Every year I love the opportunity to formally ask my friends what they’re watching. Streaming sites have completely changed the landscape with Netflix sometimes adding 3-7 new seasons a week and bingeing shows places everyone on a different timetable of when they’re watching an episode. The water-cooler shows have faded away (especially with no Game of Thrones this year) but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a great number of shows that shocked and inspired us. Read on as my friends from different backgrounds and perspectives look back at what we watched this year.
American Vandal – “The Dump”
(Season Two, Episode 8)
By Robbie Mehling
With popular podcasts like Serial, and My Favorite Murder and shows like Making a Murderer, it definitely seems like the true crime genre has become a mainstay in today’s media landscape. Netflix’s American Vandal gives us a parody of the genre with some hard-hitting exposes of some pretty juvenile topics. The first season had us asking the question, “Who drew the dicks?” The eight-episode Season Two steps it up, as we’re asking, “Who is the Turd Burglar?” The season culminates in the final episode, “The Dump” which is much more serious than the name might suggest.
Through a clever meta narrative referencing the popularity of the first season, Season Two of the show reintroduces us to Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck), the filmmakers from the first season and has them investigating a series of poop related pranks in a private high school. Laxatives in the lemonade. Dried Cat Poop in a t-shirt launcher. It’s pretty bad. One student has confessed but Peter and Sam believe that might not be the whole story. The eighth episode reveals that things are not always as they seem, and that Peter and Sam’s actions may have gotten a lot of people hurt.
Despite the rather juvenile humor of American Vandal (which despite its grossness, truly gives it life as a true crime genre parody), Season Two handles some pretty heavy topics: bullying, ostracism, social media appearances. internet safety, loneliness, blackmail, crazy horsehead wearing DJs, and the questionable filmmaking techniques of the in-show producers.
The season and the final episode, in particular, sets up some potential narratives to explore in a future season relating to the producers’ filmmaking style. What right do they have to reveal personal information if it’s only maybe related to the story? When should they go the police? Unfortunately, Netflix has not renewed the show and as of now, there will be no Season Three.
Robbie’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms” (Season One, Episode 6)
2) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
3) Survivor, “You Get What You Give” (Season Thirty-Seven, Episode 8)
4) The Good Place, “Burrito” (Season Two, Episode 12)
5) Star Wars: Resistance, “The Platform Classic” (Season One, Episode 9)
6) A Series of Unfortunate Events, “The Vile Village: Part 1” (Season Two, Episode 5)
7) The Handmaid’s Tale, “Smart Power” (Season Two, Episode 9)
8) American Vandal, “The Dump” (Season Two, Episode 8)
9) Westworld, “Journey Into Night” (Season Two, Episode 1)
10) Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, “Chapter Ten: The Witching Hour” (Season One, Episode 10)
Robbie Mehling is a photographer and coffee drinker based in Muncie, Indiana. He occasionally watches good television while spending too much time watching soccer and Survivor. He would probably be the first voted off the island.
Arrow – “Elseworlds, Part 2”
(Season Seven, Episode 9)
The Flash – “Elseworlds, Part 1”
(Season Five, Episode 9)
Supergirl – “Elseworlds, Part 3”
(Season Four, Episode 9)
By Josh West
Spoilers for the conclusion of the CW crossover event.
Austin: Hey guys! Write me a thing about one episode of TV from the past year!
Me: Screw you, Austin! I’m writing about three episodes from three different shows!
In the past we have seen Barry Allen and Oliver Queen team up to fight each other, Captain Boomerang, Vandal Savage, aliens, and evil counterparts of themselves and their super…friends? This year’s annual CW Arrowverse crossover saw our red blurr and green arrow swap bodies. No, that’s not it. They were still in their correct bodies, just their place in the Arrowverse switched. Oliver (Stephen Amell) wakes up to Iris making him breakfast and giving him a kiss. Only when she calls him Barry for like the third time does he realize that he is Barry.
As the episode continues, we see how green the Green Arrow is using The Flash’s powers. He first overshoots where a crime is taking place. Then, when trying to stop the bad guys and at the order of Cisco Ramon, Oliver tries to hurl a lightning bolt at the bad guys. The lightning bolt fumbles out of Oliver’s hands and bounces like a spring across the crime scene. Sure it hits the bad guys but it was a pretty pathetic. We see the same thing with Barry as the Green Arrow firing the wrong arrows.
During a fight against a robot that can copy powers, we even hear Grant Gustin try his take on the Green Arrow’s iconic “You have failed this city!” line. Spoiler: It was goofy as hell. But the episode ends with our three big heroes, Green Arrow, Flash and Supergirl/Kara Zor-El, heading to Gotham. The episode ends on a pan up of the skyline and the dark silhouette of a bat-like human with long bright red hair! The first episode of the three part crossover was a lot of fun, especially for those who have been watching Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl from the beginning. There were a lot of callbacks and nods to previous scenes between your justice…league?
With permission and a little help from Bruce Wayne’s cousin Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), our heroes find out that the guy who changed Barry and Oliver is working out of Arkham Asylum. Kara and Kate bond over the shadow cast by their cousins. We have a pretty great scene where we see the names and memorabilia of a few notable Batman villains, with Amell’s wife playing Nora Fries. This episode is full of lines and nods to the Batman universe, which for the first few seasons of Arrow wasn’t a thing. Our antagonist releases the inmates and flees. While some inmates are trying to escape, Batwoman stops them using her grapple and a batarang. In Arkham, Barry and Oliver get hit with a dose of the Scarecrow’s hallucinogenic toxin and see their greatest enemies, but really they are just fighting themselves. Batwoman swoops into the scene and restores order to the asylum. There is a moment between Supergirl and Batwoman where Supergirl reveals that because of her x-ray vision she knows Kate is Batwoman and that they would have made a great team. To which Batwoman responds, “Worlds finest.” The second episode was a bit slower-paced and was just a long buildup to when we would finally see Batwoman in action. She didn’t disappoint. I felt you could have easily swapped her out for Batman and it would have been the same episode.
As the epic crossover continues, they find out a psychiatrist in Arkham Asylum named Deegan has been using the Book of Destiny to change reality throughout the multiverse. He does it again to make himself into Superman wearing a black costume. In true Supergirl fashion, we get some progressive rhetoric, especially when Kara asks why Deegan took on the look of Superman, a being who doesn’t exist on Earth-1. “Why not me? Too scared of being a woman?”
With our heroes working their way through a new reality where they are all villains, they manage to contact the real Superman so he can match strength with his doppleganger, perfectly nicknamed “Superdick.” In true CW fashion, the CGI is terrible, especially during the Superman v. Superdick fight. But I love it! Supergirl grabs the book and gets it to Superman, who fixes things and gives everyone their rightful identity and powers back. Using a superclap, Superdick stuns our heroes and takes the book before the rest of the world can be changed back.
With everyone back to their peak condition, the crossover event concludes with awesome scenes of the Green Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Superman, Martian Manhunter and Braianic-5 all combining their strengths to save the multiverse.
The best part about this crossover was the very last thing. Batwoman calls Oliver to ask if Deegan, who is now a patient in Arkham Asylum, is going to be a problem because “…rumor has it, he’s made a friend.” We then see Deegan looking almost void of any brain activity sitting in a cell while we hear the guy in the next cell over talking about how everything is now set up for the next part of the plan. We see him place a gold mask over his face and then a title card comes up saying
COMING IN FALL 2019… CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS
Somebody’s gonna die! Spoilers! My bet is its gonna be Superman. (Unless Stephen Amell wants to hang up his bow for good, I don’t see him biting the dust.) Superman and Lois ended this episode telling Kara that they are pregnant and they are going to live on a Kryptonian colon where the baby won’t be able to kick its way out of Lois. So what’s a better way to get you invested in the plot. Plus Superman has died plenty of times; he’ll be back.
Josh’s Top 10 Episodes
1) DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, “Here I Go Again” (Season Three, Episode 11)
2) The Flash, “What’s Past is Prologue” (Season Five, Episode 8)
3) Supergirl, “Man of Steel” (Season Four, Episode 3)
4) DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, “I, Ava” (Season Three, Episode 16)
5) DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, “Wet Hot American Bummer” (Season Four, Episode 4)
6) The Flash, “Enter Flashtime” (Season Four, Episode 15)
7) Big Mouth, “Guy Town” (Season Two, Episode 7)
8) The Walking Dead, “Honor” (Season Eight, Episode 9)
9) Marvel’s Daredevil, “Revelations” (Season Three, Episode 9)
10) Big Mouth, “The Department of Puberty” (Season Two, Episode 10)
My name is Josh West. By day I work for a company called Zergnet, creating clickbait videos for YouTube. By night, I’m a puppy dad who puts superhero shows above all other TV. In a political climate that is just too much, I am overwhelmed.
Atypical – “Pants on Fire”
(Season Two, Episode 4)
By Jim Huang
When we’re talking about Atypical, we have to stipulate three things up front.
On Salon.com, Matthew Rozsa likens Atypical protagonist Sam Gardner to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Jim Parsons’s Sheldon, writing:
“Sam is only a degree or two removed from the familiar caricature of the idiot savant — inept, bumbling and awkward when the plot demands it, yet capable of being refreshingly intelligent, honest and funny… I could forgive the new Netflix series Atypical if it were merely offensive to autistic people. Its chief sin, however, is that it’s trite…. The most enjoyment I got out of Atypical was the opportunity to write this scathing review.”
On Teen Vogue, Mickey Rowe writes:
““If the creative team does not have leadership from within the community itself, it will inevitably misrepresent it…. it feels like the audience is supposed to laugh at how weird and different Sam is.”
So here are the stipulations:
1) If you’re the sort of person who laughs at difference, then you should stay away from Atypical. This series puts differences — Sam’s and others’ — front and center.
2) If you believe that only people within the community are able to tell stories about people on the spectrum, then the fact that this series is created by and acted (mostly) by neurotypicals is a dealbreaker.
3) If you are not a fan of the traditional half-hour comedy form, then this show isn’t going to work for you. Atypical is utterly typical: creator Robia Rashid’s How I Met Your Mother roots are evident, especially in “Pants on Fire,” written by Mike Oppenhuizen.
Sam Gardner is at the center of Atypical. His effort to learn how to lie, triggered by his high school counselor’s comments about his college admissions essay, forms the plot of this episode. Sam wants to write about his greatest accomplishment, seeing an exotic dancer’s boobs. The counselor suggests that Sam write about his autism, but he objects. “Autism isn’t an accomplishment. It’s something I was born with. You wouldn’t write an essay about having ten fingers and ten toes.”
Sam finds it impossible to lie due to his autism, but the neurotypicals around him don’t share that inability. The Gardner family has been rocked by his mom Elsa’s lies; she concealed an affair and is staying elsewhere while her husband Doug is reeling. Sam’s sister Casey demonstrates how easy it is to lie, but Sam needs more help. Elsa refuses — she’s trying to turn over a new leaf and insists it’s never ok to lie. So the task of instructing Sam falls to friend and co-worked Zahid, who breaks it down into steps that Sam can understand, the “Pants on Fire” technique.
Sounds like a typical sitcom plot, right? But even though Atypical looks like a typical sitcom, the story proves deeper, more insightful and more affecting that you realize at first. Sam’s step-by-step effort to learn and apply Pants on Fire is well-depicted. Sam says that he’s bad at lying, “which is funny because people lie to me all the time. They think that because of my autism, I can’t handle things.”
A nice observation by itself, but Sam goes on to say, “Most people I know are really good at lying. They’re so good at it, they even lie to themselves.” The depiction of how the people around Sam lie — in all their varieties — is what elevates Atypical from a basic sitcom about a kid with autism to a well-observed family drama.
Sam figures out how to write that college essay, and it’s lovely. But “Pants on Fire” is much more. The episode asks questions about how we use lies to get through a day, how we use lies to define how we see ourselves, and how neurotypicals use lies to shape how they see the world. Far from a trite misrepresentation, this episode is a gift for anyone who’s able to see beyond the surface.
Jim’s Top 2 Episodes of 2018
I don’t watch much current television, and apart from Atypical, I didn’t see a lot of new stuff that felt exceptional. Here are a couple worth noting:
1) The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy” (Season Three, Episode 4)
The Good Place is a consistently good show, a fun, surprising and fascinating journey into philosophy and what it means to be good, with a fabulous and likable cast of characters. The twisty “logic” of this episode was especially delicious.
2) NCIS, “Fragments” (Season Sixteen, Episode 5)
NCIS isn’t very good and I shouldn’t be watching it. I probably shouldn’t be eating the bag of potato chips that’s next to me either. But I seem to be doing both. Still, this episode shows that an old horse is capable of new tricks. This was a nicely done past/present story with a little more weight than you expect from a show like this.
JIM HUANG runs the bookshop at Bryn Mawr College. He also publishes books for mystery lovers under the banner of Crum Creek Press/The Mystery Company. His website is located at http://www.statelyhuangmanor.com
Bob’s Burgers – “Bobby Driver”
(Season Nine, Episode 6)
By Sam Tilmans
I recognize that I lack variety in my favorite episodes of this year. In recent years, in these stressful, anxious times, I just need something to make me feel good, or something silly to put on while I craft. I don’t mind dramas, but I can only take so much and I find myself turning to series I’ve watched multiple times over. I need the comfort, and that’s also reflected in many of the series I’ve listed as having my favorite episodes this year. Unfortunately, one of the episodes on my list is about mental illness, and I spent a good portion of this year wrestling with my own anxiety and depression. Another episode in my list deals with an active shooting situation, which, albeit offscreen, it’s still a situation our country has on a near-daily basis, including an incident at my friends’ workplace this year. So yeah, I wasn’t sure writing about either one of those in great detail would have been a good idea for me.
Which led me to Bob’s Burgers. I’m understating it when I say it’s one of my absolute favorite shows and always brings me happiness through hard times. Just ask me about my hamburger costume, or the songs from the Bob’s Burgers soundtrack that played at my wedding. And even at nine seasons in, Bob’s Burgers has consistently great, hilarious episodes, often with a catchy original song to go along with it.
Most of my favorite shows tend to revolve around found or chosen families. Bob’s Burgers has an actual, biological family at its core, but over the course of the show they have pulled all sorts of characters from their little town into their extended family. Some examples: over Christmas one year they take in a man who claims he was once a store mannequin; a member of the local biker gang gives birth in their restaurant, later, Linda takes care of said baby while Bob attempts to sell the motorcycle of the gang’s leader to get him out of jail; Gene takes care of a talking toilet as though he was an actual person; they let an ex-convict who once held Bob hostage stay in their basement when he needs a place to go; and Bob’s most frequent customer and best friend Teddy might as well be the sixth Belcher.
The Belchers are there for each other “from the womb to the tomb,” and even though sometimes they are reluctant to be kind, or run afoul of many of their neighbors, in the end, they care about others and will at least try to do the right thing. “Bobby Driver” is a prime example of that.
The tertiary plot is kind of a throwaway, but it supports the overarching theme of the episode. Linda drops everything she’s doing in the restaurant and attempts to get Teddy to like sushi for his date that evening. This isn’t the first time she’s helped Teddy, whether it’s cleaning out his apartment filled with hoarded things or teaching him how to dance for a wedding. She’s ultimately unsuccessful in getting him to like sushi, but she cared enough about Teddy to try, and that’s what matters.
In the secondary plot, the kids attend a birthday party for Holden, a kid from their school they don’t know at all and Louise assumes he’s a “gift grabber,” though, Tina takes Bob’s words from the beginning of the episode to heart: “You gotta give people a chance. Sometimes they surprise you.” The kids find that this party his parents planned was mostly for them, not him, and that he’s miserable. The kids pick their brains (and their noses) to help Holden confront his parents and to let him finish his birthday his way.
Finally, in the main plot, Bob doesn’t initially take his own advice. He and craft store owner Edith have a history – she’s cantankerous, and in the past she and her husband Harold have argued with Bob about what constitutes as art, jacked up the price of sequins just to get more money out of him, and taught Bob how to draw by having him draw a naked Edith. Their relationship before and during this episode is filled with ire and is oddly sexual at times. But Bob sees her struggling to walk home with her craft supplies, and he offers her a ride home. She reluctantly accepts, but seizes the opportunity and has Bob drive her to the homes of her former quilt circle members to steal their squares for a quilt celebrating the town’s history as revenge on them for kicking her out of the group for her “inappropriate” square.
There’s deception on Edith’s part – she’s not an awful person like Bob initially thought, but she is still kind of terrible. At least in this episode, he learns a more about her besides her love of the arts and what her naked body looks like. Edith has been in the town a long time and is a part of its history – her square depicting the “freaks” at Wonder Wharf may not be the most appropriate, but it’s meaningful to her, as those “freaks” took care of her while her parents worked at the wharf and they became a part of her family.
Sure, the theme of “Bobby Driver” might be a little on the nose and this episode likely won’t change Bob and Edith’s relationship in the long run, but it’s nice to see these characters in a new situation, learning a little more about each other, and possibly accepting that they have some things in common. This episode was wonderful, but really, Bob’s Burgers as a whole brought me joy this year – the Belchers are weird, but they have a lot of heart. I think we could all use more of that.
(Side Note: It didn’t work with the theme of this piece, but Bob and Edith’s cover of “Radar Love” was great and I appreciated all the craft puns, especially “Needlepoint Break” with “Ke-yarn-u Reeves” and the store in the opening credits named “You Make My Seams Come True.” This show has the best writers.)
Sam’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy” (Season Three, Episode 5)
2) The X-Files, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” (Season Eleven, Episode 7)
3) One Day at a Time, “Hello, Penelope” (Season Two, Episode 9)
4) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
5) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Show Me Going” (Season Five, Episode 20)
6) Bob’s Burgers, “The Taking of Funtime One Two Three” (Season Nine, Episode 2)
7) The Good Place, “Everything is Bonzers!” (Season Three, Episodes 1/2)
8) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Box” (Season Five, Episode 14)
9) Bob’s Burgers, “Bobby Driver” (Season Nine, Episode 6)
10) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Safe House” (Season Five, Episode 12)
American Vandal, “The Dump” (Season Two, Episode 8)
The Americans, “Jennings, Elizabeth” (Season Six, Episode 9)
Bob’s Burgers, “V for Valentine-detta” (Season Eight, Episode 8)
Fresh Off the Boat, “King of the North” (Season Four, Episode 19)
One Day at a Time, “Locked Down” (Season Two, Episode 5)
One Day at a Time, “Not Yet” (Season Two, Episode 13)
One Day at a Time, “What Happened” (Season Two, Episode 8)
Riverdale, “Chapter Forty: The Great Escape” (Season Three, Episode 5)
Riverdale, “Chapter Thirty-Four: Judgment Night” (Season Two, Episode 21)
Riverdale, “Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Midnight Club” (Season Three, Episode 4)
She-Ra and the Princess of Power, “Princess Prom” (Season One, Episode 8)
The X-Files, “Familiar” (Season Eleven, Episode 8)
The X-Files, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” (Season Eleven, Episode 4)
Sam Tilmans is a library tech, but prefers the title, “punk ass book jockey.” She’s basic, so you can find her on Twitter, where she shares her occasional pop culture thoughts, knitting and other craft projects, and pictures of her adorable cats.
Bodyguard – “Episode 1”
(Season One, Episode 1)
By Larry D. Sweazy
This thriller, which first appeared on BBC, took the United Kingdom by storm. I kept seeing reviews and mentions about it in the UK newspapers, and was glad when the show finally arrived on Netflix. Bodyguard stars Richard Madden, who you might remember as a member of the Stark family (Game of Thrones) who had a less than joyful time at a certain Red Wedding.
Madden excels in the role of David Budd, showing off his moody skills as a military veteran dealing with PTSD, and handling a high stress job as a security officer for the British government. Talk of Madden being the next James Bond is believable after watching this series.
As the episode begins, we find Budd on a train with his children, and his observation skills quickly tell him something is wrong. He quickly stumbles into a suicide bomber scenario, and is left to talk down the bomber (Anjli Mohindra) from blowing herself, Budd, and the passengers on the train, to kingdom come. It’s a riveting scene that cannot be looked away from. Budd’s success with disarming the bomber brings him a promotion protecting Great Britain’s Home Secretary, Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes).
I’ve long been a fan of Keeley Hawes. Her turn as the matriarch in The Durrells of Corfu is worlds away from this character, and shows a range that Corfu would never allow. Montague is a hawk, the kind of politician who sends men like Budd to war without consideration of the consequences, at least of the surface, which sets up even more tension in the episode. Montague is an ambitious ice queen while Budd is a cool character on the outside but ready to explode just under the skin. Both characters excel at manipulation, and the chemistry between the two of them demands, on its own, to binge this six episode series. I will say, that as a whole the series does have its faults, but overall, I enjoyed almost every minute of it. A season two would be a challenge, but entirely doable. I’ll be watching for it.
Larry’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) Mystery Road, “Gone” (Season One, Episode 1)
2) Hidden, “Episode 1” (Season One, Episode 1)
3) Bodyguard, “Episode 3” (Season One, Episode 3)
4) The Durrells of Corfu, “Episode 1” (Season Three, Episode 1)
5) The Durrells of Corfu, “Episode 8” (Season Three, Episode 8)
6) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Box” (Season Five, Episode 14)
7) Homecoming, “Stop” (Season One, Episode 10)
8) The Romanoffs, “The Royal We” (Season One, Episode 2)
9) The Kominsky Method, “Chapter One: An Actor Avoids” (Season One, Episode 1)
10) Hap and Leonard, “The Two-Bear Mambo” (Season Three, Episode 1)
Larry D. Sweazy is a multiple-award author of fourteen western and mystery novels and over eighty nonfiction articles and short stories. He is also a freelance indexer and has written back-of-the-book indexes for over nine hundred books in twenty years. More information can be found atwww.larrydsweazy.com.
Castle Rock – “The Queen”
(Season One, Episode 7)
By Pedro Aubry
I’m a self-stylized huge Stephen King fan. I know, I haven’t read all his books, or even most of them, nor have I seen all his adaptations and works for the big and small screen (though Austin and I are trying to remedy that). I’ve honestly barely scratched the surface. But combining the few that I have read (including all The Dark Tower series) with what I have seen on screen, I have an okay grasp of this wacky universe, and damn do I enjoy it all. So this show is right up my alley.
Castle Rock is a Hulu original series that stitches together characters and elements from the Stephen King Universe (with a capital “U” motherfuckers), including Sheriff Alan Pangborn, the Shawshank State Penitentiary with all its history, and a young, aspiring writer Jackie Torrance, whose uncle went out to Colorado to take care a of a hotel and ended up almost murdering his family. It also spices up the mix with a couple of casting Easter eggs, with Sissy Spacek as Ruth Deaver (she was Carrie in the 1976 film of the same name) and Bill Skarsgård as The Kid (he’s currently enjoying huge success as Pennywise the (kinda) Dancing Clown in the insanely popular It).
The show basically follows Henry Deaver, a defense attorney specializing in capital cases, and The Kid, a weird ageless thing that may or may not be human, and may or may not be the embodiment of evil. Henry comes back home to the town of Castle Rock to help out The Kid. The Kid, meanwhile, just kinda hangs around town while an unreasonable amount of tragedy and misery unfolds around him.
All in all the series is pretty good and there’s really only one episode that hit me as lacking. This episode, however, is absolutely exceptional. It follows Spacek’s Ruth Deaver as she struggles with her dementia, shadowing her mind as it jumps through time between past and present. Sissy’s performance alone is enough to land this episode on my Top 10 list and make it the subject of my article. But through its flashbacks this mostly character focused episode brings the entire series together. Previous scenes in the series are given a whole new life by letting us into Ruth’s head as it happened, whether she’s remembering an adorable, yet ordinary moment when two old love birds practiced sleight of hand in bed, or something as utterly horrifying as her husband holding a gun to his own head during a picnic, asking if his wife and son can hear God.
We see Ruth and Alan’s relationship from start to finish, although not always in the right order. And by the way, they are among the cutest couple I’ve seen on TV, and Scott Glenn completely nails every single line as Pangborn. We see Henry Deaver as a boy, and his struggle to understand what’s going on around him as his father becomes more erratic and as his parents’ relationship frays. And the fact that the entire episode takes place over at most a few hours in the present only adds to the disorienting whirlwind that is Ruth’s mind, as we’re always reminded that The Kid is out there and (seemingly) means to destroy her life in some way.
I feel like there’s so much more that I’m forgetting, and there probably is, but this episode is remarkably easy to follow. It’s not too dense and yet covers so much ground in the series’ storyline, profiting from being grounded by the sole point of view. Revisiting this episode again after having finished the season, it holds up and offers a more enriched experience. I’ll stop here, but this is a fantastic piece of television and I highly recommend it.
Pedro’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) Castle Rock, “The Queen” (Season One, Episode 7)
2) The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy” (Season Three, Episode 5)
3) Killing Eve, “I Have a Thing About Bathrooms” (Season One, Episode 5)
4) Castle Rock, “Henry Deaver” (Season One, Episode 9)
5) Killing Eve, “God, I’m Tired” (Season One, Episode 8)
6) The End of the Fucking World, “Episode 1” (Season One, Episode 1)
7) The Haunting of Hill House, “The Bent-Neck Lady” (Season One, Episode 5)
8) The Haunting of Hill House, “Touch” (Season One, Episode 3)
9) The Handmaid’s Tale, “Postpartum” (Season Two, Episode 12)
10) The Handmaid’s Tale, “The World” (Season Two, Episode 13)
Pedro grew up in Carmel, Indiana and now lives in Chicago and is a co-host alongside Austin on The Immortals podcast. He’s been getting way into Smash Bros and has consequently put aside nearly everything else (including this article) in recent weeks. His favorite color is blue and he really wish he could watch Bat out of Hell: The Musical again, but sadly it’s not showing in the area any time soon.
Castlevania – “War Council”
(Season Two, Episode 1)
By Beau V. Thompson
The first Castlevania season defied my wildest expectations by adapting a 30-ish year old, 8-bit platformer into a fun and bloody story with an extremely entertaining protagonist and an antagonist you can certainly empathize with, if not agree with.
But it was only four half hour episodes. A teaser for things to come.
By the end of the first season, we had followed our protagonist, Trevor Belmont, through most of the story, which culminated with him picking up two valuable allies on his journey to kill Dracula.
But what about the most infamous blood sucker? Though he was featured heavily in the first episode, he was never seen since. I almost wondered if the series would treat him as the early video games that they are based on did. Never seen until the very end…sitting in his throne room…waiting.
I always wondered, just what the hell was he doing during the entire game?
Luckily the first episode of the second season laid such suspicions to rest. And in glorious fashion.
The majority of the episode is focused on Dracula and his closest generals and what has led them to this point in their lives to decide that, yes, humanity should be eradicated.
For an adaptation that is based off of a video game where you literally whip Universal monsters to death, I found it to be a delightful surprise that there were no action scenes at all. Instead you have scenes of Dracula and his generals ruminating on what led them to this point in their lives to decide that, yes, humanity should be eradicated.
