WARNING: The below explanation involves mild spoilers for Friends and Lost
Why do you use a score out of one hundred?
When I began writing my Friends episode guide I came up with the idea of rating each episode out of 100. I wanted to be able to make a clear distinction between each episode rather than a generic letter grade or star system. I have a very ordered (or anal) mind and am convinced that each episode can be given a very specific value marking its quality.
A score out of one hundred does owe something to the British University grading system where good work is rewarded with a score of around 60. My belief is that this apparently harsh system is actually very helpful.
If I used the A, B, C scoring system then how would I distinguish between a good episode and a great one? To get more specific, some episodes of television are just there to help build stories and some are there to pay them off. To use Friends as an example we have to sit through Monica and Chandler having relationship troubles before we see them get married. If the episode about their troubles is really good then I could give it an A or five stars. But how would I then describe how much better or more emotive the site of them getting married was? Letter grades or stars limit you. A score out of one hundred gives you far more scope for nuance and definition.
How do you come up with the score?
This is a very rough guide to what the scores mean:
90 – An episode which is not only exceptional but does something that other episodes can’t do
80 – An exceptional episode
70 – A very good episode
65 – The standard episode of a good show
50 – An adequate episode
40 – A watchable but bad episode
30 – An awful episode
After spending a couple of years assigning scores to different shows I arrived at 65 as the score that a standard good episode of TV should get. This leads nicely to seeing that a score above that means you are watching something really good and a score between 50-65 is lacking something. Episodes which get below 50 are inadequate and either not engaging, implausible, poorly thought out, offensive or some combination of those.
Some episodes are just good or just bad and I will assign a score pretty quickly. Some episodes are more complicated than that. For example an episode might tell a good story but have important plot holes. I would then have to weigh up how much the latter took away from the former and come up with a compromise score.
What is the difference between an episode scoring a 70 and a 90?
The first part of the answer is to say that it will come down to emotions. I watch TV to get lost in a story and feel an emotional connection to the characters. If a TV show is really well made but doesn’t connect with my emotions then it won’t be able to get a high score. An episode which gets a score over 80 is going to be an emotionally-affecting piece of television.
The second part of the answer comes down to the way the story was told. Sometimes a story can be quite predictable but still have the desired effect on you. The really high scores over 80 are usually going to come from the unpredictable or the original. The first time you see something it will always have a greater impact on you than any future viewing. So if an episode can tell a story in a new or unique way that can push its score even higher.
Do you regret any scores you have given?
Yes I do. The important thing to remember is that although I try to use objective criteria to come up with a score it will always remain a subjective opinion. As time passes inevitably the scores I give might creep up or down (I won't edit them physically though, you are stuck with my original score) depending on other scores I am giving to other shows at the time. For example I think the later seasons of Friends suffer from low scores because I was comparing those episodes to the earlier high quality of the show. However as I have gotten used to the process of grading episodes in the late 2000s I realise that if I reviewed those episodes now they would get higher scores.
My scores are of course highly dependent on my level of knowledge and emotional engagement. I overrated seasons five and six of Lost because I assumed they were building to a satisfying explanation. Conversely my scores for Buffy the Vampire Slayer are heavily influenced by the fact that I know where the story is going.
My scores will always be open to criticism and my opinion will change over time. However as a rough guide to quality I think they are interesting and valuable.