Hi Reddit, it's Alan Sepinwall, TV critic for HitFix and author of the book "The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever," which was just re-released in paperback this week. You can find more info about it at AlanSepinwall.com and enter to win a signed copy. I'm here to take your questions about the book and TV in general for the next couple of hours, starting at 2 p.m. Ask me anything.


UPDATE: And that's it for me for now! Have to get back to work (a good Hannibal's on tonight), but this was a genuine pleasure. Hope you enjoyed it, too. And, as many of the answers suggested, a lot of what was discussed here is covered in much greater length in the book.

UPDATE #2: While I wait for my son to drift off to sleep, might as well answer a few more questions, since there are a bunch still lying around.

UPDATE #3: The boy's sleeping away, and I've hit most of the leftover questions I had interesting answers to. Night, all!

Comments: 434 • Responses: 93  • Date: 

dtrainmcclain107 karma

So, throughout my life I had a ritual when it came to movies: I'd watch a movie, wait for a few hours and form my thoughts, then read Roger Ebert's review. Today, when it comes to TV shows, I watch an episode, and then read Alan Sepinwall's review. No question, just wanted to say thanks for being my Boob Tube Ebert.

sepinwall83 karma

Considering that Ebert's the one who inspired me to do what I do, that's the best compliment anyone can give me.

moryan56 karma

Any idea who was in that outrigger on Lost?

sepinwall37 karma

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Mo. One day, the answer will come out and the world will be a better place for it!

jordanFromJersey11 karma

Nothing would make me happier than to believe that this was the real Mo Ryan talking to Alan on Reddit... well, other than AD season 4 getting here early I guess...

sepinwall17 karma

It is the real Mo. She warned me ahead of time that she was going to do it. And she did it. Do not doubt Maureen Ryan!

dtrainmcclain32 karma

Once Breaking Bad and Mad Men end their runs, is the golden age over?

sepinwall46 karma

The revolutionary period is over — which is why I have no regrets about not including Justified, Game of Thrones or anything else more recent in the book — but this great age isn't. There's a lot of really good stuff on TV right now. Maybe there's not quite the concentration of genius that there was when Sopranos, Wire, Shield, Lost and Deadwood were all on the air at the same time, but quality drama isn't going away anytime soon.

adamb197229 karma

What specific decisions got NBC into the hole it's now in? Was it failure from the top? Particular shows which it failed to pick up, sustain, or promote properly? Or does this stuff just run in cycles, and every network eventually hits a bad stretch at some point each decade or so?

sepinwall77 karma

Arrogance from Jeff Zucker, who was inserted into the game at third base and assumed he had hit a triple. NBC when he took over was still in very good shape, thanks to Friends, Frasier, Will & Grace, ER and the L&O franchise. If Zucker had had even the slightest bit of talent at developing and selecting new sitcoms and dramas to groom behind those huge hits, NBC would still be in fine shape. But he had no talent for it, and then gave up on the idea altogether in favor of milking the pre-existing hits through supersizing, ordering expensive additional seasons, etc. He had an amazing foundation that he never built anything on, so when it rotted away when all those shows left, you got the NBC we have now.

JoeM312023 karma

What will it take for Arrested Development to be considered a "success" on Netflix? If it is, could this totally re-invent distribution for TV comedies?

sepinwall34 karma

I have no idea, and the recent interviews the Netflix executives have given have proven John Landgraf (head of FX) absolutely right when he predicted they would boast about success without sharing any quantifiable data for the press to verify.

Ideally, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. can become saviors for more shows like this, but I feel like they have to have a pre-existing level of success for it to work in the first place. No one is sadly reviving Terriers, unless Shawn Ryan is able to Kickstarter a concluding movie.

herpants22 karma

Which Bunhead do you think Dan Fienberg is most like? I think he's a Sasha. Would you consider yourself a Boo?

sepinwall26 karma

Dan's definitely a Melanie (whom I keep wanting to call Natalie). Of the four, I'm probably Ginny, though that answer may just be an excuse to type the phrase "Bailey Buntain, the blonde Bunhead."

sepinwall21 karma

Need to get back to work shortly. Will try to bang out a few more answers before I go.

nickazar20 karma

Hi Alan. Assuming Breaking Bad's last 8 episodes are on par with the rest of the series, where do you have it ranking amongst all-time great dramas?

sepinwall41 karma

It's way up there in the pantheon (Sopranos, Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, in some order) already. The only risk is them blowing the finale. Like I said in the book, it's such a plot-driven show that if Gilligan doesn't stick the landing, it'll hurt the legacy more than if the last year of Mad Men isn't good.

HobbesTheNerd20 karma

Hey Alan, what are some examples of terrible series finales? I feel like a proper finale to a TV show that has been on the air for at least three seasons is one of the hardest things to pull off in entertainment.

sepinwall50 karma

I hate the Seinfeld finale. I appreciate what Larry David was trying to do in reminding us that we'd been rooting for such terrible people all these years, but it ultimately felt like a lecture rather than an hour of comedy.

Endings are hard. Of the shows in my book, the only ones whose endings are universally beloved are The Shield (so much so that I think our opinion of the entire series was elevated by how it ended) and Friday Night Lights (which had multiple chances to end things right). The others had either stayed on the air too long and run out of material, or else tried something bold that some part of the audience hated. Ricky Gervais and John Cleese have the right idea: get in, tell a few stories, and get out before everyone gets sick of you.

Ntimblack19 karma

Who wins a battle of wits and manipulation: Don Draper or Walter White?

sepinwall56 karma

Walter White. Don would underestimate the nerd with the bland wardrobe, while Don is the kind of good looking success story that Walt would resent and plot to destroy from the moment they met.

Also? Walt can blow shit up and make poison out of rice. Don can't talk Walt to death.

McNaughty7218 karma

Hey, Alan! So glad you chose to spend some time on reddit. I've been reading your reviews ever since I started watching Chuck in season 2 and have been a huge fan ever since. My questions for you are:

1) What tips would you give to an aspiring TV/Movie critic?

2) Out of the shows you've reviewed, which has the worst fan base? Or at least the fan base that tests you the most?

sepinwall30 karma

1)Write a lot. It's the best way to improve your writing, and if you get good enough, you may be lucky in that someone will find your writing and give you a chance to get paid for it. That said, be prepared for it to be something you do for love and not for a career. The media economy has changed vastly since I started doing this in the mid-90s. I was incredibly lucky in terms of when I got to put my foot in the door.

2)Most fanbases have their good and bad elements. In general, the ones that frustrate me are the ones who assume I have an ulterior motive whenever I'm critical of their favorite show, rather than it just being my opinion.

Craphp17 karma

Behind Subway I consider you one of the driving factors behind Chuck's renewal/longevity. Without getting sappy, can't emphasize enough how valuable it was for a top critic to pledge his support for the gem of a show. From the bottom of my Nerd Herd pocket protector, thank you.

sepinwall22 karma

You're very welcome. That show has a very special place in my heart. It wasn't always great, but boy was it fun.

nipplelickingbandit15 karma

Hey Alan, really enjoy the podcast.

