Sleepy Hollow: Pilot Review

Ichabod Crane died during the civil war, succumbing to wounds caused by a mysterious figure on horseback whose head Crane detached. A couple of centuries later he wakes up in modern day America, in a small town which appears to have a problem with a headless guy on a horse murdering local residents. Crane partners up with a local cop to work out what’s going, while engaging in familiar buddy cop tropes.

This is a relatively high profile new series, which had already received some strong reviews and after airing just 3 episodes it’s not only been picked up for the full season, but renewed for a second! But despite all that I wasn’t particularly excited by the idea of this going in. The cast was completely unknown to me and the blurb just sounded quite tired, I felt I could probably map out most of the series’ plot and jokes without any particular thought.

After watching it, I can’t say I’d count myself as that much more enthusiastic, but I have to acknowledge that it’s a very solid offering. The plot remains as predictable as expected with the predictable jokes from the man out of time about the number of Starbucks, women wearing trousers, the emancipation of slaves and confused looks about just about everything. The mythical elements trundled along like a rerun of an episode of Buffy or Supernatural and the police elements plodded on like… well I can’t actually think what it was specifically like, but it certainly felt very familiar. In fact it’s just one of those shows that feels endlessly familiar, even if you can’t quite place your finger on what exactly it is that’s triggering that.

BUT I actually kind of enjoyed the pilot. While the unknown-ness of the cast doesn’t help generate buzz for the show, it did mean that they were very fresh. I liked them. They didn’t do anything particularly astonishing or anything, but they managed to give some heart and soul to the characters, and immediately established an entertaining partnership. They’d certainly benefit from some stronger supporting characters (the endlessly shouty and disapproving Captain can feel free to go away), but as a leading team, these two have potential.

Overall, the pilot was nothing special beyond the fact that it didn’t fall over its own feet, a rarer achievement than we might hope. Having dropped Once Upon a Time from my watch list, this might actually fill the “amiable entertainment” slot. This strikes me as the kind of show that thanks to its relatively low ambition, actually has the potential to be pleasingly successful.

Game of Thrones: Season 3

Game of ThronesLots of my reviews at the moment seem to be variations on a theme of “just read the previous season(s) review because nothing’s really changed”. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that, after all for the most series the writers, producers and directors don’t change much, so why should the show they make Yet over and over I’m saddened that my criticisms of previous years haven’t been heeded and the same mistakes are being made over and over again.

So, yes, Game of Thrones season 3, much like season 2 but a little bit worse. Or maybe not worse, maybe I’m just a bit more tired by it. As I worked out last year, with the number of storylines and characters, there’s only about 2 or 3 scenes for each thread every other episode, and the number of threads I care about is steadily decreasing. In fact I’d probably be pretty happy if they got rid of all the storylines except Daenerys and her dragons raising an army over the sea and Tyrion and the assorted goings-on at King’s Landing. Those two stories could cheerfully carry the series, and every time we were taken away from them I found myself irritated and bored.

What works with both those stories was that they actually had all the elements necessary for good television – a blend of politics, drama, personal troubles, character development and humour. They are fun to watch, interesting to analyse and have characters that evoke emotional responses, whether sympathy for Sansa, revulsion at Joffrey, pride at Daenerys or pure entertainment from Bronn. Tyrian is still my favourite by far, managing to elicit all those emotions and more; leaving me laughing at his wit, sighing at his misfortune and intrigued by his plotting pretty much every scene. Somewhat surprisingly I found myself having a similar response to Jaime Lannister, whose storyline with Brienne has really opened up his character and given the actor a chance to flourish.

Outside of that though there’s an awful lot of sludge. The Stark children (legitimate and otherwise) are spread across the lands on a variety of quests. Particularly frustrating for characters and audience alike were the series of near misses as they came within spitting distance of emotional and satisfying reunions and yet missed each other every time. Instead they’d just find another in a long line of oddly poetically named grey haired men with giant chips on their shoulders. The only thing more boring was the plot with Stannis and the witch character. Oh and pretty much anything set North of the wall.

