Film & TV

May 2, 2014

Follow Friday: @mattzollerseitz, creating the internet water cooler

New York Magazine's Matt Zoller Seitz is your go-to guy for TV and film criticism and recaps. Plus he's besties with Wes Anderson. Worth a follow on Twitter ...

Matthew Clayfield

Journalist, critic, screenwriter and playwright

When The Sopranos ended its six-season run in June 2007, the controversial final sequence -- no spoilers here, dear reader -- became the stuff of water cooler conversations everywhere. By the time Breaking Bad came to its own conclusion last September, the very nature of such conversations had changed: the water cooler was now the internet -- social media, blogs and the countless websites offering instant, blow-by-blow recaps -- and the participants spanned the globe. (The rise in television piracy in Australia is no doubt due in part to this fact; the desire to take part in the conversation as it happens means that even a fast-tracked, overnight wait can be too long for some people.) New York Magazine's Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) has experienced this transformation first hand.

"The conversation surrounding television is probably the same size that it was 10 or 20 years ago," Seitz told Crikey. "But it's happening online, and people can talk to each other in different parts of the country instantaneously." "It feels overwhelming to me. Exciting, but overwhelming. I can't keep track of everything my peers are writing, and I certainly can't keep track of what people are saying in the comments sections of various websites. The most I can do is get a little taste of it. I used to interact very actively with readers in the comments sections of my blog, and then later at Salon and Vulture. But now that I'm the editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, I just can't spare the time. Really committing to one conversation online can draw some of your attention away over the course of a day or two. I miss letters to the editor." Seitz has long been my go-to guy for recaps of shows like Mad Men, Breaking BadThe Americans and, during its first season at least, Homeland. Episode-by-episode breakdowns are not everybody's cup of tea, of course, especially those behind the shows themselves. But while Seitz has occasionally experimented with reviews of entire seasons -- most notably Treme, whose creator David Simon has slammed episode recaps on the grounds that television "doesn’t mean anything until there’s a beginning, middle and an end" -- he nevertheless defends the form. "Recaps give you a forum to examine individual episodes in great detail and also to write about the emotional or intellectual experience of watching these television shows week by week. When you get done with a season, and you look back over all of your recaps, what you have is a mix of analysis, stand-up comedy, predictions that proved either right or wrong, and a whole mess of other stuff, a lot of which is digression. It's sort of like an EKG of the reactions of you and your audience over 10 to 24 weeks. "I decide what to recap based on how interested I am in a show. Because I'm the lead television critic for New York Magazine, I have that luxury. There are times when I do regret it, though. I wish I hadn't recapped the second season of Homeland, or the fifth season of Justified, because both were frustrating and disappointing. How many different ways can you say, 'I'm not really feeling it'?" Generally, though, he does feel it, at least with television as a medium. Asked to list his favourite shows, he quickly reels off nine, and then adds another two for good measure. "Louie, Mad Men, Girls, Hannibal, Game of Thrones, Archer, The Americans, Bob's Burgers, True Detective. I'll put Fargo on there as well, even though it's only just started, and American Horror Story, even though season three pretty much sucked." His list of television's most ambitious artists includes Louis C.K, Hannibal's Bryan Fuller ("This is the most visually and atmospherically striking network series since Twin Peaks [and] maybe since Miami Vice," he wrote in his year-end list of his favourite shows), Mad Men's Matthew Weiner and "the entire FX network".

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