WFNY Roundtable

The Best Pop Culture of 2016: WFNY Roundtable

Marvel

The year 2016 has been a year. That much we can say for sure. From sports and politics to pop culture, it’s been interesting, entertaining, gut-wrenching, glorious and everything else in between.

While WFNY can’t provide a comprehensive guide of the very best things in the world, we can provide a view — across many varying personalities — of the best things that we were able to watch, read, listen and just generally consume. Here’s WFNY’s Best of 2016 roundtable. Oh, and don’t forget that you get to tell us what we missed in the comments so we can catch up.

Movies

It hasn’t been the strongest year for movies at the box office. The top of the list in terms of dollars are kids movies and superhero movies that ended up being panned critically for failing to push an overdone genre forward. That said, there were likely a few bright spots for each one of us.

What was the best big budget popcorn movie you saw in 2016?

Craig: I don’t know if it qualifies as a “popcorn flick,” but I’m going to go with 10 Cloverfield Lane for my selection. It did over $100 million worldwide as an R-rated suspense movie. It’s also the movie that was top on my list for 2016. John Goodman was awesome.

Andrew: I think I only saw one big budget movie in 2016, and that was Deadpool (although even then I don’t believe it was necessarily a huge budget for a superhero film). So, by default, it was the best. But I really did like it quite a bit. Ryan Reynolds was the perfect actor to play that role and the whole movie was fun and entertaining.

Joe: Central Intelligence. Yes, it was silly, but I love the combination of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. It was a really funny movie that showed off the humor of both guys.

Michael: I broke down and created an at-home movie experience, so “going to the movies” has sort of stopped (save Rogue One which really deserves it’s own post – let’s focus on the rest here). Anything that isn’t out for streaming, I likely have not seen. While I have heard great things about Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts, I’ll have to wait on them. I seem to be one of the few that left Deadpool sort of bummed (the entire thing felt forced and I didn’t find it all that funny). Most of the ones left were just blockbuster series picks. Independence Day, Civil War, Star Trek Beyond, Through the Looking Glass, and X-Men Apocalypse each had fun action and visuals, but also left me wanting more out of them. I’ll go with Civil War. It was not the best put together film itself, but the character development to create the plot was expertly done throughout the Marvel Universe series. And, in an age where endings have become entirely predictable, the bad guy wins (sort of).

Pat: I really liked Doctor Strange. I’m a sucker for Marvel movies as it is, but that particular story was unfamiliar to me. It was entertaining, visually stunning, and different. I am also a sucker for any movie where the main character evolves from being egotistical and self-important to gracious and benevolent. Everyone has something new to learn.

Jim: To me, it comes down to two movies here: Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War. Both movies did something that I wasn’t sure was possible in the land of super hero over-saturation. You can make a really serious case that these two movies are top five in the genre altogether, dependent on what you think was important. In the end, though, I have to give the nod to Civil War, for the simple fact that Russo brothers handled a massive cast and still found time to tell a good story, introduce two pretty amazing characters (Spider-Man, who was more Spider-Man in 10 minutes of screen time than Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire in five total movies, and Black Panther), give quality screen time to each cast member, and still focus on Iron Man and Captain America’s core story. Coming off perhaps the WORST Marvel movie with the Age of Ultron, this film really reset the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years to come. What’s best? Netflix is about to flex its Disney power with their new Disney deal on Christmas day by releasing Civil War on it’s streaming service, so you can pop it on the T.V. while opening presents Sunday Morning!

What was the best kid / family movie you saw in 2016?

Craig: Boy did I see a lot of kid flicks this year. Finding Dory was top of the charts, but definitely not my favorite of the kid movies I saw. Secret Life of Pets was really fun too, because of Louis C.K. and Kevin Hart, but that’s not my top pick either. I was shocked how much I loved Moana in the theater. It’s got some music in the vein of Frozen, but not like Frozen at all either. Lin-Manuel Miranda did the music. The Rock played one of the main characters. It wasn’t a typical princess movie or anything like that. It was a mostly a true original and it had our entire family captivated.

Andrew: It didn’t come out in 2016, but I watched We Bought a Zoo with my nieces and nephews and they absolutely love that movie. To be honest, I quite liked it as well.

Joe: The Secret Life of Pets. It is one of the funnier movies of the year. It takes the hilarious theories of people about what their pets do when they are away and puts in a funny, cute movie.

