Television Was Your Therapist in 2016

the-crown-netflix_opt.jpgIn a year that was sort of terrible for nearly everything else, television was never better. The future of American storytelling is alive and well–especially if you have Netflix, Amazon and HBO.  It’s mind-boggling how many great scripted television shows there are right now which means coming up with a list of just ten of my favorites was really fucking difficult. Especially, when you consider that tv shows were more than just average tv shows in 2016. They became sources of inspiration and light as well as entertainment. At least in my world they did. Like after a tragedy like Orlando, I was thrilled immerse myself in the spooky, 80’s soaked world of Stranger Things.  The latest season of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie saved my life during the crazy week after my grandmother died. To keep from jumping out of a window after the election, I was more than happy to spend 10 episodes in Buckingham palace with Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. Sure, I’ve always used television and pop culture of all kinds as a way to escape and also deal with reality but these shows were all really fantastic. I think great art of any kind transcends its medium and becomes something more important, like a service or a contribution and television felt like it did just that this year.

Naturally, this list is missing some titles that I really loved like One Mississippi, Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse, Orange is the New Black (renewed, fierce and shocking), Lady Dynamite, Love, both 2016 incarnations of RuPaul’s Drag Race and The Great British Baking Show. Also, there are brilliant shows like Fx’s Atlanta and TBS’ Search Party that I didn’t finish watching that didn’t make the list but they are certainly worth checking out.

So without further ado, here’s my list of the best shows of 2016 (in no particular order) that not just entertained me but made a difficult year a little bit easier.

The Crown: I can’t be positive but when I look back on 2016 I will always remember this show. Not just stunning to look at and incredibly well-acted, The Crown had profound things to say about the marginalizing of women in power, the isolation of celebrity and complicated family dynamics that all felt very 2016, even though it took place in the 1950’s.

Catastrophe: As we’ve discussed, I love this damn show. Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are gifts to the world of entertainment and this seemingly simple, underrated sitcom rolled up its sleeves and got messy this year with hilarious results. Plus it has my favorite season finale of anything I watched all year.

Transparent:  Like Catastrophe, I have written about this show before and if it continues to be this damn good I will write about it again. I have a theory about how many shows (Sex & the City, Six Feet Under, Parks and Rec, Top Chef) really find their stride and get better in their third season and this gorgeous, moving and very funny season of Transparent goes a long way in reinforcing my theory. Plus, no moment on any show this year was as amazing as Judith Light singing an Alanis Morissette cover.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: More is more when it comes to the jokes on this show and Tina Fey and company sling out the one liners at dizzying pace. Minute for minute, it’s the funniest show currently on tv and this season even had some unexpected heart and empowerment.

Silicon Valley: Another one that I find to be highly underrated, the super satisfying season three(theory proven once again, people!) of Silicon Valley finally delivered on long simmering plot points, trimmed the fat on dead-end jokes and storylines and really found its footing as the funniest, albeit most untraditional, workplace comedy of 2016.

Game of Thrones: I’ll pretty much tell anyone who will listen how much I hated the rambling, misogynistic piece of garbage that was season five of this show so color me delighted when GOT returned more badass, fast-moving and fun to watch than ever.

BoJack Horseman : Another show I’ve rambled about here before but it’s worth the ramble if gets one more person to watch this incredible show. Cynical, beautiful, crass and downright hysterical, who would have suspected that an animated show about a half horse half man would be the most human and biting show of 2016?

Chef’s Table: Unapologetically artsy and pretentious, Chef’s Table’s second season provided visual delights for days. You don’t have to be a foodie to revel in the beauty and artistry of chef’s around the world and their individual struggles to stay inspired.

Stranger Things: I’ll fight anyone who says this show is just capitalizing on 80’s nostalgia. It had great storytelling, creativity for days and in my mind, the best cast on television.

Westworld: Look, I’m sorry if it bored you in the first 5 episodes and it didn’t move fast enough for you. But I honestly, thought Westworlds’s slow-brew storytelling was a huge part of the appeal. It didn’t deliver the goods right away and it made us wait but when it did it was all worth it. And I’m on the edge of my seat to see where they take it next.

