How I survived 2020 – the best television and films to watch

By Naomi Roper

Doing a “best of” list this year seems like a pointless endeavour given… (gestures futilely at the world). However, TV and film really have been my saviour this year. I’ve gone from being someone who needs silence to someone who needed constant noise to stop her climbing the walls and so I have watched a lot and I do mean a LOT of television this year. I have already covered how I’ve watched nine series of Bones in about 3 months and my fave horror movies of the year but here are a few other things that I enjoyed watching this year:

Tenet

Timey wimey, beautifully directed nonsense from Christopher Nolan. Robert Pattinson has a very jolly time, Kenneth Branagh chows down on the scenery while the perpetually underrated Elisabeth Debicki classes the place up with an emotional, committed performance. Never have I cheered on a murder more. A lesser Nolan but still good fun.

Schitts Creek

Everyone told me to watch Schitt’s Creek, a charming Canadian comedy series about a wealthy family who loses their fortune and is forced to move to the small town they bought as a joke. So I did and immediately wondered if everyone had gone completely insane. In all the column inches written about Schitt’s Creek this year hardly anyone points out that the first few episodes are really dire. Initially, Schitt’s Creek is a very broad comedy about an obnoxious family interacting with small-town grotesques with Chis Elliot opting for a form of gross-out humour that does nothing for me.

But…after a few episodes, something magical happens and the show starts to turn into this gentle comedy about a fish out of water family reconnecting with each other while making new friends. If you are not a completist who has to watch from the beginning maybe start watching from around episode 7 of the first series which is the point where it begins to settle down. Because once it gets going Schitt’s Creek is just lovely. I adored the Roses – soap opera diva Moira (goddess Catherine O’Hara) with her collection of beautiful outfits and wigs with a quote for every occasion, David (the incomparable Dan Levy) and his friendship with Stevie (Emily Hampshire) and subsequent relationship with Patrick (Noah Reid), Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) and his love for his wife and children and Alexis (Annie Murphy) who gets one of the best self-empowerment arcs on television. Big shout out to the third member of the Levy clan – Sarah Levy who is hilarious as Twyla. When it starts to work it really really works and is one of the loveliest (and funniest) shows I’ve ever seen. If you’re struggling Schitt’s Creek is a real boost to your spirits. 

Birds of Prey

Its release at the beginning of this year means that this candy confection of a popcorn movie has faded a little quicker from memory than it should have. Which is a shame because Margot Robbie is a joy as Harley Quinn. The best romance on film this year was Harley and her love for fried egg sandwiches. Ewan McGregor is a riot as the villain and his relationship with Chris Messina is the stuff of fanfic. It takes far too long for the gang to get together but when they do the fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed. Hopefully, it will get a second life somewhere.

Palm Springs

Groundhog Day style rom-com with Adam Samberg and Cristin Miloti falling in love while stuck in a time loop at a wedding. Samberg manages to combine appealing goofiness with the resigned fatalism of a man forced to endure life. It’s not as funny as it needs to be but Miloti absolutely sparkles. 

Hamilton

God bless Hamilton for coming along to cheer us up just when we needed it. I don’t think there is anything that can be said about Hamilton that hasn’t been said already but this recording of the original cast is a joy to watch. 

Nomadland 

Released in 2021 in the UK but watched at the London Film Festival this is a moving look at the forgotten generation in America – the elderly who find themselves on the poverty line and so take up a nomad lifestyle drifting from place to place looking for work. Stunningly directed by Chloe Zhao Nomadland features a never better Frances McDormand surrounded by a cast of (mostly) real-life people who have adopted this lifestyle. Will make you think about who exactly is packaging your Amazon parcel. It’s a little too cosy (the one time McDormand’s character needs money there’s a safety net for her) and arguably too white but it’s a beautiful and uplifting movie. 

The Boys

The ultra-violent hilarious superhero show returned with an even stronger season as our heroes battled the forces of Vought and their army of supes while taking potshots at all other comic franchises (an early episode features vicious jokes at the expense of Hawkeye and Daredevil which made me howl and the marketing for the movie the Supes are filming uses Justice League’s colouring). Jack Quaid is hugely appealing as our everyman gateway into this crazy world (I spent the whole season worrying about him). Karl Urban and his indecipherable “Cockney” accent got to plumb greater emotional depths in his interactions with his wife while still swearing up a storm and shooting things. Aya Cash is a fine addition to the cast as Stormfront, a truly objectionable character who stirs things up for everyone. An early condescending refrain of “Girls get it done” pays off spectacularly in one of the most brutal fights I’ve seen on screen in the finale. Antony Starr continues to be the show’s most valuable player as Homelander (essentially evil Superman). This sociopathic manchild who yearns for love and attention is truly frightening. He’s every guy on the street who goes from calling you beautiful to a c*nt in 30 seconds when you walk away. Homelander reaches breathtaking new heights of awfulness this year (his casual outing of Maeve, because he’s jealous of her relationship, is beyond horrifying) and yet still somehow keeps you onboard. There’s no show without him. Respect must be paid however to Chace Crawford who is doing a stellar comedic turn as the completely useless aquatic superhero The Deep. 

Supernova

The good people of the internet were correctly beside themselves when they saw Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci were doing a film together as a couple. This tale of a couple coping with early-onset dementia will rip your heart into teeny tiny pieces. Both actors are superb with Firth the best he’s ever been.

