Usually at this time of year, I’m working on my top 10 films for the year, but this year we’ve decided to follow the time-shifted schedule of awards season, which means my top 10 won’t be out until February, congruent with the eligibility cut-off for the 2020 Oscars. In lieu of a top 10, though, I thought I would wrap up the year by sharing a few things that brought me joy—while killing time indoors—during this, our plague year. I’m starting with podcasts and other treats for your earholes, because as much screen time as I logged in 2020, I actually spent more time listening to stuff than watching. (It turns out that listening to podcasts and obsessively cleaning my apartment is a GREAT way to kill time in lockdown.) Here are a few of the things I listened to that brought me joy in 2020.
Arden is to true crime podcasts what American Vandal is to true crime documentaries. Season one ran in 2018, and season two is running now, and there are only 22 episodes at present, so this is a pretty easy catch-up if you’re a completist. It’s funny, macabre, and extremely well written—it doesn’t feel like a parody at all. It takes the style and structure of a true crime podcast completely seriously, though the focus is more on the unscripted, between takes moments than the actual pod-within-the-pod. Also, the name is not an accident—this one is for Shakespeare fans, too.
Welcome to Night Vale
Welcome to Night Vale is a long-running fiction podcast centered on the local radio station of a strange little town where many mysterious things happen. I initially started listening because there’s a TV show being developed for FX, so I was doing my homework, but I was quickly sucked into the odd world of Night Vale. You know what really hooked me? The music. Every episode features “the weather”, which is really a music break. The music is heavy on indie artists, but styles range from pop to hip-hop to country and everything in between. There is literally something for everyone on Night Vale’s soundtrack, and almost all of my 2020 music purchases have been inspired by Night Vale. Come for the not-angels named Erica, stay for the weather report.
Kyle Kinane reads Dracula
Not a podcast but more of an audio book vlog, on YouTube comedian Kyle Kinane has been reading Dracula, one chapter at a time, all year. He started with chapter one on January 30, so over the course of the year, his YouTube channel has turned into an accidental video diary capturing the descent into madness and lunacy that is 2020. It’s also just a good reading of Dracula, Kinane gets really into it, even as you can literally see 2020 taking its toll on him.
Listen to and/or watch Kyle Kinane read Dracula:
Eat Sh-t Kenny Daniels
Early in lockdown I started listening to original fiction stories on Audible, and ended up loving it so much I got an Audible subscription. You can literally lose entire days shuffling through the original stories on Audible, but one stand-out story is Eat Sh-t Kenny Daniels, about Katy Perry (not that one) searching for a former classmate she once told to “eat sh-t” in order to find podcast fame. Narrated by Alicia Silverstone, Kenny Daniels is a solid satire of self-absorbed podcast hosts leveraging the most minor incidents for viral fame.
Most recently I have been listening to Hell Cats, a historical drama about the lady pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, centered on their possible, probable love affair. (There aren’t many details of their relationship, but what survives suggests a very intense and co-dependent friendship, at the very least. They were also supposedly in a throuple with “Calico” Jack Rackham.) I love pirates, and Anne Bonny and Mary Read are two of the golden age of piracy’s most interesting figures. Hell Cats captures them as a pair of revenge-seeking, norms-defying adventuresses whose love defied all convention and the rules of the sea. Anne is voiced by Michelle Fox, and The Crown’s own Princess Anne, Erin Doherty, voices Mary.