If You Like TV, Read This Book

Illustration for article titled If You Like TV, Read This Book

It's remarkable, the variety of great TV shows we've gotten to watch over the last ten years. From The Wire to Friday Night Lights to Deadwood to The Sopranos, I've found that I've grown far more invested and interested in television stories than I am in movies.


It's not much of a stretch to say that the last decade or so has been a bona fide television revolution. And one guy has been in the thick of it the entire time: Television critic Alan Sepinwall.

I've been reading Sepinwall's blog, "What's Alan Watching?" for years, from back when he was still at New Jersey's Star-Ledger and writing in his free time at a regular ol' Blogger blog. Nowadays he's full-time at HitFix, and is a recommended first-stop the morning after each of the shows he's covering airs.

He's been covering TVs mega-shows for years now; his takes on Lost, Friday Night Lights, and The Sopranos were constant companions while those shows were on the air, and his analyses of The Wire are peerless. He's a consistent, thoughtful critic who regularly surprises me with his insights, and even when I don't agree with him, I find value in his writing.

So it makes sense that his new book, The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever would be good. And it is. I've been reading it over the past week, and it's like reading a polished, comprehensive version of his blog. (I mean that in the best possible way.)

Sepinwall puts forth the argument that, more or less starting in the late 90s, television has grown dramatically more sophisticated. Each chapter of the book focuses on a different show that bears that theory out, from Oz to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In addition to recapping the full run of each series, he speaks with the writers and showrunners that made it all happen. The book is overflowing with behind-the-scenes wisdom, unlikely origin stories and fun bits of trivia. It also accomplished the unlikely feat of making me want to finally watch Oz, the only show in the book that I haven't seen.


As a side note, I personally enjoy an anecdote Sepinwall shares in the book's foreward, where he talks about how people react to his job differently now than they would when he first started out. "I'm a television critic," he'd say, back when the best thing on was ER or NYPD Blue. People would respond with mild bemusement, or mention how easy his job must be. Now, years later, they react differently: They take him aside and ask him about Friday Night Lights, or want to talk to him about The Wire.

I feel similarly at parties when I tell people I write about video games for a living. Even a few years ago, I'd get a smile and a crack about how easy my job must be. But nowadays, it's just as likely that people perk up and start asking questions about games they've played, or think are interesting. We can only hope that video games are starting to hit the same sort of cultural turning-point TV did in the early 2000s, and that in ten years' time we'll be talking about where we were when our own revolution started. Given some of the stuff we've seen in the last couple years, it wouldn't surprise me.


Anyhow, it's a good book. Fun to read, and a good last-minute Christmas gift, if you're in the market.

Hope everyone's set to have a fun holiday. Feel free to discuss anything you like, here or over in the Talk Amongst Yourselves forum. Have good chatting, and a good weekend.



While there are plenty of good television shows, I find that they are almost all exclusive to HBO, AMC and similar channels. Channels that can afford to produce serious dramas and don't need to put up with prime time slots and 24 episode seasons and a set cast.

For every good show we've had in the last ten years, there's probably 20 shows that were awful. When you look at it that way, television still isn't that great.