The Saboscrivner’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Man, it was hard to figure out ten movies I liked enough to make a Top Ten list this year!  For anyone who missed it, here’s my Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019.  Now on with the movies!

10. Always Be My Maybe — a romantic comedy starring and written by the insanely charismatic and funny Randall Park and Ali Wong, with a legendary appearance from a big-name actor you’ve probably already heard about.  I got to see Ali Wong do stand-up, opening for the great John Mulaney, before she even had a Netflix special, so I’m thrilled to have seen her explode since then.  And even though I never got into Randall Park’s sitcom, I’m thrilled he has a recurring role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is doing other things now.  This movie introduced me to the fact that he is a hell of a rapper, and I’m not joking about that.  Check this out and be amazed and astonished!  Dude has bars, and such a chill, laid-back flow that I just love.

9. John Wick 3: Parabellum — as long as they keep making these, I’ll keep going, even as they get progressively more ridiculous.  This one had kung fu, gun fu, knife fu, dog fu, and horse fu.

8. Under the Silver Lake — a trippy, meandering film about an amateur detective (or maybe just a creeper?) trying to find a missing girl in Los Angeles.  It contained one of my favorite scenes in any movie this year (guess what I think it was, constant readers!), even if the whole thing doesn’t quite come together as well as I hoped.  It would be part of an amazing L.A. neo-noir film festival alongside The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice.

7. Hustlers — this was the one about the gang of strippers seducing, occasionally drugging, and robbing Wall Street guys, based on a true story detailed in a New York Magazine article.  Though written and directed by a woman, Lorene Scafaria, it felt a lot like a Martin Scorsese movie, and makes a perfect companion piece to his similarly-structured Wolf of Wall Street.  I didn’t expect to like either movie all that much, but surprised myself by how much I enjoyed both, despite the characters’ amorality.  At least in Hustlers, you understood what drove the women to do what they did,  and probably even rooted for their “found family” until they took things too far (as characters always do in movies like this).  But the cast was great, especially Jennifer Lopez, who hasn’t been this good in anything since Out of Sight.  My only complaint was that Lizzo had a tiny cameo, and I was hoping to see much more of her in the movie.  Feel free to take that however you want.

6. Deadwood: The Movie — one of my favorite shows of all time ended abruptly 14 years ago, so to get this movie and spend a little more time in the Black Hills with these characters was a real gift.  Deadwood featured a murderer’s row of amazing character actors, so if you love Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, and John Hawkes, you owe it to yourself to start at the beginning of the series, and cap off the experience with this movie.  It was bittersweet, focusing on how much time had aged these hard-living men and women, especially since the brilliant writer and showrunner, David Milch, revealed he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease right before the movie came out on HBO.  Did I cry?  You bet I did.

5. Booksmart — a delightful and kind-hearted comedy about two overachieving best friends getting ready to graduate high school and figuring out what comes next in their lives.  So many comedies have a mean streak and love to humiliate and debase their characters, but Olivia Wilde’s film found empathy for everyone — these two girls who spent so much time planning their futures that they lost the opportunity to live as teenagers, and the other kids who somehow excelled in school while having a blast.  In the end, innocence was lost, lessons were learned, and everyone walked away better off, with new understandings about each other and themselves as well.  How often does that happen?  Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd stole the movie with every scene she was in.  I’m expecting big things from her in the future.

4. Dolemite Is My Name — another good and kind comedy, but also loud, raunchy, and hilarious.  After ruling the ’80s with the unassailable and unmatched hot streak of Saturday Night Live –> 48 Hours –> Delirious –> Trading Places –> Beverly Hills Cop –> Raw –> Beverly Hills Cop II –> Coming to America, Eddie Murphy’s career was never quite the same, after too many forgettable, family-friendly flops.  But this was a return to form for one of our most charismatic comic actors of all time, playing a lesser-known comedy legend, Rudy Ray Moore.  The story of how Moore honed his foul-mouthed stand-up persona and got the ultra-low budget Dolemite film made is heart-warming and inspiring, but you’ll be laughing the entire time, I promise.  Plus, it’s on Netflix, so it’s free!

3. Knives Out — Rian Johnson has yet to make a less-than-great movie (check out The Brothers Bloom and Brick if you haven’t!), and this whodunnit is insanely intricate, clever, and funny, with an old fashioned-feeling premise that still comes across as super-relevant in 2019.  It has a star-studded cast full of actors that even your parents will probably enjoy watching, often playing against type (Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig stealing the show as a character I hope we see in future movies), and it’s a star-making performance for Ana de Armas.  But that script was breathtaking, with so many twists and turns, precision gears that move in perfect clockwork.  The big reveal is another one of my favorite scenes in any movie this year, and once again, it shows that kindness and empathy can triumph over greed and selfishness.

2. Motherless Brooklyn — my favorite neo-noir since 1997’s L.A. Confidential, which is probably my third-favorite movie of all time (after Casablanca and Ghostbusters).  This was a passion project for writer/director/star Edward Norton (one of my favorite actors), who apparently made a lot of changes from the original novel.  I hated to see this movie come and go from theaters without making a big cultural impact, but I loved every minute of it.  It’s a 1950s period piece with a killer cast (including Gugu Mbatha-Raw from “San Junipero,” the only Black Mirror episode I’ve liked), but just like Knives Out, the mystery feels incredibly relevant for modern times.  (Wait for the villain to be revealed and make his big speech!  That’s what I call meta-casting!)  Also like Knives Out, it also features another protagonist who is a genuinely good guy — not an antihero, not a rogue, not a bad person who does bad things that somehow work out for the best.

