Pop Culture Bracketology

The wonderfulness that is March Madness is once again upon us, though I will admit that I am just not as invested this year as I usually am. Part of the problem is that my kind-of, sort of alma mater (if one year of graduate studies counts) the University of Connecticut is banned from participating in the NCAA tournament this year due to subpar academic performance. Having been a teaching assistant at the school during my brief tenure for a class that included players from the 1999 National Championship team, let’s just say I am not all that surprised.  Without my team involved, some of the bloom is off the March Madness rose.

I’m also at a disadvantage this year because I have not paid one lick of attention to college basketball this season, so I really have no idea who is good and who isn’t. Even when UConn isn’t facing sanctions I don’t watch nearly as much college ball as I used to; I’m far more invested in football (NCAA and NFL) now than I used to be and I just don’t have the time to keep up. I don’t listen to much sports radio anymore either, so I haven’t even caught cursory discussions of who might be a contender. So when I went to fill out my bracket this year, I was shocked that my nemesis Gonzaga was a #1 seed. How did that happen?

It is helpful that my legitimate alma mater (in that it gave me an actual degree) and current employer, the University at Albany, has made it to the tournament. They are facing Duke, which is not good luck for them, but at least it brings a little excitement to the area. Plus almost everyone hates Duke, so the Great Danes have a lot of people rooting for them to defeat the Blue Devils. I may or may not have convinced my boss that we need to take an extended lunch on Friday so that we all can watch the game.

So I don’t have a ton of confidence in my bracket this year – I just kind of guessed in a lot of places and checked Nate Silvers’ bracket to see who he picked for a few  games that I was really undecided on. There seems to be a lot of parity this year, so perhaps random guessing isn’t the worst strategy in the world.

 

Probably not a winning bracket

Probably not a winning bracket

 

Brackets, however, aren’t just for college basketball. I’ve noticed this year that all sorts of pop culture topics have received the March Madness treatment. It is a fun way to decide things – I’ve working on a bracket system to determine what affectations my friend Dan will assume. This all started with a discussion of pocket watches and culminated in my apparent determination to turn him into Mr. Peanut. So if college basketball just isn’t your thing, but you don’t want to be left out of incessant talk about the status of your bracket, check out these pop culture alternatives:

Fictional Presidents Tournament (No Ticket Sports)

Star Wars Character Tournament (Lucas Films)

Worst Celebrity Style (Go Fug Yourself)

Musical March Madness (MTV)

Tournament of Books (The Morning News)

Greatest Sci-Fi Show (io9)

Martini Madness (Slate)

Favorite Public Radio Show (89.3 KPCC)

March Musical Madness (Boradway.com)

2016 Presidential Candidates (The Fix)

Best TV Duo – nonromantic (Buddy TV)

90s Cartoon Characters (The FW)

Ultimate March Pop Culture, Food and Sports Bracket (Bleacher Report)

Hair Band Madness Tournament  (Culture Brats)

Middle-Earth Madness (The One Ring)

Swear Word Bracket (Deadspin) – outstanding!

Teen Movie Madness (Forever Young Adult)

TV couples (Zimbio)

It Girl Bracket (Nylon)

South Park March Madness (Screen Invasion)

And for the truly meta crowd: Battle of the Brackets (Salon)

And just because I love the show, here’s a Mad Men March Madness supercut – who knew the folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce were such basketball fans?

What’s the Best Sitcom of the Past 30 Years?

I’m a big fan of the website Vulture; I link to a lot of their stories in my roundups because they do a really nice job of staying on top of pop culture stories and their writers seem to have pretty similar interests to me. They also keep you up to date with a healthy dose of snark and sarcasm, two things that I enjoy almost as much as pop culture. So Vulture and I are pretty much a perfect match; they are doing the kind of work I wish I could do if I had a staff, had actual connections and got paid to consume all the pop culture that I wanted.

They are currently examining an interesting question: What’s the best sitcom of the past 30 years? They are trying to answer this riddle the same way that I think all problems should be solved – with a single elimination bracket system. Seriously – put anything in a bracket structure and you have my attention. Vulture used the same methodology with TV dramas last March, where unsurprisingly The Wire came out on the top of the heap because it is the best television show ever made. For what they are dubbing “the Sitcom Smackdown,” they have selected sixteen comedies to battle it out for ultimate supremacy.

 

From Vulture.com

From Vulture.com

 

There were some ground rules for what sitcoms were eligible: the show had to air after 1982; the show had to run for at least three seasons; the show had to be made in the United States and it had to be a sitcom, rather than a sketch show. This explains some of the exclusions from the tournament, but not all. The staff attempted to explain why some fan favorites didn’t make the cut, but I don’t think that all their arguments are persuasive. I don’t agree with the exclusion of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks and Recreation or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia in particular and I think a legitimate case could be made for Frasier and NewsRadio. I personally would have excluded Sex and the City from consideration; I was never as big of a fan of the show as some women and the few times that I’ve caught a re-run, I didn’t think that the show has held up very well over time. I’m also a pretty staunch Golden Girls fan, but I would have been OK with that being excluded. Ideally, I think the bracket should have been expanded to include more candidates – they probably could have done a 32 show bracket without having to scrape the bottom of the sitcom barrel and would have resulted in some more diverse shows making the cut. If you maintain the 16 that were originally selected and add Curb Your Enthusiasm, Park and Recreation, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Frasier, NewsRadio, Everybody Loves Raymond, Scrubs, Archer, The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Will & Grace, Modern Family, Happy Endings, Bob’s Burgers, then I think you have a more interesting discussion.

I also don’t necessarily agree with the ranking that Vulture gave these shows; it seems like one bracket with Louie, Seinfeld and 30 Rock has a more difficult road to the finals than the bracket with Friends, Golden Girls, Roseanne and Malcolm in the Middle.

That being said, I think this is a fun exercise. My personal bracket would look like this:

ballot

(Disclaimer: I’ve never seen The Larry Sanders Show and only a few episodes of Malcolm in the Middle)

Golden Girls over Friends is admittedly something of an upset pick; the nostalgia factor probably was in play here. And while both shows are a bit dated upon repeat viewings, I found that I appreciate Golden Girls much more now than I did when I was a kid and I used to watch it on Saturday nights. I get a lot more of the jokes now that I’m an adult; turns out Golden Girls was a much saucier show than I thought.

If you know me at all, you know that the final showdown was pretty much preordained from the get go, though my final choice may be a shocker. I didn’t take the decision lightly; for me, this was the Sophie’s Choice of sitcoms. I so love both Seinfeld and Arrested Development. Perhaps it is the anticipation of new episodes after the original run of the show was cut tragically short, but I had to go with Arrested Development. Seinfeld is amazing, but I gave Arrested Development the slight edge because I think it is a more sophisticated show; not in subject matter, but there are so many layers to Arrested Development that it takes multiple viewings of episodes to process all the jokes that are happening. Seinfeld is a smart show, but Arrested Development laid the groundwork for jokes episodes in advance. It was a structurally more complex show. After some deep soul searching, I’ve got to give the edge to the Bluths over Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer. This will probably keep me up nights.

So what would your bracket look like? What shows are you upset that Vulture left out? What would you have eliminated? Do you agree with my selections? Sound off in the comments below.