Sunday, July 13, 2008

Worst. Episode. Ever.

missingpoints classic: Worst. Episode. Ever.
17 March 2003

Worst. Episode. Ever.

Read that aloud in the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy voice. That's how a lot on Internet geek fanboys sound like. Well, at least that's how I imagine them when they diss their favorite TV show. It's really an interesting phenomenon to observe. It probably was already happening during the early days of television but it is only now, with the advent of the Internet that it has grown to such a large extent. Web-based message boards and mailing lists have democratized the process and made it so easy that anyone who has the potential to be a fanatic can be one online.

"Star Trek" started it all with fans discussing the merits of each episode and character in specially published "fanzines" and in conventions they organize for the purpose. Other genres with "cult" followings followed soon after and the whole thing boomed with modems and BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems). The early text-based newsgroups like and alt.rec.allmychildren fostered virtual communities of people with similar passions for cartoons and soaps and science fiction.

The Web, with its ease of use, helped spread the phenomenon. Now anyone, even non-fans, can access boards and egroups for free. Websites managed by fans dedicated to particular shows sprang up and tried to outdo each other. A simple Google search will yield dozens of sites with transcribed "Buffy" or "Angel" episodes (complete with vidcaps), complete chronologies of the events in "Alias" or "Babylon 5," or a heated discussion on whether Janeway and Seven-of-Nine had a lesbian thing going on.

The ardor is unbelievable and leads to astounding feats of voluntarism. The first cancellation of "Star Trek" led to a massive letter-writing campaign that brought the show back for another season (this was pre-Internet). The recent non-renewal of "Farscape" resulted in fans putting their money where their mouths are. Internet-based fan groups funded several print ads encouraging other networks to pick up the show and are currently studying the possibility of fan-funded episodes (yes, they're that serious).

But while such enthusiasm is admirable, it can also be unhealthy (and not just because fans lose sleep reviewing episodes). The admiration turns into mania and into real fanaticism. Some fans feel that they "own" the show more than the writers, producers, and actors.

The fanaticism ranges from the idiotic to the erudite. Die hard starwoids go to great lengths defending "The Phantom Menace" even though everyone over 10 who has seen it think it's a fun, mindless romp at best. One fan even declared "Attack of the Clones" brilliant, stilted dialogue and all. (What was he smoking and can I have some?) "Simpsons" die hards on the other hand spend hours dissing the latest episodes prefacing almost every review with "Worst. Episode. Ever."

This despite critics' continuing praise of a show that still manages to entertain and poke fun at modern society. "Futurama" is better in my opinion but "The Simpsons" today isn't really a show that is a "faint shadow of its former glory."

The trouble with this overzealousness is that it desensitizes TPTB (the powers that be) in TV shows. While at first they may appreciate comments from loyal viewers, they will eventually get tired of constant ranting. Like my favorite US Embassy protesters, uber-fans who have nothing good to say about every episode will be dismissed. "Star Trek's" Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, much reviled by fans, generally do not mind the comments anymore. This is bad because in not paying heed to the "extremists" they lose out on real insights and are now churning out "McTrek" franchises like "Enterprise" and "Nemesis."

"The Simpsons" writers on the other hand, strike back occasionally. In one episode, Lisa suggests that they get their message on the Internet. Bart responds by saying, "No, we've got to reach the people who matter."

I guess it's not what they're saying nor is it the manner with which they say it. The sheer volume of things that are being said tends to down out the people and the opinions that really matter. In calling every episode the worst ever, these critics/fanatics miss out on the really bad ones.

No comments: