Show, don’t tell, Or, why my family is wrong about “Ozark”

Ozark | Netflix Official Site

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.

— Ernest Hemingway

Show, don’t tell. It’s a writing principle that’s been around for ages. When creating fiction, an author (or showrunner/creator) has the ultimate power, deciding what characters will do and how they will react to situations. At the heart of a good story, a character’s actions should drive the plot – a main character, at least, should be the agent of the story, and not merely reactive to outside circumstances. Sure, Alice encounters magic in Wonderland, but it’s reflective of her choice to go down the rabbit hole. Dorothy is swept up by a tornado, but it’s ultimately her intelligence, heart, and courage (along with the traits of her friends) that lead her to Oz. Andy Dufresne hatches a plan over 40 years to escape prison, but also shows concern for others by building a library and tutoring inmates for the GED. Atticus Finch defends a man no one else in town would, and believes in the justice system.

A piece of fiction can be character-based or plot-based; while they are not mutually exclusive, most books/movies/TV shows lean heavily in one direction. Frequently, sitcoms are character-driven; a lot of sitcoms wanted plots to reset, so that each episode could be viewed in a vacuum, with no consequences. (Think of the heart-to-heart talks or happy endings at the 24-minute mark of a lot of family-friend sitcoms, for instance.) Typically, these character-driven shows have plots that are, for lack of a better word, superfluous. It did not matter what the gang of Parks and Recreation was doing that particular week, or the patrons at Cheers, or Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer. In fact, that’s why a show like Friends – whose episode titles all started with “The One Where” or “The One With” – really excelled: it was a show about six characters, mostly hanging out with each other, and then the humor flowed from there. Of course, some shows spell out in bright, flashing, neon lights that it’s solely about a character: The Good Doctor is just “Freddie Highmore as a doctor with autism,” and Black Box was just “the doctor is bipolar!”

That’s not to say, by the way, that there’s anything wrong with a plot-driven show. By and large, shows like CSI and Law and Order: SVU (think: procedurals and serials) are driven by that week’s plot. Sure, you learn about Stabler and Benson, but for the most part, the episode is detailing a particular investigation.

Of course, shows are both: characters don’t just sit idle, and plots occur because the characters we know are driving the action. A show like LOST, for instance, had a lot of plot to deal with: survivors of a plane crash on an island have to discover the mysteries therein and also attempt rescue. But each week, we got a flashback (and later, flashforward) of one member of the plane, and so we learned more about the characters’ motivations and general dispositions. Most importantly, their prior actions informed their current predicament: Sawyer being a conman meant that, when on the island, he had useful skills to get what he wanted from other survivors.

While I’m an unabashed Star Wars fan, the idea of plot-heavy works with thinly-drawn characters was pointed out extremely well in this Red Letter Media review of Episode I:

The fact that people could not describe main characters without using their clothing, occupation, or relation to other characters is jarring, but it’s also informative: these characters were not fully fleshed out.

For those who love headlines, you may be asking at this point, “What does this have to do with Ozark?” Well, as we’re all living in quarantine, and on the advice of my brother (and subsequently my parents and fiancee), I’ve watched the first season. Spoilers through season 2, episode 1, though I don’t think I’m giving away much of the game here.

The main characters on Ozark are Marty Byrde and his wife Wendy. Marty was a successful Chicago financial planner who also was laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. There is an outline of an interesting character here! Except…that’s all we get about Marty. There’s one moment in the season one finale when he sheds a tear at the thought of losing his family. Of course, he’s completely flat for the rest of the entire season: when his life is being threatened, his wife’s, when he’s scrambling for new business opportunities, when he’s tired, when he’s in a strip club, etc. His wife? Well, she was cheating on him, but then she wants to rectify the marriage, but then maybe doesn’t, but wants to be a good mother, but yells at her kids, and ignores them, and….you get the idea. So let’s take the above challenge from Star Wars Episode I and graft it onto Ozark. Describe the characters without using their occupation, clothing, or relation to other characters.

Marty? Eh….he’s smart? He knows about finances. He’s not exactly loyal, but he’s not exactly disloyal. As of yet, I’ve never seen him crack a joke or a smile. I guess he’s motivated by money, since one conversation in Mexico with Del was enough to induce him into a life of crime?

Ozark season 3 spoilers: Marty Byrde dark and tragic storyline ...
Literally his expression the entire show, no matter what’s happening

Wendy? She….tried hard to get her daughter her favorite ice cream. She used to be depressed. She’s cheated on her husband before.

Ruth Langmore? She’s…eager to learn to launder money? Untrustworthy?

The FBI Agent?…the fact that, after a full season, I only know him by his job title speaks volumes.

You see where I’m going with this, Ozark fans. This show is 93% plot. It’s all “this happens, then this happens, then this happens.” Characters react to situations, but I never get the sense that anyone or anything is driving the plot.

