Film Features

7 Iconic Filming Locations You Can Rent for Your Next Vacation

Because we all need an escape from reality now and then.

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Since lockdowns and social distancing have taken over the world since spring, we've had to become more creative about vacations.

For some people that means going on a camping trip or renting a cabin in the middle of nowhere to escape the city and pretend the world doesn't exist for a while. But for those of us who aren't up for roughing it, there are some options for a different kind of escape.

If you would rather relax in luxury, pretending to be a celebrity, or a character in your favorite movie or TV show, these vacation rentals may be right for you...

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TV Features

Is Anyone Else Sick of Gus Fring in "Better Call Saul"?

The younger version of the iconic villain in the "Breaking Bad" prequel doesn't quite live up to expectations.

Gustavo Fring in 'Better Call Saul.'

Photo via AMC Networks

Breaking Bad''s Walter White and Jesse Pinkman literally didn't know who they were dealing with the first time they met Gustavo Fring.

Vince Gilligan's iconic drug-dealing duo originally tried to meet Gus in season two's "Mandala," hoping to strike a deal to sell the remainder of their crystal meth supply. But they leave the meeting without a deal in place, believing they had not even met their potential business partner.

Make no mistake, though: Gus Fring was watching. From then on out, Gus lingered with a calm, professional demeanor—a facade that effectively hid a revenge-driven, sociopathic meth distributor's true colors and made actor Giancarlo Esposito one of television's most-loved villains—until Gilligan killed him off in 2010.

However, Albuquerque wasn't quite done with the character when Walter's pipe bomb blew half his face off in 2010. Gus's much-hyped return in prequel series, Better Call Saul, helps to connect the dots as to just how he, Saul Goodman, and Mike Erhmantraut established their tenuous connection before Walter or Jesse entered the picture.

But for all the skilled filmmaking that goes into Saul's production, this chronologically younger version of Gus appears more like a typical television baddie than the ruthless villain we loved in Breaking Bad. Where is the disconnect? It's simple: We already know everything there is to know about Albuquerque's drug kingpin.

Breaking Bad viewers don't really see how violent Gus can be until the opening episode of season four when he slices open his employee's throat just to show Walt and Jesse what happens to those who disobey him. Before that, he's depicted as massively cunning in his facade as the benevolent, DEA-boosting owner of Los Pollos Hermanos. He is quickly shown to be a formidable adversary in the drug trade, skillfully navigating his relationship with the Salamanca crime family and the Juarez-Michoacan drug cartel.

Gus's grisly and elaborate murders—whether it was of poor Victor or by poisoning the remaining cartel leaders—are what the character is primarily remembered for, but Esposito and the writing staff's earlier work establishing his business-like approach to the drug trade and his part-tragic, part-mysterious backstory helped Gus stand out in his flashier moments.

'Breaking Bad's Gus Fring and Jesse Pinkman.Photo via AMC Networks

Better Call Saul avoided bringing the methamphetamine dealer in until the very end of season two when he prevented Mike Erhmantraut from murdering Hector Salamanca. Series co-creators Gilligan and Peter Gould even hid an anagram that spelled out "FRINGSBACK" in each episode's title—his return marked a momentous occasion for the show's producers and fans.

But when Mike reluctantly begins working with Gus, Saul started diving deep back into the drug world and largely revisits the same story viewers already saw play out with Gus on Breaking Bad. For every exciting zip tie murder Gus commits, Saul treats viewers to yet another rehashing of how he wants revenge on the Salamancas — which at one point takes the form of a five-minute-long monologue about how Gus will keep a hospitalized Hector Salamanca captive until he sees fit to end the man's life. That scene does not bear the mark of an intelligent and complex character; behind Esposito's stellar performance lurks a stereotypical supervillain detailing his evil plot just minutes before the hero escapes and saves the day.

In the greater Breaking Bad universe, though, there aren't really any heroes—and the closest ones we have in Better Call Saul don't quite hold a candle to how effectively Walter and Jesse captivated audiences. Gus initially considers them new pawns in his elaborate game of chess, but they outsmart him when it matters most—even when it forces Jesse to murder replacement chemist Gale Boetticher in cold blood. Walter is the most intelligent and persuasive character in the greater Albuquerque television universe, able to talk Gus into striking a deal in the first place. Jesse serves as the emotional center of the whole series—fans wanted the best for him even when he fell to his lowest points. The main characters of Saul graduated from side character status in the original series, and their character arcs are marked by the fact that viewers already know where they're headed.

