Metacritic, a really cool website that calculates average numeric review scores for new movies and TV shows, is a terrific resource. In terms of movies, I actually like it better than rottentomatoes, since it gives a more accurate snapshot of the critical response.
But there’s a major flaw in its system when it comes to rating the quality of returning (as opposed to new) TV series.
The problem is that for critics, writing reviews of many returning series is sort of an elective. And you’re generally more likely to bother reviewing a season premiere of a program that you happen to like a lot in the first place.
As a consequence, there are extremely positive Metacritic scores for the second seasons of “Sons of Anarchy” (86) and “Better Off Ted” (81), along with season — what is it now, 30? 35? — of “Scrubs” (64). In every case, though, those scores are probably higher than they would have been if a wider cross-section of critics chose to weigh in.
In the case of “Sons of Anarchy,” for example, the original score for season one was 68 based on 22 reviews, compared to a mere six reviews of season two. The numbers are nearly identical for “Better Off Ted,” whose star Jay Harrington, pictured, is approximating my expression when I saw its average score. Both shows are OK, but I was frankly scratching my head when each recorded review scores that put them up near “Mad Men” territory, which is where they rank thanks to those limited samples.
This isn’t meant to rain on these programs’ parades (especially “Ted,” whose ratings were pretty dismal), but rather to identify another instance where statistics are often less representative than they should be — or a strange refraction of the glass makes objects in the mirror appear better than they are.