A Dialogue on Movies, Books and More

Posts tagged ‘series’

Cut Down Before Their Prime

Zoe: Hey everyone! We have a great blog for you tonight, where Justin and I will talking about some great TV shows that you might or might not have heard of. I must say I was shocked by some of the gems that I found when doing research for this blog tonight. I was surfing through my Netflix trying to fi–

Justin: AND CUT!!

Zoe: Wait, what? I was only halfway through the opening dialogue.

Justin: Well, even though it was going to be a great story, I felt that we should stop it mid-way through and not give it a chance.

Zoe: You’re still upset about “Firefly,” aren’t you?

Justin: Maybe… all right, yes, I am a little upset. Would it kill them to round the cast back up and make some new episodes or at least finish the season they started?

Zoe: They did make a whole movie called Serenity you know.

Justin: Yes and I’ve seen it. However, it just isn’t really compensation for cutting the series short.

Zoe: You really need to let it go. In fact, wasn’t it I who turned you on to “Firefly”?

Justin: Yes.

Zoe: Well then, shush, if anyone should be mad about it being canceled, it should be me. Okay, focusing now: If you haven’t guessed already, we are going to talk about some of our favorite television series that were cut way too short, shows that we dream could have stayed on the air. Anything you would like to start off with, Justin?

Justin: Indeed there is. During last week’s review of books I mentioned a series of books by Jim Butcher called the Dresden Files. Well, it just so happens there was a show that was created based on the books. It was a show that only got 12 episodes, one of them being a pilot episode that just seemed a bit out-of-place from all the rest. In my opinion it was a great series, but not well-known. I didn’t even know about it until stumbling upon the series on Netflix and truth be told, it is what got me to read the books. The cast did a wonderful job and I enjoyed Paul Blackthorne’s portrayal of Dresden. It is a series that with a little tweaking could have brought in a bigger audience, but I think it will stay as one of those that only a select few enjoyed. Then again in my opinion they could have at least made a full 24 episode season. But what do I know? Zoe?

Zoe: Well, I would first like to say that there are some shows that run their natural course and end at the perfect time, between when they’re new, exciting/innovative and when they’re overdone, devolve into melodrama or straight-up jump the shark.  For example, I think “Entourage” having this year be its final seasons is perfect timing; it’s been a good ride, but it’s time to end things while everyone is ahead of the game.  But anyway, there are plenty of shows that I think were getting off to a nice start–maybe not super-smooth or there was a little trouble with pacing or tone or whatever–that get canceled prematurely.  In doing research for this little dialogue, I found this great sitcom called “Accidentally on Purpose,” about a 37-year-old woman coming off a break-up with her boss who gets knocked up by a 22-year-old.  The actors have great timing and it makes me laugh out loud consistently, which is a really rare in any series, let’s face it!

Justin: I agree whole-heartedly that there are some series that end at the right time after enough seasons. Then there are those that just won’t die, like “American Idol” or those that should have never been created in the first place, like “The Jersey Shore.” How that is popular, I have no freaking idea. In line with your comedy, I have a short-lived dark comedy/drama that I really enjoyed. In fact it is another show that you turned me on to. It is called “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” staring Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford and Amanda Peet. It was also created by the amazing Aaron Sorkin. It is basically about this variety show, kind of like “SNL,” that isn’t doing well so they bring on a new head writer and producer who turn it around. Toward the beginning of the series they even have a hilariously wonderful tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan, which can be found HERE. It was wonderful show with great dialogue that only Sorkin could create. Another one I caught too late on Netflix instant and I wish they would make more episodes of. Although they did wrap up the ending very nicely.

Zoe: Hm, I do love Sorkin.  The best way to prove his awesomeness is to watch any episode he wrote of “The West Wing” and then watch an episode of that same series written once he was no longer the writer.  It’s going to hurt a little bit.  Okay, back in the day, “My So-Called Life” got canned after one season (1994) and it was a little ground-breaking, not to mention everyone’s introduction to Claire Danes and Jared Leto (awww).  Even more importantly, there was “Freaks and Geeks,” which was a very early project (1999) of Judd Apatow and starred such awesome folks as Jason Siegel, James Franco, John Francis Daley, Seth Rogen, Busy Phillips and Linda Cardinelli–all of whom are still working.  It takes place in the ‘80s, about a dorky girl (Cardinelli) who ends up becoming friends with a bunch of “loser” stoner-types (you guessed it, James Franco is the hottie she had a crush on).  The scripts were smart, the cast had fantastic chemistry, and even though I wasn’t nearly a teenager during the ‘80s, it felt super authentic in terms of what was up with that generation.  Great counterpoint, actually, to “That ‘70s Show,” which lasted a few seasons too long but which also always brought the laughs.