1. Avengers: Endgame (as if there was any doubt!) — the culmination of eleven years and 22 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s grand finale brought so much emotional resonance and catharsis, especially after the shocking (if you don’t read comic books) ending of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.  This movie had everything: new life, tragic death, wacky time travel capers, some of the most rousing and badass action sequences we’ve seen so far, heroic self-sacrifices, true love, hope for the future, and (spoiler alert!), good triumphing over the ultimate evil.  It has been a hell of a decade, and whether you call these Marvel movies “theme park rides” or “comfort food” or “focus group-friendly popcorn entertainment” or “legitimate cinema,” they clearly tapped into the zeitgeist, gave audiences what we needed, and sent us home happy.  Not every Marvel movie nails the formula, but Endgame was the perfect culmination of everything Kevin Feige, the Russo Brothers, and other creators had built together.  I laughed A LOT.  I sure as hell cried a lot too — both sad and happy tears.  Hell, I’m getting choked up just thinking about a few of those classic moments, especially the ending.  All the characters got a chance to shine, especially my favorites.  This is probably my favorite of all the Marvel movies, and it felt like the perfect ending to all of it.  Of course we already know it wasn’t (nothing ever really ends), but I don’t know how they’re ever going to top this one.

The Saboscrivner’s Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019

Living in the age of Peak TV is exhausting, because there is almost too much quality programming to keep up with.  Television has gotten so good that former favorites from recent years like Mindhunter, Killing Eve, Big Mouth, Stranger Things, Arrested Development, and the final season of Game of Thrones didn’t even crack my Top Twenty list!

So here goes nothing.  I’ll start with my #20-11 shows of 2019:

20. I Am the Night (miniseries; TNT)
19. Barry (season 2; HBO)
18. South Side (season 1; Comedy Central)
17. Russian Doll (season 1; Netflix)
16. Wu-Tang: An American Saga (season 1; Hulu)
15. The Umbrella Academy (season 1; Netflix)
14. iZombie (season 5; CW)
13. Bosch (season 5; Amazon Prime)
12. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 3; Amazon Prime)
11. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (season 1; Netflix)

And now, more detailed descriptions for the Top Ten:

10. Dead to Me (season 1; Netflix) — this show makes the list for the career-best acting of Christina Applegate (who I never thought could be this good) and Linda Cardellini (who I wasn’t that familiar with, so shame on me).  The twist happens early, so what’s left is a complicated character study of two flawed and broken women and their strange bond.  It’s coming back for a second season, but even if it didn’t get picked up, I think it ended on a good note.

9. Fosse/Verdon (miniseries; FX) — I love learning the history of music and culture I missed out on, so this was an educational look at the careers of talented, troubled theater and film director/producer/writer/choreographer Bob Fosse and his wife and muse, dancer/actress Gwen Verdon.  I loved the movie version of Chicago, and this summer, my wife and saw it on Broadway, caught up in Fossemania (a Fosse frenzy?) after this miniseries gave us a look behind its scenes.  It was also some of the best acting I’ve ever seen from Sam Rockwell (one of my favorite actors) and Michelle Williams (someone else I wasn’t that familiar with, so shame on me).

8. Veronica Mars (season 4; Hulu) — a pure nostalgia bomb, bringing us back to the seedy beach town of Neptune, the tiny and tenacious blonde private eye, my favorite fictional father Keith Mars, and a lot more mysteries, quips, danger, and heartache.  It was nice to see these characters one more time, some of them for the last time… but I have a feeling (more like a hope in my heart) that we still have more cases to solve with Veronica and Keith.

7. The Good Place (seasons 3 and 4; NBC) — we got the last few excellent episodes of Season 3 in January, and then the majority of Season 4 this fall.  I feel like they spent a lot of time treading water so far in the final season, especially introducing some unlikable new characters near the end, taking time away from the core six we have come to know and love.  But this smart, sweet, clever, hilarious, hopeful, good-natured show has earned plenty of goodwill from me, and I look forward to the last few episodes when it returns in January 2020.  I have no doubt it will stick the landing and give us an unforgettable tearjerker of a finale, while still teaching us college-level philosophy and making us think about becoming better people.

6. Doom Patrol (season 1; DC Universe) — one of two comic book adaptations in my Top Ten, this show is about people with super powers, but instead of gifts or talents, they are presented as disabilities.  The Doom Patrol members aren’t heroes by choice, but trauma survivors, broken and damaged people who form a “found family” and deal with existential threats to reality itself.  It was a remarkably accurate adaptation of Grant Morrison’s classic Doom Patrol comics of the late ’80s and early ’90s, with excellent production value and fun acting by Diane Guerrero (another pleasant surprise as Crazy Jane, a woman with 64 alternate personalities, each with their own powers), Timothy Dalton, Brendan Fraser (we missed him!), Matt Bomer (this dude should have played Superman), and the always-great Alan Tudyk as one of the most entertaining, most terrifying villains in a long time.