And the dialog is just… Mmmm (Homer Simpson noises.)
Dracula has a meeting of his generals and commands that the only two who
are human in his service be the ones to lead the attacks against humanity. The
generals, including the two human ones, Hector and Issac, are stunned at this
decision. When asking them in private, Dracula tells them this:
“They (vampires) can no longer conceive of humans as thinking beings. Just livestock. It’s the privilege of our condition, I suppose. You can’t hate livestock. They are simply what they are. Grazing animals to be slaughtered… You understand that humans think, and scheme, and betray. You understand why they all must die.”
Issac assures Dracula that humans will suffer.
“The suffering doesn’t really matter to me anymore, Isaac. Only the death. Only the death matters now.”
I’m sure the lion’s share for my love of this is from writer Warren Ellis, famous for the Transmetropolitan comic books, among many others. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the wonderful work of voice director Meredith Layne and the cast. The subtlety and monotone nature of the characters is such a welcome departure to some voice recordings I hear where it sounds like everyone is speaking like they are in a theater production.
Here, everyone speaks like these dead in the inside characters should in labyrinth halls that echo noises seemingly indefinitely. Graham McTavish plays Dracula not as a snarling beast, but a being that has had every emotion taken away from him.
And Hector and Isaac are there act more alien than the vampires, with dead eyes that stare into fireplaces and recall the horrible events that led them here.
And this is just the first episode!
This is just the setting up of the plot, and in a way there are definitely other episodes this season that I could say may, indeed, be better. But this episode set the tone. And it was a tone I wasn’t expecting, yet always hoping. Video game movie adaptations are usually given (rightfully so) a bad rap. I think a major part in that is that whoever is in charge, doesn’t allow them to be made by competent writers that are fans of the game. And by fan, I don’t mean just someone who has played the game(s) they are planning on adapting, but the ones who let the hints of the story get under their skin. Someone who saw the blanks. Someone who was wondering what Dracula was doing while he waited for his inevitable battle with the latest Belmont.
And I think we (finally) have that here. This episode cemented that for me.
In regards to my Top 10, I literally didn’t watch ANYTHING else in 2018. Well, the first Doctor Who episode and the first episode of The Haunting of Hill House. Other than that zip. And this season of Castlevania is eight episodes, so let’s put those eight episodes first, then Hill House and Doctor Who! WOOOOOOOO!
Beau’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) Castlevania, “War Council” (Season Two, Episode 1)
2) Castlevania, “Old Homes” (Season Two, Episode 2)
3) Castlevania, “Shadow Battles” (Season Two, Episode 3)
4) Castlevania, “Broken Mast” (Season Two, Episode 4)
5) Castlevania, “Last Spell” (Season Two, Episode 5)
6) Castlevania, “The River” (Season Two, Episode 6)
7) Castlevania, “For Love” (Season Two, Episode 7)
8) Castlevania, “End Times” (Season Two, Episode 8)
9) The Haunting of Hill House, “Steven Sees a Ghost” (Season One, Episode 1)
10) Doctor Who, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (Season Eleven, Episode 1)
Beau Valentine Thompson graduated Ball State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. He now works in health insurance because… America. He writes, draws, acts and drinks on the side.
Channel Zero: Dream Door – “Bizarre Love Triangle”
(Season Four, Episode 4)
By Aaron Wittwer
By Aaron Wittwer
The past four seasons of the criminally underseen Channel Zero have been marked by incredible creativity and style. Each season brings a new creative team and new vision as both fledgling and experienced filmmakers are allowed to approach adapting the meagre creepypasta source material however they see fit. From the haunting melancholy of “No End House” to the bonkers, cannibalistic Wonderland of “Butcher’s Block”, each season has been a distinct treat for horror fans like myself. Now, the most recent season, “Dream Door” gifts us with a creation unlike any other ever seen on television.
Pretzel Jack is many things. He’s an imaginary friend made into a physical manifestation. He’s an extremely flexible clown. He’s an unstoppable, murder machine. And on top of that he gives a really good hug. The point is, this season of Channel Zero is all about Pretzel Jack. Sure, it’s also a poignant and complex exploration of trust and how a history of trauma can impact a relationship. But while that is going on, Pretzel Jack is busy becoming one of the most iconic horror characters of the past 10 years. Or at least he would be if anybody watched this show.
“Bizarre Love Triangle” is the climax of Pretzel Jack’s arc. The opening flashback shows how a young girl named Jill unwittingly creates him for the first time as a means to cope with being abandoned by her father. This is a much more innocent Jack; simply there to provide comfort Jill in her time of need by doing goofy tricks and giving hugs. Cutting back to the present, it’s not long before the more violent Pretzel Jack that we are familiar with makes a return. Still acting as Jill’s protector, Jack now seeks to erase from the world anything or anyone who causes Jill pain or anger. This is not good news for her husband, Tom, whom Jill believes may have been unfaithful.
Pretzel Jack hunts Tom with a Terminator-like determination, chasing him to the half-finished, basement of a local gymnasium. Quick kudos are due to Channel Zero’s location scouts who add a ton of production value just by finding some of the most strange and unique places to shoot scenes like this. It’s all crumbling dirt, and plumbing, and barbells and eerie claustrophobia amplifying Jack’s menace. Tom is eventually able to escape the underground gymscape, only to become cornered in a natatorium and dragged into a pool. Meanwhile Jill arrives just in time, and the stage is set for a showdown which ultimately ends with the Pretzel Jack’s destruction via some telekinesis on the part of Jill… and we’re only about twenty minutes into the episode. The rest is full of twists and turns and things that I won’t bother spoiling. Suffice it to say, the episode is a turning point for the series.
What’s really fascinating is the sense of loss we feel as soon as Pretzel Jack is gone. This mirrors the loss that Jill herself feels at having essentially destroyed this complex part of herself. What is she to do with all of that anger and pain now? Pretzel Jack may have been a monster, but without him we’re left feeling directionless and empty. Luckily we’re not left hanging too long as a new, more insidious threat reveals itself by the end of the episode.
Pretzel Jack as played by real life contortionist, Troy James, is a wonder of practical effects and human talent. An undeniable screen presence; simultaneously terrifying and endearing all by design. He combines the unrelenting persistence of the monster from It Follows with the wide-eyed innocence and protective instincts of a puppy dog. Basically, I picked this episode because it’s a wonderful showcase of all the facets of this beautifully realized and memorable character who never speaks a single word.
Aaron’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms” (Season One, Episode 6)
2) Patriot, “The Guns of Paris” (Season Two, Episode 3)
3) Schitt’s Creek, “The Olive Branch” (Season Four, Episode 9)
4) Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block, “Alice in Slaughterland” (Season Three, Episode 4)
5) The End of the Fucking World, “Episode 4” (Season One, Episode 4)
6) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
7) Maniac, “Exactly Like You” (Season One, Episode 5)
8) Get Shorty, “Selenite” (Season Two, Episode 3)
9) GLOW, “Nothing Shattered” (Season Two, Episode 7)
10) American Vandal, “The Dump” (Season Two, Episode 8)
Aaron is a native of Ft. Wayne, Indiana and the owner of two very good cats. He spends most of his free time consuming various forms of art and media, and occasionally he writes stuff about them. Sometimes he writes other things as well.
Dear White People – “Chapter VIII”
(Season Two, Episode 8)
By Austin Lugar
It’s like if you have a dog that bites someone, even though you didn’t bite them personally, it’s still your fault. Racism is white people’s dog. And it’s been biting.
Finally, it’s time to hear a straight white Midwestern guy’s take on race. Buckle in because I’m bound to fuck this up at least a dozen times.
Dear White People is a show that began as a movie by the same name. The title refers to the name of a radio show the main character, Sam, broadcasts at a fictional predominantly black Ivy League university. The title serves as a conversation starter and a siren.
Like a lot of sirens, you can tell it’s important to respond to, but it’s not initially clear where you’re actually supposed to go. Because I live in a realm of privilege I don’t feel the presence of race or prejudice throughout my day. I like to think I’m an ally and that I’m here to listen, but there’s always the idea that taking an easy path and ultimately being self-serving.
In Volume 2, “Chapter VIII”, this contradiction is given center stage. Throughout the incredible season, various stories keep progressing, but each chapter is able to profile just one character or two. It’s similar to the best seasons of The Leftovers. While all of those episodes move throughout the campus and throughout the week, “Chapter VIII” compresses all of that to a few rooms, and in real time as Sam and Gabe finally confront each other.
Sam is the biracial radio personality who has a platform but keeps burning bridges with every group on campus. Some of this is standing up against racists, some of this is because she has a tendency towards self-destruction. Gabe is the white grad student who dated Sam, mostly in secret, during the first season until he made a horrible mistake.
Thoughout the season, Gabe has been in the background recording interviews of various characters for his documentary. He decides to interview Sam in her recording booth where she insists on also recording the conversation with her own equipment.
“Here I am with Samantha White of the popular campus radio show Dear White People. Thank you for being here.”
“And I’m here with Gabe Mitchell, the filmmaker behind I Can’t Believe He Actually Named His Documentary “Am I Racist?” Oh, I meant filmmaker behind Am I Racist? My bad. Typo.”
What happens next is a brilliant and emotional one-act play spinning around the things they’re desperate to articulate. On one hand, they each want to criticize the other’s platform. Within the first few seconds, Sam dismisses his film as white savior complex. Gabe accuses her show as being an inciting force that has led to alt-right groups on campus.
The dialog is fast, the ideas are complex. Concessions are made, other points are adamantly denied. All at once, these characters are talking about their identities, personalities, upbringings and their relationship to each other. It’s like Adam’s Rib if Spencer Tracy took a few gender study classes.
Just because Gabe is more self-aware and better educated than Spencer Tracy doesn’t mean he has an argument. (Not too dissimilar from me!) Gabe has the benefit of not being on the frontlines. There is no danger or repercussions in his message aside from maybe slight embarrassment. When Sam expresses her opinions and her feelings, she has organized attacks at her filled with affecting cruelty.
In the end, racism is not solved, but voices were heard. From their philosophies to their difficult history. Then as if the episode wasn’t jaw-dropping enough, the episode confirms why these tales are not just discussions of abstract politics. The episode leaves you with a tear-evoking revelation that encapsulates why every piece of this show feels so personal and important.
Austin’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) Atlanta, “Teddy Perkins” (Season Two, Episode 6)
2) The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms” (Season One, Episode 6)
3) The Americans, “START” (Season Six, Episode 10)
4) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
5) Dear White People, “Chapter VIII” (Season Two, Episode 8)
6) Last Week Tonight, “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in the United States” (Season Five, Episode 18)
7) Better Call Saul, “Winner” (Season Four, Episode 10)
8) Castle Rock, “The Queen” (Season One, Episode 7)
9) Atlanta, “Barbershop (Season Two, Episode 5)
10) Succession, “Prague” (Season One, Episode 8)
Austin’s Too Many Honorable Mentions
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, “House By the Lake” (Season Two, Episode 4)
The Americans, “START” (Season Six, Episode 10)
Big Mouth, “The Shame Wizard” (Season Two, Episode 3)
Black-ish, “Bow Knows” (Season Four, Episode 12)
Bodyguard, “Episode 2” (Season One, Episode 2)
BoJack Horseman, “Free Churro” (Season Five, Episode 6)
BoJack Horseman, “Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos” (Season Five, Episode 8)
Corporate, “The Void” (Season One, Episode 1)
Doctor Who, “Rosa” (Season Eleven, Episode 3)
The End of the Fucking World, “Episode 1” (Season One, Episode 1)
The Expanse, “Immolation” (Season Three, Episode 6)
The Expanse, “Abaddon’s Gate” (Season Three, Episode 13)
GLOW, “Mother of All Matches” (Season Two, Episode 4)
GLOW, “Every Potato Has a Receipt” (Season Two, Episode 10)
The Good Fight, “Day 422” (Season Two, Episode 3)
The Good Fight, “Day 450” (Season Two, Episode 7)
The Good Fight, “Day 464” (Season Two, Episode 9)
The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy” (Season Three, Episode 4)
The Great British-Bake Off, “Spice Week” (Season Nine, Episode 5)
Jane the Virgin, “Chapter Eighty-One” (Season Four, Episode 17)
Killing Eve, “Nice Face” (Season One, Episode 1)
The Magicians, “A Life in the Day” (Season Three, Episode 5)
One Day at a Time, “Not Yet” (Season Two, Episode 13)
The President Show Documentary: The Fall of Donald Trump
Queer Eye, “You Can’t Fix Ugly” (Season One, Episode 1)
Succession, “Nobody is Ever Missing” (Season One, Episode 10)
Trust, “Lone Star” (Season One, Episode 2)
A Very English Scandal, “Episode 1” (Season One, Episode 1)
Austin Lugar runs TheArtImmortal.com and produces its podcasts. Also he’s the co-editor of Mystery Muses and Organizing Crime. He’s seen way too much Doctor Who.
Evil Genius – “Part One: The Heist”
(Season One, Episode 1)
By Ken Jones
What I love most about Netflix Original content is that you can actually watch the trailer on Netflix. Sometimes I’ll just watch trailers for half an hour, adding interesting shows and movies to my list where they sit for two years before I actually watch them. One day binge-watching trailers, I came across Evil Genius, a story I instantly recognized. Admittedly, I was not the most worldly 13 year old when the events of Evil Genius took place, but I almost exclusively watched antenna TV so I caught plenty of sporadic news. And while I thought I remembered some details about the pizza delivery driver forced to rob a bank with a bomb strapped to him, the trailer proved me wrong.
“Wait, what actually happened?!”