Justin:Freaks and Geeks” was one of those shows I have always heard about but never seen. It is on my list, but might have to wait until I can find it at the library or it comes to Instant view. The next two series were both about detectives and were canceled, in my opinion, way too early. The first is “New Amsterdam” staring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who you might know better from the current “Game of Thrones” series on HBO where he plays Jamie Lannister. Anyway, this show was about a man who basically can’t die. After saving the life of a woman during the 1600s, she places a spell over him that makes him live until he finds his one true match. I know it sounds kind of corny, but it really wasn’t. It was interesting how they intertwined his history and the history of New Amsterdam (aka New York) and how he had watched it change. It was one show that I made sure to be home to watch every night it was on and was pissed when I found out they cut it short and cancelled it. Another good show staring Jeff Goldblum was called “Raines”. This show only ran for seven episodes but I thought it was a fresh story in a saturated police drama TV world. It was about a detective who had a peculiar way of finding out what happened in a crime. He sees the deceased victim. No, no, stay with me it isn’t what you think. You see it wasn’t their ghost, it was just a figment of his imagination. His mind portrayed the victim how he saw them and then evolved as he got to know them better. It was a really fascinating concept that apparently didn’t catch on. Both shows were great but just couldn’t compete with things like “Law & Order” and “CSI”. Kind of like the recent show “The Good Guys.” Although from what I saw of that show, there were other major factors such as how freaking cheesy it could be.

Zoe: I liked “New Amsterdam” too, but I wasn’t sure how they could have kept it going indefinitely.  My favorite episode was one with the flashbacks to him during the Civil War working with Walt Whitman, one of my dad’s favorite poets, who worked as a medic, much like Hemingway, who was an ambulance driver during World War I… On a completely different track, one of the best short-lived shows has to be “Arrested Development.”  It was an incredibly quirky story full of eccentric characters and played by a wild cast: Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walters, Jason Bateman, Portia di Rossi, Tony Hale, David Cross and Michael Cera, among millions of sweet guest stars and recurring characters.  Lots of people trying to be indie-hip like say they love it, and it does have a distinct… flavor that certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it was refreshing.  Hey, Justin, do you want to briefly name some shows in recent history that you think went on way too long, just to provide some examples of shows that should have been canceled way before they were?

Justin: Hmm well I’ve already mentioned “American Idol.” To be honest we could probably do without “Law and Order.” I used to love that show but you can only take so much of the same old plot. There is a murder, they catch a bad guy, there is a trial. Every single episode. I know they are “ripped from the headlines” but I watch TV to get away from that not dive back into it. Are they any you can think of? I know how you love to make lists.

Zoe: Yes, I do love lists…  Well, there are some shows that I lost interest in, because I felt their overall quality went downhill for the same reason that “Law and Order” has, too long using the same sort of template schtick.  Let’s see… “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “E.R,” sitcoms I never liked much like “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “King of Queens,” I’d imagine “The X-Files” but I never watched it so I can’t 100% state that with certainty, “Murphy Brown,” and “Ally McBeal.”  Basically all reality shows ever and a lot of game shows–I’m looking at you, “Wheel of Fortune.”  Uhh, did I miss any?  And by the way, the procedural cop shows / law shows / crime scene shows can last forever, because you can never run out of weird cases, crazies and soap opera pairings up of coworkers.  These shows just kind of gain and lose views cyclically, because mostly you don’t have to watch regularly to get what’s going on.  Stellar examples of the genre, of course, require you to watch all of the time, like “The Shield.”

Justin: As a hardcore “X-Files” fan, I really couldn’t say if it over stayed its welcome. I keep hoping they come out with another movie. Although the seasons without David Duchovny kind of let it go down hill so I guess you are correct. Anyway, we should probably wrap this up before we overstay OUR welcome.

Zoe: If you have any show that you liked that we missed, please comment. We would love to hear from you!

Justin: We always love reading the comment section.

Zoe: Yeah, when it’s there

Justin: Which should be every week, so get commenting. Until next week, have a great evening and we shall–

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ITAS: A Favorite Pasttime

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

I have been very, very bad at doing my part to put up solo posts on our blog.

I have decided to rectify the situation by coming up with a topic that I’m passionate about, and I came up with the lovely topic grace a my friend and fellow blogger Kit (@kitembleton).  Plus, I was just telling her how I like shout-outs, so it would be mean not to a) acknowledge her help in me arriving at my topic and b) shouting out.

The topic is pretty simple, and yet, twofold.  Because I am an elegant lady.

