Things I loved in 2015: Nos. 15-11

How do you follow up prison planets, drunk horses, West African minimalism, Jonathan Banks in a tollbooth, and BIG WIDE 70MM SUPER CINEMASCOPE? Like this:

No. 15 — Mystery Show

The twin notions that everything is connected and that there must be a conspiracy are classic engines for genre fiction, from Lovecraft to From Hell to Welcome to Night Vale. But I’m not sure that it’s ever been taken up in non-fiction with such total aplomb as on this podcast.

Mystery Show is ostensibly about actual, real-world mysteries with actual real-world solutions. But each story is told according to the semi-ironic non-logic of real-world Dirk Gently, Starlee Kine. So, the plotline of Must Love Dogs becomes crucially important to finding a forgotten video store. The life story of a guy who works for Ticketmaster customer service could yield crucial clues to discovering Britney Spears’ reading habits. And the members of the Phoenix Culinary Association could (and do) prove invaluable in the quest to find the owner of long-discarded belt buckle.

Mystery Show is funny, sure. And it’s presented with one eyebrow at least halfway raised. But, it also makes you feel like we all live in a world where there are amazing stories beneath every rock — as long as you take for granted that it’s the most important rock in the universe.

No. 14 — Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 

If you’re not completely sold on this show on the basis of its theme song, we cannot be friends.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is on this list primarily because it made me laugh and laugh like a big dumb idiot. It’s like Tina Fey and Robert Carlock decided that 30 Rock just wasn’t quite packed-full-o’jokes enough, and they’d have to do better next time.

But what I really remember most fondly about my embarrassingly fast binge of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the first two minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show establish its premise and characterize its lead quite so efficiently before. That theme song certainly does a lot of the heavy lifting, but really watch Ellie Kemper’s performance as she emerges from the bunker where Kimmy’s been kept for 15 years. There’s not a shred of anger or resentment about what she’s missed out on — just overwhelming joy that the world outside still exists.

I’m not saying it’s psychologically realistic, but in that moment you realize that this is a character you want to spend a lot of time with.

Even if Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt hadn’t given us the profound gift that is “Peeno Noir,” it would still be my favourite new comedy in ages.

No. 13 — Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie: The Wicked and the Divine, vol. 2

WicDiv2

Do you ever get the feeling that the intended audience for a thing is specifically you, and nobody else? It probably happens to me more than a lot of people, to be fair. But I’m not sure there has ever been a narrative premise that is such obvious Parsonsbait as “a pantheon of gods from various mythologies are periodically incarnated as rock stars.”

The first volume of The Wicked and the Divine bowled me over, but this second one, “Fandemonium,” is where things really seem to be picking up. We learn more about the history of the pantheon, our protagonist’s story takes some completely unexpected twists and turns, and — best of all — we meet a genderfluid incarnation of the Sumerian love god(dess) Inanna who dresses like Prince.

Also people trip out at a rave hosted by Dionysus.

This comic is bonkers and beautiful and I’m more invested in it than almost any other ongoing serial narrative. I’m picking up the third trade collection later this week, and will devour it immediately.

No. 12 — Inside Out

I tend not to watch kids’ movies — not out of a lack of respect for them, or out of self-consciousness; it’s just that my reaction is usually something like “Boy, I wish I could have seen this when I was ten.”

Not Inside Out. This movie hit me straight in the 25-year-old feels. First off, the premise of exploring the changing psyche of a young girl by way of personified emotions is brilliant. And the casting is spot-on. But it’s specifically the exploration of sadness’s role in maturity that makes Inside Out one of the most thoughtful children’s movies I’ve ever seen.

No. 11 — Björk: Vulnicura

Björk’s creative peak is lasting a ludicrously long time. Vulnicura is, to my ears, as good an album as she’s ever made. It’s certainly a mode we haven’t seen her in before. And with an artist like Björk, the best you can possibly hope for is yet another new direction.

Sonically, Vulnicura could be seen as a retreat to the barren, strings-and-drum-machines-only timbres of her acclaimed Homogenic. But this time, that timbre doesn’t make her seem tough: it leaves her exposed. Which is apropos, since this is Björk’s breakup album. I think it’s destined to become both a classic of that minor genre and of her discography.

“Stonemilker” is pure catharsis, and one of my favourite songs of the year.

More whiplash tomorrow, as we enter the top ten with a beautiful movie, a beloved show, a kaleidoscopic podcast, a disappointingly overlooked album, and the list’s first non-comic book.

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