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.
It took extremely gloomy weather and moods for me to pull another Emily Gilmore and insist upon finding some joy and letting it be satisfying and enough and motivating. I made an indulgent brie grilled cheese for lunch. I played Christmas music while working. I exercised after the workday, which I haven’t done enough in the pandemic world because, gosh darn it, I love and miss my Planet Fitness. I also recognized that I’m still finding joy in certain pop culture that really has made this time more manageable.
Let’s start with the title of this post. I keep playlists for my writing projects that consist of songs that either inspire this particular work or are directly included in it. For my current work-in-progress, I recently stumbled across “For Now” from the musical Avenue Q, which is just a sweet, delightful song reminding us that everything, good or bad, is temporary — for now. Every listen of it always cheers me up.
I’ve recently discovered the Pod Ledom podcast, a recap series of America’s Next Top Model. If there’s anything my 2020 posts might have taught you, it’s that ANTM rewatches will always be my top TV guilty pleasure. Just when I had exhausted my favorite cycles and confirmed that certain seasons are still unwatchable, this podcast came along with its hilarious and insightful trio of hosts. Plus, they’re only up to Cycle 10 of their rewatch, so I have tons of content to look forward to. If you’re a fan of America’s Next Top Best Friend, Pod Ledom is similarly goofy, but it dives a little deeper into ANTM episodes without tangents.
The Plot Against America, which I watched during a week-long free trial of HBO Max, was a little too slow and vague for me, but the finale was particularly good. I loved Zoe Kazan as a terrified Bess trying to soothe a hysteric child over the phone. If anything, the series got me more interested in the work of both Kazan and Anthony Boyle, and the parallels between Philip Roth’s original story and today are startling.
We finally downloaded Disney+ to indulge in the wonder that was Hamilton, but since that inaugural weekend, I’ve traveled down memory lane and watched some of my favorite old DCOMs. Gotta Kick It Up!, Go Figure, and Read It and Weep were still really delightful, and I have viewings of my ultimate favorites — Stuck in the Suburbs, Smart House, and Cadet Kelly — to anticipate. Since the movies are so short, it’s really easy to get through one right before bed.
Since police killed George Floyd on May 25 and an international fight against police brutality and systemic racism began, blogging about pop culture felt highly inappropriate. So rather than writing here, I’ve spent this transformative time after Floyd’s passing trying to educate myself, check my privilege as a white woman, and learn how to do better.
In the past few days, laws have passed that give me hope that we’re living out the same kind of turning point seen during the civil rights movement. But with quarantine still in place in major cities and not much else to distract us from this moment, resting on the belief that change will come doesn’t suffice. You can donate, sign petitions, and protest, but it’s also important to take note of what you choose to consume in pop culture and how it contributes to your knowledge about race.
That’s when books, TV, and movies come into play for me. Sticking to the news cycle can be overwhelming and depressing, especially in this already unprecedented time, but one concentrated source of information at a time can leave just as impactful of an influence. So after taking in plenty of recommendations and consulting my existing TBR list and streaming queues, here are the things about Black lives and experiences or made by Black creators that I plan to read and watch, as well as a few select titles I already love. My list is obviously far from complete, and I recognize that my pop culture choices often have a severe lack of diversity. So if you have more recommendations, please let me know!
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.
Several Lost alums making up for a certain co-star’s extremely selfish opinion. Daniel Dae Kim is forever as valiant and charming as Jin was. Maggie Grace is a steady voice of reason with just the right amount of bite. Harold Perrineau apparently helped Henry Ian Cusick’s son travel home safely. We have to go back…to leave Kate on the island.
Meg Cabot writing about the coronavirus outbreak from Princess Mia’s perspective.
The Broadway community fundraising, performing, and congregating via live-streamed shows. Seth Rudetsky’s “Stars in the House” series and Broadway.com’s “Live at Five: Home Edition” occur daily, and Rosie O’Donnell’s conversation with Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker during her benefit show still delights me (they’re just at home watching Columbo and doing laundry!).
Welp, this is a weird situation, right? Given the current global climate, I hope everyone is safe and taking care of their mental and physical health right now. After a few anxiety-ridden days, I’m aiming to take a break from news coverage this weekend, sit in the yard and soak up some sun, and dedicate this extra time to TV I wouldn’t be watching otherwise.
Most of my TV consumption this week was dedicated to that hot mess of a Bachelor finale, and now fans don’t even have the guarantee of Clare Crawley’s Bachelorette season to anticipate. Obviously, I appreciate the caution that so many industries, including entertainment, are demonstrating in these circumstances, but the possible aftermath of all of these filming delays is definitely interesting. The month-long suspension of all Broadway shows also happened at the worst possible time for theater, as the majority of new, Tony-eligible productions traditionally open throughout March and April. Just thinking about those performers, crews, house staff, and anyone slated to make their Broadway debut soon is heartbreaking. It’s better to be safe than sorry, but the thought of the financial and logistical impacts on certain fields of the entertainment industry hurts my heart a little.
Beyond the Screenplay and IndieWire Filmmaker Toolkit, breaking down films from the perspectives of screenwriters, directors, and editors.
Mamas Talkin’ Loud, covering the lives of mothers working in theater and fueling inspiration for a budding writing project.
Any podcast interview with Greta Gerwig I can find, with favorites including her talks with Scriptnotes and Five Things with Lynn Hirschberg.
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.