2013 Pop Culture in Review

Any critic with their salt is obligated to write a piece selecting their best and worst movies/albums/TV shows/plays/webseries for the previous year; it’s something of a rite of passage that most critics despise doing to hear them tell it (and tell, they do, on Twitter). It may be a tedious task that doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuance and forces critics to compare apples and oranges, but as 2013 slowly eases into 2014 it makes sense to pause and reflect on the year as a whole.

So with that in mind, I’m looking back at the things that I loved and hated over the last twelve months. Overall, I think 2013 was a pretty strong year for pop culture, especially films. We said goodbye to some favorite shows and some exciting newcomers entered the scene. As always, there were horrific missteps and some dreadfully ill-conceived artistic expressions, but on the whole I think this was a pretty good year to be a person obsessed with all things pop and I’m already looking forward to many things in 2014. The pop culture machine is always pumping out something spectacular and I’m curious to see what is on the horizon.

But as we put 2013 in the books, here’s a quick look at my highlights and lowlights of the previous 365 days. As always, my choices come with this disclaimer that even I don’t see or listen to everything. I cover a lot of ground considering that I have a full time job that is not at all related to the entertainment business, but you can only squeeze so much into your free time. So if you don’t see your favorite on the list, I simply may not have gotten to it. Or you might just have terrible taste 🙂 It’s OK – we can still be friends.

Top movies of 2013

  • American Hustle – It’s been almost a month since I’ve seen this film and I’m still pretty obsessed with it. Outstanding performances and an exciting story helped solidify its position in the top spot. The most fun that I’ve had at the cinema all year.
  • Mud – I’m still a huge champion of this little film that not many of you saw and it was my favorite film for most of the year (until I saw American Hustle). Do yourself a favor and rent this little gem; a beautiful coming of age film that features one of Matthew McConaughey’s stellar performances of 2013.
  • 12 Years a Slave – A powerful film that by telling one man’s terrible story tells the tragedy of thousands of other nameless men and women. Amazing performances throughout and a film that I’m glad that I watched but will probably never see again.
  • This is The End – This is easily the hardest that I’ve laughed at a movie all year. An unexpected surprise.

Honorable mention: The Wolf of Wall Street and Gravity. I didn’t love the latter as much as the critics did, but it is still a pretty cool movie. I need more time to reflect on The Wolf of Wall Street; I may not love it as much when I am farther removed from seeing it.

Worst movies of 2013

  • The Lone Ranger – just spectacularly awful; don’t waste the nearly 3 hours of your time. Johnny Depp – heal thyself; Armie Hammer – you seem like a nice guy, but you can’t carry a movie.
  • Girl Most Likely – Despite my general affinity for most of the cast, this Kristen Wiig vehicle was pretty dreadful. Too many quirky characters and a weak story.
  • Pain & Gain – I hated this movie, which wasn’t a surprise given Michael Bay’s involvement. Just dreadful.
  • Honorable mention: The Hangover III – my expectations were so low for this that it didn’t crack my top 5 – and A Good Day to Die Hard (partially saved because I still think Bruce Willis is super attractive).

Must See TV – Best TV shows of 2013

  • Breaking Bad – I am well aware that this is not a controversial selection; I’m going to miss this show so much.
  • Orange is the New Black – Netflix proved that they were in it to win it with this new original series that totally captivated me. I binge watched the whole first season in just a few days. I enjoyed the memoir that the show is (loosely) based on as well.
  • Mad Men – The merger of firms and the disillusionment of Sally Draper made this season great.
  • Game of Thrones – As a person who hasn’t yet read the books, the Red Wedding took me completely by surprise. I’m not as interested in all of the story lines – I’d be happy with a show that just focused on the Lannisters and the Starks – but I’m dying to know what happens next.
  • Broadchurch – I was completely infatuated with this BBC series about the murder of a child in a small town where almost everyone seems to have something to hide; I’m hoping the upcoming American remake isn’t just a pale imitation.

Honorable mention: The Americans, Justified, Top of the Lake and the new episodes of Arrested Development (uneven, but still a lot of fun).

It’s Not Me, It’s You – TV shows I broke up with in 2013

I knew enough to stay away from some of the dreadful new shows that debuted in 2013 – Dads, I’m looking at you – but this year I also gave the heave ho to shows that no longer worked for me.

