2019 will go down in history as the year that the Oscars producers set out to create a show that wouldn’t appeal to anyone who actually enjoys the Oscars. In an effort to presumably boost ratings, the Academy seemingly announced, then took back, every possible wrong decision. From Best Popular Film, to Kevin Hart, to not airing all categories live, it’s been a mess of an Oscar season and it’s finally almost over.
Before we get to my ranking of the Best Picture nominees, I want to acknowledge some overlooked achievements: The luminous and lush IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK deserved a Best Picture nomination, as did Marielle Heller’s world-weary character study CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? And while Bo Burnham’s EIGHTH GRADE may not have been in the running for Best Picture, he took home the Writers Guild Award and should have earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Oh, and justice for WIDOWS.
ROMA (directed by Alfonso Cuarón)
Through indelible black and white imagery, Alfonso Cuarón crafted a visually magnificent and intensely personal tribute to his 1970s Mexico City memories and the beautiful chaos of life. ROMA is a flat-out masterpiece.
A STAR IS BORN (directed by Bradley Cooper)
This fourth incarnation of A STAR IS BORN had no right to be as goddamned entertaining as it is. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s effortless electricity and searing chemistry are such a thrilling treat. Cooper’s lived-in, booze-soaked performance has my vote for Best Actor.
BLACK PANTHER (directed by Ryan Coogler)
BLACK PANTHER is a superhero film with style and substance to spare. A true game-changer of black excellence. Not only is there a villain with a clear and engaging motivation, but there are several women with distinct points of view. #RepresentationMatters #WakandaForever
THE FAVOURITE (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)
THE FAVOURITE’s deadpan aesthetic is an absolute delight. The go-for-broke performances by Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone pair perfectly with its wickedly funny script. Yorgos Lanthinmos’ weird and unabashedly queer period piece is a breath of fresh air.
BLACKKKLANSMAN (directed by Spike Lee)
A deeply affecting and highly explosive film, BLACKKKLANSMAN is both timeless and of the moment, tying its themes to our current political climate. Spike Lee may lay his message on thick at times, but it’s no less effective or audacious.
VICE (directed by Adam McKay)
I did not like Adam McKay’s THE BIG SHORT. I liked VICE much better than THE BIG SHORT. I still did not like VICE. The condescending self-satisfaction of it all is not for me.
GREEN BOOK (directed by Peter Farrelly)
We just have to talk to each other! That’ll solve racism! GREEN BOOK is a trite, feel-good (for white audiences) comedy that borrows its title from the heritage of a racist America. It’s lazy, insulting, and problematic that its story centers on a straight white man’s transformation.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (directed by Brian Singer)
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is a hot pinkwashed mess with bad wigs and even worse CGI. Rami Malek is magnetic, but this biopic-by-the-numbers is way too much and not enough, all at once. The Academy withdrew so many of its awful decisions; could it rescind this Best Picture nom too?
2018 was the year I increased my pop culture diet.
This year saw the meteoric rise and fall of MoviePass and I was along for the ride. With my annual MoviePass, I saw 40+ movies in theaters this year. My subscription ended this past week, and sorry MoviePass, I won’t be renewing. AMC’s tempting A-List program lured me in, and I’ve been a satisfied member for 2 months now. I also finally signed up for my own Netflix account over the summer. I guess I’m an adult now?
Onto my favorites of the year!
JOE PERA TALKS WITH YOU (Adult Swim)
Amidst the swirling chaos of 2018, the Adult Swim comedy Joe Pera Talks With You emerged as an endearing and absurd comfort, quickly becoming my favorite television show of the year.
In each episode, comedian Joe Pera, playing a mild-mannered character of the same name, invites you to explore a different aspect of his simple, everyday Michiganian life: “Joe Pera Takes You To Breakfast,” “Joe Pera Show You How To Dance,” “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements.” And that’s it. That’s the show. And so much more. All at once, Joe Pera Talks With You is gently heartwarming and absolutely funny, cleverly creating a world that builds upon itself in surprising ways; a world I love spending time in. It’s sweet. It’s peculiar. It’s sincere. It’s just eight eleven-minute episodes (plus a double-length finale).
In its 37th season, Survivor produced a top 5 installment in David vs. Goliath, thanks to its incredible casting of memorable characters who played the game to win. Dynamic storytellers abound, from my messy queen Angelina, who attempted the absolute most at every second, to the endearing robotics professor Christian. There was so much casting gold on Fiji, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of these players return. Thankfully, the twists and advantages did not overpower the gameplay, allowing some jaw-dropping Tribal Councils. Plus, the editing on David vs. Goliath was some of the show’s best, bringing a fresh perspective and sly sense of humor. Here’s hoping the show took away the right lessons from the overwhelmingly positive response to this season.
THE AMERICANS (FX)
After six brilliant seasons of weaving complex characters through increasingly compromised circumstances, The Americans stuck the landing with a stunning, emotional payoff. Years of meticulous character building culminated in devastating consequences of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ spycraft and domestic drama. The Americans is a masterful work of art and I will miss it terribly. The show and its two leads, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, deserved more awards recognition, dammit!
JANE THE VIRGIN (The CW)
Jane the Virgin delivered one of the most shocking season finale cliffhangers in years. Full stop. Staying true to its telenovela roots, it was an astounding finish to an incredible season of television. Jane the Virgin continues to be a consistently satisfying series.
BOJACK HORSEMAN (Netflix)
No other show serves such a potent mix of absurdity and tragedy. BoJack Horseman’s fifth season tackled toxic masculinity, the #MeToo movement, opioid abuse, bereavement, and a sex robot named Henry Fondle. The “Free Churro” episode-length monologue was certainly a series highlight, but my favorite episode was “Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos,” which playfully wove multiple years of Halloween parties into a revealing exploration of Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationship patterns.
KILLING EVE (BBC America)
A TV show created by a kickass woman starring and about two kickass women?! I was sold from the very start. From the mind of Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, this cat-and-mouse spy drama starring Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh was a sexy, funny, and thrilling pleasure.
Category Is: Queer Excellence and Queer Joy. Ryan Murphy’s plunge into the ball culture of 1980s New York City was a glittering achievement. Queer and trans writers and actors were able to tell stories about queer and trans people. Pose’s revelatory and revolutionary cast included the largest number of transgender actors in series regular roles for a scripted series, led by MJ Rodriguez and Indya Moore. While the show sometimes steered into the sentimental, its beating heart proved a fierce asset. Billy Porter’s Pray Tell was one of my favorite performances of the year.
CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (The CW)
While the first half of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s final season took some time to find its footing, the show’s commitment to telling the story of Rebecca Bunch’s mental health recovery has been fascinating and entertaining to watch. After hitting rock bottom, Rebecca is slowly, but surely, putting herself first (in a sexy and healthier way).
