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.
- The surprise bop of 2021.
- The best show on TV right now.
- Barb and Star 4ever.
- One of the best Idol auditions ever.
- Extremely, extremely good news.
Look, we’re like 50 days into 2021. I know it’s ludicrous to call something the best show of the year so far. And it’s not like the competition is high. (Is someone going to make the case for Young Rock?)
But this show is so tragically, joyously, movingly good that we have to use some sort of hook to get you to watch. Because here’s the thing: when you say, “Hey, Kevin, what’s a good show I should check out?” I know that “the one about the group of gay friends in the ’80s dealing with AIDS” is not the answer you want to hear. Still, watch this show. It’s one of those things where you won’t just get swept up in the emotion of it all, you’ll actually be better for having seen it.
It’s a Sin debuted on HBO Max Thursday, following a run earlier this winter in the U.K., where it was actually a ratings smash. That the series found such mass appeal there speaks to the sensitive, yet soaring approach creator Russell T. Davies (the original Queer as Folk, 2019’s horrifying/sensational Years and Years) takes.
It spans the entire decade, checking in over the course of five episodes as a group of twentysomething friends savor liberation and possibility in London while they embrace their sexuality, bond, grow up, fuck, fall in love, and dream. The thing to really drive home about It’s a Sin is that there is so much happiness to be found. It’s the full emotional experience for a time in LGBT history that pop culture typically only finds space for rage and tragedy.
Those elements are certainly pulsing throughout the series, and Davies mines them in ways I’ve yet to fully recover from after my own binge of the show. It’s a journey akin to having your heart torn into pieces, bit by bit, like someone slowly shredding a piece of paper; it’s so painful because of the care Davies takes to fortify it first with the joy, the love, and the hope in these characters’ lives. It’s such a rare pleasure not to have those elements ignored.
There’s a piece of dialogue near the end of the series that I won’t soon forget. It could be seen as a summary manifesto for the series. It’s absolutely devastating, poignant in a way that lingers with you, a kind of writing you carry as you move through the world long after you’ve forgotten most of what you watched in the series, or that this piece of you was influenced by something you saw on TV at all.
“It’s your fault,” the character Jill (Lydia West) tells the mother of one her friends, using her as the case example for an entire society that instilled shame into the intrinsic identity of gay men at the time. As Kathryn VanArendonk summarized in her Vulture review, Jill was arguing “that shame, the sense that gay life was embarrassing and less than fully human, is what fueled the disease’s spread.”
“The wards are full of men who think they deserve it,” Jill says. “They are dying, and a little bit of them thinks, Yes, this is right. I brought this on myself; it’s my fault.”
That’s why it’s important to keep revisiting that time, because it still informs this time. It still informs how many gay men feel today, a cruelty that has been branded like a scar onto an identity. Davies has done gorgeous, vital work with this show. Grab four or five boxes of Kleenex and enjoy.
I like to think that Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar—a film in which Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo play codependent friends addicted to wearing culottes who go on vacation and are instead guided by three mystical beings (a talking crab, actual Tommy Bahama, and a sea spirit named Trish) to discover themselves while also averting a deadly mosquito attack—was carefully crafted and baked in a campy little gay kiln for my own personal enjoyment.
It is easy to admit that Barb and Star may not be for everyone. In that way, it is like a friend-bouncer: If someone you know tells you they didn’t “get it,” that person is no longer your friend.
For the purposes of this newsletter, I must draw your attention to a club remix of Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” that features prominently in the film. In the sequence, the song plays as Wiig, Mumolo, and co-star Jamie Dornan get blitzed out of their minds, hit the dance floor, and have a wild threesome.
Not only does the remix absolutely slap, but it’s aspirational. Picture it: The pandemic is over. You’re at the gay bar. You’ve lost count of how many vodka sodas you’ve had. That dance remix of "My Heart Will Go On" plays. A guy as hot as Jamie Dornan is wasted enough to grind on you. I’m almost crying thinking about it. I kid you not, the thought of just this is what’s going to get me through.
Maybe you didn’t realize that Claudia Conway, the teenage daughter of Kellyanne Conway, appeared on the season premiere of American Idol, in which case: I am jealous of you. What I would give to not be remotely aware of any detail in the sentence I just wrote.
Conway’s audition obviously dominated all talk of the show’s premiere. If I’m being honest, it’s why I tuned in and, before you ask, yes I do hate myself. But I’m glad I did because it meant I got to see this audition by Grace Kinstler. (Watch the video here.)
At this point, it would be impossible to qualify how many of these singing-show auditions I’ve watched over the years, so it is no small praise to say that Grace’s may rank among the best I’ve ever seen. Yes, there was the tragic backstory that the show loves to exploit. But when I started crying (obviously I cried; I always cry), it was because of her voice. My God! Do yourself a favor and watch the video.
The startling, high-pitched squeal you heard on Wednesday afternoon but couldn’t figure out where it came from was actually the sound of me learning the news that Paddington 3 is officially in the works. Sorry about that.
Nomadland: Ladies and gentleman, your future Oscars Best Picture winner. (Friday on Hulu)
Allen v. Farrow: Not exactly a pleasant watch, but a necessary one. (Sunday on HBO)
I Care a Lot: A Rosamund Pike star vehicle is always one you should board. (Friday on Netflix)
Assembly Required: A reality series hosted by Tim Allen, who is somehow still around. (Tuesday on History)