If media competed to see who had the best year of culture, television by far dominated 2015. In the era of Peak TV, there was so much good television. Not being a professional television critic, I haven’t watched everything that’s made year-end top lists, or even everything that I want to watch. (The Leftovers, I’m looking in your direction.)

Instead of a top 10, 2015 deserves at least a top 25, so here’s a top 26:

26. The Man in the High Castle
Like many science fiction novels, The Man in the High Castle builds an amazing world, tells interesting stories and has weak characters at the center. Juliana, Frank and Joe are not interesting characters. Not only would Juliana’s and Frank’s relationship be better if they communicated better, but they would be more compelling protagonists for the story. But the world building is tremendous, if bleak, and the last few episodes were good enough that I decided to expand the list by one to include it.

25. UnREAL
Who would have expected a show on Lifetime to be this good?

24. Parks and Recreation
Even though NBC burned it off two episodes at a time, this is still one of the best comedies of all time. If this season gave us nothing else than “Leslie and Ron”, dayenu.

23. Orange is the New Black
This may not have been OITNB’s best season, but it gave us the cult of Norma, Black Cindy’s conversion, and The Time Hump Chronicles. Plus, the sequence of the prisoners all swimming in the lake (Cindy’s mikvah), redeemed any time we wasted on Piper and the unreasonably hot Australian.

22. Key and Peele
This last season of K&P may have been darker and not been as easily YouTubed as Luther or the East/West Bowl, but it’s still one of the all-time top tier sketch shows. Aside from Chappelle’s Show, Key & Peele is the single best comedy about race in America in the 21st century, which was very timely and necessary this year.

21. Game of Thrones
I am optimistic about Game of Thrones outpacing the Song of Ice and Fire novels and look forward to watching without comparing every event in the show to the books. Nothing on television is ambitious as Game of Thrones, even if 10 episodes is not enough to give all of the characters their due in this sprawling story.

20. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Unbreakable! We alive damnit, it’s a miracle! The theme song along might be enough to make this list. The rest of the show is wonderful. I can’t believe that NBC couldn’t build a comedy block around the final season of 30 Rock and the first season of this show. But the shift to Netflix probably helped, because this was the easiest show of the year to binge watch. This show ably fills a 30 Rock sized hole in my TV viewing.

19. Inside Amy Schumer
12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer may have been one of the best high-concept episodes of television this year. But then each episode had something at least as viral. Did anyone have a better year than Amy Schumer?

18. Review
As amazing, wonderful and weird as the first season of Review was, this second season was even darker, weirder and found new ways for Forrest McNeil to commit to reviewing life while ruining his own.

17. Mr. Robot
Mr. Robot may be one of the few shows that gets computers anywhere close to right. Beyond that, it also had one of the absolute best bonkers episode to peel back layers. Rami Malek’s performance is electric and captivating.

16. Veep
Veep is simply one of the fastest and funniest comedies on television. It does farce as well as any show.

15. Silicon Valley
If anything, Silicon Valley may be less ridiculous than the actual Silicon Valley culture. What makes Silicon Valley so good is that it just doesn’t make fun of these things, it tells stories about characters in a ridiculous environment.

14. Justified
I gave up on season 5 of Justified. I still haven’t finished it. But this final season of Justified may have been the show’s best season other than season 2. Justified managed to close out with a good finale for a great show.

13. Better Call Saul
I’m not sure that this is the show that I expected when a Breaking Bad spinoff about Saul Goodman was announced. But it defied my expectations in a good way. Better Call Saul was deeper and more poignant than I expected with a standout dramatic performances by Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks. Like Breaking Bad, it uses Albuquerque’s light to create a look unlike anything else on television, but with its own unique visual style.

12. Broad City
I may not have enjoyed any sequence as much as the visit with Val in FOMO.

11. Jessica Jones
This is the most Buffy show on television since Buffy, centering around a small woman with superpowers and using those superpowers to heighten stories about life. But Jessica Jones does what season 6 of Buffy wanted to do with telling a dark story and succeeds. Unfortunately, while Game of Thrones needs 13 episodes per season to tell all of its stories, Jessica Jones probably would have been better with 10. Krysten Ritter kills it at selling how Jessica is broken and David Tennant twists his Doctor just a little bit to become a creepy villain who is a stinging indictment of male privilege and rape culture.

