2015 was a year of discovery for many of us—amazing new cultural, political, and technological phenomena that made our lives better, easier, or at least more interesting. We asked Fusion's staff to tell us about the best thing they discovered in 2015, whether it was a book, a TV show, a gadget, or something else entirely. Here's what they said.
Sunblock stick — Mona Panchal, senior digital producer
Sunblock stick was a game-changer for me, because you can rub it on pretty much anywhere (on your body or out and about, i.e. a sandy beach). Need to reapply more on your tender neck, shoulders, and nose? Just rub some more of that stick on! I realize that 70 SPF doesn’t really exist, but this is the first sunblock I don’t mind reapplying throughout the day. Also, it doesn’t explode in my bag. I am pretty agnostic on brands, I just like the stick formulation.
W1A (the BBC TV show) — Felix Salmon, senior editor
No one does self-lacerating humor quite like the British, no one in Britain does it better than the BBC, and no one at the BBC has ever done it better than the team behind W1A, which is quite possibly the fastest, funniest show ever made about institutional bureaucracy. Starring Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as a high-level BBC functionary grappling with Byzantine office politics and trendy management techniques, W1A is required viewing for anybody who has ever worked in a large organization. Come for David Tennant’s deadpan narration, stay for the social-media jokes! Best of all, the first two seasons are available on Netflix. Bet you can’t watch just one.
Christopher Elbow chocolates — Kashmir Hill, Real Future editor
They are the most beautiful chocolates you’ve ever seen, and taste like magic. They will wipe the terrible taste of this whole Mast catastrophe out of your mouth.
Babel-17 (book)— Ethan Chiel, news reporter
Babel-17 isn’t particularly obscure, but I came to it late, and so I want to make sure anyone in the same boat has the chance to find it. It’s a wonderful science fiction novel that Samuel R. Delany published in 1966. (Delaney’s probably better known for writing his also-wonderful stream-of-consciousness tome Dhalgren almost 10 years later). Babel-17 is, as far as I’m concerned, a space opera about language, where the key weapon in an interstellar war is an artificially developed language. The book is brief, but uses that brevity to its advantage. At times the writing feels frantic, but in an ecstatic, almost gleeful way that pulls you along with it. It’s worth going for the ride.
Smartphone gimbal — Alexis Madrigal, editor-in-chief
So, everyone else discovered selfie-sticks this year. That’s fine. But I want to tell you about something much awesomer. It’s called a gimbal—basically, it’s an attachment for your phone that lets you take amazing video by stabilizing your camera with gyroscopes and little motors. I know it sounds bananas. And it is. But when I captured my son riding his scooter down the street with a Birdman-perfect following shot, I was sold. Maybe don’t buy one now—unless you’re a nerd—but soon, these things will be even cheaper (less than the $200 they are now) and will be as easy to use as slipping on a case.
Korean TV shows – Dodai Stewart, culture editor
A hard-working poor girl lands a scholarship to a fancy prep school and falls for a mean, arrogant rich boy. A soap opera actress walks in front of a truck and an out-of-this-world hot guy saves her life (he's from another planet). A nun masquerades as a young man and joins a One Direction-style boyband. Yes, 2015 was the year I discovered Korean TV.
K-dramas, as they're known, have BILLIONS of viewers in Asia, but are just starting to gain momentum in the U.S. They're basically mini-series—each show has just one season—and the romantic comedy plots explore love, class, destiny, family responsibility, gender roles, beauty and expectations. Every episode ends mid-scene—often mid-conversation—in a cliffhanger designed to force you into watching the next episode immediately. In addition, since there are subtitles, you're forced to actually PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE and pay attention. (Some are available on Netflix, and others are on DramaFever. Here's a list of some of my favorites.)
It's been a year of getting sucked into complicated, delightful plots, a year of peeking through a window into a new culture, and a year of taking entertainment downtime seriously. It's literally changed my life.
Undertale (game) — Patrick Hogan, news reporter
It's the best video game I've ever played in my life.
Two Dots (game) — Isha Aran, sex and life reporter
Nothing has defined my 2015 quite like Two Dots, the mobile game that launched May of last year but didn’t find its way onto my phone and into my life until early this year. The game itself is simple: Connect some dots, solve some dot-related puzzles in a given amount of moves, and rack up the points. But the game has come to mean so much more to me, namely an intimate exploration of maddening frustration and sheer joy.
