Monday, January 18, 2021

Murderous foxes, loving tigers (Following folktales around the world 186. - South Korea)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folk tales from Korea

Zong In-Sob
Holly International C., 1982.

The book contains 99 folktales. The foreword tells us about the author, who was born in 1905 and spent his childhood listening to Korean folktales from friends and family. Later on he was among the founders of the Korean Folklore Society, aiming to collect and preserve folklore traditions for future generations. The tales in the book were gathered after World War II, and the author, being a linguist and literary scholar, translated them into English himself. 
In the introduction the author praises Korean culture, history, language, and inventions; he holds all of these in world-class high esteem, including the storytelling tradition. While he lists many international parallels for the tales, he points out that they are still essentially Korean. The introduction delves into the types of myths and tales in Korean tradition, as well as Korean Buddhism, shamanism, and folk belief. In the end, he mentions the partition of North and South Korea, and wonders if it will appear in folk stories in the future.


Naturally my favorite tale in the book was The story spirits (which is well known to storytellers worldwide). It is about a boy who loves listening to stories, but never passes them on, so the spirits of the tales plot to take revenge on him, and he is barely rescued by his old teacher.
The best origin myth claimed that in ancient times people sometimes randomly turned into oxen, and then accidentally ate each other (that is, humans ate the oxen). A man discovered that if one ate onions they never turned into an ox again - and that ended both shapeshifting and cannibalism among the people.
The tale of Yoni and her stepmother was a beautiful love story where a girl was chased into the woods in the winter to find fruit. She met a boy named Willow, who gave her fruit, and they fell in love. When the evil stepmother killed Willow, Yoni managed to revive him with a magic potion - and her turned out to be the deity of rain himself. He married Yoni and took her up to the heavens.
Another love story featured a Tiger girl. She took on human form and fell in love with a man, but because of this, she had to die. She wished to die by her lover's hands, and she made it happen by attacking the king's daughter. Her lover then got to marry the princess he rescued, as a last gift from the tiger girl. The most unique love story, however, was that of the Centipede girl, who also took on human form, and lived with a man (who helped break her curse). It was especially interesting because the man already had a family, and he met the girl after he tried to drown himself in the river. The centipede sent money to support the family, and eventually returned to heaven. 
I liked the tale in which all men in a family were cursed to be devoured by a tiger very young. One cursed son was rescued from the tiger by two clever girls, and he ended up marrying both of them. 
The legend of the nine-tailed fox was both exciting and very dark. The fox spirit disguised herself as a girl, and killed ninety-nine men with her kiss, aiming to rise to heaven. The hundredth man, however, outsmarted her, and stole her jewel that contained all the wisdom in the world. In another exciting tale a fox witch took over a mountain goddess' realm, and a mortal man had to fight her with the aid of the Dragon King.


The legend about the birth of the Sun and the Moon resembled the story of the seven kids; a tiger in disguise tried to trick two children, but they ran away from him and climbed up into the sky, where they were turned into celestial bodies. There was also a flood myth, combined with the folktale motif of the grateful animals.
The tale of the woodcutter and the heavenly maiden was a bird bride story, where the husband followed his wife into the sky after she managed to get her stolen wings back. Eventually he returned to earth to visit his mother, fell off the heavenly horse (á la Oisín), and turned into a rooster. The story of why dogs and cats hate each other was an Aladdin type magic ring (magic mortar) tale; the legend of Lake Zangze belonged to that type where a greedy man is punished by water flooding his house, turning the village into a lake.
The two brothers and the magistrate belonged to my favorite "detective" folktale type, where two men solved mysteries with keen observation. The "gift of the little people" tale type here featured goblins, who gave the kind man a magic mallet, and stretched the unkind man's tongue so long he used it as a bridge. Eventually, the kind person helped him reduce his tongue to its normal size. The man and the tiger was an entertaining version of the Brementown musicians; here the hero saved a girl from a tiger by hiding his friends around her house. The extraoridnary helpers tale here presented four sworn brothers who all had their own supernatural ability - for example, one of the could pee a whole river...
I was reminded of Mediterranean stories by The fox girl and her brother, where once again a girl turned out to be a man-eating demon, and after she ate the whole village, it was her brother who managed to kill her.
The trickster in residence was the rabbit, who managed to trick a hungry tiger multiple times (e.g. with the tail-fishing trick). The ungrateful animal sprung from a trap was a tiger, who was tricked back in by a wise toad. The story of Zibong put an interesting twist on trickster tales: he was a clever servant who tricked his master multiple times, and in the end made him jump into the river with his family so he could marry his daughter. The daughter, however, did not want a trickster husband, and jumped after her parents.

