Nothing But Memory
Post in Category Small Screen

Frankenstein Is Eating Dexter Morgan!

A few weeks ago, the eighth and final season of Dexter started airing. I’ve been a Dexter fan for years and I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll wrap things up. The biggest development so far is the introduction of a new character, Dr. Vogel, played by Charlotte Rampling. Dr. Vogel is a psychiatrist known as “the psychopath whisperer,” who reveals at the end of the first episode that SPOILER!

In fact, there will be spoilers throughout this post, so stop reading now if you aren’t caught up and don’t want to know.

… Okay, good.

As I was saying, Dr. Vogel reveals that she is an old friend of Dexter’s adoptive father Harry. Not only that, she knows the truth about Dexter; in fact, she helped Harry come up with the code. Bombshell.

When Dexter finds this out, he calls Vogel his Dr. Frankenstein — an obvious comparison, and one I also thought of right away. Vogel is the mad scientist; Dexter is the monster she has unleashed on the world.

But there’s something of Victor Frankenstein about Dexter, too, with his creepy scientific instruments, freakish operating table, and tendency to cut people up (though he never puts them back together again). This makes sense: Victor and the creature are often seen as doubles, with the monster being Victor’s shadow self and acting out his darkest urges. Similarly, Dexter has created a separate identity, the “dark passenger,” for his murderous tendencies.

If Dexter is Victor, we can also see Deb as a double for Victor’s beloved Elizabeth. Like Deb and Dexter, Elizabeth and Victor have a weird incestuous vibe to their relationship: they are not blood-related, but were raised as siblings and eventually developed romantic feelings for each other. Sounds familiar — at least, half familiar, eh Deb? Elizabeth, of course, is murdered by the her fiance/brother’s creation on her wedding night. Does this bode ill for Deb’s survival or has Dexter’s dark passenger has already metaphorically killed her?

One of the great things about Frankenstein is the number of ways you can interpret it, and the parallel to Dexter is also very interesting if we turn things around slightly and look at Harry as the Dr. Frankenstein in this scenario. If you’ve seen Young Frankenstein, then you know the only reason the creature turned into a monster is that his father/creator rejected him, just as Harry became disgusted by Dexter after seeing him at work. In this case, Dr. Vogel, who after only two episodes seems to have praised Dexter’s “perfect” nature hundreds of times already, becomes the kindly mother figure who gives the monster Dexter the unconditional love he never got from his dad.

Apart from the multitude of Frankensteins going on, I see another, perhaps more unexpected, cultural reference at play in this season of Dexter: the title of this week’s episode, “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?,” is a reference to the 1993 Lasse Hallström film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which starred Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, and a young Leonardo DiCaprio, who received his first Oscar nomination for playing Arnie, Gilbert’s mentally challenged younger brother.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) movie poster.

At first, the title seems like a terrible and also horrifying pun on the psychopath of the week’s penchant for eating human flesh (ewww). However, I think “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?” is more than just a casual reference. The plot of the episode, if you really think about it, borrows a fair bit from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

In the movie, Gilbert Grape is a young man who feels trapped by his small town life and the pressure of taking care of his family. Gilbert’s father committed suicide, leaving Gilbert responsible for his three siblings, including the perpetually childlike Arnie, and his mother, a morbidly obese shut-in who hasn’t left the family home in years. Arnie enjoys trying to climb the town watertower, an activity that gets him into a lot of trouble: crowds gather to watch him, the police show up, and Gilbert ultimately has to talk him down. On one occasion, though, the police actually arrest Arnie for his hijinks and it’s Momma Grape who heads down to the station to retrieve her precious boy. Later on in the movie, Momma dies, and rather than go through the humiliation of having her body removed from the house, the Grape kids burn down their house with their mother’s body inside. It’s a cathartic moment for Gilbert in particular, who finally feels free of the massive weight (yes, it’s a bit literal) that has been tying him down.

Deb, completely falling apart at this point, is Dexter’s version of Arnie, the troublesome, out of control sibling who’s always getting into mischief. (It’s worth noting that Gilbert’s irresponsible behaviour is the cause some of Arnie’s problems: Arnie is traumatized when Gilbert leaves him in the bath overnight. And really, that’s probably not as traumatic as betraying everything you stand for by killing a cop to protect your serial killer brother.) She gets picked up by a cop for hitting a parking metre, then later heads to the police station and — yikes! — confesses to killing LaGuerta. Luckily, Quinn calls Dexter, who shows up with his version of Momma, Dr. Vogel, to take Deb home.

Now, obviously, Dr. Vogel is not exactly like Momma Grape. However, given Vogel’s curiosity about Dexter’s feelings towards Deb, it seems to me the writers may be leading up to a revelation that Dexter is not, as he has always been trained to believe, a psychopath, and that he was not beyond fixing until his training made him that way. He has lived with this weight of monstrousness on his shoulders his whole life thanks to his “parents,” Harry and Vogel. If this is the case, perhaps the show will end with Vogel — who, if you ask me, is way too into psychopaths not to be one herself — on Dexter’s table, and Dexter and Deb catching a ride out of town with Juliette Lewis.

Or something like that.

In Every Generation: 10 Years After Buffy

It’s been exactly 10 years since “Chosen,” the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, first aired on UPN. I started watching Buffy in its third season, after my sister convinced me to watch some of the season two episodes she had on tape over the summer. It became my favourite show, which it remains to this day. Although Buffy definitely has its flaws (most of them in season seven), I still haven’t found a show that can top it in its best moments. I love the show’s combination of serious drama and silly comedy, its large family of complex characters, many of whom have very interesting story arcs, and of course that excellent Joss Whedon dialogue.

To celebrate the anniversary of the end of Buffy, I’ve put together a quick list of five of my favourite Buffy moments. This is a bit of a random list: I wanted to stay away from the obvious, so I’ve tried avoid all the major events from season finales and that kind of thing. One of the great things about Buffy, after all, is that it did little moments just as well as it did big ones. The whole “high school is hell” premise of the show is based on the idea that the ordinary things in life can have massive significance. Although some of my choices come from important episodes or are big events in the context of the show, they all stand out to me for packing a big punch on a relatively smaller scale.

Xander and Tara in The Body.

“It hurts.”  “The Body” is an episode that’s explicitly built on small moments, and this is a very small scene I find particularly striking. After Xander pulls his hand out of the wall he’s punched, Tara looks at him and simply says, “It hurts.” Just stating the obvious. But coming from Tara, perhaps the most open and kind soul on the show, it means a lot more. The way Xander looks at her after she says it, it’s like he’s seeing her for the first time. Xander and Tara’s relationship is not one the show spends much time exploring; by comparison, Willow and Anya’s somewhat rocky relationship is far more developed. In this moment, though, we know he gets her.

Jonathan presents Buffy with the Class Protector Award at the prom.

Buffy Gets One Perfect High School Moment. Buffy is both an ordinary teenaged girl and a heroine with a grand destiny; generally, much to her dismay, the heroine part gets in the way of the other stuff. By the time graduation rolls around, Buffy has pretty much given up on ever fitting in at Sunnydale High or making her mark on the school in traditional ways like being Homecoming Queen or even having her picture in the yearbook. In “The Prom,” she must save the prom from a demon attack — once again giving up her own shot at an ordinary high school experience in order to preserve it for everyone else. (“No! You guys are going to have a prom. The kind of prom that everyone should have. I’m going to give you all a nice, fun, normal evening if I have to kill every single person on the face of the earth to do it.”) Much to her surprise, though, it turns out Buffy’s classmates have in fact noticed her: after a spontaneous write-in campaign, the class of 99 presents her with the Class Protector Award in recognition of her heroism. It’s a lovely gesture by the students and it makes me cry every time I watch the episode.

Giles in Dead Man's Party.

“Welcome home, Buffy.” When Buffy returns to Sunnydale in “Dead Man’s Party” after her lost summer, everyone is really, really mean to her over the fact that she disappeared for months and didn’t tell them where she went. Everyone, that is, except Giles, who is just very relieved and happy to have her back safely. In public, he’s calm and unemotional. In private, he takes a moment to let himself smile. I love how much Giles cares for Buffy — he is the only person who both fully understands her and loves her unconditionally — and this is a very sweet demonstration of it.

Buffy and Spike in Fool for Love.

“Is there something I can do?” In the end I suppose Spike comes close to matching Giles’ love for Buffy (although in a very different way). This scene from the end of “Fool for Love,” in which Spike sits quietly with Buffy while she allows herself a private moment of weakness over her mother’s illness, speaks volumes about their relationship. For one thing, they’ve spent the whole episode fighting and he stopped by with the intention of killing her. This is also a preview of season six, where Spike becomes Buffy’s go-to non-person for escape from a harsh reality. Spike’s desire to be worthy in Buffy’s eyes ultimately leads to a very grand gesture, but it all starts with a bit of silent, friendly comfort.

Buffy in The I in Team.

Buffy Takes The Initiative. This one isn’t as emotional as all my other picks. In this scene from “The I in Team,” Buffy attends a briefing at the headquarters of The Initiative. I’ve always found this scene hilarious just because of the image of Buffy in her orange halter top standing with all those commando guys. Aside from being funny, though, it also provides a nice visual summary of the entire conflict of season four, with Buffy’s feminine, mystical, “unpredictable” energy noticeably disrupting the male, technological, structured Initiative way of doing things. Buffy’s insistence on asking questions gets laughs from the soldiers at this point, but it’s her undoing with Professor Walsh later in this very episode. Season four is Buffy‘s most underrated year, in my opinion: The Initiative storyline, which is extremely well-developed over the season, explores some very interesting issues and this is a key scene from a key episode.

What are your favourite smaller Buffy moments?

SMASH! and Trash: 2012 in Review

Happy New Year! Now that we’ve made it to 2013, it’s time to look back on 2012. It was an ok year. I don’t know that I accomplished much. I learned how to make books. I finished paying off my student debt! That was actually quite exciting. I went canoeing and walked a few of the trails in Algonquin Park. I was a good aunt. I visited Newfoundland, which was the only province I hadn’t been to before. But enough about my actual life: here’s my take on the year in pop culture.

Movies

Every year, I set a goal of watching 50 movies I haven’t seen before; I accomplished that in 2012 with a final tally of 108 movies. A personal highlight of the year in film for me was going to Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival. This was something I’d been thinking about doing for a few years. I saw five films, including one of my favourites of the year (see below). If I can swing it, I’d definitely like to go back in 2013 and possibly see even more movies. Looking at the list of 2012 releases I saw, it seems I saw more movies I didn’t really care for than movies I loved. However, there were four standouts on both ends of the spectrum:

Best

1. The Avengers. I’d been looking forward to this movie ever since that amazing moment when Nick Fury showed up in the Iron Man post-credits scene. Marvel superheroes + Joss Whedon + the generally high quality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies = lots and lots of hype and expectations. I was living in fear of the possibility that The Avengers would be disappointing. Luckily for me, it wasn’t! At all! In fact, it was superb. It was one of the most awesome movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life and possibly the best thing to happen on Earth in 2012. A massive (they have a Hulk) and massively entertaining summer blockbuster.

2. Les Misérables. I only saw this last week so it’s possible my opinion will change after the movie sits with me for a while, but right now I’m totally enamoured with it; I liked it so much the first time that I went again the next day — that’s a pretty strong recommendation. I was obsessed with the musical as a teenager and admire the songs very much. All I wanted from the film was solid performances that captured the tone of the musical well, and it delivered. Everyone in the cast is great. The film, while not perfect, is a stirring and emotional experience that is as grand as the songs.

3. Argo. This is the one I saw at TIFF, and the one I’m going to be rooting for come Oscar time. (Sorry, Les Mis. I still love you the most.) It’s a tense thriller about U.S. relations with the Middle East, mixed with a comedy about the movie industry — a mix that works very well and is highly enjoyable. Ben Affleck has turned out to be an excellent filmmaker. I’m honestly surprised this movie wasn’t a bigger hit: it has all the makings of a real crowdpleaser.

4. The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson shine as Katniss and Peeta in what I felt was a mostly successful adaptation of a book I like very much. The movie has suspenseful action as well as genuinely affecting emotional scenes plus all the terrible spectacle of the Capitol and the Games. The fact that a movie about the horrors of consumerism is now the centre of a vast moneymaking empire is of course a bit ironic, but oh well.

Worst

End of Watch. Vomit-inducing shakycam combined with lots of incoherent shouting. I remain convinced that this was originally pitched as a comedy and someone somewhere along the way accidentally took it seriously.

Cosmopolis. This was at least nine hours long. Why, David Cronenberg, why?

The Amazing Spider-Man. I liked this 10 years ago when it was just called Spider-Man and was actually amazing.

The Sessions. Heroic actor plays severely disabled person! Heroic actress no one’s thought about in years takes off clothes! “Well then,” say the critics, “it must be good.” No.

Music

I was really planning to make an effort to discover more new music in 2012, but alas. I failed quite miserably and basically spent the whole year listening to Florence + the Machine. The only new album I can say made an impact on me is Battle Born by The Killers. I’ve also been enjoying Muse’s The 2nd Law, particularly the unexpectedly beautiful song “Madness.”

As for the worst in music, I was dismayed by Tori Amos’ “new” album Gold Dust, which features orchestral “reimaginings” of some of Tori’s older songs. Sounds like an interesting idea … except that many of the songs included already featured orchestras in their original versions, which made me wonder what exactly the purpose of all this could be. The only thing I can think is that she’s actually run out of crappy new material to record so she’s decided to start destroying her good music, too. The horror, the horror.

Books

My biggest literary excitement of 2012 was no doubt the fact that two of my favourite authors, J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket, released new books within a couple of weeks of one another. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy was a very good entry in the English country village genre; Snicket’s Who Could That Be at This Hour? takes us back into the world of A Series of Unfortunate Events for a look at the author’s youth. I enjoyed both, but I think my favourite book of the year was Such Wicked Intent, the second book in Kenneth Oppel’s The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series. Aside from drawing with great skill on the themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Oppel brings in other influences — the main one being H.P. Lovecraft — and writes in a convincing Victorian style. I look forward to the final book in the series.

In the world of graphic novels, Jeff Lemire is my cartoonist of the year: I read both Essex County and The Underwater Welder in 2012 and have totally fallen in love with his art. Lemire’s strange and haunting Sweet Tooth is one of two comics I discovered and enjoyed catching up on this year, the other being Mike Carey’s very literary The Unwritten. I also continued making my way through Bill Willingham’s great series Fables, but I’m not caught up yet.

Television

I already covered the first part of 2012 quite extensively in my Memmys blog post so I won’t go on much here. In terms of things that have aired since I wrote that post, I felt Dexter returned to form this season. Yvonne Strahovski was a surprisingly good addition to the cast. Season 3 of Boardwalk Empire was also very impressive, and the most recent season of Survivor is probably one of its best ever, despite the presence of one of the all-time most irritating castaways (Abi, in case you weren’t sure).

I bade farewell to three old favourites as One Tree Hill, Weeds, and Gossip Girl made their final appearances. I discovered a couple of new to me, old to everyone else favourites in the utterly brilliant The Wire, the hilarious Community, and the very endearing Parks and Recreation. I rewatched Lost, and in doing so discovered that it works better the second time through. My rewatch cemented Lost as one of my top five favourite shows.

Finally, a couple of surprises, one good and one bad. Good: I am loving the newest season of Castle. I always thought it would annoy me if Castle and Beckett ever became a couple, but they’ve actually been really fun to watch. Bad: the final season of Fringe has been a real disappointment. I was so happy when it was renewed, but now that I’ve seen what they’re doing I will go so far as to say that unless the remaining episodes are mindblowingly amazing I will probably skip season 5 on any future Fringe rewatches I undertake. It’s a bummer.

So that’s 2012 in a nutshell. There is literally no chance that 2013 will be able to top The Avengers, but here’s hoping it provides some good stuff nonetheless.

I’m a Better Host Than Jimmy Kimmel, Too

Being a sucker for awards shows, naturally I watched the Emmys on Sunday night. The Emmys, I have to say, are one of my least favourite awards shows. It’s hard to take a group that claims to honour the best in television seriously when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never nominated in a major category except one time for writing, and that writing nomination came for an episode with almost no dialogue (an excellent episode, to be sure, but still). Also, it did not win.

This year’s Emmy telecast was particularly unsatisfying for me as the one show I do love that I can usually count on to make me feel better about these things, Mad Men, didn’t even win. For once, Bryan Cranston didn’t win, yet somehow, neither did Jon Hamm. I was annoyed. As soon as I went to bed, I started plotting out my own version of the Emmy awards, which I am calling the Memmy Awards, to recognize the best in television as perceived by me. Here are my nominees.

Note: Community is the only sitcom I watch, so I’m not bothering with a separate category for comedy because it would just win everything. I bet that would be super, super annoying and predictable.

Best Supporting Actor

Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones. I wasn’t that impressed with season two of Game of Thrones, but one thing I did love about it was Charles Dance’s outstanding performance. The scenes between Arya and the Lannister patriarch were certainly the highlight of the season for me. Dance plays Lord Tywin with great strength and menace, ably showing viewers the forceful paternal influence that made Tyrion, Cersei, and Jaime who they are.

Jared Harris as Lane Pryce on Mad Men. Frankly, he deserves this nomination just for that time Lane punched Pete Campbell in the face. I also loved the crazy scene where he gave Joan some, er, business advice. But as amazing as those moments were, there was much more weighty stuff to Lane’s arc and Jared Harris’ performance this season. So very English, suffering in silence as everyone else went on with their lives, never suspecting the depth of his problems.

John Noble as Walter Bishop on Fringe. John Noble’s omission is one of the things that bothers me the most when I see the Emmy nominations every year. He plays Walter’s messed up mental state with a mix of flat-out weirdness and fragility that can go from hilarious to incredibly moving in just a few short words. He also shows his vast range in his scenes as Walternate, where we see the cold and calculating person the lovable Walter we know might have become.

And the Memmy goes to … John Noble, because for heaven’s sake, someone’s got to give this man an award!

Best Supporting Actress

Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris on Mad Men. Season five was a very big year for Joan: she finally dumped Dr. Rapist, she came back to work after her maternity leave … oh yeah, and she whored herself out for the good of the company and was made partner in return. The moment when she told her awful husband he’s not a good man actually made me cheer. It was a satisfying, if uncomfortable, season for Joan’s character development, and Hendricks played it all beautifully.

Jessica Paré as Megan Draper on Mad Men. Whatever you think of Megan (personally, I like her), Jessica Paré was a force on Mad Men this season. Her youthful exuberance challenged Don to contemplate moving with the times, Peggy to re-evaluate her career, and Betty to take a long look at her own maturity level. (Possibly.) Paré started the season off with a bang (Zou Bisou Bisou!) and went toe-to-toe with Jon Hamm in some very intense scenes.

Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey. Maggie Smith’s wonderful readings of Julian Fellowes’ funny and sometimes outlandish dialogue are very probably the best thing about Downton Abbey. This is simply a case of a brilliant actress doing a brilliant job in a brilliantly-written role. I watch her every moment she’s on screen: every gesture and facial expression is unmissable.

And the Memmy goes to … Christina Hendricks. In most years I would be more than happy to see Maggie Smith take home the trophy, but man, Christina Hendricks killed it this year.

Best Actor

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men. Don tried hard to evolve this season and Jon Hamm portrayed his transformation with typical smoothness. It’s amazing to me that he has so far failed to win an Emmy. Don Draper is without doubt the most iconic character currently on television and a big part of that is due to Hamm’s personal charisma. If you think Mad Men will stand up in 25 years as an example of great TV, which I do, it will seem ridiculous that he never won.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan on Dexter. This is more of a lifetime achievement Memmy nomination than anything else because I think Dexter’s best days are definitely behind it. But MCH’s awesomness hasn’t faded, and by my count he should have about nine Emmys by now (five for the five seasons of Six Feet Under and one each for the first four seasons of Dexter). Strangely, he doesn’t have a single one.

Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire. I came across this article about shows that have the wrong lead character the other day and was happy because I have always thought Nucky was one of the least interesting people on Boardwalk Empire. Jimmy was far more interesting, especially in season two: his attempts to unseat Nucky, his grief at Angela’s death, his disturbing backstory. Michael Pitt’s deep, quiet, intense, sad performance was outstanding.

And the Memmy goes to … Sorry, Jon Hamm, but: Michael Pitt, for a performance that stayed with me long after the show ended. It’s shocking that the actual Emmys overlooked him.

Best Actress

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones. I find Cersei to be one of the more interesting characters in the series. She’s a woman trying not just to survive in but actually dominate a man’s world. This has made her ruthless, cunning, and just a little bit crazy. Lena Headey has captured Cersei’s rage and the fear underneath it in a way I really enjoy. Her scenes with Sansa throughout the season and especially during the battle were marvellous.

Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. Alicia has really grown since we first met her in season one, developing more and more moral ambiguity. She’s still a good person at heart, but she has her moments of slipperiness. Julianna Margulies shows Alicia’s conflicted feelings about her job very well. Plus, I love it when she lays out Jackie with a good rant. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham on Fringe. I think what impressed me most about season four was the way she actually made Walter (and me) like Altlivia, who had until then been pretty much a villain. But, like Michael C. Hall’s Best Actor nomination, this one is a kind of overall achievement award, rather than related to anything specific Anna Torv did this season. Her performance has been amazing since Fringe started and she’s only getting better.

And the Memmy goes to … Anna Torv. Why do you hate Fringe, Emmy voters?

Best Series

Boardwalk Empire. I liked season one but wasn’t totally convinced it was going to turn out to be a great show. The excellent second season paid off a lot of what was set up in season one and made me very eager to see season three. This series also has stunning HBO-financed production values and is just plain nice to look at.

The Good Wife. An exceptionally well-written legal drama/nighttime soap populated with a large cast of excellent characters, played by great actors, including a series of really notable guest stars.

Mad Men. Somehow, this show has managed to get better every season so far. Season five was possibly the most difficult yet, featuring a lot of developments that made me squirm as the characters went through some major changes. As uncomfortable as I might have been, though, I couldn’t look away.

And the Memmy goes to … Mad Men. I can only imagine Homeland must be the greatest show since Buffy in order to have beaten it for the Emmy.

A final award: instead of doing a bunch of awards for writing and directing, the Memmys just go whole hog and give you …

Best Single Episode of Any Show

Community 3.04 – “Remedial Chaos Theory.” Jeff tosses a die to determine which of the gang must go downstairs and pick up the pizza they’ve ordered, in the process creating six different timelines, each of which is played out in the course of the episode. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed as hard at anything I’ve seen on TV as I did at The Darkest Timeline.

Community 3.14 – “Pillows and Blankets.” The battle between Troy’s blanket fort and Abed’s pillow fort turns serious and all of Greendale is drawn into the conflict. A dead-on parody of a Ken Burns documentary, showing how social media posts and text messages would become the archival sources for historians of tomorrow. I enjoyed this episode so much that I watched it twice in a row.

Mad Men 5.04 – “Mystery Date.” Set against the backdrop of the Chicago nurse murders, the episode explores humans’ potential for violence and distrust of each other, mainly in the context of men’s sexual violence against women. Particularly disturbing are Don’s dream sequence and Sally’s fear after watching the news with her grandmother. This was chilling stuff. Plus, Joan dumps her stupid husband and not-so-subtly reminds him of that time he raped her. Awesome!

And the Memmy goes to … “Remedial Chaos Theory,” because I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.

All Is Quiet, on New Year’s Day

The beginning of a new year always makes me feel like doing random things in the name of having a fresh start; for example, this morning I flipped all the cushions on my couch, which I would probably never think of doing on any other day, but hey — it’s a new year! I also refilled my salt shaker, opened up a new toothbrush, and started rereading the Harry Potter books again.

Now a brief look back on 2011. I did some good things: went to England, managed the HPreread. Got to know my toddler niece as she developed her personality. I rewatched The X-Files. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but I’ve tried to do that three or four times before and have never made it past the first half of season six. In 2011, I did all nine seasons plus both movies. It felt like an accomplishment! I also did a good job of getting myself back in the habit of reading every day, and as consequence I read 65 books. To be fair, many of those were short and some were things I’d read before, but I’d count about 30 of them as solid new books. I think I managed my personal life fairly well. I had surgery to fix up a health problem I’d been dealing with for a while and took advantage of the fact that I have dental coverage through my job to get some much needed work done on my teeth. I paid all my bills and knocked a fairly big chunk off my student debt. I did well at my job. I tried to make smart decisions about how I spend money and on what. All in all, it was a good year.

I also took in some good culture. Here are a few best and worst of 2011 picks:

Music

I liked Florence + the Machine‘s debut album enough that I was really looking forward to the followup, Ceremonials, which turned out to be one of my favourite albums of the year. My picks for the best tracks: “What the Water Gave Me,” “Heartlines,” “Leave My Body,” “Only if for a Night,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “Shake It Out.”  But my most listened album of 2011 is undoubtedly Born This Way by Lady Gaga. It’s not perfect, but there are some truly great songs on there. The best, in my opinion, are “Heavy Metal Lover,” “Bloody Mary,” “Born This Way,” and “Hair.” “Hair” was easily my favourite song of the year. It’s so stupid, but so much fun.

My biggest musical disappointment of the year was Radiohead‘s King of Limbs. I never thought we’d reach the day when Radiohead made a bad album, but unfortunately it seems we have. It’s still possible King of Limbs will grow on me in the future. I hope so.

Movies

I was underwhelmed by the cinema of 2011 until July when I saw The Tree of Life, and I still think it was probably my favourite movie of the year. As I wrote at the time, I totally get why so many people hated it, but it really, really worked for me. I thought it was beautiful and brilliant, and it stayed with me for a long time after I saw it. Another movie that has stuck with me is the haunting Martha Marcy May Marlene, starring Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman who joins and then leaves a cult, but finds that she may never truly be able to escape. I’m not sure why this movie isn’t getting more awards buzz. Speaking of which, The Artist is just as good as people say. I found it very charming. In terms of more mainstream fare, I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America — everyone seems to have a preference between Cap and Thor and, while I enjoyed Thor, I think I was more drawn in by Captain America‘s period setting. I thought the filmmakers pulled that off very well. Plus, Chris Evans was wonderful, and Hugo Weaving made a terrific Red Skull.

Movies I didn’t like: The Descendants, which I am officially naming the most overrated movie of 2011, was just as boring and pretentious as I expected it to be given my hatred of Sideways and my general dislike of George Clooney in serious movies. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 annoyed me so much the first time I saw it that it almost put me off ever watching any of the HP movies again. Then I saw it a second time and liked it more, but I still have to say that the series was overall pretty disappointing — apart from the absolutely excellent casting.

Books

I think the only 2011 releases I read were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin, both of which were great but fell just short of being truly outstanding. I read Martin’s entire Song of Ice and Fire series for the first time in 2011, and the third volume, A Storm of Swords, was most likely my favourite “new” (to me) book of the year. A low point in 2011 for me and probably for the world: I read all four Twilight books. Breaking Dawn created a whole new level of bad.

Television

The good: Fringe, The Good Wife, and The Vampire Diaries are the best things on television right now. I was overjoyed — overjoyed, I tell you! — by Smallville‘s series finale, which made me feel that the 10 years I spent watching that show were actually worthwhile. The second season of Boardwalk Empire also wrapped up in spectacular fashion.

The bad: I was disappointed when I heard One Tree Hill and Weeds, two shows that have really gone downhill, were being renewed. I finally stopped watching House.

The sad: No Mad Men.