Michael: Let’s just focus on the three remakes that were about a boy that grew up in the woods with the help of an animal friend(s) despite Findy Dory being quite fun (but covered well here). Tarzan was a fun film. There were some obvious plot holes in it and things came a bit too easy for someone who supposedly had adapted to “civilized” life, but the storyline and decision-making throughout made sense. They even added multiple points of view at different moments to keep you thinking. Probably not the most family-friendly enterprises though (nothing horrible, just geared towards adults). Pete’s Dragon was also fun and targeted kids well. The story was good even if it felt a bit rushed throughout. I had a bit of a problem with how quickly they divulged that Elliott was real though and allowed everyone to just see him. One of the quirks in the original was only some people saw him and that slowly built as the film went along. Finally, the best of the bunch was Jungle Book. Disney has been killing it with their live action movies of the animated classics and they did a fine job of keeping it on point while adding the graphical updates. Just, it is hard to imagine Scarlett Johannson in the upcoming movie Sing after the horrific ending-credit version of Trust in Me.

Scott: Finding Dory still has some legs in my house, but Trolls—and it’s accompanying Justin Timberlake-heavy soundtrack—has been getting the most run. Interestingly, it’s actually the first movie I can think of where, due to the music video for “Can’t Stop the Feeling“, where the girls have been able to place the actual actors (ie. Timberlake, Anna Kendrick) with their characters in the movie. This is quite a step as it wasn’t all that long ago where watching Idina Menzel sing “Let it Go” was peak boredom compared to Elsa.

Pat: It’s Moana for me. Going into the movie I remember thinking it probably had a good chance to lose itself trying to explain this one particular culture. Sometimes movie writers can want you to understand the topic so much that the plot of the movie takes a back seat to the exposition. That wasn’t the case. I was able to understand the history of the people while the story moved along and took my son to new places. He loved the music and was singing parts of the songs on the way home.

Jim: While I liked Finding Dory quite a bit, it didn’t have the lasting quality in my household as Finding Nemo. While that may have something to do with the age of my kids (my son had just been born when Nemo came out on DVD, and it was a staple in our house for years), we still wouldn’t pick the sequel, if we had a choice for a Friday Night Movie. For me, the best, and by a good margin, was the live action remake of The Jungle Book. Jon Favreau has become one of those big budget, home run directors, and he put together a can’t miss cast with Bill Murray, Idris Alba, Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson and Christopher Walken. I’d watch this movie again without hesitation. You can knock Disney all you want, but they are really throwing their money around to fantastic directors, and making a bunch of really good movies.

 

What was the best independent or otherwise off-the-radar film you saw in 2016?

Craig: Paul Rudd made a direct-to-Netflix movie called The Fundamentals of Caring with director Rob Burnett. It was on the festival circuit and Netflix bought up the rights. That practice is becoming more normalized and the “direct-to-video” stink doesn’t smell like it used to. Movies like The Fundamentals of Caring will help. It’s a really good independent movie. It had heart, relationships, character-development and laughs. Just a perfect movie to pop on Netflix. A complete pleasant surprise.

Joe: Hacksaw Ridge. Historical movies are usually off-the-radar, less-talked about movies. But, Hacksaw Ridge is great. It portrays the heroic actions of Desmond Doss in World War II. Doss saved so many men without lifting a gun or killing a man. It was a great movie to showcase a true hero.

Michael: I didn’t mention Zootopia in the kids section and just remembered it now. It didn’t seem to get the big marketing buzz of other movies in the genre despite being from Disney, so I’m putting it here. It was entirely clever in ways that the adults laughed at different times than the kids sometimes. Quite well done.

Pat: I don’t know if it’s a small enough budget to count, but I finally saw Spotlight and loved it. It wasn’t exactly All the President’s Men, but it was very interesting to see the way the story was covered up by loyal Catholics. I grew up as a loyal Catholic, so I guess it just struck a certain chord with me. I’m riveted by the idea that people can just ignore child abuse like that. I was glued to ESPN’s web page when the stuff about Jerry Sandusky came out because I wanted so much for justice to be done at Penn State. Any abuse of children just gets my blood boiling, so I was completely engaged throughout the whole movie. It’s powerful stuff.

Dave: My wife took me to see Absolutely Fabulous.  I had never really watched the show, but it was hilarious throughout. French and Saunders are extremely talented comedians so it was great to see them get a budget and some room to work.

Jim: While I wouldn’t call this an “under-the-radar” movie, or even an indy movie, but Everybody Wants Some’s relatively small budget ($10,000,000) gives me the opening I need to put this into this category. The plot was non-existent, but as a “sort-of” sequel to Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater put together a movie that will likely find the same sort of cult status down the road. It was funny, and had a whole bunch of 1980’s charm, in the same way, for me, that Stranger Things had on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it (and I’m guessing you haven’t, since the movie barely made $3 million), it basically follows a pretty eclectic group of pretty interesting characters on one of those “Best Weekends Ever” jaunts. When you combine that with a soundtrack that includes a perfect cross-section of 80’s music (The Knack, Sugar Hill Gang, Frank Zappa, Foreigner, Cheap Trick and the great Van Halen, to name a few), you have a nice, two hour afternoon well spent.

