How TV Got Me Through 2020

Happy Holidays, fellow nerds! This is the first in a series of posts wrapping up a different year in a different way. Between now and the start of 2021, I’ll be recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with books, movies, and TV reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year.

I watched a lot of reality TV this year.

A lot.

From fantastic making-of docuseries (Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian and Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2) to intense competitions (Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelorette), my streaming queues and DVR were filled with the stories of real people.

And then there was Bravo.

bravo

In a year without a lot of stability, I always knew I could count on Bravo to keep me company. Whether it was the best season of Top Chef in the show’s storied history, the stunning scenery of Below Deck Mediterranean, or the delicious drama of Vanderpump Rules and the Real Housewives Cinematic Universe, there were very few nights—especially this summer—when my TV wasn’t tuned into Bravo.

And that’s not even counting the weeks my sister and I spent binge-watching the entirety of Southern Charm and becoming far too attached to its bevy of South Carolina men-children.

I’ve never been shy about my consumption of reality television, but it reached new heights this year. And for a long time, I figured that was because I needed something mindless when it felt like my mind was going a mile a minute the rest of the day.

But as I found myself getting more and more invested in Tayshia Adams’s journey to find love, the crumbling friendship between Lisa Rinna and Denise Richards, Melissa King’s cooking, and whether or not Ramona Singer really has 50 close girlfriends, I realized that what most people would call “empty calories” in my TV diet was actually feeding me exactly what I was missing most in 2020.

People.

Real people.

I’m an extrovert. I love talking to people, being around huge groups of people, celebrating when people succeed, and comforting people when they struggle. I love people-watching at the mall, at happy hour, in airports, and walking out of hockey games, musicals, and movies.

I love people.

I miss people.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have spent 2020 with my immediate family, but there’s still so much that I miss. I miss the energy of a Friday at the office, with everyone sharing their weekend plans. I miss long dinners with friends and unpacking all the silly drama in our lives over glasses of wine. I miss the excitement of sightseeing around big cities with my favorite people.

And reality TV gave me a little bit of that back.

I know the “real” part of reality TV can be debated, but these shows gave me a window into a social life I missed deeply this year. Watching the Real Housewives gossip over appetizers and watching Top Chef contestants support each other and watching the Dancing with the Stars cast form genuine friendships born of shared struggle and success allowed me to experience one of the things I was craving most acutely in an isolating, quiet, lonely year.

Human connection.

Every TV show that captured my attention this year had a strong element of human connection at the center of it. From the groups of people working together to make Frozen 2 possible to the Real Housewives of New York coming together to cheer on one of their own when she finally launched her clothing line to the former enemies burying the hatchet on Vanderpump Rules, I was drawn to shows with strong group dynamics—shows that demonstrated the fact that, for better or worse, humans are social animals who are always better together.

That extended into the fictional television that I loved this year too.

The year started with the core group of lovable disasters of The Good Place helping each other finally get to the titular heavenly realm—and eventually move beyond it. And it continued with the team at the 99th Precinct helping each other through fertility struggles, dognappings, and the birth of a new baby on Brooklyn 99. I was immediately charmed and moved by the realistic female friendships on The Baby-Sitters Club, which filled the hole in my heart that was left behind when I stopped teaching teenage girls at the dance studio where I used to work. And watching the women of Mrs. America talk about feminism, politics, and social change helped me at a time when I missed having serious discussions in person with my female friends.

My extroverted soul felt seen by Lucy Chen on The Rookie—a character who talks through her feelings, her problems, and pretty much everything else. Lucy’s belief in people and in the importance of relationships and communication anchors a show that could easily become lost in a swirling sea of procedurals. And her relationship with Tim Bradford is so much more than just the stereotypical “gruff mentor/sunshiney mentee” trope—or a budding slow-burn romance (depending on how you want to read it). It’s a beautiful representation of how human connection works—the little moments of sharing and learning and helping each other that build up over time to bond us to another person. Warmth is something a lot of us have been missing this year, and their dynamic gave me that in spades.

And that brings us to Schitt’s Creek, the warmest and most wonderful show I watched in 2020. To paraphrase another show I love deeply, no one in Schitt’s Creek achieves anything alone. This is a show about people needing people—to succeed, to lean on, to grow into the best versions of themselves. It’s a show about the healing power of relationships based on kindness, sincerity, and appreciating other people for who they truly are. It’s a show about what it means to love people—really love them—and how our relationships are the most valuable things we carry with us.

Schitt’s Creek is a show that believes in people—in the power we all have to help each other, to reach out to each other, and to give each other a safe place to land. And in a year that was defined by isolation, there was real comfort—and real catharsis—in watching a show about the beauty of togetherness, community, and connection.

From a fictional small town to a galaxy far, far away—and from a very real yacht on the Mediterranean to a mansion in Charleston—all the TV shows I watched this year reminded me that the connections we make with other people are all that really matters in the end.

I can’t think of anything more real than that.

35 thoughts on “How TV Got Me Through 2020

  1. I know I’ve said this to you in multiple forms but I love this framing for year end content and I love this post (and the amount of reality TV you watch).

    In a year that I struggled to watch TV and invest in new plots, even for shows I already know and love, reality TV was something I could watch and involve myself in. I loved Dancing With the Stars and was surprised by how much I grew to love each of the contestants and their relationships with their partners. It was a bright spot in my week to see them grow and perform and just be different people to look at that weren’t my family. I also watched a lot of old Guy’s Grocery Games on Hulu and now have several new Food Network personalities that I’ve grown attached to because of their judging or competing in tournaments.

    And there was my great love of Secrets at the Zoo, which came out of nowhere and I completely latched onto. For a very brief time, I had considered working in a zoo before realizing that I was entirely unsuited to it because I don’t love messy things and animals are nothing if not messy. But I have always been into animal facts and Sam was treated to many new pieces of information that we will never need in life. But that wasn’t the real draw, it was all the people who make the zoo run. It was the vets and the keepers and their friendships with each other and the animals that kept me watching and rewatching. Something about this very particular set of people filled that need for connection and get so much credit for keeping me engaged and sane this fall.

      • Richard Blais, Marc Murphy and Rocco DiSpirito were new to me (you can tell it’s been a while since I’ve watched the network, I think they’ve all been there a while) and it only increased my love of Aarti Sequeira

          • The joy Carla Hall gives me in unparalleled. I fell in love with her energy in her Top Chef days, and seeing her during a taping of The Chew in WDW was such a delight. She’s like sunshine in human form and makes food I would 100% eat in real life.

    • I could listen to you talk about Secrets of the Zoo all day. It made you so happy this year, and anything that makes you happy makes me happy. It seems a lot like the Animal Kingdom show Amy and I watched on Disney+ this year, and I loved that one too! (Also, I have SO MANY random animal facts in my brain from work, so now I’ll just have to start sending you some.)

      Sharing DWTS with you in a year when we didn’t have too much overlapping live TV was such a joy. It was one my favorite casts ever, and I’m so glad you fell in love with it as much as I did!

    • Yes! to all the Food Network love. I’d also add Alex Guarnaschelli (sp?). I loved all the quarantine editions of shows — esp Guy Fieri’s. It was just fun to see cooks hanging out via zoom and doing their thing. I can know have fun imagining the NGN family all watching various Food Network shows. This gives me MUCH joy.

  2. Sweetie!

    One of the things I love is your willingness to be flexible with your approach. This year didn’t lend itself to “best of,” so you created something new to accommodate how we consumed media in 2020.

    I’m an introvert. (This will shock no one who’s tried to find me on social media. I don’t really social anything.) So, work-from-home hasn’t been as challenging for me as it had for others. I’ve been able to meet my very small people need throughout all the crazy. However, while I might not shrivel up from lack of people. I would shrivel up from lack of art — specifically lack of story. For me, media has been about the continued need to feed my soul. Technology has allowed me to connect to stories — through the ever-expanding list of books on my e-reader, the movies and shows I watch, etc. Story gets me through.

    So, thanks, Katie for giving us a space to connect — to share what stories have helped us during this crazy time.

    • Tempest! It’s so good to see you around these parts, and I hope you’re having the happiest holiday humanly possible in these crazy times.

      Stories have been such a powerful way for all of us to get through this year, and I’m so happy to provide a place where we can all talk about them. ❤

  3. Only you have your voice. Only you can make the compelling argument that ‘trash TV’ was the nourishment for being starved of human connection and not only be 100% right, but remind us why connection on a base level matters. I loved this and as we know my love of TV knows no bounds and my need to escape my actual reality led me into odd and interesting wormholes, both familiar and unfamiliar. What was really interesting was watching my teen become attached to shows and characters for the precise reasons you lay out here – she’s an extrovert and that need for fantastic love and often first love is the very thing she’s being denied in this pandemic year as a high school Freshman.

    For me the cut short pivot to TV Land of One Day at a Time reminded me why the show will be one of the most pivotal all time top 5 shows in my viewing life. If it had to end too soon, the episode it ended with was perfection. The return of Max and Penelope finding that she can determine her life path outside the conditions and traditions that make being part of an multigenerational Latina family prescribed, predetermined and often shame based filled my soul. I will miss that show forever.

    In a world that felt overwhelmingly cruel on all fronts this year I needed escapes to goodness more than ever. Falling down the wormhole that is the Great British Bake Off had me in tears on a regular basis. Cathartic tears to watch people placed in extraordinary circumstances, who were competitive and driven to win, but never at the cost of those they competed with. There was a distinct sense of everyone being driven to win, not pitted against one another to win. And that for me was a place of solace that felt authentic and true.

    The Philadelphia run of Queer Eye reminded me why our empathy must only be matched by our ability to sit and hold space for someone else’s pain. Because when we do so, that person receives the thing they need most – to be seen. To be seen for who they are but are afraid to center because life, choices, society, failure, depression, fear or some combination of any of them have driven them on a different course. For all Queer Eye’s flash, it is in their still moments that beauty is really born.

    My love of HGTV is well documented. Love it or List it and House Hunters International were my go to this year, DVRed and watched and rewatched. I enjoyed the COVID-19 filler “hosts rewatches” enormously and do not want to live in a world where I don’t have HGTV as my go to unwind. The number of insomnia laden nights that were bearable because HGTV are too many to count.

    Umbrella Academy, Snowpiercer and His Dark Materials gave me my Hamilton fix through fantasy series and the combination of people of color prominent in fantasy shows gave my soul joy as a kid who grew up at the intersection of the original Battlestar Galatica and Buck Rodgers.

    The Stranger, not only gave me a much needed Richard Armitage fix, but a terrific thriller series to binge in a world that there are not nearly enough thriller series for all of the TV shows that exist.

    The single best shows I watched this year were on HBO in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and I May Destroy You. A runner up, Lovecraft County. In the case of Lovecraft I loved everything about the series while not loving the show. That made it a difficult watch even when I was enthralled. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was nothing I expected. I am a true crime junkie and devoured this book when it was released. The bravery, vulnerability and candor that Patton Oswalt reveals and allows us to see in Michelle’s journey is nothing short of astounding. What her work (and others who helped) gave to the victims of these decades of violence is nothing short of heartbreaking. I didn’t think there was more to gain from this docuseries that I hadn’t gotten from the book, but I was wrong. The strength of the human spirit against how fragile and easily shattered it can be left me breathless. And finally I May Destroy You is a masterpiece in storytelling. I have never seen a show that is more willing to risk, strip down to bare bones honesty and more honestly talk about consent in the wide and varying forms it plays out in as we look at adulthood and bodily autonomy. It’s willingness to strip down and allow our protagonist be perpetrator as much as she is a victim makes the truth of her story all the more deep and relatable. With biting wit, tenderness, sadness and thoughtfulness it was a show I will always carry with me.

