73 Great Things We Read, Listened to or Watched This Year

47 minute read

One of the best parts of writing about culture and entertainment for a living is the sheer amount of culture and entertainment we get to consume each year. But not everything gets in-depth coverages on our website and in the pages of our magazine, and there’s so much more we want to share with our readers.

Launching our weekly entertainment newsletter, More to the Story, midway through 2021 (subscribe here!), provided a new venue in which to recommend books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, music, theater, video games and more pop-culture ephemera to our readers on a regular basis. Here, we’ve rounded up every recommendation doled out in 2021, categorized by medium, including our writers’ passionate justifications for why each one is worth your time. Happy watching, reading and listening!


Cooking at Home

Irreverent celebrity chef David Chang and food journalist Priya Krishna have paired up to publish a cookbook with a major twist: it has no precise recipes. Cooking at Home: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (And Love My Microwave), coming on Oct. 26, is a lively instruction manual on how to wing it in the kitchen—the ideal guidebook for those of us who fell in love with having home-cooked meals during the pandemic but no longer have time to kill on fussy step-by-step recipes. The book features essays, interviews with food scientists and guidance on how to take basic ingredients like chicken thighs, rice or frozen vegetables and prepare them in simple, adaptable ways. Krishna offered TIME a tempting tip: “Make cacio e pepe in a blender. It’ll change your life.”—Lucy Feldman

Read More: David Chang and Priya Krishna Want You To Get Over Recipes


The master of sprawling family dramas, Jonathan Franzen is back with Crossroads , which finds the Hildebrandt family in crisis as Christmas approaches in 1971 Illinois. Matriarch Marion realizes the consequences of keeping a decades-long secret; her husband, Russ, an associate pastor reeling from an embarrassing fallout with a more popular youth minister, is on the verge of an affair with a congregant. Their kids, with the exception of the youngest, Judson, are stumbling clumsily toward adulthood. Clem, Becky and Perry, respectively, mull joining the Vietnam War, flirt with religious awakening and deal with a catastrophic drug addiction. The first of a trilogy, Crossroads deftly draws out this small corner of the world at the turn of that decade, laying the groundwork for an epic saga.—Mahita Gajanan

Embassy Wife

In Katie Crouch’s (genuinely!) laugh-out-loud new novel, an American named Amanda has just arrived in Namibia where her husband is doing research for his Fulbright. He’s uprooted their family in the process—and Amanda’s not too pleased with the change in scenery. But it turns out he might not have been so honest about his reasons for the relocation. As Amanda gets to know the other trailing spouses, she realizes she might not be the only one on the hunt for answers. What ensues is a clever narrative about colonialism, white privilege and humanity—huge topics that Crouch handles with dry humor and fast-paced storytelling.—Annabel Gutterman

Happy Hour

If the shorter days and dropping temperatures have you reminiscing about the sultry days of summer, consider adding Happy Hour to your reading list. A wickedly clever coming-of-age debut by Marlowe Granados, the novel follows the capricious and, at times, struggle-filled escapades of Isa and Gala, two scrappy party girls who must survive being broke and undocumented during a hot NYC summer getting by on their youth, beauty and wits alone. As exhilarating as warm summer nights in the city, Happy Hour is an effervescent reminder that, as Isa wryly notes, even when funds are low, charm may be the most valuable currency.—Cady Lang

Hot Stew

If Charles Dickens had been a sex-positive millennial feminist, he might be writing books a lot like Fiona Mozley’s Hot Stew. Centered on a decrepit building in Soho, London’s increasingly gentrified red-light district, this immersive social novel draws vivid portraits of characters who represent a cross-section of society: a pair of sex workers who live and see clients there, the super-rich young woman who inherited the property, the upper-middle-class recent Cambridge grad in her professional orbit, the indigent squatters in the basement, and more. Mozley’s sense of humor and eye for detail yield a hugely appealing story, seeded with trenchant observations about bodily autonomy, ownership of all kinds and the close proximity of even the most privileged characters to the world’s oldest profession.—Judy Berman

Instructions for Dancing

For a summer romance read that will tug at your heartstrings, look no further than Nicola Yoon’s latest novel, Instructions for Dancing. The bestselling author of The Sun Is Also a Star and Everything, Everything offers a fantastical young-adult love story that still deals heavily with mature themes like heartbreak and grief. The book follows 17-year-old Evie Thomas, a former hopeless romantic who suddenly gains the magical ability to foresee how the relationships around her are destined to play out. But when she enters a citywide ballroom dance competition, her alluring dance partner tests her newfound cynicism. —Megan McCluskey

Read More: Nicola Yoon on Her New Book Instructions for Dancing and the Importance of Diverse Love Stories


Written with the pace of a thriller, Katie Kitamura’s latest novel Intimacies is a taut examination of the consequences of our choices. An unnamed woman has moved from New York to The Hague, where she works as an interpreter for an international court. Tension seeds the novel: the woman is called to translate for a former president of a West African country who is accused of ethnic cleansing—and he takes a liking to her. Her personal life is also disorienting; the status of her relationship with her separated-but-still-technically-married boyfriend, Adriaan, is unclear. She grows obsessed with a seemingly random violent crime a friend witnesses. At each turn, Kitamura explores how our relationships with friends and strangers alike shape our lives, whether we invite them in or not. —Mahita Gajanan

The Life of the Mind

There is some irony to the title of Christine Smallwood’s debut novel, The Life of the Mind. Although its protagonist, Dorothy, is an adjunct English professor, the book’s central metaphor is physical. As Dorothy’s ambitions languish, her body is expelling the remains of a pregnancy that miscarried before she’d even had the chance to decide its future. The book has little hope to offer. But Smallwood navigates the futility of contemporary intellectual life with rare insight, scorching humor and a sharp eye for the hypocrisies of academia. The result is a page-turner that’s cerebral and visceral at once.—Judy Berman

Mike Nichols: A Life

Mark Harris’ Mike Nichols: A Life is a deeply-reported—and deeply-humane—portrait of the director who brought us The Graduate and Working Girl . At its heart, the biography is a story of resilience: from his family’s escape from Nazi Germany when Nichols was just seven to his many second acts in Hollywood after fearing his career over. It’s also a delightful treasure-trove of celebrity gossip, featuring disagreements with Walter Matthau, meaningful collaborations with Meryl Streep and Whoopi Goldberg and even a romance with Gloria Steinem.—Samantha Cooney

No Words

The third installment of Meg Cabot’s Little Bridge Island series, No Words, follows a pair of fictional feuding authors at a book festival. We meet Jo Wright, a successful children’s author, who is immediately annoyed that her arch nemesis, pretentious adult novelist Will Price, is at the festival where she’s speaking. In a past press clip, Will was dismissive of Jo’s work and she absolutely does not want to see him. But they are thrown into countless panels, cocktail hours and parties. If you know anything about Cabot, the prolific author of over 80 books including The Princess Diaries , you know that these two authors are going to hit it off in ways they both don’t expect. Like the rest of her lengthy backlist, Cabot’s latest is a cheery, propulsive read that will warm even the coldest of hearts.—Annabel Gutterman

Read More: Meg Cabot Won’t Give Up on Happy Endings

One Last Stop

August is a cynical loner who just moved to New York City when she spots a beautiful stranger on the subway. She’s immediately smitten, but there’s a problem—her crush has been stuck on the Q train since the 1970s. Like her debut novel Red, White and Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston’s latest is a delightful rom-com full of humor and heart (and this time, a bit of magic).—Annabel Gutterman

Read More: Casey McQuiston Is Writing the Queer Rom-Coms She’s Always Wanted to Read

The Pursuit of Love

On July 30, the BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel will make its stateside debut via Amazon. In anticipation, I picked up the book—and couldn’t put it down. Received in its day as a window into Mitford’s famous, eccentric family, The Pursuit of Love follows a pair of upper-class girls coming of age between the World Wars. Narrator Fanny is a sensible wallflower; her beloved cousin, Linda, spends her teen years desperate to experience love. Witty, poignant and insightful about the precarious role of landed gentry in a rapidly changing world, the book is populated by archetypes that haven’t aged a day: the soulless finance dude, the woo-woo wellness guy. No wonder it’s considered Mitford’s masterpiece.—Judy Berman

Seek You

The last thing I wanted to read after spending months in relative isolation was a book about loneliness. But Kristen Radtke’s latest work of nonfiction immediately hooked me: the illustrations are haunting and her plunge into the history of loneliness is both comprehensive and accessible. Blending personal narrative and cultural analysis, Seek You made me feel less alone simply by exploring how loneliness affects all of us.—Annabel Gutterman

Thursday Murder Club

I’ve fallen into a cozy murder mystery phase. I’m not looking for thrillers like Gone Girl but the kind of Agatha Christie-esque whodunnits that make you want to curl up with a cup of tea. Those books tend to center on eccentric suspects trapped together in a house or on a train or, in the case of the Thursday Murder Club book series, a nursing home. Thursday Murder Club centers on a group of retired friends who spend their free time solving cold cases and bamboozling murderers with their feigned frailty. The second entry, The Man Who Died Twice, comes out this week. I laughed. I was puzzled. I was delighted.—Eliana Dockterman


Will Smith’s memoir is a tale of epic proportions that reveals much more about the rapper and actor than what meets the eye. From growing up in West Philadelphia and becoming one of the biggest rappers of all time, to hitting rock bottom and having to start all over again, the book, out just as Smith is garnering awards buzz for his performance in King Richard , is an inspiration. The memoir, co-authored by Mark Manson, doesn’t just rely on the shocking elements of Smith’s life, such as his abusive childhood home or run-ins with the law, to carry the book. Instead, after each story, Smith writes about how each moment impacted his life and future, and what he would have done differently had he been older and wiser (The book has its fair share of Confucius quotes). The memoir is deeply introspective, inspiring and, like the Hollywood star himself, wildly funny.—Jenna Caldwell

TV Shows

The Baby-Sitters Club Season Two

Just like its first season, the new installment of Netflix’s The Baby-Sitter’s Club is a delightfully cozy treat that reminds you there is still some good in the world. A joy for all ages, the series follows the adventures of eighth-grade baby-sitters Kristy, Claudia, Dawn, Mary Anne and Stacey, along with newcomers Mallory and Jessi, as they navigate friendship, first love and loss. Not only is this show literally as wholesome as it gets, it remains impressively funny (e.g. Mallory’s short fiction about horses) and continues to portray the complexities of growing up while rarely entering cheesy territory. Oh, and Claudia Kishi remains possibly the most stylish middle schooler I’ve ever seen on TV. I rest my case!—Annabel Gutterman

Cowboy Bebop (The Original Animated Series)

There’s plenty to love about the 1998 anime series Cowboy Bebop : its dynamic soundtrack, its imaginative worldbuilding, its genre-bending nature that fuses space Western with comedy, drama with noir. But what’s most impressive about Shinichirō Watanabe’s magnum opus is the depth it packs into each character. Across 26 short episodes, the troubled pasts of the suave “cowboys”—or bounty hunters—slowly get unearthed. Their bounty-hunting quests become much more about regaining identity and purpose than about collecting their promised monetary rewards. Available to stream on Funimation, the anime can now also be viewed on Netflix and is well worth a watch before the streamer drops its live-action adaptation starring John Cho on Nov. 19. —Kat Moon

Gilmore Girls S. 3 Ep. 9

It’s that time of year again—the time to plan our menus for the traditional Thanksgiving rewatch. This season, in addition to reruns of Friends, The West Wing, Gossip Girl, The Office and more, consider revisiting Rory and Lorelai Gilmore in their quirky little town of Stars Hollow, Conn. In Gilmore Girls’ season 3 episode “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving,” Sookie gets wasted, Lane gets kissed, Kirk gets a cat and most importantly, Rory and Lorelai get overbooked, accepting invitations to not one, not two, not three, but four holiday feasts. As they hop from party to party, those of us still waiting for the days when we can responsibly overstuff our social calendars (in addition to our bellies) will be sated, at least for a little while. —Lucy Feldman

Grey’s Anatomy S. 2 Ep. 9

Season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy is peak Grey’s Anatomy . We’ve got Addison! Derek and Meredith are broken up, but not really! Cristina and Burke are catapulting toward something bad! In the ninth episode, Izzie attempts to gather everyone at Meredith’s house for Thanksgiving. But no one shows and she’s stuck learning to cook a turkey with Burke while George reluctantly shoots birds with his family and the other interns are at the hospital. Meredith gives her infamous “I’m so sad I’m probably infecting all the happy people” speech to Alex and all the characters are just so moody. Like much of early Grey’s, the episode delivers on great random scenes between unlikely characters (i.e. Burke and Izzie’s strange kitchen banter). Also, Derek is in normal-people clothes almost the entire time. A Thanksgiving treat! —Annabel Gutterman

High on the Hog

Based on culinary historian Jessica B. Harris’ book of the same name, the docuseries High on the Hog opens in Benin, West Africa, where we meet the host, Oakland-based food writer and producer Stephen Satterfield, and follow him while he walks through a local market with the author. The episode closes on Satterfield walking down the same path his ancestors likely walked before they were sold off in to slavery, never to return. It’s a striking opener for the series, which goes on to dive into the rich culture of food across a variety of regions, from the Gullah Geechee cuisine of South Carolina to discovering the origins of mac ‘n’ cheese, to show that “Black food is American food” and “African American food is more than just soul food.”Erica Solano

I Think You Should Leave

A mundane social situation erupts into chaos when one person suddenly flips out. This description fits most scenarios in I Think You Should Leave , a sketch show from comedian Tim Robinson whose second season just arrived on Netflix. Submerging sly commentary under layers of absurdity, the episodes present characters—many played by Robinson—who create and, with vigilante intensity, enforce their own bizarre social norms. There are off-kilter insights into male anger, entitlement and the often-arbitrary rules that govern our interactions—along with several hilariously weird concepts that become running jokes within the show’s cultish fan base. If recent chatter about “Dan Flashes” or “wet steaks” has piqued your curiosity, a binge may be in order.—Judy Berman


Fans of House Hunters: International and Million Dollar Listing will buy into Netflix’s L’Agence (also titled The Parisian Agency: Exclusive Properties ). The five-episode series, focused on the Kretz family’s real estate deals and drama, goes down easier than a croissant. Tour luxurious Parisian homes—including a castle, a 19th century mansion and apartments with Eiffel Tower views—while watching the family bond, bicker and try to broker a love connection for their charming grand-mère.—Samantha Cooney


Photograph by John P. Johnson for HBO Max

With its celebrity judges, impressive productions and intense performances, HBO Max’s Legendary, currently in its second season, puts the underground ballroom community on a global stage. Introducing viewers to the everyday people who embrace ballroom culture, this reality competition series prompts voguing houses to showcase fashions and compete in dance challenges for a $100,000 grand prize. Pose, which comes to a close this weekend, may have introduced voguing to the masses. Legendary continues that important cultural legacy.—Jenna Caldwell

Love Is Blind: Brazil

For hopeless romantics (i.e. me) now impatiently waiting for a second season of Love is Blind —sorry, but those reunion episodes did not cut it!—the Brazilian version of the show, now streaming on Netflix in full, proves to be much more than just a placeholder. The “pod” episodes showcase a refreshingly diverse, and mature, cast; the couplings that emerge include an engaging mix of messy and perfect matches. (Don’t spoil me as to their happy—or unhappy—endings just yet, please!) And the show benefits from its predecessor: the participants might be dating blind, but they’re not flying blind when it comes to the show’s expectations. That means both true love and truly good reality TV drama.—Alex Rees

Mrs. Fletcher

Sunday night’s Emmys may largely be a party for The Crown and Ted Lasso. But they’re also an opportunity to celebrate Kathryn Hahn, a frontrunner for Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for WandaVision . If you’re just arriving to the Hahnaissance, welcome—though you’ve likely encountered her as Transparent’s centered but suffering Rabbi Raquel, Parks and Rec’s brash Jennifer Barkley or the best mom—side-ponytailed Carla —in the otherwise underwhelming Bad Moms. As good at simmering repression as batty idiocy, the woman’s got range. Case in point: HBO’s 2019 adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher, which sees her at well-deserved center stage as a divorced empty nester trying to get her groove back. In seven zippy episodes, it’s a satisfying snack as fans await this November’s The Shrink Next Door and the star-studded Knives Out sequel.—Eliza Berman

Mythic Quest

Mythic Quest, a series about nerds and egomaniacs building a Warcraft-esque video game, isn’t as biting as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, creator and star Rob McElhenney’s other excellent show. But its heart is its strength: Stick with Mythic Quest, especially for two transcendent, tear-jerking bottle episodes that find new emotional depth in the workplace comedy formula.—Eliana Dockterman

New Girl S. 2 Ep. 8

Over seven seasons, New Girl perfected the memorable Thanksgiving episode, always bringing out the hijinks and interpersonal conflict well before the turkey cooked. A New Girl marathon is basically always warranted; but if you’re just looking for one episode to get into the holiday spirit, start with Season 2’s Thanksgiving installment. Called “Parents,” the episode stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner as Jess Day’s divorced parents, brought together for the autumnal feast by their daughter, who is a little too inspired by the plot of The Parent Trap. Highlights include Nick’s fake flirting with Jess’ mom turning very real and a B-plot involving two Schmidts going to great lengths to prove their masculinity. —Mahita Gajanan

