Television

The TV Club, 2018

Entry 15: Fighting through the noise.

Still of spacesuited person from Star Trek Discovery with TV Club 2018 logo
Star Trek Discovery.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by CBS Interactive, Inc.

Dear TV Club,

Willa, thank you for this sentence: “Not getting to it all is the human condition.” I might need to put that up near my desk. As the pressures of getting to it all have increased, it’s been harder to have fun with the deluge of TV coming in my direction. And yet so much of it is fun. We have a new Star Trek series—one that I’m greatly enjoying, by the way, even though I have some quibbles with who they decided to kill off by the end of Season 1. We have the bizarre and delightful BoJack Horseman, which continues to be the only good show about Hollywood. I have, right now, access to the entirety of The Golden Girls via my Hulu subscription.

These are positive gains, even in the face of my confusion and frustration. I think my New Year’s TV resolution—and I’ve made this resolution before—is to keep watching things that are fun or beautiful or otherwise bringing me joy, even if I can’t figure out a way to write a piece about it.

Todd, thank you for this deep dive into YouTube. I’m not much for podcasts, but Reply All has become a staple for me because of its YouTube expertise; there was one particular episode of “Yes Yes No” that ended up breaking down four different online video memes, which overlapped with controversies, Logan Paul and PewDiePie in particular. It’s a whole world out there that I don’t know anything about, and what I see when I try to examine it is just how much effort it would take for me to understand it all—effort I can’t spare, I feel, from my day-to-day obligations.

That brings me to something that we haven’t brought up, and maybe there isn’t an easy way to bring this up. But this year has been a sobering one for digital media. There hasn’t been a great year for digital media since 2009, but still, this one sucked. The Village Voice ceased production, leading to the loss of two excellent critics of my own acquaintance and dozens of other talented writers and editors. Rookie folded. Mic folded. Several sites, my own included, threw up paywalls. Nearly every single one of the colleagues I made in this industry since I started freelancing for the A.V. Club (under TV editor Todd VanDerWerff, natch) has been shuffled, downsized, or laid off at some point in their careers.

It’s a weird time for TV, but it’s a weird time to be covering TV, too; the ground seems to be shifting beneath my feet at all times. A period of intense, unsustainable openness has been followed by siloed content—both what I’m watching, and what I’m reading. It feels as if I am, in a way, facing the same struggles my favorite TV shows are: to break through the noise, to find new subscribers, to create and cultivate a loyal base of fans. It’s not bad, it’s just interesting, and maybe a little weird, too.

Willa, you asked if any of us have felt constrained in our criticism. I do feel constrained (although I flatter myself in thinking I don’t act on it), although not by political correctness. I instead feel a lot more pressure to maintain a healthy skepticism about my own ideology, because the evidence of the last few years has suggested quite strongly that it’s not shared by others. That burger piece in Thrillist was much-maligned, but I think it does reveal that there could be some human toll to criticism that is worth being aware of. As the industry has morphed, I see how much marginal shows struggle to stay on the air. Showrunners from network sitcoms have emailed me, asking me to write another piece about their show because they know they’re on the bubble. I have had to block publicists to stem the flow of emails about their service or their product. It’s real, these people are real, the stakes are high for someone, always.

Tara, I’ve been using my chest congestion as an excuse to marathon The Good Fight. What a pleasure this show is, too. Rose Leslie is an exceptional performer, and so is Sarah Steele—and as you say, Christine Baranski is a gift. I’m thrilled to be at least enjoying it now; there’s always room for one more good show.

A happy new year to you all.

—Sonia

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