Alan Sepinwall is the TV critic for and the author of THE REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED. Matt Zoller Seitz is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism, the TV critic for New York Magazine and, the EIC of, and the author of books on TV and cinema, including MAD MEN CAROUSEL, THE WES ANDERSON COLLECTION, and THE OLIVER STONE EXPERIENCE.


More proof:

Comments: 283 • Responses: 94  • Date: 

tvthebook8 karma

Alan: Guys, this has been great. We have to get going, but we hope those of you who haven't already bought the book will consider it, and we hope those of you that have it are and will continue to enjoy it.

GemOfAmara8 karma

I know you had a rule about not including series made outside the US in the book, but if you could have broken it for just one show, what would it have been?

tvthebook8 karma

Hey guys, sorry we were running a few minutes late!

Matt says: "Prime Suspect. It was influential as a model of a serialized narrative that could also stand alone. There were spaces of many years between chapters of Jane Tennison's story, and both her life and the life of the police department in London generally changed a lot from season to season."

th1smustbetheplace8 karma

Do you think Hannibal will actually come back?

tvthebook14 karma

Matt: I believe that eventually it will in some form, even if it's just as a movie. The core cast seems as affectionate towards Hannibal as the core cast of Deadwood does towards Deadwood.

Alan: Yeah, but we still don't have a Deadwood movie.

Matt: Milch is calling up actors and reading them their scenes on the phone. I think we're much closer than you think we are.

Alan: San Francisco cocksucker!

Matt: Over time, your quickness with a cocky rejoinder must have gotten you many punches in the face.

suaveitguy7 karma

Fargo Season 1 or 2?
Breaking Bad, or Better Call Saul?

tvthebook10 karma

Alan: Season 1, but I adore season 2. And Breaking Bad, though Saul is wonderful. Matt: Season 2. And Breaking Bad. In another few seasons, Saul probably will be considered different from but equal to Breaking Bad.

Berton_Guster_Voice7 karma

Hey guys, huge fan. Love the Wes Anderson books and the Mad Men book. Do you think the (so-called) "Too-Much-TV" bubble will burst? Or has television taken some of the space movies used to occupy for good?

tvthebook10 karma

Matt: Every bubble bursts eventually. I'd argue that the bubble might've burst for mainstream Hollywood studio films, probably sometime in the last five or ten years, and we're only now starting to figure it out. There are outlier hits, still, but much of the cultural excitement has moved to television, deservedly so, as you are more likely to see actual human adults on scripted TV than in most mainstream films.

J_D_P7 karma

Sepinwall, started reading you through your great recaps and analysis of LOST. You would be my goto immediately after those episodes ended.

What the heck is going on with the current season of Mr. Robot? Seems like its either trying way too hard or its part of some elaborate joke that will be revealed later.

tvthebook12 karma

By the way, since there's one login, we'll do our best to identify who's answering. This is Alan.

I've enjoyed a lot of this season, but I do think it's a reminder that limits on creativity are sometimes a good thing. Sam Esmail can do whatever he wants with the show right now, and sometimes that leads to amazing things, and sometimes the show just drags.

Matt says: Mr. Robot is a very frustrating show for me, because it does certain things extraordinarily well that almost no other show even thinks to do -- in particular the way it satirizes modern life and shows us what existence looks like through the eyes of a true outsider -- but then it expends a great deal of effort on "clever" things like the big reveals near the end of season one, and the similar one in season two. These are things lots of movies have done, and that is really not that hard to do, and I just don't see how it really adds much to the overall experience.

That said, the mistakes of Mr. Robot are more interesting than most other show's finest moments.

mikegimik6 karma

Hi Alan, I have read your columns and listened to your podcasts for ages, but I have to admit I am getting tired of the whole recapping world as I feel it has sort of gotten out of hand. What are your thoughts on it? Do you feel like we've reached peak recapping?

tvthebook12 karma

Alan: you may have noticed I've dialed WAY back on the number of shows I recap every week. I do think the form exhausted itself a bit, but also it's just impossible to keep track of all the great things on TV if you're spending time down in the minutiae of the recapping trenches. I still love it for the right show, like a Leftovers or Americans, but I find that the more traditional reviews are more useful to people these days.

mc_jakie6 karma

Hi Matt, as the EIC for I was wondering which of Roger's reviews, positive or negative, you most disagree with and why?

tvthebook10 karma

Matt: I love Blue Velvet, which Roger had serious qualms about. But I don't tend to fixate too much on where I disagree with him, or with other critics I admire -- I learn a lot from reading other people's takes on things I like or hate, I feel that it sharpens my own arguments.

diatho6 karma

what are your "i'm sick in bed and just want to watch something while I sort of drift off" shows, can be current or previous shows?? Do you watch via online portal or dvd??

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: I tend to return time and time again to Mad Men. I know the show very well by this point, having written an entire book that concentrates on recapping it (Mad Men Carousel). But I still find that I keep discovering new things in the margins, or making new connections between characters, scenes and images from episode to episode and season to season. It really is a miracle of construction.

goodmanw6 karma

What network do you think has had the most interesting output since Landgraf's declaration of peak tv?

tvthebook13 karma

Matt: FX, without question.

deepseapartners6 karma

Alan and Matt, excluding each other, who are your favorite current authors that cover TV? Please answer as broadly as you would like!

tvthebook7 karma

Matt: I'll take a pass on this one because I don't want to hurt the feelings of anyone I admire by leaving them out. I would say that of critics I read growing up and who influenced me, Ed Bark of the Dallas Morning News and David Zurawik (now of the Baltimore Sun, I think) were big influences on me.

fusems5 karma

Mad Men or The Sopranos?

tvthebook12 karma

Alan: We both ranked Sopranos slightly higher than Mad Men in the book.

