Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LOST: Were They Making It Up All Along?

Well, hello there! After a too-long hiatus from this blog (two and a half months! Sheesh...) I just read something so fantastic I had to share it here and urge all of you Lost fans to read it, too. Written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who was one of the writers on Lost during the first two seasons of the show, this essay was devised in response to the same question he's been answering for a decade: were you making it up all along, or did you actually know where the show was going?

Anyone associated with the show, even peripherally, has had to answer this question. It's the #1 question I'm asked all the time: Do you think they actually knew where the show was going, or were they making it up as they went? I've answered it in a hundred different ways:

  • Does it matter? Lost was a show about the journey through life, not what happens at the end of it. 
  • They must have known where they were going to a certain extent, since certain things in the beginning of the series were brought full circle in the finale. 
  • Have you ever actually spoken to a novelist? Most of them don't know where they're going when they put pen to paper at the beginning of a book.
  • I believe they had the seeds of the show, but then just let the characters and story lines carry it, while keeping true to a few essential elements. 


I couldn't imagine how annoying it would be to actually work on the show and have those questions asked; after all, where I can just speculate based on my experience watching the series, these people actually know the answers and therefore will have them pulled out of them like a pair of pliers extracts a tooth in a dentist's office. 

And so, Grillo-Marxuach wrote this amazing piece. In it he not only reveals the details of a pitch meeting back in February 2004 — eight months before the show premiered — where they knew there was a secret organization on the island, and polar bears (complete with explanations for them), and a hatch, and that the island was about the war between good and evil, etc., but he talks about the experience of being in that room. Of the difficulties Damon Lindelof underwent as a young show runner suddenly thrown into the position of having to run the biggest show on the network. Of the tensions when one of the writers would get fired and he'd watch his friends leave, one by one. Of what it felt like being the last writer standing from season 1. Of what it was like when they had a story almost put together and then Damon would rush into the room with something that had come to him in the middle of the night and change the episode from good to brilliant. 

Of the fact that the wheelchair was an 11th hour addition to "Walkabout," and that writer David Fury actually argued against Damon's idea and said it wouldn't work. 

He talks about how Damon momentarily left the show partway through the first season, and still wasn't sure until he returned to discover what the writers had come up with for one of his favourite characters:

However, when Damon Lindelof heard the beats to a story in which Hurley was revealed to be an amateur hypnotist who would use his abilities to pry to the location of the kidnapped Claire from the now-amnesiac Charlie, his pride of ownership came roaring back with bull force.
If ever there was a moment when I knew that there was no way Damon Lindelof would ever leave Lost again it was when he told us what he thought of that idea.

This is essential reading for Lost fans. I'll warn you: it'll take a while to get through it. But it's absolutely worth it. And if anyone is still asking whether they knew where they were going by the end of this article, then it's pretty clear that person had already answered the question for himself in the first place. Go here to read the entire article. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

That Guy on the Phone...

In the Serial podcast, which my husband and I devoured in the last two months of 2014, host Sarah Koenig argues that memories are flawed, and that if something huge happens to a person, they can only be expected to remember what happened immediately after, because it becomes emblazoned on their brains. There are some exceptions, she said, like people with photographic memories or people who actively memorize every moment of those days to archive it. I’m one of those exceptions.

It was January 8, 1990, and I was working on a project for my grade 11 history class on Leonardo da Vinci at my desk in my bedroom. Or, at least, I was supposed to be working on that project. Instead I’d gotten distracted by his drawings, and started working on my own drawing that was sure to become one for the ages. Who wouldn’t want a Nikki Stafford original sketch of The Edge from the back of the Joshua Tree album? OK, it wasn’t actually the album, but one of the singles. One of the cassingles. Oh yes, I had cassingles. (Everyone reading this born after 1995 is like WTF?!)

Anyway, I digress, as I usually do. The phone rang and my dad picked it up. He came to the doorway of my room with a smirk on his face and said, “It’s a boy.” I went into my parents’ room (there was no phone in mine) and picked up the extension. It was a guy I worked with at a grocery store. He worked up front on cash, and I was one of the bakery girls.

