Tag Archives: Introduction

The Cultural Catchup Project: Catching up with…Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Catching up with…Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

April 9th, 2010

Into each generation a television show is introduced.

One show in all of television, a chosen one.

One created with the strength and skill to spawn fandom, to spread their gospel and increase their numbers.

This show, of course, is Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the winner (along with Angel, which I plan to watch “chronologically” along with Buffy when the time comes) of the Reader’s Choice poll to decide which show would be featured first in Cultural Learnings’ Cultural Catchup Project (which will start in earnest tomorrow).

This is not a surprising result, of course: as Alan Sepinwall pointed out to me, placing a sci-fi/fantasy show in an internet poll against shows from other genres isn’t exactly a fair fight, so I knew going in that Buffy (along with Angel) was probably going to take this one. And if I’m being honest with you, this result is both tremendously exciting and sort of terrifying as we set out on this journey together.

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Television, the Aughts & I – Introduction

Introduction

December 13th, 2009

Ten years ago, I did not watch television.

That’s a terrifying thought for someone who now lives and breathes the medium, spending a great deal of time and energy to criticize television in my spare time for little to no monetary gain, but it’s true. To be entirely fair, this isn’t entirely uncommon (the fundamental life change, not the insanity that is my devotion to television criticism): a lot can change in a decade, especially when that decade represents over forty percent of your existence. But there is some sort of fascinating narrative of self-actualization in how I went from the occasional episode of Friends and a teenage love of The Simpsons to watching anything and everything that the end of this decade has to offer.

I’ve been grappling with how, precisely, I was going to offer my own perspective on the television decade that was, primarily because the above fact puts me at a distinct disadvantage. I did not start watching television obsessively or critically (if we can pinpoint the moment we start forming opinions, which seems a bit slippery) until 2004, which means that there are some shows that I simply have not watched, and more importantly half of the decade where I had a limited view of the industry and how it was operating. Now, all critics have their gaps (there are, after all, some critics who haven’t seen The Wire or who never watched Battlestar Galactica), but my gaps aren’t gaps at all since there’s nothing on one side – I came to this decade late, and as a result understanding its .

However, reading Emily Nussbaum’s seminal rumination on the decade that was and its transformation of television from idiot box to cultural discourse, I realized how much my own experience with television in this decade is actually reflective of, well, television in this decade. The story of how I became the television viewer I am today is not that fundamentally different than how the cultural perception of television became what it is today, a relationship that has less to do with me (I am but a simple man) and more to do with the quality, diversity, and industry changes that defined this industry over the past ten years.

And since I’m not comfortable enough defining the best television of the decade (outside of serving as a peanut gallery on TV on the Internet) when I’ve yet to see The Sopranos, or The Shield, or The Office UK, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Angel, or Breaking Bad, or all of Deadwood, or all of Big Love, etc., I’ve decided to take an autobiographical journey through the decade in search of those shows which changed my television viewing habits and helped define a decade of television in the process. And while it may seem strange to define the decade through my own experiences, one of the things I’ve learned at Cultural Learnings is that everyone and no one is unique when it comes to television: we may all have different stories about how we came to be fans or appreciators of television, but we all have stories, and I can only hope sharing my own will inspire some of you to offer your own tales of television addiction (or, should you be so moderate, television interest) in the various posts that will follow (and you’ll be prompted to do so) in order to shed light on experiences beyond my own.

I’ll be posting six “essays” (if that’s what we choose to call them) over the next six days, and in the process I will specifically highlight a number of shows which defined my televisual experience over the past ten years. However, there are a few things you need to know about this collection of shows:

  1. Some shows included would not make an attempt at an actual “Top 10” or perhaps even “Top 20” list of best shows of the decade, while others most certainly would.
  2. The most common reason a hit show you really like didn’t make the list? I haven’t watched it.
  3. Other common reasons? That it wasn’t “important” enough to my television experience (like Freaks and Geeks, which I came to only very recently), or was so similar to another show on the list that including both would have been redundant. Or, it’s entirely possible I just didn’t like it.
  4. Yes, I plan on watching all of the shows I haven’t watched named above (in fact, the DVDs for many of them are on the shelf above my desk right now).
  5. In terms of spoilers, I don’t plan on going into anything too specific, but I do discuss the end of a few series so if you’re really paranoid just check the Post Tags to see if there’s a show you’re actively avoiding.

And so, with those details out of the way, the lineup:

Part One: “Beginnings”

Part Two: “Coming of Age”

Part Three: “Getting some (Critical) Perspective”

Part Four: “Reality Doesn’t Bite”

Part Five: “Late to the Comedy”

Part Six: “Reinventing How We See the Wheel”

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The 2009 Emmy Awards: The Problem with Predicting the Popular

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The Problem with Predicting the Popular

July 12th, 2009

There are a lot of reasons why my Emmy coverage has been less extensive than previous years leading up to this year’s nominations on Thursday. I’ve been a bit busier with academic work, there’s been a bit more Summer TV to cover, and various other time restraints, first and foremost. But more importantly, the Emmy Nominations process has changed this year to a process that is considerably more difficult to analyze.

This isn’t to say that I won’t be making predictions over the next three days, or that I haven’t been thinking out various scenarios without putting them into blog post form. Rather, because the nominations being based on entirely the popular vote, the predictions being made are without much objective analysis. Before, when panels viewed submitted material in order to make their decisions, we could judge the episodes chosen compared to one another, and decided which one was objectively better, or objectively more suited to Emmy voters. This time around, however, there are no submissions: whatever six shows, or six actors, get the most votes are the ones who will be nominated for Emmys.

The result is that we prognosticators of Emmy have become fortune tellers, attempts to read tea leaves in an effort to decide what the Emmy voters think is popular or deserving of attention. Will last year’s nominees be safe? Will a larger number of veteran performers make it in? Will network series benefit from their wider viewing audience, or will cable series benefit from more targeted advertising campaigns? These are all questions that we can’t really answer in an objective fashion, which leaves us to attempt to think like Emmy voters.

And, well, that’s not easy.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule: An Introduction

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Faced with the task of memorializing 2008 as a year in television, there have been two major trends: either accepting the challenges facing the industry in 2008 and focusing on the positives which emerged, or eviscerating the industry for falling out of its golden age and squandering its potential.

I don’t envy people who truly have to do this job for a living: in a year of failed pilots and declining ratings, it must be tough to sum it all up from a critical perspective without the same kind of freedom that this blog affords me. The Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule is an attempt to elide the year as a whole altogether: yes, it is tied together by some vague idea of recognizing that which was memorable in television, but I have no obligation to step outside my own station in doing so.

But I can’t pretend that writing this feature didn’t make me think about the broader implications of the industry, or that I didn’t read numerous other year-end features that influenced me to some degree in the process. This has been, even if we ignore the qualifications of good and bad, an interesting year for the medium of television, and I can totally see how some would begin to view the year as somewhat of a disappointment.

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