It became a common refrain as heroes died, villains ascended, and truth and beauty were succeeded by a million Facebook shares on a fake-news story about the pope endorsing Donald Trump: 2016 was a motherfucker. If you made it all the way through, congratulations. You’ve outlasted Prince, the concept of liberal democracy in the United States, and the first species of mammal to go extinct due to human-induced climate change. Here’s your prize: There’s more bullshit on tap for 2017.
Or you can refuse to wait for the universe to reward your resilience, and follow The A.V. Club’s lead by treating yourself to something nice. Staring down the prospect of our annual holiday gift guide after slogging through 2016, we decided to dispose with all cutesiness and pretense, and return to the unfettered avarice from which The A.V. Club gift guide first sprang. Everything below earns our full endorsement (along with the friendly folks who sent it to us) because it’s earned our full, self-gratifying ownership. It’s a list of products we think would make a thoughtful gift for the pop-culture obsessive in your life—but it’s also a catalog of things The A.V. Club both wanted and could use our clout as a respected media organization to acquire for the small price of approximately 200 words. And really, can you blame us? After all, if 2016 was any indication, the entire idea of a “respected media organization” might have gone the way of the Bramble Cay melomys by this time next year.
Why do we deserve it? Just because a TV show is streaming now doesn’t mean it’ll be streaming forever. And when that show was ripped from the airwaves as unceremoniously as Freaks And Geeks was in the spring of 2000, its inevitable disappearance from Netflix is going to have some added sting—like when you finally start dating your big crush, and she turns out to be a total snooze. Freaks And Geeks understands that sense of profound disappointment, and Freaks And Geeks is here for you, freshly remastered in HD and shown in an aspect ratio that would’ve fit on Bill Haverchuck’s living-room TV set. Elsewhere, widescreen cuts of the show’s 18 episode also promise “never-before-seen expanded footage,” suggesting that there are fresh heartbreaks, humiliations, and tiny victories Paul Feig and Judd Apatow have been hiding from us this whole time.
Who else deserves it? Current high-school students; former high-school students; anyone who’s ever come home from a long day and wanted nothing more than a grilled cheese sandwich, a brownie, and the company of a good friend on the screen. [Erik Adams]
Star Wars suits ($110)
Why do we deserve it? You know those people whose obsession with Star Wars borders on the unhealthy? We have two of them in the office, and we adore them and indulge their mania when we can. These Star Wars suits from OppoSuits have presumably made Jimmy and Rick, pictured, happier than Jabba The Hut after his fourth serving of Thanksgiving dinner. These suits are also machine washable, making them even more appealing to the hard core of fans looking to express their fandom every day, in a very loud way.
Who else deserves it? All the Jimmys and Ricks in the world. You know who you are. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Sonos Play:1 ($199)
Why do we deserve it? Let’s face it: We can be snobs. We like our movies great, our television revolutionary, and our stereo sound crystal clear. The Sonos Play:1’s crystal clear audio, stylish simplicity, and ease of use are unparalleled. You can play music in your kitchen from the comfort of your bed on the other side of the house, or sync up all the Sonos speakers so that music follows you as you walk from room to room.
Who else deserves it? Anyone with an interest in music or an innate sense of laziness. [Marah Eakin]
Tom Petty The Complete Studio Albums volumes 1 and 2 ($234.64 each)
Why do we deserve it? Since emerging in 1976 with its first, self-titled Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers album, the band has become synonymous with American rock. Over the course of that career, Petty has had some big hits, but he’s also got some of his best material tucked away as album cuts, or on releases on albums less iconic than Damn The Torpedoes. These two sets collect Petty’s lengthy career, both with The Heartbreakers and as a solo artist, and splits them up into two staggering volumes. Volume 1 chronicles Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers up to Into The Great Wide Open, with Volume 2 picking up at Wildflowers and going all the way to Petty’s latest, 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. It’s a lengthy body of work, but one that’s got plenty of rewards tucked inside of it.
Who else deserves it? It’s hard to imagine a fan of rock music this wouldn’t satisfy. It might even be enough to convince those who never went past Petty’s Greatest Hits to dig in a little deeper. [David Anthony]
Why do we deserve it? Diesel Sweeties has long been a favorite website among lovers of pop culture, with regular comics and a shop that includes gems like Golden Girls mugs, Ziggy Stardust enamel pins, and a variety of other merchandise for all the geeks in your life. The A.V. Club copy desk was particularly pleased to receive a “Words Have Meanings!” mug. There’s lots of pop-culture shops around, but only Diesel Sweeties also includes “fuck it” sweatpants.
Who else deserves it? Any dog-owning coffee-drinker, Star Wars fans who are LGBT or allies or just love rainbows, collectors of pins and stickers.
Why do we deserve it? Well, not everyone’s cut the cord yet—there are still plenty of people with entire home theater setups who have to juggle multiple remote controls to shift gears from cable to some kind of disc (DVD or Blu-ray). So those who continue to point and click should be able to do so in Gallifreyan style, with this universal remote that’s been cleverly disguised as the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. This gesture-based device can be used to adjust the volume, change the channel, and turn your TV on or off. There’s even a lock code to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, say, your roommate’s.
