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Our Team's Favorite Media and Entertainment of 2021

Over 60 podcasts, movies, books, albums, and TV shows we loved and recommend you binge over the holidays.
End of Year Entertainment Hero

We binged, we power-read, and we took in a lot of media in 2021 to make sure we had a lengthy list for you to refer to this holiday season. Hoping you add some of these to your to-watch, to-listen, or to-read list, and we'd love to hear the recommendations from you that we missed in our Facebook community

End of Year Entertainment

The Dig: If I'd read the synopsis before watching the movie, I probably would have skipped it, but I'm glad I didn't. It was a slow, beautiful film reimagining the events of an excavation of large mounds on a woman's property and the discovery of a ship from the Dark Ages. I felt oddly invested in the characters (Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan) and the experience of watching it was meditative and lovely. - Emily

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Probably my favorite Marvel movie of all time. There, I said it. This was one of the first movies I watched in the movie theater post-lockdown and I can't describe how special it felt to see a mainstream superhero movie lead by an Asian cast. All that aside, it was funny, heartfelt, and just visually stunning. - Cass

The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin I entered a screening of this docuseries (my friend, Nile, is one of the producers!) exhausted, and worried I wouldn't be able to keep my eyes open. I was riveted. If you're intrigued by the intersection of cults, religion, and weight-loss culture, this is a must-watch, and the final two episodes will be released in 2022. - Jess

Dune: I haven't quite finished the book yet (I KNOW, I KNOW) but I couldn't help but go see Dune in the theater. As my first movie on a big screen since the pandemic began, this was a WOW. The score! The cast! The cinematography! I absolutely cannot wait for the next one. - Kelly

LuLaRich on Amazon Prime: I'm fascinated by pyramid schemes and after watching the Vice mini-doc about LuLaRoe, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Amazon Prime's version. It features in depth interviews with the founders of the LuLaRoe, their employees, and former distributors. A really insightful watch, especially for fans of The Dream podcast. - Cass

Bo Burnham's Inside: I was very late to Bo's other Netflix special, Make Happy, which catapulted him to the top of my celebrity crush list, so I wasn't missing the premiere of his 2021 project. I constantly catch myself singing TTK, and it even made it into my Spotify Wrapped - Jess (Emily loved it as well!)

King Richard: I didn't know much about this movie before watching except for the fact that some called it Will Smith's best performance of all time. I think I have to agree with that one. The story of Venus and Serena Williams and their relationship with their father took me down an emotional rollercoaster in the best way - I'm already ready to watch it again. - Lauren

In The Heights: I'm not ashamed to admit that this is my favorite movie of the year (Dear Evan Hansen on the other can skip). I saw the Broadway show back in 2008 and didn't find the performance to be all that memorable, and now I'm disappointed in my younger self as I listen and sing along to to "Blackout" for the 57th time this year. I'm relieved that it's back on HBOMax for the holiday season so I can rewatch it. Jon M. Chu's direction took the story to new heights (see what I did there?) and it feels like this musical was meant to be a movie. - Jess

Promising Young Woman: I knew nothing about this movie before watching it on a flight to Minneapolis except that I like Carey Mulligan and Leslie had recommend it. It was nothing like what I expected, in the best way. Shock factor at the ending was nearly a 10/10. - Kelly (E's favorite, too!)

Tick, Tick...Boom!: I may have written about this very recently, but I truly do recommend watching it around the holidays. ( you send a musical theater theme? 🙃) The soundtrack will be stuck in your head through 2022, which is when I imagine this will rack up quite a few Oscar nominations. - Jess

The United States vs. Billie Holiday: This was another plane ride movie, and I'd really like to watch it again with better sound. Andra Day as Billie is straight up phenomenal, and the fact that I could tell just how incredible she is on a tiny plane TV and a pair of crappy earphones is telling. - Kelly

End of Year Entertainment3

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: Nothing could top this book for me this year. It wasn't quite a 10/10, but with 12 intertwining stories of Black women, this book will be added to the echelons of my absolute favorites. - Kelly

