Cousins, Critically: 2013 In Film and Music

Cousins, Critically: The Best of Series was explained in part 1 of the series. J.T. Moore would like to thank all those involved in the cumulative effort of Cousins, Critically, and all those who have taken time to read the exhaustive posts. It’s been a great year for television, film, music, and groundbreaking familial blogging, and Cousins, Critically proves it.

J.T. and M. Liam Moore Discuss The Year in Film and Music

J.T. Moore: This might sound weird coming from someone who runs an amateur blog about television, but movies are probably my favorite form of storytelling. In 2013. I saw maybe 5 or 10 movies that were released this year. Does that make me qualified to talk about the year in cinema? Yes, because the majority of those 10 movies were so damn good.

Gravity swept the nation, and for good reason. The film is an astounding achievement in technical filmmaking, and is an outright experience. As long as I’m talking about experience movies, I have to mention All Is Lost. A.O. Scott equated All is Lost to “an action movie in the most profound and exalted sense of the term,” which is the best way to put it. The amazing Robert Redford maybe speaks three times throughout the film’s entire 90 minute running time, and yet it remains captivating all the way through. But in 2013, I saw 2 movies that elevated themselves above all other movies in 2013.

My second favorite movie of 2013 is Spring Breakers. I’m of the mind that Harmony Korine’s movie about four neon bikini-clad girls who let loose on Spring Break is a modern masterpiece. Or maybe a contemporary classic. Whatever you want to call it, Spring Breakers is a fantastic movie for the here and now. It might seem like Spring Breakers is some sort of perverse, morally depraved film made so creepy guys on the internet (not us) can see their favorite former Disney star in scantily clad clothing go crazy. It kind of is, but the film also functions as a brilliantly twisted social satire of our society’s obsession with things and how far we will go to get them (the film sums this up in James Franco’s glorious “Look at all my sheeyit” monologue). In twenty years, this movie will probably not be as good as I think it is now, but in the moment, Spring Breakers is smart, dark, profoundly unsettling, and will definitely make you think.

What’s that? You want a long-lasting, all-time classic that will make you think for the rest of your life? Look no further than 12 Years a Slave, my “favorite” movie of the year. I say “favorite” because it’s kind of hard to “like” this movie. 12 Years, which is the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from the north who gets kidnaped and sold into slavery, is much easier to think about than to “like.” The film is a brutal, unflinching look into Northup’s titular 12 years, and is so utterly different from any other American telling of slavery. There is no peace, restraint, or happiness in 12 Years, just sadness, regret and thought. In my short time on this earth, I have never experienced a more thought-provoking piece of art. Why haven’t we seen anything like it before? And how is one film able to embody the terrible and dispiriting struggle of one community? I will probably grapple with these questions for the rest of my life as a film-lover, and for good reason. 12 Years a Slave pushes the boundaries of what a film can be and can say, and is the best movie I’ve seen all year (and possibly decade).

What about you, M. Liam? Did you see any movies of note this year? If not what about music?

M. Liam Moore: I went to three movies this year, not counting holdovers from 2012 I saw at the Riverview. They are Gravity, The Hunger Bone and a horror film so nondescript I couldn’t even cull its title from a Google-provided list of the genre’s 2013 offerings. But on the basis of your description alone, J.T., I’m willing to crown Spring Breakers the Film of the Year. It’s a comfort to know I’m not the only one driven to mine the subtleties that yield a finer critical appreciation of these timeless, frolicking romps. I can’t wait to see if it stands up to my personal favorite, Bring It On, a turn-of-the-century look into the subculture of competitive cheerleading that featured pillow-fighting and, yes, a bikini car wash. There were moments I felt like I was sitting in the director’s chair.

I liked Gravity, and I’m glad I saw in the theater. Still, I’ve grown a little weary of watching George Clooney play the most interesting man on the planet 20 years before he was in Dos Equis commercials, and Sandra Bullock play the sheepish, smart, pretty-in-a-homely-sort-of-way heroine who struggles to overcome her self-doubt. It works in Gravity, of course, because the filmmaking is so innovative and breathtaking that the story is almost secondary to the experience.

I thought 2013 was a great year for pop music. Some of my favorite established artists – The National, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire – released new material, none of which disappointed. The Twin Cities hosted a slew of concerts I was excited to see, and I discovered all sorts of new sounds. Or sounds new to me, anyway; I’m always a little late to the party when it comes to music. What got your feet tapping in 2013, J.T.?

JTM: My favorite album of the year was Kanye West’s Yeezus. In my mind, the album has to be one of the most audacious popular rap albums ever produced. Of course, I am biased since I worship the altar of Ye, and think that Yeezus is his fourth perfect album. Even if he deemed us a flyover state on the Yeezus tour, I keep coming back to the album and every time I am completely taken aback. The beats and sounds on the album blare abrasively, and the lyrics are nasty and often times downright sickening, so Yeezus just shouldn’t work, but it ultimately takes control of you and doesn’t let go.

Admittedly, Yeezus most likely isn’t the foot-tapping type music you were looking for, because it’s its own type of thing. “Black Skinhead” might come closest to a radio hit, as it is the most rousing and energetic song on an album devoid of positive feeling or pleasant sounds. But it’s those unpleasant sounds that I find the most interesting. “Blood On The Leaves” is a very, very dark journey into Yeezus‘s nadir of dark descent, and “I Hold My Liquor” is a depressing, churning and almost profound experience, even if it finds the album’s truly awful explicitness at its peak.

I know I’m doing a terrible job pitching this album, and probably no one else besides myself enjoys listening to Kanye West writhe in his own musical nausea. This is because I’m interested in what Yeezus actually means to Ye himself. Is it performance art? Was he purging himself of all negative feeling before his impending fatherhood (maybe a technique you should try)? Or is the man at a point in his life where he actually thinks he is a god? All of this introspection, speculation, and stimulation comes from listening to a short 40 some minute trip called Yeezus, and that’s why it’s my favorite album of 2013.

