Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Archive for January, 2010

One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #5 – 1

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 31, 2010

Finished–and with ten minutes to spare on deadline. Thanks for reading, everyone, and I look forward to doing the full 100 again next year.

I’m grateful for many things about this show, but none more than this: If it wasn’t for Jersey Shore, we’d probably still be talking about Tiger Woods. As a country, we desperately, desperately needed another topic for average pop culture-related conversations to naturally gravitate towards, and once Ms. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi took a knock in the kisser from some asshole phys. ed teacher, Jersey Shore became that magnet. Now, I’ve still never even seen an episode of The Real World–still the MTV reality show that all others will be measured against for all time–so it’s hard for me to properly compare and contrast the societal impact of the two shows. All I know is that no one on The Real World ever justified cheating on their boyfriend in a club by insisting that it was “just house music” they were dancing to. No one on The Real World ever knocked out an agitator, then proceeded to do a victory lap around the boardwalk  boasting “THAT’S ONE SHOT!” And I’m pretty damn sure that no one on The Real World ever set their number one ground rule as being “Never fall in love on The Real World.” I’m sure it’ll be hard for MTV to resist returning to draw from the well with this one, but the right move is to leave the show alone after this, keeping it as a fond and distant memory for its viewers. Soon we’ll all be reminiscing about that summer like it was our own–three crazy months of fist-pumping, Ron-Ron Juice and GymTanningLaundry. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: The Enemies

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 29, 2010

Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows in 2009, and certain parts of it we’ll be mostly better off forgetting. So before unveiling our top five on Monday, in no particular order, here were the top ten “Huh, maybe I should go outside today instead” things about ’09.

Manny Ramirez was basically the anti-Alex Rodriguez in 2009–true in many years this past decade, no doubt, but for the first time that it could be used as a pejorative. Just as the furor over A-Rod’s steroid admission was starting to down, up popped new evidence of Manny testing positive for some banned fertility drug, prompting a 50-game suspension and a lot of bad jokes for #99. Rather than be stirred to life by his controversy like A-Rod, all the air went out of the Manny Ramirez balloon last year, as certainly everything about his persona–from his carefree attitude to his savant-ish hitting ability to his “Mannywood” cult at Chavez Ravine–suddenly rang hollow. When he finally returned from the suspension, he proved somewhat mortal on the field as well, hitting an uninspiring 19 homers all season, and wilting somewhat in the NLCS, where he hit .263 with just two RBIs as the team’s cleanup hitter. Amazingly, he might’ve ended up being the less depressing of Boston’s old bash-brother combo, as David Ortiz endured an unbearable slump the first half of the season and suffered through similar PED allegations over on the East Coast. But Manny’s fall from grace was far more dramatic, considering that in ’09 he seemed infallible, professionally or personally (making #30 on the positive end on our list last year), and this year he looked almost like he was on his way to being just another cautionary tale.  Read the rest of this entry »

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #10 – 6

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 26, 2010

Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t rented Gamer on DVD yet.

Here’s a secret about TV last year that nobody really wanted to talk about: The last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm kind of sucked. Tired, tired joke retreads, plots that made no sense, little to no character development or even advancement. But that fact will more or less be permanently lost to time by virtue of the few worthwhile episodes the season did produce–the ones, of course, which focused on the Seinfeld reunion. Larry David gave Seinfeld fans just about the greatest gift possible–a new Seinfeld episode, in essence, without all the insurmountable pressure and hype that would have followed an actual Seinfeld comeback. Even though we didn’t really get a full episode out of it, we got enough to feel like we really finally got to find out what happens to these characters ten years down the line–George inventing the iToilet, Elaine having a baby with Jerry donating the sperm, etc. The sheer pop culture joy in seeing Seinfeld and Wayne Knight doing their “Hello, Jerry,” “Hello….Newman” routine for the first time in over a decade just can’t be measured. Just as good, though, was seeing Seinfeld banter with Larry David within the confines of the show–the first time David has really conversed with someone who spoke the same language as him, with fascinating and occasionally surreal results. So yeah, the season was kind of a huge disappointment. Having said that, though, it was also one of the best things on TV this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #15 – 11

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 26, 2010

Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t caught up on the last season of Monk yet.

