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The Best of 2018

Reason's staff picks the best books, games, music, and TV of the year.

Looking for the perfect Festivus gift, or just for the right TV show to binge-watch over the holidays? As we approach the end of 2018, we've asked Reason's staff to select some of the best books, TV, games, music, and other media released this year. Our picks range from a stoner rock album to a memoir by the son of a quiz-show champion, from a true-crime book to an interactive western. Dig in. —Jesse Walker

Katherine Mangu-Ward

NBCNBCKnow a nerd who needs to relax? Consider giving them a couple of seasons of NBC's The Good Place.

The show's governing questions are how to be a good person and whether anyone should even bother to try. The meandering investigation of that question involves: A lot of puns. A supernatural being played by Ted Danson. A slow-burn romance and a love triangle. A lot of puns. A walking, talking Alexa. Many jokes about Florida. Casual mentions of Tim Scanlon. The trolley problem. A lot of puns.

I'm as surprised as you are to find myself recommending a sitcom from a broadcast network. But The Good Place's snappy yet thoughtful dialogue and pleasingly moderate level of wackiness overcame my cusper/millennial anti-legacy-media prejudices.

Unlike the long-arc prestige dramas that get all the buzz these days, The Good Place demands nothing of its viewer; it offers 22-minute increments of intellectually redeeming delight. It's a candy-coated multivitamin and it goes down smooth.

The third season is currently airing, so once they get caught up, your gift recipients will also get to enjoy the now-novel agony of watching a weekly television show in real time. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Matt Welch

Little ALittle AIt's not because I'm Nancy Rommelmann's friend that I cracked open, let alone now recommend, her book To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder. In these attention-fractured times, friendship alone does not ensure a #longread, particularly when the subject matter is as gruesome as a mom chucking her two tots into the Willamette River.

But I was a Rommelfan before a Rommelpal; it was only long-held trust in her journalism that led me into these uninviting waters. Boy, am I ever grateful.

To the Bridge is a 303-page crowbar into an open-and-shut case—the 2009 murder of four-year-old Eldon Smith and attempted murder of his seven-year-old sister Trinity by their mother, Amanda. Evil/crazy mom pleads guilty to unfathomably horrendous deed, what's left to discuss?

The reader stops asking such questions by about the second paragraph, through the allure of Rommelmann's deceptively simple storytelling. Soon, and somehow without obtrusion, the author swaps in a whole new set of queries. Did Amanda hear her daughter's cries in the river that night? How could her ex-husband Jason be so charming and note-perfect in public appearances yet such a grifting drug parasite in his day-to-day life? And who in God's name was that homeless-looking young father at the grotesque Fire Dept. christening of a rescue boat dubbed the Eldon Trinity?

To the Bridge is a story about all that, every act of reportorial brush-clearance adding new vistas of clarity and obfuscation. But—again, without explicitly telling you so—Rommelmann's investigation also manages to be both a tonic meditation on the limits of knowledge and a bracing defense of its pursuit.

Eric Boehm

PolydorPolydorFrank Turner's excellent album Be More Kind opens with an admission that he's been as confused about 2018 as you are. "I don't know what I'm doing, and no one has a clue," he sings on the wholesome, clap-along first track.

The rest of the album unfolds like a series of coping mechanisms. Turner turns to booze- and guitar-fueled rage on "1933," screaming about how we should be more suspicious of politicians offering easy answers to complex problems, because "that shit's for fascists and maybe teenagers." He also winks at the absurdity of anyone asking a musician for advice, then proceeds to outline his plan to fix America on "Make America Great Again" (yes, really).

His music is an oddly wonderful mix of punk and folk, but Turner's strength is a gift for clever songwriting. On this album, he replaces yarns about lost loves and English folklore for commentaries on heart-hardening contemporary politics and the awfulness of social media. But getting political is not entirely new ground for Turner. On earlier albums, he recorded an anthem celebrating a 14th century peasant's revolt against the English crown ("Sons of Liberty") and an atheist hymn that wouldn't be out of place on an episode of South Park ("There is no God, so clap your hands together" goes the chorus of the delightfully ironic "Glory, Hallelujah").

