It’s probably safe to say that you wouldn’t be reading this right now if it wasn’t for The AV Club.
It was August 2009, the beginning of my senior year of college, and I was growing weary of the intense editorial standards and rigorous deadlines of my position as an editor of my college’s newspaper.
I spent a few nights that month addicted to a feature of The AV Club. That feature, The New Cult Canon, completely fascinated me. The writing is great. I love the long-form analysis.
But the thing that really drew me to the New Cult Canon columns was the analytic open-mindedness of the thought behind the writing. As the title implies, the column considers recent “cult hits,” examines what makes them appealing, and judges whether they are worthy of being called “great.”
There’s something freeing about those columns. This writing convinced me that recent, flawed, critically derided movies could transcend into something great, worthy of entering into film’s “canon.” It struck a chord with me both for specific reasons and for broad, metacognitive ones. It convinced me that I could have my own opinions and, if I wrote them well enough, I could convince people they were right (or at least worth considering).
Around the same time that August, I was talking to a good friend of mine, and he mentioned that our mutual friend Grant did a lot of writing of movies and music reviews in his spare time.
Quickly, an idea formed in my head: A new site dedicate to long-form, open-minded analysis, with Grant as my partner in crime. I contacted Grant, and he was game for the idea. I bought the domain of EarnThis.net, set up the site, and the rest, as they say, is history*.
(* Okay, the rest is not simply “history”… The Earn This team has written more than half a million words and put in thousands of hours working on the site and its content. I personally have written 200+ articles and 200k+ words as well as hacked and slashed my way through some SQL, PHP, and plenty of other technobabble to keep the site running. Operating a small, independent site like this sometimes feels like climbing an icy mountain: You’re constantly scrambling, hanging on for dear life, getting tired or bored, and never feeling like you’re making progress. Five years later, you look down and are proud of how far you’ve climbed, even if it seems modest from far away.)
So now I’ve written four hundred words in this article without really addressing the implied questions it posits: What is The AV Club? What is admirable or enjoyable about it?
Well, The AV Club is The Onion’s non-satirical, pop culture analysis site. It’s a huge, sprawling web site dedicated to discussing film, music, TV, books, comedy, games, the internet, and whatever other topics related to media the writers can come up with. (Again: Sound familiar?)
Its scope is so broad, it would be difficult to pinpoint a specific mission statement, style, or philosophy that drives the site. It’s “a little bit for everyone,” from goofy and trivial to extensive and in-depth.
Perhaps the site’s most popular feature is its TV Club empire of TV episode recaps, which cover most significant shows that are currently running along with a few “classic” shows. I consider some of these recaps the authoritative reviews you’ll find for certain shows anywhere on the internet.
But my favorite thing to do is to browse to their Features page and explore the enormous archive of recurring features they’ve produced through the years. You’ll see, along with The New Cult Canon, more than 160 different features that The AV Club has written at some point.
Granted, some of these have just a few entries, but I can spend hours at a time clicking through these and reading if I’m not careful. I love the variety of them: Some of them are very open ended, others are very narrow and structured. Some are all by one person, some have different entries by different writers, and some have each entry written by multiple people. It’s cross section of the wide variety of writing you can find on The AV Club.
One good place to start on the site is the archives of For Our Consideration, which are basically opinion pieces by various writers on the site. They vary extensively in quality (and tend towards the contrarian) but are a good microcosm of the site’s diversity and quality.
And, on top of everything else — or perhaps everything else is on top of this — they have a major section of the site dedicated to entertainment news updates, standard movie/album reviews, end-of-year countdowns, etc. — The typical, expected pop culture web site stuff.
My favorite writer on the site is probably Todd VanDerWerff, the TV editor. His reviews of Community are legendary, and there are several other shows he has written incisive reviews for (hold that thought for a few days).
In all, the AV Club is everything I look for in a site about pop culture. It’s varied, deep, professional, sprawling, and just plain interesting. Sample a few entries each of Internet Film School, My Year of Flops, 100 Episodes, and Single File, and tell me with a straight face that this site isn’t something special.
It’s not all that good, but it is consistently readable (*scowls at HateSong*). For a site this broad in scope, that’s a pretty astounding accomplishment.