Through the Looking Glass: A Lost Retrospective Podcast

Hello! I am very excited to share this with you. Tara Bennett and I are co-hosting a new Lost podcast for SyfyWire. This six-part podcast will explore the show’s impact, influence and legacy through a series of conversations with special guests. New episodes drop once a week, and if I may be so bold, you’re really going to want to hear our season finale.

As noted in Tara’s story on the podcast’s debut, those guests include Melanie McFarland (Salon), Sarah Rodman (EW), Nikki Stafford (Finding Lost books), Lost transmedia innovators John Bernstein and David Daniels, Sky1’s The Lost Initiative co-host (and Official Lost Magazine editor) Paul Terry. And we’ve also got former Lost scribes Drew Goddard (The Good Place) and Elizabeth Sarnoff (Barry), as well as Lost executive producers and showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.

Here’s a direct link to the podcast if you use Apple for your podcast needs. And here’s the full roster of links to Through the Looking Glass:

Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts

Earlier this year, I did a Lost re-watch, something I’d wanted to do for a while. It was illuminating and refreshing to watch the show far away from the hubbub around it when it was on the air. I enjoyed a lot of that hubbub and I certainly contributed to it! But as a fan of television — especially genre television, character-driven stories and TV that plays with boundaries and expectations while aiming directly at the mainstream — it was a fascinating experience. Many of the thoughts that I had about the show filtered into the conversations that we had for Through the Looking Glass.

I can unreservedly say that working on this podcast and having these conversations has one of the most enjoyable experiences of my professional life. That’s partly because I got to work with Tara Bennett and Paul Terry (who co-wrote the Lost Encyclopedia and who are the best in every way). It’s also partly because whatever my expectations were for the conversations we pursued with our guests, the actual talks we had blew way post those hopes. These folks were insightful, funny, entertaining, thoughtful and not averse to getting absolutely real. Seriously, this whole experience has been a blast.

If you give our podcast a shot, thank you! And before you go:


One last thing: If you like the podcast, check out some of my other work!

Links to Some of My Writing about TV

Hi! I write about TV and other things (but mostly TV). Here are recent pieces (and conversations) I’d love you to check out!

During the last 16 years or so, I was a TV critic at Variety, at HuffPost, and at the Chicago Tribune. Everything I wrote at Variety, from fall 2015 to spring 2018, is collected here. Here is a selection of pieces from the last few years that I would love for you to read:

In case it’s of interest, I have an Instagram (warning: It’s mostly pictures of my travels, animals and pretty flowers). Three other things before I get to the next section: One, I frequently get the questions, “How did you become a TV critic? How could I get into the writing-about-TV game?” and I’ve addressed those queries in this post. Two, I still love TV and, as you can see from the links above, I’m still writing about it, reporting on it and even doing the occasional review, but I’m no longer reviewing TV full time, and this Vanity Fair article explains why. Three, if you’d like to know more about my life and tattoos, this post from 2013 is from the middle of my family-pocalypsethis is about life stuff and my arm tattoos, and this is what I wrote when my mom died in 2016. More tattoo content: This is my back piece.

Before I joined Variety, I was the TV critic for Huffington Post. Quite a bit of that work is here. You can also find the HP pieces here, and there are archives going back to 2011 on the right side of that page. Until the fall of 2010, I was the TV critic for the Chicago Tribune. All the links to my work there are gone now.  Not great, Bob.

Here’s a long 2007 feature on the production of “Friday Night Lights.” I visited the set in Austin way back in Season 1, and was moved and delighted to write about the way they shot the show and how that influenced the intimacy of its vibe. To this day, that long FNL feature is one of my favorite things I’ve ever gotten to do. Texas Forever. 

My extensive “Lost” coverage was sent into an island vortex by the publication I worked for then. I have to go back… and try to figure out what to revive from that era on this site.

The drama that might be closest to my heart – and the show I’ve almost certainly written about more than any other – is “Battlestar Galactica.” For “BSG’s” final run of episodes, I interviewed the writer of each episode and also offered my own thoughts; those posts are long but I so enjoyed doing them (and now that they have disappeared into a black hole, I may post them here eventually). Perhaps the most extensive entry into that array of final-season coverage is an in-depth, post-finale interview with executive producer Ron Moore; that piece also contains my thoughts on the finale as well as comments from actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. In late 2013, I interviewed Moore again, on the 10th anniversary of “BSG’s” debut, and you can find that conversation in both story and podcast form.  I still miss Adama and Roslin and Saul damn Tigh. So say we all.  

I wrote a ton about “Breaking Bad” back in the day; here are a few links to some pieces I wrote during the show’s home stretch. I’m still not over “Ozymandias.”

By the way, I used to be half of a podcast duo: “Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan” is over – and if you ever listened, thank you. And you can still listen, if it’s new to you. It usually consisted of Ryan McGee and I blathering about whatever shows we were into (or not into) at that moment in time. Sometimes the podcasts contain interviews with actors and TV writers. (You can search the podcast’s site for show names.) This podcast (which is also on iTunes) may just be in your wheelhouse.

In addition to the ones names above, of course there are dozens of shows I want you to watch and catch up on and love. I don’t have time to list them all, but here are a few worth mentioning: I wrote quite a bit about Spartacus over the years – interviews and reviews and a “what to watch before you binge it on Netflix” explainer. If you think you’re too good for “Spartacus” and that “Spartacus” is something you should sneer at, think again.

More content for you:  “Wynonna Earp” makes me smile every damn time (and the first two seasons are on Netflix, woo!), “Peaky Blinders,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Rectify” “Happy Valley” are also on Netflix, “You’re the Worst” is on Hulu (as is the cult gem “Mary Kills People“), get into “The Americans” via Amazon for Lenin’s sake (comrades, that final season!!) “The Returned” is magnificently cry-inducing and weird, “Banshee” and “Strike Back” both had wobbly final seasons but were really worth watching before that.

Comedy is so good in recent years that I wrote a big piece in 2016 about how half-hour shows are crushing it even more than drama (it’s good to live in a world in which half-hours as varied as “Atlanta,” “One Day at a Time,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Good Place”  are so consistently excellent). More raves! “Killjoys” is my sci-fi jam and “Killing Eve” is amazing. As previously stated, I am a megafan of “Jane the Virgin.” Oh, also, “Black-ish!” (And more “Black-ish”!)

