The MezzaDigesta - The Best in 2020 Pop Culture

Volume 61: December 23rd, 2020

My sweet holiday babies,

As promised last week, ya boy is back to wrap up 2020 before Christmas. What a gift!

In preparation for putting out this year’s edition of Joey’s 2020 Wrapped (I’m coming for your corner, Spotify), I looked over last year’s post in great detail and made some tweaks to the format. Hopefully, the changes will make this year’s version easier on the eyes and just as fun to vehemently attack and disagree with.

A couple of quick disclaimers before we commence. Disclaimer #1: I take this stuff very seriously! I pour my heart into analyzing the artistic work out there and crafting these lists. If, in your eyes, I’ve fallen short in some way, know it’s not for lack of serious thought or consideration. Disclaimer #2: Last year, my list of movies took center stage. I love nothing more than diving into the Oscar-worthy films every winter. However, with 2020 doing its thing, the movie industry has been impacted more fiercely than the other cultural cornerstones I like to cover here. Movie theaters have shuttered, the studios have pushed back release dates, and there’s honestly just less to watch. I’ve admittedly watched very few movies actually released in 2020 this year. Disclaimer #3: I am but one humble man, with two eyes and two ears. If I’ve missed something you love, I am sorry. And feel free to roast me.

Last thing: if you share my love for discussing this stuff with the people in your lives, it’d mean a lot to me if you shared this write-up with someone you love. A few new subscribers would be a great Christmas gift for your old pal Joe.


Alright. Let’s hit it.

My 10 Favorite TV Shows of 2020

1) I May Destroy You

2) ZeroZeroZero

3) Normal People

4) Ted Lasso

5) The Last Dance

6) The Queen’s Gambit

7) Sex Education

8) The Undoing

9) The Great

10) High Fidelity

I’m not the first, I won’t be the last, and I’m certainly not the most poignant person in your life to tell you that 2020 was a weird year (unprecedented, even). In catching up with friends near and far this year, I was struck by how much had changed for some (buying homes, moving out of coastal elite epicenters, taking the dog plunge, etc.) and how little had changed for most (we were all stuck indoors for the most part, after all). Everyone was dealing with the onslaught of this year in a different way. Conversations could go perfectly fine or turn heavy right away. Regardless of the scope of chats with friends this year, one question always seemed to come up - “So what TV shows have you been watching lately?” In a year where so much challenged us, TV brought us closer together.

I’m typically a drama series kind of guy. Give me a tightly-written drama with slow-burning character development almost any day of the week over a sitcom or workplace comedy type. But this year, I found myself gravitating to shows that provided an escape. Shows like Sex Education, where almost every character has many layers and is one worth rooting for. Mini-series like The Undoing or The Queen’s Gambit, that roped you in for a few hours with a compelling story and then let you go. Heart-warming comedies like Ted Lasso that simply made you smile.

With all that said, three dramas reigned supreme at the top of my list. The intense, gripping romance in Normal People crushed me, and the pulsing life-or-death happenings in ZeroZeroZero kept me up late at night - and made me wonder how I’d fare in the global cocaine trade (I know, I know - not well).

I’ll accept objections and arguments for changes to spots 2-10 of this list, but my #1 choice is non-negotiable. This show was so sharp, so intelligent, so funny in its depiction of an objectively unfunny main storyline. Michaela Coel is the breakout star of television in 2020, and I May Destroy You is my show of the year.

**Have not yet watchedThe Mandalorian, Better Caul Saul, and Industry. Apologies to fans of each, particularly the outspoken Star Wars nerds out there (sorry, I had to).

My 10 Favorite Albums of 2020

1) Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud

2) Fleet Foxes, Shore

3) HAIM, Women in Music Pt. III

4) Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher

5) Taylor Swift, folklore

6) Perfume Genius, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

7) Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters

8) The Strokes, The New Abnormal

9) Jessie Ware, What’s Your Pleasure?

10) Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia

** Honorable Mentions: Caribou - Suddenly, Run the Jewels - RTJ4, Jim-E Stack - EPHEMERA

**Albums I just needed more time with, sorry: The Avalanches - We Will Always Love You, SAULT - Untitled (Rise), Untitled (Black Is)

**Albums that let me down, sorry: Khruangbin - Mordechai, Tame Impala - The Slow Rush

Television may have brought us closer together in 2020 - given us an outlet, and something to watch with loved ones and discuss over the Zoom water cooler. Music just straight up had an amazing year.

There were so many things about this year in music that impressed and inspired me. With concert venues closed down and live tours cancelled, artists found no shortage of ways to perform for their fans - whether that be on Instagram Live, over YouTube livestreams, or via socially-distant drive-in concerts. As a way to drum up enthusiasm and experiment creatively, artists covered their idols - whether as a tribute to legends of the past or as a release in the wake of political relief. Longtime traditions such as NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series adapted to the new normal and excelled. And of course, we’ll always have that epic Gal Gadot-led “Imagine” cover.

