Best of 2017

During Thanksgiving weekend, my nephew wanted my family to play a game. It was pretty simple, actually: name your favorite thing, from categories he chose. Name your favorite TV show. Name your favorite movie. Name your favorite video game. Etc. As simple as the concept of the game is, however, it was wholly impossible for me to answer his questions. Having to choose my favorite movie would be like having to choose which is the favorite hair on my head. The idea of even trying to narrow down to just a handful, let alone one, was way too complicated. While I was happy to rattle off all-time favorites (“Back to the Future,” “A Few Good Men,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” all of the “Star Wars” movies, etc.) there was no way to pick just one.

So why am I bringing this up now? Because, as in years past, I’m not going to blog about my “ten favorite shows” or “eight favorite films.” I’m not bound by space or word limit. These are just the things that I either loved or thought about critically in the world of entertainment in 2017. Even though it’s been a dumpster fire of a year politically,  a lot of the below shows and movies allowed me some form of escape, at least temporarily. Here now is my list of the best of 2017, broken down by category. If you are able to narrow down your list(s), please feel free to provide it in the comments section below.

TV/Streaming

Love (Season 2)

Season 1 ended on a pretty good cliffhanger (Gus and Mickey kissing at the gas station seconds after Mickey has told Gus she needs to be alone for a year), and Season 2 really delved into the question of whether or not 1) these people actually like each other 2) these people are capable of love and 3) these people should be dating each other, either now or ever. Funny, and the show just feels…real. Special shout-out to Claudia O’Doherty’s Bertie, who cracks me up at least once an episode. Here’s hoping that the newly-announced Season 3 (the final season) sticks the landing.

Master of None (Season 2)

Man, this show. Season 1 was pretty great, and then Season 2 just upped the ante. From the premiere episode, filmed on location in Italy in black and white, to the incredible Thanksgiving episode (which rightly won an Emmy for comedic writing), to the doorman/cab driver/hearing impaired woman episode, to the episode at Storm King and ending with the helicopter ride, Season 2 was just incredible. I know Ansari is on record as saying he needs to live more before he can do a third season, and I don’t blame him. If we can get a third season as rich as this one was, I’ll happily wait a few years.

The Good Place (spoiler alert in the clip below)

Holy. Forking. Shirt. I thought The Good Place’s first season was pretty good, and it was a show that, like The Office and Parks and Rec before it, would get its sea legs in the second season. But that twist at the end of Season 1 was genius, and I did not see it coming. Special shout-out to Manny Jacinto, who has made Jason into the show’s MVP.

Superstore

When I was growing up, NBC’s Thursday night line-up (aka “Must-See TV”) was the place for comedy. Cheers and Seinfeld and Friends are all sitcom legend, and some shows (Caroline in the City, The Single Guy, Boston Common) brought some laughs, despite lackluster ratings and having to be compared to those mentioned above. What does any of that have to do with Superstore? Superstore ticks a lot of boxes for me. It’s a funny workplace ensemble that really feels like a spiritual heir to The Office (without the awkwardness and the talking heads), and feels like it is of a place where it could have fit very easily into the Must-See TV schedule. It’s not the kind of show that will win accolades or awards (except from this blog, I guess), but it is consistent week-to-week, and its episode about health insurance was the best primer on the subject (in a funny way) that I’ve ever seen. Humor + distillation of timely political facts = a win in 2017.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 3)
Full disclosure: I thought this season felt a little muddled. Kimmy goes to college! Kimmy struggles in college! Kimmy leaves college! That’s a huge arc, and it was done in about 3 weeks of the show’s timeline. This season did great some great mileage out of guest stars like Laura Dern and Daveed Diggs, which I think bumped it up a notch for me.

Saturday Night Live

“Now I’d like to begin today by apologizing on behalf of you, to me, for how you have treated me these last two weeks. And that apology is not accepted!”

While some may argue that Melissa McCarthy and Alec Baldwin overshadowed the regular SNL players, SNL is clearly having a renaissance. Also, “Woke Jeans” is the sketch of the year for me, in a walk.

Billy on the Street

In a year when a lot of us wanted to just yell and scream out our frustration, Billy Eichner was our avatar.

The Leftovers (Season 3)

This show just got better and better. The final season didn’t waste time, even as the characters moved from Texas to Australia. Unlike a certain other Damon Lindeolf show, this one stuck the landing in the end. And Carrie Coon – just wow. What an all-time performance as Nora Durst.

Veep (Season 6)

The first season with Selina out of power entirely (and without Sue – who I really missed), the show smartly pivoted into a few funny story lines, most notably three terrifying words: Congressman Jonah Ryan.

Silicon Valley (Season 4)

The other half of HBO’s spring comedy duo, Silicon Valley took a few characters in new directions this year. Big Head taught at Stanford, Gavin Bellson became something approaching relatable, and poor Erlich is now stranded off in an opium den.

The 2017 Academy Awards

Well, the ending, anyway. I don’t think we’ll ever see another moment like that again, especially for presentation of best picture.

 

The Challenge: Dirty 30

Didn’t necessarily end the way I’d like, and there was a lot of drama from some random people (Nelson, I’m looking at you) and way too much (racist) Camila. That said, what a stacked cast. Wish they could just run it back.

GLOW (Season 1)

GLOW makes the brave choice of (spoiler alert) having the main character (Alison Brie) sleep with her best friend’s husband in episode 1. The show concentrates so much of its time on good guys and bad guys (or “heels” in wrestling parlance) both in and out of the ring. Like my friend Mags, I found myself compelled to root for the bad guys. Bonus points to Marc Maron for killing it as the show’s director and as a surrogate father figure to all of the GLOW ladies.

New Girl

Mostly because we finally got this moment:

 

Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later

When I first saw Wet Hot American Summer, and it had the joke about meeting up ten years later, I never thought I’d be watching a whole TV season of the counselors’ lives. Of course, I also didn’t know what “streaming” or “Netflix” was, but that’s another matter. This whole series is insane, but in the best way possible.

Late Night Shows

John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and even Jimmy Kimmel really stepped up to the plate this year and delivered scorching, heart-felt, and/or impassioned monologues and comedy bits about everything from health care to net neutrality.

My friend winning Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions

When I was growing up, I used to ride the bus (and later gave rides home to) a kid named Buzzy (whose dad, fun fact, sold me my Bar Mitzvah suit). Really exciting to watch him win the whole Tournament of Champions. (And let’s be honest, Austin was really fun to watch, too.)

 

Other shows I enjoyed: The resurgent third season of Mr. Robot (especially the one-take/”oner” episode), When We Rise, Handmaids Tale, The Young Pope, Future Man, This is Us, and Big Little Lies.

People

James Franco

The Disaster Artist was great, full stop, and his performance on The Deuce was what brought that show from “huh, interesting idea” to fully watchable.

Laura Dern

Between Big Little Lies, her role as Jon Hamm’s new wife on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and, of course, as Admiral Holdo, Laura Dern had an amazing 2017.

Comic Book Movies

Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, and especially Spider-Man Homecoming were all solid popcorn movies. (Of course, Justice League was about as entertaining as watching paint dry, but that was the exception, not the rule.) Bonus points to the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War for looking amazing.

Star Wars

While The Last Jedi isn’t my favorite Star Wars movie, at the end of the day it was a lot of fun, and years from now I’ll still be thinking about that scene of R2 playing Luke Leia’s original “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” recording. #DroidGuiltTrip

Other Movies

The Big Sick was the best movie of the year, and I’ll be quite upset if it doesn’t get nominated for several Oscars. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon wrote a tremendous screenplay, Zoe Kazan does great character work in what amounts to not a lot of screen time, and Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are both incredible.

War for the Planet of the Apes

I’ll admit it: I love this new “Apes” trilogy. I love the original, Charlton Heston-led Planet of the Apes (and its goofy sequels), but the serious tone of this new trilogy (especially the last two) is really enjoyable.

Stronger

Gyllenhaal is on such a weird streak of choosing interesting, good roles, some of which really pay off (Stronger, Nightcrawler), some of which are disappointing (Demolition, Life), but all of which are captivating on the big screen. I wish this movie had gotten more awards-season recognition, but c’est la vie.

Other enjoyable movies: Get Out, I, Tonya, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, The Meyerowitz Stories, Lady Bird, and the movie I’d vote for Best Picture, The Disaster Artist.

 

Music

Um, did both Gallagher brothers release new CDs this year? And did the Oasis song “Don’t Look Back in Anger” become the unofficial rallying cry of the city of Manchester? Yeah, no matter what Camila Cabello and Taylor Swift tried to do, it was a good year for music in 2017.

Good Riddance

To the men who committed horrific acts (Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose) and to those who covered up or abetted their behavior, don’t let the door hit you.

RIP

Always tough to lose people who meant so much to the entertainment world, and I obviously cannot touch on everyone. But 2017 will be remembered for the losses of Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Bill Paxton, Mary Tyler Moore, Miguel Ferrer, Erin Moran, Martin Landau, Powers Boothe, Don Rickles and, of course, Tom Petty.

Anything I missed? What did others enjoy in 2017? For what will you remember this year? Let me know in the comments.

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Best of 2015

In many ways, 2015 was pre-ordained to be a massive year. After a down year at the box office in 2014, pundits predicted 2015 would be huge, given the releases of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the final “Hunger Games” movie, and “Jurassic World.” And (for those that have been released), those movies delivered well at the box office (including “World” setting an opening weekend record, and then, you know, “Star Wars” demolishing it.). But there were a number of pleasant surprises that pundits didn’t see coming, and that’s what made 2015 quite an impressive year for entertainment. These are my favorite pieces of entertainment from 2015, presented in no particular order, but, for sake of readability, I’ve broken my list down by categories. Let me know what I missed, or what you enjoyed, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading this blog – and I hope you’ll stay with me in 2016. Continue reading

Happy Sugar Ray/Visor Day 2015!

Happy Sugar Ray/Visor Day 2015, everyone!

