Bianculli dutifully identifies the best of contemporary TV and its antecedents, but the book lacks the thrill of surprise or...

THE PLATINUM AGE OF TELEVISION

FROM I LOVE LUCY TO THE WALKING DEAD, HOW TV BECAME TERRIFIC

Let’s all agree on good TV.

In his latest book, prominent TV critic Bianculli (TV and Film/Rowan Univ.; Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” 2010, etc.), the founder and editor of tvworthwatching.com, traces the evolution of TV from its cultural status as a lesser medium to its current lauded “Platinum Age.” The book is arranged by genre, with the author selecting five series that represent the growth of each particular form; for example, he examines the crime show genre by considering the steps taken by Hill Street BluesNYPD BlueThe Sopranos, and The Shield to get to Breaking Bad. It’s difficult to argue with Bianculli’s assertion that contemporary TV enjoys unprecedented critical and cultural cachet or that today’s series are artistically worthy endeavors. Unfortunately, that’s what makes the book problematic: Bianculli’s premise is so self-evident as to make all of this effort seem a bit pointless, a failing not helped by the author’s adherence to conventional wisdom (his series selections will pop no monocles) and workmanlike style. Performances or creators are described as “wonderful,” and shows are declared “masterpieces” with little explication, and the author fails to meaningfully address the larger technological and social changes that have been instrumental in the growing sophistication and specificity of today’s TV. A series of capsule career biographies of such significant TV creators as Steven Bochco, Ken Burns, David Milch, Judd Apatow, Vince Gilligan, and Norman Lear provide the book’s most useful passages, constituting a concise historical survey of the creative side of the medium. However, the author’s less-than-scintillating wordsmithing lends the proceedings the air of a pro forma exercise.

Bianculli dutifully identifies the best of contemporary TV and its antecedents, but the book lacks the thrill of surprise or the satisfaction of new insight. 

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-54027-8

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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