Too Cool (Or, how a moron ended up at the TCA’s)

Like Dante, I wasn’t even supposed to be there that day.

The focus of all the attention was familiar: small waves of television and movie stars, wide-smiling studio execs, nervous-looking producers and show-runners, all surrounded by the usual mad gaggle of protectors, buffers, yes-men and desperate-eyed hangers-ons. Cameras flashed, smilers smiled, and the air was abuzz with words like “new” and “bold” and “amalgamated!”

But the setting was different, and the very first step I took into the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, CA, in order to attend and report on the HBO presentation for the Television Critics Association (or as learned men simply call them, the TCA’s) , I realized I had entered an entirely different world than the one I had long been accustomed to.

An introduction: Tobias J. “Axechucker” McGuffin at your service; redoubtable nerd scribe, part-time television critic for daemonstv.com, part-time writer for winter-is-coming.net, and full-time doer of nothing. I’m a sci-fi / fantasy geek, a prog-rock dork, a jungle-dwelling sports fan, an unapologetic G-Mash honk, and, like Jay Tomio, an admitted green hair enthusiast. Familiarities call me Axey, friends call me Axeymoron (detractors shorten that to ‘moron), and Game of Thrones followers call me FaBihoff, which can only be explained in a longer story than I care to recount.

Being a G-Mash reader and keenly aware of the ‘Mash’s objective goal on the re-launch (to mash with bold and deadly intent), I used my mutant powers (detailed below) to wheedle an editorial assignment from Jay in which I would detail my bewildering time spent at an event in which I could not simply shake my dice bag in order to advance to a better table. I laughed, I cried, and I even felt a momentary stab of pity for Paul Reubens.

I digress, but digression is like a hobby for me.

Many things am I, but prior to this event, “Television Reporter” had not been one of them. I had snagged my press pass solely on the strength of my ability to ride on the coattails of Phil Bicking, creator / editor / head writer for Winter Is Coming (Your One-Stop Locale For All Things Game of Thrones-y). Phil had used his gamma-inherited super power of politely pestering people to death in order to wear down Mara Mikialian, HBO’s Vice President of Publicity, and snatch up two primo tickets to the event. I then used my mutant powers of Superior Whining and Groveling (8d6) in order to force Phil to take me – rather than his wife – along on a leash. (I reasoned to him that my photography skills* might come in handy, and that my quick typing** might also be an asset while live-Tweeting*** the event.) The prime directive, of course, was to get as much inside information as humanly possible on HBO’s upcoming fantasy epic / brutality fest, Game of Thrones. The unspoken caveat being, one supposes, that we would use our super powers for Good and report Everything Swell in HBO land.

Well…

The good news is everything is certainly swell as far as Game of Thrones is concerned. After nearly two years of following a production that has reaped far, far more good news than bad, we fans of A Song of Ice and Fire brim with a swaggering overconfidence that borders on the obnoxious. We currently take what knowledge we have of the show’s fantastic casting, lavish design, and near-devout dedication to source material, and  … admittedly, we use it to mock the sad fans of Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series. (Mean-spirited, or simply Maheresque? Feel free to make that call, my friends.)

So from a GoT point of view, the TCA’s were one big pile of extra-smooth chocolate ice cream topped with a healthy dose of awesomesauce. The rest of the TCA’s? Well…

Nothing I had ever done before had prepared me for this. The closest thing I could approximate was Comic-Con in San Diego, an event I have attended twice. I could also compare it, in a much more broad context, to Gen-Con (the king of all nerd cons), or even the man-starved, estrogen-fueled howler I attended for Supernatural fans … but I wouldn’t be able to that without using five times as many words (some of them unkind) as have been kindly allotted to me.

The strangeness began before when I even made it to the front door of the hotel, as I was almost immediately run over by a fast-moving 5’ brunette beauty who turned out to be Eva Green, there to tout her role as Morgan in STARZ’s upcoming series Camelot. At the registration desk, I stood in line next to none other than (Shatner? No. Fillion? I wish.) … Jason “Beverly Hills 90210” Priestly. I would have stayed and talked hockey with the dude, but I had things to see, people to interview, and crowds to avoid.

And this apparently wasn’t the usual TCA crowd, either, for it had also become fused with the O crowd. The Big O herself, Oprah Winfrey was in the house, using the Langham as a launching pad for her new OWN network. (Me: Are there no other lavish fucking hotels in Pasadena?) Clearly this was the place to be.

For anyone who’s ever been to Comic-Con, or any of these large-scale events, the setup is standard: massive ballroom, massive stage, massive screens, massive crowd. Sound amped to 11. The first real difference I noticed (other than the smell – TCA crowds smell better than Comic-Con crowds, and that’s being so polite I’m almost lying) was the FOOD. I’m not saying there was loads of it, but compared to Comic-Con, where you basically either rough it out on the mean streets of downtown San Diego or make due with the four or five rickety hot dog stands they have set up near the back, this was a feast. You could tell the old-hat media dogs from the n00bs here; the old guard made a beeline for the food, grabbing multiple plates and just loading up. Finger sandwiches, fancy little salads, miniature desserts, an alarming variety of drinks, all courtesy of HBO. And that sure beats the hell out of having to pick your Hot Pocket up off the ground after the 300 lb. dude in the Farscape shirt bowled you over because you stood in the middle of his lumbering path to the bathroom.

The Langham ballroom is one sweet space. Plenty of room too, with large tables, comfy chairs, and internet connections (pretty much) readily available. The setup was impressive to say the least. It wasn’t the cattle-call of Comic-Con, where you get your ticket, stand in line for 3 hours, then hope they don’t close the door on your nose.

So you’d think the press would be in a more receptive mood. Right? I mean, hell, now I’m the press! Says so right here on my badge, and I’m happier than an interior lineman at an all-you-can eat chicken wing festival. This is a freaking blast!

Not so fast.

So they open the presentation with a preview of HBO’s Mildred Pierce, then drag various actors (Guy Pierce, Evan Rachel Wood) out onto the stage to be questioned. I waited for the inevitable explosion of good will and cheers. You can go bloody deaf at Comic-Con when actors—real live ACTORS!—take the stage.

Nothing.

It was like the comic sound of grasshoppers. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. You could hear Guy Pierce’s new shoes squeak as he walked solemnly across the floor. Questions came politely, even scholarly phrased. The actors appeared perhaps slightly uncomfortable.

They bring Kate Winslet in via satellite. There’s a smattering of polite applause for that. She attempts some form of banter, but “uncomfortable” is the watch word of the day.

More questions, the sort you’d expect. To my vast disappointment, no one asked anyone to recite the Green Lantern oath. That would have been cool.

Next they bring us, also via satellite, Paul Reubens. Except I can’t call him by his real name, because he’s in full Pee-Wee Herman mode, costume, hair, rosy cheeks, the works. Pee-Wee has a new show coming to HBO as well. And Pee-Wee conducts the interview without … breaking … character … once.

HA-HA!”

Probably only 1/3rd of the questions were something Pee-Wee himself could actually field. Others he answered as best he could, and the rest he basically went to his “I know you are but what am I” shtick. Toward the middle, during some of the more indeterminably long silences, he just started heckling random people, which didn’t go over very well with the collectively staid host, but I enjoyed it.

I almost grabbed a mic with the intent to request the Tequila Dance, but didn’t want to risk the possibility that they might not give it back to me for the Game of Thrones Q&A, and I needed it in order to ask Emilia Clarke for her phone number.

So finally came the Game of Thrones panel. By then Phil and I had been joined by a fellow semi-part-time reviewer and fellow ASoIaF fan who had also finagled a ticket. (He has asked to not be named or photographed, so for lack of anything better we’ll call him Ralphie). They showed a nice creepy new trailer for GoT, and then invited Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and the author himself, George R.R. Martin onto the stage. Ralphie leaned over to me and drawled, “Ain’t no way I’m not showin’ my love.” I nodded, we rose, and HOWLED our appreciation.

“WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

“YEEEAHHHHHHHHHHH!”

 

“GEEEOOOOOORGE!”

 

“GAAAAME OF THROOOOOONES!”

(This was a little more like it!)

The put-off sniffs of our fellow Members of the Press were drowned out by our bellowing. If they sniffed at all. I personally like to imagine they rather enjoyed our demonstrative show of enthusiasm. Deep down. I think the actors were pleasantly surprised. Later I got a parting fist-bump from Peter Dinklage. (I’m sort of known for it now. My 1.5 seconds of fame.)

I also like to imagine I’ll be invited back next year. It could happen. I may try to bring more friends.

Anyway, I had a blast. It was cool. Though maybe just a little too cool for me.

Axe

*I am literally the worst photographer I know
**I type at around 14wpm
***it’s social networking—not a flatulence sex act

Tobias is a writer and a ranger and a young boy bearing arms. He thinks Game of Thrones will be the Best Thing Ever, and may throw himself (or an enemy) off a building if it proves no better than Legend of the Seeker. His past body of employment includes dog-walking, lawn-mowing, private investigating, script reading, coffee-fetching, cold-calling, and a stint in the United States Air Force which included even more dog-walking and an “interesting” encounter with a three-toed sloth. He was once paid to be a dungeon master and readily adds that to his résumé. He has lived in more places than your mother would approve, is a serial monogamist, pro-death advocate, prog-rock nerd, and ASoIaF enthusiast. He currently lives in southern California and says “Dude” preceding any statement he sees as even moderately important. He considers World of Warcraft a disease, not a cure.