3 new shows in the fall that you're most looking forward to?

sepinwall22 karma

The cast and creative team has me psyched for Brooklyn 99, and there are a bunch of other comedies from creators whose work I tend to like (Bill Lawrence had three pilots picked up, Kevin Biegel has Enlisted). None of the upfront trailers really excited me, but TV trailers (especially for sitcoms) rarely do.

ohonestly15 karma

Do you find it difficult to talk about TV more casually, say, with family members or friends who don't read recaps or even consistently follow the same shows week-to-week? How do you talk with those people about shows they love that you dislike without sounding totally pretentious?

Basically: Teach me how to be nice when my aunt starts raving about "The Big Bang Theory" and I just want to roll my eyes.

I've been reading your recaps since your Blogspot days and you convinced me to watch nearly all my now-favorite shows, including and especially "The Wire". Thanks.

sepinwall21 karma

There's definitely an awkwardness at, say, the Thanksgiving table when my cousins have never heard of half the shows I love and are raving about things I don't like. (Or, in the case of Big Bang — which is BY FAR the show I hear about most in everyday conversation — a show I like but don't write about.) But the great thing about the internet is that I do not lack for opportunities to talk about these shows.

kevonw14 karma

What series do you personally think has had the biggest turnaround, for better or worse?

I know you were a little lukewarm on Breaking Bad at the start only to come around at some point in Season 2. I also know that you were extremely smitten with The O.C. (ahem Stop Being a Hater and Learn to Love the O.C.) only for that to nosedive in season 2.

sepinwall22 karma

It happens a lot. Look at Parks and Rec season 1 versus Parks and Rec seasons 2+. Look at the steep nosedive Friday Night Lights took in season 2. What's amazing to me is that more shows don't vary so wildly in quality.

J_D_P13 karma

Alan, big fan.

  1. Yesterday HitFix published an interview with Noah Emmerich who said that he considered you a "very smart critic." What do you think sets you apart from other television critics to get such an accolade?

  2. Just finished watching Twin Peaks for the first time. Could such a show survive on modern tv? Would it ever get picked up at all?

sepinwall19 karma

  1. I don't know that I'm any smarter — or more talented — than a lot of the top critics out there. I just tend to write a lot, which means more people read me.

  2. Twin Peaks would have to survive on a cable network somewhere, and I think it would be beloved for a little while until — as happened in the '90s — people got bored with it once they realized Lynch and Frost didn't know what to do with the story. The amazing thing is that TP was briefly a very big hit for ABC. I can't imagine a show that weird having that kind of big, if temporary, cultural impact.

IAMLukeBailey13 karma

HUGE fan of your writing / book. Since you didn't talk much about comedies in your book, I thought I'd ask...

Why do you think comedies tend to "Flanderize" their characters and have broader, dumber jokes the longer they go on? Is it just a matter of writers running out of things to do with them? WHY can't comedy shows avoid this?

Can't wait to read your Deadwood S3 stuff this summer!

sepinwall28 karma

Even the great shows resort to this if they're on the air long enough. The Sam Malone of the last few seasons of Cheers is a moron compared to the Sam who was dating Diane (and even that version of Sam wasn't supposed to be that smart), because after a while, the only way the writers could wring laughs out of the characters was to exaggerate their most recognizable traits. It's why, for the most part, comedies shouldn't run for too long. Cheers actually pulled out of that problem in the final season, but it took a really concerted effort, and only happened because they knew it was the last year.

dj24813 karma

Can you tell us about how you manage to get your recaps up so quickly after an episode when you don't have a screener beforehand? It's crazy how fast you put them up after an episode airs - you're usually the first one who puts theirs up!

sepinwall23 karma

I get lots of screeners. There are only a handful of shows I cover where I haven't gotten DVDs in advance and don't wait until the next day to write about them. As it is, Mad Men tends to take me between 2 and 3 hours most weeks (and longer for this week's ep, even with my Vitamin B shot), while I was able to turn around The Office finale fairly quickly. Being able to write quickly and at length have always been two of my strengths, and they've come in handy during this era.

But good lord do I miss having Mad Men screeners.

vickyrex13 karma

Is there a show that people ask you about that triggers an "ugh, do I REALLY have to talk about this show" reaction in you?

Also, how long do you usually give a show before you give up on it?

Also also, Loved your book, thanks for thinking way harder about television shows than most people care to.

sepinwall15 karma

I would say my hook is shorter than it used to be, if only for the "too much good TV" problem I keep talking about. I started doing this in the summer of '96, and it was pretty easy to stay current on the great bulk of the sitcoms and dramas that are out there. These days, if I don't see any potential in a pilot — or if the show happens to air on a bad night/time for me, I don't get a lot of screeners, all the eps aren't on Hulu or On Demand, etc. — I may not even make it to a second episode.

mrbananagrabber112 karma

Hey Alan, big fan.
Since the third season of Community, I’ve watched every week even though I've strongly disliked the vast majority of episodes, particularly the back half of season 3. In fact, they often outright anger me, and seeing others give subpar (in my opinion) episodes love online afterwards only makes me dislike it more. However, I cannot see myself not watching for as long as the show is on the air. I don't particularly enjoy watching it (I usually get a few laughs), but what I do enjoy is talking about if afterwards with friends who feel the same way as well as ones who will always love it unconditionally. I had a similar experience with the first season of The Newsroom, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t planning on watching the second. I suppose my question is - Is it stupid that I'm still watching? Am I wasting my time? Or is the fact that I enjoy keeping up with interesting shows and discussing them afterwards, no matter what I think of them, a rational reason to keep watching? I guess, more simply, what is your opinion on “hate-watching”?

sepinwall32 karma

If it interests you to watch and talk about something, it interests you. One of my favorite shows to write about on the old blog was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which was horrible in so many different, fascinating ways that I got to discuss at length each week. As the number of original scripted series on TV has boomed (which I wrote about on the blog a few weeks ago), I've had to make choices about what I have time to watch and write about, and for the most part I've stuck to the things I think are good. But I'm also still writing about "How I Met Your Mother" out of a stubbornness even I can't entirely explain. It's just something where I feel I have to ride it to the end. I don't know that I love the term "hate-watching," if only because I got real — if ironic — pleasure out of "Studio 60," out of "Smash," out of some of the dumber periods of "Grey's Anatomy," etc.

kafka062212 karma

Hi Alan,

I'm a huge fan and listen to Firewall and Iceberg every week and loved your book. In your book you talked about the trans-formative effect that shows like The Sopranos and The Wire has had on the TV we enjoy today. Do you think another round of revolution is currently taking place with one offs like Top of the Lake and really experimental stuff like Rectify? Also, is the increasing popularity of British long form drama via BBC America in any way changing the way US networks are approaching content?

sepinwall21 karma

I think there is a transformation going on right now, but it's less from foreign programming (in the '90s, we were already getting great foreign drama imports like Cracker and Touching Evil) than it is from Netflix and Amazon. That's the next great frontier. The question is whether they'll wind up doing things that are genuinely different, or if the only thing that changes is the distribution model. Mitch Hurwitz spent months talking about how he wanted you to be able to watch the new Arrested Development episodes in whatever order you chose; last week, he admitted that this was a failure and you should watch in the proscribed order. And House of Cards is basically an HBO show that HBO lost the bidding war over.

frooshrocks11 karma

If you could insert yourself into a moment in a series to attempt to sway what would happen next, would it be in FNL to preempt Landry's multi-state killing spree?

sepinwall30 karma

No, because A)that would take away my ability to make jokes about it, and B)the show pulled itself out of that spiral so beautifully that I can accept that it's the blemish on an otherwise perfect face, like Cindy Crawford's mole.

end_of_discussion7 karma

like Cindy Crawford's mole

And half of reddit just went "Who?"

sepinwall22 karma

Sigh... Kate Upton (long) before Kate Upton.