5. Fleabag (season 2; Amazon Prime) — first of all, I really don’t care for British comedy.  I often find it either too dry, smug, or mean-spirited.  Yes, including that one that you love.  But I enjoyed the first season of Fleabag well enough, and really liked the first season of Killing Eve, written by Fleabag’s creator, writer, and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  But after Fleabag Season 2 won all these awards and accolades, I gave it a chance here, at the very end of 2019, and binged the all six episodes in one night — the very night I’m writing this Top Ten list.  (Luckily they’re only about 25 minutes each.)  It was outstanding — streets ahead of the first season.  So funny, sad, clever, and cathartic, even ending with a bit of hope.  Waller-Bridge is so incredibly talented and funny (she even salvaged the usually execrable Saturday Night Live this season), and I’ll be on board for whatever she does next.  Hopefully it will have more asides and knowing looks to the audience.

4. Sherman’s Showcase (season 1; IFC) — this is a high concept comedy, cats and kittens: Sherman’s Showcase (a show within a show) is a loving homage to Soul Train and other musical variety shows, and it has been running continuously since the 1970s, hosted by the mysteriously ageless Sherman McDaniels.  The Sherman’s Showcase we watch is a collection of clips highlighting the fake show’s almost 50-year history, featuring hilarious musical homages that stand on their own as great, catchy songs that SLAP (including a weirdly prophetic song called “Time Loop” that might have deeper significance to the narrrative).  There are also interview segments, fake commercials, movie and TV parodies, surreal sketches, and plenty of running gags.  Co-creators Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle (who also created the great new Comedy Central sitcom South Side, which made my Top Twenty) are brilliant, drawing their influence from those old Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime specials I have very vague childhood memories of, as well as half a century of popular music and variety shows.

3. Ken Burns’ Country Music (miniseries; PBS) — I doubt this eight-part documentary miniseries will end up on many other “Best TV Shows of 2019” lists, but I loved it.  I’ve spent most of my life listening to, playing, and learning everything I could about rock and jazz music, got deep into hip hop later in my life, but made it pretty far without ever giving country, that other major American musical genre, much of a fair chance.  There’s so much awful country music, especially now, but to be fair, there is plenty of awful rock and hip hop too — especially now.  This documentary took us back to the early 20th Century and introduced me to a lot of the names and songs I’ve heard my whole life, only with more historical context and framework to better appreciate the songwriting, the musicianship, and the evolution of the sounds and styles.  I’ve always loved Johnny Cash, but now I’ve embraced Patsy Cline, Hank Williams (not Junior!), the Western swing of Bob Wills, and lots of other twangy crooners, honky tonk angels, and outlaw poets.  My favorite decades of country music are the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, but even now, there are great modern artists to be discovered, like Margo Price, Orville Peck, and Kacey Musgraves (and that’s not even getting into the virtuoso musicians in folk, bluegrass, and Americana).  I feel like I just audited a brilliant college course on country music, and I have more of an appreciation for it than I ever dreamed possible.  Plus, the documentary introduced me to this bit of pure sunshine: a young Dolly Parton performing “Mule Skinner Blues”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fwc1FkkWulc
Even if you think country music sucks (like I once did, not having been exposed the really cool old stuff), I think this would be awfully hard to not fall in love with.

2. Star Trek: Discovery (season 2; CBS All Access) — I admit it, I’ve never been the biggest Star Trek fan.  Sure, Captain Kirk was a cool dude, and William Shatner used to be pretty amusing.  And Picard was awesome, but the shows in general left me cold.  I wanted to be a Trekkie; I WISHED I was a Trekkie.  But now, I finally found the Star Trek that made it all click for me: Discovery.  I subscribed to CBS All Access for a month and binge-watched both seasons of Star Trek: Discovery over the course of two weeks.  Last year’s Season 1 (co-created by the great Bryan Fuller, the creative genius behind Hannibal) looked gorgeous, with the nicest production value I’ve ever seen on a Star Trek show, and it introduced us to a compelling cast of characters and an interesting status quo, set shortly before the events of the original series from the ’60s.  I also appreciated that it was a serialized narrative, which I’m not used to from Star Trek, but perfect in this age of prestige television.  This year’s Season 2 was even better, improving on the first season in every way.  It introduced my favorite Star Trek captain ever, who is probably my fictional boss of all time.  (I’ve worked for a few toxic, bullying bosses, so I honestly get choked up whenever I see a capable, competent, courageous, patient, kind, loyal boss in any media.)  The show had so many twists and turns, a surprising amount of tension-relieving humor, and so much empathy, heroism, and heart.  My wife and I laughed a lot and cried far more than we ever would have expected.  In a year full of ups and downs, dizzying highs and terrifying lows, Discovery was the show I had no idea how much I needed.