Some of the shows listed above are a little bit obscure, but I watch and like a lot of popular dramas as well! Some of them are on my end-of-year Best TV lists. Here’s my 2016 Top 20 list (I ranked shows for the first time! Exciting! I did not rank programs on two other lists of very good shows from that year). Here’s my 2015 Top 20 list (which contains links to two other lists of very good shows from that year). Also, feel free to check out my 2014 Top TV list, my 2013 Top TV list and 2012 Top TV list, all of which you can treat as rosters full of viewing suggestions. Finally, follow me on Twitter if you want the full scope of my daily obsessions, enthusiasms and rants. (Spoiler: I post a lot of pictures of foxes.)

But wait, there’s more! Here are a few reported stories worth noting:

Representation of women and people of color as TV showrunners for the 2016-2017 broadcast network season and what those dire statistics mean for the pipeline of future TV creators.

Representation of women and people of color as TV directors: The amount of scripted TV has doubled in the past five years, but guess who is directing most of it? I bet you don’t have to guess. If you only read one or two sidebars from this story, make it the ACLU interview and/or the roundup of comments from TV directors.

[Addendum to the directors story: If you think real change is not possible when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the TV industry, think again. This story proves that significant improvements are indeed possible. Everyone in the TV industry should take note.]

Representation of women in writers’ rooms. Spoiler alert: The percentages are not great. (This story is a couple years old but … yeah. Still not great.)

Film world bonus! Check out the stats on the writers and directors of “Star Wars.” I love “Star Wars” a lot. Its writers and directors are almost all white guys.

Representation of women and people of color as creators at prestige-drama outlets. Spoiler alert: I’ll let Sisko take this one.

[Four years later update: HBO has changed its ways – everyone in the TV industry should take note. I’m leaving Sisko in place because there’s much more work to be done.]

See You On the Other Side: My Battlestar Galactica Post-Finale Interviews and Review

This piece was originally published March 14, 2009. The publication I worked for then let the post lapse into the void. But there were many copies.

Can you believe it’s really over? I can’t either. Before accepting that fact, let’s talk and think and write about the finale way too much. Here goes…

Part 1: The interview with Moore

MR: I think one thing that threw me about the finale was that it was hopeful.

RDM: [laughs] There were a fair number of people that were prepared for the most nihilistic [finale ever].

MR: “You’re going to kill them all, aren’t you!?”

RDM: I know.

MR: It’s the ultimate sucker punch of “Battlestar Galactica” — that it ends on a hopeful note.

RDM: Yeah, it’s true. It’s the final twist. The final twist is — that it’s all OK. 

MR: Talk to me about that whole second Earth thing. That kind of gave me pause me when I saw it.

RDM: It was built into the show when we decided to get to Earth. This was always the plan – the plan was to get to Earth, have it be a cinder, and then go, “God, where now?” And take the audience on this other journey and make them forget about that and not think about it. Because the concept of the show was to search for a place called Earth.

So we wanted to give that to you before you expected it and make it a downer and [have you go,] “Oh shoot, now what?” And now you’re really adrift. [The intention was] to put the audience with the characters, where they were really adrift and not hoping that anything better was going to happen.

And at the very last, at the very end, to then have a moment of hope, to have something to hang on to, and to give them the thing that they had quested for for so long, and to give that to the audience too.

MR: And so it’s as if this Earth is an homage to the other Earth, the first one.

RDM: I thought there was something interesting about that. This isn’t the original Earth. We’re actually [living on] an homage, as you said, to the original Earth. They come here and try to learn a lesson from the original Earth and make this Earth a better story.

MR: So the question is, did they learn their lesson?

RDM: Exactly. And the show could not answer that. It didn’t feel right for the show, like [happens] with so many things, to give a definitive answer to that. Any more than the show said, “This is the answer to terrorism, this is the answer to Iraq, these are the answers to security and freedom.” It gets to a place where you have an opportunity and you have a hope, but you couldn’t definitively say, “It’s going to be OK.”

MR: I went back and watched the closing moments of “Crossroads, Part 2” again, and the final image is of a planet that looks a lot like Earth. How does that fit in to what we see in “Daybreak”? Can you walk me through that?

RDM: That was all specifically thought out. The planet that you see at the end of “Crossroads” is this planet that we stand on. It has the North American continent and the South American [continent], it’s very clear, we wanted it to be visually easy to identify for everybody.

Kara takes them to both Earths, as a matter of fact. She takes them to the original Earth, which, when we showed it in Revelations, we were careful to never quite be able to identify the land masses from orbit. We wanted you to accept it as Earth, and most people assumed it was this Earth, but we didn’t want to flat out mislead you, so we didn’t want to have it look like North America too.

MR: So Kara comes back in “Crossroads,” she says, “I’ve been to Earth”…

RDM: She had been to that Earth. The original Earth.

MR: The crispy Earth.

RDM: She guided the fleet to get there. She takes us to that. That’s part of her experience that she remembers. She remembers traveling there, seeing there, and comes back to the fleet saying, “I know how to get to that place.”

In the finale, she makes an intuitive leap connecting the music as coordinates, enters the into the jump computer and those coordinates take us to the second Earth, this place.

MR: It was a little bit of a fakeout, you have to admit.

RDM: Yeah, we did a head fake. But I don’t think it crosses the line, I don’t think it’s unduly misleading. I think you accept it as you go along. And clearly [we] wanted people to draw the connection that it was going to be this Earth, but we also didn’t put anything in the show that prevented us from doing the finale the way we wanted to.

Continue reading “See You On the Other Side: My Battlestar Galactica Post-Finale Interviews and Review”

A 2007 Friday Night Lights Set Visit: Witnessing the How the Magic Was Made

This piece was originally published March 20, 2007. 

AUSTIN, Texas — A dusty field in Texas. A ramshackle house in a cash-strapped part of town. The cramped, battered office of a high school guidance counselor.

They’re all unlikely places for a creative revolution, but there’s no other way to describe what’s happening on the set of “Friday Night Lights,” NBC’s acclaimed series about life in the small town of Dillon, Texas.

Far from the bright lights of Hollywood, in vibrant yet laid-back Austin, the actors, writers and directors of the show have created one of the most realistic, subtle, enthralling dramas on any screen, large or small. And they’ve done it on this first-year show by breaking many of the rules of television.

“When I first came on [the ‘FNL’] set, I thought, it’s interesting — this is what I imagined filmmaking would be, before I saw what filmmaking was,” says executive producer Jason Katims, the show’s head writer and a veteran of beloved cult series such as “Roswell” and “My So-Called Life.”

