on November 14, 2012
Full disclosure: I've only read the series I've followed start to finish, as each individual section potentially contains spoilers for the series in question. These include: The Wire, Buffy, 24, Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. (I'm still in the middle of BSG. Really need to get back to that.)
However, for those shows, Alan Sepinwall delves into the history of each series and the people involved in getting it off the ground, generally from origin to present. For The Wire, for example, he covers how David Simon's and Ed Burns' association, and how each of the series they'd worked on--notably The Corner and Homicide--helped build into being able to release the show in question. Using interviews and quotes with the people in question (or archival quotes when certain people, generally from showrunners who are still in the middle of production, are unavailable), Sepinwall's essays create a vivid history--undoubtedly mildly rose-colored but still authentic--of the production of each of the series, and he very clearly defines what he believes makes each of the series listed so important to how television is viewed now.
Each essay is self-contained, thankfully; while other shows are discussed in each chapter, it's typically used in a historical context (as a lot of the show creators involved worked with one another previously) one can avoid most spoilers for a series by not reading the chapter involved. This doesn't work for all of them; there was a mention of a character death in The Sopranos, but without context I can't figure out how important it is. (The book may take for granted that one knows about most of the plot points in The Sopranos.) Aside from that, however, the chapters I read were limited to coverage of the shows themselves.
Sepinwall makes a good argument for the shows listed as to how they've influenced modern television. I can't argue that it manages it 100% (one of the arguments for Friday Night Lights was the DirecTV distribution deal that came with the third season, and Sepinwall acknowledges that it was previously done with the NBC soap Passions) but his arguments are worth reading anyway just to hear the industry side as to how a lot of these series managed to be so successful (or survive by the skin of their teeth).
If you're a modern television enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to give this a read.
on November 27, 2012
Nice read for TV junkies like me. Lots of interesting details about the behind-the-scenes of various shows in the TV canon, although it does remind me a bit of the Steve Jobs bio where interviews don't necessarily give you any deep insight if the interviewee refuses to talk about things.
I did feel like it was let down a little by the fixed chronological nature of each chapter. Sometimes it felt like the main point of the chapter was reached halfway through, but then there were a few more pages tacked on because the whole show's chronology had to be covered. It could have been a stronger book if it had weaved together examples from various shows to make some bigger point other than "TV sure is great nowadays".
Note: I skipped the last two chapters since I haven't seen those shows yet.
on December 24, 2012
I'll preface this review by saying I'm a bit of a television junkie which means I was probably predisposed to like this book before I purchased it. However, I do believe that even if you are just a casual television watcher, you will enjoy this book quite a bit. It is, at its heart, a discussion by the author of how some specific television shows changed the way shows were made and how audiences' expectations for television were changed by them. The shows are all recent [almost all from 2000 on (except for Buffy which began in the 90's but ended in the 00's)].
The book is not stuffy or endlessly philosophical but an engaging and detailed synopsis of how each show came to be, what its creators intended for it, slip-ups along the way and their eventual ending.
You don't need to have watched every show that is discussed in this book. I, for example, didn't watch either The Sopranos or The Wire when they were on. I've seen the occasional episode but could never really get "into" either of those shows. That didn't stop me, however, from enjoying the chapters on those two shows. In fact, I've decided to rent episodes of The Wire and give that show another shot after reading that particular chapter. The author enjoyed some pretty enviable access to show creators and you find yourself wishing you could have been in on those interviews.
The only beef that I have with the book (and why I gave it four stars) is that the quantity of grammatical errors is pretty high in this book. I can expect one or two in a professionally published book, but even a self-published book needs to be proofread before being putting out there. There are at least three or four sentences in every chapter that make no sense. Of course, you can figure out what the author meant but when the grammatical errors are so numerous that a reader actively gets distracted by them, that's too many errors.
on February 13, 2013
Sepinwall should be commended for self-publishing this book, and I'm fully in support of him as a critic and writer. That said, I was not as into this book as I was hoping to be. Some of the chapters, particularly "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" portions, were excellent reads, but I was hoping he would go a bit deeper on the analysis and ease up a bit on the interviews. It also didn't really work hard enough, in my estimation, to get me to go watch the few shows that were covered in this book (like "Deadwood," for example) that I haven't already seen.
on November 17, 2012
For the $7 Kindle version, this is a steal.
Sepinwall is my favorite TV critic and I had a great time reading this book: his analysis of the TV dramas that have changed the way the medium presents itself.
It must be said that each chapter on a different show discusses the show in detail, so spoilers abound. If you've seen all of these shows, or you just cherry pick which chapter you want to read, you'll be presented with a great overall breakdown of the mentality behind each show and what made each unique and special.
on September 16, 2014
Sepinwall details the behind the scenes stories of twelve TV series that "changed TV drama forever." Each of the twelve series gets a chapter. At it's best, particularly in the chapters about The Sopranos and The Wire, Sepinwall adds insights to the broader meaning of the series in American culture that added to my perspective on the series. Many of the chapters also have hidden gems and if, like me, you watched some of the series years ago, reading them is like reading about an old friend.
There is a bit too much insider baseball throughout the book. Names of producers and writers come and go in each chapter (and sometime reappear in later chapters) and the lack of an index makes it hard to remember who is who. Also on the minor quibble side, I disagreed with the inclusion of Oz in the book. While it may be a precursor to some of the other shows, I felt it devolved into farce by the second or third season and became unwatchable at that point. None of the other series (I've seen 7 of the other 11) have this quality.
