I started this post last year by saying there was a feeling that culturally, it was kind of a shitty year. HAH! Move over 2016, you got nothing on 2017. Sigh. There were still many great cultural offerings in 2017. This post always focuses on the great things I found during the previous year, whether they were produced in 2017 or not. Items on the list include but are not limited to: books, television shows, movies and trends. As I began last year’s post similarly to this year’s, so shall I begin this year’s list with:
Better Call Saul Season 3
Holy crap. A few years ago I hailed Breaking Bad‘s “Ozymandias” episode as the best hour of television that ever was. Well, there’s a new contender for that title, and it’s Saul‘s “Chicanery.” What a masterful piece of work this was. It was what’s referred to in the industry as a “bottle episode,” taking place entirely in a courtroom. Breaking Bad’s greatest strength was always what creator Vince Gilligan called “mining our own history,” searching for details from the past and letting them pay off in future episodes. “Chicanery” is the episode that this entire series has been leading up to. From there, the main character’s dissent into darkness begins. We know it’s coming, and somehow we resist and we fight and we wish we could change. We shouldn’t be surprised by the decisions these characters make – we know how this story ends – and yet we are not only surprised but we are heartbroken.
Sneaky Pete Season 1
This is an Amazon series that was developed by Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and produced by Graham Yost (Justified). This was a fun series that showcased the terrific Giovanni Ribisi, who I’ve been watching since he was on My Two Dads. I thought they did such a nice job of wrapping up all of their story lines too, when at the very end we’re reminded of one we forgot, and that’s the cliffhanger for season 2.
The Edge of Seventeen
Ladybird is getting all the awards buzz, but another movie with a teenage girl protagonist also came out this year to great reviews, and that’s the one I saw. The Edge of Seventeen is probably the best movie I’ve seen in a decade. I’m not sure I even want to like Ladybird, because Seventeen was so perfect. When I was writing my NaNoWriMo novel about 4 years ago, my protagonist was a teenage girl, and I thought constantly about the drama I was creating. I thought it was too much. I wanted to convey a sense of extreme urgency, but I worried that it wouldn’t make sense to anyone but me. Along comes Seventeen, which perfectly portrayed the urgent atmosphere I was trying to convey in my novel. Goddammit. If only I hadn’t doubted myself, maybe my book could’ve been that movie. Or something like it. One final thought: Why is Woody Harrelson so good in everything he does?
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, season 3
This show is reliably funny and despite the fact that I am still mourning the loss of Santino Fontana as Greg, season 3 might be the best one yet. There have been so many great musical numbers this season, it’s hard to choose just one to showcase here. But choose I did. The following, as well as any related Crazy Ex-Girlfriend musical numbers that show up on YouTube after you’re finished with this one, are NSFW.
Netflix has this new feature where, when you hover over one of the shows you are contemplating watching, it shows you a preview. And so it was that as I was scrolling and hovering through the comedians section, I laughed at the preview of Thank God for Jokes by Mike Birbiglia. I laughed and so I watched. And then I laughed a whole lot and was also amazed. At the end of the set, I realized I’d listened to an entire story. These weren’t one-off jokes. No set up was forgotten, not a single joke was random. There was an overarching theme. It felt like a stand-up novel. And since I am nothing if not interested in storytelling, I wanted to explore more. I watched My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend – same deal. Then I went and listened to an old podcast of Birbiglia talking to Marc Maron, and they talked about the particular style of comedy, which is actually called story-based comedy, and it is so difficult that few people do it. I believe it. But I LOVE it. If I were still in college, I’d find a way to write a paper about it. On the podcast, they put forth Al Madrigal as another one who does story-based comedy, but I’ve not been able to find an act of his to check out to see if it’s the same thing. I hope that it is, but I suspect Birbiglia is just extra, extra good at what he does.
Speaking of people who are extra, extra good at what they do, there’s Malcolm Gladwell. He likes to look at stories from a different perspective, and what he does is so well-researched and so well communicated that it’s difficult not to take his side. Gladwell has been around for years, and I started reading his books last year, but I read more this year and listened to his podcast and I know I’ll be interested in what he has to say forever.
Minimalism and Marie Kondo
I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year and I loved it. This year, I read the illustrated Spark Joy and that helped me fix my kitchen, which I realized I hadn’t tackled properly in my previous tidyings. I’m still far from perfect, but I’ve incorporated so many of her principles into my life that it most certainly qualifies as life-changing, and I’m all the better for it.
So with that I’ll bid adieu to 2017. I’m not exactly sad to see it go, but I definitely thank it for the things it did bring into my life this year. I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings. But I will have to.