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.
- Go outside? Gross! Watch these shows instead.
- Very! Important! Jonathan Taylor Thomas update!
- Top Chef was flawless this season.
- Never not thinking about The Rosie O’Donnell Show.
- This horrible, heinous news week? No thank you!!!
It is tempting to roll your eyes and laugh at an Us Weekly headline that reads, “Jonathan Taylor Thomas Spotted in Hollywood for the 1st Time in Years: Photos”—complete with an all-caps “EXCLUSIVE” badge over it—except that I cannot express how deeply, truly important this news is to me. To you. To so many millennials. To society.
The Home Improvement/The Lion King star is, iconically, THE millennial child crush.
There is a sweet spot where, if you were a girl born in the last four years or so of the ’80s, you were in love with Jonathan Taylor Thomas, perhaps to the point that you had scribbled “Mrs. JTT” in multiple school notebooks, shrieked when you didn’t land on him as your husband in a game of MASH, and wallpapered your room with his magazine covers.
If you were a boy, you couldn’t shake the feeling while watching him outsmart Tim Allen (in hindsight, not an impressive feat) that you desperately wanted to be like this guy, or at least his friend.
Or, if you were like me, it was a torturous, potentially traumatizing combination of both. You didn’t know that you were gay, or what being gay was, or that you could even be it, so you just lived with the confusing fact that you were obsessed with this guy on TV and cried because you could never get your hair to part the way that his did.
This is a digression because there is news. He has been spotted! Thomas famously disappeared from Hollywood long ago. Now here he is, be-still-my-heart, and he is… wearing a mask under his chin? Has a graying scraggly goatee? Is vaping???!!
I’m going to need to take a personal day.
At the time I am filing this newsletter, I will not yet have seen the finale episode of Top Chef Portland, which concluded late Thursday night. Yet there is little in the world I have more confidence in than it being absolutely perfect. That is how steady the hand has been that guided the venerable Bravo competition series through this fantastic season of television.
The weekly ritual for Top Chef fans is whipping up whatever paltry food of their own to eat while watching the night’s episode, with then a subsequent dash to social media to fawn over how surprisingly profound, cathartic, and indisputably competent this season has been.
It was shot during the pandemic, in a bubble that disrupted the show’s elaborate production norms. As other reality series have shown us, such constraints shouldn’t have created something this good.
But this landing, stuck with a Simone Biles level of precision, follows what had already been a seasons-long evolution of the show away from manipulated reality-TV fireworks—villainy, cutthroatness, implausible situations—and towards an embrace of skill, compassion, craft, and camaraderie. That the show has become so tender is what has made it so fun.
We don’t just learn the chef contestants’ resumes, but also the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on their careers, their families, and their employees. It’s immediately clear that it’s not just a competition, but an unbelievable opportunity to cook and collaborate again amidst a world shutdown.
The emotion extended to judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons, who joined the cast in a production bubble, as well as an assembled group of all-stars from the show’s past. The familial aspect instilled the show with a sense of appreciation and mentorship. “Pack your knives and go” may still have been the catchphrase, but the ruthlessness of the chop was, in a noticeable and moving way, missing.
It became a richer, more poignant, and often more humorous and electric version of itself because it singled out the basic elements that sometimes get lost in over-producing and deepened them.
This is in stark contrast to other series like RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has become almost cynical in its incessant production cycle and continued reliance on egregious complications and twists, or even some versions of Real Housewives, which have struggled to hold on to the core of what made the show not just entertaining, but valuable, while diversifying casts and responding to the weightier issues of the world they exist in.
If you’ve ever watched Top Chef, I would suggest going back and bingeing this season. It’s really worth it, especially if you have any institutional memory of how it evolved to get here.
(Editor’s Note: This newsletter was written before allegations of harassment were publicized about the season’s winner.)
On the subject of gay origin stories, like so many people my age, especially gay men, The Rosie O’Donnell Show was as much a haven as there came, even if we weren’t quite sure why. It opened up a world that we knew that, immediately, was our world, even if we had no idea it had existed until that point.
Whatever there is to say about the role of kindness, fandom, or where serious issues belong in daytime TV, it’s Rosie’s show that started the conversation. During extremely tough periods of my life, the show was a daily light. I’ve said it before, but Rosie O’Donnell is the only celebrity I’ve ever written to.
In any case, journalist Ashley Spencer reported a sensational story for Vulture about the series on its 25th anniversary, elucidating much better than I just did about why it was so revolutionary and the impact it continues to have. Read it!
For much of this week, I was in such a state of disgust I couldn’t tell which way was up and what story I was retching over.
Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Britney’s conservatorship request, James Franco’s sexual assault settlement, the New York Board of Elections’ incompetence, every tragic update from Miami, Serena’s withdrawal from the French Open, NXIVM’s Allison Mack sentenced… My God, all of that and I haven’t even brought up the IKEA bisexual couch.
This is just to say that, after such a dizzying, dismaying week, I am forever grateful to the heroes of the internet: the “shitty person died” Wikipedia updaters.
Honorable mention: The “shitty person who defended her rapist sitcom husband” Wikipedia updaters.
Summer of Soul: The summer’s best concert happened in 1969. (Friday in theaters and on Hulu)
Fear Street Part One: 1994: I have no idea why this week’s such a millennial’s walkthrough childhood nostalgia, but this R.L. Stine adaptation is great. (Fri. on Netflix)
I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson: All I can say is, finally!!! (Tues. on Netflix)
Gossip Girl: Strong feelings will be had, but it’s nice for there to be a reboot that seems like an event. (Thurs. On HBO Max)
The Boss Baby: Family Business: Blown away to learn that the Boss Baby sequel is subpar. (Fri. in theaters and on Peacock)
The Forever Purge: The only thing that should be murdered during the annual purge is this franchise! I am sure others have made this joke! (Fri. in theaters)