Friday, December 29, 2017

2017: A Look Back on the Good in Pop Culture [Contributor: Jenn]

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Actually, it was 2017.

As we all reflect on this dumpster fire of a year, it’s easy to think about all of the things that went wrong — all of the scandals and attacks and assaults and, well, basically everything and anything related to our government. And while it’s easy to get bogged down in the unbearable sadness, the rage and disappointment of it all, it’s also important that we look back on 2017 and remember the few good things that happened. We need to hold onto the hopeful and happy memories as we move into the next year.

So that’s what I’m going to do! Instead of my typical year-end review, I’m going to be discussing the things in 2017 that I really loved — things that made me hopeful, happy, and reminded me that even during a crappy year, there is still some good in the world. So join me as I reflect on some of the better things in television, music, and film!

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New Girl continued to be consistent perfection.

You all know how much I love New Girl, right? This year, my delightful little FOX comedy continued to shine. It makes me sad to realize that next year at this time, the show will have ended. But I’m thankful that in 2017, it was a source of laughter and hope for me. Our favorite loft crew has grown up — everyone is getting married, moving out, or having babies. The characters are almost unrecognizable, but in the best way possible. New Girl has always done a fantastic job of developing their characters slowly. Nick Miller went from a lazy bartender to a published author who’s willing to fight for what he wants. Jessica Day entered the loft fresh off a break-up she thought would destroy her, and as we enter the final season of the series, she’s gone through ups and downs and realized that the best things in life are the unplanned ones. Schmidt’s character development consistently blows me away — he went from a self-centered jerk to a devoted husband and soon-to-be father. Cece has found her purpose in life and Winston went from being the loft’s goofiest member to someone who has found his true career calling and a lasting love.

When I look back on this show, I think about all of the silly moments — all of the slapstick comedy bits, one-liners, and running gags — but also the ways the show has touched my heart and made me cry. I’m so grateful New Girl existed in 2017 to make me smile and give me hope for 2018’s final season.

Steve Harrington’s character development in Stranger Things made us all swoon.

GUYS. Steve Harrington’s character development is one of the most delightful things to have happened in 2017. In the first season of Stranger Things, I found Steve to be an irritating archetype. He was the “popular guy,” and the jerk boyfriend of Nancy. He slightly redeemed himself toward the end of the season and I found his scenes with Nancy and Jonathan to be the most bearable. But at the beginning of this season of Stranger Things, something happened. The writers decided to pair Steve up with Dustin and the rest of the younger boys, and used him as a mentor/babysitter figure.

It absolutely worked.

Steve became such an endearing, delightful, sweet and yet sarcastic character and mentor to the kids. Dustin admired him, and the rest of the kids saw him as a hero because of the fact that... well, he acted heroically. He put himself in between harm’s way and the kids he was looking after. He seemed to find his purpose and Joe Keery proved that he’s a breakout star of season two.

Psych returned for one night only (... maybe).

If you loved the zany, meta, pop culture-riddled show Psych, then you likely danced around a little when you heard that the show would be back for a two-hour movie this year. In spite of the disappointing news that Timothy Omundon’s health took a turn and he was unable to participate in more than one scene (we love Omundon around here and are grateful he’s seemingly on an upswing), the rest of the cast was back in full force and they brought all of the silly, heartwarming fun to the movie that the television show propelled.

The way that Psych: The Movie ended, of course, begged the question of whether or not that would be the last time we saw our favorite fake psychic detectives (and the real ones). It looks like the entire cast would be on board for another movie or two, so I’m hopeful that 2018 brings us back to San Francisco! Maybe for Gus’ wedding?

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend took a darker, brilliant turn.

I fell in love with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend because it was a fun, slightly-raunchy musical escapist television show. It dealt with a lot of complex topics, but it handled them with biting humor. In this season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that same tone was there — and then it shifted. Slowly, the show began to get darker and delve into Rebecca’s mental illness in a harrowingly realistic way. What could have been misconstrued as tonal whiplash actually felt extremely fitting for the series and added an entirely new layer to Rebecca Bunch and her journey. It was raw and realistic and dark and yet also hopeful. Rebecca got a mental health diagnosis, finally, and the show followed how that diagnosis affected her life and relationships with other characters. Rachel Bloom shone and while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend took a risk this year, it was a risk that paid off immensely in one of the most satisfying, poignant storylines of the year.

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... While in cinema, Table 19 took an unexpected, and delightful, turn.

