love letters 2022

It's the Summer of Love—and we're loving these TV favorites. Read up on why our contributors picked these shows as their favorites in our series of love letters—an ode to the best of the best on Paramount+.

On a business trip to Los Angeles in the spring of 2005, my writing partner and I scheduled a lunch with accomplished TV producer Peter Tolan at Pasadena’s landmark Huntington Hotel, now rebranded as The Langham. But first we’d meet at his house nearby, in a particularly leafy, wealthy enclave of town.

As one would expect from the writer who had dreamed up such films as Analyze This and the critically acclaimed show he was making at the time, Rescue Me, the home’s interior was impeccably furnished. But it was when we got to the manicured grounds of the sprawling residence, built in 1915 as the Jewett Estate, that things really got exciting.

As we walked around the edge of a long, rectangular reflecting pool set among formal gardens, Peter pointed out that said water feature had been the site of scenes from the Marx Brothers’ classic 1933 comedy, Duck Soup. That pedigree alone would have been enough for me to take home the following week as a souvenir. Already I had something to brag about back in Jersey some late night over diner fries.

And then, almost as an afterthought, Peter added the following detail: This very same lily pond was also the site of Alexis and Krystle’s infamous catfight on Dynasty.

Wait. Full stop.

I lost the ability to take in any further information. I could now think of nothing but that historic moment on April 13, 1983, when, after years of back-and-forth bitchery, Linda Evans’ sugary sweet Krystle Carrington had finally had enough of Joan Collins’ scheming Alexis Colby. In one of the campiest moments in one of the campiest shows ever to sashay into American living rooms, Krystle, bedecked in beatific blue, launched herself at her nemesis—and with said flying tackle entered not just the watery milieu at which I was now staring but the pantheon of over-the-top TV moments.

All through what must have been a lovely lunch—I don’t really remember—my mind kept wandering back to that pond, wondering if we should have stuck around to search its shores for any wayward, waterlogged shoulder pads. The thought was still lingering in my mind when, six years later, Mattel announced its upcoming Barbie versions of the two dueling divas and, around the same time, Joan appeared in a limited New York run with her one-woman show, One Night with Joan. From the stage at the Plaza Hotel, the actress, who also made 1983 headlines by posing for Playboy at 50, recalled how, just before filming the famous brawl, her taller, stronger, 10-years-younger co-star, Linda, convinced her that they themselves should be the ones slugging it out for the cameras. Later, as she sought medical attention for her bruises, Joan, now 89, recalled the advice of her former co-star Gene Kelly: “Never put a stunt gal out of work.”

The visual of Alexis’ white picture hat set afloat is still so alive in pop culture that the scene was re-created in 2020 by Daniella Alonso and Elaine Hendrix on The CW Network’s Dynasty reboot and was perfectly parodied just this past season by Wendi McLendon-Covey and Erinn Hayes on the ’80s-set sitcom The Goldbergs. But, my fellow Gen Xers, don’t try to retrace my steps or drop my name with Peter to get past the gate, because the Jewett Estate now belongs to someone else. Not that the new owners probably aren’t used to it. Back when he owned the place, Peter told me that “for years, the gate intercom would ring, and we’d hear someone in broken English on the other end of the line—usually Japanese tourists looking for ‘Dynasty house.’”

— Jim Colucci

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It's the Summer of Love—and we're loving these TV favorites. Read up on why our contributors picked these shows as their favorites in our series of love letters—an ode to the best of the best on Paramount+.

Survivor is like watching a game show, a professional sport, a cat fight–driven reality show, and a screensaver of the most inviting beach with the most breathtakingly saccharine-bordering-on-imaginary blue ocean. (If you’ve watched the show and not casually price-checked flights and/or all-inclusive vacations to Fiji, where the show has filmed since 2017, you’re not doing it right.) Given all these elements, the show is incontestably the best summer binge.

