When times are crazy and uncertain, it’s important to find things that will bring you joy, peace, escapist fun, hope and many other positive intangibles that make life worth it. 2020 was a tough year for us all, and I was no exception. It’s probably why it’s already well into January, 2021 and this is now coming to you all. Television and movies became even more of a staple in my household and I consumed a great deal, from new shows that captivated and delighted me, to re-watches of some all time favorites which brought a sense of comfort and reinvigorated my love for them. The world may be uncertain but the television I loved this year brought a sense of normalcy and happiness whether it be a fictional, documentary series, TV movie or what not. These were my favorites…
Drama or Comedy Series
Virgin River (Netflix)
Without a doubt my favorite fictional series of the year was Virgin River. Beautifully filmed and performed, this show follows a Nurse practitioner who goes to work in the small town of Virgin River after some tragic and traumatic events in attempt to revitalize herself and her life. She must deal with the old fashioned doctor who does not want her there, finds kinship with a charming bartender, and learns to rekindle her heart and soul through her work and the small town cast of characters. This gentle natured, often sweet and romantic, while still serious original Netflix series may deal with some dark issues such as death, abuse and drugs, but it is never too melodramatic nor too saccharine. It’s slow pace is welcome and soothing in times like these, while the chemistry between leads Alexandra Breckenridge and Martin Henderson is palpable, natural and gentle. There are definitely some similarities to the show Hart of Dixie, particularly with the concept and in Tim Matheson’s character of Dr. Mullins who is very similar to his Hart of Dixie character Dr. Breeland, but there are differences for sure. However in both instances Matheson is wonderful, as is his on screen sparring partner Annette O’Toole. There is so much to love from the Zen like beautiful scenery, to the characters that are salt of the earth, good people. But what is truly exceptional is the compassionate, realistic, thoughtful and sensitive way it handles the grief and trauma of Mel and Jack’s characters especially. Virgin River is about healing and second chances and it thoroughly captured my heart.
Fuller House (Netflix)
Bringing its series run to a close, the affable, unabashedly corny and sweet natured reboot Fuller House ended on a lovely and often hilarious note with a finale I actually enjoyed more than the original series finale. Further misadventures of the Tanner, Fuller, Gibbler extended family which included a delightful musical proposal that was 20+ years in the making, and a triple wedding for the She-Wolf pack and their true loves, I love every minute in abundance, so much so that once finished, a few weeks later, I restarted and binged the entire series over again. And it not only improved upon with repeat reviewing but it was the balm my soul needed during a rough time. What I love is that it normalizes close knit families who choose to spend their lives together and raise their families as a unit, and that affectionate and loving relationships are not only romantic. Friendship and family are just as important for our souls and I think living in a Fuller House is something to aspire to.
Emily in Paris (Netflix)
Another welcome balm was the frothy, colorful, and delightful Emily in Paris, led by the lovely and amiable Lily Collins. From the creator of Sex and the City I like to call this a lighter version with similar aesthetics and mindsets, but we trade in New York for the gorgeous Parisian life, from sidewalk cafes , to Classic architecture, to the Eiffel Tower herself. When we see Paris in films and TV, it often will spark that desire of wanderlust and have us dreaming of falling in love, eating delicious French pastries and wandering luminous cobblestone streets of the City of Lights. Emily in Paris certainly makes the city look like an incandescent dreamy painting of France’s jewel. But beyond this beauty, what I loved about this series was its familiarity in its romantic, comedic and feminist tropes. It’s not groundbreaking storytelling and that’s okay. What it does is show a relatable young woman who is learning to navigate a job she is more than capable of doing in a place she is completely unfamiliar with. She’s a combination of naïveté, confidence, intelligence. And while romance is a key player, (the French are known for their amorous people after all), it is the friendships that are superlative and sometimes complicated, that make the show, especially with the first friend Emily makes portrayed by the wonderful Ashley Park. Moreover, it’s Emily who is effervescent and feisty who works hard at her job no matter what’s thrown at her, all of which strikes a chord because of the actors, especially Collins. Emily in Paris explores the often shallow nature of social media and influencers, but never completely mocks them either. Rather, it highlights and exposes the authentic and artifice of the modern world and that we should find a way to enjoy our lives in happy and genuine ways, which can include taking that perfect photo for Instagram.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC)
Creative and effervescent, brimming with talent and color, as well as real and relatable emotions and issues surrounding the pain of loss and grief, insecurities, and love unrequited, long lasting and otherwise, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a breath of fresh air. Any lover of musicals will adore this show about a girl who, after an earthquake during an MRI, can suddenly hear people’s inner most thoughts through song. It causes many wacky moments as well and ones of sorrow, and uses this concept as a way of expressing how universal a language music can be. Zoey hears everyone’s “heart songs,” and it makes you believe in the power of music, and how it can deeply help us cope with whatever we are feeling: love, joy, fear, sadness. There is also this question to ponder: what would be on your playlist at any given moment? And for the record in case you were wondering: I am Team Max!!
