Like many of you out here in the apocalypse, I have had an incredibly rough couple of weeks. Needless to say, whenever I wanted to distract myself by streaming something, I wasn’t up for anything remotely resembling premium content. All I really wanted was to unapologetically and shamelessly seek a safe haven in my trashiest self.
Being a massive nerd, I chose to make a comprehensive list of the shiniest offerings I could think of. I then had no choice but to sort it into the absolutely legitimate “genres” my friends and I have come up with over the years. The whole locally-sourced, artisanally hand-curated guide is available for your viewing pleasure below.
If I’m being real with you, familia — the following comfort food selections may or may not be a tasty appetizer designed to lull you into a false sense of complacency before the after-school special vegetable medley afterwards. Mary Poppins wasn’t wrong when she said that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
And let’s face it, this is America, so we’re always going to dig into the fried, greasy goodness first. L’Chaim!
Genre: Ham & Cheese, Please
Description: Unashamedly campy, happily screwball, gratifyingly meta, entertainingly bad, or all the above — and most importantly, not pretending to be anything different. At least one actor has to say “screw it” and chew every single bit of the scenery.
Examples: Smash, Reno 911, Riverdale, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Mystery Men, Mamma Mia, Crazy Rich Asians, Men In Black, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
Perfect For: When you need to find your happy place and don’t want to think or feel particularly hard when doing so. Basically the entertainment equivalent of funfetti.
Words To Live By: If a movie doesn’t have a villain named “Casanova Frankenstein” or icon Christine Baranski saucily doing high kicks in it then what’s even the point, really.
Description: Warm, appealing stories that revolve around food, dance, joy and heart. Different from other reality-based competitions because they’re less inclined to shank each other over leaving the fridge door open.
Examples: Face Off (the show), Making It, Crazy Delicious, Zumbo’s Just Desserts, The Great British Bake-Off, Julie & Julia, The Hundred-Foot Journey, No Reservations, Ratatouille, Dance With Me, Strictly Ballroom, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Shall We Dance?
Perfect For: Watching with friends, families, or your favorite hoard of snacks (no judgement)
Words To Live By: If there’s not a touching redemption arc or a hot/evil judge lecturing me about tempering my chocolate properly while cracking terrible dad jokes, I want no part of it. Conversely, if unsober Nicole wants to wander around having spontaneous dance-offs or eating everything in sight, it immediately passes the test.
Genre: Dante’s Choice
Description: Alternative sci fi or fantasy world that has amazing worldbuilding or amazing characters, but never both. Bonus points if there’s a magical macguffin revealed in the first eight minutes, or if at least one sequence is clearly the result of, er, long naps in poppy fields.
Examples: Disenchanted, The Order, Carnival Row, Gifted, The Magicians, Jupiter Ascending, Seventh Son, The Scorpion King, Wild Wild West, Van Helsing, John Carter, Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets, Fifth Element (full disclosure: almost didn’t include this because of the whole “born sexy yesterday” trope)
Perfect For: Virtual love-hate watch parties where you can make custom drinking games or laughingly offer up your own MST3K style running commentary throughout.
Words To Live By: You know how “show, don’t tell” is supposed to be a creative benchmark for good storytelling? Well, anything in this genre should show you, tell you, smack you over the head with it, rubber stamp it on your face, skywrite it, and then tell you three more times just to be safe (subtle, it is not).
Genre: Splodey Splodey Boom Boom
Description: Exactly what it sounds like.
Examples: Quantico, American Ninja Warrior, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., MacGyver, Taken, Charlie’s Angels (2000), Rush Hour, Predator, Blade, Fast & Furious series, Snakes On A Plane, Triple XXX, Face/Off (movie), Gerard’s Fallen series, anything blessed with Nic Cage or The Rock
Perfect For: Those days when you just want to watch people act like living crash test dummies while their world blows up. Because let’s face it, our fascination with dumb smashy stuff spans the entire course of human history and that’s not changing anytime soon. Gladiators weren’t exactly an accident, people.
Words To Live By: This one comes with a five-minute test. If you start watching and in the first five minutes there’s not at least one over-the-top fire, bonkers setpiece or huge explosion, or if they’re actually trying to introduce a real plot, then it’s not a splodey splodey boom boom.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into my very normal mind. On a more serious note, this list actually proved to be much more difficult to make than I anticipated. So much of it had to be culled for a whole host of unpleasant reasons. I don’t regret the exercise, though — it forced me to stop and think about something I’ve so often taken for granted.
When I first began revisiting this list with an eye to crossing off certain names, I felt an unwelcome sense of déjà vu. This type of self-censorship has been a bittersweet habit from an early age, ever since my rose-colored glasses first started cracking at less than ten years old.
It was right around then that I found out that Mel Gibson, then one of my favorite movie stars, was an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier and all-around terrible person. As a proud Jewish girl, and as a human being who rather liked being able to look my reflection in the face, I made a solemn vow never to watch any of his movies again.
That’s a vow I’ve kept to this day, but I won’t lie to you. It was hard then and it’s hard now to keep drawing these lines for myself and grounding them in my convictions. I’ve been an avid Harry Potter fan my entire life and essentially grew up alongside this series. Yet in light of recent TERF-y comments and a long history of performative allyship from JK Rowling, I’m having a harder and harder time divorcing the work from the author.
Many of our former favorites are inherently problematic in a way I can’t just brush off. Like the blatant misogyny and sexism of Armageddon or Transformers, the wink-wink transphobia of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the white-savior narrative of almost any movie set in Africa or Asia and the sketchy as hell behind-the-scenes life of pop culture sensations like Ellen or Glee. Or, you know, the casual racism proudly beaming through far too many beloved vehicles … Apu from The Simpsons and Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles both come to mind.
So how, exactly, do we keep defining and redefining these lines-in-the-sand as our collective awareness changes and grows? Even as I made this list, I debated whether or not to include or exclude certain gray-area offerings that had stories or moments that made me uncomfortable. And I found myself thinking more and more about the recent debate sparked by the Harper’s anti-cancel culture open letter. You know, the one with the crazy entitlement and incredibly insensitive timing that was called out perfectly by the LA Times.
Are these types of conversations often discomforting, distressing or boundary-pushing? Yes. But the dialogue about accountability, cancel culture, pop culture, and representation in Hollywood is as vital now as ever before, if not more so. We need to examine our own biases and complacencies, even when it comes to consuming reliable, vanilla, trashy or safe comfort food content. We need to make sure we’re elevating all voices and not contributing to the sidelining of other communities, as pointed out in this searing, poignant article from Vanity Fair.
I definitely don’t have the answers here. Right now, all I have are questions. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. So I’m going to post up in my onesie with a bag of artificial cheesy poofs, three kinds of chocolate, a can of frozé and Agador Spartacus in the background as I await the next fascinating, painful, necessary step in our social evolution.
Header Image Source: Warner Brothers