It sounds crude, ignorant, intellectually lazy, and ant-art, and it can easily lead to unearned smugness (which should really be the subtitle of this blog), but it's a fact. There's only so many hours in a day, years in a life – we often need reviews for no more than a friendly heads-up or a thumbs-down.
They can do more than this, too: they can also confirm our suspicions about things we were never going to bother with in the first place.
Take for example, James Wolcott's assessment of that Californication show starring David Duchovny.
The sex romps are setups for Hank's kissoff lines and parting shots, some of which are so nasty they're like being spat upon. "Consider yourself defiled," he says to one babe as he brings their session to a premature close, and he tells the wife of a producer he's just laid (who had the nerve to insult him that the movie adaptation of Hank's novel was better than the novel itself), "Not only are you a cadaverous lay, you have shitty taste in movies."
"Good," the mind says, "one more check-mark on my Not-To-Do List."
"Have you ever heard someone refer to a lover as a 'cadaverous lay'? I doubt it," beams Doug Elfman in the Chicago Sun Times. "That's a mark of clever, original writing."
No, it's not, it's the hoofprint of misogyny, the same half-quip, half-sneer of hip misogyny knocking around in so many Hollywood comedies about manchildren with low metabolisms. I feel sorry for the actresses cast in Californication, who not only perform nude scenes--something many actresses are wary about, knowing those clips will be pasted forever on the internet--but then have their characters dispatched with a crude insult that adds a special spicy dash of indignity for the drive home. Yes, they knew what they were getting into, but even so--Shampoo didn't rubbish its actresses that way. That Hank gets his comeuppance now and then doesn't dispel the smog of contempt that permeates the pores of nearly everybody on this show for the crime of not living up to the ideals Hank supposedly possessed before the sin of selling out turned him into a husk of a writer attached to a roving penis. This is a show that takes cracks at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, another sign of slumming and catering to hip disdain. As an actor, Duchovny has become all attitude, which makes him the perfect protagonist for Californication, which is nothing but attitude in need of an oil change.
On a slightly higher intellectual level, it's always good to see someone pointing out the adolescent narcissism, snickering misogyny, and lack of human empathy that lurks behind - nay, animates - most supposedly "grown-up" comedy.
I've been very slowly making my way through the three seasons of The Royle Family (a show I can't believe I haven't watched before now), and the difference is instructive: for a show that depicts a human hell of farts, nose-picking, bad food, put-downs, and general shabbiness, it's astonishing just how deeply adult and empathic the thing is, right down to its core.