2018, like 2017, wasn’t the most upbeat of years, but it did play host to comebacks for sporting icons, cult-favorite television programs, and musical favorites. So go ahead and cue up “Dreams and Nightmares,” and check out the Ringer staff’s picks for this year’s best comeback stories.
Katie Baker: They came from every direction, moving chaotically yet in sync, like a swarm of agitated bees or a school of hungry fish. Many of them, in true king dork fashion, wore red shirts. This stampede of polo-shirted randos, all speed-walking toward the 18th green at East Lake with their phones raised up en masse, held at bay by burly tournament workers holding hands, hoping to glimpse Tiger Woods — did they really exist, or were they just a manifestation of my dumb, giddy emotions?
Woods’s win at the Tour Championship was the 80th PGA Tour win of his career, and it came more than five years after win no. 79, a time span that included four back surgeries, numerous missed cuts, various breaks from the game, and then, this season, a legitimate and thrilling comeback that wasn’t just some dead-cat bounce. (Later this December, ESPN will air a film about Woods’s 2018 season called Return of the Roar.)
This year Woods finished in the top 10 eight times. He held a very late lead at the British Open. He actually smiled a lot! He warmed the hearts of network executives and also of me. He got that big win at East Lake, delivering a happy payoff to the golf hordes. Yeah, yeah, he also sucked at the Ryder Cup, but so did just about everyone else. There’s almost certainly some way we can blame Patrick Reed for that, right?
Micah Peters: It’s hard to overstate just how exacting 2015 was for Meek Mill. In addition to fighting an ongoing and lopsided battle against the manifestly bullshit legal system, the cyber bully Drake made him the butt of every joke on the internet. A sort of stick-to-their-beef’s dead horse, “Back to Back” was as unnecessary as it was undeniable. Before the Eagles made “Dreams and Nightmares” the siren song of their Super Bowl win, they blared “Back to Back” at practice. So undeniable was it that Jay-Z—featured on Meek’s excellent Championships album (Drake is also on it) — played the song recently when the two went out together. So it’s hard to overstate how satisfying and awesome and righteous it was to see Meek, back from a five-month stretch for a parole violation, wearing an impossible sheepskin coat and blinding jewelry, destroying the beat in question for 10 straight minutes. He takes a break in the middle to address Drake: “I always wanted a piece of this / I felt like you got over on me on this / I had to pop my shit.”
I love this can you believe they tried to kill your favorite scream rapper energy. It’s electrifying. Pop your shit, Meek. Pop your shit.
Miles Surrey: On May 10, Syfy cancelled The Expanse even though it was the best series the network had done since Battlestar Galactica. The decision was a travesty and a betrayal — a cable network whose name bills itself as the go-to channel for science fiction halting its greatest recent success. The story has a happy ending: By the end of the month, The Expanse was revived for Season 4 by Amazon Prime. But the reason this is my favorite comeback of the year is the geeky frenzy that occured in the two preceding weeks of uncertainty.
The fandom, which included the likes of George R.R. Martin, Patton Oswalt, and an actual astronaut, quickly rallied around the show. At its peak, fans secured enough funds to fly a #SaveTheExpanse banner over Amazon Studios’ headquarters in Santa Monica. Imagine loving something so much you rented a plane.
We’re here & it’s incredible. Our fans, everyone banding together, you’re incredible. We’re emotional & we’re humbled & we’re thankful. No matter what happens, we are ALL part of something special. Thank you. ✨ #TheExpanse #SaveTheExpanse pic.twitter.com/MuGQdrLWYk— The Expanse Writers (@TheExpanseWR) May 15, 2018
Though the truth of the show’s rescue is probably a little more pragmatic—Jeff Bezos wanted the series when Syfy initially acquired the rights, and it fits the streamer’s new intent on making grander, Game of Thrones–type hits—the optimist in me believes that the fandom’s intense devotion left some emotional impression on its bald, swole new proprietor. At the very least, the campaign and the show’s eventual comeback brought one other Expanse fan to tears. (It was me.)
Julie Kliegman: Trading Spaces didn’t necessarily need a comeback—it had never left my heart. The show returned to TLC in April after 10 years with the same trusty old premise, tried-and-true designers (shout-out, Doug and Hilde), overenthusiastic Paige Davis, and zero design opinions from male homeowners. It’s added a bunch of new faces (chief among them, America’s Next Top Model runner-up turned carpenter Joanie Sprague) and is as good as ever. Mediocre-at-best rooms are now made for $2,000, not $1,000, but still in the homework-heavy 48 hours. Trading Spaces remains a soothing and familiar thing to watch during a Saturday night in, like The Great British Baking Show, but if the tent’s walls were occasionally smothered in feathers or cheap wallpaper.
“I’m so proud of this guy for what he’s done this year, I can’t even tell you.”— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 2, 2018
Nick Saban got emotional when speaking about the heroics of Jalen Hurts. pic.twitter.com/mmY4HfoFqD
It’s hard to do better than Jalen Hurts had done in his first two years as Alabama’s quarterback, going 26-2 as the starter and leading the Tide to two consecutive national title games. But when Bama’s offense stalled in the first half against Georgia in January’s national championship, Nick Saban benched Hurts for freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa promptly led a comeback to win the national title and became an Alabaman myth while Hurts became an afterthought. Many assumed Hurts would transfer rather than sit behind the younger Tagovailoa, but he stayed. As Tagovailoa became a Heisman front-runner for a Bama team that was an all-time juggernaut even by its own lofty standards, Hurts rode the bench despite ability that would make him the starter for most teams. Eleven months after he was benched, that faith was rewarded in the sweetest way possible.
