Ranking the Stephen King adaptations of 2017

Legendary author Stephen King has written so many books and short stories, in such a wide variety of genres, it’s easy to see why a year rarely passes by without some form of movie or TV adaptation of his work. Hollywood’s King obsession has resulted in classic films like Carrie, The Shining Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption, but it’s also given us experiences we’d rather forget; see The Langoliers, Dreamcatcher or Maximum Overdrive or, rather, don’t.

This past year was a particularly prolific one for King adaptations. We had six opportunities to get lost in King’s dark, twisted and often very entertaining world. But not everyone has the luxury of watching every King adaptation that comes into being, which is why I’ve decided to rank each adaptation from the past year, from worst to best. Which ones are most worth your time? Find out below.

* Note: I have not read much of King’s work, so (with the exception of The Dark Tower), I will be judging the work on its own terms, not in how faithful it is to its source material.* 



Spike TV’s adaptation of King’s 1980 novella (which itself received a fairly well-liked Fran Darabont-directed film in 2007) is one of the more frustrating shows I’ve seen in recent years. That’s not because it’s bad. On the contrary, quite often it’s close to riveting. It’s got solid acting, great atmosphere and decent visual effects. So, what’s the problem? Well, it’s also frequently maudlin, preachy and just…stupid.

An eerie Mist rolls into a small town, and those who remain unprotected from its fumes experience hallucinations and, soon after, a gruesome death. The Mist acts as sort of a righteous judge, one that came before as “the black spring” in the 1800s to cleanse the populace of sin. Or, so says Nathalie Raven (Frances Conroy), who proclaims she is nature’s messenger and that The Mist is telling her what must be done to appease it. The film follows several interlocking storylines: in addition to Raven’s power struggle with a priest who believes The Mist is the beginning of the divine judgment foretold in Revelations, there is the Copeland family, who is separated early in the series; an amnesiac soldier; a recovering drug addict; the manager of a local mall; and Alex Copeland’s gay BFF Adrian.

These characters range from intriguing (Adrian, played by Russell Posner, might be my favorite in the entire show, and the priest character is surprisingly complex and sympathetic) to flat-out annoying. I lost count of how many times I wanted to punch Raven in the face, yet her apocalyptic rambling might end up being the town’s only salvation.

And that’s the show in a nutshell—an intriguing mystery undone by inconsistent characters and an undeniable mean streak. I feel like The Mist often punishes the good characters while the evil ones get to continue surviving. Characters do reprehensible things to each other, and, for my money, the show views them with a much too objective lens. For this, the show fails on a fundamental moral level.

The internal logic of The Mist isn’t even consistent. Characters The Mist seems to “avoid” for unexplained reasons are later attacked by it, with no explanation of the sentient atmosphere’s change of heart. But the biggest flaw is not exactly the show’s fault; Spike cancelled the series after the first season, meaning many of the big questions (such as where The Mist came from) will not be answered anytime soon. I will say the last episode of the season is super messed up and all kinds of batshit crazy. I loved it, because it took risks and went places I didn’t expect. Sadly, you’ll have to sit through 9 sluggish episodes to get there. I might recommend this show if I knew there was another season coming, but as it stands, it’s just not worth it.


Oh man. What can I say about The Dark Tower? This long-in-gestation adaptation of King’s seminal sci-fi/fantasy/western series of novels (Ron Howard was originally attached to direct) has “troubled development” written all over it. And man, does it show. It’s hard to believe such a bad-ass epic could be reduced to such dull drivel, but here we are. The titular gunslinger, Roland Deschain, is played here by Idris Elba, which seems all around to be a smart casting choice. I love the decision to cast a black actor in this role; I don’t know if King ever envisioned Roland as black, but I sure didn’t. His paths cross with adolescent Jake (Tom Taylor), who begins having visions of a gunslinger, a large tower and a man dressed in black. Soon he finds a portal that transports him to Midworld, a sort of hub that connects different parallel universes and realities. It turns out Jake might have special abilities that will help Roland defeat the nefarious Walter, aka the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who intends to destroy the dark tower at the center of all worlds, one that holds together the very fabric of reality itself.

It’s hard to guess who this movie was made for. Fans of the books would notice vague similarities, but the film adds some strange sci-fi elements and plot points that are far removed from the world King created. Those who haven’t read the books will likely be scratching their heads, as the film attempts to squeeze in King’s complex, 7-book universe into 90 minutes. Hey, at least it’s short. 

Elba is great here, but McConaughey seems completely miscast, and I can’t think of a more phoned-in performance he’s given in recent years. He almost looks like he’s sleepwalking through most of the movie, which doesn’t make for a very menacing villain.

