Television Man | Aidan Morgan | Aug. 25, 2022

“Chaos isn’t a pit. It’s a television. One of those fancy OLED displays with USB ports and a perfume dispenser. And an icemaker. Can we get a TV with an altimeter? Yeah, that’s the ticket. What? No, I’m just reading the lines you gave me. Yeah… a ladder? How does that make sense?” —Aidan Gillen from the unaired pilot Game of Televisions

Did you watch House of the Dragon (Crave/HBO) on Sunday evening? Considering the show drew in just shy of 10 million viewers, I bet you did. I bet it gave you that sweet Game of Thrones feeling, with jousting, nudity, sadistic aristocrats and British actors in blonde wigs. The Iron Throne even has more swords spilling out from its sides and spreading across the floor in a deadly iron thicket, so you know producers were listening to their sword-thirsty fanbase.

Idea! Let’s talk about all this sword and dragon stuff.

Hot D Forever

House of the Dragon is set roughly 200 years before the events of the parent show, although there appears to be little material difference between the world of GoT and HotD (I guess the show’s fidelity to history only extends to violence against women and not its actual history). In place of Starks and Lannisters jousting for supremacy, the prequel focuses on the inner workings of the ruling Targaryen family, who reprise the usual roster of Thrones obsessions: power, violence, incest and dry, cutting dialogue. The first episode is light on wit and heavy on exposition, which isn’t surprising, but if you’re looking for a Tyrion Lannister to deliver lines like “That’s what I do. I drink and I know things,” you’re going to come away disappointed.

It’s a serviceable and entertaining show, but like most prequels it struggles to find its own identity. Game of Thrones was set in a kind of mundane valley between a legendary magic-filled past and a terrible magic-filled future; much of the pleasure lay in watching that past gradually rise up and overtake the world. House of the Dragon can’t offer that same charge. Instead, there’s jousting and politics, and a gruesome childbirth scene that’s clearly meant to say Something Very Significant about patriarchy but feels more like an acceptable excuse to watch a woman’s body get mutilated.

Paddy Considine, Emma D’Arcy, Matt Smith and others play the various Targaryens (one of them may actually be named “Various Targaryen”, for all I know). They all appear to share the same name and wig. It’s the same old story: a massive budget for CGI dragons but not enough money for a full complement of blonde wigs. It was a lot easier in Game of Thrones when the blonde wig budget only needed to cover Emilia Clarke’s head. Simpler times.

Leagues Ahead

What’s better than a Game of Thrones prequel? A series adaptation of A League of Their Own (Amazon Prime) from creators Will Graham (Mozart in the Jungle) and Abbi Jacobson (Broad City). Jacobsen plays Carson Shaw, a young woman who runs away from her stultifying life to try out for the Rockford Peaches.

Fans of the 1992 movie will recognize a few scenes and lines, but the series takes the time to make the world of the Peaches feel more lived in. Above all, it pulls at the suggestions of queerness in the original film and turns it into a story about queer people living their best possible lives. D’arcy Carden (The Good Place) and Kelly McCormack (Letterkenny, Killjoys) give standout performances in a cast of nothing but standouts, but my favourite performance might be from Chanté Adams (Bad Hair) as Max Chapman, a young Black woman who exerts a mighty effort against institutionalized racism to simply play baseball.

A League of Their Own, simply put, is a joy to watch. It has all the beats of a good sports film but steps back to dig into the lives of the characters. All eight episodes of the series are streaming on Amazon Prime Video. ■