1. Watchmen (season 1; HBO) — who watches the Watchmen?  There was no reason for it to exist.  The twelve issue series by legendary writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons is often considered the greatest comic book of all time.  It already got one adaptation back in 2009, a pretty, but flawed, movie directed by Zack Snyder.  While Watchmen really required a long-form TV adaptation on a channel like HBO to do it justice, it didn’t seem necessary, and fans were skeptical.  I was skeptical!  But I should have had more faith in showrunner Damon Lindelof, co-creator of two of my favorite shows of all time, Lost and The Leftovers.  He didn’t give us a straight adaptation of the comic, but an audacious sequel, set 35 years after the events of the graphic novel (which was set in 1985).  It ended up a brilliant and ambitious epic about America’s fraught history of racism (starting with the Tulsa massacre of 1921, which I never learned about in school, even as the son of a history teacher), generational trauma, the dangers that come from vigilantism and self-appointed saviors and people wearing masks, and how the sins of our ancestors continue to affect us and threaten the world itself.  We caught up with some old faces from the original comic, but our point of view character in this strange alternate 2019 was the unforgettable Sister Night, aka Angela Abar, played by the great Regina King.  Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Hong Chau, and Jeremy Irons were also excellent in their roles.  This series included the single best TV episode of the year: the sixth episode, “This Extraordinary Being.”  (But don’t you dare watch it out of order!)  I was blown away by how good Watchmen turned out to be, defying any and all expectations and truly surprising everyone with what we were going to see on our screens every week.  In this age of binge-watching everything, with entire seasons of shows dropping on streaming services at once, Watchmen reminded us of the joy of watching a new episode every week, giving us time to ruminate and analyze and read reviews and craft theories about what the hell is going on.  It was a very nice touch to have supplemental readings available every week on the HBO website, fleshing out the world of Watchmen after each episode with additional world-building details.  Up above, I mentioned that Star Trek: Discovery was the show I didn’t realize how much I needed.  Well, Watchmen was the show I didn’t realize how much I wanted.  Ultimately, it edged out Discovery on my list because it was so unpredictable, in the best possible way.  If this is the only season we ever get (and it might be), it more than accomplished everything it set out to do, and the ending really satisfied.

And since you made it to the end, here are my Top Ten Movies of 2019.

I got restaurant reviews in the Orlando Weekly again!

For the third year in a row, I was honored to submit some of my favorite dishes of the year to the Orlando Weekly, which got published in its final issue of 2019:

https://www.orlandoweekly.com/orlando/the-eight-best-orlando-dishes-of-2019/Content?oid=26523651

It was an even bigger honor for my picks to be mixed in with favorites of the Orlando Weekly‘s regular food writer Faiyaz Kara, who is my favorite food writer in Orlando, period.  They didn’t credit who wrote which ones, but I had three contributions, all from longer reviews I wrote on The Saboscrivner this year:

  • The Nashville hot chicken sandwiches from Swine & Sons.
  • The paccheri amatriciana pasta from Sette.
  • The pork sisig over garlic rice from Taglish.

This means the world to me, to see that some people have actually responded to my food writing, enough so that I can even reach beyond this blog.  I especially want to thank the Orlando Weekly‘s tireless Editor, Jessica Bryce Young, for offering me these opportunities.

And here are links to my favorite dishes from 2018 and 2017, also published in the Orlando Weekly.

My Top Five Dishes of 2018 list made the Orlando Weekly!

I’ve been a huge fan of the Orlando Weekly ever since I first moved here in 2004.  Now this city is my home, and if my finger is ever on the pulse of local culture, the Weekly is a major reason why.

In 2017, they offered me my first professional gig as a food writer when they asked me to list my Top Five Dishes of 2017.  It was a huge honor for me, and I’ve been coasting on it all year.

I recently had the opportunity to make a new list for the Orlando Weekly, with my Top Five Dishes of 2018, and they were kind enough to even link to this very blog!  Please check it out, and check out my Saboscrivner reviews of these excellent local restaurants as well:

LaSpada’s Original Cheese Steaks and Hoagies

Kai Asian Street Fare

Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine

Poke Hana

Orlando Meats

Top Ten Movies of 2018

“Heeeey, I thought this was a food blog!”
“Don’t encourage him — maybe he won’t post any photos if he’s doing movie reviews!”

Since I’ve already posted my list of my Top Ten TV Shows of 2018, I thought I’d squeeze in my Top Ten Movies list before the year is out.  Why?  Because I love to make lists and share information about stuff I enjoy.  So here you go:

10. Murder on the Orient Express — beautiful film, great cast, good mystery told well. I’m glad I didn’t already know the story. It was a delight to watch completely fresh and unspoiled.

9. Sorry to Bother You — an important film that everyone ought to watch, but I guarantee most people won’t like it. It’s uncomfortable, angry, and has an audacious twist in the middle that turns it into a whole different genre. Definitely watch this one with as little information as possible. It’s the most pro-union, anti-capitalist piece of media I’ve ever seen, and you could write a thesis critically analyzing every bit of it.

8. Black Panther — a superhero movie that was so much more. This Afrofuturistic sci-fi fantasy epic meant so much to so many people, and it was a crowd-pleaser for all. Wakanda Forever!

7. Bad Times at the El Royale — this should have been my favorite movie of the year. A neo-noir mid-Century period piece with a large cast — all strangers — trapped together at a remote location that is practically its own character, full of mysterious, interlocking backstories, twists, turns, and fake-outs. But it turned into a very different movie for its third act, with the introduction of a final character that never fit, and it didn’t end nearly as strongly as it started.

