Tag Archives: Spoilers

To Each Their Own: Thoughts on Mad Men and the State of the Pre-Air Review

To Each Their Own: The State of the Pre-Air Review

July 19th, 2010

There’s currently a stir of controversy around reviews of Mad Men’s fourth season, which was sent to critics in the past few weeks – as always, Matthew Weiner has expressly requested that critics avoid talking about anything in specific terms, which has created some discussion surrounding just how much critics show bow to his wishes (especially considering that many are ignoring them to varying degrees).

For me, this is less an issue of Mad Men and more an issue on the state of pre-air reviews, something which used to constitute the large majority of television criticism but which has now been forced to share the spotlight with the post-air reviews and analysis which have blossomed in the internet age. In a discussion on Twitter, I raised the point that I struggle to see why anyone would really need (or want) to read a pre-air review of Mad Men’s fourth season, and there was rightfully some pushback from Dan Fienberg, who pointed out the role that critics can play in letting viewers know their opinions on a series and whether it’s worth watching.

I didn’t mean to suggest that the critics were part of the problem here, or that their views have no value; rather, I was suggesting that the medium is very much the concern. While new series which represent an unknown quality, or series which are reinventing themselves in a new fashion, are ideal subjects for pre-air reviews, shows which have become as established as Mad Men feel as if they confound this particular method of critical analysis. This isn’t to suggest that critics are unable to have negative opinions about the series, or that they should be forced to bow down to Matthew Weiner’s demands, but rather that there are other mediums through which those opinions will be better represented, and other ways to express this opinion which doesn’t require tiptoeing around plot details in order to communicate with the reader, or not bothering to tiptoe around plot details and potentially angering spoilerphobes like me.

I may be particularly wary of spoilers, and thus steer far clear of pre-air reviews as a result of my stance on this issue, but I think that the diversity of approaches makes pre-air reviews a nebulous medium which seems less and less relevant in the age of outright spoilers and indepth post-air analysis.

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Cultural Catchup Project: When One Door Closes… (Angel)

When One Door Closes…

June 29th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

There’s been some concern in the comments as of late about how much I’m being spoiled by their contents, which is a legitimate concern that I’ve sort of accepted as the cost of doing business. I certainly appreciate those who avoid spoilers, but I also don’t begrudge those who can’t contain themselves and reveal something small from the future. In some cases, you’re simply being reassuring or helpful: it is technically a spoiler that, for example, Wesley and Cordelia’s character arcs would be continuing on Angel, but it’s not as if the real value of those character arcs comes from the surprise of their appearance. Knowing that fact does not take away the impact of each character becoming part of a different series, but rather puts that seed into my mind for the future.

The one legitimate spoiler I’ve had in regards to Angel arrived far sooner than I expected it to: while a certain Twitter compatriot to remain unnamed mistakenly spoiled the central event in “Hero,” I had no context for when that event was going to arrive, and so I sort of presumed that it was a spoiler for a much later period in the series rather than the midway point of its first season. Yes, I would have been much more viscerally shocked had this closed door come as a complete surprise, but since I didn’t know when it was coming its impact on the narrative remains quite the same. If “I Will Remember You” closed the door on any hope of Buffy and Angel truly reconciling, then “Hero” closes the door on the notion that Los Angeles will be any less dark than Sunnydale.

Although, strangely though, the door that opens is awfully familiar for those who’ve spent time around southern California’s Hellmouth.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Pulling Back the Curtain (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Pulling Back the Curtain

June 23rd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I’ve talked a bit along the way about the notion of spoilers as it relates to watching these series. I know enough about Buffy as a whole that there are certain things I have unknowingly committed to memory which have effectively spoiled certain elements of the series. For example, I distinctly remember a marathon of the “Top 10” Buffy episodes that my brother taped on television at some point early in the decade, and during that time I remember seeing bits and pieces of “Hush,” and “Once More with Feeling!” As a result, there are certain images etched in my mind, in some cases mistakenly (as we learned when I thought it was Cordelia with Xander in “Once More with Feeling”) but in all cases meaningfully. For better or for worse, Buffy’s substantial cultural capital meant that there were things about the show I internalized without fully understanding the context.

In some ways, the Cultural Catchup Project is a dangerous way to watch the show if I’m concerned about further spoilers, but in reality nothing that has been “revealed” by the comments on these posts hasn’t been fairly clearly choreographed by other signifiers. While I remain wary of substantial plot spoilers which may not be so easily predicted, it is only inevitable that watching a series which aired a decade ago and doing so with an observational eye will undoubtedly reveal things that may have surprised other viewers at the time.

So long as the show around them remains entertaining, as it does when Joss Whedon and Co. finally pull back the curtain on Buffy’s fourth season in “Wild at Heart” and (particularly) “The Initiative,” all these subtle spoilers will do is alter the experience from one of shock and surprise to one of appreciation and curiosity. It may not be the same, but it is not definitively less rewarding either, indicating how no one person will view a series in an identical fashion as any other.