“What I imagined it would be was, people moving really fast, actors trying this and trying that, everybody being very excited, and it being very creative and it being a place to sort of discover things. That’s what I thought it would be, and this is the first time I actually saw it work that way.”

Indeed, a visit to the set of “Friday Night Lights,” which touches on the fortunes of the Dillon High School Panthers football team but is much more about the lives of the residents of the town, demonstrates that the show’s creative process is like nothing else on television.

There are no fancy lighting setups. Actors are not only allowed but encouraged to improvise their lines. Every single scene is shot in real locations, unlike most TV series, which use prefabricated sets. And with inspiration from what director of photography David Boyd calls “gonzo documentary guys” such as D.A. Pennebaker and David and Albert Maysles, three cameras simultaneously record the action, capturing nuances and moments that many other shows ignore in their forced march to the next plot point.

It took a little time to settle into its groove — even NBC entertainment president Kevin Reilly says he got a little tired of the show’s “jiggly camera” style, which has been toned down since the pilot.

But over the past six months, as it has unfurled surprising, deeply human stories about an injured quarterback suing his coach; a high school boy’s attempt to care for his sick grandmother; and one couple’s attempt to raise a spirited, smart daughter while dealing with the pressures of modern life, “Friday Night Lights” has quickly become appointment television for a growing number of critics and fans.

One of several fan sites devoted to campaigning for a second “FNL” season,, has collected dozens of the show’s critical raves, and a recent Tribune column on the show prompted an outpouring of more than 100 positive emails and message-board comments from readers.

“Everything about the show just feels so natural and real, which is a rarity on TV. It’s not about quippy one-liners or bombastic arguments,” one commenter wrote. “All of the characters are flawed, some more than others. But all of it is beautiful to watch.”

Though the “FNL” audience has hovered around 7 million viewers, well below NBC’s expectations, its viewers are positively rabid about the show, as Reilly well knows.

“I just got an e-mail today forwarded to me from one of the heads of one of the major advertising agencies — and I literally get a version of this every day — saying this is the best television show in years, or the best television show on the air,” Reilly says.

“Everything’s real, and all the relationships [make you] feel like you know these people,” says Scott Porter, who plays former Panther quarterback Jason Street, the character who was paralyzed in the show’s first episode. “I think that’s why people who watch the show have such a strong connection to it.”

But if fans travel to Austin to find the show’s fancy soundstages, they’ll be out of luck. There is a bare-bones production office on the outskirts of the city, but there is no soundstage, there are no sets.

All scenes are shot in houses, businesses and stores in and around Austin, which is where you’ll find the gritty high school that doubles as the home of the Dillon Panthers, the tiny house that quarterback Matt Saracen (Evanston’s Zach Gilford) shares with his grandma, and the fast-food joint that doubles as one of the show’s hangouts, the Alamo Freeze.

On the farthest outskirts of Austin on a recent February evening, klieg lights and cranes carrying a rainmaking machine were poised like towering robots over that day’s set, which recently had been home to a herd of cows, judging by what was underfoot. In the March 28 episode, which was filming that night, circumstances force the residents of Dillon to build an improvised football field for an important Panthers game.

On the sidelines, Tim and Billy Riggins —actors Taylor Kitsch and Derek Phillips — tossed perfect spirals at each other during breaks in the filming. Extras wandered around in Dillon Panther shirts and waved pennants during the big plays, which were filmed until the wee hours. As the night wore on and this “Mud Bowl” episode lived up to its name, the actors playing the Panther team members and coaches were soaked by the rain and covered in mud. Nobody minded.

Addressing the show’s critical acclaim and glowing press notices, Kyle Chandler, who plays Coach Eric Taylor, said in an interview the next day, “I don’t think anyone’s going, ‘Oh, well, now I’m going to get this new car.’ I think all the actors on this show love the process more than anything we’ll get out of it in the long run. I love this process. It’s an actor’s dream.”

Shooting in real locations in Texas has given the show an authentic feel that it would never have had in Los Angeles, says Chandler, who was raised in a small town in Georgia.

“When you live in this town, you are from Texas. You’re experiencing and feeling it,” Chandler said. “Austin is a great place. It’s not hard to get ideas for your character when you just go to breakfast across the street.”

But there’s far more to the show than a palpable sense of place. The show’s actors and directors have unprecedented freedom to change lines, alter scenes and improvise moments that feel true to the moment and to their characters. And the show’s writers, who’ve come up with some of the most nuanced, compelling story lines on television (most of which don’t have a thing to do with football, despite the show’s origins as H.G. Bissinger’s non-fiction account of a real Texas high school football team), are fine with those improvised alterations.

“Truthfully, 95 percent of the time, the actors are only lifting up what we originally envisioned as writers,” says Katims. “Every once in a while, you’ll be like, ‘I wanted that line because I wanted that transition.’ But you work it out.”

But on most shows, changing one line – heck, one word — of dialogue can lead to tense negotiations between actors, director and writers.

“Normally you’ve got a writer sitting there, watching every single word,” says Jesse Plemons, who plays Landry Clarke.

In the tiny high school guidance counselor’s office that serves as the office of Dillon High School counselor Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), the quest to convey the emotional truth of a scene and not just recite each word as scripted was demonstrated again and again.

In the scene being shot that night, for a different upcoming episode, Landry is struggling to tell Taylor, a Dillon guidance counselor, about a friend who has been physically attacked. Taylor’s comforting words change slightly with each take. And the words Landry is struggling for come out differently every time; he doesn’t want to reveal the friend’s name, and at one point, Taylor thinks he may have been the one who was assaulted. The words keep changing, but the emotional impact only grows as Britton and Plemons mine the difficult emotions at the heart of this moment.

“We try to definitely hit all the points in a scene, but we’re allowed to change the lines around to kind of fit us and fit our characters,” says Plemons.

Continue reading “A 2007 Friday Night Lights Set Visit: Witnessing the How the Magic Was Made”

The Top TV Shows of 2018

Welcome, I am your TV-recommending algorithm. This AI swears a lot. 

First things first: Why are there 40 shows on this list? Because it’s my site and I make the rules. Unchecked power has turned me into an unpredictable wild-card cyborg. Wheee!

Real talk: There are 40 shows on this list because if you embrace the theory that ten percent of any field of artistic endeavor is good and/or worthy of deeper attention (and about two to five percent is great), this number isn’t hard to understand. Out of the 500 or so scripted and hundreds of other unscripted/documentary programs out there, there are bound to be at least 40-50 worthy or exceptional shows, if not many more.

Because I’m a drama queen, I feel the need to assert that this list does not contain all the shows I watched this year. I continue to watch several shows I’ve kept up with for some time, and I checked out dozens of other shows of varying quality and miraculously lived to tell the tale. This is my attempt to share the best of what I watched (and yes, I had to whittle this roster down from a higher number).

In any event, as a critic these days, you end up functioning as a nicer, more humane version of the algorithms that drive just about every other facet of daily life. Why are we nicer? Well, we sometimes sleep, so we’re not observing your habits and clicks at every moment. More importantly, we have better senses of humor and we are more likely to cry, shout, rant and cheer at random intervals, which keeps everyone on their toes.

Anyone deeply versed in TV is used to being asked the question “What should I watch?” These days, the answer requires a fair bit of algorithmic investigation. I usually reply by asking, “Well, what do you like?” There are thousands of new and old shows I could recommend, and that question gives me a sense of which recommendations to pitch.

Of course, I’m all for people trying shows outside their usual comfort zones — in fact, being curious is essential if we’re to discover the  unexpectedly awesome programs we didn’t know we needed. There are some shows I recommend regardless of what a person’s previous favorites have been. But if you get the sense that someone often likes to relax with traditional network comedies and then you recommend a pitch-black serial-killer narrative, everyone involved is likely to look back on that conversation with frustration.

This list is my partial solution to the fact that, these days, there really is something out there for just about everyone. You might not like what I like, not exactly, but that’s OK! Every one of us can both experiment with the new and relax into our comfort zones, and still have plenty to pick from. The result is that we’re not all going to like or even watch the same shows. It’s harder to find consensus and it can be challenging for some new shows to get noticed or create buzz. Those are dilemmas that affect the TV industry, no doubt. 

Even so, I don’t know that consensus is the be-all and end-all of cultural commentary. It has its uses and pleasures, but there are many pluses to this expansive television era as well. There is such a variety of tones, protagonists, settings, themes and ideas to choose from, and if you want to do a re-watch of a past favorite, that’s easily done too. (Although it’s worth noting — and lamenting — how many classic programs and interesting shows from the past are not easily available. That’s a real shame for a lot of reasons.) 

Being aware of a large number of shows you haven’t watched but come highly recommended can feel like you’ve got a lot of homework to get done; I don’t dispute that that’s a real sentiment I come across (and feel myself at times). However, I’m good with where things are now. I mean, I don’t dig the very niche thing “Patriot” does, but I love how hard Brian Grubb loves it, you know? I’m glad that these days, TV programs have a somewhat easier time finding ways to be incredibly specific about what they do and how they do it. 

And honestly, it’s not that hard for a show to gain buzz if it does something innovative, energetic and exciting. “Killing Eve” turned the familiar contours of a cat-and-mouse spy serial into something funny and weird and surprising. It wasn’t just good, it was great counterpoint to the dirge-y tone of too many other one-hours in the Time of Prestige Drift.

But sure, consensus — among critics, or among critics and viewers, among friends — may be a more nebulous concept these days. You may have to wait longer for people whose opinions you care about to see the show(s) you really want to talk about. But there’s a lot to talk about. In the TV realm, it’s still very possible to find thoughtful essays, smartly written features and incisive criticism.

Of course, the job of a TV critic has changed since I started doing it at the dawn of the aughts, back when critics rode dinosaurs to work and we actually still got some screeners in videotape form (it’s true!). It’s less like the gig of a film critic (who usually tries to at least see most movies every year and write about many of them) and more like the job of a book critic (who sifts through information about thousands of releases to see what’s worth checking out, let alone taking the time to cover or opine about). I’m sure it will evolve further, probably to the point where someone invents an AI critic that you just download into your brain. Be forewarned: It may try to sell you on “Spartacus” and “Jane the Virgin.” Just a wild guess.   

One observation about this list: As Alan Sepinwall wrote, this was not a year chock full of exceptionally great shows. There was some greatness on display! But it was more a year for a lot of solid B, B+ and A- endeavors (there was also a metric fuck-ton of Cs, Ds and Fs, yeeesh.) A number of new programs established themselves capably, but here’s what  predominated in 2018, in my opinion: A number of very good returning shows demonstrated their well-developed chops and showed that they knew exactly what they were doing.

So 2018 wasn’t a year that we saw a big array of flashy debuts or game-changers. It was a year that celebrated craft, discipline and the deep pleasures they can create when married to inspiration, thematic richness and psychological heft. 

Stan alert: A lot of shows got a lot of hype this year, and in many cases, that hype is fully deserved (except for the overrated shows, and let’s assume you and I are in complete agreement about which shows were overrated). However, some worthy offerings didn’t get their due in terms of attention, praise, press coverage or overall buzz. Regardless of your taste and inclinations, I would ask you to consider a few under-the-radar gems, especially “The Little Drummer Girl,” “A Very English Scandal,” “Vida” and “The Good Fight.” Of course I recommend everything else on this list! But those are the ones that need the hype, so consider them hyped.  

I have supplied you with 40 shows that were good, very good or great (and 14 more Honorable Mentions). But to narrow things down a bit further — because there is nothing critics enjoy more than agonizing over lists — here (in alphabetical order) are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2018“The Americans,” “Atlanta,” “Better Call Saul,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “The Good Fight,” “The Good Place,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Killing Eve,” “One Day at a Time.” 

Finally, if a show you like is not listed anywhere here, assume it’s due to one of these reasons:

    • I didn’t have time to get to the show.
    • I didn’t finish its current season.
    • I sampled it and didn’t like it as much as you did.
    • I tried it and strongly disliked it. What were they thinking?
    • I’m a cruel hellbeast determined to bring pain and suffering to the world. (This is probably the reason.)

My Top 40 Programs of 2018

“Altered Carbon,” Netflix

This futuristic pulp serial was too convoluted at times, but I loved the world-building and the flashbacks to the timeline starring Renee Elise Goldsberry and Will Yun Lee. James Purefoy was also fabulous. More than anything, I want a spinoff starring Poe (the wonderful Chris Conner). My review.

“The Americans,” FX

Exceptional, moving, disciplined, brilliant. All the adjectives for an all-time great final season. Thanks for ruining trains for me, nerds! Here’s a review of the last season and a post-finale interview with stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

“Atlanta,” FX

I know other episodes got a great deal of (deserved) attention, but I think about “Woods” — and its stylized but deeply truthful depiction of depression — all the time. What a buffet of riches “Atlanta” offered this year. The entire cast is fantastic, but Lakeith Stanfield and Brian Tyree Henry are on a whole other level. They’re once-in-a-generation actors, and we get to see them both on this show. I’m so grateful. 

