cover image Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television

Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television

Lee Siegel, . . Basic, $30 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-465-07810-3

I n this book of collected television criticism, Siegel channel surfs and rides every wave, and no genre of programming escapes his analysis. Siegel, a senior editor at the New Republic , plumbs game shows, reality programming, cartoons, sitcoms, miniseries and iconic personalities with equitable rigor and flare. Above all, this collection showcases Siegel's talent as a semiotician, as he unmasks and dismantles the value systems at work behind popular shows. Siegel proclaims that “the television critic's job is not really to pass judgment at all. It's merely to announce a new reference point.” Luckily, the author rarely adheres to his own rule. While Siegel announces cultural referents aplenty, amid discussion of Baudrillard's “Simulacra,” the post 9/11 “Irony Controversy,” the Frankfurt school of criticism and the “august status” of contemporary fiction, perhaps his greatest strength as a critic is his ability to tell what's good from what's bad. There are as many surprising victors as there are victims. Siegel stands firm that Jon Stewart's comedy is poisoning politics and the work of Ken Burns “brings Caucasian condescension to a new low,” while Friends has “lent dignity to ordinary experience.” One of Siegel's favorite modes, as well as one of his favorite words, is “deconstruction.” Thankfully, Siegel deconstructs as a means to an end: to discern quality programming from drivel. (July)