Football Show Scores With Non-Sports Fans; Medieval Fantasy: TV

Sean Bean in "Game of Thrones." The show airs Sunday on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Photographer: Nick Briggs/HBO via Bloomberg

HBO’s swords and sorcery epic, “Game of Thrones,” can be as silly as the fossilized dragon eggs featured in the 10-part series. Even so, this medieval fantasy casts quite a spell.

Fans of George R.R. Martin’s books -- they are legion and fierce -- will be delighted with the big-budget production, even as they quibble over minutiae. Those with little affection for the genre’s pretensions (“I don’t trust a raven to carry these words!”) should leave the intricate genealogies and invented linguistics to the diehards.

“Game of Thrones” can be enjoyed as little more than a better written, more lavish version of the joust-fests popular on the Starz channel.

In the ancient land of Westeros, seven “houses,” or clans, coexist under the uneasy peace of King Robert Baratheon’s rule. At the king’s side, reluctantly, is the head of another house, Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), a Tony Soprano in wolfskin and chain mail. Rivalries, blood feuds and retribution threaten the stability of the kingdom.

Just as each mob family of “The Sopranos” had internal power grabs and lusty intrigue, so too the Houses of Stark, Baratheon and Lannister.

‘White Walkers’

Aside from a haunting opening scene, in which ghostly creatures known as White Walkers brutally waylay a band of scouts, “Game of Thrones” has precious few supernatural elements. Six hours into the story the Walkers had yet to return.

Despite their obvious debt to all things Tolkien, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss update the genre in ways the old Oxford don wouldn’t have dared.

The king’s brother has his chest shaved by a shirtless boyfriend. A flaxen-haired queen is tutored in the art of lovemaking by her nubile maidservant. Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish runs an establishment that might as well be called Ye Olde Bada Bing. Such surprises go a long way to offset tiresome spans of exposition.

To name just a few standouts in the fine cast: young Maisie Williams, playing a sword-wielding tomboy; Jon Snow as a nobleman’s illegitimate son; and, best of all, Peter Dinklage as a cynical “imp” whose strength and intellect are ignored at larger men’s peril.

“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2

‘Friday Night Lights’

“Friday Night Lights,” which is starting its fifth and final year on NBC, is going out a winner.

“You love the game of football,” coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) tells a reluctant recruit in the season premiere. “You just don’t know it yet.”

Those words would make a terrific advertising campaign for a brilliant series that never achieved the crossover success it deserved despite much trying. (Season Five episodes were previewed on DirecTV.)

The opening episode introduces Hastings Ruckle (Grey Damon), a free-spirited basketball player who dismisses football as violent. Ruckle is eventually won over by Taylor’s passion for the game.

Most impressive about “Friday Night Lights” is its capacity to enthrall even the least sports-minded viewer.

Smart Women

For a show set in the high-testosterone world of Texas high-school football, it boasts one of the strongest, smartest collection of female characters on TV, including the remarkable Connie Britton as the coach’s guidance-counselor wife and Jurnee Smollett as the quarterback’s convention-bucking girlfriend.

True, too many of the show’s actors seem older, more evolved, than the classmates you’ll remember. And with an exception or two, the plots give short shrift to the outcasts who must be lurking somewhere on campus.

But just about every episode of “Friday Night Lights” scores an emotional touchdown, or makes a glorious effort.

“Friday Night Lights” airs Fridays on NBC at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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