As The Year of the Trash Fire draws to a close, we cling to hope and remember some of 2017’s rare, uniquely brilliant moments.
We tend to believe that every year we live through is, in fact, the darkest possible timeline, but let’s face it — 2017 was objectively, unbelievably, irrevocably terrible. For a huge variety of reasons, 2017 may in fact show up in history books of the future as a genuine low for humanity and the planet, worldwide.
However, there’s always a glimmer, somewhere, and 2017 did have its moments of glowing glory. In the dying hours of the old year — and don’t get us wrong, we can’t freaking wait for it to be extinguished — we’re focusing on the positive to bring you a reminder of some things that happened this year, that, in very particular timely ways, couldn’t have existed at any other moment. Cosmic forces came together to give us these uniquely 2017 experiences to be grateful for, so take a moment before midnight to remember 2017 with a smile.
Note: while we as a species and a culture have won a lot of hard-fought battles this year – like the staggering wave of change brought on by the #MeToo movement — we’re mostly focusing on the wholly positive here, rather than the good-sprung-from-bad victories. For each month of the year, here’s a reminder of something amazing, unique, joyful and powerful that happened in the world of pop culture.
Celebrities turn out in droves for the worldwide Women’s March
I’m breaking my own commandment already, because the Women’s March on Washington, which grew to include over 5 million protesters in over 650 cities people joining in on sister marches worldwide, was, of course, very much a reaction to a negative. It took place on January 21, Donald Trump’s first official day in office, and served as a reminder to the worrying new administration, and the world at large, that we still have a long way to go in terms of improve legislation, policies and social opinion in order to provide and protect equality and equity for all marginalized groups.
While our favorite actors and artists generally all have causes that they use their platforms to talk about, the Women’s March events saw dozens of celebrities literally walking the walk, taking to the streets with the crowds and joining in this protest. Some were invited up on stage to speak to the masses, but many were simply there to add to the body count and make a public statement about what they believe in.
From Madonna to Miley to Misha Collins, Lin-Manuel Miranda to Laverne Cox, Ariana Grande to Zendaya, January 21 saw so many of our faves – in so many cities around the world – join the fight. Nick Offerman joined the pink pussy hat contingency. Gina Rodriguez went proudly braless. Emma Watson brought her mom. Half the guests of honor at the Sundance Film Festival turned out in the snow.
And the signs! Marchers worldwide created some of the most powerful and pop-culture-savvy protest placards in history – a book of them has already been published – and we saw plenty of celebrity involvement there too. Sir Ian McKellen posed with a poster of Captain Picard (his best friend, Sir Patrick Stewart) facepalming, and Melissa Benoist, Supergirl herself, had one of the strongest personal messages of the day – a homemade sign reading “Hey Donald! Don’t try to grab my pussy – it’s made of steel.”
‘Newsies’ proves that Broadway shows can – and should – be made accessible onscreen
It’s no secret that Broadway is an expensive, exclusive hobby – you can partake from afar, sure, but most fans lack a sense of true fulfilment until they get to experience a show in person. The professional filming and broadcasting of Broadway musicals – much as the UK’s National Theatre does with a huge number of their plays – seems like an easy and obvious solution to the problem.
However, for a very long time, it’s kind of felt like the problem wasn’t one that the theatrical powers-that-be particularly wanted solved. Attempts have been made, by some progressive productions – livestreams and such (and no, I’m not counting the live television events filmed on soundstages – it’s not the same product) – but it is nowhere near the standard practice.
However, this February, the cinematic release of Newsies – a gorgeously shot live performance, which reunited many of the 2012 Broadway cast, including Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly – sold out showings around the world, prompted an encore release, and frankly blew us all away as concrete proof that yes, method this can work. This can capture the heart and soul of a Broadway show, and make the cinema audience feel like they’re there in the theater.
At some moments, watching Newsies was like experiencing the show as if you’re sitting right in orchestra, and at others, you get an even closer glimpse at the actors, set and choreography, as the editing and camera angles show off every detail of the fine work the cast and crew put in. In 2017, Newsies raised the bar in making Broadway accessible to all musical theater fans, and now there’s truly no excuse for other shows to not follow through.
‘T2 Trainspotting’ shows us what a perfect sequel looks like
In 1996, Trainspotting – a Film4 adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel, which follows a group of young heroin addicts in working-class Edinburgh – was released, achieving a rather shocking level of mainstream success and international acclaim. It thrust director Danny Boyle and stars Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller into the spotlight, and became, at the time of its release, the fourth-highest-grossing British film ever made. It’s remained a cult classic ever since.