I remember the wave of unfulfilled relief when the devs fixed level 242, a level I had been stuck on for weeks, a level so difficult that apparently it was a bug. I remember when I accidentally dropped my old phone in a bar toilet but didn’t freak out until I discovered that my over-300 levels of Two Dots progress were completely lost. I remember picking myself back up, (connecting to Facebook to save my progress), and restarting the game from Level 1.
So thank you Two Dots for teaching me patience, minimal strategic thinking, and that sometimes those color monster things can really be your closest ally.
Silence — Ari Phillips, senior editor
I moved to New York City earlier this year and have since discovered silence, which I now know as that very special thing I rarely get to experience. Sometimes it appears briefly, early in the morning, between the cacophonous garbage collection outside my bedroom window and the commuter rush to the subway. On Friday nights, when I really want it, instead there is unyielding honking of the especially aggressive nature that emanates from jammed traffic. Sometimes when I’m walking it sets in for a minute and I start to let my mind wander through it, and then someone yells at their smartphone. Sometimes I try and summon it by putting headphones in with no sound. When I sit on my balcony with a beer, I find it on life support at the very active hospital two blocks away. I always knew silence existed, but I never looked for it before. The biggest discoveries can be of the things you no longer have.
You Must Remember This (podcast) — Molly Fitzpatrick, deputy culture editor
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been much fun to hang out with in the last few weeks, because all I want to do is talk about Charles Manson—and if not about Manson himself, then about Leslie Van Houten, Roman Polanski, or perhaps even Dennis Wilson. It’s rare that I have a legitimate excuse for my antisocial behavior, so I’m milking this one for all it’s worth: I blame the podcast You Must Remember This, which explores “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.”
As someone who a) loves classical Hollywood and b) is prone to pettiness, my initial reaction to learning the premise of this show was jealousy that I hadn’t thought of it myself. That saltiness immediately dissipated once I listened. Creator and host Karina Longworth is so good at what she does that it’s impossible to imagine anyone taking her place.
Released this spring and summer, Longworth’s 12-part series on the Manson Family and the Tate-LaBianca murders is far more than a grisly true crime story—it’s an immersive, telescoping narrative of New Hollywood and the incredibly broad cultural reverberations brought about by the ideological end of the 1960s.
But the Manson episodes are just the beginning. Every installment of You Must Remember This is a meticulously researched gem, characterized both by Longworth’s dry wit and compassion for her subjects. Some of my favorites from what I’ve heard so far: “Mia Farrow in the 1960s” (especially the second half, which also discusses the life of songwriter Dory Previn), “The Short Lives of Bruce and Brandon Lee,” and “Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.”
The West Wing (again) — John Patteson, VP of business operations
It was before Sorkin was Sorkin, before all the political situations they depict went ahead and happened, and before Bradley Whitford gained all that new hair on Transparent.
Diet Cig (band) — Michael Rosen, news reporter
Catch me on any given day, and I’m probably listening to some real sad music. My favorite type of song is one about death. My second favorite type of song is one about how life is meaningless. But sometimes, I’m not trying to listen to songs with lyrics like “I know I'm a pile of filthy wreckage/You will wish you'd never touch,” and that’s when I listen to the band Diet Cig, gifted to me by Spotify Discover. They’re loud and fun and dance-y and say stuff like “fuck your Ivy League sweater.” Time to party!
AirfareWatchdog.com — Kevin Roose, news director
I love to travel, but I am cheap, indecisive, and an extremely bad advance planner. So I thank my stars for AirfareWatchdog, a travel site with human employees who spend their days scouring airline sites for last-minute deals, promotions, and temporary low fares that other cheap-flight sites don't catch. I don't often know where I want to go when I travel, just that I want to go somewhere, and AirfareWatchdog lets you input your home airport—in my case, San Francisco—and see all of the crazy-cheap deals originating there for the next several months. (You can't often choose exact dates, but that's the downside of spontaneous travel.)
I recently used AirfareWatchdog to book extremely cheap tickets to Thailand—and I follow the site on Twitter just to daydream about all of the possibilities. Would I go from Dallas to Denver for $42? Or Washington, D.C. to Quito, Ecuador for $340?
The NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp — Kelsey McKinney, culture writer
2015 is the year I started sitting in front of a light like a droopy plant.
