Strange Bedfellows on Sunday Nights

Ever since the heyday of The Sopranos, HBO has conned me into appointment television on Sunday nights.  It’s the only night of the week I watch TV religiously.  Over the years when my favorite HBO show has been on a long hiatus or they occasionally produce a dud (John From Cincinnati, I’m looking at you, lame surfer dude!), AMC and Showtime have been there to pick up the slack.  Sometimes two great series will be running at the same time…but not since Mad Men and Dexter ran parallel seasons a few years ago have there been stranger back-to-back bedfellows on Sunday nights than The Killing (on AMC) and Game of Thrones (on HBO).

The Killing – Okay, so it’s a remake of an acclaimed Danish series, but you can’t tell me the American producers weren’t thinking of Twin Peaks when they brought this to Seattle’s shores.  Who killed Rosie Larsen?  Part of the fun is trying to figure it out for yourself, and there are plenty of red herrings and suspects abound in this slow to unwind and increasingly complex crime thriller/melodrama. 

Are we gonna solve this or what?

Essentially what they have done with The Killing is taken away everything that made Twin Peaks the Lynchian psychodrama that it was and stripped the serialized murder mystery concept down to its bare bones.  There are no dancing midgets or weird dream sequences or evil spirits and doppelgängers lurking in the woods (yet…ha ha).  Police procedural shares equal time with family drama.  What I really like so far is the slow unveiling of character motives (I still haven’t quite figured out lead detective Mireille Enos’ real deal) and the sympathetic, down-to-earth nature of the Larsen family torn apart by their teenage daughter’s murder.  The direction is a little murky (think early era X-Files in terms of the show’s look) and the pacing may eventually work to the show’s detriment.  Ultimately it falls into the same Peaksian trap.  If you solve the murder at the end of the season – then what?

Five episodes in, and I give it a solid B rating.

Game of Thrones – I was drug reluctantly into the premier of HBO’s newest mucho-hyped series.  I’ve had it up to here with ho-hum medieval inspired soap operas on other networks (Showtime seems to feast off these carcasses posing as quality television), and adding a fantasy aspect to it didn’t inspire me much.  Fantasy, especially of this ilk, is too easy to do poorly, and is so rarely done well.  But against all odds, this adaptation of an epic book series I had never heard of wowed me on every level – from its Lord of the Rings style production values to its Rome-esque debauchery and political intrigue.

Winter is coming.

The first five minutes completely sucked me in with its creeping mood of menace and evil.  Then the opening credit sequence knocked my socks off.  What followed in the first hour was a cavalcade of intertwining plotlines and larger-than-life characters.  Amidst beheadings, a bevy of bare-breasted maidens, and the foreshadowing of winter, war…and maybe a dragon? – two instant favorite characters emerged: a lecherous and conniving dwarf (take that, The Killing!) played with winning spirit by Peter Dinklage and a strong-willed but good-hearted kid named Bran played by newcomer Isaac Hempstead-Wright.

Bad-ass Dwarf
Bad-ass Kid
And just to further defy my expectations, one of these favorites gets maliciously tossed from a window during the premier’s cliffhanger of a closing moment.  It’s not the dwarf – but don’t worry, it’s not really a spoiler to anyone with access to IMDB, Wikipedia, or a nerd who’s read the books to say that the kid survives – hooray!  Before going online to discover this, I really had to hand it to a show that had the balls to piss me off instantly after totally winning me over.
The fantasy aspect is so far playing to the show’s benefit as it is allowed to go places creatively (in terms of set designs, crazy characters and mythical threats) that other medieval drenched shows (such as the stupefying and banal The Borgias or The Tudors on Showtime) would never dare as they are stifled by some flimsy adherence to actual history.  Sure, this thing suffers from some standard clichés of the genre – like why is it every royal family contains a pair of incestuous siblings and why is every king fat and adulterous?  But, dude, like, who cares when dwarves are going whoring, people are being decapitated, throats are getting ripped and some hot chick is bequeathed dragon eggs in honor of her arranged marriage to some bad-ass warrior king who’s about to breathe hellfire down on some rival kingdoms just for the nookie?
I don’t know exactly where HBO plans to take this (1 season for each of the 7 books, when 3 of them are yet to be published?) as I’m sure it’s costing them the GDP of a small nation to produce, but so far so fun.
Two episodes in and I’m giving this riot an A- for effort.
So until Boardwalk Empire comes back, I’ll be happily satiated wondering who killed Rosie Larsen on The Killing and who’s going to be decapitated or thrown from a window on Game of Thrones.
Way to go AMC and HBO.  You’ve hooked me again!  You bastards!

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