Down The Rabbit Hole Again With Hank

Forgive Hank, sir....he only watches TV, and besides, he's a twit.

Forgive Hank, sir….he only watches TV, and besides, he’s a twit.

Another day, another annoying Washington Post TV review from Hank Stuever. When I last checked in on Hank as he was practicing his craft, he was ridiculing the concept of young parents committing to the care of an unplanned baby without considering abortion. Today, he’s just trying to make his readers as ignorant as he is.

I suppose there no requirement that a TV critic be conversant in literature…but there should be. All drama and entertainment is constrcted on the foundation of the stories and traditions that came before them, and while one can critique popular culture while being ignorant of everything between Beowulf and All in the Family, one cannot do so competently or professionally, both of which, as the TV critic for a major newspaper, Stuever is obigated to do. This is especially true when he presumes to critique a new TV show based on literature, however lightly, as  ABC’s new “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” is.

Right off the bat, Hank lets us know that he knows diddly about Lewis Carroll’s strange and wonderful classic, getting “Alice in Wonderland” confused with its (equally brilliant) sequel “Through the Looking Glass.”  Hank speaks of “Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story of Alice, the girl who stepped through the Looking Glass and saw all those freaky things — rabbits, Mad Hatters, worms, Cheshire cats, etc.”  But Alice never saw any of those things when she stepped through the looking-glass, for that is a different book. “Rabbits, Mad Hatters, worms, Cheshire cats, etc.” were encountered by Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole, one the few things the Disney animated version got right. (By “worms” I’m guessing Hank ie referencing the hookah-smoking caterpillar, which is not a worm. Does Stuever know? Is he just showing contempt for the book and its characters? As Hank would undoubtedly say, “Whatever.”)

Hank then goes on to misrepresent the book…either book, both books, hell, I’m pretty sure that Hank hasn’t read  them…as “dense and unfortunately dour.” There’s nothing like encouraging your readers, especially young readers, to be as ignorant and ill-educated as you are…nothing much more irresponsible, either. …while also taking pains to rob them of a unique and delightful reading experience for anyone with an ounce of whimsy and a IQ above freezing. Both Alice books are anything but dour—they are the root of  much of contemporary British humor and satire. It is fair to say that that would be no Monty Python without “Through the Looking Glass”  and “Alice in Wonderland.” Carroll, a very odd mathematician ( real name: Charles Dodgson), weaves everything from logic puzzles and chess problems to parodies of pompous poetry and political satire through the two books, and they are among the rare examples of literature that can be enjoyed by pre-schoolers and PhD’s equally, though on different levels of comprehension, and can enlighten them all.

The reason all of the dramatizations of the Alice books have failed is the same reason there have been no good movie adaptations of “The Great Gatsby” or “Moby Dick”: the unique voices, sensibilities and brilliance of the authors are absent, and the stories become just stories, when the novels are so much more. Hank doesn’t know this, at least in the case of the Alice books, because it seems that the dramatized distortions constitute his sole experience with them….plus he has wretched taste. “Personally, the only time I ever enjoyed Alice’s trip to Wonderland was in an old Tom Petty music video,” he writes. You know the one, don’t you? Alice ends up on the Mad Hatter’s, her head shaking in terror as she  finds that her body has been transformed into a cake and the Hatter (Petty) is cutting pieces out of it.


If the Post had literate, competent editors with respect for their readers, one of them would have ordered Stuever to either read the works he was trashing or to review  the show without insulting the Victorian genius who was much his superior and deserves some respect. Clearly the Post doesn’t, however, or hacks like Hank Stuever wouldn’t be reviewing TV shows in its pages.


Source: Washington Post

18 thoughts on “Down The Rabbit Hole Again With Hank

    • Well, the whale is horribly fake, and Peck’s performance is, in my view, scenery-chewing at its worst, though I don’t know how else to play Ahab. But the stuff about Ahab being lashed to the whale and beckoning the ship onward in death is a Hollywood touch—you can’t say that it’s the original ending.

      • The Gregory Peck version had its good points, Jack. He may have overplayed the Ahab character, but it’s hard to see how you COULDN’T, given his nature. There was also a good supporting cast, highlighted by Leo Genn and a young Richard Basehart. Good sea scenes, although the ones using models could have been better. Personally, I loved that scene where Peck climbs up the speeding whale and, for HATE’S SAKE, spits his last breathe while stabbing the damn thing! I guess I’m less of an objective critic for having grown up with that film. I remember that Mad Magazine had a lot of fun with it, too. Every time I’ve watched that scene where Peck nails the gold piece to the mast, I keep half expecting that THIS time he’s going to whack his thumb flat!

  1. Everything you say is true Jack.. The question should be, why has Hank become such a sloppy writer?

    His bio states he was a two time Pulitzer Prize finalist 20 years ago for feature writing, and has published two books. Clearly, he can and has done better.

