A notch above a monkey

TV & Movies 2020

Well, I didn’t read many books last year and we didn’t see any exhibitions and only one show (Fleabag and even that online). It wouldn’t surprise me if we watched even more TV than last year, but it turns out we didn’t. We saw more movies though. I’m slowly getting comfortable with not seeing the whole film in one seating.

Shows and movies I liked most are marked in bold.


  • Wisting (Season 1, aborted). First 4 parts were interesting enough. I thought it was interesting to observe a team trying to catch a serial killer where none of the officers is competent and professional. 5th part was unwatchably absurd and I gave up on the series.
  • The Valhalla Murders (Season 1). Better take than Wisting on what tenacious mediocre police can resolve. Perfectly watchable.
  • The Leftovers (Season 1-3). Hard to say much about it without spoilers, but it is thought-provoking, moving and absolutely must-see.
  • Little Fires Everywhere. Series made after the well-known book that takes a lot of liberties with it, uniformly for the worse. Read the book, it won’t take longer.
  • Quiz. A fun and overall well made 3-part series about the 2001 cheating scandal on the quiz Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
  • Avenue 5 (Season 1). As usual Iannucci's takes a bunch of obnoxious people, throws them in a high pressure screwup and see what happens. As a fan of his work I'm biased to liking it and I did, but wonder if some of the references and occasionally jokes tempo weren't too demanding for most. Looking forward to the next season.
  • Dead to Me (Season 2). The second season of comedy drama of dealing with consequences of unintentionally inflicted loss. Skip if you didn't like the first season, which I obviously did.
  • Better Things (Season 4). Fourth season of family life of a working actor in LA is even better than previous one. Absolutely loved it.
  • The Good Fight (Season 4). Because of Coronavirus shortened season that suffers greatly for it with unexpected and unsatisfying "end". Best to avoid until missing 3 episodes are produced.
  • Mrs. America. Revelatory and entertaining, but expected better and would be without invented Alice Macray and toned down conflicts within movement.
  • Hannah Gadsby: Douglas. Nanette was a tough act to follow, but Douglas is great. Original, funny and provoking in the best sense. Highly recommended.
  • The Split (Season 2). I'm a fan of Abi Morgan's work and liked the first season well enough, but am really disappointed with the second one. Absurd with almost no character making sense and seemingly overarching idea that having a child is a wonderful idea no matter how self-destructive a person is.
  • Babylon Berlin (Season 3). As good as always with rarely visible historical slips, but with a weak last episode. Wish it ended after 11th. Even bleaker season than previous, ending with a crash of '29. Wonder if season 4 might not become too hopeless to enjoy.
  • Strike (Season 3). Third season is an adaptation of the fourth book in Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (JK). Old-fashioned crime fiction well written and even better casted. At this point I can't imagine anyone else in leading roles. Fun.
  • Criminal: United Kingdom (Season 2). Second season, this time with 4 well written episodes (3rd being the weakest). Enjoyed it greatly and I hope there's another season.
  • Perry Mason (Season 1). A well produced new series showing how Perry Mason became famous defence attorney. Full of surprises especially for those familiar with Perry's character and thoroughly enjoyable. Hopefully this was only the first season.
  • The Pale Horse. Sarah Phelps' Agatha Christie adaptation that was both better than I expected and worse than I hoped. Was fine with most of it, but not keen on its finale.
  • Silicon Valley (Season 5-6). WTH? Was writers room fired? An excellent satire with surprisingly good grasp of technology and silicon valley forgot all that and became a tiresome drama with ever more awful characters in absurdly unrealistic situations. Occasional joke is drowned in long litanies of techno buzzword drivel.
  • Chris Rock: Tamborine. Expected much more from all the recommendations I've seen. Some poignant and attentive parts almost make up for too many cringey bits.
  • The Alienist (Season 1-2). It took me a while to figure out what bothers me about this mostly watchable crime series happening in New York at the end of the 19th century. It feels unpolished in ways early theatre rehearsals can, clunky sentences, good actors not quite clicking, scene setups often too obvious, but Rosy McEwen in the second season is absolutely fantastic. I won't watch the next season, if there is one.
  • Young Wallander (Season 1). Watched because of my affinity with the main character from previous outings. Found the end especially unsatisfying. There will be another season, but I won't be watching that either.
  • The Crown (Season 4). The fourth season of the series is very much like the previous ones, just with characters generally becoming less likeable.
  • John Adams. I'd like it much more if I skipped the just miserable 7th part and could share creator's fascination with crooked horizons. I am not as impressed with it as many, but it's interesting well made drama about part of history I don't know well.
  • The Undoing. I liked the first 5 episodes even with annoying tilt-shift and blur-everything photography, but the last episode really was disappointing with ending both predictable and unconvincing. SPOILER: The setup touches on many interesting potential topics, but the show isn't really interested in any of them beyond providing some uncertainty.
  • Roadkill (Season 1). I liked David Hare's earlier works, but was disappointed by his more recent work. Roadkill is the latest series written by him and I enjoyed it greatly. There are a few problematic scenes sacrificing persuasiveness for dramatic purposes, but overall it is well written and performed political drama about a rise of a very faulty popular politician with an ending leaving the door open for another season.
  • Jack Whitehall: I'm only joking. Whitehall can be really funny and has excellent comedic reflexes, but this special was in large parts lazy and stale. Practically the only amusing parts where when target of jokes was Jack himself or his family.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 6-7). Just as funny and warm as always. Remains one of my favourite shows.
  • Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill. Seinfeld doing his shtick. Not good, probably not even for fans.
  • Patton Oswalt: Annihilation, Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping, Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything. 3 specials by Oswalt of which I liked Annihilation the most. Seeing out of order the ones predating the family tragedy and the one right after made it somewhat odd and interesting. Was surprised to see a joke repeated, but while they are not particularly thought provoking, they were entertaining enough.


