What a year 2020 has been! After the severity of the COVID-19 coronavirus became evident, countries around the world effectively went into lockdown — some more strictly than others — and most of us quickly had to adjust to the so-called “new normal.” As we sat at home, trying to self-soothe by any means available, a handful of heroes — and in some cases, anti-heroes — emerged, helping us to take our minds off of things, bringing us some much-needed positive vibes, and giving us a taste of the entertainment we were asked to live without. Of course, we aren’t out of the woods just yet, but after more than half a year spent under stay-at-home orders, here are the 12 (online) conversation-starters, powerful performances, and iconic pop culture moments that ruled Quarantine.
(Photo by Netflix)
If there was any doubt that the idea of “water cooler conversation” would still exist in an era of widespread lockdowns, Tiger King removed it almost immediately. Premiering on Netflix on March 20, just as swaths of the U.S. received stay-at-home orders, the docuseries about a larger-than-life animal caretaker and his personal holy war against an industry competitor became the first must-see binge of the quarantine. At the center of it all was Joe Exotic, the proprietor of the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma, and Carole Baskin, the CEO of Florida’s Big Cat Rescue and a self-purported animal rights activist who took issue with Exotic’s business practices. But as with any compelling real-life story, Tiger King was full of unbelievable twists and turns, ranging from Exotic’s bizarre love life to his run for President of the United States and not one but two murder conspiracies. While much of the country struggled to adapt to “the new normal,” Tiger King helped take our minds off the crisis with a bit of deliciously scandalous entertainment.
(Photo by Some Good News)
Just as the severity of the pandemic began to dawn on everyone and stay-at-home orders were being issued everywhere, a likable actor-director used his considerable influence to spread some positive vibes. On March 29, when most people were just beginning to settle into their quarantine routines, The Office and Jack Ryan star John Krasinski surprised everyone with the first installment of a newscast/talk show he decided to call Some Good News on YouTube. Running for just eight episodes, SGN featured Krasinski sharing the most uplifting, inspirational, feelgood stories from around the world, talking to celebrities, and usually doing something a little special for lucky fans. This included a Zoom reunion of the Hamilton cast, a virtual prom with performances from Billie Eilish, the Jonas brothers, and Chance the Rapper, and a high school graduation celebration with keynote speakers like Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Jon Stewart. Now, Krasinski did catch some flak for eventually selling the show to CBS, but it took a lot of work to put the show on, and it’s understandable that he would want to go back to making kickass movies and TV shows. In the meantime, the eight episodes of SGN that we did get helped us all to remember how much good is still in the world, even if everything is a little off balance right now, and for that much-needed dose of optimism, we salute Mr. Krasinski.
(Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
For a long time, Schitt’s Creek was that underground comedy you recommended to everyone as “the best show ever” if you were a fan. Most of the time, the people you recommended it to would come back to you and say, “It totally is!” The series, originally broadcast on Canada’s CBC and the cable channel Pop TV, gained even more exposure when its first three seasons were made available to stream on Netflix, and by the time it began airing its sixth and final season earlier this year, it was a bona fide cult sensation. As it happened, the show’s series finale premiered smack dab in the middle of quarantine, on April 7, and despite its fervent fanbase, it seemed destined to go down as one of the all-time underappreciated sitcoms. Then came the Emmys in September. As if to say, “Yes, Schitt’s Creek fans, you were always right!,” the series made history by sweeping all seven of the comedy categories, including the four for acting — Lead Actor for Eugene Levy, Lead Actress for Catherine O’Hara, Supporting Actor for Dan Levy, and Supporting Actress for Annie Murphy. If you’ve never watched the show, all six seasons are now on Netflix, so get cracking. You’ve probably got the time.
