"When I was a kid, I loved watching 'Siskel & Ebert,'" says Kevin Smith. "They were kind of the first guys who jumped on the TV and geeked out about movies. I said 'Wouldn't it be great to have a show about movies where we don't review movies: we revere movies?'" "Why yes!" replied executives at Hulu, who promptly greenlit Smith's movie show "Spoilers," which premieres on the web channel on June 4th.
In an interview with Wired, Smith describes the show as a break from the old "fat guy and a skinny guy" movie review format — instead it's "a fat guy and 50 other people." This slightly more P.C. description comes from Hulu:
"Kevin Smith's Movie 'Revue' — This multi-act film extravaganza mixes lively group chats, interviews with movie and pop culture icons and animated shorts. Each week, Kevin, special guests and movie lovers passionately sound off on the year's most anticipated summer blockbusters, gushing over their favorite scenes and debating the details frame by frame."
The show is Smith's attempt to replicate the experience of seeing a movie on opening weekend and then discussing it on the Internet in a real-life setting in front of TV cameras; in each episode, Smith and 50 fans who sign up at his website will see a movie together then adjourn to a nearby TV studio for an impassioned conversation — though not, necessarily, an excessively critical one. In the same Wired interview, Smith notes that he'll "never be a guy who’s just like, 'It’s bullshit! It sucks! It’s the worst!' I know what goes into making a movie. I know nobody sets out to make a bad movie."
Smith will never be a guy like that because, as he's made quite clear by now, he's not exactly a fan of film critics. When his recent film "Cop Out" received the worst reviews of his career, Smith took to Twitter to vent his frustrations, indicting critics for a variety of sins, including turning the world of film fandom into a "nasty bloodsport" and reviewing movies without paying for their tickets. Smith tells Wired that "Spoilers" "ain't doing it like those critics… Film criticism became very, you know, yes-or-no, black-and-white, thumbs-up-thumbs-down kind of affair. You don’t really see movies handled by 'professionals' on TV the way they’re handled on the internet. That’s where you see people just love on a movie. So, I’m like, 'Let’s do that version.'"
There's a certain kind of brilliant logic in the idea of a Kevin Smith movie show. Long sequences of Kevin Smith movies are basically movie shows anyway: see the "Star Wars" Death Star discussion in "Clerks" or the Superman sex conversation in "Mallrats." Smith has often argued in favor of a different form of movie fandom: a kindler, gentler, more populist iteration where film criticism is the domain of passionate hobbyists rather than working professionals. Here is Smith putting his money — or Hulu's money, I guess — where his mouth is. I imagine "Spoilers" will represent Smith's vision of ideal film criticism. For that reason alone, it should be fascinating to watch.
That said, I'm a bit confused by certain elements of the show. Smith claims he loved watching "Siskel & Ebert" — he even filled in for Ebert a few times during his various convalescences after cancer surgery — but he also bemoans the fact that criticism has become a "yes-or-no, black-and-white, thumbs-up-thumbs-down kind of affair." He hates that film critics don't pay for their movie tickets but he says he's going to pay for his 50 "Spoilers" audience members' tickets. He claims to adore the way the Internet examines movies, but he detests critical negativity. He says his show will revere movies rather than review them, while also bringing the experience of an online message board to television. An online message board without negativity? You'd have better luck trying to find an ad for sex toys on "The 700 Club."
As a guy who came of age in New Jersey in the 1990s, I worshiped Kevin Smith. Later, I even contributed to a pop culture website Smith started called Movie Poop Shoot –back then, Smith not only like film criticism, he encouraged it — and as far as I was concerned, being associated with the guy at all meant I'd reached the absolute zenith of the profession. If you don't think I spend a lot of time these days grappling with the fact that one of my teenhood idols spends a fair amount of his time bashing my chosen profession, you should see my therapy bills.
As someone who loves film criticism, and who also grew up watching "Siskel & Ebert," I'm eager to see what a Kevin Smith movie show looks like. I love film criticism on TV and keep waiting for the format to make a comeback. Smith has some really good ideas, too; there's definite value in a movie review show that airs after a movie premieres instead of before so the audience can join in the conversation. But a movie review show, even one that "reveres" film, needs to have the ability to go negative. To say that Siskel and Ebert were guys who "jumped on the TV and geeked out about movies" is an incomplete view of their body of work. Siskel and Ebert never panned movies? Of course they did! Most of the show's memorable moments were heated disagreements that involved someone bashing a film (or their co-host). Hopefully Smith takes that lesson to heart. Otherwise, there's a real risk that his new movie show will indeed spoil the format.