End times a’coming: Review culture writer picks New Year’s Eve fun fare

Picking entertainment to get you in the Christmas mood is easy. Actually, you may not have enough time in the month of December to screen all the worthwhile yuletide pictures out there, let alone the holiday episodes of your favorite shows and the required reading (Dickens and Sedaris, most prominently), if you’re into that.

But New Year’s Eve is a different breed of programing problem.

If you’re set on going out, have fun and be safe. More power to you.

But if you, like me, are leaning toward a quiet night at home this year, looking to ride out the last hours of 2018 clad in comfy clothes, with no line between you and the booze, you might find yourself searching for something to get you through till the midnight countdown.

The slated schedule of live fare coming from Times Square is once again dubiously enticing at best, so I’ve taken the liberty of compiling some other entertainment options to get you to the ball drop and, hopefully, be the perfect start to 2019.

1 SyFy Channel’s annual “Twilight Zone” marathon

* A man steps forward from the shadows, suit impeccable, smoldering cigarette in one hand.

“Portrait of a man incredibly excited,” he says. “An excitement that can only mean one thing, and can only be found in one place …”

Yes! The beloved yearly multi-day “Twilight Zone” marathon begins at 11 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 30 and runs nonstop through 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2 on the SyFy Channel. Turn off the phone, lock the door, and make one last trip to the store for essentials, because it’s time again to binge the original binge-worthy show.

The full schedule is available now (www.syfy.com/syfy-twilight-zone-marathon-2019-schedule) and all the greatest episodes of Rod Serling’s five-season masterpiece seem to be again included. And this is actually a particularly appropriate entertainment choice this year, because not only is it a TV tradition, and undoubtedly one of the greatest shows of all time, but a revival is slated to premiere in 2019 helmed by Jordan Peele (he of “Key & Peele” and “Get Out” fame). I could not be more excited. In the meantime, you can’t go wrong with a classic — especially not one so flawless as this.

A few of my own faves: “The Obsolete Man,” “The Shelter,” “Death’s Head Revisited,” “One More Pallbearer,” “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby,” “The Old Man in the Cave,” “The Brain Center at Whipple’s,” “Printer’s Devil” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.”

2 “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)

Because of it’s lengthy runtime (142 minutes) and now-ubiquitous familiarity (thanks to its being in near constant rotation on TV in the late 1990s) I find about once a year to be the perfect frequency to revisit this fervently loved film (which, by the way, has been the number one film on the Internet Movie Database’s user-generated “Top 250” list since 2008, when it surpassed “The Godfather”).

Because of its truly inspirational tone (I find myself somehow, almost reluctantly, honestly uplifted every single time I see it) I find New Year’s Eve to be the perfect time to do it.

From the first frame to the final name in the credits, thanks to the spectacular source material and setting, the awesome cinematography and score, the powerhouse performances — the narration! — and the honestly hopeful takeaway, it really is darn near a perfect movie.

Get busy living or get busy dying: Just thinking about it gets me reinvigorated. Watch out, 2019, I’m coming for you!

3 “Four Rooms” (1995)

An anthology comedy co-written and co-directed by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino (they each helmed one segment), “Four Rooms” stars Tim Roth as Ted, the hapless Jerry Lewis-esque nighttime bellhop at the Hotel Mon Signor in L.A. who, while stuck working alone, struggles to fulfill his obligations to four very different but equally unorthodox groups of guests throughout one very, very busy New Year’s Eve.

Each segment — “Honeymoon Suite: The Missing Ingredient,” “Room 404: The Wrong Man,” “Room 309: The Misbehavers” and “Penthouse: The Man from Hollywood” — is more outlandish than the last, but all boast their respective creator’s trademark pet concerns and quirks.

My personal favorite is Rodriguez’s segment, “Room 309: The Misbehavers,” which stars Tamlyn Tomita and Antonio Banderas as the formidable parents of two terrible children, who bribe Ted to babysit when they take off for a party. Hijinks, hilarity, bodily harm and property destruction ensue.

4 Season one of “24”

Originally broadcast from Nov. 6, 2001 to May 21, 2002, the debut season of “24” was, though it may be hard to recall through the muddy fog of subsequent, diminished seasons, truly great and innovative TV. It takes place in real time on the day of the California Presidential Primary, and the story revolves around an assassination attempt on a U.S. Senator, a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

The main character is, of course, Jack Bauer (played by the incomparable Kiefer Sutherland), a former Special Forces operator, now the director of an anti-terrorism unit, who becomes personally involved when his wife and daughter are kidnapped by the people behind the assassination plot.

Big mistake, bad guys.

It was a hit right away. From Wikipedia: “The first season received universal acclaim … Sutherland won the Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Actor – Television Series Drama’ and the Satellite Award for ‘Best Actor – Television Series Drama.’”

The season finale was included on TV Guide’s list of the top 100 TV episodes of all time (as well as one particular development earning it a spot as one of the “100 Most Unexpected Moments in TV History”).

The real time format, though perhaps a little played out now, was revolutionary and lends itself well to a night of counting down to something (hopefully) good.

5 The works of Wendell Berry

An author introduced to me in Nick “Ron Swanson” Offerman’s semi-autobiographical advice manual “Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living,” Berry is the perfect literary companion for those seeking a calm, quiet night of thoughtful fiction.

I recommend you start with “That Distant Land,” a collection of short stories set in the fictionalized small town of Port William, Kentucky, where nearly all his fiction is set.

From Wikipedia: “Because of his long-term, ongoing exploration of the life of an imagined place, Berry has been compared to William Faulkner. Yet, although Port William is no stranger to murder, suicide, alcoholism, marital discord, and the full range of losses that touch human lives, it lacks the extremes of characterization and plot development that are found in much of Faulkner. Hence Berry is sometimes described as working in an idealized, pastoral, or nostalgic mode.”

I can’t disagree entirely, the man’s glasses do seem permanently rose-tinted — though never (to me) to the detriment of the stories.

There’s a timeless quality to his work that calls to mind Mark Twain’s best stuff, and if you prefer your relaxation to come from a page rather than the screen, you could do a lot worse in the fading hours of 2018 than to take a long look back at Berry’s imagined yesteryear and enter the new one with some refreshed perspective.

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