As for the much talked about surprises of the season (don’t worry I’ll stay spoiler free) I’m sorry to say that I just didn’t get the emotional punch. Maybe because I was spoiled, maybe because I was pretty bored of the plots and characters by that point, or maybe because I thought the special effects were so hilariously bad, and the smash cut to black afterwards so cheesy, that I was laughing too hard to be sad.

I think part of the problem I have with Game of Thrones is that most of the characters are so stupid, or at least so focussed on just a single goal, that they don’t realise just how catastrophically self-destructive their actions are in the long run. It seems wrong that someone like Tywin Lannister, supposedly such a good strategist, can’t see how his actions towards his own family, the Starks and, well, everyone in existence, are only going to lead to bucket loads more trouble in the future. Meanwhile the ‘things’ north of the wall and Daenerys grow in strength and I for one just want them to GET ON WITH IT. I don’t know (and don’t want to know) how many books we have to get through before the looming threats stop looming, but it can’t come soon enough for me.

Yet again though, after a poor review, I still have to admit that I’ll be tuning in for next season all the same. Tyrian and Daenerys really are enough to get me to watch and the genre is still unusual enough to have some appeal. I realise that does rather undermine my strident tone, but I never really claimed to be anything other than weak willed.

Merlin: Season 5

merlinThe final season of Merlin is a bit of a mixed bag. The majority of the season was a bit of a slog and despite it having been a staple for dinner time entertainment over the last five years in our household, we all got sufficiently bored and frustrated with it that the delay before watching each episode got longer and longer until I eventually just sat and marathoned my way through the last four episodes over a month after they aired. (This review is a little bit spoilery in places)

The problem stemmed almost exclusively from poor writing. Plots became increasingly contrived and full of holes, anachronisms and mcguffins which meant that episodes gradually became completely overwhelmed by the sounds of sighing, grumbling and sarcastic commentary from my housemates and I.

The only saving grace of the season, was ironically the fact that it was the final one. I have a great deal of respect for the producers of Merlin and the BBC for calling time on the series before it slumped too far. Too many series drag on and on, getting less creative and more repetitive until they fade out in a damp squib, leaving any number of dangling plots and characters. For a show that endlessly waffles on about destiny, it was really important for the audience to be given a satisfying ending, to show how everything really played out.

The final few episodes of the series stopped pussy footing around and finally gave some solid content. Over 5 seasons of Merlin there are maybe a dozen episodes with real plot and character developments, as opposed to just little diversions and meanderings that didn’t go anywhere and were almost instantly forgotten by characters and audience alike. But those few episodes really were very good and made up for the diversions along the way. With the last three episodes, finally secrets are revealed, confrontations are had and destinies are achieved. Each of the characters got a satisfying and suitable resolution to their stories.

The frustration however is that as satisfying as those moments were, many of them didn’t really feel as if they were given enough time. I’ve spent five seasons waiting for Arthur to find out about Merlin’s magic and while the quality of the writing and acting for the revelation was very nicely done, I would have like a bit more quantity to it. I had also been hoping for some kind of showdown between Morgana and Arthur; her vendetta against him always felt rather too churlish and I wanted them both to have the opportunity to actually talk to each other. But Morgana was dispatched with relative ease after yet another dastardly plot stuttered to an ignoble end.

Overall I’d give Merlin a tentative thumbs up, I enjoyed the character growth and I was satisfied with the ending, but it is the very definition of “uneven”. It tried to be too many things, and while it did each with relative competence it always felt too much like the parts were fighting each other instead of complementing each other (as they do in Doctor Who for example). Much of the credit for the fact the show was watchable at all goes to its extremely charismatic and versatile young cast, ably supported by the veteran talents of Anthony Stewart Head (much missed this season) and Richard Wilson. It made for pretty entertaining Saturday evening entertainment, but while Doctor Who raises that to an art form, Merlin merely just got the job done.

Merlin is currently being repeated from the start on BBC 3 (iPlayer), or is available on dvd and bluray

Once Upon a Time: Season 1

I got quite behind watching Once Upon a Time so had to do my various season round-ups before I’d finished it, so loyal readers will already know that I’ve been pretty impressed and would consider it one of the most entertaining new series of the year.

There are a few ingredients that have to be brought together to bake a successful television series, miss out any of those components and you’ll end up with something disappointing. Once Upon a Time successfully brings the ingredients together, and not just to make a boring Victoria sponge, it’s got unusual stuff in there that makes something that you may feel uncertain about at first, but turns out to be rather inspired.

The universe of Once Upon a Time is both unique and fascinating. On one hand there’s the fairy tale world which mixes together just about every fairy tale character that you know in a way that impressively maintains their own stories while merging everyone together into a new story over the top. Then you’ve got all those characters relocated to the ‘real’ world (well at least, small-town America real) where they can’t remember who they are, yet still have similar characteristics.

Each episode focuses on one of the characters, revealing their backstory in the fairy tale land and linking them in with the wider, gradually developing story of how everyone came to be exiled to the real world. Meanwhile, the rival forces for good and evil (and all the shades of grey in between) in the real world are hatching schemes and counter-schemes, forming conspiracies and constantly changing allegiances. Everything is carefully inter-twined and paced, making each episode satisfying to watch, while constantly building into the overall storyline. It’s definitely a show that you need to watch each episode in order, and I’d strongly recommend watching in chunks rather than week by week. But despite dozens of characters and storylines, I never lost track or got confused.

The cast is absolutely superb. In the fairy tale land they’re all gloriously over the top and in the real world, well they tone it down a bit but are still, shall we say, enthusiastic. Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle are deliciously conniving as the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin, both clearly thoroughly revelling in their evilness. Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow White is more warrior princess than wilting princess and in the real world she has a similar strength and power, all be it buried within a slightly soppy primary school teacher. Jennifer Morrison probably feels a bit hard done by, not having a fairy tale land counterpart (she could maybe form a support group with Joshua Jackson from Fringe) but is a wonderfully relatable character, the normal person thrown into the weird stuff but desperately trying to keep up for the sake of her friends and son. In fact, this is a great set of characters for female actors, they dominate the cast and if there’s a weak link at all, it’s Prince Charming who’s rather wishy washy, never really getting the chance to be heroic!

The icing on the cake (to go back to my metaphor) is that the series is beautifully designed, the costumes, locations and sets in the fairy tale world are glorious, while even the real world has plenty of visual clues and details that bring everything together. Even the title card is changed each week to highlight the focussed character.

This is a really lovely series, full of great characters and a fun blend of drama, humour, romance and action. It’s one of those shows that is just plain nice, bringing a little touch of magic to your living room.

Game of Thrones: Season 2

It’s always good to start off a review with a disclaimer but I wanted to make clear upfront that this review is entirely of the television series. I think any work has to stand by itself, not relying on other versions to fill in gaps, or use problems in the original work as excuses for flaws. Fortunately I don’t have to trip over myself trying to separate the two, because I’ve not actually read the books, but friends who have reliably inform me that many of the problems of the series are actually authentic to the books. If you’re making an adaptation of source material in a new format, the keyword is adaptation – unless you’re just repeating every line of dialogue from the book exactly, you’re making changes and therefore you can also change the stuff that’s a bit rubbish. Maybe these ‘features’ work in a book, but they don’t translate to television and the work has to be appropriate for the media that it’s in.

So what’s my problem with Game of Thrones season 2? Too much stuff! By my rough estimate there were about a dozen story lines running through the season, with fairly minimal overlapping between them. So let’s do some maths – there are 10 episodes of an hour each, so 12 story lines will get roughly 50 minutes each. Not every thread appears in each episode, so each story thread gets about 10 minutes every other episode. That’s 2, maybe 3 scenes, and many of the story lines don’t even get that many. For the new characters and stories, there was never enough time to properly understand or care about the characters, and there was no momentum to their stories. But meanwhile for the characters that you did care about you were endlessly frustrated to only be with them in tiny flashes before being dragged away somewhere else. I spent a good chunk of each episode sounding like my grandmother – “Who’s that?, What’s he doing? Why is he doing that then?”

Some of the stories got a distinctly lacklustre showing, poor Daenerys spent the first half of the season just stuck in a desert, when all we really want to know about is her dragons. She did eventually get an interesting story to work with and a bit more time, but it was still a very long frustrating time until the dragons that had been revealed with such excitement at the end of season 1 actually got to do anything. Somehow Rob Stark, despite leading a massive war had barely anything to do, his only big storyline involved the old love-at-first-amputation trick. There were tiny scenes and characters that seemed a lot more interesting, but they never got a chance – Renly Baratheon’s weird threesome and the younger Stark boys and their advisor in Winterfell for example. I will divert from relentless criticism though to mention that I did find the development of Sanza’s character and situation surprisingly interesting and it actually had just the right amount of screentime.

Back to the criticisms – the slightly relentless stupidity and whining of character also got pretty grating. Circe drinking herself into a mope because it turns out her son is a sociopath (she hadn’t noticed?), Stannis being endlessly horrified at his own allegiance with the demented religious woman and then getting seduced by her over and over, Theon and Rob brooding about their poor lots in life, everyone obsessed with increasingly random quests, rivalries and feuds… I’m definitely on the side of the dragons burning everything down.

Plot wise there were plenty of frustrations, mostly built around my inability to keep track of who anyone was, just as I caught up they tended to get killed. There was a massive plot hole in the final episode which was just plain shoddy (where did all the soldiers go) and by the time the zombies arrived I’d just about had enough – really, zombies? That’s where we’re going? Oh and don’t get me started again on the utterly unnecessary nudity and violence.

I very nearly gave up on the season after the first couple of episodes and only one thing stopped me doing that – the absolutely superb Peter Dinklage as Tyrion. It almost feels like he’s in a completely different show to everyone else. It feels like he actually exists in, understands and impacts the world around him, while everyone else feels like a flat character in a book. He’s hilarious, he’s smart, he’s terrified… he’s actually a person! I adore him.

Fortunately the last few episodes of the season pick up the pace a bit and indeed, focus more on the story lines that Tyrion touches, so I have a warmer feeling for the season at the end than I did in the middle. Game of Thrones got through the first season based on its originality (in the sense that there’s no fantasy on TV, not that the fantasy itself is original). It got through the second season on a couple of isolated performances that rise above the writing. If it wants me to get through the third it’s going to have to do something more again, and that doesn’t mean introducing more characters, it means giving the ones they’ve got a chance to thrive.

Terra Nova: Season 1

I was a bit thrown by Terra Nova. With its vast budget and marketing hype I was expecting something epic about dinosaurs and the fate of humanity, but I’d forgotten that executive producer Steven Spielberg’s style is actually to tell those stories through the lens of small groups of ‘normal’ people. It worked well to make the story more easily enjoyable, but I can’t help feel a little disappointed that there wasn’t a little bit more epicness about the whole thing.

Terra Nova is much more a family friendly Saturday evening kind of show than I was anticipating, it’s obvious closest comparison is ITVs Primeval but it also fits in neatly with something like Merlin. It’s more about a gradually developing storyline and gentle character interactions than it is high adrenaline or intensity. It’s not that there aren’t serious stories to be told, but they are mostly buried under a more frothy layer of action, mystery and humour. If you want to peer under the surface there’s interesting stuff, but if you just want to be entertained, you don’t have to bother looking.

I was very impressed with the characters – they care about things, they get scared, they make jokes, they’re extremely competent at what they do and even the bad guys actually want to work together and compromise so that they can all get as close to what they want without destroying everything. The only dark spot was Josh, the teenage son, who seemed to just be a bit of an idiot, but he really was the only weak link in a great collection of regular and recurring characters and actors.

I wish the writing of the plots were up to the same standard as the writing of the dialogue. While I struggle to remember what many of the episodes were actually about,. I can certainly recall tutting over several of them as gaping holes and unanswered questions were left laying about.

