David Thomson’s new book “Television: A Biography” is an ambitious survey of television’s history by an astute and acerbic critic.
‘Television: A Biography’
by David Thomson
Thomas & Hudson, 412 pp., $24.95
David Thomson is one of film’s more thoughtful critics. He’s also a crank. Scan his witty, withering put-downs in “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film” — a must for cinephiles who don’t mind their idols being taken down a peg — and you’ll swear he’s the protagonist in “A Clockwork Orange,” his eyes forced open to endure the schlock on the screen.
Thomson is a bit more forgiving in “Television: A Biography,” an ambitious survey that celebrates everything from Donna Reed to “Breaking Bad,” but there are moments where you wonder if he’d rather be scrubbing toilets than sitting in front of the tube.
Despite his occasional pouts — is the original “Roots” really such a chore to re-watch? — the British author presents readers with one clever observation after another. You’ll never watch the Ricardos the same way after reading his argument that “I Love Lucy” could have just as easily been called “I Can’t Stand Her.” His description of Johnny Carson as a man somewhere between a ghost and an angel is spot on.
And for those who think the 75-year-old writer will just be pining for the good ol’ days, he leaves ample space to break down Felicity Huffman’s multilayered performance in ABC’s “American Crime” and give props to “Friends,” although with more than a hint of harrumph.
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Thomson may not be the most enthusiastic consumer, but he’s among our most thought-provoking, which makes this dense but highly readable collection of essays a sturdy companion to your yellowing back copies of TV Guide.