TV show recaps, recappers, and TWoP
November 16, 2012 4:52 PM   Subscribe

Taking the seen-it route: Sara Morrison talks about the rise and influence of television show recapping; recapping's advantages for writers; and the origins and evolution of Television Without Pity (<--- time suck warning: TVTropes link!) Includes lots of links and a handy chart of recappers.

*Gawker - Tune In, Recap, Drop Out: Why I’ll Never Recap a TV Show Again by Rich Juzwiak
No more thankless work that posits the writer as an entertainer while the readers demand accordingly. (The emails come regularly: "Where is it?!") No more being bound to the whims of a show that could at any moment take a turn for the shitty, and will, if nothing else, thwart my social life. I want to be a normal person who's watching TV, not some frantic note-taking instant replayer. No more regularly scheduled forced digestion in a period of time that gives my brain and writing cramps. It's fatigue, plain and simple, that comes from within but is informed from without. The limitless ubiquity of recaps makes writing them a challenge. Competition is stiff and deadlines are brutal, typically requiring just a few hours for turnaround to remain relevant.
*Storyboard: How Recappers Re-Invented TV Culture
“I hated tonight’s episode of Mad Men, but I’ll probably read something on the Internet tomorrow that will change my mind.” So IM’d my girlfriend, and she’s not alone. Over the last decade — but especially its latter half — entertainment sites hired scores of writers tasked with the seemingly enviable responsibility of watching TV and writing about it online. TV criticism at a micro, episodic level has exploded, with content ranging from utilitarian descriptions designed to fill in those who missed last night’s episode to fanciful diversions into absurd fan-fiction and searing cultural criticism. We call it “recapping,” and it’s one of the most culturally potent forms of art criticism of our time...

...even our “dumb” TV is getting better. As Stephen Johnson argued in Everything Bad Is Good For You, the least nuanced reality shows like The Bachelor serve up a more stimulating mental exercise than the lowbrow fare of the 1980s. With dozens of interpersonal relationships and imperceptible social cues, these brilliant shows about stupid people are more interesting than, say,The Love Boat, and are thus way more fun to talk about.
*HuffPo - To Recap or Not to Recap, That Is the Question
What's the point of all of this? Are we going to miss the show and then run to the web and read what I missed the night before? That's not the same as watching the show, people! The real reason these recaps exist all over the web is: These recaps drive a lot of traffic to these websites. Why? Because people love to complain and obsess over their favorite/least favorite shows. We, the people of the Internet, like to feel a connection with our stories. We like to talk about these shows with our friends and feel like we are part of a community.
*Macleans - Recapping Our Top Story
*NY Observer - Rise of the Recappers: For a New Class of Struggling Writers, It’s Time To Watch TV
*Slate (from 2002) - Confessions of a Spoiler Whore: The Pleasures of Participatory TV by Emily Nussbaum

*a series by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic on BlogHer:
part 1: Recapping for Television Without Pity Turned Me Into a Writer
part 2: Television Without Pity Sucks Dot Com: What It's Like to Be Really, Really Hated Online
part 3: 9 Years, 13 Shows: Why, Yes, I Invented the Word "Cheftestant"
part 4: Star Trek Fans and Editors: What I Still Miss From Television Without Pity

*Janelle Harris - So What Do You Do, Richard Lawson, Senior Writer for The Atlantic Wire? The best TV recapper in the biz discusses his process

Some unusual methods of recapping:
- Each episode of Buffy, recapped as a limerick (previously)
- American Horror Story, recapped with stick figures
- Glee & American Idol episodes recapped in song
- Saturday Night Live sketches recapped predictively the night before SNL airs
posted by flex (40 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
aaah did you make this just to eat up my night? So excited.
posted by sweetkid at 5:06 PM on November 16, 2012

Anybody know what Sars is doing these days? I used to read Tomato Nation pretty regularly (much more so than TWOP), but I haven't in ages.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:12 PM on November 16, 2012

This is great! I was a HUGE TWoP fan back in the 90s and early 00s. (Dropped the site when the creators left.) I met a group of friends on the forums that I talk to daily. I became a pretty much lifelong fan of most of the original recappers.

