One Year, 100 Pop Cultures: #80-71
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 13, 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.
During a time when a certain athletic prima donna had left Milwaukee sports in a period of complete crisis, CC Sabathia put the entire city on his back, pitching one half of a sure Cy Young campaign to propel the Brewers into the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. Putting every ounce of his nearly 300-pound frame into 17 starts with the Brewers after his trade from the Indians in July, CC absolutely killed it for the last three months of the season–11-2, with a 1.65 ERA and a 5:1 K/BB ratio–making every start of his a must-see, right up until he lost his nerve pitching to Brett Myers in front of an insane Citizens’ Bank Park crowd in Game 2 of the NLDS. He’s with the Yankees now, which is a shame, but an inevitable one, since New York might now be the only city that can hold him–figuratively or semi-literally.
In what was one of the most abysmal years for beer ads in recent memory, the Bud Light Lime ads were arguably a bright spot only on a relative scale. Nonetheless, you can’t really credit them enough for staying away from the irritating gimmickry, ridiculous misogyny and overall despicability that most ads seemed to court in 2008. Instead, Bud Light Lime kept it simple–good friends and good times, engendering the positive vibes that all the best beer commercials had in the old days and making the end of summer that much more palatable. And besides, they gave added exposure to two quality singles from ’08 buzz artist Santogold (“Creator” and “Lights Out,” wisely bypassing the wildly overrated “L.E.S. Artistes”), when they likely could’ve easily gotten Shwayze and Cisco Adler to custom-produce a theme song for them if they’d asked likely. Not that I’ll ever drink the stuff, of course, but at least now I will recognize its right to exist.
The Office has long since lapsed from must-watch status for me, but enough people were enamored with the unbearable awkwardness of “Dinner Party” that I threw it a pity download. And indeed, it’s the first episode I’ve seen since the early seasons to recapture the unwatchability of the best/worst moments of the UK series–the kind where you have to watch it through your fingers lilke you would a horror movie when you were a kid. From Michael relating how Jann’s wish-washiness about kids has forced him to go back and forth from vasectomy procedures to the inevitable horrors that come from couples playing party games to Dwight showing up with an old woman that used to be his baby sitter (“It’s purely physical”) as his date, and of course, Jann’s ex-secretary Hunter’s future-classic “That One Night” providing the evening’s appropriate soundtrack, the episode was a fine reminder about how comedy in its purest form should make you want to huddle under your sheets with the lights off for the rest of your life. (Somehow, the episode lost the Best Writing in a Comedy Series Emmy to that awful 30 Rock episode with Matthew Broderick).
The British “S&M Willy Wonka” jumped across the pond in 2008, splash-landing in Judd Apatow’s summer not-smash Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The movie was largely terrible, underwritten and over-acted, but Brand just seemed happy to be there, ranting semi-incoherently about who knows what and wondering why everyone around him was stressing out so much. And as the movie’s one bright spot, MTV pegged him as 2008’s breakout-star-to-be, and deemed him worthy of hosting the Video Music Awards, a decision no one seemed to find more amazing than Brand himself, who starred in promotional ads quizzing Britney Spears about what his name is (“No, it’s not Russell Brown, Britney…”), with a gigantic, non-figurative elephant in the room. At the actual gig, Russell realized he was playing with house money and ran with it, agressively hitting on Britney, unreservedly badmouthing the president, and openly mocking the Jonas Brothers for their virginal ways (“Just saying, a little bit of sex never hurt anyone”), even drawing the ire of Jordin Sparks in the process. Apparently, Brand got sequels for both gigs, starring in FSM spin-off Get Him to the Greek and returning to host the VMAs in 2009, making him the first return host since Dennis Miller over a decade ago. We’ll see if he can keep things interesting enough to make it back here next year.
How I Met Your Mother is a show that lives and dies by its running gags, and Robin Scherbatsky’s previous-life identity as Canadian mall-pop sensation Robin Sparkles is one of its very finest. Season two’s “Let’s Go to the Mall” revelation (sample lyric: “There’s this boy I like / met him at the food court / He’s got hair like Gretzky / And does jumps on his skateboard”) was a series highlight, and season three brought us “Sandcastles in the Sand,” Robin’s “Could’ve Been” / “Foolish Beat”-type overblow, lost-love ballad follow-up. It’s executed with similar precision and aplomb, featuring lines like “Eternity turns to black and white / It was the greatest week and a half of my life” and nice detailed touches like Robin’s whipser dialogue with her backing vocals: (“My friends said I was a fool / (You’re a fool!) / (Shut up!)”) Of course the song is just an excuse for the video, featuring the obligatory overly-literal visual lyric interpretations, the black and white / color juxtapositions, and greaser-looking love interest (as well as an extraneous globe, which now that I think about it, really was a bizarre 80s video cliche). Personally, I’m looking forward to Robin’s awkward-90s-transition single–here’s hoping her career (and the show) makes it that far.
