The GOAT Farm: 2021 Tv & Movie Inductees

Quick recap of what’s going on here: there is this thing called The GOAT Farm. If it confuses you to learn that it has nothing to do with actual farms or literal goats, but rather the abstract concept of greatness, I invite you to read this more thorough introduction to the concept. Basically it is an excessively cute way of referring to a list of all of my favorite books and music and movies and television– the art that is, to me, among the Greatest Of All Time.

Because imaginary thought exercises demand imaginary rules, I have implemented a five year “waiting period” between my first experience of a potential GOAT and its official designation. (Though this can occasionally be waived, as was the case for The Goldfinch, a book which immediately became as essential to me as oxygen as soon as I read it.) This is why the 2021 TV & Movie Inductees all hail from 2016, which somehow seems at once a lifetime and a day ago. So much has changed in the time since then, both in the broader, societal, cataclysmic sense as well as smaller, quieter shifts in my personal worldview, but my fondness and enthusiasm for the titles listed here have happily stayed the same. This is of course the entire point of distinguishing the GOATs from the Goods, or from the Merely Okays– not to remember what you loved for one fleeting moment, but to recognize that which endures for All Time.


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A fun part of this exercise has been looking back and realizing what a banner year 2016 was for television. Three new entrants to the GOAT Farm? You never do know when you’re living in a golden age.

First up: Insecure. I was too young and my mother was definitely too puritanical to allow me to watch Sex and the City back in its heyday (though I did eventually marathon all six seasons when I was in university, courtesy of the dubious less-than-legal streaming platforms of the late 00’s) but I’m grateful to have no such impediments to experiencing Insecure, the decidedly Millennial update on what it means to navigate love and friendship and work in a major metropolis when you’re (not actually all that) young.

It takes less than a scene to recognize that writer/producer/lead actress Issa Rae is a generational talent, with a decided vision and voice unlike any who have come before her. Whether she’s giving herself pep talks via a rapping alter ego in the mirror or reacting to the absurdities around her with her wonderfully expressive face, it’s a joy to watch life through Issa’s point of view. The show is aspirational in the way that Sex and the City once was– with a wardrobe as enviable as Carrie’s; friends who are always around to discuss relationship drama over drinks; and bright, stylized shots of Los Angeles in lieu of the bustling streets of New York. But it’s approachable and grounded in a way its HBO foremother definitively was not. Insecure is in on every one of its jokes, and smarter than anyone who would try to meme it otherwise.

Reportedly the show’s fifth season, airing later this year, will be its last, and though I’m preemptively mourning at this news, I’m also glad to know that Issa is ending it on her own terms, that she’s sending these beloved characters off before they can start any dull affairs with Russian artists, or take ill-advised trips to Abu Dhabi, or otherwise grow tiresome. To me, Insecure will always be a definitive generational text, a souvenir of what it was like to be a twenty-something who wasn’t sure about anything other than how much she could rely on her best friends. It’s a reference point to a very specific time, and naturally that time has to end. But if Sex and the City taught us anything, it’s that nothing on television is ever truly gone forever, which is why I’m already anticipating the inevitable Insecure reboot in 2038.

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Probably it is only me and Kelly Clarkson who are still pouring one out forTimeless, an NBC scifi drama that endured for a mere two seasons, (plus a Christmas special) never truly garnering the respect or the following it needed to survive. This is likely because the premise of the show was pretty bonkers: an Elon Musk-esque figure has designed a time machine which, as the show begins, has already been stolen by a mysterious man intent on undoing American History, one seminal event at a time. Naturally, Homeland Security’s solution to this is to put together a team consisting of an engineer, a history professor, and a soldier, and send them after the thief in a backup time machine (just go with it).

Things only escalate from there. Episodes flit through the Alamo and Watergate, the First World War. Characters are stranded in time, or displaced in time, or revealed to be sleeper agents hiding in a different time. A shadowy cabal known as Rittenhouse is up to something nefarious and convoluted and vaguely aligned with white supremacy– honestly that part was never clear. JFK accidentally hitches a ride to the present day one time and learns all about his family’s tragic destiny. It is absolutely wild.

It sounds like I’m roasting this show, but I truly loved every crazy minute of it. Originality has become ever more rare on network television, where bets are often hedged with more reliable performers like hospital shows and police procedurals. Timeless wasn’t an attempt to cash in on any existing IP (unless you count the general concept of American history) or recycle tired old storylines that have already aired a million times. It was fresh and bold and it took reckless swings and it deserved far better than the tepid reception it ultimately got.

I sometimes wonder if the show wouldn’t have found a more loyal audience had it belonged to a streaming service like Netflix, where its tangled storylines might have been better understood. But hypotheticals count for naught, and so the 28 existing episodes of Timeless are all we’ll ever get. Perhaps it is the limited nature of the show that has boosted my regard for it, the fact that it never got the chance to raise my hopes only to dash them, like, say, Lost. I choose to believe that Timeless could never have disappointed me though. That it would have continued to be unpredictable and imaginative and yes, bonkers, forever. And so I honor it here, for everything the show got to be, and for everything it never could.

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“Unexpected but inevitable” is the highest ideal any storyteller can aspire to, and one that the first season of Stranger Things achieved in near Platonic form. True, the show was largely conceived of as an homage to the Spielberg/Lucas/etc classics of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but it managed to establish a memorable visual iconography all its own. Those Christmas lights. That shaved head. The Eggo waffles. Barb. Most modern day television shows would give anything to have even one such indelible image, never mind a full season’s worth of them. But costume and set design are only part of what has made Stranger Things a contemporary classic, and one of my all-time favorite pieces of media, full stop.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating (at least, not any more than I’m always exaggerating) when I say that the first season of Stranger Things is perfect television. (Seasons two and three are also solid, and better than most of Netflix’s other offerings, but that first introduction to this world was something special.) The casting? Perfect. The pace of the plot? Perfect. The sense of place, the capturing of an era, the dialogue, the dynamics between children, teenagers, and adults? Perfect, perfect, perfect, perfect. It is everything you could possibly want in a piece of pop entertainment, striking exactly the right balance of being engaging without being consuming. Stranger Things gives the tantalizing impression of having a dense mythology propping up its plot, but the truth is that you don’t need to read thousands of pages of source material (as with Game of Thrones) or watch 21 other movies (as with the MCU) to properly understand it.

What the show does have in common with those other blockbuster franchises, however, is the sense that every new installment is a Major Event. This is an increasingly rare quality for a television show to have, particularly on Netflix, where entire seasons are regularly released, consumed and forgotten about over the course of a weekend. When a new Stranger Things comes out, whether it’s over Halloweekend or timed to coincide with July 4th, it feels like the only thing anyone is watching. Maybe I should be crediting this feat more to Netflix PR, but I think it’s a testament to the show’s originality, the elegant way it weaves together the storylines of its characters before separating them again. This is not a show you wait to catch up on, or settle for experiencing vicariously through memes. This is a show that you circle the release date for on your calendar, that you stock up on snacks for, and that you repeatedly hit “next episode” for until there are none left. This is a show that is perfect.


Because the two films will always be inextricably linked together, I feel like it’s important to say that lauding La La Land here is not meant as any kind of slight against Moonlight. Moonlight was quietly brilliant and historically important and the swimming scene is one that will stay astounding me in my memory forever, along with its accompanying score. It is also a film I know I won’t revisit for a long while because it was too emotionally devastating the first time around. Rewatchability shouldn’t be a factor for Academy voters when they are determining what constitutes The Best, but sadly it does sway things when it comes to naming the GOATs. I did after all promise that I was only slightly less susceptible to corruption than the Globes.

In contrast, I am always in the right mood to rewatch La La Land. A modern day musical starring two of the most charismatic living humans, crafted at the highest level with surrealist elements and a beautiful color palette? Yes please, always. The first time I watched this movie, I felt like my heart was full of balloons, like the world was instantly a better place because something this exuberant and lush existed in it. Of course, I’m an easy mark for this kind of story, explicitly about “the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.” I am fascinated by creative people in general, but especially when they are singleminded in their pursuits; passionate, obsessive, toxic even. Director Damien Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash is a darker and more relentless take on this theme (also a fellow recognized GOAT, class of 2015) while La La Land is more pastel in its approach, but the effect is just the same.

A big part of having big dreams is the feeling that they are constantly slipping through your fingers, the sense that they’re fading before your very eyes, becoming old-fashioned, something you really should have moved on from by now; much like movie musicals themselves, or jazz as a genre, or the crumbling infrastructure of downtown Los Angeles. La La Land conveys all of that viscerally while maintaining a sense of optimism, even with that wallop of an ending. The movie is a love story, but not necessarily between the characters played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, but rather between each of them and their own artistic dreams. It has all the trappings of a classic, of something that’s been made a thousand times before and has been beloved for decades, but it’s saying something new: “here’s to the hearts that break. Here’s to the mess we make.”

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