The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020

The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Illustration: Karl Gustafson, Natalie Peeples

There’s been nothing expected, predictable, or usual about the year that ends at the end of this week. Little comforting, either. In the final days of 2020, the reasons remain so apparent and prevalent that to mention them here borders on the redundant—suffice it to say, it’s been exactly the type of year that would kill the guy who sang “I Can See Clearly Now.”

And so it’s from the bottoms of our hearts that we say thank you for visiting The A.V. Club when so many larger, pressing matters of public health, racial injustice, and fragile democracy demand your attention. Amid 2020’s prevailing chaos and uncertainty, we’ve had to grapple with the contradictory notions that art and entertainment have never felt less important in the grand scheme of things—and yet proven so vital to getting by on a day-to-day basis. You’ve continued to consume and engage with our work, which is something we don’t take for granted. On the flip side, we hope we’ve been able to provide some semblance of the stability and consistency that’s been so hard to find the last 365 days.

While the staff looked back at the very best that TV, music, books, film, games, podcasts, and the internet had to offer in 2020, we also reflected on how we covered it. Asked to identify the work they were proudest to have their byline on as well as a favorite piece by someone else, the A.V. Club singled out written odes to towering pop-culture figures who fart, slice, and explore, as well as a stinging critique of a loathsome reality show and a video series that allowed the artists who inspire us to speak candidly about their own inspirations. Which is not to say that these selections shy away from the topical: Read on for a roundtable discussion of the benefits of a lockdown livestream, a requiem for public spaces catering to niche interests, and a critical reassessment of one writer’s love for 311 that happened to crash headlong into the early days of the United States’ COVID-19 crisis.

What follows is but a small sample of how The A.V. Club spent its 2020. It hardly scratches the surface of the new additions we made to the archives of Random Roles and TV Club 10, or the miniseries ranks we added to with The Pixar Moment and 2020 Visions. Since you’re in a retrospective mood, why not reconsider a landmark Prince album, the lasting impact of Sailor Moon, or Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s prescient taste for soft clothes? We delved deeper than ever before into the run-ups to the Oscars and the Emmys—complete with a brand new podcast. (Film Club ventured into the audio realm, too!) With new releases skipping movie theaters (a decision the experts suggest following), Watch This returned to help enliven any home-viewing experiences that weren’t already improved by the recommendations of Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts. Click here to get acquainted with All Gas No Brakes’ Andrew Callaghan before he becomes the next Tim Heidecker/Nathan Fielder/John Wilson; click here to learn all about Paul Thomas Anderson’s side gig as HAIM’s in-house videographer. And while you’re at it, take a moment to appreciate the work of our world-class art team—who, when they’re not Photoshopping Melania Trump into a natural expression of her maternal instincts, are bringing to life The A.V. Club’s most depraved and decadent visual fantasies—like “What if a circa 2003 computer desktop, but it belongs to acclaimed playwright Erica Barry, as played by Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give?

Thank you again for your support. Here’s to 2021.

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Trixie Mattel says she’s the world’s premier collector of Dusty, the awkward ’70s answer to Barbie (January 7)

Trixie Mattel says she’s the world’s premier collector of Dusty, the awkward ’70s answer to Barbie (January 7)

[M]ost doll collectors have shunned Dusty, choosing to focus on more charming and beautiful fashion plates like Barbie. Trixie Mattel isn’t most doll collectors, though. As you’ll see in the video above, the drag queen, musician, and cosmetics mogul says she’s one of the world’s premiere collectors of the dolls, which she admires for their grotesque beauty—and chemically odd plastic skin that hasn’t stood the test of time. She ran us through her fairly comprehensive collection of Dusty memorabilia, including Dusty’s wardrobe and comic book advertisements—all while stroking Dusty’s shockingly flaxen locks. [Marah Eakin]

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Happy 10th anniversary to Undercover Boss, the most reprehensible propaganda on TV (February 5)

Happy 10th anniversary to Undercover Boss, the most reprehensible propaganda on TV (February 5)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Illustration: Karl Gustafson

“I think there was a common thread among all of us,” says Sheldon Yellen, CEO of Belfor, “that we really are just everyday people, wanting to do everyday good.” This quote is from back in 2013, when Yellen, an incredibly wealthy man and reputed former mobster (Forbes estimated his net worth at $320 million back in 2017) was sitting at a table with other leaders of large American companies. The corporate heads were discussing how happy they were about their experiences on Undercover Boss, the CBS reality show that began in 2010 and has now been going strong for a decade, with the ninth season starting just last month. It’s understandable why Yellen and his fellow CEOs would be so thrilled with their time on the series: Undercover Boss is some of the most blatant propaganda on American television. It’s a shameless endorsement of capitalist inequality that may as well end each episode by reminding everyday Americans that they should shut up and be grateful their lives are controlled by such selfless exemplars of virtue. It’s class warfare in everything but name. [Alex McLevy]

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Indiana Jones made his Nazi-punching debut in the ultimate Disneyland ride of a movie (March 6)

Indiana Jones made his Nazi-punching debut in the ultimate Disneyland ride of a movie (March 6)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Steven Spielberg wanted to make a James Bond movie. That’s what he told George Lucas when the two were on a Hawaiian vacation together with their wives in 1977. Star Wars had just come out, and Lucas was learning of its massive, world-altering success through news reports. Spielberg was taking a break from making Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The two young directors who’d just conquered Hollywood were thinking about what they wanted to do next. Spielberg was thinking Bond. Lucas had another pitch.

A few years earlier, Lucas had the idea to write a film inspired by the old ’30s adventure serials he’d enjoyed as a kid. He’d spent some time writing a script for The Adventures Of Indiana Smith with the director Philip Kaufman. But Kaufman had put the project on hold to make The Outlaw Josey Wales with Clint Eastwood. (Eastwood later fired Kaufman from Josey and finished it himself.) On that vacation, Lucas sold Spielberg on the idea of this rugged-archaeologist romp—the sort of purely fun childlike film spectacle to which Spielberg and Lucas were both drawn. A year later, the two sat down with Lawrence Kasdan, a young screenwriter who still hadn’t written anything that had actually been made, to figure out the story.

“What we’re doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland,” Spielberg kept telling his collaborators. Spielberg wanted Raiders to be less of a linear story and more of a series of increasingly giddy cliffhangers. Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan designed Indiana Jones to be a classical, mythic man of action, the kind of guy who steals the horse and launches himself after the truck without thinking twice about it. They succeeded wildly. Raving about Raiders, Roger Ebert wrote, “It’s actually more than a movie; it’s a catalog of adventure.” [Tom Breihan]

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Bonanza City, revisited: The pioneers of Kid Nation remember the controversial reality show (March 10)

Bonanza City, revisited: The pioneers of Kid Nation remember the controversial reality show (March 10)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

What do you get when you take forty kids, ages 8 through 15, and leave them in the middle of the desert to fend for themselves? The answer, of course, is the 2007 CBS show Kid Nation. In the realm of reality television, there has never been a series quite as bonkers as this one, in which school-aged pioneers were left to create a viable society on the sets of the Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch, the Butch Cassidy and Lonesome Dove shooting location built on the site of actual frontier ghost town Bonanza City. The premise, questionable in itself, was extremely Lord Of The Flies, with the cast divided into factions and vying for power. [Deena ElGenaidi]

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In the decade since The Wire, David Simon has produced TV that matters (March 26)

In the decade since The Wire, David Simon has produced TV that matters (March 26)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Writer, producer, and former The Baltimore Sun crime reporter David Simon spent most of the 21st century’s first decade making the ambitious, novelistic HBO drama The Wire, which ran from 2002 to 2008. Pre-Wire, in 2000, he and David Mills adapted The Corner: A Year In The Life Of An Inner-City Neighborbood, a nonfiction book Simon wrote with his frequent collaborator, novelist Ed Burns. Immediately after The Wire, in 2008, HBO aired Generation Kill, Simon and Burns’ adaptation of Evan Wright’s report on the U.S. Marines’ run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

In other words: David Simon had one hell of a run in the 2000s, bringing his skills as a journalist and his frustration with faltering American institutions to bear on some uncommonly sophisticated television. The Wire in particular is an unparalleled masterpiece, detailing the inextricable interconnectedness of gangsters and government; Generation Kill today seems unsettlingly prescient in its depiction of a massive military force defined more by arrogance than accountability.