In Saul, Mike knows exactly what kind of monster Gus is, but we already know the ex-cop winds up dutifully working for the man anyway. When Mike and Gus do trade verbal blows—most recently in "Dedicado a Max"—it's just to give another reminder of Gus's need for revenge. While Gus waxes poetic about his desire for Mike's help, Mike's dialogue is saddled with keeping even the most aloof viewers up to speed with lines like: "So I'm gonna work for one drug dealer killing other drug dealers. That's your idea of a choice."

Mike Ehrmantraut and Gustavo Fring first meet in season three of 'Better Call Saul.' 'Better Call Saul''s Mike Ehrmantraut and Gustavo Fring.Photo via AMC Networks

Perhaps Nacho Varga emotionally centers Saul's Gus Fring plotline. Nacho's arc isn't too dissimilar from Jesse's, after all—both participate in the drug-dealing world until they're in too deep to escape without causing harm to their loved ones—but his forced partnership with Mike and Gus has brought exciting returns in recent episodes. "JMM" showed the pair working together to burn down a Los Pollos Hermanos location, a sacrifice Gus must make to his restaurant in order to keep Nacho in place with the Salamancas as Gus's double agent. Gus adds a clever touch to the arson while Nacho vandalizes the building by using a frozen chicken and hot fryer to fan the flames, causing the arson to look like an accident.

Gus's hold over Nacho will keep their relationship and Nacho's (presumably) tragic ending intriguing as the show moves forward. It will serve both characters' interests to keep working together to undermine the cartel's control of Gus's territory. Nacho doesn't

want to work with Gus — but he knows that neither side will hesitate to kill him and his father. How he attempts to escape both Gus and Lalo Salamanca's grasp in future episodes might give Gustavo Fring the adversary he needs to re-assume the intensity he oozed throughout his run in Breaking Bad.
TV Features

Binge-watching Challenge: Start a Show at Season 3

It's possible to spare ourselves the slog of shows when they're just starting out.

Quarantine: when jobs have either been lost or relegated to the living room, wherein social functions are limited to Zoom, wherein the 24-hours in a day can really be felt.

With less to physically fill the time, the time remains unfilled. Fortunately, sequestered humans have never had such a bevy of entertainment options available to them. But that kind of freedom can be paralyzing. Never has there been a better time for binge-watching, but what are we to binge? And how?

Since all this free-time demands discipline, here's an unconventional suggestion: Pick one of the all-time great shows, something you've always wanted to watch but couldn't find the motivation nor time to do so, and start not at the beginning, but at season three instead. Whether it's a comedy or a drama or simply something you've put off watching because the plot is too involved or the show is too hyped, ignore the first two seasons entirely, and fall into a world that's already in motion. Using our knowledge of television in general, and by tapping into the cultural conversation of characters and references, we can spare ourselves the slow starts of seasons one and two, and get right to the meat of the matter. Why sit around waiting for a show to find itself? Why settle for less than the best?

First seasons are often uneven or uncertain, anyway. Second seasons are often better and more compelling, but shows that make it to season three emerge with a clear tone and complete characters: two necessities for any show with long-term success.

Examples abound of shows finding themselves in their third seasons. Arguably, the greatest comedies of the 21st century are The Office and Parks and Recreation, though contenders such as It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm are important to the discussion, as well. As for dramatic examples, look to the Olympic podium of TV's Golden Era: Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men.

Mad Men Season 3 Promo Photo

A weighted-review aggregation site like Metacritic is not the law, but it is useful. The numbers almost universally favor third seasons and beyond. Parks and Rec improves in score from a 58 in season one to an 83 in season three, a change signifying an ascension from "mixed or average reviews" to "Universal Acclaim," in the critics' words. The Office's highest overall score is season three's 85. Breaking Bad starts solidly with its first two season garnering scores of 73 and 84, but in its final three earns marks of 89, 96, and 99, an unprecedented run of greatness. Game of Thrones' two highest marks of 91 and 94 are for seasons three and four, respectively. Mad Men is the lone outlier of the bunch, as its second season outscores its third by a single point. However, its fourth season, ruled a 92, is the series' high-point. Why? Shows generally hit their strides in season three.

First, character development peaks at season three. First seasons tend to be myopic about their characters, hoping that closeness will lead viewers to love them. Season two is the experimentation room, wherein worlds shift, and season three is the fruit of that labor, with confident characters and expanded worlds.

By season three, the main characters have been poked and prodded for two full seasons, experimented on until their truest selves have been revealed. How? Conflict. Characters are made complete, in mold and mindset, through consistent conflict. They are built through what are essentially a series of thought experiments: How would x react if y? A byproduct of such conflict is a fleshing out of a show's world. Conflict requires fresh subjects to be placed before a character, be they fresh faces, strange circumstances, or unfamiliar situations.