M. Liam, I’ve noticed that one of your favorite albums of the year, Reflektor, has seemed to have been lost in the conversation in 2013. As we wrap things up, do you care to put up a defense for it?

MLM: The best defense is a good offense, J.T. The question, for me, isn’t whether Reflektor is a worthy album, but whether Reflektor is Arcade Fire’s best album yet. I think it might be. More than any of the band’s previous offerings, Reflektor distances Arcade Fire – in a sonic way, for sure – from its previous work. (Do you like rock ‘n’ roll music? Does James Murphy? Does it matter?) Reflektor also makes clear this isn’t a band that finds inspiration in success or comfort. The songwriting maintains an edgy sense of urgency, gnawing away at the album’s playful vibe. And that’s no accident. Contrast is Arcade Fire’s calling card. Previous albums transform loss into joy, extract triumph from hopelessness, find identity in suburban sprawl. Reflektor looks back – on colonization, on globalization, on the Greeks! – and celebrates the life, spirit and identity that survive in an increasingly sterile global cutlure. And best of all, it’s got a great beat that you can dance to.

The reviews I’ve read against Reflektor boil down to it being too long (a criticism lobbed at every double album) or too pretentious (a criticism lobbed at every Arcade Fire album). Minus the bonus track, Reflektor is shorter than The Suburbs. Sure, it’s pretentious, but do I really have to combat that charge in a series whose title includes a thoughtful pause? I don’t find it terribly overblown or preachy. Perhaps best of all, it captures some of the buoyancy Arcade Fire delivers to live audiences better than any band I’ve ever seen.

Speaking of concerts, Vampire Weekend’s brisk, jaunty show at the Orpheum this summer was the best one I saw all year, and their Modern Vampires of the City is undoubtedly their best work to date. Unlike Arcade Fire, this is a group that has taken a trademark sound – the world rhythms and neoclassical instrumentation, the hijacked hip-hop lyrics, the echoes of Buddy Holly and Paul Simon – and refined it, matured along with it. Modern Vampires is more contemplative and a little less ironic than the band’s previous albums. Bathed in a variety textures and sounds, it gets more rewarding with every listen.

I’m always late to the party when it comes to music, so my top 5 includes a lot of artists I already knew: The National’s Trouble Will Find Me is a hauntingly beautiful album that continues the band’s arty descent into Sad Dad Rock. Yeezus is egomaniacal brilliance, and for an album everyone sums up as “abrasive,” I found it surprisingly easy on the ears (albeit if you ignore some of the lyrics). Phosphorescent’s Muchacho is the kind of music I imagine Raylan Givens would play on his hi-fi.

And just for kicks, here’s in list format M. Liam Moore’s Top 5 Albums of the Year

1. ReflektorArcade Fire

2. Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend

3. Trouble Will Find Me, The National

4. Yeezus, Kanye West

5. Muchacho, Phosphorescent

And J.T. Moore’s Top 5 Songs of the Year

1. “Night Still Comes”, Neko Case

2. “I Should Live in Salt”, The National

3. “Blood on the Leaves”, Kanye West

4. “Step”, Vampire Weekend

5. “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk

Brendan Stermer Presents 2 Great Alternatives to 2013’s Musical Offerings

While far too many R&B “innovators” spent 2013 sulking in a cold soup of tired electronics and Drake-wave moodiness, Laura Mvula’s unclassifiable debut, Sing to the Moon, immediately set her aside from the crowd. The sound of the album is lush, organic, and fully-formed- but any honest description of Mvula’s unique style would contain far more hyphens than I’m willing to type. A graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoir, Mvula is a church choir director with a keen ear for jaw-dropping vocal arrangement that shines through at the most unexpected times. One moment impossibly tender, the next downright intimidating, Mvula’s mesmerizing vocal style sounds neither mainstream nor completely unfamiliar. “When the lights go out and you’re on your own/How you’re gonna make it through to the morning sun?” she questions on the album’s title track. Mvula, on the other hand, is rarely ‘on her own’ throughout the album’s 50-minute run-time, often accompanied by countless layers of “oohs” and “aahs” that weave through the spaces in sweeping orchestral arrangements. Even after months of near-weekly listening, Sing to the Moon still feels like the most captivating and imaginative record of the year.

Danny Brown is carrying around a ton of heavy mental baggage, and he does not hesitate to share even the most harrowing details. Throughout the first half of Old, the 31-year-old rapper teeters on the brink of insanity as he recollects horrors from his Detroit upbringing and confesses to deep insecurities about reckless lifestyle choices. Then, just as he vows to clean up his act, “Side B” tosses listeners head-first into a wacko, drug-infused clusterfuck of XXX-era proportions. This disorienting change of pace gives Old an element of riveting complexity, which defines the remaining tracks. What begins as an honest and thoughtful reflection transforms quickly into a whirlwind of graphic sex and drug abuse. Who is the real Danny Brown–the insightful and intelligent storyteller, or the rattlebrained drug fiend? Old is a fascinating documentation of Brown’s unfiltered, mid-life self-exploration. While Brown remains uncomfortably indecisive, the music that results is decisively unforgettable.

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Cousins, Critically: 2013 In Television

Cousins, Critically started as a vehicle for M. Liam Moore and myself to rewatch Breaking Bad and “dissect each season in a thoughtful and critical manner.” After a while we realized that Cousins, Critically didn’t just have to be about Breaking Bad, and decided to bring in another cousin, which resulted in the best post to ever appear on this blog. With different voices on Aweful Writing, the content became decidedly better, and Cousins, Critically became a qualitative success (page views be damned!). So, in the spirit of the feature’s peak, Aweful Writing presents Cousins, Critically: The Best of Series. In part 1 of a 2 part series, a host of critical cousins has assembled to discuss their favorite television of 2013. Stay tuned for part 2!

J.T. and M. Liam Moore Discuss At Length Their Thoughts on Television In 2013

J.T. Moore: I’m thrilled to be creating a best (and worst) of list through Cousins, Critically. The series of posts that we have done in 2013 would top my list of favorite blogs in 2013, but I guess I’m biased. Then again, best of lists are kind of stupid in general. To say that one work of art is better than the other and rank them against each other is entirely subjective. But what’s more fun than a best of list?

