The 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

Emmy time is here again! The joys of the big-time network-television awards show are to be rained down upon us! It’s time to gather around our televisions and listen to the people that make television tell us about the joys of television, as well as who made the best television!

They are, of course, wrong 1, because any decision made by committee about artistic endeavors is liable to be wrong at least twice as often as it is right, but that is, of course, a discussion for another time 2. For now I will take their consensus decisions and apply my own obviously-infallible judgment to them, to help you all understand what is Right, even if it is not necessarily what is correct.

Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story was very well-received by the Emmy folks, which surprised me, and I’m even more surprised that it’s here in this category, given that the writing is absolutely not what impelled the show. Black Mirror: USS Callister and American Vandal are both reliant on a kind of twist, which is fine from a viewing perspective, but also which demeans the writing somewhat from an awards perspective 3Patrick Melrose is, mechanically speaking, a real interesting exercise, as it is the product of a novelist 4 adapting the work of another novelist 5. Too bad the show is terrible. Godless is probably well-written, but it is also a Western, which means most of the things it trucks in are things I have no use for, and little response to, so it’s not the winner here. That leaves us with Twin Peaks, and I must say, it’s probably much more difficult to write something that is non-linear and doesn’t seem to make much sense.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mark Frost and David Lynch, Twin Peaks

Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special

The only one of these that isn’t a stand-up special is Samantha Bee’s Puerto Rico special, which is wonderful, but it was written by a room full of people to be taped in advance, and has a bunch of advantages in the “writing” sense over the ones that one person (or, in one case, two people) wrote alone to be performed all at once. Steve Martin & Martin Short made a fine special – they have both been among the funniest people on the planet at one time or another 6, but it’s not that good. John Mulaney and Michelle Wolf both made specials that were as good as you could want them to be – they’re very good comics, and their specials reflect that. There’s not much else to say about that. Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation deals with tragedies personal and global, and does so on the way to being one of his funniest hours yet 7, and one of the funniest anythings of the entire year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Patton Oswalt, Annihilation

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

A television show’s first season is hard to do well. You have to establish your show and let people know what they’re in for, start a bunch of balls rolling and manage to do so in a way that also clues people in to who the characters are and where they’re going to be doing their interacting. That makes Killing Eve’s writing a real achievement. It’s also hard to keep the ball rolling on a series, and The Handmaid’s Tale managed it, more-or-less. The Crown has shown itself to be pretty reliable as well, and while I suppose it’s possible to win an Emmy for stolidity of craft, I don’t think this is the ideal position. Stranger Things wobbled pretty hard without the novelty of their presentation 8. Game of Thrones’ nomination for writing after their weakest, most-ridiculous season yet seems a bit like a joke. One of the things that’s harder to do well than a premiere is a series finale – you have to put a button on a story people have spent literally years following, and have grown attached to the characters in varying ways, and The Americans managed to pull that off, so I think the award probably goes there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, The Americans (“START”)

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series

I should probably be careful not to come out too hard sounding like a broken record already. So I will acknowledge that Amy Sherman-Palladino has made a very good set of decisions in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and the writing is lovely. Silicon Valley continues to be a very funny show, and tightening up the ensemble 9 has clearly done it some good, although that doesn’t have much to do with the writing itself. Barry is a very good show that has the unfortunate coincidence of coexisting at the same time as Atlanta. Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta 10.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Donald Glover, Atlanta (“Alligator Man”)

Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special

See what I mean about The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, though? It’s like it’s cracked some sort of code for being nominated for everything despite not being better than any of the other stuff particularly. I mean, it was good and I liked it, but I don’t think it was “a nomination in every category” good. Anyway, I’m still in the same boat w/r/t Godless as I was in the writing category, and you can throw biopics right in the same boat, so Paterno is right out. Patrick Melrose is still dumb and bad. The Looming Tower is definitely weirdly-timed, and is probably fine, but also is trying so very hard to say more than it does 11, or at least it seems that way. Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert was the filmed adaptation of a stage musical. That leaves us, once again, with Twin Peaks, which was, in point of fact, directed by an actual literal genius.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: David Lynch, Twin Peaks

Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special

The difficulty of directing stand-up specials is in the capturing of a live event in such a way that it makes the audience member – who is viewing an immersive experience at remove of both time and space – seem like they are watching the thing happen in front of them. The point of The Oscars and the Super Bowl halftime show are not exactly the same thing – the idea behind those is merely to get them on the screen. There’s no real way to transfer the experience of being at The Oscars, and there isn’t the time or space involved in the Super Bowl halftime show to do much more than get it up there. Of the three standup specials here, they’re all pretty staid as all that goes, but the Steve Martin and Martin Short special is necessarily more movement-oriented, and so seems like it a better job was done with the directing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Marcus Raboy, Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Never Forget for the Rest of Your Life

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series

So all of the shows here are pretty bad, but they’re all well-directed. I don’t have the particular inclination to go back through and see how many times that’s happened 12. Ozark is beautiful and boring, and most of its good qualities are actually down to the cinematography 13, and neither episode here distinguishes itself for its directing. Game of Thrones abandoned all pretense of being anything other than a show of giant spectacle and soap-opera melodrama, and I think that that probably means the directing was not quite as good as it could have been. Also, it is awful. That said, even in a case like The Handmaid’s Tale, where most of the show is an interactional, people-oriented drama, they still end up nominating the giant setpiece episode, so I guess “huge spectacle” is what we’re doing here. That seems to set it up for Stranger Things, which at least had the most effective spectacle 14, but I’m feeling ornery today, and I think it should be The Crown. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Stephen Daldry, The Crown (“Paterfamilias”)

Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series

Barry is very good. GLOW is very good. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is fine. The Big Bang Theory is a war crime, but I get it. Atlanta’s “FUBU” episode is wonderful. Only one of these things is “Teddy Perkins.”

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Hiro Murai, Atlanta (“Teddy Perkins”)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

As previously mentioned in the Creative Arts Emmys, I thought Jesus Christ Superstar was ok, but not particularly great. I think that Sara Bareilles’s performance is sort of indicative of most of what it presented: she did an adequate job with some very familiar material that transformed nothing, but was distinguished by being On Television. Merritt Weaver and Letitia Wright are, as far as I can tell, great in everything, but I’m still not the guy who’s super-into Godless or Black Mirror. Adina Porter did a fine job (as she always does) in American Horror Story: Cult. I think that there are still too many nominations generally for The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and I definitely don’t think that Penelope Cruz’s impression of her friend Donatella is any particular kind of award-worthy, but I do think that some of the acting was quite nice, and Judith Light really did a fantastic job with her part 15.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Judith Light, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

So here’s some more Jesus Christ Superstar, although I will say I liked Brandon Victor Dixon a lot more than I liked Sara Bareilles, I still don’t think it was doing anything particularly award-worthy with the character or the performance 16. Jeff Daniels is occasionally-great, but Godless is still not the best showcase for any given actor’s talents. John Leguizamo did a great job playing against type in Waco. Ricky Martin, Edgar Ramirez and Michael Stuhlbarg all did admirable “real people” impressions, but since that was the bulk of the nominations, then it probably should go to the best one of them, and that was Finn Wittrock, who was so good at it that I didn’t get annoyed by his acting or the fact that he was playing a real person. Well, I didn’t get more than a little annoyed by the acting part.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Finn Wittrock, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Surveying the drama series each time they come around makes me feel like the crankiest old person in the world. Game of Thrones has been chugging along for years now, and as much as Lena Headey is good in the role, and as much as she might be the person who is the most fun to watch in the role, it’s still the same damn role every year. Westworld is fine, and presents its acting challenges and whatever else to the people that act in it, but Thandie Newton isn’t giving us anything I think should be singled out, as such. I don’t have much to say about Millie Bobby Brown 17 on Stranger Things or Vanessa Kirby on The Crown, other than that I’m more-or-less glad they’re both there. Yvonne Strahovski is fine on The Handmaid’s Tale, but not as good as Ann Dowd, who was in turn not as good as Alexis Bledel.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

If it seemed like I was upset about the same people getting nominated for the same performances every year in the lady category, you can only imagine what I’m feeling about this one. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been baseline-acceptable the whole time, but what’s especially galling is that Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister has been Destiny-level phoned in, and getting worse, for the last couple of seasons now. So it’s probably not the time to give him an award. I’m OK skipping Mandy Patinkin and citing the “enough with the same people all the time” rule 18, and while David Harbour isn’t quite there (it’s only Stranger Things’ second season, after all), it still isn’t the kind of thing that rises out of the pack. Matt Smith did a fine job as real-live person Prince Phillip on The Crown. Good for him. Joseph Fiennes did a better job as the made-up-fictional person Fred Waterford on The Handmaid’s Tale.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Joseph Fiennes, The Handmaid’s Tale

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

This was a particularly weak year for Saturday Night Live, and none of the women here were necessarily to blame for that, but none of them were particularly consistent enough to make their Emmy-receiving seem logical 19, so that’s Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones all out. Megan Mullally and Laurie Metcalf both create an interesting sort of loophole thingy in my aforestated frustration with people getting nominated for awards, as they are both revisiting characters that they played for many years prior. I think it’s fine that they are nominated 20, but I also don’t think they’re the best here, even though each is the best part of their respective shows, in a comedic performance sense. Alex Borstein is great in everything 21, and maybe in a less-competitive year she’d be up there. Betty Gilpin is also fantastic, and really does deserve praise for GLOW. Her only real fault is that she’s not on Atlanta. I mean, you all saw where this was going, right? There’s no D’Arcy Carden or Jameela Jamil here (The Good Place is shamefully left out of several categories), and they was the only real competition for Zazie Beetz in the first place.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zazie Beetz, Atlanta 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

This is a much better field 22, especially once you discard Kenan Thompson, who, again, is fine 23, but also not doing much that he hasn’t already done and also doing that not very much on a subpar season of Saturday Night Live, and especially especially once you set Alec Baldwin’s weak-ass Donald Trump impression on fire and push it out to sea 24. Henry Winkler is as good as he always is on Barry, but he’s also just kind of doing what he’s done ever since Arrested Development, even if he is super-funny at doing that particular thing. Louie Anderson is terrific on Baskets, but he’s not quite in the same class as our last two. Bryan Tyree Henry is going to be the only person in the primary cast of Atlanta to not be the rightful winner of an Emmy because, although he is a better actor than Tituss Burgess (probably), he isn’t as funny, and this is the comedy Emmy, so it goes to what I think must be – second-for-second in terms of screen time – the funniest character on television.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Titiuss Burgess, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Bully for this dumbshit Law & Order spinoff for actually including the phrase “true crime” in its title. Truly Dick Wolf is a genius. Anyway, nobody on that stunt-cast ratings-bait 25 show gets an award, no matter if one of them is Edie Falco. I probably don’t have any more stuff to say about Godless, even if I do generally like Michelle Dockery. Sarah Paulson is definitely one of the reasons to keep watching American Horror Story every year, but I don’t think what she’s doing qualifies as “good acting.” The Tale is certain affecting, and it’s very hard to criticize, but it’s also sort of critic-proof: are you going to be the one to tell this documentarian that her real-life story about her real-life sexual abuse is not as good as, say, Seven Seconds 26, but here I am, the person saying it. Between being pretty good in The Sinner and absolutely brilliant as a guest star on Bojack Horseman, Jessica Biel is really turning me around on Jessica Biel, but even she just isn’t in the same league as Regina King, who I’m pretty sure has been the rightful winner of more of these than anyone else in the time I’ve been constructing these writeups.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Regina King, Seven Seconds 

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

So Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t the reason why Patrick Melrose is dumb and I hate it, but he’s a part of it, and he’s not making it any better. Jeff Daniels did an ok job playing a real person in The Looming Tower, Darren Criss did a slightly more-good job playing a real person in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, and Antonio Banderas did a better job playing an even more daunting real person in Genius: Picasso, but again, I’m still not into giving awards for that kind of thing. John Legend was pretty good as Jesus, but, again, not that good. That leaves us with Jesse Plemons by default, which is ok, but not where I wanted us to be at this point.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jesse Plemons, Black Mirror: USS Callister

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Elisabeth Moss is probably going to be a contender in this category until The Handmaid’s Tale goes off the air 27, and rightfully so, but this year I don’t think he did the best job. Claire Foy is being nominated for Emmys for The Crown that she should have been nominated for for Wolf Hall, and I’m not into apology awards. Sandra Oh did a very good job (doesn’t she always?) with Killing Eve, and Evan Rachel Wood was perfectly fine in Westworld. But Orphan Black and The Americans both ended satisfyingly, and each of them required a number of unique acting challenges to be met by their actors 28. I’m going to go with Keri Russell here, but if Tatiana Maslany wins that’ll be fine.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Keri Russell, The Americans

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

I would genuinely be pretty happy to never have to think about This is Us again. Honestly, it would make me happy. Sorry, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K. Brown. At least one of you is liable to go on to better things. It’s true that Westworld isn’t old enough for me to cast it into the cornfield for its acting performances being the same, but it is also true that this is a pretty Ed-Harris-by-numbers acting performance, so what would the award be for? Jason Bateman is clearly reaching for something with Ozark, and I hope he doesn’t hurt himself doing so. Jeffrey Wright is the person I have the least to say about, except that he isn’t Matthew Rhys, and therefore he isn’t the rightful winner.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Matthew Rhys, The Americans

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

This is a pretty strong field, but more than that, it’s quite possibly the tallest field of actresses in awards history. Except for the two people who are quite short. All or nothing, really. Am I stalling? I’m stalling a bit. These are all pretty good performances. Allison Janney is turning in the same job she always does on Mom, which is sort of the pinnacle of “adequate network sitcom.” Lily Tomlin is similarly hitting her own bar on Grace and Frankie, but nothing that stands out from normal. Issa Rae is playing a fictionalized version of herself, and her acting is good, but it’s also the least-noteworthy of her credits on Insecure. Tracee Ellis Ross actually dodges the “everything the same all the time” angle of being nominated for a character she’s played for years as the events of last season’s Black-ish really made a change to the way the character is played. Good job, Ms. Ross. Rachel Brosnahan is delightful, and may come into a better performance as her show goes on. Pamela Adlon certainly did, elevating Better Things to something really special.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pamela Adlon, Better Things

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

I like Curb Your Enthusiasm. I like it a lot, in fact. But, of course, as I am dead-set against granting an Emmy for your foreverth year of playing him, I am doubly dead-set against it when that character is, y’know, a very very thinly-veiled version of yourself. Anthony Anderson gets the same pass as Tracee Ellis Ross (see above), and did a nice job. William H. Macy receives no such pass. Bill Hader is great, but he’s also overpowered. Ted Danson is the only person in the absolutely-flawless cast of The Good Place to be nominated for an Emmy, and that is a crime. Maybe next year it might even belong to him. But this is the year that “Teddy Perkins” happened, and that makes this an open-and-shut case.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Donald Glover, Atlanta

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program

Every year there is very little permutation in this category. Every year I give it to Top Chef, because even though it’s not as good as it used to be 29. This year it gets some competition for the surprisingly-effective American Ninja Warrior, but honestly, it’s still just Top Chef, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Top Chef

Outstanding Limited Series

By the time we get to the series categories I generally have less to say about them. That means these things get really asymmetrical. But I don’t like Patrick Melrose, I don’t think Genius: Picasso did very much in terms of the genre, other than be tasteful 30. So it comes down to a western, a fictionalized true crime story, and a biopic. This is why I hate making these decisions. Well, Godless didn’t even have the decency to be any fun, and while I admire that The Alienist took plenty of liberties with its story and admitted it right up front, I don’t admire much else about it 31. So that leaves the bonkers, weirdly-paced, unfocused, but occasionally brilliant The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story as the winner.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series

Portlandia finally ended 32, so it’s here, but it probably oughtn’t be. Saturday Night Live will almost certainly never end, but it shouldn’t be here either. I Love You, America never really seemed to get off the ground in a way that would explain its nomination here. Tracey Ullman’s Show, Drunk History and At Home With Amy Sedaris are all very entertaining shows, and I’d be happy to see any of them go home with it, although I think it’s kind of a weak category overall.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Drunk History, I guess?

Outstanding Variety Talk Series

This is a much stronger category, especially when you throw out The Late Late Show with James Corden. Actually, since Jimmy Kimmel also isn’t the rightful winner, it’s fair to say that this comes down entirely to The Daily Show and shows run by former Daily Show correspondents. What a thing The Daily Show was, y’know? That’s a long shadow. As much as as I like John Oliver, I think Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee made better shows, and honestly, I really think Samantha Bee did better, even if her show is much smaller.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Outstanding Comedy Series

You know, if The Good Place were nominated here where it belongs, this might be a contest. Black-Ish is good for a network sitcom. Silicon Valley is reliable if no-longer spectacular. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has a lot of promise. Curb Your Enthusiasm is wildly uneven, but worthwhile. GLOW is fantastic, but doesn’t have the same impact as our front-runners. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a tough one to turn down – it really is an all-time great show, and has a super-high batting average in terms of “things about that work.” It’s also purely a comedy, which seats it well in this category. But Atlanta is…well, it’s Atlanta. And it’s nearly untouchable.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Atlanta


  1.  although they didn’t do as badly with the Creative Arts Emmys 
  2.  a discussion I really should table for a future piece where I write about why awards shows are both a useful barometer of who is trying to sell me what, and why they are basically never right about anything, a thing I have talked about previously w/r/t The Oscars and The Grammys. Weirdly, the Emmys have largely avoided the kind of large-scale controversy of the other two. 
  3. it’s unavoidable, and I’m not always super-public about this opinion, but it means that you’re throwing away any chance that people would enjoy it again for the chance at getting people to react to it in the first place. While this is less of an issue for television than it is for other media, it’s still annoying. Note that later on I will praise The Good Place (and decry its relative lack of nominations), and it does twists all the time. So I’m not saying it can’t be done well or that it precludes good writing, just that it tends to lessen the writing somewhat. Also The Good Place isn’t built around its twists, it just contains them. 
  4.  David Nicholls, who wrote Starter for Ten and One Day, among others. 
  5.  Edward St. Aubyn, who wrote, well, the Patrick Melrose novels, which are, editorially, about how rich it is to be rich etc. and are awful, and who was, in all likelihood, a formative influence on David Nicholls from back there in FN4. 
  6.  although it’s true that they, respectively, got bored of comedy for several years and wandered off to write novels and play the banjo (Martin), and lost the plot of their own skillset and career for a while and are just now righting the ship (Short). 
  7.  It might actually be his funniest hour yet, but I’d have to spend some more time with it to give it the mental space over something like Werewolves and Lollipops, which I’ve spent years and years with. 
  8.  by which I mean when you get past “it’s kids! In the eighties!” it has a little bit more of a hard time generating momentum under its own power. 
  9.  by allowing TJ Miller to drift off into drug-fuelled insanity elsewhere 
  10.  although it was probably going to be Atlanta the whole time, I will say that it is a shame that the writing for The Good Place was not nominated, because it is also an incredibly well-written show, and it’s better than, well, everything in this category that isn’t Atlanta. 
  11.  it’s not really appropriate to anthropomorphize entire tv networks, but it also seems nakedly ambitious in a way that it doesn’t really live up to (NB: I normally think ambition is an unreservedly good thing, it’s the flavor of this ambition that I’m not super into) – it’s a Lawrence Wright adaptation, which worked out for HBO a few years back, it’s a Big Serious Topical Issue, which they kind of backed into with The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s got a bunch of Big Serious Actors in it. 
  12.  I suspect, given that I don’t much care for television drama and it’s where a lot of the serious direction is done, that it happens quite often, to be honest. 
  13.  well, most of its good qualities are actually down to the naturally-occurring qualities of the setting, but it’s put on television by the cinematography. 
  14.  especially considering that these episodes of Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale are both trafficking in grief pornography and the shock of seeing a bunch of people dead. 
  15.  especially since I assumed, in admittedly bad faith, that it would just be some more Ryan Murphy stunt-casting. 
  16.  NB that I think this is more-or-less intentional: I don’t think anyone is meant to be broadening horizons or pursuing the audience to their furthest corners in these televised musical jobbers.   
  17.  well, I will say this: I think her performance in Stranger Things was probably the best part of the second season, so good on her for that I suppose. 
  18.  a quick reminder for anyone who might not remember – or hasn’t read long enough to know – why I feel this way, which is worth laying out here because it’s going to figure into the further proceedings: the performance is created initially, and if nothing materially or procedurally changes for the performance (as in the actor is, on paper, giving the same performance year in and year out), then I see no reason to keep nominating, given that it takes less work to maintain a performance than it does to just create one. This is a sort of “static point” argument, with the “floating point” argument being that the environment around the performance – the other shows in competition, and the actors on those shows and their performances, change every year, so maybe it’s re-nominated in light of the difference in those performances. I don’t think that washes, because acting is still acting, and it’s still about the job the person did under the circumstances, and managing to maintain the same job while the field moves on around you is still not the sort of things I feel awards for “outstanding”ness ought to be given out for. 
  19.  that said, their head writers – Colin Jost and Michael Che, recently confirmed to continue to be the head writers – are the hosts of the show, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of them receive it. 
  20.  meaning that the intervening years have created enough of a material change in the condition for the actress/character that it’s not the same thing as when they were both nominated all the time the first time around, which would have made me hop up and down like an upset person had I been writing in this space at that time. 
  21.  except Family Guy, but that’s ok, because no one is great in Family Guy because it’s a flaming garbage pile. She did, however, just win this year’s Creative Arts Emmy for her vocal performance in Family Guy, so good for her. 
  22.  this is not usually the case in the supporting actor/actress categories, actually. Usually it’s the supporting actresses who put up the better category. 
  23.  where would this writeup be without the word “fine,” I ask you? It would definitely be full of the world “acceptable” or something, that’s where. 
  24.  you’d think if SNL was going to reverse stream to get the PR benefit of going after the dude they fellated into hosting the show in the run-up to his eventual presidential election that they’d try a little hard to right the ship of that decision, but no, we’re just stuck with Alec Baldwin’s stupid mugging every week. I’d say it should’ve been Darrell Hammond, but I’m on the record as thinking that the problem with this last season of SNL lies squarely with the writers, so I don’t think a change of performer would have helped that much. I mean, Darrell Hammond would have been better than Alec Baldwin, just still not good, y’know what I mean? 
  25.  “But,” I hear you asking, “in what sense is television not awards-bait all the time?” Well, in the sense that some of it doesn’t feel like it was smooshed together algorithmically to take robotic advantage of a bunch of floating search terms. 
  26.  this, in a nutshell, is my problem with the fictionalization of real events, especially in this kind of autobiographical context: I get the need to tell your story, I really do, but I think that it’s manipulative to do so in this way, and it puts people that don’t like it in the position of saying “I don’t like you”. I’m not saying it should never happen, and I’m pretty sure I’m out here dying alone on this hill, but I still think they should be considered separately in stuff like this, because otherwise it’s tremendously difficult to evaluate. 
  27.  so expect some cranky yelling in this space about WHY IS SHE STILL BLAH BLAH BLAH that will last until, oh, 2024 or so. 
  28.  to wit: The Americans required a twisty-matryoshka set of personalities/acting performances form Keri Russell, and Orphan Black required Tatiana Maslany to play a bunch of clones. 
  29.  actually last season was awfully damn good, even with the weird John Besh thing that they kept having to cut around. 
  30.  I’ll concede that it did have its moments. 
  31.  it’s definitely not as good as the Psychic TV album of the same name, I’ll tell you that much for free. 
  32.  in true Fred Armisen fashion, it did so years after it should have. 

The 70th Annual Primetime Creative Arts Emmys

It’s the two-week Emmy period, everybody! Last year I started covering the Creative Arts Emmys, both out of a sense of completeness and because it is a chance to think about the way things are honored, and selected to be honored, which is a thing that I genuinely enjoy, no matter what it sounds like below, and is a big part of why I write about so many awards here in this space.

Of course, this is also giving myself a hill to climb, because there are a whole bunch of these, so I’ll try to keep everything brief and moving, much like the ceremony itself, which is shunted off to a whole other weekend and honored somewhat-cursorily.

I’m sure it’s still cool to win one, though.

Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series

This could go happily to Full Frontal or Last Week Tonight, as long as it doesn’t go to Saturday Night Live, which genuinely had a terribly-written season, and the inclusion of which is utterly baffling. I think Samantha Bee made better points in general, even if John Oliver was better-researched. I suppose this makes me part of the problem.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Outstanding Writing for a Non-Fiction Program

It’s easy enough to go for the Mr. Rogers documentary here, and also I like Ken Burns as much as anybody, but I do think Parts Unknown was always great, and Anthony Bourdain’s death makes this a fitting occasion.

 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, “Southern Italy”

 

Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special

Outstanding….video control? Ok. All of these were too long, and three of them were actively boring, if technically-demanding, so I guess it’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, which was also too long, but wasn’t boring the whole time. Only part of the time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert

Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Series

I am genuinely curious what it is about the finales of Dancing With the Stars or The Voice, or even that one episode of The Big Bang Theory, which use a more-or-less constant video-setup 1 that make them the thing being awarded here. I assume that they want to honor the show, and they just chose a big episode, but it still seems like there ought to be separate awards for things like live competition reality shows and three-camera sitcoms where they’re honored for the setup, and not any kind of arbitrary individual effort. I mean, it’s not any of those anyway, but I think they’re hurt by being included with things that actually have to change their thing from time to time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Saturday Night Live, “Host: Donald Glover”

Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, Limited Series, or Movie

Aw, hell, I don’t like Game of Thrones, but it does seem like figuring out how to get all of those people dying on screen on there without hurting anybody and without rendering the action incoherent 2 is a pretty huge hurdle. So good job, stunt coordinators.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Game of Thrones

Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or Variety Program

It has got to be hard to convince the world that Annie Edison is a wrestler.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: GLOW

Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role

I have literally no idea what “in a supporting role” means in this category. Like…visual effects that aren’t the stars of the show? That seems weird, is all I’m saying here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Alienist, “The Boy on the Bridge”

Outstanding Special Visual Effects

While it’s true that every single one of these shows I either found disappointing or outright stupid, I can’t deny that there’s a tight race in terms of visual effects. Since it’s the only part of Altered Carbon that I liked, I guess it’s them.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Altered Carbon, “Out of the Past”

Outstanding Sound Mixing for Nonfiction Program (Single or Multi-Camera)

Once again, I’m kind of reduced to giving this out to the job that seems the most difficult, which I think is the most impressive. There may be some subtleties that I’m missing by doing so, but I think it’s got to go to the war miniseries. Because wars are rather loud, and academics and/or talking-head veterans are rather quiet.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Vietnam War, “Episode 6: Things Fall Apart (January 1968-July 1968)”

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Series or Special

The Grammys were terrible, but they did manage to sound ok despite including a bunch of different performances in a bunch of different manners, a bunch of talking, and an audience that (presumably) was louder than it would have been at, say, The Oscars. I am not an expert at what goes into television sound, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: 60th Annual Grammy Awards

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation

I do find it funny that the Emmys people would have us believe that you use different skills to mix a half-hour show than you do a full hour. Maybe it’s like that thing Fezzik said about fighting more than one person.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mozart in the Jungle, “Domo Arigato”

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Movie

Shout out to Twin Peaks for managing to make the sound as weird and interesting as everything else. It’s really head and shoulders above everything else here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Twin Peaks, “Part 8”

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour)

Totally different from the job of mixing for a half hour. Totally.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Stranger Things, “The Mind Flayer”

Outstanding Sound Editing for Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-Camera)

Like all forms of editing, sound editing is the kind of thing I only notice when it’s gone wrong, and all of this seems fine to me. So probably the war thing again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Vietnam War, “Episode 6: Things Fall Apart (January 1968-July 1968)”

Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special

You guys, I completely forgot about Waco. Like, completely. It had Tim Riggins in it! And it was on the Paramount network, which is a thing that exists! Probably it was not super-easy to forget Emmy nominees in non-peak-tv years!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fahrenheit 451

Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation

Man, they simply are not going to have made enough awards to honor “Teddy Perkins” in the manner that it deserves to be honored. What an incredible episode of television. The sound was certainly as impressive as the rest of it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Atlanta, “Teddy Perkins”

Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One-Hour)

Eh, what the hell, Star Trek always has cool sound. Some of that is probably down to the editing, right?  I’m just happy to be out of the sound categories.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Star Trek: Discovery, “What’s Past is Prologue”

Outstanding Production Design for a Variety, Nonfiction, Event, or Award Special

Thankfully, there’s a live musical in here, otherwise I’d have to consider the production design of awards shows, and that would probably drive me insane.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert

Outstanding Production Design for a Variety, Nonfiction, Reality, or Reality-Competition Series

I mean, I would be even more thankful if I didn’t have to consider the production design of reality shows, but hey, I suppose I can’t expect to get that lucky twice.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bill Nye Saves the World, “Why All Our Friends are Dying”

Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More)

I was going to complain that there wasn’t a category for half hour period or fantasy program, but then I remembered that there aren’t any. Ah, well.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Alienist, “The Boy on the Bridge”

Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary Program (One Hour or More)

It is odd to me that three of these are single episodes and the other two are entire series. I mean, I don’t know how you’d separate individual episodes of Twin Peaks out, production-design-wise, but they do it for everything else no matter what, it’s weird that it falls down here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Twin Peaks

Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Program

I think this really should be a primary award. Unstructured reality programs 3 are made almost entirely by their editors, so this is a much bigger job than the other kind of thing, where the expectations on the video editors are much more straightforward. Ah, well.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: United Shades of America, “Sikhs in America”

Outstanding Picture Editing for a Structured or Competition Reality Program

Although it must also be said that the editors are also the stars of competition programs, where people’s personalities and storylines emerge and become apparent. It’s thankless work, I tell you. Thankless.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Queer Eye, “Series Body of Work”

Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming

This is a real grab-bag of highly-regarded nonfiction programming, let me tell you. When people want to know what the state of nonfiction programming in 2018 was, we can just point them right to this category, yes sir.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Hunter Gross (“Lagos”)

Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming

The specifics of my biography mean that I am the prime audience for a fake movie trailer about the life of Warren G. Harding, so this one was a pretty easy decision.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Last Week Tonight, Anthony Miale (“Wax President Harding”)

Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series

Of all the distinctions in all of the technical categories here, I think the difference between picture editing for multi-camera vs. single-camera shows is the easiest to grab. I have very little else to say about it, but it’s nice to know exactly where I stand here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: One Day at a Time, Pat Barnett (“Not Yet”)

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie

You know, for whatever value The Assassination of Gianni Versace may have actually had 4, that “Manhunt” episode was tense and well-plotted, and told a bunch of different parts of the story at once. Good job, editors.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Chi-Yoon Chung (“Manhunt”)

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series

No, but seriously I cannot think of a single aspect of “Teddy Perkins” that I wish was any different than it was.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Atlanta, “Teddy Perkins”

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series

Some of the time I’m able to figure out what’s being evaluated in the technical categories by the things that are nominated. In this case, clearly huge action setpieces are tough to edit, so let’s just go with the hugest action setpiece and move along.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Game of Thrones, Tim Porter (“Beyond the Wall”)

Outstanding Music Supervision

“Alligator Man” isn’t quite the triumph of television that “Teddy Perkins” is, but it’s got some awfully great music in it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Atlanta, Jen Malone and Fam Udeorji (“Alligator Man”)

Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music

This is maybe the easiest category to gather information about and judge that I’ve ever encountered. What a great idea. Anyway, The Tick has always had a great theme song, and it continues to have a great theme song in this incarnation.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Bacon, The Tick

Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics

I find it hard to muster up any sort of feelings about any of this.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Big Mouth, “Am I Gay?” (“Totally Gay”)

Outstanding Music Direction

In this case, the fact that the Super Bowl halftime show sucked doesn’t matter, and I can just be impressed that they put together a stage, held a show on it, then tore it down all in the span of the show. I mean, they do that every year, but it’s still impressive.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Super Bowl Halftime Show LII Starring Justin Timberlake

Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score)

Black Mirror does have good music, whatever else may be going on with it, and however uneven it may be.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Black Mirror, Daniel Pemberton (“USS Callister”)

Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score)

I like Ramin Djawadi just fine, enough to understand why he’s here twice, and while I have basically no use for Westworld, the music is pretty cool.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ramin Djawadi, Westworld (“Akane No Mai”)

Outstanding Motion Design (Juried)

This is a new award, and it’s for graphic design onscreen. It’s distinct from Title Design (see below), so I’m not entirely sure what they’re going for. It also only has two nominees and is decided by jury. It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I’m going to go with Broad City (“Mushrooms”) on general principle.

Outstanding Prosthetic Make-up for a Series, Limited Series, Movie, or Special

The other thing The Assassination of Gianni Versace had going for it was that they definitely made the people on the show look like the people involved in the crime, etc. Good job, make-up folks.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Outstanding Makeup for a Limited Series or Movie (Non-Prosthetic)

I’m making them share the decision because 1) I don’t want to make it twice and 2) figuring out what counts as a prosthetic and what doesn’t using the resources available to me just gave me a headache.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Outstanding Makeup for a Multi-Camera Series or Special (Non-Prosthetic)

So only the Limited Series, Movie, or Special category has a prosthetic makeup award. I’m sure there are perfectly good historical reasons for this, but again I find myself boggling to consider what they might be. Anyway, it may be a shadow of what it once was, but pretty much any makeup award has to go to RuPaul’s Drag Race.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic)

I think Game of Thrones takes some big makeup swings that it doesn’t often connect with. I think GLOW takes some reasonably-sized swings that work every single time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: GLOW

Outstanding Main Title Design

Eh, I’ll just say on the train for GLOW while I’m already here. It’s got great main titles.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: GLOW

Outstanding Lighting Design / Lighting Direction for a Variety Special

You know, I don’t know that I would have thought of it directly, but as I consider it, I really did like the lighting for Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert

Outstanding Lighting Design / Lighting Direction for a Variety Series

There are no other lighting categories. I think that is weird. Like, super-weird.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Saturday Night Live, “Kevin Hart”, but this is probably the most arbitrary this decision has ever been.

Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media Within An Unscripted Program

So this generally refers to the “second-screen” bit of a show, except where it’s Watch What Happens Live, which is, y’know, Andy Cohen on a couch with only the very realest of housewives.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: CONAN Without Borders

Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media Within A Scripted Program

I think, categorically, that all of this is stupid, but I’m here to say that the Silicon Valley thing is the least stupid one here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Silicon Valley – Interactive World: Not Hotdog, VR & Twitter-Powered Pizza Drones

Outstanding Interactive Program

I suppose, given these selections, that it may be possible that I do not, in fact, know what “interactive” means.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Full Frontal With Samantha Bee Online (?!)