KobraCola11 karma

Hey Alan,

I read your stuff religiously and depend entirely on you, Tim Goodman, and Metacritic when I determine what new TV shows to watch. I truly enjoy how you manage to meld the TV critic perspective and seeing shows as a fan as well. Thank you for the massive amount of writing you produce on a daily/weekly/annual basis and the great interviews you manage to get with pretty much every showrunner! Also, the background behind your proof photo reminds me of how terribly I miss Terriers. Why, oh why, did they use that stupid image of the dog to misrepresent the show.

Perhaps my questions are a tad bit on the personal side, but I was always curious about the behind-the-scenes of your blogging. Do you stay at home, watch TV all day, and do blog posts? What's working at home like? How do you motivate yourself? I feel like if I worked at home, I'd goof off a ton and not get too much done. Do you still manage to read most/all of the comments on all of your posts, especially the ones that can get to 4/5 comment pages like the Breaking Bad or Walking Dead ones?

I'm definitely planning on buying your book soon (but hoping I win the contest first!). Have a good one.

sepinwall17 karma

I actually have an office I work out of during the daytime; I have young kids, and it's impossible to get anything done in the house while they're awake. I've worked at home at times, and there are always more distractions there (even pre-kid). Always good to have an excuse to shave, shower, put on a clean shirt and go to a place that has the express purpose of being where I work.

cultstatus11 karma

Will The Sopranos and Lost will be remade/rebooted within the next 20 years?

sepinwall21 karma

Sopranos: never. Lost: maybe? Though so many people are still so angry about the finale that I'm not sure anyone would think it worth the bother.

jaminz11 karma

Hi Alan,

What's the worst show you watched this past tv season (since last year's upfronts)?

sepinwall16 karma

God, it all blends together after a while, and occasionally I just skip over things I assume will be godawful (like that Fox reality show tonight where employees get to fire each other). The Beauty and the Beast pilot was pretty wretched, though.

bjk79511 karma


sepinwall24 karma

Sopranos, definitely. It was such a big commercial hit that the rest of the industry's been chasing it ever since. The Wire is more revered these days, but it wasn't successful enough to inspire as many imitators. Even now, I feel I have to explain to newcomers about how to watch it in a way that I wouldn't to someone watching Sopranos for the first time.

strikewhenready10 karma

What gravitated you towards television over other entertainment mediums (film, music, etc.) and will television ever be as highly regarded as movies?

sepinwall10 karma

I talk about it in the introduction to the book, but it was part preference (I liked the intimacy of TV, the narrative progression, being able to have a relationship with characters over years) and simply luck. I had been a film critic in college and assumed that's what I would try to do. But I'd also been writing that NYPD Blue site, and I happened to get a job at a newspaper whose TV critic wasn't available to go to press tour that summer, and who didn't have a back-up in place. My editors, Susan Olds and Mark Di Ionno, recalled the NYPD Blue stuff and decided to take a chance on me. 17 years later, here we still are.

ginormousj9 karma

Is there any hope for a Terriers revival of some kind? Now that Beverly Hills Cop is done, maybe Shawn Ryan will have some extra time on his hands, and Donal Logue seems game for it. Kickstarter? Netflix? DVDs at the very least?

sepinwall13 karma

Shawn did express interest in Kickstarter after the Veronica Mars thing was announced. Would there be enough interest to fund it? I don't know. We're talking about an abysmally-rated show, and also one that hasn't had years — or, for that matter, a DVD set — to attract new viewers the way VMars did. And, as I've said, that's one of those accidentally perfect series finales. I'd be happy with more Terriers, but I don't need it.

bantermeister9 karma

Which plot development do you consider more of a disaster: Rory Gilmore sex boat or Landry's killing spree? Feel free to choose something other than those two.

sepinwall13 karma

Lance's killing spree is the widest variance I can think of between overall quality of a series and absolute wrongheadedness of a story idea. Worse than Scott Templeton: Fabulist. Worse than Vito Spatafore in New Hampshire. Worse than Wyatt Earp's lame visit to Deadwood. Other shows have done overall dumber things (again, read the 24 chapter of the book), but none were as great on the whole as FNL was.

Eric-J9 karma

What sort of limits do you put on your own kids' TV watching, and do you try to steer them towards shows that you consider to be quality kids' TV?

sepinwall14 karma

We do our best in terms of steering, but they have peers, and their own tastes. I'll put the clamp on certain Disney sitcoms (our house is a No Suite Life zone), but I have no problem with my daughter watching Good Luck, Charlie.

ReggieM839 karma

What are your 5 favorite seasons of TV ever?

Separately, do you think Chuck's Season 2 belongs in the Pantheon of Great TV Seasons? Any other seasons from unexpected (lacking the usual prestige) shows that you think deserve to be in the top tier?

sepinwall12 karma

Chuck season 2 was on my list of best seasons of the '00s from shows that didn't qualify for one of my other best of lists:


(Though you'll see Breaking Bad season 2 is also on there, because the show was too young at that point for me to consider it pantheon-worthy.) The longer Sons of Anarchy goes on, the more that its second season feels like an outlier.

ZeroCool798 karma

Would a show like Seinfeld have made it as a TV show in today's culture of instant-analysis, and shows getting cancelled by networks after only 2 or 3 episodes?

Do you think TV critics today have too much responsibility, in that bad reviews for pilots before a show even airs will often turn off a large number of potential viewers (i.e. "I'm not investing in that, Alan told me it doesn't have a shot!")

PS - Love the podcast!

sepinwall13 karma

The era of patience does not exist anymore. It took Seinfeld years to become the hit that it eventually did. While you still see shows become more popular as they go along — notably Big Bang Theory — those shows were already successful on some level at an early stage. The days are long gone of a Cheers or Seinfeld or Everybody Loves Raymond debuting to cancellation-level ratings and eventually become huge hits.

etherpunk8 karma

Alan - loved your book! Looking forward to this AMA. Was there anything you wanted to include in the book that you couldn't or didn't have time for that you'd like to put in a followup?

sepinwall19 karma

I feel pretty satisfied with the 12 shows I wound up including in the book. If I'd had unlimited time and access, the one show I might have added was Six Feet Under, because that was the one big artistic and commercial success of the era that wasn't a genre show like Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, etc. Alan Ball was doing something very different, and that show was as much a part of HBO's emerging identity in that period as Sopranos and Sex and the City. Ultimately, I decided I had to put limits on myself if I wanted to get it done, and it got dropped because I didn't want too many HBO shows at the expense of something else (say, Buffy), and then I decided that I would ultimately rather spend time rewatching and writing about the other shows. Six Feet is important; it was also very uneven.

