HBO Reminds Viewers It’s Worth $15/Mo. with Game of Thrones, Veep, and Silicon Valley Premieres

As I wrote last week, HBO has a drama problem. True Detective Season 2 was a dud, and while Vinyl isn’t bad, it isn’t really good either, which is surprising when you consider all the talent behind the show (co-created by none other than Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Terence Winter – Winter ran the show through production of Season 1, but he was recently fired). I forgot to even mention that the highly-anticipated sci-fi western-thriller Westworld keeps getting pushed back further and further.

Thankfully for HBO execs and viewers, the one dependable drama still on the station (Game of Thrones) returned Sunday night, along with two blue chip comedies, Veep and Silicon Valley. It was a good night for a network that’s been struggling recently.

Game of Thrones Season 6 Premiere – “The Red Woman”

Game of Thrones enters new territory in its sixth season – the timeline of the show has finally overtaken the 4 books of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series that have been published so far (two more books will complete the series and have yet to be released, and Martin is known for taking his time, so there’s no telling when that will happen).

That’s a good thing for us TV-watchers, for those who read the books no longer have any secret knowledge to lord over us. We’re all on the same page now.

Of course, running out of source material also inspires some worry and doubt – will the show be able to maintain its level of quality without the help of the books?

Sunday’s premiere was a little uneven, but the show’s always been uneven anyways. For the most part, it was an encouraging sign that running out of book material isn’t going to ruin the show.

Let’s start with the bad:

Season 5 introduced the land of Dorne and the Sand Snakes into the plot, and this development is easily the worse part of the series so far. I was hoping that the entire existence of it would be retconned, or maybe Dorne could have somehow been written out by having it break off from the mainland and just float away like when Bugs Bunny sawed off Florida.

Unfortunately, the “bad pussy” Sand Snakes are back, and in the season premiere they stab a few people (RIP and essentially take over Dorne. That was a little exciting I guess, but there’s no reason to care about any of these characters. They don’t even want the Iron Throne! Is this not the Game of Thrones? What are we doing here?

There was more good than bad, though. The level of world-building detail is peerless – it’s easy to see why it costs $10 million to make a single episode of Game of Thrones.

Plus, the premiere ends with a nice little twist. The idea of any twist at all here is effective, as I was expecting the show to be content to use the premiere for simply setting things up for later. Melisandre (aka “The Red Woman” for which this episode is named) removes a magic necklace and reveals that rather than the beautiful 30-something she appears to be, she’s actually hundreds of years old (and looks it, too). It was a truly surprising moment in a show that’s known for its surprises.

Jon Snow Update: Still Dead

Grade: 7/10

Veep Season 5 Premiere – “Morning After”

Veep also had a potentially show-ruining development behind the scenes before this season: Armando Iannucci was the showrunner for the first four seasons of Veep, but he left and was replaced this season by former Seinfeld writer and Curb Your Enthusiasm producer/sometimes director David Mandel.

Thankfully, the show’s as funny as it’s ever been. Veep maintains one of the highest jokes-per-minute rates on TV, and as always, an impressive number of those jokes land well (this season starts on a very high note, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Vice President-turned-President Selina Meyer going on a profane rant about the ridiculousness of the Electoral College). If I wasn’t aware that there was a new showrunner, I would have just assumed that Iannucci was still in charge.

There’s not much else to say, really… don’t worry, Veep is still Veep.

And The Winner Is… Season 4’s cliffhanger left the winner of the presidential race undecided, as the Electoral College vote is tied. After this season’s premiere, that issue is still unresolved – though it was revealed that the results in Nevada were close enough to trigger a recount, which could swing the election for Meyer. Only time (and Nevada) will tell.

Grade: 8/10

Silicon Valley Season 3 Premiere – “Founder Friendly”

TJ Miller as Erlich Bachman remains the best thing about Silicon Valley – and that’s not to disparage the rest of the cast, which is great, but to highlight how hilarious Erlich is. Case in point: in “Founder Friendly”, the main character of the show, Richard (Thomas Middleditch), has been ousted as CEO of the company he created à la a 1985 Steve Jobs. Erlich, Richard’s good friend and an initial investor in that company, confronts the new CEO and hits him with this rapid-fire series of age-based insults.

Another highlight, in an excellent display of physical comedy: Zach Woods as the straight-laced Jared quickly taking quick, awkward bong hits (Erlich has to leave suddenly and if the smoke already inside isn’t removed soon it will apparently damage the apparatus, is the set-up).

And plot-wise, Silicon Valley is surprisingly engaging for a comedy.

Okay, so maybe it does fall into a somewhat predictable loop of success – failure – success – failure that keeps everyone in the same house and roughly the same situation. But you can really relate to the antagonists of the show, especially in this premiere. Richard may be understandably upset about being kicked out of the CEO position, but he is indeed an inexperienced and ineffective manager, and the people that kicked him out do offer him a job as CTO that better suits his skill set. The tension between rooting for Richard and at the same time knowing he’s in the wrong here keeps things interesting.

Best Age Insult Delivery: Tie between “A nice piece of fish?” and “Liking Ike?

Grade: 9/10

Adam Ritchie: Adam Ritchie is a freelance writer and horticulturist based in Seattle. He got into an argument with David Simon on Twitter once.