Where to next?

Monday, January 11, 2021

Trickster propaganda (Following folktales around the world 185. - North Korea)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

I didn't manage to find a folktale collection from North Korea, so I read this fascinating new article instead.

Hero of the People: Reimagining the Trickster in North Korea

Charles La Shure
The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 133, No. 529, pp. 259-284.

The article explores how the North Korean regime uses a popular trickster figure from folklore, Kim Sondal, to broadcast its own message to the people through reframing old stories. 
The beginning of the article introduces the Trickster archetype, then we get a short description to Korean trickster figures whose tales go all the way back to feudalism (14th to 19th centuries). Some of them are noblemen (which is rare for tricksters), some are clever servants, and Kim Sondal exists somewhere between the two. His tales are also popular in South Korea, but the character himself hails from Pyongyang, so North Koreans lay claim to him as local. This, by the way, serves as grounds for comparison (I'm curious to see if I'll read about him in the next book). It seems like North Korea has been publishing dozens of Kim Sondal story collections since the 90s, and even had some novels based on him. The main body of the article explores how these tales have been rewritten to fit propaganda, and brings some parallels from other nationalist movements and their relationship with folklore.

The tales

There is even a movie in South
Korea about Kim Sondal
In most of the North Korean tales Kim Sondal is a poor man oppressed by rich landlords. He is touched by the suffering of peasants, and uses his wits to trick greedy rich people and corrupt officials (who are often likened to pigs). 
In one story Kim Sondal tricks a bunch of vain noblewomen into publicly confessing all their sins, and punishes the ones who had been cruel to their servants. Sometimes noblemen try to trap him, but they never succeed. Poor people like Kim Sondal so much that when he has to wander without food or shelter (because of the officials' cruelty) they feed him and shelter him - without him having to trick them into it.
I liked the story where Kim Sondal fed spoiled bean stew to a rich man, claiming it was rare gourmet 'fermented beans'. He also played the role of "fake fortune-teller", although here the moral of the story was that religion and spirituality are lies to trick the people. There was another popular tale about how the king closed all public toilets, so Kim Sondal was forced to use someone's private outhouse - and then refused to come out until he was paid. 
The children's adaptations of the stories highlight the suffering of poor people, the evilness of the rich, and Kim Sondal's generosity to the former (he steals from the rich and gives to the poor, basically). They also add a lot of stuff against religion - for example, Kim Sondal openly denounces shamans (this carries on into the novels). Here, he wants to change he whole world by tricking the rich and build a new system where everyone is equal. Rich people are even more horrible, "barely human", and morals are clearly spelled out for the education of the children.


Comparing the stories to the South Korean versions it turns out that the southern Kim Sondal often tricks random people, instead of noblemen who deserve it. He usually does so for his own fortune and entertainment. He especially likes tricking the blind, and while in North Korean versions these blind people are "evil money lenders", in the South they are simply an easy target for the trickster. He also tricks monks sometimes, but not usually because of their religion. The structure of many tales is the same, but the motivations vastly differ in the North and the South. 
According to the author, North Korean Kim Sondal, who serves the system, can't be called a trickster because he is not an ambivalent, liminal, rule-defying character anymore. He became some kind of a propagandistic culture hero, re-drawn even stronger with every adaptation.

Where to next?
South Korea!

Monday, January 4, 2021

Kitsune, tanuki, and other Japanese classics (Following folktales around the world 184. - Japan)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Japanese folk tales
Yanagita Kunio
Tokyo News Service, 1954.

The book contains 108 Japanese folktales from a national folklore collecting campaign, the story of which we find out from the short introduction. The foreword talks to the younger generations especially, explaining the working and the importance or oral tradition in simple terms. The tales included in the book are common Japanese types that appear in various regions in one shape or another. Their titles are given in Japanese as well as Latin letters, and in most cases the city or region of collection is also noted. Cultural references and Japanese words are explained in footnotes. Stories are arranged by similarity, with multiple variants of the same type following each other.


I really liked The mountain spirit's quiver, in which a blind musician was lost in the mountains, and for his beautiful songs the mountains spirit took care of him in magical ways. I also enjoyed the legend of Kosai Osho and the sea turtles, which reminded me of the Greek myth of Arion: a kind priest saved large turtles from fishermen, and the turtles saved him when pirates attacked his ship. Another grateful animal featured into the story of Monkey Masamune, where two kind messengers rescued a monkey from an octopus, and received a valuable antique sword in exchange.
I liked magical transformation stories, like the one where a pine tree turned into a girl named Matsuko, and went on pilgrimage; or the one where a talking snapping turtle warned the fisherman that caught him that he would be back home in the lake soon enough.
There was a beautiful story about an old man who received a magic hood, one that allowed him to understand the language of plants and animals. He discovered a tree stump under a house that could not die but could not grow either, and found out that its tree-friends visited it every night to give words of sympathy and encouragement. 
Dragons featured into multiple stories. In one, a samurai was invited by the Dragon King of the sea to help him defeat a giant evil serpent - and in exchange given a bell for his temple. And of course there is no Japanese folklore collection without yokai. Yama-haha, for example, is a demon disguised as a mortal woman, with a giant mouth in the back of her head. Her husband had to get rid of her by trickery (and with the use of some flowers). 
The book had the classic, lovely story of the Jizo statues and their New Year hats, and also one of my favorite tales, about the Rice dumpling that rolled into the Underworld. Here, an old many followed the dumpling and became rich - but his jealous neighbor did not fare similarly well at all. After many years I finally found here the folktale version of the Three strong women picture book, about a supernaturally strong girl named Oiko, who trained a wrestler for his championship.
I liked the touching story of the old man who came across the skeleton of a girl in a spring meadow, and helped the girl's spirit find her family and eternal peace.


The tale of the monkey, the cat and the rat was an Aladdin-style magic ring story. The monkey bridegroom resembled Beauty and the Beast... up to the point where the bride pushed the persistent monkey husband into the river from a bridge. There was a Cinderella variant (Komebukuro és Awabukuro) that I especially liked because the girl was helped by her friends in completing the stepmother's task.
There was a version of the story where someone exchanges useless things for exponentially more useful ones (starting with a piece of straw), and also multiple "dream sold" tales, with bees or dragonflies crawling out of sleeping people's mouths. A "fairy gift" tale featured two old men, one showered in gold and one showered in pitch, and also two priests who danced with demons at night (the nice one got his birthmark removed, and the mean one had it doubled). 
There were many familiar trickster tales in the book. The "tail fishing" trick was played by a bear on a monkey (that's why monkey tails are short). The monkey's liver is probably one of the most often recognized Japanese folktales (and it also explains why jellyfish have no bones). Animal races happened between a badger and a mud snail (the snail won), and also between a monkey and a bullfrog. The latter was funny because they were both chasing a pot of pastry rolling down a hill, but the monkey didn't notice that the pastry fell out of the pot, so the slow frog got to eat it. There was also a version of the story where a bunch of people pass a dead body around, here with the help of a trickster named Clever Yasohachi
Naturally, the collection features many kitsune and tanuki tales (the latter is mistranslated as badger). I loved the one where a priest named Kongo-in startled a fox as a joke - and in revenge the fox make other priests believe that Kongo-in himself was a fox in disguise. In another tale a man was so confident that he couldn't be tricked by a fox... that the foxes used this to trick him, and before he knew it, he took priestly vows and shaved his head. There was also a cute story about a beginner fox who tried to disguise himself as a samurai, but his face remained hairy - and in the end he laughed about it together with the humans. I enjoyed the tale about the two tanuki who had a contest of illusions - and one of them mistook an actual royal parade for an illusion.

