While the following list isn’t comprised of things only created/released this past year, they are all things that succeeding in keeping me sane during the dumpster fire that was 2020. So, in no particular order, here is my best of 2020:
Avatar the Last Airbender
I was one of those individuals who came to the ATLA world late into its existence. But I can unequivocally say, Avatar found me when I needed it most. This summer I was feeling the quarantine blues. Then I started watching Avatar on Netflix and suddenly, I was happy again. The story structure is so well done, the characters are so special, and it really is a timeless cartoon that transcends the age range it’s intended for. There is so much that my husband and I want to watch and simultaneously need to be cognizant of language and themes in front of our young son, but ATLA was something all of us could enjoy.
The 2020 Presidential Election – more specifically – Our First Woman VP!
Hi, everyone. My name is Ashley and –to get this out of the way– I’m a staunch feminist liberal. Not to make this all political or anything, but the last four years of my life have been like living in a divisive hellscape. Within the tenure of Chief Cheeto’s rule, I’ve developed sleeping issues, anxiety, and an overall fear of impending doom because I don’t feel like there’s an adult in the room at the White House. I’ve worried incessantly over my rights as a woman, the rights of my LGBTQ+ family & friends, racism, unchecked police brutality, and honestly just where the country was headed as a whole. While the election of Joe Biden hasn’t eased all my fears and worries, it has at least made me feel optimistic that we have the opportunity to work towards something different than what we’ve experienced through this last presidency. Also, the election of our country’s first woman Vice President possibly might be a highlight of this decade for me. I’m not sure if any other women just sobbed on their couch like I did after the election was called, but it just felt like such a monumentally joyous moment shoved in the middle of the most tumultuous year, bookended by four years of utter anxiety and fear. Here’s to hoping we’re moving in a better direction. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the great losses of 2020, once said, “Women belong where decisions are being made”. While it’s devastating to know Justice Ginsburg didn’t get to see it, Kamala Harris’s appointment as VP shattered another glass ceiling hanging over the heads of women living in the United States forever.
There are many shows on this platform that I could have singled out individually on this Top 10 list, but to save space, I thought I’d umbrella them under Disney+ as a whole. Whether it was choosing not to blink while watching The Mandalorian so I wouldn’t miss anything or rewatching Hamilton for the thousandth time, Disney+ has had some incredible content this year to keep me entertained and happy. Some of my other favorite originals have been The Imagineering Story, Encore!, Spark Shorts, and Howard, a documentary profiling the incredible lyricist, Howard Ashman.
Taylor Swift has had a presence in my life since the moment her first album dropped. I wasn’t even a country music fan, but the truth in her self-written lyrics felt as though she wrote them just for me. We’re relatively the same age, so her music grew with me. Even when my tastes in genre changed, my love for Taylor never wavered. This July, while I was still contented with screaming the bridge of “Cruel Summer” to keep my spirits up, Taylor shocked us all by dropping her surprise album, Folklore. Folklore was like a dream I wanted to live it. This year had very few bright spots, and Taylor really served some excitement after LoverFest was postponed (at this point it seems indefinite). Some of my favorite songs on Folklore were “Mad Woman”, “Peace”, “Invisible String”, “Betty”, & “The Lakes”. Well, our girl surprised us again by dropping her ninth studio album, Evermore barely five months after we were blessed with Folklore. Evermore is gorgeous and wintery, a perfect soundtrack to short days with long nights. My favorite tracks so far are “Ivy”, “Marjorie”, “Evermore”, “Champagne Problems”, and “‘Tis the Damn Season”. I have no illusions that my lord & savior TS will ever read this, but I want to send my gratitude out into the interwebs and say THANK YOU FOR SAVING MY 2020!