To say that television in 2013 was great would be a massive understatement. There are 2 different posts and counting running at Aweful Writing on my favorites of the year that just have to do with TV, so I’d say that the medium had a good year.

One of the most remarkable things about television in 2013 is the number of fantastic new shows that came from what seemed like nowhere. Once you found you favorite show of 2013, the next week there would be a new one that you loved even more! A specific channel that had a particularly great year in 2013 is the Sundance Channel. They were for 3 for 3 in terms of outstanding new shows with Top of the Lake, Rectify, and Les Revenants (known in the states as The Returned). Instead of lingering on about how great these three shows were (as they all place within my Top 10 for the year) I’d like to talk about what this means for Sundance.

With these three premieres, Sundance experienced what might be one of the greatest calendar years for any network ever. In truth, 2 of the 3 series are foreign imports (Top of the Lake is from the UK, and Les Revenants is from France, obviously), but the selection of them is what matters most. These three shows gave Sundance an incredible year and one that is comparable to AMC’s humble beginnings with the premieres of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. However, I’d hope that Sundance doesn’t go down the dark path that AMC has taken, filled with Small Town Securitys and Low Winter Suns, and that the channel’s programing only gets better. But it’s hard to imagine a better year for the channel than 2013.

How about you, M. Liam? What was some of you favorite television of 2013?

M. Liam Moore: Funny you should mention new series, J.T. Like you, I devoted myself to a new show in 2013, one I began watching at the recommendation of my most trusted TV critic. That show was The Bridge (known in the States as The Bridge), and the critic who touted it as TV’s best new show was … well, there’s nothing to be gained in naming names. Let’s just say that despite an interesting premise, this Scandinavian import stunk like lutefisk.

While The Bridge may not have worked, it did strive to push the envelope. Even if it came up short, the network, FX, deserves credit for giving airtime to such an ambitious show, and allowing the show (which has since been renewed? REALLY?) time to develop its characters, explore its setting and, inevitably, either sink or swim.

FX gets a lot of love from me this year. I understand that, as a white male aged 18 to 49, I am nestled right into the network’s audience-bosom. But just as it sounds like Sundance (which I no longer get – thanks, unborn child! – though I am four episodes into its bewitching Top of the Lake) is willing to go “all in” on shows that could hardly be considered safe, FX has been doing the same thing for years, albeit with a Y-chromosome litmus test.

I love ducking into FX’s comedies: The League, It’s Always Sunny and, of course, the sublime Louie. I rank Justified fourth best among shows I watched in 2013, and The Americans was the best new series I watched this year. A mash-up of Mad Men and Homeland that keeps Mags Bennett alive AND expands Keri Russell’s wardrobe beyond flannel and slip dresses? Yes, please! I’ve got it fifth in my rankings, although only the top four are firm.

This should be lots of fun, J.T. Thanks for inviting me to be a part of Cousins, Critically: The Best of Series! And kudos to you for not including The Killing amongst the litter strewn about AMC’s recent “dark path.” (You know I like to enforce the watch-it-before-you-trash-it rule.) Still, I have to imagine there were some shows on the network that made your Best Of list for 2013, right?

JTM: Yes, it’s true both Mad Men and Breaking Bad placed within my top 10. (Though I stayed strong and didn’t let Breaking Bad take the top spot.) Both series had an excellent 2013 putting in some of their best work ever. Even though the shows are the same age, in 2013 they found themselves in very, very different places. Mad Men (which I found myself the anomaly this year in loving it) seemed like it would be taking it slow for the year, but at episode six titled “For Immediate Release” the surprises started coming, and Mad Men continued to provide some of the most dramatically rich television of 2013. But if I’m saying Mad Men was surprising, then I don’t know what to call Breaking Bad. What’s most surprising is that I’m still able talk about it after were spilled thousands of digital pixels on it throughout the year. So I’ll just say this: one of the shows ended, and the other is getting ready for the end, and all the while they produced some of the best television I have ever seen. I hope this becomes a new rule for shows in their final years.

Another returning show that I loved at one point in time (but is nowhere near it’s final years; I wish it was!!!) that had an interesting 2013 is Homeland. I have to call Homeland interesting because I don’t know if it’s bad or not. I feels bad, hell it feels terrible, but that could be because I was ready to bail after season 2 ended. What was once one of the most thrilling, ingenious, and genuine shows on television has now become the show that I dread most on Sunday nights. The writers don’t have a handle on any of the characters, the plot has become repetitive and convoluted, and the show has even tried (and failed) to put in a few absurd twists here or there. This has resulted in the creation of a show that has no idea what it is anymore (A character study? A show about the CIA? Anything???) and something that is just sad to look at now. But Homeland has accomplished one thing which it deserves credit for: making me want to watch Homeland even less than I did before.

But I’m tired of negative criticism. M. Liam, what other shows that didn’t air on FX made you happy you were watching them?

MLM: I was happy watching AMC’s old reliables as well. Mad Men was what you folks in the industry refer to as a VIEWING EVENT in my house last year. I poured martinis, stacked appetizers and welcomed Roger Sterling into my living room. But let me be clear, J.T.: I smoked no blue meth in tracking Walter White’s decay. (Or was it transformation?)

Had you been suspicious of some drug use this fall, given my positivity toward the show, it would have been understandable after all the whining I did about Lydia, the Nazis, Skyler, YOUR T-SHIRT, etc. But I really did make my peace with Breaking Bad in 2013, and I got there by giving up on perfection and simply enjoying the show’s finale throes. So much happened – so many things we’d been anticipating for so long – and it was handled so deftly, from the writing to the directing to the acting. I had a blast.

