Tales from the Accidental Asshole: The TV Critic

This story is old enough now that I feel like I can talk about it without incriminating anyone involved, other than me, which is fine, because I’m the only one in this story who comes out looking like an asshole.

We go way back to 1999 for this one, back before there were blogs, before there was Television Without Pity, when there were just online journals and the invention of Mighty Big TV. I was lucky enough and honored to be one of the initial writers for MBTV–>TWOP, and due to network scheduling, my recap ended up being the very first one posted on the brand new, shiny site. It was for a little show called “Get Real.” You probably don’t remember it because you were watching this other little show that premiered in that same time slot: The West Wing. Consequently, I’ve never seen an episode of TWW, although I did get to visit the set one day and Martin Sheen told me I had a “black soul,” adding: “In the good way.” But that’s another story for another day.

This one is about recapping “Get Real.”

Not surprisingly, I’m having a hard time finding clips from this series (though I did find this adorable blast from the past) (Kids, it’s called a “splash page”), but here’s one.

Recap that, bitches. Anyway, you may have noticed the lead girl in this series was Anne Hathaway. And that was her first on-screen role. The series also starred Jesse Eisenberg, Eric Christian Olsen, Jon Tenney, Christina Pickles, Taryn Manning, and even Mila Kunis at one point. (And MC Lyte. And Tom Arnold.) It was about the Green family, a group of good-looking suburban people and the things that happened to them as they went about their day thinking they were the only people who truly mattered in the entire world.

You guys, I was not nice to this series. I recapped it with a special fury. I remember at the time of the earliest recaps I didn’t have a laptop, so I would write my recaps in long hand on a notebook, then take that notebook to work with me and type it all into a word doc to mail over to Tara (who then I only knew as “Wing”). Each recap took something like twelve hours. It was a true labor of love, because I loved Mighty Big TV, and I loved how much we all hated that show. And if you clicked that EW link above for MBTV, you’ll see that all the hatred was well-received, as my recaps got a shout-out in that review.

Well, not everybody loved the recaps. One person in particular wasn’t a fan. I got an email from someone calling himself an “insider” to the show, who started by reminding me that I was just a girl sitting on a futon in Austin, TX, and that I had no idea how hard it was to make an episode of television. That I couldn’t comprehend how difficult the process was, from just getting a show on the air to casting people with chemistry to finding a writing staff to budgeting and marketing to ratings — that I was being unfairly harsh and a little naive. He asked me to give the show another chance and perhaps back off just a bit.

In this “insider’s” defense, at the time I believe we had made a site-wide voting contest to determine which character was the “most annoying” on all of television. The winner, beating out Dawson, was Anne Hathaway’s character Meghan Green, which we also called “The Center of the Universe.” I believe I called Eric Christian Olsen’s face “simian.” I renamed one girl, due to her voice, “Ferret.”

I don’t remember much about the episodes now, but I sort of remember there might have been an entire episode that revolved around Eric Christian Olsen’s character having a huge after-school fight with a character of the week, and in the end the “twist” was that their beef started during a little league game. The point is, I couldn’t go easier on the show because it just kept getting worse. Meanwhile, my “insider” continued emailing me. He said he couldn’t tell me his name, but he wanted me to know that as the show progressed, he was starting to get just as frustrated as I was. That things weren’t going in the direction they’d hoped, and there were pressures from all sides for things to change. Then he told me about the day one of the actors looked up from his script and shouted, “I can’t say this. Pamie will kill us!”

This was one of the earliest times we learned that Mighty Big TV was being read by the people who make the shows we recapped, and it was a very surreal feeling. It also added a strange pressure. Part of the fun of recapping was getting to publicly rag on guilty pleasure shows like you were eating popcorn on the couch with your friends. Knowing that the people behind the show were now reading (ON SET!) made it feel like I was egging their houses and then signing my name on their lawns in pee. (“Love, Peeme.”)

