In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I asked my esteemed colleagues at The Daily Beast to tell me what pop culture offerings they were thankful for this year. Friends from all over the Beast weighed in—the art department, the social team, politics and media reporters, and more—and, as you’ll see, with great enthusiasm, too. For them, I am grateful.
Cecily Strong, Queen of Everything
I feel like it was a special gift to me, specifically, when Apple TV+ rallied during a pandemic to shoot an entire season of a TV show that takes place almost entirely in a magical world where everyone thinks they’re in a Golden Age Hollywood musical. How was this a show, for any reason but to utterly delight me? Schmigadoon! let Cecily Strong show off her range of talent with a splendor we hadn’t seen before on SNL… but then again, she has had one of the best years of SNL in recent memory. Her two strongest moments—singing “My Way” as Jeanine Pirro while in a bath of red wine, and discussing her own abortion while dressed like a clown—are all-time great ones, which is astounding when you consider that she probably does the best character sketch work of anyone in the cast. A genius.
The Great British Baking Show’s Best Season in Years
Haters will inevitably accuse me of recency bias, but this season of The Great British Baking Show has featured such a dazzling array of baking talent that it’s almost made me forget how terrible Matt Lucas is on the show (seriously, producers: get another woman on here for the love of marzipan). The penultimate episode of Season 11, “Patisserie Week,” featured more handshakes than we’ve ever seen—prompting Prue to crown it the finest challenge in the show’s history—and more suspense than a Netflix true-crime doc (happy trails Jürgen Krauss, everyone’s favorite Disney grandpa and perhaps the most proficient baker of the bunch).
We’re currently down to three bakers: Chigs Parmar, the Robert De Niro doppelganger who’s been steadily gaining strength and has allegedly been baking for less than a year; Giuseppe Dell’Anno, a proud “Britalian” whose leaning-tower showstopper was a sight to behold; and Crystelle Pereira, a flavor queen and quite possibly the love of my life. I haven’t been this excited for a GBBS finale in years. But please, no more Matt Lucas.
Being Emotionally Devastated By CODA
So I spend almost all of my professional time watching, covering, thinking about comedy—and interviewing comedians. But I also not-so-secretly love movies that make me cry. And no film brought tears to my eyes this year quite like CODA. I have now watched the Sundance hit twice on Apple TV+ and both times, the two back-to-back songs that close out the film absolutely wrecked me. Here’s hoping the Oscars make room among the 10 Best Picture nominees for this sweet, funny, heart-breaking gem.
The Crown Jewel of Bachelorette Seasons
Michelle Young’s season of The Bachelorette has been a savior to my blood pressure—a warm, rose-scented blanket on a chilly night. Rare is the Bachelor(ette) who actually knows both what they want and how to say it, so Bachelor Nation must be very thankful, indeed.
Doing the Bare Minimum With Hilary Duff
All I care about is the Hilary Duff Challenge on TikTok—you know, the one where people recreated her half-assed dancing from 2007’s "With Love" era. Her bare minimum boogeying is one of the best manifestations of us all trying our best, somehow still standing while the world slowly crumbles. Anyone can try the moves with just the slightest bit of effort (the less you put in, the better), making it the perfect Thanksgiving family-bonding activity.
The Borderline Disturbing Comforts of Lifetime Movie Network
Lifetime Movie Network, because it is a) a content-bastion of horny but also wantonly violent and/or sex-trafficked cheerleaders in suburbia; b) a wellspring of cautionary, moralistic tales that run the gamut from “this Indianapolis swingers club in a suburban hamlet will probably get you and your boring husband murdered,” all the way to "the au pair is 1000% going to cut your brakes, drug your spouse, and kidnap your baby, so don’t hire au pairs"; c) the house that Vivica A. Fox built; d) a channel that has as its apparent guiding principles a set of racial, economic, and police-skeptical politics that are the opposite of Fox Business Network.
The Return of Taylor Swift... And the 2000s?!
“All Too Well” (Taylor's Version) (10-minute version) (something else in a parentheses) along with the re-release of her album Red brought all of my own 19-year-old boy trauma back and I loved every second of it. I also had a moment of ecstasy where, for once, I felt vindicated for being a 30-year-old “Swiftie” because of her lyrics: “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath.” C’mon! For once, people can see past the “Shake it Off” and “ME!” pop red herrings and acknowledge my girl TS for the talented songwriter she always has been. Signed, judge me I dare you.
Britney Spears is free. Lindsay Lohan is acting again. Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Kim Kardashian were a throuple at Paris' November 2021 wedding. And Lizzo wore a dress over jeans on Instagram. The 2000s are back, baby, and I’m here for it.
The Kristen Stewart Awards Run We All Deserve
Four words: Kristen Stewart awards season. Finally, one of the most exciting and interesting performers of the last two decades is getting her moment in the spotlight. Yes, she sparkled in Twilight (pun intended), but not quite like this. For those of us fans who have seen her shine in films like Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria, this awards attention she is getting for her beautiful and tragic turn in Spencer is long overdue. The world is finally seeing K. Stew for the amazing performer she is—and it is about dang time. Also, the plethora of gorgeous photo shoots and in-depth profiles on K. Stew, including an epic one from our own Marlow Stern, are just icing on the cake.
Jeff Labes’ Perfect Musical Catharsis
Jeff Labes’ original and scathing folk song, “Jeff Found A Genie In A Bottle” should be the only song on my Spotify Wrap this year because after stumbling upon his TikTok a few months ago, I wasn’t able to get this biting but upbeat tune out of my head (or out of my speakers)! I even went so far as to transcribe the song (before the lyrics were uploaded to sites like Genius) so that I could sing it myself throughout the day. The song and Jeff’s charming delivery are the perfect sarcastic and melodic f-you I needed during some of the more frustrating moments of the hellscape we’re all currently living through.
Weekends Spent With Private Eye
I’m a print media diehard. I buy newspapers in every city I travel to. My first stop when I arrive in London is to the newsstand at WHSmith at Heathrow where I’ll gobble up The Sun (I used to work there 2005-2009), Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Times of London, Mirror, Guardian, Express, Financial Times, till my hands bleed with newsprint. My three guilty pleasures that have helped get me through 2021 are editions of Private Eye, a U.K. satirical and current affairs magazine that I’ve subscribed to for the last decade and is the best of the old Gawker, Vanity Fair and Spy magazine rolled into one, along with New York magazine and the weekend edition of the Financial Times. I love Private Eye as it takes the mickey out of puffed-up politicians, media half-wits, and blow-hard billionaires. It’ll call anyone out for being more puff than pastry.
The magazine makes its way across the pond a week or so after it hits newsstands in London, and on weekends I take it and NY mag along with the FT to my favorite watering hole in NYC and devour them over a pint. All three publications never fail to give me moments of delight, levity, and much needed inspiration but the newsprint after a decent reading session lands on the walls of my apartment and does take ages to clean!
Cilla Black Sings the Surprise Surprise Theme
In the 1980s in Britain, Cilla Black had two primetime TV hits: Blind Date and Surprise Surprise. The latter featured as its climax a big reuniting of long-lost relatives (in the research-heavier days, remember, pre-internet). Cilla rarely sang the show’s theme all the way through, which makes this recording a Cilla-fans pleasure. Listen to that voice and those lyrics. Utterly silly, totally sincere.
Bingeing The Golden Girls and Sex and the City (Again...And Again)
Evergreen comfort food alert! Thank goodness for The Golden Girls and Sex and the City repeats. How else can any other day in our ongoing hellscape end with sleep a possibility without either of them?
Delighting in Watching Phyllis on The Young and the Restless
Phyllis (the fantastic Michelle Stafford) has at different times been a villain and victim on the popular daytime show. But she is often the voice, cynical and outsiderish and get real-ish, of us watching at home, and is therefore a daily comfort I often say ‘thank you’ to as she holds forth. Armed with her bucket of verbal cold water (or even ice on occasion), she is Y&R’s best character, and only saved from the writers’ poor handling of her by the fierce commitment of Stafford—and also Gina Tognoni when she helmed the role. I just wish Phyllis was allowed to say loudly over and over, again and again, that she was raped by a husband-lookalike imposter at the behest of Newman patriarch Victor Newman. This is why she hates the Newmans. We know this as fans, and it’s ridiculous and offensive to have ex Nick, or anyone else, query this runs-deep animosity. Let Phyllis say this please! It was a huge moment in the show for her, and it is not referenced enough.
Ridiculously Handsome Local TV News Presenters
You’d think they would have been satirized enough, Anchorman-style, out of existence. But no, they still perversely provide comfort and a twinkle every day, while simultaneously telling us gruesome “if it bleeds, it leads” news stories and our weather very early in the mornings and very late at night—all with smiles and extremely white teeth. You will have your favorites wherever you live. In New York City we are spoiled with a range of salt-and-pepper daddies and pretty boys, including the likes of Michael Gargiulo, Maurice DuBois, Raphael Miranda, Michael Herzenberg, Dean Meminger, Adam Kuperstein, Erick Adame, Ken Rosato, Lewis Dodley, Sam Champion, David Ushery, Bill Ritter, Chris Wragge, and Anthony Pascale. And really, the list could go on.