As soon as I realized I really had no concept of the whole story I was hooked. We are a nation obsessed with murder. Is there already an A&E show called My Murderous Obsession? If not, there will be within two years and you know I’m right. So what makes this story stand out for me is that partial memory of seeing a pizza delivery driver with a device around his neck sitting on the street. Ashamedly I had the same visceral reaction of having a connection to the incident that everyone seems to have after some tragedy. “I visited there once! So close to home!” Yeah, you and a bajillion other people have been to Paris, congrats.
What I love about “Part One: The Heist”is that unlike many other true crime shows, it doesn’t try to make any point other than this was a crazy thing that really happened. The first episode is a fun ride into a much more complex world of odd characters and several bodies. The story feels like a movie heist gone bad and it isn’t clear who exactly was involved or how involved they were. What seems like it may be a rather familiar story with some fun elements like a neck bomb, cane gun, and an impossible scavenger hunt, take a sharp turn with revelations about a mysterious woman with enough dead exes to make a terrible emo boy band and enough dead bodies in her freezer to look very guilty. It’s one, it only takes one, how dumb are you?
Ken’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) American Vandal, “#2” (Season Two, Episode 2)
2) Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, “Sources and Methods” (Season One, Episode 6)
3) Evil Genius, “Part One: The Heist” (Season One, Episode 1)
4) Lost in Space, “Trajectory” (Season One, Episode 8)
5) Big Mouth, “Drug Buddies” (Season Two, Episode 6”
6) The Staircase, “Imperfect Justice” (Season One, Episode 13)
7) Wild Wild Country, “Part 1” (Season One, Episode 1)
8) Everything Sucks, “Sometimes I Hear My Voice” (Season One, Episode 6)
9) Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father, “Episode 3” (Season Two, Episode 3)
10) The Innocents, “The Trailer” (Just the trailer, man)
Once a connoisseur of foreign and classic films Ken Jones has gone on to help make some of the worst reality shows to ever hit airwaves. Now an operations guru in the audio visual world he spends his free time watching movies and apparently almost exclusively Netflix Original shows. Ken is using the excuse that he is getting married in March and is a volunteer youth pastor and communicator as the reasoning behind not watching all of the great shows in your Top 10 list.
GLOW – “Every Potato Has a Receipt”
(Season Two, Episode 10)
By Molly Raker
Glow baby glow! The second season didn’t disappoint in the ring. I have to admit I liked the first season but I wasn’t running back for a rewatch. After the second season I did. It was hard to choose but ultimately went with the season finale as my favorite episode; it has a wedding, a brawl and relocation. How could I not? I know, I know, why didn’t I pick “The Good Twin,” the most meta of episodes? The finale just showed off the characters and how they’ve grown from the start. It was exceptional ensemble performance.
But first and foremost, it had the best fight yet. Liberty Bell taking on Mexico, the choreography was amazing and makes me want to learn how to fight. It had a slow start when all-girls were fighting in the ring but found its place. A great show about a show.
The fights make it exciting but the writing and directing was pitch perfect. I love all of Ruth and Sam talks but let’s be honest Marc Maron is able to deliver on all cylinders. One of my favorite lines, I don’t know why but it was.
Sam: That horse better not shit in here.
Ruth: It definitely going to.
On to Bash, this character finally got some depth this season but I can’t really tell what was going through his mind when he professed his “love” to Brittanica and kind of got married. People do know there’s more to do than getting an officiated to pronounce you legally married. Looking at you Jane the Virgin! I’m intrigue to see where this goes and also the choice to show Macchu Picha’s reaction gave her character some depth.
Look I’m just a girl that watches too much TV and with all the options GLOW is a surefire pick. Keep on glowing ladies. Even though I’ve never been to Vegas and I know I’ll hate it (thanks Sam) – I’ll stick around.
Molly’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) GLOW, “Every Potato Has a Receipt” (Season Two, Episode 10)
2) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
3) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “I’m Not the Person I Used to Be” (Season Four, Episode 7)
4) Better Call Saul, “Winner” (Season Four, Episode 10)
5) Homecoming, “Protocol” (Season One, Episode 8)
6) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Box” (Season Five, Episode 14)
7) The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Simone” (Season Two, Episode 1)
8) The Good Place, “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” (Season Two, Episode 11)
9) Succession, “Which Side Are You On?” (Season One, Episode 6)
10) Atlanta, “Helen” (Season Two, Episode 4)*
*Sidenote, I went to this town. It is truly bizarre.
Molly lives in Brooklyn, NY working in marketing at Roku. She watches way too much TV but still not enough to keep up with all the new shows. I balance it out with hiking so I get outside.
The Good Place – “Janet(s)”
(Season Three, Episode 10)
By Alex Manzo
The Good Place was my favorite discovery on 2018. I watched it once and immediately became obsessed, because how can you not after that Season One twist? Then I re-watched all of it with two more people in addition to keeping up with new episodes.
I knew I wanted to write about the show, but I procrastinated deciding on an episode, because I figured the midseason finale would be good – and it did not disappoint. Obviously I’ve been enjoying Season Three, but there seemed to be a short lull where I found myself asking where exactly this season was going. “Janet(s)” made all of that crystal clear.
Part of what makes The Good Place so impressive is that it manages to turn the entire premise of the show on its head at least once a season. Whenever you are left to ask, “How long can they keep this going?” they add another layer to the story to be explored. The idea of The Good Place being unattainable in and of itself is already a great addition to the story. For me what really sends this new turn over the top is that it’s not The Judge, the accountants, or anyone else that will right this injustice. It’s Michael. It’s up to him. The savior of Team Cockroach (and apparently all humans headed to the afterlife) is a literal demon who has no idea what he’s doing. What other show on TV is doing something like that?
Aside from The Good Place’s generally excellent storytelling, this episode gave us the sheer joy of watching D’Arcy Carden act as every character on the show. She (naturally) manages to nail every character’s mannerisms. Janet has always been one of my favorite characters on the show, in large part because Carden just plays her brilliantly.
Most importantly, we had this sequence of Janet kissing Janet and then Janet kissing Eleanor (and also Eleanor and Chidi kissing, I guess). This fulfilled all the wildest dreams my spouse and I had for the episode.
In summary, The Good Place is really forking good, and this episode is a great example of all the reasons why.
Alex’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Good Place, “Somewhere Else” (Season Two, Episode 13)
2) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
3) Doctor Who, “Rosa” (Season Eleven, Episode 3)
4) Queer Eye, “Sky’s the Limit” (Season Two, Episode 5)
5) Doctor Who, “It Takes You Away” (Season Eleven, Episode 9)
6) Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, “Chapter Ten: The Witching Hour” (Season One, Episode 10)
7) Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, “Chapter Eight: The Returned Man” (Season One, Episode 8)
8) Love, “Anniversary Party” (Season Three, Episode 11)
9) The Good Place, “The Burrito” (Season Two, Episode 12)
10) The Great British Bake-Off, “Spice Week” (Season Nine, Episode 5)
Alex Manzo works as a web developer in North Carolina where he lives with my spouse Cam and our two dogs Jasper & Patch. He graduated Ball State in 2011 where he met Austin and many of the other contributors to this article.
The Great British Bake-Off – “Final”
(Season Nine, Episode 10)
By Keith Jackson
This review contains spoilers for the conclusion of Season Nine.
The BBC Bake-Off is dead. Long live the Channel 4 Bake-Off!
This season of The Great British Bake-Off (or as the Yanks call it, “Baking Show”) was the second under new management of Channel 4. Whereas the BBC iteration aired in the States much later after the UK airing and once-a-week on PBS, Netflix picked up the show’s rights after its move, and streamed it with only a few weeks’ delay. This was great for me, as it was easy to binge. I’m not into competitive cooking shows — or competitive reality shows in general — so the drama and anticipation of “who’s getting voted off this week” isn’t appealing. This change definitely helped in the transition between broadcasters, since there were other hurdles to get past (which I’ll get to in a bit).
So if I’m not into competitive reality shows*, why did I pick GBBO… a competitive baking show? Simple: because it’s so pleasant. What I know of Top Chef, Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, etc. is there is drama. It’s cutthroat, Gordon Ramsay is yelling, the music is intense. Bake-Off is the antithesis to those shows. Sure, the contestants are rushing to complete their bakes in a certain amount of time. But the bakers help each other at times. The criticism of their final products is fair, not unnecessarily harsh. The aesthetic of the show is just quaint, plain and simple. There are no manufactured conflicts and no villains to hate-watch. You feel good when a baker does well, and feel bad when they don’t.
I loved the BBC Bake-Off for its main personalities: Sue, Mel, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Unfortunately, in the move all but one decided to leave the show, which of course spelled doom and gloom. Two seasons with the new presenters and judge, though, and the magic of the show inexplicably remains. Noel and Sandi gracefully carry the torch once held by Sue & Mel, continuing with a cheeky sense of humor. And while Mary Berry is irreplaceable, Prue Leith follows her adequately. Normally shows never feel the same after such a shake-up, but Bake-Off is resilient.
So anyway, last paragraph, I better get to the episode in question. To be honest, since we binged the season in a weekend it all kind of blurs together, and the nature of the format I can’t get excited for, say, Episode 3 over Episode 8. But I’ve chosen the Final because it capped off a season with one particularly great personality: Rahul. The poor guy spent the whole season doubting himself, apologizing when being told he did a good job (much to the bewilderment of the hosts), overcoming exploding glass jars, and doing things like answering the question, “how would you describe yourself” with “depressing,” and yet deservedly was crowned Star Baker in the end. Spoilers!
* I will carve out an exception for Netflix’s Nailed It!
Keith’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
2) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Jake & Amy” (Season Five, Episode 22)
3) Bob’s Burgers, “Just One of the Boyz 4 Now for Now” (Season Nine, Episode 1)
4) Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, “Trump Administration Family Separation Policy” (Season Five, Episode 28)
5) Sharp Objects, “Milk” (Season One, Episode 8)
6) Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert
7) Nailed It! “3…2…1, Ya Done!” (Season Three, Episode 6)
8) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Bachelor/ette Party” (Season Five, Episode 19)
9) A Series of Unfortunate Events, “Carnivorous Carnival: Part 1” (Season Two, Episode 9)
10) Trial & Error, “The Timeline” (Season Two, Episode 2)
Keith is a video editor for Looper, Mashed, and SVG, among others. (Please like and subscribe.) He and his wife enjoy taking care of their four goofy cats and one derpy dog.
The Handmaid’s Tale – “The Word”
(Season Two, Episode 13)
By Jackie Jones
This review contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale
Since someone already called dibs on the one awesome new series I had the chance to watch this year (WOW, THANKS, LEIGH MONTANO), I decided to try something a smidge different: the episode I’m covering is the first and only episode I’ve seen of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the near future in Gilead, a dystopian society settled within the borders of the United States of America. In this world, low birth-rates and a new government that enforces the subjugation of all women leads to a horrifying new conscription: any fertile women that remain in Gilead are forced to live in the homes of the elite, in which they are raped and forced to bear children for the household.
In “The Word,” our main character and handmaid, Offred, moves back into the Waterford’s home to continue breastfeeding the baby she bore for them, Holly. The events of the previous episode seem to have Offred more fearful than ever for the future of Holly and every other girl born here. It has become shockingly clear to her, now, that her generation will be far from the last to suffer under the laws and practices of Gilead.
Emily, another handmaid, finds herself in a situation unfamiliar to her in her new life in Gilead: her new master is kind, good humored, and has no intention of trying to impregnate her. Still reeling from a series of tragedies, however, she attacks and kills the woman that I assume is the devil incarnate, judging by the actress they chose to play her: Ann Dowd. I later read what this woman, Aunt Lydia, had done to Emily, and can confirm that yes, Ann Dowd is still really good at playing monsters.
Elisabeth Moss is wonderful. I’m always wary of main protagonists that appear to be perpetually or inherently miserable, so the opening shot of this episode had me preparing for a series of healthy eye-rolls. However she did one hell of a job conveying how very deeply this dystopian world created by Margaret Atwood has wounded June Osborne/Offred. Her anger and despair are warranted; I feel that same anger and despair just by imagining a world in which this all could happen.
This episode has so effectively peaked my interest in the story told in The Handmaid’s Tale. I am genuinely looking forward to watching the rest of the series, or at the very least reading Margaret Atwood’s novel.
Jackie’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Haunting of Hill House, “The Bent-Neck Lady” (Season One, Episode 5)
2) The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms” (Season One, Episode 6)
3) The Haunting of Hill House, “Witness Marks” (Season One, Episode 8)
4) The Haunting of Hill House, “Eulogy” (Season One, Episode 7)
5) The Haunting of Hill House, “Touch” (Season One, Episode 3)
6) The Haunting of Hill House, “The Twin Thing” (Season One, Episode 4)
7) The Haunting of Hill House, “Screaming Meemies” (Season One, Episode 9)
8) The Haunting of Hill House, “Silence Lay Steadily” (Season One, Episode 10)
9) The Haunting of Hill House, “Open Casket” (Season One, Episode 2)
10) The Haunting of Hill House, “Steven Sees a Ghost” (Season One, Episode 1)
Jackie was lucky enough to meet and work with the king of turds, Austin Lugar, at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, IN. Indy was her home until about two years ago when she moved to Vancouver, BC. Here she’s found another incredible job that allows her to continuing working in film as a VFX coordinator at Method Studios.
The Haunting of Hill House – “Two Storms”
(Season One, Episode 6)
By Leigh Montano
Eric Victor Clark 11/19/68 – 11/2/18
My stepdad died earlier this year. He and I weren’t really close. My mom and him got married when I was in high school and I wasn’t home much during college. Our interactions weren’t always the greatest and we didn’t have a great relationship.