So in case you aren’t dorky enough to know what ITAS stands for, it’s “Inside the Actors Studio,” a lovely program that is aired on BRAVO and has been since 1994–that’s almost old enough to get drafted, if you think 1994 wasn’t so long ago.  There are many reasons why I love this program so much, but the crux of it is this: It is part of a course of study for masters candidates at a drama program in New York City.  MFA Students all come and sit in a lovely auditorium and watch their dean, James Lipton, interview accomplished actors about everything.  He “starts at the beginning.  Where were you born?” and then he moves through childhood, getting the acting bug, school, early career, well-known career / fame, and then sometimes into other areas, like transitioning into directing, stand-up, celebrity, and personal troubles.  He doesn’t shy away from bad behavior or regrettable decisions, but he is eminently respectful and non-judgmental.

For those of you who don’t know, the Actors Studio is an actual institution, not a clever title for the seminar / tv program.  It is a non-profit that was founded in Manhattan in 1947 by a group including Elia Kazan.  It is a place to study using a particular theory of acting called the Stanislavski method and it has an artistic director and a president as well as students and members.  To give you a hint of its prestige, its current presidents are Ellen Burstyn, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel, and some former artistic directors include Estelle Parsons and Lee Strasbourg, among the most famous acting teachers there have been in America.  Included in the alumna are a lot of really impressive individuals, but just to name a few who are both members and former students, in alphabetical order: Bee Arthur, Alec Baldwin, Anne Bancroft, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Robert De Niro, Bruce Dern, John Goodman, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Cloris Leachman, Sidney Lumet, Norman Mailer, Jack Nicholson, Sidney Poitier, Christopher Walken, Eli Wallach, Gene Wilder, Tennessee Williams and Joanne Woodward.  Among a newer generation are Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper.

The show gets mocked a lot because James Lipton has this insane gravity to him, but he is also cheesy and he tends toward melodrama now and then with his praise.  Try this parody.  This, I don’t mind, for a number of reasons.  One, it’s good to flatter someone you’re both trying to interview and coax into teaching acting students something about acting, what it means to be successful, and how to handle a spotlight on you instead of your work.  Two, it makes good television.  Three, he has an incredible sense of humor about it, and even let Will Ferrell, who’s imitated (aka mocked) him on “SNL,” turn the tables on him when he was on the program.  The interview has a standard pattern and I could probably recite the questions that appear over and over again; as time has gone on, Lipton himself has also observed what he calls “common themes,” the most prominent one in his mind being divorced parents.  He is genuinely curious and also tells the actors what others have said about them, both in print (reviews, interviews, etc.) and in person to him when they appeared on the program.

I think it’s extraordinary, but my favorite part is that almost every episode I’ve watched, I felt as though, for the most part, I was seeing the real person, and not The Star or just their persona.  For the older actors, it’s sometimes easier I think because they’re long-established, more like royalty; they have less pressing fears about perceptions and the paparazzi.  The only exception that comes to mind is Meryl Streep, who is both entirely natural and somehow vaguely disingenuous–or that was my feeling.  Whether it’s paranoia or truth, can’t tell you.  What I love is the surprise of finding out who’s really shy (Renee Zellweger); who is incredibly passionate about being an actor, so much so that I kind of choked up (I’m looking at you, mostly-former bad boys Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr and Russell Crowe); and who’s really just very calm and even-keeled in real life (mostly the girls: Hilary Swank, Amy Poehler, Laura Linney, Halle Berry and Jennifer Connolly); and who was surprisingly engaging, hilarious and touching (Ralph Fiennes and Diane Lane come to mind).

Now, I never seem to catch them on BRAVO.  I admit, I find most of them on YouTube and legitimately IMDb has a few episodes available.  Why cheat, if I love it so much?  The answer is simple: Netflix doesn’t offer full seasons.  You can get discs of like “the best men” sorts of things, but not straight up seasons.  Shame on them, really!

The show is mesmerizing.  Sometimes people are precisely who you know they’re going to be–like Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Williams, Denis Leary, Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie–but there’s always a surprise.  And they swear, and are honest about things that a lot of times actors don’t really get to discuss in the world of sound bites.  I love this sort of thing even more than I love watching The Hollywood Reporter‘s roundtables of the forerunners of Emmy nominees (by female/male and by drama/comedy) and then Oscar nominees (roundtables female/male and co-ed panels).  All of this I find at THR‘s site or again at YouTube.  It’s the chance to see actors among other actors, to be offered a series of insights that I can’t find even on my favorite interview programs like “Chelsea Lately” and “Jimmy Fallon” even though I love both shows because they engage and pull playfulness and ease out of their guests.

For anyone who’s never watched, I would go with some actor you think is a total crazy wing-nut douche rocket and watch them.  Try on Tom Cruise, for example.  Or, you could go the other way and watch someone like Michelle Pfeiffer, and remember that she’s worked an awful lot for you to usually only think of Hairspray.  (Not that I don’t love it, ’cause I do, but it’s no Scarface.)  And then, once you’re hooked to the gills, watch the people you just can’t imagine the movies without, like Barbra Steisand and Morgan Freeman and Robert Redford.  Watch all of that, and tell me you’re not moved.  Tell me you don’t like each person just a little bit more for hearing them talk about things unrelated to PR campaigns and deflecting questions about their sex lives.  Tell me you don’t think it’s great to see who shows up in suits, who dances and plays piano and sings, who bonds with Lipton over his favorite things (that would be flying and tattoos), and what each actor’s favorite curse word is.  Which they say.  Thank you, British people, for saying the C-word on BRAVO (another shout out).

You might learn something, watching the bullshit of celebrity not really anywhere in sight.  You might learn something, listening to someone you think of as A Star or A Celebrity or A Famous Action Star and learn how hard they studied, how they choose their parts, their hardships, how it felt to work with other actors and directors, and how grateful they are for the work.  You might feel a strange envy or yearning in you, to love something with such depth, with such complicated feelings.  You might wish you could boil down everything you love about this world and all the people in it and say you basically drink that boiled brew every day of your life because all of that makes up your job.  You might, just might, even remember to give actors some credit for being more than good bodies and symmetrical faces that make you a little flushed in the face, and wonder if by worshipping constructions of beauty and success, we’ve blown through every boundary of privacy and decency and made actors into people forced to parody themselves even to get a cup of coffee, so that in turn (vicious cycle!) you don’t respect them, not really.

I want you to wonder if you could do that.  Could you do that?  Think about the indignity of women and men needing to construct a public personality which they can never escape thanks to telephoto lenses and gossip rags and acceptable behavior (which is not new for actors, don’t mistake me).  Think about the horror of having photographs taken of your babies, your family, your cars and your house every day of your life.  Think about the terror that would grip you at the thought of how boxed in you are by this persona you’ve been made to adapt; think of the terror of trying a new genre, trying theatre, or dating or marrying someone.  Now think about how much you would have to really, really fucking love what you do to put up with that, forever.

Okay, or you’re a greedy asshole who’s basically a sociopath anyway.  But I’m not talking about you, because you’ve never been nor will you ever be a guest on “Inside the Actors Studio” being asked by James Lipton what your favorite sound or noise is.  So you can suck it, wanna-bes and celebrities.  Or you’re a fine enough actor, but you’re a complete and utter waste of space without ethics, common sense or any understanding of sincerity…

Don’t worry, I’m not dumb or naive enough to paint ALL working actors with one brush, NOOOO WAY.  I’m simply pointing out that the people who grace “ITAS” have worthwhile things to say and you might be impressed and learn something.  Let’s face it, talentless hacks with no personality or too much personality and no talent aren’t invited to the show.  Even people in your head you’re thinking, “Yeah, Zoe, I’m on IMDb looking at the list of guests and I’m thinking… THAT GUY sucks balls,” here’s my answer.  Nicolas Cage.  Yeah, he has spent the last, oh, almost decade making some truly useless films, but before that, he was incredible.  May I present in order of appearance: Peggy Sue Got Married, Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Guarding Tess, Leaving Lass Vegas and Adaptation.  Tell me any of these movies sucked, and I will probably slap you in the face, even if I don’t mean to / would never otherwise want to.

I just want you to know, I relished writing that.  Doesn’t make me $12 million and won’t even if I count cumulatively the second before I die, but damn, do I feel passion about words the way some people feel passion about performing.  Grab onto that thing you love, whether it’s numbers, words, cars, stocks, a basketball or a cutting board, and dive into it, don’t forget why you love it.  Be a little envious that it probably won’t make you tons of dollar dollar bills or known by like 99% of the world on sight.  But then just add things up, write something, build an engine, trade some stocks, shoot some hoops and make some dinner, and think about how if the world were a little different, someone would want to put you on a stage and respectfully listen to you talk about how you first decided you want to be an accountant / copy editor / mechanic / gym teacher.

It Should’ve Been An Easy Job

Justin: GET IN THE VAN!!

Zoe: I’m coming as fast as I can! (slams van door shut) Step on it!

The two speed away as the cops round the corner.

Justin: I thought you said this was an easy job. It was supposed to be in, grab the gold and then out again. What the heck happened?!

Zoe: I don’t know! Matt said it was a quick easy job.

Justin: We were set up, this was all a set up.

Suddenly, out of nowhere a huge ice storm hits, blanketing the city in a new ice age.

Zoe: Say what? Hold on, I thought this was going to be a heist scene; it is starting to sound like The Day After Tomorrow.

Justin: Well, we can still label it as a heist for the first few lines and then change directions completely.

Zoe: Ah you’re taking a subtle hit at the movie we watched this week, aren’t you?

Justin: I hope it wasn’t that subtle. Dear Netflix, if you are going to label a film as a “heist film,” be sure there is actually a heist in more than ten minutes of the movie.

