THANK GOD 2011 is over. I mean, THANK FREAKING GOD. This year was a bit of a crazy bitch.
But even though 2011 sucked, there were some good things that happened in it. And what better way to head into 2012 than with a list of some cool shit that came out of 2011? Maybe positivity will help. Who knows? So:
The Vampire Diaries
There's been a meme going around about this show, in that "OMG YOU GUYS THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD I KNOW IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE BUT IT'S NOT OMG!!" And it's true. Vampire Diaries could have skated along on the goodwill earned by the YA series, but it didn't. In fact, the show became must-watch TeeVee if you have any interest in a show that defies its own conventions, falls viciously in love with its characters, punches them in the face, and somehow manages to keep alive a love triangle that should grow stale but doesn't. Helping the show on its way in the remarkably astute cast. Totally underrated, if you ask me. Shows where the leads profess their undying love for each other generally have dullards in the leads and other interesting characters flitting about the edges, but that isn't the case here. There's nothing wan about Elena Gilbert and the way Nina Dobrev plays her is spot-on perfect. She's spunky. Lou Grant would hate/love her. Not only that, but she's also asked to play Elena's wicked doppelganger vampire twin (I KNOW, but it works). Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder could not be better as warring vampire brothers (I KNOW, but it works).
While the relationships seem pretty simplistic right out of the gate, you will soon discover that they are in fact not. While it's hard to shine in a cast as strong and deep as this one, Candice Accola as dim snob Caroline manages to. Not only that, but Caroline's journey is one of the strongest of the show. And sure, they stop going to high school at a certain point and then you discover that they're all still supposed to be IN high school and you wonder if they all flunked, but the refusal on the part of the writers to hew to the tiny box that these types of shows inhabit is laudable. And yeah, there seems to be some kind of a founder's festival every single day in Mystic Falls and now the volunteers are apparently drafted into service, but you don't know... maybe if they skipped one, the founders would return as zombies and eat everyone. Hey, it's The Vampire Diaries. It could happen. This is appointment TeeVee in an age when that is almost fucking impossible. If you think Vampire Diaries is just some campy kid's show, you probably thought the same of Buffy. And you were wrong then, too. Twilight, it ain't.
Holy mother of God, where do I start with this one? It's British, it's six episodes, it's an entirely new mythology for ghosts and other things (telling you what they are would ruin some stuff), and it's utterly impossible to ignore. The Fades is a tough, tough show, totally unsentimental but with an incredibly sentimental, sensitive teenage nerd boy at its heart. Paul's the kid who can't help doing the right thing, not because he thinks he's supposed to but because HE JUST CAN'T HELP HIMSELF. The adults in this world are broken and desperate, like a pod of outcast Felix Castors. And because it's British and six episodes, shit starts to happen and change right from the start. Just when you get a handle on it, something happens that makes you go, "I did not fucking see THAT coming." It's going to be on BBC America in the next few weeks and if you don't watch it, then I suppose you just hate television. It's violent and horrific and something that I think we could do here, if there was a home for it. But at the moment, that doesn't seem to be the case.
The Doctor's Wife
Easily the best of the Steven Moffat DOCTOR WHO, this is the Neil Gaiman episode that is to Doctor Who what a Darin Morgan episode is to The X-Files, which is to say that it is an episode of the show that is able to crystallize what you love most about the show, put a silly hat on some of the goofy stuff, and deepen the characters in unexpected ways. An utterly enchanting hour of television that's so good it shows the problems with the Moffat era even more. An aside -- there were several episodes from this season that I quite enjoyed but Moffat's storytelling just doesn't work for Doctor Who. He's good at a lot of things. Sherlock, for example. I just don't think this is in his wheelhouse. And I'm sorry I just used "wheelhouse."
I won't be able to say "Okay, so here's what's happened and here's what's going on" in regards to Fringe, because it's got to be the most complex show on American television at the moment and I do not have a notebook with me. I am a huge nerd for alternate universe/Philip K. Dick types of things, and Fringe fits the bill where that's concerned. But more than any of the cool science, it's the characters who live at the heart of the show. It's the TeeVee version of ALTERED STATES, and not just because Blair Brown is on it. The writers on Fringe play with their conventions and they have a unique chance to examine how their characters would react if their worlds were changed forever. How many universes have there been? Which one are we in now? Where does Peter Bishop belong? Is there any universe where Walter Bishop isn't either crazy or evil? No seriously, that's a real question. The universe in which we're currently playing has big changes, and then more subtle smaller ones. And they are all fascinating. The writers don't wait for the audience. They populate their world, and then we catch up to it. "One Night In October" stands out, thanks to a phenomenal performance from the always dependable John Pyper-Ferguson and a terrific story about the differences between the same people in different universes. "And Those We Left Behind" is an episode that perfectly illustrates how science fiction can be used to illuminate the human condition. Ratings-wise, fewer people watched it then probably watched a Kardashian getting an annulment. Depressing, but cheers to Fox for keeping the show on the air when they had every financial reason to cancel it.
I would hope that everyone reading this blog is already watching this show and knows that it doesn't put a foot wrong, has an amazing cast that always delivers, and has killed off a villain like no other show ever has or ever will. Also -- MIKE. Because Goddam. If there was a better performance this year than Giancarlo Esposito's embodiment of Gustavo Fring... well, there wasn't. To the end of the season Esposito never cracked, and that made Gus a terrifying monster in tiny glasses and a perfectly tied tie. You will never look at a boxcutter in the same way again. We're all in the car with Vince Gilligan and nobody is wearing a seatbelt, because he's such a good driver that you just know nothing is going to happen. Hell, maybe we've all got our heads out of the window like dogs. When people say that we are in the golden age of television (something with which I don't entirely agree), it's this show that they're talking about.
I would put Mad Men on this list but then we didn't get a Mad Men this year, did we? More proof that 2011 sucked.
Men Of A Certain Age
"Oh God," you groan, "here she fucking goes again." Yeah, I still miss this show and 2011 was the year it was canceled, SO FUCK 2011, YOU HEARTLESS COCK. If we really ARE in the golden age of television drama, then an actual television DRAMA with deft writing, wonderful characters and painful truths interspersed with achingly funny, embarrassing moments would still be on my fucking television. But it's not. And its perceived failure means that other networks aren't likely to give a show like this a shot either. I was thinking of pitching Women Of A Certain Age. How do you think THAT will go?
It's not that networks won't give shows like this a chance because they are assholes. It's that the majority of TeeVee viewers don't want to watch a show like this. Maybe if they solved crimes and were "hip" and "edgy," people would be more interested.
Captain America, Thor and X-Men: First Class
Oh, fuck off. I'm weary of the pounding these movies have gotten. YES, it's easy to punch a superhero movie in the face. I AM VERY AWARE OF THAT. But when you go to movies and you are exhausted by how awful they are, you realize how fucking hard it is to make entertainment. Because judging by movies, IT MUST BE FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE. Then these movies happened and I happily remembered what it was like to go to the theater and be entertained. Every movie doesn't have to be some great commentary on human nature and the state of our world. Every movie doesn't have to be a deconstruction of storytelling. Some movies, like these, can be entertaining. What's also fascinating is how these three movies are anchored by huge performances -- Chris Evans as Cap, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Michael Fassbender as a fully-clothed Magneto and James McAvoy as Xavier. And look! There's an American in there! Okay, just the one. But still cool.
What the fuck, Joe Wright? I thought you were Mr. British Drawing Room Guy Where Actors Get Slightly Cross With Each Other! But no, apparently you are Mr. Fucked Up Fairytale Assassin Movie Where Teeth Are Crucially Important. Hanna is one of those movies that is like a lot of other movies on the surface but deep down below, it isn't. And it was a blast.
The Scandinavian peoples are doing some weird shit, y'all. TrollHunter is, I believe, slated to be remade in American, although how, I do not know. Because it's about TROLLS, and guess where they AREN'T? This is a droll, funny, creepy little movie that will certainly make you think about trolls in another light. If you were ever thinking about them to begin with. And this, on top of the wickedly strange and creepy Rare Exports! Thanks, you wacky creep-bags.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
How the hell did this movie get made?? It's not an action film. It's not REALLY a Planet Of The Apes movie either. It's just... quite terrific and sensitive and thought-provoking, and at its center is a wonderful performance by Andy Serkis. Seriously, it's time to recognize what this guy does. There's only one really big ape-on-human setpiece, and the rest of the movie is just lovely. HOW DID THIS GET MADE?
