This week’s question continues our look back at 2017:
What non-2017 pop culture did you finally get around to this year?
I’ve been a Twin Peaks devotee since first watching the original run in my teenage years, so of course I was dying for the arrival of The Return. But there was a glaring omission in my Peaks knowledge that desperately needed filling before this new run kicked off: Fire Walk With Me. I actually didn’t get around to it until the day of the finale, but it didn’t have all that much of an effect on how much I enjoyed The Return. After finally watching it, though, I was shocked to see just how much of the film, not to mention its deleted scenes, was paid off and echoed throughout the season. I can understand where all the hate was coming from at the time of release; after all, the movie just further muddies Twin Peaks’ already murky waters with seemingly extraneous plots and nonsensical lore. But I fall on the side of the positive reappraisals its gotten of late, especially in the wake of The Return, which provide so much more context and even tonal harmony to its wildest, darkest moments.
I know exactly why it took me so long to get to The Witcher 3, widely hailed as 2015’s obvious Game Of The Year: It’s fucking huge. The game clocks in at well over 100 hours, and though I poked and prodded at its opening chapter last year, I only ended up making it through about 20 hours—a full regular game’s worth!—before giving up when I realized I was still less than a quarter of the way through. I finally picked The Wild Hunt back up a few weeks ago, let the hooks sink into my heart, and finished it off last night. The trouble with talking about old media is that everybody’s already combed every inch of it for new takes, so all I’ll say about the sprawling finale to the tale of Geralt Of Rivia is this: Few games in the current video game Dad-Wave have grasped the actual meaning of fatherhood better than this weird, massive story about the gravel-voiced asshole who makes his living haggling with dirt-covered racists about how much money a bloody monster skull should be worth.
I’ve been on something of a Talk Talk kick this year; as I wrote earlier, I tend to listen to Laughing Stock and Spirit Of Eden whenever I feel stressed—so basically, the whole of 2017. So I was already primed to discover Bark Psychosis, a band whose similarly experimental, ambient-rock wanderings owe a heavy debt to those albums (and later, even included Talk Talk’s own drummer). Fire Records recently reissued 1994’s Hex, the landmark that prompted Mojo’s Simon Reynolds to coin the phrase “post-rock,” and it’s one of those records and bands that I feel stupid for only now coming around to, after years of glazing over its many mentions and accolades. It’s not as brilliant as Talk Talk—few things are—but Hex stands on its own, a gorgeous and mysterious work whose haunting atmospheres are equally worth getting lost in. It’s also led me down a “post-rock” rabbit hole of contemporaries from that scene like A.R. Kane and Disco Inferno, as well as spinoffs like the Talk Talk/Bark Psychosis/Portishead merger .O.Rang. I now have plenty of soothing, hypnotic sounds to lull me through whatever fresh disasters 2018 brings.
Given my penchant for crime dramas, Steven Knight shows, and Cillian Murphy, I don’t know why it took me so long to finally watch Peaky Blinders. I could say I was busy watching all the other new TV being made, but all the Seinfeld reruns I recently watched would disagree. Still, it’s daunting to make your way through three seasons of a show, even when it stars Helen McCrory, Tom Hardy, Sam Neill, Annabelle Wallis, and Paddy Considine, with guest stints from Alexander Siddig and Tommy Flanagan (who’s familiar with turf battles). But it can be summarized thusly: A gaggle of gangsters fights for territory and pride in post-WWI England. With the age-old enmity between the English and the Irish as a backdrop, this is a story about the Birmingham Peaky Blinders, who are based on a real-life early 20th-century gang. Despite the silly-sounding name and gritty environs, this is a high-minded drama, one that looks at class struggle and transition, as well as how a criminal enterprise serves as a surrogate family for its impoverished members. Murphy is a captivating and conflicted lead, and is more than ably backed by the rest of the cast. I got caught up just in time, too, as 2018 promises a fourth season.
Although I’ve seen bits and pieces over the years, I don’t think I ever sat down and watched an episode of 30 For 30 from start to finish until this year. I’m a casual sports fan, but the best episodes of ESPN’s documentary series draw you in regardless with the story they tell. For instance, I don’t care much about hockey, and I definitely don’t give a shit about the New York Islanders, but the story about a businessman who conned his way into nearly owning the team—even though he didn’t have money—is completely bonkers. I remember the ’94 World Cup, but know nothing about the Colombian national soccer team, yet “The Two Escobars” is one of the most gut-wrenching docs I’ve ever seen. There are too many examples to list here, especially now that ESPN has made like 100 of them, and they’re more hit than miss. I have a lot of catching up to do.
