Label Lamentation: The Growing Misuse of “Recap” in Television Criticism Semantics

If I could change one element of modern television criticism, it would be the notion that recap and review are synonyms.

To clarify, I have no issue with recaps or the people who write them: there is a place within the online television community for outright plot recaps with a touch of personality, the kind of writing which led to Television Without Pity’s prominence earlier in the decade and which continues as part of the offering of sites like Give Me My Remote. However, as parts of this diverse community have moved in a more critical direction, the term recap has remained predominant despite no longer accurately describing a substantial amount of writing within the field.

While you may argue that this is doing no harm, and I am simply arguing semantics, it’s something that has been bothering me for quite some time. As a result, I want to put in writing why I think this is happening, and why I feel that it obfuscates the contributions being made to the critical community by both critics and bloggers alike.

I think it’s safe to (facetiously) say that this is all the fault of Television Without Pity, who made “Recap” a ubiquitous term at the turn of the century. Earlier this year, I was working on a paper for a conference and asked an open question on Twitter about whether or not TWoP’s recaps should be considered “criticism,” and the majority response was “No.” This wasn’t intended as a slight, but rather as a way to distinguish between the kinds of writing being done about television online. The TWoP recaps are snarky retellings of the episode, operating as an extensive summary of the action with the author’s personality and critical perspective informing their language more than driving their content.* Recaps are about attitude, and while the author’s critical opinion will affect that attitude the recaps are not designed to elaborate on or establish that opinion: first and foremost, they are there to allow the reader to either relive the episode or catch up on the series in question.

*Edit: As Twitter followers may have seen, I had an extended discussion with Linda Holmes and Tara Ariano about their time with TWoP. As Linda notes, TWoP recaps do serve a function similar in criticism, in that links and cultural references and other connections made in the midst of those recaps can expand on a reader’s viewing experience – in other words, they do drive “Content” (in contradiction to part of the above paragraph), but they don’t necessarily drive structure, which I think is the word I was searching for in trying to chart their influence on the semantics of the “Recap.” While I plan to write more about TWoP and its relationship with criticism in the future, I will say that I think the ubiquity of “Recap” to describe far less critical forms of writing than TWoP’s example has retroactively undersold those recaps. Anyways, as noted, more on that in the future.

However, as Jaime Weinman wrote yesterday, we are in “a golden age of taking [television] seriously:” while TWoP did not take television lightly, it focused primarily on appealing to fan communities, while today’s critics are engaging in what Weinman calls “in-depth critical discussion.” Writing about television is more substantive than ever before, as shows like Mad Men almost require analysis which goes beyond the plot itself to its meaning for character and narrative, which in turn pushes writers (both amateur and professional) into territory which goes far beyond any sort of recap. While you could argue that reviews of this nature offer something close to a plot recap, in that writers often contextualize their commentary by recounting the action of the episode as a point of reference, their primary function is to offer an opinion which offers additional context for the reader.

And yet, the term “Recap” has remained tied to these types of posts despite the fact that there is a clear differentiation between actual recaps and this kind of analysis. There are two key reasons for this, the first of which is simply how ubiquitous TWoP and other sites like it were in terms of post-air episodic writing: before Alan Sepinwall (now at HitFix) really shifted his weight in that direction, the recap was the only medium operating within this space, so even as “reviews” become a more prominent discourse they are still strongly associated with the originating term.

The second reason, meanwhile, is a bit of cyclical logic. The term recap remains associated with reviews because websites who are looking to draw search engine users to their website buy into the above logic and continue to use the term despite the growing anachronism. You can see this particular issue at work with Maureen Ryan’s writing at her new home, AOL Television’s TV Squad: no one can argue that Ryan writes recaps, as her analysis is always evaluative, but the site’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) policy seems to dictate that the title of every post play into what they feel people are searching for. Basically, the argument is that since people search for recaps, and because the site as a whole focuses on recaps as opposed to reviews, Ryan’s pieces should be titled according to those expectations.

I understand the desire for unity, with “Show Title/Season #/Episode #/ Recap” being standard across the board, but I can’t help but feel that this undersells the work that Ryan and other critics are doing. This isn’t limited to AOL, just to be clear: HitFix, who I’ve written for in the past, has a similar policy which categorized Todd VanDerWerff’s Breaking Bad criticism or Ryan McGee’s Mad Men criticism (from the pre-Sepinwall era) as recaps alongside coverage of Big Brother (which, just to be clear, constitutes true recaps). What bothers me about the blanket use of “Recap” is that it creates the impression that examples of complex television criticism are simply elaborate recaps, that the primary function of any post-air analysis is to tell readers what happened and that anything else is just “extra.” Readers know that some posts go far beyond this title, as would first-time readers who stumble across these posts looking for a recap, so the decision to maintain a misleading title is indicative of the level of entrenchment that the term “recap” has within this industry rather than the content itself.

I think there is skill to writing an entertaining recap, as TWoP proved quite clearly, but I think that it takes a different set of skills to write engaging television criticism, which is why I am so resistant to the term “Recap” being applied to this kind of work. While it is true that many sites are (thankfully) allowing “recap” authors to engage in more substantial critical discourse, expanding far beyond recapping the episode in question, the fact remains that they are labeling that work with a title which limits the appearance of their contribution to that discourse – I will readily admit that I am less likely, as a reader, to click on something labeled as a recap than that which is labeled as a review. Ideally, writers’ work will be evaluated on its content, which would imply that labels don’t matter, but if content is what truly matters why is their writing labeled with a term which undersells that content and potentially keeps away the people who would be most interested in reading it?

If the argument is based on SEO, forgive me if I’m a little bit disappointed: considering how far television criticism has come as an art form, I hate the idea that we are avoiding reflecting that growing complexity in order to pull in more stats from Google. I understand that drawing in readers is important, but if the content you’re offering is a review as opposed to a recap, pull in those readers who want to read reviews instead of tricking those who want something more akin to what TWoP has to offer. Be honest to the people reading your content, and fair to the people writing it, and I think the critical community will be better for it.

And so, in a perfect world, big sites like TV Squad and HitFix, along with smaller sites influenced by their example, would allow the labels of their television coverage to be mandated first and foremost by content – call it a recap if the author in question has written one, by all means, but if someone is going beyond the recap to offer something different it should be reflected in how that piece is sold to readers. This isn’t some sort of demand, nor would I ever stop reading these sites or any others for such an issue, but it’s nonetheless something that I feel could quite easily be changed in order to better reflect the strength of today’s critical community.

Cultural Observations

  • This issue technically bleeds into the whole question of pre-air reviews, which in some cases are considered the only “Review” one should do for a series (the ones counted on Metacritic, the ones which turn up in Google, etc.); that’s a rant for another day (although there’s a preview in my post about the whole Mad Men screener issue).
  • There was some discussion on Twitter regarding analysis which has no evaluative element but which goes beyond plot description: in those instances, I think “Criticism” is a nice blanket term for that writing, in that it may not review the content but it certainly offers a critical perspective.
  • This is somewhat of a tangent, but I’ve seen some argue that some shows simply don’t lend themselves to reviews. It seems like that decision (generally speaking) comes down to the series’ genre as well as its fanbase, which seems inadequate since it would discount a show like Huge which is trapped in the teen drama genre with a fanbase not often associated with critical conversations. For more insight into this process, check out The A.V. Club’s list of series being covered this fall, which is expansive and presents unique insight into their selection process (Weinman’s piece also has more on this process, with his discussion of NCIS).
  • Along those lines, Monsters of Television (a fledgling site) makes a distinction between recaps and reviews, although Noel Kirkpatrick (one of their writers) acknowledges that the distinction between them is pretty slippery at times – I applaud them for making the distinction, which is what I’m really asking for here, and will readily admit that this isn’t a black and white issue (which is why I’m writing this post in the first place).
  • I’ll be talking a lot more about criticism later this month, as I’ll share my Position Paper from the FlowTV Conference and offer some context for the roundtable discussion I will be participating in surrounding this subject, so stay tuned.


