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.

Steve Garry
Show Hide image

The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism