Tag Archives: this week on tv

Young Sheldon: The Big Bang Theory spin-off rant

This week CBS released trailers for it’s the upcoming slate of Fall shows (Read my side rant about the outdated Fall schedule here*), including Young Sheldon, a spin-off for one of the network’s biggest hits, The Big Bang Theory. The response to the five-minute preview seems to be generally positive, with most people being pleasantly surprised with the intimate portrayal of what promises to be a difficult childhood. I was very impressed with the promo too. However, I could not help but feel that the spin-off feels inconsistent within TBBT’s universe.

The biggest disconnect seems to be in the intimate portrayals of the characters and their relationships as opposed to the show that we are familiar with. The young Sheldon portrayed in the eponymous promo seems like a character primed to go through a learning curve and change to be a better adapted person. His relationship with his step-father and his sister are framed as very important to the titular character. However, these aspects are completely discordant with the stubborn and utterly selfish person we encounter as the adult Sheldon Cooper in TBBT. The adult Sheldon has not changed much over the nine years and is still as inconsiderate as he was at the beginning. The idea of a prequel spin-off becomes woefully frustrating when considering that either the character is going to evolve (and thus leading to a different point than the beginning of TBBT) or he is not going to evolve (rendering the whole project irrelevant). Let me be clear, I am not writing off a show even before its first full episode is out – I like the promo too. All I am saying is that this discrepancy is a direct result of networks trying to package a good idea (the relationships of a misadjusted boy) as a familiar idea (he is also Sheldon Cooper from TBBT), to keep things safe. It feels as if the new show was written as a spin-off only to cash in on TBBT’s popularity, rather than any organic need to extend it. Again, I am not against prequels – my favorite show on air currently is a prequel – Better Call Saul (and that show deserves an entire series of posts to talk about its conceptual brilliance). From Fraiser to Mork and Mindy, American TV is full of spin-offs, each of varying quality. The problem is not with the idea of a spin-off but with one that is clearly disjointed from its original premise.

I understand the intention of trying to update a series with a new aesthetic sensibility. Despite its success, TBBT’s critical reception has dwindled over the years, and especially amidst a growing number of TV comedies like Louie and Master of None that have challenged the limits of that term. Single-camera comedies like ABC’s Black-ish and Speechless continue to present socially-relevant comedy without the annoying laugter-track. Even more traditional sitcoms like Mom (from TBBT’s creator Chuck Lorre) have gone on to grapple important issues about sobriety and failure, whereas TBBT continues to harp on four mostly unlikeable men-children struggling in their fairly comfortable lives. In light of this, a Young Sheldon spin-off could go a long way in recuperating the image of the much-maligned show. But when a character as static and with a glacial development pace as Sheldon Cooper imprinted on the minds of the viewers, it is going to take a lot for the show to win over its audience.

* Now, my Fall Schedule Rant!

I am tired of the convention of shows taking a break over the summer and returning every fall. Cable shows have long since dispelled with the idea of a seasonal premiere, with shows taking as much time as they need to return with a compelling season. HBO’s ratings juggernaut Game of Thrones is ditching its usual March premiere in favor of July because they need more time to shoot. Shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead have all broken up seasons into two parts to write the shows to their satisfaction rather than being forced to deliver a poorly delivered season on-time. The change in these shows’ scheduling has not affected the fan-base. Online video streaming service Netflix has even taken an even more brazenly contrarian approach with many of its major shows (Orange is the New Black, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards and Narcos) returning this year over the summer. And the best thing about this scheduling is that it will not be the same next year. It does not have to be, because the quality of the programs control the audience and not some arbitrarily made up criteria of a TV season. A staggered year-long schedule where a show is on air only as long as it needs to before taking a break to prepare its next season would be better suited to attract today’s audiences.

The schedule also imposes a rigid and unnecessary imposition that a regular season should feature about 22-24 episodes. Cable and streaming shows demonstrate how the duration of the program’s availability is irrelevant when it comes to popularity and critical acclaim. The only important feature that remains common across all successful shows is that the shows tell a story that is sincere to its chosen mode. By forcing creators to stretch their material to a specific length, many shows have resulted in episodes of uneven quality (like the second and third seasons of Fresh Off the Boat) or in being prolonged for seemingly no reason (like the still delightful but meandering Modern Family). But networks don’t want to give up on a good thing – and a successful episode of a hit show will have the exact same ad spots to sell as a poorly reviewed one. As long as the network can lead its viewers with a show with promise of a better episode down the line, they can sell ad spots in bulk. Instead, would not multiple shows of differing lengths presented over a staggered schedule promote a more vibrant TV culture?

