Breaking The Mold On TV Criticism

My friend Ryan has a great post up challenging the accepted wisdom that individual episode recaps ought to be the dominant form of television criticism, and calling for other changes in the way critics conceive of themselves and their obligations to readers. I’m particularly sympathetic to this part of the essay:

Fuck objectivity when it comes to criticism. Seriously. There’s a difference in being able to look at a piece of television objectively and writing about it as such. Instead of hiding personal biases, opinions, and history, these should be part of the critical process. In order to differentiate yourself from other critics, readers should be able to feel that whatever they read from you comes from a place of truth. Whether or not they agree with your assessment is largely irrelevant, and out of your control. But the authenticity of the piece is something you can absolutely control. Owning up to one’s shortcomings is just another way of providing context to the review. Above all, people should be able to identify a piece by you with the byline removed. By letting yourself into the piece, you’re giving yourself a voice online. Trying to be “objective” will only make you sound like everyone else. And who wants that?

Obviously I’m totally biased here, as someone who spends a lot of her time arguing that the politics of culture deserve pride of place alongside aesthetics. But I also think critics have an obligation not simply to disclose what their preferences are, but to engage in a vigorous debate about what constitutes quality. When The Sopranos debuted, an experiment in making viewers relate to and invest in a repulsive criminal who was also a family man was an intriguing experiment. Now, anti-heroes are a dime a dozen and the simple act of going dark doesn’t get you originality points. Similarly, something like Breaking Bad may be part of the anti-hero canon, but it feels like it’s raised the bar for cinematography on television: the way it uses light and color make me look at everything else differently. These norms shift over time. Getting a gay hairdresser in a movie might have been revolutionary in 1985. But it doesn’t cut the mustard now if you want credit for inclusion. We should be laying down a lot of markers, all the time.