Terra Nova is not an epic story that will span eras, an action packed thriller, or an intense character drama, it’s ‘just’ a little show about a group of people in a weird place. I enjoyed watching Terra Nova and spending time with its characters. It’s not going to set the world alight, but as an escapist hour of television each week, it was pretty good. My biggest complaint about the whole thing would be that it would have been nice if there were a few more dinosaurs.

Terra Nova season 1 is available on dvd

Merlin: Season 4

Depending on where you are I’m either a long way behind reviewing this season of Merlin because it finished a couple of months ago in the UK, or a long way ahead, because it’s only just started in the US. Most of the TV blogs I follow are American (because most of the shows I watch are also American) so I’m revelling in the unusual situation at being able to laugh as the Americans jump on any hints and spoilers for where the series might go. Not least because a lot of them are grossly understating just how much is going to change this season.

Merlin is a complicated show to review. There’s so much going on and it’s set itself the difficult task of trying to be both a light hearted Saturday evening family show while dealing with a complex and grown-up mythology. Both the show and the eponymous hero have to walk the same narrow line, trapped between being an entertaining buffoon and being all serious and talking about destiny . The character has generally managed this contrast pretty well and this season has produced some satisfying moments where Arthur has finally begun to see and acknowledge Merlin as not just a loyal servant, but as a good friend and wise advisor.

The show meanwhile has historically dealt with the issue with less grace, often jarringly flip flopping from episodes about trolls with poor hygiene to seeing people struggling with deep questions of morality. This season has thankfully seen somewhat less of the bodily function jokes, but in exchange there has been an awful lot of angst and wallowing.

Don’t get me wrong, the characters, Arthur in particular, certainly had a lot to be miserable about and a little bit of sulking is only to be expected, but my abiding memory of this season is of Arthur moping about like an emo teenager. Many stories felt repetitive, endlessly finding new ways to challenge Gwen and Arthur’s relationship or having Arthur show his devotion to his people by sacrificing his own safety and happiness. And don’t get me started on the endless cycle of Morgana hatching an evil plan only to be thwarted over and over again. It felt like this season went on forever (hence the delay in posting this review, I got bored of watching and fell a few weeks behind in the middle), but it was only actually 13 episodes!

I enjoy watching the show each week, but when it comes to writing a review the things that spring to mind are all the little flaws and irritations. I have to force myself to remember that the dialogue is really very funny and the young actors are all extremely fun to watch (to be honest, it’s the adults in the cast that rather let the side down). I think maybe Doctor Who has rather spoilt my idea of what a Saturday evening show should be able to do.

Grimm – Pilot review

An unremarkable police detective suddenly finds that the world is full of supernatural monsters and that he is one of the last of a long line of monster hunters.

While watching this, all I could think of was all the things that it reminded me of, and all the things I’d rather be watching instead. I don’t intrinsically have a problem with a show taking inspiration from others that have gone before it, nothing exists in a vacuum, but I do want a show to bring something new to the ideas. That could be combining two things that haven’t really gone together before, or could just be adding some new style and flair to old ideas. The problem with Grimm was that rather than taking lots of things and mixing them into something new, it just felt like it was putting them all together and not letting them actually bond. Like putting eggs and butter straight into flour and not realising that it wasn’t going to make a cake.

The most obvious inspiration I saw was Buffy – monsters are hiding just out of sight and a chosen one must battle them. Second inspiration was Supernatural, a similar family destiny but adding an element of modern investigative techniques to the mix. The only problem is that if you’re going to invoke those giants of the genre you need to make sure that you’re bringing something of comparable quality or at least potential to the table. I spent the whole episode just thinking about the dvds I have on my shelf of any number of other shows that had done the ideas better.

The biggest problem with the pilot was ‘our hero’, who was so lacking in charisma that he rather faded into the background of his eponymous show. There should be a difference between normal and unremarkable – viewers traditionally like characters they can relate to, so they can live vicariously through these characters in fantastic situations that we’d (hopefully) never experience ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that people want to see bland dull people, no one likes to think of themselves like that. Even ‘normal’ people make jokes, lose their temper, get scared and confused and react to things. Most of my favourite characters from shows are normal people thrown into unusual situations, it’s the situations that make them abnormal not their personalities.

