The Evolving World of Television Criticism

Everyone’s a critic.

In our internet era of accessibility, you can leave a review of a restaurant in seconds on Yelp, add your two cents in the comments of a review of the latest and greatest (or not) at the local cineplex at the A.V. Club, as you tweet about Lady Gaga’s latest fashion statement as she walks down the red carpet.

The internet is also the reason why you might follow the reviews or at least know the name of a television critic who does not appear in your local fish wrap.  I follow and value the opinions of Alan Sepinwall (formerly of the Newark Star-Ledger and now and James Poniewozik (from Time Magazine) as well as the always fantastic and thankfully local Hank Stuever.

In a thoughtful piece posted yesterday over at Slate, Josh Levin writes about Sepinwall, and how his style of TV blogging—reviewing weekly episodes of dozens of shows rather that the traditional reviews of a batch of episodes at the beginning of the season and then again at the end—has changed TV criticism, and readers’ expectations of it.  It’s a worth a moment to read, and I highly encourage you to do so.   Levin argues that this reviewing of television episodes in minute detail rather than in total is…

“brainy and inquisitive, thoughtful commentary borne out of a fanatical attention to detail. But hypervigilant criticism, written by obsessive fans for obsessive fans, isn’t necessarily an unmitigated force for good. Is it possible that today’s TV writers are sitting too close to the screen?”

Essentially Levin warns us not to forget the forest out there as we examine each individual tree.  Which begs the question, how does one review television, episodic in nature but essentially an unfinished work of art.  Of course because of the demands of the business, rare is it that a television show is in complete control of its final chapter, its virtual page count truncated by the suits in the board room above.  It is a dilemma not faced by any other medium in the art world.

In a bit of meta criticism both Sepinwall and Poniewozik posted their own thoughts on the Slate article circling the above dilemma.  But what they do say brings back to my original point.  With each passing year as we become more connected, able to discover a larger group of people with our similar likes and dislikes than ever before, we ourselves have been ever increasingly able to become part of the critical discourse.

It is in this level of detail that we are drawn in to become just as valuable a resource as the critics themselves.  In today’s world Sepinwall, et al, are our conversation starters, our moderators, in the larger conversation.  But like never before that conversation belongs to us.

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