Only one week into 2021 (unlike last year when it was three months), Alastair and Nick unite to give one last run-down of 2020 – the highs, the lows and the other lows.

But first, one last quick film review from the tail-end of the year, as Alastair (and also eventually Nick) saw new Pixar movie Soul, while Nick was left watching Tropic Thunder on Christmas Eve because his internet crashed.

And then, before writing off last year, our heroes take a short pitstop in 2021 with a review of Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (10:21), the latest holiday special from their favourite inconsistent sci-fi show.

Da 5 Bloods Chadwick Boseman 2020 filmAt last, it’s then time to dive into that hot retrospective material, with some analysis of the year in film (19:46), complete with Nick and Alastair each counting down their top five releases and agreeing on a unified MFV top 3 (plus the inevitable worst one), before turning to do the same for TV (47:38).

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For the last few years, whilst superhero franchise blockbusters have been the undisputed dominant force in mainstream cinema, I have been saying that a change will eventually happen because nothing lasts forever. What I meant is that something else will come along to challenge the dominance of superheroes. I didn’t expect the big change in the cinema for 2020 to be that cinemas were closed for a lot of the year.

2020 was certainly different. The pandemic, lockdowns and other restrictions meant that cinemas had to be closed for long periods of time and even when they could legally open, many people were put off by the thought of spending hours in a windowless room, filled with recycled air.

The last time I went to the cinema was on the 29th of February to see Céline Sciamma’s superb queer romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Since then, fears of catching Covid-19 have kept me away from my favourite pastime. This could be the least I have been to the cinema in a year since I became a teenager and was no longer reliant on my parents’ availability to take me to the cinema.

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Ladies and gentlemen, we may not have left the house this year, but the one part of normal life we managed to continue is watching TV.

So even if the rest of our social norms have collapsed, I can still give you this tiny fragment of routine: smacking my Top Ten TV Shows up in the final few days of the year.

What were previous years like? And are there now a terrifying number of them?

Yes, that’s nearly a decade of this. Maybe next year I’ll produce some kind of special 10th anniversary feature. Or perhaps I’ll pretend it isn’t happening, that seems equally likely.

As ever, this is entirely my opinion, based on an ethereal metric of what I watched and liked amid my pandemic-driven mood swings. Annoyingly they deleted this year’s season of Legends of Tomorrow from Now TV before I could fit it in and haven’t put it back up since, so although I still love them, the Ledges are not present in the below list.

But what is on there?

#10 – Westworld

HBO’s robot-cowboy odyssey Westworld finally leaves the pretend wild west to bring us a glimpse of its outside world, along with Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as a tortured everyman protagonist.

I still find the pretentious “are we human or are we dancerbot?” ruminations of this show weirdly compelling, but I can’t pretend it’s not dipped a little since the glory days. In a post-Black Mirror world, this shiny robo-app future is a bit obvious and Westworld never quite shows us why its version is special, unique and interesting.

Still, enjoyably knotty story construction, strong effects, harrowing moments and enjoyable performances from the usual Westworld players, plus Paul. It may be past its best but I still enjoy it a great deal.

Stats Corner: Last seen at #2 in 2016 and #3 in 2018. As I say, bit of a drop.

#9 – Umbrella Academy

I also watched Umbrella Academy last year, but it didn’t even rate an honourable mention. It’s a fun concept, executed with a lot of spirit by a talented cast, but the first season suffered from some aggressively Netflixy plotting, especially in the second half of the season, and a few of the characters felt half-formed.

Well, credit to them for this much-improved second season. It could still stand to pick up the pace a notch or two, but the still-good characters from last year (Robert Sheehan’s Claus, Elliot Page as Vanya and especially the superlative Aidan Gallagher as grumpy child-man Five, all still great) are now joined by punched up writing for the other siblings, along with faster, funnier pacing and a noted reduction in busywork plotlines and meandering tangents.

So for whatever it’s worth, if you’re putting off this second season due to those flaws in the first, I endorse giving it a crack. Or read the original comic, that’s even better.

Stats Corner: As above, no previous mentions. But this is one of only two comic adaptations on this list, which is the least since 2017.

