TV has honestly been my saving grace of 2020. It was one of the few pros of early quarantine, and even now, when there still isn’t much to do safely but stay home, it remains a great distraction. This year, I’ve had the time to try out some prestige TV, revisit old trashy favorites like Four Weddings, 16 and Pregnant, and America’s Next Top Model, and discover some unexpected gems.
Up until the summer hit and the glaring uncertainty of the fall TV season was palpable, 2020 really delivered when it came to escapist TV. While I’ll refrain from my rant about Peter Weber’s Bachelor season cursing the rest of the year (his finale aired just as everything was imploding in March), I feel like 2020 allowed for a new kind of inclusive creativity that hasn’t quite happened before.
By that, I mean that there was truly something for everyone. I have no interest in dark, brooding dramas like Ozark and I can’t find the energy to commit to a new dating reality show like Love is Blind, but they’re there for whoever wants them. I want nothing to do with shows’ COVID-adjacent storylines, but they’re there if you want them. On the other hand, witty dramedies with smart female characters that delivered a perfect combination of joy and heartbreak? There was an abundance of them this year that I don’t think I’ve seen before.
That being said, I’m still working through popular 2020 favorites like The Queen’s Gambit and Normal People, because content that’s on the slow, bleaker side isn’t really doing it for me now. The common theme among the following favorites is definitely a sense of optimism and happiness.
1) Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Season 1
The final scene of this season finale is honestly the most beautiful piece of television I’ve seen in a really long time (and I cry at a lot of TV!). My parents unexpectedly stumbled upon the premiere episode on their own and loved it, so all of us watching the show together every Sunday became a highlight of our early quarantine. It delivered so much joy but could also crush your heart within a matter of seconds. I’m so excited for its second season premiere on Jan. 5 and its schedule upgrade from a Sunday night slot to Tuesdays.
Favorite TV shows formulate in your consciousness in a different way than favorite movies do. Favorite movies often stem from sometime in childhood, when you had ample time to watch and rewatch and when obsessions were encouraged. These are less likely to fade away from your favor because they’re so reminiscent of how you became who you are. These stay embedded in your mind, serving as an ever-faithful time capsule that triggers your brain to recite lines and reenact scenes like nobody’s business.
Favorite TV shows are liable to change over time, molding to fit the phase of life you’re in, and you may outgrow these more quickly. Such is the case for me with this list, and the favorite shows I decided upon only were mostly newer shows that feel particularly monumental to who I am and what I’m drawn to.
This is the most constant of my TV favorites. It hooked me from an early age, so it really blows my mind when I hear about people in their late teens and twenties watching it for the first time. I don’t watch it as often as I did then, but its take on friends-as-family, clever wordplay, and physical comedy is the ultimate recipe for comfort in my book. The Thanksgiving episodes remain a must-watch every year, and, yes, I’m a total Monica with underlying qualities of Chandler and Ross.
I’ve mentioned before that finishing Lost inspired me to pursue entertainment journalism, and as a gradual result, I was lucky to spend almost two years in a dream position in that field. It was the first series I watched that showed me the power of television storytelling and how the medium could be used to its full potential. I stick to the belief that it kicked off the flashback trend in TV dramas, and as seen with NBC’s Manifest, its mystical plot and ensemble cast are still inspiring the basic structure of so many shows.
3) The Middle
In addition to Everybody Loves Raymond, The Middle is the closest existing TV portrayal of my family. We watched this one from the beginning, and our real-life situations always closely mirrored what was happening on it at the time. Reruns provide a dose of nourishing nostalgia and, seeing as I once watched episodes on a international flight that was homeward bound, revisiting it will always feel like coming home.
I’ve written before about Desert Island Discs, a BBC-produced podcast that interviews public figures about the eight songs they’d want access to if they were stuck on a desert island. In between explanations of each selected song, they discuss their upbringing, the growth of their careers, and what they anticipate in time to come. Its archive goes back to the 1940s, and while most new episodes feature figures only those in the UK would know, there are also plenty of appearances from American and global stars.
The reasoning behind guests’ song choices varies. Some may pick music that is significant to a certain time in their life or has always meant something to them. Others think more rationally, considering which records they wouldn’t tire of on a desert island. I tried my hand at this selection process with both angles in mind.
1) “Piano Man,” by Billy Joel
Now Paul is a real estate novelist / Who never had time for a wife / And he’s talkin’ with Davy, who’s still in the Navy / And probably will be for life
If you were born and raised on Long Island in the last 50 years, a love for Billy Joel and this particular song runs through your blood from the very second of your first breath. He’s our local bard, our very own William Shakespeare of music. This is the song that was there before my memories even formed — I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know it. Its lyrics ache with lost potential, pessimistic optimism, and the sad comfort of an often pathetic routine.
I’ve never really identified as a fan of reality TV. With the exception of the Bachelor franchise, I don’t watch what I think reality TV has become nowadays – irritable housewives’ Bravo shows, the ever-persistent singing competitions, and delectably sweet baking shows.
Instead, I associate more with the earlier concepts of the genre. Strangers thrown into a house together, competitors in a remote location proving survival of the fittest, and relatively unproduced docu-series. Starting from when I was nine years old and lasting throughout my teens, the age of reality TV’s rise and fall left a decent influence on my cultural identity. I hope you’re ready for a trip down memory lane, because I wanted to share thoughts about some of the reality TV seasons that most contributed to this shaping.
America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6
The first eight cycles of America’s Next Top Model summarize exactly what was so great about reality TV in the early 2000s. Contestants still didn’t realize how production could portray them wrongly, social media fame didn’t quite exist yet, and personal fashion was simultaneously simple and horrendous. I also love Cycle 3 and its whackily entertaining cast, but I was first introduced to ANTM through an MTV weekend marathon of Cycle 6. Can you even call yourself an ANTM fan if you don’t live for Jade’s one-liners in this season? On top of that, the rest of the cast was also funny and complex, and Tyra Banks was at her peak of zaniness. I always resort to Cycles 3 and 6 when I need something brainless to play in the background as I do something else. After all, nothing truly beats a reality competition series with all of the old-school ANTM elements.
I wish for…
Taylor Swift to act in something not horrible.
A Bachelorette over the age of 25.
Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain to play sisters in a project.
I’ve never been one to flow with the crowd. I resist the year’s hot new thing and delve into the hot new thing from five years prior, taking my time with it without facing the pressure to catch up with everyone else. As a result, I’ve only kept up with extremely current culture in recent years, when my job required it of me.
Still, my natural way of action is to explore what I want and not what critics, friends, and the people on the train are watching. Such was the case this year, when I leisurely read whatever caught my fancy and gleefully ignored whatever popular film just seemed unbearable to me. Life’s too short to sit through crappy entertainment.
As always, my favorite books and movies I read and saw this year are not limited to 2019 releases. These are the titles that left an impression on me throughout the year.
1) Man Up (2015) – Seen January 1, 2019
I love a rom-com with an unconventional leading man. Lake Bell’s pessimistic Nancy accidentally ends up on a blind date in London with Jack (Simon Pegg), going along with the case of mistaken identity as she starts to fall for Jack. The film follows their night spent together, eventually detailing their confrontations with their own issues related to love and relationships. Man Up is such a fun romp through London and presents a unique storyline, which is always a plus in the rom-com genre.
In 2014, I wrote a post about the five fictional characters I related to most. Those picks are still solid when it comes to who I identify with, but the more I’ve watched since then, the more I’ve seen myself in unexpected ways. You understand different sides of yourself as you grow older, and I feel like the TV characters below have come to represent me in my 20s whereas the picks from my older post feel very much like lifelong representations.
Diana Trout (Younger)
In December 2018, I finished the notebook of quotes I’ve kept since I was nearly 16. I started filling a new moleskine as soon as I received it Christmas morning, and in this Part 2, I’ve started incorporating quotes from interviews, articles, and podcasts. Nearly a year in, the notebook is already more organized and complex than the last one, capturing my state of mind and interests at a very specific phase of life.
2019 has been the year of discovering female columnists in the UK, reading YA with a 20-something’s nostalgic view, and devouring lengthy podcasts interviewing celebrities. I’ll look at the most recent quotes in my notebook someday and link the words to these days, but as I did with my past posts on book quotes, I trekked chronologically through the last few pages of the first notebook for this addition.
“I like your kind of quiet. Your heart isn’t quiet.”
Love and Other Words, Christina Lauren
I think it’s become more difficult for naturally quiet people to thrive. So many situations require you to put your personality on display almost immediately, which sometimes sends my introverted, former-shy-kid self into a panic. Love and Other Words‘ exploration of childhood best friends revisiting their feelings for each other as adults was so tender and sweet, and remarks like this quote are exactly why.
What we consider our favorite things says so much about us. While some books, songs, or films may remain lifelong favorites, our tastes may change, and what we once loved might not touch us in the same way.
I wanted to track what I consider my top favorite films for this reason. Some choices were immediate and easy, and others took more consideration. There are movies I love and consider important to how I’ve grown, but if I could only watch ten films for the rest of my life, which ones would pass that test of watchability? Going by this test, some surprises snuck into this exclusive group, but life can’t be all comedy or drama or camp or fantasy. We need silly, inexplicable stories just as much as we need the serious ones.
So these movies are the ones that never fail to delight me, the stories that inspire me and comfort me at this time in life.