First off, I’m fully aware that making a Best of 2020 list sounds like an oxymoron. It’s like trying to figure out what was your favorite bone you broke after you tumbled down that hill or choosing which childhood memory was the most traumatic. For me it would concern a tick… and that’s all I’m going to say about that. But here’s the thing, while 2020 sure was a dumpster fire that kept us quarantined, seriously lacking butt tissues, and made masks an everyday fashion statement that somehow didn’t involve being a superhero, there were still lights in the darkness. Little forms of escapism that made 2020 bearable. Survivable. Somewhat enjoyable. And it’s from those things that we create this Best of 2020 list. The things in pop culture that kept us from screaming into the void. Because I’ll be honest with you, there were parts of this year where I got emotional buying toilet paper and I never thought that would ever be something I would experience. When you’re getting choked up in the paper products aisle of your food store, you need something to help bring you back, and 2020 provided some really good content that helped us forget that everyday life was probably not going to be the same.
I’m fully aware that in the grand scheme of things that this list means nothing. Many of us have struggled this year. Whether it was financially, healthwise, or something else. This was a dark year, perhaps the start of the darkest timeline, but the aim here has always been to look at the brighter side of life. If you were able to take any joy from the pop culture mentioned here then celebrate it. It’s all about the little things and if it makes you happy then that’s all that matters.
Now that that little “re-hash” is out of the way we can jump into Part One of the I Am Geek Top Ten of 2020. How very exciting. It’s like Christmas morning but with things you’ve already experienced and a serious lack of wrapping paper. Unless you count the words as constantly unspooling wrapping paper to get to the goods. Ooooh, I like that metaphor. I’m not going to edit it out. Yay for being clever!
So, this is it. The start of the breakdown of the Best of 2020. Are you excited? A little nervous? An emotion not listed? Well, it’s time to embrace the future because the Best of 2020 starts….now!
One More Honorable Mention- Last Week Tonight With John Oliver– It felt impossible to leave this off of my Best of 2020 List but while it’s an Honorable Mention, and we discussed those the other day, I felt that Last Week Tonight deserved to be listed separately. What John Oliver did this season, operating from his white void at home, was nothing short of incredible and oftentimes moving. He was able to properly channel our fear, anger, confusion, attraction to Adam Driver, and questions and gave us episodes that informed us. That made us relate to the bigger picture. That were naked in their emotion and anger and asked us to do better. Showed us how we could do better. Tried to make us understand. 2020 was an extradentary year for news and John Oliver didn’t just report it, he broke it down on levels that we could comprehend. “You’re angry and pissed? Yeah me too. Don’t understand COVID and the response? Me either. Let’s talk this out through humor, emotion, and honesty.” I spent a good portion of this year being thankful for John Oliver and his crew. They were essential viewing for 2020.
…and now The I Am Geek Best of 2020 Top Ten Part One (man, that’s a long name)…
10. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green- Every New Year I set a reading challenge for myself through Good Reads and it’s one of my favorite aspects of the year. That drive to read as much as possible and meet the goal set for myself on January 1st. Needless to say, I crushed my goal this year (crushed) but the first book I read was An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. It’s part one to our number ten entry. Out of all the books, I read this year, and again, there were a lot, this might have been my favorite reading experience. Flat out fell in love with this book, this story, these characters within twenty pages. So, when I learned that the sequel, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, would be coming out during the summer, I was hyped. I couldn’t wait to see where this book picked up. To get the much-needed closure from that cliffhanger ending. What I got far surpassed my expectations. What Hank Green has created here isn’t just a fun science fiction novel with tons of pop culture references. No, Hank Green takes the idea of random alien statues landing in various places on earth, much like the monoliths that randomly showed up during the back half of the year, and uses it to make some highly important social commentary on social media, internet fame, self-care/reflection, and the importance of family and friends. Green never loses sight of his characters or the world they live in and creates a world that really opens your eyes to the abusive nature of social media and the internet. Don’t get me wrong, the book isn’t preachy and doesn’t tell you that social media shouldn’t be used but allows you to see what consumption does to a person. It opens your eyes to how you use these apps in an almost effortless way. Each character is affected differently and by different aspects of the internet and it’s wonderfully woven together making for a tremendous story with a solid message at heart.
I loved this book. I loved this series. In fact, I would argue that A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor impacted my enjoyment of Ready Player Two. Ready Player Two failed to live up to the standards of Ready Player One and a large part of that, for me, was because A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor had done that story already. But better. More impactfully. More emotionally. And with pop culture references that didn’t always feel like name drops.
I can’t suggest this series enough. I know that these will be books that I read again and again, if not to remind myself of the message but also to spend time with these characters. They all felt like friends made along the way and as I’m writing this, I can’t help but hope they’re doing alright. And if that isn’t a testament to the power of this book, I don’t know what is.
9. The Good Place Series Finale- It is so very difficult to stick the landing of anything. Just look at how polarizing the finale of Game of Thrones has been or The Rise of Skywalker. Endings are difficult, especially when those endings involve characters and stories that have greatly impacted the pop culture landscape. This is bound to happen when you invest large amounts of your time in these characters and stories. The Good Place has always been comfort viewing for my soul. A television show aimed not only to entertain but also enlighten. To nudge you in a direction that leads to you being a better person and treating others as you yourself wish to be treated. But The Good Place was never preachy about it. The show wanted you to come to these conclusions yourself. When Chidi is explaining ethics to Eleanor, he’s not just teaching her, he’s teaching us. At some point, you either recognize this or you take the show at surface level (which would also be highly enjoyable).
The series finale of The Good Place, something I’ve spoken at great length about already, is damn near perfect. It’s the comfort viewing for your soul but it’s also a warm embrace for your heart. An ending that gives off hope and love and bittersweet joy. An ending that promises growth and that people can learn and then take those lessons and apply them to who they are. An attempt to make the world suck a little bit less. The Good Place is that nudge that says it doesn’t always have to be this way. Through all the jokes and philosophy lessons, The Good Place started the year off by giving us warmth. I’m not going to lie, I turned back to that warmth, and this episode, a few times during quarantine. When I needed it. If for nothing else then to feel that hug from the Soul Squad again.
8. The Last Dance- What, sports?! On a pop culture geek website?! This really shouldn’t be very surprising Geeklings, especially when you take into account the amount I bitch about the New York Football Giants and their adherence to prevent me from feeling joy. Seriously though, The Last Dance one hundred percent deserves to be in the Top Ten of 2020 and not just because they perfectly used Pearl Jam’s “Present Tense” in the final episode. No, that’s just an added bonus.
As the pandemic started to take root, I remember the day where it all started to seem real. I had turned on TNT to watch a basketball game and the league was in complete upheaval. The game that I was supposed to be watching was canceled because a player, the idiot Rudy Gobert who a few days prior made jokes about COVID at a press conference, had tested positive for the Coronavirus. This started a trickle effect that saw the league rapidly cancel games for the rest of the night and eventually lead to the temporary ending of the season. Something that other sports would quickly follow suit in.
As quarantine started to take hold, it was clear that we were going to be living a world without sports and there was only so much marble racing one could watch to get that fix. Enter ESPN and their long-anticipated Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance.
Basketball was always a big part of my life whether it was pick up games as a kid or playing in high school, I loved basketball. With that love came an attachment, for better or worse, to the New York Knicks. And throughout all my childhood fandom pains, there was Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. I swear to the gods if Jordan didn’t exist the Knicks would have won at least two championships… but he did exist and the Knicks won zero.
The Last Dance was an in-depth look into that final Bulls championship. An inside look to the greatness of Michael Jordan like we had never seen before. As much as I hated the man and how he tortured me as a Knicks fan, I also couldn’t help but respect him. The dude was tremendous. No denying it. And this documentary, upped from a summer release to give us something to enjoy during quarantine, explored all aspects of Jordan’s greatness. And it was an amazing watch that took me back to sitting on the floor of my parents living room watching the Knicks battle the Bulls as a kid.
The Last Dance wasn’t afraid to address some of the bigger issues or scandals that followed Jordan throughout his career like the gambling and his first retirement. It showed us a man who would make up stories about other players to motivate himself to be better. But it also showed us who Michael Jordan was at his core. A winner. A man who would do anything to win even make up a story about a food poisoned pizza to cover up the infamous “Flu Game”. I’m not buying it. All those dudes in the room and no one else ate a slice? Come on, Jordan was hungover and I don’t think it diminishes his accomplishment at all.
Watching Michael Jordan cry and ask the cameras to stop running as he explained that he just wanted to win and if teammates weren’t willing to give the same effort then they didn’t belong on the team has stayed with me since I watched this documentary (which you can now find on Netflix). The passion in those words. The emotion… that was Michael Jordan and The Last Dance was this perfect time capsule that brought me back to the ’90s and allowed me to appreciate the greatness that tortured my fandom. It also filled the void of a sportless world. Not to mention it gave us that “…and I took that personally” meme which is really the true testament of anything today. If you can get great meme content then it’s a success.
7. Better Call Saul Season 5/Ozark Season 3- Two items in the seven spot?! Doesn’t that seem like cheating? Yes, yes it is but both these shows deserve to be on this list and I refuse to keep either one of them off, and considering that this is my list, I really don’t see the problem here.
Both Better Call Saul and Ozark produced tremendous season this year that were not only the height of their respective stories but also the height of television greatness. Seasons that provided episodes that were masterclasses in acting (Saul’s “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road”/Ozark’s “Fire Pink” and “All In”). The type of episodes where you realize you haven’t been breathing for ten minutes and your heart is currently in your throat. Seasons that took what you thought you knew about the show and spun it on its head leaving you floored as Run the Jewels starts blaring during the end credits. Seasons that ridiculously did not get enough love from the Emmys this year. I stand by saying that this should have been Saul’s year. I stand by the fact that it’s criminal that Rhea Seehorn has yet to be nominated for her work as Kim Wexler. I stand by the fact that not nominating Tom Pelphrey makes the Academy look silly in all aspects. I stand by the fact that Better Call Saul and Ozark are turning out some of the best television episode after episode.
