The ultimate Succession interview: Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, and Kieran Culkin talk to each other about stuff

Jeremy Strong is trying to say something serious. The actor, 41, who stars as Succession’s hangdog antihero Kendall Roy, is giving a thoughtful answer about the HBO drama’s storytelling. Strong says showrunner Jesse Armstrong — who created the dark and soapy saga about media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his highly ambitious offspring — is “weaving a tapestry” with a “corporate backdrop” but high “emotional stakes.”

As Strong talks, Kieran Culkin, 37, who plays Logan’s youngest son and Roy family jester Roman, sits next to him, eating pistachios. Suddenly Culkin begins vigorously brushing pistachio detritus from his clothes. Sarah Snook, 32, known to fans as cunning commitment-phobe (and Logan’s only daughter) Shiv, watches, repressing a giggle.

Strong pauses. “We’re all our characters,” he notes with a smile.

Not really, but EW’s chat with the stars of Succession — which covered everything from that shocking season 2 finale to the White Boy Rap heard ’round the world — proved to be almost as fun as watching the show.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Looking back at the first season, was there a moment where you felt like it really started to click?
KIERAN CULKIN: When we were shooting the pilot, I could tell it was good writing — I liked playing my character, but I felt like, “Who the hell’s gonna watch this show?” I kind of kept saying that, and then one day we were shooting episode 5 or 6, somewhere in there, I remember coming home. My wife asked me how was work, and I said, “Good! I think we have something here. I don’t know what it is, but I kind of give a s— about these people now and I don’t know why.” And I felt that way when I was watching it, and it felt pretty validated because that seems to be a lot of people’s opinions.

SARAH SNOOK: It occurs to me just now that after episode 5, I was like, “Sweet, they’ve spent enough money on this now that they can’t fire me.” [Everyone laughs] Total imposter syndrome!

JEREMY STRONG: I know that people felt like it was a slow burn, but I felt from the word go there was this great drama unfolding and that Jesse and the writers were setting the table. They knew exactly what they were doing. And at the same time, for me, it wasn’t until episode 6 that I suddenly felt like the dial turned, the noose tightened, the stakes got turned up. That episode where I broke my foot running up and down the street, stupidly. Yeah, the proxy call. Suddenly the corporate backdrop, the scaffolding that the show is built around fell away, and it became a character drama. And when he [gestures to Kieran] doesn’t look at me when I leave that room, when he doesn’t raise his hand — things have been set up so that the poignancy, the emotional stakes were teed up. Once that fuse was lit for me in episode 6, it never stopped for me again.

The show went from cult hit to Emmy-nominated phenomenon this year. What was the fan reaction like for you this season?
STRONG: I went and had a baby girl and was living in Copenhagen when we finished the first season and the show came out, so I was very peripherally aware of [the reaction]. It felt like the show sort of reached audiences and even sort of caught fire by the end, at least in terms of a response. But the wonderful thing was there was an audience ready to watch the second season that was already in the deep end with the characters. So they were ready to go on the ride.

SNOOK: If people have come to it before other friends of theirs, there’s so much personal ownership there. My favorite is when [fans say], “Nobody watches you, but I’m telling my friends to watch it.” Like, “Ouch? Thanks?”

CULKIN: People just shout at me on the street. They did that a little after season 1, like, “Oh you’re on that show.” Now they know the name of the show and they yell it at me. I also had a guy yell “you’re an asshole” at me while I was walking with my pregnant wife. It’s like, “Thank you. You should know me in real life, I’m an absolute prick. But this woman thinks I’m nice, so let’s keep the façade.”

STRONG: I sort of think it’s important to try and insulate yourself from all of that stuff because it can mess with you…

CULKIN: [interrupting] I think you should just bathe in it. “Mmmmm, me! The show! Everyone loves me!” I think it’s good for you.

STRONG: It’s become ubiquitous in a way where you get on the subway and there’s an advertisement for something that cites the show, or there was a review about a new supermarket in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that cites the show and so you think, “Oh wow, this is really becoming this zeitgeist-y thing.” It makes me so happy for Jesse Armstrong because he deserves all the credit. At the same time, it is this odd thing. There were people dressed as us for Halloween.

SNOOK: Wearing the “LOG” shirt.

STRONG: It’s so funny how that [happened]. I wear that Jersey for Kendall’s rap [in the season 2 episode “Dundee”]. That wasn’t called for [in the script]. We were in Glasgow filming, and I was sitting in our hotel and I sketched [the jersey] on the hotel stationery and texted it to our costume designer [Michelle Matland]. I was like, “Think we can get this made?” And so she had one made, and now people wear it for Halloween! And that’s crazy. It’s gratifying, and at the same time it’s also like, how do we go back to work and feel sort of loose and free and not give a s— about expectations?

SNOOK: What I’m trying to do is engage enough [in the fan reaction] so that you’re not denying yourself the joy. I’m such a fan of the show, because I love what you guys do, and I love what Nick [Braun] and Matthew [Macfadyen] do as Greg and Tom. I’m not getting to see that on set, so watching it on the episodes I get to be a fan as much as anyone else. So, I try to enjoy this moment in tandem with the fans and then by Christmas, cut it off and give yourself time to clear your head.

CULKIN: You don’t want to have how you perceive the show to actually influence the work. But I found that to be kind of easy because once we’re on set, everybody’s like, “Oh we’re back. We’re just doing the work.” I don’t feel like I’m seeing the show once we’re on set.

STRONG: I know for me, going back to the second season was something I dreaded the whole time just because of the circumstances where the character ended the first season. But going into the third season, it’s quite different. I don’t feel like I have to start in the ninth circle of hell.

Have you met any famous fans of the show?
STRONG: This was very exciting, but I know that Steven Spielberg is a big fan of it. I’m working on a thing with him now and he came to set the other day and all he could talk about was…

CULKIN: …was Kieran Culkin.

STRONG: …was the finale.

Each of your characters showed significant growth this season, for good and for ill. Roman, for one, really stepped up in the finale and told Logan that the private equity solution for Waystar was, in his words, “bulls—.”
CULKIN: And he also jerked off in a bathroom.

True, true — but he did seem to start taking the COO role seriously.
CULKIN: The thing he says in the first season, “I’m dumb but I’m smart,” I think that’s true and he means that. But it was getting to a point for me where it was like, why are they still allowing him in the room? Even though he’s COO or co-COO, if he doesn’t have anything to contribute, why do people still listen to him? And I was hoping to see the reason why. And I started to [this season] — little bits here and there. Even going through that, what he considers to be bulls— management training, and putting in that kind of effort and then actually caring.

He wants to be the hero [with the private equity deal], but it’s not a good enough deal to just be the hero. I think it shows a level of maturity and that he actually is kind of understanding, maybe, what the job entails — and that he might one day be capable of doing it.

STRONG: There was a certain courage of your convictions that started to happen. Even when you were talking to dad [Strong pauses, and smiles a little sheepishly]…when Roman is talking to Logan, and you say, “If it’s really important, I can say I’ll do it, like a fireman in a movie.” And having the courage to say that to him, there was an ownership…sort of like, this is actually who I am.

CULKIN: It came from, like, it doesn’t matter what I do, I’m still not going to get picked. Nothing matters anymore. I might as well just be honest.

STRONG: I also think on a fundamental level, the show is about individuation. It’s not about who’s going to become the CEO of Waystar…

CULKIN: [Speaks into phone] Siri, what is “individuation”?

STRONG: …that’s the Trojan horse of it. But it’s the evolution of these people, and we all went through our own process of that.

SNOOK: That’s the exciting potential journey of the show. [To Strong] I think you’re right. It’s not about who’s going to take over. It’s not about who’s right to take over. It’s about how each of these people who grew up in the same pressure cooker, the zygote changed for each of them in a different way. And that they’ve been told their whole lives they are meant to want this.

The finale delivered another huge twist when Kendall threw out the script at the press conference and told the world that Logan knew about the cruise ship scandal. Did it come as a shock to any of you?
STRONG: I was in L.A. last September and had a call with Jesse and he basically started by telling me where the season ends.

SNOOK: So you knew the whole time? Oh, my God!

STRONG: And then you try and bury that and arc it back as far as you possibly can from that, so it’s a sort of coming back from the dead and then arriving at that decision or moment in a way that feels both inevitable to you and also hopefully surprising to the audience.

I remember thinking a lot about that moment in Godfather where he’s in Sicily and falls in love with the girl, and when her car gets blown up, it’s like that’s the moment that he’s ready to go back and be a killer, because whatever final vestiges of his humanity and his capacity for love or tenderness have been destroyed. There’s this sort of darkening and annihilation of his soul that prepares him for something. I don’t even know that Jesse and I agree with the reason for [Kendall’s] decision.

CULKIN: Really?

STRONG: I don’t think we do. What I will say is the seizing of the throne that happened at the end of season 2 is to me 180 degrees different from the reason why Kendall wanted it at the end of season 1. At the end of season 1, it was the Holy Grail and it was the sort of the pinnacle of his ambitions and something he had wanted his whole life. I think at the end of season 2, I truly believe that he had lost that ambition…that he’d collapsed inside as a result of the tragedy that happened [at the wedding] and his complicity in that. But I think he saw something in that final episode in his father — Logan said to Kendall in the pilot, you’re not a killer. So that’s not new information. The new information to me is Logan’s complicity in what happened [on the cruise ships].

Like when he says to Kendall, “No real person involved.”
STRONG: Yeah, exactly. And Nick Braun brought this up: There’s this moment in All My Sons, the Arthur Miller play, where the son finds out that his father knew about the faulty airplane parts, and then it becomes about doing the right thing, morally. It doesn’t become about self-interest. It’s about what needs to be done.

CULKIN: There are some funny fan theories [about the finale]. I’ve been taking general [business] meetings and finding out halfway through, “Oh, the only reason why you wanted to take this meeting is so you can geek out about the show and give me your fan theory.” I had this one meeting where the guy had friends who had a fan theory that he thought was bulls—. When he told me [their theory], I said, “Yeah, that’s bulls—.” He goes, “Do you mind if I take a video of you saying it’s bulls—?” So I took a video of me saying it’s bulls—, and when I left I was like, “Oh, I feel like such a whore.” His theory was that all the kids were in on Kendall’s decision.

I want to talk about that really tender moment between Kendall and Shiv in “Safe Room.” Shiv finds Kendall in Logan’s office at night, and the scene ends with a tearful Kendall asking Shiv for a hug. What was that like to play?
SNOOK: I’ve been in scenes in film or TV before and thought, “I know how this will play,” and then I watch it and I’m like, “Yeah, that played the way that I expected it to.” Something about this show and particularly that scene, I’m like, “These poor people, these poor children!” They’re just desperate for some kind of affection.

STRONG: And personally, I’d had a really hard time the first couple of months [of shooting season 2] just because of what I was trying to put myself through, to be where I felt like Kendall needed to be. And that was the first human contact that I’d been given in the writing in the season, just saying, “Hey, I need help, I’m in trouble.” I was in trouble. It was hard for me and I didn’t want to feel that way anymore, so it was really easy to look at Sarah and basically say, “I don’t want to feel this way anymore.” I was holding a pill bottle and then for some reason I was trying to hug into my chest like I see my daughter do with her binky. I wish we had more scenes that were connective in that way, but [the writers] deny us that because [the characters] don’t have that in their lives.

Right. Even poor Roman, after he escaped the hostage situation, asks Kendall and Shiv if they could “talk to each other about stuff, normally” and they just mock him mercilessly.
STRONG: Well, where would we have learned to talk about things? You’ve seen both of our parents — they clearly didn’t give us that language or that capacity.

CULKIN: And here I am in my mid-to-late 30s, like, “I know I don’t have the equipment, none of us do, but can we try?” And then “No? Okay.”

We get little tastes here and there of the siblings’ backstory, like in season 1 when Roman and Kendall have that whole debate about the game “dog pound.” Beyond what’s in the script, do you guys get any additional backstory from the writers?
STRONG: We know some things, there are some clues dropped in. There’s a lot of stuff alluding to my addiction, and being Shanghaied, so those kinds of structural beams exist. Then you sort of fill in quadrants with reading about these dynastic families trying to glean some stuff from their stories. It was very, very interesting to me, in one of the Michael Wolff books, to read about what it was like for the Murdoch kids to go to the breakfast table, and the sense of the pressure in a way of even just opening your mouth and trying to make a cogent argument. There would be the broadsheets of all the newspapers on the table every day. It’s a very different way of growing up.

CULKIN: Sometimes you just make a choice.

SNOOK: The amazing thing about that is that if the writers see you’ve made a decision about something, and if you acted it well enough, they’ll just write it accordingly. At the end of season 1, Shiv says something like, “When I met you, Tom, I was such a mess.” And so I’ll just make a decision about what that was [about].

Kieran, have you made up any backstory for Roman?
CULKIN: It’s a lot of, “I feel like it’s this, so I’m just gonna do it.” Maybe the best example of this is Alan Ruck as Connor. You look at the pilot, what’s on the page for Connor, it’s sort of like, here’s this dude comes by and gives sourdough starter and that’s kinda it. I feel like he just created that entire character. When we got the scripts for episode 2 and 3, I was like, “Oh they’re writing Alan’s voice.”

I remember [when we were shooting the pilot], director Adam McKay saying, “Okay, everybody improvise. Alan, talk about your home.” And so he just started talking about this ranch that Connor has in New Mexico.

STRONG: And the aquifers.

SNOOK: And the water rights that he’s gonna have, and when the world’s overheated he’s going to have all the water, so you want to stick with me, honey. To this 7-year-old kid!

CULKIN: I was terrified of improv. I remember seeing Alan do that and [thinking], “I need to leave. I need to find the back door.”

STRONG: Alan is just brilliant. Also, Alan kind of is that way a bit, and he’ll start telling you about, you know, this supplement or whatever.

CULKIN: He can join any conversation and have a really amazing story that goes with it.

STRONG: It’s interesting about the backstory stuff. One of the really rare things about working on this show is what a symbiotic relationship we all have with the writers and how much ownership they allow us to have of our characters. And even, in a sense, authorship — not that we were writing them, but Jesse’s incredibly agile and we spend enough time inside these characters’ skins to have a real informed opinion about the direction of things, and he is very open to that.

SNOOK: It’s sort of like, Tom Wolfe wrote a book about Ken Kesey, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. In it, he talks about how the Merry Pranksters used to call Ken the anti-navigator. He was obviously the leader, obviously the top of the chain, but he sees that everyone else feels actively valuable and collaborative. And I think Jesse is like that, because he is the leader and it does stop at him, but you feel completely valued in your contribution.

There are really funny moments in season 2. What were some scenes where you guys had trouble getting through?
SNOOK: I have trouble watching just the read-throughs, anything that Tom and Greg have to do together. Like the “we hear for you” scene [in “Argestes”]. And then the chicken power-play scene. When Matthew picks the chicken off of Logan’s plate and eats it, that was really difficult for me to shoot.

CULKIN: I watched that scene 12 times, maybe 13? I missed the next 10 minutes of the show because I think I ended up on the floor in tears. “Thank you for the chicken.” I remember hearing him in the table read and I lost my s—.

SNOOK: There is a scene in episode 10 where I’m well in the background and I know that Matthew’s laughing and I can see that I’m laughing at Matthew. Brian [Cox] went to drink something out of a straw… [Entire group breaks into laughter]

CULKIN: He missed the straw!

SNOOK: He went [mimes searching empty air with open mouth] to get the straw and then kept speaking as if he’d never stopped. Matthew and I just completely lost it.

Is Brian Cox as scary in real life as he is on screen?
CULKIN: Brian is a big cuddly teddy bear. But when the scene starts and he’s Logan, it becomes easy because he can be terrifying in that moment.

STRONG: He’s a heavyweight champion. He possesses something when you’re in a scene with him that is sort of primal and actually dangerous. Most of the great actors have that. He’s the best scene partner you could ask for.

Jeremy, I read that Brian was once so mean to you in a scene that it made you cry?
STRONG: No, someone misquoted that.

CULKIN: “It was Kieran that made me cry!”

STRONG: I was doing off-camera [lines]. There’s a scene where I’m meant to be running from the tunnel to the vote in the boardroom in the first season. We’d spread it out over a lot of shooting days, and I was trying to stay in a place where I was really winded and out of breath. So I would get to set at whatever time and just start running up and down the West Side Highway. They wanted me to stay next to the boardroom to do the off-camera [lines], but suddenly I felt like it was just bulls—, and I started running outside again. I had fractured my foot from running in dress shoes [while shooting the scene], like an idiot. So I was in terrible pain, and I was trying to run up and down to 14th Sharon and back and doing the off-camera phone call while I was running.

And there was a point during the scene where Logan yelled something at me, I don’t even think it was a scripted line, but he lost it, and yeah that had a real effect on me. It was a real gift because it gave me something in terms of the relationship, and the character, and the suffering that [Kendall] was experiencing in that moment. And [Logan’s] cruelty in that moment, I really felt it.

We need to discuss the rap. What was your first reaction when you saw it on the page?
STRONG: They didn’t see it on the page, and they didn’t see it until we did it on camera.

SNOOK: It was written in the script, but not the whole thing. It was just like “Kendall does a rap,” with one verse. And you didn’t want to do it at first!

STRONG: No, I immediately went to Jesse. Because the line in the script, it was basically just a white guy at a bar mitzvah doing a stupid rap. But Jesse had sent me a video that was on Instagram of this guy — he’s an oil heir, and he’s a billionaire. At his 40th birthday, he got on stage and wrapped with Nelly, and he was pretty fucking good. Jesse was like, something like that.

And then he said [Succession composer] Nick Britell is going to work on it. Then Nick texted me saying, “I want to do the rap for you over the phone.” I still have the recording on my phone of him doing the rap for me for the first time. He played this beat. And you know, Nick is obviously a brilliant composer and a real hip-hop aficionado. When I heard him do it, I was like, “Oh, this is amazing.” I only had four days until we shot it. And we were working for two of those days. So that’s part of the enormous pressure that this show puts on you because you don’t have time to prepare.

SNOOK: People ask if we rehearse a lot.

CULKIN: We don’t rehearse at all.

STRONG: So I worked on it incessantly, and then asked our director, Kevin Bray, “Can we shoot them seeing it for the first time as well as me doing it for the first time?” So their responses, which are the best part of it, are genuine.

CULKIN: Like Caitlin [Fitzgerald, who plays Roman’s girlfriend Tabitha] just like, “I can’t look away.” That was really how we were talking about it.

SNOOK: Shiv’s scripted response was completely different to what my actual response was. She was meant to [have her] arms crossed, sort of like, “Someone tell this guy to stop,” but I could not stop laughing. I was actually filming on my phone as well.

STRONG: We had to do it a lot of times.

CULKIN: But it never ceased to make me be like, “Oh my God, stop!”

For more on Entertainment Weekly‘s 2019 Entertainers of the Year, the new issue will be available at Barnes & Noble starting on Dec. 20, and all newsstands Dec. 26-27, or you can order a copy now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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EW reveals its 2019 Entertainers of the Year: Lizzo, Awkwafina, the cast of Succession, and more

Our six (well, make that eight, technically) inimitable cover subjects enthralled and thrilled us in 2019. Plus: 10 other honorees who blew our pop culture minds.

Check out the full list of EW’s 2019 Entertainers of the Year below and see all the photos from the cover shoots.


Awkwafina joins EW’s Entertainers of the Year list for the second time in a row (she appeared in 2018 as part of the cast of Crazy Rich Asians), but this time she assumes her position in the spotlight all by herself. The rapper-actress began 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival, where she debuted two titles — the dystopian Paradise Hills and the Golden Globe-nominated The Farewell. Her turn in the latter will work out to be a career-defining one. To hear what Awkwafina had to say about her banner performance — and the even bigger response to it — read her full cover story.

Renée Zellweger

Renée Zellweger is notoriously press-shy, but she put herself front and center this season, all in the name of one Judy Garland. Her portrayal of the late star received praise from all of Garland’s admirers but, more presciently, Judy put her on the path to another award season run. She sat down with EW for her own cover story to discuss finding her purpose in 2019.

Regina King

Regina King started 2019 by winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in If Beale Street Could Talk. That might be cause for a period of rest and celebration for some, but for King it served as momentum for her next project: starring in HBO’s hotly anticipated WatchmenRead her full cover story to find out her favorite part about kicking all that white supremacist ass.

Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi might be the industry’s ultimate multihyphenate. In 2019 alone he worked on Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian, the reboot of What We Do in the Shadows, and directed the satirical — and Golden Globe-nominated — Jojo Rabbit, in which he also happened to play Hitler. He talked to EW about all things Marvel and Rabbit.


Lizzo took a DNA test and it turns out she’s one of the most significant artists of 2019. She spent seven weeks at the top of the Hot 100 with her single “Truth Hurts” and took home a whopping eight Grammy nominations. To find out why the rapper-singer-flautist is fighting back against the label “overnight success,” read her full cover story.

The cast of Succession

Perhaps you’ve heard of a little group of people called the Roy family. They didn’t join the pop culture conversation in 2019 — the show debuted on HBO in June 2018 — but semi-fictional media magnate Logan Roy and his brethren certainly dominated it. For the final Entertainers of the Year cover story, EW spoke to Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, and Jeremy Strong (otherwise known as Shiv, Roman, and Kendall Roy) and found out that they’re not filthy rich a–holes — they just play them really well on TV.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

The 34-year-old Emmy-winning writer-actor behind Killing Eve is honored by her Fleabag costar Brett Gelman.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

I knew I wanted to work with Phoebe when I was sent the Fleabag pilot. It was clear that she was very special and had a lot to say. Then…I read the scripts for the entire first season. It seemed raw, it had an impeccable sense of a comedic craft, and it felt like the feminist show that everybody was trying to make but that she was actually making. She can balance razor-sharp, word-perfect writing without losing this spontaneous, chaotic depth. You’re getting hard jokes, but then you’re also getting deep pain. There’s a complete lack of desperation, a desperation to convince yourself that it’s good, rather than working really hard and taking in all the feelings, the frustrations, the doubts, the joys, the fears, the sense of accomplishment that come with making a piece. She’s looking at it the most honestly out of everyone that’s involved, and she’s willing to be brutally honest with herself. I think brutal honesty is the antithesis of desperation. If the timing’s right, an honest piece of work really hits home. It’s one of those situations where Fleabag just matched up perfectly and it got the audience that it deserved. —As told to Nick Romano

Ta-Nehisi Coates

The author, 44, became an Oprah-anointed sensation with his debut novel, The Water Dancer. Here, he’s honored by National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

I’ve read The Water Dancer three times. The first time that I read it, I read it nervously: I like Ta-Nehisi as a person a lot, and I was scared that it was not going to be good! You have those friends who write books and you go, “Oh, no, this is painful to read.” So I was really happy to see how brilliant it was. I realized, through looking back at his other pieces, he was always coming to this place. Then the second time I read it was to study it in this way that writers study each other’s work when there’s a brilliance to it that you want to learn from. The third time, it was listening to the audiobook that Joe Morton did. It’s a whole different level of experiencing the story. Each time, I got something more out of the novel. People are hungry for narratives that help us understand this present moment. They’re hungry for narratives where we are heroic, and it’s not just a tired, sad slave song. It’s a book about people who are enslaved. That resistance is the shape we need right now. And it has magical realism: It’s a way to escape while also being engaged, to understand. What really blows me away about his work is how absolutely accessible it is. He bridges the gap. —As told to David Canfield

Billie Eilish

The “Bad Guy” singer, 18, conquered the charts — and ushered in a new era of pop stardom.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

“I used to know what day of the week it was,” says Billie Eilish, reflecting on her whirlwind 2019, the year the Los Angeles native transformed from a breakout singer-songwriter with a cult following to an international pop star. “Everything that’s happened in the last year or two has been life-changing. It’s just thing after thing of ‘Wow, what the hell’s going on?!’” Here’s what’s been going on: To support her first album, the bass-thumping When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in April), Eilish embarked on a world tour. Her creeping, minimalistic singles continued to pop up on the Hot 100; at one point, 14 of her tracks coexisted on the chart. How has the explosion in popularity changed Eilish as an artist? “My stage presence has probably been the biggest difference,” she says. “When I watch videos of when I was starting out, I thought [at the time] I was going full out and crazy, but now I’m like, ‘Oh, I literally was just standing there.’ I feel so comfortable performing now and so happy and blissed out.” She might feel at peace on stage, but Eilish is still combating the reality of her success. “I thought it would end,” says the singer, nominated for six Grammys, including Best New Artist. “I didn’t think then that people would still give a f— about me two years later.” They seem to give quite a few — no matter what day of the week it is. —Ruth Kinane

Margaret Atwood

Over 30 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, the 80-year-old author blessed us with a best-selling sequel, The Testaments.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

EW: Congrats on The Testaments tying for the Booker Prize this year.
MARGARET ATWOOD: People my age usually don’t get on those kinds of lists because “Been there, done that. You’ve won too many things already.” So it’s very nice of them. I expect I am representing the Old Biddy Cohort, which is shrinking by the minute.

How did you decide it was time to write a sequel?
Have you ever been swimming in a very cold lake? You put your foot in, you take your foot out. You think, “Am I really gonna do this?” And then you have to run in screaming.

Has your writing process changed over time?
Here’s a deep dark secret that I’m going to share with you: Everybody who goes on about their writing process is probably just making it up, because you can’t actually remember that much about how you wrote things. Unless you’re a much better organized person than I am. [My process] is skiing down a hill. When you’re skiing down a hill, you’re trying not to fall over — and you’re making a lot of unconscious decisions automatically. You’re not thinking about them because if you do, you will fall over.

What do you hope people will remember about your work?
It’s kind of not my business to decide the legacy of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s the author’s job to make the book in the best way that they can. If you don’t want people interpreting it, don’t publish it. Because once you publish it, it’s not yours anymore. —Seija Rankin

Eddie Murphy

After almost a decade off the radar, the comedian, 58, emerged with a riotous performance in Dolemite Is My Name. Here, he’s honored by costar Wesley Snipes.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

I auditioned for the first Coming to America, but I didn’t get to audition in front of Eddie. After three callbacks, I ended up losing the role to Eriq La Salle. But ever since I saw that movie, I’ve wanted to work with Eddie. Director Craig Brewer gave me the pitch on Dolemite and passed the message that Eddie had suggested me [for a role] and I thought that was pretty cool. I told Craig, “Any opportunity for me to be down with this, I am in.” Working with Eddie was surreal, joyful, hilarious, and, at times, a little scary. You know he lives in the world of funny and you want to at least be in the room. I don’t know if it was toe-to-toe…. I’d characterize it more like riding along, and, in some cases, hanging on. If you watch his films over the years, you can tell that a lot of the comedians have a residue of Eddie’s style, and I think it’s even the same for some of us actors from that era. He’s so great that you pick up little things, maybe it’s timing or a little look. Eddie can convey the subtleties and humor in life and materialize our inner thoughts. He can say everything that we wish we had the nerve to say. —As told to Derek Lawrence

Taylor Swift

The star, 30, had one of the year’s biggest records, launched her own music festival, and continued to fight for artists’ rights. Here’s she’s honored by “ME!” collaborator Brendan Urie

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

I’d been a fan of Taylor’s for years. When “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” came out, I’d play [it] whenever an acoustic guitar was around. Still do. We met for the first time to record my parts for “ME!” Taylor greeted me with the warmest hug. I remember being sick as hell and her being so kind about me coughing everywhere. I swear my health got better immediately after. I made a voice memo the night before while nursing a 104-degree temperature and a voice that had dropped to a Barry White octave. Somehow she could make sense of it. As a songwriter, I love her choice of melodies against certain chords. What she writes is so honest, and it shines through the lyrics’ marriage to the melodies. I’m [also] not sure if people realize what a clever sense of humor she has. I’m amazed at her command of a room using humor. I’d say that the most admirable thing about Taylor is her kindness. Amidst all of the chaos that comes with her level of success, she never lets any of it take her out of her element. —As told to Alex Suskind

Lil Nas X

A salute to the meme-loving, cowboy-repping, record-breaking newcomer, 20, behind the ubiquitous “Old Town Road” by Grammy-winning songwriter-producer Ryan Tedder.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

