by Aprille Hanson Spivey
2021 had to make one last gut punch to all of us — Betty White has died on New Year’s Eve.
I was talking on the phone to my 78-year-old grandmother who gasped as the news flashed across her TV set that the legendary comedian, adored by all, had passed away at 99. She lamented that she was so close to 100.
I grabbed my phone and saw a text from my best friend, 33 years old, saying “Omg omg omg is it real??? Did Betty White seriously just pass away?? Awww that’s so sad. She was sooo close to 100.”
My husband also texted, asking if I could write something about White.
In the span of just a few minutes, multiple people from different generations in just my little world were all impacted and saddened by the passing of White.
That in itself is almost more inspiring than her career. To be beloved by everyone for being a genuinely funny, caring and talented individual is something that people try their whole lives to achieve. It was effortless for White. That’s not to say she didn’t work hard for her success, but to be that transcendent is a gift from God that can’t be earned.
Her career is almost too vast to sum up in one article — she pioneered early television with her smile and sharp wit. How many actors can say their career spanned from 1930 to 2021 — no one, as she hit the Guinness World Record for longest work in the medium in 2018. White was loved most notably for Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls,” its spinoff “The Golden Place” and most recently Elka Ostrovsky on “Hot in Cleveland.” She was the first woman to produce a sitcom, was a gameshow host, the voice of toy tiger Bitey White in Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” and a guest actress on everything from “The Carol Burnett Show” to “Saturday Night Live.” Her love of the entertainment business seemed to match her love of animals, working with several charities to make their lives better, give a voice to the voiceless.
I grew to love Betty White for her embodiment of Rose Nylund, the ditzy blonde from the St. Olaf, Minn., with her Norwegian-American musings about small-town life. Whether she was recalling the Great Herring War or how Christmas in St. Olaf without the fruitcake “is like St. Sigmund’s Day without the headless boy, any time Rose said, “Back in St. Olaf,” buckle up, because things were about to get weird and funny.
White could set up a joke with the best of them:
“Rose : Can I ask a dumb question?
“Dorothy : Better than anyone I know.”
But what made her ingenious is her unmatched comedic intelligence and range that could make her the setup girl or the one with the most cutting line in every episode:
“Blanche : What was your first impression of me?
“Rose : I thought you wore too much makeup and were a slut. I was wrong. You don't wear too much makeup.”
I grew up watching these four senior women navigate life as roommates in “The Golden Girls.” I loved the show as a child watching it first with my mother and grandparents. I loved it in college, sitting with my two roommates and best friends on my bed to watch “The Golden Girls,” after splitting a cheesecake. We each had our personas of which golden girl we most identified with and I was Rose.
So knowing that Betty White is gone hits hard on so many levels. White has always been here, gracing us with her humor on television, but more than anything, she is society’s moral compass.
Betty White connected us beyond politics, beyond religious differences — we could all agree on her.
We all are shocked because for the past 99 years, White represented our history and our future. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, and saw others voice the same, how during any sort of uncertainty, someone better make sure Betty White is wrapped up in bubble wrap somewhere.
White died at her home, 19 days before her 100th birthday on Jan. 17. And on her birthday, theaters across the country had planned to show a documentary-style movie called “Betty White: 100 Years Young — A Birthday Celebration” with an array of celebrity powerhouses and clips from storied career.
I have no doubt we’ll go on to celebrate her 100 years with gusto, but it won’t be the same. But what death cannot take away is her legacy of kindness, humor and resilience.
I love you Betty White. We all do. Let’s strive every day to be a little more like Betty White.
by Julian Spivey
10. "Kevin Can F**k Himself" (AMC)
Valerie Armstrong’s black comedy “Kevin Can F**k Himself” on AMC was one of the most unique TV series I’ve ever seen mixing the dark drama of a woman in a loveless marriage in a single-camera setup with a typical multi-cam setup sitcom format including the canned laughter. When Allison McRoberts (Emmy-winning Annie Murphy) is with her husband she’s trapped in this sitcom-type life, when she’s not with him it’s the brooding drama. The series does a terrific job at mixing the multiple styles throughout the season as we follow Allison through her unfulfilled life.
9. "The Good Fight" (Paramount+)
“The Good Fight” is unique in that critics seem to unanimously love it, yet it’s never nominated for any major awards like Emmys, despite the fact its predecessor “The Good Wife” often was. The fifth season of the series, which debuted in the summer, was one of its best thus far, especially with the storyline of the seemingly crazy Judge Wackner, who isn’t really a judge but that didn’t stop him from doling out punishments, played brilliantly by Mandy Patinkin, who hopefully will receive some Emmy love in 2022 for his performance in the series.
