NGN’s Best of 2018: TV, Movies, and More

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time once again to highlight the best of pop culture from this year. In previous years, I’ve stuck to television, but one of my goals for 2018 was to expose myself to more of a variety of media, so I watched more movies and read more books than I have in the past. That, coupled with a slight dip in the amount (and, frankly, the quality) of TV I watched this year inspired me to expand my year in review post to include movies, books, and sports in addition to television. I also hope this inspires you to share all of you favorite media from 2018, because one of the best things about these posts over the years has been all the wonderful recommendations I’ve been given in the comments. (I never would have fallen in love with The Americans without my NGN Family championing it in these posts years ago.)

Looking back on this year in media, it’s no surprise that so many of my favorite things revolved around female characters. The books, movies, and TV I loved this year almost unanimously dealt with women learning to define themselves on their own terms as brave, strong, and—most importantly—kind people. The media I gravitated toward this year often celebrated a kind of radical goodness—a message of light pushing back against the darkness, of love surviving even the most painful things life can throw at us, and of hope existing in that quiet corner of our souls that allows us to keep getting up when everything around us seems determined to keep us pinned down. This year in media taught me that we all have choices to make and those choices determine who we are. And when we choose to believe in ourselves and our capacity to love—that’s when we become our best selves. That’s the message I’m taking into 2019, and what an empowering message it is.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at my favorite television, movies, and more in 2018!




Best Show (Drama): The Americans
The Americans changed me in ways I never could have expected when I first started watching it. It changed me as a writer; it changed me as a TV viewer. It forced me to look more closely and think more deeply about the media I consumed, and it challenged me every week to find the words to talk about its brilliance with others. Although I was sad to see it end this year, I couldn’t have asked for a better final season for what I consider the best show I’ve ever watched. The Americans was always a show about marriage and family above everything else, and this final season reinforced that in the most surprising and impressive ways imaginable as it built to a finale that was all about letting your children leave you behind as they grow. From “Don’t Dream It’s Over” to “With or Without You,” this season took us on a journey of self-definition for nearly every character that ended in a way I don’t think anyone expected. Along the way, it gave us heart-stopping chase scenes, romantic axe mutilations, line dancing, and a moment that will go down in TV history simply as “the parking garage scene.” With everyone in the cast turning in top-notch performances and masterful moments of silence balanced by lines that cut like a dagger (“You’re a whore!”), The Americans turned in one of television’s most complex and unique final seasons by staying true to itself until the very end.

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Hold on to Happiness

There are times it feels like you really have to reach to find happiness. There are times it feels like everything around you is angry, dark, and heavy. There are times when it seems like the entire media landscape—from the news to the fiction you turn to when you need to escape the news—is conspiring against your valiant attempt to find reasons to smile and laugh every day.

This seems like one of those times, doesn’t it?

Looking back on posts from previous years, it seems that around this time every year, television decides to get really dark, and this year is certainly no exception. From Jane the Virgin and Nashville to This Is Us, there’s been no shortage of tears shed over fictional characters lately. And even in the world of cinema, this has been a rough patch if you’re looking for some escapist fun and unabashed joy; Oscar season isn’t known for its happy films, but this was a particularly heavy year, where even the film being praised most ardently for its joyful spirit (La La Land) ended on a bittersweet note.

What are we to do when things look dark? We celebrate the light. We appreciate moments of pure good where we find them. And we hold on to happiness like the precious treasure it is.

I watched a lot of Fuller House in the days around the presidential inauguration this year. It’s a show that exists for no other reason than to make people happy, and it does its job well. It’s not Breaking Bad or Orange Is the New Black, and not every show needs to be or should be. Sometimes you just want to watch a silly, simple show where storylines are wrapped up in 30 minutes with a group hug. It’s a throwback to a more innocent, less cynical time, and if you’re looking for some warm, fluffy feelings in your media-consuming life, I highly recommend it.

