Well, that's another year banked, and as usual, I didn't get in everything I wanted to see, taste, hear, smell, or touch. Usually I have to scrape around a bit to make this list comfortably, but there was a lot of cool, fun, silly stuff in 2015. I had things that I felt bad leaving off this year's list! Things like this great piece of Crisis on Infinite Earths fanart. Or this amazing photo by Christophe Courteau of an angry, intoxicated gorilla. And some movies I really loved this year but didn't quite make the cut, like Strange Magic. Or TV shows I enjoyed the hell out of, like Scream Queens and Empire and UnREAL. Even commercials, like those delightfully daft Jeff Goldblum bits for Apartments.com, or those Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials with first Darrell Hammond and then Norm MacDonald, which is just my kind of bizarre silliness. (I kind of hope they change it now to Tim Meadows as Colonel Sanders with no real explanation.) I didn't even mention the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, or We Bare Bears or how I'm actually seeing Simpsons episodes I like again or the continued excellence of the Mickey Mouse cartoons or Sufjan Stevens' wonderful new album or David Bowie's new music video. And have you seen Mezco's beautiful new Spock figure? Lots of great stuff.
Hey, it's my list and my blog, I'll cheat how I want.
Anyway, on with this thing.
Yeah, I agree: American Dad is no great show. But sometimes they pull something out that I find oddly delightful, and this time it was Robert Wuhl. I don't know what it is about the guy--maybe it's that I saw Batman and Bull Durham so many times as a kid--but I just like it when he shows up, and here he was playing a crazy, near-murderous version of himself as he traps Stan and Hailey into spending an evening with him, eats large amounts of potato salad, berates them when they try to leave, and says weird things like "I was the second-fastest guy on Arliss." Points to Wuhl for lampooning himself so efficiently that I still get excited when I see this episode is running, and for going with the line, after someone tells him they're a big fan, "Wait a minute, 'big fan'? That doesn't add up."
After a lifetime of watching the Oscars and seeing all the nominees, it's interesting how easy it really is to give all that up. I'm not so into the fashion of it anymore, so my last reason to watch it is gone. So this picture, of Christoph Waltz being disturbed while eating a hamburger... in its way, it's more wonderful than any of the nominated movies, anyway. The only thing that could make this better would be if it were actually a Vine that Werner Herzog was somehow narrating.
48. "Peeno Noir"
The best part of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (itself a very good show) was the invaluable Tituss Burgess starring as Titus Andromedon, and his would-be hit club single, "Peeno Noir." (Subtitle: "An ode to black penis.") He's pretty, but tough, like a diamond (or beef jerky in a ball gown).
This documentary aired on HBO back in January, but it's stayed with me ever since. I always like documentaries about creative folk, and I didn't really know much about Hilary Knight going in, but it manages to pack a lot about the creative process, the difficulties (and rewards) of collaboration, finding beauty in life, and living on your own terms into just 36 minutes. I came away with a real admiration for a man who created his own happy world, something I'm trying hard to do for myself.
46. I'm So Excited
Last year, Elsa Pataky made a fashion film for Spanish lingerie company Women'secret called Dark Seduction which was on my list (number 43). This fall, they made a second film, and I love Elsa Pataky and hope this tradition continues. (And even if it doesn't, getting a second one is pretty darn great.) Not everyone's thing, but definitely mine.
Here's what I like about these movies: they're ridiculous and cheesy, and rather than running from that and trying to be all cool and cynical, these movies embrace it and just have as much fun as they possibly can. This is probably the one I've liked the most so far. Not enough Elsa Pataky, but still loved it.
I'm just always happy to see new Henson creatures, and Squonk, Zorp, Thring and Burble (seen here with my hero, Kirk Thatcher) were no disappointments. Also, kudos to Lifetime: between Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever last year, and Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow this year, they're actually giving me the kind of creature-laden silliness that I like for the holidays.
43. Astronaut Jones
Astronaut Jones holds a special place in mine and Becca's hearts. The aesthetic is just one of those places where our Venn diagrams overlap: the cheesy song, the ridiculous sets, the pretty girls, the faux-coolness, the old-fashioned space imagery, even the Esquivel record cover. So, seeing how bad Saturday Night Live's been all season, it was nice to get this little bit of nostalgic whimsy.
