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Mitchell Hundred said on February 10th, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I don’t read a lot of them, but the ones I have read seemed useful for providing interesting trivia on the show in question. Also in case I ever forgot some meaningless little detail that I suddenly found the need to cite.

Although now knowing that an episode guide has gotten someone into Babylon 5 has me questioning their value to the human race as a whole.

So thanks for that.

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mygif

I didn’t know these existed.

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mygif

I don’t think this counts as an episode guide, but I always used the Netflix episode summaries to figure out which episodes of say, TNG, were the ones I liked. This is mostly because I can’t remember the title of the episode, but I do remember it as “the first appearance of the Borg”.

Actually I do remember the title (Q Who), so that was a bad example, but I think I made my point.

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mygif

Yeah, to go off what Mitchell Hundred said the few episode guides I’ve thumbed through seem to be less a list of “here are the definitive episodes you should watch” and more a compilation of trivia, anecdotes and little behind-the-scenes glimpses, and, as you yourself mention John, a way to reminisce about your favorite show.

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mygif

Well I don’t ever bought one. But I usually check online episode guides to find me an episode which leads me to find an exact quote(via finding the subtitles). That and double checking my memory when I was discussing something about a series(i.e. SG-1 Zap gun retcon)

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Voodoo Ben said on February 10th, 2013 at 8:47 pm

I only ever got them for shows I loved, pretty much the reasons other people are mentioning – I’ve always been a big “how the sausage gets made” nerd so I was there for the behind-the-scenes trivia.

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mygif

Parts of this discussion seem to me to conflate several difference types of reference work (which isn’t entirely surprising, because some of the books as published are themselves of mixed type). A brief list:

Episode guide: What it says on the tin; nowadays, found more often online than in print form. A good episode guide should include original air dates, plot summaries, reasonably full credits (acting, writing, directing), and some level of additional episode-level detail (notable quotes, production trivia).

“Making of” book: More general than an episode guide, focusing on the creation and production of the series under discussion. Such books should include detailed interviews with series creators, producers & talent and/or firsthand observation of the production process.

Continuity reference: May be found online or in print form. Includes concordances, encyclopediae, and the like, supplying a wide range of reference information pertaining to the fictional world of the relevant series or franchise. More common for long-running series/franchises.

Analytical works: A broad category, taking in a variety of material that responds to or expands on the source canon. I’d include here the various “science of” books on such shows as Star Trek and X-Files as well as academic works (I ran into one analyzing spoken language created/popularized by Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and the long series of pop-cultural essay compilations published by BenBella Books on various popular TV and print SF/F series.

As noted, some books mix categories; perhaps most notably, the “Watcher’s Guide” volumes produced for Buffy the Vampire Slayer included both episode guides and “making of” material.

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Sometimes with Star Trek I’ll look on Memory Alpha for excessively detailed trivia, cast information, or behind the scenes stuff. For the most part though if I look up an episode summary it’s so I can remember what an episode with a vague title like “The Assignment” or “The Enemy” is about. I don’t think I’d ever buy an actual book for that purpose though.

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auf_weiderzen said on February 11th, 2013 at 12:23 am

I’ve probably spent more time reading the Marvel Universe Wiki than Marvel comics as a whole. Most my geek knowledge even comes from Wikipedia, TV Tropes, and discussions with other geeks at cons and in clubs. I rely on them.

That said, I don’t think that the negative reaction to “A Geek’s First Primer” was because summaries and plot histories are abhorrent, more because the idea that finding what you like and want to pursue in geekdom is a passion, not something where you should slog through what is considered to be the core of “geek culture” to become a “Certified Geekologist of Nerditry.” The reality is that geek culture is extremely fractal and has it’s fads and in-jokes that are only relevant if you get them fresh and unexpectedly, not handed to you. It’s more like joining a secret society, where things are weird and wonderous and novel, and your interest and passions guide you. The idea that you can assimilate a body of work that teaches you how to be a geek if you aren’t interested in it and automatically become is antithetical to the idea of identifying yourself as a geek who has a passion for it.

I’m very much a second gen geek. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and got exposed to Star Trek and Star Wars, comic books, anime, X-Files and MST3K. I relished it, enjoying the discussions with my friends who shared all of the fascinating things I’d never seen. It’s that love of discovery that drives us, knowing that obsesses us, and sharing that binds us. Tim Kreider says it as eloquently as anyone I have heard say it: In Praise of Not Knowing.

