What's Alan Watching
February 14, 2011 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Alan Sepinwall changed the nature of television criticism

Sepinwall started in college, writing recaps of NYPD Blue. From there, her spent 14 years as a TV reviewer for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, and an active blogger on blogspot. In 2010 he left the Star-Ledger and joined hitfix.com, essentially continuing his blog.

Whatever the medium, Sepinwall is best know for mixing detailed episode recaps with smart, witty observations and deconstructions. His preference is for dense, hour-long dramas such as Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad and Freaks and Geeks, and his treatment of all five seasons of The Wire is not to be missed (season one, two, three, four, five). But he also puts half-hour comedies under the microscope, finding great depth in the The Office, How I Met Your Mother and Scrubs, among others.

And one can not mention Sepinwall without mentioning Chuck, a show that faced cancellation until Sepinwall took up the cause and started a fan-based "Save the Show" campaign -- a campaigned credited by Ben Silvermann with, in fact, saving the show.

Sepinwall is quick to point out he didn't really invent this style of TV criticism, and is instead following in the footsteps of Usenet recaps like Tim Lynch's Star Trek reviews. He also cites the well know Television Without Pity as one of his favorites, a clear influence. But the depth and breadth of his output is unparalleled, and he stands as "an inspiration to TV critics throughout the country."
posted by FfejL (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I wish he hadn't saved Chuck. The show that came back wasn't worth it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:30 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

This style of TV criticism seems to be an evolution as much as anything, accelerated and popularized thanks to the internet.
posted by ZeusHumms at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rather than tell you what to watch, Sepinwall, Murray, and Time's James Poniewozik, among many others, validate your interest in the shows you're already watching.

That's totally fine with me. I came across his reviews of The Wire while I was watching it, and I realized that I prefer the model of critic as dialog partner (or, more accurately, starter), because I mostly rely on the testimony of friends to decide what media I actually want to bother with in the first place. Once I've done that, the other type of criticism does very little to satisfy my thirst for auxiliary materials related to whatever it is I'm watching or reading or listening to.
posted by invitapriore at 4:40 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love and trust Alan Sepinwall. He is my #1 TV reviewer, hands down. I almost always check his reviews after I see an episode, and we tend to agree, and he's the one who got me started on more than one good show I missed (Chuck, Deadwood, The Wire)...
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:45 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

That one line sounded an awful lot like an obit. Whew!
posted by maudlin at 4:48 PM on February 14, 2011

Yes, he is awesome. But no mention of LOST or The Sopranos or Mad Men? his recaps of all three of those shows have super strong community followings on his blogs, in addition to being very, very good.
posted by milestogo at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sepinwall was one of the first critics to write about television as if he weren't addressing a crowd of gibbering morons. Sometimes, this approach is justified.

After The Wire went off, I went through a period of not watching much TV, and so stopped reading TWOP. Seeing it mentioned and feeling nostalgic, I just clicked on the link above. What the hell happened?
posted by steambadger at 5:08 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here is the correct link for "quick to point out", I think
posted by milestogo at 5:10 PM on February 14, 2011

Steambadger: they had a long period of adding page-view-boosting content (the lists), and then they got bought out by Bravo TV.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:11 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

My favorite tv critic.
posted by box at 5:30 PM on February 14, 2011

The TWOP link is borked.
posted by Babblesort at 5:58 PM on February 14, 2011

The Firewall and Iceberg podcast is excellent and I highly recommend it. I listen to it dutifully even though I care about hardly anything on television.
posted by Kwine at 6:14 PM on February 14, 2011

His NYPD Blue site is the first tv show fansite I was really impressed by. I mentioned it in one of my first blog posts.

Because I was an NYPD latecomer, I found his show recaps really useful in understanding some of the backstory issues. I remember bookmarking the site and reading it as I watched the show. (On a laptop tethered to a 50 foot ethernet cable so I could have internet on the couch).

I can't really remember any other fansites for tv shows from that era that made near the same kind of impression. The other fansites I remember were about music and lyrics.
posted by artlung at 6:14 PM on February 14, 2011

Just read the Wire stuff. Thanks for posting this, altho the five books waiting on my night table to be read hate you.
posted by nevercalm at 7:07 PM on February 14, 2011

OK, as a devoted follower of (first) TWOP, and (now) the Onion's TV Club, I don't know how I never heard of Alan Sepinwall until now, but I was going to get stuff done (video games), and now I'm not.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:35 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, this review style is exactly why I started watching Parks and Recreation again, despite the sucky first season. Thus, instead of getting anything real done this weekend (taxes, porn masturbation), I watched the entirety of Parks & Rec season 2 on Netflix.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:40 PM on February 14, 2011

Man, I loved it when I discovered those Tim Lynch TNG reviews. I don't recall consciously assigning an author to them, they were just the great reviews that were on usenet. Totally inspiring.
posted by mwhybark at 9:14 PM on February 14, 2011

I have been reading Sepinwall for years, and it's completely true that I am typically a more voracious reader for posts about shows that I adore with reckless abandon (e.g., Veronica Mars, Terriers, The Wire, The Sopranos). I've fallen away a bit since Sepinwall's move to Hitfix, but only because the interface is clunkier than his old blog and I get internet-frustrated way too easily. Now that I've mostly gotten over Hitfix's interface, I'm also starting to really enjoying reading about shows like The Office and 30 Rock, which are both shows that I used to really look forward to watching, but now I watch out of habit. Alan frequently seems to feel the same way, and I often feel like I don't know why I've been avoiding an Office or 30 Rock episode on my DVR until after I've read his posts. This is all just to say that I'm really happy to see him in such a great post on the blue. I will watch shows I have never heard of based on his recommendation, and even when he loves something I can't get behind (I'm really lukewarm on Boardwalk Empire [it's pretty...sure, but I feel like I'm only watching to see what happens in the end and not because I enjoy watching], Mad Men [ditto], and Community), I still love reading his posts for those shows.

With regard to Josh Levin's article, I don't think I can agree that having a restaurant-critic model of television criticism is valuable. Good television shows (unlike good meals) are intended to build on previous installments. Great seasons of television (like The Wire) are much more akin to extended novels or films than any restaurant experience I can think of, so it has always seemed crazy to me that Emmy judges only watch a small subset of any given show in any given year (they don't even watch a whole season, much less the whole show! I suppose everyone knows this, but it still blows my mind. But damn if I don't watch the Emmys hopefully every year anyway). We don't have award shows for The Year's Best Chapters 5 Through 8, so calling Sepinwall's brand of criticism an extension of fanboi-dom seems misguided to me. This is why I distrust so much TV criticism out there, and why I will probably follow Sepinwall until the end of forever.
posted by joan cusack the second at 11:14 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


All-TV was key (key) to my development as a thinking person. I read the Newark Star-Ledger every morning from 5th grade until I left for college. The critical work there--from Sepinwall and his partner, Matt Zoller Seitz, and other reviewers like Jay Lustig and Stephen Whitty--taught me to take a more critical and thoughtful look at the world around me. They still have an indelible impact on my reviews (I write book reviews of every book I read, a thorny prospect for someone also aspiring to write) and critical writing (and I still wax on at length about TV every change I get). I even recently gave the Ledger dudes a shout out in a post on reviewing I did.

Now off to read these articles. But mostly I just want to say that I'm damn glad to see Sepinwall discussed here.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:22 AM on February 15, 2011

Sepinwall and the comments left on his blog re: Mad Men kicked off my years-late-to-the-party joyful orgiastic "holy crap, there is some damn fine TV being made" revelation binge. You know, not just goofy guilty pleasure stuff either; episodes you can discuss and ponder like a good book. I wasn't as super in love with his infamous Wire recaps but he's provided me with a looong list of to-watch shows. Never thought it'd be like this, where I'd have so much to look forward to. My recent go-ahead from him, Veronica Mars, has proved splendid. (And yes it is an evolution and yes it reminds me the internet isn't all bad, even now...scrambling to talk shows online is almost as fun as watching them in the first place. So great.)
posted by ifjuly at 7:58 PM on February 15, 2011

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