Thursday, May 31, 2012

Game of Thrones, Girls and the "reality" of sex on television

Jemima Kirke as Jessa and Lena Dunham as Hannah in Girls; Esme Bianco as Ros in Game of Thrones.
Once, when I was in college, a friend and I had a conversation about sex in literature. This discussion was occasioned by a short story that had been published in one of our school's literary magazines; specifically, by the traumatic sex scene that was the piece's central incident. The friend asked me if I liked the story; I said that I did, but that I didn't understand why sex in literature was always so unpleasant, why characters in literary fiction never seemed to enjoy it. In response, she provided me with the best explanation of literary sex that I've ever heard.

"It's hard to write good sex," she said. "It always just sounds like porn."

I remembered this conversation when I read a piece about the sex on (what else?) Girls in the New York Review of Books. The author, Elaine Blair, rhapsodizes about the "unexpected frankness and naturalism" of sex scenes between Hannah and her not-boyfriend Adam, while taking to task those who find those scenes uncomfortable and clearly one-sided. "We can find something sexy and even liberating in that sex scene in spite of our strong identification with Hannah," she says, referring to a scene from Girls's second episode in which Adam masturbates on Hannah's chest while spouting some very uncomfortable dirty talk. "Sexy" and "liberating" are somewhat odd descriptors for a sex scene in which one partner doesn't reach orgasm and is clearly not fully comfortable with Adam's particular brand of turn-ons.

Don't get me wrong; I don't object to the sexual acts happening onscreen in and of themselves. I agree with Blair that Hollywood movies and TV shows have an unfortunate tendency to equate sex with, as she says, "mutually rapturous face-to-face vaginal intercourse," and that it would be nice to see other kinds of sex portrayed as normal rather than deviant. The problem is that Girls doesn't really do much to take these atypical portrayals of sex out of the realm of deviance and into the mainstream. Yes, the characters do have many different kinds of sex - oral, autoerotic and doggy-style are but a few of the varieties on display - but, as of right now, only one female character has actually been seen enjoying any of this sex. Not coincidentally, she's the one who shows up accidentally pregnant, a moment that doesn't exactly read as judgment-free.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Game of Thrones photo recap: "Blackwater"

"Blackwater" was Game of Thrones' most focused, streamlined and compelling hour since last season's "Baelor." As Stannis launched his ill-fated attack on King's Landing, Tyrion and Sansa kicked unbelievable amounts of ass, Joffrey revealed the depths of his cowardice, and Cersei's slow descent into madness started to accelerate. As always, check out the gallery below for the episode's best moments, and keep reading for a rundown of the night's more memorable quotes.

The best moments from "Blackwater": Sansa shows off her newfound cleverness, Tyrion shows off his skills with an axe, and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss show HBO why the extra money for special effects was necessary.

The night's best quotes: Stannis' ruthless nature comes to the fore, Tywin Lannister has some pretty compelling religious beliefs, and the Hound quits his job in a fashion that is only successful when you're a 300-pound killing machine.

"I've always hated the bells. They only ring for horror; a dead king, a city under siege..." "A wedding?" "Exactly." Just wait until Sansa marries Joffrey. The sheer unpleasantness of that event will put any other instance of death and destruction to shame.

"I've seen you kill a man with a shield. You'll be unstoppable with an axe." As I mentioned, this scene was wonderfully played by both Peter Dinklage and Jerome Flynn; Tyrion and Bronn's relationship might be the most romantic on the show.

"They say my brother Robb always goes where the fighting's thickest. And he's only a pretender." Sansa has managed to combine Stark bravery and nobility with the ability to keep her head firmly attached to her shoulders. That girl is going to go far.

"The worst ones always live." After the absolute badassery of Sansa's conversation with Joffrey, we get an unfortunate (and heartbreaking) reminder that, no matter how craven and cowardly he is, Joffrey has powerful people behind him, and those people will fight to keep him alive at any cost.

"We're too far from the gates. The fire. They have archers. Hundreds will die!" "Thousands." Stannis is still a better choice than Joffrey - who, with the possible exception of Ser Gregore Clegane, wouldn't be? - but the casual way he dooms thousands of men in a quest for the Iron Throne demonstrates that he has his shortcomings as well.

"Your father doesn't believe in the gods?" "He believes in them, he just doesn't like them very much." When you compare this comment to Tyrion's lament last week that all he wanted was a god of "tits and win," it becomes clear that the Imp has more in common with his father than Tywin (and Cersei) might like to believe.

