Friday, May 13, 2011

Paging Matthew Broderick

So I was hearing that Hugh Grant almost replaced Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men. And when that deal fell through, we heard today that Ashton Kutcher has been cast instead. What both these data points suggest is that the producers are looking to cast a character at least roughly in the Charlie Harper mold--a womanizing, drunk, misogynist (no offense to Hugh Grant, who I actually like, or Kutcher, who I kind of don't and yet have nor reason to believe to be a drunk or woman-hater).

And, to me, this is entirely wrong. By writing a new character with similar traits, you pretty much will automatically get a character that is an imitation of Sheen's. Not that many couldn't play the role better*, but then the game becomes comparing the Sheen show to the new show. You've got a situation where every character interaction and plot has to compete with the memory of how that same type of interaction or plot was dealt with before. Which, in my estimation, would be death to the show.

But what if they wrote a character that existed on the other side of Cryer's nebbishy Alan, and made Alan the wild-by-comparison one? A kind of Sancho Panza thing, where Cryer's character has become more like Sheen's character over the years**. So we get someone more repressed, nebbishy, straightlaced to play off of Cryer. To me that's a much better solution. It keeps intact the odd couple dynamic that is at the heart of the show and yet opens up an entirely new possibility of dynamics. And it allows Cryer to nominally take over the "lead" role, a position he has no doubt earned, and earned hard.

Am I nuts?

Until Whenever

*During the whole Sheen brouhaha, what insulted my sense of right and wrong most was that Sheen believed that it was his talent that was the key ingredient to the show's success, when it's always been very clear to me that many, many actors could have played Charlie Harper better and with more skill.

**Which he has - when the show started Alan was a much more stable, whitebread, moral character. Over the course of the show he became as sexually exaggerated and, in different ways, out-of-control as Charlie.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Song of the Week - "Criminal" - Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple is one of those artists who I knew of long before I actually heard any of her music. I pretty much stopped listening to the radio with the advent of mp3 players, and so, even though I knew the name and that she was supposed to be famous, I knew nothing of the actual songs.

Oddly enough, I can't even remember what compelled me to finally give her stuff a try. I do know that it wasn't the first album but the third (and still most recent, the 2005 (!) release Extraordinary Machine, which I pretty much instantly loved.

I'm pretty sure that I actually had the song "Criminal" from a CD exchange before I got the actual album, but as is so often the case I hadn't really listened to it more than the once. When I got the album proper I finally got what the hype was about - it really is a great song.

Until Whenever

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Game of Thrones Episode 3

Apologies for the tardiness, but a business trip combined with my still-somewhat-atrophied blogging rhythms combined in maleficent ways this week. I’m hoping to get back on tracks as we go along.

Anyhoo, for episode three, the scene I wanted to focus on is the Baratheon scene, with the king and two members of his Kingsguard discussing their first kills. (A side note: I find it interesting that, three episodes in, the show still hasn’t bothered to explicate what Jaime’s role in the King’s inner circle really is, or by extension the notion of the Kingsguard itself. If this is simply a matter of economy, with that kind of detail held off until needed, I can live with it. If it’s supposed to be a matter of inference, though, with the fact that Jaime killed the previous king and is around this one a lot (and guarding the door here) meant to suggest what the Kingsguard is, a sort of Westerosi version of the secret service, well, I think they may be stretching with how much an audience can be expected to infer.)

This, as far as I remember, is a scene not found in the books, and yet I can see why it was created here. As the season progresses, we need to learn more about our flawed king, and in the book Robert is not one of the POV characters. So Benioff and Weiss have created this scene, which does a lot of work towards deepening our understanding of Robert’s character.

Perhaps what I found most fascinating about this scene was the control and subtlety Addy played Robert’s drunkenness with. It wasn’t until we had progressed somewhat into the scene that I realized how drunk Robert was, and I love how Addy demonstrated that inebriation through a bitter, depressed anger, and not as sloppiness or giddiness. When the scene starts, Robert is peering into an empty glass and talking about how long it’s been “since his first.” We are meant to take a sexual meaning, and to be somewhat discomfited when he turns to the elderly knight in the room and asks if he remembers his first.

Of course, it’s not sex he is talking about but death. After the elderly knight (who readers of the books can infer is Ser Barristan Belmy, but whose identity the show leaves unclarified) briefly describes his first kill, Robert goes into a monologue about his first, a “dumb, high-born lad, thinking he could end the rebellion with a single swing of his sword.” It’s during this monologue that I first caught on to the degree of Robert’s drunkenness. Something in the way he hits the words “Gods, I was strong then” hints at the raging despair the wine has loosened. It’s a wonderful line reading, with the sense of loss this once-mighty king feels made palpable.

There’s another great character moment a few beats later; as Robert recounts the boy’s impassioned cry of “wait, wait” he spits out a guttural, dry, bitter laugh that hints at the impact that first kill had. It’s then that he utters the line that at least two prominent critics singled out to lead their initial reviews of the series: “They never tell you how they all shit themselves. They don’t put that part in the songs.”

It’s a great line that, yes, could serve as a sort of thesis statement for the series as a whole, in the way it suggests a story meant to depict the harsher realities fantasy typically glosses over) but even more notable is the far-off look that haunts Addy’s eyes as he says the words. “Stupid boy.”

Robert finishes his reverie by imaging the life of domestic quietude that could have awaited this headstrong boy had he lingered on the edge of the battlefield like his smarter friends, seemingly linking it to his own life of fat and danger-less peace and quiet, and marriage to a woman he does not love. Seemingly in an attempt to shake off the haunting memories he has conjured up he barks at the waiting serving boy for more wine. Turning his churned-up anger at the server, a Lannister cousin of some sort, we get a sense of Robert’s contempt for the family he’s married into.

Calling for Jaime, who had been guarding the door, he taunts him, asking to hear his story as well. “What did the Mad King say when you stabbed him in the back?” he asks.

“He said the same thing he’d been saying for hours. Burn them all.”

The look in Addy’s eyes at this moment (and it is almost the last shot in the scene) is just stunning, a fearful mixture of guilt, sorrow, and drunken, wasted rage.

What I love about this scene is the way it takes the time to key us into Robert as a man and as a king. We learn much about him – that his excessive gluttony and carousing ways mask to some degree an angry, very despairing man, and that his hatred for the Targaryeans has deep roots. In a conversation last episode we heard that Ned’s brother and father has been burned by Arys Targaryean, here we get another data point that describes Viserys’ and Daenerys’ grandfather. It’s all starting to add up to indicate the depth of Robert’s hatred for the Targaryeans, and, in its own oblique way, this scene does much to inform our understanding of Viserys and Daenerys as well.

Until Whenever