With people being at home, our relationship with media changed quite significantly in 2020. Remote entertainment businesses soared, despite the production of new content suffering considerable delays at every corner. Still, quite a lot of good stuff came out in 2020, here are some of my favorites:
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
2020 elevated Animal Crossing’s relaxing experience to a whole new meaning - with people finding a real sense of community through virtual events. An astonishing commercial success, even brands, and politicians tried to get into the hype train.
The Last of Us Part II
Are videogames art?
Look no further than The Last of Us: Part II. A soon to be HBO series, The Last of Us uses the post-apocalyptic narrative as a backdrop to explore questions of morality and what unites us when everything around us is falling apart. Not going into spoilers, but there's plenty of bold narrative choices on this one.
Not only was Valve been sadly missed as a game developer, Half-Life as a series has been out of the picture for over a decade. The pressure was immense, but they delivered an experience worthy of the series groundbreaking legacy, setting a new baseline of VR games to follow.
The most unfortunate aspect of this game is how inaccessible it is - the high barrier of a high-end PC and VR headset will most likely keep this game away from the zeitgeist as other Half-Life games were once dominant.
Hades takes a relatively new but highly popular genre of “rouge-like” and infuses it with fluid combat, interesting characters, and an immense level of player choice and strategy. If there is one game this year that allows you to fully get “in the zone” while playing, this is the one. It's a considerable challenge though, but never in a punishable way.
A love letter to Sony's gaming legacy - Astro is a fun platformer that acts as a technology showcase for PS5's DualSense - the system's controller. It's short but delightfully creative, using all the unique features of the PS5.
One of those “can’t believe this gameplay idea wasn’t explored before”, Fall Guys puts 60 players against each other in comical obstacles and challenges where you got to survive to be the last one standing.
It’s funny, fun, and a generally wholesome online experience (thankfully, theres no voice or text chat), which is refreshing in 2020.
Reminds me of a Brazilian show called Olimpíadas do Faustão (in the US, Wipeout).
How To with John Wilson
Hard to describe. A series of powerful visual metaphors about life, human psychology and what makes New York, New York. Each episode is loosely tied together by an original instructional goal that quickly sprawls to unexpected places. Don’t let the awkward voice-over and relatively low production values mistake you - this is an instant classic.
Highlight episode: How To Cover Your Furniture
I May Destroy You
A refreshingly modern take on consent, sexuality, and diversity. Michaela Coal turned down a $1 million dollar deal with Netflix to keep complete creative control over the show - and I'm so glad she did. Trigger warning for rape scenes.
Highlight episode: Ego Death
A fresh and inventive take on the comic book, modernizing its themes to more current conflicts. Knowing about the comic books it's based on is not a necessity (but it does enhance the experience). A powerful combination of style and substance.
Highlight episode: This Extraordinary Being
Better Call Saul: Season 5
Better Call Saul has always been good, but it lived under the shadow of the greatness that is Breaking Bad. Being a prequel did not help - there's less tension in the air since you know certain characters are present in "the future".
Season 5 proved that it can be a great show even with those shortcomings, after finding its own voice and focusing the narrative on compelling conflicts about what is ethical vs legal, building up to the show's final season next year.
Highlight episode: Bagman
Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet
A weird name, but a simple premise — show the dysfunctional workplace of a game development company behind a popular MMORPG.
It’s wonderfully self-aware, with tons of jokes about aspects of gaming culture that are ripe for a change. (I used to be an intern at a game company back in Brazil so the jokes really landed for me.) They even made a quarantine/work from home special, one of its best episodes.
Highlight episode: A Dark Quiet Death
Central Park is a musical animation from the same creators of Bob’s Burgers. The plot revolves around the family of Central Park main caretaker. (who live in the park itself , apparently not a real thing). They sing and dance while trying to defend the park from being taken over by urban developers who want build fancy condos (which could very well be a real thing).
Most importantly, the songs are catchy and funny, with memorable characters full of heart.
SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama
SAWAYAMA is a remarkable genre-bending debut album, a love child of metal, pop, and alternative.
Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
Recorded before the quarantine but made almost perfectly for it, Fetch the Bolt Cutters plays like a scream that has long been silenced.
What’s Your Pleasure? by Jessie Ware
An ode to escapism, an unapologetic “dance like nobody is watching” disco album. It stays thematically consistent but avoids being repetitive.
Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
Sophomore albums are hard, especially for artists with a big hit from their 1st endeavor. Fortunately, Dua Lipa’s talent is solidified with meticulously produced songs, inspired by the ’80s.
folklore by Taylor Swift
A prolific achievement and a striking change in style. Still recovering from a misstep from trying too hard to be modern (reputation), folklore highlights Swift’s greatest ability - craft compelling narratives in songs.
Women In Music Pt. III by HAIM
A more raw, mature, and wider sound from HAIM, a pleasant departure from 2017’s Something to Tell You. One head-scratcher - good leading singles (Summer Girl, Hallelujah, Now I’m In It) ended up being bonus tracks, perhaps for not being indicative of the new style?
The Slow Rush by Tame Impala
Tame Impala’s rise to popularity is puzzling. Once an indie darling, Tame Imapa now headlines festivals (when they were a thing) and collaborates with other mainstream artists. So, what comes next? The followup to Currents (one of my favorite albums of all time), doesn’t include anything as catchy as “The Less I Know The Better” or as daring as “Let It Happen”, but Kevin Parker’s crystal clear production still shines, along with a more danceable atmosphere.
Shore by Fleet Foxes
A positive, bright folk album - just what we needed for 2020.
Popular culture discussed in thoughtful ways. Highlights for this year: a reflection on the popularity of Tiger King in America and the aftermath of the US election.
Kara Swisher new podcast for the NYT talks about “power: who has it, who’s been denied it and who dares to defy it.” The guests are notable — Hillary Clinton, Elon Musk, and WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar to name a few— but Swisher's "no BS" interview style makes it highly engaging.