, but I think at this point I’d rather take a jackhammer to the side of the head than listen to another day of the back and forth.

3. Afternoon television. It’s something I only notice the once a year or so that I find myself home and otherwise unengaged between the hours of noon and 4:00 pm, but there really is absolutely nothing on television on a typical weekday afternoon. Which makes perfect sense when you consider that most of the people who have jobs to earn disposable income are at their jobs earning disposable income instead of home watching television. Still, I’d like to note how wonderful it is to live in an age of Netflix and Amazon Prime. They saved me from endless hours of crap programming on the networks and cable providers this week.

Trek…

Since I was old enough to start making my own decisions about what television to watch, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek. There was a time in the late 80s and early 90s when I could have probably quoted every line of the 3 seasons of the original series, watched in syndication and taped to re-watch countless times on a score of clunky VHS tapes. Six movies and The Next Generation followed, adding to the franchise. I largely fell away during the era of Deep Space 9 and Voyager and Enterprise, though.

I wasn’t overly thrilled about the prospect of bringing the old girl out of mothballs with J.J. Abrams at the helm. I don’t generally like the current Hollywood approach of reanimating every old TV show and movie in an effort to pump more cash from an already tapped well – as if having an original idea or story to tell is some kind of crime against humanity.

With that being said, I’m pleased to report that Beyond manages to hit most of the right notes for this old Trek fan. As troubled as I was originally about these new movies breaking off onto a new timeline, I think this installment comes just about as close to the tone and feel of an original series episode as a fan could hope without putting everyone back on a low-budget set with a bunch of flashing lights and toggle switches. Although I’d never threaten to call this new incarnation of the Start Trek universe “campy,” it finds the proverbial sweet spot somewhere between keeping most of the old timers happy without alienating a new generation of fans. It was nicely done.

A show well run…

There are thousands of websites you can visit today and read every detail of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. I’m not going to call for a spoiler alert here because I don’t intend to provide that level of detail.

It’s not often that I find myself caught off guard, even by a show like Thrones. It’s simply understood that in the world created by George R.R. Martin anyone can drop dead at any moment. On any given Sunday you expect the high lords of Westeros to grapple in a fight to the death. There a whole hose of characters who have become part of the series’ background hum. Those secondary and tertiary characters may not get off any easier than their high born overlords, but their deaths are generally less noted.

In a season where the series seems to have discovered itself again – or perhaps noted that an end really is coming – last night’s blood offering was all the more notable. It spoke to sacrifice, friendship, and consequences. It reminds us that even in a world full of fairy tails, evil trumps good every bit as often as the other way around.

Maybe most surprising of all, though, is that it was a clear that even six seasons on, the fandom can still count on being caught off their guard. In an often formulaic world of 22 minute sitcoms and 43 minute dramas,  it’s nice to know that great stories are still being told. Boy did those writers earn their money this week. Their ending was among the most powerful I’ve seen on the small screen in quite some time.

I don’t usually give this space over to singing praises, but Martin, Benioff, Weiss, and the rest have created something absolutely magnificent. Show well run, gentlemen.