Earlier I was all looking forward to a fun-filled New Year's celebration last night, hanging out with friends from as far away as accursed Vancouver, eating good food, having a glass of wine (driving!), playing board games, and getting early New Year's kisses. Sadly, however, my stomach had other plans. Plans that involved my bathroom for a great deal of time. I was unhappy, to say the least. But I welcomed in the new year with a delightful Irish Coffee (sadly, because of my stomach, no whipped cream!) and Batman Begins. Plus, the extra hours of free time allowed me to get through a little necessary reading, and reflect on the year that was 2006 in my corner of the pop culture world. Of course, I'm only putting them up just now, but that's because I'm dedicated to thinking things through. Or something like that.
I try to cast a fairly broad net when I'm trolling for books, movies, albums, et cetera. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes not. In 2006, a combination of extreme busyness and low cash flow meant that I didn't get to experience as much as I wanted; I don't even know if I saw more than 7 movies that came out in 2006, hence their exclusion from my lists. This is something I really hope to change in 2007 (this despite having a Thesis to finish and a wedding to plan/finance). However, I would feel remiss if I didn't at least try to make my lists this year, a tradition that extends, in some form or another, to 1997, where I just made up lists and distributed them to my friends, who in all likelihood just threw them away.
How will this list be any different? Well, for one thing, this can't be thrown away; but for another thing, it allows me to ask people to help me try to track down what I didn't get to this year. Sure, part of my reason for putting my lists here is my pop culture evangelizing, but the other part is for my friends and acquaintances to tell me what they liked from the year that was, to give me something to look for. If you agree with or disagree with anything I put down, please let me know, and that sentiment goes double for things you think I should have gotten to this year. Like I said, they sure ain't definitive. Here's my 3 lists.
The 5 Best Television Shows of 2006
5. The Office
The end of Season Two was great, and the start of Season Three has been even better. New actors, new characters, and Steve Carell still stuck in the middle. The Office has re-established itself in 2006, and although it's not the British series, it shouldn't be: this is much better than a remake, it's a re-imagining.
4. Feasting on Asphalt
Alton Brown is the hardest working man on the Food Network. As if he didn't have enough to do as the host of Iron Chef America and Good Eats, he's created this hour-long show where he takes his crew on a motorcycle trip of the U.S., in search of the best road food in the country. The journey's part of the fun, as we see the beauty of the American landscape and the great discoveries of the roadside diners. A treat for foodies and those who dream of traveling.
3. 30 Rock
I haven't watched SNL in about five years, but if it's half as funny as this show, I may start again. Tina Fey has created not only a great show, but a great character in Liz Lemon, someone who could have just been a write-off as even crazier characters surround her. My favourite part of this show is Alec Baldwin, someone I knew was hilarious since the much-maligned Clerks: The Animated Series. My friend Ry-Guy told me that this was probably not going to be renewed, and it's a CRYING shame. Let the letter-writing commence.
Season Two of House got much better when they lost Sela Ward's character; nothing against her as an actress but the show got too soap opera-y for me. Whereas I watch it for the mystery and the wonderful Hugh Laurie, who's still a crank long after I thought they would have tried to soften him. And then, in Season Three, his aberrant behaviour comes to bite him in the ass - in the form of the amazing David Morse! Hugh Laurie vs. David Morse equals The Doc glued to the screen. Amazing drama. Oh, there are other actors, sure, but it doesn't get much better than this on a Tuesday night.
1. The Daily Show / The Colbert Report
Kind of cheating on this one, but I can't really mention one without the other. Both of these shows have some of the best writing on television: making light of the news, despite what some might think, is not easy. Jon Stewart's is very good, as usual, but The Daily Show's correspondents have been shining particularly bright this year, with new blood like Assif Manvi and John Oliver matching the level of excellence set by Samantha Bee and Rob Corddry. The Colbert Report, on the other hand, rests on the shoulders of one man, Doctor Stephen T. Colbert, DFA himself, who pulls it off every night. Sometimes Stewart's ahead, sometimes it's Colbert, but the fact that these shows are at such a high level of quality four nights a week is a testament to all involved.
The 5 Best Albums of 2006
5. mySoul - Jacksoul
A cd with only one original song, the rest covers of famous songs with a soul/R&B twist. Sounds like a weird and ultimately flawed concept album, but Vancouver outfit Jacksoul makes it work with style. Some songs are R&B classics that are fairly straight ahead covers, and while good, don't really bring that much new to the table. Where the album shines are the genre-benders, songs that aren't anywhere near Motown but benefit greatly from some soul injection. They even take The Smashing Pumpkins "1979", a song I absolutely loathe, and make it...well, if not great, then definitely more listenable. Haydain Neale's voice brings out the best in every lyric, and the musicianship is tight and well-produced. Besides, this album has what is, for me, the best single track of the year. It'd be higher if it weren't for that accursed "1979." Man, I really don't like that song.
Standout Tracks: Try (best song of the year); Been Caught Stealing; High & Dry; Change is Gonna Come
4. Gang of Losers - The Dears
The Dears made quite a bit of ruckus with their 2003 album, No Cities Left, but the 2006 release didn't make too many waves with the mainstream media. Which is interesting, because I think it's actually better. It's definitely a Dears record, they're sticking with their tried and true sound, but the lyrics are a little more ambitious. The songs are influenced by many different styles; rock ballads, pop hits, sweet confections, and loud "alternative" songs, if that word hasn't lost all meaning by now. The album is more than the sum of its songs; not a musically cohesive whole but more like a journey through the songs. Gang of Losers is the strongest Dears album to date, and rewards repeated listening.
Standout Tracks: Death or Life We Want You; There Goes My Outfit; Whites Only Party
3. Modern Times - Bob Dylan
It's kind of irritating, but every time Bob Dylan puts out a new album, I just know it's going to be amazing and on my list of the best of the year. It's irritating because I'm not a huge Dylan fan. I only really got into him with the release of Time Out Of Mind, which was phenomenal, and I've only scratched the surface of the earlier catalogue. (I can't even do the late 70s and early 80s releases. They hurt me to listen to.) But true to form, Modern Times is on my list. I didn't love it the first time I heard it; it sounded like "the generic new Bob Dylan album". But the more I heard it, the more I appreciated it. Ultimately, though, it's not an album that anyone can pick up: it's Bob Dylan's take on Americana, country, blues, and rock & roll. If you don't think you'll like it, you won't; if you think you'll like it, you'll love it.
Standout Tracks: Thunder on the Mountain, When the Deal Goes Down, Ain't Talkin'
2. St. Elsewhere - Gnarls Barkley
James Brown on acid. Al Green for the MTV generation. Curtis Mayfield with drum machines. St. Elsewhere is a juggernaut of an album, grabbing you with its fists of fury and dragging you along for nearly forty minutes of awesomeness. Cee-Lo's voice handles soul and cheese with equal ease, and DangerMouse's production is like throwing records into a blender and making a delicious milkshake. I can't say much more about this album: it's a great pop album that looks both backwards to its roots and forwards into the future.
Standout Tracks: Go-Go-Gadget Gospel; Crazy; Just A Thought; The Last Time
1. Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards - Tom Waits
If you're looking for the best combination of quantity and quality, then Orphans is the album to get. Three discs, each showcasing a different side of Tom Waits. Brawlers has the songs of the boistrous rocker; Bawlers displays the melancholy and sweet ballads; and Bastards is full of experimental tracks. Individually, I think I prefer Brawlers, but each disc has its distinct strengths, and I enjoy each album on its own merits. Much like the Dylan album, if you think you'll like this album, you probably will, but I think that almost anyone would find something to like on here.
Standout Tracks: Lie To Me; 2:19; Sea of Love; Little Drop of Poison; Down There By The Train; What Keeps Mankind Alive; Spidey's Wild Ride; Missing My Son
The 5 Best Comics of 2006
5. Gail Simone’s work for DC (All-New Atom, Birds of Prey, Secret Six.)
Gail Simone has quickly become one of my favourite writers, not only because of her great story ideas, but because of her fantastic characterization. Secret Six took me back to the days of Ostrander’s Suicide Squad (which I was too young to really appreciate at the time), but with more fun. Birds of Prey is still my number one team superhero book; she took the One Year Later idea and actually did something new and exciting. And the All-New Atom is genetically engineered to be a comic book for geeks, referencing Call of Cthulu, Karate Kid, and Patton Oswalt; the first three issues of the series, drawn by John Byrne, were near-perfect. I can’t afford to get her WildStorm books, but if she keeps up the quality on these books in 2007, I’ll be happier than I deserve.
