It started with “Tiger King” and ended with finding out that Baby Yoda’s name is ... Grogu? Throughout the continuous stress dream that was 2020, pop culture gave us something to bond over besides the harsh realities of the pandemic year.
When COVID-19 put a halt to in-person crowds at concerts, plays and blockbuster movies, the at-home shared experience became indispensable. We may have gathered separately in front of small screens, but it felt like a collective event when we traded reactions to “The Last Dance” and “The Queen’s Gambit” on social media.
So now that we’ve reached 2021, what happens next? Essentially, more of the same. It will take a while for vaccines to reach everyone and politics to become boring again, so keep wearing a mask and social distancing. And do whatever you can to promote social justice and preserve democracy.
The good news is that a fresh wave of movies, TV, books, music and virtual cultural happenings is on the way.
Here are 20 things in store on our journey toward better days.
Postponed blockbusters arrive
Ever since mid-March, release dates for new movies have been tentative. So let’s tentatively celebrate the fact that most of the biggest films of 2020 are tentatively set to open in the next 12 months — unless more delays are necessary because of the virus. Among the must-sees: “Coming 2 America” (March 5 on Amazon Prime Video), the James Bond flick “No Time To Die” (April 2,), “A Quiet Place Part II” (April 23), “Black Widow” (May 7) and “Dune” (Oct. 1). They sound tentative-riffic!
Cable news reinvents itself
Like the “Saturday Night Live” election ad from October that asked “If Donald Trump isn’t president, then what are we going to talk about?,” CNN, MSNBC and Fox News face giving up their Trump obsession. What will they cover when President-elect Joe Biden takes office? Will CNN and MSNBC go cold turkey on Trump news or still cover every tweet? Can Fox News bear to give prime-time exposure to Biden’s policies? It would be nice if the Big Three actually put some thought into healing, not hurting, the nation with its choices. But, you know, the ratings.
‘WandaVision’ blows our minds
It’s Marvel’s universe and the rest of us just consume its content. As the comics empire floods the zone with new shows this year, the best surprise of all could be this series debuting Jan. 15 on Disney+. It revolves around Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Vision (Paul Bettany) and, somehow, the world of classic sitcoms. Ever since photos revealed Wanda and Vision in period clothing on a set resembling “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” we’ve been tripping over our footstools with anticipation.
The Oscars could achieve meaningful inclusivity
Although theaters took a devastating financial hit and studios only recently resumed filming under COVID-19 protocols, 2020 was blessed with a number of remarkable films that are front-runners for 2021’s awards season. Regina King (“One Night in Miami”) and Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”) could become the first women of color to be nominated for a best director Oscar. Leading contenders in the acting categories include Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Delroy Lindo (“Da Five Bloods”), Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) and metro Detroit’s own Steven Yeun (“Minari”). But the high point of the April 25 ceremony might be a posthumous Oscar win for Chadwick Boseman for his final film, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
‘Friends’ reunion is on again
The unscripted special originally planned for last year was postponed by HBO Max because of the coronavirus. But then Matthew Perry — who played Chanandler Bong on the NBC sitcom, according to his character’s TV Guide subscription — tweeted a couple of months ago that filming would happen in March. They were on a break! Could we be any more grateful? Well, maybe if Rachel baked her custard, jam and meat trifle dessert again. If you don’t get any of these references, never mind.
Mayim Bialik is back
After her unforgettable run as geek goddess Amy Farrah Fowler on “The Big Bang Theory,” the former teen star of “Blossom” left no doubt that she should always have a TV show. Fox agrees and is putting Bialik in “Call Me Kat,” a comedy that premiered Sunday about a woman who leaves her job as a professor to run a cat cafe.
The 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics
The 2020 games had to be rescheduled to July 23 through Aug. 8. Can we keep our fingers crossed for nearly seven months that they’ll actually happen?
The prospect of more LGBTQ rom-coms
It began in September with an incredible Emmys sweep for Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek” and continued with the holiday-themed film “Happiest Season” starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis and Lifetime’s made-for-TV movie “The Christmas Setup” with Ben Lewis and Blake Lee, who are spouses in real life. They’re part of a trend to represent same-sex couples in the romantic comedy genre. Extra kudos to Dan Levy, who married the man of his dreams in the final season of “Schitt’s Creek” and stood out as Stewart’s best friend in “Happiest Season.” Somebody make him a cinematic leading man, stat!