Now, it’s your turn tell me what you watched and loved in 2016 in the comments. Happy New Year!

 

Carrie On

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“Sometimes you can only find Heaven by slowly backing away from Hell.”  

-Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

In a Barnes & Noble in Glendale, CA, there she was. Carrie Fisher. No, not in person but in book form. It was her memoir Wishful Drinking. I was just a month or so sober, shopping with my mom and utterly miserable/confounded/fucked up. In times of crisis my mom and I often go to bookstores and libraries and getting sober and leaving a ten plus year relationship certainly qualified as a crisis. Like every newly sober person ever, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But I knew I needed her book. And I needed it badly.  I devoured her first novel Postcards from the Edge at age 15 and she instantly became a source of storytelling inspiration. Here was this actress, this princess I always wanted to be, writing her soul out; utterly truthful, hilarious and talking about really dark shit. It blew my mind as a teenager from an alcoholic home who still had problems even acknowledging the truth, much less telling the truth about anything. So in 2009 with my head up my ass, I knew I needed that book. I knew this because she had been there for me before and I knew I could count on her again.

The usual snickering and laughing like a crazy person by yourself that happens with a Carrie Fisher book ensued once I got my hands on Wishful Drinking. It came at the precise right time in my life, as books usually do. Dishy, sad, profound and really funny, it was the tonic required to deal with my life. But what didn’t I know then or even as a fifteen year old is that Carrie Fisher wasn’t just entertaining me. She was actually helping me figure how I could someday talk about my own really dark shit too.

But in that moment with a life in turmoil what Carrie Fisher was giving me was a good laugh. Wishful Drinking is so jam-packed with Carrie Fisherisms that it’s sort of like hanging out with an old friend who maybe overshares a little too much which could be exhausting in real life but makes for one hell of an entertaining read. There are literally hundreds of gems and nuggets of wisdom in that book especially for addicts and alcoholics but here’s a few of my favorites:

“I feel I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”

“Happy is one of the many things I’m likely to be over the course of a day and certainly over the course of a lifetime. But I think if you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life–more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time–well, among other things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic.”

“Anyway, at a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“And not that it matters, but my mother is not a lesbian! She’s just a really, really bad heterosexual.”

“Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything…I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?”

This gift, this memoir, this book picked up in a bookstore on a Sunday with my mom was the beginning of the long process of what I like to call “the light turning on.” For me it was never a simple flick of a switch but a billion positive messages, a million tears and thousands of laughs that eventually lead to the light being turned on. Wishful Drinking and Carrie Fisher were a part of that. I’m incredibly grateful that Carrie Fisher was the one to show me that the truth could be funny, fierce and freeing. And more than that it could help other people too.

When news of her death took over the internet yesterday, I realized instantly that I wasn’t the only one to have the light turned on by Carrie Fisher. My amazing editor Anna David wrote about it in Time. Sober friends tweeted about her impact all day long. And friends and relatives who knew how much she meant to me texted to offer their condolences. See, the thing is that even though Carrie Fisher and I never met, she was important. By following her example of learning how to laugh at the shitshow of my life, I’ve been able to recover. I’ve been able to get better and I’ve learned how to laugh at the other curve balls life has thrown my way in sobriety.

But now that Carrie is gone, it’s up to us. It’s up to us make one another laugh about really dark shit. It’s up to us to keep writing our truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us and the people around us. It’s up to us to speak out for people with addiction, alcoholism and mental illness. We get to carry this torch for one another and laugh together and what an incredible gift. I don’t treat it lightly and plan on doing my damnedest to continue her work.

I was given the writing note this fall that a piece of mine needed to be “funnier and sassier and Sean-like.” While I rose to that challenge and fired on all smart ass cyllanders, what this person was actually saying was, “Be more like Carrie Fisher.” And from here on out I will keep trying to do just that.

“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
― Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

 

 

all I need to know

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*Insert a profound quote about knowledge here.

