love letters 2022

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Photo credit: Nickelodeon

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+.

My biggest issue with sci-fi and fantasy is the obsession with plot. These writers spend the first third of a story arc building the most fascinating, interesting world. A government, a social system, a history, maybe a religion or two—and then the rest of the story is about the well-meaning teenager setting out to destroy it. The government always deserves it, of course, but I always wish, when reading, that I could have stepped into the story a few years earlier, or a few thousand miles away from the action. Sometimes I just want to sit in the other world for a while.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is, of course, about well-meaning teenagers overthrowing a tyrannical government, but my love for the show is less about plot and more about the vast, colorful world that surrounds it. In the midst of infiltrating the Fire Nation, the gang enrolls in public school and throws a house party for their repressed classmates. A perilous journey to the Northern Water Tribe is interrupted by an obsession with a fortune teller, and they demand advice on their future love lives.

My favorite episode, perhaps because it exists for no other reason than to paint layers over the characters’ lives, is “The Tales of Ba Sing Se.” This series of vignettes occupies the space in between the plot points, those slow days when no battles are being fought or roads traversed. Katara and Toph go to the spa, and we remember they are girls of middle school age with wants and insecurities outside their plotlines. We spend a few days in a poetry class with Sokka, and it’s comforting to know there’s a snooty art world even here, even as the world order shifts around the city. Iroh navigates the marketplace in preparation for his late son’s birthday, and the price of war narrows from the abstract to this one moment, this illustration of loss and grief, in a quiet moment on a hillside.

We’re all self-centered (or at least I am), and I always want to know what I would be doing in a fantasy land. What are all the college girls up to, the ones without singular powers and oversized destinies? Maybe I could be the fortune teller’s assistant with her maniacal crush; maybe I could be one of the struggling poets; maybe I’d be one of the catty girls at the spa gossiping about others’ makeup. Every place had its young women, and its noisy toddlers, and its elderly stoop sitters, and its showy teenagers—people you’d find in any world, real or imagined.

I always felt that if I could only peel back the screen from the TV and step inside, I could wander far from the action, far from the main characters, and never reach that place where the land dissolves into sketches, into storyboard. The world would unfold before me, endless, vivid, even as the heroes and the war and everything of importance faded behind me.

— Annabelle Davis

Want another Love Letter from our contributors? Try Love Letter: Chef’s Kiss.

SUBSCRIBE NOW: Enjoy 4 Digital Plus 2 Print/Digital Issues Of Watch Per Year — For Free!

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+.

While Elizabeth McCord’s wood-paneled West Wing office on Madam Secretary was a hive of heated arguments and political jockeying, her Georgetown home with its serene color palette, cozy reading nooks, and overstuffed chairs was a place to exhale.

The star of the renovated, three-bedroom townhouse was its kitchen. Soft-gray cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and marble and teak countertops helped soothe frayed nerves caused by the latest diplomatic crisis. Toward the back of the kitchen stood a wall of glass cabinets, showcasing a whimsical mix of ’60s vintage goodies: colorful bowls, carafes, vases, and glassware. The worn, wooden farm table, illuminated by a simple yet striking antique brass chandelier, created a respite for the McCords’ overachieving family of five.

Madam Secretary\u2019s Tim Daly smiles as he prepares a salad at the center island in the kitchen

Tim Daly as Henry McCord

Photo credit: David M. Russell/CBS via Getty Images


So when it came time to think about my own kitchen renovation, which I may or may not ever do, I didn’t pour over Houzz or Pinterest or everything designed by Chip and Joanna Gaines. I grabbed my notebook, clicked on Paramount+, and binge-watched Madam Secretary.

Of course, I knew the McCords’ townhouse wasn’t real. It was just “Soundstage G,” a cavernous space in some frowzy section of Long Island City, New York, where the show filmed. But I kept taking notes. This kitchen wasn’t a place where you grab a cup of coffee and rush out the door. It was a feeling—a calm pleasure—that I wanted to recreate: a room perfect for a banter-filled family breakfast before setting out to conquer the day.

— Susan Pocharski

SUBSCRIBE NOW: Enjoy 4 Digital Plus 2 Print/Digital Issues Of Watch Per Year — For Free!

Want another Love Letter from our contributors? Try Love Letter: Crimes Of Passion.

Correspondent Peter Van Sant

CBS News

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+.

Is now a good time to reveal that I once casually stalked Erin Moriarty? This was a few years ago when a friend took me to the network Christmas party at a fancy Manhattan restaurant. At first the only person who caught my attention was the waiter passing around the pigs in a blanket.

Then I spotted the sleekly dressed veteran 48 Hours correspondent. Ahhh!!! I inched closer. And closer. I watched her talk to an authoritative looking executive and sip her drink. Closer. Closer. Finally, a break in the action. I took a deep breath and made the approach.

“Excuse me, I just want to say that I’m such a fan and I’m totally obsessed with 48 Hours!” I chirped. I may or may not have also blurted out why I wasn’t 100% convinced Robert Wagner was involved in Natalie Wood’s death.

