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by Alison Willmore
March 29, 2012 4:25 PM
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Is The New York Times Being Unfair to 'Game of Thrones'?

Lena Headey in 'Game of Thrones' Helen Sloan/HBO
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."

It's an attitude that feels as outdated as those double D&D references.
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.

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7 Comments

  • Bcheng | June 23, 2013 1:39 PMReply

    I read Genzlinger's review and he seems to be one of the few people watching the series with his eyes open. It is a tawdry, sprawling mess. He right about no character being onscreen enough to invest your interest in. The liberal doses of sex and sadism don't help the show's credibility as a work of any merit. I watch a few episodes of season one and, except for the dwarf actor -- who is excellent and provides the only character of real substance -- most of this series is a patchwork quilt of rehashed and cliched speeches about chivalry and honor while every runs around like a half witted Borgia on a telemundo soap. HBO's series Rome -- for all its low-brown elements -- was saved by John Milius' writing in the end. Milius knows how to construct a drama, despite his Conan-like thirst for the sword and blood. The Game of Thrones is a shapeless mess by a writer so enamoured with his own fantasy world that he forgets they're not living, breathing character unless you have the skill to write them that way -- and he doesn't. There not a single strong thread or narrative with a wit of suspense going on. It just ambles along, throwing out random violence and salicious bits - which more mature viewers are going to find dull. It would have been nice of George R.R. Martin has taken the time to have an ultimate goal for his quest. Instead, his creation seems more like the weakest of excuses to strap on a leather jerkin and head to Renaissance Faire for a cup of weak mead.

  • Robert B. Marks | March 31, 2012 5:50 PMReply

    I hate to say it, but I think you're overreacting to the New York Times review. My own comments are up at: http://garwulf.livejournal.com/80671.html

  • katy | March 30, 2012 11:32 AMReply

    I met the man of my dreasms on the place mentioned in my pic ==--TallLoving.c'0m---it gives you a chance to make your life better and open opportunities for you to meet the attractive young man and treat you AS a queen!

  • Ryan | March 29, 2012 9:47 PMReply

    I'll give Genzlinger this; at least he seems to have actually watched some of the show, unlike Bellafonte's utterly nonsensical and ad hominem article last year. But the whiff of thinking he's better than anyone who likes any kind of fantasy still comes through loud and clear.

  • Emily | March 29, 2012 8:45 PMReply

    I love the book series and I love the TV series. I've made peace with the fact that the tv show will have to take certain liberties because there is limited time, but I think HBO has done an amazing job. The NYT article is ridiculous - a huge portion of the fans watching are not readers of the books, but just people who like to watch entertaining TV. Not just Dungeons and Dragons fanboys.

  • Poop | March 29, 2012 6:45 PMReply

    I barely know what Dungeons and Dragons is, but I love Game of Thrones.

  • Joel W. | March 29, 2012 6:27 PMReply

    Right with you on the tone. Both reviews cited couch their critique in parental-sounding finger wagging: Why aren't you more interested in girls *without* pointy ears or species that actually exist? But, as a (socially) recovering member of the D&D set, who was 10x more excited for book 5 than for season 1, I have to begrudgingly agree with the basic point made in the NYT pull quote. After watching season 1 unfold on HBO, I was a little baffled to see it landing so well with the mainstream. Maybe it's knowing the full story that makes it seem dense and esoteric to me, but scene to scene, I find it falling short of the cohesion needed to make massive casts and long arcs compelling.