Monday, October 10, 2005

Joint entry from Ava and C.I. on the TV reviews

This is a joint entry with Ava and myself (C.I.). I noted this morning that The Third Estate Sunday Review was up and Marcus had e-mailed with a questions about that. I attempted to reply and time was limited plus I thought Ava might want to come in on this.

Ava: Marcus e-mailed to ask "if the next time that happens" meaning that posts won't display at The Third Estate Sunday Review, "could you please post the TV review here?" meaning at The Common Ills. The answer to that is no. The reason for that being it is a popular feature at The Third Estate Sunday Review.

C.I.: Readers of that site expect it to be there when they visit. On the day when their newest edition goes up (Sundays), I won't post the TV review up here because everyone needs to be going there.

Ava: That's our opinion. And one reason for that is, as noted all the time by Jim, the TV reviews are big with readers. There are times, honestly, when C.I. and I are in no mood to write a TV review. We don't know if we can be funny, we're tired, we're not sure what to write. There are shows that we watch for these reviews and think, "What was the point?" of the show. How are we going to write about that? Then we start the review and from one detail, on the strongest reviews, a larger theme of the show or our reaction to it will emerge. That doesn't always happen.

C.I.: On not posting new ones here, I'll add that is our opinion. Jim feels it should go up somewhere if it won't show up at The Third Estate Sunday Review. Ava and I disagree and since we write the TV review, we'll have the last word on it.

Ava: Marcus also wanted to know if it's true that we hate our TV reviews? Yes, it is. We don't finish it and think, "Wow! Wasn't that great." We finish it and are just glad to be done with it. We're usually thinking about things we wanted to put in but that didn't end up fitting into the review. We know they're read and are popular with a lot of people. So we can say, "Maybe they are as funny and whatever the way e-mails indicate." But to us, they aren't.

C.I.: We're thinking of the work that went into it. Take Prison Break. If I'm remembering right, we lost that review?

Ava: Right.

C.I.: We were actually pleased with that one. Then the entire post was lost in posting and we had no copy of it. We had to rewrite it. We'd been up all night and were tired and kept falling asleep when we were writing it. We'd nod off and then jerk back awake. That's become one of the more popular ones so some people see something in it but to us, it's just reminding us that we didn't get any sleep, that our eyes were watering and that we just wanted to finish thing, get it posted and get as far away from computers and TV as possible.

Ava: Marcus asks if we don't reread them and laugh? No. We don't reread them. We reread the Colin Powell one due to the fact that ABC cleaned up the quote. That's really about it for the most part. I think we both reread the one on the Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey special just because we kept getting e-mails from members like Billie urging us to read that because it was funny. But that's it. We don't sit around rereading them or quoting them to each other.

C.I.: If I repost, it's like a mirror, I'm trying to avoid looking at in as many ways as possible. I'll work on the spacing because in a repost, the lines will all run together and I'll have to put in spacing. That's it. I'm not reading it though.

Ava: Marcus wondered if we might review other news shows since we've done Datline, 20/20 and Peter Jennings, Reporter. The honest truth is, we don't plan too far ahead of time. If a friend asks us to review a show, we'll try to do that as soon as possible. Sometimes, they make work on the show. If they do, we'll note that we have friends who work on that show in the review. With Threshold, we didn't know anyone that worked on the show and we made a point to note that. We've got friends, working for shows, that are asking for reviews this week. Four shows. We're not sure which one will review. During the week, there's often very little time. If we're lucky, by Friday night, we've watched a show, which may mean more than one episode, and read over any material that we've been sent by friends. Which is why, when Alessandra Stanley was taken to task for using the term "redneck" (I think that was the term), I asked C.I. to note here that Jason Lee's show used that term in materials we were sent. We took a pass on reviewing it. We hope it will get funnier and we may have been too close to too many on that show because we watched and agreed we didn't want to rip apart. We may take another look at it in the future when it's stronger.

C.I.: With Earl, we just didn't see the point. We don't mince words in our reviews and very few people have been upset about that. No one's ever said, "I can't believe you wrote that! You're supposed to be a friend!" Everyone, or the feedback they've given us, has made a point to note that they laughed. They might feel their area got too much attention, negative attention, but there's been no review that's resulted from anyone being angry with us.

Ava: Though we're teased about one review breaking up a marriage. We don't think it did. We were asked to do that review and watching the show, we saw why. The marriage was tanking already and if you read that review, we question the state of the marriage in the review. Marcus also notes that ER's tanking and that the Charlie Sheen show that was supposed to be the big hit for CBS this year isn't making it into the top ten and wondered how we felt about that?

C.I.: I don't think we feel, "Oh we're so smart." First of all, just because it's not noted in a paper or magazine doesn't mean our observations aren't being made already. They just haven't left the industry talk yet to become for publication talk. We don't claim to have any influence with our reviews. If we did, Joey wouldn't have come back this year. Marcus also guesses correctly on one "clue" we put into a review and we'll note that since he guessed correctly. We do put in little clues or private jokes from time to time. Sometimes we're needling someone who's a friend, sometimes we're just trying to get a laugh. But there is more than the literal reading of it. The clue may seem like it's a wrong word but it's not. The clue Marcus found is one that Ty kept wanting to fix because he will fix our typos. But we said no, we meant to spell the word that way. And the person that sentence is about knew why we wrote it the way we did.

Ava: Not every reader enjoys the reviews and that's fine. But there's one reader who insists upon reading each week and then e-mailing to complain at length every week. I twice wrote him back to tell him I appreciated his opinion but, since he knows he's not going to agree, he should just skip the reviews because they're not going to be to his liking. He continues to read them and continues to do lengthy rebuttals.

