Who needs TV? Just read the recap.

Monica Hesse
Writer June 22, 2012

I’ve given up on “True Blood” ever since watching it began requiring a Bon Temps Who’s Who (Is she a werewolf or werepanther?) and since the cast became so vast that I began rooting for all the main characters to die.

And yet, I watch the show every week, not because of anything that happens on HBO between 9 and 10 p.m. on Sundays but because of the discussion that happens the next day on my computer screen. “True Blood,” the show, has become the raw appetizer for the main course of “True Blood,” the recap.

Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two. View Archive

It’s not a unique phenomenon:

Want to laugh? Good heavens, don’t watch “Real Housewives of New Jersey;” it will only make you sad for human beings. Do, however, read Tracie Potochnik’s RHONJ recap, in all of its withered, withering glory.

Prometheus,” Ridley Scott’s mash note to his own brilliance, is worth 124 minutes of your time only if you cap it off by reading “Prometheus in Fifteen Minutes,” a mash note to the film’s madness.


(Harry Campbell for The Washington Post)

A writer in New York magazine recently declared that Twitter is the new watercooler — where couch spuds plant themselves to discuss the events of last night’s tube. That’s not the half of it. For a certain cohort of viewers and for certain types of shows, the Web isn’t where conversation begins. It’s where the viewing experience is completed. Recaps, the genre of Web writing originally invented to help out viewers who missed a few episodes — Carrie broke up with Big, again — have, in some cases, transcended the products themselves.

The recap isn’t new. (For a complete history, see Gawker writer Rich Juzwiak’s tales-from-the-sweatshop saga, in which he describes the succubus-like appetite of his readers and the frenetic pace at which he was expected to produce copy.) And, oh, the discussions one could have about the epic narcissism inherent in reading someone describe something you, yourself, have just finished watching.

What I find interesting is the symbiotic relationship that has developed online between show, recapper and reader — as if the Internet’s infinite capacity for niche-indulgence has made everyone believe they deserve a concierge television critic. This topic came up in my weekly chat several months ago. A reader noticed that since her favorite writer had stopped summarizing “American Idol” every week, she found that she no longer liked the show. Watching it had become too solitary, too empty.

I relate: For several seasons, I watched the Pollyanna-polygamist TLC show “Sister Wives,” faithfully accompanied by recaps on TVGasm.com written by a writer who went by “TheMiki.” TheMiki’s painstaking, sublime description of each episode lent a level of meta-meaning to the viewing experience. I wasn’t watching “Sister Wives.” I was “watching” “Sister Wives,” led by TheMiki on an ironic journey through fundamentalist Mormonism. When TheMiki retired, the show lost that layer of meaning — or rather, my viewership of the show lost its patina of cultural analysis. I wasn’t “watching” anything, I was just watching, and what I was watching was bad.

Online, everything is a team sport. People dissect news events, game scores, relationship statuses, together, together. People watch television together, or at least it seems that they do when they see their own feelings mirrored in snarky retrospectives. A good recapper scarfs up the contents of a screen and spits it back out for public inspection. Look at what you just consumed.

In my personal world, “True Blood,” the show, is where I roll my eyes at Sookie Stackhouse and wish someone would truly drain her blood, already. “True Blood,” the recap, is where I reflect on the bizarre society that would create and celebrate such a show. It’s no longer must-see TV. But it might be must-read.

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