Who else deserves it? Doctor Who fans, home-entertainment dictators, and your garden-variety gadget lover. [Danette Chavez]
Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie ($249.99)
Why do we deserve it? Ralph McQuarrie is the production artist whose haunting and ethereal work set the mood for the Star Wars movies. He also designed its most indelible characters. His work is well known and well loved enough to gain a life outside the movies as a favorite not just among Star Wars fans, but anyone interested in illustration and character design. McQuarrie’s work has been collected before, but nowhere as lovingly and comprehensively as it is with Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie. It’s a massive two-volume set with no wasted space; every page is filled from spine to edge with graphite sketches, concept paintings, matte paintings used in movie effect scenes, and various book and product layouts. This is the definitive collection of McQuarrie’s work, and—assuming you can clear out a piece of furniture to make room for the thing—a beautiful addition to your library.
Who else deserves it? Anyone who gives a damn about character and concept design. While there are no shortage of Star Wars fans in the world to fill the need for this book, it’s also an invaluable reference for anyone considering commercial art or storyboarding. [Nick Wanserski]
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator ($59-249)
Why do we deserve it? Because we strive to use our time creatively. For the musically inclined, these handheld synths are perfect for replacing the endless News Feed scrolling we tend to do on our commutes (and elsewhere). Take some time away to build a beat or melody, apply some of the Pocket Operator’s stellar effects, and realize a full-blown noise-pop composition in the time it takes you to get where you’re going. The PO is easy to use and surprisingly deep, giving both beginners and synth experts a lot to enjoy. Teenage Engineering sells them bare bones for $59, but we recommend at least purchasing a protective case ($39). Or better yet, a Super Set packages together three complementary devices, instantly fleshing out your one-person band.
Who else deserves it? Any level musician with a sense of adventure (and who’s willing to give the manual a quick read). [Kelsey J. Waite]
Female Prisoner Scorpion boxed set (£59.99)
Why do we deserve it? We’re longtime fans of Meiko Kaji, the Japanese actress whose early ’70s action-movie output put her in the same shotgun-toting, bell-bottoms-clad league as Pam Grier. Out of print on DVD in the U.S., the Female Prisoner Scorpion series serves as a grimy modern-day companion to Kaji’s performance as a kimono-clad assassin in the Lady Snowblood series. Blending outrageous women-in-prison exploitation tropes and gritty revenge drama with unexpectedly artful filmmaking, the four movies collected in this set track the evolution of Nami Matsushima (Kaji) from a naive young woman to an unjustly imprisoned convict to an ice-cold demigoddess of vengeance. The series keeps going after that, but don’t bother: Arrow’s Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection Blu-ray boxed set collects all the Scorpion you’ll need, restored in 2K with bonus features, essays, and fold-out poster artwork.
Who else deserves it? Jaded cinephiles who think they’ve seen everything; adventurous viewers comfortable at the intersection of arthouse and grindhouse. [Katie Rife]
Why do we deserve it? Because these Moleskine notebooks take us back to a happier time, when the Beatles waved to us from the cheerful windows of the Yellow Submarine defeating Blue Meanies while promoting peace and love. Because we need an artistic place to write down our deeply profound thoughts and grocery lists.
Who else deserves it? Beatles fans both young and old; aspiring scribes; grocery shoppers. [Gwen Ihnat]
Dekalog Criterion Collection Blu-ray ($99.95)
Why do we deserve it? We’ve been reviewing releases of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s monumental 10-part miniseries since back when it was still cool to call it The Decalogue. Straddling the line between the media, Kieslowski’s agnostic reimagining of the Ten Commandments is often cited as one of great achievements of television drama, though all of its one-hour episodes can all be watched as standalone films and have often been shown in theaters. Criterion’s set includes 4K restorations of the series and the feature-length expanded episodes A Short Film About Killing (which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival) and A Short Film About Love, as well as a wealth of new and archival interviews and behind-the-scenes materials.
Who else deserves it? Film students and self-described “students of film”; cinephiles with strongly held opinions on the video quality of 2000s Facets releases; “TV is so good right now” true believers in need of a reality check. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]
Sansaire Sous Vide Immersion Circulator ($175) and Searing Kit ($159)
Why do we deserve it? Because deep down we’re all Ron Swansons. Boast all we want about our steak-grilling game, but few home cooks could replicate that $100-flavor of a steakhouse unless they can afford a 900-degree broiler. But in the last two years, a technology heretofore available only in professional kitchens—sous vide cooking—has been priced down for everyday consumers. Dare we say, the ribeyes we tested with Sansaire’s tandem immersion circulator and searing kit produced the finest steaks we’ve ever tasted, restaurant or otherwise. Sous vide is the process of sealing food in bags and cooking in water baths at precise temperatures. We set our immersion circulator at 142 degrees, which produced steaks of buttery tenderness and a consistent medium-rare. But it’s finishing with Sansaire’s searing kit—which employs a wicked cool food-grade blowtorch—that gave our ribeyes a gorgeous photogenic char.
Who else deserves it? Not just carnivores, surprisingly. For vegetarians: Anything you could boil in water will retain a better texture cooked sous vide. [Kevin Pang]
Why do we deserve it? We’ve spent all year long being scared by current events, so now it’s time to get good and scared by a classic monster story. John Carpenter’s early-’80s masterpiece is a triumph of “who can you trust” paranoia and superb (and superbly gruesome) special effects. With Kurt Russell as the manly point person in an arctic team that gets infiltrated by an alien being, the clock is ticking as he and his cohorts race to locate the monster in their midst. With this new 2K scan of the film, you can better appreciate all the flesh-rending, blood-spattered glory of the production, along with new slipcover artwork and reversible cover wrap featuring original theatrical key art.
Who else deserves it? Anyone who appreciates a good scary movie, as this is one of the absolute best. [Alex McCown-Levy]
Why do we deserve it? Starks, Lannisters, and A.V. Club staffers alike need good sources of light to brighten our nights spent scheming. This lamp is badass—well, it’s as badass as a lamp can be. Bring it out for Game Of Thrones viewings or anything that can be enhanced with feudal weaponry (Dungeons & Dragons should always be played in the light of this lamp).
