The Daily Beast Staff’s Pop-Culture Obsessions of Summer 2021
A new “Housewives” Supreme rises. Bennifer is back. Meg Stalter is clearly the next big thing. Check out our biggest pop-culture obsessions from this past summer.
- There are no more containers of sunscreen left in the United States, which can only mean I am on vacation and am hoarding all SPF lotion produced domestically in the fruitless pursuit of preventing my translucent self from completing its inevitable transformation into walking Elmo the second I encounter the sun. It also means it is time for me to enlist my culture colleagues at The Daily Beast—unreal geniuses, one and all—in helping me recap what we’ve been absolutely obsessed with this summer. Just in time for Miss Delta to render us all housebound again, here are our faves from the last few months for you to check out.
The Hunky Dory Memorial Award for Performance of the Summer
We are a culture obsessed with summer entertainment. It’s a craven desire. An expectation. An entitlement. What’s the song of the summer? I dunno… ask a youth. What is the movie of the summer? The movies are in turmoil; depending on who I’m reading, I think Scarlett Johansson either saved them or ruined them forever. But TV? TV is here for us. Death, taxes, and ignoring my fitness, mental health, and professional responsibilities because a marathon of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives is on. These are the only things in life that are certain.
With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about who I might crown our Performer of the Summer. (A TV star is the only fair option.) Is it Jennifer Coolidge, who rattled between delusion and desperation like her soul was shaking the maracas on The White Lotus? Or maybe the whole ensemble, who are all collectively cast daringly against type and yet perfectly? (Does criticism over Murray Bartlett’s ass-eating technique score demerits? Who’s to say!?)
Is it Laganja Estranja, the enfant terrible of her season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, who returned to All-Stars 6 with a lip-sync routine to Dua Lipa’s “Physical” that broke a world record for inciting the most squeals among homosexuals with a single dance move? Ted Lasso is back, and here is where I say that I would **** Ted Lasso. Christine Baranski is blowing my last remaining hairs off my head with her acting each week on The Good Fight. The butts of Gossip Girl are *chef’s kiss.* And Uzo Aduba had me drooling, both performance-wise and that fashion, honey!!!!-wise on In Treatment.
Yes, there was greatness all around this summer. But the pinnacle of it happened where we least expected it and from whom we never thought it possible: Kathy Hilton is easily the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen on TV in this season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Never before have I felt so aligned with a person I am convinced may actually be an alien approximating how she thinks humans might behave. The Red Bull in bed? “Who is Hunky Dory?” Not being able to discern her sister Kyle Richards from famous Black woman Garcelle Beauvais because she doesn’t like wearing glasses?
It’s performance art, but better: It’s reality. I think about Kathy Hilton morning, noon, and night, and what gives me comfort is that I know for not one second is she ever thinking about us. When is the last time that was the case for a reality TV star? So congrats to Kathy Hilton on her First Annual Hunky Dory Memorial Award for Performance of the Summer.
The Breakout Comedy Star
When I first started watching HBO Max’s Hacks earlier this year, my first thought—after holy shit, Jean Smart—was, who on earth is this hilarious gem of a comedy genius playing Kayla, the incompetent assistant to co-creator Paul W. Downs’ agent Jimmy? It was only later that I discovered just how brilliant Megan Stalter really is. With characters like “The girl in the movie who’s afraid to fall in love again,” “The assistant director for the Sex and the City reboot” and “Matt Damon’s daughter,” Stalter’s perfectly crafted homemade Instagram videos are easily some of the funniest things I’ve seen all summer. And they just might hold you over until Hacks returns for season two next year.
The Toast of Netflix
OK, so I know this isn’t a “current” show—for that I would recommend the excruciatingly funny class-warfare satire The White Lotus over on HBO—but I’ve recently been catching up on the British TV comedy Toast of London (now streaming on Netflix). Co-created by Arthur Mathews (Father Ted) and Matt Berry (star of FX’s What We Do in the Shadows), it centers on Steven Toast (also Berry), a vainglorious, philandering thespian who’s been relegated to also-ran status in the form of voiceover work. Berry is an absolute riot as the blundering, remarkably un-self-aware Toast (think: David Brent meets Ron Burgundy). His pomposity drags him into messy situations both personal and professional, whether it be wily prostitutes, professional rivals Ray “Bloody” Purchase and Clem Fandango, or a man-crush gone awry with Jon Hamm (playing himself). Berry took home the Best Actor BAFTA for the role and it’s well-deserved. Plus, you’ll be all prepped and ready for Toast of Tinseltown—that sees Toast navigate Hollywood—when it comes to the BBC/Netflix in the near future.
