The show must go on

Summer is not the best time to start watching TV and spend a lot of time in front of screen, as the sun tries to call us out into the open. But from time to time, I need to relax on my own and enjoy some witty banter, delightful acting and funny writing on the small screen to recharge my batteries.

While I don’t watch regular TV programming (so 20th century), I used to follow two handfuls of shows of my choosing starting my slight obsession with my medium during my first of university studying computational science. It was the perfect way to procrastinate and celebrate my newfound independence. Since then, I’ve cut down on the shows I watch immensely, which doesn’t mean there are some gems I’d recommend to anybody.

Suits 

One of the best shows on air today, Suits follows the cases of two lawyers, Harvey Specter and Mike Ross, played brilliant by Gabriel Macht (also known as the Spirit) and Patrick J. Adams. Harvey is a famous closer and winner, whereas Mike has the unique ability of remembering everything he has every read. A few things make this series stand out among its competitors chronicling the lives of white-collar professionals such as the consultant comedy House of Lies: It’s great taste in music, the chemistry between all of the actors and most importantly the detail which lends the show its name: the impeccably tailored suits. Whereas Harvey, who greets from the top, shows his prowess with double windsor knots and three-piece suits, Michael, the young gun on his way up, chooses to stay modern with some excellent fitted tailoring and slim (but not skinny) ties. The show is in its third season and manages to bridge the daily business of everyday cases with the overall arc of a season pretty well, making it my number one series for summer.

Game of Thrones

The nerdy pick among the TV shows is a spectacle to watch. There are too many story lines happening each season, since the show is based on the excellent A Song of Ice and Fire series, but in general, it covers intrigue, love and war in the fantasy medieval setting of Westeros. HBO has gone to great lengths to ensure the highest quality of production and one can tell with the writing, which remains rather faithful to the original and with the exquisite choice of actors. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister stands out and has been rightfully awarded with a Golden Globe and Emmy for his performance. Other highlights are the wonderful Maisie Williams as Arya Stark and the cold, calculating Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister. A special treat for me is the inclusion of Skins alumni Hannah Murray and Joe Dempsie, who played my favorite characters in the first two seasons of the British Teen drama. The series is not shy with a visual representation of battle and sex, so it isn’t for the fainthearted, but I doubt there is a more sophisticated series out there at the moment. Season 4 will start to air 2014, so take the time to catch up on it.

Psych

USA Network’s second pick on my list is the detective series Psych, starting James Roday and Dulé Hill as Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster,a tag team supporting the Santa Barbara police department. The quality of mysteries Shawn, who uses his considerable powers of observation and logic to solve cases, has been shaky, but unlike other detective shows, the quality of the mystery doesn’t make the show. Like in my first pick, the chemistry between the actors is fantastic and the writing make the show stand out as it is jampacked with pop culture references to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Episodes that stand out is the homage to 80’s high school movies (one of my favorite subgenres of all time) approriately named “Murder?… Anyone?… Anyone?… Bueller?” as well as the season 3 and 4 finales featuring Mr. Yin and Mr. Yang respectively. Psych has also managed to pay respect to classics like Twin Peaks, Indiana Jones or the Shining. Season 7 has such finished with a special musical episode to be aired as a Christmas Special.

So, these are my top 3 series, which I still follow regularly, along with the comedies How I Met Your Mother (unfortunately this show has been declining in quality for the last two seasons) and The Big Bang Theory. I’m planning on starting to catch up on some classic shows such as the Sopranos which I’ve only finished the first season of and the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad, which is heading into its last season.

Do you have any tips for my summer viewing? Let me know! Please also be sure to like, share and subscribe.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Examining the connection between books, movies and video games

I have to admit I was late to the Game of Thrones party. I haven’t read all the books yet and haven’t seen every episode of the show yet (Yes, I’m working on catching up). However, last week’s season finale of the excellent HBO series made me think about how different forms of entertainment tell stories and how I perceive each form. Among my group of friends who have watched both the show and the books, general consensus is that the book is superior to the series. But personally I enjoy both, but have to give the edge to the series.