So if you want to educate your tyke or a friend in the ways of a geek, show them what got you interested. Don’t tell them they need read the Silmarillion of Geekdom before they’re allowed to speak to you again.

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mygif

The MST3K episode guide is one of the greatest books ever written, no question. I read episode guides hoping someone else captured the same magic.

“Their favourite movie is ‘It’s Pat!’ Their favourite book is ‘The Making of it’s Pat!’

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Walter Kovacs said on February 11th, 2013 at 2:50 am

For the episode guides I own and/or use it’s mostly either:

(a) The other stuff that goes along with it (i.e. anecdotes, trivia, behind the scenes things, etc)

(b) not having the full series (in the case of MST3K, for example, this is helpful in knowing which episodes I’ve missed, and can sometimes be helpful with knowing about which episodes I might want to seek out specifically, like Last of the Wild Horses having Frank in the theater, etc)

With some shows, lacking complete seasons on DVD, watching the show piecemeal off television often meant you didn’t know if you had seen it all, or didn’t know what the original order was. An episode guide is a good checklist for knowing which episodes you may have missed. With some shows (like say the Simpsons or MST3K), it would be hard to tell if you’ve watched them all or not.

Dr. Who is very much a special case, since it would be nearly impossible to watch it all, especially with all the gaps in the available footage. In that case, I did use online guides to basically go through the entire classic era (I ended up getting into it via a marathon of Space, and then tracking down the rest of the modern era stuff before getting up to date as of the midpoint of series 5). Since then, I’ve used Netflix to watch some classic episodes and picked some of the DVDs that seemed to be particularly interesting (Genesis of the Daleks and Rememberance of the Daleks.) I even watched the TV movie thanks to the existence of an iRiff to make it palatable.

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Brian Smith said on February 11th, 2013 at 6:51 am

I’ve bought three episode guides in my life: “The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion” (seasons 1-5), the first “The Simpsons” guide (seasons 1-8) and the MST3K guide mentioned earlier.

The TNG guide was used pretty heavily when I was in college and the show was airing both first-run episodes AND five-day-a-week reruns…I could figure out which reruns were going to air when, and plan my schedule accordingly, since I wasn’t able to justify the purchase of my own VCR until late 1993. It *also* gave me some insights into seasons two and three, most of which I’d had to miss (6 p.m. Saturday, when it aired for us, was family time, and my dad didn’t want me tying up his VCR with “ripoff Trek”.)

The MST3K guide…it’s very entertaining on its own merits, but I also got to use it as a sort of TV guide for what I wanted to record or stay up to watch back when Comedy Central was running an episode a night at, like, 1 or 2 a.m.

And the guide to “The Simpsons”…for the first five seasons it aired, I lived in Arkansas towns that couldn’t be reached by any Fox affiliates. For the last 11 1/2 years, I’ve lived in a town too remote to get one of the affiliates that carries the syndicated reruns. So while I did my best to catch new episodes and reruns between seasons 6 and 13, and I still watch the show now, there’s a staggering number of quality episodes that I only know from the episode guide or haven’t seen since the Clinton administration. (At some point in my life, I’m determined to see “Homer’s Enemy” and the one where Johnny Cash is Homer’s spirit animal.)

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MonkeyWithTypewriter said on February 11th, 2013 at 10:18 am

The only real episode guides I have are the various “Appendixes to the Marvel Universe” like the one they brought out just after “Dissasembled” and “Nitpicker’s Guide to Trek” for NextGen. I’d happily read others if finances weren’t crap.

On a side note: I always thought the plural of “Apocalypse” was “apocalypsees” for some reason.

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mygif

I’ve bought/read a few of such guides, always for series I’m already a huge fan of. In fact, I see these guides as not for the uninitiated, but for the uberfans. “OMG! I really don’t need another Trek guide, but this has a super-cute, not-seen-in-print-since-1992 photo of Picard and Data on the cover — SQUEE!” That’s who I see as the market for these things.

If I want to know more about a series I don’t watch, I either turn to trusted friends or trusted online critics. But I rarely look to the pointless, blatant money-grabs that these guides usually turn out to be.

