Josie’s Best of 2019

A Plucky Band of Time Travelers at Comic-Con

4 TV Shows.
3 Books.
2 Movies.
1 Cat.
Commence countdown...

Best of Television

When I first tried it, I couldn’t get into The Expanse. But the combination of pressure from a colleague, a debilitating stomach flu, and some vacation time led me to binge the first three seasons this summer, and once I let the show work its magic, I was hooked. It’s about a plucky band of space-rangers who try to do the right thing and often fail. But it also mixes a nuanced critique of expansionist narratives with a willingness to let a loveable curmudgeon (Amos, played by Wes Chatham) steal the show just often enough. Strongly recommend for: science-fiction fans, people who’ve been reading a lot of postcolonial literature lately, and lovers of Mick Rory.

Same story, different show for my next choice: The Magicians. The books left me “meh” and the first episode felt like a glammed-up 1990s retread of some unwritten Bret Easton Ellis novel (the sequel to The Rules of Attraction, I think). But the show takes its time to critique many clichés of the genre while still focusing on a plucky band of magical grad students who try to do the right thing and often fail, even the loveable curmudgeon Penny (played by Arjun Gupta). The most recent season—now available on Netflix—deconstructs some of our expectations about representation in one of the most nuanced and meta ways I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait for the next season to finally premiere. Strongly recommended for: grown-up Narnia kids like me, people who spend too much time on TVTropes and Tumblr, and anyone who wishes that grad school was really exciting rather than just really stressful.

Legends of Tomorrow has been one of my favorites for a while, but I’m not sure I’ve really gone full fangirl here on the site: I love, love, love this show. (And, yes, that was a Beebo reference.) It’s about…wait for it…a plucky band of time-travelers who try to do the right thing and often fail; my favorite is loveable curmudgeon Mick Rory (played by Dominic Purcell). The time travel shenanigans, meta hijinks, and self-aware silliness make this show the ultimate escapism. Strongly recommended for: anyone who thinks they’re burned out on superheroes, people who don't freak out about time-travel logic, and curmudgeons who want to learn to be loveable.

I tried to review it when it premiered and wound up totally annoyed, but a few years ago I rediscovered The Leftovers, and I rewatched it this year for a non-blog writing project. This show is frakkin’ incredible. The second and third season, in particular, are nuanced portrayals of a non-plucky bunch of regular people who rarely try to do the right thing, but often struggle with their failures. Co-creator Damon Lindelof (of Lost and Watchmen) really came into his own with this show, and the acting is consistently incredible, even though there isn’t really a loveable curmudgeon of any kind. Strongly recommended for: fans of Watchmen who want to see more of Regina King and people interested in the intersection of faith and doubt.

Best of Books

Becky Chambers’s first novel, A Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet (2014) came highly recommended, especially for fans of Firefly. And let me tell you: each and every one of those accolades was completely deserved; Chambers is now one of my favorite authors. Her books are far-future science fiction with a heart: each book is like a hug you didn’t realize you needed. A Long Way… is the first of the Wayfarers trilogy, and her recent novella To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a good entry point if you want to start with something shorter. Each of those works does feature, as you might expect from my list, a plucky band of space-travelers who try to do the right thing, but they don’t always fail, and often they succeed at doing good in a lovely, mature way. These books have more heart than anything outside of a cardiologist’s office. Strongly recommended for: anyone who sometimes feels sad or lonely, science-fiction fans, and people who feel like cynicism isn’t always the answer.

Martha Wells’s Murderbot series, on the other hand, is all about a cynical android who hates people and wants to be left alone to watch TV. The main character, in other words, is the loveable curmudgeon: despite their affection for binge-watching, Murderbot often does the right thing, only sometimes failing, and gradually acquiring a plucky band of friends and allies in a distant-future world of space travel, AI, and corporate power. Strongly recommended for: introverts who watch too much TV, fans of the novella format (finish it in a night!), and cyborg aficionados.

Carmen Maria Machado’s short-story collection Her Body and Other Parties is a far cry from space fiction, but it’s just as weird and delightful. One story is based entirely on the titles (and only the titles) of Law and Order episodes. Another is a riff on that story you probably heard in junior high, about the girl who always wears a ribbon around her neck, and what happens when it falls off. There is horror and humor and a heady sense of an author in control of her wild imagination throughout this collection. Strongly recommended for: people who hate traditional MFA/New Yorker-wannabe short stories and fans of Ted Chiang.

Best of Movies

I’m not going to claim that Avengers: Endgame is a great movie, but it was, for me, a great experience: like many of us in this binge-watching film and TV landscape, I often feel out of step with everyone else. But Endgame was a cultural moment I got to participate in, and one that made me appreciate the work that went into Marvel’s massive lead-up to the film. It wasn’t perfect, but I’m very happy with how it turned out. Strongly recommended for: oh, who are we kidding? If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably don’t care.

