And the winner of 2020’s final review request is…

, | Features

Here are the latest review requests from my Patreon supporters, followed by my counter-recommendations. Think of it as a broad overview of what my Patreon supporters are doing, along with a look at what I’ve been doing as well. Stay tuned for the drawing of the actual winner tomorrow, to be followed by the review within 30 days.

As you’ve gotten used to be told so often in 2020, buckle up!

1. Sam Spackman: I have been reading about Soden’s biography of Michael Tippett, so I would be really interested in either a review of Soden’s book, or a review of the operatic oeuvre of Michael Tippett.

Counter-recommendation: Tippett sounds like he lived quite a life.  Thanks for this one, Sam.  No thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library, which doesn’t have it yet.  My counter-recommendation isn’t a biography so much as a performance.  When I got into opera, it was largely because of the performances of some well-known singers. I could hear so much in their voices, in the “color” of their performances as certain characters.  Placido Domingo as Manrico in Il Trovatore and Maria Callas as Tosca, for example.  They’re both super-famous and to a real opera connoisseur, that would probably sound facile.  But the performances that really grabbed me were from a baritone named Tito Gobbi.  Any of his roles, really.  He had such distinctive feeling in the way he sang.  I have no idea how technically proficient he was (proficient enough to be famous and featured on tons of recordings, apparently).  But I do know how he brought to life characters like Amonasro in Aida, Iago in Otello, Scarpia in Tosca, and especially the title character in Rigoletto.

I forget where I read/heard this, but someone remarked that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling sang and danced like actors in La La Land, whereas most musicals have performers who act like singers and dancers.  I don’t know if that’s intended as a criticism, but it gets to the heart of what I love so much about La La Land, and Tito Gobbi’s performances in opera: I value performances over technical proficiency, because I really don’t have an eye or ear for technical proficiency.  So my counter-recommendation is to listen to a Tito Gobbi performance.  But only listen!  Not watch.  When I was getting into opera, it was strictly from recordings.  The only visual component was created directly in my head from the music, lyrics, and performances.  So imagine listening to this scene from Rigoletto.

Just listening.  No fair watching the grainy black-and-footage and inevitably awkward staging.  You can only let your ears show you what’s going on.  

2. Chris M: I think because we talked about him so much I am going to go with Elektra Assassin.  That sort of craziness needs a review from you, Tom.

Counter-recommendation: Craziness indeed.  I’ve actually been reading Elektra Assassin lately, one chapter at a time, going back over the frames afterwards and looking at each one closely.  It really rewards that kind of close inspection.  What a whack-a-doodle storyline, and nothing like the superhero stuff I know from Marvel movies.  Anyway, my counter-recommendation is a not very good TV show called Utopia for how it attempts an Elektra style heroine.  Not very well, I must say, but I really like the actress they cast: Sasha Lane from American Honey.  How come Katie Jarvis from Fish Tank never got that kind of follow-up opportunity?  Utopia also features everyone’s second favorite roommate from La La Land, the ebullient Jessica Rothe.

3. Soren Hoglund: Hey, hopefully I’m not too late with my pick. I wound up having so much trouble deciding, I had to go to to have it decide for me, and the verdict was…Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 1. Not a bad outcome, given that the options were all anime. (Uh, spoilers for future requests, I guess?) The 26 episodes might seem daunting, but given that they’re a little over 20 minutes a piece, it’s basically the length of a Netflix series. Except this is an actual TV show, instead of a movie pointlessly stretched to 10 episodes.

Counter-recommendation: So I have to thank once again!  I actually wouldn’t mind a helpful guide into anime.  Cowboy Bebop was a big step for me and I think I’m ready for the next step, Soren.  My counter-recommendation is The Mandalorian.  Are you watching it?  I suspect you might feel it’s beneath you.  But I’m counter-recommending it because it’s what Kellywand would call anime for white people who like Star Wars.  Original Star Wars.  None of that prequel nonsense.  It’s serialized adventures with high production values (especially in season two) and the occasional appearances of familiar Star Wars trappings, all anchored by the presence of Pedro Pascal (or at least his voice).  Plus some fun cameos and co-star appearances.  It works on the same level as John Wick because it understands the multiplicative value of a cool dude, a bad-ass suit, and a cute sidekick.  I didn’t care for it after the first couple of episodes, and it still suffers from occasional bouts of weak writing.  But overall, watching it makes me happy and finding out what happens next keeps me hooked.  I think even you would appreciate it.

4. Erik Geitner: Hi Tom, I’m sorry to do this to you, but I would love to see a review of Crusader Kings 3.  I generally stay away from Paradox games, (that happened with CK2) but my friends have really been loving this one. They say it’s pretty streamlined and easy to get into.  So now I’m curious to hear more about it.

Counter-recommendation: Apology NOT accepted, Erik!  I would be happy to review the latest Crusader Kings.  I dinked around with it a bit.  My feelings are similar to Bruce Geryk when he complained that it felt like he spent all his time looking for wives.  A medieval dating sim.  As my counter-recommendation, I always thought Sims: Medieval was underappreciated.  Basically, a whimsical and lively Ren Faire in contrast to Crusader Kings’ earnest spreadsheet.

5. Chris H: Hi Tom. My review request this month is for the podcast “You Must Remember This”, produced and narrated by Karina Longworth.   I realize that there’s no way for you to review the whole thing — she’s been doing episodes for years. But conveniently she divides things into seasons related to subject matter, so I guess specifically I’d be curious about your thoughts on her most recent season on Polly Platt. Or on her season regarding Charles Manson’s Hollywood as a piece of foundational history for Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” movie.  I know a lot of her subject matter falls into Grampa Movie territory, but those two are more modern in nature (and the Polly Platt season especially has sent me down a 1970s Hollywood auteur cinema rabbit hole of late.)

Counter-recommendation: I had never heard of Polly Platt, but reading about her, I can’t help but admire how much of a difference she made in the world.  The things we wouldn’t have had without her!  However, as someone who was deeply moved by what Tarantino did with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I would opt for that season of You Must Remember This.  My counter-recommendation is Arthur Penn’s Night Moves, which is one of my favorite unsung pieces of 70s cinema.  And as far as Gene Hackman movies go, I personally rank it above French Connection.  

6. Will Goring: I’m gonna stick with Sapphire and Steel. Because who doesn’t want to watch Patsy solving creepy temporal mysteries with Illya Kuryakin?

Counter-recommendation: I know my Patsy, but I had to look up Illya Kuryakin to find out he’s not one of the characters from a Command & Conquer game.  I tried the first episode of Sapphire and Steel.  And although you warned me, Will, those 70s British TV production values were, uh, something else.  I guess I could say that gave it a degree of extra creepiness.  My counter-recommendation is Third Day, a miniseries on HBO, which relies on modern production values for its creepiness.  I’ve only seen two episodes of it, but it’s already really unsettling and weird in a Midsommar meets Innsmouth kind of way.

7. Aaron S.: Rather than let Heaven’s Vault ride, I recommend episodes 53-54 of Soren Johnson’s series of interviews with video game designers. They were posted this summer, and this interview is with Jon Ingold, the designer of Heaven’s Vault. I’m guessing the interview happened at GDC 2018, which might help understand the context. My main purpose remains forcing your participation should this request win. It gets even more intriguing to anticipate what a review would look like.

Counter-recommendation: I would be glad for you to let Heaven’s Vault ride, Aaron.  In fact, I’m going to put this down as a Heaven’s Vault request with the added value of a designer’s commentary as hosted by Soren Johnson!  Since I’m assuming part of the draw of Heaven’s Vault is the protagonist, my counter-recommendation is a book by Rebecca Roanhorse called Trail of Lightning.  It’s a bit too YA for my taste (the protagonist is torn between her bad-boy ex and her prettyboy sidekick).  But the lead character is well written and the worldbuilding is an imaginative blend of post-apocalypse sci-fi and Navajo mysticism.

