Last night, Conan O'Brien had J.J. Abrams on his show to talk about Star Trek Into Darkness, among other things of course, and at one point the conversation turned to Alice Eve and her brief, yet exceedingly stupid and gratuitous, underwear shot in the film. (Conan's stance: "I didn't personally see what the fuss was about, myself — I was quite happy about the scene.") For those of you who haven't seen the film, Eve plays Carol Marcus, a purportedly brilliant scientist who teams up with Kirk and Spock et al. At one point (I think it was an action scene, but the whole film is kind of a big clangy blur to me right now) it becomes imperative that Marcus change her outfit, and does so while Kirk watches, then is offended by his ogling. It lasts less than five seconds but the outcry over it on the Internet has lasted a lot longer.
We've all been there: a few drinks, some laughs, a few more drinks, the laughs get a little bit too loud, and the next thing you know, some drunk girl has raided your private cooler and is eating the horse heart you were saving for a special occasion. The incestuous hookup on your nice couch isn't helping the mood, and no one ever sticks around to clean up the mess from the 2 a.m. beheading. Typical.
There are no prime directives on the Hollywood Prospectus podcast — other than, perhaps, Thou Shalt Not Forsake Meek Mill and Thou Shalt Overrate All Bourne Movies — so it wasn't any sort of violation for me and Chris to tear into Star Trek Into Darkness (1:10). Amid crazy spoilers we pointed out troubles far more serious than Tribbles in a movie that was hamstrung by its need to satisfy two fundamentally opposing fan bases: those who love Trek and those who like space movies where stuff blows up. This led to one of our larger, crankier discussions about the state of big movies and how the even bigger profits contained within inevitably lead to smaller ideas and even fewer risks. Happily, taking risks is not a problem for the meth heads at Mad Men (27:38). Some may have found "The Crash" off-putting and strange, but I think we both loved it precisely because it was off-putting and strange. No show on TV has ever been more concerned with the giant abyss of neediness lurking inside everyone, and this was an hour that saw all of our favorite characters inject an insane cocktail of stimulants to try to leap that chasm like Evel Knievel, with similarly smashing results.
Normally the smell of old produce can be unpleasant, but I can't tell you how happy I was to see the Onion Knight again. And it wasn't merely because Ser Davos, the fingerless former right-hand man of Stannis, appears to have as much trouble reading books as you people think I do. No, the sight of Davos being freed from the Dragonstone dungeon warmed my heart and seasoned this entire excellent episode because it was a reminder of just how wonderful Game of Thrones can be when it digs in instead of spreading out.
I've judged the past two weeks harshly not because there wasn't enough action but because there was far too much of it: the camera whooshing from here to there and back again, like a three-eyed raven on a four-day coke binge. Believe me, I understand that the epic scope of this story demands multiple perspectives and myriad narrative threads. Even someone who hasn't read a word of George R.R. Martin's prose can be suitably stunned by the sheer size of the world he's created, the way small butterfly wings of culture, history, and pride beating on one continent can cause empires to fall on another. That Game of Thrones has a tendency to feel diffuse is more a byproduct of the medium than an indictment of the maestro; it's not easy taking a Hound-size plot and cramming it into Arya-size installments every week. Having too many wonderful characters to service is a good problem, one that other showrunners would walk through wildfire to experience. But it is a problem.
Angry Birdsthe movie is coming, and it's coming in 3-D. The question is, how relevant will the addictive slingshot-pig-avian formula be in three years (the planned release date is July 2016)? Seven years after the birds were released into the tropical habitat of iOS, they'll probably be more cranky than angry. You'll shoot them at targets and they'll just do a gripe-'n'-flop, breaking their hips when they land. I just want a 3-D feature about the happy Australian breastwhale. And I want it immediately.
Up from the 36 Chambers, it's your favorite Jamie Lannister fan-pod! Better late than never, am I right? Just as well that the Hollywood Prospectus podcast comes a couple days late this week. It allowed Andy and I to fully form some opinions about television shows that barely exist and that we haven't seen. That's right, it's upfronts season. Greenwald and I kicked the tires on all the prospective shows and imagine some that might have been.
We move on to regularly scheduled programming, tackling the rather bawdy television from Sunday night. We discussed the rising stock of Bob Benson, and the growing neurosis of Pete Campbell on Mad Men, and then chatted about how one might structure Game of Thrones differently, if one had 15 or 20 episodes to play with, rather than 10.