Sorry to Bother You, on the other hand, might have slipped past your radar. Boots Riley’s incisive critique of income inequality, race relations, workplace culture, and American life today is both scathing and hilarious. For a plus, it’s also darn weird: the movie goes in a very odd direction about halfway through that made me fall in love with it completely. Strongly recommended for: anyone who likes intelligent comedy, fans of the offbeat, and incipient socialists.

Best of Cats

Sam T. Cat, valiant friend and frequent contributing writer to Doux Reviews, passed away in October. Sam and I were together for 17 years. We had other cats (Dab, Sam’s younger brother, who died very young; and Duckling, Sam’s idiot underling, who passed away last year), but we were always focused on each other. We cuddled. We ate yogurt together. We folded laundry, made the bed, and scrubbed the bathroom together. He loved to chew cords, sit on plastic bags, and destroy couches. He was always there for me and I hope he felt I was there for him. I will miss him forever.


Josie Kafka is a retired cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

11 comments:

Billie Doux said...

This is just lovely, Josie.

All blessings to our late, beloved writer, Sam T. Cat.

CoramDeo said...

Out of curiosity, did you happen to watch Sorry to Bother You on any type of streaming service? I've been meaning to catch it, but haven't been able to find it anywhere.

Also, I pray Sam T. Cat destroys all the couches Heaven has to offer.

Anonymous said...

Billie and CoramDeo, thank you! Sam hears you and will comply: the couches will be destroyed!

CoramDeo, I think I watched it on Hulu, but that was months ago.

~Josie

Iceman said...

I had a similar experience with The Leftovers. Wasn't a fan of Season 1 at all, but loved Seasons 2 and 3. The melancholy was still there, but it was integrated into the story in a much more profound way. And if there's one word I would use to describe The Leftovers, it would be profound.

Personally, I've recently caught up on two shows, Manhattan (WGN) and Halt and Catch Fire (AMC). The former is an intense drama about the Manhattan Project. It's about as morally grey as it gets, and nearly every episode gripped me. The finale was one of the most spine-chilling ever.

Halt and Catch Fire is much more intimate and low stakes, but just as well done, post-Season 1. Yeah, it's one of those shows. It concerns the rise of the internet and the PC revolution. It's got one of the most compelling female relationships ever shown on tv, as well.

sunbunny said...

Josie I'm so sorry to hear about Sam!

Kayne said...

I second the Murderbot Best of Books nomination - read them all in the last months and it was just brilliant. There's also a 5th free online short story and I think she's working on a full novel now.

May I suggest the NK Jemisin Broken Earth series as well? It won multiple awards - a bit older but I also discovered it in 2019 only!

Happy new year to everyone at Doux's!

magritte said...

I love the Expanse and Amos, too, Josie. When he first appeared on the screen, I thought he was going to be another ends-justify-the-means survival-of-the-fittest psychopath, which is an archetype I'm quite bored with. What I find fascinating about him is that usually characters in this spectrum see their lack of a moral filter as a strength. They think they're the only people tough enough to do what needs to be done and demand everybody follow them. But while Amos recognizes his ruthlessness as having its uses, he sees himself as broken, and looks to characters like Naomi and Holden to guide him. That's a much less familiar character. I'm not sure I'd call him lovable, because he's still kind of scary. He does have a rockin' hot bod though.

Josie Kafka said...

Kayne, yes! I read Jemisin's Broken Earth series last year and absolutely loved it. I'm so excited for the Murderbot novel!

Magritte, I loved the moment in season three when Amos told Elizabeth Mitchell's character that he'd protect her. I think he does have a moral sense but refuses to acknowledge it--like you said, he trusts others to guide them, but he also is committed to caring for the weak.

Have you read anything about his backstory from the books? According to the internet, the short story "The Churn" reveals his very complicated childhood.

Billie Doux said...

Josie, I'm in the middle of The Expanse season two, and I'm enjoying Amos, too. He's so interesting and complicated. I'm thinking about reading the books after catching up with the series.

magritte said...

I've only read the first book of the series, but I've heard that about The Churn before. I didn't find Amos as strong a presence in the first book as on the show, maybe because Miller & Holden are the point-of-view characters.

Anonymous said...

Magritte, ditto!

I read the first half of the first book and realized I'd like it much more as a TV show. In that first half of the book, I had trouble telling Amos and Alex apart: they were so secondary, and their names both began with A. :-)

On the show, their differences are so obvious and the actors both bring so much to the characters.

~Josie