Most people wouldn’t argue if you said 2017 was a rough year; it was tough for most of us and I can’t promise that 2018 is going to be any better. But we all need a little joy now and then; so taking time out of your crazy schedule to just relax and do something you love is necessary self-care. I find comfort in true crime and horror and comedy in its myriad forms, smartly written mystery and delightfully British baking shows. Even for a dark year like 2017 – amid creeping authoritarianism, devastating hurricanes and forest fires, and shocking revelations about powerful men in all industries –I always managed to find something that took me away to another place and help me forget about the real insanity for a while.
Sometimes I Needed a Burst of Joy:
- The Good Place
After pulling off the greatest trick of sitcom twist history in the Season 1 finale, The Good Place could go in any direction it wanted. By the time the sophomore premiere is over, any reservations I may have had instantly disappeared. The endless revamp of this afterlife doesn’t seem to affect the motivations of the core group: no matter what fresh hell Michael leashes upon them, those four always find a way back to each other.
As nothing is going as planned for Michael, he is now the one forced to compromise and learn a thing or two about what it means to be human by taking Chidi’s ethics lessons with the rest of the group. But the ever-scheming Michael still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and it’s pure joy to watch; each episode is like a morsel of chocolate and I can’t wait to eat another piece. It was an incredible season that just kept getting more imaginative and endearing the more I watched.
I’m not a fan of wrestling personally, so it seems odd that I was on board for this show from the very start. I have actually come around to respecting the sport, though I don’t anticipate becoming an actual fan of the real thing. The soap opera flair element of wrestling – and fabulous 80s wear – lends itself perfectly to the personal dynamic of the two leads, Allison Brie and Betty Gilpin, and is perfected by the sarcastic presence of Marc Maron as their trainer.
Though Alison Brie’s Ruth is ostensibly the main character, the rest of the diverse female cast boasts an array of fully fleshed out characters. It reminds me of the way I felt about the similarly varied female characters on Orange is the New Black. And in the same way that series handled difficult topics, GLOW focuses on the hardships these women must endure – including realistic scenes like Ruth’s character-driven, matter-of-fact abortion. With the sophomore season expected for release in 2018, I must admit: the sequined leotards are already calling my name.
- Girl’s Trip
Hilarious and relatable, Girls Trip was an absolute joy to see in theaters. Road trip comedies don’t get this sincere or this funny, nor do they showcase well written and realistic friendships, without this kind of incredible talent. Queen Latifah, Regina Hall and Jada Pinkett Smith have been household names for years, but the true wild card in this equation was Tiffany Haddish. (And truth be told, she was one of the main reasons I went to see this movie.)
Girls Trip was truly a breath of fresh air. And setting it in New Orleans, at the black female extravaganza that is Essence Fest, lends the film more credence in telling this story. I don’t often see comedies in the theater (I’m more of an action/horror theatergoer), but when my friend asked me to go, I didn’t hesitate to give these women my money. And I would see it again for sure, just to get some more Tiffany Haddish in my life. These women are all forces of nature, but I can’t wait to see more of Tiffany.
- Wonder Woman
When it comes to superhero movies, I can usually take them or leave them. That goes even more so for the DC universe, as I have yet to see a film in that cannon that I’ve enjoyed. However, with Patty Jenkins on board as director, I was excited to see the first female superhero film directed by a woman. And though the film was far from perfect, seeing it in theaters was almost a spiritual experience. When you are forced to look at almost every piece of media through the male gaze, you don’t know what it feels like to experience a different (female) perspective; truly, the euphoric feeling is almost indescribable.
Opening the film on Themyscria with the incredibly badass Amazons was more than I could’ve hoped for in depicting Diana’s backstory. (But for real, not enough Robin Wright.) Diana’s insistence on being the compassionate, brave woman she was born to be is unwavering. Her inherent strength and compassion continually shine throughout the film. I recently re-watched the No Man’s Land scene, when she displays her iconic armor for the first time on the battlefield, and the tears flowed as freely as they did the first time I saw it. Never before or since have I seen such a scene through a woman’s eyes and the singularity of that moment will stay with me for years to come.
Or to Change the World, One Thing at a Time:
Sense8 is a wildly inclusive, positive sci-fi series centering on the mental connection between eight globally and culturally diverse strangers. The group must collectively struggle together to stay one step ahead of the people who wish them dead. This show is ultimately a parable about the human race evolving into something better – a more connected, compassionate species. As such it threatens the powers that be, making it all the more relevant today. The show is more beautiful than I can describe, to the point where it feels spiritual for me to watch.
After a spectacular two-hour Christmas special, released in December of 2016, the anticipation for the release of Season 2 was almost unbearable. It finally dropped in March 2017 without any fanfare whatsoever as Netflix chose to not advertise the second season at all. Despite the lack of promotion, word of mouth traveled fast and more and more people started to find this tiny little show that could. Then, on the first day of Pride Month, Netflix announced it was canceling the series – after concluding the second season on a very intense cliffhanger – and fans (figuratively) rioted.
From all over the world, legions of fans worked together to demand Netflix bring back this series – something we desperately need right now. After all the campaigning, something amazing happened: less than a month after refusing to bring it back, Netflix reversed their decision! They put out a statement indicating they would be bringing the series back for a conclusion in early 2018. With a little time left in the hourglass, I wholeheartedly recommend you watch this show and catch up before it’s thrilling conclusion!
