Last week, over on “What’s Alan Watching?,” Alan Sepinwall C’96 reviewed the latest episodes of 30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Last Resort, Suburgatory, The Mindy Project, New Girl, Parenthood, How I Met Your Mother, Treme, Homeland, The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire.
He says it was “something of a slow week.”
During peak TV season, he’ll write up to twice as many reviews in a given week. Somehow, amid all that writing, Sepinwall also found time to pen a new book, which was released last month. We caught up with him to learn more about it and hear his take on the current crop of TV shows.
How did you come to write The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever?
I wrote a book years ago called Stop Being a Hater and Learn to Love The O.C., which was a quickie cash-in book of the kind that are made about any instant pop-culture phenomenon. It was a fun book, but I always wanted to write something more serious, and more permanent, about all the great television shows I had gotten to cover in my career. A literary agent reached out to me about the idea of doing a book and got me thinking again, and then I was at a party at the San Diego Comic-Con standing next to Ted Griffin, who had created a show I loved called Terriers — which was quickly canceled in part because it was called Terriers — and mentioned the idea, and he not only prodded me to do it, but gave me the title I ultimately used. And when the man who comes up with the name Terriers gives you a title, you use it.
Your book looks at the TV dramas that “ushered in a new golden age of television that made people take the medium more seriously than ever before.” Which show would you consider the most important to that transformation?
I would say the three most important shows were Oz, The Sopranos and The Shield. Oz was the first drama HBO made, in a very relaxed atmosphere where there were almost no rules of any kind, and it was very good and enough of a success that HBO decided to continue in that direction. The Sopranos was great, and also a surprising crossover hit, which led other people to start experimenting. And The Shield was the show that proved you could make an HBO-style show away from HBO, which only made the golden age more wide-reaching and long-lasting.
What’s your all-time favorite show?
Going into the writing of the book, I would have said The Wire without question. After re-watching large chunks of the shows to refresh my memory on certain things, I found myself falling for The Sopranos in a big way again, to where those two shows would be 1 and 1A — The Wire more consistent, Sopranos maybe more daring — and where I’m not sure which is ahead on any given day. So I’ll wimp out and say The Simpsons.
What do you consider the best show on TV right now?
The two AMC shows in the book, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, are both pretty incredible, and Mad Men had the ever-so-slightly better recent season, so I’ll pick that.
How about the best show that no one’s watching — or at least not enough people?
Parks and Recreation on NBC. It’s from a bunch of the people responsible for The Office, and it’s better in almost every way than The Office was at its best: smart and warm and just wickedly funny, at times almost feeling like a live-action version of The Simpsons.
What’s the worst show that ever made it to air?
Oh, God. With any luck, it’s something I never even watched. In recent years, I’ve largely stopped watching unscripted TV, so I’m sure I’d be horrified by Toddlers & Tiaras and the like. But my favorite bad title (attached to a bad show) of all time is probably UPN’s Homeboys in Outer Space. This was a real show.
Can you share a few of your favorite reviews?
I get asked most frequently about my Mad Men reviews, and here’s one of my favorites from this past season:
And a vintage one from a few seasons back: