Aisha Harris

This week kicked off not with a bang, but with a series of turbulent tweets announcing the winners of the Golden Globes, after a year in which the awards have been mired in controversy. The soundtrack to Encanto reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and the Library of Congress announced the 2022 Gershwin Prize winner: Lionel Richie.

Before I learned Sidney Poitier was a great actor, I learned he was important, with a capital "I."

This week, viewers commemorated the finale of HBO's Insecure and the film world mourned the loss of director Jean-Marc Vallée.

Here's what NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.

Spoilers for the series finale of Insecure ahead.

In the end, Lawrence was Issa's Mr. Big.

Ok, that's a bit simplistic – on Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw and Big's on-again-off again relationship is far more dysfunctional and manipulative than the one between Insecure's Issa and Lawrence could ever be. In Season 1, Issa cheats on Lawrence, but he isn't putting in any effort to the relationship, either, and they both suck at communicating, so the damage is applied fairly equally from either side.

In 2021, movies tentatively returned to theaters. Television production stopped, and started, and sometimes stopped again. Movies and TV seasons that had been delayed were finally seen, and projects that would once have shown up only on big screens appeared on small ones.

With all that in mind, NPR's critics have rolled our movie and television picks into one big — and grateful — list of the things we most enjoyed watching this year, whether we were in or out of the house, with others or on our own.

Do you know about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the pioneering couple and creative team who became two of television history's most influential figures?

Have you seen, maybe, a handful of I Love Lucy episodes here and there?

Can you instantly recognize the scene where Lucy gets drunk as a skunk off of Vitameatavegamin, or Ricky's sing-song-y way of announcing, "Lu-CY, I'm ho-O-me!"?

Do you poop out at parties????

(Actually – ignore that last question.)

This week, Steven Spielberg's West Side Story was released in theaters and Sex and the City characters (well, most of them) returned to television in And Just Like That.

Here's what NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.

In the middle of Ted Lasso Season 2, a tonal shift that's only been hinted at in earlier episodes renders itself fully visible. It comes during a tense scene between Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis, and Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, played by Sarah Niles. It's a one-on-one therapy session, the second opportunity the steadfast Sharon has had to attempt to break through Ted's fortified armor of wisecracks, aw-shucks platitudes, and hearty, feel-good optimism. (An earlier session ended abruptly, with an uncomfortable Ted bolting from her office within minutes.)

Sometimes we find it hard to pry ourselves away from the news, but even when we can't, we often can find things that are good to watch or listen to or read that either keep us entertained, make us smarter, or help us understand things a little better.

It's time to find something good to watch.

Maybe you didn't have exactly the hot vaccinated summer we were all hoping for. While we can't fix the big stuff, our critics do have good news about staying entertained — and challenged, and invigorated, and curious.

It's starting to be a little less hot and even a little less humid here in D.C., and fall entertainment is going to start up pretty soon, too. For now, we've got some things to keep you going as summer winds down.

What to watch

The Other Two Season 2, Episode 2 "Pat Connects with Her Fans," HBO Max

It was still yet another of those weeks when the weekend could not arrive fast enough. We've had ... quite a spate of them. But it's here now, along with this gentle reminder that it's probably more useful to think of the things you love to watch and read and listen to not as "guilty pleasures" or as "escapes," but as respites. Brief, pleasurable, and periodically necessary. You're not ducking responsibility or shutting out the world, you're finding temporary shelter for yourself. This week we've got some good recs to see you through 'till Monday.

It was such a pleasurable experience being able to finally listen to Aaliyah's One In A Million album from beginning to end this past weekend, her lilting vocals pouring smoothly through my Sonos speakers. This was a moment fans have been waiting on for years, as behind-the-scenes business wrangling has long kept the majority of her relatively small discography off most streaming platforms.

This week, Scarlett Johansson sued Disney, we all held our breath until Bob Odenkirk was feeling better, and we navigated a bunch of time zones and streaming services to watch the Olympics -- or not to.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

And finally today, we've seen the return of blockbusters to cinemas this summer. But now we also have the return of those smaller films that critics adore. And one of the movies in that category that's breaking out of the pandemic holding pattern is "Zola."

It's been a hot week full of court documents and news drops. And now, we're ready for a calmer and cooler break with time to breathe. And fortunately, we've got recommendations for podcasts, binge-able television and good reading for your holiday weekend.

There are eyes, and then there are Taylour Paige's eyes.

In Zola, a crackling, absurdist road trip movie inspired by a crackling, absurdist Twitter thread, the camera's gaze is frequently drawn to the bodily form – a stripper's smooth, exposed curves; a man's languid, exposed junk; lips being painted a deep cherry red; long, slender fingernails clinking against a window.

Every Friday, the hosts and guests on Pop Culture Happy Hour share the shows, movies, books and music that brought them joy that week. We hope they make you happy, too!

"The balls are how we grieve."

The third and final season of Pose, which concludes this Sunday, began with a loss. Jumping ahead several years to 1994, the show's colorful protagonists are in various states of highs and lows: Angel (Indya Moore) is having trouble landing gigs; Pray Tell (Billy Porter) is dealing with alcoholism and depression; Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) has a new man and is volunteering at the AIDS clinic; Elektra (Dominique Jackson) has found success launching her own phone sex operator business.

Say what you will about the quality of Tyler Perry's body of work — and there are plenty of valid critiques to be made on that front — the successful filmmaker's personal contributions to various social causes and assistance to those in need are worthy of praise.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Lately, everyone's talking about trauma. Trauma in news form, trauma in essay form, trauma in Twitter thread form.

When we asked our trusty Pop Culture Happy Hour listeners to vote for the Best Muppet, we knew they'd come through. Over 18,000 votes were cast; over 150 different Muppets received votes.

Yes. Some brave, beautiful, misguided soul voted for H. Ross Parrot. As Best Muppet. That is a thing that happened.

In any given year, awards-season viewers are doing some combination of reveling in the booze-filled loosie-goosey nature of the Golden Globes while bemoaning the ostensible arbitrariness of many of its nominees and winners. Do you recall the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen? (Three nods in 2012, including best picture.) And really, The Kominsky Method beat out shows like Barry and The Good Place for best TV drama in 2019? How?!

These are a few things that can be, and often are, true: Black artists are lavished with praise for their societal value while the artistry of their technique and craftwork are overlooked. White critics fall back on comparing Black artists to one another even if the work, style or visions among them are entirely disparate. Artists borrow from the lives of those they know intimately and risk making a mess of their relationships.

This essay contains major spoilers for Promising Young Woman and other works including the film Hard Candy and the series I May Destroy You, as well as discussion of sexual assault.

How do you like your revenge served on screen – via torture? In flames? A massive bloodbath?

How about ... via text message?

A year ago the official Twitter account of the Federal Bureau of Investigation tweeted, "Today, the FBI honors the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." It was accompanied by a photo of the FBI Academy's reflecting pool, where a quote from King is etched in stone: "The time is always right to do what is right."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) wants her Coca-Cola, or she's not gonna sing. Never mind that this recording session during the sweltering Chicago summer of 1927 is already running behind because she and her mini-entourage arrived to the studio an hour late. No matter that tensions are already simmering among her four-piece band, and that her manager and music producer are at their wits' end trying to cut this blues record.

No Coca-Cola, no Ma Rainey's voice.

It has been a momentous year for everything we consider TV.

A pandemic, civil rights reckoning, streaming war and presidential election shook up the industry in a dozen different ways. It blurred lines between genres, platforms and story forms, while also encouraging us to develop our own, deep rabbit holes of favorite media. So when our team of four critics sat down to figure out what we liked most onscreen this year, we each had a lot of stuff on our lists no one else did.

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