6. Mission Impossible: Fallout — I finally got into the entire series in 2018, binge-watched them all leading up to this sixth installment, and marveled at how they kept improving. This one is the best of all of them. The Mission Impossibles are what I always wish James Bond movies were, with incredible action set-pieces, death-defying stunts, gorgeous locations, much-needed comic relief, and a hero who balances badassery with empathy. Ethan Hunt would never trade one innocent life to save a million, making him more like Superman or Captain America than Bond. Say what you will about the controversial Tom Cruise, I finally realize he’s a consummate entertainer who literally puts his life on the line filming these movies. You can go into this one cold, but I strongly suggest watching MI 3 (which gives you backstory that makes Fallout more emotionally impactful), Ghost Protocol (4; my second-favorite in the series), and Rogue Nation (5, which leads directly into Fallout) first.

5. Blindspotting — another film about race relations in Oakland, this one makes a fantastic double feature with Sorry to Bother You. It’s full of dread, but it’s ultimately the more fun and hopeful film. Daveed Diggs, from the original cast of Hamilton, co-wrote and co-stars in this, and he is an A-list superstar in the making. He even raps in this one, and you’ll see how incredible and multi-talented he is. (I saw him live last year with his noise-rap group clipping., which isn’t for everyone, but this movie ought to be.)

4. A Simple Favor — I loved every moment of this movie. A sexy neo-noir thriller that’s also a comedy? Hell yes. Anna Kendrick is an adorably awkward national treasure, and Blake Lively impressed me as an actress for the first time ever. This reminded me of two wonderful movies I also love, but it would be a spoiler to name them.

3. Blackkklansman — probably Spike Lee’s best movie since Do the Right Thing, and definitely my favorite. A mostly-true story about an African-American cop tricking the KKK into thinking he was a new racist recruit after several phone calls with David Duke himself, and his Jewish partner showing up to the live Klan meetings to further fool them. I’m a fan of anything that denigrates and mocks racists, since that takes their power away. But we needed this movie more than ever in 2018, with bigots, xenophobes, and racists emboldened by the president and operating in the light of day, in public, with impunity. Despite how fun and funny this movie often was, the chilling ending reminded us that this battle is far from over.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — the best Spider-Man movie ever, one of the best superhero movies ever, and one of the best animated films ever. Absolutely gorgeous, creative, imaginative, hilarious, heartfelt, sad, and sweet. This movie had it all. I can’t imagine anyone seeing it and not loving it. Along with Black Panther, it showed that representation matters so much. I’m so glad Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy exist as new, young, hopeful heroes, especially for kids. Also, I absolutely have to have a Spider-Man Noir follow-up movie starring Nicolas Cage spouting ’30s slang, drinking egg creams, and punching Nazis, whether it’s animated again like this, or a live-action movie.

1. Avengers: Infinity War — a culmination of a decade of Marvel Studios releases, cynics could say this movie was an excuse to smash the action figures together and earn multi-billions, but it had so many great team-ups and payoffs, so everything felt EARNED. And that ending! We nerds knew to expect it, but I was loving seeing it in the theater on opening weekend, with all the “civilians” losing their damn minds, not believing it could end that way. Let’s hope we all make it to the end of April, so we can see the true conclusion of this sensational superhero saga.

Top Ten TV Shows of 2018

“What the hell is he doing?  This is a FOOD blog!”
“Ostensibly.”

Folks, I’m a nerd.  I already warned you I love movies, television, music, comedy, comics.  The name of my blog, The Saboscrivner, is even taken from the Chew comic book series.  It refers to a character who is a food writer, whose readers can literally taste everything she writes about, due to her vivid mastery of language.

So at the end of every year, I make lists of my favorite things, and the longest list is always my Top Ten TV Shows.  If my constant readers aren’t TV watchers, feel free to skip over it.  If not, bask in my excellent taste as I bring you:

THE SABOSCRIVNER’S TOP TEN TV SHOWS OF 2018!

10. The Venture Bros. (Season 7) — I’ve been watching and loving this show since it debuted in 2004. Since then, it has moved away from being a Jonny Quest parody and a “show about failure.” Instead, it has delved deeper into its complicated mythology that mines some deep cuts from throughout geek culture, developing the main characters into three-dimensional people that grow, change, screw up (a lot), and feel fully realized, despite being a crazy cartoon. Creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have never been afraid to shake up its status quo, which always impresses me. With multi-year gaps between its short seasons, there are a lot of details to keep track of, and I know I’ve forgotten a lot, even after reading their gargantuan behind-the-scenes book that also came out this year. But if you have Hulu, all the early seasons are currently available to stream, so it’s never too late to catch up.

9. Sharp Objects (Season 1) — Set in depressing small-town Missouri (more like Misery, am I right?), it was part neo-noir murder mystery and part Southern gothic family drama. Amy Adams (one of my favorite actresses) did most of her acting in this by reacting, as an alcoholic and former cutter with severe PSTD, returning to her hometown and terrible family as a reporter, investigating the murders of two local girls. But nothing will prepare you for the almost campy evil of her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, or the off-putting banality of evil that Adams’ character encounters from everyone else trapped in Wind Gap. I hate awards shows, but these two women deserve the G.D. Emmys right now.

