Kevin Smith’s ‘Spoilers’ Democratizes Movie Criticism

By  · Published on June 6th, 2012

In 2010, after the release of the largely panned Cop Out, Kevin Smith tweeted a short but passionate polemic against movie critics (that most loathsome subsect of the human species who sit up in their ivory towers and pass judgments), writing, “From now on, any flick I’m ever involved with, I conduct screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine: pay like you would if you saw it next week. Like, why am I giving an arbitrary 500 people power over what I do at all, let alone for free [?] Why’s their opinion more valid?” In the interest of full disclosure, I have attended free press screenings, but I still think that Smith’s gripe had merit.

Spoilers with Kevin Smith, a new Hulu original series that debuted on the site Monday, is the director’s attempt to fix the “backwards system” that perturbed him so. The web talk show’s mission? As Smith puts it on his blog, “we don’t review movies on Spoilers; we revere them.”

In every episode, a group of about 50 Average Joes (and Josephines) will go to a movie with host Smith (the tickets all paid for by Smith/production) and then convene in SModCo Studios to gab about what they’ve seen in that informal, “reverential,” occasionally snarky way that opinionated folks on the internet debate the merits of the latest cinematic offerings as Smith weaves through the audience with a microphone, facilitating the discussion.

In the first episode, “Girls Just Wanna Have Guns,” audience comments about recent release Snow White and the Huntsman ranged from generally positive (“the only thing I didn’t like was the Burger King crown [Kristen Stewart] was wearing”) to subtle condemnations (“if I’d been able to stay awake, I think I would have liked it a little more”) ‐ everything they said possessing the relatable, off-the-cuff quality of the movie conversations that you’d probably have with your buddies and ultimately validating my decision not to see that particular motion picture.

Other segments in the premiere were the “Criterion Lounge” (moving the action to the classier Mad Men inspired area of the studio where Smith does his Reading Rainbow thing and recommends a title from the Criterion Collection), a tête-à-tête with a movie industry guest (this time Carrie Fisher) who sits on a throne called a “high chair” (get it? Because weed etcetera, etcetera), and “Hollywood Babble-On” where audio from Smith and actor Ralph Garman’s podcast of the same name is animated. The latter was the least successful bit in an otherwise fun episode. Even though the show’s structure is overwhelmingly hodgepodgey, the cartoon, in which Smith and Garman riff but mostly laugh about past and present movie vampires, didn’t mesh well with everything else (mainly because it just wasn’t funny).

But Spoilers is noteworthy for reasons that aren’t necessarily related to quality. For one, it’s as much a show about democratization as it is about movies. Smith spotlights the voices of regular movie buffs and, while web series (celebrity-helmed included) are by no means a new thing, Spoilers is (yet another) example of the internet being a legitimate alternative to your TV set. (I’m hoping that this sort of thing is the opening act to a revolution that somehow leads to the abandonment of the problematic Nielsen ratings).

Okay, so obviously I get how odd it is to do a review of a show that was created to be the antithesis of classic criticism but I will tell you on a basic “is Spoilers good?” level that Smith’s charisma, jolliness (which isn’t a commentary on his weight, but his upbeat demeanor), and unfathomably quick wit are enough to make this experiment enjoyable. But you don’t have to take my word for it. (Because you can watch the episode yourself above.)

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