8. Evil (Paramount+)
“Evil” made my list of the 10 best shows of 2019 despite only airing about half of its first season on CBS that fall. In early 2020 the series aired my favorite TV episode of that year with “Room 320” early on in the year. Then due to the pandemic it would be almost a year-and-a-half before the second season of the show debuted, this time on Paramount+ (it was always too different to truly be a network show). While I didn’t think the second season was as strong as its first in totality, “Evil” still remained one of the most unique and interesting shows on television and for the second year in a row had my single favorite episode of the season with “S is for Silence,” a truly remarkable hour of television with suspense, laughter and little dialogue.
7. "SEAL Team" (CBS/Paramount+)
I continue to be surprised of how much I love the military drama “SEAL Team,” which aired its first four seasons on CBS before transition to streaming on Paramount+ this fall. I’m completely invested in the lives of the men on the team as they deal with life on the line and back home and the performances from the cast of David Boreanaz, Max Thieriot, Neil Brown Jr., A.J. Buckley and more seem to get better with age, which is amazing as the series has now aired 90 episodes. I particularly like how “SEAL Team” has given the show some inner-team drama as of late with Boreanaz team leader Jason Hayes suffering from some mental battle wounds that are endangering his team and the moral dilemma Thieriot’s Clay Spenser faces in whether or not he should bring his knowledge of it to light.
6. "Mare of Easttown" (HBO)
HBO’s seven-episode miniseries “Mare of Easttown,” created and written by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Craig Zobel, had so many turns and reveals packed into the story of a murder in a small-town near Philadelphia that it constantly left you on the edge of your seat. Kate Winslet completely owns the series as Detective Mare Sheehan, investigating the murder of a local girl and the disappearance of another while battling her own personal demons, in an Emmy-winning role. The supporting cast is stellar featuring Emmy-winning performances by Evan Peters and Julianne Nicholson and terrific turns by Jean Smart, Angourie Rice and Joe Tippett.
5. "Dopesick" (Hulu)
“Dopesick,” an eight-episode miniseries on Hulu, is the story of the rise of Oxycontin in the ‘90s and how it devastated parts of America, particularly the Appalachians, with its addictive nature that Perdue Pharma, it’s maker and pusher intentionally hid and, in fact, lied by saying it wasn’t addictive. It’s a devastating look into a real story of how a pharmaceutical company cared more about profit than human life and the series does a terrific job showing the devastating role of the pill on its users, the company’s dark side and those in charge of trying to prove the company knew what it was doing was wrong. The stellar cast features Michael Keaton, Kaitlyn Dever, Peter Sarsgaard, Will Poulter, Rosario Dawson, John Hoogenakker and Michael Stuhlbarg.
4. "Reservation Dogs" (Hulu)
I’m always looking for TV shows that show me a world I’ve never seen before or is foreign to me and Hulu’s new comedy-drama “Reservation Dogs,” created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, was a brilliant look into the daily life of Indigenous people of rural Oklahoma and four teenagers looking for a way out. The young cast of Devery Jacobs, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Paulina Alexis and Lane Factor was excellent, and the eight-episode first season gave each actor and their respective characters ample time to shine in episodes that told a particular character’s story, something you don’t often see from a short first season such as this. Rarely does a show come out this strong off the bat.
3. "Only Murders in the Building" (Hulu)
I wanted to see Steve Martin do something spectacular again but didn’t know if we ever would. Not only was the Hulu comedy-thriller “Only Murders in the Building,” which Martin co-created with John Hoffman, spectacular but it’s among his career best works. The series, which co-stars Martin’s longtime onscreen and stage collaborator Martin Short and pop star/actress Selena Gomez, takes on the true crime podcast phenomenon in a loving way as all three characters are obsessed with the genre and when a murder occurs in their apartment building set out to solve the case with a podcast of their own. “Only Murders in the Building” is brilliantly written and acted and one of the true surprises of television in 2021.
2. "Hacks" (HBO Max)
My favorite new series of 2021 was HBO Max’s original comedy “Hacks,” which tells the story of aging stand-up comedian Deborah Vance, who’s worked for many years headlining a Las Vegas casino but is seeing that portion of her career come to an end, and is teamed with a 25-year old comedy writer Ava, who has been essentially “canceled” due to a controversial tweet. The relationship between these two funny people who are multiple generations apart is mesmerizing on the screen with an Emmy-winning performance from the always terrific Jean Smart as Vance and an outstanding debut from Hannah Einbinder as Ava.
