The Daily Beast Staff’s Pop-Culture Obsessions of the Summer

HBO 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.  This week:  I’m on “vacation!” (I’m not traveling anywhere, because *gestures at the world,* […]

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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. 

This week: 

  • I’m on “vacation!” (I’m not traveling anywhere, because *gestures at the world,* but I am not working, have honed an aggressive nap schedule, and even read one (1) book!) My colleagues on The Daily Beast culture team have graciously helped me stick to the aforementioned nap schedule by pitching in with this week’s Obsessed. With the Dog Days winding down—apparently, time actually is passing—I asked them all to pick their favorite piece of pop culture from one of the strangest summers in memory.

  • Me? I’d be hard-pressed to choose between the new season of Search Party, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You breakout, the glorious ascension of The Real Housewives of Potomac, the Big Gay Speech in The Old Guard, or every single frame of Beyoncé’s Black Is King. But, yay for me, I’m not choosing! My brilliant colleagues are. Read their picks, and then follow all their brilliant work. That last part’s a must. — Kevin

‘Lovecraft Country’ Gave Me Actual Nightmares 

Lovecraft Country, the HBO fantasy horror series that’ll premiere this Sunday, has actually little to do with H.P. Lovecraft himself. And for good reason: the pulp author shouted bigotry from much of his writing, praising Hitler (“I know he’s a clown but god I like the boy!”), spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and burping out bad poems about the imagined inferiority of Black people. Creator Misha Green’s new series (based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel) instead centers Black characters in stories rife with horror, fantasy, and science-fiction tropes, refreshed—and all the more visceral—for their real-life setting: Jim Crow-era America. 

The show expresses the terror of white supremacy and the American police state through the language of genre films, riffing on different inspirations in each episode: the haunted house, the monster flick, wizards, cults, time travel, and even ’80s adventure movies. The show’s costumes, cinematography, and direction are all *chef’s kiss*, creating something gorgeous even in its most devastating moments. And the cast? Magnetic in every frame, led by Jonathan Majors (Last Black Man in San Francisco) and Jurnee Smollett (Birds of Prey), the former as a Korean War vet (and lifelong horror nerd) investigating his father’s disappearance, and the latter as a childhood friend who’s seen her share of brutality on American turf, too.

OK but how scary is the “scary” stuff in Lovecraft Country? I’ll say this. I love horror movies. I especially love the claustrophobic ones, where the heroes are stuck in a cabin in the woods or some remote outpost in Antarctica while monsters lurk and creep inside. I queued up the first episode one night alone in the dark, excited for a good spook—and hey, a big set piece unfolds in a cabin! But this… this was not like Evil Dead. The sequence is saturated with a realer, more urgent anxiety. It is paralyzing, infuriating, and great. I had an honest-to-god nightmare that night. And woke up desperate to do one thing: load up the second episode and dive in again.

—Melissa Leon

Believing in Love (on TV) Again

<div class="inline-image__caption"> <p>"Love on the Spectrum"</p> </div> <div class="inline-image__credit"> Courtesy of Netflix </div>

Courtesy of Netflix

If I could commit a little, baby, mild act of mutiny in this newsletter, I would take over everyone’s slots to talk more about Love on the Spectrum. It took me a minute to find the time to watch this series, but now that I have it’s all I want to talk about. For the uninitiated: The Netflix docu-series, set in Australia, follows several people with autism spectrum disorder. Some of its subjects are beginning to date for the first time, and some are already in committed relationships. The show follows them all on first dates that any of us can relate to—seriously, how does anyone keep a conversation going with a total stranger?—and asks each person questions like, “What does love mean to you?”

Like I said, it took me a minute to get around to this show. But now that I have, I want to shout from the rooftops how much I love the way it treats its subjects—how it allows them to speak for themselves rather than be defined by the neurotypical people around them. (This should not be a big deal, but unfortunately, even in 2020, it is.) I want everyone to feel the tear-jerking warmth that overtook me as Jimmy and Sharnae, my top choice for TV Couple of the Year, restored my faith in love as a concept. (Seriously, I cried. Twice. It’s fine, I’m fine.) And I want, more than anything, for everyone to watch this show because it is simply the best reality love and dating program out there so far this year. Sorry, The Bachelor; I’d rather spend my time with these Aussies any day.

