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Summertime Is Ask Mo Time: Talking 'Game of Thrones,' 'Psych,' 'True Blood' and More

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jul 19th 2011 2:00PM
Thanks to everyone who posted or emailed TV questions! Let's get right to them:

Matthew: I have a little dilemma. I know you weren't the biggest fan of the first couple episodes of 'Game of Thrones,' but from the minute the pilot began, I have been in love with every second of the epic series. Anyway, my love for all things 'GoT' has made me insanely hungry for next season.

My question is, as someone who has never read the books, should I dive into the novels to satisfy my craving, even though I will effectively be spoiled for the rest of the run? Or should I stay with just the series until it ends? A friend already spoiled [an event] at the end of episode 9, and I couldn't help but feel cheated. What do you think?


Mo says: Hey Matthew, I was iffy on the first few episodes of 'GoT,' but I had become a big fan by the time the first season drew to a close. From about the middle of the season onward, I think the show generally went from strength to strength and the last few episodes of season 1 were absolutely terrific (you can find my weekly 'GoT' recaps here). Like you, I'm very eager for 'GoT' to return, but alas, we have almost a year to wait before that happens.

My gut-instinct response regarding the book question is...

Don't read them yet. I highly recommend the books, but I'd say you're best off enjoying the HBO drama on its own for now. Part of me thinks you might enjoy reading the first book, given that it would fill you in on events and relationships the show didn't have time to dwell on. But asking you to read the first book and resist going on to the second would be like asking you to eat just one potato chip. You might have the self-control to do that, but I doubt I would.

So my feeling is this: If you like the TV show and haven't begun reading the books yet, I'd say just continue with the show and read the books at some point down the road. Some mild dissonance can set in when you invest in certain aspects of the books and then the show doesn't spend a lot of time on those things. Also, though the TV show's adaptation is generally faithful, it does alter some events and relationships, so the changes may confuse you a bit. By just watching the show, you're avoiding any mental friction, and of course, you'll still have the option of reading the books when the TV show is over, whenever that is.

Now, you might just go ahead and decide to read the books -- and I'm betting a lot of people who got interested in the HBO show did just that, which would account for 'A Dance with Dragons,' the fifth book in George R.R. Martin's 'Song of Ice and Fire' series, racing to the top of the bestseller charts all around the world upon its release this month. And you know what? It's far from the end of the world if you plunge into that fictional world. The books are good reads, and I can't say with absolute certainty that having read the novels would make watching the TV show less enjoyable. In some ways, reading the books might help, given that there are a lot of names, relationships and backstories to remember in this tale, and reading these enjoyable but long tomes would be one way to reinforce all the things you need to know to keep up with HBO's version of Martin's sprawling tale.

I don't know if any of the above helped, but, if it's any use, here's my history with the books in Martin's 'Song of Ice and Fire' series (of which there will be seven total, the gods willing). I read the first three novels about three years ago, and I've chosen to stop there for now. Once the HBO show is over (and if the show stays as good as it got in the second half of its first season, I hope it stays on the air for a long time), I plan to re-read the first three books in the series, then go on and read the books I haven't gotten to yet. I'm actually glad that there are events and situations in the second and third novels that I've forgotten at this point -- I'm sure there are a fair number of things that will come as a surprise to me when I watch the next season or two. Of course there are some events I could never forget, and I'll cross my fingers that on screen, they live up to Martin's descriptions in the books.

I'm actually kind of excited to contemplate the prospect of the show embarking on the parts of the tale I haven't read yet. The keys to this story, on the page or on screen, are the characters and their complicated relationships and evolving loyalties. The characters on the show aren't carbon copies of the people in the books, but they're intriguing in different ways (and in the case of one or two characters, I'm more interested in the TV versions). I'm thinking it'll be fun to watch them go through adventures I haven't read about yet.