“Better Call Saul,” AMC

This bittersweet season was the best one yet; it was beautifully modulated and quietly stellar. We know how good Bob Odenkirk is, but I love how “BCS” has given more and more screen time to Rhea Seehorn, Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks. They’ve made the most of it.  

“Bodyguard,” Netflix

What if “Homeland,” “24” and “Scandal” got together and had a baby? First of all, that would be messy. But the point is, you’d probably get something like the slick and propulsive “Bodyguard,” which contained a lot of ridiculous twists yet remained quite watchable. Richard Madden is very good in this.

“BoJack Horseman,” Netflix

No show mixes silliness with tragedy with more facility — I love how, through some alchemy, the goofier moments of “BoJack” deeply enhance the saddest scenes.  This year we got smart and lucid explorations of toxic masculinity, grief, addiction and damage, and as well as lube jokes and an uncontrollable sex robot running a television network. Rami Malek was top-notch as a world-weary showrunner who thinks his anti-hero drama is brave and challenging, when it’s really just dumb, sexist, obvious and entirely unnecessary. Diane and BoJack’s gripping argument in Episode 11 was the animated “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” I didn’t know I needed. That confrontation mined five seasons of character development beautifully, and that was just one of many stellar moments and adventurous gambits. All in all, this was an exceptional show at the top of its game. 

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Fox/NBC

I love this show so very, very much. This year seemed determined to kick us in the face several times per day, but when “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was uncanceled by NBC, I was both relieved and so freaking happy. This year we really needed pure joy when we could get it, and I got it while watching this excellent comedy and celebrating its survival. To the Nine-Nine! 

“Castle Rock,” Hulu 

I’m not really a horror gal, nor am I a Stephen King obsessive (I do like a lot of his work, especially the Dark Tower series, but I’m betting a lot of the references in this show passed me by). All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this character-driven study of loss, fear, memory and the difficulty of connection. It had some slower patches, sure, but the cast was outstanding and overall it was a satisfying and effectively atmospheric endeavor. Andre Holland was a wonderfully empathic anchor for everything that transpired, and “The Queen,” which explored the dementia Sissy Spacek’s character was experiencing, was thoughtful and moving. 

“Counterpart,” Starz

The first season, which debuted in January and which I reviewed, was quite entertaining. The second season began Dec. 9, and given the strength of the cast — and given that this show stars J.K. Simmons — I’ll watch. 

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” CW

One of the best shows on TV upped its game this year. The pre- and post- suicide attempt arc was exceptionally well done, and not only were the core character’s dilemmas examined in a compelling fashion, the storylines of the supporting characters were filled out wonderfully. Judging by the first several episodes of the final season, “CEG” is going out very strong. My feature/interview with the co-creators of the show, and a list of some of its best songs

“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” CW

Does your TV show have murderous unicorns, a brusque beer-swilling criminal who writes saucy romance novels on the side, a ship that can take the whole crew anywhere in time, and multiple charismatic bisexual characters having flirty adventures? If not, re-examine your life choices. The John Noble scene from this past spring belongs in the Smithsonian. A couple of my Twitter raves.

“Doctor Who,” BBC America

I was so excited to do a big feature on the past and present of this show this year. I also interviewed star Jodie Whittaker, which was delightful. As for the new season, I think the era of 13 is off to a solid start (“Rosa” was so good). 

“Everything Sucks!,” Netflix 

My review. This show really found itself by the end of its first — and unfortunately, only — season. Give this a look if you want a gentle, retro coming-of-age comedy. It may be of particular interest to viewers who would be into a thoughtful and sweetly funny story about a young LGBTQ woman coming to terms with who she is.

“The Good Fight,” CBS All Access

It pains me how little attention this show gets, because it’s one of the most frisky and bold dramas around right now (the clunky episode riffing on the Shitty Media Men list was a rare misstep, but everything else this year was so good that I was able to let that go). “The Good Fight” was wobbly in its first season, but it really found its feet by leaning into the surreal vibe and the helpless anger that often characterizes the Trump era. What a fantastic season. 

“The Good Place,” NBC

Absolutely delightful. I’m so glad this show exists (speaking of consensus, it’s the one show in our household we all abjectly adore). If I were doing a best episodes of the year list (and I’m not!), the recent “Janet(s)” would have placed very highly there.  I had fun doing this interview with creator Mike Schur

“The Haunting of Hill House,” Netflix

If you would like to have a hourlong conversation with my spouse, ask him if he’s ever seen Netflix’s “Money Heist.” (He has, and he will happily talk about for a very long time.) Better yet, ask him if he liked the final episodes of “The Haunting of Hill House” (reader, HE DID NOT). To be sure, this season was flawed: It was too long, and some underdeveloped characters got too much screen time and others didn’t get enough. And my word, despite having nothing but love for Henry Thomas and Carla Gugino, those parents seemed incredibly clueless and even cruel for letting those clearly traumatized kids stay in that house as long as they did (poor Luke needs eight million hugs). That said, Gugino was great (as were her wedge heels and flowing loungewear), Timothy Hutton, Thomas and several other cast members were also excellent, and one jump scare made me scream and dump an entire glass of water all over myself. When the show was on its A game, it was very good at creating creepy tableaux and disturbing atmospheres, and it was often perceptive about how grief, family history and trauma can be irrevocably intertwined. 

“Homecoming,” Amazon

Find someone who loves you as much as Sam Esmail loves overhead shots. A twisty and well-performed gem. And if it makes the trend toward economical and rewarding half-hour dramas blow up even further, hooray. 

“Howards End,” Starz

I had some real issues with this limited series (Matthew Mcfadyen is a good actor but he was miscast as Henry Wilcox, and thus the central romance didn’t really work). However, I would watch Hayley Atwell in anything, and much of the time, this was a quality showcase for her many skills. If you’re a Hayley fan and/or a costume-drama person, this is worth a look.

“Into the Badlands,” AMC

This action-adventure show just keeps getting better. It’s one of the most beautifully art-directed and shot one-hours on TV, and its action and fight choreography are to die for. In other words, I’m a hardcore stan

“Jane the Virgin,” CW

Still great. Here’s a look at one outstanding episode and an interview with showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman

“Killing Eve,” BBC America

Science tells us that many of the best TV shows are about believably complicated, often queer female characters who bestow upon us many highly gif-able moments. So damn good. Review

“Killjoys,” Syfy

I am a longtime superfan and I don’t want this show to leave us in 2019! Any functional description of this show — i.e., “found family in space” — is basically my love language.  