Television

Despite the struggles on the big screen, the small screen renaissance continues. The content arms race on cable and Netflix is raging in the image of what HBO helped fuel with shows like The Sopranos. The only real issue is how spread out the market can feel. Is it on Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix, HBO, or some other brand new “channel” like Seeso? We help break it down from our many vantage points.

If you could only recommend a single show that debuted in 2016, which one would it be and why?

Craig: I really want to see Atlanta, but haven’t watched it yet. Despite that money in the bank, I saw a lot of good TV in 2016. Stranger Things was awesome on Netflix. HBO was back with a vengeance between Westworld and their mini-series The Night Of. I’m going to go with The Night Of here. Westworld was intense, but I feel like it’s only partially told as a story at this point. Same with Stranger Things. While we wait for those to play out, The Night Of was a masterful journey for characters and was acted wonderfully by John Turturro and others. It was the one show that had me looking forward to the next week’s episode. My wife and I marathon a lot of shows, but this one was captivating week to week naturally.

Andrew: I would probably go with Stranger Things with the caveat that I haven’t had a chance to check out Westworld or Atlanta yet. But I absolutely loved Stranger Things. In fact, after I watched the whole season, I went back and watched it again a second time. I haven’t done that since season one of Lost. The story was compelling, the characters were well-formed and deep. But the real gem of the show was the acting performances delivered by pretty much everyone involved. Winona Ryder was excellent as a distraught mother hanging on by a thread. David Harbour as the Sheriff with a troubled backstory that is brought to light due to the events happening in the present day. All of the kids’ performances. And of course, Millie Bobby Browns absolutely steals the show with her performance as an extraordinary kid adapting to a world she doesn’t fully understand.

Joe: Designated Survivor. It is a unique plot where the entire government is killed and the lone survivor in the cabinet must rebuild the entire country. It also has the story of who was behind the terrorist attack. Kiefer Sutherland’s character, who was original the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, becomes the President of the United States after he was the designated survivor during the State of the Union. It’s a thriller with different subplots to follow in each episode.

Scott: Atlanta, Atlanta, Atlanta. While Netflix’s House of Cards has become my filler for Mad Men which left me last year, FX’s Atlanta is easily the best show to have debuted in 2016. It’s the first 30-minute show I can recall that has been able to do what it did in it’s first season. Look, I enjoyed The League, Modern Family, and the like, but these shows can’t be held in the same light as something as creatively beautiful as a drama. For what seemed like an eternity, viewers had to donate an hour of their time to take in the best television had to offer—Mad Men, The Sopranos, etc. With Atlanta, you have a show that is not only easily consumed, but one that packs so, so much into those 30 minutes. And while other dramas have found us captivated by antiheros like Tony Soprano and Frank Underwood, Atlanta‘s Earn Marks (played by show creator Donald Glover) is someone you find yourself rooting for within the season’s first few minutes, and empathizing with when he has to call his credit card in as being stolen after taking his girlfriend on a super expensive date.

Pat: The Crown is my pick. It’s a show that I can watch with my wife, so that’s one thing that separates it from a bunch of the other shows I watched this year and enjoyed. Secondly, it’s far more interesting than I would have originally imagined. You become immersed in what it is to be a royal, and it’s so much more of a burden than I ever imagined it would be. I figured with the queen not having to function as the actual head of state, she would be free to roam around the world and just be a public figure, but the restrictions on the royals were so much heavier than I would have imagined. I don’t think I would ever want that for myself now that I know. I also really liked John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. I’ll admit that the room got a little dusty when he was being painted for that portrait and the artist helped him realize why he kept drawing the same pond next to his house over and over again.

Dave: It didn’t debut in 2016, but it did have an amazing season this year. You should be watching The Americans and once you do, you should listen to my podcast about it, The Jennings Basement.  Also I’d recommend The Night Manager if you are into spy stuff. It just so happens we talked about it on The Jennings Basement as well…

Hatman: Shows which captured my attention in 2016, Billions, The Crown and Atlanta. Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti drive Billions with a quality of acting rarely seen on television. Lewis and Giamatti portray the nature of human beings who have grown into great complexity. In Lewis there is a the figure of a corporate demon but that is only one layer with family, loyalty and incredible drive providing a rounded, compelling individual. The key protagonist and antagonist share an access to our own fallibility and flaws, demonstrating the grey nature of ethicism. The Crown is an exceptional series with even greater potential to progress through the culture wars of the ’60s. Lithgow’s portrayal of Churchill was brilliant, providing a depth that I did not expect at first glance.

