Friday, May 27, 2011

Final voyage

Summer at the A.V. Club means TV Club Classic.  During the year we focus on covering current shows week to week, but in the summer when new episodes are thinner on the ground, many of us turn to writing about shows from the past, reconsidering them in light of history or sometimes experiencing them for the first time.

I've been writing about NewsRadio since June 2008, taking on two seasons that first summer, then a single season every summer thereafter.  It's been one of my all-time favorite shows since the mid-nineties when it started airing, and has attained a cult following since then as one of the most underappreciated comedies the television medium has ever produced.  The response to its reconsideration in TV Club Classic has been most gratifying.

And now we're at the final season.  That would be bittersweet enough, but it's also a post-tragedy season for the show; in between the last episode of Season 4 and the first of Season 5, Phil Hartman -- a mainstay of the cast, and the man behind one of its most popular characters -- was murdered.  Jon Lovitz joined the cast in the wake of this loss.  A lot of fans of the show find this final season problematic.  They feel like it's not the same without Hartman, that Lovitz didn't fit in, that the show lost its way and should have ended on an earlier high note, that the whole thing is just too sad to contemplate.

So my job of writing about this season is difficult.  I haven't seen this season since it aired, and don't have vivid memories of much of it.  I hope that I'll be able to argue that the season is better than its reputation, but until I get farther into it, I can't be sure.

It's also an opportunity to approach the show in a different way, though.  Over the past few years the critical reputation of the show has grown tremendously, and my job has become a dissection of why it is brilliant.  That's a gratifying role, and readers have been very complimentary, by and large, of my performance.  But it might be interesting to make an argument whose outcome isn't already a matter of cultural consensus.

I have the best readers in the business -- they really know their stuff.  And they may disagree with my assessment of this season, as has sporadically happened with episodes with controversial reputations.  I'm looking forward to working through this season with them; maybe we'll both discover something we didn't know before.  That would be a great ending to four years and five seasons that have already changed the way I approach watching and writing about television.

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