Was there any doubt that Psycho T would come back for his senior year? Despite all signs pointing to the contrary—he even had his number retired last season—we knew that no amount of money and fame he could get in the pros would erase the sour taste that crushing defeat from Kansas in last year’s Final Four left in his mouth. And that’s why we love Ty-Ty—in a year of the NCAAs where an all-time high percentage of the draft lottery was comprised of one-and-done freshmen, Hansbrough was the one player that obviously didn’t just view his time in the NCAA as a stepping stone to something greater. Of course, this is partly because his game, while dominant at this level, would likely be relegated to mere role player status in the bigs. Still, Tyler’s love and passion for UNC hoops is unquestionable, evident in every circus shot he somehow powers towards the rim, every soul-deadening grimace he makes when he misses a free throw, and yes, every Awkward White Boy Victory Dance he does after hitting a game-winner. Tyler Hansbrough might not literally bleed Blue and White, but he probably thinks he does. And college basketball wouldn’t be nearly as much fun in 2009 without him. (C&Ped from Sports 4 President Top 50)
There’s nothing more to be said on this topic. Just watch the video again. And again. And perhaps one more time after.
And while you’re at it, a note from the creators…
Is there any way to check what place Paris Hilton finished in in the presidential election this year? OK, so she might not have gotten top five, or maybe even top ten…but she’d have a pretty good shot of cracking the top 25, wouldn’t she? I’d hope so, since she certainly had the best commercials (and the best campaign slogan) out of any of the candidates this year, even if things got a little too self-referential before all was said and done. And as if running for leader of the free world wasn’t enough for one calendar year, Paris also graced us with one of the creepier reality shows of the year, Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, whose final contestants somehow made all the other final contestants on reality dating-type shows in the Viacom universe seem completely sane, rational-thinking and socially well-adjusted human beings (this coming from someone who just watched the season finale of Real Chance of Love for work). What does 2009 hold for the once despicably lazy, suddenly somewhat prolific, still technically retired heiress? Never too early to start fundraising for that 2012 campaign, I suppose…
I was largely unimpressed with Paramore when they broke out with “Misery Business” in 2007–I got why they kids dug ’em, but figured they’d mostly be an overly-spunky nuisance (without being a fraction as adorable as Avril Lavigne, natch) to both my alt-rock and top 40 radio listening. But in subsequent singles, they somehow turned out to be some seriously decent songwriters, impressing first with “CrushCrushCrush” and then this year’s shockingly mature “That’s What You Get,” which even became an unexpected Rock Band and karaoke favorite at IITS hangouts. They even showed a little range, going moodier and more atmospheric with the still very good “Decode” off of the Twilight soundtrack, suddenly becoming the only band that could’ve possibly done the big song from the year’s biggest teen goth romance (while Evanescence collectively waited by the phone, wondering whyyyyyy…) Before this year, I begrudgingly acknowledged that Paramore had a shot of becoming the new generation’s No Doubt. Now I can’t help but wonder if maybe–just maybe–they can nudge a little closer to Pretenders territory. Christian Pretenders, anyway.
It wasn’t the sunniest season of Philadelphia, and I kind of lost interest after the positively unwatchable “Who Pooped the Bed?” episode (though I checked back in time for The Nightman Cometh), but two words might’ve saved the season all on their own. The show never kicks into higher gear than it does when Charlie becomes completely unhinged, and in “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis,” Mac makes the brilliant mistake of dubbing Charlie as the group’s “wildcard.” Mac’s poor defining of the role causes Charlie to spend the entire episode doing crazy shit to no particular end and for no particular reason, including blowing fireballs at a gas station, dressing like a southern gentleman, and ultimately, cutting the brakes on the group’s van, exclaiming the two-word phrase as he dives out of the gasoline-filled van. Regrettably, these moments were few and far between over the rest of the season, but for the first couple episodes at least, it was funny enough to get the rest of the show by on credit. (Notably, the phrase also became a de facto catchphrase of sorts for the Eagles’ last-second entry into the 2008 NFL playoffs).