Another show that has become my antidote to all the death and cynicism on television in recent weeks is Timeless. It’s certainly not on the same level of fluffiness as Fuller House, but it’s about three fundamentally good people working together and becoming a family through trust, respect, and empathy, which is even better than fluff. Plus, it’s a time-traveling adventure with great costumes, impeccable guest stars (Fellow Once Upon a Time fans should check it out if only for Sean Maguire’s almost inhumanly charming turn as James Bond creator Ian Fleming.), and characters you feel good about rooting for—characters who have grown more in one season than some shows allow their characters to grow during an entire run, characters who fight for each other, characters who have big hearts and are big nerds. It also has my favorite developing romance on television right now between Wyatt Logan and Lucy Preston, and there is no happier feeling than watching a fictional relationship progress from initial skepticism to respect to fake engagements to real hugs to “I cannot lose you again!” to opening hearts and taking chances—all in the course of one season.

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Something Really Amazing: A Letter to the Women of The Selection Series

This is the latest in my collection of letters to female characters who’ve inspired me throughout my life as a fangirl. If you have a character you’d like to write a letter to, click here for details about The Fan Mail Project!



To the women of the Selection series:

You stand out. Young Adult fiction is an ever-expanding genre, and many series have been created over the last handful of years about a brave girl who fights a corrupt government—and has to choose between two very different but very attractive male suitors as she does so. Even in stories that are about things other than fallen societies and uprisings, there seems to be a trend in many Young Adult novels: The girl stands alone. Yes, there might be female family members who are important to the main heroine or one close female friend or mentor. However, the central female character is often a loner or a girl who’s much closer to the young men around her than other young women.

Thank you for being part of a different kind of story.

I spent the summer I turned 26 reading nothing but Young Adult books in an attempt to prove that this genre isn’t something to put down, but is instead filled with beautiful works of literature to be cherished by readers of all genders and generations. That’s when I discovered The Selection, The Elite, and The One. More than any other books I read that summer, those stayed with me, and it was because of you, the women of this world. Yes, this series had sweeping romance, action, and sociopolitical commentary. But it also had something I’d never seen before in a Young Adult series: a plethora of female characters who are incredibly different but come to support, forgive, protect, and genuinely love each other.

So often women are taught to compare themselves to other women and to see themselves as competition—especially competition for male attention and affection. And, at first, that’s the world many of you were thrust into—selected to compete for the hand and heart of Prince Maxon. You were expected to see each other as enemies, to immediately judge each other and judge yourselves in comparison to each other, and to put each other down in an attempt to build yourselves up. And some of you (I’m looking at you, Celeste.) did exactly that for far too long.

But some of you immediately chose to defy expectations and become friends. Thank you, America and Marlee, for showing everyone who picks up these books that—even when put in an environment that is created to pit women against each other—friendships can blossom. You never had ulterior motives with each other or gossiped behind each other’s backs. Instead, the two of you represent the best of what female friendship can be: warm, supportive, and life-changing. America, your desperate attempt to save Marlee from being beaten was one of the most moving moments in the entire series. It was a testament to the things women will do to help one another and protect one another. And it was beautiful to see in The Heir that yours became a lifelong friendship, the kind so many women find but so few pieces of media celebrate.

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Fangirl Thursday: Worth the Wait



I’m a pretty spoiled fangirl when it comes to “ships.” From Sydney and Vaughn to Leslie and Ben, most of my favorite fictional pairs got together after only a couple of seasons of waiting.

However, we all have those fictional couples who taught us patience. Whether it was for Mulder and Scully or Luke and Lorelai, we’ve all known the pain of waiting season after season (after season) for longing looks and banter to turn into something more. We’ve all known the fear that maybe the show would end before we’d know what it’s like to see them as a couple. But we also all know the pure fun of these long-term “Will they or won’t they?” couples—the excitement that came every time they hugged after an intense moment, the hope we felt every time they smiled at each other, and the sense of certainty that each finale would be the finale when the finally got together (only to have that certainty be dashed time and again, until one finale suddenly became the finale).

