2021 Fall Guide: Our Pop Culture Picks : Pop Culture Happy Hour We're here to bring you some of the things we're most interested to check out and talk about this fall. Whether you read it, watch it, or listen to it, we want to make sure you know about it.

2021 Fall Guide: Our Pop Culture Picks

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This fall in culture is like no other. Some COVID interruptions are over, and some are ongoing. And that's on top of the significant changes in media habits and industry practices and audience tastes that have been going on for years.


But as always, we are here to bring you some of the things we're most interested in checking out and talking about this fall. Whether you read it, watch it or listen to it, first, we want to make sure you know about it. I'm Stephen Thompson.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today on NPR's POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, we're talking about some of the movies, TV shows, albums and books we are most looking forward to this fall. Here with me and Stephen from his home studio bunker is Glen Weldon of NPR's culture desk. Hey, Glen.


HOLMES: And also with us, of course, is our own Aisha Harris. Hey, Aisha.


HOLMES: Hello. So I don't have a lot of setup today. We're just going to dive right into some recommendations for this fall. You know what fall is. You know what books are and what TV is and what movies are. We're each going to give two recommendations. And, Glen, I'm going to start with you. What did you pick?

WELDON: All right. My first pick is "Everybody's Talking About Jamie." This is a musical coming to Amazon Prime on September 17. It is the adaptation of a very successful West End musical that was, in turn, adapted from a British TV documentary about a 16-year-old drag queen in England. It stars this kid named Max Harwood, who you're going to be hearing a lot from in the coming years. Now - OK, on the surface, this is queer kid comes of age - doting mother, distant father - triumphs over homophobia, triumphs over bullies, has a big moment of self-actualization - credits. And that is a formula. It's a formula for a reason because it's a lot of kids' lived experience, but it is very familiar.

The smart thing this movie does is it's not about the kid coming out. He's out from the jump. It's about him learning to become a drag queen and, by extension, him wanting to be the star of the show all the time and treating those around him like they're less than he is, which is exactly what the opening number - and I think it's fair to say this kickass opening number called "And You Don't Even Know It" is all about.


MAX HARWOOD: (Singing) There's a path I've planned.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) And you don't even know it.

HARWOOD: (Singing) To the promised land.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) And you don't even know it.

HARWOOD: (Singing) You won't understand.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) And you don't even know it.

HARWOOD: (Singing) 'Cause you're my backing band.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) And you don't even know it.

WELDON: Just fantastic. Now, I'm not going to say too much about it now because we are hoping to devote an episode to it once it comes out. But for now, just know that there's a thread in this thing of a queer kid negotiating a place for himself in the world as opposed to just rejecting the world, which gives it kind of an extra layer. That is "Everybody's Talking About Jamie" on Amazon Prime this September 17.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Glen Weldon. I've heard about that one. I am eager to see it. Aisha, you have a pick - oh, wait. It's also a musical.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

WELDON: Here we go.

HARRIS: I was just going to say...

WELDON: My people.

HARRIS: ...(Singing) It's a musical. And, you know, I actually kind of love this moment we are in because we've had so many musicals - so many relative to other genres, anyway (laughter). You had, obviously, "In The Heights." Last year, we had "The Prom," which wasn't very good.


HARRIS: And (laughter) this fall we have "Diana: The Musical," which is going to be sort of the same way "Hamilton" was filmed. It's a theatrical production filmed for streaming. But the thing that I am most curious about and excited to see is "Tick, Tick... Boom!" - which - for those who are not familiar with it, it started off as a one-man show by Jonathan Larson. It's - and he's the creator of "Rent." It came out before "Rent" happened and before "Rent" exploded. And it's semi-autobiographical. It's about a man who's about to turn 30 and who's questioning his decision to attempt to become a musical theater composer. He feels he's a failure. There's some notes of "Company" - Sondheim's "Company" in there, and there's a lot of references in the music to Sondheim, who was a sort of mentor to Jonathan Larson before he passed away. And I've always had a very big soft spot for this musical. So I'm curious to see how it translates to the screen in part because Lin-Manuel Miranda...

THOMPSON: Heard of him.

HARRIS: ...Is behind this movie. He's directing it. And it stars Andrew Garfield as Jonathan. We also have Alexandra Shipp as Susan and Robin de Jesus as Michael. And the cast also includes Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Bradley Whitford. Like, great cast. So I'm very curious, super excited. I hope it's good. That's "Tick, Tick... Boom!" And it's going to be in theaters on November 12 and then streaming on Netflix November 19.