Where to next?
North Korea!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

StorySpotting: Swimming for love (Bridgerton)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Where was the story spotted?

Bridgerton, Season 1, Episode 7 (Oceans apart)

What happens?

Daphne has a conversation with her brother Colin, who is in love with the disgraced (pregnant) Miss Thompson. Daphne is trying to convince him to give up on his love and avoid scandal:
Daphne: You cannot visit her.
Colin: Leander swam Abydos to Sestos every single night in complete darkness just to see his love.
Daphne: Leander also lost his way and drowned. So the story goes. 

What's the story?

Roman coin from Abydos,
depicting the story
Daphne is right, the Greek tale of Hero and Leandros is not a happy one. Hero is the "virgin priestess" of Aphrodite, and she lives in Sestos, on the northern shore of the Hellespont (the Dardanelles strait). Her lover, Leandros, lives on the opposite shore in the city of Abydos. In order to meet in secret, he swims across the strait every night, guided by the light of a lantern in Hero's window on top of a tower. However, one night a storm blows out the candle, Leandros loses his way, and drowns. When Hero finds out about his fate, she throws herself from top of the tower.
Yup, this really is not a love story one should strive for.  

The story echoes in a tale from the Faroe Islands about a young man from Koltur who swam across in secret to the island of Hestur to visit his lover. One day, however, the girl's father found out, and when the lad showed up on the shore, he chased him back into the water with an ax. The suitor was never heard from again; according to the legend, he drowned on the way back. 

The Pakistani legend of Sohni and Mahinwal has a similarly tragic ending. Here, the girl swims across a river every night, using an upturned pot for buoyancy, to be with her lover. One time, however, the pot breaks, and a storms sweeps both her and her lover away. 

On a more upbeat note, we have the Maori legend of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. A high-born girl falls in love with a youth who is not noble enough to be her husband. He plays his flute every night, calling to her, but her family hides all the canoes to keep her from crossing the lake to her lover. Eventually she sets out swimming, with six hollow gourds to hold her up (clever girl). She follows the music, and managed to reach Tutanekai's island. They get married, and live happily. 

In another story, from the Tuamotu islands, we learn about a girl named Hina who sets out swimming to the island of Motu-tapu, to find the perfect prince she wants to marry. She tries to enlist the help of various sea creatures, but they are either not strong enough to carry her beyond the reef, or she pisses them off one way or another (in a shark's case, literally, as she pees on him), and they all leave her floating in the ocean. Eventually, she makes her way to the island, leaving a trail of much changed (and disgruntled) sea animals in her wake, and she marries her prince. 


If you have to cross large bodies of water for love, make sure you have something to keep you buoyant. Or better yet, hitch a ride.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

346 earworms

Do you often wake up with a song stuck in your head?

This is the third year that I noted every morning what song was stuck in my head when I first woke up, and I tallied the results. I usually have music in my head all day, like my own personal internal radio station, but mornings are the easiest to pin down. The results don't always overlap with that I actually like listening to, and are only tangentially related to what I listen to often. It seems like some songs are just more adhesive than others.
(You can fin the 2019 and 2018 lists on the link.)

This year there were 346 mornings when I woke up with a song in my head, which is more than ever before. I noted 149 different songs, returning with more or less frequency (compared to last year's 137, and 2018's 150).
The Top 5 is as follows:

First place with 15 mornings (a personal record):
(I actually like this one a lot, and in my opinion it is musically better than either Let it go or Into the Unknown.)

Second place with 13 mornings:
(I made the mistake of watching Greatest Showman, which is an awful movie, but the soundtrack is super enjoyable, and apparently was designed to stick forever and ever from now on. From now on...)

Third place with 12 mornings:
(Told ya)

Shared third place with also 12 mornings:

Fourth place with 10 mornings:
(It's all in the name... This person makes a mash-up of the year's pop hits every December, and 2019 was especially well done.)

