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”
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”
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”
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”
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)”
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”
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”
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”
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”
An ex-con has to work at Santa’s workshop. Title: “North Pole Parole”
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”
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: 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.
I wrote the other day that shows have theses, or at least they’re generally trying to say something. Now, while I have friends who might say that all television shows (and movies, and plays) just boil down to characters relating to each other, I think that’s a bit reductive. I’m aware that not every show has a point to make: I doubt the creators of, say, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers were intent on exploring sibling dynamics complicated by professional work environs. At the same time, I think most good shows serve not just to entertain, but also to say something about the culture. My fiancee and I are doing a re-watch of The Sopranos, and yes, sure, it’s an entertaining show about a mafioso and his crimes. But it’s also a show that is trying to answer the question, “To whom does one have more loyalty, a crime family or a nuclear family?” Similarly, I love Parks and Recreation, but it’s not simply a workplace comedy; rather, it was very clearly born from an idea about the role of government. Creator Mike Schur said as much to Vulture:
“And then there were a couple of other things, the biggest of which I think obviously is that at the time Greg and I were developing the show around the summer of 2008, the world economy was collapsing around us, the McCain/Obama campaign was in full swing, and it just became very clear that no matter what happened, the role of government was going to be very important in people’s lives. And the problem at the time was the government was being discussed in this extremely macro, kind of abstract way where it was about “Should Lehman Brothers be allowed to fail?” “Should the government be in the position of guaranteeing tranches of subprime mortgage loans from Fannie Mae?” It was just this incredibly complex thing, so our discussions of the situation resulted in us realizing that the way that people actually interact with their government is not through following the intricacies of the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke and stuff like that – not that that doesn’t affect people, of course it does, and in a serious way – but the actual way that people interact with their government is when they get a parking ticket, or when they need a new garbage can because the old one broke, or when they need a new stop sign put in, or when they need a swing fixed. So that just seemed like a way to say look, the world is very complicated, and the role of government is very complicated in people’s lives, and there might be a fun way to say “When push comes to shove, your local government is more important to you in many ways – not in all ways, but in many ways – than the national government is.” So that was sort of the genesis of the show – thinking about the different ways that people interact with the government and how the government affects them, then coupling that with the idea of presenting a character who believed you could actually affect change one person at a time, or one little moment at a time, through an optimistic worldview.”
So what does this have to do with This is Us? Well, if shows have theses, I think their finales – for better or worse – are attempts to prove those theses, or to answer questions raised by them. Some shows’ finales also have to do the work of resolving actual narrative questions: will any of the Oceanic 815 make it off the island (LOST)?; will Kevin Garvey or Nora Durst experience another sudden departure (The Leftovers)?; will the show actually be about something (Seinfeld)?
To understand where a show might end, it’s helpful to figure out what it’s trying to say. (Very) long pre-amble aside, This is Us already gave away the game in Season one. Kevin explains to his nieces what he thinks his play is about, but really, he’s explaining what This is Us is about:
“I painted this because I felt like the play was about life, you know, and life is full of color and we each get to come along and we add our own color to the painting, you know? And even though it’s not very big – – the painting – – you sort of have to figure that it goes on forever, you know, in each direction? So, like, to infinity, you know. ‘Cause that’s kinda like life. It’s really crazy, if you think about it, that a hundred years ago some guy that I never met came to this country with a suitcase. He has a son, who has a son, who has me. So at first when I was painting I was thinking, you know, maybe that was that guy’s part of the painting and then down here that’s my part of the painting. And then I started to think… well… what if we’re all in the painting… everywhere? And what if we’re in the painting before we’re born? What if we’re in it after we die? And these colors that we keep adding, they just keep getting added on top of one another, ’til eventually we’re not even different colors anymore. We’re just… one thing. One painting. My dad, he’s not with us anymore. He’s not alive… but he’s with us. He’s with me every day. It all just sort of fits somehow, even if you don’t understand how yet. People will die in our lives – – people that we love. In the future. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe years from now. I mean, it’s kind of beautiful, right, if you think about it, the fact that just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn’t mean they’re not still in the painting. I think maybe that’s the point of the whole thing. There’s no dying. There’s no ‘You’ or ‘Me’ or ‘Them.’ It’s just ‘Us.’ And this sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing that has no beginning, has no end, it’s right here. I think it’s us.”
– Kevin Pearson
That’s it right there. The show can give us changes in circumstances (Randall goes from businessman to local politician; Kevin goes from sitcom star to indie actor and documentarian; Kate goes from….personal assistant? to Adele-a-gram? (her jobs always seemed the least clearly defined)). But that’s how it can also adapt to, say, adding characters like Deja or, in this season, Malik and Cassidy. What’s the end of This is Us? Well, there is no end, according to Kevin. It’ll be Randall’s daughters and Kate’s son and Kevin’s son continuing the Pearson lineage, and then their children. Each episode is just one part of the painting. I would bet that at some episode in the future, they’ll replay Kevin’s speech. I’ll also bet that, if you asked the creators of the show what its point is, what it is really trying to say, it’s that family is all about generations, both those that have come before and progeny.
But maybe this is an Occam’s razor situation. Maybe things are more clear when we take a step back and look at the show’s title. LOST? Was about people who were stranded on an island, but also empty spiritually. The Sopranos? About the dual loyalties to the Soprano crew and the Soprano family. How I Met Your Mother? Well, you’d *think* it would be about how someone met his children’s mother – except it really was about meeting Aunt Robin, which to this day bothers me. So what does This is Us want us to see? Exactly what Kevin is saying – that we’re all in the painting, together. It’s a bit schmaltzy, and certainly befits a network drama, but I appreciate a show that announces what it’s about in season one and keeps to its mandate.
I may look at other shows in the future and examine what (I think) their theses are. Hopefully their characters will also give a lengthy speech telling me exactly what it is; that makes things a lot easier. Thanks, Kevin.