I love year-end lists. I’ve always loved reading others’—no matter how silly or superficial—as a way to process the year I’ve had and to think about why I liked or didn’t like the things I came across. I’ve always wanted to write my own, but have never gotten around to it.
2018 was kind of a meh year in media for me. I didn’t come across much that really wowed me or left a lasting impression. But nonetheless, here’s a collection of list of my favorite things from the year.
I really didn’t watch a whole lot of TV this year. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I just found myself with less and less time that I cared to spend consciously watching something new. But these series were worth my time.
Salt Fat Acid Heat: There’s so much to love in this Netflix show about food. Samin Nosrat is so charming and each episode illuminates something new and interesting about one of the four base elements of cooking. Anthony Bourdain excelled in navigating the role of food in cultures around the world. Samin touches on this, but ties it all into deep dives into the actual craft and science of cooking.
High Maintenance: Speaking of charm, this show oozes it. I love the vignette structure, the dopey affability of The Guy, and the impressive array of experiences the show manages to capture on screen, with tenderness and humor.
Succession: A weird thing about me is I love shows and movies about gaudy rich people being awful, so Succession totally scratched that itch. All the corporate intrigue and familial drama was basically just background to the true hook of the show: a window into the bizarre and fucked up lives of the .01%. Oh, and Cousin Greg.
The Good Place: A network comedy has no business being as weird and creative as this show is. I’m a sucker for comically stupid characters and Jason Mendoza is a world class lovable Dummy. The on-the-nose philosophizing can be a little much at times, but if you get over that, the characters and their relationships work so well.
Wild Wild Country: If you love screaming at your TV, watch this documentary series. I had heard about the Rajneeshees ever since moving to Oregon, but I had no idea the sheer scale of their operation and how outright bananas this whole story was.
Donut County: The game I couldn’t stop recommending to people this year was Donut County, an independent game for iOS (and other platforms). You play a hole in the ground—or rather, a raccoon who pilots a hole in the ground—and the goal is to suck up an adorable facsimile of LA. The gameplay is fun, it takes a few hours to play through and it’s not hard at all, but the real appeal of the game is the writing and story. Not only is it the funniest game I’ve ever played by a country mile, but the story is emotionally rich and mature in a way I haven’t seen in a game. I know a game where the main arc is you coming to terms with being a selfish asshole who destroyed a community sounds weird, but trust me, go play this.
Hollow Knight: Another indie game I fell in love with. The visual style is somewhere between Miyazaki and The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s completely unforgiving and gives you zero clue as to what to do or how to traverse the world, leaving it all up to you to figure out, which makes it all the more rewarding when you uncover some new piece of gameplay.
TowerFall Ascension: This is an older game, but I got to rediscover it this year when it launched on Switch and I got to introduce more people to it. This is hands-down the best multi-player party game I’ve ever played. The mechanics are easy enough to get right when you first pick it up, but complex enough that you can always improve. This is a key ingredient to a good party game for me: the ability to be fun whether you’re playing it for the first time or the hundredth. The other key ingredient is quick rounds, so that even if you die you only sit out for a few seconds before you’re back in.
Another year and another year spent with My Brother My Brother and Me as my staple. Other than that and a few others, I added two more to my weekly carry:
Why is this Happening? With Chris Hayes: I love the thoughtful and curious discussions on this podcast. Each episode is an in-depth discussion with a guest, usually from academia, journalism, or politics. The episodes are “news-cycle adjacent”: the topics usually bear some relevance to whatever’s happening, but each one is fairly timeless in a way. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out these episodes on: white identity politics, the left wing of the Democratic party, and conservatism.
All Fantasy Everything: On the comedy side of the ledger, I fell in love with Ian Karmel, Sean Jordan and David Gborie’s weekly mock sports drafts of everything from “Things from Sports That You Wanna Do” to “Solid Motherfuckers” to “People Who Look Like Their Names”. The jokes are solid, but what keeps me coming back is the refreshingly healthy masculinity on display. The hosts can be bro-y but in the best way possible: they’re generous with complements and overtly affectionate with each other. If you’re skeptical, consider that they had an episode where they drafted “Fuck Jamz” with Roxanne Gay and it worked.
NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour: This is my go-to for 25 minutes of easy listening that engages just the right amount of my brain. The rotating panel on this show brings lots of great perspectives on the latest pop culture: they get into the weeds about what works or doesn’t work in the latest movies, shows, everything. And despite being NPR, they’re surprisingly in tune with new stuff happening (or maybe I’m just out of tune enough for NPR to be cutting edge). Case in point, this was the first place I learned about Tierra Whack.
St. Vincent: I saw two concerts this year that completely blew me away. St. Vincent at the Keller Auditorium was one of them. The stagecraft was inventive and dialed in in a way I hadn’t seen at a show before. Annie Clark is a powerhouse. The whole thing was so well produced that it didn’t even matter that I went home and puked my guts out from norovirus that hit on the drive home.
Janelle Monae: This concert at Edgefield was a close second. Similarly well produced, with wonderful sets, costumes, dancers and visuals, and she has phenomenal stage presence.
Rhye: This was a big surprise. Not because I really enjoyed it, but because it turned out that Rhye lowkey perform like a jam band apparently. I was expecting a somber yet sultry affair; not twelve minute grooves with extended trombone solos. Maybe it was because we got just the right amount of high before going, but after a few songs of being like “what the hell is happening” we gave in and completely loved it.
Kendrick Lamar and Sza: Before going, I wouldn’t have expected to put this show last on this list. It wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t impress like you would hope for a show with these two top billed acts. Major knocks for it being at a super weird venue in the Ridgefield Ampitheater. But also the entire show was just kind of awkward, with rapidfire sets between artists and some clunky transitions. But it was cool to see my favorite artist of 2017 in Sza perform.
I really didn’t see many movies that left an impression, so this will be brief.
Sorry to Bother You: This was fun but uneven. Lakeith Stanfield is hilarious, and it was so weird and goofy while also being refreshing in its old-fashioned lefty politics. I wish it were tighter and a little less heavy handed in ways, but it was fun.
Suspiria: A fantastic remake of an Italian horror classic. Far more body horror than I was expecting, but it was stylish and creepy in all the right ways.
Roma: This awards-season darling is very good and very sad. The story was moving and delicately told. Maybe it was because I was primed beforehand, but the sound and visuals were really impressive and warrant seeing this in the theater.
MASSEDUCTION - St. Vincent: While this technically came out in 2017, I didn’t really get into this album until the start of this year, when I fell completely in love with it.
Poolside Chill playlist on Apple Music: Ok this is a silly one, but the Poolside Chill playlist on Apple Music is so good. It’s full of beats and grooves from all over the world and strikes the perfect balance of ambiance without being boring. It introduced me to Tim Maia and The Scorpions and Saif Abu Bakr, two of my favorite tracks of the year.
Saturn - Nao, and Honey - Robyn: These two albums came out the same day in October and I ping ponged between them for the following month. They’re not exactly similar, but they’re linked in my mind.