    And finally (because this has become a manifesto) as a person who was stripped of wanderlust this year I did not realize how much I needed the Amazing Race. I love the Amazing Race for a million different reasons. But this season, and these racers landed just as the grind of the marathon that has been this year’s isolation shifted into a new gear. To escape around the world, to revisit places I love like Berlin and discover places I’ve never considered reminded me that the beauty of the world is in our connectedness and humanity and that this moment, this year, this period will pass and perhaps when I am back to traveling and back to “normal” I will pause a little longer to drink it all in knowing now how quickly it can all be gone.

    • First of all, this whole comment filled my heart with a joy I have not felt in a long time. This place feels vibrant again, and so much of that comes from you sharing your love with all of us.

      Every single thing you wrote about screams “you” to me. From The Amazing Race and how it filled the travel-sized hole in your heart (that’s totally what Southern Charm and Below Deck Mediterranean did for me) to Queer Eye, I loved reading your thoughts about what these shows meant to you in a year when we were all searching for meaning. I also am seriously going to need to check out I May Destroy You now that I have HBO, and I need you to know that your love of HGTV is shared by my mother, and she will be glad to know she’s not alone. (Food Network is my personal insomnia companion and has been since my thesis-writing days.)

      Thanks for not only all the new recommendations, but also the love this comment was filled with. It’s yet another way for me to find the connection I’ve been craving.

    • Scoot over and I will join you in the HGTV-watching couch. I could hang out with Ben and Erin from Home Town FOREVER. We can also bond over the need a Richard Armitage fix.

  4. I love this reflection on your TV habits this year! I think a lot of my shows echo the same through-line of human connection. I also loved The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek, and my binge of The Rookie in May really helped me get through some of the early parts of the pandemic. Especially Lucy Chen, who was probably my favorite in a great cast of characters.

    I didn’t watch a ton of new shows this year as I think similarly to a lot of people my brain only had the ability to process so much, but watching Leverage for the first time over the course of a few months was a comfort and a joy when there wasn’t a lot of new TV airing and I was stuck at home even more than my homebody self would really like. It’s all about a found family forming, and getting to watch these people grow to care about each other, fight hard to get justice for others, and be extremely good at their jobs was just a delight. It was nice to have a show to watch that I knew without a doubt I would enjoy every episode.

  5. I love that you were able to find that connection you were missing in reality TV!

    I really struggled to watch any TV this year. You would think in a year with plenty of free time, I would have embraced my love of TV guilt free, but I found the exact opposite. While I am an introvert, I am not necessarily a homebody. I like being outside and I crave new experiences. I was so exhausted by zoom meetings, the thought of moving from my office in front of a screen to sit on the couch in front of a screen started to feel overwhelmingly oppressive. I am someone that even during normal times does not channel surf anymore (this shift happened when I left San Diego, I have theories as to why but that’s another story). All my TV watching is intentional, and that intention was hard to find this year. Our complex gym was closed most of the year, so instead of watching my ‘gym shows’ on the treadmill, I had to shift to podcasts on my outdoor runs. I did a lot of art, and I did even more roller skating. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch my beloved Jeopardy, it was just too sad.

    This isn’t to say I didn’t watch any TV. I watched all of ‘Clone Wars’ and ‘Rebels’. I watched The Good Place, and Schitts Creek. And The Mandalorian. And probably more that I am not thinking of. But even then, I think 2020 is going on record as clocking the least amount of TV time since I was a toddler. I am looking forward to a time soon when I can fully enjoy my TV time again, because I still really do love TV, and life won’t feel normal to me again until I get that TV time back!

    • I completely understand everything you said here. That’s often how I feel about reading—I can never read after work because spending all day reading books and then sitting down to do the same thing after work makes me anxious. And without a good intention behind TV viewing, it’s hard to find stuff to latch on to. I definitely found myself watching less half-hour content because those used to be my gym shows and I didn’t have a gym to watch them at anymore. (Now that I have a treadmill that I barely use it’s helping me get back into Clone Wars!)

      I’m hoping that something will rekindle your love for TV, but it’s okay if it takes a while. We’ll be here to talk about whatever is making you happy—especially your roller skating skills because I am very jealous of them. 😉

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