What is the internet FOR, if not an entirely subjective review of the year passed off as a ‘best of’ list? Here’s mine (or, if we’re being tabloid about it, “here’s why”…).
S-Town is the podcast that made me realise podcasts were a thing, and a thing worth listening to. As a piece of story telling and paean to everyday folk in forgotten America, S-Town is plenty good. Spoilers are here.
This American Life
The podcast that birthed S-Town, This American Life is more reality radio. I mostly listen to archived stories via Radio Public, and find they stay bubbling in my subconscious long after streaming.
This Mozilla podcast is tagged – and this is as chirpy as it sounds – “online life is real life”. It may not be a cool choice from the podcast barrel, but it’s well put together, and has covered net neutrality, trolling, hack-attacks and malware … it’s very listenable. I find myself checking Radio Public often for signs of a new season.
Before S-Town, I wasn’t much for true crime – and I’d still say I’m not. What’s compelling about this Wondery/LA Times production is, again, the everyday characters who live startling, surprising lives behind closed doors. This one is about the woman who falls in love with a doctor who seems to good to be true – and he is: the clue’s in the name.
Not all of these Radio 4 ‘Books of the week’ were new (or even recent…) to 2017, but repeats are good in my book. There’s little room for snootiness here – in my opinion, each shows that how you tell a story is everything:
- Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin), read by Kim Cattrall
- The Omen (David Seltzer), read by Owen Teale
- The Book of Dust, Part One: La Belle Sauvage (Philip Pullman), read by Simon Russell Beale.
The role of women in the futuristic fiction bothers me: we’ll likely either be sex robots or sex workers, and Bladerunner sticks to the creed. Still, it’s visually stunning yet slightly downbeat – both of which I like in sci-fi.
To be fair, I don’t watch enough new releases to have a best of list, but Trainspotting was an eerie, slightly sad nod at nostalgia.
Predictable but glossy space romp – and much fun with it, too.
- La La Land (2016): not my kind of movie, but almost infectiously likeable, dammit.
Boxsets & TV Series
For me, going to the cinema is odds-on to end up trapped in a darkened room with a flatulent, talkative serial Tweeter, who evidently only wants a place to eat his/her Big Mac out of the rain. For that reason, I don’t often go.
Luckily, TV has far outpaced the big screen for ideas, production and provocation, and that’s the kind of meaty I prefer … but then I don’t eat meat.
I’m torn. Season 1 was phenomenal. Season 2 was not. Season 3 followed a pattern of ‘lets make every other episode kinda pants except for the last 10 minutes’. Still.
You are Wanted
Mr Robot meets The Net … in German (with English subs). A power outage across Berlin is just the start of Lukas’s troubles when it leads to him being hacked and, subsequently, in a whole heap of hot water. The last episode gets the jitters but the series as a whole is very watchable – with a message, I guess, about our relationship with the net and surveillance.
Inception meets Stranger Things meets The Golden Child: I’m still only half-way through, and have a fairly tenuous grasp on WTF is happening. In a nutshell: what if we’re all dreaming parts of the same dream? Yeah, like that.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Dystopic view of women in the future (sex robots, more or less) and yet has much to say about life right now. That’s sci fi when it’s done well, right?
Technically, season 2, which was released this year but I watched both S1 & S2 for the first time this year. On paper it’s an exercise in masochism, and yet this story of a woman with cancer whose mother dies suddenly is … uplifting and LOL funny. And terribly sad in places, of course – and then LOL funny. My emotions are all over the place, but I know I like these people.
Not only but also
- Fargo S3. I can’t quite love it, but it is very, very good
- Seinfeld. I’d never seen it before. Now I’ve seen it all and, as a consequence, feel I’ve seen every other sitcom produced since. Ahead of its time and hugely influential.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine S5 but also 1-4. Holy hell is this well written, cuter than a mofo and hilarious.
- Between Two Ferns (“with Zach Galifianakis”) – toe curling mock-show with guests including Brad Pitt, Barack Obama, Michael Cera and some other nobodies, as Zach would say. And no, not at all from 2017.
Art & Exhibitions
Cathedral of the Pines
Gregory Crewdson at the Photographer’s Gallery, London: like eerie, blown-up film stills from films that don’t exist. Stunning.
Percy Kelly retrospective
Tullie House, Carlisle. Local boy makes good, plus vast illustrations and prints in all kinds of unlikely media.
Detroit: Unbroken Down
Dave Jordano at Side Gallery, Newcastle.
“These individuals demonstrate that Detroit is not the city of death and decay that everyone was reporting in the media, but one that shows signs of human activity and movement,” Jordano says. His photographs are true to that – as hard as they can be to look at.
See more: davejordano.com
More than paint on canvas
- Beyond Caravaggio, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. Dark and wild though – despite the spoiler in the name – not quite enough Caravaggio for me.
- Turner Collection at Tate Britain, London. Most definitely not ‘of’ 2017 in any sense, but it was on my circuit this year. I’d have asked for Turner’s autograph, I think.
- Lowthermere at C-Art Festival, Rheghed Centre, Penrith. Arguably exploitation art-theatre and, frankly, a bizarre and terrifying experience of the Jeremy Beadle variety. I still can’t talk about it.
- Any kind of short (or long) art film offered as part of a static exhibition, and of which I have seen too many this year to name. If you held a gun to my head, I’d probably recall The Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2017 (BALTIC, Gateshead), and anything at The Whitechapel Gallery, London, but then I’d get zen and tell you that violence solves nothing.
Forgive me, Father, for I have not read many books this year – but in any case, I don’t believe I’ve read much published this side of modernity.
- Carl Sagan’s Cosmos – or, the meaning of life in a chunky nutshell.
- My (very slowly growing) collection of Penguin Mini Modern Classics has this year included A Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism, by Hans Fallada. Fallaluia!
- The Etymologican and The Elements of Eloquence, by Mark Foster – delightful word histories for word delighters.
- Never Let Me Go, by Ishiguro – who surely only needs a surname, so adept is he (though this isn’t actually one of his favourites for me).