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 final 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 Part II starts….now!
5. Animal Crossing- We spent a large majority of 2020 not being able to leave our homes so thank the gods that Animal Crossing was released during the height of a pandemic allowing us to create our own island getaways that we could construct any way we wanted and allowed us to visit with friends. I think that might have been one of my favorite aspects of the game, we were separated and isolated but still able to have friends and family stop by our islands to hang out. And if you used the Nintendo Switch app you could have conversations with said people as you explore the new territories. My cousin and I did this a few times and it was awesome just being able to spend time with him in that way. Something that felt like leaving the house even though you were still planted in your favorite chair.
One of my favorite aspects of Animal Crossing, besides buying clothing which was something I was stupidly addicted to. Seriously, if you come visit my island I can show you my wardrobe which is quite eclectic. I’ve got a Robert De Niro Taxi Driveresq mohawk that I couldn’t say no to, a Bruce Lee fashioned yellow jumper, a ram onesie because why not, and my hat game is on fire. Also shoes…. and flip flops. I have clothes buying problem. Sometimes I wish I could wear some of these outfits outside of the game. Nintendo, find a way to make this happen. An Animal Crossing clothing line seems like it would be something that made a stupid amount of money, no?
Outside of my clear obsession with clothing, I loved getting to share an island with my wife. Animal Crossing quickly became an addiction for the two of us as we handed the Switch back and forth between each other putting in countless hours on our island. We would talk about new walkways or the fish we caught and brag when we were the first ones to do things. Animal Crossing was a saving grace that kept the two of us relaxed and calm during a time when the world was so uncertain and wild. Mostly calm as there was a time where Alyson wanted her own Switch so we didn’t have to share. We found ways to survive in a one Switch household though. Not like we could’ve bought a new one anyway. Otherwise, this game was the epidemy of escapism and one of the most relaxing video game experiences I have ever had.
As the world has opened up again, I’ve strayed from my island getaway but I do miss it quite frequently. I don’t know if I associate the game too much with quarantine or I’ve just become a bit busier, but Animal Crossing was something I looked forward to every day. Asking my wife if she was done with the Switch yet or making sure that it was charged enough for us to play. Getting jealous when she went on a fish catching binge or celebrating finding scorpion island. Even paying off my house to that loan shark Tom Nook was oddly satisfying. Animal Crossing was soothing in all the right ways. I mean, I could literally fish in that game for hours and be completely content. In fact, I feel like maybe I should head on over now and build a snowman and see what new wonders await.
4. The Last of Us Part II- I waited seven years for this game. I bought a PS4 with the hopes of one day being able to play this game. I pre-ordered this game and pre-downloaded it so I could play as soon as humanly possible. With those types of lofty expectations, it is easy to believe that something like this would be unable to live up to the unimaginable hype. But The Last of Us Part II not only lived up to the hype but it far surpassed it becoming a video game experience unlike any other I have had prior.
Two weeks after I finished the game, I attempted to write a column about the experience of playing through the next chapters of Ellie and Joel’s lives. I got about five hundred words in, I was proud of those words, but I was never able to finish that write-up and not because I didn’t want to but because the emotions, even after two weeks, felt too fresh. Felt too raw. I finished The Last of Us Part II a couple of weeks after starting it, playing through stolen hours deep into the night, and here on the last day of the year, I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
Video games, much like comics, have such a unique freedom to tell stories. This medium can get away with things that movies and television can not and in that way video games have become this platform to experience storytelling on a whole different level. What makes The Last of Us Part II so different from other games I’ve played is its ability to tell the story it wants. The game does not care about what the player wants and that’s clear two hours into the game. The opening is brutal and unforgiving and changes the course of the story entirely. It’s unexpected and harsh and forces you to live in this world that Ellie and Abby call home. Nothing is promised and the game is unafraid to drive that point home.