10. The Jinx
If Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave is the most compelling fictional villain of this year of television, Robert Durst was the most compelling real life villain. The final moments of the series were among the most compelling moments of television this year. Chilling.

9. You’re the Worst
I came to this series late and binged the first ten episodes of this season back-to-back Thanksgiving weekend. This second season went dark and exported depression in an honest and powerful way. It was raw, honest, and funny.

8. Master of None
If there was any doubt that television in the 2010’s is having a moment like film in the 1970’s, Aziz Ansari’s hyperlocal series takes much inspiration from 1970’s film. It’s also funny, poignant, and beautifully filmed.

7. Halt and Catch Fire
Towards the end of the first season, Halt and Catch Fire got good. In the second season, it leveled up by focusing on Donna and Cameron and put Kerry Bishe and MacKenzie Davis front and center. The show has a great sense of time and place, even if it wants to look at computing in the 80’s with a too-knowing understanding of where it will be going. I’m glad to see this coming back for a third season.

6. Last Week Tonight
John Oliver on HBO is even better than The Daily Show with John Oliver would have been. Having a week between episodes allows Last Week Tonight to go deep into issues. Last Week Tonight reports on world news that American news media fails to cover, and somehow manages to both be funny and have a point of view. Comedy and political engagement are not mutually exclusive.

5. Transparent
The only series to make this list of which I haven’t yet finished the current season. But the cold open of the first episode of the season alone justifies placement near the top of any list. Transparent is so raw and real and beautiful.

4. Mad Men
No show on this list rewards watching weekly as much as Mad Men. Each episode invites and deserves intense critical analysis and deep discussion. However, the final season suffered from being split into two short seasons. The upside of that is Jon Hamm won an Emmy, but the downside is that the pacing of the arc was off from the standard 13 episode season. The final few episodes suffered from leaving Don off on walkabout without interacting with the rest of the core cast. Mad Men stands as one of the best television series of all time.

3. BoJack Horseman
An animated show about a talking horse-man who was a sitcom star in the 90’s is also the most poignant show on television about depression and emotion.

2. The Americans
Perhaps the tensest show on television, The Americans succeeds by making a classic Cold War spy story primarily one about marriage and family. The Americans follows characters along their journey and plot arises from the characters. The Americans does a great job of finding locations in the NYC metro area to look like Washington DC in the 80’s.

1. Fargo
Fargo season two used a different time setting, visual style and cast than season one (or the Coen Brothers film), and yet, managed to be wonderful. Patrick Wilson was not only a great lead, but believably a younger version of Keith Carradine’s Lou Solverson from the first season. Bruce Campbell’s appearance halfway through the season was brilliant, as were Bokeem Woodbine, Jean Smart, Nick Offerman, Jeffrey Donovan, Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst.

2015 was the year I was most disengaged from music in a long time. I pretty much dropped out of reading music reviews and blogs over the last couple of years. And despite subscribing to Spotify (for the first half of the year) and Apple Music (for the second half), I did not engage with all that much new music.

That said, I did find five records that I would list in a year-end top list. The top 3 are a top tier, essentially tied with each other. I’ve engaged with and listened to these three a lot this year.
5. Wilco, Star Wars
Cover170x170 2I’m not sure that this is Wilco’s strongest outing, but when it dropped by surprise this year, I enjoyed it. More importantly, it led me to revisit Wilco’s catalogue. They’ve never been one of my absolute favorite artists, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of my favorite albums and whenever I dive in to their catalog, I remember how great they are as a band.

4. Screaming Females, Rose Mountain
Cover170x170 A more polished studio effort that doesn’t skimp on the guitar. Rose Mountain is a solid album with some good songs from Screaming Females.

3. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Cover170x170 3 If this is what Sleater-Kinney came up with after a seven-year hiatus, more bands should take long breaks. This record showcases everything that’s awesome about Sleater-Kinney and turns it up a notch with some of their best, catchiest songwriting. There aren’t any weak songs on here.

2. Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast Recording
Cover170x170 4 This is the first time I have ever considered a Broadway cast recording to even be in consideration for my favorite albums of the year. It’s probably the first time I have listened to a cast recording this much ever. As a piece of art, Hamilton stands out as the single standout work of the year and is one of the most significant pieces of American culture ever. Perhaps hyperbolic, but Hamilton is particularly relevant today. The question of the role of immigrants in American culture is as heated today as it has been s many other times in American history. The the fight over the extent of states’ rights within the republic and the American economy continues today along many of the same lines as the conflict between the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian visions of America. The work is not only dense and rewards careful unpacking, as the entire musical rewards deep analysis with references backwards and forwards thematically throughout the show. This is also the first successful hip-hop Broadway musical. Besides that, the songs are tremendously catchy. Hamilton should stand as one of the best pieces of American culture not just of 2015, but of the entire 21st century.

1. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
Cover170x170 5 If I’m as effusive about Hamilton, why is it not my number one album of the year? While it stands alone masterfully as an album, it’s still a show and the album doesn’t capture everything about it. This album may not be as powerful of a work of art, it is by far my favorite of the year. Courtney Barnett’s wordy lyrics capture a particular slice of life in a way that is unexpected, but makes sense. I have a particular fondness for singers who have a delivery that borrows as much from talking as speaking. Each song on this album tells a vivid story, and also happens to be catchy. The album has a nice pacing and arc.

While reading year-end lists and listening to podcasts, there are two albums that I had skipped over when they first came out, but needed to dive into after hearing songs off of each:

*. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

*. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color

I don’t have a fully formed opinion on either of these except that I see why so many critics have To Pimp a Butterful so high on their year-end lists. It is an outstanding album.

Links are to Apple Music instead of Spotify, since I’ve been using it to listen to music. As terrible as Spotify’s software is, iTunes and Apple Music on iOS may actually be more confusing and difficult to use than Spotify. Isn’t that supposed to be Apple’s strength? With a three month free trial, Apple certainly made it easy to get stuck in their ecosystem, as I like having all of my music in the same cloud library. But even with all of my iTunes library of music that’s not available on a streaming service, I am considering switching back to Spotify because the software for Apple Music doesn’t feel as frictionless and clever as the best of Apple’s software.


The ranking is based on podcast as a series, not as individual episodes. The universe of podcasts is much more sprawling and fractured than television or film. This means that there are probable podcasts that I should be listening to but I am entirely unaware.

10. Serial
Last year’s podcast phenomenon squeaks in with its first episodes of the new season at the tail end of the year. It may still be too early to tell if Serial’s second season is more like Fargo’s or True Detective’s. Even though the end of season 1 ended with reality’s level of ambiguity and closure, the first episode of season 2 was compelling enough to remind me of why Serial was the phenomenon that defined podcasts last year.
Recommended episodes: Dustwun

9. 99% Invisible
Roman Mars has one of the best names in radio. Fortunately, 99% Invisible is also one of the best examples of the use of the podcast format. Episodes are not too long, but also always long enough to dive into a topic and examine it thoroughly. For a show that is primarily about design, taking away the visual element requires more storytelling and succinct analysis. Each episode exposes hidden information about the way that the world works or interesting and hidden pockets of interesting detail.
Recommended episodes: The Sizzle
, Structural Integrity, Rajneeshpuram, From The Sea, Freedom

8. Reconcilable Differences
Perhaps the most meandering and least focused podcast in this list, the longford talker pairs raconteur Merlin Mann with curmudgeon John Siracusa for discussions that are fascinating, intimate and revealing. Both John and Merlin are very self-aware, pay meticulous attention to detail and process. Applying that type of analysis to personal issues is not only interesting, but also entertaining.
Recommended episodes: We All Ruined it Together, Thrown to the Wolves of Puberty, 50 Shades of John

7. The Sporkful
No other writer or journalist thinks about enjoying food and drink as much as Dan Pashman. Applying levels of analytical rigor to enjoying food has helped me to think about maximizing enjoyment in other areas, or applying metrics to enjoyment. Pashman’s bite consistency vs. bite variety framework to think about the relative merits of the stereo and mono versions of The Beatles’ albums. Who else would host a live debate on the question of whether a hot dog is a sandwich?
Recommended episodes: John Hodgman v. Dan Pashman: Are Hot Dogs Sandwiches?, How Do You Eat An Ice Cream Sandwich In The Shower?, A Flavor Chemist Explains Burger Toppings, You Suck At Drinking: A Guide To Buzz Management