"Fuck the King's Guard. Fuck the city. Fuck the King." The Hound says what everyone is thinking, and gets away with it because, really, who's going to stop him?

"Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them!" Maybe not the most noble way to end a rousing battlefield speech, but Tyrion gets points for both flair and for pointing out the fundamental lack of clear moral divisions that distinguishes Game of Thrones from, say, Lord of the Rings.

"The battle is over. We have won!" As conflicted as I am about the Lannister victory, I'm glad that Tywin got the opportunity to say this line. If you need someone to announce that you won a battle, Charles Dance is your man.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

This quote tells you everything you need to know about Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy and the cast of Glee. Photo courtesy of

In a fascinating interview with Vulture, Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy responded to his very vocal critics and discussed the burden of acting as a showrunner for three series at the same time (his comedy The New Normal just got picked up by NBC). The whole thing is worth a read, but there is one remark in particular that not only stands out, but that offers an explanation of how Glee went from a snarky-yet-heartfelt story about a high school glee club to a self-proclaimed Important Show About Important Issues.
The seminal childhood TV viewing experience for me was the episode of All in the Family where Edith almost got raped. Also on Maude, when Bea Arthur made the decision to have an abortion. I remember watching those shows and talking to my parents about them, and it was a way for my parents to talk about those things with me and feel comfortable doing it. So it really is something I’ve always loved since I was a kid, that form.
Murphy's self-aggrandizement aside (Glee's sledgehammer approach to "issue" television is worlds removed from the subtlety of Maude or All In The Family), this quote sums up the ongoing problems with Glee and dashes any hopes I had that The New Normal might stay away from the endless preachiness that has become a Murphy trademark.

Because this comment isn't a response to a question about portraying social issues on television or Glee's recent, much-maligned domestic violence episode. The interviewer had merely asked Murphy why he had decided to try his hand at a half-hour comedy. His immediate jump to a discussion of Big Social Issues not only glosses over the fact that a sitcom is a very different beast from an hourlong drama or dramedy, but demonstrates his preoccupation with making TV shows that "matter."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Game of Thrones photo recap: "The Prince of Winterfell"

"The Prince of Winterfell" was an episode of Game of Thrones that picked up on Cersei's line to Sansa from last week: "The more people you love, the weaker you are." Themes of love and its consequences were everywhere, from Robb and Talisa's newly consummated relationship to Peter Dinklage's revelatory work in his scenes with Cersei and Shae. As always, check out the photo gallery for a rundown of the hour's best moments, and then keep reading for the night's most memorable quotes.

The best moments from "The Prince of Winterfell": Brienne and Jaime are oddly perfect together, Arya calls in her final favor, and the episode ends with a reveal that surprises no one.

The hour's best quotes: Yara Greyjoy, Westeros' top comedian, is back, Ned Stark was the best lord anyone could hope for, and Shae can be adorable even when issuing seriously gruesome threats.

"Which one gave you the tougher fight? The cripple or the six-year-old?" Obviously the cripple, because he had Hodor on his side. Hodor!

"Theon, you're my blood. We both loved our mother, we both... endured our father." Yara's summation of Balon Greyjoy acts as a nice counterpoint to Robb's description of having Ned as a father.

"He once told me that being a lord is like being a father, except you have thousands of children, and you worry about all of them." See what I mean?

"See that he doesn't get drunk in the evenings. He's poor company when he's sober, but he's better at his work." I'm not entirely sure how Tywin thinks Arya - who weighs about eighty pounds soaking wet - is going to keep The Mountain from doing whatever he wants, but the vote of confidence is nice nonetheless.

"And how did you accomplish this marked drop in thievery?" "Me and the lads rounded up all the known thieves." "For questioning?" "...No." Bronn and Tyrion are the Abbott and Costello of Westeros.

"Digging latrine pits at the end of the world... I can't imagine anything much worse." "Then you lack imagination." Dolorous Edd lives up to his nickname (although you can't really blame him).

"A man has patrol duty." Jaquen's unique syntax works well when he's making cryptic statements about murder, but it's not as effective when he's just talking about his day. "A man has to stop by the post office" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

"A man can go kill himself." And Arya out-badasses a ninja genie.

"His place is not on the battlefield." "It's not on the throne either. Sadly for all of us..." Joffrey insults will never get old.

"I will hurt you for this. A day will come when you think you're safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you will know the debt is paid." Tyrion Lannister may not be the most physically imposing specimen, but he can be pretty frightening when he wants to be.

"There are people who want to hurt me." "I know. I won't let them. I'll cut off their faces. I will." Only Shae can turn a bloodthirsty threat into a term of endearment.