If you didn't know Turner was a self-described libertarian, you'd probably figure it out from this collection of songs. And while Be More Kind makes it clear that he doesn't have all the answers, he does have some ideas. "The central driving philosophical thought behind the record was just looking around at the rise of instability in our politics and the collapse in people's ability to meaningfully disagree with each other like adults," Turner told Reason.

Punk rock once sought to tear down the old order. But "in a world that has decided it's going to lose its mind," as Turner puts it on the title track, maybe kindness is now punk.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You know who wasn't in the third season of The Man in the High Castle?

    The best of 2018 is yet to come: its ending.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    NO SPOILERS

    I won't get to the 3rd season until sometime after Xmas.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Amazon messes up the story.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    You know who else messed up the story?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    All the Reason staff listed above?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Every defendant who didn't have the sense to get a lawyer?

  • Cy||

    Did anything truly noteworthy happen this year? Everything very much felt like business as usual.

  • Eddy||

    I'm sure noteworthy things happened this year, but the media was probably too dumb to notice their significance.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    We lost Citizen Crusty.

  • Qsl||

    Talks with North Korea and the start of disarming the peninsula was pretty unexpected and significant, possibly bookending the final chapter in the cold war.

    Apple's capitalization of 1 trillion marks either a brave new world in economics or a harbinger of doom, depending.

    Much science had asterisks placed on common knowledge with new discoveries.

    If anything, 2018 has been so fantastically weird that "business as usual" could include unicorns invading from outer space and hardly anyone would bat an eye.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Umm, the world ended, because, you know, Trump

  • Eddy||

    I'd rather read the throwing-children-off-a-bridge book than watch a series with such a depressing premise as The Man in the High Castle.

  • DiegoF||

    It's Alternative History. Strikes me as one of those genres that's very, very YMMV because it's all about your general enjoyment of the conceit--where you either can't get enough or you think the whole thing is silly and it does nothing for you. I think Hitler winning WW2 is probably one of the most common themes in AH, right after (surprise) the rebels winning the American Civil War.

    The only AH universe that I know of that is designed to be straight-up better than the present is one where I believe George Washington is executed by the Whiskey Rebels, Hamilton and the Federalists flee, and an enhanced Articles of Confederation is restored. Going forth American history proceeds in a very, very minarchist direction. Jefferson frees the slaves peacefully; Calhoun and Jeff Davis are eventual presidents (as are Spooner, Douglass, and essentially every pop-famous 20th century libertarian); all of North America joins; and technological advancement is ahead of real-world schedule by ever-increasing margins. I think they get down to the present where they have apes and dolphins milling about as citizens after their sapience is discovered and they start communicating with us--so essentially pretty sci-fi and just plain weird and the author had the sense to end it there. I think that is how it went; I haven't actually read this or any other AH.

  • Jesse Walker||

    The alternate history that you are describing is the world of L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach and its sequels.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I heard that novel was problematic.

  • Hank Phillips||

    I bought a copy for a friend. Smith himself buys into some conservative fetishes--such as vilification of liberals for providing the platform that made alcohol safe(r) and (somewhat) legal.

  • creech||

    Well, sure, the South will win if they get AK-47s from time-traveling South African white racists. But that book wasn't real AH. Far more realistic is "Stars and Bars Over Philadelphia," based on Stonewall Jackson's actual plan to invade Pennsylvania and capture Philadelphia.

  • Hank Phillips||

    That imaginario might well have saved These States from the indoctrination that made such a monster of Herbert Clark Hoover--the man who enabled Hitler! But the problem with quantum fantasies is the same that plagues the subjectivist "lifeboat" ethical conundrums looters are to taken by: First, let's assume reality isn't what it is. Next "we"... (there follows some artificial situation in which only predatory aggression or altruistic death are admitted as possible outcomes).

