Hi! I write about TV and other things (but mostly TV). Here are recent pieces (and conversations) I’d love you to check out!
- I wrote about Claire Fraser of “Outlander” for Entertainment Weekly. I really enjoyed this chance to gab about why she’s not only important in her own right, she’s a precursor to the relatively recent wave of ambitious TV shows that unapologetically present stories about complex women.
- Like another CW show (“Jane the Virgin”), I think “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has presented one of the most sophisticated, innovative, creative and entertaining televisual stories of the past decade. I am right about this. Anyway, for the New York Times, I spoke to co-creators Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom about where the show’s been and where its going in its final season (no plot spoilers, I promise). We also touched on a few of the songwriting team’s favorite “CEG” tunes. I’ll miss the show when it’s gone, but before the West Covina chronicle wraps things up, I really hope Darryl and White Josh work it out.
- I love “Doctor Who”! Even if you know nothing about the show, this in-depth feature story should get you up to speed. For the piece, I talked to new showrunner Chris Chibnall, new lead Jodie Whittaker, a writer, a director and knowledgeable fans of the show; we discussed what it’s all about, why it works, where it has been in its 55 years and where it’s going. This piece was truly a labor of love, and I hope you enjoy it. I’m also excited that, as part of the reporting for the “Doctor Who” story, I got to do this very enjoyable and enlightening interview with star Jodie Whittaker. Go 13!
- I love “The Good Place“! No Season 3 spoilers, only interesting factoids and thematic thoughts from its creator, Mike Schur, in this recent interview.
- I wrote about Wynonna Earp for The New York Times, wooo-hooo! Seriously, even if you don’t watch the show, aren’t you intrigued by the fact that this Syfy series already has four conventions devoted just to it? And it’s been on for only three seasons? I think the rip-roaring show’s history, themes and fandom come together to create an interesting saga, one that I think has value to any interested observer of the evolving TV landscape. Also there are tentacles and mustaches, what else do you want?
- After a year of reporting on Brad Kern, a showrunner cited by dozens of ex-employees for harassment, vindictiveness, inappropriate behavior, repeated mistreatment of a nursing mom and racist comments (among many other allegations), he was finally fired by CBS. As I said in this Twitter thread, “It SHOULD NOT take multiple major stories in the press to remove a toxic exec, showrunner or anyone else with power in TV. That’s not the system working: That’s a sign the system has failed its workers.”
- The culture of CBS, and entertainment-industry cultures in general, need massive, revolutionary overhauls. Abuses of power for the most part are still ignored, enabled and whitewashed. This is a reported Vulture story, with some analysis of those issues, on Brad Kern, Leslie Moonves, CBS and the changes the past year have not brought about.
- Speaking of change, I really enjoyed this event! It was the Chicago International Film Festival screening and panel discussion of the documentary “This Changes Everything,” an examination of decades of sexism and the systematic exclusion of women in Hollywood. Fun stuff, right? But honestly, this film (which features Taraji P. Henson, Meryl Streep, Shonda Rhimes, Jessica Chastain and so many other amazing women) is brisk, lively and interesting, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it (toward the end, they interview me about my reporting on this topic). “This Changes Everything” premiered at TIFF and is on the festival circuit now, but will be more widely available soon. I can’t wait for more people to see it. By the way, the cast list on this review makes me giggle with delight every time.
- Fuuuuuuuuck nooooooooooo.
- Some stories give me frustration migraines: This one did not! Yay! I’ve been reporting on issues of inclusion and representation in the TV industry for many, many years (see all the links at the end of this post). HBO has made serious strides since I wrote this story about the then-abysmal stats on inclusion in at high-end TV networks in 2014. Check out this new story, for The Hollywood Reporter, about the progress HBO has made on the inclusion front as of 2018. (FX has changed a lot as well.) No, the TV industry has not fixed everything when it comes to matters of representation in front of and behind the camera. But here’s my two cents, as someone who will continue to shine a light on these issues whenever I can: Why not celebrate real progress when it arrives? I think a lot about how much still needs to be done. But what Casey Bloys of HBO said regarding these issues made me feel hope. I like hope! I am pro-hope.
- More for The Hollywood Reporter: Devilish problems behind the scenes at “American Gods” during its troubled second season. Toxic showrunner 101: Don’t be this guy. Also, ageism is all over Hollywood and I’m over it. Something fun: The time I met Meghan Markle, plus thoughts on women’s progress, “Suits” and “The Crown.”