Our Kind of People

Inspired by Lawrence Otis Graham’s acclaimed book on the Black upper class, Lee Daniels’ latest drama, Our Kind of People , could be your next soapy watch. Yaya DaCosta plays Angela Vaughn, an ambitious single mom who drains her bank account to build a haircare business—and restore her late mother’s good name—in the elite African-American enclave of Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard. To excel in Oak Bluffs, Angela must gain membership to an exclusive women’s club led by the snobby Leah Franklin-Dupont (Nadine Ellis), which means running a summer-long gauntlet of glittery events that amounts to a grown-up sorority rush. With all the addictive qualities of a good soap, People is primed for greatness.—Judy Berman

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

This season of RHOBH is much more than just rich women eating dinner and yelling at each other. Thanks to Erika Girardi’s insane legal drama (involving her now estranged lawyer husband who allegedly stole millions from his most vulnerable clients), it’s never been better. Last week’s episode featured a dinner party that will go down in Housewives history: the cast debated how to support Erika while she sat at Kathy Hilton’s table, surrounded by tiny dogs and caviar cake, a single tear running down her face. But the more important question, the one most of the women are afraid to ask, is should they even really be supporting Erika at all? Conversation over how much Erika did, or didn’t, know is sure to continue to fuel not-so-pleasant dinner parties for the rest of the season.—Annabel Gutterman

Read More: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Watching The Real Housewives

Real Housewives of New York City (S. 8 Ep. 10)

I would actually argue that any episode from the eighth season of Real Housewives of New York City makes for a quality Christmas-time rewatch because this is the season where the cast actually gets along (pre Carole Radziwill and Bethenny Frankel’s disastrous falling out two seasons later). The chemistry between the cast is so undeniable it’s clear that these women actually care about each other and though there are many, many fights, they always seem to get back together (unless it has something to do with Tom). In the 10th episode, the crew goes to Dorinda’s house in the Berkshires where her sister dresses up like Santa, Bethenny plugs her SkinnyGirl products and everyone gets pretty drunk. Like any trip to Blue Stone Manor, it ends in chaos, which Dorinda is clearly not too pleased about as she proclaims in the episode: “I want to light my house on fire right now. Burn it down.”—Annabel Gutterman

The Real Housewives of Potomac

Now in its sixth season, The Real Housewives of Potomac continues to reign as one of Bravo’s best Housewives franchises. The magic of Potomac comes from its cast; it’s anchored by women whose dynamics are rooted in years-long relationships and genuine connection that allow them to really go there when conflict arises, whether addressing new motherhood, infidelity, colorism or sexuality. The ladies know how to call each other out but always balance the heavier moments with real humor, pranks and parties. Catch up now to see where the long-simmering feud between Gizelle and Karen goes next.—Mahita Gajanan

Reservation Dogs

Reservation DogsFX

Depictions of Indigenous communities in American pop culture have, historically, often added insult to grievous injury. So it’s encouraging that one of the year’s best new comedies, FX on Hulu’s Reservation Dogs, is co-created by, starring and centered on Indigenous Americans. Helmed by filmmakers Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, Dogs follows a coed crew of teens on an Oklahoma reservation. Mourning a friend who died a year earlier, the group attempts to finance a move to California through various extralegal schemes that bring them into unwitting conflict with other local posses. Fans of Atlanta, On My Block or any series that mix absurd humor with gritty realism are sure to adore this smart, funny and groundbreaking show.—Judy Berman

School of Chocolate

If you’re hoping to fill the Great British Baking Show-sized hole in your heart (erm, stomach?) look no further than School of Chocolate. Netflix’s chocolate sculpture competition boasts the same friendly and soothing vibe—no contestants are eliminated, just given grades on each project, and judge and host Amaury Guichon often jumps in to help his students. Indeed Guichon, an Instagram-famous chocolatier who has become world-famous for his dazzling sculptures of hyper-realistic No. 2 pencils and octopuses, makes for a charming host. His thick French accent and confusion over certain Americanisms (like one contestant’s obsession with lobster rolls) are incredibly endearing.—Eliana Dockterman

Sex Education

It’s taken me a few weeks to finish season three of this Netflix show—mostly because I like savoring it so much. While its plot follows British teens exploring their sexualities, questioning authority and dealing with the intense growing pains of adolescence, the series’ lessons are universal, and the tenderness with which the characters approach the complexities of the heart remains pitch-perfect. Also, many of the young actors are on the edge of breaking out; one was recently cast as the lead for season two of hit romance drama Bridgerton.—Raisa Bruner

The Sopranos

If we talked this year, I probably brought up The Sopranos—and I was far from the only person to get absorbed in the lives of Tony, Carmela and co. in recent months. When I finished my first watch of the show in the fall, I was sad to say goodbye to the corrupt, complicated characters. But I was in for an even better treat: rewatching The Sopranos, just as the holidays began. Like the best comedies and most compelling dramas, David Chase’s series about a mobster facing decline grows richer upon each revisit. The plot is barely the point; this time it’s the little things. I’m there for Carmela’s simmering anger, for Paulie annoying everyone around him, for Livia Soprano’s put-downs. As winter brings an earlier end to each day and the Omicron variant forces a reassessment of all our plans, the familiarity of The Sopranos offers consistent comfort.—Mahita Gajanan