Thingumee Grimm however was so utterly unremarkable that I can’t even remember his name. He’s surrounded by equally unremarkable characters where the only ones that actually made any impression were the villain-of-the-week and the monster that he sort of befriends in the classic “maybe they’re not all bad after all” sidekick role.

The show has a fun idea at its heart, but it’s one that’s been almost done by a lot of other shows and it desperately needed something that would give me a reason to take a chance on this over the safe choice of dvds – it failed. I was bored by the pilot, it felt small and yet unfocussed. Even the location (Portland) felt too small to sustain a level of threat – the Supernatural boys travel the country, Buffy was on the Hellmouth, what is there about Portland that means it will need a full time monster hunter?

Maybe I’m being overly harsh comparing one pilot episode to the entire spectrum of the genre, if you’ve not seen those other shows (or indeed the far superior fairy tale pilot of Once Upon a Time) this show may well be absolutely fine in and of itself. Maybe it will gradually come to stand out from the crowd in its own way, but I’ll let other people out there slog through the early episodes and see if it’s still around for me to catch up on next summer.

Watch will be showing Grimm from March 2012

Other reviews
CliqueClack – ‘Grimm’ launches with a bang. And continues right on through to the last moments. Has there been a better pilot this season? No.
TV Fanatic – the premiere did offer a fun, focused, and well-paced romp through a fairy tale, quickly streamlining and integrating the story into an easy to follow procedural case.

The Secret Circle – Pilot Review

The concept – Six families are linked together – they’re witches. When Cassie returns to her mother’s home town knowing nothing of this mystical whatnot she’s quickly brought in to complete the circle of varyingly weird teenagers who together have great power. Not only are the kids a bit odd though, their parents are also a bit creepy – they had their own circle a couple of decade, something went very wrong and lots of people died.

As you can tell, there’s a lot of plot crammed into the pilot, and almost a dozen characters as well. It’s a bit painful at times, some rather cheesy exposition sequences and overly obvious “this is mysterious!” flags with a little too much pointed dialogue and meaningful looks. I also ended up fairly convinced that elements of the back-story didn’t make sense and deeply irritated by the numerous clichés.

The characters are all a bit one dimensional, but when you’ve got six teenagers and a variety of adults to get through, I guess there’s no choice but to rely on the fact that they all fall into their niches of ‘plucky heroine’, ‘good girl’, ‘the bitch’, ‘nice guy’, ‘brooding guy’ and ‘nondescript sidekick girl’.

Bits of it are fun and interesting, there’s nice touches like the little musical motif that runs through the episode and I for one was interested to see the harbour town location – a nice change from the usual bland middle American towns or familiar cities like LA or New York. But bits of it are painfully cliché – I groaned when the whole love-triangle, destined to be together thing was introduced and the whole “you two did magic together?” metaphor made me shout at the screen.

No one could ever doubt that it’s a CW show aimed at the Twilight generation, although I do acknowledge that I sound particularly old and fuddy by saying that. There’s an incredible amount of lip gloss on display, improbably short skirts, and a new catchy pop song every 2 minutes. It’s based on a book from the author of The Vampire Diaries and there’s a lot of similarities in style and concept.
I was quite frustrated by the pilot on first viewing, there were too many things that didn’t make sense, too much cheesy dialogue and too many standard teenage drama tropes. But, I watched it a second time while I typed this review and found myself liking it more, some of the more background characters have some potential and I did find myself intrigued by the mystery around the adults. I’m not sure it quite convinced me to watch it, but I’m certainly going to keep an eye on it.

Other Reviews
Maureen Ryan at AolTV – ‘The Secret Circle’ does exactly what you expect it to do, yet that efficiency ends up being refreshing rather than maddening. Slightly refreshing, mind you. ‘The Secret Circle’ will not redefine your idea of what a supernatural drama can be, what a CW show can be or what a program about witches and warlocks can be. All the pieces laid out here eventually end up in the exact places that you expect them to occupy.