Not sure what the followup will be yet. As I've talked about, comedy seems at once the obvious sequel and yet not perfect because there's not as clear a throughline, nor a division between past and future. You could make a plausible list of the best dramas in TV history out of shows that premiered from 1997 on; do that with comedy (and therefore ignore Lucy, Honeymooners, Mary Tyler Moore, etc.) and you're an idiot.

grandmasterfunk8 karma

Big fan of your work! Love it when you come on the BS Report and always find myself going through your reviews after the Sunday night dramas have aired.

I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why shows with predominately minority casts have basically become extinct outside of the horrible likes of House of Payne?

sepinwall11 karma

Audience fragmentation. Laziness. Advertiser preferences. FOX, the WB and UPN all started out leaning heavily on minority-cast shows to get a foot in the door, and as they became more popular, those faces of color were slowly but surely pushed to the margins, if not eliminated altogether. I'd love to see another Bernie Mac Show succeed; I just worry that the majors would be reluctant to consider it in the first place.

hypergenesb7 karma

Loved the book. Esp. enjoyed the chapters on Deadwood, Lost, BSG and Breaking Bad. Three questions:

  1. Can you speak to your usage of asterisks? I've never read anyone who uses a technique quite like this. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I find it infuriating. When & why did you start using asterisks the way you do, and what rules do have for it? What does it afford you as a writer? Have you tried not using the asterisks?

  2. Any tips for self-publishing a book? Why did you chose this route? Are you happy with the results? Would you self-publish again?

  3. What are your favorite shows that you covered in the book? Deadwood, Breaking Bad, or Sopranos. I'm guess those are your top 3.

sepinwall18 karma

  1. The sportswriter Joe Posnanski uses asterisks in a similar way, and I feel like I've seen some other writers do it as well. I have a very dense writing style to begin with, that leans really heavily on parentheticals, subclauses and other things that lead to run-on sentences. At a certain point, I found it was easier to take some of the asides out of the sentence and put them below, so I didn't disrupt the main point in the process.

  2. I self-published because only one publisher offered to buy the book when I first pitched it a year ago. (In fairness to them all, at the time of the pitch, the book wasn't going to be nearly as interview-driven as it became.) I knew a bunch of people (notably Ken Levine) who had self-published, I knew it was fairly easy, and I suspected that I had a big enough platform (though my own writing and through other people in the media) that I'd be able to promote it. And I was right. That said, there are some inherent advantages to going with a publisher like I have now, not least of which is the distribution channels are much more open than they were when it was self-published. If a college professor wants to use it as a textbook, he or she can now.

  3. Probably The Sopranos and The Wire in some order, but I love all of these on some level (even 24).

CaptainOutstanding7 karma

Alan! What are your top 3 sports related TV shows of the past 20 years?

sepinwall13 karma

FNL and Sports Night for sure. If we're sticking with fiction, I'd need more time to consider the third-place one, esp given the timeframe (which would make The White Shadow ineligible).

zorospride7 karma

My first experience with your reviews came from your old NYPD Blue blog back in the day. If you were to start out today with the same idea, what show would you choose?

sepinwall19 karma

Mad Men, probably, because it's the show that gives me the most to write about (whether I like an episode or not). What's funny is that if NYPD Blue existed today, I imagine it's a show I would watch, and view positively, but write about very infrequently. Though it had serialized elements at the start, and ongoing character arcs throughout, it's much closer in DNA to the kinds of procedurals I largely ignore on the blog than it is to something like Breaking Bad.

VictorBlimpmuscle7 karma

Hi Alan, big fan of your writing and reviews, so thank you for doing this AMA.

I am a huge fan of 'The Wire' and have enjoyed reading your analyses of the individual episodes and the show in general. Was there a particular scene or episode that when you first viewed it crystallized for you how great of a show it really was going to be?

sepinwall58 karma

Fuck. Fuck. Motherfucker. Fuck. Fuck it. Fuck.

TeachingLessons7 karma

Will you be doing any recaps for House of Cards? Could you also share your thoughts on the first season as a whole?

sepinwall12 karma


The Netflix release model makes doing episode-by-episode posts pretty much pointless — my plan with Arrested is to marathon it all on Tuesday and write an all-encompassing review on Wednesday — though perhaps if I liked it more than I did, I'd consider it as something to revisit in the summer months.

George---Costanza7 karma

Hey Alan, really enjoy your podcast.

Generally speaking, do you know how showrunners feel about people pirating their shows?

sepinwall20 karma

They hate it. It takes money out of their pockets, lowers their ratings, makes cancellation more likely, keeps people from buying DVDs (or even subscribing to Netflix), etc. You would be hard-pressed to find a single creative person in Hollywood who is pro-piracy.

jpgetout7 karma

Hi Alan - I'm a huge fan of your work. I've been reading your reviews since the Sopranos days at the Star Ledger. I have to tell you that, being from NNJ, Sunday evenings were holidays that lasted up until reading the last words of your next day's review when you put all of a show's pieces together. Thanks for being the best (TV) writer in America.

Here's a couple questions: *As a weekly listener of your podcast, I've come to appreciate the differences between you and Dan. You seem more affable and to look at the best parts of a bad show, while he seems at his happiest throwing water on poorly executed programming. Do you guys talk beforehand about what angle you will take, or it more organic than that?

*Do you ever binge re-watch modern classics like The Wire, Sopranos, Rome etc? I'm curious what your thoughts are when you experience them as a viewer rather than a reviewer.

*In 15 years, what do you think will be Treme's legacy? I tend to think it is a bit higher art than HBO's typical offering, and may not get its full due until college professors get their hands on it.

*Speaking of college professors, is there any chance of you being a visiting lecturer at Rutgers to teach a course on some of the better shows of the last dozen years using your book as the text?

Thanks for joining us on Reddit, I'm going to go buy your book now.

sepinwall9 karma

1)Dan and I plan very little beforehand, other than the list of topics. I very rarely know where the discussion on each show is going to go in advance.

2)I unfortunately rarely have time to re-binge. That's one of the reasons I do the summer rewinds, and it was perhaps the best part of writing the book. I suddenly had a professional excuse to watch Buffy episodes (most of which I hadn't seen since they first aired on the WB), to watch Bubbles walk up the steps, watch The Shield finale, etc.

  • I honestly don't know what history will make of Treme. I love it, but it's much more obviously a niche show than The Wire, which was already a pretty niche-y show.

  • If some college wants me to lecture (or guest lecture), I'd consider it if the logistics work.

TimSPC7 karma

Do you think Treme can have a satisfying finish given its shortened final season? Also, is there any chance of a character from The Wire visiting New Orleans so we can tie the whole thing into the Tommy Westphall Universe?

sepinwall14 karma

Given that Treme isn't all that plot-driven, I think Simon and Ovemyer can make it work. A lot of the issues with The Wire's final season was because they were trying to fit 12 or 13 hours of story into only 10 hours. Treme is a character/atmosphere/music piece. No guarantee, but they can accomplish it.

