Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
CC2K's Tony Lazlo sorts through a great year in pop-culture for his favorite experiences consuming media.
Like I said last year, this decade has distinguished itself for me because I don’t go the movies as much as I used to. Instead, TV has provided me with the narrative excitement I crave, and in far greater quantities than the cineplex does. That said, I do count one movie among my greatest pop-culture experiences of 2008, as I’m sure many, many other geeks do, too, and although I’m going to talk about this movie first, I’m not presenting my pop-culture experiences in any particular order.
The Dark Knight
This is not a perfect movie. Despite the advance comparisons to Heat and The Godfather, part II, Christopher Nolan’s epic was no such grand achievement.
It works, though, because he had the cojones to pull the world of Batman through a magic portal from the world of DC comics and into our own. The result was a Gotham City that looked like Chicago, a Joker that looked like a disfigured terrorist, a Batcave that looked like an austere art installation, and a Batman who looked like a paramilitary mercenary and sounded like a tracheotomy patient. The different elements in Nolan’s movie succeeded or failed based on how well they weathered the transition through that magic portal. The Joker fared the best, Batman the worst.
But I confer classic status upon it not only because of its humorless commitment to presenting a plausible Batman in the real world, but because it gave me an excuse to get up for a 6:50 a.m. screening that was packed with fans in costume. I remember going to see a midnight sneak preview of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie wearing all the Batman paraphernalia I owned – T-shirt, hat and even a pair of shoes – and it had been a long, long time since I got to be a part of a moviegoing experience that was that much fun.
Two-way tie: The Paley Fest panels on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files
Every year, the Paley Center for Media – a museum and safehouse for TV history – hosts a series of panels in Hollywood that include cast members and creative talent from some of the best shows on TV. Each year the Paley Festival has one or two hot tickets, and thanks to my lovely girlfriend, I was able to see the two hottest ones of the 2008 festival: the panels for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files.
Looking back, the panel for Buffy wound up being the more satisfying experience. Virtually the entire cast and creative team was there, including Sarah Michelle Gellar and Joss Whedon himself.
By contrast, The X-Files panel featured many of the major players from the show, including chieftain Chris Carter, and a look at the trailer for the 2008 X-Files movie sequel. Unfortunately, the X-Files panel was missing the two main players – David Ducovny and Gillian Anderson – and the new movie was a depressing disappointment.
I haven’t compiled a list of my worst pop-culture experiences of 2008, but Carter’s new movie would have earned a place on it. I don’t begrudge him for making a dark, sad tale – the TV series had plenty of those – but I do respectfully disagree with the progenitor of the X-Files when it comes to his new movie. Watching I Want to Believe, I got the impression that Mulder and Scully were doomed to be unhappy people. I disagree.
Fox TV: Prison Break, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fringe and House
It occurred to me this fall that the Fox Network owns my rear end on Monday and Tuesday nights, when I watch Prison Break, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fringe and House.
I finally discovered Prison Break after slogging through its lousy third season and getting hooked on its fourth (and presumably final) season. The show suffers from a charmingly goofy tendency to make everything as complicated as possible – no scene is so tense that it can’t be made tense-er – but I admire its crackling narrative and excellent cast, especially Robert Knepper as the incomparable Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell – a psycho with a slick tongue and a yearning for redemption. After getting hooked on season four, I went back and inhaled the far superior first and second seasons on DVD. Pure fun.
The Sarah Connor Chronicles slowly won me over with its relentlessly creative fleshing out of the Terminator universe. Josh Friedman developed the concept for TV, and he had the good sense to take the basic idea of Skynet sending soldiers into the past and expand it into an iterating fractal of dozens of terminators and post-Judgment Day human soldiers fighting a war for the future on different fronts, with the Connors leading an ongoing – and probably hopeless – battle against Moore’s Law.
I’m a huge fan of J.J. Abrams, and although his newest show, Fringe, hasn’t reached the mythic heights of Lost or Alias, I remain hopeful, mostly because this kooky anti-procedural has taken up The X-Files’ standard. Unlike The X-Files, though, Fringe bases all of its solutions in some kind of science – even if that science is completely off the deep end. Kudos.
House has a lot going for it: A great cast, compelling medical dilemmas and Lisa Edelstein’s tight outfits to name a few, but in an era where an anti-rational imbecile like Sarah Palin can make political hay out of her willful ignorance, House stands as one of the great bulwarks of rational thought.
I’ve been following my favorite sports team, the Tennessee Volunteers, since 1988. In that time, they’ve had three losing seasons. Once in 1988, once in 2005 and once this year. For all intents and purposes, this year was the first I time I had ever experienced a losing Tennessee season, because I barely remember the 1988 season, and the 2005 season started off with a huge road win against a far superior LSU team – I didn’t realize I was watching a losing season until it was over.
But the 2008 Vols melted down early and fast, dropping games to opponents superior (Florida, Georgia) and inferior (UCLA, Auburn), which meant that I lost all stake in the college football season by mid-September.
And I still enjoyed the hell out of it.
ESPN recently acquired the rights to broadcast the farce-as-postseason jumble of games known as the BCS, and I applaud it. Out here on the west coast, I routinely get up at 7 a.m. on Saturdays for College Gameday, and the feeling of skipping sleep for a cup of coffee and ESPN's high-energy coverage reminds me of the glory days of Saturday morning cartoons back in the 80s.
Tennessee wound up firing its coach, a guy named Phillip Fulmer, who helmed the team for most of my adult life. They hired a former pro coach named Lane Kiffin, who will start the 2009 season as the youngest head man in college ball. Good luck, coach Kiffin, and as always: Go. Big. Orange.
Hey, ABC: Fuck you! Fuck you for canceling one of the best shows on TV. Fuck you for giving Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money the time and funds to make actual series finales for the shows – and not Pushing Daisies.
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let me sing the praises of this show, which played like a cross between Roald Dahl and some kind of classical theater. Bryan Fuller’s show produced wonderful, Russian-Doll scripts that filled the mouths of its actors with dense, brainy dialogue, all while surrounding them with super-saturated art design and killer costumes that used every color in the Crayola box of 64.
But like I said: This one gets no formal series finale, which means Fuller won’t have a chance to bring his bittersweet fairy tale to a close. Humbug.
Lost season three got a lot of flak, and it probably deserved it, although I suspect it’ll age well. That said, season three ended in spectacular fashion with the arrival of “Not Penny’s Boat” and the introduction of the flash-forward device – which the show’s platoon of writers have put to excellent use.
The fourth season really got underway with the stunning finale to season three, and its quality barely dipped below “awesome” the whole time. There’s a lot to praise in season four, but I’ll single out the episode “The Constant,” which turned Desmond into Billy Pilgrim and delivered one of the best episodes of TV seen anywhere, by anyone.
Honorable Mention: Scroobius Pip at Coachella, The Shield, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.