Monday, December 31, 2007

The Year That Was (2007)

Blogs aplenty utilize this lazy time before the new year to extol their favorite this and thats from the preceding calendar year. Eschewing the traditional categorization of popular culture by the medium of its delivery, this list will simply lump all the bits, pieces and ephemera of popular culture from the year together. In no particular order, the best of 2007:

Above: "The Doggy Bounce."

The first season of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords," (June 17, 2007 - September 2, 2007)

Perhaps this show would not have received the attention and adoration it did had so many of its viewers not first seen clips of Flight of the Conchords, the band, on the YouTubes before learning of the existence of Flight of the Conchords, the HBO television program. The series' twelve episodes chronicle the misadventures of Bret and Jemaine, two clueless New Zealanders who have brought their folk duo New York City to seek fame and fortune. The dry wit of the series, coupled with the zany performances of the band's songs, was a marvel.

The Apotheosis of Jenna Fischer (2007)

2007 was the year of Jenna Fischer, who made appearances not just in NBC's "The Office" but in a variety of feature films (including Blades of Glory and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story). Her personal life was also newsworthy, as she fractured her back in four places after a fall (but fully recovered) and announced her separation from her husband, director James Gunn. As Pam Beesly on "The Office," she managed to project a sly and sweet sexiness with just a dash of attainability (as she had for several seasons). She is the girl next door to the nth degree.

Spinal Tap at Live Earth (July 7, 2007)

As a cultural event attempting to raise awareness of climate of change, Live Earth was an utter and complete dud. Spinal Tap, however, became the highlight of the series of concerts, when it brought nearly thirty bassists on stage to join them for their hit of hits, "Big Bottom." Joining them were James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Nate Mendel, and many, many others (or as Spinal Tap's lead vocalist, David St. Hubbins, would note, "every bassist in the known universe").

Sad Kermit (March 2007)

Some enterprising filmmaker decided to mash-up the pain and moral decay of Trent Reznor's "Hurt" with Jim Henson's Kermit the Frog, thereby creating Sad Kermit. The video for same features the green muppet singing Reznor's song and engaging in the types of stereotypically sick behaviors associated with hard core drug usage. Disturbing, yet amusing.

Doctor Who's "Blink" (June 9, 2007)

Aired in the United Kingdom several months before it did so in the United States, "Blink" was the tenth episode of the third season of the latest incarnation "Doctor Who." It was perhaps the best episode of the entire re-imagining of the series, which is ironic, since it barely featured the title character or his companion. Rather, the episode focused on Sally Sparrow, an ordinary citizen caught up in a battle with the Weeping Angels, aliens who become immobile as stone when observed but may move when unseen. To boot, they dispatch their enemies not by slaying them but by transporting them decades into the past where they cannot remain a nuisance. Sparrow must defeat the Weeping Angels so that the Doctor can be rescued from the past, where he is stranded without the Tardis, his fateful time machine. Not only were teh Weeping Angels the most frightful villains in the latest incarnation of the show's three seasons, but the episodes offers a nuanced (and consistent!) portrayal of the perils of time travel.

Above: Billiam the Snowman v. Mitt Romney.

Billiam the Snowman v. Mitt Romney (July 2007)

Is this pop culture, presidential politics, or both? 2007 was also the year in which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney became entangled in a news cycle over his refusal to address comments made by a snowman character on YouTube. (The snowman was later named one of the "People Who Mattered" in 2007 by Time magazine.). This was, quite frankly, hilarious. "Hello, Mitt Romney!" Billiam would declare. Enough said.

Alanis Morrisette's "My Humps" (April 2007)

That Fergie, then of the Black Eyed Peas, could in 2005 and at age 30 perform without irony a song called "My Humps" is in and of itself astonishing. But it took Alanis Morrissette's somber (and sardonic) cover of the song this past spring to truly highlight its utter silliness.

Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible" (March 6, 2007)

Reviewing Arcade Fire's spring show at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, a writer asked an intriguing question about the band's first single from its then newly released second album:

Would it be perverse to claim that "Intervention" sounded even better when it was a shared secret, circulating as a low-quality MP3 taken from a BBC broadcast, complete with a breathless D.J. "If that doesn't get you, man, if that doesn't get you somewhere special . . .” talking over the last few notes? Maybe. But even now, after all the attention and the big-hall shows, the best Arcade Fire songs still sound mysterious.

(Kelefa Sanneh, "From Little Clubs to Big Halls, an Indie Band Evolves," The New York Times, May 11, 2007.).

Why is it that things, whether they be songs or bands or television shows, are "cooler" when they are unknown and we feel that we have discovered something that throngs of others have not? Is the only quality that makes the "low-quality MP3" better the fact that it is accompanied by the knowledge that you are in on the secret, and thus, part of the cool coterie? Was this question truly necessary in a review of a concert held month and months after the release of the bootleg MP3, or was its only purpose to provide notice to the reader of the writer's indie street cred? Whatever the case, Arcade Fire second major label release was no sophomore slump, primarily due to the presence of "Intervention," 2007's dirge of choice.

NBC's "30 Rock"

Consistently one of the funniest sitcoms on television, Tina Fey's "30 Rock" is the heir to "Arrested Development" and other such trailblazing and wildly amusing shows. In fact, in the fall of 2007, "30 Rock" began to surpass the "The Office" as the funniest half hour on television. Couple that with the lovely and self deprecating Fey and her intrepid cast of characters (including an absolutely hilarious Alec Baldwin), and you have gold.

Radiohead's "In Rainbows" (October 10, 2007)

Radiohead's pay what you wish download scheme was novel and a direct assault on the traditional model of the music industry (although its impact was lessened a bit when it was revealed that it would be unavailable in higher bit rate levels for audiophiles). But if you ordered the special edition boxed set (which came with a second disc), you received the album in all of its glory, including the long awaited release of the studio recording of "Nude."

Honorable Mentions: Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky" (which sounds as if it were recorded sometime in the 1970s), BBC's six episode miniseries "Jekyll" (June 16, 2007 - July 28, 2007), NBC's "Journeyman" (Fall 2007), contestant Blake Lewis and his reinvention of Bon Jovi on "American Idol" (May 1, 2007), and the Obama v. Hillary 1984 political advertisement (perhaps the most creative unauthorized political ad of the season).

Dishonorable Mentions: The unnecessary sequels that were Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Spider-Man 3, and Live Free or Die Hard, the downward slide of TV's "Rescue Me" and "Heroes" (both of which became unwatchable in 2007), the cameo appearances of Roman Polanski and Max von Sydow in Rush Hour 3, the Writers Guild of America strike and its timing to coincide with the midst of the fall TV season, the fact that 2007's R.E.M. Live, the band's first official live album, was of a 2005 concert and not of something from the late 1980s.

Sad notes: The deaths of great film-makers Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, on the very same day, July 30, 2007.

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