HBO

Twenty-one years after his death, Kurt Cobain’s music still resonates with audiences. On Monday, HBO premiered “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” the only documentary about Kurt Cobain made with the cooperation of his family. Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, first approached director Brett Morgen about the project in 2007.

During the film’s production, the Cobain family provided Morgen with Cobain’s unreleased recordings and home videos. The result is a thoughtful journey through Cobain’s life, taking audiences from his childhood to his years as the front man for Nirvana.

Through Cobain’s home videos, Morgen tracks his transformation from a cheerful, exuberant child into a tormented musician battling drug addiction and insecurities. The two bright spots of his life were his wife, Love, and his infant daughter, Frances. Audiences see Cobain’s genuine self, not his onstage persona — Morgen gives us the man, not the artist. Morgen amplifies the tragedy of Cobain’s suicide by shedding light on his too-short life.

“Montage of Heck” features Morgen’s interviews with Cobain’s parents, his sister, former Nirvana member Krist Novoselic and Love. Their anecdotes reveal that Cobain wanted to build and sustain a family to make up for the failings of his own parents. Behind the apathetic image Cobain built for himself, he was a man who deeply cared about having people who loved him.

Morgen also gives snippets of Cobain’s many doodles and journal entries, allowing unfiltered, intimate access into his thoughts. Cobain’s hopes, dreams and demons become most visible during the scenes in which his handwriting fills the screen and his grotesque drawings of monsters and corpses are crudely animated.

As time passes, his journal entries shift from planning his band to expressing his anger at the press for humiliating him and his family. Cobain’s regression climaxes when Morgen shows us a wall of text which repeats “kill yourself.”    

The film plays archived recordings of Cobain’s interviews about his life, accompanied by Morgen’s hand-drawn animations. Those scenes are some of the film’s most effective: They capture Cobain’s loneliness after his parents’ divorce when he was 7 and his frustration with virginity as a teen. Instead of merely hearing about Cobain’s rebelliousness and his delinquent behavior, audiences get to see a boy struggling to make sense of his life.

At the same time, these animations are also used to show small moments of joy. One animated sequence includes Cobain’s unedited home demo of “Been a Son.” The scene demonstrates the happiness he found in songwriting and depicts him answering the phone mid-take, emphasizing how raw the documentary is when using Cobain’s personal recordings and writings.

Background music plays a crucial role in creating the tone of the film. During its coverage of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the movie features a children’s choir’s performance, creating a melancholy moment. Of all the songs in the documentary, Cobain’s cover of The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” is the most heart-wrenching. The song’s agony captures Cobain’s battle with fame and drugs.    

“Montage of Heck” spends too much time on Nirvana’s live concerts, which could’ve been cut in favor of footage from Cobain’s childhood. Nirvana’s performance of “Territorial Pissings” at the Reading Festival in 1992 shows an immobile Cobain, contrasting with his more jubilant style pre-Nevermind.

At the end of the performance, Kurt lashes out, ramming his guitar and knocking over the on-stage amplifiers. Although this moment reveals Kurt’s state of mind, more exclusive footage of Cobain and his family would have worked better in establishing his depression.

“Montage of Heck” is an insightful documentary that explores Cobain’s humanity with never-before-seen footage and rare interviews with his family. Morgen avoids eulogizing Cobain, presenting his strengths and flaws in equal measure. We leave the film not quite sure about what Cobain the artist was trying to say, but we do leave understanding the man.

Title: “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck”

Score: 9/10

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 132 minutes

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

In the short span of two episodes, HBO’s crime anthology series “True Detective” introduced viewers to the most intrinsically complicated duo since “Breaking Bad”’s Walter and Jesse.

“True Detective” can be considered HBO’s answer to FX’s “American Horror Story.”  Each season will serve as its own self-contained narrative with a definite beginning, middle and end. The first season zeroes in on detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, whose investigation of a grisly murder evolves into a 17-year search for answers. While the whodunit aspect of the premise is the superficial drawing point for viewers, the show’s most essential aspect is its psychological exploration of its two leads.

