2020 was, to put it mildly, a weird year.
COVID affected every aspect of our lives, including the art we consumed and, perhaps more importantly, how we consume it. We couldn’t go to the movie theater. Many artists we releasing their “quarantine albums”. Most shows and movies had to stop production for some period of time. Sports went away and then came back under weird conditions.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great year for the arts. It was just… different.
Because of this, we scrapped our plans to write the “Best Of” articles that usually appear in magazines and websites. We’re bringing back the Friday Five. We asked our writers and guest contributors to list their five favorite pieces of consumed media from the last year.
Here is what The Fancy Boys loved about 2020.
Riki MJ Adams
Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)- Finally the existential mess of humanity’s search for divinity and meaning that Ridley Scott was trying to shoehorn into Alien franchise gets to shine on its own. It works here. It’s also soul crushingly bleak. So, perfect for 2020.
The return of Disco– Am I cheating by not picking just one album? Maybe, but from Doja Cat, to Melanie C, to Kylie Minogue- the sounds of disco returned to the pop charts and I’m here for it.
Birds of Prey- Remember the before times? Remember this fun, kinda wild, comic book comedy/action romp that… no? You didn’t go see it. Oh. Well you should have. It was absolutely delightful and the soundtrack also bangs.
Bill & Ted Face the Music- The old white men realize that they’re not “special magic boys” who will save the universe, but they raised the generation that will collectively unite to face the problem because we’re all in this together, and maybe the old way of approaching the problem needs to get the fuck out of the way for things to improve. It was also pretty fun.
Season 5 of Drag Race All-Stars/Shea Couleé- Getting to watch hometown hero Shea Couleé pick up a much deserved All-Stars win was cathartic on many levels- a redemption from her loss in season 9 of the regular show, a win for a Chicago queen, and a dominant showing all season for a Black queen while discussions around racism in the local scene was leading to the forming of the Black Drag Council in Chicago.
August 26th-sports refuses to stick to it- Kenosha, Wisconsin police had shot an unarmed man, Jacob Blake, just a couple days prior. The BLM protests were a near constant throughout the summer. It finally came to a head on August 26th, when the Milwaukee Bucks, in a show of solidarity against police brutatlity, walked off the court and refused to play Game Five of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic. Quickly, the NBA opted to cancel games in a universal show of support. “Stick to sports” is often a chant screamed by conservatives who don’t want their athletes to have opinions. It was a time and a moment that blew the lid off of that conversation.
The Killers-Imploding The Mirage– I don’t listen to very much music. It’s a cultural blindspot I’m absolutely fine with. That said, this album just caught my attention and kept it. If felt alternately bleek and optimistic. Downtrodden with a hope of a better 2021. I can think of very few things musically that I could just put on and play all the way through this year. And since everyone else on this list is probably going to put Taylor Swift in, i’ll go with my guts and name this my favorite album.
Super Bowl LIV- This year has been a hellscape, the aftershocks of which we are very much still dealing with. It’s easy to forget that the Super Bowl in February was just so, so damn good. The 49ers had the Chiefs beat, but deep down, everyone kind of knew that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were going to come back. And when they did, it was spectacular.
The Queens Gambit- It’s a period piece about chess that took decades to make because no production company thought that it had any appeal. It was the perfect binge show. It told a good story in a perfect (for 2020) amount of time. Anya Taylor-Joy is my pick for “Breakout Star of the Year Who Will Get Pigeon Holed By A Role And Will End Up Doing a Straight to Redbox Movie With Ashton Kutcher in 18 Months.”
AEW Dynamite, December 30, 2020- The episode was a tribute, dedicated to wrestler Jon Huber, better known as Brodie Lee and Luke Harper, who had passed away a couple days prior. What ensued was wrestling at it’s best. The emotions were real. The feelings were raw. Wrestlers cried in the ring. The show ended with Huber’s young son standing in the middle of the ring. I tear up just writing this. Do yourself a favor and watch this tribute to the man behind the wrestler, and keep in mind that the owner of AEW, Tony Kahn, bought the rights to this song so the tribute could stay up in perpetuity and nobody ever forgot the man that Huber was.
The day Trump got COVID- The best day of the year.
