I don’t think it’s a very controversial statement for me to say that 2020 absolutely sucked as far as years go. Amidst all of that sucking, though, were some things that kept me going. This is a list of my five favorite things this year.
The On Cinema Oscars Special
Everything else on this list is going to be pretty aggressively feel-good. I mostly sought out comforting entertainment this year. (My Spotify Wrapped was like 90% upbeat pop songs.) Still, back in early February, I didn’t know what was going to happen, so I was very happy to enjoy the two hour and fifteen minute long awkward, hellish, lethal delight that was the 7th Annual Live On Cinema Oscars Special.
I was so excited about that I even wrote up a piece celebrating the similarities between the On Cinema canon and pro wrestling anticipating it.
Honestly? The special ended up being probably the most riveting watch of my whole year, complete with a wedding, Gregg Turkington dressed up as the Joker, a tribute to Arthur 2, and a stationary shot of the cast passed out in a room full of carbon monoxide that lasted almost a full ten minutes. I genuinely thought they were dead and I was witnessing the end of On Cinema.
On Cinema has always been uncannily prescient, with climactic moments in past Oscars Specials featuring things like a memorial to Tim’s (fictional! it’s all fictional!) dead, unvaccinated son and 2019’s QAnon paranoia-fueled nightmare performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This year’s special’s vision of “everyone almost dies extremely preventable deaths” ended up also being pretty appropriate for 2020.
Now that I think about it, not a single piece of media comes to mind that encapsulates 2020 the way the 7th Annual Live On Cinema Oscars Special did. Grim!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
As plenty of news outlets noted at the time, ACNH‘s release in March came at just the right moment to keep me from going completely insane. I loved every prior incarnation of Animal Crossing I’d ever played and had long been anticipating a Switch release. Having to cancel all of my plans for the spring— from my trip to Wrestlemania to visiting Seattle to get some ill-advised tattoos— was a tough blow, but that blow was softened by getting to visit my friends’ islands every day, swapping clothes with them, trading islanders, talking turnip prices, going fishing together, and sitting patiently through the very long loading animation any time anyone used the airport.
Not to mention my favorite solo activity of the year: tarantula hunting! I’ve since fallen off (I shudder to think what my island looks like now), but ACNH absolutely got me through spring and early summer. Big thanks to Tom Nook and Isabelle for all that they did for us this year.
Season 2 of What We Do In the Shadows
Like ACNH had done the month prior, the arrival of What We Do in the Shadows in Mid-April was exactly what I needed when I needed it. As spring went on and it really began to hit that COVID wasn’t going to go away any time soon, Shadows gave me a weekly reprieve from anxiety and hopelessness that lasted well past the 25 minute episode runtime. I blocked out like a full hour and a half for each episode because I’d be in such a good mood afterwards I needed an extra 65 minutes to simply bask in the good vibes.
By the end of Season 1 last year, Shadows had become one of my all-time favorite television shows, its sense of humor a perfect blend of wit and macabre slapstick. Season 2 was an honest delight, from the addition of Craig Robinson to the supporting cast as an aspiring vampire hunter, to the evolving vampire-familiar relationship between Nandor and Guillermo, to the absolute transcendent joy that was “On the Run,” which guest starred Mark Hamill.
I haven’t rewatched it yet because I haven’t really felt the need to. Months later, I can see a screencap or a gif and realize I’m still riding the same high.
I’d fallen out of the kpop loop over the last few years, and had missed BTS’s rise to dominance, but editing a piece about the link between BTS stans and John Cena was enough to pique my interest in the group. I indulged my curiosity and quickly fell in love with their richly complex videos, exquisite choreography, and truly impressive catalogue of bangers.
The greatness of an idol group relies on several different factors, and BTS are not only a perfect storm of personalities, chemistry, talent and interesting concepts, they have kind of a shotgun spread approach to content creation. No matter what I wanted, the odds are, they had me covered. A hype danceable song to help me get my day going? Chilling? Getting introspective about burnout and the Jungian shadow self? Remembering what traveling is like? Diving into a high-concept fictional universe? BTS are a content factory, and there’s content for every single mood I could possibly be in. (Although I did give up on my plan to import the entirety of Das Kapital to their mobile collaborative fan fiction game BTS Universe. For now at least.)
Danmei (yeah, the entire genre)
When lockdown in Los Angeles started, my spouse and I were looking for a show to watch to get our mind off of things. A friend recommended the 2019 Chinese live action xianxia danmei adaptation The Untamed, and I haven’t taken my foot off the danmei pedal since.
Danmei is the term for Chinese boys love fiction, which is a lot like its counterparts in other countries, except its massive popularity has led to big budget screen adaptations like last year’s (exquisitely executed) Untamed and this year’s Jackie Chan-produced Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty, with more on the way.
Thanks to some very dedicated fan translators, I’ve been able to read four full novels and many more translations-in-progress this year. When it comes to escapism, nothing beats same-sex romance epics. And when I say “epic,” I really mean it. My favorite novel, Heaven Official’s Blessing (whose animated adaptation is currently airing), is about the same length as the Christian Bible, the story taking place over a period of 800 years. It absolutely rules.
While the adaptations are decidedly less explicit than the web novels they’re based on, the good ones are able to do a lot more than you might expect. My 2021 goal is to get everyone who got loud about Banana Fish and Yuri on Ice!!! just as excited for danmei.
Also to like… get vaccinated and go outside again. I’d really like to go to the park.