Category Archives: Cultural Learnings

Cultural Announcement: Reflections on an “Academic Blogging” Journey

This has never exactly been a personal blog—while Cultural Learnings started in 2007 as a broadly conceptualized space for personal expression, it quickly morphed toward television and other media, and at some point or another I eradicated whatever markers of personal blogging were left over from the early days.

But, at the same time, any blog is ultimately personal, regardless of the specific topic of discussion, and this is particularly true given how the personal and the professional converge around the space of critical studies of media in my case when I started work as a PhD student in Media and Cultural Studies in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And so it feels right to use this as a space to discuss a professional (and personal) development, which is that having defended my dissertation earlier this month, I will begin a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia this fall.

First and foremost, I need to acknowledge the fortune of this opportunity. Within the space of academia, jobs—and especially tenure-track jobs—are in short supply, both due to a surplus of qualified candidates and the increased (and problematic) reliance on part-time adjunct positions, and I am incredibly lucky to be in this position. This was made possible by the guidance of advisors (both formal and informal), the support of family, and the confidence of friends and colleagues, yes—but it also depends on right jobs at right times, and chips falling in the right places, all of which are more difficult to control. To say that luck was involved is not to self depreciate the work I did, or the support I received at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and Acadia University before that), but rather to acknowledge that even with all of the hard work and support in the world, there are still people who don’t get jobs. And so the fact that I have this opportunity has put into perspective the various individuals whose generosity, wisdom, and in some cases timing led to the series of events that made this opportunity possible. I give thanks for it all.

But I want to take a moment to reflect specifically on the role that this blog played in this process, given how interconnected it is with all of the above. Although this was not designed as an “academic blog” initially given that I was still an undergrad when I started it, it evolved into one when I became a graduate student, and has transformed in ways that have made it a significant part of my professional identity. There is much debate in academia regarding the role of blogs and other social media in how grad students and junior scholars develop their place within the field, and I knew entering the job market that my output in this space was something that could set me apart for better—“he’s written a lot, on a lot of topics, for a diverse audience!”—or for worse—“why was he writing blog posts when he could have been publishing peer-reviewed journal articles?”

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Cultural Check-In: Thoughts on the Fall Survivors

Thoughts on the Fall Survivors

October 22nd, 2011

First off, despite the image above, Survivor was actually an early casualty of this fall season.

This fall has been tremendously busy in terms of my “real” job, and the scholarly side of things has been equally complicated by some looming deadlines and a general increase in workload. In order to feel as though I’ve been giving that my full attention, Cultural Learnings has definitely suffered, and as much as that pains me I also think it is very much necessary given the current state of things.

However, this is not to suggest that the behaviors which drove me to blog in the first place have been entirely squashed. I’ve still been keeping up with most of my shows (although I’ve fallen behind on a few, like The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy and How I Met Your Mother), and I’ve still been tweeting about most of them and writing about The Office (and, last night, Strike Back) for The A.V. Club. That being said, I know that there are some things which have been left somewhat more vague, and so I wanted to drop in with a few thoughts and a link to something else I’ve been working on.

First and foremost, I exchanged some emails with my colleague Ryan McGee on the subject of how critics review television comedy, a fitting subject given that I recently took part in an academic conference on the subject of TV comedy (which my colleague Jennifer Smith summarized for Antenna). This is something that he had suggested earlier this Fall, and struck me as a good way to enter into a dialogue without having to carve out the time for a podcast. The conversation spanned over the course of a week or so, and I hope it touched on some issues that can spur on some more conversation.

Ryan has posted Part One of the conversation over at Boob Tube Dude, and I’ll be posting Part Two here at Cultural Learnings on Monday. Please leave any comments you might have, as this is really something that requires a broader discussion than just the two of us to really come to life.

Funny Business: Critical Analysis of Television Comedies [Part One] – Boob Tube Dude

Next, though, I want to spend at least a bit of time discussing the new shows that have remained programmed into my DVR after premiere week, which proved to be a fairly small (and generically limited) collection. I’ve also thrown in a few thoughts on new series that have yet to premiere, and one that has already premiered but is still relatively new all things considered.