If you ask most people how they feel about a movie based on a book, many films leave consumers thinking the movie was good, but not as great as the book. I’ve caught myself making this comparison a lot. But as I get older, this way of thinking has lost its appeal to me. I’ve learned to appreciate the intricacies of the different mediums.

Reading a book, the pace is your own, as fast or leisurely as you like it to be. There is no rush and no fixed length. You can take the time you need. One of the great benefits is the ability to extend the characters with your own backstories and to make minor characters more important. The power of your own imagination is the key to a great reading experience. Creating your personal mental images of the world the author tries to transport you too is endlessly fascinating and rewarding.

Movies take away that joy as the director and producers have molded the world the author created and you brought to life into their interpretation. More often than not, their imagination fails to match your own. I remember the disappointment I felt when watching the first Harry Potter movie. The 12-year-old me did not appreciate the changes Mr. Columbus and his crew had made and how their world differed so greatly from my mental imagery.

Fast forward to 22-year-old me eagerly awaiting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. As I’ve written about my Harry Potter obsession before, it was clear to me from the start the movie would not match the book’s prowess. But it didn’t have to anymore. I was able to enjoy the whole movie because I stopped comparing it to my view of the source material; a comparison the movie was destined to lose anyway. After all, everyone likes to believe they know best.

This allowed me to focus more on the characters and how they are portrayed and how they’ve interpreted the material adored by millions of fans. It sharpened my view on the outrageous and exaggerated special effects. After sitting through the movie, I didn’t think “It was good, but not as great as the book.” I felt like the movie had been an exciting experience and that I’d probably rewatch the movies again.

Since Hollywood hasn’t been producing many original films lately, blockbusters nowadays are based on comics, children’s toys or Disney World rides. Nobody has ever told me “Transformers was good, but not as great as the toys.”. (On the other hand, I haven’t heard that many who have said Transformers was any good at all.)

Great movies have the gift to break down a story to its core. They can highlight the important sequences and focus on the heart & soul of a story. Fantastic actors can bring the characters you adore to life, revealing insecurities or motives that were hidden between the lines, waiting for you to pick them up. Movies allow you to get lost in the story for approximately two hours and give you the visual sensations which enhance some stories. And these are reasons why I’ve come to view movies and their books as only loosely connected.

A recent example is the new Leonardo di Caprio movie “The Great Gatsby”, which is one of my favorite classics to read. While I found the book rather understated and holding back, the movie goes all-in with over-the-top visual effects, and a focus on the party life and decadence of the twenties. It is a totally different product compared to the book. Did I enjoy the movie? Yes. But not because it was similar to the book, but because it was fun and a great visual experience (a bit long though).

Video games on the other hand are a blend of books and movies, with the unique element of participation included. Similar to books, you can choose how quickly you want to play, either rushing through levels to beat the game or exploring the worlds the developers have created. But you also have fast-paced action and a world that wants to pull you in through exciting scenery and atmosphere. Good movies are the same. Games are also getting more sophisticated in their acting, with more and more TV actresses like Camille Ludington (Californication) or Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) taking on roles in video games (Tomb Raider and Mass Effect, respectively). Story-telling in video games has been improving steadily.

Most franchises nowadays have launched a three-headed attack on living rooms. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have started out as books, have been huge successes at the box office and are also available as video games on different platforms. Star Wars started out as a feature film, but now has an extended universe including comics,science-fiction novels countless games from different genres. Warcraft begun as a strategy game, became the most successful online rpg in history and has brought their story to a series of fantasy novels.  The next step is World of Warcraft – The Movie, which is about to release soon.

I believe that great stories will continue to thrive as different forms of entertainment. Movies, games and books each have their strengths and I enjoy each medium. Comparing books to movies and vice versa can take away some of the joy and excitement about what’s lies at the heart of entertainment: a great story. It can cover tiresome writing, a weak script or faulty programming. And most importantly, when story is told with pure class regardless of it’s form, you can bet I’ll be the first in line at the bookshop, cinema or video game store.

What do you think about the different forms of entertainment? Pick your poison and let me know!

Sincerely yours,
Albert