Given the existence of Welsh’s sequel novel, Porno, the concept of a cinematic sequel to Trainspotting has been tossed around for a long time – Boyle had been voicing thoughts about it since 2009, and various actors – including McGregor, despite his falling out with Boyle over being excluded from The Beach – also expressed their enthusiasm for a theoretical reunion.
T2 was confirmed in 2015, with the aim of creating it to celebrate Trainspotting’s 20th anniversary. Principal photography was completed in 2016 and the film was slated for early 2017, with a U.S. release in March. The entire lead cast – and Boyle, naturally – all reprised their roles, in a new story based loosely on Porno, set 20 years on from the original, and it’s a sequel straight from the heart. It wasn’t forced, it exists purely due to the love of all involved, and even the biggest stars took a hefty pay cut.
As Mark Renton returns home to Edinburgh 20 years after he stole £16,000 in drug money, he’s clean of heroin but the rest of his life is a shambles. He attempts to make amends with the friends he betrayed, and though his former best friend Simon initially only fakes forgiveness in an attempt to fleece Mark even further, the pair discover that some bonds are completely and utterly unbreakable. Steeped in nostalgia, but not in a cheesy way, T2 captures the same unique balance of energy and apathy, comedy and heartbreak as Trainspotting did, and it sets an example to one and all, showing us what a genuinely worthwhile sequel looks like.
Harry Styles exceeds our wildest dreams with glam rock solo career
After the demise of One Direction, the group’s youngest, most famous and arguably most fascinating member, Harry Styles, went off the grid for a while. Always an authentic and interesting character, with eclectic tastes, new music from Styles was something that diehard fans always knew would be, when it eventually came, something very special. During 2016, Styles amassed a band and wrote in secret – with a casual detour into acting, nabbing a featured role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and filming on location for several months – and in early 2017, in somewhat of a whirlwind, his self-titled debut solo album were released.
“Sign of the Times,” the lead single, was announced on March 31 and released on April 7, with the first play and an exclusive interview going to Styles’s close friend Nick Grimshaw, the host of BBC Radio 1’s Breakfast Show. A few days later, Styles performed live for the first time as a solo artist on Saturday Night Live,The Late Late Show with longtime friend James Corden, a series of tiny club shows – including one where yet another close friend, Stevie Nicks joined him onstage for a few songs – and tickets went on sale for a headlining tour, where Styles was to play mostly theater-sized venues, far smaller than his star power had the capacity to sell out. It was all a carefully curated choice.
It goes without saying that the music itself is incredible, and that Styles, in his thousand and one garish and fabulous flared-trouser suits – pink, floral, dragon-patterned, you name it – is an enigmatic performer. Through it all, he retains his kindness, his gentle and progressive demeanor, his stubborn patience, his vocal support of women and LGBT fans, and his goofy humor that have made him such a beloved role model to so many young people. He’s remained respectful and appreciative of his One Direction roots, rather than trying to shed that skin, and basically everyone who’s anyone in the music industry has fallen entirely in love.
Everything about Styles’s solo career has been both completely unexpected and yet, if you know anything about him, entirely fitting. His music is clever, melodic indie rock, with a definite bend towards the classic and glam rock of the 60s and 70s. “Sign of the Times,” his first single, is a soaring ballad nearly six minutes long – the very opposite of radio friendly. And yet, if mainstream radio wanted to spin Harry Styles, this is what he gave them, and of course, they played it, and it went straight to number one. The tone of everything Harry has produced or portrayed as a solo artist is “take me as I am or not at all” – he’s reinvented the rock star in order to stay true to himself. He is a true phenomenon, a blessing, a gift to us all.
Tom Holland is a man who can most definitely do both on ‘Lip Sync Battle’
Sure, Spider-Man: Homecoming was great and all, but let’s acknowledge the most important element of that MCU instalment – it served as an excuse to put Tom Holland on Lip Sync Battle. In case you missed this internet-stopping moment that preceded the MTV Movie Awards in May, watch the video above to see Holland – a professional dancer who starred as Billy Elliot in London’s West End – first take the stage in a dapper suit and give us a few moments of delicate soft shoe shuffle before the Rihanna kicks in.
He emerges once again from behind a shield of umbrellas, in a corset, lace-trimmed vinyl hot pants and fishnets, for a suggestive and subversive performance of the 2007 hit. It’s wonderfully skilled, of course but it’s so much more than that. The greatest glory of Tom Holland’s “Umbrella” is the fact that this appearance is promotion for a Marvel superhero movie.
