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.
- Bemoaning the worst character on TV.
- Why everyone is obsessed with Yellowjackets.
- The life-affirming Elmo vs. Rocco feud.
- The one-year anniversary of E! covering the insurrection.
- The new gay agenda.
Over the holidays, Americans seem to occupy their time with a suitable, wholesome seasonal activity: bingeing a TV show about teenage girls who start killing each other and becoming cannibals. Nothing says “the holidays” like love, family, and gruesome televised trauma.
The Showtime drama series Yellowjackets has been a massive word-of-mouth hit this winter. We first wrote about it after four episodes of it had aired, desperate for people to watch. Since then, four more episodes have launched and, with two to go before the season finale, it’s become the kind of watercooler obsession that rarely happens these days.
Fans aren’t just gushing about it on social media. They’re digging through Reddit message boards for theories about what might happen, piecing together clues like Carrie Mathison during a psychotic break. And the uninitiated are scrambling, catching onto the fact that everyone else is talking about this show and realizing that if they don’t get their ass in gear—which is to say, park it on the couch for eight hours to catch up fast—the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person as we enter yet another winter of pandemic house arrest might be their fate: A very good TV show is going to be spoiled for them.
As much as we spent 60-70 percent of our day screaming into our pillow in lonely despair that, two years later, the circumstances of the world around us remain frustratingly familiar, there is something, at least in the pop-culture space, that has changed.
The TV series that became cultural phenomena, exploding as word-of-mouth ensured that everyone you knew was watching, had been feel-good TV, mindless distractions, and ultimately diverting, ridiculous entertainment. The final season of Schitt’s Creek was huge. Reality series as benign and boring as Love Is Blind and Selling Sunset, truly two of the worst shows to stain our television, became beautiful, welcome escapes. Something like Tiger King was dumb enough to distract us for a bit. As things got darker, Ted Lasso and the title character’s gee-golly sunniness became a savior. This last year saw comedies like Hacks and Only Murders in the Building build interest week after week.
That all makes perfect sense. Who wanted to be further traumatized by brutal fiction at a time when reality was already so harrowing? But Yellowjackets indicates that we’ve turned a corner. We are salivating over this show about survival, carnage, and lingering PTSD.
It’s a series that jumps back and forth through time between when a plane carrying a high school girls’ soccer team crashes in the wilderness in 1996, leaving those who made it to desperately fend for themselves as they waited 19 months to be rescued, and 25 years later as four of those girls—played by Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, and Tawny Cypress—grapple with the disturbing lengths they went to in order to make it out of the woods alive. (This is where the aforementioned cannibalism comes into play.)
I’ve been wondering about its popularity, too, as Station Eleven, HBO Max’s series about a pandemic that nearly wipes out all civilization and a traveling Shakespearean theater troupe that attempts to find meaning in the aftermath, also builds in popularity. Just months ago, we would have thrown our TV out the window rather than sit through a series centered on a lethal virus. Yet, like so many, we find Station Eleven to be cathartic and beautiful. It shares an element with Yellowjackets, I think: At this point, we’re interested in stories about what happens after we survive.
I won’t spoil what’s going on in Yellowjackets right now, though if you’ve been watching, there is a treasure trove of deep-dives online into clues and theories about what happened in the wilderness to keep you entertained until Sunday’s new episode. But I do want to single out one thing that I’ve found particularly brilliant about the series.
Sure, there is no hesitance in revealing—with unflinching, gross detail—just how violent and gruesome what these girls are going through in the woods is. The show smartly teased this massive mystery in the first episode, this sequence in which we see a girl chased and murdered, a contingent of them masked in cult garb, and then, of course, eating their victim. But it also hasn’t flashed back to that sequence since.
Fans are loving piecing together the clues as to what happened and attempting to identify victims and cult members, but by refusing to inundate us with more footage of that time in their journey, Yellowjackets is only titillating us even more to find out what might be revealed in the finale in two weeks. I can’t wait. Buzz-buzz, bitches.
It is with humble self-awareness that I recognize that not everyone is a garbage-feeding masochist who spends their entire life scrolling online. (That common New Year’s resolution to cut back on screen time? Couldn’t be me.)
And so I acknowledge that it can sometimes be impossible to describe to a normal, healthy person the nuances of an utterly meaningless thing that becomes a social media obsession for a day or two, but probably makes zero sense to anybody who is not extremely and interminably online. That said, I must bring up the Elmo vs. Rocco feud.
The short version is that someone unearthed a clip from Sesame Street in which Elmo appears with Zoe and Zoe’s imaginary friend, Rocco, who is an actual rock. Not a rock-like Muppet who talks and has human features. Just, like, a rock.
In the first viral clip, Elmo wants a cookie but is told he can’t have one because Zoe is saving it for Rocco. Elmo loses it. He’s being deprived of a cookie because of a rock?! In another, Zoe wants Elmo to wish Rocco a happy birthday. Elmo is simply not having any of Zoe’s shit with this. It’s some of the best comedic timing I’ve seen in a while, and it’s from Sesame Street.
Anyway, Elmo began trending. The discord between Elmo and Rocco got labeled “a beef.” Elmo released a statement in response, shading Rocco yet again. Jada Pinkett-Smith invited Elmo and Rocco to the Red Table.
It’s all ludicrous and meaningless—but a nice reminder that sometimes the hellscape that is the internet can be a lot of fun.
A year ago we were all in shock over what was happening at the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection. No one knew how to process it. That included the folks over at E!, as in the celebrity news channel and former home of the Kardashians.
I am forever indebted to writer Carey O’Donnell, who fastidiously documented E!’s coverage of the insurrection—yes, E! inexplicably covered the insurrection—and on the one-year anniversary of that fateful day, resurfaced the one single thing about it that still makes me laugh uncontrollably.
I hear GLAAD just updated its mission statement after Cardi B sent this tweet.
Search Party: On my tombstone it will read, “More of you should have watched Search Party.” (Fri. on HBO Max)
The Righteous Gemstones: A comedy about a scamming megachurch starring John Goodman. Need I say more? (Sun. on HBO)
Euphoria: The youths are back to terrify you! (Sun. on HBO)
Darcey & Stacey: There are *three* 90-Day Fiancé spin offs premiering Monday alone. This must be stopped. (Mon. on TLC)
The 355: There are worse ways to spend an evening than watching Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, and Lupita Nyong’o be kickass spies. But there are better ways, too. (Fri. in theaters)