While the Earth-bound adventures of the Soul Squad lacked the soaring infinite potential of the afterlife, the mid-season finale “Janet(s)” was a tour de force of the show’s extraordinary creativity and D’Arcy Carden’s incomparable comedic talent, who played her own character (Janet) and the show’s four leads (all as Janet).
The most audacious and mesmerizing episode of television this year belonged to Atlanta’s “Teddy Perkins.” This unsettling examination of the price of fame was a showcase for Lakeith Stanfield, Donald Glover, and Donald Glover’s team of makeup artists.
HERE ARE 8 MORE (because it’s 2018):
QUEER EYE (Netflix) THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD (Netflix) THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (FX) SALT FAT ACID HEAT (Netflix) AMERICAN VANDAL (Netflix) GLOW (Netflix) GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW (PBS, Netflix) CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER (CBS)
HERE ARE 2 SHOWS I BINGED ALL SEASONS OF IN 2018 AND LOOOVED:
SCHITT’S CREEK (Pop)
ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)
EIGHTH GRADE (directed by Bo Burnham)
There are moments in Eighth Grade that are so real, it hurts. Call me a masochist for watching this film three times in theaters. Eighth Grade imbues the minutiae of the life of a quiet eighth grader with remarkable empathy. In his writing and screenplay debut, Bo Burnham has created a film so achingly honest, so painfully hilarious, so undeniably relatable, and so heartbreakingly human, that you can’t help but burst into laughter and tears.
There are two details that I especially loved: Kayla’s signed Bring It On: The Musical program and her Hamilton calendar. I love that Kayla has theatre kid in her. Burnham was a theatre kid too. Theatre kids are full of empathy.
ROMA (directed by Alfonso Curarón)
Roma is a flat-out masterpiece. Through indelible black and white imagery, Alfonso Cuarón crafted a visually magnificent and intensely personal tribute to his memories and the beautiful chaos of life. Based on his upbringing in a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City, Roma follows a year in the life of an indigenous domestic worker and fully immerses you in her life’s smallest details among the sweeping world around her.
LEAN ON PETE (directed by Andrew Haigh)
If you know me, you know I love a cathartic, emotional release, and my goodness, did this deliver. I came into Andrew Haigh’s Lean On Pete expecting a sweet boy-and-his-horse story, and I left an emotional wreck. I hadn’t cried that much at a movie theater since Moonlight. Lean On Pete is a raw, haunting, and heartbreaking film that will stay with me for a long time.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman)
Watching the wildly entertaining and wildly innovative Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, my eyes lit up at every frame and I just couldn’t stop smiling. It’s my favorite superhero movie of all time. Have you ever wanted to be inside a living, breathing comic book? Thanks to overwhelmingly breathtaking animation rendered in vibrant Ben-Day dots, now you can! The promise that anyone can be Spider-Man is fully realized in Miles Morales’ Brooklyn. This is diversity and inclusion in swinging action and the world is all the better for it.
SHOPLIFTERS (directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda)
I watched the sublime Japanese film Shoplifters on the day it received a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film, and boy, was it a richly deserved recognition. Shoplifters is a beautifully observed drama that follows an impoverished makeshift family of petty thieves who takes in a neglected young girl. Kore-eda deftly explores the meaning of family through moments of quirky humor and quiet devastation. Prepare to fall in love with this dysfunctional band of outsiders.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS (directed by Jon M. Chu)
There was no movie-going experience more memorable for me than watching Crazy Rich Asians in a sold-out advanced screening. I could feel that this audience, like audiences around the country, was starved to see themselves onscreen. Crazy Rich Asians was everything I could have hoped for. All hail, director Jon M. Chu, newly-minted movie stars Constance Wu and Henry Golding, and the rest of this fantastic ensemble, for revitalizing the romantic comedy and for showing that these stories matter and that these voices deserve to be heard. #RepresentationMatters
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (directed by Marielle Heller)
I found Can You Ever Forgive Me? to be such an utter delight of warm and weary queerness. Melissa McCarthy delivers a winning performance steeped in profound loneliness as Lee Israel, a struggling writer-turned-forger of literary letters from the likes of Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward. McCarthy and her partner-in-crime, played by the charismatic Richard E. Grant, are quite the winning pair.
A STAR IS BORN (directed by Bradley Cooper)
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s effortless electricity and searing chemistry were more than enough reason to remake A Star Is Born for the third time.
WIDOWS (directed by Steve McQueen)
Widows is a fucking thrill and it’s a shame more people didn’t see this Chicago-set heist film. Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn did that. Viola Davis did that. Cynthia Erivo’s arms did that.
TULLY (directed by Jason Reitman)
I wasn’t emotionally prepared for director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s Tully: an empathetic, bittersweet, and surprising film about the toll of motherhood and reconciling adulthood.
HERE ARE 8 MORE (because it’s 2018):
PADDINGTON 2 (dir. Paul King) BLACK PANTHER (dir. Ryan Coogler) BURNING (dir. Lee Chang-dong) FREE SOLO (dir. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) SEARCHING (dir. Aneesh Chaganty) BLINDSPOTTING (dir. Carlos López Estrada) THE FAVOURITE (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) LEAVE NO TRACE (dir. Debra Granik)
HERE ARE 2 MOVIES FROM 2017 THAT I SAW IN THEATERS IN 2018 THAT I LOOVED:
GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (directed by Francis Lee)
FACES PLACES (directed by Agnès Varda and JR)
BONUS FAVORITE THINGS!
WAITRESS on Broadway starring Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz was a magical experience. Both are musical idols of mine; I have CDs from Bareilles’ college a cappella group and Mraz was my first-ever concert. When I handed my WAITRESS ticket to the usher, she said, “You look so excited!” Damn right, old lady, I was!
Being in the room where it happened for the live taping of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT in Brooklyn.
The hit West End musical EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE, about a teenager with dreams about being a drag queen, was broadcast in movie theaters and it reaffirmed my love for musical theatre.
BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL, performed by Hillbarn Theatre Conversatory
These high schoolers were so damn talented and so full of joy. It was mightly impressive and inspiring, watching them leave every ounce of themselves onstage and killing Adrienne Walters’ choreography and stunts.
KEEP IT! – Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel’s show about the collision of pop culture and politics through POC and queer lenses never fails to make me laugh out loud.
DIRTY COMPUTER by Janelle Monáe
“My My My!” by Troye Sivan
I was a year late, but I loved Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. I sadly missed the film adaptation in theaters.
FAVORITE INTERNET THINGS:
Pretty much anything Adam Rippon said and did.
“Zendaya is Meechee” by Gabe Gundacker, which was stuck in my head for weeks.
I called this season’s American Idol Top 14 the strongest field of competitors in years, just a month ago, but on the dawn of finale night, it seems I may have spoken too soon. This isn’t all the contestants’ fault, necessarily. This extremely truncated season robbed these singers the opportunity to develop into more mature artists, comfortable on the Idol stage. Over the years, we’ve been privileged to witness singers’ transformations, from aspiring auditioners, to bona fide stars. But now, growth arcs are gone, and we’ve barely gotten to know these kids.
We’re left with three (blonde, white) performers who still have so much room to improve. We have Caleb Lee Hutchinson, the blandest of bland country guys, Maddie Poppe, an acoustic singer-songwriter with cool musical taste, and country queen Gabby Barrett, whom Vulture’s Louis Virtel affectionately called “Very Underwood.”
My American Idol partner-in-crime, Jonathan Yu, has joined me to share who should win this 16th season of Idol and our favorite performance of the season.
Jonathan Amores on Who Should Win: Maddie Poppe
Maddie Poppe has such an excellent gift: She is able to uncover the soul of a song and imbue a performance with genuine emotion and moving vulnerability. She has delivered the most consistently delightful performances, leaning into her crystal-clear vocals and multi-instrumented abilities. It’s as if each week, she reveals a new song from her personal concert set-list full of eclectic song choices from Simon and Garfunkle’s “Homeward Bound” to Melanie’s “Brand New Key.”
Speaking of song choice, I think Maddie deserves the crown based on one night alone. Top 10 Night was Disney night and I was hoping that these contestants would pick bold, out-of-the-box songs, like “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” or “When She Loved Me.” Instead, we sat through expectedly banal performances of “The Circle of Life” and “Colors of the Wind.” Maddie, however, stood out with a ukulele-fied “Bare Necessities.” For that audacious song choice alone, Maddie Poppe should win American Idol.
I think that Gabby will actually win the season, and I wouldn’t be upset if that happened. She would be a worthy winner and I’m sure ABC would be thrilled with an Underwood-lite champion. Just as long as it’s not yet another White Guy With Guitar winner.
Jonathan Yu, On Who Should Win: Gabby Barrett
The odds are supposedly in her favor to become just the 6th woman to win American Idol in 16 seasons, and for good reason. This girl can SANG. She already commands the stage like a seasoned performer with incredible control over her voice. Her repertoire of audition songs maybe seem to overlap entirely with Carrie Underwood’s discography, but I actually think that the combination of nasal and grit in her voice is more effective on songs that lean more soulful – her rendition of “Ain’t No Way” by Aretha Franklin from Hollywood Week is probably my favorite bit of singing from the entire competition.
Here’s to hoping that she pulls out a showstopper performance this week, more in the veins of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” than “I Hope You Dance.” To be honest, though, I will be almost just as happy if Maddie “Consistent” Poppe gets the crown. Just please, dear God, not Caleb.
Jonathan Amores, On His Favorite Performance: Michelle Sussett’s “Remember Me”
When recalling this season’s performances, a handful have stood out. In terms of pure vocals, I’d choose Jurnee’s gorgeous Showcase performance of “Never Enough.” For sheer joy and surprise, I’d choose Michael J. Woodard’s “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret. Instead, I chose a performance that embodies this new era of Disneyfied American Idol: Michelle Sussett’s “Remember Me,” the Oscar-winning song from Coco.
Michelle was far from the best vocalist, but she had the strongest stage presence. She knew how to work a room, electrify an audience, and perform. The judges continually urged Michelle to sing in both English and Spanish (Michelle is originally from Venezuela), and in this performance, she delivers in spades. There’s so much joy in this performance and she lights up the stage from the first note, sprinkling in just the right amount of theatrics. Michelle had a rough run on Idol, but she left the competition on a high note.
Jonathan Yu, On His Favorite Performance: Ada Vox’s “Feeling Good”
There were many performances that I considered picking for my favorite performance of the season – Jurnee’s “Never Enough,” Dennis Lorenzo’s “This Woman’s Work,” or Michael J. Woodard’s “Beauty and the Beast” come to mind, but in the end, I decided to pick Ada Vox’s “Feeling Good.” She may have peaked a bit early with this performance, but it will forever be one of the most important performances on Idol ever for me.
I thought I had seen it all with Idol, but a drag queen crushing her competition unapologetically in a semifinals round, bringing Katy Perry literally to her knees, still brought a tear to my eyes. The song fit her over-the-top vocals (that range!!) and persona (that braid!!) perfectly. Even if she never quite lived up to expectations the rest of the season, I am still thankful that Idol gave a platform for a performer such as her. ❤
Whether we like it or not, American Idol is back. And dare I say, better than ever?
After spending just less than two years off the air, this reality television mainstay is giving us the strongest field of competitors, or at least, most interesting, in years.
I’ve written in the past about why Nicki Minaj and Harry Connick, Jr. were wonderful additions Idol’s judging panel, but I truly think that Katy Perry is a perfect Idol judge. She understands the silliness of American Idol, and has given us plenty of fun, memorable moments so far. And yet, Katy is able to give thoughtful critiques, not just on the quality of the vocals, but on the quality of the performance. She’s embraced the show’s original subtitle, “the search for a superstar,” and has provided tailored insight into successful stardom along the way. Katy seems to genuinely care about these young singers and gosh darn it, I’m into this show again! It’s a shame that it’ll be over in just 5 short weeks.
Here’s how I’m ranking Season ‘s Top 14, from most to least favorite contestant.
Jurnee: Jurnee is an 18-year-old whose wife is serving in the military. She’s my American Idol, and unlike my favorites from seasons past, she could actually win this whole thing (Sorry, Majesty Rose!). She exudes an effortless cool and an awesome control of her instrument. Her voice is so clear, so strong, with beautiful shades of vulnerability. Plus Jurnee’s song choices of The Greatest Showman’s “Never Enough” and (to a lesser extent) Pitch Perfect’s “Flashlight” show that she has shrewd ability to choose songs that haven’t been sung to death on reality television, yet are contemporary enough to make an impact. Actually, I’d like to give props to all the contestants this season for picking fresh songs to perform. Good job, young people!
Ada Vox: Ada Vox is serving us vocal explosion eleganza. She is a consummate entertainer and holds us in the palm of her hand with every vocal flourish. It’s honestly amazing how far we’ve come on American Idol. Adam Lambert didn’t come out publicly until after his season ended, and here we are, nine years later and a drag queen is slaying the each performance and reading all the other contestants for filth. (Yes, I’ve finally started watching Drag Race this year.) Long live Queen Ada!
Gabby Barrett: Gabby is armed with radio-ready vocal chops and an understated confidence. It’s encouraging that Gabby has ventured outside of her country lane, with a performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” earlier in the competition. Gabby’s performances tend to start slower, then build to a raucous finale, so here’s hoping in future performances that she can electrify throughout a song.
Maddie Poppe: Of all the contestants, Maddie has the strongest handle on who she is as an artist. It’s refreshing to watch her lean so far into what makes her distinct. She’s confident enough, that she doesn’t need to set off vocal pyrotechnics at every turn. And as evident in her original song performance in Hollywood Week’s solo week, Maddie can just be herself.
