60 Books in 2019 #33: I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through The TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum

I feel deeply priviledged to have come of age the same time as an art form. Television began hitting it’s brilliant artistic stride as I entered my teens, and since I was raised in a TV house I was able to witness much of it. (Not all, my mother’s strictures against the “inappropriate” barred much material until I got to college) My dad once smiled wryly at my siblings and I, “You all feel about your shows how we felt about our bands.”

I only made the connection this weekend as I read Emily Nussbaum’s essay collection I Like To Watch that of course we do. We came of age with TV as my parents did with Rock and Roll. We’re defensive of the things we like. (Mary jokes that I “get yelly” when people try to claim Lost as the beginning of something. It was the breakthrough but Buffy and Alias did the hard work.) (Also X-Files) Like TV: The Book last year, I couldn’t wait to get this one in my hand. I was less familiar with Nussbaum’s work than Sepinwall and Zoeler-Seitz, (Both name checked here) because she writes for the hoity toity New Yorker, rather than the rabbly Vulture and AV Club where I go for my TV coverage, but I still know her work. She’s also not a recapper, which is what I knew the guys from.

Her defense of Sex And The City is actually my favorite piece of criticism ever, so there’s that. (It’s included in the book and was rapturously wonderful to read again.) I’m also just trying, with the limited dollars and time that I have to support the idea of TV criticism as valid. I love television. I love that it’s being taken as seriously as film now. (I love movies too, but not like I love TV.) Nussbaum’s essays are stunning in their clarity and research. I disagree with her on several points, she’s far too dismissive of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Aaron Sorkin for me, and thinks that the changes in Weeds post season 3 were “bold” and “reinvigorating,” rather than “absurd” and “ultimately fruitless.” (my preferred adjectives.)

I knew I’d be engrossed in the book though when she opened it with a spirited discussion of getting hooked on Buffy through the largely execrable season 1 episode “The Pack.” (It is a truly odious one, some of the worst, “High School Is Hell” pandering of the first few seasons. You know how I hate those WB genre puberty metaphors.) But the main section could have been expanded to a book on it’s own.

A nearly 50 page essay about grappling with her love for Woody Allen’s movies and Louis CK’s TV shows in the wake of Me Too, is a staggeringly personal look at separating art from artist, the way art gets inside of you and how to separate it out when it’s revealed as filthy or wrong in retrospect (it felt trenchant for me this weekend having rewatched Gone With The Wind on Friday and being enraptured all over again despite my woker instincts shouting “IT’S BAD! WITH THE SLAVERY! AND THE MARITAL RAPE! AND THE LIONIZING OF THE KLAN!”) is a beautiful piece of writing. She grapples with Cosby as well, but admits he was never inside of her the way Woody and Louis were, so it’s more of a footnote.

The three profiles she includes are also interesting, Kenya Barris (black-ish) Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is The New Black) and Ryan Murphy (RYAN MURPHY) deep dives into three very different artists using the medium in fabulously different ways. (Can one even compare Dre Johnson to Nancy Botwin to Andrew Cunahan?) For a work about TV by a female critic, I think there’s woefully little talk about Shonda, she covers Scandal in comparison to House of Cards (Hey! I did that) (Twice in fact) and Shonda is mentioned in all three profiles.

I did adore the book though. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of serious conversation about TV. It’s just a deeply unlikely think to happen.

Up next is The Princess And The Fangirl which is the companion book to Geekerella. Back into the YA breach, at least temporarily.

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