4. The ever-developing Fables universe. (Fables, Jack of Fables, 1001 Nights of Snowfall.)
Fables started the year off on a low note (the last chapter of the incredibly disappointing “Arabian Nights & Days” storyline), but then came out with some of the strongest issues in the series: the romance of “The Ballad of Rodney & June”, the chilling “Sons of Empire” (complete with great backup stories), the extra-sized 50th anniversary special, and the Christmas issue which finally answers the question: how does Santa Claus visit all those houses in just one night? With great interior art from guest artists such as Shawn McManus, Gene Ha, Joshua Middleton, and Mike Allred, and series artist Mark Buckingham (one of my favourite pencillers of all time), Fables continues to be at the forefront of Vertigo’s smart, well-made comics. The new Jack of Fables series allows Willingham to explore aspects of the world outside of Fabletown’s walls, and Jack’s a character with tons of potential. Add the gorgeous hardcover 1001 Nights of Snowfall, and the world of Bigby, Snow White, and the rest has never been more entertaining.
3. Image’s Slimline books (Casanova & Fell).
Last year, Warren Ellis came up with the idea of selling a title with 18 pages of comics for only $1.99 ($2.30 for me), and the result was the incredible crime series Fell. Despite having fewer pages than your regular book, Ellis & artist Ben Templesmith created a book with as much story as any regular title, and had creator extras and letters at the back. Only three issues came out this year, but each one was a tiny masterpiece. The second title in the “Slimline” series, Casanova, is about as different from Fell as it could be: incredibly busy, frenetic, metatextual, and LOUD. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Gabriel Ba somehow managed to pack as much story into one issue of Casanova as most other creators can get into two or three regular sized issues. Plus, issue two (“Pretty Little Policemen”) was riddled with Beatles references. Is it any wonder that it’s my favourite new title of the year? The Slimline books are not only the most affordable and cost-effective comics on the stands, but are examples of what incredibly creative people can do when put under constraints.
2. All-Star Superman.
This book is making almost everyone’s list of the great books of the year. And that’s because it’s REALLY good. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have been given a Lego set of every aspect of Superman over the past seventy years and used it to make some amazing Superman stories. Only three issues came out this year, but each one was a piece of pop culture gold. Issue Three, “Sweet Dreams Superwoman”, where Lois gets to play around with superpowers for one day, and Superman battles Samson and Atlas. Issue Four, “The Superman/Olsen War!”, where I actually get the appeal of Jimmy Olsen. Issue Five, “The Gospel According to Lex Luthor”, gives the reader insights into the mind of the certifiable criminal mastermind. Grant Morrison has worked like a crazy man this year, but this is easily the best thing he’s done in 2007. If you had told me back when I was reading Frank Quitely and Mark Millar’s Authority that I would be singing the praises of Quitely’s art, I would have called you a filthy liar, but he’s stepped up his game in the past few years, and his work on this title is breathtaking. Anyone who says Superman is boring needs to read these issues and reconsider. Part of me wishes it came out more regularly, but the delays in publishing just make me appreciate it all the more.
1. The Thing.
Eight issues. That’s it. The best comic that was published in 2007, and all it got was eight issues. Dan Slott took one of the most iconic Marvel characters and put him in some incredible stories that were the most fun comics of the year. The Thing battling a group of robotic Hulks. The Thing and Lockjaw playing Frisbee with a manhole cover. The Thing going back in time and wrestling Hercules. The Thing battling Sandman and Paste-Pot Pete (sorry, The Trapster). But amidst the fun, there were touching human stories, about new billionaire Ben working through the problems that money and fame can bring, trying to figure out what’s important in life, and working towards what he really wants in terms of family and community. The ultimate issue had two super-hero team-ups, a bar mitzvah, and the return of The Thing’s poker night. Andrea DiVito and Kieron Dwyer had two very different art styles, yet they both worked to tell these stories, which is a credit both to the artists and to the strength of Slott’s stories. The Thing is the Arrested Development of Marvel Comics, and I just hope that the trade sells like hotcakes, because comics this good deserve to be read.
There we go, people. Ball's in your court now.