January 4, 2012 · 5:48 pm
Trench Warfare: Kurt Sutter vs. Critics, Round Infinity
January 4th, 2012
As a vocal critic of the third season of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, I was apprehensive going into its fourth season, and found myself more or less pleased with how the season went down. By dialing down the number of storylines, and focusing more exclusively on the inner-workings of SAMCRO (with additional storylines intersecting with the club dynamic quite successfully), the strong performances rose to the surface and the “plot mechanics” largely proved quite effective even if I would agree that the finale was a major step back in that department, ending up too cute for a show that purports to being so dark. Ultimately, while it didn’t make my “Top 20” at The A.V. Club, it probably would have made a Top 25, which is more than it would have managed last year.
I didn’t have time to write about the show this fall, and I wouldn’t say I was particularly disappointed by this at the time: while the show was better than last season, it was better in ways that were not particularly surprising, and which other critics reviewing the show week-to-week were capturing well in their own reviews. Similarly, while I did have my issues with some of the plot developments, people like Alan Sepinwall, Maureen Ryan, and Zack Handlen were effectively covering the ground I would have covered, nicely capturing what proved to be a solid (if flawed) season of television that cemented the show’s future as a solid (if flawed) staple of the basic cable landscape.
However, when the season ended amidst a flurry of dismissive comments from creator Kurt Sutter regarding the critical reception of the season, I changed my mind. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to pick a fight with Sutter, who rang in 2011 by insulting me over Twitter, but rather that it felt wrong to be sitting on the sidelines while Sutter waged trench warfare on hardworking critics who were being criticized for doing their jobs (and doing them well). While I remain convinced that Sutter has a point regarding the limitations of weekly criticism with a serialized show, to suggest (despite his best efforts to suggest otherwise) that these limitations are a function of individual critics as opposed to the form made me wish that I had reviewed the series if only so I could stand alongside my fellow critics in support of critical analysis that reflects a personal, subjective approach to television.
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January 2, 2012 · 1:10 pm
NBC’s Community and Parks and Recreation
Aired: January to December
I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to write about television for a wider audience at The A.V. Club, no moreso than with my weekly reviews of The Office. However, as the show’s eighth season has signaled a decided shift in the show’s critical and cultural position, I’ve had a number of people effectively express pity for my position, forced to review a show that is pretty comfortably past its prime (but with just enough life left in it to remind us of the show it used to be).
And yet I’ve never felt it to be a pitiable job: sure, it’s nice when you have a show that you really like to cover in a situation like this one, but the show’s decline has been fun to deconstruct, and creating a dialogue with both devotees and spurned viewers has been a valuable insight how that decline is being received. While I might not love The Office, I love the process of writing about it, even though I can fully understand why others don’t feel the same way (which is why the number of critics reviewing the show has dropped off this season).
However, I will say that there is one thing I resent about covering The Office, which is that it means I don’t have time to review Parks and Recreation and Community, the two shows which precede it within NBC’s Thursday night lineup (or, rather, preceded it, given that Community is being benched for at least a few months). While other critics have been able to adjust their priorities, dropping The Office while continuing to cover the two shows that arguably merit greater attention, I’ve spent my Thursday evenings watching The Office, writing about The Office, and then using Parks and Community as a chance to unwind without a laptop in front of me.
It’s a different way of viewing than I was used to, and it seems as though it has affected my opinion of the two shows differently. While I actually feel as though my appreciation for Community has dipped slightly as a result of this viewing pattern, my general sentiments about the series less than they might have been a year ago, something about the comparative simplicity of Parks and Recreation has really suited this more casual form of viewing.
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January 1, 2012 · 12:44 pm
Aired: June to September
When, as a critic, you stop writing about a number of shows, there is always the risk that your opinion will begin to lean towards the critical consensus, especially if that critical consensus is as effusive as the praise surrounding Louis C.K.’s second season of Louie on FX. Similarly, in circumstances where you fall behind on a particular show and begin to soak in all of this praise, it’s tough to view the episodes piling up on your DVR with fresh eyes.
Louie had a very strong second season, but something about the way I watched it kept me from considering it the best television of the year – this isn’t to say that The A.V. Club (and various other sites/critics) placing it as the #1 show of the year was “wrong” by any measure, but I will say that I did not come close to putting it in that position (and, if we’re being honest, probably placed it higher than my initial instinct due to the indirect influence of other critics). Perhaps it was that I felt my experience with the show was unduly influenced by the critical culture surrounding the series, or that my DVR catchup method somehow changed the series’ impact (with its episodic segments mashed together as opposed to being parceled out), but Louie didn’t jump out to me as the best show of the year (nor did it necessarily jump out at me as a comedy, but we’ll save that genre conversation for another day).
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December 31, 2011 · 12:26 pm
Aired: January to March
With Shameless starting its second season next weekend, and with my parents recently gaining access to an expansive OnDemand archive featuring the series, I’ve taken the past week or so to introduce them to the “deranged” – my mother’s word –Gallagher family.
It’s not often that I rewatch dramatic series in this fashion, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I managed it. I didn’t write about Shameless more than a handful of times when the first season aired earlier this year, but rewatching the show has made me wish I had, both because I find myself really enjoying the show (more than my review of the finale would suggest) and because I think writing about it would have helped me confront my frustration with one half of the series.
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December 31, 2011 · 11:10 am
Looking back on 2011, I think it will be clearly marked as the year in which I no longer came to associate with the term “blogger.”
Now, to be clear, I do not mean to suggest that I have done so due to this term being derogatory: bloggers are good people, and serve as an important voice within the world of people who write about television (and, of course, numerous other subjects). However, more simply, I don’t think I updated Cultural Learnings enough in 2011 to justify laying claim to the title (given, for example, that this is my first post in well over a month).
The dropoff in posts has come out of necessity, primarily – the time I would spend blogging has been swallowed by increased responsibilities related to the “real life” side of my existence, which has left the “online life” side of things to occasional Twitter observations and my more “professional” work at The A.V. Club. On some level, my semester became a choice between continuing to watch television and writing about it, a devil’s gambit that led to a lack of content here on the blog and a surplus of content on my DVR.
I will admit, though, that I’m not entirely convinced I missed it. As Twitter becomes a more prominent form of discourse within the world of television criticism, and as my teaching responsibilities became more connected to the television I watch (and the meanings we draw from it), I haven’t felt as though I’ve said nothing about the things I’ve watched. However, I realize that on some level I’m going from over-explaining my thoughts about particular shows (like, for example, Community) to largely letting occasional 140-character observations represent my general opinion. I’m sure a psychiatrist would consider this a breakthrough given my penchant for verbosity, but it does create a vacuum of sorts for regular readers (especially those of you who might not use Twitter, who may think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth a bit).
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October 22, 2011 · 11:17 am
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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Filed under Cultural Learnings
Tagged as 2 Broke Girls, 2011, Analysis, Comedy, Drama, Fall, Grimm, Hart of Dixie, Last Man Standing, Once Upon a Time, Pan Am, Person of Interest, Revenge, Suburgatory, Terra Nova, TV
July 14, 2011 · 11:02 am
Stories of the 2011 Emmy Nominations
July 14th, 2011
My favorite thing about Emmy nomination morning is the sense of hope.
It lingers in the air before the 5:35am PT announcement – last night, as both coasts drifted off to sleep, people on Twitter were posting lists of contenders that they were crossing their fingers for, still believing that shows like Fringe or Community had a shot of breaking into their respective categories. This is not a slight on either show, or on their fans who choose to believe. As always, some part of me wishes that I didn’t know enough about the Emmy nomination process to logic away any chance of sentimental favorites garnering a nomination.
My least favorite thing about Emmy nomination morning is the moment the bubble bursts. When the nominations are actually announced, it’s this constant rollercoaster: one nominees brings excitement while another brings disappointment. The bubble hasn’t burst yet, at that point, as there are often enough shifts in momentum that no one emotion wins out, leaving us struggling to figure out just how we feel.
The moment it bursts is when you open the PDF and see all the nominations laid out before you, and when the math starts adding up. Twitter has quickened this process: you don’t need to wait until critics and reporters break down the nominations, as everyone is tweeting the sobering details by the time 8:45am rolls around. Excitement in one area turns to disappointment in another, with one favorite’s surprise nomination becoming deflated when you realize that other favorites were entirely shut out.
As always, I was one of those people sorting through the list of nominations, and the bubble did burst at a certain point. It was the point when I remembered that surprise nominees are often unlikely to be surprise winners, and that for every category with a surprising amount of freshness there’s another that reeks of complacency and laziness. These are not new narratives, of course, but they’re narratives that overpower any sense of hope that could possibly remain after a morning of sobering reality, and that temper any enthusiasm that might nonetheless remain.
Although we cannot say that there is no enthusiasm to be found. While there are no real dominant narratives at this year’s Emmys, I do want to focus on a number of stories that I consider important based on the nominations, some of which involve excitement and others which involve that defeatist Emmy spirit we cynics hold so dear. One deals with how a network fights to remain relevant after giving up its Emmy bait, while another deals with the failings of an oft-derided set of categories. The others, meanwhile, look at the difference between being nominated and being competitive, as well as why it might be that an entire set of categories can’t help but feel like a disappointment.
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Filed under Emmy Awards
Tagged as 2011, Analysis, Cat Deeley, Comedy, Downtown Abbey, Drama, Emmy Nominations, Emmys, FX, Game of Thrones, Glee, HBO, Justified, Miniseries, Modern Family, Movie, Nominations, Parks and Recreation, Showtime, So You Think You Can Dance, Television, TV
July 12, 2011 · 12:50 pm
5 Stories to Watch in the 2011 Emmy Nominations
July 12th, 2011
After numerous failed attempts at writing about why I was struggling to write about the Emmy Awards, which will go down as a meta fail of epic proportions, I’ve decided just to write about the Emmy Awards now that we’re only two days away from the nominations.
These are the five stories that I’m most interested in heading into the awards, the situations that have the most potential to surprise, infuriate, or otherwise stir emotion within my person. They are not predictions so much as they are a forecast, one that I sort of hope will get to my ambivalence towards this year’s awards in the process (although that might send me back into the spiral that I’ve found myself in for the past few weeks all over again).