HOLMES: Thank you very much, Aisha. I have to say, you talked about all those musicals, and you forgot to mention that you can now watch a version of "Cinderella" that starts...


HOLMES: ...With the townspeople all singing "Rhythm Nation."


HOLMES: Yep. Thank you very much, Aisha. Stephen Thompson, what did you pick?

THOMPSON: Well, I have two challenges in talking about fall music. One is that absolutely every major pop star in the world is releasing an album. And two, they haven't announced the release dates yet. So trying to figure out who's putting out an album when, when every week, there is a massive, massive, major release, is a bit of a challenge. There is - Kendrick Lamar recently dropped a single with Baby Keem called "Family Ties." He has been kind of portending a new album on Instagram for some time now. Adele has been hinting at new music for some time. SZA has been dropping, you know, a single here, a single there. There may be a new SZA. There is for sure going to be a new ABBA album. The first ABBA record in 40 years...

HOLMES: Sheesh.

THOMPSON: ...Is dropping November 5. It's called "Voyage." It is going to accompany a tour of uncanny valley virtual ABBA members...


THOMPSON: ...Avatars, they're calling them.

WELDON: OK. All right.


HOLMES: Oh, God.

THOMPSON: And when they met to...

WELDON: Simmer (ph) down.

THOMPSON: ...Record the creepy, creepy versions of themselves that form this ABBA tour, they decided to record the first new ABBA record in 40 years. It's called "Voyage" - out November 5. In terms of actually playing a song that is out in the world from an album that is presumably dropping this fall, I'm very, very excited to see the return of Lizzo. Lizzo put out a wonderful record a few years ago called "Cuz I Love You" and then really disappeared for a while, dropped off Twitter, kind of went radio silent and dropped a new single with Cardi B called "Rumors." Let's actually hear a little bit of that.


LIZZO: (Singing) Talkin', talkin', talkin'. Give 'em something to talk about. Sick of rumors. But haters do what they do. Haters do what they do.

THOMPSON: So the fall is absolutely festooned with new album releases. It's just going to continue probably well into October or, in the case of ABBA, November. So that is just a kind of brief overview of the onslaught that awaits us.

HOLMES: Awesome. What a lot of music to listen to.

THOMPSON: So much.

HOLMES: Thank you very much, Stephen. So here's my first pick. The Netflix limited series "Maid" is 10 episodes long. It is based on Stephanie Land's book "Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, And A Mother's Will To Survive." That's maid - M-A-I-D. It stars Margaret Qualley, who you might know from any thing from "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" to "Fosse/Verdon." She's an interesting young actress who's been kind of popping up in various different things for a while. She is the lead here. She is in practically every scene of this. And she plays a young single mother who takes her little daughter to try to get away from her boyfriend.

And she's not playing Stephanie Land specifically, even though Stephanie Land's book is a memoir. She's playing a different character. It's one of those where it's kind of based on the ideas that came out of the book. So after she leaves the boyfriend, she winds up getting into working as a maid. But more than that, what this series is about is about the mechanics of being poor. So a lot of what it is concerned with is, what is it like to try to deal with different systems of government assistance? What is it like to actually try to use those forms of assistance out in the world? What are the requirements?

It sounds like - I mean, it sounds - it makes things sound boring when you say, like, it's - you know, part of it's about paperwork, but part of it is about paperwork. It has, as I said, Margaret Qualley, and she is the real-life daughter of Andie MacDowell. And Andie MacDowell plays her mother in this. Andie MacDowell, if you've been watching her, has been having a really kind of interesting career progression where after this kind of ingenue moment, she now - you know, she did this really cool and interesting appearance in in the second "Magic Mike" movie...



HOLMES: ...Where people were like, that's Andie MacDowell (laughter). Like, and I think you'll be interested to see her in this. This also stars Anika Noni Rose, who is...


HOLMES: ...Good in everything, I think. I'm brushing up against the embargo, but it's a secret whether I liked it, you guys.


HOLMES: It's still a secret.


THOMPSON: You picked it isn't a hint at all.

HOLMES: I'm just going to tell you I am interested in seeing how people react to it. It is coming out on October 1 on Netflix. And that is my first pick. Now we go to Glen for his second pick. Glen, what is your second pick?

