December 11, 2018

The 2018 Review: My Top 10 TV Picks


The Peak TV bubble has yet to burst.

And with over 500 scripted shows that were in production in 2018, it has become an increasingly difficult task for TV critics and pop culture pundits alike to keep up with the amount of content that is made available nowadays. How does one just pick ten of the best shows by the end of the year? Is it possible? Can it be done?

I'll damn well try. Here are mine:


1. HANNAH GADSBY: NANETTE (Netflix) - Never has a stand-up act been able to transform into such a powerful wake-up call. But Gadsby's much-talked-about one-hour special is just that, a once-in-a-generation piece of work that (at the risk of sounding overly dramatic) should be mandatory viewing for all of humanity. It's a one-woman show that not only has the balls to challenge the conventions of comedy, it forces us to rethink our role as an audience in a much larger societal context. A lot of well-deserved praise has come her way since Nanette became available to stream this past summer; words like "brilliant" "raw," "devastating," and "daring" have been tossed around. But frankly, it is the most indelible, awe-inspiring experience on the small screen this year.


2. KILLING EVE (BBC America) - Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge gave us the year's most exciting game of cat-and-mouse while subverting the spy-assassin genre, thanks to the talents of its two leads. Emmy nominee Sandra Oh plays the titular MI5 operative tracking down the deadly Villanelle (Jodie Comer, a revelation) throughout Europe, and each episode is a thrill, infused with a surprisingly wicked sense of humor and, yes, some slight sapphic tendencies.

3. ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix) - The multi-cam sitcom got better and wiser in its second season due to its tackling of topics other family comedies rarely touch. The chemistry of its cast, bolstered by the hard-at-work Justina Machado, is also stronger than ever. In a TV landscape now cluttered with reboots, this is one that sticks with you -- a reimagined story that deserves to be told in 2018.

4. BARRY (HBO) - Part hitman comedy (a hit-com?) and part showbiz satire, the first season of Bill Hader's out-of-nowhere series introduced us to an assassin who accidentally stumbles into something far scarier than a mob operation: the L.A. acting scene.

5. ATLANTA (FX) - The second season of Donald Glover's "comedy" was a series of closely observed vignettes that defied categorization. Whether skewing the music industry, American race relations, or the culture at large, Atlanta settled well into its weirdly fascinating groove.


6. HOMECOMING (Amazon Prime) - Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail directs every dread-filled, 30-minute episode of this throwback to the paranoia thrillers of the 70s and provides Julia Roberts with one of the best roles of her career. She's Heidi, a social worker helping American soldiers transition back into their civilian lives, yet something sinister stirs underneath the surface of the facility where these sessions take place.

7. BLACK MIRROR: U.S.S. Callister (Netflix) - The Emmy-winning first installment of the anthology's fourth season is a chilling indictment of extreme fandom, giving star Jesse Plemons a platform to create one of the most memorable characters on television this year.

8. THE HANDMAID'S TALE (Hulu) - The dystopia drama continues to excel across the board, expanding upon its source material with more devastating visuals, more superb acting, and bleak plot developments that make me question how much further we can follow June's journey. Or I can just stop wondering and savor every moment of this gripping series.


9. YOUNGER (Paramount Network) - The fifth season of the highly bingeable rom-com beautifully soared to new heights, thanks to its undeniably charismatic ensemble. Also: someone give Miriam Shor (whose fierce Diana Trout was given a tasty romantic subplot) a damn Emmy nomination already!

10. AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (FX) - The brutal shooting of the renowned fashion designer is only the tip of a multi-layered iceberg that is carefully exposed across nine chapters of Ryan Murphy's anthology series. Bolstered by a jaw-dropping cast and a shocking performance from Glee alum Darren Criss, Versace ultimately succeeds in taking a closer look at America's complicated relationship with homophobia and sexual identity in the late 90s. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Queer Eye (Netflix)
Will & Grace (NBC)
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
Pose (FX)
Big Mouth (Netflix)

@TheFirstEcho

December 10, 2018

The 2018 Review: My Top 10 Music Picks


2018 is officially the year pop music started getting into Y2K nostalgia.