8. Vitor Zimmerer: Hi Tom. I am excited about this next round! Here is my suggestion: A film about courageous young activists fighting the injustice carried out by their government. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Germany, 2005. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Counter-recommendation: My counter-recommendation is 7 Days in Entebbe, directed by Jose Padilha.  The Brazilian movie director and not the Chicago dirty bomber.  I’m not crazy about the movie overall, but I love Daniel Bruhl and especially Rosamund Pike as the two Baader-Meinhof members who get in over their heads.  The movie is mostly a terrorist plot yarn, but their characters are a fascinating element of the story, and Gregory Burke’s script puts a lot of focus on them (Burke also wrote the far better ’71, about a British soldier lost in Belfast).  It’s obviously only tangentially related to German politics, but it’s a very different take on doomed idealism.

9. Christopher Floyd: Tom, I would love you to review one of my favorite overlooked movies: Millions, directed by Danny Boyle. No zombies, no slumdogs. Just two kids and a lot of cash.

Counter-recommendation:  Chris, have you seen Cop Car?  Cop Car makes me think of Mark Twain if Mark Twain were making R-rated movies in contemporary Hollywood.  Anyway, I don’t think I’ve seen Millions.  Which seems odd.  How could I have missed a Danny Boyle movie?  I even watched the weird art heist movie where the guy has amnesia and forgets where he put the painting until he sees nekkid Rosario Dawson.

10. Jarmo Petajaaho: The Cowboy Wally Show by Kyle Baker. P.S. Have you seen Skeletons by Nick Whitfield?

Counter-recommendation: I don’t know what either of those things are, Jarmo, but The Cowboy Wally Show looks like I’ll either hate it or love it.  Skeletons is on Amazon Prime, so it’s queued up.  My counter-recommendation, based on Cowboy Wally being about a cowboy showman, is Charles Portis’ True Grit.  The book, not the excellent Coen brothers adaptation or the John Wayne-ified John Wayne movie.  Portis is one of my favorite writers and easily one of Arkansas’ greatest contributions to the world.  Which sounds like I’m damning him with faint praise, but I would say the same thing if Portis were from one of the other states.  Reading about Cowboy Wally made me think of the ending of True Grit, when the older Mattie Ross catches up with Rooster Cogburn after he’s joined the circus.

11. Len Luczkowski: Ok. I am standing pat with Millennium: The Curse of Frank Black episode. The parallels with Apocrypha seem too close for Tom to not examine them. 

Counter-recommendation: I’m actually working my way up to the episode.  It sure takes me back to olden days of TV!  Is there ever a moment in Millennium that the moody synthesizer music stops playing?  Thanks, Twin Peaks!  My counter-recommendation would have been Third Day on HBO, but I already counter-recommended that to Will Goring.  So I’m going with my favorite recent Lovecraftian horror, a novel called The Fisherman, by John Langan.  The novel really gets Lovecraft’s structure of a story within a story, but the specifics of Langan’s mythos, his characters, and the tenor of his cosmic horror are more modern and relevant.  I’m only so-so on Langan’s short stories, but I adored this novel and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who appreciates Lovecraft’s stories.  Which I know you do.

12. Andrew Stanco: Tom, I’ve recently changed jobs and migrated to the West Coast.  I’m here in SF living with my brother for a month while I find my own place.  As a gesture of hospitality, I’ve given over my review request to him.  I recommended Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men after we discussed 1917’s long takes (vs. the single-shot sequences in this film) and he’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Counter-recommendation: Children of Men is ultimately about fatherhood, and how it can’t exist without mothers.   Which reminds me of one of my favorite movies from last year.  Light of My Life stars and is directed by Casey Affleck.  Highly recommended to anyone who appreciates Children of Men, post-apocalypses, storytelling, and especially acting.

13. Dave Hemke: In honor of Crusader Kings 3, would you review Crusader Kings the board game?

Counter-recommendation: Dave, there’s a really old boardgame called Fief, from 1981.  I wouldn’t recommend a boardgame from 1981 to anyone, because it’s so many years prior to the invention of good boardgame design.  But I would recommend the updated version of Fief, released about ten years ago, to anyone who wants to play Crusader Kings as a boardgame.  It focuses on the interplay of individual characters in the context of Medieval politics, war, and religion, with each player controlling a dynasty.  It’s also got a ton of intricate diplomatic interaction among players, and it’s one of those games that you can’t win without making deals.  In other words, you can’t just play the rules; you also have to play the table.  But all the deal-making takes place within the context of the rules.  There’s none of this loosey-goosey “if you don’t attack me for three turns, I’ll trade you a sheep for a wood” interaction that passes for diplomacy in some boardgames.