But if you have lived through these series, which really did change TV drama, this is by and large a very good read.
on February 15, 2014
I used to read Alan Sepinwall's summaries and reviews of NYPD Blue almost twenty years ago, and I was always impressed with how clearly he wrote and conveyed his ideas, and how insightful he was into the characters, dialogue, and story of the subject he was addressing.
This book is no different. If anything, Sepinwall has grown as a writer. His insight is clear, and his ideas make sense.
I had the luxury of having watched some of the series he discusses and not having watched others. Reading about both was a pleasure. He took me down memory lane on some, and it was like talking about old friends (or in some cases, old enemies!). He captured exactly WHY I loved The Sopranos and The Wire. But he was also able to make me want to try Oz, Deadwood, and Mad Men, because his discussion of those yet unseen (by me) programs sparked curiosity.
Having been a cop for twenty years and now a writer (crime fiction), there are plenty of things I could be critical of in a program, or a book like this. But the programs that Sepinwall highlighted were the right ones. They mattered. When I watched them, I didn't find things to nit pick. Instead, I found things to celebrate. Sepinwall takes those things and puts them on display for discussion. Likewise, there was nothing to nit pick in this book. Instead of being a vacuous book length TV Guide feature, it was a meaningful, deep, accurate examination of some of the best shows ever to grace the small screen.
on January 4, 2013
This book found me in a way very few do, through my Entertainment Weekly magazine, it made the must list and it made my must list immediately. And by immediately I mean I bought it within 10 minutes of finishing the magazine.
I delved in quickly and learned so much. The primary reason I bought this book was due to the fact it discussed my all time favorite show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then it branched into Lost and Friday Night Lights, both of which I adore. Some parts of the book were simple plot recaps and some parts were stories about how the shows came to be and parts were about what shows came after the show in question. I really did enjoy learning so much about tv shows I love and ones I had simply heard of but never watched.
on April 6, 2013
Alan Sepinwall's second book is a collection of interrelated essays that tell the story of the New Golden Age of Television, starting with HBO's Oz and The Sopranos, all the way through the still-running Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Sepinwall doesn't spend much time making the argument that we're living in a Golden Age, rather he treats us with the history of the shows that he feel have worked to change the landscape of television. For the most part, I agree with the shows he's included, with the exception of one: 24. I would have liked him to offer more of an argument in favor of the show's inclusion, rather than taking for granted its importance. I also wish he would have spent a little more time detailing why the show was incredibly problematic; he gets into the controversy surrounding the show, but not as in-depth as I would have liked; perhaps that's fodder for a different book, though.
In all, the background and little tidbits Sepinwall shares with us--all pulled from interviews old and new, with showrunners, writers, producers, and executives--are worth the price of admission alone, but where this book really shines is how it reads as a moving, heartfelt love letter to the shows he loves. While the author may not spend much time trying to convince us that these shows are Capital-I Important, he effectively conveys just how special they are, and the best essays made me want to re-watch these shows' runs in their entirety (or, in the case of the few shows I had not already seen, finally make a point of checking them out). The book even convinced me that it might be worthwhile to go back and pick up LOST again. I had given up on the show about midway through the third season, after what I thought was a brilliant first season, an uneven but often great second, and an absolutely wretched third. The essay on Battlestar Galactica reminded me that it was a great show, even if my feelings on the last few episodes--and the finale in particular--soured me on the show over all. (Yes, I was one of those people who reacted so strongly to the finale that I felt it retroactively tainted my opinion of the earlier seasons as well, a phenomenon BSG and LOST fans have in common.)
In some cases, I wish the essays would have delved a little deeper, and I would love to see Sepinwall write book-length treatises on The Sopranos and The Wire in particular. I also wish that the book had spent a little more time on the changing landscape of television, and the way DVR, streaming, and downloads have changed things. This is a topic he touches on at several points, but only in relation to specific shows. I would love to see a more general conversation about the topic. Sepinwall seems to feel that good TV comes and goes, often thanks to sheer happenstance, but it seems to me that the way TV has increasingly come to serve more and more specific niches isn't likely to change anytime soon. Most of those he interviews agree with his view, but I wonder if those on the inside truly have the most clear perspective.
My biggest quibble with the book is a question of formatting. Sepinwall keeps the weird annotation method that he uses in his web pieces, where he will include footnotes after paragraphs as opposed to at the end of a piece. While I understand his reasoning for doing this on the web (even if I find it annoying there as well), in book form it's outright obnoxious, and footnotes or endnotes after each essay would have been much preferred.
In all, I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the possibilities of television as a medium, who feel that TV is uniquely poised to give us art alongside the big, broad comedies and procedurals, or who just happen to love any of the same shows Alan loves. It's a nice quick read, and Mr. Sepinwall's style and his transparent love for these shows and the medium that brought them to us is actually rather riveting.
on June 5, 2014
If you love great TV, then Alan is your man. I've been on the fence about several shows (Hannibal most recently) and, because of a positive preview from Alan's Hitfix articles, I've decided to watch and rarely disagreed. I loved this book. I skipped the chapters of shows I haven't seen yet (Buffy, haven't finished Deadwood) but the shows I loved I've read more than once. I love the insight and the access and the backstory. Watching TV is a totally different than when I was growing up. I wish there had been writers like Alan covering Wiseguy the first time I watched that great series. If you love thoughtful, well written, well executed television and reading about how they made it happen in a world of mind numbingly bad shows, this is the book to read.