Zoe: Agreed–and it was at the beginning too. So if you haven’t figured out by now, Justin and I watched (or in the case of our first movie tried to watch) heist films this week.

Justin: That’s right. I think both of us saw a couple of really good heist films and one really crappy labeled heist movie.

Zoe: Come on now, give it a little more credit than that. It wasn’t a horrible movie.  It was just not what we expected.

Justin: There were some interesting shots, I will give it that, and it also had Vinnie Jones in it who is always a badass. Also it has a rather thin Val Kilmer in it as well for like ten minutes telling the guy not to Taco. Whatever the hell that means. Anyway, besides that it was kind of a letdown. Heck I was even semi-drunk for the viewing and it didn’t help it at all.

Zoe: Yeah that was kind of funny, since you don’t drink that often.

Justin: Anyway, for this week’s movie, we watched Played. It was about a guy who, after a heist goes wrong, sets out to get revenge against those who screwed him over. At least I think that is what the movie was about. At times it felt lacking. There were no real twists that I remember and everything was pretty straightforward. What are your feelings on Played?

Zoe: I liked that it was shot simply and cheaply, and I didn’t really mind the amateurish acting.  My real issue was not really understanding what was going on.  The set up was what Justin said, only from there, it was like there were several people who were the “bad guys”–I don’t object to that at all–but there was absolutely no explication.  No one introduced him/herself either so there was no way to figure out who anyone was talking about ever!  But we were entertained while mocking it, so that it wasn’t a total loss.

Justin: Yeah we kind of went Mystery Science Theater 3000 on it a bit, but every once in awhile you need a movie to just mock. You can’t have perfection all the time. Okay, let’s get the the good movies. For my first movie I went old school and I will admit it was more of a con movie than a heist movie but it was well worth it. I know it is probably a sin, but I had never seen The Sting, with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. I have to say, I am sorry that I took me so long to see it. It was an absolutely fabulous movie and the ending was surprising. I don’t know why, but I had a hard time figuring out who knew what and when and how. It was great. The acting was superb and the shots were wonderful. It was an amazing movie and I am sad that I hadn’t seen it sooner. Pick the movie up or watch it on Netflix instant, it is well worth your time. It is a longish movie but doesn’t feel like it drags. I definitely recommend The Sting.

Zoe: My first solo movie was The Town, written and directed by and starring Ben Affleck. Also starring Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively and Jon Hamm.  The premise is simple: Affleck is the brain behind a group of bank robbers in Boston and Hall was a victim at one of the robberies, so Affleck “meets” her to see if she’s going to talk to the FBI (Hamm).  He of course falls for her / decides to reform.  There is a lot of stuff about poverty, drugs and the bonds of brotherhood.  Say what you want about Affleck as a leading man (often overrated, but not here), he writes a mean script.  The themes were incredibly subtle and the acting was never over the top or too pouty.  I especially enjoyed Blake Lively’s small role, and Jon Hamm was unexpectedly badass.  The ending went slighty… Reindeer Games (that’s for you, Matt), but it wasn’t completely out of step with the rest.  The ending might’ve been better, but I’m not sure exactly how.

Justin: The Town is one that got decent reviews and is in my netflix queue. Sounds like a good movie and Affleck can deliver a decent role now and again. Anyway, my second movie was kind of in-between the other two movies. It wasn’t fantastic and it was horrible. I decided that since I was going old school with one, I would stick with that theme and watch another older movie. So, I decided upon The Italian Job. The original one with Michael Caine and because it had Michael Caine in it I thought I would enjoy it. However, it takes more than one good actor to make a good movie. The film itself wasn’t bad. There were some funny parts and for a movie it moved along with the story real well. It was hey let’s do this heist, ok get some guys together, now we are performing the heist. I think my major problem was, I had seen the newer version with Mark Walberg, Edward Norton and Charlize Theron, just to name a few of the great actors in the film. I don’t remember much but I remember there was enough comedy and action to keep me interested. The older version just seemed lacking and I have to say may be one of those that the remake was actually better. Then came the ending, I won’t spoil it for you but let’s just say it was rather disappointing in a way. Compared to The Sting, it was just alright. If you are looking for a movie to watch on a Friday night, there are worse routes to go than the original Italian Job, but there are better as well.

Zoe: My second solo thing wasn’t a film so much as the television series “Breaking In.”  It’s about a bunch of young people lead by an AWESOME Christian Slater, who runs Contra Security: they basically try to impregnate various security systems to find its weak points and then fix it.  The main character, Cam, has a crush on the con artist, Mel, who has a grade-A lame/douchey boyfriend, Dutch (played super-greatly by the former Lex Luthor, Michael Rosenbaum).  The show unfortunately lasted this one season, and I kind of understand why.  The basic set-up is pretty simplistic and it has a limited arc before it has to get really dramatic or really silly.  But I enjoyed its movement and the dorky characters, and the excellent over-the-top boss.  It was fun and amusing, and I’m sorry it’s done now.  Good thing “Leverage” and “Covert Affairs” will start up again soon for the summertime!

