Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ask JKM a Question #15: "Any reviews I would retract, or regret writing?"


A reader who wishes to remain anonymous asks:  "Are there any reviews you regret writing, or that you would retract if you could?

Excellent question and one that I’m very glad you asked. 

I must admit that for a period of a few months in early 2009 I decided consciously to write reviews that were…snarkier.

I don’t do snarky well.  And I don’t even really like a snarky tone in terms of movie or TV reviews.  What was I thinking?   

I was attempting, I suppose, to be “zippier” and to grow a bigger audience by it.  But it was a bad, bad, bad idea. It was a betrayal of who I am, and what I believe about art and the role of film and tv criticism.

Fortunately, one (anonymous) reader called me on the carpet for my “new” snarky self and noted that I had (sadly) fallen prey to the “lower rungs on the genre criticism ladder.”  I defended myself aggressively in response, but in point of fact -- I can admit it now from a distance -- the anonymous reader was absolutely correct.  

After I posted the comment and my defensive response, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the anonymous reader had written. I thus vowed not to write snarky-toned reviews ever, and instead just be true to who I am as a writer.

Today I am proudly snark-free for three years running.  I don’t plan to suffer a relapse, but if I do, I hope another reader will call me on the carpet about it.

In terms of reviews I regret, there is indeed one review here on the blog.  In 2009 – My god, during the same period as my snark outbreak! – I reviewed the pilot of The Vampire Diaries and judged it poorly. I still maintain that the review of the pilot is accurate.  The pilot episode is awful.  I stick by my assessment.

But since I wrote that review of the pilot, I have watched every episode of The Vampire Diaries, and my assumption about it being a Twilight rip-off were absolutely off the mark.  Fact is, this prime-time vampire soap is witty, well-performed and has -- over three seasons -- successfully established its own identity and storytelling style.  I jumped to conclusions about the series from the (bad) pilot, and should have waited a couple of weeks to write a more fair-minded review.  By mid-first season, the series had actually become immensely droll, and even addictive in a soap-opera-ish kind of way.  In some ways, it really does work as a legitimate heir to Dark Shadows.

In fact, at the risk of now alienating some other fans, the writing on The Vampire Diaries is actually more consistently witty than HBO’s far more celebrated True Blood.  That series, while enjoyable, boasts an incredible variation in quality.  One week its good; the next its dreadful.  The second season in its entirety (especially with the Maenad...) was horrid.

So, I don’t know that I would retract my review of The Vampire Diaries pilot, because the pilot really is pretty bad.  But in drawing conclusions about the series as a whole, I was certainly off the mark.  It seems time to acknowledge that error.  I'm certain it won't be my last.

10 comments:

  1. Great question. Great post. To quote Spock, "fascinating." I just really enjoyed your honesty here and I understand what you mean completely. Interesting.

    Also, agree completely and whole heartedly with you assessment on True Blood. Hit and miss with me too and has actually lost my interest as a result.

    Anyway, excellent question Anonymous and I thought your regard for the commenter from years ago was indeed admirable. If we can't stand back and realize our mistakes, learn from them, once in awhile admit to being wrong, grow from it, then we are doomed. :)

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    1. Hi SFF:

      I too felt that this was a very strong question from Anonymous, and that it would allow me to point out the fact -- as is utterly obvious -- that I make missteps as a writer and as a human being.

      I don't live under the delusion I'm always right, or even, always, temperate. It doesn't hurt as you say, to admit when we are wrong.

      Snarkiness is an ugly quality in my opinion, and I want to tamp it down, and excise it from my writing. I feel that it's a substitute for good writing, with good examples and strong arguments. There are enough snarky writers out there. I don't need to join those ranks!

      I agree with you so much about learning from mistakes, my friend. And when blogging several times a week as we both do, there's always an opportunity for mistakes.

      This probably won't be the last post where acknowledge my own mis-steps! :)

      Best,
      John

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  2. This is great! You know I have always wondered what I critic would do if time completely changed their opinion of something they reviewed. I mean, what would Ebert do if he suddenly decided that NORTH was awesome and that he missed the point entirely and has grown to LOVE it? How could he right that wrong? This post comes close to shedding some light on that scenario, well played Muir!

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    1. Hi Jajac,

      The fact of the matter is that critical opinions do change -- and should change -- because writers and reviewers grow over time. At least I hope they do. This has been the case for me. I look back at some of my reviews in books from 1999 - 2001 and I think that I missed the ball, or that I was off-base. I watch the same films now and I feel like I have a deeper, more thorough understanding of them, and that my writing can better express that.

      God, I hope that's the case. In five years, I hope to feel the same way about the reviews I'm writing right now.

      Movie critics should be works in progress, and should be willing to go back and acknowledge that as they grow, they see films differently. Sometimes, they will make mistakes.

      I know I do.

      best,
      John

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  3. Bah! Burn all bridges! ...that's what I say. Make no apologies. If you had a snarky spell, so be it. If you tore into a soap pilot with excessive, uncharacteristic mockery, what's done is done. Hell, be proud of it. The universe is a vast expanse of near infinite possibilities, and you've sealed your very own moment in all of space-time devoted to the bashing a TV show about posh, vampirical melodrama. You've created your own special microverse. Wear it like a badge of honor, sir.

    When impressing your peers with noble humility or when socratically bestowing life lessons upon the young, you can say with great eloquence, "Yes, I once strayed from the path. I once blogged a snarky review on The Vampire Diaries."

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    1. Cannon's perspective is always solid. A great way to look at it. All of those posts out there, even these comments, they're like children on the loose. Some can be potential bad seeds though. : )

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    2. Great comment, Cannon.

      I always love reading your perspective.

      For me, however, I do feel ashamed of my snarky spell. I feel that it wasn't true to who I am as a human being, or as a writer. It feels to me like a betrayal of what I stand for, and so I think it's appropriate to call myself out on it, as it were.

      But I understand your perspective. All experience -- good or bad -- adds to the accumulation of identity. This is who I am, as you say, the Man Who Strayed and Went Snarky. I'll wear my shame like a badge, I guess...

      Best,
      John

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  4. I agree regarding Vampire Diaries! If it makes you feel any better, I hated the pilot as well, but later I decided to give the series a shot. It took about 5-6 episodes, but eventually I was addicted. I've been calling it "a teenage Dark Shadows" all the while, so it was validating to her your comment about it being the heir to Dark Shadows.

    I also think Vampire Diaries is more consistently entertaining that True Blood and definitely has better finales and premieres.

    I enjoy your reviews exactly because they are thoughtful and snark-free. I'm glad the plan is to remain true to yourself with your review writing.

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    1. Hi Matthew,

      It's amazing to read your comment and see how thoroughly my experience echoes your own. That's exactly what happened to me, down to the number of episodes it took to "hook" me. The show is very much heir to Dark Shadows, and a very smart, worthwhile series too. I wish I had seen it sooner.

      True Blood is tough stuff. Sometimes it's good and sometimes -- for long spells -- it is cringe worthy. The fourth season opener in Fairy-Land was probably the worst thing I've seen on TV (save for Terra Nova) in some time. Dreadful. I haven't gone back, but I'm sure I will...

      Thank you, Matthew, for supporting my snark-free writing. I do appreciate it, and I hope if I stray, you and other readers will remind me of this post.

      best,
      John

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  5. John,

    Thanks for writing this...the Vampire Diaries has been something I've wanted to revisit again. I also watched the pilot and thought it was really bad and threw the series in the pile of Twilight ripoffs. Now I'll go back and watch the series.

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