1. "Ted Lasso" (AppleTV+)
I had AppleTV+’s comedy “Ted Lasso” as my No. 2 best show of 2020 for its first season (behind only FX’s vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows”) and year later I actually believe I should’ve flip-flopped those shows and had “Ted Lasso” at No. 1. Many critics didn’t seem to enjoy the second season of the show as much as the first, but in some ways, I thought it was actually better – it might not have been as funny as season one, but the character-building was important and it made us love many of these characters, particularly the titular coach played by Emmy-winner Jason Sudeikis, even more. Through season two we understand Lasso more and the introduction of Sarah Niles as the team’s shrink was one of the great season two cast additions in TV history.
by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
There are certain areas of society where there’s so much judgement with very little empathy and understanding from the average individual – homelessness, domestic violence, alcoholism, mental health crises, toxic parental relationships, the red tape involved in government assistance, being a single parent and extreme poverty.
Someone’s husband is abusive – why can’t she just leave? Get a job, get a place to live – it’s that simple right?
The 10-part Netflix miniseries “Maid,” based on the real-life story of Stephanie Land in her book, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother's Will to Survive, shows why all of those struggles are anything but simple. It’s the most important show on streaming right now, during a time when our society in general is cruelly judgmental and shows a complete lack of empathy for people in need.
The show follows 25-year-old Alex (Margaret Qualley) who leaves with her toddler daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) after Sean (Nick Robinson), her longtime boyfriend and Maddy’s father, throws something at the wall near Alex in a drunken rage and screams at her. It’s important to note that throughout the series, Sean never physically hurts Alex. At the beginning, as she’s trying to get government assistance to find a place to live, the social worker recommends the domestic violence shelter. She’s quick to explain he’s never hit her.
There are moments of Sean being loving and kind to her, but always against the backdrop of manipulative and controlling behavior. I wonder how many women watching this show have realized they are in fact the victim of emotional domestic violence. If that was the only powerful realization to come out of this show, it would be worth it. However, there’s much more.
The show opens with Alex leaving and it sets her on a year’s long journey of homelessness, realizing she is the victim of domestic violence and how easy it is to just go back. Between custody battles, unaffordable or unlivable housing, unreliable transportation, the cost of everything and a paycheck that’s dependent on what shifts are available, Alex has everything working against her. She finds a job as a maid, cleaning people’s houses that are wealthy beyond belief.
But every time she takes one step forward, there’s two steps back. She’s trying to save her bipolar mother Paula (played masterfully by her real-life mother Andie MacDowell) who is constantly the victim of domestic abuse and refuses to get real help. She wades through the insane paperwork for government assistance only to wind up in a mold-infested housing unit that must be torn apart and cleaned, leaving her homeless again. Alex finally gets a landlord to agree to the government assistance agreement and is in a perfect place, only to have Sean ruin it for her. Not to mention navigating a job as a maid while getting daycare for Maddy.
Every single move she makes is for Maddy. And she tries her best to make everything perfect for her, despite the world disintegrating around her. There are so many haunting scenes, from her cleaning a home (and bathroom) where squatters lived to her mother experiencing a psychotic break, sending Alex into her own spiral right back to Sean.
As the viewer, you want so badly for Alex to get a win and you feel it in your soul whenever she loses. Qualley has a way of touching your heart with the sheer amount of quiet strength she shows in every obstacle, while also breaking it into a million pieces when she does find herself back in that abusive relationship after working so hard to get out of it. There’s a particularly heart-wrenching moment in the show where she’s trying to figure out just how she got here in life. She had a college scholarship and was going to be the first in her family to go to college. It’s one of those times when you realize how quick life can change directions.
Every cast member was stellar, including the smaller, but important roles of the rich homeowner Regina (Anika Noni Rose), Alex’s formerly alcoholic father Hank (Billy Burke) and fellow DV victim and friend Danielle (Aimee Carrero). Robinson plays the role of Sean with layers, not just simply a caricature of an abuser. But it’s Qualley and MacDowell who do all the heavy lifting when it comes to their characters. It’s really an acting master class and if both of them do not receive awards for these complex portrayals, it’ll be an absolute travesty.
In the end, Alex gets her happy ending. It was perfect and powerful.
But in real life not everyone does and that’s what makes this show so important. I found myself thinking several times, “How is she going to get out of this?” and quickly realizing that people right now are going through these impossible circumstances. The show itself is based on Land’s memoir – these struggles are not fiction.
Our government system of assistance is so far beyond broken and society itself is working against people in crisis. These are long-known truths, but until you see it either personally or portrayed like in “Maid,” you just don’t understand the nuances.
“Maid” dove right into the nuances and managed to show the harsh realities of life in the quietest of ways rather than in-your-face preaching.
It’s a show that everyone needs to see and learn from, because it’s never simple.