WELDON: My second pick is a film called "Mayday" which is coming only to theaters, I'm afraid, which - eugh. But it's coming to theaters October 1. And I'm just going by the trailer here. I want to make that clear. I haven't seen it. But I am intrigued. It's a debut movie written and directed by Karen Cinorre about a young waitress who escapes from her abusive boss by climbing into a restaurant stove and finds herself on an island that is home to a group of young women who live on a beached submarine and use the submarine's radio to lure World War II soldiers to their deaths. Now, look. It's a formula for a reason, right? I mean...


WELDON: (Unintelligible). Now, critics who saw it at Sundance are pretty much split down the middle. All of them praised the look. And once you want to check out the trailer, you will, too - the tone, the premise. But about half of them said it doesn't answer the questions it raises, which I'm gonna guess are many.



WELDON: Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. I don't know. But check out the trailer and tell me you're not intrigued. That is "Mayday," in theaters October 1

HOLMES: OK. Thank you very much, Glen Weldon - "Mayday," October 1. Aisha, it looks here like you also have a movie up for your second pick.

HARRIS: Oh, yes, I do. So I watched maybe the first seven or eight cycles of "America's Next Top Model."


HARRIS: I was obsessed with it. I loved it. I still quote Tyra saying, we were all rooting for you.

WELDON: As do we all.

HARRIS: That was, like, my one forway (ph) into fashion, other than that I don't know anything about fashion. I don't get the fashion world. I think it's cool that people are into it, but I don't understand it. But yet I am very fascinated by "House Of Gucci," which is going to be in theaters on November 24, because (laughter) you've got Lady Gaga. You've got Adam Driver...

WELDON: Yeah, you do.

HARRIS: ...Jared Leto - eh - Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino - you know, this cast. Now, often, giant blockbuster casts like this do not necessarily mean that the movie's going to be any good. And this movie might not be good, but I'm hoping it'll be at least a very fun mess because it's telling this very dramatic story. It's got some - based off the trailer, it has a very Ryan Murphy-esque feel to it. And maybe I'm just placing that on him because I'm thinking of the Gianni Versace show he did and then the fact that Lady Gaga has worked with him.

But Lady Gaga is playing Patriziana Reggiani. And Adam Driver is playing Maurizio Gucci. And Patrizia Reggiani was married to Gucci, who at the time was like the head of - obviously, of Gucci. And she apparently hired someone to kill him. And so it's got murder. It's got intrigue. It's got Lady Gaga doing even more dramatic than we saw her do in "A Star Is Born." So I'm just really excited to see how fun and messy and perhaps - who knows - not that great this movie will be. But it looks fabulous.

THOMPSON: It sounds loud.


HARRIS: Well, if Lady Gaga is in it, it's going to be loud.


WELDON: And it's going to have a - kind of a sketchy accent. But, I mean, this trailer grabbed most people in six words. Those six words being (imitating Lady Gaga) father, son and House of Gucci...


WELDON: ...Which sounds like she's a vampire. But you know what? I'm in. I'm in.


WELDON: The clothes, if nothing else.

HOLMES: All right. Fascinating. "House Of Gucci" - November 24. My second pick is a book. I don't want to be the one who says that I am always responsible for bringing up-and-coming writers previously unrecognized, undiscovered, onto your radar. But there is a guy named - what is the name here? - Colson Whitehead who...


HOLMES: ...So far has only two Pulitzer Prizes for past novels "The Nickel Boys" and "The Underground Railroad." And he has a new novel coming out called "Harlem Shuffle," which is coming out soon, September 14. And I think that it is safe to say there are certain authors who you know that when they put a novel out, people are going to have a bunch of interesting conversations about it. This is apparently both a family story and sort of crime fiction taking place in the New York of the 1960s, I believe.

One of the reasons I picked this is that I don't always believe in just because it's this person it's important because I think that can lead to a little bit of, like, here's what the canon is and here are the insiders and outsiders and all that stuff. But here is somebody where it's like, OK, if this is who wrote this, then you're going to want to have this on your radar. And you're going to want to kind of have that in your line of sight. So, again, September 14, "Harlem Shuffle," Colson Whitehead, going for the three-peat of Pulitzer Prizes.


THOMPSON: Is it a hat trick? Go for a hat trick.

HOLMES: There you go - hat trick of Pulitzer Prizes. So that is my second pick. Stephen, you were going bring us home with - oh, looks like more music.

