Category Archives: Cultural Learnings

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 MediaElites.com 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,

Myles

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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,

Myles

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Cultural Holidays: Season’s Readings and Greetings

While I think any regular readers of the blog will acknowledge that my capacity to separate myself from writing about television is limited to the point that any attempt to suggest a long-term vacation from Cultural Learnings is futile, the lack of new television and the increase in time spent celebrating Christmas with the family will mean that I (like just about every critic) will be taking some time off over the next few weeks.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a most happy of holidays, and hope that the season brings you everything you wish it to. I’ll likely be back with some “Year in Cultural Learnings” thoughts before the New Year (like I said, vacation fail), but it’s been a great year here at the blog and I want to thank all of you for reading, commenting, and contributing to an ongoing dialogue on the fantastic medium of television.

So, I’m off for the holidays, but I do want to be able to offer one last bit of reading. As such, here’s some links to my big features over the past few weeks, along with some added context on the lists involved. It’s a chance to catch up if you didn’t see the lists the first time through, or a chance to revisit them when annoying relatives have you locked in a back room afraid to venture forward.

[I’ll mention at this point that I certainly wasn’t the only person making lists this year, and media scholar Chris Becker has been doing an amazing job keeping up with the various lists at News for TV Majors.]

Articles

However, first I want to point out the relatively new “Articles” tab in the header above. This leads to (surprise!) Cultural Learnings’ collection of articles, where some of my more substantial or theoretical posts on television can be found. These range from the early months of the blog (where I coined the phrase sci-futility to describe the inevitable ratings decline of then-hit Heroes) to just a few days ago (when I made my yearly attempt to connect a major motion picture to television), so there’s plenty of reading material if you’re new to the blog and wondering if I ever do anything but review individual episodes.

This six-part series should really be titled “Television, the Aughts and Us” considering the great number of comments the pieces received. It was great to be able to get some other opinions on the various subjects, especially when it came to something like Part Five (which focused on the role of torrents in the consumption of television in the decade). While I framed the pieces as an individual experience in order to account for my critical blind spots (The Sopranos, The Shield, etc.), it’s important to get a diverse range of perspectives in order to really understand the decade. As a result, the comments have in many ways become part of the pieces, so I want to thank my various co-authors in pulling everything together.

Introduction

Part One (featuring 24, Alias and Gilmore Girls)

Part Two (featuring The O.C., Veronica Mars and Friday Night Lights)

Part Three (featuring Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Mad Men)

Part Four (featuring Survivor, The Amazing Race)

Part Five (featuring The Office, Arrested Development, and How I Met Your Mother)

Part Six (featuring The Wire)

Posting this series over three days created some backlash, especially when my Episodes list was posted independently to Fark.com and led to a large number of comments about various unrepresented shows. And the nature of making three lists simultaneously meant that I was making some concessions. I didn’t put Zack Gilford onto my performers list, or “The Son” into my episodes list, because Friday Night Lights was making the shows list despite only airing about 9 episodes in the calendar year on the strength of that episode. I knew Battlestar Galactica wasn’t making my shows list, so I chose to represent the show through its finale (which I am aware I liked more than most) because it felt the most representative of its polarizing season.

And there were other decisions that were influenced by my current frustrations with certain series. It’s hard to laud How I Met Your Mother when I’m just getting past the show’s treatment of Barney and Robin’s relationship, and as much as House’s season finale was a great movie-esque two hours of television the fact that the rest of the season has entirely ignored its implications sort of dampens its effectiveness. And attempting to create an objective bubble around these shows or these episodes would defeat the whole point of this list: they’re my opinions, and if I didn’t use my subjectivity in making these lists why would I even bother?

Which is why I loved seeing the feedback on Fark, and the feedback in the comments section, because mine is but one opinion. It was a great year in television, and the more perspectives we get on that the better.

The 10 Performers of the Year

The 10 Episodes of the Year

The 10 Shows of the Year

Thanks everyone for reading, and all the best over the holidays! I’ll likely be back for a few comments on Doctor Who: The End of Time over the break, and as always you can find me on Twitter if you somehow after reading all of this want to read more of what I have to say. All the best to you and yours this holiday season.

Myles

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When Worlds Converge: Futures of Entertainment at Cultural Learnings

One of the reasons I write about television is in order to engage with a larger community of both television viewers and television critics. While there is no doubt a personal desire to consider the medium more carefully nearly every day, it’s also about contributing to a broader critical discourse on television that extends from traditional critics to television bloggers to message board commenters.

