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Jeff Simon: TV games on Thrones, Wall Street and Broadway

Jeff Simon

Here's Elizabeth Warren on the subject of HBO's "Game of Thrones," currently in its announced final season -- "for me the hit HBO show is about more than a death count. ... It's about the women."

There are lots of women on the show who do flamboyant and daring and powerful things. They're queens on the march and people who ride on the backs of dragons and walk through fire (that's Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emily Clarke in luxuriant white fur).

They're also (says Warren) corrupt pals of bankers who are publicly shamed by having to walk naked among their royal subjects (Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey).

When he was president, Barack Obama declared his love for the show by successfully putting himself on the list to get advance press screeners.

My problem, I guess, is that I've never run for president. Nor do I ever expect to -- or know anyone who does. Whatever it is, then, that these Democratic Party liberal stars see in "Game of Thrones" largely escapes me.

That's not at all true of some of the TV critics I admire. Matt Zoller Seitz of New York Magazine (which has been for years the source of the best TV writing around) calls "Game of Thrones" the "last show we watch together."

You know -- like "The West Wing," or "The Sopranos" or "All in the Family" or "I Love Lucy."

Which may be true in the Seitz household and those of their friends, but isn't in my house or in those of a lot of people I know.

Seitz claims that when the fictional character Ned Starks on the show was beheaded, "It was an Everest achievement in what would later be called Peak TV."

I'm no mountain climber, either, so that seems to exclude me from that high peak on "Game of Thrones." All the sex and blood that seem to get people's attention never holds me. If I happen to watch one episode, I'll for sure skip the next four. The show has just never kept my attention for long.

On the other hand, I'm determined to watch every episode of its announced final season because all the smart people are and I've obviously been missing something. It is, for me, a blood-covered version of the "Mad Men" situation. In that case, I really was surrounded by talk everywhere I went, even though I always found the show the most phony baloney portrait of '50's culture I'd ever seen.

Seitz does make one good point, I think, about "Game of Thrones." Social media, he says, have "changed how people watched their favorite shows writing people and the world in a virtual living room." Whenever, in other words, some monster hit in the current world of "Peak TV" arrives, new episodes are followed by wildly animated living room discussions digitally as if people were watching Lucy and Ethel's latest adventures with chocolate sauce or Archie and Meathead's most urgent colloquy on civil order in Queens.

What I can attest to from my faithful attempt to watch every minute of "Game of Thrones'" final season is that if you haven't been following the show, you have done the equivalent of walking cold into a large unknown family's  birthday party without having any sense at all who hates whom and who secretly used to mess around behind their spouses' backs.

Hitchcock used to say he never made costume pictures because he could never picture anyone in them going to the bathroom. That's not a problem with "Game of Thrones," which seems to be the most expensive and elaborate bit of aromatic funk ever put on TV. In Sunday's upcoming episode, a coalition of unlikely warriors seems to be getting together to fight an army of the marching dead.

I'll be watching, but I can't promise I'll care that much whose head will roll. Nor will I know who's betraying whom. This last season of "Game of Thrones" isn't for everybody, it's for pros.

I always prefer watching "Billions" across the dial, anyway. I suspect this season is just as exclusive to us "Billions" professionals as "Game" is to its specialists. And I certainly know why Elizabeth Warren is probably not as pleased with it as she is with all the complex women on "Game" (including, by the way, an army general played by an actress who's 6-foot-3).

But "Billions" is one of the most swashbuckling portraits of toxic male behavior in the entire history of television. It's a rowdy and nasty and flavorfully written anatomy of mutually destructive power games, where all the talk is big and all the egos are bigger and no one seems to seems to act older than 14.

Add to that some new TV benchmarks in polymorphously perverse sex and gender matters -- one character is married to bondage and discipline and another is so adamant about non-binary sexuality that everyone must use the words "they" and "their" rather than "she" or "her." And yes, that includes her own father who, true to his Y-chromosomes, seems about two episodes away from taking his own daughter to the cleaners.

For those who hunger for the sight of actual adults acting like actual adults, the show not to be missed is FX's "Fosse/Verdon" an hourlong biographical drama every Tuesday about director/dancer Bob Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon, whose giant Broadway stature is the sort of thing that virtually dies outside the theater community after one generation.

"Fosse/Verdon" isn't having any of that. It not only reminds the world of Verdon's gifts as a dancer but with their daughter as an adviser, makes it as clear as it can how indebted Fosse always was to the wife who helped him through every major professional problem. The rare and brilliant thing this show does is it shows you two professional lives that, no matter what the world thinks, are professionally entwined. No one sits on actual thrones. Women, finally get their due. As do terrific actors Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams.

On "Billions", where the actors are in melodramatic bliss, the actors are just waiting for their next rant full of angry and offensive consonants sprayed at fellow actors.

One final note on the subject of actors awaiting consonant-spraying rants: Let me recommend a throwaway, non-"Peak TV" drama on ABC Monday nights called "The Fix." This is the one based on a tale written by Marcia Clark, the O.J. prosecutor who couldn't bring it home in the most publicized trial of our era. She's the shows overseer, which means you know that somehow or other the actresses will get their due.

Star Robin Tunney as the lead prosecutor is fine, but the actress who stole Monday's episode is the one who played the murderer's first wife. She's played by Robin Givens, the former wife of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. It is, heaven help us, a complex part, and Givens contorted every angry consonant as if she really knows whereof she speaks.

In her comeback, she is giving, I think, the best performance she ever has. It's a strange time of life to be fully arriving as a dramatic actress, but hey, better late than etc. etc. etc.

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