How HBO is Ready to Dominate Spring with Sex, Violence, Nerds & Politics
HBO has done an excellent job over the years at providing its audience with at least one excellent show each quarter of the year. Whether it’s the more recent disturbingly wonderful True Detective, or previous classics such as The Sopranos or Curb Your Enthusiasm (for the comedy fans out there), there has been a stream of must-watch, appointment viewing on the network throughout the past couple of decades. Now, with the introduction of the new spring line-up on April 6th, HBO has quite possibly outdone itself, creating about as perfect a 2 hour block of television can get to close out a weekend. With two established veteran shows and a new comedy from Mike Judge, the Sunday night HBO programming for this spring has the potential to be the best quarter the channel has ever presented. Let’s take a look at the line-up in reverse order to see what makes Sunday’s so special, starting with the comedy that closes out the night and ending with what may be the last true “event” for television.
The two comedies on HBO have something that I haven’t experienced with HBO comedies all that much; the ability to actually make me laugh out loud (Girls is not a laugh-out-loud comedy. In fact I find the show cringeworthy, and Entourage and Eastbound & Down both became too outrageous). Veep is one of the funniest shows on television and is a perfect end-cap for HBO’s new spring Sundays. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has continued to be the most visibly successful former cast-member of Seinfeld (I say that because I understand Jerry Seinfeld is extremely rich and successful, but he doesn’t seem to make a lot of appearances) with her brilliant comedic timing as Selina Meyer.
The wonderful mix of political satire and flat-out goofiness of Veep is what makes the show so special, not to mention a cast that is quite possibly brilliant without exaggeration. This is a show that understands what it has going for it and utilizes its tools to their fullest extent without going over the edge, but still pushing the envelope enough to drive some of those “oh no they didn’t just go there” moments, such as Selina using a funeral for an opportunity to give a speech that helps her career as she did in the season 3 premiere.
Veep has seemingly found the sweet spot of having just the right amount of cynicism mixed into just the right amount of fun to make the characters at least a little likeable as well, something that has not worked quite as well in the more recent comedic efforts from the network. The characteristics of the show suggest Veep is well on its way to becoming one of the great comedies of the generation, something which, based solely on the series premiere, I hope becomes a possibility for this next show.
Silicon Valley is a show that, I feel, will wind up going 1 of 2 different ways. One path this show could take is the path of turning into the Entourage for nerds, which would be okay for a few seasons but would become tiresome and stupid, much like Entourage did. Overall, however, this path would be truly disappointing since this show has the potential to become much better.
The second and much more preferable path would be similar to what Veep has done. I’m hoping the Mike Judge influence can turn this show into an interesting satire of the technology-obsessed world that actually manages to have charm, which is exactly what the first episode displayed. It may also be a program that not only makes fun of the current tech-centric culture, but also captures the essence of that same culture at the same time. While this criticism is solely based on the initial episode, if the show continues to be what the pilot entailed and remains both funny and poignant, or at least as poignant as a show of this nature can be, it has the means to become the show that ties the spring Sundays together.
Of course in all likelihood this is why the show was put into the 9:00 (central standard time applies for me) slot so it could be sandwiched in between the two established HBO shows. As of right now this writer is hoping this works out well and Silicon Valley retains the quality of its pilot in order to become a mainstay for the network. It certainly helps the effort having a cast that, again based solely on the pilot, is near perfect for the particular content.
HBO will almost certainly have it’s strongest lineup in ages, but a lot of how good it remains overall is riding on the success of Silicon Valley.
Game of Thrones
To preface this section I would just like to make it clear that I do not care about the books in the context of writing about the show. I read the first book and it neither added nor took away from my viewing experience of the program. I view this show as a separate entity from its source material.
And now for HBO’s monster success story and what may very well be the last true appointment television event (some may argue The Walking Dead needs to be watched live but I stopped caring about that show after the first two episodes and I hate commercial interruptions). Game of Thrones continued it’s consistent quality in pacing and storytelling on the opening spring Sunday with more Lannisters, more Starks, more dragons, violence, sex, and of course more Daenerys Targaryen. The show hopped right back into the saddle and brought the audience exactly what it’s been bringing for the past 3 years.
The show is absolutely astounding television programming and it is so much different from anything out there in the most refreshing manner possible for a show that is filled with so much violence and depressing situations. The moments that truly separate Game of Thrones from other television programs is just how interesting expositional scenes have become. This is one program where this writer actually finds himself waiting for more talking about what’s happening in this world. In a world full of swords and blood, beautiful women and nudity abound, wonderful sights and magic, this is quite an astonishing feat.