14. Jeremy H: I’m sticking with “All Systems Red” by Martha Wells, because you can’t go wrong with Murderbot. 

Counter-recommendation: You can’t go wrong with Murderbot, can you?  I’ve read the first two thanks to your recommendation, Jeremy, and they’re great.  Just an absolute delight!  The rest of them are all sitting here on my shelf, waiting for me to get to them.  As a counter-recommendation, I’m going to tentatively suggest another type of quirkily charming science fiction.  Armando Iannucci, known for scathing political satire that no longer plays like satire, did a science fiction show for HBO called Avenue 5.  Hardly a title that screams “this is a science fiction comedy”.  It’s called that because Avenue 5 is the name of a cruise ship.  In space.  A space cruise ship.  On which something goes terribly and comically wrong.  Sadly, I don’t think it’s very good, but Hugh Laurie as the captain is having so much fun that it almost makes it all worthwhile.  And what ultimately made it worthwhile for me was discovering an actress named Suzy Nakamura.  Every moment with her onscreen was a joy.  She really gets Iannucci’s deadpan tone and biting humor.  She is Avenue 5’s Peter Capaldi.

15. Fox Ferro: Impressions of Raised By Wolves would be interesting.

Counter-recommendation: I liked Raised by Wolves a lot up until that finale.  Ugh.  I especially liked Abubakar Salim as Father.  He was consistently in my imagination as the lead character in a book I read called The Moor’s Account, by Laila Lalami.  Which will be my counter-recommendation in just a sec, so stand by.  But in response to Raised by Wolves, I would counter-recommend Dan Simmons’ Hyperion as science fiction with a strong interest in religion, which was what drew me into Raised by Wolves.

16. Juan Raigada: I think I already requested this before, but since I’m reading a historical novel set in Republican Rome (recommended by Scott Gibson) I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite books, Thorton Wilder’s Ides of March.  It is a very weird read (epistolary novel with a strange looping structure) and it is unusual in that it demands a lot from the reader (you are left to interpret what the author is trying to do) which also means it supports several readings, since you keep peeling the onion the more you read. Thankfully it’s short(ish). The subject matter should be clear, but I don’t want to say much about the approach, because it’s worth discovering and arguing about.

It’s also probably a very interesting read in these trying political times.  I must have read it at least 5 times, but always in Spanish (my copy is falling apart). Several years ago I tried to read it in English for the first time, but it was not available on Kindle (or any other ebook format) at the time, so I gave up. If I’m lucky and this comes up I will read it again, this time being able to enjoy the original prose, which I think is bound to be remarkable (or else, the translator I read is indeed really good). 

Counter-recommendation: I’m happy to see this one come back up, Juan!  I love the irony of my friend who lives in Spain exposing me to classic American literature.  For my counter-recommendation, I’m going to pick The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami.  She was inspired by a Spanish expedition to Florida in the early 16th century.  600 folks, including families intended for a settlement, set out under the leadership of a guy named Narvaez.  The expedition went missing.  It wasn’t until eight years later that any survivors were recovered: three Spaniards, and one of their slaves.  They had been living among the Native Americans, desperate to find their way back to Spain.  Lalami’s book is told from the perspective of the slave.  She imagined him as a Berber who had to sell himself into slavery to support his family.  By using him as the narrator, she tells a mesmerizing variation on the theme of failed conquistadors swallowed up by the New World.  It’s really well written, and Lalami does a superlative job with the sort of “you are there” detail that historical fiction demands.

17. John Roberdeau: I’m going to nominate Clinic. It is available on Tabletopia. It does have a solo mode, but I am more interested in the standard game if you are at a place where you can safely chat for a couple of hours while playing a board game.  A couple of friends from work and I played about 1/3 of a game a few weeks ago, and I would be more than down for this to be a participatory review if it gets chosen.