Outstanding Original Interactive Program

At least all of these things are actually interactive. That’s nice.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Back to the Moon

Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program

I like being forced to consider whether RuPaul does a better job with Drag Race than W. Kamau Bell does with United Shades of America. It keeps me on my toes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: W. Kamau Bell, United Shades of America

Outstanding Hairstyling for a Limited Series or Movie

I’m just going to say the thing here that I said about the makeup for The Assassination of Gianni Versace and leave it at that, since in this case I find the same thing to be impressive.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Outstanding Hairstyling for a Multi-Camera Series or Special

I mean, I know that hairstyling and make-up are two different things, but I also have to say that I’m recycling my earlier comments about RuPaul’s Drag Race here also.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Outstanding Directing for a Reality Program

What the actual hell is Shark Tank doing in here? Every single one of their episodes looks exactly alike. This is stupid.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: American Ninja Warrior, Patrick McManus (“Daytona Beach Qualifiers”)

Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series

Well, Portlandia isn’t a static-set show and it was directed well by a non-professional, so what the hell. Those sound like good enough reasons to me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein (“Riot Spray”)

Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming

Ah, it’s probably Ken Burns, isn’t it?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ken Burns, The Vietnam War (“Episode 8: The History Of The World (April 1969-May 1970)”)

Outstanding Costumes for a Variety, Nonfiction, or Reality Programming

It’s not that I don’t have a lot of opinions about RuPaul’s Drag Race, it’s that for our purposes here I only need one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: RuPaul’s Drag Race (“10s Across the Board”)

Outstanding Contemporary Costumes

The delineations in these categories 5 require a definition of “contemporary” that goes back forty years, and a definition of “period” (see below) that starts at, like, sixty years. The events of the past of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel were lived through by the parents in This is Us. This annoys me and I don’t know why.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Empire. It doesn’t have much else going for it anymore, but the costumes are great.

Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes

Hey wait, this makes me realize that A Series of Unfortunate Events should have also been in the makeup and production design categories. THIS IS A TRAVESTY. I AM OUTRAGED.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Outstanding Period Costumes

It’s The Crown, the show on this list whose costumes are both “outstanding” and “period”

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Crown

Outstanding Commercial

I loathe that this category exists.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: “In Real Life”, I guess

Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming

Blue Planet II is basically “Outstanding Cinematography: The Series”, and the ocean episodes seem especially technically demanding, so that’s the clear standout here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Blue Planet II, Gavin Thurston (“The Deep”)

Outstanding Cinematography for a Reality Program

I think I’ll go with Deadliest Catch. That’s some more ocean stuff.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Deadliest Catch (“Battle Lines”)

Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour)

Cinematography is one of the more difficult ones for me. I know exactly enough to feel like I know something about it, but not enough to feel like an actual expert. I know precisely the wrong amount about cinematography, is what I’m saying here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: M. David Mullen, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (“Pilot”)

Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie

My assumption is that, given what Twin Peaks: the Return accomplished, that it represents basically everything going as well as it could, so I think it’s the winner here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Twin Peaks: The Return (“Part 8”)

Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour)

I probably don’t have to keep going on about “Teddy Perkins,” you know?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Atlanta, Christian Sprenger (“Teddy Perkins”)

Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series

I do have to wonder why there are only three nominees in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Superior Donuts, Paty Lee (“Grades of Wrath”)

Outstanding Choreography

I have a pretty terrible memory for specific routines, even when I’ve watched the dance show episode in question, but I know that I always like Mandy Moore’s.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mandy Moore, So You Think You Can Dance (“Brand New”/”To Make You Feel My Love”)

Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program

The Queer Eye casting department had a harder time, I would think, as they had less to go on – the other shows have a measure of talent and general televisual charisma, and the Queer Eye folks didn’t have talent as a measure, they just had to hope that the audition/video talent that they saw was enough to make for a good episode. That seems much harder.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Queer Eye

Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special

I suppose I’m supposed to be impressed that they successfully cast actors to play real people in a numerical majority of them, but I’m not particularly. Most of these are triumphs in stunt-casting, and since Godless isn’t really, it’s the best job done here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Godless

Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series

Finding kids is harder than finding adults, even for a second season. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Stranger Things

Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series

Atlanta has an approach and style that’s different than any other show on television, and still manages to populate its episodes with people that are able to work within it. That’s good casting.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Atlanta

Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation (Juried)

This one is also juried, which is also weird. I don’t know how they decide that the experts are necessary to come up with the winner in these categories. Anyway, next year this will be Adventure Time’s to win for their finale 6, this year it goes to the holocaust one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm, Jeff Sher

Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series

What about….multiple Emmys for Megan?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Megan Amram, An Emmy for Megan

Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series

Uh….huh. Well. This one’s a stumper.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Melvin Jackson Jr., This Eddie Murphy Role is Mine, Not Yours

Outstanding Narrator

Whatever there is to say for Morgan Freeman, he’s no David Attenborough.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sir David Attenborough, Blue Planet II

Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance

This category is infuriating. We live in a time with more good animation than any other time in human history, and a wide variety of voice actors, and this category is all people who, even when they were good, are nominated for things that do not deserve awards even a little bit. I refuse to choose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: None of these people.

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series

Boy, Samira Wiley is just delightful in everything she’s in, isn’t she?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Samira Wiley, The Handmaid’s Tale

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series

Because my first exposure to Matthew Goode was his weird, wooden Ozymandias in Watchmen, I’m always especially jazzed when he’s in something in which he can actually act. It’s nice.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Matthew Goode, The Crown

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Maya Rudolph is reliably incredible, but even her presence wasn’t enough to prepare me for how great Judge Gen was on The Good Place. What a thing that was.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maya Rudolph, The Good Place

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Katt Williams’s appearance on Atlanta very quickly elevated him to the level of “comedian I don’t ordinarily have any particular feelings about who managed to do some amazing work in a guest role on an FX tv show” 7, so that’s some good work there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Katt Williams, Atlanta

Outstanding Short Form Variety Series

I can’t say I much like any of these, but Honest Trailers is at least trying. Kind of.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Honest Trailers. Kind of.

Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series

No, seriously, An Emmy for Megan is great, and fulfills all of the minimum requirements to win an Emmy. It should win an Emmy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: An Emmy for Megan

Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking

Your boy over here is a big Jane Goodall head. Big time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jane

Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series

Love of Anthony Bourdain aside, the companion series Explore Parts Unknown was a nifty little sub-documentary that was always pretty interesting.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anthony Bourdain: Explore Parts Unknown

Outstanding Variety Special (Live)

If it seems like I loved Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, please be assured that I did not, it’s just the best thing going in each of these categories.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert

Outstanding Children’s Program

Man, I love A Series of Unfortunate Events.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Outstanding Short-Format Animation

Each of these is a fine candidate (except for We Bare Bears), but I think Steven Universe edges it out, if only because I’m prepared to gush crazily over Adventure Time next year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Steven Universe (“Jungle Moon”)

Outstanding Animated Program

You know, Rick & Morty has a really irritating fanbase. This is exacerbated by that fact that the show is also incredible, so I’m happy to use this opportunity to praise “Pickle Rick”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rick & Morty (“Pickle Rick”)

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special

While it’s hard for the contrarian in me to not praise the chutzpah of making a documentary about self-important weirdo Jim Carrey’s absurd “relationship” with the role of Andy Kaufman, it also isn’t a documentary I can say with a straight face is any good. So that leaves us with Mr. Rogers.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series

There’s plenty of good stuff here, but only one of these was a bona-fide sensation, so it’s probably got to be that one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Wild Wild Country

Outstanding Informational Series or Special

I’m going with Anthony Bourdain here, but I can’t in good conscience do so without mentioning that I thought Scientology and the Aftermath was a lowbrow, witless good time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)

I know it seems downright silly to pass up a chance to fellate one of these once-great comedians, but I’m going to have to throw this one to the actually still-great Samantha Bee. Especially since it has a footnote right there in the title 8.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Presents The Great American* Puerto Rico (*It’s complicated.)

Outstanding Television Movie

While I like Michael Shannon a lot, and love Michael B. Jordan without bounds, and love Fahrenheit 451 even more than I love Michael B. Jordan, I have a hard time calling Fahrenheit 451 “outstanding.” It’s still the best thing here, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fahrenheit 451

Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program

Who – I ask again, who – is watching Naked and Afraid and saying “yes I do believe this, in 2018, the time of peak tv, is among the best we have to offer”. If it is you, feel free to drop a line and tell me why. I mean really. I get liking it. But this is an award. It says “outstanding” right there in the name of the thing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: United Shades of America

Outstanding Structured Reality Program

Everything I said before about Naked and Afraid you can repeat down here for Lip Sync Battle except for the bit where I said “I get liking it.” I do not get liking Lip Sync Battle. Not one little bit.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Antiques Roadshow. Suck it.


  1.  by which I mean the sets and cameras are as placed as they’re going to be, and it’s the same week-in and week-out 
  2.  see Netflix’s The Punisher for an example of this not working but getting nominated anyway. 
  3.  a term that I also have serious misgivings about: they are, in fact, structured by the time they’re programs, they just take place over an unstructured event or set of events. 
  4.  it lacked the pathos of The People vs. OJ Simpson, and ACS never goes full-out Murphy-bonkers, so it’s already at something of a loss there. 
  5. you know, one of these days I’m going to follow through on my threat to really get in there and figure out what, exactly, defines each category in these awards shows. It’s both the thing I find myself yelling about the most, and the thing that I find the most fascinating. 
  6.  or, rather, it’ll be probably an individual animator’s thing to win, because that’s what this category is for. 
  7.  a club he is in with Doug Stanhope 
  8.  I love footnotes! 

The Best Records of August 2018

Blood Orange – Negro Swan (It might be the best Blood Orange album yet. It’s definitely the best album of any type to have Puff Daddy on it in at least two decades. At least.)

Nothing – Dance on the Blacktop (Shoegaze bands aren’t usually as dead-on consistent as Nothing has proven to be, which is a nice surprise)

Amanda Shires – To the Sunset (It’s not that I didn’t expect to like any given Amanda Shires record – I almost always do – it’s just that roughening up the sound and turning the dial a bit toward “rock” made for a much better Amanda Shires album than I would have thought)

Steve Hauschildt – Dissolvi (Steve Hauschildt continues to take his time, and that continues to work out for all of us. Also, Dissolvi beats out Roy Montgomery’s Suffuse for “Best experimental record with Julianna Barwick on it this month”)

Milo & Elucid – Nostrum Grocers (each of these men has made a perfectly fine record this year, but the team up is pretty welcome)

A Considered Look at Every Inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 8

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7 of this series.

Class of 1998

Eagles

WHO THEY ARE: Our nation’s foremost country-rock ruiners 3, recently re-re-considered.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: The number of records they sold in their unaccountably long career can only be called “staggering”. And, y’know, as it goes, they certainly inspired a bunch of other bands by being technically proficient at and capable of the individual elements of being in a rock band, but never really doing anything to them except putting them together in the most basic, least-interesting way in the pursuit of “smoothness”.

AND…?: I, obviously, am not the dude that wants the Eagles to be enshrined in anything.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Popular and influential they may have been, but they were garbage. So no.

Fleetwood Mac

WHO THEY ARE: Well, they’re also a radio-friendly California band that sucks, but they suck significantly less than The Eagles.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Same reasons, really. Trainloads of records and all that. Fleetwood Mac are also pioneers of being able to sell records on the back of your band having a really interesting gossipy backstory behind it also, which has certainly been influential, although one has to wonder how much of that influence is actually “good”.

AND…?: They’re also having something of a moment right now, with kid bands praising them and web outlets “re-evaluating” them. They have, like, three good songs. I can’t imagine why all of this would be necessary.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Well, they really were tremendously popular and people really do like them, and they aren’t as overtly harmful as The Eagles, so sure.

The Mamas & The Papas

WHO THEY ARE: Entry #3 in the “boring Californians” year, this one also comes with a….erm….colorful back story.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: You’re never going to believe this, but it’s because they made blandly likable music that got extremely popular.

AND…?: I like The Mamas & The Papas more than The Eagles and less than Fleetwood Mac, and obviously thinking about the details of John Phillips as little as possible is good for everyone’s mental health.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No.

Lloyd Price

WHO HE IS: Mr. Personality, known mostly for being the pioneer of having basically two careers – once as the one-hit wonder behind “Personality,” and once as a sort of ambassador of the New Orleans sound, where his records were much better, but not quite as popular.

WHY HE’S HERE: Uh…he’s an old R&B guy? The New Orleans R&B sound was great, but its impact on rock and roll as such is pretty limited, and he wasn’t Leon Russell 4 or The Meters 5. But, y’know, old R&B guys were a hot HOF commodity in the nineties.

AND…?: His later records are great. I’m not as familiar with his early stuff, but he was a good singer and I’m sure it’s fine.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really

Santana

WHO THEY ARE: The amorphous set of musicians that coalesce around noted guitar-hotshot Carlos Santana.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They played at Woodstock, for starters. They also did more than anyone else to include “world” musics in their rock and roll schema, building on the Latin music that Carlos Santana had grown up on and welding it, basically, to Jimi Hendrix.

AND…?: I don’t have much of a relationship with Santana’s records, but they were undeniably important and their innovations were certainly very influential.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Gene Vincent

WHO HE IS: A fifties rockabilly guy, behind “Be Bop a Lula” among other things.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was the last of early white rock and roll dudes, and an early rockabilly dude. A double dude!

AND…?: I like Gene Vincent’s records a whole lot, but he was basically the first person to build a career on ripping off Elvis. Someday I’ll make my grand argument about why derivativeness isn’t a sin, and Gene Vincent will be a part of that, but he didn’t do much that was original to him, even if his music was effective anyway.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: As much as it pains me to say it, no.

Jelly Roll Morton

WHO HE IS: He was quite possibly jazz’s first arranger. He was almost certainly the first person to have jazz music published as sheet music.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, he’s obviously hugely important to…jazz. Which would eventually be important to rock and roll.

AND…?: 1998 was a big year for New Orleans at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Jelly Roll Morton was indeed an early influence on several important New Orleans folk who were then, in turn, important to Rock and Roll. But of course the way this works is that this guy is the early influence and those guys are the performers and Rock and Roll never actually enters into it.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I suppose so, but only by the rules hereby established, where influencing a genre that would influence rock and roll (eventually) counts as influencing directly. It’s tortuous, y’know?

Allen Toussaint

WHO HE IS: Would you believe he’s…a guy from New Orleans? I’m not sure why 1998 was the year they all got in.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, he wrote a bunch of songs you know, and produced a bunch of other ones.

AND….?: The selection of record producers they’ve selected would, if considered in isolation, give one a supremely weird view of rock-music-based record production, but it’s not like he’s not deserving.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, why not.

Class of 1999

Billy Joel

WHO HE IS: THE piano man! The very one himself!

WHY HE’S HERE: He wrote a bunch of songs that became hits in a bunch of different subgenres. Two of them are even pretty good.

AND…: He was likable enough to sell squillions of records despite the fact that most of his music is dull as toast. That’s an accomplishment. He was like Elton John without the flair. Or Randy Newman without the…well, without anything that makes Randy Newman 6 great.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No.

Curtis Mayfield

WHO HE IS: A guy who branched out of The Impressions to become our foremost conscious soul singer for awhile there.

WHY HE’S HERE: “Superfly” was a giant hit, and his socially-active hitmaking created a sort of template for not only R&B singers with a conscience 7, but also provided a huge influence (and set of samples) to backpack rap as well.

AND…?: He was pretty great, and he continued to be great as a performer and recording act even after he got paralyzed by a light rig onstage in 1990.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Paul McCartney

WHO HE IS: The former singer of Wings. He was also in a band in the sixties.

WHY HE’S HERE: The important question wasn’t “will he get in” it was clearly “how long after we induct John Lennon do we let him in”. The answer: four years.

AND…?: He was the least-consistent Beatle always – his high points are unimaginably high, and his low points are unlistenable. But, y’know, he’s got a lot of high points, even as a solo artist.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Del Shannon

WHO HE IS: The “Runaway” himself!

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, Wikipedia tells me he had hits that were not “The Runaway”, so that’s neat. Good job, Del Shannon.

AND…?: I mean, “The Runaway” is an ok song in a sort-of-forgotten kind of way.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I’m going to say no here.

Dusty Springfield

WHO SHE IS: A chanteuse, and an early purveyor of blue-eyed soul.

WHY SHE’S HERE: She had some hits and, in so doing, made a lot of people (i.e. the people that originally performed the songs she had hits with) more famous than they would have been otherwise. She also more-or-less created the space for sad white ladies to sing soul music, which is something.

AND…?: She is cultishly adored by the people that like her. Even now she continues to have a crazy-rabid fanbase. This is always a sign that there is more going on there than I am necessarily grasping, and I’m willing to concede that point.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure.

Bruce Springsteen

WHO HE IS: The Boss!

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he’s one of the most widely-copied dudes in all of rock music. Because he wrote a bunch of great songs on a bunch of great albums. While he has bad albums, he also doesn’t have any disqualified periods of albums – any given album is at least as likely as not to be good work. He assembled one of rock and roll’s greatest big bands 8, and he made his best album without any of them. Dude is a powerhouse.

AND…?: He’s the only absolute dead-nuts slam-dunk candidate other than Paul McCartney in this entire induction class.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Staple Stingers

WHO THEY ARE: Would you believe that they are a group of sisters whose last name is Staples? You should. Mavis is one of them, and has made a bunch of late-career albums here in the last few years that are wonderful.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were fantastic and had a bunch of hits, and then they decided to be weird as hell. Their willingness to jump out and do more experimental stuff should have been more influential than it was, quite frankly. As it was plenty of people took plenty of things from their records, and they were very successful.

