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Pop Culture Comfort Food


When I think of comfort food, I think of guacamole or cheesecake - not and - or cheesecake. But what about comfort food to feed your soul, your feelings? We're talking about pop culture comfort food - the books, TV shows, movies, podcasts, board games that get us through dark and lonely winters. Who better to tell us about their favorite pop culture comfort food than Linda Holmes and Stephen Thompson? They are the hosts of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. I'm so glad both of you could be with us. Thanks very much.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: It's great to be here.

SIMON: And help us with the definition.

THOMPSON: Pop culture comfort food is what you consume in order to feel better. It is the cultural medicine of TV shows that you can binge watch to kind of settle your blood, music that calms you down.

HOLMES: That's a very good definition. Mine is more selfish in that pop culture comfort food is what I take in when I don't want to hold up my part of the artistic bargain.


HOLMES: You are the art. And you typically have something of a back and forth. You interpret. You think. You consider. You react. When I don't want to do my part, I just watch or enjoy something that asks practically nothing of me because on this particular day, perhaps I'm tired, perhaps I'm sad. And I just need something where it does all the work, and I just sit there.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

SIMON: And this is to be ethereal and pseudo intellectual for a moment. This is a perfectly respectable thing for art to do, isn't it?

HOLMES: A hundred...

THOMPSON: Absolutely.

HOLMES: ...Percent. And some things, the first time you watch them, they're art. And the second...


HOLMES: ...Or 50th time you watch them, they're comfort food.

SIMON: Can I run in with an example of that?

HOLMES: Of course.

SIMON: I'm just going to go boom, boom - "Law & Order."


HOLMES: Abso (ph) - ugh.

THOMPSON: Perfect example. Predictability can be key to this. Sometimes, that's...

HOLMES: Right.

THOMPSON: ...Because you've watched it 50 times. Sometimes, that's because it follows a formula that your brain can easily map over.

SIMON: Yeah.

HOLMES: Structurally, "Law & Order" is the most satisfying thing on television.

THOMPSON: "Great British Baking Show."

HOLMES: "Great British...


HOLMES: ...Baking Show" - absolutely, absolutely.

SIMON: So what are your - some other examples?

HOLMES: Well, one example that I always give is a game that you can play semi mindlessly. So one that I really like on my Nintendo Switch is I play Stardew Valley in which you build yourself a farm. And you plant some parsnips. And they come up. And you take them to the store. And you sell them. And you plant some more plants. And you water your plants. And that's the game.

SIMON: Aren't there trade tariffs or something like that that you can...

HOLMES: There really aren't. You just have to make sure that you go to the store when it's open.

SIMON: Yeah. Stephen?

THOMPSON: It's very hard for me to find something that everyone in my family can agree on. For comfort food, my girlfriend would watch "The West Wing." My son would watch old seasons of "Survivor." My daughter would watch grizzly horror movies.

HOLMES: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: I - the one thing...

SIMON: Quite a family, yeah.

THOMPSON: I'll come home and see she'll be watching "Saw III." But the one thing - one of the very few things that my entire family can agree on that we can all gather round and watch "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." This is a...

SIMON: Very funny show.

THOMPSON: It is a very, very funny show. It is also very much at its core a kind show...

SIMON: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...Full of people who like each other, who who learn and love and laugh and grow. It is also extraordinarily, as you said, funny. So...

SIMON: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...We'll gather round. I particularly - if I don't want to spend five seasons' worth of TV sitting and just watch - I always want to spend five seasons watching the same thing.

SIMON: Yeah.

THOMPSON: But I will skip to the Halloween episodes, watch them in chronological order in which they have a playful heist each time. It is an extraordinarily decent show.

SIMON: I want to throw a song into the mix if I can.


SIMON: OK, particularly this time of year.


SIMON: Has to be Judy Garland. And when she sings "Have Yourself...


SIMON: A Merry Little" - yes. I heard the oh.


SIMON: That's exactly...

THOMPSON: Absolutely.

SIMON: ...The reaction...

THOMPSON: Absolutely.

SIMON: ...Stephen. When she says, through the years we'll always be together and those big brown eyes get (unintelligible) - I am sorry. I am destroyed. I can't hear that song enough.

THOMPSON: We'll have to muddle through somehow.

SIMON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: And it's comforting. But it's also so incredibly sad when you watch her sing it in "Meet Me In St. Louis." It's such a sad moment. But then it's been transformed, I think, through the years into a piece of comfort, yes, indeed.

SIMON: Through the years may we always be together.

HOLMES: If the fates allow.


JUDY GARLAND: (As Esther Smith, singing) Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

SIMON: Linda Holmes and Stephen Thompson, the hosts of Pop Culture Happy Hour, thanks so much. Talk to you soon...

HOLMES: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: ...I hope.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Scott.


GARLAND: (As Esther Smith, singing) Next year, all our troubles will be out of sight.

SIMON: And during this holiday season, we're going to recommend pop culture comfort food every week. We want to hear from you. What's your pop culture comfort food? It can be a movie, a book, a video game, matchbox cover - I just threw that in - anything. Call and leave us a voicemail - 202-216-9217. Tell us your name, where you live. Who knows - you might hear your name on the air. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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