Counter-recommendation: How do you play 1/3 of a game?  Did you just give up a third of the way through?  That doesn’t bode well!  I actually own Clinic already, because I was bitterly disappointed by Dice Hospital.  I even have the very cleverly named expansion.  It’s called The Extension.  Yep, the expansion to Clinic is The Extension.  My counter-recommendation is a Victory Point game called Healthy Heart Hospital.  It’s much lighter and more light-hearted than Clinic.  Solidly solitaire, too, so perfect for those of us isolated because of the coronavirus.  And way better than Dice Hospital.

18. Aquamafia: Rimworld. Happy organ harvesting.

Counter-recommendation: There’s a Rimworld clone from a Chinese developer called Amazing Cultivation Simulator.  And based on mucking around with the tutorials, it’s complex, well-documented, and uniquely zany enough to stand apart from Rimworld better than most Rimworld clones.  I’m not sure if it has organ harvesting, though.

19. Paxton Mason: Hey Tom. I think my favorite game of the past couple of years is Subnautica. I love exploration in games, and that is where Subnautica really shines with truly wondrous environments. The crafting mechanics also felt fresh to me, but that’s probably because I generally bounce off crafting games, so the whole genre is not worn out for me. So, I’d love to hear your take on it.

Counter-recommendation: I’ve got a saved game of Subnautica at what I think is a fairly advanced point.  I’d love to get back into it to see it through to the end, Paxton.  And I’m also someone who bounces off crafting games!  The exploration really does make the crafting worthwhile.  My counter-recommendation is Immortals Fenyx Rising, which is a great mix of Ubisoft stuff with an emphasis on exploration.  There’s also combat, some character progression, and even light stealth if you feel like it.  The writing is even very good.  But it’s mostly about exploring a whimsical presentation of Greek mythology in the usual lavishly realized Ubisoft open world.

20. Josh Marshall: I’ll request a review of the collected 2000 Year Old Man conversations with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.  They’re all on Spotify, Youtube, or similar streaming services.  The two men brought me such joy over the years.  As a kid in the 70’s, I wore out their cassette tape on long car rides.  Maybe you’ll get a laugh.  Maybe it’ll strengthen your ambivalence, but any excuse to celebrate these two legendary comics, and their friendship over the years seems a worthwhile diversion.

Counter-recommendation: Have you seen Schitt’s Creek, Josh?  I didn’t think I would appreciate its sense of humor — I don’t have enough Canadian sensibility to sufficiently appreciate SCTV — but I’ve fallen in love with it on the strength of its four leads.  I’m only halfway through the six seasons, but I’m loving it.

21. Andrew Shih: I would like to request a review of Cosmic Frog: World Eaters from Dimension Zero. I have already played the excellent Tabletop Simulator version a few times, and each one was an absolute blast. I love the goofy theme, the gorgeous art, how strongly it encourages frequent combat, the powerful-but-fleeting special abilities. I love the fact that the central resource is not called energy, or mana, or focus. It’s called Oomph. So please try Cosmic Frog, whether it’s for a review or just to check out something a little bit weird and a lot bit fun.

Counter-recommendation: I do love that artwork!  I recently bought a game based solely on the artwork, but fortunately discovered it was a pretty good game about jockeying for a limited pool of victory points through conflict, subterfuge, and economic development in a weird fantasy world full of brightly colored artwork.  It’s called Fate of Fantos.  It had a similarly trippy cosmic color scheme, but the artwork has a lot more stuff in it than just frogs.  Although if I were to counter-recommend a game based on the strength of the artwork, the one that I’ve most admired recently is Mythgard, a cleverly designed free-to-play collectible card game.  Lots of design smarts, a non-abusive and generous business model, some incredibly inventive theming, and the kind of artwork that belongs in a game like there where you can click to admire a fullscreen view instead of just having to peer down at whatever space it’s allocated on a card.  