The first fictional relationship that taught me the value of patience was Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. I came into that fandom as a 13-year-old who had the first four books at her disposal. By the end of the second book, I knew Ron and Hermione were going to end up together. (I mean, come on; they were the Han and Leia of children’s literature.) But the wait for them to get there was torture. I started the series in eighth grade; I finished it the summer before my sophomore year in college. During that time, I had to suffer through books where they spent half the time not talking, different significant others for each of them, and the constant fear that one of them (Ron) was going to die before they got together. But also during that time, I also got to experience the little details that make those fictional relationships—the ones where we feed on every little interaction—so special: fights during the Yule Ball, names called while drifting in and out of consciousness, comforting hugs, and kisses on cheeks.

It’s those little moments that we often have the fondest memories of when we think back on a given “ship.” Because those were the moments that we analyzed for hours and hours with our friends both online and in person, building our case for how we knew they had to end up together. It’s that way with all slow-burn fictional couples. The waiting teaches us to appreciate the value of one line, one touch, and one look. Sometimes that’s enough to sustain us through even the darkest “shipper” seasons.

When it comes to television, as I said before, I’m pretty spoiled. However, I paid my dues with Castle. I spent four full seasons watching Castle and Beckett’s relationship develop from tension to respect to a love they were both finally willing to admit and accept. I knew from the end of the pilot that I was hooked; I was going to “ship” those two characters until the end. And while there was never really any doubt that Castle and Beckett were going to end up together eventually, it still wasn’t always an easy ride.

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Fangirl Thursday: Summer Love

I love the fall for many reasons—the return of football and hockey, the abundance of pumpkin-flavored treats, and new seasons of my favorite TV shows. Fall is when a sense of routine returns to my life, and the creature of habit in me loves that.

But there’s something to be said for summer and its lazy hours in air-conditioned houses, filled with time to explore the media we simply don’t have time to consume during the rest of the year. Summer is the perfect time to fall in love with a new book (or series of books) or binge-watch that TV show you keep saying you’ll “get around to eventually.”

In this strange space between summer and fall, I find myself hopelessly in love with both a television series and a book series, and I have to talk about them or else I might explode from too many unexpressed fangirl feelings.

I had a list of television shows I wanted to start this summer, but only one ended up making the cut: Masters of Sex. Thanks to Heather’s effusive praise of this show and its incredible leading lady (the fabulous Lizzy Caplan) over the past year, I bought the first season on DVD last week to tide me over until the rest of my dramas return at the end of this month. I’m not so sure I’ll be able to make it last until the end of the month, as I’ve made it to the halfway point of the first season after only two nights spent watching it. I can’t stop, and I don’t want to.

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Nerdy Girl Reads: Fosse

Fosse by Sam Wasson

Title: Fosse

Author: Sam Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.)

Genre: Nonfiction (Biography)

Page Count: 723

The Basics: Fosse gives readers an in-depth look at the thousands of pieces that made up both Bob Fosse the musical-theater legend and Bob Fosse the man: the dance style that has often been imitated but will never be duplicated; the pills and the cigarettes; the innumerable women; the hunger for the spotlight; the manic-depressive drive and perfectionism; the narcissism and self-loathing; and his complicated love affair with showbiz that influenced every career choice he ever made. Wasson’s comprehensive portrait of Fosse is also a comprehensive portrait of the American musical—from its roots in vaudeville, to its many revolutions on both stage and screen, through its dark days in the 1980s (when years went by without a Tony Award given for Best Choreography). Opening with Fosse’s memorial, Wasson then flashes back to his subject’s earliest years, using each chapter to bring us closer and closer to his death. This technique gives the biography the feel of a well-crafted novel, and the book’s masterful weaving of style and substance would have made its subject—the ultimate dance style icon—proud.

Strengths: Sam Wasson is my current favorite nonfiction writer because of his ability to take one subject and seamlessly show how it’s reflective of a cultural movement much larger than itself. In Fifth Avenue, Five A.M. Wasson showed how Breakfast at Tiffany’s was much more than just a film; it was a major touchstone for the feminist movement in America. And in Fosse, Wasson linked the life of Bob Fosse to the collective life of American musical theater, creating not just a definitive look at Fosse’s life and career but a definitive look at an entire medium of American art. To see the way Fosse’s beginnings in vaudeville, his rise to fame in the early days of Broadway, his growing cynicism, and his death paralleled the rise, success, and fall of the American musical through the 1980s was nothing short of revelatory. I picked up this book expecting to learn about my favorite choreographer and the director of one of my favorite films (Cabaret), and I ended up learning incredible amounts of information about a genre that has always been close to my heart. It was a pleasant surprise of the highest order, to say the least.

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Nerdy Girl Reads: Deadly Heat


Title: Deadly Heat

Author: Richard Castle (Heat Wave, Naked Heat, Frozen Heat)

Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller

Page Count: 291

The Basics: After discovering the espionage conspiracy behind the murder of her mother, NYPD homicide detective Nikki Heat continues to hunt for the people responsible. Her quest for answers places her in the middle of complicated relationships with federal agents, international spies, and her partner (both professionally and romantically)—Jameson Rook. It also leads her to the uncovering of an imminent bioterrorism plot targeting New York City. While trying to stop the massive terrorist event, Nikki also has to deal with a more personal threat—a serial killer who is obsessed with her, to the point of making her his next target.

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Nerdy Girl Reads: The Revolution Was Televised


Title: The Revolution Was Televised

Author: Alan Sepinwall

Genre: Nonfiction

Page Count: 388

The Basics: In The Revolution Was Televised, popular television critic Alan Sepinwall turns an analytical eye towards the transformation that began over a decade ago and is still going on in the world of television dramas. From the characters they focus on (often complex antiheroes) to the channels we watch them on (often cable networks), television dramas have changed remarkably in a short period of time, and Sepinwall argues that these changes have produced some of the most compelling shows in the history of the medium. Each chapter focuses on one game-changing drama and its impact on television and pop culture as a whole. The birth of cable as a major player, the importance of audience participation through the Internet, and the impact of 9/11 on the stories we want to watch are all discussed with words from the creators, writers, and network executives who helped give life to this television revolution.

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A Girl and Her Gatsby: A Love Story

Gatsby_1925_jacket (1)

The Great Gatsby is my favorite book.

I don’t have a lot of definitive favorites. I have a favorite movie for every genre, time period, and situation. I have a different favorite song every year. I don’t even have one favorite color. (For the record: hot pink and black.) But I have a favorite book. Only one. Only Gatsby.

Today, Baz Luhrmann’s film version of The Great Gatsby opens in theaters. Today, the world is introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby. I actually have no doubt that DiCaprio will make a compelling Gatsby, but he won’t be my Gatsby.

No, my Gatsby lives only in the pages of my dog-eared paperback copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. I met my Gatsby during a rainy Easter vacation week when I was 13, and it was love at first read. Gatsby turned out all right in the end, and I turned out all right because of the myriad of things he taught me and continues to teach me 11 years after I first discovered his story.

My Gatsby taught a 13-year-old little girl about the importance of dreaming and doing everything you can to achieve that dream. My Gatsby taught a 17-year-old high school senior to remember to pick a goal worthy of being chased with your whole heart. My Gatsby and his fate taught a 21-year-old college student to balance romanticism with pragmatism. My Gatsby continues to teach me today, at 24 years old, about the true meaning of greatness and the way one life can significantly alter the course of another.

