Joseph's Best Of 2015

Dearest readers,

This is my first-ever Best Of, and I was initially a little petrified: but it quickly clarified that I actually had a lot to share, and the concern was more about choosing what to focus on. Here's some books and shows which really struck me in 2015.

Books

I began the year with an interesting commitment. I've always loved science fiction, and the different ways people approached understanding the structure of the future. My BA was in English and my college, Haverford, required a thesis; I analyzed how authors Marge Piercy and Neal Stephenson conceptualized the development of family in their novels Woman on the Edge of Time and The Diamond Age.

The Great National discussion in 2015 on a national level has moved from inequity and the 99% to become centered mostly around the concept of racial diversity and what that means for the United States. We're seeing this discussion impact television and reading. So, it became more important to me to explore a science fiction conceptualization of race this year. I found Nnedi Okunwafor's book Who Fears Death to be a brave exploration of the topic of race from what might be called an Afrofuturist perspective, infusing themes of the impact of magic and technology and racism into a gut-punching coming-of-age tale. The antagonist, Onyesonwu, is a child of rape; we see how this, and her Ewu (half-breed) skin and hair affect her life within the society. A good sci-fi author takes the unusual and makes it human, brings it close to home; Okunwafor's right on target here. Onyesonwu's thoughtfully written, closely personal experiences as she fights for the right to use her natural power for sorcery in a society which expressly forbids it keep the story grounded. What might be an unusual landscape for a literary universe filled with hobbits and magic rings felt utterly normal to me while reading. The book's biggest success for me - and I can say this without spoilers - is that slowly, surely, Okunwafor takes those personal experiences and weaves them into a picture of how racism can be systematic; we eventually learn of terrible connections between Onye's personal life and her politically-torn region. A carefully planned and written nailbiter of a sci-fi novel; Okunwafor is right up there with Octavia Butler and though I read the book in February pieces of it are still floating in my mind.

A second novel with a powerful impact for me, oddly enough, was Stephen King's entirely characteristic and uncharacteristic novel, Joyland. Tonally, this book has similarities to another of his novels, Duma Key. King has the ability to carefully build a wonderful world you've never seen-in the case of Joyland, a carnival by the shore-and actually make you feel nostalgic for it. Devin Jones is spending a summer off-and then a year off-working for the carnival, recovering from a broken heart. While proving himself generally a good egg, he manages to stumble onto a murder mystery. Far less violent than other King novels (although sexually very frank), yet continuing to thrill and terrify, Joyland kept me warm and captivated throughout. It's the ultimate couch novel, or the ultimate beach novel, and unlike many of King's stories we do not find the end a let-down.

That's kind of me as a reader in a nutshell. I go back between these high-minded, well-written literary books and the comfort food.

Television

2015 will be known for me as the year everyone jumped onto the midseason cliffhanger. We've seen these before, but it seems to be becoming standard now; it has effect of making some stories predictable - so I hope it goes back to being more sparingly used. I won't talk about Flash or Gotham here; go read my reviews! There's many shows I'm into though, and I want to say a word about:

Supergirl. This show is really stealing my heart. Forget the Martian Manhunter: it's Supergirl which is really hitting me, and her relationship with the other women on this show. In Episode Seven, that moment with Cat on the rooftop, then the moment afterwards, Supergirl flying over the city, reflecting on what it means to be a hero, had me completely verklempt. I even like the handsome show hobbit. I hope this show continues on; in the past, shows with good first years don't always do well.

Supernatural (reviewed by Billie.) I think this season is actually getting better and better. Amara grown up is much more interesting than Amara as a petulant child. To me the danger for this show is the mythological aspect. Get the whole God and Lucifer and Amara triangle as convincing as you possibly can, writers; we'll enjoy the great television. I just don't want Amara to go the way of the Leviathans, who turned out to be sort of meh.

Once Upon a Time (reviewed by Panda) rocketed back to awesome status for me this season. It's been sort of iffy ever since the Neverland sequence; with Emma going to the dark, and the nightmare that followed with Hook, both plot and acting have taken a definite uptick... although the cast is getting so huge at the moment it's got to be nearly impossible for new viewers to get into the show. What's interesting for me is some very successful casting with Lancelot and Merlin; for the first time, a mostly white show had a few very powerful Black characters.

