Pretty Good Year

2011 is revving up to zoom off into the past, and to leave us all in its resultant dust. It was the year of Van der Memes, the London Riots and the great PCP takeover. So I think it’s fair to say there’ve been both extreme highs and lows in the past twelve months. 

But over all, pretty good, right?

Here’s a whirlwind tour of my favourite, and least favourite, examples of various categories from this year. You might even find some last-minute gift ideas here, or at least some wisdom on what to avoid!

Best TV show


Community season 2 DVD cover

2011 was the year that I discovered, fell in love with, and pimped the hell out of Community. Even if the third season has been a bit shaky, and the hiatus has led to fears over cancellation, it’s still one of my favourite shows. The second season ended this summer with the fabulously over the top two-part paintball finale, and I’m loving the season two DVDs for all their little extras- from the storyboard version of ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ to the ridiculous episode commentaries featuring the likes of of Dino Stamatopoulos (Star-Burns) and Richard Erdman (Leonard), as well as major cast members, writers and directors.

At least the hiatus-spawned rumours have led to lots of amusing titbits [skip to the 0:45 mark to avoid the irrelevant dog stuff], and might allow the show to return to its heady season two highs (speaking creatively, not ratings-wise).

Worst TV show

Once Upon A Time

cast of Once Upon A Time

I’ve valiantly given this show a try, but I just can’t get into it. The premise- that fairytale characters are stuck in timeless town in the real world- doesn’t quite make sense. They can’t leave- except they sort of can- and time is frozen- except it clearly does pass- and no one seems to question the fact that they don’t have a sense of the past- until they do- which only serves to make the characters seem awfully one-dimensional. The flashbacks to the fairy tale past can be fun (and flesh out interesting back stories for the characters) but the way that this interacts with the “real world” present is far from clear. The entire show basically feels like a mishmash of random ideas, with no coherence, and probably a boatload of twists and turns that don’t lead anywhere.

Plus the fact that it’s an incredibly Disney-fied version of traditional stories irks me no end.

Best film

Chalet Girl

Chalet Girl poster

I spent most of this year trying to convince people to watch a load of new films, that no one would believe me were good. And I don’t even like films! But Chalet Girl, No Strings Attached, The Green Hornet and Sucker Punch were honestly some of the best movies of 2011. Chalet Girl was woefully badly promoted, in a way that made it seem like a crap teen romcom, which simply didn’t do it justice. It’s genuinely one of the best British films I’ve seen in the last few years. Felicity Jones, a relative unknown, was great in the lead role and the rest of the cast (Ed Westwick! Sophia Bush! Brooke Shields! Bill Nighy!) were fabulous. The Alps setting allowed for an exploration of class, and the snowboarding competition storyline which could have seemed cheesy made sense given the fully fleshed out back story of Kim and her family.

Watch it, you won’t be disappointed, and the snowy setting is clearly suitable for this time of year.

Worst film

Your Highness

Your Highness movie poster

Despite boasting James Franco, Zooey Deschanel and a scantily clad Natalie Portman amongst its main cast, this was one hot mess with absolutely no redeeming features. NONE. It’s basically a series of dick jokes, in which paedophilia and rape get played for laughs too. This was so unerringly awful that I couldn’t even contemplate thrusting the title of worst movie of the year at some of 2011’s other terrible offerings, like Something Borrowed and The Roommate, because they weren’t so memorably appalling.

Peter Travers’ review of Your Highness sums it up pretty well with, “Nothing works. Nothing”. It’s true.

Best book

How To Be A Woman

Caitlin Moran’s book wholeheartedly embarrassed me- because it kept making me laugh out loud in public. And I’m not talking about demure little snorts and huffs, I mean full on cackles and guffaws that lasted far too long, and often ended with tears streaming down my cheeks when I tried to reign myself in. But the book isn’t just funny and light-hearted, it’s part of a reclamation of the word ‘feminism’, and her discussion of everyday life is highly resonant.

And her promotion/reading of the book has cracked me the fuck up. How often does someone get cheers for using the word ‘cunt’? NOT ENOUGH.

Worst book

The Song of the Quarkbeast

Song of the Quarkbeast cover

The second instalment of The Last Dragonslayer trilogy wasn’t a dreadful novel, but it was rather disappointing. Although The Last Dragonslayer wasn’t quite up there with the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series, and the single Shades of Grey novel that’s been released so far, it was a lot of fun. Quarkbeast was kind of…boring. And it suffered from an extreme lack of dragons.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next Jasper Fforde novels- including Dark Reading Matter, the latest Thursday Next book which has been announced for 2012, and hopefully the final Dragonslayer one (also to be released next year) will perk that series right up.

Best album

Sound of Rum – Balance

Sound of Rum - Balance album cover

Sound of Rum’s debut album has made me very, very happy. I’m a huge fan of their frontwoman, and it’s great to have something to thrust at people I’m trying to convert to my cause, without requiring immediate access to YouTube so I can play video after video of her spoken word. The title track/interlude is my favourite, but the whole album is great. I’d still say that seeing her/them live is a totally different experience, and well worth doing as many times as you can manage!

The album costs less than £10, but it seems to be going out of stock everywhere. I’m not surprised.

Worst album

Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2

Glee Christmas album 2 cover

I watch, and like, and sing along to Glee. I know it’s an easy thing to take shots at, but I don’t normally condone that. Glee doesn’t pretend to be anything that its not, and I’m happy to enjoy it for what it is. And I like Christmas music! I even quite like Glee‘s first Christmas album! But this one, and the overly Jesus-tinged episode the songs were performed in, crossed the line into BAD cheesiness.

