Tag Archives: Television

Game of Thrones Power Rankings, Season 8, Episode 1

A cold wind comes from the north. That’s a bit of an understatement, right? The revised opening credits emphasize that the doom of this world approaches. Anyway, let’s get right into the power rankings.

1. The White Walkers (Pre-Season, #1)

Yeah, these guys aren’t going anywhere for a while on the Rankings. This being Game of Thrones, there’s a decent chance that everyone dies, and the Others win. There might be actual riots in the street, but it could happen.

2. House Lannister (Pre-Season, #4)

CGI money doesn’t grow on trees, so no elephants. Pachyderms or no, there’s a lot of space between the Dead and Cersei, and for that reason, she’s in better shape than her enemies. Good on her for “celebrating” with “eccentric” sea captains.

3. House Stark (Pre-Season, #2)

Lyanna Mormont: We made you king!

Jon: Um, there’s an army coming…

Sansa: Also, your new girlfriend is lame.

Jon: Um, I really don’t think…

Arya: Also, I like Sansa now.

Jon: Um, guys…

Sam: Also, you’re the one, true king!

Bran: THE DEAD ARE COMING! WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR ANY OF THIS SHIT!

4. House Targaryen (Pre-Season, #3)

Daenerys is usually pretty observant, so she should realize that only Targaryens can typically ride dragons, right? Or maybe she figures her idiot brother was lying about that.

5. House Greyjoy (Pre- Season, #6)

Yara is thinking ahead, and that’s good for her. But with the Dead bearing down on Winterfell, does Theon have time to get there? That part didn’t make much sense.

6. House Arryn (Pre-Season #5)

I guess they’re loyal to…Sansa? I might be done ranking these guys. Despite having one of the largest extant armies, they’ve become inconsequential to the story. Unless someone ends up retreating to the Eyrie, that is.

7. The Night’s Watch (Pre-Season, #7)

The White Walkers looked at what’s left of the Watch, considered adding them to the army of the dead, and concluded, “Nah, we’re good.”

Also receiving votes: grandson of Ser Pounce, Hot Pie, Sam’s library fines, pirate swagger, the continued embrace of pointless nudity, and creepy dragons who like to watch.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe

Game of Thrones Season 8 Pre-Season Power Rankings

And we’re back! Seven more power rankings articles ever, well unless the Long Night series is any good. In the meantime, our list of houses and orders to power rank grows thin. Let’s get started!

1. The White Walkers

Oh yeah, everyone is good and screwed now. I doubt the series ends with the ultimate big bad winning, but I also wouldn’t be surprised. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they could be quickly dispensed with, with the last few episodes re-focusing on Cersei as the main antagonist. Most likely, it takes all season to beat them, and only a handful of our heroes make it out alive.

2. House Stark

The Starks have gathered an impressive list of allies to their cause: Brianne of Tarth, The Hound, The Brotherhood Without Banners, the Night’s Watch, Jaime Lannister, the Vale, the Targaryens, and of course a reunified House Stark itself. It won’t be enough to win right away, if at all, but it’s impressive.

3. House Targaryen

For now, Team Daenerys is one and the same with team Jon. This particular alliance has cracks in it, however. We’ll see how the Mother of Titles handles it when she finds out her new beau is actually her nephew, and ahead of her in the line of succession for the Iron Throne.

4. House Lannister

Underestimate Cersei Lannister at your peril. She’s chugging away (flasky, glug, glug motion), behind her high walls, waiting for her mercenaries, and chuckling while the world burns around her. That doesn’t seem threatening, but Cersei is at her most dangerous when she has nothing to lose.

5. House Arryn

For simplicity of narrative, I could see the Vale remaining in the Stark fold. However, the Starks just whacked Lord Robin’s beloved uncle. That may cause problems going forward.

6. House Greyjoy

Reminder: Theon is currently on a quest to rescue his sister. That is all.

7. The Night’s Watch

YOU HAD ONE JOB!!!!!!!

