Without speaking ill of the dead at too much length, it’s pretty safe to say that most fans of serious (or at least semi-serious) film criticism were overjoyed to learn that the experiment in dumbing down At The Movies—the TV show birthed ages ago by titans of the pen, Gene Siskel and Rogert Ebert—failed. After just one season, Ben Lyons (of E!) and Ben Mankiewicz (of Turner Classic Movies) have been sent packing, replaced by a pair of film writers with much better parenthetical credentials: A.O. Scott (of The New York Times) and Michael Phillips (of the Chicago Tribune). It’s nice to see that audiences (presumably) stayed away from another show that, while not horrible, felt like just another surface-level ra-ra-Hollywood half-hour. (At least from half of the screen.)

At The Movies fans of yore will recognize Scott and Phillips from multiple guest turns with Richard Roeper in the post-Ebert years. Without critiquing the critics too much, both are smart and TV-ready without that sheen of over-enthusiasm that every TV show with a talking head seems to think is the only way to keep viewers interested.

The sets are different, but the thrust of the show remains the same: Two guys chat about the week’s movies. Instead of Ebert’s “thumbs-up/thumbs-down,” (which he apparently owns) Scott and Phillips are sticking with “See it / rent it / skip it,” which is fine. (Not as good, of course, as Zodiac Motherfucker’s “optional / not optional” rating system, which we’re considering implementing here at The A.V. Club. No, not really.)

There was no talk of “great to bring the family” or “just a fun time that everybody can enjoy,” but rather about whether 2009 is a bad year for female protagonists, and the influence of Annie Hall and Horse Feathers. It looks approximately the same, but things are different—and back to what always worked best. Here’s to the new/old era.

Grade: See it

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