What pop culture did you spend the holidays with?

Clockwise from left: The Good Lord Bird (Photo: William Gray/Showtime); Tiny Pretty Things (Photo: Netflix); The Flight Attendant (Photo: Phil Caruso/HBO Max); Destiny 2: Beyond Light (Image: Bungie)
Clockwise from left: The Good Lord Bird (Photo: William Gray/Showtime); Tiny Pretty Things (Photo: Netflix); The Flight Attendant (Photo: Phil Caruso/HBO Max); Destiny 2: Beyond Light (Image: Bungie)
Graphic: Baraka Kaseko
AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.

If you’re like us, you spent this past holiday season catching up with the movies, shows, books, podcasts, music, and games on your to-do list. So, this week we’re asking:

What pop culture did you spend the holidays with?

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2 / 13

Las Culturistas

Las Culturistas

Nearly five full years into its run, Las Culturistas continues to be one of podcasting’s preeminent founts of cultural analysis and joyful comedic buffoonery. As proven by their recent “The 12 Days Of Culture” series—a 12-part ode to history’s most formative days of popular culture—hosts Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang can riff on anything and make it entertaining. Seemingly invigorated by the tweaks to the typical Culturistas formula, the pair are simply unhinged (in the best way) throughout the miniseries as they reflect on the omnipresence of “Got Milk?”, thoughtfully reassess the Lil Kim boob jiggle heard ’round the world, forget the name of the town in Jaws, and spin comedic gold out of spelling Ghislaine Maxwell’s name (in a bit that ends in a devastating reckoning for Vanna White). Exhilarating, insightful, and absurd, “The 12 Days Of Culture” was the perfect mental escape at the end of an exhausting year. [Cameron Scheetz]

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3 / 13

Destiny 2

Destiny 2

I can’t say it’s been a worthwhile use of my time, but I’ve been playing a lot of Destiny 2 again. When I checked out the new updates back in November, it was my first time returning to the MMO shooter since 2018 when I wrote about the last major expansion. As I noted in that recent mini-review, the game is less of a job than it was then, allowing me to focus on the real fun: Mindlessly ticking off repetitive tasks while listening to Comedy Bang Bang. It’s good to be back. Or… well, I’m back either way. [Sam Barsanti]

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4 / 13

Los Espookys

Los Espookys

This holiday season I gifted myself a little HBO Max—and with it, the chance to patch some massive, formerly premium-cable-based gaps in my pop culture coverage. Rather than dive straight into The Big Old HBO Shows of yore, though, I started small, and wonderful, by bingeing my way through the absolutely delightful Los Espookys. I can’t remember the last time a series gave me such a pure shot of joy, from the wonderful “spook” sequences, to Ana Fabrega’s performance as the indestructible Tati, to the surprising plot centrality of The King’s Speech. [William Hughes]

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5 / 13

Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things

Not proud of this or anything, but on my slightly hungover/slothlike New Year’s Day, I watched all eight episodes of the Netflix series Tiny Pretty Things. It is the escapist trash story of a prestigious ballet school in Chicago, wherein these supposed 16- and 17-year-olds drink, pop pills, and swap sex partners every single episode while they simultaneously befriend/backstab each other to get the best ballet roles. The acting was abysmal and the murderish plot made little sense, and yet… the dancing was really kind of amazing. Plus the series switched the book’s locale from New York to Chicago, making excellent use of the picturesque downtown area (with maybe a little too much reliance on the Bean). Best of all was Lauren Holly as the ex-ballerina who runs the school, fearlessly chomping the low-carb scenery in full-on diva mode. I regret nothing. [Gwen Ihnat]

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6 / 13

Monk

Monk

My sister and I spent part of the holidays making our way through a cache of true-crime series, including Netflix’s The Ripper, which we figured we’d offset by rewatching Monk from the beginning—you know, a little light to offset all the murder and mayhem. Tony Shalhoub is reliably great and moving as Adrian Monk, and our reappraisal led me to have greater affection for the no-nonsense approach of Monk assistant Sharona (Bitty Schram). But what I’m most struck by is the utter lack of compunction among the perpetrators on the USA Network blue-sky procedural; scores of San Franciscans murder their spouses, bosses, neighbors, competitors, and complete strangers as if checking off an item on a to-do list. It’s the potato chip approach to homicide: “Bet you can’t kill just one!” Maybe Monk has more in common with The Ripper than I originally thought. [Danette Chavez]

