Episodes: Friday mailbag (Nov. 17)

Hello, America! It's time for a Friday mailbag, which I'm going to begin with some rapid-fire answers to questions from Twitter!

You know my feelings on this: People never have the right to complain about spoilers.

Okay, okay, okay: I know that's unreasonable of me. But I do feel like spoilerphobes have to grant slightly more leeway to those who might spoil them with every day since something is released. If I spoil you on the big twists in The Last Jedi before you even have a chance to see it (assuming it has big twists), you can rightly call me an asshole. That probably goes for the first few days after release, too. But if I spoil you, and it was completely unintentionally, and the movie has been out a month, I think you have to cut me a little slack, right?

This goes times 17,000 for a book that was published 83 years ago and has been adapted many, many times before. Probably you shouldn't go out of your way to spoil it, but if you end up accidentally spoiled, well, that's a tough break but probably hard to combat entirely. It's one of the most famous solutions to a mystery in all of fiction!

Hello, Alissa! There is one bad Christmas movie. It is Love the Coopers.

I hope this doesn't happen, because the growing wave of media consolidation is Bad News. In particular, I would hate to see FX in the hands of some other media conglomerate entirely, and 21st Century Fox itself should remain an independent studio, if only because we don't need one less entity out there that might make medium-to-big budget movies for adults. (Fox is one of the studios most likely to take a flyer on something like Murder on the Orient Express -- not a great movie, or even a good one, but definitely something you wouldn't see Disney try.)

That said, if FX somehow ended up at Comcast, I would be intrigued to see how they handled the way that the increasingly dead-on Universal Cable Productions and FX Productions nestled alongside each other. Both are among the most consistent producers of good TV out there, and it would be fascinating to see if, say, John Landgraf would just take the whole operation over or something.

But, again, I hope none of this happens. It's a bad idea.

Now for some questions from email!

David asks:

A year and a half ago, you made some predictions with regards to what the next “The Show” will be. Now, how do you think you did in terms of predicting? Any new contenders?


I talked about this on Twitter earlier this week, too, in ways that seemed to thoroughly baffle everyone, so let me expound briefly. What I mean by "the show" is the series that drives the most discussion on TV, the show that everybody has to be caught up with, the show that dominates media coverage and online comment sections. There can really be only one at a given time, though there are always a few runners-up, jockeying for position.

The Show right now, obviously, is Game of Thrones, and if you look at the link above, you'll see it was still The Show back when I wrote that, too. Amazon has clearly spent big bucks on Lord of the Rings in hopes of landing its own version of The Show, but I am enormously skeptical of this, because The Show almost always comes out of nowhere and looks very little like the previous big series.

The obvious contender that's launched since I wrote that piece is Stranger Things. But what worries me about Stranger Things is that I don't have a big sense that it can surprise us in the way The Show needs to. I liked season two a lot; not once did it do something I would call "surprising." If it can cross that hurdle in season four, sure, it will probably attain The Show status (at least as long as the kids remain cute). But you can already sense that the discussion around season two wasn't at the level of the discussion around season one (and the traffic stats I have access to bear this out). That's rarely a great sign. And all of the structural hurdles a Netflix show has to overcome to become The Show (as outlined in the link above) are still present.

Obviously, my prediction of Mr. Robot turned out to be dead wrong (though that show has seen a nice little uptick in discussion in recent weeks). I also didn't bring up Westworld in that email, which could maybe become The Show but will have to overcome a lot of different barriers toward doing so. (Let's see how season two is, is always the consideration when predicting The Show.) I could see The Handmaid's Tale pulling it off, but it's another "season two dependent" sort of series. This Is Us already feels like it's fading, but I could be wrong about that.

And, really, as I think about the hurdles all of these shows have to overcome, there's one big one staring me in the face: we're all obsessed with politics and the news in a way we just haven't been at any point in the prestige TV era. It's hard to really care about what's going to happen next on Westworld when what's going to happen next in our world feels so much more pressing. Maybe The Show is whatever happens with the Mueller investigation, sad as that is to say.

Walker asks:

Who'd win in a fight: Hank Hill or Bob Belcher? Mind you, this fight is taking place in rural Kansas to give neither a home-field advantage, and they both are allowed a single weapon to assist combat: a grill-spatula. In addition, their respective sons are present to cheer them on to provide further challenge. Winner is decided by who is knocked out first.


My answer: Hank. I don't think Bob has that killer instinct.

Libby's answer: Neither. Both would be so embarrassed by something their son did to cheer them on that they would slink away and have a beer together.

