The holiday season is a convenient time to survey all the good in your life. But in doing so, it’s also really easy to look back on the year and pick out all the crap that snuck in. Browse through the news and magazines recently and you’ll surely find an assortment of these words and phrases—Haiti earthquake, Obamacare, Tea Party, BP oil spill, Pakistan flooding, Republican takeover, Sarah Palin coins “refudiate”—paired with some of these words—angry, broken, dangerous, disappointed, disapproval, decline, and “WTF.” (I’ll put one together for you. Sarah Palin coins “refudiate.” WTF.)
In truth, though, these pairings do us harm by disseminating the idea that we’re screwed. And there’s also this little thing called the self-fulfilling prophecy that worsens the equation.
With that in mind, in absolutely no particular order or level of importance, I’d like to share the 40 things that made me happy in 2010. Because when times are bad, pop culture consistently flashes into my life like a reliable and much-needed superhero.
1. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg. A memoir of a successful literary agent in Manhattan who loses everything to a crack addiction. In spite of heartbreaking details of his decline, messages of salvation make this a quick and worthwhile read.
2. NBC’s “The Sing-Off.” Ben Folds is hands down the best reality TV show judge. Oh and there’s this other thing on the show that makes it brilliant, and it’s called talent.
3. FX’s “Terriers.” This critically acclaimed show from Shawn Ryan got cancelled after only one season, but it’s still worth checking out Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James as unlicensed PIs Hank and Britt.
4. Last episode of “LOST.” Do I hate it? Do I love it?
5. NPR’s Linda Holmes/Monkey See Blog. Check out her Top 50 of 2010 list. I found this about halfway through my list and wasn’t surprised to see many similarities: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2010/12/22/132230699/50-wonderful-things-from-2010
6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This one was so good I couldn’t bring myself to read the last two books in the trilogy. Katniss is my hero.
7. FOX’s “Lone Star.” This was yet another brilliant show cancelled after it’s first season, but James Wolk as Robert/Bob Allen definitely deserved his critical acclaim.
8. Disney’s “Tangled.” Great voice acting and music accompany a compelling retelling of the classic story about that chick with the really, really long ass hair.
9. NBC’s “Community.” The talent of the actors and writers on this sitcom speak for themselves.
10.AMC’s “Mad Men.” Who is Don Draper and where is he going? Also, Sally (played perfectly by 10-year-old Kiernan Shipka) grows up.
11. “Joan Rivers: Piece of Work.” Shame on you if you said, “Joan Rivers. No thanks.” Seeing her wall of joke drawers should remind all of her comic genius.
12.Conan O’Brien’s final speech on the “Tonight Show.” His message: Cynicism kills. “But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”
13.“The Social Network” (and Zadie Smith’s analysis of it). A portrait of 2.0 people made by 1.0 people and reminder that Zuckerburg is the Man of the decade.
14.“Toy Story 3.” Never again will a bunch of really cute toys make you cry so hard and for so long. Pixar gone and done it again.
15.Annette Bening. She gives strong performances as a mother in both “Mother and Child” and “The Kids Are All Right,” nailing the emotional complexity of someone performing like someone else.
16.James Franco. See him in “Howl,” “Eat Pray Love,” and “127 Hours,” but also don’t forget his scene in “Date Night” with Mila Kunis. Everybody knows James is best when stoned.
17.“Teenage Dream” on “Glee.” Darren Criss, a fellow Michigan Wolverine, joins the cast of “Glee” as a love interest for Kurt. After singing “Teenage Dream” during his first episode, the single became the highest-selling song from the show on iTunes.
18.J.K. Rowling’s interview on Oprah. The two schmillionares bond about…being schmillionares.
19.Jimmy Fallon. This man laughed a lot this year. Check out his opening on the Emmys and the musical number from his late-night show with the cast of “Parks and Recreation.”
20.“Shy Ronnie” digital short on “SNL.” Andy Samberg as Shy Ronnie (the Ronnie to Rihanna’s Clyde.) ‘Nuff said.
