To say the least, 2020 has been a weird year. In light of the social distancing required to remain safe during these times, we've had more time than ever to consume media voraciously. Although watching TV oftentimes felt like a painful reminder of the life we left behind, it also serves as a welcome distraction from the havoc of the real world. Without further ado, we present to you our favorite shows and movies to escape into this year.
Although released in 2017, Atypical’s fourth and final season will be released in 2021—a perfect start to the new year. This series follows the story of Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), who has autism spectrum disorder. Although criticized for its lack of autistic actors, inaccuracies in its depiction of autism, and its focus on socially acceptable versions of autism, it's still an entertaining show that provides insight into the experiences of people who are autistic. Throughout the show, the audience watches Sam learn the nuances of dating, become more independent, and figure out college. But Atypical isn’t just about Sam. It also depicts a struggling marriage between his parents, and how Sam and his sister, Casey Gardner (Brigette Lundy–Paine) are impacted. Additionally, it follows Casey as she gradually accepts her sexuality. Exploring themes of friendship, love, and high school drama, Atypical is very much the typical coming–of–age story, allowing it to explore autism but still attract a broad audience.
Since the release of Euphoria, there has been a public appreciation for shows that take a tough, yet honest look at the high school experience. Following the stories of five high school students in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, Grand Army takes a successful swing at this genre. Created by Katie Cappiello and based in part on her theatrical work, Slut: The Play, the show focuses on Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’Zion), who is passionate about female bodily autonomy. One night, she goes out, and is sexually assaulted by her best friends—a moment that changes her life forever. While this plot point alone would be enough to tell a compelling story, the show also gives significant screen time to four other characters. Each character, despite all living in Brooklyn, comes a from different socioeconomic backgrounds—and faces their own challenges. Exploring issues such as sexual assault, sexuality, familial expectation, economic distress, and wrongful punishment, this show successfully explores serious issues without being condescending or heavy–handed.
Love on the Spectrum
As much as reality television is the genre of housewives flipping dinner tables and campy games shows, it’s also a genre filled with heart. Take Love on the Spectrum, a Netflix docuseries that follows a group on the Autism spectrum as they discover romance in different ways. The series is refreshingly honest. It highlights the subtle difficulties of neurodivergence—switching topics of conversations, figuring out how to end a first date, decoding cryptic texts—without ever trying to explain away the casts’ disabilities. Mostly, it reminds us all that love is hard no matter how natural it may come to you, with the archetypes of your favorite romantic comedy reflected in this rotating cast of characters. Michael is the hopeless romantic while Maddi is a player, and Sharnae and Jimmy are the couple everyone envies. There’s something soothing about a show that finds beauty in the bluntest edges of its characters, making Love on the Spectrum a mindless—but rewarding—quarantine binge.
There isn’t a lot of great representation for Muslims. It can get exhausting tallying up the moments in a show where the token Muslim character is downgraded to a stereotype—or even worse, eventually ends up taking off her hijab for a ridiculous reason, like the male gaze or a hospital emergency. However, Ramy is different: it portrays the plight of Muslims, especially those who grow up in America post 9/11, as more nuanced. Ramy Hassan (Ramy Youssef) is, at first glance, a sensitive person confused as to how he can balance his faith with modern American culture. But he's also simultaneously an obsessive, selfish brown male who can sometimes come off as a hypocrite. Specifically, episodes that focus on other characters, such as Ramy’s mother, Maysa (Hiam Abbass) make for tragic, yet heartwarming television. This season shows her coming to terms with the concept of gender fluidity, a conversation that needs to be had in the Muslim community. Another stand–out this season is Mahershala Ali as the Sufi Sheikh Malik, who is pivotal in Ramy’s emotional and religious journey.
You can’t deny it: the Star Trek franchise is back. For the first time in its over fifty–year–old history, Trek had three series’ airing in one calendar year. Together, they ushered in an official new era—possibly one even more grand than the ’90s. In 2020, Picard began, marking a return to Patrick Stewart’s most iconic character; Lower Decks proved that Trek could succeed in the realm of animated comedy; and Discovery returned for a third season that brought the Trek universe to a previously undiscovered future. Additionally, three more shows are in development. This includes Prodigy, a children’s animated program, which will introduce the next generation of Trekkers to Kathryn Janeway, the first female starship captain. There's Strange New Worlds, a spin–off about the adventures of Captain Christopher Pike and his crew. Finally, there's an untitled show about Section 31 that promises to feature Discovery fan–favorite Michelle Yeoh as Emperor Philippa Georgiou. Although CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) hasn’t quite hit its stride, you can be sure that Star Trek is thriving.
