My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2020

It’s that time of year again where I share my favorite things I experienced in pop culture over the past year. As a reminder these are not necessarily things that came out during 2020 though many of them are. They are however things I enjoyed for the first time this year. This year is a little bit different because some of my standard categories I didn’t really have a choice in thanks to the pandemic. It wasn’t a matter what my favorite thing was. It was a matter of did I even get to do any of these things this year. Although I am sad that I didn’t get to do a lot in the way of seeing things like concerts and theater, which are what I love to do more than anything else in the world, there was thankfully lots of excellent pop culture to keep me entertained while I’ve been stuck at home for most of the year. Let’s get to it.

Movie I Saw in a Theater

This was an easy pick because I saw exactly one movie in a theater in 2020. At least I enjoyed the film, though I doubt it would be sitting in this spot had I seen other movies over the course of the year. It was Birds of Prey, the Harley Quinn movie starring Margot Robbie. Who knew I was going to be enjoying so much Harley Quinn this year, since I also loved the Harley Quinn animated tv series now available on HBOMax. I actually appreciated the smallness of this movie. While I mostly enjoy a lot of comic book superhero movies I hate when they are too what I call smashy smashy where you have long 20-30 minute CGI fight scenes of characters just smashing on things and each other. They bore me to tears. There was none of that in this movie. The fight scenes were at close range and a lot of fun. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I found a lot to like about it and am not sad that it gets to be the lone movie I saw in a theater this year.

Movie I Watched at Home

I probably watched more movies at home this year than I normally do because I couldn’t see movies in theaters. I normally prefer to see movies in the theater as I have a hard time concentrating on them for that long at home without getting distracted by other things. I think my favorites though were two documentaries about collecting, The Booksellers and Vinyl Nation. As you might guess The Booksellers were about rare book dealers and collectors while Vinyl Nation was about record stores and record collectors. I am not a collector. I guess I don’t have that kind of personality, but I enjoyed seeing the worlds of these people who are super into collecting their books and vinyl records. Despite being a librarian and avid reader I have no interest in collecting books. I borrow most of the books I read and am happy to send books back out into the world for others to enjoy. I rarely reread books so I don’t see the point of having shelves full of them. I do often wish I was the kind of person who was into vinyl collecting though. Music is obviously something I consume over and over again and the idea of having a collection of records that I look through, select from, and then sit down and listen to appeals to me. In reality though the record player we have is not even out on the floor and the two vinyl albums I own were WXPN pledge drive gifts. Realistically I am never going to be that person, but I enjoyed living in the world of the people who are for a little while.

Fiction Book

Without actually meaning to or seeking them out I feel like I read a number of books having to do with various wars or people living under the constant threat of violence. Although it is to some degree an entirely different thing I also felt like there were a lot of parallels to our current state living through a pandemic with lots of death, living in a constant state of fear, and not knowing if or when it’s ever going to end. The best of these books and the one that is the best fiction book I read all year is Apeirogon by Colum McCann. I am just going to share my review on Goodreads because I don’t think I have anything better to say about the book than that.

“An apeirogon is a figure with an infinite number of sides and that is actually the perfect title for this book. I don’t even know how to describe it. At its basest level it is a fictionalized story of the real men Palestinian, Bassam Aramin and Israeli, Rami Elhanan both of whom lost their daughters to violence but who come together to try and fight for peace in the Middle East. It also includes non-fiction passages at the heart of the book written by both men. The story if you can really call it that moves and folds back and around itself while weaving in other facts and histories all written in short vignettes ranging from a mere sentence to several pages. It’s masterfully written and creative in a way that compares to no other book I can think of save for maybe Lincoln in the Bardo, which I more admired for what the author did than I actually enjoyed reading it. Here I think everything comes together perfectly. It’s definitely not a book for anyone who needs their books to have a straight narrative story, but this is beautifully written and full of so much meaning that it is a true masterpiece.”

Non-Fiction Book

I have two books that qualify for my favorite non-fiction book of the year. Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of thee Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban was the first book I read in 2020 and even then I said this is probably going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I was not wrong about that. It’s the informative and horrifying true story about how generic drugs are made and why there can be so many issues with them. This has made me question everything when it comes to the medications I take.

The second book, which was no surprise, was Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. I was very much looking forward to this book as I loved Wilkerson’s previous masterpiece The Warmth of Other Suns. Caste looks at how the United States really operates on a caste system based on race. She delves into the history and the effects on people and our country. She offers the best explanation I’ve seen as to why it’s important for us to actually address this issue and do what we need to do to repair rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or say it’s not our problem because we’re not the ones who caused it. If you read one of the three books I’ve mentioned here make it this one.

TV Show

I have a few tv shows I want to mention that were the highlights of a year in which I watched a LOT of television and that’s saying something given how much I watched before this. I already alluded to Harley Quinn in the movie section. It’s a fun adults only show that I was sad when I ran out of episodes of.

The first show I watched in 2020 was Schitt’s Creek. I binge watched it over my winter break last year. I had not watched it for a long time thinking it was not something I would enjoy. I was never into all the Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara movies and I generally don’t like shows where people are just awful so on the face of it this show was just not for me. But I had heard so many people talk about how much they loved it that I decided to give it a chance. I’m so glad I did because it is such a delightful show full of so much heart. It is a little rough going in the first half of season one where it felt more like what I was expecting, but eventually the show grows and the characters grow and it’s something that brings me so much joy. If you haven’t watched this show yet please do yourself a favor and do it.

My second favorite show of the year has sadly already met an untimely death after only one season. Thanks Netflix. It’s Teenage Bounty Hunters. I love this show so much! Talk about a show with so much heart. In some ways it shares a lot of DNA with Schitt’s Creek in that it is a ridiculous over the top story with characters that are somewhat caricatures but who have such heart that you just fall in love with them. Everyone I have convinced to watch this show has loved it and I know the many other people I’ve been telling to watch it but who have been resisting my efforts (you know who you are) would love it too. I saw it on a lot of year end best of television lists too. I wish Netflix had let it stick around and grow an audience because get why based on the name and description it wasn’t something people jumped right into when Netflix put it out, but it’s definitely a show that would have grown an audience through word of mouth if it had only been given time. Even though it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger I still highly recommend treating yourself to the one season of this show that we were gifted.

I also fell in love with the show Wynonna Earp this year. It’s not a show I had ever really heard anyone talk about aside from one guest on a podcast I listen to. Apparently her love of the show was enough to get me to check it out and I’m glad I finally did. I tell people if they were Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans than this show is probably for them. It’s got a strong female lead, actually lots of strong female characters, love stories, and supernatural fun. I can’t wait for the second half of the most recent season to air hopefully sometime soon.

TV Episode

I have two episodes to talk about in this category. First Season 4, Episode 8 of Insecure, “Lowkey Happy”. This is one of those pay off episodes that I love from long running tv shows. Season 4 was mostly about Issa and Molly’s friendship and was an excellent season looking at the fading of friendship, but this episode was about Issa and her ex-boyfriend Lawrence. They reconnect over a long night spent together that reminds me of the Before movies. It was lovely and romantic and something that only could have happened with these characters and their relationship being developed over seasons.

Second is Schitt’s Creek Season 4, Episode 9, “The Olive Branch”. This is actually another payoff episode in that earlier in the season Patrick sings an acoustic version of the song “The Best” by Tina Turner to David during an event at their store that David both hates and loves. Then as a romantic makeup gesture after a fight in a later episode David does a dance to the song for Patrick. It’s so wonderful. It’s, no pun intended, the best scene from the entire show and is one of the videos I keep in my arsenal to rewatch when I need something to make me happy. Sadly it seems like the videos on YouTube of just that scene have all been pulled down. So you’ll just have to go watch the show to see it.