Also receiving votes: a whole bunch of vanquished houses (Martell, Tyrell, Baratheon, Frey, Tully); a whole bunch of people in Essos who don’t matter to the story anymore; son of Ser Pounce; and HBO’s own white walker threat, that is, people cancelling en masse six weeks from Monday.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe

2018: A Noisy Year, and Time for Changes

I’ve been writing the same, tired “Year in Review” article for a few years now. With the exception of one particularly creative dive into Boethius, admittedly a deep track reference if there ever was one, these write ups have been unremarkable and, I confess, lazy.

I’ve been doing this blog for almost seven years now. I don’t think our pop culture discourse has ever been noisier. It also, has never been less creative.

I read the same article about the same movie probably four or five times, every time. The assessment of film has become of an inescapable groupthink, which more often than not settles on analysis that is an inch deep and a mile wide. This problem isn’t unique to film, it’s in writing about television, sports, politics, basically all of journalism. We’re drawn to the hot take, the short article, the snarky humor, the bland repetitive analysis.

So what does this have to do with the state of popular culture in 2018? After all, 2018 was the year that brought us the best superhero movie (Black Panther), the best series finale of a television show (The Americans), Spike Lee’s return to form (Blackkklansman), and Steven Spielberg’s return to blockbusters (Ready Player One). The year’s biggest movie, globally, was the culmination of a massive series of films the likes of which we haven’t seen before (Avengers: Infinity War). These are real achievements, but something about them feels hollow. That isn’t right.

Film is about images. Roger Ebert understood this and repeated it often. What is lacking from the conversation is how those images make us feel. What they mean. In the moment, and more importantly, in the next moment.

Everything isn’t meant to be compared to everything else before it. With so many legacy movies, series, and filmmakers out there, we’ve been obsessed with just that – legacy. Legacy before the ink of history is even dry. This constant comparison makes art disposable. The art isn’t appreciated for what it is, but for how it measures up to other art. This, in case I’m not being clear, is a bad thing.

You could write about Blackkklansman and compare it to Lee’s earlier work, or you can talk about how Lee uses the film as a sledgehammer to shake the audience out of complacency. You could knock Spielberg as overly nostalgic, or you could point out how he uses nostalgia as a tool to reveal the humanity of an artificial world in Ready Player One. Black Panther is many things to many people, but instead of writing about what everyone is talking about, you can look deeper and see how and why Ryan Coogler’s best shot is when Killmonger walks into the throne-room. Ignore the noise – what does art mean to YOU? That is what I’m to endeavor to answer in the future.

That brings me to what’s changing on this page going forward:

1) I’m not writing traditional reviews anymore. See a movie or show, or don’t. I’m going to be writing about my impressions beyond simply answering whether art is good or bad.

2) Historical context needs time to develop. A new rule: a film or series needs to be at least five years old to have its influence discussed, ten to be understood, thirty to be fully appreciated.

3) I’m changing up the format a bit and working on a few other changes. It’s time.

4) I’ll still do Game of Thrones and maybe other Power Rankings, but I’ll be more thoughtful about a character or group’s story in the broader context.

5) I’m going to write about more random topics. I like to do that.

Thanks for sticking with this experiment that I started in 2012. I’ll do my best to continue making it worthwhile.

D.G. McCabe

December 21, 2018

(C) 2018

The Other Side of the Wind (2018, Review)

Orson Welles directed a handful of the most influential and important films in history. Despite his personal and professional failings, of which there were many, Welles remains a great artist. We should give any work of his the benefit of the doubt.

I tried to do that. Really, I did. But The Other Side of the Wind is a train wreck.

It’s not without its charms. I thought it interesting how Welles makes fun of the pompous “cineasts” who follow Jake Hannaford (John Huston) around. It’s not without irony – those nerds are the primary reason people still care about Welles today. Even so, the movie overall is a slog to get through.

Let’s start with the obvious. This movie is essentially two hours of obnoxious people rambling about nothing intercut with scenes from what looks like a pretty crappy movie.

My biggest issue with the movie is that it’s basically a lesser version of 8 1/2 (1963). I don’t know if this was intentional, but the movie just isn’t funny enough to work as satire. It’s like Welles saw Fellini’s masterpiece and thought to himself, “I can do that!” [Ron Howard voice – he couldn’t.]