Full review here

What We Do in the Shadows

I have watched this series on repeat since it was released (it’s all on BBC Iplayer) and my love for it is a fierce thing. Vampires Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasha Demetriou) and Lazlo (Matt Berry) and energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Prosch) try and cope with modern life aided by Nandor’s familiar Guillermo who discovers at the end of the previous season that he’s related to well-known vampire killer Van Helsing. Most of the focus has been on the Mark Hamill episode where Lazlo, escaping a debt owed to Hamill’s vampire takes on a job as regular human bartender Jackie Daytona. The episode is brilliant and gives Matt Berry a showcase to die for (the visual gag of Lazlo’s disguise being a toothpick is hysterical) but the season as a whole is really strong. The worst storyline from the previous season (Bernie Feldstein’s character becoming a vampire) is completely ditched as the vamps deal with witches, ghosts and the horrors of chain emails. Colin Robinson gets a promotion in a gleefully clever episode and causes chaos as a result once he realises he can now drain people’s energy on demand. The show’s best relationship is the oddly touching one between Guillermo and Nandor as Guillermo struggles with his place in the world (the ongoing gag of Guillermo being an effortlessly brilliant vampire killer is very funny). There are engaging guest appearances from Benedict Wong as a very dodgy necromancer and Nick Kroll as Simon the Devious. I have watched the final episode (set at the “New” Theatre Des Vampires (so named presumably so Anne Rice won’t sue) on a loop. If you need cheering up watch this immediately. 

How Did This Get Made

Slight cheat this as HDTGM is a podcast. Back at the beginning of this madness I tried to listen to a variety of different podcasts and rapidly discovered that I have very little tolerance for people jabbering at each other. A lot of print journalists I like are frankly painful to listen to and comedic banter from people who are not comics makes me want to rip my ears off. And then I found How Did This Get Made. The series features Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and internet fave Jason Mantzoukas (the only one I was familiar with) as they consider terrible films and ponder the question of how they were made. All three hosts are very entertaining and they get great guest stars (Nick Kroll & Seth Rogan among others). How invested you are in an episode will depend greatly on your interest in the film they’re discussing (I had to switch off the episode on Drop Dead Fred as Raphael’s overly passionate defence of it as a work of comedic genius was making me really uncomfortable (christ that movie is bad)) but some of the best episodes feature films you’ve never even heard of. You may want to have the off button handy for when they hit the audience portion of the live shows which in true audience Q&A fashion very rarely justifies its existence.

My favourite episodes are those featuring Con Air, Face Off, Deep Blue Sea, Van Helsing and Geostorm. Several of the episodes are on Spotify (drowning in ads of course) but frustratingly the bulk of the episodes are behind a paywall. I did subscribe to Stitcher to listen to them ad-free but just be aware there are only so many you can get for free.

Another Round

Mads Mikkelsen and friends undertake an experiment to see how their lives will change if they are permanently just a little bit drunk. Mikkelsen is extraordinary as a beige half-alive man who slowly starts to get his spark back. Thomas Vinterberg bathes him in a variety of honey-toned light so every scene looks like a painting. It all culminates in Mikkelsen getting to show off his dance skills in a joyous sequence which will be all over the net the second this is released. Oddly life-affirming.

Brooklyn 99

I have re-watched the entirety of this comedy series about a ragtag group of Brooklyn cops since this pandemic started. Adam Samberg is hilarious as Jake Peralta, cop extraordinaire with serious daddy issues.  Andre Braugher is a revelation as the straight-laced gay police captain who is deadly serious about everything. His performance is a masterclass in understated comedy (I still cackle from time to time about his yell of “vindication” at Rosa loving his balloon arch). My favourite episodes are those featuring Craig Robinson as Doug Judy (aka the Pontiac Bandit) and the Halloween heist episodes where the team compete amongst themselves to retrieve an object and be crowned “Best Detective/genius”. The show isn’t perfect – there’s no getting away from the fact that Terry Crews is very one-note in his role and the show had no idea what to do with its best character Gina Linetti once the actress playing her (Chelsea Peretti) got pregnant. But as a 20-minute dose of happiness Brooklyn 99 is a joy. 

Gerard Butler movies

I find Gerard Butler to be oddly soothing and have found myself turning to his particular brand of growly shoot em up more than once this year. Olympus Has Fallen and Angel Has Fallen are improbably entertaining as Butler seeks to protect the president (Aaron Eckhart initially and then Morgan Freeman) from dastardly villains. You may want to skip middle entry London Has Fallen which is wildly anti Arab and features a ton of London landmarks being blown up which isn’t soothing to me at this time. Geostorm, a completely nonsensical film which is effectively Gerard Butler v the weather is also a total joy that should be re-watched as often as possible. 

The Mandalorian

The Star Wars universe has found its home on the small screen as Jon Favreau’s stunning space Western series went from strength to strength in its second season. Baby Yoda is adorable and Pedro Pascal gives a wonderful performance as the voice of Mando (I say voice as it’s still not clear to me how often Pascal is actually in the suit). The whole season is great (and one I plan on re-watching shortly) but highlights for me were Timothy Olyphant’s guest turn as a marshall, Katee Sackhoff’s fierce performance as Bo-Katan, Rosario Dawson bringing Ahsoka Tano to life in the best looking episode (The Jedi) which was brilliantly directed by Dave Filoni. I do not want to wait until next Christmas for more. 

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