Album

I had far too many albums I loved this year to talk about in this post, so I refer you to the separate post I did recently on my favorite albums of 2020.

Song

My favorite song of 2020 was Janelle Monae’s “Turntables”. It’s an amazing empowerment anthem that has kept me going through some pretty dark times in this year.

Also have to give a special mention to the song “It’s Still Alright” by Nathaniel Rateliff. It was the first song I added to my 2020 playlist and it’s a song I came back to a lot. Although the song is about substance abuse and the death of Rateliff’s long time producer Richard Swift, the soothing tones of the song and the lyrics of the chorus repeatedly telling us “and it’s still alright” were a continued gentle reminder in this year full of so much pain and sorrow that there are brighter days ahead.

I will also give a shout out to the following songs that I also loved and listened to a lot this year. “Dreamsicle” by Jason Isbell, “Strangers” by Mt. Joy, “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy, and “Lockdown on Date Night Tuesday” by Ondara. You can also check out my 2020 playlist on Spotify, which contains all the songs I heard this year that I liked enough to want to listen to again.

Concert

Unlike most years when I would have dozens of concerts to choose from in this spot, this year I only had two. The final concert I went to in 2020 before everything fell apart was Trampled by Turtles at Baltimore Soundstage. It was a fun show and one I would have cherished all the more had I known it was the last show I was going to see for who knows how long.

The concert that was ultimately my favorite and probably would have been in contention for that even if I had gotten to see everything I already had tickets to in 2020 was traveling to Nashville to meet up with a friend to see Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium. One of my favorite artists in a fantastic, historical venue with a friend and fellow music lover. Who could ask for more? If I was only going to get to see two concerts in 2020 I can’t complain that this was one of them.

Online Concert

I’m adding in this new category this year because in lieu of getting to go out and see actual shows I watched a lot of artists perform online this year. Hopefully it’s one that I will only need to use this year because I want nothing more for 2021 than to be able to see live music again. There many, many online shows I watched from artists playing on Instagram and YouTube from their houses for free, shows I paid for with artists playing in their houses or shows I paid for with artists performing in actual venues with no audience. None of it fulfills the same experience as going to an actual live show and sharing the musical experience with a crowd.

The two things that I’m going to talk about here are things that are/were some of the least produced online music experiences but because of the way they are/were done brought at least a little of that communal experience you get from live music. When the pandemic first started Amanda Shires did 30 straight days of shows from her barn, which she called I So Lounging. Most of them also featured her husband Jason Isbell as well as Seth and Kelly Plemmons who were living with them at the time when we thought this would all be over in a few weeks. Seth is a member of her band and Kelly worked on the behind the scenes stuff. It was something that really kept me going those first weeks of lockdown when everything was so new and raw. It was wonderful to hear them play and just laugh and cry together and there was a little community in the YouTube comments for the shows. Although they were up on YouTube for a long time, sadly it seems like they’ve pulled all the videos down now.

The other online shows that I have loved have also been because of their regularity and the fact that they feel a little bit more intimate and personal. Almost every Thursday night since the pandemic started Amos Lee has been going live on Instagram on Thursday nights at 7:30. He hasn’t even been collecting tips. I’m not sure how he’s keeping himself going with no touring income. He’s done a couple of fundraisers for various organizations so whenever he does that I make sure to donate to whatever his chosen cause is. I’ve turned Thursday nights into a little bit of date night surrounding these concerts. We get take out and then I make my husband play a board game or card game with me while we listen to Amos Lee play. He’s even saved a lot of them to his IGTV so you can go back and watch if you want.

Broadway Theatre Production

Even though I had tickets to several shows later in the year I did not get to see any Broadway shows in 2020. My Company tickets were refunded. Who knows when or if that show will ever open. Our Music Man tickets were rescheduled twice and we’re now set to see the show in February of 2022. We thought it was hilarious when we were buying tickets for November 2020 in August of 2019. Little did we know.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I did get to see one show in Baltimore this year before everything shut down. It was Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally at Baltimore Center Stage. Unlike with the one movie I saw I can’t say that this was a show I super enjoyed. Sadly I’m not sure that the new artistic director and I see eye to eye on theatre. After loving almost every show I saw there for many years as a season ticket subscriber, this past season I didn’t really like much of anything. I think most of it was chosen in the interim before she actually started so I’m hoping that I’m wrong and that when the finally do get back to being able to have actual shows there that she selects shows that are more to my liking.

Online Theatre Production

Like with concerts I saw some online theatre productions this year as well. Some were previously taped performances that were released from archives. Some were weird Zoom like things (though not actually on Zoom). And some were live productions in front of no audience. I watched several shows put on at the Old Vic in London that were produced live with no audience. It lead to me watching theatre at some very odd times given the time difference. I think my favorite was Three Kings starring Andrew Scott, who you may know as Hot Priest from Fleabag. Sometimes one person shows where it’s just one long monologue can lose my interest, but I thought he did an excellent job and the story he was telling kept me engaged.

Podcast

I think I’ve mentioned Make Me Smart to some degree in this space every year since it has existed and that is not going to change this year. This year they expanded from their once a week on Tuesday episode to transitioning to a daily podcast after the pandemic started. They still do what they call the big show on Tuesdays, which is usually around a half hour or so. Then the other days they do short 15 minute episodes most of those they each bring a news story and something that makes them happy to talk about. They started naming the episodes at some point: Make Me Smart Mondays, Big Show Tuesdays, Whatta Ya Want to Know Wednesdays (in which they ditch the normal daily show format and spend the whole episode answering listener questions), Hollowed Out Shell Thursdays (because by that point in the week we all feel like hollowed out shells), and Economics on Tap Fridays (their weekly happy hour episode where they would have a drink and would often live tape over YouTube so people could see them and join in in the comments). It’s the first podcast I put on every time there’s a new episode in my feed. It helps me going and I’m so happy they expanded to 5 days a week.

Staying in with Emily and Kumail was a short lived podcast produced by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani that they put out at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all in lockdown. They basically just talked about their lives and the things they were enjoying and experiencing. Although she is no longer practicing Emily is a trained therapist so she had a lot of great insights to offer about what we were all experiencing and how we were experiencing them. She also is immunocompromised and at high risk for COVID so they were being extremely careful just like my husband and I have been. So it was nice to get their perspective on that as well. It’s not something that would probably make sense to listen to now if you didn’t listen to it when it was first on, but it was super helpful for me in processing everything that was happening and all the feelings I was having at the beginning of the pandemic. I get why it’s not something they kept up, but I do think it would be kind of nice to have a check in episode every once in awhile.

Podcast Episode

My favorite podcast episode of the year was the Song Exploder episode in which Semisonic broke down their song “Closing Time”. I’m not going to give anything away. You should just go listen to the episode. I will only say this, that song has way more meaning behind it than you think and I will never hear it the same way ever again.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2019

Once again it’s time for my annual post on the pop culture that was most memorable to me over the past year. As always it doesn’t have to be something created in 2019. It just has to be something I consumed over the past year. And as always I emphasize that these are the things that meant the most to me, not necessarily the things that I think are the best thing made in any given category. In past year’s I’ve mostly tried to limit myself to one thing per category. I’m going against that this year in several categories because who says I have to choose just one thing? Sometimes I enjoy multiple things an equal amount and don’t want to choose between them. These are the things that brought me joy this year and why shouldn’t I want to introduce you to as many great things as possible? I make the rules here, so I say no arbitrary limits on how many things I’m allowed to write about!

