John Powers

These days, almost every new movie, TV show, album or book feels so anticipated and pre-packaged that we're already tired of it by the time it's released. This makes it especially thrilling when something dazzling just appears like that alien spaceship in Arrival, startling even those whose business it is be in the know.

After decades of dogs ruling popular culture — there are three canine stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame — there's been a revolution. Thanks to a tsunami of cute viral videos, our feline comrades are now in the catbird seat, from those ubiquitous Hello Kitty stores to surprise bestsellers like Takashi Hiraide's exquisite, sneakily profound novel The Guest Cat.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

It's the great pleasure of my work that I get to spend my days watching and reading — and it's the great frustration that every year I'm haunted by all the terrific things I haven't talked about on Fresh Air. I call this collection my "ghost file," and as 2016 comes to an end, I want to un-haunt myself by sharing six of my favorite ghosts. They range from the cosmic to the comic.


Dekalog

If any image haunts TV news, and perhaps our conscience, it's the seemingly ceaseless river of migrants seeking refuge from war, dictatorship and poverty. These desperate souls inspire pity, fear and election-year arguments about whether to offer them welcome or keep them out.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

I have a friend in London who's at war with her car's GPS. Although she nearly always puts it on, she's driven mad by its voice, which is female, and refuses to follow its directions. She spends whole trips arguing with, barking at, and sometimes cursing this imaginary woman. She'd never be this rude to an actual human being. But, of course, a GPS doesn't have feelings.

But what if it did? That's one of the many timely questions raised by Westworld, the darkly exciting new series that's HBO's biggest gamble since Game of Thrones.

Television used to be careful when it told fictional stories about the presidency. It was bound by a sense of decorum. But things changed forever with the famous commercial for the movie Independence Day that wowed those watching the 1996 Super Bowl by blowing the White House sky high. Ever since, presidents have been fair game. You can portray them as thugs, schemers or murderers — or knock them off to boost ratings.

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