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September 22 2009

Whedon's hit-free adventures. Variety's television columnist, Brian Lowry, dissects the niche appeal of Joss's shows.

Best Variety column since they claimed Joss was married to Jewel Staite.

Here is the article in three sentences: Joss makes TV people care about. Although I work in the industry, I don't understand why people should care about the TV they watch, it's really weird.
Gossi: nail. . .on. . .head
"Serenity videogame"?
There is no Serenity videogame. But last time Variety covered Serenity they said Joss is married to Jewel, so at least he's not married Fran this time.
That's only two sentences, Gossi ;)

Pretty bad piece imho, including the tired notion that Whedon fans don't DVR, instead we have no lives.
Wow. It's so nice to be... insulted. Snippy and mean spirited --that's what I want in reporting.

Fortunately, one suspects that Whedon's most devoted acolytes... ...might have fewer social distractions than most of their peers.


Because we wouldn't have jobs and families and friends and books to read and school to go to and volunteer jobs and worship communities and...

...listeners largely from publications and websites I hadn't heard of...


Because Brian Lowry is the measure of all media worth while.

Why is it that when people avidly talk and discuss "niche" shows they are "cultists" but when I go to get my hair done and all people can talk about is "American Idol" (ugh) it's not? (rhetorical question)
Wow, that's really nasty! I loled.
FWIW, Lowry is also the guy who, when reviewing Dollhouse at the start of season one, could only find as a positive on Eliza that she "does wonderful things to a tank top". In the same review, he criticized the fact that the Dollhouse design wasn't "creepy enough", completely missing the point of why it looks the way it does (and why, in fact, the way it looks the way it does is what makes it creepy).

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-09-22 23:37 ]
Oh wow, this is what Variety is currently up to? I'm fine without my daily reads.
In fairness to Lowry, I don't know a single TV show on air or in previous years he liked. Does anybody know one? That must make being a TV critic hard work.
Wow, that is really insulting: the assumption we (Joss' fans) have no social life, while being aware that we teach college courses (regarding Joss' work) seems to be not well thought through. 'Two and Half Men' is a big hit and is syndicated, but I would be surprised to hear that many DVDs get sold, and amazed to hear of it taught in any classrooms. Shows being hits can often just mean it is easy to follow (or fall asleep in front of), and easily forgotten.
Excellent rhetorical question, Breathesstory. Excellent question.

This was a nasty-spirited piece of very little point except to take a snotty, editorial-like swipe at fan culture (and Joss Whedon) while masquerading as trenchant reportage. Gossi summed up the many paragraphs of mean-spirited commentary in three sentences. Well done, gossi. I mean, really, what was the point except unpleasant snipery? I count myself as a fan of Joss Whedon, but I'm game for serious critiques. Not pointless stuff like this. Argh.

Perhaps Lowry is sick of nerd/geek chic and wants to have at all those Whedon devotee losers who DVR'd Dollhouse (thus saving it) on Friday nights while they were out living Friday night lives -- oh, wait, Whedon fans *don't* have lives. Huh. Weird. What was Lowry's argument again? It's also a fine thing for a TV critic to be bemused by fan ardor over...TV.

Besides, Joss Whedon is by no means not the first niche/genre/cult meister in TV. He's one of many in a long line. Why does Brian Lowry seem so aggrieved by this kind of (enduring) phenomenon in our culture? Why are his knickers in such a twist about it? Surely there are other things to write about?
Gossi, he likes shows once about seven million other people do. Saves embarrassment.
God, he must have hated Drive.




Sorry, Tim.
Argh, I know we're not supposed to crap on the authors, but Lowry is... let's just say, um, not a good TV critic. He's at Tom Shales level of bad.

Just read his Dollhouse review, or his equally nasty pan of the brilliant Summer Heights High.

He's just... not a good TV critic.

(Those ellipsis were when i was restraining myself from making personal attacks. Is it cool to say he's not a good TV critic? Because... he's not).
Maybe reading Lowry is the reason television producer's DON'T understand the cult of Whedon. You can't learn anything if you're too cynical to listen.

Perhaps that is flirting with a personal attack, but then he started it. I'm going to go back to my limited social options now. Ciao.

[ edited by azzers on 2009-09-22 23:51 ]
That picture btw is a spoiler.

