Countdown to 2021: 2020 TV

Disclaimer: I only rank shows that I watch and I’m not a TV critic. Also, there are some spoilers. Read at your own risk…

Last year I watched a lot of TV and this year, not as much, although this list doesn’t reflect the shows I was watching but didn’t complete an entire season of yet (Brooklyn 99DickinsonNashville, the Moonlighting rewatch, and some stray episodes of Holey Moley). Last year I watched 16 shows from 2019, and this year I watched 11 shows from 2020. Last year I also watched 8 seasons of series from previous years, and this year I watched 7 seasons from previous years, including one that I watched twice (with two different people), plus a PBS doc, so that evens out. There was a lot that came out this year that I wanted to watch but just didn’t get to, but we’ll see how 2021 goes. Last year I said that the only show I wanted to watch that year but didn’t get to was Russian Doll and I did, in fact, watch that show earlier this year. This year I thought about TV in terms of what was comforting to me, and that was defined by 3 shows/seasons–Fuller House season 3 in the spring, The Babysitters Club in the summer, and Saved by the Bell in December. This year especially it helped to have shows that were light and nice before going to sleep.

1. The Good Place
There were only a few episodes this year before the series finale, and last year I wrote that I wasn’t sure where this could possibly end. But it ended so well! This was really one of my favorite endings to a TV series. I love The Good Place because it’s my ideal version of the afterlife (even if they’re still tinkering w/ it). Bad people aren’t tortured/punished (OK maybe a little) but instead forced to really confront how awful they are. That’s what I wish on my worst enemies: self-awareness. And then the finale was my ideal version of what happens at the end of the afterlife.

2. His Dark Materials
I remain so grateful for this series adapatation, especially because they continue to expand upon my favorite character from the books, Marisa Coulter. But I love every character in this story, and this middle book in particular, which I had pretty much forgotten, I’m realizing now was my favorite of the trilogy, I think. I just finished up this series, as the last episode aired in the last week of the year, and I don’t know how I’m going to wait for the next season.

3. The Babysitters Club

I wasn’t sure how this show could be set in contemporary times and still feel like The Babysitters Club, but they pulled it off! All the updates they made worked, as well, and the cast was spot on. I may be the age of the parents and not the babysitters (even though I still babysit, at least until the pandemic started), but this Babysitters Club definitely filled my heart this summer.

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Countdown to 2021: 2020 Books

Last year, I read 14 books! This year I read 11. Not as many as last year but I still surpassed my usual goal of 10 books per year. I also listened to a lot of podcast and have started including those at the end of this list.

Overall, I read 4 fiction books (1 contemporary, 2 Sci Fi or Fantasy, and 1 classic–last year I read 8 fiction), 3 non-fiction books (1 books of theater essays, 1 theater history book, and 1 Political Science/Abolition–last year I read 3 non-fiction), 1 children series book, 2 plays, and 1 book of poetry. I’m also in the middle of a book of short stories but will have to include that on next year’s list. I didn’t read any non-American authors this year; last year I read 3. Last year I read 8 female authors, with 1 being a woman of color; this year I read 6, with 2 being women of color. 1 book and the short stories book I’m in the middle of were for my virtual book club with my college friends (last year there were 3), and 1 was sort of for another book club at work (I say sort of because I was really reading the last book in the Broken Earth trilogy when the first book was actually the one for the book club)–last year there were 3. Usually I try to read 1 book by someone I know, which kind of counts with reading Musical Theater Today, but I also read a book by someone I knew in college. 1 book I read because it related to something I was writing/working on (same as last year), and 2 books were plays that I read with The Thornton Wilder Society’s virtual readings.

These stats are fairly similar to last year’s, although I read slightly fewer books this year, most notably fewer fiction books. I am happy that I kept up with reading more women authors and increased the number of women of color authors slightly, however I did not read any non-American authors this year. I did keep my good mix of fiction, non-fiction, children/young adult books, and poetry, although I did not read a feminism book this year, again (unless you count the chapter on gender in the book Are Prisons Obsolete?). My resolution has been to read 1 poetry book a year, and I have stuck to that, as well as to my resolution to read 1 Thornton Wilder book a year. However, one of my resolutions last year AND the years before that had been to read a biography, and I still did not do that, again. I basically achieved all my reading goals except for biography and a feminism book, though. Next year: Continue with at least a 50:50 ratio for women to men authors and continue with my reading variety–make sure to continue to read 1 poetry book a year, 1 feminism OR political science/abolition book a year, and 1 Wilder book a year–but make sure to read a biography as well.