- The Big Sick
It took me the entire year to get around to seeing this film, and I am so glad I finally did. Comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon used their personal journey to really create something special in a genre that often feels stale and uninspired. Their singular experience – beginning with a quick romance, then Emily falling into a coma, resulting in Kumail’s forced introduction to her parents – turned out to be exceptionally poignant material for a romantic comedy.
Michael Showalter, creator of TBS’s biting millennial mystery drama Search Party, was the perfect choice to direct this comedy that frequently walks the line between hilarious and heartbreaking. The film is an excellent commentary on love and race and their intersection with family. It sheds light on how certain experiences force you to grow into a different person, while still constantly making you laugh.
But There’s Nothing like a Good Scare…
- Gerald’s Game
As far as Stephen King stories go, most have already been adapted for film and TV, so I am always surprised when a new one shows up on my radar. I recently began reading Stephen King’s short stories, and I have found that his most simple premises are the ones that work the best; Gerald’s Game is a perfect example. As an adaption, from indie horror darling Mike Flanagan, it is one of the best of King’s intimate horror stories brought to life – and once you’ve seen it, you’ll probably never watch it again.
Minutes into the opening of the Netflix original adaptation, the stage is set for main character Jesse’s (Carla Gugino) personal conflict. As one of only two characters in the whole film, Gugino is exceptional as a woman grappling with several dilemmas (physical and mental) all at once. Without giving anything away, the tension ratchets up throughout the running time, coming to a head in the absolutely most gruesome way possible. Good luck sleeping after watching this one.
- Get Out
It should come as no surprise that Jordan Peele knows how to create effective horror, as evidenced by his expertly skilled satirical work on Key and Peele. However, I don’t think anyone expected him to skewer the well-intentioned white, liberal folks who make up much of his fan base. He slowly removes their masks, exposing the true dark nature in their behavior and language while they play it off as standard operating procedure.
The satire though does not detract from the real terror percolating under the surface, as the film does work as a standard thriller. And just like the title suggests, no time is wasted setting the scene for the horror to follow. Many of the more unsettling moments happen towards the beginning of the film, when it’s unclear to the audience what is actually going on. But once the truth is revealed, the real nightmare begins and it doesn’t ever really let up.
The film was an instant success, with subsequent Oscar buzz, and became a cultural phenomenon. One phrase coined by the film, “the sunken place,” has become an allegory for the metaphorical place white people place black people so they don’t need to deal with them. Peele said it best when he explained that “no matter how hard [they] scream, the system silences [them].” Improving upon multiple viewings, Get Out is endlessly enjoyable – good thing I got it on DVD for Christmas!
Or the Scary Brilliance of Margaret Atwood:
Adapted from novels by Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale are both formidable pieces of work that feel compellingly relevant these days. Juxtaposing truth with fiction, the stories intertwine elements of both until they each feel compellingly realistic on entirely new terms. As difficult as they were to watch, they felt like required viewing in 2017 when women seemed to be under attack from all sides.
- Alias Grace
A Netflix miniseries, Alias Grace is a work of historical fiction surrounding the real life murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada in 1843. Constructing a fictional narrative surrounding one of the servants convicted for the murder, Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), Atwood weaves a slow burn of a tale about a young therapist’s intention to get to the bottom of what happened on that fateful day. Dr. Simon (Edward Holcroft) is charged with determining whether Grace is guilty or not, through a series of therapy sessions intended to expose her memory of that day. Even once the credits have rolled, the truth is still shrouded in mystery.
- The Handmaid’s Tale
I read Margaret’s Atwood’s seminal novel The Handmaid’s Tale when I was in high school and it changed my outlook on life. The Hulu series does immense justice to the book, fleshing out smaller characters and adding another layer of story to get the whole picture. Elizabeth Moss is a revelation as Offred, saying more with a glance and her eyes than any dialogue they could write. Concluding the first season of the series with the completion of the novel’s story gives the already green lighted second season room to explore elements Atwood never considered. Hopefully she will be on hand again to assist.
But the most special moment this year came from an unexpected source:
- Patton Oswalt’s 2017 stand up comedy special, Annihilation.
As a lifelong stand-up fan, I try to watch all of my favorites’ specials every year. However, there have only been a couple sets that truly moved me and brought me to tears, while simultaneously making me laugh. Tig Notaro’s incredibly personal set from her 2012 stand up special, LIVE, was one of a small handful that was poignant and personal; a true revelation in the world of comedy. After the impossibly difficult year Patton Oswalt has faced in the aftermath of losing his wife, true crime author Michelle McNamara, it is no surprise that he channeled his feelings into his best set yet.
Musing on the absurdity of life, Oswalt talks through a host of things on his mind in the past year, from his traditional skewering of politics to his tragic loss, both of which fueled an emotional firestorm the likes of which not often seen on the comedy stage. Even in his despair, Oswalt gives life to the memory of his wife and manages to put to rest a long running argument they always used to have about the nature of the universe. He laments that he was forced to ultimately come down on her side upon her passing: there can be no order to the universe because it is pure chaos; all we can do is be kind. As I move on into the New Year, I hope that sentiment follows me wherever I go and whatever I chose to do.
Podcasts: Crooked Media series (Pod Save America, Pod Save the People, Pod Save the World, Lovett or Leave It), My Favorite Murder, Dumb People Town
TV: The Great British Baking Show, Insecure, Big Mouth, Harlots
Films: Atomic Blonde, John Wick 2, Logan