22. David Morton: Last time, I wrote my request so hastily that I wanted to make sure I sent a true gem this time around, with proper spelling as an added bonus, though the idea of being a ‘sicker’ for David Lynch actually sounds more ‘David Lynch’ than being a sucker does, so let’s go with that.

With that out of the way, I would like to continue my theme of ‘Dave’s Favorite Things Ever,’ this time with one of my all time favorite TV Shows: the 2001 reality show ‘The Mole.’ I know – it’s a reality show. BUT! It is unlike any show I’ve ever seen in that the level of interactivity it provides. You literally can play the game along with the contestants, and when it comes to the central mystery of the show, the audience has no more information than the players do, making it a compelling (if one-time-only) watching experience. MENSA actually endorsed this show and it’s hosted by Anderson Cooper pre-CNN, for whatever those two particular facts are worth to you. It was cancelled after the 2006 edition, however it is still very popular in the Netherlands, where a very kind soul translates episodes and puts them on her YouTube page for us to all enjoy. These are especially outstanding, with fantastic cinematography and personalities and she does a great job translating them. They also get a surprisingly high amount of views, which is concerning because I really don’t want her to have to go back to DailyMotion.

For the purposes of this, you need only watch the first season, which was released on DVD and is very freely available at the link below. The few people I’ve gotten to watch it have fallen for it (or so my very nice friends tell me).

Counter-recommendation: Well, this is a first, David.  You’ve made me curious to watch a reality TV show!  I wouldn’t even begin to know what to counter-recommend for reality TV.  So I’ll just go with the last documentary I watched, Class Action Park.  It was basically a collection of people reminiscing about Action Park, a water park in New Jersey in the 80s that was notoriously cavalier about safety standards.  To quote Hamilton, “Everything is legal in New Jersey.”  It reminded me of growing up at a time when my friends and I would shoot fireworks at each other for fun.  Luckily, we made it to adulthood unscathed.  That wasn’t the case for all the kids who went to Action Park.

23. Bradley Steele: As much as I think you should still watch Devs, I would like to formally request a review of at least the first season of Steven Universe. You can go beyond that if you’d like, but I think if it doesn’t win you over in the first season, subsequent seasons won’t do anything for you. I won’t say anything about it other than that! 

Counter-recommendation: Hey, Steven Universe is a cartoon.  Which was exactly how I reacted to Rick and Morty, so fair enough.  My counter-recommendation is a weird bit of sci-fi comedy called Moonbase 8.  If you like John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen, and/or Tim Heidecker, you can’t go wrong with Moonbase 8, which is the three of them riffing on their respective senses of humor in close quarters.  They play astronauts-in-training living in a simulated moonbase.  But unlike the uneven and sometimes overwrought Avenue 5, Moonbase 8 is modest, focused, and effective throughout.  Assuming you’re on board with these men’s senses of humor.

24. Clay Heaton: Spelunky 2 

Counter-recommendation: Have you played Sundered, Clay?  It’s kind of the opposite of Spelunky in that it’s definitely not pixel art.  It’s drawn from flat colors and clear lines intended to evoke hand-drawn art.  And whereas Spelunky can be brutally punishing, Sundered is way more laidback and grind-based.  Spelunky is generic fantasy slash serial pulp, but Sundered has a weirdly wistful sci-fi vibe.  Sundered is also not procedurally generated, which makes for a more curated sense of exploration.  It’s one of the recent Metroidvania/rogue-likes I’ve tried that I didn’t uninstall after the first lost boss fight.  Which, to be fair, I’ve never done with Spelunky, because I’ve never even reached a boss fight in a Spelunky before uninstalling.  Does Spelunky even have boss fights?  Does it even need boss fights?

25. Armando Penblade: I’m going to re-recommend the recently completed Netflix series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

Counter-recommendation: Speaking of cartoon princesses, I’ve been playing a game about a cartoon princess called Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin.  It’s easily as spirited as the She-Ra cartoon (I’ve watched two episodes and was delighted to discover Glimmer is voiced by the actress who plays Kimiko in The Boys!).  Sakuna is a weird but also weirdly effective marriage of 2D platformer brawling with rice farming.  The action part of the game is a solid hook, but what’s most compelling to me is the cultural and agricultural specificity of rice farming.  I’m sure it’s no Dragon Quest XI, which I know you’ve played (I almost wish you would request that, because I’ve never played a Dragon Quest).  But I’m fascinated by Sakuna and I’m really enjoying its take on cartoon princesses.  I bet you would enjoy it, Armando.