When I was walking with my fiancee yesterday, we were – probably like many of you – talking about Covid-19. I said that, for shows with good characters, you could instantly imagine how they’d be dealing with this. You can just imagine George Costanza in quarantine with his parents, upset that he sold all his Purell, or Kramer trying to invent the N-96. You could see Michael Scott at first thinking it was no big deal and then, like, trying to build the world’s shoddiest bunker, filled with Gatorade, gallons of clorox, and old Eddie Murphy stand up VHS tapes. It’s not hard to picture Jack Bauer, or Tony Soprano, or Don Draper, or Selina Meyer, or Elenaor Shellstrop reacting to the news. Now tell me how the family on Ozark would be acting in quarantine.

So, sorry to my brother, and parents, and fiancee: All Ozark does is tell, not show, and it’s all plot, no character. Pretty lake, though.

Leaving “The Good Place,” or, what makes a good series finale?

On the heels of “The Good Place” airing its series finale last night, I’ve been thinking about how TV shows come to an end. I’ve written about some disappointing ones, and the state of TV in general, but I want to focus on what, exactly, makes for a “good” or “bad” series finale.

As creator Mike Schur told the Hollywood Reporter:

“No — there’s really only one goal ever for a show finale, in my mind, and that’s to make people who have been watching the show and invested time and energy and emotion in the show feel like it’s a good ending. That’s really the only goal. Anything other than that is uncontrollable and unknowable. This show has made a lot of arguments about various aspects of the human experience and about what matters and what doesn’t, and about how we ought to live and behave. All of that stuff, if any of that stuff resonates, that’s gravy. But my primary hope is that people who have been watching the show and like it feel like it’s a good ending. That’s all.”

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/good-place-series-finale-explained-mike-schur-interview-1275060

Unlike many people (at least, what I gleaned from my twitter searches last night), I wasn’t a fan of “The Good Place” finale. Don’t get me wrong; there were moments that were really enjoyable (especially that Mary Steenburgen cameo!), but instead of satisfying a comedic itch, it just made me anxious about the the unending peril of mortality. Judging Schur by his own metric, I didn’t feel like it was a *good* ending, but it may be because I’m viewing it through a selfish lens of “how can paradise be imperfect?” Character beats certainly landed (Jason essentially became a monk after all!), and it had a lot of good callbacks (“take it sleazy”), but my initial feeling was disappointment.

So what, then, are finales that actually hold up? What do we truly want from a finale? I posed the question to my fiancee, and she (rightly) said as a matter of first course we want “closure.” Finales in theory should not leave dangling plot threads or open questions to which viewers were promised answers. That said, I don’t think people want a finale that serves as a Cliff’s Notes for the whole show, and the entire episode shouldn’t be simply rehashes of prior in-jokes. It has to provide closure and honor the past, but also put our characters in a different place than they were in from the jump.

I think there’s a way to walk the line. I, for instance, loathe the “Dawson’s Creek” finale – but interspersed throughout, they used songs that had been key musical moments in the show. That part (for me) worked. “Mr. Robot” ended with a dramatic reveal that our main character was not, in fact, Elliot, but another alternate personality – explaining why we were let into those four particular seasons’ of his psyche. Or, with a show like “The O.C.,” they flashed back to key moments, but ultimately made the show come full-circle, with Ryan becoming a new Sandy Cohen:

In that way, while the show provided closure, it also made everything feel cyclical, and like that world could continue ad infinitum. That is true of one of my other favorite finales, “E.R.” That show honored the past by bringing back Benton, Corday, Weaver, and even Mark Greene’s daughter Rachel, but also ended with a shot we’d seen dozens of times before: doctors waiting outside County for an ambulance to arrive. Doctors’ shifts end, but the E.R. at County General will go on.

But what about comedies? I think other Schur shows have handled finales much better. The “Parks and Recreation” finale flash-forwarded to different points in the characters’ lives, and yet was framed by a story of the Parks Department performing one last public service job. “The Office” ended as a lot of finales do – with a wedding. There were callbacks, sure, but it also honored the show’s thesis: that the people with whom you work become a second family.

I’ll make this argument until I’m blue in the face (even though it’s probably much more accidental than with the intention to which I ascribe it), but I think (most) (good) shows have theses. “Parks and Rec?” People who work together improve each others’ lives. “This is Us”? We’re all part of a grand picture. So I think a good finale has to, at a minimum, honor what the show was trying to say.

Where some finales have failed is diverting from an original promise. “How I Met Your Mother” announced in its title (!) and first episode that Ted was searching for the titular mother. Fans (myself included) felt betrayed when that journey ended and he realized the search was ultimately for Robin. “LOST,” at its core, was a show about people who had been in a bad way, who came together under dire circumstances to survive and build a community. As I wrote in an early post for this blog, the finale betrayed the original premise because the actions on the island no longer mattered. It’s the same issue I have with “The Rise of Skywalker” – if Palpatine is magically alive, what Vader did in “Return of the Jedi” is robbed of its (redemptive) power.

