As years go, 2020 was a matryoshka of dumpster fires. But if you look for them, there were some small positive contributions in entertainment, discourse, and, of course, fruit! Some members of The Prompt team put together recommendations of the things that got them through 2020, you know, in case you are still housebound in 2021.
In 2020 we saw our friends less and saw our TVs more. Thankfully, there was lots of great #content for us content vampires. While Ted Lasso (Apple TV) would be the show that brought me the most joy (seriously every episode is better than the last!!!), the best executed TV show I watched was rapper Lil Dicky’s semi-biographical Dave.
Dave has a shiny armor of dick jokes and crass humor, obscuring that the show is rich with complicated relationships and character evolutions. While the titular main character takes most of the screen time, his friends steal scenes and tell you more about Dave than he ever could. Specifically, his buddy GaTa and girlfriend Ally command entire episodes and keep the show from being a sophomoric cliché. Dave is riotously funny, while indulging us in uncomfortably serious moments and thoughtful reflection.
— Josh Bard
The best film I watched in 2020 actually debuted in the year of my birth—1993. It’s an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel The Age of Innocence. Helmed by Martin Scorcese and featuring Daniel Day-Lewis (the G.O.A.T.), the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder at the height of her prowess, it’s a lush period piece about Newland Archer (Day-Lewis), a young lawyer who gets engaged to the lovely, virginal May (Ryder), but soon finds himself drawn to her lively, spirited cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska (Pfeiffer). The movie follows Newland as he embarks on a torrid emotional affair with the Countess. It is a story full of passion, heartache, and longing.
The cast is so young and beautiful. They’re earnest and dialed in, wringing themselves out emotionally for the sake of their art. The score is dreamy. The costumes are stunning. And the food! It’s abundant and decadent, and Scorsese showcases it as gloriously as his enchanting, young cast. His overall direction is full of a fervor I wish we would see more often—given that his last two movies were extremely masculine and also self flagulating about their masculinity. But this movie—THIS MOVIE—is at once devastating and consuming. It’s wonderful and thoughtful, and it fucking rules! Nothing will transport you out of your 2020 blues like spending 2 hours and 19 minutes in the repression and romance of the 19th Century.
— Sydney Mineer
In a year which seemed to bring every emotion to the surface, it is fitting that the best book I read is the one that made me feel the most: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver.
Let me prepare you: From the start, this book breaks your heart, and within the first few pages, life does the same to the main character, Lydia. Her fiancé, Freddie, unexpectedly dies, and to help her cope, her family encourages her to take experimental sleeping pills. A side effect? When she sleeps, she’s in an alternate timeline where Freddie is still alive.
While such a premise could go very wrong, Silver grounds the story in heart, making you relate to each character and consider the question: If you had the choice between living in a reality you didn’t want, or the life you had always envisioned but wasn’t truly possible, which would you pick? How could you balance them? How would you be able to move on? Accompanying Lydia on her journey was incredibly moving, and, in a time when so much of our own lives seems to hang in the balance, felt like a gift to experience. As I closed The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, I was left with one thought: One day, I hope I can create something like this.
— Sarah Razner
I have been a fan of film scores for my entire life. In high school and college, I would write and study to them, and now, there are several John Williams tracks from Star Wars and Indiana Jones on my run playlist. Typically, the scores I like are triumphant and thematic, or they’re quiet and relaxing (see: Alexandre Desplat’s Little Women score, or Isobel Waller-Bridge’s Emma score).
In 2020, I both watched Tron: Legacy, and heard its score (composed by Daft Punk) for the first time. This score was unlike anything I had ever heard before, full of synth and bass and energy. I’m not typically a fan of electronic/EDM/whatever genre Daft Punk falls into, but it was exhilarating to fall so hard and fast for this score. I listened to it while running, while driving, and while taking pandemic walks around my neighborhood. This score rules, and was helpful to mentally transport me out of 2020 and to a digital world with no deadly viruses (except for maybe computer-created ones). Somehow, the best album of 2020 is actually from 2010!
— Erin Vail
I have a personal soft spot for songs about love that do not center romantic love and/or sexual attraction. Aside from wanting a respite from this genre of love song, which has seemed to saturate the radiowaves year-round, my fondness for non-romantic songs about love stems from my personal experience with the concept of love. Although I feel the pressure to be in a romantic relationship like many people, when I think of those who have shown me love, no romantic partner or crush comes to mind. Instead, I think of enduring friends, family members, and a relationship with God complicated by queerantagonistic and transphobic Christian teachings I have since come to believe are inconsistent with a truly Loving God.
For these reasons, I placed a high value on friendship, a bond which requires no certificate or legal witness for validation. We rarely encounter art devoted to capturing this significance.
During a recent winter holiday season, my longtime best friend—my younger sister—showed me Niki’s beautiful love song to her best friend. Though I cannot relate to all of the specific experiences described in the song, the emotional atmosphere Niki’s incredible vocals and honest lyrics create pulls at the core of my being every time I hear it. There is something sacred about the love she sings of, and as the listener I feel a commitment that transcends blood ties, is raw, visceral, and beyond up-in-the-clouds romanticization. It is truly a blessing to know or have known someone in this way. I am inexpressibly grateful to Niki for putting these feelings into words and sharing it with us.
