Nerdy Girl Reads: The Revolution Was Televised


Title: The Revolution Was Televised

Author: Alan Sepinwall

Genre: Nonfiction

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 LostBattlestar 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.

Grade: A



6 thoughts on “Nerdy Girl Reads: The Revolution Was Televised

  1. I loved reading this review, since you read the book differently than I am. I’m torn between my desire to just sit down to read the rest of the book over a week or so and wanting to remain spoiler-free for the remainder of the shows that I haven’t seen. I love going back and reading things with the full understanding of the show but I want to finish the book a lot faster than I can if I watch all the shows first.

    I love reading Alan Sepinwall’s reviews of things. He’s one of my top two favorite critics (Todd VanDerWerff from The AV club being the other).

    I’ve said it before, but I can’t wait for the day that I see your name on a book about TV. Maybe you’ll be the one to write about this new era of TV that features more women in complex leading roles 😉

    • Todd VanDerWerff is my other favorite TV reviewer, too! Looks like we both have good taste. 😉

      I think the way you’re reading the book is a smart way to read it. Yes, it’s great to read it all at once, but it’s also nice to get perspective on his thoughts after viewing the shows yourself. That’s why the Lost chapter was my favorite.

      “I’ve said it before, but I can’t wait for the day that I see your name on a book about TV. Maybe you’ll be the one to write about this new era of TV that features more women in complex leading roles” You’re too kind, Heather. I’d love to write that book about women in leading roles someday—now if only I could find the time and energy to make that happen!

  2. I don’t know what it says about me that I’ve watched 11 of the 12 series he’s chronicled. However, it’s interesting to me that Buffy is the only female driven series he chose to look at for the book. I got caught watching a mini marathon tonight of Designing Women and literally had the thought, how many strong female driven shows were in the 80s from Murphy Brown to Cagney & Lacey to China Beach. It wasn’t the anti-hero that has risen in the last 20 years of TV, but the 80s does reflect a complete departure for women as a whole on television and how they were portrayed. Sitcoms were certainly leading the charge, but sitcoms were also in their prime in the mid 70s – early 90s. I am at a disadvantage because I am not sure what methodology he used to chose the 12, but I do think it is cyclical. I think we are seeing a rise of strong female driven vehicles in the last decade. Those that immediately come to mind are Weeds, Damages, The Good Wife, Scandal and this year’s Orphan Black and Orange is the New Black, not to mention the “dramadies” like Nurse Jackie, Desperate Housewives and Ally McBeal. When I look at the shows he chose, their subject matter/content/framework is what defined their importance in TV history – 24 and LOST in particular and many while possessing male protagonists were truly ensemble driven.

    • “I don’t know what it says about me that I’ve watched 11 of the 12 series he’s chronicled.” I think it says you have good taste. 😉

      There are definitely cycles and phases in the world of television, and that’s a point that Sepinwall brings up repeatedly in this book. I think the phase he chose to focus on was the darker/more experimental phase that began with The Sopranos and is continuing through Mad Men and Breaking Bad. I do agree with you that we’re currently living in an age that is experiencing a boom in female-driven television. I’m especially drawn to the comedies that feature women as the stars of the show: The Mindy Project, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, New Girl, etc.. This is interesting to me because there’s still a belief that women can’t be as funny as men, but some of the smartest comedies (and most critically-beloved ones) on television are centered around women, from their stars to their creators.

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