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]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.