  • How I Met Your Mother – I finally bailed on this series, which was a long time coming. Even the promise of the current season being the last could woo me back.
  • Once Upon a TimeOnce upon a time I was charmed by this show, but the magical spell was eventually broken. I decided to jump ship after the second season finale; I couldn’t stomach another season of Henry (a terrible thing to say about a kid, but he’s not good).
  • The Walking Dead – Unlike the rest of America, I never thought that this was a particularly good show; sure, the zombies are cool, but the actors are wooden and the characters are poorly drawn. After I let five episodes pile up on my DVR, I realized I didn’t miss the show at all. Sorry Darryl – you were awesome, but I’m sticking with the comics instead.
  • The Michael J. Fox Show – I gave this one the old college try but my childhood affinity for Fox just wasn’t enough to conquer the poor writing and silly story lines. Too sitcom-y for me and squanders the always great Wendell Pierce.
  • Boardwalk Empire – I’ve been pretty meh about this show for a while; I started watching this season’s first episode and realized I really didn’t care about any of this. I’ve heard, however, that the season got really good so I may have to eventually jump back on board.
  • The Following – I was really excited by all the nuttiness of this serial killer drama in the beginning, but the show completely fell apart for me pretty quickly. I finished the season but won’t be back for the next one. Poe should be annoyed his good name was sullied with this foolishness.

On the bubble: The Vampire Diaries (I may have finally outgrown this show on the CW)

Top Pop Culture Experiences of 2013

  • Seeing Mariano Rivera throw the last pitch of his career – As a die-hard Yankee fan, I am so glad that I plunked down the extra money to see this historic moment at the Stadium. It was the perfect ending to a perfect career and I was far from the only person sobbing as he walked from the mound.
  • The Daily Show taping – Only a select number of people got to see John Oliver host The Daily Show and I’m glad that I’m one of them; awesome experience and I’m planning on going to see Jon Stewart in action in 2014.
  • The Boys of Summer tour – We may have had to deal with oppressive heat, a trail derailment and getting pulled over by the police, but none of that could minimize the fun of seeing Jay Z and Justin Timberlake at Yankee Stadium. Awesome show.
  • The Yeezus Tour – I couldn’t let 2013 pass without checking out Kanye West on his first tour in five years. He didn’t disappoint; it was as artistic and insane as I had hoped – and a ton of fun.

Honorable mention: Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon at NJPAC and The National Museum of Play

Favorite Posts of 2013

In addition to the posts above, these posts were among my favorites of 2013:

  • Song(s) for the Dumped – I got a lot of good feedback for this playlist of my favorite break-up songs; look for the companion post on favorite love songs in 2014
  • Pop Culture Teachers – I had fun coming up with my favorite educators from television and the movies
  • 2013 MTV Video Music Awards – My running diary of this “awards show” reinforced two things: 1) I am way too old to be watching this stuff and 2) Miley Cyrus killed Hannah Montana once and for all.

What were your favorite pop culture things in 2013? Let us know in the comments below.

Heather’s 2013 Fall TV Schedule

Last night, the temperature dropped to the 50s in the part of the country and it remained chilly when I left for work this morning. In a nod to the weather, I swapped out my normal open toed shoes for my pair of knee high boots. The first football game of the season was on last night.  As I dodged school buses on my way to Dunkin Donuts for my pumpkin coffee, one thing became very clear to me.

Fall was here.

Now, technically I know that autumn doesn’t really arrive until around September 21st, but there is no denying that summer is beginning to beat a hasty retreat. Some of the trees are already beginning to change and you can already buy Halloween candy in some stores. I am personally excited about this as fall is my favorite season. Not only does it bring my birthday, but I love the weather, the food and the activities that come along with the season. Most importantly, fall means the beginning of a new TV season.

This is always a slightly stressful time for me as I try to decide which new shows to check out, which shows to drop and how to maneuver all my timeslot showdowns. These are pretty minor problems in the grand scheme of things, but deciding which shows deserve my precious leisure time is not something I enter into lightly. As painful as it is to watch a show that winds up being canceled or turns into a dud, I also hate to be not watching a show that becomes a pop culture phenomenon. I take this stuff seriously.

This season has been a particularly difficult one to navigate as there are just so many new shows to consider. I generally don’t jump on board with new shows during their first season unless there is something that definitely speaks to me or the critical buzz is unanimous; I’ve been burned once too often with shows that I got invested in only to be reminded that middle America and I do not see eye to eye on what makes a great show. The odds of any new show making it are pretty slim, but with many of my old favorites now gone (Adios 30 Rock) I do have more free time to take a chance on a newbie. And that is a dangerous thing for me.

