March 29, 2012

The New York Times and Game of Thrones: Missing the Mark... Again

Last year the New York Times published an uh, interesting “review” for Game of Thrones. I’m sure many of you remember it: reviewer Ginia Bellafante called the series boy fiction and the tide of internet rage was felt far and wide. I was ticked, and I wasn’t alone. Boo on sweeping generalizations. This year, a different New York Times reviewer has made a different, equally dismissive generalization. Neil Genzlinger says:
“What “Game of Thrones” needs if it is to expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types is what most of the United States didn’t get this year: a hard winter. Life in this particular fantasy land consists of seasons of indeterminate length, and since the series began there have been references to an impending winter of fearsome power.”
Yeah, only Dungeons & Dragons types watch the series. You may as well say, “this show’s just for the nerds.” Never mind two co-workers of mine who are not in the least into anything fantasy or sci-fi (seriously, one of them didn’t know who Darth Vader was until the Volvo Superbowl commercial last year) who salivated over Game of Thrones last year and can’t wait for the upcoming season to begin. And actually, other than myself, I can only think of a handful of people who watch and adore the series and also play D&D. I realize I’m taking this to the most literal example, but that’s what the statement is sort of forcing me to do.
It’s one thing to say, “if you like D&D, you might like this series.” I do that in reviews. It’s entirely different to classify the entire audience into one generic group. Also? How about not assuming people are stupid? In regards to the number of characters, Genzlinger says the following after mentioning the number of kings, armies, etc now milling about and how there is no one person for the series to focus on now that Ned’s gone:
“The character board for the series on HBO’s Web site has 49 head shots on it. Thinking of jumping into the new season without having seen the first? Don’t even try; your brain doesn’t have that many neurons.”
I’m not denying it’s a lot of characters. It is. Sure, people are asking who the heck was who after an episode but eventually it sinks in. Viewers are smart and can handle it whether they have or haven’t read the books. In some ways, Game of Thrones is like a daytime soap opera. I mean, as far as I know there aren’t many decapitations on weekday afternoon television, but there are huge ensemble casts. Soap operas rotate between several characters and families and layers are built up bit by bit. People are perfectly able keep up with names and faces. Sure, they have repeated exposure with soap operas, but they'll recognize people from week to week.
Also, assuming the viewership is lazy is also bad practice (and lazy):
“Some people love this kind of stuff, of course, and presumably those addicted to the George R. R. Martin books on which the series is based will immerse themselves in Season 2, just as they did in Season 1. Will anyone else? You have to have a fair amount of free time on your hands to stick with “Game of Thrones,” and a fairly low reward threshold. If decapitations and regular helpings of bare breasts and buttocks are all you require of your television, step right up.”
The people who have read the books aren’t the only ones watching this series. There’s no way it could have got to season 2 without grabbing the attention of a broader audience. This show isn’t for everyone (no show is), but the first season garnered praise from critics darn near across the board. One of the supporting actors won an Emmy. Sure, nudity and bloodshed aren’t exactly rare happenings in Westeros, but I’d be very surprised to learn if those were the only two reasons for anyone tuning in.
When season 3 comes around, maybe the New York Times will just talk about the series and not focus on the audience. People have opinions, it's fine that reviewers dislike the series. But maybe, just maybe they'll leave the condescending tone out next time. Hopefully. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
You can read Genzlinger’s article in full here.


  1. The Darth Vader ad was for VW...

    ...I know that was an important and valuable element of your argument...

    ...I'll show myself out...

  2. Why did I think Volvo and Volkswagen were the same? Thanks. :)

  3. Maybe at the New York Times they only see things at their face value or appearance. Sad for them! Game of Thrones is amazing and one of the deeper stories on television.

  4. That article has it all wrong. The show is very much a drama, especially in the first season. And many people that hate D&D-esque stuff love this show.

    It is funny, because Game of Thrones is a new bridge that can connect me to my non sci-fi dorky friends.

  5. Maybe the NYT reviewers need to expand their social circle a bit? If they don't know a ton of people who are crazy about Game of Thrones but don't know their D6s from their D20s, they clearly need to leave their bedrooms once in a while.

  6. I had a look at the critics bio. In it he wrote ' I regularly review theater, television, films and books, tending to draw what might politely be called the second-tier assignments in all those groups.'

    That's what Game of Thrones is to these guys: Second Tier as opposed to a drama.

  7. So odd. I started on the TV series which got me into the books, typical of many people I know who are hooked on it, so to make the presumption people have to go book first is a little archaic thinking. Also,another factor that makes this such a good series, is that it DOES have a huge cast! With no hesitation to kill off major bits and introduce new. Most reviewers don't like "different" but different doesn't have to be bad, and in the case of this series, different means brilliant!

  8. I don't think there's anything wrong with D&D "geeks" since I was one but you don't outsell The Sopranos, The Wire, and True Blood, by just selling to D&D "geeks". Some people just don't get it.

  9. this reviewer is repugnantly ignorant of the source material and good taste. Go back to your reality shows.

  10. We'll see how many seasons critics like this can continue spewing their stereotypical, limited-audience drivel as the ratings climb. I'm about to start my search to see if the preliminary numbers have been released yet. Muahaha!

  11. This is even more insulting because Game of Thrones is so not a D20 based system. I think if Charmin ever went out of business I'd still be fine in the bathroom with the NYT.

  12. There will be some grouchy folks out there who won't be able to handle the transition as the geeks inherit the earth. Hopefully he will eventually be assimilated and will come to accept programming with original stories and talented cast.

    I assume he must enjoy his breasts and buttocks in the reality television genre.

  13. Seriously? You got pissed about a tv show review?

    Lighten up all of you. If you like it, watch and spread the word. Stop giving reviews like that weight by reposting and bitching about it.

  14. Geez. Why didn't this guy just write, "I'm slow-witted, shallow, and have a gnat-like attention span. I really haven't the mental faculties required to even comprehend this series, let alone enjoy it."

    Someone please tell me this is the only critic with this brand of myopia.

  15. Reading these reviews it is clear that they keep assigning a person to review the series that has not read the books. If s/he had, they would know the following:
    1. There are no throw away characters. Each and every character with a name is IMPORTANT and serves a purpose in the novel and I assume (as I have not yet seen the show--HURRY UP NETFLIX!)the TV show as well.
    2. A LOT of beloved characters die. The world in which the novel is set is violent; death happens.
    3. Why do we have to rush the storytelling? The novels are PERFECTLY paced--each novel builds on the last, adds to the suspense, and I assume the payoff in the final novel will be well worth it. One would think this would translate well to a TV series as TV is all about the perpetual cliffhanger. (And also, George RR Martin writes novels like TV... as he worked in TV way back in the day).

    I'm curious as to why they keep giving these reviews to people who have never read the books. It makes them sound stupid and uninformed to keep producing this kind of review.

  16. I've got to second Tina - I wonder why of all papers the NYT would have someone who has never read the books reviewing the show.

    I'm not one to take issue with people who watch the show but haven't read the books - especially as my husband is one of those people - but to make such sweeping generalizations that seem to focus mostly on the "type" of people that would watch the show is just bad form.

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