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7 / 13

The Good Lord Bird

The Good Lord Bird

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a perfect time to catch up on TV, especially if—like me—you haven’t watched much of it in the leadup to year-end lists. Our TV editor Danette Chavez told me several times since its premiere in October that that I’d enjoy The Good Lord Bird, and—as usual—she was right. In terms of historical revisionism, this series has a lighter touch than Amazon’s Hunters, which came out earlier this year. And it’s better off for it, striking a pleasing balance between gravitas and comedy, particularly in terms of its performances. There’s Ethan Hawke and his portrayal of John Brown as a wild-eyed holy madman, of course; but if you ask me, Daveed Diggs stole the show with his delightful turn as writer, orator, abolitionist, and ladies’ man Frederick Douglass. [Katie Rife]

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8 / 13

The Flight Attendant

The Flight Attendant

Over my holidays, I took the time to savor the high-gloss trash of HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant, which is exactly the kind of fun, fast-paced silliness (alcoholic flight attendant wakes up next to a dead body and finds herself enmeshed in high-stakes international conspiracy) that works perfectly as a palate cleanser to a stressball of a year. Kaley Cuoco is great as the titular sharp-tongued disaster of a person, Zosia Mamet is perfectly cast as her brittle bestie, and the whole thing benefits from an appealing blend of tawdry potboiler and light-hearted black comedy (Michiel Huisman as the murder victim who takes up residence in the title character’s psyche gets some especially good moments of surrealist absurdity). I have no idea if it can sustain itself for the recently announced second season, but I’ll be there with a miniature bottle of vodka, ready to tune in. [Alex McLevy]

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9 / 13

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Part of getting older and busier means cultivating a growing stack of video games I’m unable to make the time to play. But one of the rare bright spots of self-quarantining last year was being able to slowly chip away at that backlog, and actually enjoy playing video games again. I took that momentum into the holidays and dusted off my unopened copy of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, the fifth entry in Naughty Dog’s action-adventure franchise that promotes minor characters Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross to central protagonists. Lost Legacy employs the well-worn gameplay formula of every other Uncharted game: climb some rocks, shoot some guys, solve some puzzles, maybe sneak around a bit, rinse and repeat. But the relationship between Chloe and Nadine—which grows from a shaky, professional partnership to a trusting friendship built on mutual respect—made made my play-through worthwhile. [Baraka Kaseko]

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10 / 13

Record Of Youth

Record Of Youth

Over break, I intended to clear out my Netflix queue and begin anew. Of course, that didn’t happen. I did, however, finally catch the dramatic Netflix series Record Of Youth starring Park Bo-gum and Parasite’s Park So-dam. The romantic saga of a rising TV star and his budding relationship with a top-notch makeup artist was a soothing pivot from the more somber properties I’ve had to review over the past year, and it only managed to confirm my love for So-dam, who gave my favorite performance in Bong Joon Ho’s sterling thriller. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The holidays are for swooning. [Shannon Miller]

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11 / 13

Wind Of Change

Wind Of Change

Without my daily commute, my built-in podcast time disappeared in 2020 (along with my sanity). But over the holidays, I finally made my way through all of Dolly Parton’s America, a fascinating look into who, what, and why is Dolly Parton. I was impressed to find the series doesn’t shy away from Saint Dolly’s controversies while also giving the legendary songwriter her due. But even more riveting was Wind Of Change, a podcast from New Yorker writer and author Patrick Radden Keefe. Over eight episodes, Keefe investigates a tip about a story going around within the CIA that the agency secretly wrote the Scorpions power ballad “Wind Of Change” as part of its Cold War efforts. It sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory until you realize how it fits right in with decades of confirmed CIA operations. I’ll never hear Klaus Meine’s whistling the same way again. [Patrick Gomez]

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12 / 13

Attack On Titan

Attack On Titan

My hesitant march into the world of anime continues. I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion (and endured the monstrous wonder of End Of Evangelion) for the first time over the summer, and now I’m kicking off 2021 with another staple of the medium, Attack On Titan. Based on Hajime Isayama’s manga series, the post-apocalyptic tale centers around a city surrounded by giant walls designed to keep out of the hulking, man-eating humanoids that patrol the world beyond. It’s horrifying stuff, gorier and more chaotic than I would’ve imagined, but what really gets me is the utter vacancy on the faces of the Titans. Their unfeeling idiot grins give them the feel of giant, naked babies, which is infinitely scarier than any horror movie I saw last year. Nightmares are fun, even over the holidays. [Randall Colburn]

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