Rewarding fans with a solid through-line to the end is the best way for a finale to go. Widely hailed as one of the best finales of all-time is “Six Feet Under,” because a show about death and a funeral home chose to show all of its main characters’ deaths. It’s a really creative idea, but most finales don’t need to think so cleverly. A show like “New Girl” wrapped up its final season with Jess and Nick getting married and the friends moving out of the loft; “Friends,” too, had the main apartment be vacated by Monica and Chandler (and their newborn twins). Both shows’ pilots were about a literal new girl moving in (Jess and Rachel), and both shows ended with people moving out.

When people talk about shows “sticking the landing,” it does’t require the finale to be the *best* episode of the show, just one that honors what’s come before. “The Leftovers” – a show that always involved a bit of mystery – ended with Nora telling Kevin either the most convoluted lie or detailed truth, but either way that was a show that had the premise of “If 2% of the world disappeared, how would the other 98% react?” and a thesis of “They’ll do it by making new communities and relationships.” It’s also a meditation on grief, and loss, and longing.

In writing, I realized that a lot of the shows that I’ve been thinking about have dealt with an idea of Community – even “Community”!

But it makes sense, right? A sitcom or drama usually deals with a core cast of characters who are together for various reasons (they’re family, the work together, they live near each other, etc.) And so when the last episode airs, there usually is a logical reason for that togetherness to end: someone’s moving away, the branch is closing, people have new jobs, and so on. The beauty of endings like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or Hawkeye flying away on “M*A*S*H” is that circumstances have justified why viewers will no longer be seeing their favorites week in and week out.

Even in the finales that are circular or don’t offer definitive closure, there can be an ending that feels natural. I’m thinking especially of – and have mentioned before, even on this blog – the end of “Cheers” – Sam’s simply saying, “Sorry, we’re closed” is the pitch-perfect way to end a show about a bar.

The unspoken elephant in the room here is that basically every show is being rebooted now. The very idea of “finality” seems quaint, as impermanence and the zombie-fication of shows once thought long gone reigns supreme. So, what do we want from finales? Closure, sure. A sense that the characters we like are happy, and the ones we dislike aren’t? An honoring of the premise? Maybe it’s just that indescribable feeling, knowing that we’ve left characters at the right moment.

That’s why, in my opinion, “The West Wing” had the finale that felt the most *right.* The Bartlett presidency ended, the Santos one begun, the cycle began anew, our favorite players were in new roles, and the only thought on President Bartlett’s mind? “Tomorrow.”

Oscars 2020

Since I’ve already gone over who I would have nominated, I’m going to do a quick reaction post with who will win and, if applicable, any commentary on the category. Also, in the interest of providing some clarity regarding the choices below, I’m going to give away the game up top and let you know what my overarching theory is for this year. Some years (I’m thinking of, say, the 2000 Oscars), there isn’t a clear-cut front-runner, and so awards are meted out to a myriad of movies in the “important” categories. (Think of this as the opposite of something like “Silence of the Lambs” winning Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay, and Picture). So I think that this year, Academy members are going to want to reward Parasite, and Tarantino, and Scorsese, and 1917. Let’s see how wrong or right I am once the broadcast is over.

Best Picture
1917 (Universal)
Ford v Ferrari (Fox)
The Irishman (Netflix)
Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight)
Joker (Warner Bros.)
Little Women (Sony)
Marriage Story (Netflix)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Sony)
Parasite (Neon)

Will win: 1917. It’s the best movie I saw last year and, as previously-noted, the preferential ballot means that a crowd-pleasing, at-least-everyone’s-second-or-third-favorite movie, will win.

Actor in a Leading Role
Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

Will win: I guess it’s Phoenix’s award, huh? Snubs here obviously for Robert DeNiro, Eddie Murphy, Taron Egerton, and even Christian Bale (how do you nominate Ford v. Ferrari for best pic but omit his performance? Same question for DeNiro/Irishman) I’d personally vote for Driver, and I thought Leo was just “OK,” but c’est la vie.

Actress in a Leading Role
Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renée Zellweger (Judy)

Will win: Zellweger. She was great as Judy. Good for Erivo to get the nom in this category and Best Song – she’s pulling a Lady Gaga from last year!

Actress in a Supporting Role
Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

Will win: Laura Dern, which has felt like a fait accompli since the beginning of this awards season. Good for ScarJo to be one of the very few actors to be nominated for both Supporting and Lead in the same year, a rare accomplishment.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Will win: Pitt, who’s long overdue (though he’s still not quite the capital-a Actor the rest of his peers are).

Directing
Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Will win: Ho. I’m picking something of an upset, but I think this is where the AMPAS rewards Parasite. Also, how do they omit Baumbach here? Driver, ScarJo, and likely winner Dern all got acting nods…they didn’t just direct themselves, right?

