Things That Made 2016 Not Completely Unbearable

Yeah, this year needs to be put down, Ol'Yeller-style. Even though next year is looking about as ominous as a funnel cloud over a corn field and a solitary barn, I'm gonna take a minute here for an appreciation of things that don't involve elections or deaths (with one exception). Of course, everything is infused in some way by the gnawing dread that fucks with us constantly now.

1. Everything you've heard about the films La La Land and Moonlight is right: they are both beautiful and moving, and the performances are insanely great. In particular, Moonlight is remarkable for its empathy for most of its characters, including its gay protagonist (played by three different actors at different ages), the drug dealer who wrestles with his conscience, and the crack-addicted mother, played by Naomie Harris as a fierce and broken character. Two films that blew the doors off the genres they were confined to are The Green Room, where a punk band has to viciously fight for its life against neo-Nazis led by a quietly sinister Patrick Stewart, and The Invitation, a horror film that seems like another "hipsters talking about shit" movie until the true purpose of the evening gathering we're witnessing is revealed. The final moment of it now seems like a haunting distillation of what has happened to the nation.

2. Empathy also was in high supply on television that was worth a goddamn (unlike, say, the reality show that helped propel a certain leering orange goblin to the presidency). Donald Glover's Atlanta couldn't have been better: dry, funny, and so smart that one of its best episodes parodied cable shows directed at African Americans, gender theory, and pop culture, all while allowing each character dignity and agency. You're the Worst showcased its supporting characters, turning the fools into lonely souls trying to play the lead in their own lives. Despair could have overwhelmed both Fleabag and Rectify, but redemption was just around the corner for each of their protagonists. Rectify ended its run this year, and I'll miss the barely spoken, aching optimism of it. (For a sheer blast, there was the bizarre, manic Preacher. And you still couldn't beat Ash vs. Evil Dead, which did everything that The Walking Dead tried to do, except unpretentious and with chainsaws. We should all live this next year with the cockiness of Ashy Slashy.)

3. It'd be easy to say the best concert I saw was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band playing for four hours at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It was all you want for a Springsteen show: cathartic, raging, fun, exhausting, and communal, all in equal measure. But three other musical moments hit me even more strongly. At the elegant Beacon Theatre in New York City, Jason Isbell's intensely personal country songs echoed into the gold-gilded rafters, and the man can tear it up on guitar. In a shack of a bar in Louisiana, the great Cajun band the Lost Bayou Ramblers backed up Spider Stacy of the seminal Irish rock group, the Pogues, merging the musical styles into a crazed patchwork of sound that had the small crowd bouncing madly. And I was fortunate to see one of the final shows of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Wracked by cancer, in-between chemotherapy treatments, Jones was only able to perform five or six songs to a Camden, New Jersey crowd as an opening act, but, even frail, she danced and sang like she was chasing Death away. That it caught her a couple of months later showed that 2016 was going to be unforgiving in its malevolent pull. (The albums that have been on constant rotation this year for me include Good Grief by Lucius and Masterpiece by Big Thief.)

4. Let's see...what else? At the theatre, you can keep Hamilton. I'll take little productions like Smokefall at the MCC Theatre, where Zachary Quinto played his character as a fetus and as a grown man, and Miles for Mary at the Bushwick Starr, where teachers at a high school in 1988 gather in the utility room to discuss the upcoming telethon. Both were very funny and ultimately heartbreaking. For spectacle, you can keep Wicked. I'll take the Royal Shakespeare Company's raw, menacing Doctor Faustus, with its parade of sins that looked like Tim Burton and Hieronymus Bosch collaborated for maximum grotesque whimsy. The last act felt like the end of the world as choreographed by Satan. Or, you know, 2016 itself.

On a personal level, 2016 wasn't that bad, filled with love and travel and experiences and professional advancement. I'd trade away a fair bit of it to replace this feeling of impending doom for the new year. But let's face it without cowering, ready to beat the shit out of it before it takes us down.