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Breaking Bad – “Abiquiu”

“Abiquiu”

May 30th, 2010

“She saw something new every time she painted it.”

It’s been three weeks since I last checked in with Breaking Bad, which is unfortunate but not that surprising: I was busy graduating two Sundays ago, and then last week anyone without screeners was out of luck if they were simultaneously a fan of both Breaking Bad and Lost. It’s particularly unfortunate since both “Kafkasque” and “Fly” were pretty fantastic. To briefly offer my perspective on each, I loved the parallel between Jesse and Walt each watching their confidantes spinning a web of lies in “Kafkaesque,” in particular Walt’s reaction to Skyler’s ability to pull off the gambling alibi with such precision. And as for “Fly,” I thought Rian Johnson did a fantastic job of taking a purposefully contained – for budgetary reasons – episode and and allow it to be defined by its sense of atmosphere. The show tiptoed dangerously close to Walt revealing the truth about Jane’s death, and by embracing that tension without exaggerating it the series created an episode which remained definitely “Breaking Bad” without the shoot-outs and chaos the show has used so effectively this season.

“Abiquiu” remains a fairly low-key affair, as characters plot out their next moves more than necessarily finding themselves in the middle of a firefight, but I say this in the best possible way. While the thrills of “One Minute” are part of the series’ identity, it is often better in those quiet moments where character are forced to live with their actions or where taking the next step means crossing a threshold they might not be able to cross. In many ways, we’ve seen these characters at this point before, but each time Breaking Bad brings us to a crossroads we see something new in these characters, whether it be confirmation of what we’ve always believed or a new facet of their personality emerging – and frankly, at this point, the show can paint that door as many times as it wants as far as I’m concerned.

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Friday Night Lights – “I Can’t”

“I Can’t”

January 20th, 2010

If you’re one of the people who are holding off watching Friday Night Lights until it debuts on NBC, you received good news this week: the show returns on April 30th. And I’m going to be really interested to see how viewers respond to “I Can’t” when it airs in early July, because the episode has the show headed in some potentially controversial directions in terms of both cultural and narrative taboos.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the latter are my only real concern, as the show continues to demonstrate a deft hand when dealing with sensitive subjects. However, I don’t know if the same kind of sensitivity could possibly rescue the show from itself in its other major storyline, which is creating some compelling television now but is creating far more concerns than I would like heading towards the end of the season.

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Series Premiere: V – “Pilot”

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“Pilot”

November 3rd, 2009

“Where were you this morning?”

From an overall scheduling standpoint, V’s early November debut is problematic. It forces the show into airing only four short episodes this calendar year, and it won’t return until March with the remainder of its first season. However, in terms of its arrival, it comes perhaps at the perfect time in terms of impressive this particular critic. With disillusionment with FlashForward turning into outright disinterest, there’s room for another serialized piece of mystery/science fiction programming in my life.

And while there are some issues with V’s pilot, mostly stemming from issues symptomatic of pilots more than this particular show, it manages to do what FlashForward did not. By not only providing an adrenaline-filled opening that catches the eye with sharp rhetoric and explosive imagery but then following it up by demonstrating that it has long-term social and personal consequences (that the show intends to deal with), the show maintains an expansive scenario without reducing it to a single perspective. While the arrival of the Visitors affects some individuals more than others, that interpersonal conflict is superseded by a broader cultural impact that is as much a part of the show’s identity as is any one individual’s story.

What results is a pilot that manages to be both action-packed and ideologically-driven, and the building blocks of a show which could logically remain both of these things over its run so long as behind the scenes production issues don’t get in the way.

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Who Won So You Think You Can Dance Canada Season 2?

SYTYCDTitle2

Who Won SYTYCD Canada Season 2?

October 25th, 2009

Since I’ve been home this year, and since it has as a result been on every Tuesday evening, I’ve been following So You Think You Can Dance Canada where I didn’t last year. What I’ve discovered is that this is a show that can be really engaging for the reasons that any dancing competition show is, but that it constantly claims to be something “different.” It’s a weird cultural superiority scenario, wherein the mosaic we like to consider ourselves part of is somehow reflected by the decision to classify genres of dance more distinctly or how what the American show is claiming as progress (Tap Dancers! Krumpers!) was already achieved this season in Canada. The judges, as I ranted about early on during the competitive rounds, are also far too nice, often failing to critique routines that deserve some sort of constructive feedback.

It’s all part of the reason why I found tonight’s finale anti-climactic, as its celebratory tone was not that different from the self-congratulation that defines the show. I don’t think the show is misplaced in thinking itself to be entertaining or valuable to the development of Canadian dance, but there’s a point where that becomes the “point” of the show. And the result is that I actually don’t think we’ve spent enough time with these contestants for me to really suggest I am invested in them, or for that matter that the show is invested in them. The finale only further cements this fact, with some strange (if not entirely unjustified) approaches that indicate once and for all that this is not a show about dance so much as it is about how Canada is so uniquely situated to host a show about dance.

And tonight, Canada picked their ambassador.

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