That was certainly a year, wasn’t it? I’m not sure; I’m writing this introduction on January 1st in anticipation of reminding myself to continually add to the list as the year goes on so I don’t miss any tasty tidbits. With that said, let’s see what happened in the world that resonated with me. (Edit in December: Oh, if only I’d known back then…)
Schitt’s Creek: The Final Season
What a feel-good show! I had my doubts and was initially turned off by the motel setting, but I’m glad my wife made start watching it. She’s been following it since its inception, more or less, but it wasn’t until the past year or so that it really blew up. The finale gave a nice wrap up for all the characters and I’m glad I spent the time following the Rose family during their stay in Schitt’s Creek. It’s a bit of (sometimes cheesy) feel-good comfort food with some of the best characters I’ve seen on TV in a while!
The Good Place Series Finale
This series was very smart and creative from the beginning with such a fantastic premise and vehicle for teaching people some basic philosophical concepts through its comedy. The final season was split into two parts, with the last part airing this year. It had such a wonderfully thoughtful ending that I still get warm fuzzies thinking about it to this day. The character that gave me the best feeling with the end of their character arc (and avoiding spoilers) was Jason. It gave me such a sense of tranquility to see the end of his character’s arc in the show and how it tied in so nicely to everything that happened with him since the first season. I’m glad it ended when it did and didn’t drag on for too much longer; I think it would have suffered from the problem of escalation: The stakes were already so high, I can’t imagine how they would have made them even higher to get that sweet, sweet narrative tension. A fantastic show, and one I actually look forward to rewatching in the future!
The Other Latif from Radiolab
Radiolab definitely started out this year strong: Latif Nasser, one of the shining stars of the podcast, found out that another person shared his exact name, which is very peculiar, given how unique his name is. This series sees Latif seeking out the other Latif, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, and the absolutely bonkers story of this potential terrorist, potential innocent man stuck in the limbo of legal purgatory that is Gitmo. The story had me looking forward to new installations each week, waiting to get lost in the story of these two men.
At the start of the Pandemic, there was a lot of new things to adjust to: Confusing communications from governments trying to play catch-up to the demanding public health demands, changes in how we live our day-to-day lives, learning what in the world Zoom was, and so on. One podcast, Radiolab, had a series of Dispatches during the first few months of the pandemic, and each one was a fascinating look at our current situation with context from healthcare professionals, historians, and journalists. It will definitely live on as a fascinating time capsule that captured the anxiety of those first few months of Covid-19.
Toast of London
I’m late to the part with this one, but it’s a surreal silly masterpiece. Just the right amount of goofy to help me get through the first month of the pandemic! The story follows Steven Toast, an actor who has fallen from grace, as he tries to reclaim the respect he thinks he deserves in the London circuit. It stars Matt Berry (IT Crowd, Things We Do in the Shadows), so if you’re into dry humor and his sick mustache, give it a whirl!
So… the controversy around this and the amount of pearl clutching that went on around this song seems a bit silly to me. It’s two women of color singing about their sexuality that is just rife with humor and wordplay. I can’t stress enough how playful this song is; I thought it was really funny, with lines like “macaroni in a pot” and “bottom feeder” highlighting just how silly and not-serious the song was. Everyone who got up in arms about this has their right to not consume certain media, but I honestly don’t see what the big fuss is about. Awesome song, regardless!
Live From the Space Stage
Now this… this is a Disney deep cut. Does the name Halyx ring any bells? No? It’s a documentary about that band that formed to play at the main stage at Space Mountain in Disneyland for a single summer: The summer of 1981. This is so nerdy and obscure that– needless to say– I was enraptured from start to finish. The strange origins, the overflowing imagination, and the eventual end of the band was an emotional roller coaster that surpasses Space Mountain itself. And that cover song of this sci-fi wonder during the credits? I was not expecting this documentary to hit me so hard in the feels, but it took me entirely by surprise. A must for super, super Disney fans and those who just really enjoyed 80’s rock.
Unfinished: Deep South
This was another rollercoaster, coming during the Black Lives Matter protests this year, sparked by yet more police violence in America. It takes a look at the chilling murder and life of Isadore Banks, and the legacy of his death continues to haunt and stifle the citizens of Crittenden County. What a haunting and powerful story; I continue to think about it and its implications long after I heard the last episode. It was made by Witness Docs (a Stitcher enterprise) and is free to listen to in its entirety.
This was a bit of a latecomer, brought into my life by my wife’s decision to take the plunge and go full PSNerd by buying Playstation Plus. During August, Fall Guys was one of the free games you could get as part of your subscription. I played the first season and laughed a good amount, but it wasn’t until October, when season two began, that I really started to get into the game. Why do I love it? First, it’s simple enough that anyone can be good. Second, there’s a healthy amount of randomness that can turn the tides but isn’t so random that it takes away from skilled players. Third, it’s hard to get upset. Yeah, you can get annoyed at people who keep hugging you and trying to push you off the balance beams in Slime Climb, but with all the silly bouncy noises and the Fall Guys’ “woohoo”s you hear, it’s hard to stay that way for long. The progression system in the game (Fame levels) is scaled just right that it constantly feeds you a healthy stream of rewards that makes it satisfying to play a few rounds each day. I even won an entire episode a few times! I burned myself out a bit grinding at the end, but if you avoid grinding for grinding’s sake, it’s a silly little romp that can bring a bit of joy to your day!
The Queen’s Gambit
It was a thing on Netflix, I thought it was The Crown, and I watched it realizing, very quickly, that it was actually about chess. What a pleasant surprise! Great mini series, awesome directing, cool color grading, and an incredible story. It’s getting a lot of hype, so if you’re someone like me who gets very skeptical when the hype train comes rolling into town, try not to let that negatively effect your view of this show. Give it a fair shake and see if it’s for you. I know I enjoyed the more subdued nature of the show. That being said, the chess games themselves are shot in a way that you don’t need to understand the rules intricately to feel the intensity and drama in them. I didn’t know I could get so hype and tense about chess!
And lastly, big shout-outs to my loving family and friends. It’s been a tough year for everyone, so thank you for your support and understanding during these strange, strange times we find ourselves in. All the best in 2021!