While all Lip Sync Battles have an element of comedy to them, nothing about this is in any way a mockery – the joke here isn’t “boy dressed up as girl!” Yes, Holland wears a bob wig and a smear of red lipstick, but it doesn’t particularly feel like full drag – if it was, that would be a different subversion and skill in and of itself, but that’s not what is going on here. Instead, you see a young man giving a, shameless, unironic, powerful and fierce performance dressed in traditionally feminine, sexually provocative clothing, and the message, above all, comes across as owning it.
It was a real eye-opener, and a true sign of progress to see so many people – men and women – swooning over this performance. Holland’s only regret? That he didn’t feel quite confident enough in his dance ability to do that goddamn front-flip death-drop in the rain in heels. 2017 woke up to the fact that this is what a strong, confident man looks like – this is what a superhero looks like. Shooketh. Get you a man who can do both.
‘Wonder Woman’ box office success settles the ‘girls don’t sell’ argument
Early June saw another superhero shake-up. To call the DCEU’s Wonder Woman – the first ever big budget female-led superhero movie, the first ever female-directed big budget comic book movie – long-awaited is perhaps the understatement of the century, but it finally arrived, and both the movie itself and the overwhelming response to it blew our minds.
Of course, it would be perfectly fine if Wonder Woman was a movie that wasn’t for everyone – I’m a big believer that it’s okay to create content aimed at fulfilling certain audiences and not others, and a superhero film of this scale being made just for girl nerds is a victory in its own right, but the box office success surpassed all predictions, and Warner Bros, knowing a good thing when they see it, secured Patty Jenkins to helm a sequel, due out in 2019.
Wonder Woman became the most financially successful film ever directed by a woman, the DCEU’s biggest earner, and later in the year, international takings increased the film’s income to propel it into the position of the highest-grossing superhero origin story movie of all time, pipping ahead of 2002’s Spider-Man, the movie that arguably drew comic book heroes irrevocably into the limelight and cemented them as mainstream action blockbusters.
Of course, the critical reception was wonderful, and the film’s actual content was delightful, but in this industry, which is still so tentative to take a chance on women – particularly when targeting audiences that were previously, delusionally, believed to be male-centric – it’s the money that makes a difference. If that’s what it takes to even the playing field, then the cold, hard cash that Wonder Woman raked in proved, loudly and voraciously, that yes, women sell, even in superhero spaces, and there’s no excuse to turn away from that now.
For ‘Doctor Who’ fans, the future is finally female
Regeneration has always been a fact of life for Doctor Who – the iconic show’s longevity is all down to this nifty Time Lord trick. Over the years – the many, many years – in moments of mortal peril, we’ve seen the Doctor transform into a new person – same hearts, same soul, same memories, but different cellular structure which gives them a different appearance and personality. This factor of alien physiology has allowed a whole host of actors to take over the role, refreshing every few years when someone calls time on their TARDIS tenure.
Funny thing, though. Time Lords can regenerate into literally any humanoid form, and they don’t get a choice in the matter – but somehow, the Doctor has come back every single time – all twelve times, if you count John Hurt’s War Doctor – as a British white man. Isn’t it weird how that works! The idea for woman Doctor has been tossed around for ages – one of the most iconic Doctors, Tom Baker, suggested it as a possibility back in 1981 when announcing his departure – but it was the Neil Gaiman-penned Eleven-era episode “The Doctor’s Wife” that canonized the possibility onscreen, as the Doctor mentions another Time Lord, the Corsair, who changed genders between regenerations.
Later, in the season 9 finale “Hell Bent,” we saw this process happen on screen for the first time, to a random Gallifreyan, and of course, one of the most prominent characters of Peter Capaldi’s era as Twelve was Michelle Gomez as Missy, who was revealed to be the Master – a Time Lord we’ve met many times before as a male. The concept of cross-gender regeneration was referenced more and more, particularly in the season 12 finale in what we now know to be stage-setting. Two weeks after the finale – Capaldi’s last regular episode – Jodie Whittaker was announced as the new Doctor.
Before the announcement, there was no confirmed promise that the new Doctor would be a woman – it was all just conjecture, and so the confirmation was a total surprise for a lot of people – those who hadn’t dared to hope, and those who were crying manbaby tears of oppression. After the reveal, new showrunner Chris Chibnall, who’d played coy before and been quoted that he didn’t want any casting to be a gimmick – usually a disappointing code for saying “we’re not diversifying for the sake of it” admitted that he had always wanted and intended to cast a woman and that Whittaker had been his first choice. Whittaker has now made her first appearance in the recent Christmas special, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
Amid whitewashing argument, Ed Skrein steps down from ‘Hellboy’ by choice
In August, the casting for Lionsgate’s reboot of the Hellboy franchise was announced, and with it came yet another cycle of whitewashing controversy. Like so many big budget adaptations before it, Hellboy saw a white actor cast as a character who, in their canonical origin – in this case, the Mike Mignola’s comics for Dark Horse – was a person of color.
