Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Bebel the cat working on his magnum opuss. (Photo: Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images)

Here at The A.V. Club office, 2017 will go down as the year we grappled with covering a host of unpleasantries ranging from our president’s Twitter habit to Hollywood’s systemic cover-up of abusive men. But we also continued to write about what we love, and even when we wrote about things we hated, we had some fun with it. In a hellscape of a year, we’re proud of our pop-culture coverage. These are our staff selections of favorite pieces we did in 2017.

John Carroll Lynch on playing the president, a killer clown, and the Coen brothers’ warmest character 

John Carroll Lynch as Arthur Leigh Allen in Zodiac (Screenshot: Zodiac), Twisty The Clown (Screenshot: American Horror Story), and himself (Photo: Robby Klein/Getty Images Portrait). Graphic: Jimmy Hasse.

“John Carroll Lynch: ‘I loved his trust of the people he’s worked with for 50 years. Lucky is a homage to the same period of movies that Clint Eastwood learned to make movies in. He was in the formative years of his directing career in the ’70s. So this movie is an homage to those movies, and also moving into the ’80s, to films by Jim Jarmusch and Peter Bogdanovich. So [Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja] wrote a movie that really wanted to capture that feeling, because they loved those movies. And it’s really where Harry [Dean Stanton] lives. He lives in that world.’”by A.A. Dowd

Hound of love: How Sandor Clegane turned into the surprise heart of Game Of Thrones 

Rory McCann as Sandor Clegane (Photo: HBO)

“Game Of Thrones may have a mission statement of subverting the traditional expectations of fantasy storytelling, but few of its narrative experiments have been as surprising as revealing the younger Clegane sibling as the exemplar of a personal redemption arc that also doubles as arguably the only counterweight to the general transformation of every noble-minded protagonist to the brutal realities of life in the seven kingdoms. A year away from the end of its story, Sandor Clegane has emerged as the sentimental and humanistic heart of Game Of Thrones.”—by Alex McLevy

Exploring the legacy of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes with Open Mike Eagle

For the inaugural episode of AV Docs, The A.V. Club spent a day with Open Mike Eagle at the site of the former Homes in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, exploring its legacy to understand the inspiration behind his new album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream.—by Baraka Kaseko and Marah Eakin

Salt grinders are bullshit, and other lessons from growing up in the spice trade 

Photo: DeAgostini/Getty Images

“The way I speak on spices isn’t so different from my fellow pop-culture-obsessed A.V. Club staffers, though: Just as our film editor butts into a conversation to defend the visuals of M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, every time I see a salt grinder or hear someone bad-mouth MSG, I feel obligated to interject.”—by Caitlin PenzeyMoog

10 years later, Graduation remains Kanye’s biggest, most joyful record 

Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images. Graphic: Emi Tolibas.

“For all his solipsism, Kanye’s greatest gift is his sense of curation and talent management, cobbling together a cohesive set of collaborators, guests, and influences for each project. Here, that meant only one guest rapper—a golden age Weezy verse—and a handful of outsourced choruses. And while the record filters in Chicago house, krautrock, and lots of European techno, it’s the classic rock influences that define it.”—by Clayton Purdom

These days, women run HBO—but for how long?

Issa Rae, Reese Witherspoon, and Evan Rachel Wood (Photo collage: Nick Wanserski)

“We have women creators, producers, and writers now, but the balance of power is changing in the material as well—just have a look at who was sitting on the Iron Throne last. Sansa, once the most pitiable Stark, is calling the shots—and with a female knight by her side. And that’s all on a show that’s primarily written and directed by men.”—by Danette Chavez

Very special episodes were a joke—now they’re the whole sitcom

Isabella Gomez, Jermaine Fowler, and Aya Cash (Photos: Michael Yarish/Netflix; Monty Brinton/CBS; Byron Cohen/FXX)

“In reclaiming this type of TV-making from the past (and making a few improvements), these shows have rehabbed yesterday’s laughingstock into the defining spirit of today’s TV comedy. They might sometimes be comedies in theory, but they are always very special sitcoms.”—by Erik Adams

The good places: The uncommonly decent TV worlds of Michael Schur

Eleanor of The Good Place (Photo: NBC), Leslie Knope of Parks And Rec (Photo: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images), Captain Ray Holt of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Photo: Fox), and the creator of it all, Michael Schur (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images). Graphic: Jimmy Hasse.

