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 Real Housewives of Battling Coronavirus
- The best acting of the week.
- Alex Trebek, legend.
- The best part of Westworld.
- A very important Stanley Tucci video.
Could a #TooMuchTV landscape at risk of being overgrown with weeds of excessive content suddenly experience a drought?
The industry is grappling with what television will look like as the coronavirus shutdown continues and projects that are completed and ready to air start to dry up. How it’s finding ways to produce live content has been almost as much of a thrill to witness as the remnants of traditional, prestige television have been comforting, captivating distractions.
The two best performances I saw on TV this week reflect those two different streams.
The first, Michael Urie’s genius restaging of the celebrated one-man show Buyer & Cellar, was performed live from his apartment’s living room using two iPhones, some Ring lights, and his boyfriend’s help to wrangle their chihuahua out of frame.
The other is Tracey Ullman’s masterful work bringing depth and humanity to Betty Friedan on this week’s new episode of Mrs. America, the perfect example of modern-age event television: veteran megastars doing some of the best work of their careers in a gravitas-ladled major cable or streaming series.
In a world of streaming series and Quibis and Bon Apétit cooks on YouTube being the most-watched thing in my apartment, Sunday’s live mounting of Buyer & Cellar—which then lived on YouTube for several days—absolutely counts as television.
Live TV has had to improvise in order to continue producing relevant content, just as theater has been forced to pivot in order to reach audiences. They’ve changed together and Buyer & Cellar, every bit as exciting as live theater and just as absorbing as any self-shot live television, is proof there is a healthy marriage ahead for the two mediums as they navigate a shut-down world together.
In the show, Urie plays an actor hired to work in the—very real—shopping mall Barbra Streisand built in her basement. Urie (Ugly Betty, Broadway’s The Torch Song) is an exceptional and versatile comedian—here playing the actor, his boyfriend, Streisand’s house manager, and Streisand herself—but is especially gifted at harnessing his hilarious gesticulations and crackling energy into incredibly profound moments of stillness and pathos.
Buyer & Cellar is about two people in wildly different life circumstances reaching for connection from both metaphorical and literal bunkers of loneliness. What a time to watch something like that. Oh, and not only was Urie that good, he raised $200,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund while doing it.
Then there’s Ullman, who is inarguably one of the funniest people alive. There is no greater gift I could give to you than insisting you watch the YouTube clip of her AFI tribute to Meryl Streep. My one ab is owed to the fact that I have watched this clip hundreds of times, and erupted with gut-contracting laughter at each viewing.
Ullman’s legendarily comedic chops are the key to her refreshingly complicated portrait of Friedan, a woman who was treated as somewhat of a joke by the upstart second-wave feminists of the women's movement depicted in Mrs. America. Ullman nailed that brashness and militantness that turned some people off, but also unveiled layers of the frustration and hurt when she would, in spite of herself, get in her own way.
It’s the best kind of portrayal of a real person, one that seems exactly like she would have been, but also makes you think about her in a new way. It’s a standout performance on a series almost overwhelmed by them.
Given how much Alex Trebek’s heroic cancer battle has been in the news, it is an incredibly upsetting experience to log into Twitter and see the Jeopardy host’s name trending. Blessedly, all is well with Trebek. He’s just, once again, being the Greatest of All Time.
In one of the show’s daily breezy interviews with contestants about their interests, a contestant spends nearly 20 seconds explaining what the hell “nerd-core hip-hop” is, looking quite amused with herself as she does it. After she finishes explaining who these nerds are who rap about things that nerds like, a beat lands. Trebek stares her dead in the eyes. “Losers, in other words.”
I’ll take YA JUST BEEN BURNT BY ALEX TREBEK, NERD for $400, Alex.
It doesn’t take an expert in human behavior and body language to glean that these contestant interviews have been perhaps the most excruciating part of Trebek’s job over the decades. He’s battled cancer now. The spectre of death has been to his front door and he has slammed it in its face. He ain’t got time for your lame-ass hobbies. What a joy.
This week, my friend and I spent 10 solid minutes during this week’s episode of Westworld texting about how unbelievably chic and fantastic the lilac blazer-cape combo thingy worn by Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale was. It was the most fun I’ve had engaging with this godforsaken series this entire season.
Apparently, I’m not alone. This was a big episode for Ed Harris’ character William, and he gave an interview with Vulture to talk about it, in which he basically insinuated he hated the scenes he had to shoot for his character and said, “So it wasn’t the most joyous season for me, I gotta say.”
In other news, Westworld was just renewed for a fourth season this week. My condolences to Mr. Harris.
This week, Stanley Tucci made a cocktail in an online video, and I made an orgasm.
What to watch this week:
Bad Education: The best TV movie of the year so far.
A Secret Love: Crying to Netflix documentaries is my favorite quarantine pastime.
Normal People: Moody Irish people having lots of sex. Who wouldn’t watch?
What to skip this week:
Defending Jacob: It’s fine.
Too Hot to Handle: For the love of God, don’t encourage this.