I was hoping he’d call.

Let’s rewind. I started working at the grocery store in August of the previous year (yes, we are in the ’80s now). It was a terrible place with a bakery manager woman who might be the single worst human being I’ve ever known. There was a guy who worked up front who didn’t talk to me or make eye contact, but I knew about him because there were other girls in the bakery who talked about him. His name was Robert.

On November 26, I went to a record show with my friend Sue at Centennial Hall in London, Ontario. Way back then, before the internets were places one surfed, there were record shows, where people basically gathered to buy a bunch of illegal and bootlegged stuff. I was there looking at U2 and REM bootleg shows. And then Robert came up to us. He saw my friend Sue and started asking her about Smiths bootlegs, and then he saw me. At this point I was sitting up on the Centennial Hall stage, my legs dangling over the side. “Oh... hello,” he said, sounding surprised. The following Tuesday I was working my usual 4:30-10 shift that I worked every Tuesday, and he came over to talk to me. “What were you there for?” he asked. I said U2 and REM and a few other things. He nodded and smiled and headed back to the cash register. That weekend I was working on Saturday and was on my lunch break when he came into the lunchroom. I don’t ever remember him taking lunch at the same time as me, but there he was. I was reading a book of Oscar Wilde plays because I’d only recently discovered his work, and I was underlining my favourite bits. Rob came over to chat with me, sat down, and began asking about Oscar Wilde. He liked Oscar Wilde, too, but that’s because Morrissey liked him. Was I reading it because of Morrissey? No, I said, I was just reading it because my dad gave me a copy of the book and I loved it. Then I started showing him my favourite lines that I’d underlined. Soon I had to head back down, but I said I’d lend him my copy if he wanted, when I was done with it.

December 16. Company Christmas party. I went to the party with a friend of mine and Robert went to the party with a girl he was dating at the time. Oddly enough, the Christmas party was in the basement of Centennial Hall, where the record show had been. And then he came over to me. He sat down next to me and we started chatting about music. He seemed to be in awe of the fact that I’d played piano quite seriously for years, and said he always wanted to learn how to play guitar. I said he should just start taking lessons. He asked if I wanted to dance. Sure, I said.

I remember dates and places and even what I was wearing, but to this day I couldn’t tell you what song was playing when we danced. I wasn’t focused on that at all.

That night I got home and my dad was waiting up for me. He asked how my date went, and I said it wasn’t a date, we were just friends. He looked a little disappointed, and then asked, “Is there someone else you have your eye on?” he asked. Yes. The cashier at the store. We danced together, I told him. His name is Robert.

Back to January 8. It was Robert on the phone. We talked about our families and school (he was two years older than I was and in grade 13) and he told me he’d broken up with his girlfriend. Suddenly he said, “So... I was wondering if... you know, if you wanted... if... um... if you’d like to go out some time?” “Sure,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. (Later he told me he nearly dropped the phone when he began fist-pumping the air; at the time I had no idea because he was desperately trying to play it cool.) Turns out, he’d had my eye on me since my first day at work, but just assumed I was dating someone already. When he began asking around and discovered I wasn’t, he made his move.

That Friday we went out for the first time. He took me to his house and I met his parents (friends of ours later laughed at what a daring move that was on a first date) and then he gave me a copy of The Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs. For the next week I listened to it constantly. And at the end of January, like the crazy kids we were, we decided to make it permanent and tell people we were a couple. We spent the next five years driving to Toronto three times a week (a two-hour drive) to see concerts, and discovering new music. We went to university, and began working at the student newspaper (something I never would have done if it hadn’t been for him). In December 1995, we had a huge argument about something, I can’t even remember what it was, and later that day he showed up at my house. With an engagement ring. I was shocked, and I remember joking that it was the most elaborate method he’d come up with yet of making an argument go away. “I hope 20 years from now I don’t remember that you handed this to me to end an argument,” I said. “You won’t,” he laughed. (I do...)