Sars still writes Tomato Nation. I read it weekly. (I am a loyal nerd, ok?) I adored the Extra Hot Great podcast that three of the original recappers founded and sadly miss it now.
posted by Aquifer at 5:16 PM on November 16, 2012

I was a devoted TWOP/Mighty Big TV reader, but lost interest in the site pretty much when Miss Allli left. I LOVED the Survivor and Amazing Race recaps she wrote.

Now I mostly use AV Club for my recap needs, after a time in the Sepinwall camp.
posted by joelhunt at 5:18 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Miss Alli = Linda Holmes. I feel like an idiot for not making that connection sooner. She's brilliant.

Flex, your posts are consistently amazing.
posted by mochapickle at 5:22 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I miss that gif-genius Michelle from BWE's Mad Men recaps so hard. Half of last season's new-season-coming!!!!-glee was anticipating her return, too.
posted by mimi at 5:30 PM on November 16, 2012

Saturday Night Live sketches recapped predictively the night before SNL airs

That reminded me of this great sports blog recap of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals:

A detailed look back at game seven, which due to a scheduling error had to be published twelve hours early
posted by mannequito at 6:03 PM on November 16, 2012

Danny Drennan was highly influentional to the TWOP crowd, but there were other recappers out there in the early days - someone named Amber who wrote X-Files recaps, and Alan Sepinwall who recapped NYPD Blue.

Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic is a really delightful person. She has a blog called The Grub Report and recently published a book about picky eaters.

Until recently, Tara Ariano and Dave Cole recorded one of my favorite podcasts, Extra Hot Great. I haven't found a good replacement yet! I guess Fametracker is more famous, because it spawned a book, but I have fond memories of Tara's early site Hissyfit.

The Supernatural fandom drained all the fun out of most TV writing for me and the only recaps I read now are some of the ones on i09. They're brief and funny.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:06 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jessica's recaps of the X-files (and the exploits of the Mulder and Scully action figures) spared me from actually watching the last year of the show.

....And if anyone remembers the banner wars, note: I'm the one who hatched the "Tara is Dead - Accept It" banner.

Seriously. [monkey]
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My favorite House recaps are the ones by this doctor.
posted by purpleclover at 6:41 PM on November 16, 2012

Miss Alli = Linda Holmes. MetaFilter's Own
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:56 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to real time recap horror movies on my Twitter feed. Never got any comments so I kind of quit doing it. Of course, I suppose if the horror movies I 'capped had been good ones...
posted by Samizdata at 7:08 PM on November 16, 2012

Heh. I think Potes' and Rich Juzwiak's recaps of America's Next Top Model kept me watching that show way longer than I should have*. The show was really sort of supplemental material to their writing/ FABULOUS gifs.

*more than two episodes.

like, way more.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:43 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ugh, I used to enjoy TWOP back in the day but eventually the bitterness and meanness of the recappers and forum mods got to me. It was telling how willing they were to demean TWOP users but anybody that dared to criticize them would get excoriated or banned. This is way pre-buyout, BTW.
posted by kmz at 7:53 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Miss Alli is Linda Holmes? Holy shit.

Rich's ANTM recaps and TWOP's Alias recaps (ugh, can't remember the recapper) are two that kept me watching shows just for the recaps long after I would have abandoned them otherwise. I know TWOP's forums are the worst, but I really miss the pre-Bravo recaps.
posted by Mavri at 8:04 PM on November 16, 2012

Back in the dark ages before plentiful streaming video I'd read the Mighty Big TV recaps of strange American cable shows we didn't get in Canada, and to this day I'm pretty sure the recaps were more entertaining and a better use of time than actually watching the shows. Also, ditto on the Miss Alli love.

