Ask the Critic: Paul Brownfield

Question: TV critics often watch tapes of programs that lack commercials as well as laugh tracks, music, etc. When you review a show, how do you compensate for what is an inherently different experience for the average viewer? Ever been tempted to change your opinion?

Brownfield: It is true that critics have an advantage in that we don't have to sit through commercial breaks. The whole way we receive television, in fact, is different. Tapes show up in my mail, every day, well in advance of their premieres. So how do I compensate? I try to keep in mind that most people have dozens, if not hundreds, of channels to choose from, and thus judge the show largely on how well it holds my interest. Does it establish its plot well right off the bat, its humor and maybe, just maybe, its point of view? Can I see story lines evolving in promising ways? Or could I not care less?

Sadly, most TV series aren't apt to evolve very much; networks don't have the patience to wait for a show to find its voice, assuming it might have one. For this reason, my opinions about a show don't often change. However, one of the disadvantages of reviewing TV at a daily newspaper is that the review has to appear before a series premieres, which often means having to judge a show on its merits after only one episode. So we do try to leave open the possibility of returning to a series midseason, with new thoughts and impressions if the show deserves a fresh look.

For instance, the FX series "Rescue Me," starring Denis Leary, about New York City firefighters post-9/11, has surprised me a little in how raunchy it has become in subsequent episodes, something I didn't expect from watching the pilot.

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