The World’s Toughest Race- A whole bunch of people take on the most insane ultra triathlon across Fiji. You will laugh, you will cry. It’s a great watch.
Upload- Best new show of the year.
This music video My wife’s coworker sent this to her for some unknown reason and it’s amazing. Watch it now.
Cobra Kai- Found this when it dropped over the summer on Netflix. Way better than it had any business being.
D&D- This is a game I got into in sophomore year of high school that I, until 2020, thought I’d get to play for a couple months every few years until real-life commitments dragged my reused Crown Royal bag full of dice back to the depths of my bureau drawer. During quarantine, I played in three campaigns at once, one of which was my first full shot at the harrowing role of Dungeon Master, which is where you inflict fictional trauma on your friends for the sake of catharsis, and they, in turn, inflict trauma on you by undermining everything you’ve prepared and make you pull a Tolkien-esque narrative out of your ass. Not only did it give my friends and I one more excuse to log into Zoom, it reminded me, a burned-out creative type who was falling out of love with their medium, that I am capable of creative narrative material that people like, and boy, did I fucking need that this year.
A Crock-Pot- A huge collection of folks found their love for the kitchen during quarantine. Everyone posted their concoctions on instagram and found a new confidence to cook. I attempted many a recipe this year, but god damn, do I fucking love soup. The Crock-Pot is now an essential in any kitchen I am using. Also, I now have a chicken and dumpling recipe that puts my mother’s to shame. That’s right. Eat shit, Michelle.
Netflix’s “Cobra Kai”– I’m pretty sure this didn’t debut in 2020, and we got the third season on New Years Day of 2021, but like most, I scoured every nook and cranny of Netflix this year, and this show was one of my favorite finds. Chock-full of tropes, but it doesn’t pretend that it isn’t. Fun combat sequences. A neat take on a previously established world. Just an all-around entertaining watch.
A Murder Hornet- Remember when those little bastards scared us for like 30 seconds? Good times.
Doggface208- In this dumpster fire of a year, we sought solace anywhere we could. One popular source of serenity was a simple viral video of a chill dude cruising on his skateboard, sipping on some Ocean Spray, and vibing to some Fleetwood Mac. I hope Ocean Spray hooked that dude up.
Queen’s Gambit – I thought about putting Rached in this slot instead due to the fabulous colors, but frankly the story was weak compared to Queen’s Gambit. Anya Taylor-Joy’s intense performance was more than worthy of a watch.
“Everything has Changed” – Best Coast- LOVE this song. They’ve been around for a long time and are pretty well known, but this song, especially the chorus, is fantastic.
Donovan Mitchell’s performance inside the NBA bubble – First off, I hate the Utah Jazz. I’m a Nuggets fan, so it comes naturally. But FFS, Mitchell averaged 30/5/5 for the 13 games; dropped 33 treys in a 7-game series against the Nuggets (a record); and had two 50+ points performances in that series (tying MJ, Wilt, and The Answer). Jazz lost to the Nuggets in 7, but holy hell that’s big baller material.
Ozark, season 3 – Love the storyline, and the Ozarks in general are a shit show so this series has done a tremendous job portraying it. Also, anyone who said they predicted the ending of Season 3 is lying.
“My Future” – Billie Eilish- When I first heard her, I was like “great, another kid who’s cranking out poppy crap.” But this song is so good and the fact her middle name is “Pirate” makes me like her now. She’s still a teenager and her singing talent is ridiculous.
RTJ4– The latest album from rap supergroup Run The Jewels seemed to perfectly encapsulate not just everything 2020 was, but everything we needed. It’s angry and political but also silly and incredibly catchy. “Walking In The Snow” featured the most perfect verse Killer Mike has ever laid down. 2020 needed a soundtrack. That soundtrack is RTJ4.
“WAP”- Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion- It’s Cardi and Megan’s world and we’re all just living in it, and there was not better example than “WAP”, the undeniable song of 2020, regardless of what Ben Shapiro tells you. No piece of art was more adored, condemned, despised, and enjoyed that year, which only means that “WAP” is doing everything right.
Palm Springs– Is it Groundhog Day 2020? Yeah, but who cares? This innovative and interesting rom-com (available on Hulu) features Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti at their most adorable and delightful. This was the one film I saw this year that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to watch it again.
“On The Run”: season 2, episode 6 of What We Do In The Shadows– We needed laughs this year, and one of the best places to find them was FX’s near-perfect vampire comedy. “On The Run” is the perfect storm of everything this episode does well, complete with a Mark Hamill cameo and Laszlo attempting to live a new life under the moniker of Jackie Daytona, the hard partier with a heart of gold.
The Bam Adebayo block of Jayson Tatum in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals- I don’t know if any team could have beaten the Los Angeles Lakers this year. Lord knows there were some contenders, and I was positive that the Boston Celtics were going to be one of them. Then came the block, a play that is so amazing that Magic Johnson called it the “Greatest defensive play in the playoffs”. And at that point, I knew the Heat would go on to beat Boston. That one play at the end of the first game of what should have been a close series redefined the East. All hail Bam.
The night the NBA shut down- It was one of the most surreal sports experiences to watch on live tv as a game is canceled right before tipoff. The move (which was correct) effectively ended the career of Vince Carter, whose Atlanta Hawks missed making the bubble.
Tiger King– We’ve all moved past it now, hopefully, but it was legitimately bonkers and seemed to get more so with each episode. It was the perfect show at the perfect time.
Musicians finding a way- Without the ability to tour, many artists turned to livestream concerts, informal releases, and/or special merch. It was a great way to support music we love and also have something to look forward to when all the days became one endless stream.
The Queen’s Gambit- Kentucky orphan becomes global chess icon… and it’s riveting. Beautifully shot. It feels like one long character study, but never lacks in style or substance.
Randy Arozarena- The Tampa Bay Rays outfielder took baseball by the jugular slapped a record 10 home runs in the postseason. He ended the year with more hits in the playoffs (29) than his regular season career to date (24).
Hope- There was a brief moment early on. The threat seemed so huge we would have to come together. This was our Independence Day!
Sadness- Life is and is not. We are always sad because we are always alive. Until we aren’t. And someone else is.
Despair- Open Mike Eagle said, “It’s October… and I’m tired” so pure you must weep. That was months ago.
Ennui- It’s been so long, numbness sets in. Like frozen bones.
Fury- Let fury fuel 2021. For in fury, is hope.
Borat 2- I know a lot of people hold were disappointed because it wasn’t as good as the original. Expecting perfection from Sasha Baron Cohen twice is unfair. Borat was topical, amusing, and we caught Rudy Guliani with his pants down.
Brandon Sanderson’s Rhythm of War – Book 4 of the Stormlight Archives. In an age of George R.R. Martin’s and Patrick Rothfuss taking decades to write a single book, Brandon Sanderson is a breath of fresh air. And if you are a fan of the fantasy genre, he is expanding the genre in ways that hasn’t been done before.
Trump losing the election- I’m not excited about Biden, I’m just tired of Trump. Tired of being embarrassed by our President.
Onward- If there is one thing Pixar knows what to do, it is hitting you with all the feels. Onward might be the best movie Pixar has made, and that is saying something.
The Queen’s Gambit- Comedian Peter Daniel had the best review of The Queen’s Gambit that I heard. “It is rare to achieve perfection in television. Season one of True Detective. Breaking Bad. And The Queen’s Gambit.” The Queen’s Gambit might be the best season of television I have watched in the last ten years. I’ve already seen it three times and will probably watch it again. That is how much I loved this.
Ninja Sex Party: The Prophecy- I think most musical comedy is all one note (the joke, not the music itself, I’m not sure you could do music with just one note, but you can definitely do comedy that way!) But Ninja Sex Party constantly nails great music with funny, evolving, jokes that are awesome.
Genshin Impact- I once played a Chinese video game where I assembled a fleet of ships and used them to blow stuff up. Except all the ships were cute anime girls with guns attached to them, and I’m pretty sure I married one of the ships and I definitely banged MOST of the ships, so it was less of a fleet and more of a harem of ships. Genshin Impact is a lot more fun to play than that and a little bit less embarassing.
Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza- This fun family card game is a delight and helped kill some lock down nights with the kids. I have no idea if this came out in 2020 but I’m listing it here anyway and I’m not about to do research for this.
