Even in a year as bad as 2018, there are things that were good. Things that keep us going every day, and bring us joy and hope and prove that no matter how rough things get, there are still weird, wonderful pockets of pop culture that we can be appreciative of.
Aunt Hilda on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Though the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina offered a mostly entertaining mixed bag of Satanic fun, the absolute highlight for me was Lucy Davis’ portrayal of Sabrina’s Aunt Hilda. Davis is effortlessly hilarious, so Hilda often provided comic relief (her facial expressions alone are solid gold), but Davis’ performance went far deeper than that, showing us a woman able to balance some very dark secrets with a genuinely kind, loving heart.
Also, she rocks a Bride of Frankenstein beehive like no other. Bring on the holiday special! — Cheryl Eddy
All Glory to Beebo, Long May He Cuddle. The magnanimous Beebo is just a tiny fraction of all the reasons I’m thankful for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a superhero series that celebrates its own ridiculousness.
LoT doesn’t bog itself down by caring about the details, it takes us on a weekly wild ride with a ragtag crew of beloved characters. Given the hellscape we’re all enduring, we all could use a holiday every once in a while — ideally one with demonic unicorns and death by cuddles. Praise Beebo. — Beth Elderkin
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge
Galaxy’s Edge is the name for the soon to open Star Wars-themed sections of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. So, obviously, we have yet to set foot inside them and won’t for several months. That doesn’t stop us, though, from being overly excited that in just a few short months, you’ll be able to literally visit a full realised replica of a Star Wars planet.
It’s simply mind-boggling. — Germain Lussier
Being a Digital Tourist in Video Game Photo Modes
As someone with a passing interest in photography and not the fancy camera tools to act on it, I’ve found a current gaming trend to be my outlet lately. More and more big-name game titles in this era of easily-shareable screenshots are adding swanky photo modes to let gamers tweak and fiddle with finding the perfect moment to frame.
From God of War to Spider-Man, from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to, err, Super Mario Odyssey, I’ve spent the last year and change happily snapping my way through these vibrant worlds, adding on hours and hours to my game time as I get distracted by finding the right depth of field, the right angle, the right filter, creating digital scrapbooks of my journey through a game.
The folder on my PC of pictures, pictures of Spider-Man, is 2.55GB and growing — and dammit, no one can stop me. — James Whitbrook
Imagine one of your favourite films becoming a YouTube TV show decades after the franchise was over. The concept itself almost feels like a slap in the face to that franchise’s legacy. Now, imagine that instead, it’s the opposite. It’s the ultimate, perfect sequel that not only pays the ultimate homage but expands and furthers it in ways you never quite imagined.
That’s what Cobra Kai is to The Karate Kid franchise, one of the most incredible follow-ups to an older movie, well, maybe ever. And the series is currently making its second season. — Germain Lussier
Comic Book Adaptations That Strayed From the Source Material
If a television show or film can successfully take legacy characters who haven’t really aged all that well, and reimagine them into new versions of themselves that feel fresh for the moment and just as compelling, it’s a strong sign that the overall project is going to be a success. Between Black Panther, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, Marvel really demonstrated just how effective that kind of revamping can be. — Charles Pulliam Moore
Genre Fans Who Are Welcoming of Newbies
Some geeks can get a little gatekeepy when it comes to their favourite franchises (I won’t name fandoms), so I appreciate those who are excited to hear from new fans and welcome them into the fold with open arms. We all started somewhere, after all, and what’s better than geeking out with someone else over something you love? — Jill Pantozzi
General Amaya from The Dragon Prince
I could go on about how excited I am about The Dragon Prince and a brand new original story not based on a previous franchise or property, but Amaya is truly a great example of how much care and detail goes into making this show. Amaya is deaf and they animated her speaking real American Sign Language every time she’s on screen, and she has an interpreter so kids who can’t read subtitles can understand her.
While the representation is amazing, she’s also an instantly likable and well-written character. I loved hearing at New York Comic Con about how the production team animated her sign language in a similar way to how they animated the martial arts and bending in Avatar: the Last Airbender. — Klaudia Amenábar
Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Black Series Action Figures
I started collecting Star Wars toys as a six-year-old in the ’90s, and never grew out of it. While I can never forget getting my first action figures of Luke (who looked a bit more like He-Man than he did Mark Hamill), and Darth Vader (oh, the rubber smell of the cape!), before I’d even seen A New Hope for the first time, these days Star Wars action figures have never been better.
Hasbro’s 15cm Black Series line is one I’ve pretty much followed since it first began, but this year the line got a huge upgrade in the form of new face-painting tech that’s made the accuracy of the likeness go from “eh, not bad for $US20 ($28)” to “holy cow, it’s a mini [insert actor here] for my desk!”
Every time a new figure shows up on my doorstep (and hell, there’s been a few this year), it brings a smile to my face, getting to see my favourite heroes and villains rendered in such a remarkable, tiny scale. — James Whitbrook
His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is the series that first got me into science fiction, so it should come as no surprise to say I was a tad disappointed with the first live-action version. When I learned the BBC was creating its own adaptation, with Logan’s Dafne Keen taking on the role of Lyra, I was beyond thrilled.
It finally looks like we’ll be getting the adaptation fans have long been waiting for, and I’m extremely grateful. — Beth Elderkin
In addition to solidifying her legacy in the queer pop culture canon, Janelle Monáe dropped one of the hottest albums of 2018 alongside a gorgeous visual accompaniment that made it very obvious just how ready she is to begin crafting her own cinematic universe in the coming years. — Charles Pulliam Moore
The Good Place Season 3
The best sitcom on TV asks challenging questions about life, philosophy, and relationships — while also cleverly skewering pop culture and inventing absurdities like the “tarantula squid.” Spoilers! The current season flipped the script (for the third time), bringing the human characters back to life to see how they’d fare on planet Earth, a place where elements of both heaven and hell manage to coexist.
At the end of the most recent episode, the Soul Squad escaped a group of attacking demons by diving into all-knowing AI Janet’s void… which means they’re all dead again with just one episode to go. What lies ahead? Uncharted territory in the afterlife — and hopefully a fourth season. — Cheryl Eddy
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who
The return of Doctor Who has felt like a breath of fresh air — thanks in no small part to Jodie Whittaker’s debut as the first female Doctor. In just the span of a few episodes, she has managed to prove to all of us that she truly is the Doctor, in every sense of the word.
Her curiosity, her heart, and her unfazed dedication to the common good carry across the small screen — making us all feel a little lighter and more hopeful. I’m excited about the future of Doctor Who with her behind the wheel of the Tardis. — Beth Elderkin
A Year Without Game of Thrones
I know, blasphemy! But honestly, it was nice to have a break from the drama. — Jill Pantozzi
Getting Into My Hero Academia
Both Kohei Horikoshi’s blockbuster superhero manga and Bones’ world-igniting anime adaptation have been huge for a while now, and I had endless friends and colleagues telling me that I should absolutely give it a go, because I’d love it… which, paradoxically pushed me away from actually giving it a go until earlier this year. And, well, duh, I loved it.
It’s wild and energetic superhero madness with a lot of earnest heart, which ticks all my boxes in the right way. I’ve said it before, I was dumb for being so hesitant, but I’m so glad I finally jumped aboard. I’ve gone from not knowing my All Mights from my All for Ones to having a 15-volume stack of manga sitting on my bedside table I’m digging into on a regular basis, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. — James Whitbrook
Between Detective Pikachu, the new Let’s Go! games, and Pokemon’s expanded roles in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, Nintendo really reminded everyone this year how much we all still love Pokemon — and the potential the franchise still has to make us all want to go out and explore the world of pocket monsters. — Charles Pulliam Moore
Sci-fi and Fantasy Fiction Podcasts
Some of the best sci-fi stories I’ve consumed in years have been in this audio medium, with some of the most innovative storytelling. Podcasts (like the Adventure Zone, Welcome to Night Vale, and Alice Isn’t Dead) can be listened to when TV, movies, books, or comics aren’t accessible, and I won’t lie I’ve cried quite a lot at some moments in these kinds of podcasts (looking at you, Adventure Zone: Balance finale).
Any time I see a new fiction podcast, I’m so intrigued by the new ideas and worlds being put out there, which is so refreshing compared to the same reboots we’re seeing again and again in movies and TV. — Klaudia Amenábar
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
I’m not old enough to have been a fan of the first one, but the instant the new She-Ra was first announced, I was hooked. I hoped it would be as good as everyone said it would be, and watching it this week I’ve never felt so seen by a show.
From the humour and the character design to the representation, this is the kind of show young me could only have dreamt of. It combines the Elphaba/Glinda dynamic, magical girl anime, Star Wars references, and horse girl jokes, and is just so wonderfully, beautifully gay. I haven’t enjoyed watching a show this much in years. — Klaudia Amenábar
Star Trek: Discovery will return next year, but fans haven’t had to wait quite so long for new Trek content thanks to the four-part CBS All Access Short Treks series of mini-episodes. So far we’ve had two instalments and they’ve been fantastic — imaginative, a little wacky, energetic, and blissfully free from any pressures associated with being part of the main series.
It’s always a good time to be a fan of Spider-Man and his amazing friends — there’s a reason he’s the greatest superhero in the world. But between excellent comics (especially Chip Zdarsky’s incredible run on Spectacular Spider-Man and Spider-Geddon), teases for Tom Holland’s next big web-slinging adventure in Far From Home, and the incredible Marvel’s Spider-Man PS4 game, 2018, in particular, has felt like the ultimate celebration for Spider-Fans.
And we’ve still got Into the Spider-Verse on the way! What a time. — James Whitbrook
Super Random Funko Pops
Funko Pops are pretty polarising. On the one hand, they’re everywhere, completely taking over every pop culture convention known to humankind. But that level of quantity also means a surprising level of weirdness. There are Pops for franchises and characters that would never, in a million years, get figures otherwise.
And that’s worth being thankful for. Characters from movies or shows like The Lost Boys, The Goonies, Coming to America, Gilmore Girls, Scrubs, and on and on. Plus, we’ve seen some extremely specific pulls from really popular films. No other company gets that deep or niche with its products and we are so, so here for it. — Germain Lussier
Star Wars Resistance
I’ve gotten cynical about Star Wars lately, and had no idea what to expect with this show, but was so pleasantly surprised by how it expanded on the things I love about Star Wars, especially the sequel era.
As a hardcore fan, I’m always craving more about what it feels like to live in the galaxy far, far away, and this show feels so lived-in, from the environment to the characters that feel like real people, rather than larger-than-life heroes (especially Poe!). Also, the animation is really beautiful. — Klaudia Amenábar
When I first started playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, I was faced with solving an ethical dilemma: Should I kill one possibly sick family to save an entire group of people? I chose to spare the family, feeling in my heart it was the right thing to do — only to find out that an entire island got infected as a result.
I was heartbroken and confused, and neither of those feelings have gone away. I love moments in our favourite works that challenge us to think differently about the world around us. We should always be open to examining our own ideals, desires, and biases, especially in the things we consume for fun. You might end up surprising yourself. — Beth Elderkin