Who else deserves it? Nerds; fans of decorative swords. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Why do we deserve it? Billed as alternately as “Teenage Awards Music International” and “Teen Age Music International,” The T.A.M.I. Show boasts a lineup matched only by one of the other cumbersomely named lost greats of the concert-film genre, the new-wave roadshow Urgh! A Music War. The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, James Brown, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson And The Miracles, all captured in performance footage that derives its energy as much from the screaming fans as it does from Brown’s cape-and-collapse routine during “Please, Please, Please.” Filmed in a then-revolutionary high-resolution format known as “Electronovision,” T.A.M.I.’s black-and-white photography pops anew in this Blu-ray transfer, now packaged with a sequel, The Big T.N.T. Show, whose combination of Ray Charles, The Byrds, The Ronettes, and Ike & Tina Turner (and don’t forget The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s bona fide teen scream, David McCallum) makes it just as valuable as the main attraction. The set is part of Shout! Factory’s new Shout Select series, which adds the T.A.M.I. Show/Big T.N.T. Show combo to a bill that already includes reissues of The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai and Midnight Run. It’s shaping up to be a trashy-fun alternative to the Criterion Collection.
Who else deserves it? The music-lover with a well-worn copy of Live At The Apollo; parents who’ve never settled their “Beach Boys versus Jan And Dean” debate; newly minted nonagenarian Chuck Berry. [Erik Adams]
Why do we deserve it? We love a good deep reference. This pin, which looks like a badly spelled vanity plate from The Sideburn State, is actually a reference to a plot point in The Adventure Of Pete And Pete’s “King Of The Road” episode, when the Petes’ dad, Don Wrigley, competes to become the ultimate king of the family road trip. It’s a classic episode, and one that we’d be glad to rep on every jean jacket and blazer we own.
Who else deserves it? Everyone who’s into ’90s nostalgia, but in a cool way. Real Nick nerds don’t have to advertise. [Marah Eakin]
Han Solo Jacket ($179.00)
Why do we deserve it? It was a long wait for a new Star Wars film, but now that The Force Awakens provided a satisfying experience in a galaxy far, far away, we’re fully back on board the intergalactic starship George Lucas built. And that means we need to look the part. This jacket has already come in handy as a Halloween costume, but we’re not going to lie: It’s been pulled out at work a few times in everyday life, too, albeit only at night when folks are less likely to wonder why we’re aping a rakishly handsome scoundrel/Nerf herder.
Who else deserves it? Anyone who has sat through the prequels deserves to treat themselves with this reward, frankly. [Alex McCown-Levy]
Blink-182 vinyl box set ($179.98)
Why do we deserve it? The holiday season is a time to indulge in simple pleasures and let your cares melt away as you sip hot cocoa and stare out the window at freshly fallen snow. In many ways, Blink-182 is aural equivalent of that, blasting out simple songs that feel comforting in their familiarity and pop-punk goodness. This seven album, 10 LP set collects everything from the band’s first proper album, 1995’s Cheshire Cat, all the way to 2011’s Neighborhoods. It’s a collection that’s full of odes to joy (“The Rock Show”), gleeful gatherings (“The Party Song”), and even the band’s take on a holiday song (“Happy Holidays, You Bastard”), making for a collection full of cheer.
Who else deserves it? Blink-182’s latest put it at the top of the Billboard charts, so there’s plenty of people who’d be content to spend the holidays singing along to the band’s brand of toilet humor. [David Anthony]
Classic disguise ornament ($7.50)
Why do we deserve it? Honestly, we really don’t. This Classic Disguise Ornament is just a goofy-looking novelty item, and while it’s definitely something we’d throw on our tree the moment it goes up, it’s not like we’re particularly popular with either Christmas decorating heroes or funny face aficionados. And yet, if even one of you buys this cute clay ornament, then we will have done our jobs.
Who else deserves it? Anyone with a sense of humor about their Christmas tree. [Marah Eakin]
Why do we deserve it? Because more often than not, The A.V. Club goes wild for the films of Mexico’s most acclaimed monster lover. There are no tough-talking superheroes or skyscraper-sized robots in his new Criterion box set, which instead packages together Del Toro’s artier Spanish-language work: his directorial debut, Cronos, about an Inquisition-era device that turns people into immortal vampires; The Devil’s Backbone, set at a haunted orphanage after the Spanish Civil War; and the Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth, in which a little girl escapes her fascist stepfather by entering a magical alternate world. All three films embed the fantastic in the grueling everyday, confronting an adolescent hero with obstacles both supernatural and not. As unofficial trilogies go, it’s remarkably cohesive—and a good reminder that when Del Toro goes “respectable,” he still brings beasts with eyes in their hands to the table.
Who else deserves it? Horror buffs with refined tastes; art-movie buffs with a taste for horror; smug, ungrateful kids that need to be reminded of how good they have it. [A.A. Dowd]
A haul from artist Brandon Bird (various)
Why do we deserve it? Because, like Bird, we see the beauty and magnificence in pop culture, and can appreciate items like a portrait of Nicolas Cage (Bird’s particular muse) with a snow monkey, or Mr. T steering a stagecoach. What would Christopher Walken’s garage workshop look like? Would Hannibal be festive in a party hat? How would Frasier fit in with the Fantastic Four? Through Bird’s creative and slightly twisted mind, we get a peek at these improbable but somehow totally possible cultural mashups.
