Return of Mad Men, Farewell to TWoP
As anyone with the least bit of interest in good television is aware, AMC’s Mad Men kicked off its seventh and final season last night. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here.) In this golden age of television, I’ve always felt that Mad Men was the best show of them all. Part of my enjoyment of the show comes from my Monday-morning ritual of reading some of the many Mad Men episode recaps floating around the Internet. Over the years my bookmarks have included recaps from the great Alan Sepinwall, now over at HitFix, the A.V. Club recaps, now manned by Todd VanDerWerff and Sonia Saraiya, and Slate’s TV Club, among others.
One site that won’t be recapping Mad Men this season, for the first time ever, is Television Without Pity. TWoP, as it was affectionately known, won’t be recapping any shows any more. According to a very brief statement on their site: “TWOP ceased operations on April 4, but our archives will stay up. Plus: our forums will remain open till May 31. Thank you for your support over the years.” When I first heard this news last week I was momentarily quite sad, even though I probably haven’t visited the site in at least a year. Television Without Pity is generally considered to be the first site to do episode recaps in the manner that are now found all over the Internet, giving many writers their first shot at getting wide attention. (NPR’s Linda Holmes – a prominent pop culture voice – is one of many who got her start at TWoP.) Besides launching certain writers’ careers, TWoP inspired a generation of pop culture writers – and I specifically say pop culture and not just TV, because so many sites, like this one, were directly or indirectly inspired by TWoP. Each episode recap – which is almost exclusively what the site did – was around 16 pages long, well over 10,000 words. Before you were done reading a single recap you had a sense of the writer’s flow and style. Once you read several episodes from a single writer, and then branched out to other shows and other writers, it was inevitable that this new writing style would effect the way you wrote. TWoP didn’t just invent the TV recap, they invented snark.
Snark gets a bad rap nowadays, and perhaps rightfully so. Like so many things on the Internet, snark went from being clever to mean. However, when executed properly – that is, intelligently and in moderation – snark can be a great tool for critics, especially those criticizing lowbrow culture like television. (It also works for sports – Deadspin was the original successful model for a snarky sports website, often imitated but never effectively copied. Even by itself in later years.) Although all writers on TWoP were paid, it still felt like a labor of love. That’s why I could sit down and spend as much (and sometimes more) time with the show recaps than with the actual shows. We all know about “binge watching” TV shows; I remember binge reading 24 recaps. My love for Chloe was cemented by ‘s Season 4 recaps back in 2005-06. Remember The Apprentice? Reliving Bill Rancic‘s and Omarosa‘s antics through recaps was hilarious back in 2004. It even worked for comedies – recaps are how I moved from kind of liking to falling in love with How I Met Your Mother. And of course, there was Mad Men.
So as we all enjoy the return of Don, Peggy, Pete, Roger and Joan, I encourage everyone who hasn’t spent time on TWoP to go check it out. Pick your favorite show and just starting reading some old recaps. I promise you’ll get lost in there for hours. Then, pick up a show you haven’t seen before – maybe Freaks & Geeks is still on your to-watch list? – and read the recaps as you watch.