And Lowry - serious case of sour grapes. Absolute epitome of "Those who can, write. Those who cannot, become critics."
I think a lot of people in television understand Joss' appeal, truth be told. Like Reilly, Rice, Walden and Newman. He's on his 15th TV season for Fox, with an estimated 9 digits (that's $100,000,000+) in DVD sales and other merch. So he might not make hitshot TV (explodin' in your eye), but he makes relationship TV. You stick around. Unless he kills your favourite character, leading to a messy divorce.
Lowry panned Summer Heights High? Wow. Wow. I don't know of many -- any? -- TV critics who can pen (type) criticism equivalent to the genius of Chris Lilley and the creation of his personas. Barboo, I think you're onto something there.
Ugh. Must be so easy to sit back and pick apart someone who has accomplished so much and pass it off as an article when in reality it belongs on your personal blog.
Okay, screw it I can't resist.

1) It's been said, but "Serenity" videogame? No. Research is your friend, Mr. Lowry.

2) Ooh, you'd never heard of the websites that were on that call? You should have, they're the same ones that are putting Variety out of business.

3) Way to crap all over people who care deeply about art. Good thing your job is not to care deeply about art, you self-righteous prick.

4) Since when is the baromoter of quality "getting ratings that equal those of Dancing With The Stars." Guess what, Mad Men and 30 Rock don't equal the ratings of Dancing With The Stars, combined. They just swept the Emmys. Seriously, this is the dumbest point in the whole article. It would be like a film critic saying "I don't know why people care so much about Wes Anderson/Paul Thomas Anderson/Spike Jonze/Michel Gondry/fill in the blank, their films don't make as much money as Transformers."

5) When Joss says "my shows are designed to stick around," he doesn't mean "make it to syndication," Brian? Then how come two of his four shows have made it to syndication?

6) Unnamed producers don't understand why Whedon gets so much attention? Wow, would these producers have names that rhyme with Ryan Cowry? I work in the industry, and if anything, Joss has more respect within the industry than he does with the public at large. And lies like this just feed into the myth that that only weirdo obsessives like his shows, completely ignoring the fact that Whedon's shows have consistently met with critical praise, and not just from "websites I've never heard of," but from actual, mainstream publications. Hey, Brian, have you heard of TV Guide? Because it called Buffy one of the best shows of all time.

7) Gee, you think the title of that Comic-Con panel MIGHT have been a little tounge in cheek? Or is it inconceivalbe that nerds can have a sense of humor. Here's a joke for you: what does a good TV critic look like? Not Brian Lowry.
Some critics as long as there have been critics have enjoyed the attention & notoriety (and now the page hits) that trashing something has brought them. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

I decided Lowry had nothing much to offer me back when he, as b!X mentioned, wrote about Dollhouse - his two previous related Variety articles are here and there, too.

Feh and meh. I'm saving my breath to cool my porridge, as my people also say.
With apologies to the Beatles, he's a real narrow man, playing to a narrow land.

There's surely a Pee-wee Herman-style "I meant to do that" element in Whedon's "I don't make hit shows" comments.

So, the lesson to be learned is if you're not a TV monolith like Jerry Bruckheimer or American Idol, you don't really matter? Wrong lesson, pal. Joss matters because he makes good shows that are unforgettable, and have longer after-lives that most shows are living now.
I say, such disdain for critics! I agree Lowry was bad mainly because his points are just caustic and largely unsubstantiated. I'm not sure I'm ready to say every critic is incapable of writing though. Voltaire might rise from the grave and verbally castigate me (in French).
I, for one, like critics! Critics are great! Nearly the entire French New Wave would object to the idea that critics can't write/create themselves.

I just object to bad critics, such as Mr. Lowry, who also, by the way, crapped on "Community," easily the season's best new sitcom.
Stick to the article and steer clear of bashing the author please. Discussion of good vs bad criticism is also within bounds.

If your comment is addressing the author directly that's usually a pretty huge sign you should do some editing before posting.
It basically praises Joss for pulling one over on us nerdy ass nerds, not for creating the things he's created. Which is basically insulting Joss too (you sure hoodwinked those people into liking that crap you write! Kudos!).

Yay Hollywood?
In his observations during a recent conference call to promote his show "Dollhouse" -- with listeners largely from publications and websites I hadn't heard of...

CinemaBlend, SCI FI Wire, i09, TVGuideMagazine, FearNet?