There were a number of times during The Last of Us Part II where I didn’t want to play through certain aspects of the story. Playing as Abby was difficult after the opening but also necessary. It allowed us to experience a new point a view and understand that this wasn’t a character made to be a bad guy. This was a person who had life experiences of her own, and by playing as her we formed new opinions and sympathies. Playing as Abby and trying to kill Ellie in the playhouse was such a difficult moment for me. I didn’t want to do those things because I love Ellie. I have the entire first game of attachments to her and now to be fighting her with the intention of killing… it made me uncomfortable and that was what the game was striving for.
That wasn’t the only time either. There were many times whether through violence or storytelling that The Last of Us Part II made me uncomfortable. Tight rope walking over Seattle made me borderline nauseous. A large portion of Ellie’s revenge quest and the deaths that followed. Ellie leaving the farm. The very end and how the game forces you to play these events so they can unfold. The Last of Us Part II preys on your emotions and it’s those emotions and attachments that allow the game and the story to truly sore.
Mixed in with these dark story elements though is an underline feeling of hope. That we don’t have to be victims of our circumstances that maybe we can turn things around. In Ellie’s case, end the cycle of violence that has shrouded her entire life. It’s these moments where the game truly excels. The astronaut flashback from Ellie’s birthday could very well be one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever played in a game. I sat with the controller on my lap with tears streaming down my face. The last conversation we see Ellie have with Joel. Abby’s journey and the hope that we feel when the title screen changes. I cried more playing this game than the majority of movies, television shows, commercials, or books I’ve experienced this year. The feelings of loss and anger resonate and the emotions are raw and honest. Even if they’re ones we don’t want to admit to.
The Last of Us Part II is a game like no other. It’s beautiful and brutal. It’s unsettling and hopeful. It is the height of video game storytelling and a true counterpart to the original game. It’s a celebration of story and character and why we attach ourselves to these worlds and beings. It is unforgiving and unforgettable and true experience. It was everything I could have hoped for.
3. The Boys Season Two- The Boys is brutal, unapologetic, uncomfortably funny, obsessed with Billy Joel, has little regard for sea creatures, and is out of this world good. Hands down one of the best shows to come out of 2020 was this satirical, over the top, take on superheroes, and each episode not only raised the stakes but delivered compelling stories with jaw dropping moments. Whether it’s someone’s head randomly exploding or watching a boat crash into a whale, The Boys, to quote Billy Butcher, is fucking diabolical.
Yet, the show is more than extreme violence and a record use of the c-word. The Boys actually has a lot to say about government, those with extreme powers, and what it means to be one of the little people trying to take the power back. Yes, these themes can be hidden by characters who are addicted to breast milk but the message never shifts. The Boys takes pride in making you uncomfortable or saying “what are we watching” and it uses those moments to resonate the most. That’s where the most conversation comes from.
Second seasons are oftentimes the most difficult for any show especially a show that came out of nowhere to melt faces. The Boys understood that and instead of giving us more of the same, they decided to double down, crank the volume up to eleven, and go all-in on the premise. This is a show that knows who it is and knows what its audience expects. But it’s also a show looking to tell a specific story and it uses traumatic events, families being killed by supes or the government using superheroes as an army or superhero terrorists, to engage conversation and open people’s eyes to their surroundings. The Boys want to kick you in the teeth but they also want to leave you talking about more than characters who can, um, stretch out different parts of their bodies.
At the core of the show are incredibly strong performances, notably from Homelander himself Anthony Starr who just chews up any scene he’s in. We hate Homelander. We detest Homelander. We also can’t keep our eyes off Homelander and any time he’s on-screen it’s a treat. Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, and Erin Moriarty fill out an ensemble that is all in on this story which allows the show to sore.
The Boys takes the superhero genre and flips it on its head. It’s refreshing in a lot of ways and disturbing in a lot of others. But at the end of the day, it makes for excellent television and releasing the show one episode at a time not only kept The Boys relevant for the majority of the summer but gave viewers something to look forward to every Friday. Amazon has a sure-fire hit on their hands and I couldn’t love this effed-up universe anymore if I tried.
2. The Umbrella Academy Season Two- I’ve always kind of associated The Umbrella Academy and The Boys as sister shows. Maybe it’s because both put such a unique twist on the superhero genre or maybe they’re released closely together. I don’t know, what I do know is that this second season of The Umbrella Academy was masterful. How good was it? Well, it was so good that after we finished watching it, my wife and I waited three days and watched the entire season again.
