When Did the Recap Replace the Review?

Not a real post here. Just a question that’s come up again in my brain. Said question came up several times when I was watching last season’s “Game of Thrones.” Come to think of it, I was probably pondering the issue during last season’s “Downton Abbey,” too. Lots of controversy in both those TV shows of late, and since Television Without Pity folded in May, I’ve had to slog around to discover who’s thinking what out in there in Internetland. (I suppose I could just have a look on Twitter, but that can be an even worse trudge, with less actual information and more chances to enter the conversation and become an offensive idiot.)

So last week, the latest season of “Doctor Who” began, and it’s a seriously transitional season: a brand new Doctor is taking the helm and the companion is staying on. This is the first time current show-runner Steven Moffat has had to deal with this specific situation. Last week, I thought everyone involved did a brilliant job, but this week I wasn’t so sure how I felt. (To be honest, I thought large portions of this second episode were pretty damn cheesy. My husband, Inspector Spacetime, has now banned me from watching the rest of the season with him. Spoil sport.) After the episode ended and Inspector Spacetime and I had a robust argument over the cheese content of the story, I did what any red-blooded insomniac laptop user would do, left my husband sleeping on our bed, and came to wander the Internet for Official Opinions on the TV show I just watched.

Inevitably, as I scrolled through screen after screen of links, I bumped into many, many recaps. Maybe six or seven recaps for every self-proclaimed review. That’s when I realized I was thinking the same thought I’d had when I went looking for material on “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones”–namely, why the hell does every blogger do so much recapping? I’ve just seen the goddamn episode. I don’t need anyone to repeat back to me the contents of my last TV experience. Long ago, broadcasters handled that themselves in the form of reruns. I want to know what other people think about shows. I want analysis and observation and–dare I say it–argumentation.

Granted, I used to love reading funny recaps, and I often read them on Television Without Pity or its predecessor, Mighty Big TV. But as far as I can remember (and this was almost fifteen years ago, so my memory might be getting a tad hazy), the writers who put together those recaps were acting as commentators, picking out zany details and explaining references and weaving spontaneous-sounding jokes as they summarized, so the whole thing felt like a written-down version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s not an easy thing to achieve, no matter how effortless it appears on the page.

Now, apparently, we have a huge horde of people who have gleaned from those old TV sites that recapping = funny and are now acting on that insight by carefully documenting what goes on in a particular show week after week. The problem is, the reason why the old recaps were funny (and I’m sure some current recappers have a handle on this, too) is that they weren’t just summaries of what happened onscreen. A simple summary of a show would be a transcript, and if you think transcripts are fun reading, you clearly haven’t encountered a lot of court documents in your day.

No, the old-style recap, the kind that started the genre, is a comedic work of art. It makes you laugh till you cry. It makes you want to re-watch the show to see for yourself the goofy glitches the recapper caught and you didn’t. It does not simply plod through the scene-by-scene antics of the kitchen staff and then dutifully list every one-liner fired off by the Dowager Countess. Why the hell would anyone want to read that, except if they happened to miss the episode, and in that case, why do we have DVRs and HBO GO and On Demand and all the other technological doodads we have nowadays to make sure we don’t miss a single second of any video event anywhere in the world?

Seriously, folks. Have we, as a culture, probably the most literate in history, become so rushed, uncaring, or dumb that we would rather have a writer repeat a TV show back to us than hear what she might have to say about it? Are we too terrified to enter into discussions these days, for fear of starting flame wars? Or is it just that “recaps” are much easier and faster to write than reviews, the way “listicles” are easier and faster–and thus more profitable–for the impoverished freelancer to produce than detailed reportage?

Oy. Now I think I don’t want to know the answer. I’m going to toddle off to bed before I depress myself more. Carry on with your recapping, kids. If some of you have deeper thoughts to contribute, please put them in a helpful section on their own, so I don’t have to waste precious seconds reading my TV shows.

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