Great post!
posted by jess at 8:15 PM on November 16, 2012

Can't believe the TV Tropes link doesn't include my favorite TWoP injoke: Ho-yay!
posted by padraigin at 8:24 PM on November 16, 2012

I never got into American Idol thanks to a forbidding schedule and classically-trained parents with judgey, judgey attitudes, but Paul F. Tompkins's season 10 recaps are so delicious I've read all 39 episodes twice.
posted by brieche at 8:30 PM on November 16, 2012

Miss Alli = Linda Holmes. MetaFilter's Own

Grinning. Every now and then I realize the universe is as it should be. At least my little part of it, anyway.
posted by mochapickle at 9:36 PM on November 16, 2012

I used to want to be a recapper for TWoP so bad. I thought I'd be perfect for the job. So did everyone else who hung out in the TWoP forums, though, so I figured it wasn't an attainable goal.

Just a few days ago I was rereading some of the old Top Model recaps and laughing my head off all over again. Ahh, smells like cupcakes.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:45 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Miss Alli is Linda Holmes? Holy shit.

That's pretty much my reaction, too. Wow. Pop Culture Happy Hour is one of my very favorite things (making me happy this week, and every week).

I experienced reality TV for the first time via MBTV/TWoP, while I was living in Italy. I was completely enraptured by the first season of Survivor, experienced solely through recaps and forum discussions. I predicted it would never work in Italy (and it didn't, although Italian Big Brother was a huge hit).

I was so disappointed when I finally moved back to the US and saw the actual American Survivor. The version my head, conjured through the medium of text, was a lot more exciting.
Or maybe it just got dull after that first season.
Or maybe, some shows are better experienced second-hand through entertaining recaps than in their original format.
posted by Superplin at 9:52 PM on November 16, 2012

Fametracker is still up, waiting for a revival. Who knew?

My favorite MBTV recaps were Queer As Folk (UK) by Della Femina and Young Americans by Pamie. QAF was an iconic, pioneering show, and YA was hilariously bad. Those kinds of shows often got the best recaps.

And then there was Gilmore Girls. Having recapped some awful shows, Pamie went into GG's pilot expecting a trainwreck, only to realize she had finally been given a good show. Thanks to her, Jared Padalecki will always be CuteDean to me.
posted by fatehunter at 9:55 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think an important precursor to the recappers was the "synopsis/review" posts by Tim Lynch to rec.arts.startrek, back in the 1990s. (They have their own Wikia, if you can believe it. They're also easily found in plaintext various places such as here.) It's my impression that his extremely detailed synopses inspired people in other fan newsgroups on USENET and that may have indirectly led to the first websites doing recapping, but I wonder if anyone knows.
posted by dhartung at 11:11 PM on November 16, 2012

I loved TWOP for shows that I got somewhat invested in, but then turned to shit, so while I was interested in knowing what happened in subsequent episodes, I wasn't interested enough to spend a whole hour watching each episode.
posted by Bugbread at 1:00 AM on November 17, 2012

Just a few days ago I was rereading some of the old Top Model recaps and laughing my head off all over again. Ahh, smells like cupcakes.


There goes my productivity.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:29 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

scuse me - HAY-SPAY-TU
posted by louche mustachio at 2:33 AM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I never got into American Idol thanks to a forbidding schedule and classically-trained parents with judgey, judgey attitudes, but Paul F. Tompkins's season 10 recaps are so delicious I've read all 39 episodes twice.

This is great! I remember Paul on his podcast making fun of readers who thought he made five dollars a word, but never thought to look for his recaps. PFT is hilarious.
posted by painquale at 3:06 AM on November 17, 2012


My SO and I have still been using this word in a self-mocking way when we feel slighted. As in, "Our neighbor better show some respeito, that's for sure," over something really minor we don't care about. I'm mentioning that so that it sounds less vicious to say when we saw Yaya in The Kids are All Right, six years after the AMTN season she was in, we were like, "Ha ha ha RESPEITO!!!!!!!"

Ob recaps: John Teti or nothing.
posted by fleacircus at 5:10 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Damn this thread. I just finished watching The West Wing the other day (part of my ongoing project to fill in my massive U.S. pop culture gaps), and now I'm reading all the TWoP recaps of the show from the beginning.

I really should be working. Metafilter keeps finding new ways to be detrimental to my career.
posted by Superplin at 7:54 AM on November 17, 2012

The TWoP recapper for BSG kept me hanging in with that show far longer than I would have otherwise (named Joseph, maybe?). The show was really too bleak and violent for me (I am a wimp), but his recaps consistently helped me get past my initial defensive reaction and appreciate the show on a deeper level.

