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Questions of Taste: Dissecting the Dissection of Early Reviews of HBO’s Game of Thrones

Questions of Taste: Dissecting the Dissection of Early Reviews

April 9th, 2011

We are entering the period in which HBO’s Game of Thrones will be placed under the critical microscope – while a few early reviews (my own included, I guess) were overwhelmingly positive, it was inevitable that some less-than-positive reviews would filter in.

And thus begins the dance of deconstruction, as the reviewers interrogate the text and the fans interrogate the reviewers. It’s common practice in online criticism, although normally centered around films from beloved directors/studios or with considerable fan hype; by the time most television shows build up a substantial fanbase in later seasons, pre-air reviews are not particularly common, and are not nearly as contentious. At that point, the show has already been established, so a negative review is unlikely to make any real impact on a show’s success.

However, Game of Thrones‘ built-in fanbase has created a scenario not unlike the Rottenwatch trend within film, as each review is dissected and analyzed in order to explain – or, rather, explain away – the writer’s disappointment. Now, I have to be honest when I say that I generally find this practice problematic, especially since many of the people who are leading the charge have not actually seen the episodes in question (although I take their point that some of the reviewers make it seem as though they haven’t seen them either). While I think there is value in analyzing reviews of a particular program, and would certainly agree with some of the criticisms that fans have had for the reviewers in question, I find myself uncomfortable with some of the dismissal strategies being used in the process.

And, admittedly, I’m also uncomfortable that it’s only happening with the negative reviews.

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I Come to Praise Sepinwall, Not to Bury Him: Reflections on “What’s Alan Watching?”

In the world of television criticism, tomorrow is a pretty important milestone: Alan Sepinwall, television critic for the Star-Ledger and NJ.com, is becoming Television Critic for HitFix.com.

I don’t want to make this sound like some sort of eulogy: Alan’s writing isn’t going to change with this transition, and if anything his new job prioritizes the kind of writing that has made Alan so influential within the critical community. However, as someone whose work is unquestionably inspired by Alan’s and who has been lucky enough to become part of that critical community over the past few years, I want to take a moment to contextualize what “What’s Alan Watching” has helped facilitate.

While in his “transition” post Alan highlights some of the big moments on his blog (like his involvement in the “Save Chuck” campaign or his post-Sopranos finale interview with David Chase), the largest impact “What’s Alan Watching?” has had in my experience is the empowerment of the masses – his work bridges the gap between how we think about television and how professionals write about television, and used the potential of internet communities to form a space where the cultural value of television is more clear than perhaps any other space on the internet.

And I think now seems like a good time to recognize this.

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