    So 4 years ago they stick him in the woodchipper pile of journalism, as a TV Critic. Now, rather than retire or move on, which would have been the ethical choice, he wallows in writing semi truths and strange political bents of TV shows…

    “There is no such thing as a lousy job – only lousy men who don’t care to do it.”
    ― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

    • That’s fascinating, JJ, and my guess is that your instincts are right: he’s writing down to his audience and phoning it in, probably while he spends quality thinking on planning his escape, probably with a book or screenplay.

  2. The general decline in knowledge of our cultural heritage is discouraging. It’s far from unusual. The only works people, especially people younger than 30 seem to have heard about are the parodies and clumsy reworks of what is a rich cultural literacy. We need to make sure people are taught Western culture, even as we rush to embrace diversity.

    • Does anybody realize that there has never been a faithful version of the two Alice books? Back in 2005, Spielberg’s top screenwriter, Les Bohen, was working on the scripts for two films that would have been faithful to Carroll’s classics. It never came to fruition for two reasons. First; DreamWorks had suffered some serious financial reverses from a string of bombs which ultimately proved financially insuperable for such an ambitious project. Second; Spielberg lost one of his top selling points- the actress who was to play Alice. Bohen was actually writing it around Dakota Fanning, then as much Spielberg’s protégé as Drew Barrymore had been in her childhood and the top child star of the decade. Unfortunately, Dakota’s handlers utterly trashed her good image in a literal child porn movie, a move which not only dealt the Alice project its death blow, but likewise degraded the reception of “Charlotte’s Web” in the Christmas season of 2006- another body blow to DreamWorks. Spielberg cut the kid out and the movies were never made. I don’t know if the scripts were ever finished.

      • It’s unfilmable, don’t you think? The piece is so strange, so adult and intellectual while being so silly and free-wheeling clever, so multi-layered and dependent on cultural literacy and mathematical sophistication, and most of all so infused with the author’s voice, that it requires transforming adaptation with a contemporary spin.

        • I’d say that it would be a major challenge in all facets; for the reasons you mention and for others I could name. It would require a production company with time, talent and capital to spare! There’s precious little of that in modern Hollywood as the incentive for such projects is generally lacking. Another big requirement would be a director who could conceptualize in a manner that audiences could relate to and successfully transmit that vision into the minds of his actors and technical team. A tall order, any way you look at it. I think that only someone like Spielberg- or maybe Peter Jackson- could approach this project with any hope of success.

  3. Wasn’t there a cultural IQ fad a while back? There have been so many Alice references in all the media that even one of the children’s bowdlerizations get more of it. I shudder to think about whether “Love at First Bite” or Vampire Diaries will be his standard for the new prime time series…

  4. OK, this isn’t that new of a trend. I was horrified when the News and Observer reviewed “2001: A Space Odyssey” (that was being shown on PBS) and basically said it was 3 different, unrelated movies; one with a bunch of apes, one on the moon, and one on a spaceship. The movie is famous because no one has ever figured out what it was about. I was upset their cultural editor would write such a thing. Of course, when Apple Used Hal’s ‘eye’ in its 2000 superbowl commercial the Cincinnati Enquirer reviewed it by asking “what was up with the red light?”.

    Expecting competence in journalism is like expecting sushi at an auto parts store.

  5. Thanks for the career evaluation. It might be interesting to note that “Once Upon in Time in Wonderland” is a mish-mash of both books, mostly the first, but it features the Red Queen, who was not in the original “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) but in the sequel “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” (1871), so the TV show isn’t being as strict about adapting Carroll’s work either. I felt free to allude to both works in my review. Both books about the same Alice, are they not?

    Writing about television means writing about subjects you may know a little something about and a lot of things you don’t know anything about and therefore you have to learn what you can in the time allowed, given the amount of material. Mistakes might happen once in a while (I made a real doozy in a recent review of “Frontline’s” report on antibiotic-resistant bacteria), but it doesn’t mean I’m phoning it in, nor am I biding my time in the TV beat waiting to leave the paper. I would be the first to tell you I’m not perfect, nor am I always right. (I still think I was right about “Welcome to the Family,” though. It’s been cancelled.)

    I realize from the post and some of the comments that your minds are made up about me, but thanks for posting my comment.

    • Thanks for the thorough, civil, and well-argued defense, Hank…and thanks for taking the time to post it. I’m still reading your reviews.

      And this…”Writing about television means writing about subjects you may know a little something about and a lot of things you don’t know anything about and therefore you have to learn what you can in the time allowed, given the amount of material.”…is an excellent point that, to be fair, I should have taken into consideration in my post.

      Especially since it’s also true of blogging ethicists.

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