Jonny Brenns: If I were ranking these contestants solely by how much I enjoy the timbre of their voices, Jonny would probably be at the top. His voice is so smooth and syrupy. It’s a comforting warm blanket. It’s more synonyms and metaphors that describe his rich tone. As it stands, Jonny lacks apparent charisma, confounded by his gangly 6′ 5″ frame, but his boy-next-door-ness and massive feel-good support from his family should propel him far into the competition.
Marcio Donaldson: There’s no doubt about it: Marcio brings the capital D Drama to the stage. His velvet tones paired with his pliable facial expressions, are well-suited for television, giving the sense that he is really FEELING the music. His beautiful baby in the audience signifies just how much this opportunity means to him, and as a result, he wears his heart on his sleeve as each note pours through his soul. Not every note has been perfect, but Marcio’s passion definitely shines through.
Michael J. Woodard: Michael has surprised and delighted us with his left-field song choices, from Cabaret’s “Maybe This Time,” to Alanis Morissette’s “You Outta Know,” to The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers.”His giddyness and enthusiasm is certainly infectious, and his voice has a rich, complex tone, but outside of his quirky song selection, who is Michael? Hopefully he’ll stick around long enough for him to uncover more delightful layers of his artistry.
Michelle Sussett: Bilingual performances have appeared several times before on Idol, starting with Karen Rodriguez’s “Hero” back in Season 10, but they’re truly never gelled. Enter Michelle Sussett, who brings the dynamics and theatrics to the stage, with some of the weaker vocals of the Top 14. I just appreciate that she just gives us more and more (I, for one, *loved* Naima Adedapo’s electricity). Michelle’s antics are all over the place, but hopefully, she’ll be able to raise the bar on her singing to match her stage presence.
Dennis Lorenzo: Dennis is a smooth operator, with a beautiful upper register. While his solo performance of MAGIC!’s “Rude” was a truly awful song choice (it screams one of those performances where all the contestant can say afterwards is that they “had fun”), but thankfully, his celebrity duet with Allen Stone, was an intimate, smoky, and cool affair. More of the latter, please!
Mara Justine: At just 16 years old, is Mara Justine too young to be competing on American Idol? I’m going to say yes. Her voice is undeniably powerful, but she reads as a teenager merely performing what she thinks a great singer should be. It comes as no surprise that she competed on America’s Got Talent at the age of 11. Yes, she does have massive talent, but it’s too raw and too overly-polished at the same time.
Cade Foener: Cade has everything together. The enviable style and swagger. The rocker hair. The passionate guitar playing. The vocal strain that gives his performances a gritty air of authenticity. Cade’s experience fronting a rock band certainly gives him a step up from his fellow contestants, but I’m just not energized by his performances.
Catie Turner: The very first audition of this American Idol revival featured a fresh-faced Catie Turner and we have been force-fed her self-proclaimed awkward antics ever since. The juxtaposition of her mature vocals and idiosyncratic personality was barely interesting the first time, and has now become tiresome. Her over-exposure has never charmed me. I give up, Idol producers; I have Catie fatigue. I’m done.
Caleb Lee Hutchinson: What’s that? It’s mandated that we need a male country singer in the competition? Ok, fine. We could do worse than the solid, if not uninspiring, Caleb.
Garrett Jacobs: WHY? Why on Earth is Garrett in this competition? He’s been called a “heartthrob” over and over by the judges, but don’t we already have Jonny and Cade? Each person in the Top 14 brings something different to the table, while Garrett offers up… what, exactly? Messy-to-decent vocals? The ability to hold a guitar? Garrett had the worst performance of the Top 24, and yet he advanced over the talented Alyssa Raghu, Effie Passero, AND Shannon O’Hara? I demand a recount.
Take me back to Call Me By Your Name‘s warm Italian summer of 1983. I devoured André Aciman’s sun-kissed pleasure of a novel early last year and I was looking forward to Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation with eager anticipation. The film was everything I had hoped for and more. Call Me By Your Name is an intoxicating dive into the thrill, ache, lust and heartbreak of first love. A sweeping primal dance between the inner and outer lives of awakening and desire.
It’s a refreshing gift to watch a story of gay love unfold where the villain isn’t crippling self-hatred, devastating disease, or homophobic violence. We’re free to just be and exist with these characters. At the same time, there are signifiers of potential ruin and as an audience, we’re conditioned to wait for the other shoe to drop. Instead, the enemy of Call Me By Your Name is time. The movie speaks beautifully to the delay of queerness, how queer people typically aren’t able to act on their feelings at the same time as the sexual discovery of their heterosexual peers.
Timothée Chalamet delivers a knockout performance as the 17-year-old Elio, every fiber of his physicality bursting with curiosity and confusion. As the heart and soul of the film, he is my pick for Best Actor by a mile. His magnetic attraction to Armie Hammer’s handsome and seemingly aloof Oliver develops at a restrained pace, a yearning bubbling just under the surface, until the floodgates of infatuation are no loner able to contain him.
Call Me By Your Name‘s journey of discovery certainly has moments of pure gay wish-fulfillment. Towards the end of the movie, Michael Stuhlbarg, as Elio’s father, delivers a stunning monologue so full of empathy and humanity, an appeal to his son to accept both love and pain, that it left me breathless. (Stuhlbarg’s lack of an Oscar nomination is the season’s biggest disappointment.) Soon after, Elio’s final moments left me a silent, emotional wreck. Call Me By Your Name instantly became my favorite film of 2017.
Lady Bird considers that paying close attention to something is an act of love. You can truly feel the love and compassion Greta Gerwig has for all of her complex characters in her first outing as a solo director. Not only is it wonderful to see all this affection focused on the life of a teenage girl, but we’re able to feel the perspectives of both generations, of Saoirse Ronan’s Christine, aka “Lady Bird,” and her mother Marion, played by marvelous Laurie Metcalf (how unfortunate she hasn’t gotten the awards recognition she deserves). This is both a coming-of-age film and a gracefully realized examination of parenting, as these women so desperately want to be seen by each other.
The early 2000s NorCal high school setting and theatre kid experiences rang so true for me. While many of my peers deeply related to the relationship between mother and daughter, I was moved most by the arc of Lady Bird and her first boyfriend, Danny (Lucas Hedges). Lady Bird succeeds because its lovingly crafted specificity is key to universality. Again, love and attention. The more I think about what worked so delightfully about Lady Bird, the more I fall in love with it.
Special shout-out to Beanie Feldstein’s buoyant charisma as Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie. These two share my favorite dialogue from all the nominated pictures:
JULIE: Ms. Patty assigned you a role, by the way. You just never showed up to claim it.
LADY BIRD: What role?
JULIE: The Tempest.
LADY BIRD: There is no role of The Tempest.
JULIE: It is the titular role.
