Thursday, February 11, 2010

To re-cap ...

On this extremely snowy day (three feet of the white stuff, to be exact --in northern Virginia!), I want to talk about something that has everything to do with writing but nothing to do with dogs: the art of writing re-caps of television episodes.

A good television re-cap should inspire you to forward it to your friends with a spew alert warning -- as in if you read this while drinking anything you will spew out the beverage and short out your computer keyboard. A re-cap should elicit loud, guffawing laughter from the reader. And if it's really good, it'll make the reader think -- or at least see the episode in question in a whole new way.

Good re-caps come from independent sources: we're not talking here about the episode summaries you see on the networks' websites for their own shows. One can, for example, learn what's happened on last night's episode of "24" by reading the recounting of said episode on Fox's website. But such recaps don't cause you to chortle, nor are they thought-provoking. They play it completely straight and, as such, lack two elements that are crucial togreat TV episode re-capping: snarkiness and good comic riffing.

Snarkiness is especially important. Take, for example, Jeff Jensen's discussion on Entertainment Weekly of how the character of Kate on Lost has grown on him:

"Now, to be clear, I've grown to appreciate Kate over the years. In the beginning, I couldn't quite reconcile the young ingĂ©nue with the shampoo commercial hair with the scrappy fugitive/jungle cat tomboy Lost wanted her to be ... . But over time, as the character gained detail and damage, and as the actress grew in confidence and experience, Kate has become credible and compelling. ''What Kate Does'' — evenly divided between its Sideways vision of an early Kate that struggled to capture my imagination and the Island Kate I've grown to respect — only reminded me of my ambivalence for her. Especially when she was in shampoo commercial mode."

Jensen's sniping about Kate's hair not only is wonderfully catty/snarky but also is a sideways reference to the fact that the actress who portrays her, Evangeline Lilly, has moved from starring on a hit TV series to shucking for drugstore cosmetics mainstay L'Oreal. (and no, I'm not knocking L'Oreal. It just seems a step downward from Lilly's been doing.)

Then, there's comic riffing. Such writing in re-caps looks easy; the reader feels as though she's having a good gab-fest with a very funny friend. But in truth, such writing is difficult, because you can't always count on your inner humor machine to supply you with funny stuff, particularly when you need it the most. Good re-capping somehow always comes up with perfect comic riffs and tangents or at least humorous one-sentence asides, such as in this Television Without Pity re-cap of a recent episode of Shear Genius:

"Time for the rulings: Kim's bottom three are Adee's dated look, April's no real change, and Brian's nearly blinded client. His top three are Jon, Matthew, and Janine. Kim needs to get better at giving some positive feedback so that we could predict these things, but those three girls do all look good. The winner turns out to be Matthew, and while I'm not a big Brig fan, I will give her credit for smiling and totally admitting that her plan backfired completely. "

In short, good re-capping is snarky, laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes even thought-provoking. Here are some recapping sites that consistently meet those standards:

Television Without Pity
Entertainment Weekly
Celebritology (for Jen Cheney and Liz Kelly's great dueling analyses of Lost)
What Alan's Watching (recaps from Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Ledger)
The TV Column (for recaps of American Idol by Washington Post TV columnist Lisa deMoraes. No one, but no one does snark as well as she does.)

We now return to our regularly scheduled dog-related programming.

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