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” HBO

I remain impressed at this show’s ability to dig into serious issues and smartly explain them even as it remains nimble and entertaining and able to make me laugh until I get a cramp in my side.

“The Little Drummer Girl,” AMC

This miniseries looked great and the central performances were outstanding. Florence Pugh was just sensational in the lead role. Sidebar: As we all know, the central question of 2018 is whether Michael Shannon in “Little Drummer Girl” or Shea Whigham in “Homecoming” was the more awesome obsessed middle-aged guy in retro/weird glasses.

“Mary Kills People,” Lifetime/Hulu

Both seasons of this Lifetime offering are now on Hulu, and each season is only six episodes long. As I said in the reviews that (optimistically) three people read, it’s a brisk and thought-provoking drama that takes a serious topic (terminal people choosing to end their lives) and explores it with respect and insight without ever lapsing into grimness or tipping too far into comedy. The series is really more of a character-driven crime caper than anything, and a generally rewarding one at that.

“Miss Sherlock,” HBO

What’s that you say? You would like to watch a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes series set in modern-day Tokyo? You would like your female Sherlock to sport a killer bob, have charisma for days and wear a designer trench coat like a champ? Then this bracing, comedically-tinged cocktail is for you. 

“My Brilliant Friend,” HBO

Literary adaptations don’t get much better than this. 

“Nanette,” Netflix

So many people wrote so many great thinkpieces about Hannah Gadsby’s comedy special; I highly recommend seeking out those essays. Or simply watch “Nanette.” And then watch it again. You may not agree with every conclusion Gadsby comes to, but the point was to move you, make you laugh and make you think. This exceptional and brutally beautiful hour succeeds wildly on those counts. This Gadsby bit is also worth a look. 

“National Treasure: Kiri,” Hulu 

This U.K. drama has nothing to do with the other “National Treasure” TV series that is also on Hulu in the U.S. (though they share a writer). Anyway, “Kiri” is very good (if dark), and Sarah Lancashire is typically incredible in it. Review

“One Day at a Time,” Netflix 

So, so wonderful. Here is one of my various love letters to this outstanding comedy. 

“Pose,” FX

I’m a simple person, I don’t ask for a lot. All I want is for Billy Porter, in character as Pray Tell, to narrate every moment of my life. Let me have this. Shoutout to Mj Rodriguez, who took a difficult central role and made it pulse with transfixing need and vibrant compassion. “Pose” acknowledged the realistic and often deeply unjust problems, biases and tragedies encountered by this varied array of characters — but it’s damned impressive how it folded all that into an overall narrative that brimmed with exuberant energy, gorgeous visuals and defiant joy. 

“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” Netflix

Beautiful to look at, informative and therapeutic all at once. Samin Nosrat is a delight as a host and travel guide, and the four-episode season left me hungry for more. The only shared universe that matters to me is the one that I am going to create between “The Wine Show” and “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” I’m willing to consider a “Great British Bake-Off” crossover. Obviously, in this scenario, Ina Garten is Nick Fury.

“Sharp Objects,” HBO

Thanks for ruining dollhouses for me, nerds. 

“The Staircase,” Netflix 

Still weirdly transfixing on a whole bunch of levels. I wrote this review/appreciation earlier this year.

“Succession,” HBO

Cousin fucking Greg, amirite? Also, Kieran Culkin is next-level fantastic in this. The whole cast is excellent, but I can’t believe how much I enjoy Roman, who on paper I should hate quite a bit. If our planet is going to be run into the ground by sociopathic billionaires, they may as well entertain us richly and well on our way to the apocalypse.

“Superstore,” NBC

Anyone who ever stated that losing “Roseanne” was a problem because that would mean we wouldn’t have any mainstream comedies about working-class characters clearly didn’t know what they were talking about. Both “Superstore” and “One Day at a Time” (among other half-hours) constantly take on aspects of the lives of working and lower-middle-class Americans and turn them into comedy without being unrealistic about the daily struggle to pay the bills. Also, I truly believe the pack of weirdos from Cloud 9 could absolutely put a hardcore beatdown on the extended family of Logan Roy, for what that’s worth.

“A Very English Scandal,” Amazon

This brisk limited series is absolutely stuffed with brilliant performances: Hugh Grant does stellar work, and Ben Whishaw is (as always) exceptional in every way that matters. Speaking of TV somewhat generally, it gives me an exhaustion migraine when TV creators think the only way to signal that they are exploring complex ideas and and challenging themes is to adopt a bludgeoningly dark vibe, a literally dark palette, or a uniformly joyless tone. No. Life does not work like that! Even in the worst circumstances, human behavior does not stay within one narrow range of emotions or colors. Being almost uniformly joyless or Serious belies a fundamentally adolescent understanding of how tragedy works or how life operates. In any event, an intellectually adventurous, deeply focused work can be energetic and graceful and even fun! It’s true, tell a friend. Back to “A Very English Scandal”: It boasts a jaunty tone, a frisky energy, a slightly shaggy, enjoyably lived-in atmosphere — and a very, very sure understanding of what it wants to say about class, power, homophobia, love and bravery (or the absence of courage). It’s engaging and entertaining while making all those cogent points; it deftly balanced a wry, sarcastic tone with real understanding of — and sympathy for — its flawed characters. Three crisp episodes, and then it was done. Hooboy, I love a charmer that doesn’t overstay its welcome.  

“Vida,” Starz

What a gem. “Vida” created a world and characters worth following in six concise episodes. A lot of shows could learn from it.

“The Wine Show,” Ovation/Hulu

The biggest mistake I’ve ever made is not watching this show sooner. It involves attractive people — including a (sometimes) magnificently bearded Matthew Rhys in Full Welsh mode — wandering through beautiful villas sampling wines and learning more about what factors and elements can make a wine delicious. Wait a minute: Not watching this show until this year was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done, because now I still have lots more to watch. Advantage me.

“Wynonna Earp,” Syfy

I love this rollicking, emotionally engaging serial. I continue to be impressed by the skills of its game and talented cast, all of whom really went for it this season, and whoa, did it ever pay off. I can’t wait to see where things go next after that game-changer of a season finale. I have to add, obviously I’m a hardcore Nedley nerd. (Nerdley?) Last but not even remotely least, here is a  feature on the show, its history and its delightfully non-chill fandom. 