While British pop tart Anne-Marie reminisced about "2002," Charli XCX teamed up with Troye Sivan and traveled back to "1999" with a fun music video for the single that revisited some turn-of-the-21st-century pop culture. And let's not forget that *NSYNC reunion on Ellen, the Backstreet Boys dominating in Vegas before announcing a new album, and the recent premiere of Ariana Grande's video for "thank u, next," chock-full of homages to early-aughts hits like Mean Girls, Bring It On, Legally Blonde, and 13 Going On 30.

Why the sudden urge to revisit the past? Blame it on the usual 20-year cycle of pop culture's hindsight...or the fact that this year's news headlines made everyone pine for pre-Twitter times, when no one ever dared to describe legitimate news as "fake" and stir the country into a heated frenzy.

But pop music did more than just look back at "better days." In fact, some of the best looked forward...

Here are my top 10 picks of the year:


1. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae - "I am not America's nightmare, I am the American dream." So sings Monae in "Crazy, Classic, Life," the sparkling track that kicks off the stunning, retro-futuristic "emotion picture" that is Dirty Computer. The album unabashedly embraces its musical influences (Monae has listed Prince as her main muse) as well as its sex-positive sensibilities. Simply put, it is one of the best pop achievements in recent memory. Watch the entire 48-minute opus here.

2. "All The Stars" by Kendrick Lamar with SZA - This Grammy nominee for Song and Record of the Year (from the mega-blockbuster Black Panther) brings together a hip-hop master and a rising alt-R&B star for a hypnotic, enthralling, spacey jam.

3. "Surrender" by Walk the Moon - The group, known for their 2015 megahit "Shut Up and Dance," delivered a more mature-yet-soaring, neo-New Wave anthem (featured in the Love, Simon trailer) that deserves to be slotted on every playlist.


4. "Some Kind of Wonderful" by MOBS - The concept behind the Australian synth-pop group's EP, You Want Beauty?, is an act of why-hasn't-anyone-thought-of-it-before brilliance: a collection of earwormy, throwback tunes, each written from the perspective of a different character from an 80s movie. The result is glorious. While "Growing Up" name drops The Lost Boys, "Drive Away" channels Whitney's "How Will I Know," and "Say Anything" samples the Peter Gabriel track from the 1989 movie of the same name, "Some Kind of Wonderful" is the energetic standout that enhanced my summer.


5. Bloom by Troye Sivan - With his drowsy crooning and reflective lyrics, Sivan avoids the sophomore curse with this long-awaited encore, a mesmerizing, barrier-breaking compilation that gets better with each listen. In the dreamy "Seventeen," he revisits his first love, in "My My My!" he rejoices in all-consuming love, and with "Plum," he discovers how that love can quickly lose its luster. But it's the title track, with its provocative 2018 metaphors and 1988 production value, that soars.


6. "No One" by Jess Glynne - Leave it to the British songstress to make co-dependency sound uplifting. She returned stronger than ever with this rollicking, hand-clapping track from Always In Between.

7. "High Horse" by Kacey Musgraves & "Summer Fever" by Little Big Town - The Summer of 2018 will go down as The Summer Country Music Went Disco, and these irresistibly breezy singles are tailor-made for a nighttime backyard barbecue under the stars.

8. "Pink Lemonade" by James Bay - The catchy electronic rock track from the English singer-songwriter is, to borrow from Billboard's initial reaction, "delicious":


...For the rest of my list (and some honorable mentions), go to Bello Mag.

@TheFirstEcho

December 05, 2018

20 Years Before Ariana Grande Said "thank u, next," Alanis Morissette Had "Unsent"


Singing about past love is nothing new, and as much as I enjoy Ariana Grande's "thank u, next" (especially that 00s nostalgic video), I can't help being a nitpicky teen-from-the-90s and pointing out that Alanis Morissette nailed the whole "ode to my exes" thing back in 1998 with "Unsent," an underappreciated single from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.

The contemplative song is a series of letters to men who taught Alanis a few things about life and love. And the video itself is an intimate glimpse at each relationship in the form of vignettes with subtitled dialogue:

@TheFirstEcho

The 2018 Review: My Top 10 TV Picks

The Peak TV bubble has yet to burst. And with over 500 scripted shows  that were in production in 2018, it has become an increasingly d...