*Image above a still from Hulu’s “Normal People” series, an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name.
Without the diversion of dinners out, special events, and drinks with friends, we have found ourselves in front of the television most nights of the week for the past year and change. And you know what? That’s OK. God bless the content creators who have presented us with portals to other worlds and experiences. The absolute best thing I watched this past year was “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV. There is a lengthy, spot-on analysis of this tremendous show by author and critic Catherynne Valente that explains its magnificence far better and with far more exacting observationalism than I could. (Warning: her analysis bears a healthy amount of profanity.) She makes the point that in an age of social unrest, alienation at the hands of a virus, and political rancor, the show offers an alternative path forward, one marked by a goodness so pure it reads neither saccharine nor dismissable:
“I watched it all in one night,” Valente rights. “It hurt and I cried. I cried because I miss people so bad. I miss so many people so bad. And I miss believing the world could be like it is in Ted Lasso, that it could contain such people, such forgiveness, such grace, such kindness, such patience, without feeling creepy or weird or cringey or cheesy. Just pure. And hilarious. I just forgot, over the course of 2020, and 2019, and 2018, and 2017, and 2016, that any of us, at any time, could simply choose to be like Ted, and everything would change. Like a miracle. I forgot humans could be like that.”
She goes on: “It’s wholesome without being boring, kind without being trite, smart without being pedantic, so loving it’ll take your breath away, and gut-bustingly funny. Scripts so tight and hilarious that even one guy just saying his name and the paper he works for is not only a meme but makes you smile each and every time.
Do you know how [redacted] hard that is to pull off?
It is so much easier to be funny while being cynical. Everyone knows life sucks, it’s easy to get them onside by accessing that universal experience. To sneer and punch down and stand back from the world wrapped up in a sense of coolness that comes at the expense of everyone else and call that edgy. It is so much harder to stay funny while you’re being kind.”
I could quote much more of her analysis (she is especially sharp in her writing about the complicated and unexpected character of Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis), but I’ll leave it at that and implore you to watch this big-hearted, hysterical show that shone like a beacon of promise during this trying year.
Let’s see, what else did I watch and enjoy?
I thought the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People on Hulu was superb — beautifully shot (a still from the show seen at the top of this post) and exquisitely acted, with tremendous nuance and subtlety. There are so many sections of the show in which the two main characters more or less make “hm” sounds to one another, or communicate with their eyes, and yet they, their reactions, their intentions are crystal clear to the audience. It is moving, it is cinematic, it is shot with true artfulness. I was frankly surprised by the quality of this show, having anticipated that there was no way the adaptation could live up to the novel, which I loved. FYI: this show is explicit. I had a couple of moms write to say they’d attempted to watch it with their daughters and had to turn it off. Just a heads up! (To my own mom: do not watch.)
Two shows I devoured on my own (could not intrigue Mr. Magpie to join in on these) and that have earned a second season (as has “Ted Lasso!): “Emily in Paris” on Netflix (which, I have been surprised to learn, a lot of people thoroughly despised — it is fluffy and absurdly far-fetched, but I’m not clear on the vitriol this elicits) and “Bridgerton” on Netflix (this show was a delicacy to enjoy, but man did it leave me in a state of cognitive dissonance — some thoughts in that post and some interesting discussion with Magpies in the comments section, too). Both represent total escapism, and are also deeply flawed.
We also thoroughly enjoyed re-watching the entirety of Seinfeld — it just never gets old. What struck me on this viewing was the magnificence of the physical comedy at the hands of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jason Alexander. There are scenes where just the twitch of George’s lips had me rolling on the floor, and where Elaine’s eyebrows shooting up over her glasses left me in hysterics. These comedic actors are as good as it gets. Jerry is sort of the necessary anchor to their wild eccentricity, and he makes the show work for that reason, preventing it from spiraling out into the cringe-y wilderness of Larry David, but it’s George all day every day for me. So, so good.
What was the best thing you watched on TV this past year?
+Valente is so right in her observations about pessimism.
+My children love Apple TV’s “Stillwater” series — it’s all about mindfulness and working your way through your own emotions. The most beautiful messages. They also love “Helpsters,” by the makers of Sesame Street, which introduces some very basic programming concepts but is overall about the idea of thinking through problems and solutioning. Genius! Mini is big on “making a plan” since watching this show, and I love that.
+In love with these well-priced woven frames.
+This cashmere cardigan, in the perfect shade of blue — wow. This is a major investment but I lived in longline cardigans like this while pregnant and nursing — so easy to throw on over a tank and leggings to feel covered and cozy. Would be a lovely push present for yourself.
+I always get questions about these coupes when I snap them on Insta. They are one of my most favorite purchases of the last year. Drinking champagne or a cocktail out of them just makes me joyful!
+You all LOVE these ceramic garden stakes!
+Well this charging cable is clever — the weighted knot keeps your device in place.
+This $60 fireplace screen is v. attractive.
+Even more great everyday dresses to shop here.
+Seriously the cutest raincoat — that gingham lining!
+This shop has the most gorgeous colors in grosgrain ribbon. Wonderful if you need for a specific birthday, project, etc.
+If you are a fan of blue and white striped button-downs, but one something with a little pizzazz…WOW this shirt!
+A good price for scalloped linen placemats — four for $60. I feel like they go for much higher elsewhere.
+More chic lighting options here!