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.
I’m not sure if there’s ever been a Shakira song before that I would even be able to describe as bearable, much less one of the leading lights of the year’s Top 40. Turns out a little old-school disco accompaniment was just what Shakira needed. Gyrating like a possessed contortionist in the video, Shakira delivers strangely-translated (or just strangely poetic–hard to tell) lines like “A domesticated girl, that’s all you ask of me / Darling this is no joke, this is lycanthropy” and “”I’m beginning to feel just a little abused / Like a coffee machine in an office” while the bass thumps and guitar chops underneath, ending up with the year’s most alternately surreal and delectable dance-floor killer. Shakira sounds unmistakably gleeful throughout the entire venture, like a young girl dressing up and singing with a fake mic in the mirror to her older sister’s Donna summer records. A song called “She-Wolf” should carry at least a little bit of menace to it, but she’s having too much fun to really bear her fangs. Besides, when she tries to sound spooky–her mid-chorus exclamations of “Aaaa-woooooo!!!“–it just ends up being the most damnedly adorable thing you ever heard.
Despite its ultimate failure to prove a hit for NBC, leading to its abrupt cancellation, the accomplishments of Southland last season were many. It breathed new life into the neglected careers of Tom Everett Scott and Shawn Hatosy, and gave Benjamin MacKenzie his first remotely-credible post-O.C. gig (ironically but perhaps uncoincidentally, playing the rich kid that the blue-collar cops looked down their nose at). It portrayed crime in a way as gripping and unsentimental as no show had since The Wire wrapped up its fifth season. Hell, it actually made for something half-decent to watch on Friday nights. But the best thing that Southland did was to prove once-and-for-all how major networks should handle the eternal dilemma of swearing in primetime–that is, don’t avoid it, don’t fudge it, don’t do it in a different language, just do it whole-heartedly and then bleep it out. Arrested Development proved how effectively bleeping could be used for comedic effect, and Southland did the same for drama–an achievement which in itself merits creator Ann Biderman an Emmy or two. Thankfully resurrected by TNT, this show is now once again officially the best show on TV that you’re not watching.
Only Lil’ Wayne could appear on ten top 40 hits in a calendar year and have it be considered something of a down season. Indeed, for the man whose 2008 ranks as one of the all-time great years of pop dominance (and for it earned a heady #3 ranking on last year’s list), nothing short of releasing Tha Thriller would have lived up. But damn, check the resume: Drake’s “Forever,” Keri Hilson’s “Turnin’ Me On,” Shakira’s “Give It Up to Me,” Chris Brown’s “I Can Transform Ya,” even less-popular but highest-quality numbers like Electrik Red’s “So Good” and Nicki Minaj’s “I Get Crazy“–that’s a hell of a year without even talking about your own contributions. Then Weezy also immortalized Kobe Bryant in verse, launched the Young Money collective, and created one of the most endearingly jarring rap-rock hybrids in recent memory with the bizarre and severely underrated “Prom Queen.” He might be behind bars this time next year, but Mr. Carter’s prolificness knows no incarceration–he already has about a half-dozen albums currently in the works, and doubtless countless more maixtapes, one-offs and guest appearances on the backburner. Don’t be surprised if ends up going for the IITS trifecta.
The best game of the baseball post-season happened before the playoffs even technically started this year–marking, along with the 2007 Padres/Rockies play-in, the second time in three years where that was the case. Like the Pads-Rox game, this was an extra-inning, controversy-filled affair, replete with bad tag-ups, phantom hit-by-pitches, great plays in the outfield, terrible plays in the outfield, big homers, big strikeouts, and a still very, very, very hungover Miguel Cabrera. (Blowing a .26 right in the heat of a stretch run? Either incredibly gangster or incredibly pathetic–although hitting the two-run shot early in this game certainly would have helped their case had they won.) It was the kind of game that you didn’t really want to ever end, because you had no idea what kind of crazy shit you’d be missing out on had the game gone another six outs. Of course, it all turned out to basically be for nought–the Twins won, and then were unceremoniously swept in three games by the New York Yankees. If this game didn’t get your blood up for the actual playoffs, though, you have very unrealistic expectations for the game of baseball, my friend.