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GERALD JORDAN

NOEL HOLSTON

 
 
 
 
 
We Will All Go Together When We Go
March 31, 2021  | By David Hinckley  | 102 comments
 

The many musical treasures written by the great Tom Lehrer included the cheerful ditty "We Will All Go Together When We Go."

It's about the nuclear holocaust that, back in the 1950s and 1960s, was given a fair chance of wiping out the entire world. Mazel tov!

"We Will All Go Together When We Go" flashed through my mind when the creator and bossman of TV Worth Watching, David Bianculli, said the site would no longer be posting new content from its lineup of TV writers.

I'm not likening the end of TVWW's 14-year run to the end of life as we knew it – although if I were 16 years old and a player on TikTok or Instagram, I'll bet I could make it that dramatic. Heck, I'll bet I could make it that dramatic if I were on a Real Housewives franchise. For the record, I'm happy I'm not.

But I did think about the impressive roster of skilled television critics who have contributed to TVWW over the years, and it seems fair to say this is another reminder that a torch is passing.

Where daily newspapers and magazines were once the nexus of TV criticism, a new crop of writers has moved in, many or most with roots in the online world where there is either more freedom or less discipline. Or both.

This has brought an evolution in the tone of the television conversation, which is entirely normal. Shifting tones in cultural criticism predate the Internet. They predate the printing press. It's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just a thing.

As new styles, platforms, and tones emerge, you just hope they retain some of the elements that were valuable in their predecessors. That's where I come back to TVWW, a place that, from my experience, has done old-school well.

In assessing and discussing television, TVWW has treated deserving shows and the medium itself with respect while at the same time not forgetting that this is popular culture, not theology. Even the best television, whatever its merits as history, scholarship, persuasion, or philosophy, aims to entertain.

Sadly, there are still corners of the culture world where television, like popular music, is regarded as an ephemeral throwaway, a lowbrow diversion for the unsophisticated masses.

But while there are TV shows that aren't August Wilson, there are also millions of plays that aren't Shakespeare, just as there are thousands of classical music compositions that aren't Beethoven. Television can't be defined by Jersey Shore and therefore dismissed as Newton Minow's "vast wasteland" any more than "popular music" can be defined by the resurrection every Christmas of "The Chipmunk Song."

TV Worth Watching, as the name suggests, has cherry-picked television, which has meant discussing serious and ambitious programs like Breaking Bad or Homeland and drawing attention to programs that are simply a pleasure, from Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows to The Good Place.

Yes, low-rent reality shows exist. No, all of television has not become witty and high-minded. We've all seen The Learning Channel drop learning, Arts and Entertainment drop arts and entertainment, and the History Channel drop most of its history.

But as networks and streaming services multiply, we're getting more good stuff that's more accessible, and TVWW has consistently pointed that out.

At the same time, I like that TVWW never confused a good TV show with a new religion.   

I loved a lot of The Sopranos. I also thought the last couple of seasons were uneven, and unlike many other TV writers, including some on this site, I didn't find the ending brilliant. I found it lazy.

Even if I had found it brilliant, I still don't want to read 10,000 words on the existential angst of Tony or Christopher. I loved pretty much everything about Mad Men, but I don't want 10,000 words on the Greek tragedy of Don Draper. I don't need 5,000 words on the dragon metaphors in Game of Thrones.

TV Worth Watching has assessed those shows, often quite favorably, while not pounding them into the ground with the sledgehammers of dry academic prose and lofty allusions to Aristophanes or John Locke.

Here, being just a plain old TV show has been enough to earn a respectful assessment. Brilliance was honored where it was found, not dissected until it was rendered as lifeless as a fruit fly in a biology term paper.

It's like hearing Tom Lehrer sing the marvelous line, "When the air becomes uraneous / We will all go simultaneous." Sometimes all you need to do is put your hands together and say, "Well done."

 
 
 
 
 
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