One Year, 100 Pop Cultures: #90-81
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 11, 2009
You know we couldn’t let 2008 pass here at IITS without some sort of commemorative list, and over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the 100 people, places and things that made pop culture an inhabitable space over the last 365 days. Music, movies, TV, commercials, sports, previews, internets, current events…anything and everything that made the year what it was. Ten at a time for as long as it takes, and hopefully we can move into an ‘09 mindstate by Groundhog Day at the latest.
In a sport as absurdly over-dramatic as the NFL, I find the lack of true one-on-one rivalries to be somewhat disheartening. Teams share plenty of bad blood, but how come T.O. and Chad Johnson never directed any of their mouthing at the other? When was the last time Devin Hester challenged Josh Cribbs to a 100-yard dash? And why the fuck do Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the dynastic rivals of the NFL in the 00s, seem to actually like each other? Kudos then, to Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler for being young, brash, and immature enough not to censor their true feelings towards each other. Their jawing might’ve started in ’07, but ’08 took it to new heights, as Cutler’s Broncos stole an early-season game away from the Chargers thanks to a super-controversial ref mishap (enjoy your 15 minutes Ed Hochuli, or don’t I guess), but Rivers’s Chargers got revenge by stealing back the division on a Week-17 throttling, with plenty of “I don’t like him, he doesn’t like me” hype leading in to both. Personally, I prefer Cutler, with his canon arm, shaggy hair and saturday-morning-stoner demeanor, but the important thing is that everyone choose sides one way or the other before the two pussy out and “mature” into irrelevancy.
I’ve never heard a single Death Cab for Cutie album, and I can’t help but feel that I’m too old to start now, but as of ’08, I’m starting to think they could be capable of a seriously solid greatest hits. They’ve amassed quite a singles resume, with plenty of very-good-but-not-great indie hits (“I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” “The Sound of Settling,” “Soul Meets Body”) over the course of the decade, never inspiring but always impressing. They continued to bolster it in 2008, first with the bass-driven, minorly-groove-y, creepy-but-not-really “I Will Possess Your Heart,” which failed to be the epic directional switch the band may have intended but succeeded in spicing up FUSE’s Top Ten Rock Countdowns early in the year, and then with “Cath…,” a surprisingly good throwback to the sort of indie-rock power ballads of the 90s (with Lukas Haas in the video, to boot). Their O.C. days are behind them, but a song or two like these a year should be enough to keep them from sliding into total irrelevancy–until the Jonas Brothers come of age, at least.
(Graphic Not Mine)
It’s almost unfair of me to include something Bill Simmons-related here, considering he pretty much has a perennial spot open on this list, being one of two writers (the other of which coming up shortly) without whom this blog simply would not exist. Nonetheless, few things kept me as entertained this year as his regular podcast, The B.S. Report–the only podcast I’ve ever listened to even semi-regularly. On the 2008 Reports, he’s brought on a rotating cast of series regulars and special guests to break down everything from the best characters on The Wire to the serial killer-ish personality of Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang to the abysmal clock-management skills of Vikings coach Brad Childress, keeping me gratefully entertained for twelve months’ worth of long subway rides. The season highlight, though, would have to be his open auditions for his and Fantasy expert Matthew Berry’s fantasy hoops league, where the best bribes would secure listeners spots, and my promise to get It Is What It Is: The Complete Bill Simmons Boogie Nights References Compendium published fell on deaf ears. Maybe if I let you have some time with the WSOPC trophy next year, Bill?
I certainly don’t want to celebrate too much of the movie that did for marriage what Requiem for a Dream did for heroin, especially not Leonardo DiCaprio’s brilliant channeling of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, or a Kate Winslet performance that must have had insulted ex-50s housewives across the country exclaiming “Oh, c’mon, none of us actually talked like that!” Nonetheless, credit where credit is due for underrated That Guy in Training Michael Shannon’s performance as the mental hospital patient son of Winslet and DiCaprio’s neighbor, the one actor who seemed to realize the movie’s untapped comedic potential and decided to run with it. His lengthy, overtly theatrical put downs of his parents and their neighbors made for some quality between-round entertainment during Kate and Leo’s extensive domestic boxing match, especially for his high-quality final parting words, pointing at Winslet’s pregnant stomach: “I’m just glad I’m not that kid!” (Points, by the way, must go to friend of IITS Lisa Berlin for pointing out that not only does Revolutionary Road re-unite Kate and Leo, but also the third member of that Titanic Big Three, Kathy Bates).
At the end of season two of Dexter, it really seemed like there was nowhere left to go with the show. Dexter made peace with his true nature, accidentally dispatched his only real foe, and evaded detection by the powers that be, seemingly for good. A new season–unless they had the balls to have Dexter get caught–seemed largely pointless. Nonetheless, the third season of Dexter quickly became as addictive and compelling as the first two, and that’s largely due to Jimmy Smits’s performance as Miguel Prado, the Miami D.I. who befriends Dex after meeting him on the investigation of his murdered brother (who, naturally, Dexter had killed). Watching Miguel transform from a slightly egomaniacal public official to a sociopathic killer was a treat for certain, and Smits, one of the most physically and emotionally imposing actors in all of television, made him almost frighteningly real. Of course, it got a little over the top towards the end–it always does in Dexter–and Miguel’s exit from the show was disappointingly anti-climactic. Still, he helped give us twelve more solid episodes of one of the best shows on TV, and for that, Smits merits a place on this list.