For instance, two of Parks and Rec's most iconic characters, Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger aren't introduced until the very end of season two, where they immediately begin foiling Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones, the series leads. Breaking Bad's first two seasons lack the series' big bad, Gus Fring, creator of the fictional restaurant, Los Pollos Hermanos, the logo of which adorns the show's most popular merchandise; yet, it's only introduced in concept at the tail-end of the second season. The Office changes dramatically in season three, adding mainstay Andy Dwyer, flirting with a young Rashida Jones, and cementing Jim and Pam's relationship, which was until then a typical will-they-won't-they situation. Once resolved, it formed the literal backbone upon which the show is built.


Once they got together, Jim-and-Pam as a concept burst outside the confines of the show they were in, taking up real-estate in the general pop culture consciousness. The great shows, the all-timers, the ones you really should be watching in this quarantine time, share this Jungian trait. One doesn't need to have watched Seinfeld to understand the terms "shrinkage" or "close-talker." "We were on a break," is just part of our dialect.

Though this principle doesn't inform our viewing of many great shows, it does so with some of our touchstone comedies, like the aforementioned It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb your Enthusiasm. Shows of this format don't have one cohesive story pulling them along; it's possible, if not normal, to jump around to the great episodes through seasons, without care for continuity. Once it's known that the characters in Always Sunny are narcissists who work at a bar, it's easy to understand any episode, to jump in without further background. Ditto Curb, where Larry David is culturally understood to be an off-putting schmuck, and that's all one must know for maximum enjoyment.

Because the DNA of these two shows, and their dramatic brethren like Grey's Anatomy and NCIS, is accessible via collective unconscious, we culturally understand that it's unnecessary to sit and watch every single episode in a row. We know enough from our general human wanderings that we can skip the fluff and enjoy the standout performances and pieces, allowing superfluous details to slowly fill themselves in, as they always do.


Grey's Anatomy Season 3


Which of the truly great shows don't also already exist in our cultural consciousness? Nobody goes in blind to any piece of art nowadays, so it's hard to think of even one. Everyone knows Tony Soprano is a gangster in therapy. Lost takes place on an island post-plane crash. Jon Snow in Game of Thrones is a bastard, and if that isn't abundantly clear, they'll say it five or six times an episode.

No show is ever entered into truly blind. Between our bevy of previous cultural knowledge and the practice we've had in consuming other content en media res, it's possible to spare ourselves the slog of shows when they're just starting out. We've just never strayed from the unimaginative formula that shows are best began at the beginning. But that's clinging to tradition alone. Shows in season three will contain characters at their most compelling, jokes at their most pointed, worlds at their most alive. The show itself will be easier to enjoy, and that enjoyment will come quicker. Is that not the point? Maximum enjoyment, minimum commitment.

And when it's all over, when you love these people desperately and want so bad to live in their world for just a few minutes more, you can rejoice! For there are two more seasons for you to watch, saved, untouched. Their growing pains will seem quaint, their iffy characterizations cute. And the exercise alone will make you feel powerful, able to ground yourself in a world in movement.

TV

The 50 Best TV Shows of the Decade

Did your favorites make the list?

The 2010s saw the advent of binge-watching.

Thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, it was suddenly possible to watch multiple episodes of a single TV series in one sitting without the interruptions of commercials. As the way we watched TV changed, so too did the kind of shows we watched. Gone was the overabundance of vapid, sugary-sweet sitcoms, and in came the era of political satire, dramatic comedies, and searing commentaries on everything from abortion to Hollywood. Summarily, the 2010s saw a golden age of television. Here are our 50 favorites, with the top 25 and bottom 25 listed in alphabetical order.

The Top 25 TV Shows of the 2010s

Atlanta

Atlanta Donald Glover

Atlanta first aired in 2016, with Donald Glover's Earn learning that his cousin Alfred has released a hit song under the stage name Paper Boi. Since then, the show has followed Earn's struggle to navigate different worlds as he takes over managing his cousin's burgeoning music career while also trying to be a good father to his daughter, Lottie, and to prove himself to Van, his ex-girlfriend and Lottie's mother. The show uses varying perspectives to flesh out the city of Atlanta and the complexities of being black in America with surreal touches that highlight the real-world absurdity. Yet despite the heaviness of much of its subject matter, it frequently manages to be among the funniest shows on TV.

