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.
As tryptophan and pinot grigio continue to course through my body as I nurse this Thanksgiving hangover and trudge on through pandemic life, The Daily Beast’s entertainment and culture staff take a beat to remember that not everything this year has been awful. I asked them to tell me what random bits of pop culture from this tough year they’ve been grateful for. Me? I’m thankful for them...and for the Real Housewives of the Potomac.
The Reality-TV Perfection of The Real Housewives of Potomac
No TV comedy is as funny. No scripted drama is as intense. There are no sitcom characters more deft at delivering one-liners, no long-running series more skilled at staging cliffhangers, and no reality series with a better understanding of the balance between indulgent distraction and meaningful engagement with the real world. The women of The Real Housewives of Potomac discuss infidelity, sex, and the work that goes into relationships with more candor than any of their Bravo brethren. They’re goofy-as-hell and an addictingly good time; any given episode forces an instant smile. And when a physical “altercation” between two cast members made its way not only into tabloids, but into actual court, the series didn’t just exploit it for familiar drama. It centered it into a fascinating conversation about friendship, trust, anxiety, and, most importantly, race and what it means to be a Black woman in the public eye. The best hour of every week these last few months is spent with these women.
- Kevin Fallon, senior entertainment reporter
The Best Short Film of 2020 Is Anthony Hopkins Losing It in Quar
Friends, I am writing this to you from the past. This newsletter will not post for days, and yet I can say with certainty that when it does I will still be just as transfixed as I am now. On Tuesday, Anthony Hopkins posted a seven-second clip of himself lying in bed and absolutely losing it. “Day 253 in quarantine,” he wrote. “I’m beginning to feel its side effects. What do you think?” His eyes dart around, staring into a distant void as dejected cackles tumble out of his gaping, contorted mouth. The vibe? Manic, yes. Unsettling, for sure. Painfully relatable, of course. But also: talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique… and complementary to some fava beans and a nice chianti. And “they” worried the pandemic would stifle art? Pffft. Give this man another Oscar!
- Laura Bradley, entertainment writer
I Could Watch 100 More Hours of How to With John Wilson
Six weeks ago, I began hearing from friends and loved ones around the country that I needed to start watching a bizarre new HBO show called How To With John Wilson. Thankfully, I listened.
The show, which is executive produced by Nathan for You creator and star Nathan Fielder, is almost impossible to explain. But once you start watching this New York-based filmmaker’s deceivingly elaborate tutorials like “How to Make Small Talk” and “How to Cover Your Furniture” chances are you won’t want to stop. The fact that only six half-hour episodes exist is downright criminal. I became so obsessed with this show, in fact, that I convinced John Wilson himself to reveal everything about it to me in a fascinating conversation that you can hear now on The Last Laugh podcast.
- Matt Wilstein, senior writer
God Save the (Real) Queen: Emma Corrin
A number of pop-culture offerings have helped keep me sane during this absolute dumpster fire of a year, from the real estate porn (and next-level shade) of Selling Sunset and cult insanity of Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult to the charm and tranquility of The Great British Bake Off (although #JusticeForHermine). But the only thing I’ve been able to focus on of late is Emma Corrin’s ethereal and masterful turn as Princess Diana on Season 4 of The Crown. That incredible “Aberfan” episode notwithstanding, I found the third season of the regal Netflix series to be incredibly disjointed and disappointing, with its disruptive Helena Bonham Carter interludes and, more than anything, a miscast Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II. Colman’s downcast eyes have always telegraphed worry and injury, and thus elicited our sympathy, so it was an odd choice to cast her as an icy, out of touch, and emotionally detached sovereign. So thank goodness for Corrin, who’s managed to breathe life into the show, so vividly capturing the warmth and zest and anguish and torment of Diana, a woman cruelly chewed up and spit out by the monarchy machine.
