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 TV apocalypse officially is here.
- The best reality show you’re not watching.
- The! Chicks! Are! Back!
- Haunted by Wicked.
- A great tweet.
The finale of HBO Max’s reality competition series Legendary, in which voguing teams (“houses”) compete in ballroom challenges, aired last week, but I didn’t get around to checking it out until recently.
Legendary is a fascinating series, in stark contrast to the age of reality TV talent competitions that birthed the harbinger of creative doom: The Masked Singer. It’s a celebration of authenticity and talent, a series that exists in the cautious tip-toe of outlets bringing the LGBT culture intrinsic to the ballroom scene out into the mainstream.
There was an inelegant balance struck, and never consistently, between educating a new audience and embracing the DGAF attitude of people enjoying the opportunity to revel in the space they created for themselves. That was reflected in one of the more perplexing—and then maybe, too, excellent?—judging panels, which would veer so wildly from insightful to narcissistic to useless that, at the very least, you had extreme feelings about what they had to say.
But somehow, going into my binge of Legendary, I had no idea that the finale would end up being one of the most inspirational yet haunting examples of how the pandemic shutdown affected TV productions in real time.
After an emotional and explosive semi-final episode, the finale starts with somber, dramatic music. In the days leading up to the taping in March, during which the top houses were rehearsing, the first COVID-19 cases in New York City started making news. With that unease shadowing preparations, production was also forced to respond to evolving safety restrictions.
Ultimately, a ban on gatherings of over 500 people meant shooting the finale without an audience, essentially stripping it of what is not only one of the show’s most integral characters, but one of the key elements of ballroom as a whole: the interplay with the crowd.
At first, it was all eerie. (No thanks to the fact that the stage was overrun by performers dressed as demons, adhering to the “Heaven and Hell” theme.)
Ballroom is meant to be a cacophony—of joy, of judgment, of living—and here was total and complete silence, outside of the errant gasp from Meghan Thee Stallion or polite clap from Jameela Jamil, while these performers vogued for their futures.
On the other hand, there was something deeply moving about it.
Whatever drive and adrenaline the houses manifest from the audience, they substituted with their own grit and determination. It was in line with everything their art represents: Laying it all out on the line, on your terms, and in the face of every barrier telling you shouldn’t or you can’t. It was fantastic.
I wish Legendary announced itself with more of a bang instead of a handful of unsure and uneven first episodes, because the binge ended up being well worth it in the end. Not legendary, yet. But getting there.
Blessings to all during this, the holiest of times. Congregation, it is that consecrated window, that hallowed space of possibility, of enlightenment, of salvation and glory. It is the weekend that the Chicks’ new album drops.
Gaslighter debuted July 17, and the reviews are in, with God himself nodding, “That’s fire.” (In all seriousness, check out these raves. Like the cicadas and my faith in humanity, a new album from the group that used to be called the Dixie Chicks only comes around every 13 or 14 years. Praise be to all, now is that time.
What I love about the Chicks is that the very qualities that make them so remarkable—their refusal to shut up and sing, the unapologetic truths in their music, their insistence on writing their own legacy outside of the script set by their fickle community—are exactly what make so many of the people who want to celebrate them feel a little bit uncomfortable, or a little bit pissed off.
That’s what made this interview with Vulture’s Madison Malone Kircher such a delight. It’s a really fun walk through their career, with insights into their music but also into the feelings surrounding their fame and controversy.
But the moment that made me scream? The revelation that one of the options they considered while contemplating how to correct for having “Dixie” in their name was, instead of “the Chicks,” just “MEN.”
“It’s our initials: Martie, Emily, Natalie,” Natalie Maines said. “I liked that we would go from Chicks to MEN.”
THEY WERE GOING TO NAME THEMSELVES “MEN.” Just imagining the conservative conniption fits is enough for me, even though they didn’t go through with it. They are perfect.
There is no way to properly articulate the ways in which this video of 11 former Elphabas from Wicked singing “Defying Gravity” is both everything my gay Broadway-loving heart didn’t even know it was possible to dream, and also an utterly demented nightmare.
For a high-school arts fundraiser organized by vocal miracle (and Kevin Fallon’s original Elphaba, a sacred designation) Shoshana Bean, Wicked alums including Idina Menzel, Stephanie J. Block, and Julia Murney united via webcam for a performance: Lovely! Touching! Impressive!
The performance then ended with each successive Elphaba screlting (scream-belting) that final screech “ayeeeaahhaahhyaaaa,” one by one, layered on top of each other: Deranged! Unsettling! Also impressive!
It was thrilling, yet also menacingly endless. I both adore it and am too scared to listen to it ever again. You can watch it here.
It’s this week’s perfect/hella depressing tweet!
P-Valley: The racy, fascinating Starz series is my favorite new drama airing now.
Corporate: Very funny, provided you still remember what going to offices was like.
Down to Earth with Zac Efron: Honestly, why not drool while watching Netflix for a few hours?
What to skip this week:
In Deep With Ryan Lochte: Just…why?