8. Big Mouth (Season 2) — The only other cartoon on my list, this Netflix show can be raunchy, perverted, and gross, but it’s also hearfelt, warm, and true. Puberty was a horrific time for pretty much all of us, and these writers haven’t forgotten what it felt like. It’s also probably the funniest show around right now, with so many tightly-packed jokes per minute that my wife and I laughed nonstop, binging through the ten new episodes in two days and feeling sad afterwards. I never cared for Nick Kroll unless he collaborates with John Mulaney (my favorite stand-up comedian), but both of them are in great form here, providing voices along with the hilarious Jenny Slate, Jessi Klein, and Maya Rudolph, among others. Don’t let the stylized (okay, UGLY) animation put you off — if you’re not a complete prude, there’s nothing funnier you can stream right now.

7. Better Call Saul (Season 4) — A slower season where ultimately not a lot happened, but still a tour de force for heartbreaking writing, brilliant editing and music selections for montages, and some of the best acting on television from Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and especially the great Rhea Seehorn as patient, kind, competent, probably-doomed Kim Wexler. As a prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is using more Breaking Bad “fanservice” than ever before, and at this point, I can’t imagine watching Saul without having seen Breaking Bad first. But unless it completely screws up its final seasons (which I doubt), I think this is going to end up being the superior show.

6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 2) — A charming, funny, and well-made show that only starts to fall apart when I think about it too deeply. It won all the awards for its first season and deserved many of them, but it hit so many buttons for me, about the mid-century New York Jewish experience and the history of stand-up comedy. Rachel Brosnahan is truly a superstar as “Midge” Maisel. She lights up the screen and pulls off the largely improvisational-feeling stand-up routines, which are generally hysterical. You can see why her character is dazzling late-’50s audiences, even if it seems like she time-traveled there directly from 2018. The show would be a worthless piece of crap if Brosnahan and the writers couldn’t make that happen. But Midge is surrounded by far too many characters who aren’t interesting or likable (especially her snobby, elitist parents), and she had far more unlikable moments herself this season, where she treated her burgeoning comedy career like one more disposable hobby for a dilettante to dabble in. It also lost points due to an interminable three-episode arc set in a Catskills mountain resort, which seems like the absolute worst vacation ever.

5. Killing Eve (Season 1) — A gripping, clever, and often hilarious cat-and-mouse thriller between a sociopathic (yet whimsical) assassin and a bored, underutilized analyst who first discovers her global trail of death, this was a brilliant show about two strong, smart, capable women who become obsessed with each other. Excellent acting from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer as Eve, the analyst, and Villanelle, the killer. It reminded me of one of my favorite shows ever, Hannibal, with its depiction of the complicated relationship between a murderer and the one person who understands him enough to possibly take him down, but develops an emotional attachment along the way.

4. The Americans (Season 6) — A show I’ve stuck with since the beginning, it never made a huge pop culture impact due to being a character-driven drama about Soviet spies living deep undercover in the Washington D.C. suburbs in the ’80s. It’s always well-written and excellently-acted, but tends to get overshadowed a lot. Well, this was the final season, and it was one of the best. The series finale was damn near perfect, with a climactic scene in a garage featuring some of the best acting I’ve ever seen from Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich. If it took seven years to build up to that confrontation, it was totally worth it.

3. Daredevil (Season 3) — What can I say? Daredevil is my favorite Marvel superhero, it was the best of the Marvel Netflix shows, Season 3 was a return to greatness after the just-okay Season 2, and now it’s canceled, along with Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Daredevil was so perfectly-suited for a serialized TV show, with so many decades of great stories by brilliant writers to draw from, blending crime-noir, brutally-choreographed fight scenes, and legal drama. But due to behind-the-scenes drama between Marvel, Disney, and Netflix, this is why we can’t have nice things. This summer I wrote a law review article about Daredevil (mostly the comics, but also the show) and the lessons they teach non-lawyers about heroic lawyers and the legal system. It will be published in 2019, and unfortunately, one of my main arguments was that the show WILL continue to adapt comic book storylines and get people thinking more about the law and how good lawyers can make a difference. But we still got three seasons, there are still plenty of amazing Daredevil comics to read (seek out writers Miller, Bendis, Brubaker, Waid, and Soule, or ask me for “greatest hits” recommendations), and at least my article is still coming out… for now.

2. The Good Place (Seasons 2 and 3) — Okay, maybe THIS is the funniest show currently on television, but it’s so much more than just a network sitcom. If I had to compare it to another show, the closest would be Lost, with regular, not-so-special people thrust together into weird, fantastical, metaphysical circumstances beyond their understanding, their destinies now bound. It’s a smart show that has taught me more about philosophy and ethics than I ever dreamed possible, and a fearless show that packs more plot development into a single episode than others do in entire seasons, then completely shake up the status quo, writes itself into corners, and flawlessly figures new ways out. The stakes are high, and there are twists and turns galore to thrill you when you aren’t cracking up. If you haven’t seen this yet, the first two seasons are on Netflix. Give it two or three episodes in case you aren’t hooked immediately. They’re short, and midway through Season 1, you’ll probably be obsessed, like we were when we binged the whole series this year.

