E! Staffers Reveal the 2020 Pop Culture Moments They're Thankful For

In a bleak year, we all leaned on pop culture to get us through. Here's what the staff of E! News is thankful for as we near 2021.

By Billy Nilles Dec 23, 2020 11:19 PMTags
Watch: TV Shows That Got Us Through 2020

There's no sugarcoating it: 2020 has not been an especially great year.

When the global coronavirus pandemic brought much of our regular lives to a grinding halt in mid-March, it became abundantly clear that this would be a year like none other. As we've struggled to get this virus under control, it's forced us to leave dark the places that once brought us the most joy: theaters, theme parks, restaurants and bars among others. It's even forcing many of us to reevaluate the way we spend our holidays, knowing that staying apart right now just might be the biggest act of love we can show one another.

Our way of life has been forcibly (though temporarily) changed. With the loss of life and livelihood affecting so many, it may feel like there's very little to be thankful for as we head into the holidays and closer to 2021. And yet, amid all the tragedy and tedium of pandemic living, there were still some bright spots to be found.

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Pop culture has had our backs like never before, keeping us entertained and reasonably sane as the world spun seemingly ever more out of control.

Getty Images; Netflix; Beth Garrabrant/Republic Records; Travis Matthew/Disney+; E! Illustration

From the shows that kept us company on the couch to the songs that had us dancing in the dining room—not to mention the celebrities responsible for all of them—these are the moments that we here at E! News are thankful for in 2020. And that includes you, reader.

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Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's Reunion

These two have given us so much this year. Not only did the former flames have a friendly reunion at the 2020 SAG Awards, which feels like a lifetime ago, but they also starred opposite each other in the Fast Times at Ridgemont High table read. While they may just be friends now, it gave me all the nostalgic feels to see them interact. So, I'm thankful. — Alyssa Ray

The Release of Lady Gaga’s Chromatica

Mother Monster has always been—and will always remain—my favorite pop star. On the glorious day that was May 29, smackdab in the middle of the first wave of COVID-19, Gaga took my mind off so much unrest with a dance-heavy record that harkens back to the early years of her career and brilliantly addresses mental health. Since, she's released music videos for and delivered ace live renditions of "Stupid Love," "Rain on Me" and "911." What more can a Gaga stan ask for? — Jonathan Borge

Netflix Fashion Inspiration

The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, Emily in Paris...all three got me excited for a time when we can all dress up again. — Melanie Bromley

Social Media Levity

I never thought I'd be saying this, but I'm grateful for all the Instagram comedians and social media meme accounts that provide the comedic relief I needed this year. A few of my favorite accounts include @sainthoax, @jtfirstman for his "impressions," and @bennydrama7 for his impersonations and zodiac sign skits. — Melissa Herwitt

I May Destroy You

For 12 weeks in the summer, this perfectly crafted semi-autobiographical series from creator Michaela Coel was all I could think about. And frankly, that feeling hasn't abated since the first (and only?) season wrapped. Coel's exploration of consent and trauma amid a friend group in London was riveting—a deeply personal, yet all-too-universal tale of life in the modern age. I can not wait to see what she does next. — Billy Nilles

Haute Dog

If you haven't watched Haute Dog on HBO Max, you're seriously missing out on an honestly soothing and perfectly distracting viewing experience. Simply put, it's a dog grooming competition that pulls back the curtain on a wild industry of pooch-obsessed artists. Come for the groomer who turned her poodles backside into a portrait of a gorilla, and stay for series host Matt Rogers. He's a delight. — McKenna Aiello

Conan O'Brien

He tends to overlooked these days when people toss off a quick list of the usual late night host suspects, but Conan O'Brien—now featuring a floppy SoCal surfer look, having let his signature gravity-defying 'do grow out during COVID—remains a national treasure. His TBS show, now a brisk half hour, is the perfect quick fix when you just can't commit to anything longer, but really it's his podcast, Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend, and rewatching his Conan Without Borders travel specials that never fail to cheer me up and get my mind off of all the… stuff. Seriously, the Berlin episode has magical healing powers. — Natalie Finn

Machine Gun Kelly

My 2006 emo angsty heart didn't know what it was missing until MGK blessed our ears with Tickets To My Downfall. Did he simultaneously break my heart when he started dating Megan Fox? Yes. Will his groundbreaking album allow me to forgive him and look past the irrational jealousy? Also yes. — Angie Cuseo

