TV Picks: ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,’ ‘Deutschland 83,’ ‘Game of Thrones’
“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” — Spells from dusty books, talking statuary, thundering horses conjured from sand -- “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” certainly begs comparison to its younger countryman, “Harry Potter,” but its themes are a bit more adult. And by adult, I do not mean (for once) grisly violence and graphic sex -- this is not the magic of “Trueblood” or “Penny Dreadful” either.
Instead it is an examination of power, morality and manners, of social mores and individual inclinations. For much of the first three episodes, the main tension is the eternal one between scholarship and innovation: Is it nobler to thoroughly “own” one’s subject or, armed with a less thorough knowledge, try to further it.
This may sound completely boring in a world where dragons roast dozens in a roar and werewolves adorably navigate senior year, but it absolutely is not. Infused with the considerable talents of Bertie Carvel and especially Eddie Marsan in the title roles, the series, adapted by Peter Harness, is deft combination of Dickensian satire, Austenian wit and Gothic anxiety.
A return to literate horror, BBC America, Saturdays, 10 p.m.
“Deutschland 83” — The FX series “The Americans” meets the Oscar-winning film “The Lives of Others” in the miniseries “Deutschland 83.” The first German-language series to appear on an American network, “Deutschland 83” follows the adventures of a young East German soldier (Jonas Nay) compelled to work as a spy in West Germany, where American forces are becoming increasingly, and proactively, anti-Communist.
Opening with Ronald Reagan’s famous “evil empire” speech, the series, written by Anna and Jorg Winger, explores a time of heightened anxiety on each side of the Berlin Wall, and though our sympathies are clearly with our young soldier, who has taken the identity of Moritz Stamm, East and West are each depicted as a melange of malice, stupidity and humanity.
“Deutschland 83” is not a serious contemplation of world politics or the impact of espionage on those who practice it. Nay’s Stamm is barely fit for the job, and its only through many plot contrivances that he isn’t caught at once.
Still, we know the outcome -- no nuclear holocaust, the fall of the wall seven years later -- which means we can enjoy the good, clean spy-vs.-spy action as well the brilliant period details. It’s good to be reminded how close we all came to international disaster, but it’s better when that reminder is backed by the Eurythmics, David Bowie and, of course, “99 Red Balloons.” Sundance TV, Wednesdays, 11 p.m.
“Game of Thrones” — As always, 10 episodes fly by in a moment and once again we are facing a “Game of Thrones” season finale. It’s been a big year for the show, the first written without the full aid of a novel -- though George R.R. Martin consulted, he still has not finished the sixth book in his series. Complaints about slow pacing in early episodes were quickly replaced by outrage at the rape of Sansa (Sophie Turner), which was drowned out in its turn by more outrage over the sacrificial burning of Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram) by her father in the penultimate episode, and a more general joy that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) had finally met Daenerys (Emilia Clark) and that Danerys had finally begun to reclaim her dragons.
So much for slow pacing. The finale will, presumably, pick up in the aftermath of Shireen’s death, with her father advancing on Winterfell in an effort to kill the Boultons (the younger of whom is married to, and raped, Sansa) while Daenerys and Tyrion figure out how to leverage those dragons -- possibly the only solution to the White Walkers, who finally made their full-on ghastly appearance -- into the Iron Throne.
Or not, of course, because there are also a dozen other characters in various states of crises. So the only thing we can expect from the finale is more outrage (probable), some form of real vengeance (possible) and another dazzling display that will leave us counting the days until Season 6 (definite.) HBO, Sunday, 9 p.m.
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