Just when you think you have it all figured out, along comes something new.
OK, now in its fourth season, Game of Thrones is hardly new. But it's new to my "Best of Nadel" list, and what else really matters in life?
The acting is brilliant, from leading actors such as Peter Dinklage (who won an Emmy as wise-cracking dwarf Tyrion), Lena Headey (Cersei) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) to supporting players Jack Gleeson (the recently departed King Joffrey), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) and Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), all the way down to the bit players.
The story-telling is wonderful, weaving in themes of angst and forbidden love and terror and longing and hubris and bile and guile. Oh, and damn cool dragons, too!
HBO, which had been flagging a little since The Wire went off the air, has struck gold with Game of Thrones, which has the network's highest ratings since The Sopranos.
My biggest beef is that friends who have read the books always want to tell me what's going to happen next. Hey! I don't want to know who is next to get beheaded, to be saved, to be damned. For me, a good TV show is like a good athletic event -- I hate it when I accidentally learn the final score of a game I've recorded. It's all about the drama!
I'm happy to put Game of Thrones on the pantheon of all-time great HBO dramas ...
1. The Wire. There are those who think this is the greatest series in television history, and it's hard to argue with that ... even if the fifth and final season can't quite keep up with the first four. I know I can't think of a show that has captured the hopelessness of inner-city life any better.
2. The Sopranos. The standard against which all cable TV series must be judged. It had a couple of mediocre seasons, and the final scene will be debated forever, but the series brought us Paulie Walnuts, gabagool, Artie Bucco, Father Phil, manacot, Pine Barrens, "Waddayagonnado?" and so many other memorable characters, phrases and scenes. "Iconic" is an overused word, but it fits here.
3. Game of Thrones. Fun, exciting and all of the stuff I said earlier. If it lasts long enough and doesn't have a bad season -- so far, so great -- it could ascend to No. 1.
4. Deadwood. Turns out, the Wild West was even more wild than we thought! Ian McShane's Al Swearengen truly is one of the great characters ever: vile, repugnant, unapologetic and maniacally vain. Lots of great supporting characters, too.
5. Six Feet Under. The show about a family of undertakers was always so much more about life than death. A tremendous ensemble of actors, including Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose (my personal favorite as the eye-rolling, deep-sighing youngest Fisher, Claire) and Richard Jenkins, as well as "guest-regulars" Kathy Bates and James Cromwell.
Honorable Mention: Rome, Boardwalk Empire, Oz, In Treatment, True Blood (Season 1).
Top 5 HBO Comedies: Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Veep, Entourage.
Worst HBO Series Ever: John From Cincinnati. Yes, I actually watched the entire series, waiting for something to happen. The joke was on me ... nothing ever did. Thankfully, a second season never did, either.
There. I have said it, so it must be true!