Matt: Mad Men may be the altogether more perfect achievement. But we had to ding it a little bit in the rankings because a lot of the things it did well, it couldn't have done without the example of The Sopranos, where Matt Weiner served as a writer and producer.

suaveitguy5 karma

What's the Citizen Kane of TV Shows?

tvthebook10 karma

Alan: Hill Street Blues is the Citizen Kane of TV drama, which is the analogy we actually use in the essay for it in TV (THE BOOK).

Matt: MASH might be the Citizen Kane of comedy.

Alan: yeah, I Love Lucy was more influential, but it was too early for the parallel to be exact, in that part of what made Citizen Kane so important was that it took a whole lot of things that other movies had done in pieces over decades and put them all in the same film.


Which TV show would you most want to read an oral history of (not counting the Wire since that book is in progress)?

tvthebook21 karma

Alan: The Good Wife, but only if Margulies and Panjabi are injected with truth serum before their interviews.

Matt: Twin Peaks.

laura_r0slin5 karma

What was the worst or most disappointing episode of tv you've watched this year so far?

tvthebook9 karma

Alan: The Good Wife finale was really disappointing, given how great that show could be at times. And The Walking Dead finale was really stupid, but also reassuring, in that it made me feel less bad about my decision to stop watching a show I'd had a love-hate relationship with for a while.

tvthebook6 karma

Matt: I liked the Good Wife finale, the last ten minutes in particular. Alan is wrong about it. It's OK, though, this sometimes happens.

Oilfan99115 karma


What to you was the biggest "holy crap that just happened and now I'm screaming at my tv" moment from a scripted show?

tvthebook4 karma

In a positive or negative way?

Alan: Positive might be the realization that Lost was a flashforward. Negative might be the end of The Killing season 1 finale.

Matt: Positive would be the shooting of Wild Bill on Deadwood, negative would be George Vogelman in the nun's habit on The Practice.

Oilfan99114 karma

A follow up for Matt: Given that Wild Bill's death was a historical fact, what was it about his shooting that elicited that reaction?

tvthebook6 karma

Matt: I didn't expect it to happen so soon. When you cast Keith Carradine as Wild Bill, the audience expects (or at least I did) that he'd be around for awhile. The timing of it was what shocked me. But even more than that, the reaction of the camp. This was the first instance of this particular group of strangers being drawn together in common emotion by an unexpected turn of events, and as such, the end sequence of episode four, season one feels like a harbinger of everything Deadwood would eventually be about.

The slow-motion, the music, the editing, the performances by main actors and extras alike, were all extraordinary. I felt lightheaded watching the last ten minutes of that episode.


Which peak TV show will likely get remade/rebooted the fastest?

tvthebook13 karma

Alan: At some point ABC will probably try to do a remade/rebooted LOST without Lindelof and Cuse.

Matt: What Alan said. There's too much money to be made for them not to try to do Lost again.

affrosponge885 karma

Is Barney Miller covered at all in TV the book? It's my favorite show of all time.

tvthebook3 karma

Alan: Barney Miller is in the top 100. It's wonderful.

suaveitguy5 karma

What 70s/80s TV dramas would hold their own against the post-Sopranos dramas?

tvthebook10 karma

Alan: Early Hill Street Blues.

Matt: Season 1 of Crime Story, and season 2 of Hill Street Blues.

Diarrheaaaa5 karma

And you never say thank you!?

tvthebook8 karma


Kailola5 karma

Hey guys! Why weren't Good Times, Fresh Prince & Sandford + Son included in the T100 ranking? And I think the 1996 series 'Profit' should've gotten a s/o somewhere in the book; any reason it didn't? Thanks for making this btw!

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: Good Times is in our honorable mentions section, because it was a mix of great and frustrating. Sanford and Fresh Prince are shows I enjoyed when I was younger, but I wouldn't put either one over any of the comedies that were in the top 100.

Matt: We talked about putting Profit in that honorable mentions section. I was a big fan of that. At a certain point, we couldn't put every show we liked in there. But it was a real antecedent of a lot of the modern dramas.

suaveitguy4 karma

SNL, SCTV, or Flying Circus?

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: SCTV.

Alan: Monty Python.

Ahiru774 karma

Thank you for coming. So according to the point ranking Simspons, Sopranos, Cheers, Wire and Breaking Bad are ALL number one. Right?

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: Yes, and we had to settle the one through five order by discussing each show's merits.

wesleymead4 karma

Which of the shows in TV (THE BOOK) holds up the least for viewers today? That scored well on your objective measures but is a challenging watch for 21st century audiences? (COSBY SHOW aside, naturally, as that'd likely be a hands-down winner)

tvthebook13 karma

Matt: I love I LOVE LUCY, but the sexism of the way Lucy's character is conceived, and the rather hidebound portrait of men and women generally, makes it a tough sit.

But then, that's true of almost anything once enough time has passed. I am a big believer that you have to try to put things in context and think more about why the are interesting and important and not so much about whether you approve of them politically. This has been a generator of some controversy in my writing about TV and film. I often come back to the same analogy: if it is possible to go to an art museum and look at art from other eras that is in some way offensive to modern, secular or liberal sensibilities, and not become paralyzed by anger and disapproval, why can't we extend film and TV the same courtesy? Detach a bit.

SoSaysAT4 karma

What episode of a tv show has resonated the most with you, emotionally?