However, one of the things that has been missing within my academic experience (which is only rarely a topic of discussion on the blog, as regular readers will know) is that same sense of community when it comes to analyzing television. Working within an English department as an island of television studies has made me more defensive than I’d like to admit, and while being forced to justify my projects has helped shape my perspectives on television it has also led to a lack of considerable outside input.

So, this weekend was one of those moments where my current academic work was put on hold as I took advantage of the wonders of Twitter to participate from afar in discussions occurring during Futures of Entertainment 4, a conference hosted by MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium and designed to engage scholars and industry figures in discussions about, well, the future of entertainment. And, as lame as it sounds, it really did feel like a convergence of my academic interest in television and my work here at Cultural Learnings. While the discussions used theoretical ideas that are uncommon in television criticism, the conversation always went beyond theory to application, with panel members including representatives from the BBC and from companies that actually produce the types of content being discussed.

The resulting conversationswere  different from what I’m used to but not entirely foreign: there was a lengthy discussion about Joss Whedon’s future in television considering Dollhouse’s cancellation, and while the discussion jettisoned subjective analysis of the series it nonetheless considered the potential of online business models and the changing metrics networks use to determine a series’ fate, the same types of things that critics and bloggers alike have been discussing since the show was axed. It was one of many conversations that made me both appreciative of the chance to contribute to the amazing discussion between these top academic/industry minds in Cambridge and extremely proud to be part of a similar sort of community through my regular reviews and analysis here at Cultural Learnings each day.

As a result, I wanted to be able to reflect the convergence of sorts between the two worlds, so I put together a series of “FOE4 Musings” that focus on shows/situations I cover here on the blog from some new perspectives inspired by the crosstalk on Twitter during the conference.

Chuck vs. Fan Management vs. Fan Facilitation analyzed the failure of NBC, in the wake of the “Save Chuck” campaign, to leverage this fan support in a substantial fashion, inspired by a distinction made between management and facilitation by Henry Jenkins.

Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative analyzed the degree to which Glee’s storytelling, along with its business strategy, refers to the successful formula of American Idol, inspired by a tweet from Ivan Askwith.

AMC’s The Prisoner and Transmedia Participation analyzed the potential for transmedia storytelling within AMC’s remake, and the ways the show’s schedule/writing worked against audience expectations, inspired by the panel on Transmedia play.

These articles are also all collected on the new “Articles” page, where readers old and new can visit (or revisit) some of the broad pieces of analysis that I’ve written over the past three years here at Cultural Learnings.

I don’t pretend that any of these pieces from this weekend are comprehensive, but they allowed me to consider some subjects common to the blog in a new light, and I can only hope that they stimulate 1/1000th of the discussion that some of the tweets from this weekend did. Any comments, from both old and new readers alike, are more than welcome.

I want to thank everyone who took part in the conversation at FOE4 for helping create a really fantastic experience that offered me far more inspiration than could be put into three posts; I can only hope that I’ll be able to attend FOE5 in person, and be able to offer more considerable insight into these fascinating discussions.

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Cultural Catchup: The Week in Comedy

After a week away in New York, which was really exciting, I came back to a pretty huge backlog. While I might not end up reviewing any individual shows beyond Mad Men (which went up earlier tonight), I do want to be able to comment on the comedy of the past week or so. Drama might be a bit more intimidating (was two episodes behind with both House and Sons of Anarchy), but we’ll see if we get to that in the days ahead (Reality won’t be there at all: Top Chef was predictable, Runway was boring, Survivor was expendable, and Amazing Race was a week ago and similarly uneventful).

For now, thoughts on (deep breath) The Office, Community, Parks and Recreation, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Saturday Night Live, Modern Family, Cougar Town, The Middle and Greek (phew!).

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Cultural Learnings On the Road: Starstruck, Broadway’d and HBO’d

As my Twitter feed has indicated, I am currently in the Big Apple, New York City, on a brief adventure. And since this means a lack of traditional reviews (I guess I’d call this a vacation in that respect), I figured I’d blog a tiny bit about the trip itself, as well as some of the TV I watched when I was dead tired and had not the energy to do much else.

So, thoughts on Broadway’s Next to Normal, being starstruck on the subway, and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Bored to Death and Entourage after the jump.

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