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost: I've been a fan of Colin Jost from SNL for a while, but had never fully realized just how funny I find him. After hearing him interviewed on Howard Stern last summer, I added the book to my Overdrive app (through the Los Angeles Library - the best way to read!) and forgot about it. Once it became available months later, I read it in under 24 hours it was that smart, hilarious and thoughtful. - Emily

Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz: This cookbook defined the tail end of 2020 and the early months of 2021 (aka the final weeks of Los Angeles quarantine) for me, and it's still my favorite cookbook of all time. If you need to be convinced, try any of the recipes from this blog post – and try not to run to the bookstore to grab your copy. - Jess

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: If you need a delightful sci-fi story in your life, look no further. This book was so weird, but also fairly easy to digest and strangely heartwarming. - Kelly

Girl A by Abigail Dean: One of my friends, who isn't what either of us would classify as a frequent reader, sent me a very persuasive text last week insisting that I start Girl A "immediately." I started it that night, right before I'd hoped to fall asleep, but was so riveted that I stayed up an hour past my bedtime to continue reading. It follows the life of Lex (Girl A), who escaped her family's house of horrors, where she and her siblings were held captive as children. It's gripping and somber and the way Dean effortlessly weaves between the two makes it a compelling read from the very beginning. - Emily

The Defining Decade: This was the exact book I needed to read after just turning 25 in August, and it's also one that I know I'll continue referring back to throughout the rest of my 20's. It's the wake up call every twenty-something year old needs. - Lauren

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: I flew through this page-turner in just over a day – it touches on the complexities of class, race, performative activism, and has plenty of twists and turns. It's the kind of fiction book I wish I'd had at a younger age, as it helped me examine my own privilege. - Jess

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: I'm not what you'd call a YA fan. In fact, I've really only read the most ubiquitous of the bunch (Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games) so the fact that I enjoyed this book as much as I did really says something. It's a three-part series that feels like Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter, but with a slight romantic spin, so it really hits all the marks. There's also a TV series I'm saving myself for once I've finished the two remaining books in the trilogy, which I intend to listen to since my best friend (to whom I recommended the book) claims it's the "best narrator, ever." So there you have it. - Emily

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: I adore a rich historical fiction. With interesting/complex female characters and a dazzling New York City backdrop, I'd highly recommend City of Girls to pretty much anyone. - Kelly

Know My Name by Chanel Miller: Trigger warning: sexual assault. An extraordinarily moving memoir written by Chanel Miller, the victim in the sexual assault case involving Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner. In it, she weaves beautiful storytelling while recounting the soul-crushing reverberations from the assault and subsequent trial. It's tragic and empowering and speaks to the power of perseverance and reclaiming your voice after it's been taken. - Emily

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: This was my favorite book club read of the year, not only because I found the concept to be original and quite brilliant, but especially because it facilitated such deep and enlightening conversations. It's a fiction novel that follows three women—transgender and cisgender—whose lives become unexpectedly intertwined after an unplanned pregnancy. The themes around gender, motherhood, and sex were unexplored for me, and though it was the first trans story I'd ever picked up, I know it absolutely won't be the last. - Jess

Yearbook by Seth Rogan: After G woke me up laughing one night, I insisted that he read me whatever he was enjoying out loud, which happened to be Seth Rogan's new book, Yearbook. I found the passage to be so wildly entertaining that I quit whatever I was in the middle of reading to start it myself and tore through it immediately. I'm what G calls a "tough laugh" and I found myself howling on multiple occasions. - Emily

The House in The Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune: I needed to read something uplifting last spring, and this delightful fantasy that made me both laugh and cry was IT. - Kelly

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Beach Read and People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry: Three of the beach reads I enjoyed that would all make for great books to bring on any sort of holiday trip you have planned. They're easy, fun and digestible in the loveliest of ways. - Emily