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: Either the episode of Deadwood where they bury Wild Bill, or the episode of Hill Street Blues that ends with Furillo railroading a couple of rape suspects into confessing and then going to a confession booth to ask forgiveness for his sins.

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: Probably one of those Pelecanos episodes of The Wire, whether "Where's Wallace?" or "Are you gonna help me, Sgt. Carver?" But the one that made me into a TV critic in the first place is the fourth episode of NYPD Blue, which I think is called "True Confessions," where the David Schwimmer character died. That gave me a feeling I had never experienced watching TV before, and it made me say, "I have to write about this." 23 years later, I still am.


Do either of you have any particular hopes for where television as a whole might go from here, i.e. what trends and/or standards they might pursue more vigorously or discard entirely?

tvthebook7 karma

Matt: I think we're going to see a gradual shift away from long-form, serialized narratives because they don't fit the reality of people's lives anymore. Things are so fragmented now and the number one complaint I hear from a lot of people is that it's harder to concentrate on anything and that there's so much interesting or good stuff on TV that it's physically impossible to follow it all; there just aren't enough hours in a day.

The anthology format where the unit of measure is the season, as opposed to the episode, will benefit tremendously from this shift, I bet.

Karebare6654 karma

What tv show did the two of you disagree the most when ranking shows or was there a show one of you wanted to include but the other didn't?

tvthebook9 karma

Alan: In the top 100, there are definitely shows that one of us ranked significantly more highly than the other, but the only one that's on that list where one of us doesn't agree at all is Boardwalk Empire, which Matt loves the fourth season of but doesn't feel is worthy of such recognition on the whole.

Also, I roll my eyes every time Matt praises Cop Rock (which is not in the top 100, but is in the book), just as he does whenever I talk about Chuck.

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: Cop Rock is awesome. People were not ready for it in 1990. Today it seems merely innovative and eccentric, back then it struck people as deeply stupid and in some ways artistically blasphemous.

suaveitguy4 karma

Did you watch the Red Letter Media Star Wars reviews? What did you think of them as film criticism?

tvthebook7 karma

Matt: I wrote a whole long piece about them back in 2009 for the IFC film site, though at the moment I can't find it. I thought he was doing something very unusual and interesting, and that there was some genuinely substantive criticism there if you looked past the shtick (which I don't think we were really supposed to do, considering how exuberant it was).

martinheron3 karma

I think the shtick's to give it appeal to those who wouldn't normally dive into serious deconstructive analysis of a film. I (and many others, I imagine) would appreciate them if it was just laying out flat all the analysis - which is all pretty spot on - but the more passive audience wouldn't give it their time.

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: I like that way of looking at it. I thought the fictional "framing device" or what have you was quite well done and imaginative. I think I might've compared it to Nabokov's Pale Fire.

irregular_fan4 karma

which is your favorite, "the wonder years" or "freaks and geeks"?

tvthebook9 karma

Alan: Freaks and Geeks scored more highly for both of us, and it's in a higher spot in the top 100 than Wonder Years. But it also had the benefit of living fast, dying young, and leaving a good-looking corpse, whereas Wonder Years had to go through Kevin's teenage years where he became, by design, pretty insufferable. A five or six-season run of Freaks and Geeks would probably have been less perfect than the version that we got for just a year.

Soupiertiger4 karma

Hi, I'm a huge fan and have a quick question you probably get all the time. I write reviews for movies and TV for fun sometimes, and I was wondering what advice you would give to someone starting out? I don't necessarily care about ever getting paid to do, I just want to do the best work possible. Thanks for your time, and thanks for making great content.

tvthebook7 karma

Matt: Alan and I came in at the tail end of the newspaper age, the last great age of newspapers, in the nineties. I make about the same amount of money today that I did in 1995 and I have two full time jobs and write two books a year, whereas back then I just had one job That tells you all you need to know about the state of the industry. If you want to just keep your head above water, as the Good Times theme once said, you have to be absolutely relentless, tireless, and resourceful. Otherwise have something that pays the bills and write for enjoyment. That's probably not the answer you wanted to hear but things are really harsh out there for artists of all kinds, writers especially, because people no longer seem to want to pay money for anything, including TV, movies, journalism or music. They think their time actually equals money. I don't know how this can be solved in a way that benefits artists. It's a serious problem.

tvthebook6 karma

Alan: If you don't care about getting paid to do it — and it is a much harder job to make a living at than it was when the two of us started — then my advice is simple: write as much as you can, about both the things you care about most and also about things you might feel ambivalent about. Repetition will make you better, and you need to test yourself sometimes by finding a way to articulate your feelings about something you neither love nor hate.

suaveitguy3 karma

Do you use reddit, or read any of its discussions about films or TV? What's your take on the quality of the discussion here?

tvthebook8 karma

Matt: Not really, but only because I'm so busy with my day jobs as a film critic and TV critic that I can't risk going down the rabbit hole that is a comments section -- especially an intelligent one!

suaveitguy3 karma

When's it OK to discuss a new episode without worrying about spoilers?

tvthebook10 karma

Alan: I would say in any forum like our respective websites, where people are making an active choice to read about an episode of TV, it is fair to do it immediately. I tend to be more careful in terms of headlines, tweets, and other things that people can't help but seeing.

Matt: I have an absolutist policy about this, which is: if the episode just ended, I'm going to go ahead and tweet about it and post about it on Facebook. Anybody who follows me is going to figure out that this is how I roll. I'm not going to take a three hour window to wait for people on the West Coast to catch up, because people on the West Coast don't generally give people in England or Japan the same courtesy. If you don't want to be spoiled, stay off social media. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but the alternative is expecting people to schedule their lives according to your needs, and that's not fair.