"I don't want to marry the Frey girl." "I don't want you to marry her." Who would have thought that Game of Thrones could pull of unabashed romance (or, to be more specific, unabashed romance that didn't start with forced marriage and rape).

"He didn't say anything about the guards." "What, he left that bit out? It's a pretty important part, don't you think?" I missed you, Gendry. I really did.

"Imagine Stannis' terror." "I am trying." Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill are masters of deadpan sarcasm.

"Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where is the god of tits and wine?" A pretty hilarious line that highlighted another theme of "The Prince of Winterfell": overuse of the word "cunt." Seriously, I counted at least seven instances, and I probably missed a few.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A chronicle of my reaction to Dan Harmon's exit as Community's showrunner

The happiness of any Community fan is destined to be short-lived. As soon as you get excited about something, like the show's fourth-season renewal or the hilarious, heartfelt finale, you hear the terrible news that Dan Harmon will not be returning as showrunner. This Vulture piece offers a great, even-handed analysis of the situation, so if you want coherent thoughts and background information you should check it out. If, however, you want to know the many stages of my reaction to the news (plus bonus video of Troy Barnes crying), you should keep reading.

1) Well, that fucking sucks.

2) Hey, those new guys (David Guarascio and Moses Port) worked on Happy Endings! I like that show.

3) So, this means the loss of two executive producers (Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, who have development deals with FOX) and one showrunner. Can the show recover from that?

4) This is Community! It can recover from anything!

5) It was a kind of a dick move for Sony to start shopping for a replacement without trying to work something out with Harmon first.

6) On the other hand, Harmon is notoriously difficult to work with, and has butted heads with the studio on multiple occasions.

7) On the third hand (because I am a three-handed alien, apparently), would Community be the show that it is if Harmon hadn't fought for it with the studio?

8) Maybe the show will have a longer run than it would have with Harmon in charge.

9) But are more episodes worth it if Harmon isn't there?

10) (absolute brain meltdown due to too many competing thoughts and feelings. MY EMOTIONS! MY EMOTIONS!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

THAT Scene: The men of Up All Night bring the funny

THAT Scene is a recurring feature that takes a closer look at a single scene that exemplifies a particular show, theme or moment in time. The scene might be good or bad, but it will always be memorable and worth talking about.

Many of the best sitcoms, both current and past, thrive on the strength of their ensembles. Happy Endings, Arrested Development, Cheers and Seinfeld are some of the best-known examples of half-hour comedies that work the best when they put their large casts in the same place and let them bounce them off one another.

Up All Night doesn't work the same way. The core ensemble of Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph is half the size of Community's or Friends' six- and seven-person casts. The show has also been hit-or-miss at developing its secondary characters; for every Missy or Kevin there's a Luke or B-Ro who doesn't quite fit. That alone makes today's scene - which comes from the show's season finale, "The Proposals" - unique; not only does it not feature Reagan or Ava, but it succeeds on the chemistry between Chris and two recurring characters, the aforementioned Kevin (Jason Lee) and Chris Diamantopoulous' amazing Julian.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Game of Thrones photo recap: "A Man Without Honor"

This week on Game of Thrones Dany looked for her dragons, Cersei acted like an actual human being, and everyone talked. A lot. "A Man Without Honor" was the talkiest episode since the first season's "Lord Snow," but a hefty helping of intrigue and gore, not to mention a couple shocking reversals, kept the tension high. As always, check out the photo gallery for a rundown of the best moments, and keep reading for a sampling of the night's best quotes.

The best moments from "A Man Without Honor": Theon loses control, Xaro Xhoan Daxos shows his hand, and Sansa has a really terrible morning.

The night's best quotes: Ygritte spends a day making fun of Jon, Arya talks back to Tywin, and Brienne shows the men who's boss.

"Do you have sheep at the wall?" Both a hilarious line by Ygritte, and a nice call-back to Sam's conversation with Gren at Craster's Keep.

"If you're my prisoner, you're not a free woman, that's what prisoner means!" Jon was not acquitting himself particularly well in this episode, intelligence-wise. Probably due to the lack of blood going to his brain.

"Most girls are idiots." Maisie Williams just killed it in this scene.

"You're too smart for your own good. Has anyone told you that?" "Yes." So did Charles Dance. I would watch the hell out of an Arya/Tywin spinoff.

"We don't go serving some shit king who's only king because his father was." That right there was the moment when Ygritte became the envy of everyone in King's Landing.

"And I thought that we were done, but he said, 'Turn back around!'" Ygritte's entire speech about being taken advantage of by Jon was hilarious, but the final line put all the rest to shame.

"I thought it would be less... messy." Right then, every single woman watching the show said, "Oh, sweetie, I know."

"Shouldn't I love Joffrey, your grace?" "You can try." One of the best things to come out of this episode was Cersei's realization that Joffrey is, in fact, a terrible human being.

"Take your hands off me, woman!" "Don't enter without an invitation, man!" Brienne doesn't do a whole lot this week, but this line was fantastic.

"You've become a real she-wolf in your later years!" Jamie Lannister is the king of inappropriate flirting.

"It's just you, me and Joffrey. The lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and protector of the Realm." The sarcasm with which Peter Dinklage articulates this line was delicious.

"What if your father despises the king? What if the king massacres the innocent? It's too much. No matter what you do you're forsaking one vow or another." A brilliant speech from Jamie, not to mention an accurate summation of one of Game of Thrones' most potent themes.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Community recap: Five full-length episodes we want to see after watching "Curriculum Unavailable"

Hot on the heels of the news that Community will be back for at least thirteen more episodes (hopefully more since, contrary to a lot of speculation, the fourth-season deal did not specify an end date), the internet's favorite comedy delivered a phenomenal episode that both built on last year's "clip" show, "Paradigms of Human Memory," and moved the ongoing plot forward.

Just like its predecessor, "Curriculum Unavailable" provided some tantalizing glimpses of the episodes that might have been, from a life-sized chess match to Troy buying an ATV. So here, in no particular order, are the five clips that I would most like to see made into full-length episodes (plus a bonus idea for a spinoff!). Enjoy, and keep repeating the mantra: Six Seasons and a Movie!

"Native American Tribal Rituals"

Plot: After deciding that some serious soul-searching is in order, Britta attempts to convince a local Navajo elder of the seriousness of her vision quest and, after being rebuffed, scores some peyote from the (now dearly departed) campus drug source, Starburns. She is not prepared for the intensity of the experience, and neither is Greendale's local ecosystem.

Why should we see the whole thing? Because of the wonderfully deadpan way that Gillian Jacobs asks how long peyote lasts.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

NBC is picking up new shows left and right (including what looks like The Hunger Games: The TV Series)

Perpetually last-place network NBC went on a shopping spree yesterday, picking up six new series for the 2012 season. One of those series, the J.J. Abrams-produced post-apocalyptic thriller Revolution, look like a reasonably promising sci-fi adventure (although that could just be because I'm a sucker for a good apocalypse). It also looks suspiciously like a certain smash hit young-adult book (and film) series, at least as evidenced by the promotional picture below (via Vulture):

I mean, the girl in the middle is wearing Katniss Everdeen's exact hunting jacket, and the guy on the left  in the white shirt is a dead ringer for Peeta Mellark. Not to mention that all of them are holding bows (which, between The Hunger Games, The Avengers and Pixar's upcoming Brave, are really having a moment.)

In other NBC pickup news: Vulture reported that the poor, bedraggled peacock has decided to pull itself out its ratings slump with the Ryan Murphy sitcom The New Normal (it worked for FOX!); the Matthew Perry-starring series Go On; and Save Me, starring Anne Heche, which is just sort of baffling. Then, as if fans of 30 Rock, Community, Up All Night and Parks & Recreation weren't sweating enough, the network also greenlit 1600 Penn, a White House-set family comedy starring Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman, and Animal Practice, which TVLine described as a workplace comedy about "a House-like veterinarian who loves animals but usually hates their owners."

With the exception of Revolution - which could take Fringe's place as the critically-adored-yet-ratings-challenged science fiction series when the former ends its run after a thirteen-episode fifth season - none of these look terribly promising. The New Normal has the double advantage of Ellen Barkin and The Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells, but it also has the black hole of awful that is Ryan Murphy. Mr. Sunshine and Studio 60 proved that Matthew Perry can't really carry a show on his own. 1600 Penn contains another Book of Mormon alum, Josh Gad, but Pullman and Elfman are pretty far past their primes by this point. As for Save Me and Animal Practice; I have no words. None whatsoever.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Game of Thrones photo recap: "The Old Gods and the New"

"The Old Gods and the New" was a magnificent episode of Game of Thrones, featuring some lovely, moving moments, serious character development, and scenes that were viscerally painful and edge-of-your-seat tense. As usual, check out the gallery below for a rundown of the episode's best moments, and then keep scrolling for a sampling of great lines. And remember to stay out of Dany's way when she goes looking for her dragons, because you do not want to be the person between Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen and her fire-breathing children.

The best moments from "The Old Gods and the New": Jon Snow meets a lovely wildling, Tywin and Arya are almost like friends, and Joffrey comes so close to getting what he deserves.

The night's best quotes: the last moments of Ser Rodrik Cassel, Cersei deals with her emotions using threats, and Roos Bolton has Theon Greyjoy's number.

"Ser Rodrik, it grieves me that we meet as foes." "It grieves me that you've less honor than a back-alley whore." At least Ser Rodrik got in a good one-liner before he died. And we got one last glimpse at his awesome beard.

"You're even dumber than you look." Jon Snow does keep making incredibly stupid decisions. He deserved that.

"Maybe you should devise our next battle plan while you're about it." Did I mention how much I love the Tywin/Arya pairing? Because I love it so much.

"Strike hard and true, Jon Snow, or I'll come back and haunt you." I have a feeling that Jon wouldn't mind being haunted by Ygritte.

"One day I pray you love someone. I pray you love her so much, that when you close your eyes you see her face. I want that for you. I want you to know what it is to love someone, to truly love someone, before I take her from you." Now would be the time to hide Shae somewhere a bit more remote than Sansa's chambers.

"Princes don't cry." "I saw you cry." Hilarious, Sansa. Stupid, but hilarious.

"I want these people executed!" "They want the same for you." We all want that, Ser Sandor. We all want that.

"We've had vicious kings, we've had idiot kings, but I don't know if we've ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king!" If there are words in the English language that describe Joffrey Baratheon more effectively than "vicious idiot," I haven't heard them.

"The people will rise to fight for their rightful queen when I return!" Dany may be a bit naive, but after a few more months of Joffrey the people of the Seven Kingdoms would probably welcome just about anyone.

"I'm writing a letter to the Lannisters: the Young Wolf is on the move!" Wouldn't it be kind of awesome if Valisa was actually a spy, and she just lied to Robb's face about it?

"Why would Theon..." "Because the Greyjoys are treasonous whores." You are not wrong, Mr. Bolton.

"You are everything he hates. Your horse eats better than his children." Just as Tyrion perfectly summed up Joffrey, so Shae perfectly summed up the rebellion in King's Landing. Those two really are meant for one another.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Criticizing The Hobbit for looking "like TV" misses the point

Martin Freeman in The Hobbit. Photo courtesy of

If you've been keeping up with the latest news about Peter Jackson's film of The Hobbit, you might have heard that the audience who saw a ten-minute preview of the film at CinemaCon (or at least a part of that audience) did not like the look that a 48 frames-per-second projection rate gave the movie, comparing it unfavorably to the "cinematic" quality produced by the usual 24 frames-per-second.

Devin Faraci of Badass Digest wrote that the movie was "drenched in a TV-like - specifically '70s-era BBC - video look," adding, "It looked completely non-cinematic." Entertainment Weekly's Anthony Breznican said, "The clips Jackson went on to show looked more like visiting the set of a film than seeing the textured cinematography of a finished movie," and Charlie Brooker took the opportunity to opine, in the Guardian, that movies and TV news are just looking too similar these days. Apparently, Brooker misses the time when TV stations "had the decency to commit to appalling production values."

Do you have thoughts on Girls? Then share them!

It seems like everyone and their mother (or at least, everyone and their Facebook friends) is talking about HBO's Girls these days: critics, pundits, even Louis C.K. are weighing in on the show. But I want to hear what you, dear readers, think! Does the lack of diversity on Girls bother you? Do you think it's a realistic representation of a particular generation, or a part of the generation? What do you love and hate about Girls?

You can share your (sure to be) brilliant and insightful thoughts in the comments, or you can click over to Pencils Down, Pass the Remote's Facebook page and talk there. Some of your comments might even make an appearance (anonymously, of course) in an upcoming post that will explore the effect of the endless Girls discourse on the show's reception. And, of course, there will be prizes for the best comments*!

And, of course, if you haven't like Pencils Down, Pass the Remote on Facebook yet, you should probably do that.

*Prizes may or may not be imaginary.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

So this is what Game of Thrones would look like as a buddy comedy

The good folks over at Vulture know that you were dying to see what Game of Thrones would look like if it were reinterpreted as a buddy comedy about Tyrion Lannister and Bronn. So they have kindly provided you with an awesome trailer for "One And a Half Man," the story of Westeros' most abiding bromance.

The best part of the entire trailer might be the announcement of the fake movie's release date: "Coming soon. Just like winter."