Stuff I Like

Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 4 – TV

Watching TV is hard. I swear that once I used to just turn on a box, but now I have to navigate dozens of platforms across multiple devices to sit through hundreds of old episodes of 17 seasons of a show to understand what’s happening in the one on Sunday so I can decide that I don’t like it. These 10 shows were worth all that.

BasketsBaskets (FX)
Most comedies have lazed out of being funny, original, and sincere and just go for two out of three. Baskets hits the trifecta. Everyone rightly talks about Zach Galifianakis’s and Louie Anderson’s performances, but its Martha Kelly’s deadpan guilelessness that holds the show together.

Beyond the WallsBeyond the Walls (Shudder)
A French miniseries about a woman who inexplicably inherits a Parisian townhouse and then disappears into it. I was lucky enough to watch Beyond the Walls in a theater, and the world of the house expanded to envelop the room. Turn off the lights and turn on your big-screen TV and you’ll come close enough.

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Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 2 – Music

2016 marks the first December that I looked back on a year and discovered that none of the songs I most remember listening to came out during it. Does that mean 2016 was the year I got old? I can’t be old — I can name three K-pop bands! It’s not my fault, so it must be the fault of the stupid young people who aren’t making good enough music because they’re dumb.

Nevertheless, here’s an annotated Spotify playlist of 20 songs that pulled me through the last year, including a handful that were actually released in 2016. But if you want to know what I really spent most of my time listening to, try singing along for power or air drumming.

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Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 1 – Books

According to my Goodreads page, I finished 30 books in 2016, which proves that even in today’s era of bite-size, high speed information intake, I still love nothing more than telling people how many books I’ve read. Here are the top five (from any year).

Watership Down by Richard AdamsWatership Down
by Richard Adams
I’ve always said that Watership Down is one of my favorite novels, but it’s been so many years since I first read it that I worried going back to it I’d find it hadn’t kept up with me. It has. This is a true all-ages book.

I realize now that as a child one reason Watership Down was so important to me is that it guided me into grown-up ideas–most notably that life involves shocking change and loss and requires bravery to face them–but at age 41, if I were reading it without preconceptions, I can’t imagine I’d label it a children’s story. That’s because its themes have only become more essential to me as I’ve aged. I’m able to more deeply plumb them, and Adams’s book matured with me to help me examine how bravery intertwines with the concepts that are most important to me now: compassion, responsibility, modeling behavior. Being a grown-up.

That aside, Watership Down is epic fantasy the way it should be written, with a rich world, thrilling set pieces, and memorable characters (Hazel is still one of my favorite heroes in all of literature). As a writer, I envy Adams’s acute originality in conceiving a rabbit adventure within the bounds of scientific reality and the rigor he employed to pull it of. As a guy who wishes he had a metal band, I would definitely name it Hazel-Rah.

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Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 5 – Twitter

I regularly curse Twitter for harboring pettiness, selfishness, and casual cruelty, but the truth is that, for every moment of those, there are many more moments when the incessant cleverness of the people I follow keeps me company and pulls me forward when nothing else does. My new year’s gift to you is 25 of those moments.

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Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 4 – TV

2015 was more about the shows I intended to watch than the ones that I actually did. That list is far longer and probably far better. But, no one cares about the buildings Christopher Wren only intended to build, and if there’s a reason I do these lists, it’s to compare myself to Christopher Wren. So here are 10 shows I enjoyed this year.

ArcherArcher (FX)
After last year’s failed experiment of Archer: Vice, Adam Reed et al. returned to format with the show’s funniest season yet. I love how, hiding behind the dick jokes, this show secretly strives to succeed as an animated action-adventure (and does).

Blunt TalkBlunt Talk (Starz)
I’m cheating by including this one because, not having Starz, I only saw the first two episodes, but they were so remarkably hilarious that it would make the list even if the other 18 were dogs. I sincerely almost shelled out my monthly Lexapro money to Time Warner so I could see the rest. The excellence of SirPatStew aside, let’s talk about how Executive Producer Seth MacFarlane uses his clout to get other people’s great ideas on the air.

Brew DogsBrew Dogs (Esquire)
This year’s winner for my favorite little known, digital cable, unscripted series, Brew Dogs follows a couple of Scottish microbrewers around America, drinking and creating regional beer. It succeeds by conquering the two elements that usually conquer similar shows: rather than comprising eight minutes of interesting stuff orbiting in 36 minutes of dark matter filler, each episode of Brew Dogs is crammed with interesting and inventive content, guided by likable hosts who can actually handle the material the producers hand them.

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Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 3 – Movies

Looking at the list of movies I enjoyed the most in 2015, it occurs to me that it’s a list my 12-year-old self would’ve carefully curated in his imagination as some kind of unattainable ideal. 1Even more so when considering that I also bolted out the door to see a new 007 movie this year. As a Very Mature Adult, that makes me a little disappointed in myself, especially in light of the mass societal infantilization that befell America as Star Wars approached. But the writer Mark Leyner once said that it’s the responsibility of artists to provide joy, so I’ve decided to happily accept a year of joyous, purely cinematic movies about how we become better individual humans.

Yeah, that’s right; I’m picking Chappie. This movie became the butt of so many jokes that I’m not sure anyone actually saw it. I can’t blame them, since no one could look at the trailers and posters without thinking, “Number Five is alive!” I wouldn’t have seen it myself it hadn’t shown up in the $2 theater on an afternoon when I was feeling particularly sad and sorry for myself and needed to step out of my life. Chappie turned out to be the perfect remedy, because it’s designed to remind us that being an adult necessitates understanding and dealing with our emotions in hard ways that most of us are unwilling to tackle. The moment when Chappie finally becomes a grown-up is the most touching one I saw this year, and I sat alone in the dark and cried.

Inside OutInside Out
Speaking of movies about dealing with adult emotions. Maybe the most impressive thing about Inside Out is that someone thought to produce it– to create a movie not just to induce feelings in children but to make them recognize and begin to understand their feelings. As an adult struggling with my own mental health, my psychiatrist told me something that I’d wished I’d figured out decades earlier: that one’s goal shouldn’t be to live on a plane of eternal happiness, but instead to experience the normal range of emotions that humans require. Luckily kids now have an experience as enjoyable as Inside Out to get them started on that idea.

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1. Even more so when considering that I also bolted out the door to see a new 007 movie this year.

Stuff I Liked in 2015, pt. 2 – Books

I don’t like to call myself an intellectual, but in 2015 I easily read more books than I watched episodes of Tiny House Hunters. Here are some of the most interesting of them, from any year.

22693282Down Don’t Bother Me
by Jason Miller
Full disclosure: I designed and built Jason Miller’s web site, but that doesn’t have anything to do with why his book’s on this list. I have plenty of friends and clients whose work I don’t pretend to like. Down Don’t Bother Me is on here because it’s as enjoyable a crime novel as you’re going to find this year, by an author with a true voice and an equally true sense of place. One hopes that Slim can manage to find trouble all over rural southern Illinois the way Miss Marple managed to find corpses littering rural England so we can have more of these books.

557743Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945
by Leo Marks
This is the book I was reading on a bus in Brooklyn in 2001 the morning I saw a plane fly into the World Trade Center. A decade and a half later, I finally finished it, in a year when we again need what it offers: a testament to the necessity of intelligence and creativity when faced with dire situations that seem as if they need them the least, and to the necessity of determined compassion when it’s hardest to give.

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