Fifth place, 9 mornings:
(I'll talk about this album below)

Shared fifth place, also 9 mornings:

Sixth place, which is not technically Top 5, but I was very happy to wake up with this on 7 mornings:

The numbers by albums: Onbiously, Greatest Showman took the cake, with 58 mornings total (Other side 13, Greatest Show 12, From now on 9, Million dreams 7, This is me - Come alive - Rewrite the stars 4, Tightrope 4, Never enough 1). 

Second place goes to Birds of Prey, which was definitely my favorite soundtrack this year. I listened to it a lot, as it is great for confidently stomping around town. I woke up to it on 33 occasions, evenly distributed, which signals the quality of the album, methinks. (Feeling good 9, Joke's on you 5, Hit me with your best shot 4, I'm gonna love you 3, Smile 2, Sway with me 2, Lonely gun 2, Bad memory 2, Man's world 1, Experiment on me 1, Diamonds 1, Danger 1).

Third place goes to Hamilton, etched into my brain forever, popping up on 20 mornings. It is closely followed by 17 mornings of Moana (You're welcome 6, Shiny 5, We know the way 4, How far I'll go 2), and 16 of DJ Earworm, prominently featuring 2010 and 2017. The musical numbers of Magicians made an appearance on 14 mornings (One day more 7, Here I go again 5).

There are always days when my brain just goes to weird musical places. One of these WTF mornings was this lovely song, linked to me by the friend, listened to once (I was greatly amused), and then crawling back from the depths of my memory several weeks later. The other was a little tune with lyrics by a very creative friend of mine, Fanni Sütő

Who else has this thing with taking up to songs? What sticks in your head most often?...

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020 - The year in (good) books

This is the regularly scheduled end-of-the-year list of the most interesting books I read this year.

In 2020 I finished a total of 124 books, amounting to about 29000 pages. It is fewer books than last year, but more pages, which I guess means I read heftier volumes this year (and fewer comics). Out of these, 41 belonged to the "Following folktales around the world" reading challenge; I finished Africa, went through the Middle East and Central and South Asia, and I am 3 books away from the finish line! 
(There will be a sequel challenge, obviously.)

This year's top favorites

Space Opera (Catherynne M. Valente)
- My absolute favorite this year. I have always loved the author, but now that she's snorted the ashes of Douglas Adams she is writing even better. I loved the whole concept of the Intergalactic Eurovision Song Contest, and I loved every crazy sentence of this book.

Biological exuberance (Bruce Bagemihl) - An amazing, brick-sized, appropriately sourced scientific book on homo- and bisexuality in the animal world (limited to mammals and birds, for brevity; it's still 800 pages long). It is not only filed with amazing tidbits of information (e.g. how hummingbirds masturbate with leaves stuck in spiderwebs), but also re-frames how we think about what is "natural" - for example, the fact that sex among animals has never been only about procreation. It also includes intimacy, fun, and caring.

Complete stories (Dorothy Parker) - My first encounter with Dorothy Parker, in the shape of her short stories, and I am totally sold. Funny, witty, with deep emotions and laser-accurate social commentary. She doesn't make mistakes.

Twenty years after (Alexandre Dumas) - As a child, I loved The three musketeers and I read it many times, but I never got around to the sequel. Now, appropriately twenty years later, I thought it was time. I really enjoyed this book; I'd venture it is an even better novel than the first one. It was good to return to Dumas' world.

The Dreaming (Simon Spurrier) - I caught up on all volumes of this one at the end of the year, and I think this should be mandatory reading for all storytellers. The visual elements are surrel, and humor is great and dark, and the plot revolves around the nature of stories and dreams.

Harleen (Stjepan Šejić)
- A Harley Quinn origin story, with amazing art and a good plot. Definitely one of the best of the genre this year. 

Favorite non-fiction

The Last Battle (Stephen Harding) - A book on one of the last, and most interesting, battles of World War II, where American and German soldiers together defended a medieval castle full of French prisoners of war. Micro-history, parallel lives, and an actual siege. A really well written, detailed book, and a story that should have been a movie a long time ago.

The story of life in 25 fossils (Donald R. Prothero)
- I wanted to read about paleontology, and I came across this book. I really enjoyed how it used 25 famous finds (and the scientists who found and argued about them) to trace the history of life on Earth from the first microbes to humans. It was a fun read, and I learned a lot from it.

