It’s not often that an author announces his obsolescence on his very own book cover, but with “Play All,” the redoubtable Clive James has found a title that neatly demarcates how late he is to the party.
Maybe it doesn’t matter so much that this slim collection of critical essays is built around the experience of binge-watching shows on a DVD player, a platform that bids fair to join the VCR and the eight-track in the techno-landfill. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the author treats the venerable boxed set as a recent development that requires “a new critical language” to make sense of its “onrush of creativity.”
Maybe the only thing that matters is that Mr. James, who reviewed television for The Observer back in the 1970s and remains an enduring entertainment fixture in his British homeland, seems just now to be getting around to series that entered (and, in a few cases, departed) the cultural conversation years ago.
So if you were wondering what the author really thinks about “Band of Brothers” (2001) or “NYPD Blue” (1993-2005) or “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” (2006-7) or “The Wire” (2002-8) — or, hell, “Shogun” (1980) — this is the volume to slake your curiosity. If you needed someone to explain to you that Frank Underwood, the antihero of “House of Cards,” owes something to Machiavelli; that “Mad Men” is “shorthand for Madison Avenue men”; that movie spectacles ask us to “switch off our brains”; and that modern television has exploded “the old idea of a single auteur,” then by all means hunker down.
Read more at The New York Times.