Jim: The three that stand out for me right now, without having seen Atlanta and Westworld until after Christmas, are Stranger Things, The People vs. O.J. Simpson and Billions (I know the guy that turned Hattery onto that show…), and for three very different reasons. Stranger Things hit on every cylinder you can think of. It captured everything about the 1980’s. It was the soundtrack, and the dress, and the plot, which was straight outta the Gremlins/Goonies/It camp. The fact that they cast Matthew Modine and Winona Rider, straight outta the 80’s was a brilliant touch, as well as a bunch of young newcomers that captured a sincerity you just don’t see on T.V. anymore. You’ll be grabbing something eight-bit before the end of the intro of episode one. The People vs. O.J. was equally cast well, and each episode took something from the Trial of the Century, and somehow recaptured the sheer trainwreck quality of its real-life counterpart. It seems like a popcorn series, but there’s some real grit there. As to Billions, let me just say this: When you have Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti on the opposite sides of a battle of power, greed and hypocrisy, there isn’t much that can go wrong here. Every episode hits, and you’ll find yourself conflicted as to which side you’re truly on. As Mike said, it’s pretty layered, but the bare bones of this show is the sheer conflict and disdain that the protagonist and antagonist feel for each other. Without giving spoilers, Season 1 ends with one of the most satisfying scenes I’ve ever seen, and sets up Season 2 in a HUGE way.

Is there any such thing as reality TV anymore? Is there a “reality” TV show that you found noteworthy in 2016?

Craig: Unless you count Shark Tank, I got nothing for you. Since my wife and I moved two years ago, we don’t even watch property rehab and real estate TV shows. Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t love LeBron’s Cleveland Hustles either. SHHHHHH! If I have to pick something (and I do because this roundtable was my idea) I’ll go with Last Chance U on Netflix. This story about the football team of Division 1 washouts was really incredibly entertaining. I fell in love with the academic advisor lady and actually cared to look up the players who “graduated” back to D1.

Joe: I usually do not watch a lot of reality TV, but I liked Cleveland Hustles. It began with a competition of aspiring entrepreneurs to build their business in Gordon Square, impressing four investors to invest in their business. Once the investors picked their business to back, they helped start up their business in Gordon Square. It was fun seeing the local Cleveland businesses and Cleveland investors working together to improve the city.

Michael: You know how people put Sportscenter on in the background just to have the noise and every now and then look up to see something interesting. That is how my wife is with HGTV home selling, buying, and fixing (sometimes ALL THREE!) shows. Tim Tebow is even on one of those shows now when he’s not playing Minor League Baseball.

Scott: The last reality-based show I watched was the Jordan Smith season of The Voice. The kid was incredible. Since then, however, I just haven’t been willing to dedicate the time to anything that isn’t worthwhile. Factor in that so many of these shows are now two or three hours long, and it’s a hard pass for me.

Pat: I didn’t find one this year that warranted watching more. I’m not big on reality TV to begin with, but it seems like most new shows have already been done before.

Dave: I’d recommend the show 2016 NBA Finals, games 3, 5, 6, and 7. And the bonus episode called LeBron’s speech at the parade.

Jim: When you are dealing with an election like the one we saw take place in 2016, I’m not sure reality T.V. is where it’s at right now. So…I guess we all watched a bit of The Apprentice this year, didn’t we. Man, the ratings for that show are going to skyrocket when the President starts hosting it in 2017, am I right?

2016 was a year for TV retreads and reboots with old faces coming back again with new seasons. Other than Gilmore Girls, was there a show that you missed the first time around that you picked up on and watched from start to finish in 2016?

Craig: Not really. I suffered through the Gilmore Girls thing with my wife as she watched all the seasons, started to rewatch some of them and then took in the new special episodes. I was elated for her and all the fans of that show, but rewatching a show has never been my thing. I tried to rewatch Lost. We started to rewatch The Wire. In the end, I just can’t do it. Maybe in another 20 years.

Andrew: No, unfortunately not. My backlog of shows I need to watch is getting pretty daunting. I need to catch up on so many current shows before I can go back and check out series that I missed the first time around. But at some point, I really want to go back and watch all of Six Feet Under and Sopranos. Yeah, believe it or not, I’ve still only seen the first season of Sopranos.

Joe: I started watching Narcos during the summer. I finished the first season, but have yet to watch Season 2. It is a really crazy show, surrounding the wild life of Pablo Escobar. I hope to finish Season 2 next year.

Scott: No, unfortunately. I tried doing it with House of Cards but the time wasn’t there over the summer, and I fell out of rhythm. I may jump back in now that the weather is getting shittastic.

Pat: Not from start to finish, but my wife and I did pick up The Wonder Years and we’re making good but slow progress there. That show will just flood your mind and soul with emotions. It doesn’t matter that Kevin Arnold is supposedly experiencing these things in the 1960s. The things he dealt with as a kid are universal. I always find myself thinking back to middle school and high school when watching that show and getting a huge whiff of nostalgia.

Dave: I’ve gone back into the archives and watched Top Gear from its relaunch in 2007. It is perfect stuff to watch while you are playing a game on a different screen.

Hatman: Rewatching/binging is my strongest addiction. There are two shows which I will rewatch almost yearly, MASH and The West Wing, both holding up in terms of writing, humor, and acting in a way which seems nearly impossible.

