5. Community, Season 1 (2009-10)
The #5 spot came down to two seasons of NBC sitcoms that aired during 2009-2010, starting within a week of each other: Parks and Rec, Season 2 and Community, Season 1. The former was reliably great, perhaps the most consistently great season of TV comedy since the second season of The Office.
But Community’s first season was something more surprising and special than mere “greatness” – it was a genuinely compelling journey. The show started a relatively straightforward single-camera comedy before venturing into weirdness and meta-humor.
The show could split your side with simple ensemble dialog (“Romantic Expressionism”) or gonzo, almost erotic, strangeness (“Physical Education”) or cinematic action sequences (“Modern Warfare”). The whole time, it felt like nothing else you’d ever seen.
4. The Hands That Thieve – Streetlight Manifesto (2013)
Streetlight Manifesto’s third and final album of original material was predictable in the big, important ways – towering songs, brilliant performances, rich composition – and surprising in little ways – fade outs, peculiar punk riffs, reggae influences.
But the crucial thing was that this set of songs matched up with the band’s high standard, perhaps even topping it. The title track ranks among the Tomas Kalnoky’s two or three best songs ever, the extended horn riff in “If Only for Memories” is pure divinity, and almost every track contains some perfect moment.
3. Toy Story 3 (2010)
What movie had a most profound effect on me during the last five years?
I considered this question for awhile as I put together this list. The only movie I can remember walking out of with my head spinning, with the feeling that something inside of me had changed forever, was when I saw Toy Story 3.
I don’t think it stands on its own as well as TS1 or TS2, and I believe its villain is a bit too similar to Stinky Pete from TS2. But the film’s psychic exploration of – as AO Scott put it – “loss, impermanence, and that noble, stubborn foolish thing called love” is downright sublime, as is the eerie life it imbues in child playthings.
2. Forget and Not Slow Down – Relient K (2009)
Relient K’s sixth and greatest album just seems more and more perfect as time passes. Songwriter Matt Thiessen secluded himself for a month, doing nothing but writing in a journal and reflecting on a failed engagement that ended when he got caught cheating on her.
He emerged with a broad spiritual meditation, as well as an intensely personal excursion into his own moral struggle. It’s also the band’s most interesting sonic work, eschewing their usual punk-pop profile in favor of a gripping, earthier timbre.
The more I listen to these sixteen songs, the more I feel Thiessen has some profound things to say about the big topics in life: love, death, God, free will, redemption, and – above all – loss.
1. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
A bad third act can ruin an otherwise brilliant story. You never hear people raving about a movie by saying “it had an incredible middle!”
And yet, that’s what I’m going to do with the Mass Effect series. I believe that much – not all, but much – of the hatred towards Mass Effect 3 is earned. Despite some great sequences, the trilogy goes out on a philosophical fart, an ending as stupid as it is infuriating… if you can even call it an ending. (The “Extended Cut” and “Citadel” DLC help… but not enough.)
And yet, part deux is so, so perfect. You spend the entire game as Commander Shepard recruiting a squad of outcasts, learning their stories and earning their trust and maybe falling in love with them. The overarching story itself is relatively barebones – some freaky aliens are doing freaky things that probably have to do with the Reapers – but it’s enough to inject the atmosphere full of danger.
The greatness of ME2, instead, comes from the little stories of your ragtag squad and the role you play in their outcome. There’s lots of moral ambiguity and philosophical conundrums to submerge yourself in (on top of, you know, blowing up aliens). Most of all, there’s a sense that you and your characters matter, that catastrophe can and will happen, and that life is one big damn adventure.