I’ve watched The Haunting of Hill House three times, all the way through. I’ve never been a fan of horror movies. Or at least I thought. I didn’t grow up watching Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street, seminal movies for every young horror film fan. I only saw Scream for the first time a few years ago, well into my 20s. Even in my film classes in college, the only horror movie we watched (for seemingly every class that had a horror movie example) was Pan’s Labyrinth, which while a great movie, isn’t a “horror” movie in the traditional 1980s Wes Craven sense.
“One thing I never found, was a reason.”
Death is final. It’s sometimes long and drawn out. Sometimes it’s abrupt and swift, catching the survivors by surprise. Sometimes family members get the chance to make their peace and say their goodbyes to the dying. Other times survivors aren’t given that option.
“I’ll be honest with you. Any questions you have are completely normal.” A stoic Shirley tells her kids. Her determined answers and explanations of how bodies are prepared for funerals to a concerned young boy were a focal point as I listened to my mother have the same phone conversation dozens of times. (It’s fucking brutal having to listen to your mother tell her mother-in-law that her son is dead.)
I’ve cried so much recently. I cried at the end of The Haunting of Hill House, every time I finished it and for different, deeply personal reasons. I didn’t cry at the hospital as I held my sobbing mother in my arms, “He’s gone,” coming from her in gasps and sobs. I cried at the funeral while a close friend of the family recounted my stepfather’s life. I cried while washing dishes when I remembered my stepdad’s ugly Michigan coat that he insisted on wearing and the matching scarf I had knit for him a few Christmases ago.
“She looks dead.” A quote from Theo in episode 6, “Two Storms,” that would regularly come to mind as we were making plans and preparations for the funeral. A quote that I thought of as I saw my stepdad laying in his powder blue casket (“It was his favorite color,” my mom explained to his mother over the phone), his fingers blackened from the lack of oxygen before he died or just from the dying process in general.
“You fixed her.” A young Shirley says to the funeral director at her mother’s funeral.
But he wasn’t fixed. His beard was trimmed but his hair was different and his face didn’t light up when he saw me. “Hey, Kiddo!” didn’t come out of his mouth. He just laid there, in his casket, with his ugly Michigan coat draped over the powder blue.
There are so many reasons why I could go on and on about Hill House and how fascinating it is. The show has only been out for a few months and many smarter and wittier people than myself have dissected and critiqued it in ways I would never imagine. Death has always been a trigger for me, preventing me from watching or experiencing many other bits of media because of how it would set off my anxiety. But Hill House wasn’t like that. It didn’t present death as a scary thing. Hill House curiously explores what death means to us as individuals and as a family. It explores how death impacts the living for sometimes years later. And the most curious message from Hill House, is hope. I’ve felt hopeful after finishing Hill House. And it’s hard to explain why without spoilers or without more insight into my personal life than anyone really wants right now.
“I’m not ready to bury my husband.” My mom said to me over coffee roughly eight hours before my stepdad died. I’ve always joked that my life is a sitcom but that bit of foreshadowing was too perfectly written.
All things must come to an end. It’s just how our world is. We are born, we grow, we die. It’s nature. Hill House reminds the audience of this, and not always in the decaying and decrepit way that we often see death explored in other media (although there are plenty of decaying creepy corpses). Hill House ultimately teaches the audience acceptance in a very masterful and organic way. Death is inevitable but not to fear it. Not to be afraid. That mourning is a legitimate human response to death but that we should also celebrate the life that we got to experience and share, even if it’s a short time.
One of the last things my stepdad said to me has regularly played in my head since his death. I was sitting on my living room floor. It was my birthday. My brother and I were lamenting about how terrible our real father is. My mom and my brother’s boyfriend had gone to pick up pizza for dinner. My stepdad was on the couch, being quiet and reserved, just listening to me and my brother complain. (For anyone who knew him, you know this was a feat in and of itself.)
“You know. I don’t understand why your dad treats you guys the way he does.” My stepdad spoke up for the first time in a few minutes at a natural lull in conversation. I looked up at him and he looked back at me. “I would kill to have kids as amazing as you two.” And for the first time in our relationship, I believed him.
It’s hard to process death. I’m still in shock and denial, weeks later. I’m sure it will take a while for things to make sense again. A flurry of emotions and memories have been flying around me as I’ve been trying to understand what’s happened. Each memory fleeting and brief as it flutters by me.
Leigh’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms” (Season One, Episode 6)
2) The Haunting of Hill House, “The Bent-Neck Lady” (Season One, Episode 5)
3) The Haunting of Hill House, “Silence Lay Steadily” (Season One, Episode 10)
4) One Day at a Time, “Hello, Penelope” (Season Two, Episode 9)
5) She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, “Promise” (Season One, Episode 11)
6) One Day at a Time, “Not Yet” (Season Two, Episode 13)
7) The Good Place, “Leap to Faith” (Season Two, Episode 9)
8) Riverdale, “Chapter Thirty-Five: Brave New World” (Season Two, Episode 22)
9) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Show Me Going” (Season Five, Episode 20)
10) GLOW, “The Good Twin” (Season Two, Episode 8)
Leigh Montano likes to shout about TV to anyone who may be listening and especially to those who aren’t. She sometimes will actually write down her thoughts or record her ramblings. She ALSO spends too much time watching TV, reading Twitter and taking pictures of her cat.
High Maintenance – “Globo”
(Season Two, Episode 1)
By Dennis Sullivan
My list was difficult to create this year. After discovering The Great British Bake-Off, most of my free time went into catching up through all of those seasons. For that reason, I am not caught up on Westworld, Better Call Saul, The Good Place, or The Americans. However, I think it would still be hard to top my favorite episode of the year.
High Maintenance is a little known show in the mainstream lexicon, which is a shame as it tells unique stories unlike anything else I’ve seen on television. The show occasionally follows the life of The Guy, a marijuana dealer from NYC that travels around to his clients. This delivery briefly inserts him into their lives, and the show tends to veer a sharp turn and follow the life of another person The Guy interacts with. Sometimes it is a client, sometimes someone he passes on the street, and even sometimes an unexpected main character that you couldn’t have predicted. This flexibility allows HBO to craft unique narratives and situations for characters not normally represented. It’s essentially a glimpse into the cooky, crazy, and unpredictability of life.
Originally an online only production, HBO picked up the show in 2016 and is about to air it’s third season in 2019. However, today, I want discuss the Season Two premiere, “Globo”. The episode is unique, as it follows the lives of many people in New York City after a tragedy happens. You may ask yourself what kind of tragedy is it? And the show gives a clear message: it doesn’t actually matter. Dark discussions about how the world will never be the same are juxtaposed with fancy dining establishments and surrounded with raucous laughter. As a society, we say we are impacted by the events surrounding us, but as the actions of the characters exemplify that, at least from the outside, nothing really changes.
The genius of this “tragedy” is that you are given no clues. Is it a shooting? A natural disaster? Airplane gone missing? Another nuclear reactor hit by a tsunami? The show never says. It’s a commentary on how people want to feel more connected to tragedy, but by the end of the episode, you realize it’s human connection that people crave more. This realization at the end of the episode was shot beautifully, and needs to be seen to fully comprehend the simplicity.
There’s one other storyline in the episode that intrigues me. The Guy delivers to a hotel room whose occupants have been unaware of what is happening outside. It has the most genuine reactions and alludes to how a community can come together to cope. However, the show is fundamentally a comedy at heart. The resolution to their plot is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and one of the best moments in the series so far.
So while I recommend this particular episode, I also recommend “Grandpa” from Season One, and “Fagin” from Season Two. Although a small consistent plot line appears in Season Two, you can jump around from episode to episode without ever feeling like you’re missing much. So if you want great characters and stories told in a way that’s unlike anything else on television now, High Maintenance is the show for you.
Dennis’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) High Maintenance, “Globo” (Season Two, Episode 1)
2) BoJack Horseman, “Free Churro” (Season Five, Episode 6)
3) The Good Place, “Somewhere Else” (Season Two, Episode 13)
4) Queer Eye, “You Can’t Fix Ugly” (Season One, Episode 1)
5) Love, “Catalina” (Season Three, Episode 12)
6) Orange is the New Black, “Be Free” (Season Six, Episode 13)
7) Santa Clarita Diet, “Halibut!” (Season Two, Episode 10)
8) Barry, “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going” (Season One, Episode 7)
9) Big Mouth, “Dark Side of the Boob” (Season Two, Episode 8)
10) Arrested Development, “Emotional Baggage” (Season Five, Episode 6)
Dennis hails from Indiana, but has lived abroad in Germany, the Netherlands, Indonesia, and Japan. He currently works in the international education field by helping students study abroad at a variety of locations around the world. His hobbies include sleeping, traveling, coffee, and not being on fire.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Mac Finds His Pride”
(Season Thirteen, Episode 10)
By Sara Rust
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia easily had one of the best glow ups of 2018. A show that started their season with the presumed loss of a main character, evolved into a touching and meaningful finale that left audiences wanting more.
The usual antics of the idiot characters started the episode with Frank asking the newly outed Mac to represent Paddy’s Pub in the Gay Pride Parade. As expected, Frank didn’t understand why Mac would have an issue with this and proceeded to pressure him to come out to his dad, who’s in prison.
Fast-forward through some silly side stories and Mac is coming out to his abrasive father through a dance that illustrates how it feels to grapple with being gay and religious. While Mac’s father didn’t accept his son’s admission, Frank finally understood what Mac had been struggling with, leaving the door wide open for the next season to explore where Mac fits in.
Rob McElhenney trained for 7 months to be able to complete this dance and it shows. Not all of the storylines hit in It’s Always Sunny but one thing that can always be said about the cast is that they give it their all. No other show seems to take themselves so seriously while also being able to make fun of their whole existence so well. This episode showed how far they’ve all grown and is a must see for anyone who even remotely enjoys this type of show.
Sara’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) Schitt’s Creek, “Open Mic” (Season Four, Episode 6)
2) The Good Place, “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” (Season Three, Episode 9)
3) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “Nathaniel is Irrevelant” (Season Three, Episode 13)
4) Modern Family, “Good Grief” (Season Ten, Episode 5)
5) A Million Little Things, “Unexpected” (Season One, Episode 6)
6) Superstore, “Town Hall” (Season Three, Episode 22)
7) Riverdale, “Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Midnight Club” (Season Three, Episode 4)
8) Portlania, “No Thank You” (Season Eight, Episode 3)
9) New Girl, “Mario” (Season Seven, Episode 6)
10) Everything Sucks, “We Were Merely Freshman” (Season One, Episode 10)
Sara is a news reporter for CNN, a flight instructor with American Airlines, girlfriend to one of the Ryans and a perpetual liar. In real life she’s a comedian in Chicago and can be found performing every other Friday at The Crowd Theater with her sketch team, FiasCo. She doesn’t like broccoli.
Killing Eve – “Nice Face”
(Season One, Episode 1)
By Katherine Lakin
“Nothing ever happens. Now this woman is happening.”
Eve Polastri says that about three-fourths of the way into the pilot episode of Killing Eve. It’s incredibly telling about her life. She’s a woman who is bored. Bored with her job, her husband, her life. She wants more (like maybe a serial killer girlfriend?), and more importantly than that, she knows she can do more.
Killing Eve is the story of a cop and a killer whose lives become increasingly entwined. It’s far from the first show to operate under this premise (Luther and Hannibal come to mind). However, despite how many similarities Killing Eve has to shows that have come before, it still manages to feel like something new.
A large part of this is how very female it feels. Not only are the leads both women, but the ways in which the men and women act feels so separate. The men in Eve and Villanelle’s lives are determined to maintain the status quo. Nico, for all that he clearly adores Eve, also seems to want her to change. He wants normal, and safe, and he wants Eve to want those things as well. Both Eve and Villanelle’s bosses also spend the majority of the pilot trying to get them to do things buy the book. Everything about the ways our leads operate in the world feels feminine. Villanelle stores her bright pink razors next to her guns and murders using poison hairpins. Eve is underestimated and looked down on in her job. It isn’t until another woman gives her an opportunity outside of her male dominated career that she’s able to thrive.
The pilot does a lot to establish the ways in which Eve and Villanelle are similar. They’re both passionate people who are slightly out of touch with what’s expected of them. They both have men in their lives who serve as father figures. Neither woman is willing to compromise what she wants to do in order to fit into the bounds her employer has made for her.
We see both Eve and Villanelle go against what their respective bosses request of them. Eve conducts an illegal investigation (including illegally recording a witness), puts a minor in a dangerous situation, and fails to protect her charge. She does all of this on a hunch, because she’s positive she knows more than those around her.
Meanwhile Villanelle can’t seem to help but add flair onto her kills. She wants her kills to represent her, regardless of what may be the smarter choice.
We should want Eve to return to her normal life. To go back to Nico, where it’s comfortable and safe. But we can’t want that for her, because it’s not what she wants. She wants out of her boring life, she wants something new, she wants to be celebrated for thinking outside the box (she wants a serial killer girlfriend). In classic fashion, she’s soon to get everything she wants, though it may not be what she imagined.
Katherine’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
2) Killing Eve, “Nice Face” (Season One, Episode 1)
3) The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms” (Season One, Episode 6)
4) Sharp Objects, “Fix” (Season One, Episode 3)
5) Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, “First Light” (Season One, Episode 1)
6) Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Real Deal” (Season Five, Episode 12)
7) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Jake & Amy” (Season Five, Episode 22)
8) Lovesick, “Evie” (Season Three, Episode 4)
9) A Series of Unfortunate Events, “Carnivorous Carnival: Part 2” (Season Two, Episode 10)
10) Anne with an E, “Memory Has as Many Moods as The Temper” (Season Two, Episode 7)
Katherine is a 27-year old nerd who plays an unhealthy amount of Destiny 2 and watches too many horror movies. She loves long walks on the beach, chocolate labs, and whiskey. She hates olives and the patriarchy.
Legion – “Chapter 13”
(Season Two, Episode 5)
By Alan Gordon
I’ve never been one for horror. Blame an early traumatizing experience with a dark, funhouse, monster ride in Asbury Park when I was five or six [long story]. I also think the genre’s been corrupted by slasher movies, which are uninteresting and rely too much on gore and splatter, as opposed to genuine plotted terror. Horror to me is not about the fear of violent death, but something more fundamental: The creeping dread of evil happening to the ones you love.
Season One of Legion blew my mind. Season Two continued to do so, albeit hampered by some things that were merely odd [like the guy in the odd hamper]. But the return of Lenny, played by the inimitable and unpredictable Aubrey Plaza, provided mystery, suspense — and ultimately horror.
Lenny was David’s sidekick when he was out on the streets, a drug-addicted hustler and enabler. She apparently ends up in the asylum with him in “Chapter 1”, and ends up plastered in a wall by — well, whodunnit is ambiguous. She becomes one of the more sardonic embodiments of the Shadow King, a symbiotic, psychic, evil IS THIS MAKING ANY SENSE WHATSOEVER? SCREW SUMMARIZATION, WATCH THE DAMN SHOW!
The point is, Lemmy is dead, or her body is dead, and when she is not terrorizing David and company, especially when they end up in the astral plane, or whatever NOT MAKING SENSE AGAIN! And yet, after complaining to the Shadow King, she is brought back to life in a new body.
Only it isn’t so new. Where it’s from, who it was, how it was obtained — all of these are revealed to David as he interrogates his friend [former lover?], and I felt the agony of the answers right along with him, serious, wrenching, gut-level pain. All hail to the writers, to Dan Stevens as David, and the miracle that is Plaza. You never know where the story is going, and then Plaza shoots off into some other dimension from where you were. I’m waiting for Season Three with [SAY IT!] anticipation. And dread.
Alan’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) Legion, “Chapter 13” (Season Two, Episode 5)
2) Legion, “Chapter 14” (Season Two, Episode 6)
3) Doctor Who, “Kerblam!” (Season Eleven, Episode 7)
4) Sense8, “Amor Vincit Omnia” (Season Two, Episode 12)
Just as well they wrapped it in a two hour episode instead of an entire season. High point: The Trojan Horse tour bus.
5) The Expanse, “Abaddon’s Gate” (Season Three, Episode 13)
“I need a ride” is one of the greatest punchlines in history.
6) The Expanse, “Immolation” (Season Three, Episode 6)
7) The Magicians, “All About Josh” (Season Three, Episode 9)
The singing episode has become a cliché, but this one had wit and purpose.
8) Killing Eve, “Sorry, Baby” (Season One, Episode 4)
9) Marvel’s Daredevil, “The Devil You Know” (Season Three, Episode 6)
Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk/Kingpin gave a great performance by watching and listening.
10) Rise, “Bring Me Stanton” (Season One, Episode 6)
This series could have been great if the writing had guts. This episode did. Auli’i Cravalho and Amy Forsythe were revelations. A driven high school teacher mounts a production of Spring Awakening in a depressed former steeltown. In this episode, the students are asked to collect items from the town to make up the set. Each one told a story.
Alan Gordon is a novelist/librettist/lyricist/story-teller/lawyer and Man About Town, but not your town. He apparently needs to watch more television. www.alan-gordon.com.
Narcos: Mexico – “881 Lope de Vega”
(Season One, Episode 9)
By Nick Hussong
“881 Lope de Vega” is penultimate episode of the first season of Narcos: Mexico. It is not the best episode of the season, but it is the most important episode for reasons that have nothing to do with the traditional metrics of television shows (directing, acting, writing, editing, etc.). Narcos: Mexico may be the most depressingly hopeless show that has ever aired. The good guys are not going to win. You know from the beginning, nay before the beginning that the good guys are not going to win. This is a show about the War on Drugs. There are no good guys. Nobody wins; one side just loses more slowly. In capturing that theme, “881 Lope de Vega” is perfect.
The DEA protagonist of this season is Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (Michael Pena). Viewers of the previous seasons of Narcos, and anyone even tangentially familiar with the history of the US War on Drugs, came into this season knowing Kiki’s fate. He was kidnapped off the streets of Guadalajara by the Sinaloa Cartel, brutally tortured for two straight days, and killed. His body was found in rural Mexico more than one month later. Even if you didn’t watch the previous seasons of Narcos, know nothing about the War on Drugs, and somehow completely avoid Wikipedia as you watch the show, the opening of the season is a call-forward to Kiki being abducted and taken to a torture chamber. Narcos: Mexico is not trying to surprise you. Which is not to say that it will not shock you.
The previous episode ended with Kiki’s abduction. From the DEA’s side, the story of “881 Lope de Vega” is about the DEA frantically trying to find Kiki and being foiled by the corrupt Mexican bureaucracy they had clashed with the entire season. But we already know that they will fail to save Kiki. The War on Drugs: a lot of effort undertaken by dedicated people against seemingly insurmountable odds that do, in fact, turn out to be insurmountable. From the side of the Sinaloa Cartel, the story of “881 Lope de Vega” is the empire they had built beginning to unravel. It is also the death of the drug trafficking protagonist, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna), as a sympathetic character. I suspect that the only reason Felix ever seemed sympathetic in the first place is that Diego Luna is adorable and it is hard to stay mad at him. Because Felix was a horrific person who sowed violence and misery internationally for over a decade. “881 Lope de Vega” sees Felix make his final betrayal. Having cast aside his wife in the previous episode, Felix now turns on Rafael Caro Quintero (Tenoch Huerta), the man he had once loved like a brother and whose genius at marijuana-growing had allowed Felix to build his empire in the first place.
Those twin elements of the futility of fighting the War on Drugs and the all-corrupting power becoming a drug kingpin certainly help build the depressing thematic framework of “881 Lope de Vega,” but they do not make it perfect. What makes it perfect is a meta-element that I do not believe the creators intended when filming the episode. What makes this episode a perfect encapsulation of Narcos: Mexico’s message is this: while torturing Kiki, his interrogators are asking him what he knows about specific members of the Mexican government and the names are bleeped. I believe that means that when filming the episode, the actor said the real names, but at some point along the way it was decided that they could not actually use the names. Because those men are still important enough in Mexican politics that Netflix would not risk including their names.
There are no good guys. Nobody wins. Nothing changes. And along the way a lot of people are killed or traumatized. This is the story of Narcos: Mexico. This is the story of the War on Drugs.
Nick’s Top 5ish Episodes of 2018
1) The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy” (Season Three, Episode 5)
2) The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy” (Season Three, Episode 5
3) The Good Place, “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” (Season Three, Episode 8)
4) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
5) Just watch The Good Place already.
Nick Hussong is a modern urbanite. You can find him out and about in Chicago. If you happen upon him, he’d love to tell you why capitalism is bad.
Queer Eye – “You Can’t Fix Ugly”
(Season One, Episode 1)
By Tara Olivero
Here’s the thing. When the original Queer Eye debuted on Bravo in 2003, even if my home had gotten Bravo, I was still twelve years old and spent my daily allotment of cardboard “tv tokens” on shitty Nickelodeon cartoons. So I have no skin in the game when it comes to comparing Netflix’s new reboot with the original. What I CAN attest to, however, is the pure goodness (and by that I mean the lightness, honesty, integrity, wholesomeness, choose-your-synonym here) of the new Queer Eye.
It is a level of wholesomeness, in fact, that may have saved 2018, or at least did its best to resuscitate it.
I struggled to choose between writing about the first episode of Season One, which introduces the Fab Five, and the first episode of Season Two, in which they make over their first woman, Mama Tammye, in a Georgia town literally called “Gay.” In the end, I had to go with 1.01, because of how well it introduces what I see as the main takeaways of the show: offering ways for not just the makeover-ee to improve their life, but easy ways for the audience to improve theirs too – as well as emphasizing the person-to-person connections the Fab Five will be making with each other and with their charges throughout the season.
The new Fab Five are first introduced, giving Netflix’s viewing audience a taste of the glorious season to come. “The original show was fighting for tolerance. Our fight is for acceptance,” says Tan as they navigate the streets of Atlanta in slow-motion, crossing an appropriately-themed rainbow crosswalk with techno music slowly building in the background. Their first assignment is a 57-year-old divorcee named Tom, an admirer of old cars who clearly hopes to spruce up in order to impress his ex-wife Abby, with whom he remains on friendly terms. Tom, red-faced with a scraggly beard, instantly comes across as someone with a complete lack of confidence, putting himself down at every turn – but from the moment the Fab Five burst into his apartment, a whirlwind of promise floods through his doors.
This episode’s endearing heart comes to the surface as the five men unceremoniously insert themselves into Tom’s life in every possible way. They start pawing through his bathroom cabinets, Karamo and Tan immediately putting on clothes from the piles in his closet, Antoni sniffing his grimy recliner with a sense of awestruck disgust. While bonding over his atrocious “redneck margaritas,” they encourage him to stop saying that “you can’t fix ugly.” And the way the shots of the Fab Five bonding with Tom are masterfully cut with their interviews back at their Atlanta loft make the episode both real and reflective.
They teach him, and us, that it’s okay to care about yourself and feel confident. They don’t try to make him a new person, but they give him possibilities of living a healthier, more confident, slightly more sophisticated lifestyle – and help take him a step up from where he started. He had a nasty old recliner? Bobby remakes his apartment and gives him two, one for him and one for a “lady-friend.” He likes covering his face with hats? Tan gives him a hat that’s more stylish and opens up his features. They consider Tom’s budget when it comes to shopping and keep him within the comforts of his own prior experience. Tom really has no discernable culinary abilities? Antoni teaches him an appetizer recipe with literally two ingredients. Poke fun at Antoni’s supposed avocado obsession all you want, but avocados are easy to handle, and that’s really all Tom is ready for at this point in time, okay?? And later, Tom’s pride shines through when he shares his homemade guacamole with Abby, shyly declaring, “Antoni taught me to make this.” How can your heart NOT grow ten sizes after watching this episode? Tell me how.
Finally, what truly makes this episode sparkle is the introduction of Jonathan Van Ness, an honest-to-God national treasure. Watching his first, fearless makeover process is the gift that keeps on giving as he holds nothing back and constantly showers Tom with authentic compliments. Tom, bashful and affectionate, calls Jonathan “crazy” at least twice in the episode – and that just goes to show how rarely Tom receives positive attention from others, and how unfamiliar to him Jonathan’s brash honesty seems. But after Jonathan’s time with Tom, you can see his eyes shine with the wattage of a thousand light bulbs. Something as simple as cutting his hair and his beard brought so much joy to this man! I’m heart-eyes every time.
When Tom and the Fab Five part ways and Tom struggles to express what the experience has meant to him, Karamo says unabashedly, “We have fallen in love with you.” And the reality of their fast friendship and mentorship over the past few days together brings Tom to tears. He apologizes, but the Fab Five encourage him to let himself cry. Breaking down toxic masculinity?? Encouraging being genuinely in touch with your emotions?? Can you BELIEVE??
Tara’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) Queer Eye, “You Can’t Fix Ugly” (Season One, Episode 1)
2) Queer Eye, “God Bless Gay” (Season Two, Episode 1)
3) Bojack Horseman, “Free Churro” (Season Five, Episode 6)
4) Westworld, “Akane no Mai” (Season Two, Episode 5)
5) The Good Place, “The Brainy Bunch” (Season Three, Episode 2)
6) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “Nathaniel is Irrelevant” (Season Three, Episode 13)
7) Survivor, “You Get What You Give” (Season Thirty-Seven, Episode 8)
8) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 9)
9) Doctor Who, “Rosa” (Season Eleven, Episode 3)
10) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “I’m Not the Person I Used to Be” (Season Four, Episode 8)
Tara Olivero is an English teacher and Shakespeare addict from Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s impossible for her to choose a favorite member of the Fab Five, but she identifies on an emotional level with Antoni’s love of corgis. Feel free to follow her on twitter @taraolivero.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – “Salt”
(Season One, Episode 2)
By J.C. Pankratz
By J.C. Pankratz
At the heart of the lovely, meditative Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is an inquiry into one of life’s most basic questions: why does food taste good? In the second episode of the four-part Netflix series, Samin Nosrat guides us through one of the world’s most common culinary traditions by bouncing back and forth between Japan and her sunny, warm California kitchen. The show is a lithe balance between fascination (awe, for instance, at how Japan makes over 4,000 different kinds of salt and have learned to cook “with every part of the sea”) and the nuance of empowering anyone who watches. Nosrat’s philosophy isn’t about making sure you only buy food from farmer’s markets or learn fancy knife skills. It’s about the common things that unite good cooking, because you should enjoy what you put in your mouth. It’s salt that makes that happen, and it’s that simple.
So how do you make salt? Through constant, hard work, and everyday artistry. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, in this episode more than any other, guides us to look over our shoulder and consider not only the taste of salt, but the why of its taste and the where of its home. (Also, no one is immune to Nosrat’s spunky, unfettered enthusiasm and charm. It seems that everyone who meets her falls instantly in love–and who can blame them? Her tutelage is instantly compelling, and her kitchen seems to be the nicest place in the world.)