This isn’t finalized, but here is my preliminary TV schedule for the fall of 2013. I’ve indicated the shows that I’m on the fence about – several of my regular series have become boring to me or have dipped in quality – and the new series that I’m willing to gamble on. It’s funny how daunting TV can be when you write it all down.

Monday

Here’s the shocker of the week – I currently have NOTHING on my agenda for Monday nights. I bailed on How I Met Your Mother for good last year and have no regrets and while I enjoy The Voice enough, I know I won’t become a long time regular viewer. I might be convinced to give the new programs Sleepy Hollow, Mom or The Blacklist (I do love me some James Spader) the chance, but as of now none have sold me. I figure I’ll primarily use Monday to catch up on the clusterf*ck that is my Sunday nights. More on that below.

Tuesday

8 pm – Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC) new

8:30 pm – Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) new

10 pm – Sons of Anarchy (FX)

Given my love of The Avengers, taking a shot on a TV show based in that world isn’t much of a stretch. I’m not as confident about Brooklyn Nine-Nine – my comedic sensibilities do not really match up with the live action comedies on Fox – but Andy Samberg, the great Andre Brauer and generally positive buzz are enough to at least temporarily overcome my trepidation. I’ve been in on Sons of Anarchy since the show debuted and while I think that the later seasons have failed to meet the quality of the earlier seasons (especially season 2), I still quite enjoy the ride. Plus there are worse way to spend an hour than looking at Charlie Hunnam.

I had considered watching The Vampire Diaries spin-off, The Originals, but was underwhelmed with the backdoor pilot. I also decided that a woman in her 30s should probably limit herself to watching one show on The CW – and even that might be too much.

Wednesday

9 pm – Modern Family (ABC) tentative

10 pm – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX)

10 pm – American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

10 pm – Nashville (ABC ) tentative- watch on demand

10 pm – South Park (Comedy Central ) dvr later showing

10:30 pm – The League (FXX)

I’ve watched Modern Family since it began, but have become increasingly less impressed with it as the show progresses. I like some characters a lot – primarily the kids – but I don’t think I’d really miss it if I dropped it. I may skip a few weeks and see how I feel – it’s not a show that you need to watch every episode. 10 pm has become a surprising logjam; I will definitely watch American Horror Story live, since that show is too bat sh*t crazy to miss. I still have yet to catch up on Nashville from last season – I watched up until Thanksgiving – so that may just be a sign that I’m not all that committed to the show. South Park re-airs later in the evening, so I’ll just DVR the show then.

Thursday

8 pm – The Big Bang Theory (CBS) watch on demand

8 pm – The Vampire Diaries (The CW)

8 pm – Parks and Recreation (NBC)

9:30 pm – The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC) new

10 pm – Parenthood (NBC)

10 pm – Scandal (ABC) tentative

While I like The Big Bang Theory – one of the very few things I watch on CBS – I can easily catch up on it when it is on demand. Parks and Recreation is my primary focus on Thursday nights; no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to quit The Vampire Diaries, so I’ll DVR that to binge watch multiple episodes on the weekend. I’ve loved Michael J. Fox since I was a little girl (my college admissions essay was about him. No joke – I got into a doctoral program writing an essay about the actor), so I’ll absolutely tune in when he makes his return to television. My only concern is that my comedic sensibilities have changed quite a bit since he last graced my TV and that my affection for the actor will not be enough to keep me interested. Parenthood makes the big mood to Thursday nights, which will mean that the Bravemens will simply make me tear up closer to the weekend. I’ve yet to watch any of the previous seasons of Scandal, but people will not shut up about this show so I may catch up and give it a whirl to see what all the sudsy fuss is about.

Friday – TV Wasteland

10 pm – Dracula (NBC) new and VERY tentative

I may DVR Dracula simply because I’m curious to see what NBC is going to do with this familiar story and partially out of some interest in whatever Jonathan Rhys Meyers does. I don’t expect it to be good, but what else am I going to watch on a Friday (assuming I’m even home, which is a big assumption).

Saturday

Various – College Football

If I’m around, a good chunk of my Saturdays are spent watching Notre Dame games. Otherwise I’m out and about and if I am home, this is time to catch up on anything I haven’t cleared off the DVR yet.