If I were casting an Oscar ballot, I would vote Get Out for Best Picture in a heartbeat. No other film speaks so urgently and directly to these troubled times we live in. Part racial satire, part societal thriller, Jordan Peele’s audacious directorial début captures a vital American horror story. Peele masterfully explores real-life anxieties and dives into both the absurdity and menace, illuminating along the way, hypocrisies in performative wokeness. I’m thrilled with the awards recognition of Daniel Kaluuya’s complex performance, as his character struggles for a sense of normalcy in an increasing abnormal environment, from being black in a white space, from blackness simply existing. Get Out will leave an enduring impression in our pop culture psyche long after this awards season is over.
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a gorgeous film. Every frame is exquisitely rendered in lush and opulent blues and greens. The radiant Sally Hawkins, as the mute janitor, Elisa, lures you into her world with a silent tenacity, as she races to save her fish-man love, with whom she connects so profoundly.
Elisa’s friends on the fringes (Richard Jenkins and a woefully underused Octavia Spencer) have touches of inner lives, elevating them from mere thankless sidekick tropes. Jenkins, as a lonely gay man, gives an especially nuanced performance. The Shape of Water is told from an artist’s point of view, framing the story as a fable. Though a feeling of inevitability permeates throughout, there’s enough clever originality that satisfies like a warm wave of emotion. Truth be told, I’m done with the “love letter to Old Hollywood” for a while.
I’m not fond of war movies, and I’ll never forgive the Oscars for making me watch Hacksaw Ridge. Much to my surprise, I was thoroughly entertained by Dunkirk. Whereas Hacksaw Ridge was at once both achingly saccharine and punishingly cruel, Dunkirk was thankfully neither. Though the film features a sea of same-looking brown-haired Brits, emphasizing the anonymity of war, I still managed to care for the survival of these soldiers, even without knowing much about them. Deep in the chaos of war, Dunkirk makes no time for clichéd backstories and stock characterizations, unlike other war movies.
Director Christopher Nolan has crafted an immersive war epic that celebrates the perseverance of the human spirit, yet doesn’t shy away from showing a primal fear. Through a clever storytelling structure that weaves timelines and narratives, this harrowing rescue mission is depicted on a scale both epic and personal, claustrophobic and cavernous. Dunkirk was such a technical achievement that Harry Styles wasn’t much of a distraction.
An exquisitely delicate film by Paul Thomas Anderson, PhantomThread,chronicles the tense emotional life of an obsessive artist (Daniel Day-Lewis) who meets his match in his muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Their passionate love is a twisted and destructive duet, and while I admit I’m tired of meticulous creative geniuses (who are almost always white men), Alma’s keen resolve keeps the story on its toes. Their relationship weaves in surprising directions, but I could only enjoy Phantom Thread at a cool distance.
On paper, The Post screams Oscar excellence: a Steven Spielberg-directed movie about the true story of Washington Post journalists rushing to expose government flaws, starring American treasures Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Onscreen, The Post was… fine. It was more impressive for its timeliness and political relevance than anything else. Even so, there were sequences when film was too heavy-handed with its modern parallels; the shot of Streep as Katherine Graham, the first female publisher of an American newspaper, walking out of a courthouse among admiring female onlookers comes to mind.
Honestly, I was more entertained, if not a bit distracted, by the seemingly endless cavalcade of television stars. Carrie Coon! Sarah Paulson! Zach Woods! And on and on and on. It’s only when the Pentagon Papers are actually acquired, maybe halfway through, does the movie actually pick up steam. Historical spoiler alert: We know that the Post does publish the Pentagon Papers, so the sweeping climax of Streep in a kaftan making that history-altering decision just sits there, no matter how awesome the kaftan.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is my anti-LadyBird; the more I think about it, the less and less I like it. On its surface, it’s a thrilling rollercoaster, racing from searing drama to black comedy and back, featuring Frances McDormand’s visceral and raw performance. Her portrayal of a grieving mother who turns her agony into a steadfast rage is worthy of acclaim, but boy, is the film that surrounds her problematic AF.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards feels like it’s made by someone who isn’t acquainted with the place they’re operating in. The way race is handled in this contemporary rural setting just doesn’t work. Unlike in Peele’s Get Out, McDonagh doesn’t have a coherent understanding of American racism. Rockwell’s violent and racist cop, who has tortured a black man in custody in the past, gets a redemption arc that is completely misguided and unearned. Rockwell is admirable in the role, but his character’s transformation is unjustified. It’s also extremely disappointing to see black characters, both onscreen and off, as merely plot devices and ciphers.
So much more of Three Billboards doesn’t come together, including the aforementioned tonal whiplash, unexplored consequences, a plethora of narrative coincidences and false endings, and whatever Abbie Cornish is doing.
I must give Darkest Hour credit; it was way more visually interesting than I expected it would be. On the flip side, I expected the movie to be a talky snooze… and it was. This plodding historical drama attempts to portray Winston Churchill not as a revered deity, but as a flawed man. It’s a damn shame that the luminous Timothée Chalamet will lose the Oscar to Gary Oldman, impressive as Oldman’s prosthetic and skilled imitation may be. The Academy has filled its ranks with younger and more diverse voters, and you can sense these Best Picture nominations as a result, with one foot in the thrilling contemporary (Get Out) and one foot in the stodgy past (Darkest Hour).
Before we burn 2017 to the ground, here are my top 10 favorite TV shows, films, and more of the year.
THE LEFTOVERS (HBO)
How do you make sense of a fundamentally broken world? The post-Rapture drama, The Leftovers — hands down, one of the best shows I have ever seen — embarked on a journey to explore these mysteries. What it uncovered was nothing short of a miracle.
Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta’s series was a powerful, and at times bleakly funny, meditation on loss and the meaning of life and love. Every episode in this final season was innovative and extraordinary — from a mystical walkabout, to a sex lion cult, to joyous trampolining set to the Wu Tang Clan.
The best art reflects our lives and processes the shared human experience. This year I experienced a profound loss of a best friend, and The Leftovers was there to help me process my emotions. Speaking to the profound series finale, creator Lindelof said, “We find release from suffering though community, through family, through love.” In the end, the show didn’t answer every question, but instead, “let the mystery be.” The Lefovers revealed the importance of human connection at its core and nothing was more satisfying.
THE GOOD PLACE (NBC)
Holy fork, this show is tremendous. Come for the candy-colored afterlife absurdity and stay for the twisted wordplay. (This genius list of food puns by The Good Place writer Megan Amram is one of my favorite things of the year). This scrappy and delightful cast knocks it out of the park with every chaotic curveball that’s thrown at them, from Jameela Jamil’s self-absorbed Tahani, to Manny Jacino’s lovable doofus Jason Mendoza. My life is so much better for The Good Place and yours can be too.
