Year In ReviewThe year. In review.  

The Good Place

I’m a sucker for any show about a bunch of flawed misfits working together for some common goal—Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Community, Veep, you name it. And no show in 2018 stuck together a more lovable, broken, inspiring group than NBC’s The Good Place, a half-hour comedy/sci-fi/philosophy lesson that’s only getting better in its third season. The show’s plot twists and ridiculous-yet-grounded jokes are reason enough to try it out, but longterm, I keep watching because I love every single member of the cast. Manny Jacinto’s dumb teddy-bear voice makes me laugh every time his character opens his mouth. Jameela Jamil nails rich passive-aggressiveness beautifully without ever making it grating. William Jackson Harper is perfect as a genius neurotic straight man to all the insanity around him. D’Arcy Carden is a comedy virtuoso whose talents blow my mind every week. Ted Danson’s singular charisma has been harnessed brilliantly to create a deceptively charming (and later just plain charming) demon. And the wonderful Kristen Bell ties it all together as the protagonist dirtbag with a heart of gold.

The actors on The Good Place have hit such a sweet spot that, at this point, I’ll laugh at pretty basic exchanges between characters that don’t even have clear-cut jokes written into them. The entire fantastical universe of the show is engrossing, no doubt, but even more inviting is the apparently unbreakable relationships between these struggling messes who are trying to get better in the same way most of us are, just in much more extraordinary circumstances. Every single time the world of the show has been blown up and rebooted, these deeply screwed up but very earnest characters inevitably find each other again, and that bond between them makes the whole group evidently unstoppable. I can’t think of anything I’d rather see on TV than that kind of togetherness. - Lauren Theisen


The Great British Baking Show

There is too much prestige TV. I still haven’t finished The Americans, I keep meaning to watch episode 4 of Succession, I think there’s a show or two I’ve totally forgotten about partway through. And those are the ones I actually like! It’s not that I want TV to be worse, I just want some of it to scream “WE’RE JUST AS SERIOUS AS BOOKS!” slightly more quietly so I have something to watch when I am too zoned out to read a novel.

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The Great British Baking Show is the best thing on television (“television”) because it’s not trying to impress me. I’m too prone toward hating humanity to enjoy Real Housewives or 90 Day Fiancé, but I still need an escape sometimes. With its puff pastry and rough puff pastry and stodgy cakes and soggy bottoms and more regional European specialties than I could have imagined, GBBO is compelling enough to distract me but meaningless enough for me to remain only moderately invested. The stakes are so low there isn’t even a prize.

The last several weeks of 2018 dumped more shit on me than I sometimes thought I could bear. No TV show, no matter where on the spectrum from stupid to snobbish, can do anything to fix that, but an hour of looking at pretty pastries and laughing at collapsing cakes (sorry Ruby) sure doesn’t hurt. In essence, The Great British Baking Show gives me the luxury of caring about some stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter very much at all. I can’t think of a better endorsement of anything, really. - Megan Greenwell

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This 43-Minute Hollow Knight Lore Video

Okay so, Hollow Knight is a perfect video game. It came out for the PC last year, but it wasn’t until 2018 when it was ported to the Nintendo Switch that it was acknowledged by the gaming public as a pure masterpiece. You play as this little mute guy in a white helmet, exploring a shockingly large kingdom and fighting bugs. It’s like Super Metroid plus Dark Souls. The combat is ludicrously layered for a 2-D side-scroller (it makes Breath Of The Wild’s sword shit look like garbage from the dump, sorry!) and the system of equippable charms and pins allows you to customize the game to your preferred playstyle.

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The defining traits of Hollow Knight are its difficulty and opacity. There are five or so bosses that took me probably a combined 20 hours to beat, as I tweaked my charm loadouts and worked my way up to the pixel-perfect timing required to send that fucking Traitor Lord mantis guy to hell. Dying costs you all your money, and you have to take extreme caution when moving across the map. The first few hours are utterly punishing, as you wander around lost trying to find the boss, who will inevitably kick your ass a few times. It rules so hard once things click, partially because the map is gigantic; there’s an entire area with a boss and several vital upgrades that you’d never find unless you happened to strike the right well-concealed breakable wall. Hollow Knight is fine making players work for everything and still miss a ton of stuff.

The overwhelming map and unsparing boss battles are foreground for a complex story that is only ever obliquely hinted at in the text of the game. The 43-minute explainer video atop this blurb fleshes out what turns out to be a fascinating narrative. The titular knight is the latest in a series of void-filled vessels, tasked with breaking the stranglehold of a light-based moth creature called the Radiance over the once-thriving kingdom of Hallownest. The knight is the actor here, but they’re a cog in a much grander Manichean struggle between light and dark. The game is clearly not story-driven, and you could have a perfectly good time just slashing bugs without ever worrying to know that, say, that Deepnest is where the Beast lives and and as part of the Pale King’s alliance with the Beast, he had to give her a child, Hornet, who sort of tracks the knight’s journey through the kingdom. Knowing the lore enhanced my experience, which is pretty good for a 2-D game about bug sword fights. - Patrick Redford

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Annihilation

To me, it’s all about the fucking bear. When people talk about Annihilation, it’s almost always about the ending, with Natalie Portman and her alien doppelganger dance-fighting for their lives. But it’s the fucking bear that ruined my sleep for weeks on end. The bear traps Portman and her squad in a rundown house in the middle of a horrifying Everglades facsimile, screaming in half a roar and half the dying screams of their fallen teammate; In Garland’s creation, “you keep what you kill” takes on too literal of a meaning, with the bear adopting the dying screams of its victims.

