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The 5 Best Moments of Stranger Things 2

From dances to demogorgons, here’s the best moments of Stranger Things 2.

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When Stranger Things first premiered back in July of 2016 (oh my god it was only a year ago what time vortex am I currently occupying I swear to god what the hell), it did it with relative silence. Though the series had a cool trailer or two, there really wasn’t a lot of buzz for Stranger Things, nor did it boost a bunch of known talent behind the camera. Sure, it was nice to see Winona Ryder working again, and David Harbour was a great character actor just itching for a prime leading man role, but everybody else? From the creators to the main kids, they were all pretty big unknowns. But, of course, that has all changed in the months since.

A massive fandom has now formed around Stranger Things, with the show and its characters now serving as some of Netflix’s most beloved. It’s rare for ANYTHING even remotely new to gain such a strong following in a small amount of time but, if you ask me, Stranger Things really deserves it. Though not without its problems, the first season was an incredibly engrossing, always entertaining little genre pastiche. It could have easily just been an 80’s nostalgia circle jerk, but with some whip smart writing and an especially strong ensemble, Stranger Thing went from zero to cultural phenomenon.

Which made the anticipation for Stranger Things 2 far different than its predecessor. While the first season had the opportunity to really surprise us with the story it was telling, Stranger Things 2 does not. We know what this show is now, and generally, what it is setting out to do. But does that make the sequel any less exciting? For many, many properties, the answer is a clear yes. But, for the most part, Stranger Things 2 managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of sequelitis, delivering a second season that lives up to the quality of the first in many regards. It was far from perfect (as I’ll get to with a latter article), but it was still jam packed with great moments and excellent story developments. So with my 8 episode binge all wrapped up (twice, in fact!) let’s dive right in, shall we? Here are the five best moments of Stranger Things 2.

THIS IS YOUR WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOR STRANGER THINGS 2 FOLLOW. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE YET TO WATCH THE ENTIRE SEASON YET. BUT, IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE COOL KIDS THAT HAS…PROCEED!

Second, less important disclaimer: this list is arranged in chronological order, so I really have no “preference” on these moments. That being said…four is clearly the best, right?


1. Family Spat (Chapter 4: “Will the Wise”)

There’s certainly something to be said about the fact that the first “best” moment of Stranger Things 2 doesn’t arrive until about half way in. Don’t get me wrong: the first trio of episodes are good, and do the much needed legwork for setting up the season’s main storylines, but the series is certainly bottom heavy when it comes to its storytelling. Which makes a certain level of sense: the Duffer Brothers have not been shy about their approach to creating the show, always wanting to create an experience that resembled a long form movie more than anything else. And how many movies really have their best moments at the top of the first act? That’s where you establish the action, with the second and third act serving as the payoff.

But putting aside the fundamentals of cinematic storytelling, the first truly fantastic moment of Stranger Things 2 is the heated, volatile argument between Hopper and Eleven at the start of “Will the Wise.” Pairing these two together was one of the best decisions the writers made following the first season, and this scene is where it gets its first real payoff. Both David Harbour and Bobby Millie Brown are just so damn good (both together and apart), and are able to infuse their characters with so much passion through every single line. When they fight in “Will the Wise,” they REALLY fight, and you can’t help but feel bad for both of them.

Props especially have to be given out to Millie Brown, who performs Eleven with the perfect balance of emotionally scarred prisoner and petulant, pissed off pre-teen. The joy of arguments like this is that it’s hard to root for either party: you like both characters, and can understand entirely where both are coming from. That’s a sign of the strong writing at the center of the scene and, paired with the excellent writing, creates a father/daughter argument that actually FEELS real, and relatable. The fact that it also contains the “daughter” hurling out telekinetic attacks and exploding the things around her in rage just makes the moment all that more special.


2. Terry Ives’ Tale (Chapter 5: “Dig Dug”)

It takes a lot of skill for a series to be able to make a minor character’s story feel as compelling as the rest of the cast. But Stranger Things 2 was able to do that surprisingly well in “Dig Dug,” as Eleven delved deeper into her past and, for the first time, met her mother.

The audience of course had already done so back in season one and, from first impressions, it was clear that something tragic and terrible happened to Terry Ives. But seeing first hand the experience of having her baby ripped away from her, the subsequent attempt to get it back, and the horrifying procedure that followed it, hit far harder than it had any right to. But strong editing and an emotional score helped propel this sequence into something really powerful, and one of the most memorable moments of Season 2.

…And yeah, maybe the discovery made in said flashback sequence led to one of the worst things about the season but, hey, this article is about the positives, right? I’m sure we’ll all have time to bitch about Chicago Punk Eleven later. For now, lets move on to something far cooler…


3. The Demo-Dog Bus Attack (Chapter 6: “The Spy”)

Stranger Things 2 doesn’t have a ton of big action movie moments…at least not until “The Spy,” that is. Once Dustin’s new best friend/demogorgon pet friend grows into a full size menace, an actual monster threat is awakened and, like the demogorgon threat from last season, our resourceful kids spring into action to take the creature down. But the motley crew tasked with the hunt (Dustin, Lucas, new kid Max, and most delightfully Steve Harrington) are in for quite a shock when the single, medium sized “demo-dog” brings some friends along for the ride.

What follows is one of the best sequences in Stranger Things so far, a bus attack sequence that takes clear inspiration from some of the best sci-fi monster movies out there. Think of the velociraptor scenes in Jurassic Park, or even the ceiling sequence from Aliens. Or, hell, a similar bus scene in J.J. Abrams underappreciated Super 8, one which also put a bunch of 80’s inspired pre-teens in a chilling amount of danger.

