Hello old friends! It’s the first day of the 2020s, so this feels like the appropriate time to look back on the last decade (and post our first article in about half a decade). As Jumped The Snark was alive (or in a deep sleep) for the entirety of the 2010s, it will likely stand as the iconic decade for this blog, and it was a ten-year period rich with memorable TV shows, movies, performances and viral videos. Instead of breaking it down by genre or format (mostly as a TS (a time-saver)), I’m just going to present my “ten best” (whatever that means) things from the teens. And away we go:
Honorable Mention: BoJack Horseman, Mad Max: Fury Road, La La Land, Master of None, Crashing, Billy Joel at MSG, 2013-2014 NY Rangers, Frasier on Netflix, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Darth Vader hoverboard, Barry*, several seasons of Survivor, Adele Dazeem
10. Watchmen (2019) – Damon Lindelof’s dense and ambitious “remix” of the graphic novel came in just under the wire (not the HBO show). It felt like the culmination of Lindelof’s TV journey, mixing the mystery box elements and non-linear storytelling of Lost with the philosophical reckoning and real-life relevance of The Leftovers, creating something entirely new and incredibly assured. It was as if the were making Lost but knew all the answers, and more than that, knew how to slowly but successfully reveal them. It’s not an easy show to watch – it demands full attention (and a rewatch) – but it’s so rewarding. A swing that big shouldn’t be a home run, but Watchmen knocks it out of the proverbial park. Is this recency bias you ask (I ask)? Would the show be on my list if it came out a year earlier? I don’t know, but I hope so.
9. Fargo Season 1 (2014) – Similar to the above, Noah Hawley’s adaptation of the Cohen Brothers feature takes something that many people hold in high (or the highest) regard and manages to not only equal but surpass the original material (at least in my mind, especially since I’m on record as being lukewarm on the film (I even rewatched the film after finishing season two, and still came out cold)). The second season seems to be widely regarded as the best of the three, but Season 1 stands out to me as the crowning achievement, with the pilot particularly breathtaking. The filmmaking, the acting, the visuals flourishes, the bleak midwest panoramas, are all of the highest quality. and Billy Bob Thornton’s villain Lorne Malvo (that name!) has a terrifying essence of evil incarnate. Like Watchmen, each episode felt like a mini-movie, something special onto itself, but also part of a masterful, meticulous unfolding of the full story. If I were to make a list of my most 10 most anticipated for 2020, Fargo Season 4 would be right near the top.
8. Matt Harvey’s 2013 Season – Need to have one sports entry on here, and this one is for all the Mets fans out there. The Mets 2015 post-season run (a World Series appearance that ended with Harvey’s 8+ innings in Game 5) is a very close second, but, nothing captivated me quite like the Dark Knight’s performance in 2013. With all apologies to Jacob DeGrom’s 2018 and R.A. Dickey‘s 2012 (both Cy Young award-winning seasons), there was just something special in the air every time Harvey took the mound that year, every game felt like it could be a no-hitter and every pitch felt electric. Of course, his season was cut short by Tommy John surgery (that cruel diagnosis), and Harvey was never the same (despite a somewhat forgotten superb performance in that 2015 season). One could write a long essay on his fall from grace, and the fragility of excellence. But for now we’ll just remember that brief moment of singular greatness.
7. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019) – When it comes to long-standing IP I’m more partial to Star Wars and some other franchises to come on this list, and when it comes to Marvel I’ve always been an X-Men guy (weren’t we all?). But, despite a couple brief flashes of competence (mostly Logan), the X-Men movies have been a two decade long exercise in futility, pretty much a failure to launch. Disney’s MCU, however, has been the opposite, a masterclass in how to translate these iconic characters from script to screen. While there might be better movies in the MCU canon, there’s no greater achievement than the Infinity War-Endgame two-hander, the product of a decade of groundwork and eighteen movies-worth of world building. It shouldn’t have worked but it did. And not only that, it was good! I remember seeing Endgame and thinking to myself “I can’t believe they landed this thing.” And they did more than that, they absolutely stuck the landing. To me, the bar was set pretty low – bring back all the heroes and defeat the big bad – but they cleared that bar by miles, making a THREE hour opus in Endgame that is smart, funny and genuinely moving. Purely from a construction stand-point, it’s an astonishing effort. Who knows where the universe goes from here, but what they’ve accomplished already is a triumph.