THOMPSON: Well, in the first segment, I talked about a lot of big, big pop releases. This one is as quiet as quiet gets. If you are like me, the news makes you anxious. The world makes you anxious. There is a record coming out November 12 that is engineered to not make you anxious. It is by the English producer Jon Hopkins. That's Jon - J-O-N - not to be confused with Johns. He has made dance records. He has made kind of atmospheric ambient records. He made one of my favorite albums of the previous decade, a collaboration with the singer King Creosote called "Diamond Mine." He makes wonderful music.

And he is making a kind of ambient, classical, psychedelic drone kind of record called "Music For Psychedelic Therapy." It is technically - I guess you are supposed to take drugs and listen to it. It is the kind of music that, to my mind, makes drugs sort of unnecessary. I'm not a drug guy. But the single that he's released is this beautiful kind of head-clearing piece of music with a recording by the late Ram Dass called "Sit Around The Fire." Let's hear a little bit of it.


RAM DASS: If you're quiet when you meditate, if you truly open your heart, just quiet your mind. Open your heart.

THOMPSON: OK, so to put it mildly this is not music for Glens. This is is taking its mission of calm very, very seriously. It is kind of music designed for meditation. I am an anxious person and always look for music that kind of has this effect. Jon Hopkins is a proven master in this regard, and I cannot wait to hear more. That is "Music For Psychedelic Therapy," out November 12.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Stephen Thompson. You know, Glen is making a face that says, not for Glens.

WELDON: No, I'm just agreeing with Stephen's insight there, yes.

HOLMES: Yep, absolutely.


HARRIS: I like that it tells you exactly what it is.

WELDON: Any album whose title is an instruction manual I think is useful, yeah.

HOLMES: Absolutely, absolutely.

THOMPSON: Yeah, truth in advertising.

HOLMES: Truth in advertising. And I should say also, you know, we talked about a bunch of things here. We did find that some of the things that have gotten kind of the most early publicity that we know the most about at this point were not as diverse as we wished they were in terms of, you know, people of color in terms of both onscreen and offscreen. So I think, you know, keep your eyes peeled. We're hoping that some of the bigger promotional pushes will come for a more diverse group of things that we've seen so far.

Also, you know, obviously, in general, tip of the iceberg, right? We only talked about new things. There's plenty coming out this fall. Truthfully, this is the first time in a while I felt like, oh, wow, there's going to be a whole lot of stuff. So we will be here. Tell us what you are excited to check out. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh or tweet us at @pchh. When we come back, it's going to be time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What Is Making Us Happy This Week. So come right back.

Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What's Making Us Happy This Week. Glen Weldon, what is making you happy this week?

WELDON: Well, we've already talked about this. We talked about HBO Max's "The Other Two" back when it was Comedy Central's "The Other Two." But it is back now. Second season started recently on HBO Max. And I want to single out episode two of season two, in which the character of Cary, played by Drew Tarver, and his new boyfriend Jess, played by Gideon Glick, get fooled into thinking that another gay couple, played by Tuc Watkins and Noah Galvin, are not what they actually are, which is a hot daddy and his cute twink partner but instead a homophobic father and his newly out gay son.

Now, that, if you hear about it, is the stuff of farce. But this is played so low key, so real. There is this one back and forth in the restaurant between Watkins and Galvin's couple, who have an open arrangement - right? - as opposed to Cary and Jess's, who don't. And if anything, the thing that is remarkable is how the show kind of passes judgment not on the hot couple with the open relationship but on the basicness of Cary, their sanctimoniousness, their condescension. It is done so knowing and so confident. It's the show working at the top of its game, doing only what the show could do because of who its writers are and who its actors are. So that's season two, episode two of "The Other Two" called "Pat Connects With Her Fans."

HARRIS: Seconding that one. It's such a great episode.

WELDON: Yep, isn't it great?

HARRIS: (Laughter).

WELDON: Oh, the scene in the restaurant is like - oh, it's so perfect.

HARRIS: Yes (laughter).

HOLMES: Well, that's great to hear. You know, Tuc Watkins has been kicking around for a long time. You love to see it, love to see it.

WELDON: So good in this. He is so good right there.

HOLMES: Thank you very much, Glen Weldon. Aisha Harris, what is making you happy this week?

HARRIS: Well, I would like to applaud The Criterion Channel for - you know, in the last year or so, they've done a really good job of highlighting Black filmmakers and Black art onscreen. One of their more recent collections is centered on Josephine Baker, the singular - you know, the one and only - you know, obviously, she was known for the banana dress and dancing and being expatriate in France. But she was so much more than that, and she was so interesting. And so they have a collection of four of her films that you can go watch right now - "Zouzou," "La Revue Des Revues" (laughter), "Siren Of The Tropics" and "Princess Tam-Tam."

