Title: The Revolution Was Televised
Author: Alan Sepinwall
Page Count: 388
The Basics: In The Revolution Was Televised, popular television critic Alan Sepinwall turns an analytical eye towards the transformation that began over a decade ago and is still going on in the world of television dramas. From the characters they focus on (often complex antiheroes) to the channels we watch them on (often cable networks), television dramas have changed remarkably in a short period of time, and Sepinwall argues that these changes have produced some of the most compelling shows in the history of the medium. Each chapter focuses on one game-changing drama and its impact on television and pop culture as a whole. The birth of cable as a major player, the importance of audience participation through the Internet, and the impact of 9/11 on the stories we want to watch are all discussed with words from the creators, writers, and network executives who helped give life to this television revolution.
Strengths: There’s a reason why Sepinwall is my favorite TV critic. The man is just a good writer—plain and simple. His passion for television is obvious, and his talent is just as obvious. His knowledge of the medium—not just the current “revolution era” but the classics of the past as well—is extensive and articulated well throughout this book. Sepinwall has a true gift for combining interesting summaries of a show’s action with astute opinions on everything from its actors to its score. In this book, he uses all of his skills to effortlessly combine interviews, episode analysis, criticism, and personal reflection to craft chapters that feel more like compelling narratives than dry analytical pieces.
It also helps that Sepinwall chose to focus on some excellent television shows. Each chapter builds on the previous one to provide a fascinating look at the way television has changed and grown in the last decade. Sepinwall makes the stories of how these shows got made and made their mark sounds as interesting as any major plot twist that happened onscreen. As a fan of great television, I found myself adding each television show he talked about to my “must watch” list. This isn’t just media analysis at its finest; it’s persuasive writing at its finest. Sepinwall believes that these television shows changed the landscape of the medium forever, and his conviction is so strong and articulate that he’ll have you believing it, too.
Weaknesses: As a fan of great media analysis and a self-professed Sepinwall devotee, I thoroughly enjoyed every part of this book. The only complaint I would have is a complaint Sepinwall directly addresses in the book: the lack of female presence in the “revolution.” Besides Buffy the Vampire Slayer, none of the shows discussed in the book are anchored by female characters. This is a very masculine revolution, but that has more to do with the media itself than Sepinwall. Hopefully someday he (or someone else) will be able to write a book about another revolution in the television industry which has a stronger female voice.
Another thing to note about the book (which some could see as a weakness) is the prevalence of spoilers throughout. I understand that Sepinwall had to include important plot points in order to discuss each show properly (and I actually liked getting the whole picture of what these shows were/are like), but it could be a problem for people who are compelled by Sepinwall’s writing to watch some of these shows for the first time. For example, I probably should have skipped the Breaking Bad chapter until I actually sit down and watch the show. And for all of you who’ve remained spoiler-free for most of Lost, Battlestar Galactica, or Mad Men because you’d like to watch them someday, I strongly suggest skipping some chapters until you watch those shows.
My Favorite Passage: “Once upon a time, people seemed impressed when they heard what I did…only because they thought it seemed like an easy gig. After a while, though, when I would tell then that I was a TV critic, they would get this glint in their eyes, leaning in to tell me how much they loved Omar on The Wire, or talk about how Friday Night Lights always made them cry. We’d been going home with television every night for years, but suddenly we had reason to respect it in the morning.”
Final Thoughts: I think The Revolution Was Televised should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves a fan of great television. It gives a detailed history of contemporary TV dramas in a way that feels fresh, sharp, and, most importantly, relevant. Sepinwall makes these shows come alive in a way that gives even those of us who’ve watched these shows new reasons to love and appreciate them. After reading this book, I was inspired to re-watch Lost after reading his thoroughly entertaining and enlightening chapter about what made the show so special. In fact, I was inspired to do a lot of things after reading this book: to re-watch some of my favorite shows, to watch a lot of new ones, and to become an even better writer so maybe one day I can channel my passion into something as smart and compelling as this book.