J.C.’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) Killing Eve, “Nice Face” (Season One, Episode 1)
2) American Vandal, “The Brown Out” (Season Two, Episode 1)
3) Queer Eye, “To Gay or Not Too Gay” (Season One, Episode 4)
4) Queer Eye, “A Decent Proposal” (Season Two, Episode 2)
5) The Great British Bake-Off, “Pastry Week” (Season Nine, Episode 6)
6) GLOW, “Nothing Shattered” (Season Two, Episode 7)
7) Sharp Objects, “Cherry” (Season One, Episode 6)
8) BoJack Horseman, “Free Churro” (Season Five, Episode 6)
9) American Vandal, “Shit Talk” (Season Two, Episode 4)
10) Chef’s Table, “Christina Tosi” (Season Four, Episode 1)
Steven Universe – “The Question”
(Season Five, Episode 21)
By Rachael Clark
To put it simply, Steven Universe is cartoon show about a young boy by the same name who lives with three magical crystal gems. Steven himself is half human/half gem and they all use their powers to help save the world from being taken over by evil gems. It is strange premise and concept, one I would have never given a second thought to without the encouragement from friends, but over the past three years this has been one of my favorite shows to watch. It is a children’s show, but they do not hold back on tough topics like loss and domestic abuse, especially when each episode is about 11 minutes long.
The episode I’m diving into this year is one of my favorites called, “The Question.” One of the crystal gems is Garnet. Garnet is actually a fusion, which is what happens when two gems literally fuse together to become one gem, usually becoming bigger and more powerful than their usual self. Gems typically only fuse together for a fight. Once the fight is over, they unfuse and become their own self again. This is where Garnet is different. Garnet has stayed fused for hundreds of years. When Garnet unfuses she is Sapphire and Ruby. Throughout the shows five seasons they have unfused only a handful of times, it is a rare occasion. Sapphire and Ruby prefer to be fused together as Garnet than to be apart.
During a previous episode, something shocking happens and Garnet unfuses into Sapphire and Ruby. Sapphire usually the calm, cool, and collected of the two is completely enraged to put it mildly. Without giving too much away she yells at Ruby, “She lied about everything! She lied to us and told us to never question who we are as Garnet. We never questioned ourselves.” Ruby who is usually hot tempered is the one trying to calm down Sapphire, “If we could just stay calm and talk about this.” Sapphire’s response, “Talk about what, how our relationship is based on a lie?”
Now we get to the actual episode, “The Question”. Ruby has run away and Steven goes in search of her, thinking she is heartbroken. But when he finds her, Ruby seems fine, in fact, she seems happy. She is hanging out with Steven’s dad, Greg, eating pizza and reading comics. She has come to the conclusion that Sapphire was right about everything, this is the first time she is thinking about only her. Before Sapphire and her were together she was with a herd of other Rubys and always checking in on someone. Now she is on her own for the first time and loves it. Ruby wants to be one with the wilderness and refers to one of the comics called Lonesome Lasso. That’s where she wants to go, the open range.
With Greg’s van they drive her out to the open range fully decked out in a cowboy outfit with hat, buckle, and boots. She addresses the comic to make sure she is doing this adventure correctly, using a southern twang, which is hilarious. Ruby soon realizes she doesn’t have a trustee steed to be with her out on the range. But fear not, our other gem Amethyst is there to help. Amethyst is a gem that can transform into practically anything she sets her mind to, so she turns into a horse for Ruby. Now Ruby can start her adventure. “I already am lost. That’s why I came out here, to find myself.” She is really getting into character. Now we get into the montage scene with an original country song of course. (If you are not familiar with Steven Universe, they have many episodes where their main characters will sing an original in the show, it’s one of the reasons this show is amazing.) Ruby sings the “Ruby Rider” song, while we see her attempt to lasso a bull, wrangle a snake, and start a campfire. The song ends with her singing the song with a guitar at the campfire while the rest of the gang listens.
While everyone is sleeping, Steven is awake and sees that Ruby is awake as well. He is happy that Ruby is happy. Without a pause she blurts out, “It’s not true!” She did love the day, but she kept thinking about how much more fun she would have if Sapphire were there with her. She came out here to be her own gem, but she still can’t stop thinking about Sapphire. She ends her confession on a powerful note, “I don’t want to go back to how things used to be back when someone else told us to be together, I want it to feel different.” Steven has an idea and shows her a page from Lonesome Lasso, but we don’t get to see what it is.
Next scene we see Sapphire sulking with Pearl (the other gem who stayed behind) trying to comfort her at the beach house. Steven comes inside and tells Sapphire that Ruby has something to say to her. Sapphire goes outside quickly to find Ruby. With dramatic banjo music playing in the background, there is Ruby on horseback during sunset, hat covering her eyes and straw sticking out of her mouth. Sapphire runs to her and starts apologizing for everything she said while Ruby just listens on her steed. After Sapphire finishes apologizing, Ruby flips off the horse in classic Ruby fashion. Once she lands, she pats the horse away, and slowly starts walking to Sapphire while saying, “Someone else told us we were the answer, but I don’t believe that anymore…Not until I hear it from you.” Ruby has now approached Sapphire and then gets down on one knee, “Will you marry me? This way we can be together even when we are apart and being Garnet will be our decision.” One of Sapphire’s talents is that she can see the future, but from the look on her face, she did not see this coming. She responds with a resounding, “Of course!”
This is one of the sweetest episodes from Steven Universe and I am a sucker for more Sapphire and Ruby storylines. Even though I love their fusion as Garnet, I really enjoy seeing Ruby and Sapphire flirt and banter with one another when they are apart. You can truly see how much they care for each other. As the audience, you knew going into this episode that they would find a way back to each other because you knew they had already fallen in love and fused together before it was anybody’s idea that they stay that way. They just needed a reminder on how much they care for each other on their own. I’ll just quickly end this by saying it was really nice to see two ladies get engaged on a cartoon show for kids and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.
Rachael’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
2) Killing Eve, “Sorry, Baby” (Season One, Episode 4)
3) Steven Universe, “A Single Pale Rose” (Season Five, Episode 18)
4) The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy” (Season Three, Episode 5)
5) The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Midnight at the Concord” (Season Two, Episode 5)
6) One Day at a Time, “Hello, Penelope” (Season Two, Episode 9)
7) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Box” (Season Five, Episode 14)
8) Steven Universe, “The Question” (Season Five, Episode 21)
9) Drunk History, “Heroines” (Season Five, Episode 1)
10) Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, “Sexual Workplace Harassment” (Season Five, Episode 18)
Rachael is a retail store manager whose love for coffee knows no bounds. She enjoys running, trivia, and binge watching television. Every year she does this crazy TV article she realizes that she only watches comedies and never dramas (aside from Game of Thrones of course) and should probably broaden her TV viewing scope.
Succession – “Nobody is Ever Missing”
(Season One, Episode 10)
By Sarah Staudt
This review contains spoilers for the finale of Succession.
The Roys are the bad guys. Succession is a show about the bad guys. And the bad guys are really, really dumb. And really really pathetic. And really, really dangerous. I’ve been watching a lot of early Game of Thrones recently, and Succession is answer to what Game of Thrones would look like in the real world – a bunch of rich people battling over unimaginable amounts of money and corporate power, working out their childhood traumas by playing around with billions of dollars of shareholder money and the lives of everyone their company comes in contact with. As Varys says: It’s “always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones”.
In the debut season of Succession, we follow the Roys, a sometimes humorous, sometimes dramatic mess of a family that is part The Trumps, part The Murdochs, and part The Rockefellers. Their patriarch, Logan, faces increasingly bad health after a stroke while his four adult children circle around him like hyenas, forced to suddenly fully confront what it means to be the ruling generation of their father’s billion-dollar media empire. For his part, Logan believes all four of them to be basically unfit to rule and seems to instead intend to simply live forever. And in terms of his assessments of his children’s competence, he’s probably basically correct.
His oldest son Connor is playing house with a prostitute he has paid to pretend to be his girlfriend and, hilariously, spends the finale pitching a possible presidential bid build solely on the idea that because he is rich, he is qualified. Logan’s second son, Kendall, who considers himself the heir apparent, is a recently recovered drug-addict unable to successfully overthrow his father even when Logan is at his weakest. The third son, Roman is a Gatsby-esque playboy who barely takes himself seriously, let alone could get anyone else to take him seriously. And Siobhan “Shiv” Roy is running from the family name as fast as she can, campaigning for Democratic presidential candidates. Incidentally, one of the best jokes in the series a joke that is never made – no character ever asks why on earth Siobhan’s childhood nickname is the name of a prison weapon It just seems like an obvious choice for this family.
The pacing of Succession’s first season is maddeningly realistic. Business and life don’t move in an inexorable march of dramatic rises towards a dramatic finale – it proceeds in lulls punctuated by surprises and crises. The show tends to go 20 minutes with dry, Veep-style satire of the hyper rich – until suddenly, one of them stages a business takeover, has a mental health breakdown, discovers a horrifying company-wide skeleton in the closet, or, well, (spoilers) kills someone. But through it all, the Roys are these dispassionate, calculating players in the corporate Game of Thrones. Not a one of them seems to really care who ends up with the company or what happens to it – so long as they continue to hold the power.
The problem is that that power is real and is constantly destroying lives on the edges of the Roys vision. In the finale, the whole family is in the middle of this “Game”, and ends up hurting real people, close and far. And yet even in the most extreme cases, the rich stay blind. Succession is not a preachy show. It doesn’t spend time lingering its camera over the crying eyes of homeless orphans that the Roys have stolen teddy bears from. But it is exactly because we view the harm these people cause through their own eyes, and their own callousness, is why it is so effective and disconcerting.
In the last episode, framed by a lavish wedding at a castle, all three main Roy kids destroy some lives while having some fun, toasting their sister, and plotting corporate takeover. First, in one of the funniest darkly comedic plots I’ve seen in a while, Roman watches a livestream on his phone of a project of his literally exploding in flames and likely killing dozens of people. Luckily, everyone lives! People just lost a leg and some thumbs! Roman goes back to his happy celebration, knowing he will be a couple million poorer in pain and suffering damages, but his business will be unaffected. Kendall is in the most dramatic storyline of the episode, and, in an allusion to a truly disturbing number of scions of rich families who have killed passengers in their cars while high on drugs, accidentally causes the death of a young waiter. The matter is resolved for Kendall almost as quickly as it happens. Logan wraps it right back in to the Game of Thrones, saves his kid’s reputation, and secures his company in the meantime. Both of these storylines really allow Succession to make its point about the particular kind of evil done by the American corporate aristocracy.
But it is Shiv and Tom’s own story that is the most tragic to me. Tom is mostly comic relief throughout the season, while Shiv is the most interesting of the Roy children, trying to break away from her family’s cynical values and actually use her considerable education and skills to get a progressive president elected. But when Tom really leans in, really shows that he’s a normal guy, who truly loves his wife, and wants a normal, happy marriage with a normal person…Shiv gets cold feet. And when she does, heartbreakingly, she closes down any semblance of a heart that she’s tried to develop and breaks her husband’s heart. The episode’s most lauded line – Shiv declaring “I’m Shiv Fucking Roy” – is filmed as a moment of badass female empowerment but is really a great defeat. If there’s one thing we really don’t want Shiv to be, it’s a Roy. And yet the world of no consequences, no feelings, and always getting what you want pulls her in just as it does her siblings. The Roys may be rich, but they are really, really, unhappy, and watching Shiv choose that path is not empowerment – it’s giving up.
The finale of Succession definitely leaves me waiting expectantly for a second season, when the fallout from these decisions can be examined. But for the Roys, that fallout will never be what it should be. They are shielded from the consequences of their actions and will likely continue to barrel through life bickering and out-maneuvering each other, while the smallfolk die on the sidelines of their petty little wars.
Sarah’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10)
2) Westworld, “Kiksuya” (Season Two, Episode 8)
3) New Girl, “Engram Pattersky” (Season Seven, Episode 8)
4) Corporate, “Powerpoint of Death” (Season One, Episode 2)
5) Sharp Objects, “Cherry” (Season One, Episode 6)
6) Succession, “Nobody is Ever Missing” (Season One, Episode 10)
7) Succession, “Prague” (Season One, Episode 8)
8) The Good Place, “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” (Season Three, Episode 9)
9) Westworld, “Vanishing Point” (Season Two, Episode 9)
10) It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Mac Finds His Pride” (Season Thirteen, Episode 10)
Sarah is a lawyer in Chicago. She enjoys short walks, long naps, and binge rewatching Game of Thrones while doing Game of Thrones quizzes on Sporcle. She also does other stuff like playing Tabletop RPGs, reading books sometimes, and trying to stop her cat from killing her dog. You can also hear her on the podcasts Ad Absurdum and The Immortals.
WWE Monday Night Raw – “WWE Raw 25 Years”
(Season Twenty-Six, Episode 20)
By Jason James
“RAW 25” begins with a blaring siren and a camera shot from a top-row seat in the intimate but raucous Manhattan Center on West 34th Street in Midtown, New York City. The camera is overlooking a wrestling ring with a baby-blue canvas and red-white-and-blue ropes. It’s a close imitation of Monday Night Raw’s first episode in January 1993 which was also made in the Manhattan Center and shown live on USA Network.
Of course it’s not identical. Vince McMahon, Macho Man Randy Savage, and a local comedian hosted the first episode of Monday Night Raw. Savage (the “Macho Man”) died in 2011 from a heart attack and the comedian, who never lasted that long on Raw anyway, is unsurprisingly also absent. But why isn’t Vince there? In 1993, Vince had the on-screen role of play-by-play commentator and–off-screen–he’s the owner and primary creative driver for WWE programming.
