With apologies to Cousin Rendell of Lafayette, Louisiana, here is the annual Bird’s Eye View Year in Info-Tainment.
There may have never been a greater sigh of relief than midnight on January 1, when the giant ball dropped above an empty Times Square on the apostrophe-laden ABC’s Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest. Finally, 2020 was in the rearview mirror.
It would be impossible to summarize the losses our people have felt over the past twelve months – at the community as well as individual levels – so it would be folly to try and say anything new that hasn’t been said before: hold your loved ones a little tighter; call or drop by to visit those friends and relatives you haven’t talked to in a while; be a little more patient in the store or restaurant. Wear a mask when you go out, and practice social distancing as best you can.
Having said that, here is our yearly round-up of entertainment news and views.
Without a doubt, the must-see film of the year was “The Social Dilemma” (Netflix). Inside whistleblowers from Google, Apple, and other tech giants are interviewed, providing the truth behind what we already expected: the addictive nature and invasion of privacy that is baked into social media weren’t accidental side effects – they were intentionally put there by design.
The documentary also has some scary dramatizations of the virtual version of you – how the tech companies create your profile based on how long you looked at a picture on Instagram, or what you typed into that Google search box, or what Siri overheard you saying. It’s a dilemma, indeed. For the magic of nature, I highly recommend “Tiny World” (AppleTV). It is fantastic.
BEST MOTION PICTURE
That’s hard to say. I went to the movie theater on New Year’s Day 2020 to see “The Rise of Skywalker,” the final (we think) chapter in the Star Wars saga. While it answered a lot of questions, I wouldn’t call it the movie of the year. Especially since theaters closed a few weeks later, and the only way to see new movies is on a streaming service. So, I will give the honor to “Soul,” the latest entry from Disney-Pixar.
“Soul” addresses some very challenging adult themes within the context of an animated film. The main character, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), is a middle-aged band director who feels as if the good life has passed him by. On the day his principal offers him a contract, he gets a phone call from a former student (Questlove) who has become a professional musician – there is an opening in the band for jazz legend Dorothea Williams (voice of Phylicia Rashad), and Joe has been asked to try out on the piano.
He gets the gig, and for the first time in his life, he feels accomplished! And then … well, the next hour and a half offers deep lessons in what success really means. His partner in the experience is lost soul Number 22 (voice of Tina Fey). I won’t give too much away, but this is a story that will stick with you.
MOST ENJOYABLE TV SHOW THAT DIDN’T GET CANCELLED
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” (NBC) was a delightful change of pace. The premise is, our girl Zoey (Jane Levy)’s father (Peter Gallagher) is dying of a neurological disease that has robbed him of the ability to speak. Worried she may inherit this same disorder, she schedules an MRI. While she is having the procedure, an earthquake rattles her noggin.
From that point on, she can hear the private thoughts of everyone around her as popular songs! She is able to then connect with co-workers, potential love interests, and her family on a much different level once she’s ‘heard’ how they truly feel. This series is returning later this month.
MOST ENJOYABLE TV SHOWS THAT GOT CANCELLED
“Schooled” (ABC) and “Perfect Harmony” (NBC) were special to me. Not only did they become appointment television, but they represented so much of what I get to do every day. AJ Michalka brought her Lainey Lewis character over from “The Goldbergs” for this spin-off, which took place in the mid-to-late 1990s. Lainey became a music teacher and band director at her alma mater after her dreams of a singing career flamed out. The series handled ‘90s subjects with a deft comedic touch that was equal parts heart and humor.
“Perfect Harmony” centered around a renowned choral director named Dr. Arthur Cochran (Bradley Whitford) who, depressed after the death of his wife, is in the process of attempting suicide when he overhears a terrible church choir rehearsing. He passes out in his car but is revived by the church choir members, and he immediately sees a new purpose in trying to make something musical out of them. This show didn’t get the chance it deserved – the hope and faith that the atheist main character developed after working with these earnest liturgical musicians in a small Southern town was so refreshing to see.
BIGGEST RATING SURPRISES
“ABC World News Tonight with David Muir” became the top-rated newscast above all the other networks and cable channels. Also of note: one of the highest-rated programs of the season was the “Jeopardy!” tournament of champions, also on ABC – which ended up being one of the last programs Alex Trebek recorded. No surprise that the champ is still CBS, with “NCIS,” “Blue Bloods,” “FBI,” “Young Sheldon,” and other top-rated programs in their lineup week after week.
MOST SURPRISING HIT
I don’t know how I could have ever doubted him, but Paul McCartney has the #1 album right now: “McCartney III,” a sequel to “McCartney II” (released 40 years ago!). There are some good songs on here, like “Lavatory Lil,” “Seize the Day,” and “Winter Bird,” but the big deal is that he created them all on his iPhone while quarantined at home. And it is really remarkable that, after nearly 60 years in the business, he’s still making good, tuneful music. Dude is 78 years old!
WORST HIT SINGLE
I hated “WAP” by Cardi B. I saw no purported ‘female empowerment’ in the lyrics to this nasty single and can’t believe it spent so many weeks at the top. I like the guest star Megan Thee Stallion, though. Kind of like Dua Lipa. I liked her material until she partnered up with Miley Cyrus on “Prisoner” – perhaps I’m a prude, but no matter how good the song maybe, the two ladies licking blood off one another in the video was just gross and disturbing. Female empowerment, I guess.
HUGEST MUSICAL EVENT
“Hamilton,” the record-smashing Broadway musical that has become a modern classic, hit Disney+ with a filmed version in July. It is just as awesome as you have heard, and I dare anyone to walk away from a viewing of this musical without a greater appreciation for our founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington – as well as the unparalleled talents of librettist and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
2020 will go down in history for the pandemic, certainly, as well as a reckoning on black lives and civil rights matters that had been bubbling under the surface for decades. We will see and feel the repercussions for years to come. We are certainly living in unprecedented times. The Father of our Country, George Washington, had this to say over 240 years ago: “We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us in all matters of general concern act as a nation.”
Michael Bird is a longtime music teacher at Tallassee High School, radio host on WACQ-AM 580 & FM 98.5, and columnist for the Tallassee Tribune.