cover image Play All: A Bingewatcher’s Notebook

Play All: A Bingewatcher’s Notebook

Clive James. Yale Univ., $25 (216p) ISBN 978-0-300-21809-1

Australian author James (Unreliable Memoirs) brings his sharp critical eye to TV’s current golden age, providing witty and insightful musing on popular and critically acclaimed series of the past two decades. He posits that good television is an art form and a mirror for reflecting modern cultural concerns. Contrasted with the “relentless catalogue of mechanized happenings” of blockbuster films, it provides “something to discuss.” Displaying a talent for apt description and pop culture recall, James declares Tony Soprano “a magnetic mountain” and Don Draper “Don Giovanni in a Brooks Brothers shirt.” He places Mad Men in its historical context and takes Aaron Sorkin to task for The Newsroom’s cardboard cutout characters. His commentary on the trope of the “irritating daughter” (and its subspecies, “the kidnapped irritating daughter”), in 24 is hilarious and spot-on. Some of his opinions are controversial—he dislikes Breaking Bad’s Walter White and calls his cohort Jesse Pinkman an “unbearable punk.” His description of Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen as “not especially stunning” will particularly irk some fans. As readers of James’ prior work will expect, this is a cerebral piece of work. “For the subtleties,” he writes, “we still need books.” Jokes about Marcel Proust’s mother aside, however, his book is far from inaccessible. (Sept.)