Cohle and Hart, played with fiery chemistry by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, respectively, are polar opposites. Hart is the good cop, a man who claims to live simply. He adheres to the stability of a married life and fits the mold of a good father to his two daughters. He serves as an entry point for viewers, and, at first glance, he appears to serve the role of an everyman counterbalance to McConaughey’s eccentric Cohle. 

As of the second episode, the thin veil of this self-purported family man has been all but torn away through his steamy love affair with a much younger woman. Rather than acknowledging this misstep, Hart instead justifies it as a means of keeping his marriage alive. This believable reversal of viewer expectations in the span of two episodes is a deft feat of writing prowess coupled with a passive aggressive performance by Harrelson.

Rather than continuing to explore Hart, episode two shifts narrative gears and brings viewers into the bleak and kaleidoscopically disturbed mind of Cohle. After a life of great tragedy and emotional upheaval, Cohle is a shell of a man who exists because he must. He enters the story following a failed marriage perpetuated by the accidental death of his 3-year-old daughter. This event spiraled Cohle into a whirlwind of drug abuse and violence, which further stoked his inner workings. 

The show has its share of dark humor, with Cohle often spouting his dogma of depression much to the hilarious chagrin of the more grounded Hart. From Cohle’s existential musings comes the show’s best writing, exhibiting a brooding tone that carries with it a hauntingly insightful wisdom. McConaughey is brilliant here, giving an unusually subdued but altogether commanding, performance that is unlike anything he’s done before.

“True Detective” is shaping up to be one of the best shows of 2014. In just two episodes, the stunning performances of its two leads have shown that this is not only a show about solving a mystery. “True Detective” is a show about solving the minds of two men by uncovering the skillfully hidden clues within human relationships. The mystery is just icing on the cake.

Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon and Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell in Season three of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Photo courtesy of Keith Bernstein.

As our government continues to fight a War on Drugs, HBO has quietly figured out the science of the televised equivalent of crack cocaine, and it’s called it “Game of Thrones.” Anyone who’s ever binged multiple episodes of the show, an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, can speak to its addictive nature, and the show’s third season, premiering Sunday, is as compulsively watchable as ever.

Last season focused on a brewing war between several self-proclaimed Kings of Westeros, and this season deals with the aftermath of a major battle and the far-reaching effects of the royal struggle for power. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) licks his wounds and plans his next move, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) struggles to maintain his Northern kingdom while suffering betrayals from every angle and the despicable King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) continues his reign of terror in King’s Landing.

Those three story lines could probably drive a season of television by themselves, but “Game of Thrones” juggles a gargantuan cast of characters and a massive set of interlocking story lines, letting roughly a dozen narratives unfurl at once. Season Three also introduces a wealth of new characters, such as the savage Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) and cunning Olenna Redwyne (Dame Diana Rigg), making for a season premiere that often feels overstuffed with characters moving into place for the coming season.

Even as Sunday’s premiere jumps around Westeros, it’s hard to deny that “Game of Thrones” has expanded to a stunningly massive scale, something reflected in its globe-trotting story lines. The show bounces from one exotic locale to another, and the majestic imagery in each scene never fails to impress. The icy wastelands of the North are just as gorgeous as the sprawling King’s Landing, and the show even manages to find time for Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke’s) quickly growing dragons. There’s a real sense of a world communicated here that functions even when the cameras aren’t rolling, and it makes “Game of Thrones” an immersive experience.

In adapting “Game of Thrones” for television, producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have taken on a story so dense that the third book can’t possibly be condensed into a single season, but they still manage to make every character engaging. The sly Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is an easy fan favorite, and his scenes are dependable highlights in a cluttered landscape. More surprising are the adventures of Stark knight Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and her prisoner, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an exciting buddy comedy that gives the season some of its most surprising, intense moments. Other characters occasionally disappoint, especially Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), whose scenes in the opening episodes are oddly circular and disjointed. “Game of Thrones” has stacked its cast with dozens of compelling figures, each of them making their own argument for viewers to tune in next week.

