by Henry Goldman
I don’t remember when I started reading recaps of TV shows on blogs, probably within the last couple of years, as they started blowing up. It probably started innocently enough, maybe the day after watching an episode of The Wire I was particularly excited about, when I saw in my Google Reader feed a write-up about said episode. It was probably pretty similar to most “good” TV recaps, 1000 well-written words that quickly let readers recall (or skip over) the experience of the episode’s narrative, brief thoughts about the show’s themes and then a rehash of the best moments.
In the time since, they’ve become a regular part of my online reading habits, to the point where after watching the latest episode of Mad Men or Parks and Rec or whatever show I’m wound up over, I’ll hit the AV Club’s TV section on my phone to see what (their very capable) cultural writers had to say about it. And it’s got to stop.
There’s a couple reasons why I think TV recaps have become such a pervasive part of the internet culture. Obviously, they’re popular. And the way online outlets, from the Huff Post to the LA Times to Vulture to Videogum, and whatever in between, the way these sites make money is based on getting thousands of page views a day. So if people are clicking on recaps, they’re going to keep posting them for whatever shows are getting traction.
But why do we, as an online culture, comprised primarily of millienials, enjoy reading them? Firstly, I think that we are a generation that’s built an entire discourse around quoting movies, TV shows, sketches and YouTube clips. Since we were kids, we’ve loved jokes where the set up and punchline is a pop-culture reference. So, the instant gratification of reliving the best jokes and lines and scenes from a TV show we saw last night is worthwhile in itself. If, after watching the Mad Men episode “The Suitcase”, I can immediately relive the scene when Don and Peggy are arguing about giving credit for work (“I give you money, you give me ideas!” “You never say thank you.” “That’s what the money’s for!”), I probably will.
Secondly, TV recaps are like the digital water cooler, where you can participate in a conversation about whatever show is reverberating across the culture. Don’t have anyone to come over and watch Jersey Shore with? Watch it with the commenters on your favorite recap page! And then you won’t have to wait to see if your coworkers watched the same thing. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of the couch to engage in a discussion around the show, and for a culture that is continually disconnected from IRL interaction.
Thirdly, TV recaps are highly snackable written content. I forget who coined the term “snackable” in regards to online things, but it basically compares content to junk food; there’s no nutritional value, but it’s sooooooo easy to consume, like a bunch of chips or candy. We read TV recaps, because it’s easier to read 1000 words about a show we watched (or didn’t have time to watch) than it is to read 1000 words about weird new ideas for public transportation in our city or a new trend in South American cinema. It engages our brain enough to waste time, but not enough to provide any real value.
And that’s the real reason why I want to stop reading TV recaps. If I’m really trying so hard to find something to do on my computer or iPhone, besides creating my own things or spending time with my friends, I need to read something of value, which, TV recaps, no matter how insightful or well-written, just don’t qualify.
Henry Goldman is founder of yr an adult. He is trying to get better at everything.