— Laura Bradley 

The Best TV Show You Probably Missed

I thought I had exhausted all of the (decent) TV shows on streaming when late last month I discovered ZeroZeroZero. The eight-episode series, which explores the international cocaine trade from the perspective of the sellers in Mexico, the buyers in Italy and the brokers in America, actually landed on Amazon Prime Video just before we all started staying at home. But it is by far the most compelling and thrilling piece of filmed content I’ve watched over the past five months. It’s also the type of high-budget, multi-continent project that we will sadly be seeing a lot less of over the next couple of years as stories become more and more contained as a result of the pandemic. Savor it while you can. 

— Matt Wilstein

Sweatpants Are Having a *Moment*

My girlfriend’s sister, who had a very stressful job in the fashion industry until COVID hit, sent me this great piece in the NYT Magazine on the implosion of the fashion business as we know it. It asks, are we heading to a future of sweatpants-filled runway shows on Zoom? Centering Scott Sternberg, formerly of the luxury brand Band of Outsiders (which went bankrupt years ago) and now of Entireworld—a hip, low-key direct-to-consumer brand that’s profitable yet struggling to find investors—Irina Aleksander’s investigation into the frivolous yet imaginative world of high-end fashion gives us a lot to think about when it comes to our everyday indulgences and the delusions that prop them up.  

— Cassie da Costa

The Selling Sunset Girls Are Reality TV’s ’90s Bulls Squad

In addition to what seems like 5,000 episodes of The Good Wife—and countless hours ranting about how Kalinda is underpaid and underappreciated—as well as Paul Mescal’s Yung Fassbender turn in Normal People, the two pop-culture entries that have most captivated me this summer are ESPN’s The Last Dance and Netflix’s Selling Sunset. The former blessed us with unforgettable Jordan memes, tales of Rodman debauchery, and the ability to time-travel back to the halcyon ‘90s—to the point where I actually deluded myself into thinking, for 2.5 blissful seconds, that the Knicks had a shot at beating the Bulls in the ’96 Playoffs. The latter left me fantasizing about multi-million dollar Hollywood Hills mansions with downtown views from the confines of a cramped Brooklyn apartment. Oh, and it gave us perhaps the most menacing TV villain of the year (so far).

— Marlow Stern

The O.G. Real Housewives of New York Save the Summer

It was only recently that I realized with a jolt of shock that I had never seen the first seasons of The Real Housewives of New York. Lockdown has finally meant it is time to see how it all began, thanks to Hulu. The answer: quietly. Most of the action takes place in the Hamptons. It seems like a time of great innocence. The women profess shock at things, rather than shocking everyone. People get offended by someone talking loudly at a fundraiser, as opposed to seeing a fundraiser as a dead loss without a wine-throwing catfight.

Then, into seasons two and three (I began watching the show during the latter), the pace quickens: offenses are taken, stardom is carved. There is barely concealed seething over magazine covers, bitchiness at charity events, Bethenny Frankel’s ascendancy as the queen of one-liners, everyone being horrible to Alex McCord, Alex breaking out in hives, Ramona Singer’s dead-eyed runway debut, Sonja Morgan’s early scene-steals, and suddenly Jill Zarin is HATED. This culminates in Kelly Bensimon’s apparent breakdown on “Scary Island” (the first big group trip away), and Jill being frozen out when she drops in to say hello.

I see this as the moment when the show—now 12 seasons young, and proudly bonkers—saw the shark in the water, and jumped it cackling, bopping its nose with its collective Manolos. From here on, everyone seems to realize they have a part to play, loudly. You presently find me in season 4, episode 6, and Sonja’s masquerade party (“I’m all into me”), showing off her missing pantyhose (“Gravity is taking its toll”). The Morocco trip is imminent, and LuAnn’s temperamental camel.

Next, well it’s obvious isn’t it? I’ve got to go back to the beginning of Orange County. My Housewives’ origins odyssey has only just begun.

— Tim Teeman

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