C.I.: His biggest beef with the reviews is that we focus too much on "strong women" when he feels women should be playing wives who don't do much in the episode. We're never going to agree with him on that.

Ava: Marcus loves the body wash operettes reviews. The OC is his favorite of the three. He really wants us to reread that one but we're done with them when they go up. He notes Jim talking about the pressure and wonders if we do feel pressured to be funny? Yes, we do.

C.I.: There are other popular features and Dona's news review is very popular. But the TV reviews are seen as a staple, by readers, of each edition. There are times when we don't feel like we have anything to say and it is stressful knowing that we've got to pull together a review even though we're not in the mood.

Ava: Or don't feel like we have a show worth reviewing. Which usually means it's a bland show. A really good show or a really bad show can write their own review. But when it's bland, we have to struggle. And there are a lot of really bad shows. Marcus wondered if we liked TV. C.I. loves TV but hates the last few seasons. I'm more netural on it and both of us wouldn't be watching at all if we weren't doing the TV reviews.

C.I.: Marcus wonders how many we've written, how many reviews, and we have no idea. We don't read them and we don't count them. We just know that at some point on the weekend, we'll have to write another one. As to how we ended up doing them, Jim's talked about that.

Ava: Right. In numerous places. We have similar tastes and thoughts and with the first reviews, they were a group effort the way every piece is. But then they decided to just let us take a whack each week. That's the short story.

C.I.: Marcus asks if there's any reviewers we enjoy? We both like Alessandra Stanely's reviews though we don't always read her. I'm usually sick of the Times before the art's section each morning and Ava doesn't read the paper.

Ava: If Christine highlights one of Stanley's reviews, we'll usually read it.

C.I.: And Christine's another reviewer we enjoy. Christine at Pop Politics. We have no use for Ken Tucker or the other little boys who get excited when a woman's half-dressed or holding a gun but otherwise doesn't have much to say.

Ava: And to deal with the EW critics, of past, we have a huge problem with their pursuit of what's popular. Ellen's a good example of that. They spent the first half of the fall season praising Ellen. Then after Chastity Bono's "too gay" comment, they did a reversal.

C.I.: That's something we will disagree on. We'll disagree that after you praise a show for half a season, you don't act like, "It's not funny and I've said that all along." Otherwise, we don't get too worked up about the opinion in the review for the most part. We read a review more for the writing.

Ava: Marcus asks if we're being genuine about not caring for our TV reviews and we are. I'll usually ask my father to read it and to get back to me on whether it made him laugh or not. And C.I. will ask Folding Star to read it.

C.I.: I'll usually e-mail Folding Star on Sundays and say that Ava and I have no idea if it even makes sense and, if there's time, could FS please read over it and just let me know if it sucks or if it works. We'll both usually have already heard, "It's funny! It's great!" but we go to two people we know will say that it sucks if it sucks.

Ava: There have been a huge amount of e-mails to this site about the TV reviews and every week they come in at The Third Estate Sunday Review so we were trying to figure out where to address it so that people didn't feel ignored. We didn't want to do it at The Third Estate Sunday Review because we felt that we'd have to be funny and amusing. We were thinking about doing it for the gina & krista round-robin but then we started thinking about addressing it here. We started that one night and then scrapped it.

C.I.: For several reasons including the topic bores us. Kat's someone who could talk about this, or Betty. Kat labors over her music reviews and Betty labors over her chapters at her site. They're weighing every word. We're just trying to get done. But Marcus made a point in his e-mail that's one we make.

Ava: Which is that popular culture does tell a narrative and that it's worth paying attention to in order to know what message is being sent out. We critique the message. My father thinks we did that most successfully in the Law & Order: Trial By Jury review. We think that too many reviewers turn in reports, chase fads and write in a sterile manner.

C.I.: Because the boundaries are more firm now. The music reviewer that could review other things as well doesn't really exist, not powerful ones. Instead, you get, for instance, a writer who some call a groupie who used to write strongly about a number of topics but primarily music and now she does really bad book reviews. When that woman started out, the boundaries were less clear. But it's also true that there's not a lot of impacting going on to the degree that there used to be when music impacted movies and TV and books and each impacted the others as well. Everything is in its own little box today. Maybe that's due to the pop culture revolution and everyone wanting to have areas of "expertise." But the result is sterile writing and obvious choices. On the latter, obvious choices, I'm not talking about reviewers here, I'm talking about the canon that's emerged where this gets noted or that gets noted. It shows little thought and less awareness of what's going on. To give an example, a profile on Joan Didion in the Times Sunday dismissed Play It As It Lays. I'm not a huge fan of the movie but it's no secret that the movie's had a continual revival and is being re-evaluated. To base, as the writer did, it on "critical reaction" which was only critical reaction from one period, when the film came out, demonstrated that the writer knew very little of what she was writing about despite the "I know so much tone."

Ava: And she also left out A Star Is Born.

C.I.: For which Didion and Dunne made a huge amount money. Carly Simon & James Taylor in a rock musical version of A Star Is Born was the idea behind it. I don't remember which said it to the other but that's what led to the script and it is their most famous credit. The film was a hit and when Up Close In Personal went into Disney redraft hell, what emerged was a rewrite of A Star Is Born. So to write of Didion's screenwriting career and not mention A Star Is Born is surprising.

Ava: Which brings us back to the sterile writing and the issue of a canon and other topics. We're not working from the same lists that a Ken Tucker is. So we hope that clears up some questions and thanks to Marcus as well as everyone else who's written in. Hopefully, we covered everything. The e-mail address for this site is