But even with the influences pretty clear, this scene still manages to work fantastically on its own, with a wonderful atmosphere and actually surprising setup (the other demo dogs popping up from the fog actually got a jump from me.) It’s always hard for a TV series to make the main characters feel like they are actually in danger, what with the whole ongoing nature of the series and all, but the terror of this moment is felt from pretty much everyone involved. And even if it doesn’t show as much crazy visuals as some other big set-pieces later in the season, the Demo Dog bus attack still managed to feel more cinematic than any other moment in Stranger Things 2.

Having an accomplished blockbuster director in Andrew Stanton behind the camera for this episode certainly helped, I imagine. Sure, John Carter wasn’t good per say, but it was certainly cinematic! And with Stanton’s talents actually applied to a something worthwhile, he managed to deliver one hell of a moment here. Let’s hope its enough to get the man out of the live action dog house in the future. Not sure I really want “Finding Crush” or “Wall-E 2: Planting Crops n’ Shit.” Andrew Stanton is a good director, Hollywood! Let him do it!

Anyways, with that Stanton aside out of the way, let’s move onto the thing about this season that only really matters, and one of the driving factors that led Stranger Things 2 second half to be so damn satisfying.


4. Adventures in Babysitting with Steve Harrington (Chapter 9: “The Gate”)

If you asked me at the end of Stranger Things season one who my favorite character of the next season would be, I would never have uttered the name “Steve Harrington.” Don’t get me wrong–I liked the character a lot in the first season, and found his whole “crappy boyfriend in teen 80’s movie, thrown into a monster movie he wasn’t prepared for” to be quite entertaining. But at the end of the day, the character still seemed like he was just an obstacle standing between the Jonathan/Nancy pairing. A well performed, fun obstacle, but an obstacle nonetheless.

But with the show’s decision to break up Nancy and Steve so early into this season, the latter character was able to thrive in a mode I never expected him to be in: reluctant companion and protector of the main group of kids. It was a plot development made entirely on the basis of convenience (the ONLY reason Dustin even teamed up with the guy is that literally every other character was off doing their own subplots), but man did it end up being one of the best developments Stranger Things 2 could have possibly made.

Just seeing cocky Steve Harrington deal with a bunch of pre-teens is funny on the face of it, but THESE pre-teens in particular? Absolutely glorious. But as much as I’d like to just say “every moment with Steve” and call it a day here, I think I have to go with a more specific moment. And on that end, I’ll say the best “Steve as babysitter” scene is in the season finale, where Steve awakens from his post-fight stupor, in an unfamiliar car, surrounded by these brats who have made his past 24 hours a living hell. His subsequent freakout and vain attempts to convince these cocksure kids to stop trying to get involved in this Stephen King bullshit is absolutely glorious, and Joe Keery does an amazing job playing off the kids in this sequence. The fact that it’s only followed by him giving in and leading the charge into the tunnels (nail bat in toe) is only icing on the cake.

How the character can be reluctant comic relief, sympathetic role model, AND the epitome of a cool badass teen, is truly something. Steve Harrington is hands down the MVP of Stranger Things 2, and every moment he spends being baffled at how he got involved in this entire mess, but rolling along with it anyways, is television gold.


5. The Snow Ball (Chapter 9: “The Gate”)

Stranger Things, from the very beginning, was always a show serving a bunch of masters. At times, it was a fun throwback to 80’s Spielberg adventure stories. At other points, it was a John Carpenter tinged teen slasher film. Meanwhile, there was a whole Stephen King supernatural nightmare scape happening in the background. Hell, the show even had enough room to throw a little bit of X-Men action into the mix with the Eleven storyline! With so much at play, it’s a miracle the show never felt overwhelming, or the elements never felt at odds with each other. And the reason why is quite clear to me: like pretty much every other great TV show out there, at the end of the day, it was all about the characters.

In the midst of big supernatural threats and crazy horror action, it might be easy to forget that. But it says something that my favorite sequence of Stranger Things 2 isn’t the big action moments or the crazy sci-fi conspiracies — its seeing our main characters going to a dance. It was seeing them interact, and be awkward, and fail to ask their classmates on dances, and to just BE KIDS. At its very best, Stranger Things is Freaks and Geeks with monsters, which can make for a magnificent combination. And just like Freaks and Geeks, it uses its period trappings to not only invoke nostalgia in the viewer (even if you DIDN’T grow up in the time period), but also to perfectly create the mood of a scene–I mean, can you ever go wrong featuring Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time?” The answer is a clear no.

The Snow Ball segment of “The Gate” felt real in a way that most shows fail at, and the fact that Stranger Things can be both this sci-fi/horror hybrid AND an effective tribute to growing up speaks to the stellar work The Duffer Brothers, the other writers, and the great actors do in making us love these characters. Which is the key, really. Even when the story falters (and, on occasion in Stranger Things 2, it does), your sympathy for the characters never does. You want to see Mike and Dustin and Will and Lucas and Eleven and Joyce and Hopper and Max and Nancy and Jonathan and (especially) Steve be happy, and after a season of chaos and danger, scenes like the Snow Ball are the perfect pallet cleanser to end things on. Never forget, future TV writers: you can get very, very far on strong characters. And they rarely come stronger than they do in Stranger Things.


That does it for the main list but, real quick, let me squeak out a few honorable mentions:

Will Absorbs The Monster (Chapter 3: “The Pollywog”)– What a horrifying image, huh?

Dustin vs. the Demo-Dog (Chapter 5: “Dig Dug”)– Dustin is the best.

Steve and Dustin Talk Girls (Chapter 6: “The Spy”) — Addendum: Dustin AND STEVE are the best.

Bob Dies, Which Suuuuucks (Chapter 7: “The Mind Flayer”) — R.I.P. Bob. He made for a great new character, even if his red shirt status was pretty clear from the beginning. Still though…BETTER THAN BARB, RIGHT? #JusticeForBob

Eleven’s New Do — I’ll talk more about Eleven’s storyline in a latter article but…well, she got a sweet new look out of it, at least. I dug her Sigourney Weaver haircut too, though.