When this spin-off/semi-prequel to Breaking Bad was first announced, it couldn't sound more inessential. But the show that resulted was surprising; this is a great series, with a great Bob Odenkirk performance, about a loser who is trying to change and just wants to do good, but is finding the road pretty hard to travel. It's great stuff.
41. RuPaul's Drag Race
Interesting season; it was hard to make an early call on the winner this year, which somehow sparked off a lot of fan whining. Also, the queens the fans got behind this year were either not very good (Trixie) or fun but obviously not going to win (my wonderful Katya), so there was a lot of arguing about constructing narratives and producer's tricks, which honestly weren't as terribly obvious this year as they've been in the past. It's reality competition, hon, it's par for the course. Interesting how producer interference is always at its most obvious when your fave isn't winning...
This one's just been some charming fun so far. Melissa Benoist is so sweet and likable as Kara Zor-El that I just can't help but root for her. As the kind of media outlets I'm going to start calling the Old Nerd Guard are fond of constantly pointing out, it's not a show that's magically perfect right out of the gate, but there's so much that already works that there's a lot to be optimistic about--including the show's actual optimism! (Devin Faraci's review of the pilot pretty much nails how I felt after watching it.)
You guys know by now.
I'm a costume/creature/makeup guy, and this was right up my alley. I saw some negative criticism, but I'm not really engaging with it, because I had a fantastic time watching this one. Probably the (non-comic book) representation of Oz that I've enjoyed the most in the last half-decade or so.
37. Lego Jurassic World
Always so happy to have a new Lego video game to spend the days with. This should be interesting, because I've not seen Jurassic World, but we're about to start that section of the game. Never seen a movie in Lego parody form first. I'm really digging the game (that's a paleontology joke, son), and we haven't even started free play yet. I heard a lot of reports that the game was buggy, but so far it moves more fluidly than some of the recent Lego games, and it's not anymore buggy than these Lego games tend to be. It's damn fun.
Hyperion to a Satyr
This year, Siskoid finished a blog project that began in 2009: "examining in altogether too much detail my favorite play of all time, Hamlet Prince of Denmark by one William Shakespeare, and its varied dramatic representations, with an eye towards staging, performance and text." Taking the play scene by scene, fragment by fragment, and analyzing the various film versions and more, I discovered new interpretations that I had never considered before, some that even changed them significantly for me. It's been a real pleasure to read, all the way.
There was a moment in the second season where someone told the main character, Will Forte's Phil Miller: "Everybody's life got worse the day they met you." As someone with the kind of anxiety disorder that makes me think that's probably true of me, there were a lot of times when I related to this show. It walks that line between awkward cringe and humor, but the characters (particularly Phil) are pretty rich and I'm just weirdly fascinated by it.
There's so much Star Wars stuff in the world, you guys. There's so much that you don't even have to get in these shouting matches over which is the good stuff and what's canon, because whatever you like about Star Wars, there's always something for you to enjoy. This year, I got a Hallmark ornament of C-3PO and R2-D2. Some Guy gave me some amazing Lego sets that I'm going to be building. Kelly gave me my first Millennium Falcon toy, and Cartoon Network ran four or five episodes of Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales over the summer and fall. All the build-up to The Force Awakens yielded a huge round of merchandising with some great commercials (particularly that Battlefront commercial that hit us right in the nostalgia). Jeffrey Brown put out two more great books: Darth Vader and Friends and the wonderful Goodnight, Darth Vader. There was so much great Star Wars stuff that there are four more Star Wars-related entries on this list!
I haven't bothered to be impatient and entitled about the wait for new episodes of The Venture Bros., but we got one episode this year that was hella fun and basically everything I love about this very weird, very wonderful show.
32. Rick and Morty
Another weird and wonderful animated show, a science fiction adventure that can be as wistful as it is funny, using the premise of a sociopathic mad scientist going on dangerous adventures in space and time with his grandchildren to say some interesting things about society and family.
An interesting experience for me; as I've said in several posts, I didn't take Nirvana or grunge seriously because the people I knew who were into that scene where phony assholes who had to check pop culture signifiers so everyone would know how Gen-X they were, man. Lame. Fricking lame. So seeing this very well-made documentary and getting a picture of the man himself (20 years removed from that whole time) and going out from there, it not only made a genre of music accessible to me, but it made me sorry I'd missed out on someone who has a very interesting story and who created some powerful expressions of emotional frustration. It's the kind of music I can relate to now, and probably could have related to then, but finally listening to Nevermind and In Utero was something I'm so glad I finally did.
Remember Zim? He's back, in comic book form. Just feels like a sweet vindication since the TV series Invader ZIM (and a lot of good science fiction shows) got canceled back in 2003. And not only are the characters back, but so far, the new series is incredibly funny.
Another return in comic book form. I wasn't sure what good a comic book based on a cartoon where the music was such a big element would be; turns out, it's a lot of good! This is a charming comic, sort of one part Archie, one part nostalgia (they've brought back a lot of characters from the series, even Techrat, and he sucks), and two parts very well-written dramedey about the lives of girls who want to live their dreams and the media industry that pits them against one another. This is a fantastic comic.
This year continued TMNT's reign of somehow being everything I've ever wanted a Turtles comic to be. 2015 saw the big fiftieth issue, with the massive confrontation between Splinter, Shredder, and General Krang come to its conclusion. It also gave us a Casey and April miniseries that expanded the mystic side of the mythology, and continued to bring back old characters.
One last comic book reboot here. I'm glad they went full update on this, rather than just that "new look" that pissed everyone off before. So far, this has been a really charming, hilarious comic that doesn't just rely on nostalgia, even with the winks that populate the modern version we're getting. I think the biggest triumph of this series is that it tries to be relevant to kids now while still honoring longtime fans by keeping things sincere. Too many modern updates of things add a lot of cynicism, and there's been none so far, and that means an awful lot. (Especially in a world where "institutions" like SNL are just making fun of Millennials, the very audience Lorne will soon be begging to watch his show.) Add to this Chip Zdarsky's wonderful Jughead comic, which features imaginary stories like the Time Police, woven in as dream sequences but sill a lot of fun.
A lot of shows tend to coast in their final season, as they repurpose old scripts and do a lot of callbacks. And while the final, short season of Parks did pull some fan service, it's refreshing how the show managed to hold on to the heart and the character that made it what it was for seven seasons. It's still my go-to show for when I'm feeling sick and just want to spend the day bingeing on something comforting. And it probably will be for a long time.
I always hope that every genre movie is going to give me that one new creature to love, and The Force Awakens certainly did with their cute rolling droid. My inner 8 year-old wants to build it, befriend it, and hold it in place of honor.
Also, this selfie with Warwick Davis:
I already waxed rhapsodic on how great these are during my Halloween coverage (and my subsequent experience with opening some), so I'll just say again that these are wonderful.
W/ Bob & David was very welcome. One of mine and Becca's favorite shows was Mr. Show with Bob and David, and this reunion project actually turned out the way you hope reunion projects will. Getting as many of their old writers and troupe back together as they could, they produced four episodes that really just felt like four new episodes of the old show made by guys who were a little older. This kind of thing working out is pretty rare in comedy, and so welcome when it actually does. And it wasn't just trying to recapture the old feeling and redoing audience favorites and bringing back old characters; this was the same guys with an older perspective and what they find funny right now. (Including, most surprising of all, a parody of the documentary Salesman.)
20. Maddie Ziegler
Maddie is one of my favorite performers right now. She's part of the ensemble of Dance Moms, still one of my favorite shows despite a hard-to-get-through season this year. But after last year's "Chandelier" video for Sia (number 18 on my list last year), she's emerged as a powerful interpretive dancer. Dance fits into my appreciation for creatures, puppets, mime, movement, etc., and she's been amazing this year in fashion films, musical shorts, and Sia videos. Just when I wondered if her collaboration with Sia had concluded after a trilogy of videos, the two appeared together on Ellen, with Maddie giving another incredible performance.