Dash and Lily (Netflix)
Dash & Lily provided some adorable, cozy and sweet Christmas comfort at the end of the year for certain. Undoubtedly modern in its style and wonderfully diverse cast, it’s also filled with classic rom com tropes and sensibilities. The characters are young but I would venture to guess that The Shop Around the Corner/You’ve Got Mail-esque story involving a pair of would be lovers who write letters, notes and scavengers hunts in a red notebook, helping each other heal and be brave, is relatable to people of all ages. Fair warning- it’s the type of show you could watch in one sitting. I did it in two. But it’s addictive and a sweet cup of Yuletide romance.
The show that was all the Buzz at the end of 2020 and continuing into the new year, Bridgerton was another fun, frothy and gorgeous looking romantic romp that again may not be the most groundbreaking storytelling but does offer new and exciting diversity and vitality into the Period Drama genre while giving the audience all the romantic tropes we love to indulge in and get swept away by. Highly addictive, well acted, and a beautiful feast for the eyes that could feed an entire village. Although I think some loved it more than I, and it’s more racy and explicit than my typical viewing, that didn’t prevent me from being captivated by the complicated and tantalizing love story of Simon and Daphne filled with fake dating, deception and loving desire, the complicated but swoon worthy Anthony as he struggles with letting go and finding his true place in the world, the sublime wit of Eloise and sweet earnestness of Penelope and their sweet friendship, the divineness of the likes of Lady Danbury and the Queen Charlotte herself, to speculating who town gossip Lady Whistledown truly was. From the wonderful cast, to the lovely rainbow colored costumes, to the landscape and cinematography, breathtaking with a fluidity and movement that was glorious to watch, there was an abundance to admire in Bridgerton. And the reveal of Whistledown was truly a great twist!
The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
The Haunting of Bly Manor was not something I planned on watching as I am a self proclaimed “scaredy-cat,” but I do enjoy gothic mysteries and spooky stories such as The Others, and I couldn’t help but be drawn into this story that was loosely based on the works of Henry James, most notably The Turn of the Screw. It was mysterious and scary with a wonderful cast, especially its child performers (and my personal favorites being Rahul Kohli and T’Nia Miller), with a surprisingly touching love story that ended the mini-series on a very poignant note.
Will and Grace tribute to I Love Lucy (NBC)
Admittedly I fell behind on the Will & Grace reboot and have yet to catch up, but when I heard they were doing a tribute episode devoted to my all time favorite show I Love Lucy, I knew I had to tune in. And it did not disappoint as a part hilarious homage, part spoof, part spot on recreation of famous moments from the comedy series, while bringing in touches that only the Will & Grace characters can do. Who played Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel changed and Lucy and Desi’s daughter Lucy Arnaz made a special appearance in the delightful tribute.
The Imagineering Story (Disney+)
While many of you may have watched this extensive, fascinating emotional series right away, I savored this show during 2020. Directed by Leslie Iwerks (the daughter of Disney legend Ub Iwerks), each episode tackles a different era of Disney Parks, from the inception of Disneyland, to the parks in Asia, all the way up to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. If you are a fan of Disney history and seeing all the creative ingenuity it takes to make some of the most innovative and breathtaking pieces of living art there is, then you will easily become engrossed in this captivating and very honest six part documentary. I admittedly cried and was moved a great many times, as well as surprised and in awe of not only the very revealing details, stories and footage unknown to me previously , as well as marveling at the masterful creative of these individuals. Lovers of Disney and theme parks alike will no doubt be completed mesmerized by The Imagineering Story.
Prop Culture (Disney+)
Like The Imagineering Story, Prop Culture is thoroughly engrossing, interesting and taps into nostalgia and emotions, but possibly even more so. As someone who devours behind the scenes footage and documentaries about the making of film and television (I have The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions Appendices DVD sets to thank for sparking that love), and someone who is fascinated with the research and artistry of props, textiles, etc, Prop Culture is the ideal show. Each episode features collector Dan Lanigan as he travels around the world meeting with creators, artists and actors alike connected to whichever film the episode is devoted to including Mary Poppins, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and The Muppet Movie. Engrossing and funny with the ability to make you shed some tears, this show reached into my heart and took up permanent residence.
