Yes, yes, it has been weeks since the conclusion of Game of Thrones’ sixth season, making this piece all but irrelevant in the grand scheme of things…on the surface, at least. But this is freaking Game of Thrones we are talking about, the pop culture phenomenon that all but demands constant recaps, thinkpieces, and (let’s face it) clickbait centered aroudn it. This show is keeping the lights on for the entire entertainment blogging realm, so it feels very appropriate for it to be the centerpiece of the first actual article on Freshly Popped Culture. And hey, it was very recently in the news for the truckload of Emmy nominations it received yesterday, so it’s not entirely out of the zeitgeist.
And why not make the first article on this website a list of all the things that bothered me about a show the internet (including I, for the record) loves? I hear that fans tend to like that sort of thing. In any case, a few weeks late and multiple dollars short, here’s the six biggest problems I had with Game of Thrones Season 6.
1) Coup de Dorne (and Everywhere Else, for That Matter)
Oh Dorne. Dorne, Dorne, Dorne — will you forever be the nadir of this series? Hot off the heels of its big Season 5 debut (which I called “probably the worst thing that Game of Thrones has ever done” at the time of its conclusion), it was a smart move for the show to basically cut ties with the storyline, throw their hands in the air, and ignore all of Dorne until a quick scene in the finale. That being sad, even if the intent was pure, that doesn’t forgive how AWFUL the coup scene was in the Season 6 premiere. My mouth was literally agape at how rushed, poorly thought out, and just plain stupid the assassination of pretty much everyone of importance was, and how silly the concept of the Sand Snakes and Ellaria taking over the entire region was presented. Yes it was smart for the series to wash its hands of the storyline, but boy did it still come off as awkward and jarring.
And while we’re on the subject of rushed storylines involving the major political upheaval of an entire region, let’s talk about…well, everywhere else this season, it seems. It’s okay for so many places to suffer giant political developments this season — that’s been the show’s raison d’etre since pretty much the beginning. But what would once be the brunt of an entire character’s storyline for a season was now constricted to a couple episodes, if even that. And there’s both pros and cons to this quick and streamlined approach — we don’t necessarily need to spend 10 hours with Theon and the Kingsmoot, and lord knows I didn’t want to see anymore of Dorne than what was absolutely necessary. But to get all the plots in place for the main event of the season (and arguably the series’ entire endgame), things started to feel very rushed and underthought. It also don’t help that the coup in Dorne, the coup in Winterfell, and the coup at the Iron Isles all occurred within a two episode spans— believe it or not there’s such a thing as too much coup, especially at he pace it was dished out here.
There’s certainly a time in place to argue brevity in a plot (and boy will I in some storylines ahead), but when so much of the fun of Game of Thrones is the political machinations, I just couldn’t help but be disappointed at how many situations were solved by “surprise backstab!” throughout the season. And speaking of surprise stabbings…
2) Jon Snow: Dead and Loving It
No one really knew what to expect when Jon Snow came back from the grave. Yes we all knew it was going to happen (the breadcrumbs for that one were pretty noticeable), but where the story would take our resurrected bastard was a different matter entirely. And when actor Kit Harrington spoke of what was to come for the character following his return to living form, I think we were all pretty excited to see what this new direction would mean for the (soon to be former) Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
But boy was that a wash, huh?
For what it’s worth, it didn’t start all bad. Jon’s whole monologue about seeing “nothing” after death was pretty dramatic (and the only freaking reason I can see for Harrington getting an Emmy nomination in a year stuffed with great lead performances), and his execution of the traitors (including Olly!) was indeed pretty hardened stuff. But even in that execution, it was easy to see that the show would not make due on its promises of a changed Jon Snow — despite the ruthlessness of the act, Jon still showed hesitation in hanging the traitors. Our noble good guy was still clearly present, and narrative wise, that wasn’t a thing to celebrate.
Because what happened with all those talks of a “changed” Jon? As the season progressed, it quickly became clear the show was just going to ignore it, to concerned with the machinations of the plot to actually devote time to what could have ended up being a fascinating piece of progression for the character. And if the show wasn’t fully committing to Jon Snow coming back “differently” (as Beric Dondarrion teased many seasons ago), then what was even the freaking point of killing him in the first place?
The answer unfortunately is now obvious: they had to find a way that Honorable Jon Snow could be shackled free from the Knight’s Watch and actually join the fray, and killing him (and thus technically fulfilling the vow) was the easiest way of doing so. Yes it’s a decent way to move the plot forward, but that’s sadly all it ended up being. At the end of the day, the death of Jon Snow is just a footnote, something we’re bound to forget ever happened by the time the series concludes…if not already.
3) Repetitive Dany
On the subject of characters frustratingly refusing to change (the segways are coming fast and loose today), let’s talk about the Daenyrs storyline…again. On paper, her activities this season were fine: she got herself a big old group of loyal men, dealt with those pesky slavers, and seems to finally be on path to make her way to Westeros. Yes, all this is great, but certainly loses its luster the, oh, let’s say fifth time we’ve seen it happen.
