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the Complete Review
the complete review - essay/television

The Avengers

Toby Miller

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To purchase The Avengers

Title: The Avengers
Author: Toby Miller
Genre: Essay
Written: 1997
Length: 187 pages
Availability: The Avengers - US
The Avengers - UK
The Avengers - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : a decent survey of the classic series

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian B+ 31/10/1997 Vera Rule
Historical J. of Film, Radio, and TV B+ 8/1998 Chad A. Martin
Journal of Communication A+ Summer/1999 J. D. Tankel
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 22/2/1998 Liesl Schillinger
TLS . 12/12/1997 Philip Hoare
The Washington Post A- 22/3/1998 Carolyn Banks

  Review Consensus:

  Everyone thinks it is a fun take on the series, though sometimes it is unclear whether the praise isn't just for the series itself (which everyone adores). Lots of comments on Miller's academic vocabulary, but most let it slide by (i.e. think he can get away with it here).

  From the Reviews:
  • "Miller's study is the most delicious example yet of a don gowned by choice in an anorak. He couldn't be more out of the closet about it, almost revealing the whole plot when he describes `attempts by the professorate to rehabilitate fans include numbering themselves among the group licensing their own pleasures as professional acts of theory and critique'. Ooooh! He's pretty witty, too." - Vera Rule, The Guardian

  • "While reading The Avengers may not be as enjoyable as watching an episode of the series, it successfully encourages close viewing of escapism and serious consideration of the absurd." - Chad A. Martin, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television

  • "(A) critical tour de force. The book is a multidisciplinary demonstration of how to study popular culture texts." - Jonathan David Tankel, Journal of Communication

  • "No scholarly book is complete without academic exegesis (.....) But (Miller) has enough humor to see the absurdity of submitting such a fanciful subject to turgid critique. Mostly, he lets the Avengers sell themselves, as they have done before and continue to do, renarrating choice episodes like a tireless but confident joke reteller. He knows his readers will exult no matter what he writes, because they're as smitten with the series as he is -- and have their own private fantasies about it that no theory can touch." - Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Like me, you probably never realized, when you plopped yourself in front of the television screen faithfully to watch this show, that you were really into some heavy-duty, sociopolitical stuff. Toby Miller does a huge number on this throughout, so much so that when you finish this book, you'll be congratulating yourself for your prescience." - Carolyn Banks, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Few television series achieve as broad and long-lasting a success as the British series, The Avengers, has. First broadcast in 1961 (with David Keel (played by Ian Hendry) as John Steed's partner), it underwent numerous transformations. Patrick Macnee's Steed linked them all: at his side were, in turn, the likes of Honor Blackman (Goldfinger's Pussy Galore herself), the incomparable Diana Rigg, and even Joanna Lumley (of recent Absolutely Fabulous fame). An international success from early on, it was a series that attracted viewers on many, many levels.
       There are many layers to peel back, and a fair number of fan books (and many Websites) serve to examine and relive the series' success. Toby Miller's contribution is of the more academic variety -- as befits an Associate Producer of Cinema Studies. Not your usual fan book, certainly, but rest assured -- there are many stills, lots of fan talk, and some unusual titbits. Umberto Eco and Raymond Williams are cited, but the bibliography also shows Miller's reliance on sources such as Suzy Menkes (!) and more issues of TV Guide than we could imagine anyone ploughing through.
       Between explaining the coming and the going of the series Miller divides his analysis up into chapters with the headings: Pop, Fashion, Sex, Genre, and the Postmodern. About all of which there is, indeed, a fair amount to say. Miller is very good in presenting the background to the series, and placing it in the context of the time in which it was shown. He is very good at finding the series' place in Great Britain and the United States and explaining possible reasons for its success; he is a bit less so when looking farther afield.
       There's a lot of fun stuff in here, mainly because the series is so rich in material. On occasion, Miller's recounting of scenes from the series seems a bit too far-fetched, failing to make his argument. On the whole however, he ties the many strands together well.
       A few minor points annoyed us some: Miller relies on so-called "informants" in determining how the series was received. His pool of informants is fairly unscientifically assembled, and since it throws together "fans and television historians/theorists" seems of less value than he claims. We tripped over too many of these little pearls -- without gleaning all too much from them. (Incidentally: where is the boundary between fan and TV historian/theorist ?) While it is occasionally interesting to hear a fan's -- pardon, an "informant's" point of view most of the time these seem basically too haphazard to serve any purpose. (Miller's fun quotes at the beginning of the chapters are, on the other hand, more useful and to the point.)
       Certain information that is of some value could be presented better. A nice chart would have been much more useful than a page of:

The series was also available on RCA's DSS satellite on weeknights via channel 274 and TCI Encore Plex Fridays at 4.25 p.m. Sweden's ZTV scheduled it on Mondays at 8 p.m., and cable subscribers in New Zealand ...
       These are fairly minor quibbles, and one can readily ignore the offending sections.
       Miller's book is a fairly comprehensive and satisfying survey. Not the usual gossipy Hollywood-type book, Miller does have fun with his subject and keeps most of the academic talk down to acceptable levels.
       Recommended for fans, and those interested in television and pop culture.

       Note: while the book alludes to the new film version of The Avengers, starring Uma Thurman, Ralph Fiennes, and Sean Connery, production had not yet started before Miller completed his study. An analysis of the spectacular failure of the film would be a welcome addition to future editions of the text.

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The Avengers: Reviews: The Avengers - the TV series: Toby Miller: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Anglo-Australian author Toby Miller is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University.

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