2020 also had SO MANY good album releases. Putting together this list of only ten was truly an agonizing exercise - I easily could have included 20+, and cutting a few of the honorable mentions pained me deep in my plums.

If you would like to dip your AirPods in my favorite albums of the year, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist with my favorite 3 tracks from each record listed. Word to the wise, though: consider listening to these albums all the way through! Appreciate each musician’s vision! Ahh, look at me…..just a patron and admirer of the arts.

Last note - shout out to the fact that 4 of my top 5 albums this year, as well as 7 of the 10 in total, were helmed by women. The ladies crushed it this year.

25 of My Favorite Songs of 2020

  1. Caribou - “Home”

  2. Khruangbin - “So We Won’t Forget”

  3. Leon Bridges feat. Terrace Martin - “Sweeter”

  4. Daði Freyr - “Think About Things”

  5. The Weeknd - “In Your Eyes”

  6. BLACKPINK - “Lovesick Girls”

  7. 24kGoldn feat. iann dior - “Mood”

  8. Christine and the Queens - “People, I’ve been sad”

  9. Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion - “WAP”


  11. Bartees Strange - “Boomer”

  12. Shamir - “On My Own”

  13. 070 Shake - “Guilty Conscience”

  14. The Killers - “My Own Soul’s Warning”

  15. Thundercat - “Dragonball Durag”

  16. The 1975 - “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”

  17. Bonny Light Horseman - “Deep In Love”

  18. Guapdad 4000 feat. Denzel Curry - “Lil Scammer That Could”

  19. Noname - “Song 33”

  20. clipping. - “Say the Name”

  21. Grimes - “Delete Forever”

  22. Romy - “Lifetime”

  23. Run the Jewels feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier - “ooh la la”

  24. SAULT - “Wildfires”

  25. Justin Bieber feat. Quavo - “Intentions”

Ranked roughly in order of how much I love them!

Kindly note that the header here reads “25 of my favorite songs” and not “my favorite songs.” This is intentional! First of all, ranking songs is very difficult. But I also set a couple of rules in place for this year’s list. Those rules are as follows: RULE #1: No songs by artists from my fave albums list. Those artists already got their own dedicated section and playlist. So, sorry, “Fire” by Waxahatchee and “The Steps” by HAIM. Don’t hate the player; hate the game. And RULE #2: No repeat artists on the list. So, an apology to worthy songs like “Time (You and I)” by Khruangbin or “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd.

Do I put too much thought into this? Who can say?

Here is a playlist of these 25 selections.

My 5 Favorite Books I Read in 2020

If you care enough to read my “Books” section, you’re probably a bit of a bookworm - or, as one could say, a big ol’ nerd. 🤓  So you can probably stomach my in-depth write-ups for all of these books, right? Let’s nerd out together.

1) Tommy Orange, There There - An amazingly gripping novel about Native Americans living in modern day America. Emotional, raw, and tragic, Orange’s debut novel shows that there is so much about the Native experience left to be discovered and published.

2) Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy - Stevenson’s memoir is an absolute classic. Writing about inequity in the criminal justice system through the lens of cases he’s worked on primarily in the American South, Stevenson provides a harrowing look at modern day criminal justice. The book is essential reading to learn about just how tough and unfair the system is.

3) Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow - A beautifully written novel with rich descriptions of setting and wonderful character development. I loved just about everything about Towles’ second novel. My only complaint would be that it seemed to quickly dispatch certain characters, which seemed unnecessary given the length of this one.

4) Daniel Kahneman - Thinking, Fast and Slow - Similar to a book like Sapiens, it was a bit of a slog to get through, but in a good way - very thought-provoking writing and research that you need to slow down to read and digest. This book reminded me of why I majored in Psychology to begin with - super interesting and useful research as to why humans think and behave the way that we do. Highly recommend.

5) Chanel Miller - Know My Name - An incredibly powerful and important book, written by the survivor of the Brock Turner Stanford sexual assault. Miller is a brave individual and a powerful writer, with strong and intentional language throughout. I will say that I felt the book dragged a bit in terms of length, but I almost feel bad that I have this critique about the book. It was a very good read.

Did Joey Watch Any Movies This Year?

I did, yes! But as mentioned at the top, I was certainly off my game when it comes to 2020 movies. Turns out I couldn’t do it all.

The Mank poster highlights this section, though. I’ve heard promising things about Mank.

2020 was a hard year - it’s tough to beat around the bush about that. But, goddamn it, I enjoyed a lot of the pop culture content that came out of this year. I hope that there’s a new discovery in here for each and every one of you.

If there is, I’d love to hear from you. And shoot, if you wouldn’t mind sharing this thing with one of your culturally-tuned-in pals, honestly that would make my day.

Share The MezzaDigesta

Thanks to all of you for riding with me for another year.


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