Get Real was cancelled before the final episodes aired, and I just want to say, for all of you who have ever wrote saying I’m responsible for the cancellation of Wonderfalls that I had nothing to do with the demise of either. Remember: I was just a chubby girl on a futon, furiously typing away into a blueberry clamshell iBook, chain smoking Marlboro Lights, trying to make it to improv rehearsal on time. (But, hey, Mr. Sorkin, I didn’t wear a muu-muu, and I intensely dislike Parliaments. Then again, I never got a chance to watch your show, so I choose to believe you weren’t referring to me.)

Just after the cancellation was announced, I got an email from my insider, letting me know that he was going to send me copies of the final two unaired episodes, just so I could have a full set of recaps. I found that to be very nice. He asked me not to say how or where I got them when I posted them, and that he was doing it in appreciation of the relationship we’d formed over the time I’d been recapping the show. He also warned me that they weren’t very good.

The episodes arrived, I recapped them, and I sent a final thank you email to my insider. He wrote back, saying not to worry about all the kids on the show, that they were all set out for rather promising careers. That Jesse Eisenberg had things on the horizon that would make him come out from under the shadow of being known as “The Pepsi Girl‘s brother.” Eric Christian Olsen was set to star in a sequel to Dumb and Dumber. And the young, talented, beautiful Anne Hathaway was off to Vassar, but had several promising offers to mull over while she worked on her studies.

“And off the record,” my insider concluded, “I’m her father.”

My ensuing scream could be heard from so far away there’s no doubt I woke up Heisman-trophy winner Ricky Williams’ mother, who lived in the apartment just below mine. I’m sure my scream was heard all the way in Toronto, where Tara lived, and where I forwarded that email with the subject line: “AND OFF THE RECORD, I’M AN ASSHOLE.” Tara’s scream woke her husband Dave, and there was much agonizing screaming from both of us after that, because never have I ever felt as much like an asshole at that moment, and Tara, who is Canadian and therefore unceasingly polite, felt directly responsible for my assholocity.

I sent, I’m sure, an incredibly apologetic email reply about the job and not the person and nothing was ever supposed to be about how his daughter can’t “act” per se, and when I wrote that she used her hair as her one and only acting tool, I kept in mind that she was young and… um… well, uh… hey, sorry about your kid’s show getting cancelled.

Joke’s on me forever, however, because Anne Hathaway’s dad, who is gracious and apparently forgiving on the level of Buddhist monks, emailed me not long after to ask if I’d written any screenplays. I hadn’t moved to LA yet at this point, and I hadn’t written a feature screenplay, either. I was sitting at my desk at a software company, and had to reply, “No.”

“That’s too bad,” he said. “Because Disney’s looking for something to do with Annie, and I thought of you.” So, I didn’t have anything to submit, she and Disney went on to do The Princess Diaries so I guess that worked out for her. And Disney.

Probably about every three months or so I will get hit with a pang of stomach guilt over reading the words “And off the record, I’m her father.” I’m getting sweaty just typing this story up right now. This is exactly my biggest fear, each and every day, that I’m just cackling and blabbing my fool head off thinking I’m being oh-so-funny and aren’t we all joking on the same page, and it turns out I’m shit-talking Anne Hathaway to her father.

This happens a lot more once you live in LA. I can’t remember who I was talking to about Rufus Wainwright and the two notes his voice sings over and over, but I do remember that person said back, “Yeah, he’s like, my best friend.” Over the years I try to keep my snark more and more to myself. Because, after all, Anne Hathaway’s dad had a point, and one I would eventually learn the hard way. The process of making a television show is really very difficult, and it’s a miracle one even gets on the air, and I’ve actually had to sit at a table while people pulled up recaps or forums of the show we were writing on the very same site where I used to post my originally hand-scribbled bitch-fests. It has made me wince, more than once, to read, “Who wrote that? It’s HORRIBLE,” and know exactly how that line got in the script beyond my control but with my name on it.

