RIP Television Without Pity: Mourning the Death of an Internet Institution
“Everything lives forever on the Internet.” This is what a friend once told me as an explanation for why she would never let anyone take naked photos of her, lest the images find their way online and ruin her chances of employment. And it makes sense, right? Once something hits the online world—be it a dirty photo or an impassioned Facebook status update or a favorite blogpost on a niche website—it stays there, floating around forever in the digital ether, awaiting discovery from and to be screenshot by, oh, just about anyone. And even though my friend spoke about the eternal presence of the Internet as a warning, something of which to be careful, I found comfort in the idea that once something was online it would remain there for me to find.
Would that it were so. As it turns out, plenty of things die on the Internet. It is eminently possible for websites to be here one day and gone the next. It’s even possible for naked selfies to not come back and haunt you! (Not, you know, probable, but certainly possible.) And because most of the things that vanish from the Internet are relatively inconsequential, relatively few people mourn their disappearance. After all, it’s not the institutions that fade away, but the ephemera, those things whose very nature it is to shine brightly before fading out. But when the institutions disappear? It can be more than a little bit hard to take. Do I sound a little melodramatic right now? Sure. Sure, I do. But that’s only because when I first found out that Television Without Pity was shutting down and would be gone forever from the Internet on April 4, I felt similarly to how I did when I found out about the shuttering of Gray’s Papaya, namely, that I was losing an old and beloved friend, albeit one that I didn’t get around to visiting all that much anymore. I was sad, goddamnit. Over a website. And even when the (very welcome) news came yesterday that the archives of TWoP would not disappear and would remain accessible to the public, it still is impossible to pretend that something isn’t being lost.
We live in a Golden Age of television. Part of that is due the abundance of the high-quality shows aired in the last decade or so (The Wire, The Sopranos, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad to name just a few), part of it is due to the sheer volume of shows airing on hundreds of available channels, and part is due to the proliferation of Internet commentary, leading to the communal feeling of partaking in a cultural moment that makes watching and analyzing a television show feel more significant and even essential than ever before. And while Internet commentary on cultural content is as old as, well, the Internet, for many people (including me!) one of the first places that they went to obsess over and read about and comment on much-loved or much-hated TV shows was Television Without Pity. TWoP was the final manifestation of a blog (focused on analyzing Dawson’s Creek, because why not) started by Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting that eventually transformed into Mighty Big TV before becoming TWoP. The site was one of the first (if not the first) to feature long-form recaps of all types of shows (everything from One Tree Hill to NYPD Blue to Trading Spaces) and also had well-moderated forums on each show that forbade members from starting remarks with the word “um” and were so full of thoughtful commentary that they were frequently visited by people who worked on the shows in question (what’s up, Aaron Sorkin).
I never really waded into the forums, and was more then content to pore over the thoughtful, funny recaps of the TV shows of which I just couldn’t get enough. Even though every recapper had his or her own unique writing style (like, you’d never mistake a Jacob recap for one by Sars), the common thread uniting the recaps was that each was written with an intelligence and care that isn’t necessarily valued anymore in today’s culture of recapping, when the most important thing is getting up the post as quickly as possible, nuance of the show be damned. (Sometimes it’s just like take one fucking minute to actually think about what happened! You don’t have to write a 3,000 word recap, but take that minute or even an hour, you know?) And even while the nature of recapping has changed since TWoP burst on the scene, it’s impossible not to see the lasting effects that this Internet institution had when it created a culture of television criticism that was as engaging as the shows themselves were—and sometimes even more. There were shows that I started watching because I liked the recaps so much (Veronica Mars, which, thanks Couch Baron!) and shows that I kept watching even when I’d stopped caring about them just because the recaps were so good (hey, Trading Spaces) and then there were the shows and recaps that so perfectly aligned in terms of how much love I held for them (Friday Night Lights) that everything in the universe just felt right. I hadn’t visited TWoP in a while (partially because I started writing recaps for this site and I didn’t want my writing influenced too heavily, and partially because I barely watch any TV that I’m not recapping anymore), but I still think of the site as the standard for good recapping and I’m as sorry to see it go as I was when I realized I would never be able to get another papaya drink on Sixth Avenue and 8th Street.
But so, while there isn’t the same rush to get over to TWoP and read everything you can before it’s gone forever, it’s still worth a visit to read some of the best recaps the site ever published. Even if you haven’t watched the show (or, in one shining example, movie) in question, they’re still worth a read, if only to realize that there are plenty of other people out there who obsess over Tami Taylor’s hair as much as you did.
Veronica Mars: “Leave It To Beaver” (Season 1, Episode 22)
In which Couch Baron guides us through the finale of the epic first season of Veronica Mars and we lament the loss of nicknames like Haaron Echolls and Officer Fuckface.
The Sopranos: “The Test Dream” (Season 5, Episode 11)
In what surely must have been one of the most difficult, surreal episodes of one of the best shows ever on television, Aaron points out every obscure reference and analyzes the hell out of them in a way only a true obsessive would.
Beverly Hills 90210: “The Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Even though TWoP didn’t recap the original iteration of 90210, Sars went back to the pilot episode so that we could all laugh together at the acid-washed jeans, scrunched down socks, and Reagan-esque hair of Jason Priestley. Plus, an appearance of the best/worst vanity license plate of all time: “I8A4RE”.
Friday Night Lights: “State” (Season 1, Episode 22)
While it might be fun to recap a show that everyone hate-watches, it’s much more rewarding to write about a show that is actually deserving of a recapper’s blood, sweat, and tears (aka sleepless nights and repeated rewinding to catch a mumbled line of dialogue). Drunken Bee did an amazing job with this much-loved show. (Spoiler: The Panthers win! And it’s spectacular.)
Sometimes a movie just begs to be recapped, and Center Stage was one such movie. If you haven’t seen this cult classic, well, I don’t really know what you’re doing with your life. (Things, probably. Important things.) But read this brilliant Wing Chun recap, if only to read aloud the line, “I am the best goddamn dancer in the American Ballet Academy. Who the hell are you?” And then say a little thank you to Wing and Sars and all the other writers at TWoP for changing the way we write about and even watch TV. It was a good run. RIP TWoP.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen
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