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Why we need better television criticism.

Why we need better television criticism. (photo)

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For the last decade, a lot of people became convinced that television, not cinema, is the future of filmed narrative. Over at N+1, Richard Beck takes a look at the landscape as it stands now, identifying a key moment in intellectual acceptance of TV — Joyce Carol Oates geeking out in 1985 over “Hill Street Blues,” which she noted as “one of the few television programs watched by a fair percentage of my Princeton colleagues.” As Beck points out, we live in a brave new world. Academia cares more about “The Wire” than probably anyone, and we can’t stop hearing about how TV is the future.

Which raises a problem. Television may have entered its maturity, but TV criticism has not. The most ad hoc of the critical arts, it’s probably the most overwhelming as well. Music critics have a lot to sort through and digest, but at least they have specialties, buzz and like-minded colleagues to confer with. TV, though, is an onslaught: anything and everything can be reviewed.

The amount of copy you can produce is directly proportional to how much you watch (more than any other critics, TV writers are also frequently required to act as amateur sociologists, even to the extent of that being their primary responsibility). And with all that going on, how in the world can you have historical perspective? Keeping up with the present is hard enough. The conscientious film writer — with only a 2,000 film canon to really master — is relatively easy off.

05202010_prisoner.jpgAs magisterial as Beck’s overview is, he still doesn’t go back past the ’80s. The implication is that everything on TV before the narrative serial is pre-history — which ignores, for starters, “The Prisoner,” an unspeakably influential benchmark in the development of weirdness on TV, or the way racial discourse took a nap between “All In The Family” and “The Wire.” And these are just rudimentary ABC’s — digging further back and finding secret influences and forgotten landmarks needs to be done systematically as well.

More to the point: we’re entering a time when TV criticism will be just as prevalent (or, alternately, just as endangered) as film criticism, and we have very few writers capable of taking the long gaze. (The AV Club‘s Noel Murray does heroic work, but he can’t do all the lifting himself.)

TV writers are still largely untested. What we’re going to need are a crop of writers who at least have seen the major shows of decades past and understand how they run into each other. If TV is indeed the new cinema, we need the writers to go with it.

[Photos: “Hill Street Blues,” 1981-87, NBC; “The Prisoner,” A&E Home Video, 1967-68]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.