26. Sharon Laubach: Andy would like for you to review the TV series, “Almost Human”. It’s one of those sci-fi series treated poorly by Fox, running the episodes out of order and not giving it a real chance. Andy enjoyed the milieu informed by classic science fiction and the Kurzweil singularity, populated by details that fit the proposed world without calling “look at me”-type attention to the special effects.

Counter-recommendation: I’m not even going to look up “Kurzweil singularity” because it would probably be a spoiler for Almost Human!  Have you guys seen any of Dark, a German science-fiction mystery available on Netflix?  It has the “what the heck is even going on????” outrageousness of Lost, but because it’s not a trashy American production on network TV, it’s dense, tight, and willing to answer as many questions as it raises.  I’ve only watched the first two seasons, and they’re exhausting for how you have to pay close attention.  But as science fiction, they’re really satisfying.

27. Nancy Chick: Man in the High Castle

Counter-recommendation: Since you’re the person who got me into Schitt’s Creek, which I didn’t think I would like, I’m going to counter-recommend something I guarantee you’ll think you won’t like.  Because a) it’s about sports, b) it’s a fairly tired fish-out-of-water premise, and c) it stars a blandly competent comic.  My counter-recommendation is Ted Lasso, about a Southern po-dunk American football coach hired to lead a soccer team in London.  But Ted Lasso a) isn’t actually about the sports, b) isn’t very interested in exploring the differences between Brits and Americans, and c) is far more than just a vehicle for Jason Sudekis.  Instead, it’s an ensemble story about the importance of kindness, and I can think of no better time for a story about kindness as an American export.

28. Alex Chapman: Old World

Counter-recommendation: I’m trying really hard not to have unreasonable expectations for this.  Maybe playing while it’s still in early access will help. My counter-recommendation is the superlative Galactic Empire mode added in Planetfall’s last update.  I can think of very few updates that so dramatically change the way you play a strategy game. This is currently my favorite strategy game and it’s now got enough content to easily carry me through until the release of Old World, whenever that is.  

29. Bruce Geryk: Cosmic Frog or any other game by the “genius” Jim Felli.

Counter-recommendation: I’m not sure why “genius” is in quotes, as the only game I know by him is Shadows of Malice, which I think is pretty bad for how it just throws a bunch of random modifiers together instead of actually making up any sort of magic and monsters.  It reminds me of why I think City of Kings is terrible.  I take no pleasure in fighting a randomly drawn amount of hit points, damage types, and assorted modifiers.  I’d rather fight something that comes in a package with its own word, like orc or dragon or gelatinous cube.  Make up something for me.  It’s not my job to come up with the thematic skinning for an assortment of stats.  So my counter-recommendation is a Jim Felli game I haven’t played, but that looks as nutty as Cosmic Frog, but more specific than Shadows of Malice.  Zimby Mojo is about a bunch of voodoo cannibals scrambling around after their cannibal king dies.  It looks like the sort of thing that was designed by a “genius” or a madman.

30. Jason McMaster: Truth Seekers

Counter-recommendation: Nick Frost without Simon Pegg is like David Spade without Chris Farley.  Okay, maybe not.  I can’t resist trying to troll you, McMaster.  You’ve mentioned that Truth Seekers isn’t just a comedy, but it’s also going for earnest horror.  Which piques my interest.  So my counter-recommendation is a horror movie I’d rank with recent favorites like Hereditary and Color Out of Space.  Brandon Cronenberg’s sophomore feature is called Possessor.  It’s an eminently stylish and grisly take on body switch movies.  And it’s got Andrea Riseborough in the driver’s seat, even though she has relatively little actual screen time.  I’d also include it as the third in a trifecta of fascinating Christopher Abbot performances with Sweet Virginia and It Comes at Night.