Ken Jennings Proved He Should Be the Next ‘Jeopardy!’ Host
Everything we can’t stop loving, hating, and thinking about this week in pop culture.
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.
- Movie fans screwed by the Oscar calendar.
- Judging Ken Jennings’ first week on Jeopardy!
- Freaking loving WandaVision.
- Remove Trump!
- Anne Hathaway <3.
Given how the last year has gone, perhaps it should not be a surprise that Alex Trebek’s last episodes as host of Jeopardy! that aired last week as counterprogramming to our shameful democratic Armageddon, triggered, at least on my part, somewhat of an emotional breakdown.
Spreading pillows to soften the crash landing, however, was Ken Jennings’ first week as guest host, kicking off a rotating roster of fill-ins, all of whom are presumably auditioning for the impossible job of the late Trebek’s replacement.
The all-time champion opened his first show with a heartfelt tribute, a pitch-perfect salute to transition into the uncertain post-Trebek era.
“Not many things in life are perfect, but Alex did this job pretty much perfectly for more than 36 years,” Jennings said, seeming visibly verklempt, as were we all. “Like all Jeopardy! fans, I miss Alex very much. And I thank him for what he did for all of us. Let’s be totally clear, no one will ever replace the great Alex Trebek, but we can honor him by playing the game he loved.”
That call—to focus on playing the game he loved—wasn’t just a healing mechanism. It was a necessary tonic to counteract the ugliness, ego, and scandal that typically follows any “race” to replace a beloved host.
Think of all the tabloid headlines mined from The View’s frequent searches for new panelists, or the ringer that Kelly Ripa was put through to score her Live! perch, succeeding Kathie Lee Gifford. It’s absurd to even place an institution enshrined in dignity like Jeopardy! in the crosshairs of the modern cancel-culture food fight, but that’s the sad inevitability as possible hosts are vetted.
Jennings, for example, has come under fire for inappropriate tweets from his past and controversial statements he’s made since becoming a public figure—all of which are fair game for parsing, and merit consideration as he’s considered for the Jeopardy! gig. (One six-year-old tweet mocked the disabled community. He’s since apologized, in a way that, at the very least, satisfies me.)
Divorced from that controversy, however, I’d argue that in his first week he was perfectly fine. For those of us reeling and skeptical in the wake of Trebek’s absence, that’s a ringing endorsement.
He basically is doing an approximation of Alex. He’s not yet as articulate, nimble or effortless. He’s starting to pepper in those Trebekisms, little asides and explanations for why things were wrong. But he’s still missing the ease.
How can you be authoritative and wily at once? It’s why the word singular exists, and why it’s used to describe Alex. Jennings needs to be more present. He’s nervous! It’s understandable, and there’s a learning curve that should be allowed to get over that.
This is a show that people have a deep personal connection to. The host should have the same.
A Jelly Belly’s variety pack of celebrities was recently announced as future guest hosts, a random red carpet that stops just short of my cynical fear that they’d go with someone obvious and boring like Ryan Seacrest, or someone absurd like Kevin Hart, or a lady who invented a TikTok dance instead of someone with actual ties to the game—or, at the very least, the spirit of the game, and of Alex Trebek.
Set to follow Jennings are Katie Couric, NFL star Aaron Rodgers, 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker, and Blossom herself, Mayim Bialik. I will only tune in if she and every contestant wears a bucket hat. (They are, dear god, apparently “back.”)
My favorite tired writing joke is to call a super-gay gaggle of fun people “The Avengers,” a pseudo-branding exercise cementing my apathy toward the actual Marvel universe.
The Real Housewives of Potomac?: My Avengers. The contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race? Avengers assembled, hunty. The cast of Book Club? Go ahead and tell me Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, and Mary Steenburgen aren’t motherfucking superheroes.
This is all context for my saying that the new Marvel series WandaVision on Disney+ is my favorite Marvel project since Black Panther. It is, of course, nothing like Black Panther. In fact, it is supremely weird. Elisabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch) and Paul Bettany (Vision) play versions of themselves masquerading as a homemaking married couple in odes to classic American sitcoms.
The first episode is a meticulous recreation of The Dick Van Dyke Show, for example. The second, Bewitched. The premise, that these superheroes are attempting to hide their powers and appear normal, is basically the plot of Bewitched. So they’re just making Bewitched. Whatever, it’s fun!
It’s not clear why they or Marvel is doing this, save for a mystery that is teased at the end of the ’70s-set third episode. I was only given three episodes to watch, so I have no idea if this mystery pans out in any satisfying way. Nor did I catch any of what I’m sure are dozens of Marvel Easter eggs in the episodes, because I do not care. And maybe for these reasons, I actually enjoyed it.
I have, of course, done my due diligence as a critic and seen most of these films, typically as they’re meant to be seen: on a 4-inch screen on an airplane after taking a sleeping pill and downing a tiny bottle of wine. So in theory I’ve seen Scarlet Witch and Vision before. Yet I have never cared for them before. I do now!
Also let it be known that Kathryn Hahn is in this as the nosy neighbor and she is, of course, incredible. Kathryn Hahn, she’s my Avenger.
As Donald Trump is impeached a second time, efforts have turned to removing him from another hallowed American institution: Home Alone 2. Even star Macaulay Culkin has endorsed the petition.
Here’s the thing: The Home Alone films are about imbecilic crooks so craven in their pursuit of looting, self-destructively myopic about revenge, and too narcissistic to consider repercussions that they end up battered, bruised, and incarcerated because of their own ineptitude. I see no reason to remove Donald Trump from this film.
Excuse me for thinking that a movie in which Anne Hathaway takes advantage of everyone being trapped at home during the pandemic to steal a $3 million diamond would be fun. (Locked Down, unfortunately, is a drag.)
That is why instead of watching the film, I recommend you gaze serenely at these iconic photos of Hathaway modeling in her backyard the designer gowns she would have worn to the film’s premiere should the world have been in any way normal.
This is an Annie (she is Annie now) House of Worship, Hathallelujah.
WandaVision: Finally a Marvel project for people who hate Marvel. (Friday on Disney+)
One Night in Miami: It’s Regina King’s world, and we’re just lucky to be in it. (Friday on Amazon)
The Inauguration: That’s happening! (For the love of god, watch virtually and don’t go in person.) (Wednesday on many channels)
American Skin: Nate Parker’s new film has been shelved for over a year. There’s a reason. (Friday on VOD)