Adapted Screenplay
The Irishman (Steven Zaillian)
Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi)
Joker (Todd Phillips & Scott Silver)
Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
The Two Popes (Anthony McCarten)

Will win: Little Women. And here’s where AMPAS rewards Little Women, though I could see Jojo Rabbit sneaking in as well.

Original Screenplay
1917 (Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns)
Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
Parasite (Bong Joon Ho & Jin Won Han)

Will win: I could see people going for Knives Out’s twisty, turny screenplay, or rewarding Tarantino for (the slog that was) Once Upon a Time, or even feting Parasite here. But I’m going to say Marriage Story. The script (at least, what made it onto the screen) is excellent, and you don’t get three acting nominees without a top-notch script. This is where Marriage Story gets rewarded.

International Feature Film
Corpus Christi (Poland)
Honeyland (North Macedonia)
Les Miserables (France)
Pain and Glory (Spain)
Parasite (South Korea)

Will win: Parasite. The only movie here that’s also a Best Pic nominee.

Production Design
1917
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

Will win: 1917. They recreated World War I trenches. The Irishman recreated…bars? Once Upon a Time did a great job recreating 1960s L.A., and I could see Academy voters being really into that, but I’m going with my gut.

Film Editing
Ford v Ferrari (Andrew Buckland & Michael McCusker)
The Irishman (Thelma Schoonmaker)
Jojo Rabbit (Tom Eagles)
Joker (Jeff Groth)
Parasite (Jinmo Yang)

Will win: The Irishman, which, honestly, is laughable, considering it was about 2 hours too long. That said, the Academy loves Thelma. Notable that 1917 isn’t nominated in this category, as that might hurt its chances at a Best Picture win.

Cinematography
1917 (Roger Deakins)
The Irishman (Rodrigo Prieto)
Joker (Lawrence Sher)
The Lighthouse (Jarin Blaschke)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Robert Richardson)

Will win: 1917. Deakins is a legend, and the movie is shot beautifully.

Visual Effects
1917
Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Will win: The Lion King. I felt like I was watching a NatGeo documentary. Also – The Irishman? It looked like a bad Youtube deepfake video.

Costume Design
Jojo Rabbit 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 
The Irishman
Joker 
Little Women

Costume Design: Little Women, though Once Upon a Time should get an award just for Brad Pitt’s yellow shirt.

Sound Mixing
1917
Ad Astra
Ford v Ferrari 
Joker 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 

Will win: 1917.

Sound Editing
1917
Ford v Ferrari 
Joker 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Will win: 1917.

Original Score
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Joker (Hildur Guðnadóttir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Will win: Joker, although the music in 1917 is sublime (especially the elegiac performance of Wayfaring Stranger).

Documentary Feature
American Factory (Netflix)
The Cave (National Geographic)
The Edge of Democracy (Netflix)
For Sama (PBS)
Honeyland (Neon)

Will win: Honeyland. How did Apollo 11 not get nominated?

Documentary Short Subject
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha

Will win: St. Louis Superman. It’s high time superheroes from the Cardinals’ home town get their due.

Makeup and Hairstyling
1917
Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Will win: Bombshell. They made Charlize look exactly like Megyn Kelly.

Animated Feature Film
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Dreamworks)
I Lost My Body (Netflix)
Klaus (Netflix)
Missing Link (United Artists Releasing)
Toy Story 4 (Pixar)

Will win: How to Train Your Dragon 3. No love for Frozen II, surprisingly.

Animated Short Film
Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

Will win: Hair Love, which was great.

Live-Action Short Film
Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

Will win: Nefta Football Club, because that’s the most fun to say out loud.

Original Song
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” (Toy Story 4) — Randy Newman
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (Rocketman) — Elton John & Bernie Taupin
“I’m Standing With You” (Breakthrough) — Diane Warren
“Into the Unknown” (Frozen 2) — Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez
“Stand Up” (Harriet) — Joshuah Brian Campbell & Cynthia Erivo

Will win: Elton John because that’s at least one way to reward Rocketman.

Most importantly – not a single nomination for Cats! So at least we’re doing something right, America.

If I Had an Oscar Ballot, 2020 Edition

Image result for oscars 2020

This past movie year hasn’t exactly inspired much confidence, but the last few years haven’t exactly produced great films – honestly, “Shape of Water” and “Green Book” winning back-to-back Best Picture Oscars shows you that the voting process needs to be changed. (The ranking/preferred ballot system probably means everyone’s second- or third-favorite movie wins; alas, a complaint for another time).