6. Judge John Hodgman
Solving what may be petty and ridiculous-sounding disputes helps to find truths about people and relationships. By taking what may be petty issues with absolute seriousness, Judge Hodgkin helps relationships by helping people communicate about the underlying issues. The combination of seriousness and ridiculousness is perfect. Judge Hodgman, Bailiff Jesse and the assorted guest bailiffs take the parties’ feelings seriously but don’t take the courtroom too seriously.
Recommended episodes: Trial by Kombat, I Want My nth TV, Troll-o Contendere, Schnapp Judgment

5. Radiolab
The most meticulously crafted audioscape of any podcast or radio show today, Radiolab demands more attention than any other podcast on this list, because its episodes are so dense. More than any other show, Radiolab shows the power that sound alone can have on a listener’s emotions. Each episode of Radiolab is an aural treat. But even without the innovative sound design, Abrumrad and Krulwich tell interesting stories about science and society.
Recommended episodes: Darkode, Elements, La Mancha Screwjob, Mau Mau, Smile My Ass

4. Extra Hot Great
EHG may be the most fun show on this list. The television podcast companion for TWOP’s founders, EHG uses recurring segments and fun music to be the best of the regular television discussion podcasts. I don’t think I’ve laughed as much about anything on a podcast as the Nonac induction music. Each episode includes Game Time, which is both fun to play along with and often funny.
Recommended episodes: Less Kissing, More Superpowers, Heading into the Lyon’s Den for Empire, Mini: Casting Lab: The A-Team, Mini: Haunted Bar Rescue

3. This American Life
There’s a reason that This American Life has long been the most-subscribed podcast in iTunes. It sets the standard for longform radio journalism. Whether as direct progeny or through influence, This American Life provides the template for more than half of the other shows on my list. TAL set the standard. What sets This American Life apart from many imitators is that it continues to balance telling personal stories at human scale that expose important truths about society. After twenty years, continues to tell important, interesting and compelling stories week after week.
Recommended episodes: Status Update, Put a Bow on It, The Land of Make Believe, The Problem We All Live With

2. Reply All
Reply All translates internet culture for general understanding. PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman find interesting stories about the intersection of the internet and society. In the Gimlet Media house style, episodes are highly produced, but loose, personal and intimate.
Recommended episodes: Shine On You Crazy Goldman, Exit and Return, Part I, DMV Nation, Taking Power, The Flower Child, The Law That Sticks

1. Mystery Show
Even though the first season of Mystery Show only had six episodes, it is still my favorite podcast of the year. TAL-veteran Starlee Kine dives into solving some of the most important minor mysteries in a way that reveals truths about the people involved in a way that few would expect. Each episode tells a complete story, finds resolution, and is interesting and entertaining. Perhaps what Myster Show does so well is using the podcast medium to be intimate. It feels like Kine is letting listeners in on a secret as she walks through trying to solve these cases. Like Judge John Hodgman, Mystery Show takes trivial issues seriously that a lesser show would belittle. The only drawback to Mystery Show is that the first season only produced six episodes.
Britney, Belt Buckle, Source Code

Other Contenders
Welcome to Macintosh tells nicely produced stories about Apple history.

Surprisingly Awesome is the latest from Gimlet Media and pairs Adam Davidson and Adam McKay to reveal the hidden awesomeness in everyday things.

WTF with Marc Maron is deservedly one of the most widely-heard podcasts. Maron uses the intimacy of the podcast medium to bare his neuroses with his audience and is able to get guests to open up. His interviews with Barack Obama and Lorne Michaels were among the best podcast episodes I listened to this year. At its best, WTF is one of the absolute best podcasts around. But the rambling intimacy that is one of WTF’s strengths, is also its greatest weakness. There may be too much WTF. Shorter episodes wouldn’t let WTF be WTF. Fewer episodes per year might make each one more special.

Pop Culture Happy Hour. I am surprised that I didn’t include any NPR podcasts in my top 10. PCHH is the conversation that you want to have every week. PCHH is consistently excellent and comforting. What’s making us happy this week is as good of a segment as any.

All Songs Considered. NPR Music has gone from being a weird place for hyper literate indie and Americana music to one of the most influential tastemakers in music. A large part of that is due to All Songs Considered. I can’t believe how much music host Bob Boilen sees each year.

Planet Money has been explaining complex economic issues for so long, it’s easy to forget how good it is. It is that good.

Startup. I haven’t listened to any of season 2 of Startup, but the Startup episodes about Gimlet Media itself are introverted in the best way.

Ctrl-Walt-Delete picks the brain of the dean of tech journalism, Walt Mossberg.

Song Exploder picks apart songs in delightful detail.

The Americans podcast talks with executive producers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg and the cast and crew of The Americans, one of the best shows on television.

Better Call Saul Insider is the Better Caul Saul version of the Breaking Bad Insider podcast with editor Kelley Dixon, producers Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, and assorted cast and crew of Better Call Saul.

Scriptnotes has screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin talking about screenwriting, things interesting to screenwriters, and things interesting to anyone who enjoys film and TV.

Music Hall of Williamsburg is a really nice venue. It is a nice size, big enough to support nationally touring acts, but not too big to feel far away from the stage. Like most Bowery Presents venues, the sound is impeccable*. It is slightly larger, more comfortable and laid back than Bowery Ballroom. But the beer selection at the Bowery Presents venues is surprisingly weak. The craft beer selection at the upstairs MHoW bar was Sierra Nevada and (kicked) Magic Hat #9. (I don’t know if downstairs is any better, but I don’t recall it having more than the same 5 or so lines). For Brooklyn in 2014, that seems surprisingly out of step with the local craft aesthetic.

The Both is a surprisingly good combination of musicians where the pairing is better and more synergistic than might be expected from two artists whose solo work isn’t all that similar sounding. By making Leo’s sound less frenetic, it locks him into a groove more and adds a different kind of polish and swagger than are in his solo work with the Pharmacists. The Both takes Mann out of her adult contemporary chill zone but she doesn’t lose her sense of melody and songcraft.

Unlike many bands with two or more lead singers, none of The Both’s songs are dominated by one of the singers. In all of the songs, Mann and Leo trade off verses and harmonize. This makes for more of a coherent band focus even if it makes distinguishing unfamiliar songs harder. The “mid-tempo song with lots of chord changes, alternating verses and harmonies on the choruses” likely describes about half of The Both’s songs.


Was the 90’s a particularly fertile time for moderately successful alternative acts that had dedicated followings but only broke into the mainstream with one major hit? I’m thinking not just of Aimee Mann and “Save Me”, but Ben Folds Five with “Brock”, Semisonic and “Closing Time”, Mazzy Star and “Fade into You”. Even Radiohead, who has continued to be popular and relevant, never had another song that was nearly as big as “Creep”.

I thought that Toad the Wet Sprocket would be in this group, too, but since I would have pegged “Walk on the Ocean” as their big hit and it has many fewer listens on Spotify than “All I Want”.

But like The Both in their inter-song banter, I digress.

The Both made their television debut on The Tonight Show:

The video for Milwaukee:

The Both Tiny Desk Concert at NPR

About a year ago, I chatted with David Obuchowski and Michael Lengel about their new project, Distant Correspondent, musical influences and their process of recording.

Since then, they’ve developed the sound further, added more band members, released their full-length debut album, debuted a video, and hit the road on tour.

Distant Correspondent will be playing tonight, November 1, 2013 at Union Pool in Brooklyn. with Dinowalrus, Lost Boy, and Gabe Levine.

Distant Correspondent by Distant Correspondent is out now on Hot Congress/Old Flame Records. (Unfortunately, they didn’t hit the full Bad Company trifecta with a self-titled song on a self-titled album.) Also available from Amazon, iTunes, and to preview on Spotify.

Here’s the video for Shatter, directed by Molly McIntyre:

Shatter by Distant Correspondent (Official Video) from Distant Correspondent on Vimeo.

