The Golden Age Of TV Criticism

by Chas Danner

Matt Zoller Seitz heralds it:

I’ve been a film critic for over twenty years, and a film and TV critic simultaneously for fifteen. I have never seen anything as innovative and thrilling as what a lot of my TV critic colleagues have been doing since the mid-aughts. The flowering of modes and styles and the willingness to experiment is always engaging and sometimes amazing.  … If TV is, as I’ve argued, an adolescent medium — not in terms of artistry, but timeline development, meaning it’s only been given carte blanche to be daring for maybe fifteen years — TV criticism is an even younger phase of its development.

He goes on the highlight numerous examples of present-day critics he admires:

When you read The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman, Time’s James Poniewozik, Grantland’s Andy Greenwald, NPR’s Linda HolmesUSA Today‘s Robert BiancoEric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times (soon to be NPR’s first TV critic), and the AV Club’s Donna Bowman and Todd VanDerWerff, you always get the sense that the writers aren’t just doing consumer guide work. They grind axes, float theories, tilt at windmills. And they all do it in their own distinctively personal way.

But these are all variations of what we traditionally think of as Serious Criticism, whether or not the writers crack jokes. Look beyond this mode and you get a sense of TV criticism’s variety. The landscape is as dazzling and sometimes confounding as any young ecosystem’s. The dedicated TV-watcher surveys it as Darwin might. How did that strange creature come into existence? What’s the point of the plumage? Why five legs instead of four?

It’s customary to decry much TV writing, recaps especially, as plot summary plus snark; I’ve done it myself. But as television criticism has evolved, this catch-all insult has started to seem as lazy and out-of-touch as cinephiles writing off the whole of television as an idiot box.

I wholeheartedly agree. What I love about the current TV criticism scene is that it feels like I’m never just watching a show by myself, but in the midst of a large community of thoughtful, trusted people who I can consult at the end of every episode. When those credits roll, I instinctively want to know what my favorite critics thought or noticed that I maybe hadn’t, and that process of review and analysis enriches my experience as a viewer immensely. Also, in this era of Netflix binge-watching, sometimes it’s nice to be able to slow down the pace of consumption a bit, to stop and savor rather than become a plot-obsessed insomniac.