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Pittsburgher's TV recaps drip with wise-guy attitude

Sunday, September 15, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Everyone's a critic, especially of TV and especially at the Web site http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com. Pittsburgher Aaron Leaman is a Television Without Pity writer, and one of his assigned shows, "The Sopranos," returns with new episodes tonight at 9 on HBO.

Aaron Leaman is usually the one keeping a watchful eye on Tony Soprano, including tonight's long-awaited seaosn opener of HBO's "The Sopranos." Leaman wreites recaps of TV shows for http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

Writers for Television Without Pity offer snarky recaps that review in tremendous detail episodes of many popular programs, particularly dramas watched by viewers ages 12 to 34 (shows such as "24," "Alias," "Charmed," "CSI," "Survivor" and "Smallville").

Leaman's review of the last original episode of "The Sopranos" ran 18 pages. In that review, he questioned the appearance of Paulie's new car without explanation and the phrase "permanent expulsion" when Anthony Jr. got kicked out of school ("Aren't all expulsions permanent?" Leaman wondered).

Leaman, who graduated from Duquesne University in 1995 with a degree in communications, works as an analyst in PNC Bank's call center. But he's always had a love of writing, mostly scripts for films.

"My parents took me to see 'Star Wars' when I was 5 years old, and I had an epiphany right there in the theater," Leaman said. Now he makes short films. He's also had two scripts optioned, but "it never went anywhere."

Leaman, 29, became aware of Television Without Pity after missing an early episode of "The West Wing" and searching the Web for a recap. He found TWoP and started reading more recaps and laughing at them.

"I write and I watch a lot of TV, so I thought I might as well put the two together," Leaman said.

He gets paid for his recaps but wouldn't say how much. Between watching and rewatching an episode, Leaman said he spends about 10 hours on each recap, though he typically doesn't get them posted until just before the next new episode airs (short "recaplets" hit the Web site within 24 hours).

"I like to let them percolate through the week and come up with ideas," he said. "We cover literally every aspect of every scene. You have the experience of the episode short of seeing it."

"Sex and the City" recaps are heavy on descriptions of what Sarah Jessica Parker is wearing, Leaman said. Recaps for all shows emphasize what characters say and do and the context for their actions.

"And we're as opinionated as possible," Leaman said. "It's hard to be as critical of 'The Sopranos' as a show like 'Dawson's Creek,' where they just savage it."

His biggest complaints about the third season of "The Sopranos" was the self-contained nature of episodes.

"Usually there's a 13-episode arc, but there wasn't the 13-hour movie feel to it," Leaman said. "But the episodes themselves were good.

"One of the things I like about 'The Sopranos' is that it truly respects craftsmanship more than any other show on TV. The camera work, the lighting, the writing, it's all very sharp and well put together. It's the best-executed show on TV."

Leaman's also a fan of "Farscape," "Smallville," "Gilmore Girls," "24" and "Alias," but he has an aversion to NBC's entire Thursday night lineup.

Leaman also recaps HBO's "Six Feet Under," and he said the show's writers read his recaps.

"I long joked they'd get back at me by naming a character Aaron and giving him a humiliating death," Leaman said. "In the season finale there was a bitter young man with bad hair who dies [and he's named Aaron]. I took that as a shout out."

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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