2017 was one hell of a year for us here at Avenging Force, but we’ve kept (somewhat) calm and carried (sometimes begrudgingly) on. Although we may not have been sharing our thoughts as readily as we might have liked, we haven’t stopped consuming the media we love so much. And while most people would probably agree that 2017 was generally a roller coaster of ups and downs, in order to start 2018 on a positive note, we’re highlighting some of our favorite pieces of pop culture from the past year. Keep reading to see what we loved in TV, movies, music, books, and beyond! Spoilers below, so tread carefully if you haven’t seen some of the year’s biggest hits!
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I would like to state for the record that narrowing my list down to a mere five favorites was excruciating. Turns out that, despite its tumultuousness on a macro level, 2017 was actually a really good year for entertainment. Ultimately, I picked my five based on not just how much I enjoyed something in the moment, but also for how deeply it made me think, how long it stuck with me afterward, and what I believe its impact could be going forward. So there are many 2017 things that I whole-heart loved, but still didn’t make the cut.
I would also like to state for the record that Wonder Woman actually is in my top five, but I stepped aside so that Sarah could write about it in her picks, for two reasons: 1) I was already having a hard enough time narrowing down my choices to five, and 2) I’ve already written a whole essay on my love of Wonder Woman and figured it was time to let someone else speak.
That said, I do need to give honorable mentions to a few things that aren’t quite top five for me, but were still really, really good: The Handmaid’s Tale, Legion, The Hitman’s Bodyguard restricted teaser, The Greatest Showman soundtrack, The Vampire Diaries series finale, Steve Harrington, Baby Driver (and particularly the opening scene), The Disaster Artist, Big Little Lies, IT, The Shape of Water, and Lady Bird (which I did not see until 2018, but was still a 2017 release so it counts).
5. American Vandal (Netflix)
This is one of those “just trust me” shows, because based on the premise alone, I never would have watched it. The best pitch I can come up with for this show is “Serial meets Jackass, but if Jackass was good.” (Apologies to any Jackass fans out there; it’s just not my cuppa.) American Vandal is a mockumentary about a student filmmaker’s investigation of an incident of obscene vandalism at his high school, which led to the expulsion of senior Dylan Maxwell. The brilliance, and hilarity, of American Vandal is not just in the expertly layered mystery of who, if not Dylan, was actually responsible for the prank, but in how seriously it takes itself. American Vandal is a comedy that doesn’t know it’s funny, investigating an absurd crime with ridiculously low stakes that feel every bit as high as if there was an actual body. It is deeply tapped into the relationships, conflicts, and politics of high school, with nuanced characters and intricate storytelling that is on par with any of the best prestige drama out there today, but with a sharp wit and genuine heart that made it some of the most delightful and surprising 4 hours of television I watched last year.
Although I’ve loved X-Men since middle school, Wolverine has never been my favorite X-Men character. I appreciated what he added to the group dynamic, and I loved Hugh Jackman’s casting in 2000’s X-Men, but as an individual character, he was still pretty far down the mutant hierarchy for me. (Let’s not even talk about Wolverine: Origins and The Wolverine.)
However, I loved 2008’s Old Man Logan comic, on which Logan is loosely based, and I was excited to see Jackman finally able to really explore the full range of the character, untethered by franchise commitments and MPAA guidelines. When the first trailer for Logan dropped, underscored by Johnny Cash’s haunting “Hurt,” I was blown away by how different it looked than anything we’d seen before in a superhero movie. And then when I finally saw the movie itself in theaters, it utterly wrecked me. For the first time, I felt, they got the character of Wolverine right on film. What’s more, Logan completely redrew the boundaries of what can be done in a mainstream superhero film. Not only did it deliver a grittier, darker, adult-targeted story for an iconic character, but it did so with huge amounts of heart and respect for the character’s legacy, while reshaping our expectations for what the future might bring.
Logan, to me, delivered a perfect resolution for two characters and actors (because Patrick Stewart deserves recognition for the heartbreaking vulnerability he brought to Professor Charles Xavier, whom he’s also been portraying since 2000) who have been so integral to both the X-Men franchise and superhero movies as a genre, while also tearing down the limitations on what can be accomplished in a superhero film and, in doing so, raising the bar for everything that followed.
3. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
I read a lot of amazing books last year, but this was one of my absolute favorites. It tells the story of the son of the man who invented time travel, and hinges on the premise that the world we are living in today is, actually, wrong, and that the real 2017 would’ve been the utopic paradise foretold in countless science fiction novels and movies, if the protagonist hadn’t accidentally traveled to the past and screwed everything up. It’s a brilliant idea, and the execution of the story is flawless, with the easy, conversational tone that will appeal to readers of books like The Martian and just enough thoughtful and inventive science to back it up. I listened to this book on audio (it’s read by the author, and is one of the rare fiction books where I think that choice works really well), and wound up staying up until 2:00 in the morning, just staring blankly into the darkness, because I couldn’t bear to turn it off.