Rank Breaking Bad third among shows I watched in 2013, two spots behind a show I haven’t given up on when it comes to perfection. The increasingly dark, crisply beautiful Mad Men was the best TV I watched last year. It offered whip-smart dialogue, fully realized characters and, of course, a totally righteous wardrobe collection. It’s not always subtle – the advertising-agency-as-whorehouse analogy is wearing thin – but what makes Mad Men so much more provocative than anything else on TV is that the show speaks to power and privilege, opportunity and success, capitalism and consumerism – without being didactic. And yes, there is CHANGE, that constant, driving force propelling Mad Men forward, and IDENTITY, the show’s ultimate ace in the hole. Don Draper is an anti-hero; Dick Whitman is his shot at redemption.

My second-favorite show of 2013 was HBO’s half-hour dramedy Girls. It’s a deep dive into the subculture of overeducated, underemployed 20-somethings from privileged backgrounds, drawn to the energy, opportunity and cachet that comes with a New York City address. I thought the show found its legs in 2013, ranging from funny to poignant, coming off emotive but not sappy, with characters at once self-absorbed (Marnie’s Kanye scene) and fiercely, tenderly devoted to each other (the Oasis bathtub scene). It surprised me, J.T., to see you didn’t have Lena Dunham and the gang in your top 10 for 2013. What gives, cuz? I thought we were a couple guys who liked Girls, no?

JTM: You’ll be happy to know that Girls places within my next 10 best series of 2013 list. I thought the show fell short in its second season, but still held my interest. Long story short I liked the short stories that Girls had to offer (“One Man’s Trash” and “It’s A Shame About Ray” were standouts to me) rather than the long story that forced itself in by the end of the season (this is explained more in the next 10). But nevertheless, Lena Dunham has amazing and thought-provoking stories to tell, and even in an off season the show was some very enjoyable television.

M. Liam, if you’ve got nothing more to say on the state of television in 2013, then why don’t we open it up to the trenches of our other critical cousins who have plenty to say about the year in television?

Andy Stermer Exudes Life and Love for House of Cards

When Kevin Spacey talks, I listen. As congressman Frank Underwood in the Netflix original series House of Cards, Spacey talks a lot, sometimes even taking time out of his busy day as a dirty-dealing, revenge-seeking House Majority Whip to speak directly to me. Being a newcomer to the world of high-level television, I suppose it’s possible that I’m swept off my feet too easily, viewing these frequent destructions of the fourth wall as personal acknowledgements instead of trite storytelling devices. In any case, the web of dark political intrigue Spacey weaves with a cadre of well-developed cohorts is at least as addicting as it is over-dramatic. As the feisty young journalist Zoe Barnes, Kate Mara proves as intriguingly salacious as sister Rooney in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but without the weird hair and piercings. Robin Wright is smashing as Claire Underwood, Frank’s cool, calculated wife whose clever power-grabbing schemes at times rival his own. But best of all is Spacey himself, whose southern drawl and psychopathic lack of remorse carry the show even through its more tired moments. In the end, J.T.’s damning accusation of “good, not great” may be rather appropriate for House of Cards. But the rich blend of raw humanity and fantastic malice it’s characters exhibit gives their political adventures a breath of life that’s worth checking out, even if only as a stop gap between (re-watching) seasons of Breaking Bad.

L. James M. Delves Deep into One of the Year’s Best: Top of the Lake

First off, the cinematography in Top of the Lake is incredible. This is immediately apparent in the haunting opening sequence in which, after stunning shots of New Zealand landscape, a 12-year-old girl is found attempting to drown herself. We soon find out that the girl, Tui, is pregnant and that there are a number of shady goings-on in the picturesque town of Lake Top.

Another striking feature of the show is the acting, and for the most part this holds up throughout the series. The lead role, Detective Robin Griffin, is fantastic and played so perfectly by Elisabeth Moss (who you might recognize from Mad Men). In a world of sleezeballs she is one of the only ones trying to make a positive difference. I hear that Anna Paquin was originally offered the role, which could possibly have ruined the whole show. As it is, the casting, acting and directing are all superb. I thought for a while that I wasn’t sold on the character GJ, the faux-guru leader of a group of women looking for answers. Maybe it’s her air of supremacy (“she’s on another plane” says one of her followers) or her dickishness. In any case, she grew on me.

Despite the show’s disturbing content, it really draws you in. The writing is solid and the plot takes you on some nice turns. Also, since it is a miniseries, each episode is packed with development and minimizes the fluff that you might find with your usual drama. The only issues I might have are with the climactic pacing of the last couple episodes, and occasional moments of awkward dialogue.

The music and sound design are great as well. The soundtrack at times can evoke desolate, open spaces, and at other times a claustrophobic intensity… and there’s some normal junk too.

All in all, if you are wanting a looker and a thinker, take a swim in Top of the Lake. Zing!

L. James M.’s other recommendations for 2013 shows from BBC and the Brits

The Fall – another excellent crime drama… starring Gillian Anderson of The X-Files! Who gets more and more beautiful with age! I watched it on Netflix, along with Top of the Lake.

The Wrong Mans – goofy comedy about a couple of dudes who get in way over their heads. On Hulu.

Misfits – wildly inappropriate sci-fi comedy about hooligans on community service who acquire superhuman abilities from an electrical storm. Actually this started in 2009 but they just had their final season this month! I watched this on Hulu+.

Also I hear Orphan Black is good, and Black Mirror looks amazing (though this began in 2011). If the titles tell us anything, they should be inspirational and uplifting.

And on the American front I have to add, in response to J.T.’s remarks regarding AMC’s crappy new shows, at least The Walking Dead had a great first half of season 4 this year.

Molly Moore Is Disappointed by How I Met Your Mother

This scene sucked.

How I Met Your Mother used to be great. I really enjoyed most of the past seasons, but recently it has gone downhill. Season 9 I believe, has hit rock bottom and has been quite a disappointment thus far. All episodes that have aired this season and that will continue to air take place within a 55 hour time period of Robin and Barney’s wedding. I guess the writers really had nothing to write about. Sure, it is nice of them to tie up loose ends and all but at the same time it would be nice to see how life works out for Ted and his future wife, as we have seen Ted fail time after time with relationships. “Bedtime Stories” an episode this season was all in rhyme, in order to get Marvin to fall asleep on a long bus ride that he and Marshall were taking to Long Island. It was creative and all, but it also was incredibly annoying to watch and listen to. (The lack of metre didn’t help either.) Speaking of Marshall, it would be nice to see more of him in current times at the wedding with the rest of the crew, rather than in a car cross-country road trippin’ from Minnesota to New York. I guess we can only hope that the remainder of the season will improve in 2014.

Tony Moore Presents The Legend of Korra

Some of you might be thinking to yourself “What the hell is Legend of Korra?” I am here to answer that very question.  LoK is the second incarnation of the Avatar television show, the first incarnation being The Last Airbender, NOT to be confused with the absolute travesty of a film remake produced by M. Night Shyamalan a few years ago. A little background for those who do not know anything about the show, there are four nations: the Air Nomads, the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, and the Fire Nation, each able to control their respective elements (known as bending). In The Last Airbender we are introduced to Aang, the titular character is the last of his kind, but also the Avatar, a powerful individual who is capable of harnessing power over all four elements. He was frozen in ice for one hundred years and missed the Fire Nation declaring war against everybody and Fire Lord Ozai attempting to take control of the entire world. Over the course of The Last Airbender’s three seasons, we follow Aang and his companions as they help him learn how to manipulate the remaining three elements so he can prevent the end of the world as they know it.

The Last Airbender series was phenomenal. It aired on Nickelodeon so it had the fun, kid-friendly atmosphere but it also got deep into issues of spirituality, moral conduct, and an ever changing world. Along with content that appeals to a variety of age groups, we get displays of bending that are extremely fun to watch. The Last Airbender had all kinds of awesome fight scenes but The Legend of Korra takes the visuals to a whole new level. The first season of The Legend of Korra takes place 70 years after the events of the first series. Korra is the new Avatar, reborn after Avatar Aang passed away. While The Last Airbender took a good deal of time emphasizing the learning process Aang must go through to learn how to use each element, The Legend of Korra starts out with a nearly fully realized Avatar, able to bend Water (her natural element), Fire, and Earth. Season one of LoK focuses on Korra’s lack of spirituality, a necessity for learning Airbending. We also have the AMAZING addition of Pro Bending, a three-on-three, fast-paced, action-packed spectacle. After that description, I’ll need to throw on this link so you all can see what I mean:

So while The Last Airbender established what bending is, The Legend of Korra displays what you can do with it.

At long last we have come to my review of the second season of The Legend of Korra, airing from September through November of this year. This season has the most adult themes running through its veins than any of the other seasons of Avatar. This time we’re dealing with a civil war, brother fighting against brother, and a whole mess of evil spirits that have come to disrupt the land of the living. This latter theme opens up all kinds of possibilities for the animators and they certainly had fun with it. One of my favorite episodes of the season is one that spans two episodes that tells the story of how the first Avatar came to be, titled “Beginnings, Part 1 and 2”. Studio Mir animated both of these episodes, as well as certain episodes from The Last Airbender and all of LoK first season. I don’t expect all of you to take another nine minutes to watch another clip, but at least open it up and click on certain parts of the video so you can see some of the beautiful imagery produced by these amazing animators:

The writing isn’t always stellar for this show, but the good writing far outweighs the bad so it doesn’t take too much away from the season overall. And don’t take that the wrong way because you can still get very invested in the characters and the story in season two gets surprisingly heavy for a show on a children’s network. I know a cartoon can be a tough sell in this sea of Breaking Bads and Mad Mens but if you are looking for a show that has action, comedy, and real-world situations thrown into a beautiful fantasy world, look no further than The Legend of Korra.

The Next 10 Best Television Shows of 2013

Bunheads

Bunheads

All of the shows that appear on this list have been shortchanged. The 10 shows listed below would make a perfectly fine top ten list for 2013 (except for the inclusion of Arrested Development). As I explained in my Top 10 Television Shows of 2013 post, the time for television is certainly great, and is only getting greater. Two separate lists need to be written in order to express how great a year of television it has been. The argument could even be made for a Next Next 10 list. That is how great television has been in 2013.

11. The Good Wife

Rarely does a show, a broadcast drama at that, ever find itself at its peak in its 5th season. The Office had a spirited 5th year, and last year Mad Men had one of the best seasons of television ever, but a great 5th season is still a rarity. Yet The Good Wife somehow managed to be as good as it has ever been in the back half of 2013. Coming off an unusual (to say the least) 4th season, The Good Wife kicked into high gear in its fifth season and somehow became the best show on television. Gone were the days of repetitive cases of the week or unnecessary romantic plots as The Good Wife turned into thrilling television. The Good Wife delivered the surprises dozens, the performances became as superb as ever, and there were even no “good” or “bad” stock type characters! The Good Wife experienced something regenerative in 2013, and what resulted was some phenomenally great television.

12. New Girl

New Girl never seemed like the show that I would like. Zooey Deschenel didn’t seem like a great lead for a sitcom, and the dynamics between characters were never really fully realized. But in 2013 the show came into its own. Instead of telling stories outside of the loft where all the characters live, each character gravitated towards each other, and the show became much more personal and compact. What resulted was the best comedy on television. The characters were authentic (even if the writers had no idea what to do with them), the rapid fire succession of jokes was remarkable, and New Girl really showed what it was capable of, even if it has taken a tumble in its third season.

13. Hannibal

As I made clear in a post titled “Hannibal is the Most Important Show on TV,” I was extremely surprised by the show in 2013. Hannibal revealed that it wasn’t just another serial killer show, but instead had a more thoughtful and empathetic take on the subject matter. In Hannibal the acting was fantastic, writing intelligent, and perhaps most striking was the show’s visual sense. The show managed to make the titular character’s meals look exceptionally appetizing, and his killings all the more mesmerizing. With tactile grace and keen beauty, Hannibal was one of the best shows of 2013, and had the most fascinating examination of the human mind.

