December 5, 2012
Book Club: "The Revolution Was Televised"
Whether people are talking about Homeland or Son of Anarchy or Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Justified everyone has their favorite shows and are not afraid to discuss them on Twitter. People are especially not afraid to talk about former great shows on Twitter, especially The Wire*. It's hard not to read people's tweets or a Bill Simmons column and wonder what the hell they are talking about when they're talking about "Avon" and "Stringer". And if you don't get these references you feel left out like those days in high school when someone would show off their new clothes or shoes or even a new car. You felt like you weren't cool. Twitter also has that affect and it affected me in regards to television.
*The Wire is one show that probably could have been bigger than what is was if Twitter existed then.
Here's the truth. I was either in Junior High or High School when shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and The Shield debuted. The Sopranos debuted when I was still in the sixth grade to give you a sense of how old that show is. And let's just say I wasn't watching creative, deep television shows during those days. I watched what a lot of people watched in those days, Law & Order, CSI*, and all of their spin-offs**.
*The only "adult" show I did watch during those formative high school years was "Deadwood" but only because my dad loved that show.
**I did get to watch the finals seasons of both The Sopranos and The Shield because I was a Freshman in college by then and ready to move on from CSI: Miami.
Through Twitter though I began to watch those shows one at a time. I started with The Shield because it's the fasting moving show. Then onto The Sopranos because my uncle was also watching The Sopranos for the first time via DVD's so we could talk about what we saw. Then I finally moved on to The Wire last because everyone told me it was the best show, it definitely was, but that it moves slow and that you have to be patient with that show. You could say in a way I succumbed to peer pressure. I wanted to be one of the cool kids who could talk about "Avon and Stringer" or "Pine Barrens". And you know what, I don't regret it at all that succumbed to the pressure. My life is better for it.
I bring this up because Alan Sepinwall of Hitfix.com and previously of the Newark Star-Ledgar has written and self published a book on those shows and many more in "The Revolution was Televised". For those of you not aware of Sepinwall's work, I would describe him as one of the most down to earth critics or writers around*. He doesn't drone on with his reviews of each episode and turn the review into one giant philosophical question or a history lesson like The New Yorker does with their book reviews. Don't get me wrong I like reviews that seem like a history or philosophy lessons, but sometimes it's nice to read a review that gives me the meat and potatoes without thinking. So I enjoy Sepinwall's reviews and I enjoyed his book "The Revolution was Televised".
*This footnote is part tribute to the footnotes in Sepinwall's reviews but also to say the entire staff at Hitfix seems down-to-earth and very cool people to hang with.
Sepinwall takes us on a history lesson about why shows "Oz", "The Sopranos", "The Wire", "Deadwood", "The Shield", "Lost", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "24", "Battlestar Galactica", "Friday Night Lights", "Mad Men", and "Breaking Bad" were so important in television the past 15 years in breaking down walls in creativity, how we watched television, and how networks like "AMC" and "FX" suddenly became important to our lives.
Sprinkled in with these history lessons are little tidbits like John C. Reilly (Yes this John C. Reilly) was one of the choices to play Jimmy McNulty in The Wire. Sorry but I have a hard time seeing John C. Reilly pulling off this scene from The Wire like Dominic West did. It's little factoids like that make Sepinwall's book so enjoyable.
What also makes Sepinwall's books so enjoyably is his arguments that he makes about why the shows he choose are important but not necessarily great. All of his arguments are well reasoned and make you think twice about a show like 24.
Sepinwall's arguments about The Sopranos especially made me think. In recent years you'll be hard pressed to find someone who says "The Wire is a much better show than The Sopranos". And it's hard to argue against that. Sepinwall's point in his book was that The Sopranos had something for everyone (mob life, therapy, family drama, heads being ran over by SUV's) and that created the problem with The Sopranos for so many people. When you're something for everyone, eventually you're going to disappoint everyone. And that disappointment lead people to believe The Wire was better than The Sopranos. The Wire probably was the better show, but we shouldn't take for granted what The Sopranos was able to accomplish and why it was important.
That is also what makes Sepinwall's book so great. He's not breaking down a top 10 list but instead creating arguments why these shows are important.
It's arguments like that what ultimately proved to be the most entertaining facet of "The Revolution was Televised". If you enjoy television or one of the shows in the book then I suggest immediately buying this book. And if you haven't seen some or any of those shows (I've never watched "Lost", "Buffy", or "Battlestar Galactica") Sepinwall creates the argument why you should at least give them a chance. Succumb to peer pressure and become a cool kid and read this book.