I turned 44 years-old last week which is not remarkable in and of itself. In fact, it’s only remarkable because I no longer make my birthday an over the top 3 day long mandatory hostage situation from hell. Thankfully, this year it quietly passed like a well-dressed stranger who walks by me in a hall and whispers, “You’re old.” But I was thinking about all of the wisdom I’ve gained in my 44 years and all of the amazing tidbits I could pass on to younger folks. After all, I’m a chatty muthafucker. Certainly, I can come up with a couple thousand words of priceless advice gained in my four decades on this planet? Uh. Yeah. Turns out, I couldn’t really come up with anything.

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The more I’m around (which is a weird saying like the earth is a coffee shop that I’ve just been hanging out at for forty plus years– wait. Maybe it is?!?) the more I realize I don’t know anything. Not like anything “anything” like my brain has been wiped clean of all vital information. I still know the important stuff: my name, my address, my mother’s maiden name, all the original Charlie’s Angels chronological by appearance. But treasure troves of amassed wisdom collected through the years and just waiting to be doled out? Like I said I got nothing. Maybe I’m not wired in the “have life experiences and turn them into priceless chestnuts of knowledge” kind of way. Admittedly, the whole Life’s Little Instruction book, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Advice from Kindly Old White People isn’t really my style. I’m more of the “OMG. Something horrible happened that I probably caused but now it’s fucking hysterical and here’s why” kind of person. Besides, I actually think being in a place of “I Don’t Know” is a kind of a great thing.

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Like take this very moment in my life, for example. As I’ve mentioned, things have happened in my husband’s career that have us moving to Portland, Oregon. It’s a move I’m excited about and one with crazy timing right after my grandmother dying and a host of other weird cosmic shit that I could never come up with on my own (more from the I Don’t Know file) We were going to move in the spring. Then the location was fast tracked and we were told we were moving in January. I did all the stuff–told the day job, started collecting boxes, slowly saying goodbye to my beloved recovery family. A relocation of our lives right after the holidays while working a ton was going to be hard but I rolled up my sparkly sleeves and got busy. This was all moving along swimmingly until Thursday. Thursday afternoon we got news the move was now postponed again until March. Ugh. Intellectually, I know all of this is actually fine and I know the timing isn’t up to me and etcetera etcetera. But the I’m currently in a place of I have no clue what I’m doing or what’s going on. And this is okay.

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Not knowing the future. Not knowing when I’m moving. Not knowing the exact moves of my career and how everything will shake down until the day I die sounds a lot like faith or trusting the universe or whatever you need to call it so your spiritual panties don’t get all twisted up. Sure, if I want stuff and have goals I need to do the work. I have to show up and do a series of things (go to meetings, make phone calls, send emails I don’t want to send and ask over and over again for what I want) to help me get there. But things like how or what or when? Honeychild, that shit is not up to me.

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Getting into this glorious place of I Have No Damn Idea is actually pretty freeing. Without having my stomach twisted in knots about controlling things I can’t change (gee, I wonder where I came up with that idea?), I’m now free to focus on what I do know. What I do know is that it’s the holidays and I might as well enjoy them. I’m gonna bake and go to a holiday party and even host one of my own. I know that I’m getting paid to write a lot lately so I’ll do more that for sure. I know that I love the guy I married five years ago so I’ll hang out with him and our insane feline children as much as possible. I know there’s a ton of fantastic movies out right now so I’ll watch as many of those as I can. I know that moving and my career and even the insanely depressing political climate will all work out. Perhaps maybe not in the way I want it to or when I want it to but it’ll all come together.

Until then, I also know that there isn’t anything that a duet with Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville in a denim vest can’t fix.

beauty’s where you find it: the search for inspiration in uninspired times

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Here’s a puzzle for a cold and gray Friday: where the hell does inspiration come from? I call it a puzzle because at first glance, 2016 isn’t exactly a hotbed of inspiring moments and benchmark artistic achievements. When a reality star is our new president-elect and the most talked about musical performance of the year came from Corey Feldman, you wouldn’t be totally wrong for calling modern culture a trash heap of uninspired garbage. Still, as a creative person and a writer, inspiration is vital and my mission of seeking it out is never-ending.