  • Marriage Story. Baumbach's compassionate look at marriage breaking up, certainly inspired by his own experience. I was reminded of Irréversible, which although a very different film also has one of the most authentic presentations of love inside of a tragic story.
  • Game Night. Game Night is exactly what one can hope it would be. A light comedy that is actually funny, but will not be your favourite movie that you re-watch annually. Still better than most modern movie-length comedy.
  • The Two Popes. Latest movie by Fernando Meirelles. Not one of his best, but perfectly fine with very good performances of Hopkins and especially Price.
  • The Irishman. I am not sure why this movie was made. It was fine and is well made if long, but felt flat and mostly like I've seen better versions before. However, while acting is generally fine, Joe Pesci is just brilliant.
  • La reine Margot (Queen Margot). I missed it 25 years ago when it was very warmly received. Like previous one it is another film that I liked, but not as much as most. Depiction of the massacre of Huguenots is as shockingly (and realistic) today as it had to be when the film was first released.
  • Gisaengchung (Parasite). Just brilliant drama in pretty much every way. A gripping socially conscious story that never feels didactic, shot beautifully, that leaves you ruminating.
  • The Florida Project. A series of anecdotes that do not provide more insight or generate more mood than a much shorter movie could. Otherwise fine, but I expected more.
  • 1917. Good, but not as good as I expected, mostly because of its script. Too predictable, almost offensive characterisations and possibly because of that resulting in a film not as engaging as it could be even though it is amazingly shot.
  • La enfermedad del domingo (Sunday's Illness). Sad, but beautifully made moving story about a broken relationship between mother and daughter.
  • Roma. A sublime movie worthy of every accolade it received. Rich in details and textures that almost demands multiple viewings. Perfect.
  • Always Be My Maybe. By chance watched on Valentine's and it's a perfect movie for the occasion. Has some clunky parts, but often funny and enjoyable overall.
  • The Shape of Water. Imaginative, provocative depending on your view of inter-species relationships, love story by Guillermo del Toro. I liked it, but it is not a must-see experience.
  • Touch of Evil. A movie every cinema buff should see even though it is overrated. Its script and Heston's performance as Mexican cop are just terrible, but Welles is good and cinematically, especially the famous opening scene, is among the best. I saw the version edited according to Orson Welles' wishes.
  • The Last Picture Show. Another movie which I found less good as its reputation. Alright depiction of boredom and life in atrophying Texas town focused on characters and not reasons for the town's regression. Some fine performances from supporting cast, but female characters are clearly written as what (many) men imagine women to be like.
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Missed this Lanthimos movie when it came out. Dark and unsettling, leading to an almost inevitable absurdist and brutal ending. Not for those who dislike author's other movies.
  • Uncut Gems. A kinetic and anxiety inducing crime drama about a gambler jeweller trying to strike rich. An exercise in style which covers pedestrian story and overall experience, I suspect, hanging on viewers investment in Howard Ratner which for me was none. Very overrated movie.
  • Love Wedding Repeat. Sam Claflin plays Hugh Grant playing one of his romantic comedy roles. Trailer is better and movie could definitely be better, but I found it funny enough (view not shared by my wife)
  • The Boys in The Band. It feels less impactful than it probably was when the play was first performed and practically everyone in the movie is about 10 years too old (could be easily fixed by script change, but wasn't). Still, I'm a sucker for play-like movies and would enjoy this one more if Jim Parsons was a better actor.
