2017 in Media Consumption
We’ve got a day and change left in the year, but I think I can put a cap on my media consumption for the year and continue my annual recap tradition.
I may yet get through the end of Broadchurch season 2 before the end of the day tomorrow (I’m three episodes away), but it probably wouldn’t make my list of favorites anyway, notwithstanding the line of the decade: “Ooh, bumper cars, Hardy!” There’s an entire universe in the way Olivia Colman says “Hardy” and David Tennant says “Miller.”
So, in alphabetical order, the list of actual favorites:
- Agent Carter (season 2) — this aired in early 2016, and I was watching on Hulu but then I got behind. It came back to Hulu a few months ago, so I finally finished it. I’m not sure it ever lived up to Hayley Atwell’s talents, but the core duo of Atwell and James D’Arcy (speaking of Broadchurch season 2) charmed me to no end, and actually got me a little weepy at key moments.
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (second half of season 2) — my frustration with the CW’s streaming app means I’m waiting until Season 3 hits Netflix before watching. This is my favorite show on TV, and it’s not particularly close. I will miss it a ton when it’s gone, but at least it can live on in obsessively replayed YouTube videos of the songs. (No, I’m not responsible for 10 percent of the views on “You’re My Best Friend (And I Know I’m Not Yours)” and I don’t know why you’d ask that.)
- iZombie (season 3) — the show is wildly uneven for me, making weird choices and having terrible cases of the week from time to time, but the highs are so high: the Ravi-Liv-Major trio is untouchable, and the sweetness-humor blend hits the spot for me almost every time I watch it. The near-loss of Major caused me to feel so many feelings. Re: Season 4, see above comment on the CW app.
- Justified (season 6) — “We dug coal together” *bursts into tears*
- One Mississippi (season 2) — One part of this season took on workplace sexual harassment (in public radio!) even before all hell broke loose this year. The relationship between Tig and Kate is as lovely as you’d hope it would be when the pair are played by real-life spouses. There’s an utterly heartbreaking sequence in which Tig sings Fun Home’s “Ring of Keys” to Kate (in her head) that is not in fact making me cry all over again right now just thinking about it. I cried a lot at TV this year.
- Silicon Valley (season 4) — I’m not sure I could tell you what happened this season vs. in any other season, aside from the weird writing out of TJ Miller’s character, but I still look forward to the time each year when new episodes reach us.
- Speechless (second half of season 1 & first half of season 2) — just beyond sweet, this show, and weird-funny despite trying pretty hard to be weird-funny. It’s very episodic, so some episodes just don’t work (the Star Wars tie-in a few weeks ago? Stop), but when the pieces come together, I love it.
- The Good Place (second half of season 1 & first half of season 2) — I’m the idiot who never sees twists coming, so the end of season 1 worked for me. Kristen Bell is a genius.
- Transparent (season 4) — not the best season by any means, but I’m watching for Ali’s story at this point. Literally all of the rest of the characters can head somewhere else. And, hell, depending on what the story is with Jeffrey Tambor, maybe they will be. But I find Ali so compelling (despite being extremely a Pfefferman) that I won’t be able to put this show down.
- Veep (season 6) — it’s not as sharp as it was at its peak (I hate to play the “they miss Armando Iannucci” game, but it kinda seems like they miss Armando Iannucci), and this post-presidency season was very far from my favorite, but I will always want to spend more time with Anna Chlumsky and Sam Richardson.
My trivia for my year of TV usually involves a description of bad shows I won’t watch anymore, but I was much more selective this year. I gave a tryout to Trial & Error and really did not like it, but other than that, quitting mid-season 1 of Extant, and deciding not to gut through season 3 of Graceland, the only shows dropping out of my life entirely are the ones that I finished (The Bridge, Agent Carter, Powerless, and Justified for sure; maybe The Fall and Top of the Lake as well). Here’s to getting older and using my time more wisely.
I only saw 12 of this year’s movies this year. Those I liked best, alphabetically:
- The Big Sick — Emily’s post-illness story was a little abrupt and unexplored, but overall I think it ranks nearer to When Harry Met Sally than any other romantic comedy I’ve seen. I couldn’t breathe for laughing during the 9/11 scene.
- Ex Libris — a little celebrity-heavy but still an interesting exploration of what a library is, can be, and should be in the 21st century. Thesis: Scene breaks are largely populated by people (1) taking photos (2) looking at their phones or (3) taking photos on their phones. I found this to be an interesting commentary of the challenges of the library in an age of experience mediated through screens. Antithesis: My wife didn’t think this commentary was part of the movie, but that these were just shots of people in and around the library, and that’s what people do, so that’s what the camera captured. Synthesis: The joy of Frederick Wiseman’s method is pondering these kinds of questions. He’s the greatest.
- Get Out — thankfully not as jump-scary or gory as jump-scary/gory horror movies, and just as good as everyone said. Daniel Kaluuya is a genius and I’m going to brag forever that I saw that genius in The Fades, before you all ever even saw him in Black Mirror.
