Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, a newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, retrospectives, recommendations, and more. You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article to receive future editions in your inbox.
Believe it or not, it’s already been a year since we launched our twice-monthly newsletter and column about the best (and worst) in rural media, entertainment, and pop culture. How the time flies. Over the past 12 months we’ve written about a variety of movies, television series, books, and more, all through a rural lens. As we turn the page, it’s an opportune moment for another roundup, highlighting some of the best stuff we missed in 2022 and looking ahead to some things we might be writing about in 2023.
The Best of the Rest
When we first began this project, there was a small bit of doubt to overcome. The first question was, would there be enough “rural” entertainment on offer to keep us going strong on a regular schedule? As it turns out, our shelves were plenty stocked, and there were even more things to write about than what we had time and space to cover. Here are a few things that didn’t quite make the cut but we’d be remiss to overlook.
I’ve already made the case that Star Wars is an inherently rural story and that its many iterations are at their best when they remember that fact. So I don’t need to re-state my argument on that front. Instead, I can focus on the matter at hand, that the franchise’s newest series, “Andor,” might be the best Star Wars has ever been. There are some memorable rural settings here per usual, and they’re used to lift up relevant real-world concerns, including environmental and criminal justice, among other things. But across the board, “Andor” is an expertly plotted and richly layered political drama, focused on the rigors of cultivating a revolutionary movement and the realities of living under an emerging totalitarian state. Similar to HBO’s “Watchmen” from a few years ago, “Andor” is using an iconic and ubiquitous pop cultural toolbox to do something transcendent. Even if you’re more than burnt out on the galaxy far, far away, I highly recommend you give “Andor” a shot. It was on the top of my personal list of “must-see TV” for 2022.
The first season of Andor is streaming on Disney Plus.
The current entertainment landscape is inundated with reboots, sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. At a glance, “Prey” — the latest attempt to resuscitate the Predator franchise — could be filed comfortably within this category as just another example of rapacious milking of corporate-owned IP. But there’s no denying, “Prey” stood out as one of the best “blockbuster” films from 2022. It succeeded by going back to basics, executing on the core fundamentals of the 1987 film, while adding a vital twist: it took the action back to the Great Plains of 1719 and replaced the original story’s modern military commandos with a tribe of Comanche warriors. For me, an admitted non-fan of the franchise, this is the best Predator installment, without question. It’s only a shame that “Prey’s” streaming-exclusive release seems to have muted the impact it had in 2022. The sweeping plains, the compelling Indigenous cast, and the tightly choreographed action scenes all would have thrived on a movie theater screen.
Prey is streaming on Hulu.
For much of my life, I’ve steered clear of the horror genre entirely, but as noted in one of our previous editions, some of the most interesting indie films of our time are coming out of the horror scene. There’s also a strong rural history in horror, which we hope to continue exploring. In that spirit, I’ve been working up my courage and taking a chance on more scary movies. It’s been a worthwhile endeavor, as it led me toward two of the best things I watched in 2022 — the films “Barbarian” and “The Witch.” Alas, the former is decidedly not rural, and the latter is decidedly old. Fortunately, another solid offering that better checks the boxes also made its way into my rotation; the 2022 film “X” closely follows the template of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and other slasher flicks from the horror canon, while adding some modern self-awareness into the mix. I’m still developing the knowledge and vocabulary necessary to write about these works with confidence, but you can bank on this much right from the jump: “X” is a visceral and lurid thrill-ride of a movie, and, as testament to the assuredness of its storytelling, it generated two rapid-fire sequels, one, “Pearl,” also released in 2022, and another, “Maxxxine,” is soon to come in 2023.
X is streaming on Showtime and is also available to buy or rent on disc and via digital media platforms.
My colleague Anya Slepyan offers this look back at one of her favorite books from 2022:
This recommendation is not so much for one book as it is for a series of seven books — first the four-book “Raven Cycle,” followed by “The Dreamer Trilogy” — but the last book, “Greywaren,” came out this year, so here it is! Hanging out in the gray area between young adult and “new adult” fantasy, the series follows first a group of friends, then a trio of brothers, as they discover and harness the magic of dreams. Both series are centered in the fictional rural town of Henrietta, Virginia, a place where the natural energy of ley lines is strong enough to sustain magical forests, demons, Welsh myths, herds of dreamt cattle, and hundreds of identical Mitsubishis pulled from thin air. The series contains psychics, farmers, hit men, industrial sabotage, angsty teens, angsty teen romances, and journeys deep into the subconscious. The latter series also spends an equal amount of time contemplating the world of visual art and critiquing ecofascism, so I promise it’s a lot of fun!
Greywaren (as well as the rest of The Dreamer Trilogy) is available in print and ebook format from your local library or wherever books are sold.
With a year of stories under our belt, the question we must now confront is this: what rural entertainment might we turn our attention to in the new year? The calendar is packed with high-profile releases, and a quick look ahead offers some early ideas of where good rural fodder might emerge.
The first time I heard the tale of the cocaine bear was via a telling from Daily Yonder publisher Dee Davis. I had somehow missed the original news reporting on this true(ish) story, and it wasn’t long after I heard Dee’s version that I saw Hollywood was preparing its own take on it. In my case, they’ll have their work cut out for them to match Dee’s dramatic flair, but it’s not hard to see how this might become an unexpected hit, a cult classic, or at least a 2023 conversation starter, propelled by novelty and continued word of mouth.
Cocaine Bear is set to release in theaters on February 24, 2023.
Fans of the meticulously hand-crafted, warm and cozy films of Wes Anderson reportedly have two releases to look forward to in 2023, and one of them quickly garnered our attention. “Asteroid City” is said to take place in a small desert town and follow a series of unexpected events at a Junior Stargazer convention. Our enthusiasm for dark skies and rural stargazing is well-documented, and that setup sounds like a great match for Anderson’s quirky, endearing sensibilities. Plus, as is usually the case with Anderson, the film boasts a ridiculously stacked ensemble cast.
Asteroid City is set for wide release in theaters on June 23, 2023.
Killers of the Flower Moon
“Killers of the Flower Moon,” the latest film from acclaimed director Martin Scorsese, is an adaptation of a nonfiction book by the same name. Set on the Osage Indian Nation during the 1920s, the book offered an in-depth investigation of crimes, conspiracies, and dozens of deaths that followed the discovery of oil beneath Osage land in Oklahoma. I wasn’t much for “The Irishman,” Scorsese’s most recent offering, but I’m eager to see what he and his usual cadre of collaborators bring to this material, described on the author’s website as “utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.”
Killers of the Flower Moon is expected to release in theaters and on Apple TV+ sometime in 2023.
A Quick TV Guide
There will be no shortage of TV and streaming series on offer in 2023 as well. On Disney Plus, “The Mandalorian” returns for more cowboy and samurai inspired adventures in March, while the Marvel Cinematic Universe will debut its first series with an Indigenous hero in the lead with “Echo.” HBO is back with more episodes of “Somebody Somewhere,” plus its mystery-thriller “True Detective,” which heads to rural Alaska for its fourth season (following the example of the soon to resume “Alaska Daily”). FX’s “Reservation Dogs” is also set to roll out its third season sometime in 2023. And for any fans of Archie Comics, the bonkers CW adaptation “Riverdale” will go back to the 1950s time period of the original source material for its seventh and final season. This just scratches the surface of many new and returning series on the docket. We have a few others on our radar, but we’ll save some surprises for the weeks and months to come.
This article first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, recommendations, retrospectives, and more. Join the mailing list today to have future editions delivered straight to your inbox.