  • The Dinner. I liked this movie much better than general public and critics, some of whom clearly did not pay attention. Was everything I expected from the original book's sleeve covers.
  • Friends with Money. The kind of movie Hollywood stopped making, a movie with a modest budget looking at lives of average people (in this case well-off LA) where not too much happens and nothing is resolved by the end of it. Not to everyone's liking, but I enjoyed it.
  • 84 Charing Cross Road. A bittersweet true story movie about a decades lasting long distance friendship between book-buying New York based writer and London's bookseller. Like with Friends with Money nothing really dramatic happens, so might be boring to some, but not to me.
  • Manhattan Murder Mystery. A Woody Allen comedy "thriller" that I think is under-appreciated even with mostly positive reviews, especially Carlo Di Palma's contribution as its cinematographer. Films are a visual medium and cinematography can be used for so much more than setting the mood and the scenery. The jokes are funny and movie is probably enjoyable for most who are not too repelled by Allen these days, but I especially enjoyed the obvious homage to The Lady from Shanghai.
  • On the Rocks. Vastly overrated pure disappointment from Sofia Coppola. I otherwise like (work of) everyone involved in this movie, but this movie is just bad. Clunky script with awful lines, often delivered unpersuasively and without much to say or show.
  • Dorogie tovarishchi (Dear Comrades). I've seen it online as part of the Liffe festival. A really well made historical drama about to me previously unknown Novocherkassk massacre. Wouldn't mind seeing it again.
  • Druk (Another Round). Another movie from Lifffe, this one tackling the question of consequences of excessive alcohol drinking and if they can be positive. Muddled like director's view of the topic. It was fine and I don't regret seeing it.
  • Beverly Hills Cop. It's more than a quarter of century since I last seen this movie and I was wondering how it would hold up. Still fun and funny and not too dinted by age as so many are from 80's.
  • A Bad Moms Christmas. We watched it because we were too tired to risk something more promising. Has a bunch of actors I like and Susan Sarandon, but was still just awful. Morals of these festive movies tend to be regressive in general, but this one was even more annoying.
  • Let Them All Talk. An unconventional movie with Soderbergh’s outline guiding actors improvisations. Works better than one would expect and I enjoyed the result, but would surely rate it lower if I didn't know how it was made.
  • Mank. Almost a masterpiece that falls short mainly by its sexist portrayal of women that cannot be excused with movie being an obvious homage to films from the era it portrays. Too bad, but otherwise very much worth seeing.
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. 6 short western stories written and directed by Coen brothers, ranging in tone from dark humour to pure bleakness, but always engrossing.
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield. A series would work better. The pace is too fast to really respond to depicted events and Copperfield comes across meaner than he would otherwise. Colour-blind cast is great and movie is fun, but I expected more from reviews.
  • Baby Driver. Edgar Wright frustrates me. His talent and meticulous work in creating truly cinematic pulp movies is often wasted on predictable (genre) clichés. Reminds me of Spielberg who keeps ruining his movies with his sentimentality. Still enjoyable ride for pulp or genre fans.
  • Beoning (Burning). One of rare films where my understanding and appreciation grew with time after its end. I still think some digressions don't add much to the movie which could be shorter, but it is overall still a great film well worth watching.