Amanda asks:

What do your television-watching habits look like on a day-to-day basis? For example: what criteria do you use to decide what to watch and when, what do you do during the show to prep for whatever coverage you're planning, is there anything you watch explicitly for pleasure—as opposed to work—and do you do anything differently when you're watching just for "fun," how much TV do you actually watch !?!, etc)? How have these habits changed (if at all) since transitioning from The AV Club to Vox?

This is an interesting question, and one I get asked a lot, because the answer always varies. Ever since I started writing TV criticism full time, my assorted bosses have been trying to find me ways to watch more TV, to clear out space so I can consume more stuff, and I always feel like I'm watching far too little of it, something that especially becomes true once movies enter the equation as well. I feel like I watch less TV now than I was at my AV Club height, but I'm sure the numbers are roughly similar; there's just so much MORE TV now.

But in general, I almost always have something on, whether it's a screener I need to check out, or a show to catch up on, or a movie I want to watch. What throws people, I think, is that unless it's something I'm actively watching for review, or something I'm actively trying to follow week to week, I often work while I'm watching stuff. I love, for instance, Black-ish, but I also know its rhythms well enough now that I can be writing while I have the latest episode on.

And that goes double for shows I only keep up with to keep up with the zeitgeist, like This Is Us. (Sorry to pick on This Is Us so much in this newsletter.) So if I'm generally watching stuff while working, then I watch around 40 hours a week, at a minimum.

But! I do have shows that I watch "just" for fun, which are usually the shows I save to watch with my wife. (Right now, leading the list are Superstore and The Good Place, though we also tend to watch You're the Worst and whatever prestige drama we're into at the moment together.) And there are a bunch of shows that I either don't tend to write about, or that Caroline writes about, which are shows I love that I like to think a little bit less about. Right now, that would include Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Nathan For You, both shows I devour greedily, then don't really want to have to force myself to say anything about.

Which is to say I watch a lot of television, and I never feel like I'm watching enough.

Preston asks:

If you were asked to teach a college class that was a survey course in American television, what would your course look like? What shows or episodes would you assign? Any possible reading or writing assignments jump out to you?


The truth is, I've never really thought about this! I never took any courses in TV in college, and I took the only two film courses my school offered, and they weren't exactly high-level courses either. Since I mostly learned what I know from reading obscure blogs, talking to people in the industry, and arguing in comments sections, it would be very, very hard for me to come up with some sort of reading list.

But let's assume that I'm going to do a 12-week course called Intro to Television. Here's what it would probably look like.

Week 1: How TV works, and how that influenced its production. (Starting with the technical, then proceeding to how the realities of TV sets have influenced the ways TV shows are made throughout history.)
Week 2: Introduction to episodic TV. (Analyzing how "the episode" works, probably with random choices from throughout TV history.)
Week 3: The birth of the sitcom and the birth of scripted TV. (I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Phil Silvers Show, Leave It to Beaver. Probably a discussion of Amos and Andy in class, where we can grapple with its problematic nature in a safer environment.)
Week 4: The Golden Age of Television. (All the live dramas I can get my hands on.)
Week 5: The 1960s. (A really interesting decade that we, alas, have to collapse into one week. We'll definitely touch on Dick Van Dyke, The Twilight Zone, Bewitched, and several oddball dramas.)
Week 6: The 1970s sitcom and the second golden age of television. (All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, etc., etc., etc.)
Week 7: The birth of serialized primetime drama. (We step back and pick up The Fugitive, then talk about '70s dramas with very loose continuing elements, before concluding the week with primetime soaps and Hill Street Blues.)
Week 8: The 1980s. (Another interesting decade we're collapsing into one week. Sorry, interesting decade.)
Week 9: Modern TV comedy. (Everything from The Simpsons to Better Things.)
Week 10: Modern TV drama. (Everything from Twin Peaks to Handmaid's Tale.)
Week 11: Other forms of TV. (Especially reality.)
Week 12: Other countries' TV systems. (Especially the UK.)

If I had a 13th week, it would be given over to YouTube. So now you know!

Libby, who signed her missive "Wife," asks:

What are you making for Thanksgiving this year? Is there anything you're particularly excited by?


This year's menu! Includes!

--My famous apple cider brined turkey, which is the only way to make turkey.
--Gravy!
--Creamy mashed potatoes.
--My wife's mother's stuffing. (For it is unacceptable for me to prepare other stuffings, I have learned.)
--A cranberry apple salad.
--A leafy green salad with pomegranates.
--Probably some other sort of veggie, maybe green beans with lemony sauce.
--Rolls.
--Pumpkin pie
--Apple pie

'Twill be the height of decadence, and if you are in the LA area, let me know. I will mail you some leftovers.

That's all! See you next week, when I hope to keep this streak going!

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Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. (I almost never do.) It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox