...when you hold hands with me, you are holding hands with everything I've ever eaten
Gene Belcher and the only year-end list that matters!
Between October 26th, 2021 and December 22nd, 2022 I’ve watched the entire Bob’s Burgers series almost 30 times.
It all started in Memphis, TN, as I was moving cross-country and looking for something familiar and comforting to put on in the background. That night in Memphis I started a routine that would last for 426 days: brush my teeth, pull down the covers, and dim the volume and screen brightness on my laptop while Bob’s Burgers lulled me to sleep.
I’d usually wake up sometime around 2AM and shut the laptop before dozing off again, but as time progressed I’d wake up for the day and Bob’s Burgers would still be playing. Sometimes I’d even stay in bed to watch another episode or two. And during periods of intense anxiety where I couldn’t sleep, I found that the simple act of letting Bob’s Burgers play in the background would knock me out faster than any medication I’ve ever tried.
In retrospect it’s not surprising that over the last year I’ve increasingly struggled with waking up in the morning, and by this past autumn was stumbling through my days in an irritable and exhausted haze. I had no idea what was causing it, but decided to see what wearing a fitness tracker with sleep monitoring to bed had to say about things.
Reader, I have been going without REM sleep for who knows how long. I mean zip, zero, zilch, nada. So for the first time in over a year I tried sleeping without Bob’s Burgers playing, and my sleep graph immediately approximated normal. Yes, N=1 and your results may vary, but I think my Bob’s Burgers marathons are through.
I still love Bob’s Burgers. It’s not pushing any boundaries with animation, but it does a delightful job in both character design and storytelling, and to me, stories are what it’s all about. Yes, I’m in school for animation, yes, I love to draw and paint and create, but it’s always, always in service to the story.
So with that I humbly present my “Best of 2022”, a list of the most memorable stories that I experienced for the first time this past year. There’s a mix of animation and live action, and the focus is all on visual media. There are at least a million spoilers, so proceed with caution.
Grave of the Fireflies
movie, available for purchase via retailers
Do you like getting repeatedly punched in the gut by the cruelty of the world? Well then have I got a movie for you!
Grave of the Fireflies is a masterpiece of both storytelling and animation, following the lives of siblings Setsuko and Seita after they are separated from their parents during the American bombing of Kobe in 1945. It’s as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, and will drive you to question your own faith in humanity.
television series, 2 seasons, on Hulu
If you’re not watching this show then you should be. There are very few shows I think every adult should watch, but this is one of them.
Following the lives of four best friends in rural Oklahoma, Reservation Dogs brilliantly captures that ineffable feeling of adolescence and the desire to escape your hometown for better things. The show is at once familiar and fresh, and balances tender moments with just enough levity to keep your heart from fully breaking.
Better Call Saul
television series, 6 seasons, Netflix
Better Call Saul is a love story for the ages. It’s dressed up as the origin story for sleazy Saul Goodman, everyone’s favorite lawyer from Breaking Bad, but that barely scratches the surface of this story. The way classic films have been tied in to the show not only as a means to give us character insights, but to also create a distinctly Jimmy and Kim classic film over the entire six season arc is a masterful piece of storytelling. I think about this show at least once a week.
FFXIV — Heavensward
video game from Square Enix, with a generous free trial
Despite my best efforts, none of my friends will play FFXIV with me, which means that I’ve born the emotional damage of this scene on my own. I get it, FFXIV is a hard sell because it starts off slowly with a lot of fetch quests and nothing really quite grabs you. I’ve started the game three or four times before it finally sunk its claws in me, and the Heavensward expansion has forever changed how I’ll view games as an interactive storytelling vehicle. Even if you’re new to MMOs it’s worth playing through the free trial to experience the Heavensward storyline.
television series, 1 season, Apple TV
I remember watching the first episode of Severance and chuckling along with this idea of physically altering your brain in order to separate your “work self” from your “personal self.” By the third episode I was horrified at the realization that this meant my “work self” would always be at work, never knowing a vacation, let alone a night off.
The set design and cinematography are immaculately executed, and the story is engrossing from start to finish. Things move at a pace that starts slowly and then imperceptibly begins to increase to the point of panicked discomfort, like a treadmill set slightly too fast to keep up with, leaving you with more questions than answers in the season cliffhanger.
television series, 3 seasons, HBO
Bill Hader is a phenom, and my only regret is that it’s taken me this long to realize it. Barry revolves around the idea of a hired hitman (Hader) wanting to leave the mercenary life behind and become an actor, and quickly swirls out into how this seemingly simple decision has uncontrollable implications for everyone else even remotely within Barry’s orbit.
Hader’s performance is stellar, and a true masterclass in acting. He moves fluidly from a bumbling stage actor just trying to learn his lines to a calm, confident, rage-filled killing machine with a grace and subtly that is absolutely terrifying.
Animation is a medium, not a genre, and nowhere is that better depicted than in Flee. Flee tells the intimate, heart-wrenching story of Amin Nawabi, a refugee from Afghanistan trying to build a new life Denmark. Animation is used to tell Nawabi’s story, both past and present, and is intercut with archival footage, adding dimension and gravitas to an already heavy story.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
There are people that will tell you this movie is over-hyped — those people are wrong. I am, of course, biased. I watched this movie at a low point in the year, and it pushed me to get uncomfortable and make difficult choices to put my life on a better trajectory. Your mileage may vary, but if you like weird and brilliant stories about love, family, and what might have been, then this one is for you.
Into the Spider-verse
Every few minutes of this movie I had to stop and remind myself that this was all done with 3D animation. Nowhere does it have that squishy plastic feeling of so many 3D animated films, instead embracing a unique (at least for Western 3D animation) approach to stylization that makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a comic book. The story is lovely, the characters well thought-out, but the star is the sheer beauty of the animation.
From Studio Ghibli, Only Yesterday is probably one of it’s least known films, and I adored it from start to finish. It’s a simple story, really, about an unmarried woman, Taeko, traveling to the countryside to stay with her sister’s extended family for the safflower harvest. Throughout the story Taeko daydreams about her adolescent self while simultaneously exploring the boundaries of what a life in rural Japan might look like.
As someone with a penchant for upending their life for fanciful and romantic reasons, I cannot overstate how much I loved this film.
television series, 1 season, HBO
No other show has caused me to lean in, whispering “what the fuck?” to my TV, quite like The Rehearsal has. I went in to this show completely blind, having never watched anything Nathan Fielder has done, and found myself questioning life, human relationships, and culture in deep and profound ways at the end of every episode.
The premise is that Nathan will help people rehearse for pivotal moments in their lives, ranging from difficult conversations to major life decisions. And by rehearse I mean they literally recreate the world that someone is living in, down to the most minute details. This show is absolutely mesmerizing, fascinating, and supremely uncomfortable.
television series, 1 season, Hulu
Yellowjackets tapped into my latent nostalgic desires and mined them for all they were worth, and I’m not mad about it. Set in two time periods, the 1990s and 2020s, the story alternates between a group of girls on a high-performing sports team in the 90s and their present day versions, living profoundly underwhelming lives in their 40s.
Think Lord of the Flies, but with incredibly talented young women and a banging soundtrack. I honestly don’t even know if this show is good so much as it immerses me into a far more intriguing childhood than the one I actually experienced, allowing me to try on what I would have done if my team’s airplane had crashed in the Canadian wilderness.
What television shows or movies moved you this year? Drop ‘em in the comments!
“Despite my best efforts, none of my friends will play FFXIV with me”
As soon as my rekindled affair with WOW is over I’m coming back.