Booklist: Post-Binge-Watching Reads

Many people stuck inside all day have dived back into favorite TV se­ries to pass the time. Between binge-watches, learn more about your favorite shows from these can’t-miss reads.

­­Many people stuck inside all day have dived back into favorite TV se­ries to pass the time. Between binge-watches, learn more about your favorite shows from these can’t-miss reads. With so many of the authors providing “best of” lists, opinionated readers and viewers have hours of debate ahead of them, too.

book cover for seinfeldiaArmstrong, Jennifer Keishin. Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything. S. & S. 2016. ISBN 9781476756103.
Armstrong (Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted; Sex and the City and Us) looks at how a few conversations over coff­­­ee between comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David set the stage for what would become a pop culture phenomenon. Her research is top-notch, and her accounts of the individuals and stories behind Seinfeld are as entertaining as the episodes themselves.

Armstrong, Jennifer Keishin. Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live, and Love. S. & S. 2018. ISBN 9781501164828.
It’s all here—everything you ever wanted to know about Sex and the City, from Candace Bushnell’s newspaper column and book that started it all to costume designer Pat Field’s envelope-pushing fashion choices and beyond. Armstrong’s (Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted; Seinfeldia) abiding love for the show shines through as she argues for its cultural significance as one of the first series to center women’s sexuality, and reflects on the ways it fell short, especially when it came to depictions of women of color.

Austerlitz, Saul. Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era. Dutton. 2019. ISBN 9781524743352.
Dunn, Jennifer C. Friends: A Cultural History. Rowman & Littlefield. 2019. ISBN 9781538112731.
Miller, Kelsey. I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends. Hanover Square: Harlequin. 2018. ISBN 9781335928283.

Centering on six twentysomething New Yorkers coping with career woes, relationship drama, and family issues, Friends resonates just as strongly today as it did when it first aired. Viewers will appreciate these books that chronicle the show’s development and place it in cultural context. Dunn’s (rhetoric & public culture, Dominican Univ.; Pursuing Popular Culture) Friends: A Cultural History is more scholarly, while Austerlitz’s (SitcomGeneration Friends and Miller’s (Big Girl) I’ll Be There for You are more buoyant; all three are required reading for Friends fans—and Dunn’s list of the 25 best episodes will provoke hours of discussion.

Austerlitz, Saul. Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community. Chicago Review. 2014. ISBN 9781613743843.
Austerlitz (writing & comedy history, New York Univ.; Just a Shot Away) traces the history of the sitcom. Deeply knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, the author finds meaning even in programs dismissed by critics, analyzing Leave It to Beaver and Gilligan’s Island as exactingly as he does All in the Family and Seinfeld.

book cover for the platinum age of televisionBianculli, David. The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific. Doubleday. 2016. ISBN 9780385540278.
If the 1950s represented the golden age of television, then now, reasons NPR critic Bianculli, we must be in a platinum age. But when, exactly, did it begin? And which series are the best? He carefully weighs the evidence, selecting the top shows from genres such as Westerns, soap operas, and workplace sitcoms and profiling a dizzying array of series that will impress even the most knowledgeable viewer.

Fink, Moritz. The Simpsons: A Cultural History. Rowman & Littlefield. 2019. ISBN 9781538116166.
The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield: Essays on the TV Series and Town That Are Part of Us All. McFarland. 2019. ed. by Karma Waltonen & Denise Du Vernay. ISBN 9781476674551.

Guest appearances from three out of the four Beatles, trips to every continent in the world, and catch phrases galore—The Simpsons has come a long way from its origins as crudely animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show in the late 1980s. Fink (coeditor, Culture Jamming) cogently explores the show’s impact; though now it’s one more show in a sea of subversive animated programs, The Simpsons broke incredible new ground in the early 1990s. With The Simpsons’ Beloved Springfield, Waltonen (writing, Univ. of California, Davis) and Du Vernay (Loyola Univ. Chicago) compile academic essays that tease apart everything from gender roles to environmentalism to the show’s use of parody.