And today, twenty-five years after that initial phone call, we’ve been married for 15 years and have two beautiful kids, and I love him more than ever.

I’ve talked about Rob on here before, rarely using his name, usually referencing his guitars or his golf writing or his love of music. Or I complain about how he wrecks my books or doesn’t understand how a vacuum works or how he’s constantly shaking his head at something weird I said.

You probably couldn’t find two people who are more different. When we met I was quiet and shy (yes, dear ones who’ve known me for the past 10 years only... this is actually true). He was loud and boisterous, and talked constantly. He’s also a journalist, so when he meets people he pumps them with questions and wants to know everything about them.

I’m a Liberal, and a pretty left-leaning one, and he’s the son of two card-carrying capital-C Conservatives. I always thought that was just a phrase; I didn’t know there were actual cards until I saw his dad’s. He’s not as extreme as they are (and one thing I should say to qualify that for any non-Canadians reading this: many Canadian Conservatives are actually left of American Democrats; even our right is pretty far to the left) but our views are definitely different on many topics. He loves calling me a “bleeding heart liberal,” and has strong opinions on just about everything. What is interesting to me is — and this is always clearer on Facebook, where there is never a shortage of opinions — most of my leftie friends have leftie friends and family and spouses; they rarely get the opinion of the other side from someone close to them. But when a major world event happens and I see people ranting all over their social media pages and their loved ones backing them up, I can always see the other sides of the situation because of listening to Rob. And rather than him having the opposite viewpoint, he typically has a balanced one, which is pretty rare in this world. Our “discussions” about world events often get quite heated, but after one of us finally leaves the room, we actually both think about what the other one says. I see his point of view, and he sees mine. Both of our belief systems have been shaped and influenced by the other one.

Now, I should probably qualify that despite calling himself a conservative, he’s one in a fiscal sense only: he believes in lower taxes and fewer handouts; but he also believes in pro-choice and gay marriage. He thinks Jon Stewart and John Oliver are two of the best commentators on television. He doesn’t sit around espousing conservative propaganda, but if he meets someone else who does, he simply listens to them, which is more than most people would do. Before, of course, arguing with them, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. 

His friends are fiercely loyal to him, and he to them. Where I’m the one who aims to please, he’s the opinionated one who isn’t afraid to say what he thinks, and those opinions are sometimes unwelcome. And he listens, and he remains calm, while people around him go red in the face and apoplectic over such a small issue.

And that’s one thing I particularly love about him: he’s patient. I’ve seen him lose his patience before — if he’s treated badly in a restaurant, the entire place will know; don’t even get me started on what happens if people behind us in a movie theatre begin talking — but not with the ones he loves. I’m an arguer, a very, very, passionate arguer. My voice rises and my hands fly all over the place and I begin quoting things and looking for information to back me up. Rob’s a calm arguer. He simply closes his eyes and shakes his head dismissively, and lets you have your little rant and then calmly says what he considers to be the only right thing in the conversation (but which, when arguing with me, is usually WRONG). But while that calm drives me NUTS, whenever I’m calm I appreciate it. Imagine two passionate firecrackers having an argument? Our marriage would have been over a decade ago. I need someone calm to balance my passion, and that’s him.

My friends and family are smart, educated people. I’m surrounded by academics and managers and professionals and entrepreneurs who talk about pop culture and world events and history and literature. And yet I’ve never met anyone smarter than Robert. Ask him anything, and he probably knows the answer. Name a year, and he’ll tell you what team won the World Series, and the batting averages of everyone on the team. Ask who has pitched perfect games and he’ll rattle off the pitchers’ names, including the year, what their team scored, who they were playing against at the time, and probably list them in chronological order. Name a golf course and he’ll tell you who designed it, in what year, how many times the clubhouses have been rebuilt, what designer ended up doing renovations (and in what year), and then he’ll go hole-by-hole and tell you what the features are, and if he played the course (which he probably did), he’ll tell you how he played each hole. (I should mention he’s a golf writer whose focus is golf architecture.) Ask him about any single by Elvis Presley, and he’ll give you the year it came out, who wrote it, where he recorded it, what number it charted at, and what colour the centre cardboard circle was on the vinyl. Don’t even think about playing against him in Trivial Pursuit — he’s that weirdo who can answer every question about Lebanon in the 1970s that no one else ever gets right. He’s a history major with a minor in just about everything else. I HATE when we go to friends’ houses and they impose that stupid “no playing with spouses” rules for Trivial Pursuit. Because I know I’m about to lose.

