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Heads Will Roll
The Donner and Blitzen of newsletters—dare you to guess who's who—is back with tales of tween sleuths, bad-girl blondes, and a hug for Miranda Hobbes.
’Tis the season for our husband (should we say “partner” to sound more au courant?) to drive us absolutely, to borrow a term, cuckoobahnaynay. (And yes, vice versa—but since this is our newsletter, we’re going to weigh this scenario in our favor if that works for you, thankyousomuch.) On—checks phone home screen—this December 15th, in the year of our Lord 2021, the honey-do lists are lengthy and brimming with items involving physical labor, emotional labor, and the extra-dreaded combo thereof. Which is why when we saw the piece in the Wall Street Journal about how the happiest marriages are long-distance marriages, we nodded emphatically, momentarily transported to a cinematic airport-reunion make-out scene scored by the Ronettes’ “Sleigh Ride.” And then we slammed down our phone on the kitchen island, shot daggers deeeeeep into our husband’s soul, grumbled something about how just because he hasn’t finished his shopping despite having infinity notice that Christmas would approach yet again at the end of 2021 doesn’t mean the cats’ litter box can wait until the 26th to be scooped, grabbed the baby and our keys, and stormed out the door.
Ho ho ho,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Honey, if you’re reading this: Thank you for your support! Looking forward to getting back to our blissful union in the New Year!
PPS: Only one week left until we unveil the first-annual Spreadie Awards! Which means you have two days left to nominate your favorite mags, pods, writers, and more. Get into it right here.
And just like that… we can’t read another objection from anyone born after 1990.
Months ago, when news broke that HBO Max would be rolling out another Sex and the City reboot, the reception in the cultureverse seemed to be a collective deep eye roll: #okboomer, good luck with that. But in the run-up to the debut of And Just Like That, the Cut and other outlets turned a corner, welcoming the premier with something resembling gleeful anticipation, releasing a torrent of clicky we-can’t-wait headlines. Then, last Thursday, the show dropped. And every second since, somebody’s been disappointed by something: This one, who fancies herself a “Miranda,” is pissed that her avatar had to be the one stuck carrying the awkward storyline of the racially inept “Karen.” That one’s pissed there’s no actual sex in the city. A bunch of people are clucking over poor Kristin Davis’s face. And this one is confused about whether killing off a character via Peloton was in fact a strange, choreographed marketing scheme for…Peloton. Besides that last one—which I’ll admit is a real head-scratcher—something about all the negging feels like punching down1, or at the very least, piling on. Can we call a moratorium? Let’s be clear: I’m not defending the show. It ain’t great. But I mean, of course it’s not. After two hideous films that only dug SATC’s hole deeper, who expected different? I find myself feeling strangely protective/defensive, like I’m watching a menopausal friend—a delightful pathbreaker in her heyday who, sure, looks a little different in the cold light of 2021—head back out into the footlights doing her best high kicks, only to find that that her once-adoring audience came bearing tomatoes. Or maybe pitchforks. I want to hurl my body over hers, protect her from the worst the internet can do, though admittedly, I’m not entirely sure who she is in this scenario. It it SATC, the show? Is it Sarah Jessica Parker herself, who as Rachel previously pointed out, I profiled a couple of times in our Elle days and found, at every turn, lovably genuine in a way that feels worth protecting? I suspect she is in fact early-aughts me, who devoured the hijinks of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha on a 9” TV screen, fueled by Marlboro Lights and £7 bottles of rot-gut red, and in the rich company of (bawdy, brilliant) Emma, (high-energy, ambitious) Taryn, and (kind-hearted, creative) Emily—my chosen family of Canadians, with whom I rode out the start of womanhood and a new millennium in a damp flat in North London. Which, if I may say, is an awfully fun city to have sex (and unforgettable friendships) in.
Should the creators of AJLT be held accountable for the hubris/magical thinking that went into believing that a show that, though it was hardly realistic, did make a kind of sense to our foursome—way back in those pre-#MeToo, pre-BLM, pre-binary, pre-Tinder, pre-Uber, pre-Insta days—could be culturally rehabbed to play well in this wildly different landscape? Yah, maybe. Still, it feels icky to read, over and over again, the harsh takes of people who (fine, I’ll say it) weren’t around to “get it” the first time.—Maggie
Maggie—or should I call you “Half-Carrie, Half-Miranda” in this instance? I’d like to point out that this is not the first time Miranda has been hung out to dry by her writers. In one of those vile movies (don’t make me look up which) they did the thing where Miranda needed a bikini wax and they showed us the evidence. I’ve been mad at Michael Patrick King ever since. That kind of bizarro indignity aside, what had me burning up at the new show is the subplot between Miranda and her carrot-topped now-17-year-old son, Brady: Brady is allowed to have loud, spirited sex with his girlfriend, Louisa, in the room next to Mir and Steve’s in their Brooklyn apartment; it is gross and it is inappropriate and the rule-abiding, rule-enforcing Miranda I’ve known for more than half my life would never let it fly.—Rachel
RB: Moratorium, remember?—Maggie
Is Faist the new Chalamet?