BenH19793 karma

Matt, I always enjoy listening to you on the Vulture TV Podcast. Alan, your Firewall & Iceberg podcast is sorely missed. Do you still have a replacement podcast in the works?

tvthebook3 karma

Alan: I would like to do another podcast at some point. It's just hard to replicate the chemistry Dan and I had after being friends for so long even before we became colleagues. But probably sometime in the next six months, you will hear me announcing plans for a new one.

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: Thank you.

radicalheadphone3 karma

Hi Matt and Alan, what are some movies from the 70s you think are essential that the average movie goer may not know about?

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: The Parallax View is a perfect film that nobody talks about. I also like Night Moves, Thieves Like Us, Sisters, Comes a Horseman, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Brewster McCloud.

suaveitguy3 karma

Did you love American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson? What actor/character was your favorite portrayal? Who surprised you the most?

tvthebook8 karma

Matt: We both liked it. It's hard to choose a favorite from that cast, but I find myself thinking about Sarah Paulson's Marcia Clark and Sterling K. Brown's Chris Darden a lot.

I wouldn't mind seeing them do the Michael Jackson trial at some point, because then they could bring back Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran.

SpecAgentJohnUtah3 karma

Alan- I cannot believe you think Lester Freeman would be your choice as the best detective at investigating a murder from The Wire. The team of McNulty and the Bunk is the only choice. I agree for a large and complex investigation Lester is the go to. However, Bunk and McNulty's (as long as McNulty isn't on a bender) work on Deidre's murder proves that for a normal murder, they are the dream team.

Can you explain why you think Lester Freeman is the best murder detective (or POHlice)? Or, if you want to just admit defeat and issue a formal apology.

In all seriousness, I really enjoy reading your show recommendations and recaps. Thank you for all of your work.

tvthebook9 karma

Alan: Lester is the greatest natural murder police on that show. I will not apologize for that opinion. Yes, his specialty is in doing sprawling investigations with wiretaps and computer monitoring, but we also have so many examples of him being brilliant at basic investigative moments, like finding the soda can with the fingerprint after Kima gets shot, or figuring out where Lex is, or the work he and Bunk do together investigating the dead girls in the can in season 2. No knock against Jimmy or the Bunk, but I will always choose Cool Lester Smooth.

Jerkface863 karma

Considering there is so much great American TV now a days, do you have any chance to watch non-English TV series'?

tvthebook6 karma

Alan: We do. I just watched and reviewed all of season 1 of Italy's Gomorrah, which I found well directed and exciting but largely empty because none of the characters was particularly well-defined. My rule of thumb is that if a show is readily available to a US audience, like that on Sundance, or some of the foreign shows that Netflix or Hulu carry, I will write about it if I find the show interesting and have time. I keep meaning to get around to Borgen, but because it's barely been available in the States (for a while, it was just on one PBS affiliate in California), I haven't been able to justify the time commitment to doing it. And I still don't have time for some shows that meet my qualifications, like Peaky Blinders.

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: We watch non-US series but for obvious reasons they tend to be ones that happened to make it to a US network or streaming service. That's why we didn't include non-US shows in our ranking. Viewers who have spent most of their lives in the US who try to tell you what the best English or Japanese Tv show is cannot be trusted. They only see what makes it here, for the most part. It's a skewed sample.

Rockky673 karma

How hard is it to keep up with all the TV you're supposed to watch? Have you ever used (or been tempted to use) x1.25 speed (or more) to skip through an episode?

tvthebook5 karma

Alan: It's getting harder and harder. This week, I watched all eight episodes of Cinemax's Quarry, even though I more or less had solidified my feelings about it after four, and as I kept watching the remaining ones — partly out of wanting to be sure they didn't change my opinion, partly because I was enjoying it a little too much to stop — I kept feeling angst about all the other screeners I should have been watching.

There's just no way to watch everything now as a critic, especially if you want to watch multiple episodes of shows pre-premiere. I don't watch shows sped up, but I do often have a quicker trigger finger on giving up on a show. Where I used to give a show that seemed even vaguely promising at least two, and usually three or four, episodes before I walked away, now I will not only give up on shows after mediocre pilots — which I know is unfair, because pilots are often so wildly unrepresentative — but sometimes midway through the pilots, because I can tell it just isn't for me. (I will not review those shows, of course.)

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: For shows that are not strictly serialized from week to week, I will sometimes catch up on a season by reading the episode summaries and some recaps to see which ones are especially eventful, then watch all of those episodes (normal speed) and fill in the gaps by watching individual scenes or bits of scenes from the episodes in between those. This is not a perfect solution, but if I cloned myself 100 times I still couldn't watch every scripted show that is actively in production at the moment.

suaveitguy3 karma

What made Roger Ebert so popular, and pretty much transcend the role of critic? What set him apart? Who is his heir these days in terms of skill, influence, and popularity?

tvthebook9 karma

Matt: Roger was able to explain relatively complicated concepts in plain language to almost anyone reading him, and do it in such an easygoing way that you rarely felt he was trying to explain anything to you.

matterpink13 karma

How long was the initial list of TV shows for the Top 100?

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: It was somewhere between 225 and 250 shows. I originally wanted the list to be 250, and Alan said, "That was a little too much like everyone gets a trophy."

Alan: But our editor says there are around 200 essays overall in the book, counting current shows, the honorable mentions, movies and miniseries, so everyone DID get a trophy, in a way.

