Reviewer Stock Phrases
There is no such thing as "fun for the whole family".Also known as "reviewer-speak." Coming up with original ways to describe multiple works within one same month/week/issue can be hard. That's why critics of all types tend to have an arsenal full of stock terms they can pull out to summarize how they feel about the subject. Some examples of this are "X on crack" ,"X Meets Y", "best X of the year", "fun for the whole family!" These cliches are often parodied. Reviewer Standard Comparisons is a Sub-Trope.
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- The top 20 most annoying book reviewer cliches and how to use them all in one meaningless review
- Literary critics in particular tend to use the phrase "tour de force", usually apropos of extremely pretentious or confusing works.
- "Page-turner" comes up often.
- The Discworld book The Truth, about the Disc's first newspaper, played with this trope. Albeit about news reporting, not reviews per se. For example, the words rumpus and fracas only appear in certain newspapers, the same way beverages only appear on certain menus.
- If the novel accurately captures a teen's voice, expect the phrase "like Holden Caulfield" to pop up somewhere.
- Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart's books mock this consistently. Some highlights (paraphrased).
"Best book ever. Or maybe I'm dead and Colbert's taking advantage of this fact by signing my name to this review. Either way, you got to admit, he's got guts." -J D Salinger."A must-read! I laughed, I cried, I lost ten pounds!" -Stephen Colbert
- If it's aimed at young adults and has even the slightest element of fantasy, it'll be perfect for Harry Potter fans, regardless of any actual similarities.
- Even if it isn't, it's still open to comparison these days. See certain editions of Dragonriders of Pern books, and how for a while every The Dresden Files book had "...as another wizard named Harry" on the front or back (or both). Not as painful since later books came out, but it still leads to misunderstandings.
- In the same vein, if it has anthropomorphic woodland creatures, especially if they're mice, it'll be "perfect for fans of Redwall."
- The Dresden Files has also had the same Entertainment Weekly quote on every book in the series, dating back to the very first:
- If it resembles a better-known work in the same genre, you might see "invites comparison to..." This can backfire. ("Invites comparison to Lord of the Rings. Lord Of The Rings was great. This is crap.")
- Some variant of "I couldn't put it down" often turns up in positive reviews, although this at least MEANS something. As literary types, critics are naturally uncomfortable using wacky and zany neologisms like "unputdownable".
- Almost as common is the tongue-in-cheek review of a Doorstopper that says "I couldn't pick it up..."
- The Cynic's Dictionary by Russell Ash had a whole chapter devoted to these. One was "Enthralling: Literally, enslaving. If you want to be a book's slave..."
- If any non-fiction book discusses psychopaths or "evil people" in general, expect the adjective "chilling" to be abused ceaselessly, though it is questionable whether any of these books have ever lowered someone's body temperature.
- This doesn't apply only the non-fiction, of course. Apparently every single mystery novel ever is "chilling" as well.
- When Monty Python was asked to review The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, John Cleese decided to go with stock phrases; naturally, the others pointed it out:
Really entertaining and fun. — John Cleese
I know for a fact that John Cleese hasn't read it. — Graham Chapman
Really entertaining and fun. — Michael Palin
- As a book aggregate site, plays this trope straight in its user reviews, except it adopts an entirely different and unique set of cliches due to its web-based format and Millennial-dominated userbase. These show up most often in the negative reviews, and/or reviews for Young Adult (YA) books. The most egregious? "I wanted to like this book. I really did!"
- Filling reviews with Tumblr gifs.
- "I don't normally read (Genre x) but I'm glad I did!"
- If it's fantasy, horror or science fiction, but the reviewer liked it, then it "transcends the boundaries of its genre."
- Name-dropping authors or philosophers to establish literary cred. Derrida is a popular one, as is Nabokov. For extra points, turn the name into an adjective (i.e., "a rollicking Nabokovian delight").
- "Riveting". When was the last time you saw that word used outside of a movie review context? Apart from metalwork class that is?
- Foamy The Squirrel railed against this during one of his famous rants.
- Dave Barry once claimed to have been "literally riveted to [his] seat, by literal rivets."
- Action movies and books will usually be "Thrilling," "Suspenseful," "Gripping," and "High-Octane," among many others.
- Expect any action-comedy review to feature the word "romp" at least once.
- Every action movie has at some point been referred to as a "roller-coaster ride" or "thrill ride". Directors are typically called "visionary" for reasons which are often unclear.
- Family comedies will usually be "Fun for the whole family" or something to that effect.
- Comedies in general will always be "hilarious" and "laugh-out-loud funny!"
- Documentaries will often be "thought-provoking" or "controversial"
- Film reviews of blockbusters often feature "This Year's X": "Star Trek is this year's Iron Man", for example. "The Next X" is similiar, also for people who can't comprehend that something can stand on its own without being compared to something else.
- "Smart, sexy and..." fill-in-the-blank. "Cool," "fun," and "action-packed" work.
- The "It's Die Hard On An X" line that's popped up in reviews for the past 22 years.
- Bright Lights Film Journal's Banned Words.
- Peter Travers, the film critic for Rolling Stone, often peppers his reviews with cliche phrases like "crackerjack thrillride," "enjoy the air conditioning," or "check your brain in at the door" to describe action movies that require little attention.
- Few action film set-ups are as overworked and meaningless as the old one-two punch of invoking the "unstoppable chain of events" that will have you "on the edge of your seat."
- The posters for Dumb and Dumber parodied this with fictitious review quotes such as, "It's a movie experience for anyone who goes to see it" and "I laughed til I stopped."
- Many reviewers have taken after Roger Ebert's 'two thumbs up' signature. Sometimes something else will be substituted depending on the movie, ie two paws for Cats & Dogs, or some such. Thankfully, the "two thumbs up" concept is copyrighted, so the current generation won't have to see terrible local critics use it themselves.
- Expect sometimes-intentionally painful puns and metaphors. For example, "Earth is terra-ble" for Battlefield Earth, "This Cradle rocks!" for Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, "scales the heights of filmmaking" for 127 Hours and "will keep you at the edge of your seat" for Edge of Darkness. That last one was used by three separate reviews.
- Gene Shalit absolutely delights in these.
- "When it comes to oddball titles, The Men Who Stare at Goats is certainly hard to bleat."
- "It's a spectacle to see, and you need spectacles to see it...and there's pandemonium on Pandora" for "Avatar''.
- "''The Lovely Bones is lovely, and no bones about it!"
- "Here is Zeus! And by Jupiter, it looks like Liam Neeson!" for Clash of the Titans.
- "Taylor Lautner falls for Taylor Swift (as Lautner's character trips over a hurdle)...haha, it's a taylor-made romance!" for Valentine's Day.
- Dutch example: if a James Bond movie is coming out, expect to read "James maakt het bond."note
- Gene Shalit absolutely delights in these.
- Just about anytime an animated movie becomes critically and/or commercially successful, you'll find critics reminding us that "animation is a medium that can be enjoyed by both adults and children." A statement so tired and overused that Roger Ebert, in his review of Ratatouille, dismissed it as an annoying cliche.
- "For fans of (list three bands, one or two of those whose names are thrown around too much in their genre, and one that seems a bit out of left field)."
- Any band that has singable melodies and happens to be English will be hailed as the new The Beatles.
- Any critic will at one point paraphrase Jon Landau's epic sentence I've seen the future of rock 'n' roll and his name is Bruce Springsteen, but replace it with a different artist.
- "Sophomoric" has become a cliche phrase within music reviews. As has the infamous "Sophomore Slump" that critics use to describe disappointing follow-up records.
- Have you ever heard "whiskey-soaked" to describe anything but a blues or classic rock album?
- "Whiskey-soaked" is the stock phrase to describe Tom Waits' voice.
