Play All


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A Bingewatcher's Notebook

Clive James

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A world-renowned media and cultural critic offers an insightful analysis of serial TV drama and the modern art of the small screen

Television and TV viewing are not what they once were—and that’s a good thing, according to award-winning author and critic Clive James. Since serving as television columnist for the London Observer from 1972 to 1982, James has witnessed a radical change in content, format, and programming, and in the very manner in which TV is watched. Here he examines this unique cultural revolution, providing a brilliant, eminently entertaining analysis of many of the medium’s most notable twenty-first-century accomplishments and their not always subtle impact on modern society—including such acclaimed serial dramas as Breaking Bad, The West Wing, Mad Men, and The Sopranos, as well as the comedy 30 Rock. With intelligence and wit, James explores a television landscape expanded by cable and broadband and profoundly altered by the advent of Netflix, Amazon, and other “cord-cutting” platforms that have helped to usher in a golden age of unabashed binge-watching.

Clive James is an Australian memoirist, poet, translator, critic, and broadcaster who has written more than thirty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He lives in Cambridge, UK.

"James loves television, he loves the winding stories it tells and that we share them together. Play All is a late love letter to the medium of our lives."—AA Gill, Sunday Times

"James brings his sharp critical eye to TV’s current golden age, providing witty and insightful musing on popular and critically acclaimed series of the past two decades."—Publishers Weekly

"Eminent literary and cultural critic James comes back to an old beat: reviewing the offerings on the small screen. . . . [James] writes with unfailing insight. . . . The only flaw . . . is that it’s too short, leaving readers wanting more."—Kirkus Reviews

"Play All is brilliant, comic nourishment. James has never written better or with so much mischief and elan. His observations—withering and celebratory—are bracingly intelligent and written in so accessible and winning a voice."—David Thomson

"His style, smart as paint and full of esoteric references, but entranced by the stupid and the stupidly enjoyable, has been widely copied but never surpassed. . . . He shares with these serial dramas a fiercely intelligent populism, a willingness to play to the crowd while trusting they will be able to keep up without too much plot-summary or handholding."—Joe Moran, The Guardian

"A loving and breezy set of essays about the shows [James] admires and the flowering of TV more generally. . . . James is an incisive and hilarious critic with a relaxed, learned voice. . . . Play All is full of riotous turns of phrase, keen observations, and sick burns."—Willa Paskin, Slate

"James brings a fundamentally serious eye to his chosen medium, littering the prose with grand literary references, eager to engage with television as a worthy, even important, part of culture. . . . He does so with wit and knowing levity, conscious that television is neither fiction nor film, and that it carries its own evaluative criteria."—Andrew Irwin, Times Literary Supplement

"Play All is a small book but by no means a slight one. Large-brained and largehearted, and written with astonishing energy, it carries its study of the box-set dramas . . . into revelatory depths while reserving the right to be, wherever possible, superficial, waggish, ludicrous, Clive James-ian. It is also quite obviously and plangently full of love: love of life, love of story, love of art, love of daughters. Against a darkening background the TV screen flickers brighter, and James’s mind casts its illuminations with still greater vividness."—James Parker, New York Times Book Review

"James [is] as canny a critic as one could desire, and as elegantly smooth a writer."—William Deresiewicz, Harper's

“Clive James was the best television critic of his generation, and in this absorbing look at the US TV dramas that have flooded our screens in recent years, he shows that he has lost none of his flair.”
—Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

“If the [Nobel Prize in Literature] were ever to go to a critic, I’d give it to Clive James. He has so much erudition and high-stepping passion. He writes excellent poems and even better memoirs. He has delivered very good books of translation. He is a polymath. He is also very funny.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times
ISBN: 9780300229707
Publication Date: August 22, 2017
216 pages, 5 x 7 3/4