By the way, I received another question about how I think 'GoT' will adapt the books in season 3 and beyond (generally speaking, season 1 of 'GoT' followed the first 'Song of Ice and Fire' book and season 2 will follow the events of the second book of the series). To answer that question: I honestly have no idea. The show's creators have said they won't necessarily do a book per season beyond the first two seasons, but the challenge of adapting book 3 and beyond is not an immediate problem they have to solve. Production on the second season is set to begin July 25, and I'm betting executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have their hands full just trying to get that off the ground.

One last 'GoT' note: I'll be heading to Comic-Con later this week and will be attending the 'Game of Thrones' panel. Wifi willing, I'll try to file a report on that event as soon as I can.

UPDATE: Also, there was some exciting 'Game of Thones' casting news today -- the show has cast Stannis and Melisandre.

Laurel: Any idea when 'Psych' is returning to USA's lineup? It's been so long and is one of my three favorite shows of their originals ('White Collar' and 'Burn Notice' are the other two).

Mo says: USA has only said that 'Psych' will be back in the fall, but here's a fun factoid for you: William Shatner will guest star in an episode when the show returns. He'll play Juliet O'Hara's estranged father, a con man who wants to reconcile with her. Even though it sounds like a story line we've seen on other shows before (most notably 'Chuck'), I look forward to seeing the inimitable Shat on 'Psych.'

Dave: Following AMC's remake of 'The Killing,' I'm wondering if TV bosses in the U.S. are right to assume that there is apparently no audience at all for subtitled drama there and if so why, you think this is.

I'm not knocking AMC for doing a remake at all. I'm speaking from a UK perspective and we also remade the Swedish series 'Wallander' with Kenneth Branagh. But we also got to see some of the original Swedish series based on the same books. Similarly the US version of 'The Killing' has just started here some months after the conclusion of the Danish original....

Given that these channels only have a limited number of new shows to broadcast each year and that these foreign language imports are apparently relatively inexpensive, I wonder why a channel like HBO isn't tempted to take a punt on one or two shows like these.


Mo says: HBO, which can afford these kinds of experiments, did import the Argentinian crime series 'Epitafios' a few years back, but generally speaking, the networks want to burnish their reputations with shows they adapted or created themselves. Imports might be on the cheap side, as you say, but they don't necessarily add to the aura, prestige or reputation of a particular network.

Also, I would guess that network executives don't think that audiences would be willing to watch a subtitled show, at least not in sufficient numbers. I'm not defending the general aversion to subtitles (and I'm sure some people are fine with them), but they are extremely uncommon on American television, and I think -- and I bet executives assume -- a subtitled show would appeal to a relatively narrow slice of the potential viewing audience. Given that audiences are shrinking in general, executives probably don't want to tempt fate further by airing something that is perceived as having limited appeal from the get-go.

George: Why are broadcast networks not making ambitious and authentic crime dramas anymore? Why do they continue to ignore the legacy of shows like 'Crime Story,' 'Hill Street Blues,' 'NYPD Blue,' 'EZ Streets,' 'Boomtown' and 'Robbery Homicide Division'? The only ones I can depend on are 'Southland,' 'Justified' and 'The Closer.'

Mo says:
Good question. Given how many of the broadcast networks' groundbreaking and acclaimed shows came from the crime and cops realm and how many good crime dramas there have been on cable, it's interesting to note that there are few ambitious police-oriented shows on the air now or in the pipeline. Fairly standard cop and law-enforcement shows are still around (i.e., 'Dark Blue,' this fall's 'Unforgettable'), but it's not encouraging to hear that the producers of 'Blue Bloods,' one of the few mildly ambitious cop shows out there, have been encouraged to take the show in a less serialized direction.

The 'CSI,' 'NCIS' and 'Law & Order' franchises are still trundling along, of course, though all three crime empires are showing their age. 'SVU' is the only 'L&O' series left, and one of its stars, Christopher Meloni, has left the show altogether and another, Mariska Hargitay, will have a reduced workload next season (Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino will be taking lead roles in the new season of the show). And of course 'CSI' will have another new lead actor in the fall -- Laurence Fishburne is being replaced by Ted Danson.