I also want to mention America's Next Top Model and Nyle DiMarco. No, I don't know him personally, although we're probably a few degrees apart in the Deaf community. When I heard there would be a Deaf model on this year's season, I was mildly excited but I'm not a fan of that type of reality show in general. I happened to watch the fourth episode and became hooked. Not because of the show itself-because as a Deaf man it's very, very satisfying to see a normal, intelligent, focused person who disdains gossip and drama yet manages to be both direct AND interesting. He was the model who wasn't the stereotype, and I think that's why he won. Oh, and the dog photo OMG.

Anime? I can totally recommend the first season of Attack on Titan. This is the first time animation has had me freaking out on the edge of my seat. I'm a fan of Evangelion, Escaflowne, and other equally awesome series. This is a scifi approach that initially looks like a fantasy world. I won't say more, except this: expect death, pain, blood, dismemberment-and love, commitment and hope.

Classically, I review DS9 in the off-seasons. But it's not my only classic TV interest. Netflix should be considered a daughter of Athena, giving us access to things which would've been impossible to view in the past. Case in point for me: Doctor Who (reviewed by Mark Greig.) I'm on Season Eight of the classical series and loving it. I cannot actually wait to get to the modern years and see, for example, actor David Tennant in roles other than his incredible take on Kilgrave this past year.

One final show, then a farewell. Let's not forget Daredevil (reviewed by Mark Greig), which completely wowed audiences this year and completely wowed me. With incredible action, well-written dialogue, and Wilson Fisk, evil from beyond hell, this show and Jessica Jones both won my heart. I'm looking forward to future Netflix series, and wonder if the reason they're able to produce such awesomeness is because they're embracing a totally new content delivery approach.

What am I watching next? Well, there's classic Trek and the animated series. There's the rest of DS9 and the upcoming Dominion. And of course, there's the rest of Doctor Who. But also I'm starting to get into Empire... and my friends are forcing me to start Breaking Bad. No matter how much you see and read, there's always more.

So there's my 2015 tv and literature review. Hope 2016 is as full and fascinating! Thanks for all who have been reading and commenting; I write here to share things I enjoy and learn more from all of you... and my friends and peers here at Doux Reviews.

Happy New Year!

8 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

I went through a Top Model phase many years ago. It's a very satisfying reality show. :-)

Have you read China Mieville's Perdido Street Station? Mieville is not to my taste, but that book is about hybrid identity and multicultural society with aliens rather than human races. If you like Neal Stephenson, he might be a perfect follow-up.

Billie Doux said...

Breaking Bad! One of the best shows ever. It's absolutely brilliant and it even ends beautifully. Enjoy!

sunbunny said...

Another fan of Supergirl yay! I totally agree. As excited I am about J'onn J'onzz (super excited), the relationship between Cat and Kara is the real reason I keep watching. Cat was barely tolerable in the pilot, but they've developed her so well and I just adore all the depth these actresses give the relationship. Plus Mehcad Brooks is delicious.

FlopHairedWuss said...

Wow, you actually started watching Doctor Who from the Classic Series? Don't think I've heard of many people doing that, especially since New Who started. How are you watching it though? Is it all the episodes or just the good ones?
Also I thought Classic Who wasn't on Netflix anymore?

I did watch Attack on Titan and to be honest, I wasn't too impressed. I liked the concept and themes it explored and it has great action, but there's just too much padding. Often they'd spend two episodes resolving a cliffhanger with characters endless talking about what they're doing, why they're doing it and how they feel.

Concerning Breaking Bad, what Billie said pretty much covers it.

Billie Doux said...

I like Supergirl, but I don't love it yet. I did particularly like the "Red-Faced" episode about women not being allowed to get mad. And I'm trying hard to get over my deep dislike of Calista Flockhart. They do seem to be rethinking and fine-tuning her character and she's starting to become more of a person instead of a despicable caricature, so there's that.

mazephoenix said...

I love Supergirl. Nice with female friendships, I even like Cat Grant. Mechad Brooks is very handsome.
I may have a crush on Nyle..so pretty.

ChrisB said...

Great post! And, once again, more to add to my "must read" list. Congratulations on your first Best Of. Hope there are many more to come.

JRS said...

Update: Netflix only has limited amounts of the classic Who. I am like a drug addict in the throes of withdrawal. I need help. I may skip ahead to the more complete modern version. But I was truly sinking into Classic Who and Tom Baker.

Billie you're entirely correct about Calista. At some point we have to get beyond the Devil Wears Prada nonsense. But I'm reminded of what happened with Cordelia and Buffy. And what Cordelia's character eventually became before her physical body was hijacked by an invading demon pregnancy. So there's hope. Or something.