14. Bob’s Burgers

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It might seem odd, but most often, Bob’s Burgers is the most emotionally affecting show on television. The stories told through the 5 person nuclear family who runs a burger restaurant resonate deeply with themes of family, affection, and childhood. It also helps that Bob’s Burgers is tremendously funny, while still being as emotionally expressive. Take the episode pictured above, “O.T.: The Outside Toilet.” In the episode, a young boy forms a bond with a talking toilet voiced by Jon Hamm. The episode can be taken at face value as an absurd E.T. parody, but at its core, “O.T.” brings to light the immense power that’s found within a simple friendship. In 2013, Bob’s Burgers proved even more that you can count on it for very funny stories that might even make you feel something.

15. Girls

In 2013, Girls showed off its enormous heights and disheartening lows. The second season of this unique HBO dramedy excelled in short stories found in self-contained episodes, but when it came to larger season long arcs, the storytelling fell flat. A lot of the best half hour episodes of 2013 were episodes of Girls. Season 2 had the weird and universe expanding “Boys,” the across the board fantastic “It’s A Shame About Ray,” the simple and genius “One Man’s Trash,” and the dark and unflinching “On All Fours.” Yet season 2 was also the season that became interjected by a storyline about OCD (???) and finished in a grandiose fairy tale love story ending. I’m aware of the school of thought that thinks the season’s ending was some sort of perverse commentary about the mental state of the characters, but I just don’t think that season 2 of Girls was fully interested in that specific subject. But when you look at the episodes that Girls brought us in 2013, the ridiculousness of the season’s end should become irrelevant, because those episodes were small-scale storytelling at its finest.

16. The Americans

Wigs!

Some might credit The Americans for being the best spy show on television, or a great 80’s period piece. I, however, would say that The Americans is the best show about relationships on television. Everything in this new FX drama was telling. The Americans managed to delve deep into how we ally ourselves with our country, what kind of people we trust, and even how we treat our neighbors! But the most important relationship portrayed in The Americans is between the two main characters. They’re Russian undercover spies, yet the most important thing about them is their marriage. The Americans managed to examine this relationship and many others like it thoroughly and beautifully, and a show about spies in the 80’s became the best show about marriage on television.

17. Parks and Recreation

Even if by season 5, Parks and Recreation became a show about nothing (not the good kind), the NBC sitcom still put out some very charming, sweet, and uplifting stories in 2013. Pawnee has always been home to a cast of eclectic characters, and you can always count on Parks and Recreation to have great stories accompanying each one. Like, Girls, the best Parks and Recreation stories were the ones of the smallest scale, like a hilarious telling of “Two Parties,” or a rushed yet beautiful wedding in “Leslie and Ben.” As Parks and Recreation gets older, the season long or multi-episode arcs might not be as good as they were in the show’s earlier years, but Parks and Recreation still retains the ability to make me smile.

18. Bunheads

Oh Bunheads… We lost you in 2013, but you’ll always stay in our hearts. The second half of the late, great, Amy Sherman-Palladino ballet dramedy aired its last episodes ever in 2013, and even if they weren’t as great as the first half of the season (top 10 material!) it was still Bunheads. The idiosyncratic, eponymous main characters were fantastic as ever, and their dance sequences even better.

2013’s episodes started with the boisterous, explosive “It’s Oh So Quiet.”

Then there was Sasha’s expressive, emotional dance that brought her internal turmoil to life.

It would be a shame to not mention the dynamic Coal Miners’ dance…

Or the sensational season ending “Makin’ Whoopee”.

But it wasn’t just the dancing that made Bunheads special. There were funny montages…

And lots of emotional singing.

Oh the singing!

I’m practically crying now, because Bunheads was perfect. ABC Family cancelled it, but Bunheads is still perfect. At least they got to say goodbye.

19. Scandal

In 2013, Scandal proved that not all great television has to be measured and calculated. The back half of Scandal‘s second season was some of the craziest television I have since the dance of the dream man, and it was also crazy good. Scandal operated with no rules, regulations, or restrictions in 2013, and what resulted was some boundary pushing television. Even if there were around two ridiculous plot twists in episode, the back half of Scandal‘s second season still remained convincing and even compelling television. Yes, Scandal may have plummeted in its third season, but the insurmountable highs that the second season achieved justify Scandal‘s placement on this list.

20. Arrested Development

It’s been seven months since season 4 of Arrested Development premiered on Netflix, and I still have no idea how the hell I feel about it. After binging on all 15 episodes over two days, I was overtaken with what was what I thought some of the smartest television of 2013. This may have been because I was exuberant to have one of my favorite shows of all time back, but after I started to think about what I watched, I experienced some mixed feelings. Do I love season 4 or Arrested Development? Do I hate it? To this day I still don’t know the answer, and that fact is enough to have this show place on this list. (But in reality Masters of Sex needs to be somewhere on this list.) At its peak, season 4 of Arrested Development was some of the most brilliantly constructed, insanely funny television of 2013, but when it was bad, season 4 was painfully abhorrent. Maybe after seven more years the show gets resurrected yet again, and I’ll finally know how I feel about season 4. 

10 More Great Shows (In Alphabetical Order): 30 Rock, The Bridge, Broadchurch, Happy Endings, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, Masters of Sex, Olbermann, Parenthood, Veep

The Top 10 Television Shows of 2013

Rectify

Rectify

This is a bad list. Its badness isn’t necessarily the list’s own fault, but it is still pretty bad. For example, sitcoms and half hour shows in general are poorly represented. There is only one of them, and even if its episodes were 30 minutes, it is practically a half hour drama program. I wanted to illustrate how great television was in 2013, but really all this list does is show how great hour-long programs were. Also, none of the shows that appear on this list aired on broadcast television. There are many, many great shows that air on CBS, ABC, FOX, and NBC, but there just wasn’t enough room, and because of this, the list implies that cable television is the best kind of television. But all of this is simply because this list is just a list.