Jim: I went straight up BBC this year, and rewatched Sherlock, Luther and Broadchurch. If you haven’t seened Benedict Cumberpatch in Sherlock, you are absolutely robbing yourself of one of the best small screen characters you’ll ever see, and his interplay with Martin Freeman’s Watson is spectacular. Idris Alba is absolutely fantastic in Luther, and while it’s definitively NOT as good as Sherlock, it’s really well done, and can be consumed fairly quickly. Season 1 of Broadchurch, with David Tennant as the tortured lead, is absolutely spectacular. While I liked Season 2 as well, this first season is nothing short of amazing. Fox remade Season 1 here in the states as well, called Gracepoint, and kept Tennant as its lead role. I watched both, and it’s honestly one of the most odd experiences I’ve ever had. The FOX show kept Tennant as its lead, but made him American, and it was nearly spot on to the BBC counterpart, but just didn’t hit in the same way. I’d give all a watch, and as short, BBC series, these are something you can watch in an easy time period.

Music

If you thought television was a fractured marketplace, there’s nothing more disparate than the music industry. Also, it was a year of surprise albums, so even if you wanted to stay on top of things, you kind of weren’t allowed.

What was the new thing you listened to most in 2016?

Craig: It’s probably The Hotelier’s album Goodness. I didn’t find it to be a super-strong year for music. Death Cab had a slight return to form for me. Deftones had a good album. I even fell in love with Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper. Alas, Hotelier fit like a glove best of all. It wasn’t probably even as good as their last one, but I loved it just the same, especially after seeing them live.

Andrew: There were really three things I listened to the most in 2016. I listened to a lot of music in 2016, but not a lot really clicked with me. So I found myself going back to six albums the most (maybe if Craig lets me do a music podcast I will reveal those six!!!). Out of those six, the three I really loved the most and listened to the most were Nothing’s Tired of Tomorrow, Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition, and Astronoid’s Air. But I’m sure I listened to that Nothing album more than anything else in 2016. It’s really a perfect album from start to finish, just beautiful and brilliant in every way.

Scott: Kanye’s The Life of Pablo and Chance’s Coloring Book have been mainstays in the rotation despite 2016 being a pretty incredible year for hip-hop and its subgenres. Lemonade was terrific. Future couldn’t stop releasing music. Drake will likely win rap album of the year at the Grammys. Kendrick Lamar dropped an album out of nowhere. Frank Ocean returned. But as we head into the end of the year, I continue to find myself listening to TLOP and Coloring Book front-to-back, and enjoying every moment of the experience.

Dave: Some of my most played albums in 2016 are from bands that I believe should be in the “resurgent” category, so I’ll go with my favorite track of the year. Put together over the course of 4 years, Hidden Orchestra created an epic orchestral track and released them with the compositions he wrote to sample for it. It really is an amazing piece of art.

Hattery:  Chance, I discovered him far too late in his evolution and have consumed anything he has offered, a transcendent talent. In more mundane music, The Lumineers’ album includes the type of story telling which was so enjoyable in their first album, a great background music album. Bon Iver’s newest release leaves me a mess for understanding, at some moments I think it is conceptually brilliant, at others I find it borderline irritating but I cannot stop listening.

Jim: A friend of mine sent me a CD (Cardinal) from a band called Pinegrove. I don’t know much about them, and they aren’t a group that I would typically listen too, but I really like lead singer Evan Stephens Hall’s voice and pacing. There’s some Wilco feel there, at least the earlier stuff, and I enjoyed that subtle homage a lot.  If we’re staying Indy, Cut Worms have some interesting stuff out there that makes me think Everly Brothers, in a really good way. My absolute favorite new album though is a band called Sumerlands, which found a way to encapsulate the best of the metal scene from years ago. Their self-titled album caught me off guard, bringing a clear Black Sabbath, Ozzy influence, but with some nuance that brought to mind a lot of 70’s and 80’s hard rock acts. In a day in which Rock seems to be disappearing, this album was earth-shattering.

What was the most resurgent album or artist from your past that made a comeback?

Craig: Unfortunately it was Prince because he passed away this year. Prince has always been a staple in my music collection, even as I admit I was coming of age in a “Diamonds and Pearls” era. Even in that version of The Artist, there was no denying his infectious music and rhythms in songs like “7”, “Gett Off”, and of course, “Diamonds and Pearls”. Of course I loved “Purple Rain” and all his other classics, but I had to admit my affinity for the stuff that followed. Plus, who will ever forget his performance of “Gett Off” from the VMA’s, replete with butt-cheek revealing pants? My mom was completely horrified. That was perfect to a young me watching at home.

