HBO takes a spin of the dice, or the runes, with “Game of Thrones” (8 p.m., HBO). An ambitious 10-part series based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel “A Song of Fire and Ice,” “Thrones” takes place in a magical kingdom spanning several climates and cultures, a place where seasons can last decades and supernatural spirits haunt frozen borders for thousands of years on end.
For all of its novelty, “Thrones” feels thoroughly grounded in the he-man genre, spanning in sensibility from medieval northern Europe with its broadsword bashers to the sun-kissed isles of the Mediterranean, where bare-chested horsemen mount steeds and wenches with a grim nonchalance.
Featuring a plot too complicated to explain without a flowchart, “Thrones” boils down to battle between rival families for the kingdom and the glory, etc. The folks way up North have the gruff-and-tumble style of Europeans barely out of the dark ages. They haven’t had much time for refinement, having defended some kind of frozen walled border for 7,000 years. Some of their enemies have the platinum locks found on old ABBA album covers. They make a strategic alliance and bond through a gruesomely loveless marriage to brutal horsemen who dare not laugh.
If I seem to be infusing this synopsis with feeble attempts at humor, forgive me. For there is little found onscreen. With the exception of a rather bookish, randy and cynical dwarf, no character is endowed with anything resembling wit or seems capable of uttering memorable dialogue.
Like a lot of fantasy lore, “Thrones” seems long on imaginative narrative marinated in the mythic and familiar. There’s certainly enough going on to make you wonder what will happen next. But the biggest mystery here is why “Game of Thrones” is airing on HBO. It seems closer in sensibility to Syfy or Starz. I simply cannot imagine that the audience that showed up for “Mildred Pierce” will stick around for the second decapitation.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): an interview with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen whose forthcoming book casts Bill Gates in an unfavorable light.
• Scheduled on “Dateline” (6 p.m., NBC): Mexico’s drug war leaves thousands murdered or missing.
• Australian forests destroyed by fire bounce back on “Nature” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings).
• Not every crime is against fashion on the new series “Mob Wives” (7 p.m., VH1).
• “Human Planet” (Discovery) visits the Arctic (7 p.m.) and “Grasslands and Jungles” (8 p.m.).
• A new maid brings a sad history on “Upstairs Downstairs” “Masterpiece Mystery” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings). Part two of three.
• The cast of “The Facts of Life” and singers Hall & Oates are among those honored at the TV Land Awards (8 p.m., TV Land).