Writer in Residence

The Art of the TV Show Recap

By Kim Moritsugu

My first exposure to the 21st century art form known as the TV show recap came in 2003, on the ground-breaking website Television Without Pity (TWoP). Its motto: Save the Snark, Spoil the Network.

My show of choice that year was The O.C. I liked the show so much that I wanted to do more than just watch it; after an episode I wanted to hear what other people had to say about it. Since I worked at home, I had no office water cooler to gather around. So I went online and discovered TWoP. The fan forums could be amusing and illuminating – the level of viewer commentary tended towards intelligent snark, in keeping with the site’s sensibility – but the funny, well written, we-mock-because-we-love recaps of each episode were what brought me back to the site every week.

To read a well-crafted TV show recap is to relive the episode in the company of a witty, irreverent friend who knows the show as well as you do, is clear-eyed enough to see its flaws and make fun of its tropes, but still admires and appreciates the qualities that keep you watching it.

TWoP – which ceased operation in April, 2014, though its archives are still available online – was a pioneer and a promoter of the long form recap. A single episode of The O.C. could occasion a 15 page, 7,000 word treatise, posted as late as six days after the episode had aired.

Nowadays, every entertainment site and its mother posts next-day TV recaps of buzzy shows, but at shorter lengths (1,500 words per 60 minute episode is typical) and of varying quality. Some recaps are dull, mere summaries of plot developments, offered without colour, style, criticism or any sign of a joke. Elsewhere, careful matching of recap writer to show has resulted in recaps that entertain – and sometimes provoke – as much as the shows they cover.

On New York magazine’s website, for example, the reverently sarcastic recaps of the New York-set CW series Gossip Girl that appeared during the early years of its run attracted hundreds of competitively clever comments each week and helped build the magazine’s Vulture page into the go-to entertainment site it is today, one that intelligently, thoughtfully and often zanily recaps almost 50 carefully chosen shows, including Game of Thrones, Scandal, Girls, Louie, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Downton Abbey.

Meanwhile, over at Go Fug Yourself , a site devoted to celebrating and exposing the fashion missteps of the beautiful and famous, illustrated (with screencaps) recaps of soapy prime time series like Nashville and Pretty Little Liars are all kinds of funny, both about how the shows and characters look, and how the plotlines play out.

With all this good, lively work being done – all this good cultural writing being published online – in service of an art form that has only emerged in the last 10 years, no wonder I wanted to try recapping myself. My debut TV recap – of Episode 1 of Season 4 of the shot-in-Toronto USA network legal drama Suits (broadcast in Canada on Bravo) – can be found here.

Recommended TV Recap Sites:
http://www.televisionwithoutpi... (for shows that aired prior to April 2014)
http://www.vulture.com/
http://www.gofugyourself.com/

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.


Kim Moritsugu is the author of six novels to date, including Looks Perfect, nominated for the Toronto Book Award; The Glenwood Treasure, shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Best Crime Novel award; The Restoration of Emily, serialized on CBC Radio; and the just published comedy of suburban manners The Oakdale Dinner Club. She also leads a walking tour for Heritage Toronto and teaches creative writing through The Humber School for Writers.