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Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television

Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television

by Lee Siegel

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Television has taken firm hold of American life ever since the first flickering images replaced the disembodied voices innocently crackling from the radio. Ever present and evolving, television thrives at the crossroads of commerce, art, and entertainment. In Not Remotely Controlled cultural critic Lee Siegel collects his reportage and musings on this most


Television has taken firm hold of American life ever since the first flickering images replaced the disembodied voices innocently crackling from the radio. Ever present and evolving, television thrives at the crossroads of commerce, art, and entertainment. In Not Remotely Controlled cultural critic Lee Siegel collects his reportage and musings on this most hybrid medium. Whether chronicling the history of the “cop” drama, revealing the inherent irony in Donald Trump's character on “The Apprentice,” or shedding light on those unheralded gems that Neilsen ratings swept away prematurely, Siegel gives each episode, series, or documentary the attention and respect usually reserved for high-art and dusty literature. Going far beyond mere pans and praise, Siegel has given long-overdue attention to America's most pervasive art form: television.

Editorial Reviews

Caryn James
Who is the audience for not-quite-current television reviews, none old enough to be historical and few new enough to seem fresh? We can leave that little problem to Lee Siegel's publisher, and note what this collection makes emphatically clear: Siegel's valuable role as a cultural provocateur, tossing off intellectual grenades about the social tyranny of money or the failures of the Bush administration while ostensibly defending the dumb sitcom Joey or skewering the hit My Name Is Earl…at their best, Siegel's scattershot observations offer a kind of drive-by brilliance.
—The New York Times
Financial Times
Siegel's feisty writing makes for a provocative read. He writes with refreshingly little regard to fashion or reputation, and does not shy from strong opinions.

Boston Globe
Siegel is a judicious observer of television as a tributary flowing into the ocean of mass American culture
[Siegel] explores television's use as a lens through which to look at history, human nature, and American culture, you're going to find yourself surfing TV in a new and thrilling way, as Siegel ducks, bobs, and slaloms from concept to concept, tying together themes that seem unlikely to have many points of contact in common, and yet that snap together like puzzle pieces in Siegel's hands.

Buffalo News
His is commentary that the world's most powerful medium deserves.

Times Out Chicago
renowned cultural critic and blog-fiasco creator Lee Siegel turns his sharp wit on the tube with this collection of essays.

The Guardian
Siegel's pugnacious elegance runs through this collection of TV reviews for the Nation
Publishers Weekly

In this book of collected television criticism, Siegel channel surfs and rides every wave, and no genre of programming escapes his analysis. Siegel, a senior editor at the New Republic, plumbs game shows, reality programming, cartoons, sitcoms, miniseries and iconic personalities with equitable rigor and flare. Above all, this collection showcases Siegel's talent as a semiotician, as he unmasks and dismantles the value systems at work behind popular shows. Siegel proclaims that "the television critic's job is not really to pass judgment at all. It's merely to announce a new reference point." Luckily, the author rarely adheres to his own rule. While Siegel announces cultural referents aplenty, amid discussion of Baudrillard's "Simulacra," the post 9/11 "Irony Controversy," the Frankfurt school of criticism and the "august status" of contemporary fiction, perhaps his greatest strength as a critic is his ability to tell what's good from what's bad. There are as many surprising victors as there are victims. Siegel stands firm that Jon Stewart's comedy is poisoning politics and the work of Ken Burns "brings Caucasian condescension to a new low," while Friendshas "lent dignity to ordinary experience." One of Siegel's favorite modes, as well as one of his favorite words, is "deconstruction." Thankfully, Siegel deconstructs as a means to an end: to discern quality programming from drivel. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Siegel (Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination) informally reflects on all aspects of television-as art form, a cultural and business phenomenon, and sociological/psychological commentary-studying a cross section of categories including drama, cartoons (e.g., SpongeBob SquarePants), comedy (e.g., Curb Your Enthusiasm), games (e.g., Deal or No Deal), sitcoms, news, reality television, and more. From short-lived hits such as Joan of Arcadia, to HBO's Deadwood, to the documentary Ghosts of Rwanda, Siegel covers a lot of ground, describing the singular allure of a particular show, offering comparisons to historical predecessors, discussing influences on popular culture, and underlining relevance to various issues. In the section about cop shows, for example, he tips his hat to such early productions as Dragnetand Adam-12and discusses the subsequent development through Kojak, CSI: New York, Monk, and others, exploring their increasingly complex on-screen characters, situations, and story lines. Siegel is not afraid to digress or present his opinions honestly. Originally published in the New Republic, for which Siegel was a television critic, these essays create a stimulating volume that will especially appeal to television enthusiasts and students of popular culture. For circulating libraries.
—Carol J. Binkowski

Kirkus Reviews
Hit-and-mostly-miss collection of 50-plus New Republic essays over-intellectualizing the boob tube's not particularly intellectual output. As the magazine's television reporter from 2003 to 2006, Siegel (Falling Upwards, 2006, etc.) was paid to spend hours parked in front of the TV (watching cop shows, game shows, made-for-TV movies, you name it), then preach about their virtues, or lack thereof. Many of the programs the New Republic asked Siegel to dissect-e.g., Joey, The O.C., Deal or No Deal-do not merit the author's time or energy, as the shows are A) mindless entertainment and B) will be soon forgotten. Another problem with this anthology is that Siegel spends too much brainpower on product that's created strictly as escapism. Writing about the goofy but entertaining food-as-sport show Iron Chef America, he notes that, "In Soviet Russia, revolution, counterrevolution, endurance, and dissent all were hatched in the kitchen." He might be right, but the pronouncement is misplaced and off-putting. Collection highlights include thoughtful articles on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Extras and Deadwood, providing a spotlight on shows that justify sharp analysis. Those interested in the modern television landscape should turn to Bill Carter's Desperate Networks (2006), a fine work of straight-up journalism that offers critical insight into today's television scene-and Carter wasn't even trying.

Product Details

Basic Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Meet the Author

Lee Siegel is a renowned critic and essayist whose writing appears in Harper's, The New Republic, Time, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, among other publications. He received the 2002 National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism. He is the author of Falling Upwards. Siegel is a senior editor at The New Republic. He lives with his wife and child in New York City.

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