‘This Is Us’: The best show on TV, or one big manipulative trick?

Having already been renewed through its third season, "This Is Us" is a show we'll be talking about for a while. After last Tuesday's Season 1 finale, I Facebooked that it successfully made me cry in 18 out of 18 episodes, and that it's the #bestshowontv. That hashtag was mostly used by other "This Is Us" fans that night, which is to be expected. But it's worth noting that "This Is Us" (which tallies an 8.9 on IMDB) still garners the most #bestshowontv labels a week later – and this ain't exactly the vast wasteland era of TV.

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‘Star Wars’ flashback: ‘Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadows’ (2008)

Michael Reaves steps up his game in "Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadows" (2008), which has more of a true mystery plot than the trilogy's first book and even better tie-ins to the wider Expanded Universe. While there are continuity oddities and plot conveniences, it's a compulsive page-turner and Jax Pavan's gang of renegades is more engaging now – if only because we've spent more time with them.

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‘Buffy’ comics go back to ‘The High School Years’ to hook young readers

After making my list of the top "Buffy" 20 episodes for the 20th anniversary, I had a hankering to go back to the time when 12 of those episodes take place: The high school years of Seasons 1-3. Luckily, Dark Horse launched "Buffy: The High School Years" with two comics last year, and with more forthcoming. Both Faith Erin Hicks' "Freaks & Geeks" (no relation to the TV show of that name) and Kel McDonald's "Glutton for Punishment" are set during Season 1, so we're talking about stories with a depth on par with "The Witch" or "I Robot, You Jane" – although even a bit shallower than that.

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‘The Obsidian Chamber’ is P&C’s craziest ride, but it’s also a key Constance novel

For the first 100 pages of "The Obsidian Chamber" (October 2016, hardcover), Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's 16th Agent Pendergast novel, one word kept popping into my head: "crazy." In almost a parody of their most credulity-pushing excesses from the Gideon Crew books, Pendergast's butler Proctor chases Constance and her kidnapper all over the globe. In a matter of mere days, he's trekking across the Kalahari Desert in Africa and fighting off lions. The prose has a numb, relentless quality, but it's still insane.

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The chosen 20: The all-time best ‘Buffys’

Today marks the 20th anniversary of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which premiered on March 10, 1997. That sentence is technically incorrect – "Buffy" debuted with a movie on July 30, 1992, so this is the 25th anniversary year. The "Buffy" we all know and love is a reboot (a fact that gives me pause whenever I scoff at reboots). The movie shouldn't be discounted, as people who liked the film provided a good chunk of that early TV audience. (That audience has now grown to include people who were too young for the show when it was first on TV, such as my friend Devin, who was 9 when it premiered and now counts "Buffy" among his favorite shows.)

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Rewatching and reviewing the classics: ‘24’ Season 1 (2001-02)

With "24: Legacy" premiering earlier this year, I have a perfect excuse to rewatch "24" Season 1 (2001-02, Fox; now streaming on Amazon Prime). Even without "Legacy," this seems like a good time to get nostalgic about a show that was presciently conceived before the Twin Towers fell and went on to become the definitive post-9/11 drama.

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Klosterman delivers his ultimate think-piece of a book, with one problematic chapter on politics

With a mix of his own ideas and the spotlighting of others', Chuck Klosterman's ninth book, "But What If We're Wrong" (2016), had me wanting to discuss these ideas with someone after each chapter. Like all of his works – but on steroids this time – this one is utterly engaging (except for one baffling misstep, which I'll break down below).

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'Star Wars' flashback: 'Coruscant Nights I: Jedi Twilight' (2008)

If you're following the EU in chronological order, Michael Reaves' "Coruscant Nights I: Jedi Twilight" (2008) is an oddity for a couple reasons. First, rather than trying to track down Obi-Wan and Yoda, as one might expect, Vader becomes obsessed with finding Jax Pavan. This feels like equal parts "inexplicable shift in the plotline" and "compelling mystery for the rest of the trilogy." Secondly, we witness the death of Even Piell, who is already dead at this point, as per "The Clone Wars." This has a real-world explanation (more on that later), but no fictional answer.

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‘Beyond the Ice Limit’ blends familiar sci-fi themes into a fun, but too shallow, ride

After receiving "many thousands" of letters and emails asking for a sequel to "The Ice Limit" (2000) (as they recount in an author's note), Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child finally go "Beyond the Ice Limit" (May 2016, hardcover; now in paperback). As those readers sensed, and as the authors realize in this 374-page novel, there is more story to tell – and it's a good one that stirs up a lot of sci-fi thoughts and ideas.

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‘The Monster’ makes a case for old-school creature effects, human resiliency

If you can spare 91 minutes for a taut, tense horror flick, check out "The Monster," which had a limited theatrical release last year and is now available on Amazon Prime. Starring an against-type Zoe Kazan ("Ruby Sparks," "What If") as mother Kathy and 15-year-old Ella Ballentine as daughter Lizzy, this riff from writer-director Bryan Bertino dispenses with the cheese and delivers a lot of scares for its relatively low budget.

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