Month: December 2015

My Favorite Pop Culture Moments of 2015

Movies, television, people, and moments that resonated with me this past year. And I’m warning you now, Star Wars pops up a lot.

Yes, I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but what really marked the story of 2015 was the buildup to the December 18th release. From the moment it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be directing Episode VII, I knew he wouldn’t disappoint us fans. But I felt even more confident and excited once the first teaser trailer was released in November 2014. Then we got the second teaser trailer in April 2015. It conveys everything that the Star Wars franchise is about, while of course recapturing the essence of the original trilogy, in limited words and scenes. In the second teaser, we finally hear the voice of Luke Skywalker. Then, boom: Han Solo and Chewbacca. Chills.

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Catastrophe, a gem of a series, is the anti-RomCom RomCom we all wanted. I love nearly all things British, so I wasn’t at all surprised to fall in love with Rob and Sharon (played by Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan), as they play American guy and Irish woman who have a week-long tryst and end up pregnant. The show is brutally honest and funny, which means that it also has a big heart.

Admittedly, I started watching the Late Show with David Letterman at a very young age. I blame this on my mother, who has a habit of always having the TV on, and myself, who is a night owl. It’s fair to say I grew up watching Dave a lot, almost like a distant relative who was always there in the background. I remember every year watching his holiday episodes with Darlene Love belting Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) and Jay Thomas repeatedly coming on to tell the same story over and over again, followed by the annual football throw to dismantle a meatball pegged on top of the studio Christmas tree. And that’s only covering his holiday episodes! Dave created a tone for late night, mixing absurdity with honesty and heart. He’ll be missed on television, but never forgotten.

Carrie Fisher’s press tour for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been one helluva whirlwind. Like, the best kind of whirlwind you’d want to encounter. There are several moments to pull from, but it’s her appearance on Good Morning America that takes the cake, with her dog Gary Fisher making quite the cameo, and shows us why we love the unapologetic star. Plus, we got more of Carrie beyond Star Wars this year. Although a small part, she shone as the curt and scathing mother of Rob Delaney’s character in Catastrophe (and with Gary making yet another cameo!). The takeaway? Carrie Fisher is a national treasure.

There’s no denying that Oscar Isaac is a burgeoning acting powerhouse and star, mostly thanks to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But for those us who have been keenly watching Isaac’s career take off in the last few years (guilty!), in such films as Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, and his superb performance in HBO’s miniseries Show Me a Hero, we’ve known that he’s been destined for a multi-faceted and nuanced career. Plus, he’s charismatic as hell, on the screen and off. Much like Carrie Fisher, he’s had great moments during the Star Wars press tour showing this charisma, but he also proved this to us in this year’s sci-fi drama Ex Machina. And we’ll never ever forget the genius of his groovy moves as he tears up the f***ing dance floor (his words, not mine).

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Most catchy, meta theme song ever? Why that belongs to Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Technically I had just watched all of the documentary miniseries The Staircase by the end of 2014, but I couldn’t stop talking about it all year whenever I talked true crime (and the blossoming popularity of the genre in TV and film) with someone. Although it aired in 2004, I had only heard about it last year. It’s 10 episodes are gripping, as you get a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the defense team building their case for Michael Peterson, a novelist accused of killing his wife. You’ll have much uncertainty throughout the circumstantial twists and turns this case takes, and question the United States justice system in the process. You can find the first six episodes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n061fS38_GA

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Season three of Nathan For You continued to push the limits of his brand of comedy – which actually has a surprising amount of humanity contained in its episodes, including a loose series-long arch of Nathan just trying to make human connections with the participants of his antics. There were many laugh out loud, cringe-worthy moments, but something about his creation of a Holocaust-awareness apparel company called Summit Ice sticks with me most. It even is a real functioning brand, with items available to purchase and all proceeds go to a good cause. Remember folks, deny nothing. You can watch him talking about the segment on Conan, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3Im37oRMRE

One of the more unique and human podcasts to premiere, Starlee Kine of Mystery Show inquisitively brings unique mysteries to life…and answers them. The best part is that you can’t predict what type of mysteries will be presented (i.e. What is Jake Gyllenhaal’s actual height? How did a local NYC video store disappear overnight? ). The worst part, we haven’t had a new episode since August. My particular favorite episodes are Belt Buckle (episode 3) and Britney (episode 2), in which Starlee is determined to track down Britney Spears for a friend.

31 seasons and counting, and Survivor has never been better. Thanks to a cast full of returning players (voted in by viewers) and new twists (more tribe swaps! Hidden Immunity Idols in challenges! Chaos Kass isn’t so chaotic after all!), this season delivered big time and ended with one of the series’ strongest final four and three. Plus, we got a lot of classic Keith Nale moments. Although there was an insane tribal council in the finale, the tribal council with the blindside of Andrew Savage, due to Kelley Wentworth’s idol, was a game changer…and so much fun to watch. As fellow contestant Stephen Fishbach simply puts it – “Wow.”