Oh... o-tay. Funny.
I think Joss' influence on mainstream culture can be measured by the fact that Dr. Horrible actually played a major role in the Emmy telecast. Was no one else watching that?

Also, do any of these critics stop to ask themselves why we are avid Whedon "cultists"? It's not about the scarves, people! There are good reasons for our devotion. Reasons having to do with actual talent, decent writing skills, and excellent characterizations. Something these people don't seem to be able to recognize when it slaps them in the face like a dead trout.
The scarves are nice though, ain't they?

(Photo by m'cookies actual.)
They really, really are... Man's got style.
I think Joss' influence on mainstream culture can be measured by the fact that Dr. Horrible actually played a major role in the Emmy telecast.

I think Dr. Horrible being on the Emmys was wonderful geeky fun and a nice skewering-within-an-awards-show (Zima!), but it's really just a shiny trinket compared to the impact Whedon shows, and Buffy in particular, seem to have had on a lot of tv writers.
Sunfire, true. But I feel that the Emmy appearance was a symptom of the deeper impact (indeed, the possibly insidious) influence Joss has had on popular culture. ;)
To be fair, Dr. Horrible's role in the Emmys mainly was a symptom of NPH being the telecast's producer.
wow, that was seriously bitter!
I don't really read variety,like at all, and I don't think I ever will.
From my point of view, that is as a nerd,cultist,who has nohing to do on friday nights,someone who finds that dancing on the stars is an example of good tv can't possibly have anything to say I'd like to hear.
Agreed, however lovely we felt it was, if NPH hadn't hosted the Emmy's, there would have been no horrible moment. So thanks to him for engaging.
I think the Emmys interruption was probably pretty funny even if you didn't get the context. Which most viewers probably didn't.
"With the birth of the artist came the inevitable AFTERBIRTH... the critic."

Professional critics are, IMHO, typically about as useful as colon cancer. And half as pleasant.
I don't have anything against critics, but after reading the comments, I've decided not to click through. But this line of bonzob's made me laugh:

you'd never heard of the websites that were on that call? You should have, they're the same ones that are putting Variety out of business.
We should have a drinking game based on this article, it be funny.
Now, now. Critics rule. Not all critics, but have you read any Mencken recently? The man was a badass.

"Variety" is pretty much the voice of the Hollywood establishment, right? Who cares what they think?

Just read his Dollhouse review, or his equally nasty pan of the brilliant Summer Heights High.


You guys have gotten Summer Heights High? that's cool.. it became a phenomenon here in Australia on the back of Jona's? character... it was great how Lilly changed him from the joke of the series (at the beginning) into a sympathetic character by the end (very Whedon-esque character development)

[ edited by mortimer on 2009-09-23 03:17 ]
Yeah, they aired it here on HBO two summers ago (don't think many saw it, but it did air). You're right, Jonah's character development is spectacular. That last episode is incredibly moving and just about perfect.
I totally agree about Jonah's character development. Brilliant. Moving. Funny. Lilley is very, very talented.
You know, I don't have a problem with having a critical viewpoint regarding cult television. Cult tv fans are insidery and rabid and, obviously, these shows doesn't make that much money. Lot's of great cult shows genuinely cannot make enough money to stay on air.

But the contempt for something niche? For anything that makes less money than Dancing With The Stars? I propose eliminating the position of TV critic and simply reporting the amount of money made by each show as a measure of their worth.

And, as others have pointed out, there's no Serenity video game. That's just lazy, lazy "reporting" by a writer who obviously didn't bother to put much effort into the article.

I already knew that Variety is going to collapse sometime in the next few years, but I now look foward to that moment.

P.S. I will NEVER EVER EVER miss Variety's vapid, annoying show biz insider shorthand style of writing. It is an abomination that heaven itself detests.
Yeah, I want to chime in to defend criticism. Seriously. There are many, many great critics out there, many of whom help save little movies from oblivion by noting their importance. There are a lot of bad critics out there, no question. Let's talk about movies, though: But have you read the amount of warmth and humanity in Roger Ebert's reviews? Yes, he doesn't always get the movie, and there is sometimes condescension in his dismissals of movies that don't get through to him; but when he likes a movie, he glows, and when he finds a real stinker he tears it to shreds mercilessly and, generally speaking, fairly. You can see it in his text: his wanting to be entertained and enlightened. There's David Edelstein and Jim Emerson; there's Stephanie Zacharek, who has some of the best writing on the Buffyverse I've read. And then there are classisists like David Bordwell who simply know so much about movies. There are a lot of incredible amateur critics out there, no question, and there are a lot of poor professional critics, and even the good ones sometimes produce bad reviews. Perhaps we're not in a golden age of film criticism--after all, in the 1960s a bunch of French film critics decided to change professions and make some of the best movies ever made. But there's still a lot out there.