On the plus side, the film is nice to look at, and several of the bullet-whizzing actions sequences are impressively choreographed. But, the film’s biggest sin is not that it is bad, but that it is dull. I never really felt connected to these characters or this universe, and Roland’s mission is ultimately reduced to the most generic “save the world” plot imaginable. And, for an adaptation of such innovative, bizarre and frequently breathtaking source material, that is the biggest sin of all.

4. 1922

One of two Netflix produced King adaptations released in 2017, 1922 is a gripping, disturbing little nightmare, anchored by an excellent lead performance from Thomas Jane. Jane stars as Wilfred James, a simple farmer desperate to hold onto his land. His cold and distant wife, Arlette (Molly Parker) is intent on selling the land and moving to the city. In the center of the conflict is the couple’s son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), who is ready to side with his mother until he falls in love. Arlette, Wilfred suggests, would soon tear Henry away from her, and he thinks there’s only one thing left to do: murder Arlette and take hold of what’s rightfully theirs.

It’s a nasty little premise, and the opening minutes of the film are indeed shocking. Thankfully, the film doesn’t relent during its entire runtime. As Wilfred deals with the consequences of his decisions, he begins to devolve into a hellish nightmare that contains equal parts regret and rodents (seriously, this movie has a disturbing obsession with rats).

The film is well shot and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s nothing groundbreaking or mind blowing, and some might be disappointed at the lack of major twists in the story. But, for those looking for a gruesome little thriller, this is an easy recommendation for your Netflix watch list.


Released exclusively on the AT&T Audience Network, this TV adaptation of King’s 2014 novel likely remains underseen. Which is a shame, because it’s excellent. The always-brilliant Brendan Gleeson plays Detective Bill Hodges, who has turned to alcohol and isolation following his inability to capture the Mercedes killer, so named because he drove a Mercedes into a crowd of people, killing many. Hodges is reeling from his perceived failure when the killer begins to reach out to him, sending him sadistic messages and emails. The killer is a local nobody named Brady Hartsfield (a smarmy and creepy Harry Treadway) who lives with his addict mother (Kelly Lynch) and works a dead-end job at a regional electronics store.

He gets a reprieve from his dull life when he begins to torture Hodges. But how far is he willing to take this at the risk of potentially getting caught? And, can Hodges find the justice that has so long eluded him? The psychological interplay between these two characters is fascinating, and both actors are riveting to watch. What makes the film even better is how much attention is given to the supporting characters, including Brady’s mother, Bill’s neighbors and a new friend and possible romantic interest (the great Mary Louise-Parker).

I wouldn’t call this show “enjoyable.” It’s easily the most dark, disturbing and adult of this year’s King adaptations. But, despite some sluggish pacing in the middle, it’s well worth the time of anyone looking for a gruesome, psychologically fascinating character study. If there is a second season coming (I thought it was conceived as a limited series, but the ending suggests otherwise), I’m on board for this wild ride.

2. IT

The second adaptation of King’s infamous “killer clown” epic (the first was the memorably terrible 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry), was a smash hit at the box office, and it’s easy to see why. The movie is a total crowd pleaser, and an absolute blast from start to finish.

The film is anchored by sensational performances from a young group of actors, including Jaden Lieberher as Bill, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben, Sophia Lillis as Beverly, Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Jack Dylan Grazer as the frequently foul-mouthed Eddie. Together, these friends investigate the disappearance of Bill’s little brother, who’s not the only kid in town to disappear recently. Soon, they discover the terrifying monster known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), a shape-shifting clown who lives under the sewers of Derry, Maine, abducting children and scaring them by manifesting himself as their greatest fears.

This film, which sticks to half of King’s story (the other half, following the kids as they return to Derry as adults 30 years later, is already in development for a sequel), is a well-paced and terrifying affair, but it’s best moments have nothing to do with killer clowns. At times, the film resembles King’s coming-of-age classic Stand By Me, as the kids deal with love, loss and puberty. The writing is impeccable, and the actors bring it home all the way. Derry is a strange place where every adult seems wicked, almost as if we’re viewing everything from the distorted lens of childhood. And that means that everything is a potential threat.

That’s not to say that the clown at the center is nothing to sneeze at. Skarsgard takes a very different approach to Pennywise than Curry did. He’s much more menacing and deranged, which makes him more effective. There are a couple of legitimately terrifying moments that made me jump out of my seat, but that smile of his is something that will stick with you long after the credits roll. Alas, Pennywise, like Jaws, gets less scary the more we see him. And we see too much of him at the end. The film’s horror elements rarely match the perfect pacing and haunting brutality of the opening sewer sequence, but the film’s quieter moments more than make up for its sometimes-goofy Pennywise scenes and occasionally cheesy effects. It’s a fantastic film, and an easy recommendation for anyone without too much of a clown complex.


