The Happy List: 28 pop culture pleasures worth smiling about

If any winter deserves a participation medal, it's this one. Still wearing your Sunday house pants on a Thursday? That's okay! Whipsawed by doomscrolling and existential despair? Same same. Yes, 2020 was a smoldering dumpster of a year, but a world that contains Girls (both Golden and Gilmore), a fancy-dancing Hugh Grant, and an app that puts Harry Styles on your pillow can still spark joy. For a sweeter 2021, come enjoy our catalog of tiny pleasures.

1. "America Has Its S--- Together" Movies

Credit: Claudette Barius/Sony

America, you might have heard, hasn't been doing so hot lately. We don't need to rehash all that. But we can enjoy stories that depict our government as heroically competent as it solves a massive crisis — a genre that exploded (often literally) in the 1990s with Apollo 13 (mission: save three astronauts), Air Force One (save the president + his staff), Independence Day (save the planet), and Armageddon (save the planet + make your dad cry). Were they idealized, flag- waving propaganda? Sometimes, sure. But when Ed Harris insists, "Failure is not an option," Harrison Ford explains, "Peace isn't merely the absence of conflict but the presence of justice" or Bill Pullman declares, "We're going to survive!" it rekindles a warm and all-too-often rare feeling about humanity: hope. —James Hibberd

2. Johnny Lawrence's Guide to Life

Credit: Guy D’Alema/SONY

If there's anyone who knows how to power through some hard times, it's Johnny Lawrence. Cobra Kai's unconventional sensei (played to perfection by William Zabka) was down on his luck for almost 35 years before he rediscovered the healing power of karate. EW asked Cobra Kai's creative team to imagine how Johnny will make it through the long winter of 2021. Head here for the full list.

3. Survivor (CBS All Access)

Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

What's better than watching every season of Survivor the first time? Watching them all again. Knowing who wins makes for a stress-free binge with the bonus of reliving favorite moments, like when ultimate Survivor crush Ethan Zohn (and his curls!) dominates season 3. —Sydney Bucksbaum

4. Onscreen Therapy

Credit: The CW

Nothing's more therapeutic than watching good therapy scenes — people seeking help and crying it out. I'll put on a session of HBO's In Treatment, with Gabriel Byrne's Dr. Weston, and find catharsis in the form of great couch-acting. (Dianne Wiest! Blair Underwood! Debra Winger!) I can never not laugh at Parker Posey's devastation at her dog watching her have sex in Best in Show. And I'm always moved by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's arc, as Rachel Bloom's Rebecca heals under the care of Dr. Akopian (Michael Hyatt). It's a long, tough road. Worthwhile, too. —David Canfield

5. Girl Meets Farm (Food Network)

Credit: Chantell Lauren/Food Network

Armed with a smile as big as Julia Roberts', cookbook author and host Molly Yeh (her last name is literally pronounced YAY!) welcomes viewers into her North Dakota home with easy-to-make comfort food. Added points of joy for her sprinkles-covered desserts. —Gerrad Hall

6. Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Credit: Apple TV +

Adversity reveals character, and many of us have spent the last year feeling like weepy, elastic-waistbanded milksops. What a gift, then, to meet a mustachioed American named Ted Lasso, who greets adversity with a kind smile and homemade biscuits. The Jason Sudeikis-led comedy — about a soccer novice hired to coach a U.K. football team — envelops you like a warm blanket of optimism. Your to-do list for the winter: Watch and rewatch Ted Lasso. Laugh at the jokes you loved and discover new ones. Experience joy. Mucho, mucho joy. —Kristen Baldwin.