The Exorcism of Will Byers — This is just to say that, if it wasn’t for Steve, Noah Schnapp’s Will would take the cake as Stranger Thing 2’s best character. What a great performance from him this year. After seeing so little of the character in the first season, it’s good to know that Schnapp was a great little actor too.


That’s all for my best moments of Stranger Things 2 list, but check back soon for my take on the worst aspects of the season. That article will probably be less fun, but I need to write SOMETHING to put Billy in his place.

Seriously. Fuck. That. Guy.


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

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Matt’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017

Right at the edge of being at all relevant, here are my top 10 TV shows of 2017.

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You know what? I’m rather impressed with myself, and I don’t particularly care if anyone else is. Usually I can’t release my Top 10 TV and Film lists until weeks and weeks into the new year — I am a completionist, after all, and live in an area in which many of the big Oscar films don’t even come out until months after they first hit limited release (if at all.) And as for my delay with TV, I’m lazy, and have a lot of things I end up catching up on based entirely on the fact that other people had them in their 10 Tops for the year. So most years (like last, for instance), I don’t release either lists until WAY past the point in which anyone even cares.

But this year? I was able to do my catch up far faster than normal, mostly because I am unemployed and have absolutely nothing better to do with all this time (SO MUCH TIME, you guys.) So rather than deliver my lists extremely late, they are just normal late. Believe it or not, it’s an improvement, and I’m not going to let anyone else take that away from me. Maybe a few years from now, I can actually be on time with them!

But, eh, probably not.

Anyways, I’ll be releasing both my Top 10 TV shows and Top 10 movies list for the year that was 2017, starting out today with television. As has been the case with the format for the past few years, there are WAY TOO MANY GOOD TV SHOWS, so the amount of stuff I had to regretfully push off the list was numerous. So numerous, in fact, I plan on publishing a separate list recounting those in the coming days too. But, for now, here’s what I settled on for the 10 best TV shows I saw in the past twelve months, starting with…


10. Samurai Jack

There’s a part of me that thinks I’m only putting Samurai Jack on this list because I remain in awe that we even got it in the first place. An actual conclusion to the long thought dead Cartoon Network series just seemed like a fanboy pipe dream, and that, eventually, one we would all just forget about (until the property got rebooted in twenty years, of course.) But, no, a final season of Samurai Jack is indeed something we got in 2017. And though I had a few quibbles here and there (namely that the romance felt a bit contrived, and the ending a tad rushed), I came away from the ten-episode run as enamored with the series as I ever was. The first three episodes, in particular, are just masterful television, combining astonishing animation with amazing action and, most exciting of all, brilliant character work. The show got darker with its return but, more importantly, it got more reflective and bold with the story it was trying to tell. Even if it wasn’t 100% perfect, Samurai Jack was unlike anything else on television, and a strong case that Genndy Tartakovsky is one of the most brilliant people currently working in the medium. Please let him do more of it, world, rather than continued Hotel Transylvania films. Samurai Jack proves he can do far, far, far, far better.


9. The Handmaid’s Tale

By far the most buzzed about new TV series of the year, it would have been easy for The Handmaid’s Tale to coast on the timeliness of its themes, trading in actual craftsmanship and skill for the mere fact that, yeah, what it’s saying is “important.” But what makes The Handmaid’s Tale so great is that it manages to do both in a way that is seamless and never preachy — the themes that the show approaches are powerful and important and sadly relevant, but that never takes away from how concise and skillful the show is on its own. There’s a fantastic dystopian tale at the center of The Handmaid’s Tale, and even if we lived in a utopia of equal rights (which we of course don’t), the story in and of itself would be enough to make The Handmaid’s Tale worth watching. Plus the incredible performances of the cast (especially Elisabeth Moss in the lead), and the absolutely awe-inspiring visuals. The Handmaid’s Tale might be the show of the current zeitgeist…but it’s also a pretty good one, so I can’t complain much about the love it has received.


8. Nathan for You

Every year that Nathan Fielder chooses to create more episodes of this brilliant show, I will almost certainly find a place for it on my end-of-the-year list. It’s just that good, and this season especially gave us a number of glorious episodes. Nathan’s amazing attempt to create a Late Night appropriate story in “The Anecdote.” His absolutely nutty plan to create a band that heavily used the sound of a smoke detector, which somehow got him wrapped up in the world of Big Oil, because it’s Nathan for You and the world is insane. And, of course, “Finding Frances,” the format breaker that ended the season with a surprisingly touching, thought-provoking story of lost love and regret, so good that even documentarian Errol Morris had to rave about it, calling it his “new favorite love story.” Also, the episode in question involved filming a Mud sequel entitled Mud 2: Never Clean. God I love this insane show.


7. The Americans

You know how good The Americans is? Even an off season of the show manages to find its way into my Top 10 at the end of the year. Because even if Season 5 is probably the weakest season since Season 1…god, it’s just so incredibly good. The Americans is probably the most consistently strong long-running show on all of television, and even a season that isn’t quite as masterful as Season 2 or 3 or 4 still has high points that other shows dream they could touch. The acting remains as powerful as ever, the writing as concise, and the direction as meticulous. Really the only thing setting this season back is the fact that it’s the penultimate one, meaning that a lot of the time was spent seeding the endgame and setting up the final plots — even by The Americans standards, it was a slower season than usual. But the final couple of episodes were absolutely brilliant, and proof that we need not worry about this show as it approaches its final 10 episode season. More than any other series on television, I have faith these people know what they are doing — they haven’t steered us wrong so far, right?


6. Better Call Saul

From one slow burn to another, it’s kind of fascinating how Better Call Saul has managed to grow in the face of its more popular, more explosive parent show. While Breaking Bad focused on big moments and huge plot movements (to genius effect, of course), Better Call Saul’s approach is entirely different. It’s even more character focused, a lot less action heavy, and as much as I hate to use the word to describe anything as exciting and brilliant as this show…yeah, a little bit slower. But that approach has actually benefited the show, especially going into its third season. The fact we got to know these characters so well is really helping this series excel as the plot takes off in kind, with Season 3 in particular delivering some rather huge moments for the character of Jimmy McGill and the people around him. It’s not a big action crime show like Breaking Bad, but it’s almost equally as good in every other regard. Season 3 especially was the show really finding its creative genius, delivering week after week of constant greatness. The series is off to the dramatic races now, and as long as the performances, writing, and visuals remain as strong as they do now, the show will very much remain a worthy predecessor to Vince Gilligan’s last masterwork. And, to be honest, that’s a far better position to be in than pretty much any other TV spin-off I can think of.


5. American Vandal

Ah: American Vandal — the little show that could of 2017. When Netflix dropped the thing in mid-September of this year, I don’t think very man people had it on their radar. The plot seemed a tad obnoxious, and pretty much no one of note was involved in its creation both behind and in front of the camera. But like any good surprise hit, word-of-mouth propelled this one to be one of Netflix’s most talked about shows of the year. And boy was all that conversation well deserved. American Vandal is a real treat from start to finish, a pitch-perfect parody that only gets better the more it unfolds. The series is really some amazing satire, managing to wrangle both blistering laughs and surprising pathos from the story of a bunch of dicks drawn on some cars in a parking lot. American Vandal works on pretty much every level, but what puts it over the moon is how stunningly authentic it ultimately feels. In addition to being a note-for-note true crime parody, American Vandal also makes for a great teen comedy, assembling a bunch of different teenaged personalities and delivering a concise message about how they behave and interact in the cyber age. Liberally featuring things like Youtube, Twitch, Instagram, and the like, American Vandal ended up feeling like one of the most authentic pictures of modern youth that I’ve yet seen. And with authenticity being the key to comedy…well, American Vandal ended up being an absolute knockout in pretty much every regard.


4. Master of None

It sucks that talking about Aziz Anzari has become something of a touchy subject, because it absolutely overshadows the accomplishments of the man a few months prior. But even if Ansari himself is something of a damaged good, I won’t let that stop me from appreciating the greatness that was Master of None Season 2. While I really enjoyed the first season of Anzari’s Netflix dramedy, the second season was a vast improvement, and on a whole different level altogether. With a renewed interest in making the most creative show possible, Aziz Anzari took inspiration from the first season’s best episode (“Mornings”) and molded most of the installments in Season 2 based on that episode’s unique approach to the structure of a TV episode. And what an end result — I legitimately think every episode of Master of None Season 2 is outstanding, from the big idea episodes like “Thankgiving” or “I Love New York,” to the smaller installments like the closing two-parter focusing on Dev’s relationship with his Italian crush. Extremely confident, extremely unique, and altogether impactful — I loved the hell out of Master of None this year. And I’m not going to let some groan-inducing behavior from its main voice detract from that.


3. Better Things

Remember everything I said about Master of None above? The same, but for Louis C.K., and with Better Things. On the one hand it’s a little easier to handle this one because C.K.’s role is strictly behind the scenes…but then again, what C.K. did was far more monstrous than Ansari. So fuck him and fuck the situation entirely. BUT don’t fuck Better Things, because man oh man did I love the show’s sophomore season. Pamela Adlon’s voice remains as unique and entertaining as ever, and Better Things represented a far more reflective, deeper reading of its subject matter than we got in the show’s freshman debut. It was heartwarming, and thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining, and I hope Adlon gets to do whatever the hell she wants with these things now that it’s separated completely from C.K.’s influence. All that being said, the comedian DID write or co-write every episode this season, and his prints were all over the brilliant writing for this. Because he is a brilliant writer, and creative voice. But, also, a fucking asshole. UGH, this whole situation. Anyways, Better Things is wonderful, and I hope it will remain wonderful for however long Adlon wants to keep things going.


2. The Good Place

Whew, finally, a comedy I can talk about without having to mention abhorrent, horrifying behavior! I’ve already spoken at length about how much I loved the second half of The Good Place’s first season (which started in January, lest you forget), but I haven’t really spoken about how the show followed up its amazing home stretch in its second season. Well, suffice to say, this show remains absolutely incredible, and is quickly climbing up the ranks of my all-time favorite TV comedies. That’s a bold thing to say for a show only two seasons in, but what can I say? The Good Place is one of the funniest, most exciting TV series I’ve seen in a while. It’s a show that not only has a strong and unique comic voice, but the storytelling and creativity to match it.

On a week to week basis, I literally have no idea where The Good Place is going, with its story pivoting wildly and it constantly burning through plot that a standard show would probably ruminate in for numerous episodes. And while that might seem like a flaw for some, it only increases my love of this nutty and brave show. Every week they jump into the abyss, with twist after twist after twist changing the nature of the show on an episode-to-episode basis. But after they have managed to reap the benefits of such transitions literally dozens of time, I stopped worrying about where the show might go. At this point, I’m just enjoying the absolutely delightful ride. And I highly recommend for you to do so as well. This is the beginning of a landmark comedy and, as always, I can’t wait to see where The Good Place goes next.


1. The Leftovers

Back when Season 2 of The Leftovers premiered, I was gobsmacked by how brilliant it was. While I loved the first season a lot more than some people, even I could never imagine how absolutely magnificent the show could get in its second set of 10 episodes. It was my favorite series of 2015 and, at the time, I had no idea how in the world a season of television could possibly get better.

It did.