On the flip side, it also kept me watching ANTM for much longer than I should have, so there's that.

I also like the recaps from Tom and Lorenzo (formerly Project RunGay). They have expanded into a lot of fashion commentary in addition to show recaps, which I love. The best thing they do is an analysis of the costuming on Mad Men. It's brilliant and fascinating, and I don't even watch Mad Men.
posted by jeoc at 8:01 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

This thread is basically my This Is Your Life of why I've spent more time in front of my laptop screen than going on dates over the past ten years.

And I've been on A LOT OF DATES, ahem.
posted by psoas at 9:34 AM on November 17, 2012

Er, and also since we're discussing Miss Alli and TWOP and all them obsessive memories, anyone else here a former TARcon attendee?
posted by psoas at 9:49 AM on November 17, 2012

The TWoP recapper for BSG kept me hanging in with that show far longer than I would have otherwise (named Joseph, maybe?).

Jacob. I have gone on record here in the past about how I feel about those wanky BSG recaps. I am glad someone enjoyed them at least. I do however live for his True Blood, Good Wife and (especially) Pretty Little Liars recaps these days though.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:34 AM on November 17, 2012

I admire the recappers. I always wanted to do it, tried writing up some recaps on my blog, and...frankly, I was falling flat.

Though I do admit that these days, I prefer the style of Vulture/Alan Sepinwall/The AV Club's recaps rather than TWoP. io9's are pretty good too. But the length of TWoP recaps is just way, way, waaaaaaaaaay too much for me to keep interested in. And I say that as a speed reader who's read giant novels and not turned a hair and usually doesn't quit reading a boring book until about 200 pages in.

Vulture/Alan/AV add some analysis and discussion and thoughts into the recaps and don't just stick to the action in a way I deeply enjoy and they have great thoughts. The P&R recaps this week in particular were really good, especially AV Club's and Vulture. I just love how everyone thinks about and analyzes stuff now.

Interesting thing I noticed this week reading Supernatural recaps: hardly anyone mentioned what happened to Kevin's hand in them. It wasn't a major factor of anyone's analysis. I wonder why that was?
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:22 AM on November 17, 2012

I prefer the style of Vulture/Alan Sepinwall/The AV Club's recaps rather than TWoP.

It really depends on the individual recapper, but I tend to find the AV Club recaps kind of bothersome because they always seem to focus on metaworries like "the arc of the season"--even when we're two or three episodes in--and whether or not the show is "living up to its potential"* whereas with TWoP recappers they generally (even with their sometimes-overlong dissections) focus on the episode itself and try to make their reactions funny.

*Hey, guys, just admit that 2 Broke Girls is terrible and drop it from your rotation if you're so constantly disappointed by it. Recapping most sitcoms is kind of fruitlessly dorky anyway, but whatever.
posted by psoas at 12:39 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Helloooooo! Yes, me. Same ginormous nerd, different job.

Thanks, y'all, for the kind words and the wave. On the topic of meanness, there are zillions of things I'd do differently if I could go back and be a moderator again, but then, if I had to go back and be a moderator again, I would immediately jump in the nearest vehicle and drive it off a cliff, because that requires a very particular personality that I do not have, so I would not get the chance to do things differently. I wound up meeting most of my closest friends through that job in one way or another, or one level removed from that job (without TWoP, I would not be at NPR, for a convoluted series of reasons), and I still have a stuffed Tubey that a reader made me that sits on my desk at work. The people who read me at that job kept me going when I decided to leave it and seeded the blog and podcast audiences I rely on now.

I do think the site has a pretty impressive alumni association, and I'm not including myself.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:27 AM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Lately the AV Club has had a couple of shows recapped by people who explicitly don't like the show (they say as much in the recaps), which makes for crappy recaps.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:53 PM on November 18, 2012

but then, if I had to go back and be a moderator again, I would immediately jump in the nearest vehicle and drive it off a cliff, because that requires a very particular personality that I do not have, so I would not get the chance to do things differently.