Honestly, what would we have done last year without Taylor Swift? The artist behind 2009’s best-selling album (so close, Susan Boyle) was also quite possibly popular music’s most benevolent force last year, brightening Top 40 with her irrepressibly enthusiastic (and yet somehow, not even slightly irritating) persona and her seasoned-vet sense of songcraft. Swift’s greatest contribution to ’09 pop culture, however, was undoubtedly the music video for her biggest hit to date, “You Belong With Me”–a video which brought back about a dozen different classic archetypes and meshed them into a laughable cliche-fest that nonetheless felt like the purest and least ironic celebration of the music video medium to hit MTV in years.  The images are unforgettable–Taylor dancing around her bedroom a la Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On, Taylor answering about her prom attendance with the classic placard “no, studying,” and of course, Evil Taylor pulling up to the curb to steal Boy Next Door away from Good Taylor (“A combination of the two would be the hottest chick ever,” a friend of mine once not-entirely-inaccurately pointed out). It’s the first video in who knows how long that was iconic enough to actually deserve parodying. Say what you will about the state of contemporary mainstream country, but it’s the only genre that still seems to give a damn about legitimate narrative, and without that background, the YBWM video would probably have been a concert video, spliced with occasional footage of Taylor On the Road. And while we probably should be placing a call to the Anti-Nerd Defamation League about some of Ms. Swift’s geekier affectations here, given that she’s the most attractive and likable rep we’ve had in decades, we’ll let this one slide. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #20 – 16

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 25, 2010

Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t caught up on The Great American Road Trip yet.

You know how I always say that the key to ridiculous ad campaigns was to take the general concept way too far and way too seriously? Well, if they’re winning from the get go, maybe sometimes it’s not the worst idea to leave well enough alone, either. Such was the case with Nike’s “Kobe vs. LeBron” puppet series, a campaign that debuted during the weeks where it seemed like the two stars were on a crash course to meeting in the NBA finals. They were fantastically bizarre concoctions, making absolutely no attempt at mimicking the voices or personas of the two stars and portraying their relationship as some kind of Bert-and-Ernie domestic partnership (though which was which depended on the commercial). But then, in the 00s’ equivalent of the Dan and Dave fiasco, LeBron’s Cavs lost to the Magic in the Eastern finals, theoretically killing the series in its tracks. Nike remained undaunted, however, and continued to create new entries in the series into the off-season and even up until the next season, with wildly diminishing returns. Still, there’s no diluting the charm and quotability of the first couple spots, which despite their complete inadherence to character or logic, got everyone suitably pumped for what could have–should have–been the most epic finals in recent memory. Don’t be surprised if they’re still around for the ’10 stretch run. “Say, LeBron, have you seen my FOUR championship rings?Read the rest of this entry »

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #25 – 21

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 23, 2010

Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t watched last year’s NIT Finals yet.

The MLB All-Star Game this year was OK–a little low in scoring for my liking, certainly, especially considering that the Phillies players involved seemed to keep striking out in big moments. But history will remmeber the game nonetheless for featuring the debut of the year’s single most stupefying add campaign–Taco Bell’s “It’s All About the Roosevelts, Baby!” spot, a horribly misguided and about a decade-too-late-dated hip-hop pastiche in which the participants barely even attempt to actually rap. The most incredible thing about it I remember from the first time watching it was how it just seemed to keep going–it must have only been a minute (still pretty long for a Taco Bell ad), but it felt more like a long-form music video, with each mind-blowingly ridiculous chant of “It’s-ahhll-a-bout tha-ro-sah-velts-bay-bahhh!!!” becoming more and more surreal. Capping the whole thing off, of course, was Joe Buck having to read the catchphrase while doing a Taco Bell billboard after the commrecial’s debut, his voice the pitch-perfect mix of incredulity, condescension, and badly-forced funkiness. We won’t be seeing the likes of “It’s All About the Roosevelts, Baby” again soon. Not until the next notable Taco Bell campaign, anyway.

