It’s beginning to look a lot like gift-mas around EW’s headquarters—which is why we decided to devote this week’s PopWatch Confessional to the real reason for the season (read: presents). The question posed to our staffers: What’s the best pop culture-related gift you’ve ever received?
Molly Smith, editorial assistant: My friend is an artist, and one of our favorite movies is Step Brothers. She painted me a portrait of the Step Brothers cover, but replaced Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly with James Blunt and Clay Aiken, artists we poke fun at occasionally. (The painting is pictured above.) It’s certainly a conversation starter!
Natalie Abrams, senior writer: It’s really not surprising that I had a TV-themed wedding, since my wife is also a TV reporter—but I can’t help wanting to travel back in time and tell my 12-year-old self the most awesome part of all: “Hey kid. Someday, you’re going to have the actual couch from Friends as the photo booth at your wedding. Yes, seriously.” Best wedding present ever.
Natalie Gialluca, senior associate photo editor: When I was in third grade, I got a life-size 500 piece New Kids on the Block puzzle. (Okay, after some Google research, it seems the puzzle was actually only 2×3 feet. But to an 8 year old, that shit was gigantic.) It was for my birthday in 1990, and obviously I treasured it. My grandpa, Uncle Pat, and I worked on it daily. When it was all complete, they sealed it with glue, framed it and hung it in the basement… until about five years ago, when my mother threw it out without even asking permission.
Samantha Highfill, correspondent: I have a copy of The O.C.‘s pilot script that’s been signed by the cast. I don’t remember when I got it, but to this day, I know exactly where it is at all times. If my house were to pull a model home and catch on fire, I can guarantee that script would make it out in time. Even if Chris Carmack himself had to drag it out.
Ashley Fetters, EW.com news editor: I’m a big believer in giving great stories as gifts to other people, and it’s all because someone gave me a paperback copy of The World According to Garp as a birthday present once when I was in college. I’d never seen the film or even expressed an interest in John Irving, so this was either a very wise or very lucky guess on the gift-giver’s part: Garp was unlike anything I’d ever read before, and today, Irving is one of my favorites.
Ben Boskovich, assistant social media editor: Not only was it the best pop culture-related gift I have ever received, but the PlayStation (PS One) and Crash Bandicoot that Santa brought me one year in the late ’90s was the most excited I’ve ever been about a gift to date. Needless to say, I spent the entirety of Christmas day (and most of the following year) gamin’ in my basement. Those were the days. Now I just ask Santa for cash.
Mandi Bierly, senior writer: A few years ago, when my mother discovered eBay, one of my Christmas presents was a Dukes of Hazzard TV dinner tray like the one I had when I was a kid. I cried when I opened it.
Aeriel Brown, senior associate photo editor: When I was eleven, I owned only two albums: Tiffany and Innocent Man. That Christmas, my eldest brother (who was 17 at the time and THE COOLEST) gave me a gift that changed my life forever (or at least my music tastes): a shoebox stuffed with Depeche Mode 101 (the film and the double tapes), Laurie Anderson’s Strange Angles, The Cure’s Disintegration, and 10,000 Maniac’s Blind Man Zoo. I played each until the tapes warbled. It was like a music awakening. By the next summer, I was shaving parts of my head, dressing in all black, and had a healthy collection of safety pins to adorn my clothing. But in a way, my family was relieved—at least I wasn’t belting out “I Think We’re Alone Now” in my bedroom at the top of my lungs anymore.
Joshua Rivera, EW.com writer: Getting comics as a gift for someone who’s a regular reader is a challenging prospect: How do you get them something they haven’t read? The easy answer is simple: Get them the best version of something they already love. That’s what happened to me one Christmas when someone got me the first Absolute Edition volume of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. It’s a gorgeous, oversized tome with recolored art and pages of extra features. Reading it is like rediscovering the work all over again, slowly falling away into a story like a dream.
Dalene Rovenstine, TV recaps editor: Jurassic Park is my all-time favorite movie. When it was first released on DVD in 2000, a friend bought me the boxed set for Christmas. I had no interest in The Lost World, but the DVDs also featured a ton of behind-the-scenes extras—which I watched way too many times than any person should watch DVD extras.