Jane Austen in Film: The Renaissance of 2005’s Pride & Prejudice & Early Release of Emma
2020 gave me a new film favorite & kindred spirits to swoon over a well-loved classic. The new film adaptation of Emma hit theaters pretty quietly in February 2020 and was inaccessible to viewers by March, when lockdown began. It became one of the first shuttered theatrical films to be released on streaming platforms in early May. I’m an enthusiastic lover of Jane Austen’s work, so I was eager to watch this new adaptation of her spoiled matchmaking heroine, Emma. I found this version strikingly beautiful. The set dressings and costumes were so vivid and eye-catching, as well as having a cast stacked with amazing talent. It reminded me so much of another favorite film of mine, Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. P&P is one of those films I’ve watched so many times over the years, that I could probably recite it. Color me surprised when Netflix released Pride & Prejudice this summer to their streaming platform and it BLEW UP. Suddenly I had a whole community of people creating videos, writing articles, and wanting to bond over a film I’ve held dear to my heart for 15 years. I’m not sure if anyone else inhabits the same corner of TikTok that I do, but seeing other people connect with something I love so much was such a bright spot in this year for me. At a time when I felt further from people than ever, I finally found other people who understood and wanted to discuss the intensity of Mr. Darcy’s hand flex (if you know, you know). Fun facts: I love P&P so much that I walked down the aisle to “Liz on Top of the World”, a beautiful theme from the film’s soundtrack, and I named my son Bennett after my favorite heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. The madness doesn’t stop there, you’ll have to continue reading this list for another Pride & Prejudice tribute I had this year.
Reading New Book Genres
If you see me reading, there’s about a 99% chance I’m reading a fantasy book. But like most things, 2020 wrecked my reading schedule and put me in a rut. I was feeling all over the place, and the constant world-peril present in many fantasy novels had me feeling more stressed, rather than feeling like I was escaping my troubles. A friend recommended I try a different genre. And oh man, did I ever get my reading mojo back. I picked up historical fiction, biographies, women’s lit, and books of poetry. Some of my favorites from this traverse down different aisles of the library were Beach Read by Emily Henry, Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore, You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Each of these books brought light hilarious stories that brightened up an otherwise dark time.
The Dragon Prince
I actually found this before Avatar, and I was so hooked that I watched the whole series in 3 days. My addiction made a little more sense when I realized The Dragon Prince’s creator was a head writer at ATLA. They share similar themes of redemption and the future being in the hands of the young. I love that The Dragon Prince & ATLA both incorporate characters with disabilities who are never sidelined, kicking ass along with the rest of the cast. I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan, so the questing-vibes I got from Dragon Prince kept ticking all the boxes for me and made this one of my favorite shows in 2020.
What can I say? My therapist deserves a raise. I started therapy in February just to work on myself in general. Then Covid hit … and she was one of the pieces in the puzzle that helped me feel hale and whole throughout this year. Therapy is hard, but so incredibly worth it. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so remember to make it a priority with all those other self-care things you’d normally do for yourself. An honorable mention for mental health is the “Calm” app. If you’re looking for something to assist in guided meditation and sleep stories to quiet your mind at bedtime, I can’t recommend this app enough.
We ended 2019 with our beloved dog, Chase, crossing the Rainbow Bridge. It was heartbreaking and we miss him every day. Thankfully, one of the highlights of 2020 was adopting a new dog to love from one of the local rescues in our area. She is a 3-year-old husky mix and we named her Darcy -a la Mr. Darcy- because this gal loves a gender-bent homage to Pride & Prejudice. I’m of the firm belief that humanity doesn’t deserve dogs. Our sweet girl loves us so much and lets us know every day. If we had to have 2020, I’m glad it at least brought her to us.
Netflix’s Never Have I Ever
Never Have I Ever, the latest creative endeavor of Mindy Kaling, premiered on Netflix in April 2020. I didn’t find it until later into the year but Never Have I Ever had so many elements I crave in a smart teen comedy. It, like Avatar, was transcendent to age. Yes, this is a show about teenagers, but the peripheral adults are also so well fleshed out that it feels wrong to just call it a teen comedy. I love the way Kaling and her writers treat the cast of characters. They’re intelligent, they’re diverse, and they grapple with some heavy shit. They are also allowed to say terrible things, lash out, and apologize. Nothing aggravates me more than a female character who isn’t crafted in the form of a real person (she can’t be too good, she can’t be too bad, she can’t say something so terrible that the viewers turn on her). Kaling takes the norm and throws it out the window and grounds this show in a family’s grief that is so visceral, I found myself sobbing throughout the entire final episode while simultaneously laughing like a mad hyena. It sounds like a lot, but if you haven’t, give Never Have I Ever a chance. I’m willing to bet you’ll love it too