Yeah that’s being a bit hyperbolic, but still — Dany’s plot seems to have been on the same rails for seasons now, and Season 6 did very little to change that. Yes we got a couple cool scenes (her leading the dragons to burn the ships at Slaver’s Bay was good spectacle), but it was hard not to feel like the “big” moments of her story were dulled substantially be a severe case of daja vu, the biggest example of course being the ill thought out burning of the Dothraki khals in “Book of the Stranger.” Once again, in theory, it should be awesome, and for many, it was. But I just couldn’t get into the scene, primarily because it highlights the show’s biggest problem with the Dany character: she always wins, is always confident (and arguably smug) that she will win, and faces little difficulty in conquering the problems around her. A couple seasons of that is fine, but after seeing it over and over again for six years, it can just get a bit grating. Like everyone else I absolutely loved that time she “dropped the whip” and burned the hell out of that asshole slaver back in Season 3, but constantly giving me that scene at least once a season just dilutes the brand a bit, does it not?
Thankfully the final scene of the series seems to illustrate that Dany’s circular plot motions in Essos will soon be coming to an end, and thank god for that. I don’t think I can take another scene of her shouting dramatically in a fake language to a crowd of brown people (often bowing to her) as a dragon roar blares in the background, her satisfied smirk closing out the episode. There’s a supercut of like half a dozen scenes of that EXACT SAME SCENARIO to be had, and for a show as varied as Game of Thrones can be, that’s not a good thing.
4) The Uselessness of the Riverlands
I don’t have a segway for this one, so this point is just going to be awkwardly introduced with little build up, and likely given much less time or reflectiion than the other points. Hey, wait, I guess I had a segway for the Riverlands plot after all!
Yes, it was nice to return to a region of Westeros we haven’t been too in a while, and taking Jamie out of King’s Landing was a necessary aspect of the plot…but ultimately, was that all the Riverlands story ended up doing? Simply move the characters of Jamie and Brienne to a place where they couldn’t be a part of the other storylines that no longer needed them? That’s fine as an overall narrative choice, but that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t have to have a little fun with it. What they introduced (the Blackfish forming his own little coup against the Frey’s) wasn’t a bad setup at all for an extended storyline, but it was resolved so soon and ultimately did so little that I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the whole thing.
And that resolution really struck in my craw too — it didn’t really show a different side of Jamie like in Season 3, and keeps him on the same disappointing trajectory he has been on since, what, Season 4? And look, I get it: his big developments are likely to come next season when he (probably) starts to have some massive doubts about his loyalty to his crazy sister, and the show felt it necessary to further build up that thread so it can (likely) knock it down come next season. But rather than that, couldn’t you have simply began to plant the seeds of doubt already, showing us how his experience in the Riverlands ultimately leads to his (not-confirmed-but-come-on-its-happening) betrayal of his sister? And that could have easily been accomplished by what the show was already doing: Jamie could have simply forced Edmure to command the Frey soldiers to ACTUALLY FOLLOW THEIR HOUSE MOTTO, retreat from the castle, and head to Winterfell. Everyone would have “won,” and you could have further showed how Jamie is playing both sides, torn between what he has to do for King’s Landing, his loyalty (and friendship) with Brienne, and a natural sense of honor and goodness (he’s still trying to keep the Stark girls safe and fulfill his vow to Catelyn, after all.) Instead we get this silly scene, which would have had a much greater impact if the character’s reunion had any dramatic payoff whatsoever:
Yes, I know I sound like I’m “backseat writing” for the show right now, but I was just really confused when this storyline came to an end, and seemingly nothing of note actually ended up happening there. Ah well, at least we got a Bronn appearance out of it. I guess there’s worst reasons for a storyline to be around.
5) Assassin Arya
Never would I think that perhaps my favorite character in Game of Thrones would be at the center of one of its worst storylines but, well, here we are. Arya is still a great character, and Masie Williams still does a great job of playing her, but oof. What a stinker of a season for her.
Now obviously there’s a lot of problems with Arya’s Assassin Adventure in the Magical Land of Braavos, to the point that it could be easy to become overwhelmed with all the little minutia of problems (such as parkouring like a crazy person the day after getting fucking shived in the stomach 2,000 times) But for the sake of brevity, I’m just going to talk about the biggest issue: functionally, nothing that happened here really made a lot of sense, and often times was flat out boring.
I’m not against the idea of seeing Arya train to become a badass assassin — arguably it should’t take two entire seasons to do it but, whatever, there was certainly a way for Weiss and Benioff to advance this storyline in an entertaining fashion even with its slightly bloated runtime. And as we could see from Arya’s final moments in Season 6, her training with the Faceless Men will influence her character going forward, so you can’t just argue the show would have been better skipping out on the whole thing. But why oh why did it happen to end up so flat out bad?
