|Okay, maybe this was my favorite thing this year. | Apple TV|
Written by Steph Wu
Well that was something, right? As 2020 wraps up, I know we’re thinking about all the beautiful memories made throughout the year. Hah, you thought. COVID, you truly are the worst. So maybe this year wasn’t great for many of us because we were all stuck inside. But, if there was anything that could have provided some solace, it was pop culture. And now that we are reaching the end of this calendar year, it’s time to reflect on some of my personal faves of this year. In no particular order really, here are some of my favorite distractions from a year I truly cannot wait to forget.
On paper, this could have been a disaster. An unqualified American man becomes the head coach for a European football team? However, this is downright the most charming show I’ve seen in ages. I stumbled upon the Apple TV+ series on accident, reading a tweet that compared the titular character Paddington. That is not to be lightly said so I had to see for myself. Needless to say, I watched all the episodes available at the time (seven out of a total of ten) in one go and was immediately obsessed. It’s a show that preaches the power of goodness and also finding that goodness in everyone. In a year that’s been so dark, this show was a shining bright light of positivity that was so needed. So needed that Apple even gave the series a two season renewal! Like any great sports movie or show, it doesn’t require you to actually be a fan of the game, but more so to root for the characters and stories on and off the pitch. Plus, I have a good feeling you’ll be cheering on FC Richmond even if you don’t quite understand all the rules of soccer. Jason Sudeikis, along with the rest of the ensemble, are as delightful as the biscuits in the show, you’ll get what I mean when you watch. I’m also hopeful for an Emmy nomination for Sudeikis. Want to know what it’s like to get a warm hug from a show? This is it.
Any time I hear Alex Garland’s name, I’m in. Garland, who wrote and directed Ex Machina and Annihilation, two of my favorite recent sci-fi films, made his first foray into television with this miniseries for FX. It actually started right as we were going into quarantine, so it was a nice weekly series to pass the time. Not to mention that the series is based in San Francisco and the cinematography was absolutely gorgeous. The mystery was intriguing and though it somewhat stumbles in pacing, I think the acting, especially from Nick Offerman, kept me engaged. For a contained series, I hope, it executed a singular vision to the high standards that I have come to expect from Garland.
Julie and the Phantoms
I know I’m probably not the demo this show was trying to hit, but you know what? Who cares. Sometimes I just need a show about a young girl who’s trying to find her love for music again after her mother passes away and does so through the help of a ghost band. That’s right, that’s the plot. Quickly, and very easily, I fell in love with this show. Madison Reyes, who plays Julie, has a voice that stopped me dead in my tracks the first time she sang. This series is for kids, but I really can’t gush enough about how much I love the entire soundtrack and the message of pushing through even after tragedy.
What We Do In The Shadows
Admittedly, it took me about halfway into the first season to really get into it, but then I really think it begins to hit its stride. Watching vampire roommates and their human familiar deal with living with each other is funnier than it should be, as well as shockingly relatable. I adore the entire cast, especially Guillermo, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for the group. Also, I’ve got one name for you: Jackie Daytona.
Christopher Nolan’s film that just begged to be released in 2020. Without a doubt, this was personally my most anticipated release of the year. But as with many things this year though, it just wasn’t going as planned. I had a small hope that it would just get released once everything was okay, but as we also saw, it was hard to know when things would be okay and even more so, if we would have theaters to see it in. There was a small pocket of time in which private theater rentals were allowed so I was able to do so with a small group of friends. So this little blurb isn’t so much about the film, but the experience I had doing so. At the time we went, I hadn’t been in a movie theater in 8 months and yet all felt so familiar. And what better treat than a movie I was so excited to see? Nolan, as I would argue any film empirically, deserves that big screen treatment. I’m not going to pretend I understand the bigger business at large with theater operations and financials, and especially now with Warner Bros. releasing their slate on HBO Max, but what I do know is that I love the theater going experience and I am not the only one.