The Leftovers Season 3 is a masterpiece. It is brilliant from top-to-bottom, with every episode fantastic on their own, and wonderous altogether. It served as the perfect capper to the series, more perfect than any other final season of a drama that I can think of. It’s pure, uncut brilliant, powered by the incredible acting, beautiful writing, and always outstanding production values. It’s the kind of show that’s so good that I can’t even think of more superlatives to use to express its greatness — already I’ve thrown like a dozen out, and none of them can match how I truly feel about this amazing little stretch of eight episodes. From the storytelling boldness of “The Most Powerful Man in the World” to the emotional wallop that is “The Book of Nora” (the show’s series finale), there was not a single misstep in this collection of episodes. Not a single damn flaw.

There’s a lot more I want to say about The Leftovers Season 3 that I didn’t get the chance to express when it first came out. How amazing Justin Thereoux and Carrie Coon were in their performances, and how much they absolutely grew into their characters over the show’s three-year lifespan. How the series turned out to be a pretty powerful romance, while simultaneously tackling a dozen other themes and plotlines. How the show ended up being the perfect one for 2017, with its constant theme of how we approach the end of the world feeling more and more relevant as we delved into the real life shitshow that was 2017. Hell, how it gave us an episode of television that referenced 80’s sitcom Perfect Stranger dozens of times, and was also as heartbreaking as any other installment of the show. So many, many thoughts. But, ultimately, I’m left with one thought that is more important than them all.

I’ve loved a lot of TV shows, especially in the modern era. And, for the last five years, I’ve had a clear favorite of all time — Breaking Bad, of course. But in three short seasons, The Leftovers has topped it for me. It is now my favorite TV series of all time, and I am 100% unwavering in that stance. No show has hit me harder emotionally, or impressed me more fundamentally, or wowed me in ways so absorbing. For me at least, The Leftovers is the new king of the TV mountain. Long live the king.


Whew. That was my love letter to The Leftovers or, umm, my Top 10 TV Shows of 2017. Sorry, got kind of carried away at the end there. Anyways, tune in on Wednesday for my list of the ten best movies of the year. I promise I’ll try my best to not turn it into a soliloquy about how much I love The Leftovers. 

You now…”my best.”


Also published on Medium.

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New Sci-Fi Series Counterpart Doesn’t Just Give J.K. Simmons A Much Deserved Lead Role — It Gives Him Two of Them

Character actor J.K. Simmons finally gets the chance to lead his own series with Starz’s Counterpart, and it’s already off to a pretty encouraging start.

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Ah, the tried and true character actor — really, the Hollywood equivalent of the “never a bride, always a bridesmaid” idiom. Character actors are more often than not the best thing in whatever they are featured in, with their ability to take the simplest of roles and turn them into pure gold giving them the much-valued status of “Hey, it’s THAT guy!” I can write you entire lists of great characters actors and actresses, but I have to imagine that one of the men at the very top woud have to be J.K. Simmons.

The dude has been in over 180 movies and (mostly) TV shows, and acts the crap out of pretty much every single one of them. From supporting roles in procedurals like Law and Order or The Closer, to comedic bit characters in films like I Love You, Man or Extract, to even voice-over work in Portal 2 and (ESPECIALLY) The Legend of Korra, there has never been a time in a movie or TV show where I was like “Wow, there is way too much J.K. Simmons in this.” In fact, the sentiment is almost entirely the opposite.

Of course, his career got a huge bump up in status with the release of 2015’s Whiplash, in which Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his phenomenal work as teacher/monster Fletcher. And, like all Oscar winners, it was only a matter of time until such an award would result in bigger roles for Simmons to dive into. Of course, unlike other actors like Eddie Redmayne or Jennifer Lawrence or Benedict Cumberbatch, love from the Oscars couldn’t result in leading roles in huge superhero franchises. Not only because he already made his mark on that particular genre by giving the best performance in a superhero movie ever with J.J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man trilogy (that’s only slightly hyperbolic), but just because of who Simmons was. He’s a sixty-two-year-old man, after all — despite how surprisingly swole he is, there simply isn’t a lot of leading franchise roles in the movie business for a man of his age. Sure, he would still be given stuff like Commissioner Gordon in Justice League and the like, but he could never realistically be the choice to play the new Batman (although, wow, he would probably be really awesome as old Bruce in a Batman Beyond movie…wait, what was I talking about again?) No, despite how amazing an actor he is and his new Oscar-winning profile, it seemed like SImmons just aged out of the opportunity to be a big leading man in Hollywood films.

…But, thankfully, television exists! With the brunt of new programming assaulting our eyeballs, and the wide variety of different things finding success in the realm, surely a man of Simmons talent and pedigree can earn himself a much deserved leading role, right? That’s where Starz new sci-fi series Counterpart comes in. Finally, it’s a chance for Simmons to truly stretch his leading man status, outside of a larger ensemble (Oz) or simply being the laughing stock in a forgettable family sitcom (let’s try to pretend Growing Up Fisher never existed, shall we?) Counterpart is a big, ambitious, creative science fiction series, and offers Simmons his first real chance at a dramatic, centerpiece role. And, from the looks of the show’s first episode, Simmons is very much making the best of it.

It certainly helps that the series around him, though, is off to a pretty great start. I knew almost nothing about Counterpart going in — I only knew that Simmons was the lead, that he was playing a dual-role in it, and that it was a spy thriller with sci-fi elements. And, to be honest, even after watching the first episode, I feel like I only know a tad bit more than that.

But though that might feel like a con for some pilots, I actually think the flow of information benefits Counterpart. Right off the bat you understand this is a big world with some heady science fiction going on — but the episode wisely doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Like the best science fiction, it slowly introduces you to the universe, letting you know only the basics of what is going on, primarily through action and world building rather than scene after scene of boring exposition. What exposition is given is delivered rather matter-of-factly, and treats its subject material as a much more banal thing than it actually is. I’m trying to stay rather vague here, because I think one of the joys of the show’s first episode is trying to piece together the universe, and where the series seems to be heading. But, just to offer a little tease, let’s just say I felt a lot of similarities between it and the first season of Orphan Black, crossed with later seasons of Fringe. Which, if you know anything about my taste, is fine company to be in indeed.

But though the premiere is good, the real big ticket item here is indeed Simmons, who already is doing stellar work in both performances he is given. While watching the premiere (simply entitled “The Crossing”), I was struck with how absolutely perfect a role (roles?) it was for J.K. Simmons. It gives the actor the chance to utilize both the nice guy, sympathetic side of his acting range (seen in things like Juno and the aforementioned The Legend of Korra), AND his firecracker, intense side featured in…well, pretty much everything else. Simmons was certainly typecast as the intense, angry guy after Oz, and though you can’t blame people for giving him roles like that (he’s VERY GOOD in them), it’s nice to see him get the chance to flex his range in a literal line-to-line span.

And you know what else is nice, and in fact, rather refreshing? To just see someone of J.K. Simmons’ type lead a genre show like this in the first place. Even in television, it’s extremely rare for a sixty-two-year-old man to get the chance to lead a sci-fi series. No, the part would likely go to someone in their thirties or (at the very “extreme” range) forties. But as good as someone like Michael Fassbender or Jake Gyllenhaal would do with a part like this, Simmons brings something lived-in and experienced to the proceedings. And considering the main theme of the show (essentially, how the decisions and actions we make in life affect us as people), casting an older actor certainly has its benefits…especially when said actor is J.K. Simmons. After all, Counterpart so far is, more than anything, a starring vehicle for Simmons. And he owns the role in the way that only a character actor with three decades of acting experience can.

As a series, it’s fair to say Counterpart still very much has room to grow. I’m not really sold on any of its supporting characters quite yet and, by design, I feel like we’ve barely touched the surface on what the series will even really be about (although what is teased does have me quite excited for what it could accomplish.) And though its bureaucratic, rather plain tone fits the universe thus far, I do hope the series acquires a more interesting aesthetic and visual palette in the episodes ahead. In a world where we get as visually interesting and unique science fiction as Mr. Robot or Westworld, something as workman-like and sparse as Counterpart can’t help but feel a tad bit blase.

But, still — this is barely the first episode, and I’m already super intrigued to see where the series will go from here. And for a pilot, that’s pretty much the entire battle. There’s a lot of cool sci-fi concepts and intriguing thematic questions already at play in Counterpart, and I can only hope the story will unfold in a way that drives those themes and concepts to new heights. And even if Counterpart doesn’t turn out to be my cup of tea, just to see J.K. Simmons finally get those juicy leading man parts in his mouth makes the creation of the series entirely worth it.

Counterpart airs Sundays at 8 PM EST on Starz. Already it’s not getting nearly the attention it deserves, so I encourage you all to give it a try. If you’re into detail-sparse, theme-driven science fiction, you’ll probably dig it. And if you’re into J.K. Simmons (a.k.a are a human being with two ears and a heart), even more so.


Also published on Medium.

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The Definitive, Unarguable Ranking of Every Black Mirror Episode

This is my Black Mirror episode rankings. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

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I had no intention of actually publishing a full ranking of every Black Mirror episode. Sure, I very much had my personal ranking saved and ready to go (who doesn’t in this day and age?), but I figured such a ranking would serve no purpose on the internet, what with the show being so radically different on and episode-to-episode basis, and the beauty of the anthology format allowing radically different opinions on what is the “best” and the “worst” installments of the show. What would posting my arbitrary ranking on the interweb ultimately prove?

But my opinion on the matter dramatically changed when, a few days ago, I got a phone call from out of the blue. I say “phone call” but, really, it was a weird video chat thing that popped up in my field of vision, projected from the tip of my iris. To be honest it freaked me the hell out and, personally, I can’t imagine much good can come out of continuously using the technology. But, in any case, the most important thing here isn’t the tech, but the message (kind of like Black Mirror itself, actually.) It was from seriescreator Charlie Brooker and, rather than butcher his beautiful words, I will simply quote the man himself.

“Yo Matthew, how’s it hanging? Saw you were watching Black Mirror via the neural connectors I have installed throughout all the social networks — people keep telling me there will be a downside to that technology, but what the hell do they know? I’m Charlie FUCKING Brooker, bruv. Don’t tell me the dangers of motherfucking technology!

Anywho, I’ve been reading a lot of people ranking episodes of Black Mirror on the internet, and I’m here to tell you they are ALL WRONG. They have no idea what they are talking about, actually — YOU are the only one who has the 100% factual ranking, the objective truth on which episodes of my work are amazing, and which ones are slightly less amazing. Only you have the correct ranking, Matthew. Please, spread your truth. Spread THE truth. You are the only one who truly can.

Your pal, Charlie Brooker.”

I don’t really know why he signed a video message, but that’s not the point — I had just been assigned a task from on high. Like God speaking to Moses, or God speaking to Abraham, or God speaking to Kevin Costner, I now knew what my purpose was. I knew what my task had to be. I knew why I was ALIVE, damn it — my opinion on Black Mirror was the only correct one, and it was my job to spread the truth of which episodes, objectively, rock. And so that’s what I’m doing. Here’s my ranking of every Black Mirror episode so far, all 19 stories of bad tech…and even worse people. Enjoy, but remember: I am the only one who is correct. And the rest of you are, simply, wrong.