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Notes on an Unintentional Cultural Hiatus

It is natural for people who write about television to write less during the summer: the number of shows on the air dwindles, meaning that the overall sense of activity within the industry is less conducive to the kinds of near-daily analysis that I might otherwise be engaged with.

Or, rather, this is what I tell myself as I return to the blog after an unintended two-week hiatus. In truth, a number of things have happened since that point which I could have written about, and the very point of the Cultural Catchup Project was to help fill in the gaps during these warmer months. However, a combination of a trip home to Canada and the recent holiday weekend have created enough distractions that writing about television just hasn’t seemed like a priority…or, rather, it hasn’t seemed like a priority here.

When I started writing for The A.V. Club, I knew that it would mean writing slightly less here: because I was writing about The Office on a weekly basis, and because those reviews were time-sensitive, it did mean that I wrote about shows like Community and Parks and Recreation less often than I might have otherwise. This time around, meanwhile, it’s resulted in a situation where I’ve felt fairly busy in terms of writing even when the blog sits largely dormant.

On top of a few drop-ins (including a review of the premiere of ABC’s Expedition Impossible and ABC/Global’s Rookie Blue), I’m covering two ongoing series for The A.V. Club.

The first was something entirely new, which has actually been a major reason for a lack of blogging: while BBC America’s U.K. import The Inbetweeners only had twelve total episodes in its first two series, catching up on them felt somewhat necessary given that I’m covering the third series for the site. I’ll admit that I’ve found Series Three a bit uneven, and parts of the show remain a bit broader than I would like, but the first two series have a real charm to them which has made it an enjoyable experience. Mind you, it is somewhat odd to be covering a series (or season) that the majority of commenters have seen in its entirety through YouTube and illegal downloads (since it aired in the U.K. last fall), but that’s sort of given it a TV Club Classic vibe that I’m not entirely opposed to.

The Inbetweeners | TV Club | The A.V. Club

The second, meanwhile, picks up on something I wrote last fall. I’m among those who felt the sixth season of Weeds marked a creative turnaround for the beleaguered Showtime series, and said as much in my review of the finale. While the jury remains out on the seventh season, the show has returned to The A.V. Club lineup after a year-long absence, and I’m quite pleased with the response from readers. There are very few sites covering the show week-to-week, and while the show may be inconsistent I don’t think it has stopped being interesting since the reboot back in Season Four. I’ll be tracking the season’s ups and downs, however they might fall, in the weeks ahead.

Weeds | TV Club | The A.V. Club

Of course, things are not going to stay quiet at Cultural Learnings forever: the Cultural Catchup Project will return early next week, Breaking Bad reviews will return on the 17th, I will at least offer some preliminary thoughts on Torchwood: Miracle Day (and may review it consistently if there is both demand and personal interest), and the Emmy nominations are now only eight days away. However, if there’s anything that’s happened in the last two weeks that you want me to comment briefly on, feel free to leave a comment/question below and we’ll see if we can’t get a conversation started.


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Four More Years: Another Cultural Anniversary

For the first few years of a blog’s life, every milestone is…well, a milestone.

When you get through your first year, it’s a reflection of your own resolve: how many blogs appear and then disappear, start out as an exciting exercise and end up a relic of an earlier commitment to productivity?

Your second year, meanwhile, is a statement against the haters. Haters is probably an overly strong term, but there are always those who doubt that the commitment to a lightly read blog is worth the time and effort, so getting through a second year is a signal that you have no intention of giving into such skepticism.

By the time you reach your third year, however, it’s a reflection of your readers. Stubbornness can keep you writing for a couple of years, but by the time you reach three it means that there are people who are reading, people who make writing that much more satisfying.

I think, though, that the fourth year may be the point at which milestones stop feeling like milestones. It isn’t that I am unsatisfied with the fact that this blog has come a very long way since January 17th, 2007, and I have no doubt that the third-year university student sitting in a Politics of Mass Media lecture would laugh in my face were I to go back in time and inform him that his blog would be far closer to the mass media than he could ever imagine in four years’ time; it’s just that the first-year PhD student has become sort of comfortable with what the blog has become, its existence having become so much a part of my daily life that time just doesn’t seem as important.

This is Post #1994 in the blog’s existence, a number which would be higher if I had not purged some of the early posts which had no relationship to television. In an ideal world, there would be another 1994 by 2015, but I sincerely doubt this will be the case: the days of such intense productivity may be behind me for the foreseeable future, left to the summer months and to brief spurts where I simply can’t keep myself away from tackling the bounty of television at hand.

For now, though, a bit of a trip through Cultural Learnings history: I’ve gone back into the archives and pulled out a post from on (or around) January 17th from each of the past four years. They’re probably not the ideal way to chart the blog’s evolution (although keeping the typos intact demonstrates my early lack of commitment to even the most basic copy editing), but I think it’s a reflection of what a four-year anniversary means in the blogosphere: at a certain point, milestones stop being about the blogger and start being about the blog itself.

So, Happy Birthday, Cultural Learnings – you’ve been good to me.

A Lesson in Post-Super Bowl Programming

Date: January 18th, 2007

This might be the only time this season that Criminal Minds has a chance to engage younger viewers and hope to pull them away from Idol. They need to change their fundamental style, not just throw in every cliche in the book. They need to mix things up a little, create an event out of this episode. Really, both Grey’s Anatomy and Alias had it right. Episodes that opened with some T&A, and then went into plotlines that went above and beyond what the show had done previously. Alias completely changed in “Phase One.” I guess I’ve given up hope that Criminal Minds can do the same.

I’ve written about this subject a few times, and will be returning to it again with Glee this year, but this first post has some silly rhetoric that would be quickly abandoned in subsequent posts. However, it was the first bit of “blogging” I did after my initial introductory post, so it’s a nice archive of the early stabs at writing about TV.

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The Imaginary Forest: Cultural Learnings in 2010

The Imaginary Forest: A Cultural New Year

January 1st, 2011

Starting a blog is a lot like playing pretend. Just as you have to pretend that you’re in the middle of an imaginary, magical forest fighting some unknown evil, your plastic sword a piece of forged steel, you sort of have to imagine that there’s someone out there reading. Before you ever receive your first comment, you need to imagine someone out there who might write that comment. Before you ever recognize that first regular reader who keeps coming back, you need to imagine that someone will come in the first place.

Cultural Learnings, for quite some time, felt like a form of pretend: I was a pretend television critic, a blogger who spent his free time doing what critics do. While we sometimes associate pretend with our childhood, and our obsession with the imaginary and the escape from reality it offers, it can easily extend into adulthood. We are still capable of aspiring to things, and sometimes we need to stretch “reality” in order to keep our goals even vaguely within reach. For me, this blog was an opportunity to feel connected to the medium of television in ways which went beyond forcing my English professors to allow me to write about it, a chance to at least pretend to be part of a broader community of like-minded people when I was instead surrounded by people who thought I was obsessive (which, while not untrue, was still somewhat marginalizing).

And just like when we play pretend, there are moments in blogging where a brief brush with reality invades the imaginary: there’s something visceral about swinging a plastic sword and colliding with a nearby tree, just as there’s something visceral about finding your post on the front page of Digg – back when, you know, Digg was relevant – or receiving a particularly intriguing comment. They’re the moments that keep you playing along, the moments which start to make you think that maybe pretend could become reality with time.

For a few years, Cultural Learnings sat in this liminal – I imagine this is a cheap pop among regular readers at this point – state. There have been readers, regular readers even, for a few years, and 2008 and 2009 each brought their own brushes with respectability. I’ve been incredibly grateful for all of this, and have never felt as if the blog necessarily needed to be more popular (it’s not as if it’s making me any money) or more “real.” The truth is that the blog has always been a sort of personal exercise, an opportunity to feel connected to the medium of television in a way which went beyond the living room (or, in some cases, the classroom), and so the occasional comment and the stimulating conversation which followed were more a bonus than anything else.