AND…?: Oh, I love the Staple Singers.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys

WHO HE IS: The King of Western Swing. I am always happy when these people have nicknames, so I can use them to fill this line without actually having to do any work, guys. It’s just great.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, he helped invent Western Swing, which was important to country music which, once again, is not rock and roll, but here we find ourselves anyway.

AND…?: Bob Wills was great. Without Bob Wills we don’t get Buck Owens or Merle Haggard, and that oughta be enough.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Charles Brown

WHO HE IS: Piano blues guy. Not the round-headed son of a barber from Minnesota.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, his major innovation was “what if the blues….but slower and played on a piano,” which I guess was influential to people who would be into that sort of thing.

AND…?: I have no capacity to evaluate this music because I can’t stand listening to it, but it also has fuck-all to do with rock and roll, and even the tenuous “blues —–> rock and roll” thing that gets most people into the “early influencers” category is pretty well wiped out by the fact that what Charles Brown did was basically take the parts of the blues that would influence rock and roll out of the blues.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No.

 


  1.  also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3.  in the sense that they did their best to ruin both country and rock. 
  4.  who is not in as a rock and roll performer, but whos status as a piano man was still hugely influential on other rock and roll piano men, and thus belongs here more than Lloyd Price. 
  5.  who are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at all, in a gigantic miscarriage of justice. 
  6.  Randy Newman would not be inducted until 2013, but he would be inducted by Billy Joel, and Billy Joel’s induction speech of Randy Newman is my favorite thing Billy Joel has ever done, supplanting his role in Oliver and Company. 
  7. currently visible in the form of John Legend, Alicia Keys, Alessia Cara, etc. 
  8.  this is obviously not meant in the sense of “big band” music, which is not what he played, but in the sense that the E-Street Band includes basically every resident of New Jersey. 

A Considered Look at the Now Best Selling-Album of All Time

A QUICK NOTE: it has become an interesting week to have written about Michael Jackson! I just wanted to say that this was written before whatever it is that Sony did came out, and while I may have some stuff to say about that, it also didn’t really figure into any of this. 

There’s a lot of big music news involving number ones. For example, Nicki Minaj seems to be dead-set on tearing her own career apart in order to be mad at Travis Scott 1. Their albums are, however, incomparable: Nicki Minaj is a great rapper, and Travis Scott is a sort-of-ok rapper with great marketing skills.

There’s also the fact that the former #2 best-selling album of all time has recently supplanted the former #1 best-selling album of all time, meaning that The Eagles Greatest Hits has now sold more copies than Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This is something I have something to say about, because I don’t really like either one of them.

Both albums came up in the previously-published A Considered Look at the Best-Selling Albums of All Time, in which context Thriller came off much better than The Eagles’ Greatest Hits 2but this is according to my personal taste more than anything else. Country-rock, a tricky genre to manage at its best, is basically at its worst when it’s bloated and has all of the life produced the hell out of it. Pop R&B records survive this a bit better, in no small part because the thing that’s being showcased – Michael Jackson’s voice – is also the only real human element, and all the production in the world doesn’t really diminish it very much.

Of course, as with all bajillion-selling albums, there’s very little personal taste involved. The records that sell in these kinds of numbers generally sell the overwhelming majority of their copies at the margins – they’re records that extremely casual listeners are likely to have. People that have only ever bought a couple of dozen records have probably bought one or both of these two. The songs on the records are all over the culture. It’s as hard to get away from “Take it Easy” as it is from “Beat It,” and it’s therefore harder to hear the songs in a way that engenders personal feelings toward them 3. Some of this is by design – you don’t sell that many copies by not trying to, certainly, and it’s a matter of appealing to the widest number of people possible, which by its nature eschews the specificity of the personal. Some of it, however, is just the happenstance of how things are. And so I am here again, and I am going to listen to them again, this time to consider how they function as records, and which of these two jockeying-for-position records is the better musical expression.

The fundamental difference between the albums, and their success or failure as artistic statements, is that Thriller is a piece of production music – that is to say, the most important part of the record is the production. The sound of MJ’s voice, the musical bedding there to support it, the whole thing is orchestrated so that the sound is the inarguable focus. The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, on the other hand, is ostensibly a piece of rock music. Rock music is primarily performance music – i.e. the production is the least important part of the thing and should get out of the way, but very much doesn’t in this case.

The thing the records have in common is their outright competence. Michael Jackson is an incredible singer, so the production music that he makes is given a frisson by the fact that there’s a human being doing incredible things with his voice, and it elevates it above other such production music. The Eagles’ actual performances – the theoretical time the dudes spent sitting together in a room playing songs – are basically erased from the record, but whatever you call what remains is played impeccably. The mechanical talent of the Eagles is pretty much unquestionable, they’re all good at their instruments, and they’re good singers for the most part 4. To combat this general disposition, I’ll try to separate the sound of the record itself from its genre entirely, and evaluate them both as pop records – after all, when you sell that many million records, it’s “popular” by default.

So, in the interest of uncovering the truth about these two ubiquitous-but-impersonal records, I am comparing them track by track, to see if some information can’t be gleaned that way. And also because I’m apparently a masochist for this sort of thing 5. In any event, here they are.

“Take it Easy” vs. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”

“Take it Easy” is not only the sort of quintessential pre-1975 6 Eagles hit. It’s chummy and strummy, it flows out like diarrhea, and it’s precision-engineered to be as smooth as possible. It’s also too long. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” is a very purposeful statement-of-intent leadoff track (from the title all the way on down). It is at this point more than any other that the two albums’ differing purposes come to bear – Greatest Hits is designed with reassuring familiarity, to people that didn’t want to buy the previous four albums, while Thriller is designed to be the next Major Artistic Statement from the world’s biggest pop star. That said, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is also meant to be reassuring, as most huge-scale pop albums are, that you’re still getting the MJ you want (i.e. that you already were into from Off the Wall), only this time: moreso. Both songs are successful in their way, both are entirely overproduced, and both are at least one minute too long.

THE WINNER: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”

“Witchy Woman” vs. “Baby Be Mine”

Another surprising parallel: both songs have their weakest songs in the #2 spot. “Witchy Woman” is devoid even of the usual melodic sense that is the sort of saving through-line of most Eagles songs 7. I also feel like it’s not the most fair treatment of the titular lady, although I can’t really put my finger on why it seems that way. Interestingly, this song, written by Bernie Leadon, was originally intended to be a Flying Burrito Brothers song 8, and is the only one of these songs co-written by Don Henley. “Baby Be Mine” is a watery ballad, of the sort that would drag down Michael Jackson shockingly often. It’s guilty of having some truly horrifying synth sounds, and not in a good way. 

THE WINNER: “Witchy Woman”

“Lyin’ Eyes” vs. “The Girl is Mine”

The world was doing just fine with the number of “Your Cheatin’ Heart”s it already had, it definitely didn’t need The Eagles’ ham-handed rewrite. “The Girl is Mine” is an insipid duet between two singers with great voices that also features a dumb spoken word bit. On the one hand, “Lyin’ Eyes” seems like it was knocked out in an afternoon by expending as little effort as possible on it. On the other hand, “The Girl is Mine” is part 2 of a relationship (it follows “Say Say Say” from the previous year) that grew the seed of the most insane rights-owning situation in popular music history 9. So while “Lyin’ Eyes” is terrible, it didn’t lead directly to anything dumber. That’s definitely a point in its favor.

THE WINNER: “Lyin’ Eyes”

“Already Gone” vs. “Thriller”

This one was perhaps the hardest to evaluate. “Already Gone” is about as close to any of these Eagles songs get to actually being “good” (although see “Desperado,” below), but it’s entirely too long, features entirely too much noodling, and, while the lyrics don’t factor into whether I like listening to a song or not, it must also be noted that the lyrics to this song are terrible. The good bits of “Thriller” are as good as anything in the realm of early-eighties pop music. The problem is that the song is also way too long, and features, for the second time in a row, someone goddamn talking over the record. Vincent Price or not, that shit is purely unnecessary. It’s not enough to torpedo the thing, though.

THE WINNER: “Thriller”

“Desperado” vs. “Beat It”

It is strange to me that Michael Jackson has not one, but two songs on Thriller that feature classic rock dudes on them. Eddie Van Halen’s contribution to “Beat It” is half good (the riff that forms the main hook is fine) and half dreadful (I am never, ever happy to hear an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo. Ever.), and the song is ok, but it also suffers from laying out the blueprint for the much-better “Bad” from the next Michael Jackson album. It’s also (surprise!) too long, and weirdly amelodic. “Desperado” is the other song that is almost good – it’s well-constructed 10 and, again, the melody is top-shelf. I think I already made a Seinfeld joke when it came up in the bestselling albums of all time thing, but it’s also got that going for it. And while it certainly has some truly irritating overly-flashy guitar playing, that playing isn’t from Eddie Van Halen.

THE WINNER: “Desperado”

“One of These Nights” vs. “Billie Jean”

This one isn’t even fair. “One of These Nights” is pretty terrible, and The Eagles insistence on using dumb cowboy language to describe the process of gettin’ with the ladies is not even amusingly bad. The chorus is pretty much an all-out assault on the ears. It’s bad. “Billie Jean” is perhaps the best distillation of Michael Jackson’s thing 11, and almost certainly his greatest-ever vocal performance. It’s hard to top, and it’s especially hard to top for the Eagles at their Eagles-est.

THE WINNER: “Billie Jean”

“Tequila Sunrise” vs. “Human Nature”

This is another blowout. “Tequila Sunrise” is at least an admirable attempt to sound like the band it seems like The Eagles want to be – a sort of hangover-friendly Jimmy Buffett. Or the Darth Vader to Jimmy Buffett’s Yoda, at least 12. “Human Nature” is an effective Michael Jackson ballad, of which there simply aren’t that many. It’s marred by another awful synth line, and the verses could use some oomph, but the chorus is pure gold, and it’s a good song.

THE WINNER: “Human Nature”

“Take it to the Limit” vs. “PYT”

“Take it to the Limit” is not actually at all good – it’s not even in the same league as “Desperado” and “Already Gone” – but it’s at least not as offensively terrible as, say “One of These Nights” or “Take it Easy”, and it’s probably the best of The Eagles’ songs where they don’t even try to rock. “PYT” is a song that I’m wildly divided on. I think I like the chorus a lot, and I like the call and response bit at the end, but the verses are a huge yawning nothing of a thing, which is actually true for many of Michael Jackson’s hits. Still, it’s good enough I suppose.

THE WINNER: “PYT”

“Peaceful Easy Feeling” vs. “The Lady in My Life”

I will say that “peaceful easy feeling” sure is an accurately-titled song. It wafts through like a warm breeze 13. That said, I had to go listen to “The Lady in My Life” again just now, having just listened to it again yesterday, just to remember how it goes.

THE WINNER: “Peaceful Easy Feeling”

“The Best of My Love” vs. several minutes of blessed silence

The Eagles Greatest Hits actually does something tricky – it’s mixed so terribly, and it’s so “radio-friendly” and smooth and glossy that listening to it is actually exhausting. I’d go back and try it again to lock down what it is that make me feel like this is the case 14. Ordinarily you’d need some volume in order to do that, but I guess such is the annoyingness potential of The Eagles. Thriller doesn’t have ten songs on it, so I sat in dead, unstirring silence (Thriller is also sonically exhausting) for several minutes. It was blissful.

THE WINNER: The sound of silence.

THE FINAL VERDICT: Well, Thriller comes out ahead with 5 songs out of its 9, and The Eagles’ Greatest Hits actually failed to improve upon nothing at all, so obviously Thriller is better and we should all go out and buy copies until this dreadful situation is rectified.


  1.  I get it, Nicki. I really do. 
  2.  in the ranking that I did in the wrap up, Thriller was #26 and Greatest Hits was #43 
  3. It’s not impossible, though. Plenty of people do it all the time. It’s just not nearly as likely to go that way. 
  4.  there are, however, some vocal harmonies in there that make me dramatically question how that stuff got through, given the slaved-over, million-different-takes, patchwork-simulacrum sound of the whole thing. 
  5.  although, as a behind-the-curtains bit of business, I was already probably going to re-listen to The Eagles Greatest Hits for next week’s Considered Look at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction year, so I was already halfway here anyway. 
  6.  The Eagles are in a rare group of bands (Outkast and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the ones who come immediately to mind) that had giant, career-defining hits after their first Greatest Hits collection, so this doesn’t have anything from Hotel California on it. 
  7.  they’re genuinely pretty songs. They’d make great waiting room music. Hell, they probably do make great waiting room music. 
  8.  Leadon joined the Flying Burrito Brothers, who are the very best possible version of the thing The Eagles are going for, before their second record, leaving after a year or so to start the Eagles. 
  9.  to wit: Michael Jackson bought ATV Music, which owned most of The Beatles’ songs, out from under Paul McCartney. 
  10.  as evidence of this I offer The Langley Schools Music Project, whose version is top-shelf. It’s a completely different song coming out of the mouth of a little girl, and it’s much better. 
  11.  in the aforelinked Considered Look at the Best-Selling Records of All Time piece, I picked “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” as the best song, but I think it’s actually “Billie Jean” 
  12.  the two acts are more contemporary than I had previously thought – I thought Jimmy Buffett was firmly post-Eagles, but he was kicking around in the late 60s as a country musician, which means they also share that. Jimmy Buffett is, obviously, far worse than The Eagles. 
  13.  let me say I wanted badly for this to turn into a fart joke, but I couldn’t figure it out. I guess that’s how uninspiring “Peaceful Easy Feeling” is. 
  14.  I have a suspicion that it’s because it takes place in a very narrow frequency range, which was exacerbated by the fact that I listened to it through Spotify because, y’all, I was not about to buy this record to do this. I mean, I also don’t own a copy of Thriller, so it got the same treatment, which is, I suppose, at least equitable. 

The 2018 MTV Video Music Awards

The VMAs are, as I mention every year, among our finest of televisual awards programs. They’re unabashedly silly, they’re colorful, they’re bright, they’re shiny, they’re full of performances. They celebrate an entirely secondary art form 1, and as such they don’t worry too much about themselves.

So, since this is so close to the Hugos and I’ve already committed several thousand words to the topic of awards, I’ll try to keep this one brief. I am terrible at knowing what people like and, by and large, this crop of music videos is just about as bad as they’ve been in a long time, so I might not have a tonne to say about them anyway. And I resume the struggle.

Oh, and Jennifer Lopez is receiving the Video Vanguard award, for her uh…contributions to the form 2. That’s nice for her.

Song of Summer

There are eight songs in this category, which I presume is a naked attempt to get as many currently-on-the-charts people involved as possible. It’s categories like this, however, where the songs range from truly, horrifyingly dire (Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You,” proving that Cardi B does not have the ability to transcend her material) to the almost-ok (Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin’s “I Like It”, proving that Cardi B is still better than nearly anyone else in this category) that one comes to understand the appeal of Calvin Harris. “One Kiss” isn’t a good song, exactly, but it’s inoffensive and almost good, so it’s the one that should get the nod.

 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Calvin Harris, “One Kiss” (f Dua Lipa)

 

Best Visual Effects

This is the one category where the game was genuinely pretty well stepped-up. Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” is presumably here for the makeup stuff, and I guess that’s fine, but there isn’t really much else going on there. And the song is, of course, execrable. Maroon 5’s “Wait” is about the only Maroon 5 video where I can think of anything going on in it, which is fine. Eminem’s “Walk on Water” does some bog-standard “zooming ghost” effects and leans heavily on typewriters to carry semiotic weight 3. Avicii’s “Lonely Together” video just plain sucks. Kendrick Lamar & SZA’s “All the Stars” is the best song in this category, but I think that Ariana Grande’s video for “No Tears Left to Cry” is the actual coolest set of visual effects here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariana Grande, “No Tears Left to Cry”

Best Editing

Once again, I feel compelled to point out that I know so little about the editing of music videos in general that I feel comfortable saying if I notice it something has been done wrong. “Look What You Made Me Do” is here again – it’s getting a lot of love in the technical categories – and I couldn’t tell you why. N.E.R.D.’s“Lemon” seems to have some really long shots, which I guess is something related to the editing I can notice. Janelle Monae’s “The Way You Make Me Feel”, The Carters’ “Apeshit” and Childish Gambino’s “This is America” are all fine songs with fine videos 4, and it could be any of them. I think “Apeshit” has more editing in it, so it’s probably that one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Carters, “Apeshit”

Best Direction

So, “This is America” is clearly the best – weirdest, most effective, most visually appealing, most interesting – video of the year, and I think a lot of that is because of Hiro Murai, the director 5. So it’s probably the rightful winner of a bunch of awards here, but also it is definitely the rightful winner of this one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Hiro Murai, “This is America”

Best Cinematography

Ah, the camerawork. Truly it is the most important and least-identifiable actual part of the process. I’ll assume that all of these people are good at their work. I know just enough about cinematography to be able to occasionally identify what I like about it, but I wasn’t quite there with these guys, so I guess I don’t quite know. I’ll just assume it’s “This is America” again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Larkin Seiple, “This is America”

Best Choreography

:Leaving aside “Havana” and “Finesse”, both of which have some pretty standard choreography 6, and pretending to not even recognize the Justin Timberlake video here (in which most of the dancing is actually accomplished by a CG robot). We’re left with three fairly interesting candidates. The “Apeshit” video’s choreography is elaborate and involved, and deserves credit for the spectacle. Dua Lipa’s “IDGAF” choreography is interesting because it’s done twice by each performer, essentially with each step being performed forward and then backward and spliced together 7, and “This is America”’s choreography was as weird and unsettling as all of the rest of the video.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Eh, let’s say “Apeshit,” because “This is America” deserves everything else.