19. “Playtest”

Black Mirror tackling the world of VR and future gaming should have been a home run, but man what a misfire this one was, on practically every level. Simultaneously failing to be an interesting look at the technology AND failing to tell an emotionally powerful story about its main character, “Playtest” came to an overtly twist-filled end mostly feeling like a waste of time. Director Dan Trachtenberg and star Wyatt Russell deserved a hell of a lot more than being a part of Black Mirror’s all-time worst episode. As it shall be known, since I said it.

18. “Men Against Fire”

Men Against Fire’s biggest crime by far is being mostly unmemorable. Despite being a rather recent episode of the show, I can barely remember what actually happened in it. The idea of manipulating soldiers into doing whatever you want through mental augmentation is extremely fucked up, fantastic territory for strong Black Mirror material, but I just wish the finished project was more noteworthy than what we got. As is stands, you’re better off playing Bioshock to essentially get the same message. Or, hell, even watching Hardcore Henry!

17. “Metalhead”

Metalhead is undeniably a cool episode technically, with the beautiful black and white cinematography and terror-inducing direction from David Slade making a strong initial impression. But at the end of the day it’s the thematically lightest episode of Black Mirror, one that can easily be summed up as “Woman runs from robot dog, defeats robot dog, but dies anyway.” There’s nothing else thematically or character wise to really latch on than the simple atmosphere, and well I can appreciate the bare bones approach works for some, it didn’t work for me. And since my opinion is the only one that is correct when it comes to Black Mirror, BOTTOM THREE TIME, “Metalhead.”

16. “Crocodile”

I liked “Crocodile” more than most I imagine, and kind of appreciated how wonderfully fucked up the entire journey is (it might be Black Mirror’s most darkest, or at the very least, most cynical episodes.) But despite Andrea Riseboroughs’ stellar performance, it’s hard to deny there’s more thematically interesting and emotionally powerful episodes of Black Mirror. 15 more, in fact!

15. “Arkangel”

The first half of “Arkangel” is GREAT, and what the episode says about child rearing in the modern (and near modern age) is really interesting. Too bad it kind of devolves into standard “teenage daughter dealing with controlling mother” fair in the second half, though. Turns what should have been an all-timer into a merely decent episode of the show. Jodie Foster’s direction was aces, though.

14. “Hated in the Nation”

Yes, I like the robot killer bee episode. Don’t @ me.

13. “The National Anthem”

Black Mirror’s inaugural episode is not even close to its finest hour, and is honestly probably not the best place to introduce viewers to what the show can really be at the height of its power. Why they would choose to open the show with the episode in which the Prime Minister fucks a pig is beyond me.

12. “Black Museum”

I LIKED BLACK MUSEUM FOLKS, AND ALL YOUR HOT TAKES ABOUT IT ARE BAD. CHARLIE BROOKER WANTED TO MAKE A SILLY LITTLE ANTHOLOGY EPISODE WITH A HEAVY DOSE OF META, SELF REFERENTIAL HUMOR, AND I SAY LET HIM! !!! IT’S LIKE TALES FROM THE CRYPT: BLACK MIRROR EDITION, AND I DUG IT. ALSO, THE TEDDY BEAR STORY WAS SUPER SAD, SO THERE!!!! CASE CLOSED, NO ARGUING, IT’S THE FACTUAL TRUTH. LET’S MOVE ON.

11. “White Bear”

I know a lot of people love “White Bear” but, man, I just found the entire episode to be mentally and emotionally exhausting. I can appreciate the subversion of the final scene and the important message it sends about how we treat those we view as criminals…but, man, I’d be totally fine to never have to experience this episode of television ever again.

10. “The Waldo Moment”

“The Waldo Moment” is bar none the most underrated episode of Black Mirror. I’m pretty certain that at least 50% of viewers probably have it as their least favorite episode, but I’m just here to say that they are completely wrong, that their opinions have no validity, and that they don’t deserve to ever watch this show again. “The Waldo Moment” is smart satire, the kind that only grows finer and finer as the world turns to shit and everything goes crazy. Ever since The Trump Infestation, the episode’s themes and message have failed to leave my mind. Certainly one of the show’s most surprisingly prescient installments.

9. “U.S.S. Callister”

“U.S.S. Callister” is, first and foremost, a surprisingly fun episode of Black Mirror. It doesn’t take itself extremely seriously, which is an enjoyable and different mood for the show to be in. The performances are also all top tier, from Cristin Miloti (who rocks everything) to Jesse Plemons (who rocks everything) and even Jimmi Simpson (who…you get the point.) I think it missed an ending that packed a bit more of a punch but, other than that, “U.S.S Callister” is a super enjoyable episode of Black Mirror, one that rightfully skewers the occasional grossness of obsessive, entitled video game players. After GamerGate, they probably deserve to be taken down another peg.

8. “San Junipero”

Is it a contrarian take to put “San Junipero,” undebatably the most beloved episode of Black Mirror, right at the halfway point in the rankings? For many of you, probably. But, to that, I say with the height of all my powers: BOO HOO, YOUR 80’s NOSTALGIA LESBIAN ROMANCE STORY ISN’T THE TOP OF THE LIST. HOW SAD.

But, in all seriousness: “San Junipero” is good! The performers do a great job, the writing is pretty good, and the direction is well-handled. But this episode didn’t punch me in the gut with greatness in the way the best episodes of the show usually do, and I can’t help but feel like the overwhelming love for it stems primarily from the fact that it was the first episode of the show to have a happy ending, which in 2016 filled people with so much joy and enthusiasm it became overwhelming. But, don’t worry, I’m here with clarity: the episode is straight down the middle of Black Mirror installments. Let the truth be known!