That said, let’s dig in with what I, your fearless blogger, would nominate for Oscars in 2020. This year, I’m going to list what I would nominate, and each entry is ranked in my order of preference that it wins. Got it? Let’s go:

Image result for oscars 2020

Best Picture:

1917

Image result for 1917

Hotel Mumbai

Marriage Story

Avengers: Endgame

Parasite

Notably not listed: The Irishman; Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood; Uncut Gems; Two Popes; Little Women

Best Director:

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Image result for "marriage story"

Sam Mendes, 1917

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

Todd Phillips, Joker

Greta Gerwig, Little Women

Best Actress:

Renee Zellweger, Judy

Image result for "judy" renee

Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Charlize Theron, Bombshell

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet

Lupita N’yongo, Us

Best Actor:

Taron Egerton, Rocketman

Image result for rocketman taron egerton

Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari

Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Eddie Murphy, Dolemite is My Name

Notably missing: Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory; Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems; Robert DeNiro, The Irishman; Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Best Supporting Actress:

Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Image result for laura dern marriage story

Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers

Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

Toni Colette, Knives Out

Best Supporting Actor:

Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Image result for brad pitt once upon a time in hollywood

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Armie Hammer, Hotel Mumbai

Alan Alda, Marriage Story

Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse

Notably missing: Al Pacino, The Irishman; Joe Pesci, The Irishman; Song Kang-ho, Parasite

Best of 2019

Image result for endgame i am iron man gif

I’m going to present my list chronologically this year*, especially in the hopes that I don’t miss anything!

*chronologically as I saw it. If something came out in June but I saw it in December, it goes later on the list.

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo: This show started too late last year to make it onto my 2018 list, but I watched every episode in 2019 and it was fantastic. She is such a joy and every episode was both entertaining and made me want to clean. 

Friends from College: While still not my favorite Netflix offering, a marked improvement over its lackluster first season. This cast (Keegan Michael-Key, Cobie Smulders, Fred Savage, Billy Eichner, and Nat Faxon, among others) was too good not to watch. 

Fyre Festival Documentaries on Netflix and Hulu: Amazing to watch two in-depth descriptions of what sounds like the worst-planned weekend in history. 

Crashing: While not my favorite HBO comedy (it’s definitely not on a par with Silicon Valley or Veep), Pete Holmes and company consistently wring laughs out of his hustling in the stand-up world. Sorry to see it end this year. 

I am the Night: Because even though the show was lackluster, Chris Pine’s performance was top-notch. 

Image result for chris pine i am the night

True Detective: It’ll never reach the heights of its amazing first season, but Mahershala Ali delivered a consistently winning performance. 

Russian Doll: Netflix found a winner in Natasha Lyonne’s insane, Groundhog Day-esque story of a woman who keeps dying on her 36th birthday. Sci-fi, trippy, weird, funny, and all-around amazing. 

Keanu Reeves: He had a great cameo in Always Be My Maybe, and he gave a profound answer regarding spirituality on Stephen Colbert’s show:

Jeopardy and Jeopardy All-Stars: Some past Jeopardy favorites (Austin Rodgers, Ken Jennings, Alex Jacob) made this a really fun two weeks for die-hard Jeopardy fans. James Holzhauer also was a pop-culture sensation for all of the money he won (and how quickly he won it). Alex Trebek is a national treasure (even if he is Canadian), and it is the official position of this blog that he should get well soon and host Jeopardy another 20 or 30 years.

The Lego Movie 2: While never soaring to the heights of the original, the movie still made this life-long Lego fan quite happy. Bonus points for the catchiest song of the year. 

Captain Marvel: Though not as Marvel-ous (sorry) a debut as, say, Captain America, this was a fun movie that succeeds not just because it aces the Bechdel test but because of the fun buddy chemistry between Brie Larson, Sam Jackson, and Goose. 

Leaving Neverland: So difficult to watch, but so engaging and engrossing. 

Fosse/Verdon: Because Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams are capital-A Actors through and through.

Hotel Mumbai: I use hyperbole pretty frequently, but this is the actual, grounded truth: I haven’t seen a movie this gripping, this bone chilling, in ages. It knocked me out, over and over again. Scary, unrelenting, and powerful. 

Superstore: The show did something really smart this year, moving Amy to position of manager and Glenn down to floor worker. The Amy/Jonah pairing still shows that not all sitcom couples fall into a “Moonlighting” trap. 

Veep’s Final Season: Selina Meyer (spoiler alert) finally got what she wanted, but ultimately no one was there to celebrate with her. What a poetic ending to seven years of hilarious, Machiavellian scheming.

Avengers: Endgame: What a perfect capstone to a 22-film saga. Chills and goosebumps when Peter Parker swings back into action after being “dusted” 5 years prior. Speaking of Parker….

Spider-Man: Far From Home: So glad that Disney and Sony finally agreed on financing for future Spidey/MCU movies, because Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is the best of the live-action bunch by a mile. Marisa Tomei as Aunt May is a delight, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio was the best villain since, well, Michael Keaton’s Vulture two years earlier. 

