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The best, most comforting reunion by far was the long-anticipated Friends reunion.Terence Patrick/HBO Max

If you haven’t been paying careful attention to pop culture this year, hey, we understand. It’s been a busy year – there’s no shame in admitting you missed the latest TikTok meme or prime-time event. But let’s help you catch up on those many 2021 moments that left us feeling, dare we say it, joyful.

Reunion-mania

Maybe it was the overwhelming sense that we’d never get to see our friends or loved ones again (or even our co-workers who we have mixed feelings on), but it seems that not even celebrities could shake the “hey, let’s catch up again when we can” bug. Thus, a handful of small-screen reunions popped up this year, cementing the fact that nostalgia is a heck of a drug. The best, most comforting event by far was the long-anticipated Friends reunion, in which we learned, laughed, loved with the six most attractive New York City renters in history. Coming in a close second was the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion, with a nice frisson of tension thanks to Will Smith’s decision to let Vivian No. 1, a.k.a. Janet Louise Hubert, back into the mansion. And the year was capped with a genuine Sex and the City sequel titled And Just Like That ... If any group of friends can bring Manhattan back to life, it’s Carrie and Co., except, minus Samantha. (All specials now streaming now on Crave) Barry Hertz

Feeling bubbly

It is so easy to get lost in the vortex of quick-hit TikTok video-challenges. But one such clip came along this year that rivalled the comedic power of a dozen big-budget Hollywood movies. The set-up is simple: a confident bro is participating in the “sparkling water challenge,” in which participants must film themselves chugging a can of soda without losing their footing. But it escalates into a physical-comedy routine of magnificent stupidity. I’ve watched the 18-second clip two dozen times this year – whenever I needed an easy, but extraordinarily well-executed, laugh. Was it intentionally calibrated to be so hilarious, or a happy social-media accident? I’m not sure. I’ll have to watch it a few more dozen times. B.H.

Couch surfing

Another report from deep in the trenches of TikTok/Instagram Reels: a clip that tells one story, but quickly inspires a legion of imitators, amateur sleuths, spoofers and more. In this instance, a woman surprises her boyfriend at college. The dude, seen sitting on a couch with two other women, is not exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of facing his long-distance lover. Thus, the “couch guy” meme is born, with dozens of videos mocking the clip, and even more analyzing it to prove that the boyfriend is cheating or that the couple is in on it for the clicks, or more/worse. Once you go down the rabbit hole, you may not find your way out till New Year’s. B.H.

#NativeTikTok

TikTok wasn’t just a place to find laughs. For Indigenous people across the country, it became a place to share and transform culture. Hashtags like #NativeTikTok gained more than 3.5 billion views.TikTok

TikTok wasn’t just a place to find laughs. For Indigenous people across the country, it became a place to share and transform culture. Hashtags like #NativeTikTok gained more than 3.5 billion views. Among the many Indigenous creators on TikTok is former breakdancer and So You Think You Can Dance Canada finalist from Edmonton James Jones (@notoriouscree). Jones started reconnecting with Cree culture through hoop dancing and has gained 3.4 million followers on TikTok. Michelle Chubb (indigenous_baddie) in Winnipeg reclaims traditional regalia, beaded jewelry in her dances, while singer Tia Wood (@tiamiscihk) in Vancouver performs Cree songs in traditional languages. Aruna Dutt

Wrong or write

When Who Is the Bad Art Friend? was published in The New York Times Magazine in October, the literary quarrel (turned defamation and copyright infringement case) between former “friends” and writers Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson at the heart of the piece became a major subject of conversation online. It all started when Dorland’s private Facebook post about her kidney donation turned into a source of mockery among her writer friends. The article digs up nasty group chats that include Larson, who goes on to use the situation as inspiration for a piece of fiction, titled The Kindest, which portrays Dorland in a negative light. Dorland sets out to reclaim her narrative through federal court, and by tearing down Larson’s success. Not only did Bad Art Friend become a question of artistic ethics, but as the complexity of the characters reflects ourselves or those we know, it calls into question our friendships, insecurities, social media use and judgments of moral superiority. A.D.

A tale as old as time

Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson started dating after she appeared as a guest host on Saturday Night Live and kissed him onscreen in a skit in October, confirming opposites really do attract.Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Gossip is human nature. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself as I ventured down the rabbit hole of celebrity comedian dating lives this year. Although I’m normally the one who zones out at the mention of a Kardashian, like most of the internet I couldn’t keep my eyes off the photo of Pete Davidson holding hands with Kim in mid-November. The two started dating after she appeared as a guest host on Saturday Night Live and kissed him onscreen in a skit in October, confirming opposites really do attract. Then there was John Mulaney’s relationship and surprise pregnancy with Olivia Munn, news of which leaked days after he filed for divorce from his wife, Anna Marie Tendler – all while finishing up his time in rehab and going on tour. Mulaney’s nice-guy persona and comedy, which often centred on his devotion to Tendler, conflicted with this very scandal-worthy chronicle. A.D.

The kick-off

Some watch the Super Bowl for the sport, some for the ads, but this year it was definitely for The Weeknd’s halftime show. For the first time in the game’s 54-year history, the headliner needed to stay in compliance with strict coronavirus protocols, so performed largely from the stands, but Abel Tesfaye made the most of it. During a chilly February under lockdown, the Canadian R&B star’s performance was a much-needed burst of energy performed from several spots, alongside a huge choir. Although his Can’t Feel My Face, sung through a hallway of mirrors with dancers in bandages, became a meme, the real action happened in the field with Blinding Lights, where dancers wearing the same red suit jacket, black pants and face bandages performed a march. A.D.

During a chilly February under lockdown, the Weeknd’s Super Bowl performance was a much-needed burst of energy.Ashley Landis/The Associated Press

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