End-of-year positive note #3: movies, series, video

by Eszter Hargittai on December 24, 2020

On this third day of kick-2020-to-the-curb-on-a-positive-note post series, I’d like to discuss video entertainment. Whether movies, TV shows, Web series, one-off YouTube clips, etc, I’m curious to hear what you enjoyed this year. It can be new or old, whatever you recommend. As we head into some quiet days, I suspect many of us can use some recommendations. To facilitate access, please note where something is available as these days that is no longer self-explanatory.

One of my favorite TV series is The Good Fight on CBS All Access (requires a paid subscription and I think is sadly only available in the US or through US VPN). Covid halted their production in the Spring so it was a short season this year, its 4th season. It’s a spin-off of CBS’s excellent The Good Wife from years ago. It’s very political (all-out anti-Trump) and very not-fit-for-network-TV. It centers around a majority African American law firm in Chicago filled with very smart and passionate lawyers.

A series new to me this year was Borgen on Netflix, recommended by a friend after I told him I was thinking of rewatching The West Wing. It’s a Danish political drama about a woman prime minister. The first episode didn’t grab me, but I tried another and after that I was hooked.

For films, I very much appreciated After Class, a Chinese short film I saw through the deadCenter Film Festival in the Spring. I’m not sure where you can access it, but it’s worth hunting down. (There are other films with that title, this one is directed by Charles Xiuzhi Dong.) I won’t say anything about it, it’s just 15 minutes and I don’t want to give anything away.

I rewatched the excellent 1945 (from 2017), a Hungarian film that takes place at the end of WWII in rural Hungary. I first saw it in a theater in Budapest in 2017 and it was gripping. Having just watched the trailer to post it here, I’m inspired to watch it a 3rd time. So yes, I recommend it highly! If your library has a Kanopy subscription, you may have free access there. If not, Amazon has it for sale (or included as part of Prime Video, it looks like – I don’t have Amazon Prime so I can’t double check that).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Stephen Colbert’s The (A) Late Show for delivering the news this year in a palatable way. (I’m not saying the news itself was palatable.)

What have you enjoyed this year?



Kenny Easwaran 12.24.20 at 5:31 pm

PBS Eons is a YouTube channel that does a great job discussing paleontology of all sorts. It definitely has a good amount of episodes about dinosaurs, but also has just as many episodes about early hominid evolution and just as many episodes about the first three billion years of microbial evolution, as well as everything in between. What I find most remarkable about the channel is that they manage to be engaging, while also conveying clearly what is scientific consensus on the topic they are discussing, and which aspects are either unknown or have competing theories, on the basis of the very fragmentary evidence we have about each of these topics.


John Quiggin 12.24.20 at 10:24 pm

We enjoyed The Queens Gambit, the first time in many years we’ve watched a new TV series as it came out. A bit before that, Searching for Bobby Fischer.

I played chess competitively (though not particularly successfully) when I was young. And one of our junior hires from a few years ago is a Grandmaster, so we organized a staff vs students match last year, which was a lot of fun. I might think about taking it up again, in my retirement, when and if that happens.


Matt 12.24.20 at 10:42 pm

Early in the lock-down period, my wife and I spent a good deal of time watching Soviet movies from the Mosfilm youtube channel. I like lots of those, but I think my favorite was Kin Dza Dza!, an absurdist sci-fi comedy that gives good insight into a part of Soviet culture. The whole thing, w/ sub titles, is available on youtube. There is an intentionally misleading home-made trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxSHlpAldTg

There are lots of gems on the Mosfilm channel (and some similar sites that can be found) but the quality (and availability) of sub-titles varies a lot. Youtube’s auto-captioning works okay for some, but not well enough for others, unfortunately.


Dogen 12.24.20 at 10:44 pm

We enjoyed “Unorthodox” and “Professor T”.

Also recommend the Megahertz channel, most especially for the French detective series “Capitaine Marleau”.


Kiwanda 12.24.20 at 10:59 pm

My Octopus Teacher. Some amazing footage of the life & times of a common octopus in a kelp forest: hunting crabs and figuring out how to hunt lobsters, getting an arm bitten off and re-growing it, evading a predator by hiding in the kelp, and by climbing out of the water for awhile, and by shielding with a dozen mollusk shells, and by gripping the back of the predator and riding it (if I recall correctly). Oh, and there’s a man around.

Kingdom (2020). Come for the medieval Korean zombies, stay for the medieval Korean hats.

Criminal: [UK, Spain, France, Germany]. Cops, a few lawyers, a perp(?), an interview room (the same room in the four countries). Drama ensues.


notGoodenough 12.24.20 at 11:15 pm

Time being somewhat of a limited resource, much of my entertainment must now be somewhat bitesize.

I have enjoyed some series on youtube – such as Map Men, Jago Hazzard, and Tom Scott (which have offered some interesting insights into mainly-the-UK’s geography and history) and the Extra History and Extra Mythology series have proven entertaining (though, of course, like all things one must exercise caution, these seem reasonably well researched for the most part). These may offer little to someone well versed in these topic, perhaps, but they do offer up information I’ve not come across before from time to time – and normally are entertaining enough regardless. In a similar vein, one might also enjoy “Tasting History with Max Miller” – though I would advise any prospective viewers to ensure they are not hungry before doing so!

I have also been watching various videos showing industrial machinery in action – and some I find almost hypnotic as the various doodads and doohickeys work in concert (though, of course, mileage may vary on that one). The NFB have some of their old cartoons up, some of which I remember watching as a young’n (goodness knows how Canadian entertainment reached the depths of the UK), though in some ways a pity as it had taken the best part of 2 decades to get “the cat came back” out of my head…

I have, I’ll admit, tended towards podcasts and books more than videos, but not wishing to venture outside the boundaries set before us I shall leave those for another time.


Eszter Hargittai 12.24.20 at 11:26 pm

John – I have heard only rave reviews about The Queen’s Gambit so one of these days I’ll definitely get around to it. In elementary school I also played quite a bit of chess and did reasonably well with it, but never took it beyond that. Actually, in college one of my mentors played speed chess so I picked that up for a bit, which was fun, a nice way to get around it dragging on forever (which is not a trait of the game that appeals to me).

Dogen – yes! I very much enjoyed Unorthodox, I just completely spaced on it as I was writing up these reflections. I watched it the week it came out which seems like was decades ago….

Intriguing suggestions here, I’ll be following up on them, thank you.

notGoodenough, thanks for holding off on the book recommendations, that will indeed be coming in another post. :-)


Matt 12.25.20 at 1:59 am

Another film I watched this year (via Amazon Prime) that I liked a lot was Waiting for the Barbarians:


The reviews on IMDB are pretty mixed, but it seems to me that lots of them just wanted a different sort of movie. I thought it was very well acted, beautifully shot, and about as good of an adaptation of an excellent and disturbing book as could be hoped for. It’s not what you want if you want something uplifting, but otherwise I highly recommend it.


kingless 12.25.20 at 2:16 am

I’m enjoying Midnight Diner on Netflix. Not surprising, now that I remember how much I like Jun’s Kitchen on YouTube.


Dave Maier 12.25.20 at 5:10 am

I also enjoyed Kingdom, especially the hats. I watched Borgen a few years ago and enjoyed it. This year, what sticks out for me was Watchmen the series (not the plodding and overly faithful movie) and The Umbrella Academy. Oh, and Babylon Berlin. I saw them on Netflix, except Borgen and Watchmen on DVD.


Alan White 12.25.20 at 5:17 am

Hearty seconds on The Queen’s Gambit. I also thought Waiting for the Barbarians was a solid movie based on the novel–and though tough to watch in parts, also has a realist-hopeful theme on (some of) human nature. One not mentioned here I would recommend is the new Perry Mason series, which is a period re-imagining of Gardner’s attorney that’s really imaginative. I understand that post-Covid there might be a second season of that, and maybe even Gambit too. My newest guilty pleasure is watching old Audie Murphy westerns, which while mostly formulaic (hey Murphy won every medal possible in WWII so how is he gonna be a bad guy?) are surprisingly entertaining (tonight on Xmas eve, his Seven Ways to Sundown, which turns out to be his name!). Happy holidays everyone.


DocAmazing 12.25.20 at 7:02 am

2020 saw the last season of the Finnish detective series Bordertown (also called, I think, Sorjonen after the lead character, which has been available on Netflix. Plots are twisted and juicy; mood is somber; characters are well-written. Heck, this has been my year for Scandinavian murder mysteries: check out Wisting, a series about a Norwegian small-town detective confronted with an American serial killer pursued by an FBI agent played by Carrie-Ann Moss.

Second the motion on The Queen’s Gambit and Criminal.


uair01 12.25.20 at 12:20 pm

Since you asked for “one off Youtube clips” I dare to post this:

Relaxing (kitten spa):

Beautiful (Beethoven piano):

Interesting (Cicero oratory):

Enlightening (best explanation of Riemann hypothesis, unfortunately in German only):


P.D. 12.26.20 at 7:40 am

I’ve found soothing comfort in YouTube videos of the capybaras at Nagasaki Biopark.



dbk 12.26.20 at 4:43 pm

Hearty thumbs-up to The Queen’s Gambit, which we watched as soon as it was released.
Recently we watched Top of the Lake / China Girl starring Elizabeth Moss, and found both seasons highly compelling though hardly uplifting.
For winter viewing – long nights, lockdown, curfews etc. – I ordered several boxed sets: Inspector Morse / Broadchurch / Line of Duty. We’re about halfway through the Morse series and are thoroughly enjoying it (as I did all of Colin Dexter’s novels).


Mark 12.26.20 at 11:26 pm

We were pleasantly surprised by Normal People. I think we expected it to be beautiful young people having amazing sex (which would just make us feel as old as we are.) It was much more than that – a really good representation of universal emotions from a particular story.
The Great (the tongue-in-cheek series about Catherine the Great) was a favorite as well – something that cheered us up with some fantastically hammy acting by Nicholas Hourly.

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