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.
- Cher and her lonely elephant is all of us.
- Why aren’t you dummies watching the Oscar nominees?
- Nothing on TV is better than Top Chef.
- A TV moment I’ll never stop thinking about.
- Whoopi Goldberg, now presiding over my conscience.
Sometimes, even a Pavlovian response can make you sound like an idiot.
This year, like every year, it has been brought up in conversations with many people I know, people who follow me on social media, and just people in general that the Oscars are coming up—this Sunday, in fact. It’s a big deal! It’s the Oscars! Even now!
And this year, like every year, these people have proudly—smugly even, like it’s something to brag about—interjected something along the lines of “Who cares? I haven’t seen any of the movies anyway.”
Sometimes this in protest of the idea that the nominated films are too niche and don’t appeal to a mainstream moviegoer. That has historically been a fair criticism. Often, they’re either limited-release films or still only in theaters in the lead-up to Oscar night, and it’s not possible for the average movie fan to see them.
But that’s just not true this year. Because you can. For the first time in my lifetime, you can see pretty much every nominee right now before the Oscars—and have been able to for weeks, in some cases for months.
If availability and accessibility have always been your gripe, why are you still not watching them?
Nomadland, which is likely to win everything? It’s on Hulu, and so is Andra Day’s Best Actress-nominated performance in The United States vs. Billie Holiday and the sensational Best International Feature and Best Director nominee Another Round.
The Trial of the Chicago 7, Mank, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Hillbilly Elegy, and Pieces of a Woman, all up for a slew of Best Picture and acting prizes, are all on Netflix. But instead you’re all watching (pulls up Netflix’s current Top 10 list), a film I have never heard of called Synchronic and Melissa McCarthy’s least funny movie in years, Thunder Force.
If you have Prime Video, free with your Amazon Prime account, you can watch multi-nominees Sound of Metal, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and One Night in Miami.
And whereas some late-qualifying theatrical indie releases used to be impossible to see unless you lived in New York or Los Angeles, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Father, Minari, and Promising Young Woman are available to rent on Video on Demand from your own home. Sure, some people may not want to pay $19.99 to watch Anthony Hopkins in the throes of dementia, but the option is actually there!
I say this because, anecdotally, the same people who seem curious about this year’s Oscar nominees have still been reverting to the old scoff, “Well, I haven’t seen them…” It’s one thing to not be interested in watching these films—a totally fine and separate issue—and I’m not arguing one way or another on whether the Oscars still matter. (Though it certainly makes the case for the latter when the average American movie fan can watch every nominated movie from their home and still won’t do it.)
This is the crankiest “Well, actually…” rant I’ve ever done about something I don’t really care that much about. But to all those who keep telling me you haven’t “been able” to watch this year’s Oscar nominees: “Well, actually,” you can.
It’s a little disappointing, too. It could have been fun for, at least once, the majority of people to have seen the films and be invested in the races, instead of just watching one actress from a movie you’ll never see beat another. That said, you still have time! Stream some contenders. Just not Mank. Please God, never watch Mank.
I Would Die for Everyone on Top Chef
An unfortunate emotional consequence of my inexplicable instinct to watch every single cooking competition series on TV is the surprising (or, let’s face it, not) frequency with which I end up crying.
A restaurant owner on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives sharing a particularly moving saga about their journey to America as they demonstrate how they make their locally famous pierogies? Tears. A child on Kids Baking Championship can’t control their feelings because they’re so upset they overbaked their cake? Devastated. After an episode of Chopped featuring cafeteria ladies from rural schools, I had to take a long, moody walk along the river, listening to Joni Mitchell as I stared off and contemplated humanity.
This is all to say there is a low bar, yet I’m still shocked by how poignant and fun the new season of Top Chef has been.
In its 18th season, the series is still the gold standard—and most exciting—culinary competition on TV. That’s no small feat considering how reliably other veteran reality shows (from American Idol to Dancing With the Stars) have belly-flopped into the deep end in desperate attempts to maintain relevancy and buzz.
Top Chef has locked away the bells and whistles reality TV has been flailing to grab in recent years. Instead, it has enriched each new season with more culture and connections between emotion and food, and leaning into its own legacy as the genre’s classiest show.
The most recent, Portland-set season spotlights the plight of chefs and restaurant workers during COVID. Their devastation and anxiety, but also their relief and joy to be able to prove themselves and cook again, pulses through every episode.
Chefs are candid about how hard the shutdown hit their psyches, several talking openly about the alcohol dependencies they developed. But they’re also cooking with more passion than I’ve ever seen in the series; it’s clear just how high the stakes are. The season is a sharp reminder of all that’s been lost, but also how much we have to return to when this is over.
The biggest compliment to the kind of show that Top Chef has built over the years is how naturally these conversations fit into it. And not just COVID. There are conversations about Black Lives Matter—at the time of filming, protests are happening just outside the set—and how overdue American food culture is to embrace the African diaspora’s influence, the wonderful theme of last week’s episode. At a time when reality TV seems more content than ever to being background noise, Top Chef demands that you pay attention.
That’s in stark contrast to the other reality series I’m hooked on right now: Bravo’s Below Deck franchise. The best part of these shows is how absolutely, truly, very little you have to pay attention to anything that’s going on and still reap enjoyment from them. I caught up on Below Deck: Sailing Yacht this week, and every single time someone mentioned a character's name, I had no idea who they were talking about. Yet I had just happily watched three consecutive episodes.
All of this is to say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and been moved by this Top Chef season thus far. It’s still only a few episodes in, but I’m already sad for when it’s going to be time to pack up our knives and go.
I Will Be Telling My Grandkids About This Bernadette Peters Moment
If you don’t watch Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on NBC, you are missing a gem of a series. It is one of the most bizarre things on TV at the moment in every glorious way, as it careens through shattering heartbreak and broad comedy, all while singing and dancing to popular songs.
The most recent episode featured Bernadette Peters drunkenly singing and dancing to Sia’s “Cheap Thrills.” The Broadway veteran, spritely as ever, tipsily skips through the kitchen like Thumbelina threw back a shot of Tito’s and then decided to prance across some lily pads, pausing at one point to guzzle more red wine. Bernadette Peters belting “I ain’t got cash, I ain’t got cash, but I got you baby...” I’ve never been more delighted.
It is an iconic moment of television and I will not rest until every human being alive is talking about it. (Watch it here.)
Some decorating news: I have decided to have this photo of Whoopi Goldberg from her recent Variety cover story—in which, based on that regal facial expression, I imagine she is wordlessly saying, “Kevin, think about your choices...”—wallpapered across my wall. I need the reminder.
What to watch this week:
A Black Lady Sketch Show: A serotonin blast of comedy when we could really use it. (Friday on HBO)
The Big Shot With Bethenny Frankel: That I will follow Bethenny to the ends of the earth is my own personal cross to bear. (Sunday on HBO Max)
Romeo and Juliet: Sexy Prince Charles from The Crown (Josh O’Connor) stars in a shortened, present-day take on the Shakespeare play, a Mad Libs that is most pleasing to me. (Friday on PBS)
What to skip this week:
Mortal Kombat: My mom wouldn’t let me play the videogames because they were too violent, so I have no attachment to this. (Friday in theaters and HBO Max)