Category: TV

Spoilers

There's recent research indicating that people who know spoilers ahead of time actually enjoy them more than people who are surprised -- that anticipation increases satisfaction.

This was -- and here's where I start to get a little pretentious -- this was the view of the ancient Greeks at the very dawn of theater.

(Did I just spell "theater" with an "-er"? Guess I'm not being that pretentious.)

When I was a freshman in high school, we read Oedipus Rex in English class with my favorite teacher. He told us the twists upfront: that Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. Of course, the whole play is a mystery about Oedipus slowly piecing together the clues toward that ending.

One of my classmates indignantly asked the teacher why he told us the ending before we read it. The teacher responded, "Because the audience in those days would have already known too."

Sophocles, I think it's safe to say, understood storytelling. He understood suspense. And he understood that it's entirely possible to build suspense even if the audience knows what's going to happen.

And at this point I offer a Warning: The rest of this post is written around major spoilers for both Game of Thrones the TV series and Song of Ice and Fire the book series. Including bits that haven't been on the show yet.

Of course, if you believe what I've just said in the preceding paragraphs, you'll keep on reading anyway, spoilers or no.

I've spent the last week and a half or so catching up on Game of Thrones. But I already knew, with a couple of exceptions, what was going to happen, as I'm already all caught up on the books.

So I knew about the Red Wedding. I knew what was going to happen. I anticipated it.

And it was still affecting as hell.

Whether it was more enjoyable than the first time, more enjoyable than reading it -- well, that's an interesting question.

I will say that there was a lot less confusion in watching it as a foregone conclusion.

The big bits in the books, the shocking parts, the stabby parts -- I find that I wound up going back and rereading them, several times, to make sure I'd really read what I'd just read. Ned's death, the Red Wedding -- and here's the part where I get into stuff that hasn't happened on the show yet, so this is your final warning --, Joffrey's death, Jon's stabbing -- my reaction to those was, as much as anything, Wait, what? I had to go back, read it again. Particularly with Joffrey's death -- I had a feeling that the other three examples I've just given might happen; certainly there was plenty of foreshadowing that something bad was going to happen -- but Joffrey's death caught me completely by surprise. (Perhaps because it's also the only major twist in the series that gives readers something they want instead of hurting them.)

Watching it on TV, knowing what was going to happen -- it increased the air of foreboding, the grim knowledge that the outcome was inevitable. I clenched my teeth, clutched the arm of the couch, and caught every single little bit of foreshadowing as it built.

And speaking of Joffrey's assassination, every bit of foreshadowing lands harder knowing that it's coming. Margaery Tyrell and the Queen of Thorns feigning friendship to Sansa is that much more cruel, knowing that they're not merely pumping her for information but setting her up to take the fall for his murder.

Then again, I also paid special attention to every change, every surprise, every moment that wasn't in the books. Robb's wife being stabbed repeatedly right in the belly -- Jesus Christ, that may have even topped the book for gruesomeness. Grey Wind dying in a cage instead of putting up a fight. Catelyn killing Lord Frey's wife instead of a handicapped grandson. Roose Bolton being the one to kill Robb himself, rather than just sitting back and watching. Every alteration was that much stronger for being unexpected -- and I think the biggest question in my head right now is how Shae's story is going to turn out, since it clearly won't be the same way as in the book. (Though, on the other hand, it could simply be the obvious -- Tywin finds out about her and makes good on his threat. Which unfortunately would leave us without the last interesting little twist we learn about Tywin, but I think that ship's already sailed.)

It is, as you'd reasonably expect, hard to quantify something like enjoyment. But I think good stories are ones that don't rest entirely on twists and can still be enjoyed even if you know what's going to happen. Indeed, I'd sussed out who Jon Snow's real parents were by the end of the first book, but that hasn't decreased my anticipation for the big reveal when it comes.

Summer

Well, it's officially summer now. As opposed to three weeks ago when it wasn't summer, just a 113-degree spring.

Mostly indoors in the air conditioning lately, and catching up on TV and video games. Didn't realize I was so close to finishing Mario Galaxy when I quit playing it like 5 years ago.

Course, if it weren't for the backlog and money being a little tight at the moment, I'd be perusing the various Internet game sales on right now. GOG's got a big one, Steam has plenty of deals, the Humble Bundle has both a weekly bundle and an Android-themed bundle going right now, and Amazon has a bunch of stuff for cheap too. (That last one's an affiliate link; if you buy something through it I get a small kickback.)

I don't have the time to play the games I already have. But I picked up the free download of Torchlight and maybe I'll get to it one of these days. And I've had al little more time this past week, anyway.

Bender's Back, Baby!

"Guess this is your lucky day, Pimparoo."

That would have been my one-sentence reaction to the returning Futurama, but then the third act happened. (I haven't watched Fry and Leela's Big Fling yet, just 2-D Blacktop.)

There are a lot of great Futurama episodes. The best have an emotional core to them -- Jurassic Bark, Luck of the Fry-rish, Godfellas. Other great episodes experiment with the format of the show -- any of the Anthology episodes, for example. (Well, I wouldn't describe the Holiday Spectacular as great, but all the rest.) Some are deftly-written time-travel stories, like Time Keeps On Slippin', Roswell that Ends Well, The Why of Fry, Bender's Big Score, and The Late Philip J Fry. Some are biting political satire, like any episode with Nixon in it. And some of them do clever things with the medium of animation -- like Reincarnation. And this one.

The Professor's hypercube was a nice touch. The Mobius strip played with the concept a little more. But the actual segment where they're caught in the Second Dimension is fucking ingenious. The writing -- the Professor explaining how everything works here -- is brilliant, and the design is even better.