I was sorry when Skottie Young stopped writing Rocket Racoon at Marvel, but I'm thrilled with his incredible new comic book. It's about a six year-old girl who wound up in Fairyland and was sent on a magical quest to find a key that would take her back to the real world. Thirty years later, she's still there, searching for that key, and she's still six years old... and she is so over it. If you're tired of some of the overly-reverent takes on fairy tales we've been getting in pop culture, this is something of an antidote, giving it a rambunctious, violent, Tank Girl spin without getting too jaded. It's just been a fun ride so far.
That this gonzo sci-fi action flick was very popular doesn't surprise me at all. It's a thrilling ride, and another of this year's nostalgic returns that actually pays off. (I guess that's really the theme of this whole list.) What does surprise me is that this thing was the most acclaimed film of the year and people are talking about Oscars and stuff. For Mad Max! Back in the days of The Road Warrior, that's the kind of thing genre fans could really only dream about. It's interesting how that landscape changes. This movie emerged into a world of franchise reboots and nostalgia trips that are so slavish about continuity and formula that it was amazing to see a movie that just shoved all of that out of the way and delivered. This crazy, visionary picture--a picture with a real narrative heft that doesn't beat you senseless with messaging--was, as one critic said, the Gotterdammerung of Drive-In Movies, and that people are actually saying it's the best movie of the year is just gravy.
I was never a big fan of the Dark Horse comics, but the new line at Marvel has been pretty delightful. In addition to the main Star Wars series running now, there have been some really fun miniseries: so far, Princess Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca. They all tend to take place in that nebulous "between Episodes IV and V" territory that these things always take place in, but I guess they're trying to be careful because these comics are the new "in-continuity" stories, which... let's be honest, it doesn't matter to me at all. I've said it before, my Star Wars canon is the movies, the cartoons and whatever else I think fits in there because I liked it. You like Mara Jade? Not me, but who cares, because that's your continuity, not mine, and it's no skin off my hide if they're not the same. In my continuity, Chewbacca still has a son called Lumpy, Plif and the Hoojibs joined the Rebel Alliance, Mara Jade doesn't need to exist because Shira Brie already did, and Ackmena is still the blowsy bartender at Chalmun's Cantina. So far, these comics have added a few characters I'm pleased to have in my continuity, particularly from the Darth Vader series, which is the best of these Marvel books: Dr. Aphra, the murder droid Triple-Zero, the insane astromech BT-1, and this guy...
16. Master of None
Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang's new Netflix series really took me by surprise. I'm not always interested in "young guy with relationship troubles" types of series--they're a dime a dozen, and the exquisite angst of white guys is a story that's been told so many times I know all the beats by rote. But this series, with this perspective, really drew me into it. Aziz plays Dev Shah, a commercial actor trying to break into television and movies who wants to meet someone, but Ansari & Yang devote episodes to the immigrant experience, racism in media representation, the awkwardness of destination dates, how we agonize over life decisions, and the ways we don't value our seniors. The emphasis on aging and how times change especially held me. This is a funny show, but it's also sensitive, at times lyrical, and very well-observed, and from perspectives we don't see often enough on television.
It did take a very long time to come out--I purposely didn't read any of it until it was all available--and I wasn't really champing at the bit for more Sandman, but this miniseries was a beautiful... well, I was going to say coda on the whole Dreaming mythology, but its title is apt: it really is the overture, even if it is written long after the story is over. This comic really explored everything Dream is, not only in terms of his purpose, but in terms of his character, his sense of duty and his vanity. Beautiful stuff; Neil Gaiman outdid himself here, and in artist JH Williams III, he has a perfect orchestra to realize his music.
Way too expensive to actually own, but gorgeous to look at. (I'm glad there's so much toy photography on the internet.) In the same way that the IDW comic book is everything I want from a Turtles comic, these figures are everything I would want in a Turtles figure set. They're just exquisite.