Wow, this show blew my socks off. Obama’s too apparently. I still standby that I like the first season just a little bit better but wow, this dark, irreverent at times, take on the superhero genre is a jolt to the Marvel fodder we’ve had over the years. I feel like you could even lump in DCEU too. The series, based on a comic book series, asks, “What if a major corporation own and ran superheroes?” I love the premise and the commentary is on point. Also, flying under the radar if I may so, is the actor playing Homelander, Antony Starr. His performance is award worthy and I hope there will be more recognition in the future.
The Last of Us Part II and Among Us
Yes, I’m cheating cause this is technically two entries technically. The long awaited follow up to one of the best video games, The Last of Us Part II was an absolutely exhausting 25 hour saga that hit emotionally from the start and never stopped. Ask my roommate who watched me sob uncontrollably in the first hour of gameplay. It was rough to say the least. The sequel is by no means perfect but I think it did a great job balancing its narrative with gorgeous sets and action. Only fueling my cautious optimism for the upcoming HBO series.
And ah yes, Among Us, a great game to call out friends for being sus when they’re not or murdering them in the dreaded electrical room. The game actually came out years ago, but it’s captured the attention of many of us while we’ve been stuck inside. I’ve had countless fun nights playing with friends and it’s even connected me to some people I normally don’t get to see, so for this crazy space mafia game, I am incredibly thankful.
What did the producers of Top Chef know that we didn’t? First and foremost, it was an all-star season, which meant the return of some of the most talented and beloved previous cheftestants. So familiarity, we love that. Second, the season started in LA and ended Italy, two places that have been hit with COVID hard. As someone who’s been living in LA during the entirety of this situation, it was heartwarming because the show was highlighting incredible spots in the city, some new and many that have long been on my list. There was a melancholy hope that when things were over, these establishments will still be around to patron. Now that might be harder to say many months later. Without drifting to much sadder things though, I was appreciative that this show was very much like comfort food for me. I also did end up watching like every past season since I could.
Steve Kornacki & John King
Election week was truly a hellscape for my roommate and me. Up until the race was called, we were held hostage by CNN and MSNBC. The TVs were on from the moment we were awake and reluctantly turned off late into the night when we just couldn’t keep our eyes open. Like many viewers though, we soon did fall in with love the Map Daddies - Steve Kornacki and John King. The insights they were giving to every county was captivating. Maricopa County? Allegheny County? It was like watching the Olympics but make it politics. So thank you to these two for making election coverage just a little bit more enjoyable.
Parasite’s Big Oscars Night
I’m not going to lie, I kind of forgot this happened this year. And what a shame though because what a moment (many moments really) it was to see Parasite have the night the film did. You know it was a priority night when I decided to spend my last night in New Orleans in the Airbnb watching the telecast instead. Lindsey, and many of our friends too, can attest to the many tears shed for this film’s numerous and well deserved accolades. As an Asian American working in this industry, it was hard not to be inspired.
Some honorable mentions I’d like to include:
Palm Springs - I won’t give away J.K. Simmons’ very niche SoCal quote that I adore so much, but it was beautiful and this Groundhog Day-esque rom com is a very easy, enjoyable watch.
A cover of “Imagine” no one asked for - Well, some celebs were truly bored in the house and in the house bored.
The Queen's Gambit - I don't know how to play chess but it was riveting. I don't think it was perfect, but it was an easy watch that had a nice cheesy ending that was fun. Plus, the boy squad is honestly where it's at.
Diane Keaton’s Kitchen - This video is such a hot mess of a taco tutorial but the moment when she looks for a fork is comedy gold and I’m not quite sure why but it is.
“Steph’s Less Young” - Yes, for shiggles, I am including the birthday video my roommate made me because it’s actually super incredible and she put in so much work. So wherever I can acknowledge the amazingness of her and my friends, I will do so.
If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading and let me know what your favorites were! Here's to 2021!