- Bill Anschell's humor piece "How to Be a Jazz Critic" is basically a list of these.
- It seems that every rock single that gets released these days is an "anthem" of some kind. "An indie-rock anthem," "an anthem for today's generation," etc.
- Any variant on "Their old stuff was better" will do.
- "pretentious", "self-indulgent" or "dinosaur", especially where 1970's rock not amounting to Three Chords and the Truth or Totally Radical is concerned.
- Anything recorded between 1976 and 1982 will have to answer to punk or new wave, Similarly, anything recorded between 1988 and 1997 will have to answer to Alternative Rock or grunge. In short, if there's a subversive musical movement caustic critics champion as cutting edge or the future of music, especially if the album or artist is seen as "irrelevant" to that new movement, then expect that subject to be brought up in each review, regardless of the reviewed album's style, demographic or artistic intent. Certainly don't expect that review to take (or to understand) a non-"relevant" artist or style on its own merits.
- Here's a game for you to play: Every time you see a music mag use the word "relevant" as a replacement for "good" - take a shot. (On second thought, don't.)
- A member of Sonic Youth once said during an interview that every album they release is invariably called either "A return to focus," "more song-oriented," or both.
- "Virtuosic" is almost always used for jazz, tech metal, and progressive rock artists. Also, "chops" seems to be the standard euphemism for any kind of musical talent.
- Guitar solos are always "blisteringly fast," or played with "lightning speed."
- Alternatively,"searing" or "blazing."
- There's a very nice list of these sorts of phrases on this page.
- When reading any review for a guitar, amp or effects pedal, expect any of these terms: Crunchy, gritty, bluesy, blistering, searing, fat, chunky, wide, smooth, biting, nasty, squeals, scooped, tinny, rich, warm, hollow, tubey and sings.
- And in a video review, no matter what they're reviewing, if they're playing a guitar they will make their O-face the whole time.
- David Bowie historians/biographers, and even the man himself, have noticed that starting with 1993's Black Tie White Noise, his first solo album of The Nineties, critics love to use some variant on the praise "his best album since Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" when reviewing his work. That 1980 New Wave album was followed by the mainstream mega-seller Let's Dance and then the dork ages of his mid-'80s output and the group Tin Machine, so it was regarded as "his last great album" for many years.
- Additionally, every article or review about David Bowie will use the word "chameleon" in one of the very first sentences.
- Similarly, every The Rolling Stones album will be called "their best album since Tattoo You" or "their best album since Some Girls". The next step on the ladder is "their best album since Exile On Main St." but although the phrase has been uttered occasionally, consensus is that only Some Girls itself deserves it. The problem is that, your logical and mathematical mind might deduce that Rolling Stones' albums since the one after Tattoo You are better and better each time, but the review usually manages to imply that the album before the one under review was their worst ever. Which when given a careful thought makes absolutely no sense.
- For Bob Dylan, it's "best since Blood On The Tracks." Way to brush over decades worth of great material.
- The word "noodling" tends to follow so-called "jam bands" known for lengthy soloing, like Phish and The Grateful Dead.
- "Sensitive singer-songwriter". The word "bedsit" somehow will be found not in many reviews of "sensitive singer-songwriters".
- According to many music critics, every band and singer has some sort of "audience" in mind. Usually, it has something to do with age: a louder and more upbeat band is for a teenage and "young adult" (meaning immature college kid) audience, a light country band is for an "adult" (ie. middle-aged stick in the mud) audience, etc. If it isn't age, it's gender: The latest pop sensation specifically designs her music to appeal to genki girls, the latest heavy metal sensation is designed to appeal to manly men, etc. The possibility that a musician simply writes whatever music he/she likes (without a specific audience in mind) and that most people like a wide variety of musical genres/moods apparently eludes them.
- It was apparently a national law that any review of Warren Zevon must include the word 'mordant' and a reference to Werewolves of London.
- They Might Be Giants has long been cursed by music writers who can't resist calling them "quirky".