Charles Barkley’s temporary suspension from TNT Basketball after getting pulled over for a DUI in Arizona (“I was gonna drive around the corner to get a blowjob,” he explained to the police officer) has made official what was already fairly obvious–C-Webb and GP are now the most dynamic team of sports experts (sic) on national TV. Taking over NBA on Tuesday nights, the two one-time perennial all-stars actually offer remarkably little in the way of actual analysis, instead opting to shout their various catchphrases over highlights, berate players for not dunking enthusiastically enough, hob-knob with the stars they interview (and subtly battle over which of the two is still better-remembered and liked), and generally make life difficult for their caretaker, Ahmad Rashad. Despite their lack of journalistic integrity, the two have nonetheless deservedly built up a cult audience for their bizarre running gags (such as Webber’s penchant for yelling “RONNNDOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!” for as long as his breath will allow while discussing Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo highlights) and surreal interview moments (feuding with Chris Paul over bowling prowess, trying to corner Carmelo Anthony into admitting he has Barry Manilow on his iPod), making NBA TV surprisingly close to must-see late night television on Tuesdays. Do they weigh NBA analyst work at all in Hall of Fame voting?
I didn’t actually see the movie, did you? No matter–Cloverfield was far more important in 2008 for its trailer, which far more people seemed to actually watch, than the movie itself. The buzz started late last year, as the movie’s trailer appeared without explanation or exposition, identified as being the brainchild of LOST and Alias mastermind J.J. Abrams, but given no other identifying characteristics–including actor, plot or even title. Instead, all we had was this party video footage, whose disruption by the explosion pictured above and ensuing chaos promised a sort of lo-fi, throwback kind of horror–the sort that The Blair Witch Project became the most profitable movie of all-time off of, except with a budget big enough that you could actually see the monster eventually. The trailer was more talked about than for any other (non-Star Wars or comic book) movie that I can think of. Then the movie actually came out, and…I guess a couple people liked it, right? Maybe I’ll catch it on HBO at my parents’ house someday, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it might be somewhat underwhelming. In the meantime, though, Cloverfield has delivered on what Southland Tales anticipated last year–that a trailer can now be an exciting, memorable and important piece of pop culture, regardless of the larger product.
I’ve never seen an episode of Damages, and in fact, the only thing I saw Zeljko Ivanek in this year was the series premiere of The Mentalist (he was about as good as could be expected, I suppose). But Zeljko gets to the #83 spot not for his TV work, but for the reward he received for it–netting himself a Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Emmy for his work in the Glenn Close vehicle. This was a semi-historic occasion for TV junkies, as Zeljko is undoubtedly the best and biggest TV That Guy of the past ten years, and quite arguably the greatest of all-time. Ivanek has been the unheralded common link between at least a dozen of the best and most popular dramas of the modern era of television, including recurring roles in Homicide, 24, Oz and The West Wing and The Practice, and one-episode roles in House, LOST, The X-Files, Law & Order, CSI and countless others. For him to win an award like an Emmy–for better or worse, the most well-recognized trophy in the TV biz–is sort of like JT Walsh winning an Oscar, or 2 Unlimited winning a grammy, or Mark Sweeney winning an MVP. And if I ever do watch a single second of that fucking show, it’ll be all for you, Zelly.
I was sort of terrified when I heard that Chuck Klosterman, my unwitting writing mentor of sorts, was attempting a work of fiction–after all, the #1 lesson of this guy’s work has always been to write what you know, and I questioned his ability to do so within the fictional context. Luckily, the one new novel I read this year was only marginally more fictional than any of Klosterman’s previous masterpieces–filled with so many of his writing trademarks, recurring themes and ideologies, that I occasionally had to remind myself while reading that I wasn’t actually reading about the man himself (well, at least not literally). Not that I mean any of this as a criticism, obviously–it was sort of comforting to know that my idol couldn’t even really escape himself if he tried, and plus, it made reading Downtown Owl just as much fun as reading any of his previous three (three and a half if you count the compilation CKIV). Besides, one gets the feeling that if he was really attempting to break away from his writing comfort zone, he wouldn’t have set the book in the small-town north, and he wouldn’t have made one of the main characters a confused, angry, sexually repressed male youth. Don’t fight it, CK–be true to your school.
Were the “Taste the Rainbow” ads really that long ago? Remember those, with the bright-eyed kids and the rainbows and all the fantastical imagery? What the fuck happened? Is it just a sad commentary on the state of the world in 2008 that Skittles, a candy that at one time represented all that was bright and sweet in the world, now has ads featuring pinata-men getting beaten up for the candy inside of them, or bearded freaks stealing candy from and then sexually harrassing their supervisors, or curse-afflicted men unable to dress themselves or hold their own child in their hands? Still, I’d be lying if I said that these commercials–freaky, disturbing and near nightmare-inducing as they might have been–were not bright spots in what was occasionally a very barren commercial landscape in 2008, throwing some much-needed absurdism and social commentary amidst all the ungodly Coors Light and T-Mobile ads. It’s scary to think that this all happened before the economy plummeted, however. What kind of depraved acts of humanity will Skittles have in store for us in 2009?