The A.V. Club started out as what seemed like a weird afterthought. I first noticed it as a link from its parent site, The Onion. Given the name and the context, I assumed that it would be full of fake news about popular culture. Instead, what I found was straight commentary on popular culture — snarky, for sure, but sincere.
It felt out of place to me. After all, The Onion itself was so full of irony and snark, that an adjunct that was essentially straight-ahead pop culture commentary seemed, well, like a bit of a joke in and of itself. But it wasn’t, and over the years, the writing became sharper and more focused, and the A.V. Club became a brand in and of itself. I’m not sure when, exactly, but I’ll bet it was when they started tossing out high-quality content on a daily basis. That always helps.
So while I still don’t know exactly why it exists in the first place, I do know this: in the past couple of years, it has become one of my very favorite places to visit on the entire Web.
Here are nine reasons why:
- Inventory – A veritable Long Tail feast. As some of you might have noticed, I’m still a sucker for lists. And the beauty of the lists in the Inventory is that they are clever and well-conceptualized. Examples: “10 Successful Music Artists With Terrible Names;” “13 Failed Attempts to Start Film Franchises” and “15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will.”
- The Hater — Exactly as advertised. And more. Amelie Gillette’s awesomely scathing takes on popular culture are not for the people who like the more “popular” end of that culture. And no doubt to answer the people who accuse her of hating on everything, she offers the weekly “Tolerability Index,” which even then is mostly stuff that bugs her. I have no idea what she looks like, but I picture her banging away at her laptop in front of her T.V., fumes coming out of her ears. Genius!
- Ask The A.V. Club — Got a pop culture question? They’ll try to answer it. I’ve gotta try and remember to ask that question about the comic book I read as a kid in the early 1970s about the super-smart babies who could communicate with each other. Or something like that.
- Their Overall P.O.V. — Not a feature, but the ethos of the site. For the most part, the people who write the A.V. Club — the names Keith Phipps and Noel Murray have shown up on my radar — seem to have essentially the same basic tastes in TV, Film, Books and Music that I do. Not always, mind you, but close enough.
- The Interviews – A great mix of the timely and timeless: Werner Herzog & Porter Wagoner are mixed in with Jeff Tweedy and Seth Rogen.
- The Blogs, but especially “My Year of Flops”. The blogs offered a potpourri (its my word this week, so what?) of off-the-cuff commentary that wouldn’t somehow fit — or wait — for their regular publishing schedule. But they are where you also currently offer Nathan Rabin’s amazing “My Year of Flops,” where he is currently analyzing film after film that tanked at the box office.
- Films That Time Forgot — I think that this is one of their earliest regular features, and it always reminds me of the total and utter crap that lined the walls of the Video Zone in Clovis in the late 1980s. Many of these are the straight-to-VHS variety, and yet, they would be rented when we were all out of Three Men and A Baby. I always wondered what was behind the ill-conceived publicity photos and badly-written copy on the boxes for these grade-z movies. Now, I can find out!
- Permanent Records — I love the goal of this feature: building an alternative (as opposed to “Alternative”) canon of worthwhile albums: some are one-off shots of glory, or career peaks from consistent but obscure artists. But I also love that they included Tunnel of Love, the greatest Bruce Springsteen album that never gets listed as one of his greatest albums.
- Commentary Tracks of the Damned — Imagine sitting around and actually listening to someone justify not just the existence of, but the artistic vision behind films like Employee of the Month or Big Momma’s House 2. The A.V. Club does it so you don’t have to! One of the things I’ve noticed is that the same creativity and brainpower that went into the making of these movies seems to be evident in the commentaries.
I do have a couple of problems: the navigation is shaky as hell (just try to find “Ask The A.V. Club” once you’ve left the home page), and I kinda wish that they would take all of that wit and good writing and apply it to Television on the same regular basis as they do films and music.
But so what? Overall, The A.V. Club pretty much rules. I’m always discovering new things in it.
Like Wilco, Angel, and Terry Gilliam, it’s a successful spin-off from an icon. Hmm, that sounds like an “Inventory” topic: “14 Successful Spin-offs From Iconic Things.”