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Episodes: The piece of writing I'm most embarrassed by


Emily VanDerWerff

Oct 13 2015

4 min read



Over the weekend, I took in the film Sleeping With Other People, mostly because I needed the air conditioning. (Los Angeles can't seem to escape the heat wave it's been in since April, seemingly, and the apartment I'm currently in lacks central air.) It was a lot of fun, with a surprisingly winning pairing at its center. I've liked Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie in other things. I never would have guessed they would have quite this much chemistry. About two-thirds of the way through, I turned to Libby, and she muttered, "If they don't end up together, I'm going to stab myself." Fortunately, this is a romcom, and we all know how that goes.

I was originally going to write about tension and release tied to this movie, because I think it's an underrated component of movie storytelling that many, many mainstream films have seemingly forgotten about completely. (For another great example of how beautifully it can pay off, see Mad Max: Fury Road.) But the more I thought about the film, the more I realized I needed to issue a long overdue mea culpa.

This is a bad review. Of all of the writing I've done professionally, it's the one I cringe over most, the one I'm sort of anxious about people reading if they go through my complete archives. (Naturally, I'm linking you to it now.) I think I've written sloppier reviews, and I think I've written more poorly argued reviews, and I think I've written just plain dumber reviews. But this review is different: It's gross.

I could rail against this review on feminist grounds, since it's mostly an excuse to turn into a cartoon wolf with hearts for eyes when it comes to Alison Brie, or I could rail against it on the grounds of wandering far, far afield of what I should be talking about. I'd probably agree with both of those assessments. But I'm going to rail against it on other grounds entirely, sort of spinning off of my complaints about first-person criticism last week.

See, the problem with this review isn't that it's written by somebody who finds Brie attractive. It's that it's written by somebody who appears to have had only that emotional reaction to the episode. The sole overriding takeaway you get from that review is related entirely to my own sexuality, which isn't helpful at all if you don't happen to share my particular attractions. (Brie is a very attractive woman, but even those who are attracted to women won't necessarily be attracted to her, to say nothing of those who aren't attracted to women at all.)

I've always said that those who long for reviews of comedies that simply say what was funny are barking up the wrong tree, because humor is ultimately a subjective experience, and explaining it will only ruin the effect. Attraction is roughly similar, and every time I've read other reviews by somebody who's gone a little gaga for someone up on screen, I'm made a little uncomfortable because of how thoroughly the level of remove between reader and critic has been violated. I'm directly in the critic's brain, and if I don't agree with them in every particular, I resist that.

So when I read this review in 2015, I'm a little resistant to my 28 year old self, and I'm especially resistant to how he wants me to think about this episode of TV. It's a clumsy piece of writing, and, on top of everything else, it's a piece of writing that makes that version of myself sound like a big ol' horndog and someone who primarily sees women via their attractiveness. I hate that this piece is out there, but I also sort of like that it is, because in some ways, it reminds me of how green I was when I started my career, and how green I still am. This review isn't that old. I'm not that far removed from it. I have almost certainly written something in the last month I will be hugely embarrassed by in 2021. It's the nature of the job, and it's what's both daunting and thrilling about it.


Episodes is published daily, Monday through Friday, unless I don't feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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