The Top 12 Best TV Shows of 2017

It’s been a rough year, but there’s always television. So much television! It’s really a wonder that even a small group of editors and contributors — your usual pals Nathaniel, Marisa, Jesse, and Sara, plus novelist Maggie Lehrman and playwright/actual TV professional Jon Kern — was able to reach any kind of consensus over what we liked best. And in some ways, we didn’t; I’m not sure if there’s a single show mentioned on this list that all six of us have seen in full. (Maybe number three.) But it’s an eclectic and often electrifying group of shows we really love. In other words, a twelve-part miracle. Let’s get to miracle-in’ then!
Continue reading The Top 12 Best TV Shows of 2017

Halt and Catch Fire Finale Reaction, “Search” and “Ten of Swords”: I Have an Idea

Halt and Catch Fire is an interesting way to take the temperature of our current television climate. It is a very, very good show, with all of the hallmarks of a prestige cable drama, and yet it’s nobody’s favorite. Still, we’ve been covering Halt and Catch Fire since the first season, and Marisa has always found something about it that spoke to her personally, so she decided to write about the individual episodes as it heads into its final stretch. Read her reaction to the previous episode, “Goodwill?” here

Dear Haley,

Endings are hard. I know it seems like everyone is leaving.

Joe left, with nothing but his own “Dear Haley” letter to say goodbye. But then again, was Joe ever really, fully anywhere? Does he even have an essential self, or is he like a liquid that changes his shape to fit into his surroundings?

Joanie left. And sure, it feels like it was really easy for her to go. She was so confident, arguing with your mom every step of the way about how this is certainly, definitely the right decision for her. But maybe you should take a moment and think about how hard she works at making it look effortless. Maybe, if you stare hard enough, it’ll look like you’re the one who’s more sure of herself.

Continue reading Halt and Catch Fire Finale Reaction, “Search” and “Ten of Swords”: I Have an Idea

Track Marks – “Kattena Seishungeki” by Gesu no Kiwami Otome

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our podcast.

Besides a handful of words, I don’t understand any lyrics from my favorite album of the year.

That album? Daruma Ringo by Gesu no Kiwami Otome. Three years ago, Brent DiCrescenzo (the writer who first turned me onto The Dismemberment Plan) sent out this very compelling (to me) tweet:

To my ears, he wasn’t wrong. Very much a j-pop act with their bright, melodic choruses, Gesu no Kiwami Otome sets themselves apart by bringing some major chops to the table. Their desire to show them off stuffs their catchy songs with noodle-y, basically prog riffs . Also, sometimes it sounds like rapping? This type of kitchen sink approach backed by virtuosic playing and honest-to-god melodies is very much my jam. I don’t what they’re saying or why their videos are so weird, but it’s probably better that way.

Daruma Ringo is their second full length, but the first you can buy on iTunes in the USA. “Kattena Seishungeki” is a single from Daruma Ringo that I quite like. Again, I have no idea what it’s about, but it shows off the whole band and I quite like it.

Track Marks: “Green Light” by Lorde

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our podcast. has had a complicated relationship to Lorde, to put it nicely. (“Why would a reviewer make the point of saying someone’s not a genius?”/”Well, I just don’t use that word lightly.”) But  every pop singer out there, it seems, has a way of breaking through one of our steely exteriors. This year, while Miley managed to charm Jesse, Lorde’s “Green Light” earwormed its way into my cold, rockist heart.

Which is not to say the song is perfect. Far from it. “Green Light” gets the 2017 Whiplash Award for going from one of the year’s worst lyrics to one of the best. “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar,” stops me cold every time, and in a bad way. There’s no nice way of putting it: It’s just dumb. It’s petty. It’s something a sixth-grader would say. And the line sticks out abrasively; the beginning of the verse rhymes, and it seems like “liar” should rhyme with something for consistency, and it…just doesn’t. I don’t want to be the AABB-poetry-police, but I would’ve cut Lorde some slack if she forced that line in there to rhyme with something, but actually there’s no stylistic reason for it to exist. The next time she does a verse, it’s just two lines, not four, and they (mostly) rhyme.

But if you can get past the beach grievances, you are rewarded. “Those great whites they have big teeth, and they’ll bite you,” is actually a very clever way of talking about the dangers of little white lies. It’s the best shark lyric since “When they say great white sharks, they mean the kind with big, black cars,” in the Hold Steady’s “Banging Camp.”

I know a song is not just the sum of its lyrics, but, in the beginning, you don’t have much else besides a quiet piano buffering those words. But after the sharks are released, the song builds to a can’t-help-but-dance moment where I finally see Lorde living up to her reputation. It can’t slow down for a chorus, just a refrain: “I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it.” ( says specifically that’s not a Gatsby reference, but, whether Lorde knows it or not, it is.) It’s meant to be shouted. You can jump up and point your finger at the singer when you hear it. Or you can just groove to it in your own little world, like the (tragically too beautiful for this world) Twitter feed @armiedancingto once illustrated.

