We all have them: Beloved TV shows or films from decades past that alternately bring us joy and make us cringe. Jokes or plotlines that may have been viewed as acceptable, or only mildly inappropriate, years ago often feel wildly problematic today. As we approach 2020, Lily team members and contributors looked back on shows and movies that were on air or in theaters during the early 2000s — in other words, media that’s approximately 20 years old — to interrogate our favorites. We still love the seven selections below, but these days, we see their faults clearly.
There was a good two- to three-month stretch last year during which I fell asleep to NBC’s “The Office” almost every night. That was the height of my addiction. In reality, it’s been a long love affair; I’ve been streaming it on Netflix, over and over and over, since I was in high school. I’d estimate that I’ve watched the entire nine-season workplace “mockumentary” about five times through.
And yet. I still feel tiny pangs of guilt at every one of its sexist and racist and homophobic jokes. Watch the pilot episode, and you’ll immediately get a sense of all the reasons this isn’t a politically correct show — not in 2019, and not even in 2005, when it first aired. In the first 15 minutes of Season 1, Episode 1, boss Michael Scott objectifies Pam, the receptionist (“If you think she’s cute now, you should’ve seen her a couple years ago. Rawr.”); says “chillun” instead of “children” when speaking to Stanley, his sole black employee; and gets called a “queen” by his obnoxious friend, Todd Packer.
I think I’ve assuaged all the guilt by telling myself that the entire point of the show is that Michael Scott, portrayed by Steve Carell, is an outlandishly inappropriate boss. You love to hate him, to cringe on his behalf. But by Season 7, when he leaves, you realize that you also just love him. You’ve watched him grow and learn and deeply cherish his employees. The female characters, meanwhile, either take a back seat to their romantic counterparts (Jim and Pam, Dwight and Angela) or are villainous (Jan). They’re also alcoholics (Meredith) and gossips (Kelly, who’s played by writer and producer Mindy Kaling). I wish I loved the female characters as much as I love the male ones; I wish they could be as bumbling and ultimately lovable as Michael Scott.
I still can’t lie, though. I’ve been mourning the series’s upcoming exit from Netflix, which will occur in 2020. What will I fall asleep to? Maybe, just maybe, something a little bit less offensive.
—Lena Felton, Lily multiplatform editor
In middle school and high school, I loved “Bridget Jones’s Diary” so much that I probably read it once a year. I learned about the book from the movie, which came out in 2001, when I was in seventh grade. As the daughter of an immigrant mom and an American-born dad who mostly took her lead when it came to setting rules, I wasn’t allowed to see the R-rated movies my friends’ parents let them see (which, in retrospect, seems pretty reasonable on my parents’ part). They let me read anything without much question, though, so they bought me “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and eventually the sequel, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.” Though Bridget was almost 20 years older than I was at the time, I related to her insecurity, her diary-keeping and her obsession with falling in love.
In 2019, we have less tolerance for stories that hinge on makeover montages and men fighting each other in the street over a woman (then repeating it in the sequel like they’ve all learned nothing). Bridget’s self-flagellation — through weight-tracking and calorie counting, through self-help books and a sad kitchen cupboard — is tongue-in-cheek but also earnest. Looking back, I see that I took it seriously, like instruction for adulthood and love. Re-watching the movie now, just shy of Bridget’s age, it’s almost sobering. The movie loses the book’s daily weight and calorie updates, but Bridget’s insecurity, which I still relate to, while normal in middle school, is sadder in adulthood. Bridget has her moments, though, and so do her friendships. I still think about Mark Darcy’s words to Bridget as she’s getting ready to have her friends over for dinner and she’s messed up all her dishes: “Don’t worry. I’m sure they’ve come to see you and not orange parfait in sugar cages.”
—Mia Nakaji Monnier, Lily contributor
It’s hard for me to imagine decorating my Christmas tree without Hugh Grant. Every year, it’s the same: As soon as the tree is standing, I put on “Love Actually,” stringing ornaments while pleasantly distracted by British accents and nativity lobsters. I’ve long known that the movie has problems. Colin Firth’s character proposes to a woman he’s never spoken to. The prime minister (Grant) initiates a relationship with a low-level staffer. Alan Rickman’s character calls a female employee into his office for the sole purpose of troubleshooting her love life.
This year, my husband finally asked the obvious question: Why on earth do you still watch this?
Reader, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a good answer. I guess the movie pulls together many things I love dearly: Grant, Firth, England, airports. Also, the majority of holiday films are quite terrible, so I guess “Love Actually” fares better by comparison? Mostly, though, I think I like the film because it flips on the holiday switch in my brain. When I watch the movie, Christmas starts. If I’d made a different cinematic decision years ago, I might be enamored with a different, far more feminist holiday film. But alas, I think I’m stuck with “Love Actually.”
—Caroline Kitchener, Lily staff writer
I love the ’90s/early-2000s sitcom, “Frasier.” I watch it for comfort, binge the Christmas episodes each holiday season and regularly reference moments from the show. (Also, the entire series may have played in the background of my first two months of maternity leave.)
What I know now is that there is a lot wrong with the show. The way Frasier’s producer, Roz Doyle, is constantly slut-shamed. The lack of people of color. The classism. The weird way Frasier’s brother, Niles, is always leering at Frasier’s live-in housekeeper and physical therapist, Daphne (of course this eventually morphs into the show’s pinnacle romance).
In the rare episodes that feature a black woman — the recurring character Dr. Mary — Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) attempts to be self-aware and confront his personal biases. It’s a pretty transparent effort from a show that must have somewhere along the way realized just how badly it lacked diversity. The entire story line makes me cringe and hit skip every time. I can’t stand it.