It's worth mentioning that several of the shows you mentioned above, notably 'EZ Streets' and 'Boomtown' weren't considered commercially successful. But perhaps the current drought of top-of-the-line cop shows is just an example of the cyclical nature of the TV business. For a while there, the networks were extremely skittish about anything with a supernatural or horror flavor, but now you can't swing a cat without hitting a werewolf (or is it vice versa?). There's even a supernatural-flavored cop drama coming in the fall (NBC's grim 'Grimm').

Still, despite the untimely end of 'The Chicago Code,' I have no doubt that shows with police officers will continue to get made, and eventually one of them will be a commercial and/or critical hit. For example, a few years ago I would have said that on the broadcast networks, the legal drama was pretty played out, but then 'The Good Wife' came along and blew my assumptions out of the water.

And while we wait for the networks to come up with ambitious law-enforcement dramas that are worth our time, let's all just watch or re-watch 'Justified.' That works for me.

Tony: Why does NBC continue to treat its most successful shows like crap? Last year we had to wait until January for the incredibly funny 'Parks and Recreation,' a year ago it was the same for 'Chuck' and now I hear they will leave off '30 Rock' until January What are they thinking?

Mo says:
There's no anti-'30 Rock' plot. Tina Fey is pregnant with her second child and the breather will give her time with her baby before production resumes on the comedy.

Sheindie: Your take on 'Ringer'?

Mo says:
I compiled a list of the new season's intriguing pilots here, and though the CW's 'Ringer' was on that list, I thought it had a few pacing and plausibility problems. Still, I think it's an interesting premise and I am looking forward to seeing more of the new Sarah Michelle Gellar show.

DG: I travel a lot and kill time by streaming or watching shows on iTunes or DVDs. I am always looking for great series (I like to watch the entire run -- pilot to finale) that I never watched. For example, I have just started watching 'The Shield' and am loving it. Another show that I always wish I had watched was 'Gilmore Girls.' I've heard it was a smart show, but I wonder if it holds up. Which leads me to my question -- which shows of the '80's, '90's and '00's hold up?

Mo says:
Wow, that is a huge question. I'd like to throw it open to readers to offer their suggestions (and I'll offer a few of mine as well).

As for 'GG,' I generally liked the show a lot, but it comes with its own share of baggage. Individual seasons usually have a few great moments/episodes and also episodes that might make you want to hit your television (or laptop) with a hammer. So if, after a few seasons, you think you've had your fill of it, I wouldn't think any worse of you for moving on to something else. I'm not saying I'm not glad I stuck with the show for its first six seasons -- I am. As for its seventh season -- honestly, skip it. I was not a fan and though the 'GG' series finale was sweet, the season as a whole left me with a bad taste in my mouth for a whole bunch of reasons.

Regarding the category I'll call "shows from the past 30 years or so that are worth watching all the way through," that list is huge. I invite readers to offer their suggestions and I'll make a few of my own, but this is just a really quick list off the top of my head. It's certainly not meant to be comprehensive, as I'm sure I'll think of dozens more shows once I've posted this column. So please, if you think I've forgotten a great show from the past few decades (that, again, is worth watching all the way through), add it yourself in comments.

In any event, given that you appear to be looking for shows that are more than a few years old, I'm generally sticking to shows that are more than 4-5 years old here. I'd say you couldn't go wrong with any of these programs: 'Freaks and Geeks,' 'Buffy,' 'Angel,' 'The Sopranos,' 'Deadwood,' 'Everwood,' 'Arrested Development,' 'Hill Street Blues,' 'M*A*S*H,' 'Homicide,' 'Northern Exposure,' 'Moonlighting' (it had many downs but its ups were pretty fun), 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' (though the first couple seasons are bad), 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' (ditto), 'Farscape,' 'Cheers,' 'My So-Called Life,' 'Alias' (the first couple of seasons are the best ones, and by the way, Ryan McGee is recapping the show here), the first four seasons of 'House,' 'The Tick' (animated and live-action), 'The Larry Sanders Show,' 'Slings and Arrows,' 'Prime Suspect,' 'Twin Peaks' (yes, it falls apart, but it's an interesting slide into chaos), 'The X-Files' (for the love of God, stop after season 5, or even earlier), 'The Office UK,' 'The Office' (if you stopped watching after Jim and Pam's wedding, I'd understand -- it gets very inconsistent around that time), 'Band of Brothers,' 'The Wire' and 'Battlestar Galactica.'