I also read 5 New Yorkers (1 less than last year) and 4 New York magazines (2 less than last year) in between each book, as well as various other magazine/web articles. Plus, every Barnard Magazine in print (one was online this year, which I did not read).I’m a little disappointed I fell yet again in my magazine reading. Next year: Try to bring myself up to previous years’ numbers of 10 New Yorkers and 10 New York magazines a year, or at least 7 each.

I’ll still list the online reading/writing classes I was in. This year, I did ModPo this fall and continued working through an Iowa Writing Center class (Hidden Meanings: Creative Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Facts), which I didn’t finish, but maybe I’ll finish up to be finished next year. Last year I didn’t read any short stories except for those in the short story collection I read. This year, I read 1 as part of my online class. I did read two thirds of a book of short stories by Katherine Anne Porter–I was hoping to finish the entire book this year but since I didn’t, the two thirds of short stories count towards my short story count.

My favorite book(s) of the year:
Heaven’s My Destination by Thornton Wilder
U.S. 1 from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser by Muriel Rukeyser

The List:

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Countdown to 2021: 2020 Theater

Last year I saw 89 shows, my highest in a while. This year I saw 87. 22 of those were in person, and 65 were streaming, after the shutdown. This is the first year ever that I’m counting streaming shows, of course, but that was my only option after March 12th. I’m glad I was able to see so much theater in person before the shutdown, and I’m glad I was able to see so much streaming theater afterward, theater that I had missed when it was in person or it was something from abroad or another city that I could not have seen.

Of the in-person shows, I saw most of them for free or paid a discount rate. I also performed in 1 of them: The Pops Rodgers and Hammerstein concert. 1 show (same as last year) was connected to an article I wrote, this one for American Theater Magazine. That show was in Atlanta. 3 were comedy (standup or variety) shows, 1 was an opera, and 1 was virtual reality. Of the streaming shows, I preferred full productions from the past to live Zoom readings, but I did watch some of those too. I watched 10 operas (including all three Philip Glass operas in his trilogy). 28 streaming shows that I watched were made during the pandemic, either a new work or something being done again live. I participated in 4 of the readings for the Thornton Wilder Society. I also listened to three pieces, which I’ve mentioned separately: two plays and a radio show.

I have highlighted my favorites, and after the favorites is the HUGE list of everything I saw. Then, I have listed some fun panels, exhibits, and events I also attended this year.

Top 10 Favorites (in no order, I swear):

To the Moon (The Public Theater/Under the Radar Festival) — in person
Maybe Happy Ending (Alliance Theatre) — in person
Dana H. (Vineyard Theatre) — in person
Buyer and Cellar (Broadway.com/BCEFA)
Sondheim 90th Birthday Concert: Take Me to the World (YouTube)
Significant Other (Broadway’s Best Shows/YouTube)
A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic Theatre/National Theatre Live)
Ahknaten (The Metropolitan Opera)
Les Blancs (National Theatre Live)
Emilia (Shakespeare’s Globe/Vaudeville Theatre)

Runners Up (Also in no order):
Hamilton (Disney+)
How to Survive the End of the World (YouTube)
Heroes of the Fourth Turning (Play-PerView/Playwrights Horizons)
The Keep Going Song (Actors Theatre of Louisville)
We’re Gonna Die (2nd Stage Theatre)
Salty Brine: These are the Contents of My Head (Joe’s Pub)
Satyagraha (The Metropolitan Opera)
Lips Together, Teeth Apart (LA Theaterworks)

The Big List:

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Countdown to 2021: 2020 Movies

Last year I saw 15 movies, a record high! I’m glad I brought my total up before movie theaters went away this year. Sadly I only saw 1 movie in theaters before the shutdown, and it wasn’t even a new movie, so I guess this year I am segmenting my list of films a little more. This year I saw 1 movie in the theater, 7 new movies and older movies streaming from movie theaters, 18 older movies streaming, and 3 of the SXSW shorts streaming, all for a total of 29 movies! I’m glad that I saw a few new movies streaming and supported movie theaters this year.