“Frasier” is hardly the only such offender, and in many ways it’s a classic sitcom of its time — for better or worse. In 2019, its faults stand out, so why do I keep coming back to it? I love the family dynamic between Frasier, his brother and his father, Martin. I love the city it takes place in (Seattle). I love the quippy humor and ironic situations.
My mom regularly watched the show when it was on the air. “Cheers” — the show on which Frasier’s character first made an appearance — was one of the first sitcoms she watched when she came to America. So maybe having it on in the background reminds me of my childhood. I’m not sure, really, but it’s something we can discuss over “tossed salads and scrambled eggs.”
—Neema Roshania Patel, Lily deputy editor
Nearly every Friday night, you’ll find me palling around with mobsters. Those evenings are reserved for red wine, Chinese takeout and “The Sopranos.” I never watched the show when it was on air, so recently, my partner and I decided to fill the Tony Soprano-sized hole in our TV knowledge. A gangster who goes to therapy? Count us in. The series is well-written, well-acted and all-around well-executed. Characters are three-dimensional, and I feel fondness, sometimes even sympathy, for mob boss Tony (James Gandolfini), the head of a New Jersey crime family.
But the misogyny is unrelenting — albeit expected in the world of this show — and difficult to stomach. Casual callousness toward and violence against women is threaded throughout the episodes, and justified by the show’s characters, in a way that’s hard to fathom in 2019.
Virtually all the men lie to and cheat on their wives. One main character, Christopher, berates and shames his fiancee, Adriana, when she tells him a former medical procedure might make it difficult for her to get pregnant. And an entire story line in Season 3 revolves around a mobster who’s part of Tony’s crew beating a woman to death — she worked at the strip club Tony owns. When Tony reacts, men in his circle don’t quite understand his fury. (“He bashed that poor girl’s brains in,” Tony says. “It was a tragedy,” one of his confidants replies. “The fact is though, she was not related to you by blood or marriage.”) I had to take a weeks-long break from the show after that story arc.
Eventually, though, I picked the series back up. “The Sopranos” is a pillar of prestige television, and I’m curious to see how it concludes. Until I finish the final episode, my Friday nights are booked.
—Nneka McGuire, Lily multiplatform editor
Rory Gilmore was my spirit animal. When the show premiered in 2000, we were the same age, both wanted to be journalists and were very close to our moms. (Mine was my “Gilmore Girls” viewing partner.) While I understood that Rory (Alexis Bledel) was a flawed role model, creator Amy Sherman-Palladino cast her and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) as being more worldly than their eccentric Stars Hollow neighbors and more open-minded than Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop), who treats her maids, often women of color and non-English speakers, like literal garbage.
Back then, I saw Rory as an aspirational character, but with every re-watch it feels like “Gilmore Girls” has such contempt for anyone who isn’t like the Gilmore girls. When the mother-daughter duo, who are somehow able to survive on bottomless cups of coffee and greasy takeout, make fatphobic comments — like when Rory calls a Yale ballerina a “hippo” — we’re supposed to laugh right along. Lorelai’s casual homophobia — she implies gay people kissing would look “funny” — is presented as a joke without protest. And one particularly cruel one-liner from Rory (“I need to find a retarded kid and teach him how to play softball”) is a dagger through the heart. Even Rory admits that jab is “horrible.”
Times have changed and so have I, but sadly Sherman-Palladino’s humor hasn’t. In the 2016 Netflix revival, “Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life,” the all-grown-up Rory is still fat-shaming people for laughs. (Her nickname for a plus-size man in a Speedo? “Back Fat Pat.”) Twenty years later, privileged white women punching down has finally gone out of style. I’m still waiting for Lorelai, Rory and Sherman-Palladino to get with the times.
—Shannon Carlin, Lily contributor
“America’s Next Top Model,” Tyra Banks’s modeling-meets-reality-television competition, debuted the same year I turned 13. It was all long legs, dramatic makeovers, Jay Manuel guiding the girls to find their light, J. Alexander walking better than the contestants ever could, Janice Dickinson’s life-ruining criticism masquerading as maternal tough love, and women posing uncomfortably but in a hot way. It had “go-sees” (a challenge that manifested my exact brand of teen anxiety), in which contestants had to see as many prospective clients as possible on an impossibly tight schedule. It had Tyra Banks at peak Tyra Banks. It was destined to rule and ruin my adolescence.
The series is perhaps best known for its bits that seeped into the greater culture: the instant meme-ification of Tyra yelling “I was rooting for you” at contestant Tiffany Richardson in cycle 4 (the series inexplicably had cycles instead of seasons) and Banks’s nonsense vocabulary dubbed by many as “Tyra-speak,” which gave us words like booch, tooch and smize. Fun fact: the word “smize” was coined in cycle 13, the same season that had a “biracial photo shoot” which involved headdresses, appropriative costuming and skin-darkening makeup.
Cycle 1 of ANTM had an entire plotline around a contestant’s virginity, a topic that, one would argue, should be completely irrelevant to your job. It has episodes with titles like “The Girl Who Everyone Thinks Is Killing Herself” — roughly 42 minutes spent postulating about a contestant’s eating disorder — and “The Girl Who Deals with a Pervert” in which eventual Season 1 (er, cycle 1) winner Adrianne Curry is groped by a complete stranger in Paris. Aside from the episode title and a 30-second clip of the harassment taking place, the incident isn’t addressed in the show.
Until recently, most of this escaped my memory entirely. What 13-year-old me did hone in on was mostly limited to glossy photos, makeover montages and the impossible coolness of 2003 Tyra Banks. I suppose it was because I was rooting for you, ANTM. We were all rooting for you.
—Mia Mercado, Lily contributor