As I sit here halfway through pitching season, simultaneously awaiting the fate of my ABC Family pilot script, I can’t help but think: “When will my bad Wonderfalls Karma run out? Is there more coming for Boomtown? Tarzan? I have done this to myself!”

Oh, God. Another wave of guilt over Anne Hathaway’s dad. Be careful, people on the Internet. Learn from my mistakes of the year 2000. You think they don’t know what you’re saying, but they do. They do.

35 thoughts on “Tales from the Accidental Asshole: The TV Critic

  1. Wow. I also screamed over here on your behalf. Although, it’s sort of sweet, isn’t it? Do you think she knew? I bet not. And if she did, she screamed and hit her dad over the head. I can see my dad doing something like that.

  2. You had the blueberry clamshell iBook? My 90s self is jealous! I love that story. I think Anne’s dad passed along his Buddhist tendencies in the forgiveness department to his daughter.

  3. I’m not sure so sure Anne is forgiving as her father. David Letterman told a story on his show once that she refuses to appear on his show again after he made a few jokes during one of her appearances about her boyfriend who was arrested for fraud, after she had given permission ahead of time to discuss it. He said when he tried to call her to apologize, she would not take his call.

    1. Michael – ah, hadn’t heard that story. Thanks for the info. I’d guess that emotionally she was all over the place about that situation. I’d only ever seen her be even keeled.

  4. Back on topic, can I add that I LOVE that one of the cast rejected a line of dialogue on the grounds you’d hate it? That is AWESOME. Does Mr. H know that you do have screenplays ready now?

  5. I am pondering moving to LA and it sounds really surreal. Because in the rest of the world if you say, “I don’t like so-and-so’s singing,” they will never find out about it, and nobody you are talking to within earshot actually knows that person.

    Eeeek!

    It sounds like AH’s dad was handling it well under the circumstances though, I guess.

  6. “When will my bad Wonderfalls Karma run out? Is there more coming for Boomtown? Tarzan? I have done this to myself!”

    Not to mention “Young Americans” which is how I even found MBTV … after watching every single episode of that camp-fest I somehow missed the finale and seriously thought my head might explode if I didn’t find out how it ended. Your recaps saved my life, and were freaking hilarious to boot. (The Steel Drums of Non-Gay Love, anyone?)

    Featuring a young, healthy-weight Kate Bosworth and the eyebrows of Ian Somerhalder as Verve, those recaps are still among the funniest I’ve ever read. (Yeah, I had to go back and dig up the “steel drums” reference and kind of fell back into the snarky awesomeness.)

    Thanks for sharing the Hathaway story – too funny!

    1. I have no regrets over Young Americans (small pour-out of my 40), because years after the show I ended up having a meeting with Kevin Williamson’s company, and the girls I met with were like, “WAIT. WE JUST REALIZED YOU ARE PAMIE! STEEL DRUMS OF NON-GAY LOVE FOREVER.”

      I loved that horrible show with all my heart. Please don’t forget that Verve was kissing on who is now Kate Moenning.

  7. Okay, let’s do this. I can’t speak to Get Real because I never saw the show and hadn’t discovered you as a recapper by that point. But as “Your Bitter Wonderfalls Enemy” I am certainly tied into the karma around your recaps of that show.

    I certainly do not think that your recaps killed the show, but they were definitely a emblematic of a continuing culture-war that did crush it, and left those of us on the other side of that particular battle, well, bitter.

    The usual reductive narrative of US culture paints the battle as Red State vs. Blue State, but, of course, the real story is far more complicated and interesting than that. I find the value-demographics of Ray and Anderson (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Creatives) a far more useful and accurate model (but still reductive). In that model there are actually three predominant value groups in the US (rather than two): traditionalists, modernists, and cultural creatives. The traditionalists are the maintainers of the traditional Judeo-Christian values, the modernists are the largest group and dominant group adhering to values of rationality, materialism and consumerism, and the cultural creatives are the smallest group which follow themes of environmentalism, authenticity, and nature-oriented spirituality.

    And so into that mix came Wonderfalls, and, as sort of a poster child, for the latter group I thought, “At last, here is a show for me.” It’s about a self-involved philosophy major who is being pulled unwillingly out of her narcissism by a sequence of spiritual encounters over which she has no control but which she cannot deny. The dialogue is sharp and clever, and the writing keys into key phenomenological issues of interpretation and meaning. (Jaye, particularly, in the early episodes always misinterprets what the muses are trying to tell her).

    I’ve just reread your recaps, and it was pretty clear that you just were not watching the show from the same perspective as I was, and Wing/Tara as your editor hated the show even more than you, out-and-out and repeatedly calling it crap in her editorial insertions. And that is exactly the kind of reaction that a modernist has for anything that remotely touches on the metaphysical: not only is this material not for her, but it should not be for anyone else. In the modernist paradigm anything metaphysical is fuzzy, wishy-washy thinking that will lead us inevitably back to prayer in public schools and chastity belts.

    Part of the problem, as we all know now, was that the network inexplicably moved the second episode to air as the fourth episode making a muddle of even simple issues of comprehensibility like what is the name of Jaye’s best friend. And you, obviously, had to deal with the show as it was presented. Furthermore, once the DVD’s were released, it was even more clear that a great series had been terminated way too early. Episodes 10 and 11 are among my favorite bits of episodic TV ever.

    There’s a tone in the recaps in particular of, “I can write better than they’re doing on that show,” and do not ask me to pick between you because it would be a Sophie’s choice for me: I like your writing and I like their writing. Plus, you had just declared yourself to be a wonder killer (https://pamie.com/2004/01/wonder-killer-2/), and you sort of subsequently embraced the killing of Wonderfalls under that cognomen at least ironically. And you made T-Shirts! And so, yeah, my bitterness towards that attitude been helping to sustain the karma.

    I can stop being Your Bitter Wonderfalls Enemy. There. Done. I shall not refer to myself that way again. It’s easy for me: I have no real stake in the game since it’s not my career. (I mean, obviously, I’m invested in the culture war, and would like to see our culture move beyond sparkly teen vampires as the only allowable metaphysical content.) But how do we help you to release that karma?

    Would it help to think of your past life in the critical snarking business in the same light as the competition in Roller Derby? You give hits and you take hits, but the game and its rewards are not about that. Sure you body-checked Anne Hathaway, and maybe ran over her ankle early in her career, but that certainly has not stopped her. Look where the game has taken her. You may have even been responsible for taking someone out of the game, but now that you have removed yourself from the sport, can’t you see that the even the ones who no longer can play by choice generally do not carry grudges and still love the game. So goes the Industry from what I can tell from my brief encounters thereof (I briefly dated a script agent). Now, get back onto the track and land that next project. I want my next Pamie show.

    1. First, I have to say never for a second did “Wonder Killer” ever have anything to do with Wonderfalls being cancelled. It was a nickname given to me because I’m a know-it-all and Dave made shirts for the site, not in celebration of any show’s demise. Did it happen around the same time? If I ever said it, it was only intended as a joke, and not one I took seriously.

      Your assessment of how I feel about the metaphysical is quite off, too. (Please bring back my Joan of Arcadia.) If you want to know what I didn’t like about Wonderfalls, please see Pushing Daisies, which shared a tone that I can’t sit through. It makes me uncomfortable when the world gets that cartoonish.

      I’m working on getting you a show, Scott. And then you can recap it. And make shirts. And I will gladly buy your first shipment.

  8. That is such a funny story! You are the third person (besides myself and a good friend) who watched that show. I have actually read those recaps and keep waiting for that show to be released on DVD/Netflix/etc. Could you pull any strings to get it released?

  9. I once spent 20 minutes berating Dawn Ostroff to my boss (this was just as she cancelled both Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars and I think 7th Heaven had just been brought back from the dead for the 18th time) only to have her say very calmly, “Dawn is one of my best friends.” I got fired a few weeks later.

  10. Hey! There’s no such thing as bad publicity… Except maybe this time… And fuck it, since when have we ever cared about people’s feelings, Pam… Remember… “It’s hard being better than everyone else.” True words…

  11. Longtime reader(I remember DJB) who I hate to say this forgot all about you. Thanks to Vulture I am now rediscovering your website. Also because of you I could not watch the Gilmore Girls (and to this day True Blood) without thinking that’s Pamie’s friend Todd Lowe.

  12. God, we all have these stories. It’s really admirable and decent of you to learn that there are kinder ways to critique shows even thought I adore voices like yours and find them really amusing and 9/10 funnier / more on point than the shows.

    In your honest defense however, I’m sure that there are a lot of good people with real, live parents who wish them well responsible for some god-awful crap. In fact, I often see a trailer and think of what committee of dumdums greenlit THAT disaster which will surely bomb. And I get sad for the people whose careers may depend on its success.

    Then I get real because everyone has to. There is some terrible, horrible commercial junk out there with bad writing-by-consensus / Nielsen ratings. We should not support that. We should demand better stuff on television, in film and in music.

    Actors et al who put themselves out there – that’s brave. But that’s part of the job. People are mean or wonderful, depending on a lot of things. The best ones deal with it as best they can and focus on the six-figure salary and relationships in their lives that matter.

  13. Hey Pamie! I’m new to the Pamieverse and love it!

    I feel the need to comment on this one. Back in 1999 when you were pummeling ‘Get Real’ from your apartment, I worked as a writer for a network sitcom. I worked for other shows at about your present level until I gave up in 2004 and went back to my roots in advertising. I now am a creative executive at an international ad agency. I like my job and prefer it to my Hollywood experience.

    This is an awesome story to be sure but you shouldn’t feel bad AT ALL. Yes a TV show takes a tremendous amount of human effort to produce. But I saw firsthand (as have so many others) how the pointless behind the scene politics and, in particular, the incompetent executives in charge of production completely undermined that effort and inevitably produced a crap show.

    I think that in the past ten years scripted television has demonstrably improved across the board. This is pretty obvious. I think this is because of the sudden arrival of harsh, microscopic internet criticism. Suddenly writers, producers and their bosses were called on their bullshit in a way that, say, Aaron Spelling, never had to deal with.

    It’s because of legacies like Big Mighty TV, TWoP, AV Club, etc. that things have improved mightily.

    Mr. Hathaway sounds like a lovely man, and he is right that it takes hard work to do a show, but so what? You had every right to harsh on the show and good thing you did or we might not now have all the great scripted TV (Mad Men, Damages, Game of Thrones, SoA, Breaking Bad, etc. that we do now). This was not the case a decade ago. Obviously there is still a lot of crap, but not as much and the best is much better.

    You’re not an asshole, you were part of the solution. (Ok, so maybe calling a kid “simian” is kinda shitty) but c’mon, you provided a necessary, heroic correction.

  14. First of all, maybe Mr.Hathaway did not want you to tell the whole frickin world that it was him who wrote those emails? That whole “off the record” thing.

    Second of all, the “oh too bad, disney wants to work with anne” was probably a snarky dig at your wannabe writer persona.

    Writing a bad review is one thing, but to take a dig at a person’s physical appearance (ferret, simian) is disgusting. You’re no Victoria’s Secret model yourself. & doing it from behind your computer is so easy, isn’t it, but I betcha you don’t dare do it to the people’s faces, judging from your reaction when you found out it was Annie’s dad who was writing you all those emails.

  15. I appreciate that you’ve left ‘pi.noy”s comment up as a testament to the fact that being an accidental asshole is not as bad as being an intentional one. ;)

    I love this story :)

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