Andrew: With 2016 being such a mediocre year for guitar-driven rock music, I actually found myself getting into hip-hop more than ever. And even though this is very recent history, the album I found myself going back to and really falling in love with all over again was Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. It was already on my list of favorite albums back in 2012, but I hadn’t really gone back to it much since then. This year I found it on pretty constant rotation.

Scott: Honestly, with so much in the way of quality new music this year, I didn’t reflect back much on the past. The closest I came to any sort of resurgence was listening to Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE a lot leading up to the eventual releases of Blond and Endless. I also listened to Kanye’s entire catalog, song by song, this summer (allowing me to write this piece) leading up to the release of TLOP. I had never done a full catalog before, track by track. I recommend it for anyone as it’s essentially listening to a timeline.

Dave: Hate to be a classic old guy, but the new Radiohead album A Moon Shaped Pool was the best Radiohead album since Amnesiac. Just wonderful from start to finish. Really enjoyed having a new record by The Avalanches as well. And it satifies Andrew’s Danny Brown requirement.

Jim: Every other week, I have 1,500 miles of road in front of me in my travels up and down the East Coast, and while I listen to a ton of podcasts (where’s that pop category, Craig?), when I get tired, I need music that can wake me up. This year, it always comes back to Pearl Jam, and while they never leave my playlists, this year, they bounded back into my life as an every day band. It started, I think, because of the Temple of the Dog resurgence, and has come full circle with the announcement that PJ is entering the R&R HOF, in their first year of eligibility. I did, equally, listen to a boatload of Prince, but weird and eclectic things. I was always fond of his guitar playing, as a guitar player, and had this dream that he would someday just be in a superband as the guitar player. He was amazing in many ways, but his ability as a lead guitarist was simply amazing. There are a few videos of Prince making the circuits of him playing lead for “My Guitar Gently Weeps” that just gives you a taste (there’s a couple more out there too, if you look).

We live in a streaming world. How do you take in your music? Do you like it? Would you recommend it? How would you make it better?

Craig: I’m all about that Spotify life, but I want to talk about YouTube. They rolled out YouTube Red and I occasionally get an offer to pay and join, but I really don’t see the point. I’m hoping someone out there has joined that one and can give me some insight. I pay far too much attention to this whole streaming world. I like Spotify and I tolerate my constant renewals with Sirius XM, but I can’t stand how many services there are and the constant chatter about who has what and what is better. I’m ready for the larger consolidation of the universe, even at a higher price. Did I mention that I’m officially in middle age?

Andrew: I use Spotify and that’s about it. When it comes to artists I really love, I’ll still buy their CD. I won’t listen to it, though. I don’t even have a CD player. The only way I could ever listen to a CD right now is in my car. But I buy the CDs to support the artists and then the CDs become a trophy I put in my case. So yeah, I’m 100% on streaming now for music and I would definitely recommend Spotify to anyone. I’ve tried the other popular services and for various reasons none of them really worked for me. Spotify has a decent UI (not great, but certainly better than its competitors……seriously, though, why is it so hard for these companies to make streaming services with a great UI?), but it’s real strengths are in social sharing and in playlist/recommendation algorithms. Anyone who is interested in this stuff should research the science behind Spotify sometime. The stuff they are doing to merge music with technology is the definition of next level. Spotify’s automated “Discover Weekly” playlist is hands down the best way to get new music recommendations in 2016. My 2nd favorite album of 2016, Air by Astronoid, was recommended to me by Spotify’s algorithm. A handful of my top 50 albums came from the same place. I can’t say enough about what Spotify is doing to enhance the music listening experience for users.

Michael: I’m dumb with music. I pick an artist I generally like on Pandora and let it randomly play songs that I tend to know. I have it hooked up on Bose speakers and Amazon FireTV set-top boxes throughout the house.

Scott: I’m 100 percent Apple Music. I can’t access Spotify at work, and could not tell you the last time I listened to music on standard FM radio. As a Mac and iPhone user, Apple Music literally gives me everything I need in its mix of perpetually updated playlists and access to entire catalogs of artists I listen to the most. The fact that it’s become the landing spot for exclusive releases like Coloring Book has made it that much better. If it found a way to mix in Spotify’s ability to introduce new or previously unknown artists, it’d be the perfect service. (The digital releases of albums may be another topic for another day, but the way that we were just barraged by surprise albums throughout 2016 could be its own underlying theme.)

Dave: I used to buy mp3s and keep a well organized music collection. Unfortunately with the ease of Spotify and Apple’s refusal to build me a bigger iPod I’ve let that slip. I mainly use Spotify for day to day listening and buy albums from key artists.

Jim: Read Michael’s, and just use that as my answer. I try stuff here and there if folks tell me too. I used Spotify a year or two ago, because Craig talked about it for his album. I use Pandora when I’m home, because it’s on my TV. It just is what it is for me, which is odd…because I love the hell out of music.

Video Games, Food, and Other stuff

WFNY has a fair number of video game fans. What was the one game that deserves being discussed in your world in 2016?