GLOW Season 3: What happens when a show ostensibly about professional wrestling has little-to-no in-ring action? The characters’ lives are examined that much more. This season touched on homosexuality (for both cis-male and cis-female characters), gender pay disparity, and much more.

Big Little Lies Season 2: Definitely weaker than the original season (which should have been a one-and-done), but gets points for every Meryl Streep scene, and Laura Dern absolutely losing her shit:

Barry: The first season was – pardon the pun – killer, but the second season matched the intensity, especially by fleshing out Noho Hank’s role.

Orange Is the New Black, Season 7: A show that I only got into this year, the final season gave a satisfying conclusion to many long-running story arcs.

Living With Yourself: Answers the question “Are two Paul Rudds better than one?” with a resounding “Sort of?” Rudd’s performance was great; the rest of the show just so-so, but still a fun eight-episode journey.

Dolemite Is My Name and his SNL return: Welcome back, Eddie Murphy!

Mr. Robot: Its final season went out like gangbusters, with some pretty incredible twists and, as always, a top-notch performance from Rami Malek.

Silicon Valley: A fitting finale for a show that I always felt was underrated. No character got a truly “happy” ending, but that was always baked into the show’s ethos.

This Is Us: Now that I know the endgame, it’s an enjoyable watch.

Mrs. Fletcher: Is it just a rule that I’ll love all Tom Perotta novel adaptations? (See also: The Leftovers, Election, Little Children). Kathryn Hahn killed it in this excellent, seven-episode series.

The Mandalorian: The two most important words of the year? Baby Yoda.

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The Rise of Skywalker: Certainly not my favorite of the Star Wars movies, but the last 30-40 minutes got me pumped up, sad, nostalgic, hopeful, and content. Hard to ask for more than that.

Watchmen (HBO): WOW. Some pretty intense reveals that I won’t spoil here for those who haven’t seen, but not sure there’s a better, more confident fully-formed first-season drama since ER. Also, welcome back Don Johnson (and good job in Knives Out, too!)

Amazingly enough, Adam Driver: Dude had a banner year, no? He killed it in Marriage Story, was great in The Report, and even had a strong redemption arc in The Rise of Skywalker.

Marriage Story: Brutal to watch but the best movie about a toxic relationship since, what, Kramer vs. Kramer?

1917: This movie left me floored. The cinematography, the music, the acting, the scope. My pick for Best Picture of 2019.

Sadly, RIP: I’d be remiss to leave out some major losses this year, including one of the biggest TV icons of my childhood, Luke Perry.

For those asking “Where is [insert favorite movie or TV show] on your list?” the following did not make the cut: Rocketman, although Taron Egerton was great; Lucy in the Sky; Ad Astra (two space movies back to back!); Hustlers; Judy, which had a great Renee Zellwegger performance but overall was just meh; Once Upon A Time….In Hollywood (more like once upon a time my fiancee almost fell asleep out of boredom, amirite); The Irishman, which actually did bore my fiancee to sleep; Uncut Gems, which I wanted to love but just found blah; and, it pains me to say, The Good Place, which really fell off in quality in its final season.

What did I miss? (Thankfully that dumb HBO show with dragons ended this year. And no, I don’t care one lick about Fleabag or Succession.)

Even More Made-Up Hallmark Christmas Movies

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Since it’s that time of year, I thought I’d come up with a few more of these. Tell me which one(s) you’d watch, and who you’d cast, in the comments!

She’s a high-powered advertising executive who can’t land the big account. He is a former hit song writer down on his luck forced to write – blech – commercials? Can the two of them get the big spot for the big game? Title: “Jingle Bells” 

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All she ever wanted was snow – but good luck finding that in unnamed island country, amirite? This year, she’ll win a trip from her school to visit the town of Holiday, Maine, and finally see the white stuff up close and personal. Title: “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”

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She’s a high-powered advertising executive who has to go home to take care of her family’s farm this season. Her parents welcome her home, as do all the animals, especially her favorite sheep, Kris. When she sees that her old high school flame is also a ranch hand, sparks will fly. Title: “All I Want For Christmas is Ewe”

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She’s a high-powered advertising executive who hasn’t taken a vacation in 5 years. When her boss tells her that she can finally take a break, she heads home for 2 weeks, where she connects with her mother’s best friend’s son, a widower. Can your life change in under 2 weeks?Title: “The 12 Days of Christmas”

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He loves two things: his wife, and his country. So when his tour gets extended, he knows he’s going to miss the holidays with his wife and newborn son.  After completing another successful mission, will he get the two-week furlough he’s been seeking? Title: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

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She’s a single mom, and a high-powered advertising executive.  He’s a recent widower, with a white beard and portly figure.  Her son, Billy, sees the sparks flying between the two…and notices there might be something more to Mom’s new friend “Kris” than meets the eye. Title: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”