BurnThis23 karma

Better fantasy moment, Ally McBeal's dancing baby or song-and-dancing Bert Cooper?

tvthebook7 karma

Alan: Bert Cooper, and it's not even close. Even if the dancing baby was the moment when Ally briefly became the most talked-about show on TV.

kbeef23 karma


tvthebook3 karma

Matt: Cop Rock is covered in A Certain Regard, and I gave it plenty of love. People still refuse to believe me when I say that show is good. It was ahead of its time.

DavidDontDiveNoMore2 karma

Hey guys, great work on the book. Are you guys planning on revisiting the rankings once some of the shows in the incomplete section have finished up? I'd be interested to see where Bojack or Fargo rank (or if they do at all)!

tvthebook5 karma

Alan: Our hope is that the book is successful enough that we will do future editions where exactly that happens. Americans will almost certainly wind up with a high spot in the top 100, Leftovers very well could if the third season is anywhere close to the second, I could see BoJack doing well, etc. Though this of course means that some of those shows near the bottom of the Pantheon — your Terrierses and NewsRadios — would likely fall out. But maybe we'll put them elsewhere. Or just write all new essays. We are already keeping a running tally of shows we wish we had written about somewhere, like Party Down or Southland or Titus.

Matt: I'm really dreading having to make those decisions in future editions.

prayingmanticore2 karma

What do you think the role of visual formalism should be in assessing a tv show? I think there are some shows - for example, Hannibal or the Knick - where the innovation on that front is part of what makes the show as good as it is. Conversely, something like the X-Files (which I've always thought of as being aesthetically neutral) doesn't seem to have seen any adverse effect on its standing, or encountered any criticism, for lack of visual dynamism.

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: It's very important for me, less so for others. The problem you sometimes run into, though, is that visual/filmmaking excellent can sometimes overshadow problems elsewhere in the series, such as acting or writing. The Knick had a touch of that -- the direction was brilliant, the writing and acting very good but not on the same level. Mr. Robot has a touch of this, I think.

SoSaysAT2 karma

Question for both of you - which TV creator/show runner would you say impressed you the most, either as an artist, a visionary, creatively, whatever? I'm thinking Larry David, David Simon, Vince Gilligan, etc. What about that person was so impressive to you?

Bonus question - has there been any creator that you feel did not live up to their potential?

tvthebook6 karma

Alan: In an odd way, it's Gilligan, just because he's so gosh-darned NICE and relentlessly generous with his praise for others in a way that seems superhuman compared to even the most magnanimous and down-to-earth showrunners of classic series (say, Shawn Ryan). Chase is a genius. Milch is a genius. Simon is a genius. There are lots of brilliant men and women who have created TV. But creation can be a difficult act, and it can darken the people who do it. And while I'm sure Gilligan has his darker moments — I like to joke that he's like Ronald Reagan in the classic SNL "Mastermind" sketch with Phil Hartman, where the whole nice guy from Virginia thing is a put-on — that he's able to give us a show like Breaking Bad (or Saul, or his episodes of X-Files) and still carry himself the way that he does is remarkable.

ccguy2 karma

Alan, long time reader here from the NYPD Blue days. "The Americans" and "House of Cards" premiered around the same time. I remember reading an advance review of the shows somewhere that said "House of Cards" was poised for greatness but "The Americans" would be an entertaining show and not much more. Four seasons later and the reverse is true. Both shows seem to thrive on a "how-long-can-they-get-away-with-this" thing, but to me it seems like they're stretching the Underwoods-are-evil story while the Jennings' story is much more organic. What's your take on what makes each show great or not-so-great?

tvthebook6 karma

Alan: Coming back to answer a few more during train ride home.

I just think Cards is a show with too high an opinion of itself. If it was willing to accept its own trashy silliness, I might still be watching. The Americans show runners, though, sweat out everything and work Very hard to make every moment ring emotionally true to the characters.

Ruddiver2 karma

I need a new GREAT show to watch. I have already seen Breaking Bad, The Wire, the Sopranos, first Season True Detective

I want to watch greatness again. My top contenders that I have never seen are Fargo, The Americans, and maybe House of Cards first seasons? Am I on the right track?

tvthebook11 karma

Matt: I wold go with Fargo. It's fun, cool, dark and surprising in both seasons, but season two particularly.

tvthebook25 karma

Alan: Americans is also extraordinary. Don't bother with House of Cards. Highly overrated due to the Netflix factor. A dumb show that thinks it's a smart one.

TorgoAteMyHamster2 karma

Hi, gentlemen! Is there any show currently on that satirizes TV and movie business better than Bojack Horseman? Plus a bonus question: what do you expect from the third season of You're the worst, if you're watching it.

tvthebook2 karma

Matt: Current? No.

Alan: I like what You're the Worst has done so far this season in terms of being a bit lighter and more overtly comic than last year, without ignoring all the emotional darkness of that season. But I HATE the Lindsay subplot and hope she and Paul split very very soon.

BurnThis22 karma

Is "as God is my witness I thought turkeys could fly" one of the best TV quotes ever? Any love for WKRP in Cincinnati?

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: WKRP made it into the top 100. I think it's one of the great shows of the seventies, comedy or drama.

radicalheadphone2 karma

Alan, Matt's favorite show of the year is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Do you agree and if not, what's yours?

tvthebook6 karma

Alan: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is pretty great, and if the book had gone to press a month or so later, it probably would have gotten a longer essay in the Works in Progress section. Instead, I wound up giving that last-second treatment to UnREAL, a decision I began to regret ever more as season 2 got worse and worse.