Filed under TV Criticism

32 responses to “Label Lamentation: The Growing Misuse of “Recap” in Television Criticism Semantics

  1. Jeremy

    I definitely prefer reading your analytical and critical thoughts instead of recaps (summaries, essentially) masquerading as reviews.

  2. Noel Kirkpatrick

    I think, at the core of this argument, you seem frustrated largely by the blurring between art and (reviews) and commerce (recaps) when it comes to on-line writing in regards to television.

    I personally have no problem with the SEO practices that Web sites engage in: they need it to pay for those writers who do the type of work you highlight (Ryan, Sepinwall, etc.). It’s a 21st century form of patronage.

    You and I have the benefit/insanity/curse of doing our television writing for free, so word count and page views mean very little (in economic terms anyway) to us. Neither of us use Google Ads or similar services, and thus SEO isn’t an issue for us (again, at least in economic terms). I’d also be curious to see how those who do write under such circumstances feel about these ideas. For instances, does Ryan care that her pieces are called recaps?

    As you point out in the bullets, we have a fairly un-nuanced application of the words on Monsters. I’m quick to use recap to describe something I’ve written that is mostly summary, even if it contains the occasional critical thought. When Matt started writing for us, I classified most of his pieces as recaps while he got the hang of writing for the site and in that particular style.

    That said, we classify almost all of our pieces as reviews. Based on your definitions, how often should we actually be using that term? I think I can safely say that all of Karen’s pieces would be reviews, as would all of Nick’s Mad Men pieces. I don’t think we’ll change how we use the term on the site based on your response, but I am merely curious.

    • “they need it to pay for those writers who do the type of work you highlight”

      Do they REALLY, though? In that, I don’t understand why the word “Recap” is so integral to SEO that its absence would bankrupt a site – I’m fine with SEO in general, but would “Review” be that ineffective by comparison? And would it be so bad if they stuck with the rest of the opening (Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 7) without calling it something it’s not?

      As far as Monsters goes, I think that if critical perspective is the prominent focus of the piece, then calling it a review is fine: it may be a particularly short review, but if the raison d’etre for writing is to make that contribution to the discussion then I think review is an accurate term. I’m actually far less concerned with the use of “Review,” which is probably a huge contradiction, but that’s just the nature of the game.

      • Noel Kirkpatrick

        They do, really. I don’t think it would bankrupt a site, but I think, based on its prevalence, a shift could hurt a site’s traffic.

        Changing the term to reflect the content is a fine goal to have, but it’s institutionalized at this point, and changing institutions take a lot of effort, a lot of kicking and screaming. I’m not saying it’s a pointless fight, but just one that would take some time to win (if that’s the correct term here).

      • katie

        So, from my understanding, using the word ‘recap’ on a post seem to generate more search hits than using the word ‘review’, so things are labeled as such?

        So, kind of like online websites’ way of juking the stats?

    • I think I take issue with putting recaps under the commerce umbrella. I write recaps and it has nothing to do with commerce. I receive no compensation whatsoever. I don’t think the act of recapping has anything inherently to do with commerce, especially since most critics (Myles obviously not included), Sepinwall and Ryan most prominently, get paid for their work. Moreover, something can be art and still make a profit. I’m not seeing the distinction you’re making.

      • Noel Kirkpatrick

        I’m not suggesting that art can’t be profitable, but when SEO practices, which are grounded in generating hits (and in that way, hopefully, revenue by ad clicks), are cited here as something related to recaps and not necessarily reviews and in the reason why the word recap is applied so willingly, I see a distinction, at least in how Myles presents his position.

        My apologies for not nuancing my comment in regards to not-for-pay writers moreso, including those who write recaps without a thought to compensation. It wasn’t intended as a slight.

        • Tausif Khan

          Recaps don’t necessarily need to be the posts to make readers come to a site. In fact I would never go to a site for a particular recapper if there are a number to choose from because in the end a recap will tell the same story. I however will go to a site based on the quality of reviews and critical perspectives of specific writers.