I walked into Table 19 fully convinced I knew the story — it was going to be a fun, Anna Kendrick fronted rom-com where the focus was on her finding love at a wedding while also participating in hijinks with her fellow Table 19 comrades. And while hijinks did ensue, I was actually surprised by the plot’s trajectory (totally different than I expected) and the heart behind it — especially when it came to the other characters in the film. It’s not easy to surprise me, but I’m grateful for this little gem of a film for being one of the bright spots of 2017.

Female vigilantes always were and continue to be > male vigilantes.

Whether it’s Jessica Jones taking down bad guys in The Defenders, or Sweet Vicious’ Jules and Ophelia perfecting their martial arts skills on rapists and sexual assaulters, 2017 was the year for female vigilantes to enact their revenge on the people who victimized both them and others. It’s scary how fitting Sweet Vicious was for 2017, and it’s disappointing that such a topically relevant series was cancelled. Jules and Ophelia were the heroes we needed this year, in light of all that happened, and while I’m sad the series is done, I’m glad it existed and empowered its female characters.

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GLOW introduced us to fabulous and complex women.

In spite of how sucky 2017 was to real women, fictional women soared this year and GLOW was a prime example of that. With a cast of immensely complex female characters, GLOW is a show that explored topics like female friendships and purpose and strength and legacies. It physically and emotionally empowered its characters and made sure none were archetypes. Alison Brie shone as the seeming villain of the series, but if GLOW proved anything, it proved that characters — especially female ones — aren’t only defined by one thing: one choice or action or characteristic. And for that, I’m grateful.

The new Taylor made her debut in reputation.

Yes, she’s problematic. We’ll get that out of the way first, and my inevitable review of her 2017 album will discuss that. But reputation marked a return to Taylor Swift’s world, and it was actually pretty great. There are a lot of songs on her album that are meant for Top 40 radio (she’s a smart cookie and knows how to work the pop radio system), but quite a few songs on reputation are reminiscent of the “old Taylor” — songs like “New Year’s Day,” for example. Swift’s lyricism continued to be beautiful, even if her musical style was more experimental this time around.

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Wonder Woman burst onto screen and made us all believe in superheroes again.

Not only did Wonder Woman make us all believe in superheroes again, but the film was directed by Patty Jenkins and became the highest-grossing film directed by a woman. Wonder Woman was all about Diana’s hero’s journey as she learned about humanity and what it means to be a hero. It is Diana’s heart and strength, combined, that makes her such a fascinating character and hero. She is equal parts compassionate and committed to justice. She is vulnerable in her decision to see the world as good and hopeful. She is willing to fight for the people she believes in. She is willing to die for them. She is willing to love. Wonder Woman was an incredible film, and it made me excited for the sequel. I hope to wake up every day in 2018 harnessing my inner Wonder Woman. (And also the No Man’s Land scene is probably my favorite in cinema this year. Just saying.)

HAIM had something to tell us — and it was delightful.

I really got into HAIM this year thanks to a mini-vacation to St. Augustine with my college suitemate. Something to Tell You was their 2017 release and if you look at my Spotify play history over the past few months, you’ll notice that I basically had this album on repeat. It’s so fun, so upbeat, and yet so poignant. “Found it in Silence” spoke to me in ways I didn’t know songs could still speak to me. And just watching the music video for “Want You Back” proves that the Haim sisters are absolute gems. Their music got me through a rough summer, but now I associate Something to Tell You with beach trips and driving with windows down. And I have to thank them for that.

Orphan Black left us with a surprisingly heartwarming goodbye.

There are times I’ll watch Orphan Black from behind almost-closed eyes. It’s gory and it’s gruesome and sometimes I can’t actually watch a scene. But the series finale was surprisingly quiet, relatively gore-free, and actually made me cry. Putting aside for a moment the fact that I’ll never be over how Tatiana Maslany can play EVERY CHARACTER ON THIS SHOW WITH EASE, Orphan Black’s ending was heartwarming. It reminded us that the thing that anchored the series was the bond between the clones: Sarah, Cosima, Helena, and Alison in particular.

So when the “seestras” sat together one final time in order to listen to Helena read her story, I got a bit weepy. There’s something incredibly impressive with how Tatiana Maslany made me believe in each and every character — how she gave them all distinct tics and voices and emotions. I’m in awe and will remain in awe of her acting prowess, especially as Helena in the finale. (Will anyone ever NOT weep during that birth scene? Asking for a friend.) Orphan Black’s goodbye was a fitting and sentimental end to an often-dark series anchored by hope and love between family.

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One Day At A Time tackled tough subjects with grace and delicacy.

When I was told to watch One Day At A Time, I was warned that I would cry. Fun fact: I cry at pretty much any and everything so I wasn’t surprised by this at all. But man, cry I did. One Day At A Time is an incredibly wonderful story about a Latinx family whose matriarch is a veteran. The show tackles topics like PTSD, immigration, faith and religion, and sexuality. Elena’s coming-out story on the show was one of the most well-handled, beautiful, heart-wrenching stories in recent memory and it was handled with such poise and grace by the show. They did right by Elena.