“The good places in the Michael Schur catalogue aren’t impenetrable fortresses, and the shows that are set there aren’t guaranteed escapes from the demons, the cranks, or the racist cops that populate our world. But even at the bottom of the deepest, darkest pit, there’s bound to be sincerity, emotion, and honesty. For viewers living in a world that looks increasingly like The Bad Place, that counts for a lot.”—by Erik Adams

“A great time to be alive and own a guitar”: Chicago’s 1990s alt-rock explosion

Scott Lucas of Local H performs in 1998 (Photo: Mark Peterman/WireImage/Getty Images)

“For a brief period in the mid-’90s, the city famous for blues but not much in the way of rock was swarmed by A&R reps looking for talent to sign. Bands that had been playing garages a few months previous were thrown five- and six-figure signing bonuses. Three-piece outfits that fans used to be able to see for almost free were showing up on MTV. The boom spread to clubs, recording studios, and indie labels as well as the bands themselves. And then, as the decade neared its end, just as quickly as the scene swept in, it was suddenly over.”—by Gwen Ihnat

In the 1940s, America fought Nazis in pop culture—and 2017’s America should too

Photograph of a woman listening to the radio during World War II, 1943. (Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

“Since World War II, defeating Nazis has been an integral part of America’s history, something vets of that war could be justifiably proud of, as they bravely prevented fascism from overtaking the entire globe. In the 1940s, pop culture’s then-dominant mass medium, radio, told unambiguously anti-fascist stories that today’s pop culture creators should take a cue from.”—by Gwen Ihnat

When Chicago was the black Hollywood

A 1919 advertisement for The Homesteader in Kansas City, Missouri. (Image: Library Of Congress)

“The necessity of race films, the preponderance of racist caricatures in early motion pictures—all of these speak to something. It is a dark fact that American film, despite its potential as a great mass art, developed in an environment where it was understood, under the same unspoken but inviolable codes that governed much of segregation, to be a medium for a white audience.”—by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

Step into the magical, mind-bending world of Hong Kong horror movies

Left to right: Screenshots from Mr. Vampire, Oily Maniac, The Boxer’s Omen, and Dumplings. (Graphic: Allison Corr)

“Over the next decade, horror movies would prove to be the same fertile ground for young directors in Hong Kong as it did in America, its low budgets and disreputable reputation giving budding masters the opportunity to develop their voices in relatively lawless conditions.”—by Katie Rife

Wonder Woman and the critical generation gap

Photo: Warner Bros./Ratpac Entertainment

“Perhaps the best thing to do is throw away the idea of ‘critics’ and of ‘audiences’ as monoliths. There is no objective way to watch Wonder Woman, and therefore there is no single authoritative way to write about it. As pop culture and politics grow ever closer and studios begin to realize that diverse representation is an asset rather than a liability, it’s more important than ever to reach out, to listen, and to look outside of ourselves.”—by Katie Rife

Utopia finds Björk at her best: Full of love

Photo: Santiago Felipe

“Wondrous and intense, Utopia is as Björkian as it gets. It functions as a strong rejection of Vulnicura’s darkness, drawing more from the warm, futuristic ‘folktronica’ of 2001’s Vespertine, inspired by her then-nascent relationship with [artist Matthew] Barney. It’s no coincidence that on Utopia Björk is dating again, and a breathtaking lightness permeates its 72 minutes. Part of that is expressed in Björk’s lilting, baroque choral and flute arrangements, as well as the Icelandic and Venezuelan birdsong that chatters throughout; part of it is in the album’s lyrical themes of possibility and detoxification.”—by Kelsey J. Waite

Beef, salt, and elbow grease: The simple smashed burger is an engineering marvel

A “Northwest Indiana”-style cheeseburger from The Region in Chicago (Photo: Kevin Pang)

“The burger arrived within minutes, and the meat, seared to a sheen, spilled over the sides. I peeled off the crumbly, crisp-verging-on-crunchy surplus beef, and ate it like a potato chip. The epiphany came: We endured the truffled-artisan aioli-Wagyufication of our burgers long enough, and coming to our senses now, we’ve realized the true way was the straightforward way, the one that only requires beef, salt, elbow grease, and nothing more.”—by Kevin Pang

