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20 pop culture bright spots in a dark year

Updated December 18, 2020 - 3:23 pm

There aren’t many new ways left to complain about 2020.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the year is this: It’s almost over.

As terrible as it was — honestly, the past 12 months were so nightmarishly awful, dumpster fires looked on with rueful admiration — there still were a few bright spots amid the doom and gloom.

Here, then, is a look at 20 things from 2020 that offered some relief:

1. “Some Good News.” John Krasinski’s homebound newscast ever so briefly gave viewers a reason to be hopeful during the early days of the pandemic.

2. Italians singing from their balconies. The videos were a beautiful beacon of hope, back when Italy was the scariest place you could imagine being during the outbreak.

3. “Hamilton” on Disney+. For everyone unlucky and/or broke enough to have missed the original cast onstage.

4. The angel who walks among us known as Dolly Parton. The country music icon kicked off the year by posting four photos, representing how she might present herself on different social media platforms, and inadvertently launched the Dolly Parton Challenge. In August, she expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in an interview with Billboard: “And of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white a—- are the only ones that matter? No!” And in November, she learned along with the rest of the world that she had helped fund Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

5. “The Last Dance.” The ESPN smash proved laughing, iPad-holding, “and I took that personally” Michael Jordan is the best Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan laughs in a scene from "The Last Dance." (ESPN)
Michael Jordan laughs in a scene from "The Last Dance." (ESPN)

6. “The Queen’s Gambit.” You know you’ve stumbled onto something special when a series described as “a drug-addicted orphan in 1950s Kentucky becomes a chess prodigy” turns into a phenomenon.

Anya Taylor-Joy stars in "The Queen's Gambit." (Charlie Gray/Netflix)
Anya Taylor-Joy stars in "The Queen's Gambit." (Charlie Gray/Netflix)

7. All the TV and movie reunions. The casts of “Parks and Recreation,” “The West Wing,” “The Goonies,” “The Princess Bride,” “Veep,” “Community” and “Happy Days” — along with many, many others — reassembled for new episodes, virtual script reads and other shenanigans that raised money for nonprofits.

8. Talk shows from home. Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers and others ushered in a more laid-back era of late night while offering viewers glimpses of how they, and their guests, live.

Stephen Colbert hosts "A Late Show With Stephen Colbert from home May 13. (CBS)
Stephen Colbert hosts "A Late Show With Stephen Colbert from home May 13. (CBS)

9. Peacock. NBC’s new streaming service gave late night a jolt of diversity with talk shows fronted by African American writer-comedians Amber Ruffin and Larry Wilmore.

10. Bubble hockey. Despite the many obstacles, the 2020 NHL playoffs went off without a hitch — aside from the outcome of the Western Conference Finals.

11. “Ted Lasso.” The Apple TV+ comedy starring Jason Sudeikis as an American college football coach who takes the reins of an English Premier League soccer team offered up the perfect amount of heart for beleaguered viewers.

12. For many of us, pajama bottoms and sweatpants became the new Casual Friday — also Casual Tuesday, Casual Thursday, Casual Wednesday and, most crucially, Casual Monday.

13. We all became at least marginally better cooks.

14. “Tiger King.” Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin and the gang helped a cross section of Americans transition to their new sedentary, binge-watching lifestyles.

Joe Exotic in a scene from "Tiger King." (Netflix)
Joe Exotic in a scene from "Tiger King." (Netflix)

15. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” It’s basically the same premise as the 2006 original. We just needed it more this year.

16. “Tenet.” Hollywood and the nation’s movie theaters pinned their hopes of recovery on the massive Christopher Nolan spectacle. It didn’t pan out that way — when few moviegoers showed up, studios shoved most of their films back into storage — but it was a noble effort.

Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington star in "Tenet." (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington star in "Tenet." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

17. Hotels as backlots. While local resorts were either shuttered or at far less than normal capacity, ABC’s “Shark Tank,” CBS’ “Love Island” and MTV’s “Jersey Shore Family Reunion” moved in to provide the properties some much-needed cash and exposure.

Laurel Goldman, Justine Ndiba, Cely Vazquez, Kierstan Saulter and Moira Tumas visit the Neon Mu ...
Laurel Goldman, Justine Ndiba, Cely Vazquez, Kierstan Saulter and Moira Tumas visit the Neon Museum in a scene from "Love Island." The dating series took over The Cromwell this summer. (Adam Torgerson/CBS Entertainment)

18. “Schitt’s Creek.” Americans finally began discovering the Canadian comedy just before it ended with a record-setting Emmy Awards haul.

19. Verzuz. Few (positive) things lit up social media quite like the online music battles — Alicia Keys vs. John Legend, for example, or Snoop Dogg vs. DMX — that sprang up on Instagram.

20. Despite how divided we are as a nation, people from all walks of life still managed to unite behind a 37-year-old from Idaho as he drank from a bottle of Ocean Spray while skateboarding to his job at a potato processing plant and vibing to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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