Sort Of

Sabi Mehboob is floating through liminal space. A gender-fluid young adult in Toronto, Sabi (played by co-creator Bilal Baig) has a cisgender boyfriend who shrinks from them in public and a traditional Pakistani Muslim mother who’s in denial about who her child is. Sabi works as a nanny and a bartender but has yet to decide what they really want out of life. After missing an opportunity to soul-search in Berlin, this gentle, self-effacing character must find the courage to fuse the pieces of their fragmented life without leaving home. The aptly titled Sort Of, a Canadian import that debuted this week on HBO Max, traces this awkward yet poignant evolution. And Baig, an affable performer as well as a keen observer of human behavior, is one of the most intriguing new voices I’ve encountered on TV this year. —Judy Berman

Squid Game

Though it arrived with little stateside fanfare, Korean thriller Squid Game quickly became Netflix’s most-streamed title in the U.S. In it, Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a debt-ridden gambler with an ailing mother and a daughter he seldom sees, finds himself among hundreds of desperate souls enlisted for a mysterious competition. The participants play a series of games straight off the elementary-school playground. But each win brings them closer to millions of dollars—and elimination means instant death. From Battle Royale to The Hunger Games, the market for narratives that transform anxiety about inequality into death games springs disturbingly eternal. And for viewers whose first exposure to South Korean entertainment came via Bong Joon Ho, Squid Game offers a combination of dark humor, baroque violence and class satire similar to the one that made Snowpiercer and Parasite global sensations.—Judy Berman


The new HBO Max series Starstruck has all the delightful elements of a romantic comedy —excellent chemistry, fateful encounters, minor betrayal—filtered through creator and star Rose Matafeo’s singular voice and perspective. She plays Jessie, a twenty-something trying to make life work in London, whose New Year’s Eve hook-up turns out to be a famous movie star. What ensues is a highly entertaining will-they-or-won’t-they yarn that grows much more complicated than Jessie anticipated.—Mahita Gajanan

Survivor: Australia

For the first time in 20 years, Survivor did not feature on CBS’s 2020-21 schedule, due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Without new U.S. seasons, many longtime Survivor fans like myself have turned to the show’s international editions—like Australian Survivor’s recent sixth season. Taped this past spring and summer in the Australian Outback, the series features some of the most glorious cinematography seen on Survivor in recent years and a lineup of entertaining, outlandish contestants who’ve come to play the game, and play it hard. When Australian Survivor gets it right (and it doesn’t always, thanks to some uneven editing), it can best the OG. This season seems to have that potential.— Alex Rees

Top Chef: Portland

It’s hard to pinpoint the single thing that makes Top Chef: Portland one of the best seasons in the show’s 15 years. Let’s start with the food: this year, the show celebrated diverse cuisines, hosting challenges on everything from Pan African to Indigenous cooking. And contestants constantly introduced flavors and techniques from their own food backgrounds. On top of that were the heartwarming bonds between contestants. After this season I can confidently say: more “nice” Top Chef—and reality TV in general—please.—Kat Moon

Read More: Top Chef: Portland Was the Kindest Season Yet. Does the Finale Change That?

Tuca & Bertie

To fill the BoJack Horseman-sized hole in your heart, look no further than Tuca & Bertie. The eccentric comedy about two best bird friends returned this month for a second season on Adult Swim after a premature cancellation by Netflix. Come for Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong’s hilarious hijinks (moody Gen Z plants! Bad first dates! Sex bugs!). Stay for the nuanced and delicate depiction of trauma and anxiety.—Samantha Cooney

With Love

Gloria Calderón Kellett has a knack for blending timeless TV formats with characters that feel specific to the present. With Love finds the creator working her warm, inclusive magic on the traditional holiday-season romantic comedy—and you’d better believe it’s not about a harried white career woman who returns to her rural hometown to build snowmen with her high-school sweetheart. Centered around a Latinx family in Portland, OR, the miniseries is four love stories in one. This gentle, funny, culturally specific five-episode story spans a year’s worth of holidays, from a Nochebuena party to an emotional Día de los Muertos, all tied together by the love that binds a family.—Judy Berman

Documentaries and Docuseries

A Man Named Scott

BTS’s ARMY is more organized; Nicki Minaj Barbs are more protective. But there are few fanbases that feel more emotionally indebted to their idol than Kid Cudi superfans. I’m one of them, as are Kanye West and Timothée Chalamet; many of us share memories of Cudi’s music guiding us through our darkest moments. This new documentary on Amazon Prime explores the singer’s rise as a hip-hop outcast, from posting “Day ‘N’ Nite” on MySpace to writing West’s classic “Heartless” in Hawaii. It also explores how Cudi’s strong bond with his audience took a toll on his own mental health and struggles with addiction. “People look up to me, but I’m not a happy person so a lot of the times I felt like a fraud,” he confesses. This isn’t a perfect doc journalisticallyCudi served as an executive producerand probably won’t interest non-fans. But to me, it felt like a giant audio-visual hug.—Andrew R. Chow

Get Back

I can’t say whether a non-Beatles fan would enjoy the seven-plus hours of Get Back, Peter Jackson’s new three-part documentary on Disney+ that chronicles the creation of their ill-fated 1970 album Let It Be . But as someone who grew up on the Fab Four, listening to nearly every album on a loop and devouring every bit of history and ephemera, I loved every minute. The documentary draws from over 60 hours of in-studio footage, serving both to demystify the four lads from Liverpool while also showing their creative genius and communal mindmeld when firing on all cylinders. They tap dance, read the tabloids about themselves, geek out over BBC programs and spar over ideological approaches; they show themselves to be both forever bound and also drifting apart. The music itself starts tediously, but by their final rooftop concert, it’s sublime. —Andrew R. Chow

The Housewife and the Hustler

You don’t need to be a Real Housewives fan to get sucked into the legal saga at the center of The Housewife and the Hustler, an ABC News documentary now streaming on Hulu, which traces the complicated relationship between Tom Girardi, a now defamed attorney, and his reality TV star wife Erika. Tom’s been accused of stealing millions of dollars from his most vulnerable clients while Erika flaunts their wealth on national television. Come for the methodical dissection of an evolving scandal—stay for a nuanced look at why we like to watch rich people and their woes play out on TV. —Annabel Gutterman