The Gossip-y Cure for Sunday Scaries
Sunday Scaries: We all know that sinking feeling that consumes you as the weekend comes to an end. While I’ve tried many things to stave this dread off, nothing has quite worked than religiously watching DeuxMoi’s Sunday roundup of celebrity sightings on Instagram. For some reason, a soothing feeling comes over me as I tap through every post, taking meticulous mental notes of all the restaurants, bars, and shops my favorites have recently frequented in New York City.
I often lie to myself, entertaining the idea that I will also pay these overpriced establishments a visit. It often turns into a long list, as it seems that the majority of Hollywood and Bachelor Nation have transplanted to the East Coast for the summer. To the annoyance of anyone in earshot, I rattle off who was spotted at the places I may have also once been to. “Oh, Lena Headey was at Five Leaves” or “Zoe Kravitz was at Balthazar,” I inform deaf ears. I’m acutely aware of how lame this makes me, but I simply do not care. And for anyone who can relate, let’s meet up for a drink at Ray’s or Little Owl sometime—perhaps on a Sunday?
The Surprise Bennifer 2.0 Fashion Icon
Not sure if you've heard yet, but J.Lo and Ben Affleck are dating again! It’s a whole thing. This week the pair went to Craig’s, a place I’ve never heard of but is apparently a “hot spot” for celebs, according to TMZ. They brought Emme, J.Lo’s 13 year-old daughter, and LOOK AT HER OUTFIT. The flannel! The paint-splattered Bermuda jean shorts! It’s all so good. Sure, I would expect nothing less from J.Lo’s kid. I hope everyone leaves her alone and lets her be a kid in peace, but I would also like to let her know she looks cool here. Big ups, Emme!
The Celebrity Beach Distractions
Sorry, I can’t tell you who they are, or where they are. But it is the time of year when celebrities, global pandemic or not, go to the nearest beach or yacht or sunny place of their choosing, and strip, are photographed doing so, and then entire tabloid stories built around them just… being in the sunshine somewhere rich and exotic-sounding.
Now of course, celebrities being among the richest freelancers in the world can often be found on beaches—and it’s the ultimate Christmas flex to be in a Speedo while the rest of us are encased in scarves and coddling hazelnut lattés. But it is in deepest summer that my eyes delight in seeing J. Lo and Ben on a boat somewhere getting horny, or acting horny. Or Katy and Orlando moving from beach to nearby glam sailing vessel. It’s ridiculous, all these stories and words based on a few attractive people catching some rays, but feed me more! Why do we love such different TV experiences as The White Lotus, Below Deck, and Love Island so much? Sand, sun, water, sexy people, drama.
When it comes to celebrities on beaches in the tabloids, what are we looking at? Very famous and attractive people in not much clothing, just lazing around, kissing, drinking, looking quizzically at the paps shooting them from not that far away. They always have access to glamorous boats, not wobbly dinghies. They are not waiting, necks reddening, in all-day excursion queues. Do we envy celebrities on a beach, looking sexy? Kinda. Not for them travel restrictions or unwanted weight gain. But they also look carefree, which is often very different for the poor wage slaves reading all about them. Good for them, you think, as the overheated concrete jungle rumbles all around.
The Case For Still Watching The Bachelor (We Know…)
I know, I know, there are so many reasons to never watch The Bachelor again. And yet this summer, Katie Thurston’s season became one of the most compelling yet—until it imploded at the end in equally addictive fashion.
There was the disastrous break-up with her frontrunner, Greg Grippo, but the season seemed to start unraveling before that. Single father and by far the most eligible contestant this season, Michael Allio, sent himself home because the weeks of separation had begun hurting his son (*sob*), who already lost his mother to breast cancer. It was a tearful scene, and Katie looked genuinely upset to see him go. Cue Hometowns, Greg losing his Grippo on reality, and ultimately our Bachelorette choosing serial Bach contestant Blake Moynes. (Blake’s ex, Tayshia Adams, was on duty as host to interview the happy couple during the season’s aftershow. Romantic!)
Still, only time—and Michelle Young’s upcoming turn as Bachelorette this September—will reveal whether this franchise learned anything from the disasters of the past year.