In her book debut, Pulitzer Prize–winning New Yorker critic Nussbaum offers an expansive collection of writing that captures the artistically evolving spirit of current TV.
The author’s profiles on TV giants such as Joan Rivers, Jenji Kohan, and Ryan Murphy provide penetrating glimpses into how their personal histories have helped to shape their careers. In one of the book’s longest—and best—pieces, “Confessions of the Human Shield,” Nussbaum wrestles with the work of renowned artistic talents recently caught up in the #MeToo movement, including Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Louis C.K, and Roman Polanski. “What should we do with the art of terrible men?” asks the author. The revelations about the widespread sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood, she writes, “made the job of criticizing art seem like an indulgence—the monocle-peering that intellectuals resort to when we should be talking about justice.” Nussbaum incisively discusses the difficulties in separating their creative output from their offensive actions. “When you look at [Polanski’s] Rosemary’s Baby sideways,” she writes, “it becomes a darkly funny cautionary tale that could have been written by Andrea Dworkin….The movie was a feminist masterpiece created by a sex criminal.” Assembled together, the author’s essays and reviews reveal her vast interests and unpretentious tastes as well as her keen insights into what’s phony. She seems equally appreciative of gold-standard dramatic series like The Sopranos and the pleasurable indulgences of “unscripted” reality shows such as Vanderpump Rules. We are currently living in what many consider the golden age of TV, with countless quality series from networks and streaming services introduced daily, and Nussbaum has proven to be a shrewd, highly reliable source for evaluating this rapidly progressing medium. “There was something alive about the medium to me, organic in a way that other art is not,” she writes, reflecting on her career. “You enter into it; you get changed with it; it changes with you….[TV] was where I wanted to live.”
Sharp, insightful writing that firmly positions Nussbaum as one of the leading TV critics of our time.