We’ve presented The Best of 2022 in our previous post; now, it’s PSA time 😉
Fortunately for you, it’s going to be a much shorter post. There’s no need to wallow in misery of the disappointments and unfortunate choices, or to taste the lingering, unpleasant rot of bad books, movies and TV series more than strictly necessary. And also, this past year was marked by careful deliberation and lucky strikes on our part, thus rendering the list of the bad and worse rather short.
Ola: Let’s start traditionally, with books. My biggest bookish disapointment of 2022 was, in a way, something to be expected: Joe Abercrombie’s The Wisdom of Crowds (2021) did not constitute a sudden dip in quality, a remarkable pivot in writing skill or storytelling panache; on the contrary, this was a culmination of a long and winding way to perdition through the sins of authorial hubris and sloth. This was the moment of parting ways between me and Abercrombie, and although I’m certain he and his fanbase won’t notice my absence, it does bear some significance for me – a confirmation of a long-held suspicion that grimdark is in its essence as juvenile and simplistic as whatever it rages against.
My next disappointing read came from Netgalley and could serve as the illustration of the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Gideon Defoe’s An Atlas of Extinct Countries (2021) promised a fun romp through history and geography, but emphatically did not deliver. Avoid this like a plague. Ooops, these days this saying kind of acquired additional meanings ;).
The title I want to mention belongs to the manga category. One of them is Tite Kubo’s Bleach, a long-time fan-favourite which proved so traumatically bad that I renamed it to Bleh. If you want to see the worst in manga, you don’t need to look any further. Try Bleh, or One Punch Man, and you’ll realize manga also has its tropes, weaknesses, and shameful pandering to the lowest instincts of teenage boys. To be fair, there were also some pretty weak volumes of Naruto along the way, but I am willing to overlook their weaknesses because they are followed by some truly great ones. That’s the thing about manga – it lasts for hundreds of volumes, and inevitably some of these will be fillers, but for the titles I read and love the overall quality remains astonishingly high.
And lastly, one re-read. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Even the wonderful narration of Stephen Fry couldn’t help this rotten egg of a book. Oh, the teenage angst! As I mentioned in my GR review,
“It’s way too long, boring and terribly angsty, and for me it’s simply the worst part of the whole series. I had a hard time going through the entire book, because Harry’s angry special snowflakiness just grated on my nerves so much. Also, the glaring logical holes that this time around I couldn’t overlook even when I tried.
It was a re-read, and sadly looks like none of HP books can entirely live up to the first encounter – the first time around this one got 6/10 stars ;)”
Piotrek: I had some strong candidates to my “Best of 2022” lists. “Worst of…” lists aren’t as full. I was cautious in my selection, and most of the things I did not particularly like where kind of good, just not my thing.
Two things I rated quite low were R.A. Salvatore’s “The Legend of Drizzt” and a Polish biography of Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The second one is easy to judge – a hastily put together and published in March, to quickly cash in on his sudden popularity, but devoid of any deeper analysis, just a bunch of facts you can find anywhere and totally hagiographic. I admire the guy, but I expect more from book authors.
Salvatore… I read several D&D books in elementary school and revisited a few in my 30-ties, basically all were disappointments. I’ve listened to a few interviews with Salvatore and he’s a perfectly nice guy, full of anecdotes about the industry… so, I’d rather listen to him speak that read his books. I feel a bit guilty now.
The other thing that wasn’t a travesty, but that I enjoyed far less than I thought I would, was K.J. Parker’s series, or at least two first volumes I’ve read. Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City was ok, not brilliant, a bit too trying to be funny, more anachronistic than I like… I gave it 7/10 for originality. How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It I think just cashes in on what readers like about the first one by giving us more of the same, even more exaggerated and, for me, it was just too much. Did not try the third one.
Ola: I quite enjoyed Sixteen Ways…, but not enough to read the sequel. I’d agree it’s not a masterpiece, but it’s pretty solid. The fact that it merits a mention on our The Worst of… list means you’ve had a really great reading year!
Piotrek: Sixteen Ways… isn’t really part of the list, but the sequel is.
Two comments on Ola’s choices. When it comes to Order of Phoenix I remember liking it a lot, when I read it looong time ago. Now my 9yo niece is reading it for the first time, so I’m very curious about her opinion. I don’t feel a strong urge to re-read HP, and I read a lot of fanfics some years ago, so I’m no longer sure what is actually canon… but reading such a harsh opinion seems like a heresy to me.
“Bleach” is quite old and I read it years and years ago, perhaps close to 15. One of the first serious epic mangas I read. And I quite liked the first archs, enough to read a lot of this never-ending saga, long past it stopped making any sense. It’s a great illustration of all the traps many manga authors fall into – often due to pressure from publishers, no doubt.
