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Catching up on the tube, from ‘Game of Thrones’ to ‘Community’

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Posted: Friday, June 8, 2012 11:17 am

I just didn’t have the heart to take the plunge with “Snow White & the Huntsman,” although its impressive debut at the box office last weekend suggests that it has its share of admirers among the wretched, entertainment-starved masses.

So knock yourself out, if you’re into that sort of thing. As for me, I took a week off from the multiplex to catch up on some TV shows. And considering the recent void of reasonable options on theater marquees lately, I suspect that many of you have been doing the same.

Given that the release schedule will be getting more enticing very soon and we may not have another opportunity to talk TV for quite a while, I figured we should take the downtime to touch bases.

These days, a lot of water-cooler talk seems to revolve HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which I “got into” shortly after its first-season finale last year. The final episode of season two aired last weekend, and although some fans lamented the distinct lack of crazy goings-on, I rather dug its surprisingly low-key tone.

The series has quickly amassed a sizable fan base during its short time as HBO’s flagship series, and part of that popularity stems from the show’s more tawdry elements. But it’s important to note that “Game of Thrones” has provided grand entertainment for the past two years not by throwing a bunch of crazy crap around and hoping that enough of it sticks, but rather by dispersing said awesomeness in a measured fashion.

The finale took on an interesting “calm before the storm” tone that I think was needed following the previous episode’s extended battle sequences. And as much as I would have liked to see King Joffrey die a painful and prolonged death, or see some more escalation of the conflict between “halfling” Tyrion Lannister (Emmy winner Peter Dinklage, who’s gotta be the sexiest little person on the planet) and his father Tywin, it’s always good when a series caps off a season by leaving you wanting more. Next season, which will introduce the King Beyond the Wall and move the narrative along toward the fateful “Red Wedding”, should be a doozy.

HBO more or less rules the television roost, and has for many years. The overall quality of their shows has certainly seen a dip these past few seasons, but they’re still at the top of the industry. Returning this week is “True Blood,” which, of course, has taken some hits recently from impossible-to-please fans who complain that the series deviates too much from Charlaine Harris’ novels. They also complain that the show has gotten a bit “silly,” for lack of a better word.

The second criticism is more reasonable, but I would argue that the trashy absurdity is part of the show’s unique charm. Yes, it is unforgivingly stupid that Tara will returning as a vampire for season five after having had her skull blown apart by a shotgun blast in the fourth season finale, but whatayagonnado? The return of villain extraordinaire Russell Edgington should be a treat, as should the reemergence of minister-turned bloodsucker Steve Newland. And who can say no to Christopher Meloni, back on cable after years of toiling on network television, as a particularly ancient member of the dreaded Vampire Authority?

I used to watch more Showtime series, but of late I have found their stable lacking. There was a time when my favorite show on television was “Dexter,” Showtime’s once-compulsively watchable series following the exploits of a good-guy serial killer. I flat-out stopped watching it about halfway through the ridiculous last season, which managed to be even worse and more dull than the police procedural dreck that network TV has to offer. Perhaps it will recover soon. In the meantime, I’m not sure that the intermittently interesting “Borgias” will be enough to keep them afloat.

In terms of critical respect, HBO’s primary competition for the past few years has been AMC, and I’m starting to understand why. I’ve been an ardent defender of “The Walking Dead” for the past two seasons, and although many viewers were massively disappointed that the entire last season took place on Hershel’s farm, I thought the whole thing worked wonderfully. Leaving the characters together in close quarters — with buried secrets, competing interests and general mistrust constantly putting the group of zombie apocalypse survivors at odds with one another — was an effective slow-burn method of drawing out the players’ true personalities. It is with great anticipation that I look forward to the third season, debuting in October, that will presumably take place at the prison compound and feature the long-overdue return of Merle Dixon (the eternally terrifying Michael Rooker).

I often come by shows via recommendations from trusted friends, and playing catch-up with an unfamiliar series can be a rewarding alternative to rolling the dice at the multiplex. With this in mind I have recently begun to work through AMC’s “Mad Men,” which according to Emmy voters has been the best show on television for half a decade. I would not go nearly that far, but after a single brief season my curiosity is piqued enough to continue (Don Draper, after, is The Man). AMC’s “Breaking Bad” is next on my list, unless I shoot across to Showtime’s “Homeland” or FX’s “Justified,” which reportedly features Timothy Oliphant killing bad men in awesome ways. Sounds good to me.

Of course, in order to be a sane and discriminating viewer, your TV diet need not be comprised entirely of heavy-handed dramas. Great comedies are out there — they just tend to be harder to find than good dramas, because Americans have a deplorable sense of humor (see: “Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory,” et, al.). Some exceptions include “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (still delightfully crude and going strong after being on air for the better part of a decade) and “Louie” (Louis C.K.’s penetrating and profoundly hilarious study of what can only be called benign misanthropy), both on FX. I also likes me some “South Park,” Family Guy” and “American Dad,” but I suppose that’s not news.

I’ll wrap up this little powwow with a shout-out to the one network comedy that is worth watching — the lone shimmering diamond in the vast sea of mediocrity, the one comedy series that tries to do “something different” and exceeds expectations every time. Anyone who knows anything knows that I can only be referring to NBC’s “Community,” which has been making headlines over the course of the past few months due to heated creative differences between cast, crew and network execs. Long story short, “Community” — which just ended its third season with a glorious three-part finale — may be returning next year, but if it does, it will be without the involvement of series creator Dan Harmon. The show has been his baby since the beginning, and my guess is that the “Community” we know and love is gone forever. So I’m pleading with you: If you do nothing else this summer, get this show on DVD or add it to your Netflix queue or load up Hulu or do whatever it is you feel you have to do in order to enjoy the comic riches of this most unusual and daring comedy.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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