I won’t say who, but I had people in my world of A&R and writer-producers say, “Why are you doing a session with Lil Nas X? It’s [a] one-hit wonder.” My response was “I don’t know how to explain it, but something about what this guy’s doing is smart.” He’s figured out that memes will rule the universe. So yes, it’s about the song. The song was great, period. And I would argue with anybody until I’m blue in the face that it’s a unicorn record. The dude took two or three genres, mashed them together, and the lyric is great. But one of the smartest moves he [and his record company] made is they let the hit be the hit. They kept introducing new features, new collabs, a new video. And he was on his social media seven days a week, 10 times a day: “Old Town Road,” “Old Town Road,” “Old Town Road.” I love how irreverent and honest he is. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, which I think is a breath of fresh air in an era of artists that are so edgy and so dark. If Lil Nas X was on NASDAQ, I would be very bullish on that stock and would bet long, because I think that he’s so much savvier than anybody gives him credit for.
—As told to Sarah Rodman

Brad Pitt

The star, 56, earns praise from Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood writer-director Quentin Tarantino for two very different roles.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

This is just a terrific year for Brad. It couldn’t be highlighted better by two roles on the opposite ends of the spectrum in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and Ad Astra. [Once’s] Cliff Booth is this terrific performance where it’s completely lived-in, completely authentic, but you also want to be him. Most guys watch the movie and they go, Oh, I just want to be that guy. He’s, like, the f—ing coolest guy! And then you watch the performance he gives in Ad Astra, which is completely interior, and where most of his dialogue is done through his voice-over narration, yet at the same time he carries the entire film on his shoulders. Brad truly contributes to the scene aside from the truth of his own performance. He’s constantly adding little bits of dialogue and little bits of business that are just revelatory. In the [Once] scene where he and Leo are watching the show FBI? That’s just Brad, that’s just him watching the scene and commenting on it. He likes my scripts and everything, but usually he’ll have this idea to throw an extra line in or an extra moment in, and if you don’t like it, he’ll drop it the next take. But you don’t listen to him at your own peril. —As told to Clark Collis

Keanu Reeves

Perennial internet crush Reeves, 55 and thriving, had one swoonworthy moment after another in 2019.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

March 20/Bill & Ted 3 announces liftoff: Thirty years after the bodacious original, rad news of Bill & Ted Face the Music confirmed that Reeves and Alex Winter will return to the Circle K for even stranger things afoot.

April 27/Keanucon is born: The world’s first Keanu film festival (to not unofficially take place in an EW staff member’s basement) celebrated the movie star’s versatile career with a two-day convention in Scotland.

May 17/A Wick to Remember: The sleeper success of puppy-protecting hitman John Wick continued in cinemas with the record-breaking threequel John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, which was as intense in action as it was in punctuation.

May 31/A rom-com cameo: Ali Wong and Randall Park’s Netflix delight Always Be My Maybe zinged the zeitgeist with a wild cameo from Reeves as a vilifiable version of himself (that, frankly, made him no less attractive).

June 9/Upping his game: After appearing in Fortnite, Reeves doubled down on his pixelated presence by crashing an E3 press conference to announce his role as part-cyborg Johnny Silverhand in the video game Cyberpunk 2077.

June 21/Keanu goes Caboom: Reeves stole the animated show in Toy Story 4 as Duke Caboom, an audacious Canadian daredevil with a tragic Canadian past who broke new ground in mustache representation among action figures. —Marc Snetiker

Sterling K. Brown

The This Is Us MVP, 43, reflects on his other notable roles, in Waves, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Frozen 2.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki for EW

This Is Us: Fans finally exhaled when Randall (Brown) resolved tensions with wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson). “It was really touching to realize just how invested people were in this marriage,” says Brown. “All the relationship goals that people would bestow upon us became even more realized because they had to fight for it.”

Waves: Brown shines in this potent indie drama as a tough-loving, walled-off father who seeks reconnection after his son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) spirals out of control. “Through that loss, he recognizes that there has to be another way to be with your children.… Thank God, if there has to be tragedy, at least there’s some learning that transpires in the midst of that tragedy.”

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Brown guest-stars as Reggie, fierce manager of Shy Baldwin (LeRoy McClain). “There’s something about being the guard dog that I find very satisfying. I have people like that in my life, so it was an opportunity for me to pay homage.”

Frozen 2: The sequel opened up its world with Brown’s loyal Lieutenant Mattias. “[Screenwriter] Jennifer [Lee] wrote something so incredibly nuanced and thought-provoking. When you take a second to examine whose version of history you are digesting, you realize that it can’t be objective.” —Dan Snierson

For more on Entertainment Weekly‘s 2019 Entertainers of the Year, the new issue will be available at select Barnes & Noble stores starting on Dec. 20, and all newsstands Dec. 26-27. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

How do the Golden Globes impact the Oscar race? EWs awards experts debate

One of the biggest awards in the lead-up to the Oscars, the Golden Globes, announced their nominations on Monday morning. EW’s awards experts David Canfield and Joey Nolfi synced up to debate the snubs, surprises, and everything in between.

The Big Headline

DAVID: Hi Joey, it’s time for 100-odd random international journalists to tell us where the Oscar race is heading! As you and I both know, this group has eclectic tastes and court plenty of controversy, but — for their exposure and attunement to campaigns — manage to do a pretty good job of predicting the Academy Awards. So what’s the headline for you out of today? Is The Irishman going to sweep again? Is this where JLo’s campaign truly begins? Is Cate Blanchett our new Best Actress frontrunner for disappearing in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

JOEY: I think you’re ignoring the biggest development of them all: We need to break out the festive neckwear in honor of Annette Bening’s surprise nomination for her performance as Dianne Feinstein in The Report. It doesn’t get better than icons playing icons with great taste in scarves.

All joking aside, the key takeaway from this morning’s nominations is that no one’s trajectory definitively ends here (Robert De Niro might’ve been snubbed, but he’s going to show up at SAG this week and all will be well). But the Globes certainly boosted visibility for several budding contenders at a key stage in the race. I was starting to get concerned that Lopez’ buzz existed only in our media bubble, but it’s nice to see she has legitimate traction in the race with a nomination here. Even though Marriage Story scored six nominations and Laura Dern is getting swept up in that domination, Lopez is shaping up to be our top contender, right?

DAVID: I think Lopez emerges as Dern’s chief challenger for Best Supporting Actress here, yes. These are the folks who gave Aaron Taylor-Johnson the equivalent actor prize a few years ago, after all — they like to shake things up with splashy choices.


JOEY: I’m still hesitant on Bening’s chances at the Oscars as well, given that they’ve long tended to ignore her, even at her finest (hello, 20th Century Women!). However, I have a feeling SAG — which typically throws a few outlier nominations into the mix as well due to an early voting schedule… remember Sarah Silverman for I Smile Back? — will give her another boost before she disappears.

DAVID: Anyone else you think gets a boost here? Cynthia Erivo going back-to-back with Critics’ Choice and the Golden Globes certainly keeps her in the thick of that Best Actress conversation. And are we really about to see Todd Phillips get a Best Director nomination? Surely the Academy won’t do Greta Gerwig that dirty.

JOEY: Erivo and Jonathan Pryce absolutely benefit most in the acting races. Harriet performed decently at the box office, and was a total crowd-pleaser. I anticipate SAG to elevate her even further. They saw Harriet early and, with one of the largest nominating committees on the circuit, their taste often best represents the general consensus among the actors branch (the Academy’s largest). It’s a performance that really speaks to actors, as does Pryce’s. The Two Popes of it all might seem surprising to many, but at its core this is a movie the industry tends to love: two iconic, older (white) actors acting the hell out of each other in religious drag via a punchy, super smart script. It’s awards season gold.

DAVID: Right there with you on Bening and SAG, but I’m a little more bullish on The Two Popes. It’s an extremely likable movie, absolutely, but feels a bit light, and is hardly at the top of Netflix’s priority list. (I mean, four of the HFPA’s 10 Best Picture nominees are Netflix!) I think it missing the Critics’ Choice Top 10 is a real warning sign; the Globes really embracing this movie doesn’t sell me on its Best Picture chances, but we’ll have to see.

Glen Wilson / Focus Features


DAVID: I think we’d agree that the strongest Oscar Best Picture players — The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Marriage Story, Parasite, and 1917 — all performed as expected here. (Very well.) Though with Noah Baumbach missing both Indie Spirits and now the Globes for directing, I have a feeling his contributions there may be overlooked in such a competitive category come Oscar-time. Even voters who deeply love the movie seem content with leaving him off that part of things.

JOEY: Marriage Story is a movie with themes you feel. It’s an emotional experience that washes over you, and less a visual journey. I think general, non-industry voters like those in the HFPA and Film Independent (anyone who pays their membership fee can vote on nominees) respond to director contenders they can more easily see because it’s easier to pinpoint the exact elements a director had to wrangle, whereas the Academy’s directors branch is better versed in the art of filmmaking. On the surface, when you look at the competition — Scorsese, Bong, Tarantino, Mendes — each of them built something that’s visibly weighty. Baumbach’s hand is less visible than theirs, and it’s unfortunate that the subtleties of his direction weren’t recognized by the HFPA. But in a crowded field, they’re going to go for spectacle and industry impact (Joker made $1 billion and was a pop cultural phenomenon all on its own, with Todd Phillips right out there at the head of the promotional campaign) nearly every time.

DAVID: Baumbach’s “replacement” here, if you will, is Todd Phillips. And much is being made of no female director getting nominated once again. This happened to Greta Gerwig two years ago, for Lady Bird, and outrage there helped fuel her to an Oscar nom. Could that happen again? The Globes didn’t love Little Women, but Critics’ Choice did, and, boy, is this shaping up to be a dude-heavy season.

Gerwig’s exclusion is a little more perplexing. Little Women was clearly an ambitious undertaking, and Gerwig’s personal stamp is all over that movie in both grand and subtle ways. I’m not sure there’s going to be as much outrage this year as there was back in 2017, but we’ll see. Still, so many films by women were ignored by the HFPA this year. I’m most disappointed about Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood‘s virtual shut-out (save for Tom Hanks), one of the boldest directorial visions of the year.

But, to answer your original question, yes: The main contenders in the race have not shifted. Though I am concerned about Jojo Rabbit, which only scored two nominations for Roman Griffin Davis and Best Picture — Musical/Comedy. Should Taika Waititi and company be concerned?

DAVID: I have been wondering about Jojo Rabbit. I like the film, but a lot of critics don’t — enough, in fact, where you have to wonder how much of that sentiment is shared by Academy members. It’s done well on the precursor circuit, and it’s really winning in the end in a way where I’ve seen some go so far as to think it has winning potential. But like Joker, it’s quite polarizing. And in a year where a lot of movies bubbling under the surface are more widely liked, I could see it not being the Oscar juggernaut many expect it to be. It’s less of a lock, that’s for sure.


DAVID: Between Critics Choice and Golden Globes, it feels like most of the acting contenders have been set. Any that haven’t gotten listed by a major group that you think still stand a chance? And conversely: There’s always that one (or two!) that gets in almost everywhere — big Jennifer Aniston Cake energy! — only to lose out come Academy time. Who is racking up noms right now that you think still doesn’t have what it takes? Eddie Murphy’s running high on Dolemite love right now, but I wonder if that can last.

JOEY: As evidenced by Bohemian Rhapsody‘s four wins last year (including one for Rami Malek, who took a lot of heat on Film Twitter over the Bryan Singer controversy), I feel like the Academy just doesn’t care when a movie ruffles feathers, and the “controversies” for Jojo Rabbit and Joker seem to have brewed specifically inside the liberal media bubble. Jojo won the TIFF People’s Choice Award, after all, which is voted on by a huge segment of public festival attendees, and Joker made $1 billion at the box office, so people clearly weren’t staying away. And the Academy will be no different. Both films’ merits (and popularity) exist far outside what we see reflected on social media. Voters like what they like, and they’ll support movies that entertain and impress them on a technical level regardless of outside factors.

And yes, all acting contenders (the leaders, anyway) have surely been set. But, okay, way to come at me with that Cake reference. That movie destroyed me and I was gutted when she pulled off the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and SAG trifecta without following up with an Oscar nod. We know Renée Zellweger, Adam Driver, and Brad Pitt are safe. The one I keep coming back to — despite how amazing she is — is Lopez. The industry awards support for the film outside of her domination on the precursor circuit is almost nonexistent, and that worries me. I can see a scenario where someone like Zhao Shuzhen or Bates (and her instantly iconic microphones from Richard Jewell) steals her slot.

DAVID: I think both Jojo and Joker present their own challenges. Jojo‘s satire might sit uneasily with some Academy members; Joker‘s general… unpleasantness hardly makes it a typical contender. But, agree that controversy will not bring them down. Already, the evidence for this is there. (Remember when the HFPA nominated The Tourist? They love drama more than any awards pundit!)

Lopez is starting to rack up critics awards but you’re correct — she’s a bit of an outlier in a field where the movies behind the performances are also getting more support. Last year, Timothée Chalamet swept the major precursors, but his movie, Beautiful Boy, was utterly ignored otherwise, and he ultimately didn’t make the cut. That could happen here. But I’m pretty confident in JLo’s chances for a nomination at minimum, given how loopy the category feels this year.

I’m a little bit worried about Tom Hanks. We all thought he’d get in for Saving Mr. Banks. Then Captain Phillips. He’s coming on 20 years of going without an Oscar nom, though (his last was 2001’s Cast Away). We take him for granted! You mentioned A Beautiful Day falling off the radar, and while this Globe nom is important for him, I do think he’s vulnerable. On the other side, two of my very favorite performances of the year — Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory and Lupita Nyong’o for Us — are really coming in under the wire. The former is a critics’ fave and now Globe nominee; the latter a critics’ fave and Globe snub. In both cases, at least, they live to fight another day.


DAVID: Looks like we’re pretty agreed on our acting frontrunners. Based on this Globes slate, and the week of awards that ran up to it, who’s our Best Picture frontrunner right now? With the De Niro snub, The Irishman may not be our top Globes player — OUATIH and 1917 feel more their stylish vibe, anyway — but I still think Scorsese’s crime epic is the one to beat.

JOEY: Even talking about Hanks falling off feels like driving a nail further into his awards season coffin and I don’t want to sabotage him! I’m just so used to being disappointed by the Academy’s handling of his work over the last two decades. The difference is: I think, at least for casual voters/audiences, Hanks’ performance sort of defines A Beautiful Day for them in a way that’s unique to how Saving Mr. Banks played through the season. He sort of is that movie for a lot of people, so his profile feels a bit larger this year. There’s hope!

As for Best Picture, I think the support for The Irishman is too far-reaching (from non-industry groups like the HFPA and Critics Choice to topping the National Board of Review’s list) to speculate that anything else is out front at this point, even with the De Niro snub. Scorsese is (unfortunately) nearing the end of his career, and while awards bodies don’t tend to think like one giant hive mind, a lot of them sense that this might be one of the last opportunities to recognize one of the greatest filmmakers in cinema history. And the work that went into bringing The Irishman to life is too big of a technical feat for them to ignore. The critics/industry journalists groups thus far (including NYFCC) have all gone wild for The Irishman, so it’s logical to assume the HFPA will vote that way, too.

DAVID: I love The Irishman, but these are the Globes! Who cares about taste; I can’t help hoping things get a little messier. For the record, I agree with you — The Irishman is, by a wide margin, the one to beat. But the thought of Todd Phillips beating Martin Scorsese? Honey, grab the popcorn.


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The 10 best books of 2019

EW book critics David Canfield and Leah Greenblatt break down their top 10 reads of 2019.

10. The Need by Helen Phillips

Is it a hothouse domestic drama? Slow-burn science fiction? Straight-up metaphysical horror? All that, and more: Phillips’s spare allegory of a young mother who unearths a series of strange objects in an excavation pit offers a Twilight Zone premise with a jaw-dropping metaphysical twist. —Leah Greenblatt

9. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

An intimate memoir that doubles as a rigorous history of New Orleans, Broom’s National Book Award-winning debut, constructed in gorgeous prose and carried along by a melancholy look at the passage of time, evolves into a rich, pained meditation on the limits of the American Dream. —David Canfield

8. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

Wilson’s vibrantly original new novel about a woman’s adoption of moody twins who (literally!) catch on fire gets plenty weird, but resonates as a warm, funny ode to the mysteries of parenthood. —DC

7. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Phillips’ assured first novel, set on a freezing, remote Russian peninsula where two girls go missing, develops into a story of land, women, and community that finds grace in quiet, radical empathy. You might first read it as a collection of haunting, piercing short-stories, but this is an elegiac literary thriller at its heart, overflowing with conclusive power in its final pages. —DC

6. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

So joyfully uncontained it can hardly pause for punctuation, this surprise Booker Prize winner unfurls a fantastically panoramic survey of modern womanhood: radical lesbian separatists, sexually fluid millennials, mad housewives, middle-aged cleaning ladies, bankers and bloggers and teachers. Most of them are black or brown, but Girl truly reads like a rainbow — literary fiction written in pure, glorious Technicolor. —LG

5. Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

A sweeping family saga that refracts the Great American Novel through a New England funhouse mirror. Come for the candlepin bowling, stay for some of the wildest death scenes ever put to paper. —DC

4. Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Dr. Toby Fleishman is a man on the edge of a nervous breakthrough: newly separated and suddenly alive to all the sexual possibilities a midlife hepatologist–slash-single dad can find in Manhattan with the touch of a smartphone button. But also, incidentally, where the hell did his soon-to-be-ex-wife just disappear to? Brodesser-Akner’s casually brilliant debut reads like a clever featherweight caper, but ends with a true thunderbolt. —LG

3. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Not every work of narrative nonfiction solves a crime. But Keefe’s riveting foray into an evocative murder mystery from Ireland’s Troubles period makes good on its juicy whodunit promise. That he manages a stunning investigation of community trauma, illuminates a distinctive cast of characters with novelistic nuance, and leaves room for fascinating (and sometimes bizarre) historical detail? You’ve got one of the decade’s best nonfiction reads. –DC

2. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead somehow outdid his 2016 phenomenon The Underground Railroad with this devastating tale of two black boys coming of age at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow Florida, building toward an unforgettable, tragic finale. With each astoundingly unique book (this one spare and sort of brutally straightforward), the Pulitzer Prize winner is proving he’s no one kind of writer — except, maybe, a brilliant one. —DC

1. Normal People by Sally Rooney

Boy (handsome, charming, proudly working-class) meets girl (clever, brittle, and despite all her family money, friendless). They fall in like or lust or maybe love; the mortal insecurities and social Darwinism of high school make it hard to tell. But when the pair finally leave their small Irish village for college in Dublin, the dynamic between them begins to shift, electrically. At 28, Rooney (Conversations With Friends) isn’t too far removed from her own protagonists; maybe that’s why she writes with such veil-piercing clarity about the endlessly messy journey of growing up and into oneself. But her youth wouldn’t mean much without all the wisdom contained in People’s cool, sparsely worded prose — every new paragraph illuminating something essential, universal, and true. —LG

The Next 10

Graywolf Press; Random House; Penguin Press

11. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: Woodson’s grasp of history’s weight on individuals — and definitive feel for borough life, past and present — proves to be as emotionally transfixing as ever.

12. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado: A gorgeously kaleidoscopic feat — not just of literature but of pure, uncut humanity.

13. Inland by Téa Obreht: What Obreht pulls off in her second novel’s conclusion is pure poetry. It doesn’t feel written so much as extracted from the mind in its purest, clearest, truest form.

14. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout: The Olive Kitteridge sequel explores aging with profound grace, forcing its characters to face what they’ll leave behind, or what they’ve been left with.

15. Exhalation by Ted Chiang: So provocative, imaginative, and soulful that it makes Black Mirror look drab and dull by comparison.

16. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli: If the children are our future, what lies ahead for a country that fails them? Luiselli initiates a reckoning in her new novel that pulses with urgency and lingers with timelessness.

17. The Light Years by Chris Rush: You don’t need to have led a fascinating life to write a great memoir. But God, does it help.

18. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: Depictions of poverty, queerness, and the immigrant experience are vivid, exacting, and humane. Same goes for On Earth as a whole.

19. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi: A gonzo literary performance one could mistake for a magic trick, duping its readers with glee before leaving them impossibly moved.

20. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo: It’s Taddeo’s deep, almost feverish commitment to detail and context that elevates the stories, making them feel not just painfully real but revelatory.

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The best TV shows of the decade

What were the best 15 television shows of the last 10 years? Read on as Entertainment Weekly TV critics Kristen Baldwin and Darren Franich talk about their respective lists.

DARREN: What an honor, Kristen, to be a couple of television critics writing about our favorite shows of the decade. Quick question, trusty colleague: What is television, exactly? The 2010s transformed the medium beyond obvious definition. Anthologies and limited series ran alongside ever-more-serialized longforms. New platforms launched meganetworks of scripted programming. Dramas could be half an hour long, comedies would break your heart, episode budgets skyrocketed, and movie people wanted to be TV people.

My No. 15 show reflects all the brave new new possibilities of the small screen — even as it warns us toward constant terror about our digital age. Black Mirror launched in the U.K. back in 2011, a gone time of Silicon Optimism, when iPhones were still a newish toy and social media was going to save the world. And the debut three-episode season of Charlie Brooker’s techno-freakout remains the gold standard for breathtakingly right-now science-fiction storytelling, inventing end-world internet paranoia half a decade before that feeling went mainstream. Later seasons have gotten bigger, starrier, and messier, and the worst Black Mirror still has something sharp and humane to say about the state we’ve found ourselves in. (Available on Netflix)

KRISTEN: At your urging, Darren, I’ve watched exactly one episode of Black Mirror — simply because I’m too afraid to watch more. But my No. 15 show also represents the infinite possibilities of what TV can do, both as a medium for storytelling and as a vehicle for truth. This decade has been a boon for documentary series like Making a Murderer, 30 for 30, and Surviving R. Kelly, but for me the most fascinating and fiercely original docuseries this decade was Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. In 2013, the actress left Scientology after more than 30 years, and since then she’s devoted a great deal of her life to exposing the so-called church and its wide-ranging alleged abuses of its members. (Let me stop here and say that representatives for Scientology deny all their claims and contend that Remini is a religious bigot.)

Historically Scientology has sued, smeared, and harassed anyone who criticized its organization — which makes Remini’s decision to front this series all the more impressive and brave. The show delivered more than 37 hours of riveting, horrifying, and incredibly emotional interviews with former members who detail countless tales of alleged abuse — families forced to “disconnect” from each other, members being denied proper treatment for psychiatric or substance abuse issues, children doing hard labor rather than attending school, just to name just a few. And through it all Remini owns up to her own long history with this organization, how she gave them millions of dollars and defended it in the press for years. Aftermath was a remarkably effective use of a celebrity platform that also managed to be completely engrossing. (Available on Hulu)

DARREN: I’m too afraid to watch any of Aftermath, so huzzah to Remini for plumbing those horrific depths. My No. 14 show left-turns us toward more lighthearted fare, although HBO’s Insecure became the best friends-hanging-out sitcom of the decade by balancing its sparkly comedic sensibility with a complicated emotional palette. Co-creator Issa Rae stars as Issa, a woman striving professionally and personally for something more. I cherish the very-early-thirtysomething confusion that motivates a lot of the central tensions between Issa and best friend Molly (radiant Yvonne Orji), and with Issa’s onetime boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis). Mainly, though, I admire how Rae and showrunner Prentice Penny have crafted such a playfully specific ensemble atmosphere: girl-group trips to Malibu winepocalypses and lost Coachella weekends, awkward hookups caught between sincere romance and renegade lust, lush Los Angeles and workaday Los Angeles shot with style and substance. Insecure successfully makes millennial confusion look aspirational. (Available on HBO)

Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

KRISTEN: Yes! The best comedies create a world that viewers want to visit, and while the setting for my No. 14 show isn’t as glamorous as Insecure’s Los Angeles, I still loved spending time there every week. Based in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana (home of the 512-ounce “child-size” soda), NBC’s Parks and Recreation follows tirelessly optimistic public servant Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her enjoyably quirky co-workers. Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur (who perfected the awkward workplace comedy with NBC’s The Office), Parks & Rec balanced grounded stories about goodhearted people doing their best with hilariously cartoonish high jinks (are Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa Saperstein TV’s best siblings? Discuss) and frank, funny debates about the role of government in modern society. (Available on Hulu)

DARREN: And what I loved about Parks & Recreation was how it turned Pawnee into such a rich world unto itself. Something similar happened in No. 13, FX’s Justified, a contemporary Western set around a multiverse of criminality lifeblooding the economic ruin of Harlan County, Kentucky. As U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, Timothy Olyphant is an outlaw’s son who not-so-secretly enjoys the violent requirements of cleaning up his hometown. Raylan’s eternal opposite number is Boyd Crowder, a local boy gone hysterically bad whom Walton Goggins played with joyful gusto and shades of poignance. Showrunner Graham Yost adapted the dark skulldugger comedy of Elmore Leonard into six seasons that recaptured the lost promise of the Good Solid Procedural. Episode-of-the-week plots blended into an ever-expanding lineup of baddies (character actress Margo Martindale!) and a larger tale of a mining town gone to generational seed. Justified was never flashy and always witty, which means it will outlast all the narcissistic fables of highbro gun-totery that dominated TV crime this decade. Put another way: It broke badder, with truer detectives. (Available on Amazon Prime)

KRISTEN: Let’s keep the theme of law and order going, Darren. My No. 13 show, Rectify, begins with Daniel Holden (Aden Young) being released from prison after nearly two decades on death row for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. Though the question of his guilt still lingers — Daniel doesn’t remember the details of that night — Rectify isn’t so much interested in solving the mystery as it is exploring what it means to live with the unknown. Over the course of four seasons, this dreamy, philosophical drama created by Ray McKinnon followed the many tendrils of Daniel’s story as they wound through the fictional town of Paulie, Georgia, where Daniel, his family, and the town itself tried to construct some kind of peace. Rectify ended in 2016, but it’s especially rewarding to watch (or rewatch) today, as so much of its cast — including Timeless’ Abigail Spencer (as Daniel’s sister, Amantha), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Luke Kirby (as Daniel’s lawyer, Jon), and Succession’s J. Smith-Cameron (as Daniel’s mom, Janet) — went on to peak-TV fame. (Available on Netflix)

DARREN: So much danger in these small towns! You know what else was dangerous this decade? The whole world, which was the macro setting for my No. 12, the sacred Sunday night ritual that is Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. What sets Oliver apart from a whole generation of political comedians influenced directly or indirectly by Jon Stewart is how hard he works to expand the focus of news-riff comedy beyond quick-hit gags and clap-bait cheap shots. Individual episode subjects are famously non-topical (until Last Week Tonight makes them topical). Recent standouts include a brief history of the filibuster, a closer look at the sorry state of Mount Everest, an insightful explanation of the show’s own lawsuit troubles, and a brutally hilarious takedown of the president of Turkmenistan’s decadent vanity. Also, yes, jokes about vain Trumplings and dumbo Brexiteers. I guess you could say Oliver is biased, but the rigid focus on in-depth research runs alongside a willingness to balance personal biography and a thrillingly punk-comic sensibility, with elaborate pranks (he created his own church as a tax dodge!) in the sweet spot between brainy, silly, and righteously irate. (Available on HBO)

KRISTEN: Agreed about Last Week Tonight — even the production values on their musical number about coal CEO Bob Murray were Emmy-worthy. My No. 12 show is a sketch comedy from two equally passionate writer-performers. With Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, former Mad TV players Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele created a show that was endlessly, wonderfully silly (four words: East/West College Bowl), and also brilliantly examined broader themes of race, pop culture, and politics without ever being strident or pedantic. While sketch shows are notoriously uneven, Key & Peele had a remarkably high laugh-per-episode ratio, and the show still holds up years later. Their best sketches demonstrate the duo’s remarkable technical craft, from the elaborate physical comedy of “Liam Neesons” to the verbal (and literal) theatricality of “Othello.” (“If a brother killed himself every time he broke up with a white bitch, this world would be bereft of brothers!”) Five years after it went off the air, Key & Peele is still my go-to when I need a guaranteed laugh. (Available on Hulu)

DARREN: I’m in tears just thinking about their hyperbolic Les Miserables parody. Speaking of hyperbole: Ryan Murphy!!!! Everything the megaproducer does requires extra exclamation points, and no single season of his far-flung projects captured his ravenous roidcamp sensibility better than my No. 11, American Horror Story: Asylum. The crazyhouse opera flavorblasted the anthology with disparate scares: aliens and Satan, spooky nuns under the same roof as a Nazi experimenter and a serial killer. Then came the biggest shock: a sensitive tale of human beings struggling against the prison of society itself. Sarah Paulson rose to stardom off her turn as investigative journalist Lana Winters, and Jessica Lange corroded marvelously as the imperious-yet-fragile Sister Jude. A Killer Santa, a skinlamp, some homophobic aversion therapy, a woman who might be Anne Frank, an electroshock musical number, a prologue where Adam Levine loses his arm: yes, definably A LOT, and later seasons of AHS went full-bore into kooky-crazy excess. I love Asylum most because it’s such a coherent, gleefully malicious vision of retro America as a torture chamber of repression. (Available on Amazon Prime)

KRISTEN: Gah, I’m still haunted by the image of Asylum’s legless, syphilitic Nazi experiment victim Shelly (Chloe Sevigny) desperately crawling toward daylight. My No. 11 showcases the battle between good and evil too, but the war is waged in the heart and soul of one man. Better Call Saul charts Jimmy McGill’s evolution from small-time New Mexico lawyer to Breaking Bad’s attorney-to-the-drug-dealing-stars, Saul Goodman.

While it takes place in the same big-sky New Mexico universe that brought us Walter White, the prequel from Vince Gilligan tells a quieter, more relatable tale about brothers, redemption, and the unadulterated thrill of breaking society’s rules. Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy is a man forever overshadowed by and desperate for approval from his older brother Chuck (Michael McKean), and that mix of longing and resentment ultimately calcifies into criminal ambition. Though Saul’s most recent season spent a little too much time tromping through Breaking Bad territory, the show can still turn small moments — like Rhea Seehorn’s Kim listening to Jimmy read a letter from Chuck — into devastating drama. (Seasons 1-3 available on Netflix)

DARREN: Yeah, Better Call Saul still has a prequel asterisk for me, though it’s a marvelous collection of talent. My No. 10 show is a different kind of talent showcase, with two great comedians pinballing improvisations off each other. The Trip launched as a BBC miniseries in 2010. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves, two funnymen with divergent careers. Coogan’s the gasbag icon long gone to Hollywood, while Brydon’s an approachable Welshman whom grandmas love meeting. The first series sends them on a restaurant tour of northern England. It’s a travelogue where most of the action is meal-adjacent. They talk seriously about getting older, and then they steer away from serious conversation with spot-on impressions of Michael Caine, Al Pacino, and various James Bonds.

The Trip appeared on these shores edited into feature length, and then the pair reunited for the masterful Trip to Italy and the trickily acidic Trip to Spain, which also got chopped into theatrical features Stateside. (The Trip to Greece is on the horizon.) Seek out the episode versions, I beg you: Director Michael Winterbottom finds an unique rhythm, intellectually seeking with a touch of romantic melancholy. Brydon and Coogan capture the spiky closeness of middle-aged friendship, torn between egotist peacockery and genuine feeling. Serenity for me is watching these two drive around coastal Italy, quoting Wordsworth and Coleridge, listening to Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill. (Season 1 available to purchase on Amazon, seasons 2-3 never properly released in the United States, which is why I watched them legally in the United Kingdom, of course)

KRISTEN: “Meal-adjacent action” is my favorite kind of action, Darren, so I’m definitely adding The Trip to my “stuff to watch” list. My No. 10 show falls into the reality-comedy hybrid genre as well. In 2014, HBO ordered a second season of Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King’s hilarious showbiz-satire-slash-tragicomedy The Comeback, nine years after it first went off the air. The show follows Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish, a former ’90s sitcom star who, in the first season, tries to revive her career with a dopey new sitcom called Room and Bored, while simultaneously having her life documented for a celebreality show called The Comeback. By season 2, she’s starring in a dark cable comedy called Seeing Red, which is based on the behind-the-scenes drama at Room and Bored. With its second season, this vicious and painfully funny excoriation of celebrity culture added a moving layer of humanity. For once, Valerie is treated with kindness and respect on set — by her costar, Seth Rogen (in a charming performance as himself) — and she finally puts her real-life priorities in order. Kudrow’s performance, an uncanny blend of buffoonery and heart, is a true marvel. (Available on HBO)

DARREN: Sometimes entertainers stare into their navel and see the universe. That’s certainly true of my No. 9, Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. The title character, voiced with smoky bummer snark by Will Arnett, is a family sitcom star gone to alcoholic seed. Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and chief visual designer Lisa Hanawalt have built Bojack out from Bojack into a lacerating, lush toonscape. By now, every character can support their own focal episodes: Amy Sedaris is heartbreaking as tart executive climber Princess Carolyn, Aaron Paul as Todd is a whimsically holy goofball, Paul F. Tompkins is the very voice of stupid joy as Mister Peanutbutter, and whatever the problematic casting norms behind her casting, I treasure how Alison Brie’s confident confusion has made Diane Nguyen a sweetly sincere psychodramatic goof on the whole thinkpiece generation. The series is a thoughtful portrait of emotional brokenness, which never lets its characters off the hook for their own faults. The redemptive half-season that just aired set the stage, quite stunningly, for a dark reckoning. (Available on Netflix)

KRISTEN: That’s a perfect segue into my No. 9 show, a dark and chilling British crime drama. In The Fall, Gillian Anderson stars as Stella Gibson, a brilliant and unflappable detective on the hunt for a man who is murdering young women in Belfast. It all sounds very CBS procedural on paper, but creator Alan Cubitt upends the tired violence-against-women TV tropes by forcing charismatic serial killer Paul Spector (played by a pre-50 Shades Jamie Dornan) to confront the thing he fears most: a woman who sees that he’s a misogynistic monster and is not afraid. Anderson is typically mesmerizing as Gibson, a boss who knows her brilliance and beauty are intimidating but isn’t about to apologize for either. Paul Spector may be a “sexual psychopath,” in Stella’s words, but he’s also just another man who underestimated her — and will live to regret it. (Available to purchase on Amazon)

DARREN: My No. 8 is another dark crime drama featuring an ace Gillian Anderson performance, though she’s just one glossy star in the sexy-terrifying firmament of NBC’s delectable Hannibal. Mads Mikkelsen stars as a seductive Hannibal Lecter opposite Hugh Dancy’s burnt-ember-of-a-man FBI profiler Will Graham. Producer Bryan Fuller launched his reboot as a delightfully gross riff on the vogue for chatty network-TV investigators, and then careened ecstatically into love-drunk nightmare territory. The third season kitchen-sinked with luscious grotesquerie, clashing giallo horror into a Euro-trippy showdown. The ratings were the only thing not high about Hannibal, and it’s an important reminder that even the most played-out bits of intellectual property can get a tasty new life. (Available on Amazon Prime)

KRISTEN: It’s time to take a hard left from Intense Murderville to Wacky Sitcomtown, Darren. So far there’s only been one broadcast TV comedy on our list — not because we’re snobs (I swear!), but because they’re really hard to do well. My No. 8 show never fails to elicit actual laughs, first on Fox and now on NBC: Brooklyn Nine-Nine hails from former Parks & Recreation writers Dan Goor and Michael Schur, and it shares the latter’s silly-smart tone and kind heart. Though season 1 pitted Andy Samberg’s goofball cop Jake against his rigid and rule-bound new boss, Captain Holt, Brooklyn Nine-Nine — much like Parks and Rec before it — went from good to great when the central characters left the squabbling behind and actually started to like each other.

Every episode, at its core, is about people trying to do the right thing — as detectives, co-workers, friends, parents. But the thing I love most about Brooklyn Nine-Nine is how the show rewards the loyalty of its fans, creating a cumulative effect of humor through long-running gags (title of your sex tape), yearly traditions (like the Halloween heist), and ever-deepening character backstories. And I dare say that no show in the history of TV will ever find a better use for the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” (Available on Hulu)

DARREN: Another famous genre that’s hard to nail: the legal procedural. One of the things I love about my No. 7 show is how The Good Fight clearly situates the attorneys of Reddick, Boseman, & Lockhart as familiar TV archetypes in a world where nothing is remotely familiar anymore. Producers Michelle and Robert King spun off from their acclaimed The Good Wife, sending Christine Baranski’s fancy-tough Diane Lockhart into a maddening new world of omnipresent paranoia and surreal subversions of law. Delroy Lindo’s majestic as her partner Adrian Boseman, a wily-yet-sensitive operator keeping his firm afloat in treacherous waters. All the actors are incredible — no show has better guest stars — and the Kings have a knack for ripping headlines. Season 3 pushed deeper into political satire, complete with cartoon interludes and a genuine behind-the-scenes censorship battle. (Available on CBS All Access, which might as well be called Just Subscribe So You Can Watch The Good Fight, Already!)

KRISTEN: Missing The Good Fight oughtta be against the law, Darren! (I’ll rave more about Baranski & Co. later in this list.) Orange Is the New Black lands at my No. 7 spot. When this comedy from creator Jenji Kohan premiered in 2013, it pulled us in with a novel twist on the traditional fish-out-of-water sitcom trope: Privileged, upper-middle-class white lady Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is sent to prison and must adjust to a world where she is the minority. But Piper was the dramedy’s Trojan horse; over the next six seasons, Orange transformed Litchfield Penitentiary into a microcosm of society’s most underrepresented voices — black and brown women, queer and trans women, rape survivors, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and more. Like many long-running series, Orange could be uneven, and it sometimes leaned too heavily on sitcommy high jinks, but Kohan and her sprawling cast created a host of female characters who were uniquely strange and funny and necessary, and always immensely watchable. (Available on Netflix)

DARREN: Orange looks ahead to the possibility of new voices and unexplored-by-Hollywood communities coming to the forefront of entertainment. Another great mission of pop culture this decade stared in the opposite direction, analyzing how the internal traumas of the 20th century exploded into the chaos of the 21st. Welcome back, Ryan Murphy, because my No. 6 is the The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Even with the great cast (including pre-This is Us Sterling K. Brown), returning to the media circus of the O.J. Simpson trial could have been a cheap prestige gag. But showrunners Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski bring a commandingly skewed sensibility to the politically charged courtroom horror that followed that tragic double murder in Brentwood. Sexism, racial discord, police brutality, and the debilitating effects of fame and fortune swirl around Cuba Gooding Jr’s O.J. Hail Sarah Paulson, again, for pulling Marcia Clark out of punchline status into something like (complicated, ambiguous, but sincere) sainthood. (Available on Netflix)

KRISTEN: Let’s stick with the “basically every problem our country can have” theme, Darren, because my No. 6 show spent the majority of this decade making award-winning comedy out of our government’s profound dysfunction. Chronicling the political ambitions of the selfish, ambitious, and outright venal Vice President Selina Meyer, Veep is part political satire, part workplace comedy, part vehicle for trenchant social commentary, and all a brutally funny and unforgivingly brutal examination of humanity at its absolute worst. As Selina, Julia Louis-Dreyfus helped created her second iconic (and thrillingly mercenary) TV character of the half-century, while the cast — one of the greatest comedy ensembles of all time — delivered inimitable, profanity-laden (and often improvised) riffs at an Adderall-worthy pace. Armando Iannuci (and later showrunner David Mandal) brought us a White House that seemed impossible — and somehow kept us laughing even when our reality out-crazy’ed Veep’s fictional circus. (Available on HBO)

DARREN: My No. 5 couldn’t get away with that kind of profanity until it got away from network television, but Community is still my pick for the best broadcast series of the decade. The NBC sitcom debuted in 2009, and by the time the first paintball episode aired the following May, creator Dan Harmon had turned the interactions among a study group at Greendale Community College into a tour de force of chattily hyperstylized comedy. In the best years (kaleidoscopic season 3 and elegiac season 5, IMHO), it was an event to watch the show riff itself bizarro, with concept episodes like a Ken Burns-ish mockumentary and an all-time Law & Order parody playing alongside elaborately emotional meta-pranks (a bottle episode about bottle episodes! a butterly effect dice-roll adventure!) Witness a league of new TV legends: Donald Glover, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Danny Pudi rose to stardom alongside a self-lacerating Joel McHale and a believably obnoxious Chevy Chase.

The series was kept alive by fan campaigns through a Harmon-less season 4 and resurrected for a brief-yet-essential run on the short-lived Yahoo Screen. For all the reality-warping, let’s-do-another-animated-episode games Community could play, it was powered by a deep, abiding love for the old-fashioned power of sitcoms. Every week, the characters sat in a room together, tore each other to pieces, and put each other back together again. (Available on Hulu)

KRISTEN: Like Community, my No. 5 show took the traditional half-hour-comedy format and busted it wide open. Back in 2016, FX announced it was picking up a new series co-created by Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon — a writer, working TV actor, and voice-over actor — called Better Things. The press release described Better Things as a comedy starring Adlon as “a single working actor with three daughters, as she navigates personal and professional situations.” That description may sound flat, and even a little boring, but Adlon’s quasi-autobiographical dram-com consistently delivered some of the most vivid, moving, deeply hilariously relatable television of this past decade. (Louis C.K. was fired from the show, and FX, in 2017.) Adlon’s Sam Fox is an L.A.-based actress and mother to three very different and very challenging daughters (played by Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood and Olivia Edward).

Her days are an endless loop of cooking, driving, working refereeing, and suffering — through perimenopause, endless power struggles with her kids, and the sheer exhaustion of being an adult in America today. It’s nearly impossible to describe the immersive nature of Adlon’s storytelling, other than to say that Better Things is not so much a show you watch as experience. (Available on Hulu)

DARREN: I loved Louie so much, an internal struggle I won’t bore you with, and I am so happy that Adlon has carried forward the possibilities of personalized sitcom storytelling with such confessional generosity. My No. 4 has a similar quality of twisted emotional whimsy. Also: cross-dimensional hellscapes, magical futuretech space fantasies, and sweet beats. Cartoon Network’s sprawling Adventure Time focuses loosely on Finn the Human (voiced by Jeremy Shada) and Jake the Dog (John DiMaggio), though the cast swells to include dozens of colorfully screwy weirdoes, each one of them a wonderful art project in gonzo pathology. Holy wow, this show was as miracle, and creator Pendleton Ward launched a generation of cartoon masterminds, including longtime showrunner Adam Muto and Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar.