And yet despite that steel trap of a mind, he still can’t remember that paper goes in one bin and plastic in the other. Seriously.

He forgives. We live in a world where there are no limits on the number of social media platforms where we can state our opinions... as long as those opinions match the opinions of everyone else. He doesn’t follow that protocol, and as a result I’ve seen people say nasty things about him, and he knows that. And then he just shrugs and forgives. There are people who have done terrible things to him in real life, and I’ve seen him soon after having a conversation with them where he’s lively and cheerful, and never insincere. He just doesn’t waste his energy on being resentful. He has a mother who loves her kids fiercely and would do anything for them, and he’s inherited that from her. He calls his mom three times a week, talks to his younger sister constantly, we live near his brother's family and see them as much as we can, and he talks for hours with his dad about baseball.

He’s incredibly generous, and doesn’t take stock of his generosity by assuming people will owe him favours back. He’s written press releases for musician friends or friends starting their own businesses. When my brother, who’s a lawyer, was first out of law school Rob set up appointments with different lawyer friends of his to talk to my brother about various kinds of entertainment law. When my brother asked to borrow some golf clubs so he could play with a client, Rob put together an amazing set of clubs from the many he has in the basement and told him to keep them. “There’s no better way to connect with clients than through golf,” he said. He’s driven my mom to the hospital on several occasions for appointments. He’s usually the first one out on the street when a neighbour’s car gets stuck in the snow (we live on an uphill street, which can be treacherous in the winter). As such, he’s one of those rare individuals who has no trouble asking others for help if he needs it. I find so many people (I’m one of the worst) refuse to ask for help when they need it, but he comes from a family that says help others and ask others to help you. It’s the one area above all others where I wish I could be more like him.

As a husband, he’s loving, kind, and even after all these years tells me I look nice in the morning (even if I’m unshowered and wearing an old baggy T-shirt and yoga pants). While I often complain loudly that he doesn’t do any housework ever, he works long hours and always has a lot of pressure on him, yet he never takes this out on me. Ever.

I remember 10 years ago when our daughter was born, I got to see a new side of him, and was floored by it. As soon as my daughter came into this world I tentatively held her, so scared I might break or drop her, and looked into her eyes and she looked back at me with that intense stare she has to this very day. And when he knew I was ready to let go, he swooped in, scooped her up in a way that made my heart go into my stomach (oh my god don’t drop her!) and sat down in a chair with her propped up on his legs, talking to her like she was an old friend. Our first day home from the hospital, he was playing with her on the couch and all of a sudden said, “Oops, someone needs a diaper change!!” and then stood up, hesitated, and said, “I don’t know how to change a diaper.” He quickly ran upstairs and got one, and I showed him how to do it for the first time. For the next two weeks, I didn’t change a single diaper — he considered that Daddy’s duty, and he waited on us hand and foot. As my children have grown, he’s been my daughter’s baseball coach, my son’s wrestling companion, and they absolutely adore him. There are times when I joke that I have three kids, when he and my daughter seem to fight like a big brother and little sister (seriously, they’re so much alike it’s frightening), but I know she’d be lost without her daddy.

He was and is my first and only true love. I can’t imagine having spent my life with anyone else. I think back to who he was and who I was twenty-five years ago. He was an eccentric guy who wore a fedora and drove a car with a stick shift and wore leather racing gloves to drive it, and I thought he was cute and bizarre and cool. I was the quiet bakery girl who really didn’t stand out at all. I’ve mellowed him, and he brought me out of my shell. We carved out a life together where we’ve celebrated the many ups, and banded together to weather the downs.

