Artists of the Year

Hurricanes, war, avian flu, locust plagues, that annoying song you couldn't get out of your head. It wasn't the greatest of all possible years. Nor was it halfway decent. But to prove that it wasn't all bad, we asked 29 writers to rave about the ar

The lesson that rattled me most came in the months following the album's release, during which The New Yorker profiled Finn, Lost name-checked the Hold Steady, and critics from here to Japan plopped Separation Sunday on their year-end best-albums lists. Finn's favorite characters may be Minneapolis and St. Paul, but you don't have to be from the frozen northlands to hear yourself in his lyrics. When he sighs, "And the carpet at the Thunderbird has a burn for every cowboy that got fenced in," you don't have to have walked over those cigarette marks or bellied up alongside those hard, broken men to know that he's painting a scene of change, loss, and abandoned hopes. That's a story the whole world knows.

In the end, it's the story Finn isn't telling that really inspires this Midwestern boy. The one about real achievement, artistic resolve, victory over that which fences us in; in other words, his own. It'll make a great album. I can't wait to hear it.

Chuck Terhark is a Minneapolis writer and musician and a frequent contributor to City Pages.


Sandra Oh
By Jon Caramanica

I knew you were bright. But sly? Nope. Nothing in Election or About Schmidt prepared me for the sleight of film you pulled off in Sideways, casting your then-wife Sandra Oh as the movie's id.

See, you tipped your hand. Made her an object of desire because deep down you knew your grip was tenuous. Had her kick the stuffing out of Thomas Haden Church, hoping she'd get so lost in the moment that she wouldn't realize you were selling her down the river.

Because you were letting her go, right? On the red carpet for the Oscars this past February, you acted like she wasn't right next to you. The respectful, icy distance between you--it was stank.

How does the adage go, "Hate what you can't conquer"?

And now she's luminous. As Dr. Cristina Yang on the rookie medical dramedy Grey's Anatomy, Oh is a sparkplug. A dork. A temptress. The show's not named for her, but it should be. Ellen Pompeo's a punching bag. Katherine Heigl's a pageant-y blank. Even resident cad Dr. Karev sees it: "Yang's hot!" Not the first hot nerd on TV, but certainly the most vigorous in her overachieving, the least preoccupied with presentation. In other words, the most certain. She owns it.

Sure, she's getting her emotional comeuppance at the hands of the alarmingly even-keeled Dr. Burke, but she's melting nicely. It's a long way from the forcible quirkiness of Arli$$. A long way from Canada and ballet dancing.

And a long way from you. It hurts, I know, watching her hit her stride while you puzzle your way out of Nebraska. Sideways was about your fundamental inability to evolve, wasn't it? Your fretful clinging to critical remove while the world threatened cataclysmic climate change.

And so there she is, scampering barefoot across the screen, revealed. Hate to say it, man, but she's with us now.


Jon Caramanica writes about music and television for the New York Times, Spin, and the Village Voice.


David Mitchell and Robert Webb
By Lindsey Thomas
One of my biggest fears is that the future will bring a pill or potion or evolutionary advancement that will allow other people to hear my thoughts. Then everyone will know about my stupid internal ramblings, like my other biggest fear: that one day I'll be taking a shower and the wood secretly rotting beneath my bathroom floor will give way, dropping me naked and, if I'm lucky, dead, into the retail store below my apartment.

David Mitchell and Robert Webb's characters on Peep Show are living my nightmare. The British comedy follows two mismatched roommates and offers viewers a look, or "peep" if you will, at the inner workings of their heads, complete with silly anxieties and faulty logic. Mark, an awkward office drone played by Mitchell, attempts to flirt with a co-worker, which never fails to end in excruciating embarrassment. Webb's Jeremy, a marginally smoother but unambitious musician, pities his inept buddy. His sense of superiority isn't quite justified, though--his own crush has offered up nothing more than some trouble with her ex-husband and an introduction to a dish soap-selling pyramid scheme.

Like The Office, the show revels in uncomfortable comedy, but Peep Show has a lower cringe factor, maybe because no one's quite as disgusted with Mark and Jeremy as they are with themselves. Example: Mark scolds a man for using the elevator to travel only one floor. When the man exits with a limp, Mark thinks, Oh. They should make people like that wear stickers or something. They have them for their cars--oh, good idea, Adolph! It's a sitcom staple to follow the disastrous results of an ill-conceived idea, but rarely have the errant thinkers been so neurotically, self-loathingly human. Even when entertaining thoughts too offensive for even the most secure diary, these guys are sympathetic--their paranoia and self-doubt are extreme (this is comedy, after all), but we recognize it. For those of us who frequently find ourselves thinking, What the hell is wrong with me?, Mitchell and Webb's creations aren't just hilarious, they're reassuring.

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