(Photo by ©ESPN/Netflix)
One of the things many of us missed the most, at least in the early days of the lockdown, was live sports. After all of the major leagues shut down operations, folks even resorted to watching reruns of old broadcasts or, after the country had cleared some hurdles, baseball in Japan. In the midst of all this, ESPN saw an opportunity to give fans an addictive dose of sports nostalgia in the form of The Last Dance, an extensive look at the career of Michael Jordan and specifically the 1997-1998 season of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, which would go on to win their second “three-peat” of championships in eight years. Originally planned for release in June, the 10-part docuseries was fast-tracked to premiere almost two months earlier on April 19, and it became an instant hit, thanks to its compelling narrative, never-before-seen footage, and surprisingly candid new interviews with Jordan himself. It brought millions of fans — and meme-makers — together in a shared piece of sports history and gave us a bit of real-life drama and pulse-pounding action to look forward to every week.
(Photo by HBO)
Jonathan Majors’ breakout role came in 2019’s indie darling The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a small, powerful drama that went criminally underseen. Luckily for Majors, he had a few more things on his docket that were set to premiere this year — he just didn’t know at the time that they would be released in the middle of a pandemic. The first was Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a harrowing adventure-drama in which Majors played the pivotal role of David, the son of Delroy Lindo’s central character Paul. Majors held his own against Lindo and a cast of heavyweights that included Clarke Peters and Isiah Whitlock Jr., and the film remains high on the list of Oscar hopefuls. Then, in August, the highly anticipated HBO series Lovecraft Country premiered, placing Majors at the center of an inventive horror series with a sociopolitical edge — or is it the other way around — and earning the up-and-coming actor all kinds of praise from critics. To top off the summer, he also landed himself a gig in the MCU, signing on to play the villain in the next Ant-Man and the Wasp movie.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning hip-hop musical about the life of one of America’s founding fathers has been the must-see Broadway hit for several years now, and scoring a ticket to the show has become something of a status marker. Even if you lived in New York or one of the cities on its tour schedule, there was only a slim chance you’d be able to see the show, either because tickets were scarce or because they were maddeningly expensive. Then Disney decided to share the magic of Hamilton with the world, planning a theatrical release of a filmed version of the musical in 2021. Of course, the pandemic changed all of that, and much to the joy of everyone confined to their sofas, Disney chose to move the release up more than a year and plop Hamilton directly on Disney+ for no extra charge. Finally, those of us who had only heard our more fortunate friends gloat about seeing the production were able to watch Hamilton for ourselves and see if it lived up to the hype. Disney+ saw a massive increase in downloads the weekend it was released, and fans of live theater got a little taste of it at home — a win-win all around.
(Photo by Disney+)
Look, Beyoncé is Beyoncé, and it’s virtually guaranteed that anything she does is going to be interesting, to say the least. Of course, it helps when the thing she does happens to be incredible, and that’s exactly what she gave us in Black Is King. Like 2016’s Lemonade, Black Is King is a musical film, a series of stunning visuals and choreography set to the music of an accompanying album — in this case, the album was The Lion King: The Gift, a compilation featuring several artists produced and curated by Beyoncé as a companion to the Disney film. Critics and audiences alike swooned over Black Is King, struck by the imagery and the music, and dubbed it yet another masterpiece from Queen Bey. Not only did she provide a big-budget surrogate concert experience for fans to enjoy in their living rooms, she also managed to convey a vivid message of Black empowerment during a time when the world needed it the most.