The answer in large part goes to pacing, and resolution. It felt like the show was inferring more about Arya’s training than actually showing it, taking more than a season to get to the point where she started to learn some skills and, even worse, showing very little of those skills in actual practice. If the show was going to stretch this out to occupy two years of time, couldn’t they have used that time to show her going on some Faceless Men assignments, and actually being somewhat skilled at the job until her identity finally kicked in and she (inevitably) betrayed them? Instead we got multiple episodes where Arya’s sole purpose is to get the shit beat out of her, which does little to advance both the plot and the character. And when Arya finally did get her eyesight back and began training again, what did we get? A couple of montages where she fights with a stick. And that’s all it took to be a competent assassin, I guess. It’s a rare example of a storyline both taking way too long to progress, but also feeling incredibly rushed.
And the resolution — oh boy, the resolution. Sure all the play stuff was great, and worked well as a way to “awaken” Arya Stark. But the show never really took the time to build up her identity of being “no one” in the first place, thus making it feel like Arya didn’t really change at all through any of the two season’s material. She trained a little, broke the rules, got in trouble, made up for it, and IMMEDIATELY AFTER fucked up again. Seeing Arya legitimately renounce her identity, become an assassin, and actually excel as a contract killer (at least for a while) could have been an interesting way for the show to present just how much the events in her life changed Arya, while also giving her the kickass powers she would need to make further events in the show possible. But just like with Jon Snow above, it seemed like the show refused to really do anything dramatic and risky with its characters — right when they were on the precipice of doing so, the writers would instantly pull back, all the better to preserve the “fan favorites” we all know and love. It’s a problem that many popular shows run into later in their lifespans, but with a series as willing to be as ballsy as Game of Thrones, it’s a shame to see it happening here.
And yes, I still DO love Jon Snow and Arya Stark — flat characterization isn’t going to change that. But for the sake of the story, you can’t pull punches here, and I can’t help but feel like George R.R. Martin isn’t going to when (if?) he ever gets around to finishing those books. If you’re going to change these characters, CHANGE THE CHARACTERS — don’t just go through the motions of doing so and call it a day.
Also, don’t have a parkour scene the day after a character nearly dies. And don’t have her triumphant moment of victory happen off screen. And don’t have her return to the people she betrayed, having her boss say she passed the test (???) just as she walks out…still fucking bleeding. Ugh, this storyline.
6) The Battle of the Brainless
I’m going to try and keep this one short and sweet, because if you made it this far into the piece, you’ve already suffered enough. But “The Battle of the Bastards” is one of the most iconic episodes of television ever, so it feels like I have to talk about it in some degree and, funny enough, will spend time discussing about it in both this list AND the “best of” list forthcoming. Which is apt, because boy have I never been more mixed on an episode of television than with this one.
Because though the spectacle was incredibly, I was one of those people who just couldn’t forgive what the writer’s had to do to get there — namely making every character a gigantic idiot. I’m not going to complain about the fact that Jon Snow (or Sansa for that matter) wasn’t going to die during the battle: at this point in the series I’m okay having a few “safe” characters, and I think killing off Jon just for the sake of a shock would have been a bad move overall. But just because Jon (and seemingly every other character in the battle) has plot armor, it doesn’t mean you have to make him a bumbling fool.
At this point, we’re supposed to buy that Jon is a pretty capable leader of men, and a strong warrior: the two battle episodes he was in before this, “Watchers on the Wall” and “Hardhome,” very much proved this. And both episodes did that by showing Jon survive against insurmountable odds, just as “The Battle of the Bastards” seemed to set up as well. Jon was going into a battle where he was clearly outmatched, against a foe who (until that point) proved to be unbeatable. Showing Jon thrive and win the battle through his own skills would have been a pivotal point of development for his character, but that didn’t happen. At all. And I really can’t wrap my head around why.
Swinging back to the pure technical aspects of the battle, let me say this: what Miguel Sapochnik and his crew were able to pull off here (on a $20 million budget no less) is incredible, and nothing I say can take away from that fact. But even taken as simply spectacle, I feel like there was something missing, a moment that I would always remember from the series. In “Blackwater,” there was of course the lighting of the bay with the wild fire, or Tyrion’s badass speech to the troops before “fucking them in the ass.” In “Watchers on the Wall,” there was the oath under the tunnels, or the giant freaking scythe taking out a bunch of dudes, or that 360 degree shot of Jon fighting Styr, or like every other moment from that episode because it’s just the coolest. Likewise for “Hardhome,” which had the wights destroying the gate to assault the beach, Jon shattering a White Walker with his sword, and of course the Night King chillingly giving Jon the stink eye in the episode’s final moments. All these things were incredible, defining moments of Game of Thrones for me, and I’m honestly not sure there’s a moment that comes close to matching ANY of them within “The Battle of the Bastards.”
And once again, I don’t even think it was Sapochnik’s fault — he did absolutely the best he could do with what was given, and managed to elevate the entire battle beyond its simple descriptions. But despite the massive declarations of love and support for “The Battle of the Bastards,” I couldn’t help but come away from its final moments feeling like something — or more likely many things — were missing in its conception. And that of course just left me feeling disappointment, rather than excitement. Oh well, at least Ramsay got the brutal death he deserved. We’ll always have that, at least:
Whew, that’s that: the six biggest problems I had with this season of Game of Thrones. Remember: I actually love Game of Thrones. I really do.