Every day we wonder if Pedro Pascal’s back hurts from carrying the entire Star Wars franchise into a new era of critically acclaimed storytelling. Pascal plays the titular character in the Star Wars spin–off show, The Mandalorian, an incredibly cinematic space western that’s currently in the middle of its second season. The series creates a fresh, original narrative in a well–worn and well–loved world, with each episode telling a stand–alone story. The Mandalorian teems with cameos from famous actors and characters, as well as Easter eggs from both the Star Wars films and numerous animated television adaptations. Playing the protagonist, a cowboy–esque, bounty hunting Mandalorian named Din Djarin, Pascal gives a stunning and emotional performance even though his costume covers his entire face and body. There’s nothing that tugs at the heartstrings more than an angsty, brooding character who steps up to be a responsible and loving father figure. After the disappointing end to the new Star Wars trilogy of films, The Mandalorian sweeps into flesh out the Star Wars universe through the Mandalorian people, a fan–favorite but unexplored culture from the canon.
Following a rich line of on–screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, 2020’s Emma is filled with whimsy and humor. The film is a light period drama that revels in its lush romance and incredibly talented cast, with Anya Taylor–Joy as the titular Austen heroine. Sometimes, it’s nice to just watch beautiful people in period clothing cry about their emotions and deal with the awkwardness and apprehension of falling in love. In this way, the movie dips into the genre of teenage romance despite its high literary background. Emma draws upon the incredible humor present in the original novel, which is itself a comedy of manners. Additionally, the film, like the novel, portrays a female protagonist who is complicated and self–centered, yet equally capable of growth and deserving of love regardless—and that’s pretty damn revolutionary for a story from the Regency period. Austen remains timeless, and Emma is an entirely fitting adaptation of what makes Austen feel so special generations later.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Many major annual events have not been possible in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Eurovision Song Contest, which was supposed to be held in Rotterdam from May 12–16, was one of them. However, unlike many other traditions which were all but disregarded this year, fans were treated to the Netflix film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. For die–hard Eurovision enthusiasts, Fire Saga captured the magic, whimsy, and fun of the yearly competition that brings together an entire continent. Fire Saga stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdóttir, who comprise Fire Saga, the band that ends up representing Iceland. Coincidentally, in the real world, Iceland was the favorite to win for the first time, but lost the opportunity. With the great cast, catchy music—including a viral Song–Along medley—and a little bit of elf magic, this movie is one to check out.
A light–hearted and moving Pixar film that makes us reminiscent of the pre–COVID days, Onwards tells a story of family and friendship. Set in a fantasy land that resembles our modern world more than any mythology, the film combines fantasy with a classic Pixar coming–of–age film. The two brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), find on Ian's birthday a staff that can bring their dad back to life for one day. Unfortunately, they mess up the spell and have to go on a journey—like in any Pixar film—that's filled with magic, adventures, and goofy side characters. The mix of fantasy creatures and modern technology, in an understatement, is an interesting one—but one that’s surprisingly fun to watch, from the dragon puppy to the retired, buffet–owning manticore. Although it’s not the best Pixar film out there, for any fan of animated family movies, it’s sure to bring joy.
The Way Back
In iconic roles like Bruce Wayne and Tony Mendez, Ben Affleck is used to carrying himself with a certain degree of confidence and swagger. This persona is eradicated in The Way Back, where Affleck plays depressed construction worker Jack Cunningham, whose alcoholism pervades into every area of his life. He drinks a beer in the shower every morning; spikes his coffee before embarking on a day of dangerous construction work; and spends nearly every night at the local bar. Formerly a D1–bound basketball prodigy who abandoned the game for unknown reasons, Cunningham earns a shot at redemption when he is recruited to coach the basketball team at his alma mater. This film is deeply emotional and moving, and Affleck’s acting illustrates a broken man who has severed nearly all personal relationships in his life. Affleck gives it his all in this film, and it’s a story that tugs on the heart–strings right up until the final buzzer.