One of my favorite things that I’ve read in the last couple of years was Nathan Rabin’s reporting for the AV Club from the Gathering of the Juggalos, Insane Clown Posse’s summer festival in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. Drop a snarky music critic in the horrocore rap band’s festival in the middle of nowhere to perform some pop anthropology and you get internet gold.

See, e.g. When Juggalos Attack (2010) Strange times at the 2012 Gathering Of The Juggalos
, and his Interview with Violent J of Insane Clown Posse.

I was very excited for Rabin to expand his reporting into book form, and really get in depth into the stories of the Juggalos, the common themes, and how they all connected. You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me is not that book.

Instead of the pop anthropology I was expecting, Rabin wrote a much more personal book, a memoir about his experiences immersing in the cultures of Phishheads and Juggalos, as well as his struggles with coping with newly-diagnosed bipolar disorder.

What struck me so much about You Don’t Know Me is how narrowly I avoided becoming a Phish phan. (Is that a term? If it isn’t, why not? Too obvious?)

Back when I was in high school, Phish was ascendant, and one summer, I went to a summer program at Amherst College, where I took music and SAT prep classes and had a lot of fun. Some of the other kids turned me on to Phish, and I dug the combination of catchy choruses, long inventive jams, and the combination of serious and silly lyrics.

The friend and neighbor who drove me to school most days once she had a car kept Rift in her car and it was a frequent soundtrack. But without having any reason to dive into the deep end of fan culture and go to shows, I occasionally listened to a couple of albums, a couple of tapes and was enough aware of the band without becoming a real fan.

In college, I discovered Agents of Good Roots, a band whose music fell squarely between the jam band scene and the indie rock scene. So they shared a lot of fan culture from jam band fans, borrowing the ethos of concert recording and tape trading, but with more brevity of songwriting and without as much of the dirty hippie element to the fan base. They were too jazzy and jammy to succeed in the mainstream and too punk to catch on in the jam band scene. But they hit right in the sweet spot of my musical taste. Because of those shared elements of fan culture and fan overlap, I appreciated a lot of the elements of Phish’s culture.

But unlike Rabin, who got into Phish through his wife, I didn’t have a catalyst to dive in. But, I can see how if I had that guide into the scene I could have appreciated the scene and the music. Without a reason to, I never felt a deep emotional or intellectual connection to their music. But if I was dating a Phish fan, I would be jamming out to the tastiest live jams and grooving on Mike Gordon’s five-string bass solos. OK, maybe not the bass solos.

The common thread throughout Rabin’s books is about how much Americans can be looking for community. Today, thanks to cheap communications and travel, we often create those communities these days based more on common interests than on geography. So, the Phish fans can find each other and meet up in the Lot before the show. Fans travel across the country to Comic Con in San Diego to dress up in costume and hang out with the tribe of fans. Internet communities become real-life communities. Juggalos get together for a few special days out of the year to spray Faygo on each other and listen to their favorite Psychopathic Records acts.

I hesitate to criticize You Don’t Know Me, But You Don’t Like Me too much because it ultimately is such a personal and intimate book. I feel like I know way more about Rabin’s headspace than I ever expected to, but I recognize many similar neuroses and anxieties that I have. Mine aren’t as amplified by the various cocktails of illicit drugs and mind-altering substances that Rabin documented using in the book, but I imagine that I wouldn’t have reacted to those in a similar way. Although he does provide comprehensive and useful histories of the two bands, Rabin’s book doesn’t go into much greater depth about the subcultures than his reporting for the AV Club. Rather, that additional depth is very personal.

Since launching earlier today, Rob Thomas’s Kickstarter campaign to film a Veronica Mars movie has already raised more than half of its $2 million budget.

Richard Lawson at the Atlantic Wire has a provocative and interesting response. He is upset that Kickstarter is commerce masquerading as charity: Anyone Know of a Better Charity Than the ‘Veronica Mars’ Movie?

Another part of my revulsion is, yes, likely to do with the simple fact that art-related Kickstarter campaigns strip away the pretense that art and commerce aren’t inextricably linked. Money has always been part of the commercial art game, but the budgeting and haggling is usually done out of view, by a few select professionals. Kickstarter, though, puts the economic reality right out in the light for all to see. Someone like Amanda Palmer is essentially telling us that she doesn’t want to work on spec, so if we want to hear something new, we have to pay in advance.