2. Get Out
So many brilliant pieces have been written about Get Out that I hardly have anything else to add, so let me just say that I think Get Out was a flawless and important film, and I want it to win every single award it’s nominated for, and a bunch that it isn’t. I don’t typically do horror movies (although you’ll notice IT up there in my honorable mentions; 2017 was a weird year for me and movies), but when I saw the overwhelmingly stellar reviews for Get Out, I decided to risk it. And I’m so glad I did, because everything about Get Out, from the staggeringly good performances from its cast, to the razor-sharp writing, to the surprising moments of laugh-out-loud humor which granted the audience a brief reprieve from the otherwise constant, heart-pounding tension, to the biting social commentary, was absolute perfection.
My only complaint about Get Out, a film whose central thesis is that navigating America as a Black person is akin to being trapped in a literal horror movie, is that it was categorized as a comedy at the Golden Globes. Which isn’t really an issue with the movie itself, but I just needed to air that particular grievance.
1. Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb
I know this is book probably isn’t even going to ping most people’s radars, because it is the conclusion to Robin Hobb’s sprawling 16-book Realm of the Elderlings series that began with Assassin’s Apprentice in 1995, and 16 books is a lot of books. But for me, this was the final chapter in my favorite series of all time. More than Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, or Narnia, or anything else you can think of. I have loved FitzChivalry Farseer, his beloved Fool, and the characters that populate their rich universe for many years now, and 2017 finally brought them to the end of their hard-won journey. It was the kind of series conclusion you rarely get to experience, paying off threads that had seemed long-forgotten, and bringing together characters I thought would never cross paths. It was immensely bittersweet, and satisfying, and heartbreaking, and hopeful. I spent a solid 200 pages of this book in shuddering, full-body sobs, stayed up far past my bedtime, and couldn’t put it down despite never wanting it to end. And although I’m still not sure I’m entirely ready to say goodbye to Fitz and the Fool, I’m thankful that their story has the most perfect and fitting ending I could’ve ever hoped for.
At times, 2017 felt like it took a decade to get through. Looking back, things from January, February, and March feel like they happened much longer ago than they actually did. But despite how long it took to get through, 2017 had a lot of bright spots in pop culture.
In fact, there were so many bright spots that it was DIFFICULT to narrow my list down to only five. A whole lot of gratitude goes to Teija and Lauren for including other great moments on their lists, like that one scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Logan, and Get Out. And honorable mentions for my list go to Green Day’s new greatest hits album, Thor: Ragnarok, Baby Driver, The Vampire Diaries series finale, and of course, the porgs.
In the end, I went with things that made me happy on a personal level, not necessarily things that were critical successes. I selected things that made me smile, made me joyful, and stayed with me long after they were done. So after a lot of internal debate and indecision, here is my list of my five favorite pop culture things from 2017.
5. Babysitter Steve Harrington, Stranger Things
Stranger Things season 2 was one of my most anticipated parts of 2017, but what I didn’t anticipate was just how much I would love Steve Harrington. In season 1, Steve was an often forgettable jerk who didn’t have much of a story arc. Steve’s new role as unexpected babysitter, an amazing homage to Adventures in Babysitting, was absolutely everything. When Dustin climbed into Steve’s car and forced him to help capture his accidental Demogorgon pet, the show gave me the humorous odd-couple pairing I didn’t know I needed. By the end of the season, he’s not only taken a beating to protect the kids, but followed them into danger and become a surrogate older brother to Dustin. Babysitter Steve is pure and good and the world needs more of that.
4. The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
I first read Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass when I was in middle school, and then had to wait for the release of the second and third books in the trilogy. I was swept away by Lyra’s Oxford and Will’s London and this world of Daemons and magic and dust. I cried a million tears at the end of The Amber Spyglass and it hurt me to say goodbye to characters I loved so dearly. Which is why I was unable to contain my excitement when Pullman announced The Book of Dust and a return to Lyra’s world. The book more than lived up to my expectations (of which there were many) and I am almost just as attached to Malcolm as I was to anyone in the original trilogy. I can’t wait to see where the rest of the trilogy takes me, but I have complete faith in Philip Pullman.
3. The Season 1 Finale of The Good Place
I’m honestly not sure what I expected going into this show in the fall of 2016, but what I got was fantastic episode after fantastic episode that genuinely made me laugh out loud. I loved the characters and the premise, and totally bought into the idea of the Good Place and these misfits that found their way there. But the finale blew me out of the water. It took all my expectations for the show tossed them in a blender, poured them out, and handed them right back to me. I watched the finale and immediately replayed the DVR recording to watch it again. It was the best thing on TV all year.
2. Fate of the Furious
I won’t even pretend that I don’t love the Fast and Furious franchise with my whole heart. I’ve been watching these movies since I was in high school, and my enjoyment increases with every turn the franchise takes into further absurdity. This is a franchise that didn’t really find its footing until the fifth movie, but since then, the themes of family and friendship and brotherhood above all else are the kind of stories I am here for. And it doesn’t hurt that this movie gave me the chance to watch a submarine chase across an arctic wasteland, topped off with The Rock throwing a torpedo with his bare hands. It might almost be a better moment than when he flexed the cast off his arm in the 7th movie.