Then there’s the “Where’s Poochie?” quality. Ninety percent of the dialogue involves people talking about Hannaford. But Hannaford barely has any lines. We learn a lot about what the characters think of Hannaford, but little about the characters themselves.

I didn’t get a good sense of why these characters are so obsessed with Hannaford anyway. The only reason we know he’s a good or important director is because no one will shut up about it. The film within a film certainly doesn’t showcase the workings of a genius.

That brings me to the film within the film. Is it supposed to be a knockoff of risqué arthouse movies of the 60’s or part of the brief mainstream porno period of the 70’s? It certainly feels more like the latter, only weirder.

It’s not even a good example of film within a film. Take HBO’s “The Deuce.” The film within a film on the show, Red Hot, makes sense. We see why it’s good too, through the energy of the making-of scenes. We know Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and we understand her motivations and passions. We aren’t just made to think it’s good because the characters won’t stop talking about how good it is.

Maybe, maybe, if Welles supervised the final cut of The Other Side of the Wind, it wouldn’t be such a mess. Who knows? That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a bad movie.

You might like The Other Side of the Wind if you’re an Orson Welles completist. Otherwise, you can probably skip this one.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Why I’m Done with “The Handmaid’s Tale”

With only so many hours in the week to devote to television, certain shows just get the axe. The latest show in that category for me in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Sure, the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic novel started out great in season one. The roles were well cast, the script was top notch, and the world-building conveyed a sense of dystopian dread. What’s more, Season Two has those elements too. The problem isn’t in the execution, the problem is that the show just doesn’t reward continued viewing.

I want to be clear, I don’t mean “reward” as in happy endings. Here is what I mean:

1. The main character has no agency

With due respect to Elisabeth Moss, who does great work on the show, June is not a compelling protagonist. If conflict is the essence of good storytelling, there has to be potential resolution to the conflict. The person “versus” themselves, another person, society, or nature needs to engage the conflict. Win or lose, the conflict needs the potential to end.

June, on the other hand is trapped. Season two has doubled down on this, teasing the audience with potential resolution before snapping back. She’s a mouse stuck in a maze. It’s an elaborately constructed maze, but even so, after watching for a while, you just feel bad for the mouse.

2. The antagonists aren’t compelling

There’s a scene in season two where Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) literally twirls his mustache. That about sums up how deep the antagonists’ motivations run. We get it: they’re monsters. Maybe that’s good enough for a two hour horror movie or even one season, but that just isn’t good enough for a multi season story.

The antagonists are played by fine actors, and the characters can be interesting. Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia seems to revel in torture at times, but care about her charges at other times. Still, that’s about as deep as it goes. One character contradiction does not make the character an interesting villain.

3. The antagonists always win

The triumph of the antagonist is not a flaw by itself. It is, however, a flaw when the antagonists are bulletproof. Even a hurricane lets up eventually.

Now, I heard the antagonists were set back in a recent episode that I didn’t watch, but I’m not convinced that the show is capable of setting them so far back that it undoes their invulnerability up until this point. In fact, undoing Gilead too hastily would be almost as bad as making it nearly invincible.

4. It’s the human misery hour

What’s the worst outcome you can imagine? That’s what happened on The Handmaid’s Tale. That’s not an inherent flaw: The Wire was often bleak and so is Game of Thrones. The problem is that it’s the same story over and over.

Men are murdered. Women are enslaved or murdered. Sometimes there’s torture. Rinse and repeat. It’s too repetitive, and repetitive misery borders on misery for misery’s sake.

In conclusion, if I want to watch a dark series, I’d rather rewatch The Wire or Breaking Bad than continue with The Handmaid’s Tale. So I’m done with it. So long, Gilead, you horrible monstrosity.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

The Americans: The Complete Series

“When a person is born, he can embark on only one of three roads of life. If you go right, the wolves will eat you. If you go left, you will eat the wolves. If you go straight, you will eat yourself.”

