Even by 2020 standards, Life Worth Living felt like a gloomy title for the November report of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce. It was a reference to Barack Obama’s line “the arts are what makes life worth living”, but in the context of shuttered venues, it was easy to dwell on the depressing converse.
Of course, a virus can cancel live performances and keep cinemas dark for the wrong reasons, but it can’t kill arts and culture – not completely. This was the year that called upon home entertainment and media to fill the void and make life worth living as best they could. In some instances, the effects were phenomenal.
What is there left to be said about the popularity of Normal People, the Element Pictures drama made for the BBC and Disney-controlled US streamer Hulu? Clearly, there is nothing like a pandemic to boost demand for a series about good-looking people trapped in cycles of youthful misunderstanding and earnest sex.
Still, the real story was on the news. RTÉ and Virgin Media News both recorded swells in their viewership just as social distancing made newsgathering as surreal as the headlines themselves. RTÉ News Now was your new home for the year’s surprise draw: solemn, fear-inducing briefings from the Department of Health.
As eerie as every chat show felt without a live audience, The Late Late Show capitalised on its public-service strengths, though for once the Toy Show did not top the live television ratings. That honour, which he surely would rather not have had, went to then-taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his emergency address on St Patrick’s Day.
Coronavirus brought an abrupt cessation to the Irish audio-visual production sector, with an estimated 24 television series and films downing tools in March. After much work on safety protocols, shooting resumed in the autumn, and as Désirée Finnegan, chief executive of Screen Ireland, assured an Oireachtas hearing, viewers are unlikely to notice too much of a gap.In a year in which the worldwide box office was led by Chinese historical war movie The Eight Hundred, with Bad Boys for Life the equally unexpected runner-up, the big winner was Netflix. It warned shareholders that its subscriber growth was being pulled forward by lockdowns rather than accelerated by them, but no note was cautious enough to stop its stock surging amid a menu of escapist or uplifting hits from Tiger King to The Queen’s Gambit.