Because the average episode spends less than 10 minutes with any given character, “Game of Thrones” works best when viewed in concentrated bursts, especially since every episode makes sure to end on a tantalizing cliffhanger. Even though episodes can feel distractingly scatterbrained, the show still knows how to sink its hooks in, and “Game of Thrones” returns to television with an entertaining premiere that promises a bloody, fascinating season to follow.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen is one of the many competitors in the Game of Thrones. Photo courtesy of Keith Bernstein.

The first two seasons of HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels included incestuous twins, pushing children out of windows, beheadings and terrifying ornithology. A recap of where we left off in each of the Seven Kingdoms is essential. Spoilers ahead for all who do not live and die under “Game of Thrones.”

King’s Landing
Stannis Baratheon’s army stormed King’s Landing. Tyrion Lannister’s clever use of “wildfire” kept much of the forces at bay, but a large portion of the fleet made it to shore, where cowardly King Joffrey fled to the safety of the throne room. When all hope seemed lost, Tywin Lannister and the remaining Tyrell forces galloped into King’s Landing and fought off Stannis Baratheon’s army, and the Battle of the Blackwater was won.

After sustaining major injuries, Tyrion woke to discover that he had been replaced by Tywin as the Hand of the King. As a repayment to House Tyrell for saving King’s Landing, King Joffrey agreed to marry Margaery Tyrell, therefore freeing Sansa Stark from their abusive engagement. Sansa was thrilled, but Littlefinger warned her that she would likely still be bound under Joffrey’s terror. 

Winterfell
Theon Greyjoy took control of Winterfell, and the little lords Bran and Rickon Stark are still on the run. Osha and Hodor snuck the boys to the Wall for safety. Five hundred of Stark’s bannermen surrounded the castle, prepared to take back Winterfell. Theon attempted to rally his troops but ended up embarrassing himself. His first mate knocked him unconscious just to end the madness of Theon’s rule, and Winterfell was burned to the ground.

Stark Camp
Robb Stark, the king of the North, has led his army to several victories against the Lannisters. Robb pledged to marry the daughter of the House Frey. In defiance of his mother, Catelyn, Robb married Talisa instead, and ruined the alliance between House Stark and House Frey.

In the East
Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, and her Dothraki followers found refuge in Qarth after being stranded in the Red Waste. She soon learned, however, that no one can be trusted in this city that saved her. Her people are attacked and her three beloved dragons are stolen and taken to the House of the Undying. 

Daenerys ventures into the House of the Undying and was haunted by strange visions. She was soon captured by the warlock Pyat Pree, who intended to keep her captive with her dragons in order to make them stronger and more powerful. Daenerys cleverly used her dragon’s newly developed breath of fire to kill Pyat Pree and escape from the House of the Undying. 

After escaping, Daenerys locked the king of Qarth, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, into his empty vault to slowly die. Her soldiers gathered as much precious material as they could in order to buy a ship that would take her across the sea, and to her destiny as queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

On the Wall
Ygritte, a Wildling, took Jon Snow captive north of the Wall. Jon found that his fellow night watchman, Qhorin Halfhand, had also become a prisoner. Halfhand determined that the best course of action was to get the Wildlings to trust one of them.  The only way to do this is for one to kill the other. Halfhand sprang loose and attacked Jon, and forced Jon to slay him. In turn Jon gained the Wildlings’ trust. Jon is now off to meet the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, at the Wildling camp. At the Wall, an army of White Walkers attacks.

“Girls” star, Lena Dunham attends the HBO premiere of the show at the NYU Skirball Center on Wednesday in New York 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Twenty-six-year-old Lena Dunham is not the slacker/wannabe writer she plays in the hit HBO series “Girls” that she stars in, created and currently directs. Although the current darling of the New York media circuit, Dunham has incurred as much criticism as she has cover photos.