Adventure Time will return next year with special episodes on HBO Max, and its legacy is already assured. It burst the possibilities of family television, defenestrating gender norms and crafting a compelling, expectation-upending portrait of a young hero kid becoming a complex citizen of a wild world. I hope to show this to my son someday; I truly think it will make him a better person than I am. (Available on Hulu)

KRISTEN: God, I love how much you love Adventure Time, Darren. It warms my heart. My No. 4 could not be more different, and it’s a bit of a cheat: Both seasons of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story series (The People v. O.J. Simpson and The Assassination of Gianni Versace) exhumed pivotal moments in American culture and re-examined them under a modern lens — and the result was stunning in its compassion. As you pointed out above, People v. O.J. forced us to look at how and why Marcia Clark — a divorced working mom — bore the brunt of so much unjustified mockery. And with Versace, Murphy and his writers pulled back the layers of a sensational crime, the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace, to show us the lives and loves of the men who were overlooked: Andrew Cunanan’s first four victims, Jeffrey Trail, David Madson, Lee Miglin, and William Reese. The show used the stories of Trail, a gay former Marine, and Madson to illuminate the very real, very relatable fear many young gay men and women still face. I can’t wait to see how Team Murphy will make us re-evaulate everything we think we know about Monica Lewinsky when Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres this fall. (Available on Netflix)

DARREN: I don’t think anything is a cheat in contemporary TV category definition, says the guy who purposefully selected just one specific season of American Horror Story. My No. 3 is a prime example of just how far-flung the basic foundational tenets of TV narrative could be pushed in the 2010s. When Twin Peaks: The Return arrived in summer 2017, even people who adore the original Mark Frost-David Lynch demonic mystery soap didn’t know what they’d be getting. And the 18-part epic remains elusive even on my current fourth rewatch. Kyle MacLachlan stars as three or four characters: an ensemble unto himself, matched on all sides by brilliant performers like Laura Dern, Naomi Watts, Sheryl Lee, and the whole original Twin Peaks cast. Lynch directs every episode with a style that stands apart even from his artistically daring filmography, slipping new notes of horror and humanity into a collection of stories that can turn humorous or heartbreaking.

What you get from Twin Peaks: The Return most of all is a mood: a sense of our country as a ruin full of grace, with regular people living astride the mystical infinite. The monumental eighth episode gets all the buzz as a standalone origin saga for the franchise, and it’s an ongoing kick trying to dig deeper into the central head-spinning mysteries. And yet, the more I watch The Return, the more I find myself reacting to it in a deeply emotional way. Just a couple years later, it’s become a memory-box monument to a whole host of great performers who’ve passed since they appeared on the show. Robert Forster, Peggy Lipton, Harry Dean Stanton, Catherine E. Coulson, and so many more: We’ll see them all again at the Roadhouse, where the bands play on. (Available on Showtime)

KRISTEN: The Twin Peaks revival was a pure and baffling miracle for sure, Darren, and I’d argue it’s the only revival that deserves to come near a Best TV of the Decade list. I’m guessing my No. 3 show, though, will land on most if not all lists from critics summing up TV in the 2010s. On one level, Mad Men was a drama about a country and a culture in transition. Kicking off in 1960, it chronicled the booming advertising industry in New York City, a time when working women started to climb out of the secretarial pool, and Brylcreemed men in spiffy suits angled to maintain a hold on their societal dominance, even as a wave of counterculture youth bore down upon them. But really it was a story about the yawning gap between image and identity, told through Sterling Cooper’s star adman, Don Draper.

As a straight, white, dashing, upper-class businessman, Draper (Jon Hamm) was a man who had it all — from the outside, at least. Inside, he had nothing: not the poverty and shame-stricken childhood he obliterated, not the love of the wife and children he pushed away, not even the confidence in his own legendary skills as a pitchman. Matthew Weiner’s meticulously assembled retro-glam saga was the best type of prestige TV: The kind that could launch memes both uproarious (not great, Bob!) and empowering (burn it down, Joan — burn this place down!), while also piercing our hearts with its keenly moving depiction of the human struggle. (Available on Netflix)

DARREN: I have a lot to add to your splendid description of that splendid series, so first let me rave about my No. 2 series. There have only been two extraordinary seasons of FX’s Atlanta, and the no-guts-no-glory strangeness that powered every perfect episode of the comedy’s second season might overload into sheer absurdity as it continues. I have faith in creator Donald Glover (a top 5 two-timer!). Atlanta begins when Glover’s Earn, a college dropout with existential money problems, starts managing the rap career of his ascendant cousin Alfred, played by Brian Tyree Henry in my personal pick for Best TV Performance of the Decade. Close behind: sad-eyed LaKeith Stanfield as the astrally stoned Darius and bemused Zazie Beetz as Earn’s sometime-girlfriend Van.

Every episode hits unexpected gears of satiric richness and imaginative myth-of-the-modern-world fantasy, microscoping racial and economic discord in stories that communicate major problems in ever-less-obvious ways. A strip club reveals a foundation of predatory capitalism, a black man can’t spend a $100 bill, and Michael actual Vick is runracing for quick cash in a parking lot — and that was just one episode! (Available on Hulu)

KRISTEN: Cheers to FX! Here’s hoping next year they schedule Atlanta and Better Things back-to-back. (Dare to dream?) The No. 2 series on my list is truly a product of this decade of industry upheaval. The Good Fight premiered in 2017, sold as a spin-off to CBS’ savvy, long-running legal drama The Good Wife. But it came at a time when CBS — along with every other major media conglomerate — was simultaneously trying to fend off extinction by launching its own streaming service. The new platform has been Good Fight’s blessing and its curse. Freed from the confines of broadcast TV standards, creators Robert and Michelle King have spiked their spin-off with narrative psychedelics. Characters hallucinate, deliver soliloquies to the camera, suck on fentanyl lollipops; episodes are interrupted by animated musical tutorials about troll farms, Roy Cohn, non-disclosure agreements.

On the downside, though, is anybody watching? CBS All Access doesn’t reveal numbers, but it’s a fact that The Good Fight certainly doesn’t have the buzz (or the Emmy love) that its network sibling received. It’s a damn shame, because the Kings have pulled off a truly impressive trick: Not only is The Good Fight bold, funny, experimental, and weird, it’s also a superbly smart and satisfying legal procedural. Every week (yep, it airs weekly, just like old-fashioned Tee-Vee), incredible actors in gorgeous clothes argue both sides of fascinating, complex, and timely issues: Censorship, immigration, driving while black, dealing with your mother-in-law. It’s everything you could want in a TV show — only better. (Available on CBS All Access)

DARREN: Loving The Good Fight is a special kind of experience, though. If you find the one other person who’s seen it, you’re friends with that person for life.

And now, friend, it’s time for me to loudly agree with everything you already said about my No. 1 TV series of the last 10 years. Only seasons 4-7 of Mad Men are part of our Best of the Decade purview, but that happens to include three of the best seasons of narrative television EVER — plus the unnerving, ever-more-resonant season 6. And the second half of Matthew Weiner’s ’60s saga expresses something unique about television that I worry has gotten a bit lost in this decade: the way that a TV show can grow and evolve, leaving behind initial concepts to paint in new shades with the passage of time. There’s no character in TV history I feel closer to than Peggy Olson, played by Elizabeth Moss with a restrained and smirkish power that previewed her rise to acclaim. When Mad Men started, I was a twentysomething just beginning work in a creative-field Manhattan job. And although I swear never smoked weed on a work weekend in the old EW Midtown offices, I still marked my own advance thirtyward and beyond by Peggy’s slow rise through the ad world.

Weiner and his collaborators nailed something in the theatrical specificity of their depiction of office life, and the broader sense that every character was reacting to a changing world in their own confusing-yet-enthralling ways. It’s the rarest of rare great dramas in this high-stakes decade where the violence was mostly internal, and something as hyper-specific as The Philosophical Feud Between Creative and Accounts became the stuff of rich, darkly funny psychology. Mad Men could make you weep for a candy bar, and craft prose poetry about potato chips. Now throw all your repressed sadness in the suitcase, and buy the world a Coke. (Available on Netflix)

Kristen: What Mad Men did for repressed sadness, my No. 1 show of the decade did for raw and intense pain. To be honest, I stopped watching The Leftovers midway through season 1. Though I was a fan of Tom Perotta’s novel — in which the world is traumatized by the Sudden Departure, a mysterious event that causes 140 million people to disappear from the planet — the first season of the Damon Lindelof-created series felt grim, of course, but also hollow and nihilistic. But plenty of other people kept watching, and soon after season 2 began, the word-of-mouth praise was deafening. “My God, The Leftovers — are you watching?”

TV shows based on books can be dicey — more often than not, the storytelling suffers once the source material has dried up. But once Lindelof and his writers left Perotta’s blueprint behind, something shook loose — and in its final two seasons, The Leftovers transformed into a gripping, bizarre, and profoundly emotional meditation on the many ways to deal with, or succumb to, grief. Propelled by beautiful performances from Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon, The Leftovers illustrated that corny-but-true key to happiness — focus on what you have, not what you want — by creating a world where everyone has suffered an unfathomable loss, and no one can focus on anything else.

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Awards season tracker: Early winners ahead of the 2020 Oscars

With the Oscar machine churning out new contenders by the day, it can be daunting for even the most seasoned prognosticators to keep track of every movie, filmmaker, and performer vying for glory on the Academy Awards stage. EW is here to help, as our handy awards tracker ahead will update throughout the season to reflect which films are scoring major industry accolades in the run-up to the 92nd Oscars on Feb. 9.

Ranked purely by the number of prestige accolades they’ve won so far, here’s EW’s statistical ranking of this year’s Oscar contenders. (For our informed Oscar predictions, click here.)

Awards bodies tracked so far:

Cannes Film Festival
Venice International Film Festival (VIFF)
Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)
Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF)
Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF)
Gotham Awards
Film Independent Spirit Awards (Indie Spirits)
National Board of Review
New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC)
American Film Institute (AFI)

Best Picture

1. The Irishman
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: National Board of Review (Best Film), NYFCC, AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

2. Jojo Rabbit
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: TIFF People’s Choice Award, National Board of Review (top 10), AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

3. Marriage Story
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: Gotham Awards, AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending), National Board of Review (top 10)

4. 1917
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: National Board of Review (top 10)

5. Richard Jewell
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: National Board of Review (top 10)

6. Knives Out
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: National Board of Review (top 10)

7. Parasite
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: Cannes Palme d’Or, AFI Special Award
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

8. The Farewell
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: Gotham Awards, Indie Spirits (pending)

9. Uncut Gems
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: N/A
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: Gotham Awards, Indie Spirits (pending), National Board of Review (top 10)

10. Joker
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: VIFF Golden Lion, AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

11. Ford v Ferrari
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: N/A
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: National Board of Review (top 10)

12. Little Women
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: AFI top 10
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

13. Dolemite Is My Name
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: N/A
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: National Board of Review (top 10)

14. Waves
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: N/A
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: National Board of Review (top 10)

Best Director

1. Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: National Board of Review
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations:

2. Benny and Josh Safdie, Uncut Gems
Best Picture (or equivalent) wins: NYFCC
Best Picture (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending)

Best Actress

1. Renée Zellweger, Judy
Best Actress (or equivalent) wins: PSIFF Desert Palm Achievement Award, National Board of Review
Best Actress (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending)

2. Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Best Actress (or equivalent) wins: SBIFF Outstanding Performer of the Year Award, Indie Spirits (Robert Altman Award)
Best Actress (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

3. Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Best Actress (or equivalent) wins:
PSIFF International Star Award
Best Actress (or equivalent) nominations:

4. Alfre Woodard, Clemency
Best Actress (or equivalent) wins: Gotham Awards
Best Actress (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending)

5. Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell
Best Actress (or equivalent) wins: Gotham Awards
Best Actress (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending)

6. Lupita Nyong’o, Us
Best Actress (or equivalent) wins: NYFCC
Best Actress (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

Best Actor

1. Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Best Actor (or equivalent) wins: SBIFF Outstanding Performer of the Year Award, Gotham Awards, Indie Spirits (Robert Altman Award)
Best Actor (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

2. Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
Best Actor (or equivalent) wins: National Board of Review
Best Actor (or equivalent) nominations: Gotham Awards, Indie Spirits (pending)

3. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Best Actor (or equivalent) wins: PSIFF Chairman’s Award
Best Actor (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

4. Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
Best Actor (or equivalent) wins: N/A
Best Actor (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending)

Best Supporting Actress

1. Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) wins: PSIFF Spotlight Award
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending)

2. Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) wins: National Board of Review
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

3. Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) wins: NYFCC, Indie Spirits (Robert Altman Award)
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

4. Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) wins: N/A
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending)

5. Octavia Spencer, Luce
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) wins: N/A
Best Supporting Actress (or equivalent) nominations: Indie Spirits (pending)

Best Supporting Actor

1. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Supporting Actor (or equivalent) wins: National Board of Review
Best Supporting Actor (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

2. Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
Best Supporting Actor (or equivalent) wins: N/A
Best Supporting Actor (or equivalent) nominations: Gotham Awards, Indie Spirits (pending)

3. Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Best Supporting Actor (or equivalent) wins: NYFCC
Best Supporting Actor (or equivalent) nominations: N/A

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From Arrow to Crisis: Inside the evolution of the Arrowverse and its crossovers

A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Arrowverse. Pick up your copy on newsstands today, or buy it online

There was never supposed to be an Arrowverse. Seriously, it wasn’t planned.

“A lot of people like to think we did,” says Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti. “Each step was a surprise.”

When Arrow, the shared universe’s namesake that stars Stephen Amell as the Green Arrow, premiered on The CW in 2012, the producers were repeatedly asked if they would introduce other heroes with superpowers. “The answers to all those questions were, ‘No, no, and no,’” says Arrow co-developer and consulting producer Marc Guggenheim. “None of those interviews have aged particularly well.”