My childhood in exurban New England predated so many things, but primarily I missed out on basic cable and the concept of the overscheduled child. Or any kind of schedule, for that matter: If it required my mother getting out her car keys and/or her checkbook, my sisters and I simply did not participate. Every yawning day of summer vacation, there was a sweet spot—that golden hour before my mom got sick of our very breath in her house and flicked off the TV and kicked us out into the backyard. During that sweet spot, my sisters and I gorged greedily on The Price Is Right. We all had our favorite games. Plinko, obviously, but also the Shell Game and Squeeze Play and Cliff Hangers. (To this day, I can’t take so much as a single step uphill without playing an internal yodeling soundtrack.)

And here’s the thing about Survivor—it’s just like TPIR in its crowd-pleasing set pieces. As fans, my daughter and I have watched players balance on ever-tapering beams while methodically flicking a ball around a round wooden frame, or spell a phrase with a stack of blocks on a wobbling platform attached, so cruelly yet thrillingly, to a rope in the players’ hands! We’ve seen it before but it feels new with every player. How long will someone balance on their toes while also balancing blocks on their head before it all tumbles ... like that TPIR mountain climber right off the cliff?

Buffs are the uniforms of Survivor. They’re the team (or tribe) colors. They’re symbolic of huge milestones. (“Drop your Buffs” is Probstese for “You’ve made it to the semifinals.”) But Buffs are also the fuel of so much fashion on Survivor: Imagine if Giannis Antetokounmpo took a quick sec while running up court to style his Bucks jersey into a miniskirt. Or a jaunty stocking cap. Or an armband. Or, most thrillingly, a sexy little tube top (all part of his game-play, of course, to seduce and beguile and ultimately trick his opponents into humiliating defeat). Sure, a Buff serves some practical purposes—as an insect repellent over the face, or a smokescreen when the campfire is sputtering during a rainstorm, or just an eye shade during a much-needed (thanks to the bug bites and dying fire) nap. But a Buff also lets you take all that depravity, deprivation, and desperation, the hunger and exhaustion ... and make it fashun.

Last but never least, Jeff Probst alone is worthy of a nonstop summer binge. He has said that he plays three roles during the show: the producer, the host, and, most crucially, the first fan and audience member. Not only does he clearly love all three jobs (if only everyone had a passion for their career the way he does!), he’s done the work of adapting, updating, and changing the game. Gone is his iconic “Come on in, guys!” at the start of every challenge, replaced with the more gender-inclusive “Come on in!” But the underlying constant is his enthusiasm for the game, his thrill at watching a grand social experiment play out at Tribal Council. And that is extremely contagious.

— Rory Evans

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It's the Summer of Love—and we're loving these TV favorites. Read up on why our contributors picked these shows as their favorites in our series of love letters—an ode to the best of the best on Paramount+.

The episode was called “Password,” but it might as well have been “Aristophanes,” because never has the name of that ancient Greek playwright gotten such an uproarious laugh. Growled through Jack Klugman’s clenched teeth to a preternaturally annoying Tony Randall during what is explained as a special New York taping of Password, it’s perhaps the funniest moment in all 114 installments of The Odd Couple. I simply love it. The classic show was at its peak.

Curmudgeonly sportswriter Oscar Madison (Klugman) was never more Oscar-y than when he paired with his fussy roommate on the TV game show within the sitcom; persnickety photographer Felix Unger (Randall) never Unger-er than when he is giving absurdly erudite clues. He actually tries to get Oscar to guess “bird” from the hint “Aristophanes.” When that clue leaves his teammate clueless, Felix maintains, “Everybody knows Aristophanes wrote a play called The Birds.” “Everybody but me,” an exasperated Oscar grouses.

Given such sidesplitting absurdity, it’s no wonder that TV Guide once ranked the Dec. 1, 1972, installment at No. 5 on a list of TV’s all-time greatest episodes. The classic sitcom, in its fourth season, was part of what I like to remember as the greatest TV lineup in Baby Boom history: The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love, American Style, all on the same channel on Friday night. It was heaven.

