The Only Five Things I Liked in 2021
Getting to five was tough
I have a serious problem: There is almost no entertainment made these days that I enjoy. This isn’t an elitism thing; I can name dozens of “prestige” movies and TV shows that made critics shit each others’ pants that I didn’t like at all. The entertainment industry is unfathomably huge, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year making entertainment in the US alone, it’s one of the most competitive fields with access to some of the top minds on the planet, and yet, when I get on an airplane, I usually choose to watch this:
You’d think that a $400 million blockbuster would be more entertaining than an 8-bit graphic of an airplane inching its way across North America. Alas. I don’t know if this disconnect is happening because Hollywood sucks or because I’ve been a comedian-and-sometimes-TV-writer for 16 years now and I’m just dead inside. I do think that working in comedy is like working in an amusement park, in that it sounds like a magical dream job, but you actually just end up watching all the fun being slowly sucked out of a thing you once loved. It’s hard to work in entertainment without growing cynical; I once saw Grover from Sesame Street get unceremoniously crammed into a plastic bag. That pretty much sums up the comedy job experience.
I’d love to do a “my five favorite movies/TV shows of 2021” column, but I’m honestly not sure that I could get to five. So, instead, here are my five favorite things of 2021. My soul must not have completely left my body, because I can still find things that give me joy; I just need to work extra hard to find them.
THE ONLY FIVE THINGS I LIKED IN 2021:
5. People in the Middle Ages trying to draw animals they’ve never seen.
2021 was a great year for long-dead people drawing wildly inaccurate animals based on fourth-hand descriptions. That’s because a few people on Twitter came to realize that these depictions are easily the best part of any museum (except maybe for the field trip of 4th graders giving each other wedgies in front of Rembrandts, which is also great). Some favorites:
4. Dr. Oz getting non-endorsed by Oprah
Dr. Oz, once a quack TV doctor with an obvious scat fetish, is now a candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania who doesn’t know how to use a phone. Early in his run, Dr. Oz allegedly told a group of Republican activists that Oprah would back him. She hasn’t. In fact, Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine reached out to Oprah for comment on Oz’s candidacy. After two weeks of silence, Oprah’s spokeswoman sent Nuzzi this statement:
“One of the great things about our democracy is that every citizen can decide to run for public office. Mehmet Oz has made that decision. And now it’s up to the residents of Pennsylvania to decide who will represent them. — Oprah Winfrey.”
Masterful. “Dr. Oz is a human being. Human beings are comprised of cells. Cells are the building blocks of life on planet Earth. Thus concludes our statement on Dr. Mehmet Oz, carbon-based human being and candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania.” I feel like even Dr. Phil would have at least gotten “he’s hygienic and has good penmanship” from the woman who made his career.
3. Calypso music combined with screaming
My friend Dan Gurewitch invented this, and I am honored to have been present when he did; it was like watching Gershwin tap out the first few bars of Rhapsody in Blue. At least as much as watching a beloved Muppet get stuffed into a way-too-small plastic bag, this video captures the comedy writing experience. Pro tip: Play the video in multiple browser tabs at once for extra cacophonous dissonance that will stain your soul!
2. Ass in video games
For decades, I’ve been sending letters to video game makers with one simple request: MORE…ASS!!! I first sent this letter to Nintendo in 1992 after playing Q*bert 3, and have sent hundreds of similar letters to multiple video game makers in response to games such as Tetris Attack, Kirby’s Dream Land 2, and Super Mario Party All Stars.
My requests always went unheeded. Then, earlier this year, while playing Ghosts of Tsushima, I entered a hot spring and was gloriously, FINALLY treated to this (pixilation mine):
They listened. I don’t want to claim full credit for this breakthrough — I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been relentlessly firing off pen-and-paper letters on this topic for decades — but I’m humbled to have played a small part in changing the world. Now, the seal has been broken, and we can expect to see full cheek rendered in crystal clear 4K resolution in games ranging from Pokemon: Legends to Yoshi’s Crafted World 2. It’s true what they say: The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
In 2021, cats remained an elite-tier, once-in-a-generation animal. My wife and I actually invested in a private cat; it was a bit of a splurge, but it was worth it to have a personal cat in our home that we can access at any time. After a strong 2020, some people predicted a drop-off for cats, but their signature mix of total dependence on humans combined with complete disdain for the humans on which they’re dependent remains quite possibly the greatest comedy bit of all time. Plus, the many cats of social media are hard at work keeping the genre fresh. To wit:
Maybe we don’t need comedians. Maybe we don’t need Hollywood or music or Broadway or TV or entertainment generally. Maybe I’m in a field that’s been totally and rightly eclipsed by objectively hilarious cats. If so: So be it, they invented a better mousetrap (quite literally, as they do also catch mice). I think in 2022, I’ll be grateful for quality human-made entertainment when it happens, but I’ll mostly look to cats when I want to be entertained or inspired.