1. Atlanta (Season 2) — What can I say that critics and other fans haven’t already said? The multi-talented Donald Glover can do no wrong. With director Hiro Murai as his right-hand man, a hip and woke writers’ room, and excellent co-stars in Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz, Atlanta is almost a whole new show every week. You never know what you’re going to get, if an episode will be hysterically funny, like one man’s wasted day when all he wants is a haircut from the flakiest barber ever, or if it will be a harrowing nightmare, like a violent armed robbery, a chase through the woods, or a trip to a madman’s mansion. You might have heard something about “Teddy Perkins,” which is probably the most memorable and singular episode of television to air in 2018. You can watch it out of context even if you’ve never seen Atlanta before, and I guarantee you won’t forget it anytime soon.

Remembering Anthony Bourdain

A big reason I started The Saboscrivner is because of local celebrity Ricky Ly, founder of http://www.tastychomps.com, published author, and one of the biggest food writers in Orlando.  Ricky and I both used to be regular, prolific posters on the Florida forum on Chowhound.com, but when he founded the Orlando Foodie Forum on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/orlandofoodieforum/), I followed him there and became a part of that incredible community.  I have not yet had the opportunity to meet Ricky in real life, but he has definitely been an influence on me.  I feel more connected to Orlando because of him, and I’ve learned a lot about our rich restaurant scene and food in general thanks to him.  Through his Facebook group, I’ve received a lot of encouragement about my writing, inspiring me to finally create this blog, which I should have done a long time ago.

However, maybe the biggest reason I got into this food blogging game was Anthony Bourdain.  His death last month hit me much harder than any other celebrity deaths I can think of, because I was such a huge fan of his.  Through his TV shows, his food writing, and even his novels and graphic novels, I felt like I knew the guy, and I thought the world of him.  He really inspired me to think more about the food I ate, where it came from, who made it, and the stories and culture behind it all.  He was a saboscrivner too — when you listened to his voice or read his words, you were along for the ride with this very cool, but very tortured, tour guide.  The sights, the smells, the tastes — he made them real.  You were there.  That’s what I hope to do, on a much smaller scale.

When I learned of Bourdain’s suicide almost one month ago, I wrote what I hoped was a worthy tribute on Facebook, and Ricky included my piece among other local culinary luminaries on his food blog, Tasty Chomps.  I was honored to be included among well-known chefs and much better-known food writers.  So here’s his compilation of eulogies from several different writers, including mine:

http://tastychomps.com/2018/07/in-memoriam-orlando-remembers-anthony-bourdain.html

Just in time for July 4th, let’s talk about favorite groceries.

Here’s some food for thought (heh) for Independence Day, when some of us may be off work and possibly cooking with our families and friends.  Have fun, stay hydrated, and definitely stay safe, whether you’re grilling over an open flame or blowing stuff up.

I write a lot about restaurants, but I don’t eat out all the time, I assure you.  I do love grocery shopping, though.  I go to multiple supermarkets to find the best deals and best things to eat.  It’s the only kind of shopping I enjoy.

But I gots to know: What groceries do YOU strongly recommend? What do you buy that you love, that’s better than anything else? What have you discovered recently that you don’t know how you lived without? And where do you find it?

Some examples:

Hot dogs: I grew up in a Hebrew National household, then I became a Sabrett loyalist when I moved out and started shopping and cooking for myself, but the Boar’s Head all-beef hot dogs that come clumped and tightly shrink-wrapped together in a package of seven are even better. Similar garlicky flavor, but these have the perfect snap of a natural casing. I only buy hot dogs once or twice a year, but now I always go for these.  I might have to get some today!

Mustard: BaTampte for a good everyday deli mustard (easily available at Publix), and Beaver jalapeno mustard for something delicious that’s hotter (but is unfortunately much harder to find locally). I was surprised by how good the Grey Poupon Deli Mustard and Mild and Creamy Mustard were, last time Publix had a BOGO deal, since I’m not big on regular dijon. I’d definitely get more of those.*

*I have every intention of writing more about mustard, since I love it so much.  Expect a new recurring feature on this blog called Cutting the Mustard.  You heard it here first, faithful foodie followers!

Knishes: Pickles Deli in Longwood used to be the only place I could get a good potato knish in the area. They serve Gabila’s knishes, which are the best — made in New York, of course, but became rare a few years ago after a factory fire. Yes, there was a nationwide knish shortage! Well, I’ve found them in the frozen case at Publix now, and I highly recommend them, whether you’re a knish maven or some kind of n00b. Make sure you have some good mustard on hand for them!

Macaroni and potato salads: I’ve tried them all, I’ve made them with all kinds of different recipes, but I always go back to Publix for my favorite versions. The New York and Southern potato salads are both excellent.

Pasta sauce: After growing up with nasty Ragu as a kid and begging my mom to switch to Prego like my friends’ moms, I made my own for many years — first from doctoring a jar of Prego with a can of tomato paste and all kinds of other ingredients, and now by using canned San Marzano tomatoes and making it from scratch. But if I’m in a hurry, nothing beats Rao’s Arrabbiata sauce. It’s a little pricey, but you can occasionally find sales at Fresh Market or Target, and it is perfect in every way. I’ve been to many Italian restaurants whose red sauces aren’t nearly as good as Rao’s.