Favorite show of the year? Probably The Americans season 4, which was their best yet, but Horace and Pete really did a number on me and was just so surprising in so many ways.

jamkru212 karma

Hey guys! Really enjoyed the book, especially since it proves I'm not crazy thinking Simpsons is better than the Wire even though I love both! I just wanted to know what some of your favorite game shows of all time were? I know the book focused on narrative series but I was just curious if there were any particular game shows over the years that have stuck out to you!

tvthebook6 karma

Alan: As a kid, one of my favorite parts of days when I got to stay home from school was watching The Price Is Right at 11 a.m. on CBS. As an adult, when I have time for game shows, I enjoy Jeopardy! And I believe I watched every episode of Win Ben Stein's Money, even the post-Kimmel seasons.

fdw11382 karma

For the individually written essays, how did you decide who would write about each show? Did it come down to who had given the show a higher score, or was there some other selection process?

How much input did the other have in an essay written by one of you? (Aside from things like the coauthor's note in Alan's Arrested Development essay––Matt, I agree with you completely about season 4)

tvthebook3 karma

Alan: It was a mix of things. I didn't want to do too many of the Revolution Was Televised shows that finished outside the top 10 (where we agreed all essays would be co-written), so Matt did BSG and 24, for instance. In some cases, it was who had more passion for it. In others, it was one of us saying, "I've written too many things about this in the past, and I have nothing new to say." And sometimes essays would start out individual and become joint efforts. About half of that Cosby Show essay was written by Matt, after we agreed my initial draft needed to cover more of both the show's greatness and the allegations against Cosby. And our editor didn't like the original version of our Sex and the City essay, so we went in and redid it, borrowing pieces from different ideas.

tvthebook1 karma

Matt: Season four is underrated. It will be appreciated in time.

suaveitguy2 karma

What's your guilty pleasure in terms of tv shows? Any that people make fun of you for enjoying?

tvthebook9 karma

Matt: I still like to revisit certain shows from my youth that are, to put it mildly, less than good. Like Welcome Back, Kotter and The Six Million Dollar Man.

Frajer2 karma

Do you watch TV differently when it's for pleasure versus as a critic ?

tvthebook7 karma

Matt: I am incapable of watching anything, for work or pleasure, TV or film, without taking notes. On those occasions when I try to watch something without taking notes I eventually get paper and a pen and start taking notes. My children make fun of me for this.

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: Well, I have my laptop out taking exhaustive notes when I'm watching anything I intend to write about. Whereas I'm just watching — or watching and playing Subway Surfer — if it's just for pleasure or to kill time.

(Occasionally, I use that as a kind of litmus test: if the show is so relatively unengaging that I want to stop taking notes and play Subway Surfer, it's probably not one I'm going to stick with.)

yayoyesyou2 karma

What is your favourite episode of The Sopranos?

tvthebook8 karma

Matt: It's hard to choose a favorite, but the one I think about the most is the episode where Christopher gets killed and Tony has the peyote trip in the desert.

matterpink12 karma

Are you guys subscribed to all the streaming services? What do you think are strong suits of each and what they all could do better?

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: I have Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu subscriptions. Netflix has the best interface, and the biggest and most diverse array of original programming. Hulu probably has the best overall library of older shows right now, and I like that they are trying to release their original shows weekly, even if it doesn't always suit the show. (Casual is a much better binge, for instance.) Amazon has library rights to a bunch of my favorite shows that aren't available on the other services, like Americans and Hannibal, and Transparent is probably the best of all the original streaming series.

I talked before about how I think Netflix needs to rediscover the importance of the individual episode, which I also write about for HitFix a while back

TimSPC2 karma

What show from the network-dominated past would have benefited from the current TV landscape?

tvthebook6 karma

Matt: Hill Street Blues. There was some sexuality, very rare glimpses of nudity, and some violence that was brutal but not explicit. And the curse words were all made up: "Dog breath." you definitely felt like you were watching a show that had been redacted. It was a PG rated show that in its heart was R-rated. I would be curious to see what an R-rated version would look like.

Alan: EZ Streets was the first pilot I watched in this job. I adored it. It was, in many ways, Sopranos before Sopranos. (It even had Joey Pants as the main gangster!) But because it was on CBS and had a complicated serialized narrative, audiences ran screaming and it was basically canceled after two episodes had aired. Even a few years later, that show could have found a much more suitable home.

Sibbo942 karma

Hey guys, just wanted to say I love Revolution was Televised, Mad Men Carousel and everything else you guys put out on online.

2 Questions:

1 - How do you feel about streaming shows being treated as 8-13 hour long movies? Because I can't help but feel that's the main negative when I watch a Netflix drama. Even the ones I've enjoyed like Jessica Jones, I wish that they'd been tighter 8-10 episode shows with sub-50 minute running times.

2 - Any idea on how to get hold of TV the Book in the UK? Because Amazon is saying it's out of stock despite having pre-order ages ago and no where else seems to be stocking it.

tvthebook3 karma

Alan: 1)I think that's a problem, as I've written about elsewhere in this AMA. Shorter seasons, shorter episodes, and more clearly-defined episodes would all help most of their shows.

2)We're not sure what's going on with the UK distribution, but are investigating.

timclarkejr2 karma

Any suggestions for prodding along a teenaged budding film critic? Suggestions on course work or internships?