End of Year Entertainment5

Montero, Lil Nas X: I usually have to listen to a song several times before I can tell if it's something I truly love. But the first time I heard "Thats What I Want" and "Industry Baby" from Lil Nas X's Montero, I was hooked. The entire album is a triumph, from start to finish, and happens to be the very best music to blast in the car to turn around a blah day (particularly "Lost in the Citadel"). - Emily

Happier Than Ever, Billie Eilish: I really thought we were probably heading for a bit of a sophomore slump with this album, and I am delighted to say that I was wrong. Happier Than Ever took me a few listens to really appreciate, but dang there are a few songs on this album that kill ('my future', 'Oxytocin', 'Happier Than Ever'). - Kelly

Six: The Musical (Studio Cast Recording): The best news about this album? You don't need to see the performance to appreciate the lyrics and absolute genius of this show. Anyone who's obsessed with history (especially British royalty) will be enchanted by the spin on the six ex-wives of Henry VIII, and their ability to reclaim their narrative (plus, I'm a sucker for anything with a feminist twist). - Jess

Gold-Diggers Sound, Leon Bridges: If you haven't listened to Leon Bridges ever, stop reading this right now and go take care of that. His songs feel like honey, melancholy, and sexiness all in one. I listened to his episode of Armchair Expert and had to pause midway to listen to this album after hearing them talk about it. It's the first album that's made me understand the importance of listening to an album from start to finish. Each track feels like a different layer to the same story. I listen to it in the car, getting ready in the morning, or just when I need a midday reset. Must listen tracks include: Motorbike, Details, and Don't Worry. Warning: You'll be longing for Leon's type of love. - Cass

Nothing Happens, Wallows: You know those songs that you hear for the first time that you immediately love? The ones that give you goosebumps and you wonder how you're *just* now hearing it? One of my favorite songs from the past year affected me this way, and it's from this album, which turned out to be equally as good. The album also takes me back to a really fun time in my life, when I was still living in Atlanta and making new friends - one of my best friends played it at a summer party one night, and now listening to it will always take me right back to that time and place. - Lauren

Red (Taylor's Version), Taylor Swift: There are very few albums I would throw a thematic party for, but this was no ordinary album. This was my lord and savior Taylor Swift's heartbreak album, with songs you couldn't escape for most of November even if you tried. While it's not my favorite of her discography, I have to admit that I loved having something to look forward to for so long that actually lived up to the hype. - Jess (and Kelly 😉)

Sour, Olivia Rodrigo: Every time I encounter someone who hasn't heard 'Drivers License' yet, my response is always: HOW? Olivia Rodrigo is basically the Gen Z version of Taylor Swift, and I'm invested. Sour is incredible, and I am highly anticipating a followup album sometime in 2022 called Sweet. - Kelly

Sob Rock, John Mayer: This album feels reminiscent of the CDs my dad would play on lazy summer days when I was a kid. With a nostalgic nod to '80s ballads with a fun twist, it's the ideal thing to play when you're cooking in the kitchen with a glass of wine. - Emily

Golden Hour and star-crossed, Kacey Musgraves: Somehow I have been living under a rock and discovered Kacey Musgraves in 2021. Golden Hour is perhaps one of my favorite albums of all time, and star-crossed has some intensity to it that I'm really into (see: 'justified', 'easier said', 'there is a light'). - Kelly

In The Heights (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack): Despite many movie musicals and a Taylor Swift album release, this still managed to be my favorite (and most-played) of 2021. The In The Heights soundtrack got me through runs, plane rides, and many a schlep from the west to the east side of LA, with special shoutouts to "96,000," "Blackout," and "When You're Home," as they've been my most-belted songs. - Jess

Delta, Mumford and Sons: I am unashamedly obsessed with Mumford and Sons; I even liked 2015's Wilder Mind. For some reason I totally missed Delta when it came out in 2018 and listened to it on repeat this summer; I remain convinced it's actually their best album yet. - Kelly

