The Sun Always Shines on T.V.: Oohlo’s Bright Spots 2017, Part Two

Wherein we continue our picks for 2017’s rays of light, peeking through the cloudy worldscape. Check out Part One here.

***Spoiler Warning*** Descriptions below the listed films and series may contain Spoilers***

Wonder Woman

Up until the summer release of Wonder Woman, DC/Warner Bros.’ recent track record with its top properties was underwhelming, to say the least. Fans never really connected with Zack Snyder’s vision of a comic superhero cinematic universe, which put all the more pressure on director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot to deliver a movie the pleased both critics and audiences, AND to break the perception that female-fronted superhero movies are box-office poison. Wonder Woman connected with viewers across the spectrum ($800 million-plus worldwide box office) because the character that Jenkins and Gadot created is fully realized with power, intelligence, passion and the ability to kick ass in a way few superheroes (male or female) can. Craig Wack

GLOW – Women are Done Being Polite

If there’s one thing I’m looking forward to now that 2017 is over, it’s going to be the studies on how the last twelve months became The Year of The Woman. We were everywhere, and we were seen and heard like never before. From the women who marched last January to the warrior Silence Breakers and, of course, to the many female characters who dominated film and television, GLOW may have turned off a few viewers with some of its darker jokes or its decidedly blunt approach to social commentary, but its fictional take on the real-life history of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling was a work of quiet genius. Seen mostly through the eyes of Ruth (Alison Brie, in an award-nominated performance), GLOW follows a band of misfit women as they find strength and friendship when they try out for an all-female wrestling TV show. Naturally, Brie shines, but one of the best things about GLOW is that it’s really more of an ensemble piece, with almost every character getting the kind of involved development that’s still fairly rare today. It’s genuinely hard to pick a favourite character from the bunch: Betty Gilpin’s Debbie is equal parts heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud hilarious; Sunita Mani is adorable and vulnerable as she grapples with the racially discomforting elements of her wrestling persona; Ellen Wong is delightful as the bubbly Jenny; and it’s impossible not to fall in love with Gayle Rankin’s unique Sheila. My personal breakout star has to be Britney Young as the shy but determined Carmen Wade. Daughter of a wrestling legend, she struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, but is the glowing heart and soul of the group.

For bonus points, check out the documentary on the real-life GLOW – it’s easily as heartwarming and inspiring as the show. — Nadine Morgan

Big Little Lies

The powerhouse that is a close group of women was on full display from the moment Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon secured the rights to Liane Moriarty’s can’t-put-it-down book about a circle of well-to-do friends with plenty of secrets. Adding in an irresistible cast — Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz and Alexander Skarsgård as the disarmingly terrifying abuser you’d never expect — took the HBO adaptation to binge-worthy heights, and Kidman’s performance as a battered wife is one of her best. The joy in this particular assembly of actresses is that, even while tackling such heavy subjects, the multiple Emmy-winning series brought as much light and laughter as it did attention to domestic abuse and its domino effect. In the end, it was the strong friendships between both characters and players that connected with audiences, making Big Little Lies a beacon we couldn’t resist. — Cindy Davis

Crisis on Earth X

Each time the CW’s Arrowverse grows by a show, the demand for crossover episodes grows just as much. Previous attempts at mixing series either involved limited scope or served other purposes (the first big crossover was a backdoor pilot for Legends of Tomorrow), and the crossovers never lived up to the dreams of fans who have fond memories of grand annual crossover adventures in the pages of the comic books that now live in the bottoms of their closets. Without other entanglements weighing them down, the creative teams at Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow created a four-episode, two-night superhero fun-fest largely removed from the greater narrative arcs of the individual shows. It was an effort that finally delivered on the promise of what a crossover can (and should) be. CW

Mr. Robot, Season 3

Sam Esmail never disappoints, but after the divisive second season of the universally adored Mr. Robot, he turned out a third round that, in my mind, might be the best TV of the year. Season Three was a game-changer, managing to both advance the subtle science-fiction themes of the show while still avoiding revealing what was really going on.

Delivering an unguessable twist in the midseason terrorist attack, Mr. Robot examined how far the characters were willing to go for their individual, personal causes and prompted astounding performances from the cast — particularly Portia Doubleday and Christian Slater. Special honours go to Episode 3.7, which sees Elliot take something like a dream-quest with Trenton’s younger brother. Esmail managed to set theorists’ minds whirring with his references to time travel and reality changing, but, most of all, he served up a side thread in what is, at its core, a study in grief, trauma and guilt. –NM

Daisy Ridley’s Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Regardless of which side of The Last Jedi fence you fall, there’s one character we can all agree has lit up the screen from the moment we met her: Daisy Ridley’s fantastically feisty, strong-willed and powerful heroine for the ages (no matter who her parents are), Rey. In the tradition of our dearest Leia, Rey’s spirit is simply indomitable; she’ll never take no for an answer and, no matter the obstacle or how powerful her enemies, Rey will fight to the end. Her training scenes in Episode VIII are nothing short of breathtaking; the fight with [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], spectacular; and it’s obvious Ridley throws every part of her being into playing her part: she simply is Rey. For every generation and gender of Star Wars fans, the casting gods hit gold when they found Daisy. — CD

The Thor: Ragnarok Press Tour

This is not to say that we didn’t enjoy Thor: Ragnarok; we loved it. It was our favorite Marvel movie of the year. However, when you throw Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum and director Taika Waititi (in a pineapple-print romper) all together and then add in jet lag and the occasional cocktail, you get magic. Everywhere we turned in October, there was the Ragnarok cast doing, saying or looking absolutely hilarious, and it made us want to see the movie they were promoting all the more. CW

Blue Planet II Protecting Our Oceans

Sir David Attenborough has always been the master of nature documentaries, but Blue Planet II took us to levels we had never before imagined. The devout naturalist and his film crews are so renowned for their dedication to capturing the best images of our living planet that, more than once, they’ve been credited with inventing entirely new techniques for the art, and are legendary for their ability to capture never-before-seen shots — and behaviours — of animals and wildlife. Season Two was equal parts startling, spectacular and, occasionally, a little creepy: there are fish who can use tools, other fish who can crawl on land, and octopuses — renowned tool users, as seen below — who have begun living in social groups. What this may mean for the already astonishingly intelligent creatures is yet to be seen.