Hot sauce: Minorcan Mayhem datil pepper sauce. They have it on the tables at 4 Rivers Smokehouse, so you can try it there before buying it, and of course they sell the bottles. So tasty, with a lot of flavor rather than pure ass-kicking heat (which I hate). There’s even a subtle sweetness. I highly recommend it.
https://www.minorcanmayhem.com/

Whisps: these tiny, crispy crackers are made of 100% parmesan cheese, so they’re a life-changer if you’re on a low-carb diet but are craving salty, crunchy snacks and don’t feel like pork rinds. (The story of my life for the last year and a half.) I’ve seen tiny bags at Publix, or you can stock up on a larger bag at Costco for about $10. They are awesome.

Salami: Aldi is my new favorite supermarket, and they sell pre-sliced dry salami in regular (similar to genoa) and spicy (similar to pepperoni) varieties, at $5.99 per pound. They are great. The slices aren’t paper-thin, so they have a nice chewiness, and the spicy one is delicious. I always keep it on hand for snacks, along with Aldi’s sliced provolone cheese, which is usually $1.89 for an eight-ounce package with 12 slices.

By the way, If you haven’t been to Aldi, check it out. Bring a quarter for a shopping cart and bring your own bags, but you’ll find so much high-quality food that’s often the same stuff you could buy anywhere else, for a fraction of the price. I’m a convert. And they get new, random, often fascinating stuff all the time — I got a really rad record player that transforms into a briefcase there two weeks ago — so it’s worth making regular visits to see what they have.

What do the rest of you recommend?

My First and Only Professional Food Writing Gig (so far…)

For years, I’ve been a regular poster on the Orlando Foodie Forum on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/orlandofoodieforum/), which is a pretty great community.  That led to me being invited to contribute a piece to the Orlando Weekly at the end of last year, listing my five favorite local dishes of 2017.  So here it is:
https://www.orlandoweekly.com/orlando/orlandos-best-new-dishes-of-2017/Content?oid=9614809

Getting published as a real, professional food writer was one of the proudest moments of my life, and I still stand by this list of local favorites.

 

Who is The Saboscrivner?

I love food.  Love eating, love cooking, love discovering, talking about, recommending, and reviewing food.  Food is everything: culture, history, art, science, politics.  In these uncertain times, I think sharing a good meal is something everyone can find common ground over, even if they’re diametrically-opposed foes on every other topic.  So here’s one more food blog that can possibly even contribute to the shared human experience in this tumultuous world.

I live in the Orlando, Florida area.  Orlando has been unfairly dismissed for far too long as being “chain restaurant hell,” a destination for theme park tourists and not much else.  But I’ve lived here since 2004, and I love our rich, diverse, multicultural city, which has a TREMENDOUS culinary scene.  We have amazing restaurants far from the gates of the parks (and a few that are closer), so the main point of this blog will reviewing my local food experiences.  I don’t make it out of town very often, but when I do, you bet I’ll review whatever I eat in more exotic locales.

I might also share recipes I create or find, or even review groceries that everyone needs to know about.  And occasionally I’ll just want to recommend or review something else: a good movie, TV show, band, comedian, book, or comic book.  I’m a librarian by trade and a lifelong nerd, so I tend to get enthusiastic about the stuff I like, and I want to share information and tell stories.

I’m a mediocre photographer with an even more mediocre phone camera, so I’ll try to share my culinary adventures with you as best I can, primarily using my words.  Hopefully you’ll read and follow this blog and feel inspired to try something new for yourself.  There’s so much good food out there, and you need to eat anyway, so why not treat yourself to something awesome?  Sometimes a good meal, or even a snack, can be the highlight of the day — either something to help you celebrate or cheer you up.  You might not always agree with me, but I look forward to hopefully building a following and a community, with all the constructive feedback that goes along with those.

Just a few warnings:
1. I don’t like hashtags.  This will be one food blog where you can always expect complete thoughts in complete sentences.
2. I don’t drink and I’m allergic to mushrooms, so don’t expect booze-and-shrooms content.
3. Nobody is paying me to do this, so everything I write is my own opinion, which I stand by with a clear conscience.

So what’s the deal with the title?  What the heck is a saboscrivner?  Well, I’m also a lifelong comic book reader (“This guy?  The hell, you say!”), and one of my favorite comics of the last decade was Chew, written by John Layman, drawn by Rob Guillory, and published by Image Comics.  The whole series is complete, and you can buy the volumes from your local comic book store or on Amazon, or check them out from your public library or on the Hoopla service.  It’s an action-adventure-crime-horror-sci-fi-comedy, set in a food-obsessed world where most of the main characters have food-related super powers.  Everyone’s powers receive a polysyllabic name and a description, and one of my favorites, a restaurant critic who is a main character in the Chew saga, served as a bit of a personal inspiration.

From her first appearance in Chew #2:  “Amelia Mintz is a saboscrivner.  That means she can write about food so accurately, so vividly and with such precision – people get the actual sensation of taste when reading about the meals she writes about.”

That saboscrivner ended up playing a key role in saving the world, but I’m just a regular guy trying to share information as a food blogger.  I hope you’ll decide to follow The Saboscrivner and turn to it for restaurant reviews and recommendations in Orlando and beyond.