Network TV’s best comedy, Parks and Recreation, came to an end this year, and the show kept itself fresh by setting its last season in the future, in the year 2017. Amidst the silliness, Parks and Recreation never lost its heart and soul. Plus, we got an entire episode dedicated to Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer’s alter-ego, Johnny Karate, and depressingly spot-on fake commercials.

I did it. Finally. I watched the entire series of The Wire, the series that Entertainment Weekly crowned as the best television show of all time. I fell hard for the pragmatic storytelling, and even more so for the carefully nuanced characters, both good and bad. But what The Wire does excellently is portray that there is no easy definition of good and bad, and that it’s all relative to the circumstances and the environments that create a city’s social, political and economic structures.

The end of Mad Men is an end of an era, quite literally as the series portrayed American life and advertising culture from 1960-1970. The final shot of Don Draper, in all his mysterious, soul-searching and charming demeanor, brings us peace…and possibly brings him peace too, even if that peace results in an iconic Coca-Cola ad. And then there was Peggy’s story. A woman who climbed the ranks according to her own agenda and transcended the show’s own time frame to be a role model for modern feminism. The finale gave us the below scene, which the YouTube user labeled as “Peggy Olson walks into McCann Erickson like a badass,” which is all you really need to know.

There was some buzz when Sicario was released back in October, but for some reason it has nearly disappeared from the current awards season chatter. That’s a shame because Emily Blunt is a force to be reckoned with, as are her costars Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the bleak subject matter of the drug war between the United States and Mexico may be what the story revolves around, but it’s the beautifully haunting cinematography and superb performances that make you stay glued to the screen.

The edge to Spotlight is that it isn’t edgy. This film, about the investigative journalists of the Boston Globe uncovering the abuse in the Catholic Church, manifests simple, effective story telling. There’s no glitz and no glamour, which cements its authenticity alongside stellar performances by the whole cast.

My favorite moment from The Martian is indebted to Ziggy Stardust himself. During a montage scene, in which we see myriad characters living their daily lives while also doing their due diligence to bring astronaut Mark Watney home from Mars, David Bowie’s Starman non-diegetically plays. It’s the perfect song to portray the uplifting optimism needed among the characters, but also mixes in a sense of nostalgia and melancholy, unsure of what the future brings. I’m unable to find a clip of this scene from the film, but this video gives you the idea of the song and how it works with the film.

Conan as Lobot. Harrison Ford crushing Jordan Schlansky’s dreams. Carrie Fisher running her mouth. This hour of CONAN dedicated to Star Wars was just as earnest as it was side-splitting. It should also be noted that this is how you do a Star Wars tribute/interview set…maybe other late night hosts should take a hint.

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. The poised and thoughtful host has had many great moments over the years, too many to get into now. From the last show, I particularly enjoyed the taped segment of going around the entire staff in The Daily Show offices, set as an homage to the famous tracking shot in Goodfellas. To me, the presence alone of this segment speaks volume about Stewart’s character. And it may have made me tear up a little. Just a little though, I swear.

And thankfully there’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to fill the void that Jon Stewart left (don’t worry, Trevor, I think you’ll get there in time). His segment on the refugee crisis is important and necessary. And somehow he managed to pull off a Days of Our Lives taping into the whole mix, because that’s John Oliver for you.

Hell hath no fury like Furiosa. What a fun, hypnotic ride Mad Max: Fury Road was. Jam-packed with action, yet it never got old.

Fans of Wet Hot American Summer rejoiced with Netflix’s prequel series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, while those who never have seen the original movie were probably just confused. Sure, it’s full of inside jokes, but the campy nature (pun intended, of course), high levels of absurdity, and commitment by these actors is exactly what makes Wet Hot so great.

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The season three premiere of Inside Amy Schumer was transcendent. From discussing sexism and ageism is Hollywood to singing about bodily functions, Schumer continues to make social commentary a theme in her comedy. My favorite sketch was tackling rape culture…á la Friday Night Lights. And a great Tammy Taylor impression to boot.

I was in awe of Better Call Saul’s first season. Here is a show, much like Breaking Bad, that lets a scene build with time, and lets it breathe.

I could watch Will Forte mess around in the desert with a collection of balls as friends any day. I wasn’t as crazy about the rest of The Last Man on Earth’s first season, but the pilot is golden.

Billy Eichner may rampage through the streets of New York with zeitgeist-infused questions and criticisms on his show Billy on the Street, but he is also a provocative presence on TV, subversively tackling bigger issues and calling out hypocrisy in entertainment and pop culture, such as his made-up “game,” Escape from Scientology.

The Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer is equal parts captivating and infuriating. Following the trial of a man for a grisly crime, who had previously served 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (as he was later exonerated due to DNA evidence), this series should and will make you angry at the discrepancies in the United States justice system and how it fails to protect citizens that are the most vulnerable.

Lastly, on a lighter note…It can be frustrating if a Saturday Night Live prime-time player breaks (i.e. laughs) over and over again, but not when it’s the host and that host is Ryan Gosling. Thanks to Kate McKinnon’s characterization, professionalism, and commitment, she delivers probably this season’s best moment in this bizarre alien abduction sketch. The fact that she keeps it together, and her costars do not, was so entertaining to witness.