The critic and show aren't relevant to this discussion, but the issue I tried to raise is: The flood of websites and blogs enabling everyone to become a critic have reduced the utility of reviews overall. A writer who has a print following still has an opportunity to curate a relationship with readers, making his or her tastes as clear and grounded in context as possible so that we can take that view and assess whether we might like to try the movie, album, TV show or muesli in question. The straightest path to accomplishing this is to keep yourself in the background as much as possible while showing us what you're reviewing as only you can uniquely see it.
Over the years I've been indebted to Dave DiMartino, Celia Farber, Tim Goodman, Mick LaSalle, and, forever and always, Don Baird, for creating a consistent voice that helped me understand exactly why something worked or didn't for them. If I was already interested in an album and saw that Farber or Baird had a bylined review, it could make the difference between buying it or not. Any of the above named writers might include a personal anecdote to add perspective to a piece, but the focus was on the art; I mean, that's the point of a review, right?
When I started reviewing books twenty years ago, I hadn't made that connection. I was also writing for free, in the 'zine world, which may have emboldened me with a greater sense of latitude than my middling skills deserved. Most of my reviews were five or six paragraphs in length, and easily half of those paragraphs were all about me. Sometimes it made sense; if you're chatting up a vibrator you describe the specs, sure, but people also want to know how you liked it. The story is part of the fun, or would have been if I'd had better toys to review. But I also wedged myself into book reviews, often neglecting points of interest to readers in favor of stupid stories about my day. It pains me to think of those pieces now.
What brought me up short was technology. I worked on a Smith-Corona word processor, an old monster that saved to floppy discs and printed out with a daisy wheel typewriter body. A toaster oven would have been more technologically advanced. But the word processor had a feature that struck me as funny--what was the point of listing the ten most used words in a piece of writing? How ridiculous! I plugged my reviews into it, and invariably the first word that showed up was "I." Holy crap.
It's so easy to fool yourself into believing that the junk you clean out of your ears is fascinating; how could it not be, when you made it yourself? Seeing my self-absorption reduced to a simple statistic was the beginning of long walk toward humility and attention to detail in my work. There was no wiggle room, no way to justify putting myself first when I had a subject that deserved the attention. So I would write a draft as usual, then go back and remove myself from the piece until it was clear that I was not at the center of it.
As with any bad habit, it was difficult to unlearn, but my writing improved dramatically. It became natural to do more research to support my assertions, since they were no longer resting on my untested genius. My comparisons and contrasts sharpened. And I took a greater interest in the reading, or watching, or listening. A website for which I briefly reviewed television shows made all its writers work without bylines (always fine with me) and use the royal "we," which was both liberating and hilarious. It got easier after that.
When I wrote to the aforementioned critic, one of the things I pointed out was that in his dismissive review of the TV show, he mentioned by name some of his famous critic friends, talked about how the setting of the show was different when he lived there, and otherwise inserted himself into the review to the almost total exclusion of the show he was supposed to be discussing. Part of his response accused me of being jealous of his famous friends, which made me laugh. No. I've interviewed plenty of people, and met lots of interesting and, yes, famous ones, too. But that information has no place in a review of a specific piece of work, unless it's a full disclosure in the interest of journalistic accuracy. If you're just reminiscing about how you met someone on a press junket and found them to be charming, then give an uninformative suck-up review of a movie that has been panned elsewhere? I'm learning about you, not the movie. And what I'm learning isn't great.
Inside our heads we might be superheroes, or supervillians, but we are never boring. In reality? We could all stand to dial ourselves down a little. This is especially the duty of any responsible critic.