          I was hooked by the AV club after I read Todd Van Der Werff’s “write up” of Glee. His theory about the three Glee’s left me thinking for a long time about dynamic process of television writing that even though an episode is credited to a person may other people on a writing staff have input on the episode as well shaping the overall tone of the episode and in turn the show. This made me rethink about how I appreciate lines a character says and who should be given credit for those lines. This matters because television is a communicative medium. If I can identify the voice of a specific television writer it is amazing because then I can follow their work in future television shows and develop a personal canon for good television. Because of Todd’s theorizing I was able to create a cohesive paradigm for thinking about television shows. This is not possible in a recap.

          Furthermore, with Hulu, netflix and complete season DVDs and wikipedia entries which explain entire plots of television episodes reviews become more important in the internet era.

  3. As a Big Brother recapper, I am insulted that you consider the show impervious to true criticism. I mean, the social commentary alone…okay, I’ll stop. I’m obviously blowing smoke. That show is stupid.

    I’m glad you wrote this piece, as it is something that has always bothered me as well. I’m a recapper (well, former recapper I suppose as my website just dissolved their recapping department – anyone hiring?) and I think I was one of the first to respond to you on Twitter about what constitutes a recap vs. a review. I would never even begin to put what I do on a similar level as to what people like you, Todd VanDerWerff, Maureen Ryan or Alan Sepinwall are doing. In my mind, they’re two entirely different animals and should be treated as such. I think when I posted this so definitively on Twitter, I got a little push-back from people who were offended by my view. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but I do think they deserve to have their own categories.

    As I mentioned, the website I write for is now fully using repurposed TWoP recaps and fired their whole freelancing recapping department. I don’t know anything about SEO or the business side of recapping vs. review, but I think this might indicate that the “review” type sites are becoming more popular as the “recap” ones are waning and being absorbed by one or two giants of the field.

  4. Interesting post, Myles.

    I think that online writing about TV is so nebulous that, unless you’re you or Sepinwall or Mo Ryan, it’s sometimes hard to categorize what a piece of writing is: review or recap? There are blatant examples of both forms, and then there’s everything in between.

    I like that you’ve taken the time to point out the distinction between these two forms, and agree that when a piece is clearly one or the other, the author of said piece should take the time to properly label it. I just think it’s hard sometimes to determine what exactly certain pieces and types of internet writing *are* because they’re such a new form of writing. ‘Recap’ is a catch-all word that encompasses everything from a one paragraph summary of plot to something like the unbelievably long artistic masterpieces Jacob Clifton turned out for BSG over at TWOP.

    I also think there’s a third type of writing that maybe isn’t included in either label of ‘criticism’ or ‘recap,’ and maybe that’s where I come in. I’m trained in the close reading of literature, so that’s naturally how I approach television as well. I read a lot of pieces that fall into this category, where the author is actively trying to elucidate meaning as opposed to examining whether/how a particular episode is working.

    Maybe ‘recap’ is just an easy way to define all of that, but maybe you’ve started something here. MAYBE THIS POST WILL CHANGE THE WORLD. Wow, that got a little weird there at the end.

    • Tausif Khan

      I feel there is (was, given that with the internet definitions are changing) a clear distinction between review and recap. In a recap I expect (for the most part) a scene by scene depiction of what has occurred in the episode. For a review I look for the author’s thoughts.

      The difference between review and recap bothered me when I was looking for recaps of Spartacus Blood and Sand. I do not have access to Starz but wanted to follow the story telling of Steven S. DeKnight. AfterElton was the only blog I found that reviewed the show on a weekly basis. I say review because even though they call their write-ups recaps I found them to be more like reviews. The author of the recaps would rename the characters with nicknames the author decided fit the character (which I am not opposing I am just stating a fact) and then the author focused on what he wanted to focus on in the episode in terms of a retrospective on the show. This demonstrates a certain level of subjectivity and purpose. Subjectivity and purpose are not things that I do expect in a recap.

      Therefore when I look for recaps online I do not want to be confused and read reviews with well formulated opinions on the episode in question. Sometimes I just want the facts.

      I like reading reviews on line and I find them very helpful for critical thinking. Reviews help me to shape my opinion on specific shows. Before catching up with How I Met Your Mother I would read Myles’s post, Donna Bowman’s post and Alan Sepinwall’s post before watching the show. After reading Myles’s and Alan’s posts I would generally hope for the worst (in this past season of the show). However, after I watched the episode I was generally entertained and not nearly as annoyed as either critic (all except for the final episode of the season when I became frustrated and completely agreed with Alan’s critique of the show that they were not advancing the main storyline of actually finding the mother).

      Therefore I find both recaps and reviews useful for various reasons but I would like labels because while I would sometimes like to catch up on a show I would also like to form my own opinions before reading the well formulated thoughts of others. This can be solved by noting whether some one is writing a recap or a review.

      • “In a recap I expect (for the most part) a scene by scene depiction of what has occurred in the episode. For a review I look for the author’s thoughts.”

        Why can’t it be both? I don’t think it’s so cut and dry. My favorite recaps are those where the author gives me scene by scene reiterations of the episode injected with a little bit of their own flavor, i.e. renaming characters, personal inserts, snide remarks, insightful commentary, etc. And just because there’s opinion in there doesn’t mean it still can’t function as a recap. Do you not count all of TWOP’s recaps as ‘recaps’?

        Personally, I would think that any ‘recap’ that didn’t have that extra bit of flavor to it would just be fantastically god-awful boring.

        You noted that you read recaps (for Spartacus, great show BTW) to actually catch up on things missed, but I think the majority of recap-readers (myself included) read them for different reasons. Myles even notes in his post that the function of a recap isn’t necessarily even tied to its original function (recounting plot events), and has instead evolved into this new, sort of hybrid art form. I don’t read recaps to find out what happened, I read them to re-experience the episode through new eyes, because that re-experiencing adds something intangible to the experience of the actual episode itself.

        I think Walter Benjamin had it right when he talked about storytelling. We as humans tell and re-tell stories again and again — that stories are intended to be re-told. I think recaps as I’m defining them fulfill exactly that purpose (in their own internet sort of way).

        • Tausif Khan

          Ashley first I have to say I love that you referenced Benjamin.

          The distinction I made between recaps and reviews I believe is the same distinction that Myles made. I also feel that this distinction is the conventional distinction made between the two terms before the internet (which is a point I think you and Myles both bring up that since the internet the conventions are changing).

          I have not read enough of TWOP’s stuff to characterize whether what they write are recaps or review.

          The AV Club has openly stated that their format is a mix of the two in which main points are recounted and the author’s point of view on episode. So what you are talking about is already happening. What we call this form I really don’t know all. Though Todd Van Der Werf on this page has said that he calls his work “write ups” which I think is a fairly accurate term in that the content and style of the piece help the writer and reader formulate the conception of what a “write up ” is.

          I think the way I would characterize the difference between two forms (and I like Myles would like a distinction made between the two) can be best expressed in a few questions.

          What is the authors intent? Is the author concerned with style? Does the piece assume previous knowledge of the episode from readers? Is the intent of the piece to argue something about the episode from a previously developed critical paradigm? If the answers to the last three question are yes I would consider it a review. This person wishes to engage people in critical analysis of the media piece analyzed. Therefore to me it is a review, a look back and possible re-judgment of the original piece of work from its original author’s (the person who originate the television episode) intent. The author of a review adds his own strong perspective.

          A recap to me is not concerned with style and just wants to tell me the story of the episode as the author (television episode author) intended. No judgments, no rethinking.

          My knowledge of Benjamin is currently based on my reading “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” So for the reduction of aura Benjamin I think would find recaps more worth while because it disseminates knowledge to as many people as possible and results in a diminished the specialness/uniqueness (aura) of the work and empowering everyone to engage with the material.

          As I said I read recaps to know the basics before I watch a show. The reason why I do this is because I do not want to be bothered with having to keep track of exposition in a show I want to watch critically. Pure recaps let me know the basic facts before watch a show and allows me to understand the influences and factors that lead the author to make the decisions he/she made in writing the episode. Because of this recaps allow me to see what operates beneath the author’s intent (television episode author) after reading the recap and when I watch a show.