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A Lonely US admiral (Rob Lowe?) falls in love during a border dispute with a gorgeous Canadian army ranger (Autumn Reeser). The peace accord is signed on Christmas morning. Title: “The Missile Toe”

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A lonely preschool principal (Elizabeth Berkley) falls in love with the custodian (Mario Lopez!) who is repainting the school’s lockers and also plays Santa in the school play. Title: “Deck the Halls”

3 1950s debutantes (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Rachel Bilson, and Jessica Lowndes) fall for three “wise” men at their church’s Christmas ball. Title: “Jingle Belles”

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A plastic surgeon (John Stamos)’s first love is cutting – his patients, that is – until one day when he meets the love of his life (Lori Loughlin) on Xmas. Title: “Saint Nick”

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An ex-con has to work at Santa’s workshop. Title: “North Pole Parole”

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A poor boy can only afford two things to give his girlfriend: his love, and a homemade necklace. But he’ll learn the true meaning of Christmas. Title: “Love Don’t Frost a Thing”

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Best of the Decade

While of course I’ll write a post about what caught my eye this year, I wanted to take some time to highlight what were the best performances, movies, or stretch of movies over the past decade.  What do we call this decade? Is this the teens? Does that mean we’re about to embark on the roaring 20s again?

Though political machinations have made the last three years feel like they were a decade in their own right, entertainment since 2010 has really seen a lot of change: three Tonight Show hosts, two Late Night hosts, two different Spiders-Man, nearly every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, two different Batmen, the rise and fall (and rise?) of the DC Comics movies franchise, the rise and fall and rise and fall of Ben Affleck, Netflix becoming the most powerful player in the TV landscape, and – oh yeah – the return of actual Star Wars movies to theaters. Suffice it to say, it’s been a memorable decade. Let’s take a look and see what the true highlights were, shall we?  (Note: As always, this is an extremely personal list. You’ll notice no mention of “sitcoms” created by Lena Dunham, nor any shows about and/or containing dragons, to name a few. Glad if others enjoyed them, but they are definitely not for me.)

Best: New “Star Wars” Movies! In 2005, I went to see the first showing of “Revenge of the Sith” in London with my brother and some friends from college. I then saw it six more times in the theater, because it was billed as the final Star Wars movie.  So imagine my shock in 2012 when Disney purchased Lucasfilm and promised to release more movies. “The Force Awakens” was amazing, “Rogue One” was inspiring, and then “The Last Jedi” and “Solo” left me wanting. Also worth mentioning the fantastic “Rebels” animated series here.

Best (for a while): The McConnaissance: Between his bonkers cameo in “Wolf of Wall Street,” his star-making turn in “Dallas Buyers Club,” and the one-two punch of him and Woody Harrelson in “True Detective,” McConaughey could do no wrong.  And then, of course, he made a movie in which he plays a fisherman in a video game. And “Interstellar.” No good thing lasts. 

Best: Sam Rockwell: “The Way, Way Back” is an underrated gem, and though he was primarily known as merely a character actor for much of the decade, Rockwell scored back-to-back Oscar noms (and a win) for his turns his “Three Billboards” and “Vice.” 

Best: The Marvel Movies: Imagine introducing Thor, and Captain America, and Black Panther, and (the best version of) Spider-Man, and Captain Marvel…and then also making several movies wherein they team up? And having each of those movies make hundreds of millions of dollars, and be entertaining (“Thor 2” excepted)? It’s a stunning achievement that so many studios tried to copy (DC and Sony tried to make cinematic universes out of Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman and Spider-Man/Sinister Six, and Universal wanted to make a Dark Universe out of its horror movie monsters).  It’s an incredible accomplishment. 

Mixed Bag: Other Comic Book Movies: “X-Men” movies were both great (“Days of Future Past,” “First Class”) and terrible (“Dark Phoenix,” “Apocalypse”); their spin-offs were good (“Logan,” “Deadpool”); and some of the DC Universe movies were enjoyable (“Joker,” “Wonder Woman,” “Man of Steel”) while others (“Justice League,” “Batman v. Superman,” “Aquaman”) were what this critic might call “atrosh.”

Best: Netflix Series: “Master of None.” “GLOW.” “Love.” “Russian Doll.” “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” “Black Mirror.” Both iterations of “Wet Hot American Summer.” And dozens more. It’s no wonder that Disney+ and Apple+ wanted in on the streaming action. 

Worst: Most Reboots and Remakes: Not everyone needed to know about the continuing adventures of the Tanner Family (“Fuller House”) or “Will and Grace.”  Similarly, did we need another “Magnum, P.I.,” another “MacGyver,” or another “Hawaii 5-0?” 

Best: Zoe Kazan: “Ruby Sparks” was brilliant, her work in “Olive Kitteridge” was Emmy nominated, I loved her on “The Deuce,” and then she goes and makes “The Big Sick,” which was the best movie of the year in 2017. (I also *loved* “What If” with her and Daniel Radcliffe.)

Best: Michael Keaton: from getting a scene-stealing turn in “The Other Guys,” to being a great MCU villain in “Spider-Man,” to “Spotlight” and “Birdman,” and even “The Founder,” Keaton put together an incredible decade.

Best: Jake Gyllenhaal: What a weird decade. He moved on from chasing box-office glory (“Day After Tomorrow,” “Prince of Persia”) to really interesting artsy territory (and, you know, “Spider-Man: Far From Home”). His work in “Wildlife,” “Stronger,” “Everest,” “Southpaw,” “End of Watch,” “Nightcrawler,” and “Source Code” show an actor who is hitting his stride.

Best: Bradley Cooper aka Cooper Bradley: “Silver Linings Playbook.” “American Hustle.” Rocket Raccoon. “American Sniper.” “Limitless.” All great. And then he gives us the best movie of last year, “A Star Is Born.”

Worst: Blah Origin Stories: How many “Robin Hood” movies did we need? Surely not the two we got. (Bonus points if you remember both “Robin Hood” movies this decade. One had Russell Crowe!)

Best: Quality Sitcoms: “Happy Endings,” “The Good Place,” “Suburgatory,” “New Girl,” “Brooklyn 99,” most of “Parks and Rec,” most of “Community,” “Superstore,” “Silicon Valley,” the best (i.e. non-first season) of “Cougar Town,” and “Veep” really set a high bar for laugh riots.

Best: Bill Hader: His work on SNL and in “Trainwreck,” were great, and then he went and made “Barry” into one of HBO’s best shows in years.

Best: Brie Larson: Also great in “Trainwreck,” plus solid work to garner an Oscar in “Room,” and then an incredible MCU debut with “Captain Marvel.” Even her work in “21 Jump Street” was great!

Worst: Unnecessary Sequels: The “Hangover” Sequels totally sully the good work of the first one. “Wreck-It Ralph 2” was clearly a cash grab. “Independence Day: 2” might be the biggest drop-off in quality from one film to the next since…well, “Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom.”

Worst: No National Treasure 3?
I mean, what are we even doing here then? 

Worst: Seriously? They made a TV show…musical….called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Oy. Hard pass.

Best: Some Reboots (When done properly): “Creed” and “Jurassic World” put oomph back into their respective franchises (though their sequels did not continue the upward momentum).

Best: Guilty Pleasures: “This is Us” reliably tugs on the heart strings every week. “Hart of Dixie” – a show about Zoe Hart, a City doctor who became a small town physician – lasted four majestic seasons. “Girl Meets World” – while admittedly a cash grab – finally answered what happened to Mr. Turner. And “The Challenge” produced a lot of memorable drama, and a number of Johnny Bananas and Cara Maria wins.

Worst: Seriously?? When you watch award shows and things like “Green Book,” “The Shape of Water,” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” win awards but Amy Poehler never got an Emmy for Leslie Knope, you know that…well I guess that award shows are meaningless!

Best: Amy Adams: Her role in “Arrival” alone probably gets her on this list, but also her work in “Sharp Objects,” “American Hustle,” “Her,” “The Master,” “The Muppets,” and “The Fighter.”

Best: Don Cheadle: His work on “House of Lies,” “Black Monday,” and as Rhodey in the MCU made it a fine decade for the actor. Speaking of “House of Lies…”

Best: Kristen Bell: Her work on “House of Lies,” “Veronica Mars,” “The Good Place,” and brief cameos on “Parks and Rec” moved Bell to the A-list.

Best: Rami Malek: His work on “Mr. Robot” (even when the show’s quality has waned) is fantastic, and when you’ve won an Oscar and an Emmy in the same decade, you’re obviously doing something right.

Best: Other Streamers: Disney+ only just started but it already has a content library (MCU/Star Wars/Old Disney) that will sate me for weeks on end; Amazon Prime and Hulu had quality offerings (“The Handmaid’s Tale” being the best of the lot); and even Yahoo rescued “Community” for its last season.

Best: HBO dramas: “The Leftovers” – What an amazing three-season journey the Garvey/Durst clan took us on. “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Deuce” were the network at its best. And the aforementioned first-season of “True Detective” was sublime. And I may be one of the only ones left, but I’m still a huge “Westworld” fan.

Best movie of each year of the decade:
2010: The Social Network
2011: Drive (this year was hardest for me to choose from of the decade, easily; I also loved 10 Years, Planet of the Apes, First Class, the first Captain America, and more.)
2012: Avengers
2013: Prisoners
2014: Lego Movie
2015: Force Awakens
2016: Arrival
2017: The Big Sick
2018: A Star is Born
2019: Avengers Endgame

Best: This Blog!: Because it gives me a reason – frequently – to thank you for reading my rambling, nonsensical thoughts on the entertainment industry.