The role of Ben Daimio, a Japanese-American ex-Marine who – in the comics, at least, suffers a curse that sees him transform uncontrollably into a sort of were-jaguar – went to British and extremely white actor Ed Skrein, who played Ajax – I mean, Francis – in Deadpool.
After a week of backlash about this erasure of representation, Skrein settled the matter extremely graciously. In a personal note on Twitter, Skrein explained that he was unaware of the character’s racial origin when he accepted the role, and after learning the truth, he withdraw from the project, allowing an Asian actor to be cast in his rightful place as Ben Daimio. Some time later, Daniel Dae Kim was announced as the new Ben.
Skrein’s actions, and his statement, set a huge precedent for incidents like this in Hollywood. He’s not a huge A-Lister, and – unlike set-for-life Scarlett Johansson – he probably sacrificed a lot of money and mainstream exposure by giving up the role. “To neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voices in the Arts,” he wrote, and now, if this ever happens again, we have Ed Skrein to point to and say “Look, it can be done, if you have the integrity. Your move.”
‘Will & Grace’ makes a solid case for the series revival trend
By the fall of 2017, nearly all hope for a silver lining vanished. One bright speck, a tiny flickering star in the sky dared to shine through the clouds — Will & Grace’s return to NBC’s Comedy Thursdays. The best day of the week growing up, Thursdays were when I joined my four best friends in apartment 9C for a half hour of blissful comedy.
On September 18, at 9:00 p.m., Will, Grace, Jack and Karen took America by the shoulders and said, “Look around! Not everything is horrible!” And it wasn’t. Like me, my favorite foursome were a little older, a little wiser, but still holding onto what kept them young at heart. A rocky start, with a politically themed episode, led to a five week run of incredible performances from every cast member.
Sean Hayes’ triumphant return as Jack McFarland has showcased his innate ability to undercut heavy emotional punches with a line that leaves a mark, but not a sting. Eric McCormack’s Will is more confident than he ever was, a reflection of the cultural history of time passed. The second episode of the series’ return, “Daddy,” gave both McCormack and Hayes an arena to showcase not only comedic chops, but revive the magical combination of the writing team, costume department, set decorators, and direction of Jimmy Burrows.
Debra Messing’s Grace Adler is the voice of blunt reason she’s always been, but her obliviousness and laziness resonates so much more in 2017. And Megan Mullally’s Karen Walker delivered a stunning performance in the series’ last regular episode of the year at Rosario’s funeral. For something that could fail so tragically, Will & Grace managed to, for better or for worse, make a case for reviving long-gone series.
Jack Kline redefines the meaning of cinnamon roll on ‘Supernatural’
In October 2017, Supernatural returned to the CW with its 13th season, continuing its reign as the longest-running genre show currently airing on U.S television. After all these years, it seems impossible to think that it hasn’t passed its prime, but like a fine wine – or maybe, more fitting for these boys, a single-malt whiskey – Supernatural has only gotten better with age. It’s a true achievement, and though the rocky ride has thrown off a few passengers along the way, anyone who doesn’t clamber back on board ASAP is missing out.
The show’s stars, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, continue to give their all, fostering a deep investment for anyone who follows the story of Sam and Dean Winchester, but Supernatural season 13 also introduced a secret weapon – young newcomer Alexander Calvert as Jack Kline, the all-powerful nephilim son of Lucifer who was born in the season 12 finale and aged instantly to young adulthood. After two seconds of screentime in season 12, Calvert was announced as a series regular for season 13, which is unheard of for this show in particular.
This plot point, at the time, seemed potentially tiresome, but even those who were somewhat looking forward to what Jack might offer were simply not prepared for the character we met in the October 12 premiere and what he has instantly added to the mix. Jack, though he wields great power, is an utter innocent, something that Sam recognizes immediately, and he must be protected. He is pure and perfect and lovely. Jack is magic, and most astoundingly, Jack is unhateable. To paraphrase Brooklyn 99, a snapshot of every Supernatural fan the weekend after the season premiere: I’ve only had Jack for a day and a half, but if anything happened to him, I would kill everyone in this room and then myself.