Justin: I need to catch up with “Leverage.” I watched the first season on Netflix Instant and remember the cast being amazing and the story line well done. Good to know that there are some decent shows around for the summer time.

Zoe: So what is the genre for next week?

Justin: Well I was thinking we would change it up a bit for next week’s post. Instead of watching a bunch of movies I though that you, your husband Matt and myself could partake in a round-robin story writing exercise.

Zoe: Sounds like an awesome idea.

Justin: Yeah, I figured since we are all interested in writing and you and Matt being semi-professionals it would give us a chance to just have some fun. The basic concept is that the three of us will all write part of a story one after another.

Zoe: I don’t think we should tell the readers who wrote what and have them guess the author of each section.

Justin: I like the way you think!

Zoe: Why thank you!

Justin: Anyway, that is it for us this week. We are sorry that this is coming to you a little bit late. Although I am sure you all aren’t really that surprised. What can we say it has been a busy first half of the week.

Zoe: Umm I think you actually just slept Monday night and were to lazy to do anything.

Justin: Shhhh, they didn’t need to know that. Have a great night everyone.

Zoe: Bye and see you next week.

Zoe’s Game of Thrones Post

* Fair warning: This post might never be finished.  You might keep scrolling, and there will probably be more. *

I understand that there is an entire web-verse full of people frantically scribbling away at their own Game of Thrones post, either because they’re watching the show on HBO or they just found the news that George R.R. Martin’s publishers are claiming A Dance with Dragons is done.

Clearly, I am writing this post because I am doing the first and read about the second.

There are a lot of things that I am really passionate about, but while I absolutely love Martin’s series about civil war, intrigue and betrayal, gruesome medieval life and sweeping life courses, I am not a crazy fan.  If I’d started reading the series when I was thirteen, this would be a whole different post, I promise you–and the post really would be never-ending.  I find the books fascinating, frustrating, hard to keep track of but never unwieldy, and especially excellent because they’re so dense they deserve multiple reads (something I love to do).  But I haven’t decided if this makes me a better viewer for the television series HBO is doing, adapted from the series of books, or a poorer one.

Certainly I’m not paying attention to how well they introduce characters, explain their basic relationships to each other, or lay out the general set-up of the world; I have the massive character list and the map in the books, plus the added advantage of having read like three billion pages-worth of stuff about them.  I am delighted, however, by the visuals the show is presenting us with, especially the mega fucking super awesome artist/architect/graphic designer’s wet dream of the show’s opening.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s this incredible three-dimensional map that looks hand-painted, and as it zooms in on this castle or that landmark, it shows the structure/location in incredible detail: the fucking sweetest digital pop-up book EVER.  The costuming is spot-on as well, depressingly bulky clothes for the guys and fairly utilitarian layered clothing for the ladies in the main setting, with fantastical costumes for the part of the story set someplace sunnier and warmer that could be some out-there element of a fashion runway.

The acting is a little hard to judge.  The adults are seasoned actors (Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who are all smart enough to know when to really work the ensemble angle and when to just really amp up their presence to dominate the scene or moment.  The direwolves, aka Inuit Huskies, are BITCHIN’ and I want all of them!  The kids are doing just fine, but there’s terrible things in store for their characters, so I’m reserving judgement to see how the actors do when… stuff… happens later on.  Plus, I know the story, so I know each of the characters has personal, intense, pivotal, life-changing moments or actions, opportunities for all of the actors to open up and to demonstrate their full range.  I’m looking forward to that, and I have enjoyed the tense and sad moments so far.

(Site note: If you’ve never read the books and you think what you’ve seen in the first two episodes is “really intense and emotional,” you better strap on an adult diaper and get ready to faint.)

Now, practically speaking, I think this program is a wild gamble, the sort that only a few networks could even dream of, let alone actually do.  It’s a period drama with basically every sort of atrocity, plus dragons, monsters, intricate family trees, secrets, a billion characters who all matter, and a hell of a lot of settings.  For me, the biggest potential drawback is that the books don’t exactly have lulls where nothing happens, nor are there that many times that have a low level of drama, and there are odd moments of humor, but they’re more dark or sour or gallows humor, versus… dick and fart jokes.  It will take a magnificent amount of skill to be able to carry off a show where the baseline of drama is like 8 out of 10 without exhausting your audience.  Soap operas and serious dramas are roller coasters, but A Game of Thrones is on this heightened tightrope of danger where the reader (and now audience) will get shoved off at completely unexpected intervals.  The payoff in the books is phenomenal, and I’m saying that not even knowing how the damn series ends; I just hope the television series can learn how to pull that off too.

