This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
On Sunday night, I gazed out my window and saw what surely must have been a mirage, some sort of apparition born out of quarantine-induced mania. A massive cruise ship was making its way down the Hudson River, embarking on a brand new journey, presumably with people on board. In this climate?
Once the shock of it all wore off, I was grateful for the buffoonery I had just witnessed. It was a needed reminder that there is truly no accounting for the ignorance and selfish negligence of Americans, no matter how bad things are and what repercussions others suffer for their actions. Also, it reminded me of a show that I needed to catch up on.
Avenue 5, it turns out, is a remarkably and unintentionally timely binge given everything that is happening.
The HBO comedy series, which I had seen the first four episodes of ahead of its premiere in order to interview creator Armando Iannucci and star Hugh Laurie, takes place 40 years in the future on the world’s first space cruise ship. (See the connection?)
It’s an amusingly cynical prediction. All of the advancements possible in technology and all the ways we glamorize the future of space travel, and we’re just going to use it to push off a shitty cruise in space. Of course, given that people can’t resist an all-you-can-drink package in a petri dish even now, of all times, I’d venture the prediction will prove quite accurate.
But there’s more to its timeliness.
The premise is that an unanticipated disaster sets the space cruise off-course, meaning that the passengers could be stranded floating around the galaxy for years. There is no contingency in place for this not-far-fetched possibility. Everyone in charge displays unfathomable ineptitude in trying to manage things. And the civilians act almost exclusively against their best interests and chances for survival, because they’re unwilling to weather minor inconveniences to their lifestyles.
I can’t imagine why any of this would seem familiar.
Avenue 5 aired its season finale this week, which means there’s a tight nine-episode binge, and it’s quite funny at that.
In any case, knowing that people were going to want and need TV recommendations—things are so dire that people are apparently renting and watching Cats—I started to mentally catalog the things that I’ve spent the last few weeks watching. It’s a remarkable balance of some really great, captivating stuff... and a lot of crap.
I’ve watched the first episodes of The Plot Against America, Better Things, Black Monday, My Brilliant Friend, Dave, Westworld, and Little Fires Everywhere, all shows that I would, on a spectrum of enthusiasm, recommend. (Yes, even Westworld. Desperate times.)
I’ve been catching up on Star Trek: Picard. There were a handful of new episodes of Schitt’s Creek waiting for me on my DVR, and I nearly cried with gratitude. Screeners for the new season of One Day at a Time, which starts its new season next week on Pop, brought me untold joy.
I have also watched an unconscionable amount of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. You haven’t experienced shame like a new episode of Triple D starting and whispering aloud to an empty living room at two in the morning, “I think I’ve seen this one.” But hey, it’s gratifying escapism. Things may be bleak in New York, but it’s business as usual in Flavortown.
I have watched so many episodes of Shark Tank. I’ve learned that Friends is almost constantly on. I am invested in Below Deck: Sailing Yacht. The seat cushion where I usually sit on the couch has started to get upsettingly pronounced, but at least I have come to develop near-oracle talent for determining if couples on HGTV are going to “love it or list it.”
Of course, I’ve spent most of my time these past days staring out my window wondering things like, “What would have happened if they never said that young people weren’t going to get sick?” and “Did the people who applied for minimum-wage jobs at grocery stores know that they were signing up to serve in the front lines of war?” and “Do people now finally realize that teachers deserve to be paid about 700 times more money than they are?” (Preach, Shonda Rhimes.)
Anyway, the world’s a weird place, there’s a lot of TV out there, I don’t know what to make of anything, Top Chef is finally back, and new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race air on Fridays. Enjoy.
Fun fact about me: The only celebrity I’ve ever written a fan letter to was Rosie O’Donnell.
When I was a teenager I was in the hospital a lot, often for long periods. One of the things I remember most from that time is watching The Rosie O’Donnell Show every day. She was funny. The show was happy. There was a lot of Broadway.
I truly, from the bottom of my soul, don’t believe that anything or anyone can “turn” someone gay. But The Rosie O’Donnell Show definitely turned me gay. The first time I ever saw Kristin Chenoweth was on Rosie. The impact on my life. On our nation!
Anyway, one afternoon, I don’t know why, I just wrote her a letter saying, “Hey! I watch you every day, your show is good, and I like it.” She didn’t write back, but a few years ago she did share a story I wrote about her return to The View on her Twitter account. Same thing.
The reason any of this matters is because The Rosie O’Donnell Show is coming back! For one night only, O’Donnell is doing a live-streamed show on Broadway.com and its YouTube channel Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET as a fundraiser for The Actors Fund.
The idea was the brainchild of Certified Kevin Crush™ Erich Bergen (Madam Secretary, Waitress on Broadway), who helped her draft a list of talent beamed directly from my mental list of favorite performers, including: Judith Light, Megan Hilty, Andrew Rannells, Sarah Jessica Parker, Audra MacDonald, Kelli O’Hara, Stephanie J. Block, Darren Criss, Tituss Burgess, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, and, of course Queen Chenoweth—all singing from the comfort of their homes, which I will be then scrutinizing intensely through their webcam feeds.
If you managed to make it through last week’s impressively boring season three premiere of Westworld, this week you get your reward. On Sunday night, Maeve’s back!
Listen, this is the most annoying show on television and nothing makes me question free will more than the fact that I keep watching it. But the silver lining to all of it is getting to see Thandie Newton’s performance.
Newton is wily, mischievous, and fun, wielding cutting lines of dialogue like a poison dagger. But it’s her quiet moments that register at the highest decibels, telegraphing desperation, panic, and resolve in the face of relentless heartbreak all at once.
This godforsaken show forces its actors to, in one intense look, question the entire nature of human existence and I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what Newton somehow conveys. It’s as if all the ambition of what Westworld is trying to do and be is harnessed in what Newton is actually managing to execute. So, yeah, Sunday night! She’s back! Enjoy!
How bad are things? From CNN: “Netflix will reduce streaming quality in Europe for at least the next month to prevent the internet collapsing under the strain of unprecedented usage due to the coronavirus pandemic.” Welp.
What to watch this week:
Top Chef All-Stars: I couldn’t be happier that this show is back.
One Day at a Time: I REALLY couldn’t be happier that this show is back.
Crip Camp: Stream some inspiration into your quarantines.
What to skip this week:
Self Made: Inspired By the Life of Madam C.J. Walker: Octavia Spencer—and Ms. Walker—deserve better.