Press play on “Green Light.” Watch this GIF. Best musical moment of 2017.

I listen to “Green Light” with my 2-year-old. The call-and-response chorus is repetitive enough that she can sing it, too. We both jump up  and down like Armie Hammer. Then she falls onto a pillow we keep on the floor and sticks her legs up in the air, and I grab them and spin her around like a break dancer. There are very few songs that bring us both the same kind of joy. I guess creating something like that does take a certain kind of genius.

Track Marks: “MICHUUL” by DUCKWRTH

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

I don’t write a lot on this website, but when I do I usually preface it by saying that I’m nostalgic for the music of my younger days. This year, though, I really tried to expand my horizons and engage with music culture like I used to. It probably says more about these times than my own intellectual curiosity that I replaced podcasts on my commute with new artists and tried to read the news less and music writing more. The bad news for me was that this was the year that trap music captured the zeitgeist. Particularly, Soundcloud and emo-influenced mumble rap has ruled the day in a way that’s about oppressive as possible in the streaming age. I’m not saying this music is bad; there is a compelling argument to be made that Young Thug and Future are the true rock stars of our time and kids churning out formulaic, minimalist jams on their laptop is more punk than anything white kids who can afford a whole bands-worth of instruments can make in 2017. These old ears aren’t feeling it, though. Pretty girls might like it, but I don’t think it’s for me.

Given this scenario, discovering an artist like DUCKWRTH is a breath of fresh air. Instead of Cash Money Records and Three Six Mafia,  his sound imagines N.E.R.D. and Outkast as having the biggest influence on hip-hop in the last two decades. DUCKWRTH cares about melody and rhymes as much as flow and swagger. He even sings and dances!

The song that turned me onto DUCKWRTH was “MICHUUL,” an ode in equal measure to both a hypothetical girlfriend and Michael Jackson. Kicking off with the sample of a child saying they want to be MJ when they grow up straight into a variation of a Pharrell four-count, “MICHUUL” clearly states its intentions from the jump. This is a party record like he used to get down to in his youth. A Neptunes-inspired beat is propelled by Triton-esque synth stabs and simple guitar riffs with some chill-sounding piano in the breakdown. Thematically, his subject matter isn’t that different from his contemporaries, but DUCKWRTH rhymes about desiring and enjoying the trappings of success as opposed to merely having them. He’s having fun and he wants you to have too. In 2017, that makes all the difference in the world.

(This clip courtesy of The Rundown With Robin Thede, which didn’t make our best of TV list but would have if Sabrina and I were voting).

Track Marks: “Love Galore” by SZA

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

In case it wasn’t clear yet, single women are tired. Match, OkCupid, Tinder, Bumble; you can text multiple people for months and still never nail down an actual in-person date. And everywhere we look these days are, in the TLC parlance, scrubs. Or is it actually a bit more complicated than that? Is it also a matter of facing our own insecurities and acknowledgments before we can really accept love? Nobody embodied this ambiguity of being a modern, sexually “liberated” woman better than SZA in 2017. Her full-length debut Ctrl explores all of the contradictions and frustrations of modern romance and that’s never better encapsulated than in “Love Galore.”

While some of the other tracks on the album depict a woman grappling with being a “sidepiece” or revenge-fucking an ex-boyfriend’s bro on Valentine’s Day, “Love Galore” is the sound of gentle reclamation. Of time, of body, of peace of mind. Buoyed by backing vocals from Travis Scott, it’s an amiably slippery examination of dating in the digital age, when any given person is a well-timed message away. “Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?” she assails her listener and it feels like a clarion call for everyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted “U up?” text. It works, though, because SZA isn’t afraid to acknowledge the vulnerability that lives just underneath her bravado, dramatizing in the most sonically pleasing way the belief that love is worth it because it requires so much work on our part to find it.

The Podcast: Best Music of 2017

It’s the end of the year, and you know what that means: music publications published their year-end coverage approximately one to three months ago. We here at do not have a list of our 200 Favorite Albums That Came Out Between January and Mid-October, though we will have some individual write-ups of songs we love throughout the rest of the month and maybe into January. But Marisa, Sara, Rob, and Jesse did sit down to talk about our faves (and other opinions) from this year in popular musics. (They also took selfies. See above.)

For our best music of 2017 wrap-up, we decided to take a different tactic and take a roughly chronological trip through the various live shows we all attended, together and apart, throughout the year, and let the discussion spring from there. You’ll find out who we went to see because we’re afraid of death, whose live show exceeded their disappointing album(s), which band(s) Sara cannot deal with right now, and which show got Rob feeling real emotional in a rough year.

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

Track Marks: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by The National

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

We covered The National in our music podcast, but I didn’t get a chance to say this: I haven’t listened to Sleep Well Beast all that much. It’s not that I haven’t loaded it up and hit the play button. But, four songs in, I get to “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” and I can’t get past it. I need at least three listens before I’m able to move on. It is, without a doubt, the best song by The National.