While many of the critiques of the show are valid — unrealistic situations, a lack of diversity among main characters and catering to a narrow audience — criticizing “Girls” for the appearance of Dunham’s body is about as relevant as praising “Friends” for Jennifer Aniston’s haircut.

Flanked by three thin, media-approved beauties (Zosia Mamet, Allison Williams and Jemima Kirke), Dunham’s figure has been used to critique the realism of the show. God knows that Dunham could never have sex with a man like Donald Glover while Williams, who plays her “beautiful” best friend, sits forlorn on the couch.

Marnie (Allison Williams) is uptight, critical and regularly complimented for her beauty on the show. She is Dunham’s opposite both in body type and body visibility. In the premiere of season one, Marnie and Hannah (Lena Dunham) sit in a bathtub. Dunham’s arms drape over the side of the tub while Williams sits upright, tightly wrapped in a towel. “I only show my boobs to people I’m having sex with,” Marnie says.

Curiously, the audience never once sees her naked chest or behind during season one nor in the premiere of season two though she has plenty of onscreen sex. While this could be William’s reluctance to be naked on television, it doesn’t really matter. The decision is one that fits her character.  

It is doubtful the media would be up in arms over seeing Williams naked anyway. The New York Post used words like “blobby” and “sloppy” to describe Dunham’s naked body, wondering why we even have to be subjected to such an imperfect figure. But the truth is that Dunham’s character is insecure and seeking approval. Hannah is hoping that by quickly shedding her clothes, she can appear more confident than her insecurity allows.  

The season two premiere opens and closes with a mostly naked and unashamed Dunham. Her co-stars spend little time in equally naked situations. And that is realistic. It should no longer be a crutch that cruel and lazy writers use to critique the show. Why is it that we can accept a variety of nationalities, sexual orientations and races on screen, but not an atypical body type?

Ultimately, no one is as naked as Dunham, but that is a realistic step for the show. Hannah Horvath is not modest in season two, and honestly, we shouldn’t expect her to be.  

Published January 14, 2013 as "Lead role in HBO series breaks stereotypes". 

 

UT law student Cody Wilson is in the process of advancing his “Wiki Weapon” project with various companies. 

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

As he continues efforts to make building a gun as simple as pressing print, law student Cody Wilson’s life is getting more and more hectic.

Wilson has begun plans for three new companies, appeared in the New York Times and spoken with officials from the cable network HBO all within the last month. The recent attention Wilson has received focuses on the development of a project he calls “Wiki Weapon.” The project involves the development of digital designs for guns that can easily be shared and produced with a 3D printer, a generally plastic piece of machinery used for manufacturing solid objects from digital designs. Although the creation of such technology is not a new idea, Wilson’s efforts mark an attempt to advance it and make it mainstream and accessible.

Wilson said since he began making headlines with the project earlier this month, he has seen a tremendous response both nationally and within the University from people who want to be involved in the project.

“I’ve met quite a bit of UT students through the Libertarian Longhorns and through emails people have sent me,” Wilson said. “There is a lot of volunteer talent. There are a couple [of UT students] I have been talking to that just want to do anything [to get involved].”

He said he has been discussing his project with major companies that want to be involved in his project and was recently contacted by HBO representatives about a movie deal. 

Jose Nino, history senior and president of Libertarian Longhorns, an organization that promotes decreased government regulation, said he sees opportunities with the project and has been talking to Wilson about speaking at UT.

“I think it’s a great form of technology,” Nino said.

Wilson said he recently began planning three separate companies to work around the project.

He said the first company, Defense Distributed, will be a nonprofit organization that will be used to share the research with the rest of the world, with the aim of advancing this type of research. Nonprofit organizations are exempt from some federal income taxes.

The second company, Liberty Laboratories, will be a limited liability corporation that will focus on the manufacturing of products once development is advanced further, Wilson said. The third company, which has not yet been named, will be a private asset organization meant to protect the progress of the project.