Andrea Towers, EW Community assistant editor: The most wonderful part about having a best friend who is just as nerdy as you are is that you get some awesome gifts. So many awesome gifts, in fact, that when you want to answer a question like this, you spend hours trying to decide what to talk about. So I’m throwing it back to a few years ago when my friend gifted me with a pair of prop sais, like the ones Gabrielle used in Xena: Warrior Princess. Yep: they’re heavy, and they’re real, and I don’t dare do anything with them except display them in my apartment. Because I learned the hard way that as much as I love warrior ladies, I’m definitely not fated to be one in real life.
Mari Dwyer, senior publicist: The Sweet Valley High board game my older sister re-gifted to me as a child made me the woman I am today. And I like to think that woman is someone Jessica Wakefield would be proud of.
Jonathon Dornbush, EW.com intern: One of my favorites is one I’ve been able to wear for the last several holiday seasons—my yamaclaus. The O.C. Chrismukkah accessory, which debuted in the show’s second season, has become an essential part of my outfit each December. Having grown up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah, the holiday with twice the resistance of any normal one became the de facto tradition in my household. And as I consider Seth Cohen the closest I’ve seen myself in a character on TV, it only felt natural to don the yamaclaus and celebrate the spirit of both Jesus and Moses—just as the Cohens did.
Jason Clark, senior reporter: As a kid, I was obsessed with the Oscars. I used to make my family participate in homespun Academy Award ceremonies. (In 1991, I got to portray Kevin Costner at one of them, accepting an Oscar for Best Director for Dances With Wolves—which eventually happened.) But after someone got me the book Alternate Oscars by Danny Peary, my entire outlook changed. I became even more preoccupied with how some of the best performances of the movie year never even get nominated. It still informs my furrowed brow every January when nominations come out and someone I cherish gets left out.
Kyle Anderson, senior writer: For reasons that have been lost to history, I never received an original Nintendo Entertainment System, even though I coveted one with the sort of passion that only a kindergartener can muster. So even though I spent a ton of time at friends’ houses working my way through Super Mario Bros., Ice Hockey, and Tecmo Bowl, I wasn’t able to enjoy console gaming in my own home—until Christmas 1991, when I finally received my first gaming system in the Sega Genesis. I had lobbied hard for the just-released Super Nintendo, but the Genesis ultimately won out because my younger brother preferred sports games, and Sega had that corner of the market almost completely locked up. I still hold the Genesis as one of my favorite objects of obsession, and the games I played—Sonic the Hedgehog, Toejam & Earl, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and Streets of Rage were my favorites—remain the stick by which all other gaming I’ve done since are measured.
Madison Vain, assistant to the editor: Each Christmas, my father gifts each kid a book—and somehow, it always ends up being one you’ll need most that year. Two winters ago, I woke up to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll. I accepted a teaching opportunity in Vietnam that summer—and suddenly, On the Road was the most fitting title on my shelf. I have never read anything like it, and I don’t suspect I will any time soon. My love for this profound piece of literature is rooted right next to my love for my father: This is where I met him, the him before me.
Rachel Orvino, senior editor: My husband gave me a piece of replica jewelry from The Lord of the Rings, one of the green leaf pins the Hobbits wore to clasp cloaks given to them by the elves. I had my own grey, cloak-like coat and felt very Middle-earthy whenever I wore it.
Jeff Jensen, TV critic: The best pop culture gift I ever got was the Marvel Comics graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills for my 13th birthday. First, comic books for birthday presents: how cool is that. Beats clothes! Second, that book was huge in terms of influencing my worldview and social consciousness in a positive way, and elevating my expectations of what superhero comics could say and do. It prepped me for the comics revolution to come (i.e., all things Watchmen and more).
Neil Janowitz, EW.com assistant managing editor: While on a ski club trip during our sophomore year of high school, my good friend Jamie obliterated his hip after failing to clear a tabletop in the snowboard park. He wound up with an extended stay at the hospital. On the other side of his room was a boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old. To make him more comfortable, the kid’s parents had ringed his area with life-sized cardboard cutouts of Star Wars characters. It was a Parenting Hall of Fame-caliber move, and one Jamie and I discussed with admiration during my visits. Shortly after getting discharged, Jamie brought me a gift as a thanks for my support: The kid’s R2-D2 cutout, which for some indefensible reason had been left behind when the boy went home. The nurses were all too happy to let Jamie take it. I’m all too happy to still have it on display. (My wife could take it or leave it.)