The disappearing spoon (Sam Keane) - Since I hated Chemistry as a teenager, I thought it would only be fair to give it a second try. This book traces the history of the periodic table, and the uses and most interesting features of the elements. There are a lot of anecdotes about scientific discovery, and easy-to-follow descriptions of how atoms work. 

Favorite storytelling books

Finn & the Fianna, Scottish Myths and Legends (Daniel Allison)
- Two great books from a Scottish professinal storyteller. Both reflect the liveliness of oral storytelling, and both are based on a lot of background research. I especially loved the Fianna book, which is hish praise, because I am very picky about Fianna stories. Lovely reads, I recommend both books to storytellers and story-lovers.

Woman writers and women's history

My story (Marilyn Monroe)
- I was never really interested in Marilyn before, but I came across her (unfinished) autobiography and I got curious. The person behind the words is likable and kind, and treated awfully by the age and the Hollywood she lived in.

Lieutenant Nun (Catalina de Erauso) - A nun in the early 1600s decided to leave the convent, dress as a man, and run away to South America to become a conquistador. And then years later wrote his autobiography, and handed it to the king. And asked for a pension. Noting that he was still an untouched virgin. Which, by the era's standards, was probably true, because he only had sex with (lots of) women... "I'm the devil", he says about herself, and he is not a likable or easily understood person (especially when it comes to colonial warfare), but his life is endlessly fascinating.
(Pronouns note: In the Spanish original "Lieutenant Nun" refers to himself in the masculine, with a few well-placed exceptions. So, technically this book is not by a woman author, but I included it here anyway.)

Wonderful adventures or Mrs. Seacole in many lands (Mary Seacole) - The autobiography of a woman who could have been as famous as Florence Nightingale. Free born in Jamaica, Mrs. Seacole's mother already ran a hospital, and yet she was not accepted by the British when she wanted to be a nurse in the Crimean war. Instead, Mother Seacole traveled to the Crimea on her own money, put up an inn and restaurant, and fed hearty home-cooked meals to "her boys." The book is witty, enjoyable, and fascinating.

The fossil hunter (Shelley Emling) - A well-written biography of Mary Anning, one of the first paleontologists in history from before "dinosaur" was even a word. It is a great read, although it made me endlessly sad that she got almost no credit for any of her work in her lifetime. 

Born to rebel (Mary Allsebrook)
- Biography of Harriet Boyd Hawes, archaeologist and nurse and jane-of-all-trades, written by her granddaughter using a lot of quotes from letters and diaries. She excavated Minoan palaces in Crete, and also established a hospital in World War I, among other adventures. The book is almost impossible to find, and she is not very well known, which is a shame, because she became one of my favorite historical women.

Wishful drinking, The princess diaries (Carrie Fisher) - I was missing Space Mom, so I read her books. What an amazing, witty lady.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020 - The year in (good) TV shows

I could claim that I had a lot of time to watch TV because of the lockdown... but honestly, I watch a lot of TV anyway, so it is not exactly anything out of the ordinary. I'll just own up to it:

I watched 101 TV series this year,
out of those I finished 73,
and 7 of them were re-watching binges.

New favorites
(In no particular order)

Brave new world - I admit, I have not read the book. I'm sure it is better than the adaptation, but with the lack of comparison I really enjoyed the show. Good actors, good world building, and while the moral is very much on the nose, I enjoyed the journey. Sadly, it has been cancelled.

- While on the topic of dystopias, here is another classic, starring Daveed Diggs. I liked the movie too, and the show takes it to a whole new level, in casting as well as world building. I still don't understand why the survivors of humanity require two train cars of lavender, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief on the altar of story and visuals. Second season coming soon.

Upload - This was the year of utopias and dystopias. Go figure. Upload is kind of Black Mirror Light, with a world where people can be uploaded into a virtual world after their death (for money). There is a love plot, and a lot of very obvious humor. There will be a second season. 

The plot against America - Talking about dystopias, here is a very strong alternative history miniseries from HBO (which may not be very far from our actual timeline). It creates a second world war where the USA elects a German-leaning president, and shows how politically generated discrimination trickles down into the everyday life of people. It is more complex than Man in the high castle. No news about a second season yet.