And yet in 2010 things really did change. I don’t feel as if I did anything different: there’s nothing I can really point to that led to any sort of shift in the blog’s status, no stroke of genius or groundbreaking discovery to be found. However, as I went on fighting my way through the magical forest, the world did become real: it became a group of dedicated and intelligent Whedonites, it became generous and supportive colleagues within both academic and critical realms, and it became an “audience” of informed viewers of television who wanted to join in on the conversation. Over the past year, it felt as if everything fell into place: while this has always been something I enjoyed immensely, perhaps explaining why I was so willing to keep doing it for free, there was something immensely gratifying about receiving the kind of feedback that I had imagined there might one day be, and to get the opportunities that I always imagined might come.

As the year comes to a close, and a new year begins, I want to thank everyone who has been a part of this new reality – this includes those who gave me those opportunities, those who promoted the blog to their own readers, those who sent me kind emails, those who commented, those who follow me on Twitter, those who simply read the blog, or those who got to this post by Googling “forged steel + magical forest.” It is my plan to keep fighting my way through the forest in the year ahead, and I hope that you’ll continue to join me on this adventure…which, when I think about it, almost feels more like fantasy when grounded in reality than when simply a figment of my imagination.

Happy New Year to you and yours,



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A New Outlet: Contributing to UW-Madison’s Antenna

A New Outlet: Contributing to UW-Madison’s Antenna

September 17th, 2010

As you may know, I recently joined the PhD program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which in some ways will limit the amount of online writing I am able to do (it’s why things have been a bit quieter here at Cultural Learnings as of late, especially with the Cultural Catchup Project). However, the irony is that although the volume of my writing will be decreasing, the outlets for that writing are actually increasing: I’m extremely excited to be joining Antenna, the department’s media analysis blog, as a contributor.

I’m particularly excited because of how it allows for the merger of my two worlds: while the community consists largely of academics, the analysis is meant to cut through the traditional academic delay (where journals and books take years to get through the review/publishing process) to address current events similar to how online criticism operates. I very much look forward to exploring some of my more academic ideas within this framework, and encourage my Cultural Learnings readers to join that community and take part in a wide range of intriguing media-related discussions.

Right now, my first post is on something that many of you may relate to. In “Tweets of Anarchy: Showrunners on Twitter,” I look at how Twitter and other forms of social media have changed the relationship between showrunners, their texts, and their viewers, focusing on Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) and his somewhat controversial Twitter presence. The piece, like all Antenna pieces, is short and focuses on providing some information and prompting discussion, so I’d love to hear how showrunners’ online presence have changed your impressions of your favourite series (or perhaps series that you were otherwise unattached to).

Tweets of Anarchy: Showrunners on Twitter [Antenna]

…showrunners are now becoming active participants in conversations surrounding their shows, both formally (Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s Lost podcasts) and informally (Louis C.K.’s decision to wade into comment threads of Louie reviews); combined with their more prominent role in DVD bonus features and the proliferation of television journalism online, showrunners are becoming veritable celebrities among viewers of television. This is perhaps no more apparent than on Twitter, where showrunners (including Lindelof, Cuse, ,C.K., and numerous others) gain tens of thousands of followers who desire to know more about who is behind their favourite series.

Next week, meanwhile, Antenna will be offering multiple perspectives on each of the Fall debuts (a project I’ll be participating in);  I’ll likely share some of that as well, so stay tuned!

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A Cultural Vacation (if not a Cultural Hiatus)

Greetings all!

If you follow me on Twitter, or pay attention to that little sidebar to the right of your screen, you may have noticed that I’ve been a bit preoccupied with an ongoing adventure: tomorrow morning, I’m packing up my life (which, honestly, consists more or less of DVDs, video games, and electronics) and moving across the continent – I’ll have more on why, and how that’s going to be affecting things around these parts, in the weeks ahead, but in the meantime I’m going to be pretty busy over the next couple of weeks getting settled.

Now, this is not going to be an outright hiatus: I intend on catching up on some television as I join my family on an extended road trip westwards, and chances are I’m going to have a few things to say about it: I want to at least briefly discuss the Sherlock finale, for example, and for better or for worse I’ve become dependent on working some blogging time into my schedule even during the most hectic of times.

However, this does mean that I won’t be able to write about the Work of Art finale (which I won’t be able to see before leaving) or the So You Think You Can Dance finale (which I may not see at all until later next week, depending on how things work out) – and, ever so sadly, it means that I will be unable to see Sunday night’s Mad Men until early next week, and even then I won’t have nearly as much time to devote to it as I would like. I may still plan on being engaged with television, but the time to blog to my own standards (especially with something like the Cultural Catchup Project) is just not going to be there beyond a couple of nights in hotels where I plan on doing some writing.

Since I don’t want to remain entirely unengaged, even without the time to blog, I finally broke down and opened a Formspring account – for those who don’t know, Formspring is a site where you can visit someone’s page and ask them questions, which they will then answer at some point thereafter. It’s a really simple and elegant little process, and I figure it would be a way for me to stay engaged when I won’t be able to blog as often as I might like. Of course, it’s just as likely that I’ll blog just as much and still end up enjoying the process of directly answering questions, just making my schedule even more hectic, but I’m perfectly content with this.

So, feel free to ask what I thought of a recent episode of a series, my take on a series which I may not have written about before or stopped writing about, my thoughts on the upcoming fall season, how the blog came to be, or even something personal and unrelated to television (although there’s really not much interesting there, honest). I look forward to answering some such questions (I know the Cultural Catchup folks probably have quite a few), and look forward to an exciting year ahead here at Cultural Learnings.

My Formspring Account: MylesMcNutt

(Shockingly, someone took “Memles.”)

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Off-Site Learnings: More Thoughts on Familiar Topics

When writing my Across the Pond column for Jive TV, I often draw upon things I hint at in reviews, or discuss on Twitter – as a result, the material may not be new to you, per se, but I hope the column has become a decent repository for those ideas and more broad analysis of the industry. In some cases, I was ahead of the trend: I wrote about Steve Carell leaving the Office weeks ago, and now news emerges which confirms that he plans on departing after the show’s seventh season.

In my two latest pieces, though, I’m less predicting the future and more wondering just what that future might bring. First, I took a further look at AMC’s Rubicon: while my review stuck to the reasons why I have my doubts about the series creatively, the column focuses on the ways in which the series seems to clash with AMC’s other drama series, and how the experiment of stealth premiering the show behind Breaking Bad draws attention to that conflict.

Across the Pond: Rubicon vs. Scheduling

There is, of course, no perfect way to experience a series that starts quite as slowly as Rubicon. Even online viewing would also be problematic thanks to the wealth of distractions, and when the show premieres without a lead-in on 1 August it will still face certain challenges. However, AMC learned a lesson in terms of trying to leverage previous success in marketing new series.

In my latest, column meanwhile, I spilled more virtual ink on Treme, specifically addressing some of the claims that the show was a “failure.” I wrote a lot about the show last week, so I’m sure you’re all a bit fatigued about it, but in light of David Simon’s post-season interview with Alan Sepinwall there are some interesting tidbits in terms of why Treme met that response, and why it doesn’t affect the show’s momentum going into its second season.

Across the Pond: Treme vs. Failure

I would argue that Treme is flawed, as The Wire was at points within its run, but I would also argue that its willingness to go out on a narrative limb is bound to fail for some people, and that Simon has nothing to apologize for. No television show, if it’s a particularly good television show, should please everyone, and the freedom of HBO (and other cable networks like Showtime) is that shows like the ones Simon creates have a space where they can evolve at their own pace and afford to lose viewers who aren’t on the same wavelength (or the same rhythm, if you prefer).

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Cultural Anniversary: Thanks for 3 Great Years

On January 18th, 2007, I started this blog.