Netflix’s other King adaptation from this year, Gerald’s Game is an astonishingly effective and nail-biting thriller based on King’s 1992 novel. From start to finish, the film grabs you and doesn’t let go. When done correctly, I’m a sucker for single-location thrillers. They often come off as gimmicky, but this one never does.

Carla Gugino gives one of her fiercest performances as Jessie, who travels to a remote lake house for a little getaway with her husband Gerald (the always great Bruce Greenwood). Their goal: to spice up their marriage with some new sexual fantasies. Gerald ties Jessie to the bed, but Jessie, feeling uncomfortable, changes her mind, much to the chagrin of her husband, who proceeds with the affair. Suddenly, in the heat of the moment, and with his wife protesting, Gerald has a heart attack and dies. Jessie, still handcuffed to the bed, is forced to attempt an escape as time runs short. How long can she survive without food and water, and will she make it out alive?

Most of the film takes place in the bedroom, and everything is perfectly manufactured to give Jessie the hardest time possible. Simple, everyday objects like a phone, a glass of water, a straw and one very memorable dog suddenly become characters in the story, items which, if used the right way, might spell salvation for Jessie. It’s a relentlessly stressful experience, and one made all the better by writer-director Mike Flanagan’s decision to view the story through the lens of a feminist psychological thriller. Both Jessie and Gerald show up as different parts of Jessie’s psyche; one speaking empowerment and one condemnation. Through this internal dialogue, we get a unique perspective into Jessie’s character and her history with Gerald. This turns a very simplistic concept into something much more memorable and engaging. Here’s a woman who’s had quite enough of felling trapped and controlled by a man, thank you very much.

Gerald’s Game is, in its own way, a pretty perfect little movie. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it nails both its thriller elements and its larger social message. I know this won’t be leaving my Netflix rotation anytime soon, and it should be on yours immediately.


The quiet revolution of A Charlie Brown Christmas

On December 9, 1965, nearly half the population of the United States tuned in to watch the premiere of the first Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Christmas, and in particular holiday specials, would never look the same. Rightly looked upon as a holiday classic, the animated special is even more of a marvel due to the fact that it very nearly never happened.

What is now the second-longest holiday special following the Rankin-Bass production of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, the special was originally commissioned by Coca-Cola. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, director Bill Melendez and producer Lee Mendelson mapped out the feature in a handful of hours, and were put on a tight five-month deadline to have the animated short ready in time for Christmas. Musician Vince Guaraldi had already written his famous “Linus and Lucy” piano piece, but he was also commissioned to write the rest of the music for the special. Opening song “Christmastime is Here” was recorded just four days before the premiere.

The sponsors were not impressed. “They thought having jazz music on a Christmas show didn’t make much sense,” Mendelson recalled in a recent USA Today article about the making of the special. “They didn’t like the (voice) actors being kids, and they just didn’t like the show in general. They said: ‘You made a nice try. We’ll put it on the air, obviously, but it just doesn’t work.’ ”

Viewers disagreed. The show was a ratings smash, pulling in 15 million viewers. Last year, 6 million people across the country still tuned in to participate in what has become an annual holiday tradition. There are many things that make the show a true classic: it’s laid-back pace, its typically strong cast of characters, its childlike sense of innocence as well as its themes exploring the true value of Christmas in the wake of corporate consumerism.


A Charlie Brown Christmas is considered a classic for many reasons, but its greatest legacy is the purity, simplicity and strength with which it conveys its message.

Nowhere is this charm more evident than in the always riveting moment where, responding to Charlie Brown’s question about the true meaning of Christmas, Linus gets up on stage and starts reciting from the Gospel of Luke. Everyone was worried this scene would scare off sponsors, but not Schulz.

“He said, ‘If we’re going to do a Christmas special, we’ve really got to do it the right way and talk about what Christmas is all about,’ ” Mendelson tells USA Today. “Bill and I looked at each other, and I said, ‘There’s never been any animation that I know of from the Bible. It’s kind of risky.’ Then Schulz said, ‘Well, if we don’t do it, who will?’ ”

The rest of the crew was wise to trust Schulz. This scene is the heart of the special; without it, the message would not have the same impact. Christopher Shea, who was 7 when he voiced Linus for the special (all of the child characters were voiced by actual children), noted this when he discussed the legacy of that scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition.

“At the time, being just 7, I didn’t realize the depth and perception of what I was reading, even though our family did have deep religious values. From a very early age I remember our whole family listening to the Messiah every year as a holiday tradition. But as I grew older I came to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas as it was told on the TV show. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will always treasure.”

If reading from the Bible on national television was controversial 50 years ago, how much more so would it seem to be today? And yet, households around the country will tune in each year to hear its message, even if they celebrate the season for reasons that have nothing to do with baby Jesus in a manger.

I think that’s probably because this scene so brilliantly goes against two major social streams of the last 50 years. One is consumerism; certainly an issue in 1965, it’s even more prevalent today. With the advent of commercials and targeted advertising, we schedule our lives around the “shopping season,” with Black Fridays (and Thursdays), cyber Mondays and the mad rush to spend before the year is over. In comparison to that, Linus’ one-minute consolidation of the Christmas story is positively quaint. In that way, it is also a great relief. If this is what Christmas is about, it sounds a lot less stressful than all the other stuff I’ve been running around doing.

The speech also seems to fly in the face of the last 50 years of Christian history. The church has a lot of mud caked on its shoes for choosing to bed with politicians, rising with the “moral majority” of the 1980s and continuing today with presidential candidates like Ted Cruz proposing some sort of terrifying theocracy where Christianity functions more like big brother, regulating everything we say and do. Theologically, we find ourselves mired in legalism once again. It’s icky stuff, but Linus comes to remind us all that Christmas is a time where we can get back to the fundamentals of why Jesus came and what it looked like when he did.

It’s the clearest, most pure distillation of the Christmas message I can imagine hearing. No political agenda, no asking for money, no attempts to shame viewers or scare them into religion. “You’re sick of consumerism? Let me tell you a story. This is what Christmas is all about.” We westerners have managed to muck up the clear and concise gospel message almost beyond recognition, but Linus is not guilty of this. He’s just sharing a pretty awesome story.

And what a witness! Linus doesn’t say “this is what Christmas means to me,” or, “this is how I celebrate during this time of year.” He, and by extension Schulz, is making a stand to say “this is what Christmas is all about,” what everything else we love about this time of year stems from. It’s a bold stance, especially today, but it’s one of the reasons the scene still holds so much power. This may be the only time any part of the gospel message is heard in a household all year. And the secular and spiritual alike welcome it with open arms.

The great television critic Matt Zoller Seitz summed up what truly makes this special, well, special, even to modern audiences, in an article he wrote for the Newark Star Ledger upon the show’s 30th anniversary in 1995.

“Television today favors fast, frequent, exaggerated bursts of action and confrontation. In comparison, A Charlie Brown Christmas is almost unnervingly reflective, dependent on words, emotions and small grace notes rather than speed, glitz and noise.”

A Charlie Brown Christmas finds beauty in simplicity. Ice skating upon a lake. A sad looking tree that needs a little love. A baby boy, born in a manger, who would one day be the savior of the world. Christmas is a stressful time of year for many, and the special doesn’t shy away from that. Charlie is frustrated with the holiday too (“My dog has gone commercial! I can’t stand it!”), which is why the ultimate message is so inspiring. We change along with Charlie, slowly moving away from cynicism to appreciation for home and heart, friends and family and the God who came down as a man to bring us all together. It’s hard to hate the holidays after being exposed to it.

After an initial staff screening of the special, animator Ed Levitt saw what Coca-Cola didn’t. He stood up and declared, “A Charlie Brown Christmas will run for 100 years!”

We should all be so lucky.

Virgin Territory is a refreshing look at modern relationships

I know what you’re probably thinking: a show about virgins? On MTV? Yikes. That was my initial reaction when I heard the network responsible for the likes of Jersey Shore and Teen Mom would be airing a reality show that follows a rotating cast of young adults who have not yet had sex.

I expected the show to not only feel forced, but for MTV to present these hard-working young people as freaks, as those who have waited too long and just want to “lose it” as quickly as possible. And, while some obnoxious MTV-isms certainly remain, I have been pleasantly surprised by the show’s refusal to put these complex people into boxed categories or present them as walking clichés. The show shares with us the lives of those seeking real, authentic relationships, whether they include sex or not, and I think my generation especially can learn a great deal from them in a culture that, as one cast member says early on in the show, “throws around sex like a basketball.”

As anyone who has called themselves virgins for any significant length of their adult life can attest, Virgin Territory contains a great deal of talk about sex and very little of the actual deed. In fact, in the first five episodes, only two have actually “lost it.” Somewhat ironically, the first one to lose it on the show was the one who waited until her wedding night.