He’s not wrong, because in the past eight years The CW has become the home of six DC Comics shows that exist in the same TV universe and interact (at a minimum) on a yearly basis: Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Batwoman, and Black Lightning. “If I had to pick one word, I’d say ‘unbelievable,’” says Guggenheim about the universe’s very existence and annual crossover events. “The truth is [the unexpected expansion] really speaks to my whole philosophy about building a universe. The best way to do that is to do one good show. That one is really hard. Then if you succeed, do a second really good show.”

And if you produce six good shows? Well, then you attempt your most ambitious crossover yet, “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” a five-hour adaptation of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s multiverse-destroying epic that rocked DC Comics in 1985 and 1986 (begins Sunday, Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. with Supergirl).

In a way, the road to “Crisis” began midway through Arrow’s first season when Berlanti started toying with the idea of bringing in the Scarlett Speedster, his favorite superhero. After talking to Warner Bros. TV and The CW, Glee’s Grant Gustin was introduced as a pre-superspeed Barry Allen in Arrow’s second season before headlining The Flash, which debuted in fall 2014.

Despite Arrow’s success, the producers were worried about The Flash because of the special effects required to render the hero’s powers. “It’s famously what put the original Flash show out of business years ago; they couldn’t get the episodes done in time,” says Berlanti. But The Flash did work, and remains the network’s highest-rated show six seasons later.

In December 2014 they attempted something even more adventurous: a two-night crossover between Arrow and The Flash. “[CW President] Mark Pedowitz was like, ‘I want to cross over these two shows,’” says Guggenheim. “Greg and I both grew up on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. In all honesty, [those two shows] were the inspiration from the crossover.” He adds, “The first Flarrow crossover was so hard at the time, but looking back on it, it was embarrassingly easy because it was a crossover in the sense that Oliver appeared on Barry’s show and Barry appeared on Oliver’s show, but the two storylines of each episode were relatively separate from each other. So, it wasn’t that narratively ambitious.”

The universe continued to expand. In 2014, now Warner Bros. president Susan Rovner met with Berlanti and company about developing a show about Supergirl, Superman’s cousin. “I thought it was a fantastic idea,” says Arrowverse EP and Berlanti Productions president Sarah Schechter. “I remember [Greg] said to me, ‘I think I figured out Supergirl. It’s Ginger Rogers. Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did but backward and in heels.’ That really resonated [with me] as a woman working in this business.”

Thus, in October 2015, Supergirl took flight on CBS with Glee’s Melissa Benoist as the titular Girl of Steel. Even though it (initially) aired on a different network, it was considered part of its CW brethren’s universe because The Flash’s second season had established the concept of the multiverse. Toward the end of Supergirl season 1, Gustin’s the Flash, who resides on Earth-1, zoomed over to Supergirl on Earth-38 for a breezy team-up. “Grant and Melissa are just so effervescent,” Schechter says. “It wasn’t calculated. It was a very pure, creative desire [of] wishing we could see them together.”

At the time of Supergirl’s launch, the producers were also developing the time-traveling drama DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which starred lovable screwups collected from the ranks of Arrow and The Flash, including Caity Lotz (Sara Lance/ White Canary), Brandon Routh (Ray Palmer/the Atom), and Dominic Purcell (Mick Rory/Heat Wave). Whereas the previous three series had a traditional development process, Legends didn’t even have time to make a pilot. “We literally just did clips from our other shows that we hadn’t used, and we shot two days of just like, ‘Wouldn’t this be cool to see all of these characters onscreen at the same time?’” says Berlanti.

That year’s Arrow-Flash crossover, titled “Heroes Join Forces,” had the responsibility of setting up Legends, which proved more stressful than the producers anticipated. “That’s when things got really crazy because even though we were only crossing over two shows, we were doing a singular storyline, but we were also introducing the Legends characters and launching Legends at the same time we were prepping the Legends [premiere],” says Guggenheim, who is also an EP on Legends. “I remember Greg and I looking at each other going, ‘No one has ever done this: Crossed over two shows and setup a third all at the same time.’ It was like juggling flaming chainsaws while atop a unicycle. We were like, ‘And no one will ever know how hard this is.’”

In 2016, Supergirl leaped over to The CW for its second season, further integrating into the Arrowverse via the three-part crossover “Invasion!” and a musical episode on The Flash, the latter of which is one of Guggenheim’s favorites even though he wasn’t directly involved in it. “I loved it,” he says. “These crossovers exist along a spectrum and I have to say just as a fan, one of my favorite types of crossovers is when we just crossover one or two actors, or one or two characters, like when Diggle and Lyla show on Flash, for example. Doing those repeatedly over the course of various shows and various seasons, that is what makes the universe feel lived in to me and just conceptually my favorite thing to do.” 

With four superhero shows on the air, the showrunners made a concerted effort to differentiate them all. “If you look back on that particular season that year, you’ll see Legends became wackier, Supergirl went more in on aliens, Flash went more in on science, and Arrow went more in on gritty crime,” says Guggenheim.

Having Supergirl on The CW also led to what Guggenheim calls the “gold standard” of their annual crossovers: 2017’s “Crisis on Earth-X,” which spanned all four shows and included two weddings, Nazi doppelgängers, and more than 15 superheroes. “That was one of the craziest things I’ve ever done,” says Benoist of appearing in a scene with every Arrowverse hero. “That particular moment is one that is going to stick with me forever, because I think we all felt it.”

The producers knew pretty early on that they wanted the heroes be the villains in “Earth-X”; however, the idea of going with Nazis doppelgängers came from Freedom Fighters, an animated show set on Earth-X that Guggenheim was developing for CW Seed at the time.

“It made sense to just organically play with the toy you already have,” he says. “That’s another element of universe building and universe creation: A lot of the ways you create inter-connectivity in your universe is, you always ask yourself, ‘Am I reinventing the wheel or is there a piece on the chessboard that is already in play that I can use?’” He continues, “In the case of Earth-X, Earth-X was something that was already introduced in an animated series that’s in canon in our universe. So why not make use of it in this doppelgänger idea that we had for the crossover?”

The Arrowverse’s multiversal fight against super-powered Nazis, however, took a toll on everyone involved. “It killed all of us. We were feeling the effects of it literally a year after,” says Guggenheim. “The network had to really, really convince us to do another crossover because after ‘Crisis on Earth-X,’ we were all pretty burned out. We were like, ‘Can we take a break and then come back for Crisis on Infinite Earths?’ And The CW was like, ‘No, no, don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be all four shows. It can only be three hours.’”

And that’s how we ended up with the ambitious “Elseworlds.” Ironically, the topsy-turvy “Elseworlds” ended up being Amell, Gustin, and Benoist’s favorite crossover up until that point. “Everyone was just laughing all the time, and there was just so much comedic relief to it,” says Benoist. “Elseworlds” also marked Ruby Rose’s Batwoman debut ahead of her show’s fall 2019 launch.

All of this has been building toward the 2019 crossover: “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which will unfold across Supergirl, Batwoman, The Flash, Legends, and the final season of Arrow. Chronicling a fight to save the multiverse, the Homeric table is an ode DC Comics’ past and present as it features the return of Smallville’s Tom Welling and Erica Durance as Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and will also introduce Black Lightning’s Cress Williams, whose Berlanti-produced show has remained separate from the Arrowverse since its 2018 premiere on The CW.

Says Guggenheim: “My main goal has always been, ‘How do we honor the original Crisis on Infinite Earths?’ I think we’ve crafted something really, really special.”

Sounds like they’ve got this particular crisis handled.

“Crisis on Infinite Earths” kicks off with Supergirl on Sunday, Dec. 8, followed by Batwoman on Monday, Dec. 9, and The Flash on Tuesday, Dec. 10. After the winter hiatus, the crossover will resume Tuesday, Jan. 14, with Arrow at 8 p.m., and conclude with Legends of Tomorrow at 9 p.m.

For expert analysis, interviews, and scene breakdowns, watch EW’s official “Crisis” after-show, Crisis: Aftermath, hosted by Kevin Smith and airing 9 p.m., immediately after Supergirl (Dec. 8and The Flash (Dec. 10on The CW.

Diyah Pera/The CW; Kharen Hill/The CW; Katie Yu/The CW; The CW (2)

Pick up your copy of EW’s Ultimate Guide to the Arrowverse on newsstands now, or buy it online.

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Queen & Slim team on their mission to honor victims of police brutality: We were on hallowed ground

Queen & Slim is unlike any other film out this year. It’s a thriller, a “beautiful black love story,” a road trip movie, “protest art,” a horror film, and so much more. And for all involved, it was their own rebellion.

Hailing from writer Lena Waithe (The Chi) and director Melina Matsoukas (Insecure, Beyoncé’s “Formation”), Queen & Slim follows a black man (Daniel Kaluuya) and woman (Jodie Turner-Smith) whose unmemorable first date turns into a nightmare when they’re forced to go on the run after killing a white cop in self-defense. As they seek refuge, they fall in love and become the start of a movement.

Ahead of the film’s release, Waithe, Matsoukas, Kaluuya, and Turner-Smith had an extensive conversation about its origins and importance on EW’s Around the Table series (watch the full video below).

“One of the special things about the movie is that it was sort of born out of the black renaissance in which we’re living in right now,” says Waithe, adding that she was inspired by “the trauma of being black in America,” and being in love. “It’s a rebel cry, but also, I was feeling a sense of trauma from watching the news, and I think when people hear about black people being killed by cops, they know that it’s sad, they know that it’s not right, but as a black person, there’s no there to hold my hand. There’s no one there to rub my back and tell me that I’m okay, that we’re going to be okay.”

Coming off an incredible early career run with Get Out, Black Panther, and Widows, Kaluuya was determined to be Slim. And while Waithe says that in her “lack of imagination” she wouldn’t have thought of him and Matsoukas admits that she couldn’t originally separate him from his Get Out character, Kaluuya eventually won them both over. “I connected to Slim because I’ve been in that situation, especially with the police, where it’s out of control but you’re trying to do your best,” the Oscar-nominated actor says. “If you respect yourself, that’s a problem. It’s when oppression is so visceral. If I believe in me, that’s a problem for you.”

For Queen, Matsoukas says it was “really important that we use this opportunity to break a new black actress,” since “it’s an opportunity we don’t all get.” Through a long casting process, they landed on Turner-Smith, a model-turned-actress best known for TNT’s The Last Ship. “This project changed my life,” Turner- Smith says. “There was so much reality in it, of just this is the experience of being a black woman. That I know, already, in my bones. I don’t even have to go and look at a source for this.”

The stars and creative team didn’t need a source for this trauma, having all lived it in their own way, but one real-life tragedy specifically found its way into the process. “It was about looking at a lot of this black horror that we see,” says Turner-Smith. “I watched the Sandra Bland documentary and her tape itself over and over and over and over again, and just the reality of that, the fear in that.”

Kaluuya further reveals that he and Turner-Smith watched the infamous Bland traffic stop video in the car before they filmed their own version of that moment. “There were so many obstacles on the set and I always say, I feel like it had to be that,” Matsoukas says. “It had to be hard shoot, because we were honoring all these people whose lives were taken because of police brutality.”

Adds Waithe: “We were on hallowed ground.”

Queen & Slim is now in theaters.

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Best of the Decade: How Gillian Flynn broke barriers with Gone Girl

To celebrate the end of the 2010s, Entertainment Weekly’s Must List is looking back at the best pop culture of the decade that changed movies, TV, music, and more (catch up on our list so far, which includes the MCU’s big Snap, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s history-making hit Hamilton, and Beyonce’s iconic Coachella set). Today, we turn back the page to Gone Girl, the thriller that broke barriers for genre fiction and women’s stories.

“You’ve written a book with two main characters who are both pretty unlikable, you find out whodunit in the middle, and it has an ending that is not necessarily a tied-up ribbon.” Gillian Flynn recalls her editor’s response to Gone Girl with a hearty chuckle. The editor loved the book, she assures, but there were some things she needed to confirm were “intentional.” Ultimately, of course, those elements were what drove the 2012 thriller to phenomenon status. But the editor wasn’t quite wrong to bring these narrative elements up. After all, as the 2010s began, they were hardly common in suspense fiction. More specifically, they weren’t exactly indicators of commercial success.

The start of Flynn’s journey to literary fame began on a white-hot day in Scottsdale, Ariz. She was pacing in a pool, ankle-deep, waiting for news when she finally got the call that Gone Girl was debuting at No. 2 on the New York Times best-seller list. It’d reach No. 1 the next week. “My book tour went from three cities to 16,” she cracks.

When Gone Girl was published, people wanted to talk about it. This stunned the author. “To go from your weird hollow where you write to The View, talking to Whoopi Goldberg, within the space of a couple weeks is definitely head-turning,” says Flynn, a former EW writer. Gone Girl was her third novel and not only marked her breakthrough but became one of the best-selling books of the decade.

Flynn loaded the book, about a marriage in which the wife disappears (because, we eventually learn — spoiler! — she faked her own death), with devices that seemed avant-garde at the time but are now staples for the prestige thriller: unreliable narrators, structural twists, and a treatment of women’s lives as being equally as exciting, unpredictable, and nuanced as men’s. “I’m proud [that it] reminded people the domestic sphere doesn’t have to be [limited to] frothy, light topics,” Flynn says. “Things in the domestic sphere being about women and less worth our attention — that idea is absolutely not true. So I love that there’s now the term domestic thriller.”

She says of the book’s thematic prescience, “It’s tying into the rise of social media, the idea of packaging one’s life as a certain thing and being something different in real life. People responded to that.”

As EW’s Leah Greenblatt notes, the term domestic thriller denotes an entire subgenre, perhaps the breakout literary category of the decade. Similar novels like The Girl on the Train and this year’s The Silent Patient all ascended to the very top of the New York Times list on the strength of suspenseful stories propelled by twists in the structure, but that also had rich commentary as it related to gender, middle age, and the constitution of an “ordinary” life.

Flynn tapped into this duality uniquely — and intently: “I’ve always thought if you could write something that was about ideas and has layers to it, people who want to take it as a thriller [would] read it that way, and for people who want to engage more and dig deeper, there’s a lot to talk about, too.” She adds, “I’ve never had a problem with making something entertaining or something called a page-turner. That’s what it’s supposed to be. The only phrase I don’t like is guilty pleasure.”