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #30 – #26

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 22, 2010

I understand why TV sitcom enthusiasts were ready to rush on Community as the best new comedy of the year, but really, it wasn’t particularly close to deserving such honors. It was always a half-beat away from finding its stride, forcing too many awkward plots around a group of characters that were still a little raw in the center. But the reason why so many were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt in 2009, and why it still merits watching going forward, is because of Joel McHale. Never a Soup watcher, I had little to no knowledge of McHale before ’09, and from the very first episode of Community, his Jeff Winger was an absolute revelation. A charismatic, slow-conscience-developing mixture of Barney Stintson, Andy Botwin and a tiny bit of GOB Bluth, once Jeff delivered that first speech about how humanity is defined by its honoring of Shark Week, I was mesmerized. He’s since carried the show through all its half-sketched supporting actors, its overbaked pop-culture references and its 30 Rock-did-it-first moments of unconvincing zaniness, always keeping it just on the right side of watchability. It’s his presence that allows  8:00-10:00 on NBC Thursdays to maintain its status as the only truly reliable two-hour TV block in primetime. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #35 – #31

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 20, 2010

Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t seen All About Steve yet.

As a channel, ESPN has an annoying and somewhat predictable tendency to use its female anchors as little more than sounding boards for their quirky, eccentric male co-hosts. So when I saw Michelle Beadle paired with the irrepressibly obnoxious Colin Cowherd as host of ESPN2’s web-interactive SportsNation series, I figured she’d mostly be spending her time dryly reading headlines for him to rant about at length, and rolling her eyes at his bad jokes. But while Beadle certainly did a good deal of both of those as the SportsNation co-host, she also proved to be the funniest, most engaging sports personality the channel had landed in years, an anchor who knew her sports but knew the natural rhythms of comedy and solid co-host bantering even better. Cute, but self-aware and imminently approachable, Beadle was at the heart of all of SportsNation’s best moments last year, whether embracing the mania of Favreapalooza or refusing to get behind The New A-Rod during the MLB playoffs. Her ability to keep a straight face (figuratively and literally) helped make Cowherd’s perpetual smug self-satisfaction semi-palatable, and in turn, made SportsNation watchable. Now watch her get replaced by Sage Steele before 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #40 – #36

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 19, 2010

Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t listened to all of Lines, Vines and Trying Times yet.

With all the talk about Brett Favre and Kurt Warner’s improbable excellence while approaching middle age, a similarly unlikely late-career surge went under-reported: How about having your first-ever #1 single at the age of 40? Believe it or not, Jay-Z had only topped the charts as a featured artist before last year’s undeniably majestic “Empire State of Mind” hit pole position, monopolizing radio for about two months and even (BOOOOOO) providing the official soundtrack to a World Series victory in the process. And that was Jay’s third single last year, with back-to-basics hits “Run This Town” and “D.O.A.” ramping up to it in impressively professional fashion. Sure, The Blueprint 3 probably could have been a little better, but despite his ceaseless attempts to prove himself above such petty concerns, it’s clear that Jay still very much cares what people think about him, about how he’s perceived in the streets, the clubs and the press, and about what kind of legacy he’s leaving behind. Just to still give that much of a shit at Jigga’s age is something of an accomplishment. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #45 – 41

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 18, 2010

Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t watched all of Cougar Town yet. Or The Cougar for that matter.

There were a handful of solid country crossover singles in 2009, but none of them were as good–or as considerably surprising–as Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.” I had heard a Lady Antebellum song or two before this, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the kind of pop songcraft on display in this one–the kind of pensive, nocturnal, grooving pop song that no one has really written since the late 70s (think The Eagles’ “One of These Nights” mixed with England Dan and John Ford Coley’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”–uncoincidentally, two of my favorite hits from that decade). Throw in some gorgeous male/female harmonies (always was a sucker for these), most excellent slide guitar work and a devastating four-note piano hook (simple but emotionally tugging enough that it easily could’ve been a Sigur Ros lick), and you’ve got one of the worthiest top five hits of the ’09 calendar year. Bitch to work out those harmonies, though. Read the rest of this entry »

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