The pop culture moments that have (almost) made 2021 bearable

As the Delta strain continues its nationwide lockdown tour, it seems foolish to recall how optimistic we felt earlier this year. Sure, 2020 was a dumpster fire, but 2021 offered so much potential. The vaccine rollout was supposed to return everything to normal: no more masks, way more handshakes. But for all the “New Year, New Me” rhetoric, the same old issues have plagued the last six months.

And so it is, in the midst of yet another COVID outbreak, we find ourselves reaching for a familiar hero: pop culture. Last year we paid tribute to the pop culture moments that helped us survive 2020, and while we may only be halfway through 2021, pop culture is saving the day once more. These are the moments that have kept us sane, occupied and most importantly, distracted, this year.

Matt LeBlanc embraces Courteney Cox during the Friends reunion.Credit:Terence Patrick/HBO Max

Friends Reunion: The One With the Nostalgia

The TV gods must’ve known how desperately we needed a hit of nostalgia when Friends: The Reunion arrived on screens in May. And much like catching up with an old friend, the one-off special felt both heart-warming and a little awkward.

Watching the six friends reunite on set was undeniably sweet, so too the merry-go-round of familiar faces: Wow, Tom Selleck! Wow, Janice! Wow, Gunther! But there was something tragic about the way Matthew Perry’s obvious struggles were swept under the rug. It was also impossible not to notice that the cast had refused to age gracefully – the men looked particularly rough, as if it hadn’t been their day, week, month, year, or even decade.

In many ways, Friends: The Reunion served up a timely lesson for 2021: while it’s tempting to look back when the future seems so uncertain, often the past is best left in the past.

Mare of Easttown: not all heroes wear capes (but they do smoke vapes)

Easily the buzziest show of the year, Mare of Easttown proved ideal 2021 viewing because it celebrated a painfully ordinary character whose life was a total disaster. Mare was one of us.

Kate Winslet’s Mare wasn’t slick, or charming, or even that nice. But she was capable, despite her flaws, and sick of everyone else’s shit. If there was ever a time we were determined to cheer for a rough-around-the-edges leading lady who vaped, swore and had a sexy fling with Guy Pearce, it was right now.

Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown.Credit:HBO

Stuck in the Suez Canal: we are all the wedged container ship

Stuck. Uncomfortable. Going nowhere fast. Has there been a more appropriate metaphor for 2021 than the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal? It was late March when the Ever Given became wedged in the canal, bringing one of the world’s busiest trade routes to a grinding halt.

Something about the site of the enormous ship stuck haplessly in the canal struck a chord with people online who promptly memed the scenario into internet folklore.

The Harry and Meghan interview: zomg, the royals are racist!?

Few people know how to orchestrate a high profile celebrity interview like Oprah Winfrey, and her chat with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, was nothing short of jaw-dropping. For a couple of weeks in March, it was all anyone could talk about.

Did a racist royal really ask how dark Archie’s skin was going to be? Did Meghan really make Kate cry? Did Prince Harry seriously complain about being cut off financially, and should we start crowdfunding?

Not only did the interview captivate the internet, but it was a refreshing reminder that even when your grandmother is the Queen, everyone secretly hates their family.

Prince Harry and Meghan during their celebrated interview with Oprah Winfrey.Credit:Harpo Productions

Cancel the conservatorship: the world gets behind Britney

If we’ve learnt anything from the pandemic, it’s that we love a project. Last year it was baking banana bread; this year, it’s extricating Britney Spears from a complex legal conservatorship.

The #FreeBritney movement has been going on for a while, but it gained steam in February when The New York Times released their documentary, Framing Britney Spears. Since then, the #FreeBritney movement has shifted from a fringe cause championed by her hardcore fans to a full-blown human rights issue that has the whole world demanding change.

Bernie Sanders’ mittens: an internet glove story

After a US presidential campaign defined by meme-worthy moments – love you, Four Seasons Total Landscaping – it was only fitting that Inauguration Day served up something red hot. Or, in this case, freezing cold. We refer, of course, to Bernie Sanders wearing mittens.

Snapped by photographer Brendan Smialowski, Sanders looked like every parent at weekend sport: cold, bored and wanting the whole thing to be over.

Senator Bernie Sanders at the inauguration.Credit:AFP

By the end of January, the internet was buzzing with Bernie Sanders mittens memes, everyone clambering to photoshop the unimpressed Senator into various setups. There he was riding the subway in New York, sitting on the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones and, my personal favourite, sitting on a park bench alongside Forrest Gump.

JLo and Ben Affleck: Bennifer proves love is real

Long before Kimye or Brangelina, there was Bennifer. Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck initially hooked up back in 2001 on the set of the best-worst movie ever, Gigli. A year later, they were engaged, but a year after that, the wedding was off.

Since then, both have had their fair share of high profile romances, but it seems the couple have finally accepted what we knew all along: Bennifer is meant to be.

The pair were first spotted rekindling in May and made things official a month later, much to the delight of early 2000s pop culture fans. Is it sad to feel unbridled joy when two people you don’t know reconnect? Possibly. Does it still feel good? Absolutely.

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck began dating while filming Gigli and became one of Hollywood’s hottest power couples.Credit:

Kurtains for The Kardashians: who will we keep up with?

Considering we spent 14 years Keeping Up With the Kardashians, couldn’t they have stretched it out for another twelve months? America’s most famous TV family bid farewell in a highly emotional finale (followed by a highly unnecessary two-part reunion) earlier this month. Besides a barrage of nostalgia clips, the main takeaway was that Kim feels like a failure because her marriage to Kanye didn’t work out. Cue Kim crying face.

For those concerned about a Kardashian-shaped hole in their viewing schedule, never fear. The family has already inked a new deal with reality TV network Hulu. Turns out we’ll keep up with them after all.

Eurovision: testing times

Typically the domain of poptastic Swedish dance acts, the Eurovision elite was suitably mortified when an Italian heavy metal band took out this year’s title.

Damiano David, centre, sprays champagne onto Thomas Raggi, from left, Victoria De Angelisa and Ethan Torchio at the press conference after their band Maneskin from Italy won Eurovision.Credit:AP

Maneskin outperformed their bejewelled rivals to be crowned champions, but almost as soon as the confetti had fallen, rumours of drug-taking began to do the rounds. Rock and rollers winning Eurovision? They must be on illegal drugs!

Not only did Maneskin lead singer Damiano David deny snorting cocaine, he even took a drug test to prove his innocence. Now that’s rock and roll.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

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