Best Art Direction

I’ve always been under the impression that this one was for the “look” of the video. So that’s going to doubly not go to “Look What You Made Me Do” which looks like 1) the garbage version of 2) a Beyonce video. “Apeshit” looks like a good version of a Beyonce video, and it’s definitely super-elaborate. Janelle Monae’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” is actually the lesser, art-direction-wise of her two videos in this ceremony, and “PYNK” might have had a fighting shot. SZA’s “The Weekend” is a really nice-looking video 8, J. Cole’s “ATM” is kind of funny I guess, but also “This is America” is in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jason Kisvarday, “This is America”

Video With a Message

I always find this category to be frustrating and weird, and this year is largely no exception. Drake’s video for “God’s Plan” is self-aggrandizing (which is fine, actually) in the service of also being extremely boring (which is not fine). Dej Loaf’s “Liberated” is another “a bunch of people stare meaningfully into the camera” video, of which there are very many, and which is never really my favorite subgenre of video. Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” somehow came out in this year’s eligibility period. It seems like it’s been out there forever. Anyway, it’s fine. Janelle Monae’s “PYNK” video is, as I mentioned above, fantastic, but it’s in the wrong category. It’s “message” is “vaginas are great, and Tessa Thompson has one, and it’s great.” I mean, I like the song, and I love the video, but it’s not quite on the same message-level as the others, y’know? Jessie Reyez’s “Gatekeeper” seemed ok at the time, but I barely remember it. “This is America” again it is, then.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Childish Gambino, “This is America”

Best Rock Video

This category never inspires confidence or hope in my breast, and this year it’s actually worse. Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco were never going to be very high up on my list of bands that should continue to “come back,” I’m still prepared to make the argument that whatever Imagine Dragons are doing, and whatever else they are, their music is not in any functional, actual way “rock music” 9. I don’t begrudge the Foo Fighters for sticking around (see what I did there?), but I don’t necessarily find myself wanting to listen to it either. I’m happy to toss this one to Linkin Park. Dude died and he really meant it, and that’s sad, even if it isn’t particularly good.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Linkin Park, “One More Light”

Best Dance Video

If the rock category was disappointing, this one is just infuriating. I know that I am An Old, and am not in the market of this kind of dance music, but jesus, who is? Anyway, the highlights are slim but they are there. I like Khalid’s voice a lot, and I’m not actively bothered by Marshmello’s production, so “Silence” was ok. But Calvin Harris managed to make a reasonable song, and I like Dua Lipa’s voice, and the video is a hoot, so it’s going to be that one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Calvin Harris, “One Kiss” (f Dua Lipa)

Best Latin Video

Jennifer Lopez is receiving the Video Vanguard award in the same year as her absolute worst single, “Dinero.” This is funny, and is, therefore, the one source of entertainment that “Dinero” has ever given me. Good job, “Dinero,” for getting nominated in an ironic year. I don’t think much of this Maluma person 10 by himself or in the Shakira song, so neither of those should win. Daddy Yankee’s persistence is neat, and “Dura” is pretty good. I like Luis Fonsi’s energy, and “Echame la Culpa” might be the best song Demi Lovato’s ever sung on. I was slightly disappointed to find that the sample that provides the hook on “Mi Gente” is just a regular synthesizer preset, but I suppose that doesn’t make it any worse as a hook as such.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: J. Balvin & Willy William, “Mi Gente”

Best Hip Hop Video

My opinion of the Drake and J. Cole videos here have not changed 11, so we’re set there. “Apeshit” is a fancy expensive video, but like, it’s not my favorite. Nicki Minaj’s “Chun Li” made a lot of people mad, and also isn’t a very good video. Cardi B’s “Bartier Cardi” video is ok, but again, I can’t think of what distinguishes it. Migos’s “Walk It Talk It” video is distinctive and funny, and has the benefit of backing up one of Culture II’s better songs.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Migos, “Walk it Talk It” (f Drake)

Best Pop Video

The fact that Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes both exist at the same time is proof that something has gone terribly wrong with the timeline. I feel this should be corrected, but I’m not sure how to go about doing it, other than telling people “don’t buy Shawn Mendes and/or Ed Sheeran records”. Pink’s “What About Us” has a reasonably-cool video. The telenovela part of the “Havana” video is pretty funny, but the rest of it isn’t particularly interesting or entertaining. It’s better than the “Sorry Not Sorry” video by an order of magnitude, however. I still think the video for “No Tears Left to Cry” is cool, even if I don’t like the song and don’t like to listen to Ariana Grande sing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariana Grande, “No Tears Left to Cry”

Push Artist of the Year

So this is different, somehow, from the “Best New Artist” category (see below), because this, I assume, is the set of people that have at various times been endorsed by MTV as their “push” artist 12. Anyway, it’s either going to be SZA or Khalid, because they’re the only two on the list (of fifteen people!) that are the artist of anything, let alone the year. I’m inclined to give it to SZA because her record is better.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA

Best Collaboration

“Push Artist of the Year” is where things start to get wobbly in terms of music videos themselves. This category, then, is well into “wobbly” territory. To wit: it is the video music awards, which is a small portion of what we’re dealing with when we deal with these artists. Specifically I suppose we’re meant to be examining the video product of the collaborations here listed. Since I generally take a loosey-goosey approach to keeping them separate anyway 13, it seems easy enough to get past. “Dinero” is still a comically-terrible song. “Finesse” and “Meant to Be” are also affronts to ears and eyeballs. “1-800-273-8255” is a perfectly fine song with a perfectly fine video. “Apeshit” and “Lemon” are both notable because they feature the debut of one of our mightiest chanteuses (Beyonce and Rihanna, respectively) rapping for the first time, which is pretty cool. Beyonce is better at it than Rihanna, and The Carters’ song is better as a result.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Carters, “Apeshit”

Song of the Year

So then we come to this, which is, I assume, the song in complete divorce from the video that accompanies it. Fine. This is the only category that includes Post Malone’s “Rockstar,” which I suppose is a mercy, as I didn’t have to spend any more time than necessary considering it. Blech. “Havana” is a fine song, such as it is, but I can’t really think of a good argument for it being the song of the year. “Perfect,” “God’s Plan” and “Finesse” are all really bad. It seems weird to say that “New Rules,” which is a kind-of-good song by a singer with a pretty cool voice is the “song of the year,” but you see what they leave me to deal with here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dua Lipa, “New Rules”

Artist of the Year

Most of these people seem like they’re pretty well past their sell-by dates. Bruno Mars seems to have run out of ideas to plunder, Drake has calcified into…whatever it is that Drake still does. Post Malone started as a self-parody and only gets worse over time. I like everything about Ariana Grande except her music, which is still awful. But Cardi B arrived popular, stayed popular, and made a heck of a record this year, so she’s the one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B

Video of the Year

At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m not leaving any surprises lying around, right? I’m not going to suddenly have reversed on “Finesse” or “God’s Plan,” and I’m not going to start appreciating the Ariana Grande song more, the The Carters’ visuals. If “Havana” were all as good as the telenovela part at the beginning, then maybe. But no. This is America, and “This is America” is the video of the year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Childish Gambino, “This is America”


  1.  while making the videos themselves requires some execution and skill and whatnot, they still exist in service of the song, or the public career of the people appearing in the video. There is no music video without their first being music, is what I’m saying here. 
  2.  if anyone can tell me a defining and/or memorable feature to a J-Lo video that isn’t a physical part of Jennifer Lopez or Ben Affleck (from the “Jenny From the Block” video) then I’ll eat my hat. She does not make interesting or worthwhile videos, is what I’m saying here. 
  3.  The typewriters bring to mind The Shining, which I suppose with the ghosts and all that could be intentional, but never really goes anywhere. 
  4.  actually, one of those fine songs has a great video, see below. 
  5.  also the director of much of Atlanta 
  6.  with the nod that Bruno Mars is a very talented dancer, and Camila Cabello is, I assume, also. 
  7.  I suppose I don’t understand why it wasn’t nominated for an editing award, although I admit it could very well be because the editing seems complex but was actually very simple, for all I know. 
  8.  true story: it was directed (and art-directed) by Solange. 
  9.  it doesn’t rely on the interplay between the musicians, it isn’t played by the members in a way that could be called “unified,” most of the rhythm is produced not by the rhythm section, but by the producer. It is exactly as “rock” as Sam Mendes, and somewhat less “rock” than, say, Eric Church. Genre definitions should be definitional, and should not allude to a quality that can’t be spoken. Imagine Dragons seem to believe very much in their music, and they obviously work hard at it, and they are far from the worst band in this category, and I can even maybe see why one would get into it, but it’s still not rock music. 
  10.  I mean musically. I’m sure he’s a nice guy or whatever. 
  11.  also, “J. Cole will never deserve in award” is one of this blog’s longest-running jokes, living long after things like “Mrs. Coach’s hair” and “I continue to find ways not to write about the Academy Awards” have fallen entirely by the wayside. 
  12.  I’m not sure when or how they’re pushing these artists other than by calling them that, but I suppose that’s good enough for our purposes here.  
  13.  by the reasoning that it’s hard to create much of a quality gap between song and video – plenty of great and terrible songs alike have mediocre, nothing-special videos. This year that Ariana Grande video is about as close as it gets to “Bad song, good video”. The song’s certainly not good, and the video is visually interesting. So I generally use one as shorthand for the whole thing, which necessarily includes the other, but I’m not granting these awards, so I feel I should hold the actual awards-granters to a tighter standard. 

The 2018 Hugo Awards

Oh my god, you guys. The Fucking Hugos. I propose that the expletive become a part of their name. I propose this because they are, once more, a mess because of the actions of people who seem to not be willing to accept people into the fold.

So, having shovelled out from under the weirdness/retro-grade insistence of the Various Puppies, they decided to turn around with the exact same shovel and make an enormous mess of things this year. The public business appears to begin with Bogi Takacs being misgendered in eir program bio, which was the final straw on what had become an overwhelming display of non-caring directed eir way by the Worldcon folks. Said folks first denied responsibility, claiming that they didn’t even write the bio, Takacs did, despite the bio using pronouns that Takacs has never used, and also complaining to another erstwhile attendee 1 that Takacs had gone public with eir complaints in the first place. Kevin Roche, chair of Worldcon, did eventually issue an actual apology.

In the days after this, Worldcon came under fire for denying people a place on panels for not being famous enough, and for denying the currently-much-discussed #ownvoices movement a panel because they felt that not enough people knew about it (the movement I mean). They undertook further chicanery like pulling an unauthorized Facebook photo, and a number of other, semi-documented/non-entirely-public offenses 2, as a result of some combination (or all) of which, NK Jemisen 3 elected not to attend at all, Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz pulled out of panels, and John Scalzi (among others) offered to give any seat on a panel he was on up to someone who was newer and less-able to already be heard. Amal El-Mohtar called publicly for a response and a plan to repair things, and Alexandra Erin is starting a “queer rapid response team” to help ameliorate these issues in the future 4

As a result, the programming was scrapped entirely a few weeks before the con (the post in the link is a few weeks old at the time of this piece’s posting). Perhaps this would be less surprising 5 if there hadn’t just been a publicly-decided upon decision to be more editorially in favor of actually honoring the idea of both new voices and works by people who weren’t in the usual set of identities that had been honored by the Hugos historically 

But the nominations were in before all of this, and the voting was mostly accomplished before this also, so this has basically (I guess?) nothing to do with the work itself! Most of which is very good and worthy of being honored! Yay! So here we go to look at it, and judge its worthiness.

 

And then, y’know, spending the next ten or so months until next year’s nominations are out deciding if I should just go back to not writing about The Fucking Hugos.

 

Oh, and as a programming note of my own: I’m not particularly up on either the fan-based stuff or how to evaluate it as such in a way that is fair to the people that work very hard on it, so I’m limiting myself to the books and dramatic presentation categories. I’m wildly unqualified to talk about visual art, and I didn’t have time to get up on the podcasts and stuff.

 

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

While everybody here is a worthy contender, I think this basically comes down to two people who came straight out and had a heck of a year. Rebecca Roanhorse received a Nebula for her excellent short story “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™”, and her debut novel, Trail of Lightning is a much-praised sensation 6. Vina Jie-Min Prasad actually did even better, as far as I’m concerned: “Fandom for Robots” is a goddamn delight, and “A Series of Sneaks” would have won a Nebula if it hadn’t been up against Sarah Pinsker’s tour-de-force “Wind Will Rove.” She also wrote a fantastic story called “Portrait of Skull With Man” that was unfairly ignored this awards cycle. Anyway, it’s her. She’s great.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Award for Best Young Adult Book

This is a particularly heavy-hitting YA category, especially considering what heavyweights Sam J. Miller, T. Kingfisher 7, Frances Hardinge and Nnedi Okarafor are.

Nnedi Okarafor’s Akata Warrior is a worthy sequel to Akata Witch, and deepens the world and Sunny, the main character. It’s still a very good world in which to set a series of adventure stories, and it’s not like anything else currently going. I suppose it seems unfair to call it “just” a YA series, but it doesn’t really do much beyond that, and while they’re fun to read, they’re not as good as her grown-up work, and they’re just not as good as, say, the T. Kingfisher or Frances Hardinge books in this category.

 

Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving remains an emotional wollop of a novel, taking on a very difficult and under-represented set of problems (male eating disorders in this case), with an enormous amount of sympathy and humanity. The characters are well-drawn, and the generalize sense of dread is very real. Some of the descriptions of the mental state of the protagonist are viscerally unsettling. It also, in wonderful news, is a story about a pacifist, or at least about someone who is categorically opposed to revenge. I don’t know if it’s something in the water, or a turn for the better, or if there’s just more people out there who wanted stories about people who specifically don’t punch and/or murder as a solution, but it’s fantastic that it’s all happening.
Phillip Pullman’s The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage is a return to the world of His Dark Materials, and thus makes it through this on name recognition and general affection for his past work. It almost certainly isn’t here on its own merits, and isn’t really in the running 8.

Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands gets over being a sort of love-triangle-adjacent 9 piece of portal fiction by being very funny, and by delving into love-triangle-ish areas that aren’t commonly explored. The main character is especially well-written, and she manages to actually write a sarcastic know-it-all character with dialogue that doesn’t seem like it’s all creaky, forced, long-reaching setups for the sarcastic character’s jokes 10. It’s also a story about a genuine by-gosh pacifist, which is always something I’m always happy to see. All told, it’s a perfectly fine novel that isn’t as good as some of the others.

Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows is almost certainly the best book about a ghost bear that I’ll ever read. Hardinge takes a sort of theme-and-variations approach: she once again creates a scary, deeply enthralling supernatural world and drops another progressive-minded young lady into to find her way out. She does this, through her own ingenuity and her ability to make friends and negotiate. She and the protagonists of The Lie Tree and The Cuckoo’s Song would probably find they had a lot to talk about 11. That’s not to say it’s not the equal of those books, and I do love an author that finds a way to twist the standard fantasy elements in such a way that they illuminate the different sides of these stories. Hardinge’s novels work prismatically in this way, and they’re better for it.

It’s (perhaps unsurprisingly) T. Kingfisher’s Summer in Orcus that I think is the best one here. Another pacifist, and another portal fiction, all for the better there. This one also has Baba Yaga, a sardonic weasel, a bunch of sartorially-inclined tiny birds, and a mythic-level threat that turns out to be something entirely different from what it seems to be in the beginning. It’s a terrific upending of the usual “get to the center of the world and stop the evil thing” book that I’ll not spoil here, because you should all go read it as soon as possible.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: T. Kingfisher, Summer in Orcus

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

This category, even though it’s mostly television, is forcing me to consider a clipping. song against episodes of The Good Place. I would prefer to never have to make this kind of decision again. While “The Deep” is a very good clipping. song, The Good Place is probably the best show on television, and “Michael’s Gambit” is a huge part of the reason why.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Good Place, “Michael’s Gambit”

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Only one of these movies is basically perfect. Wonder Woman is great right up until the superhero-by-the-numbers CGI fight at the end. Blade Runner 2049 failed to get most of its ideas off the ground, and took too long to do so. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was as good as it could have been, and I appreciate there being a Star Wars movie that is explicitly about the idea of inspiring hope in the downtrodden, but it is still, by the nature of the franchise, stuck moving a lot of parts that it shouldn’t have to just to keep the series rolling. Thor: Ragnarok is as entertaining as any of these movies, and would probably have won in a world without Get Out. Get Out is a basically perfect movie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Get Out

Best Graphic Story

Bitch Planet: Volume 2 was a welcome sight to finally behold, and only the knowledge that the world could literally end before volume 3 is enough to chill its reception. The stormclouds are clearly gathering, we are clearly winding things up, the cast is coming together. We’re still meeting new, awesome members of the thing, and someday we will have it all and we can be happy. Someday.

Black Bolt Volume 1: Hard Time is getting a lot of positive press, and people seem to really, really love it. I am afraid that I might be missing something. It’s pretty good, certainly. The art is top-notch, it’s tightly-paced and it does some dealing with a Black Bolt that can, for plot reasons, speak. It also makes excellent use of The Absorbing Man, which is a thing I didn’t think I’d ever say I suppose.

Monstress Volume 2 continues to make its way through here (I’m assuming) largely on its East-meets-West art style, which is genuinely incredible. It’s got a lot going on, but it’s also building toward a sort of RPG-ish “collect all the things and use them to do a thing” place, I presume. The plot isn’t really holding my attention nearly as well as the art is. In any event, I think it could really blossom into something, but as it is I don’t think it’s quite getting there. It has a sort of less-gonzo version of Saga’s “throw everything from every kind of story in there” 12 approach, and since Saga works on about 50% gonzo-ness, that’s probably to Monstress’s detriment.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters is also a fantastic piece of art. The storytelling is very good, with an elliptical, dreamlike quality that seems to not be providing any actual answers even while it’s advancing. I’m glad it has a sequel coming – the book seems entirely unfinished, and I thought at the time I read it that it was stand-alone. Still, there’s a lot here to like, and it’s a wildly impressive work.