Grapefruit Season, James Vincent McMorrow: I am convinced there is something in the water in Ireland. Any music, writing, or film to come from an Irish person makes me feel all the feelings. James Vincent McMorrow is just one of the few to prove my theory. When an Instagram friend of mine shared a track from his new album titled Tru Love, I swiped to my Spotify app instantly. I listened exclusively to that one song for a good week before accidentally playing the next song in the album and kicking myself for not listening to Grapefruit Season in its entirety sooner. Confession: I cry-sang to the track Poison to You for the next few weeks. - Cass

Pony, Rex Orange County: I just really love this artist and don't think he's made any music I dislike. This particular album became a favorite of mine this past summer, which again, takes me back to a fun and memorable time of my life. - Lauren

End of Year Entertainment2

The Beatles: Get Back: We just started this 3-part series on Disney+ and it feels like the most intimate, can't-believe-we're-so-lucky glimpse into previously unseen coverage of The Beatles writing their album, Let it Be. We're slowly making our way through it to savor the experience, but everything from their outfits to getting to watch Paul work through and write Get Back in real time, is a delight. - Emily

Never Have I Ever: I loved Never Have I Ever so much that I carved out time on my honeymoon to watch the second season after powering through the first just days before our wedding. Anything Mindy Kaling is Emmy-worthy in my book, but the Devi-Paxton-Ben love triangle is especially endearing and I'm so relieved they've been picked up for a third season. - Jess

Sweet Tooth on Netflix: A somewhat hopeful and upbeat post-apocalyptic TV show starring a deer/human hybrid child who survives after a global pandemic wipes out most of the Earth's population? Yep, that accurately describes something I would like. - Kelly

Hacks: If I haaad to pick a favorite (high-brow) show this year, Hacks would be it. Hell yes to two female leads defying traditional TV roles held by women. I enjoy rooting for antiheroes, and both Ava and Deborah's characters have an undeniable magnetism (and platonic chemistry), pairing depth with superficiality in a beautiful harmony that was oh so fun to watch. - Jess (Emily loved this, too!)

The Flight Attendant: This has to be one of my favorite shows I watched at the beginning of the year, mainly because I love Kaley Cuoco - but also because it was the perfect balance of mystery, rom-com, and everything in between. - Lauren

Love Island Season 7: I joined the Love Island fan club right before the pandemic truly started. Even though the show wasn't live at the time, my sister and I binged the entire season while adjusting to the unprecedented lockdown. I was excited to see the show return this year, even though it meant I was watching it alone. I'm a sucker for the friendships, emotional rollercoasters, and iconic English banter. - Cass

WandaVision: Justin and I devoured WandaVision, the Disney+ miniseries that explores the post-Avengers: End Game world of Wanda (played by Elizabeth Olsen). I'm definitely drawn to female heroes (Captain Marvel is my favorite of the Marvel movies), and Wanda's exploration of and reaction to grief was both fascinating and timely during an era where so many are losing loved ones. And if you need one more reason to start it...know that the comedic queen Kathryn Hahn will also be gracing your screen throughout all nine episodes. - Jess

Shadow and Bone on Netflix: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (a dark and twisty fantasy novel) was one of my favorite books I read during quarantine last year, so when I saw another of her books was made into a TV series, I had to watch it. And by watch, I mean I devoured it. - Kelly

100 Foot Wave: This series, that follows a man determined to surf the first 100-foot wave, is riveting and beautiful while also creating a serious amount of travel lust. It's gorgeously shot (with a score by Philip Glass, one of my favorite composers) and only gets progressively more exciting the longer you watch. - Emily

Only Murders in the Building: Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez were the trio I never knew I needed. If you're in the mood for a murder mystery that satirizes the culture around and obsession with true crime podcasts (ahem, Emily), this is the perfect show to throw on if you're planning on being a couch potato through the end of the year. - Jess

Money Heist Part 5: Knowing this would be the final season of Money Heist made its return extra bittersweet. I've consistently loved each season before this. For a heist show, they still found a way to keep us on our toes. Wrapping up such an amazing show is a tall order but I will say that the first half of the finale has delivered on the emotions, action, and great writing. - Cass

Starstruck: This was like Fleabag-meets-Notting-Hill and was endearing, funny, and a pure joy to watch. - Emily