Fox Bet Super 6 App- This was a free sports betting app that my wife used every week where you’d pick a bunch of prop bets and try to finish ahead of anyone else playing. It got her to finally, after years of being a big Cubs fan, understand that a hit in baseball isn’t just making contact with the bat and that you have to actually get on base safely.
The word “Sus.”- I’m not entirely sure what the word means, but when I say it I know that I’m young and have my whole future ahead of me and definitely have a full head of hair and that it wouldn’t be creepy to go to a bar in a college town! And all of that makes me feel alive and super sus!
Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers– in a year of being cripplingly sad, alone, and isolated, why not steer directly into the skid with this Grammy nominated album? With songs that reach deep into your heart and stab it repeatedly, Punisher provides a familiar pain, the kind of pain you know you’re going to get through. My personal standout tracks are “I Know the End”, “Graceland Too”, and “Garden Song”, but this album is a true no skip.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12 and All Stars Season 5- Returning this past year for 2 new seasons, the popular drag reality competition and it’s All Stars spinoff provided a much-needed distraction from COVID and a much-needed celebration of queer BIPOC this year. With the crowning of Chicago’s own Shea Coulee (All Stars 5) and Milwaukee’s Jaida Essence Hall (Season 12), the Midwest scored 2 major wins with these stunning queens. Now let the music play!
Saturday Night Live Season 45, Episode 18 Sketch Dreams– Never in my life would I ever think I’d cry during an SNL skit. On the May 9th episode of SNL, this skit features the cast dreaming about their lives, pre-COVID-19. While the dreams themselves are obviously comical, the yearning for a world back to some sense of normal can be too much some days. At least we have our dreams.
Chromatica by Lady Gaga- Especially in 2020, you’d be hard-pressed to find any person who wouldn’t want to live on another planet in light of the global pandemic. Enter Chromatica, Lady Gaga’s latest album, paying homage to 90’s house, electro-pop, and club. Gaga uses music to create a world dedicated to love, empowerment, togetherness, and boasts one of the best track transitions in music history in the form of “Chromatica II” into “911”.
Legendary on HBOMax- Vogue and ballroom have been two of the biggest influences on contemporary queer culture and 2020 was the year that it was put front and center. When 8 houses compete for the largest prize in ballroom history, magic happens. Featuring 2020 breakout musician Megan Thee Stallion, ballroom legend Leiomy Maldonado as two members of the judges panel, Legendary helped on those days when I’d desperately missed the queer nightlife I loved pre-COVID.
Population One (Oculus Quest/Quest 2)- I’m an older guy and grew up with the likes of pong, tanks, pac man and miss pac man. I knew the importance of when zaxon came out and was the first 3D game. From there we had so many others. Too many to mention here. I can say without a doubt and with absolute confidence, population one is the best video game I have ever played. It’s a first person shooter that gets my blood pumping and is the most immersive gave. The graphics are pretty good considering how immersive it is and even when you get knocked out and try spectate mode. If you haven’t played it, do it and find out what I mean.
Sea Fever – 2020 was a shit year for movies because of something that rhymes with schmokid sineween. Quarantine has put me into social media/regular media overload and I was sure there was nothing left to enjoy, but this little straight-to-streaming horror flick was a nice surprise!
Verzus: Nelly vs. Ludacris – I can’t believe this wasn’t a thing before 2020. Also, it’s about time someone brought Nelly down a notch. LUDA!
Onward – As if I didn’t weep enough this year! At least the tears I cried for Pixar’s Onward were ones of joy.
Kingdom Season 2 – Makes The Walking Dead look like a buncha NOTHING.
The Craft (2020) – This was awful, but I included it because we’ll need to see examples of how not to make movies once we’re done with all this America in Crisis crap. There’s a scene where David Duchovny has a magic throwdown with 4 HORRIBLE teenage girls and it’s so awkward I had to cleanse my spirit with a bottle of wine and a jar of Nutella after. I mean, I was gonna do that anyway, but still.
TikTok, specifically the accounts of marginalized folx- This year I’ve gotten a uniquely intimate look into the lives of hundreds of people with Tourette’s, schizophrenia, religion-based trauma, as well as BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ community members. It’s allowed me to gain even more perspective and compassion toward my fellow humans.