And yet it’s possible Simon’s output in the 2010s eclipses what came before. [Noel Murray]

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The fartman cometh: Celebrating the many careers of Wario, Nintendo’s stinky, cheating genius (March 27)

The fartman cometh: Celebrating the many careers of Wario, Nintendo’s stinky, cheating genius (March 27)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

Mario doesn’t fart.

He could, probably. If Nintendo has gone out of its way over the years to draw our collective eyes to its beloved mascot’s nipples and other physical assets, we have to assume that the appropriate, uh, pipes, are also all in place. But Mario doesn’t fart, because farting is transgressive—to say nothing of rude, obnoxious, and stinky—and you can’t be the mascot of the world’s most potent family-friendly video game brand if you’re in the habit of transgression. No, Mario doesn’t fart—he’s got a guy for that.

That guy? Well, it’s-a-him: Wario, the yellow-and-purple-hued, ill-tempered, money-loving, cheating-prone, and above all creative counterpart to Nintendo’s red-and-blue-and-beige plumber. Wario doesn’t fix pipes; he breaks shit. He doesn’t rescue princesses; he stuffs a billion dollars worth of treasure in a sack and legs it for the door. And whereas Mario typically represents Nintendo games at their polished apex—perfectly engineered machines clothed in glorious cartoonish clockwork, precision-designed to put the company’s best foot forward—Wario is the guy dashing out way ahead, trying stuff, smashing it, and cackling at the top of his voice when it somehow, miraculously, works. [William Hughes]

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The 50 most important American independent movies (April 1)

The 50 most important American independent movies (April 1)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Illustration: Karl Gustafson

What makes an independent film? The question has never had a straightforward answer, and the cultural criteria that define an indie has changed over the decades. But by and large, it has always been something that couldn’t have been made within the Hollywood system. In our attempt to assemble a list of the most important American indies, we have included works by mavericks, film school grads, and true outsiders; productions with multimillion-dollar budgets and labors of love financed through part-time jobs; movies that played the arthouse, the grindhouse, or barely anywhere at all.

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Betting it all on 311 (April 20)

Betting it all on 311 (April 20)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

The Park Theater is a 6,000-capacity rectangle arranged so the long side abuts the stage; the farthest-back seats seem like they’re right on top of the band, making it feel remarkably intimate for a venue of its size. In normal circumstances, this would be to our advantage as a crowd. But today is March 11, 2020. Earlier this evening, the NBA canceled the remainder of its season following Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19. A few moments later, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announce that they’ve been infected. A few moments after that, the doors open, and 311 fans begin to stream into the venue. My tickets are on the floor. General admission. The pit.

If anyone in the crowd is worried about their physical proximity to a mass of people, they don’t show it. Gen Xers and older millennials file into place in front of the stage, hopping from foot to foot in anticipation. One guy whose bald spot and hairline are in a race to the middle of his head is telling a fresh-faced kid who looks to be in his mid-20s how hype 311 shows were in the ’90s. His excitement is real, but it feels like he’s managing expectations. Two nights from now, I’ll see a bearded guy with wavy, shoulder-length hair in flowing robes decked with marijuana leaves: Weed Jesus, someone explains. He gives me a polite, baked smile. [Marty Sartini Garner]

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Watch Middleditch & Schwartz create stories from stock photos (April 27)

Watch Middleditch & Schwartz create stories from stock photos (April 27)

As Middleditch & Schwartz, Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz perform long-form improv, using a conversation with an audience member to spark a totally new and original hour-long comedy sketch. The A.V. Club thought we’d challenge them to do something just a bit smaller, and introduced them to our new series, Stock Photo Cinema. In this game, we show a performer a free stock image, and ask them to describe what’s going on here, or tell us about the backstory behind the image. Hilarity (hopefully) ensues. In the clip above, Middleditch and Schwartz riff fantastically about human flight, dating robots, and how close is too close to sit to a CGI tiger. [Marah Eakin]