Movie I Saw in a Theater

I often lament the lack of good romantic comedies like there once were, so I always try and go see the few and far between rom-coms that make it into movie theaters even when I know they are going to be terrible because I want Hollywood to know there’s a market for them. This year though the one rom-com I saw in a theater was not terrible. In fact it was my favorite movie of the year, The Long Shot starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. I was slightly dubious about it because I don’t love Seth Rogen and all his drug humor. There was some of that in this movie, but just the right amount. I thought it was a very funny and sweet movie with a great modern day rom-com set-up for why the two leads just couldn’t be together.

I’ll also give a shout out to Knives Out, which was a very fun whodunit.

Movie I Watched at Home

This is the category I always have the hardest time filling out partly because I can never remember what I watched. Last year I kept a list and that worked out really well, so I thought that I would do that again this year. It didn’t really work though because every time I watched a movie at home, which wasn’t that frequently, I thought well that was okay, but I’m not even going to bother adding it to my list because there’s no way I would put it in my end of the year blog post. And that’s how it went for pretty much every movie I watched this year. There were zero movies on that list as of mid-December.

I didn’t initially think to include it because it’s not a traditional movie per se, but I’m going to go with the four hour Tom Petty documentary, Runnin’ Down a Dream. I’ve been meaning to watch it for years because Tom Petty is one of all time favorite artists and I’ve always heard good things about it. I just never wanted to commit 4 hours to it, but this year when I had a snow day back in February I thought today is the perfect day to finally watch this. It was indeed a very good music documentary. It focused mostly on Tom Petty’s musical career and didn’t delve much into his personal life, so I felt like it was a very good companion with the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes which gets much more into Tom Petty as a person.

Fiction Book

I have two very different books I’m putting in this category this year. First is The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, which I recently read for my book club. The book moves back and forth in time between 1980s Chicago during the height of the AIDS crisis and 2015 Paris where you pick up with the sister of one of the young men who died and who nursed many of the men in his friend group as they too succumbed to the disease. The 1980s part is for sure the better half of the story. Some of those characters are still with me. The 2015 half while not as good is still engaging enough as to not drag the entire book down and I appreciated how everything came together at the end.

The other novel that I really loved this year was Fear of Falling by Georgia Beers. It was just a really great romance about a famous singer who recently lost her manager and whose label assigns a woman to manage her that she winds up having feelings for. It has very realistic obstacles throwing a wrench in their budding romance and I literally couldn’t put it down. We were on vacation in L.A. and my husband finally had to force me to quit reading so we could go out to the Griffith Observatory.

Non-Fiction Book

I actually have three non-fiction books that I want to write about. One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten. In this book a reporter picks a random day out of a hat and writes a book about what happened on a day that historically we would say nothing really happened. He digs into stories that may not have garnered national attention but that certainly impacted individual people, families, and communities. I found it to be a really fascinating book.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe is fantastic book covering the modern history of the I.R.A. and the Irish troubles. It’s a really well written book that presents a lot of information in a really accessible way. I learned so much more than I ever knew and it gave me a much better understanding of why a hard border being imposed as part of Brexit would be such a big deal.

My final non-fiction book is Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan Metzl.  Physician and sociologist Jonathan Metzl explores how long held ideologies based on both overt and covert racism cause people to create policies that are detrimental to their own lives. Using focus groups and lots of comparative data analysis looking at states both before and after they passed certain laws and comparing them to states with similar demographics with opposite laws. He looks at gun laws in Missouri and how they have led to a huge increase in gun based suicide by white men. In Tennessee he examines the decision to not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act causing significantly worse health outcomes compared to people in Kentucky where the Medicaid expansion was passed. Finally, he looks at tax cuts passed in Kansas particularly focusing on the effects on education. It’s a really well-researched book and a really compelling though maddening read.

TV Show

As much as I lament the lack of certain types of tv shows that once existed in larger quantities before streaming and prestige television took over there were still a number of tv shows that gave me great pleasure this year. I have already implored you multiple times to watch both Atypical and The Bold Type, and I’m not sure I have much new to say about them. However, as far as I know I haven’t convinced anyone else to watch them yet, so I’m going to keep trying because they are really great shows. I rarely rewatch tv shows because there’s always so much new stuff out there, but I’m already considering an Atypical rewatch because I miss those characters.

Chernobyl was an excellent show. I avoided watching it for a long time despite all the rave reviews because I thought it was going to be too depressing. I thought maybe I’ll watch just one episode a week to make it more bearable and then I wound up binge watching it because it was so good.

Derry Girls was pure delight. I also liked that having read Say Nothing meant I had a little better insight into the time and place when the show is set, but it’s not really necessary to know that much about the Irish Troubles to enjoy the show. It’s just a wonderful broad comedy about teenagers in Derry, Ireland in the 80s. The 12 episodes that exist right now are just not enough. I can’t wait until the release more.

Speechless ended its run on a high note back in the spring. If you’re unfamiliar it’s a sit-com about a family whose oldest son has cerebral palsy and who is played by an actor who does in fact have CP. It was a funny and heartfelt show that I think ended in a perfect way even if I wish we got more episodes. Also a special shout out to two other shows I loved that ended their runs this year Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin.

Unbelievable was a really well done limited series based on a true story of a young woman who was raped and not believed and the two female cops working on rape cases years later who finally brought her justice. It stars Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, and Merritt Weaver giving excellent performances.

I also really enjoyed Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music. It was well worth the 16 and half hours of my time. I even wanted more because he didn’t go far enough in time for my liking. Maybe he’ll add more onto it down the line at some point.

I also would be remiss to not include Grey’s Anatomy because it’s still one of my favorite shows to watch every week. Last season and this season have felt like somewhat of a resurgence for the show even though I’m super annoyed with all the tie-ins to Station 19 to try and force people to start watching that. Seems like it’s only going to get worse when that show actually returns after the new year, which is just going to make me madder. All they’ve done is make me never, ever want to watch that show just out of principle.

TV Episode

The best tv episode I watched this year is also the hardest episode of anything I think I’ve ever watched. It was the fifth and final episode of the limited series When They See Us about the Exonerated Five who were wrongly convicted of brutally attacking and raping a woman in Central Park when they were teenagers. The final episode focuses on the experiences of Korey Wise, who was the oldest of the boys and the only one sent to an adult prison. It’s a brutal watch even beyond the rest of this series, which is extremely difficult but important.

In an entirely different vein, I love episodes of character based tv shows that just feel like a joyous pay-off for the characters where you get to mostly just watch them enjoy themselves. It obviously wouldn’t make for compelling television if every episode were like this, but I love when a show has developed its characters enough that they get a well deserved episode to just have fun and have good things happen to them. Season 2, Episode 9 of Pose, “Life’s a Beach”, felt like that. There were many excellent episodes in season 2 of this show which only got better this season in no small part because they dropped the stupid white characters from season one that were obviously there to sell the show to the network. Anyway, in this episode the ladies get to mostly take a break from their struggles and head away to a weekend at the beach. Their road trip is wonderful and watching them singing together in the car on the drive to the beach brought me great joy.

Album

If you don’t know what’s coming in this category then you obviously have not been paying attention to anything happening here in the past year. There were two albums that dominated my 2019. Way back on January 18 when it was released I predicted that Maggie Rogers’ Heard It in a Past Life would very likely be my album of the year, and I was not wrong. Every amazing album that came after it in 2019 did not manage to unseat it from my heart. It is by far the album I have listened to the most in 2019 (my highly skewed Spotify stats notwithstanding). I adore every song on it, and it’s one I’m sure I’m going to continue to go back to in 2020.