And I suspect Simon would avoid using a Wire character, if only because he's irked that people kept expecting this show to be The Wire: Port of Call New Orleans.

TboneMurph7 karma

Hey Alan, thanks for doing this. I have two quick questions:

1) Of the shows you covered in your book, I haven't had a chance to watch Oz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, or Battlestar Galactica. Of those, which would you recommend I start?

2) Will you be updating your book when Mad Men and Breaking Bad finish their runs?

sepinwall9 karma

1)Really depends on your individual taste. The first season of Buffy is the roughest of the four, but its heights (seasons 2 & 3) are higher than what the others did, for instance.

2)Ideally, there will be an updated version when those two are done. We'll have to see what the publisher wants to do, whether Gilligan has more time to talk, whether Weiner is interested in talking at all this time, etc.

HenryWarnimont7 karma

Hey Alan, been a big fan since a friend introduced me to your "Wire" reviews. Does a show like "Arrested Development" or "House of Cards" being released all at once, make your job difficult as a critic (trying to figure out how to post reviews of episodes of the show)?

sepinwall8 karma

See above. It's not ideal, especially in the case of Arrested where I won't be seeing ANY of it before it premieres on Sunday (and, because I have a wife and kids, probably before Monday night or Tuesday). If I had all 15 episodes in hand with a whole lot of lead time, I could conceivably do 15 reviews, even if they were short. HBO has at times given us complete seasons in advance, though I still had a week between airings to write.

Some people assume that critics are biased against Netflix shows because the distribution model works against weekly reviews. I definitely wish I could take the time needed to discuss these things, but if the new AD episodes are amazing, I'm gonna say that, even if I can't feasibly write about each individual episode.

WolfofWinterfell7 karma

Hi Alan big fan of your book, my question to you is , despite most finished dramas best being left alone, if you could bring back one of the shows you talked about in the book, which would it be?

sepinwall18 karma

Given the wildly dysfunctional state of politics, business, crime, etc., I imagine Simon and Burns could come back and give us four or five brilliant seasons of The Wire without breaking a sweat. That said, that finale is pretty amazing in its own right, and I'm fine with that being our last glimpse of McNulty and Baltimore.

Yosogo6 karma

Slate.com said Sepinwall "changed the nature of television criticism"

What is your response when you hear they called you like that? Happy? Annoyed? How do you deal with it?

sepinwall8 karma

Happy (if sheepish) when people say it like it's a compliment, irked when people talk about the change (which I am far from the only one responsible for, by the way) as something bad for both TV criticism and TV in general.

end_of_discussion6 karma

Hi Alan, congrats on the books success! My question: How would you have ended LOST if you were head writer?

sepinwall18 karma

I'm not arrogant enough to suggest I'd be able to outdo Lindelof and Cuse. As I've said, I liked a lot of the finale, actually. I wish they had come up with a different structure for the final season, since the sideways universe didn't ultimately hold together, or seem worth the bother. But there's still some excellent stuff in season 6, and especially in "The End."

blars826 karma

Better sitcom... you and Dan in college or at HitFix? And which channel would it be on?

sepinwall20 karma

We weren't super-close in college, so even though we're geographically very far apart, you could do some kind of sitcom about our parallel bi-coastal lives, interacting over the internet, etc. And I think it would instantly become NBC's most popular sitcom.

shirobu6 karma

In your book (which I enjoyed very much or at least I enjoyed the chapters about the shows I already watched), you also wrote about Lost. Do you feel somewhat sorry for Damon Lindelof because of all the backlash he is getting, not only concerning that show but also his movie projects?

I still don't understand this kind of behaviour from some of these people.

sepinwall18 karma

Lindelof takes an awful lot of heat, moreso than Cuse (who didn't co-create the show and hasn't had as high a post-Lost profile) and even Abrams (who weirdly kept getting credit for the show for years after he left — and for other shows like Fringe that he was barely involved in after a point). As someone who has grilled him a time or 20 about things on Lost that I don't think worked, I don't think he should be unassailable. But the tone towards him just seems nastier than to a lot of equivalent sci-fi writer/producers, especially given how much people did love Lost before they decided that they hated it.

MagnoMurmure6 karma


sepinwall6 karma

Lost, probably. Though Sopranos has become more divisive in death than it was in life, I feel.

onetruesprinter6 karma

I'm a younger person, and when I read about TV history, I see shows like All in the Family that dominated Saturday nights. Now, of course, Saturday nights are worse than dead.

How did we go from the most frequently watched night on television to nothing? I assume people still went out on Fridays and Saturdays back then, so what happened?

sepinwall10 karma

Entertainment options grew. My family got cable and a VCR in the late '70s, and suddenly Saturday night became a movie-watching night in the rec room. I think it became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy — the networks don't put their best stuff there, so people don't watch, so they get out of the habit of watching TV on Saturdays, etc. — but even today, you'll find that most cable channels don't put any of their premiere series on Saturday nights.

MattNotMatthew6 karma

Do you think network TV will ever embrace the cable-like 13 episode seasons as the norm and not the exception? Or are we doomed to 22, 23, 24+ episode seasons where quality is impossible to maintain?

sepinwall8 karma

They're starting to gradually recognize the value of shorter seasons, but you have to think of the broadcast networks as luxury liners: it takes them a long time and a lot of effort to change course.

gcm856 karma

Did you have a different or surprising perspective on any of the shows you covered here when you sat down to rewatch / research for the book? Either about a character, an arc, a controversial plot point, etc.

sepinwall8 karma

I found The Sopranos moved up in my estimation in the process of writing the book. For the longest time, I had considered The Wire the clear number one, and nothing else was going to touch it. But then I started watching "College," "Long-Term Parking," and so much of the rest — and, admittedly, I was cherrypicking, because I didn't have time to watch any of the series in their entirety — and I was reminded of just how powerful and adventurous and funny Sopranos could be. It was never as consistent as The Wire, but at the top of its game... holy shit.

thesplenda6 karma

Who was a better coach: Norman Dale or Eric Taylor?

sepinwall11 karma

Both have warts on their resumes, but I'd say Norman had the better blend of motivation and tactics, whereas Eric was a great motivator who kind of sucked at in-game strategy. On the other hand, Norman really couldn't draw up a better final play than a clear-out to Jimmy Chitwood? He could have let Jimmy take the last shot and still done something to confuse those big city slickers.

soxy6 karma

Alan, you've been at this for a long time now. Is there ever a time that you just get tired of all the TV (especially the crap that you sometimes have to watch) and feel like walking away all together, or is this golden age so strong that you are just enjoying the ride?

