I’ve been pretty lucky this year to not have been disappointed by too much media. I’ve gotten a lot better at choosing things I know I’m going to enjoy or recognizing tropes I don’t like in plot summaries and avoiding said media. In fact, I’d argue that I’ve had an overall good year for music, books, movies, and TV.
But that doesn’t mean nothing let me down. There’s been some media I had high hopes for that didn’t quite meet them. It doesn’t necessarily mean I think they’re bad, just that they weren’t what I’d expected. From musical productions to novels to films, these are the pieces of media that really let me down in 2018:
- Heathers the Musical (Premiered September 13, 2010)
Heathers is one of my all-time favorite movies. The dark comedy serves as a poignant commentary on high school politics and bullying that is just as relevant today as it was in 1989. I had high hopes the musical would be as biting. Unfortunately, something was lost in translation when the musical numbers were added. Veronica Sawyer is no longer the embittered teen finally seeing through the veil of popularity. J.D. is no longer the dangerous edgelord who knows how to push just the right buttons to whet Veronica’s appetite for vengeance.
Instead, Veronica is Cady Heron, a naïve girl plucked from obscurity for a chance at the high life. Cady is not a bad character nor is her arc bad in Mean Girls. The problem is that Veronica’s musical characterization as a Cady knock-off takes away the essence of her character. She doesn’t get caught up with J.D. because his anarchy is a breath of fresh air. She gets caught up with him because he’s a bad boy and she wants him to fight for her (in fact, she sings an entire song about it). J.D. doesn’t need to be conniving to know how to manipulate her— he’s able to do so because she starts the story putty in his hands.
J.D., meanwhile, is now merely misunderstood. His tragic backstory and fraught relationship with his father are used as justification for his murderous tendencies, rather than being a part of why he is the way he is. He’s not truly responsible for his actions, because his terrible life excuses him. Even when he decides to blow himself up rather than the whole school, he’s framed almost as a martyr.
In the movie, he knows he’s lost. He accepts defeat, but still blows himself to bits because he hates himself more than he hates the world. He still blames the world for this outcome, but is now willing to let Veronica try to change things her way because she proved herself to be more powerful than he is.
Veronica, meanwhile, watches him die with a satisfied grin. She recognizes his bullshit for what it is, but still takes his words to heart. In the musical, Veronica tries to stop him. Even after seeing him as the murderer he is, she still values him over her morals. Hell, she even tries to sacrifice herself. It’s under the guise of trying to save the school, but she still relents to his wishes immediately. The musical prioritizes their love story over the message and refuses to acknowledge its inherent toxicity.
The music itself also isn’t that great. The only memorable songs are “Candy Store” and “Dead Girl Walking.” Most of the songs are sappy love songs between Veronica and J.D., once again proving no one involved with this show understands the point of the movie or their relationship.
So yeah, I was really disappointed by this musical. It seems like no adaptation of this cult classic will ever do it justice. My only hope is that they stop trying to remake it, and people will just watch the incredible original film instead.
- M A N I A by Fall Out Boy (Released January 19, 2018)
I gave this album a pretty good review in January, but it has not stuck with me at all. That’s not to say the songs aren’t good, just that they don’t have that same staying power the band’s older music does. Songs like “The Last of the Real Ones,” “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes),” and “Church” still stand out as quality tracks.
The problem is this album feels more like a cash grab by the label than a passion project of the band. In fact, its release date was pushed back by several months. The band clearly was not ready to release an album. Why try your hardest when the label doesn’t care?
Even Fall Out Boy seems to recognize how mediocre this record is, as they released an EP later in the year about returning to their roots. They’ve been trending more towards pop for a while, but this record is the only one I would truly call selling out.
- Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Released in 1872)
I’m a huge fan of the web series that does a modern retelling of this classic novel. It’s so good and so gay. I imagined I’d feel the same way about the book.
Alas, I do not. It’s pretty good and a quick read, especially for a classic. Carmilla’s declarations of love are absolutely swoon-worthy. I just think the changes made to the story (or at least the ending) for the YouTube retelling are more apt in this day and age than this book was. I mean, the lesbianism is essentially excused because it was really just Carmilla’s vampiric influence the whole time. Also, there are a couple loose threads left and the Big Bad is taken down way too easily.
It’s entertaining (and gay) enough that I could see myself reading it again someday, but it didn’t become the new favorite I thought it would. It may have helped shape our perception of vampires, but it did nothing to shape my heart.
- The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (Released August 18, 2016)
When I first read this book, I was left with mixed feelings. The world-building is spectacular, but the characters and relationships are mediocre. It also isn’t quite as gay as I’d hoped. However, at the time, I was still intrigued enough by the direction the story takes that I wanted to continue the series.