This is an episode that did immensely fucking clever things with science fiction and with animation. I've never seen anything quite like it -- the closest thing I can think of is Homer3, which played on the same premise in the opposite direction.

The show's had its ups and downs. But as this just-started thirteen-episode run is the last we'll be seeing of it for awhile, it's great seeing it fire on all creative cylinders and do shit that I've never seen it or any other show do.

Also: the latest issue of the comic is legitimately great too. Zoidberg becomes unstuck in time and has to prevent a catastrophe from happening while still trying to piece together just what exactly is going on.

Nigeria

DEAR TO MY FRIEND THE MISTER PHILIP MORRIS

I AM WRITING ON BEHALF OF THE HON. MGUMBU D'CHINBE, DUKE OF LAGOS. AS YOU MAY WELL KNOW THE ROYAL FAMILY WAS DEPOSED IN THE GREAT COUP OF 2006. THE DUKE IT IS BARELY ESCAPED WITH THE CLOTHES OF HIS BACK AND SUBSISTS NOW IN POLITICAL EXILE.

PLEASE TO BE ADVISED THAT THE DUKE THROUGH LOYALISTS STILL IN THE CAPITOL HAS REASONED A DEVICE BY WHICH TO RESECURING HIS VAST FORTUNE AND WEALTHS BUT HE IS UNABLE TO PROVIDE THE FUNDINGS FOR THE DEPOSIT OF MONIES. WE NEED BUT A SMALL CASH ADVANCE OF TEN THOUSAND (1,0000) BRITISH POUNDS (LBS) AND WE WILL BE PROVIDE ALL THE DUKES MONIES ONCE MORE.

I BESEECH THAT YOU HELP US TO IN OUR TIME OF THE NEED AND PLEASE ASSURANCES THAT IN RETURN FOR YOUR GREATEST OF GENEROSITYS WE WILL REWARD YOU WITH THE DUKES 3 TONNES COLLECTION OF OLD FILM INCLUDING NINETY (90) LOST EPISODES OF DR WHO.

GOD BLESSING TO YOU

YOURS IN CHRIST

BENJAMIN JONES


Originally posted at Bleeding Cool, last night.

And if you want to know just what the fuck that was all about, you should probably read some Bleeding Cool.

Newsroom

I never got around to watching West Wing, but I know Aaron Sorkin's work well enough to say yup, Newsroom sure is an Aaron Sorkin show.

It's a show where snappy patter gives way to self-congratulatory political bombast; it's probably the most sanctimonious liberal wankfest you'll find on TV now that Olbermann's gone. And I say that as a liberal, a guy who generally likes Olbermann, and for that matter somebody who's been enjoying The Newsroom. Mostly.

But man it does get pretty over-the-top.

And that's when I like to picture Jeff Daniels with frozen snot caked to his face and his piss-soaked pants stuck to Jim Carrey. It helps to deflate the hot air a bit.

The show's also written around not one but two (and, spoiler alert, three by the end of the first season) annoying damn will-they-won't-they office romances: one between the two principals, and another between a couple who bear at least a passing resemblance to Jim and Pam on The Office.

And when I say "at least a passing resemblance", I mean the Jim Halpert character is named "Jim Harper".

He's not as fun as Halpert, though. He's more of a joyless workaholic who nevertheless is more appealing than Not-Pam's current boyfriend. While Not-Pam is less charming than Pam, makes poorer life decisions, and is frankly a little dumb in a way the show repeatedly plays for laughs. In short, the whole thing reeks of the network demanding that the writers stick some romantic tension in between all the political monologues, and the writers put about as much effort into it as changing "Halpert" to "Harper" would suggest. ("So, 'Poochie' okay with everybody?")

In their defense, they know it. There's a whole episode devoted to how the show-within-a-show has to cover Casey Anthony because it's getting clobbered in the ratings by focusing on shit that's actually important instead. The message is pretty clear: look, sometimes you have to put crowd-pleasing bullshit on your show to get people to watch the important parts. And I have faith that the writers are smart enough and have a strong enough grasp of irony that the connection is intentional.

Babysitting

Not much time to write this evening as my wife and I are taking care of our two-year-old nephew. So far we've made it through a Ninja Turtles (2012), a Yo Gabba Gabba (with Weird Al!) and a Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

That's after a trip to the comic shop -- I still haven't finished the comics I bought two weeks ago, but I had to grab the new Astro City.

Nephew made a beeline for the display case with the Batman figures in it. His favorite was the Aragonés one. He's got good taste.

Go Team Venture

I just watched the season premiere of The Venture Bros.

Not only was it worth the wait -- now that June is here, I'm glad it was delayed. Because not only was it worth it, now I've got something to watch as all my other shows are wrapping up their seasons.

Venture Bros. is certainly one of the smartest, and may indeed be the best show on television.

Mark my words: the show will have the legacy of a Buffy or an MST3K: a show that seems, deceptively, like it's just a novelty, but when you scratch the surface shows that it is deceptively intelligent and truly unique. A show that, on those strengths, attracts a cult following, and in the years to come gains recognition as a treasure and a high water mark of the medium.

A decade from now there'll be college courses taught on The Venture Bros. Hell, Todd Alcott's analyses are halfway there already.

I can't think of another show that's quite so fearless in constantly evolving and changing its status quo -- and in simultaneously painting its characters in an unflattering light. One or the other, sure -- but both?

Not bad for a show that, at first blush, looked like it was just a cute little Hardy Boys/Jonny Quest spoof.

And which is still that, too -- and does a fucking great job of it.