One Year, 100 Pop Cultures: #30-21
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 26, 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.
The fact that it took so little time to get used to Manny being a Dodger–despite his near-decade, two world series rings and countless classic moments with the Red Sox–proves what I’m sure has always been obvious: Manny Ramirez is the one player in the MLB bigger than any whole team. Baseball isn’t a sport that’s supposed to be swayable by the presence of any one individual, as evidenced by the Yankees’ supermarket sweepstakes this summer, since unlike the other major sports, no one except maybe the starting pitcher is involved with even half of the game’s plays (and even he usually only effects 1/5 of the games). Yet it seemed like Manny single-handedly changed the course of the L.A. season, arriving there when the Dodgers seemed like a post-season afterthought, and slugging them into the playoffs, through to the NLCS (though admittedly, a Diamondback collapse in what was otherwise already the weakest division in recent sports memory probably had something to do with that as well). Regardless of team, Manny remained Manny in 2008, whether hi-fiving a fan in the middle of a play and collapsing awkwardly on a fly ball while on the Sox or choosing the number 99 and pranking reporters with fake translations of Angel Berroa’s post-game interview on the Dodgers. Dunno where he’ll end up next, but wherever it is, it’s guaranteed to be the place to be.
When I first heard about John McCain nominating some nutty Alaskan chick as his Vice President, I was thrilled, at least until I was forced to consider the possibility that the two of them might actually win, which left me somewhat conflicted–as a politician, Sarah Palin was very likely unqualified to be one misplaced bottle of pills away from being the leader of the free world, but as a pop culutre phenomenon, I truly could not have asked for more. So imagine my sigh of relief when McCain fell, and Palin with him, allowing me to forever appreciate the trainwreck interviews, the near-fascistic skeletons in her closet, the terrible catchphrases, the moon-faced kids and dear lord those glasses, as the laughable trifles of the historical footnote she had become. And meanwhile, let us salute Ms. Fey for taking the time out of her busy 30 Rock schedule to cement the Palin phenomenon with maybe the biggest slam dunk of 2008–the part that Tina was, indisputably, born to play. Fey’s Palin impression was so unbelievably natural and inevitable that when I picture the two in my head, I often forget which is supposed to be which. Of course, people will watch these sketches twenty-five years from now and not know what the fuck is going on–and for that, perhaps, we should be the most thankful of all.
The remarkable thing about Mad Men, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s become the consensus Greatest Show on Television with maybe only three likeable characters on the entire show, four tops. Think about previous GSTs–if you had to choose a favorite character on The Sopranos or, I dunno, Hill Street Blues, you’d have to think about it for a little while, wouldn’t you? There’d be at least a dozen characters in each that you’d have to choose from. Meanwhile, in Mad Men, all there really is is Peggy, who’s perky and naive enough to be vaguely relateable, Joan, who’s hott enough to get away with just about anything, and Roger, whose rogueish behavior occasionally comes off as charming. But then there’s Don Draper, undoubtedly the most fascinating character on TV right now, elevating his unexemplary supporting cast like Jay-Z on “Can I Get A…” and making the show a must-watch, almost singlehandedly. Don got to stretch out a whole lot this year, as straying from sipering wife Betty one too many times gets him cast out, allowing him a lost weekend (weekday?) out on the West Coast in almost complete sexual freedom before deciding that he might be a little more comfortable back with the wife and kids after all. Ultimately, it was almost a little disappointing to see Don go crawling back home–you feel like his character’s at his best getting into new and increasingly weird experiences. Doubtless, though, he’ll be back to his old ways of wandering not too far into 2009.
While you weren’t looking, a chubby R&B superproducer/singer/songwriter released this decade’s Purple Rain. OK, well, maybe not quite–Love/Hate might not have the commercial clout of that album, and no one song might be as stunning as “When Doves Cry” or the title track–but The-Dream’s debut full-length is the closest thing I’ve heard in recent years to the consistency, fluency and diveristy of Prince’s masterwork. Not to mention that the thing kind of sounds like the Purple One as well, especially with the 80s’ funked-out produciton of songs like “Fast Car” and “Playin’ With Her Hair” (sez TD: “The bar needs to be raised… It’s like the 80s; it’s musical. I’m doing the ‘Umbrella’ routine to this whole album. All of my records are singles…very 80’s, very Prince, sensual, sexy stuff…”) But even if you’re not too interested in delving into the LP, you probably heard Nash’s imprint in pop music in 2008 anyway, whether through his breathtaking solo hits “Falsetto” and “I Luv Your Girl,” his stellar production on Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” or Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine,” or even his hook providing on Gym Class Heroes’ “Cookie Jar,” coming very close to making the song bearable. Follow-up Love vs. Money comes out in under two months, so don’t sleep on the dude too much longer.
“I’m Fucking Matt Damon” was all well and good–a clever little gag funnier than most things Sarah Silverman has been responsible for in recent years, although somewhat lacking in urgency if you’re part of the 99.9% of the population that has never watched a single episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live. But Kimmel upstaged her all over the place with the response video (and who, besides Kimmel, still takes the time to make response videos in the year 2008?)–not necessarily because his video was funnier, but because he had way, way more famous people in his. In fact, “I’m Fucking Ben Affleck” arguably had the greatest assemblage of celebrities to be found anywhere in 2008, including most major award shows. The range is what’s really impressive–cameos can be found not just from legends like Harrison Ford and Huey Lewis, but contemporary pop culture blips like Christopher Mintz-McLovin-Plasse and Macy Gray, as well as how the fuck did they get on the guest list? contributors like Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Dominic Monaghan of LOST. And if all that wasn’t enough, there are even two instant-punchline providers in the form of Lance Bass and Josh Groban. With all this star power on display, you couldn’t really help but wonder if there wasn’t some real cause that could’ve used the endorsement of all these celebs, instead of just a fake revenge video for a fake birthday prank on a show that nobody watches.
