Oprah’s Book Club Review: Battle of the Brands

November 2, 2019
Jonathon Wilson 0
Apple TV+, TV, TV Reviews
3

Summary

There’s plenty for devoted readers to enjoy here, just so long as they can get past the obvious branding efforts.

3

Summary

There’s plenty for devoted readers to enjoy here, just so long as they can get past the obvious branding efforts.

The smartest thing Oprah’s Book Club (Apple TV+) does — or plans to do, anyway — is only release an episode every couple of months. And that’s smart because it confirms that the show is, or at least wants to be, about Oprah interviewing novelists, rather than about novelists being interviewed by Oprah. There’s a crucial difference. Oprah might be the adopted mother of America, and she’s an excellent interviewer and on-screen personality, but people aren’t packing out Apple Carnegie Hall to listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates talk about his first novel, The Water Dancer. They’re there to see Oprah.

Oprah’s Book Club is always fighting against the outsized persona of its host. She’s good at limiting the effect by warmly involving the audience in the discussion, and by probing the interviewee on particularly challenging ideas and passages. She has the earnest enthusiasm of a regular reader, and only rarely do you remember that she isn’t. Getting to grips with a novel is probably much easier when you can call an author directly and ask them what they were thinking.

What you’ll never forget is that this is an Apple TV+ show. It’s filmed in an Apple store, which is remarked upon several times. Oprah enthusiastically extolls Apple’s virtues. It can be awkward, like brand synergy is more important than the books being discussed. Luckily the discussion itself goes in-depth enough that it doesn’t feel cursory. The big gaps between episodes are for people to get acquainted with the books; the conversations aren’t casual chit-chats for people who have a vague interest in the novel, they’re for people who have read it, thought about it, and want to hear it discussed by the author (and Oprah, obviously). There’s something to be said for that — this is a show about books for people who’re genuinely interested in books.

But, of course, it’s also an Oprah show on Apple TV+, and the constant reminders of that aren’t always compatible with a discussion meant to champion the interviewee and their art. Your mileage will vary based on your tolerance for such things, but at least before the second episode, you’ll have time to read the next book on the agenda.


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