Staff Picks: ‘Television: A Biography,’ ‘Fleabag,’ ‘Frontline’: “The Choice 2016”


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Scroll through for our picks below.

Television: A Biography by David Thomson

Recently I was delighted to discover that David Thomson, the eminent British film critic and historian, had written a book about TV. Television: A Biography is a “history” of the medium the way Greil Marcus’s 2014 book The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs is a “history” of that genre. In other words, it’s history as perceived and experienced by the author; there’s a reason Thomson calls his book a “biography.” Not unlike Marcus, Thomson weaves a colorful tapestry of deeply researched history, vivid description and analysis, and memoir. At 75, he’s lived through many shifts in the television landscape, and his view of the current wilderness can feel a little far-off — when he describes his TV-watching habits, he’s always got a remote in hand, which is an archaic image for many younger viewers. There’s no shortage of writing about television these days, but Thomson approaches the topic from a far more philosophical perch than most. His insight into the ways in which television affects the world it’s ostensibly trying to represent is invaluable. — Lara Zarum, TV Editor


Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s BBC Three/Amazon series Fleabag is the funniest thing I’ve seen on television in a long time, particularly thanks to the comic timing and brilliant chemistry of Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman, who plays her passive aggressive godmother-turned-stepmother (who happens to be a sculptor, and is documenting her sex life with Bridge’s character’s father). Another surprising element of the series is its usage of theatricality in a way that actually bolsters the show. Very rarely do fourth-wall-breaking theatrical asides to the camera come across as anything but cheesy (in both comedy and drama — as seen in House of Cards), but the series is actually adapted from a one-woman-play by Bridge, and it’s impressive how well she’s able to deliver these moments and draw us in, when so often elsewhere, speaking to the viewer only makes them want to turn away in annoyance. Read Flavorwire TV editor Lara Zarum’s profile of the creator/star here. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Frontline: “The Choice 2016″

The PBS newsmagazine show’s traditional presidential election edition “The Choice” is always invaluable campaign viewing, intelligently written and sharply edited dual bio-docs that compare and contrast the lives and experiences of the candidates. But this cycle’s edition was especially compelling viewing, and not just because the two lives in question were so eventful (or, to put it another way, so bonkers). Great documentaries are often about structure, as much about how these stories are framed as how they’re told, and The Choice made the brilliant decision to begin at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2011 – when President Obama mercilessly ridiculed Donald Trump for several minutes, in front of the entirety of the Washington elite. Seeing Trump’s entire campaign through that prism was ingenious: this was a story that, in many ways, began with Donald Trump’s humiliation on a national stage. If only it could’ve ended that way too. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor