Category Archives: Cultural Learnings

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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Cultural Academics: A Quick (Rough) Glimpse at my Masters’ Thesis

While some regular readers may be entirely disinterested in what follows, I had mentioned an interest in gathering some feedback/response to the introduction to my Masters’ thesis on Twitter and there was some pretty decent response. And so, in order to give everyone a glimpse at why the amount of blog coverage has been (outside of the Emmys) down a bit over the past few months, the following is a glimpse at the project that I’ve put together. Any feedback is more than welcome, of course.

Introduction

“You think there’s not a lot going on / Look closer, baby, you’re so wrong”
– Theme Song to Corner Gas

If you were to run a survey asking participants to describe the Canadian small town with a single adjective, the answers you receive will vary depending on the location of your survey. In a rural environment, the small town could be described as peaceful or serene, a welcoming and inclusive community. In an urban environment, meanwhile, the small town could be described as quaint, or backwards, or simple. While this thesis will engage with these types of responses, and the paradigms they represent, it is more concerned with another adjective that might not immediately jump onto one’s tongue: nation.

While the historical position of the small town, once the centerpiece of Canadian society and now a marginalized setting isolated within a predominantly urban nation, will be discussed throughout this thesis, the most fascinating quality of the Canadian small town is its continued role in the nation’s cultural production. Although the small town has only become more and more marginalized, it has emerged as the setting for the twenty-first century’s two most successful Canadian television comedies, Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie. That these two series, set in rural small towns but airing to a predominantly urban audience, have found success indicates that history alone does not define the Canadian small town.

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Cultural News Flash: Podcast, Virtuality Ratings, Tonight’s TV

Off to a family gathering today, so I figured I’d drop a few notes on a number of exciting (or depressing, so as to counterpoint the exciting I guess) notes for the day ahead.

(Myles on) TV on the Internet

Todd VanDerWerff is pretty well known around these parts as a fellow TV critic and friend of the blog (a term I steal mercilessly from Alan Sepinwall, it’s just plain fun to use), but I haven’t given nearly enough attention to the really engaging, wondefully consistent, and now special guest enhanced TV on the Internet Podcast that he does with the lovely Libby Hill. I spent part of last evening defending some of my own unpopular opinions (warning: I’m not nearly objectionable enough, so they’re pretty boring) and more excitingly analyzing some particularly insane (and hilarious) opinions from Todd and Libby. We’re also joined by Carrie Raisler, who I know from my days back writing a bit for Todd’s South Dakota Dark, and who does TV recaps for Zap2it. It was a blast to be on the show, and hopefully the podcast can bring more great guests from Todd’s TV rolodex into the fold with time.

Link: TV On the Internet – Episode 13 – Unpopular Opinions

Virtuality Ratings

I made a note of this on Twitter (a few actually, since bad news always begets bad puns), but any chance of FOX’s Virtuality (Which I discussed Friday night in excessive detail for its position as a pilot being burned off in the summer) being picked up went away yesterday when its ratings revealed a mere 1.8 million viewers and a 0.5 in the key 18-49 demographic. For those who don’t follow ratings news, this is particularly awful even for summer, drawing less viewers than ABC’s Surviving Suburbia (which is less surprising than embarassing) and just not connecting as it needed to in order to feel like it had momentum to gain in the future.

Sure, there’s still a long shot of DirecTV or Sci-Fi (I refuse to call it by its new name) stepping in to save the show, but with an expensive budget, an extensive cast, and considering these ratings, the show really doesn’t have a chance of surviving, which is really a pity as the show came together really well. Alas, it’s another disappointment in a string of Sci-Fi television getting a bump rap, so Fringe and Dollhouse in all their inconsistency (if particularly strong on their highs) will have to do.

Tonight’s TV

Tonight is the beginning for HBO’s Hung, a show about a high school gym teacher who embodies the show’s title and decides when down on his luck to take advantage of it – critics are somewhat divided on the show (some, like Mo Ryan, find it a disappointment, while Alan Sepinwall is a fan of the show and is adding it to his blogging rotation), but I’m giving it a shot tonight regardless and will be back with my review later tonight.

