Why I Read TV Criticism

Somewhere around the end of 2009 I stumbled upon Daniel Fienberg’s blog at HitFix.  He was counting down the best TV shows of the decade and I began following along.  I liked that he included Gilmore Girls at #18 on the list and even though I hadn’t watched most of the shows on his list, I enjoyed reading his take on things.

I added his blog to my Google reader and started reading his stuff.  I noticed that he frequently mentioned another critic, Alan Sepinwall, and that both of them seemed to talk a lot about some show called “Chuck.”  The show seemed like something I would enjoy and they both said it would be easy to jump in at the beginning of the third season when it began in January, so I did.

I also got seasons 1 & 2 from Netflix and started catching up at the same time.  I realized that these guys would write reviews of each episode after it aired, so I started watching and then reading their reviews.  It was interesting to me to read about their thoughts on an episode and the things that stuck out to them.  They were often able to explain why I hadn’t enjoyed a particular episode as much, or why a particularly scene was so great, in a way I could never really articulate.

For most of spring 2010, I only read things about “Chuck.”  That changed during the summer, however, when my friend Ian finally convinced me to watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  Not only did he introduce me to what is now one of my favorite shows of all time, he also told me about Noel Murray’s in-depth reviews of the show at The A.V. Club.

I was hooked.  Not only was Noel Murray watching the show for the first time like I was, but he was also digging in to each episode and talking about themes and story arcs and character development.  It was like a literature class, but for television!

At first I only read the Buffy reviews, but I very quickly became an avid reader of The A.V. Club.  The funny thing to me is that it has drastically changed the way I watch TV.  I actually keep up with fewer shows than I used to and I think I enjoy them a lot more.  I like trying to guess what Sepinwall or Feinberg or Todd VanDerWerff is going to say about a particular episode.  I’ve started catching up on a lot of the shows they talk about (and that Feinberg listed in his “Best of the Decade” series) on Netflix and going back and reading their reviews after I watch.  I don’t think I would have really gotten the appeal of “Mad Men” or stuck with it while I was catching up if I didn’t have those reviews to read.

That’s not to say that I now think only critically-acclaimed shows have value; I still watch Bones and The Biggest Loser just for fun.  I just find that my TV watching has become much more of an intellectual exercise than a time waster.  Plus, I probably never would have watched “Chuck,” “Community,” “Mad Men,” or “Friday Night Lights,” all shows I now count among my favorites, without the influence of those TV critics; if nothing else, I’m grateful for that.

Many people these days bemoan our culture’s obsession with television and the internet, but I don’t really care.  I like TV.  I like reading blogs about TV.  If you want to cut off your cable or throw your TV off the roof for the sake of minimalism or simple living, go for it.  Just don’t expect me to join you any time soon.

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  1. I also enjoy reading television criticism, it gives me a lot of the same enjoyment that reading criticism of any art or entertainment does – an outlet to agree or disagree when reading about things I already have consume and a place to find out about things that people think are good or promising and thus might be something I’d like to consume.

    I have, on occasion, tried my hand at criticism and doing well in writing it can be very difficult and I give great credit to most all of the TV critics you mentioned for being consistently interesting.

    And as for television being anything to be ashamed of, I think that’s a fairly ridiculous notion. Everyone watches television, for the most part and it, like every other form of arts or entertainment has it’s great and not so great things about it. But there are things that television shows can do that nearly no other form can do as well – long term serialization and character-based comedy being two of them.

    Anyway, I came across this blog and thought I would a) leave this comment and b) encourage you to check out my blog, where I just recently started doing reviews of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which, perhaps you would enjoy.

    • rachelheather

       /  May 23, 2012

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I definitely agree with TV probably being the best at long term serialization and character-based comedy. You get to know the characters on TV shows on a level that’s much more similar to what you get from a novel than seeing a movie. Considering how much I like books, that’s a major selling point for me.

      I’ll definitely check out your blog. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the Mary Tyler Moore Show here and there, but maybe I can find some time to catch up while I have a break during the summer.


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  • A collection of ramblings and musings on Jesus, life, education, family, and anything else that pops into my head.

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