That’s the thing about One Day At A Time: it never feels like anything they do is a “very special episode,” even though they tackle a range of topics. It’s an honest, funny show about a family who is trying to learn how to love one another well. I should have figured from seeing Mike Royce’s name on the EP list that I would cry a lot during the show. Royce was an EP on Enlisted, which was one of the greatest and most heartwarming comedies to ever air (and it was only 13 episodes, because it got cancelled after that). The cast of the show is spectacular and contains the iconic Rita Moreno, and the show’s coming back for a second season at the end of January.

If you didn’t get the chance to binge-watch it yet, head over to Netflix and do that. ASAP.

My education in Star Wars continued through Rogue One and The Last Jedi.

Some of my Star Wars memories are good ones, and some aren’t associated with great memories this year. But you know what? I’m allowing the franchise to be my own. And having said that, 2017 was a year where I saw not one, but TWO Star Wars films in theaters. I appreciated both for very different reasons. Rogue One was a dark story, of course, but it was incredibly funny thanks to the addition of comedic relief in the form of Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO droid. Rogue One was a standalone story, and I appreciated for that and for the way it “set up” the rest of the franchise.

Meanwhile, The Last Jedi was a great story and provided some wonderful, much-needed character depth and development for the characters introduced to us in The Force Awakens. Rey is a wonderful female character and her determination, stubborn belief in hope, and also ultimate desire to do good by those she loves is admirable. The Last Jedi provided us with some depth to her though, and proved that anyone’s best qualities can ultimately be used against them. There is darkness to Rey too, and darkness to all of us. People aren’t strictly black and white, which is what I appreciate most about the characters in Star Wars. The heroes make sacrifices and sometimes do stupid things. The villains occasionally have moments of redemption but also do terrible things. (For the record though, Kylo Ren still makes me roll my eyes.)

Star Wars continues to fascinate me and I’m really excited to see where the final episode in the trilogy will take us.

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The Good Place delivered one of the best, most unexpected twists in recent memory.

You guys, THAT TWIST THOUGH. If you haven’t watched The Good Place yet, please gloss over what I’m about to tell you about the end of season one. Ready?

Here goes: it’s hard to believe that I went the entire first season not seeing the little clues that our favorite characters were actually in The Bad Place all along! Kudos to 2017 for bringing us maniacal Ted Danson, an absolutely brilliant Kristen Bell, and a cast of fantastic characters played by William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, and D’Arcy Carden. Bonus: don’t you love that The Good Place (literally and show-wise) is diverse? Season two of the show has been just as funny, with new wrenches and twists every few episodes. Watch this feel-good comedy in 2018 if you aren’t already!

Sterling K. Brown proved why he’s deserving of all of the awards. Ever.

I love This Is Us and think everyone on the show is immensely talented. They’re all deserving of awards, and the writers of the show should just be handed bills for the amount I spend on Kleenex each season. But of all the stars of the show, I have to shout-out Sterling K. Brown in 2017 for his incredible, consistent, emotional work. Whether Randall is sharing a scene with William, saying goodbye to his foster daughter, or interacting with his siblings, Sterling K. Brown brings his A-game at every moment. Randall isn’t without his faults, but Brown makes him so darn endearing that if the world was filled with Randall Pearsons and Beth Pearsons (extra shout-out to Susan Kelechi Watson because her portrayal of the stubborn, loving, strong, beautiful, intelligent Beth is just perfect), I would not be mad at all. In fact, I think the world would be better if we had more Randalls and Beths in it.

Sterling K. Brown has brought so much to This Is Us, and 2017 proved that he’s not only a force to be reckoned with but also just a person you want to root for on and off screen.

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My childhood came back to life on screen in Beauty and the Beast.

Can I just tell you how wonderful it was to have Emma Watson portray my favorite Disney princess and my favorite Harry Potter character? Beauty and the Beast — the live-action version — debuted this year in theaters and you can bet that I spent a solid month listening to the soundtrack. It was a wonderful throwback to my childhood and while I know some had criticism (and I’m not immune to its flaws, certainly), I think having one of my favorite Disney stories come to life on screen this year helped me deal with the crap that happened later in 2017. There’s something so comforting about watching a fairytale come to life where you know the ending, know when characters will burst into musical numbers, and know almost exactly what to expect. There’s also something soothing in singing along to all of those musical numbers.

And I really needed that this year, didn’t you?

What were your favorite moments of 2017? Sound off in the comments below!


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