Re: Holiday Card, 2015

Or, A Year of Mess and Mayhem

As I write this, Facebook is exploding with holiday affection. Tags from JFK, ORD, SFO, ATL, PDX flood my feed—friends passing through city hubs, on their way back from family-filled suburbs and small towns.


My impression is, one to two weeks at home is just long enough for most people to miss and hug their loved ones without winding up in the kitchen, aggressively doing dishes to drown out the sound of mom suggesting that you “talk to a professional,” while dad speechifies in a wildly inappropriate Indian accent the next room over.

One of the greatest parts about living in DC is that, beginning December 21 or thereabouts, the city goes silent. Like all of Congress, I am a proud and steadfast procrastinator. Come Thanksgiving, I believe there isn’t anything I could do that can’t get done in January. So for the last few months of the year, instead of bettering myself, socializing or being productive in any fashion, I binged the best television of 2015. Turns out, this was incredibly appropriate endeavor for a season often characterized by nervous breakdowns and family squabbles.

In 2015, television was filled with dysfunctional people and uncomfortable mayhem. So-called comediessitcoms!—went all-in on some troubling stuff. The halcyon days of Friends and Gilmore Girls are no longer! TV goes, WE REFLECT YOUR FRACTURED REALITY, MILLENNIALS! SHOW NO MERCY! I just wanted to watch some stories and drink eggnog. Just kidding, eggnog is gross.

Take Hulu’s Casual, for example. A stupendous Michaela Watkins stars as Valerie, a newly-divorced mom living with her teenage daughter and emotionally stunted brother, Alex. Supposedly, the show is a portrait of casual dating—the online variety, hookups at bars, terrible setups, etc. Awkward sex with a bartender! Fantasizing about your hot photography teacher! Discovering that your absolute soul mate is “open,” and that you’re totally not cool with it! Too real.

But really, Casual is about family. Alex and Valerie were wrecked by their wackadoo parents, and work like hell to protect Valerie’s daughter from the same insanity that has made them both incapable of commitment. The series is an enormous heartbreak, one episode at a time.

We wait our whole lives for our parents to apologize. They wait their whole lives for a “thank you.” No one ever gets what they want.


 Ditto season 2 of Transparent, which as been universally adored and think-pieced (I will not subject you to more here). Transparent and Casual are filled with objectively selfish, messed-up people. But these folks are also painfully aware of their shortcomings, and fight them every day—not because they want to be better, but because they want to be happy.

Basically forever, television has been an art form contingent upon empathy. We root for our heroes—and the particular deliciousness of watching The Sopranos and Breaking Bad is in sympathizing with evildoers. Valerie, Alex and the Pfeffermans aren’t villains—they’re clueless jerks. To be human is to commit small, mean crimes against the ones we love most. We all get that, just as anyone can understand the desire to be content, at whatever cost.

These are your people. They love you no matter what.


The most poignant illustration of this phenomenon: season 2 of FXX’s You’re the Worst. This spectacular series follows Jimmy and Gretchen—truly odious people that are made for each other, in all their shitty glory. The first season was a standard (if slightly unpleasant) love story. This year, the show took an unexpected turn: Gretchen falls into a deep depression, and everything falls to pieces.

I can’t tell him my brain is broken.


Depictions of depression are tricky, and I leave it to cleverer critics to judge whether or not Aya Cash’s portrayal is “truthful” or “accurate.” I’m much more interested in the way that Gretchen’s boyfriend and best friends deal with her. Some comfort her. Some look the other way. Jimmy gets angry, and almost leaves about a hundred times.

This is not unexpected. The premise of You’re The Worst is that the characters suuuuuuck. So, it’s almost easier to watch Jimmy say the terrible things we wish we could say when our loved ones are suffering: SNAP OUT OF IT. MAKE A DIFFERENT CHOICE. WHAT ABOUT ME. Still, Gretchen and Jimmy both deserve happy endings.


Casual, Transparent and You’re The Worst are billed as comedies. A bundle of laughs, all of them! Except I did laugh. A lot. Not the way I giggle at Bridesmaids or Parks and Rec. But—as anyone who has taken Intro to English Lit will tell you—great comedy goes hand-in-hand with immense sadness.

I want to say: watch these shows. You’re like, kind of a bummer gift for the New Year, no? Well, I don’t care. I didn’t get to pick my Secret Santa, and you don’t hear me complaining about my iTunes gift card. 2015 was a weird and amazing year—for me, and for TV. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.



Holiday Card, 2015

Happy Holidays, friends and lovers! How I’ve missed you. I hope the ups of your 2015 outpaced the downs, and that you didn’t have too many unbearable hangovers. 

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Merry Christmas from this girl, whose sweater is equal parts comfortable and insane.

Let’s catch up. As my (belated) Festivus gift to you I present: a letter full of hot recs!



