Thanksgiving may be over, and Christmas is still a few weeks away, but those are not the only two days of the year when we should be celebrating the gifts for which we are thankful. This year pop culture gave us quite a lot of those, and I think it's time to call out some of my personal favorites. Some of these are expected if you've been following my writing for awhile, but there are a few that took even me by surprise.
Alison and Felix' Orphan Black friendship. BBC America's Orphan Black was a gift in and of itself, full of so many surprising moments and amazing acting instances, but the one that stuck out as a particularly fun gem was the friendship that evolved between the seemingly Martha Stewart-esque suburban Alison and Sarah's snarky artist pal Felix. Though opposites at first glance, he brought out her looser side, and she provided him with ample opportunity for one-liners. I need a pop-up of them on the bottom of every TV show, commenting on what's going on on-screen!
Suzanne and Sophia on Orange is the New Black. These are characters we have never seen before on television and probably never will again, and everything about them helped make this new Netflix series that much more unique. From the ever quotable "I threw my pie for you" to peeing outside Piper's bunk to seeing her revert to a childlike state around her adopted parents, Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) turned everything you might assume about a prisoner just from looking at them on its head. And Laverne Cox as Sophia introduced a very human side to a struggle many still don't quite understand: her story was much more about finding herself, rather than just the mistakes she made that landed her in the prison, and that opened the world and the story up significantly to ask its audience to reflect on their own senses of self, family, and sacrifices.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar going back to Malibu on Franklin & Bash. Sure, the TNT drama didn't take the opportunity to name check Malibu Sands or the Carosi family (how dare they!), but diehard Saved by the Bell fans (aka me) still got to see Zack Morris all grown up and still ruling the California beaches the way he did when he was still enrolled as Bayside. And that meant plenty of shirtless time when he was walking or surfing the shore in the early morning.
Cara on The Tomorrow People. It both baffles and saddens me that young adult programming (novels and movies) like The Hunger Games and Divergent can be so great about featuring flawed but still heroic females at the center of the story while television cannot. It's not for lack of trying (long before Arrow or The Flash were making their way to TV, attempts were made at Wonder Woman and Nikita did actually make it onto The CW network for a few short, sadly low rated seasons), but for whatever reason it doesn't strike the same way. The Tomorrow People is another example of an action drama that is seemingly centered on an "every man" type who learns he has abilities and must become a hero-- but it's not just this one man's story, and one of those most important to it is Cara (Peyton List), a really bad-ass young woman who has a strong sense of self and spirit and can and will kick a lot of ass to hold onto it. She may just be picking up where Nikita is leaving off, and that's a band aid on a bigger programming problem, but it is certainly an exciting start.
Stephen King's "Doctor Sleep." I can't tell you how many times I wonder what characters from my favorite pieces of media would be up to years later. Sometimes it would be a fleeting thought as a memory of one, somewhat long-lost character was evoked by a newer book, movie, or TV show, and sometimes it would be more out of hope that the character was still okay after a perhaps less than happy ending. Danny Torrance in "The Shining" was one example of the latter. I tried not to think too much about the book after I first closed it on my shelf because of how downright uncomfortable it made me, but that didn't stop little Danny's image from flashing in my mind-- especially since the kids who played him in the movies were always so cherubic. But this year King told us we could stop our wondering, even if not fully our worrying, by telling us what became of young Danny-now Daniel Torrance, a boy with a gift who grew into a man with a curse. And (ironically to my previous point) he did it while introducing a pretty kick-ass young heroine to follow in his footsteps, too.