From Publishers Weekly
In this book of collected television criticism, Siegel channel surfs and rides every wave, and no genre of programming escapes his analysis. Siegel, a senior editor at the New Republic
, plumbs game shows, reality programming, cartoons, sitcoms, miniseries and iconic personalities with equitable rigor and flare. Above all, this collection showcases Siegel's talent as a semiotician, as he unmasks and dismantles the value systems at work behind popular shows. Siegel proclaims that the television critic's job is not really to pass judgment at all. It's merely to announce a new reference point. Luckily, the author rarely adheres to his own rule. While Siegel announces cultural referents aplenty, amid discussion of Baudrillard's Simulacra, the post 9/11 Irony Controversy, the Frankfurt school of criticism and the august status of contemporary fiction, perhaps his greatest strength as a critic is his ability to tell what's good from what's bad. There are as many surprising victors as there are victims. Siegel stands firm that Jon Stewart's comedy is poisoning politics and the work of Ken Burns brings Caucasian condescension to a new low, while Friends
has lent dignity to ordinary experience. One of Siegel's favorite modes, as well as one of his favorite words, is deconstruction. Thankfully, Siegel deconstructs as a means to an end: to discern quality programming from drivel. (July)
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Why are we so fascinated with television, and how does the medium manage to reflect or deflect American culture? New Republic television critic Siegel offers a collection of essays and reviews on television fare from cop shows to sitcoms, cartoons to reality shows, as well as topical categories of race, religion, war, and politics. Siegel likens the allure of cop shows to the fascination the ancient Greeks had for the gods, as we watch police struggle with good and evil in themselves and the perpetrators. Tracing the social and political changes that moved the cop-show genre from Dragnet to Kojak to NYPD Blue, Siegel sees in the television portrayal of police the "consummation of the American promise of radical individualism." Putting myriad television shows into broader social and political context, he explores Lost as a reflection of the American obsession with secrecy, the move away from portrayals of geniuses as misfits who suffer for their talent to the appealing geniuses of Numb3rs, and the "medical porn" offered by CSI. A fascinating look at American culture and its most ubiquitous medium. Bush, Vanessa