Monday, April 07, 2014

"Game Of Thrones" is top of my must-not-watch TV chart

I've never watched "Game Of Thrones". That's nothing special. I've never watched "The Hunger Games" either. Nor "Breaking Bad", "Battlestar Galactica", "The Waking Dead", "Sherlock", "Lost", "True Detective", "Buffy The Vampire Slayer", "Arrested Development" and hundreds of other hot TV series everybody says are great.

And when I say I've never watched them I mean I've never watched so much as ten minutes of any of them. They're not designed for snacking. With this kind of densely-plotted high concept entertainment you can't stop while passing through the room and expect to be brought up to date by somebody sunk deep in the sofa. You're either there for the long haul or you're not there at all.

There are plenty of these shows I hear a bit about and decide to avoid because I suspect they're clever enough to keep me watching but not substantial enough to make me glad I did. And they're so long they can steal half your life away. It's a new category. Must-not-watch TV. If I had a chart of must-not-watch TV "Game Of Thrones" would be at the top of it.

Which is why it's so risky putting a show like that on the cover of a general interest magazine. Shows like this run in narrow channels and don't pique the interest of anyone outside those channels. They're intensely rather than widely popular.

It's not like when J.R. was shot in "Dallas" almost thirty-five years ago. Everybody had some attachment to that storyline. Either they watched it or they had watched enough of it to know which one was J.R. and to have an idea why somebody would wish to shoot him.

Interest in "Dallas" spilled over the sides of the channel which carried it. No longer.

They say it's the golden age of TV. They're probably right. In years to come we'll look back and say "Yes, I remember Game Of Thrones. Never watched it."


  1. Anonymous8:13 am

    Agreed there are only so many hours in the day - you can't watch everything and would be very sad if you did. Don't think there's anything wrong with sticking GoT on a mag cover. Every cover doesn't have to have broad appeal - it can seek to intrigue and invite people in. Haven't seen it either

  2. With the exception of Sherlock I can exactly match your 'not viewed' list. However, I've watched The Sopranos, The West Wing and The Wire soup to nuts. Not only that, I'm really glad I did. Why did I watch those and not the others? No idea.

  3. I think you are underestimating the depth of the material.

    In the past there have been shows like 'Lost' who carried style over substance, where the creators didn't have a clue as to where they were going, but were able to string a sizeable audience along for six seasons.

    In contrast Game of Thrones is based on a series of novels by George R. R. Martin and remains largely faithful to them.

    The problem for those involved in the adaptation of these books has been how condense the multiple plot-lines, and a large cast of characters who are mostly spread across wide distances, into a compelling narrative.

    Martin still has two books left to write but has passed on the main plot points to the show-runners, should anything happen to him. Arguably Game of Thrones has more structure than a show like 'The Sopranos' or 'The Wire' since the story already exists.

    I also think you are underestimating the wide appeal and cultural impact of Game of Thrones, which has the dubious honour of being one of the most widely pirated in history.

    Nothing is going to have quite the same resonance as Dallas because TV is a less dominant force. Many other modes of entertainment now compete for our attention.

    Game of Thrones airs on a cable channel and is strong on graphic violence, sex and colourful language. Despite this, I see plot points from the show crystallizing into online memes and parodies – a sign of something permeating into popular culture. There is a whole generation who will remember the Red Wedding from season three as one of those “Jesus Christ! What the fuck!” moments of TV.

    I admire the show rather love it like. It's incredibly ambitious television, both from a technical point of view and also in regard to story-telling. It amazes me that something on this scale ever got commissioned.

    I can understand the scepticism of anyone who either missed, or avoided, the first three seasons and who is now being bludgeoned publicity fourth. I wouldn't put it on the cover of a general interest magazine either, but not because I think it has niche appeal. I believe that the growing popularity of such shows is being driven by the giant water cooler that is the internet. Part of the fun of watching is getting together with people afterwards to discuss what you've just seen and share theories.

  4. I have some recollection of Dallas being watched in my student house, but had no interest in JR being shot and can't remember discussing it with anyone, ever. Who Shot Mr Burns? on the other hand...

    Five minutes of Game of Thrones is enough to tell you that it's tosh, no matter how much people claim it resembles The Sopranos. + I hate fantasy. But Breaking Bad was worth tracking down over odd channels and dodgy downloads over six years and I kind of envy the box set bingers. Don't usually leave a comment but wanted to thank you for pointing me to High Maintenance. I've watched the first three cycles on my exercise bike over the last five days and it's excellent. Guess I'd better save the fourth cycle for a while, or I'll be bereft.

  5. Well, I can't speak for most of those (I don't watch much TV these days) but Buffy in particular was designed to be something you can dip in and out of. Except for a few cases, each episode is designed to make sense on it's own without knowledge of the ongoing plotlines. (I think Stephen Moffatt said something similar about the structure of writing for Dr Who - very few people watch it every week, lots of people watch one episode) But if you hadn't watched it then you wouldn't know I guess...

  6. Presumably someone like Backwards 7, who has time to write that much in a comment about Game of Thrones, obviously has sufficient time to waste watching Game of Thrones itself.

  7. I wasn't a long-haul watcher: Lost, Heroes, Mad Men, The Wire, True Blood - still never seen a blink of any..

    But there was a slight shift after breaking my shoulder last summer. Week's on end, with minimal movement - I needed something to do. Breaking Bad was the turning point. Trudged through series one, then binged on the rest. It really is worth all the huff, puff and hype.

    Since then I've been speed-dating other series. The Sopranos (too dated), Thrones(too fantastical), Board Walk Empire (too slow)..

    The Bridge (Swedish version) and True Detective have been worth working into regular viewing slots - but still, neither have got me on the buzz, in the way Breaking Bad did

  8. I have to admit that I don't watch a huge amount of modern TV drama. The surge of interest in the last fifteen years towards heavily plotted arc-driven 'box sets' held my interest at the start, but now I find that unless you're prepared to give up 24 hours of your life for four-seven series worth of TV you might as well not bother.

    I also find that the over-hyping of these shows has the opposite effect on me. Rather than making it an unmissable event, it becomes almost a mission to avoid it. The PR in modern television is irritatingly pervasive and you can't move on social media for people telling you how mad you are for missing something that "literally everyone is watching". Every TV show is expected to make such an immediate impact now that unless you can measure it in Twitter hashtags, you may as well forget a second series...

    It seems the days of discovering something for yourself are long gone.

  9. I somehow managed to catch all of the episodes of I, Claudius when it was recently rebroadcast on BBC4. I watched all 12 episodes but had I missed one, my enjoyment would have amounted to almost 11/12 of the total possible. Every episode had its own story, indulgent drama and fun.

    I doubt whether anyone will watch Sherlock for pleasure in 40 years time. Whilst viewing, I felt embarrassed for the writers, for their desperate attempts to hook zeitgeist of the 2010 decade.

  10. Just because these shows don't appeal to you doesn't mean they shouldn't appeal to anyone else.

    I was adamant I wouldn't watch Breaking Bad because everyone kept banging on about how it was the greatest thing ever, and not being one to jump on any bandwagon I eschewed it.

    But then someone gave me the box set for my birthday. It sat on the shelf for months and then one day I crumbled just to see what all the fuss was about. I was gripped from scene one.

    To my utter horror, they were right.

    So don't be so quick to write these shows off. Give them a go. You might find True Detective or Mad Men are not for you, but at least you can say you tried.

    And if they hook you in, what's wrong with that? There's no shame in TV, though your posts always suggest otherwise. Amazingly, TV can be worthwhile entertaining and fun. And nothing to feel guilty about.

  11. You are waiting for the big boxed sets for Christmas aren't you? Your viewing backlog is a cunning plan to ensure that family and friends will not be stumped for ideas around the festive season. I think this is a laudable and considerate tactic to help out your loved ones at a difficult time of year. I have deployed this approach myself and have been rewarded with boxed sets of The Sopranos, The West Wing, and Rome.

  12. I'm with you there - I don't "do" cult shows. They drain the life from you eventually, the equivalent of a TV vampire (another series of programmes I never watched)

  13. Narrow channels? GoT most pirated show ever. Vast numbers watch online. Red Wedding was a big JR shared moment.

  14. For someone who has written about pop culture for a living, David doesn't really seem to have much interest in consuming pop culture.

  15. Sean Hewitt1:18 am

    Er, The Hunger Games isn't a TV show.

    You do know that, right?

    Oh, I get it. You're just parodying the usual online windbags who think their opinion is automatically worthy of attention even if it's terminally ill-informed and proudly boasts its own ignorance.

    In this case, comparing TV shows from decades ago - which would have probably have next-to-no impact if broadcast in today's TV landscape - with a different kind of telly consumed in entirely different ways by vast and varied audiences.

    Hilarious stuff! Kudos!

    If still isn't as funny as some of your music blogs, though.

  16. Have a look at the Afterword. You're getting a bit of a kicking.

  17. Interestingly, the first episode of series 4 bought both HBO and Sky's Now TV streaming services down through the huge demand for the programme. It's also likely to be HBO's most watched series of all time.

    Both of which don't necessarily mean that GOT is any good (although it is) but it would suggest that its worthy of a Vanity Fair cover.

  18. J.R. gets shot?
    Way to spoil a series, dude.

  19. Anonymous10:01 am

    I have sympathy with David's reasoning - there's more entertainment available than time in which to consume it, so heading for the longest form possible is a questionable decision – but those seeking a box set to binge on might consider Six Feet Under. Still fresh, funny, thoughtful and rounded, and IIRC only one thing that dates it: a scene in which a minor medical emergency prompts a desperate search for a Yellow Pages rather than today's recourse to smartphone.