Back to School

Classes are starting back up! Apple-cheeked youngsters are arriving at schools, ready to learn, to mature, and to be judged and evaluated by merciless educators. And in the spirit of merciless evaluation, I've been getting some questions (and guff) lately about how I grade things here. Naturally, everyone has their own system, whether it's the stars-out-of-five method, the points-out-of-ten method, or my preferred method of using letter grades. I feel like letters do the best job of conveying quality, because while there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between 7/10 and 8/10, the vast difference between a "C" and a "B" is easily apparent.

It can be difficult to explain just what I mean by any particular letter; grading people on whether they correctly identified the capital of Madagascar is, after all, much easier than grading a book or movie on how entertaining and well-crafted it is, or how well it struck an emotional chord. With those caveats out of the way, I figured I'd give explaining the reasoning behind each letter the ol' college try anyway.


Perfect. An A+ generally means that something is as close to flawless as it's possible to get. It can be a representative of exactly what I'm looking for in the genre, or something that is such a fond memory for me that it has attained hallowed status in my brain. If I can't think of a single thing I'd change or that bothered me, what other grade could it get? If I grade correctly, seeing an A+ should be a pretty rare occurrence here. It should be reserved for the truly special.

Examples: Portal 2, Downton Abbey - Season 1, Waiting for Guffman


Outstanding. Perhaps they just miss the invisible line for Hall of Fame status, but they're damn close. Things that get an A are worthy of effusive praise, and you can bet that I'll recommend them to anyone who will listen.

Examples: The IT Crowd, Wreck-It Ralph, Beautiful Ruins


Extremely good. Things that get an A- are delightful. Maybe there's one or two things that don't quite work, but there's nothing that detracts to any significant degree. Plenty of A- titles are things I'd be happy to buy, but an A- is also sometimes the delineation between something I want to own and something I really enjoyed, but only needed to experience once.

Examples: A Couch to Call Home, Much Ado About Nothing, Who Could That Be at This Hour?


Very good. It's no surprise that I actively seek out entertainment that I think I'll enjoy, and since my filters are pretty effective, I wind up liking most of the things I consume, even if I don't out-and-out love them. That means that the range from B+ to B- is far and away the most common grade. A B+ is something that's really enjoyable, but lacks that special something that would push it into the vaunted A-range.

Examples: Moonrise Kingdom, House of Cards - Season 1, Hairspray (2002)


Good. This grade may seem a bit bland, but a B is nothing to be ashamed of. Something that gets a B can be perfectly entertaining, but perhaps not entirely memorable. Or maybe it was technically proficient, but didn't give me that thrill of something truly exciting. Of the entire grade range, I'd say the biggest quality difference lies between B+ and B.

Examples: Magic Mike, Mad Men - Season 6, Look at Me


Not bad. Something that gets a B- has more to like than dislike about it. While a B denotes something that is wholly well-done, a B- property has noticeable problems. That could encompass numerous, but small systemic problems, or one big issue mucking up something that would be otherwise enjoyable. I'd still recommend a B- title, but not glowingly.

Examples: New Girl - Season 1, This is the End, Mass Effect 3


Not good. A C+ isn't hopeless, though. It could have several redeeming features, but not enough to save the enterprise as a whole. If I say something like "This could have used another twenty minutes in the oven," chances are good for a C+. I'd say that C+ is also the last grade at which I could feasibly recommend something. I'd offer a warning about the issues, but admit that there's still some fun to be wrung out of it.

Examples: Assassin's Creed 3, Film Critic, Rise of the Guardians


Bad. Something that gets a C has many noticeable problems. It may still hang together as a coherent piece of work, but it's not an enjoyable one. The C is not just for bad things, though. Earning a C may also imply that something is utterly dull and pointless. If it can't grab my attention for either good or bad reasons, it'll land here.

Examples: Thor, White Collar, MDNA


Really bad. While a C may just be bland, a C- is actively poor material. A C- may simply be something that has far more to dislike than to like about it. Things that get over-hyped or are way more popular than they deserve to be also settle nicely into C- territory. If I'm watching a movie that cleaned up at the box office with a slack jaw and a frustrating confusion about what the hell is wrong with American audiences sometimes, keep your eyes peeled. A C- is probably not far off.

Examples: The Amazing Spider-Man, Partners, Freedom


Terrible. If there's anything good about a D+ title, it's only the tiniest glimmer of hope. Things that earn a D+ would be an affecting scene in an otherwise awful movie, or a book having a good premise, but going nowhere with it. Those iotas of quality are nowhere near enough to make the experience worthwhile, but you can at least see what the artist was trying to accomplish.

Examlpes: Identity Thief, Man in the Empty Suit


Offensively bad. If something gets a D+, it means I hated it, but don't necessarily harbor any ill-will against the artist's other works. Things go awry, after all. But if something gets a D, it's time to question whether the artist even knows what they're doing. A grade of D means that something missed the mark on every level, or is just top-to-bottom unappealing to me, personally. There have been a few things I'd give a D based solely on my tastes that other people might enjoy. In general, these things are so bad that I can't even get through them. Everything mentioned in the examples below are titles I abandoned partway through, and thus never got graded. If they had been, it would have been a D all the way.

Examples: Passing it On, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Private Secretary


Complete and utter garbage. People are always horrified by the dreaded F, of course, but in many ways, D- is the worst grade something can get. Getting an F is an achievement, of sorts. Getting a D- isn't even that. A D- title isn't interesting enough to be noticed (even for its flaws) or worth being recognized as a beautiful disaster; it's just crap. A D- means that there is absolutely nothing going on that's worth your time, not even for mocking purposes. If something gets a D, I feel like I shouldn't have bothered with it. If something gets a D-, I feel personally insulted, and actively want bad things to happen to those who foisted it upon me.

Example: Bachelorette


A Supernova of Suck. Getting an F means that anything that could have gone wrong, did. No artistic ability is perceptible. A blind possum could have pulled off better work. And yet, sometimes, there's something fascinating about complete failure. The F is reserved for works that are so terrible, they just might work their way around to being compelling, and sometimes even fun. Mystery Science Theater 3000 knew how to separate the D- detritus from the blazing F stinkbombs. That's not to say that an F should be encouraged. Intentionally bad works are never as fun as something that shot for the stars...and fell down a well, instead.

Examples: The Room, Batter Off Dead


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