This has been a weird year for a number of reasons that we really do not need to get into again. You know them all. And it’s not even the point right now. The point is that, yes, even in 2020, even amidst all the chaos, there were things to be thankful for, and Thanksgiving is the time to do that. This list is going to run through some of those things from the world of television and movies. The key phrase in that last sentence is “some of,” as this is my list and contains a collection of things I appreciated this year. It doesn’t even contain all of them. I’m sure I missed something, in part because there’s always too much to include in one write-up and in part because my concept of time became irreparably warped this year. My colleague Josh Kurp informed me that the final season of BoJack Horseman aired in 2020 and I shouted “WHAT?!” as though he had just told me the moon vanished from the cosmos overnight. It’s fine. We’re all doing great.
As always, a disclaimer: Your list might look different than mine. I hope it does. That’s what makes this whole thing fun. This exercise is not about creating a definitive and comprehensive collection. It’s about starting the conversation and hopefully getting you to reflect back on the good parts of life, too. And it’s also a little about posting GIFs of Holey Moley again. Lord knows we needed all of those we could get.
I can be honest about this here: I did not expect Ted Lasso to be good. It started in such a hole, fundamentally. It was a television show based on a thinly drawn character — American football coach moves to England to coach soccer, a sport he knows nothing about — from a series of commercials. This looked like a total Cavemen situation, on paper. But television shows aren’t made on paper. I mean, they are, I guess, if you count the scripts. Which are pretty important. Hmm. Disregard this last part and meet me in the next paragraph.
Make no mistake: Ted Lasso was good. It was so good. It was lovely, even. The timing helped, with the entire country stressed out and more than happy to sit back and watch a mustachioed sweetheart win over an entire nation with only biscuits and good vibes, but still. What a perfect little show. Everyone needed a periodic excuse to just feel good for a while and, for 30 minutes or so each Friday, Ted Lasso provided that. You could do a lot worse in a television show.
Kim Wexler from Better Call Saul
Am I still mad that Rhea Seehorn didn’t even get nominated for an Emmy for her work as the most fascinating character on one of television’s best shows? Maybe. (YES.) But this is not the place for anger. This is about being thankful. And I am very thankful I’ve been on this ride with her and the show, another series that started in a fundamental hole — spin-off of one of the best dramas ever, based on the character who was largely there for comic relief — and promptly leaped right out of it. The lesson here is that I am bad at judging shows before they air. And that Rhea Seehorn’s performance as Kim Wexler is terrific and we should all talk about it a lot.
So two points, really.
I still can’t believe Money Plane was a real movie. What a gift. What a treasure. A VOD movie about a lawless airborne casino literally called “the Money Plane,” starring Kelsey Grammer as a villain named “The Rumble” who hires a character played by former WWE superstar Edge to rob the aforementioned sky casino mid-air, written and directed by one of the Lawrence brothers. It was exactly the movie it set out to be — silly, fun, littered with plot holes that you did not need to think about much becau-… aaaaand one of the other Lawrence brothers just blew off his head and cowboy hat in a game of Russian roulette. Just a blast in every way. I hope they make a new one every summer with a different former sitcom star as the villain. I can’t wait for the one with Jackée.
Schitt’s Creek went from a little show a few friends told you about to a Netflix-boosted Emmy-collecting monster over the last 12-18 months, with good reason. The show was wonderful. You can be forgiven if you took certain aspects of it for granted as it moved from cult favorite to global phenomenon, but please do stop at some point over the holidays and think — really think — about what a powerhouse of a performance Catherine O’Hara turned in as Moira Rose. The whole character, from the mannerisms to the wardrobe to the endless list of ridiculous pronunciations. Catherine O’Hara has been doing this for decades, going back even before she shouted “KEVIN” in multiple Home Alone movies. Please do not forget that.
”Take it sleazy”
The Good Place ended this year. I know that because I looked it up and stared at my computer screen for like 90 seconds trying to comprehend the information in front of me. It feels like The Good Place ended at least 18 months ago. Please go back and read the intro paragraph you probably skipped to get to the bolded sections with the good stuff. The part about this being a weird year.
Anyway, the ending of The Good Place was awesome. The show that appeared to be about the biggest things you can imagine — the afterlife, the meaning of life on Earth, what it means to be a good person — was actually about things that are much smaller but just as important. Friendships, personal connections, touching someone’s life in a small but permanent way. It was kind of beautiful, and it was summed up beautifully by Michael, a literal demon made flesh, getting to fulfill his millennia-long dream of telling another person to “take it sleazy.”
It was a lot to wrap your head around. Almost as much as this happening in 2020.
Anya Taylor-Joy staring lasers through chess dopes
The Queen’s Gambit is a show about chess players in the 1950s and it was somehow still riveting, even if you, like me, are a big dumb chess idiot. A lot of the credit for this goes to Anya Taylor-Joy, who played the lead and carried the action well and also stared straight through so many self-assured chess dopes as she cooked them like the turkey you’re preparing to eat.
I loved watching it happen. You could see it coming. The camera would pull in tight on her face and her eyelids would lift up slowly like garage doors and then BLAMMO the poor sucker’s entire soul would drain out of his body. I hope no one ever stares at me like that. It helps that I do not play chess, I think. I hope.
J.K. Simmons calling Andy Samberg “shit bird”
If you liked Groundhog Day and Wedding Crashers and Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, and who doesn’t, then you probably checked out or should have checked out Palm Springs, the movie that had all those things. It also had J.K. Simmons as a maniac who showed up every now and then and called Samberg’s character a shit bird. Like, that exact term. “Shit bird.” It was the best. J.K. Simmons rules and has always ruled and has the perfect authoritative voice to deliver that insult to a doofy slacker. I want him to call me one at some point, which would be accurate and fair because I am also a doofy slacker, but I really want him to reprise his role as J. Jonah Jameson in the next Spider-verse movie to call a whole slew of interdimensional Spider-men shit birds.
It’s a reasonable ask.
Robert Pattinson blowing up his microwave
A few things you need to know before I get to the blockquote:
- Robert Pattinson agreed to a big fancy GQ profile to promote Tenet this summer
- As part of the profile, he tried to explain how he learned to make pasta in the microwave during quarantine
- Where we pick up the story, he is on his second attempt at making the pasta and has put a hunk of foil-wrapped food into what he thinks is a traditional oven but the writer correctly identified as a large microwave
Which brings us to:
Proudly he is walking back toward the counter that his phone is on when, behind him, a lightning bolt erupts from the oven/microwave, and Pattinson ducks like someone outside has opened fire. He’s giggling and crouching as the oven throws off stray flickers of light and sound.
“The fucking electricity…oh, my God,” he says, still on the floor. And then, with a loud, final bang, the oven/microwave goes dark.
In the silence, Pattinson and I both stare at the mysterious piece of machinery built into the wall behind him.
“Yeah, I think I have to leave that alone,” he says, sighing again, picking himself off the floor. “But that is a Piccolini Cuscino.”
I have never felt more personally connected to a movie star. I’m so proud of him.
Yes, fine, sure, the Eurovision movie was fun, as any movie that has both Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in it should be. There were lots of nutso performances and catchy songs and all of that is very nice, but I, like this sweet tortured Icelandic man, just wanted to hear “Ja Ja Ding Dong.”
There’s a metaphor here if you want to look for it hard enough, about finding something that works and makes you happy and not giving it up in a fit of aimless ambition loosely targeted at something bigger and/or better. But let’s not do that. Let’s just give the people what they want. Let’s just play “Ja Ja Ding Dong” and move right along.
The Harley Quinn / Poison Ivy / Kite Man love triangle
The Harley Quinn cartoon is almost unreasonably good. Go watch it. It’s on HBO Max. It’s got jokes and cussing and a kind of inept goofus Bane who makes me laugh constantly. It’s also got a shocking amount of heart, mostly displayed through the friendship-turned-romance of two of its main characters, which infringed upon the romance one of them is involved in with another, and somehow resolved itself in a way that left everyone whole. Or at least whole-ish. I worry about Kite Man. He’s a simple man, yes, and he has a dumb superpower, to whatever degree “having a kite and flying it real good” counts as a superpower, but he means so well.
I just want him to be happy. And I want you to watch this show.
Colin Robinson summoning his Nana from beyond the grave to get her with an Updog joke
When future generations think about the second season of What We Do in the Shadows, and they will, they will remember the Jackie Daytona episode. This is as it should be, because that episode had everything: Mark Hamill, volleyball, the fake name “Jackie Daytona,” etc. Just flawless.
But let’s also hope these future generations remember the time Colin Robinson summoned his beloved Nana from beyond the grave just to wallop the poor old bird with an Updog joke. That was a nice piece of business, too.
The zipline on Holey Moley
Holey Moley was exactly the stupid fun the world needed this year. It’s a mini-golf show, sort of, but it’s mostly an excuse to watch perfectly nice people get clobbered by windmills and jets of water and doors of portable toilets that are flung open by people in monster costumes for some unknowable but perfect reason. The best hole on the course — in the world, really — was Polcano. It started with people putting up a huge hill and then watching their ball filter down through a Plinko-like arrangement of rocks, which is fun enough. But then they all had to grab a zipline and try to hold on to a giant pole in the middle of a pool that their terrified bodies were flying toward at a startling rate of speed. I think I saw maybe three people complete it successfully in the entire season. Everyone else went flying through the air upside down and backward as they splashed helplessly into the water. I could watch a full hour of it every week.
I enjoyed Betty, HBO’s half-hour show about a diverse collection of teen female skateboarders, for two reasons. The first was because it was well-made and extremely cool and there should be more shows like that. The second was because it reminded me — a straight white dude in his 30s who never really skateboarded or lived in New York City — that you can find great shows outside your wheelhouse all the time. It’s good to remember that. Watch some stuff about people whose lives you don’t fully understand. Expand your world. Betty is a good place to start if you’re like me, but there are options galore. Bust loose from your algorithm and find them.
The Han mystery
I spent most of this year whining that the trailer for the next Fast & Furious movie, F9, revealed that Han is alive and then the movie ended up getting postponed indefinitely, meaning that we’re now going on almost a full year of not knowing how or why he survived the apparent death that the franchise has depicted in a full 25 percent of its eight films. It’s maddening. I must know how he is alive. It’s not fair. Just tell me.
But also, like… if I’m being really, fully honest about it… I’ve almost… enjoyed it? I don’t know. I’m still sorting through it all. It has provided me with something to speculate about endlessly throughout the year, and the buildup almost makes it more fascinating. I’m going to weird places with it now. Part of me thinks this is actually a full-on android that Ludacris built in a lab. That’s the thing: we can’t rule anything out. Not yet. I still want to know. I need to know. But there’s been something fun about, to quote a very good television show, letting the mystery be.
Enthusiastic goofballs in documentary-style programs
I do not know exactly how it happened but two of my favorite characters on television this year were real people. No, I am not referring to anyone from Tiger King. I’m talking about Zac Efron and my beloved Agent Doug.
Efron starred in a Netflix travel series and I cannot possibly explain in strong enough terms how much I enjoyed it. He was just so happy — so unbelievably stoked — to be out there learning cool stuff about the world. He called everything “sick” and “awesome” and almost lost his entire mind looking at some dope turbines in Iceland. In one episode, he traveled to a small town where an abnormal number of people live to be 100. You must see 100-year-old ladies interact with Zac Efron. It is nothing short of a delight. I swear I’m not being sarcastic here. He’s so earnest and excited about finding sweet science stuff and sharing it with people and the whole thing is infectious to a degree I did not expect. Put your cynicism in the closet and watch it. It’s refreshing like a tall glass of lemonade on a hot day.
Similarly, but different, we had Agent Doug on McMillion$, HBO’s docuseries about the McDonalds Monopoly scandal. Agent Doug was the best, a fully-caffeinated loon who seemed to get most of his idea of what an FBI agent is and does from watching a bunch of 1980s cop shows. He’s like if Jake Peralta from Brooklyn Nine-Nine were a real person. He once showed up to a meeting in a gold suit. He once tackled a guy on the beach for trying to steal the worthless huge fake check they were handing out as part of a sting. He demanded to be taken off the boring health care fraud cases he was on to investigate fun Monopoly schemes. He was so excited, all the time, to be telling the world about all of it. And now I want an Agent Doug television show starring Zac Efron as Agent Doug. That’s the biggest takeaway here.
The New Pope opening an episode with a long sequence that featured Jude Law walking in from the ocean, lighting up a cigarette, and strolling down the beach in a Speedo while dozens of women in bikinis do calisthenics and play volleyball and the Virgin Mary faints from the sheer unfiltered sexuality of it all
The best part about this is that I legitimately could not tell if it was real or a dream sequence as I was watching it in the moment, because The New Pope is just as bonkers as it is profound in parts, which is to say it is tons of both. Please do watch this entire clip all the way through twice, once to take it all in and once to imagine some guy named like Carl or Larry watching them film it all while eating a popsicle on the boardwalk.
So yes, there was at least a little to be thankful for this year. You just had to look for it.