And how has this gotten better or worse since moving to HitFix?

sepinwall8 karma

If I ever got tired of it, I'd stop doing it. I would, of course, have to figure out what other marketable job skills I have, but I still enjoy the hell out of this.

jmoney4256 karma

Hey Alan! I was wondering how you feel about single cam comedies multicam comedies

sepinwall17 karma

I love multi-cam comedies. Gun to my head, Cheers is probably my favorite comedy ever (assuming The Simpsons is not eligible for the discussion). If someone made a great new multi-cam sitcom — or even a pretty good one (say, something on the quality level of Suburgatory) — I'd be happy to watch the thing. (I watch Big Bang Theory every week, even though it can be very uneven, because when it's funny, it's amazingly funny.)

That said, the single camera format is more forgiving. I'll spend a lot more time watching a single-cam show that doesn't make me laugh a lot than I will a multi-cam show, because hearing studio/artificial laughter at jokes I don't find funny turns me against that show.

NathanJr5 karma

Hey Alan! I've been reading you for quite a while, so I owe you a lot of thanks. Your "Lost" posts probably elevated that show in my estimation, purely because you helped me understand all of the twists and turns and the mythology. So THANK YOU!

My question: Have you really sequestered yourself from the source material for "Game of Thrones"? I've read the books and it seems like you have too good a grasp of what's going on to be working purely from what's on HBO. If so, what resources outside of the show itself do you turn to for clarification, etc.

sepinwall13 karma

I will occasionally turn to other critics like Alyssa Rosenberg, Mo Ryan, Todd VanDerWerff, James Poniewozik and Dan Fienberg who have read the books if I need the proper spelling of a name, or if I need something clarified. (I'm always confusing the White Walkers and the zombies, for instance.) And I'm pretty good at Googling info that's been on the show that I had forgotten about. The only time I ever get spoiled is by obnoxious commenters.

lando_confusion5 karma

I have Rectify and The Americans as the top of the non-pay cable quality throne once BB and Mad Men end their run within a year. Is there anything else existing that can either reach the top or anything in development you feel great about?

sepinwall8 karma

Justified's pretty great. Game of Thrones is capable of great moments, though the denseness of the source material as compared to the number of episodes they can produce ultimately limits its ceiling. I really like Boardwalk Empire, though I think that's also a high floor/low ceiling show. FX just announced the premiere date for The Bridge, which I'm excited about. We'll see about the new Showtime dramas (and whether Homeland can fix itself)... I'm not worried about the future.

sfanburg5 karma

Hey Alan,

huge fan. why do you think the show "Scandal" is so popular? Do you think social media plays a role in it's popularity?

sepinwall6 karma

Social media plays some role. Mostly, though, it's good/fun. A whole lot of people were talking on social media about Revenge last season, but the show ultimately wasn't good enough to sustain its audience. Social media has maybe helped bring some more people to Scandal — whether though the cast interacting with fans, or simply word of mouth — but the show is what's keeping them there.

rvaen5 karma

I also just realized I don't know a thing about your opinions on South Park as a whole. Are you closer to the Legendary Institution of Satire camp, or the Jumped the Shark camp?

sepinwall13 karma

Haven't watched regularly in a long time. They can still knock an episode out of the park, but at a certain point I think I outgrew Trey and Matt's "everyone cares too much about everything" worldview, and that drives a whole lot of the satire.

That said, my wife and I rewatched "Trapper Keeper," like, two weeks ago, and still laughed heartily at it.

RickBlaine425 karma

Hi Alan, two questions:

1) You and Dan Feinberg seem to have a great rapport on your podcasts. Did this develop through working together at Hitfix or are you guys good buddies outside of work?

2) Rory Gilmore sex boat. Not a question, just wanted to say that.

sepinwall14 karma

1)Dan and I have known each other since college (I was a senior, he was a freshman). It's a long and sturdy friendship — enough so that we can annoy each other as much as we do on the podcast.

2)Do not Google "Rory Gilmore sex boat." That is all.

TimSPC5 karma

Do you think House of Cards made a mistake in releasing all the episodes at once? All the reviews/buzz were concentrated at the release date rather than the weekly recaps that build momentum for other shows.

sepinwall20 karma

Again, I would be accused of bias because it made it hard for me to do the thing I'm best known for, but I've definitely noticed an utter lack of conversation about the series in the months since. I haven't read the comments on McGee's later AV Club reviews to see if anyone still cared by the time he wrapped up, but there was definitely a short burst of excitement for it and then everyone moved on. There are definite advantages to the approach — as I noted in that review I linked to earlier, marathoning allowed me to gloss over a bunch of storytelling problems that would have nagged at me if I'd been watching/reviewing weekly — but it's definitely a conversation-killer.

joyefulsong5 karma

Hi Alan, thanks for this AMA. I first started reading your blogs with Chuck, and have continued since. 2 questions:

  1. You wrote an open letter to save Chuck. Arguably there are always a few shows worth saving every year, but you went out of your way for this one. Why? And are there any other shows you've considered doing that for?

  2. Have you ever started reviewing a show but then gave up because of a decline in the show's quality? Or do you stick to it no matter what?

sepinwall5 karma

  1. I don't do it very often because if they are effective at all — and I'm not entirely sure that they are — it's only if they're done sparingly. Whatever impact the Chuck letter had was because I hadn't done that before (and also because I made what seemed to be strong arguments). But I wrote similar letters about Terriers and Men of a Certain Age, and they did nothing.

  2. I give up quite often. Sometimes I even give up reviewing because I enjoy it more that way. Grey's Anatomy is a good example of that; it's much more fun for me now that I don't have to write about it every week (or at all).

Amadeus30004 karma

Do you see it as plausible that Don Draper or Walter White or Dexter Morgan will not die in their show's series finale, if not before?

sepinwall13 karma

I can see all three of them surviving, easily. Not saying that's what will happen, but these scenarios don't seem too far out of whack:

1)Don Draper finally starts giving into modern fashion, growing out his sideburns and wearing bigger lapels even as he becomes more and more professionally irrelevant.

2)Walter White wins. He beats all comers. Is absolute ruler of meth in that corner of the world. Maybe the cancer even stays in remission (the pills could be a red herring). But he has no one he can share the victory with because everyone he cared about is either dead or wants nothing to do with him.

3)Dexter goes to jail or becomes a Bruce Banner-style fugitive, going from town to town and killing those who need killing.

ApolloBrowncoat4 karma

Alan, love the book, and your blog's a daily read for me.

Noticed during Upfronts week that there are two series debuting in the fall that are spinoffs from fairly new series (Once Upon a Time and Chicago Fire). Does this seem premature or short-sighted to you?

sepinwall10 karma

The Chicago PD one makes a kind of sense to me, in that Chicago Fire was a stealth success for a network that has few successes of any kind. With the parent show airing after The Voice for a while, they may be able to launch the spin-off to be a modest success.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland would make a lot more sense if ABC had stuck to the original plan of using it to air in between two half seasons of the parent show. Airing on its own in one of ABC's most cursed timeslots seems a recipe for failure.

WolfofWinterfell4 karma

Alan, if Gus Fring and Sringer Beel teamed up in The Cartel business, who would be the main go-to-guy, Mike or Slim Charles?

sepinwall7 karma

Mike. Slim never struck me as all that great at his job; he was just better than the clowns Stringer was employing after the Barksdale detail eliminated so many of his top people.

pius24 karma

Shonda Rhimes recently rebuffed fans who call Scandal their "guilty pleasure."


