November 23, 2006

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Television Without Pity: 752 Things We Love to Hate (And Hate to Love) About TV, by Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting (2006, Quirk Books, 304n pages)
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com.

Best. Web Site Tie-In Product. Ever.

Fans of www.televisionwithoutpity.com (once Mighty Big TV — and I have the mug to prove it) know authors Ariano and Bunting better as Wing Chun and Sars, the creators of the site and its most standout writers. The Web site is not for those who simply watch a television show but for those who want to linger, like a gourmand over a five-course meal, over every episode of Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica or The Sopranos. Though fond of the hourlong, somewhat serial drama, Television Without Pity also goes for the reality show, putting into print the bitchery you yourself were thinking about Project Runway and American Idol. Each episode gets a dozen or more pages of description, with every scene described, emphasis on wooden dialogue and particularly crappy acting. The site has a snarktastic tone and a television-devoted mindset (you need not fawn over Aaron Sorkin — or even like him, really — to want to see all episodes of his show). It is like an evening spent with friends wherein you have developed your own geeky culture, your own common reference points and even your own language (though you can not hear inflection in print, you can feel it on TWoP). The site has even invented its own lingo, as fans of the Spuffy relationship of late seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or of all the HoYay! in Smallville can attest.

This mindset comes not just to the site’s documented shows but also to all television viewed by its late-1970s-to-current-remembering-creators, thus giving us commentary on Mr. Belvedere and Charles in Charge along with the explanation of the cultural significance of the Roseanne writing staff and what it means when a TV show “Cousin Olivers” something. From A to Z (or rather, from Aames, Willie to Zoboomafoo), Bunting and Ariano present not the history of television or even their history of television but what TV means to them. And, because they swing through the literary air with the greatest of ease, even if you don’t know them or care about their likes and dislikes or have their same generational/sociological viewpoint, their bite-sized entries are still addictive. (I assume — this book so much reflects my own mindset that I started to wonder if I had some sort of TWoP Scully-like chip in my neck.)

But who can argue with entries such as these:

• Cosby sweater: “Bright, clashing colors and chaos-theory patterns and textures contributed to an overall impression of vomit in knit form.”

• Lennie Briscor: “ The be-all and end-all, and all other Law & Order detectives must suffer by comparison.”

• 24: “Do you enjoy nuclear bombs? Weaponzied viruses? Cougars? Fox has just the show for you.”

Forget your scholarly debates about the larger socioeconomic issues surrounding Desperate Housewives (shut up, Salon). I’ll take a book that slavishly discusses the Dawson-Joey-Pacey triangle and correctly notes that Dawson’s unpleasant traits “include but certainly are not limited to: a condescending attitude … smugness, a sense of entitlement whose basis remains a mystery … and a drive-in movie screen-sized forehead.” Ah, feel the TV love. A Amy Diaz.