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Modigliani. That’s always a good place for me to start. In specific, this particular Modigliani shown here which currently lives at the Norton Simon in Pasadena(my favorite Los Angeles museum and highly underrated in my expert museum trolling opinion.) This forlorn pregnant woman was Modigliani’s wife whom he painted a zillion times.  I remember staring at this photo back in 2010 with this guy I was dating (who later became my husband) and reading the little description printed next to it. It told the story of this woman, Jeanne Hébuterne, and how she jumped out a window killing herself and her unborn child the day after Modigliani died. I remember tearing up looking at this stunning woman and her pregnant belly. A painting nearly 100 years old absolutely devastated me with its profound beauty and tragic tale behind it. This moment in Pasadena with the guy I would marry has become my touchstone for inspiration. That creative people wield this type of power and potential to utterly rock the emotional core of those who come in contact with their work, suddenly hit me on that day. Sure, I’d been writing and making stuff my whole life, but my Modigliani moment cemented that the fight to stay inspired and keep pushing myself as a creative person was indeed a noble one.

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Next, the journey takes me to the present. Sure, finding inspiration among classic art is one thing but can it be found in current culture? My endless Twitter pop culture griping aside, I’m going to say yes. I am what you would call a mass consumer when it comes to pop culture. It’s a buffet and I load my plate up with whatever I can grab. Some of it is delicious. A lot of it isn’t great. But my theory is at least I’ve tried it. I’ve always been obsessed with “the new” which I’m sure at one point was born out of a desire to look cool in front of kids who I wanted to like me. Today, however, this obsession to see what’s next and what’s happening in the moment I think serves me pretty well as a creative person.

Honestly? I’ll watch, read or listen to anything that looks interesting. Like the other day, we took in a double feature in honor of my birthday. My perfect birthday at age 10 was going to the movies and eating cake. Funny how little has changed. We saw Moonlight (which I,like the rest of the world, loved) and we saw Arrival. The latter, a seemingly standard aliens and humans film was the one that really surprised me, however. The emotional content, the questions it asks about regret and the idea of being given the gift of language totally blew my brain open.  I found myself sobbing and feeling exhilarated when we left the theater. Another Modigliani moment but this time starring Amy Adams and a small popcorn. It caught me off guard and shattered my expectations, which is what most good art should do. Not to discount Moonlight at all, mind you. It’s a beautiful film which spurned a series of conversations over the next couple of days between me and Michael, another sign of good art. With a ton of writing to get done over the following days, this temporary escape to CinemaLand gave me much-needed fuel.

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Usually this quest takes me back to the here and now. The things around me: plants, animals, murals, art, weird neighbors, eavesdropped conversations, moments of tenderness amongst strangers –all of it gets shoved in the inspiration file. I can’t exactly get tickets in advance for this kind of stuff so the trick is to keep my eyes open and be alert. It does help that I’m an avid walker  and more often than not just stroll into these kinds of situations. Locations like the aforementioned museums or bookstores and libraries are more prone to be gateways to inspiration too.

Social media and the internet at large can be a never-ending fountain of inspiration too.  But it’s a double-edged sword as I’ve found just as much stuff online to depress the shit out of me as I have to inspire me. Thankfully, my online tribe is filled with some badass creative types. I recently turned over the question, “What’s currently inspiring you?” to these folks and the answers I got were, well inspiring. Everything from Little Women and Riot Girl LPs to animals and children to links to videos to discussions on how feelings like anger or depression might be the best sources of creativity of all. In crowdsourcing this question, I tapped into another source of inspiration: other artists and writers trudging through the work just like I am. These people I know and the million I don’t know are on the same quest as me and there’s something comforting about that.

This means I’m not alone and that I should keep going. I should keep watching, keep reading and keep saying yes.  Because in the words of Working Girl,“I read a lot of things. You never know where the big ideas could come from.”

But now it’s your turn: Are you one of those creative types who bubbles over all day long with inspiration always at your fingertips? Does inspiration soak in slowly through a steady stream of exposure to films, art, music and books? Or do you look back into the past or maybe even stay there until you’ve found what you’re looking for? Tell me about in the comments section and feel free to include videos, links and photos.