Twenty-five years ago today, I hung up the phone, elated. I floated back to my room and my dad was already waiting in the doorway. “Was that Robert?” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “Yes,” I replied, and told him that we were getting together on Friday. My dad went back downstairs, and I turned back to the drawing of The Edge. I added a five o’clock shadow on him, shaded in the hat, and sat back to look at my masterpiece. And then I shoved it into the side of my military green cargo bag I used for school, where I carried it around with me for years afterwards to remind me of how I felt in that moment.

Monday, January 05, 2015

My Week in Pop Culture

Happy New Year, everyone!!

I tend to watch and read a mishmash of stuff all at once, and sometimes it's tough just devoting one post to a single thing, so I thought I'd combine a bunch on this first day officially back to work in 2015.

The Good Wife
My husband made a comment to me a couple of weeks ago about the fact that I was DVRing the current season 6 of The Good Wife, even though we had only watched up to the end of season 3 and had stalled since we both had big projects we were working on through the fall. He said, "If there are 22 episodes a season, and we watched one per week, we'd never make it through seasons 4 and 5 on time to catch up to the DVR." I looked at him like he was from another planet, and said, "I'm sorry... do we know each other? When do we binge-watch shows on DVD by watching one a week?!" And so last Monday we popped in the first disk of our S4 set... and a week later we have one episode left. This is SUCH a good show, the quality never wavers, from the writing to the acting. The guest stars are fantastic, the plot lines exciting, and I wish Alan Cumming could be on every program. He is so good. My favourite moment in the season, for those who have already seen it: Kalinda reading Vampire Diaries fanfic aloud in the office as part of an investigation she's doing. HA!!

Call the Midwife
I'm a sucker for this show, and DVR'd S3 way back in April 2014, but then we went to the UK and somehow episode 4 didn't record, and so I couldn't watch it because I'm a stickler for never skipping past an episode. I did it once — and this will curl the toes of more than one of my readers — when way back in 2005 our VCR (yes, VCR) didn't record "Numbers" from S1 of Lost, and I figured we could just skip to the next one. WRONG. I love this show. Yes, it's sappy and almost always goes for the happy ending every time, but I still love it, mostly for that. How many shows aren't dark and dreary and caustic? This is SUCH a good show, and I swear I'm in tears in every episode, but then again, I can't seem to ever watch a scene of a baby being born without crying, so I was doomed.

I have been meaning to read this graphic novel for years, and I'm finally reading it now and WOW, it's so fantastic. I've bombed through the first six in the trades and I'm just starting the seventh (there are nine in total) and I'm hoping to be finished next week. LOVE this series. And my 10yo daughter is really enjoying it, too, and is angry that I got past her when she was distracted by these Canadian history books she got for Christmas and was reading up on the Underground Railroad. (You can just feel my pride in that last sentence, can't you?) ;)

Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? 
I've raved about this on Facebook and Goodreads, but honestly, I don't think I had a better read last year. I finished it on New Year's Eve (by getting up early and reading the last 150 pages all morning just so I'd get it done in 2014!) and I adored it. Baby Peggy was a silent film star in the 1920s, appearing in her first picture at 18 months in 1920 and being a bona fide star (and multimillionaire) by the age of 4. Then one tragic mistake leads to another, and soon she's out of work, her family is destitute with no money, and it just gets worse from there. But this is the story of a survivor — written by Peggy herself, who changed her name to Diana Serra Cary — and if you love old Hollywood, I can't recommend this enough. She has a section where she talks about what happened to other child stars, including Jackie Coogan (whose name, ironically, stands for fairness in child star labour now but who lost everything back then), and what it was like to be the first "former child star" in American history and having to navigate her way through the rest of her adult life without precedent. It's remarkable. Even more remarkable: at 96 years old, she's still alive and is the last living silent film star.

Station Eleven
I've had this on my to-read list since Entertainment Weekly first raved about it, and just started it a few days ago. I'm not very far in, but I love it already. I ranted a lot in my Walking Dead posts about how hopeless that world is becoming and how art and culture have no place in it, and then along comes a book about an apocalypse where a group of people strives to insert art and culture into the post-apocalyptic world they live in.

My husband and I got out to see this right before New Year's because of all the hype surrounding Steve Carell's nuanced performance, and while I'll agree his performance was very well done (as was Mark Ruffalo's, who is excellent) I thought this movie was dull dull dull. I felt like it was building up to something — I went in blind, not knowing anything about the story — but GOD it felt like it took an eternity to actually get there.

Of all the Christmas movies, this one was probably last on my to-watch list, and the critics panned it and audiences haven't responded well, but my daughter REALLY wanted to go so I took her to see it on Saturday. And frankly, it wasn't half bad. (Then again, it was only half good.) I'm a sucker for Annie, and have seen the 1982 version a million times. Jamie Foxx as the Daddy Warbucks character was quite funny, and Cameron Diaz played an over-the-top Miss Hannigan (can she be played any other way? Of course not!) as a singer who should have made it big in the 1990s on VH1 but C+C Music Factory kicked her out of the group right before their Arsenio Hall appearance. (Hahaha!) The cast was all quite good — including Mr. Eko, who is a toned-down version of Punjab — and the story had some major issues (and the direction was kind of awful) but for me the biggest letdown was the little girl who actually played Annie. Quvenzhan√© Wallis, who was up for the Oscar for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, garnered raves for her almost wordless performance. Turns out, the moment she has to speak and sing, she's a little flat. If you know the 1982 version, you remember Annie's face when she sees the couple pretending to be her parents. Wallis just goes, "Yay!" and holds her hands out, and it felt disingenuous (really? You've been waiting your entire life to meet these people and that's all you can muster?) where in the original, Aileen Quinn is really subtle in this scene, unsure of who these people are and with a bad feeling she's being duped. ALL THAT SAID, for as much as it didn't hold a candle to the original, my daughter thought it was fantastic, and she adored the girl who played Annie, so what do I know? Maybe other adults would watch the 1982 version and say, "Um, you do know that movie is crap, right?" (For the record, IT IS NOT. My 9yo self adored that film.) The updates were clever at times — Annie's a foster kid, not in an orphanage, and when the fake parents steal her they are able to track her movements by other kids posting pics of the getaway car on Twitter — but it wasn't very good.
Parent score: 5/10  Daughter score: 9/10

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Watched in 2014

As I posted recently, my blogging has been at an all-time low this year, even if I’ve been keeping up things on Facebook. I wrote about The Walking Dead, The Leftovers, The Knick, and Game of Thrones (just so I’d have one show that didn’t begin with “The”).  But I’ve seen a lot of film and television in 2014 that I didn’t share with y’all, and so here are some of my favourites:

Whiplash: Probably my favourite film of the year, this is a dark and gritty look — think Black Swan for musicians — at the pain and suffering that classical and jazz musicians must endure at extremely high performance levels. When a guy strives to be the next Buddy Rich and makes it into the most elite band of New York’s most elite music school, he meets a teacher who believes that breaking down a person’s resolve, self-confidence, and self-esteem are the only ways to make them build themselves back up again. The performances by JK Simmons and Miles Teller are utterly stunning. I think Simmons has the Best Supporting Actor Oscar wrapped up. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.

Locke: A much quieter film, it takes place almost entirely in the worst car ride one man could possibly have without getting into an accident. While the premise doesn’t sound like much, you have to watch this film for one of the most remarkable one-man performances you will ever see. Tom Hardy (yes, Bane) delivers a sublime performance as one man falling apart, while constantly using his dashboard phone to call several people to try desperately to maintain the foundation of a building he’s overseeing while his real world crumbles to the ground around him. Other than Hardy, you only hear the voices of the other actors, but it’s a who’s who of the best British stars today, and Hardy puts in such a stunning performance I half-wish no other great movie had come out after this one so he could just take that Oscar for himself. 