I’m going to start with a statement that might shock you: The first song I listened to today was not by Sugar Ray. No, the first song in my head was “April Come She Will” by Paul Simon (specifically this version):

I know, some of you will think it blasphemous not to rock out immediately to Sugar Ray on its eponymous holiday. And while I try not to get too personal on this blog, let me explain why today I needed to hear Paul Simon.

As I said in last year’s oral history, SRVD has always been a way for me to remind myself (and my friends and family) that April is a wonderful harbinger of better times ahead. Over the last twelve years, April has meant Opening Days, finishing finals, warmer weather, and, most importantly, being able to wear a visor again. Above all else, it’s meant that things were going to improve, from the dreariness of winter to the sunshine of summer.

Mark McGrath and company were traditionally a perfect gateway for that, at least for me, and April 1st always perfectly coincided with that feeling. The fact that April 1st also had positive meanings for others made it all the more special: my friend Kevvy’s birthday; Kevin and Sarah’s anniversary; and, of course, Edible Book Day. (That last one is real, by the way.)*

*Evidently April 1st evokes negative feelings for others. Sorry, John Oliver:

So while it’s clear that Mark McGrath is still just as big a fan of mine as I am of him

I had some epiphanies:

The biggest realization is the limitation of the visor. Over the years, I’ve posted pictures and videos of celebrities in visors, arguing for their status as the essential summertime emblem. And then I saw something that broke my heart:

Enjoying a baseball game, that man publicly displays the fatal flaw of the visor: its inability to catch a home run ball. Never before had I seen a visor fail, on such a national stage. It was brutal to watch.

The other realization is that, in the spirit of everyone celebrating in their own way, I have to loosen the reins. No longer can I insist upon a Draconian standard of everyone wearing a visor and listening to the best Sugar Ray songs. (Although let’s be honest: aren’t they all the best?) Sure, April 1st is Otto von Bismarck’s birthday (look it up!), but that doesn’t give me an excuse to act like a Prussian dictator. As Gandhi said, I should be the change I wish to see in the world. And today, that meant  not starting with a Sugar Ray song.

So why Paul Simon? Maybe it’s because of all of his SNL appearances (he is, after all, a member of the Five Timers’ club, and his performance of “Still Crazy After All These Years” at SNL40 was tremendous); maybe it’s because of his Yankee fandom; and maybe it’s because, standing in center field at Yankee Stadium, I have no doubt that his Yankee cap would be suitable for catching a home run ball:

But the real clincher? I think even Sugar Ray would approve of me changing things up. As they put it so eloquently in the song “Someday”:

Someway
When the sun begins to shine
I hear a song from
Another time
And fade away
And fade away

And today, that other time was Paul Simon in 1965. Or, more accurately, me in 2011 watching April and Andy get married on Parks and Rec:

Sugar Ray will never fade away for me. Rest assured, after listening to one Paul Simon song, I put on their entire 2001 album. I’ll be seeing them in concert for the second straight year this summer, and fifth time overall. I’ll be wearing visors (though not using them to catch baseballs) from April through October, and both reminiscing of good times gone by and great times still ahead. But any major holiday, be it Thanksgiving or July 4th or Sugar Ray/Visor Day, has to adapt. It’s evolution. And Sugar Ray itself has had line-up changes, and released albums of…varying…quality over the years.

A visor is a wonderful thing – it surrounds your head, but also leaves available room for ideas (and yes, technically, your hair). It’s protective, but not restricting. And so, for this year, I wish that you all are able to celebrate this wonderful holiday in your own way, however you see fit. Even if that means wearing an 80s style cap that is, for all intents and purposes, 90% visor/brim and 10% hat, like Mr. Simon himself:

I mean that's basically a visor.

I mean that’s basically a visor.

But be sure to tune in next year, when SRVD turns 13. That’s going to be epic. The Sugar Ray Bar Mitzvisor.

And then this happened

 

My one-tweet review of last night’s VMAs

What VH1 Missed

This is the 90s

This is the 90s

My friend Kim and I were talking about VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the 90s” list, a list that I’m sure was meant to provoke discussion. Well, it certainly did that, although it also provoked antipathy and disbelief – really, I can’t get over the number of songs they left off the list that, to me, define the 90s. I’ll follow their parameters and only name one song per artist, but some of their omissions are egregious. Let me know other songs you think I’ve missed in the comments. Continue reading

Name that Tune

Image

I was out a few nights ago, having a conversation I frequently have: Songs that are inextricably linked to a piece of pop culture. I want to clarify: This isn’t the AFI “Top 100 Songs” list, because it’s not meant to be songs written for a specific film. These are not songs that would appear on a soundtrack. Rather, these are songs that already existed in the zeitgeist that the director or filmmaker appropriated for use in a scene. These songs have become so identified with the scenes in which they appear that you can’t hear them without thinking of that specific scene. This list is by no means comprehensive, so if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments! Also, please note that I haven’t included any Quentin Tarantino movies on this list, only because he is so phenomenal at choosing music for his movies that it warrants its own list.

Continue reading