I wanted to write this down before I forgot.
As most of you may know, I've been writing a few reviews for the television podcast and review site Televisions Zombies. I don't mean to pimp it so often here, but honestly it's the most notable and enjoyable thing I've done for a few years now - hoboes notwithstanding.
Reviewing all the Charlie Jade episodes as well as the first couple Fringe shows, I came to the conclusion that I have no idea how to give something a five star rating. I've been reaching the end of my reviews (which technically are 80% recap and 20% op-ed piece) frustrated because I have no idea how to grade a show let alone a series of shows.
My brother-in-law (ex brother-in-law? almost ex...) my friend's come up with a pretty decent system for movies that I thought I'd try but it didn't work for serials. Here's how it goes.
5 stars - Pay full price to see it again in the theater.
4 stars - Pay matinee price.
3 stars - Rent it on DVD.
2 stars - Watch it on a premium channel.
1 star - Watch it on network TV.
Pretty good, right? Especially knowing him, I can now get a fair idea of what a movie will be like if he gives me that rating. It even allows for 1/2 stars; wait in line for hours before full price to see it again may even give it a glorious 5 1/2 stars. 3 1/2 stars may mean putting it high up on your Netflix queue. The lowly half star would be to watch it on basic cable with no HD if there was nothing else on. No stars would mean to never speak of it again.
I tried to adapt this to TV shows, but the first 3 don't really work. First, it's a serious investment to watch a show you've never seen on DVD. The sets are expensive and it generally takes weeks if not months to get through a series. I had to rethink. What I came up with isn't so much system where a show just falls into a category, but more like gymnastics scores where something starts out at a certain difficulty and is deducted points based off things that may have gone on during the show. I haven't finalized this list or had an opportunity to try it out, but I came up with the idea because I was getting tired of not wanting to grade shows poorly just because they weren't exciting. They may have been interesting, may have only had one or two small problems, but no reason to give something what amounts do a D (3 stars.)
So here's some ideas, and feel free to comment or add to it. Each show starts at 5 stars. There's no automatic deductions going in as I'm willing to let every show I watch have a chance to just wow the socks off my ass.
-1 if I'm not excited to see next week's episode. Week to week dramas may suffer in this department, and they should. If I watch an episode of In Plain Site and then miss a week and I'm not depressed about it, it's not an exciting show.
-1 if the show ends on a cliff hanger that's immediately resolved in the preview for next week. Yes this is out of the show's control, but you know what? It's an overall experience and you ruined any reason for me to wait with bated breath until next week's installment.
- 1/2 if I can detect a plot hole while watching. I'm not terribly bright when it comes to writing conventions, so if I see a major issue in the show WHILE I'm watching, that's a bad sign.
- 1/2 if at any point I roll my eyes at a piece of dialog. Be it sappy or campy or predictable or completely out of place, if I have a physical knee jerk reaction to something going on then it's at least worth a half - more if I start yelling at the TV.
- 1/2 if I can't follow along. With this in mind, I'd have constantly down graded The West Wing because I'd have to constantly rewind to see who said what, or ask fellow viewers what happened. If my big clue that something major happened is a musical cue then I'm having a hard time following along.
- 1 if I don't mind leaving the show while it's playing. Chances are I'd change the channel anyway, so what does it matter that I'm not paying attention.
- 1 if I don't plan on watching it again later. This may happen more to new shows, but also changes in shows that have gone on a long time.
- 1 if I get to the end of the show and either immediately forget what happened (because it's forgettable) or I feel like I just wasted a half hour/hour of my time.
It's general, it's vague, it's subjective, but I think it's a good start. I tend to write recaps while I'm watching the show (which is an interesting task) so I'd be easy to keep notes about any of these events. It may also mean some shows may seem good at first but end up getting a lower score and some blasé shows rate much higher than they otherwise might have. But that's the nature of critiques; it's all personal. I know that while I'd give Fringe a pretty good rating, other people I know very much despise the show and are now only going to watch it to make fun of the "science." To each his own.
I'm also trying to avoid feeling like I'm grading a show based on the series as a whole and not each episode's individual performance. If a new person comes into a TV show, they need to know if that was a good episode or a bad one based on the strength of that show alone. Later they can go back and say it wasn't the best of the season. Reason being, a five star show you see at 2am on cable versus a five star show you see at 8pm on Thursday night is going to show obvious differences. But to me productions values, while important, shouldn't make or break the show. This is then done to try and alleviate the comparison to other shows as well.
In the end, it's going to come down to what kind of mood I'm in, what time of day it is, if I have to pause it to go bath or feed kids or if I get a phone call that makes me have to watch the rest of the show on another night. It can't all be perfect, but I think this is a good start.
Yes I need to spend more time doing something else.