- Marlow Stern, senior entertainment editor
The Tried-and-True Comfort of Prisoner: Cell Block H
Time on one’s hands means a return to long-running shows of one’s past, and the warm glow of nostalgic familiarity. Knots Landing and Sons and Daughters (beat episode 868 for a series of end-of-season cliffhangers!) remain two all-time favorites of this author. But there is no soap opera like Prisoner: Cell Block H. Made between 1979 and 1986, this batshit, cheaply made (and it shows) Australian serial set in a women’s prison featured fights, fires, hangings, terrorist invasions, psychics, psychopaths, superior villains (like Nola McKenzie), and a series of “top dogs” like Bea Smith, Myra Desmond, and Rita “the Beater” Connors who tried as they might to dethrone the nastiest prison warder known to the penal system, Joan “the Freak” Ferguson. Utterly lacking in anything resembling political correctness and totally bananas, its 692 episodes are the perfect escape, if you can find them and certain scenes online. And you get a chart-topping theme song too, Lynne Hamilton’s “On the Inside.”
- Tim Teeman, senior editor
The Steady Hand of Spectrum NY1
News station NY1 is a beacon, a voice of the city and a voice for its population. Its presenters get how the strangenesses of this time, and the beats of every day in New York City, can vary wildly. As they bring us the news—and the “weather on the 1s”—they speak with that knowledge. The reporters and anchors are resolutely centered on the city and its communities, and, from granular coverage of local politics to excellent ports like “In the Papers,” whatever other hell is happening, there is NY1, plugging away, telling New Yorkers how it is. I hope NYC isn’t alone, and if you’re not in New York, you too have a station like it. Everywhere in the country should have a NY1.
- Tim Teeman, senior editor
The Return of The Young and the Restless
I wonder if more people have returned to watching daytime soaps seeing as so many are working from home. Whatever, Y&R and the others are doing an amazing job, having been absent and now returned to our screens, somehow pumping out five episodes a week yet again. Social distancing and stringent on-set behavioral guidelines mean that the scenes look different. But canny camera angles have been figured out, and there is always the fun now of watching any kissing or sex scenes, and how—at a moment of implied intimacy—actors kind of leap towards one another as the screen fades to black. Adam Newman is back to being diabolical, good girl Faith is taking a trip to the dark side, and Kyle often has his shirt off. So we’re happy. One plea to the producers: more Judith Chapman, please.
- Tim Teeman, senior editor
Put Some Respect on Janet Hubert’s Name!
Like lots of you, I’ve turned to comfort shows of the past to cope with these long months of instability. This past summer, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (streaming on HBO Max) became that respite for me. Its early episodes could be remarkable for how nimbly and honestly they navigated topics like racism, class, the white gaze, and respectability politics—stunning you into awed silence one minute, busting you up the next. (There were also way too many fat jokes and sexist tropes. This was the ’90s.)
Mostly though, those first three seasons are an exercise in falling in love with the original Aunt Vivian, played by Janet Hubert. As regally graceful as she was warm and totally hilarious, Hubert often played the straight woman in a mansion full of narcissists. That means it was her expressions—of frantically subdued desperation, of disbelief, of thinly-stretched goodwill; the looks of a woman appealing to reason in a madhouse—that often sealed the jokes which landed the hardest. Before her time on the show (and her career) were cut short by an arrogant young rising star named Will Smith, Hubert delivered moments of spectacle no other performer on the show could match. Case in point: Aunt Viv’s barn-burning, impromptu rendition of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” inside a shopping mall. (A close second: her dazzling, defiant dance class kiss-off.) The woman could belt to the skies, move like a pop star, soothe your broken heart and make you laugh; Fresh Prince was lucky to have her.
The bracing honesty of this past month’s Fresh Prince reunion has directed renewed, deserved attention to Hubert’s talents and to the eagerness with which Hollywood (still) brands women of color who stand up for themselves as “difficult.” I owe her several precious minutes of joy in an otherwise miserably chaotic summer, so I’m psyched—and thankful—to see this undersung actress’s overdue vindication. Love you, Aunt Viv.
- Melissa Leon, entertainment editor