I started out 2020 hopeful that I could make some big changes to better my life… I was so stupid back then. One of the things I tried and actually have stuck with was “cutting the cord,” meaning I cancelled my cable and went down to just Internet and broadcast TV. That was enough for the Super Bowl and the Oscars, then COVID happen and every production in the world shut down, including live sports, and it couldn’t have been easier to keep saving $50 a month. That said, it’s frustrating that you still can’t easily stream everything and we are definitely well passed the streaming service saturation point. Like, Quibi lived and died all within a few months in 2020. Remember poor Quibi? A bad idea launched at exactly the wrong time. No one can compete with YouTube!
Rick and Morty
Star Trek Discovery
There’s never been a lot of long-form improv comedy to watch on TV. Of the top of my head, I can only think of Seeso’s The UCB Show. But I love improv comedy and it deserves more than podcasts and Whose Line, damnit! Hopefully the success of Middleditch and Schwartz is a sign of more to come, especially since the bungling of a pandemic response from the government has resulted in many improv institutions being forced to shutter. Recorded improv can be fun and funny! For god’s sake, Judd Apatow and Adam McKay made their careers on it. Anyway, the three Middleditch and Schwartz specials are equally funny and definitely something you should check out if you’re a fan of Mr. Silicon Valley and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Season 7 marked the end of the road for Agents of SHIELD and seemingly all of Marvel’s attempts to make content outside of the strict oversight of Kevin Feige. Like Avengers Endgame before it, the final act of this story was more of a victory lap in the form of a time-traveling adventure. Coulson and the rest of the team traveled from the Thirties all the way back to modern day in their attempts to stop the Chronicoms from preventing SHIELD from being formed. Along the way they tied up loose ends from Agents of Carter and gave an appropriate send-off to this great cast who maybe or maybe not ended up in the same timeline as the MCU. If this is the last we see of this team, at least it was a fun last ride.
I didn’t think it would be so easy to relate to centuries-old vampires, but we all had one thing in common last year: we spent most of our time at home searching for idle distractions to keep us busy. The second season of What We Do in the Shadows certainly surpassed the hilarity of season one and maybe even the original film, thanks to the power of being able to build familiarity with these characters. Matt Berry’s Laszlo is my favorite, as his lothario evolved to be a lot goofier thanks to his alter ego Jackie Daytona. But the whole central cast of Guillermo, Nadja, Nandor, and Colin Robinson all got plenty of time to shine… or should I say sparkle?
After a surprisingly nice ending to season six’s first half, we all knew the shit was going to hit the fan when BoJack Horseman came back with its last batch of episodes. And it did, in the brutally human way the show always handled things. Bojack’s comeuppance was just as conflicting as the rest of the show: simultaneously inevitable, well-deserved, and tragic. When things got there most darkest we got the series’ penultimate episode, one of the most shocking, powerful episodes of television – animated or not – I’ve ever seen. And then life goes on.
After a surprise debut in December 2019, the second half of Steven Universe‘s epilogue series, Future, aired this March. Ironically, it ended with the lead character deciding to leave his home and go see the world just as we all were locking down. But before that, it was a welcome surprise to find out that Rebecca Sugar and the rest of the creative team had decided the biggest dangling thread from the previous series’ finale was Steven dealing with the pressure of always putting everyone else’s well-being ahead of his own. It was a moving, somewhat cringey story about a type of trauma that is not often seen in TV and movies that certainly resonated with me. And now I’m sad I don’t get to spend any more time in this colorful world of gems and New Jerseyans.
I remember when The Last Dance started very clearly, because it was when I was realizing this “shelter in place” thing was in fact going to be a new normal. It was also around the time of the terrific The History of the Seattle Mariners Dorktown web series, so Nineties sports were having a real moment for me. None of this really matters to future viewers of the Michael Jordan-financed documentary of the 1997–98 Chicago Bulls season, but it’s part of what makes the miniseries special to me. It’s so funny that despite having final cut, Jordan still shows himself to be such an asshole.
If you want some idea of how out of touch I am, know that when I watched The Queen’s Gambit, I assumed it was a niche show that wasn’t on anyone’s radar. A limited series based on a book about a chess prodigy who struggles with addiction? That sounded like something for me and pretty much just me. I was wrong. The Queen’s Gambit was the most popular show on Netflix last year, on top of being one of the best-reviewed. It even started a mini chess craze, finally making chessboards cool and not just the go-to decoration in sterile male living spaces. So that’s neat. Maybe I’ll be ahead of the curve when we finally get the sudoko movie.
After the disappointing Rise of Skywalker, the small screen was good to Star Wars in 2020. The seventh season of the animated The Clone Wars show gave fans a moving conclusion that managed to even redeem some of Revenge of the Sith‘s sloppiness. That long-term payoff for hardcore fans continued in The Mandalorian: Boba Fett came back from the dead (as did Fennec Shand, a big favor for those of us mourning SHIELD‘s ending), Bo-Katan and Ahsoka made the leap into live action, and even Luke fuckin’ Skywalker showed up and got to do a Darth Vader-esque deus ex hallway. It was a good year for people who enjoy watching TV like Rick Dalton. Personally, I was fine with having one season full of callbacks and returning friends, especially since it’s clear Disney was trying to backdoor pilot a bunch of shows. But the story definitely did suffer a bit for this approach (I mean, we barely learned anything about Moff Gideon) so I hope Mando returns to his wandering ways in season three.
Speaking of Ahsoka: Kim Wexler. In the early days of Better Call Saul, I thought the show was smart for drawing out the tragedy of Jimmy and Mike choosing to break bad. Now I think it’s genius for making me care so much about characters who are absent from that first show. Kim’s response to Jimmy’s transformation has been a roller coaster ride, rivaled only by Nacho’s desperate attempts to escape the cartel with his life. There was more than a year between Better Call Saul‘s fourth and fifth seasons, a painful wait that proved absolutely worth it. With our current situation, it’s tough to say when the sixth and final season will finally air, although it is slated to debut this year. But it’s certainly my most anticipated show of the year.
More me being bad at predictions: I would not have guessed an Apple TV+ show based on old NBC Sports commercials would be the breath of fresh air that kept me going last summer. Ted Lasso first appeared on my radar when I learned it was created by Bill Lawrence, the guy who made Spin City and Scrubs. I tuned in expecting a silly fish out of water story about a goofy idiot pissing everybody off. What I got was a heartwarming story about the power of optimism. It’s also uniquely a show about adults who deal with their problems in mature ways (with a few exceptions), which feels totally revolutionary in a genre basically built on blowing simple misunderstandings out of proportion. In these toxic times, we could all learn a lot from Ted Lasso.