The album that Spotify thinks is my most played album of 2019 is the other album that deserves a spot here and that’s the debut (and maybe only) album by The Highwomen the country super group composed of Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. Spotify thinks that because I did for sure listen to this album a lot, but unlike other albums pretty much only on Spotify because I bought the album as a physical CD along with a hoodie and bumper sticker. The CD is still sitting under my coffee table wrapped in cellophane. It’s too much of a pain to drag out the external optical drive to upload the songs from the CD onto my computer (#firstworldproblems).

The Highwomen’s album is full of amazing songs by these women that seek to uplift other women. As they have said many times it’s more than an album or a group it’s a movement. I adore everything that it stands for. I love these women together and separately. Even though the idea for the group came from Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile has sort of been the front woman for the project. I’ve heard them call her their quarterback. This is only a small part of what she’s doing to lift up other women in music and there’s a reason I will follow her to the ends of the earth (I already have tickets to see her three times in 2020 in places nowhere near where I live.)

Recently she was awarded the Trailblazer Award for Women in Music by Billboard. It so happens that Maggie Rogers was the one to present the award to her and Maggie’s speech pretty much exemplifies why I love both of these women so much.

Song

2019 was a fantastic year for music. My 2019 playlist of songs I loved during the year is longer than any playlist I’ve created by over half. I’ll share that in a future post, but for now I’m going to focus on a single song here even though I could include a hundred. It’s the title song from The Highwomen called “Highwomen”. It’s a rewrite of the song from The Highwaymen, the 80s and 90s male country super group which they created a female alternative to. It re-imagines the lyrics with each verse telling the story of a woman who was persecuted. It’s an incredibly powerful song. I first heard it before it was even released when they performed it at the Newport Folk Festival. It gave me chills and made me know for sure that this album was going to be something that I loved to my very core.

Actually I lied. I have two songs because I was just reviewing the list I keep throughout the year for this blog post and realized that I had Gary Clark Jr.’s song “This Land” listed under this category as a possibility and I think it deserves a mention. It is one of the most powerful songs I can remember hearing and the video just drives it home. When I watched his Austin City Limits episode I was wondering if they were going to bleep the n-word in this song, which they did. But then I saw a promo for the episode that included a snippet of this song that didn’t bleep it. Go figure.

Concert

I usually don’t allow myself to choose a set from The Newport Folk Festival to go in this spot because I’m pretty sure I would never write about anything that didn’t happen at Newport ever again. Perhaps I should just create a new category for the best thing I saw at Newport, but I’m not going to do it this year. I am however going to write about two sets that happened at Newport though because one would have been the highlight of my year if it weren’t for the second and the second is the literally the most amazing musical experience I have ever had in my life so there was no way I couldn’t include it here.

The first set I’m referring to was The Highwomen’s debut and as of this writing still the only actual full concert set they’ve done. I thought that they would at least do a couple dates in conjunction with the release of their album and was willing to travel anywhere to see them again, but they never did and at this point I don’t know if they ever will. I’ve seen up to three of the four of them join each other for a few songs at each other’s shows, but no other full on performances. I’ll be seeing Brandi Carlile at the Ryman in January and Natalie Hemby is opening for her. Since Amanda Shires and Maren Morris both live in Nashville and it doesn’t look like either one of them will be touring then I’m hoping maybe we can get a little reunion during that show if Maren isn’t in labor since she’ll be hugely pregnant by then. Anyway, I feel so blessed to have seen them perform. The album wasn’t out yet at that point and listening to them play it through I knew it was going to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Since I already embedded my favorite song in this post here’s a song I love, but the best part of this video is the intro.

The other set was obviously the Saturday night all-female headlining set curated by Brandi Carlile with surprise guest Dolly Parton. It still really don’t have any words for it. It was truly magical to see so many awesome women up on stage together collaborating. It would take me to long to even name them all. One of the stories I read about it after the fact said something to the effect of can someone please go check on Jade Bird and make sure she’s all right. She was smiling so big up on the stage I’m worried she hurt herself. It’s true. I went back and looked at her in some of the video and I don’t think she could have been smiling any harder. That’s how I feel about it. I still smile every time I think about it. Newport always surprises me, but I don’t know how anything can ever possibly top this experience in my book.

Broadway Theatre Production

For some reason I apparently was very into pop culture reflecting stories about 1980s Northern Ireland and the Irish troubles in 2019. I don’t know why. It’s not something I sought out. It just happened. This is all a lead in to say that my favorite thing I saw on Broadway this year was the play The Ferryman. It’s for certain the longest show I’ve ever seen as a three act play clocking in at 3 hours and 15 minutes including a 15 minute intermission and a 2 minute “pause”. It has a sprawling cast of people from seniors to a real baby about which I jokingly wondered how many babies do they have backstage to make sure they have one that isn’t crying during the show? It pretty much had all your emotions covered bringing you through experiences of great joy and others of sadness. It was also super intense at times particularly the ending, which I did not really see coming. I left that play thinking I have no idea how those actors do that 8 times per week. It’s closed on Broadway now, but if you ever get a chance to see a production I highly recommend it.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I adored Come From Away when I saw it on Broadway and saw it again in 2019 as part of our 2018/2019 season tickets at the Hippodrome. It was just as effecting as when I saw it the first time. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite musicals ever. It’s still running on Broadway and if you’re ever in New York looking for a show to see I can’t recommend it highly enough. Don’t let the fact that it’s about 9/11 make you think you’ll leave horribly depressed because you won’t. Of course there are sad and difficult parts, but it will also leave you filled with a hope for humanity that seems in very short supply these days. The current cast did a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR this year on the anniversary of 9/11, which will give you a great taste of the show.

Podcast

I still love Make Me Smart, which I’ve mentioned in this category the past two years, but this year I’m branching out and talking about two limited series podcasts. At a total of 19 episodes between the two of them you can listen to them both in less than a day’s time. I seriously did listen to Bhi Bhiman’s Peace of Mind in a single day save for the final episode, which hadn’t dropped yet when I discovered the podcast. It’s billed as the first album released as a podcast. Bhi Bhiman wrote a bunch of songs related to social and political issues and then recorded podcast episodes exploring further the topics he wrote about in his songs. It’s really fascinating and is something I for sure have never seen done before.

The other podcast I have to recommend to you is Dolly Parton’s America, which I feel like everyone has been listening to. I’ve seen so much written about it, posted on social media, talked about on other podcasts, etc. I even overheard the people at the table next to me at brunch the other week talking about it. Jad Abumrad uses interviews he had with Dolly over the course of several years as a spring board to talk not only about her and her career but how they relate to the larger country and the issues we face as a whole. It’s really great.

Podcast Episode

Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed and very much recommend all the episodes of the podcasts I just talked about, but I thought I would branch out a little for my favorite episode and talk about the two episodes (part 1, part 2) of the Out of the Blocks podcast titled “Out of the Docks”. I’m not going to lie. There’s a good chance I picked these episodes just because I love the punny episode title so much. In these episodes rather than visiting a single city block in Baltimore like they normally do they talk to people who live and work on boats in some of Baltimore’s harbors. It was a fascinating look at the difficulties of living on a boat and the reasons why people choose to do it.

The Long Shot

We finally went to see the movie The Long Shot last night. I had wanted to see it ever since the first time I saw a trailer for it. I love romantic comedies. Thankfully Netflix has started to fill in for the big lack of them in theaters, but I still wish there were more of them. The movie opened the weekend we were traveling to Hilton Head, so yesterday was really the first chance we had to see it. Plus happily we snuck it in  just under the wire to take advantage of the $4 tickets we got through T-Mobile Tuesday deals, even though I would happily have paid full price.