Barry

Barry Bill Hader

For anyone who ever wondered whether or not SNL-alum Bill Hader could carry a serious TV show, Barry answers with an overwhelming "yes." To be clear, Barry is technically a dark comedy, or perhaps a crime comedy-drama, but Bill Hader brings a level of unprecedented seriousness to his titular character that oftentimes makes the show feel like a straight tragedy.

Playing a hitman who wants to leave his life of crime behind in order to pursue a career in acting, Bill Hader imbues Barry with an earnestness that makes us as an audience truly want him to succeed. This likability serves to make Barry's violent acts all the more disturbing. Barry's greatest success is its ability to effortlessly fluctuate between the quirks of life as a struggling actor in LA and the violent inclinations of a man who murders for a living and can never really escape that truth. It's one of the best character studies currently on TV and is sure to cement Bill Hader as an extremely versatile A-list talent.

Baskets

Baskets Zacj Galifianakis

Baskets premiered on FX in 2016, telling the story of Chip Baskets, an aspiring clown played by Zach Galifianakis, who is moving back to Bakersfield, California to live with his mother after a failed stint at clown school in Paris. Galfianakis' talent for melancholy slapstick makes the show by turns hilarious and touching, but it's his mother Christine Baskets—artfully portrayed by Louie Anderson—whose simple enthusiasm for small-town life makes the show one of the best of the decade. Watching Christine, Chip, and his twin brother Dale (also Galifianakis) heighten relatable family drama to exquisite absurdity never gets old.

Black Mirror

Nothing would be the same without Black Mirror. Though its later seasons have been inconsistent in quality, its earliest contributions were digital horror at its finest, with some of the episodes being downright visionary in terms of how accurately they predicted the near future. From the nostalgic visions of virtual afterlife in "San Junipero" to the eerie foresight of "Nosedive" and its digital ranking systems, Black Mirror made an indelible impact.

Bob's Burgers

Bob's Burgers

Whatever you've heard about Family Guy or South Park, Bob's Burgers is the true successor to the golden age of The Simpsons. The Belcher family offers an update to The Simpsons' satirical view on middle class family life that reflects how America has changed since the 90s—slightly more urban, with less overt child abuse and a lot more economic precarity. And just as with the best seasons of The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers maintains a touching core of familial love and solidarity amid the absurd hijinks and veiled political commentary. Throw in the added value of the frequently hilarious, occasionally moving musical numbers, and Bob's Burgers easily secures a spot as one of the best shows of the decade.

Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman

In terms of the quality of its writing, BoJack Horseman outdid itself season after season. What began as a parody of Hollywood's excesses quickly turned into a searing, and boundary-pushing meditation on depression, addiction, and what it means to change (or to be unable to). Increasingly self-aware and conscious of its hypocritical tendency to obsess over the misadventures of an evil but sympathetic celebrity, thereby glorifying them while criticizing them, BoJack Horseman is the political, devastating, timely, often hilarious show about an animated horse that none of us knew we needed. It's buoyed by the strength of its secondary characters, from the workaholic Princess Carolyn to asexual Todd to self-loathing Diane, and altogether the show takes deep-rooted fears that many share and refracts them in a funhouse mirror that's impossible to look away from.

Broad City

Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson began producing an independent web series about their struggles to "make it" in New York City in 2009. Soon, Amy Poehler took interest in the series, and it moved to Comedy Central in 2014. The smash hit comedy was not only laugh-out-loud funny, but a beautiful portrait of a genuinely healthy, supportive female friendship—something TV has historically seen little of. Broad City can be credited for helping to usher in a new generation of female comedy creators and has become a cultural touchstone for millenials.

Catastrophe

catastrophe rob delaney

Catastrophe, created and written by the show's stars, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, is one of the realest, grossest, and funniest takes on love and the mess of life. Two people entering middle age meet and hit it off, they spend a reckless night together, and when she gets pregnant, they decide to make things work—not realizing how complicated that will be. It's a simple enough premise, but the cutting dialogue and the absurd comedy that plays out as two near-strangers build a life together make Catastrophe one of a kind.

Fargo

Anthology series like True Detective and American Horror Story can be really hit or miss, but in the three seasons that have aired on FX since 2014, Fargo has been consistently great. Maybe it has to do with the leisurely production schedule, the all-star cast, or the near-perfect movie that forms the basis for its tone, but whatever the cause, Fargo delivers murderous midwestern tragicomedy better than any show on TV—and nearly as well as the original. Season three, which followed the rivalry of the Stussy brothers—as played by Ewan McGregor—deserves a particular call-out, with season four due next year and featuring Chris Rock, Timothy Olyphant, and Jason Schwartzman.

Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge's stage-play-turned-two-season-TV masterpiece took the world by storm at the end of the 2010s. In the series, the viewer is made into the protagonist's (an unnamed woman played by Bridge) confidante as she uses sex to cope with grief and complicated family dynamics. As the show progresses, the closely protected inner life of the protagonist begins to reveal itself. Many consider the second season to be an essentially perfect season of television, in large part because of the hot priest (played by Andrew Scott). Fleabag is a funny, searing commentary on what it means to exist as a sexual, complicated being in a world with ever-changing expectations of women.

Grace and Frankie

70 is the new 30, or 20, or whatever arbitrary year of life we as a culture are deciding to glorify for no reason, because age is just a number. If you weren't aware that Jane Fonda glowed with money or that Lily Tomlin is our collective spiritual mother, then Grace and Frankie enlightened you. When two septuagenarian women are told that their husbands are gay and in love with each other, the best phase of their lives begins.

Haikyu!!

Haikyu!!

It's almost 2020, the world is upside down, and yes, an anime about high school volleyball is genuinely one of the best shows of the decade. Haikyu!!, literally "Volleyball" in Japanese, is about the trials and tribulations of the Karasuno High School Boys Volleyball Team. Unlike pretty much every other high school sports anime out there, Haikyu!! takes a relatively realistic approach to...well...high schoolers playing sports. In doing so, Haikyu!! translates the genuine passion that goes into high school sports and the real dynamics of teamwork, better than any other show I've ever seen.

The protagonist, Hinata, isn't a superpowered Volleyball God; he's an extremely short boy who can't reach the top of the net, but works his butt off because he loves the game. Likewise, all the other boys in Haikyu!! have realistic strengths and weaknesses (both on and off the court) that they work to overcome with help from their teammates. Haikyu!! is an exercise in wholesomeness––there are no villains, just other kids at other schools who love the same sport our boys do––and in a decade full of so much bitterness, it's a much needed dose of medicine.

Hunter x Hunter

Hunter x Hunter

For anyone who likes long-running shonen anime, Hunter x Hunter is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of the genre. While the original manga began publication in 1998, and a previous anime adaptation ran from 1999-2001, the 2011 adaptation re-started the series from scratch and, most importantly, covered the Chimaera Ant arc (or season––kind of––for you non-anime watchers).

The entirety of Hunter x Hunter is fantastic, featuring likeable protagonists, dastardly villains, and a brilliantly creative power system called "Nen." But there's a reason the Chimaera Ant arc is often considered the greatest shonen arc ever, and that's because it's a total deconstruction of the genre's tropes and conventions. Everything from the "always optimistic protagonist" to "the ultimate evil villain" is turned completely inside-out. The Chimaera Ant arc is intensely brutal and ultimately poignant, making us question the very nature of what makes us human.

Killing Eve

Phoebe Waller-Bridge can do no wrong, and even if she could and did, I'd probably still clap. The combination of Waller-Bridge's cutting wit and Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer's flawless performances makes for a TV show that never quite lets you find your balance before sending you spinning again. It's dark and surreal, while managing to still be deeply human.

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Being a professional stand-up comedienne is hard, but being Midge Maisel is wrapping chaos in a designer dress. Created by the fast-talking husband and wife behind Gilmore Girls, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel created a stage for Rachel Brosnahan to showcase her comedic timing and Alex Borstein to be a solid, deadpan pillar within Mrs. Maisel's world of quippy, fast-talking, energy. Also Michael Zegen (Joel) is dead cute.

Mob Psycho 100

While One Punch Man might be manga artist One's best known series (and is fantastic in its own right), his other series, Mob Psycho 100, is profound in a way quite unlike anything else I've seen. The show revolves around Mob, an awkward, unconfident middle school boy with god-like psychic powers. Any other shonen anime would use this premise as a gateway to epic battles (and there are a few, and their animation is absolutely incredible), but Mob Psycho 100 focuses far more on the coming-of-age angle instead.

See, Mob doesn't like his psychic powers because they make him feel weird. So instead of focusing on the one thing he's innately talented at but doesn't like, Mob tries to improve himself in the ways he actually cares about improving––making friends, talking to girls, working out with his school's Body Improvement Club. If anything, Mob's incredible psychic powers are a backdrop for the show's larger message––that no person, no matter what natural abilities they may have, is better than anyone else. Mob Psycho 100 shows that everyone has their own struggles, and that the only person you should ever hold yourself up in comparison to is the person you were yesterday.

The OA

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij's labyrinthine show only ran for two seasons, but it managed to earn a cult following during that time. Deeply weird, profoundly earnest, and full to the brim with observations on the connections between the environment, parallel universes, and technology, the two seasons that we do have are irreplaceable and paradigm-shifting examples of what TV could become, if we let ourselves believe.

Orange Is the New Black

Orange is the New Black

Piper Kerman's post-grad rebellious stage went from a felony to a cultural touchstone. As Netflix's most-watched original series, OITNB boasted a female-led cast and cutting commentary on race, class, and the industrial prison complex.

PEN15

Those who didn't have a gruelingly awkward middle school experience are, by scientific evidence, simply inhuman. Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle tell it best in Hulu original PEN15, which co-stars the real-life BFFs (who also wrote and executive produced together) as 13-year-olds. Here, there's no sugarcoating the calamities of tweenhood, whether they're as trivial as thongs and AIM messaging or as weighty as race identity. All delivered with Erskine and Konkle's razor-sharp wit, it's absolutely hysterical to anyone who's lived past the seventh grade.

Rick and Morty

"To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty. The humour is extremely subtle, and without a solid grasp of theoretical physics most of the jokes will go over a typical viewer's head."

Okay, so first things first, we need to separate Rick and Morty from the Rick and Morty fandom. The Rick and Morty fandom is so annoying that memes making fun of them are barely distinguishable from the things they actually say. But, to be fair, Rick and Morty really is a great show full of smart writing, surprisingly deep characterization, and the exact kind of bizarre, abstract humor that lends itself perfectly to endless memes. No doubt, Rick and Morty will be the defining animated comedy of the 2010s.

Russian Doll

This tightly-wound and big-hearted thriller stars Natasha Lyonne as a jaded New Yorker who gets caught in a loop in time and has to relive the night of her 36th birthday party over and over again. A perfect blend of humor and seriousness, and riddled with quantum leaps and profound connections, it's as satisfying as it is provocative.

Shameless

Shameless

We fell in love with the trainwreck family the Gallaghers when it debuted on Showtime in 2011. William H. Macy brought so much toxic charm to the abusive and neglectful father Frank Gallagher that we actually found him, if not likable, then good television. Emmy Rossum managed to cause tears and laughter within the same scene, and the entire cast was as impressive as their characters were appalling.

Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)

After the first season of Attack on Titan premiered in 2013, it received so much hype that even people outside of the anime community were raving about it. The show featured an incredibly high-concept premise, following the last surviving humans as they tried to fight back against giant, man-eating monsters called Titans. Had Attack on Titan stuck to that premise, it would have been top-notch action-horror, albeit not necessarily one of the best shows of the decade.

But Attack on Titan turned out to be so much bigger than its initial premise. As the seasons progressed, Attack on Titan reshaped itself time and time again, leading viewers through an increasingly complex, expertly plotted narrative featuring some of the most compelling characters and intensely emotional moments that I've ever experienced in fiction. At its core, Attack on Titan is a deeply thematic contemplation on war, othering, and humanity's will to survive against impossible odds, alongside the moral sacrifices they oftentimes make to do so.

Shrill

It shouldn't be revolutionary for a show to feature a fat female lead, but it is. Shrill, the brilliant Hulu adaptation of Lindy West's memoir, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, gave audiences a badly needed narrative about a woman who is actively seeking to change her life for the better, in ways that have nothing to do with her body. It's funny, it's heartfelt, and it shows a woman getting an abortion and finding it empowering. Woah. Hell yes.

Steven Universe

When Steven Universe first aired on Cartoon Network in 2013, it was a light-hearted and silly children's show with some super-powered action from the Crystal Gems and a lot of silly jokes from their sidekick—the childish titular character. Since then an entire galaxy has been fleshed out around the boardwalk of Beach City where much of the show takes place. Along with the alien gem creatures and their elaborate history, the show has introduced us to a cast of characters that have grown and changed—overcoming insecurities and facing complex questions of love and identity. While Steven matured and developed into a hero worthy of his last name, the show evolved to become one of the best of the decade.

25-50 Top TV Shows of the 2010s

  • American Horror Story
  • Archer
  • Big Mouth
  • Community
  • Homeland
  • Inside Amy Schumer
  • iZombie
  • Jane the Virgin
  • Jessica Jones
  • Justified
  • Last Week Tonight
  • Love
  • Stranger Things
  • Suits
  • The Good Place
  • The Newsroom
  • This Is Us
  • True Detective
  • Unreal

VeepThe 5 Worst TV Shows of the 2010s9-1-1

  • Chicago PD
  • Daybreak
  • Once Upon a Time
  • What/If
TV

Did Season 2 Ruin "The End of the F*cking World"?

Did the show do itself a disservice by not ending after Season 1?

If you're a fan of Charles Forsman's graphic novel, The End of the F*cking World, then you were probably at least a little pissed off to see they were making a second season of the Netflix show based on the comic.

It's impossible to discuss the second season of this Netflix dramedy without spoiling the end of the first season, so if you have yet to catch up on this highly bingeable show, we recommend you stop reading now.

Essentially, Season 1 ends the same way the graphic novel does, with Alyssa and James finally getting tracked down by the police and James subsequently getting shot while trying to save Alyssa. In the novel, that moment of supreme sacrifice is how the story ends, and it's made clear James did not survive the encounter. But, as James says flatly in a voice over at the beginning of Season 2, "It was a fitting end, a doomed love story. A perfect tragedy. And then I didn't die." Indeed, viewers soon learn that writer Charlie Covell left his source material behind completely in writing the second installment of the series and James not only survived in this version, but soon reenters Alyssa's life.

End of the F*cking world An excerpt from the original graphic novel.


This left many viewers, this writer included, feeling conflicted. On one hand, the first season of the oddball series was a nearly perfect set of episodes. Deeply moving and hyper-realistic almost to the point of surrealism, it was a triumph in the genre of coming-of-age stories. It was made all the more perfect by the seemingly definitive ending: a bold, tragic end that tied up the story neatly and, in its original form, left no room for a sequel. On the other hand, saying goodbye to the deeply alive characters of Alyssa and James seemed unimaginable. But maybe that hard goodbye was part of what made the first season so perfect.

But then, it turned out it wasn't goodbye at all. And as much as we were happy to learn we'd get a whole other season of The End of the F*cking World, the very fact of the second season cast a shadow on the excellence of the first. Summarily, the second season has a difficult task to perform: prove to its audience that its existence is worth the loss of our perfect, tragic, poetic ending.

So, the question is: Did it succeed? Well...yes and no.

First, it's impossible to overstate the brilliance of this show's script. The inclusion of the character's inner monologues combined with the sparse, direct, and deadpan interpersonal dialogue serve to immerse the audience in a story both bizarre and deeply familiar. The audience gets the feeling that, thanks to these soliloquies, they know Alyssa and James just as well as they know themselves; but, given their adolescence and various struggles, that's to say hardly at all. Indeed, the combination of impulsivity and child-like innocence with the very adult grief and trauma these young characters bear creates a heartbreakingly realistic portrait of adolescence. All of this remains true in Season 2.

But, in many ways, Season 2 explores areas Season 1 already conquered. A third central character comes in the form of Bonnie (played by Naomi Ackie), a college-aged woman determined to exact revenge against Alyssa and James for killing her "boyfriend," Clive, whom James stabbed when he tried to rape Alyssa in Season 1. Bonnie is quite obviously "strange," as Alyssa puts it, and we learn in the first episode that this is at least in part because of an abusive childhood. While Ackie's performance is brilliant, she adds little besides a central source of conflict. Much of her character seems to be an exploration of themes Season 1 already covered: generational trauma, unhealthy attachments, and anger.

Bonnie (Naomi Ackie)

Still, in the final confrontation of the season we see James and Alyssa held at gunpoint in a diner by Bonnie, and what transpires is a scene about trauma and forgiveness as effecting as anything that's ever been on TV. When it's finally revealed to Bonnie that Clive tried to rape Alyssa, and Bonnie insists that they "still need to be punished," Alyssa delivers a brief monologue that punches all the harder for her character's usually sarcastic, deadpan manner. "You think we weren't punished? I'm always in that house," Alyssa confesses. "I'm always in that room. I can't get out. Maybe I did some things I shouldn't have, but I didn't deserve that." Finally, we see Bonnie's loathing and grief turn on herself, a poignant testament to the self-loathing inherent in vengeance, and watch as Alyssa and James stop her from ending her own life. Ultimately, audiences are given a much more interesting antagonist in Bonnie than they had with Clive, a serial rapist and murderer, in Season 1. Bonnie is as much a victim of Clive's cruelty as Alyssa is, and as such, she is by no means a true villain, but rather exists in a grey area of sympathy and antagonism that is ultimately more effective in the narrative of the show.

Much like last season, there are also moments of extraordinary wisdom. When James is rhetorically asked by a police man "What can you do?" in regards to Bonnie's mental illness, James responds, simply, "Well, a bit more." It's this sense of hope in the face of overwhelming nihilism that this show captures so beautifully. Perhaps acknowledgement of just how f*cked the world is, while allowing a sneaking suspicion to creep in that maybe the sun will rise some day—that maybe holding hands is worth doing even as the world falls in around you—is exactly what we need from our art in 2019.

