Monday May 20, 2019

Seems like I’m in the minority of those satisfied by last night’s Game of Thrones finale. I think it’s a very tall task to wrap a show like this up in a way that will appease everyone, but at the end of the day, enough was resolved IMHO.

Here’s what critics are saying.

And here’s a more detailed explanation as to why it was impossible to satisfy everyone, according to one writer.

Obviously many questions remain unanswered. Here are some of them.

Barry left us with another cliffhanger. Not sure how I feel about that one.

18M people tuned in for the finale of The Big Bang Theory last Thursday.

Dirty John is moving from Bravo to USA for season 2.

Someone named Laine Hardy won American Idol last night.

James Corden is in advanced talks on a new multi-year deal with CBS that will keep him at the helm of The Late Late Show as host and executive producer. Sources said Corden’s camp has been in deal talks with CBS for some time. The previous deal that Corden inked when he came to the network from the U.K. in 2014 was set to expire at the end of the upcoming 2019-20 television season. Corden’s new contract is sure to come with a significant raise for the host at a time when top talent is commanding massive paydays for TV projects. Corden came in on the low end of the late-night TV pay scale as he was a largely unknown personality from the U.K. at the time. He was believed to have started out at around $4 million-$5 million a year but his Late Late Show salary has climbed since then with the success of the show. Late Late Show has earned Emmy nominations for talk-variety show for the past three years.”

A review of the upcoming Netflix series What/If.

Netflix has announced the return of its long-running documentary series Chef’s Table and new episodes of Somebody Feed Phil, featuring Phil Rosenthal. They join the new The Chef Show with Jon Favreau and Chef Roy Choi on the Netflix menu, the latter show announced.”

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Per The Ringer, “[s]ince Aegon the Conqueror established Westerosi power in the hands of a single ruler 300-plus years ago, most of the continent’s kings have collected descriptive sobriquets. Some were flattering, from Jaehaerys the Wise to Daeron the Good; more were bitter and distasteful, from Maegor the Cruel and Aegon the Usurper to Aegon the Unworthy and Aerys the Mad.

“The last king in Game of Thrones followed that Targaryen pattern, after several interim rulers without. Bran the Broken, the first Stark king of the continent, gained control midway through the series finale—yet in a final hour that saw otherwise fitting, emotionally touching endings for his Stark relatives, the close of the new king’s arc was the most baffling moment.

“Bran’s rise from broken Bran to Bran the Broken—an inversion of words that makes all the difference—makes perhaps the most sense from a raven’s-eye view, when considering the totality of his character progression. The Thrones pilot climaxed with Bran’s fall from a tower, courtesy of Jaime Lannister’s friendly shove, as the boy who sought knighthood lost the use of his legs instead. His subsequent development into not just a knight but a king, the king, works for a story that tries to subvert traditional tropes and expectations.

“And in a meta sense, in a story that at the end especially tried to say something meaningful about stories themselves, this development fits too. Why is that the case? Here, I’ll let Tyrion explain (in a council meeting that came across as hasty and contrived and rather silly, in some respects, but that’s not the point here):

“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story than Bran the Broken? The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the Wall, a crippled boy, and became the Three-Eyed Raven. He is our memory, the keeper of all our stories. The wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines. Our triumphs, our defeats, our past. Who better to lead us into the future?”

“Given that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss reportedly discussed the broad concluding plot points with author George R.R. Martin more than a half-decade ago, it would now be a safe bet that in Martin’s mind, too, Bran becomes king at the end of his series of books. There, too, Bran’s rise fits: He was the first book’s first point-of-view character (the introductory prologue aside), and his POV chapters in the show’s later books, though not as numerous as those of a Tyrion or Jon Snow, are some of the novels’ most affecting and magical.

“But it’s in the show’s treatment of Bran between his becoming the Three-Eyed Raven and his becoming Westerosi king that the arc flickers and dims. The future king spent an entire season sidelined, as he reached the predecessor Three-Eyed Raven’s hovel beyond the Wall and the show pressed pause on his story line. Notably, he is the only major character to miss an entire season after being introduced.

“When he does return, the show uses him more as a key for plot conveyance (most notably, through learning Jon’s true parentage) than a real character himself. His personality effectively disappears—see: his awkward reunion with Sansa; his awkward goodbye with Meera Reed—and he becomes more meme than man. As Ben Lindbergh wrote for The Ringer about Bran earlier this season, the character’s default stare ‘could detract from the drama and turn pivotal plot lines and a serious character into comic relief.’

“The purpose of Bran’s position as the Three-Eyed Raven, moreover, is only shallowly explained, which seems important when the basis for his assumption of the throne rests on his ostensible role as storyteller. Earlier in Season 8, Bran tells the assembled war council at Winterfell that the Night King wants to kill him because he is the world’s memory. But his predecessor lived isolated from the world, huddled in a cave far beyond the Wall, not sharing that memory with any living human. He’s not the first Three-Eyed Raven, either, Bran reveals, but rather just the latest in a long line of memory holders, The Giver–style. How can we square one Three-Eyed Raven who lives apart from humans and one who rules them, and assume they fulfill the same strategic function?

“Martin also famously believes that the quality of a king’s character does not determine his success as a ruler. The unexplained nature of Bran’s powers as applied to his new post seems strange in this light too. Why, for instance, does Bran even need a master of whisperers, which he asks about in his one small council meeting in the finale? He can see everything, and hear all the whispers! And what does it even mean for the realm when its king can see the future, and apparently knew his own future all this time already? As he says in the finale, he traveled south only because he knew his destiny; how long has Bran known, and did any other characters have agency and choice along the way?

“More importantly, for a show that has disregarded or downplayed so many elements of the fantasy genre since surpassing Martin’s books, the turn to the character most connected to those very fantasy elements at the end underwhelms. If Bran were to become king, why cut him from a full season of the show? Why reduce his personality? Why cut short the yin to his magical yang, the Night King, and ignore a possibility at his personality, too? Why resolve the White Walker plot so suddenly? Why give Bran so little to do during that fight? Remember, during the Battle of Winterfell, Bran tells Theon, ‘I’m going to go now,’ scouts via ravens for a brief moment, and then does nothing for the rest of the episode. Perhaps this was a nod to Bran’s ability to see the future, the idea being that he knew the humans’ plan would work already—but is that inaction a model for his reign? If so, the implications are far from compelling in a show about power.

“The show wasn’t always just about fantasy, and it wasn’t just about political power. It was a blend of the two, and in that sense, Bran as king brings the two threads together—the character with the most fantasy power gaining the most political power, too. Yet because the exploration of those two sides of the story has grown so imbalanced, in Season 8 particularly, that fusion falls forced and flat.

“None of this criticism is to say, again, that Bran’s ultimate fate is wrong or against the spirit of the story. But it seems underdeveloped specifically in a show that hasn’t known what to do with this magical character for seasons on end. Like much of Season 8, it works more in the moment than it does as the endpoint to a series of connected moments; in this case, every vote from the assembled high lords and ladies for Bran’s rule contrasts sharply with every uncomfortable syllable he uttered to Meera’s heartbroken face last season, since which Bran has exhibited no real signs of social growth or tact.

“Bran might well make a strong king for Westeros. The wonder of stories isn’t just their past but their unexplored futures, the dreams of unwritten plot that will never come—the march of Jon and the free folk to the far north, the sail of Arya on her direwolf-branded ships to the west. The realm broke the wheel with Bran the Broken, and the whole world might be better for it. But the storytelling that led to that point was ultimately broken, too. Bran the Broken, indeed.”

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One more GoT take from The Ringer, whose coverage has been beyond great: “Finales, traditionally, are when television series show their cards, or at least force viewers to internalize what may have been apparent for some time. Mad Men was not a damning indictment of capitalism; it was a fairly earnest account of one man’s ability to find self-actualization inside it. The Sopranos was not your mother’s gangster story; it was maddeningly ambiguous to the end, withholding even the catharsis of a shootout. Television is a medium defined by its possibilities, keeping as many open for as long as possible in a show’s quest to sustain itself. A finale’s job is to foreclose those possibilities forever, turning a dynamic story into a fixed object.

“Conclusion is risky, but in the case of Game of Thrones, it was also tantalizing. Mere days before Sunday’s final episode, it was still reasonable to wonder exactly what this story about power, legacy, justice, and governance was attempting to say about any of these things. With Daenerys Targaryen a confirmed, if not convincing, despot, would Thrones double down on the futility of building a better world? Or would it veer in the opposite direction, contradicting many of its early lessons on the limits of idealism by echoing the late Varys’s endorsement of Jon? Until the very last moment, Thrones toyed with both extremes: the unrelenting cynicism it always flirted with, and the conventional heroism it once eschewed.

“In the end, the show landed somewhere in the middle. The most definitive takeaway from The Iron Throne, written and directed by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, is that Thrones was the Starks’ saga all along. The direwolf sigil now flies all over the world, from Bran the Broken’s seat in King’s Landing to Sansa’s independent queendom in the North to Jon’s happy self-exile beyond the Wall to Arya’s travels in the West. The series ends with a montage of the siblings embarking on their respective journeys, their unimaginable pain mercifully transmuted into well-deserved new beginnings. Game of Thrones built a following on its epic scope, yet it exited the most intimate and pathos-friendly of family dramas, like This Is Us with genocide and CGI.

“But The Iron Throne also offered some firmer verdicts on Thrones’ more abstract ideas. The Starks may have gotten the narrative last word. The thematic one, however, fell to Tyrion Lannister—unsurprisingly, considering his close ties to the show’s more conceptual streak. It was the Imp who proposed the system of government that would replace the Iron Throne, helpfully and symbolically melted down by Drogon to avenge the death of his mother, driven mad by and eventually slain due to her desire for it. Westeros, minus the North, will no longer have dynasties; in their place, a council of noblemen and women will select whoever is best fitted to the task, starting with Bran.

“Considering how much time earlier seasons of Thrones dedicated to powerful people pursuing their own self-interest over the common good, the idea that future lords and ladies can even be trusted to back the best candidate is more than a little out of character. For the most part, however, this political vision fits well enough. It’s not democracy, a concept invented out of whole cloth by Samwell Tarly and laughed out of existence within minutes. But it’s more democratic than what came before, or what could come from Dany using the means of her oppressors to replace the world order with one and the same. Game of Thrones isn’t nihilistic—it’s incrementalistic. And its version of a fairy-tale ending involves a small council bickering about boats.

“Eventually, Thrones hit on a conclusion that was in keeping with its core identity. Unfortunately, finales never stand alone. Television shows are cumulative, and their climaxes can’t be separated from the relatively mundane plotting that makes them possible. Many have criticized late-period Thrones for cutting corners en route to its endgame. In theory, The Iron Throne presented an opportunity to justify this breakneck pace. In practice, it demonstrated its cost. Plenty of developments in The Iron Throne landed. They just could have landed much deeper if they’d been preceded by a more meticulous set-up.

“Take the pivotal confrontation between Daenerys and Jon Snow. Ironically, eliminating a Targaryen conqueror and the seat of her house’s power along with her is exactly the kind of wheel-breaking Dany claimed she always wanted. It’s a poetic end to her story, and a sharp illustration of Thrones wariness toward the corrupting influence of power. But the character’s decision to slaughter thousands, which eventually spurs Jon to kill her, never squared with the principled, politically aware person we knew until mere episodes ago. Nor did the romance between her and Jon ever get time to develop. Consequently, her demise feels both overdetermined and underdeveloped: legible in the big picture, disjointed in the moment-to-moment storytelling.

“Tyrion and his master plan for the realm suffered similarly. Once, and apparently still, the soul of the show, Tyrion’s been dealt a dirty hand for the last five seasons. His character arc may have been motivated by a need to make Dany’s victory less than inevitable, but he hasn’t been allowed to act as a true voice of reason in ages, making his sudden return to the post—in both the show’s eyes and other characters’—unconvincing. Why would this group of people suddenly listen to a man arguably responsible for the destruction of a city, not to mention the death of a dragon and the loss of several battles? Why would they trust him to administer a country, based on little more than Bran’s endorsement? Speaking of Bran: Is he really such a wise choice to rule mankind, considering he’s not exactly a man anymore? What’s positioned as a redemption instead reads as a spontaneous reversal, not based so much on the events of The Iron Throne as on what came before them.

“Otherwise sound outcomes undermined by messy preambles only proliferate from there. What does Jon’s return to the North mean, given that the show hasn’t bothered to establish where the free folk stand after the fall of the Wall? Who’s the ‘new prince of Dorne,’ besides a warm body to contribute to the Six Kingdoms’ newfound sense of unity? Have we ever known Arya to be an explorer for exploring’s sake, as opposed to a means of getting back to her family? The problem with valuing results over process is that process informs the results, particularly on a show as obsessed with minutiae as Thrones.

“Plenty of The Iron Throne was authentically satisfying. The sight of Sansa being hailed as Queen of the North was a balm, as was that of Tyrion and Bronn interacting as true peers, not coworkers or adversaries. Much of it, however, visibly strained to satisfy, an instinct that feels antithetical to Thrones’ erstwhile ethos. The effort also could have been unnecessary, if earlier installments had more organically facilitated what The Iron Throne has to push. Ironically, Thrones scramble to the finish line made the finish less of a reward.”

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Per Variety, “Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Trevor Noah may have finally found a way to get its correspondents some Emmy love. In a first, the late-night show is submitting its team of on-air contributors in the comedy guest actor and guest actress categories.

“Competing for a nomination in the outstanding guest actor in a comedy series category will be Ronny Chieng, Michael Kosta, Roy Wood Jr. and Jaboukie Young-White. And in the hunt for an outstanding guest actress in a comedy series nod will be the show’s Desi Lydic and Dulcé Sloan.

“It might seem unusual to submit that group as “guest” performers, given that they’re permanent members of The Daily Show team. But because they’re all only seen occasionally on the show, not every night, they fit the guidelines.

“Specifically, the Television Academy’s Emmy rules stipulate that ‘performers on variety sketch series may enter in lead, supporting or guest comedy categories, however, only performers appearing in less than 50% of the eligible episodes are able to enter in the guest categories. Sketch performers on variety talk series will be considered by petition on a case-by-case basis.’

“And indeed, none of the Daily Show correspondents appear in more than 50% of the show’s annual run.

“This is the first year Comedy Central has submitted its Daily Show correspondents, and it comes after the network asked the Academy to review their performances. The org agreed that the performances qualified as guest actor and actress.

“The 50% rule was established in 2015 to resolve the debate over who might be considered a ‘guest.’ The category had become confusing, as nominees — and often winners — landed a slot despite appearing in almost every episode of a TV show, all because they had been contractually given a “guest star” credit. (John Lithgow, for example, won the drama guest actor Emmy in 2010 for Dexter, despite appearing in every episode of that season.)

“Since the TV Academy opened the door to allow variety sketch performers to compete in regular acting categories, Saturday Night Live has done quite well in the guest performers categories — but those nominees have been guest hosts.

“Now, this could open the door to more variety talk show contenders — many of which similarly feature occasional contributors — to do the same thing.

“Other categories The Daily Show is submitting contenders in this year include variety talk series; variety talk series writing; character voice-over performance, motion design; variety picture editing; multi-camera series or special makeup (non-prosthetic); variety series lighting design/direction; variety, nonfiction or reality costumes; technical direction, camerawork, video control; variety series or special sound mixing; interactive program and main title design.

“Also, the show’s Behind the Scenes (The Daily Show With Trevor Noah) will be submitted in the short form variety series category.”

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Per Vulture, “[t]he fifth episode of Barry’s second season came out of nowhere, like a frenzied grade-schooler thirsty for a taste of blood. To set the scene, if you didn’t watch when it first aired in late April: Hapless hit man Barry (Bill Hader) is tasked by a cuckolded cop with murdering the guy schtupping his wife, which doesn’t sit all that well with Barry’s newly adopted pacifist leanings. As an alternative, he goes to the stud’s house with the intention of scaring him off, but, to put it mildly, things do not go as planned.