1. Playing the Game of Thrones
While I think that Game of Thrones is worthy of Emmy consideration, I don’t know if I’m actively rooting for it over other competitors: while it has some strong acting contenders, and will definitely compete in the craft categories, I think there is tough competition in the drama field in terms of both acting and in terms of series.
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Tagged as 2011, Analysis, Community, DirecTV, Downton Abbey, Emmy Nominations, Emmys, Forecast, Friday Night Lights, FX, Game of Thrones, Glee, HBO, Hot in Cleveland, Justified, Main Title Design, Mildred Pierce, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Television, TV
February 13, 2011 · 11:41 pm
The Muddled Memory-Making of the 2011 Grammys
February 13th, 2011
Tonight, the Grammy Awards opened with an extended retrospective. As a collection of contemporary female vocalists paid tribute to the music of Aretha Franklin, it established that this was a night to reflect on Grammy history. It was a narrative picked up by Miranda Lambert’s performance of “The House That Built Me” later in the show, which she dedicated to those performers who came before (and who appeared on the screens behind her in a nostalgia-tinged multimedia component), and cemented with a “rare performance” from Barbra Streisand and Mick Jagger’s first ever Grammy performance.
However, earlier in the show, Lady Gaga took to the stage to perform her brand new single, “Born this Way.” Although one could claim that this too is a bit of history, given that the song borrows liberally from Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” the song premiered only last week. In another performance, a trio of young performers (Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae, and B.O.B.) were introduced by Ryan Seacrest as being the next generation of Grammy legends, albeit in a performance which had a definite tinge of nostalgia given Bruno Mars’ black-and-white, Jackson Five throwback performance of “Grenade.”
It’s no secret that the Grammys have long ago stopped being an “awards show,” having transitioned into a concert event so blatantly that everyone noticed (if you’ll forgive me the inversion of a classic Simpsons line). However, during tonight’s show (and especially given the few hours I spent half watching the non-televised portion of the awards online), I realized the degree to which this shift has seemingly been designed to disguise the fact that the Grammys, more than any other awards show, utterly fails at capturing the last year in its respective medium.
And how, despite some unquestionable success at making the show “memorable,” it sort of confounds the notion of memory altogether.
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Filed under Award Shows
Tagged as 2011, Album of the Year, Analysis, Arcade Fire, Barbra Streisand, Canada, Cee-Lo Green, Entertainment, Grammy Awards, Grammys, Lady Gaga, Mavis Staples, Memory, Music, Neil Young, Performances, Review, Television, TV
January 17, 2011 · 1:58 am
Normally, watching the Golden Globes is a fairly solitary experience for me.
Sure, my parents or a few floormates would often be in the room as I liveblogged, livetweeted, or took notes during previous years, but the focus was on putting together short-form snark and long-form analysis of the night’s events. It was just me and the internet, as I awaited the (relative) flood of page views which come with writing about any event of this notoriety.
This year was somewhat different – I attended a lovely Golden Globes viewing party held at some colleagues’ home here in Madison, where the collective snark of my Twitter feed was replaced by the collective snark of a bunch of media studies grad students. We enjoyed some fine food, some fine wine, and I took advantage of being the only obsessive follower of award season prognosticators in order to win the prediction pool. While I have much love for the online community which has formed around this blog, and around my work in general, I will admit that there was something nice about being (largely) disconnected from the online snark in favor of a more interpersonal form of social interaction (which is perhaps fitting considering The Social Network’s dominance of the evening’s proceedings).
However, as a result, I didn’t quite have the time to prepare the lengthy analysis I might normally have written, and which I normally write much of during the show to facilitate its completion. Instead, I put together a more concise and focused piece on the evening’s reflection of ongoing questions surrounding the Golden Globes’ legitimacy over at Antenna. It’s a question that I’ve had on my mind for a while now, and something I wrote about at length for a term paper on the Emmy Awards last semester, but some of Ricky Gervais’ jokes at the expense of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association offered a nice entry into how precisely an awards show that nominates The Tourist, Burlesque and Piper Perabo can hold any sort of legitimacy within the industry.
The Gilded Globes: Legitimacy Amidst Controversy [Antenna]
Every year, the Golden Globes give us a large collection of reasons to dismiss them entirely. The Tourist and Burlesque are perhaps the two most prominent examples on the film side this year, and Piper Perabo’s Lead Actress in a Drama Series nomination for USA Network’s Covert Affairs offers a similar bit of lunacy on the television side. While these may lead us to dismiss the awards as a sort of farcical celebration of celebrity excess, the fact remains that the Golden Globes hold considerable power within the industry.
However, since the piece features very little of my opinion surrounding the night’s winners and this is likely why you’re here, some brief thoughts on Gervais and the awards themselves after the jump.
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Filed under Award Shows
Tagged as /Film, 2011, Analysis, Awards, Boardwalk Empire, Brad Falchuk, Chris Colfer, Glee, Golden Globes, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Katey Sagal, Piper Perabo, Review, Ricky Gervais, Sons of Anarchy, Television, The Social Network, TV