Sir David is always out to educate and, while he was gentle in the past, Blue Planet II was the year he got real. Every episode spent time on the devastating impact humans are having on our oceans, but Attenborough wasn’t all doom and gloom. He spoke of positive changes and the ways we can help prevent our oceans from being spoiled forever. To highlight just how important the series was, the UK environmental minister reported that he was “haunted” by an episode on plastic in our oceans and vowed to explore options for ocean cleanup. Additionally, the series was so popular in China that downloads of Blue Planet II actually slowed down the country’s internet. —NM

Logan and Laura 

As I mentioned when first I saw the trailer for Logan, I’d never been able to make it through an X-Men movie. But with Logan‘s tone, performances and the little dynamo that is Dafne Keen, all that changed. There’s no getting ’round the fact that Hugh Jackman needs and deserves an Oscar nomination for his broken, aged Wolverine — sometimes it’s hard to believe the actor exists under that make-up. Pained and grumbling, his grizzled geezer is going through the motions of caring for a feeble Charles Xavier (the always sublime Patrick Stewart), when little Laura comes into his life. Despite himself, he is possibly as shocked as we at the fairly feral girl who can take on a team of would-be captors all by her lonesome. As they road-trip to rescue a group of her mutant friends, Logan — reluctant but realizing his responsibility — practically falls apart as he tries to keep a motley family together, and it is the relationship between father and daughter that makes our hearts both fall and soar.  — CD

Mindhunter

Netflix unleashes so much content in a given year that, sometimes, gems get lost in the shuffle of new Master of None, Daredevil, Bojack Horseman or The Crown seasons to binge. The true crime series Mindhunter deserved more hoopla than it got, which made it 2017’s secret success. The David Fincher-led series is based loosely on the real-life story of how modern criminal profiling came into being. Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany and Anna Torv turn in spectacular performances as the group who hunt down serial killers. With many more subjects to study and serial killers to discover, this series feels like it’s going to be good for a long time. CW

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

If you don’t know who Martin McDonagh is, I suggest you do your best to remedy this as soon as possible. The mad genius behind two of the best dark comedies of the last decade — In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths — McDonagh is one of those directors whose capacity to generate awards talk with every new film can seem … honestly, incidental. The man just loves to tell amazing stories, and coaxes pure art out of every frame of every film he makes, seemingly by happenstance. Three Billboards follows Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who has run entirely out of effs to give after her teenager daughter is brutally raped and killed. Hiring three billboards outside her hometown, including one directly over the spot where her daughter died, Mildred challenges the local sheriff’s department on their lack of movement on the case. The sheriff (Woody Harrelson) and particularly the dim-bulb deputy (Sam Rockwell, in a performance that’s finally generating Oscar talk for Hollywood’s best actor to date) are angered by the attack on their office, but to say anything more about what follows would be too spoilery.

This is not a movie with massive twists and turns, but rather a darkly comedic observation on the impacts of such a horrific crime on everybody it touches. No one character is a perfect person — from the grieving, angry Mildred to her depressed son to the frustrated law enforcement officers — but in their flaws are their humanity. A must-watch to round out your year. —NM

Jon Bernthal in The Punisher

It may seem odd for such a horrific, violent (I seriously covered my eyes through the many gory scenes) show to be on a “Bright Spots” list, but, like Logan, The Punisher‘s darkness is overridden by powerful performances — in this case, Jon Bernthal’s absolute best. Taking The Walking Dead‘s Shane next level — and then some — Bernthal reminds us of what brilliant range he has, and of how utterly uplifting the human spirit can be, against all (and I mean all) odds. This is the series the actor has always deserved, and we’re so glad Netflix brought Frank Castle into its Marvel mix. Bonus: The odd, yet perfect, friendship with David/Micro, played to perfection by Girls‘ Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and also the interesting tension between Frank and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) that we’d like to see parlayed into something much more. — CD

Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt has long been one of our favorite comedians. From his stand-up to his bevy of guest appearances on some of our favorite series (hello, Agent Koenig), a show is always better when Oswalt is on the scene. After the unexpected death of his wife, Michelle McNamara, in early 2016, Oswalt didn’t tweet as much or make as many guest spots, as he was processing his own grief and helping his young daughter through hers. However, in 2017, he followed up his Emmy-winning stand-up special with “Annihilation,” which encompassed the turbulent post-Trump world and navigating life as a widower. Additionally, Oswalt found love and happiness again, marrying Meredith Salenger this past fall. We couldn’t be happier for one of our favorite funnymen.CW

Special Mention – Season Two of The Expanse

I’ve mentioned the science-fiction epic set to take over from Game of Thrones as the next big genre show twice before, but I’m including it in a shout-out on our Bright Spots list for two reasons: 1. Because the show is just that good and 2. Because, starting in February, when the show returns to SyFy, I will be reviewing the third season — and looking back on the first two in more detail. Tune in soon to learn more! —NM

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