Becca has had a rough year, and sometimes art is just work and doesn't bring her the pleasure it once did. But when she's drawing certain characters, I know she's just connecting with her muse and producing something she really loves. This Tank Girl drawing reminds me of a time, back around 1995, when she sat and drew Tank Girl and her kangaroo boyfriend Booga on a t-shirt. We had seen the Lori Petty movie and dug it, we were already fans of the comic, and it was just one of those Aaron & Becca things where the diagrams overlapped. She wore that shirt for years, too, until it finally became unwearable. This picture really put me in touch with something from a happier time and, well, like I said, that seems to be the theme of this list...
Two years ago on this list, I said I was enjoying Miley's then-new album Bangerz and the evolution of her sound... I didn't expect her follow-up would mostly leave the pop sound behind and become something so experimental, arty and spacey. There's still a pop framework--most of the album was done in collaboration with the Flaming Lips, who have always had a great ability to make pop music you would actually want to get stoned to--but the album is so out there it seems like reviewers don't know what to make of it. Yeah, it's sprawling and self-indulgent, but not in a way that's irritating or too haphazard. It's kind of freewheeling and fearless. What I love so much about her is that, at only 23, Miley seems to well and truly not give a fuck. Yeah, she says stupid shit sometimes like any other dumb kid, but I honestly admire that she's willing to go so far out there with her music and her style. Her charity on behalf of homeless LGBT teens seems to be her real work, anyway. I know she's become a polarizing figure, but I love her and I fucking love this album.
There were a lot of great high-resolution space photos this year: Pluto, the Andromeda galaxy, even the Milky Way. When I was a kid, no celestial object captured my imagination more than the Horsehead Nebula. Ever since, I've always loved to look at nebulae and space clouds and dust formations. Part of why I liked Guardians of the Galaxy so much was that outer space was colorful and full of objects that reminded me of a book we used to have when I was a child with the Horsehead Nebula right on the cover. So the Hubble's 1995 photo of the Pillars of Creation has always been special to me. So back in January, when this new high-res photo was released, it was a real sight for me.
The Purple Stuff Podcast
My favorite new podcast this year--maybe my favorite podcast ever--is this one from two of my favorite bloggers: Matt from Dinosaur Dracula and Jay from The Sexy Armpit. The two of them talk about their pop culture memories involving holidays, junk food, movies, TV specials, toys, and all kinds of retro geek stuff. They began as a series of Halloween podcasts, but it seems like they're going to keep it going from now on, which just delights me. About six years ago, everyone was doing retro blogs, but these days we're seeing a lot of those blogs fall by the wayside and the people who are doing it for the love of stuff sticking around. These guys love the stuff that reconnects us with our childhood passions, and I love listening to them talk about it. Listen to them here!
This show was on my list last year, too (number 14). One of my favorite shows again this year, and one that I thought improved on the high standards of the first season. I loved this season's emphasis on miscommunication as the cause of violence, and the 1970's touches of cosmic awareness and actualization (and the perspective with which they're tempered). Some of the best performances on TV this year, particularly Bokeem Woodbine and Ted Danson. Loved the soundtrack. And, I'll be honest, Kirsten Dunst's seventies housewife clothes.
I'll just say this: I loved it. That's all I'm gonna do. I don't really want to engage on the internet with this movie, because the last 15 years have really taught me how pointless it is to engage with the internet about Star Wars. I've not read reviews, and I'm not reading anyone's opinion pieces on it. I'm tired of the internet telling me everything I love is stupid, inadequate, or somehow not right. Seeing this movie was a special thing that happened on a special day, and I had a wonderful time, and I frankly don't feel like sharing that experience here just so someone can come in and tell me what an asshole I am for liking something. I've had quite enough of that. I just want to enjoy it. And did I? Yes. Very much.