The Imitation Game: I’ve spent a lot of time this year with Benedict Cumberbatch (as mentioned, and what my publisher would like me to continue mentioning, I’ve written a book on Sherlock that will be out in fall 2015), and he never ceases to amaze me. In this film he plays Alan Turing, the brilliant young mathematician who created the machine that eventually deciphered the unbreakable Nazi code machine, Enigma, which ended up shortening the war considerably and saving innumerable lives. But what the justice system did to him following the war — having absolutely no knowledge of his incredible contributions to saving their lives — is nothing short of inhumane and horrific. The final moments of the movie will have tears streaming down your face for what was done to him. In 2012 at the opening games of the London Olympics, the British brought out the father of the Internet to show all of their great achievements; they decided to hide the horrible thing that was perpetrated upon the father of the modern computer.

Boyhood: One of the best part of movies is discussing them with friends afterwards, but after my husband and I saw this film I was left awed, heartbroken, moved, overjoyed, and speechless. By filming a boy in real time, for several weeks every year from age 6 to 18, Richard Linklater (who never seems to disappoint me) has created a masterpiece of quiet subtlety. I felt like I was watching the next 12 years of my son’s life, and it was heartbreaking to see it move so fast, and see how life can be like sand falling through our fingers, with no pause button. An extraordinary achievement in film.

Only Lovers Left Alive: This might be the best vampire film I’ve ever seen. And it stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. I don’t really need to say anything more. Just go see it.

Derek: My brother bugged me to watch this show for ages, and I finally sat down and watched season 1 in a single afternoon. Despite starring Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington, it’s not a comedy. It has hysterically funny moments, but it’s meant to be a drama about a mentally challenged man — Gervais — who lives in an old folk’s home and is the heart of the place, along with Hannah, the woman who singlehandedly seems to run the place when funding runs out at the beginning of the first season. Being a nursing home, it’s inevitable you’ll lose people, but when they die, it’s the effect of their loss on Derek that is so heartbreaking. I just watched all of season 2, along with the Christmas special, yesterday, and it’s equally devastating. I think the finale of season 1 and the special are the two highlights of the series (and as my friend Dave warned me, there’s an episode involving a dog in S2 that will make you cry), and they both had me laughing out loud while tears streamed down my face. I think this is Gervais’s crowning achievement.

Black Mirror: I’ve only watched a handful of episodes, but if you haven’t watched this show yet, YOU MUST. It’s an even weirder and creepier Twilight Zone, all showing the dangers of technology. One is an indictment of Facebook, another of Twitter and social media in general. The Christmas episode that just aired (starring Jon Hamm) explores even deeper things that I can’t talk about without spoiling, but the show is a brilliant and satirical look at the world we have created around us.

Orphan Black: Each week of the second season, I couldn’t wait for a new episode and thought S2 was even more brilliant than S1. Tatiana Maslany continues to be utterly genius in every scene, and the cloning took on more symbolic and emotional significance in the second season. I’m probably not 100% on board with the Tony character, but the rest of it was amazing, including an hysterically funny and shocking homage to Pulp Fiction that might be my favourite TV moment of the year.

The Affair: The first season just wrapped on this one, and I loved it. It was the best pilot of all of the fall shows that I saw, and the performances by everyone in it — Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson, and Maura Tierney — are stunningly real. The main premise is that West and Tierney are a married couple with four children who go on summer holiday in Montauk. Wilson and Jackson live there, and Wilson (Alison) and West (Noah) begin a torrid affair. What makes the show so great is that the first half of each episode is told through the perspective of either Noah or Alison, and the second half by the other. Watching the story twice is never boring, but instead offers a wealth of clues: in his version, her hair was down and sultry, her skirt skimpy; in her version it was pinned up neatly, and his wife was rude to her and dismissive of Noah. The reason they're retelling the story is because someone has been murdered, and they're involved. SUCH a good show that dips a little in the middle, but roars to the end in a rather explosive manner.

