This holiday season my family created a few new traditions: picking fresh citrus in a local orchard, touring nearby light displays and at least one long hike a week in the desert. All three represent where we now live, as well as the times — socially distant, outside or in our own car, separate from the large gatherings and family events that usually dominate the season. Like everyone, we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances.
If I’m being honest, though, the last year has also involved an abnormally high amount of cultural consumption. I mean television, mostly. A lot of television. We’ve encouraged reading, and there’s been plenty of it, but I’ve personally struggled some weeks to maintain the focus to finish a chapter, let alone a full book. But working my way through the entirety of various streaming services? No problem.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some shows have truly helped me get through this weird time. Many of the books I did finish thrilled me. And the podcasts I discovered delivered great storytelling. It’s not a new tradition, but here’s my year-end list of the best media from this year.
Shared State — Fantastic premise and framework for this pre-election collaboration between the Montana Free Press, Yellowstone Public Radio and Montana Public Radio.
Death in the West — Come for the tales of Butte and Frank Little, but be sure to stick around for the music.
Sam Walker’s Desert Diaries — A British woman who moved to Phoenix on a whim with her whole family became an unlikely tour guide to my new home, because of course that’s how 2020 works.
Richest Hill — Made my list last year, but continued into 2020.
Big and Small Screen
Queen’s Gambit — Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Ted Lasso — Something that truly provided a lift this year
Junior — The Ken Griffey Jr. documentary on MLB Network
Dorktown’s history of the Seattle Mariners — I don’t even really like the Mariners, but this proved weirdly fun
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
The Vast of Night
Sound of Metal
Too Far From Town — Brilliant idea right up my alley, this series honored the 42 (really 43) minor league teams eyed for extraction by Major League Baseball. The entries were written by Roger Cormier in a way that was both thick with researched history and light with creative, sometimes wonderfully off-beat, style. Original music by Davy Andrews accompanies each entry and became my soundtrack to early and mid-quarantine.
The Cespedes Family BBQ Twitter Thread on MLB debuts during COVID
Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke
The Wire: All the Pieces Matter by Jonathan Abrams
The Blaze by Chad Dundas
Cactus League by Emily Nemens
Pour One Out for the Sports Bar by Steve Rushin