NYC Epicenters 9/11 -> 2021 1/2

Spike Lee’s latest docuseries, an eight-hour dive into New York in the 21st century that’s airing Sunday nights on HBO, has been in the news following an announcement that the director was re-editing a final episode that reportedly gave credence to debunked 9/11 conspiracy theories. Yikes. But if you can forgive Spike’s abiding contrarian streak, there’s a lot to love about his rambling ode to his city. New Yorkers of all stripes—politicians, celebs, activists, essential workers, first responders—sit for playful yet substantive interviews, creating a collage of Gotham-centric humanity. Highlights include a premiere focused on COVID-19 and BLM, and the third episode, which chronicles the rise and fall of the Twin Towers. —Judy Berman


Black liberation isn’t just an American story. Filmmaker Steve McQueen offered a stunning view from across the Atlantic in Small Axe , five features set amid London’s West Indian community in the 1970s and ’80s that arrived on Amazon last year. Now, the service has added three companion nonfiction titles: Black Power: A British Story of Resistance, the education-focused Subnormal: A British Scandal and, as a centerpiece, McQueen and James Rogan’s three-part Uprising, which looks back on a horrific 1981 fire that killed 13 young, Black revelers at a birthday party and catalyzed a movement against racist violence. As in Small Axe, it is the sensitivity and specificity with which the directors capture the humanity of those who lived through—and those who died in—the New Cross house fire that makes the latter doc unmissable.—Judy Berman

Theater, Live and Recorded

Girl From the North Country

While Girl From the North Country features the music of Bob Dylan, it is no way a traditional jukebox musical. Instead, Dylan’s music helps set the tone for a moody and devastating Broadway production following a group of people at a boardinghouse in 1930s Minnesota. At the story’s center are Nick (Jay O. Sanders) who runs the boardinghouse, which is facing foreclosure, and his wife (a stunning Mare Winningham) who is suffering from some sort of dementia. Their two grown children float in and out of the musical alongside the guests of the house. This is less of a plot heavy musical and more a kaleidoscopic look at the guests’ lives, which intersect in unexpected and sometimes startling ways. Though the story is intensely sad, Bob Dylan’s songs are a respite from the tragedies (“Like a Rolling Stone” is perhaps one of the most beautiful performances I’ve seen on a Broadway stage in a long time). I will be rooting for Mare Winningham at next year’s Tony Awards! —Annabel Gutterman

Come From Away

Though it’s often referred to as a “9/11” musical, Come From Away is really about 9/12. The Broadway show tells the true story of what happened in the small Canadian town of Gander following the terrorist attacks, when the U.S. airspace was closed. There, 38 planes arrived and more than 7,000 passengers, confused and unsettled, were immediately greeted with kindness. While the world seemed like it was ending, people opened up their homes to strangers. The stage production, filmed last spring and now streaming on Apple TV+, is a joyful celebration of humanity, exploring good will in the wake of immense pain and trauma. The production’s raw moments are amplified here, particularly in the clever ways the cast interacts with each other and the stage. (The chair choreography!) No wonder it won a Tony for best direction of a musical.—Annabel Gutterman


“4 Stars” from Girls5Eva

It took me about two days to devour Girls5Eva when the TV series premiered on Peacock. A show about a washed up girl group trying to make a splashy comeback? Sign me up! Now, I can’t stop listening to their songs, particularly the track, “4 Stars”—a power anthem all about how 5 stars is an impossible goal to achieve (unless we’re counting out of 10!) and why we should celebrate being “perfectly imperfect.” The song is guaranteed to make you smile and best exemplifies the show’s tone: it’s very silly, but totally genuine. Yes, it’s making fun of every song about uplifting women that’s come before it, but there’s something real at its center. And nothing beats hearing Sara Bareilles and Renée Elise Goldsberry hit those high notes.—Annabel Gutterman

Friends That Break Your Heart

Has James Blake moved toward the mainstream, or has the mainstream moved toward him? In the early 2010s, the elusive English songwriter became revered in certain circles for his moody dubstep experimentation and ethereal voice. Since then, many pop producers have swiped aspects of his technological innovations, while Blake in turn entered pop music’s inner sanctum, working with Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar and many others. Last week, he released his fifth album, Friends That Break Your Heart. It lies close to the pop world’s current center, with huge melodic hooks soaring over chilly hip-hop beats. The result is much less breathtaking than his early work but much more hummable and soothing—especially the closer “If I’m Insecure,” which crescendos slowly with blissful layers of a capella harmony.—Andrew R. Chow

“Good 4 U”

Ever since teen phenom Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” hit airwaves in May, it’s been inescapable. Not a typical song of the summer , “Good 4 U” is angsty pop punk maximalism, a breakup anthem that is just as bitter as it is catchy. As it turns out, we may all have some collective frustrations to work through, and Rodrigo’s songwriting neatly offers a singalong catharsis; there’s a reason the song has been topping charts since its release. Expect to hear it all summer long.—Raisa Bruner

Home Video

The 11 intensely personal tracks on singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus’ third album are sourced from her childhood and teenage journals. They possess all the vulnerable detail you might expect —the bad poetry of a Bible camp boyfriend, a repressed crush on a female friend—sung with the perspective that growing up brings. Like on past albums, the songs in Home Video trade in incisive lyrics and internal rhymes (“sedentary secrets like peach pits in your gut”), but Dacus has said that this is her most inward-looking project yet. It’s a naked, intimate work, laced through with clear-eyed self-awareness.—Eliza Berman