(P.S. For a more eloquent version of this, check out the food critic's monologue at the end of Ratatouille, an honest and moving account of the importance of criticism and its limitations.)

Anyway, I don't come here to defend this article, which, I should note, doesn't even try to be criticism; it tries to be journalism. Gossi in two sentences (well, he called it three) summed that up. He doesn't get Whedon shows, thinks the fans are losers, etc., whatever.

The Serenity video game comment was pretty funny. When he says about "knowing where to look," does he mean inaccurate internet rumour sites?

Also, what was with the Beatles quote? "He's a real narrow man, playing to a narrow land" is not all that clever a restructuring of "He's a real nowhere man sitting in his nowhere land"; if the point is that Whedon exists in his own universe with his fans, it's worth noting that a "Nowhere Man" doesn't have fans.

[ edited by WilliamTheB on 2009-09-23 05:49 ]
Condescending much?
I didn't realise the US had seen Summer Heights High either. I'm guessing they didn't see We Can Be Heroes though? That's where Jam'ie first originated from. It was a WONDERFUL series as well... and she was actually 10x funnier in that show than SHH. But I can't believe any critic would hate it, yeesh...

I'm most offended by the idea that I don't have a social life. I go out partying every weekend thankyou very much, I'm just like any other Uni student. I associate with lots of different people, some who adore Whedon’s work and others who mildly enjoy it and then others who wouldn’t even think about joining an internet forum about a TV show. I suspect a lot of Whedon fans are the same.
Professional critics are, IMHO, typically about as useful as colon cancer. And half as pleasant.


Having been published and paid as a critic in the past, but doing mostly unpaid work right now, alongside my paid work as a science journalist (I mostly review for fun, as it's pretty hard to break into paid movie criticism), I'll try not to take offense with that, Haunt.

I agree with everyone here that this article is pretty harsh. And yes: there's bad reviews and bad reviewers out there. But has anyone ever picked up a movie magazine like, say, Empire? Or a genre magazine like SFX? Or read any of the critics WilliamTheB mentions? There's some great talent there. Those reviews are written with great love of genre and medium and great respect for art. I can't even count the number of small or obscure movies I'd have been unaware of, if not for one - or several - glowing reviews. Critics have a bad reputation with some people. But despite a few bad apples, that's undeserved most of the time, in my opinion.
Not clicking the link again (because innertubes Rule No. 1 ? Don't feed the trolls ;) but yeah, best not dismiss an entire type of discourse based on a few bad examples.

Honest criticism that isn't about scoring points with the supposed cognoscenti or drumming up ad revenue or proving the superiority of the critic is very useful, often entertaining and if written well enough can even be an artform unto itself (as with e.g. Mencken or Twain among many others). Hang on to the baby in other words, no matter how dirty the bathwater.
I love good critics... I'm in a band that doesn't make any money (in fact we're constantly losing money to pay for recording and band equipment). The one thing we have going for us at the moment is critical success. Our album got glowing reviews from lots of Australian street press, newspapers, etc.

(btw, I'm not trying to publicise my band here and I won't be mentioning our name on here either, since our music has nothing to do with Joss Whedon)

