Dear Willa, June, and Mo,
“Overly mannered”? My Lizzy Caplan’s performance overly mannered? [Removes earrings.] Bad fan, Willa! Bad, bad fan! No biscuit!
Actually, I am glad you brought up the Skyler/Tara/Betty Hate question, because it brings up an issue I wrestle with, even as somebody who’s written about it: how to argue with the reception of shows and characters without policing it. I can’t speak for Emily Nussbaum, but I think of “bad fan” as a little tongue-in-cheek label in the service of a serious point. I say that because you could see that essay as a companion piece to a great essay Emily wrote on the end of Lost, when Damon Lindelof revoked certain detractors’ “fan” status, “A Disappointed Fan Is Still a Fan.” And that piece actually pokes some fun at the idea of delineating good and bad fandom: “Hurley, the Good Fan, was handed the keys to the donkey wheel …”
So the flippant way of saying this, I guess, is that if I call someone a fan-bro or a bad fan or whatever, I simply mean “person whose opinion on a show or character I find wrong or offensive.” The serious way of saying it is that, really, any good show has to allow the possibility of being a bad fan. One of the best ways to create a terrible work of fiction is to grab your audience by the wrist and frog-march them down the path of Right and Enlightened Thinking. Thence lies The Newsroom.
Which doesn’t mean any opinion goes. (Footnote: Hands up, who’s relieved we’re discussing ugly audience vitriol and authorial intent—and it’s not about Girls?) But when I react to, say, Sons of Anarchy fans high-fiving over the death of buzzkill Tara, it’s because I’m reacting to the way they implicitly see the world, not the way they see the show. Arguably they, and the Skyler haters, are interpreting the characters correctly, more or less—they just happen to hate them for it. And also, there’s a risk of ceding the dialogue to a loud, angry, and possibly tiny sector of fans who happen to get the most attention because that’s what gets hate-retweeted and Storified and trend-pieced, because the world is terrible.
On that happy note! Willa, I will sidestep a bit your request for our superlatives of 2013. It’s been a long month of that, and I’m kind of bested out. Instead, I will end my contribution as life must end: with regrets. These are some of the things I regret not giving more notice and recognition this year:
- I regret not paying more attention, this last season or any season, to Eastbound and Down, though I watched every single episode. It was not a perfect show, and it might actually have been worse if it were perfect. But goddamn if Ben Best, Jody Hill, and Danny McBride didn’t create an essential American character in Kenny Powers, a walking, braying manifestation of the unkillable belief in one’s own awesomeness. I regret thinking that it was pointless to bring the show back after the seeming finality of its third season, because the evolution of media star Kenny was the best thing the show had done. (And yes, it had what may be my favorite line of the year: “That’s a fair trade candle. We can now afford to buy products that are made the right way.”)
- I regret not giving more credit to good performances in bad shows. Thomas Lennon in Sean Saves the World, for instance: The domestic comedy was forgettable, but his mustachioed, imperious Max is my favorite bad boss on TV since Craig Ferguson on my beloved departed Drew Carey Show.
- I regret not paying more attention to the weird and excellent things going on in kids’ TV, or “kids’ TV,” like the surreal, delicious Adventure Time. I blame my children for spending too much time in the past year playing tablet games and watching reality-TV back seasons on Hulu. And I now regret blaming my children.
- I regret watching and enjoying W. Kamau Bell’s searing but good-natured Totally Biased yet never actually writing a full review of it and now it’s gone and I guess I kinda helped kill it.
- I regret not acknowledging somewhere that Castle, while it probably will never be for me personally, has gotten pretty good since I originally panned it, but the Castle fans totally hate me at this point, so I doubt they want to hear it.
- I regret, one more year, not writing that magnum opus about how food TV has gradually dropped the premise of being at all about cooking and is now mainly about watching someone, usually Guy Fieri, eat stuff.
- I regret not making all the brilliant points that I will realize I forgot to make the second I see this TV Club go live. And I regret that we don’t do this all the time.
I did it my way,