I used to love watching TV. That is becoming less and less true. And the only thing I loved more than watching television was reading television criticism.
So it should come as no surprise that as my sense of obligation to television is waning (more on that next week) my reading about television continues to grow.
Todd VanDerWerff of the AV Club is by far my favorite TV writer (his recaps of “Parenthood” have an arch sensibility that is nearly impossible to describe without reading them, so just do yourself a favor and luxuriate in his hilarious take on the annoying, but lovable Bravermans), and it was largely thanks to his thoroughly engrossing takes on shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and a ton of others that I became inspired to try my hand at TV criticism during my summer of underemployment in 2010.
While reviewing HBO’s slate of shows, much to my surprise, I learned that I fucking hated writing reviews of television shows. Part of this had to do with not getting screeners and having to write about these shows as they aired (which was usually Sunday night, just an absolute black hole of creativity for me mostly), but the other (larger) part of this contempt came from the sense of obligation about it. I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy the shows anymore, I was now parsing them carefully each week, looking for meaning, contributions to overall narrative arc, relative quality versus the rest of the season and similar shows, and about a zillion other things that I normally found enjoyable in writing, but laborious when forced to tackle a particular subject.
When I got to the first episode of the first season of “Game of Thrones,” I sat in front of this suitably epic, densely packed, incredibly complex interweaving narrative involving approximately 9,000 characters knowing I had neither the skill nor particularly the inclination to review it properly, and instead of grimly and half-heartedly pressing forward for what ultimately amounted to less than $100 a month, I gave up.
I see basically everything I do to the end, so I don’t take quitting lightly. Quitting this endeavor filled me with not one single moment of regret, and only relief washed over me. Knowing I didn’t have to write about “Game of Thrones” nor a documentary about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (seriously) nor the dreadful “Hung,” I breathed deeply and simply started enjoying television again.
Shortly after I quit writing these, several people with whom I am friends on Facebook, but do not see in real life, bumped into me and told me how much they enjoyed my reviews. I found this amazing, and sort of stupefying, considering out of approximately 50 reviews posted, I had received maybe 9 comments and “Likes” total. Furthermore, compared to the reviews I read on the shows I covered from the likes of Todd VanDerWerff and Alan Sepinwall, I thought my reviews ate hog. This review of a Ricky Gervais stand-up special was the only standout, in my opinion.
So I just let the TV wash over me again. I was always happy to engage with people about why I loved certain shows or why reality TV is largely ass, but I didn’t have to manufacture an editorial about it week after week. And not having to do that made me appreciate those who do even more. I majored in media criticism and wrote a master’s thesis about punk rock. I love media criticism, but sometimes you just want to be a fan.
What’s strangest about this is not only am I a fan of the shows themselves, I’m frequently a bigger fan of the criticism of those shows.
I’ve never watched a full episode of “Mad Men” and don’t care to, but I read about it constantly. In a brilliant stroke of irony, my very favorite piece of television analysis this year was about the very show that served as the catalyst for abandonment of my paying television analysis gig. I’m fascinated by “Duck Dynasty” as a cultural force but have no intention ever to sit down and watch it.
What I am coming to realize is that my interest in television is becoming less and less practical, and more and more theoretical. I don’t so much enjoy the act of watching television anymore as much as I enjoy the idea of watching television and what that says about you, me, or Us.
Yes, I realize how strange this sounds. Yes, I’m ending this article here.
And yes, there will be further explanation next week. Just like a good TV show.