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.
There was a night this past year that I’ll always remember when things really were at their darkest. The [gestures broadly] everything of the world had, as it is wont to do, gotten me feeling down. So I did the thing that I do when I’m low. I turned on the Food Network. Guy Fieri was not on the screen. I’ve never felt more abandoned in my life.
I don’t know what it is about Fieri’s shows specifically that I find so soothing, but Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Guy’s Grocery Games have been my indisputable pandemic comfort TV. I can, and have, watched them for hours, ignoring the mountain of screeners of new and exciting TV series that I’m privileged enough to get. Sometimes, or in the case of this last year, a lot of the time, you just need a hit of Fieri. Flavortown is my safe space.
I’m thinking about Guy Fieri as the year winds down and I reflect on the pop culture that was because, for all the excellent film and television that I’ve watched, I think those Food Network binges are the things that have meant the most to me. The world around me was unsettling. Things were changing constantly, and in scary ways. (Hi, Omicron.) But I could always rely on Guy. He was stable. He was constant. He was my rock.
It was almost a profound realization, to remember that there were actually things from this past year that made me happy. Some of them didn’t involve a grown man with spiked frosted tips describing why a pork sandwich from a restaurant in Minnesota tastes so scrumptious. A lot of them involved Kelly Clarkson.
Once again, Kellyoke, the gimmick where Clarkson covers a new song at the start of every episode of The Kelly Clarkson Show—and typically sings them better than the original artist—brought me joy. I don’t care to divulge how many times I’ve watched her cover of “River Deep - Mountain High.” I could never have imagined that her rendition of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” or Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” could be so thrilling. I do think, however, that her performance of Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last” was engineered specifically to make me happy.
Because, you know, the world is ending and there’s been no such thing as “plans” for nearly two years, I’ve traveled back in time to embrace a once-popular activity known as “watching television live.” The habit of being in front of the TV at the same time each week to watch the newest episodes of Top Chef (a spectacular season) or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (I could talk about it for hours, and have) was kind of giddy, even. It’s not much, but it was something to look forward to each week.
Speaking of Real Housewives, my friend sent me what I have to believe is every TikTok video of people making fun of Erika Jayne’s “Tom’s house was broken into…” speech, as well as every video meming Reba McEntire’s “I’m a Survivor” theme song from her sitcom Reba, and I cherished each and every one. While I still don’t necessarily understand what TikTok is and how it works—self-care means coming to terms with that—the videos of people doing the Megan Thee Stallion dance to Adele’s “Water Under the Bridge” somehow found their way onto my phone and I became obsessed with them. The only physical activity I’ve done over the holidays is try to learn the dance myself. It was a preposterous failure.
If you read my list of the year’s best TV shows for The Daily Beast, you know that I liked few things more than watching The Other Two, PEN15, Hacks, and What We Do in the Shadows this past year. But I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the series that I actually enjoyed the most. Every night before bed, I watched a few episodes of The Nanny on HBO Max. Brilliance. Ridiculous brilliance. In this house, we stan Fran Drescher (and often accidentally have sex dreams about Mr. Sheffield.)
I’m not ever big into rewatching things, so it says a lot that there are two films that I’ve watched multiple times each this year: Tick, Tick… BOOM! and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Two flawless pieces of cinema. I did also watch the “96,000” pool number from In the Heights about a dozen times when the movie first hit HBO Max.
I found every single meme of Oprah from her Harry and Meghan interview to be an absolute delight. I read three books this year that I haven’t stopped thinking about—Mark Harris’ Mike Nichols biography; Casey Wilson’s memoir, The Wreckage of My Presence; and Dave Quinn’s Real Housewives oral history—all brilliant in obviously different ways. Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell’s duet of “Wheels of a Dream” at the Tony Awards is three perfect minutes of television.
As seriously as I take pop culture and its impact on our lives, thinking about all of this was a nice—and, especially now, crucial—reminder of how fun and often silly it is, and that’s so important, too. Yes, I’ll get around to watching that three-hour Japanese film that all the critics are raving about, and can’t wait to catch up on the last few episodes of Yellowjackets that I missed (that, by the way, is the best show airing at the moment and you’d be smart to watch). But for now, Guy Fieri is getting fish tacos at a food truck in Hawaii, and he’s calling my name.