"The Bear and the Maiden Fair" wasn't a particularly good episode of Game of Thrones. I found it draggy and digressive, which was a surprise considering it was written by author George R.R. Martin, whose past contributions have been among the series' best, and directed by the truly gifted Michelle MacLaren, the visual genius behind Breaking Bad’s "Madrigal," who, for some reason, was handed an hour that was all tell and very little show. But it was an ideal episode for Mother's Day. Not because it featured marked-up brunches and a flurry of last-minute flowers — though I'm sure there's a Sansa Stark joke in there somewhere — but because of the way it demonstrated that there's no love more lasting or abiding than that which exists between a mother and her child.
Westeros is a harsh, decidedly macho realm. Its females, in Bronn's words, are generally afforded only two options in life, to be wedded or bedded — though I'd add a third in memory of Ros: to be deaded. Yet it appears that maternity grants Westerosi women something nearly as valuable as Yunkish gold: perspective. Turns out, Margaery's preternatural calm isn't due to the tightness of her corsets cutting off her circulation, it's because the version of Game of Thrones she's playing is a very long game indeed. Though she's marrying a preening, bloodthirsty sadist with an itchy trigger finger where his heart should be, Margaery seems sanguine about her chances. "My son will be King," she shrugs to Sansa. "Sons learn from their mothers. I plan to teach mine a great deal."
Whether you’re an experienced climber with 50 trips over the Wall under your belt, or a complete beginner who’s never swung an ice ax, it’s important to be properly equipped. On last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, veteran climber Tormund Giantsbane took his raiding party to the top of the Wall. Sure, there were some losses, but without strong ropes, well-crafted axes, and the right crampons for the job, it could have been much worse. So, where does Tormund Giantsbane shop for gear?
The past few weeks Chris and I have been constrained by time and topic, rushing through our recording as if Tywin Lannister were watching us from behind a desk, shaking his head and pointing to an hourglass. Well, no longer! Taking inspiration from Reese Witherspoon, Great(est) American Hero, we've decided that nothing is going to obstruct our justice anymore. This week's episode stretched out and stayed awhile, allowing us to give the Ballad of Reese and Jim the attention it so richly deserves (1:45), not to mention a whole host of other topics, including (but not limited to): Shane Black, Iron Man 3 (9:35), summer movies, Fast and the Furious, cars, muscle cars, that time Chris almost bought a muscle car, the time Chris tricked me into reading X-Men comics again, magic, Melanie Laurent, and the Season 1 finale of The Americans (30:00). And even with all of that in our rearview (car reference!), we still had time to shimmy up this week's draggy episode of Game of Thrones (36:30) like wildlings over the Wall and chase after an excellent installment of Mad Men (50:40) like Roger Sterling on a last-second flight to Detroit. Littlefinger may be right that chaos is a ladder. But if so, I know an Academy Award–winning actress who's currently climbing two rungs at a time, in high heels and a killer hat. #freereese
Music news for Monday: The CMT Awards nominations are in; Tan Mom drops some bronze beats into your reluctant ears (sample lyric: "It's Tan Mom, bitch / Are you ready? It's Patricia, bitch / [...] I want you to back away / get away from me every day"); Queens of the Stone Age join the rabbit hole video phenomenon; Simon Cowell gives up on celebrity judges; and, most importantly, Liam Gallagher was almost murdered by a blue peanut M&M and now carries an EpiPen ("I've got to carry a syringe about with me in case of emergencies. Proper Pete Doherty gear").
Zach Galifianakis likes to make people uncomfortable, and he's very skilled at it. Besides two previous hosting gigs (pianos, removal of facial hair and hair-hair), Galifianakis's SNL past includes being thrown out of the audience for trespassing and getting canned after two weeks on the job as a writer, so when he advised the audience not to get their hopes up, it seemed like a suitable enough disclaimer: Galifianakis does what he does; he's unwilling, or possibly unable, to do anything else. His shtick hasn't changed much over the years, but his weirdness has found its place in the temperate tropical breezes between the ferns of time. His most recent turn as host was even better than when he dressed up as Annie and lip-synched to "Tomorrow" in 2010. Like a fine, stocky half-Greek wine, his brand of comedy is aging well, and this was a great episode despite universewide disappointment that Jennifer Aniston was nowhere to be found in the final seconds of her look-alike contest spot. That Vanessa Bayer was such a dead ringer only made it a crueler tease. If you need me, I'll be crying over at Darrell's house where I can re-cut everything with more egg rolls and Aniston.