- More for The New York Times: An interview with the great Ann Dowd on “The Handmaid’s Tale” (there’s also a mention of “The Leftovers”); a review/explainer of the fine true-crime series “The Staircase”; a review of the documentary series “The Fourth Estate,” which is about The New York Times; an interview with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys about the series finale of “The Americans”; “Jane the Virgin” showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman makes it official that Season Five is the final season and talks about why that is and what she’s thinking as she and the team head into the endgame of this wonderful show.
- I moderated a few panels at the delightful ATX TV Festival in Austin, Texas (you should go, let’s all go next year). Here are links to videos of the full panels for “One Day at a Time,” “Wynonna Earp,” a panel on interacting with fandoms from several smart TV executives and creators, a panel on the dynamics of TV writers rooms, again with several smart writer/producers.
- I guested on the amazing Professor Henry Jenkins’ podcast, where Henry, showrunner Emily Andras, myself and Professor Louisa Stein talked about Sherlock and Wynonna Earp and LGBTQ issues as they intersect with those fandoms and with TV in general.
- I guested on the Tom and Lorenzo podcast, check it out here, here and here. I love Tom and Lorenzo so much and we had a blast talking pop culture, film, TV and Me Too. Tom’s baked goods were amazing.
- More podcastery! I guested on the Extra Hot Great podcast, where we talked about The Fourth Estate and other shows we’re interested in. I nominate an episode of “One Day at a Time” for the TV canon and I definitely did not tear up during that segment. Addendum: “One Day at a Time” is fabulous. Addendum 2: In a 2016 appearance on Extra Hot Great, I participated in a Star Trek TV fantasy draft and nominated a great episode of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” for the TV canon. This is when I peaked, folks.
- For TVGuide.com: My semi-serious, semi-goofing around look at the similarities between “Westworld” and “Game of Thrones.”
- University of Pennsylvania recently inaugurated its Center for Media at Risk, and on a panel you can view at this link, myself and other experts talk about the risks that reporters, actors, writers and content creators at the media companies face – and why those dangers matter.
- Speaking of panels that grapple with issues that matter, I was honored to be on a panel at CUNY’s School of Journalism with New York Times critic A.O. Scott, the AP’s Nekesa Moody, and writer/journalist/podcaster Kurt Andersen; CUNY Professor Janice C. Simpson moderated. The panel, which is available as a Studio 360 podcast here, was titled, “When Bad People Create Good Art,” and focused on #MeToo reporting and the effect of the post-Weinstein revelations on consumers and critics of culture.
During the last 16 years or so, I was a TV critic at Variety, at HuffPost, and at the Chicago Tribune. Everything I wrote at Variety, from fall 2015 to spring 2018, is collected here. A smattering of 2016-2018 pieces I would love for you to read are below:
- Thoughts on grief, loss, Einstein and “The Leftovers.” You don’t need to have seen the show to read it. Of everything I’ve ever written, I’m most proud of this. A kind person asked me it if was painful to write. It was a cathartic joy to write. It was very hard to live.
- I’m proud of two pieces from 2016, when a large number of LGBTQ women were killed off various TV shows, and queer TV fans and their allies registered their problems with that pattern (which was yet more evidence of TV’s tendency to resort to the Bury Your Gays cliche with astonishing frequency, especially where gay women are concerned). I wrote this piece about why the enormous wave of anger and protest over the handling of the death of Lexa on “The 100” was justified. One month later, I wrote about who gets killed off on TV and how certain kinds of protagonists get to wear a “cloak of invincibility.” I owe the incredible ninjas at Autostraddle a huge debt; their research on this topic is enormously educational (read this, this and definitely this). And let’s not forget the fine work of LGBT Fans Deserve Better.
- My 20 favorite shows of 2017, with many honorable mentions. Other year-end lists of TV shows that were Very Good: The Metacritic collection of Best Of lists, and the Uproxx critic’s polls (here’s the overall roster and the New Shows list). So many terrific choices not just in each Top 10, but in the dozens of worthy programs lower down in the lists.
- I don’t have a clever segue here. But I am glad I came forward in the fall of 2017, amid the start of the Hollywood Reckoning: I was sexually assaulted by a TV executive a few years ago, and I almost left the industry because of that, and also due to the re-traumatizing experience I had when I reported him (#metoo). Why men in TV (and elsewhere) must do more to curb the sexual harassment, institutional bias and physical assault women must expend so much of their energy navigating. Also, you don’t need to be a bully to make it in Hollywood. That’s a dumb and destructive lie. Also, “I didn’t know” apologies? Nope. Men who abuse power in Hollywood – a place intensely obsessed with status, hierarchy and dominance – know exactly what they’re doing. A noted showrunner on what needs to change.
- More on the ongoing Reckoning – and of course, this coverage should not be restricted to high-profile industries. This kind of reporting should be delve into the biases and abuses faced by every kind of worker. That said, I write about the entertainment industry, and in Hollywood, stories like this one are far too common. This story was also heartbreaking to report on. I remain awed at the sources who were brave enough to talk to me for those pieces. And I’m more convinced than ever that real, major, meaningful reforms must be made. Now.
- A feature on the revival of “Twin Peaks” (Not in the piece, but David Lynch asked me about my tattoos and I just about died, but I kept it together.)
- Talking to Vince Gilligan and the writers of “Breaking Bad” on the show’s 10th anniversary. Check out the video clips in this one, there are a lot of great answers that didn’t make it into the text piece.
- Why “Into the Badlands” is badass. I love it soooo much.
- “Jane the Virgin” remains amazing and great.
- How television depicts sexual violence and the aftereffects of sexual violence (spoiler alert: Pretty badly, for the most part! But things may be getting better on this front.)
- A review of the unjustly obscure treat “Mary Kills People” (now on Hulu!) I also reviewed Season 2!
- A Variety cover story I reported with Cynthia Littleton on the spiraling costs of TV episodes (I also wrote about why the money being thrown around in TV troubles me and why it annoys me when TV people take the wrong lessons from “Game of Thrones.”)
- This 2014 piece on “Outlander’s” radical devotion to the female gaze is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. A couple years ago, executive producer Ron Moore and I talked about sex-scene cliches that we can’t stand. From 2017: I talked to the stars of “Outlander” and also Moore about the show’s evolution over time.
Before I joined Variety, I was the TV critic for Huffington Post. Quite a bit of that work is here. You can also find the HP pieces here, and there are archives going back to 2011 on the right side of that page.
Until the fall of 2010, I was the TV critic for the Chicago Tribune. All that work is collected here, and the archives are organized by show title and by month. Not every program I ever covered is in the show title list, by the way. Although “Wonder Showzen” is, because why not.
Also! I have an Instagram (warning: It’s mostly pictures of pretty flowers). Three other things before I get started for real: One, I frequently get the questions, “How did you become a TV critic? How could I get into the writing-about-TV game?” and I’ve addressed those queries in this post. Two, I still love TV and, as you can see from the links above, I’m still writing about it, reporting on it and even doing the occasional review, but I’m no longer reviewing TV full time, and this Vanity Fair article explains why. Three, if you’d like to know more about my life and tattoos, this post from 2013 is from the middle of my family-pocalypse, this is about life stuff and my arm tattoos, and this is what I wrote when my mom died in 2016. More tattoo content: This is my back piece.
I’ve covered and reviewed so many shows over the years; I’m a lucky human. If you Google “Maureen Ryan” and just about any TV show name, you’ll probably come up with something I wrote somewhere (I’ve even freelanced now and then, and I always forget about that stuff!). What I’m trying to say is, the following roster is horribly, horribly incomplete, because hundreds of shows I’ve loved (or loathed! Or loved and loathed!) are not on it. But here are a few notable stops on my journey down the TV coverage trail:
Here’s a long feature on the production of “Friday Night Lights.” I visited the set in Austin in Season 1 and wrote many stories about how they made the show and how that influenced the intimacy of its vibe. To this day, that long FNL feature is one of my favorite things I’ve ever gotten to do. All my FNL coverage is here. Texas Forever.
All my “Lost” coverage is here (arranged in reverse chronology; you have to go back [SORRY] to find the first of my “Lost” pieces). I wrote about individual episodes later in the show’s run, and I did a number of interviews with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse over the years, and during the “Lost” era, I also spoke to the show’s DPs, its composer and a few of the actors. The episodic “Lost” podcast I was part of during that time, “Orientation: Ryan Station,” can be found on various posts. Island Forever.
Speaking of podcasts, “Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan” is over – if you ever listened, thank you. And you can still listen, if it’s new to you. It usually consisted of Ryan McGee and I blathering about whatever shows we were into (or not into) at that moment in time. Sometimes the podcasts contain interviews with actors and TV writers. (You can search the podcast’s site for show names.) This podcast (which is also on iTunes) may just be in your wheelhouse.
The drama that might be closest to my heart – and the show I’ve almost certainly written about more than any other – is “Battlestar Galactica.” All my coverage starts here (again, it’s in reverse chronology, so post-finale coverage comes first, then finale coverage, etc.). For “BSG’s” final run of episodes, I interviewed the writer of each episode and also offered my own thoughts; those posts are long but I so enjoyed doing them. Perhaps the most extensive post in that array of final-season coverage is an in-depth, post-finale interview with executive producer Ron Moore; that piece also contains my thoughts on the finale as well as comments from actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. In late 2013, I interviewed Moore again, on the 10th anniversary of “BSG’s” debut, and you can find that conversation in both story and podcast form. Again, all of the “BSG” intel can be found around here (hit “back” to find earlier installments). I still miss Adama and Roslin and Saul damn Tigh. So say we all.
Oakley Foster has done a great thing and collected episodic reviews and features on “Mad Men” from a number of critics, including me. It’s truly a useful roundup to have and I’m grateful for it. Season 7 link roundups are here, and links to previous season-by-season link collections are here. Thanks, Oakley. [Oakley let me know he’s also done a similar roundup of episodic and seasonal coverage of “Breaking Bad” by various critics. I can’t overstate how handy this is and how grateful I am for these resources!]
I wish I had one link for all my “Breaking Bad” coverage, but you’re probably best off going to my HPTV page or the Tribune site and searching by an episode’s time frame or just looking for the “Breaking Bad” label and poking around. But here are a few links to some pieces I wrote during the show’s home stretch. I’m still not over “Ozymandias.”
In addition to the ones names above, of course there are dozens of shows I want you to watch and catch up on and love. I don’t have time to list them all, but here are a few worth mentioning: I wrote quite a bit about Spartacus over the years – interviews and reviews and a “what to watch before you binge it on Netflix” explainer. If you think you’re too good for “Spartacus” and that “Spartacus” is something you should sneer at, think again. A more recent Starz offering that’s twisty fun: “Counterpart.” “The Good Fight” (especially Season 2) is swell and this year, I also really loved Amazon’s “A Very English Scandal.”
More swell fare from the last few years: The aforementioned “Wynonna Earp” makes me smile every damn time (and the first two seasons are on Netflix, woo!), “Peaky Blinders,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Rectify” “Happy Valley” are also on Netflix, “You’re the Worst” is on Hulu, get into “The Americans” via Amazon for Lenin’s sake (comrades, that final season!!) “The Returned” is magnificently cry-inducing and weird, “Banshee” and “Strike Back” both had wobbly final seasons but were really worth watching before that.
Comedy is so good in recent years that I wrote a big piece in 2016 about how half-hour shows are crushing it even more than drama (it’s good to live in a world in which half-hours as varied as “Atlanta,” “One Day at a Time,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Good Place” are so consistently excellent). More raves! “Killjoys” is my sci-fi jam and “Killing Eve” is amazing. As previously stated, I am a megafan of “Jane the Virgin.” Oh, also, “Black-ish!” (And more “Black-ish”!)
Some of the shows listed above are a little bit obscure, but I watch and like a lot of popular dramas as well! Some of them are on my end-of-year Best TV lists. Here’s my 2016 Top 20 list (I ranked shows for the first time! Exciting! I did not rank programs on two other lists of very good shows from that year). Here’s my 2015 Top 20 list (which contains links to two other lists of very good shows from that year). Also, feel free to check out my 2014 Top TV list, my 2013 Top TV list and 2012 Top TV list, all of which you can treat as rosters full of viewing suggestions. Finally, follow me on Twitter if you want the full scope of my daily obsessions, enthusiasms and rants. (Spoiler: I post a lot of pictures of foxes.)
But wait, there’s more! Here are a few reported stories worth noting:
Representation of women and people of color as TV showrunners for the 2016-2017 broadcast network season and what those dire statistics mean for the pipeline of future TV creators.
Representation of women and people of color as TV directors: The amount of scripted TV has doubled in the past five years, but guess who is directing most of it? I bet you don’t have to guess. If you only read one or two sidebars from this story, make it the ACLU interview and/or the roundup of comments from TV directors.
[Addendum to the directors story: If you think real change is not possible when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the TV industry, think again. This story proves that significant improvements are indeed possible. Everyone in the TV industry should take note.]
Film world bonus! Check out the stats on the writers and directors of “Star Wars.” I love “Star Wars” a lot. Its writers and directors are almost all white guys.
Representation of women and people of color as creators at prestige-drama outlets. Spoiler alert: I’ll let Sisko take this one.
[Four years later update: HBO has changed its ways – everyone in the TV industry should take note. I’m leaving Sisko in place because there’s much more work to be done.]