The infamous quote goes like this: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” What makes it so infamous, of course, is that it’s attributed to so many people, and nobody seems to know who actually made it up.
Fine. It was me. Can we move on now? In any event, the point of the quote — my quote — is that it’s nearly impossible to use one art form to describe another art form. Either that, or it was “piss off, you fracking critics!!”
Maybe. While it might apply to writing about music — there are only so many times you can use the phrase “jangly guitar” — in no way does it apply to writing about that other great art form: TV. And nowhere can you find so much great writing about television than on the internet, especially now that several TV critics have their own blogs.
Kids, we are in the golden age of Television. In almost a reaction to the reality craze, there are at least a dozen shows out there — Dramas and Comedies — which offer complex characters, interweaving plotlines and challenging themes. The story arcs that seemed so crazy just a few years ago have pretty now become a must.
These are shows that invite crazy fandom and/or sophisticated analysis, which is why a website such as the hallowed Television Without Pity can exist: week after week, it’s fun to compare notes and gain insights about the shows you like. The writing is smart, funny, and willing to call bullshit when it needs to be called. (Especially on those shows that don’t really invite crazy fandom and/or sophisticated analysis.)
It took a couple of years, but some of the best newspaper TV critics out there are now blogging on a regular basis. This is even more welcome: given the explosion in the quanitity of shows, it’s impossible and pretty much irresponsible for a critic to follow one week after week after week in the newspaper. That would be like, say, LA Times rock critic Robert Hilburn devoting the bulk of his writing to Bruce Springsteen and U2.
However, because of this limitation, it’s always been a bit frustrating that I don’t get to know what, say, Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle — a writer I quite like — thinks about the huge twist in this season’s 24 or the episodes of The Sopranos after the review copies he got.
Now I can: Goodman just launched his blog, The Bastard Machine, a couple of weeks ago, joining people like The New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall, and The Kansas City Star’s Aaron Barnhart, among many others.
(Barnhart is a pretty interesting story: in 1994, he turned a longtime David Letterman obsession — hey, a lot of us had them back then — into a highly successful e-mail list called “The Late Show News.” Within three years, he had parlayed that into a full-time job at the Star, and eventually shut down the mailing list in favor of TV Barn.)
On the best of these sites, you’ll find the fan inside of the critic — reeling off the same random observations; lame jokes and wild speculation that the rest of us do when we talk about these shows — relieved that he or she is writing out of love and not for pay. It’s almost as if their prose is, well, dancing.