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The Ringer’s Guilty Pleasure Movies and TV Shows of 2019

‘The King,’ ‘The Challenge,’ ‘Log Cabin Living,’ and other programs staffers couldn’t pull themselves away from this year

Netflix/MTV/HGTV/TV Azteca/Ringer illustration

These are not the best television shows or movies of this year; in some cases they aren’t TV shows or movies at all. If you’re looking for the best things that appeared on screens in 2019, you can find them here and here. Anyway, here is the entertainment that Ringer staffers hated that they loved this year.


The Wolf’s Call

Michael Baumann: The Wolf’s Call is a French-language submarine thriller that dropped quietly on Netflix this summer, and it is the best thing that happened to me this year.

For weeks after this movie came out I bounced off the walls trying to get anyone else to watch it so I could scream about how bonkers this movie was, and was greeted (appropriately enough) with silence. Their loss. The Wolf’s Call follows a young French sonarman, Chanteraide, through a series of increasingly sweaty episodes of mounting geopolitical importance. The plot echoes that of Crimson Tide and The Sum of All Fears, but cranks all the dials on turn-of-the-century nuclear deterrence melodramas even further off the charts. The backdrop, with a fractured NATO on the verge of war with Russia, is ill-defined and frankly unimportant. All that matters is the next blip on the scope, the next ping of active sonar—a sound that gives the film its name—the next call to general quarters.

If you grew up mesmerized by the tension and technobabble of classic submarine movies, you’ll find familiar touchstones of the genre in abundance, updated for the modern day and translated into French. I saw better movies in 2019 than The Wolf’s Call, but none that I loved so ferociously.

Devon Sawa’s Parenting Tweets

Katie Baker: Devon Sawa, my no. 1 crush for several years in the ’90s, was in a movie this year with John Travolta called The Fanatic, but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead I’m here to praise his Twitter presence, and most specifically his parenting tweets, which range from extremely Dad humor to anti anti-vaxxer trolling to content that wouldn’t be out of place on one of those mom-meme Instagrams. Come for the hectic Halloween scenes, stay for the short stories about marriage and the Sandlot crossover content. Former teen heartthrobs, they’re just like us, feeding unwanted crepes to their loved ones.

The Challenge: War of the Worlds 2

Julie Kliegman: This show was also my guilty pleasure in 2018, 2017, 2016, and so on. But this season was special. The balance of new-to-old cast members was just right. There was, for a change, a fair amount of athleticism on display, at least by Jordan and Tori, who fought for their lives on several occasions. And hey, there was the first-ever Challenge engagement!

But mostly, there was Laurel. The veteran conspired with her alliance to throw a challenge in the hopes of getting a player from her own team eliminated—typical Challenge fare. What’s not typical Challenge fare is Laurel getting sent into elimination herself, seemingly winning said elimination despite going against a beast of a climber in a climbing competition, and then losing on a technicality. Most importantly, before learning that she’d lost on a technicality, she enthusiastically performed the international “suck it” dance on national TV.

The GIF of that dance, and the subsequent shame of retracting it once T.J. declared Ninja the winner, is my true guilty viewing pleasure.

Log Cabin Living

Ben Lindbergh: HGTV’s Log Cabin Living has been airing for eight seasons and could conceivably keep airing for as long as people like living in cabins and the climate still supports trees. The show’s format has hardly evolved over time. Even in its first season, it knew what it wanted to be—a show about people who’ve decided to live in log cabins—and it hasn’t strayed from its mission. Technically, Log Cabin Buying would be a more representative title: In each episode, an American couple who want to live in a log cabin meet with a rural realtor, lay out what they want in a cabin and what their budget will be, and then take a tour of three cabins. (No more. No less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count.) Once they’ve seen them all, they hold a couple’s conference, pick a cabin, and make an offer, which is always accepted. Once in a while, they reject their three options and elect to build a log cabin, which appears to be the premise of about four other shows that I look forward to watching one day.

My wife and I frequently parrot phrases from the show: “Open concept!” “Cathedral ceiling!” “Classic A-frame!” “Wraparound porch!” “Bar for the kids!” (We don’t have kids, but most people on Log Cabin Living do, and kids, evidently, really like bar-style seating.) If I have a complaint about Log Cabin Living, it’s that the cabins on the show are mostly modest dwellings, and the buyers repeatedly remind us about their budgets. If I, a lifelong liver in apartments, am going to fantasize about moving to the country and living in a log cabin—and I am—then I want to see something extravagant. Screw relatability, show me the best and the biggest that a cabin can be! But I like looking at all kinds of log cabins, so I also like Log Cabin Living. Long may it live.

No Context TV Accounts

Kate Halliwell: My worst TV habit in 2019 was beginning a show with the best of intentions, slowly falling behind, and ultimately giving up entirely. My saving grace, depending on how you look at it, was No Context TV Twitter. Behind on Succession? Worry not, @nocontextroyco has all the Tom Wambsgans content you could ever want. The same is true for everything from The Good Place (the show that may have started the no-context trend) to The Mandalorian. Why spend an hour watching the actual show when you can just engage with the memes? (Yes, there are lots of reasons. I know.) I’m not proud, but one must make compromises in the age of Too Much TV, and this is mine.

The King

Andrew Gruttadaro: Netflix isn’t killing movies. In fact, in a surprising twist, it’s actually making movies much better—because with major studios decimating the mid-budget movie in favor of IP monsters, Netflix is now where those movies, the movies that try things, live. It’s where Alfonso Cuarón made a quiet, subtitled, black-and-white film; it’s where Martin Scorsese made a movie that cost $159 million—a good chunk of it going to make Robert De Niro look young—and ran for 209 minutes; and it’s where Timothée Chalamet did Henry V cosplay in The King.

Let me be clear: This movie is not very good; it’s often boring, weirdly paced, and extremely loose with history. But often, the fun in movies is seeing very famous, skilled actors take risks—successful or not. And Timmy, with his weird haircut, is going for it in The King. So is Robert Pattinson, who shows up 75 percent of the way in and steals the movie by saying things like “You must have big balls, no? Giant balls—giant balls with a tiny cock” in a hilariously, maybe purposefully bad French accent. I had a great time watching The King this year, even knowing that it’ll probably be forgotten 12 months from now.

Exatlón México

Michael Baumann: Last week I went on vacation and encountered a television program called Exatlón México. This show pits professional athletes (famosos) against ordinary young folks with some athletic ability (contendientes) in a series of obstacle course–based challenges. The winning team gets to stay in a nice house while the losing team has to camp out until they win the house back, and every few episodes the viewers vote one contender off until someone wins.

It’s every “few” episodes because the obstacle-course challenges, Real World–style home drama, and Survivor-style post-challenge debriefings get aired multiple hours a night, several nights a week. (Season 2 featured 38 participants and lasted 129 episodes over six months.) It’s extremely low-rent, and extremely repetitive—you might see contestants complete the same course dozens of times—but it’s absolutely hypnotic. It scratches the same itch as those original Ninja Warrior marathons on G4, before that show got turned into an American prime-time network monstrosity, transcending cultural and language barriers to bring humanity together through a shared interest in young people flinging themselves across mud pits.