Added to this is the fact that there are indeed those other things; gore, sex, violence, love, drama. There truly is something for just about any type of audience in this show (with the exception of children…).
Game of Thrones has become so good at balancing the stories as well, with each and every meeting with a different character lasting just long enough to not wear out a welcome. Whether it is a discussion between Jaime and Cersei Lannister or a scene involving the Hound haggling over chickens, the show knows when to cut away and when to stay with certain characters (of course there are exceptions. See Greyjoy, Theon from season 3). The pacing for a show with so many different moving parts is incredibly smooth and it’s not an easy task to make an hour-long program seem like it’s only lasted for half of that time.
So with Game of Thrones now primed for an excellent season to get the series to its assumed halfway point, HBO appears to be in better shape than ever for its spring programming with the addition of Silicon Valley and the steady presence of Veep. Sunday nights should be an excellent time to sit back and relax for a couple hours before heading to bed and getting ready for that dreaded Monday.
For more information about the above shows, including the new Silicon Valley, one can simply visit HBO’s home page and follow the links.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
I never really just how good of a line-up HBO has! But they really are setting the bar pretty high, which is great. Too many television shows have been a let-down. It’s refreshing to see that good TV writing and acting are still alive and well! Great article 🙂
Game of Thrones is great but there are so many pointless characters and so many scenes not motivating the story. Three hours of plot trying to get out of ten hours of running time. The whole last series was like waiting in line for an orgy. I do hope finally Daenerys Targaryen is going to invade!
The exceptional writing, and raw comedy and drama of shows on HBO and Showtime are great examples of what I wish all television could be. Interesting to see how the shows of Netflix shall develop as they seem to be aiming at the same quality for their original content.
HBO has a lot going for them. I wonder if they will be able to keep this momentum.
I truly apprecaite the quality of writing you applied to cult fiction. Very rarely do you find a piece so well written regarding these types of show. Thanks for shedding some literary light on HBO.
True Detective was a very good series, really enjoyable. had an eerie, cinematic nature to it. Great performances from both leads and cleverly structured. Also some brilliantly shot scenes from an obviously talented director.
I may be alone in feeling this, but I felt it tailed off in the last two eps. It had created visions of a sinister conspiracy that lay behind the establishment which never really followed through and though brilliantly tense the final denouement was, I felt a bit short-changed. The death of a from-a-tin paedophile character who had been fleshed out in the last 2 eps was IMO a bit hasty and had the feel of a re-write or some kind of cop out. It generally felt a bit rushed, for example matching the green ears with the green paint – wtf? I just didn’t get that.
To add to that, the main characters copped out at the end and we were left with a ‘ Lethal Weapon’ buddy cop-style movie ending (the family visit, the begruding respect). It smacked of Hollywood, maybe I’m expecting too much of US TV dramas, but (especially on HBO) they’re allowed to leave us in the dark.
Overall though the format is certainly an exciting one and allowing new cast and settings for each series will give it legs hopefully.
Now that Breaking Bad is over, there’s not much else that compares. There’s a lot of other shows quality shows now, but when it comes down to it they’re kind of like soap operas, all that build up and then you don’t even see a nipple (cough… Walking Dead). Game of Thrones has all the intrigue, all the slow-burning brilliance, and then the reward is some of the best moments on television. I love it.
And if the book is anything to go by, this will be the best season. Season 5 though, that has me worried.
For slow burn, if you’re prepared to head overseas for your viewing pleasure, I suggest “Les Revenants”, “The Killing” (Danish version), or “The Bridge” (Danish version).
Closer to home, there’s True Detective, of course.
Yep agreed. As someone who read the five books one after another, I imagine a lot of the grief that it gets is because of the time people had to wait for it. Though I suppose in a sense the fifth season would be a combination of the 4th and 5th books. There are a number of very interesting arcs however so if the show concentrates on them but speeds up some of the more boring ones (which without trying to get too spoilery, won’t really translate well to TV anyway)
I think HBO’s greatest quality is the consistency of excellent original programming. From OZ, to The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under and now GOT, they always seem to get it right. And with a few exceptions, namely True Blood, they know when to end a series and inject something new into their lineup. It’s definitely difficult to leave a popular and profitable enterprise behind and perhaps in most of these cases of shows we love to miss, it was the producers, writers, and actors that pulled the plug on them rather than Home Box Office. However, HBO has elevated the act of finding new material and joining forces with some of the most talented folks in the film and television industry to an art form. Bravo to them.
I just recently got into Game of Thrones and immediately became a fanatic. I spent literally the whole weekend watching all three seasons. HBO is definitely proving themselves and putting some of these other networks to shame.