If I had to distill the most important thing I took from 2015, it was Self Care. My life hashtag has been #notimeforscrubs for quite a while now, but I’ve expanded it to include more than just idiots from my dating life, past and future. #notimeforscrubs means no time for toxic friendships, negative self-talk, or events for pure obligation’s sake. It means more time for yoga, chiropractic appointments, and face masks. I started therapy this year, and I tried ear acupuncture. My 2016 resolution is to floss. I’m really trying to get it together. A huge influence for me in this realm has been the Buzzfeed podcast Another Round. Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu make a point to discuss the practicalities of taking care of yourself, and they ask each of their guests (including Hillary GD Clinton!) how they take care of themselves, too. Just as important, they are hilarious, and I wish they were my real-life friends.


I don’t usually recommend people go back to the beginning of a podcast, unless they’re a freak completist like me. It’s overwhelming and time-consuming. But the best thing about Hello from the Magic Tavern is the fully formed fantasy world Arnie Niekamp, Matt Young, and Adal Rifai are building, and it’s worth it to get in on the ground floor. The backstory: Niekamp is a human who fell through a portal in Chicago to the magical land of Foon. He’s joined every episode by pals Usidore the Wizard (Young) and Chunt the shapeshifting badger (Rifai), and they have a roundtable chat with a local colorful character. Think Dungeons and Dragons meets Professor Blastoff (RIP). The most impressive feat the show pulls off is the continuity between episodes. Even one-off guests readily reference rules of the universe established in previous weeks. Usually fictional podcasts are not my bag, but this hits all the right notes of the most fun improv you’ll ever see except in audio form. Full disclosure: As of this posting, Adal coaches my improv team, but he will likely never read this, so NO I’M NOT SUCKING UP.

Elise mentioned Mystery Show in her summer postcard, but I’d like to reiterate how incredible that show is. Start with the “Belt Buckle” or “Source Code” episodes. Really, anything on the Gimlet podcast network is worth your time, if you’re looking for something new. Reply All is unmissable, too. Honestly, I will listen to anything Gimlet puts out; they’re doing good work.


FX had a stellar year, upping the ante on a bunch of their shows. The Americans, You’re the Worst (yeah, yeah, technically FXX), and Fargo all blew their previous seasons out of the water.

I’ve also continued upon my inadvisable rewatch of original 90210. Unless you unapologetically like bad TV, like some people I know, you have better ways to spend your time.


What is anyone wearing, ever


Well, what about a little indie gem called The Force Awakens? Truthfully, I’d like to just list it here ten times, but that feels lazy. I’ll just say it was the most fun I’ve had at the movies in literal years, and if you’re not a Star Wars person, I still think you’d like it. But I’m a little too close to the material to know for sure. I could seriously watch BB-8 give a thumbs-up on repeat for five hundred years.


Spotlight is also great. It’s part procedural, part thriller, and covers the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, as brought to light by The Boston Globe. Though it dramatizes true events, it doesn’t add any extraneous nonsense to make the story more big-screen friendly. It’s just a bunch of 2000s journalists in hideous outfits doing their jobs really well. Pro tip: I spent the whole movie thinking Cardinal Law was some sort of catechism, but it is, in fact, a person’s name. So much for 13 years of Catholic school.

Sisters isn’t getting much love, which is sadly fair. But if you like Tina and Amy at all, their chemistry certainly justifies a rental. I will be plagiarizing many of my future sick burns from the script, including: “I respect your jumpsuit, but not its contents.”



In October, I successfully completed my Goodreads challenge to read forty books this year and felt a powerful sense of accomplishment, because my self-worth is determined by To Do lists. Unsurprisingly, I have significantly slowed down since then. Currently I’m reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s sad as fuck, guys. But so beautifully written. Now that I’ve finished my challenge, I am savoring the act of reading, instead of blowing through pages to cross another novel off the list.


My new music consumption is pathetic. As I edit this, I am listening to The Head and the Heart’s 2010 self-titled album, which I have heard approximately eleventy-bajillion times already. Sure, I bought Adele’s new album (and tickets to see her in concert, doi), and I have intensely lip-synced to it around my apartment. I like Leon Bridges’ album a whole lot, but usually when I put on Spotify, I head straight for the “Focus” section because I have work to do. I’ve written many jokes to the energizing instrumentals of the “Productive Morning” playlist. (And not always in the morning, either.)

I guess what I’m asking, dear reader, is what music should I be listening to? What were the albums you couldn’t live without this year? No aggressively dissonant music need apply, but I am otherwise open.

I’m trying to try, though. I even bought a record player this year! And my transformation to completely insufferable is now complete! Unfortunately, I had to replace my turntable within a month, and the new one was also non-functioning, so now I have about 15 records with no way to play them. Take pity on me and my virgin copy of Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits.


Thats it! Merry happy, everybody, and see you in 2016!