My biggest surprise of the year. American Vandal is a pitch-perfect true-crime satire and a marvelously authentic high school story with unexpected emotional beats. I was particularly impressed with how social media was used in its storytelling. Social media depiction in movies and TV shows is often embarrassingly bad, but American Vandal’s footage felt like real teenage digital lives.
BOJACK HORSEMAN (Netflix)
At the end of Bojack Horseman’s magnificently silly and profoundly heartbreaking fourth season, a single smile filled my heart and delivered unexpected joy. We can be enough.
PLEASE LIKE ME (Hulu)
Josh Thomas’ coming-of-age comedy is a warm and witty romp, with an awkward gay 20-something at its core, doing his best to keep his life and family together. The fourth and final season of this Australian import was a welcomed treasure, featuring an ending that packed a powerful emotional wallop.
JANE THE VIRGIN (The CW)
Our world is in desperate need of empathy and Jane the Virgin is our saving grace. This loving telenovela-inspired series gave me an unexpected gift of healing, which you can read more about here. Thank you, Jane the Virgin.
With 35 seasons under its belt, not every season can be a winner. This year, we saw two mid-tier seasons in Game Changers and Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers. The legacies of these two seasons include an ugly outing of a trans contestant, a beloved Survivor legend eliminated without receiving a single vote thanks to too many idols, and a controversial new twist which allowed one player, who would have been eliminated at Final 4, to save himself and ultimately win the game. Not the greatest of looks.
Bonus points for the triumphant return of my all-time favorite player, two-time Survivor winner Queen Sandra Diaz-Twine.
MASTER OF NONE (Netflix)
When I look back on this year in TV, the one episode that immediately comes to mind is the beautifully poignant “Thanksgiving.” Its audacious structure highlights that coming out is a continual process, and the strong performances by Lena Waithe and Angela Bassett keeps the humanity at its core. Writers Aziz Ansari and Waithe (who became the first black woman to win a comedy writing Emmy), are more than deserving of all their accolades for telling this story.
AT HOME WITH AMY SEDARIS (truTV)
No other show this year made me laugh harder. Amy Sedaris’ take on DIY homemaking shows is wacky, wonderful, weird as all hell.
HERE ARE 7 MORE (because it’s 2017):
PLANET EARTH II (BBC America)
THE AMERICANS (FX)
AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
(directed by Luca Guadagnino)
(directed by Greta Gerwig)
(directed by Jordan Peele)
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
(directed by Matt Reeves)
THE BIG SICK
(directed by Michael Showalter)
(directed by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina (co-director))
The final dress rehearsal of the First National Tour of Hamilton. When Amber Iman first sang her rich, sultry alto notes of “Say No to This” as Maria Reynolds, the stranger sitting next to me and I gay gasped at the same time, looked at each other, and laughed.
FAVORITE COMEDY THINGS:
Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” (Netflix)
John Mulaney & Nick Kroll’s “Oh, Hello On Broadway” (Netflix)
If we don’t live together, we’re going to die alone. — Jack Shephard, LOST
It was May 23, 2010.
I threw a LOST series finale party at my Berkeley apartment for eight or so of my friends.
We feasted on island-inspired pulled pork and had mangoes and pineapples for dessert. We drank Dharma chardonnay and ate Dharma fish biscuits I baked for the occasion. You know, from that time when Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were held captive in polar bear cages?
The point is, we went all out in celebration of one of my all-time favorite TV shows.
The DHARMA fish biscuits were tastier than they appeared.
*Light thematic LOST finale spoilers to follow, but come on, if you haven’t watched LOST by now, will you ever?*
We gathered in front the television, awaiting answers to its myriad mysteries. As the finale neared its end, the show revealed its existential beating heart. In essence, the castaways needed to find each other in order to move on. Over the course of six seasons, the journeys of these characters led them all to be in one place, together.
LOST is all about the people in our lives and it celebrates our shared experiences. While we can’t always control what happens to us, we have each other.
To be sure, the finale left questions unanswered. However, in the grand scheme of things, those details become insignificant. It was less about the secrets of the Easter eggs and literary references, and more about the truth in finding value in our loved ones.
What matters most, LOST emphasized, is the people we care for. It’s about the journey we take with them. It’s every life that has made an impact on ours. We carry these bonds with us to the end. The message becomes clear: it’s truly better to live together than to die alone.
In those last moments of the show, I thought about all the people with whom I shared my LOST viewing journey: from my mother, to my roommates, to my friends, to the podcasting community. I was instantly flooded with memories.
I was punched in the gut by an overwhelming cathartic wave and was left crumpled in tears, lying in the fetal position on the floor of my apartment.
Janelle Jovellanos was there right by my side. She took me into her loving embrace. For what could have been minutes, as the credits rolled, I sobbed in her arms.
We had gone down this path together, and here she was, one of the people I cared most about in this world, giving me the support I needed. She knew how much our shared journey meant to me. She was always there for me. She was always there for others.
Janelle, myself, and Jessica in a LOST-esque pose.
Cut to seven years later. May 5, 2017.
I’m sharing this story in a eulogy for Janelle with her close friends and family members.
I tell them that the woman who held me tightly as I wept in front of our friends was the most generous person I have ever met. I go on to share more about my best friend.
About how I first met Janelle in the spring of 2006, my freshman year at Cal, in a student group called Theatre Rice.
How that fall, we were elected co-course coordinators of Theatre Rice and built a safe and loving space for our peers. How it was through leading theatre games that I first keyed into Janelle’s passion for teaching.
How I was honored to witness her grow her talent over the years, from volunteering for a crisis hotline, to leading an after-school reading program, to teaching English in Korea, to teaching elementary school in Oakland and Los Angeles.
How she radiated a boundless capacity for empathy and love. How that in Janelle, we were given a gift. A true gift of love and light.
How it is my honor to continue her legacy of kindness. It is through that love that she will be remembered.
Janelle recreating the LOST scene of Sun’s liberation.
The day I first learned about Janelle’s passing, I watched an episode of Jane the Virgin to distract myself from the pain. It hit me harder than I could have ever expected.
A character on the show had reservations about speaking publicly on the devastating loss of a loved one. She was reassured it would get easier to talk about in time, but she was afraid of the loved one becoming just an anecdote.
She was given beautiful advice that couldn’t have been more perfect for me to hear in the moment:
You’re in a long-term relationship with grief. But it has to evolve. And it’s okay to keep letting go. You have to.
That simple line of dialogue brought me to tears. In hearing those words, I knew my life would never be the same.
With Janelle’s passing barely a month removed, I’m not yet ready to let go.
I’m in a liminal phase, between wanting to wallow in my grief and wanting to cut it down with a sword. But I’m heartened by the fact that I am not entering into this new long-term relationship alone.
I have those who have been alongside me on this journey. We live together. We celebrate Janelle together. She lives on in each of us, through every laugh, through every act of kindness.
You will always be with me, Janelle. I will share your spirit with the world.