Things have also changed for Vince and his company in the intervening 25 years. We cut across the East River to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. It often hosts pro basketball and pro hockey. Tonight, WWE is running a show out of the arena. Over the course of “RAW 25”’s three hours, the main segments occur in Brooklyn, while occasional smaller segments take place in Manhattan. Vince is rooted in the present and therefore tonight is in Brooklyn. On-screen, Vince isn’t a play-by-play commentator anymore; he now has the role of the WWE Chairman and a usually malevolent billionaire. Off-screen, Vince is WWE’s majority shareholder, the chairman of WWE’s board of directors, and an ethically ambiguous (at best) billionaire.
He’s there to celebrate Monday Night Raw’s 25th anniversary. Raw’s commentators reiterate to the television audience that the show is the “longest running weekly episodic television show in history.” For 25 years, Raw has aired 52 weeks a year. The show now lasts for three hours. And almost without exception, Vince sits just behind the curtain managing the evening’s entertainment.
He’s usually present to manage the rest of WWE’s content, too. That includes WWE’s Tuesday night show WWE Smackdown that also airs live on USA Network and pay-per-view events like Wrestlemania, which happen about once a month. There are two weekly syndicated wrestling shows, two weekly wrestling shows for WWE’s streaming service, and several additional untaped shows just for the benefit of the live audience.
And by most objective measures things are better than ever for Monday Night Raw. WWE’s stock has more than quadrupled from two years ago. WWE signed new contracts for Raw and Smackdown that are collectively 3.5 times as lucrative as before. Under the new contract, Smackdown will move from Tuesdays on USA to Fridays on FOX: a massive upgrade both for mainstream appeal and for money in Vince’s pocket. And WWE notoriously signed a deal with Saudi Arabia to perform there a couple of times a year for a fee that’s estimated to approach half a billion dollars.
If two wealthy media organizations and a totalitarian monarchy see tremendous value in WWE, then why was most of “RAW 25”–and almost all of Raw in 2018–such a tremendous bore? Raw this year had been tedious to watch, even in the abbreviated commercial-free form that’s available the subsequent day on streaming. Storylines are picked up, dropped, and reshuffled without regard for consistent viewership. The show is simply a mess. How can a successful company be screwing it up so badly?
There are three major reasons, all prominently displayed on “RAW 25.”
In WWE, there are no stars. At least, there are no stars in WWE that regularly appear on Raw. The core of all narrative conflict in the entire world of professional wrestling is clear and simple: be the best, be the champion. When Vince writes a character into winning a championship, it signals that this character (and also the performer playing the character) has done something star-worthy. That wrestler is on top and the center of the storyline.
The most important championship, however, didn’t appear on “RAW 25.” For most of 2018, a wrestler named Brock Lesnar has held that belt, the “Universal Championship.” Lesnar’s appeal is in his legitimacy. He’s fought and won legitimate competitions in mixed martial arts, and that ability lends verisimilitude to his WWE character. His reputation also allows him to set his own schedule. He appears on Raw about once a month, and wrestles less often than that.
Lesnar’s real-world toughness and fighting ability appeals to networks like Fox that hope to market WWE like a sport. But though this approach makes WWE richer, the show becomes poorer. When the central purpose for most of the characters is off-screen for three-quarters of the time, the show cannot help but to become aimless as well. If no regular performer can realistically win a major championship, then no performer is a star.
Raw’s penchant for part-time performers is not limited only to Lesnar. Similarly, Raw is overly reliant on nostalgia for older WWE performers. The Undertaker’s appearance on “RAW 25” is an example. He’s wrestled in WWE for almost three decades and rightly hailed as one of the greatest ever. He appeared before the Manhattan Center audience–as he did on the first Raw in 1993. On the first Raw in 1993, he defeated a no-name local talent in two minutes, 26 seconds. On “RAW 25,” he gave a nonsensical speech that left the crowd confused.
If nostalgia were limited to rare anniversary-marking occasions, it would be enjoyable. (Many of “RAW 25’s” nostalgia scenes were great.) But nostalgia has taken over large chunks of the show. Part of this can be directly attributed to WWE’s contract with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi sports organization reportedly asked for wrestlers who peaked about 25 years ago and several who are dead.
But this ultimately must be attributed to Vince as well. Instead of centering the show’s storylines around regular performers, Raw cashes in on easy nostalgia appeal time after time. On WWE’s biggest show, Wrestlemania, a solid half of the time is typically devoted to older performers that are rarely on Raw in order to generate appeal. Core performers are not permitted to shine on the largest stage.
The show’s energy and emphasis are squandered on performers that appear irregularly, but there are still endless hours of wrestling that Vince has to fill. Lacking a focus, a typical three-hour Raw is difficult to sit through. But there are still moments that make it worth being a pro wrestling fan.
With all of Raw’s failings, what makes WWE worthwhile?
With nearly 24 hours of airtime to fill on some weeks (without exaggeration), WWE needs to employ a vast constellation of performers to be on-screen at the times Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker would prefer to sit around at home. And a tremendous proportion of WWE’s performers are spectacularly talented. When WWE programming, including Raw, focuses on that, it’s very compelling.
Ironically, it’s WWE’s developmental system that highlights the best of what pro wrestling can be. In NXT–the Wednesday night show made for WWE’s streaming service, newly trained wrestlers and wrestlers newly hired from other companies perform. The show only lasts one hour a week, guaranteeing that it does not wear out its welcome. The episodes are filmed four at-a-time, ensuring some level of narrative cohesion; NXT appears to have a narrative goal in mind at the beginning of each filming cycle. And the show is made in Orlando, far away from Vince’s capability to micromanage it. Because NXT is scaled down, focused, and unencumbered by the burden of selling billions of dollars of television airing rights, it’s far superior to Raw.
And finally, the women wrestlers on WWE are often more enjoyable to watch than the men. In what may come as a shock to anyone who hasn’t watched WWE in the past year or two, the presentation of women in the WWE has made serious progress since their exerable status in the very recent past. In many aspects (though certainly not all aspects), WWE presents their women performers as equals to the men. This has been a tremendous boon to WWE programming. Not only are the women extremely talented, but their segments lack the unevenness of men’s segments. There are no true part-time women’s wrestlers and nostalgia spots are kept to a minimum. Though WWE’s treatment of its women characters is emphatically imperfect, it’s still a very bright spot.
So, last words on “RAW 25”? Making a cheap buck off of unsustainable reminisces for the past while its emotional core is nowhere to be found. The same could be said for Raw as a whole in 2018. But if WWE and Vince find reason to focus and follow lessons being shown within its own company, the litany of talent could yet shine. One can hope.
Jason’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) My Hero Academia, “Deku vs. Kacchan, Part 2” (Season Three, Episode 23)
2) The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Simone” (Season Two, Episode 1)
3) Independent Lens, “The Cleaners” (Season Twenty, Episode 3)
4) Ugly Delicious, “Homecooking” (Season One, Episode 3)
5) Star Trek: Discovery, “The War Without, The War Within” (Season One, Episode 14)
6) Nature, “The World’s Most Wanted Animal” (Season Thirty-Six, Episode 16)
7) GLOW, “The Good Twin” (Season Two, Episode 8)
8) Aggretsuko, “Exposed” (Season One, Episode 5)
9) Mystery Science Theatre 3000, “Mac and Me” (Season Twelve, Episode 1)
10) Devilman Crybaby, “One Hand is Enough” (Season One, Episode 2)
Jason James’ earliest memory of professional wrestling is asking his dad to jury-rig the cable box in order to watch Summerslam 1993 free of charge. He loves his cat, travelling Japan, and board games. He a lawyer living in Logan Square, Chicago.
The X-Files – “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”
(Season Eleven, Episode 7)
By Daron McGrady
I’m going to preface this with I am actually a pretty big X-Files fan. I don’t know every episode by name and all but I have seen the older episodes many, many times. That said, I sort of stopped watching after an anti-climactic Season Ten. After looking forward to it for so long it was disappointing that the only episode I really loved was the were-monster one. So the reality of the situation is that this is the only episode of Season Eleven that I have seen.
The seemingly gibberish title, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”, actually means “Followers” in Base64 code and the tagline, “VGhlIFRydXRoIGlzIE91dCBUaGVyZQ=”, translates of course to “The Truth is Out There” which was an awesome thing to do. The theme of this episode is technology gone wrong. There are plenty of real life examples of how technology falls short of what it should be, including things like bias in code and facial recognition software that consistently fails to recognize people of color. The real life example that the show uses to open this episode is how Microsoft created a chat bot named Tay to learn more about AI and machine learning that ended up becoming horrifically offensive after learning from fellow Twitter users. Tay was only online for about 16 hours before it had to be shut down.
After the beloved intro, we see Mulder and Scully sitting together at a restaurant that is otherwise empty. It’s a completely automated sushi restaurant called FOROWA which translates to follower in Japanese. The tablet in front of them dings and then, wordlessly, they both order from the menu on the screen. Then they both start looking at their phones while they wait. We see Scully prove that she is a human by selecting the pictures with men wearing glasses. Then the reservation app wants her to review the restaurant, maybe take a picture. Then the restaurant sends her a follow request on Facebook. We see how annoying technology can really be. Maybe it was easier to make the reservation on an app but is it worth it if the app is going to pester you about it? Not to mention some third party now has data about you and the more you use it, the more they know about you. Scully looks around a little apprehensively but then the tablet dings and their food is ready.
Scully’s plate is automatically dispensed and it looks delicious even if it might not be exactly what she ordered. Then Mulder’s plate comes out and it’s definitely not what he ordered. Instead it’s a whole raw blobfish that seems to be covered in slime. Mulder takes it to the kitchen to complain but finds that there are only robots. Since no one’s around to make it right, he goes ahead and pays the bill. When it comes to the tip, however, he decides not to leave one. This is the moment he brought the wrath of technology down upon them. The rest of the night is an escalation of threats from the technology all around them. Mulder is accosted by a swarm of drones, while Scully’s smart home system seems to have a mind of its own and things just get worse from there.
One thing that I love about this episode is that there is pretty much no dialogue. When you do hear the characters talk they are usually yelling at their devices, not talking to each other. Therefore most of the acting was subtle gestures and expressions which was pretty cool. The characters Scully and Mulder have known each other for so long that it makes sense for them to be able to sit in comfortable silence and to be able to understand what the other is thinking from a look.
Even without the dialogue, we still see some fun moments between the two, like Mulder posing with his blobfish for Scully. This is the first episode that Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin have written for The X-Files but they are clearly fans that really get how Scully and Mulder’s relationship works. They also included a great reference to the old show by making Scully’s security password “Queequeg” after her dog.
Overall it was a fun and entertaining episode and for people like me that didn’t watch the rest of the season, it works really well as a stand-alone story. I like that it’s not a mythology heavy episode and it’s barely a monster of the week episode. It felt very slice-of-life to me. We see Mulder and Scully in their free time just going out to eat, looking at their phones, trying to cancel credit cards, dyeing their hair. Aside from the increasingly hostile technology, it all felt really natural.
Daron’s Top 10 Episodes of 2018
1) The Haunting of Hill House, “Touch” (Season One, Episode 3)
2) Killing Eve, “Nice Face” (Season One, Episode 1)
3) The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms” (Season One, Episode 6)
4) Killing Eve, “God, I’m Tired” (Season One, Episode 8)
5) The Haunting of Hill House, “The Bent-Neck Lady” (Season One, Episode 5)
6) The Handmaid’s Tale, “The World” (Season Two, Episode 13)
7) Maniac, “Exactly Like You” (Season One, Episode 5)
8) Castle Rock, “The Queen” (Season One, Episode 7)
9) The Good Place, “The Burrito” (Season Two, Episode 12)
10) The End of the Fucking World, “Episode 1” (Season One, Episode 1)
Daron is a Springfield, IL native now living in Chicago and working in the Media industry. Owner of two cats, Malcolm (gray) and Aengus (orange). Lover of movies, cozy socks, bats, lounging, humidity, and potatoes.
The Group’s Top 10 List
Using a simple point system where a person’s #1 pick gets 10 points, #2 gets 9 and so on, here are the Top 10 Episodes of 2018.
1) The Good Place, “Janet(s)” (Season Three, Episode 10) 96 points
2) The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms” (Season One, Episode 6) 64 points
3) The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy” (Season Three, Episode 5) 46 points
4) The Haunting of Hill House, “The Bent-Neck Lady” (Season One, Episode 5) 29 points
5) Killing Eve, “Nice Face” (Season One, Episode 1) 28 points
6) BoJack Horseman, “Free Churro” (Season Five, Episode 6) 20 points
6) One Day at a Time, “Hello, Penelope” (Season Two, Episode 9) 20 points
7) Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Box” (Season Five, Epsiode 14) 17 points
8) Castle Rock, “The Queen” (Season One, Episode 7) 16 points
9) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “Nathaniel is Irrevelant” (Season There, Episode 13) 13 points
10) Better Call Saul, “Winner” (Season Four, Episode 10) 11 points
10) The Good Place, “The Burrito” (Season Two, Episode 12)
10) The Haunting of Hill House, “Silence Lay Steadily” (Season One, Episode 10)
96 different shows were featured on a Top 10 list
179 different episodes featured on a Top 10 list
Every episode of The Haunting of Hill House was on a Top 10 list. (Thanks Jackie)
Every episode of Castlevania was on a Top 10 list. (Thanks Beau)
10/15 episodes of The Good Place were on a Top 10 list.
4/8 episodes of American Vandal were on a Top 10 list.
4/8 episodes of Killing Eve were on a Top 10 list
4/10 episodes of Big Mouth were on a Top 10 list.
4/10 episodes of Doctor Who were on a Top 10 list.
4/10 episodes of Westworld were on a Top 10 list.