Now, I've only seen one of these films so far, "Zouozou," and this is - it's a French film, and it's about - she plays Zouzou, who is a woman who is hopelessly in love with her childhood companion who is white. And they grew up together, but he only sees her as a sister. It's not a great movie, but I think there's some interesting things going on when it comes to the way it depicts race in France at the time in the 1930s.

And also, you get to see a little bit of just what made her such a fun performer and why people were drawn to her because she has a couple of musical numbers in it. And there's one really fun one especially, where she's, like, dancing in front of this giant screen on a stage, and she's dancing with her shadow behind her. And she's just very free and eccentric and erratic, and I love it. So I highly recommend people check it out. I plan to check out the other three movies in there because I just find her a really fascinating person. And it's great that we have these movies to get a little sense of who she was.

HOLMES: Awesome. Thank you very much, Aisha Harris. That is on The Criterion Channel. Stephen Thompson, what is making you happy this week?

THOMPSON: Well, one of my favorite folk singers is a woman named Karen Dalton, who was part of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early '60s with people like Fred Neil and Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan described her as having, quote, "a voice like Billie Holiday, and she plays guitar like Jimmy Reed." She put out two albums in her lifetime, one in 1969 and one in 1971, and recorded almost nothing else. There are a couple of other archival recordings, but she's a very elusive figure. She died in 1993. She had a lifetime of substance abuse issues and is kind of this elusive, tragic figure in folk music.

And rolling out this fall, there's going to be a documentary about her. I imagine it's rolling out slowly, but I'm really, really looking forward to it - called "Karen Dalton: In My Own Time." Now, there's not a lot of footage of Karen Dalton. Unfortunately, a lot of her archives were destroyed in a 2018 fire. You know, you just have these few albums to go on, but they piece together, apparently, in this movie interviews with a lot of her admirers. Nick Cave was a huge, huge, huge fan of hers. Her music was absolutely incredible, and I'm so excited about people discovering her. I want to actually play a little bit of one of her songs so you can get a feel for her sound. Let's hear a little bit of "In The Evening."


KAREN DALTON: (Singing) It's so hard, so hard to tell who's gonna to love you the best.

THOMPSON: So that's Karen Dalton. If you have not dug into her album - she has two albums. One is "It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best" from 1969 and "In My Own Time" from 1971. They are spectacular. I hope people check her out. That's Karen Dalton.

HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Stephen Thompson. OK. So what is making me happy this week is a documentary that falls into a very specific category that I particularly love, which the critic Alison Willmore talked about on Twitter as startup freude (ph).


HOLMES: These are your Fyre Festival documentaries, your WeWork documentaries. And in this case, this is your LuLaRoe documentary.


HOLMES: So LuLaRoe, if you're not familiar with it, is a fashion brand that - the sort of shorthand is Instagram leggings company.


HOLMES: But it's a multi-level marketing company. And there is a documentary that is on Amazon called "LuLaRich," and it examines, in four parts, how the company was created, how they came up with this model where they would get women - I mean, it's very much like Mary Kay or something like that. Women buy a bunch of clothes, and then they have parties and sell them. And social media has obviously really revolutionized MLMs and how they operate. And LuLaRoe still exists, so this is not a company that has somehow gone out of - you know, ceased to exist. But if you're interested in business troubles that snowball, I do recommend that you check out "LuLaRich" on Amazon Prime. And that is what is making me happy this week.

If you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations, subscribe to our newsletter. That's at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. One last thing before we go. We are going to be talking about "The Sopranos," and we want your questions. You can email us a voice memo with your question to pchh@npr.org. Again, send us a voice memo with your question to pchh@npr.org. That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @lindaholmes. You can find Stephen at @idislikestephen. Glen is at @ghweldon. And Aisha is @craftingmystyle. You can follow our editor Jessica Reedy at @jessica_reedy. You can follow our producer Candice Lim at @thecandicelim and producer Jared Gair at @jaredmgair. Mike Katzif is at @mikekatzif - K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band, Hello Come In, provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. Thanks to all of you guys for being here.

HARRIS: Thank you.

WELDON: Thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

HOLMES: Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Have a good weekend, and we will see you all next week.


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