I still use TWoP as an example of a) strict forum moderation (which we are occasionally accused of here, and I laugh and laugh) and b) the lengths to which one must go to wrangle a spoiler policy on a big site. It's not an easy task at all, and I think the TWoP folks, at least in the forums I read (and in the era in which I was reading them, pre-buyout) did a pretty good job with a thankless and nigh-impossible task.

I wonder, and now sort of regret that I didn't think of this when I could have asked, if's extensive reread series were influenced by TWoP and the recapping phenomenon. A lot of them have a very similar feel, in terms of balancing "what happened" with analysis and metacommentary.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:58 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fist bump to all the America's Next Top Model recap-readers. I am with you, sisters and brothers.

I am actually very interested in recaps as a phenomenon of fans' ability to influence TV shows as they are unfolding. As recently as 10 years ago, the only time TV writers acknowledged a show with a preview before the season premiere, or a review of a pilot; basically, TV critics told us whether to watch a show or not. In about 750 words. Now, we have Tim Goodman (formerly of the San Francisco Chronicle, now of the Hollywood Reporter) writing hundreds of words about each episode of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

There are good things about this, of course. Recaps work for both the high and low. My beloved ANTM recaps were a "did you see that?!!?" kind of lowbrow hilarity. On the other hand, my experience of Mad Men has been incredibly enriched by reading the obsessive recaps of Goodman, as well as the Slate TV Club. I noticed details I would have otherwise missed, I was prodded to think about overall themes, I was so freaking relieved to find out that a major plot point seemed as absurd to Linda Holmes as it did to me.

This immediate feedback loop that is the new recap-i-verse has been really, really, really bad for some shows, though. In particular, I think Glee, which started out with about seven subversive, dark, upsetting, kind of awesome episodes has been a complete mess for years, which I directly attribute to the showrunner getting giddy about the fan feedback loop. The magic of Sue Sylvester was her scarcity. Making her a fully fleshed out character was a tremendous mistake; she's weird and cartoony and it harms the show. (That is, of course, not the only thing that's gone wrong with that trainwreck, but I contend that it was the first one.) It's like if Seinfeld were on now, and due to fan adoration it slowly morphed into The Kramer Show. It would have been a disaster.
Another extraordinary recap is the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Treme Explained blog. It's not exactly a recap, more footnotes. But it would not exist without the recap-verse.
posted by purpleclover at 7:57 PM on November 19, 2012

(I realize everyone has moved on, but I'm going to answer this anyway.)

a thankless and nigh-impossible task

It's not coal mining, but super-high-volume tight moderation is terrible if it's not something you're cut out for. For me, it started as a manageable task and became an unmanageable task. People were often surprised that things were sort of pronounced without discussion, like, "This ends here, period, stop" -- that's the kind of thing that would make people (understandably) feel like I was a grumpy jackass. But the thing is, at least when I worked there and was moderating, you were expected to read every post in every thread of the sections you were responsible for, with the exception of some of the "Whimsy" areas where people put games and stuff. That could become absolutely overwhelming with some shows, and I just didn't have time to negotiate and have nuanced discussions about every moderating decision every time. So I'd get impatient -- especially with anything that had to be said more than once -- and it would show, and then people would get upset and it would get worse, etc. etc.

The bigger your boards were, in a way, the stricter you had to be, because if you let something slide on a not-busy board, it probably wouldn't get away from you, but if you let a semi-combative comment slide on a very busy board, you'd get back two hours later and have 100 angry, increasingly off-topic comments to moderate. And if you tried to carefully navigate gray areas politely, you'd get into a back-and-forth about whether something was or wasn't a rules violation, and that would go on all day. Whereas if you said, "Settle down or go post somewhere else," you'd engender negativity toward yourself, but you'd keep the discussion from careening out of control. (This is, of course, assuming you accept the general idea of trying to keep discussions from getting combative and off-topic, which many don't, but I do.) For a lot of people, it's no big deal, but for me, it was REALLY corrosive.

I wasn't cut out for it, and I don't do it now. It ain't for everyone.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:01 AM on November 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

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