Wilson said although he sees issues with the development of his technology, he doesn’t believe that it could or should be regulated, and he hopes there are not attempts to do so. He said he believes some technology cannot be controlled by the government. 

“I think at some point, if we have any measure of success, we are going to be painted as bogeymen,” Wilson said.

He said he expects to print his first gun in five to six weeks.

Printed on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 as: Law student markets gun plans

Danny McBride stars as Kenny Powers in HBO's "Eastbound and Down," which airs on HBO Sundays at 9 p.m. (Courtesy of HBO)

The work of “Eastbound & Down” creator Jody Hill definitely has thematic consistency, always focusing on a repulsively crass and arrogant man whose only response to losing control of his life is to dig himself a deeper hole so that rock bottom will be all the more crippling when it comes.

From his debut film “The Foot Fist Way” to 2009’s underrated “Observe and Report,” Hill has taken joy in creating reprehensible yet sort of likable figures. Kenny Powers in Hill’s television show “Eastbound & Down” is the ultimate realization of this formula, a through-and-through bastard you can’t stop watching, if only to see what low he’s going to sink to next.

“Eastbound & Down” returned for its third (and reportedly final) season on HBO last night with a premiere that only hints at the lunacy to come. Kenny (Danny McBride), a former Major League pitcher now playing for the Myrtle Beach Mermen, truly believes he’s on his way to reclaiming his former glory. However, last night’s return of ex-girlfriend April Buchanan (Katy Mixon) introduced a wild card into Kenny’s life after she made one of the worst parenting decisions in recorded history and left her one-year-old, Toby, in his father’s care.

Last night’s episode introduced a few new players into the series with more to come. The most notable of these new additions is Jason Sudeikis as Kenny’s equally foul best friend. Sudeikis appears to be having a blast being able to cut loose and competing with McBride to see who can come up with the most depraved punchline. However, even more laughs come from Kenny’s new responsibilities as a father.

Rather than playing this as a story of a man growing up and learning how to raise a son, “Eastbound & Down” would rather show us an extremely lucky man who can somehow stuff a baby into a backpack with a head of lettuce (so it’ll eat healthy) and ride around on a moped without causing irreparable damage to the poor kid. Toby appears to be in real danger every minute he spends with Kenny and it adds a hilarious edge to the proceedings to know that a baby is in peril in the background of every scene.

However, next week’s episode focuses less on the hilarity of Kenny’s new surroundings and more on showing the audience just how deranged McBride and Hill are willing to go with Kenny Powers and “Eastbound & Down.” Lots of old faces return, including the sorely missed Stevie Janowski (Steve Little), Kenny’s best friend who’s about as capable as his infant son. Also returning is Will Ferrell as the terrifying Ashley Schaeffer, a local car salesman who delights in tormenting Steve and taunting Kenny. When Ferrell comes onscreen, the episode takes a truly bizarre turn. Things happen that are baffling in their oddity yet side-splitting in their hilarity. It’s a true showcase for the uncontrolled lunacy that Jody Hill is capable of.

Hill’s characters aren’t just tragically flawed men, they’re also dangerously competent. In “Observe and Report,” when Seth Rogen’s bipolar mall cop springs into action, it has uniformly bloody results, and there’s no denying that behind all of the hemming and hawing, Kenny can throw the hell out of a baseball. That knowledge that these men are so arrogant because they’re so good at what they do is what adds a true danger and unpredictability to Hill’s work.

However, Kenny wouldn’t be half as compelling if McBride didn’t do such a great job playing him. McBride has fully committed to making Kenny a scumbag of a man who thinks he’s a hero and role model and makes Kenny’s delusions equally hilarious and depressing. Without McBride, Kenn is not such an iconic character and “Eastbound & Down” isn’t such a singular, uproarious show.

Instead, we have seven more episodes before the “Eastbound & Down” saga wraps up and we say goodbye to Kenny, so enjoy the off-the-rails madness for as long as you can.