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The death of a video store (May 7)

The death of a video store (May 7)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Photo: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

If you didn’t grow up sometime between pan-and-scan and the director’s commentary it might seem unfathomable that a seriously good video store could be a revelatory mecca of cine-mania and something like a democratic institution. Certainly it was the only place where high and low and new and old ever really mixed. Video stores were essential to a movie freak’s self-education, and the best were even more alluring than movie theaters, a sensory overload of covers, posters, standees, and rows in clashing colors. If you were a kid, it was the place where you were most likely to glimpse forbidden objects. The best video store clerks were saints with Gen-X halos—exactly as opinionated and knowledgeable as record store clerks, but far less likely to roll their eyes. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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They’ll never finish remodeling The Brady Bunch (May 12)

They’ll never finish remodeling The Brady Bunch (May 12)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

When I was a kid, my brother and I had a game we’d play after school: How quickly can you guess which Brady Bunch episode you’re watching? One tip-off was the music: If the kids ran into the house to a tune with an upbeat tempo, (do-do-dooo-do, do-do-do-dooo-do…), it was likely a fun-filled episode featuring a celebrity guest star or perhaps a road trip in a camper. If one of the kids strolled into the house with their head dragging, Charlie Brown-style, with the incidental music playing at a slower pace (wah-wah-waaaaah-wah, wah wah wah waaahhh-wah), it was probably going to be more of a downer episode, about an unrequited crush or not making a team.

The clues didn’t really matter: We usually guessed the correct episode in 10 seconds or so. We knew them all. We were the target demographic for The Brady Bunch in syndication, settling down with it every weekday for a full hour, lying on the scratchy loden front-room carpet with our chins in our hands. There were other shows we loved: The Partridge Family had the advantage in the musical department, and we raced through dinner to watch Happy Days every Tuesday night. But none captivated us like The Brady Bunch, which has maintained a similar hold on pop culture for decades, never leaving for long. As recently as late 2019, the now-AARP-eligible Brady kids were still reuniting for new onscreen adventures. This time, it was under the roof of the split-level ranch that they never actually shared as a family, though their TV characters did—if you ignored the fact that its groovy mid-20th-century interiors were actually located on a soundstage. There they were, 50 years later, renovating that Studio City house to resemble those Paramount Studios sets, with the help of some extremely 21st-century celebrities: the onscreen personalities of HGTV. The Bradys were blurring the lines between real life and fantasy—and not for the first time. [Gwen Ihnat]

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“Why do LGBTQ people love superheroes?”: Queer celebs discuss their Batman and Bond obsessions (June 18)

“Why do LGBTQ people love superheroes?”: Queer celebs discuss their Batman and Bond obsessions (June 18)

Is James Bond a gay icon? Despite his (often) problematic, womanizing ways, why do so many queer people cite the “Double-O” agent as a childhood idol? Those are the million-dollar questions that inspired us to launch our new video series, Why We Love, with an episode dedicated to the mainstream action heroes that LGBTQ audiences have been drawn to over the decades. Batwoman is an out lesbian on The CW these days, but, historically, pop culture has offered up mostly heteronormative heroes, meaning young queer audiences had to read between the lines if they wanted to find a do-gooder who really represented them. Did we see a little bit of ourselves in the caped crusaders and super spies that captured our imaginations? The A.V. Club wanted to investigate further by asking some of our favorite LGBTQ celebrities and thinkers to share stories about their cherished action heroes and ruminate on how these pop-culture figures helped them navigate who they were and who they wanted to be. [Cameron Scheetz]

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On its 60th anniversary, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment looks like an indictment of toxic masculinity (June 19)

On its 60th anniversary, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment looks like an indictment of toxic masculinity (June 19)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Libby McGuire

The Apartment premiered in the summer of 1960, three years before Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique kicked off second-wave feminism and a decade before Kate Millett popularized the modern usage of the term “patriarchy.” Yet even though Billy Wilder’s classic Oscar-winning romantic dramedy didn’t have the language to describe the kind of toxic masculinity that flourishes at its central Consolidated Life Insurance company, the film offers a prescient look at the way workplace boys’ clubs can oppress both women and men. Instead of “tear down the patriarchy,” The Apartment’s rallying cry is: “Be a mensch—a human being.”