Who else deserves it? Pop-culture fans and art aficionados. Basically anyone who ever has read The A.V. Club ever. [Gwen Ihnat]
The Godfather Notebook ($50)
Why do we deserve it? Because no film critic’s office desk is complete without at least one phone-book-sized tome that they can’t resist paging through. The Godfather Notebook reproduces the detailed workbook put together by Francis Ford Coppola as he was preparing to write the screenplay for The Godfather: his lengthy typewritten treatments for individual scenes; his notes about visual inspirations; his point-by-point breakdowns of character arcs; pages cut out of his copy of Mario Puzo’s novel, with extensive marginalia; first drafts of dialogue. At almost 800 pages, it’s could qualify as a murder weapon.
Who else deserves it? The self-styled don or donna who already owns The Godfather Collection Blu-ray, The Annotated Godfather, and The Godfather 1902-1959: The Complete Epic on VHS; anyone fascinated with the minutiae of the creative processes who isn’t sick of reading about how great The Godfather is. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]
Why do we deserve it? The festivities are about to ramp up, including gatherings where the dress code demands our ugliest knits. Instead of throwing on the misshapen sweater we got from a friend or relative, we prefer to outfit ourselves with some superhero gear. Sure, that botched Rudolph light-up sweater will be talked about while the mulled wine flows. But these Batman and Wonder Woman-inspired designs are what you’ll want to be wearing when you find yourself under the mistletoe, battling Doomsday.
Who else deserves it? Subtle Justice League cosplayers; maybe David Mazouz will want to work one into his Gotham wardrobe rotation. [Danette Chavez]
R2-D2 French press ($40)
Why do we deserve it? The A.V. Club is powered by our love of pop culture and a side of caffeine. Some of our staff are more enthusiastic about coffee than others, but there’s no disagreement that R2-D2 is one of the best characters of Star Wars. The entire plot hinges on the little robot delivering that crucial message. ThinkGeek’s R2-D2 French press is both a smart R2-D2 product and an exceptionally adorable coffee-making device. Almost no R2 products use R2’s component parts to their advantage, but this French press has the dome of his bot skull act as the movable press.
Who else deserves it? Coffee lovers, especially those who prefer the brewing method of a galaxy far, far away (France). [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Why do we deserve it? The A.V. Club has been a bastion of Mitch Hedberg love since the early ’00s, when we first ran an interview with the late comedian. His laid-back jokes about Kit Kats and koalas are still classics, and this box set, which contains all three of his records—Strategic Grill Locations, Mitch All Together, and Do You Believe In Gosh?—as well as never-before-heard recordings, bonus footage, and a book by Hedberg’s wife, Lynn Shawcroft, that’s packed to the gills with Hedberg tidbits and memorabilia.
Who else deserves it? Comedy nerds, newbies, and pretty much anyone that needs a laugh. [Marah Eakin]
Star Trek messenger bag ($49.99)
Why do we deserve it? We may be light years (and a reality) away from Kronos, the Klingon home planet, but we have to be prepared for any situation. And this roomy messenger bag—which we’ve dubbed a “bag’leth”—is perfect for commuting, warring, or just a trip to the Holodeck. There are multiple interior pockets, including one with a velcro strap that should keep your mobile devices in place. The bat’leth detail—which is blue on our bag—on the flap could also prove to be the perfect discouragement to street harassers. Transport your communicators and tricorders (read: phones and laptops) in this appropriately nerdy accessory.
Who else deserves it? Star Trek fans, obviously, as well as commuters—and maybe your Mauk-to’Vor partner? [Danette Chavez]
Theory11 playing cards ($9.95)
Why do we deserve it? Because we’re planning to dominate the World Series Of Poker. Adding to the growing list of artifacts-from-yesteryear turned contemporary and sleek by young artisans: playing cards. Once relegated to convenient store racks, playing cards have become a new canvas for artists and designers, and companies like Art Of Play and Conjuring Arts have produced decks so exquisite we’re tempted to invoke “museum piece.” As playing card obsessives ourselves, we’re in awe for decks from Theory11. Every playing card they manufacture looks, feels, and even sounds luxurious. The card box and back designs are stunningly intricate, the linen finish (ensuring smooth glide) tactilely satisfying, and the thicker card stock gives off a crispy snap when dealt—a sound you don’t get from lesser-quality playing cards. We find the Tycoons and Citizens designs particularly sexy.
Who else deserves it? The obvious audience is weekend card players, perhaps business executives. But consider also artists: Theory 11 decks are also sold in lavishly ornate wooden boxes. If you go with this option, pick up a few extra decks because you won’t want to open the ones in the deluxe boxes. [Kevin Pang]
Lone Wolf And Cub boxed set ($79.96)
Why do we deserve it? Because we’ve been hanging on to our Animeigo DVD boxed set for almost a decade now, and it was time for an upgrade. And a Criterion upgrade, at that, collecting the six films in the Lone Wolf And Cub series—all of which boast bloody, bombastic subtitles like Sword Of Vengeance, White Heaven In Hell, and Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons. Based on a popular comic book and starring the ursine Tomisaburo Wakayama, the Lone Wolf And Cub movies follow the adventures of executioner-turned-assassin Ogami Itto and his infant son as they wander the Japanese countryside armed with Itto’s formidable fighting skills and a baby carriage rigged with all manner of edge weapons. Flashy and cartoonishly violent, these movies are great fun for anyone who likes Rube Goldberg devices, cackling villains, and ninjas by the dozen.
Who else deserves it? Fans of Quentin Tarantino, the Wu-Tang Clan, manga, and/or samurai movies (although those often go together); new parents with a healthy sense of humor. [Katie Rife]
Why do we deserve it? Like much of the rest of the world, The A.V. Club fell down Sam Esmail’s rabbit hole of hacking, hidden identities, and reality-altering plot twists on Mr. Robot. And for those fans who can’t get enough of Elliot Alderson’s fractured psyche, along comes a real-life edition of his journal, to reward our dedicated dissection of the show’s many intricacies. Written by show writer Courtney Looney and Esmail himself, Red Wheelbarrow delves into all the private thoughts we didn’t get to hear about the time between season one and season two.
Who else deserves it? Fans of the USA series, people willing to decrypt incredibly detailed, densely packed writing—two groups whose Venn diagram probably overlaps in a perfect circle. [Alex McCown-Levy]
Vintage demogorgon ($10.75)
Why do we deserve it? Not everyone at The A.V. Club dedicates a weekly night to trolling goblin lairs and creating intricate backstories for their gnome bards, but those of us who do play Dungeons & Dragons probably infuse more pop culture into our adventures than the average player. So when we devoured Stranger Things like everyone else, we had our hearts set on incorporating the vintage demogorgon into our next campaign. The ’80s-era figure seen in Stranger Things is only available through Mirliton, an Italian company that owns the rights to the now-closed Grenadier Models. It’s poured by hand and shipped unpainted, but even left in its raw pewter it gives off an aura of classic D&D. We had The Onion’s art director, Eric Ervine, paint ours to mimic the one in Stranger Things, and the results are incredible.
Who else deserves it? Fans of Stranger Things, throwback items of the ’80s, and any dungeon master looking to add some ’80s flair to their next D&D session. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set ($20), Storm King’s Thunder ($50), and Volo’s Guide To Monsters ($50)
Why do we deserve it? While not everyone has been queueing up their favorite fantasy playlist and battling dragons for years, there’s never a bad time to join your friends’ campaign or start one yourself. Wizards Of The Coasts’ Starter Set contains all you need to begin, with the rule book, five pre-generated characters, six dice, and a 64-page book of a beginner’s adventure (Lost Mine Of Phandelver) to get your party on its way. Lost Mine Of Phandelver takes a party from level 1 to 5 with helpful instruction for new players and dungeon masters. After you’ve grown from infantile beginners to level 5 proficiency, Storms King’s Thunder opens your world up for a giant-themed adventure, where you’ll advance to level 11. Meanwhile, the brand new Volo’s Guide To Monsters will inspire any dungeon master with its dive into the lore and legends of monsters and creatures, accompanied by beautiful illustrations.
Who else deserves it? Anyone who plays D&D or, more importantly, wants to start. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Charlie Brown pin ($6.50)
Why do we deserve it? Though this pin takes its inspiration from a seasonal favorite—It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown—its spirit is perennial. We all have a little trouble with the scissors. Strangers prefer to trick us, rather than treat us. Yet we still throw our hastily assembled costumes on and sally forth despite increasingly heavy sacks, because at the end of a long, hard night, there’s a party with all of our friends. Sure, they’re going to use the backs of our heads to model jack-o’-lantern designs, but it beats the heck out of spending the night in a stupid pumpkin patch.
Who else deserves it? Sincere, if misguided, little brothers; best friends who’ve earned something to pin to their chest after fighting the Red Baron; anyone who’s flat on their back after having another football pulled out from under them. [Erik Adams]
The A.V. Club’s Vinyl Me Please bundle ($135, $210, or $344)
Why do we deserve it? As you may intuit, The A.V. Club actually had a hand in putting this one together. Vinyl Me Please has been the premier record club for some time, so when they reached out to us asking if we’d put together a record bundle, it was a no-brainer. The records in The A.V. Club’s bundle are Beck’s Odelay, Weezer’s Pinkerton, and The Books’ The Lemon Of Pink, and you can nab them with a three month ($135), six month ($210), and year-long ($344) subscription to Vinyl Me Please’s service. That’ll give you our three picks from VMP’s archive, along with a new record, and accompanying cocktail recipe, each month. If you give the subscription as a gift, it comes with a $25 store credit to put toward records like the Miles Davis, Beastie Boys, and J Dilla albums The A.V. Club picked up with our bundle.
Who else deserves it? With records picked by our editors for our audience, we hope A.V. Club readers would be enthused by it. Though it also works for those needing to pick up three influential records that cross genre lines. [David Anthony]
Sennheiser HD 4.30G headphones ($99.95)
Why do we deserve it? We love music, but, then again, who doesn’t? The reason we really need these is because, frankly, we’re going deaf. All those years pressed against speakers and cramming sub-standard earbuds into our canals have given us permanent ringing and a questionable auditory future. These HD headphones provide a comfortable listening experience and crystal-clear sound, and can help us keep both our bass and treble in check. They also look sweet, and lord knows we could use all the help we can get on that front.
Who else deserves it? Audio nerds and those who rely solely on earbuds. You really need a better pair of headphones. [Marah Eakin]
Why do we deserve it? Any true-blue Star Trek fan has been waiting for this moment, and since that includes us, there’s really no further explanation needed. It’s a goddamned working Star Trek Communicator—it pairs up with your phone via Bluetooth, allowing you to actually flip it up and, you know, communicate. Created from a 3-D scan of the original prop, you can also stream music or use it for hands-free calling. The stand allows for contactless charging, and just in case you were worried non-nerds wouldn’t get how cool this is, it also has authentic sound effects and built-in conversation fragments from the Star Trek Universe, so you don’t have to hold it in their face and announce, “I HAVE A STAR TREK COMMUNICATOR. PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE UNLESS YOU WANT TO CALL ME ON IT OR WATCH ME AWKWARDLY USE IT.”
Who else deserves it? Anyone with a yen to live in a future that looks remarkably like the past; Star Trek fans; people who just want an excuse to say “Beam me up, Scotty,” without looking like an insane person. [Alex McCown-Levy]
Why do we deserve it? Because we’d rather be a guitar player than a guitar hero. Jamstik+ is a Bluetooth-enabled guitar device with a real fretboard, and a smartphone or computer can track on-screen the notes played in real time. It makes learning a guitar far more interactive than the old method of books, tapes, or aimlessly plucking a string at a time in search of the right note. Seasoned musicians would also find the Jamstik+ useful—it’s light enough to carry in backpacks, ready at a moment’s notice to translate the inner-music of your muse into actual notes and chords via your favorite song composition app.
Who else deserves it? Wannabe musicians who fear the human interaction and financial burden of in-person lessons. [Kevin Pang]
Why do we deserve it? Into each life a little rain must fall, but also, a few reissues of beloved albums that we’ve worn out from overplaying should drop as well, because how else can we keep listening to the same thing over and over again until we die? This sparkling reissue of the beloved Illinois indie rock group’s third album features 180g black vinyl remastered from the original tapes, a 16-page fanzine, and downloads of three previously unreleased bonus tracks. But most importantly, it allows us to continue being snooty about owning the group’s entire discography on vinyl, and pretending they’re all original editions.
Who else deserves it? Kids just discovering the magic of early ’90s indie guitar rock; curmudgeonly old music snobs who will happily expound on how Poster Children were one of the best live acts ever; fans of great rock music. [Alex McCown-Levy]
Why do we deserve it? With ever more impressive gadgets and stand mixers out there, the cookie jar is the kitchen accent lost to time—just like anyone who’s ever encountered one of Doctor Who’s weeping angels. But we think these snack strongboxes are making a comeback, which is why we wanted to get our hands on one that’s visually appealing (well, on one side) and functional. The fact that it’s also a bit foreboding only sweetens the deal.
Who else deserves it? Those unwilling to share their seaweed truffles or Dodgy Jammers. [Danette Chavez]
Absolute Preacher Volume 1 ($150)
Why do we deserve it? Like many others, we had high hopes for AMC’s adaptation of Preacher, thanks to our affection for Garth Ennis’ original comics. This huge, deceptively elegant, very heavy leather-bound hardcover tome respectfully collects Preacher issues #1-26 in an oversize, full-color format, so you can better drink in illustrator Steve Dillon’s steaming bags of guts and spittle-flecked Arseface close-ups. Plus, it comes with a new forward by Preacher superfans Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who love the comic so much, they made a TV show out of it.
Who else deserves it? Fans of the series, fans of the comic book, fans of the sacred and the profane (although far more heavily weighted toward the latter). [Katie Rife]
Cat Bonnet ($5.95)
Why do we deserve it? Because everyone deserves an opportunity to humiliate their pets for the sake of adorableness. A cat bonnet may not be what your feline companion had in mind for the holidays, but maybe they’ll change their mind once they see how cute they look.
Who else deserves it? Anyone with a cat and the patience to try and convince their pet not to paw it off; fellow crazy cat people. [Alex McCown-Levy]
Why do we deserve it? Like every other site on Earth, we’ve written quite extensively about Elvis Presley. This one features all 60 of Elvis’ RCA studio, soundtrack, and live records, so we knew we had to have it. The bonus material, which includes stickers and a 300-page booklet, is just the cherry on top.
Who else deserves it? Cool dads, hip moms, and everyone with a pelvis to shake. [Marah Eakin]
Vans Toy Story shoes ($37 - $70)
Why do we deserve it? We all need shoes, and dang it if these aren’t some of the cutest ones we’ve ever seen. There’s the Buzz space-ranger ones that look like you belong on a spaceship; the Western-inspired Woody sneakers; and even ones for the kids—you know, the demographic for whom the Toy Story films are ostensibly for.
Who else deserves it? Is there a snake in your boots? No? Then you deserve these shoes. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Why do we deserve it? 20th Century Fox celebrated the 20th anniversary of Independence Day with a second installment that saw humanity fending off yet another invasion. The sequel might have have given us the female president we were denied in our reality, but it was ultimately underwhelming. Which is all the more reason to revisit the first Independence Day, which remains a rollicking good time. The Ultimate Collector’s Edition also comes with a replica alien attacker ship, which you can use to pretend you’re following Professor Farnsworth’s suit and getting off this planet.
Who else deserves it? Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum fans, with or without cigars; Dr. Brackish Okun, who always believed. [Danette Chavez]
China: The Cookbook by Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan ($49.95)
All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips ($40)
Land Of Fish And Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop ($35)
Why do we deserve it? “Chinese cuisine” is such a broad and abstract term, it’s like saying a restaurant serves “European cuisine.” If you’re to authoritatively write about the three dozen or so regional cuisines within China, you’d need a book so comprehensive it could double as a weapon against medium-sized rodents. Between Kei Lum and Diora Fong Chan’s China: The Cookbook and Carolyn Phillips’ All Under Heaven, you’ve got 1,234 pages delving deep beyond the obvious—here you’ll find Hunanese smoked whole fish to Tibetan momo dumplings and zhajiangmian noodles from Beijing. Those two tomes would cover everything you’d need to know about regional Chinese cooking, but that Fuchsia Dunlop released a new cookbook this year means you should make room for one more. Dunlop—perhaps the best English-writing authority on Chinese gastronomy—has focused her newest cookbook Land Of Fish And Rice on the gentle and balanced dishes of the Jiangnan region along China’s eastern seaboard. Pay special attention to her recipes for Beggar’s Chicken and the sweet, indulgent braised pork belly of hong shao rou.