Ola: Now, for the visual media. Disney rules in this category for me, as all three TV series on my The Worst of 2022 list were produced by the House of Mouse. The inglorious first place should probably go to Obi-Wan Kenobi, a truly horrid -and horribly efficient – effort to destroy everything that was fun and cool about Star Wars. Man, don’t let me start on this. This series is like a Greek tragedy on a meta level: the actors are in constant search of the plot, but their quest is doomed from the start. Their roles are written so badly and cringily that I am almost ready to believe in a high-level Disney conspiracy to kill the Star Wars franchise by any means. The amount of messing up the chronology and logic of events, as well as the psychology and motivations of the protagonists of the original trilogy (notwithstanding the efforts by Lucas himself to botch it all in his second trilogy) is simply staggering. Who said you cannot rewrite the past? Disney certainly proves them wrong :P.
Second place goes to She-Hulk, which I was able to see only one episode of. And believe me, I wish I could erase this experience from my memory completely. I actually needed to make sure it was actually only one episode, for a fraught moment I was certain this lasted for a whole eternity of damnation. The sheer pride this series displays in showing off its stupidity is astounding. Also, the “feminist” angle which suddenly is all about reversing paternalism and not equality is truly mind-boggling in 2022. A revenge fantasy about a powerful green woman who’s better at everything than men. Really? Is this what the producers think women need? Even if there’s an audience for this kind of narrative, Shrek did it better – funnier, and smarter.
Third place goes ex equo to the second season of Netflix’s The Witcher – which I stopped watching after a couple of episodes, as it was too freaking irritating to bear any longer, a truly astounding exercise in being as far from original as possible – in intent, motivation, execution, and the story itself – and to Disney’s Willow, which was so incoherent and illogical, in mood, plot, characters and everything except for nice views, that I am baffled to this day as to the very idea behind this series. I enjoyed the original movie, and have a bit of nostalgia for it, but never considered it a masterpiece requiring any sequels, or prequels, or much thought, really. And yet, the new Disney series really made me think about the way the movie and tv production works these days. It seems you don’t really need a script. Or a plot. Or believeable characters. You just need a vehicle for monetary gains. Spin it right, get some known names attached to your project, and people will pay to watch whatever shows on the screen. Willow isn’t horribly bad per se, like Obi-Wan or She-Hulk, but isn’t good either. It tries to be funny, very hard, but fails. It tries to be wondrous, but only manages to ape more successful shows and movies, stealing everything from everywhere and mangling it all into a haphazard collage of pieces that just don’t fit. A collection of bratty teenagers on a quest could’ve been fun, at least in theory, but not when injected with a lethal dose of Mary-Sue-ness and a suicidally high factor of unlikability of the characters.
Anyway, let’s end this litany of sadness. Last, but not least, is the worst movie of the year. Ta-da!!! I present to you The Matrix: Resurrections. There were so many things wrong with this money-grab ill-disguised as a movie that I finished watching this and was speechless. Not even spluttering, mind you. No, I simply didn’t even want to start talking, because what can you say when there’s simply no redeeming quality in sight? It was a minute of silence for what had started so splendidly back in 1999 as one of the most ambitious and mind-bending SF movies of all time and degenerated into a regurgitated, repetitive, misused, illogical sequence of unrelated scenes devoid of any emotional or intellectual content. Part vanity project, part money-grab, part personal therapy and part “oh, we’re in deep shit but so much money was invested we’d be litigated out of our minds if we don’t finish this hateful, useless trash,” the newest Matrix is a dirge for both the ambition and imagination of the Wachowskis and for an era of original cinematic content.
As I said to Bookstooge in the comments,
Don’t watch Matrix 4, it’s a crash and burn through and through, an absolutely demeaning experience. I was more sad than angry afterwards, kind of guilty of even watching it. It’s like watching a train wreck, or a revered elderly person making a drunken, nasty fool of themselves, you know? An implicit in it is the fact that through observing it you’re somehow being affected, and getting that awful miasma on yourself.
Piotrek:I haven’t seen Kenobi, She-Hulk nor The Witcher, not past the first seasons and that was when it premiered. I find it kind of funny Ola even risked watching all these 😉
Ola: What can I say? I’m an intrepid explorer in the name of greater good 😛
Piotrek: But I really enjoyed Willow. Is it in any way great? No, obviously not. It’s pretty, silly, but enjoyable. My nostalgia for the original movie, I think the first fantasy movie I remember seeing as a kid, definitely made me want to like it, but I also wanted to like Drizzt – and I just couldn’t. This, I did, and I’ll watch the rest when it arrives.
2022 movies… haven’t seen many of them yet, let me think. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore was silly, but not in an enjoyable way. I don’t remember much after a few months and this is probably a blessing. The Gray Man, a spy thriller with Gosling and Evans, was a high budget catastrophe with some nice scenes, but an absurdly dumb script. All this money could have been spent so much better.
Altogether, a great year, I just hope I’ll be as good at avoiding bad stuff in 2023 🙂