Greene, Andy. The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. Dutton. Mar. 2020. ISBN 9781524744977.
Though NBC’s The Office has been off the air for years, it lives on—in GIFs, in a podcast hosted by actresses Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, and in Rolling Stone journalist Greene’s comprehensive oral history. The show’s writers, cast, and crew fondly reminisce about rewarding, and challenging, moments and discuss artistic choices, such as the decision to sand down protagonist Michael Scott’s harder edges after the first season.

book cover for i like to watchNussbaum, Emily. I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through the Television Revolution. Random. 2019. ISBN 9780525508960.
While TV consumption has long been written off as a passive activity, New Yorker critic Nussbaum demonstrates that it’s anything but. In this probing collection of essays, she muses on what to do with the output of predatory men such as Bill Cosby or Louis C.K., considers television in the age of Trump, and explores her own anguished response to showrunners who make choices that appall their fan base.

Press, Joy. Stealing the Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television. Atria. 2018. ISBN 9781501137716.
In 2015, TV journalist and critic Press was struck by a sea change in the television landscape—though many shows had centered on female characters, now large numbers of female showrunners were calling the shots behind the camera. In this endlessly diverting yet rigorous work, the author looks back at the history of female-created shows, from Murphy Brown to Gilmore Girls to Broad City.

Robinson, Mark A. Sitcommentary: Television Comedies That Changed America. Rowman & Littlefield. 2019. ISBN 9781538114193.
Sitcoms don’t just entertain us, posits Robinson (The World of Musicals); they also help shape our attitudes to social issues: “If you can break it up with laughter, you can explore just about everything.” In this superbly researched volume, he explains how TV allows audiences an opportunity to grapple with everything from blended families (The Brady Bunch) to abortion (Maude), and interracial relationships (The Jeffersons) to LGBTQ identities (Ellen; Will and Grace).

Seitz, Matt Zoller & Alan Sepinwall. The Sopranos Sessions. Abrams. 2019. ISBN 9781419734946.
What really happened to mob boss Tony Soprano in that ambiguous final scene? We’ll never know for sure, but TV critics Seitz and Sepinwall offer theories, along with episode recaps that set the gold standard for criticism, incorporating philosophy and even Freudian analysis. Fans who don’t want the conversation to end should check out the podcast Talking Sopranos, hosted by Sopranos actors Michael Imperioli and Steven Schirripa.

book cover for TV The bookSeitz, Matt Zoller & Alan Sepinwall. TV (the Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time. Grand Central. 2016. ISBN 9781455588190.
TV lovers interested in a spirited debate will appreciate critics Seitz and Sepinwall’s ranking of the 100 best series. The authors are methodical, with criteria such as innovation, influence, and performance, yet humble—“We don’t want, much less expect, for it to be treated as the canon for all time (not that it would be)”—and invite readers to create their own “best of” lists.

Sepinwall, Alan. Breaking Bad 101. Abrams. 2017. ISBN 9781419724831.
For the past few weeks, many viewers have been immersed in the latest season of Better Call Saul, a spin-off of the wildly popular and critically acclaimed Breaking Bad. Saul fans who want to see where it all began should pick up TV critic Sepinwall’s collection of recaps; his sharp observations add another layer to an already rich series.

Television Finales: From Howdy Doody to Girls. Syracuse Univ. 2018. ed. by Douglas L. Howard & David Bianculli. ISBN 9780815636045.
Howard (The Essential Sopranos Reader) and Bianculli (TV critic, NPR’s Fresh Air) start at the very end, exploring the finales of more than 70 series, from soap operas (As the World Turns) and sitcoms (Roseanne; Seinfeld) to space operas (Babylon Five) and crime dramas (Homicide; Hill Street Blues), and more. Though more scholarly than the subject matter might suggest, this is fascinating reading for viewers who can’t bear to stop discussing their favorite shows after the credits roll for the last time.

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Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is an Associate Editor for Library Journal, and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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