Lea Michele’s version of ‘River’ is straight-up unpleasant, but the decision to do an unironic cover of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ makes me worry that Glee has completely lost its sense of humour. And its sense.

Best play

 Some Like it Hip Hop

Some Like it Hip Hop cast

While this wasn’t quite as fabulous as ZooNation’s Into the Hoods (and what could be?!), in part because the original music makes it a bit harder to get into, it was still an amazing show. The dancing was pitch perfect, and everyone’s voices were great. The plot was fun, especially because it was riffing on Some Like it Hot, which is one of my favourite films and features a whole lot of cross-dressing, confusion and crazy hjincks ensuing.

It totally made me want to become a break dancer. Again.

Worst play

Howl’s Moving Castle

This adaptation of the Diana Wynne Jones novel was quite disappointing. Although it did capture the bare bones of the story, and made it look very pretty, the show felt very short. It was also rather pantomime-y, and felt as if it was aimed more at children than me. The choice to have Young Sophie and the Witch of the West played by the same actress seemed odd, especially because it’s a story about changed appearances, and Daniel Ings really isn’t pretty enough to play Howl.

It wasn’t an awful performance but on reflection I probably could have saved my money and instead re-read the book or re-watched the Studio Ghibli adaptation without losing out on anything.

Best event

Rob Lowe at the Royal Geographical Society

Rob Lowe at the Royal Geographical Society

Seeing Rob Lowe while he promoted his autobiography Stories I Only Tell My Friends was an absolute joy. He was articulate, enthusiastic and refreshingly frank. My West Wing loving heart adored hearing him praise Aaron Sorkin to the skies, and his enthusiasm about Parks and Recreation was very sweet too. Kate Muir was an excellent moderator and helped to make the event a whole lot of fun.

If only she’d been there at the V.S. Naipaul event, instead of Geordie Greig, maybe his event at the same venue wouldn’t have derailed so badly.

Worst event

Imagination Series Book Slam

Imagination Series Book Slam

Miss Penn detailed the ways in which adding free alcohol to the mix inexplicably watered down London’s best literary night club. Thankfully ever other Book Slam this year has been brilliant, and there’s been plenty of fabulous guests- Grace Dent! Inua Ellams! Craig Taylor! Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie! Elvis Mcgonagall! Cornelia! Andrea Levy! LOADS OF GREAT PEOPLE!

But the best part, I think, is that all the people performing at the unfabulous Imagination Series event- Jeremy Dyson, Eska, Joe Dunthorne and Ross Sutherland- I’ve seen at various other Book Slams. So any pain that it inflicted has been washed away. By something other than gin.

Best website

Guy and Dolls Recaps

Sarah Michelle Gellar doll Ringer character

This tumblr perfectly taps into why the Buffy fandom en masse is excited about Ringer. Although it’s an intriguing show in its own right, with mysteries! and identical twins! and addiction!, somehow the most important part is that it stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, twice over as twins Bridget and Siobhan. So clearly the best thing about the show is the way that it can be enacted with Buffy dolls!

Maybe it was secretly created by Seth Green, of both Buffy and Robot Chicken?

Worst website

Facebook timeline

Facebook is creepy

Facebook’s newest innovation is bad. The cover photo part serves to make the social networking site more like MySpace (which everyone ditched for Facebook, presumably for a reason), making it less clean and simple, which was really its main advantage. As TechCrunch has pointed out, the results are “icky”. The privacy settings it doesn’t provide make it stalker-friendly and essentially a crass marketing tool.

Maybe it’s time we all made the jump to Google+…

Best exhibition

Harry Beck and the London Tube Map at Church Farmhouse Museum

exhibit at Harry Beck exhibition

The last exhibition before the quaint museum closed was adorable and informative. There was plenty for map, London and transport fans to geek out over, and I’m still mourning the loss of the little museum, situated in North London (and not far from where Harry Beck lived). At least the grounds are still open


Worst exhibition

Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition

snippet of Royal Academy summer exhibition

As usual, this open exhibition was far too busy- I don’t mean in terms of visitors, rather that the exhibits were packed like a billion sardines in a tiny tin that seemed to be shrinking in on me as I wandered around. It’s impossible to ever get a sense of all the stuff in one visit, and the experience is so unpleasant and headache-inducing that you’re unlikely to go back for another look. I’m considering avoiding that entire nonsense in 2012, restrain me if I forget and think that visiting the next Summer Exhibition seems like a good idea!

I’m very excited by their Hockney exhibition though, and I’m sure it’ll banish all the bad memories.

What have been your highlights, and lowlights, of the year?

3 thoughts on “Pretty Good Year

  1. It has been a pretty good year, hasn’t it? On balance, and it certainly helps that it over. I feel like we’ve been doing a lot of pop cultural consumption and reasonably good about sharing the goods with our PCPers! Here’s to an even better 2012, with more discoveries across the board. And if anything has the audacity to be terrible, let’s hope it’s at least fun to mock.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Totally agree with Chalet Girl being completely underrated and excellent. Would only argue that after seeing Friends With Benefits, I thought it was preferable to No Strings Attached. They’re essentially the same thing, but Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are hotties.
    Yes, I’m that shallow.

    Big love to PCP, and thanks for letting me be a part of it!

    Here’s to being snarky, judgemental and hilarious in 2012!

    • Here’s to all those things- and to championing woefully underrated Ed Westwick films- in 2012!

      I am totes the shallowest, but I think Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher are just as pretty as their Friends With Benefits rivals…plus FWB confused me because the two main characters had basically NO other friends and spent their entire time hanging out with their families.

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