Oh, and to finish: About the sexy content.

There have been lots of reviews that focus on this aspect, of the kind of ick factor to the context / content of the sex or the sexism of how it’s portrayed in the show so far.  Okay, I am always conflicted about this topic, but I’ll try to be clear here.  The book doesn’t have a whole lot of glamour; it’s painfully realistic, and there’s very little pleasure for any of the characters at any point, let alone happiness.  The sex is almost always paid for, brutal, or, well, between siblings.  The world they live in is chauvinist just as our medieval world actually was, where women’s bodies sealed deals for armies, lands, and crowns.  That’s just not pretty.  It’s a part of the story and it would be impossible to leave it out.  Sex does have something to do with life, after all–it can impact our happiness, our sense of self; it can draw us together or it can tear us apart; and it can be awkward, painful, dutiful, joyous or it can be criminal.  While I appreciate that I don’t want all women used as sex objects (even if they’re really, really pretty), I promise you, the more you watch the series, the more you’ll realize that all of these women, whatever else they are, are all working their asses off to be stronger and as independent as they can be.

Because the series hasn’t ended, I can’t say of course if I think the overall tone of the show is “right,” or if I agree with how they’re tailoring the book to make it viable for the small screen.  But given what I’ve seen so far and the arc of the first book’s plot, I’d say that I think the show is solid and moving in the right direction, picking up speed quickly.  If you haven’t read the books but are enjoying the show, if you find yourself frustrated by a lack of, oh, answers, I’ll say: Welcome to the club, buddy.  The books are full of teases like that.

Justin and Zoe Tackle the Desert Island Question

Justin: Hey Zoe, how was your weekend?

Zoe: Not bad, my husband Matt and I got a good portion of writing done.

Justin: That’s awesome, what were you two working on?

Zoe: Well, I was working on my epic fantasy story and Matt was working on his fantasy western.

Justin: Both of which sound like they will be great reads once they are finished. Other than writing this weekend, did you reading any good books?

Zoe: I just finished up The Hunger Games, a Young Adult fiction book set in a distopian near-future where every year two representatives aged 12 to 18 from each district go to the capital and fight each other TO THE DEATH.  Lots of implications about governments ruling absolutely by fear, but it’s the first in a trilogy so we’ll see what else it’s about, right?  (Plus they just cast young lovely Jennifer Lawrence as the lead in the upcoming movie version.)  Are you reading anything interesting?

Justin: Well, I am currently reading several books on the art of writing. Trying to get a short story off the ground, so just reading what other authors have written about on the subject of writing. Got some great suggestions from your husband the other week as well, however, it was a busy weekend so I haven’t had a chance to work on it at all. Also, one of the books I am reading is by the founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which sounds like a fascinating endeavor. I know your husband did it last year. I think I may try to do it this year depending on where I am.

Zoe: Well, you have until November to read all you can to be prepared to try that madness.  It seemed to work very well for him, give him some structure or whatever, but I’m not sure I’d ever last if I tried.  Somehow I don’t think my school-years plan of waiting till the night before to write a paper will work in that sort of situation…

Justin: You’d be surprised apparently there have been several people who wait until the very last couple of days to write it all. You could do it, but probably not the best plan. Anyway, with all of this talk on books and writing, I thought that today’s topic could be an answer to a simple scenario.

Zoe: Okay, I’m intrigued, what kind of scenario?

Justin: The world has been thrown into chaos and you must leave your home taking barely anything with you. You are allowed to take one suitcase with clothing, a few family photos and three books. What three books do you take? Also, for anyone out there who is thinking, “Well I would just grab my Kindle or another e-reader,” sorry to say but all of the world’s electronics have been wiped out. Don’t ask me how they got knocked out, they just did. Deal with it. So, what three books would you take?

Zoe: Sounds like an interesting proposition. This will also give our readers some books to check out if they haven’t read or heard of them. Why don’t you start us off with your first book?

Justin: Well my first book would have to be Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It is one of those books that I’ve read several times. My father was the one who actually introduced me to the book and it is his copy from college that I have sitting on my bookshelf. Siddhartha is a take on the story of the Buddha. It talks about his life and his journey to becoming the Buddha. To me though, it talks about a simpler way of life and a more peaceful environment. I think that if the world was in chaos, this would comfort me. It is a great book and a wonderful story to read.