The Apartment is generally read more as a commentary on toxic corporate culture than toxic masculinity, mostly because protagonist C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) isn’t a particularly patriarchal man. He takes his hat off in the elevator, he’s polite to women, and he doesn’t have the callous masculine swagger of his male higher-ups. Yet despite all that, Baxter still benefits from and uplifts patriarchy. He’s semi-begrudgingly arranged a system where he loans out his apartment for his bosses’ extramarital trysts and they agree to fast-track his promotion. Soon enough he’s got his own office and a key to the executive washroom—so long as he grants his new boss, Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), use of the apartment, of course. [Caroline Siede]

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For disabled and other marginalized fans, online events aren’t a compromise—they’re a lifeline (June 23)

For disabled and other marginalized fans, online events aren’t a compromise—they’re a lifeline (June 23)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Illustration: Natalie Peeples

Of all the virtual performances, readings, Q&As, and similarly entertaining happenings I’ve witnessed since the start of the lockdown, the event that easily resonated with me the most was the pay-per-view concert NCT 127: Beyond The Origin. After surrendering my $30 (and resolving to stay up beyond the now-ungodly hour of 2 a.m., as the live broadcast was taped in South Korea), I propped myself up with a few pillows, grabbed my light stick, and settled in for what I assumed would be a perfectly enjoyable rehash of the performances I’ve seen before, both live and otherwise. I wasn’t quite prepared for the immersive experience that met me early Sunday morning as the K-pop outfit performed among a swarm of swirling, colorful graphics that displayed both Korean and English lyrics in front of a sea of video-conferenced fans. The group took a moment to answer a handful of questions from around the globe while the V Live chat box blurred with incoming praise from literally millions of their international fans. It was a fully communal experience, and all I could think between awesome the camera tricks and my own warbled karaoke was, “Wow, I got to experience a tour-grade concert and, for once, my chronic pain was not a concern.” [Shannon Miller]

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“Why are horror and fantasy so queer-coded?”: LGBTQ celebs discuss the appeal of magic and monsters (June 25)

“Why are horror and fantasy so queer-coded?”: LGBTQ celebs discuss the appeal of magic and monsters (June 25)

Whether you’re talking about the animated classics of the “Disney Renaissance” or the slasher horror flicks of the ’80s, the most enchanting characters are always the villains. That’s especially true for queer audiences, who have long found themselves not in the protagonists, but in the perceived outsiders, the eccentrics, and the supporting players. The cultural significance of queer-coded characters like Ursula and Freddy Krueger has been hotly debated for decades. But just because they’re the “bad guys,” does that mean we can’t find qualities within them worth celebrating? In this episode of Why We Love: Pride Edition, The A.V. Club invited LGBTQ celebrities and experts to share their obsessions with the fantastical, the monstrous, and everything in between. From Pinocchio to Pinhead, these are the pop culture figures that made queer audiences feel seen through the power of magic and metaphor. [Cameron Scheetz]

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With the exquisite Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola captured the novel’s complex nostalgia (August 10)

With the exquisite Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola captured the novel’s complex nostalgia (August 10)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Libby McGuire