Craig: I could say League of Legends and go on and on about it, but I’m going to skip that this time. Instead, I’m going to talk about all the gaming I’ve been doing with my 6-year-old Ben. It’s all about those old-school action-packed side-scrollers. We played a remastered version of Duck Tales, which was incredible fun. Also, we entered the world of Guacamelee! Ben and I play a half hour of co-op adventure and puzzle solving a few nights per week and it’s been incredibly fun bonding. I’m kind of shocked that playing video games with my son is actually resulting in some bonding and not just zombie-like staring.

Andrew: Final Fantasy XV just came out recently and it’s a really great game. It’s been in development for 10 years and it’s really a love letter to fans of the Final Fantasy series while also presenting the next step forward in the combat system. It’ll take me an eternity to finish the game, I’m sure, but for now I’m just enjoying going in and wandering around the world they created and hunting strange creatures and discovering dungeons filled with all kinds of enemies too powerful for me to conquer.

Joe: 2016 has been one of the first years I have not played much video games. So, I do not really have an answer.

Michael: Mario continues to be the most fun video game franchise. I can play Mario Baseball or Mario World or Mario Kart or put in one of the classics and play with the kids for hours (you know, if we had hours we could do that with our kids). But, my boys are all about their Lego video games and Force Awakens came out this year. Also, I was a bit bummed I missed out on an old school video game day at my folk’s house for Christmas. Eight Eyes (NES) won the day (as it should have – great game).

Pat: I bought Final Fantasy IV on my phone. It was pretty good, but it’s no Final Fantasy III.

Dave: GTA:V is a game that I bought 2 years ago for PC, and month after month Rockstar releases more and more free content. It is ever evolving and lets you play whatever type of game you’d like to play. Very few games I picked up that long ago still get constant play. And running down pedestrians and motorcyclists while firing a machine gun out your window will NEVER get old.

Jim: Fallout 4 was decent because of the open world. You can explore and conquer and control the story a bit. Much like Minecraft (which I don’t play, but my son swears by it), you can build your own world, and create your own character. The Retro-feel is pretty awesome as well. I play it with my kid, so fairly limited there. I did get him Battlefield One for Christmas, and I have high hopes.

Restaurant revelations, food trends, hell, even just a recipe? Tell us your one food thing for 2016.

Craig: For my household, it’s been the year of the avocado. We eat them with eggs, on top of chicken, as guac, and pretty much any other way you can imagine. I’ve even learned how to make a really good avocado toast. I’m sure it’s old hat for other people, but it’s become an important part of trying to be healthy and not feel starved while doing it. I’m officially in middle age now, if you hadn’t noticed. I used to be young. What happened?

Joe: Well, 2016 has been hard after one of my restaurants closed its doors in 2015, Pacers in Lakewood. I have been around trying to find a new place, but nothing has really filled in that gap. Come back Pacers!

Michael: Anyone that travels to Austin needs to go to Torchy’s Tacos. It is the one place that our entirely family agrees upon and if you are smart with the menu, it can be quite affordable too. As with any good spot, there are ways of ordering that are not so obvious that make it even better (going with the bacon, egg, and cheese taco adding hot avocado salsa and black beans is my go-to).

Scott: Being in a client-service industry, I regularly get to check out new places. If we’re talking 2016, I’m extremely happy with Mabel’s BBQ on E. 4th as well as the rooftop bar on top of the new Hilton on Lakeside. If we’re talking in generalities, I cannot get enough Barrio in my life and look forward to inhaling more of their tacos come 2017.

Pat: We’re having an explosion of new craft breweries in Richmond, VA and particularly in the area of the city known as Scott’s Addition (not WFNY’s Scott, this other Scott has been dead for a long time.) It’s a fairly small, formerly industrial/warehouse district that is maybe 5 blocks in either direction, but in that small area we have Ardent Craft Ales, The Veil Brewing Company, Isley Brewing Company, Blue Bee Cider, and Buskey Cider. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery is just a stone’s throw away as well. Given the size of the city, we’ve added an insane number of new breweries in the last couple of years. I love all of them.

Dave: Check out Rodeo Paloha’s in Middleburgh Heights. But seriously, if you are on the East bank of the flats, I would recommend Lago.

Hattery: Bin 216 is the perfect place to meet for a drink and a creative appetizer before enjoying an exquisite performance at Playhouse Square. Ohio City Burrito remains a beacon to which all burrito building business should aspire.

Jim: While I’m a Cleveland native, I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 years out of the area, and didn’t really make a full bore return to Cleveland in a big way until this past summer, so everything is new to me. I did hit Mabel’s BBQ, which was absolutely amazing. I also had my first trip to Great Lakes Brewing, which was a winner right out of the gate. As to food in my life? It was the year of grilled chicken…and I’ll just leave that there.