I haven’t felt this way about a performance in…precisely four years. Since I snuck out of the Hearst Tower (very) early for the day to see Call Me By Your Name at the Paris Theater. There I met Timothée Chalamet in the role of Elio—or Oliver, Oliver, Oliver, as my fellow stans know him—and in that instance young Timothée became my…what exactly? It wasn’t a Hollywood crush per se; I didn’t really want to kiss him—mostly, I just wanted to watch him and/or talk about him all the time. My muse? Let’s go with that. Well, I met his successor this weekend in the new West Side Story. Mike Faist plays Riff, the wily, heartbreaking leader of the Jets, and oh my goodness he devours the role, his scrawny limbs and crooked smiles overshadowing the strapping Ansel Elgort’s pouty lips and massive frame (to say nothing of his questionable-at-best reputation). If the movie wasn’t capital-A ah-mahzing in itself—a tribute, a triumph!—Faist’s magnetism alone would be reason to mambo straight to the theater. Which is why I was shocked and saddened that Faist was snubbed by the Golden Globes—until I came to from my trance and realized that the Golden Globes are not a thing anymore (though I guess I’m still happy for Ariana DeBose, who plays the new Anita, for scoring a nomination? I guess? Is this thing even on? I kinda hope not). Okay back to Faist: The Washington Post is the first major outlet to grab him for a profile (by Thomas Floyd), and it’s a lovely round of getting-to-know-you. As the real awards committees begin voting, let’s hope they pay attention to this breakthrough role like they did Timothée’s back in 2017!—Rachel
Read “Mike Faist was a ‘blue collar working theater actor.’ Now, he’s West Side Story’s standout” here.
No easy answers.
Last week, when our newest (lifetime-appointed!) Supreme Court justice questioned the necessity of abortion given the existence of “safe haven” laws—in a country that makes it “easy” to relinquish a child, why do we even need abortion?—my first thought was: Does she even believe that? Is it possible that a woman as intelligent as Amy Coney Barrett, with as many kids as she has, could be callous enough to think that forcing women to upend their lives in order to gestate, birth, and relinquish babies that, for a thousand possible reasons, they won’t/can’t raise is somehow morally superior to ensuring their right to a safe abortion? Also, has this Supreme Court justice somehow skipped past the very well-trod data on this one? Only 9 percent of women who are denied an abortion choose adoption. Since then we’ve seen an outpouring of writing that challenges the traditional view on adoption as the honorable “choice” of birth parents who want a better life for their child. Adoptees like Elizabeth Spiers and Nicole Chung have written movingly (and controversially) about their personal experiences. (“If something is your only choice, can you still consider it a choice at all?” says Chung.) And in the Nation, Gretchen Sisson and Jessica M. Harrison reminded us that adoption has long been championed on both sides of the aisle (and by both Obama and Trump) despite the fact that studies show it is more complex than most people believe, often traumatizing—for birth parents but also, ultimately, for many adoptees—and the last resort of people who want to parent their child, but lack the social/financial support to do it. Now that adoption has been dragged into the eye of the storm, I highly recommend Olga Khazan’s story on the shifting thinking on the issue in the Atlantic. It has been stuck in my brain since it came out in October and seems like an especially useful read today, in that it is not about right v. left, and was researched and written before the heat of this Supreme Court moment. Khazan reports on the adoptive “baby shortage” in the US (of the nearly 4 million children born here each year, only about 18,000 are voluntarily relinquished for adoption) and explains that while this sounds like a bad thing, in the broader scheme it actually is not: There’s more emphasis now on keeping children with their birth families, not only in this country but in others that once welcomed American adoptions (the rate of international adoptions is now extremely low).
Since reading it, I have thought frequently and with some remorse about my own years-long struggle with infertility: How I always believed that I had adoption in my back pocket, readily available if we needed it. How I’ve often naively encouraged friends in a similar position, Have you guys thought about adoption? As if that was somehow simpler. No side of this equation is simple. Amy Coney Barrett, a biological and adoptive mother, must know that…right?—Maggie
Read “What We Get Wrong About Adoption” here.
Chung’s “A Choice in Name Only” appears in a subscribers-only newsletter for the Atlantic; subscribe here.