I was a Houston flood kid

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

“But to live in Houston is to live in fear of the day when the water won’t stop. Wondering if this was one of those days would twist up my mom’s stomach every time a bad storm hit the city. She had reason to worry: Our house flooded four times in 11 years.”—by Kyle Ryan

The reaction to “Cat Person” shows how the internet can even ruin fiction

Photo:SSPL/Getty Images

“Both the prose style and the social media context in which many people arrived at the story may help explain why “Cat Person” was treated as both an essay and as an argument about how men and women relate to one another. But “Cat Person” is not an argument. No short story is.”—by Laura Adamczyk

Joss Whedon was never a feminist

Joss Whedon (Photo: Brian Ach/Getty Iamges)

“If Whedon is using feminism to shield himself from terrible behavior, then it should poison his work. Whedon is right about at least one thing in that 2013 Equality Now speech, even as its noxious irony is revealed: ‘You don’t have to hate someone to destroy them, you just have to not get it.’”—by Laura M. Browning

Hellblade’s battle with mental illness is an agonizing story only games could tell

Screenshot: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

“What’s most impressive about Hellblade is how every aspect of the game is working in concert to achieve that effect of emotional and mental unity between Senua and the player. This is a character study in a way only video games can pull off, throwing audiences into the mind of someone who is experiencing a psychotic break, making them see what they see, hear what they hear, and feel what they feel.”—by Matt Gerardi

Cuphead’s brilliant cartoon look masks a brutal, unforgiving game

Screenshot: Cuphead

Cuphead is almost mercilessly difficult. You will die many times in this game, whether it’s while trying to learn a boss’ patterns, while trying to avoid a string of bouncing ladybugs, or while trying to pull off the game’s annoyingly inconsistent midair ‘parry’ move. You might die dozens of times in the first world. You’ll probably die hundreds of times by the end. Thankfully, Cuphead isn’t mocking or sadistic about its difficulty, and that’s almost entirely because of how charming it all is. Cuphead plays like something old and looks like something even older, but it’s more stylish than any shoot-’em-up or moralizing cartoon.”—by Sam Barsanti

The guilt of hating gun violence, but loving its movies

Clockwise from top left: Joe Pesci in Goodfellas; Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs; John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction; Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

“I can watch Goodfellas more than 100 times (a conservative number, probably), but that doesn’t change the fact that I would have preferred the government have made it a little more difficult for him to get a gun that day than it was to buy a fucking wine cooler.”—by Sean O’Neal

A requiem for Review, one of the darkest TV comedies ever produced

Review (Screenshot: Comedy Central)

 “Review just concludes like any other episode, with Forrest dimly plowing ahead, unaware that his life is well and truly over this time—and there is no one there, least of all the viewer, left to plead with him to finally wake up. It’s a fitting conclusion to what is one of the darkest comedies ever seen on television.”—by Sean O’Neal

The Untouchables mythologized a city the Chicago way

The A.V. Club visited some of the movie’s iconic downtown Chicago filming locations to discuss how The Untouchables uses the city to create an operatic backdrop for the conflict between the straight-arrow lawman Eliot Ness and the despotic gangster Al Capone, and drop into the office of official city historian Tim Samuelson to talk about the real men behind the myth.—by Sean O’Neal and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

Can a video game fan who knows nothing about football learn to love Madden?

Kudos to the designer who accurately modeled “disappointment” on the coaches’ faces; you made the shame far more vivid that it would otherwise be. (Screenshot: Madden NFL 18)

“Booting up the newest iteration of the franchise, Madden NFL 18, I’m asked a few questions about my level of experience. I pick ‘Beginner,’ because ‘Occasional Humiliation’ isn’t an option, and am immediately booted into a recreation of last year’s Super Bowl match-up between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.”—by William Hughes

The 35 best science-fiction movies since Blade Runner

Graphic: Jimmy Hasse

“With a belated sequel, Blade Runner 2049, opening in theaters this Friday, we at The A.V. Club couldn’t help but ask: What are the best sci-fi movies to come out since the original theatrical release of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece?”—by The A.V. Club staff

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