Last week, Scott Brown of New York Magazine reviewed Zach Braff’s new play, All New People. The play has a talented cast — Justin Bartha (The Hangover), Krysten Ritter (“Breaking Bad” and this fall’s highly anticipated “Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23”), and Anna Camp (the bubbly pastor’s wife and handjob enthusiast from “True Blood”) — but we don’t learn a lot about their performances, because Brown spends a large chunk of the review stringing together pretentious put-downs of 2004’s Garden State, Braff’s first screenplay. And while a lot of the movie is too twee and heartfelt for my tastes now, it’s a dick move to trash a guy for a movie he wrote when he was 23 — especially if you’re using phrases like “a hubristically deliberate bid to be The Graduate for the Exhausted Aughts” and “Garden State was an Uncanny Valley, an emo simulacrum of actual human feeling.” Ugh.
That’s when Bill Lawrence — creator of “Scrubs,” friend of Braff, and “Cougar Town” showrunner — stepped in. His letter to Scott Brown is scathingly critical of Brown’s review while maintaining a sense of levity and a grounded self-awareness. It must be read in its entirety:
Dear Scott Brown,
As a TV writer, I’ve gotten plenty of negative reviews. Not just regarding things I’ve written: When it comes to my day-to-day behavior, my wife has oft been quoted saying she’s “not a fan.” Why, then, did your review of Zach Braff’s play All New People bum me out so much? Because it’s not really a review, it’s a snark-a-thon.
What’s weird is that the first half of your piece is about Garden State, a movie from 2004. The second half of it is you crapping on Zach as a person. Then the last half is the review of the actual play. Yeah, I know this is bad math — who cares? You over-hyphenate. We all have shortcomings.
You hate Zach Braff. You hated him before you saw his play. You say it in your first line. Is it fair, then, that you evaluate his new work? Let’s say I hate cherries. I hate the taste, plus a girl named Cherry broke my heart and, I don’t know, killed my pet turtle by feeding it too many — you guessed it — cherries. Should I be the one to tell everyone how your Mom’s homemade cherry crumble tastes? What am I supposed to do, Scott? May I call you Scott? I can’t talk about how much I liked Zach’s play. I know and love him; I’d be too biased. See the irony there? My only option, then, is to indulge every bitter writer’s fantasy. I’m going to review your review.
Scott Brown’s latest work opens with an Ally McBeal reference, a joke that hasn’t been fresh for a solid twenty years. It then descends into a kind of silent dog whistle that only pretentious tool bags can hear: “hubristically deliberate bid … for the Exhausted Aughts … emo simulacrum of actual feeling.” Scott, do you wear a monocle?
Mr. Brown also manages to accuse Zach of deliberately and arrogantly trying to be the voice of his generation with Garden State, a movie Zach wrote when he was 23. I’m pretty sure he was just trying to get laid. You should try it, Scott. It might loosen you up.
Midway through, I became hopeful the actual review was finally coming, when Mr. Brown resolves to put his “Garden Hate” (a pun! Yay!) aside and “forget Braff was involved and reject the play on its own terms.” But no … The next paragraph leads with “Braffilm” talk and more Garden State venom.
There is a short “Brownreview” at the very end of the long, non-review, and it makes some valid points. Still, I can’t recommend Mr. Brown’s latest work unless you plan to enjoy it as a drinking game. Every time Scotty tries too hard to sound witty, you take a shot of Cuervo. But a warning: You’ll be drunk by “crypto-jailbait Flowers for Algernon girl-child love interest” and hugging your toilet by “YouFace Wallpage Feedlot.”
A quick personal note to Mr. Brown. This is hopefully coming off as all in good fun (except maybe the “getting laid” thing — sorry). I read your other reviews. You’re talented. You use the word “bumptious” a lot, but since I don’t know what that means, I’m going to let it pass. I will say this, though: In the age of social media and immediate reader reaction, it’s tempting to skip over the fair critical assessment part (your job). I know the euphoria one can get by spewing clever snark out into the world. I’ve done it. But once that five-minute high dissipates, all you’re left with is the knowledge that you were mean. Too mean, Scott.
YA BURNT. That’s an honest and fair critique of a theater review that I would have simply dismissed as “a pretentious piece of sh*t.” Brown responded to the on-point criticism by deflecting it:
I do, in fact, wear a monocle. Not by choice.
At 6, I contracted a rare eye disease that left me half-blind and hideous. The monocle helps correct my eyesight — but, unfortunately, not my revolting deformity. Also, I’m told I give off a Lovecraftian fetor that makes women swoon, and not in the I-am-now-having-an-orgasm way.
Ack! “Lovecraftian fetor”! See, there I go again. Sometimes I try to compensate for my “mutilation” (my mother’s little term of art for my disability) by using big words and too many hyphens. It’s a defense mechanism. I can’t say it’s improved my love life much — you certainly nailed that one. Twice a year, I pay a blindfolded prostitute wearing a respirator to service me. (And she’s not as funny as Anna Camp. In fact … I’ve never seen her smile! That might just be the respirator, though.)
The rest of the year, I pour my frustrations into my reviews and my secret desk-drawer mystery novel, The Killing Pun: A Harlan Grantham* Theater Mystery! Which I would be honored if you’d read. (Sorry to impose! I know you must get this all the time, but it’s not often I rub elbows with powerful television producers!)
This is all pretty personal stuff, and difficult to talk about. But I’m glad you brought it up. I believe that intelligent, open dialogue heals all wounds — perhaps even my rancid ocular cavity. I’m so glad this didn’t degenerate into snark.
P.S.: I’m sorry I didn’t like your friend’s play.
You know, as someone who lives in New York and is friendly with people at New York Magazine, I probably shouldn’t do anything rash like call Brown a “pretentious, condescending asshat.” That’s why I’m not going to call him a pretentious condescending asshat. I take pride in turning the other cheek.