Sometime last month, I realized PCN had just had its 10th anniversary. It should’ve been a landmark, but I was buried in work and life and the date passed with a shrug.
I wasn’t sure about keeping the site going. It requires money and lots of time, and was anyone still reading it? I don’t track stats or traffic. Maybe my entire readership is one dude in prison. (And Kristopher at BOLO Books, who gave me a kind and completely unexpected shout-out in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.)
But then I remembered when I’d started PCN, I’d done it for me. I’d barely known what a blog was, much less how to get anyone to read it. I just wanted to write, and mostly amused only myself. What’s wrong with being the lone tree in the forest? I wasn’t falling; I was dancing, often without pants. Eventually, some very cool people came along and joined in. They became my friends.
So I decided to give the site a makeover, once again make it a place where I want to hang out. I forgot, however, that 10 years ago when I installed the original template, I’d cried, not having a clue about CSS code or HTML or any of that mumbo jumbo.
This time around didn’t go much better, as I found myself in the fetal position, unwashed, muttering to myself for days. It was like trying to build a spaceship with a plastic spoon, using only my feet. Why wouldn’t all the clicky thingies work??? Luckily, after much blind tinkering and tech support, I managed to make the site work.
And I like it. It’s not final yet—not sure what to do for the header—but it’s pleasing enough for me to want to fill its pages again. I hope you like it, too.
If you’re still here after 10 years, I thank you heartfully (a real word in my mind). If you’re back after being away, it’s nice to see you again and your hair looks fab. If you’re new, welcome.
Ironically I start this new chapter by looking backward, at some of the pop culture I enjoyed most this year. I didn’t want to overthink these lists, which are in no particular order, because I’m going with the idea that the most memorable are the first titles that come to mind. Plus, I have no order in my life.
Despite having seen many awards contenders that aren’t out yet, my favorites remain those released earlier in the year (sorry, Mary Poppins Returns and Vice). Other films may have had superior acting or more important messages, but I found them overhyped or too earnest or straight up boring. The movies below entertained me, and isn’t that what movies are about?
Favorite superhero movie: Black Panther
This was a complete package for me: strong acting, complex characters, eye-popping action and costumes, humor, and a storyline addressing real-world social issues from which even the fictitious residents of Wakanda aren’t exempt.
Favorite indie film: Searching
From my review:
A riveting, innovative thriller…the entire movie is viewed via the different screens in our lives—phone, computer, surveillance cameras, TV, etc… . It’s a thriller that happens to have an Asian-American family at its center, speaking perfect English and doing everyday, even boring things (David’s job). Well, until the daughter goes missing. But Dad still doesn’t break out any martial arts or have any particular set of skills a la Liam Neeson. He’s just a regular dad. Who looks like John Cho. (Buy it here.)
Favorite action flick: Mission: Impossible—Fallout
From my review:
The action is breathtaking and so visceral, if you wear your Fitbit while watching, you might see a million steps recorded afterward.
The death-defying stunts provide an adrenaline rush you get to experience while safe in your seats. The plot is a bit confusing (lots of physics…or something) but it doesn’t matter. The acting is good and there’s even a softer side to Ethan Hunt. This is the rare franchise that has improved as it ages. (Buy it here.)
Favorite musical: Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again
From my review:
I found it better than the first because it resonates more emotionally and deals with more complex issues… If you need a burst of joy (who doesn’t?) and a dash of Colin Firth (again, who doesn’t), I highly recommend seeing it.
That was 5 months ago. Since then, I’ve bought the Blu-ray and seen it at least twice more, and last week attended my friend Mari’s Mamma Mia-themed holiday party. And I intend to organize a family sing-along when I go home for Christmas. The movie spreads cheer, and some of my happiest memories this year come from watching and dancing to it with the most wonderful people I know. (Buy it here.)
Favorite TV shows
This year I was on the TV nominating committee for the SAG Awards and had to watch even more TV than usual (twist my arm). Before I get to my favorites, can we discuss the beautiful packaging some of the screeners came in?
In case it’s not obvious, season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel arrived in a hatbox and The Kominsky Method is in a sleeve resembling a script. The Handmaid’s Tale opens up like a board book, with pictures and script excerpts.
Julia Roberts’s series, Homecoming, came packaged like confidential documents.
But just because I watched more doesn’t mean I found more to like, and sometimes an otherwise solid series has weak episodes. The following are shows I consistently enjoyed and had me looking forward to each new episode.
From my review:
[Sandra] Oh plays Eve, a bored MI-5 agent on the trail of [Jodie] Comer’s international assassin, Villanelle, and the two actresses are great foils for each other. Eve is messy and quirky but razor sharp when it comes to work. Villanelle is a slick sociopath, but Comer’s performance and Waller-Bridge’s writing manage to add ink-dark humor to the brutal kill missions. Even the soundtrack is funny. (Buy S1 here.)
Richard Madden turns in a superb and nuanced performance as a war veteran trying to hide his PTSD so he can keep his job as bodyguard to the home secretary, played by Keeley Hawes. Watch the opening scene of episode 1, which takes place on a train that may have a bomb on it, and see if you don’t find yourself sweating with dread.
Bodyguard was created, written, and directed by Jed Mercurio, who’s responsible for the rocket-paced BBC drama Line of Duty, so I’m on board for anything with his name on it.
I previously wrote about this show:
America Ferrera heads the cast playing employees at a Walmart-like store, except here the employees are more outlandish than the customers.
But the characters aren’t weird for weird’s sake. The writing and acting show why they behave the way they do, which engenders more understanding and compassion than judgment toward them. And isn’t that what we need more of?
A recent episode has the store’s usually clueless manager, Glenn, give one of his employees an unexpected Christmas present that’s incredibly moving. The show addresses issues like lack of maternity leave for minimum-wage employees and undocumented workers with heart and humor.
The Good Place
This is arguably the smartest sitcom on TV right now, or at least the most philosophical, often referencing Immanuel Kant. It’s hard to define; Good Place somehow tackles ethics and morality and life after death and makes us laugh at all the above while possibly reevaluating our life choices. The cast, led by Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, is crackerjack, and each season the show evolves into something different. I don’t know where it’s going but am eager to find out. (Start with S1.)
Ronny Chieng: International Student
This Comedy Central show easily won for most laughs per episode. Creator/star Ronny Chieng based the show on his experience as a law student in Australia, and the situations are zany but relatable at the same time. Extra credit goes to the hilarious Hoa Xuande as an ultraconfident, F-word loving Vietnamese exchange student who lords his superior intelligence over everyone. Oh, and the Asian students excel in school and sports. Where else on TV can you see that?
Favorite rom-com series:
Are you watching this sexy show set in New York’s publishing world? It stars Tony winner Sutton Foster as Liza, a woman who reenters the work force after raising a daughter and has to pretend she’s 26 instead of 40 to get a job at a publishing house.
The situation gets complicated when chemistry develops between her and the publisher (Peter Hermann), who not only believes she’s way too young for him, but it’d be highly inappropriate for him to make any kind of moves toward an underling. (He’s hot because he’s moral!) This sexy tension has been escalating for four seasons, and this year it exploded, y’all. (Start by streaming S1 here.)
Speaking of publishing, this post is now almost novel length, so I’ll save my thoughts on this year’s favorite books for another post.
Which movies and TV shows have you enjoyed this year?
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