New Year’s resolutions usually suck. I usually suck at keeping them. So this year, I’m not going to bother. I have enough that I’m trying to do — avoid getting COVID, make sure my anxiety doesn’t spiral again and result in any further mental breakdowns, and try several new recipes from the new Nigella book (she liked my photo on Instagram the other day, 2021 has already peaked).
However, there’s one thing that’s been playing on my mind all night. I made a lofty claim that I’d watched over 100 vampire movies in my lifetime, a claim that I egregiously undershot. Instead, I sit at a measly 52. So 2021 is the year of the vamp — I’m going to do my duty and see if I can get to that glorious 100, or at least somewhat close.
Armed with a Wikipedia list and numerous streaming platforms, I have a plethora of films to add to my list, from some Hammer Horrors to some weird European stuff. It could get wild. I’ve largely ticked off the teenage stuff, but who knows what Netflix has lurking in its bowels!
Will I review all of them? No. Did I have an idea for a podcast series where I talk about the trashiest vampire films from the 80s to 2010s? Yes. Will it ever happen? Who knows. At the very least, Queen of the Damned is probably going to get a rewatch, and I’m going to drive my friends mad with Marius quotes. It’s the year of the vamp, and here’s my public declaration of commitment. I’ve got 48 films to watch, so let’s go.
So, this coronavirus lockdown thing is pretty shit. Outside of work, I have no real discernible skills that I can put to use in this time, especially as I’ve got an ‘at-risk’ person at home (unless you want anything proofreading remotely, or some help building your latest D&D character!), but what I CAN do is share a list of streamable media that may help you feel better while you’re staring down the endless pit of despair that is the state of the world at the moment. Enjoy!
NB: I’ve tried to stray away from the ‘obvious’ – for example, EVERYONE knows Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the absolute best and most feel-good thing around – but I have included a few old classics that you might not know are on your platform of choice. I’ve also left Disney+ alone because not everyone has it, and you tend to know what you’re getting in to there. This list is based on the UK regions of each streaming platforms, so availability may vary.
Comfort food viewing
Here’s the good stuff – easily bingeable, reasonably warm and cosy, and all-together great television.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Amazon Prime, Seasons 1–7)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my favourite TV show of all time! It has its problems, but having just rewatched it over the last few months, it still give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s my ultimate comfort watch. Sad about stuff? Want to see the apocalypse get solved? Watch Buffy punch some evil and listen to Spike snark about something and everything will be okay.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Netflix, Seasons 1–14)
If you’ve never watched this before… well, now is the perfect time. The Gang are truly the worst of humanity, and no matter how much you cringe at their escapades, you still can’t look away. Particularly great episodes include Thundergun Express, Charlie Work, Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games and of course, The Nightman Cometh.
The Toys That Made Us (Netflix, Seasons 1–3)
This documentary series about how all your favourite toys were made is extremely soothing television. There are some truly fascinating stories behind the origins of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because a best-selling toy line, and the longevity of the Star Wars toy line, and there’s also plenty of factory floor conveyor belt footage. Almost as good as watching Viennetta get made.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (All4, Season 1)
Six episodes of pure comic genius. If ever I need cheering up, this is the one. Imagine all the shittest horror movies and B-movie sci-fis you’ve ever seen, and then stick Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade in the middle of it. Bloody magnificent.
Elementary (Amazon Prime, Seasons 1–5)
What’s more cosy than Lucy Liu solving crimes? Nothing, that’s what. Okay, I guess Jonny Lee Miller’s in this as well, but Lucy Liu still does a LOT of crime solving. With far more satisfying character development than the BBC series ever had, Elementary is the Sherlock adaptation we didn’t know we’d been waiting for.
This Country (BBC iPlayer, Seasons 1–3)
I’m a current resident of the Cotswolds, but I grew up in a ‘town’ not too dissimilar to the village featured in This Country, and I know that rural living is boring as hell when you’re a kid. Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe’s escapades surrounding village life are not only extremely relatable (at least, for me) but are absolutely hilarious. There are some really poignant moments in this, too, but really, we’re here for Kurtan’s bitching and Kerry’s anecdotes about Swindon Town Football Club.
What We Do in the Shadows (BBC iPlayer, Season 1)
Building on Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s wonderful film, the series of What We Do in the Shadows focuses on a group of Staten Island vampires, including your favourite and mine, Matt Berry. The series is equally as funny as the film, if not more so, with just as much warmth, and with perhaps even more ridiculous situations. A verified supernatural pick-me-up.
I bloody love sci-fi. Most of the time, people instantly think of the super serious stuff, but there’s plenty of silly to love. Sometimes, you want a hard-hitting conspiracy thriller but in this time of crisis, here are a few series that’ll make you smile, rather than twist your brain too much.
I miss this show SO MUCH. I was gutted it only got two seasons. Based on the novels by Douglas Adams, it follows ‘holistic detective’ Dirk Gently and unwitting sidekick Todd (Elijah Wood!) as they try and solve murders, disappearances and more through the interconnectedness of all things. There could be aliens. There might just be different universes. There’s definitely some body-swapping. It’s got tons of charm and some outstanding wardrobe choices – kudos for having the best made-up band t-shirt in the world.
Star Trek: The Original Series (Netflix, Seasons 1–3)
Boldly go back to where it all began on Netflix with TOS. Netflix has ALL the Star Trek, and while I can heartily recommend most of it, there’s something about TOS and all its batshit insanity that makes it the perfect watch at the moment.
The dynamic between Kirk, Spock and McCoy is still some of the most compelling viewing in the Trek universe, and of course, there are always plenty of big-ass space clouds in case you think things are getting a bit too deep. I watch Trek on a Monday night (virtually, and have done for years in its various different guises) with my best friend and we send each other snarky comments about it. Seeing as this is the closest you’ll get to movie night with your pals, I’d suggest you get on Facebook Messenger/WhatsApp/iMessage and do the same.
Orphan Black (Netflix, Seasons 1–5)
Introduced to me by the aforementioned best friend, Orphan Black is also absolutely mental. Watching Tatiana Maslany play at least four different characters an episode is like watching art in motion, especially when one of those characters is an uptight soccer mom (Alison is the absolute best and I will fight anyone that disagrees) and the next is a scam artist who is pretending to be a police officer. Good thing it’s also got the fabulous Felix to tie it together. If you’re after a series that’ll bring up the good ol’ Netflix ‘are you still watching this?’ screen, this is the one.
Farscape (Amazon Prime, Seasons 1–4)
Take one astronaut, throw him through a wormhole into a universe where all the aliens either have English or Australian accents, put him on a ship that’s ALIVE and in a symbiotic relationship with its pilot, plus add some Jim Henson puppets for good measure and you have the glorious, glorious mess that is Farscape. There’s so much cheese, but it’s so good.
Misfits (All4, Seasons 1–4)
I imagine most people reading this watched Misfits back in the day, but this teen drama about superhero delinquents only gets better with every rewatch. This video says it all. Go forth and relive.
I’ve saved the anime for its own section, but here’s some of the best Western animation I keep returning to when in doubt. A mix of epic stories, emotional coming-of-age tales and dubstep bees.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (Netflix, Season 1)
Possibly the best discovery I’ve made on Netflix this year, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a whimsical journey through a post-apocalyptic landscape, filled with mutated beasts and insects who have taken over the surface world. Kipo, a ‘burrow girl’ who dwells underground, suddenly finds herself thrust onto the surface and manages to survive through the power of friendship. Kipo’s optimism and selflessness is exactly what we need right now, so be sure to give this a try. It’s 10 episodes, what have you got to lose?
Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix, Seasons 1–3)
If you’ve never gone near A:TLA before, don’t worry – there’s no judgement here. Now’s the perfect time to start. It’s a bit of a slog through the first few episodes, but once Team Avatar make it to Kyoshi Island, you’re rewarded with an epic tale of magic, the cost of war and the bonds of friendship. It’s funny and heartwarming but also deadly serious – even though it’s a kid’s show, it doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Some of the big fantasy epics on HBO could learn a lot from Avatar.
