So I completely realize that 2017 is 11 days gone, and that 2018 is arriving in full force on the entertainment front, but we’ve been compiling a look back at the previous year for more than a decade now.
Flu, Christmas and baby couldn’t prevent us from doing so again, even if we are a little bit late. Contained herein, you’ll find our annual picks for the best albums of 2017, and then a separate story on the best local releases (meaning, all of them) by East Tennessee artists. Just because they’re separate doesn’t mean they’re less than; we simply feel it’s important to pick local musicians out of the pack, to call attention to them on their own, and to encourage you to support local music. If you don’t read any other story in this section, stop now, read that one and go buy a record or plan to go to a show.
Of course, Editorial Production Manager Amanda Greever, who moonlights as the Weekend film critic, has a roundup of her selections of the best films of 2017, and guest critic Matthew Stewart, a cinephile whom we respect greatly, has written an ode to his pick for the best film of the year. You would think that music and film might be the be-all, end-all of entertainment around these parts, but you’d be mistaken. We just don’t have room to get to it all.
In literature, a couple of works stood out for me in 2017. With work and family and recovery, my reading time is often limited to a few minutes at night before my eyes get too heavy, so I don’t devour tomes like I once did (or like Amanda does). However, my palate was a dystopian one in 2017, with two alternative future books making a lasting impression on me. The first, “American War,” was written by Omar El Akkad and published in April. It centers around a family stuck behind the lines in the United States of the not-so-distant future, one in which a second Civil War erupted over the use of fossil fuels. A select few stubborn Southern states refuse to give up their combustion engines, despite the fact that climate change has turned the landscape harsh and unforgiving. It’s richly detailed, and the effects of the events make as much of an impact on the story as the characters themselves.
The second, “Underground Airlines,” was first published in 2016, but it got a lot of traction in 2017, when it first landed on my radar. It’s also set in an alternate future, one in which the Civil War never took place because Abraham Lincoln was assassinated before he was ever inaugurated, and the North struck a compromise with the South that allowed slavery to persist into the 21st century. As the novel opens, four states still keep African Americans in bondage, and Victor — an escaped slave — is pressed into service as a bounty hunter by the federal government, which is determined to honor the law that declares all escaped slaves must be returned South. It’s both a human and horrifying story, and its depiction of racism and racial disparity often hits uncomfortably close to home.
It’s been optioned as a television series, which is another entertainment medium I enjoyed a great deal of in 2017. “This Is Us” is my network go-to, and I continue to attempt to model my behavior and beliefs as a father on Jack Pearson, played with patience, grace and humanity by Milo Ventimiglia. Other than that, however, most of the TV that I would consider the best of last year came from cable and streaming services. “Ozark” was a standout, a combination of “Get Shorty” and “The Sopranos” and airing on Netflix, which also made a fine Western limited series in “Godless,” featuring Jeff Daniels in one of his most villainous and deliciously scene-chewing roles. Of course, I can’t help but mention HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and even though I have some quibbles at the pace of the storytelling in these final two seasons, it’s dazzling to witness how the chess pieces that have been so masterfully manipulated in seasons past are finally closing in on checkmate.
Concert-wise, my ability to see live shows was limited as well by a young child, but Foo Fighters at Thompson-Boling Arena in October was among the finest rock shows I’ve ever seen. I crow repeatedly about local music, and those artists touch my soul in a way Dave Grohl and company never could, but in terms of sheer spectacle and straight-up entertainment, the Foos made the steep ticket price absolutely worth it. The highlight was when local boy Mick Murphy came out to guest guitar on some Van Halen covers, but the entire show, from the opening number “Run” to the closer “Everlong,” was a reminder that Foo Fighters might just be the best rock band on the planet. Dave Grohl functioned more as a circus ringmaster than a frontman, racing from one stage edge to the other, addressing the audience with a swagger that wasn’t cocky and generally proving what social media seems to make everyone believe — that he’s the guy you want as a best friend, a dude who’s unabashedly enthusiastic about everything he does, but what he does best is play some bombastic rock ‘n’ roll with a group of pals who play with the joy of the moment etched into their grins.
Whew. That’s a lot to wrap up, and it still doesn’t do justice to 2017. We’ll do all we can, however, to chronicle 2018’s entertainment in this section. Please, keep reading.