Moonlight is extraordinary. At the heart of this story is the simple desire for human connection, told through the emotional experience of the character of Chiron in three stages of his life: as a child, a teenager, and as an adult (played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively). Barry Jenkins’ stunningly sensitive coming-of-age story, all at once suffocating and liberating, connected with me in such profound ways. A brief phone call took my breath away; that need for empathy and forgiveness was so deeply felt.
Through a strikingly immersive personal journey of acceptance of a queer, black man, Barry Jenkins’ and original playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s screenplay tackles the universality of the human experience and gracefully dismantles the performativity of masculinity. James Laxton’s cinematography channels Chiron’s inner life beautifully, from stark moments of sensual intimacy, to swirling shots of claustrophobia. So much is said in each look not met and each word not spoken. The quietness dances on these characters’ faces and through each ellipses. Moonlight‘s silences speak volumes that will stay with me for a long time.
I came into Manchester By the Sea expecting a bleak meditation on depression, but I was instead met with a finely balanced story between the embodiment of grief and the humor observed in the details of daily life. I was particularly impressed by the narrative structure of Kenneth Lonergan’s screenplay; the masterful way character motivations are exposed, the revelations of how a tragic past informs a guarded present. Casey Affleck delivers a magnificent performance in restraint, capturing the complexities of his emotionally unavailable character behind pained eyes, furrowed brows, and clenched fists. Manchester By the Sea delivers especially devastating wordless, emotional scenes, but it’s not a film without hope.
Arrivaltook me by complete surprise, both as an emotional personal story and as an intelligent and thoughtful work of science fiction. Amy Adams’ nuanced work as a linguist who attempts to speak with newly arrived aliens, is worthy of an Oscar nomination. There is such a captivating patience with her process that reveals a deep belief that communication is key to our species. Arrival believes in the optimism of humanity; that only through understanding and cooperation, can we advance together as a species. It’s a poignant message that rings especially true in today’s political climate.
In the hands of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, we are front row center to an acting masterclass. I respect Fences‘confidence in showcasing playwright August Wilson’s masterpiece of American theatre. The film embraces both Wilson’s dense, gorgeous dialogue and its stage roots. By keeping the Maxon family fenced-in in their backyard, director Denzel Washington allows the stifling pressure to build ever so slowly, until tensions to boil over and explode.
I can understand why some people have fallen head over heels for La La Land. The film provides a sweeping Technicolor escape of romantic reverie. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have dynamite chemistry together, particularly in Emma Stone’s fantastic expressiveness. Sun-kissed colors leap off the screen, thanks to a radiant costume and production design.
Ultimately, La La Land disappoints; it’s more a movie with musical numbers than a full-fledged musical. It’sa fine movie for movie lovers, but less so a successful movie for musical lovers. And for a movie that celebrates movie musicals, I wanted more musicality.
La La Landstarts out with so much potential and promise with the inventive choreography of “Another Day of Sun” (but poor sound mixing, coupled with weak vocals from those soloists, makes the opening number surprisingly difficult to listen to). Sadly, that vibrant musical energy all but evaporates from the rest of the film, only to return in its wonderful final sequence.
It’s telling that my favorite musical moment, Ryan Gosling’s 80s cover band’s take on “I Ran,” is the one the film takes the least seriously. Emma Stone lights up the screen with her sharp comedic timing, which nicely contrasts his bright red jacketed self-loathing. No other moment lived up to this all-too-brief moment of delight.
Emma Stone’s struggling actress storyline is so painfully familiar (and really, what else do we know about her?), that nothing new comes out of it at all. I had an immediate, visceral reaction to Damian Chazelle’s Whiplash, but came away from La La Land with a “well, that was nice.”
Hidden Figures, the true life story of black female mathematicians working for NASA,was every bit as inspiring as I had wanted it to be. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and particularly, Janelle Monáe’s, performances are luminous and magnetic. There’s an undeniable sense of joy that radiates from every pore, delivered at just the right, crowd-pleasing levels. To be fair, you know exactly where the story is headed, but it’s a journey that needs to be told and CELEBRATED.
Hell or High Water is a film for our times, a character-driven modern-day Western that captures the unease and unrest of our economic climate. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers who rob banks together as a last-ditch effort to save their family land from foreclosure. There’s a warm affection for its complex and morally ambiguous characters and the movie delivers a potent mix of emotionally rich human moments and bleak, non-romanticized action sequences.
I cried no less than five times during Lion. I can’t help it; I’m a crier! This tear-jerker of a movie belongs to Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo, a young Indian boy who becomes separated from his family. He radiates such magnetic charm that it becomes all the more devastating once the tragedy takes hold. While Saroo’s journey as an adult (played by an excellent Dev Patel), and his isolating struggle to reunite with his family, is less engaging, Lion still delivers some truly emotionally potent fireworks.
The utterly charming Andrew Garfield aside, Hacksaw Ridge, about real-life WWII conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, is not for me. Altogether, the film is overly sentimental in depicting one man’s devout convictions and overly brutal in portraying the atrocities of human warfare. And boy, those war scenes are overflowing with torturous and unrelenting violence. Unfortunately, Hacksaw Ridge’s simple focus on an uncomplicated morality doesn’t reveal much of anything under a bloody surface. Inspiring? Sure. Interesting? Not so much.
Here are my top 10 favorite TV shows and films of 2016. Let’s get this year over with, shall we?!
CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (CW)
There is no better gift to a theatre kid like me than Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s brilliant and subversive tribute to romantic comedies and musical theatre. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is fabulously self-aware, hilariously screwball, unapologetically feminist, and chock-full of must-see musical gems like the brilliant “JAP Battle,” Fifth Harmony parody “Put Yourself First” (that sax tho!), and Singing in the Rain send-up “We Tapped That Ass.”
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend knows exactly the show it wants to be and is refreshingly honest about its characters’ flaws, in particular, Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) anti-heroic delusions. If that weren’t enough, the show features a Filipino-American male romantic lead. Representation matters, y’all.
Season one is streaming on Netflix. I can’t recommend this show enough.
Even in its 32nd and 33rd seasons, Survivor still delivers surprises and shockers each episode. This fall’s season, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X,delivered a deliciously entertaining combination of shocking blindsides, next-level strategy, and compelling (and most importantly, likable) characters. #wow
PLEASE LIKE ME (HULU)
This Australian import is my favorite television discovery of the year. Josh Thomas’ coming-of-age comedy, centered around a young, gay twenty-something, has stolen my heart with its upbeat charm and quirky characters. I love this show to pieces.
THE AMERICANS (FX)
Each year, the best drama on television increases its heartbreaking stakes, while digging deeper into the emotional struggles of its characters. The Americans‘ unexpected dramatic instability kept viewers on edge all season long, as the stress of the Jennings’ real/fake marriage and their relationship with their teenage daughter were pushed to a near-breaking point.