Perhaps that’s because it’s also the most song by The National. It’s all there from the beginning, but the song slowly, confidently lets them build: The beat, the piano, that angular guitar riff. There are horns. I’m a sucker for rock songs with horns (though oddly enough I never had a ska phase). But the horns aren’t blaring, they’re just lifting up the melody. There are voices, too, and not just Matt Berninger’s. They help the song move from the low rumblings of lonely secrets to the higher, soaring talks with God.

I used to have a theory that the best album titles were really just phrases you hear all the time, but taken out of everyday context. I still mostly believe that there will never be an album title better than Northern State’s Can I Keep This Pen? (When I heard that Limp Bizkit had an album called Results May Vary, I was like, goddamn them, that’s good.) I never really thought that applied to lyrics until I heard Berninger’s exasperated, “I can’t explain it any other way.” How many times have I said that, and how come it never sounded so beautiful?

Writer’s note: There’s an official video, too, but I liked the live one.

Track Marks: “Younger Now” by Miley Cyrus

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

Is it really so ridiculous that Miley Cyrus would sing about feeling young? It might seem redundant, I guess, because she’s only 25, which to me, racing toward 40, sounds so impossibly fresh and dewy now. But I don’t know that I felt that way about 25 when I actually was 25. Bless anyone who maintains uncomplicated feelings about aging for 25 whole years.

Moreover: Miley Cyrus has been making music for a decade. Yes, she’s the kind of showbiz lifer who was born into it and made a beeline for the Disney machine, but Younger Now, the 2017 record whose title song I adore, is her sixth album. It’s the first one I’ve ever bought; I got Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz from whoever was kind enough to rip a free mp3 version from the free streaming version that was the only version available for a while (it’s now available as a paid download, and honestly, I kind of recommend it). I bought “Wrecking Ball” but not all of Bangerz. I downloaded “Party in the USA” from a music blog that encoded its source album as Shit Guys, Miley’s Done It Again!

There was a time when that fake title was only half-ironic. People like “Party in the USA” and especially “Wrecking Ball.” In the annals of teen or teen-like stars getting grown-up and weird, people do not so much like Dead Petz, the album where she fronted the Flaming Lips and (I assume) smoked a lot of pot, displaying a lot of vulnerability – and genuine, not overproduced, weirdness – in the process. People do not so much seem to like Younger Now so much, either. I gather that it’s considered kind of a clumsy, opportunistic pivot back to pop-country after a series of failed cultural appropriations. Though the record is country only insofar as it sounds kind of country-ish compared to the Flaming Lips, it is inarguably uneven. Miley Cyrus is not a savant who makes Top 40 pop that we wish actual Top 40 pop sounded like, like Carly Rae Jepsen. But then, Carly Rae Jepsen is 32. She knows things. This is why we (Rob and I, anyway) love her.

Which brings us back to “Younger Now.” Like the album of the same name, it’s not perfect. It has at least one production touch I actually hate: the fake or fake-sounding drum-ish fills that sound way too much like the fake record-scratching noises everyone started using around 1997 or so. (Again: I am not 25.) The lyrics are rife with clichés, especially in the chorus: “No one stays the same.” “What goes up must come down.” “Change is a thing you can count on.” But as on Dead Petz, the weakness and awkwardness in her music now feel achingly sincere, and both the melody and sentiment of “Younger Now” soar with an unforced wistfulness, and faux-drum stutters aside, the production lets that wistfulness breathe, showcasing Cyrus’s vocals. She’s never sounded more confident or comfortable or hopeful. You know, like how you feel for a few fleeting moments when you’re young, if you’re lucky.

Track Marks: “Up in Hudson” by Dirty Projectors

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

Remember February? I sure don’t. Woe to the artists who happened to release their albums so early in the year because I have mostly forgotten them in the midst of all the insanity, and great music, that’s happened since then. Anyway, if you’d told me last week that I’d still have patience for a sad white guy bemoaning his girlfriend leaving him I’d have laughed in your face. And yet “Up in Hudson,” from Dirty Projectors’ self-titled 2017 release, remains in my rotation despite fitting that description to a T. Because that also sells it short. At almost eight minutes, unfolding over a luxurious horn-based hook, it’s a break-up anthem that manages to be incredibly even-handed while also being honest about its creator’s pain, considering the girlfriend in question was an integral, and celebrated, member of the band.

The next move for Dirty Projectors has never been easy to predict: they’ve done jagged art pop on Bitte Orca; Dylan-flecked folk on Swing Lo Magellan; even a recreation of Black Flag’s Rise Above done entirely from memory. So it’s interesting to see what it’s morphed into now that Dave Longstreth is essentially a solo artist performing under an established name. The stripped down, distorted aesthetic on display here isn’t always easy to love in comparison to their past classics, but it does feel like a honest reckoning, and “Up in Hudson” is its early highlight. If Longstreth seems like he’s working out his own bitterness and resignation in real time, at least the end result is something we can all share in.