Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Flashback: TV & Music

Top Ten Episodes of 2019 

#10 "Chapter 5: The Gunslinger" The Mandalorian

Baby Yoda and Amy Sedaris share the screen! This may be the best Star Wars has ever been.

#9 "Rainbow Warriors" Tales of the City

I was a little underwhelmed by Netflix's reboot-continuation of the classic miniseries Tales of the City, but it was in this penultimate episode that it really brought the energy I was hoping for the whole time. It's a wacky, over-the-top comedy of errors involving snooping, fake identities, Molly Ringwald, and a wild-ass twist ending that shoots for the moon.

#8 "Oslo" Veep

Veep had its final season this year, and you can't just go off the air forever without bringing back Sally Phillips' fabulously icy Minna Häkkinen. Her expertly crisp line readings are always on point, but she maybe gets her best one yet in her final episode. It's no use repeating out of context, but it's a line I still think about frequently all these months later.

#7 "Care Package" Mrs. Fletcher

Mrs. Fletcher is a fascinating glimpse into the life of an empty nesting divorcée who's rediscovering her sexuality, contrasted with her son's first year of college. This episode is where the show hits full steam. Kathryn Hahn's layered performance mingles with Liesl Tommy's direction to bring an erotic charge to the smallest of moments. Plus, this is the episode where the trans character comes into her own as an emotional being with depth and humanity! Hooray representation!

#6 "Episode 14" Vida

Vida is a show that's difficult to explain. It's about two mismatched sisters trying to keep their mother's bar open after her death, which is a kind of boring way to describe a show so pulsing with life, eroticism, and political heft. I chose this episode, where the sisters are scouting out potential talent for a music night, because it's where the emotions of the season come to a head in an exquisitely beautiful warehouse party setting.

#5 "El Monstruo Marino" Los Espookys

Los Espookys is such an ineffable show, it was hard to pick a single chunk of it to reward, but I think I had the most fun with this episode, where the gang is called upon to fake a sea monster sighting to increase tourism to a beach town. I can't even explain why I find it so hilarious, because it will make no sense out of context. Just believe me, and watch to find out!

#4 "I'm In Love" Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I'll be sad to see Crazy Ex-Girlfriend go, but I'm happy it went out with so much style. The reprise of the show's classic songs was a brilliantly staged and excellently composed trip down memory lane, and the way it wrapped up the story was a sublime affirmation of the power of self-love.

#3 "Episode 1" Fleabag

For anyone who was worried a second season wouldn't capture the painful, acerbic joy of the first, this comedy of ever-so-British manners about a dinner party gone wrong proves you have nothing to worry about. It's crass, it's emotional, it's hilarious, and Olivia Colman gets even more chances to stretch her subtle savagery to the very limit.

#2 "Outward Bound" GLOW

The real strength of GLOW is the way it can take any character from its huge ensemble of talented women, give them a shot at the spotlight, and show us how deep even the most one-note characters actually are. This is an episode that does that with pretty much every character simultaneously, separating them from every major conflict by sending them into the desert on a retreat and just letting them hash out their differences over the course of an epic, emotional thirty minutes.

#1 "ronny/lily" Barry

Barry is a terrific blend of Hollywood satire and hard-hitting action drama, and this episode is... none of that. It's a hard swerve into surreal horror, where a hit gone wrong sees Barry facing off all night against a young martial artist who is basically a cyborg. It's a hilarious, horrifying, long dark night of the soul like you've never seen it before.

Bottom Five Episodes of 2016

#5 "I'm Almost Over You" Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

There's a bit of fun in this trope-skewering parody of rom-coms that spins a whole episode out of Nathaniel's fantasy that he's the lead in a romantic comedy, but this episode comes too late in the season, right in the middle of the lead-up to the finale, and it stops the pace of the show dead in its tracks. Also the entire show is a parody of romantic comedies, so I don't see why we needed an Isn't it Romantic style episode jammed in here.

#4 "Chapter Six: The Prisoner" The Mandalorian

At least they introduced all the worst single-episode characters in the same episode, because I don't think I could have handled a more subtle rollout of such charismatic gems as "hissing lady" and "big angry Hellboy."

#3 "Chapter Fifteen: Doctor Cerberus's House of Horror" Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Maybe this is something to do with the way streaming television works, or maybe I've always been this way, but I really can't stand filler episodes, especially in a show with short seasons like this. This entire episode is basically an hourlong anthology horror film, which is actually kind of cool in concept. But it takes time away from the actual plot to present a bunch of scenarios that don't actually exist, and don't give the characters any depth. It just shuffles a seemingly endless well of people through some rote horror short films and calls it a day.

#2 "Final Girl" American Horror Story: 1984

The Emma Roberts you see above you is supposed to be 50 years old. I think that should speak to how little care went into making this underwhelming wrap-up for an only OK season.