Lisa, a Christian who waited until her wedding night, is the first to actually "lose it" on the show.

Lisa, a Christian who waited until her wedding night, is the first to actually “lose it” on the show.

Lisa is a strong Christian who is waiting for her upcoming wedding night to have sex with her fiancé, Nick. Hers is the most traditional religious outlook on the show so far, and it’s refreshing to see that MTV took her story seriously in all of its glorious complexity. To put it simply, waiting for the wedding night is difficult even for a committed Christian. Lisa and Nick are both excited and apprehensive; in a wonderfully candid scene, Lisa asks Nick if he’ll want to do it “20 times a day;” his prototypical male response: “Why not?” Lisa’s story also first reveals the show’s complexity when it comes to sharing the cast members’ full lives, and their struggles outside of relationships. Lisa’s father has recently fallen ill and she’s not sure he will be able to make it to the wedding. A scene where she chats with her father about her anxieties while he lies in a hospital bed is a tearjerker, but it never feels emotionally manipulative.

Lisa’s wedding does come, and it is a lovely affair. When she describes the “morning after,” it is both adorable and a little gross (let’s just say there was lubricant involved). Lisa’s story is over after the first episode, but many other cast members don’t have it quite so easy.

Next we are introduced to the glorious enigma that is Dominique, an energetic 19-year-old black woman from Maryland. She loves the nightlife, is a bit of a party animal and is constantly hit on by guys. But her motto remains, “no ringy, no dingy.” Her reason for waiting until marriage involves the type of family life she grew up in. She comes from a broken home and is still dealing with the repercussions of her parents’ divorce. Her cousin is also a single mom, and she has seen her fair share of unstable and broken families as a result of sex being taken a bit too casually. “I don’t want to repeat the cycle,” she says.

But she has her own relationship issues; she’s “too picky,” and seems to cling to her romantic ideals of finding the perfect guy. I love Dominique’s story because she shows that people are saving their virginity for marriage for reasons other than religion. There’s no indication that she comes from any sort of Christian household, but she is seeking authentic relationships and a stable family life. That includes reconnecting with her increasingly distant mother and avoiding turning away a new romantic interest who seems very respectful of her decision to wait. Her story ends with her still a virgin, but she leaves us with a finishing line worth reflecting on. “I’m very comfortable in my sexuality,” she says, “but that does not mean I’m sleeping with anyone.” Our culture broadly paints adult virgins as people who are insecure with their sexuality in some way, but Dominique shows us that we can be confident in our bodies regardless of our sexual status.

My favorite long-running story so far, and the one I most readily connect with, has been that of Luke, a 22-year-old Christian attending Liberty University and getting ready to graduate. His story covers all the beats of going to a Christian university; the impossibly attractive women and the incredible temptation that comes from the casual college hookup culture that permeates even a college as religiously grounded as Liberty. It helps, perhaps, that Luke’s father is a pastor, and is constantly encouraging him to stay physically pure in his relationships. Luke talks about his “future wife; I don’t know who she is, but I’m excited to meet her.” But Luke is a bit of a commitment-phobe, and has a reputation as a player, because he’s kissed a lot of girls. “If I wasn’t a Christian, there’s no way I’d be a virigin,” he says. He does admit he has had blow jobs that he has “regretted.”

Luke is a Christian committed to saving sex until marriage, but that doesn't mean the road is easy.

Luke is a Christian committed to saving sex until marriage, but that doesn’t mean the road is easy.

Luke’s story is refreshing for several reasons, the major being the fact that he is a MAN who is abstaining from sex until marriage. Our culture puts a high value on female virginity, but not on male virginity. Luke also shows us how important religious convictions can play in fundamentally altering the way we live our lives. It seems people like to paint Christianity in particular as something that has little impact on our behavior, but if we look past the hypocrisy, we see people like Luke, who is seeking a truly God-centered relationship, even as multiple girls have offered to “take” his virginity. His adherence to his convictions is de-stigmatized and given the full weight and respect it deserves. Bravo, MTV, for showing us that, indeed, real men can be virgins too.

Luke does overcome his tendencies as a “player” and finds himself in a stable three-month relationship with Madeline, who writes him letters expressing her excitement over being “the future Mrs. Luke Conger.” Yes, Christian kids tend to move fast when it comes to serious relationships. Really fast. Luke buys her a “promise ring,” expressing his commitment both to her and his decision to abstain from sex until marriage. But his story is not over, and I really do hope he can fight his tendency to play the field and the temptation that seems to surround him; he’s done a good job so far. May he continue to follow the Bible verse from 1 Corinthians 6:20 that he has tattooed on his back: “Do you not know that you were bought with a price? Therefore, honor God with your body.”