As for more recent shows, you're also safe adding the shows that apeared on the Best of the Year lists I wrote when I was TV critic of the Chicago Tribune, and on my best of 2010 list, which appeared here late last year.

Most critics would probably add 'NYPD Blue,' 'ER,' 'Sports Night,' 'The West Wing,' 'Once and Again' and 'China Beach' to that list, but it's been so long since I viewed those shows that I wouldn't want to necessarily weigh in on them. But put it this way, if I had time to spare, I'd begin full watch or re-watch campaign featuring any of those six shows tomorrow.

Giles: I'm a big fan of 'Rescue Me,' which begins its final season on FX this month. I'm also a fan of your criticism, from your days at the Chicago Tribune. Yet I can't remember you ever giving your thoughts on what I think is one of the best shows of the last 10 years. So, are you going to be sad to see Tommy Gavin and the gang go?

Mo says: Thanks, Giles! I'm sorry, but I'm not really a fan of 'Rescue Me,' for a lot of reasons. I did write about the show in its early seasons, but I gave up on it, in part due to the way the show and its creators handled a rape story line in season 3. But even before that poorly handled crisis came about, the show struck me as inconsistent and not quite credible, given how many women appeared to find Tommy Gavin irresistible. There were aspects of the show I liked in the early seasons, but they were far outweighed by the fact that the show seemed to basically become a star vehicle for Denis Leary, and the repetitive and sometimes nonsensical stories built around Tommy Gavin just weren't interesting to me in the long run.

Liz: In the new season of 'True Blood,' why isn't Sookie reading minds? Am I missing something?

Mo says:
I've wondered that myself, not just this year but in past seasons as well. The writers for 'True Blood' only seem to remember that Sookie can read minds every so often, when it's convenient to a particular story. But then again, consistency is not something 'True Blood' has ever appeared to value. That's just part of the reason I'm on my way to quitting this show. I've always given this outsized supernatural melodrama a lot of latitude -- sure, it's nutty and ridiculous at times, but it could be affecting on occasion as well. But 'True Blood' is working my last nerve with certain season 4 story lines, and my tolerance for the show's shoddy, repetitive aspects is wearing very thin.

Note: Several reader questions were also answered in a recent Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast, including this one:

Joey: Any info on when 'Luther' season 2 will air in the US?

Me:
No, sorry.

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July 20 2011 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kate

I would definitely add Sports Night and the first three seasons of the West Wing, having recently mainlined Sports Night myself (it's currently on netflix instant). I'd also add seasons 1 and 2 of Veronica Mars. If you enjoy genre stuff and liked Buffy and/or Angel, I'd also add the one season of firefly and Supernatural (though that's still on the air, so it may not be old enough for you).

Agreed about True Blood... it used to just be fun and ridiculous, but now it's just painful for some parts. I am still tuning in, but I have been actively avoiding some storylines this season, because they are just miserable and make me miserable. I wouldn't be surprised if it just fell off my radar by the end of the season.

July 20 2011 at 12:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rocco Celentano

I think "Wiseguy" with Ken Wahl should be added to the list. I'm actually revisiting it this summer.

July 19 2011 at 7:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
banderweir

I would add Jeremiah, Firefly, Reaper, and The Riches to that list, even though I don't think any of them had a proper ending to the series. But they were great while they lasted.
And as for Sookie's mind-reading, she used it once this season on Porchia (spelling?), Bill's new GF, when they were discussing who bought her house (and when she was in fairy land or wherever). I think the main reason she doesn't use it (or that you don't see it) is that it doesn't work on supernatural beings. Since almost ALL of the show's characters fit this description now, there aren't many people left that she associates with that it would even work on. Also, I think she tries not to use it on her friends, and it is kinda played out and really old at this point...

July 19 2011 at 5:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anne

The first 2 or 3 seasons of The West Wing really never get old. Jokes I know are coming are still funny, exciting moments still give me goosebumps, and depressing scenes still make me sad after 100s of views. Personally, I really like the first 3 seasons of Gilmore Girls as well. The college years? Not so much, mostly because I stopped liking half the Gilmore duo. I too would highly recommend M*A*S*H, Firefly, Buffy, Freak & Geeks, Seasons 1 & 2 of Alias, Season 1 of Veronica Mars, all except the latest seasons of the (US) Office, and (while I don't think enough time has passed for the question of "holding up") Lost.

July 19 2011 at 5:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

"But 'True Blood' is working my last nerve with certain season 4 story lines, and my tolerance for the show's shoddy, repetitive aspects is wearing very thin."

As I said to you on Twitter, I didn't think Alan Ball could be any more offensively clueless on the subject of rape than Tara and Franklin last season. Silly silly me... I don't know what was worse: Jason being abducted, drugged and gang raped by the hawt were-panthers of Hotshot, or Ball saying it was the character's "comeuppance" for sleeping around. W. T. F. BALL!

July 19 2011 at 4:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Craig Ranapia's comment
olaf78

I hadn't heard that - could you point me to the interview?
That shocks me. Alan Ball seems to have crawled up his own sense of importance and is tripping out on the hubris.
The rape of Jason disturbed me so much because, surely Ball heard the criticism of the Tara/ Franklin rape relationship from last season? Does he consider himself an artist whose oeuvre is rape as titillation?
*sad, sad sigh*

July 19 2011 at 8:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to olaf78's comment
Craig Ranapia

I can - It's the 'Inside The Episode 39' featurette. WARNING: CONTAINS CONTENT THAT MAY BE TRIGGERING TO RAPE/ASSAULT SURVIVORS

It can be viewed on the HBO site at
http://www.hbo.com/video/video.html/?autoplay=true&vid=1192224&filter=true-blood&view=null

Youtube link:
http://youtu.be/QGdMV1OiWzE

July 20 2011 at 8:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
olaf78

Thanks mate.

July 20 2011 at 8:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to olaf78's comment
Craig Ranapia

You're welcome, Olaf! Please AND thank you? Your mammaen obviously didn't raise no low rent marauder trash. :)

July 21 2011 at 2:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Jim Nelson

You can't go wrong with The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

July 19 2011 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shelly merlo

I would also recommend you watch the new version of Dr. Who. Firefly is a terrific show although you may want to cry when you realize it was cancelled without even producing a full season. As for newer shows, the Bad Robot shows of Lost, Fringe, and Alias are all good.

July 19 2011 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bearxor

How can anyone say that 30 Rock is one of NBC's most successful shows?

Not hating on 30R. Personally love it, but it's always been near the bottom of the ratings charts.

July 19 2011 at 2:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brendan D

To DG:
I actually am embarking on something similar myself. If you're a fan of genre shows, I'd highly recommend Babylon 5. It takes awhile to get going (and you have to suffer through a rather horrendous pilot film), but once it hits its stride, it develops excellently. However, pivoting off what Mo mentioned, for the love of the gods, watch DS9! I actually disagree with her assessment that the first two seasons aren't so great, particularly because the pilot is phenomenal.

So far as Star Trek series go, I'd also recommend doing something strange: watch the pilot of Enterprise, then watch a handful of eps (specifically: 1x07, 1x11, 1x15, 1x17, 1x21, 1x25-26, 2x01, 2x14-15, 2x19, and 2x25) before going start-to-finish from the Season 2 finale to the penultimate episode of the series. The eps I'm leaving out, quite honestly, range from average to dreadful, but skipping them won't hurt your understanding of the series; it might just make it better.

Other recommendations: Undeclared (as great a TV comedy as there's been in a long while), Dollhouse (Joss Whedon's most underrated program, and one that becomes quite the challenging sci-fi show in its own right), Season 5 of "24" (a fascinating character drama that's unlike any other season of the hideously overrated show), and Veronica Mars (even the much-maligned third season).

July 19 2011 at 2:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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