I’m cheap, so I performed a very long, sustained, have-to-pee-dance of excitable anticipation waiting for 2016’s Atlanta to finally show up on a streaming service. And man, I should probably have just bought them right when they came out. Donald Glover’s series centers on his character, Earn, a smart but directionless guy trying to find some focus and, hopefully, success as the manager for his rapper cousin Paper Boi. The show’s brilliance is in how it takes each character’s unromantic struggles to carve out some stability in their lives and punctuate them with intense moments of surrealism that work to highlight the unreality of what it takes just to scrape by day-to-day. It’s a funny, intense, anxiety-inducing show marked by exceptional performances from everyone involved. The next season is due out in 2018 and I’ve learned my lesson from waiting on season one for long enough that I’m just going to go ahead and get ’em as they come out.
Failing spectacularly at my vow to finally jump into Hill Street Blues, I’m happy to say I’m completely caught up with a program that takes up no physical space in my home. Toast Of London came to Netflix this fall, and if you read Staff Picks, watch the A.V. Club TV show, or cut my hair, you know I haven’t been able to shut up about it. Would I have been as enthusiastic if not for all the time I spent pining for the show from afar, seeing YouTube thumbnails of star and co-creator Matt Berry in Steven Toast’s serious thespian getup—all black ensemble, white streak in his hair—and monastically thinking, “No, don’t watch this until it’s in some form that wasn’t ripped from someone’s DVR”? Probably. But I’m also enthused because the waiting paid off, in a live-action cartoon driven by its creators’ esoteric tastes and a gonzo sensibility that draws on the history of alternative comedy in the UK as surely as Toast calls upon the spirits of all the theatrical personalities who tread the boards before him. There’s reportedly a fourth series in development, so perhaps there’s yet a chance that I can register an AVQ&A endorsement for Toast Of London in the year new episodes actually come out.
This fall I finally spent some quality time with the Zombies beyond their radio hits. In particular, the quirky, subdued psych-pop of the band’s second and then-final record, Odessey & Oracle, kept calling me back in. The album took time to gain traction after it was released in 1968 (by which time the band had already split), and to date it isn’t considered one of the grandest statements of its era, not like Pet Sounds or Love’s Forever Changes, at least. But it was still well ahead of its time. The Zombies convinced their label to let them record Odessey at Abbey Road without producers or outside influence, and as a result, the album has an isolated strangeness. The band was especially skilled at pulling off odd song structures and merging disparate sonic directions. “Changes,” one of my favorites, is a great example of the latter.
I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation as it ran, my whole family gathered around the TV set on Sunday nights for most of my childhood, and then blasted through it all again a couple years ago. Star Trek’s a great background show, slow enough to eat up big chunks of time, to follow while also cooking or answer emails, and full of wonderful sci-fi sounds. I’ve been waiting for the right time to finally watch its successor, Deep Space Nine, which builds upon the hard sci-fi intellectualism and rich characterizations of TNG while also developing a much richer, series-long arc, and, now that I’ve got a newborn at home destroying my sleep schedule, I have finally found that right time. Max Temkin’s well-written series guide helped me plow through the first couple seasons efficiently, but I’m slowing down to smell the Cardassian intrigue now that I’m in the third season, when many of TNG’s best writers came onboard, transforming what had been a worthy follow-up into arguably the finest Trek series. I hear I haven’t even gotten to the really good seasons yet, but I’m already smitten with the show, and wondering why I waited so damn long in the first place.
I’m not entirely certain why I dragged my feet on Train To Busan. Despite hearing good things from pretty much everyone who’s seen it (and also making our list of best films of 2016 we didn’t review), my general fatigue on zombie-outbreak horror got the better of me, and I ignored it last year, until finally using this past Halloween as an excuse to see what all the fuss was about. Unsurprisingly, all that hubbub was earned: The movie takes the most generic of zombie narratives and stock characters and transforms it into a nonstop rollercoaster ride of a movie, proving once more that a great action-horror film doesn’t need any intellectual bells and whistles or Sorkin-level dialogue if it’s got a director as savvy at manipulating tension and staging chase choreography as South Korea’s Yeon Sang-ho. From the moment things start to go wrong, the film sprints headlong into one endless race of survival, an adrenaline rush of filmmaking that earns it a place among the finer offerings of the post-28 Days Later zombie reinvention genre.
I recently started making my way through You’re The Worst, a show that’s been long recommended by my colleagues, but that I’d put off for a while because its romantic undertones were unappealing, even though I knew it wasn’t a sappy, light-hearted caper. But it’s really not a sappy romantic comedy. I’ve made my way through two and a half seasons in the past couple weeks and, sure enough, I love this show about awful people. The characters walk the line between likable and unlikable—they’re terrible, and you wouldn’t want them as real-life friends, but you’re still kind of rooting for them—and the narrative is rooted in just enough reality. The arc about Gretchen’s depression hits particularly close to home, and even if her depression manifests itself in a somewhat exaggerated way, the show still understands the underpinnings of clinical depression and what it’s like to live with somebody who doesn’t. And through all that, You’re The Worst is still pretty funny.