The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
Another Disney+ docu-series that brought such joy to my household was The World According to Jeff Goldblum with each episode being about something simple, or some may even say mundane such as denim, bicycles, pools or ice cream. But using each broad topic as a jumping off point, we are treated to both a history and modern exploration with the unique and quirky way that only Goldblum could do. He is one of a kind. But each experience is not only interesting but also sweet, informative, entertaining and featuring good natured, hard working, creative and joyful everyday folks.
Psych 2: Lassie Come Home (Peacock)
After the dramedy/mystery show Psych ended in 2014, I was completely satisfied but knew there was always a possibility for more. After the success and love for the first Psych movie in 2017, I was thrilled when a second was announced. Although we had to wait for Timothy Omundson to recover so they could include Lassiter the way he deserves, it was more than worth it. Psych 2: Lassie Come Home picks up right where the first left off with Shawn and Gus and their antics, but now Shawn and Juliet are now happily married, while Gus has finally found his other half in the formidable Selene. The dynamic crime solving duo aid in the search of who shot Detective Lassiter, and we see the hilarious one liners and silliness we’re used to and love, while the story involving Lassiter’s recovery involving remembering the lessons his father taught him including never giving up despite our struggles was deeply touching.
Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings “JJ Sneed”(Netflix)
Dolly Patton’s Heartstrings TV movies, each one based on one of her songs is something I want to tackle more of in 2021. But in 2020 I only got to “JJ Sneed” for one unsurprising reason- it stars Once Upon a Time’s Colin O’Donoghue in the title role of the handsome and charismatic outlaw. As someone who loves a good classic western and O’Donoghue as a performer, especially when he shows his range which he did here as someone who can be charming and witty one moment and then ruthless, selfish and dangerous the next, “JJ Sneed” was quite entertaining especially seeing that Sneed meets his formidable match in the clever woman who literally gives him a run for his money. There’s room for more story here and I do hope we see it.
TV Christmas Films
Each year we see many Christmas films on television but most especially, The Hallmark Channel has become a staple in Holiday entertainment providing an abundance of films that are no doubt formulaic and full of common tropes- and that’s what we love about them. They are cozy, happy fare and their consistency in storytelling can provide a tremendous source of comfort. And when we combine that with likable performers it’s a lovely combination. Although there were some I didn’t manage to get to, those I did were all excellent and some of the best I have seen in years.
The Christmas Waltz paired Hallmark Channel darling, the immensely talented Lacey Chabert, with Reign’s equally talented and charming (not to mention handsome) Will Kemp in a sweet and inspiring story of how dance, kinship and belief in yourself can help your heart heal and inspire you to reach for your dreams and be your best self. The chemistry between the two is lovely and the nods to classic musicals made this one sheer delight from curtains to the final bow.
Speaking of natural and lovely chemistry, this was beautifully exemplified between Broadway veterans Laura Osnes and Aaron Tveit, two exceptionally talented performers whose talents shined through in the sweetly romantic One Royal Holiday. This type of story between your average girl meeting a prince of some fictional kingdom had been seen a lot, but this may be the gentlest and dare I say most natural, cozy and funny of them all as we see a royal family spend time with a dedicated nurse at her Father’s Bed and Breakfast for the holidays. We see how love, compassion and kindness are the most beautiful and magical things in this world, and the strength they can bring us. It is an unabashedly romantic gift wrapped with sparkling paper and tied with a shimmering bow complete with snowball fights, carriage rides, perfectly choreographed waltzes and one clever nod to Cinderella whom Osnes portrayed on Broadway. One Royal Holiday is a treat I want to indulge in every year.
Holding the spot of the funniest of the year, and one of the funniest Hallmark has ever produced, Five Star Christmas, which stars Bethany Joy Lenz and Victor Webster actually had me laughing out loud as a family masquerades as guests at a bed and breakfast in order to impress whom they think is a renowned travel writer. It is funny for sure, but the quieter moments are wonderful too, with a little Elvis Presley tribute that left me grinning from ear to ear.
Christmas by Starlight paired Paul Campbell and Kimberly Sustad once again in a sweet natured and extremely relatable love story with the plot being one of trying to save a family business that we’ve seen before but with the great chemistry and likability of Campbell and Sustad who bring something special to the table.
The Christmas Carousel is another royal story but the lovely Rachel Boston and Neal Bledsoe have gentle banter between them, and the carousel that grants wishes helps bring them together as well as push them to find their path in life. Perhaps it’s my love of carousels and these actors that drew me in the most.
Christmas Comes Twice was another familiar story of the chance live and redo a part of your life over again- to fix your mistakes and get your life back on track. The difference is a more diverse cast including Tamera Mowry-Housley and Michael Xavier who were fantastic together. Mowry’s character is driven, kind and smart but also willing to admit her mistakes. And the way she is able to find her heart and have a second chance to tell her mentor how she changed her life, as well as find love in an unexpected place with her childhood rival was all a beautiful package.
A Timeless Christmas was a sweet and more unique concept with the handsome and underrated Ryan Paevy as the inventor and man out of time who meets lovely Erin Cahill as the kind and intelligent woman who helps him discover where he truly belongs, finding the right path for herself along the way. If you love Kate & Leopold this charmer is for you.
Cross Country Christmas was a funny romp through a winter wonderland as two former high school acquaintances fall in love while trying to back to their home town- many a difficultly thrown their way. The always cheery but feisty Rachel Leigh Cook soars well with Grayston Holt were wonderful in this adorable flick.
Lastly, A Little Christmas Charm with Ashley Greene and Brendan Penny has an old fashioned, for lack of a better word, charm to it, showcasing the true beauty of love stories, the great fun of solving a mystery, the craftsmanship of jewelry making, and the importance of finding, as they say in Tangled, your new dream, whatever it is and whoever it’s with. And if you can find it at Christmas then it’s all the more magical.
Re-watching and Rediscovering Classic Shows
There was also television that wasn’t new to me but brought a sense of comfort, joy, stability and anticipation. Starting with shows I hadn’t watched since they originally aired, I started two teen dramas that I loved back in the day: Felicity and Dawson’s Creek. I haven’t gotten through them yet but hope to this year.
A show I did finish, or more accurately quickly consumed with gusto was Alias, a show I remember loving but except for a few plot points, did not retain much of. So it was almost like watching it for the first time and I loved every thrilling moment. It would be fun to go in depth sometime but for now my few key takeaways are: Sydney and Vaughn are one of my favorite couples and definitely have OTP status, but I must admit to liking Bradley Cooper’s Will a bit more and a part of me would have been good if they explored a Sydney and Will relationship. Also Will’s character deserved better. RIP Francie, #NoCoffeeIceCream and Merrin Dungey is amazing! David Anders is so good at being swarming yet charming jackass. Can Greg Grunberg be in everything? The Sydney and Dixon friendship is one of the greatest ever and Dixon is low key my favorite on the show besides Sydney. Jack Bristow is one of the greatest and most badass TV Dads ever and I weeped during so many of his moments. On the opposite end, Irina and Sloane and two of the worst parents ever and show the dangers of obsession with power. #NadiaDeservedBetter. And lastly, Alias is what made me a fan of Jennifer Garner which I still am one today, and Sydney Bristow is a remarkable woman. She is a kick-ass, kind and intelligent superwoman and I want to be her when I grow up!
Similarly to Alias, the other show I rewatched for the first time was The Mentalist, a show that was high on my list of Favorites of the Decade, with one of the greatest characters ever in Patrick Jane. Like Alias, watching it in quick succession not only seems to improve the quality of the show, but makes it easier to follow and therefore more enjoyable. The last two seasons after the discovery of Red John’s identity made big changes, and I definitely missed Rigsby and Van Pelt, but it ended on such a high note with Jane and Lisbon’s happily ever after as one of the most satisfying finales ever.
Other shows I rewatched were ones that go to frequently because I love, love, love them and all had too short of a series run: Timeless, Smash, Pan Am, Forever and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, each bringing such joy to revisit.
Cast Reunions and Fun
The Cast of Chuck Virtual Table read of “Chuck vs. the Beard”
The year 2020 brought many casts back together for virtual reunions, and this one where the Cast and Crew of one of my all time favorite shows Chuck came back together for a table read of the episode that was star Zachary Levi’s directorial debut was an absolute delight as these individuals clearly all still adore each other, but also haven’t missed a beat, stepping right back into their characters like it was yesterday. If you love this show and want a heartfelt laugh, check out their reunion here: https://youtu.be/ZAZfE6OHSb0
Parks and Recreation Reunion and New Episode reading
Speaking of not missing a beat and stepping right back into stride, the cast and writers of Parks and Recreation brought us a brand new episode of the sitcom that focused on how each character was handling the social distancing that was required during the pandemic and bringing the heart and silliness we expect from this loveable group of characters from Pawnee, Indiana. This warmed my heart and was like seeing an old friend we’d early missed and got right back into normal conversation. This was adorable. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/FxX6snjZB2c
What were favorite you watched on television in 2020? Did I mention any here!! Let me know in the comments!