7. "Elastic Heart"
The middle section of Sia's amazing trilogy of videos with Maddie Ziegler. This is the one I return to most often, because it communicates to me on an emotional level. It's been fascinating over the year to read some of the interpretations of it. Some saw themselves and their struggles with alcoholism or drug abuse represented. One person wrote a very interesting comment about how the video represents the complex, almost parasitic duality of bipolar disorder. Others saw their problems with self-acceptance. When I watch this video, I see the emotional turmoil of my mental disorders and my relationship with the bruised, wounded thing inside of me that turned me into my own worst abuser, and the child I was that just... wasn't protected from it. I've never once watched this video without crying. This is the kind of thing music, movement, and emotion can do; that kind of nebulous art I keep going on about.
Last year, I wrote that Dan Slott & Mike Allred's series (number 17 on that list) wasn't quite the equal of FF, my favorite thing of 2013, but I think this book may have surpassed it for me this year. I've really connected with the Surfer over the years, someone misunderstood and racked with guilt from the past, and where the book was at first layering a modern sensibility to Marvel's cosmic stuff, this year it became a story of atonement, forgiveness,acceptance, and how we experience reality that really, really moved me.
I spent March through September of this year ranking 165 "Weird Al" Yankovic songs. Honestly, it was some of the best fun I had this year, because I got to listen to all of Al's albums again and reconnect with, really, the musical artist I've loved the most over the course of my whole life. It was just so much fun to listen to all of those songs, think about why they meant what they meant to me, and really write about the whole thing. I'm glad I spent all that time on it, too, instead of rushing through it. It was definitely a more edifying project than summarizing Fifty Shades of Grey.
Another thing from the past that made a triumphant return this year. I'm a big fan of the Evil Dead trilogy, but I assumed Army of Darkness would just be the end of that. And here we are, over 20 years later, with a show that rocks just as much as the movies did. Bruce Campbell is just a damn national treasure.
I was so delighted to get this in the mail recently, and I'll have to give it its own proper post. I loved the first book, Stardancer, but I actually liked this one even more because it focuses on my favorite character in this series, Margeth. These books are wonderful. Hey, why not go purchase your own? I promise it's worth it.
This has really been the point where people have started slamming the MCU, but I really liked what it had to offer this year (and overall I thought Phase Two was much stronger than the origin-heavy Phase One). Age of Ultron was pretty great, and introduced some compelling new characters. I can't wait to see what happens in the future, if anything, between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. James Spader's Ultron was an amazing characterization, some of the best motion capture I've seen, and even if he wasn't exactly like the Ultron of the comics, I... I don't care. And I loved the whole Natasha-Bruce pairing, which I've actually been hoping for since the first Avengers. Remember, it means a lot to me to see that monsters can be loved, and they both think they're monsters (and no, not because Natasha can't have children, but because she was dehumanized in a number of ways to make her a more efficient murderer). They're the only characters who have no past and no future, and in a film concerned with legacies and what its characters have to offer the world around them, it really does make sense.
This was a great year for this lifelong Muppet fan, because I really, truly loved the new sitcom. I don't know what's going to happen now with the behind-the-scenes change in showrunners, but I think the show got better and better as it went on. It felt fresh to me to see the Muppets taking on the current sitcom format the same way they took on the variety show in the seventies, and I'm sorry so many people have felt the change was too jarring, especially after a couple of decades of seemingly not liking anything except for The Muppet Christmas Carol. (Seriously, stop trying to do to Kermit what people did to Mickey Mouse in the late thirties and turn him into a zero-faceted character.) A lot of the criticisms I've read doesn't make sense to me ("The Muppets have never done long-term storytelling so this should be interesting, but I'm tired of all these episodes about relationships!" "The characters aren't just delightful and optimistic at all times!") and I'm just trying to enjoy what we have until the inevitable cancellation. (Just like The Jim Henson Hour and Muppets Tonight...)
But there have been a lot of Muppet things to enjoy this year: Disney Channel's Muppet Moments, Bearly Funny Fridays, Small Business Saturday, a summer full of TV promos for the new series, the "Kodachrome" and "Flowers on the Wall" and "Jungle Boogie" videos, that wonderful Warburtons UK ad, the Oh My Disney dramatic readings, "Pure Imagination," Cookie Monster's appearances on Mashable (once with Grumpy Cat), and Big Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Orange Pants).
So, this was a damn fine year for entertaining me. Especially when it came to Muppets.