          I feel that Adorno would find reviews more important because he is interested in the moment of realization or truth. Time to him is an important concept therefore watching the show as it airs would be very important for Adorno and this would be crucial for the critical reception. Adorno was more concerned with finding objective truth and rejected mass art. So this shows to me that both types of pieces have critical value.

          To me in terms of writing, critical thinking and discussions I find pure reviews more important. If I know the basics I don’t want to hear them again from some one else. I just want to hear what they have to say about the episode and compare it with my own evaluation of the episode. Either that or if I am unsure about the episode I will use the article to rethink what I feel about moments I was unhappy about in an episode.

          So in conclusion, recaps helpful for shows I have not seen (or shows I can’t watch like Spartacus) and help find what is operating underneath the author’s (television episode authors) intentions. Reviews more helpful for engaging in critical dialogue. The distinction for me is important and I would like to keep the two separate. But because of Alan Sepinwall and the AV club’s influence in the field of blog commentary it seems like the two forms are coming together in the form of a “write up”.

      • Tausif, you should have been reading Spartacus reviews on, especially since I wrote them! Seriously, I am the Exec. Prod. of the site and am trying to turn my writing staff into reviewers as opposed to recappers. Some are handling it well, myself included, and others not so well. While no one at my site is a total recapper, we all tend to include portions of the episode as a jumping off point for our criticisms. I do agree with the original point of this discussion that articles should be called what they really are. By the way, none of us at get paid.

    • katie

      Ashley has a point though. Jacob’s ‘recaps’ of BSG were very much reviews with opinions, and even though I don’t agree with some of his opinions at times, they were all beautifully written critiques and not strictly recaps.

      I miss those days of twop.

      • I’m glad to see the references to Jacob’s recaps (for lack of a more descriptive term) at TWoP. I find them amazing and lyrical, and I look forward to reading them as much as (if not more than) watching the shows he covers. He is still recapping Caprica, Doctor Who and True Blood.

  5. I suppose I should be bothered by this, but I’m really not. Most of the sites I write for use the word “recap,” rather than review, and, indeed, we just started adding it to the headlines at one of the sites I write for. I suspect it has something to do with Google results, but I think it also has something to do with the weird place of post-airing TV show reviews.

    The idea is often that a review is something that goes up before an episode airs, a check-this-out, consumer reports kinda thing. At least in the States, we don’t have a rich tradition of reviews popping up AFTER the release of a movie or book or album. Usually, it’s something you turn to before going out to see something to see if it’s worth it to spend your money.

    Outside of pilot reviews, TV doesn’t really do this, though. If you’re reading a post-airing review of a show, it’s generally assumed that you’ve kept up with the show and want to discuss it or that you want to know what happened. And this accounts for something completely unique to the post-airing TV episode review/recap structure: It’s considered proper to completely spoil the episode.

    You’d never do this in a movie review, even if you were writing it after the movie had been in release for a little while. The CULTURE of post-airing reviews is based entirely around the idea of discussion (which is why it’s grown hand in hand with the rise of blogs and social media). This, I think, subtly suggests that there should be a different word than “review,” which now has a meaning in our culture that actually should be applied to the word “preview,” much of the time. So “recap” has become the word we use, because it adequately captures one function of post-airing reviews – they remind viewers of what happened and help those who haven’t seen the episode catch up (the original function of TWOP, which I read way back in the Mighty Big TV days).

    Honestly, it’s not a cut-and-dry line anyway. Most pure recaps contain a paragraph or two of “This was stupid!” or “This was awesome!” at the end, and even writers like Sepinwall or, well, myself, who tend to shy away from “and then this happened!” plot recap are expected to do at least a short recounting of major events. It hurts even more at multi-writer sites, where the styles vary from writer to writer and show to show. Reality TV often lends itself more to straight-up recap, for instance, and writers who specialize in that are often more interested in doing recaps. Reading a pure recap of Mad Men would probably be pretty boring, I imagine, so it tends to attract different kinds of writers.

    And this is to say nothing of audience expectations. There’s a vocal minority at AVC, for instance, that often asks writers to only review the episodes they’re watching, not how they fit into the season or series as a whole. What these readers usually want is a straightforward recounting of events with one or two paragraphs of opinion at the end. I suspect readers like this will find the stuff they like elsewhere, but I don’t think that what they want is necessarily lesser when compared to the stuff I normally do.

    The best description of this rapidly evolving field I’ve ever heard came from my colleague Noel Murray. He thinks of writing up episodes of a show week to week as “reports from the field,” which suggests some level of opinion but also some level of journalistic recounting. If the word “report” didn’t have such schoolhouse associations for so many people, it might be a good one to use if recap were ever phased out. Instead, I often fall back on saying “write-up,” which isn’t exactly accurate but comes closer than most other terms I can think of.

    • Tausif Khan

      “report” for me also connotes a sense of objectivity both from the event and from the reporter which I do not want in any sort of review of a television show.

  6. AO

    Interesting reading once again, thanks Myles!

    Btw, I noticed that the link to Maureen Ryan under TV Critics still goes to the Chicago Tribune. I’ve since found her on TV Squad, but in the hopes of being helpful I wanted to mention that.

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  8. Linda

    ” they remind viewers of what happened and help those who haven’t seen the episode catch up (the original function of TWOP, which I read way back in the Mighty Big TV days).”

    This is exactly what I told Myles yesterday, and I’m sort of doing this because I’m embarrassed that Myles felt the need to note my goofball objecting and I should explain it more, but: Todd, I swear to God, at no time in the history of my experience at TWoP or MBTV did I understand the purpose to be to remind people what happened or help them catch up. The audience for any recap was almost EXCLUSIVELY either people who watched the show or people who would never watch the show anyway and just enjoyed the writing. I can’t speak for everybody, but from my perspective, recaps were never, never primarily or even significantly intended to serve the function you’re talking about. In fact, I always thought (and I think much of the staff agreed) that it was really weird when the site was written up in the media somewhere as, “Miss your favorite show? Catch up here!” That wasn’t what we were doing, even though the structure might have suggested as much. Oy, who would read 18 pages if the purpose was to summarize what happened? That would be the most inefficient catching-up method ever. You might as well watch the show.

    With that said, I was always the first person to agree that we weren’t laying pipe or writing poetry, and I totally agree that it wasn’t pure criticism (and I haven’t worked there or read it much for a couple of years, so I certainly make no statements about what they do now). I have learned oodles and oodles about more criticism-like criticism from reading Alan and Mo and the A.V. Club (and Myles) and such folks.

    I think Myles and I mostly came to an agreement yesterday — there now really ARE quick-and-dirty recaps online that are primarily there to serve that plot-summary function, but that’s a compleeeeetely different animal from a TWoP recap, which was recap-like in structure but often criticism-like in function.

    I profusely apologize for being, like, the 40-year-old dude who wants to tell you how hard his high-school football team trained, but loyalties die hard.

    • Hey, TWOP/MBTV got me through college and kept me up with dozens of shows I otherwise couldn’t keep up with. It’s probably because that’s how I used the site that I project it onto other people.

      • katie

        I remember in college I’d read a recap from TWOP about a show that I don’t watch, but I enjoyed it so much, it drives me to watch that particular episode or that particular show. Neat little vicious cycle.

        • To be fair, there’s probably not enough time to read that many recaps for shows you don’t watch on TWOP when you’re NOT in college, huh? 🙂

          • katie

            True that. I haven’t read a full twop recap in a looooong time. I do think for me, reading reviews have replaced reading recaps, and that’s at least 70% caused by me leaving college. 😀

            Though I did make one exception. This is after college, yet I read every single recap of Studio 60 (even after I gave up watching the show because it infuriated me to no end). So why read recaps on a show that I decided I hated and stopped watching? I guess it’s my own petty way to reassure myself that damnit, I was right to be annoyed, and reading the recaps were a way to channel that anger, I guess. 🙂 Plus, it was one heck of a read, as I remember it. Far more entertaining and insightful than the show itself.

  9. Eldritch

    All right, I know this veers off topic, but if we’re talking about words being misused or perhaps changing their meaning, I’ve got a related pet peeve with the term science fiction as it is currently used on review/recap sites.