I Don’t Live Here Anymore

Nobody is making thoughtful, bombastic heartland-y pop rock quite like Adam Granduciel and co. Their latest isn’t a drastic departure from the seven other albums and EPs they’ve released since the mid-aughts, but it does find the group moving a bit closer to the pop side of their ‘80s influences. While they haven’t fully gone the way of The Outfield or Bryan Adams, their period-specific homage seems to be expanding beyond their usual staples of Dire Straits, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, etc. Crucially, the songwriting is as strong as ever. They are a special band unafraid to wear their influences on their sleeve, and they do it all with such care and elevate it so expertly that I still haven’t tired of it.—Chris Grasinger


Michelle Zauner’s third full-length album as Japanese Breakfast takes her beloved indie rock sound into an even more grand and ambitious pop direction. This album has you dancing one minute and reflecting the next. Zauner, who recently released a memoir set to be adapted into a film, is a true creative force—and this is up there with her very best work.—Chris Grasinger


Sept. 10 marks the release of Star-Crossed, the fourth album of country chanteuse and TIME staff favorite Kacey Musgraves. A year after filing for divorce, she has billed Star-Crossed as a “tragedy in three parts.” Musgraves’ album got us thinking about our favorite break-up albums; one of mine is Kris Kristofferson’s debut, written a few years after his own divorce. The crown jewel of the album is the despondent “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”—which describes a two-beer breakfast—but there’s plenty of other material to keep you in your feelings, from the crash-and-burn road trip “Me and Bobby McGee” to the sour-sweet “For the Good Times.” More famous people would sing these songs, but even they didn’t sing ’em quite like the despondent Kristofferson. —Andrew R. Chow


It takes two weeks for any album to prove itself, and so far, Lil Nas X’s debut project Montero shows no sign of letting up its hold on my brain. I’ve been waking up with “Tales of Dominica” stuck in my head and falling asleep with “Am I Dreaming” on loop in my mind, and the lyrics—in particular on the album’s more melancholy, introspective second half—are deeply affecting. (The chorus chant of “Sometimes you’re angry, sometimes you’re hurting, sometimes you’re all alone…” feels like a unifying Gen Z mantra.) Lil Nas X was always a star, buoyed by his savvy Internet presence; this album, though, is a poignant statement about youth and identity beyond the buzzy persona.—Raisa Bruner

Read More: 6 Takeaways From Lil Nas X’s Excellent Debut Album

Screen Violence

Chvrches’ fourth and latest full-length album is the type of release that reaffirms why I love pop music in the first place. The melodic synths and lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s voice soar and shine all over its tracks, but there is also an undeniably personal and gothic edge to the project as a whole. The seamless fusion of pop and the group’s more goth influences, both musically and thematically, make this album one of their strongest. It falls somewhere between pure pop bliss and a retro horror soundtrack, a fitting mood for the start of the fall season. —Chris Grasinger


The second album from Claire Cottrill, released July 16, won me over even before I learned that the instrumental track “Joanie” captures a day in the life of her rescue dog—whose name is a tribute to another Joni, one of the project’s clear influences. Clairo rose to fame in 2017 when a literal bedroom-pop video she made went viral, but Sling is more folk than pop, and more grown-up, addressing depression and unsavory aspects of the music industry. Recorded in an upstate New York studio with Jack Antonoff (who’s produced for Taylor Swift, Lana del Rey and Lorde, who lends vocals), Sling is a trove of whispered secrets and swelling epiphanies.—Eliza Berman

Stand for Myself

The British-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Yola is known as the “Queen of Country Soul,” but on her sophomore album, Stand for Myself, genre is as slippery as her voice is commanding. The album sees Yola’s own musical stylings—influenced by Aretha Franklin, Minnie Riperton, Tina Turner—take more prominence than on her Grammy-nominated 2019 debut, which she recently told Vulture was co-written with mostly “old, white American men.” From the disco ballad vibes of “Dancing Away in Tears” to the unmistakable country twang of “Whatever You Want,” Stand for Myself confirms that Yola’s voice is too cool and capable to be contained by something as silly as categorization.—Eliza Berman


In a time when travel restrictions remain in place throughout much of the world, art that transports is in high demand. NCT 127’s third studio album Sticker does exactly that. In songs like “Far” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” the nine-member Seoul-based unit of K-pop giant NCT invites listeners to voyage across a starry night before embarking on a “Road Trip” that stretches thousands of miles—destination undecided. The theme of journeying into the unknown is also a metaphor for how NCT 127, known for its experimental style, continues to push the boundaries of its sound. “We don’t have to go on the paths others go on,” leader Taeyong sings on “Road Trip.” Sure enough, the 11-song album, influenced by hip-hop, R&B, trap and pop, offers sonic surprises at every turn.—Kat Moon

The Turning Wheel

Oakland-based artist Chrystia Cabral’s latest album as SPELLLING is an eclectic and adventurous art-pop masterpiece. She holds onto a lot of the dark psychedelic synthpop of her previous releases while fearlessly getting out of her comfort zones. The results lie somewhere between Kate Bush, a Disney musical and the soundtrack to a Dario Argento film, but always sounding uniquely her own. Both musically and lyrically there is something on here for everyone. Her musical vision knows no bounds.—Chris Grasinger

“Working for the Knife”

The piercing indie rocker Mitski has spent the last couple years off social media and out of the public eye. On Tuesday, she returned with a single, “Working For the Knife,” that would fit right in with the songs on her acclaimed 2018 album Be the Cowboy in its synth instrumentation and combination of elegance and existential dread. Like many Mitski songs, “Working For the Knife” is disarmingly short; it explores the faces we put on, the exhaustion of mundane repetition, and what lies below a seemingly calm surface. That last idea is borne out sonically in the form of an instrument that sounds like a stolid trumpet—until it starts sputtering and trembling like an electric guitar. At the end of the song’s video, Mitski performs a minute of wordless, music-less cardio—a rock star’s equivalent to a hamster on an exhausting wheel.— Andrew R. Chow


