In 2020, the best entertainment was like eating grilled cheese and tomato soup

  • Tim and Fred Williams react to the drum break in Phil Collins' signature song, "In The Air Tonight."

    Tim and Fred Williams react to the drum break in Phil Collins' signature song, "In The Air Tonight." YouTube Screen Capture

 
 
Posted12/24/2020 6:00 AM

Tasked with producing an end-of-year list of some kind, I keep coming back to one word that best sums up my screentime in 2020: comfort.

Comfort is hard to come by in a real world that discourages person-to-person interaction -- how many people have you hugged this year? -- but the digital world delivers the sweet serotonin of nostalgia on demand.

 

So I'm not here to tell you to watch Chloe Zhao's Oscar front-runner "Nomadland," or add my voice to the chorus of praise for Netflix's "Queen's Gambit," or defend the short existence of Quibi ... because I haven't seen them. This year has been all about the screen equivalent of grilled cheese and tomato soup. (There's been plenty of actual grilled cheese and tomato soup in this house, too.)

Here are the entertainment experiences that have given me virtual warm hugs in 2020:

YouTube reaction videos

The ultimate comfort viewing. Watching other people watch something has been a staple of YouTube for years, but in 2020 it became absolutely essential. Many communal viewing experiences have been taken away from us, so likable people with a camera and a microphone reacting to my favorite stuff have become my virtual friends this year.

And I know I'm not alone. Twin brothers in Gary, Indiana, with a YouTube channel called TwinsthenewTrend became viral celebrities this year when they listened to Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" for the first time with a camera capturing their enthusiasm. A few months later, they were chatting with former President Barack Obama about Bob Dylan.

My favorite reaction-video YouTube channel: Ashleigh Burton, a funny, filter-free radio pro from Tennessee whose "Millennial Movie Mondays" have worked their way through seemingly every beloved movie from the past 40 years. I especially enjoyed her tearful viewing of "Always," a forgotten Steven Spielberg film starring Richard Dreyfuss as a firefighting pilot who can't stop loving Holly Hunter -- even after he dies.

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Sherlock Holmes' younger sister (Millie Bobby Brown) decides to leave finishing school and search for her mother in "Enola Holmes."
Sherlock Holmes' younger sister (Millie Bobby Brown) decides to leave finishing school and search for her mother in "Enola Holmes." - Courtesy of Netflix
'Enola Holmes'

Benedict Cumberbatch's "Sherlock" is long gone, Robert Downey Jr.'s third "Sherlock Holmes" movie is in limbo and CBS' "Elementary" ended last year. Seemingly unrelated: We didn't get a new season of "Stranger Things" starring Millie Bobby Brown this year.

Along comes this charming Netflix movie to bridge the gap, with Brown as the younger sister of the famous detective (Henry Cavill). Enola's a troublemaker who defies her other brother Mycroft (Sam Clafin) and ditches finishing school to find her mother, a tough-as-nails feminist who may also be a terrorist (Helena Bonham Carter, natch).

Based on a series of novels by Nancy Springer, "Enola Holmes" is a potential franchise-starter and the sort of smart, handsomely made family film that doesn't seem to exist on the big screen anymore.

Lars (Will Ferrell), right, and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) chase their dreams in "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga."
Lars (Will Ferrell), right, and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) chase their dreams in "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga." - Courtesy of Netflix
'Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga'

I wrote about this hilarious Netflix musical at length in July, calling it "a balm for the soul." Just thinking about Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell performing "Husavik," an ode to their Icelandic characters' hometown, has put a smile on my face. "Eurovision" is emotional but not sappy, naughty but not raunchy, and outlandish but not grotesque. A new comedy classic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu explore an icy cave in the second season of "The Mandalorian."
Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu explore an icy cave in the second season of "The Mandalorian." - Courtesy of Disney+
'The Mandalorian' Season 2

The last movie I saw in a theater was "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," an emotionally powerful but narratively disappointing end to what had been dubbed The Skywalker Saga. One year later, executive producer Jon Favreau has completely washed the bitter taste out of fans' mouths with eight spectacular episodes of the signature Disney+ series.

The second season delighted in bringing back characters we thought we'd never see again, including Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and a certain finale guest star whom I shan't spoil. It also brought beloved characters from the animated "Clone Wars" series into live-action for the first time and, in the case of double-saber-slinger Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), set up spinoff series. This was fan service done right.

But fan service means nothing if we don't care about the core narrative, and Season 2 drew us even closer to the bounty hunter of the title (Pedro Pascal) and his co-star, an adorable green alien who was, until a few weeks ago, known as The Child or Baby Yoda. Grogu, as we now know him, is filmmaking magic at its best, his puppeteered arms ever reaching to connect with his space dad. This year, I think we can all relate to the little guy's need to be embraced.

• Sean is an assistant news editor who omitted his household's biggest source of comfort viewing in 2020 because you really don't need to read anything else about "Schitt's Creek," do you?

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