What are your thoughts on the Fall Schedule and TV Spin-Offs? Share your comments and views with ScreenEthics.com through facebook or twitter.

SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Hodor. Time Travel: Fate vs. Responsibility

This post contains [SPOILERS] about Time Travel  in Game of Thrones season 06, episode 05: The Door

It has been less than 36 hours since the world watched the devastating closing moments of the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. As Meera Reed, Bran Stark, and Hodor, or Wylis, try to make their escape from the cave of the three-eyed raven, they reach a shut door that leads out of the cave. Bran’s mind is in Winterfell, as he tries to learn as much as he could from the Three-Eyed Raven, where he observes Wylis. As the horde of zombies run over the cave, they make an effort to escape by a door that is stuck. Possessed by Bran, Hodor (the adult Wylis, referred to as Hodor to avoid confusion) struggles open the door and helps the get out, while Meera instructs him to ‘hold the door!’ to stave off the zombie horde. As Bran is still at Winterfell in his mind, while warging Hodor, the young Wylis notices Bran’s presence. At that moment, Bran’s warging of Hodor retroactively affects Wylis, as he encounters a future experience (of holding the door) a memory that imprints itself on the mind of young Wylis, who from then on, can only say that one phrase, slurred as ‘Hodor’, which has come to be known as his name. Wylis/Hodor has had the tragic misfortune of experiencing his death to come many years later, when he was still a young boy.

109 Hodor
Hodor. Friend, Servant, Defender.

This raises many questions for us to think about, especially regarding the rules of time travel in the GoT universe. Was it Hodor who held the door shut (thus sacrificing himself), or was it Bran who held it through Hodor (and effectively murdering Hodor)? Bran travels in time and space, to exist in three realms: 1, his physical body in the cave, 2, Hodor’s body in the cave, 3, Hodor’s body in Winterfell all those years ago. When Wylis recognizes Bran’s presence, does he merely see the rift in the time-space continuum of his world, or does he create that rift? If Bran grew up in a world where Wylis is known as Hodor, then can Bran be truly responsible for the events that have caused that happen? Is Bran then an agent (who can effect change) or is he merely a witness (who simply records them)?

Let us consider the science-fiction clues to understand the implications of the world. Bran is able to communicate with those he encounters in his time travel. Ned Stark hears his voice, and the Night King is clearly aware of his presence. Wylis sees him and is possessed by him even within the time travel. In this sense, Bran is not merely seeing a vision of the past, but is in the past itself. However, Bran’s actions do not create an alternate timeline. The time loop closes itself when Bran’s actions in the cave and his effect on Wylis in Winterfell synchronize and creates Hodor’s life as we know it. This event is contingent on Bran deliberately and inevitably travelling on his own to seek out the Night King, and the latter’s attack is an integral part of Hodor’s storyline. Then it makes perfect sense for the Three-Eyed Raven to take Bran to the moment in Winterfell, rather than some other important revelation. To the greenseer, this moment is very crucial, perhaps more than any other, because without it, Hodor would not be in the exact position where he would be present to save Bran’s life.

But none of these thoughts address why we feel so much pain in regarding Hodor’s death?

The closing shots of the episode do not reveal to us what Bran experiences when he and Meera abandon Hodor to hold the door. Was he there at Hodor’s moment of death to comfort him, or did he die in confusion and pain, not fully understanding what he was doing, except that command permanently etched in his mind, to hold the door. Is that what makes us realize that he has become our most favorite character in the show? What is that emotion that drives him? Is it loyalty? Is it love? Or is it fear and obedience? We valorize his death not because of any insight or clarity of understanding, but because of our emotional response to his incomprehension and his incomprehensibility.

Hodor’s death, like Osha’s death in the previous episode, was the end of a beloved side character whose sacrificial death in service of a primary character is an inevitability if not a foregone conclusion. Their narratives gain prominence only due to their association with the main character. And yet there is something deeply unsettling about Hodor’s death, not in its fact but in its method. The way in which Hodor died revealed to us, even taking us by surprise, how much we cared for him. While Hodor may not have been the character we recalled first when thinking about the Game of Thrones universe, his demise called to us to watch his helplessness and recognize our own helplessness in our witnessing. He was not someone who chose to die at that moment, but he did not reject that action thrust upon him either.

The episode also shows us that no matter how big or powerful the movie industry becomes, TV is the domain of surprise. We can be moved, thrilled or impressed by cinema, but the full potential of stringing the audience along and surprising them with a piece of information that is both satisfying and heartbreaking, can only happen with a TV encounter.

How did you feel when you saw Hodor hold the door? Share your comments and views with ScreenEthics.com through facebook or twitter.