Transparent: A show available on Amazon, it’s rightfully appearing on many best-of lists because it is so damn good. Jeffrey Tambor plays a dad who knows she’s been a woman trapped in a man’s body her entire life, and now that her children are grown and she’s moving into her twilight years, she’s decided she’s going to live the rest of her years as a woman, Maura, and needs to tell them. Her caustic ex-wife, Judith Light, is hilarious and amazing, the kids are all messes, and it’s only when Maura’s secret comes out that you discover the family is riddled with them. Another transgender friend of hers says that when she was making the change, she was told to look around her, and that none of those people would be with her in five year’s time. “Was it true?” Maura says, a look of desperation on her face because of how much her family means to her. She simply quietly nods. While there are very funny moments, it’s a devastating show at times, and it has the best ensemble cast of any other series this year.

Utopia: No, not the reality show that bombed, but the genius British sci-fi miniseries about a group of graphic novel fans who stumble upon a massive global conspiracy involving how the world’s population is ballooning, and one person’s horrifying solution. Season 1 was riveting, but season 2 was even better. When Channel 4 announced shortly after the second season had wrapped that they were cancelling it and there would be no S3, I was heartbroken. This one will go down with Firefly and Pushing Daisies as one of my great cancellation upsets. Still, watch the first two seasons if you haven’t already. They really can stand on their own, but I just wanted more.

So what did I miss? Any stellar television or films that you saw this year that I should check out?

Monday, December 29, 2014

My 2015 Pop Culture Resolutions

Hello beautiful people! It’s that time of year where we’re all making New Year’s Resolutions that we say we’re going to keep, but instead should just resolve to stop making stupid New Year’s Resolutions and simply live well throughout the year.

Last year I resolved to not buy a single book. That lasted until the end of February, and I posted about my experience here. So I won’t be making any other batshit crazy resolutions this year.

Aside from the usual — continue to eat well, become more active, blah blah blah — I have one major resolution I intend to try out in 2015: I want to finally check out the pop culture offerings people have been telling me to read/watch for years.

I have ordered season one of Babylon 5, and intend to watch the entire series in 2015. (It helps that I signed up a B5 book this year and therefore need to watch the series in order to properly edit that book...) The first time someone told me I need to watch that show was at a Toronto Trek convention in 2003, I think it was. The show had ended five years earlier and someone was telling me it was perfectly crafted television, that Straczynski had fashioned out all five years before starting on the first season, and that if I was a Buffy fan I’d probably love it. I told him I’d absolutely check it out. That was almost 12 years ago. So let’s change that.

As I mentioned on Facebook earlier today, I am going to finally crack Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and based on advice of two of my friends, I shall begin with Carpe Jugulum and then continue with this handy dandy chart:

I want to reread the Sandman series. I last read it 15 years ago, and I’ve forgotten large swaths of it. Perhaps this should be an annual thing.

I need to finally read that second Game of Thrones book. Seriously, it’s been two years since I read the first one!

Following with the previous Terry Pratchett thing (and Neil Gaiman, for that matter), I need to read Good Omens. No, I haven’t read it. Yes, I know about the radio serial and that it’ll be available for only one month. So I need to read it fast in order to listen to it, and I hope to be able to do so in January.

I’m going to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I bought it as soon as it came out in 2004, for goodness’ sake, but that was the same year my daughter was born, and obviously I got a little busy for that ginormous book. But then the BBC started putting together a miniseries that will soon be airing on PBS, and I don’t want to watch it before reading it.

I need to read American Gods. (Yes, my friend who told me where to start on Discworld just fell over dead of a heart attack when he read that line.) I’ve started it 100 times, and something always comes up that pulls me away from it around page 75.

Man, this is turning into a very Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett–heavy list, isn’t it?

I want to watch Twin Peaks. I watched it back in the day, but not religiously, and missed several episodes, but what I did see I adored. I have both seasons and need to sit down and just binge watch the entire thing.

There are so many other things I need to catch up on that I’ve been intending to do for a very long time, but that’s a pretty strong list already, and if I keep it to a handful of things I might actually achieve this in 2015.

Along with the healthy eating and being more active blah blah blah.

What are your pop culture (or otherwise) resolutions?