Our 21 most popular film and TV stories of 2021

Two men in warm jackets stand outdoors among trees.
Former “Bachelor” host Chris Harrison, right, with leading man Matt James. The controversy that led to Harrison’s exit from the franchise was the subject of one of our most popular stories of the year.
(Craig Sjodin / ABC)
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Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

That’s why, for our final edition of 2021, we’ve drawn inspiration from the Los Angeles Times’ roundup of its top 21 stories of the year to create a list specifically focused on reviews, essays, features and investigations produced by The Times’ film and TV teams — the very same people who’ve brought you this weekly fix of pop culture since we launched Screen Gab in August.

With coverage of the “Rust” shooting, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and the most shocking TV death of the year — all of which appeared on the newspaper-wide list and so have been excluded here — the 21 stories below represent the full complement of Times film and TV coverage, including pungent criticism, wide-ranging conversations, must-read profiles and enterprise reporting.


Consider this the ultimate 2021 ICYMI, and all the best to you and yours in 2022. Thanks, as ever, for reading along.

A woman dressed as an elf and a man dressed as Santa deliver presents.
Hannah Waddingham and Jason Sudeikis share some holiday cheer in a Christmas episode of “Ted Lasso.”

21. ‘Ted Lasso’s’ Christmas episode wasn’t part of the plan. Here’s how they pulled it off

The writer and director of “Carol of the Bells” take us inside the Apple TV+ series’ midsummer Christmas episode, balanced “on the edge of schmaltz.”

20. The Tokyo Olympics are turning into NBC’s worst nightmare


The Times TV team discusses watching an often deflating, thoroughly chaotic Olympics — and why NBC’s approach to televising it was part of the problem.

19. ‘SNL’ nearly squashed Natasha Rothwell. Then ‘Insecure’ helped her find her voice

The multi-hyphenate calls her directorial debut for the HBO series “a call to arms for authenticity.” But getting there took a lot of growth.

A woman with her hair in an updo, a white lace top and hoop earrings.
Natasha Rothwell .
(Christopher L Proctor / For The Times)

18. How an unusually approachable fitness guru became one of the pandemic’s biggest stars

COVID-19 made Peloton’s celebrity-obsessed Cody Rigsby famous in his own right. A turn on “Dancing With the Stars” is just the beginning.


17. These are the real-life figures who inspired Netflix’s ‘The Harder They Fall’

A brief history of the real-life people who inspired characters in Netflix’s “The Harder They Fall.”

16. David Spade knows he’s not America’s No. 1 star. He’s found other ways to survive

The Hollywood veteran opens up about the cancellation of his Comedy Central show, stand-up’s #MeToo reckoning and his history of dating famous women.

David Spade outdoors, with a skyline out of focus behind him in the distance.
David Spade in December 2020.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

15. The racist violence in Amazon’s new series left execs ‘shaken.’ Does it go too far?


“Them,” about a Black family fighting racism and supernatural forces in the 1950s, includes warnings about its graphic depictions of racist violence.

14. Sarah Paulson has regrets about playing Linda Tripp. But she’s not ready to let her go

After reclaiming Marcia Clark, the actor expected her latest role to change minds about “the most hated woman in America.” She may have miscalculated.

13. What’s authentic and what’s acting for the real-life nomads of ‘Nomadland’?

How three nomads — Linda May, Charlene Swankie and Bob Wells — brought authenticity and heart to Oscar contender “Nomadland.” And an update on Swankie’s health.

Sandra Oh on the Oscars red carpet
Sandra Oh arrives at the 2020 Academy Awards.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

12. Sandra Oh won’t return to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ before it ends: ‘I have moved on’

The “Grey’s Anatomy” veteran says she’s not interested in reprising the role of Cristina Yang. But she appreciates being asked about it.

11. Netflix makes rare true-crime misstep with salacious series on L.A.’s Cecil Hotel

The first season of the streamer’s new anthology docuseries, “Crime Scene,” falls too in love with the Cecil’s lore to tell its central story effectively.

10. Alanis Morissette bashes her HBO documentary ‘Jagged’: ‘This was not the story I agreed to tell’

Morissette did not support HBO’s documentary about her music career, saying the filmmaker betrayed her trust.

Alanis Morissette crouching and singing into a microphone
An early photo of Alanis Morissette performing in 1996.
(Mick Hutson/Redferns)

9. How Kate Winslet mastered the near-impossible accent TV fans can’t stop talking about

The “accent nerd” went to extraordinary lengths to sound like a Pennsylvania native for HBO’s “Mare of Easttown.” Here’s how she did it.

8. Olivia Munn is in a no-win situation. So she’s decided not to ‘play the game’ at all

Munn opened up to The Times about pregnancy anxiety, the response to her relationship with John Mulaney and her film “Violet.”

7. A ‘Big Brother’ alliance could make history. Not everyone is thrilled


The show’s most diverse season was set to produce its first Black winner. And the alliance behind it, “the Cookout,” sparked both anger and praise.

Reality show contestants in a group hug
Members of the Cookout alliance Kyland Young, from left, Tiffany Mitchel, Xavier Prather and Derek Frazier celebrate on “Big Brother.”
(Best Possible Screen Grab / CBS)

6. Golden Globes voters in tumult: Members accuse Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. of self-dealing, ethical lapses

A Times investigation found that the nonprofit HFPA regularly issued substantial payments to its members in ways that some experts said could skirt IRS guidelines.

5. HBO’s devastating ‘Allen v. Farrow’ is a nail in the coffin of Woody Allen’s legacy

For years, observers wondered what would seal the disgraced filmmaker’s fate. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s four-part docuseries could be it.


4. Molly Shannon is a comedy legend. Now she’s opening up about the tragedy that shaped her

Shannon’s comic roles are suffused with something darker, more complicated. “I don’t like when comedy people make fun of their characters,” she says.

Molly Shannon poses with a rose between her teeth
“The White Lotus” and “The Other Two” actor Molly Shannon in July.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

3. To reprise her ‘Karate Kid’ role in ‘Cobra Kai,’ Tamlyn Tomita had some ground rules

To play Kumiko again 34 years on, Tomita told the Netflix series’ creators she’d need to “inject a truer picture” of the character’s heritage — and her own.

2. Why is Regé-Jean Page leaving Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’?


In network TV, seeing a breakout star bolt from a hit show would be unusual. In the streaming world, it’s a different story.

1. ‘The Bachelor’s’ first season with a Black lead is swept into a firestorm over race

The controversy that erupted around the ABC reality series’ 20th season drew in contestant Rachael Kirkconnell and former “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay, and eventually led to host Chris Harrison’s exit from the franchise.