— Kelonnie Harris
I should preface this with the fact that I am NOT a podcast guy. Okay yeah, I listened to the first season of Serial like everyone else, but that was 2014, and I haven’t been enthralled since. I hear my friends talk about podcasts like that’s the only thing they do with their lives. When are they listening to these podcasts? Are they commuting to Jupiter?
All that changed this summer when journalist James Andrew Miller decided to set the sights of his Origins podcast on the Cameron Crowe classic Almost Famous.
This pod has been around since 2017 and done oral history-style presentations on ESPN, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Sex and the City, but nothing grabbed my attention like a deep-dive into William Miller, Penny Lane, and the magic of the Troy, Michigan hard-rock band Stillwater.
Miller got everyone to dish about the flick on the record, from Crowe to Kate Hudson to then-nobody Zooey Deschanel. Frances McDormand, Jimmy Fallon, and even posthumous sound bites from Philip Seymour Hoffman make the 5 hours of audio a behind-the-scenes delight.
The year 2020 was weird for just about everyone, so it was really nice to push my infant son around my neighborhood and listen to the inside scoop of a movie that, 20 years ago, inspired me to write about music, not worry about being uncool, and not take drugs.
— Sam Hedenberg
I don’t care if it’s trite; I have always loved the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. There is something so powerful and empathic about those couplets, and how effectively they speak to the perseverance and grit it takes to keep doing the right thing without becoming jaded or cynical, no matter how many times life knocks you on your ass. “If” is about integrity and character. “If” is about people like Stacey Abrams.
In 2018, Abrams lost her bid to become governor of Georgia by 55,000 votes, in an election rife with voter suppression. But instead of sitting around, whining, or licking her wounds, Abrams organized. She registered voters, fought suppression, and built a coalition that delivered Georgia for the Democratic presidential candidates for the first time since 1992. And while many blue states lost down ballot races, her coalition held up—in Georgia, of all places—resulting in runoff elections for the TWO open Senate seats. Because of Abrams’ selfless, tireless work on behalf of the party, Democrats (in spite of themselves) actually have a chance to take a majority in the Senate. It’s far from a done deal, but in terms of who is the best person of 2020, this is my final answer.
— Kelaine Conochan
I mostly use YouTube to look up music videos or to put on a playlist of Dr. Katz episodes to help me sleep. As a result, the only YouTubers I’m really familiar with are in the video game realm because that’s what my husband Lawrence watches. So, it’s only because of him that I know who Markiplier is, and it’s because of him that, from November 2019 to November 2020, I got to experience the joy, confusion, horror, and delight that was Unus Annus.
The brainchild/joint project of Markiplier and his friend Ethan, Unus Annus—One Year, in Latin—was a YouTube channel with a catch: It would only exist for one year, after which the entire thing would be deleted. For 366 days, the pair of friends posted videos of them doing random things, trying new experiences, cooking with sex toys—whatever tickled their fancy. And even when COVID hit and forced them to scrap a lot of ideas while they were in quarantine, they kept producing content. It became our ritual to watch the latest Unus Annus when Lawrence got home from work, and even when the videos were sloppy or way too strange, it was something I looked forward to. The last day of the channel, they did a 12-hour livestream, and I was genuinely emotional thinking about how our ritual was ending. I had already been a fan of Markiplier (partially because he’s very attractive), but I’m now even more of one because he (and Ethan) provided one of the only reliable bright spots in the truly unpredictable year that was 2020.
— N. Alysha Lewis
2020 is the year of the pawpaw. A cross between a mango and a banana and a pear and patience and an open mind. Custardy juices that drop down your chin as you suck at its flesh like a fucking vampire. Consumptive violence. Which is the preferred method. To get a pawpaw, you have to actively want a pawpaw. And in the process of obtaining it, you have to acknowledge what it is and where it came from. You’ve got to stare the whole human history of its specificity in the face. Only in season for two to three weeks, native to the acidic soil in the valleys of the Mid-Appalachians. Here since before the Monacan, Nottaway, and Occaneechi. Antebellum. Antechocolatecity. Antegentrification. Once common. Now rare. Thanks to all that shit that we’ve done. But coming back. Thanks to people finally choosing to acknowledge its value.
— Zach Straus
The forecast called for abundant sunshine.
A Northeast Philadelphia accent so thick I could hear it over text invited me to join her and three others at her sister’s home in Bucks County, where she’d be house-sitting.
I accepted gladly, and 90 minutes later, pulled into a long driveway at the same moment as Justin, who, if MySpace was still a thing, would handily be in my Top 8.
He set down his speaker backpack and queued up a playlist of happy summer songs starting with Lizzo. Adam iced down a cooler and Amanda poured rosé into stemless glasses. For six luscious hours, we sat poolside, ate pizza, and forgot about the pandemic.
This year has been a bear, but that was the best day… and I bet if you reflect on these past 12 months, you had one of those, too.
— Jillian Conochan