My only apprehension going into this movie was the Seth Rogan of it all. A little Seth Rogan goes a long way for me. There’s actually a line in the movie where his characters says that he thinks he is the exact right amount, and that was pretty spot on. He’s definitely got the schlubby, kind of annoying thing going on but in a way where you could see how someone would find him charming and fall in love with him. Being a Seth Rogan movie there is some gross out and drug humor, but I didn’t find it over the top. Even the embarrassment humor was mostly just funny. I can’t stand watching people in tv and movies embarrass themselves, and I didn’t have to cover my eyes even once though I was prepared to a couple of times.

If you’re not familiar with the movie Charlize Theron stars as the Secretary of State who is preparing to run for president. Seth Rogan was a kid she grew up next door to and once babysat for who has become a journalist. They run into each other at a party and she winds up hiring him to help with her speech writing. They of course start to fall in love, but he’s not the kind of guy who is going to present the image America wants when voting for a president. Will they be able to find a way to be together in the end? I’ll let you guess.

I laughed a ton during this movie and I thought their relationship was sweet with some real hurdles that didn’t feel like forced obstacles that terrible romantic comedies can throw out there to try and create reasons to keep the leads apart. I also really dug June Diane Raphael in the sassy, sarcastic sidekick role that is a hallmark of romantic comedies. The movie has a fantastic soundtrack too, and we all know what a sucker I am for music.

It’s been a long time since I’ve like a romantic comedy this much. If you like romantic comedies I highly suggest running, not walking (because this movie won’t realistically be in theaters much longer) to go see it. If nothing else definitely check it out once it’s available to rent.

Recent Watchlist

Since I had a snow day and some time to write I figured I would write up a post on some of the things I’ve been watching lately.

TV Shows

Sex Education

Sex Education is a British series that is available on Netflix starring Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist whose teenage son, Otis, has been somewhat scarred by her profession and his parents’ divorce. He winds up befriending bad girl Maeve who convinces him to set up his own sex therapy business at school to help their classmates with their relationship problems. I really liked this show. I liked the relationships between all the characters and the romantic comedy aspects of it as well. I’m happy it’s going to be getting another season.

The Kominsky Method

The Kominsky Method stars Michael Douglas as a sort of washed up actor who destroyed all his relationships, but is trying to repair the relationship with his daughter and trying to keep himself relevant by teaching acting classes. Alan Arkin stars as his best friend and agent who is dealing with his own issues as his beloved wife just passed away and his drug addict daughter played by Lisa Edelstein has shown back up to wreck havoc in his life. Like Grace & Frankie this show seems aimed at Netflix’s older viewers, but I also found it really smart and funny. I’m happy this show will be getting another season as well.

The Bodyguard

The Bodyguard is a six episode British series about a former British army man who is dealing with PTSD while now carrying out duties as a bodyguard for the government. After helping diffuse a terrorist on a train he winds up getting assigned to protect the Home Secretary who seems determined to push her own power in the government. He winds up caught in a tangled conspiracy against her that seems determined to take him down with it. This was a very compelling show for me. I thought it was very well written and had lots of drama and went in directions I was not expecting. Plus it’s nice to have a nice, tidy 6 hour show to watch and be done with.

You

I read about this show when it was premiering on Lifetime, but never bothered to watch it at that point. Then I started hearing about it again when the first season started streaming on Netflix and everyone seemed to think it was a Netflix show. It stars Penn Badgely as a stalker who sets out to do everything he can to get a woman he meets in the book store he works at to be his girlfriend. It took me a little bit but I definitely got sucked into this show. They do a good job of making Joe both a psychopath but also a seemingly awesome guy. Leading into the final episode I did not really understand where they were going to with a second season, but by the end of the episode it was obvious and I’m interested to see where it goes.

Sorry For Your Loss

Did you know Facebook has started making their own tv shows because they have. Apparently it’s a requirement for every entity now. Sorry For Your Loss stars Elizabeth Olsen as a young widow dealing with her grief after the death of her husband. I’m only about halfway through right now, but I’m really enjoying it so far. The subject matter seems like it would be really heavy, but it doesn’t feel like it when watching it.

Movies

Bohemian Rhapsody

Every time I saw trailer for this film in the months leading up to its theatrical release I was really excited about seeing it. Then when it finally came out the reviews were so mediocre that I didn’t bother going to see it. Now that it’s available on streaming we rented it the other night. The reviews did not lie. It was not a good movie, and I do not understand how in the world it is nominated for best picture. I do get why Rami Malek is nominated for best actor though. He fully embodies the character of Freddy Mercury and the Academy likes nothing better than that. I full anticipate that he will win. The musical performances in the movie were pretty good, but the story itself was super Hollywoodized and paint by numbers. Here find out why Freddy holds his microphone like that. Here have a record exec complain about Bohemian Rhapsody and then rue the day he let Queen walk away. The movie ends with a pretty full recreation of Queen’s set at Live Aid. I feel like that set is decidedly the most famous set from Live Aid. I remember seeing the We Will Rock You/We are the Champions piece of that on MTV a ton as a kid. I’m pretty sure it was my first introduction to Queen. At the end of it I mostly wished that I had just watched that set over again and in fact did.

Runnin’ Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

For years I’ve heard how amazing this 4 hour documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is. As anyone who has been reading this blog knows I adore Tom Petty, so I’ve always wanted to watch it. Four hours just seemed like such a time commitment though and I never felt like I had enough time to sit down and watch it. Nevermind that when I’m binge watching a tv show I’ll sit down and watch 6 or 7 hours worth of it on a weekend. Anyway, I promised myself that if I had a snow day this winter I would watch it because I would have no excuse of anything else to do. This year’s snow day came at the perfect time because I’m between binging tv shows, so I really did have nothing else on my watch list. Everyone who ever said how great this documentary is was not lying. It flew by and I totally didn’t feel like it was four hours long. It’s full of great music and interviews with Tom Petty and the band. It’s very much focused on the music and their careers though. In that way it’s a great companion piece to Warren Zanes’ fantastic biography of Tom Petty which delves much more into him as a person. I highly recommend both, especially if you are even the slightest fan of Tom Petty.

Disobedience

This movie stars Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as women raised in an orthodox Jewish community. After they had a clandestine relationship in their younger years Rachel Weisz’s character left to pursue life in the outside world. Now she has returned after the death of her father and their characters reconnect. I found it to be kind of a boring movie. I don’t recommend it.

Summer Movie Diary

My husband has been traveling a lot the last few weeks, so I’ve been watching more movies than I usually do to keep myself entertained while he’s been gone. We watch most TV shows together so I am on hold with most of the things I watch. I often have a show I’m binge watching that he doesn’t care about, but I don’t even have one of those right now since I grew bored with Pretty Little Liars and haven’t found anything else that piques my interest to watch at the moment. So while I’m waiting for him to get back to catch up on our TV I’ve been watching movies instead. Plus I’ve watched a few other movies while traveling. Here’s my thoughts.

Paddington 2

I remember when this movie came out I was super skeptical of all the rave reviews it was getting. I think at one point it had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I was like how can this movie possibly be that good. I’m completely willing to admit that my skepticism was misplaced because this movie is really endearing. I watched the first one in preparation for watching this one, and it was fine but Paddington 2 is really good. It’s funny and sweet and heartbreaking and heartwarming. It’s all the feelings. With so much terribleness in the world, this movie is a great little escape.

Marshall

We wound up watching this movie in a hotel room when we were in upstate New York and there was nothing else on. It’s not something I would have watched otherwise. It covers the work of Thurgood Marshall on one case during his early career as a lawyer. It was entertaining, but it’s not anything earth shattering or something I would say you need to rush out to see, but if you happen upon it it’s not a bad use of 2 hours.