“I had a look in my mind of how it should feel while reading it, of that hazy, backlit style of ’70s Playboy photography,” Coppola told Vogue in an interview this spring for the film’s 20th anniversary. The film’s color palette, dominated by creams and tans and yellows, occasionally dulled by the sterile blue-gray of depression and decay, at once recalls the fashion of its mid-’70s time period while evoking a golden haze of idealized memory. The attention Coppola paid to the set design and wardrobe also functions beyond creating a realistic suburban setting. Cecilia’s room cluttered with candles and drawings, the flower print of her sisters’ homemade homecoming dresses—these are all details the narrators were, and still are, obsessed with, years after their classmates’ deaths. Alongside official documents like yearbooks and medical records, the boys collected diaries, family photographs, and grocery lists, numbering their “exhibits” as one would artifacts or evidence. For the narrators, the girls were nearly impossible to understand, a feeling that’s exacerbated when Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon forbid them from leaving the house after Lux breaks curfew the night of homecoming. The distance only deepens the boys’ obsession and their inclination to make icons of the girls. Everything more ordinary is left hidden, then imbued with magic once revealed.

While Coppola sometimes privileges the aesthetics of her films at the expense of story, here she shows just how much such details matter. The lipstick and Chinese fans, the vinyl albums and travel catalogs—before these objects become part of the boys’ collective imagination, they first form the texture of the Lisbon girls’ own lives. Like Lux writing out her crushes’ names on her underwear, they’re all external manifestations of inner desires. [Laura Adamczyk]

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Why Freaks And Geeks is the teen show that endures (August 14)

Why Freaks And Geeks is the teen show that endures (August 14)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

“[F]or at least part of the 1999-2000 TV season, Freaks And Geeks was a beacon to anyone whose high school experience was awkward, boring, humbling, or painful—basically, anything other than the sexy and stylish depictions that had dominated teen-centered movies and shows. It begins with a feint in the pilot episode, one of best series introductions ever. Director Jake Kasdan scans the high school track, seeking out a very blond football player (Gabriel Carpenter, in a role not unlike his appearance in 1999’s Drive Me Crazy) who’s confessing his affection to a very blond cheerleader in the bleachers. This early encounter is the extent to which Freaks And Geeks would engage with the kind of prepossessing teens who were frequently the subjects of these shows. This decision, Feig tells The A.V. Club, was based on having “grown up on such a diet of teen stuff being about beautiful people who were so cool with everything, including sex. It didn’t reflect anything I grew up around. You would see those kids; they were around. But they weren’t my group. They weren’t the majority of the kids that I knew.” [Danette Chavez]

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“We’re uncool”: Almost Famous and High Fidelity celebrate music—but they’re warnings, too (August 15)

“We’re uncool”: Almost Famous and High Fidelity celebrate music—but they’re warnings, too (August 15)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Natalie Peeples,

It’s serendipitous that High Fidelity and Almost Famous played in theaters during the same year. It’s interesting that it would be the year 2000. A used-record store comedy for a Virgin Megastore age. An expense-account rock-journalism retrospective for the earliest rumblings of the recording industry’s downturn. All those scenes of characters fawning over and coveting pieces of physical media when increasing numbers of listeners were expanding their libraries exponentially on Napster. [Erik Adams]

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John Leguizamo on wearing heels, singing on his knees, and walking away from ER (September 1)

John Leguizamo on wearing heels, singing on his knees, and walking away from ER (September 1)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

From the To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar portion of Patrick Gomez’s Random Roles interview with John Leguizamo:

You know what? Talking to you, I just realized that I’ve been a part of a lot of firsts. I mean, this is groundbreaking. For Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes—two lead action heroes—to take those roles, that takes huge courage. And I’m so proud of them for doing that. It could’ve ruined their careers. People were stupid back then, and they would question their sexuality, which was.... People can be really ignorant. But they did it, man. And they went balls out, if I may use such an inappropriate term. And it was a blast, man. When we did the dance sequences together, to see the three of us trying to dance like drag queens... I would pay anything for that ticket. That was so, so funny. I was laughing all day long.