As unsentimental as Juno was sentimental, Young Adult doesn't go where you think it's going to. It heads there, but doesn't quite make the turn-off. Charlize Theron plays the bitch-queen from hell like the most unhappy person who has ever lived, and frankly, she may be. She has probably one moment of true honesty and happiness in the movie and the ending leaves you to wonder if she truly has learned anything, or if she's going to continue being the same horrible, lonely monster she was when the movie started. The whole cast is great. Patrick Wilson is always good when he's playing a lummox, and he's a perfect one here. And Patton Oswalt is terrific as a rage-infested nerd who's so caustic only Mavis is immune. What happens to people who stay in their hometown? What happens to people who leave? And who's really happy? I've felt that Jason Reitman has a great movie in him and he certainly has gotten closer with Young Adult, thanks to the terrific, tough script by Diablo Cody.
Frank Turner and Noel Gallagher
Not together, but separately they were my soundtrack for the year. If you guys haven't heard punk-turned-troubadour Frank Turner, treat yourself. But he's not some sensitive folky, not with a song like Thatcher Fucked The Kids, which sounds like a perfect Occupy theme song. He's witty and caustic and insanely melodic. And in the battle of the Gallagher brothers, Noel's solo release wins the day. I liked the Beady Eye album but it's a little thin, isn't it? Well, Noel's is not. It's not an Oasis record but if you've heard any of Noel's b-sides (I know, I know, I'm using Old People Talk) then you have some idea of what to expect. And live, well, man... wow. The new songs mix beautifully with the Oasis songs, and I've always liked hearing Noel sing the Oasis songs. While he seems reluctant to stand center stage, that's where he belongs. Looking forward to the new 2012 release, if that isn't just total bullshit.
Thanks to a certain writing partner, 2011 was the year I discovered the British novelist Scarlett Thomas, who is a motherfucking Godlike genius and I think, perhaps, my literary soulmate. Not in the "Hey, we write alike" way, because if I could write like Scarlett Thomas I could die happy. Which would not, incidentally, make me a character in one of her books because dying happy is such a long way from where these people are it's not even a possible thought. She's a first-person writer and her characters share similarities, so much so that you just know she starts with herself and goes from there. And that makes these clever, unique books all the more intriguing. If you want to read the perfect assemblage of Philip K. Dick and Jonathan Carroll, do yourself a favor and pick up The End Of Mr. Y, because it is fucking utter genius.
Have you people read this?? Seriously, if you like any kind of fantasy or science fiction, if you read Harry Potter while sipping a clever Trader Joe's Chardonnay, if you remember having your eyes opened by Narnia, if there was a moment during all of that where you went, "Hang on... wouldn't it be more like THIS?" then Lev Grossman's genius book is for you. In fact, there's a sequel that goes where you do not expect it to go, and a third book coming out next year. A THIRD BOOK. Sigh.
It didn't come out in 2011 but I read it in 2011 and this is MY list, so it counts. Do you like X-Men? Are you fond of the British witches in World War II? Then pick this up. Ian Tregillis is a terrific writer and this book will fuck you up. A sequel is coming out in July, and I do not want to wait until July, Goddammit.
So that's some good stuff in 2011. And maybe I'll blog more in 2012. Maybe I should try to blog SHORTER, which would then mean MORE. Theoretically. I don't know. We'll see. My resolution for 2012 is pretty much to not kill anyone, so the bar's set pretty low. As for things coming out in 2012, I guess there's some. Sherlock returns, as do Southland and Mad Men.
Also, I am looking forward to The Avengers, and fuck you if that's a problem. It's still really fashionable to bash nerd stuff and wouldn't it be nice if 2012 became the year when we stopped fucking doing that for five seconds? Besides, I have a suspicion that 90s nostalgia is going to explode and that means 90s music, which all sounds like it came out of a giant flannel asshole, so if we could just agree to hate THAT and leave nerd stuff alone that would be awesome. Also, the world is supposed to end on my birthday and if you're not going to buy me a car with a giant bow on it, this would be a nice present instead.