What do you make of that argument, that "guilty pleasure" is an insult? And what do you think of Scandal in general?

sepinwall10 karma

Shonda's right. We have a pretty rigid definition of "quality drama" — and I'm as guilty as anyone in contributing to that — but just because a show doesn't fit that definition doesn't mean it's well-made crap. I enjoy Scandal a lot (though I'm a couple of episodes behind). Shonda and company are really putting their all into it this season.

scrapplepony4 karma

Hi Alan,

I think seasons two and three of Parks & Rec are some of the best comedic television in history -- I have your reviews of early season two to thank for getting me to watch again. I think the show has suffered the past two seasons from focusing on the political ascent of Leslie. Do you have any indication (from Schur or whomever) that this focus is going to continue next season?

sepinwall7 karma

Given that the finale set up a recall vote fight for Leslie, I suspect politics will continue to play a big part in the show.

theaustinkid4 karma

Which of the shows in your book do you feel will hold up the least over time?

My vote is for Lost because so much of the show's cache was predicated on watching it while it aired and being caught up in the mystery.

sepinwall8 karma

24 feels like the most of-the-moment show, and also the one with the most flaws throughout. Oz is an interesting case because it was not only so avant garde for 1997, but is still not quite like what followed it. I know some people who have come to it late who find the style very off-putting. But the performances are pretty uniformly great.

TheDemko4 karma

Hey Alan - been a fan of yours for a long while, and I love the podcast so much that I am co-hosting one of my own. Do you have any advice for just-starting-out TV podcasters?

sepinwall8 karma

Make sure you have a good grasp of the technology, that you have at least some rough structure and a rapport with your co-host.

themanwithoutaplan14 karma

Do you feel that while LOST's final was great for some and terrible for others, it makes it hard to convince new people to watch the show? Knowing now that many of the questions and others random things early on never get really touched on before the show ended? I tried to get my girlfriend into the show recently and she couldn't get over why Walt was so important and kept bugging me about it. (We just finished S2) I don't know if I should continue trying to get her to watch it knowing that her major question turns out to be a giant red herring. Any suggestions?

sepinwall4 karma

If she's not in love by now, I wouldn't push it further. For me, I was as caught up in the moment to moment stuff as I was in all the questions (some of which were answered well, many of which weren't). I think on some level the show could be even more satisfying if you warn someone going in that a lot of stuff just won't be answered well, if at all. (OUTRIGGER!!!!!!)

BUSean4 karma

I imagine that you watch sports mostly for entertainment (or in the case of the Knicks, attempted entertainment), but do the production values or anything else about the broadcasts ever strike you from a critical tone?

sepinwall8 karma

I find myself cringing at a lot of the broadcasters, and wishing more networks would experiment with announcer-less broadcasts. (I would hit mute, but then I'd miss the crowd noise, which I love.)

TtheB12334 karma

Hi Alan, big fan. You've mentioned that a similar book about comedies wouldn't work because the great TV comedies didn't happen in the same era/have so many similar themes/etc. But for the sake of discussion, what 10 or 12 comedies do you think we're the most "revolutionary" in the way the 12 dramas you wrote about were?

sepinwall18 karma

Don't know if I can get to 12, but if I was to do the equivalent comedy book, it would have to feature Larry Sanders, Freaks and Geeks, The Office (both versions), Arrested Development, Community and Louie. (Before people ask about Parks, I view it as a spiritual descendant of The Office; great, but working within a pre-established framework.)

cesmend4 karma

How did companies start giving you episodes before they aired? Because I would asume it is not easy to gain their "trust" (or to even get to them).

sepinwall15 karma

My first job was at one of the 20 biggest newspapers in the country, working alongside a critic (the late Jerry Krupnick) who had literally been covering TV in some capacity since the '40s. As a result, it was very easy for me to get on all the screener lists.

WelcomeClass3 karma

The current "golden age" or "revolutionary period" seems to come from a primordial ooze consisting of shows like Twin Peaks, X-Files, etc. that seemed to move away from episodic formats... but for some reason, I keep relating the current batch to NYPD Blue, which was almost entirely episodic but had such a flawed main character (which is what the current batch all revel in).

Personally, where do you think it began?

sepinwall9 karma

I mention all three of those shows in the book's prologue, but the start was Hill Street Blues. Everything flows from that.

heart4world3 karma

I've been reading you since Chuck s2. Thanks for your open support there!

Was wondering: 1) What's it like moderating a panel, like Chuck at Comic-Con? How do you prep? How much have you prepped that you simply didn't get to?
2) How you do you decide what gets a summer rewatch? Do you reread your old reviews prior to writing your rewatch entry?

Also, just FYI that I would appreciate your passing along to your tech gurus at HitFix, I have had such problems with HitFix's video player -- on mobile (I use a tablet) it shows up as a 2"x3" block, and once you start playing it, the video image is literally the size of a postage stamp and can't be thrown to fullscreen.

sepinwall7 karma

1)It's intimidating to look out at 4,000 people, and to be responsible for keeping things going. (It can also be disastrous, as happened the second time I moderated it, because we weren't given proper warning to start the audience Q&A, which meant there ultimately wasn't any.) In general, I have a long list of questions in my hand, just in case. Sometimes, that's not enough. I did a Boardwalk Empire panel at the TV Academy a while back, and the initial answers were so terse that I burned through all my questions in half the allotted time. I was improvising everything after, since there was no audience Q&A component to that session. Fortunately, I knew the show well and was quick on my feet.

2)Depends on mood (I had Apatow on my mind a lot the summer I did Freaks and Geeks), what holes I have in my archives (The Wire seasons 1-3 were pretty easy) and, on occasion, a combination of personal preference and clickbait (I knew Firefly would do well for us, but also wanted to talk about it).

jb8223 karma

I want to watch and enjoy The Wire so bad but I just can't get in to if (I've tried twice). How do I start it the right way so I can be part of "The Wire is the best thing ever" discussion?

sepinwall7 karma

Like it says in that chapter of the book, set aside a time when you can watch the first four hours all at once. You'll be able to follow everything better, and you will absolutely know by the end of that fourth hour whether it's for you or not. In general, it's a show best watched in chunks.

If The Wire were to have been introduced via Netflix's all-at-once release model, I'd have no objections at all.

pmharrell3 karma

What is the best drama on network television? Comedy? Does anyone even care anymore?

sepinwall9 karma

Parenthood is the best drama on network TV, The Good Wife a close second. Either Parks and Rec or New Girl are the best comedy (Parks and Rec is more consistent, New Girl more explosive). And obviously people care about these shows. Whether people care about the network vs. cable difference? Unclear.

northsnap3 karma

Hi Alan, I love reading your reviews. One thing I've noticed a lot lately is when I'm reading weekly reviews of the same show on other sites the quality of the reviews tends to go down as the season progresses.

