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.
Hands up if you saw this coming as the major thematic film trend of 2009. OK, major might be a little bit of a stretch, but good God–two movies about mall cops in the same calendar year? We hadn’t seen anything like that since the halcyon repeat-subject-matter days of the late 90s, where world armageddon, personified insect culture and the story of Steve Prefontaine all received the double-film treatment. Luckily for us, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Observe and Report were about as different as a pair of Mall Cop flicks can be. Do you prefer the basic cheap thrill of the bumbling fat guy saving the day, getting the girl, and putting the skateboarding master-criminal punks in their place? Or do you like the slightly seedier tale of the delusional loser doing drugs, hurling racial epithets at co-workers and possibly date-raping his passed-out-but-still-horny dreamgirl? I’ll take both, actually, as the two were, in their own ways, among the more delightful of the (admittedly few) trips I made to the multiplex last year. It might be another 50 years before we see even one high-profile Mall Cop movie released, so to get two of such a high caliber in the same year is like witnessing criss-crossing shooting stars–a special, if somewhat terrifying, phenomenon indeed.
The best thing about my TV-surveying job is that I end up catching some quality shows that I never would have watched otherwise. If I had to guess what Sons of Anarchy was like just from the commercials, I would have bet that it was just The Sopranos on motorbikes. And I’d be right, of course, but it turns out that that was kind of a compliment all along. Few shows in the Fall of 2009 could match Sons for suspense, character, and purely compelling drama, that all-too-rare kind of show where I’d watch an episode and be bummed that I had to wait a week to find out what happened next. Katey Sagal might be the best actress on TV with absolutely no shot at an Emmy nod, and I have no clue how the British pretty boy from Undeclared ended up as such a badass, but Charlie Hunnam was something of a revelation as well. Meanwhile, the action, the pacing, the music–it was all Chase-worthy. And while the ending was less than satisfying–tying up too many loose ends, then creating new crises out of nowhere–you can bet that I’m not going to have to luck into being assigned the next season premiere to be on board with the Sons in 2010.
There might not be a worse rapper–and if you don’t want to call him a rapper, then fine, a worse lyricist, a worse rabble-rouser, or a worse word-stringer-together-guy–in pop music today than Pitbull. He has no concept of narrative or thematic flow, his pop references are thoughtless and completely lowest-common-denominator, and his idea of a double-entendre is a line like “Watch me make a movie like Alfred Hitchcock”–sure, keep looking for the joke if you want, but beyond the sentence ending with the syllable “cock,” you’re not gonna find much. But as hopelessly poor as he is at MCing, that’s also how good he is at crafting undeniable, unforgettable pop hooks. “I Know You Want Me” alone had about a half-dozen of ’em, and then “Hotel Room Service” added about three or four more, hooks that you heard early in the day and were still mumbling along to as you laid your head down at night, despite not knowing the words (and in some cases, not even knowing the language). It’s pretty clear to me by now that Pitbull is basically the latino Black Eyed Peas–you just gotta grit your teeth through the cringe-worthy verses, ignore all the idiotic shit going on in the videos, and savor the pure pop rush of the choruses. Really, we could be doing a lot worse.
Through the years, beer has probably been responsible for more classic ad campaigns than any other product type. But given how most of the usual dynasties have completely dropped the ball in recent years–Bud Light’s “Drinkability” campaign, Miller Lite’s “Taste Greatness” spots, Coors Light’s endless NFL Coach Interview series, even that awful fucking Heineken commercial with the guys going nuts over the walk-in cooler–it was time to start looking to the mid-majors for real freshness. Unexpectedly, Dos Equis threw its hat into the ring in 2009 with its fantastic “The Most Interesting Man in the World” series, featuring longtime character actor Jonathan Goldsmith as the titular Jai-Alai playing, endangered-animal-rescuing adventurer. The narration made for some great lines (“He lives vicariously…through himself,” “He can speak French…in Russian”) which instantly become part of the pop culture lexicon, and the impressively restrained climactic line (“I don’t always drink beer…but when I do…I prefer Dos Equis.”) was an almost unthinkable demonstration of less-is-more in an advertising genre that had become as bloated and tasteless as a late-70s double-live album. Now I need to put Dos Equis up there with Red Stripe on my list of beers to buy in bars every now and then to reward its creators for making commercial blocks during sports programming slightly bearable.
The List So Far (Readable in Chunks of Five Here):
49. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
48. Milton Bradley
47. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss ‘Em Goodbye”
46. The NBA’s “Where Will Amazing Happen This Year?” Campaign
45. “Need You Now”
44. Party Down
43. Cliff Lee
42. Mariah Carey vs. Eminem
41. Gathering of the Juggalos
38. Important Things with Demetri Martin
37. Asher Roth
36. The Beatles: Rock Band
35. Michelle Beadle
34. Mall Cops
33. Sons of Anarchy
31. Dos Equis’s “The Most Interesting Man in the World” Campaign