In old-school (very old-school) computing, there was a rule of thumb: “Tell me three times” (famously used by Heinlein in regards to Gay Deceiver’s AI). In sports, we talk about the “hat trick”—succeeding at something three times (usually in a row). And personally, I (try to) give a show 3 episodes to capture my attention.
As new shows start to appear—or existing shows enter new seasons (and new storylines)—I’m going to attempt to critique them based on their first 3 episodes.
The number 3 has a lot of importance mathematically, biologically, and culturally. For my critiques, however, it’s a practical matter.
3 episodes of a (nominal) 1-hour show adds up to 2 hours and 15 minutes—about the length of an average movie. If, in roughly 2 hours, a movie can create a world, present a story, get me to care about the characters, get me involved in the problem, build to a climax, and resolve the story... An episodic show should, at the very least, be able to introduce enough of the world, story, characters, and problem to keep my attention for the rest of the season.
Critique? You Mean Review.
No. I don’t.
A review is an entirely subjective discussion. It’s “Did I like this?” That’s a great tool if you know that your tastes generally align with public opinion.
A critique tries to be objective (but understands that’s not fully realistic). A critique uses set metrics to judge a project outside of “do I like it?”
In the Spirit of Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (“gare-tuh”) is the father of modern artistic critique. He created 3 questions (3? I sense a theme!) by which to “objectively” critique a work of art. Those questions are:
- What was the artist trying to do?
- How well did they do it?
- Was it worth the doing?
Now... one thing that Goethe didn’t have to deal with was the answer to the first question being “Make a gazillion dollars”. If that’s a valid answer, then it’s no longer a critique, it’s an audit. So I’ll be leaving monetary aspects out of my critiques, and will focus on the “art”.
Which brings us to...
What is Art?
My definition of art is: Any creative work which represents or evokes an emotion.
Rocky is art; it inspires people. Rudy is art; it pulls at our heartstrings. Star Wars is art; it tells a classic “hero’s journey”. Duck Soup is high art; comedy is the most difficult, most universal, and most powerful of the arts. Getting it right is very difficult. Still being funny 85 years later is pure genius.
As I’ve mentioned (many times) before: Characters are, to me, the most important aspect of a story. They are, after all, the vehicle through which the story is told. If a story has good characters—sympathetic and empathetic characters—I don’t worry about technical details so much.
So I’ll be looking first at the characters, second at the story (not the plot, but the story), and lastly at the details (technical, design, plot, etc.).
Who Are the Victims?
At the start, I’ll be critiquing the shows that are on my watch list. Some are new, some are in new seasons.
I enjoy rewatching good shows, so I might go back and critique the first three episodes of shows that have become favorites of mine—or which I tried to watch, but stopped.
And, if I build a reputation and people enjoy reading my critiques, I’ll be more than happy to critique shows that others recommend.
Just a note: My opinions often run contrary to the general public in these matters. I’m not going to say “You should like this” or “You shouldn’t like this”—that’s what reviews are for. I’m going to try to answer a different question: “Is this well-made?”