Volume 3 of Paper Girls is where things really get cooking, and our time-travelling Ohioans become deeply involved in what appears to be the overarching plot of the whole thing. It’s the best volume yet of a series that is also quite possibly its creator’s best 13, or at least his best straight-up story. So far, anyway.

Saga is the 900-pound gorilla of comics at the moment, and Volume 7 is its most emotionally intense, largely for what goes on in the first issue of the collection. A couple of different times here I’ve mentioned that it largely flies on sheer audacity, which is true. This makes it difficult to judge against other works: it’s a bit like trying to evaluate a tightrope walker in terms of their atheltic ability. It’s there and you could do it, but it’s difficult and the result doesn’t really make much sense in either case.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters is so unlike any of the rest of this, and so carefully and fully thought out and executed that it almost has to be the winner.

Best Related Work

I think of this as the “nonfiction book” category, because, well, it kind of is. It was as entertaining as I think it’s ever been, but also didn’t contain much that I can imagine I’m going to spend much of my time going back to. So it goes, I suppose. Well, except one.

Zoe Quinn’s Crash Override is a pretty useful little book, all things considered. She spends the first half telling the story of gamergate from the point of view of the first of the people it was focused on, and then the second half sharing her hard-won wisdom about how to deal with the very real possibility of online harassment. She’s laudably clear-eyed and funny about the whole thing 14, and her advice is sympathetic and extremely doable. Good book, this.

The University of Illinois’s Modern Masters of Science Fiction series aims to give people that haven’t been as academically-studied their first serious academic exposure 15, and they tapped Paul Kincaid to write about Iain M. Banks. Banks was an entertainingly unique character in science fiction, and The Culture created a new way to think about utopianism. Kincaid’s work here is basically an overview/treatise on his work and its major themes, and as such is probably not a very good introduction to the stories themselves. It’s good, but it’s worth it primarily if you’re already familiar with Banks’s work, or if you’re looking for other avenues down which to explore it.

Nat Segaloff’s A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison is, as Segaloff himself says in the introduction, not actually a biography. It’s a set of Harlan Stories 16, largely framed in the conversations that Segaloff had with Ellison and a number of other players about the man, his work, and his life. Segaloff is unabashedly Ellison’s friend, and it probably reads better as such than it would have if it had been written by an enemy 17. It’s weirdly unself-aware at times, and it’s probably as thought-provoking in what it leaves out as it is in what it includes, but what are you going to do, I suppose?

Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler is a series of letters to Octavia Butler. Many of them point out the parallels between our current governmental woes and Butler’s Parable books (especially The Parable of the Talents). They come from all sorts of people, in all sorts of situations, under all sorts of circumstances, and it’s a lovely set of sentiments to read, but doesn’t always provoke so much as it basks, and while it’s nice to read it kind of doesn’t leave there much out there to discuss.

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters is a collection of the great Ursula K. Leguin’s blog posts. It’s not bad as such things go – LeGuin was a good essayist, and her blog was a source of many fine anecdotes and musings when it existed. This, however, feels a little cash-grab-ish 18, and there’s very little editorial oversight given to it. The erstwhile blog posts are grouped loosely by subject matter with little thought given to continuity or temporal order. It’s fine for the words, and not-really-fine for the amount of time and care given its existence.

Liz Bourke is great in her unabashed championing of the things she likes, and her unceasing expression of her disappointment in the things about those things that don’t work. Sleeps With Monsters is a collection of her long-running tor.com column, with some original pieces thrown in. I almost never like the same things she does, and even when we do both like things we like them for unrelated reasons, but she’s a darn fine analyst, with a healthy appreciation for Cool Shit, and that goes a hell of a long way with me. Plus she’s one of those people who, it seems, has read everything. I love those folks.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Liz Bourke, Sleeps With Monsters

Best Series

This one is less incomprehensible than it was last year, but I still find it truly difficult to evaluate. I suppose the thing to do is take the nominees and decide which of them has done the best so far with the volumes that exist. The major problem here is: this is the category for which I have not read everything nominated, so I kind of have to guess. I console myself by pointing out that that’s mostly what everyone who’s voting is also doing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Seanan McGuire, InCryptid

Best Short Story

This is a very good crop, although it is not the crop you’d want if you wanted to not be filled with despair. Not a lighthearted bunch, is what I’m saying here.

Caroline Yoachim’s “Carnival Nine” remains 19 one of the most emotionally-affecting stories here, and its world, of clockwork people and their short lives, creates some fantastic images (I think also of the process of acquiring grown-up limbs even more as I get further from reading it, for example), in the service of its powerful allegory.

Fran Wilde’s “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly-Steady Hand” is a lovely exercise in style and texture. Intentionally formed from wisps of description and very little straightforward language, it’s probably someone’s favorite story of the year – it’s deeply idiosyncratic in a way that I can very much imagine someone being super excited about. I liked it, but didn’t love it.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “Fandom for Robots” is a part of why I think she’s the rightful winner of the Campbell award (see above), and it’s a fantastic look at AI and how we grow to love things, even if it trips a little bit before the end of it.

Linda Nagata’s “The Martian Obelisk” is a rumination on what we owe each other, and what our responsibilities are to each other, even in the face of utter hopelessness. It is, therefore, catnip for certain me-people who would come to read it. It’s possibly the most uplifting (if also emotionally devastating) story about the putative end of the human race I’ll read for a long, long time.

Also: I lied. Ursula Vernon’s “Sun, Moon, Dust” would probably make just about anyone happy, with its cranky ghosts and story of unexpected companionship. We are spoiled to live in a world with Ursula Vernon writing stories in it, guys.

Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™“ is at least a different kind of upsetting – it’s angry, and it manages to also be funny. It’s a very good story, and if it isn’t as good as several of the others, that’s just because it’s a very strong year in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Linda Nagata, “The Martian Obelisk”

Best Novelette

Aliette de Bodard’s “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” is a fine, Persephonish story set in post-apocalypse magical Paris. It’s a nice story, well-writen, and I bounced off it completely and entirely. Probably this is not a sign that the story is bad, as such, but it is definitely a sign that I did not like it.

Yoon Ha Lee’s “Extracurricula Activities” is a lot of fun – it’s a surprisingly light look at some of Jedao’s 20 younger goings-on, and gives us a very different look at the character. I’m not sure it’s up there in the “best novelettes of the year” running, but it’s hard not to get excited about any part of the series itself.

Suzanne Palmer’s “The Secret Life of Bots” touches on some really interesting things about self-determination and self-reliance and all the usual sorts of AI things in a really fascinating way – she approaches it sort of inside-out, with a highly unorthodox AI-rebellion that doesn’t end the way these things usually do. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer, and she had been able to talk about more of the chain of robots as they come around to a new way of thinking.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “A Series of Steaks” is a fantastic, wildly-inventive story about a caper involving some forged meat (it make sense in context) that manages to include the best parts of stories about rakish folk practicing their delicate, expert craft on the outside of the law. Its title is also, as previously mentioned, a Spoon reference.

K.M. Sparza’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” is another in the “not long enough” category – I would definitely and happily read a much longer story set in a world where vampirism is bureaucratized and a part of regular living. Especially if it had somewhat less graphic sex in it.

But of course, they all fall before the bulldozer might of Sarah Pinsker’s “Wind Will Rove,” which is probably one of my favorite stories ever written at any length. A folk musician on a generation ship tries to grapple with questions of why we need to remember things, and how difficult it is to remember things, and what it means to hold things in a cultural memory. It’s so good, guys. I cannot say enough good things about it. If you only read one thing that was nominated for a Hugo this year, it should be this one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Pinsker, “Wind Will Rove”

Best Novella

Martha Wells’s All Systems Red was a fantastic introduction to the deeply-lovable Murderbot, but it also kind of suffers by being all introduction. There’s a story there, but it left me wishing we’d spent more time with the character, and less time on the intrigue that the plot centers around. It’s not as major a complaint as it sounds, though.

“And Then There Were (N-One)” proves that there is something that Sarah Pinsker can do that I won’t be head-over-heels in love with: a murder mystery. It’s fine, and it wins points for its fantastic, original idea, and anyone whose hometownism is enough to compel them to write a story like this one is aces in my book, but the story is somewhat sub-aces.

Nnedi Okarafor’s Binti: Home is a fine piece of work, and I like the Binti books especially, but it also has a bit of a middle-book problem 21. Getting Okwu on Earth and starting to find out about the night masquerade, and Binti’s origins, is fantastic, and I can’t wait to see where it goes, but it feels less like a complete installment and more like part of the greater work (which it is).

JY Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven also doesn’t quite feel like a whole work, although it’s pretty explicitly also only half the story. I really do love the main character a lot, though, and for its part it’s not a let-down or anything. It definitely left me wanting to read the rest of it.

 

Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones is my favorite of the Wayward Children books so far published, and is also a fantastic stand-alone book. There are a lot of great works on this list about self-determination, and what the expectations of others and what we owe them, and this might actually be the best of them. It’s certainly a mighty story, and carries a lot as it goes along.

Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth is still a cracking great adventure story that manages not only to be a western that doesn’t fill me with dismay 22, but also the best story about hippos I’ve ever read. It does an excellent job with its characters, it lays its plot down effectively (and it doesn’t even telegraph its twists!), and it’s as much fun to read as anything else I’ve read all year. I hope these books continue on forever, is what I’m saying here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth

Best Novel

John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire is an above-average Scalzi effort. It takes place at what appears to be the end of an empire. When I read it I didn’t realize there would be sequels, and I sort of liked the openness of the ending, but it appears that I was wrong about the openness, and I feel like maybe it suffers a little bit for my mistake. It doesn’t make the book worse, it just changes the way I feel about it.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is his best work in years 23, and its look at a near-future, and the way people will find their way through to survive, is uplifting and downright joyful. Also, since I’m trying to keep this all as spoiler-light as possible, corner me sometime and we can talk about that ending.

Ann Leckie’s Provenance was a much more lighthearted look at a different part of the same universe as the Imperial Raadch books 24. It’s yet another murder mystery, but it never really feels like one, as it is more about the politicking and maneuvering in the world itself than it is about the murder as such. It’s a compelling book, but of the ones here the one I’m least likely to go back to.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Stratagem is a little more comprehensible than it’s excellent predecessor, and it has a much stronger ending. It muddles a little bit through the middle as it arranges the pieces so they can be in place for the finale 25. It definitely left me deeply excited about the end of it, but is a much more complete middle book than it might have been.

Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes is the other (sort of) murder mystery in this category. It was another one that was fun 26, but not a whole lot else. I thought highly of the nearly-absurdist level of coincidence that the ending required, and I wonder how I’d feel about it after another trip through the book.

And finally we come to N.K. Jemisen’s The Stone Sky, the conclusion of the Broken Earth trilogy, itself possibly the finest work of science fiction of the last several years. She’s already won back-to-back Hugos for the first two, and there seems to be almost no way that the third one – which is the best of them – wouldn’t be worthy. I definitely think it’s the best book here by a fairly wide margin, and I can’t really imagine it going to anyone else.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: N.K. Jemisen, The Stone Sky


  1.  the attendee became “erstwhile” as a result of this exchange, in fact. 
  2.  this list is incomplete not because of any particular editorial stance on them, but rather because I can’t find the definitive source for some of them and also because this doesn’t need to be a full list, the idea is: they shit the bed real bad. 
  3.  who is set to win her third Hugo for best novel in a row at Worldcon this year. 
  4.  a writeup of the events, which includes the El-Mohtar tweets and some other information, can be found here. 
  5.  or galling/frustrating/annoying/infuriating/misguided/wrong-headed/silly/dismaying/you know what there’s a lot of adjectives that this could be, depending on who you are reading it. 
  6.  in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read it yet, but I will soon. 
  7.  She writes grown-up fiction under her grown-up name, Ursual Vernon 
  8.  Although, in the interest of fairness, Pullman is never my dude. There are occasionally people that become wildly beloved, even by people whose opinions I respect and admire, that miss me entirely. Pullman is one of those. I genuinely don’t get it.  
  9.  Which appears to be Brennan’s classic style, unfortunately. 
  10.  This was a good quality of her Lynburn books, also. 
  11.  Well, probably especially Faith from The Lie Tree. 
  12.  Tentacle demons! Possession! Sassy cats! Other, more mystical cats! Fairies! Secret orders! Hidden societies! Living legends! 
  13.  While it doesn’t reach quite the dizzying heights of Saga it also manages to ground itself better and rely less on whiz-bang craziness. 
  14.  she is, to be sure, significantly more clear-eyed and funny than I would have been able to be about it. 
  15.  although it is worth noting that both at the end of the book and in the bibliography, Kincaid lists some scholarly works aimed at Banks’s writing. 
  16.  this is all but the term of art for the anecdotes that accumulated around Ellison wherever he went.\ 
  17.  although the most perverse part of me wishes it had been written by Christopher Priest. 
  18.  a feeling that is compounded by the fact that the blog posts here published have also been pulled from her blog, so the only way to read them is to acquire this book. 
  19.  as it was during the Nebulas, you may remember.
     
  20.  the villain/antihero/mastermind/sort of of the Machineries of Empire series, which was recently concluded. 
  21.  I suppose I’m probably giving the impression, between this and All Systems Red, that I only like final books? I mean, that might be true. I’ve never considered it. It is the case that I’m liable to feel differently about each installment when the actual series is ended – it happened with the Broken Earth books, which I’ll get to in a minute. 
  22.  which is no small feat. I have a lot of negative things to say about Westerns, and maybe someday I’ll even say them! 
  23.  and I liked Aurora an awful lot also 
  24.  in fact, the funniest bits come from the Raadchi ambassador, which we see through the eyes of characters who live outside the Raadch. 
  25.  See what I mean? I’m just a malcontent about this stuff. 
  26.  longtime readers may remember that the reason I didn’t used to cover the Hugos actually had nothing to do with social justice or anything like that, it was because they choose the “easiest” and most crowd-pleasing books at the expense of the actually-good ones. This sort of happens perennially, but I got over it when they (the nominators) appeared to grow an editorial spine and make a stand about what kind of science fiction they wanted to promulgate. That may not last, obviously.  

The 2018 Teen Choice Awards

Boy, there just isn’t much to say about the Teen Choice Awards, is there? They make a good warm-up for the coming late summer/early fall awards crowd. This year they’re given some interesting friction by being, of course, financially tied to Fox and their associated properties, which have recently just been purchased by Disney, and therefore in the next couple of years will represent an entirely different set of business concerns.

I’d say it would be interesting to watch what happens in light of all that, but that might be elevating the situation somewhat.

Choice Fandom

On the one hand, it’s impressive enugh that Taylor Swift’s fans continue to be out there supporting her in spite of her terrible PR and her disastrous album reception. On the other hand, BTS’s fans continue to make an international sensation not only out of a Korean boy band, but, by extension, a whole bunch of Korean boy bands which is even more impressive.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: BTS, BTS Army

Choice Model

Adwoa Aboah is neither a famous person’s child nor the child of literal royalty. This sets me more on her side than any of the other people, and thus she is the winner. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Adwoa Aboah

Choice Video Game

Zelda: Breath of the Wild is great, but I’ve never had a panic attack in Super Mario Odyssey trying to figure out if it was time to use that particular sword (and have it break) or not.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Super Mario Odyssey

Choice Dancer

I like tWitch, but I guess I was not aware that he spells his name that way. So this goes to Jenna Dewan, who can have an $800 bespoke surfboard to help her get over her divorce or whatever.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jenna Dewan

Choice Comedian

There is no way that living actual teenagers have any use for most of these comedians, right? Kids these days aren’t, like, super into late night shows? Or daytime talk shows? Or whatever? Anyway, that leaves Lilly Singh, Kevin Hart, and The Dolan Twins

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kevin Hart

Choice Female Athlete

Please note that one of these athletes is, in fact, a team of athletes. That’s not fair.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Serena Williams

Choice Male Athlete

Oh please.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: LeBron James

Choice Male Hottie

The male hotties are way more hottie-ish than the female hotties, I’ll tell you that for free.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Hemsworth

Choice Female Hottie

Selena Gomez is the oldest of these women, and thus the one I am most comfortable thinking of in terms of “hottie”. I would also spell “hottie” with a “y”, but I guess that bird has flown.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Selena Gomez

Choice Style Icon

I don’t mean to belabor the point here, but why does Meghan, Duchess of Sussex get to be a style icon and not a hottie? THIS IS ANTI-ROYALIST SENTIMENT, FOX.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (that’s how she’s listed on the website)

Choice Muser

Year after year, I forget to care about Muse, and year after year I spent ten seconds ruing that decision while I find myself with nothing to say about this category of this awards show. Tune in next year, where we may be surprised to find out if Muse has somehow lived another year when so many others have fallen!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Uh….Mackenzie Ziegler is the only one of these who has her own Wikipedia page, so it’s her?

Choice YouTuber

Well, the best thing a YouTubercan be is funny, and I’ve already decided that my editorial position is that Lilly Singh is funnier than The Dolan Twins, so I guess this one is already decided. Way to go, past me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lilly SIngh

Choice Snapchatter

I don’t know anything at all about Snapchat. Like, at all. But Ariana Grande is the only one of these people that’s ever made me laugh, and her Snapchat probably now includes Pete Davidson, so it’s the best one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariana Grande

Choice Instagrammer

Some perusing (I do research, guys. Research) shows that Dwayne Johnson is the only person whose instagram doesn’t make me wish for him to come to bodily harm.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dwayne Johnson

Choice Twit

Hey! I like all of these people on Twitter! Good job this one time (and only this one), Teen Choice Awards!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kumail Nanjiani

Choice Fashion/Beauty Web Star

I don’t know how Shay Mitchell’s career has put her in this position, and I don’t want to think about it any further. James Charles was the first male Cover Girl spokesperson, so that’s good enough for me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: James Charles

Choice Music Web Star

I guess it’s Chole x Halle, by the time-honored rubric of “I, an Old Person, have heard of them.” I understand this is the worst rubric. I get it. I’m sorry to all of you.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chloe x Halle

Choice Comedy Web Star

Lele Pons is funnier than Lilly Singh. Thus is it decided.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lele Pons

Choice Male Web Star

Eh. I kind of like Tyler Oakley. The rest of this is pretty much a dumpster fire.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tyler Oakley

Choice Female Web Star

I can’t give another one of these to Lele Pons without mentioning that I miss Vine (where she did her best work) so hard, guys. I miss it every day.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lele Pons

Choice Summer Tour

As usual, I judge these by how likely I would be to go to any of them. I’d like to think that I’d be likely to go see the Jay-Z & Beyonce tour, but they were just in Cleveland and  I literally didn’t. So I guess it’s TDE.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Top Dawg Entertainment – The Championship Tour

Choice Summer Group

I don’t want to spend my precious time on this Earth thinking about any of these groups, so what do you say we just give to the one with “Summer” right there in their name?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: 5 Seconds of Summer

Choice Summer Male Artist

None of these moaning weirdos are very summery? I mean, it seems like none of these people make particularly summery music. Liam Payne, I guess? Maybe?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Liam Payne, under the circumstances.

Choice Summer Female Artist

This category, on the other hand, is nothing but summer folks. Of course, the only one that makes music worth listening to is Cardi B, but hey, it’s a start.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B

Choice Summer Song

I kind of like this Liam Payne song (which is why he won above), but that’s also largely because of J. Balvin. Still and all, got to move through these quickly.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Liam Payne & J. Balvin, “Familiar”

Choice Rock/Alternative Song

I swear to kevin, this category gets worse every single year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alice Merton, “No Roots”

Choice R&B/Hip-Hop Song

“This is America” definitely had the best video (about which you can hear more next week, because SUMMER AWARDS SEASON, Y’ALL), but was not a particularly good song divorced from said video. So that leaves us with “All the Stars.”

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar & SZA, “All the Stars”

Choice Latin Song

Earlier I liked “Familiar” best, but it turns out it’s not even the best J. Balvin song in this category. And so it goes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: J. Balvin & Willy William, “Mi Gente”

Choice Electronic/Dance Song

Man, say what you will about the genre/combination of similar genres that yielded this category, they found the formula. Listening to all of these in a row is a real interesting “theme and variations” effect. I recommend it. Not that any of them are good, but hey, we’re past that point.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Marshmello & Ann-Marie, “Friends”

Choice Country Song

God help me, the best of these songs is the Carrie Underwood song. What is the world coming to?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty”

Choice Pop Song

I know that it’s the “complain about the nominees” section of the thing, but the music selections here are particularly terrible, with this category especially seeming very, very much like what an old person thinks teenagers are into. Or “teens” as the title would have it. Anyway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: It is, unfortunately, Keala Settle, “This is Me”

Choice Collaboration

“Pray For Me” barely passes muster as a The Weeknd song, and certainly doesn’t rate very highly as a Kendrick song, and is still the best of the things in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar, “Pray for Me”

Choice Song: Group

I like the idea of Why Don’t We. Just take the “best” parts of a bunch of also-ran boy bands and try to Frankenstein them together (as in, behave like the scientist Frankenstein by combining dead parts into a would-be living thing, not the monster, who is not named Frankenstein. Thank you in advance for not “correcting” me), and see what happens! I mean, the music is terrible and the whole approach insulting, but I can’t help but admire the moxy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Why Don’t We, “Trust Fund Baby”

Choice Song: Female Artist

Despite the fact that Young Thug is not a female artist, the best of these songs is “Havana”. I hate having to break my own rules like this, but I don’t find myself with a bunch of other options. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Camila Cabella, “Havana” (f Young Thug)

Choice Song: Male Artist

It’s fortunate we’re still working songs from DAMN. through the awards cycle, otherwise I’d have to take back all the stuff I said about “This is America” a minute ago.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “LOVE” (f Zacari)

Choice International Artist

Three of these are South Korean boy bands, including the titans of the form BTS. One is a South Korean girl band, with the fantastic name Black Pink, and the fifth is a Mexican boy band. I feel like I am completely unable to evaluate any of this.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Black Pink. It’s a great name

Choice Next Big Thing

I feel like if I got the next big things and the breakout artists lined up just right then we’d have an idea of where a sort of “famous pop person” Rubicon was, and that would be a useful tool for humanity.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jackson Wang

Choice Breakout Artist

How many times is Logic going to have to “Break Out” before we, as an awards-granting public, admit that the dude is well and truly broken out? HOW MANY TIMES, FOX?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Logic (?!)

Choice Rock Artist

I have said before, and I will say again: if Twenty One Pilots had happened when I was a young person, I would 100% have gone for their thing. I mean, I don’t now, but I can see where it would have landed, and I can appreciate that they’re out there doing it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Twenty One Pilots

Choice R&B/Hip-Hop Artist

I feel like, despite their repeated insistence that there is nothing between them, the choice of Cardi B vs. Nicki Minaj says a lot about a person. They both make enjoyable music, but everything else about their…thing is superficially similar but fundamentally opposite. I should write some more about this some time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nicki Minaj

Choice Latin Artist

I think I’ve made it pretty clear wher I come down here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: J. Balvin

Choice Electronic/Dance Artist

So the problem all up and down here is that there are a billion permutations on the categories, and only a tiny handful of people up for nomination, so here you have basically the same category yet again. It’s a terrible way to run a railroad, and I have no idea what the advantage to having such a relatively-small pool of nominees is. On its face it’s to maximize the exposure to things that Fox has a business interest in (this will come up again during the movies categories), but I would think that still would leave some more options here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Calvin Harris, I guess.

Choice Country Artist

Are these people mad at Kacey Musgraves? I mean, leaving aside any of the other better practitioners of the form, are they mad at Kacey Musgraves? It seems like they’re mad at Kacey Musgraves, is what I’m saying.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I mean….Kacey Musgraves? She’s not even nominated though. She should be. She’s the rightful winner. Somebody get the Teen Choice Awards people on the phone.

Choice Music Group

Choice Country Music Group! Choice Summer Music Group! Choice Male Music Group! Choice Hottie Music Group! Choice Action Music Group! Choice Electronic Music Group!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Migos

Choice Female Artist

Once again, the only one of these artists that made more than one song in the last year that is actively better than having a hole drilled in your head is Cardi B.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B

Choice Male Artist

If my point has not been made, and my joy at leaving the music categories behind not made plain, this category comes down to two former members of One Direction, neither of whom was one of the Good Ones.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Niall Horan

Choice Hissy Fit

You know, despite all of my misgivings about Jack Black playing a teenage girl, and how that would be handled, I genuinely enjoyed it, and most of all I liked his hissy fit. Good job, dude.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jack Black, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Choice Liplock

JUGHEAD. IS. ASEXUAL.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chadwick Boseman & Lupita Nyong’o, Black Panther

Choice Scene Stealer

It’s hard to beat Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in terms of pure scene-stealingness. That didn’t stop Taika Waititi from doing so in the same movie, but, y’know, it was probably hard.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok

Choice TV Ship

JUGHEADISASEXUAL.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Stephen Amell & Emily Bett Rickards, Arrow

Choice Summer TV Sta

I know this isn’t quite the place for this kind of rumination, but I don’t know when or if I’ll have a closer-to-appropriate chance, since this isn’t the sort of thing that warrants its own post: Cloak and Dagger was a seriously-weird comic book, and just about the last thing that I would’ve expected to be adapted into a television series, y’know? It’s just deeply surreal that it even happened in the first place. The things that people try to bring back from the nineties continue to be truly bizarre to me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Eh, what the hell, Olivia Holt, Cloak and Dagger

Choice Summer TV Show

I mean, I guess it would’ve been slightly more appropriate in this category than the other one, I guess?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: So You Think You Can Dance

Choice Breakout TV Star

I think Oliver Stark deserves praise not only for being just fine on 9-1-1, but also for making it into the cast of a Ryan Murphy show without looking like every other dude in a Ryan Murphy show (although so did Peter Krause, so maybe the 9-1-1 casting directive is something slightly different).

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Oliver Stark

Choice Breakout TV Show

To be honest, 9-1-1 is the only one of these I’ve spent any real significant time with, but I’m so charmed by the utter baffling thoughtlessness of a grim ‘n’ gritty reboot of Anne of Double Gs that I can’t help but think Anne With an E is a real winner here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anne With an E

Choice TV Villain

On the one hand, I did not like the second season of Stranger Things. To boot: their mind flayer was not actually the nightmare-inducing horror of an actual Dungeons & Dragons mind flayer. The name, however, is still plenty scary. And monsters are better villains than non-monsters, generally.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Mind Flayer, Stranger Things

Choice TV Personality

I want to qualify this: I think that DJ Khaled is, on the whole, a negative presence in the world, if only because he’s so willing to be a one-note caricature of himself. But The Four, which I could and might write at length about the utterly insane existence of, is also terrible, and over the course of its run (especially its second season), DJ Khaled showed the cracks in his caricaturing and was, at several points, legitimately entertaining as a grown-ass man who has to play this character under those circumstances. He was legitimately funny, especially as he got more bored. So it’s DJ Khaled, but only under these very highly-qualified circumstances.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: DJ Khaled

Choice Throwback TV Show

We can agree that on a largely-useless awards show with a lot of largely-useless categories, this one kind of takes the cake, right? I think we can agree on that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Uh…..I guess I think That 70s Show is the best of these?

Choice Reality TV Show

So, as hinted at earlier, despite the fact that all of these shows are terrible (pour ome out for the last couple of seasons of Masterchef: Junior, guys, it used to be a good show), there is a really captivating trainwreck quality to The Four that I can’t really put it into words. It is somehow a reality show that isn’t even pretending that the whole thing is under the control of a handful of producers who are very carefully managing the artists in question, and choosing to expose them in a very specific way. Anyway. It’s crazy how much the machinations of the show are just out in the open, is what I’m saying, and that makes it more interesting to watch than it would be otherwise. More interesting than The Voice, certainly. Also, it is worth noting that American Idol isn’t here at all, because Fox gave that one up (although that does not stop Andy Samberg from appearing in the “Choice Comedy Actor” category). So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Four: Battle for Stardom

Choice Animated TV Show

Man, kids these days. They get the best damn cartoons.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rick and Morty

Choice Comedy TV Actress

Kristen Bell is the lead of the best show on the air, so she is the one here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kristen Bell, The Good Place

Choice Comedy TV Actor

So, despite the fact that The Good Place is the best show on the air, I notice that Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper and, most especially (and most criminally) Manny Jacinto are not in this category. That is terrible, and they should not be terrible.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine Nine

Choice Comedy TV Show

The Good Place is the best show on the air, so it is the one here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Good Place

Choice Action TV Actress

I continue to be impressed that the Supergirl folks found Melissa Benoist, and it continues to be her that I think should win these categories.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Melissa Benoist, Supergirl

Choice Action TV Actor

I can’t always explain my affection for Lucas Till. I always like him. Hell, I liked Monster Trucks. I don’t much like MacGyver, but for whatever reason have decided this is not his fault.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lucas Till, MacGyver

Choice Action TV Show

My praise for individual acting preferences aside, this is all pretty awful. I mean, I get why people like some of it, so we’re at least in a significantly better class of “awful” than the music categories, but still: awful.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Arrow

Choice Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Actress

iZombie isn’t the show it started as, that’s for sure, but Rose McIver still does a bang-up job meeting a pretty rigorous set of acting challenges, so why not?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rose McIver, iZombie

Choice Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Actor

I’m not so heartless that I can’t still throw my lot in behind Gaten Matarazzo.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gaten Matarazzo, Stranger Things

Choice Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Show

I guess it’s iZombie? I think The 100 is also fine. I don’t know guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: iZombie?

Choice Drama TV Actress

Did you guys know that The Fosters (a show I only really heard about because it was being cancelled) had run for five goddamn seasons? I guess they weren’t telling old people about that one. Anyway, I like Camila Mendes just fine I suppose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Camila Mendes, Riverdale

Choice Drama TV Actor

Hey I don’t have to say the thing about Jughead again! At least this category isn’t a romance category. Assholes. Oh also, there’s no way that people think Freddie Highmore is a good actor, right? Like, it’s because they like the show, not because they like him?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

Choice Drama TV Show

I appreciate the people at Fox’s valiant attempt to pretend that Famous in Love is beloved by anyone, let alone young people. I think that sort of delusional attitude is necessary in the television industry.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Fosters

Choice Movie Ship

I’m pretty sure that announcing Sopia Lillis & Jeremy Ray Taylor as a ship is a minor spoiler for the second movie in the series (where the two do end up together), but hey, I’ll go with it.\

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sophia Lillis & Jeremy Ray Taylor, It

Choice Summer Movie Actress

Zazie Beetz is all things wonderful. She managed to make Domino seem like a character worth having in a movie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zazie Beetz, Domino

Choice Summer Movie Actor

Whatever Solo’s flaws were, whatever effect it may have had on the long-term Star Wars plans of Disney, whatever may have contributed to this on or off screen, none of those things are Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando Calrissian. Also, I can’t say that I did entirely on purpose, but I’m pretty happy that, even in an awards show with no Atlanta, the best people are still the cast of Atlanta.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Donald Glover, Solo

Choice Summer Movie

You know how I had a bunch of stuff to say round about the last Jurassic World movie about how it worked well as meta-fiction and not at all as fiction, but I liked it anyway? I don’t really have any of that stuff to say this time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Incredibles 2

Choice Breakout Movie Star

I say this not as a contrarian, but as a simply opinion-farmer with many opinions about Star Wars: Kelly Marie Tran, and Rose Tico, are the best part of the movie (and their key scene on Canto Bight), and without them the movie’s theme and entire purpose would have been missing. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kelly Marie Tran, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Choice Movie Villain

“Ah,” thought I, “this one is easy. Nothing will top Cate Blanchett in Thor:Ragnarok” and then I remembered: Michael B. Jordan walks this Earth.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

Choice Comedy Movie Actress

Several of these women are capable of being funny. The only one of them that was at all funny in the thing they were nominated for was Karen Gillan. I’m beginning to suspect that maybe me and the Teen Choice Awards people do not like any of the same things, guys!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Karen Gillan, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Choice Comedy Movie Actor

As mentioned earlier, I had some misgivings about Jack Black’s character in Jumanji, but he did  a good job, and I’m comfortable calling him the funniest part of the movie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jack Black, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Choice Comedy Movie

I am really coming out for Jumanji here. It’s not because I loved it, it’s because I don’t even remotely like any of the rest of these things.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Choice Drama Movie Actress

Well, Fox’s business associations have finally yielded something worth awarding. I suppose I don’t actually have that much to say about Lady Bird, which is going to make the next few categories rather quite and repetitive. Like the comedy movie categories only with more suburban ennui.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Choice Drama Movie Actor

Especially in the acting categories here it seems like Lady Bird is the only actual performance-driven movie here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Timothee Chalamet, Lady Bird

Choice Drama Movie

Oh wait, A Quiet Place made this category and not the other ones? What the hell, Fox!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A Quiet Place

Choice Fantasy Movie Actress

Pretty hard not to go the obvious route here. RIP, Princess Leia.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Carrie Fisher, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Choice Fantasy Movie Actor

I mean, Luke Skywalker’s ending was as good as any character’s ending in anything.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mark Hamill, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Choice Fantasy Movie

I choose to make no secret of the fact that I unreservedly love The Last Jedi, even if I am writing on the internet for all to say. Love it. Love it from tip to tail. Super excited ot see what Rian Johnson does with it after JJ Abrams is finished.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Choice Sci-Fi Movie Actress

I’m not opposed to it being one of the many people here nominated from Black Panther, obviously, but Tessa Thompson was still better.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tessa Thompson, Thor: Ragnarok

Choice Sci-Fi Movie Actor

Chadwick Boseman was so good that I don’t think the rightful winner is Ryan Gosling!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther

Choice Sci-Fi Movie

Boy, Black Panther vs Thor: Ragnarok is a real debate for the ages. If I could’ve gotten half this many good things (i.e. one. Half of two is one.) in most of these categories I’d be a lot happier with all of this. But in the end, my heart belongs with thing that is the most weird and the most funny. And I always liked Thor better than Black Panther as comics anyway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Thor: Ragnarok

Choice Action Movie Actress

There are lots of things to be said for both Gal Gadot and Amy Adams’s respective jobs in Justice League. But, y’know, the movie itself is terrible. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zoe Saldana, Avengers: Infinity War

Choice Action Movie Actor

I continue to think that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is the best of all possible Spider-Mans.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tom Holland, Avengers: Infinity War

Choice Action Movie

You know, one of these years I really am going to put some effort into figuring out what the genre distinctions for superhero movies here are. I guess Thor: Ragnarok is science fiction (and somehow not fantasy) because it takes place in space? Which makes it weireder that Star Wars is in the fantasy part? I don’t know how any of this works, guys. Avengers: Infinity War has robots, spaceships, lazorz, all of it. I mean, it is also an action movie. And a good one!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Avengers: Infinity War

 

The Great American Read, Part 2

Folks, The Great American Read is happening. PBS made us a list, based on the nominates of the people, and now we, the people, are meant to figure out which one of them is the best by the method of “voting for a book every day”.