It’s my opinion that all basketball fans secretly believe that somehow, somewhere, in some time, there exists a player that can make every single shot he takes. Stephen Curry, obviously, is not that player. But he does have moments where he seems just close enough to being that player, so that in re-enforces our belief that such a baller at least is humanly possible—and realistically, that’s just about all we can ask for. It’s not just that he makes so many of his shots, or that so many of his shots seem like they should be unmakeable–it’s how when he puts the ball in the basket, he seems to put it in the exact center of the basket, a stroke powerful enough to almost make you forget that Steph is so baby-faced and small of physical stature that he makes Brandon Roy look like Greg Oden. Back in March, I was drugged out on my couch for pretty much the entirety of the last spring break of my college experience after getting my wisdom teeth out. I desperately needed a subplot to follow in the NCAA tournament, and tenth-seeded Davison—with their small fry of a star—were more than happy to oblige. Powered by the little jump-shooter that could, they made it all the way to the Elite Eight, where he brought his team from behind to down by two with a half-minute to go, and with seconds remaining on the clock…passed off to teammate Brad Richards, who put up the brick to end all bricks. Anti-climactic, but in a way, it’s somewhat comforting to know that Steph hasn’t peaked yet, that he still has plenty of mountains to climb in his career. Here’s hoping he gets picked up as possible LeBron-bait for the New York Knicks, as I continue to watch him get as close as he possibly can—and likely, as close as anyone will–to being the perfect shooter over the next decade or two. (Paraphrased from my Sports4President blurb).
Though being blazed out of my mind at the time might have had something to do with it, I can’t remember ever laughing harder than I did at the series premiere of Metalocalypse–everything about the show seemed perfect and hilarious. But as the season progressed, things grew less novel, and I wondered if the show would have the legs to ascend to the first tier of the Adult Swim hierarchy. Season Two, most of which I made the mistake of watching unconsecutively, did what I thought the show would be too lazy to do–to lay just enough ongoing arcs in the season’s subplots sot hat it could keep the show interesting when the jokes weren’t particularly funny, and to have it all culminate in one of the most badass half-hours of television ever to be aired before 2:00 in the morning. “Black Fire Upon Us,” a.k.a. “Dethrelease Pts. 1 & 2,” was everything the show had promised–epic (the final fight scenes were like a Phantom Menace that didn’t suck), brutal (the death toll was high even by Metalocalypse standards, where entire countries get wiped out on occasion) and most important, completely hysterical (climaxing with the two classic lines “I did it. (Sob) I sucked my own dick. I can die now” and “All the hots ones is crazy…and the ugly ones too.”). Good thing, too, because I think Squidbillies just might have hit its ceiling.
Good thing I wasn’t around in the 70s, I suppose–my parents saw Man on Wire, and they were largely unimpressed because they already knew how it would end. Me, I was riveted the entire time–the movie was about a hundred times more riveting than the exceedingly overrated Bank Job, and without even being entirely in english. Really, I’m not sure if there was any movie in 2008 that I enjoyed as much as Man on Wire, documentary or otherwise. Philippe Petit was absolutely delightful in all his interviews, the editing brilliantly juggled the interview clips with archival footage and impressively uncheesy recreations of the World Trade Center setup, and the presentations of the wire walks themselves were every bit as magical as the build ups led you to believe they would be. The movie even contained one of the most dramatically tricky scenes of the year, when Petit talks about sleeping with a new groupie immediately after being released by the cops, much to the chagrin of his supportive girlfriend back home–a scene too joyful with lust and life to be the guilt-ridden confession it would be in most movies. And that was Man on Wire in general–a movie too fun and life-affirming for you to even think about the fact that those towers aren’t there to walk across anymore.
How often does a story fulfil its own potential as well as this one did? When Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett jumped ship (or, uh, were kicked-off-ship) from their respective failing franchises to lend Paul Pierce a hand with his dismal unit, many predicted and more hoped that Boston’s new Big Three would get the Celtics their first title in two decades, and restore honor and class to the most legendary franchise in the NBA. And you know what they did? They got the Celtics their first title in two decades, while restoring honor and class to the most legendary franchise in the NBA. Not only that, but they did so by going through their greatest historic rival (more on that later), and even forged a couple new mini-rivalries for themselves (Hawks, Cavs) sure to repeat themselves in several playoff series to come. But aside from doing all this shit for their city and for the NBA, the Big Three were often just fun to watch in their own right, whether it was KG clapping in Jose Calderon’s face, Paul Pierce flashing “menacing gestures” at the Hawks, or Ray-Ray looking like he might have a nervous breakdown every time he missed a couple threes in a row against the Cavs. Plus, we got a couple of instant-classic SportsCenter commercials out of it, as well as the sight of Glen “Big Baby” Davis weeping on the bench after getting berated by Garnett, proof that this really is a team of some sort of destiny.