The film adaptation of The Hunger Games, AMC's critically adored drama Mad Men and HBO's wildly popular fantasy series Game of Thrones have very little in common. But for the next week-plus they are going to share an intense spotlight. Starting Friday, The Hunger Games will hit theaters and presumably shortly thereafter became the No. 1 movie of 2012. Then Sunday, Mad Men will return for its fifth season after a prolonged layoff caused by a contractual dispute. And finally, a week later, Game of Thrones will return for its second season on HBO.
All three are beloved by fans. All three are worthy of hype. But which should you be most excited about? Let's break it down.
The Hunger Games
Case For: Of the three, it's the only one where the world basically remains unrealized by fans. We've spent four seasons on Madison Avenue and one in Westeros, but we haven't gotten much of a visual of Panem yet. You can count the trailers if you'd like, but the folks behind the film have been deliberately secretive so far. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch help matters too, but mostly this is about getting to see this dystopian vision realized on the big screen.
Case Against: It's an unknown quantity, of course; that's the flip side of this coin. We just don't know if the film will do justice to the book (although author Suzanne Collins is on record as being pleased with the adaptation). Reviews so far have been middling. And there's the run-time of 142 minutes that, from afar, seems excessive.
Case For: Well, it's only the best drama on television. What more do you need? Mad Men won four straight Emmys for Best Drama during its first four seasons on the air, and it's easy to see why. The characters are rich. The subject matter is complex. Great attention is paid to detail. More of all of that is a good thing. So will be the resolution to a cliffhanger that has lingered for some 16 months -- is Don Draper really going to marry his secretary, Megan?
Case Against: As great as Mad Men is, it doesn't really elicit the type of rabid anticipation that these other two can thanks to the built-in fanbase from incredibly popular book series. We know nothing about Season 5 of Mad Men -- showrunner Matthew Weiner wants it that way -- even less than we do about The Hunger Games, so the unknown looms over everything.
Game of Thrones
Case For: Season 1 ended with a number of huge questions. What will the Starks do with Jaime? What will become of Arya? What is Daenerys capable of now that she has three dragons on her side? We'll begin to get answers to those questions in Season 2, but we're also braced for an explosion of the character universe and we'll get see a whole new Westeros -- one at war. Oh, and there's this little tidbit from Entertainment Weekly -- there will be a true battle sequence at the end of Season 2 (fans who have read A Clash of Kings will know the one) and it could last up to half of an episode.
Case Against: Thanks to George R.R. Martin's books, the unknown quantity is miniscule here, and because we've seen Westeros for 10 whole episodes already there aren't going to be a lot of surprises, at least for folks who want to discover what's ahead. Also, there's going to be a lot of Prince Joffrey, so brace yourselves for that whelp, folks.
I thought I was in the bag for Mad Men at the start of this, but though I think it's a better overall product than both The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, I can't help but be drawn to the latter. Maybe it's my love of epics, or the fact that I know what's coming in Season 2 and as such am excited about the direction things are headed (they say knowing spoilers actually increases your enjoyment of books, movies and TV), but Game of Thrones actually stands out here. A distant third for me is The Hunger Games. I'm not that big of a fan of the book -- it was good not great -- and am incredibly leery of the Twilight-ization of that series. There's anticipation for it to be sure, but it's nervous anticipation as much as anything else.