The Dragon Prince (Netflix, Seasons 1–3)
Once you’ve burned through Avatar, you might want to give The Dragon Prince a try. Developed by several members of the original Avatar team, this Netflix-exclusive has much of the same warmth while deftly handling politics, bereavement and familial ties. Also, there’s a very cute dragon and excellent LGBTQ+ representation to boot.
Transformers: Robots in Disguise (Netflix, Seasons 1–2)
It’s no secret – I love Transformers. I love the stupid cheesy Michael Bay films, the original cartoons and pretty much everything else. However, Robots in Disguise is probably one of the best Transformers properties in recent years in terms of having a decent story, great characterisation and yes, of course, some big stompy robot fun. Bumblebee and his squad of misfits are stranded on Earth, separated from Optimus Prime, and living in a junkyard. They’re tracking down Decepticons and making horrendous puns. It’s great.
Tales of Arcadia (Netflix: Trollhunters Seasons 1–3, 3Below Seasons 1–2)
It’s impossible to recommend just Trollhunters or just 3Below, so here’s my love letter to both of them. In the sleepy suburb of Arcadia, teen misfit Jim suddenly finds himself in the middle of an epic war between forces of light and dark, becoming the titular Trollhunter and drags his friends along for good measure. So far, so fantasy. But soon enough, the alien prince and princess of Akiridion-5 crash-land in Arcadia, turning their spaceship into a home, which is where 3Below comes into things.
Both series effortlessly weave into each other, creating a fairytale universe unlike anything in recent memory. All together, they invoke a real childhood sense of glee and mischief, with some outstanding voice talent (and big names like Kelsey Grammar, Nick Offerman and the late Anton Yelchin) on hand to provide proper laughs and real moments of emotion. I totally cried at the ending of Trollhunters.
Anime, my dudes
Most anime fans will recognise the big hitters on this list, but if you’ve never really given anime a try, now’s your chance. Crunchyroll is largely free with ads (you just won’t get the latest episodes), and some of the quintessential classics can be found on Netflix. I’ve largely tried to stay away from the ‘big’ action and sci-fi shows, with a couple of notable exceptions, and have instead focused on some gentler favourites of mine.
In my humble opinion, FMA: Brotherhood is the best anime ever made. I’m probably talking through rose-tinted glasses from my teen years, but one thing still stands to this day – it’s a hell of a ride. Edward and Alphonse Elric use alchemy to try and bring their mother back from the dead and pay the price – Ed loses his arm and leg, and Alphonse loses his entire body.
The series shows their journey from lost children to fully fledged alchemists, taking on a corrupt government and exposing the hidden truths of their craft, all while trying to make each other whole again. It’s beautiful storytelling, and like most good anime, juxtaposes extreme darkness with moments of whimsy and light. I come back to it every few years and am floored by it every time.
Yuri!!! on Ice (Crunchyroll, Season 1)
When it debuted in 2016, Yuri!!! on Ice immediately leapt to the top of the anime charts in Japan and became the most talked-about show in years. Anime often covers less talked-about sports, but figure skating was pretty new territory, and to throw in a love story between its two male lead characters as well? It’s not like “boys’ love” shows are rare, but to become such a cultural phenomenon was something else.
Regardless of the hype, it’s a wonderfully crafted show, and on first watch, I binged all 12 episodes in one go. On the one hand, I was dying to see the relationship between Yuuri, our titular character and hero, and his idol and coach Victor develop, but on the other, I had to know if Yuuri was going to become the world’s best skater, or whether his rival, Russian firebrand Yuri Plisetsky was going to steal those gold medals right from under him. It also has a fantastic theme song.
Sakura Quest (Crunchyroll, Seasons 1–2)
Not much happens in Sakura Quest, in the grand scheme of things. It’s a quiet series, but one that I adored when it first aired. Yoshino, who is struggling to get a job in the big city of Tokyo, accepts a job as the ‘Queen’ of Manoyama, an ailing tourist spot that’s slowly shutting up shop. The story follows her attempt to put the village back on the map, helped by a gang of local residents determined to see their town flourish once again.
As someone who’s worked with a lot of hotels in administration, based in quiet towns that aren’t exactly tourist hotspots any more, I felt a real kinship with Yoshino – even though she’s not from Manoyama, she eventually takes to her new role with determination and tries to do the best she can for the village. Sakura Quest is a slow build, but a very rewarding one.
Fruits Basket (Crunchyroll, Season 1)
I was ecstatic when I found out that Fruits Basket, or Furuba if you’re a fan, was getting a new lease of life. Tohru Honda lives in a tent in the wilderness, following the death of her mother, and finds a new family in the Sohmas, who all transform into zodiac animals when hugged by a member of the opposite sex. The new version follows the manga much more closely and as a result makes for a slower paced yet more involved watch.
Not a huge amount happens throughout the course of the first season as far as plot is concerned, but watching the relationships between the show’s main characters blossom and strengthen over the series is a joy. If you know your fanfic tropes, it’s very much a hurt/comfort kind of series – learning the ins and outs of why each Sohma has inherited their specific zodiac animal and how it’s affected their lives is sometimes a difficult watch, but ultimately very rewarding.
Flying Witch (Crunchyroll, Season 1)
If you’re after some low-key, extremely chill viewing for a quiet night in, Flying Witch is perfect. Makoto, a witch in training, leaves home to go and live with her relatives, where she can practice her witchcraft and learn how to help others in the community. There are talking cats, plenty of broomstick flights, and lots of gentle slice-of-life moments with a supernatural twist.
My Hero Academia (Crunchyroll, Seasons 1–4)
This is pretty much how I got my partner Charlie into anime. My Hero Academia does have plenty of big, stupid action scenes, but it’s also far more than just a Saturday morning cartoon. The line between hero and villain becomes blurred on many occasions, and the show handles the question of ‘what is true power’ with a real grace. The camaraderie of Class 1-A also makes for great fun, so if you’re looking for a superhero show with a difference, you’ll find no better than My Hero Academia.
Sweetness and Lightning (Crunchyroll, Season 1)
I mean… how could you not fall in love with this show? When high school teacher Kohei’s wife passes away, he’s left to raise their daughter Tsumugi by himself. He’s not a great cook and relies on ready meals to keep them both fed, but after a chance encounter with a student, he resolves to make homemade meals for Tsumugi every night. It’s absolutely adorable. I also love cooking shows, and in terms of simple, delicious recipes, Sweetness and Lightning delivers – I made the vegetable gratin and it was good. Cosy comfort viewing at its finest.
Given (Crunchyroll, Season 1)
While Yuri!!! on Ice might be the most talked about “boys love” series in recent years, Given is far more down to earth and yet just as enthralling. Barely-there Mafuyu brings his guitar to school and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Ritsuka, who invites him to join a band. Throughout the series, the two discover their feelings for each other, while Mafuyu tries to accept a difficult past. While Mafuyu and Ritsuka’s relationship is front and centre, the show explores multiple LGBTQ+ relationships between its cast, with the upcoming movie meant to focus on the other band members, Haruki and Akihito. The soundtrack is also as excellent as you might expect.
Anyway, that’s the list. However you’re getting on at the moment, I hope you find something to enjoy here – let me know if you check anything out! Also, if you’re cultivating an Animal Crossing island, drop me a line on Twitter.
As I type this, my launch model PS4 is whirring unhappily in the background, attempting to reinstall all the data it just lost. Alas, I think the beast is now too old, and while it’s valiantly struggling to recover, it might be time to put it out to pasture and pick up a new one. But, with all that happening, it does mean that I’m typing up a blog for the first time in forever, rather than spending an evening in front of the box.