It doesn’t hurt that this particular Odd Couple installment features three TV icons in supporting roles—Elinor Donahue of Father Knows Best as Felix’s girlfriend, Miriam; Al Molinaro, who’d go on to run his own diner on Happy Days, as the duo’s pal Murray the Cop; and Penny Marshall, the first half of Laverne & Shirley, as Myrna, Oscar’s forever-nasal secretary. When asked to pretend to be a celebrity contestant during an at-home practice round of Password, Marshall drips, “Can I be Peggy Cass?”

I howl every time.

The amazing thing, though, is seeing Allen Ludden and Betty White playing themselves on The Odd Couple—he, as the genial game show host; she, as the nearly impossible-to-beat celebrity contestant. In 1972 it was Ludden’s career that was on fire. White was known for appearing on game shows like, well, Password; as the host of the short-lived series The Pet Set; and as Ludden’s wife. When she did The Odd Couple, her first appearance as Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was still nine months away; her role as Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, more than a decade in the offing.

But White’s appearance on The Odd Couple was major, one that made Ray Richmond’s 2021 book, Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life. “It’s unquestionably one of White’s finest moments,” he writes. “It’s uproariously good fun.” To consider the “Password” episode of The Odd Couple anything less than that would be, as Felix says, “Ridiculous!”

— Frank Decaro

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Top: Sadio Mané of Liverpool. Bottom: Pau Torres of Villarreal

Photo credit: Eric Alonso/Getty Images

It's the Summer of Love—and we're loving these TV favorites. Read up on why our contributors picked these shows as their favorites in our series of love letters—an ode to the best of the best on Paramount+.

I missed a lot of things during the pandemic, from seeing my far-flung friends in person and meeting their babies to attending live music shows, but one of the top experiences I yearned for was watching international soccer in bars, preferably with some kind of locally themed snack. (For the 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia, I made my first-ever tarte tatin and can highly recommend this divine combination of caramel, apples, and puff pastry.)

Now that I have had three vaccine shots and the world is waking up again, I’m excited to get back to rowdy bars full of fellow fans, most prominently those who follow Liverpool FC, those die-hards who know every word of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the British club’s unlikely theme song. (Do they know it comes from the 1945 Broadway musical Carousel? Maybe. Do they care? Not so much.)

I would have loved to have been with other fans (maybe including Dexter: New Blood’s John Lithgow or Jason Isaacs of Star Trek: Discovery? Fellows, you have an open invitation to the pub) when watching Liverpool’s ripping comeback from being down two goals to beat Spain’s Villarreal on May 3, but I was (gasp!) back in my office. They’d been expected to waltz through a comparatively easy lineup of opponents, but an uninspired first half required some heroics in the second 45 from Fabinho, Luis Díaz, and Sadio Mané.

The very next day, Spanish champions Real Madrid—who had defeated last year’s Champions League winner, Chelsea, and the Lionel Messi–starring Paris Saint-Germain—came back from a similar 2-0 deficit with two goals in stoppage time and then another on a penalty kick from the ageless Karim Benzema to stun the English champions Manchester City.

The Champions League has brought me months of midweek joy, starting in the summer with 80 teams from all over Europe. If there’s one good thing about two solid years of working from home, it’s the privilege of watching the best teams from the tiniest former Soviet republics face off against western European behemoths on a Tuesday afternoon.

Back in September, Real Madrid nearly imperiled their chances of appearing in the final at all with a home loss to the little-known Moldovan champs FC Sheriff. Although Sheriff and their intrepid lineup of journeymen from Trinidad, Peru, and Luxembourg didn’t make it past the Italian greats Inter, where else are you going to find the cream of Moldova swaggering into a Spanish stadium, able to taste the blood in the air? (Other than Eurovision.)

While the Brazilians elevated the Beautiful Game to an art form, Europe has a strong claim to have invented association football, and its continental pro tournament remains a must-watch for those of us who enjoy an excuse to open a bottle of wine and slice into a wheel of brie at 3 in the afternoon. (Come on, the game’s in Paris.)

— Sara Brady

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