Celebrity biographies rule
In broad terms, celebrity gossip is on a hiatus. Do you even remember anything from 2020 involving stars getting hitched, breaking up, starting a fashion trend or sparking an ugly feud? Serious times call for celebrity introspection, which likely will be prominent in two upcoming autobiographies. Cicely Tyson explores her landmark career in “Just As I Am” (Jan. 26), while Sharon Stone recounts her road back from a massive stroke in “The Beauty of Living Twice” (March 30).
Conclusion of NBC’s ‘Superstore’
There’s no joy in saying goodbye to possibly the best comedy on the air. Yet when the final episodes of “Superstore” kick off at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 14, we’ll savor each of them. In addition to treating the clerks at the fictional Cloud 9 with genuine fondness, “Superstore” was a comic voice for the men and women who had to keep working during the pandemic. May the characters find happiness by the finale, or at least new jobs at Target.
Black Woodstock gets its due
Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson, the drummer and front man for the Roots, makes his directing debut with “Summer of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” The documentary, which will have its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, uses rare footage to tell the story of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a celebration of African American music and culture that drew 300,000 people. Early on, the film was titled “Black Woodstock” because the festival took place the same year as the Woodstock rock gathering in Bethel, New York.
Sundance goes virtual
The prime showcase for excellence in indie filmmaking is skipping its usual snow-covered screenings in Utah for an online event that runs from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. Along with the previously mentioned “Summer of Soul,” the intriguing lineup includes a documentary about groundbreaking actor (and EGOT winner) Rita Moreno and actress Robin Wright’s directing debut.
According to FX, the impossible-to-categorize series from Donald Glover will return after a nearly three-year break. Not much has been revealed about about the third season, but you can expect the unexpected from a show that is daring enough to reinvent itself weekly. Whether focusing on Paper Boi’s (Brian Tyree Henry) attempt to get a haircut or Darius’ (Lakeith Stanfield) chilling visit to the home of faded superstar Teddy Perkins, Glover already has surpassed the boundaries of what 30 minutes of TV can achieve. When “Atlanta” returns, we’re there.
Joan Didion’s new book
“Let Me Tell You What I Mean,” out Jan. 26, is a collection of 12 essays and pieces from 1968 to 2000. Never miss an opportunity to reach this author of novels and nonfiction, who has the eye of a detective, the heart of a romantic and the soul of a skeptical truth-teller.
A.I. gets literary
Among the year’s most eagerly awaited novels is “Klara and the Sun” by 2017 Nobel Prize winner for literature Kazuo Ishiguro, who also wrote “Never Let Me Go” and “The Remains of the Day.” Klara is described as an “Artificial Friend” who is waiting inside a store for someone to purchase her. You can read all about it in March.
Colin Kaepernick’s docudrama
Hopes are high that this biopic from Kaepernick and director Ava DuVernay will be done in time for a 2021 premiere. “Colin in Black & White” will cover the teen years of the man who’d grow up to become an NFL star and activist. Jaden Michael will play Kaepernick, while Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Offerman are set to portray his adoptive mother and father.
You know Stacey Abrams as a former candidate for governor of Georgia and the current leader of the fight against voter suppression. But did you know she’s also a romance writer who is switching to political thrillers for her latest book, “While Justice Sleeps,” which is out in March?It’s about a young law clerk who is plunged into controversy and conspiracy when the Supreme Court justice she works for has a health crisis.
Journalism gets the Wes Anderson treatment
Having set his movies inside a private school (“Rushmore”), a ship and submarine (“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”) and a colony of desperate canines (“The Isle of Dogs”), the magnificently quirky director moves to another quaint locale. “The French Dispatch” is set in a fictional city in France and involves journalists at a highbrow magazine that would have gone out of business decades ago. Starring Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman and newcomers like Tilda Swinton and Timothee Chalamet, it might make print seem cool again.
With Broadway closed indefinitely, the most promising musical theater on the horizon (besides upcoming film versions of “West Side Story” and “In the Heights”) seems to be an untitled series from AppleTV+ that is expected to arrive in 2021. “Schmigadoon” features Cecily Strong, aka Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on “Saturday Night Live,” and Keegan-Michael Key, who hails from Detroit, as a couple on vacation who are somehow transported(in a nod to the 1947 Lerner and Lowe classic “Brigadoon”) to a place where life seems like a vintage musical. Strong and Key are joined by a powerhouse supporting team that includes Tony winners Alan Cumming and Kristen Chenoweth.
Adele could drop her new album
Five years after “25” had us singing “Hello” in the shower, we’re still holding our breath for Adele’s next album. Rumors of its debut have come and gone, and even the ballad queen’s “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig in October failed to bring any updates. This puts the pressure on 2021 to deliver something, anything from the British ballad singer. After all, we must have called (for another record) a thousand times.