2018 has been a fairly okay year. Not the best, but by no means the worst. Work has been fine, Charlie and I have had some nice holidays, I’ve had a great time playing Dungeons & Dragons and AFI brought out a new EP. So yeah, thinking of it that way, it’s not been too shabby.
Have I really accomplished anything? Well, I DM’d a full D&D campaign over the course of a year! That was pretty rad. I did a bunch of stupid voices and had tons of fun. I actually wrote things for it, too – so, while I’m beating myself up about the lack of a novel draft, I just need to think about how I was developing my skills, working on character, and actually remembering how story structure works. Or something like that.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the best bits of 2018 in consumable media for me.
I’ve been reading a lot. My Goodreads count is at something like 50+ by now. Of course, around 10 of those are Hellblazer graphic novels, because I basically inhaled those a few months ago after developing a slight obsession with the ill-fated Constantine TV series (ie Matt Ryan’s pretty face). However, there’s a lot of novels in there – some outside my SFF comfort zone – so I’m pretty chuffed with that. Stuff I’ve loved this year includes The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L Howard, The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone, From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty, and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee.
As crappy as it is for someone that used to run a music zine, I’ve kind of not paid attention to most music this year, but there were still some gems out there that grabbed my attention. AFI’s The Missing Man is perfection, as always, and Holy Hell by Architects gives me FEELS. The first Good Charlotte album in a long time, Generation RX, is amazing, and Panic! At The Disco’s Pray For The Wicked is a certified banger. But these are all great new releases from bands I’ve loved for years and years. I’m sure there’s been some fantastic new stuff that I’ve heard from new bands somewhere, but it’s flown out of my head and into the ether.
Video games? Those have been a thing this year. I’ve played less than I’d have liked, but probably more than I should have. Persona 5 was an EXPERIENCE, and I loved Ni no Kuni II’s wonderful fairytale land to bits. Rediscovering Spyro through the Reignited Trilogy was a joy, and basically everything I’ve played on Nintendo Switch this year has been nothing short of brilliant. From a storytelling point of view, video games have had a lot going on this year – let’s have more of that in 2019.
I’ve not watched a huge amount of movies this year, but Avengers: Infinity War made me gasp so loud that the people in the row in front of me actually turned around. Marvel have pretty much hit a home run with everything they’ve put out this year, but Infinity War was something truly special. I loved Coco with all my heart (2018 release date in the UK, okay?) and Pacific Rim: Uprising was big, dumb fun. On the telly, I’ve been ecstatic about getting Charlie to watch anime – particularly My Hero Academia and Aggretsuko – and Netflix did good with the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series. Also, Star Trek Discovery. It had its flaws, but holy shit was it great to have a new Trek series.
For me, the year ends with neither a bang, nor a whimper, in the grand scheme of things. And that’s okay, really. Sometimes, it’s good to just keep ticking along. It’s taken a long time for me to learn that lesson, but my mental health has been all the better for it. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what 2019 will bring.
I should probably be ringing in the new year in a pub, or a bar, or at a gig, but instead of dodging vomit and strangers, I’m sat at on the sofa in my fluffiest pyjamas, with The Walking Dead on in the background and nursing a glass of water. I’ve had better nights, but I’ve definitely had worse.
It’s usually about the time of night that I start to get reflective. 2017 has, for all intents and purposes, been a shitshow from an external point of view. Brexit is a load of wank, and the level of fear and loathing spreading throughout the world is something that we need to keep fighting as fiercely as we can. But on a personal level, I’ve accomplished enough to feel as though I made a difference this year.
One of my main goals was to read more books. The thought process was read more books, write more stuff. Well, I was an overachiever when it came to the first part of that — I hit 36 books in total this year, which is a huge increase on the 10 or so I read in 2016. Most of those were books that were in my to-be-read pile, but I delved into a fair few new ones as well. Admittedly, I didn’t stray too far from sci-fi/fantasy, but that’s something to concentrate on next.