Lists have always been designed to make people angry and cause uproar. Their very foundation is so contrived and so stupid, and in the end they hold no meaning whatsoever. But for some reason they are just so fun to make, so here it goes.

The ten shows that make up  this list truly represent the greatness of television in 2013, but there are at least 10 more shows that could do the same. Any one of the 10 shows (and some of the next 10) could make the bid for “the best show of 2013.” This really speaks to how great of a time it is for television. It seems that in 2013 in particular each and every week a new, great show popped up and became the best show on TV. So don’t say that the golden age is ending because Mad Men and Breaking Bad are over, because right now television is ready to prove that will always be golden.

10. Orphan Black

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With Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany rocketed from actress with a cool sounding name to actress giving the best performance on television. In Orphan Black‘s first season, Maslany proved herself a star, giving the performance of a lifetime. Playing not just six, but seven different characters who eventually become acquainted with each other as clones, Maslany bested the Cranstons, Hamms, and Danes of the televerse in 2013’s best performance. But it’s not just Maslany’s sublime starring role that makes Orphan Black so great. The series’ whip-smart writing and twisty and speedy pace helped Orphan Black position itself as one of the best new shows of 2013. At its best Orphan Black was fast, funny, thrilling, and all around fantastic, and it helped that it remained remarkably consistent throughout all 10 episodes.

9. Les Revenants (The Returned)

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When any type of art tries to cover the subject of death it’s bound to be tricky, and when it’s bad it’s really badLes Revenants, however, showed how good death can be portrayed when it’s executed right. Even if most of Les Revenant‘s main characters are the living dead who have returned to life, they aren’t the flesh-eating kind who have no brains. And even if the living characters freak out about their family/friends/acquaintances who have returned to life, they don’t respond with guns or katanas. Yes, it’s the thinking that connects these characters and what makes their journeys so compelling. (And being impeccably scored by Mogwai doesn’t hurt either.) Les Revenants doesn’t dwell in death, but rather flourishes in it. There is thought, reaction, connection, and experience through death, contrary to what its genre might suggest. The best thing about Les Revenants is that it never manages to get caught up in its concept, or the abundance of questions it doesn’t answer. Les Revenants was supernatural, moody, and even beautiful at times, and managed to reprioritize not only how we think about death, but how we watch television.

8. Orange is the New Black

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At first, Orange is the New Black seemed like a mistake. In 2013 Netflix had been 0-3 for original programming (in terms of qualitative success) leading up to Orange‘s release date, and it’s not like the world needed what looked like an inessential perspective of prison told from an upperclass white woman’s point of view. But it eventually turned out that Orange is the New Black was one of the most surprisingly great series of 2013. As the series expanded its point of view and told stories that had nothing to do with Piper Kerman (the show’s main character) Orange is the New Black proved that it was one of the most powerful shows on television. Whether it was the story of Tricia, the tragically fated addict, or Sophia, who seems to be television’s first real and complex transsexual character, Orange is the New Black made it clear that it had stories worth telling. Even if by episode 7 you had no idea what the track star’s name was, you knew that her story was affecting and important television, and that Orange is the New Black had multitudes more to tell.

7. Rectify

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By all counts Rectify was the best new series of 2013. It’s impossible to watch Rectify and not be taken aback by the show and everything it embodied. Rectify is practically 100% different from everything else on television. It’s an intimate look into one man’s new life after spending 19 years on death row, and it manages to find beauty in everything. It’s the little things that count in Rectify. In “Plato’s Cave” Daniel Holden, the show’s main character, spends a substantial part of the episode in a Walmart, mesmerized by everything around him. In “Drip, Drip”, Daniel finds a random man and ends up wrestling him in front of a statue of a crossbred goat-woman. Even if it is the slowest moving and most bizarre show on television, everything about Rectify is meditative, entrancing, and rewarding. Aden Young is magnetic as the series’ leading man, and supporting performances from Abigail Spencer and Adelaide Clemens round out one of the best acted shows of 2013. There is beauty and resonance everywhere in life, and Rectify makes that simple fact known.

6. Mad Men

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It pains me very much to have Mad Men stand so low on this list. The sixth season of this veteran AMC Drama was dismissed by fans and Emmy voters alike, which may be the worst crime any television viewer committed in 2013. Mad Men wasn’t boring, repetitive, or unnecessary in 2013, because it turns it was absolutely essential to what the show is becoming now. The entire arc of season 6 didn’t really click until the last episodes of the season, but once it finished its run, Mad Men clocked in with one of the most fully realized seasons of television since when The Wire was on TV. Somehow Matt Weiner managed to bring more depth, profundity, and grandeur to one of the best shows of the 2000’s, and really showed what we’ll be missing come 2016.

5. Justified

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In 2013, Justified flew by at what seemed like the pace of a speeding bullet, and the most entertaining show on television became even more entertaining. After a slight misstep in 2012 (due to following the impeccable season 2), Justified managed to successfully reboot its format by introducing an intriguing season long mystery. And it worked spectacularly! The mystery managed to stay interesting throughout the entire season, even more supporting characters were added and fleshed out, and the show continued on as slick as ever. And even in its own reinvention, Justified still remained to be what it once was. None of the charm, thrill, emotional affection, or simple fun was lost in the process, as Justified somehow managed to accomplish what seemed impossible: make itself even better than what it already was.

4. Breaking Bad

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If Justified flew by at what seemed like the pace of a speeding bullet, then the final episodes of Breaking Bad flew by at the speed of a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. (Sorry.) But seriously, to say that those last eight episodes were fast paced would be the year’s biggest understatement. In its final days, Breaking Bad delivered some of its strongest individual episodes anyone had ever seen, which make up one of the strongest final seasons of all time. The episodes weren’t just mechanically fast, but they were thrilling, affecting, and often times emotionally defeating. The writing was smart, the direction awe-inspiring, and the performances better than ever. There were intense standoffs and interrogations, hypnotic dream-like sequences, heartfelt character moments, breathtaking action sequences, and above all, desolate beauty. Even if I wasn’t too happy about its endingBreaking Bad left us with one of the most incredible runs of episodes ever, and a great final arc to one of the best dramas of all time.