Alabama met Georgia again on December 1, this time in the SEC championship. Once again, Bama fell behind. Once again there was a second-half quarterback change, but this time it was Hurts replacing Tagovailoa after the latter left the game with multiple leg injuries. Against the same team, on the same field, in the same city where he was stripped of the job earlier this year, Hurts turned in the same script but this time cast himself as the lead, flipping a 28-14 Alabama deficit into a 35-28 victory to finish what he started.
As Tagovailoa and Hurts embraced on the sideline with the game in hand, the moment transcended a comeback win and became the type of story we seek but never see in sports: closure.
Donnie Kwak: Tyga didn’t so much come back in 2018 as he just stubbornly refused to die. Somehow, Tyga never dies. His year began with the release of the misbegotten album Kyoto, a tepid stab at R&B that was universally (and gleefully) derided. Per usual, people greatly enjoyed seeing Tyga fail. But Tyga didn’t stop. May brought the lightning strike that was “Taste” and Tyga’s triumphant return to the style that suits him best: blunt-force, earworm pop-rap.
With the song, Tyga improbably notched his first solo Billboard top 10 hit in six years. A copycat follow-up, “Swish,” was in fact an air ball, failing to crack the Hot 100. So: a leap forward, a small step back. Come August, Tyga’s name made (Shade Room) headlines, implicated by reality star Safaree as a fellow recipient of a hairline rejuvenation. A short round of mockery, from the usual mockers, ensued. Tyga tweeted an unbothered response. He’s almost 30 now; he can laugh at himself. It was ages ago—860 days to be exact—that we published the aggressive headline “Tyga Is Good at Nothing.” False. He’s proved great at sticking around.
Kate Knibbs: I realize that Russell Crowe hasn’t had a full-on career revival, but I want to honor him for making a huge comeback in my personal estimation. I loved him as Maximus in Gladiator, but a lot of his personal behavior over the years—getting in brawls, throwing a phone at a hotel concierge—left me convinced that he was an unlikable dirtbag. (His Wikipedia entry features a section called “Altercations and Controversies.”) While I still think Crowe should probably be enrolled in anger management courses, the auction he held this year demonstrated that he has a better sense of humor and humility than you might expect. To pay for his pricey split, Crowe sold 200 personal possessions at a Sotheby’s Australia auction titled “The Art of Divorce.” The promo showed a grinning Crowe raising an old fashioned with his head lowered. The auction was weird, funny, and wildly successful, and it showed that Crowe can laugh at himself, which goes a long way. Now we just need to get Gladiator 2: Still Gladiatin’ made.
Dan Devine: It’s not exactly right to say that Jim Carrey “came back” this year; he’s been back around(ish) for a while. He’s made a film here and there, and executive-produced I’m Dying Up Here, a cable series about comedy at least loosely related to his own formative years in stand-up. He played the always challenging role of Self in a documentary about how damaging it can be to try to become Andy Kaufman, and embarked on a new career as a political artist. But it’s been years since he’s been here — not on the periphery, but central, commanding, vibrant, and magnetic in a way that makes you go, “Oh, shit, right, that’s JIM CARREY.” That changed this fall with Kidding, a half-hour Showtime dramedy that reunites Carrey with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry, marks his first significant television work since In Living Color, and stands as his most arresting dramatic work since … ever?
The pitch is simple: What does it look like when trauma breaks Mr. Rogers, and he starts to lose it? Carrey plays Jeff Piccirillo, a.k.a. Jeff Pickles, a beloved children’s television personality and the star of the long-running public broadcasting institution Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time. Jeff sings about how it’s OK for his viewers to feel anything at all, but he’s been tamping his own feelings down. He’s been hiding the rage, sadness, and resentment that a truly good man must feel while trying to keep going in a world like ours, burying it all inside sunny songs and arch interactions with not-quite-cuddly piles of felt. But one year after the death of one of his twin sons in a car accident — a tragedy that’s led to the dissolution of his marriage — and many years removed from healthily dealing with grief, anger, depression, or anything else, the irreparable cracks in Mr. Pickles’s placid exterior are widening. We’re starting to see what’s been brewing underneath. It isn’t suitable for PBS.
It does suit Carrey, though. As Jeff finally feels everything, Carrey shows his work, all raw nerves and aching stories told by the muted melancholy in his voice, the shifts in his smile, the midnight in his eyes. This isn’t a Fred Rogers impression; this is the performance of someone who knows intimately what it’s like to be a legend, what flimsy armor that is against the losses that can break you and the dark places the world can bring you, the impracticality of empathy and kindness in such a world, and the challenge of maintaining childlike wonder amid it all. Carrey communicates it all so naturally and perfectly that I can’t imagine another actor playing this role. After 10 episodes, I’m still not positive Kidding is a great show. But I’ll definitely be back for Season 2; as long as Carrey’s back, and working at this level, I’m not sure I can take my eyes off of him.