Beyonce’s ‘Black Parade’ brought hope, pride, and power in a moment when we needed her most.
“Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson is both comprehensive and captivating in defining the sources and repercussions of global racism
Armchair Expert podcast- A great balance of guests from quirky comedians to world innovators. The host Dax Shepherd brings an honesty and objectivity that’s increasingly difficult to come by these days.
Parks and Recreation- I’ve watched this series from start to finish through many a hard time, and it certainly delivered in this pandemic. There’s something about revisiting the beloved familiar that’s especially attractive in these uncertain times.
Gretel and Hansel – I love horror movies, and I really enjoyed this one.
The Lodge – Another horror movie, and probably my favorite movie released in 2020. I didn’t see a lot of new movies in 2020, but these two really stood out for me.
“Blue” by Flume – I love remixes of dance/edm songs from the past, because it reminds me of when life was easier. And this one is a fucking banger.
Hollow Knight – This game came out in 2017, but was the free game of November for Playstation Plus, which really gave it a resurgence. It’s one of the greatest games I have ever played, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment that was lacking for me in 2020, outside of work, I guess. It’s a tough but fair game, highly recommended.
Tom Brady’s continued excellence and domination of the NFL- I rooted for two things things year. One was for someone to succeed, and the other was for someone to fail. I got both, regardless of what the state of Texas thinks. If there is one thing that’s keeping me going, it’s seeing that hard work and perseverance does pay off, and this year showed that in many ways. It also showed me that Tom Brady is, in fact, a system quarterback. What is that system? The system is giving Tom Brady the football. That’s it.
Taylor Swift’s albums Folklore and Evermore– You’d be hard-pressed to find a pop culture offering more influenced by 2020 than these offerings. Without a global pandemic, we don’t get these albums. The songs are haunting, beautiful, mesmerizing, and diverse in their content and the emotions they evoke.
Tiger King docuseries– Not every important pop culture moment is one that makes a positive impact. The polar opposite of the brilliance that was Ms. Swift’s albums, Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin shocked us all, especially at the prophetic microcosm of 2020 that it would turn out to be.
Death to 2020– This “too soon” comedic look at the devastatingly unusual year we have lived through may not be the cure for COVID-19, but when applied, it does treat some of the emotionally difficult symptoms.
Wonder Woman 1984– I am a sucker for anything, especially about superheroes, that celebrates women as strong, independent, courageous, caring, justice-seeking, selfless, you get the idea. I love that this film and its predecessor are directed by a woman and that the focus is on women’s strengths, not merely limited to their value to society based on how attractive they are. I also love that the period-piece appropriately captured the 1980s.
Megan Thee Stallion– In a word, her ability to captivate is savage. I have issues with content and language on this one, yet I still find myself singing some of her songs in my head, especially when TikTok helps isolate some particularly powerful parts. It has to be significant that the leaders in the rap industry right now are women, especially in a genre that has for so long minimized women to the role of being objects. Megan Thee Stallion rises to the top of the most memorable of those who created what will likely be known as the female rapper renaissance.
Dadi Freyr – “Think About Things”- This upbeat delight was going to be Iceland’s entry into the 2020 Eurovision song contest, which, of course, was unfortunately canceled. My Icelandic friend shared this song with me early in the year and I instantly fell in love with it.
WrestleMania 36– Some of it was good. A lot of it was bad. But the Super Bowl of professional wrestling taking place in an empty training center was undoubtedly unique.
Community (TV series)- This underrated hit from the Office era finally came to Netflix in April and was one of my first and favorite quarantine binges.
Comic Books– In case working in healthcare during a global pandemic wasn’t stressful enough, I also dealt with some personal strife. Thankfully I had recently begun a new hobby, and I dove head-first into the wonderful artwork and intriguing stories this genre so effectively offers.
Gritty TV Series based on Comic Books- Marvel and DC Comics have told some very fun cinematic and television stories. But shows like “The Boys” and “Umbrella Academy” provided me with a new level of appreciation for human imagination and creativity.
Thanks to all of the writers who contributed. What were some of you favorite things from last year? Leave a comment and let us know!