No one else on the show seems particularly interested in honoring God with their bodies, but that doesn’t mean that they’re keen on following their peers by treating sex as no big deal. Kyle, the other male featured on the show, takes his virginity seriously, though he does want to lose it. A 20-year-old built weightlifter going to school in Florida, he plays along with his friends who seem to exemplify the “men think about sex every 3 seconds” cliché. Kyle’s conflict is unique because he has never told his friends that he is a virgin. Unlike them, he “wants it to be special.” He describes himself as a more romantic type of guy, but he really has no idea what to do around women. In a hilariously honest moment, he describes buying condoms and “making balloon animals out of them.”

Kyle tries to take a girl out and “treat her nice,” but his romantic tendencies clash with his awkwardness, and a moonlit horse carriage ride does not go as planned. Dating can be really awkward, especially someone who desires to be intentional in his relationships, and many conversations and feelings can remain uncomfortably unresolved. He says he’s waited because he had to take care of his dad, who was ill and eventually died, and he’s had a hard time dealing with his dad’s loss.

I initially found Kyle’s arc one of the more engaging ones, but I think he betrays his character by the end. He had hoped to have sex with a girl from back home, Amanda, for some time. He eventually does, and his morning after confessional is kind of adorable, but then he drops her like a hot potato and takes off back to Florida. It admittedly tears him up to do this, but he tells her he doesn’t desire a long-distance relationship, and wants to go live his life. He says his first time was “extremely special,” but it apparently wasn’t with a girl special enough to keep. It’s disappointing that Kyle seems to have given into peer pressure just so he could “have a real story” to tell his friends.

Kyle in one of his candid webcam confessionals.

Kyle in one of his candid webcam confessionals.

Mikaela is the kind of girl you want to hug and tell that everything is going to be okay. She is “actively looking” to lose her virginity, and her friends (none of them virgins) talk about sex quite a lot. But she is continually disappointed by her relationships. The group takes a road trip from their home in Oregon to L.A. where Mikaela hopes to meet someone, but the fake, sex-obsessed guys they find at the L.A. party scene are a huge turnoff. Maybe it’s the obnoxious MTV-style over editing and slow-mo designed to try and convince us that everyone is having so much fun, but I wouldn’t want to run into any of these creeps in the supermarket, let alone a dark, booze-soaked club. It really shows the caliber of people that frequent these places, and it’s probably not the best place to look for someone interested in a serious, respectful long-term relationship (though I’m sure it has happened).

Mikaela’s story ends relatively uneventfully, with nary a boyfriend in sight, and I can’t begin to describe how awesome that is. Hollywood and the porn industry have conditioned young people to expect a satisfying climax to all of our story arcs (pun definitely intended), but Mikaela’s story feels so real because so much of relationships (and life in general) is waiting in that uncomfortable middle. And, encouragingly, Mikaela is hardly dismayed by the prospect. “When it happens, it happens,” she says, which may sound pretty laissez-faire, but actually strikes me as a profound counter-cultural statement, aimed not at sex itself but at the prospect of finding the right guy first. “I don’t think virgins should be made out to be a big deal—like we’re an alien species or something,” she says.

I hope shows like Virgin Territory can help people take Mikaela’s sentiment to heart. I’d like to think that we young adults are all seeking authentic relationships, but our culture has conditioned us to take the easy way out by engaging in a harmful “hook-up culture” that treats bodies as commodities and souls as another casually tossed undergarment. The thing that everyone on the show has in common is the desire to find and maintain true, lasting relationships apart from sex. Believe it or not, that statement is not an oxymoron. I would not go so far as to say the cast members are role models, but they are real people whose reasons for waiting are multifaceted. It helps that the show they’re on is sometimes funny, sometimes sad and sometimes awkward; but, most importantly, it takes every aspect of these virgins’ lives seriously. That’s something I never expected from MTV, but I’m glad I was pleasantly surprised.

So do yourself a favor by turning off Naked Dating and watching Virgin Territory instead. It airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on MTV. Check out the pilot episode below.

Golden Globes: Chalk one up for the underdog

This year, Hollywood’s hottest party was a beautiful, hot mess of rambling philosophical musings masquerading as speeches, awkwardly long walks to the podium and genuine awards surprises. But the biggest pleasure and surprise of the show was the story of the underdogs dethroning established Hollywood royalty.

Hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler helped make for an effortlessly entertaining, sometimes surprising Golden Globes ceremony.

