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Why TV criticism is winning out over film criticism.

Why TV criticism is winning out over film criticism. (photo)

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In a typically scintillating cross-talk on the changing culture of serious television, the AV Club‘s Noel Murray tosses out a real money quote:

Over the past few weeks, a number of our film-critic pals have been bickering over which acclaimed new movie is “overrated,” and whether the profession is dying because they didn’t get an advance screening of Killers, and whether watching movies on an iPod is a crime against art, and whether the reviews (not the movie, mind you, the reviews) of Sex And The City 2 are misogynistic. Not only are most of these debates depressingly insular, they’re old. We’ve been having these same boring conversations for years now, with fewer and fewer participants.

With TV, on the other hand, “because we’re usually talking with people who are already watching, we get to kick around symbolism, character development, and real-world connections to what’s on the screen, rather than just writing about whether the show is worth a damn.”


06222010_consumer.jpgLately, even academic institutions feel the need to make distinctions between “film reviewers” (consumer-reports types who issue evaluations of quality) and “film critics” (who toil to explicate subtext, context and other concerns). It’s clear that a field created by trial-and-error as much as anything has broken down to the point where film critics are expected to go plow their specialized terrain elsewhere and film reviewers are for The People.

So why does the general level of literacy and engagement in TV criticism tend to be higher, on average, than in film? Some of the reasons are already teased out by Murray and Tobias in that discussion. Event viewing is back with a vengeance, so people either commit to a show and want to talk about it a lot or they’re just not watching. They’re not going to get all up in arms and call someone an idiot for disagreeing about the professed objective quality of a product. They’re already committed; everything else is a reasonable disagreement and part of the discussion.

Another factor: TV has technically been with us since the ’30s, but it really only started taking off in the ’50s. The possibilities of extended narrative weren’t broached til the ’80s; relatively speaking, the medium’s in its infancy. Film’s landscape is more splintered than ever. The simplest dividing line for viewers may be how important a strong narrative is, and if it’s necessary at all. It’s almost impossible to imagine a consensus between arthouse denizens and anyone who celebrates a future of endless “Transformers” installments and high-concept Eddie Murphy vehicles.

06222010_ebert.jpgTV series are the kind of the things that (by the very nature of the time commitment and so-far-limited avenues for narrative experimentation) pretty much everyone still watching after, say, the fifth episode can agree on. The “merit” of the work is pretty much the last thing on anyone’s mind by then, that question having been dispensed with long ago. And that enables actual criticism. It’s the very confining nature of what you can do with TV (so far, anyway) that allows for reasonable and interesting discussions to happen.

The problem with a lot of contemporary film writing isn’t that it’s fixated on the stale (mainly because if you can’t engage readers with specifics about movies you might as well go for the same talking points that everyone else is mulling over); it’s that it’s trying to perform the impossible task of placating a fictional audience’s taste and writing something interpretive. TV criticism can run free and wild. And, for the moment, that’s an unsolvable problem.

[Photos: TV Guide regional 1949 prototype, TV Guide; Consumer Reports, Consumers Union, 2007; “At The Movies,” Tribune Entertainment, 1982-90]


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.