Hi! I am a Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair (thus feel free to address me as Baroness Von Ryan). I write about TV and other things (but mostly TV). Here some recent and semi-recent pieces I’d love you to check out!
- Please enjoy my year-end lists of 2020 TV shows (and other things) I really loved; it comes with a side order of musings on baking, cruelty and compassion.
- I wrote about why Ted Lasso is not only a truly enjoyable comedy but also does some Important Things. No real spoilers if you’re hoping to check out the Apple TV+ show (and you should!).
- I’d love it if you’d read this VF feature, even if you’ve never seen Cinemax’s Warrior, which returned for its second season in October 2020. The story is about the quest for inclusion, Hollywood’s biased history, Bruce Lee & a rare U.S. drama with many key Asian characters that has had to fight hard for its life. The story contains a bit of news about Warrior finally being added to HBO Max. UPDATE: Both seasons of Warrior are now available on HBO Max! Exciting! (Before taking the plunge with Warrior, if you’d like more general info about the drama, here’s my review of the show’s first season.)
- You may have heard of the cult Nxivm (the one Allison Mack of Smallville was in), and, well, wow. A lot going on there. HBO recently debuted The Vow, a 9-part documentary on Nxivm, and I reviewed it for the New York Times. I think the documentary is fascinating, thoughtful and highly relevant to our times.
- On the third anniversary of the arrival of that awful Access Hollywood tape, I wrote about what occurred then and what’s happened in the entertainment industry since (and believe it or not, I kinda sorta have some hope!)
- I talked to more than 30 sources about Peter Lenkov, a CBS showrunner who was fired in 2020. The resulting in-depth story was the hardest of my career, and it’s not just about one man, it’s about a broken system that fails to train, curb and adequately supervise individuals who are allowed to amass and wield enormous amounts of power. The entertainment industry (still) needs institutional, systemic and radical change.
- For Vanity Fair, I wrote about how some Hollywood TV studios cut the pay of assistants during the pandemic, which added yet another obstacle to a path that is quite difficult for lower-level workers (and by the way, assistants’ very low pay was already making the television industry’s stated goal of greater inclusion very hard to achieve).
- Another VF piece: I wrote about whether TV is sabotaging itself by letting the trend toward short seasons and short overall runs damage its finest ambitions. (Spoiler alert: It is!) I talked to some notable creators for the piece, and they’re concerned too. This piece means a lot to me; I’ve been pondering the issues it explores for a looong time. (Don’t write me an email about how short-run shows can be great. I promise I agree with you!) ALSO: As a companion piece to that column, check out this Q&A with Mike Schur, creator of The Good Place, who laid out the economic forces leading to generally shorter TV-show runs.
- Hooray for the spring 2020 return of One Day at a Time, which was canceled by Netflix but, after a hue and cry from its many fans (including me), returned for a fourth season on PopTV. Here’s an in-depth feature for the New York Times on how the comeback came together. (I’ve written a number of pieces for the Times in recent years, including pieces on Gentleman Jack, Rubicon, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [don’t miss this sidebar] and Modern Love.)
- I’m VERY proud of this: A 2019 six-part retrospective SyfyWire podcast about the legacy and impact of Lost. We talked to many veterans of the show, as well as critics and other Lost insiders, and we had a blast making it, I hope you’ll give it a shot.
- Many things are Bad but the fourth season of Wynonna Earp, which finally arrived in 2020, is Good. It’s also super gay. Wrote about it!
- The fifth season of Lucifer finally arrived on Netflix in August 2020. Yay! This show is a gem. I interviewed the showrunners, Ildy Modrovich and Joe Henderson, about where the show is going and where it’s been, and I also discussed those topics with stars Lauren German and Tom Ellis.
- I talked to David Simon about the renewed popularity of The Wire, the landmark HBO series he created (and which turns 18 this year). We also talked about his 2020 limited series The Plot Against America, and the state of American democracy (RIP).
- Lists! I compiled rosters of my favorite 100 TV programs of the past 10 years and the 40 best TV shows of 2019.
- I wrote about how the creative team behind HBO’s Mrs. Fletcher depicted the lead character’s internal and external transformations.
- Slings & Arrows has returned to streaming, via Acorn TV, and this early-aughts Canadian gem is so good!
- I am an eternal superfan of HBO’s Enlightened, and I wrote about why the 2011-2013 program is more relevant than ever and one of the best shows of the decade.
- Some personal news. Extremely earnest thanks to every single person who was kind and nice and fantastic to me about this announcement. 💚🌈
- I talked to Killjoys creator Michelle Lovretta about the show’s excellent and quietly subversive series finale. Killjoys is one of my favorite shows of the past decade, don’t sleep on its many delights. Team Awesome Force 4eva.
- For Polygon, I wrote about the rise of Tentpole TV, the industry’s scramble to make programs out of sci-fi/fantasy properties, and the good and bad that might come out of this major shift in the television industry.
- If you want to see all my writing on the final season of Game of Thrones (plus some other TV pieces I really enjoyed writing), it’s all on the TV Guide site!
- You know I am down with shows that go for broke and make me cry and get fucking weird. So the week of the 20th anniversary of its U.S. debut, I wrote a tribute/viewing guide to one of the best science-fiction shows ever, Farscape (which is now on Amazon, completely with the Peacekeeper Wars wrap-up miniseries!). This piece has intel about Farscape’s past (and possible future) from one of the show’s executive producers and a Ben Mendelsohn mention you may not have been expecting. But the important thing about this Farscape viewing guide is that I give you permission to not watch every episode. No, really, it’ll be fine! Happy Farscaping!
- I hope you will read this deeply reported Vulture piece, which contains revelations about CBS, Eliza Dushku, deep-rooted patterns of toxicity and another HR investigation at a show with a history of turmoil.
- I collected a list of links to reporting about the many #MeToo stories that came out of just one media/entertainment company in the past year (this thread began in November 2018 and it’s still going in December 2019 as more stories about systematic problems emerge). In an op-ed for the Hollywood Reporter, I wrote about how the work of changing abusive cultures in the industry has barely begun, and propose one possible way forward.
- 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.
- Even if you know nothing about Doctor Who, this in-depth feature story should get you up to speed. For the piece, I talked to showrunner Chris Chibnall, 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. As part of the reporting for the story, I got to do this enjoyable and enlightening interview with star Jodie Whittaker.
- My favorite shows of 2018. Yay for good and great TV!
- I wrote a big Sunday feature on Wynonna Earp for The New York Times, a definite high point in my professional life! Even if you don’t watch the show, aren’t you intrigued by the fact that this Syfy series already has multiple conventions devoted just to it? And it’s been on for only a few 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? (A couple reported Wynonna pieces from 2019 are here and here, and just for fun, here’s a 2017 review of the show.)
- After more than 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.
- The documentary This Changes Everything is 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, had a well-regarded run on the festival circuit and got a theatrical release before arriving on Starz in late 2019. It’s now streaming on Starz, Kanopy and Hoopla, and it can also be bought or rented from many other platforms.
- 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 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 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! Here is an earlier visit to the Extra Hot Great podcast, where we talked about The Fourth Estate and several other shows. I nominated an episode of One Day at a Time for the TV canon and I definitely did not tear up during that segment. This one’s for the true nerds (a.k.a. my people): In a 2016 appearance on Extra Hot Great, I participated in a Star Trek TV fantasy draft and nominated a truly exceptional episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the TV canon. Here’s a more recent Extra Hot Great podcast appearance! And another EHG chat, in which we talk about Star Trek: Picard.
- 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.”
From about 2000 and 2018, 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. Here is a selection of pieces from the last few years that I would love for you to read:
- 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’d very much like for you to check out 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.
- 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. One 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.
- A big 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.
- 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 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 revolutionary depiction of female (and male!) sexuality 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.
In case it’s of interest, I have an Instagram (warning: It’s mostly pictures of my travels, animals and pretty flowers). Three other things before I get to the next section: 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.
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 the links to my work there are gone now. Not great, Bob.
Here’s a long 2007 feature on the production of Friday Night Lights. I visited the set in Austin way back in Season 1, and was moved and delighted to write about the way they shot 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. Texas Forever.
My extensive Lost coverage was sent into an island vortex by the publication I worked for then. I have to go back… and try to figure out what to revive from that era on this site.
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. 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 (and now that they have disappeared into a black hole, I may post them here eventually). Perhaps the most extensive entry into 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. I still miss Adama and Roslin and Saul damn Tigh. So say we all.
By the way, I used to be half of a podcast duo: Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan is over – and 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.
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.
Just a few favorites from the past half-decade or so (and I need to add to this list! I really do!): Peaky fooking Blinders, the incredible Hall of Famer Rectify, and the wonderful Happy Valley are on Netflix, You’re the Worst and The Shield are on Hulu (as is the cult gem Mary Kills People), get into The Americans 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. 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: Check out my 20 favorite shows of 2017, with many honorable mentions. 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.]