#1 "Love's in Need of Love Today" Pose

I know Ryan Murphy can't make a show without a musical episode, but Pose's swing into nondiegetic production numbers gave me more whiplash than most. I felt that it did a disservice to the very real culture of music and dance that the show has worked so hard to depict, escalating it into self-parody. If the entire show was a musical in that way, it would have been fine. But halfway through season 2 is not the time to awkwardly shove all the characters into singing cover songs in service of a forced emotional plot line that wasn't properly set up in the previous episodes.

Best Network Show: The Good Place

Nevermind the talented and diverse cast, the high concept, the hilarious one-liners, it's such a marvel when a network sitcom winds up this fabulously weird. It feels like a mistake, but it's one that went on for four seasons! It's a shame that we're now halfway through its final season, but we're so lucky it ever ended up existing in the first place.

Best HBO Show: Los Espookys

OK maybe it was a mistake opening with The Good Place, because if that is weird, then how could we possibly describe Los Espookys? This bilingual comedy about a group of friends in Mexico who start a horror special effects business (that's not the best way to describe it, but I'm not sure how to describe it - this show must have been hell to pitch) is an exercise in unadulterated surrealism. It's always fun when a show feels like something so completely alien and fresh that it proves the best days of human creativity and expression are not yet behind us.

Best Netflix Show: Nailed It! Mexico

I'm convinced that Nailed It! Mexico is the show that is going to heal the world. In a North America fraught with xenophobia and trauma, it's important to remember that we all bleed the same and fail hilariously to make complicated cakes the same.

Best Disney+ Show: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

What, you think Jon Favreau's sci-fi tone poem is the only thing on this streaming service? Where that show shines in certain characters and moments, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is non-stop fun from top to bottom. It's a show trafficking in nostalgia that aims directly to the core of Yours Truly, but it's also a surprisingly clever meta-narrative drizzled with plenty of painfully incisive satire of high school theater kids.

Best Dramatic Actor: Billy Porter, Pose

I thought the plotting of Pose really faltered this season, but Billy Porter's character Pray Tell survived being buffeted about by the whims of the writers due to the faithful commitment and consistency Billy Porter brought to the role. He has a gravity and grace that is unlike anything else on TV, and every time he opens his mouth is a scene worth watching.

Best Comedic Actor: Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

This is the last time the character of Titus Andromedon will be able to be mentioned in year-end wrap-ups, and that is a damn shame. Burgess has always been the glue that held together a terrifically messy show, and he's in top shape in the second half of this final season.

Best Dramatic Actress: Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies didn't deliver a lot for its returning characters, but Meryl Streep coming into to burn the entire place down with quiet passive aggression was by far the best decision they made to keep the series going. Every little tic in her face carries the weight of an entire movie's worth of monologuing, and when she finally gets a chance to throw caution to the wind, it's a tsunami of emotion.

Best Comedic Actress: Catherine O'Hara, Schitt's Creek

Catherine O'Hara's character Moira is such an exquisite collision of bizarre vocal inflection, sharp physical performance, and deep commitment, and this season she leans in even further. I don't think an episode goes by without her pronunciation of the word "baby" that puts emphasis on syllables you didn't even know existed, and she proves herself to be entirely fearless, launching even further into weirdness with the rigmarole around her B-horror movie The Crows Have Eyes III.

Best Child Actor: Baby Yoda, The Mandalorian

Baby Yoda is really everything the memes made him out to be. Every move he makes is perfection, and he's the reason I've watched The Mandalorian with such single-minded devotion. Or at all, frankly.

Best Breakout Star: Garcia, Tales of the City

Garcia is a nonbinary actor whose portrayal of trans male character Jake is lived-in and sweet, a natural counterweight to the over-the-top instincts of the rest of the show. Garcia has crafted the only new character who could stand head to head with the returning heavyweights like Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis, and I hope to see much much more from them.

Best Theme Song: "A Little Bit Alexis"

Have you noticed how TV shows have pretty much given up on theme songs these days? Luckily, Schitt's Creek has provided us with a blast from the fictional past. This theme song to Alexis Rose's A Simple Life-esque reality show is a perfect evocation of the television landscape of the mid-2000's.

Best SNL Sketch: Sara Lee

This sketch really does feel like gay Instagram became a five minute short. It feels intimately knowledgeable of my social media life experience in a way that's almost chilling. This speaks to why you should hire writers who aren't straight white men, because we allll have funny stories to tell.

Best Musical Performance: "Masquerade" Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

OK, maybe not "best," but "most unexpected" for sure. In a show that has made not even a single feint toward musicality, it takes a hard left turn in the final episode of the second season where the ensemble performs a little Andrew Lloyd Weber to the literal Devil. If you know anything about me, you'll know I unequivocally loved it.