I started this year off in a terrible mood. I felt sleepy all the time, and could barely get through my day at work without feeling like everything was fruitless and nothing was worthwhile. I wasn't sure how to dress for my new life in a state with winter, and I failed miserably at layering. In July, I went to see a new primary care physician, and she ran me through a typical list of questions. When she asked me if I ever felt sad and like nothing mattered, I said yes, earlier this year I had felt that way, but I didn't anymore. It took her two minutes to diagnose me with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
I asked if I should go back on antidepressants, and she kind of chuckled and said she'd email me a link and we could reevaluate later if we needed to. The link led to an Amazon page with a square white plastic sunlamp. I hated it because it was ugly and looked bad on my desk when it arrived. She told me to use it between two and four times a day, depending on how I felt for the entirety of daylight savings.
I use the sunlamp every time I start to feel grouchy and it fucking works. Sometimes, I'm just grouchy, but most times it's just winter bearing her cold, cold mood down on me. I sit in front of my happy lamp every day and its been long enough now that I can say that it's not just a placebo effect. The sun lamp is great. I wish I could take it everywhere with me, but it plugs into the wall.
Hollywood Handbook (podcast) — David Matthews, news reporter
The best thing I discovered in 2015 was Hollywood Handbook, a very funny and very ridiculous podcast. The show stars Hayes and Sean, who in real life are TV writers, but in the universe they’ve created on the show are Hollywood big shots who also happen to be colossal idiots. If you don’t make yourself look like a weirdo while laughing uncontrollably in public while they improvise a table read or get Tom Scharpling to “break” over several episodes, I can’t help you. Ah-woooo, baby.
The Great British Bake-Off (TV show) — Danielle Wiener-Bronner, news reporter
Like many Americans, the best thing I discovered in 2015 was The Great British Bake-Off (or, as it is called on U.S. Netflix., The Great British Baking Show). This is now my favorite television show, after Frasier. GBBO is basically the same as any other competitive cooking or baking show: There are tasks, constraints, time limits, and judgment. The best baker earns an accolade and the worst gets kicked off.
But GBBO, unlike literally every other competition-based reality show I’ve ever seen, does not set the stage for drama. The baking show takes place entirely on the weekends, and in between episodes the contenders—all amateurs—go home and lead their normal lives. Over the week, they have the chance to practice bakes for the competition. They don’t bunk together or miss their families and their jobs and wonder, presumably, whether ditching their lives for several weeks to be on TV was a good idea.
Because of this, the drama of each episode is contained in the stakes at hand: Is this cake lavish enough? Do the flavors work? Will it bake in time? This sounds boring, but it is not.
Sadly, it’s hard to (legally) watch GBBO seasons that aren’t on Netflix, which offers only one (the show aired on BBC Two in 2010, and a sixth season is under way). You can watch a four-episode American version called The Great Holiday Baking Show on ABC, which has the same structure, if you’d like. But the U.S. version isn’t nearly as good.
Note to Self — Laura Wides-Munoz, director of news practices
Note to Self mostly makes me feel like I'm listening to a much cooler version of myself ask all the tech questions I've wondered.
Beautiful Lengths — Rachel Schallom, interactive designer
I started growing my hair out in graduate school when I couldn’t afford haircuts. Earlier this year, it was super long, and for months I annoyed my friends with continual questions on if I should donate it. I had donated it twice before, but I was nervous. Then I found Beautiful Lengths, the organization run by Pantene that collects ponytails to make wigs for women with cancer. Unlike similar organizations, they only require a donation of 8 inches of hair, instead of 10 or 12. That helped me make the leap. Now I’m using Pantene’s “Beautiful Lengths” shampoo to grow it out and start the process all over.
Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay — Aleksander Chan, senior editor
I am not ashamed to say I have great skin. After toiling through many tortured teenage years and most of my adult life with persistent, occasionally painful, and definitely traumatizing cystic acne, I now walk the streets of New York City with the radiant glow of a newborn with stubble. My secret? A three-part solution: 1) Finding a dermatologist just itching to prescribe what my mother fondly refers to as "lotions and potions" 2) Over-priced French skincare products that I assure you are not "100% all-natural" and 3) Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay.
Yes. This product looks fake. It looks cheesy and cartoonish and like a prop for a CBS sitcom. But I am ready to tell you: This $8 tub of dirt turns into a mud mask that will give you glowing skin. I attribute this to its bold promise (all-caps theirs): "FEEL YOUR FACE PULSATE!"
A warning to Aztec clay first-timers: you might feel uncomfortable; you might be overcome with an overwhelming need to wash the clay off your face prematurely, before the instructed 20 minutes are up. Stay the course. Embrace the pulsations, the grime and goo of filthy, pollution-ridden city air undulating, rippling to the surface. Soon, with regular applications, you will come to enjoy—desire, even—the fascinating, alien sensation of your face throbbing. The results speak for themselves.