I’m a sucker for any story that wants to tackle the Kennedy Assassination but The Umbrella Academy didn’t use JFK as a crutch but instead as a means to tell a story about civil unrest, family, identity, and love. This season literally had everything from a bitching soundtrack (those covers of “Crazy”, “Hello”, and “Bad Guy” have been playlist staples for me since this summer) to time travel wonkiness all the way to using TLC quotes to inspire a cult. I really don’t know what else you want out of your television experience.
The Umbrella Academy at its core is a family drama and this season really did some tremendous character work to make the Hargreeves come together. Vanya’s story was a nice departure from season one and allowed her to have an identity outside of being the family outcast. I was particularly fond of Diego’s story arc and thought the show did a tremendous job of not only having Diego find his own self-importance but for him to be the backbone of the season. Klaus and Ben provided great humor that allowed the emotional beats to really land while Allison’s story of civil unrest landed heavily and poignantly. And who can forget Five and all of the awesome he brings. Seriously, Aidan Gallagher is stellar in this role and I want him to have all the screen time.
This was the perfect show to kick summer into high gear especially in a year that didn’t have any real blockbuster movies because #pandemic. At times it’s completely over the top (there’s a character whose head is literally a fishbowl with a talking fish) and at other times it’s highly emotional calling for the waterworks (“Could you hug me as I go?”). The Umbrella Academy celebrates how strange it is and its cast of misfits and because of that, we were given one of the most enjoyable seasons of the year. It’s very rare that I enjoy a show or movie over the source material, but The Umbrella Academy manages to stay loyal to the comic while being its own entity. Thankfully it doesn’t leave us with Paradox Psychosis…
1.The Mandalorian Season Two- Honestly, I don’t think there was a viewing experience that brought me more sheer joy than the second season of The Mandalorian. Even now trying to come up with words to explain how it made me feel seems like a difficult task. You ever get so happy that you just weep? Like the feelings are so abundant that you feel your heart filling with such joy that your only response is to weep. That’s how I would explain this second season of The Mandalorian. The happiest of happy tears.
I’m not going to get into the history of Star Wars or the divide in the fandom right now, if you want to explore those thoughts check our archives, but it’s hard to deny that in a fandom that is so split here comes a show that either erases the divide or is healing it. Maybe even both.
This, for me, is Star Wars at its best and it’s no surprise that Dave Filoni is at the center of this. We see in Part I of the Best of 2020 how his final Clone Wars arc resonated, and now with his work with Jon Favreau, we’re getting something extraordinary within the Star Wars Universe. A unification of canon. The inclusion of canon that was cast aside with the Disney acquisition. A celebration of everything that makes Star Wars great. On top of that, it’s compelling television. A spaghetti western in space with a cold hardened bounty hunter learning that he could love and possibly be a father figure to a child. The child. That’s the foundation to any strong western story and what Filoni and Favreau are doing here is catapulting Star Wars to new highs.
I could seriously gush about this season of The Mandalorian for hours. In fact, I already have. This is a show that takes my Star Wars fandom and allows me to fully embrace and celebrate my love for these stories. It makes me feel like a child experiencing these stories for the first time. It reminds me why I’ve spent so much time in this universe and the immense dividends and rewards that come with being a part of it.
This second season gave me a live-action Ahsoka and Bo-Katan. It brought Boba Fett back to life, something I’ve been waiting for since I first watched Return of the Jedi. It promised a continuation of Rebels. It gave me the Luke Skywalker moment I’ve been waiting for my whole life while further expanding his character arc. It gave me Star Wars and there was nothing else on this list that could top that. This is the way.
There you have it Geeklings, that’s gonna put a bow on 2020. What did you think? What were your top ten favorite things of this year? Please sound off in the comments or throw me a line over on Twitter @iamgeek32. I want to wish you all a happy, healthy, and safe New Year and I’ll see you in 2021 with new content for your eyeholes!