A few things in culture broke through the noise since the election. Wonder Woman. It. DJ Khaled’s baby.
More often, though, the pop stuff you normally would’ve found yourself devouring was buried beneath an avalanche of breaking-news alerts. That movie came out the night Mooch was fired? No wonder you missed it. The dishy book that fizzed onto the scene the week of the Comey hearings? Who can blame you for not noticing?
But worry not! We’ve compiled the definitive list of the culture you may have missed out on. And so before the year’s up, treat yourself to some good old-fashioned pop distraction like you did in the quaint times we like to call Before We Knew Who Maggie Haberman Was.
Released: January 17
This story collection is the even better successor to Moshfegh’s much loved and David Sedaris–approved Eileen. It’s dark and weird and funny and unsettling. In exactly the opposite way of the dark, weird, funny, unsettling things happening in Washington.
Why you might have missed it: Trump pee-tape dossier released on January 10
Released: January 20
The follow-up to Mike Mills’s Beginners, a heartbreaking semi-autobiographical film about a man’s complicated relationship with his dad, is—what else?—a heartbreaking semi-autobiographical film about a boy’s complicated relationship with his mom, played by Annette Bening in full over-this-shit mode.
Why you might have missed it: Inauguration Day on the same day
The New York Times podcast The Daily
“My favorite news source. Seriously, it helps my brain so much to actually sit and think about one thing that long. It’s both more casual and more in-depth than most of my news intake.”
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
“This is maybe my favorite record of theirs—so emotional and feral at the same time. What a testament to getting better and older.”
Released: February 3
Director Raoul Peck and narrator Samuel L. Jackson build a shattering documentary based on an unpublished manuscript by James Baldwin, crafting portraits of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and the psychological burden of racism through Baldwin’s unflinching prose.
Why you might have missed it: Jeff Sessions gets Senate committee approval for A.G. on February 1
Released: February 8
Google “Legion kitchen explosion”—then stream the rest of Fargo creator Noah Hawley’s magnificently beautiful and supremely weird story about a mutant who is rescued from a mental asylum and haunted by a monster played by Park and Recreation‘s Aubrey Plaza.
Why you might have missed it: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates fired on January 30
Released: March 11
It sounds more like the plot of a particularly screwed-up season of American Horror Story than a documentary: A woman confines her healthy daughter to a wheelchair for most of her childhood, has doctors put in a feeding tube, and convinces everyone that the girl has cancer. An online romance ends with the mother stabbed to death. The girl pleads guilty but says she didn’t want it to happen. Director Erin Lee Carr’s doc asks: Given everything that went down…can you blame her?
Why you might have missed it: White House verifies meeting between Kushner and Kislyak on March 2
Released: March 14
Two white New York hipsters who love black music (it’s [eye roll] “more intense and authentic than anything made by white people”) get in trouble after recording a fake blues song. White Tears goes from hilarious to scary—a novel about cultural appropriation that grapples with the ghosts of America.
Why you might have missed it: Trump Travel Ban #2 on March 6
Released: March 28
By the teams behind Serial and This American Life. Brian Reed’s seven-part podcast starts out as a murder mystery and turns into a character study of a disturbed, clock-making genius stuck in the small Alabama town of the title. (The “S” stands for “shit.”)
Why you might have missed it: Trump signs executive order reversing CO2 caps on the same day
Released: April 4
A timely, personal, precise investigation into exodus and citizenship by the Mexican-born, New York City–based Valeria Luiselli (Faces in the Crowd). Her book-length essay springs from her work translating for migrant children and is structured around the 40-part intake questionnaire that can determine their fate. She articulates the refugee crisis in this country with an intelligence and care that’s missing from the debate among lawmakers.
Why you might have missed it: “Nuclear option” debated for Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court confirmation from March 23 until April 6
Released: April 7
The great gambling film of the year? Probably. The great Chicago film of the year? Almost certainly. Jake Johnson, a charming Second City drifter (specifically: a Cubs parking attendant) who sinks or swims on the back of his recent run at the card table, gets into hot water when he can’t help but gamble away the bag of cash a shady buddy gives him to hold. This movie is lived-in in the best way—a trademark of director Joe Swanberg.
Why you might have missed it: U.S. missile strike on Syrian airfield on April 6
The Great British Baking Show (PBS)
Kindly British people take baked goods very seriously.
RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
Drag queens compete in challenges like starring in a campy original musical about the Kardashians.
My Lottery Dream Home (HGTV)
Lottery winners (often from “scratchers”) look for modest homes in secondary markets.
Released: May 5
Pop succeeds when the songs lean directly into their loud, brazen pomp and circumstance. Perfume Genius tilts so far toward absurdity on his stunner-after-stunner LP that you fear he’ll stumble. He never does.
Why you might have missed it: House votes to repeal ACA on May 4
Released: May 19
This year, Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle gave us a record we were waiting for. (And, as a bonus, a suspenseful second work of fiction, Universal Harvester.)
Why you might have missed it: James Comey fired on May 9
Released: May 23
The 2000s N.Y.C. music scene, as told by those who lived it, loved it, and played it. If you so much as spent a night out in the East Village, on the Lower East Side, or in Williamsburg this century, scoring your exploits with records by the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Vampire Weekend, or LCD Soundsystem, you have a vested interest in this essential document of cultural history. (Which just happens to include many entertaining tidbits about how out of control early-millennium Ryan Adams was.)
Why you might have missed it: Comey Memo Week from May 16 through May 22
Released: June 9
Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott (and a freaky red door) are at their best in this woodsy thriller. Edgerton and his family are hiding out in a cabin from an unspecified viral outbreak that has killed off a large number of people and upended civilization. In an effort to survive, they seal themselves off from the world and hoard their dwindling resources. When a strange family, headed by Abbott, shows up, claustrophobia and paranoia abound.
Why you might have missed it: James Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8
Released: June 16
Okay, maybe this one got its due. But may we suggest that as you cruise back through this tour of the chaotic summer that was, you fire it up and let it serve as the soundtrack?
Why you might have missed it: Jeff Sessions Senate testimony; Kislyak meeting exposed on June 13
Released: June 25
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s graphic-novel adaptation is turning out killer performances (as in, they’re a murderous pastor and his retinue, one of whom is a vampire, the other his hell-raising girlfriend) from Dominic Cooper, Joe Gilgun, and Ruth Negga.
Why you might have missed it: First Senate health-care bill unveiled on June 22
Released: July 4
Seventeen years after his first book, Sam the Cat, Matthew Klam gave us one of our favorite novels of the summer—a book about a cartoonist whose days of acclaim are behind him and who instead teaches for a week each summer at an arts camp for adults. This thing is so precisely drawn—on middle age, marriage, sex, art, rich people—that the dark laughs feel especially well earned.
Why you might have missed it: North Korea tests a missile that could reach Alaska on the same day
Released: July 23
An under-the-radar Netflix hit from Weeds and Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan. Alison Brie, new fave Betty Gilpin (in ’80s spandex leotards), and Marc Maron (in ’80s Björn Borg polos and Terry Richardson glasses) are all awesome in this series about professionally fake lady wrestling.
Why you might have missed it: Don Jr. “I love it” e-mail revealed on July 11
Released: July 28
The trash masterpiece of the year stars reigning World’s Best Action Hero Charlize Theron. It’s a pulpy spy thriller filled with insane action sequences, gleeful performances, and an extravagantly unnecessary sex scene between Theron and Sofia Boutella.
Why you might have missed it: Sean Spicer resigns on July 21
Released: August 4
Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to Zero Dark Thirty covers the 12th Street race riot of 1967 and ensuing standoff between wrongly accused motel guests and a claque of murderous ops. The film paralleled the present so gut-droppingly that it’s hard to watch. Do it anyway.
Why you might have missed it: Scaramucci fired on July 31
Released: August 18
Here’s all you need to know about the Girls Trip breakout’s debut comedy special: Haddish tells a story about taking Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a Groupon swamp tour, and it’s not even the best part of the show.
Why you might have missed it: Trump’s “both sides” defense of white supremacists on August 15
Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin
“Oh, my goodness, I laughed so hard at him talking about all the times he met O. J. Simpson. ‘The first time I met O.J.…'”
The Big Sick
“That movie was one of my faves ’cause I felt I could really relate to the whole stress of dating. Like, he had an air mattress, and she still was like, ‘You know what? I’m here. Might as well get it in while I can.’ How many times have I been that girl that’s like, ‘I don’t care if his mattress is on the floor. It’s not always about what the man has—it’s about his soul.'”
War for the Planet of the Apes
“Is this a modern-day version of Roots? I don’t know! But whatever it is, I’m gonna remember this forever.”
Released: September 15
Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault’s faux documentary approaches the spray-painting of 27 penises on 27 high school faculty cars with the gravity that Serial and Making a Murderer gave to, you know, actual murder. The super-serious approach to the super-low-stakes investigation creates genuine hilarity—part of an episode is spent determining whether a hand job occurred—and, in the end, shockingly earnest pathos.
Why you might have missed it: Debt-ceiling deal with Chuck and Nancy on September 6
Released: September 22
The creator of Silicon Valley (and Beavis & Butt-head and Office Space) chronicles the screwups, affairs, and gunfights of some of the greatest musicians in this mostly animated show. (Did we mention how many shootings there are? Judge introduces Billy Joe Shaver by saying, “Like almost everyone else in this series so far, he shot a guy.”) Enjoy the entourages of degenerate geniuses like George Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis spilling the tea. (Yes, Judge talks to Lewis’s 13-year-old cousin-bride.)
Why you might have missed it: Trump calls Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” in a U.N. address on September 19
Released: September 29
Nick Kroll’s new show pulls off the impossible: making an animated series (huh) about puberty (oh boy) in which the characters are controlled by hormone monsters (uh-huuuuh) that is hilarious and actually for adults. We swear. Kroll and his Oh, Hello co-star, John Mulaney, are joined by Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, Jenny Slate, and Jordan Peele, who voices the ghost of Duke Ellington. You’re just going to have to trust us on this one.
Why you might have missed it: Trump attacks NFL protesters on September 24
“A crazy, funny, adrenaline-packed bank-robbery-gone-awry committed by two idiot brothers, in a film directed by two non-idiot brothers (the Safdies). I finished the movie and felt like I had smoked coke laced with LSD. (In a good way!)”
“This album is honest, sexy, and groovy AF—real solid make-out music. SZA’s voice is hypnotic and beautiful, and “Doves in the Wind,” with Kendrick Lamar, is one of my favorite tracks of the year.”
Fargo season three (FX)
“David Thewlis’s VM Varga is the best bad-guy character I’ve ever seen on television. Also, you don’t need to have watched season one or two for season three to make sense. AND Ewan McGregor plays (basically) twin brothers, and one of them is like 30 pounds heavier!”
Released: October 6
Sean Baker’s film cross-sections a seedy Orlando motel and displays its occupants, including beleaguered manager Willem Dafoe and the borderline-feral children of his tenants.
Why you might have missed it: Trump throws paper towels to hurricane survivors on October 3
Released: October 13
Annie Clark does avant-garde pop on the new album, collaborating on the single “Pills” with Jack Antonoff, Max Martin’s heir apparent as supreme hitmaker. The breakup record of the year is full of singularly energetic regret—Clark’s ex, model and actress Cara Delevingne, is all over the lyrics. (Not to mention singing backing vocals on “Pills.”)
Why you might have missed it: Trump proposes IQ face-off with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on October 10
Released: October 24
From the author of one of the best true-crime books of the past decade (People Who Eat Darkness) comes a portrait of the 2011 earthquake—and ensuing tsunami—in Japan. Parry finds haunted humanity in tragedy and in how the country reckons with its disaster-prone history.
Why you might have missed it: Trump: “He knew what he signed up for” on October 18
Released: November 3
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, about a high school senior on the cusp of escaping Sacramento and childhood, is as winning as its creator.
Why you might have missed it: A Twitter employee deactivated @realDonaldTrump, providing a few minutes of peace
Released: November 10
A bleakly hilarious Martin McDonagh movie in which Frances McDormand seeks justice for the murder of her daughter, starting with a billboard calling out the terminally ill police chief (Woody Harrelson) for not doing enough to catch the killer.
Why you might have missed it: The artist formerly alive and known as Taylor Swift dropped her new album, Reputation.
Release: December 1
James Franco stars with Dave Franco in a movie about the worst movie ever made. (They will love it if the release of the pee tape coincides with their opening.)
Why you might have missed it: Michael Flynn pled guilty to lying about that whole talking-to-Russians thing.
This story originally appeared in the December 2017 issue with the title “It’s Apoca-Lit!”