Rachael Ray was a symbol of efficiency in our household. She churned out meals in a half hour, presenting thick dishes filled with macaroni and meat and cheese that would satisfy our family of six on a hectic school night. To this day, although it’s made far less frequently because of an emptier house and dietary restrictions, my mom still rattles off, “The Rachael Ray sloppy joe mac and cheese,” when she’s returning to this old favorite for dinner.
Rachael’s New York Italian roots and her assured way of instruction have always felt like home to me. I know so many women with the same friendly but no-nonsense quickness about them, and lately, I’ve appreciated the same quality inAlex Guarnaschelli and her recipes. Before Food Network was an endless loop of challenge shows and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (not complaining, BTW), it was 30-Minute Meals and $40 a Day for me.
I’ve struggled emotionally over the past few weeks. I think it has to do with both the election and the end of the year seeming closer than ever with only the vaguest of pandemic resolutions in sight. So I’ve embraced the eff-it attitude, soaking in joy-inducing entertainment that reminds me that this might be a temporary normal but, God willing, it doesn’t have to be our new forever. Think of my new 2020 mentality as Emily in the Gilmore Girls reunion when she’s happy to toss anything that doesn’t bring her joy.
I’ve never had any particular feelings for or against Drew Barrymore, probably because E.T. just freaked me out as a child and none of her other work was formative for me. But her earth mother-esque quality intertwined with brutal honesty is what won me over about her new talk show’s YouTube channel. While her actual interviews become a little too earnest for me, I recommend her pre-premiere “The Art of the Interview” videos with Andy Cohen, Whoopi Goldberg, and Gayle King, followed by Chloe Fineman’s SNL parody of the show.
I loved the episodes of The Michelle Obama Podcast with Barack Obama, her girlfriends, and her brother Craig. To be frank, I miss having warm, personable humans in the White House, so listening to this weekly insight into the former First Lady’s thoughts and relationships has been so refreshing.
I read Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand’s Harry-and-Meghan tell-all, Finding Freedom. There honestly wasn’t too much in there that was new or shocking to me, but the narrative that really stuck with me was how passive the Duchess of Cambridge reportedly was in trying to befriend Meghan. I firmly believe that sisters–in-law don’t have to be best friends or even close, so I respect that these two didn’t click naturally. On the other hand, this was such a unique and overwhelming situation that I really don’t understand the supposed argument that Kate was too loyal to William to bother trying. Still, consider me in the camp of believing that the Sussexes and Cambridges are exactly where they’re meant to be now and that some form of forgiveness will happen down the road.
In other royals new, the Meghan Markle and Gloria Steinem conversation was really exciting. I’m also really interested in seeing how the Sussexes’ Netflix deal pans out, but I definitely understand the critique that the move supports the belief that they’ll go full Hollywood. But then again, how about all those British tabloids turn their attention to Prince Andrew’s seedy ties rather than a couple just trying to contribute positively to the world?
The Plot AgainstAmerica, which I watched during a week-long free trial of HBO Max, was a little too slow and vague for me, but the finale was particularly good. I loved Zoe Kazan as a terrified Bess trying to soothe a hysteric child over the phone. If anything, the series got me more interested in the work of both Kazan and Anthony Boyle, and the parallels between Philip Roth’s original story and today are startling.
We finally downloaded Disney+ to indulge in the wonder that was Hamilton, but since that inaugural weekend, I’ve traveled down memory lane and watched some of my favorite old DCOMs. Gotta Kick It Up!, Go Figure, andRead It and Weepwere still really delightful, and I have viewings of my ultimate favorites — Stuck in the Suburbs, Smart House, and Cadet Kelly — to anticipate. Since the movies are so short, it’s really easy to get through one right before bed.
I don’t understand why the Harry Potter At Home project involves some actors unaffiliated with the franchise (Dakota Fanning?), but Daniel Radcliffe and Noma Dumezweni’s readings of the first two Sorcerer’s Stone chapters were so soothing and delightful. I listened to them on Spotify, and I’m hoping for more appearances from the people tied to the stage show and the Potter and Fantastic Beasts films (and, in Stephen Fry’s case, the original UK audiobooks) than random celebrity fans.
On a related note, all of the royals’ anniversary chats with vets were sweet. While watching them, it really hit me that this is likely the last major VE Day milestone that the majority of these people will live to see, and they’re forced to celebrate alone from their homes. Obviously that is currently out of our control, but let’s never neglect our elderly population and what they’ve seen when a sense of safe normalcy has been restored.
I recently took in Forget Paris, a ’90s rom-com that Billy Crystal produced, directed, co-wrote, and starred in. Its dialogue style is fairly similar to When Harry Met Sally, so it sounds exactly how Billy Crystal talks, which I love. He’s one of those New York celebrities who emulates home for me. In addition to just being a low-stakes, slice-of-life story, the movie’s packed with a fun cast, including a pre-West Wing John Spencer, a very dashing and dark-haired Joe Mantegna, the second mom from Air Bud, and Joey’s dad from Friends. Keep your ears open for the actress behind Marge Simpson to pop up!
The Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist finale was devastatingly beautiful. I’d already been feeling a little emotional (blame the general state of the world for that), but that episode and its final scene just about did it. But on a fluffier note, how swoony is Skylar Astin as Max? I don’t envy the network executives who have to figure out TV renewals right now, but I have my fingers crossed for a second season.
Miranda is perhaps the silliest and most delightful thing I’ve watched in recent years, and the cast’s in-character lockdown reunion on BBC’s charity special was just as charming. Its use of clips from the show made me laugh out loud, just as they did the first time. Maybe a quarantine rewatch is in store?
Speaking of rewatches, Zach Braff and Donald Faison’s Fake Doctors, Real Friends podcast is still delivering the laughs. It’s not quite a traditional recap show, but their natural comedic chemistry perfectly balances their heartfelt memories of filming Scrubs. I actually stopped watching Scrubs around Season 5, but I think its tone would be particularly comforting these days, so I might start it from the beginning soon.
Al Roker’s pure-hearted Instagram page, which is already a blessing during ordinary times, but nowadays, I adore his cooking videos and the behind-the-scenes looks at the kitchen table set-up where he broadcasts.
The TODAY Show anchors in general. I was raised as a staunch TODAY loyalist. My mother and I talk about anchors’ major life events as if they’re neighbors’ doings, I had a VHS tape of Katie Couric’s Sesame Street episode, and I spent weekdays off in high school watching Kathie Lee and Hoda. Seeing the current team talk via their Brady Bunch isolation boxes (and occasionally crack, just like we do at home) is bittersweet, but everyone’s dedication to their jobs and delivering both the news and joy is very comforting.