When it comes to summing up the biggest annoyance about writing on TV in the modern age, I say with some surprise, that Portlandia nailed it.
For those who remain unaware, Portlandia is a cute chunk of satire created by eccentric creative minds Fred Armisen (NBC's Saturday Night Live) and musician Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag). Airing at 10 p.m. Fridays on IFC, it's an often-amusing collection of sketches sending up the preposterously politically correct, hippie-tinged town where 20-somethings go to retire: Portland, Ore.
And in one cheeky bit, they managed to encapsulate the phrase sure to make this TV critic's blood boil with the rage of a sci-fi geek forced to watch every scene in Star Wars featuring Jar Jar Binks:
The sketch features Armisen, Brownstein and two other actors playing an impossibly yuppie pair of couples trying to have dinner conversation about their favorite TV shows. But no matter which title they bring up — from Breaking Bad to Mad Men to The Wire, which went off the air in 2008! — someone yells "spoiler alert!" because they haven't gotten around to watching all the DVDs or hadn't seen it on their DVR or hadn't caught up with it on Netflix.
This, my friends, is the unintended consequence of having so much television at your beck and call. At the risk of sounding like I'm ready for AARP, there was a time not long ago when you could talk about a TV show after it aired, safe in the knowledge that those who didn't see the latest episode had few options for catching up beyond your synopsis.
But in a world filled with digital video recorders, online streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, DVD releases of popular shows and on-demand cable options, people can howl "spoiler alert" when you try talking about a show that aired last year.
A few readers got upset when I revealed that lost child Sophia had become a zombie on AMC's The Walking Dead, though the story was published months after the crucial episode aired. I had to slap a "spoiler alert" on a story about how John Lithgow's Trinity Killer had murdered the hero's wife on Showtime's Dexter eight months after that episode aired. (I bet somebody just got mad that I didn't put another warning here.)
As a professional TV explainer, I've decided a few things. First, knowing the details of a plot twist rarely ruins the show for me, because so much of television is seeing the action. So relax with the spoiler alert stuff, already.
Second, my statute of limitations for talking up plot twists has to expire when the show airs. The sports page doesn't sit on game stories because some viewers have the Super Bowl on TiVo; I can't sit back, either.
It's amusing that, in a world where movie trailers often tell the entire plot of a film in 2 minutes, TV fans still get upset when you talk about twists such as Breaking Bad's DEA agent Hank Schrader figuring out that his brother-in-law, Walter White, is the biggest meth dealer in town. And that he does so while using Walter's bathroom.
Oh. Um, that was a spoiler alert, by the way.
Spoiler alert! Four series you should catch this week
The Carrie Diaries, 8 p.m. today, WTOG-Ch. 44: In this '80s-era prequel to Sex and the City, portable phones are big as a brick and there are enough shoulder pads in sight to choke all the horses in Central Park. But star AnnaSophia Robb is intriguing as a teenage Carrie Bradshaw getting her first taste of Manhattan thanks to a law firm internship, though she can't come close to filling Sarah Jessica Parker's Manolo Blahniks. Yet.
Soul Food Junkies, 10 p.m. today, WEDU-Ch. 3: Six years after his groundbreaking documentary about facing rap music's worst influences as a hip-hop fan (Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes), Byron Hurt tackles the damaging impact from another area of black culture he loves: soul food. Hurt explores how traditional dishes enjoyed by black people can cause high blood pressure, diabetes and early death using his father's illness as an example. He highlights healthier ways to enjoy some of the same amazing dishes.
Archer, 10 p.m. Thursday, FX: This irreverent, explicit cartoon comedy about a self-obsessed secret agent and his bumbling work pals starts its new season with Archer suffering from amnesia and believing he is a fry cook (animated comedy nerds will realize it's a long parody of Fox's Bob's Burgers, which Archer star H. Jon Benjamin also appears in). Expect lots of inappropriate sex jokes and cursing, as if Seth Rogen mated with James Bond.
Ripper Street, 9 p.m. Saturday, BBC America: Say you're a policeman in London's East End circa 1889 who failed to stop Jack the Ripper's killing spree. How would you handle chasing new murders in a traumatized community that doesn't trust your abilities? That's the intriguing premise of this bracing new drama, featuring a stalwart police detective (Anna Karenina's Matthew Macfadyen) and a shady American ex-Army surgeon with a past.