To Review Early Or Not, in Theater and Film

To Review Early Or Not, in Theater and Film (photo)

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In theater, the show must go on. But the previews typically stop at some point. For “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” — a.k.a. “Spider-Man: The Musical,” a.k.a. “Spider-Man: In Retrospect, Maybe We Should Have Used Safety Nets” — that point has come and gone at least three times already. A December 21 opening became a January 11 opening became a February 7 opening became a March 15 opening. Producers claim this will be final opening date. Uh huh. People used to claim bloodletting was a cure for pneumonia, too.

Speaking of bloodletting, many theater critics decided enough was enough with the delays and published their “Spider-Man” reviews last night in conjunction with the most recent missed opening. This, in turn, prompted public frustration from the show’s producing team. Associated Press quotes Rick Miramontez, a Spider-(spokes)Man saying:

“This pile-on by the critics is a huge disappointment… changes are still being made and any review that runs before the show is frozen is totally invalid.”

Invalidating negative reviews is like a publicists super-power. Miramontez is referring to the fact that during preview performances, Broadway shows are still considered works in progress; director Julie Taymor and composers Bono and The Edge are still tinkering with “Spider-Man”‘s book and music and testing its complicated aerial effects. So if you saw “Spider-Man” on December 20 it could look very different than it will on March 15 — and not just because someone almost fell to their death that night. As a result, it’s customary in the world of theater criticism to review a show during its final previews and then publish on the day of opening. In this case, though, several critics — including The New York Times‘ Ben Brantley and New York‘s Scott Brown — decided to publish early. Here was Brantley’s stated rationale:

“I would like to acknowledge here that ‘Spider-Man’ doesn’t officially open until March 15; at least that’s the last date I heard. But since this show was looking as if it might settle into being an unending work in progress — with Ms. Taymor playing Michelangelo to her notion of a Sistine Chapel on Broadway — my editors and I decided I might as well check out ‘Spider-Man’ around Monday, the night it was supposed to have opened before its latest postponement.”

We already established the producers’ argument: we’re still working on this show, it’s unfair to judge it yet. But as critics have correctly pointed out, it may also be unfair to charge customers full price for an unfinished work. Plus, the producers have a clear financial incentive to stay in previews for as long as humanly possible. As “Spider-Man” continued one the longest preview periods in Broadway history, people continued to pay up to $275 a ticket to watch the Actors’ Equity Demolition Derby. A few weeks ago, “Spider-Man” was the highest grossing show in New York. More previews means putting off the inevitable reviews (and the inevitably bad reviews) which means more uninformed theatergoers and more money. Plus, for a show this plagued with problems, a preview — with its promise of technical snafus and flubs — is almost more enticing than a real performance. If something goes wrong, you get to say you were there when it did.

Theater critics’ tradition of reviewing a show on its official opening makes a certain amount of sense from a historical perspective. But it also makes little to no sense in a time when social media has given every potential “Spider-Man” audience member a voice with which to critique the show. As old media sat on their hands, regular theatergoers stole their thunder. And, hey “Spider-Man” producers broke with tradition, too. After all, it’s not traditional to spend four months on Broadway in previews.

The folks who made “Spider-Man” might be pissed off, but the reality of the theater world is reviews do matter, in a way they rarely do in film anymore. A good theater review in The New York Times can still make or break a musical in a way that a good film review in The New York Times can’t in 99% of circumstances. So it’s hard to imagine Ben Brantley being “punished” for publishing an early review. Broadway still needs its critics.

Film doesn’t. These days film publicists routinely give critics “embargo” dates, which a writer breaks at their own peril. Publishing early can get you kicked off press invite lists and cost you your access to talent for interviews. Some press screening invitations now come with warnings not to post any comments, no matter how informal, on Facebook or Twitter as well. It’s hard not to derive a “you-need-us-way-more-than-we-need-you” sort of message from all of that. And it’s probably true, too.

Given the fact that the “Spider-Man” producers are just “upset” and not “furious over a broken embargo,” I’m going to assume Brantley and the rest paid for their “Turn off the Dark” tickets like any other curious New Yorker. In which case, tradition be damned. You pay your money, you’re entitled to an opinion, and if you have an outlet for that opening, more power to you. Despite the bad reviews, the show will go on. Break a leg, guys.

Wait, on second though, don’t. Be extremely, extremely careful.


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.