Pilot season: The Tudors, Clone Wars, The Wire

At one point in my life I would have been up for pretty much anything involving Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but even then it wasn’t because I was impressed with his acting ability. Not much has changed apart from my priorities: he still looks good, I suppose, and he still has all the subtlety and depth of a chartreuse single-ply paper towel. Based on the first episode I’m at a loss to find any good reasons to watch this. I don’t really like any of the characters — even Thomas Becket, whom I used to admire for his principles, now seems a bit of a sanctimonious prick. I’d watch it for the history, if I had any hunch that it was accurate (and I welcome assurances that it is). Otherwise this is most likely to be little more than a fictionalized orgy of over-entitled royals and nobles mistreating their servants and squabbling over territory, and I can get all that plus dragons and the undead in Game of Thrones. The only promising element is Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn, and though we know her days are numbered, they’ve got to be fun while they last.

There are only so many animated shows I can get into these days. Since one of them is Adventure Time, I don’t think this is just the snobbery of age. But whenever I hear about how grown-up and “dark” a cartoon is, especially one based on a comic-book or sci-fi premise, I take it with a grain of salt. Even the supposedly innovative animated Batman stuff just looks, sounds, and feels depressingly styleless and bland to me. The animated Hellboy movies I’ve seen have the same problem: with all the inky blackness and strange rhythms of Mike Mignola’s art and dialogue sanded off, there’s little to capture my imagination. So I was interested in Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars, but it had the same problem as his Samurai Jack: all style, no substance. All of that, plus having watched that other pilot with the kidnapped Hutt, weighed heavily against this winning me over. To be fair, there are a lot of good choices in the first proper episode of this: it stars Yoda (the best part of the prequels), it makes him the focus of the action, and it intersperses said action with Yoda’s surprisingly moving leadership and counseling. I’d say it actually does a good job of developing his character. The problem is basic: I don’t really care. The battle droids continue to be almost unbelievably dopey, to the point where even though they’re designed to be cannon fodder that can be destroyed with no qualms of conscience, you end up feeling sorry for them anyway (one actually screams something like “I was about to retire!” as it’s blown to bits). And I find that I just don’t have much investment in learning more about the Star Wars universe these days. If I had to watch a geeky cartoon, or if nothing better were on, sure, I could probably get into this. I’m willing to believe it gets really interesting later on. But for the moment there are too many other things to choose from with a lot more to offer. Such as…

What can I say about this show that hasn’t been said? It was as good as I’d been led to believe: smart, neither condescending nor full of itself, with characters who are compelling without pandering, about something important that should matter to all of us. How could I not watch it? I don’t know how realistic it all is, but it does a good job of faking it to a sheltered guy like me who has no way of verifying any of it. The structure of the first episode is super tight without being in your face; I’m sure a lot of people must have talked at the time about the way the detective’s story and the acquitted kid’s story run in parallel, almost scene for scene. About the worst thing I can say about it is that I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of white people watched it voyeuristically — either confirming racist beliefs about urban black culture, or patting themselves on the back for “educating” themselves. But I also suspect that this show is too smart and self-aware to let viewers of any background and motivation become complacent. Along with Luther, this is the one I’m likely to finish.


  1. Jim · July 3, 2014

    I watched the Tudors all the way through. It was accurate in the broad strokes instead of particulars. Henry didn’t balloon up to 300lbs, for instance, and wasn’t 50 years old when meeting Ann Boylyn, but the right events happened at the right time. I happen to enjoy comparing dramatizations with actual histories (it gives me an excuse to learn those histories in more detail).

    Further, while Thomas More (Becket was killed by Henry II) is more of a jerk, the characterization of Thomas Cromwell was much more sympathetic, and Natalie Dormer was very good in her role. Ann Howard, on the other hand, was an annoying teenager (although by all accounts she was that within the 15th century context too).

    • encyclops · July 3, 2014

      Ah yes, Thomas More — I was getting my troublesome priests (well, Catholics, anyway) mixed up. My history is general is extremely spotty, so I probably could use a show that gives me even the broad strokes. I think More has probably always been a jerk — it’s just my attitude toward dogma that’s changed.