Printed on Monday, February 20, 2012 as: Hilarity ensures on HBO series

“Luck”
Premieres Jan. 29 on HBO

From “Deadwood” creator David Milch and director Michael Mann, this drama set in the high-stakes gambling world of competitive horse racing looks to be just as moody, gritty and slicing as its creators’ filmography. Dustin Hoffman stars as conniving mobster Chester “Ace” Bernstein, who returns to the racetracks and derby players after a four-year stint in prison. Nick Nolte plays a horse trainer caught up in his scheming. Knowing Milch, this won’t be about horse racing, but the price we pay for passion in a culture that encourages obsession.

“Smash”
Premieres Feb. 6 on NBC

Set during the casting of a Broadway musical about the life and loss of Marilyn Monroe, “American Idol” finalist Katharine McPhee stars as the ambitious, breakout Iowa chanteuse favored for the role over a veteran actress. Talked up as “Glee” for grown-ups, this pedigreed musical drama features Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston and looks to be the kind of serious, intriguing drama long missing from NBC’s schedule. It’s a high-concept, stylized work championed by new network president Robert Greenblatt, who developed Showtime’s trademark original series “Weeds” and “Dexter.”

“Mad Men”
Returns in March on AMC

After being held up by financial and contract negotiations with series auteur Matt Weiner, the ‘60s drama finally returned to production in August, readying for a March premiere of its anticipated fifth season. We last saw suave ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) struggling with the thought of facing his mortality in the wake of his divorce — and in a whirlwind season finale, becomes engaged to his coquettish secretary. After a fall season of mediocre knock-offs (“The Playboy Club”), seeing this chicly designed drama about Fitzgeraldian reinvention back on the air will be warmly received.

TV Tuesday

Amid a massive amount of media hype and fan anticipation, HBO premiered its ambitious serialized television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s sprawling fantasy book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” last Sunday night.

“Game of Thrones” is an incredibly dense, layered story with innumerable characters and detailed histories. Those who haven’t read the books may find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information the show drops within its first hour. Various royal families and their respective kingdoms, their relationships, family histories and political and personal motivations are certainly complex.

However, at its core, the show centers around the feudal, medieval land of Westeros, which is divided into seven kingdoms and all ruled precariously together under the Iron Throne, a position fiercely sought after by myriad opposing powers. In addition to the various dynastic forces vying for the Iron Throne, there is also a great Wall protecting Westeros from shadowy, unknown creatures from the barren north.

In the first episode, titled “Winter Is Coming,” the Iron Throne is uneasily occupied by King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and is being heavily sought after by his scheming Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and the rest of her clan. To keep his kingdom under control, King Robert recruits the help of his old war buddy Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean), ruler of the northern Winterfell land and patriarch of the sprawling Stark family. The Iron Throne is also under siege by the Targaryen siblings, the exiled children of the previous king of Westeros. Scheming Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) sells his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) off to be the bride of a brutal leader of the nomadic Dothraki people in hopes that the massive Dothraki army will help him regain their fallen family’s throne.

Even this summary of characters and events doesn’t encompass the number of things going on in the show’s first hour. The pilot is largely expositional, spending much of its time establishing the plethora of kings, queens, lords, ladies, princes and princesses and their various associations to one another. As a result of this, the series can initially feel somewhat confusing.

Because of this need for introduction, it’s difficult to assign any kind of broad judgment upon the future course of “Game of Thrones” based solely on its premiere; the show is deeply serialized, with extensive, overarching plot lines that promise to stretch throughout the duration of the 10-episode season. To those unfamiliar with the novels, it’s unsure where the story is eventually going to go, which is incredibly enthralling.

In purely visual terms, “Game of Thrones” is stunning to watch, boasting incredible production values with lavish sets, sumptuous costumes and spectacular scenery. Filmed in North Ireland, Morocco and Malta, the breathtaking landscapes deftly transport audiences into the embattled land of Westeros. Even the credit sequence, a moving, three-dimensional steampunk-style map of Westeros, gives the show a sense of gorgeously layered scope.