While the critic in me wants to argue that Season 2 should never have existed, if I'm being honest, I'm just glad I got to spend a little more time trying to figure it all out alongside James and Alyssa.

FILM

"El Camino" Forces Jesse Pinkman into His Own Cowboy Fantasy

Jesse Pinkman's story begins again in this coda to "Breaking Bad."

At the end of Breaking Bad, Jesse Pinkman was so deep in a pit of trauma and pain that it was difficult to imagine how he could go on.

In the series' final episodes, as Walter White spiraled through the final fallout from his megalomanic rise, Jesse found himself tortured, trapped, forced to watch a girl he loved get shot in front of her child, among other unendurable traumas.

So to re-enter Jesse's world, as we now do in El Camino, is to re-enter a space of fragmentation, a world made literally intolerable by memory. For better or for worse, El Camino never really dives into Jesse's inner thoughts in an explicit manner, and we never see him really break down. Instead, we're given a multitude of flashbacks, and we're left to surmise how Jesse is feeling on the inside, to read it from his weary eyes and from the way he processes things and others.

Like Walter in Breaking Bad, El Camino follows its protagonist on a quest that essentially has one end goal: to amass as much money as possible. In this film, Jesse is seeking out the funds to pay a man to invent him a new life—and without too many spoilers, many calamities and many deaths ensue as he tries to secure the cash.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie | Date Announcement | Netflix www.youtube.com

Aaron Paul does a formidable job with this fractured version of Jesse, a subdued character in comparison to the one he played on the series. In Breaking Bad's early days he was charismatic and full of life (if usually high), his boyish callousness a sharp contrast to Walter's teacherly seriousness, which of course later morphed into the icy ruthlessness of Heisenberg. Here, Jesse is mostly silent, burdened by the weight of his past and the heavy legacy of the destructive empire he helped build.

Like its parent series, El Camino is a movie about what capitalism and greed can do to people. It's about the lengths a person will go to secure money, in a world wherein money is equated with masculinity and masculinity is equal to power. On the subject of gender, the women in El Camino are footnotes at best, corpses at worst. Whereas Breaking Bad had Skyler and Marie as powerful leading characters, El Camino's only women are a horde of strippers and a cleaning lady, whom a neo-Nazi named Todd strangled and then forced Jesse to dispose of (as we discover in a flashback). Sitting in the desert, Jesse and Todd look down over the grave. Todd asks if Jesse wants to say a few final words; when Jesse declines, he says, "Nice, nice lady. Excellent housekeeper."

Maybe the scene wasn't meant to be political, but it is indicative of the ways that male violence—led by the drug trade or not—so frequently puts women's bodies on the line, relegating them to positions as strippers and housekeepers, invisible laborers who exist only in the background. Countless women flee brutal violence every day in countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and many of them wind up languishing in American border camps, often sent back to the abusive homes from which they came. If they're lucky enough to wind up in America, maybe they can get a housekeeper job, and even then they may wind up underground.

That's the runoff from this kind of violence, which so often stems from within America. It's the fallout from power-hungry kingpins like Walter White who feel the need to compensate for their own unfulfilled entitlement by lashing out at the world around them, becoming the cowboys, kingpins, or brutal Jokers or ruthless leaders they feel they have the right to be.

But this is not Walter White's story anymore. Unlike Walter, Jesse has always had a semblance of ethics, a desire for redemption. In the film, he's given a few moments in between the chases and gunfights to rise up from dark bathwater, or to gently balance a beetle on his fingertip. Jesse has always been drawn to small creatures, to invisible and innocent things. In this film, his main objective is to become one of them.

Still, Vince Gilligan can't seem to resist writing Jesse his own cowboy narrative. At the start of El Camino, Jesse was unable to actually fire a kill shot—but near the end, he ruthlessly kills two men, an action that is painted as something like a triumph. The mythology of the American cowboy never quite leaves him or the core of the Breaking Bad franchise, though it's always been clear that these narratives only end in violence, and there is no cleaning off the blood.

El Camino will probably only appeal to hardcore fans of Breaking Bad, as it's is too laced with reverberations from the series to stand alone and too much of a slow-burn to make for a self-sufficient thriller. Still, it has enough gorgeous images of the desolate American Southwest to please fans of the show's famed cinematography, and it's packed with the same kind of complex moral questions that always made Breaking Bad so difficult to look away from. Though it may provide few answers, it's a look into the questions that burn holes into the foundations of the American Dream.