Netflix's Trip Down Memory Lane

I am thankful for Netflix's Strong Black Lead department bringing back classic Black shows monthly. Being able to binge One on One, Half & Half, Girlfriends, The Parkers AND MORE was so refreshing and fun. Reminiscing over scenes and the cultural impact of each character—and the actors that played them—with friends who also watched these shows as kids filled my heart in so many ways. We deserved the break from this year's chaos and needed the nostalgic laughs (even the problematic ones). — Mona Thomas

The Bachelorette

I've never been a Bachelor/Bachelorette viewer (and frankly couldn't understand the fandom around the franchise), but after exhausting television shows to watch amid the pandemic, I decided to finally give Bachelor Nation a try and tuned in for Clare Crawley's season. I laughed, cringed, screamed and after three episodes, I was on the edge of my seat awaiting whatever absurd antics were set to unfold next. So, thank you, The Bachelorette, for being an easy distraction from actual reality that I so needed this year. — Samantha Schnurr

The Bachelorette

This year, I was grateful for the return of The Bachelorette. After production was postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic, I found myself missing my Monday night (not so) guilty pleasure. And while I've had to adjust to the show now airing on Tuesdays, the wait was worth it. In a season first, Tayshia Adams replaced Clare Crawley as the lead after the hairstylist from Sacramento, Calif. found love with Dale Moss—putting the rumors to rest. Of course, fans will just have to stay tuned to see how Adams' journey to find love ends. And once they have their answer, they can look forward to seeing Matt James hand out the roses on The Bachelor. It's the gift that keeps on giving. — Elyse Dupre

When Phoebe Met Paul

I'm mainly thankful for two things: the incredible album Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers and Normal People—because in spite of the Hulu series being just as emotionally devastating as Sally Rooney's novel, it gave us Connell's chain. Plus, while each is great in their own regard, the combination of the two is what led to Phoebe and Paul Mescal's Instagram Live—something we should ALL be appreciative of! — Allison Crist

Adam Sandler's 2020 Comeback

Never sleep on the Sandman. After a few recent Netflix movies that didn't always move the needle, this year saw Adam Sandler jumping back onto the cultural radar in two key ways. He started with a perfect underdog story as America collectively held its breath, hoping that he would land his first-ever Oscar nomination for Uncut Gems—and then collectively threw something across the room when he didn't. Next, he proved he could still deliver a funny voice like nobody's business, with Hubie Halloween providing the 2020 trick-or-treat escape that we had all been missing. After this renewed momentum, I can't be the only one still crossing fingers that we'll someday get Grown Ups 3, right? — Ryan Gajewski

The Wonder That Is Bong Joon-Ho

For a short time in 2020, all seemed right in the world thanks to one man: Bong Joon-Ho. The South Korean director was the man of the hour with his movie Parasite—a true chef's kiss—nabbing accolades left and right throughout the award season. Not to mention, his presence on the press circuit gave birth to some of the greatest pictures of this decade, including the one above.  — Cydney Contreras

Grey’s Anatomy’s Season 17 Premiere

Few things in 2020 have given me the rush of adrenaline that that the Grey's Anatomy premiere gave me. I had already spent months waiting for the return of my favorite comfort show so just getting two hours of it was enough to have me lightly sobbing all the way through. Then, at the last second, they threw in the completely unanticipated return of McDreamy and suddenly I was reminded what it felt like to be surprised by something good for once…even if the storyline requires Meredith to also be very sick with COVID. This show, man.  — Lauren Piester

Water Cooler Reality TV

Not that there was a water cooler to gather around or, you know, gatherings, but the rise of can't-stop-won't-stop series such as Tiger King and Love is Blind gave us all something to talk about during the early weeks of quarantine. And as we all shared Carole Baskin memes and wondered how long it would take for Jessica and Mark to implode, there was sense that we were truly all in this together. — Sarah Grossbart