Have you met Harriet the Spy’s renegade author?
Turns out the woman who dreamed up Harriet M. Welsch, the 1960s’ fave smart-aleck 11-year-old sleuth-in-training, was at least as fascinating as her famous heroine. Is late 2021 having a Harriet the Spy…moment? Well, maybe a moment-ette: With a (post-Monica) Beanie Feldstein voicing a new animated Harriet on AppleTV+, the New Yorker decided the time was right for writer Rebecca Panovka to give us a late-breaking review of writer Leslie Brody’s 2020 bio of Harriet author Louise Fitzhugh. Those who caught the book when it came out (I didn’t) will already know that Harriet’s apple did not fall far from Fitzhugh’s tree: Both were the products of well-to-do families and had little patience for girlish pursuits. But where Harriet was an 11-year-old with a nanny and a taste for tomato sandwiches, Fitzhugh, at 4’11” in adulthood, “was sometimes mistaken for a child, and she dressed in boys’ or men’s clothing throughout her life.” A card-carrying Greenwich Village boheme, she painted, penned psychoanalytic poetry, openly dated women, started writing children’s literature to subsidize her art, often paired her Brooks Brothers suits with combat boots and a cape, and, perhaps inevitably, met a tragic end. Wait, whuuut? This story is so biopic-ready—truly, I cannot resist the late ’50s/early ’60s Village Voice set—I immediately jumped to Deadline to see if the film rights had been sold. As far as I can google, they have not. RB: 2022 project? Just in case, I think we should put elfin actor Elliot Page on hold for the role of Fitzhugh.—Maggie
Maggie, I tried to force-feed Harriet the Spy to my 11-year-old, but she wasn’t biting. She did, however, dig Clarissa Explains It All, and last night I turned her onto the harder stuff: Daria. Kid’s all in.—Rachel
Buy Sometimes You Have to Lie by Leslie Brody in the Spread’s Bookshop here.
Read “The Tragic Misfit Behind ‘Harriet the Spy’” here.
Blonde on blonde on blonde.
Here at the Spread, we’re always looking to perfect “the mix” of topics, writers, subjects, and publications we include in an issue. But this week, we’re throwing that maxim to the wind and engaging with multiple New Yorker stories. (David...May we call you David? Are you reading the Spread? If so, please keep it up and keep churning out the womancentric hits.)
In addition to the delightful Harriet the Spy piece, this week Remnickland served up a profile of culinary lighting-rod Alison Roman by the superb Lauren Collins, texted to me by no fewer than four Spread readers. When I saw this excellent writer-subject pairing, my first thought was, Can I please hang out with y’all? I’m blonde and fun, too! A thought that anyone who has followed the Roman controversy of the past year would likely find, well, problematic. And—le sigh—they’d be right. Collins, the poised-but-chatty, French-speaking, Paris-dwelling wunderkind, has long been an idol of mine, perhaps in part because I was swiftly booted from French 101 in college: Madame explained it would be impossible for me to learn French with my Southern accent, no need to waste anyone’s time! Alison Roman, on the other hand, is big-mouthed with a habit of getting going on a topic until she says the wrong thing and goes up in flambé. (Smack-talking Marie Kondo and Chrissy Teigen, both Asian women, to a website that no one has otherwise ever heard of before? That’ll do it.)
The profile rises to my sky-high expectations. Collins paints Roman as a delightful, authentically messy-cool hostess/brand without pulling any punches regarding, above all, Roman’s whiteness and its tangled relationship to her celebrity. Collins also elegantly touches on questions of cultural appropriation in recipe development as well as the Bon Appetit race controversy of the past year without letting those weighty questions swallow the profile whole. (So to speak.) I’m dying to know what gives-no-fucks Roman thinks of this piece, though even if it stings I know she’ll never reveal it.
If you’re going to double down on the New Yorker, why not triple down? We now know what Hollywood thought about the Jeremy Strong profile we alerted you to last week. Everyone from Anne Hathaway to Jessica Chastain...to Jessica Chastain doing Aaron Sorkin’s bidding on Twitter (eye roll so big my orbs almost got stuck up there) has rushed to Strong’s defense. It reminds me of Carrie Mulligan’s outraged response to the male Variety critic who wrote that casting her as the sunny-looking seductress of Promising Young Woman was counterintuitively brilliant. (Mulligan was not, in his estimation, a Margot Robbie-style bombshell, but in spite of that he called her performance “skillful, entertaining, and challenging.”) Mulligan spoke out, decrying the whole thing as sexist. My response: Stay out of it, actors! Are we going to start defending every critique now? Please no. The Strong piece is the best thing that’s happened to the celebrity profile in years, and in my humble opinion it establishes Strong as a difficult act-or in the tradition of his idols, Hoffman, Pacino, Day-Lewis.—Rachel
Rachel, You and I have already gone many rounds on Strong-gate via phone, carrier pigeon, and late-night text chain. I’ll tell our loyal Spreaders what I told you: While the reporting, writing, and analysis in the story is so damn, well, strong that it’s actually humbling—and I agree that this story is a shot in the arm for the form of celebrity journalism, which is mostly a perfunctory, stale ole potato chip at this point—reading it, I could feel in my gut why, even if I was as talented as Michael Schulman, I will never be a truly great profiler, and that, my friend, is this: It takes a killer instinct. Most celebrity “access” is now whittled down to a Zoom call with highly prescribed conversational boundaries. Schulman, on the other hand, was invited way, way into Strong’s world. He flew alongside the actor (unheard of!) to his holiday home outside of Copenhagen and went to the beach with the guy’s wife and kids (unheard of!). He was given six long months to craft this thing (need I say it? Unheard of) during which the two surely established a personal rapport—which is, let’s face it, the only way to get any subject to open up. And yet in the end he used every ounce of ammunition at his disposal to paint the portrait he wanted to paint, of the fanatical, hard-to-love “method” man. As well he should! That’s the job! I applaud it. I just don’t know if I could do it.—Maggie
Maggie, All press is good press when it’s a big profile in the New Yorker that literally everyone is talking about!!—Rachel
Read “Alison Roman Just Can’t Help Herself” here.
Read “On Succession, Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke” here.
When guilty-pleasure TV really hurts.
This week for the Cut, writer Melissa Jeltsen tackles long-running Oxygen series Snapped—the salacious true-crime show about women murderers. “What motivates them?” Jeltsen writes of Snapped’s subjects, “On the show they usually fall into one of three buckets: crazy, money hungry, or scorned. But a closer examination of the series reveals another common factor: traumatic experiences of domestic violence and sexual abuse.”
Jeltsen illustrates her thesis—that the show preys on women who are in reality victims—through the heartbreaking story of Mindy Dodd, who says she spent most of her life being abused by her stepfather/husband before she orchestrated his death as her only way out. Sadly, Dodd is one of many survivors of domestic violence who make up the 500-plus episode series, which originally promised it wouldn’t feature such cases. In full, Jeltsen’s story demonstrates how often domestic violence comes into play when women commit murder.
While I have you, this story brought to mind another work of pumped-up nonfiction from a couple years ago, Lisa Taddeo’s best-selling book, Three Women, which purported to illuminate “the sexual and emotional life” of the American woman via three detailed profiles of three actual women from different backgrounds. Instead, what jumped out at me was that the common denominator for these characters was abuse—320 pages of it. That book came out more than two years ago and I’m still fired up. Just say the words “three women” within earshot of me at a party and I’ll kill your buzz in a jiff.—Rachel
Read “Domestic Violence Survivors Don’t Just ‘Snap’” here.
Direct from Santa’s last-minute mailbag.
Don’t say we’re not nimble around here! This tidbit from OG travel/food blog the Everywhereist came in over the transom at 9:27 a.m this morning from loyal Spreader Jon Chase. I scrolled past it earlier this week but failed to click, which apparently was a near-tragic lapse in judgement on my part. Thank you, Jon, for saving me from me. Our guy writes: “This has been making the rounds, but is exquisite, entertaining writing about an absurd 27-course dining experience from the 9th ring of Hades.” He cherry-picks this quote: “The décor had the of chicness of an underground bunker where one would expect to be interrogated for the disappearance of an ambassador’s child.” We’ll take it!—Maggie
Read “Bros., Lecce: We Eat at The Worst Michelin Starred Restaurant, Ever” in the Everywhereist (which is, if you don’t read it already, is a delight) here.
The Short Stack, aka, wait…there’s more!
This piece is about Mackenzie Davis’s new series Station Eleven, but we’d like to use it as an excuse to suggest you finally watch her last big show, the tremendous Halt & Catch Fire. (Coralie Kraft, New York Times) // Have you been following the news of the exoneration of Alice Sebold’s accused rapist, subject of her memoir, Lucky? (Johanna Berkman, the Cut) // Inside the sex-trafficking epidemic that wasn’t/isn’t. (Atlantic, Kaitlyn Tiffany) // As Taylor says, “weeeee are never, ever, ever getting back together.” (Janice Min, the Information) // We told you so! Three times is a trend: Why Mariah, Megan Thee, and the Biebs are ordering the value meal. (Anna P. Kambhampaty, Julie Creswell; New York Times.)