The Kissing Booth

Netflix is bringing back the romantic comedy and I am here for it. I loved this little movie. It’s very reminiscent of 90s teen rom-coms, which I loved and sorely miss. Elle and Lee have been best friends since the day they were born. Now that they’re in high school Elle has developed a crush on Lee’s bad boy older brother Noah. Lee sensing something reminds Elle about one of the long ago rules they made about their friendship that included no dating each other’s relatives. But Elle continues to find herself falling for Noah despite Lee’s protests and her own better judgment. Can she keep Lee as a friend while dating Noah? If you like me love romantic comedies, run don’t walk to watch this on Netflix. I promise you won’t be sorry.

Like Father

Like Father is another Netflix film. It’s not a rom-com and I’m not exactly sure what genre I would place it in. It definitely felt more made for TV movie than The Kissing Booth did though. It stars Kristen Bell as a workaholic who is left at the alter. She discovers that the father, played by Kelsey Grammer, who left her as a small child has shown up to the wedding uninvited and winds up getting drunk with him and then dragging him on her honeymoon cruise where they mend their relationship and Kristen Bell’s character learns to not be like her father was. I could have done with 100% less Seth Rogen, but luckily he’s a fairly minor character. There were also some plot points I would have written differently that I think would have made more sense but no one asked me. It’s an okay movie. A fine watch for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Josie and the Pussycats

I vaguely remember this being a movie when it came out. I was definitely barely going to the movies back then when I was in grad school and working 2 jobs, but if I recall correctly it wasn’t around long enough for me to have a chance anyway. I remember it being fairly well maligned at the time, but it seems to have taken on sort of a cult classic status at this point. I know a number of people who really like it for whatever reason. I definitely missed whatever boat they are sailing on because from where I’m sitting this movie deserves probably almost all the scorn heaped on it. It was not good. I’m not much one for camp, so maybe that’s where people are coming from but I suspect if you’re not already on board with this movie there is no need for you to watch it at this point.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

I never planned on going to see this movie in the theater. I figured if I ever saw it at all it would be at some point after it was released on DVD or streaming. The local movie critic on the Saturday morning news gave it a good review, which made me more inclined to see it but I still didn’t plan on going out of my way to see it. Then one of the movie apps I’ve used to buy tickets through offered me a free ticket to see it. I definitely wanted to see it enough to take advantage of a free ticket, and I’m really glad I did. It was a great movie. It was funny and entertaining. I enjoyed the friendship between Mila Kunis’ and Kate McKinnon’s characters and the plot kept things moving. It was definitely a great summer flick. My only quibble was that I totally did not buy Mila Kunis and Justin Theroux as lovers. They had exactly zero chemistry. He seemed more like her father than her boyfriend, which their large age gap didn’t help. I didn’t buy that they were in love or even that they were ever in any sort of relationship in the scenes that he shows back up in. That’s a very small part of the movie though, so it didn’t detract too much. If you’re looking for a fun diversion at the movies I highly recommend this one.

Eighth Grade

The movie basically follows a girl in her final days of eighth grade. Eighth grade is a super awkward age to begin with and this girl is also very socially awkward so there’s just a lot of awkward. I’ve used that word about a dozen times already, so probably you get it. It made me really glad that I never have to be in eighth grade again and that I grew up before social media was a thing. I thought I would like this movie more than I did in reality. It’s probably because it’s meant to be super awkward which makes for a less enjoyable viewing experience. Also I think I over identified with the character to some degree. I definitely have never been as socially inept as she is, but I too am super shy and quiet and was probably reliving some of my own painful experiences through her. So you know, if you want to relive some of the less pleasant parts of being a teenager this movie is for you.

The Greatest Showman

Given my love of musical theatre I have no idea what made me think I wouldn’t care for this movie when it came out. I’ve had a billion people since then tell me I would love it, but I just never got around to watching it until now. And I should listen to people because I did love it. The story itself about P.T. Barnum is kind of meh, but the musical numbers are fantastic and really make the movie. It really made me jones to get to some live musical theatre. Luckily it won’t be too much longer until our season tickets to the touring Broadway shows start because I am not inspired to go see anything that’s new on Broadway right now. It’s a whole bunch of jukebox musicals and musicals based on movies, none of which I care to see. If they ever turn this movie into a Broadway show, which I feel is inevitable, I would totally go see it.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2017

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2017, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2017. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, probably more than I have in a good long while and I enjoyed a great many of them. There were some really great comic book hero movies (Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnorak) that seemed to bring something different to the table and kept me entertained without being so smashy smashy, which bores me to tears. I also saw a lot of great smaller movies as well including I am Not Your Negro, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name. I very much want to give this category to The Big Sick, which I actually saw twice in the theater, which is something I haven’t done in at least a decade, probably two. I miss rom-coms and this movie was so sweet and funny. I hope it’s a harbinger of more movies like it. If it weren’t for a little documentary called STEP, The Big Sick would have taken this one.

STEP made me feel all the feelings. At a time when Baltimore feels like it is literally falling apart this movie, which follows a group of girls on a Step team at a Baltimore high school, showed what is good and bad about this city. There was so much joy and so much pain. Kids struggling to overcome hardships that no kids should have to deal with in order to help create better lives for themselves. It’s heartbreaking, delightful, and triumphant all at the same time. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

Movie I Watched at Home

Every year I threaten to get rid of this category because we so rarely watch movies at home. The only movies I can really remember watching are Mudbound, which I didn’t like and Get Out, so Get Out wins. I heard so many people raving about this movie before I saw it that there was no way it was going to be able to live up to my expectations. I did think the premise of it was very clever, but I’m not much of a horror person. I tend to find horror movies silly and boring, and those parts of it felt, well, silly and boring.

Fiction Book

My favorite fiction book of the year was hands down Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied Sing. As usual Ward creates a detailed world in rural Mississippi that draws you in and makes you feel like you are there. The book deals with important themes like race, death, and family but it always feels real (even when delving into the spirit world). It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book that continues to bolster Ward as one of the great authors of our time.

Non-Fiction Book

Like with my fiction book, there was no contest this year that my non-fiction book choice would be The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This is the first and only item on the list this year that was not actually released during 2017. However, there could not have been a more perfect book for this  year. I picked it up because it was the first book club selection for the Make Me Smart podcast (see below). Haidt uses moral psychology to discuss people’s views on politics and religion. If anything it made me feel even more hopeless about the current state of our country, but at least it did help shift my perspective to help see where others may be coming from even if I vehemently disagree with them. I guess that’s something. Aside from that I just found it a really fascinating book. As someone with multiple degrees in psychology this book fell perfectly in my sweet spot.

TV Show

Everyone is calling right now the golden age of television where there is so much excellent tv to watch you can’t even keep up. To some degree that’s true if you are into all the prestige television shows. I do enjoy a good number of them, but in some cases I’m getting tired of them. I don’t need all the television I watch to be capital I important. Sometimes I just want to have something that makes me want to invest in characters lives. I want a good family drama or a good teen or even adult drama with some love triangles or a decent will they or won’t they thing. They don’t seem to make those any more. I have tried and tried to like This is Us, but I just don’t even though I’m still watching it because it’s the only thing remotely resembling a family drama on television now. The CW, which used to be the go to for that kind of show has turned into all comic book hero shows all of which I have given up on (Supergirl excepted) as their plots have become convoluted and the character arcs that were driving the stories in their early years have fallen by the wayside. I feel like I’ve even watched my way through every television show that I missed the first time around so there aren’t even any older shows for me to go back to and fill the void at this point.

