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Hein’s TV Picks: House of the Dragon May Be HBO’s Biggest Bet Yet

PLUS: She-Hulk, The Undeclared War, Bad Sisters, and more.
  • Emma D’Arcy and Matt Smith in House of the Dragon (Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO)
    Emma D’Arcy and Matt Smith in House of the Dragon (Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO)

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    Targaryens are coming.

    It’s been three long years since we last spent our Sunday nights in the world of Westeros. This Sunday, House of the Dragon premieres in the Sunday 9pm time slot of its HBO predecessor, Game of Thrones.

     

    Welcome to the first of many comparisons that will be made to the original breakout series from the world of George R.R. Martin. Before seeing a minute of this new show, opinions have already been formed based on GoT leaving a bad taste in many mouths at the end. That's not entirely fair for a few reasons.

    Game of Thrones suffered the fate of many book adaptations. The source material ends, but the series continues with the blessing of its creator. Martin is still working on The Winds of Winter, which is the final book of the series that GoT was based on. If you didn't like the TV ending, don't blame the creator of dragons and White Walkers.

    For its part, House of the Dragon is battling sky-high expectations. Episodes are estimated to have cost $20 million to produce. HBO needs a big hit, so why not try Succession with dragons? The fate of George R.R.'s TV franchise relies on the success of this series. Pressure, anyone?

     

    This new Targaryen tale takes place 200 years before Ned finds out Jon Arryn is dead, so don't expect any Stark kid cameos. We are in the same universe, but this is the era when Targaryens ruled… primarily because they had dragons.

    House of the Dragon begins 100 years into the reign of House Targaryen and the beginning of its inevitable end centuries later. King Viserys has raised his daughter Rhaenyra to succeed him upon his death, but Aegon, his eldest son to his second wife, is crowned the new ruler. This does not go over well, and an epic civil war begins.

    Since this is a prequel, Thrones fans know how this war turns out. The challenge is to create ten episodes of mind-blowing chaos to captivate an audience more than willing to dance with dragons once again. Cinematically, the show will be gorgeous to watch. Plot-wise, it will follow Martin's Fire and Blood novel very closely. So what can go wrong?

    In a word: Dragons.

    Dragons were promised for multiple seasons on GoT before Dany's eggs hatched. There was lots going on between the Starks and Lannisters, plenty of action north of The Wall, and the Queen of Dragons was one of many plotlines. In House of the Dragon, these huge animals are there from the get-go, so there's no real surprise on their route to relative extinction. All eyes are on House Targaryen, so the dragons potentially won't pack as much punch as they did the first time around despite being incredible to look at.

     

    There won't be as many Houses to keep track of but GoT remained relatively consistent in its timeline until Bran started seeing things out of his third eye. House of the Dragon focuses mostly on one House, but it also features time jumps to tell its story. Keeping stories simple in this world is almost as challenging as spelling any character's name, but it's critical to keeping the audience on board.

    As a fan of the franchise, I'm excited to see the latest chapter in the world of Westeros. After many rumored and failed prequels, it's good to get one on screen. Miguel Sapochnik, who directed some of the best GoT episodes, is the showrunner. Ramin Djawadi, who orchestrated the GoT score, is on board for the music. There's good blood in those genes.

    I'm hoping for another map to marvel at during the credits, or something that rivals the classic opening. Either way, we'll know very quickly whether House of the Dragon is worth spending any time in.

    Here's what else is worth watching this week…

    PREMIERES

    She-Hulk: Attorney At Law (Disney+)
    Thursday, August 18th

    Don't be confused by the title, which sounds like a wacky comedy. Tatiana Maslany, who won an Emmy for Orphan Black, plays lawyer Jennifer Walters. After an emergency blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner, you won't like her when she's angry. Welcome to the MCU. Watch trailer.

    The Undeclared War (Peacock)
    Thursday, August 18th

    There's an election in Britain in 2024, and an intelligence group discovers a cyber-attack coming from Russia. The analysts decide to retaliate, and things quickly escalate outside the online world with tremendous ramifications in this six-episode drama.

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS

    Bad Sisters (Apple TV+) Friday, August 19th

    Five British Garvey sisters help one of their own get rid of a not-so-nice husband in this dark comedy from Catastrophe's Sharon Horgan. Prepare for the Big Little Lies comparisons, but this show has a lot more humor and different sensibilities. Watch trailer.

    THIS WEEK'S STIHTGT!
    (Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

    Legacy: The True Story of the L.A. Lakers (Hulu) - Antoine Fuqua's 10-part docuseries chronicles what really happened during the Showtime run. Premieres Monday.

    Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist (Netflix) - The second volume of epic tales from the wild world of sports kicks off with the story of Mante Te'o's girlfriend. Tuesday.

    Echoes (Netflix) - Michelle Monaghan plays identical twins who have been swapping lives and one disappears. Friday.

    Sprung (Freevee) - Greg Garcia reunites Garret Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton is this comedy about convicts released during the pandemic using their criminal expertise to do some good. Debuts Friday.

     

    GREATEST HITS
    (Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)

    This Week's Pick: Deadwood (HBO Max) - There's lots of cursing and drinking in this South Dakota town in the late 1800's. Corruption is everywhere but a new sheriff in town vows to clean things up. The Emmy winning series features top notch acting and writing you just don't get anywhere else.

    Previous Picks:
    Rectify (AMC+)
    House of Cards (Netflix)
    Weeds (Showtime)
    Hannibal (Hulu)
    Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu)
    Downton Abbey (Peacock)
    Banshee (HBO Max)
    Police Squad! (Prime Video)
    Party Down (Starz)
    Dexter (Showtime)
    Alias (Hulu/Disney+)
    The Great (Hulu)
    Atypical (Netflix)
    Sherlock (PBS)
    Magic City (Peacock)
    Imposters (Netflix)
    Episodes (Showtime/Hulu)
    For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
    Abbott Elementary (ABC)
    Damages (Hulu)
    Luther (HBO Max)
    Downton Abbey (Netflix)
    Justified (Hulu)
    The Good Wife (Paramount+)
    Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
    Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
    Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
    The Split (Prime Video)
    Bordertown (Netflix)
    Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

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    If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

    Get vaccinated. Get a booster (or two). Stay healthy and safe!

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: House of the Dragon, HBO, Bad Sisters, Game of Thrones, She-Hulk, The Undeclared War