(Photo by HBO)
Quarantine provided the perfect time for people to catch up on shows they had heard about from their friends, or had been putting off watching until they “had more time,” and with the Fall TV season fast approaching, one of those shows was HBO’s Euphoria. The series stars Zendaya as a high school student who struggles with mental illness and drug addiction, and it earned both glowing reviews from critics and widespread audience approval. Zendaya wasn’t kicking back during lockdown: In June, she actually shot a film – in compliance with strict COVID-19 safety protocols – for two weeks, written and directed by Euphoria creator Sam Levison and co-starring John David Washington. Malcom & Marie was the first post-pandemic film to complete production and by all accounts it’s very good. (At least, good enough to Netflix to fork out $30 million for it.) Then, in September, during a unique presentation of this year’s Emmy awards, Zendaya made history when she became the youngest person ever to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series, proving that she’s versatile enough to deliver powerful performances in stark dramas and have fun in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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Put your hand up if you went to the drive-in theater for the first time in, like, forever this year? You weren’t alone. From mid-March, America’s 305 drive-in theaters saw business tick up in some cases by 90-plus percent as movie lovers sought out big screen thrills while socially distancing in the safety of their cars. The drive-in became such a 2020 phenom that pop-up drive-ins began to emerge, many in stadiums and carparks; several distributors held ritzy movie premieres in drive-ins, too, including for Antebellum. While the ’50s faves mainly played golden oldies, some new flicks benefited from their newfound popularity, in particular indie horror breakouts like Relic and The Wretched, which topped the box office a record five weeks in a row off the back of drive-in buzz, a record it shares with Black Panther and Titanic.
(Photo by Community YouTube)
If you never heard of Zoom before, say, March of this year, you definitely heard the remote meeting software mentioned everywhere once the stay-at-home orders were in place. And while most of us have our share of embarrassing Zoom stories to share, one of the great things we got out of it was a surge of interest in cast reunions for some of our most beloved movies and TV shows. There were literally dozens of them, whether they came in the form of Josh Gad hosting chats with the casts of Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, and The Lord of the Rings or Instagram meet-ups between the casts of Scandal and Twin Peaks or full-on table reads by the stars of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Orphan Black, and Community. Some shows, like NBC’s 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, even brought their casts back to film brand new quarantine-themed episodes. With so much of Hollywood production stalled at the moment, a lot of entertainment has focused on the hits of the past, and we got to bathe in a whole lot of nostalgia.
(Photo by HBO Max)
This one is admittedly pretty obvious, but as most of us were stuck at home, we spent a lot more time watching TV than we normally would, and yes, that allowed us to catch up on some of the stuff we’d been putting off watching. Lucky for us, though, all of the existing streaming services and a couple of new ones did their damnedest to keep us entertained with lots of new content. HBO Max officially launched in May, offering a giant library of content from the premium cable network and its parent studio, Warner Bros., plus new titles like the Seth Rogen film An American Pickle, the Ridley Scott sci-fi series Raised By Wolves, and the true-crime docuseries I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Hulu gave us new series like Solar Opposites and High Fidelity, as well as the Certified Fresh, quarantine-appropriate comedy Palm Springs. Disney+ sent Onward to streaming early and took a chance on making Mulan a premium VOD purchase, but it also gave us Beyonce’s Black Is King and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. Then, of course, there’s streaming giant Netflix, which basically piled on series after series, from guilty-pleasure reality shows (Tiger King, Love Is Blind, Selling Sunset, Emily In Paris) to high-concept fantasy shows (Cursed, Warrior Nun, the second season of The Umbrella Academy). And this doesn’t even include all the stuff we got from Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, and Peacock, among others. Suffice it to say, if you were bored with TV these past six months, you just weren’t looking very hard for the good stuff.
(Photo by AMC Networks)
While we’re spreading the love around the various streamers, we did want to give a shoutout to one in particular which seemed to really come into its own over the year: the horror- and genre-focused Shudder, which is owned by AMC Networks. Launched in 2015, the service has been rolling out a steady supply of Shudder Originals for years, but delivered some of its best and scariest yet during the pandemic, which was good news for horror fans who’d been through their Netflix/Hulu/Prime/Max supplies and were looking for new places to get their fill of guts and ghouls. This year, Shudder gave us Mexican socio-political thriller La Llorona, indigenous-focused zombie flick Blood Quantum, creepy anthology The Mortuary Collection, and Host, shot during the pandemic and focusing on a group of friends holding a seance over Zoom. The latter is the best-reviewed horror movie of 2020. The service also began expanding its library, where you’ll find the likes of the original Halloween, Re-Animator, and The Changeling, and entered the southern hemisphere, launching in Australia and New Zealand in August.