2016 has been a notoriously bleak year - one in which the hits just seem to keep on coming (RIP Carrie Fisher).
Yet there's a silver lining to every story, and there's been a healthy dose of pop culture to offer various brands of hope.
These are the 16 greatest happenings from the year for which I am most grateful.
1. I'm grateful to Batman vs Superman for giving us Wonder Woman
Diana Prince's introduction to Batman vs Superman was a lone bright spot in an otherwise overly serious and self-important comic book film. Her injection into the film's grand climax offered a brief bit of levity amidst the dour aesthetic: a sense of of spectacle, exuberant and daring. Already she's becoming a standout in an otherwise troubled DCEU.
2. I'm grateful to Person of Interest for beating the odds and going out on top
CBS was not kind to Person of Interest for its last season - airing the final run of 13 episodes in a short block of time, with little fanfare, and after the regular tv season had ended. Yet the show - one of the most thoughtful and intelligent genre mash-ups on television - still managed to go out on a creative high. Giving it not only a solid, unblemished run of seasons, but solidifying it as one of the greatest (if rather underrated) of its kind.
3. I'm grateful to Uncharted for knowing when and how to end
There was doubtless a temptation to let Uncharted run forever - as one of the most bankable and critically acclaimed video game franchises in the industry, it can sometimes be hard to know when to let go. Yet Naughty Dog wisely chose to do so while it was on top. A Thief's End offered a definitive end to Nathan Drake's story - an adventure as personal and poignant as it was high-stakes thrilling. And in the process, they clinched the series (and its lead character) as one of the all-time greats.
4. I'm grateful to Agents of SHIELD for thriving as the underdog
As the MCU expands, one gets the greater sense that Agents of SHIELD has become the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. Lacking the critical love of the Netflix series, and the mainstream notoriety of the films, the show has still managed to endure as one of the best and most consistent comic book shows around. Working from a template of almost entirely original characters, it handily borrows elements from the comics (Inhumans and Ghost Rider) while also making the MCU feel more ongoing and lived-in than any other property in the universe. It may not get much love from its overlords, but it deserves all the love it gets from its fans.
5. I'm grateful to Mirror's Edge Catalyst for expanding on its potential
The original Mirror's Edge had all the trappings of a little game-that-could: a modest, cult hit, boasting original platforming mechanics, a magnetic lead character, and the sense that - given the opportunity - it could be so much more than its flaws. Though Catalyst was a long time coming, it didn't disappoint: successfully evolving the best parts of the game into broad new territory. Including a rich new sandbox world, slick-smooth gameplay, and new levels of user-generated content. Would that all sequels or reboots could be this good.
6. I'm grateful to Zootopia for examining diversity
Zootopia was one of the most surprising and subversively smart movies of the year - a seemingly otherwise Disney fare offered a nuanced look at diversity, and how living alongside those that are different from you can foster unrealized prejudices. And yet the film tackles the issues with a refreshing honesty; how micro-prejudices can still be harmful, how intrinsic they can be to who we are, and yet the need to overcome them and stop being fearful of those that are different from us. All of which bears with it a wonderful embrace of that diversity: that we are better as a people for our differences.
7. I'm grateful to Miyazaki for coming back to Dark Souls one last time
Dark Souls II was, by almost any measure, not a bad game. But it did lack a certain je ne sais quoi. The sense of unified vision in grand purpose being channeled through an exceptional environment that, in turn, suggested a layered storyworld and narrative. But Miyazaki returned for the third - and probably final - game in the series, and brought together everything best about the Dark Souls series and its outliers. The visceral combat of Bloodborne, the interconnected world of Dark Souls, and all the rich lore that comes with it. Ending the series in tragic and majestic fashion - just as we've come to expect from the master himself.
8. I'm grateful to the MCU for continually testing its limits
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the envy of many a studio executive, and with good reason. Year by year, it expands itself into new territory, keeping its own material fresh by regularly introducing new characters and concepts, enriching the growing universe. This year was no less an impressive feat in two very distinctive ways. Captain America: Civil War delved into what can be accomplished by bring multiple characters together on-screen - the superhero fun, the inter-personal conflict, and the character drama. While Doctor Strange introduced the concept of magic, and all the high-concept mania that comes with it. As 2016 ends, the MCU is once again poised to just keep getting better.
9. I'm grateful to No Man's Sky for giving me so many memorable moments
No Man's Sky offers an unusually enticing (if somewhat niche) gaming experience, in a slow paced, near-infinite universe of exploration Each new moon or planet explored - each new system that is traversed - may boast very different sets of dangers and elements and settings to be uncovered. And the beauty of the game comes in no small part from those unscripted moments. Encountering other star travelers in a star system painted entirely in shades of green, or drifting over an ocean world while flying creatures flock around you and the sun sets into a melancholy blue. More than almost anything else, this is a game that constantly asks the player to stop and enjoy the moment.
10. I'm grateful to Arrow for reminding me that creative resurgences do happen
While once the top of the genre, Arrow's fourth season was a troubling affair: an unfocused story arc, an out-of-place (if entertaining) big bad, and an overreliance on the show's more melodramatic elements. Yet fifth season has been a return to form, with refreshed energy, and a return to the greatness of the early years. Better usage of characters, more enticing villains, complex morality, and a growing confidence in where this is all headed. In turn, the show has once again reclaimed its place not just as the best in Arrowverse, but as the very best in the genre.
11. I'm grateful to Arrival for proving that enemies can be turned into allies
Arrival is a film all about language, and the important role of communication in our communities. This concept is channeled through the film's larger tale of alien arrival, and what it portends for humanity as they attempt to communicate with these visitors. Tension and conflict comes not directly from the aliens themselves, but rather from humanity's increasing unwillingness to cooperate during the crisis. And the film's resolution is provided not by defeating or winning out over enemies working in conflict, but by reaching out, communicating, and establishing both parties on the same side. It's the kind of thoughtful consideration that's never been more relevant a reminder.
12. I'm grateful to Rise of the Tomb Raider for further humanizing Lara
Once one of the most sexualized figures in the video game industry, Lara Croft has enjoyed a refreshing resurgence. Thanks to the reboot of the series, 2013's Tomb Raider and now Rise of the Tomb Raider have done wonders to explore and emphasize Lara as a human being. A driven, intelligent young woman who struggles to balance her family's legacy alongside her own ambitious goals toward archaeology and discovery. In turn, it's made her one of the strongest video game leads in any series.
13. I'm grateful to Star Trek: Beyond for remembering what it means to be Star Trek
The Star Trek reboots have been, to say the least, controversial - with Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness veering the franchise away from its science fiction roots, and into the arms of action thriller. But Beyond proved a refreshing course correction that was a relief as much as anything else. While still boasting the high action set-pieces, the film also took time for other elements: strong character dynamics, the sense of exploration, and the expression of ideas (we're stronger together than we are apart). Throw in some godlike powers and the discovery of a lost Starfleet vessel, and the whole thing graciously hearkens back to the best of Classic Star Trek.
14. I'm grateful to Moana for reminding me the importance of heritage
Moana offers a refreshing take on much of the traditional Disney princess ideal: a Pacific Islander girl, who's preparing to be a leader for her people, while struggling to learn who she is. Beyond that, the film is just as invested in considering where people come from. And how losing of that heritage can mean a loss of direction and self. Re-discovery of that heritage is an important part of the story, and it reminds us all that where you come from is just as important as where you're going.
15. I'm grateful to Arrowverse for knowing what fun is
Not only have all four Arrowverse series shown an uptick in quality this season, but the universe itself took an even bigger step when it brought all four together for a massive crossover event. The results were a wildly entertaining affair, centered around an alien invasion that brings together characters from across all four shows. Each individual outing managed a near-perfect balance of character drama, humor, and superhero spectacle. Once again, Arrowverse is already proving itself a more effective competitor for the MCU than the DCEU.
16. I'm grateful to Rogue One for showing that war isn't cut and dry
Star Wars is a franchise that is well-known for the extremities of its morality: the purity of good fighting against the most absolute forms of evil. Rogue One is the first real film to offer a refreshing alternate perspective, particularly when it comes to fighting a war. An architect for the empire is labeled a collaborator, and yet builds a weakness into his designs to give the Rebellion a chance; a faction leader fighting the Empire proves extremist and dangerous in his methods for bringing hurt to his enemies; a cargo pilot for the Empire willingly defects and gives his life for the other side; a Rebel soldier, ashamed of past misdeeds committed for the cause, struggles with his own sense of heroism. It's a great reminder that even when there are extremes in those moralities, there can still also be plenty of gray area in between.