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Well I have been growing more and more frustrated with Netflix lately so I think I will finally bite the bullet, purchase a Prime membership and watch Man in the High Castle along with the Homecoming series. Plus, The Good Life sounds kinda interesting.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Check out The Last Kingdom.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    I think what I enjoy the most about The Good Life is it isn't very pretentious and comes in 22 minute bites, plus the premise gets funnier and funnier.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I think in general, the Amazon shows are higher quality. Netflix seems to focus on quantity over quality and they are geared more towards what I call the background viewer: someone who wants television on in the background while they do something else. Hence the lower quality.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Netflix produces more original content and more decent original content than Amazon.

    Netflix also produces garbage content.

    This means that Netflix has more things to watch and Amazon is not worth the money for Prime/Prime video.

  • Cy||

    Netflix has some GREAT series and some crappy ones. In the Content category, Netflix crushes Amazon. I tihnk Netflix also has some much better series, Narcos all seasons were excellent, The Haunting of Hill House, Daredevil, Troll hunter (kids). Amazon has what? AMH, which I tried to like and Jack Ryan, which was awesome. I have both services but, I don't have Prime for the streaming.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Although I just watched on Netflix last night the Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It is an interesting movie, not at all what you might expect. More like a series of vignettes rather than a film with one continuous plot. Definitely worth seeing.

  • DiegoF||

    If you didn't know Turner was a self-described libertarian, you'd probably figure it out from this collection of songs.

    Took things a bit too far, I'd say. Here he is in intense policy negotiations with the lovely Sadiq Khan.

  • SIV||

    Punk rock once sought to tear down the old order.

    Of pop music...

    If you think punk is primarily "political" you're playing or listening to it wrong.

  • Careless||

    "could care less"

    Ok, someone fire that guy

  • Don't look at me!||

    He's not giving a full effort.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Fixed!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Nick Gillespie
    No novel, movie, or TV show captivated me this year as completely as the third season of the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle.

    The Gestapo wore leather jackets.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Some of our supposedly free minded betters at Reason watch Network tv shows and really like them.

    Very telling.

  • DiegoF||

    I for one do not even own a TV. I have better things to do with my time. And I have absolutely zero interest in any mainstream-media, mass-consumption entertainment unless it has Tyler Perry Presents... in the title.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I have absolutely zero interest in any mainstream-media, mass-consumption entertainment unless it has Tyler Perry Presents... in the title.

    Stop giving Tyler Perry money or he won't go away!

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Some of our supposedly free minded betters in the Reason commentage show their free minds by sneering at network tv shows that they have never seen.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    How do you know that the tv shows are not watched for two minutes, an immediate barf occurs, and the tv shows rejected?

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Do you only read the preamble to the Constitution, and all you know of the Declaration of Independence is something about "When in the course of human events ...".

    You probably did manage to read all of the Gettysburg Address.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Expressing faux disdain for TV shows they've never even watched is how the cool kids prove that they're cool.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Defending TV when much of it is crap is how some other kids fit into their group.

    Sometimes, opinions are simply opinions about a topic and are not being used to virtue signal.

  • Hank Phillips||

    I was shocked. Looking back, Ralph Smart was the writer for William Tell, Danger Man and The Prisoner--the last show I watched. They broke the mold with that one.

  • Ron||

    nothing on this list interest me and if this is what they think of 2018 that may be good thing because apparently nothing happened

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Really, Scott? Magic: The Gathering?

    NERRRRRDDDD!!!!1!!!!!!

  • Hank Phillips||

    Finally! Steppenwolf and The Airplane aside, for decades now I've wondered if there was anything more recent than Rick Ruskin's "I don't try to tell you how to run your life--at least you could respond in kind!"

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