    These days it seems to include fantasy. Fantasy is an entirely different genre. Perhaps a new term should be coined to cover them both. “Fantastic,” perhaps. Science fiction stories has some kind of basis in science; fantasy stories, in magic.

    So are these terminology problems merely a misuse of the language or an evolution of it? Myles, I know you’re in your twenties, but maybe you’re too much apart of an old fashioned generation which hasn’t come to terms with new usages of language? Recap = Review; Science Fiction = Fantasy.

    Come on, boy, change with the times. If I have to call magic science, can’t you handle recapview?

  10. At Basket of Kisses, we make three distinctions: Recaps, reviews, and essays. Our recaps are fundamentally reference material: We allow fans to review the details of what happened in a given episode. We don’t use an entirely neutral tone, but we’re not using recaps to write about the episode.

    We’ve been criticized for not writing reviews of each episode, in the manner of Sepinwall or Mo Ryan. My response has been that, if you write about a show weekly, then what you want to write is an overall assessment of that week’s episode: How good was it as television, what was going on thematically, symbolically, in character arcs, in narrative, and so on. In other words, a review.

    But if you’re a site like BoK, fully dedicated to a single show, then a review makes little sense. Indeed, the conglomerate of a week’s worth of writing is the review. For example, this week, some of our essays cover the meaning of a suitcase as a symbol on Mad Men, gender roles as part of Peggy’s struggle and how that relates to her choice of bathrooms, the nature of intimacy in Don’s life, and more. I don’t think pulling out a single thematic element and working it over can be called a review any more than a recap can (or should).

    As far as SEO is concerned, a webmaster who doesn’t know how to make the article title and the searchable page title different from one another really needs to reconsider his profession.

  11. Eleanor (undeadgoat)

    Well, not that I blog about television, but if I did I think I would use the word “reaction”, and I’m surprised more people don’t. If I were in charge of the entire internets, or at least a whole blog about pop culture, I would reserve the word “criticism” for a more scholarly approach, like what your blog often is/tries to be, “reaction” for more of a fan sort of thing, (e.g. “Killing my favorite character: cruel and unusual or really amazing storytelling?”), “recap” for a plot summary, snarky or not–but I think the term “review” is often very closely associated with writing that’s supposed to inform your decision whether or not to consume a particular show. That is certainly how the term is used in books, film, music, gaming, etc. But the kind of writing that you do–spoiler-heavy, reliant on knowledge of previous events–is definitely NOT a review in that sense. I was trying to decide whether or not to get into Doctor Who when you started posting about the 5th season, a skim of one of your “critical reactions” convinced me it was worthwhile–but I ignored them from my feed reader as soon as I made the decision to start from series 1, and am very glad I forgot what I’d read. In my opinion, that is NOT a review, but something new and interesting.

  12. Abe

    I write recaps for TV Tango’s Rapid Recaps & TV Web-bits From Last Week feature each week, and I write reviews on The recaps are purely a summary of what occurred in the episode, whereas reviews often address the plot but more so focus on the merits of the episode in terms of quality and story development.

    Regarding shows that don’t lend themselves to being reviewed, I stopped reviewing “The Good Guys” that I was recapping for TV Tango because I didn’t like the show and therefore would have nothing positive to say about it, and I stopped reviewing “Warehouse 13,” “Haven,” “The Glades,” and “Rubicon” simply because I didn’t have enough to say about each episode (“The Glades” in particular in regards to plot, whereas “Rubicon” was just too confusing). I have found, unfortunately, that while I planned to keep up with those four shows, I’m at least a few episodes behind on both because there are just so many other shows to watch and review. That’s getting a bit further off-topic, but generally I would say that some shows, like crime procedurals particularly, don’t lend themselves too well to being reviewed. When writing recaps of “NCIS: Los Angeles” for TV Tango, I did also find it difficult to drum up a few sentences each week since a much shorter recap pretty much sums up all the events of the episode.

  13. Pingback: Recap by Default: Why Terminology Matters To How We Write About Writing About TV | Cultural Learnings

  14. Pingback: Ain’t Gonna Be No Recap | Tired and Bored With Myself

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