There's an inherent problem with the standard "Best of" year-in-review list: Most of the stuff they highlight are things you already know about. Yes, it might be nice to get a definitive ruling from critics that, yes, Breaking Bad is in fact better than Game of Thrones, but it's not going to do anything for you. You don't need any more people telling you to listen to Yeezus (If you won't listen to Lou Reed, you're probably beyond reason.) You already know about this year's Oscar contenders.
So here are few amazing things that came out of 2013. They are not the most profound, nor are they incredibly obscure. In fact, these shows/movies/games are best categorized as overlooked. Maybe they popped up on your pop culture radar. Maybe you even heard they were good, but you never got around to checking them out. You should make sure you should get back to these before they get lost with the rest of last year's news.
When I first heard they were making a Hannibal TV show, I wasn't happy about it. More than disinterested, I assumed it would be an insulting, dumbed-down attempt to cash in on the current serial killer trend and ruining a (mostly) untarnished series. I don't remember why I watched the first episode, but it didn't take long to see its something special. As it turns out, Hannibal excels at exploiting its legacy rather than letting itself get strangled by it.
A prequel to Thomas Harris' original Hannibal trilogy, the procedural follows the relationship between Lecter and mentally unstable profiler Will Graham, the man destined to catch him. Lecter acts as Graham's therapist, and consultant for profiling serial killers: If you dig deep enough, Hannibal is a cop show with Lecter and Graham tracking down serial killers. Don't stop there, though: If you dig deeper, though, it's a dark dive to the pathology of those familiar roles and relationships.
Season Two of Hannibal premieres April 4th on NBC.
2. Days are Gone by Haim
I normally steer clear of making qualitative statements about music. Having self-proclaimed "bad taste" in music is, in its way, a freeing experience. You can only be opinionated about so many things before critical smugness starts to overtake your sanity. I didn't really listen to a lot of new music last year, but Haim's Days Are Gone is the one album that hooked me.
Synthy, vocal-centric pop-rock, I was definitely pre-disposed to liking this record. At its best, the album sounds kind of like a 21st century indie-spin on early Michael Jackson. Well thought out pop seems harder and harder to find, so it's great to see someone making music I might actually like.
You can listen to their album, Days Are Gone, on SoundCloud. It's also available on Spotify.
3. Sleepy Hollow & Almost Human A.K.A. "The Fringe Babies"
Throwing two shows in together may seem like cheating, but these shows are really two sides of the same coin. Both are fantasy cop shows - Almost Human is Sci-Fi, Sleepy Hollow could have just as easily been based on The Da Vinci Code - with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a penchant for action over sleuthing.
The shows distinct similarities make a lot of sense when you consider that both comes from the creators of Fox's last successful sci-fi procedural, Fringe. Sleepy Hollow is produced by Fringe co-producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. J.J. Abrams serves as the executive producer for Almost Human. Frequent collaborators, the trio have a distinct style often attributed to Abrams alone: Orci and Kurtzman wrote and produced Mission Impossible III and both of Abrams' Star Trek films. The wittiness, humor, and quasi-convincing nonsense logic of Fringe is alive and on both of these shows.
New episodes of Almost Human air Monday at 8pm Eastern on Fox, followed by Sleepy Hollow at 9. The last five episode of each show are available on Fox and Hulu.
4. Gone Home
Gone Home is a different kind of video game. In fact, it's not a game: There's no way to win or lose, really. Rather, it's an interactive story told using mechanics that anyone who's seen a video game can understand.
It's pretty much impossible to say anything about the plot of game without spoiling everything - The downside of a game that is entirely story-driven - but here's my best try:
Players control Katie Greenbriar, a college student returning from a year studying abroad to a house her family moved into while she was away. Katie comes home to find the house empty, with an ominous note on the front door. As Katie, you explore the house and try to piece together what's been happening.
Really, it's the best detective story you'll play: A very clear story comes together from finding peripheral information from documents and items that we all accumulate on a daily basis.
If you are not a video game person, here are a few counter-points for your most likely arguments for not playing Gone Home.
- Without saying too much, you will not be off-put by the game's violence.
- You do have time: It takes 2-3 hours to play, start to finish.
- You don't need a powerful PC to play it. In runs fine on my Macbook Air.
- While it's worth the full $20 price tag, distribution services like Steam will put the game on sale often. (I bought it over Thanksgiving for a measly $5.)
So even if it's your first video game. Even if it's your only video game. Gone Home deserves your attention. You can download it on Steam.
5. American Horror Story: Coven
American Horror Story has been one of the least predictable shows on TV for three years running. It's not afraid to push the envelope and go the extra mile to grab an audible "are you serious" out of your throat at the end of each episode.
Of course, that's not always good thing: The show's second series, Asylum, tried too hard to shock and confound, mixing Aliens, Nazis and Werewolves to form a plot fit for a funny B-movie hiding in the deep, dark depths of Netflix. But that's the beauty of an anthology series like American Horror Story: Even if it's terrible one season, there's always room to correct the show's fundamental flaws next season.
This year's Coven rebounds well with a story of witches, voodoo and, tangentially, zombies in New Orleans. Like the show's successful first season, the show takes the time to build a history and mythology to support its crazy events. While its not even remotely scary, Coven channels the unsettling moods and intriguing mystique that are essential to a great horror story.
New episodes of American Horror Story: Coven air Wednesday at 10pm Eastern on FX.
6. Peggle 2
Peggle 2 is fun-incarnate.
Ok, technically it's a mix of brick breaker and a pachinko machine: Players shoot a ball from the top of the screen to touch and break "pegs." It sounds kind of boring, like something you'd only play on your phone if you could get it for free, right? Wrong!
Using music and unconscionably bright colors, there's something about playing Peggle just makes you smile whether you win or lose. After a year defined by dark, upsetting narratives (See almost everything else on this list) we all need a little Peggle sometimes.
Plus, it's the best Xbox One game I've played yet.
I haven't played the original, but from what I understand it's very similar. There are a few new features - more special abilities, music, etc - but really it's more of the same. That said, have you even played Peggle? No? I didn't think so. Go play some Peggle. Go have some fun.
Peggle 2 is available on the Xbox One game store. Peggle is available on Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade.