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There was a time, two or three decades ago, when people could sit down and watch a TV show—watch it, enjoy it, appreciate it, perhaps even contemplate parts of it the next day—without resorting to superlatives like “It’s the best show on TV!!” or “It’s the greatest TV show there ever was!!” Why superlatives? Why can’t we simply be entertained and leave it that?
Which brings us to Game of Thrones, the HBO fantasy series that’s causing otherwise reasonable people to go around saying preposterous things, like Thrones is the greatest show in the history of television. People, please. As Archie Bunker would say to Edith, you need to “stifle it.”
Full disclosure: I watch Thrones. I’ve seen every episode. I enjoy the show. I love Tyrion, I hate Cersei, I identify with Brienne of Tarth. Indeed, I owe HBO a debt of gratitude for providing me with an enjoyable hour on Sunday night, and like the Lannisters, I always pay my debts. Thank you, HBO, ye have done well. Game of Thrones more or less makes up for Veep and Carnivale.
But the best show in the history of television? Impossible. First of all, how can something be the “best show in the history of television” when 80-percent of it is lurid sex and violence? That’s like saying Hustler magazine is better than the New Yorker. Not to come off as prudish, but let’s be honest here. This show is all about sexual intercourse and murder, done in armor.
Granted, one could say the same about HBO’s earlier series, Rome, but at least that series had actual historical underpinnings, as there was, in fact, such a thing as the Roman Empire. Yes, you had copious amounts of intercourse, nudity, and bloodshed in Rome, but you also had Julius Caesar, Marc Antony and the Roman Senate.
But Thrones has no such historical antecedents. It’s the depiction of non-stop murder and sexual hi-jinx set against a totally fictional backdrop. The night may be dark and full of terrors, but those who insist that Game of Thrones is better than, say, the West Wing or the Larry Sanders Show may be full of crap.
One sees the same sort of gushing and hyper-ventilation aimed at The Walking Dead, AMC’s mega-hit zombie series. It’s a fun show. I liked it. I saw the first three seasons before realizing it wasn’t based on fact. Again, why can’t we simply “like” a television show—enjoy it, appreciate it, goof on it—without feeling compelled to coronate it?
People are so enthralled with the Walking Dead, the network has produced an accompanying spin-off called Talking Dead, where grown-up people sit on a sofa and talk about what they have just seen. It’s a televised chat-room. And they talk about this zombie caper with such solemnity and reverence, you’d think they were discussing Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
Again, I’m a fan of Thrones. There is no way I’m going to miss an episode. Was I thrilled when Joffrey died? Of course. Am I rooting for Khaleesi to succeed? Of course. Do I think we haven’t seen the last of Shae? It’s hard to say. But before I’d call Game of Thrones the best show, I’d join those other fellas in calling myself the King of the North.
David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), is a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org