3. Game of Thrones

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Throughout the entire run of Game of Thrones‘ third season, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss demonstrated how great their trademark sustained storytelling could be. By ditching the 1 book per season rule that was established in the first two seasons, Game of Thrones got to relish in the details, and elevated from the best fantasy show on television to the best drama on television period. Each episode wasn’t as sporadic as previous ones were, even though the season covered about as much ground as every other series on TV did combined. There were also significant improvements from book to screen (which is quite remarkable considering A Storm of Swords is the best book of the series to date), the most notable being the development of Margarey Tyrell as an actual character. Game of Thrones has always been (and will always be) a thrill to watch, and with season 3 it showed that it could be truly astounding television.

2. Top of The Lake

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Top of the Lake didn’t really feel like a television show, but rather a 6 hour movie. Nothing that aired in 2013 was more atmospheric or more engrossing than Top of the Lake. (And that’s not just because it was visually stunning.) Top of the Lake was structured around one upsetting case of a pregnant and missing 12-year-old in a small New Zealand town. Heading the investigation was Robin, a former native of the town (played rivetingly by Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss), and as she reacquainted herself with the town, Robin and viewers realized why she left the godforsaken place. In the end, Top of the Lake was bold, disturbing, saddening, yet completely absorbing, and left us with some of the best television we’ll never see again.

1. Enlightened

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The best kind of television is the kind that makes you feel something. And in 2013, no show was more emotionally affecting than Enlightened. The experience of watching Enlightened had always been different from most television throughout its 2 year run, and in 2013 it might have been the most powerful viewing experience of the year. Enlightened told the story of Amy Jellicoe (played magnificently by Laura Dern), a woman who saw herself as an “agent of change.” Amy had far-reaching aspirations (season 2 centered around the takedown of an entire corporation), but it didn’t matter if she achieved them or not, because it was the trying that really mattered in the end. In 2013, everyone who watched Enlightened had the pleasure of seeing of seeing Amy and others try to make a difference in their lives, and understand the essence of change. Enlightened could be funny, tragic, poignant, and inspirational in any given episode, and demonstrated how brilliantly constructed a half hour of television could be.

In just 4 hours, Enlightened told the best story of 2013. Each of the 8 episodes deemed themselves as necessary viewing, ranging from universe expanding perspectives (“Higher Power”, “The Ghost is Seen”) to brutal and honest conversations (“All I Ever Wanted”, “Agent of Change”). But in the end, HBO cancelled Enlightened. Even if it is gone now, Enlightened will always stay with those who watched it. There was no story more moving than Amy Jellicoe’s, no examination of humanity more beautiful than Enlightened‘s, and no more profound viewing experience than this 8 episode 2nd season. I won’t ever forget Enlightened, and chances are if you watched you won’t forget it either. Enlightened was the best show of 2013.

2 Angry Men: The Postmodern Realities of Mad Men and Breaking Bad

What you call love was invented by guys like me… To sell nylons.

We hate to say it, but postmodernism is everywhere. It’s been in our books, plays, movies, criticism, and plainly put, art for decades, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. More recently, postmodernism has found itself in American scripted television. It’s been extremely apparent in the meta, fourth wall breaking sitcoms like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Arrested Developmentand Community, but postmodernism has been much more important in what’s been called our most recent “golden age of TV.”

Starting with The Sopranos in 1999 and ending with Mad Men in what will be the spring of 2015, this so-called golden age has been strung together by one thing: control (or the lack thereof). Whether it’s the crazed showrunners who work behind the scenes, or (to use a term coined by Brett Martin) the difficult men who find themselves as protagonists, control is an essential theme that embodies these shows and concerns their postmodernism. Some of the easiest examples of this lie within the last two shows of the golden age: Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

In Mad Men, nothing is really defined. Everything in Don Draper’s world continues on without question, even if Don  asks one himself. When the series started in 2007, the primary question it asked was “Who is Don Draper?” Mad Men answered that question at face value early on, and what’s important is that it responded with a simple “Who cares?” As the series went on, it went against the natural instincts of a television show and asked more questions than answering them. As viewers struggled to figure out what Don Draper was and what kind of world he was living in, he himself showed that he had no control of his life and even asked those questions too.

Throughout the years, viewers learned more about the world Don Draper was living in, but somehow it still remained indistinguishable. Don Draper and the eponymous Mad Men were seen to be manipulating everyone around them through their work. Happiness, love (see quote above), safety, and above all, life in Don Draper’s world were all proven to be fake, and even if the Mad Men themselves were creating these lies, it was evident that none of them had control over their own lives. Mad Men showed that there were no fixed rules, values, or meaning in its world, making it the ultimate postmodern reality. As Don Draper said himself, “The universe is indifferent.”

Like Don Draper, Walter White might be under the impression he has control in his life, but he really doesn’t. Walter White made the choices that brought him from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to meth manufacturing kingpin, but that doesn’t mean he has any control over what happens to him. It’s not Walt’s choices that advance him in his life, but the reality of Breaking Bad that jerks at and propels the man into the wild and intense situations he finds himself in so often.

Throughout the entire run of Breaking Bad, Walt never figures out that it’s the postmodern reality he’s living in which leads his life. The man has no control over any decision in his life, and every instance that he finds himself in flies right by before his eyes. Breaking Bad flies by so fast that Walt (or any of the given characters) are never given a moment to breathe. There is no definition or meaning to Walt’s life, as he finds himself without any control in any given situation, ultimately living a life directed by postmodernism. One moment, Walt might be having breakfast with his wife and child, and the next speeding through the roadway with gun in hand.

Both Don Draper and Walter White live in postmodern realities. There are no rules, values, and no one has control. Yet, no one does anything about this. In both Mad Men and Breaking Bad the realities keep on advancing, without any of the characters’ say. Perhaps it’s this acute sense of postmodernism that makes these shows so golden.