1. Wonder Woman
I have waited years to see a true female superhero take over the movie scene (and no, Elektra and Catwoman don’t count; those are anti-heroes at best, villains at worst) and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman knocked it flat out of the park. The movie was downright gorgeous to look at, the Amazons were all I ever wanted, Gal Gadot EMBODIED Diana, and the music was perfection. I cried at multiple points during the movie, sometimes because of plot and sometimes out of sheer joy and wonder at watching this strong, capable, and amazing woman get to be both strong and vulnerable, pretty and deadly, and all around perfect. It might have taken us a while to get here, but damn when we arrive, we do it in style.
2017 was a very strange year for me, in that I consumed far less pop culture overall than I have in past years. I don’t know if it’s the general mood in the world (probably) or if it’s just that my life got all kinds of hectic in a permanent responsible-for-another-human-life kind of a way, but my opportunities to sit down and consume books and film were just less frequent. I made the conscious choice to mete out that time carefully, relying heavily on recommendations from friends and family, and opting not to go to the movies in favor of streaming things later on when they showed up on Netflix.
That said, the things I did have a chance to take in were by and large really enjoyable. Sarah took care of Wonder Woman, else it would appear below, and since I spent a large amount of time talking about Thor: Ragnarok over at Boldly Going Somewhere, I thought I’d leave it off the list as well. But trust me, it was a highlight for me, and had I not been on that episode, it’d be below instead.
5. Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop
Anne Bishop’s Others series was kind of an accidental discovery for me; my workplace moved in such a way that my already-long commute became even longer, and looking for ways to keep from feeling like I was wasting time in the car that I could be using to do something, I subscribed to Audible. I had no idea where to start, so I went for something comfortable: urban fantasy. While I devoured the entire five-part series in 2017, Etched in Bone is the conclusion, and was actually published in 2017. The world Bishop has built is so interesting to me, and while the series stumbles at times, overall it is an incredibly solid series, and I found the conclusion immensely satisfying.
4. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I read quite a few good books in 2017, but without a doubt The Bear and the Nightingale was my favorite of them. As a lifelong fan of Russian history and literature, it is a delight to read a tale set deep within its cultural mythos, and Katherine Arden’s gorgeous, lyrical prose makes the story absolutely enchanting. I have enthusiastically recommended this book to everyone that has asked me what I’ve read lately, and anytime someone asks for suggestions, I ask if they have read this yet. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.
3. Drogon vs. the Lannister army, Game of Thrones
It is absolutely no secret that I am an enormous fan of Game of Thrones, and of Drogon in particular. So when Daenerys Targaryen finally fulfilled her destiny as a Targaryen dragon-riding war general and absolutely annihilated the Lannister forces in the most recent season, I was on the edge of my seat. And then I rewatched it. Repeatedly. The dragons are constantly a highlight of this show for me, and watching my favorite of them finally let loose with all his fire and fury was an absolute joy. I would like about another forty episodes of this kind of quality dragon content.
2. Will and Elizabeth reunite, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Pirates of the Caribbean is a franchise with some pretty serious ups and downs, but I have enjoyed even its worst installment (which is absolutely the 4th one). However, the first three movies, following the tale of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann’s sweeping romance, are where the true core of this franchise lies. Never was a more misguided choice made than to make Jack Sparrow the thread to follow through these films. He belongs firmly in supporting character land, where he was born. Someone should have shackled him to the mast of the HMS Supporting Character and made sure the key was tossed out tied to a cannonball. In any case, the fifth movie smartly comes back to Will and Elizabeth, focusing its plot on breaking the curse that keeps them apart. The bulk of the film is told through their son’s eyes, and the studio wisely kept their limited use of Keira Knightley for the very end of the film. The moment she and Will are reunited is worth the ticket price alone, and in all honesty if Disney opted to sell just that one scene on its own separate blu-ray, that’s all I would need. I burst into tears of joy. I have yet to rewatch the film in full, but I have absolutely fast-forwarded to this scene repeatedly on Netflix since it showed up there.
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Reader, I am in love. I binged this show in roughly 48 hours and when I came to the end of the season I was absolutely bereft that I had run out of episodes. Nearly everything about this show is charming, but it is truly Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel that carries the show. She’s brash, she’s gutsy, she’s absolutely hilarious, and if you don’t fall in love with her the moment she gives the toast at her own wedding (this show’s splash-making opening scene), then you and I are fundamentally different people. The cast is populated with incredible people, from Alex Borstein’s delightfully crass Susie Myerson to Tony Shaloub’s incredible performance as Midge’s father, Abe. I am agonizing in the wait for season 2. This is by far the greatest thing to come out of 2017.