Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Howie Balaban: Can't We All Just Be Entertained?

Photo courtesy
If the past two weeks or so have taught us anything, it's that there is a significant segment of our television viewing population that sees things in one of two ways: captivating or off-putting.

Heading into last weekend, one of golf's signature events was underway and Tiger Woods had emerged as a contender. Personally, I've never been a fan of golf. I've tried to watch. I've tried to play. In both instances, I've failed. I can appreciate the talent that pro golfers have after attempting to play. If golf is on, I tend to not watch. There's a golf course across the street from my house and I'll wave to the golfers while I mow my yard. You won't catch me on the course, though.

All that being said, when Tiger ended last Saturday in contention, I was definitely curious about how he would play on Sunday. It was worth watching or paying attention to in some way because it was a captivating spectacle.

Know what else took place last Sunday?

Game of Thrones. Season 8. Episode 1.

Bear with me now as I draw a parallel between Tiger Wood and Game of Thrones:

When the series premiered in 2011, I knew it featured a few actors I had heard of before. One was in Lord of the Rings. One was in Elf. One was in a short-lived time travel TV show (a better "New Amsterdam" than what currently airs, in my opinion). One was in 300. It was on HBO. It was epic fantasy.

That was all I knew about it. I had never read the books.

I looked at the series as something that might be worth a watch given how it looked and how in-depth it appeared to be based on previews alone. By the middle of the first season, I was hooked.
Over the past seven seasons of the show I watched it grow into something that we can point to as a dying breed in this age of streaming entertainment. It became "appointment television."

The fandom of the show has grown, too. Thanks to the books there was already a built-in fanbase. With the show, a whole new crop of readers rediscovered the source material, and both libraries and bookstores across the country, I'm sure, experienced a swell in foot traffic and business. As for viewership, I recommended the show to my brother (he decided to stick around for the long haul, like me, after the mid-point of the first season), and to a handful of friends around here. Being someone who'd seen it was very cool, because being on the receiving end of texts that were varying degrees of "OMG" to "EXPLETIVE EXPLETIVE!!" made if feel like I was vicariously rewatching the show.

Shortly before Season 5, my wife was doing some paperwork in our living room and had the TV on. She saw a promo for the upcoming season and casually mentioned how she figured it was time she watched Game of Thrones.

I immediately left the house. I told her I'd be back in just a few minutes.

I returned with Seasons 1 and 2 from the library. She binged those, and Seasons 3 and 4, over the next couple weeks and when Season 5 premiered, we had an hour a week where we were watching something we both enjoyed.

By the time Season 6 ended - in such an epic scope that I would have paid good money to have seen the final two episodes as an actual movie in theaters - we were looking for more people to watch with us. And for Season 7, another couple joined us each week for the grandeur. Dinner and a show with friends, for seven straight weeks.

And last week the final season began. As it did, the rain brigade jumped out in full force on social media.

In the past 10 days I've lost count how many people have proudly stated how they have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. To them, I say good for you. Do you mind if those of us who have watched it enjoy it without you bothering us with your two cents?

I've stated before that tastes are subjective. Not everybody has to like everything. Truth be told, there are plenty of cringe-worthy moments in the show, and there are multiple instances of HBO/Hollywood gratuitous violence and skin in the earlier seasons.

Photo courtesy Golf Digest
However, it is so much more than that. There is an intricately told story. There are brave, reluctant heroes and expertly nuanced villains. There are plot twists so unexpected they are worthy of spit-takes. There are character deaths that would make even the toughest among us tear up.

Oh, and one more thing: for all the critical stories about how women have been portrayed in the show, they have also become some of the most powerful players in the "game" itself. So for the people who proclaim they haven't watched an episode, I say good for you. Just leave it at that. You really aren't giving anyone your opinion on the show if you're parroting someone else's take. So please, leave it at "it doesn't appeal to me and I haven't watched." No one needs more detail than that.

On the other hand, though, golf doesn't appeal to me. Yet I still watched Tiger Woods last weekend. I watched him win the Masters in a classic American comeback story. Yes, he had to come back from a mess he created for himself, but he did it. It was captivating. I was rooting for it.

It was an interesting, fascinating thing to watch.

I would imagine that if I hadn't been watching Game of Thrones from the beginning, I would at least be tuning in now for its final season to see what the fuss has been about. I did the same thing with some other bingeworthy shows during their initial run, like The Shield. Thones has been worth the ride, and the first two episodes this season have been table setting and an excellent appetizer for what is sure to be an historic television spectacle this Sunday (April 28). What makes it more intriguing is there are still three episodes left AFTER this Sunday, and only those who worked on the show have any idea what will happen.

So if you haven't watched by now, no one will fault you and quite honestly, no one really cares. I saw someone mention how there are roughly 320 million people in America and approximately 17.4 million watched the season premier. Congrats on being in the majority.

Now if you don't mind, allow those of us who do watch the freedom to be entertained without you telling us why we shouldn't or that you aren't.

After all, you can't please everyone all of the time. Know how I know this? I never "got" Seinfeld and I think Friends was overrated.

Enjoy what you want, and let the rest of us do the same.

Howie Balaban is patiently awaiting Tron 3 and hopes there is a live-action Gargoyles movie in our future.