Mr. Wrong, Retired Television Reviewer
Not too long ago I got an email from a journalist I like who is writing a book that will be an oral history of The Office and wanted to interview me for it in my capacity as someone who used to review it for the A.V Club. This gentleman gave You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me a four star review in Rolling Stone and asked “Weird Al” Yankovic about The Weird Accordion to Al in an interview so obviously I owe this man a lot. If he asked me to be the godfather of his child I would probably say yes.
If I did not like the writer I probably would have ignored the email the way I did a similar interview request from the Ringer wanting to talk to me about an individual episode of 30 Rock. I didn’t respond to the email for a very good reason: being a television reviewer for A.V Club was incredibly stressful and anxiety-provoking and I am in absolutely no hurry to revisit that time in my life.
Why was writing television reviews so stressful? Probably because my defining characteristic as a TV critic, my trademark, as it were, was being wrong. How did I know that I was wrong? I knew because whenever I posted a review of The Office or 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live a throng of commenters would descend upon the comment section to inform me, in no uncertain terms, that I was wrong about whatever I was writing.
I wasn’t just a little bit wrong, mind you. No, when I was wrong, which was roughly one hundred percent of the time, I was wrong in a way that incontrovertibly established that I was a fucking idiot in a way that invalidated anything that I might have to say, about the television show I was reviewing or life in general.
A good rule of thumb was that if I said that a Saturday Night Live sketch was funny and good commenters would angrily and adamantly insist that it was, in fact, brutally unfunny and bad and only a crack-addicted, comedy-averse half-wit would insist otherwise.
It was exhausting, is what it was. The urgency and timeliness of reviewing television shows in real time because I did not have access to screeners only added to the pressure. I knew damn well that I am a messy, messy writer who benefits from a strong editorial hand but my TV reviews went up live before an editor could professionalize them. The messiness and habitual errors in these reviews only added to the sense that writing about television was an inherently doomed affair with no real upside, only the opportunity for seemingly the entire internet to tell you you’re wrong.
Then there was the historic time I got a detail involving jellybeans in an episode of 30 Rock wrong and commenters decided to make a years-long running joke out of my mistake. For all I know they’re still at it. I might have found the gag funnier if I were not so overcome with anxiety and already convinced, probably not without cause, that everyone hated me for reasons I did not understand.
Oh, but I invited the vitriolic rage of the internet with that one! And the crazy thing is, I love television. It’s an insidious cultural poison that has made the world a worse place but it’s also fucking great. I’ve even heard it said that we’re living in some manner of golden age of television.
Writing for such a hostile audience was so draining that I’ve blacked out a lot of it out. I think fairly frequently about how I used to be a film critic. I think less frequently about how I used to review music and I almost never think about how I used to review television unless I’m reminded.
Here’s the thing: I still love writing about television. The most popular piece on the site this year is the My World of Flops piece on Ren & Stimpy’s Adult Party Cartoons but I was able to take my time with that one and write about it the way I like to write about things: at length, and in a deeply personal, rambling, idiosyncratic fashion.
So I guess it’s not writing about television that I don’t like, but rather the pressure and inhuman stress of writing reviews on a tight deadline for a readership with its knives perpetually out.
I like writing about television my way. The older I get, the more I like doing everything my way. Thankfully this website allows me to do me, and get paid modestly in the process. For the time being that means not writing about any goddamn show other than Tales from the Crypt, the only show that matters. Which reminds me: I’ve got to write a new entry in Spookthology of Terror. It’s been a while and you beautiful people seem to comment on that column out of appreciation for the show, and, to a lesser extent, me, instead of commenting on a television show review solely to tell me how utterly, unbelievably full of shit I am and how it’s astonishing I get paid to do anything.
I make a perilous living through crowd-funding so if you would be kind enough to consider pledging over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it would be groovy.