They Didn’t Make A Huge Mistake: In Defense of Arrested Development Season 4
It was overstuffed, scattershot, and occasionally quite tedious — but also kinda brilliant? It’s Arrested Development Season 4.
What forms a popular consensus? In the modern age of social media, internet comment boards, and Rotten Tomatoes, I honestly don’t know. It seems like one moment, popular consensus could ascribe a verdict of high quality to something (like, say, La La Land), but then come to a completely opposite conclusion just a few weeks later (didn’t you hear? La La Land is bad now.) This probably points to the inherent fool’s errand that derives from the concept of a “consensus,” but still — even with differing opinions being a thing, it’s pretty easy to see that the internet is quick to place a lasting judgment on pieces of pop culture. Not everyone loves Mad Max: Fury Road…but it is beloved. Not everyone hates Suicide Squad…but it is universally hated. Contradictory statements, maybe, but that’s how the consensus goes. And once it sets in, the general sentiment is hard to escape. Which is exactly what happened with Arrested Development Season 4, Netflix’s much-hyped revival of the cult comedy classic.
Expectations were of course high for the show’s return back in May of 2013 (exactly five years ago, for those of you keeping track at home), which has never once led to crushing disappointment. Nope, not a once! [Narrator: They had. More than once, in fact.] It didn’t take long after the show’s initial release for the excitement to change into apprehension: at first, people weren’t quite sure what to make of the thing. Netflix’s “binge-release” model was still quite new for most people, and the concept of a TV revival was still rare. It was odd all around to see the Bluth’s come back seven years after we last saw them, and it didn’t help matters that their return season was very different from what came before it.
In any case, it didn’t take long before this apprehension turned into full-on disappointment for a majority of viewers. I was reviewing the show when it happened, so I have some strong memories of just how it went down: first things seemed positive, then mixed, then outright negative. Soon the most disappointed started speaking above the rest (as is often the case on these here interwebs), and the entire conversation around the show turned away from “how good is it? to “huh...is this good?”
The years went on, and the season’s stock just plummeted further and further. Consensus went from the season being a mixed bag, to it being an outright failure. It joined the modern-day pantheon of disappointing sequels to beloved things, up there with Spider-Man 3, The Dark Knight Rises, etc. Hell, creator Mitch Hurwitz even felt the drive to re-edit the entire season as a sort of mea culpa, and released it earlier this month in the form of Arrested Development Season 4 Remix: Fateful Consequences (you, title, are a mouth full!)
The release of said remix really made people’s venom for the season spill out: pretty much all I read about it was that it still didn’t “fix” the season, insinuating that something had to be fixed to begin with. You know: the consensus. Arrested Development Season 4 was a failure, a disappointment, a disaster, etc. And here’s the thing: not long ago, I would have agreed with the assessment! I too was disappointed with what the show did in its fourth season: how it split up the cast, how it paced its runtimes, how it told its stories. I found laughs, sure, but I found an equal number of things to complain about. I finished my initial watch of the season more perplexed than anything, unsure how the people behind the series could delivery such a bloated, awkward affair. But it’s been five years since then, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and review the season since then. And you know what? I’m starting to think I was wrong. We all were.
Arrested Development Season 4 is actually pretty damn great. And taken as its own thing, one of the most unique and rewarding pieces of comedy television ever crafted.
But even with that glowing, somewhat hyperbolic statement being said: I get it. I understand why fans were so upset with how the season turned out, and why it didn’t gel with many who watched it: Arrested Development Season 4 is a weird season of television, even by AD’s quirky standards. While the character-centric format of the season was originally conceived to handle the busy schedule of its main cast, it seemed to take a life of its own in the writer’s room, leading to a narrative jam-packed with time-skips, mysteries, delayed pay-offs, etc. Often times, the show resembled more of a puzzle-box genre piece like Lost or Westworld than a family-based, wacky sitcom. Hell, just putting together what the hell was happening and when it was happening could be a frustrating experience, as it proved to be for many people.
And in no way am I am trying to put myself above those who felt this way: I will once again re-iterate my initial impression of the sixteen-episode story was similar. It just seemed like too many things taking away from the comedic experience, smothering the entire show with layers upon layers of confusion and, frankly, tediousness. But remember above when I explained what ultimately changed my opinion on the season: review and reflection? Well, I truly believe the former is key here. Because, believe it or not, I have now watched Season 4 in its entirety four times. And each time, it more and more dawned on me just what creator Mitch Hurwitz and co. were doing here, and how ultimately successful they were at doing it.
And I just want to point out that my rewatches of the series weren’t a purposeful act to try and like the season more: in fact, it was entirely coincidental. I have shared this show with many different family and friend groups over the years, and thus ended up going through Season 4 with all of them at different points in the last half-decade. And the first few times, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to do so, if we’re being honest: I remembered my initial viewing, and slightly dreaded going through the sixteen episode slog once more. But, hey, I”m a good friend/family member, and have nothing better to do than watch TV show’s multiple times, so here we are.
