Cuddle-A-Critic: How to find your perfect TV reviewer

But beware – one day they will be <em>wrong,</em> and it will break your heart.

Advertising, like love (and later, Christmas – thanks, Love Actually) is all around. It is there on massive billboards on the sides of buildings. It’s on the glossy pages of magazines and the scratchy paper of newspapers. It is on the screens that we glide past on escalators, following our descent or ascent, chasing us and whispering, “look at me!” urgently. It is on buses, on the radio between Top 40 jams, delivered in three-minute bursts in between television programmes. It is in the little banner at the bottom of our various smartphone apps, blinking angrily as we scroll through our timelines. We do not necessarily request it, though. Imagine a world stripped of all this promotion: no garish images almost 20 feet high, no digital alerts with attractive smiling people seducing you with their eyes. Consider a world where you have to think about what you want and need, and then actively seek the information about the product before making an informed decision about whether you would like to invest your time and or money. Where could one find such a utopia? A small sliver of hope remains: critics, innit. 

Love ‘em or hate ‘em (and anecdotal evidence suggests we routinely veer towards the middle ground of love-hate), we generally recognise that critics are often the last bastion of independent thought when it comes to the arts. When was the last time you went to the cinema or settled into your settee with a DVD without first seeking the advice and analysis from some chap (and it’s often a chap) in a newspaper, magazine or website telling you this thing was worth your time and emotional investment? Exactly. 

For fans of popular culture (and high culture, I suppose, but that is not this blog’s natural position), the critic is like a good friend who has seen all the important films and read all the important books. That way, they can occasionally allude to mise-en-scene or the composition of a shot in a review, and rather than roll your eyes at their highfalutin ways, you merely nod your head and say, under your breath, “Yeah – the dark lighting in Girls really does capture the relative fog of your twenties, where needs are immediate and actions primarily selfish.” 

There are millions of fangirls and boys out there on the internet, people who have watched more telly and films than is healthy for them, and they are all writing their waspish or fawning analysis of the TV show you’ve wanted to watch for ages (I think I fall into this category quite neatly). Then there are the big boys and girls, writing their considered thoughts for assorted print media (how quaint!). Basically, you are facing the tyranny of choice. So, how do you go about selecting a critic? As always, the answer is extensive research. Read high and low and then break it down: what are you looking for in a review(er)? Do you want to be challenged (“Ten reasons why The House Bunny is funnier and smarter than His Girl Friday”)? Who do you tend to agree with most of the time? Who entertains you? Who do you always disagree with? Who are your friends recommending? Selecting your critic(s) will take time, so don’t rush it. Try lots of different views, and see which fits yours best. 

Once you’ve selected your critic(s), stay on your guard. They have beguiled you with their words and seeming insight because that is their job. But remember: hitching your wagon to any critic will be stressful. Because no matter how carefully you have selected your commentator, there will come a time when they will be irretrievably, irredeemably mistaken, and it will break your heart. “How?” you will wonder. “How could I (they) have got their opinion so wrong?” And you will obsessively re-read the offending review looking to see if you maybe misread their damning words. You haven’t. This isn’t your fault. I myself am having an extended “HOW?” moment on my TV site of choice, the superlatively excellent The AV Club, because week after week after week, they test my love by giving one of my favourite shows of recent years, The Mindy Project, consistently poor grades. Every new episode is laced with a bitter aftertaste because I know that it is unloved. I trust the AV Club on pretty much everything else – how can they be so right so often, and so blind in this case? I wouldn’t say it ruins Mindy-watching experience, only that it literally hurts my soul. 

Remember also, that your tastes will change: mine certainly have. Back at Sixth Form, for example, doing my ever-useful AS Level in Media Studies, I held an irrational and deep-seated hatred for Mark Kermode. I found him brash and overly critical and something of a show-off. Mr Kermode, if you are reading, I was wrong. Hindsight shows me that the prejudice was all mine. I find more truth and wisdom and insight in your cinema reviews than I ever thought possible. Also, your hair is still amazing.

The proliferation of blogs with writers who love and understand telly translates into a bounty of smart and critical thinking for viewers. It is not news to say that critics are necessary – they are cultural threshers, separating the wheat from the chaff (even if inevitably some chaff slips through now and again). And without them a lot of us would be wasting our time on pointless box sets when we could be getting indoctrinated into the cult of Breaking Bad. So please give generously to my new initiative: Cuddle A Critic. They are doing fine work, and we should let them know we appreciate it.

Mark Kermode: his reviews might be an acquired taste, but his hair has always been excellent. Photograph: Getty Images

Bim Adewunmi writes about race, feminism and popular culture. Her blog is  yorubagirldancing.com and you can find her on Twitter as @bimadew.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR