Weekly recommendations from Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts and guests
The Netflix series Maid is out this weekend, starring Margaret Qualley — and as her mother, Qualley’s actual mother, Andie MacDowell. It’s one of my favorite shows of the year, and we’ll be talking about it on the podcast soon. Mara Gay wrote this week about the New York City COVID experience, and it’s worth a read. I am extremely late to Tatum the Talking Dog on TikTok, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wait for his every adventure. And by the way, yes, we are going to be covering the extremely buzzy Netflix series Squid Game! You’ll have some time to watch it before we talk about it, which is good with something so chatted-about. Also on the docket: Impeachment: American Crime Story and Y: The Last Man, so if you’re looking for things to check out, those are a few that we’ll be getting to soon-ish! –Linda Holmes
Here’s what else we’re looking at this weekend:
What to watch
Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father, Netflix
A listener of our podcast recommended this show to me. It’s called Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father. Jack Whitehall is a young British actor and comedian. His father is a fuddy-duddy, the funniest of all possible duddies. He’s a very set-in-his-ways old white guy in his 70s, who disdains new experiences, who idolizes Winston Churchill, who wears a suit and hat everywhere. They travel together, and they bond because they don’t really know each other at all. The dad shipped Jack off to boarding school when he was 8, and this comes up on the show a lot. The gimmick of the show is Jack wants authentic experiences, and the dad wants gin and tonics and finger sandwiches on the veranda at the Ritz.
Couple caveats here. It’s a little overproduced in the sense that they are clearly doing bits to kind of delineate their different worldviews. The other thing is, and this is a hot take, but skip the first season. That season they go to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. There’s a lot of the dad being really openly suspicious and even disdainful and disrespectful of the culture, which is something the show finds a hell of a lot funnier than I do. It gets much better in the four other seasons where they travel to Europe, the U.S., Australia and finally, the U.K. There’s something about an old British guy performatively sneering at Americans, Germans, Aussies and Brits that hits different than it does in that first season, which kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. You will come to feel for these two men and for their relationships. — Glen Weldon
Sohla El-Waylly’s cooking videos, The New York Times Cooking YouTube Channel
What is making me happy this week is part of The New York Times Cooking YouTube channel, and it is a series with Sohla El-Waylly, who is one of the many terrific chefs who used to be at Bon Appetit. She is doing solid content at a bunch of different places now. She and her husband, whose name is Ham, who is also chef, are doing a series for NYT cooking called Mystery Menu. What happens is they are given a paper bag with a mystery ingredient in it, and they are told you have to make dinner and dessert using this mystery ingredient. It’s kind of got a Chopped feel, but with super sophisticated and smart chefs who are very, very personable and work super well together. They’ll give them, for example, pickles, and usually they try to make some kind of salad, some kind of main dish, and some kind of dessert that features this ingredient. I love how much they like each other, how warm it is and also how creative they are. It’s super wonderful. I highly recommend it. — Linda Holmes
What to read
The Turnout by Megan Abbott
Last weekend I devoured a book by the great novelist Megan Abbott called The Turnout. Hard-boiled crime fiction is this really stereotypically male area of interest, and what I love about Abbott’s books is she’s made this great niche for herself, where she applies the tone and style of film noir to stereotypically feminine areas of interest. She’s done past novels about cheerleading and gymnastics, among others. In The Turnout, it’s about a pair of sisters who run a ballet school together. They’re getting ready for their big annual performance of The Nutcracker. There’s a lot of tension among all the girls who want to play the lead role, including some really awful hazing that goes on. But then there’s a fire, and a shady contractor comes in to try to repair the damage of the fire, and basically their lives start to implode as a result of this man’s entrance into their lives. There’s a lot of great parallels thematically between the story of the book and the story of The Nutcracker, so it’s intertwining all of these things. And Abbott does such a good job of detailing the physical hardships of dance and of creating this really unnerving atmosphere that left me feeling like I needed to take a bath every time I put the book down. I always love her stuff, and The Turnout is no exception. — Alan Sepinwall
“Introducing the Real Will Smith,” GQ
The wonderful journalist Wesley Lowery has a really interesting profile in GQ this week about Will Smith. Will Smith is someone who has fascinated me for most of my life. I had a very early childhood crush on him. I’ve seen most of his movies. I have been baffled by a lot of his movie choices as of late. But this profile really gets into some interesting aspects of the Will Smith persona and the way in which he’s been using this persona as someone who is super ambitious, someone who wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world, and how he was always very affable and saying all these platitudes about happiness and how a lot of that belies a sort of darker part of Will Smith. If you’ve watched season two of Ted Lasso, it kind of feels like the Ted Lasso reveal in a way. I highly recommend checking out this profile if you are at all interested in Will Smith as a person. It’s probably one of the more revealing ones that he’s done throughout his entire career. — Aisha Harris
What else has been making us happy recently?