All that being said the way I choose my favorite show of the year is by thinking of the one I can’t wait to watch when an episode shows up on my DVR or if I’m binging it on a streaming service that all I want to do is stay at home and watch the show. This year the show that came closest to fitting that description was The Bold Type. I will refer you to the full review I wrote about it earlier this year. Happily it did get picked up for another season, though with a new show runner so hopefully it doesn’t change too much. I also want to give an honorable mention to the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which was a sweet, smart, and funny sit-com that brightened my days considerably in the immediate fall out of garbage president taking office. I’m very much looking forward to its second season dropping in January.

TV Episode

Until I looked back at my picks for 2016 in preparation for writing this post I had forgotten that my favorite tv episode from last year was from Halt and Catch Fire, which is appropriate I guess because that show also features my favorite television episode from 2017. As I said last year I am so happy that I gave this show another try or I would have missed out on how wonderful it got. Thank you to every television critic who told me to give it a second chance. My favorite episode this year was Season 4, Episode 8 – “Goodwill”, which I don’t want to say too much about because it does give away a major plot point. It just treats its characters so lovingly and true to who they are. It also uses the Dire Straits’ song “So Far Away” so perfectly that I have a whole new perspective on it. I adore what this show became and I definitely always chose it first to watch when it showed up on my DVR. It’s the loss of another character driven show that I will miss immensely.

Album

No one who has been here long should be at all surprised that my favorite album of the year was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this album when he first announced it. Southeastern and Something More than Free, which were my favorite albums of 2013 and 2015 were both him solo and had a much more folky sound for the most part. When he brought back his band for the whole album this time I was afraid I might not like the rock sound nearly as much. I needn’t have worried one little bit. He’s still an amazing songwriter whose lyrics drill right down into my soul. With songs like “Hope the High Road”, “White Man’s World”, “The Last of My Kind”, “Cumberland Gap”, and “Anxiety” this album was perfectly written for 2017.

Song

There should also be no surprise that my favorite song of 2017 came from my favorite album of 2017. “If We Were Vampires” is the song that everyone talked about off of this album, and rightly so. It is by far the lyrically and creatively superior song from the album, but “Hope the High Road” was my mantra for 2017. If you only knew how many times I sang the lyrics of this song to myself every time something new and terrible happened over the past year. So basically hourly.

“We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more”

Concert

For Christmas last year my husband gifted me with a trip to Nashville to see Dawes play at the Ryman Auditorium. Because I am who I am I have a concert venue bucket list and the Ryman was second on it right behind Red Rocks. I also got to check The Grand Ole Opry off my list on that trip, but seeing Dawes, a band I adore, play in that amazing venue was the highlight of my concert year. For as many concerts as I see every year I just figured out this year that when a concert is listed as “An Evening with …” it means that there is no opening act. This was An Evening with Dawes at the Ryman Auditorium and they played for a good three hours. It was wonderful and everything I hoped it would be.

I also have to say a word about the final Tom Petty concert I will ever see. Tom Petty has meant so much to me over the course of my life. He’s really the first artist whose passing has really felt like the gut punch to me that see other people have for celebrity deaths. I am so happy I got to see him perform one final time in a sing-a-long love fest that seemed like the perfect ending to a 40 year career.

Broadway Theatre Production

I saw a good number of wonderful things on Broadway this year, but my favorite was definitely Come From Away, which is the best thing I’ve seen since Hamilton. Based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland that took in 6000 displaced airline passengers after 9/11, it mad me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile with pure joy.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to put in this category this year. The Center Stage season was short due to renovations on the theatre, and I wasn’t overly excited about a lot of the things I saw during the parts of the Hippodrome seasons that fell in 2017. It was nothing new and certainly not the best production of Rent I have ever seen by far, especially given that I saw most of the original Broadway cast perform in London, but I’m going with the 20th anniversary tour of Rent because it is still one of my all time favorite shows. Every word is still burned into my brain, and it was fun to revisit it after a good long time away.

Podcast

I have an overabundance of podcasts that I listen to, so I always have a backlog of episodes. Like with television shows I choose my selection for my favorite podcast by thinking about what podcasts I listen to as soon as they drop and which ones I let episodes build up on until I have nothing else to listen to. This year a number of my previous favorite podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, Invisibilia, and Out of the Blocks have made changes in their formats that I am not a fan of and has made me like them less and/or not even listen to everything they drop. However, a new podcast for 2017 topped my list. Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood of Marketplace was by far the podcast I looked forward to listening to the most this year. He’s an economy reporter and she’s a tech reporter so they talk a lot about those topics, but that’s not all they cover. The tagline for the show is “none of us is as smart as all of us”, so they always have guests that they interview about various topics as well as always include feedback from listeners in the form of voice memos that are sent in. When the podcast started out they talked about politics a lot, especially in a segment that often started the show called the news fix. As the podcast went on they got away from doing the news fix, which I do miss sometimes. I don’t know if they’ll bring it back at all in the future now that they’re done with the long series they did on moral capitalism, but that was really great too. They also do book club episodes where listeners vote on a book to read and then they devote an episode to discussing it. My favorite non-fiction book for the year came out of that. It’s also fun to listen to people answer what they call the “Make Me Smart question”, which is what is something you once thought you knew, but then found out you were wrong about? They have a really great rapport and they always make me laugh even while I’m learning a lot. I’m super sad that they’re abandoning me until mid-March when season 2 of the podcast starts up.

Podcast Episode

My favorite episode from a podcast I listened to this year is actually a three part series from NPR’s Code Switch and Education Week called Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep. Education Week reporters followed students, parents, teachers, counselors, and other staff at Ron Brown College Prepatory school, a newly opened high school specifically aimed at black boys in Washington, D.C. and staffed almost exclusively by African-American men. It’s a wonderful series full of so much to think on in terms of education, race, and inequality and how even people with the best of intentions can disagree about how to address the systemic issues facing these many of the kids attending this school.

The Big Sick

I love romantic comedies and dearly miss them. There have been very few rom-coms even made in the past decade or so and the few that have been made have pretty much all been garbage. Hollywood is apparently not interested in rom-coms anymore. They are not bankable overseas I would imagine, and that is apparently the only thing that matters anymore. I enjoy a good superhero film as much as anyone, but I’m really not interested in watching nothing but people blowing stuff up. Same thing for television where everything is now a prestige drama. Sometimes you just want to watch one of those blue sky USA shows that they no longer make but I loved. Sometimes I just want to watch something amusing and sweet that makes me leave the theater with a big smile on my face. Happily there is finally a movie out there that made me do just that.

This past Friday I finally got to see The Big Sick, which I had anxiously been awaiting since I first heard about it months ago coming out of some of the film festivals. The movie is loosely based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon. They wrote the movie and Kumail stars in it as himself along with Zoe Kazan playing Emily. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily’s parents.

The general story is that a few months into their relationship Emily winds up in a coma and Kumail develops a relationship with her parents and realizes how much Emily means to  him, which means he’s going to finally have to defy his Pakistani parents’ wishes for him to marry a Pakistani girl.

It’s a wonderful, hilarious, and heartfelt romantic comedy that probably is a little bit more com than rom, which makes sense since the female protagonist half of the relationship spends about a third of the movie in a coma. I laughed a ton and rooted for the couple to get together. All the things I’m supposed to do in a romantic comedy. I can only hope that this movie is a harbinger of more movies like it to come.

The Big Sick has been slowly rolling out into theaters across the country like they tend to do for smaller independent movies. If it hasn’t already, hopefully it will soon show up in a theater near you. Once it does run, don’t walk, to go see it. You won’t be sorry I promise you. Plus the better this movie does in theaters the more likely more movies like it will follow.

