Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Episodic blues

The AV Club's thoughtful discussion of the boom in web TV criticism is worth reading, but doesn't address a couple of major problems with the form. The rise in the number of places offering recaps of individual episodes leads is of course perfectly timed with the arrival of blog comments and Twitter. Yet there's no getting around the fact that reviewing an individual episode of a TV series is taking something out of context that was meant to be viewed as part of a larger whole. It's no accident that every series that can stand up to this kind of scrutiny is the product of a single mind: Mad Men, Treme, and Breaking Bad are the active examples. Weiner, Simon, and Gilligan have all proven to be writing with a long view in mind, and the focus on week-to-week payoffs does them no favors. (Looking back, I think the best recap I ever wrote was this annotated collection of Tweets. It seemed appropriate.) There's an economic element at work here too. If you like good TV but can't afford cable or a DVR then you're out of the discussion.

The attempt to retroactively establish a TV canon by blogging old series feels a little rushed. We've only recently arrived at the point where series were being created with the idea of a DVD audience in mind. Series like The Sopranos and The Wire are brands; you can tell a good deal about a person by their favorite TV addiction. Trying to think of a series from the '90s that could have achieved similar cachet today is a chore, and don't even think about going back earlier than that. (I say this as a person who campaigned to be allowed to watch Moonlighting as a middle schooler.) Yes,we can analyze TV with the speed and thoroughness with which we discuss films, but when we do we are only skimming off the top of a very deep well.

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