Anyways, at first I was wondering if my slow appreciation for the show through the various rewatches was just my brain trying to make me enjoy something that I felt obligated to do: a form of television Stockholm Syndrome, if you would. But by the time I was through my third rewatch, I realized that was not the answer — no, I was generally starting to enjoy and love more about what the season was doing and, most importantly, how it was doing it. Watching the season multiple times cracked open new layers of the experience for me: new plot points and references and jokes that I missed the first few times going through it. Honestly, I started to become slightly in-awe at just how much the season contained: how Mitch Hurwitz and the writers stuffed the thing to the seams with things people would NEVER understand unless they watched the thing multiple times (or watched it edited in chronological order, I guess, which is probably a far easier option now.) The season is densely packed and plot-heavy, but my initial disdain for that grew into appreciation, once I got more used to its new, different structure. It’s really quite a marvel to behold when you lay it all out, and I simply can’t fathom how the writers could keep track of all the madness. I can’t think of any other piece of television put together quite like Arrested Development Season 4, and once you really connect to its wave-length, it becomes much easier to appreciate such a different, complex form…especially when you realize such a form was essential to the overall story that the season was trying to tell.
Because, make no mistake: this is indeed one of those Netflix shows that probably works better as a whole, and is telling one of those gigantic overarching narratives rather than a bunch of episodic mini-arcs. Back in 2013, that was new and weird. Now, this “like a [blank] hour movie!” form of television writing is predominant in the industry, for better or for worse. What’s great about the initial format of Arrested Development Season 4, though (before the remix came and presented an alternate, more conventional take) was how the season served as a bridge between the concept of a season-long, serialized narrative and episodic, more “focused” stories. They did that by focusing every episode on a different member of the Bluth clan, showing what transpired in their lives in the six-year gap since we last saw them. These installments tell individual stories about the characters that just so happen to criss-cross with the other members of the cast…sometimes in ways that aren’t even obvious until further down the season (or even until the end of it.)
This character focus helped ground the narrative a little, sure, and were certainly helpful when it came to production (the aforementioned difficulty of getting the cast certainly played a hand in the decision, yes), but it also established upfront just what the new, revived season of Arrested Development would be: a character study. And a dark as hell one at that.
Because, as I realized by the end of my third rewatch, Arrested Development Season 4 had a very specific goal in mind. As put pretty bluntly by my friend after the (fantastic) final shot of the season “wow, things really went bad for everyone, didn’t they?” Yes, unnamed friend: they really, truly did. Which was entirely the point. The original three seasons set up the Bluths as the world’s most dysfunctional family, the kind that brought each other down by just being in the same orbit. At the center of this orbit was one Michael Bluth, who at every turned tried to escape the company of his relatives (which in and of itself became something of a running gag), only to be pulled back into their bullshit once more. By the time Season 4 picks up, all of them are rather tired of each other and, for various reasons (scheduling or otherwise), they all go their separate ways. Maybe not under the same prism, the Bluths could be better?
Nope. As the story unfolded, it became quite clear that, even as bad as they are, they are far worst apart than separate. Without each other in their lives, the Bluths become the absolute worst versions of themselves.
- Michael became the one thing he dreaded the most: a full-on Bluth. He became just as conniving and deceitful as the rest of them, in a move that, well frustrating to some fans, I would argue was the inevitable place for the character to end up (and Jason Bateman makes such a meal out of it, doesn’t he?)
- Lindsay becomes a literal and figurative whore, selling herself out to a conservative candidate she should, in theory, hate.
- GOB becomes a confused mess of a man, drugging himself out in an endless circle of roofies just to forget the constant shame he endures on a daily basis.
- Buster, separated from his mother and on his own, becomes a literal monster under Army’s trickery (and a likely murder suspect too, if the final sequence is any indication.)
- George Sr. loses his confidence and swagger, becoming a weak shell of his former self (and the spitting image of his pathetic brother to boot!)
- Lucille loses the power structure and influence she always craved, the family matriarch without a family to lord over.
- Maeby suffers the worst Arrested Development (hey, that’s the name of the show!) of them all, going from the girl who always acted above her age to the one literally still living as a child, stuck in place and unsure how to grow…oh and also accidentally committing statutory rape, which is pretty fucking dark.
- Tobias is a registered sex offender, which is pretty dark but also quite funny, let’s be real here.
- And George Michael, the “good one,” fully commits to his families influence, staging a multi-million dollar lie just to impress his cousin, having sex with the same woman as his father, and ending the season punching him in the face, pretty much shattering the relationship.
Yeah, this all seems pretty bad, and truly takes the Bluth to their lowest level…which is kind of great, if the show is trying to form something of a series-long narrative here. In a way, Arrested Development Season 4 is the Empire Strikes Back of this wacky comedy series. And, like Empire Strikes Back (or, for all you young-uns out there, The Last Jedi), the story required its main set of characters to go their own separate ways in order to grow and change. That’s exactly what happened over the course of season 4, and I really appreciate how far Hurwitz and his writers were willing to take things to get to the next stage of their character’s evolution.