The fact that Better Call Saul is able to accomplish what it has in a post Breaking Bad world is nothing short of phenomenal. In theory, I already know how this story pans out but what I didn’t expect was the heartache and the emotional demand that comes from caring about these characters. Whether it’s ones we already know like Saul, Mike, or Gus to characters whose futures are uncertain like Kim, Nacho, or Lalo. This prequel, this spinoff, has become its own entity co-existing with Breaking Bad as opposed to living in its shadow. And as we head into this final season, as all roads lead to Walter White, I find myself caring less about getting to the meth game and more about needing to know if Kim Wexler lives through this. I need to know what happens to Lalo and why he doesn’t exist in Breaking Bad. Better Call Saul is doing the impossible and it’s a television revelation.
While on the other side, Ozark has been slowly and steadily turning the tension up to eleven leaving you with chewed fingernails and a possible heart condition. Everyone knows that working with the cartel never ends well, and all season long we watched as Marty tried to navigate the cartel and the FBI. We witnessed Wendy think she could outsmart a drug kingpin only to dig her family into a deeper hole. Watching the Byrde’s try and survive in this world they aren’t prepared to live in not only creates drama of the highest levels but also allows for characters to shine. Ozark is more than a money-laundering/cartel story. This is a story about a family that’s broken. That’s looking to find each other and learning that maybe, they’re what’s wrong with the big picture. Yet, we still root for them as much as we shake our heads and mutter to ourselves that they’re being stupid. It’s infuriating and addictive and everything you want out of a television show.
Better Call Saul and Ozark operate on the same wavelength and each episode not only left me wanting more but appreciating all the work that goes into creating shows of this caliber. I’m sad to know that they’ll be ending with their next seasons but they’ll be ending on top of their game. Which is all that you could ask for. That, and the facts that Kim Wexler and Ruth need to be protected at all costs or so help me God.
6. Star Wars The Clone Wars (Siege of Mandalore)- The fact that we got this final season of The Clone Wars is beyond my mental comprehension. It had been so long since those “lost episodes”/final season that even though we knew that the story wasn’t complete it didn’t seem like we would ever get it on our televisions. Instead, we turned to comics (the escape of Darth Maul) or books (the fate of Ventress) to get our closure. Yet there was still a story thread left untold. The Siege of Mandalore and the fate of Ahsoka Tano. We’ve known since Rebels where Ahsoka ended up but we never knew how she got there. Only some small gaps were filled in through her stand-alone novel, Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston, but it remained the biggest loose thread in the Dave Filoni Star Wars Universe.
Until this year. The final season of Clone Wars on a whole was just fine. It set up the upcoming Bad Batch series nicely and gave us a fine Ahsoka story on what happened immediately after she walked away from the Jedi Order. But those last four episodes… weren’t just the highlight of The Clone Wars but some of the best Star Wars storytelling. Ever. Ever ever. I couldn’t be more serious about this.
The way these four episodes work their way into Revenge of the Sith is effortless and takes what many believe to be the best prequel film and enhances it. The Siege of Mandalore adds depth to a story we already know the results of. It allows us to look at these events, Anakin turning to Vader, Ahsoka leaving the Jedi Order, Order 66, and see them with new eyes. To leave with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what George Lucas was trying to accomplish. Sure, you could argue that if the movies were good enough we wouldn’t need a show to fill in the blanks, and that’s a valid argument, but what you can’t argue is how successful and needed this story is. This is Star Wars at its very best.
The final episode of The Clone Wars was released on Star Wars Day, and I woke up at seven o’clock wrapping myself in a blanket and sitting in what was my father’s favorite chair and turned on the television. I couldn’t wait all day to watch this episode. Not with the internet being a cauldron full of spoilers. I wanted to experience this story and then relish in the reactions. I wanted to be apart of the conversation. I wanted Star Wars and all the joy and excitement it brings to my life. And I got it in spades. Nothing could have prepared me for that final episode. The brilliance of the music. The lasting emotional impact of watching Ahsoka’s story play out. Seeing what this does to Anakin… it was perfect. And I know perfect is a flawed word because what really is perfect beside my butthead cat? But at the end of the day, Dave Filoni reminded us all why we fell in love with a galaxy far, far away in the first place. And there’s nothing more perfect than that.
That’s going to do it for today Geeklings. Part Two of the Best of 2020 will be coming at your eyeholes tomorrow but in the meantime, we’ve got plenty to discuss. Did any of these items make your Top Ten lists? Are some of them ranked higher? Would be your ten through six rankings? Be sure to sound off in the comments or feel free to throw me a line over on Twitter @iamgeek32. We only have one more day left in 2020 and we’re going to use it celebrating the best of the best. Can’t wait to see what you guys think!