For a fantasy series full of desperate power struggles and horrific monsters, “Game of Thrones” is fairly dialogue-heavy. The show often relies on lengthy, impassioned monologues and heated back-and-forth rather than an overabundance of action sequences to establish the sense of impending doom that hangs over Westeros.

Fortunately, that dialogue gives the fantastic ensemble cast some meaty bits of material to work with. In particular, Peter Dinklage as the diminutive-but-ingenious prince Tyrion Lannister and young Maisie Williams as the adventurous and headstrong Arya Stark both give early standout performances.

That isn’t to say that “Game of Thrones” doesn’t fulfill HBO’s seemingly obligatory “sex and violence” requirement. The opening sequence, depicting an attack by a group of hyper-eerie “wilding” monsters from the wilderness side of the Wall quickly establishes the show’s ability to create an uncompromisingly brutal and bloody atmosphere.

“Game of Thrones” follows in a rich tradition of feudal fantasy stories, and it certainly lives up to its influential forebears. Any fan of mythical lands or fast-paced political thrillers would be remiss to skip out on “Game of Thrones” — It’s well worth the effort it takes to follow.

TV Tuesday

For the past decade, cable networks such as HBO, FX , AMC and Showtime have been embroiled in a competitive struggle to produce the best programming. HBO continues to produce strong dramas, and AMC’s “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” are among the best shows on TV. However, FX remains on top in terms of consistent quality, especially with its new boxing drama “Lights Out” and its Southern crime show “Justified,” which has just entered its second season.

“Lights Out” is essentially a boxing film in the vein of “Rocky,” but extended to 13 hours. While this might seem like a bad idea, the story of Patrick ‘Lights’ Leary (Holt McCallany), a boxer forced into retirement because of an ultimatum from his worried wife and pushed back into the ring because of the recent economic downturn, is already a strangely gripping slow burn of a program with a spectacular cast.

Usually cast as a stock intimidating thug, McCallany is revelatory as Lights, instilling his character with a weary soulfulness and easy charm even while his character realizes just how much he misses hitting people. McCallany’s versatility is on display in the first episode’s climatic scene, which intercuts scenes of Lights bonding with his daughter with moments where he breaks a dentist’s arm for a loan shark and beats a man senseless outside of a bar.

The rest of the cast is equally strong. “The Wire” alums Pablo Schreiber (as Lights’ financially irresponsible brother) and Reg E. Cathey (as a sleazy fight manager) are both fantastic. Cathey clearly enjoys his character’s inherent smarminess.

“Justified,” on the other hand, has just entered its second season. Timothy Olyphant stars as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a cowboy hat-toting, effortlessly badass character who couldn’t be a better match for Olyphant’s sharp wit and charisma. “Justified” gives us Olyphant’s most memorable character yet by essentially taking his constantly angry sheriff from HBO’s “Deadwood,” infusing him with a sense of humor and updating him to modern-day Kentucky.

In its first season, “Justified” suffered from focusing a bit too much on stand-alone stories after a fantastic pilot, turning into a typical cop procedural. Halfway through the season, the show quickly became more serial and much more compelling as a result. Season two is more streamlined, quickly introducing its seasonal arc while also working in a case of the week for Givens and his fellow marshals to deal with. The season’s serialized story line deals with a family of pot dealers led by actress Margo Martindale.

Martindale’s Mags Bennett is a new addition to an already strong cast. Ruthless drug kingpin is not the first thing that comes to mind when one looks at Martindale, but she effortlessly sells her character’s particular mix of deep-fried Southern maternity and ruthless business savvy. Also memorable are Walton Goggins’ reformed criminal and fellow newbie Jeremy Davies.

With “Lights Out” and the new season of “Justified,” FX continues a stellar television season. “Lights Out,” which airs on Tuesdays, is halfway through its first season while “Justified” is only two episodes in, but both shows are quickly becoming some of the best on television.