So, in conclusion, 48 Hours is my show.

This is not the cool pick. Nobody is jetting off to an exotic island or analyzing blood samples in a bustling neon metropolis. It airs on Saturday nights just before the local news. And yet each episode features nail-biting tension and an array of colorful characters. And the heroes are solving crimes in real life, thank you very much.

Though 48 Hours has aired since 1988, I can’t remember when I got hooked. A true-crime fan since adolescence (don’t judge!), I devour twisty whodunits and admire that each episode opens the door to a certain life beyond my recognition. Ideally, a case ends with a clear-cut solution, with DNA and fingerprints to provide a little justice and closure. And yet the murkiness allows for high-level analysis in which I’m the judge and jury and can render my own verdict. That is, unless my friends are watching, too, and influence me with their opinions.

The beauty of 48 Hours is that it presents all the evidence in a no-nonsense, evenhanded documentary style. Instead of relying on hokey reenactments and voice-of-God narration, the show gives way to correspondents on the ground who interview witnesses, suspects, and authority figures. In fact, the who, what, where, when, and why are presented before the opening credits sequence. Speaking of which, it’s a blur of unsettling images. Do the birds flying over barren trees represent a winter of discontent? Help!

Once the correspondents are assigned to a story, they don’t let go. This dogged reporting has put a spotlight on controversial rulings, leading to actual change within the system. I was personally invested in the case of Ryan Ferguson, a student arrested for a parking lot murder in the small Missouri town where I attended college. My girl Erin checked in on him several times over the years and was literally right there as his conviction was overturned and he left jail. That’s just one of several examples.

It’s entirely possible my 48 Hours ritual borders on unhealthy. There’s still a horrific crime at the heart of every case, and that’s not lost on me. But in a chaotic world, how comforting and cathartic to know that I can always rely on a crackling good-versus-evil story. Somewhere a mystery is unraveling. I’ll be there, watching and ready to pounce on the drama.

— Mara Reinstein

SUBSCRIBE NOW: Enjoy 4 Digital Plus 2 Print/Digital Issues Of Watch Per Year — For Free!

Watch 48 Hours Saturdays nights on CBS and catch up with past episodes on Paramount+.

Want another Love Letter from our contributors? Try Love Letter: I Dream Of Daytime.

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+.

A few years back, I asked my mom why she and Dad had named me Lisa after having adopted me from the New England Home for Little Wanderers in 1961. I knew enough other Lisas—not named Elizabeth—born at that time to think the name must have been trending: the Tiffany of the early 1960s. But why? A believer that pop culture influences our daily lives, I thought maybe it was because of Lisa Miller Hughes of As the World Turns, surely one of the best-ever bad girls of daytime TV.

"Thought” is too neutral a word: I hoped. For better or worse, I am an earnest soul. Wanting to be named after a “B” (as Geri Kennedy would say, and that only after she was well into her 60s) is out of character. So I must credit how Eileen Fulton embodied the woman who crashed the upstanding Hughes family by marrying Dr. Bob Hughes in 1960. For kindness, I leaned on The Guiding Light matriarch Bert Bauer. (My younger brother and I came home from elementary school to the CBS soaps.) At my tender age, I didn’t understand all the traits that made Lisa Lisa—just intuited there was something transgressive about her amid the upstanding folks of Oakdale, Illinois.

Conniving isn’t my thing, yet Fulton would be the first to call her character just that. When viewers threatened to leave the show if Oakdale newcomer Lisa Miller married Bob Hughes, director Ted Corday was thrilled. “I got terrible mail, I got threats, serious threats,” the Television Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner said with relish in an interview.

In her 1995 autobiography, As My World Still Turns, Fulton recounts being approached at the start of her time at ATWT outside Lord & Taylor in New York City by a woman in a pale pink Chanel suit. Fulton readied the pen she’d bought at Tiffany’s in anticipation of autograph seekers. “Excuse me, aren’t you Lisa on the soap?” Fulton proudly admitted she was. “Well, I hate you,” the woman said and smacked her.

Such was the early evidence of a job well done, of a character realized day after day, week after week, for nearly 50 years. Lisa had enough je ne sais quoi that CBS attempted the short-lived primetime spinoff Our Private World in mid-1965, with Lisa relocating to Chicago. Thankfully, she returned to Oakdale.

As much of a fan as Mom was of ATWT, she told me, not missing a beat, “No, you weren’t named after Lisa.” Mom—a terrific yet unassuming lover of language—just liked the sound of a word, a name, and that should have been enough. But for a few years after her definitive reply, I would occasionally ask her again, even as she crept toward dementia, on the off chance she’d remember differently. She never did. But my warm memory of watching Lisa wreak havoc on afternoons with Mom hasn’t budged either.

— Lisa Kennedy

SUBSCRIBE NOW: Enjoy 4 Digital Plus 2 Print/Digital Issues Of Watch Per Year — For Free!

MOST POPULAR

By viewing our video content you are accepting the terms of our Video Services Policy.
© 2019 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.