I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum Read Online (FREE)
Originally published: June 25, 2019
Author: Emily Nussbaum
Genre: Television criticism
Read I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum full novel online free here.
This is a book celebrating television, but it’s not a Top 10 list—or a Top 20 list, or any other kind of rating system. In other words, it’s not a book about my favorite shows. (If it were, it would surely include an essay on Slings and Arrows.) I like some of these shows, I love others, and a few are not my cup of tea. These reviews are simply the ones that I thought held up the best as criticism—and also, the ones that most effectively made my argument about TV.
THE BIG PICTURE
How Buffy the Vampire Slayer Turned Me Into a TV Critic
What happens when your side wins the fight, the drunken cultural brawl that you’ve been caught up in for nearly two decades? And then the rules change, midway through? That’s the crisis that I’m currently facing, when it comes to the beauty and power—and lately, even the definition—of television as an art form.
When I first began watching television, there didn’t seem to be much to argue about. Like many children of the seventies, I grew up sitting cross-legged in front of a big console in the living room, singing along to The Electric Company while my mom made Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I dug Taxi, I loved M*A*S*H. In my teens, I memorized Monty Python sketches with my friend Maria. But I also regarded TV the way that Americans had been taught to, since the 1950s. Television was junk. It wasn’t worthy of deep thought, the way that books or movies might be. It was something that you enjoyed, then forgot about. It wasn’t until my thirties that I had what amounted to a soul-shaking conversion, on the night that I watched Sunnydale High School principal Bob Flutie die, torn to bits by hyenas.
At the time, in the spring of 1997, I was a literature doctoral student at NYU, foggily planning on becoming a professor, maybe a Victorianist, but anyway, somebody who read for a living. Every morning, I woke up, flopped onto the sofa, and opened up yet another 900-pager. Across the room was an old-fashioned console TV, a dinosaur even for the era, with a broken remote control, so in order to watch my first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I had to physically walk across the room, then click the circular dial over to Channel 11, The WB, a brand-new “netlet,” and then walk all the way back to the sofa.
Walking across the room to change the channel was still a normal thing to do, in 1997. It had been nearly sixty years since the first television (spookily nicknamed the Phantom Teleceiver) launched at the 1939 World’s Fair, and yet the medium was—with a few advances, like the addition of color and the still-tentative expansion of cable—not that different from what it had been in the 1950s, when families gathered to watch Milton Berle. Shows aired once a week. They were broken up by ads. When the ads were on, you peed. When they ended, someone in the other room would yell, “You’re missing it!” and you’d run back in. If you loved a particular show, you had to consult the elaborate grids in the print newspaper or in TV Guide to know when to watch: “ALF (CC)—Comedy. ALF is upstaged by a loveable dog that followed Brian home, so he gives the pooch away to a crotchety woman (Anne Ramsey).”