Hit-and-mostly-miss collection of 50-plus New Republic essays over-intellectualizing the boob tube’s not particularly intellectual output.
As the magazine’s television reporter from 2003 to 2006, Siegel (Falling Upwards, 2006, etc.) was paid to spend hours parked in front of the TV (watching cop shows, game shows, made-for-TV movies, you name it), then preach about their virtues, or lack thereof. Many of the programs the New Republic asked Siegel to dissect—e.g., Joey, The O.C., Deal or No Deal—do not merit the author’s time or energy, as the shows are A) mindless entertainment and B) will be soon forgotten. Another problem with this anthology is that Siegel spends too much brainpower on product that’s created strictly as escapism. Writing about the goofy but entertaining food-as-sport show Iron Chef America, he notes that, “In Soviet Russia, revolution, counterrevolution, endurance, and dissent all were hatched in the kitchen.” He might be right, but the pronouncement is misplaced and off-putting. Collection highlights include thoughtful articles on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Extras and Deadwood, providing a spotlight on shows that justify sharp analysis.
Those interested in the modern television landscape should turn to Bill Carter’s Desperate Networks (2006), a fine work of straight-up journalism that offers critical insight into today’s television scene—and Carter wasn’t even trying.