Beauty and the Beast

I’m not sure I’m totally on board Disney’s plan to remake seemingly all of their animated features as live action movies, but I admit I was extremely excited about the prospect of Beauty and the Beast. It’s my favorite Disney movie, and I got chills starting from the first teaser trailer that completely emulated the one for the animated film.

As the opening day for the movie neared though I grew a little apprehensive about it especially as the reviews for it seemed to be middling. I thought what if it is just an inferior shot for shot remake and I should have just stayed home and rewatched the animated version instead. And when I thought I might be left to see it on my own I started to reconsider if I should, but then I found out a group of my friends was going so I decided I should put aside my worries and go see it.

I’m glad I did because I loved the movie. It doesn’t supplant the animated movie, but this is an excellent companion piece. The casting is brilliant. Everyone is perfect for their parts. The shot for shot moments of the film, which is a good chunk of it, only added to its greatness for me instead of making it seem like a sad copycat film. The movie is much longer than the original, so there are a number of things that are not in the original film. They fill out the back stories of Belle and her father more as well as add a little bit more to the Beast’s story.

They also filled out the movie with four new original songs. No one is going to be clamoring to hear any of the new songs again. I felt the same way about the songs they wrote for the Broadway show. I’m kind of curious why they didn’t just use those, but either way none of those songs add anything to either production. The original music from the animated movie is some of the best Disney music there is, so hearing all of that again made me really happy. I really did not anticipate having the physical reaction to the opening strains of the song “Beauty and the Beast” when they start coming down the stairs to the ballroom dance scene, but my heart swelled.

Most importantly they fixed the major problem with the original movie in which Belle treats the local bookstore like a library. They clearly say it’s a book store and yet she seems to borrow and return the books that she reads from there. Given no one else the town seems to care about reading I’m not sure how that store is still open. In the live action movie they make it a library, which makes so much more sense. I’m glad to see someone at Disney was as bothered about this as I was.

Seeing this movie with an audience was great too. Everyone seemed to love it. I was amused that the people in my audience clapped for the Le Fou gay scene that has caused so much brouhaha over nothing. Seriously it’s like 1/2 a second long. If you blinked at the wrong time you would miss it. I’ve also never been in a movie theater where people applauded at the credits as if they were at the live theatre. I’ve obviously seen movies where people clap at the end in general. People did that here, but then the credit sequence was one of those where each individual character is shown on the screen with the character and actor name. People the theater applauded each actor cheering louder for the ones they really liked and booing Gaston. It was a perfect way to end a wonderful reimagining of a beloved Disney movie.

Thanksgiving 2016

For the past several years we’ve done Thanksgiving in New York with my husband’s family and Christmas in Arizona with my family. This my sister is going to her in-law’s in Boston for Christmas, so we decided to switch things up and go out there for Thanksgiving. The only way to make the trip affordable was to take vacation time on Monday and Tuesday and fly out the Saturday before and then come back the day after Thanksgiving.

My nieces are 8 (as of December 13) and 4 1/2, which are really fun ages. I spent a lot of time playing with them and thank god didn’t have to play Barbies one single time. The only time they were playing Barbies while I was there my youngest niece told me to go away and I gladly did.

On Tuesday while my husband and sister were working and my nieces were at school, I went on a hike in Catalina State Park with my parents. We did the Romero Pools trail, which was definitely one of the more difficult trails I’ve hiked between the rise in elevation and how rocky it was. We were kind of lame and turned back probably about .2 of  mile before we got to the pools. Once we reached the top of the ridge and realized we were going to start going down the other side of the mountain and thus were going to have to hike back up it again we decided to turn around. We had already hiked 5 miles, so I didn’t feel too bad about it. My husband, father, and I also did a quick 3 mile hike nearby where they live on Thanksgiving morning. It was a piece of cake compared to the other one we did.

Wednesday we took the kids to see Moana (or rather I really wanted to see Moana and suggested that we go). I enjoyed it and could definitely tell that Lin Manuel Miranda wrote the music for it, which was really the best part of the movie in my opinion.

We had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for which I was roped into making a pumpkin carrot cake. Since I’m more likely to make a cake than a pie, I decided to make straight up pumpkin pie my dessert and only tried a bite of the cake. It pretty much tasted like carrot cake for the most part, which is not a bad thing since it’s one of my favorite desserts. I’m not sure I’d bother with the pumpkin version of it again. There was lots of other delicious food and fun times with my family and friends.

It was a fun trip and it went by way too fast.

Ghostbusters

I haven’t been writing around here these days because the weight of the world has just been too much. The relentless beating the world is handing us in 2016 has left me without much to feel extremely happy about, and the little things that are giving me some joy seem too trivial to be writing and posting about in the midst of all the chaos and sadness.

The new Ghostbusters is something I finally feel like writing about. So I decided to write (a mostly non-spoilery) review of it. I have a memory of seeing the original Ghostbusters movie in the theater and my sister freaking out at the beginning at that ghost in the library, but then I also see based on the date that I would have been six and my sister would have been five so I highly doubt my parents actually would have taken us to see that movie. I may be having some false memories about this one. At any rate whether it was in the theater on VHS a few years later when I first saw it, I have seen and loved the original Ghostbusters movie many times. I own it on DVD and when it was re-released in theaters the other year for the 30th anniversary we went and saw it. For our birthday the year Ghostbusters II came out my sister and I each invited a couple friends for lunch at Pizza Hut and to see the movie as our “birthday party”. So what I’m saying is I have a long relationship with this movie franchise.

I’m generally tired of the constant rebooting and remaking of every movie ever made, but for some reason the thought of this one never bothered me probably because of it being with women Ghostbusters. It’s not even that I’m so rah, rah women, it was more that it at least makes the movie something different in some way and gives it somewhat of a reason to exist. Although don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate having good female led movies too. As they announced the cast for this movie it definitely made me even more excited and hopeful that it could be something good.

The new Ghostbusters came out this weekend and I went to see it with a bunch of my lady friends last night so that we could go out and support seeing a female led comedy on it’s opening night. The movie did not disappoint at all. I haven’t actually read a full review of the movie, but based on headlines and commentary on Twitter I’ve seen about reviews it seems like they’re generally positive, but basically call it nothing special but a fun summer romp. I guess that’s accurate, but also in my mind Ghostbusters is meant to be a fun summer romp. It’s not high art and was never meant to be. I don’t think anyone could claim that about the first movie either even though it’s deemed as a beloved classic now.

I will say that the plot in this one is weak and it’s a good thing it’s not what the movie is hanging it’s hat on. The plot of the original Ghostbusters isn’t crazy deep, but it definitely hangs together a little bit better than this one and there seems to be a bit more there, there than this one. No matter because the new Ghostbuster is a joke machine. I laughed delightedly throughout the whole thing. It was so joke dense that I expect that should I see it again I will pick up on even more stuff. I feel like it’s even more of a comedy than the first Ghostbusters, which seems darker than this one. There’s not really any scary in this movie like there was in the original. I’m okay with that though. It makes this movie more of it’s own thing rather than an attempted beat by beat remake of the original but with women. I think there were a few too many winks and nods to the original. I appreciated that there were some, but after awhile it felt a little bit like lazy joke writing. Oh hey look it’s just like such and such and so and so from the first one. Kate McKinnon as everyone has said is a revelation in this movie. She is just pure joy to watch and really gives the stand out performance in this movie. She alone is worth the price of admission.

It really was a delightful movie and if you’re looking for something fun to divert you from all the horrors of the world as of late I would highly recommend it. I already told my husband if he wants to see it I would happily go again.