Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting are the founders of TelevisionWithoutPity.com, a TV review website known for its pithy weekly recaps. Recently, Quirk Books published the duo’s spin-off book Television Without Pity, helpfully subtitled 752 Things We Love to Hate (and Hate to Love) About TV.
The book is a snippet-filled, Wall Street Journal illustration-laced encyclopedia of idiot box references, snarkily recounting the myriad guilty pleasures of network and cable television. The brief entries, none more than a paragraph long, make for perfect reading during commercial breaks for people whose attention spans have been eroded by decades of MTV viewing.
Wade a few pages into this alphabetical tome and you’re apt to find the title a bit of a misnomer. While I’d comfortably put “Hollywood Squares,” “Models, Inc.” and “Saved By the Bell” in the love/hate category, shows like “The Simpsons,” “Kids in the Hall” and Ricky Gervais’ “The Office” simply have no place in a book dedicated to awful TV. If you dig far enough, it’s easy to find fault with some of the analysis contained within. I, for example, do not agree that “Out of This World” was the worst sitcom ever made. (“Small Wonder” was far crappier.) And, while I admit that some sitcoms (“Welcome Back, Kotter,” for example) have not aged well, I cannot condone the statement, “if it’s in black and white, it’s not funny.” (“Leave it to Beaver” and “The Addams Family” are enough to belie that statement.)
But for every misleading statement Ariano and Bunting make, they provide at least two dead-on accurate ones. I’m heartened to hear of their genuine dislike for “Family Guy” as well as their belief that Andy Richter was funnier than Conan O’Brien. (True on both accounts, ladies.) The turns of phrase are occasionally quite deft. In one entry, it is pointed out that singer Clay Aiken “resembles a Fraggle--a girl Fraggle.” In another, the authors wax rhapsodic on the idea that, “the size of William Katt’s hair is directly proportional not only to his own hotness but to the quality of the project he’s appearing in.”
There are probably too many entries related to “Law & Order,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.”--indicating exactly what shows Ariano and Bunting are addicted to. The remembrances of late-’70s, early-’80s television are a bit hazy, while the ’90s are, if anything, overrepresented. “Fantasy Island,” a show ripe for pop cultural excoriation, garners three short sentences, while current CBS placeholder “Numb3ers” rates half a page of commentary. Go figure.
Ultimately, you can’t fault the authors for calling TV as they see it. Listings like “Senior Citizens, Clichéd Portrayals of” and “Pregnancies, Clumsy Attempts at Hiding Actors” not to mention trenchant definitions for terms like “Cosby Sweater” are more than enough to make Television Without Pity a totally unessential, but nonetheless entertaining coffee table book for the irredeemable Idiot Box junkie.