I really enjoyed True Detective, but this got a little spoiled in the final scene where I noticed the dialogue was stolen direct from Alan Moore. Without spoiling anything for those who didn’t watch, I’m talking about the philosophical thing about the stars and the darkness. It’s one of my favorite bits from the ‘Top Ten’ graphic novels.
I’m sort of puzzled by the legality of this. I guess plagiarism is OK in TV? I mean they used the dialogue in a slightly different setting, but it makes me wonder how much of True Detective was basically cribbed from other sources and it also makes me sad since the writing has been getting pretty unanimously praised.
definitely a solid line-up! I wish you’d talked more about what this means for HBO and as a comprehensive TV block, not just each show separately. What’s it like to sit through all three? How does it compare to other current or previous lineups in broadcast or cable?
Great point. It was an excellent premiere night and was great to sit through the 2 hour block and it just flew by. The lineup sort of differs from the traditional big network lineups where you’ll have the comedies first and then have the CSI/Mystery/Murder show go one after. HBO typically flips that and has the drama on before the comedy. Also, I can’t think of any networks that keep the quality consistent throughout the night AND have a mix of comedy and drama. Tuesday nights for Fox may be something one could point to but that’s pretty much solely for the comedies.
I don’t want to continue to go on for too long, but I think with this particular lineup it’s fairly safe to say HBO is as strong as ever and isn’t going anywhere for quite some time.
The first episode of Silicon Valley left me optimistic! Mike Judge is one of the best when it comes to creating characters who take themselves too seriously. Techies are a perfect target for him.
I’ll have to catch this show at some point. Mike Judge is universally funny and something of a moralist.
I hope Silicon Valley turns out to be a great success. Mike Judge usually does a fantastic job so it would be hard seeing one of his shows on a network as big as HBO flop. Cool piece.
I’ll begin watching some of these programs now. Before today I had no idea that such programs existed And I was much in need of new shows to watch as my favorite shows are retiring for the season.
I love Game of Thrones. I’m hoping to make most of my writing on this site about it in fact. I’m currently reading book one and I’ll be honest and say that if I hadn’t been watching the show before I picked up the book, I never would have read it. It is very confusing to read unless you’ve had prior exposure to the material. I love being able to read about a character and be able to see them in my head.
Silicon Valley is another amazing show. I’ve only watch the first episode but it was very good and I’m looking forward to watching it every week.
I think everyone’s problem with too many characters on Game of Thrones is misunderstood. Each character has very extreme traits or story lines that can be difficult to watch, and this is one of the few shows that needs several characters in order to balance good vs. evil, innocent vs. experienced, etc. As much as people love Daenerys, her presence as a slave-freeing conqueror can only be watched for so long. Nobody wants to watch Tywin for a whole episode, or even the favorite, Tyrion. The amount of characters is the strength of the show, and while I agree with the writer here that Theon’s storyline is hard to watch, having that many characters depicts a world that—despite being full of magic—is believable because of the array of people, who are never perfect, but real.
HBO does come out with some quality shows, but one thing that always astounds me is that Rome is almost never mentioned as being among the greats. Being a Rome fan, I was motivated to explore Westeros because many fellow Rome fans commented on how similar they are in look, feel, quality characters and writing, outstanding acting, etc. Like Game of Thrones, Rome dramatizes historical events (and before anyone says Game of Thrones is fictional, it is almost depressingly historical, down to that event on Season 3 which I shall not name, to the Lucretia/Lyanna allusions) and still manages to be reasonably faithful to the story of the last days of the Roman republic. It’s one of the best historical dramas I’ve seen, period. The production value is very high, like GoT. It ended prematurely at Season 2 because it was too expensive and probably not popular enough, but I would encourage anyone who wants more of GoT to check it out. Besides, Ellaria Sand (Niobe) is in it.
Huge, huge fan of Game of Thrones. I can’t help it, it’s delicious. I enjoy your article too, so many writers are exploring Game of Thrones and actually criticizing it for the variety of sex, violence, and especially incest. But what’s better than the truth being televised? Reality is brutal, debatably more brutal in the earlier time periods. As much as it kills me to have my favorite characters brutally killed off, I have to admit, it keeps me engaged and interested.
I, too, hope that Silicon Valley takes the second route. I’m a fan of Mike Judge, from back in the Beavis and Butthead days, and even more so for King of the Hill. Satire is something I think Judge does very well, so I would expect that same level of make-laugh-make-you-think will hold true for this series.
Ultimately, it seems that only Game of Thrones somewhat held up going on seven years later. I have not heard of Veep for some time, and I had not heard of Silicon Valley before now. Looking at the current landscape, I think these two shows are largely forgotten.