I saw 8 new feature-length movies either in the theater, from theaters, or new movies streaming that would have been shown in theaters this year. 5 were big releases, and 1 of those was with my company as a field trip. 1 was at the IFC, 3 were from film forum, 1 was from Metrograph, 1 was from BAM, 1 went to Disney+ for streaming, and the other went to Amazon for streaming. 2 were older films and 6 were new.  I saw all but one of these movies for the first time.

My rating system uses stars and equates as follows: 1=bad, 2=ok 3=really good 4=great.

My favorite new movies (4 stars) this year were:
Howard

Runners up (3.5 stars):
John Lewis: Good Trouble
Bill and Ted Face the Music

My favorite old movie I saw for the first time:
Home of the Brave: A Film by Laurie Anderson

My favorite old movies I loved seeing again:
Spirited Away

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WQXR Names AOP Stonewall Operas the Best of 2019

Something I wrote last year made it onto a Best of 2019 list! Thank you to WQXR and David Patrick Stearns for being a fan of our work and writing about it throughout the year. I’m honored to have been a part of this project and recognized with all the great writers who got to explore The Stonewall Riots in operatic form on this historic anniversary.

“Stonewall 50 operas: I saw five — the big one, in June, being New York City Opera’s Stonewall, created by composer Iain Bell, librettist Mark Campbell, and director Leonard Foglia. How can you not walk in with pre-conceived notions? Though expecting something treacly, I was completely swept up by it, and looking at the production photos now brings it all back, especially the shady Mafia-controlled culture of the West Village at that time. What also makes Stonewall fascinating is that nobody is all that clear about how the riots unfolded. The chaos — not to mention the partying that led up to it — means that this great historic occasion was incredibly murky. And with the four one-act operas produced by American Opera Projects, you also saw how gays were so low on the social totem pole that they had nothing to lose by fighting back.”

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Top Theatrical Experiences of the Decade 2010-2019

In the beginning of 2010 I did a top New York City theatrical experiences of the decade, so it follows I should so one for the 2010s. I did 16 entries in 2010, so I guess it also follows I should do 16 entries again.

IN ORDER OF THEIR FIRST APPEARANCE

Hedwig & the Angry Inch Belasco Theatre

Baby Universe: A Puppet Odyssey, January 7, 2011
Wakka Wakka Productions at Baruch Performing Arts Center

Wakka Wakka has become one of my favorite theater companies, and it all began with their production of Baby Universe in 2011. Both wildly innovative and incredibly emotional, the show used puppets to tell the tale of a government program to save the population of an unnamed, dying planet in a dying universe. I have since seen Wakka Wakka’s SAGA and Made in China, which were wonderful, but the expansiveness of Baby Universe eclipses them, and I still think back on that production as one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen. It felt like these were puppets doing what they were born to do. Wakka Wakka doesn’t usually revive their shows in NYC, but I wish they’d bring back this one.

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Countdown to 2020: 2019 Books

2019 Books

Last year, I read 14 books! This year I also read 14! I surpassed my usual goal of 10 books per year. I also listened to a lot of podcast and will start including those at the end of this list.

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Countdown to 2020: 2019 TV

Disclaimer: I only rank shows that I watch and I’m not a TV critic. Also, there are some spoilers. Read at your own risk…

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Countdown to 2020: 2019 Theater

Slava’s Snowshow

Last year I saw 65 shows, my lowest yet. This year I saw 89. I don’t know whether to congratulate myself for increasing my number by more than 20 and getting back to where I’d been in previous years or chastise myself for spending too much time at the theater and not enough on my own writing and other things. Last year I’d accepted the fact that I was now only going to be seeing 60-70 shows a year. However, last fall I was incredibly busy with my own shows, so I did miss a lot that I’d wanted to see. Would I rather see less and do my own writing and shows more? I don’t have an answer.

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Countdown to 2020: 2019 Movies

Well, I really stepped up my game this year. Last year I saw 5 movies, a new low, and that was with the streaming movies. This year I saw 15 movies in theaters! I’m really proud of myself for seeing more films and also proud of the movie industry for making and re-showing more films I want to see.

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