There have been a lot of bookish blog entries lately, for the simple reason that there hasn't been much else to blog about. Yes, I've seen a film or two (My Week with Marilyn - but try spinning out the theme "I completely agree with Laurence Olivier" for a whole entry), but telly-wise: practically nothing. Oh, all right, Merlin season four started so unobtrusively three weeks ago that I missed the first part, and it still delivers, though I'm afraid it's starting to run a little out of steam. But otherwise, I've been reduced to casting envying glances in the direction of Great Britain, where they are currently showing or have just shown 1) the third series of Downton Abbey 2) Parade's End, which sounds frightfully upmarket but promising 3) last but not least, the very latest episodes of Doctor Who! The worst thing is that I can't even revel in the reviews, at least not for the last-mentioned show. Doctor Who reviews are, ironically if you think of River Song's tag line, full to bursting with spoilers.
TV reviews generally seem to have a sort of amnesty where plot reveals are concerned. I held back from reading the reviews on the last episode of Downton Abbey series two until I'd seen it, for instance, and that proved to be a smart move, because boy did they go to town on the solving of Matthew's... predicament. Nevertheless, Downton is not a very twist-sensitive series. With Doctor Who, on the other hand, the plot twists are important, and being surprised by them is supposed to be part of the fun. So why, oh why do reviewers have to reveal them, and in such detail too? Time and again I've been seduced into reading a TV feature about a currently running series of Doctor Who and found that the writer has given vital information away. The worst example was a review of the episode "Amy's Choice" with a line going roughly like this: "X (=absolutely vital plot twist) came as a genuine surprise". I'm happy for you mate, but now I won't be genuinely surprised by it, will I? "Amy's Choice" remains a great episode - few actors do understated nastiness so well as Toby Jones - but I'd have liked to have watched it once without knowing the twist.
Otherwise, it's an unwritten rule of reviewing that you shouldn't give too much away. Amazon are hard as nails about it (they didn't publish one of my reviews once because it gave away that the book had a happy ending - duh, it was a novel by Dickens). But with TV, it seems to be another matter, presumably because TV reviewers suppose that everyone has already watched the show they're discussing, so now they can have a good natter about it. Surely, it's not only we foreigners who have reason to feel miffed by this attitude? What about those people who watch the programmes online, or wherever, using the "play" service?
"Pot, meet kettle" you might think. True, I'm not too fussed about giving away plots myself - compare my blabbing about Through A Glass Darkly with the Amazon reviews, where Roger's unorthodox love interest is kept a big secret. And I do see how being secretive restricts you from discussing a book/film/TV programme as freely as you would dearly wish. But this is partly what blogs, web forums, book clubs etc. are for. There's also the Long Analysing Culture Article which should have free reins to reveal all about the author/phenomenon it's treating with impunity (except, perhaps, who did it in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). But proper newspaper reviews are a different story. I guess reviewers must be relieved when they are set to write about a classic play/book/film, because they can give away as much as they like about the plot without anyone going: "Wait a minute, Hamlet dies? Lizzy marries Mr Darcy?" Even if you don't know what happens in a classic, it is quietly understood that you shouldn't grumble if reviewers take it as read that you do.
But what about those who read reviews about something they have seen/read, and really would like to know as much as possible about the reviewer's own thoughts on vital plot matters (and I often fall into this category myself)? The Times has an online section I haven't explored yet called The Spoiler Club. If it is what it sounds like then it's a terrific idea - an area where you can read analyses unfettered by the need to keep plot developments secret. Whereas if you haven't seen/read what's discussed there, you are warned to steer well clear. If this is not what this section's about at all, someone else should be giving the idea a try.
But "X came as a genuine surprise"? Surely that's just plain mean?