[ edited by mortimer on 2009-09-23 15:28 ]
I read a different article than the previous 51 posters did. What I saw was someone lauding Joss for writing programs that aren't made to appeal to the largest and most accepting audience, but ones that appeal to a smaller group who can catch his pop culture witticisms and appreciate strong writing. He is correct in noting that Joss has never had a huge hit program, but that his programs are seen as unique and novel. What is the deal? I saw no condescention here; he likes Joss. There is only one comment I do not agree with and that is the one about Eliza, DH and its first episode- that was due to interference from the network, not due to ED. But otherwise, I think he is saying positive things about a man who writes great but less "popular" programs.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-09-23 19:22 ]
So...every time I try to open the link to Variety my interweb crashes.
All part of Variety's master plan to make sure you don't find any of those competitor websites they've never heard of.
If you saw anything lauding in that article, perhaps you clicked on the wrong link :). The tone seemed mocking and deprecative ("seems to think he gamed the system", to moi and suggested that Joss was an inferior talent holding on because of us social outcasts who worship him as a god/cult leader and that his shows only stayed around due to a fragmentation of the market (implying maybe that he cynically plays to us niche dwellers because he's not a real talent like Bochco... pfft...). Also, if they weren't such crap they would get Dancing With the Stars type numbers. Yeah... It also suggests that if it were popular there would be enough money to pay for fighting and explosions as if that's what we're all after in a study of the role of memory and the (im?)permanence of self. The "still he's exhibited economic savvy as well" thing... is he suggesting that Joss made Dr. Horrible because it was a surefire way to make money while his big network show (sorely in need of more explosions) languished amongst us cultists? The few laudatory notes amounted to "Well, the guy knows what his niche wants and he should be thankful to all of those nobodies on the call.".
So in fact, Joss isn't a big fat nerdy geek himself. He goes home puts on the Gucci, takes out the cigar, persian cat jumps on his lap and switches the TV remote to X Factor, chuckling to himself.

Have to say...I've always wondered.
And knowing is half the battle.

Also, this article insults me. Literally. It insulted me.

Where are the pitchforks and torches, Saje?
Yeah, with that Bathwater Baby & Mencken & all, don't throw out Robert Benchley's theatre reviews nor the theatre & especially the literary criticism of Dorothy Parker.

Their love of both - despite some screamingly funny pans - are part of what helped immerse me in reading, writing and drama as a teen. Sometimes critics who celebrate what's good can convey their passion and inspire others with it - and their negative criticism can help hone one's discernment, and inspire one with the desire to get better.

Some critics are bitter and they suck most heartily - but some make art, and more artists.

ETA: Didn't check the thread to see if there were new posts when I posted this, so all I can say is OMFGHF, seriously, WTF, huh?

I mean, I could start cataloging all the sneering, Eliza-dissing, condescending & patronizing things Lowry has said in his three Dollhouse-related articles, but it would take, ya know, a village.

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2009-09-23 20:24 ]
Hell, while we're talking about "New Yorker" people, Anthony Lane is very good, and hilarious, seven out of ten times (the other three he misses the point entirely, but hey).
ZG- and if he had written a badly worded positive review, we would be criticizing? Not so much, maybe.

We'll agree to disagree on this; I don't see this as a put down, but I also don't see that it much matters, either.

(PS. Roger Ebert is the greatest critic ever. Robert Parker is the most influential critic ever).
Zeitgeist you left out the part about how all of us Whedon fans have no social lives (hence our availability for watching Friday night tv).

And I acknowledge the validity of the criticism of my criticizing all critics. This particular piece does strike me as having a serious successful-television-writer-envy subtext, but critics can be excellent writers and play a very useful role. I would never have discovered Joss Whedon's if not for the critical acclaim BtVS received.

And Mark Twain's critical takedown of James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking" books is a great work of literature. (Spoken as someone who forced herself to read every word of that series).

Ets, Okay, *typed* as someone who read every word...

[ edited by barboo on 2009-09-23 21:09 ]
ZG- and if he had written a badly worded positive review, we would be criticizing? Not so much, maybe.


Perhaps you've missed past instances of my handwringing over capitalization/punctuation? :) I'm not down on it because it's negative, I'm down on it because it's snooty, condescending, self-important fluff that can't even be bothered with basic research.
Where are the pitchforks and torches, Saje?

Hidden in the false compartment of my picnic hamper ... *presses deftly in 3 secret places and one very public one* ... there you go crazygolfa ;).

(not going all angry villager myself just because I haven't read it but i'm there in spirit. Consider me mob adjacent ;)
I've read a few particularly snooty, condescending, and self-important fluff pieces that were quite positive about Joss's work. Those would be the true flip side of this. I don't care so much for those either once they leave the land of pure fan glee and venture into the nastier territory of "and this is why your favorite non-Whedon show sucks!" I do think those get a warmer reception in general when posted on fan sites-- hello, human nature!-- but they also attract quite a bit of criticism too.

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