“From that premise, ronnie/lily morphs into something self-contained, violently surreal, and wholly unique. After failing to convince Ronnie (Daniel Bernhardt) to skip town, Barry engages the guy — who, to Barry’s great misfortune, turns out to be a world-class tae kwon do master — in brute hand-to-hand combat that fills most of the episode. Until, that is, the story abruptly shifts focus to pit Barry against Ronnie’s kid daughter, Lily (Jessie Giacomazzi), a borderline-feral cherub with a Terminator’s staunch refusal to die.

“‘We’d been talking about doing an entire episode where a hit goes wrong.’ Barry showrunner Alec Berg said. ‘We had this idea that Barry and the guy he’s trying to kill would be on opposite sides of a wall, and the whole episode would just be them talking, and then Barry kills the guy. We never quite found a place for that, but we always wanted to do something like that — one episode that felt like its own thing, done in real time.’

“Inspired by Moonlighting’s legendary Atomic Shakespeare episode, in which the cast enacted Taming of the Shrew in a boy’s imagination, Berg and co-showrunner/episode director Bill Hader decided to make that ‘something’ happen for the second season of their HBO comedy. They toyed around with pacing, letting segments of Barry’s drag-out battle against Ronnie and Lily stretch past the length of a normal scene. ‘You know Space Mountain at Disneyland?’ Berg said. ‘There’s a cool thing that happens at the end of that ride, where there are, like, seven right turns in a row and then a sudden left turn. It always works, to get people into a certain rhythm and then throw them off of it.’

“The episode’s standout MVP is Giacomazzi, whose shocking turn as Lily lifts the footage into a rarefied register of the chillingly uncanny. Without any dialogue to humanize her, she delivers a performance that straddles the line of human and beast. ‘They told me that she was like a wild mongoose, like a weird crazy animal,’ Giacomazzi told Vulture over the phone, between two of the many auditions that she’s lined up since her big episode aired. ‘I imagined my own father dying, and I’d get really upset. I could turn into an animal, attacking everything in sight, let out my inner monster a little.’

“She breaks through the limits of realism as the episode lurches into its second act, which sees Lily defying gravity in her all-out assault on Barry. ‘I was on a wire connected to a harness,’ said Giacomazzi, who’s also done stunts on Westworld. ‘People would pull the wire to make me rise up or float to the side or things like that. They’d yank it, and I’d get launched right at Bill Hader, try to stab him in the air. It was definitely fun!’

“In the episode’s most unsettling moment, Lily scurries up a tree with the dexterity of a demonically possessed squirrel and perches on top of a garage, leaving Barry and his accomplice Fuchs (Stephen Root) dumbfounded. Giacomazzi explained how she was able to go all girl-from–The Ring on ’em: ‘We had a big green tree that they could use CGI to make it look like a normal tree. I was in a harness attached to a crane, and they put these rock-climbing handles on it, so I could climb up with no trouble. With the harness still on, they’d lift me right over to the top of the roof and put me down really gently.’

“After regrouping on the roof, Lily sneaks up on Barry and Fuchs as they hide in their getaway vehicle. She quietly slips into the back seat, then waits for the perfect moment to strike in the most horrifying fashion: Lily leaps forward and bites into Fuchs’s cheek, her eyes vacant as she sinks her incisors into the grown man’s flesh. Of course, the reality of the scene was much less bloody. ‘They put prosthetics on his face, the same skin color, and it popped out a little so I’d know where to bite down on,’ Giacomazzi said. ‘I would crawl in through the window, hide in the car, and then pop out just right to hold on to that spot, and not his actual face.’

“Giacomazzi talks nonchalantly about her time pretending to attempt homicide; she mostly remembers joking around with Hader, and everyone taking extra-special care to be sure she was okay after each stunt. To Giacomazzi, making one of the year’s best TV episodes was little more than structured, hyperviolent playtime.

“‘They told me the scream should sound like a dinosaur, pterodactyl if I could do that,’ she said, with the matter-of-factness of a seasoned pro. ‘I did it a few times. Then I got used to it.’”