“Game of Thrones,” “Chernobyl” and “13 Reasons Why” were notable TV series this summer.
To keep this article at readable length, and because I have not seen every TV show ever, I am not covering every TV event of the summer. If you want to talk about “Stranger Things,” I’m afraid you will be limited to the entire internet. Anyway, SPOILER ALERT.
“Game of Thrones”
During its serialization in May, Americans were talking more about “GoT” than the presidential election campaign. Final seasons like this demand a stronger word than divisive. Some say it was horrible. Some say it was okay. Some say it was still very good. There are good arguments for all of these. There are also plenty of bad ones. I’m going to lay out the good and bad takes and let you choose your own opinion.
Let’s begin with the stronger arguments. In the uncharacteristically happy ending, just about every major character is rewarded for their noble actions in some way, and it feels like a cheap fairy tale: A Stark becomes king, Podrick and Brienne become his kingsguard, Bron suddenly has the skills to be an accountant and Jon Snow rides off into the sunset as the hero Westeros deserves but not the one it needs blah blah blah. Unlike the entire rest of the show, that ending has been very, very done before.
And where is Dany during all this? Well she’s dead after a descent into madness that lasted about an hour and a half in its entirety. Now, there were pieces in place for her fall; people forget how she had shown not a gram of mercy for her enemies since the end of the first season when she burned a woman alive with a bonfire. But she became a mad queen so quickly it felt like less of a character arc and more of a character U-turn. She deserved better, and so did we.
Onto some so-so takes. The idea that Ayra could not have killed the Night King is ridiculous. Ayra dealing the final blow is
consistent with both her skill as a fighter and her role in the story. Granted, it would have felt more satisfying if Jon did it, but that’s it. It may have not been the finish we were all waiting for, but it was by no means bad.
Next, the criticism that Jon’s heritage was irrelevant to the story is simply inaccurate. Obviously, it could have been made to be more riveting and satisfying. Exactly how is up for debate. Regardless, one of the largest contributions to Dany’s fall were her feelings of isolation and insecurity brought about by Jon’s better claim to the throne.
One reason Jon’s bloodlines effect on Dany goes so overlooked is the tainted “coffee cup” scene. It has a telling shot of Dany frowning longingly at the survivors of the long night as they ogle over Jon as a born leader; her insecurity and paranoia were amplified by her awareness of Jon’s heritage. People tend to only think about that scene in terms of the notorious coffee cup slipup, which unfortunately muddles the showrunners’s attempts to broadcast the inner complications of Dany’s character.
Ending with the worst take, no, “Game of Thrones” is not a bad show. Season 8 was not even the worst ending of a show. If the show’s worst season had come early to mid- way through the series instead of at the end, we would be talking about one of the greatest shows ever right now. The finale’s disappointing qualities were massively exacerbated by the fact that it was the final season, and by the sour note on which the show ended. Furthermore, almost no TV show with a heavily serialized format can withstand more than five seasons without going bad. “Dexter,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Lost,” all are infamous examples of that rule. “Game of Thrones,” almost made it through eight seasons with consistently high caliber. It was an incredible show, the grandest ever made. It is a true shame it will never be considered the best.
The best TV of the summer.
Beginning with the acting, it was incredible, but nothing that stands far above the usual HBO drama. The exception is Stellan Skarsgård. He was gripping, easily taking his character from the likeability of a professional wrestling heel to the sympathetic character opposite protagonist Jared Harris’s Legasov. The most interesting thing about the show is its subtlety. Everything seems understated, and the actors had the onus of keeping that tone. With the exception of David Dencik removing and replacing his glasses three too many times throughout the series, the muted acting style blended wonderfully with the gray of the show’s concrete and the silence of the evacuated towns.
As for as what the show did wrong, many people have complained about the British accents. Honestly, they have a point. Few people casted were actually Ukrainian or Russian.
However, it would be difficult to train every Brit casted in the show to do a believable Russian accent that an audience would take seriously. Badly imitated accents are much more jarring than out of place natural ones. Of course this is minor, but consider- ing it is present in every line of dialogue in the show, it is hard to say it is unnoticeable.
There are also a few minor historical in- accuracies, but I will leave those to people who want to research them. They are there, they make the show a tiny bit more dramatic, and that’s that.
On another note, this show was excellent. But in a sense, it was set up for success. HBO is richer than God, and the format of a streamable mini-series exploits that expertly. Dumping a huge budget on only five episodes is not an easy thing to do from an economics standpoint considering the need of broadcasting companies to finance TV shows via ad revenue. But HBO has deep pockets, no need to make money off of commercials and enough cash to subsist on if the thing was a flop. Another thing this show has going for it is America’s odd fascination with radioactivity. Just about anybody with access to Google has been on the Chernobyl Wikipedia page at some point.
The final verdict? It comes to absolutely no one’s surprise that the best television of the summer is “Chernobyl” from HBO. This show is hotter than nuclear fission.
“13 Reasons Why”
Everyone needs to read this take with a grain of salt. I admittedly have not seen much of this show, nor any of its latest season, and I plan on never changing that. But the reality of yet another season of this show eliminates all arguments that the show’s persistence is anything but a cash grab instituted by Netflix in the form of a tragedy porn. The first season was dangerous, but arguably respectful in execution. It also helped raise awareness to teen mental health and told some stories that are not told enough. It was a good use of TV as a medium for change.
Then there was the second season. It was a stretch to continue that story, but one could argue that the trial was just as important as the events leading up to it. As for the grotesque acts of bullying, those are things that sometimes do happen, and saying they should not be depicted on TV is silly; teenagers have to deal with those things in real life. At the time of the second season, whether or not one can call the show gratuitous after a second season is up for debate.
But the absolute unnecessity of a third season marks when this show has abandoned realistic storytelling in favor of entertainment. It has become objectively gratuitous. This is the inverse of “Chernobyl.” Its drama is so overstated that “Riverdale” is a more realistic and relatable tale of teenage life.
Summer gave audiences a wide range of TV to watch, and that means plenty of things to argue about. Fall is certain to bring some content ripe for fighting over on reddit, and I for one am excited to absorb it en masse.