Not that some very big names didn’t take home awards. The show got off to a great start, with hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler riffing as they do best. An early award went to Jennifer Lawrence for Best Supporting Actress for American Hustle. A previous Oscar winner, Lawrence is, in some circles, already considered Hollywood royalty. But compared to icons like competitor Julie Roberts, Lawrence is still the fun-loving, starry-eyed onlooker, wondering how she ever even got invited to the party. That kind of humility is rare in show business, but there was plenty of it to go around Sunday. The initial reaction is that Lupita Nyong’o was snubbed for her stirring, intensely physical performance in 12 Years a Slave. And, while I love Lawrence more than many, I’d have to agree. Her performance was a delight, but not a revelation like Nyong’o’s.

American Hustle took home several other awards, including Amy Adams for Best Actress Musical/Comedy (beating out Meryl Streep) and Best Picture Musical/Comedy. There’s been a bit of a backlash against the film, but I think it remains effortlessly entertaining, with David O. Russel’s most effervescent and effective direction. Whether “effortlessly entertaining” is enough to justify its win over competition like Her and Inside Llewyn Davis remains to be seen, but the odds seem to be in its favor.

All the other acting category wins were absolute slam-dunks, recognizing some very deserving (and frequently snubbed) performers. I was overjoyed to finally see Leonardo DiCaprio take home a Globe for his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street (musical/comedy). It’s the finest performance of his career, and I hope he isn’t overlooked at the Oscars. Equally deserving was Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club (drama), a brilliant actor whose stunning late-career renaissance can be overlooked no longer. It is a bit of a shocker that he beat out Chiwetel Ejiofor for his soul-stirring lead role in 12 Years a Slave, and it should make for a very interesting Oscar night. He also beat out the likes of Tom Hanks andRobert Redford, something to be proud of, for sure.

The Best Director race was one of the most fascinating of the night: Paul Greengrass, Alfonso Cuaron, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell and Steve McQueen. A phenomenal list of dedicated artists who have worked a very long time to find their way to the spotlight, not one can be considered a celebrity director on the level of, say, Martin Scorsese. Cuaron took home the award for Gravity, and I hope he can repeat that success at the Oscars. The Mexican director has quietly been creating some of the best studio and independent films of the past few decades, and, from A Little Princess to Children of Men, his time has finally come.

Some pegged Gravity for a win in Best Picture/Drama, but, even with snubs in other categories, 12 Years a Slave wasn’t exactly a surprise. It follows a tradition of historical films winning over the more populist, fantastical competition (see: The Hurt Locker over Avatar; The Artist over Hugo, etc.) But Gravity is better than most films that find themselves as “the populist choice,” so the Oscar race is far from assured.

Is there a more perfect image of the spirit of this year’s Globes than Barkhad Abdi? The Somalian actor came out of nowhere and stunned as the unpredictable pirate captain in Captain Phillips. Talk about overwhelming. Nonetheless, he had a smile on his face the whole night, probably wondering how the heck he ended up here, among the entertainment elite. He lost the best supporting actor trophy to Jared Leto, the Dallas Buyers Club actor who returned to the profession after a six-year hiatus. He beat out rising stars Daniel Bruhl, Bradley Cooper and Michael Fassbender. All guys who have come a long way for the recognition they so richly deserve.

Same goes for the TV winners. Bryan Cranston finally won for his role as Walter White in Breaking Bad, and Andy Samberg and Amy Poehler were both genuinely shocked to win in comedic acting categories. From mocking celebrities on Saturday Night Live to beating them out for major awards.

Here’s one for the little guys. Watch out, Hollywood, because someday they’ll be running this business. Sooner rather than later, it seems.

Breaking Bad on the moral power of choice

This post discusses the series as a whole as well as the final episode in-depth. There be spoilers ahead. 

I’ve never considered television an art form. At least, not on the same level as film. Even some of my favorite, expertly-produced shows such as “24” are there primarily for escapism. “Breaking Bad” is the show that made me change my mind.

Over the past few weeks, I have binge-watched the show with everyone else, reveling in its expert acting, pacing and artistic flights of fancy (lordy, those camera angles). As the internet has confirmed, I’m not the only one singing its praises. But what has truly captivated us about AMC’s layered drama about a high school chemistry teacher who turns to cooking meth after finding out he has incurable lung cancer is the challenging choices it forces its characters and, by extension us, to face.

Walter White’s universe is cold, cruel and, some might argue, bleak. But, it’s also a profoundly moral one. After the stunning series finale, it’s remarkable to see creator Vince Gilligan’s clarity of vision across five seasons. He has created a world where actions have profound consequences. And consequence, in TV and in life, is something we need more of.

