HBO’s Sunday: Game of Thrones, Veep Soar – Silicon Valley Stumbles

Sunday night’s HBO settle-in brought back two solid season premieres of the best HBO has to offer right now: Game of Thrones and Veep. It also introduced a new series, Silicon Valley, by Mike Judge, which suffered greatly for delivering a singularly male vision of the tech industry. This did two things to sabotage the series from the outset. The first, it is unrealistic in 2014 to shut women out completely out of any story. The second, it just isn’t that funny when the characters on the show don’t point out the obvious: that it’s a sausage fest of nerds.

While it might be true that it’s a male-dominated industry, that doesn’t mean the show won’t suffer from portraying it that way. Or at the very least make a joke about the elephant in the room. This show’s bland acceptance of the norm makes it, quite simply, boring. It was also hurt by showing in front of Veep, which is the best comedy on television with writing so fresh and vivid it Tsunami’d any tiny sprig of humor Silicon Valley had to offer. More, Veep – like House of Cards – seamlessly incorporates women and minorities without breaking a sweat. It doesn’t have to. It just does. That is a conscious decision by very smart people to find the funny wherever it may lie without sacrificing the necessary political correctness for today’s audiences. We need shit to be inclusive. If it isn’t, it will suffer by default because that is the only thing people will want to talk about.

Well, that isn’t wholly true. A review on NPR of Silicon Valley didn’t mention the woman problem once but the critic simply didn’t like the show very much. I suspect if the writing were good enough, and the characters vivid enough, no one would notice that it was just a bunch of dudes droning on and on. It did have one funny Ted Talks joke. I will not be able to watch the show, however, if they insist on making it 99% male characters. Women make up a powerful audience where television is concerned. Movies are aimed at 13 year-old boys but television knows that smart women are out there watching. It doesn’t care about opening weekend.

Veep towers over Silicon Valley so much that if I were the producers of the show I would ask that they move it to a different time slot. It isn’t really fair to compare the two shows. Veep rounds the turns like Secretariat – with a comfortably tight ensemble, great material to work with and the best writing around. It crackles with bitterness, sick jokes, hubris – these are all greatly flawed, hilarious characters – especially the star of the show, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. She’s always funny but Veep is her most glorious incarnation yet. Vain, silly, petty, less smart than she thinks she is – the joke is always on her. She is joined by a motley crew of equally flawed “handlers.” There’s Mike (Matt Walsh) – who’s getting married in this episode and must force the Veep to wish him congratulations on his wedding. She recycles a speech she made at a funeral. There’s Dan (Reid Scott), the “cute one” who is smarmy and ambitious, and who will stop at nothing to rise in the ranks. There’s Amy (Anna Chlumsky) the only semi-sane one of the crew who must work in a job she really hates with people she can’t stand. There’s Sue (Sufe Bradshaw) who is so above it all she delights in dishing out the insults as her only amusement. And there’s Gary (Tony Hale) the put-upon assistant to the Veep who once carried around a impossibly giant leather bag just to please his boss and in the latest episode risks everything during a sentimental moment at Mike’s wedding to call the Veep back. She waves off his phone call casually as he melts down, and there’s Jonah (Timothy Simons) who is just the worst of the worst. In the latest episode he’s started a DC blog, which is terrible of course but ends up getting him in hot water with the Washington staff.

If you loved In the Loop, you’ll recognize much of the same banter and hatefulness in Veep – it was created by Armondo Iannucci. He wrote last night’s third season opener. No wonder.

Meanwhile, Game of Thrones got off to a frothy and saucy start as we catch up with our favorite characters. Game of Thrones, like Veep, acknowledges that women basically rule the world, even in a patriarchy, like Game of Thrones would ordinarily be. But clearly, that’s a woman’s world. The men just live in it. That makes it a thrilling, surprising watch each and every time. I think it’s a mistake to bog down in the tiny details of Game of Thrones. Better to just let it wash over you without having to understand every tiny thing. Since I watch the episodes repeatedly it all sinks in eventually. Last night’s eagerly anticipated Season 4 opener did not disappoint.

Here are a few things learned.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is having trouble relaxing around his lover because there is just so much stress happening in his midst. This conversation was overheard by a minion and will be reported to his evil sister Cersei (Lena Heady) in due time. Cersei has “gone off” her brother sexually because he was “gone too long.” Her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) tries on a new hand to replace his chopped off one. He doesn’t like it much.

Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) continues building his monument to douchebaggery whilst preparing to wed Margaery (Natalie Dormer). Meanwhile, poor Sansa (Sophie Turner) must pull herself together after learning about the death of her mother at the Red Wedding. She isn’t eating. It looks like she and Tyrion will probably move closer together, especially after Cersei finds out about his mistress. But we’re not there yet.

Out in the wilderness, Ayra goes full blown warrior by slicing and dicing her first major, controlled kills. We’re meant to understand what a fierce fighter she is going to be. This is the beginning. Unlike her sister, Ayra will fight to avenge the death of her mother.

Finally we get to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clark) – her dragons are starting to defy her a bit as they will never be tamed. She doesn’t have much to do in this episode except, apparently, be wooed by a new guy. We can’t wait to see Daenerys kick some ass so here’s hoping.

Game of Thrones is a cumulative experience, like Veep and every other great show on television. What we got with these season openers was a guarantee that yes, these shows are still at the top of their game and they plan to deliver, big time, with these upcoming seasons.

Sundays are now spoken for. Lock and load.

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