I wanted to write more, and to a degree, I suppose I did. I wrote a few more blogs than the year before, drafted a few stories and entered a couple of competitions. I also edited the vast majority of my friend’s novelisation of our D&D campaign (still a few more chapters to go!), which was a great experience and a really worthwhile exercise.
I also branched out in terms of my social circle, joining said D&D group, which was possibly the best decision I’ve made since moving to Cheltenham. It’s the nerdiest shit I could even think about doing, but I’ve made some fantastic friends, laughed until I cried and started DM’ing a campaign, which has been brilliant for my improvisation skills. Our campaign’s still going strong, and I’m excited to see what comes this year.
There are still lots of things I’m working towards. We don’t own a house yet. I don’t have my own little writing nook. But those aren’t too far away. I haven’t written that book, or even finished the little pieces I started working on. Nevertheless, I have ideas, and I want to find my drive. I’m planning on taking up a diary for the first time in years to try and see if I can inspire myself some more. I’m not setting any resolutions as such, but the same applies as most years — read more, write more, do more stuff and take better care of myself.
I usually do a little yearly roundup of things I’ve enjoyed most throughout the year. I’m not doing anything quite so expansive as usual, but here’s a sample of stuff I’ve loved this year.
Records: Creeper — Infinity, In Your Arms; AFI — The Blood Album; Dreamcar — S/T; Kesha — Rainbow; Chelsea Wolfe — Hiss Spun
Video games: Persona 5; Destiny 2; Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age; Mass Effect Andromeda; Assassin’s Creed Origins
Movies: Thor: Ragnarok; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Power Rangers; Wonder Woman; Kubo and the Two Strings
Books: Raven Stratagem — Yoon Ha Lee; Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie; The Bone Key — Sarah Monette; Four Roads Cross — Max Gladstone; A Long Day in Lychford — Paul Cornell
Okay, so my goal of updating my blog at least once a month really went by the wayside, but that’s fine. While my writing may have taken a back seat for the past couple of months, I’ve managed to conquer a few other things of note, and I need to stop forgetting that.
First of all, I completed a first round of edits on James’ D&D novella-of-sorts. It was admittedly a copy cleanup more than anything else, but good to test my editing skills on proper fiction rather than functional copy (I’ve written and proofed enough websites over the last six months, after all). It was really fun to go back and rediscover our adventure, and a challenge to ensure that I was creating helpful suggestions. Hopefully, stuff I’ll bear in mind for my own drafts moving forward.
Keeping with the D&D theme, I’ve started dungeon mastering. And shit, it is HARD. It takes a lot more effort to guide the flow of the story and act as an enabler, rather than just acting on autopilot. And I’m very terrible at distances and remembering what everything does. All that aside, it’s really fun, and having to think on my feet and develop characters in a split second is a very valuable skill. I’m currently running the Out of the Abyss storyline, and we’re all having a good time. Although I hope that, with practice, it’ll get easier.
Most importantly though, I’ve conquered my initial TBR goal! I’ve read a grand total of 26 books off the backlog and I’m ploughing through even more. I set myself up for 40 before the end of the year, but I doubt I’ll hit that. Nevertheless, it’s been really nice to rediscover my love of reading — something that I felt I’d lost somewhat, and there’s good stress relief in being able to curl up in a quiet corner with a book. That’s something I’ve needed more often than not over the past couple of months. When everything turns into a maelstrom, it’s easy to find calm between the pages.
Plans moving forward? I’m toying with NaNoWriMo, but I just don’t know if I have the time to commit to the endeavour. I’ve still not found that safe space in which to write. More often than not, I just want to curl up with the TV when I get home from work. Winter is coming, and I can’t help but feel the need to hibernate, to insulate myself from the fear of churning out shit that won’t matter to anyone. I’ve less need for catharsis than before — after all, when you have a confidant, there’s no need to veil it all in metaphor. But perhaps winter’s a time for change, and it might be time to push that change up from within.
Currently reading: Godblind by Anna Stephens Currently listening: Eisley — I’m Still Listening Currently watching: Riverdale