7. “Hang the DJ”

“Hang the DJ” is pretty much in the same basic territory of “San Junipero,” in that it tells a fundamentally romantic story in the midst of a crazy science fiction concept. And though it’s close, I would have to say that I like “Hang the DJ” a tad bit more, which is probably considered something of a Black Mirror crime from the fanbase. But, remember: you are wrong. “Hang the DJ” is a sweet episode of Black Mirror anchored by a fantastic main relationship, and a fascinating look into the world of future–and modern–dating. Plus, the song where the episode is SUPER catchy:

6. “Nosedive”

“Nosedive” is the rare episode of Black Mirror not written by Charlie Brooker, but in no way does that take away from the greatness of the episode. It helps that Brooker brought in equally talented writers Michael Schur and Rashida Jones to pen the episode, both of who give “Nosedive” a nice satirical drive, in the midst of the typical Black Mirror tragedy. And, sure, Community might have done it first, but A) the MeowMeowBeenz episode isn’t very good if we’re being honest and B) this episode does a far better job of bringing the concept to its proper, inevitable conclusion. Add on the best performance Bryce Dallas Howard has given in pretty much anything, and some excellent visuals from director Joe Wright, and you have one of Black Mirror’s best installment. In fact, I would wager that it’s the SIXTH best one! You heard it here first.

5. “Shut Up and Dance”

Remember in 2016, when Black Mirror Season 4 came out and everyone gave “Shut Up and Dance” its proper due as an amazing episode of television? No. of course you don’t, because it didn’t happen. But, don’t worry guys, I have come to pass the only correct judgement on the episode: it’s Black Mirror’s most socially relevant episode, a hell of a ride to watch, and features the show’s most shocking and subversive conclusion. In essence, it’s one of the show’s top 5 episodes. IT HAS BEEN KNOWN.

4. “The Entire History of You”

Probably the episode people think of most when they think of Black Mirror, “The Entire History of You” is so awesome that it’s the only episode of the show that got a deal for its own standalone movie. And, to that, I say why not? The central tech at the center of “The Entire History of You” is so cool that Charlie Brooker returned to the basic idea a few times throughout the show (he likes eye based, pervasive tech you guys), and the story that the tech lends itself to in “The Entire History of You” is aces. Also, lead actor Toby Kebbell! Give Toby Kebbell more things, Holllywood. The Black Mirror God™ demands it.

3. “White Christmas”

“White Christmas” had me at “Jon Hamm making potatoes in a trailer,” and the episode only got better from there. Comprised of three mini-vignettes that ultimately combined to tell one grand story, “White Christmas” is something of a deviation for the show, even by Black Mirror standards. The anthology episode concept would ultimately be tried again in “Black Museum” but, given its position on the list, it is clear the show couldn’t top its first take on the idea. All the stories in “White Christmas” represent the show at some of its very best, and the fact it comes together in a haunting, thought-provoking way only adds icing on the cake. But…seriously. Jon Hamm. Makin’ potatoes. This episode was destined for greatness from the start.

2. “Fifteen Million Merits”

By far the show’s most ambitious, most intriguing, and most pure sci-fi leaning the show has ever been, it’s kind of insane that “Fifteen Million Merits” was the SECOND episode of the show to be created. It already presented such boldness and confidence, and a willingness to take the audience on a journey that is equal parts horrifying and intriguing. The world that “Fifteen Million Merits” manages to build is extremely impressive, especially when you consider they only had an hour to build it. Props especially have to be given to director Euros Lyn, whose experience with visually complex science fiction (particularly in Doctor Who) helped give the episode its most striking look. And lead by an absolute powerhouse performance from Daniel Kaluuya (who showed his penchant for largely non-vocal performing a full five years before Get Out), Fifteen Million Merits was Black Mirror going full swing into crazy science fiction, and I loved pretty much every single moment of it.

1. “Be Right Back”

I was very much torn with my ranking of the show’s best episodes, which just goes to show how great Black Mirror can be at its strongest. Conceivably, ANY of the Top 5 could have made this spot. But, as The Grand Decider of All Things Black Mirror (TM), it was my duty to actually dub an all-time best episode of the show. And, ultimately, I went with “Be Right Back.” After all, I I will never forget the first time I watched this installment of the show.

Easily the most emotionally powerful episode of the series, the first episode of Season 2 is unforgettable, it’s exploration of death and grief so brilliantly executed in its 48 minutes that I was left breathless by the end of it…and absolutely devastated. The performances from both Hayley Atwell (as always, R.I.P. Agent Carter) and Domhnall Gleeson are absolutely fantastic, and the direction from Owen Harris is memorable and beautiful (Harris also directed San Junipero, which  is only Ranked #8 on this list. Just thought I would remind you.) The best thing I can say about “Be Right Back” is this: I didn’t see it until after I saw Her, and in no way was the concept any less powerful or unique. Hell, considering the circumstances of the phone AI love story, “Be Right Back” is even more emotionally stirring. And I LOVED Her, you guys, so that’s a pretty big deal for me. Regardless, as THE ULTIMATE BLACK MIRROR DECIDER (TM) “Be Right Back” is complete TV brilliance. And I will hear no argument otherwise!

…But in complete, 100% seriousness: my list probably divulges substantially from yours. And that’s 100% okay. I’m not wrong for having “The Waldo Moment” in my Top 10, and you’re not wrong for having “San Junipero” as your likely number one. To quote the real Decider of All Things, Oprah Winfrey…live your truth. One of the best things about this show is that it affects viewers in wildly different ways, and what some might find great others might end up hating. By its anthology nature, you’re bound to get a lot of reactions to the dozens of things the show attempts to do.

But that’s the beauty of Black Mirror, isn’t it? Any show that can do “Be Right Back” AND “Metalhead” AND “San Junipero” is one very much worth praising. I don’t know if this is it for Black Mirror, but even if the show is never perfect and veer wildly from amazing to only okay between installments, there’s nothing else like it on television. And I’ll gladly take more of it any day of the week.


Also published on Medium.

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