Whether you’re still reeling from the AV Club’s cuts to television coverage, dissatisfied with the impersonal nature of most media commentary, questioning why that commentary so often lacks diversity, or just looking for insightful short-form nonfiction, Coffee House Press has a new essay anthology to help ease your Better Call Saul withdrawal and disappointment with Game of Thrones’ short season.
Rather than analyze or annotate the hottest new tv shows, the writers in Little Boxes discuss the way the TV shows of their childhoods and young adulthoods influenced them. Most of these shows haven’t aired in years. Some are streamable cult classics, while others are back on TV in different versions, but each is a marker of a specific shared cultural moment.
That these shows belong to the millions of viewers watching but touch us so personally is a paradox some of these writers address. Justin Taylor’s essay on Dawson’s Creek describes how the show taught him to hate plot blocking and the importance of theme songs, despite initially becoming aware of the show through its marketing, which he saw completely through. Jenny Hendrix talks about somehow absorbing things from of television despite being raised by latter-day hippies in a community that discouraged TV, and her essay raises interesting points about the relationship between cultural identity and individual identity. Elena Passarello digs into the ways syndication and licensing issues affect rewatching and second-wave viewers, the importance of music in a show’s overall affect, and the way a mainstream TV show can open doors to subcultures. Twin Peaks fans will appreciate Edan Lepucki’s examination of how the place where we view a show can affect how it feels to watch it, and Nina McConigley’s experimental essay expands and improves the discourse about representation in popular media. Justin Torres describes the difficult moment when you aren’t ready to see a version of yourself onscreen yet, and T Clutch Fleishman’s piece about a softcore porn show on Cinemax is such a treasure that readers may be tempted to put it in a wooden box, bury it on a small Caribbean island, and create a map that marks its location with an X.
Tiny Boxes is an exemplary collection. No two essays are overly similar, yet they fit together and relate to one another in a way that goes beyond just forming a cohesive book. It’s also full of smart and beautiful writing. My only complaints about it are that it made me want to read more from each of the writers, and some (like Ruman Alaam) are a bit difficult to find, and it’s a great injustice that there isn’t an essay about The X Files. Perhaps there will be a second season, er, volume? In the meantime, I will be rereading Danielle Evans’ reflections on Daria before rewatching the show, perhaps taking notes this time.
Little Boxes: Twelve Writers on Television edited by Caroline Casey (Coffee House Press | 9781566894722 | August 29, 2017)