6. Community (2009-2015) – This is kind of a cheat because the show premiered in the aughts, but since the first season ended in the teens, we’ll count it. Plus, even if you ignore the pre-2010 episodes entirely, you’ll still have the best the show had to offer (although I’m sad to lose “Comparative Religion,” the first season’s holiday episode and the one that features Anthony Michael Hall uttering my favorite line of the series “Look, this dude doesn’t show up, we’re definitely going to Applebee’s, alright? ‘Cause I’m getting in a fight no matter what today.”). Starting with the Season 1’s paintball saga “Modern Warfare (directed by Fast Five’s Justin Lin) the series rockets to levels of genius most comedies can’t even approach. Perhaps because NBC viewed it as a black sheep (focusing on The Office and 30 Rock), and always on the verge of cancellation, the show went for broke episode after episode, playing with genre and parody like no network sitcom before or after (Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, The Right Stuff, conspiracy theories, horror movies, Law & Order, Ken Burns, just to name a few). Frankly, I’m still in awe of it. I think I should start my next rewatch now.
5. Creed (2015) – The movie, NOT the band (or The Office character). As I mentioned above, there are some intellectual properties that I value more than The Avengers, and one of those is the Rocky franchise. I grew up watching the Rocky films on cable, shadowboxing and imagining myself as the Italian Stallion, so much so that my parents acquiesced to my request to put up a heavy bag in the basement. There was 13-year old me, a recent Bar Mitzvah, 140 pounds soaking wet and wearing a 15 lb weight belt, swingingly wildly at the Everlast bag, creating my own Rocky training sequence. I love those movies (even Rocky V!), and was pleasantly surprised by Stallone’s return in Rocky Balboa. I don’t recall exactly how excited I was for Creed, but I knew it absolutely blew me away, and I was in tears by the time the title flashed on the screen. In a similar but entirely different way than The Avengers, Ryan Coogler astonishes, refreshing and reigniting the Rocky franchise, taking what came before it, respecting it, honoring it, and then elevating it, possibly improving on it. Creed might not be my favorite Rocky movie, but it’s probably my favorite movie of the decade. Who would have thought that 40 years later another Rocky film would be in the conversation for a Best Picture nomination (and it’s a crime that it did not receive one)? And the best movie experience I had during the decade was seeing Creed outdoors in Prospect Park with a live orchestra (and with its brilliant composer Ludwig Göransson (whose compositions you might recognize lately from The Mandalorian)). I love this movie.
4. John Mulaney – Let’s look at John Mulaney’s decade: Three excellent stand-up specials, SEVEN sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall, an improbably successful Broadway run of a show about two aged, misanthropic, ill-mannered tuna lovers, a faux-documentary anthology series on IFC (in which he appears in the best episode), and just last week a Netflix children’s musical-variety show. Not to mention his failed (but not irredeemable) FOX sitcom that was supposed to make him the next Jerry Seinfeld. And, despite that oft-discussed setback, he is the next Jerry Seinfeld (as evidenced by his well-received ride in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee). And to top it all off he hosted SNL twice (in two of the better episodes of the decade). Can you think of another comedian who hosted SNL without a mainstream TV or feature film success to his name? I can’t (admittedly I’m not thinking that hard, but you get my point). Such is the somewhat meteoric rise of John Mulaney, and the power of his unique voice and brilliant wit. The suits probably help too.
3. Carly Rae Jepsen – When I heard that Emotion, Carly Rae Jepsen’s post-“Call Me Maybe” effort, was purported to actually be really good I was, legitimately, skeptical. And I recall my thoughts after hearing the first single off the 2015 album, “I Really Like You,” and they weren’t very positive. To me, at that time, I thought she was chasing another smash pop hit, and the new track sounded like a desperate facsimile of 2011’s “Call Me Maybe.” She would be relegated to one-hit wonder status, destined to appear on an album of “Hey Remember the 2010s?” But when I actually pulled up the album on Spotify I knew immediately that I was wrong, and by the time that I got to the penultimate track, “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” I was a convert to the Church of CRJ. She was my Spotify Artist of the Decade and for good reason: a masterpiece in Emotion, a better than it has any right to be album of Emotion B-Sides, a killer song on a soundtrack of a movie that no one saw, and a damn good follow-up to Emotion in Dedicated. On top of that, she was a tireless performer (I’ve seen her live three times myself, plus a Q&A, and that first show at Irving Plaza is one of the my top all-time concert experiences), and she creates an atmosphere of pure joy. Emotion was a critical success, but not quite a commercial hit, and, I think, that worked out well for Carly Rae in the end. Freed from the demands of being a mainstream pop star (or pop tart), she can let her freak flag fly, be entirely authentic, and continue to make music that truly cuts to the feeling.
2. Fast Five (2011) – Up until I watched Fast Five on Blu-Ray around 2013 I had seen exactly half of a Fast and Furious movie (the first stretch of 2 Fast 2 Furious on a flight to Australia). It was, to me, a trifle, a punchline of a franchise, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. But much like my first listen to Emotion, I realized very quickly that I was very wrong, and I would be forever changed. When I noticed that my mouth had been agape for quite some time I had to admit “Shit. This is good.” And by the time our downstairs neighbor knocked on our door to ask us to turn it down (sometime around the Vin Diesel-Rock brawl), I knew this was one of the greatest action movies of all-time. And then having gone back to watch its predecessors I was even more impressed with the film, as it managed to take those somewhat disparate threads and weave them together, forming something so much greater than the sum of its parts. In Fast Five they put the team together, breathing new life into the franchise. Eight movies later (and counting), the mileage is starting to show and the engine is starting to slow, but it’s been the most fun series of the decade, by far. And much like Carly Rae Jepsen, franchise star and steward Vin Diesel is shockingly genuine. For a movie series that features cars jumping through the Burj Khalifa, he takes these films dead seriously. Somebody has to. And when Fast Nine (“Fine”) pulls into theaters, I’ll be ready, Corona in hand. As Dom Toretto says, “family.”
1. Game of Thrones (2011-2019) – Simply put, this was the best TV show of the decade and what consumed more of my time than anything else (sports excluded). Not since the heyday of Lost had I been so utterly obsessed with a show. Podcasts, after-shows, blogs, reaps, theories, hardcover histories of Westeros, long discussions at bars. If you think about calling me on a Sunday night, don’t bother. If you thought you could get anything done at work before 11am you were gravely mistaken. A lot has been written about Game of Thrones being the last piece of monoculture, and you may or may not agree (I don’t; see: Baby Yoda, for one), but what is indisputable is that the show was a Goliath, dominating the cultural conversation at its peak, and for good reason. It was a sprawling epic, mixing politics, war, mythology, the occult, family, blood, fire and ice. If you wanted decent sci-fi then The Walking Dead was out there. But if you wanted something truly ambitious and provocative, something with real-world resonance, something to thrill and surprise you, then there was Game of Thrones. Yes the show did slip in later seasons, and they might take a do-over on its final stretch (the fewer-but-longer episode structure was likely a mistake in retrospect), but I learned many years ago, thanks to shortcomings of Lost, to appreciate a show for its entire run, to judge it by its pinnacles, and to not let a disappointing end ruin the whole. Even still, I think we took the series and its final season for granted. The pacing and the story choices had some glaring issues, but for pure spectacle, for bravura storytelling – TV, film, or otherwise – episodes like “The Long Night” and “The Bells” are peerless, just stunning, remarkable feats. Winter has come, and the decade was better for it.
*An earlier version of this post was updated to include ‘Barry’ in the honorable mentions. We apologize for the oversight.