A Schitt's Creek Sweep

The most well-deserved Emmy sweep of all time. — Angie Cuseo

Drag Race Holland

RuPaul's Drag Race went Dutch in 2020 and the latest international spin-off was truly delightful. It was fascinating to watch queens from a new part of the world bring their fierce looks and even fiercer talent to the small screen on WOW Presents Plus. This season's challengers brought charisma, uniqueness, nerve, talent and lots of heart into my home in an otherwise dreadful year. — Brett Malec

Dolly Parton

A $1M donation that helped fund a coronavirus vaccine? Jolene could NEVER. — Angie Cuseo

Taylor Swift's Surprise Album

Listening to Taylor Swift's folklore album truly felt like putting on a comfortable cardigan amid these stressful times. Given that Taylor had just released Lover in 2019, a new album was not on my Swiftie radar. So when she made the announcement and dropped the album, it offered a very welcomed distraction. — Jess Cohen

Love Is Blind

If there's one thing that didn't fail us in pop culture, it's reality TV. Thanks to Netflix and Kinetic Content's series Love Is Blind, we finally watched a dating show that wasn't focused strictly on looks. Instead, contestants got to know each other by actually talking and forming bonds without knowing what the other looked like. Three couples, including America's sweethearts Cameron and Lauren, are still going strong nearly two years after filming ending. Dare we say the concept works! — Mike Vulpo

Black Is King

Beyoncé's latest visual album—a Disney+ exclusive—was a sumptuous love letter to a culture and a continent that delivered truly eye-popping art. From the costumes to the choreography, I never wanted it to end. — Billy Nilles

Love Island

Season two of CBS' guilty pleasure proved to be the perfect escape over the summer, as fans were blessed to witness #Jaleb's adorable (and history-making) journey. Plus, you gotta respect the hustle that went into having islanders quarantine beforehand, so they could film in a Las Vegas "bubble" that almost felt normal. Those makeouts were basically Dr. Fauci-approved! — Lindsay Weinberg

2020 Sydney Mardi Gras

The energy in Sydney, Australia was electric as the crowd found themselves under Sam Smith's giant red dress, with the word equality scrawled across it.  After growling across the stage to ring in her 33rd year, a leather-clad Kesha was surprised with a cake as fans sang "Happy Birthday." And with the pandemic shutting the world down just weeks later, it would be the first and only time Dua Lipa performed her song "Physical" live with her whimsical rainbow ensemble adding some bright color to what would've been an otherwise bleak 2020. — Spencer Lubitz

Chet Hanks

The gift of Chet Hanks was a blessing none of us were prepared for this year. When Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson got coronavirus, it was Chet who kept us calm, cool and collected throughout the entire ordeal. If it wasn't for Chet and his Instagram thirst videos hitting on Adele, I'm not sure many of us would have made it this far. He was a much needed 2020 distraction and we owe a lot of good laughs and WTF moments to Chet. — Vannessa Jackson

The Queen's Gambit

The Queen's Gambit, which should've been a snooze-fest of a drama series, has made me once again excited about TV. Don't get me wrong, I love historical dramas, but around the time it came out, I was feeling a TV burnout. Reluctantly, I threw on the Netflix drama and found myself captivated by Anya Taylor-Joy's performance and the high-stress world of chess. So, big shout out to The Queen's Gambit. I'm thankful for it. — Alyssa Ray

The Real Housewives of Potomac

Unlike the rest of the world, I have binged next to nothing in quarantine, oddly enough. I just don't have the attention span to sit down and commit. Except when it comes to RHOP, the unsung hero of Housewives franchises. Not only am I committed to these women, I would die for them. (OK, an exaggeration, but just go with it.) The drama is real, the scandals are top-notch and the commentary is spot-on. Karen Huger's Grand Dame land of make-believe is truly the best way to escape reality of 2020. Pro tip: Watch season one, episode one then skip to season two. You can thank me later. — Jamie Blynn

We're Here

Watching RuPaul's Drag Race alumni Shangela, Eureka and Bob the Drag Queen bring the transformative power of drag to small town America was the balm my soul didn't even know it needed. The show did premiere before COVID turned me into a husk of a person, after all. A love letter to the queer community and the nightlife venues that so often act as our safe spaces, it's a bit tragic to watch now, knowing how the pandemic has shuttered these places. But seeing how this trio was able to help struggling people learn to accept themselves by becoming someone else entirely will never go out of style. — Billy Nilles

This story was originally published on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 at 12 a.m. PT.