Honorable mentions:

“American Vandal,” Netflix
“Barry,” HBO (My review.)
“Billions,” Showtime
“Dear White People,” Netflix
“The Deuce,” HBO
“Fresh Off the Boat,” ABC
“Grown-ish,” Freeform (My review.)
“Insecure,” HBO
“Mosaic,” HBO (My review.)
“Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” Amazon (My review.)
“Save Me,” Starz
“Suits,” USA
“Trust,” FX
“Wild Wild Country,” Netflix

Finally: I love checking out other year-end Best of TV lists, and Metacritic has a great collection of those here. Also, I did a fair bit of TV reporting, writing, panel-ing and podcasting during the past year or so. You can find a lot of those links here

Why the Fancy Editors of Harper’s and NYRB Are as Idiotic as That Comedy Cellar Moron

I can’t quite let go of something that I brought up in this Twitter thread.

Still on this. I’ve spent days, nights, weekends, lost sleep, rewritten, had legal & fact checkers all over stories, thrown up, re-interviewed sources to MAKE SURE my #MeToo stories were solid. In 1 week, 2 men get to freely rewrite their abusive pasts? Nobody cared about facts?

Regarding Jian Ghomeshi writing for the New York Review of Books and John Hockeberry penning whatever the hell that was for Harper’s, I have so many questions. (No, I’m not linking to them. Ughghhh.)

But one of the biggest questions I have is this: Why were these men allowed to rewrite history?

It’s one thing to say, “These are personal essays and not news stories,” which might be one (lame) defense offered by those publications. But that’s nonsense. First of all, everyone reporting on #MeToo stories and anything at all related to harassment, predation and similarly fraught issues has had to be so, so careful. Any time these topics are in the mix, fact-checking rigor is necessary.

And even when someone is writing a personal essay or an opinion column, the writers of such works don’t get to pick and choose their facts. I’ve had critiques and columns kicked back to me to make sure every assertion in them was accurate. That’s not a defense that holds water.

It’s unconscionable to me that NYRB and Harper’s both allowed these men to publish poorly written, mawkish articles that didn’t move the conversation forward. That’s bad enough.

Worse yet, they didn’t give the survivors of harassment, bullying, assault and violence a real voice in any of this. That’s awful and gross and so typical, unfortunately. I wrote about this process of de-centering the survivors in this piece about Louis C.K. I am so tired of survivors being ignored in favor of the egos of the men who made these messes in the first place. Whether it’s by the men themselves or their acolytes, it’s always the same boring whining about famous men who want their old lives back.

Survivors don’t get their old lives back after they’ve been abused, bullied, harassed, assaulted and raped. No one is owed a career in the media, in the arts, in Hollywood, in sports, in politics. No one is owed any of that. When speaking of these matters, in relation to any profession or any walk of life, the only people who are owed anything are those who’ve been harmed — but they’re usually left to fend for themselves.

The thing is, if a person transgresses norms, ethical guidelines, laws and/or basic ideas about human decency or dignity, that person may pay a price. It doesn’t always work that way, but that’s how this whole thing called human society works. (And let’s not forget, neither man served a day in jail. Both are free to rebuild their lives. Without subjecting us to their epic laments about how this whole “women are human beings with boundaries worthy of respect” thing has kind of gone too far.) 

But let’s put all that aside, just for a moment.

The fact that these two guys were allowed to massage what happened and essentially come up with alternative narratives is not just infuriating but wrong. These publications have now added to the harm done to the survivors of these men’s abuses. That’s because Hockenberry and Ghomeshi’s accounts are far more forgiving about what they did than the picture one gets from journalistic records, court documents and input from survivors. The cherry on top is the lax editing that allowed both men to paint themselves as the real victims.

Those writing about #MeToo perpetrators have had to be so rigorous and unassailable; no misstep was too small to be jumped on by the “has this all gone too far/witch hunt” crowd. Not even one year on, the actual perpetrators get to pretty much just say what they want. Double standard much? 

I’ve no doubt these men experienced pain when they were made accountable for their actions — at last. What did they do with that pain except turn it into meandering pity parties about how what that happened to them was unfair? Well, gents, you didn’t even give us a full and fair picture of what occurred, so the odds that you’re on a path of true amelioration and atonement — the kind  of difficult but necessary journey Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg talks about here — don’t seem especially high. As Michelle Goldberg noted today, “the discussion about #MeToo and forgiveness never seems to go anywhere, because men aren’t proposing paths for restitution. They’re asking why women won’t give them absolution.”

It’s not worth arguing what category these pieces went into — memoir, personal essay, op-ed, reporting, whatever. The fact is, these allegedly prestigious publications allowed these men to whitewash their own actions. To the inevitable people who will, once the Famous Man in Trouble batsignal goes up, appear in my mentions: Yes, I have patience for the “what is the path back” question, as I noted in my Louis C.K. essay. But that’s not my first or second or third or even fifth priority. And it can be a priority only when survivors are not pushed to the margins, and only if perpetrators do real work to truly reckon with the harm they’ve done.

Not only did these men not grapple with the real damage they did, they were false and self-serving about what actually happened. And these influential publications helped them with this craven, damaging and infuriating agenda.

Dear Ian Buruma, you probably don’t give a damn about what I think, because I’m just some woman scribbling words on the internet, but this statement in this interview is wrong, for so many reasons: “The exact nature of his behavior—how much consent was involved—I have no idea, nor is it really my concern.”

You should be concerned about the accuracy of what is in your publication. You should educate yourself about harassment, assault and abuse, and not just decide that everything short of being convicted of rape in a criminal trial is in some whoopsie-oopsie grey area. Read this piece by David Roberts of Vox, and think about getting parts of it tattooed on your body for handy reference. Like, how about this paragraph right here:

Sexual discrimination, harassment, and abuse are everywhere. They are not isolated cases, not rare, and not confined to the powerful or famous. They constitute an ongoing, systemic crisis. #MeToo is meant to draw attention to that crisis. Talking about the perpetrators “moving on with their lives’ at all, much less with sympathy and solicitude, is a clear signal that the moral weight and severity of the crisis has not sunk in. We’re still not taking this shit seriously.

Or how about this one?

[H]arassment and abuse exist along a spectrum. The point is not that everything on the spectrum is the same, but that it’s all the same spectrum — a range of expressions that trace to a core set of ideas, namely that women are objects, adjuncts to men, there to soothe, coddle, please, or serve men, subject to their control and abuse.