Zoe: Okay, my first isn’t nearly as classy as yours: Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey.  This is the first in a string of books connected to each other (three consecutive trilogies) and in many ways the strongest because it utterly establishes  this fantastic, alternate history / religion / culture… a wicked beast of a premise.  It’s not for the faint of heart; the main character is a god’s chosen and experiences all pain as pleasure.. in addition to feeling pleasureful things as pleasure of course.  It’s a wonderful political thriller, a coming-of-age story, a sweeping adventure and romance, as well as a very interesting look at desire.  And very importantly, it has a fiercely unique and complicated lead female….  I’m stopping myself there, before I just go on and on: What’s your second pick?

Justin: Screw my second pick, I want to read and take that one.

Zoe: Well you can’t, it is my choice.

Justin: Sigh, fine. So, my second choice isn’t as cool as Zoe’s first choice and I am sure it won’t be as cool as her second choice, but here it goes anyway. For my second choice I would bring along a book of Edgar Allan Poe’s works including his poems and short stories. If you’ve read my other blog, you know that I am a poetry fan as well as a fan of Poe. He is one of my favorite poets and his horror stories take you back to a day when it didn’t have to be all blood and guts. His writing would also remind me a lot of Hitchcock and if there were no more electronics, it would be a happy reminder of the things that I loved. I don’t think he is given as much credit at times as other great poets, but he was unique and is worth checking out if all you’ve ever read is “The Raven” for school. Okay, so since I am pretty sure your next book will be as kick-ass as your first, lets have it.

Zoe: My second choice…  Wow, this is really hard.  You know, I avoid lists like this; they make me want to justify things.  But okay, my second would be A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.  The title sounds pretentious, but the book really is both heartbreaking and hilarious.  Everything, from the literal front cover to the literal back cover, is a part of the story; the author’s biography and the author’s picture contradict each other–there is a list of metaphors at the beginning that he actually uses that way during the story.  Man, I can’t even tell you how crazy and hard (crazyhard!) that is!  But now, it comes down to it.  What is your last choice?

Justin: This one was actually really hard to decide upon, because as you’ve mentioned, there are a ton of great books out there. Your last choice made me think of a book by Chuck Klosterman called Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs that is an excellent and hilarious read. However, since my last two choices were kind of serious, I think for my final book I would go with Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It is an excellent piece of science fiction that can really make you think. Some of the ethical questions that arise during the reading of this book are great conversation starters. Also the character of Ender in my opinion is just down right brilliant. It can also take you to a place where you can forget about your problems for awhile and focus on a whole other world. Wow that was a hard choice.

Zoe: I am conflicted here.  I have a tiny list of four books and I’m sure I’m forgetting about a million books that I love to reread, that I’d want to carry with me…  So.  I’m going to go with Bulfinch’s Mythology.  Take that, only-three-books rule!  If you get a Poe collection, I get an anthology.  If you’ve never so much as heard of it, I highly recommend paging through it, if not reading it cover to cover.  It’s a collection of all the most basic Greco-Roman myths, the story itself but also long quotes from source material and the oldest written versions of the story that there are.  I love mythology so much, the components and qualities of human nature that drive it, and the crazy stories.  Sigh…  Now can we talk about the books that almost made the top three?

Justin: Hahaha, I knew the only three rule was killing you. I was actually going to suggest that you list a few more of your favorites after we were done here. But I have to say, I think even with only being able to name three books we came up with a great list of literature. However, I know it is nagging at you so let’s have the ones that almost made the list.

Zoe: In no particular order: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, Born in Ice by Nora Roberts, Faking It by Jennifer Crusie, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Tommy’s Tale by Alan Cumming, Obsidian Butterfly by Laurel K. Hamilton, Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay, Someplace to Be Flying by Charles de Lint, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough, Tomcat in Love by Tim O’Brien, His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, The Villa by Nora Roberts, Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts, Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, Pablo Neruda’s collected poems–

Justin: Wow, awesome, now that you have completed the “War and Peace” of lists, I will try to keep mine short. And I am not sure that list can count as ones that almost made it. That is basically saying the library or a Barns and Nobles almost made it. Anyway, like Zoe and in no particular order (I’ll keep it short): Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, Travels by Michael Crichton, AWOL On The Appalachian Trail by David Miller, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Riverworld Series by Philip Jose Farmer, The Dresden Series by Jim Butcher and finally The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’d ask if there was any you forgot but I am pretty sure we would be here all night.

Zoe: Yeah, that is probably true. It is better if we stop now before I can think of more…

Justin: Sounds like a plan. Also, we would like to hear from you guys as well. What are your three books that you would take? Just leave us a comment below.

Zoe: It doesn’t have to be a long one. A simple three-book list is fine.

Justin: Exactly and hopefully the weather is getting warmer somewhere so grab a book and sit outside. Although in Ohio at the moment it is still freezing. One day it will be warm… One day.

Zoe: It was actually a bit nice when I got home today; I walked to pick up some food while on the phone with my mom and only had on a tee and a hoodie.

Justin: Lucky. Well, until next time. Night Everyone!

Zoe: Night!