Which, of course, is an interesting thing for a show like Arrested Development. Being a sitcom, it has no reason to change, or develop. It could have just kept doing the same thing, and crafted a Season 4 that simply tried to ape the success of its past with funny, extremely well-written episodes about the wacky Bluth family. But, instead, the writers tried something new, and unique, and rather bold. It was bound to not work for some people, and the growing pains in the new approach were evident. But at the end of the day, I truly feel like Arrested Development Season 4 accomplished what it set out to do, and did it in a way that was extremely well-written, impressive in scope, and not lacking in ambition. It also led to some big mistakes here and there, ones that stood out more astutely the first couple of times through.
But though other’s opinions of the season might have dimmed in the years since, I’ve only become more and more fond of the Bluth’s families senior year of episodes. It really does grow on you the more familiar you get with it, and I highly recommend those who were initially disappointed with the stretch of episodes to give it another look, because there’s a lot to love in this crazy, messy, delightful story.
…Such as the fact that it’s often times REALLY funny. I went thousands of words without really giving the show’s humor (you know, the reason you ostensibly watch a comedy TV series) the time of day, but I also believe the season is A LOT funnier than history gives it credit for. The season is jam-packed with amazing gags and lines that can go toe-to-toe with any of the jokes from the first three seasons, if you ask me. Hot mess, “Sounds of Silence,” the conversation about tipping black people, George Sr.’s amazing hat monologue, the pre-Trump wall gags, the amazing Fake-Block storyline, all the Hollywood in-jokes, “Have you ever even been on a plane you piece of shit,” “Daddy needs to get his rocks off!,ANUS TART, The Cute Test, The Pack First, No Talking After Scenario, all the Ann jokes…I’m going to stop now, but I think I’ve made my point. Arrested Development Season 4 is damn funny.
But the fact it also has a lot more going for it too really makes it something special. Maybe not as special as the first three season (although, hot take, I actually think I like it better than the third season), but special nonetheless. Although I’m in the minority, I would be very happy if Arrested Develoment Season 5 manages to match it in quality, and serve as something of a narrative follow-up to just what transpired here. That’s what seemed to be the narrative intent of Season 4 (showing the family slowly coming apart, before being put back together again), but who knows how Hurwitz plans to present the next chapter of this story. We shall find out when the new season hits Netflix tomorrow. Until then…
Also published on Medium.
The 5 Best Moments of Westworld Season 1
The most visceral, violent delights of a stellar first season.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published way back at the end of 2016 — a world away from the current one, if you ask me. Anyways, with the second season of Westworld finally premiering tonight, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my thoughts on the first season of the HBO show. Spoiler: I loved it, and I’m hopefully I can say the same about the second season. We shall see tonight!
When Westworld first premiered about two months ago, I was quickly quite enamored with it. What a saw in Westworld was grand, ambitious science fiction storytelling, and I do believe that (for the most part) the show fulfilled my lofty expectations for it. Sure it wasn’t without its weak spots, but overall I really did find this to be a fantastic season of television, and I am beyond excited to see what comes next.
But before I jump into that particular vat of theories and speculation, I thought it would be appropriate to take a deep dive into the rest of the season, revisiting what I believed to be the show’s strongest moments so far. Keep in mind that, as you would expect from something with this title, there will be FULL SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON OF WESTWORLD BELOW.
5. The Man in Black Laments
There’s few things in the world I love more than a well delivered, brilliantly executed little monologue. Westworld, being really quite dialogue heavy at its core (arguably to its detriment at times) was no slouch when it came to the monologue department, giving its esteemed actors plenty of space to really belt out the pained soliloquies regarding all the various torments of their lives.
But as great as Anthony Hopkins was at theatrically breaking down his character motivation, or as absolutely badass Thandie Newton’s every line of dialogue proved to be, I would argue that it was Ed Harris who really stole the show in the monologue department this season. His “Man in Black” character was shrouded in mystery throughout most of the season, so it made sense the character would instantly attract our attention the moment he chose to speak up. But the speech The Man in Black (nee William) made to Teddy and Angela at the end of “Trace Decay” was a real double whammy — it was both a strong moment for Harris to earn his possible Emmy nomination, and a chance to fill in his character in a very interesting way.
Brilliantly connecting the story of his return to Westworld with the murder of Maeve’s daughter, the real joy of this scene was the sense of discovery and tension that comes with a character literally (and finally) telling you things that actually happened, in a timeline that’s easy to understand. Yeah sure that might seem like a no-brainer for most pop culture, but for question-heavy shows like Westworld, there’s always such a grand level of suspense at play when characters start talking unobtrusively about their lives. Every word matters, every sentence a possible key to a huge and stunning reveal. And though the show would end up holding its biggest Man in Black trump card close to its chest until the very last episode, it doesn’t take away from the excitement and beauty of Ed Harris’ terrific, character defining speech. Westworld had a bonkers cast of talented people, and in scenes like this, it proved to be an absolute joy just to watch them perform.
4. Paint it Black
The moment in which you realize that you’re falling in love with a show is a pretty wonderful thing . And for me that moment came early with Westworld — halfway through the first episode, in fact.
A brilliantly conceived, wonderfully executed set-piece is something I appreciate a great deal, and Westworld really didn’t wait all that long to deliver a great one. Fueled brilliantly by a piano cover of “Paint it Black,” Hector Escaton’s violent siege of the Sweetwater Saloon was not just a fun action sequence, but also a wholly unique look into how fucked up the world of Westworld really is, as host after host is horrifically gunned down all in the name of…a hardware recall. It didn’t take very long for my sympathies to land with the robots, and scenes like this present a pretty strong reason why.
Plus, Escaton’s big speech getting cut off by a trigger happy guest is still one of the funniest moments in the show so far. Sizemore’s frustration with the system quickly became an excellent vessel for humor, huh?
3. It Doesn’t Look Like Anything To Me
The fan theories were already running wild going into the show’s seventh episode, “Trompe L’oeil.” Hell, the theories were running wild since episode two, if I’m being entirely honest. Still though, it speaks to the show’s quality that they were able to reveal one of the series’ most talked about theories, and still make the moment land with the appropriate amount of oomph.
I am of course talking about the big reveal at the end of “Trompe L’oeil,” in which Bernard learns of his true identity: a host crafted by and under the complete control of Ford. It was a show changing revelation but, like most of the twists on Westworld, not a completely surprising one. Still though, it’s a strong sign the show is of high quality when, even if I know pretty much where the series is going, it doesn’t keep from the reveal itself being a wonderful, exciting moment of television.
Because what really makes this “twist” work is not what it is, but HOW it goes about revealing it. And I think the internet has very much proven that this twist will stand the test of time: I mean, “It doesn’t look like anything to me” is already an iconic line, and an instant meme. And that’s because it was a terrific line in an absolutely terrific scene. This is the moment that the truth started to really spin itself out for the show and, as a genesis for the reveals to come, you can’t get much better.
2. Maeve Makes Her Escape
In the midst of alternate timeframes and earth-shattering reveals, it sure was nice to have Maeve’s storyline around to serve as a solid anchor for the rest of the series. Compared to pretty much every other plot point, Maeve’s was by far the simplest: she gained her sentience and, with it, began plotting to escape. Sure, things got a bit more complicated towards the end (the show is still Westworld, after all), but compared to all the other confusion going on, Maeve’s story arc was pretty clear cut.
I would personally chalk that up as a positive, however, as Maeve’s experience with sentience really did ground the series for me. Even at its most trippy and confusing, the show had this fantastic story at its core, moored by a terrific character played by an ever more stunning actor (it will be a crime if Thandie Newton doesn’t land any Emmy nod for this, right?) And unlike pretty much every other character on the show (with the big exception of perhaps Ford), Maeve is the only character to actually get what she wants by the season’s end. And by god did she do it in the best way possible.
Seeing Maeve and her ragtag “army” of Escaton, Armistice, and Felix fight their way out of the main compound was spellbinding television, directed brilliantly by showrunner Jonathan Nolan. Well technically not a single moment, I’m going to lump Maeve’s escape altogether simply because it’s impossible to choice what was the best part: from the first scene of Escaton and Armistice brutally slaying two techies (the first robot-on-human casualties of an ultimately bloody night) to the Cabin in the Woods-esque entrance into the Samurai Room, Maeve’s journey to escape the compound was just what the season was asking for, and the kind of propulsive storytelling that many other TV series would be lucky to have.
Also, that outfit. You lookin’ quit arch indeed, Maeve. Just never stop being you.
1. It All Comes Together
But there can only be one, and in the case of Westworld, the best moment of the season was easily the closing ten minutes of “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Bernard’s desperate attempt to learn his heritage and understand his creation is exciting in and of itself, but what truly makes this sequence shine is the build-up to the reveal, one that pretty much everyone knows is coming, but is beyond excited to see nonetheless.
Which, yes, is indeed a lot like the previous moment of Bernard learning of his identity, which also placed on this list just a few segments back. That’s even more of an accomplishment, if you ask me: the fact that Westworld can basically play the same exact trick TWICE and do it wonderfully both times is a testament to how strong the storytelling of the series really is.
Of course to say the reveal of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” is the exact same as the one in “Trompe L’oeil” is a bit simplistic. The reveal at the end of “Clavier” is a whole lot more of a development, and manages to wrap in Delores’ storyline into the proceedings too. Really, the final moment of “Clavier” is the thing that brought the whole season together, explaining seemingly everything (including the multiple timeframe scenario) into one jaw-dropping package. In this, it was probably smart to drop the “Bernard is a host” reveal before the “Bernard is a clone of Arnold” reveal, as it allowed both bits of information a lot of room to breath. A lesser show would have just had both twists piled up on each other, and would have been a whole lot messier because of it. By separating the two show-changing revelations, the gravity of each is truly felt.
But so why then did the twist of “The Well Tempered Clavier” work better than the one in “Trompe L’oeil?” Well, for one reason primarily, and her name is Michelle MacLaren. She’s one of the all time best TV directors, and the skill that she brought to tackling this oh-so-important episode really pushed it to season-high quality. No disrespect to Frederick E.O. Toye (who is an excellent TV director in his own right), but MacLaren just brings so much style and confidence to everything she touches, and I don’t think anyone else would have been able to handle the balancing act of “The Well Tempered Clavier’s” final moments. When her name flashed up in the opening credits for the episode, I knew that I would be in for something special, and hoped that Episode 9 of Westworld would be as well-executed and exciting as the many great Episode 9’s of Game of Thrones before it.
And, thankfully, it was. This episode, and in particular its final moments, truly left me breathless. Television at its finest, and proof that Westworld is indeed one of the best TV shows of 2016.
Which, yes, I wholeheartedly believe is the case. Lord knows Westworld Season 1 wasn’t perfect, and there was certainly little things here and there that I had some problems with. But at the end of the day, I think the mantra of one of the show’s best characters sums up my thoughts quite nicely: while some people might chose to see the logical issues or storytelling quibbles of the series, I choose to see the beauty. And if this list shows anything, there was a hell of a lot of it to enjoy this season.
Disney Is Rebooting The Muppets (Yes, Again) And A Whole Bunch of Other Dormant Properties For Their New Streaming Service
Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Father of the Bride, The Parent Trap, the concept of time itself. You know, the usual.
Disney has conquered mainstream Hollywood. That is an undeniable fact, if you ask me — between their Marvel and Star Wars output (not to mention their live action remakes, animated films, and projects from Pixar), Disney seems to be the only big studio thriving in the modern age. But as much as that seems like a compliment to Disney, it’s also something of a dour note for the industry overall — things are rough for theatrical film, for a variety of reasons. But perhaps the most substantial one is competition from the world of cable, Broadcast, and (especially) streaming outlets. When you are routinely getting things of the same (if not better) quality out of TV and streaming, why even go to the theater? The question is baffling to me (because it’s a movie theater, that’s why!), but not for the majority of Americans — ticket sales are the worst they have been in decades, as people would rather get their entertainment fix by staying at home and watching Netflix.
And Disney knows this. They are content with having conquered the ashes of traditional Hollywood, but they aren’t idiots — the media landscape is changing, and they want to be just as viable in the new one as a Netflix or HBO. So they are creating their own streaming service, and taking the battle for entertainment supremacy to Netflix in a big way.
But in building their new streaming outlet, I was rather curious how Disney planned to convince people to subscribe to their service when there were dozens more out there competing for the same eyeballs (and monthly set of dollar bills.) Well, today we got a pretty big hint in how Disney plans to build out their streaming portfolio and, no surprise, it’s taking advantage of their biggest asset: all the well-liked shit they have made and/or acquired over the last century. Brands are king for Disney, and they very much seem to be putting those at the forefront as they dive into this new frontier. Call it a safety blanket if you want (I will: it’s a safety blanket), but it has served Disney well in the last decade, so
…reboot time it is!
Of course, many of Disney’s bigger properties have already been rebooted or remade on the big screen, leading the selections for their streaming stuff to be a bit lower tier. The biggest property announced today for the potential reboot treatment is The Muppets, who Disney acquired from The Jim Henson Company back in 2004, and have since been left scratching their heads at what exactly to do with it. Things seemed great at first when the Jason Segal-led reboot film managed to enliven the love for the franchise, and perform pretty great at the box office to boot. But then Muppets Most Wanted came out and, despite being a whole lotta fun, underwhelmed at the box office. It seemed The Muppets would not be the blockbuster franchise Disney was hoping for.
So they transferred the property back to TV, relaunching a new series simply entitled The Muppets. This series had a promising hook (basically The Muppets meets 30 Rock, through the mockumentary lens of The Office) but it failed to get an audience on ABC and, quite frankly, wasn’t even all that good to begin with. Then a whole controversy broke out when longtime puppeteer/Kermit the Frog voice actor Steve Whitmire was fired from working on the property. He argued that Disney’s plans for the character was against what Henson would have stood for. They argued he was a shitty worker who didn’t play well with others, and everyone else was glad to be rid of him. The truth probably rests somewhere in between the two stances, but that didn’t make the controversy anymore crippling for The Muppet brand. They laid low for a year or so, only popping up to make wacky promotional videos and the like for the franchises’ various social media pages.
But apparently, Disney still thinks they can make this thing work in a big way, as The Hollywood Reporter confirms the Mouse House intends to bring the property to their new streaming service. Which, by the way, could use a name pronto. I’m tiring of just calling it “their new streaming service.” Judging by what they seem to want to put on it, maybe simply “Reboot” will do?
Kidding aside, The Muppets isn’t the only reboot Disney plans to anchor the service with. Also in the mix according to THR is film properties like Honey I Shrunk the Kids (you, know the Rick Moranis movie about shrinking kids), Father of the Bride (you know, the Steve Martin movie about being the father of the bride), and The Parent Trap (you know, the Lindsay Lohan movie about trapping parents.) This is in addition to previously announced reboot fodder like High School Musical and The Mighty Ducks which, yeah, were all certainly things at one point in time. They have name value, and that’s all that matters to the house that Micky Mouse built! At least there will be some top shelve franchise extinctions from brands like Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. And, who knows, maybe an original property might sneak its way in there!
…But no promises.
Also published on Medium.
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