Best Guest Star: Kristin Scott Thomas, Fleabag

If you had asked me before this episode who I thought would be a perfect older foil for Fleabag's particular brand of messiness, I certainly wouldn't have pulled out the name Kristin Scott Thomas. I would have been dreadfully wrong.

Best Commercial: "Meteor"

OK, I was just tickled by this one. I like the inherent darkness to the concept that these people are so wowed by their trunk space that they're willing to risk being hit by a meteor to fill it up as much as possible.

Worst Commercial: "Samsung Jeans"

I never feel more like a dad than when I'm grumbling about the ridiculous characterization of the woman in this commercial, who states herself to be "laid back and casual." She's supposed to be setting up an Odd Couple-esque comparison with the guy who irons his jeans, but she looks even more preppy and buttoned-up than he does, so what am I supposed to be getting from this character? It makes me so irrationally mad


Top Ten Songs of 2019

#10 "Small Talk" Katy Perry

Katy Perry lost me somewhere in between "Chained to the Rhythm" and her performance of "Swish Swish" on SNL, and while her new single isn't what I'd call a barn-burner, it's at least a return to form. It's a perfectly lovely pop bauble that will roll around your brain for weeks and not do any damage.

#9 "Cool" Jonas Brothers

I do my best not to be a sucker for nostalgia, but you can't not give it a shot when a teenybopper band like the Jonas Brothers decides to return to the pop scene as grown-ups. I think "Cool" is their most sophisticated single, still embracing the daffy lyricism of bubblegum pop, but capturing the chill, slinky vibe of an afternoon strutting along the pier.

#8 "Church" Aly + AJ

2019 sure witnessed the return of a lot of classic Disney Channel pop, didn't it? Aly + AJ wasn't really my jam back in the day, but even I can recognize the sheer gulf between their teenybopper work and this dark, brooding single that paints a layered, fascinating soundscape.

#7 "Panini" Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X knows how to craft a single that digs its hooks into you immediately, then leave before you feel like you've had enough. In under two minutes, it delivers a verse, pre-chorus, and chorus that are sonically unique from one another and equally catchy. It's a sprint through a sonic landscape that never gets old.

#6 "Me" CLC

This genre-bending K-Pop song is a lot of fun when it starts out, but once the chorus strikes, it dives straight into the hardest dubstep breakdown this side of 2012, and I can't help but be swept up into pure delight. I like a song that seeks to overwhelm you, and "Me" is like a gale force wind of sonic energy.

#5 "I Got 5 On It (Tethered Mix)" Luniz

I don't frequently include pieces from film scores on this list, but if it's listenable as a single detached from the visual element, then that means it's extra special. This remix from Us is one of the best things about the film, which is pretty terrifically rendered in a lot of aspects. Blending classic hip hop with the dark, minor key fantasia of a horror score creates an entirely unique track that drips with atmosphere.

#4 "Raising Hell" Kesha feat. Big Freedia

I loved that we got angry, wild country Kesha ripping up the haters on her album Rainbow. But "Raising Hell" is a delightful return to a Kesha who just wants to have fun, allowing herself to move forward, using all the musical complexity of Rainbow in service of a dazzling pop single. Special kudos to the delicious church organ riff during the bridge.

#3 "Good Things Fall Apart" Jon Bellion & Illenium

I hate to admit it, but I'm not always able to resist sad boy music. The fact that this is the third and final male artist in a list of ten should tell you where my heart lies most of the time. But as this list (and my entire history of lists) has probably proven, I love a chorus that knocks you off your feet and drags you out like a riptide. Bellion's acoustic sensibilities and Illenium's modern electric warbling combine terrifically here to hold you in the iron grip of this track.

#2 "Cuz I Love You" Lizzo

Lizzo has always been playful with her genre-bending, but she fits so well with the Wall of Sound schema. That blast of brass that concludes the chorus is bold, brash, and irresistible. It shouldn't make sense in this song with its R&B vocal track, trap beat, and playful lyrical edge, but it all. just. works.

#1 "Want You in My Room" Carly Rae Jepsen

This song is pure, addictive candy. Like all CRJ songs, the first verse starts off charming but a little underwhelming, but once the chorus (and, most importantly, the robotic choir) strikes, "Want You in My Room" is devoured by the spirit of ELO. Carly herself seems to be swallowed by the song (her voice is mixed unusually low in the chorus), as if even she can't escape the pure joy and magnetic force of the bubblegum.

Bottom Five Songs of 2019

#5 "One Thing Right" Kane Brown & Marshmello

Maybe this is petty, but the meter of this song is alllll out of whack. The line is supposed to be "I got one thing right: YOU!" But instead it goes like "I got one thing right... ... ... you," and by that time it has been completely divorced from the line it's a part of and gets more or less swallowed by Marshmello's overzealous bleeps and bloops. It just feels like a first draft mistake to me, and it makes it difficult to listen to.