Donald Glover’s brand new series swiftly and languidly navigates down the paths of the surreal and real, taking us to places TV hasn’t gone before. It’s a truly breathtaking endeavor.
THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (FX)
By all accounts, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the O.J. Simpson trial should have been a hot mess, but instead the limited-run series was an engrossing triumph that drew thought-provoking comparisons to today’s society, bolstered by a dynamite trio of performances from Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, and Courtney B. Vance.
BOJACK HORSEMAN (NETFLIX)
Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s profound and profane animated series mixes pathos with animal puns, and existential crises with Hollywood satire. The tremendous third season delivered one of the best episodes of TV this year: the dialogue-free, underwater-set “Fish Out of Water.”
JANE THE VIRGIN (CW)
Jane the Virgin is consistently the most intelligent, emotional, and character-rich storytelling on television. It’s a confident warm blanket of a telenovela that delights in its open-hearted interpersonal relationships.
AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)
The second season of this anthology drama, focused on an alleged rape of a male high school student by a fellow student on the school’s basketball team, features superb acting (Regina King! Felicity Huffman! Lili Taylor!) with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality.
BILLY ON THE STREET (truTV)
For a dollar, name another show on television that makes me laugh out loud more than Billy on the Street. Spoiler Alert: You’ll never get that dollar. Billy Eichner’s pop culture explosions are an incredible comedic tour de force.
One of my absolute favorite things of the year: Billy Eichner tells unsuspecting people on the street that Seth Rogen has suddenly died, while Rogen stands just feet away behind a camera.
Televised award shows can often be painful to sit through, but thankfully, there were enough surprises in the 2016 Emmy Awards to balance out the inevitable second consecutive wins for Veep and Game of Thrones. The potent combination of deserving first-time winners, moving speeches, and diverse voices at the podium made the night feel spontaneous and exciting. At its best, these Emmys, indeed, felt like a true celebration of what television has to offer, and many of the outcomes delighted me.
Master of None’s “Parents” was awarded the Emmy for Writing for a Comedy, an episode that focuses on two first-generation Americans asking their parents to tell the stories about their lives before coming to America. As a child of immigrant parents myself, this story hit straight to the heart. The episode brought me to tears and immediately after, I called my mother. *cue awwww* Awards aren’t the be-all and end-all, but it does feels good to know that this award reinforces the notion that these are stories worth telling. Even better was writer Alan Yang’s acceptance speech, which emphasized the need for more Asian-American stories:
There’s 17 million Asian-Americans in this country, and there’s 17 million Italian Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Sopranos. We got Long Duk Dong, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I know we can get there. I believe in us. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work. Asian parents out there, if you could just do me a favor, just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, we’ll be all good.
Kate McKinnon’s win for Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her work on Saturday NightLive was also a delight. She had a banner year, thanks to Hillary Clinton, and sketches like The One Where She Was Abducted By Aliens And Ryan Gosling Couldn’t Keep It Together. McKinnon’s humble shout-outs from Hillary Clinton and Ellen Degeneres, to her writing partners, the now co-head writers Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly (watch his new film Other People!), to her late father who pushed her to watch SNL as a child, were particularly moving.
Director Jill Soloway, who won for Transparent, gave a particularly rousing acceptance speech, with a passionate plea to “topple the patriarchy.” Soloway centered the storytelling of queer and trans women in her acceptance speech:
When you take women, people of color, trans people, queer people, and you put them at the center of the story, the subjects instead of the objects, you change the world, we found out. This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikeable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes.
Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor’s won Actor in a Comedy for his thoughtful portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, and his speech concluded with a heartfelt plea of his own: a call for greater hiring of transgender talent. Witnessing diversity in storytelling from a pioneering show like Transparent be richly rewarded was a step in the right direction.
American Crime was one of my favorite television shows of the year. The anthology drama couples superb acting with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality. It was gratifying to see Regina King be recognized two years in a row for her magnetic work as a mother of a high school basketball player team accused of assault.
Although I was rooting for the cool threat that was Bookeem Woodbine’s Mike Milligan from Fargo, I was happy that the award went to Sterling K. Brown’s understated performance as Christopher Darden in The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The thrilling wins for Courtney B. Vance and Sarah Paulson, who played Johnny Cochran and Marcia Clark, respectively, proved the stellar casting for Ryan Murphy’s series. These three captivating actors took on historical figures familiar to the American public, and breathed new life into their narratives, making their portrayals deeply sympathetic and human. Paulson was one of the locks of the evening, and her win was long overdue.
On the flip side, yes, The People vs O.J. Simpson was excellent television, but I’m disappointed that Fargo’s remarkable second season was shut out in the process, coming up empty-handed in every category it was nominated in. Was this season too left-field for voters? Too bleak or violent? Too wrapped up in Midwestern quirk, and mysticism? Sigh.
Grease Live was a fine technical feat, with swift and precise direction by Alex Rudzinski and Hamilton‘s Thomas Kail. The live broadcast navigated multiple indoor and outdoor sets, live crowds, inclement weather, and more, but the conceit has been done before, even if it was the best of this new generation of live musicals. Beyoncé’s Lemonade was an artistic achievement like no other. Queen B should have won Directing for a Variety Special and taken one more step closer to EGOT status.
Rami Malek’s performance as Elliot Anderson was a singular triumph on Mr. Robot. Malek tackled such an intense character plagued with drug addiction, social anxiety, and mental illness, but always found ways to humanize him. We don’t often see characters on television like Elliot, much less see their performances rewarded, so this win for Lead Actor in a Drama felt important. Plus, bae looked good in a white Dior suit.
Host Jimmy Kimmel joked in his opening monologue that “the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity.” As the night went on, the more this notion seemed true. However cynical Kimmel’s quip was, it was refreshing to see the stage visited by African-Americans, Asian-Americans, queer women, an Egyptian-American, and sure, a couple of white men here and there too.
At last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s took home two trophies for Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy and Choreography. How it lost Main Title Theme Music to Jessica Jones (?!?!?!) is beyond me. One is a sunny, catchy earworm that jabs at sexism, while the other is a bland jazz number. The winner is completely obvious to me, but I guess the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. Regardless, just let the words “Emmy Award-Winning Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” sink in. We’re so #blessed!
The best show on television, The Americans, was woefully ignored, after being finally being invited to the party in its fourth season. When Character Actress Margo Martindale’s won for Guest Actress at the Creative Arts Emmys, for a role with seemingly less than ten minutes of screen time, I was hoping that the award boded well for the show’s Emmy chances come Sunday night. Alas, the night was not for The Americans. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, your time has yet to come. Next year, Game of Thrones will air outside of eligibility for the 2017 Emmys, leaving a dragon-sized void in the race. With the HBO juggernaut out of the mix next year, could The Americans finally emerge victorious?
[gifs courtesy of giphy.com and outofficial.tumblr.com]