Despite everything that happened in 2020, the gears of popular culture and US media still turned. Culture provided a reprieve, a respite, and rejuvenation from the multiple simultaneous crises that roiled our country this year. Frequently, it was window into what life was like before the pandemic, a document of how we used to interact and move in public spaces.
I’ve already counted down my:
Here’s some of the stuff that didn’t make it onto those lists. Reading, watching, and listening to all the stuff below consistently made me a more thoughtful and intelligent person. I hope it helps you too.
Garbage Day – Ryan Broderick is one of the best analysts of internet culture there is.
Formerly Dangerous – Love Drew Mcweeny’s insight on films and in his newsletter Formerly Dangerous, he goes in-depth with his analysis on new and old films alike. Expect thoughtful, long-form writing which will take hours to get through.
Letters from an American – Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter was recently covered by The New York Times. I’m only a recent subscriber but it does a great job of calmly contextualizing the day’s events.
Platformer – Casey Newton’s newsletter documents the increasingly relevant intersections of technology and democracy.
The Ankler – The entertainment industry is falling apart at the seams and Richard Rushfield is one of the few people who’s willing to call out individuals and institutions for all their bullshit. (Listen to my interview with him)
Webworm – David Farrier deconstructs conspiracy theories and goes on other dark adventures (Listen to my interview with him)
Pocket – A great digest of the most interesting long-form reading on the internet.
Ghost of Tsushima (PS4/PS5) – The single-player experience for Ghost is strong, offering an addictive gameplay loop to level up your character. But going through the Legends raid with some friends was one of the best videogame experiences I have ever had in my entire life. It’s ridiculously fun and gorgeous. Bravo to Sucker Punch for making this.
Among Us (multiplatform) – No game was able to bring me together with more people, while reminding me why I shouldn’t hang out with people regularly anymore.
Doom Eternal (multiplatform) – One of the most intense first-person shooter experiences I’ve ever had. A non-stop nail-biter that’s not ashamed to be over the top and ridicluous. A fun, intense ride from beginning to end.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Xbox/PC) – A beautiful platformer with a melancholic story that expands the world of its predecessor significantly.
Microsoft Flight Simulator (Xbox/PC) – In a year where traveling was basically impossible, Flight Simulator essentially created a videogame version of the planet for you to travel around in. See how they did it here. It’s a huge accomplishment and it was very soothing and oddly moving for me to see the world through this thing.
Tetris Effect/Connected (multiplatform) and Tetris 99 – The 21st century continues to bring new and fun ways to play one of the greatest games of all time.
The Daily – Yes, the people behind this show are a bit problematic, but this remains the gold standard for daily new podcasts.
The Press Box – A fun podcast that covers everything that’s happening in the mainstream media and on Twitter.
Why Is This Happening with Chris Hayes – Interviews with fascinating people about what’s happening in the world. Chris Hayes is on fire this year (see here) but I appreciate what he brings to the podcasting world as well, which is a huge inspiration for Culturally Relevant.
Waypoint Radio – I’m a latecomer to this show but has what I think is the most thoughtful commentary on videogames that I’ve been able to find. Check out their Last of Us Part II review for a good demonstration of this.
Extra Hot Great – A delightful show (co-hosted with my collaborator Tara Ariano) that covers all the goings-on in the world of TV.
The Next Picture Show – An always-reliable film review show with the smartest film critics on the internet.
Jeremy Renner Files – Why did Jeremy Renner have an app? This podcast, fashioned like a True Crime story, takes that question deadly seriously.
Dead Eyes – Have you ever had one rejection shape the rest of your life? Connor Ratliff may have! He explores that concept in this amusing and moving podcast.
Good One – Song Exploder but for jokes. Jesse David Fox does a great job probing comedians on these in-depth interviews.
Upgrade – Consistently excellent and insightful Apple-focused tech talk.
The Vergecast – A more generalist tech news podcast with some smart tech reviewers.
Gangs of London – Sadly the show is only available on AMC+, so it can be a bit of a chore to actually get access to it. That said, it is wonderfully entertaining trash with some amazing fight sequences directed/choreographed by action extraordinaire Gareth Evans. I absolutely loved it and binged the whole thing in three days.
Cheer (Netflix) – Director Greg Whiteley’s Cheer is one of the finest and most visceral works of documentary filmmaking I can recall. It made me care about cheerleading, brought to life the physical difficulties of doing it well, and made me care about the dramas of these people’s lives.
Medical Police (Netflix) – I can’t believe I watched this show in 2020, as it feels more like a lifetime ago. A fun parody by the folks behind Children’s Hospital.
The Workouts of Jeanette Jenkins (Popsugar) – Working out is tough when you can’t go to the gym due to a pandemic. I’ve tried other workout regimens (e.g. Nike+) but I’ve found Jeanette workouts to be easy on the body while also being suitably intense.
MyNetDiary (app) – I took some baby steps towards getting more healthy this year and using MyNetDiary to log my calories and track my weight was a huge part of that.
Paprika (app) – Paprika is a great place to store recipes and create shopping lists. It also has a killer feature: Stripping out all the text from an online recipe and organizing it into just the ingredients and directions. Pretty useful for a year where many of us had to learn how to cook more often.
If you enjoyed this newsletter, consider supporting me on Patreon.