The A.V. Club’s 2011 Highlight Reel
We try not to toot our own horns too loudly around here at The A.V. Club—we’re all nerdy wallflowers, after all—but we realize that you might’ve missed some fantastic things we published this year. In service of those words (and occasionally moving pictures), we’ve decided to gather some of our favorite articles from 2011 into one big link orgy. It would be your greatest gift to us if you could spend a few hours clicking through and reading (or even re-reading) every word.
Early this year, we launched a new feature type called For Our Consideration, which consists of essays about various facets of pop culture. Highlights included Genevieve Koski’s “Why Bridesmaids Won’t Save The Chick Flick (And Shouldn’t Have To),” Scott Tobias’ thoughts on Conan O’Brien and the (near) death of film, Noel Murray’s memories of Opryland, Alison Willmore’s look at whether or not indie films are unfair to Christianity, and Jason Heller’s pondering of why ’90s bands have started getting played on classic rock stations (and what that means). Single-person essays haven’t entirely replaced multi-staffer conversations, though: We took time for a debate on the good and bad sides of the “EPIC HYPERBOLE vs. meh” Internet divide in an old-school AVC Crosstalk, and kicked around Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World in a new feature, Why Don’t You Like This?
For Random Roles, in which we talk to actors about various characters they’ve played over the years, we found some gold with Wendell Pierce of The Wire and Treme as well as Rob Reiner and Hank Azaria. (Did you ever notice the “Feature Jump” link on the home page? It takes you to a master list of every feature type, and it’s a great way to begin exploring some A.V. Club deep cuts.) Oh, and how could we forget the inimitable Udo Kier, who wowed us with the words “very boring.”
In the straight-ahead interview department, Marah Eakin fulfilled a lifelong dream by speaking with Dolly Parton, and Scott Tobias had another epic conversation with John Hodgman. (Part one is here, part two is here.) Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad got deep into his craft; Patton Oswalt told us the truth and made it funny, as always. Louis C.K. did the same, and then took the time to walk us through the second season of the best show on TV, Louie.
TV Club kinda blew up for us in 2011—who knew you all watched so much TV?—with great reviews of the year’s best and worst shows. Todd VanDerWerff’s Community coverage threatened to melt our servers (no, not really), with epic commenting on every episode, but particularly “Remedial Chaos Theory” and the mid-season ender, “Regional Holiday Music,” which has more than 5,500 comments—easily the most on any A.V. Club article, ever. Don’t go away, Community: Not only are you awesome, you are our virtual water cooler.
You also followed along the slow-starting but ultimately rewarding Boardwalk Empire and the fast-starting but ultimately blah-ending Sons Of Anarchy. Then there was, once again, Breaking Bad. The less you know about the ending, the better, but you should definitely be watching. We had to split our coverage of Game Of Thrones into “newbies” and “experts” to keep the book-loving spoiler-hounds from revealing too many secrets. (Which one’s the dragon again?)
In music, nothing could really compete with the pure joy of having They Might Be Giants stop by our office and invite us to sing along with them on “Tubthumping.” (Tasha Robinson celebrated with lengthy separate interviews with both of TMBG’s Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell.) There were 42 A.V. Undercover videos this year (including 10 holiday songs and seven for our off-site Undercover Summer mini-series), but none yanked your computer-strings nearly as hard as this one. Other Undercovers you loved: Wye Oak and Peter Bjorn & John.
We also launched another music-video series, One Track Mind, which features interviews and performances focused on a single song. Nathan Rabin visited Ben Folds in his beautiful Nashville studio to talk about “The Luckiest,” which might just bring a tear to your eye.
Music editor Steven Hyden launched a self-contained 10-part series called “Whatever Happened To Alternative Nation,” offering a critical look back at ’90s music through his personal experiences, and the ongoing “We’re Number One” series, which included a look at past chart-toppers like Huey Lewis And The News’ Sports. Hyden also inadvertently started a localized meme by expressing actual enthusiasm (sorry, cynical Internet!) for the band Dawes. (Our nefarious plan worked—you’re all still talking about Dawes! That’s Dawesome!) Hyden also introduced the controversial “five-albums test,” which isn’t all that controversial if you think about it.
Film editor Scott Tobias continued his exploration of The New Cult Canon with close looks at Zodiac and Black Dynamite, while head writer Nathan Rabin transformed My Year Of Flops into My World Of Flops, blasting the execrable Bucky Larson, but declaring Studio 60 merely a fiasco. Keith Phipps’ Secret Cinema column, which digs up and talks about under-the-radar films, included a look at Breathless. (No, the other one, the one with Richard Gere.)
Noel Murray discovered some Very Special Episodes—those TV shows that shook the world, or at least Noel. He took at close look at Soap, which was sort of the Arrested Development of its day, and he also heralded the previously unsung world of Red Serling’s live-TV days.
In our similar-but-different Gateways To Geekery and Primer features, we offered exhaustive introductions to Robert Altman and Brian De Palma, and quicker entrees into Sunshine Pop, Game Of Thrones writer-creator George R.R. Martin, and Mystery Science Theater, among others.
And let us not forget Inventory, our weekly list that was also a book you can now buy on Amazon for a penny. Some highlights from 2011 include entertainments that teach children about death; a crazy number of Beastie Boys references; funny Hitlers; notoriously prickly interview subjects; game-show crossovers; a list of conspiracy movies that don’t fall apart, which doubles as a pocket primer in what normally goes wrong with conspiracy movies; and an examination of the annoying trope of women falling in love with their kidnappers.
We also introduced a new series called Memory Wipe, waxing even more nostalgic than normal with thoughts on Clarissa Explains It All, Boy Meets World, and The Legend Of Zelda. Marah Eakin also tackled the amazing Adventures Of Pete And Pete. And speaking of nostalgia, we wrapped up the Harry Potter movie series with a look at the 10 best and worst things about the books and films, plus a list of our favorite scenes from the whole series.
And, sometimes dozens of times per day, news editor Sean O’Neal brought you his sideways take on pop-culture happenings, from Charlie Sheen’s slow-motion self-destruction (and rebirth) to reasoned, thoughtful obituaries. And he can write a headline like a motherfucker: Where else but The A.V. Club will you find headlines like “James Franco now officially just fucking with you” and “Brett Ratner quits the Oscars on account of being Brett Ratner” and “Sesame Street is brainwashing children with its leftist agenda, reports guy who went looking for leftist agenda.”
There’s surely much more, so please dive into the archives and entertain yourselves for the next couple of weeks. (Seriously, check out the “feature jump” button, found at the top of the main page.) Things will get a bit slow around here between Christmas and New Year’s, while we all recharge our batteries and test-drive new videogames and DVDs. We’ll be back in full force in 2012, hopefully with lots of new features and fun. Thanks as always for joining us!