Who else deserves it? History buffs, people with coffee tables, those in need of sturdy doorstops. [Kevin Pang]
Why do we deserve it? We’ve been inundated with bullshit adult coloring books since the trend started taking over booksellers earlier this year. Almost every single one of them encourages crayon-grasping adults to focus their attention on mandalas and pictures of nature, and while that’s probably soothing, we’re more into coloring books that feature explosions and blood. This Die Hard coloring book features images of Hans Gruber, John McClane, and Nakatomi Plaza, as well as all sorts of Die Hard-related activities like word searches and connect-the-dots. Get your red crayons ready, because this book features tons of blood.
Who else deserves it? Those who believe Die Hard is the quintessential Christmas movie. [Marah Eakin]
Why do we deserve it? Because there are 8 million stories in the Naked City, and the 138 that made it into ABC’s groundbreaking crime drama are finally available on DVD. For four seasons on ABC, Naked City inverted still-forming cop-show conventions, emphasizing the the suspects and the victims over its revolving complement of investigators. And what suspects and victims they were: The show’s New York City base of operations gave Naked City access to the future stars honing their craft on the city’s stages and in its acting schools, including such luminaries as Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Cicely Tyson, and Diane Ladd.
Who else deserves it? Law & Order junkies; vintage TV completists; anyone who wants to know where hacky “There are 8 million stories” jokes originated. [Erik Adams]
Googly Eyes Luggage Tag ($5.95)
Why do we deserve it? We do a ton of traveling, hopping across the country and world in pursuit of pop culture’s hottest and most timely stories about movies we probably could have just seen here in Chicago. As such, we’re clearly entitled to both the best luggage and, in this case, the best and goofiest luggage tag. This Googly Eyes Luggage Tag says we’re both fun and responsible, and lets careless baggage handlers know that we’re watching them, both literally and metaphorically.
Who else deserves it? Travel mavens with a sense of humor; anyone who’s lost a bag in transit. [Marah Eakin]
Why do we deserve it? 20 years on, DJ Shadow’s debut album remains a powerfully staggering work. Composed largely of samples, Josh Davis’ first release under the DJ Shadow name saw him offer up a dense work that’s been imitated time and again in the two decades since its release. The Endtrospective Edition sees the album expanded, with alternate versions, demos, and a full album of remixes that put a new spin on Endtroducing. As a work, Endtroducing is one that benefits from repeat listens and thoughtful analysis, and this six LP set seems like the best way to experience it yet.
Who else deserves it? Anyone who is looking for a crash course on the power of sampling would learn a lot from working through this oversized edition of Endtroducing. [David Anthony]
Why do we deserve it? We appreciate this subtle Captain America jacket we can throw over our Steve Rogers-pre-vita-rays bodies. It’s warm, it’s sturdy, and it brings out our inner superheroes. Its makers have a Marvel Universe-sized catalogue of pop culture-inspired duds, from subtle jackets that don’t call attention to their superhero origins to straight-up costumes like this Doctor Strange get-up.
Who else deserves it? Steve Rogers; anyone who doesn’t want to sacrifice expressing their superhero fandom on the alter of non-superhero inspired outerwear. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
The Splat: Coloring The ’90s ($14.99)
Why do we deserve it? It pains us to say it, but a lot of us come firmly from the generation that defines themselves as ’90s kids. We grew up eating Dunkaroos and hopping around on Skip-Its, and we definitely remember Nicktoons. That’s why we like Nickelodeon’s The Splat, the kid-friendly channel’s nod to its storied past. The Splat: Coloring The ’90s lets us dive deep into Rugrats, Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold!, and Ren & Stimpy world with intricate and fun illustrations that both soothe our grown-up souls and take us back to hours spent on the couch.
Who else deserves it? Parents with antsy kids, other (ugh) ’90s kids. [Marah Eakin]
Why do we deserve it? Because the A.V. stands for audio-visual. Most smartphones today are equipped to shoot film in 4K format, a resolution higher than Blu-ray discs. For us casual weekend filmmakers, the must-have gadget is a three-axis gimbal stabilizer, a fancy name for a steadycam for your phone. No more intrusive than a selfie stick, a stabilizer eliminates the amateur jitteriness of handheld camera work, producing buttery smooth gliding shots even when you’re chasing after the shot. We liked the ProView S3 in particular because it’s one of the few gimbals that can stabilize shots in vertical portrait perspective.
Who else deserves it? Parents who enjoy filming their Tasmanian devil kids. [Kevin Pang]
Why do we deserve it? When Lou Reed died in 2013, we were all hit pretty hard. Since then, we’ve run a number of pieces singing the late Velvet Underground member’s praises, as well as hailing his contributions to all of our lives. We’re Reediacs, and we’re also completists. This 150-gram vinyl set contains fully restored versions of Transformer, Berlin, Rock N Roll Animal, Coney Island Baby, Street Hassle, and The Blue Mask.
Who else deserves it? Anyone who’s got a battered old copy of Transformer that needs a sonic update. [Marah Eakin]
Pawnee Rangers and Pawnee Goddesses pins ($6.50 each)
Why do we deserve it? Because everybody should feel like a part of something that’s bigger than themselves, whether that’s a community, a government, a club dedicated to teaching the basics of survival, or a club that throws regular puppy parties. These lapel pins declare to the world that you believe in fun, fairness, and the versatility of a quality tarpaulin. Channel the world-improving energy of Leslie Knope through the Pawnee Goddesses crest, or potentially flout Ron Swanson’s beliefs about personal ornamentation with the Pawnee Rangers number. Or go back and forth between the two—because thanks to Leslie and Ron, there’s no rule that says you can’t be a Ranger and a Goddess.