- Logan Lucky — this Soderbergh fella knows how to put together a heist
- The Shape of Water — lovely, and incredible production design. Not a lot beyond that, maybe, and they gotta stop typecasting poor Michael Shannon, but I liked it a lot anyway
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — there’s that Martin McDonagh daaaark comedy we know and love
Much of the fiction I read was for my book group, and we spent the year doing a tour of Los Angeles, though that still only amounted to five novels. I wound up at 31 books read, but that includes poetry, plays, and comics. I read 20 regular-ish prose books. My favorites, alphabetically:
- The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker — a debut novel that, full disclosure, my wife helped edit because she works for Whitaker’s agent. But it’s a superb story of friendship, loss, creativity, and the moral obligations of autobiography. She can put a goddamn sentence together, too, I tell you what. Had my wife not worked on it, I may not have read it, and certainly not this quickly (it’s the only book I read this year that came out this year), but I’d have been worse off for it.
- The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib — I saw Willis-Abdurraqib read a poem about the Trump election and inauguration at a Pop-Up Magazine and almost immediately bought this book, a poetry collection, and his next book, an essay collection that is now on my nightstand, and followed him on Twitter. I haven’t regretted any of it. This is literally the first poetry collection I’ve ever read, so maybe it’s not even good. Maybe all poetry is this good. But I can’t imagine it is. (I wound up reading another collection from the same publisher later in the year, having been told that a good way to find other poetry you might like is to look for common publishers, common magazines, blurbs, etc. I liked TCAWH a lot more.)
- Dark Money, Jane Mayer — I read last year’s major look at the corrosive effect of big money on the right wing and the way the Koch brothers and their cronies and allies have shifted the country in dangerous new directions on a plane on the way back from, technically, Europe (the Azores). I’ve been drifting generally leftward for some time, but this may have been the book that convinced me, though it’s probably not Mayer’s project, of the need for guillotines.
- Evicted, Matthew Desmond — how we expect to get healthcare right when we cannot even manage to house all our people in secure, safe, healthy environments is beyond me. It’s not just the poor the way the right wants to portray them (lazy, shiftless, all the other code words for black) — it’s the working poor who can’t seem to climb out of one hole without a new one being dug right next to it. Desmond is an academic, but he did significant fieldwork for this book, and it shows. I also read this in the Azores. Beach reads! (There aren’t really beaches.)
- The Getaway, Jim Thompson — one of the masters. I’ve previously read Pop. 1280 and The Killer Inside Me. This one opens with a successful bank heist and takes about 1,000 turns from there. Thompson is great at reminding me why I should not try being a criminal. Nor marrying one.
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood — everyone who hadn’t already read this did so this year. I joined them, and read probably 2/3 of it on public transportation on the way to LAX to join protests against the Muslim ban(s).
- The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler — for book group. It’s not much for plot, but the Chandler stand-in character, the frustrated writer, was deeply affecting, and there’s a moment where Chandler more or less gratuitously wrecks the American advertising industry in the space of about three sentences. It’s breathtaking. Thank god we’re all over the “watch John Oliver DESTROY ____” nonsense we spent a few months on; none of it measures up to Chandler anyway.
- Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion — for book group. I enjoyed the long, aimless drives and the trip to the desert (Pioneertown?). Also the crushing ennui.
- The Sellout, Paul Beatty — for book group. Holy christ. I probably read it too fast because it’s not possible to read it slow enough to catch everything Beatty packs into his sentences. Also, Richland Farms is a real place in Compton.
- Soft City, Pushwagner — a graphic … novel? I don’t know. Sequential art, let’s leave it there. At the time it was published, it was a terrifying vision of the present/future. Now it’s just the present, and it’s just as terrifying. Also, my man Push did a metric shit ton of drugs.
We saw 15 plays this year, more than I’d ever seen in one year. Alphabetical favorites.
- Bright Star — the story isn’t much, and you see the resolution of the two story strands coming about a mile off, but I love the songs and have listened to the soundtrack a lot already. Carmen Cusack, who starred on Broadway, also did the tour, and bless her for it. She’s amazing. The production also included a band playing onstage in a tiny shack that moved and spun around. Cooler than it sounds.
- Fun Home — less memorable songs, I think (outside of “Ring of Keys”), than Bright Star, but the story was much more compelling to me. The set design was also fantastic.
- Hamilton — we were blessed to get Joshua Henry as Aaron Burr; I’ve listened to the Broadway cast recording a few times and I vastly prefer Henry’s vocal performance to Leslie Odom Jr.’s. And that’s while quite liking Odom. Henry was just such a knockout. (Our Hamilton and King George, by contrast, were noticeably not up to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonathan Groff’s snuff.) Anyway, the show was a tad overwhelming, though I might feel differently had I not been under the influence of an incipient horrendous cold, and the crowd at the Pantages was, predictably, horrific (STOP. TALKING. ALSO YOU DON’T SING AS WELL AS THE FOLKS ON STAGE SO PLEASE DO NOT JOIN IN), but generally speaking I thought it lived up to the hype.
- Zoot Suit — this is sort of an honorable mention, fortunately alphabetically last as well. The play itself… eh. Why do they suddenly start playing handball and singing a song about it in prison? I don’t know! But the experience of seeing this breakthrough Chicano play in Los Angeles was something else. People came in zoot suits!