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: Read lots of criticism by good critics and write at least two hours a day. Then start sending your best stuff to web sites that accept unsolicited submissions. That's the best route in.

louieschuth2 karma

Any picks for shows with really underrated filmmaking? After reading the essay from the book on The Andy Griffth Show, I thought a lot about that show's uncommonly great filmmaking. A personal favorite is the scene in "Man in a Hurry" where Andy and Barney are singing on the porch and Mr. Tucker slowly loosens up and joins in.

Thanks for the book. I really love it.

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: You mentioned Andy Griffith, but I'd also recommend The Rifleman, which had some extraordinary, if very restrained, classical storytelling, and also The Bold Ones: the Senator, which had a verite sort of style long before that kind of thing became fashionable in TV drama.

SoSaysAT2 karma

Whenever I hear people talk about "golden age of television" they are almost always referring to dramas. Do you feel that comedies/sitcoms don't get their proper due? If so, why is that?

tvthebook5 karma

Alan: I think part of it is that there are a lot more contenders for Best Sitcom Ever from TV's first few decades than there are dramas. You could do an all-time drama top 10 list, include only shows that aired from the time of The Sopranos premiere onward, and it would be a plausible list. It wouldn't be a correct list, because you'd be leaving out Hill Street and Twilight Zone and some other candidates, but it wouldn't look silly. A best sitcoms ever list that had nothing that aired prior to 1999 would just be dumb, because it would ignore Lucy, Honeymooners, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, Cheers, etc., etc., etc. So while there are tons of great comedies now, there have almost always been great comedies on TV. The abundance of great drama feels like a newer phenomenon.

MarshaMason2 karma

Do you think your method of rankings rewarded innovation and topicality too much and punished shows that were just plain hilarious (like Golden Girls) or very well done (like Six Feet Under)?

tvthebook3 karma

Alan: I think that's fair to a degree. I prefer Parks and Rec to several comedies that finished above it, but because it wasn't really innovative (copying The Office template) and wasn't really influential (even if Pratt and others are becoming more famous now), it was always going to be doomed to mid-Pantheondom. And that bothers me a little.

But I'm not sure there's a perfect formula for doing this. This was the best of many options we tried, and ultimately we're happy with the shows that are in that top 100 (give or take Matt's feelings on Boardwalk Empire), and that we were given an opportunity to write about them again, regardless of where they were all placed.

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: I don't think so. I Love Lucy, All in the Family and Cheers are in the top 10, and they were all basically perfected versions of techniques that had been done extensively in the past, although the characters and themes were new.

I am an innovation guy, though, that's true.

BurnThis22 karma

More tears - Henry Blake's death or Bubbles being invited upstairs to dinner? God I love TV!

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: For me, it's Bubbles, just because I was older and could more fully appreciate the implications of it the first time I watched. But Blake's death is an amazing moment.

Matt: Colonel Blake's death. I was so young, and had no idea you could kill off a major character in that way.

JPFisher2 karma

So obviously Hill Street and NYPD Blue are included, and I'm happy to hear about Matt's love of Cop Rock (#babymerchant).

Do you guys talk about the weirdness of Bochco's resume in the book? To finish off NYPD Blue and then follow-up immediately with Blind Justice, how does that happen?

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: Bochco is one of the perfect examples of the high-low artist, at once very sophisticated and willfully naive. I am not hugely surprised that he's seesawed between fairly highbrow and fairly lowbrow stuff. I frankly wish that more show runners did that kind of thing. I would love to see David Chase do a pretty trashy, fun genre show, though I wonder if that's the sort of thing he'd even be capable of, given his tendency to brood and deconstruct things.

tvthebook5 karma

Alan: I think Bochco's greatest strength as a producer is a bit like Sid Caesar's: he is great at identifying talented writers with whom he wants to work. When he's got a gifted partner like a Milch or David E. Kelley, his shows are great. When he's working with someone less brilliant, his stuff is much more generic, if not, in the case of Blind Justice, outright silly.

But Milch often talks about how valuable it was to work with Bochco on the early parts of NYPD Blue, because Bochco has a much better command of structure and basic plotting than Milch does, so the show was a lot more coherent and propulsive before Bochco took a step back. It's a Lennon-and-McCartney thing, where each complements the other, and they're probably better than apart. (Which is to say, as much as we love Deadwood, there are times when it borders on incoherent. I just asked Matt to explain what Miss Isringhausen's plan was, and he said, "It was to so beguile producers of other shows that the actress would be nominated for dozens of Emmys years later.")

suaveitguy1 karma

What is Wes Anderson's Achilles heel? What's his biggest weakness as a filmmaker?

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: Sometimes he overcomplicates his presentation. On occasion his actors have alluded to this.

But aside from that, I think he's grown remarkably from film to film.

martinheron1 karma

What are the shows that you had high hopes for, but they never quite reached their potential? What do you think could've helped keep them on track?

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: Just to give one recent example: Roadies. I LOVE Cameron Crowe, even though it's been 15-plus years since he made a truly great movie, and the combination of him, Winnie Holzman, and the subject matter seemed tailor-made to appeal to me. But there were maybe two or three great episodes (the two road trip ones, and most of the finale), a lot of dumb ones, a central relationship that never mattered, and if Showtime cancels it, such is life.

odinthorman1 karma

What happened to the surrreal elements of television that Twin Peaks pushed the limits of? Do the delusions in Mr. Robot, genre send ups in Community, fantasy of GoT and the toe-dip into surrealism of Atlanta mark a renewed push into breaking through the doctored 'realism' of Breaking Bad, Narcos, Boardwalk Empire, Girls?

Or did Lost's fever dream aesthetic kill any mainstream interest

tvthebook2 karma

Matt: I think there's still plenty of surrealism on TV if you know where to look for it. Louie had plenty, Girls had a splash of it. Atlanta and Better Things might have a touch.

suaveitguy1 karma

Best character, major or minor, that has ever been on the Simpsons? Why?

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: Homer is the best major character. Funniest, most versatile, best driver of plots. I love lots of mid-tier characters like Barney and Skinner and Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure (RIP), but in terms of someone relatively minor and one-jokey, Professor Frink and Comic Book Guy never fail to make me laugh.

Matt: Homer is my favorite major character. My favorite minor character is Ned Flanders, because he typifies the put-upon, decent person in an indecent world.

greenchile271 karma

If Wiseguy happened 20 years later, what would be different about it and could it be considered a prestige show?

If they were to make it (or remake it) today, who would play Vinnie? And the Jonathan Banks character?

tvthebook3 karma

Alan: Wiseguy is in the top 100, both for its influence on what followed and for how great it was in its first few arcs, particularly Sonny Steelgrave and Mel Proffitt.

Matt: If he didn't have to be Italian, I would ask Ben Foster to play the new Vinnie. But then, I want Ben Foster to star in everything.

KasianPersuasion1 karma

You're so good at writing reviews for shows. Have you ever considered writing for or creating a show of your own?

tvthebook5 karma

Matt: Not sure who this is directed to, specifically, but: In another life I have written and produced a six-season post-apocalyptic drama that is basically a Battlestar Galactica-style reboot of Thundarr the Barbarian.

wilcoxcj1 karma

Why can't there be a third season of True Detective? Did season 2 really ruin the brand that badly, or is it that HBO doesn't want to deal with Pizzolatto that much? Why couldn't they learn from the mistakes of the third season (sorry Vince Vaughn) and try that again with the right leads and a story perhaps a tad less convoluted?

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: There has been talk of doing a third season at HBO with Pizzolatto in an advisory capacity but not actually writing the scripts or overseeing day-to-day production. I don't see any reason why they can't bring it back again and maybe hand it over to somebody else. And I am sure they will, because even though the second season kind of screwed the pooch, as they say in The Right Stuff, the name still means something.

diatho1 karma


All of the network presidents come to you and some time traveling scientists and give you this one mission:

Make a giant mashup tv show, combine casts, plots, and time periods. ie. MASH but with the casts from NYPD Blue and Fringe.

What is your super tv show?

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: I would like to see a show based on Dos Passos' USA novels, taking us through the first half of the twentieth century in a kaleidoscopic way. Those books were a big influence on Matthew Weiner's conception of Mad Men, BTW.

I guess if we were going with a strict mashup of existing series, I would like to see the detectives from Miami Vice try to catch the spies from The Americans.

The climax would be set to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," which both shows used in their pilots.

mepex1 karma

Who would you rather fight one on two, Hardcastle/McCormick, Starsky/Hutch, Scarecrow/Mrs. King, Cagney/Lacey, Laverne/Shirley or Simon/Simon?

tvthebook3 karma

Matt: I would fight Scarecrow and Mrs. King, because I'd only have to worry about Scarecrow. All the others would come after me equally hard.

Alan: I would least want to fight Simon and Simon, because they could show up to the brawl dressed like this:

Nordicus751 karma

Gentlemen, I was fairly captivated this summer by "Stranger Things" as many were. If they continue the type of quality from the first season, does the show make it into the second expanded edition?

tvthebook8 karma

Matt: I enjoyed Stranger Things as well, but I disliked the last ten minutes, the way they tried too blatantly to set up another season. I see a lot of series that I think in retrospect should've been miniseries or movies. Stranger Things is one of them. It arrived at a perfectly good stopping point, then decided to keep going. I don't like it when shows do that.

suaveitguy1 karma

What qualities make for a great broadcaster? What sets a Regis apart from a generic TV host? Who is the best broadcaster we have ever seen?

tvthebook4 karma

Matt: Johnny Carson. He was witty and in control no matter what the situation.

MrCaul1 karma

Do you pause when you take notes while watching something?

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: We have different but overlapping processes. Matt has a paper notebook out and jots things down in a way that resembles the journal of a serial killer, and he later transfers those live thoughts to a computer. I have my laptop out and am keeping more or less a running transcript of everything that's happening, everything that's said, and everything I'm feeling about particular moments or scenes, so that I can call on all that information hours, day, or even years later. But we both tend to watch straight through rather than pause, except in cases where we might want to go back to get the exact phrasing of a line of dialogue right.

MrCaul1 karma

in a way that resembles the journal of a serial killer



I would be a shoddy critic, because I don't like looking away, even for a second. But I guess it's about training.

tvthebook2 karma

Well, I don't look away. I'm a good enough typist — it's the most useful skill I picked up in high school — that I can take notes without looking away from the TV screen.

tvthebook4 karma

Matt: Sometimes, if I am trying to transcribe a long exchange of dialogue or a long monologue and want to get the wording right.

fdw11381 karma

Do either of you have plans or ambitions to write more book-length analyses of shows a la Matt's wonderful MAD MEN CAROUSEL?

tvthebook4 karma

Alan: You may be hearing about several such things very soon, as we are both working on Mad Men Carousel-style appreciations of single shows.

suaveitguy1 karma

Would you describe Wes Anderson's movies as twee? Any of them more than others?

tvthebook4 karma

Matt: Honestly, I never really knew what that word meant in relation to his films. If his films are twee, then so are the films of Whit Stillman and Preston Sturges.