Things That Didn't Suck in 2019

Every goddamn day, every single goddamn day of this fucking year has been a bloody-knee crawl through the trash heap of an America that is increasingly deformed by Trump and his enablers and their idiot hordes of freaks and fascists who want to make a home in the wasteland they're trying to dry hump into being. Each bit of joy I felt this year seemed like a rebellion, like a raised middle finger to these fuckers.

In 2019, you had to find nuggets of golden peace in the raging, rocky river.

1a. The best television forced you to see the world in a new, wondrous, and/or terrifying way. The end of Mr. Robot was both cathartic and disorienting, and the final season was a nonstop heightening of tensions to almost unbearable levels. You're the Worst made a case for an unhappy ending before pulling the rug out and giving us the happy ending we secretly really wanted. And Broad City showed that growing up doesn't have to mean giving up (and was really fuckin' funny). You could read the end of Catastrophe as death or rebirth or just two people out for a swim (and was really fuckin' funny). Finally, Silicon Valley nailed its conclusion by showing that wealth and power not only do not equal happiness, but that we are going to inadvertently kill ourselves if we don't figure out how to exist in harmony with technology (and, yeah, was really fuckin' funny).  (Yeah, yeah, Fleabag, too.)

1b. There was an embarrassment of great television this season, and I haven't even had a chance to watch some things yet. But of the new shows, Watchmen blew open the doors on how to use pop culture to interrogate the shameful racist history of this sick nation. Meanwhile, When They See Us tore the filthy bandage off our recent past in a searing indictment of a justice system rigged against young black men. Russian Doll and Undone created new narrative forms to explore how two women respond to a world they feel alienated from. The Boys was a face-blast of violence and rage against the idiocy of hero worship. Los Espookys gave us a deadpan, hilarious group of artists whose art is horror. Lastly, The Other Two was about two siblings of a teen pop star that gave up simple cringe comedy and irony in favor of a more complex cringe comedy and sincerity. It totally worked.

1c. This is not to mention the continued awesomeness of Bojack Horseman, Rick and MortySuccession, The Good Place...we're all watching too much TV.

2. On the music front, the album that blew me away this year was Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten, a yearning, rocking record about learning to get older and grappling with the bullshit around love. For sheer joy, nothing I heard topped Lizzo's Cuz I Love You. Yeah, we all love Lizzo now, but, goddamn, the album just bangs, start to finish. I loved the danceable weirdness of FKA twigs' MAGDALENE, the unabashed propulsive rock of Sturgill Simpson's Sound & Fury,  the barely contained emotion of Yola's Walk Through Fire, the naked desperation of Big Thief's Two Hands, the assured folk rock of Strand of Oaks' Eraserland, and...okay, I'll stop there.

2b. Gonna put in a special plug for my daughter's band in the UK, who put out their first EP this year. Natalie and the Monarchy's Pretty Little Flower is the grunge/music hall synthesis you didn't know you need. Their live shows are goddamn intense and fun, with a great group of young musicians jamming out. Go see them when they hit your town in England. (Yeah, I'm biased. And?)

3. Speaking of live music, the other best concerts I saw this year were ones that let you dance and bounce and scream like you were trying to purge yourself of all the bullshit swirling around. At the tiny Brooklyn club Barbes, Slavic Soul Party, which has a weekly gig there, just blew our faces off with brass jazz. David Byrne's American Utopia is a Broadway show that's also a goddamn David Byrne concert and as affirming a celebration of life, both its highs and lows, as you're gonna get. The young band The Wrecks put on a crazy good straight-up rock show at the Sea.Hear.Now Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey. And Bikini Kill's savage comeback show was a reminder that, sometimes, all you need is some punk rock shot straight into your veins.

4. Continuing with live stuff, two radical versions of classics blew me away. In New York, Red Bull Theatre's Macbeth framed its production as a game that high school girls were playing, but it captured the danger and passion of the show in a way that was absolutely radical. This was probably the tenth time I've seen the play, and this intense, funny, carnal production made more sense than any other I've seen. In London, the Yard Theatre's deconstruction of Arthur Miller's The Crucible was propulsive and unnerving, and Caoilfhionn Dunne's John Proctor ripped your heart out. Back in NYC, Is This a Room, a play that's a verbatim transcript of the FBI interrogation of whistleblower Reality Winner was a caustic reminder of the way the power of the state can destroy someone. Finally, Our Dear Dead Drug Lord by Alexis Scheer was another exploration of how teenage girls search for meaning. In this case, it's through their shared and destructive worship of Pablo Escobar.

5. Movies? Let's do this quickly (and, again, I haven't seen a bunch): Parasite and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are everything you've heard they are. The Perfection and Tigers Are Not Afraid are two very different but equally bizarre, heartbreaking, and fucked-up horror films. Us has gotten better in my mind as I've thought about it through the year. Booksmart and Dolemite Is My Name are both just hilarious and human. Knives Out and John Wick 3 are pure pop culture popcorn, fun from beginning to end without making you feel dumb or that a giant marketing machine is making you feel obligated to show up.

5. I've gotta throw in a special mention of a couple of faraway places. I visited Barcelona this past summer and fell madly, unexpectedly in love with the city. Since I was a kid, I always wanted to see the Sagrada Familia, the gargantuan cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi, so visiting that transcendent space was overwhelming. Sometimes, things live up to or go beyond your expectations, and this was one of those times. Also, at the Center for Contemporary Culture, the extensive Feminisms exhibit was a bracing, insightful, and confrontational look at women artists in the 1970s, when fucking with the gender hierarchy was a new world for art to conquer.

(Note: I'm sure I'll remember some shit that I forgot and add it later.)

Look, 2020 is gonna fuck with us mightily. Don't forget to cleanse and reboot your brain as needed. We're gonna need to be strong. Take a break or fill your tank. Asses will need kicking.