I’ve also taken a look at the first episode of Merlin that NBC will air tonight, “The Mark of Nimueh,” and the show remains what it was before: low budget, simple, and in some ways charming. Tonight’s episodes feature Michelle Ryan (“Bionic Woman”) as an evil sorceress, and the second episode, “The Poisoned Chalice,” has a storyline that focuses more heavily on Arthur, for those looking for more branching off in that direction.

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Some Cultural Updates

Hey everyone,

I realized the other night that it’s been a long time since I’ve posted something more general and personal, which is really the consequence of using Twitter quite heavily. If you follow me on Twitter, you likely know many of these things, but I figure I’ll put them here as well since not everyone is on the bandwagon quite yet. I’ll also try to include some blog exclusives.

General Updates

  • In case you missed it earlier this week, I had the pleasure of being a guest on the People You Don’t Know podcast, where Eugene Ahn interviews, well, people he doesn’t know. He isn’t a total stranger, as he’s been a reader/commenter for a while now, but it was still an honour to be a guest, and the interview offers some insights into the blog that go beyond the “About” page. So check that out over at his site, as the podcast (far beyond my involvement) offers some very broad and fascinating insights – there’s even a back episode featuring friend of the blog and /Filmcast co-host Devindra Hardawar, so there’s plenty of interesting stuff going on.

Summer Backlog Updates

  • The “Summering in Deadwood” series is not dead, but rather I’ve delayed in starting the second season in earnest. As it was I had to commit more time to a research project and to my other duties, so my thoughts on the two-part premiere remain unfinished and to be completed at a later date.I
  • It also doesn’t help that I arrived home to newly ordered Sports Night DVDs, in order to catch up with Alan Sepinwall’s reviews of the series that he’s doing this summer. I’m about 2/3 of the way through the first season, and am really enjoying it, so I’ll probably drop some thoughts on this in a blog post once I complete the first season (and when I likely take a break before digging into season two).

Summer T.V. Updates

  • In case anyone was curious, as I know I’ve gotten a few questions on the subject, I won’t be keeping up with True Blood Season 2. Not only am I not caught up (watched the pilot back in the day, was fairly nonplussed, never kept going), but I don’t particularly know if I want to catch up – the show just isn’t capturing me, and while there are some critics who are big supporters there are others who are quite dismissive and I don’t quite have the time to properly wade into that discussion at this time. If the Season Season represents a major turnaround, and if enough readers request it, it might be something to consider for the fall leading into a likely Season Three.
  • Otherwise, I’m currently watching Weeds and Nurse Jackie on Mondays, Burn Notice and Royal Pains on Thursdays, and So You Think You Can Dance on Wednesdays. I don’t know if people are really looking for SYTYCD posts, but I might keep doing them for a few weeks since I don’t have anything else mid-week otherwise. Upcoming shows of interest include HBO’s Hung, as well as the return of Better Off Ted on June 23rd (so there’s a Tuesday show, at least).
  • I’ll also likely keep doing some Chuck Me Mondays posts, since I’m enjoying revisiting the show’s first season and I actually reviewed quite a lot of the upcoming episodes and can refer back to them for some more material.

Cultural Requests?

  • Considering all of this, anything you want more of? A show you think I should blog and catchup on? A summer show I am unfairly refusing to watch? Leave a comment below, either way.

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Happy Holidays and Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule

timecapsule1

Myles here (I felt like I should introduce myself, but I’m the blog’s only writer, so that seems unnecessary, but this is an unusually personal post and I thought it deserved a more formal introduction…the formality of which was erased by this spiel. Blerg).

First of all, I want to wish everyone a happy holiday season – the past year has seen a large expansion of readers to the blog, and I hope that all of you are surrounded by family, friends, and a couple of high quality television boxsets or a fully stocked DVR this holiday season. After last night’s review of the season finale of Skins, my television viewing schedule is entirely clear: as a result, although I’m sure you’d love to hear my thoughts on the Jess/Dean debate as I unapologetically revisit the third season of Gilmore Girls, Cultural Learnings is officially on hiatus until after the holiday season.

But, I also want to announce how it is I plan on revisiting the past year in television, my first full year as a “critic” of sorts. The Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule is a project where I ask myself a question: if I had to pick episodes of the shows which aired during 2008 in order to inform future generations of the year in television, what episodes would they be?

This has already created numerous conundrums. How do I choose which episode of Mad Men’s second season to include? Do I cop out and include the entire box set of The Wire to avoid picking a single episode (“We’re going to need a bigger capsule.”) Do I dare soil the capsule with an episode from the hideously awful third season of Heroes, even if it could serve as a warning for future TV viewers of what not to watch? Will all other shows wilt in comparison to the charm of Pushing Daisies, or will it and The Middleman form some sort of awesome television alliance that will fulfill Darwin’s theory of evolution and muscle out all the other shows by the time the capsule is pulled from the back of my closet?

I have a lot of soul-searching to do this holiday season, and know that the task will not be taken lightly. I also hope, however, that it will not be taken alone: I would absolutely love to know your own thoughts on which series and episodes should be represented in the time capsule. The thing’s imaginary, so space is not an issue, so I’m willing to even expand outside of the shows I watch in order to represent the voice of the people (that’s you!). And seriously, if you can help me pick an episode of Mad Men to include, I would be eternally grateful.

So leave a comment on this post, or send me an email at cultural.learnings at gmail dot com – depending on whether my Christmas spirit is all used up by the time the New Year rolls around (which is quite unlikely), there might even be a chance for a prize draw from those who contribute a suggestion. So, please, let me know what you’d want future generations to take from TV in 2008 – the good, the bad, or the ugly.

In the meantime, though, enjoy your holidays and I look forward to seeing you (and an abnormally busy/awesome Winter season premiere slate) in the New Year!

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Twitter-reviewed: Survivor, Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty and Brothers & Sisters

greystitle

Once I get this enormously far behind with some of the week’s shows, writing blog posts isn’t really possible – I’d have loved to have dedicated a half hour to ranting about the one-dimesional Grey’s Anatomy, but if I did I wouldn’t have had time to see the tribes finally merge on Survivor.

So, I did what any self-respecting and laptop-owning soul would do: I sat with my laptop, caught up on four shows from this past week, and Tweeted my thoughts. The end result was perhaps an over-explosion of tweets for my poor followers (Sorry! I’ll spread it out more next time), but it’s also some bite-sized thoughts on these episodes.

So, if you’re wondering why I’m not covering some shows, following me on Twitter might just be a great way to continue to have a discourse on them here at Cultural Learnings!

Grey’s Anatomy

Started watching Grey’s, and Alias flashbacks had me pausing it and digging into some media studies essays instead.

Onto ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Melissa George? Decent. Mary McDonnell? A bit one-dimensional. Ghost Denny? Le sigh.

‘Grey’s’: A week after dumping Hahn, introducing two new characters that only have one speed is not going to help the controversy.

‘Grey’s’: I think the Izzie/Denny storyline would have taken a more interesting turn if she had burned down the clinic to erase his memory.

[I didn’t tweet it, but seriously: Ghost Denny is physically real? Ugh.]

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Cultural Hiatus

My Faithful Readership,

So, as you may have noticed, I have yet to blog any of Monday’s plentiful options that I usually review at Cultural Learnings. The scarier thing, even, is that I haven’t even watched any of them, as I spent the entirety of last evening on the first of many major projects/events of the next week.

As a result, I’m taking a brief hiatus: not from watching TV, I’ll get to most of last night’s lineup today as a break from a busy morning, but from blogging about it. I should be back for Mad Men next Sunday, as I don’t want to get behind on the show, but in the meantime no full fledge reviews. However, you won’t be entirely devoid of my (attempts at) witty commentary.

To continue following my viewing habits, you can follow my Twitter feed. For those who don’t know, Twitter is a social networking service where, if you join, you can choose to “follow” various individuals ranging from nobodies like me to TV Critics, politicians, celebrities, and everything inbetween. They can also follow you, and this begins this really intriguing subsection of conversation, opinion, and internet society.

It’s a great way for me, this week, to keep reacting to the television I’m watching in 140 characters as opposed to 1400 words, something that happens a bit too often for the sake of my productivity levels elsewhere. As an example of my recent use of Twitter to discuss my weekend-long excursion into Gilmore Girls Season One (Where I literally had to hold myself back from bringing the rest of the seasons back to school with me):

Nothing can help me stop my GG marathon than a fresh helping of Daniel-written townie-hijinx filled mayhem. Oh, Daniel.

So, happy TV watching everyone, and if you really want to know what I was thinking about TV at 2am, Twitter is the place to be!

Myles

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