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The bear is the perfect avatar for the dread that simmers under the surface of the entire movie: before you have time to understand what is happening, the world is already conspiring to kill you. Annihilation felt like the movie that best illustrated the constant pit in my stomach for all of 2018, because it’s the movie that best understood the value of pushing both its characters and the viewers beyond their comfort zones. - Luis Paez-Pumar


The Tag Interview Audition Tape

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When you’re watching this video, are you just laughing through the whole thing? Is it hard not to laugh the whole time it’s playing? You must be laughing, just, like, through the whole thing.

And you’ve got Jeremy Levick, from Clickhole, and he’s funny, and are you just laughing the whole time??? - Tom Ley

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Big Mouth

My sister introduced me to Big Mouth, an animated show created by Nick Kroll Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin. It’s about teens going through puberty and it’s cringey as hell. If it was a show with live actors, I have no doubt that I would be too mortified to watch, but because it’s cartoons who are jerking off and getting periods and being little bitches, it’s hilarious. Also, Maya Rudolph voices the character of “hormone monster” and the way she says “bubble bath,” as has been noted, is a sneaky highlight of the whole show. - Laura Wagner

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Aggretsuko

It almost scared me how much I related to Aggretsuko, a Sanrio cartoon on Netflix about a 20-something red panda who’s single, constantly piled upon at her office job, and has a pig-headed boss (who is also, actually, a pig). She gets out her rage via death metal karaoke and, when she’s so angry she can’t control it, she goes into the bathroom for an emergency death-metal session. I’m not saying I’ve screamed death-metal karaoke in a bathroom stall at work, but I have screamed in a bathroom stall at work, as well as cried in a bathroom stall at work, as well as done both at the same time in said bathroom stall. Or, as one older woman told me when I confessed to sometimes crying in the work bathroom stall, who hasn’t cried in the work bathroom stall?

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Aggretsuko somehow managed to hit all the beats of my life. She dates a guy she’s not that into but she likes the idea of being into him. She worships the older women ahead of her, only to learn they struggle too. She hides her death metal love from people out of fear she’ll be rejected for it (Okay, I don’t actually love death metal—but my husband does). She confronts the pig-headed boss and it doesn’t go as planned. She does a lot of yoga. Near the end, she isn’t suddenly skinny or suddenly in love or suddenly in her dream job. But she has friends, mentors, and is finding ways to manage, which is all any of us can do. - Diana Moskovitz


Mary Houlihan’s SNL Audition Tape

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This bit by Mary Houlihan was funnier than anything on Saturday Night Live this year. - Samer Kalaf


Child Prodigy Mason Ramsey Singing “Lovesick Blues” in Walmart

America in 2018 is a corporatist hellscape. Thousands go bankrupt every year paying for necessary medical treatment. Cities line up to lick the boots of billionaires for the privilege of feeding off their table scraps. Behemoth chain stores and restaurants roll across the nation like a plague of locusts, devouring local businesses in their path and gouging communities of their soul.

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But in March of this year, in one of these late-capitalist holdfasts—a Wal-Mart in Harrisburg, Illinois—a young boy sang a song. And thus beauty sprung forth from the barren earth like a stubborn wildflower in a parking lot.

My coastal elite ass was overcome with regret for having written off America as a land of desperate yokels yearning to be taken advantage of by snake-oil salesmen. How can I gaze across New York harbor at Lady Liberty and take for granted this blessed land of opportunity, when the tradition of American music still has the power to move me so? How could I forget that you, America, were the country that birthed baseball, blue jeans, and barbecue? The country that gave us jazz, the blues, the Harlem renaissance? How could I forget the beauty of your wide open, sweeping plains, the drama of your coastlines, your purple mountain majesties?

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Mason made me pine for that shining city on the hill, though we always have been and still are far from it. I learned how to play and sing this song, and it is a massive hit at parties. I found myself Googling prices on cowboy boots. I wore a fucking bolo tie to the Deadspin Awards. Mason himself seems like a kid with his head screwed on right. He released a single—not too bad for an 11-year-old! He maintains a very endearing social media presence. He hung out with Lil Yachty. He’s gonna be all right.

Our country is a dumpster fire. That the American heartland is at all capable of producing something as pure and heartwarming as Mason Ramsey gives me immense hope. - Anders Kapur