All Up In the Kitchen In My Heels...

Dinnertime.

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An Open Letter to Alan Sepinwall

Dear Mr. Sepinwall,

I’ve been following you since the early days of What’s Alan Watching, when I was an aspiring television writer and an assistant on The Shield. I read you with great pleasure and aspiration. There was a benevolence to your approach. You met the work on its own terms, a rarity in the reviewing business, and your love of television came shining through every review. Even when I disagreed with you, I always gained an interesting and worthwhile perspective on the piece of work, something I hadn’t previously considered. I found you valuable and I looked forward to the day I’d get to hear your thoughts on something I’d written.

That time has come and gone, and it was not nearly as satisfying as I had imagined all those years back, sitting at Scott Brazil’s desk. Because I’ve noticed a change in your tone over the last few years and it’s been bumming me out. Not just because it makes your reviews less enjoyable, but more importantly because you have the power to affect the tone of a larger conversation. That’s a responsibility I’d like to believe you take seriously, not out of ego, but out of love and respect for the craft and medium of television. If I’m right about that, I hope you’ll hear me out…

The way you’ve treated How I Met Your Mother – the finale in particular, but this last season at large – betrays a sense of entitlement from you that I find deeply troubling.

I don’t wish to argue with you on the merits of the finale, though I will state for the record that, as someone who has spent her life studying the mechanics and practicing the craft of storytelling, I found it to be one of the most dramaturgically sound network sit com finales I’ve ever seen. I was impressed, and deeply moved. Your emotional response to the contrary is just as valid and not at issue here.

What I take issue with is your presumption that your version of Bays’s and Thomas’s vision is more valid. Maybe that wasn’t your intent, but it’s what you communicated.

“…my anger over this terrible, misconceived, ginormous middle finger to the fanbase very, very briefly turned into sympathy for Bays and Thomas, because I realized they had become victims of their own damn cleverness.”

Ok. You’re angry. Again, a valid emotional response and not at issue here. (Though as a member of the “fanbase” I’d appreciate it if you didn’t speak for me.) But there’s another perspective on your realization that they were “victims of their own cleverness” that is worth considering. From where I stand, they were slaves to their vision — that ‘plan’ you reference, the one they insisted on sticking to. And while it is within your purview as a critic to consider the execution and impact of that vision, lambasting a creator’s commitment to it is bizarre.

“… Because they wanted to make their pilot seem unpredictable enough to catch the attention of a CBS development exec way back in the script stage, they added the Aunt Robin gag at the end.”

I suspect that “gag” was a fundamental part of the show they set out to make, not a manipulative attempt to get a pick up. But just as I can’t say with certainty that I’ve correctly guessed their intent, neither can you.

“… How could they not see the happy, satisfying ending that was staring them right in the face, and instead do… this?”

Have you considered that they saw it, thought about it, and decided it wasn’t in keeping with their vision? That’s their right. It’s their show, not yours. Why wouldn’t you confront them on those terms?

“…as a result we just wind up feeling tricked, and annoyed, and wondering why we went along with all of it, when we should have known from the very first episode — from the Aunt Robin joke that got us into this gigantic mess — that this was a show that would not hesitate to make us feel tricked.”

Again, speak for yourself. But yes. You should have known. Misdirects have been a fundamental component of the show’s structure since the pilot, as you’ve pointed out more than once. You call it a trick. I call it a narrative style. And an undeniably consistent one at that. Over and over, they’ve done this dance. So why the anger now? The answer to that question is really interesting. I wish you’d tried to answer it.

It is so rare in television that someone has a vision and is given the opportunity to execute it, all the way through to the bitter end. You know this. And knowing this, you looked at someone’s completed vision — not the execution of that vision, you barely addressed that – but the vision itself, and called it horrible, misconceived, and a fuck you to the fans. Take a moment with that. Is that really how you want to contribute to the cultural conversation?

And what about the many fans, including myself, who found the finale not only satisfying, but moving? Why is your emotional satisfaction more important than mine?

It’s not. Nor is my satisfaction more important than yours. Because it’s not about us.

No show you’ve ever loved was made by people who compromised their vision based on the will and whimsy of their fans. No one but a hack takes in the reaction of an audience and responds by giving up on their vision. Adjusts their execution? Sure. But abandons what they set out to accomplish? Nope.

Your passionate fandom is a beautiful thing. But it does not gift you ownership over a creator’s vision. And whether you are willing to confront it or not, that is what your reaction to this season of How I Met Your Mother demanded: that the creators cede their vision to yours. Mr. Sepinwall, that’s nuts.

Through your columns, you are setting an example for how to talk about creative work, how to approach it and consider it and critique it. That is an incredibly valuable role. What if, instead of using your influence to foster a culture of fan entitlement that sets everyone up for disappointment, you fostered a respect for the intent of the creator? What if you used your position to elucidate the difference between idea and execution? What if you went back to confronting pieces of work on their own merits, accepting them as they are, not as you’d like them to be? Would the conversation shift? Would it become more positive? More productive? Less cluttered with cries of “I can’t believe I wasted my time with that!”? I can’t say. But I sure would be interested to see you make the effort.

With respect,

Angelina Burnett

ETA: http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/the-how-i-met-your-mother-finale-revisited-how-i-regret-the-mother

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humansofnewyork:

"We met when she came into a thrift store where I worked. We both loved clothes and dancing. She’s my best friend, my roommate, and my wife. I’m not even joking, we’ve been legally married for 14 years."

humansofnewyork:

"We met when she came into a thrift store where I worked. We both loved clothes and dancing. She’s my best friend, my roommate, and my wife. I’m not even joking, we’ve been legally married for 14 years."

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It’s Sunday. I’mma need everyone to stop what they’re doing and let Sister Rosetta take you to church for a minute or three.