The Sex Lives of College Girls: SHOCKING. Another project from Mindy Kaling made my list. 🙃 It's tough to nail four distinctly different and complicated characters – and make them believable as friends. I haven't see it executed as well as The Sex Lives of College Girls manages to do since Sex and the City. Buckle up for lots of drama, second-hand embarrassment, and laughs. - Jess

FBoy Island: I've watched a lot of The Bachelor franchise in 2021, and yet my favorite trashy TV season was HBO's FBoy Island. Justin and I finished this in a weekend – it's the cotton candy of TV shows: bingeable, addictive, and totally delicious. - Jess

Motel Makeover: I woke up to a text from my sister one morning telling me I needed to watch this show. This Netflix series follows a pair of hotel owners as they embark on transforming a rundown motel into an Instagram-worthy destination. It hits two things I love: restoration projects and interior design. I loved seeing what it takes to put up a hotel almost from scratch. - Cass

The Haunting of Bly Manor: I'm a sucker for a spooky tv show or movie, so I had this one on my list for a while. It follows The Haunting of Hill House, but with a totally different plot and overall feel - which I loved. I will say, I ended up feeling more heartbroken than sad at the end of the season...the unexpected romance aspect is a solid 10/10. - Lauren

You Season 3: I'm a very forgiving TV consumer (I watched Riverdale, Scandal, and Glee wayyy longer than I should have), so you might not initially believe me with this recommendation – fortunately, some other trusted sources agree that You season 3 blew it out of the park. I'm amazed at any series that can stray from a book's plot and create original and captivating storylines, and that's exactly what it accomplished. - Jess

End of Year Entertainment4

Smartless Podcast: I'm such a true crime podcast enthusiast that I hadn't even entertained the idea of trying out something in a different genre until recently. After a friend pretty much guaranteed I'd love Smartless, a podcast with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett, I skeptically gave it a listen on my way home after lunch. It was then, in the privacy of my own car, that I nearly snorted my iced tea through my nose because I was laughing so hard. As someone who adored Arrested Development, I'm still not sure how it took me this long to embrace a show run by two of its stars, especially when they bring on guests like Julia Louis Dreyfus, Ryan Reynolds, Tina Fey, Amy Sedaris, and Zach Galifianakis. - Emily

The Viall Files: Did 2020 Jess foresee how many hours she would spend listening to Nick Viall dish out relationship advice the following year? Most definitely not – but here I am, looking forward to Mondays, the morning that The Viall Files releases their Ask Nick episodes. The callers' dilemmas are so juicy and fascinating, and Nick's advice is honest, blunt, yet still compassionate. If you enjoy hearing about strangers' messy dating lives, download this immediately. - Jess

How I Built This With Guy Raz, "Hinge: Justin McLeod" episode: I listened to this episode of one of my favorite ever podcasts on a plane to Minneapolis this summer. Not only did it make me cry, it partially inspired me to download Hinge (again) in a city I don't live in. Spoiler alert: It worked. - Kelly

The LadyGang: According to my #SpotifyWrapped this was my most listened to podcast of 2021 and they're not wrong. Spending most of 2020 in lockdown meant that I didn't have any drives to fill with my favorite podcasts. Once things started to pick up in 2021, I realized how much I missed listening to The LadyGang. I laugh, cry, and guffaw as if I'm chatting with friends - it makes me actually look forward to long drives. - Cass

Maintenance Phase: One of my favorites to throw on while I'm traveling or on a long walk – Aubrey and Michael debunk the junk science behind health fads, wellness scams and nonsensical nutrition advice. Start with the episode on anti-fat bias. - Jess

Reset NYC: I've talked a little about this one on the blog before, but here I am mentioning it again. It truly became my favorite podcast after listening for the first time on a long drive from San Diego to LA. I was totally sucked in after feeling weirdly seen and validated by everything Liz Tran discussed - each episode continues to resonate me in ways I've never experienced before. If you're always looking for self growth resources, I couldn't recommend this podcast more. - Lauren

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