- "Inoffensive", for music the reviewer doesn't consider edgy enough. In other words (as critic Chuck Eddy once pointed out), they were offended by it.
- "Tasty slab". As in (taken from a random music blog found in a quick Google search) "It’s a tasty slab of bass-heavy, window-shaking pop euphoria."
- "Psychedelic", "trippy", "druggy" or, if you really want to show off your word power, "lysergic". note
- The book The Rock Snob's Dictionary has entries for "coruscating", "plangent" and "seminal".
- Any band or musician that is somewhat edgy or rebellious is "guaranteed to shock your parents." Even though today's parents grew up with everything from Gangsta Rap to Britney Spears.
- "Aging rockers" for anyone in rock music older than 35. Oddly enough, the surviving pioneers of rock and roll, many of them in their eighties, seem to escape this term.
Live Action TV
- One episode of Spin City had Paul assigned to write a review of the Mayor's book. Paul's review ends up consisting entirely of stock phrases he stole from movie reviews, calling the book "a fast-paced thrill ride" and "a spectacle the whole family can enjoy", as well as the line "Stallone is pure adrenaline".
- On episode of 30 Rock has Pete use the stock acting description to say that Tracy Morgan is phoning it in. Then clarifies that this is Not Hyperbole, he's doing the scene over the phone from his dressing room.
- In other episodes, Jack provides a quote for the back of Lemon's book: "Lemon numbers among my employees." Liz is also pleased when a magazine describes TGS as "still on."
- The Wire was so often praised for its "dickensian" storytelling that by the fifth season, they were lampshading it in dialogue among clueless journalists.
- Dilbert mocks this when Dogbert starts a film reviewing business, providing the review the filmmaker wants for a price. One man asks what the price is for "Best movie so far this year" for a film coming out January first.
- This is, perhaps, the oldest stock phrase in the book: "Fans of X will love Y. Everybody else...." It's been a staple of game reviews ever since their inception and, to this day, is frequently seen in reviews (mostly for So Okay, It's Average licensed games). IGN, as far back as 2000, ridiculed this cliche in their review for a horrible Japan-only Nintendo 64 game based on the Ultraman universe: http://www.ign.com/articles/2000/03/28/pd-ultraman-battle-collection-64-import
- The two most common ones for the First-Person Shooter genre follow.
- If the game has traditional cutscenes and a strong multiplayer element, then expect comparisons to Call of Duty. This is often an insult.
- If the game is lower octane with a focus on campaign, then expect comparisons to Half-Life 2. This is often a compliment.
- Of course, thanks to GIFT, and the remarkable tendency of stupid people on the internet to express their opinions, on sites like Metacritic, EVERY single FPS will at some point get a ludicrously negative review for no other reason than being "like Call of Duty" simply by the virtue of it having one or more of the following elements: A: first person perspective. B: Shooting. C: Linearity.
- Games Radar has a database of Reviewer stock phrases, with 100 entries.
- The GamersWithJobs Conference Call, a weekly video game podcast, has a self-imposed and largely unsuccessful ban on the words "visceral" and "compelling," among others.
- ENN had a segment about a robotic game reviewer that judged everything "compelling", which later became a tagline for the show.
- "The X Killer". Remember Killzone, which everyone said would be a "Halo killer"? No, of course not.
- Killer App: a game so good it's a system seller: Super Mario Bros., Halo, Tetris, Metal Gear Solid, et al.
- X Clone: a game that uses a successful game's style in a good or bad way. Double points if the "X" is extremely old and part of a genre that has changed a lot over time (like Doom for a First-Person Shooter) or Newer Than They Think and not what the game is really inspired by: (Bayonetta was named a God of War clone instead of Devil May Cry, with which it shares a director). Triple points if it's kind of accurate - see Saints Row after Grand Theft Auto or UFO After Blank for X-COM.
- League of Legends developers Riot Games invented the term Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) to describe their game because they were sick and tired of everyone referring to the genre as a DotA Clone.
- "If this is the sort of game you'll like, then this is the sort of game you'll like."
- Before the whole push towards being obsessed with Retro Gaming, it was common to see any post-1999 2D game being described as having "SNES graphics" in a bad way. Now people are starting to learn what SNES graphics really were. This stock phrase was replaced by the equally generic sounding "This game has graphics that look like if they were on the N64.
- Now that Retro Gaming is more popular, games that pull it off well are "a love letter to [old console \ old PC model \ old gaming genre] fans".
- "Innovative," which gets dragged out whenever a game or peripheral uses an unconventional gimmick. They beat this horse particularly hard when the Wii and DS came out, but they learned their lesson when competing Waggle-devices were released.
- "Almost as fun to watch as it is to play."
- Chrontendo, wary of the phrases chronogamers use all too often, made this video, in which he is playing those clichés for laughs.
- "Game Of The Year" is used so frequently that it practically loses meaning.
- "It's like South Park in/on/with X" was and still is very popular to describe any very "mature" bit of western animation that includes loads of swearing or adult situations. It used to be that any very "mature" show that was Vulgar Humor or Refuge in Audacity was compared to The Simpsons, but this has been phased out with other outrageous cartoon shows from Western Animation. Yet another sign that The Simpsons isn't as outrageous as it used to be.
- Whenever an internet-based critic reviews something bad, expect a lot of fecal and/or sexual metaphors and swears.
- "Pedestrian" sees a lot of use among the more pretentious media critics.
- As George Carlin hilariously mocked, you can always expect "zesty," "tangy," or some other meaningless but novel word from bad food critics.
- There's also the Food Network favorite, "nutty"
- "Succulent", beloved by hacky restaurant critics and hacky restaurant ad copywriters alike.
- Also, "fruity," "dry," or "aged to perfection" are guaranteed from any wine review.
- Speaking of those, no one ever drinks in wine reviews or "bar scene" columns in newspapers - they "tipple," "imbibe," or "libate." Similarly, bars are never just called bars - they're "watering holes," "dives," or "haunts". Very similar to Said Bookism.
- The term "dark." It's very old, tracing back to the Biblical days or further, and one of the most overused descriptors in the history of media. Any show that's violent, negative, or set in a Crapsack World is "dark." Any band that makes ominous, angsty, or sad music will inevitably be called "dark." Characters always have "dark pasts" and "dark secrets" that will one day lead them to The Dark Side. (Not to mention that a "Dark and stormy night" is never a good thing.) Thankfully, this often not the case.
- The Encyclopedia Metallum lampshaded this one: when listing a band's genre, it is expressly forbidden to describe them as "dark metal", their reasoning being that this description could literally mean absolutely anything.
- Those Lacking Spines lampoons the word in literature, in which for about two paragraphs, every incidence of where the word "dark" would be was replaced with outrageous colors, such as "crimson", "sunshine yellow", and "chartreuse".
- Many upcoming artists (in all mediums) are often called "[Place]'s answer to [Similar, but much more famous person or band.]" For example, "Paris, Texas's answer to Metallica."
- Freakonomics suggests that real estate agents do this; for example, describing as house as "fantastic" is strongly correlated with it being overpriced and/or a bit of a lemon, because they only have to resort to the generic adjectives when there's nothing particularly good about it.
- "I laughed. I cried. It was better than Cats!" Fun fact: This is a Memetic Mutation paraphrased from a 1980s Saturday Night Live skit, in which a hypnotist entranced his audience to recommend his show to others.
- Car magazines, British ones in particular, are fond of praising models with particularly good space utilization by comparing them to the TARDIS, which is quite ironic given that the Doctor’s TARDIS has been established as being an extremely outdated model.
- The word chic in fashion, can be applied to anything the reviewer likes, the word having no actual meaning unto itself.
- On This Very Wiki, it used to be common to find examples that are the "poster child" or "patron saint" of the trope in question.