21.“The Ghost Writer.” Roman Polanski directs Ewan McGregor as a British ghostwriter in this tense, brilliantly acted movie with an incredible last scene.
22. “Just Wright” and “The Extra Man.” While these haven’t popped up on any favorites lists this year, I’m putting them on my list simply because I worked on them and it was exciting to see my name in the credits for the first time.
23.Paley Center’s “TV’s Greatest Surprises.” Jeff Probst hosted a countdown of the 30 most surprising moments on TV. Number 1: Oprah gives everyone in her audience a car on September 13, 2004.
24.Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Badass Broadway musical redefining President Andrew Jackson as an Emo rock star who kicked all them little Indians out.
25.Banksy. Is “Exit Through the Gift Shop” a prank? Who knows. At least he attracted enough attention to be included in a controversial opening sequence of “The Simpsons.”
26.“Winter’s Bone.” Some critics describe this movie as dreary and depressing, but they’re wrong. Jennifer Lawrence makes it moving, powerful, and a must-see.
27.“Easy A.” Everyone who sees this is shocked at how witty and laugh-out-loud funny it is. Emma Stone is charming Patricia Clarkson is perfect as she returns to her hippy roots a la “Six Feet Under.”
28. AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” Just watch it. It’s probably the best show on TV.
29.“Four Lions.” A biting British comedy following a group of British jihadists. Wit, scares, and truth all in one movie.
30.“Tiny Furniture.” Watch out for upcoming director/writer Lena Dunham. She made an indie hit about a confused twenty something, got a profile in The New Yorker, and is currently working on an HBO pilot with Judd Apatow. (I saw her speak after a screening of “Tiny Furniture” and I love how she wears “normal people clothes.” I put “normal people clothes” in quotation marks because I don’t really know what “normal people clothes” means.)
31.“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” Hogwarts, magic, 7 Potters, Ron, and Hermione all growed up. ‘Nuff said.
32.Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.” Although I think the movie is a bit overrated, Natalie Portman’s performance is incredible. She plays a psychotic, obsessed dancer real good. (Maybe she really is the Black Swan!!! Ahhh!!!!)
33.“Rabbit Hole.” Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart lead this movie adaption of a play by the same name as parents grieving over the loss of their 4-year-old son. It sounds sad and depressing but it actually remains quite positive as they’re shown trying to move on with their lives.
34.Gawker’s “All of 2010 Movies in One Montage.” 270 movies of 2010 in one video. I wonder how many interns it took to put this together. http://gawker.com/5713396/all-the-movies-of-2010-in-one-handy-montage
35.Jon Stewart as Glenn Beck. Any time Jon Stewart sips a juice box, puts on his Glenn Beck glasses, and rolls out a chalkboard in the name of spoofing Mr. Beck, we know good TV is coming our way. Also when a gospel choir sings, “Go fuck yourself.”
36.ABC’s “Modern Family.” The show is known for its strong writing, which was best seen this season in the episode “Halloween” as Phil tries to be sexy and Gloria tries out an American accent. The Dunphy House of Horrors will make you scream, laugh, and then laugh again.
37.NBC’s “30 Rock.” Jack and Liz. Jack and Liz. Jack and Liz.
38.PBS/BBC’s “Sherlock.” Benedict Cumberbatch. Benedict Cumberbatch. Benedict Cumberbatch. (Say that 6 times fast.) This modern reimagining sticks closely to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories while transporting the sociopathic Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) into the digital age. At least watch the first episode, “A Study in Pink,” and get ready for a whole lotta texting.
39. Starz’s “Party Down.” 2010 sadly saw this series come to an end after just two seasons. The humor is lined with a pang of sadness as we watch the caterers of Party Down Catering Company pursue the American Dream. And then fail while doing so.
40.FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The Gang stays as shameful and horrible as ever. And Sweet Dee gets pregnant and nobody cares.
So smile. It ain’t all that bad out there.