 

Obviously, this is catnip to the person who writes these things (me) – this is my three favorite things (weird polls, popularity contests, and books) thrown together and then broadcast on PBS. I’ve been holding off on writing it for awhile, but I can wait no longer. You all simply must know where I stand. The first fifty were last week, and here is the last fifty. You’re welcome.

Gary Paulsen – Hatchet (series)

WHY IT WILL WIN: Its story of ingenuity in the face of impossible odds is pretty comforting, and it’s downright fascinating to read a story about a person surviving a plane crash with nothing but a hatchet at the beginning.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: I suspect, although I haven’t read it in a long time (having read it a hundred times when I was in grade school), that it isn’t actually very good.

Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

WHY IT WILL WIN: A highly-touted indictment of colonialism and the effect that dehumanizing others has on the soul is a book that’s just brainy enough to win over the brainy folks and just satisfyingly page-turner-y to win over the page-turner-y folks.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: I mean, it has the right thing to say about a couple of things, and the wrong thing to say about  a hundred more, but full points for trying, y’know?

Kathryn Stockett – The Help

WHY IT WILL WIN: Because it is wise. It is kind. It is important.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because it’s not very good, and because you can’t actually see Jessica Chastain if you’re looking at the pages of a book. This is obviously a major downside.

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s a wildly, cultishly beloved piece of comedy science fiction, and many of its adherents (including me) would not be the same person without it.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because either it speaks to you immediately and directly (in which case you’re likely to be one of the aforementioned cultists), or it really, really doesn’t, and I’m fairly certain that the latter outnumber the former.

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

WHY IT WILL WIN: Well, the first one appears to be the only one nominated here, so at least it’s not going to be dragged down by its sequels. That probably helps. And, y’know, people liked the movie and stuff.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s better than its sequels, but still not the best YA book here, nor the best dystopia, nor even the best YA dystopia. It can’t even win a category, let alone the list.

Tom Clancy – The Hunt for Red October

WHY IT WILL WIN: This book has everything. Buncha military-type dudes. Submarine. The cold war. All the stuff you, y’know, miss from books or whatever. Everything. All the things.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s a poorly-written book about a goddamn submarine.

Colson Whitehead – The Intuitionist

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s a really cool science-fictional look at an alternate New York with cool elevators and also integration issues. It’s, weirdly, not the most famous or best-regarded of Colson Whitehead’s works (The Underground Railroad won a Pulitzer, a Carnegie medal and the National Book Award), but it might be the most outright-entertaining.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: People are probably going to be baffled that it isn’t The Underground Railroad

Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s another unfortunately-timely look at race in America. It is perhaps the unfortunately-timely look at race in America.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: People are going to have read the HG Wells one instead.

Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre

WHY IT WILL WIN: Aren’t we all, at least a little bit, in some small way, a mad wife locked in the attic?

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Kate Bush never wrote a song about it.

Amy Tan – The Joy Luck Club

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s a semi-autobiographical (or whatever) account of Chinese-American daughters and their Chinese mothers, and a lovely immigrant’s story. It did big business and got turned into a movie when seemingly every story that got turned into a movie was about mothers and daughters.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: The book is more precious than it needs to be (it’s structured like a Mah-Jong game! They play a lot of Mah-Jong!), and makes itself seem more abstruse than it really is.

Michael Crichton – Jurassic Park

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s the best book (I would also accept arguments for Sphere) by a tremendously popular author, it was turned into a fantastic movie, and it has a pretty satisfying message about not giving over too much faith to money when it comes to science.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: The moral philosophy is more-or-less lost when people talk about it, and also the book itself has a lot of digressory lecturing about chaos theory in it. That seems like it’s a stumbling block. 

Tim LaHaye/Jerry B. Jenkins – Left Behind

WHY IT WILL WIN: Self-aggrandizing fantasias about being stuck in the end times and all of the Jesus folk being proven right do big business, and this one is also packaged as an adventure story!

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because these books are bugfuck crazy. There are clearly ideological factions that are voting things in here – see also Ayn Rand – but I’m pretty sure they’re not enough to carry this across the finish line.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery – The Little Prince

WHY IT WILL WIN: It would be the only book eligible to win almost entirely based on its illustrations.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Well, at least one voter was scared of that giant baobab tree so badly he never actually read the books. I bet there are a bunch of us.

Louisa May Alcott – Little Women

WHY IT WILL WIN: Because no matter what the eventually-mercenary intent of the books that follow in its author’s oeuvre, this one really does speak to the soul about the importance of finding your own way and all that.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because girls are icky. And they probably have cooties.

Larry McMurtry – Lonesome Dove

WHY IT WILL WIN: America loves a western, and this one is a western about the end of the old west, which for some reason makes me feel like people would love it more. A lyrical, tragic end to a time when America was its very America-est is the sort of thing that people could really go for.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because westerns are stupid, even if I am the only one who thinks so.

John Green – Looking for Alaska

WHY IT WILL WIN: Because the teenagers, they are so sad. So so sad. Teenagers of all ages, so sad. And to taste the tears of the so sad teenagers, it is the bliss!

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because the world was doing fine with the number of sad teenagers it already had, and also because it’s not even the best John Green book and I can’t believe this stupid fucking list has made me consider what I think the best John Green book is.

JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s the libre qua non of fantasy literature, the ur-fantasy novel, and the best hero’s journey that doesn’t involve a war in either the stars or Troy.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It might! I don’t know. It’s got a better chance than the rest of the fantasy novels here nominated. But it’s sort of still ghettoized to an extent, so maybe people would avoid voting for it out of respectability reasons.

Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones

WHY IT WILL WIN: There aren’t enough scary (or scary-adjacent) books on this list, and this one could pick up some votes by being genuinely pretty awful. Besides, it’s not a true crime novel, but it has the same sort of flavor, and that stuff goes great guns.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: I’m always surprised, given how odd and specific (and lovely!) Sebold’s writing is, that it took off with people at all, so I think it’s going to be barred from the top spot here.

Andy Weir – The Martian

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s an immensely-likable feel-good story about a guy who figures out solutions to the very toughest of problems. On Mars!

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s pretty much just got the one thing going for it: it’s funny, and it’s like a bunch of MacGyver episodes chained together. On Mars!

Arthur Golden – Memoirs of a Geisha

WHY IT WILL WIN: It is, if nothing else, an impressive parlor trick that Arthur Golden managed to write so convincingly as a lady, even if the lady that he was generally writing as was pretty pissed off about the way he told the story.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: I always thought it got the wrong sort of praise as it was, and as a piece of Orientalism it’s pretty awful, no matter how well-intentioned and well-executed.

Dave Hunt – Mind Invaders

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s a book about how the government is keeping us from being made telepaths by the helpful, friendly angels, written by a guy who thinks that psychology is the result of “pagan influence,” a thing that he also thinks is super-terrible. I think it seems like it would do pretty well among a certain set of people, y’know?

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s, like, so crazy. It’s not quite Left Behind-level unreadably crazy, but it’s absolutely, unrepentantly, irredeemably nuts.

Herman Melville – Moby Dick

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s more-or-less synonymous with the Great American Novel, and is a singularly incredible feat of literature.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It starts out the broadest of all comedies, ends as a Gothic cautionary tale, and in between covers about every genre possible, including “Documentary” as it runs through several chapters that are lists of fish and their attributes. It’s a bit wild and woolly to win a popularity contest, is what I’m saying here.

Nicholas Sparks – The Notebook

WHY IT WILL WIN: because the power of timeless love or whatever. Plus, it makes people think of Ryan Gosling. At least, that’s why I’d vote for it.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It was bad at the time, and it dates extremely poorly. Nicholas Sparks’ stock has fallen somewhat in recent years, so I suppose this book’s threat to win has fallen with it.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s the premiere work of magical realism, and one of the most rapturously-received pieces of literature ever to exist.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because people have rocks in their heads.

Diana Gabaldon – Outlander

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s the foremost time-travel novel on the list, and also it is, of course, porn. Or, as they’d call it where the book is set, “parn.”

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It is definitely bad time travel, and I’m given to believe that it is also bad romance, and not very good history either. So I’m not even sure how it got here.

SE Hinton – The Outsiders

WHY IT WILL WIN: It is hands-down the best book ever written by a teenage girl. COME AT ME, ANNE FRANK FANS.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s great, but it’s also extremely dated, and do people even go on about Paul Newman’s eyes anymore? They definitely should, no argument here, but do they?

Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray

WHY IT WILL WIN: See above w/r/t not enough scary novels. Also this one created such a fantastic and useful metaphor/narrative device that it entered the common language as a point of comparison even for people that haven’t read the book. Granted, lots of books have on this list have also done that, but I don’t like them as much, so there.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s compelling and wonderful, but at its heart it really is just a ripping-great jump-scare story. I’m refraining from using the term penny dreadful.

John Bunyan – The Pilgrim’s Progress

WHY IT WILL WIN: It was the #1 reason to learn the word “picaresque” before the Decemberists album of the same name came out, and it’s got some real uh….stuff to say about living a life clean in the sight of the lord or whatever.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Pilgrim goes and does a thing, and then he goes over there and does a thing, and then he goes another place and does a thing and along the way he learns to be good at stuff in the Christian sense of the word “good” and seriously I’m falling asleep just thinking about it.

Ken Follett – The Pillars of the Earth

WHY IT WILL WIN: It is a book readable and compelling enough to have made a thrilling best-seller out of architecture. Put another way: it is a book about how buildingers were designed six hundred years before it was written, and people loved it. Clearly it’s got something going for it.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Whatever it has going for it, I can’t identify it. It’s a book about building a church.

Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice

WHY IT WILL WIN: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a public television voter in possession of a bunch of opinions, must be in want of Pride and Prejudice.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: God, it probably will. Kill me.

Ernest Cline – Ready Player One

WHY IT WILL WIN: You can make it pretty far into the good graces of middle-aged white dudes by pandering directly to middle-aged white dudes.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Lots of people are not, in fact, middle-aged white dudes.

Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca

WHY IT WILL WIN: Aren’t we all, at least a little bit, in some small way, a deeply inferior second wife that will never live up to the original?

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because it was adapted into a movie that features heavily in the plot of the comic book The Maxx, and The Maxx is better, but we can’t vote for it (I tried, folks), so we have to protest this one out of a sense of real justice.

William P. Young – The Shack

WHY IT WILL WIN: I am really running out of ways to say “people love feel-good Jesus stuff,” guys.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because it’s terrible, and makes its bones on being feel-good Jesus stuff, not on its value as a book.

Hermann Hesse – Siddhartha

WHY IT WILL WIN: It really makes all the rest of the spiritualist works on this list look like a bunch of pamphlets by a bunch of pikers.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Well, it’s very spare, almost to the point of dryness, and whle “it is only through the sum total of all the things that happen that we can come to an understanding of what it means to be human” is a super-great guiding philosophy, it’s also not a super-popular or super-easy-to-love philosophy.

Kurt Vonnegut – The Sirens of Titan

WHY IT WILL WIN: A wiser man than me once said, “Always go with your ‘Gut.” And he was referring to Kurt Vonnegut. It’s the end of his name, see.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: I have no idea who made the call to choose this one (probably the same person that landed on The Intuitionist for Whitehead, above), but it is neither the best nor most well-known Vonnegut work. So it goes.

Stephen King – The Stand

WHY IT WILL WIN: Stephen King is a cottage industry, and The Stand is his single-book opus (the Dark Tower series is another story entirely. Although it’s not literally another story – they are connected by…oh, never mind). I mean, it’s got all the King-stuff, but it’s also got a wider scope and takes a bigger swing than the average King novel.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: That ending, though. Oh, also it’s so very very long, and that’s going to keep some people out. Especially given that ending.  And I like it. 

Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises

WHY IT WILL WIN: Hemingway’s spirited defense of his own cohort – the “Lost Generation” that wasn’t going to amount to anything except a bunch of ungrateful kids who didn’t know how good they have it after the real hard times of WWI – is especially resonant in this, a time when we are yelling about those ungrateful millenials.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because if its message is laudable, it also includes a bit about fishing in the middle (it’s in between the bit about people behaving poorly in Paris and the bit about the bulls at the end), which never bodes well.

Robert R. McCammon – Swan Song

WHY IT WILL WIN: Dystopias do well, and there are only like, three horror novels on this whole list, so it can get a bunch of the vote that way.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Well, there’s probably like three (there might be more than that, I haven’t counted guys) horror novels on this list because no one wants to vote for a horror novel to top the list.

Armistead Maupin – Tales of the City

WHY IT WILL WIN: Because it’s a long-running (the most recent volume in the series came out in 2014) set of novels, and it is, for its part, unique in terms of its tone and structure: it deals largely with current events, for example, because they’re all written very quickly. For people that prize the qualities of uniqueness and american-ness, it’s got all of that going on.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because its place here is clearly a publicity attempt to get people interested in the nineties miniseries, which was made by….THAT’S RIGHT, PBS. THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE.

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s a better story of self-actualization in the face of adversity than almost anyone else ever managed to write. As a piece of writing it’s a whipcrack – it’s fast, it’s hot, and it’s painful. It would also be liable to pick up a lot of support from the sort of people that think individuals matter more than groups, if that sort of person were at all likely to pick it up.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s a…thorny book in 2018. It requires a lot of discussion to get behind, generally speaking, and as such, it’s probably hard to vote for enthusiastically or without qualification.

Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart

WHY IT WILL WIN: It’s the strongest anti-colonialist text there is, which is hard not to like at least a little bit. It’s also a tremendously useful story about the role of the individual in a tidal wave of awful exterior influences from people in power.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Honestly, this is another one that I can’t think of a reason other than its relative lack of popularity. It’s got pretty much everything. I’ve voted for it just about as much as I’ve voted for any book (maybe 1984, Catch-22 and The Lord of the Rings have received more votes from me). I suppose if anything keeps it out it will be that it’s not as easy to read, and this is still a popularity contest.

Frank E. Peretti – This Present Darkness

WHY IT WILL WIN: Well, I suppose it could galvanize all those people who believe that meditation is actually just demon possession and that the only right thing to do is worship Jesus in the protestant fashion.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Because people could misread it as being by Jonah Peretti. And then they’d be too embarrassed by their mistake to vote for it.

Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

WHY IT WILL WIN: Because it’s an immaculately-written story about a good man who does good work under bad conditions.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Like many of the books on this list, it mostly works if you ignore the sequel, and that sequel really gummed up the works, y’know?

Stephanie Meyer – The Twilight Saga

WHY IT WILL WIN: Because this bunch clearly has quite a sense of humor. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It won’t win, guys.

Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace

WHY IT WILL WIN: It was the shorthand for “great novel” in Peanuts, and who doesn’t have at least one opinion that they got solely from Peanuts? Man, Peanuts was so great.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s long and Russian and long.

Dean Koontz – Watchers

WHY IT WILL WIN: See the above thing about scary books, but this time with the caveat that I’m pretty sure Koontz sold a bunch more copies, y’know?

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s actually not very good? I mean, everybody has their own feelings about stuff or whatever, but it’s pretty bad.

Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson – The Wheel of Time (series)

WHY IT WILL WIN: People that love this series love this series. Like, they love it a lot. They love it so much they would vote for it a bunch of times and it would get a whole bunch of votes. And there are more than a few of those people. So this one would win on the sheer zeal of its fans.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: Only the zealous have the perseverance to get through. As a case study: I did not read all of the volumes of this series that existed in 2001 when I stopped reading them, even though at the time I was a huge ol’ dork of a high-school student who had nothing to do but read books. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s hard to come at idly. That’s probably not going to help its numbers, y’know?

Wilson Rawls – Where the Red Fern Grows

WHY IT WILL WIN: The American public’s love for sobbing about a goddamn dog is, frankly, undeniable.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: When is the last time you thought about any aspect of this book other than the goddamn dog dying?

Zadie Smith – White Teeth

WHY IT WILL WIN: Well, the thing that I remember most vividly about White Teeth, other than the vivid characterization, was the way the plot came together ingeniously, and also that it’s quite funny. So one of those reasons probably.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: At least one major literary critic at the time (James Wood [not that one]) hated it enough to dismiss all of postmodernism as “hysterical realism”, so it’s definitely got its detractors even among the people who are tuned-in enough to have read it.

Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights

WHY IT WILL WIN: Kate Bush did write a song about it.

WHY IT WON’T WIN: It’s mostly just a general belief among the populous that heights definitely should not wuther, and if they do, it’s best not to write books about them.

The Best Records of July 2018

Busdriver – Electricity is on Our Side (An already-great rapper pumps the “jazz” dial up to eleven and makes his best record twenty years into his career)

Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (who knew that what they were missing were big sing-along parts and a lot more melody? It isn’t me. This is another “Best album of the career” entry here.)

Daniel Bachman – The Morning Star (There’s always been a fair bit of drone music in Bachman’s recordings, but this is most noise-like yet, and it’s for the better)

The Internet – Hive Mind (spending the last couple of years with everybody making solo records clearly allowed them to get something out, this is their most cohesive and band-like record yet)

Ovlov – Tru (When they broke up for the most recent time, they insisted it was forever. I’m glad they didn’t actually mean it. I’m also decided they got less frantic.)