Besides subverting gender norms, Gone Girl affirmed books’ vibrant cultural pulse, too, both as a source for Hollywood (David Fincher directed the 2014 adaptation) and as a conversation starter. Warning signs in publishing persist, even as the Kindle boom has died down, but work like Gone Girl affirms the enduring potential for breakout sensations. “People at book signings would wait in line, slam the book down, and just say, ‘I hated this book!’” Flynn recalls. “It was great! I’d accomplished what I wanted: People argued about not just plot or character, but what it meant.”

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DCs Legends of Tomorrow, TVs wackiest super-family, has nothing to lose

A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Arrowverse. Pick up your copy on newsstands day! 

When the DC’s Legends of Tomorrow stars read their scripts, they can’t quite believe what their time-traveling counterparts will be up to this time.

“[We can] go from a killer unicorn to a fairy godmother in one episode,” marvels Matt Ryan, who plays the trench-coat wearing occult detective John Constantine on the galaxy-brained CW superhero show.

In September 2019, seven of the ensemble talked about their experiences together, their hopes for the Legends future, why Tickle-Me-Elmo-inspired toy Beebo has become the show’s mascot — and how lucky they are to be able to work together and portray the crew of the Waverider. Read on below:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you remember the first time you met?
CAITY LOTZ: I remember Brandon asking me, “How is it over on Arrow? Do you like it over there?” I guess we’ve known each other for a while. The whole cast didn’t really get together until Comic-Con, right?
BRANDON ROUTH: We had dinner. Arthur [Darvill] and Ciara [Renée] in Vancouver.
LOTZ: Your memory is better than mine. I just remember Dom being on the carpet at like the upfront doing interviews. And he was like, “Yeah, I’m on this new show, Legends of the Fall.” And I’m like, “No, it’s Legends of Tomorrow.” [Laughs]
DOMINIC PURCELL: I do remember saying that. Yeah… It was very sudden. I did a guest star [appearance] with Wentworth [Miller] on The Flash. Obviously, the chemistry between I and Wentworth is really cool. Before I knew it, I was doing Legends of Tomorrow with Wentworth and the cast. [Laughs] “Legends of the Fall.” That’s very typical of me. That’s the kind of stupid stuff I say all the time.
ROUTH: The first season was challenging because we were trying to find our legs and understand what kind of show we really were. We had a strong blueprint, but we’d never shot a pilot.

What was it like for those of you who joined after season 1 to step onto the show?
NICK ZANO: I came on season 2. Tala, you were three?
TALA ASHE: Mm-hm. Matt was four.
MATT RYAN: I did a couple episodes in three and then four, I became a regular.
ZANO: When I got there, they were coming off a season that [had] a vibe and a tone that they were trying to change. That was very difficult. Nobody knew what was happening, what the agenda was, and what we were going to become. Season 2 was a transition year of saying, “We are not the show, but grow with us because we’re going somewhere.”
ASHE: Totally. Matt, you’ve had a seamless entry. Maybe internally it didn’t feel that way, but… for me it was really hard. I think it also taps into my own insecurities about social situations. It took most of season 3, really, for me to feel like I was part of a team, on screen and off. It wasn’t until the Groundhog Day episode [where] what that episode asked of me was of vulnerability. I couldn’t hide after, and during, that episode. After that, I felt… these people are my family and it’s a strange, strange family, but this is it. I love them. Everybody was so supportive.
MAISIE RICHARDSON-SELLERS: On my first day on-set, I was in a basement in this abandoned mental asylum hospital, and it was just me and Brandon and we were chained to a chair and the chains are really hard to get on and off, so they just kind of left them on between [scenes]. It was dark, dank and I was like, “Well, this is my way to arrive.” [Laughs] But then from that on, it was great. Thank goodness I had Nick. We arrived at the same time, so we had the opportunity to be the new kids on the block.

“These people are my family and it’s a strange, strange family, but this is it.” — Tala Ashe on embracing her Legends castmates.

The Legends writers take daily post-lunch walks and like visit Disneyland together, because they really view themselves as a family and try to bring that feeling to the writing. Up there in Vancouver, do you all feel as though you have a similar bond? 
LOTZ: We’re definitely not as nerdy as our writers [Laughs]. But yeah, we do hangout. We’ll do dinners together and try to organize trips because we’re all out here in Vancouver and it can be pretty isolating. So having each other has been a great support group.
ZANO: Well this season, we have taken Matt’s balcony as our bonding center. That’s like the Legends SoHo House. It’s only for like eight people, it’s pretty exclusive, but it’s ours.
LOTZ: We’ve been using his place as kind of the crash pad. He’ll even like give us the key when he’s gone.
RYAN: What happened was, last year, my first year on the show, I got a one bedroom flat and it was amazing. But my mum came over and then my dad came over, and then my brother came over, and they all came over at different times and I wasn’t able to house them. So this year I was like, “Okay, I’m going to get a two bedroom place.” As a result, I’ve got a nice little balcony, which we’ve done a couple cookouts on, and a little piano and stuff. It’s actually been really, really lovely. I do feel like there is a real family sense on Legends.
LOTZ: It’s cool ’cause Nick brings his family and his kids and stuff, and everybody comes through.
ZANO: Wait, I have to tell a Matt story! Matt had my son at his house and they’re on the balcony together, and Matt had a rosemary bush. He was teaching my son to like rub his fingers on the rosemary plant and then smell his fingers so he could smell the rosemary. My son was like infatuated with it and fell in love with Matt. Cut to two days ago, I was at a flower shop with my son and he’s squeezing the hell out of these roses. I’m like, “What are you doing?” He goes, “This is how you smell them,” and he’s smelling his fingers. I’m like, “Who taught you that?” And he’s like, “Your worker friend Matt.” I’m just like, “No, man.”

What has been the most memorable experience on the show so far?
LOTZ: Fighting Julius Caesar on the beach was pretty fun. It was like summertime and it was just nice to be out on the beach too. And, yeah, directing this season has been just such a cool, cool experience.
RYAN: I would say that I think Nick’s most memorable moment was when I was doing naked yoga.
ASHE: [Laughs] Also mine.
RYAN: Also yours.
ZANO: Here’s a little behind-the-scenes fact: Matt actually rehearsed yoga for that scene [laughs]. Someone actually taught him poses. So he spent time in choreography doing naked yoga scenes.
RYAN: Yeah. I spent a lot of time learning naked Tai Chi and then the only thing that was in the shots was a back stretch.
ZANO: Well, for me, one day that really sticks out is the day we got to wear everybody else’s hero costumes. When you’re on the Legends set and Caity is Supergirl and I’m Green Arrow, and Adam [Tsekhman] is the Flash, we just felt like we were the tiny siblings who snuck into the big sibling’s closet to play dress up. [Laughs]

Did wearing their costumes give you insight into what it feels like to be the Trinity?
ASHE: Yeah, they were in character.
ZANO: I went full Andy Kaufman that day.

What have been some of the most challenging days on set?
ASHE: Last year it was the finale episode at “Hey, World!” I had to hold Nick’s body in my arms while the Legends formed a circle around me, and there were chupacabra and cocker spaniel things coming towards me and we had to sing a James Taylor song, and I was weeping. That was the hardest day for me.
ZANO: As awkward and clunky as it was, I remember watching that last scene with my mom in my house and my mom and I welled up. Watching it made me very emotional. Damn, if they’re not magicians putting our show together to make it great.

Are you surprised by how much the show has evolved?
PURCELL: Yeah, totally. All of us were completely surprised by that because the first season really wasn’t something that was working, and now it is. Now, I love the show. The critics love it. The fans love it. I love it. The cast love it. You can tell how much fun we’re having on the show, and I think that’s why it has become so successful.
LOTZ: I think the whole show had to find its voice and what exactly it was. Now it just feels like what it always was and it’s always been.
RYAN: You can literally throw any different characters into the mix and get a different dynamic and then find a new story from that. Even if it’s a character that’s been established in a different universe or in a different comic book, like Constantine, that’s never been written before. We’re just discovering stuff the whole while.

When you first got to Beebo on the script, what was it like to read that the thing that’s going to save everyone at the end of your TV season is going to be a big, fluffy, cuddly toy?
ZANO: I thought that was it. I was like, “We were onto something and we just wrote a grenade into our own house.” I was going to say, “No way that this works or is believable in any sense.” And I was 1,000 percent wrong. So ever since then I always give it a grain of salt and trust the system.
ASHE: Yeah. I think what’s happened is in this dysfunctional family of ours, we’ve developed trust between us and our crew and the writers and the directors where we’re all sort of willing to go for the ride now, which is really lovely.
PURCELL: I remember exactly what I said. “Okay, this is a career ender.” [Laughs]. “This is the end of my career for sure.” I mean, seriously, that’s what I thought. “Okay, I’m never coming back from this.” But again, in time, that kind of stuff belongs on Legends, and we are allowed basically to do whatever we want. That’s the beauty of this show.

Were you surprised by how much the fan base has fallen in love with Beebo?
ROUTH: A little bit. We were all a bit cautious or worried when he first entered in the Viking episode. I think the judicious use of Beebo in [proceeding] episodes has been good and it’s certainly been a fun hallmark of the show now.

Let’s talk about what you remember about last season’s “Legends of To-Meow-Meow,” where you were messing with the timeline.
ZANO: When I first read the script, I read the full episode and I texted [showrunner] Phil [Klemmer] and I was like, “Phil, this maybe the best episode we have ever done ever if we do within the script.” We all went for it. We had puppets, we were in recording studios singing kid’s theme songs. Like, Tala was a cat. It was a doggone free-for-all.
RYAN: The line that I say when I walk in and see the puppets and I say, “What the *bleep.*” I mean, that was real. I was like, what were we doing? I turned up on the show coming from doing Constantine as a drama. And then on one of my first or second days… it was when you guys were being attacked by the unicorn and you were on acid. So I’m walking along, like, “Oh my God, what is this show?” I’ve never done anything where I’ve been so excited to see a script because you just don’t know what genre it’s going to be.
ASHE: Once we did the Groundhog Day episode and it worked, I think that allowed the writer’s room to do these sort of high concept or alternate concept episodes. Those are the ones that I’ve been really excited to read. Speaking for myself, and I think you guys would agree, I feel really lucky to be part of something that takes risks because we could very easily a procedural and there’s a lot of procedurals that do very well on television. What I’m interested in, being an artist and an actor is challenge; doing things that stretch you and challenge you.

Maisie, you’re now portraying a second, completely different character. What has it been like for you to play two separate characters on the show?
RICHARDSON-SELLERS: As an actress it’s the most beautiful gift, because I love reinventing and transforming characters and exploring different worlds. I don’t think the two could be more different. Amaya Jiwe was very straight laced, very professional, and had a lot at stake constantly. To be able to play the complete opposite in Charlie, who is someone who’s got a happy-go-lucky, in it for the ride, adventurous, wild child [attitude] has been brilliant. And I think this season we finally get to see some of Charlie’s backstory [and] why she’s the way she is. It’s actually quite a tragic and dark story. She’s going to pal with people you wouldn’t quite expect. Everyone has their darknesses and their light.

Caity, Brandon, back on Arrow, did you ever expect that you would go on to play your characters for almost 100 episodes?
LOTZ: I mean, it’s pretty wild. Just on Arrow alone, Sara’s journey was huge. Such a big arc. Coming over to Legends, it was hard when we first started because you get a sense of what your character would say and who they are, and then all of a sudden on Legends, Sara’s cracking jokes. On Arrow, everything was so dark and then I was like, “What? I would never say that. Sara would never say that.” Trying to find the balance of fitting into this new show but still making it feel like Sara Lance was a bit of a challenge.
ROUTH: It was no guarantee [Ray] was even gonna make it [through] the length of the season. They had a plan for him, but it just kind of depended on how everybody meshed together.

The news broke that your character is leaving the show, Brandon. How are you feeling about the end of the road approaching?
ROUTH: It’s been challenging. I am doing my best to not take these last few episodes for granted, but really cherishing my awesome cast and crew that I’ve had the opportunity to work with for the last five years. I’ll miss the back and forth with Ray and Nora, the bromance of Nate and Ray. I’ll miss the representation that fans get, the different aspects that people love about Ray, whether it’s his eternal optimism and showing people that it’s okay to be happy and find light, [or how] to find the balance in their own lives. There’s so many things that Ray brings to the ship. You know, my life models Ray quite a bit in my energy. I’m very similar to Ray in many ways. His journey is my journey, and vice versa.

“I’m doing my best not to take these last few episodes for granted” — Brandon Routh on his departure from Legends.

What was it like to have Caity as a director this year?
RYAN: I love it. I came off that [set] last night, we were there, like, 14 hours. Over the time Caity was directing this episode, apart from all of the other amazing [things] that she’s done, she gave me like two, maybe three or four, really performance-changing notes which literally took me in a direction, which was amazing. I said to her, I was just like, Oh my God.
RICHARDSON-SELLERS: Yeah, she killed it. We’re always sort of rushing, but she really took the time to make sure that we rehearsed, to make sure every- body is comfortable with the arc of every scene. She took that time to really focus on the acting, which is a luxury in episodic TV, especially network TV. She’s crushed it. She just wants to reinvent and leaned into the stylistic aspect of her episode. We’re doing shots that personally I’ve never done on episodic TV before. It takes a lot of confidence to take those risks. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Is there more pressure now because of how much fans love the show?
RICHARDSON-SELLERS: If anything, any pressure is to trust. Like just trust the show.
ZANO: I have found myself saying after takes… “God damn it, I love our show,” out loud. Like, I love our show. We started early with this show — we had a no a–hole policy. No one was allowed to be an a–hole. And in our cast, there was no cockiness, we were one unit making this amazing show that we’re all super proud to be a part of and continue to be part of its evolution.
LOTZ: I think at this point we’ve really earned the trust of the network and the studio. Our show’s always been really risky, and it does weird things and takes chances and if you take that away, then you take what makes Legends Legends.

Is the willingness to take risks the secret ingredient that makes Legends work?
LOTZ: We’ve got nothing to lose. So let’s do it.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow season 5 premieres Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 9 p.m. on The CW.

This post has been edited for length and clarity. 

Diyah Pera/The CW; Kharen Hill/The CW; Katie Yu/The CW; The CW (2)

Pick up your copy of EW’s Ultimate Guide to the Arrowverse on newsstands now.

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