As I grew up, I realized that The Great Gatsby isn’t really Gatsby’s story at all. It’s Nick Carraway’s. And, in being Nick’s story, it’s our story. We’re all Nicks each time we encounter Gatsby on the page, trying to figure out what to make of this mysterious man, judging his actions against our own values, and ultimately being changed in whatever small way we allow ourselves to be changed by having encountered his innocence and fervent belief in a singular dream.

That’s the true greatness of Gatsby—he’s whoever you want him to be. For some, he’s an empty, naive fraud chasing after a horrible woman who deserves the fate he gets. For others, Gatsby is a dreamer whose ability to dream in a world that has no place for such innocent belief any longer makes him a hero. For me, my Gatsby is a tragic hero—a man whose spirit couldn’t survive in such a careless world but was strong enough to change at least one person for the better.

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A Thousand Lives (or Why Reading is Awesome)

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin (A Dance with Dragons)

I’m a reader.

I’ve never been a particularly adventurous woman. But I’ve gone on a thousand lifetimes’ worth of adventures within the pages of my favorite books. I’ve traveled across dangerous landscapes, fought terrifying foes, cried tears of mourning over things lost and tears of joy over things gained, and learned enough to fill a book of my own about myself in the process.

I’ve danced with Angelina Ballerina, solved mysteries with Nancy Drew, and reached for the green light with Jay Gatsby. I’ve taken the road less traveled with Robert Frost, I’ve seen the Eden in America with Walt Whitman, and I’ve broken all the rules with e.e. cummings.

Atticus Finch taught me about human decency, and Daisy Buchanan taught me about human carelessness. The March sisters taught me about the bonds of family, and Ron Weasley taught me about the importance of a best friend. Romeo and Juliet taught me that love can sometimes burn too hot too fast, and Darcy and Elizabeth taught me that love can sometimes be a slow-burning flame that eventually warms your soul. Huck Finn taught me to stand up for what I believe is right, and Jane Eyre taught me to stand up for myself.

I’ve traveled to the Island of the Blue Dolphins, the Shire, and Hogwarts. I’ve grown up on Mango Street, in District 12, and along a post-apocalyptic road with a nameless father and son. I’ve journeyed through Westeros, lived at Thornfield Hall, and even spent a little time in Forks, Washington.

I’ve been to heaven and back with Susie Salmon. I’ve been inspired by Dr. Seuss. I’ve been scared by Stephen King. I’ve been on a lonely raft with a boy named Pi. I’ve been up way past my bedtime with Harry Potter. I’ve been onstage with the words of William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller.

I’ve fallen in love with Jaime Lannister and Peeta Mellark and a hundred others. I’ve admired Jo March and Janie Crawford and a thousand more. I’ve had nightmares about Professor Umbridge, and I’ve dreamt of becoming as strong as Professor McGonagall. I’ve played and learned and grown with Molly, Samantha, and so many other American Girls.

Hermione Granger showed me that it’s okay to smarter than the boys. Katniss Everdeen showed me that we all have power, strength, and fire inside us. Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist showed me that all people deserve the right to love who they love.

I’ve laughed over the misadventures of Bridget Jones. I’ve cried over the love story of Hazel Grace and Augustus. I’ve gone mad with Ophelia, too.

I learned about stories and authors from Tim O’Brien and Ian McEwan. I learned about the strength of the human spirit from a young girl named Anne Frank.

When I read, I’m brave and beautiful and bold; I’m free and fearless and formidable. When I read, I get to be things I don’t always feel I am in reality, but sometimes—on very rare and wonderful occasions—I take a little bit of those characters, those lives, and those adventures with me after I close the book. When I read, I learn, I laugh, I cry, and I grow. When I read, I live a new and different life with each crack of a book’s spine, with each turn of the page.

I’m a reader. My story is intertwined with a thousand other stories. I’ve lived a thousand lives already, and I’m excited to live a thousand more. I wouldn’t want it any other way.