Guilty Pleasures

Jason Momoa as sensitive, new-age guy Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones. Momoa visited Melbourne for Oz Comic-Con, which is terrific, because it means I'm allowed to publish this photo.

People talk about their “guilty pleasures”. The fact that they read Dan Brown novels when they really should be reading Tolstoy, or listening to Kylie Minogue when they should be enjoying Vivaldi or Nina Simone. Personally, I don’t have any guilty pleasures. Not in the arts and culture world at least. As anyone who’s read this column long enough would know, I’m more than happy to confess that I never grew out of my childhood affection for the 1980s electro-pop band Bucks Fizz (though “confess” is not the right word, because I’m not actually ashamed). Others have called them low-grade, manufactured and (worst of all) Eurovision Song Contest winners, but I don’t care. (OK, the fact they won Eurovision is a little embarrassing. But it was still a good song.)

I am equally happy to admit my enjoyment of superhero comics, Billy Joel and (occasionally) Cadbury Snack bars. No guilt. If you disagree, I won’t lose any sleep.

As such, I see no shame in enjoying television’s most widespread “guilty pleasure”, namely Revenge. For those who have missed this because you have better things to do (though I can’t imagine what that might be), this is about an attractive young woman who goes to a place where everyone is incredibly wealthy, and unravels an elaborate plot of revenge against everyone who framed her father, destroying her life so that she had nothing left except for her good looks, her substantial cunning and her multimillion-dollar fortune. It’s like a modern-day Count of Monte Christo (and I mean the book, not the awful movie version with Jim Caviezel). Every reviewer seems at pains to say it’s “trash”, before admitting that they love it.

I saw the first two episodes before heading overseas. By the time I returned, this complex tapestry of intrigue had ensured that the whole thing no longer made any sense. I think the heroine has discovered that her best friend is really her dead father, or she’s discovered herself, or something equally implausible. Then I think someone turned into a tree. Not sure.

For all its merriment, Revenge is not the most addictive TV soap opera currently in production. That would be Game of Thrones, on pay TV and the internet. Based on George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels, it was made for HBO, which generally means that it can be more gratuitous than other shows. Even though it includes a fair maiden playing with baby dragons, it’s perhaps not the most suitable show for children. Some of the characters (brace yourselves) yell at each other, and at times, they just aren’t very nice. Oh, and it also has plenty of sex, violence and the sort of language that Tony Abbott would find offensive.

Those might sound like three big attractions: fantasy, sex and violence. To me, these are three are of the least interesting aspects of the series. Despite the ongoing storyline with the dragons, most of it has no such magical elements. I am much more drawn to the drama and intrigue between the various kingdoms of “mediaeval” “England”, the sharp dialogue, and some wonderfully drawn characters. The sex and violence, in all its gratuity, just gets in the way of the good stuff.

And the good stuff is really, really good (even better than sex and violence). In fact, though I can watch it whenever I like, I have just been watching the first two seasons with dedication. I even watched it during Wimbledon, mainly because watching public beheadings and utterly brutal battle scenes is less disturbing than watching Sam Stosur choking.

Peter Dinklage, the American actor playing the wily dwarf Tyrion Lannister (with a wonderfully Shakespearean accent), is apparently something of a sex symbol now. He’s certainly the coolest character: a manipulative schemer who hangs out with prostitutes and wins fights by cheating. Oh, and he’s far and away the most honourable member of his family, which is populated with various evil and psychotic characters.

His chilling sister Cersei (Lena Headey) is quite immoral, but as Tyrion says, she has one redeeming feature: she loves her kids. This is great, except that a) mothers tend to do that, and b) the main kid is Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), her irredeemable teenage son who became a tyrannical and vicious king in season one.

Happily, there are a few nicer kids, like the feisty Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) who really deserves to be the most popular female in the series, except that most men in the HBO audience prefer sexy, blonde adults who hang out with dragons. There’s also Arya’s wise brother Brann (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who was crippled in episode one by Tyrion’s brother. (That family really is naughty.)

There aren’t many other kids, but these two are prominent enough to make it sometimes resemble one of those historical kids’ dramas I used to watch when I was younger. In fact, “Game of Thrones” might be suitable for kids, if someone edited out the sex, violence and gratuitous swearing. The episodes would only last about five minutes, but what a splendid five minutes it would be.

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