We live in a culture of finger pointing. Everything is someone else’s fault, because that means we never have to own up to our mistakes. We sue each other at the drop of a hat. Our politicians are self-serving, cops have it out for us, our co-workers are all horrible people who can never fully understand our situation, and so on. The most refreshing thing about “Breaking Bad” in my mind is that it puts choice front and center, and no one gets off easy. Everyone makes choices, and they must deal with the consequences of those choices, even if they try to run from them. Gilligan and company have reminded us that our lives are little more than the choices we make every day. Good or bad, big or small, choice is really all we have.

Walter White knows this from the beginning. He knows the choice to start cooking meth will have tremendous consequences. Even as he lies to others, he owns up to his actions in his own mind. Near the end of season 4, he tells his wife, Skyler, “I’ve done these things and I alone am responsible for what happens. Not you.”

This is a true admission, but in another aspect Walt’s decisions are off base. He does what he does, including lying and plenty of murder, because he wants to provide for his family. But, in the world of “Breaking Bad,” that doesn’t fly, and we as an audience know that. If Walt’s is truly a world where it is only our actions that have consequences, then intentions mean very little. Skyler and Walt’s son, Walt Jr., prove this by refusing to accept Walt’s money. The man who has spent a year building a drug empire in order to leave money for his family when his cancer takes him can’t even provide that. His family didn’t care about the purity of his motives, only his actions which, despite intentions, threw their lives into chaos and disarray.

Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s cook partner and philosophical foil, reflects the power of choice even more strongly. Unlike Walt, Jesse has a deep and true conscience. He is racked with guilt when he is forced to shoot a man and when a child is needlessly killed during a job. Jesse’s world remains unclouded from a false pretense of motivation. He has done terrible things, and he has to find some way to live with them. He says this in a powerful scene during a drug rehab session. The counselor is telling him he has to move on from the mistakes he’s made, and Jesse calls this “bullshit.” It’s true. Jesse refuses to be a part of the blame culture by truly owning up to his actions and letting them sink in.

What I thought was so brilliant about the show’s series finale is that it pretty much subverted everything I just said. Some would call this a philosophical cop-out, but I would say it stayed true not only to the show’s universe but to the way the world often works. The most powerful moment in the entire episode (if not the entire show) is when Walt quietly admits to Skyler that he did not build a meth empire for his wife and kids. He did so because he liked it and because he was “good at it.” Does that change how we view Walt’s actions throughout the show? Motivation notwithstanding, Walt did some horrible things, and the universe of “Breaking Bad” seems to demand that he answer for them. But doesn’t this selfish motivation make us wonder whether he would have gone to such incredible lengths to protect himself and his money? Didn’t he see that his actions were hurting his family more than his money would ever help them?

Then comes the real kicker: Walt didn’t have to answer for anything he did. He died, yes, but he died free of the consequences of his actions. Who’s left to deal with those consequences? His family, who he seemingly tricked into taking his money by coercing his old business partner to gift it as part of a trust. His lawyer, Saul Goodman, who is set to live a cold, lonely life in Nebraska under a new name. All those Nazi guys he killed (they had it coming, sure, but still). And, most of all, Jesse. When Jesse drives away from the compound where he was held prisoner and forced to cook meth for a year, he begins to laugh. But, thanks to the always excellent acting of Aaron Paul, we wonder if maybe that laugh is turning into a deep, guttural sob. After all, Jesse still has the burden of living with all the horrible things he has done. Everyone he loves is dead. He has nothing In comparison, Walt got off easy.

Walt’s actions will continue to have tremendous consequences to those around him, even if he no longer has to deal with them. I’ve been rambling about the importance of choice, but the giant hole here is that the very reason Walt’s ever-captivating story was set in motion had nothing to do with choice at all. He didn’t choose to have cancer. His disease seemed a machination of blind, cruel fate. Viewed from this lens, Walt spent the next five seasons building an elaborate dream. He dreamt that he was powerful, that he was in control. But he never was. Cancer could have taken him at any moment. The one choice he could never make was the decision to not have cancer.

That’s what sticks with me about “Breaking Bad.” It doesn’t deal in clear answers or black-and-whites. The decisions we make have consequences, and actions truly do speak louder than words. That’s an important message, for sure. But there are times in our lives where we will have no control over what happens to us. We are not invincible. We need help. Do we cry out for assistance when everything starts to crumble? Or, do we continue to live in a fantasy world where we are in control? The fact that a TV show is forcing us to ask these kinds of questions is what will make “Breaking Bad” linger in the consciousness much longer than its admittedly stellar cinematic craftsmanship.