#4 "Beer Never Broke My Heart" Luke Combs

Bro country about women and beer, am I right? Hilarious! Groundbreaking!

#3 "Medellín" Madonna & Maluma

"Despacito" inspired everyone and their mother to do a Latin pop song, so of course the pop music chameleon Madonna had to hop on that bandwagon and deliver this boring, uninspired, endless noodle. But hi Maluma! How are you? I bet you're sorry I eliminated my "prettiest men" category, huh?

#2 "Knockin' Boots" Luke Bryan

OK, am I biased against bro country? Yes. Does the genre mostly deserve it? Of course. Any 43-year-old man that willingly describes himself as a "boy" must be held under intense scrutiny. Especially when he is telling "girls" that he needs them to kiss him. No, thank you.

#1 "God's Country" Blake Shelton

This is just the antithesis to everything I'm about, y'know.

Best Music Video: "Memories" Maroon 5

You're either going to love or hate this video, but I found it really interesting. It's simple, it's low budget, but it's also kind of daring. Adam Levine's whole brand is that he's a sex idol, but this video really invites us to investigate every corner of his face at every lighting angle. Of course it's flattering because he is a very attractive man, but we're also welcomed to see how he has aged, an image that suits the reflective tone of the lyrics incredibly well.

Worst Music Video: "I Don't Care" Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber

A Snapchat filter has become self aware and declared war on humanity via this video.

Best Collaboration: "Old Town Road" Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus

The narrative behind this song is one of my favorite pop culture stories of the year: When Lil Nas X's song was pulled from the country charts for almost certainly racist reasons, Billy Ray Cyrus stepped in to help create a hit that couldn't be ignored by the genre's gatekeepers. It wasn't exactly brave to hop onto a song that would give the one-hit wonder his first number one single, but it's a fun middle finger to the bigoted people who want to keep popuating the charts with all the songs on my "Worst Of" lists.

Best Guilty Pleasure: "You Need to Calm Down" Taylor Swift

I don't respond to this as a pandering defense of LGBTQ rights (the line "shade never made anybody less gay" completely fails to understand that "shade" isn't just trendy slang, but literally a concept invented by queer people and thus inherently queer and in fact, makes people more gay). I respond to its bouncy synths, layered harmonies, and catchy hook. Sue me!

Best Album Cover: Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood

Have I heard a single song off this album? No way! But pretty is pretty, and I like the casually surreal beauty of it.

Best Cover Song: "Doin Time" Lana Del Rey

I'm no fan of Lana Del Rey, and maybe I'm just a sucker for lyrics that mention Long Beach, but her cover of Sublime is transportive. It uses her inherent woozy aesthetic to transpose the very 90's song into a dreamlike state that completely recontextualizes every element of the lyrics.

Worst Cover Song: "Africa" Weezer

And now we move to the polar opposite of that Sublime cover. Weezer has made it known that they attempted to recreate Toto's instrumentation as exactly as possible. So what's the point?! While this song was playing, I was telling a coworker that I'm vaguely irritated by the Weezer cover and they said, "oh, I've never heard it." They didn't realize they were listening to it right at that moment because they've done absolutely nothing to make it a cover worth anyone's time.

Here's Some Stuff That I Did in 2019

Attack of the Queerwolf

Now on the Fangoria podcast network, Attack of the Queerwolf is heading into a beautiful season 2. But what a 2019 we've had! I was sadly not able to be in the room when we recorded with Happy Death Day's Jessica Rothe or Dressed to Kill's Nancy Allen. But I was present for Adam Robitel (Escape Room), Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies), Ben Baur (Something Like Summer), and many other illustrious guests that were such a blast!

Scream 101

This year on Scream 101, Sergio and I have powered through such varied franchises as Leprechaun, Final Destination, Gremlins, Lake Placid, Anaconda, and Frankenstein!

Other Podcasts

On Geek K.O., you can catch me running trivia on Child's Play, Leprechaun, and zombies. I joined the Horror Queers for a discussion of Cherry Falls. On Kill by Kill I chatted the opening twenty minutes of Nightmare on Elm Street 4. On Hazel & Katniss & Harry & Starr, I was asked to help compare Jane Austen's Emma and its modern adaptation Clueless. I brought the woozy supernatural slasher The Carpenter to the table for Keep Screaming. The Queerwolf gang and I joined Shock Waves to talk about camp. I was interviewed by Fright School, then rejoined them to talk From Beyond.

Delirium Magazine

In Delirium's 90's themed issue this October, I contributed an article about how damn well Bride of Chucky holds up. It's the first time I've ever been in actual print, and it was incredibly exciting!

Other Writing

On Alternate Ending, I did a summer feature of five foundational German krimi films. On Dread Central I ran through my top 10 songs from horror movies in 2019. 

Word Count: 3880

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