Sunday – TV Nirvana

8 pm – Once Upon a Time (ABC) tentative

8:30 pm – Bob’s Burgers (Fox) on demand

9 pm – Boardwalk Empire (HBO) on demand

9 pm – Homeland (Showtime)

9 pm – Revenge (ABC) tentative

10 pm – Eastbound & Down (HBO) on demand

10 pm – Masters of Sex (Showtime) new

10:30 pm – Hello Ladies (HBO) new

I’ve soured quite a bit on the ABC shows; Once Upon a Time, which I initially loved, is beginning to feel a little played out and boring and Revenge kind of went off the rails last season. I’ll give both a few episodes to convince me to stay around. Of the two, Once Upon a Time is the more likely to be dumped, though I’ll tune in to watch Nick Swisher’s wife as The Little Mermaid. I love Bob’s Burgers, but until football season is over the likelihood of games running over and throwing off the delicate ecosystem that is my DVR schedule necessitates me catching the show on demand. I generally like Boardwalk Empire, but I don’t love it, so for now it will get watched at a later time. Same goes for Eastbound & Down. Homeland must be watched live so as to avoid spoilers, though I do have my concerns that a certain character is still on the show. Despite my trepidation about new shows, I will give almost anything on HBO or Showtime a chance. So Masters of Sex and Hello Ladies will get the nod at 10 pm, at least until I make a decision about either show.

I may be missing a show or two and this may evolve as we get into the season, but this is what I predict my TV schedule looks like, plus Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It is a healthy dose of TV, but thanks to the miracle that is the DVR I can skip through commercials for a lot of these shows and compress my necessary viewing time. Still, there is no denying that I love my TV shows.

What’s on your fall viewing schedule? Any new shows that you are excited about? Any old shows that you are breaking up with? Sound off in the comments below. For a fairly comprehensive list of season premiere dates, click here.

Pop Culture Commencement

This past Memorial Day weekend marked the REDACTED anniversary of my graduation from college. I always thought it was funny that commencement was on a holiday weekend, since our fall semester used to start on Labor Day. My alma mater was apparently hell-bent on eating up as many three day weekends as possible.

Commencement ceremonies are boring; I don’t think I’m saying anything all that shocking with that admission. It’s a lot of sitting around and waiting for either your turn to walk across the stage or to clap for the people that you know that are walking across the stage. I would have skipped my Masters graduation ceremony altogether, but I was getting an award from my department and they led me to believe that I had to be at graduation to receive it. I didn’t – there was a separate departmental ceremony that I could have shown up for later in the day – and I wasted three hours of my life (and my family’s life) sitting in a hot gym being bored. It’s all pretty mundane and most commencements follow the same basic formula, though I always appreciated the bagpipes at my undergraduate ceremony. Bagpipes are almost always a welcome addition in my book.

The only thing that can really liven up a graduation is a solid commencement speaker. Bringing in someone who is famous or exceptional and that is capable of giving an engaging and entertaining speech can make a real difference. Unfortunately, I have never actually been at a ceremony where this took place. When I was an undergrad, my college frowned upon paying a lot for someone to come speak. They were under the delusional idea that coming to speak at a small liberal arts college in upstate NY was compensation enough. I was nominally involved in student government in college and I remember that we even offered to use a big portion of our operating budget to bring in someone more prestigious (I think it was a Kennedy – though for all I know it could have been actor Jamie Kennedy. I didn’t pay a lot of attention in these meetings.) The college turned us down. My commencement speaker had something to do with politics in Ireland, which was way too heavy for a Saturday morning. It was boring and ultimately most of the day was pretty forgettable. The college has since changed their tune on commencement speakers as this year they had Deepak Chopra. So not fair.

This year, lots of pop culture figures donned caps and gowns to give the keynote address and collect a made-up degree. These speakers were both entertaining and insightful and while I don’t know that anyone could have livened up graduating in a parking lot (they’ve since moved commencement to the soccer fields – everything got better after I left), they certainly would have helped make my ceremony a much more enjoyable and memorable experience:

Joss Whedon – Wesleyan University Commencement:

 

Stephen Colbert – University of Virginia Commencement

 

Anders Holm (Workaholics) – University of Wisconsin

 

Eric Idle – Whitman College Commencement

 

Jimmy Kimmel – UNLV Commencement

 

Kerry Washington – George Washington University