Supernatural fans spends a great deal of time fighting – outside of Sam and Dean, the value of other fave characters is hotly debated. Castiel and Crowley, the other two longtime series regulars, are both deeply hated by certain factions of fandom, despite the show’s narrative choice to highlight their value to the brothers. Jack? Everyone freaking loves him. I have not seen one single negative word about him, anywhere. I’m sure a few haters exist, but their noise isn’t cutting through in the way that nearly all other detractors do. It is mindblowing to watch this happen – this is a fandom that historically does not handle change well, so introducing a new lead character this far down the line and managing to instantly turn him into a universal equalizer? That is a skill, my friends. Those folks over at Supernatural have learned a thing or two in all these years. Bravo.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announce their engagement
America, you’re getting your very own princess! A black, feminist princess, an activist since age 11, a UN advocate who’s written articles about racial identity and menstruation stigma… it’s the very epitome of a modern day fairytale. On November 27, after around eighteen months of dating, Clarence House announced the formal engagement of Prince Henry of Wales, fifth in line to the British throne, to Ms Meghan Markle. Markle is best known to the public as Rachel Zane – she’s been a series regular on Suits for seven seasons. The pair met on a blind date, a set-up by a mutual friend.
The UK and other Commonwealth nations like Australia and Canada tend to get very celebratory about any royal occasion – but the union of Harry and Markle represents a whole lot more. Markle is, of course, American. She’s a commoner, an actress, and a celebrity in her own right. She’s also mixed race – her father is Caucasian, her mother African-American, and she was raised in a single parent family. She’s a few years older than Harry, and she’s a divorcee herself – she split with husband Trevor Engelson in 2013, after a ten year partnership.
If you know anything at all about the history and protocol of the British royal family, you’ll know that even one of those factors listed above would have deemed Markle completely unacceptable as a match even one generation ago – and she may not have made the cut even today if Harry was the heir. Harry’s marriage to Markle represents a notable shift for the royal family – either we’re seeing a change in the organization as a whole, or Harry himself has put his foot down and refused to subscribe to the expected circumstances of his birth.
The couple’s relationship was confirmed last year, when, in an absolutely unprecedented move Harry released a personal statement about the media harassment of Markle, specifically pointing out the racist undertones of the press and revealing the measures that have been taken privately to keep Markle and her family safe. The couple seem wildly in love, and they’ve both individually proven that they’re very hands-on when given the chance to make a difference. They’re more than ready to throw anything the world has at them as a solid, outspoken, progressive unit, and our joy for them and what they represent is overwhelming.
’The Last Jedi’ pushes Kelly Marie Tran into the public eye
December is Star Wars season, and that means Star Wars press tour season, and Kelly Marie Tran’s addition to The Last Jedi cast has brought as much joy offscreen as it did on. In 2015, Tran was cast as Rose Tico, making her the first Asian lead in a Star Wars film. Tran first made a public appearance with the cast in April at Star Wars Celebration, and it was then – when she told the audience that she had been so nervous about keeping her role a secret that she lied to her family about filming an indie flick in Canada, going so far as to buy imported maple syrup for the loved ones as a souvenir – that we knew she was something special.
But her December press tour, as she joined the cast on talk shows, at premieres, at junkets, that we truly got to experience the joy that is Kelly Marie Tran in full. Before Star Wars, Tran was not a celebrity. She was a complete unknown with a few digital shorts to her name. While this isn’t terribly uncommon – even Daisy Ridley was very unknown when she was cast as Rey – Tran’s geeky appearance and demeanor make her stand out as a living representation of what life would be like for one of us fangirls, basically, if we got cast tomorrow in the biggest franchise of all time.
On behalf of all of us, Tran is living her best life, and she’s “unprofessional” about her newfound fame in the best possible way. Tran has drawn back the curtain on what life in her unique position is like, sharing adorable truths about how no one can prepare you for this. From talking about her StormPilot shipping in interviews to openly crying on red carpets, showing her naivety with glamour faux pas and making sure everyone knows just how false the magazine perfection standards are to straight-up going up to people she overhears talking about Star Wars in public to gush with them, her enthusiasm emphasizes the unjaded wonder that is, really, at the heart of the Star Wars experience.
Director Rian Johnson agrees, and drew inspiration from Tran’s onset curiosity, as she used every bit of her downtime to get involved with all aspects of set life, including helping out in the props and costumes department to learn how it all works. If you know your Star Wars history, you’ll know that another breakthrough star acted very much like this during his first time on set – Mark Hamill himself. “This is how we should all be treating this,” Johnson said of Tran. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime playdate, and we should be soaking this up.”
Credit: The header image for this article is from Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, which can be purchased here.