I was having trouble deciding what to write about tonight. While a look at CSN’s coverage of Marvel’s latest event (plus the news about Steve Rogers returning to being Captain America in time for the movie) would elicit only an article about how little I care and why, a post in the That Guy With The Glasses fanblogs by Cferra (one of the few Twitter followers I can confirm isn’t a spambot or just follows everybody–my apologies to the rest of you who are actually interested in my ramblings) brought such a long response from me that I decided to just make an article instead. (Come to think of it, that’s one of the reasons I began the Spotlight in the first place.) So read that first, then come back.
Done that? Good. Cferra makes a few good points, a couple of which I wanted to expand on.
Here at the Spotlight I’ve mentioned video reviewers before (I’ll link back to some of those articles in the “related articles” list rather than throw a ton of links around this one), even sampling them in the Saturday Night Showcase. Giving reviews in front of a camera can be traced back at least to 1975 with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert‘s Sneak Previews show. On the surface its an easy formula. Show a film clip, give your opinion and if there’s more than one of you, debate your opinions before moving to the next movie. You might find reviews for TV shows and later video games, but things pretty much stayed the same for years.
But then the universe shifted, and something new happened. No, not the internet. I actually want to point towards X-Play.
While they would give their reviews with a bit more snark than your average reviewer, what set them apart from other video game review shows like GamePro TV were the addition of comedy and skits in their reviews. When they needed space to get a full half-hour shows, or just wanted to amuse themselves, and didn’t have a game to review, they’d do a full skit. I think this is actually where it began; this is when critics began the shift towards entertainment.
The Angry Nintendo Nerd, later the Angry Video Game Nerd, and the Nostalgia Critic are the ones usually cited as responsible for the rise of the video reviewer. It’s become a genre of internet “TV” itself, and a huge community of both reviewers and fans have arisen. However, there is a growing, but I would maintain minor, voice that has one major complaint: the arrival of storylines in reviews.Vodpod videos no longer available.
The biggest assault comes towards Moviebob, BW Fave the Game Overthinker. Recently, he began his “Antithinker” storyline, in which his double from an alternate universe takes over his show and teleports him to Wario’s Woods. If you read the comments on his site there has been a rather negative backlash. However, reviewers like Linkara and Apollo Z. Hack have been involved with their own epic battles to save their show or the reviewing community. Apollo even have a separate series dedicated to his battle to save the “Reviewaverse”. Most recently, import video game reviewer JewWario has also been tagged as a defender against a great evil and the Nostalgia Chick’s BFF Nella was killed and turned evil by a quasi-demonic alternate universe…thingy. While many fans have accepted it or found it interesting, some have not.
I would ask why? Most of these reviews involve over the top skits and parodies within the reviews themselves. They or their friends come in to play characters like Dr. Insano, the Bum Reviewer, 90’s Kid, Dr. Tease, and the list goes on. Aren’t the storylines just an extension of the skits, like the annual crossover anniversary specials or occasional team-up reviews?
The video review genre has already expanded past simply reviewing the property in question, and those reviews do exist, even among the reviewers that use skits in their reviews. MarzGurl has stated that although she has introduced a sorceress nemesis (almost rhymes) she has no plans to create long story arcs. So what sets MarzGurl apart from some of the other reviewers?
Doug Walker, Lindsay Ellis, Matt Burchett, James Rolfe, and Bob Chipman (he doesn’t have a Channel Awesome Wiki Entry) are also independent filmmakers. Rolfe makes horror movies, Walker makes skits, Burchett leans towards sci-fi, and Ellis is currently working on a documentary. I don’t know what Chipman has done or if Justin Carmichael is a filmmaker, but Noah Antwiler is strictly an entertainer, as you can tell from The Spoony Experiment, which also has the occasional story arc. Lewis Lovhaug is an independent comic writer. All of them are not just reviewers but storytellers at heart. Are you really that surprised that their love of storytelling would merge with their reviews? Having dipped my pinky toe into the video ranks, I know I have a concept I wouldn’t mind trying, but I don’t have the resources.
Text reviewers seldom have the luxury of mixing reviews and stories. Occasionally Comics Should Be Good breaks out Evil Bully, and I had Shockwave taking over the Friday Night Fights during the Fists of Fury tournament. However, those tend to be separate from our reviews. Can you imagine Snell trying to convince us Brian Michael Bendis took over Slay Monstrobot or that Gary from Crisis on Earth Prime was in a battle to save the mulitverse? (I mean he is, but could you imagine combining that with a review. Also, don’t tell him I let the cat out of the bag.) I would be hard to tell in a text review, but in a video review a good writer can combine the two rather well, in Chipman’s case using the story to make a point about the subjects he talks about.
Cferra also notes that “angry reviews” are on the way out. Sort of.
I’ve talked to the reviewers and people have said angry reviewing is not the way to go any more. People are getting less angry in their reviews. Why? Well, there’s no sense in it. People just want to talk about the media in question and give their thoughts. People have expected Doug to rip into something and he will if it’s really bad. At the same time, if he’s reviewing something from his childhood that he liked like the X-Men TAS from the early ‘90s, you can’t expect him to bash the holy hell out of it. It’s something he likes. Doug isn’t a dancing hate monkey. He’s a guy who wants to entertain the people who come to his website and he’ll do it in any style he wishes. He doesn’t have to be hateful all the time. And neither do the others.
I know from reading the forums and that often fans will ask Doug or other reviews to review something they themselves hate for the express purpose of watching the reviewer rip it a new one. However, I think the video review has evolved a bit, perhaps as Doug or James have grown, in age, as producers, and in their respective characters. You can’t just be a “hate monkey” all the time. Look at Linkara. His whole show is about making “bad comics burn”, yet he gets complaints because all he does is give negative reviews, which is not only wrong (he will often mention good comics, sometimes as part of a joke, and just recently posted a list of positive recommendations) but even if it wasn’t is the entire point of the series–reviewing bad comics for entertainment purposes.
Personally, I think the reviewing genre of entertainment is finding its place as an entertainment genre, but much like video games is also finding its place as a storytelling vehicle, which I don’t think Siskel & Ebert would have ever saw coming. There is as much room for the comedic reviews as there are more serious reviews and examinations, much as there is in the text review format and as long as we’re entertained informed for the length of the video and/or take something positive from it, I think the future looks good for the format.