The books I read in 2020

I started few books in 2020 and finished even fewer. I read obsessively, but once 2020 happened it was dominated by COVID-19 related research and information. Somewhere in late February or early March I also made a conscious decision to effectively ignore books this year and focus my attention on activities with less individual positive mental health effects.

None of the books I did manage to read is bad so they all point to Amazon’s smile (well, except the content strategy one). As charity benefits are minuscule I should find a good source not owned by Amazon. Hopefully next year. I recommend those in bold and especially Muriel Spark’s.

The list:

  • Ayoade On Top by Richard Ayoade. A book about a movie only Ayoade, me and a handful other people saw. An argument for movie's greatness that is a fun reading for fans of Ayoade and his humour and probably not much fun for others. I enjoyed it greatly.
  • The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark. I was drawn to this book by its title and sold on it by its brilliant first page. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am by this relatively short, but immensely rich book exemplified by its comic and with multiple meanings layered title.
  • The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane. I read this book first in 2011 and it is still a good overview/reference on this topic. However I was clearly wrong about not having this problem ever.
  • Natives by Akala. An eye-opening part autobiography, part polemic on racism experienced as a not-white person growing up and living in contemporary UK. A difficult but necessary read even for those of us who are neither British nor living in UK. I don't share authors view on everything (Castro, China...), but would nevertheless recommend this book to anyone who cares about (racial) justice.

I am sure I never read fewer books in a year since I learned how to read. 2021 is not shaping up to be a great year either, so my plans will remain modest. Hopefully at least high single digits and evenly split between work and pleasure.

Related articles

2019 review

Even with the best intentions I keep writing these reviews fairly late into the new year. I started this one on the same day in January that I published the last one and here we are in February. Plan for the next one: do it at the end of 2020 or when 2021 is still young enough to be ignored.

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”

In many ways 2019 felt like a remake of 2018. By any objective measure, as a whole, it was not a good year and 2020 already has in store for us something I don’t look forward to.

Which does not mean that last year was a never-ending stream of misery. We’ve been to Iceland in summer and went on a bunch of short trips over the year, each of which was fun with a minor exception of a scuffle with a French border guard in Paris. We hiked a lot and I spent on average more than an hour a day being physically active. If only I also ate healthier.

Speaking of food, at some point things got out of hand and I now posses almost a double digit number of various powders for chocolate beverages with a creeping number of chocolate/nuts spreads. Maybe the solution is just to put an acceptable label on this, harmless when tempered, development. A collector? A connoisseur? Cocoa aficionado? Can’t say I like any of them.

I ended last year feeling rather fine, largely thanks to my new job and colleagues at Uptree. I haven’t felt so much enthusiasm for my work in years.

I built nothing last year and don’t expect to this year either, at least outside of work, but hope springs eternal. However, it was the first year in a while in which I felt growing. Obviously not physically, although my feet may differ. I attribute this impression to the selection of books I read, life giving me more to chew on and not being too busy for a good part of the year.

Growth could have been a mirage, but I’ve been pondering a lot and it became really clear that a lot of my thinking last few years was me circling around 3 questions: What do I want to do? What do I want to achieve? And who do I want to be?

Looking back at yearly reviews it is obvious that it was really the tension between the last two that needed resolving. Each of these questions in itself is neutral, but my perception of them isn’t. There’s an introspective quality and aim to “who to be” that I find lacking in “what to achieve”.

And I find it difficult to write about how these two questions relate to me without sounding like a pompous wanker, but what I would say, if I had another month (a month!), distilled, is that “who I am” has meaningful answers only when it describes relationships and those, human or otherwise, are feeling more precious and impermanent.

“What to do,” is neither an independent actor nor a servile servant to the other two questions. Once goals are chosen, paths to them may be different, but direction isn’t. Doing still requires making choices and last year certainly showed that I suck at choosing when I give too much weight to money. This is a privilege.

I did not write much here last year, but more than I did before. It would be nice if I would write more, but my real goal is to keep gloominess limited to these yearly reviews. I don’t feel as despondent as my description sounds. If I have to pick what’s true, I’ll go with bad writing over denial.

So, to make this long post at least a bit shorter, my plans for 2020… support loved ones, do good work, stay active, see world, eat healthy, keep reading, write more, keep learning, surprise myself and ease off sweets.

Now, this seems like a good time to have a nice cup of hot chocolate…