#8 – Insecure

Watched a few more sitcoms this year, in my quest for distraction and amusement amid the hell of it all. HBO’s Insecure is more of a comedy-drama, but it still fits that half-hour slot and provided reliable light escape via the ongoing sadly embarrassing struggles of Issa Rae’s self-named character, constantly searching for direction and happiness in a life besieged by bad luck, unfortunate men and cringeworthy situations.

It’s reliably fun, but with a constant underlying pathos and yearning striving that makes it hard not to root for the characters. I binged the whole show this year, then realised the fourth season came out in 2020 so qualifies for this exclusive club, especially a well-done, sad, all-too-relatable storyline about long-term friends drifting apart. Strong recommendation if it wasn’t on your radar.

Stats Corner: Second HBO show so far, and, surprisingly, the last.

#7 – The Good Place

The final season of The Good Place honestly wasn’t their strongest all told, it seemed a little too keen to relive those greatest hits and meander. But the final few episodes dropped this year, and it’s on this list on the strength of the finale, a tour de force which left me a struggling, sobbing emotional wreck, minutes before I was meant to travel across the country for a convention. (Back in early February, when that wasn’t a crime.)

I thought I might’ve drifted a little from these characters over the course of the less-good final two seasons, but the final episode put aside the over-busy metaphysical plot and left us with the main cast and one central dilemma, and it was both lovely and absolutely wrenching. Bravo.

Really, there’s one reliable strategy for this list – make me cry, win a spot on the top ten.

Stats Corner: #4 in 2017, #8 in 2018 and then missed the list last year. And here it is, making a small re-appearance before disappearing forever.

#6 – What We Do In The Shadows

Another sitcom, and one of my favourite new comedies of the last couple of years, we have What We Do In The Shadows, a ridiculous docu-comedy about four vampires living in a shared house, feeding on blood and getting on each other’s nerves.

Featuring a ludicrous sense of humour, enjoyable deep-lore supernatural references and, most crucially, Matt Berry as an overly melodramatic vampire, it’s hard to dislike. Also the concept of Colin Robinson the energy vampire is a stone-cold winner.

Huge amount of occasionally morbid fun, pushing in a tiny amount of drama with the secret destiny of their housekeeper and familiar Guillermo, but mostly the idiots are just idioting at each other until they fall over and I loved it.

Stats Corner: The concept of vampires, of course, last appeared at #6 in 2016 with Cassidy in Preacher.

#5 – Teenage Bounty Hunters

From the production house who bought us Orange Is The New Black (finished last year) and GLOW (sadistically cut down in its prime this year, dammit Netflix), it’s Teenage Bounty Hunters, a show which certainly doesn’t try and hide its central concept in the title.

It’s silly at times, and evidently I’m leaning towards that this year, but the last half of the season delves further into the characters and taps into some of the reasons behind their silliness, as well as adding a few well-executed plot twists. One of the new shows of the year.

And then there’s a massive cliffhanger ending, which feels all the more tragic now since, you guessed it, the show’s already been cancelled. Fuck’s sake, Netflix.

Stats Corner: OITNB, of course, was a high-ranker on this list, including three times at #1, and GLOW was also #3 last year and #2 the year before. Hope these guys get another show out soon.

#4 – Better Call Saul

The Breaking Bad prologue motors into its endgame and after a season or two where the crime section of the plot sometimes seemed to tread water while the action went down on the lawyer side, this year saw Saul Goodman finally make his first big steps out into the underworld. Yes, it’s the moments we’ve been waiting for ever since Better Call Saul began, and it’s worth the wait.

Some harrowing shit, some long awaited conversations, some killer final episode stuff. The next season is meant to be the last, and I’ve no idea if they’ve managed to resume filming yet, what with the high COVID risk among the cast, but I hope it happens soon.

Stats Corner: #7 in 2018, #5 in 2017. So this is the highest it’s yet gone – could there be one final climb?

#3 – Schitt’s Creek

That thing I said earlier about watching a lot of sitcoms to escape the grim real world – I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just me, and this was the show that really defined that trend. If there’s one thing a lot of people did this year, it’s finally watch Schitt’s Creek. Fortunately, the last season released in the calendar year 2020, so it’s eligible here.

For those who haven’t gone there yet, this is about the wealthy Rose family, who lose their fortune and are forced to move into a motel in the tiny town of Schitt’s Creek. There, they embark on a heartwarming journey of self-discovery that manages to both base its humour on what awful people they are and somehow make them utterly lovable and endearing.

If you want to laugh at some snappy one-liners and get blindsided by sudden sincere emotions, this is the one. Another show riding into this chart on a tidal wave of my tears.

Stats Corner: Highest ranking sitcom, appearing once and burning out.

#2 – The Boys

After everything I’ve said about watching cheerful shows to perk myself up, you may find the list goes in an odd direction at the end. Because, yes, this is The Boys, the punishingly bleak superhero-murder drama from Amazon, based on the comics by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson.

Last year, this slid in at #9 and I remarked that it was a fun, smart reimagining of the comic, keeping the strong worldbuilding and enjoyable ultra-violence but improving the sometimes-shallow characterisation. Well, they kept all that up and delved harder into the bleak reality of the world, making this show about shady overlords profiting by driving us apart and secret Nazis pushing their agenda via memes all the more relatable.

I both looked forward to this show every week and slightly dreaded it. One of the most surprisingly gutting shows of the year, I very much hope it becomes less relevant in future.

Stats Corner: The second and last comics adaptation of the year. Yes, Marvel and DC both missed the charts entirely.

#1 – Dark

If you’ve listened to the podcast this year, #1 may not come as a huge surprise. I watched all three seasons of the intense German time travel drama Dark in the opening few months of 2020 and it was one of the most immersive, baffling, brilliant TV experiences I’ve had in a while.

And to my joy, surprise and relief, they more or less nailed the ending. Not only did it work when I watched the episode, looking into the details further only made the steel-trap construction look more elaborate. Carefully drawn characters, baffling cosmic actions, horrendous actions, nuclear fear, time paradoxes.

This is a genuine masterpiece, it’s on Netflix now, watch it and stuff. Ideally in one long run so you can at least try and keep the ridiculous intricacies of the storyline in your head.

Stats Corner: The last subtitled show on this list was Borgen in 2013. (Yes, I heard Netflix are bringing that back. I’m both intrigued and scared.)

Honourable Mentions

Speaking of subtitled TV, if you’re reading this at the tail end of the Christmas holiday and still fancy something seasonal, Netflix’s Norwegian festive romcom Home For Christmas is extremely fun.

The last item to be pushed out of this list, you may be surprised to hear, was viral chess sensation The Queen’s Gambit. This was one of the most beautifully produced shows of the year, but ultimately felt a little simplistic.

Over in the nerd division, The Mandalorian had a good year but, as I said on the podcast, maybe a little hollow in the opening half of the season, and annoyingly I haven’t yet seen the 2020 season of Harley Quinn. (Thanks, UK release schedules!) Interested to see how many of these upcoming Marvel Studios TV shows make it into next year’s list.

I also enjoyed some older non-eligible TV shows, such as the first three seasons of New Girl, another show a lot of people are using to escape the outside world, plus the whole of Silicon Valley, which… is great but also about the miserable reality of big tech, so not quite as good for escapism.

Oh, and Lucifer. I’ve been putting off that series for years, but fair enough, I’m now in the early sections of season 3 and absolutely loving its grand silliness.

Festive joy abounds! It’s the twenty-fourth of December, and in what might be their best approximation of a Christmas special yet, Nick and Alastair are here to talk about The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special and the festive Euphoria bonus episode Trouble Don’t Last Always.

But first, Nick keeps the holiday spirit rolling with Netflix’s Norwegian seasonal romcom Home For Christmas, while Alastair’s festively seen… historical Hollywood biopic Mank. Oh well.

But then they’re right into the timely material with The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (12:19), which… you’d think might be borderline unreviewable, and funnily enough, around the 19:45 mark, they wander off to chat about the recent Mandalorian season 2 finale (with FULL SPOILERS, be warned) and their thoughts on the recent Star Wars spin-off armada announced by Disney.

And lastly, it’s Euphoria: Trouble Don’t Last Always (37:02), a seasonal episode of the stare-into-the-void teen drama, which turns out to be… not quite as big a bummer as Nick expected. (But still a bit bleak at times.)

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This fortnight, Nick and Alastair engage with the zeitgeist, in the form of adorable Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian and well-reviewed new graphic novel Redfork.

But first, Alastair’s watched death-defying Netflix series Ad Vittam, while Nick warmed up for Redfork by reading TKO stablemates Sara and Sentient.

After all that, time to re-engage with The Mandalorian (13:36), after covering the first season earlier in the year, to find out how his long galactic babysitting gig is going in season 2.

Lastly, Nick and Alastair check out Redfork (25:28), a new graphic novel from TKO Studios by Alex Paknadel and Nil Vendrell, and learn that coal might be even worse for their health than they even suspected.

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a seminal science fiction novel. It’s one of the go-to texts of the dystopian sci-fi sub-genre and is often reached for as a metaphor for totalitarian societies that seek to crush individual freedom under a smothering blanket of conformity.

The novel is set in a world where social conditioning forces everyone into rigid roles. A world where the needs of society as a whole are paramount and the needs of individuals are subordinate to this. A world where any deviation from what society expects is severely punished.

Brave New World has a lot in common with Orwell’s 1984 and both novels are often mentioned in the same breath, despite being published 17 years apart. Unlike other novels about the dangers of totalitarianism, such as 1984 or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, in Huxley’s dystopia the social control is seductive and not aggressively forced on the population. Also like The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World has had a recent high profile, big budget TV adaptation (which has since been cancelled after one season).

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This fortnight, Nick and Alastair root themselves to the sofa for short sweet binges on Amazon’s Truth Seekers and Netflix’s Blood of Zeus.

But first, Nick’s continuing his low-pain TV diet with New Girl, while Alastair’s caught up with cult scifi movie Little Joe.

Then it’s Truth Seekers (10:52) time, bringing Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and friends face to face with the paranormal. Is it funny, scary, or, somehow, both?

Lastly, they travel back in time to sample the Blood of Zeus (23:29), a new show from the studio behind Castlevania which they will surely enjoy just as much.

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This fortnight, Nick and Alastair top and tail the telly, with the opening chunk of Star Trek: Discovery season 3 and the back end of The Boys season 2.

But first, Alastair’s meditating upon the intellectual side of things with The Queen’s Gambit, while Nick’s escaping from the world entirely with ludicrous satancrime show Lucifer.

After which, our heroes return to Star Trek: Discovery (9:07) to check out the opening four episodes of season 3 with very few spoilers and… moan about how everyone’s too nice to each other? Make your mind up, Nick.

Lastly, time for another crack at The Boys (26:21) after covering the opening of season 2 a few episodes ago, this time taking it all the way to the end. Since Nick and Alastair are returning to the scene of this crime a while after it was committed, they’re allowing themselves full total spoilers from the start, right up to the final plot twist. Consider yourself warned.

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This fortnight, Alastair and Nick continue their regular Aaron Sorkin coverage with The Trial of the Chicago Seven, then make a nod to Halloween in Lovecraft Country.

But first, Nick’s read new Hollywood-vampire graphic novel Dracula, Motherfucker! while Alastair’s seen timely sequel Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm.

And, speaking of Sacha Baron Cohen, they then tell you about The Trial of the Chicago Seven (11:44, ending spoilers from 27:34) and whether Aaron Sorkin’s writing style can even overwhelm history.

Lastly this spooky season, they float on down to Lovecraft Country (31:25) season 1, with lots of general chat about specific episodes, although surprisingly not giving away the ending.

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This fortnight, Nick and Alastair take a break from talking about the devil all the time to talk about The Devil All The Time, plus the opening issue of Department of Truth.

But first, Alastair’s seen the new adaptation of Brave New World, which had writer Grant Morrison involved in its creation, while Nick’s played Batman: Arkham Asylum, the classic video game loosely based on a graphic novel written by Morrison. Truly, it’s all connected.

That done, it’s time to armour up and step out into the wilderness with The Devil All The Time (12:47), the new glum Netflix movie about constant murder in small town America.

And lastly, they’ve also read Department of Truth #1 (24:13), a new series from Image Comics by James Tynion IV, Martin Simmonds and Aditya Bidikar about conspiracy theories and the dawning horror of their reality.

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