7. UNHhhh (YouTube)

Credit: World of Wonder

Who needs million-dollar productions when you have Trixie Mattel and Katya in front of a greenscreen? In their delirious YouTube series UNHhhh, the self-declared "cross-dressers from hell" skewer straight culture, RuPaul's Drag Race, and themselves while serving looks and laughs. —Rachel Yang

8. Key & Peele's "Substitute Teacher" Sketch

What's in a (badly mangled) name? Over 194 million YouTube views and counting. Key & Peele's 2012 sketch "Substitute Teacher" has a simple premise — a tightly wound sub (Keegan-Michael Key) who taught in the "inner city" mispronounces white students' names — but the result is hall-of-fame- level hilarity. Watch below, and head here for an oral history of the sketch. Kristen Baldwin

9. Girls Getaway

Two EW staffers rave about their favorite female-centric TV shows:

Credit: Mitchell Haddad/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow is a magical place where everyone understands Lorelai’s (Lauren Graham) lightning-quick pop culture references, Rory (Alexis Bledel) can eat 3,000 calories a day and not gain a pound, and everyone’s biggest problem is that the neighboring town is putting on a festival. What’s more comforting than that? —Samantha Highfill

Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

Who run the world? Golden girls. At least their South Floridian world, anyway, with lots of snark, sass, cheesecake, and love. The show may have ended nearly 30 years ago, but Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose never get old. —Gerrad Hall

10. Cody Rigsby's Rides (Peloton App)

Credit: Peloton

Dropping wisdom like "If Britney can get through 2007, then you can get up this hill," Rigsby serves his spin classes with stress-relieving LOLs, such as explaining why Kevin is the hottest Backstreet Boy or naming a playlist "Guys Who Can Get It." So fix your wig and get your life together, boo. —Clarissa Cruz

11. Fun Procedurals

Credit: Alan Zenuk/USA Network

USA Network may be just another dark and moody cable network now, but for a spell it was home to Fun Procedurals(TM) like Psych, White Collar, Burn Notice, and Covert Affairs. With clever, good-looking protagonists hunting bad guys in picturesque locations (Santa Barbara! Miami!), these shows are low-anxiety comfort food; the stars' charismatic performances perfectly complemented the breezy (and sometimes silly) storytelling. No matter the foes, you know everything is going to be all right. —Chancellor Agard

12. Harry Styles in the Calm App

Pity the poor uncounted sheep now sitting on the unemployment line thanks to Harry Styles, the rakish pop idol whose mellifluous voice sent thousands off to dreamland via the Calm app. Float with Harry in a field of heather! Drift away with him on a dewdrop! Murder your snooze button forever. —Leah Greenblatt

13. Movie Stars Making Music

Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images; Phillip Faraone/WireImage; Dave Benett/WireImage

14. Playlists That Make Us Smile

"Grinding in a Sweaty High School Cafeteria"
If you ever danced to 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" — or any songs with "low" in the title — while standing next to your high school's soda machine, this playlist will inject some early-aughts joy into your day. —Samantha Highfill

"Lofi Hip Hop Radio"
My aural Xanax is a live YouTube video by the user ChilledCow, simply called "beats to study/relax to." It delivers exactly what it promises: an infinite loop of soothing, grooving instrumental tracks. —Alex Suskind

15. These Joyful Onscreen Dance Scenes

Credit: Jay Maidment/Warner Bros.

In these cooped-up times, all of us could use a little movement therapy. The next best thing? These indelible scenes, each different in terms of technique — but all exuberant cinematic expressions of pure, unbridled booty-shaking joy. Check them out (and dance along) here.

16. Studio Ghibli Movies (HBO Max)

Credit: Everett Collection

These animated classics may be known for magic and monsters, but what makes them delightful is how they explore what it means to be human. To watch a Ghibli film is to luxuriate in the small, joyous moments — like the smell of fresh pineapple or the feel of wind in your hair. —Devan Coggan

17. The Goop Lab (Netflix)

Credit: Adam Rose/Netflix

Whether you're into spiritual-healing rituals or eye-roll everything Gwyneth Paltrow, this bingeable series has something for you. From emotional episodes about female pleasure to amusing therapies involving psychedelic 'shrooms, the show is equal parts entertaining and ludicrous. —Lauren Huff

18. It's Complicated

Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal

Nancy Meyers' charming 2009 post-divorce rom-com starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin — in addition to being superlative interior-design therapy — is as warm and sweet as a fresh chocolate croissant, baked in the conspiratorial rush of new romance. It's that simple. —Mary Sollosi

19. SNL's "What's That Name?" Sketch

Game-show send-ups are a mainstay on Saturday Night Live, but only one rivals the Jeopardy! spoofs as the all-time funniest: the 2019 skit "What's That Name?" featuring Bill Hader as host Vince Blight, with John Mulaney and Cecily Strong as contestants. The conceit is simple."We show you a person," says Vince, "and you tell us their name."

But then Vince annihilates Mulaney's unsuspecting character, Doug, who loses out on huge cash prizes because he can't remember the name of his close friend's girlfriend or his wife's bridesmaids. His self-absorption and oblivious misogyny give the setup an extra bite. "What kind of horrible game show is this?" asks Doug. Replies Vince: "It's 'What's That Name?'"

Here, Hader recalls the origin of the skit — the crown jewel of a gut-busting series of "What's That Name?" skits from writers Mulaney, Marika Sawyer, and Simon Rich:

"I credit them a lot. They make game shows out of human faux pas moments. When there was a game-show host, it was usually a straight guy. He was there to facilitate the contestants and their jokes. With this, they made Vince as much a character as anybody else. I remember them telling me, 'Vince probably funds all these things. He doesn't make any money off this. He just wants to abuse these people.' I always imagined that you would pull back and this whole thing was on his own private island. Like, it wasn't being broadcast. He was just taping these for himself." —Lynette Rice

20. Books to Curl Up With

Credit: Illustration by EW

21. Island Real Estate Porn

Credit: HGTV

I haven't been anywhere in a year. Except to Fiji, Kauai, Belize, and beyond. Tropical real estate shows such as Island Hunters and Hawaii Life have kept my disposition sunny in dark times of quarantine. Do I have $3.4 million to buy an island off Vanuatu? I most certainly do not! But this guy doesn't settle for balconies with anything less than 240-degree ocean views. In a time that's surreal, I cling to the unreal. —Dan Snierson

22. Two Can Play That Game

Credit: Everett Collection

A magnetic Vivica A. Fox and unflappable Morris Chestnut set each other straight in this hysterical 2001 battle of the sexes. Bonus: Early-aughts rom-com queen Gabrielle Union has a satisfying supporting turn as Fox's rival. —Marcus Jones

23. Bubble Gum by Brigitte Bardot

This silky-smooth pop compilation is the musical equivalent of traipsing through the Jardin des Tuileries on a spring day. You don't even need to know what Bardot is singing about (I don't. Sorry, grade-school French lessons!) to enjoy it. —Alex Suskind

24. Vogue Beauty Secrets (YouTube)

You don't have to know or care what retinols are to be soothed by the likes of Sam Smith, Tracee Ellis Ross, and AOC in little towel wraps, just casually talking about gender and power structures and aging while also humming Rihanna bops and swiping on a cherry cheek gloss. —Leah Greenblatt

25. Joe Pera Talks With You (Adult Swim, HBO Max)

Credit: Parrish Lewis/Adult Swim

Mumbly-voiced comedian Joe Pera takes the audience through his favorite topics, be it fireworks, the grocery store, or packing lunch. Each 11-minute episode weaves a profound, lovely comedy that just might make your soul grow back. —Tyler Aquilina

26. Born Yesterday

Credit: Everett Collection

Blowsy blonde Billie (Judy Holliday) becomes empowered — and falls in love — when her tycoon boyfriend hires journalist Paul (William Holden) to educate her. Holden in glasses is reason enough to watch, but the 1950 film is also a hilarious, incisive takedown of ignorance. —Maureen Lee Lenker

27. Twitch

Credit: Twitch

Twitch allows everyone to find their people, from remix subcultures — the Racer Trash crew includes Godzilla vs. Kong director Adam Wingard — to fans of L.A.'s DJ R-Tistic. Whether you're watching chillwave edits of films or dancing in the living room past midnight, it feels better knowing others are doing the same. —Sarah Sprague

28. Grading on a "Corona Curve"

Credit: STEPHANIE BRANCHU/NETFLIX

EW critic Kristen Baldwin explores how she's been grading TV in the age of the pandemic — looking at you, Emily in Paris — because, right now, "we must take our fantasies where we can get them." Read her full take here.

A version of this story appears in the February issue of Entertainment Weekly, which you can order here — one cover features LaKeith Stanfield and the other Daniel Kaluuya — or find on newsstands now. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Related content: