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This is a column about why I 1) make “best of” lists every year, 2) take them seriously and 3) don’t conform to a list of 10. But first, a quick story about death and embarrassment:
Not long ago I was at an event where I met a person (not named) who would turn out to be very nice. In a group and after some banter, we were formally introduced. “Oh, you’re Tim Goodman,” the person said. “I was told to kill you if I saw you.”
Now, it could be that the message was, “Punch you in the face,” but I’m 90-something percent sure it was kill instead. (This happens a lot more than you might imagine, if for some reason you wonder how I could mix up the two.) Anyway, a spirited discussion about why I was to be killed followed, with me telling this person that the first few episodes made by the person who wanted me dead were, indeed, not very good and that one of the tenets in my critical philosophy is that second chances are not a given, and only on very rare occasions are third chances. It just doesn’t reflect the world we live in – viewers have more choices than they can sample, so if you don’t deliver immediately you’ve likely lost them.
That said, I’d heard the show in question got better and told the person to report back that I’d give it another look. Turns out, the embarrassing part of this story, which happened next, is so much worse than someone wanting to kill me.
Here’s how that unfolded (and yes it pertains to why I make year-end lists): So, a bunch of people are at a party that very night including someone who makes a show I didn’t review when it premiered because I was on vacation. He tells me that he’s happy I was on vacation. (The implication should be clear.) But it turns out that I actually like his show, even though I don’t follow it religiously. Anyway, as we have this conversation, the contract killer joins in, with a coy smile, and tells me the thing that’s embarrassing: I had reviewed a show from this person’s spouse that was, I was told right then and there, so incredibly mean and devastating that all attempts were made so the spouse would never read the review, for fear said spouse’s soul or hope or whatnot would be crushed beyond repair.
I was told the name of the show. I couldn’t remember it. Ahem.
In my defense, I was completely rattled (and perversely intrigued) that not only had this person been told, by someone else, to kill me on sight, but that that was nothing compared to what this person was thinking about me, given the review (I’d since forgotten about) that was allegedly the most vicious thing ever and – this part is important – directed at this person’s beloved spouse.
I then remembered the show. Oh, right, I did hate that.
I’ve been confronted in public many times about bad reviews, so this was familiar territory and my response was, inside this convivial party, the same as it had been all those other times: I didn’t back down. Have I mentioned that this person, despite being a human missile of wrath on behalf of two people at that point, is actually very nice? I screwed up my face a bit, remembering the show. “Yeah, it really wasn’t very good,” I said. Almost apoplectic, the person said the review went way, way beyond “wasn’t very good.” It was at this point that the guy whose own show I liked whipped out his phone, called up the review in question and….wow, yeah, I really did write harsh things.
“This is why I was fine with you being on vacation,” the guy said. I like him. He’s funny.
I didn’t backpedal from the human missile of wrath, however, who was quite pleased that I was reading how mean I’d been. It’s nothing personal, I said. Your spouse just needs to make better shows.
Surprisingly, that ended well.
So, look, part of my job is, in an industry that has a failure rate historically in the 80 percent region, to critique. Despite what a review like that might make a person think – namely, that I like obliterating someone’s dream project – I much prefer when people make good television. I’m ecstatic when they make great television, which is why I never keep my celebratory year-end lists to 10.
First off, that’s just a stupid number and confining what was exceptional and bountiful to outdated modalities seems pointless. Besides, in my mind, these lists are meant to celebrate what is ultimately something that is really difficult to pull off, which involves countless people in the process. And if I – and my peers – are going to ramble on yearly about the Renaissance television continues to be in, then I damned well won’t put a muffler on raving about all that greatness when the time comes to do so.
And for me – and The Hollywood Reporter – that time comes Wednesday when I’ll publish two Best of 2014 lists (and possibly more as the week goes on).
Look, if we’re this close to living in the cliché of a 500-channel universe, with original content and content providers expanding almost exponentially, and with there being critical agreement that television has never had more brilliant shows to offer, why would anyone restrict to 10 – a number better suited to the Big Three network era of television – the number of shows a critic can praise?
Hey, if part of my job entails pissing off a lot of people and then meeting them at random parties, the least you can do is allow me to rave on about the (many, many) shows I love.
Compiling these lists is also, for me, a way to remind people of what’s out there. There is no bigger issue facing viewers than too much choice coupled with lack of time.
I also appreciate that year-end lists enable some corrective factors. For example, I love Review and Broad City on Comedy Central but never reviewed them when they came out. These things happen in a crowded universe.
On Wednesday, my two lists include A) one very long collection of series that I thought were great, sometimes for vastly different reasons and B) a separate list where I get to laud broadcast network shows that are playing by a different set of rules – rules that often result in their being left off such lists (and awards shows, etc.).
One of the shows that made both lists (a rarity) is Jane the Virgin, a series I love dearly, created by Jennie Snyder Urman – and a series that in some ways brings this column full circle. Jane the Virgin is not only a series that I eagerly champion for the difficult feats it pulls of in its execution, but also because it’s instrumental in helping The CW forge its own heartwarming story of assembling the building blocks of a strong network. Moreover, it broke out star Gina Rodriguez into the world. She’s a gem. Jane has a wonderful, deep cast as well. There are so many feel-good elements in rooting for Jane the Virgin, but my personal favorite is Urman.
Why? Well, one of the most important things I learned coming up as a TV critic was that you can’t judge a person by his or her resume in this business. Many writers have created brilliant shows after making average ones. So many actors have done phenomenal work after doing something mediocre prior. Whatever inspiration or magic that shot through the creative process for all of them was just a chance away. In 2012, Urman made a show called Emily Owens, M.D. that, being charitable, I really, really did not like. Maybe there was a time when she wanted me killed on sight, too. Or her spouse did. At that point in the TV universe, we were just one industry party away from homicide, perhaps. Now Urman’s Jane the Virgin is my No. 1 network series and ranks impressively high on my combined list. To me, that’s the poster series for why I want to celebrate greatness and for why I continue to make these lists at the end of every year.
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