-Anton Chekhov, 1878

We’ve become accustomed to television series that end in ultimate victory, ultimate defeat, or some combination.   Most of the time, this takes the form of tying up loose ends in a clearly defined and satisfying manner.  The Americans does not end neatly.  It was never about tying up loose ends.  It was about the lies the characters tell themselves and each other.

The Americans has one of the strongest pilots and series finales of any great television drama. The pilot works because it sets up everything that the show will become best known for: suspense, car chases, 80’s musical cues, and tensions within and without the Jennings household. The pilot sets up a world and makes the viewer want to keep visiting it.

Right now, its last episode feels like the best conclusion of all time, although I’m sure some of that luster will fade as time goes by.  Or maybe not.  Philip and Elizabeth escape, but lose their children, and part of their souls, in the process.  We, the viewers, might seek justice for all of the horrible things these two have done in the name of Mother Russia, but dishing out cosmic punishment was never The Americans’ game.  No, the real enemy was never the KGB or the FBI.  The real enemy was always the enemy within.

Elizabeth was ever the zealot, and at times, purely evil.  She may have done one good thing by icing Tatiana, but does that make up for everything else she has done?  There is a brief dream sequence in the finale that serves the purpose of showing that, in the end, Elizabeth has given up on and destroyed herself in service of a lost cause. She ends the series alive, but filled with regret.

Philip was never as committed to the spy game as Elizabeth.  He seemed to fall into the life by inertia – it gave him an outlet for his violent anger and an excuse to leave a bleak future in Russia.   He experiences more character growth, and with it growing guilt, than any other character on the show. The guilt may come crashing down on Elizabeth in the very last episodes of the series, for for Philip, there hasn’t been anything else for a long time.

Stan is a more sympathetic character, but far from perfect.  After all, he killed a Russian agent in cold blood back in the first season amd destroyed the lives of both Nina and Oleg.  In the end, he’s left with the guilt of not finding out about the Jenningses sooner, and suspicion that his wife might not be who she says she is.

The Jennings children fare better in the end, especially Henry, who by all accounts will be able to move on with his life if he chooses to do so.  Paige may have a harder time, but there’s not proof that she knows much of anything or that she was training to be a spy herself.  All Stan knows is that she knows, he doesn’t know the extent of her actions.

The Americans wasn’t a perfect series. Like most dramas, it had its weak points. Season five was a let down, although it certainly wasn’t bad. Indeed, almost every great drama has a weak season or two, oftentimes the second to last one.

Still, by dwelling in the dark corners and avoiding spy versus spy clichés, The Americans started and finished better than arguably any other show. The show had its share of climaxes and showdowns, but not at the end of the day. No, in the end The Americans wasn’t about the wolves eating or being eaten. It was about the wolves eating themselves.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

New Girl: The Complete Series

Wanted: a new fun show to watch. Must be loaded with silly jokes and funny actors creating memorable characters. High drama and misanthropy need not apply.

In 2011, Fox answered this ad, although they didn’t realize it at first. When they landed a show starring Zooey Deschanel, they figured they were getting some version of the role she had been typecast in for most of her career (“adorkable”). What they didn’t bargain for was that Deschanel would become one of the best comedic “straight-men/women” in television. She would be a new Mary Tyler Moore, but instead of a newsroom in Minneapolis, she would have a loft in Los Angeles.

In a era where even television comedies got serious, New Girl stood apart. It wasn’t quite a Seinfeld-esque show about nothing, but it certainly wasn’t a show with deep themes or innovative storytelling. It was simply a show about a group of misfits slowly growing enough in confidence in themselves to evolve into adults.

New Girl was mostly about the jokes, but the jokes were sustained by the growth of the characters. Jess, Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Cece shed insecurities, but none of them lost the silly quirks that made them fun to hang out with every Tuesday.

Television comedies often find success with misanthropy and sarcasm (Seinfeld, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) or satire (The Simpsons, 30 Rock). It seems rarer that a successful television comedy is centered on character growth and being fun to spend time with. New Girl rightfully joined shows like Parks and Recreation in this latter category.

Now, we must never forget, there is but one rule. Floor is lava.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe