Mentor Text Wednesday: A Transcendent Review

Mentor Text: TV Review – The Walking Dead S05E09: What’s Happening and What’s Going On by Regina Lizik

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing Reviews

Background:

Sometimes, a mentor text sits in your files for a long time. You wait for a need for it, or a reason to pull it out. Sometimes, you’ve saved it knowing that someday, maybe, perhaps, you’ll have the perfect class to use it with, or it will be the catalyst for an amazing lesson you haven’t designed yet. You know it’s good, you just don’t know what you’re going to do with it quite yet.

Or, if you contribute to Mentor Text Wednesdays, you file it for future column fodder.

This week’s mentor text is one I’ve had sitting in the files for a while.

Often, when I write, I pop on a quasi-mindless show to watch. Time, as a dad, teacher and human, is often at a premium, so I view while I create. I knew I needed to write this week’s column, so I started looking at what I had queued up to watch. I noticed that I hadn’t watched any of this season’s Walking Dead after the premiere. I have reasons for that. I’m really of the mind that the writers of that show have lost their way. The character development and plotting has given way to, in my opinion, working solely to create water cooler moments… which aren’t strung together with all the stuff that made this show must see TV for me. I put on my old man grumbly pants, and mutter, “I haven’t cared about anyone’s fate on that show since they killed Tyreese.”

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Tyreese whom I miss. (image via web)

 

And then I remembered that I had an awesome mentor text about that very episode.

 

Regina Lizik wrote a stellar review of that episode, which I filed right away for potential use. Reading the review again, two years later, I saw again why I adored it right off the hop. Lizik writes a review that reads more like a literary analysis of the episode. There is emotional resonance in the piece, which comes from not only her writing, but her response to the episode she’s writing about.

How We Might Use This Text:

Writing A Review – Perhaps my favorite thing about this review is that it doesn’t have a blatant, in your face thesis that we often find in a review. There is no soundbite to come from it, no star ranking, no thumbs up or down. In the first paragraph, Lizik states that, “…this is the most beautiful hour of television you are likely to ever see.” Then, she goes on to back up that statement through her analysis of the episode, but doesn’t revisit it with a pithy statement or catchphrase. It is this aspect of this review that I think is important to show our writers, that a review should be a critical analysis of a work, not something that boils your opinion down to simple like or dislike.

In the analysis that comprises her review, Lizik does many of the things we want our writers doing as they write about texts. She does actually go through a summary of the episode, but unlike what many reviewers do, and the pattern we often see from students, the summary is not its own separate element within the piece, following the introduction as we are accustomed to. Instead, the summary is actually used as the “backbone” of the review, if you will, the core of the piece. This is so wonderfully effective, because it allows her to explore, and analyze, aspects of the episode chronologically, as they occurred in the episode. It works as a fan of the show, because you get to relive those moments as she writes, and compare your reactions and thoughts to those that she shares. I would imagine, if you weren’t a fan, this structure would be useful, as you would be able to follow along as the plot is revealed, learning what happened, and what Lizik suggests it means, or why it matters.

Lizik also works to establish a context for her analysis. In the world of criticism, critics don’t always get to choose what they review. In short, they aren’t always fans. This has an impact, because if you’re not steeped in the mythology of the show, or not a fan of the genre, then the combination of bias and ignorance often results in an unfairly negative review, and analysis. A fan writing about something they love, knowing that it will likely be read by fans presents its own bias, true, but it’s a bit more friendly one. If nothing else, when we talk about our writers knowing their audience, this is a clear example of the importance of that.

Lizik talks about the feelings involved in viewing this episode. “As our brains try to make sense of these images…” speaks to what we do as an audience, the way we view, make inferences and react. It’s about the process, and how emotional that can be. That is an important piece of thinking we want to instill in our students isn’t it, the processes we go through as readers.

The emotional resonance of the episode is dealt with as well. “We are all exhausted. We are all tired of loss and none of us want to let our loved ones go.” This reflects the emotions of the characters, yes, but it also reflects us as an audience. On one level, it’s about our feelings about the show, and the characters we love. However, one of my favorite things about story is that story gives us ways to look at the truths in our own lives. Read that statement I quoted in this paragraph. Does that not relate to the human experience?

Speaking of quotes, Lizik, much like we’d expect in a literary analysis, quotes her source material, explaining the relevance, and resonance of the passages she quotes. Frequently, reviewers refer to scenes and moments in their reviews, but to quote at such length, in my experience is rare. Couple with the structure that she uses, anchoring her review to the recap, it allows her to take a deeper look at the material she  is assessing. It is powerful, and it is worth modelling for our writers.

The use of a key scene is well done here. Though many scenes are discussed as a result of the structure of this piece, it is the choice of a key scene that resonates.

The most moving moment in this episode is a small one. It happens after Sasha shovels dirt onto her brother’s grave. She hesitates for one second before she puts down the shovel, before she lays down her burden. She does want to let go. That hesitation says everything that we all feel. We are all exhausted. We are all tired of loss and none of us want to let our loved ones go.

But we have to let go. As Tyreese says, “It’s not over.” Things will go on.

It’s like she looked specifically for a scene that not only highlighted the core message of this particular episode, but served as a motif in the show as well, connecting it to a larger reading of the show, much as if she were reviewing a single chapter of a book. She not only writes about why this scene matters in the episode, but why it matters in the work as a whole. That’s a powerful thing, and something we could share with our writers.

If you’ve been here before, you know that I treat pop culture pieces like texts in my teaching. They are used in my classroom alongside conventional texts, and are given similar weight and respect. Pieces like Lizik’s make that a bit easier to justify. As I revisit it, almost two years after I originally filed it, I see that it works on a deeper level than simply as a mentor text for a review of a TV show, but could actually be used as a mentor text for literary analysis. Imagine simply giving this piece to students reading a book they need to do that lit analysis essay on, talking about it, and figuring out which elements of this piece they could use to influence those essays.

What are your go-to mentor texts for reviews? Do you have any mentor texts that do double duty, like this one? Are you with me on how The Walking Dead has lost a step or two in the storytelling department?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy

-Jay

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