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Let’s talk about the ending of Charlie Kaufman’s new movie, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (September 4)

Let’s talk about the ending of Charlie Kaufman’s new movie, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (September 4)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Photo: Netflix

When Charlie Kaufman sets out to make a movie out of your book, you should prepare, at the bare minimum, for some deviations. Kaufman, after all, is the guy who took Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief—a nonfiction study of flower obsession—and inserted himself right into what passed for its story, transforming the whole thing into a neurotic-funny account of his struggles to adapt it. He does something entirely different but pretty radical in its own right with I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, the Iain Reid book that provides the source material for his latest film, which arrived on Netflix today. In some respects, it’s a faithful interpretation, preserving the plot structure, many of the themes, and even the ultimate “shocking” revelation that puts a bow on top of Reid’s disquieting narrative. But the tone of the movie is quite different, and once Kaufman reaches the story’s climax, he makes the unexpected choice to stay true to its ultimate meaning—to what’s really been going on the whole time—while simultaneously forgoing literal explanation. He takes a clean, familiar resolution and gives it the shape of maddening irresolution. [A.A. Dowd]

Fair warning: This piece reveals the ending of I’m Thinking Of Ending Things and the Iain Reid novel on which it was based.

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Shasta McNasty was every bit as bad as its title (September 9)

Shasta McNasty was every bit as bad as its title (September 9)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

Shasta McNasty is, to channel our inner Maude Flanders, reprehensible, a deeply cynical reflection of the 12-34 demographic it sought to court. Created by Jeff Eastin, the series tracks a trio of bad boys—Scott (Carmine Giovinazzo), Dennis (Jake Busey), and Randy (Dale Godboldo)—with eyes for little but long legs, fake boobs, and cold beers. The pilot opens with the dudes (who make up the hip-hop group the show is named after) filming a busty neighbor without her knowledge as she strips and sleeps with her boyfriend. The follow-up finds them relentlessly harassing Verne Troyer—Dennis, deranged in his hatred, nearly froths at the mouth while mocking the actor’s height—who enters their good graces only after he acquiesces to being used as a human bowling ball. In another episode, the boys’ search for girls with “no self-respect” leads them to an “eating disorders clinic” where they tell a room of anorexic women to “eat a cheeseburger!” Shasta McNasty is essentially what It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia would look like if it idolized its characters. [Randall Colburn]

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The impossibly perfect landing of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (September 10)

The impossibly perfect landing of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (September 10)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Screenshot: Activision

I loved these two games originally, but is a graphical upgrade enough to make me want to play them again in 2020? Yeah, as it turns out, it absolutely is. 2020 has been a miserable shitshow of a year, making it the ideal time to release such a faithful re-creation of a thing that made me and a lot of other people happy 20 years ago. I wasn’t even a teenager when I first played these games. COVID-19 wasn’t a thing, and Donald Trump was still the punchline to a joke instead of the joke itself (the punchline now being “We’re all going to die”). It feels really, really good to tap back into the part of my brain that remembers how to hit the line to open the dam valves on the Downhill Jam level, just like the first time I did it while playing on my friend’s N64 in middle school. And it feels especially good to do it while listening to the same dumb ska-heavy soundtrack that was plastered all over the old games. I don’t have to kill anything, nobody gets hurt or upset, and I know that I won’t be letting anyone down if I do a bad job. This is a game about self-improvement, hitting an obstacle head-on and finding a way to overcome it—usually with an ollie—and then skating away as a slightly better person. [Sam Barsanti]

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For nearly 50 years, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies have made a meal out of raw panic (October 31)

For nearly 50 years, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies have made a meal out of raw panic (October 31)

Gif: Allison Corr

A truly successful horror movie will take an ordinary object or everyday activity you’ve never thought about and put you off of it for life. Try wearing a red and green striped sweater without thinking of Freddy Krueger, or going to the beach on the Fourth Of July immediately following a screening of Jaws. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is among the most effective of these, driving at least one viewer—The Shape Of Water director Guillermo del Toro—to vegetarianism and giving many more a lifelong suspicion of run-down gas stations in the middle of nowhere. So many films have copied it that when a horror movie opens with a group of young people in a van, you already know what’s going to happen next. But nearly 50 years on, Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s iconic proto-splatter movie is as powerful as ever.