Who else deserves it? Strong-willed civil servants with big hearts; rugged individualists with hidden vulnerabilities; real people, in a real town, in a real building, with real feelings. [Erik Adams]
Music Muffs headphones ($40)
Why do we deserve it? Because we live in a zone that turn frigid for half the year, that’s why. We want warm ears that are also listening to music, making Yatra’s muffs an essential, practical addition to our puffy winter wardrobe. With cute, wintery-patterned cloth wrapping the speakers and the adjustable head strap, we’ve even been wearing these in the snow without worry about short-circuiting naked headphones (and maybe electrocuting ourselves? This is a worry that doesn’t exist with these Music Muffs!).
Who else deserves it? Anyone who, for whatever reason, has chosen to live in a place like Chicago that freezes every winter. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Why do we deserve it? Because your collection of old trading cards were either tossed out when you went to college or got ruined that summer when the basement flooded. You can finally see them all again with Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volumes #1, #2, and #3. Every card, sticker, puzzle, and trivia quiz is here along with supporting text by Gary Gerani, who edited the entire original run of cards. Sometimes he offers neat snippets of insight on what it entailed to write copy for scenes from a movie he hadn’t yet seen, and other times he simply states his appreciation for a particular card. It makes the experience feel more like flipping through an old family photo album when he provides commentary like “Here’s a nice portrait shot of Luke Skywalker outside of Echo Base.” The best part of the books, though, is that each has a dust jacket made of the same waxy, gritty paper the cards came wrapped in. Slip it off and each book has a perfectly pink stick of gum printed on the cover.
Who else deserves it? Younger fans of collectible trading card games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. It may be novel for them to see the proof of a time before the trading cards were also games and people spent their money on rectangles of cardboard just for something to look at while chewing brittle shards of bubble gum. [Nick Wanserski]
Rainbow Batman Action Figure 6 Pack ($69.95)
Why do we deserve it? Because while we’re certainly not against Batman making a statement in favor of LGBT rights, we recognize that this set of six 6.25-inch action figures is actually an homage to the cover of Detective Comics #241. In the issue, released back in 1957, Batman makes versions of his costume in every color of the rainbow, changing into a different brightly colored outfit every night before he hits the streets of Gotham City. It’s a delightfully deep cut as far as Bat-references go, and hearkens back to one of our favorite, silliest incarnations of the character. And it would probably piss off Frank Miller, which is, frankly, pretty appealing.
Who else deserves it? Bat-fans on all points along the gender spectrum; anyone in need of a caped pick-me-up. [Katie Rife]
Miami Vice complete series Blu-ray ($99.98)
Why do we deserve it? The undercover officers of the Metro-Dade Police Department provided lurid, synth-splashed escape for audiences of the 1980s, forming one of TV’s enduring visions of the decade. Three decades (and a lot of unflattering real-world police behavior) later, the “MTV cops” of Miami Vice still represent an irresistible getaway. It might not hold up to the standards of today’s viewers, but Miami Vice still gets by on the qualities that distinguished it from the other primetime offerings of the era: style and atmosphere, in everything from its scrunched-sleeves/no-socks fashions, the music-video visuals, and a soundtrack of contemporary hits stitched together by Jan Hammer’s airy keyboard compositions.
Who else deserves it? Your buddy who corners strangers at parties to sing the praises of Michael Mann’s big-screen Miami Vice; Edward James Olmos devotees; Synthwave fans curious about the postmodern subgenre’s roots. [Erik Adams]
Crime Story complete series DVD ($29.98)
Why do we deserve it? We got the Miami Vice set, so we might as well go all in on Michael Mann-adjacent, game-changing police dramas from the ’80s. Crime Story’s influence was felt less immediately than Miami Vice’s, which is part of the reason it was canceled more swiftly: Its serialized structure laid the groundwork for today’s continuity-obsessed prestige dramas, but also lowered the period piece’s esteem in NBC’s eyes. Miss one chapter in the cat-and-mouse game between the Chicago Major Crime Unit and gangster Ray Luca (Anthony Denison), and you might as well have missed them all. It certainly didn’t help when things moved from the Windy City to Rat Pack-era Sin City in the second season—but thanks to the wonders of DVD, you won’t miss a beat in Lieutenant Mike Torello’s (Dennis Farina) cross-country pursuit of Luca and his goons.
Who else deserves it? Dads on their third Sopranos re-watch; moviegoers who left Public Enemies thinking, “It could’ve used more hats”; the one person still mourning the brief and inglorious life of Vegas. [Erik Adams]
Why do we deserve it? While we’re especially versed in Dolly Parton and Miranda Lambert, we’ve also got a deep interest in Outlaw Country’s past, present, and future, and that’s why we snagged this Kris Kristofferson box set. The 16-disc set brings together all 11 of Kristofferson’s Monument and Columbia records, all of which were recorded from 1970 to 1981 at a clip of about a record a year. There are also five CDs full of rarities, studio outtakes, and previously unreleased demos, just in case 11 straight-up excellent Kristofferson records weren’t enough for you. We recommend starting with Jesus Was A Capricorn.
Who else deserves it? Willie Nelson, Willie Nelson’s kids, and anyone who knows Willie Nelson’s music. [Marah Eakin]