The response is not surprising, after all, these are wealthy and successful people begging for money. But this should lead to art that feels more personal and less commercial. Ultimately, that may be better for art, culture and entertainment as a whole.

Instead of cheapening art and entertainment to ask fans to support it, this actually addresses a severe market failure in the entertainment industry.

Many fans of an artist, film or TV show are fanatical and passionate, not simply casual viewers. People dress up for conventions, buy ancillary merchandise, and create fan web sites. And in many cases, there are artistic endeavors that have small audiences, but those audiences are very passionate.

While millions of movie viewers are willing to spend $10 to see The Avengers or The Hunger Games, there is a demand curve. The most ardent fans would be willing to pay hundreds of dollars to see the movie, while many casual viewers will not consider going to the movie if their local theater raises the price of a ticket from $10 to $11.

The traditional film financing system does not have a market to test the demand. Given the number of people who watched Veronica Mars on UPN, there’s no way that Warner Brothers would finance a Veronica Mars film if the only metric to test its success is in selling regular price movie tickets. But the Veronica Mars fans are more passionate that, on average, many would be willing to pay more than the regular price of a ticket to see the film.

Is it really so distasteful that the market is enabling creators to make films that thousands of people are willing to spend $100 and more to love rather than entertainment dumbed down and/or inoffensive enough that the requisite millions of people will be willing to spend $10, but no more, to merely watch? True, money is not the best arbiter of quality — reporting on a film’s success based on the amount of money it takes in at the box office shouldn’t make sense outside of the pages of Variety — but that individuals are willing to spend more does and should show that the fans are passionate.

By solving this market failure, Kickstarter (and Indiegogo et. al.) are making a more efficient arts marketplace, which should please both fans and creators. By connecting creators directly with the fans, the fans know that the money that they’re spending on entertainment is going directly and proportionally to the people who are creating that entertainment.

Here’s a quick list of organizations that are helping out in communities hit by Hurricane Sandy here in the New York/New Jersey area.

Before getting back into nerding out on music, television, and pop culture, please volunteer and/or donate:


New York City:


Staten Island

And here are some more comprehensive lists of resources and especially opportunities to volunteer, from Brooklyn Heights Blog and Manhattan Users Guide.

I know I’m not the only person who’s watched Game of Thrones or read A Song of Ice and Fire and listened to Ben Folds Five’s “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” without thinking about some of the parallels between the narrator of the song and Martin’s best character. I put together this very quick and dirty video:

In discussing The Avengers, Tim Grierson points out something that captures elegantly one of the main reasons that I tend to find Whedon’s works so compelling: Joss Whedon: Revenge Of The Nerd:

“As opposed to J.J. Abrams, whom Hollywood has decided to anoint as our new ambassador of geek culture, Whedon never seems to be trying to prove to us how much he loves this stuff. Maybe that’s partly why some people prefer Abrams’ movies: His Star Trek and Super 8 have an ironic detachment to them that signals that we’re supposed to know it’s OK not to really take this stuff seriously. Despite his great sense of humor, Whedon isn’t ironic. For all his cleverness, he takes his worlds seriously. And even when he’s being snarky, there’s a sincerity underneath it all. With Abrams, you never get the sense that he absolutely has to tell these stories: He’s more of a producer who has a gift for good ideas rather than an artist following a calling.”

Whedon’s best work have ridiculous elements to them. Buffy, in particular, had some tremendously goofy and cheesy looking effects and villains. And even though the characters would always laugh at themselves or the situations that they were in, the situations always had gravity. The humor develops from the dramatic tension. The season arcs always built towards dramatic tension where the stakes for the characters felt huge. And even if you finished an episode shaking your head in disbelief about the implausibility or just weirdness of what happened, it didn’t affect how the characters take it seriously.

It’s always important to take the characters and drama seriously. It’s why The Wire, The Sopranos, Buffy, and Parks and Recreation work so well. They’re not afraid to be funny or dramatic rather than always serious or silly without losing the investment in the characters.