Jason Hughes at AolTV – So far, ‘The Secret Circle’ is off to a good start. While I think it will appeal very well to the younger viewers of ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ it might be a little too “young” for older viewers.
The review also raises several of the spoilery questions that I had while watching.

The Secret Circle will air on Sky Living “in the Autumn”.

Game of Thrones – Season 1

Game of Thrones really does feel like a book on screen, and not one of those slow painful “let me describe how green the forest is” affairs, but a rich and detailed world with a vast array of characters and politics barrelling along at a mile a minute. With only ten episodes in the season everything flew by, there was no time or space for filler content, the amount of plot condensed into the short space of time was more the density of a film than television. Compare it to something like Mad Men or The Good Wife and the season long arcs they have would have been covered in probably half an episode of Game of Thrones, or utterly discarded as not nearly epic enough.

For anyone familiar with this genre, there isn’t really much going on here that’s massively original – the family issues and political manoeuvring are fairly standard fair. In fact if anything made this stand out in the genre of epic fantasy, it was actually the lack of fantasy. I mentioned in my pilot review that a couple of dragon eggs and being set in a different/alternate world didn’t really feel like true fantasy to me. By the end of the season there was a little more of the magic about, and at least they followed the rule that if you see dragon eggs in the first act, by the final act they must hatch, but I kept hoping for something altogether more fantastical. Interesting ideas like the wolves who supposedly act as companions and protectors to the Stark family are horribly underused, only appearing on screen when they are convenient to the plot.

Character development is a bit like that too. The problem with the large array of characters and density of plots is that you never really get to see characters just going about their day to day lives. They’re always dashing from one melodramatic moment to the next. Characters that I hadn’t paid attention to, assuming they were background fillers suddenly developed into key roles, while the people who seemed important had a tendency of disappearing. You do have to kind of just accept these things and go with what you’re given, and the extremely charismatic cast certainly helps with that, but it can be a bit unsettling.

In many ways the biggest problem that I have with the show is the very thing that enabled it to be made in the first place – it’s on cable. The great thing about being on HBO, Showtime or the other subscription based channels in the US is that the executives don’t care about reaching millions of casual viewers, they want to draw in a loyal few hundred thousand viewers who will pay $15 a month or so to watch their shows. Cable shows want critical praise and buzz and will spend a lot of money on their shows to get it. However Game of Thrones fell into the trap of “can show nudity and violence, so must”. I don’t want to sound prudish but there was generally at least one scene per episode that was… unnecessary. Having character biography explained while two prostitutes are having a lesson in how to be convincing lesbians was kind of… bizarre. It just felt a little bit like everyone was trying too hard to appear grownup, which actually made it feel childish and silly. For the sake of these few scenes it becomes a show that you can’t watch with your parents, which seems a real shame to me

Generally I think this is a show that’s struggling with what it actually is, conflicts between fantasy and mainstream, entertainment and drama. Some of the stories it was dealing with were powerful and heartbreaking, others were over the top and cheesy. I enjoyed watching Game of Thrones – its production values were phenomenal, its plots interesting, dialogue entertaining and acting engaging; but sometimes it felt like it was trying to be all things to all people, and therefore failing to completely satisfy any of them.

Other reviews:
Slouching Towards Thatcham has a much more detailed review – “Like the book, this first season has been complex, layered medieval fantasy for the intelligent viewer, that makes the Lord of the Rings trilogy look like a simple children’s story. It’s not for the prudish or the squeamish – or for those who prefer their drama spoon-fed in easy, bite-size portions – but it has been a hugely rewarding ten hours of television.”

The Guardian’s review is painfully similar to mine (I only read it after I’d finished my review, I promise!) – “This has largely proved to be a sensitive, clever and, above all, compelling adaptation. Yes, there are flaws: Benioff and Weiss can get a little over-excited about the freedom offered by US cable TV and the number of sexposition scenes became ridiculous long before the end.”