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Spoiler Alert: Once Again, I'm Attacking Absurdly Tardy Spoiler-Alert Sensitivity
July 26, 2011  | By David Bianculli

I recently received a Twitter message (a Tweet, for you Savvier, Younger Communicators) from improv actor and teacher Kevin Mullaney, of Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre fame, who takes me to task for revealing what he considers too much information (TMI, to you SYCs) in my TV reviews for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

"Please stop revealing spoilers on your Fresh Air reviews," he tweets. Just finished Dexter 4 and wished I didn't know the end." Continuing to Tweet 2, he adds, "You keep doing it over and over with every TV show you review. I can't listen to them anymore."

Because Kevin said please, and implored me directly, I will respond just as directly. My response, in essence, is two words...

So don't.

I'm not being flippant about this. I don't mean or want to alienate Kevin, or any other listener or reader, by what or how I review. But on this point, I want to be firm, and clear, and unwavering, and completely, defiantly unapologetic.

Spoiler Alerts, like milk, must have an expiration date. Otherwise, it's a Spoiled Alert -- meaning that you've waited far too long to enjoy the product without letting anyone else cry, or laugh, over the spilt milk.


The first time I addressed this issue at length here was last September, in 2010, when the same Dexter complaint came up. The full column, with its delightful reactions from supportive readers, can be read HERE.)

Now it'a almost a year later, and I've gotten another complaint, a year later, about someone who has "just finished Dexter 4." In two months, Showtime will present the season premiere of Dexter 6, which means yet another year has gone by.

Literally, another year. The fourth-season finale of Dexter, in which Michael C. Hall's titular character to came home to find his wife dead in the bathtub, the final victim of the Trinity Killer (oops, I did it again), was televised in December 2009.

The DVD set of that entire fourth season, which could be purchased or rented by those who don't subscribe to Showtime, was released in August 2010. In less than a week, it will be August 2011. A whole other season of Dexter has come and gone in the meantime -- yet I'm still upsetting people with my own year-old plot discussion?

Back in 2010, as part of that article you probably didn't click on, I wrote the following:

So how long, as a professional critic, am I supposed to wait before the pop-culture stragglers finally get around to the wanna-see stuff in their "To Do" piles? Do I have to wait until the slowest runner in the marathon crosses the finish line? And even then, what about Viewers: The Next Generation?

In the case of Dexter, I think -- and I assert, I argue, I insist -- that I'm completely within my rights, when a new season of a TV show begins, to discuss how the previous season ended. How else can it be placed into context? And if nine months isn't more than enough time to keep mum before "spoiling" something, then something's wrong. And not with me.



Bambi's mother died for our sins.

Or, at least, to give us something memorable and worthwhile and emotionally evocative to discuss when talking about that animated 1942 Disney film. Every six years, as Disney sees it, is a whole new generation of consumers -- very young people who are seeing Bambi for the first time.

But most of them can't read before age 6, so it's relatively safe to make my Spoiler Alert point using a cartoon that, next year, will be 70 years old. And coincidentally, 70 years is the current age of one of the most famous secret-ending movies of all time, Citizen Kane.

Is it okay, after six full decades, to reveal the meaning of the word "Rosebud"? Or, after all this time, are we still sledding on thin ice?

My bottom line, once again, is this:

I place myself among the critics most responsible and respectful when it comes to not revealing secrets, punch lines, or pivotal plot lines when previewing a TV show. It's when I'm RE-viewing it, and discussing events that have long since become part of the show's canon, that I feel not only permitted, but obliged, to recount and analyze them. Otherwise, what's a critic for?

If you care enough about a work of art to keep its surprises secret from you before you get around to them, then the responsibility to avoid information about that work of art eventually becomes yours, not mine.

And sorry, Kevin Mullaney @ircmullaney , if I just inadvertently ruined Bambi for you...





Mara said:

I have no sympathy for these procrastinators! I think there should be a bit of a window of discretion for those who don't get the fancy cable channels and have to wait for the dvd, but these days, that is really not much of a window. But there is also only a small window when the collective tv viewership is focused on a shocking ending or a particular story-line, and you kind of have to get in then if you want to avoid having your illusions shattered by spoilers. For me, a lot of the fun of watching tv is discussing it with other people who are watching the same thing, and I get very frustrated with people (friends and virtual friends) who don't watch things in their moment. It seems like there are so many options for watching tv these days that you almost have to put in a real effort to miss something. I'm with you, no apologies!

[Thanks, Mara! I needed that. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 26, 2011 11:52 AM

Eileen said:

This is very disturbing. I've been a faithful reader of TVWW since its inception and never, ever have you revealed the ending of a new (emphasis on new) episode or finale of a show.

As I've noted before, your reviews and those of the TVWW critics, are what have drawn your loyal readers in, but have never turned us away. Many are the shows I would have missed had it not been for a review which really piqued my curiosity.

There certainly is a time limit on spoilers. When The Sopranos ended a few years back, the finale was certainly the talk of tv viewers everywhere for days after. So if someone like Kevin wasn't up-to-speed on the show, he would have been sorely disappointed. If I recall, Everybody Hates Chris actually patterned their final show after that Soprano episode. And Mad Men has been the proverbial "water cooler" show since it first aired, and with many of its episodes being somewhat controversial, of course tv critics are going to take a second look, and discuss a particular episode post-air at length.

So from your TVWW fan club, please doing just what you do. We truly rely on you.

[Thanks for the support, Eileen -- for this, and from day one. -- DB]

Comment posted on July 26, 2011 5:33 PM

Evelyn said:

I absolutely agree with you on adopting the reviewing policy that once the show has aired it's fair game to comment on specific plot points, however I would argue that in your previous blog on Curb Your Enthusiasm & Entourage you violated this policy "in spirit" if not completely. Prior to the season premiere of Entourage you reveal that Eric & Sloan have split-up (they were engaged at the end of last season) and that clearly something really final and dark happens in the third episode. From your review I assumed I must have missed the premiere episode so I went to HBO On Demand and discovered that it had yet to air. While it may seam like minor reveals from your perspective, I don't like to know so far ahead of time of story arcs and unlike the blurbs you create for the "Best Bets" of the day you didn't even present the information as a "will they, won't they get married?" teaser. I feel disappointed that I can't enjoy the obvious huge plot twist that occurs during the third episode, because I'm now totally prepared for something huge and dark to happen on that specific episode.

One of the joys of good television is experiencing the unexpected. For example, had my friends and I known when Stringer Bell was going to be killed on The Wire, I would have missed out on one of the best memories of watching television EVER because we were all completely taken off guard! Entourage is billed as a comedy, so the revelation of the huge dark plot twist that occurs in the third episode means I won't be able to be completely surprised.

I really value what you bring to my television viewing. On more than one occasion I've discovered a hidden gem that I would have missed were it not for your "Best Bets". I will continue to visit TVWW and listen to you on Fresh Air, all I ask of you is that you try as hard as possible to give me as pure of a viewing experience as you can. I want to have as many "Watha...did I just see Stringer Bell die?" moments in the future.

[I'm with you, and I'm glad you're with me. I'll accept that the Sloan mention was revealing SOMETHING, though she and Eric have been on and off again more than a light switch, so I thought it was a very minor reveal. As for the change in tone that happens in episode three, I didn't even suggest what type of darkness it was. After you see it, I hope you'll agree I handled things fairly and with restraint, and did not take away any surprise... - DB]

Comment posted on July 26, 2011 7:08 PM
Tom said:

I just felt like stating on thing Mr. B. - you sir make me laugh and I will read this site until your hands fall off or you stop writing - which ever happens first. I totally agree that the spoiler alerts are stupid a year after broadcast. I myself knew the ending of Season 4 of Dexter before I started watching it (I watch everything on demand and multiple episodes at a time - not the best way to view things) due to the fine folks at Showtime who put out a promo loop for Season 5 that directly mentions the big kill in Season 4. If he's angry for you mentioning it on the radio 2 years later I should be outside Showtime with a pitch fork for revealing it in promo material less than a month before the new season premiered. Oddly my pitch fork is still in the shed because it was my fault as it was Mr. Complainer's fault. I always live by an important rule in terms of entertainment - you don't want it spoiled watch it live or live under a rock.

Your writing is hilarious - keep writing, please.

[I will, thanks -- even if, in the future, I have to adopt a "hands-off" approach... -- DB]

Comment posted on July 26, 2011 9:15 PM

Vance said:


I agree that there's a statute of limitations on spoilers. However, can you explain why movie trailer and tv show preview producers insist on including every single solitary plot twist in their work? I want to be surprised by plot developments. Today's trailer for Alien would begin with the creature popping out of John Hurt's chest. Sheesh.

[I don't get out to the movies much these days -- too much TV, too little time -- but when I do, the trailers drive me mad. More than once, I have become that cranky old guy in the darkened theater, at the end of a too-revealing promo, who shouts, "But what happens in the LAST five minutes of the movie?" -- DB]

Comment posted on July 26, 2011 9:43 PM

Erin said:

David, I totally agree with you. It drives me nuts when people complain about supposedly unwittingly coming across spoilers to TV shows. Once something airs on the west coast, it is fair game for review and discussion (though I appreciate you and other critics from being too spoiler-y with Friday Night Lights after it aired on DirecTV but before it aired on NBC). It is viewers' responsibility to avoid media in which they may come across revelations about the program (I would advocate for viewers to use How I Met Your Mother's Sensory Deprivator 5000, but that episode only aired in 2007, so that might need a *spoiler alert*).

And, frankly, if someone hasn't watched season 4 of Dexter by NOW, Dexter must not be a priority for them.

[Thanks, Erin. I was beginning to think it was just me. Now I'm gratified, and emboldened, by the fact that I am not alone. As my friend and fellow TVWW contributor Eric Gould wrote in support after the last time I ranted and raved about this:

"Rosebud was the nickname of Kane's sled.

Ahab is killed by the whale.

The female of desire in The Crying Game is actually a pre-op transvestite.

Bruce Willis is actually dead, but doesn't know it."

And we've already gotten some supports on our @TVWORTHWATCHING Twitter account, which I hope sparks a similar trend of Spoiler Alert Civil Disobedience.

My favorite so far: Ken Murray @murraymaker , in one tongue-in-cheek Tweet, inquired: "So what you're saying is that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's dad?..."

And, in a follow-up tweet, "And Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze?"

Keep 'em coming, folks! -- And thanks. DB]

Comment posted on July 26, 2011 10:27 PM

Frank said:

Haven't people always been careful not to reveal major plot twists with novels and movies? I mean you just never talked about the ending to Psycho with someone in the room who hadn't seen the movie yet.
It's fairly common now to see in web writings, printed reviews, and even podcasts, spoiler alerts when it comes to major plot developments. I've listened to a podcast where they were reluctant to discuss major plot lines of Jaws because they were promoting a favorite movie of theirs in hopes of developing some interest in some younger listeners to watch it for the first time. They are even careful not to spoil major plot lines when reviewing or discussing video games these days.
In this digital age of DVRs, DVDs and streaming, things have really changed. The amount of programming has multiplied to the nth degree since the days of the big three networks where you could talk about endings of programs because you either saw it live or you didn't for the most part. But now television shows are like books. You can watch whole series in a period of a week. Shows you only recently heard of or didn't have access to. I certainly wouldn't call people just now watching Dexter or The Wire "procrastinators".
There is so much programming available and only so many hours a person has to devote to entertainment that it's no longer fair to hold people to a time line any longer. My daughter is 13 now and I take great delight in sharing with her old television programs and movies that are appropriate for her age as she grows (can't wait until The Godfather day!). If she knows major plot twists and character fates prior to watching, it's detracting from the experience as the writers/directors wanted the viewer to have. Bambi's mother dying is an emotional scene whether you know it's coming or not, but more so when you don't see it coming. Remember the great lengths that Hitchcock went to in order to keep twists a secret for as long as possible.
So I think spoiler alerts should be included before any discussion of major character deaths, plot twists and ending. Anything you know the writers wanted to be revealed while watching and not beforehand. Not fairly innocuous details such as Sloan and Eric splitting up which any viewer can garner just by watching season previews. That's more of a set up. If you get uptight about a minor reveal like that, then you must never watch any previews following each episode.

Comment posted on July 27, 2011 9:05 AM

Marlark said:

The Titanic sinks.
The Planet of the Apes is Earth.

[Ha! Loved all three! -- DB]

Comment posted on July 27, 2011 3:12 PM

EricG said:

OK...this makes me King of the Spoilers. Here are 100 movie spoilers in 5 minutes. Top this. I dare you.


Comment posted on July 27, 2011 10:10 PM
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