As time went on, I gradually lost all interest in continuing this series. If I didn’t care about the characters, why should I bother reading another book about them? I heard so many people hype this book for over a year, and it didn’t even come close to the amazing story I was promised. It’s just another generic YA SFF book that is going to be lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame it’s also one of the few with a F/F romance.
- Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst (Released March 6, 2018)
Despite myself, I loved Coulthurst’s debut novel Of Fire and Stars. It’s a mediocre fantasy, but the slow burn romance is to die for. Even though this book is not the highly-anticipated sequel, I still knew I had to read it. After being let down by The Abyss Surrounds Us, I needed a good F/F romance.
However, that’s not what this book is, despite what the official summary says. In fact, the protagonist Asra ends up falling for a guy. There’s nothing wrong with bisexual representation— in fact, it’s great! The problem is there isn’t even a mention of Hal in the summary, whether as a love interest or a friend. It feels misleading. It was hard to root for their relationship, even though it’s clear they’re so well-suited for each other. I just felt lied to.
The story itself is overall pretty good. Coulthurst has improved greatly as a writer. Her world-building and plotting is also much better in this book than her first. But I just can’t reconcile that with the misleading summary. I probably still would’ve read this book if I’d known this was the direction the story would take and likely would’ve enjoyed it more. Instead, I’m left feeling like Boo Boo the Fool over an average YA fantasy.
- Wildcard by Marie Lu (Released September 18, 2018)
I really wanted to love this book. Lu sent up such an interesting conflict at the end of Warcross. Unfortunately, this book chose not to explore the shades of gray and instead places Emika on a soapbox of righteousness. After all, is losing the ability to choose to commit a crime truly giving up your free will? This book took all its potential and blew it.
This came at a detriment to Emika and Hideo, whose characters were utterly destroyed by the black-and-white narrative. However, the other characters are better-rounded than the first book and there are some great new characters as well. The plot is also exciting, if disappointing in the direction it took. The ending is one of the most realistic endings I’ve ever read, especially in YA.
I just can’t escape the feeling that someone other than Lu wrote this book. Her finales are usually fantastic. I don’t understand what happened here. This book is a virtual kick in the face.
- Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare (Released December 4, 2018)
This one really hurts to put on this list. I adore the first two books in The Dark Artifices. I fully expected the finale to blow me away.
It’s incredibly frustrating how disappointing this novel is. It’s not even underwhelming— it’s really good. I laughed, I cried, I shook with fear. This book made me feel so many things. I’ve always loved how dark this series is, and this book is no exception (especially with Julian Blackthorn at the helm).
But it’s not great. It’s not what its predecessors are. There’s an alarming lack of character development, something Clare at which has always excelled. Clare instead focuses on developing her characters’ relationships. She should know better than to sacrifice one for the other.
She also utterly fails at writing a redemption arc or showing why a certain polyamorous relationship works. This means that I still don’t like the not-so-redeemed character and can’t root for the agonizingly forced and out-of-character relationship.
The lack of lasting consequences also come as a detriment to the story. Clare usually includes some negative consequence to her characters in her finales, but no consequence here feels permanent or substantial.
I still really loved this book. But, after Lord of Shadows, this is a huge let down. I anticipated this book making my year-end best list. The other TDA books did in previous years, so why not this one? But I guess Clare still has a vendetta out against me because this book is not all I thought it could and would be.
- What We Do in the Shadows (Premiered October 30, 2014)
Everyone who’s seen this movie loves it. Everyone, that is, except for me. I mean, it was fine. But I was expecting a lot more from this mockumentary about vampires in the modern age. I really don’t even have a lot to say about the film. I just thought it was average and I was hoping for a new cult classic.
- The Carmilla Movie (Released October 26, 2017)
I really hate putting this movie on the list, but I have to. It really let me down. The story feels tame in comparison to the final season of the web series. Not only that, but it actively undoes some of it.
I understand why it’s important to have Carmilla finally face some consequences for the role she played in the deaths of countless girls. We know she’s remorseful, but she hasn’t been given any punishment for it. She feels guilty, but she still wins in the end. However, I hate the way this is ultimately handled in the movie. Why even have her change the way she does in the series finale, if they were immediately going to take it back in the movie?
I don’t know if there will ever be more Carmilla. There’s a post-credits scene that teases a sequel, but nothing is guaranteed. But I’m not sure if I want more story or not. I want Carmilla’s change to be un-reversed, but it would be poor storytelling to keep going back and forth like that.
Part of me doesn’t want to accept the movie as canon. And maybe I won’t. I just can’t believe that after a series finale that was that emotional and impactful, the story was continued like… this.
What media disappointed you in 2018? Tell me about it in the comments!
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