Pot pourri! No, not real pot pourri. This is your last chance to say anything about pop culture at large that went uncovered elsewhere.

Craig: This is the year that I learned to actually use my local library for audiobook downloads. I use the Overdrive app and my Cuyahoga County library login to get virtually any audiobook I want in the world. My wife and I are spoiled, so we also subscribe to the Audible.com program to supplement a few books per month when we absolutely feel like we can’t wait. This comes in handy before long road trips and vacations when you want to load up on some last-minute audio entertainment. This is how my wife and I were able to listen to many books on our two trips to Charleston South Carolina this year. Nothing makes that drive easy, but it sure makes it easier.

Joe: The only thing that I would say is that pop culture has really squeaked its way into almost everything in life. The most extreme example of this was Donald Trump and the election. We have never seen an election like the one that took place this year. Pop culture and social media really left their mark in the political scene and the world overall.

Michael: Well, this item is becoming more and more pop culture even though people still give the side eyes when you first mention it. 2016 was the year that we finally moved to full home schooling (home school percentages are rising pretty dramatically in recent years). We had taken our kids out of the public school system for a variety of reasons years ago. My wife had researched and built up a curriculum that she wanted to teach, so we took the plunge. Amazing the difference it makes in all aspects of your life when you are not tethered to a school location or schedule. And the kids are learning at a blazing pace.

Scott: Fewer things are more pop culture today than social media that I’m surprised it wasn’t a category above. With Instagram essentially taking Snapchat’s model of 24-hour stories, and Periscope’s model of live-broadcast video, and folding it all into their native photo-sharing application, I can’t think of a bigger mover and shaker in this space. Add in the fact that they’re offering links to business pages, increased sponsorships and advertising, and we’re beginning to see a medium that has existed for sometime find a way to change the landscape. There was a while where Facebook wanted to integrate their shiny new purchase, but it appears that they’re starting to recognize its power as a standalone. I’m super picky about what photos I add to my feed, only adding pictures I’ve taken, treating each one as if its a byline. I’ve already started to incorporate the story function in my game coverage due to ease of use compared to Snapchat, incorporation of Boomerang, and ability to take pictures or video first and add them later. Twitter will always (as long as it continues to exist, anyway) be a news source and inherently vital to what we do here at WFNY. Socially, however, Instagram is up to big, big things and could easily be the medium in 2017. Getcha filters ready.

Pat: Remember Pokémon Go? It took the country by storm and a few weeks later left just as quickly. I admit that I got into it. My most frequent form of exercise comes from taking walks around the lake behind my office building at lunch time. It can get pretty boring and during the summer there weren’t a ton of interesting sports podcasts for me to listen to outside of the WFNY podcast1Pokémon Go gave me something to do while I was trying to burn a few calories, and it was mildly addictive. However, once I had caught most of the Pokémon in my area, I got bored with it. I didn’t have any interest in the rest of the game, and I suspect everyone else came to the same conclusion. I’ll always remember the hordes of people walking around the lake with their phones out trying to nab those imaginary little guys. It was a bunch of adults taking a break from their day to act like kids.

Dave: I’m going to shamelessly self-promote. We work really hard on the Browns Friday Fumble, and this year has been especially tough. We tried our best to keep whatever rays of humor and fun we could in this season and I think at times we succeeded in having fun with a terrible situation.

Jim: There are just so many podcasts to talk about, and not enough time. I fill my time with sound, and while I take the audiobook route on occasion, I live for new and interesting podcasts. The old staples are Nerdist and Dan Carlin stuff (his Hardcore History is the best thing on the Internet, and it’s not even close), but meander through so many other different pods, including Kevin Smith’s podcast network, Smodcast, a variety of Podcast One pods (Jericho’s network is very good, and not just about wrestling, as is Steve Austin’s stuff), and a slew of True Crime podcasts. Sword and Scale is creepy as hell, and will make you think you are evil if you listen to it, and there are others, like Up and Vanished, Breakdown, In the Dark and Accused (which is based on the famous 1978 Elizabeth Andes murder in Oxford, OH. I have a slew, and this is just a few. You also need to listen to WFNY’s podcast. Craig Lyndall has set the tone here in Cleveland for podcasting, and I’m happy to have jumped into that fray somewhat in 2016. Looking forward to making the EHC portion of the WFNY universe something that adds to the ever-grown WFNY podcast network.

  1. Can I have my money now, please? []

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    i might bookmark this article for some ideas later when I inevitably hit a wall on my regularly scheduled tv/movie/music stuff. Well done guys.

  • jpftribe

    Hat tip on the Prince revival. In addition to 7, How come U don’t call me anymore has been in regular rotation. Fantastic old school Motown.

    He left behind thousands of hours of finished or almost finished recordings. Many with some of the greatest artists of our time. Hard to imagine what that vault will one day reveal.