Why it can be good, and not so good, to read other people’s reviews.

I started this blog to write about television, and occasionally I write about film and books as well. But I wasn’t using it, so I decided that I would write at least 500 words every day this year. Depending on what I write, the length of the piece varies. What I’ve noticed since I’ve started writing more television reviews is that I’m not reading reviews on any other websites.

The main benefit of that is that I’m focusing on my own opinion of the episode, rather than having my opinion influenced by other people. On the other hand, if I’m not sure about whether I like something or not (my initial reaction to Birdman was “huh”, and I didn’t know what to make of it), it’s useful to seek out both positive and negative reviews and think about which one you agree with the most. My method is to get inspiration from the articles and use them as a source if I use specific ideas in my own review. I read Kayla Kumari’s review of The Good Wife‘s “Dark Money”, before I wrote my own, but the time between reading her review and writing my own was long enough that it didn’t matter as much. But of the shows I write about regularly, Jane the VirginBetter Call Saul and Justified, I’ll only occasionally read a review over at The A.V. Club or on Alan Sepinwall’s blog afterwards.

I’m still relatively new to this, so there are people who watch television more critically than I do. It’s a skill I’m still developing. Therefore I need to read other people’s reviews to enhance my own insight into what I’ve just watched. My case in point for this week is Justified. Last week, I wrote a more of a recap than a review in that it was mainly a plot summary that didn’t go into theme or character at all. Then I went to the review over at The A.V. Club, and read a fantastic character study into how Raylan’s personality was informed by the antagonistic relationship he had with his now dead father. The hatred of Arlo is what drove Raylan for four seasons, and the show has definitely changed since he died – why is Raylan still in Harlan? Given that I watched the first four seasons of this show in succession (it wasn’t quite a binge watch, since I was finishing my Masters degree at the time), I haven’t watched it as critically as I have shows that I watch on a weekly basis. Then in my review this week, I was looking too much into Boyd changing the magazine on his gun – on their podcast, Joanna Robinson and Ryan McGee thought it was just an illustration of how Boyd can no longer trust Ava – this makes the most sense, but I still hope there’s more of a possibility than that. It was a semi-ambiguous moment, and I need to remember that just because other people see it differently than I did, it doesn’t mean that I interpreted it wrong. Just differently. Still, I haven’t read any other Justified reviews this week, so I only know the opinions of two people. It’s food for thought.

Another thing I wrote about last week was my issues with the second series of Broadchurch. On her podcast with Ryan McGee, Mo Ryan articulated some of her problems with the show – I had heard that it was soapy, but that’s not necessarily the whole problem. What was good about the first series of Broadchurch is that it wasn’t about the big twists, and it has become that in the second series, instead of a character based piece about the murder of a child in a small town. It became more Scandal than Friday Night Lights, to use Ryan McGee’s analogy. You can read more about the issues with the second series of Broadchurch over on Mo Ryan’s website.

So my new goal is that once I have written my review of a film or television show, I’m going to seek out others. It’s the best way for me to think more critically, and definitely the best way for me to learn.

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