Lord Petyr Baelish may be small of finger, but he is large where it matters most: Few men in Westeros are his equal when it comes to cruelty, and none come close to matching his patience. These two traits alone make him a formidable competitor in the titular Game of Thrones, where the milk of human kindness tends to leave players all wet, and the hotheaded are usually the first to be decapitated. But as I watched Aidan Gillen stomp and preen all over his episode-closing monologue like Mayor Tommy Carcetti working a Baltimore press line, another thought occurred to me: Littlefinger's unique set of skills would make him the ideal viewer of Game of Thrones, as well.
It's no secret by now that for those of us abstaining from the original novels, the sheer weight of the story demands savage cuts and even more drastic changes of mind. Characters we've grown close to are abandoned on the fly, and we're often forced to turn our backs on the most fascinating among them for hours, even seasons at a time. This capriciousness comes easily to Littlefinger; witness how quickly he adjusted his plans away from Sansa and how viciously he dispatched Ros, a once-trusted ally offered up as target practice for Joffrey's hideous sadism. But more than anything else, Game of Thrones (the show) rewards patience and persistence, those able to sacrifice short-term satisfaction for the greater glories still to come. At the end of the hour, while Varys paraphrased Morrissey lyrics and clung to "illusions" like law and order, it was Littlefinger who kept his eye on the prize. "Chaos is a ladder," he purred, making it clear that it's never worth stopping to smell the flowers when the entire garden is there for the taking. "Only the climb is real."
On this week's episode, boys become men, men go to the movies, fathers yell at their children, and children hang out and pump it up with Michael Shannon. First off, as a matter of housecleaning, our very own podcast, and all the other great pop culture shows on the Grantland Network, are getting their own feed. You can now subscribe to the Grantland Pop Culture and Grantland Sports family of podcasts separately. This is big for us. We've been in Jalen Rose's shadow for too long. Everybody knows that.
Ah, but back to this week's show. We started out with a little chat about the new film Mud (2:00). It's a coming-of-age story set in Arkansas from director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter), and it's one of the best movies of 2013. This led us to talk about some of our favorite coming-of-age movies (Stand by Me, Fresh) and segued nicely into a discussion of Mad Men (8:45). While all the talk was about the big historical event covered in last Sunday's episode, we found ourselves more taken with the heart-exploding interaction between Don and Bobby Draper. Like a matinee of Planet of the Apes, we wished we could just run it back.
The traditional place to start a story — particularly a story featuring beautiful maidens, brave knights, and extravagant, fairy-tale weddings — is at the beginning. When the sun is shining and the storm clouds of plot are still a ways away, it's possible for an audience to gain perspective and appreciate the purpose of the struggle to come. It's why The Fellowship of the Ring opened with a Hobbit birthday party, not a savage orc battle: It's a necessary glimpse of good before things inevitably go bad.
But Game of Thrones is far from a traditional story for reasons that go well beyond the fact that the beautiful maiden in question is currently a hostage, the brave knight is gay, and Westeros's wedding of the year will celebrate the union of a cleavage-baring schemer and a psychosexual sadist whose mother is also his aunt. Things may have gotten progressively worse in the Seven Kingdoms since the series began, but decline seems to be the natural direction of things in Westeros. As far as I can tell, there have been no good times, only moments that were slightly less bad. Before Joffrey's reign of errors, there was Robert Baratheon, a wine-drunk usurper who treated the Iron Throne room like the MLB Fan Cave. And before Robert, there was Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, who burned bridges and allies with equal ardor. Barristan Selmy's recognized as far away as Essos as a great warrior, but what he really is is exhausted. "I've burnt away my years fighting for terrible kings," he sighs to Jorah. "Just once in my life, before it's over, I want to know what it's like to serve with pride." The quiet calm of Winterfell we witnessed back in the pilot wasn't merely brief, it was illusory. The crush of plot and the multiple points of view since then have taught Game of Thrones watchers an important lesson: Peace is only pleasant for the winners. And even for them, it always arrives with an expiration date.