Vikings

We live in an age when there is a great deal of crap TV, and a lot that is better than anything that has come before. It’s very apt given the bipolar nature of society today.

At the bottom end we still have reality shows like were foisted on us early this century. Besides the odd outlying edition of Survivor (who still watches that?), or Big Brother, the pioneering reality shows have been replaced with more sophisticated versions. Back then reality TV tended towards the seedy, tacky end of the spectrum (Temptation Island anyone?). These days the hoi polloi tend to look down their nose at the seedy shows in much the same way a fashionista will sneer at last years fashions. The fashion these days is towards the mean-spirited.

Some of these shows are truly dreadful, and consequently rate their socks off. There’s a long and possibly interesting treatise on why that might be so and what it says about society today, but this is not it. It’s enough to say that shows like My Kitchen Rules and House Rules care not what they have to do to manipulate the audience for a few more rating points. They egg on conflict and drama and the petty small mindedness that seems to delight the TV audience (some of whom are friends I have to admit). They’re ugly shows not much different to the fictional Running Man, but without the fatalities as yet.

So much for the crap, and truth is I come here to praise TV, not to heap further shit upon it – because the really good TV is really, really good.

I find it hard to comprehend that people who enjoy these base reality shows might also delight in the fine TV I’m talking about, but then I console myself with the thought that they don’t appreciate it with the same artistic flourish as I do. Or you. Us.

I’m talking about the programs everyone lauds and rushes home to watch, the shows everyone loves to laud and pontificate about, particularly bloggers, the shows I’ve rhapsodised about on these pages many times before – Mad Men and Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Dexter and so on. Add to that Vikings, one of my favourite programs of recent times.

Vikings is about Vikings as it happens. Vikings, the mad warriors, exert some fascination I think, particularly for men.  There’s something in the combination of rape, pillage and berserk bloodlust that appeals to primal man in most of us – especially, I would think, after just watching an episode of House Rules.

This is one of those quality HBO-like shows and tells the tale of the semi-mythical Ragnar Lothbrok. As you’d expect the show is raw and bloodthirsty and earthy, but it is also sophisticated, fascinating and has an arcane beauty. Ragnar’s Vikings set off for England where they kill priests for fun, steal their holy loot, and make off with the wenches. Back home in misty Norway they enjoy the simple Norse life while scheming against each other like The Real Housewives of Melbourne.

Everybody wants to be boss, which leads inevitably to bloody and ruthless conflict. You can’t help but like the Vikings who, as you would expect, are manly, lusty types with big beards and large axes.

You can’t help but like Ragnar too. He starts out as a farmer with a young family and a sharp eye and a bit of old fashioned spunk. He rides his chances and elevates himself up from that simple life to become a warlord with aspirations for more. He’s smart and cool and tough and ahead of the game. He’s played by Travis Fimmel, who is supremely good.

Fimmel plays Ragnar a bit like a sexy, dangerous rock singer. His pristine blue eyes stare out from a handsome, often dirt (or blood) smeared, bearded face. He has stillness to him, like a lizard sunning itself on a rock, but with a menace that suggests that he can strike swiftly at any time. Ragnar is smarter than anyone, and a bit more than your conventional Viking – he’s curious about things, further seeking, and his utterly ruthless edge is offset by a sentimental, vaguely spiritual streak. He’s an attractive character, and Fimmel – an Australian underwear model in his first ever role – absolutely inhabits the role, not just playing it, but making it his alone.

This is definitely a much better watch than half a dozen reality shows, but having talked it up I have to disappoint you. If you want to watch the program then you better download it. The last episode of season 2 played earlier this week. It was a ripper. Can’t wait for season 3.

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