Superheroes, robots, vampires and wizards dominate the big screen box office, fantasy fiction’s all over the bestseller lists — geeks, like it or not, have inherited the world (of popular culture), and you’d think this would mean the dismissal of a property just because it’s genre would be long over. So why is the New York Times‘ taking easy “nerds like this” pot shots at HBO’s “Game of Thrones” once again?
Reviewing the show, which returns for a second season on Sunday, Neil Genzlinger suggests that it has issues to fix if it’s going to “expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types”:
Thinking of jumping into the new season without having seen the first? Don’t even try; your brain doesn’t have that many neurons. Some people love this kind of stuff, of course, and presumably those addicted to the George R. R. Martin books on which the series is based will immerse themselves in Season 2, just as they did in Season 1. Will anyone else? You have to have a fair amount of free time on your hands to stick with “Game of Thrones,” and a fairly low reward threshold. If decapitations and regular helpings of bare breasts and buttocks are all you require of your television, step right up.
Ah yes, those people will all that free time on their hands. It’s a strange slight given that large casts, complex storylines and dense plotting are also qualities to be found in unassailable critic-favorites like “The Wire” — disposability and ease of entry for new viewers are usually signs of lesser, more formulaic television.
The snide undertone of the article echoes Ginia Bellafante‘s even more problematic review in the paper from the year before, in which she sighed that executive producer David Benioff’s “excellent script for Spike Lee’s post-9/11 meditation, ’25th Hour,’ did not suggest a writer with Middle Earth proclivities.”
She declared the show “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half,” and concluded “If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.”
Genzlinger and Bellafante are of course free to dislike the series all they want, and both raise valid points in their articles — about the unwieldiness of keeping straight and doing justice to so many storylines, the overreliance on sex and gore to spice up the doleful dramatics, or the ways in which it can be difficult finding characters to latch onto after the show offed its most obvious, morally relatable protagonist. But both pieces have an underlying condescension to them that suggests the brushing off of a genre as well as the specific show. That’s neither deserved nor fair in an evaluation — if swords and sorcery strike you as inherently ridiculous, how can you approach this show with anything other than a judgement already in place? It’s an attitude that feels as outdated as those double D&D references.