These are important ideas you could have hired any number of fine writers of all genders to explore! But you, and the entitled twit who runs Harper’s, gave prime real estate to abusers who have no insight into anything but their own questionable narratives of victimization. Fantastic job, well played.

Last point: Sociopaths and clinical narcissists may be interesting in movies or TV or books, up to a point and in the hands of the right artists. But in real life they’re often really boring, because nothing exists but their own needs. Other people aren’t real to them. I kind of wonder if other people — especially women — are real to the editors of these Very Esteemed Publications. The owner of the Comedy Cellar and others have framed the comeback of Louis C.K. in free-speech terms. The safety of the human bodies in the paths of these angry, entitled men — those things are not not important. Let’s ignore all that so that we can focus on the fancy, high-flown reasons we must make these men the center of attention. Again. 

Edited to add a link to this tremendous essay by Katie Anthony, who absolutely takes apart Ghomeshi’s slippery, clevery toxicity like Tim Gunn deconstructing a terrible frock (but her essay is even better than that). This post is a must-read, in my opinion, because Katie is delivering HOT FIRE in every paragraph: “I realized that this piece has pulled off a strange maneuver. It deserves both less than our contempt and our full attention. Because this self-mythologizing, gaslighting treatise is both wall-punchingly routine and a spectacular — nay, TEXTBOOK — example of how this shit keeps happening. And in case you’re wondering, ‘this shit’ refers to abuse, the way we ignore abuse if we happen to find the abuser useful or entertaining, the way we grant unlimited second-chances to abusers who can also interact with random strangers without abusing them, as if Ted Bundy never murdered YOU so he must be a pretty okay guy after all.”

I’m going to give the last word to Dan O’Sullivan, whom I don’t know, but based on his last name, there’s an eight percent chance we’re related. This thread by him is very good — and absolutely true, in my experience. Take it away, Dan:

The thing I have found with dealing with sociopathic sexual predators is that engaging with them in any way is self-destructive. Their words are poison & grow more lethal they longer you let them talk. They even can acquire a ring of reasonableness, in the face of blinding truth. You may find yourself questioning the obvious truth, because they’re so sure of themselves and even convincing at times, but the truth is, you’re playing by rules and they have none. No rules about how they behave with anyone. They can’t respect anyone’s truth.

And finally:

Ghomeshi simply lies about the facts of his accusations, dramatically so. He reframes it and reduces the scope dramatically. I can’t believe this essay ran.

Me neither.

Elephant vs. African Wild Dogs at Botswana Watering Hole

A Film by Maureen Ryan.

This may be the best thing I’ll ever put into the world. It makes my heart happy just to think about witnessing it. There’s  more info about this below, if you want it, but if you don’t, just experience the magic: 

In July, we spent a few glorious weeks in Botswana, the trip of a lifetime. We were so lucky to be able to go there. There were a few amazing high points, some of which were caught on video. I also took a ton of photos, and I’m posting some of those pictures on my Instagram. (To be clear, some of what’s on my Instagram is from Botswana, and some from around my house, from walks in the woods, or from other trips. But many of the pics lately are from Botswana).  

We all agreed this moment was high up on our list of Greatest Trip Experiences  — this encounter between a pack of African wild dogs and an elephant. I’m going to give you a spoiler up front: Nobody gets hurt, it’s adorable and fun, and there’s no bloodshed. On another day, we did watch a pack of wild dogs take apart a freshly killed impala for about an hour, but I’m not going to show you that particular Hannibal spinoff, ever. We have videos, but nope. It was fascinating to witness, but… so … many…. intestines.

Anyway, here’s what happened in this video: We were staying in Gomoti Tented Camp in northern Botswana. There’s a watering hole right in front of this small (and great) camp, right outside the dining area. As we were finishing breakfast, an impala shot by the watering hole, chased by a wild dog. That wild dog decided to stop running after the impala and hang out at the watering hole. Soon he was joined by about 15-16 packmates. They were all wandering around or lying down or drinking, just chilling, when a solo elephant walked up. It’s not all that unusual to see a solo elephant now and then, though they’re usually in herds. Anyway, this gent strolls up, expecting to have the watering hole to himself, but the dogs know they can literally run circles around him and not get hurt, so they don’t slink off.

What occurs for the next six minutes is him trying to drive them off (“Damn kids, get off my lawn!”), them messing with him by creeping a bit closer, him shooing them off again, and the whole thing becoming kind of a game to both of them. The elephant was a bit annoyed, and the dogs were maybe a little scared, but not really. What came through to me was how the whole thing was kind of a fun, even silly moment. All parties knew they wouldn’t get hurt, it was a low-key and basically harmless interspecies encounter, and it was mighty amusing to witness.

We also got to watch a pack of adult wild dogs feed and interact with their cute-as-a-button pups for about two hours another day. Being able to spend long periods of time observing all kinds of wildlife living their day-to-day lives — I can’t put into words the purity and intensity and joy of that gift. I think about that trip every single day and one hope we can go back to Botswana, especially to the Okavango Delta region. I love it so, so much. 

Anyway, watch the whole thing, if only so you can nominate it for a Most Popular Film Oscar. But if you want to skip around, here are some approximate time codes (and after the first few seconds — when you’ll hear the elephant trumpet — turn down the sound. We sound like excited baboons, and if you’re into that kind of thing, crank the sound, but really and truly, feel free to mute):

First minute: Elephant walks up, charges and trumpets a bit to scare off the dogs. Doesn’t work. Elephant gets himself some water regardless.

Around minute 2 to around minute 3: Elephant flicks water at the dogs while drinking.

Around 3:40: Elephant both kicks out at and flicks water at the dogs.

Around 4:30: Exciting conclusion of the third act: Elephant sprays water out his trunk at the dogs (that is my favorite part).

Around 5:30 to end: My second favorite part. The elephant does a “Homer Simpson” into the bushes — he walks off, but then he decides he doesn’t want to show his backside to those pesky dogs, so he back slowly into the foliage. Classic Homer elephant. 

Addendum: Two more (short) videos from Botswana: African wild dog pups “stalking” a cranky vulture, and here’s a very tiny elephant sniffing the air with his very tiny and adorable trunk!  If you need more of this kind of #content in your life, looking at our friend Steve’s photos (not just from Botswana but from all over the most amazing corners of the world) is one of my go-to strategies for calming myself down. Which I need to do sometimes, because this world.