The Great
- Talking about alternative history: here is one of the lighter kind, about the early years of Catherine the Great. Solid casting, tongue-in-cheek story, grotesque humor. Second season coming up. Huzzah!

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - One of the feel-good surprises of the year. I started it as background noise, but it soon won me over with its upbeat humor and colorful musical numbers. If you want to watch something light, likable, and occasionally tear-jerking, I recommend this one.

Locke & Key - Out of this year's new fantasy shows, this one was probably my favorite. Creepy, trippy, dark, exciting, and obviously based on comics. It has been renewed for two more seasons.

Returning classics

The Mandalorian - Obviously. The second season sustained the well paced, likable, exciting space western we all expect and love. This show is single-handedly dragging the Star Wars Cinematic Universe out of the Sarlacc pit. 

Umbrella Academy - Watched the second season and liked it. The cast is still stellar, the soundtrack is memorable, and the plot was enjoyable too. Looking forward to the third one. 

Better Call Saul
- Even though I'm listing it among the returners, this show is still definitely top 3 for me overall. They can do no wrong. You are all invited to my TED talk about how BCS is much better done than Breaking Bad was. That's the gospel truth. 

Dragon Prince - Still lovable, fun, exciting, and warms the hearts of fans of Avatar and D&D alike. It also showcases how fantasy can get a whole lot better with more diversity. 

Doom Patrol - Talking about lovable: another top 3 for me, with the burnt out superheroes and their found family shenanigans. Anxiously awaiting season 3. Danny The Street For President. 

"Late to the party"
(Older series that I just got around to somehow)

The Boys
- One of my big new faves for this year. I have not read the comics yet, but the show is epic in many ways - casting, humor, message, action. The only problem is that I will never be able to watch a DC movie with a straight face again.
(Who am I kidding, I already can't.)

Cobra Kai - I never thought I'd be a fan of a Karate Kid show out of all things, but this one won me over big time. It is likable, fun, and has a lot of great nods to the original. Third season coming soon. We'll see.

Star Trek: Discovery - My big conversion for this year. The first season, in my opinion, was godawful and unwatchable, and I only started the second because I had nothing better to do. And yet, they managed to turn it around big time: it became coherent and darn likable, and they fixed a lot of the initial mistakes. This whole "big misfit family" thing fits them a lot better than the original plot.

Peaky Blinders - Better late than never. Although I am sure this wretched family will never, ever catch a break, I am looking forward to any upcoming.

Society - One of the fun fairy tale adaptations of the year. A group of teenagers has to rebuild society in an abandoned town, without adults.
(Bonus if you can name the original story.)

Outgoing favorites

- I bid a teary goodbye to High Queen Margo the Destroyer, and her merry band of messed up magicians. Good thing they had enough of a heads up that they could wrap the story very neatly. I already started a rewatch, because the boif has not seen it yet.

The Good Place - This series won a place in my hall of fame with the last season. It was likable, heartwarming, and gave us a lot to think about. A definite candidate for rewatch.

Shame, shame, same

Raised by wolves - I still can't get over WTF this show was meant to be. I have so many questions. Like... did they want to restart humanity with six embryos?... Why did they need a Dad Bot if Mom Bot was just as strong and more useful? And why did they not build a damn fence so humanity could not toddle off and die?... This show is the textbook definition of "you had one job."

Emily in Paris - Emily was the kind of American tourist I really wanted to slap in the face with a bagel. 

Another life - This one was actually pretty fun, especially with the classic sci-fi references, but I have a creeping suspicion that they meant it seriously. 

Cursed - Release Floki back into his natural habitat, you monsters!

Bridgerton - My Facebook friends can't agree whether this show was supposed to be a parody or not. That in itself says it all. The casting is amazing (Polly Walker is still a goddess), too bad they all have to appear in a mediocre bodice-ripping virgin-romance fantasy. 


I wonder how many of my favorites accidentally feature Giancarlo Esposito.

On a more serious note:

What were your favorites this year, and what are you looking forward to in 2021?