So long, 2020: Reflections on pop culture in a weird and wild year

At the beginning of 2020, I was feeling what I’d call “stubbornly optimistic” about the year ahead. 2019 hadn’t been the best year for me personally, and I was excited for a fresh start. There were going to be tons of cool new movies to blog and podcast about. There would be cons to attend, and new cosplays to debut. I was determined to make 2020 a year of geeky fun and creative success. 

As you well know, that didn’t exactly pan out for me, or pretty much anyone. 2020 was the year of the pandemic, and I closed out the year in true 2020 fashion by testing positive for COVID the week of Christmas. “Happy holidays” indeed. I watched what was probably my most anticipated movie of the year — “Wonder Woman 1984” — not on a giant, glorious IMAX screen at my local theater, but on my little TV at home while sick with COVID.

Typically, my “best of the year” roundup is my favorite blog post to write each year, but how do you go about doing a top 10 list for such a strange year? Many of the movies I was most excited for this year got punted to 2021.

Instead of trying to do some kind of list cobbled together from the new movies that did come out, for this year’s roundup I’m going to do a more meandering reflection on the highs and lows in 2020 pop culture. 

As a Star Wars fan, unsurprisingly my top entertainment highlight this year was season 2 of “The Mandalorian.” I thought season 1 of “The Mandalorian” was good, but it wasn’t necessarily among my all-time favorite Star Wars stories. However, right from the start, season 2 of “The Mandalorian” felt more cinematic and more epic. I could not wait to wake up early every Friday morning to see each new episode. The finale was absolute perfection; I teared up when I saw Luke Skywalker, and I screamed with delight when I saw Boba Fett sit on Jabba the Hutt’s old throne. This season was action-packed and emotional, and I loved every minute of it. It brought me joy in a dark and discouraging year, and I’m deeply grateful for that.

The list of new movies I saw in theaters this year was pretty short, and varied quite a bit in terms of quality. I really liked Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” — though it was definitely better the second time around. I love a loud IMAX movie, but “Tenet” was, for lack of a better phrase, oppressively loud in that format. 

I ended up watching “Wonder Woman 1984” at home (thanks, COVID!) and had a rather mixed reaction to it. Which is sad, because the 2017 “Wonder Woman” movie is my all-time favorite superhero film. Maybe I was more critical because I watched it in a grumpy mood on a small screen at the end of a crummy year. But overall the sequel seemed too messy and bloated compared to the first film, and the CGI felt surprisingly dodgy at times for such a big budget blockbuster. I didn’t have the heart to write up a full-length negative review, so I’m just going to move on and hope the third film is better. 

Normally, film is my favorite format for fictional storytelling, but in 2020 I ended up watching a lot of really good TV (some of it new content, and some older material I went back and rediscovered). I know no one else is probably talking about the 2008 HBO John Adams miniseries in 2020, but I watched it for the first time this year and man, that was some amazing television. The performances, the costumes, and the sets were all incredible, and I learned a lot about a historical figure who is sometimes overlooked in favor of his flashier peers, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. 

The Umbrella Academy season 2 was very different from season 1, but equally as wonderful. I love that quirky show and its dysfunctional characters so, so much, and I enjoyed the time-traveling journey this show took the viewers on in the second season. 

I binge-watched Schitt’s Creek early on in the pandemic, and few shows have worked their way into my heart as quickly as this one did. It manages to be genuinely hilarious and heartwarming, and it helped me weather the depression and anxiety I was hit with early on in the pandemic. 

Like many people desperate for a distraction in 2020, I watched the Tiger King documentary series on Netflix. It’s one of those true life tales that’s so wild that it must be seen to be believed. In 2021, I’m sure we’ll all still be debating whether or not Carole Baskin actually had her husband murdered. 

Finally, as much as I’m glad to see 2020 go, I will always remember this as the year that I actually fell in love with Westerns, which used to be my least favorite genre of films. I discovered a love for revisionist Westerns, and enjoyed my Western blog-a-thon earlier this year far more than I ever would have dreamed. 

I watched a lot of great Westerns this year, and I’m certain there are still more to discover. My favorites ended up being a Western with a modern setting, “Hell or High Water” (2016), and the Netflix series “Godless” (2017)

This blog-a-thon so shook up my old movie prejudices that I’m actually considering doing a horror movie blog series in 2021, another genre I once never wanted to touch. At this point I’ve learned it’s never a good idea to discount a movie just because it doesn’t seem like something I’d be interested in at first. 

I have no idea what’s in store for pop culture in 2021. Will we all be returning to theaters by this time next year to watch big budget movies? How will the pandemic permanently alter our way of life? It’s too soon to try to answer those questions, but I’m taking comfort in the fact that creative people across the globe will continue to find unique ways to get their stories to us. 

I’m hoping for some great geek storytelling in 2021, and for much brighter days ahead. 

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