Texas Chain Saw’s potency is intrinsically tied to its realism, which still has some viewers convinced that the events in the movie actually happened. In his book Chain Saw Confidential, original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen (who died in 2015) describes meeting fans who tell him that they know a guy who was in prison with, or that they’re distant relatives of, “the real Leatherface,” and not even Hansen can convince them that they’re wrong. The film was at least partially based on a true story—the crimes of Wisconsin grave robber, necrophiliac, and ultimate mama’s boy Ed Gein, whose macabre arts and crafts also inspired Psycho and The Silence Of The Lambs. But it’s not Gein that those fans are referring to when they tell Hansen that the Sawyers—or the Slaughters, or the Hewitts, depending on which iteration you’re talking about—really do live on the outskirts of their small Texas hometown. [Katie Rife]

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Tomb Raider: Chronicles pays tribute to the original Lara Croft, gaming’s abandoned superhero (November 25)

Tomb Raider: Chronicles pays tribute to the original Lara Croft, gaming’s abandoned superhero (November 25)

Illustration for article titled The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
Graphic: Libby McGuire

In 1996, Toby Gard introduced the world of video gaming to one of its new icons: Lara Croft, The Tomb Raider. Gard and the rest of his team at Core Designs took the risk of featuring a female protagonist in their new archeological adventure game—a risk that paid off with a franchise that now carries 17 games (and counting), multiple films, and a huge number of various tie-in properties under its dual pistol-packing belt. The original Tomb Raider turned a large profit for video game company Eidos, became one of the PlayStation’s top-selling titles, and won numerous industry awards. Its popularity made Tomb Raider an instant name in gaming, and its sequel(s) some of the most anticipated releases of the decade—until just a few years later, when, just as suddenly, they weren’t. But while the brash, self-confident, improbably proportioned heroine of yesteryear has been replaced by a more human incarnation by the march of time, the version of Lara Croft that existed in games like the largely forgotten Tomb Raider: Chronicles, which turns 20 years old this week, remains indelibly larger than life, and a hero worth remembering. [Angelica Cataldo]

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All slides

  1. The best of The A.V. Club: Our favorite pieces from 2020
  2. Trixie Mattel says she’s the world’s premier collector of Dusty, the awkward ’70s answer to Barbie (January 7)
  3. Happy 10th anniversary to Undercover Boss, the most reprehensible propaganda on TV (February 5)
  4. Indiana Jones made his Nazi-punching debut in the ultimate Disneyland ride of a movie (March 6)
  5. Bonanza City, revisited: The pioneers of Kid Nation remember the controversial reality show (March 10)
  6. In the decade since The Wire, David Simon has produced TV that matters (March 26)
  7. The fartman cometh: Celebrating the many careers of Wario, Nintendo’s stinky, cheating genius (March 27)
  8. The 50 most important American independent movies (April 1)
  9. Betting it all on 311 (April 20)
  10. Watch Middleditch & Schwartz create stories from stock photos (April 27)
  11. The death of a video store (May 7)
  12. They’ll never finish remodeling The Brady Bunch (May 12)
  13. “Why do LGBTQ people love superheroes?”: Queer celebs discuss their Batman and Bond obsessions (June 18)
  14. On its 60th anniversary, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment looks like an indictment of toxic masculinity (June 19)
  15. For disabled and other marginalized fans, online events aren’t a compromise—they’re a lifeline (June 23)
  16. “Why are horror and fantasy so queer-coded?”: LGBTQ celebs discuss the appeal of magic and monsters (June 25)
  17. With the exquisite Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola captured the novel’s complex nostalgia (August 10)
  18. Why Freaks And Geeks is the teen show that endures (August 14)
  19. “We’re uncool”: Almost Famous and High Fidelity celebrate music—but they’re warnings, too (August 15)
  20. John Leguizamo on wearing heels, singing on his knees, and walking away from ER (September 1)
  21. Let’s talk about the ending of Charlie Kaufman’s new movie, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (September 4)
  22. Shasta McNasty was every bit as bad as its title (September 9)
  23. The impossibly perfect landing of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (September 10)
  24. For nearly 50 years, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies have made a meal out of raw panic (October 31)
  25. Tomb Raider: Chronicles pays tribute to the original Lara Croft, gaming’s abandoned superhero (November 25)