On this, its three-year anniversary, I want to thank all of you for reading, and give special thanks to those who have linked to one of my 1467 posts, retweeted one of my far too many tweets, invited me to be on your podcast, commented on one of my reviews, conversed with me via email or Twitter, or inspired me to continue writing about television with your own work.

I sometimes wonder why you’re still reading, but the fact that you are means a lot to me – while I have trouble imagining a world where I don’t write about television, I have more trouble imagining a world where I’m not part of this wonderful online community of critics, scholars, bloggers and fans alike, so I greatly appreciate your continued patronage.

Today is, otherwise, just like any other day here at the blog: I’ll have reviews of Chuck, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory later tonight, and probably some thoughts on Big Love and Life Unexpected over the next few days. However, I’ll also be contributing over at with my good friend Todd VanDerWerff and others in the months ahead — you can find my first piece, an investigation into the challenges and opportunities facing reality shows like Project Runway and Survivor in the short gap between seasons entitled “It Seems Like Just Yesterday: Clean Slates and Narrative Continuity in Reality Television Scheduling,” up at the site as you read this — so there’s some new adventures on the horizon.

Thanks for coming along with the ride,


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Goodbye, 2009: A Brief Rumination on the Year That Was

Looking back, 2009 was a great year for television, and I’d also argue that 2009 was a great year for the online television community.

This has been the first year where I have felt comfortable self-identifying with a particular term within that community, “critic.” It isn’t that I would suggest I only started writing criticism this year, but rather that being unaffiliated with any media outlet, and lacking any formal journalistic training, places me in a liminal position between critic and “blogger,” a term which has gained an unfortunately (and unfairly) derogatory context over the past number of years.

Friend of the Blog (and of myself – I just really like the term “friend of the blog”) Dave Chen wrote a piece this week in response to a charge that film bloggers are killing film criticism as we know it, and he rightly argues that such a claim makes broad generalizations regarding the quality of bloggers writing about film. It’s a fantastic read overall, but this passage in particular resonated with me:

Fragmentation is not death. And film criticism can still remain a respected form of cultural examination, far into the future. But it starts with a spirit of acceptance and magnanimity. When those who have been doing this for a long time try to help those who haven’t – instead of lamenting the current state of things – I think we’ll all be better off.

And it got me thinking of what 2009 meant for me personally, in the year where I entered the world of television criticism in earnest. I won’t pretend that there isn’t the same sense of vilifying fragmentation in television criticism (as this essay demonstrates), but I would argue it is a minority opinion; considering my own experience, entering into the world of television criticism based on a blog which started with no such intentions, I have been humbled and honoured by the level of support offered by established critics. Through the joys of Twitter (which saw an increase in critical presence over the past year), critical dialogue has become a collective conversation about this medium we love, a conversation that I’ve loved being a part of even within the confines of the digital space. There was a moment earlier this year where a large group of critics (myself included) got into a lengthy discussion about Chuck and a number of other subjects, and I pondered aloud where else such a conversation could take place. The immediate answer I received was a bar (touché), but the idea of recreating in a digital space that type of interaction has (in my mind) invigorated the television critic’s position in the online television industry.

So, as we enter 2010, I wanted to thank all of the critics who have been kind enough to interact with me over the past year, as well as my fellow bloggers who have added their own voices into the mix. At the same time, I also want to thank all of Cultural Learnings’ readers for commenting and offering your own voices into these conversations; I want to be able to follow the examples of those who have much more experience at this in terms of interacting with readership, so I truly appreciate any tweets or comments that may come my way. I firmly believe that the online television community is in fact a larger whole, and that critics, academics, bloggers, readers, and simple viewers are all working towards a common goal of the appreciation (whether critical, academic, or just for simple pleasure) of this medium.

My only hope is that the year to come continues to demonstrate the collective intelligence and love for television that exists within this great group of individuals, whether they be established critics who do this for a living or people like me (or, people like you) who do it out of pure enjoyment.

All the best to everyone in 2010,



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