30 for 30: The King of Crenshaw

The far-reaching impact of late rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle provides rich fodder for The King of Crenshaw , a new four-part podcast from ESPN and The Undefeated’s 30 for 30 franchise. The untimely and tragic 2019 murder of Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, at the age of 33 sent shockwaves far beyond the music industry, thanks to his deep commitment to his hometown of South Crenshaw, Los Angeles, where he was beloved and spent years actively working to revitalize his neighborhood. After making music for nearly a decade, Hussle died just as his work was beginning to receive mainstream acclaim. His story is told with care and nuance by The Undefeated writer Justin Tinsley, who shows how Hussle’s legacy as a leader and advocate lives on in those who vow to continue his mission of investing in the communities that made them.—Cady Lang

Decoder Ring’s sellout episode

On the podcast Decoder Ring, Slate TV critic Willa Paskin investigates historical cultural phenomena. A recent, excellent episode centers on “selling out,” a concept that was abhorrent to people in the 90s and 00s (think: the plot of Reality Bites ) but feels anomalous in our modern era when making money as an influencer is aspirational. In fact, nowadays the reality that most people can’t afford to not sell out is widely accepted. Paskin explores this evolution through the prism of a 2001 incident in which writer Jonathan Franzen refused to appear on Oprah’s show after she named his novel The Corrections to her Book Club, for fear of “selling out,” only to accept the Book Club honor for another novel years later.—Eliana Dockterman


Courtesy of Spotify

Loud, a Spotify podcast about the history of reggaeton, has all of the best attributes of its subject: charisma, suspense, camaraderie, bombast and sex appeal. The weekly podcast takes listeners into the cultural, musical and socioeconomic history of how the now-omnipresent genre was birthed and nurtured, from the streets of Panama City to San Juan to Brooklyn. Ivy Queen, one of the genre’s pioneers, narrates the show with an exuberant warmth.—Andrew R. Chow



In Sian Heder’s joyous and affecting CODA , Emilia Jones plays 17-year-old Ruby, the only hearing member of a Gloucester, Mass., family, who has a shot at moving to Boston to pursue her love of singing. But her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) rely on her as a bridge to the hearing world. Can they get by without her? You could call CODA a story about a deaf family, but it’s really about a family, period—one that, like all families, must allow for growth and change, no matter how difficult.—Stephanie Zacharek

Read More: Marlee Matlin Will Never Stop Trying To Kick the Door Open

The House Bunny


Between the inexplicable viral RushTok trend and the current Y2K nostalgia, there’s no better time to revisit The House Bunny , the 2008 rom-com starring Anna Faris as a former Playboy bunny who, after aging out of the mansion at 27, becomes a house mother to the geekiest sorority at a nearby college. While critics initially panned the movie for its raunchy slapstick and reliance on tropes like the ditzy blonde, it’s imbued with a deeply-felt warmth, thanks to Faris’ criminally under-recognized talents. This very silly, surprisingly sweet film is a good reminder that Faris, herself hardly immune to the ageism her character once satirized, is a once-in-a-generation comedic genius. —Cady Lang


If you can’t travel this summer but are looking to indulge in cinematic escapism from your couch, check out Luca, Pixar’s latest film on Disney+. The movie is set in a seaside Italian town and centers on two sea monsters who can transform into young boys when they reach land. Director Enrico Casarosa does a spectacular job of capturing the vibe of a summer day spent in an Italian square, swimming and eating pasta as Vespas roll by.—Eliana Dockterman


Richard Donner, who died on July 5 at 91, was a skilled journeyman director who breathed magic into everything from the Antichrist horror The Omen to the radiant comic-book fantasy of Superman. He’s also behind the most perversely delightful Christmas movie. In Scrooged (1988), Bill Murray’s Frank Cross is a selfish TV exec who works his staff through the holiday and, like Dickens’ mean-spirited miser, learns lessons in compassion at the hands of three Christmas ghosts. (Carol Kane’s is a diminutive fairy who kicks him in the nuts.) It’s an unsentimental holiday classic, by an unassuming master, that’s suitable for Christmas in July, or anytime.—Stephanie Zacharek

Plus: A Web Series, a Comedy Special and a Video Game



555 is a weird and wonderful five-episode comedy web series from Kate Berlant and John Early, which debuted on Vimeo in 2017. The tone is surreal, the humor is offbeat and the experimental style makes each episode feel like a mini arthouse film. Satirizing show-biz hopefuls, the pair—who have continued to collaborate, both appearing in Search Party and Tuca & Bertie , to name just a couple joint credits—mine the comedy of delusional aspirations, small slights and crushing disappointments. It’s gleefully absurd and utterly brilliant.—Alexandra Robson

Bo Burnham: Inside

I haven’t stopped thinking about Bo Burnham’s genius Netflix comedy special Inside—or singing earworms like “Jeffrey Bezos”—since I watched it. Nothing I’ve seen has captured the havoc the pandemic wrought on mental health quite like this mood piece. That makes it sound depressing, but it’s insightful, uplifting and at times hilarious. Burnham, who rose to fame on YouTube as a teen and whose film Eighth Grade deals with social media among middle schoolers, is incredible at being on the Internet—the production values he achieves solo in a spare room are breathtaking—but he also clearly resents the thing that brought him fame. Inside is a masterwork on how it divided us in a particular time of isolation.—Eliana Dockterman

Resident Evil Village


This latest installment in the popular survival horror series Resident Evil—also the basis of the movie franchise—takes place a few years after the events of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. You’ll shoot monsters, scream in terror and navigate through a mysterious European village in search of a missing child. This game is bizarre, frightening and packed with action the whole way through.—Chris Grasinger

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com