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mygif

I buy episode guides because it is the 1990′s and the internet is still pretty useless. But now we have wikipedia and I never have to buy one again. The end.

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Patrick Rawley said on February 11th, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I have an excellent out-of-print TWILIGHT ZONE guide, that features all the Serling intros and extros.

I’m sure I have a couple of Star Trek guides somewhere.

I don’t “use” them so much as read them, reminisce and remember different episodes. The TZ one I’ve used to perfect my Rod Serling imitation for a comedy troupe I was in. They certainly have their place, esp. to a younger fan or somebody who’s looking for info on a certain series or episode or actor or whatnot.

And I must say, I’m in favour of a comprehensive encyclopedia of geekdom. But it would be more volumes than Britannica and the vicious infighting inevitably involved in such a project would make a rat pit look like High Tea.

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Going back to your original intent of the first column, I believe the big problem is that there is too much of a spread about what a ‘geek’ needs to know in order to be officially classified a geek.

Do you need to know about D&D? Buffy? The Far Side? Physics? Babylon 5? Xena: Warrior Princess? Bruce Campbell? X-Files? Blakes 7? Akira? Princess Mononoke? Piers Anthony books? Cerebus? etc. etc.

And the problem is, even if you define a set of materials to geekify yourself with, you can’t just skim to “get it”. I can say that everyone should watch Millenium’s “Somehow Satan Got Behind Me” episode as an awesomely clever stand alone, but you can’t watch that episode and have any clue about what’s going on in the series overall.

If you want to be part of the scene, there’s no Cliff’s Notes that are going to be good enough to give you the scope you’ll need.

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mygif

I can’t imagine buying something like this because… I have the internet. Sure, there are times when I might want to look up a bit of trivia about a game or reference some quote from a book or refresh myself on an episode synopsis from a series… but I can usually find that online, at Wikipedia – or other more focused wikis, or a google search, etc.

So I wouldn’t imagine acquiring anything like that on my own, as a general rule. I can see others purchasing it, if dealing with something they are really invested in. And perhaps that is why I think the comparison breaks down – I’d see products like this as mostly targeted at those most interested in a product, which is the exact opposite from a ‘geek primer’ that inundates a ‘newbie’ with a ton of info about what they are supposed to like.

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mygif

When talking about “episode guides” (as defined nebulously), I read the Onion AV Club episode reviews. I also skim info from the ever-broadening, ever-shallow Wikia offerings which vary greatly in quality. Aside from that, there’s TV Tropes, but that’s somewhat of a shotgun effect where I read mostly the trope pages instead of the show-specifc pages.

When I seek out an episode’s information on AV Club or Wikia, it’s because I’m interested in extracting another layer of insight on the media I’ve just consumed. This typically is only going to be done if I care about the depths of something. I love 30 Rock, but I don’t care about its depths in the way I would for Star Trek Deep Space 9 or Adventure Time.

If I’m reading about something on TV Tropes, or elsewhere, it’s often media I have not experienced myself. This can be for multiple reasons. Sometimes I realize I want to see something, but other times it’s to gawp at the ostentation of something. Let’s suffice to say that some media I want to observe its peaks without exploring its valleys, e.g. “Wow, Naruto goes on forever. Interesting how these characters developed. Oh that happened. I am so glad I didn’t have to watch this.”

I think it’s a general thirst for knowledge, combined with lack of time, and having a job where I can surf the internet.

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mygif

I have read and enjoyed episode guides.

I guess I misunderstood your original post. A Big Guide to Geeky Things sounds fine.

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I don’t know episode guides in general: I have read only one, for ‘The Wire’. It had episode guide as part of it, but also interviews, essays, and other things relevant to the creation and inspiration for the series. But for the episode guide itself, it sometimes clued me in on subtext that I missed from watching the episode.

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kingderella said on February 14th, 2013 at 5:25 am

i dont know about “episode guides” specifically, but i do find it useful – or in some cases, even necessary – to know “where to start” on certain nerd subjects.

lets say i want to “get into” thor, or batman, or birds of prey. where do i start? what do i read, in what succession, and what do i skip?

i think a “rotten tomatoes”-style site, which determines a numerical consensus about what to read/watch and what to skip may be interesting.

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