Your reviews don't have this problem. How do you combat that? Is it better to step away from the show critically once in a while to recharge? Also, Do you feel like the weekly format can sometimes be detrimental to reviews?

sepinwall9 karma

I'm lucky in that I'm a one-man band of sorts, and can therefore pick and choose what shows I want to write about — and also choose to simply skip a show some weeks if I don't have time or inspiration. It's very rare that I have a show where I come to dread having to write about it. (One unlikely recent exception: "The Americans," which is a show I enjoyed a lot, and yet it took me forever to write each review for reasons I still don't quite understand.)

ElvisRevenge3 karma

For all the jokes about Stat Phoebe Tonkin and the PTI parody, do you guys think you'll ever do a video podcast, or at least one that isn't just you and Dan over Skype?

Love the columns, and obviously the podcast!

sepinwall4 karma

We've talked about doing a video podcast, or something more ambitious. We'd need much better technology to pull it off, though. Skype is the best of a bunch of bad options put before us at the moment. And the fact that we're on opposite coasts limits our choices.

treetop83883 karma

Alan, have you reconsidered your opinion on the latest episode of Mad Men? I'd argue purely based on the buzz and the reach it was a top 10-15 episode. It was a one of a kind TV experience.

sepinwall4 karma

Nope. I knew it would be divisive. I came down on the dividing line of not liking it. Many joined me there, just as many are on your side.

idislikesandwiches3 karma

Hi Alan, I was wondering how you balance being a fan of shows vs being a critic. I love your in depth analysis of shows like Mad Men, but when you'te a fan, sometimes you've just got to put in a gig of Ken Cosgrove tap dancing, because it is just that fun of a moment for a fan. On a related note, how do you balance addressing the questions of "was this a good episode" vs "what is this episode saying" in your reviews? Thanks a lot! See you in the next life, Jack.

sepinwall7 karma

I vary a lot on "was this good?" vs. "what does it mean?" It generally depends on what the show itself is trying to do. Mad Men lends itself to thematic analysis; many sitcoms (and even some great dramas like The Shield) usually don't. The blog started out entirely as "what worked and what didn't?," and at a certain point The Sopranos inspired me to start going deeper. When a show merits that, that's what I try to do.


Do you think that network TV will ever recover and be able to produce great dramas made up of 20-24 episodes a season or will great TV continue to be produced mainly on cable with more limited episodes per season?

sepinwall10 karma

It's really hard to do 22-24 great episodes of anything, even comedy. I talk to a lot of writers and directors who work in network TV, and they are incredibly burned out by the time they get to the end of a season. That's why episodes around the 18-20 mark are often fairly rough: the energy level is jut gone, before people hopefully get a finishing kick for the season finale.

JoeM31203 karma

With the talk about Studio 60 and The West Wing, it brings me to this. I've been watching SportsNight and it reminds me that there is so many recurring elements that pop up in every Aaron Sorkin show. Why doesn't he get called on this more? At this point, The Newsroom just seems like an Amalgamation of all his work.

sepinwall12 karma

Did you not see the Sorkin supercut?


He has definitely been called out on repeating himself, even back in his early invulnerable days running West Wing. But he is not alone in this. Milch repeats himself all the time. Whedon does. Most writers have certain motifs, turns of phrase and character types they repeat from project to project. It's just easier to beat up on Sorkin about it because people haven't liked his last two shows very much.

DrDoofenshartz3 karma

Hey Alan, big fan of What's Alan Watching and your podcast.

1) What do you think of the recent trend of transporting audio podcasts to television, i.e. Maron, Comedy Bang Bang, various Chris Hardwick shows? Is this just a case of TV executives kicking the tires on popular alternative media to see if it translates well, or is there a real growing future for it?

2) Who has the most illustrious beard currently on TV?

Thanks and keep up the good work!

sepinwall9 karma

1)People need content and these are brands with pre-established audiences and a track record of being entertaining in another medium. (Also, if anyone wants to turn Firewall & Iceberg into a TV show, Dan and I can be made camera-ready. Promise.)

2)Stan Rizzo.

amandajreynolds3 karma

What do you think is the best show to only have one season?

sepinwall12 karma

Probably Freaks and Geeks. This is another one I wrote about (right after the end of Terriers, which would certainly make the list now that I've had some distance from it):


kippersandtoast3 karma

Hi Alan, big fan from your blogging days. You've talked recently about how impossible it is for a critic to keep up with the glut of new scripted shows and maintain coverage of existing shows. If the current rate of scripted drama/comedy expansion continues, how do you predict television criticism will evolve? Many credit you with founding the current era of episode-by-episode coverage. Do you foresee a time ahead when more critics will go back to the old model of premiere and finale check-ins?

sepinwall8 karma

I don't know what's going to become of things. I think you may see more team coverage like what the AV Club has, where no one critic (other than maybe Todd V, who is superhuman) attempts to keep up with everything. The problem, of course, is that people who gravitate to this profession often have similar tastes. When Matt and I shared The Star-Ledger TV beat, for instance, we could in theory have covered a much wider variety of stuff than we did, but our tastes overlapped an awful lot.

maverickx122 karma

Alan, I enjoy your writing immensely and consider you a great authority on all things television. Right off the top of my head:

  1. Been rewatching (and thus introducing my girlfriend) to brilliant and underappreciated Oz, one of my favorite shows of all time which I feel was greatly overshadowed by The Sopranos. If The Sopranos hadn't come along, where would Oz rank in the HBO pantheon?

  2. Speaking of The Sopranos, forgive me if I do not already know this--what is your favorite episode?

  3. How do you think Breaking Bad will end?

Thanks for your time and keep up the terrific work!

sepinwall8 karma

  1. It depends on what HBO followed Oz with. Would the Winnie Holzman show that Carolyn Strauss talks about in the book have been a big, influential success, or would it have killed the whole idea of HBO as a drama factory?

  2. "College" is pretty perfect, though I'm also partial to a lot of the later stuff, which is when I was covering the show (Matt had the Sopranos beat the first three seasons). "The Second Coming" is amazing.

homelessbabby2 karma

I feel like Lost was the last great network TV show, and Hannibal on the chopping block (and even if it succeeded, not being as different as Lost was) seems to prove that.

Do you think network TV can foster another Lost that isn't a Lost-clone? (Like Heroes or Revolution or Jericho or Invasion or FlashForward)

sepinwall6 karma

I talk in the book about how Lost came along at the perfect time: the networks were still powerful enough to produce a show popular enough to justify the expense of Lost, but there were also DVDs, HDTV sets, message boards, etc. to enhance the experience. I don't know that it's the last great network show (Parks and Rec would disprove that) or even the last great network drama (Good Wife is excellent a lot of the time), but it may be the last great mass-appeal network drama of that particular type.

thesplenda2 karma

If you were put in charge of NBC, what would do you to revive the network?

sepinwall3 karma

I'm honestly not sure what can be done at this point. There was a time even a few years ago, when SVU was in better shape, when The Office was still a hit, when they still had a few other pieces to build on, where they might have been able to turn it around. But you saw what happened in January when football, The Voice and Revolution all went off the air simultaneously. There's just so little there to build on, and today's a la carte viewing environment makes it hard to build hits even when you have a good foundation.