2014 Roundup: The Rest, Or Things That Helped Define Pop Culture in 2014

2014, if nothing else, was a year for breakout entertainment – podcasts turned into a thing! An 11-minute sketch that aired in the middle of the night became a genuine phenomenom! …Billy Eichner! In this column, Ben and I will talk about all of our favorite things that defied category and defined the year.

NINA’S PICKS

Best Investigation into the Nature of Truth: Serial

This was the year of the podcast – at least, from October on, this was the year of the podcast. It’s not like This American Life was totally under the radar, but its semi-spinoff, Serial, which focused on the purportedly unsolved murder of high school student Hae Min Lee and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, quickly became the most downloaded podcast ever and a bona fide pop culture sensation. Even though its ending probably dissatisfied some, the point of Serial was never to exonerate Adnan or to implicate the mysterious Jay (who is, as I write this, putting out a series of increasingly obnoxious interviews), but to investigate the mess that our justice system makes of so many cases. Plus, this was so fucking addictive. Thursdays suck without you, Sarah.

Best Movie Soundtrack You Actually Wanted to Listen To: Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1

I already talked a little bit about how wonderful Guardians of the Galaxy, but that’s due in large part to the soundtrack – even though it’s less of a “soundtrack” than just kind of a mixtape of the most popular songs of the late 70s. Featuring foot-jigglers like “I Want You Back,” “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Come and Get Your Love,” the soundtrack adds the perfect touch of whimsy to an otherwise traditional superhero movie, and when you put your headphones in and listen to the album on its own, your mind immediately goes to scenes in the movie, which is nothing to complain about. I mean, honestly, I dare you to listen to “Hooked on a Feeling” and not feel super happy. I fucking dare you.

Best Comeback: The Comeback

I will admit, right here and now, that I’m a few episodes behind on The Comeback‘s comeback, but it’s been strong enough that I don’t have any hesitation in declaring it to be one of the best things to happen this year. Lisa Kudrow is and has always been an incredibly skilled comedian, and this show was always the perfect one to put her talents on full display – Valerie Cherish is such a sad, semi-lovable nutjob, and it is legitimately impossible to tear your eyes away from her, even when she’s practically digging her on grave, but Kudrow always manages to play those emotional beats so beautifully that you’re always on her side (not unlike Steve Carell’s horrible yet totally sympathetic Michael Scott). Continuing this show after almost ten years might seem crazy to some, but The Comeback‘s razor-sharp Hollywood satire is what we need now, more than ever before.

Best Book Trend: Celeboirs

What are celeboirs, you may ask? Well, a “celeboir” is not only a word that I just recently made up (copyright pending), but it’s a word that means “celebrity memoir,” and man, was this fall all about celeboirs. First Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, followed quickly by Neil Patrick Harris’ Choose Your Own Autobiography, and capped off with national hero Amy Poehler’s Yes Please (plus the announcement that Mindy Kaling is working on book #2, and people probably rereading Bossypants), we were inundated with stories about celebrity childhoods and tales of their darkest struggles. And you know what? That was great. (I’m sure there were more celeboirs that came out this fall, but these are my three favorites.) Despite some (stupid) controversy over passages from Dunham’s book, all three managed to be raw, honest and painful while remaining giant bundles of fun. I very much enjoyed all three, but if I had to pick a favorite child, it’s probably Yes Please, which was so overwhelmingly positive and joyful (but with a healthy amoutn of pathos thrown in) that it practically had Amy Poehler-shaped rainbows bursting out of it when I first opened it.

Best Schlub Turned Superhero: Chris Pratt

I told you I was going to come back to Chris Pratt, didn’t I? When everyone’s favorite dummy Andy Dwyer was first cast in Guardians, I think we all felt a little bit confused – Chris Pratt wasn’t the slimmest of men, and seemed almost too broadly funny to play the leader of a band of galaxy-savers. (I think we had also collectively forgotten about the other two movies he lost weight for, because nobody really remembers Moneyball or Zero Dark Thirty. Sorry.) All of a sudden, Pratt slimmed down and bulked up, and now… well, I think that picture speaks for itself. That being said, beyond his impressive new physique, Andy Dwyer turned out to be the perfect superhero for the modern age – a witty, yet unsuspecting everyman. Between Guardians, The Lego Movie, and the upcoming Jurassic World, Pratt can’t lose, especially since we want to see him win on screen as much as possible. (The whole French-braid thing didn’t hurt, either.)
BEN’S PICKS

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Best Comedian That Everyone Should Be Paying Attention To: Billy Eichner

If you don’t know who Billy Eichner is, then you’ve been missing out. Between his terrific “game show” Billy on the Street (now in it’s 3rd season), and his new supporting role on Parks & Recreation as “Crazy” Craig Middlebrooks, Eichner has become the go-to “I WILL YELL AT YOU FOR THE SAKE OF COMEDY” comedian. His musings on pop culture and trademark manic rage have gotten him guest spots on Bob’s Burgers and New Girl, and he even got a Billy on the Street segment featured on the Emmy’s this year. Pretty soon, Eichner is going to be running Hollywood, and you’ll know because he’ll be yelling at you about it.

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Best Use of Our Time: The Simpsons marathon and app

As someone who (a) grew up on The Simpsons, and (b) mainly watches television on a computer, I was always sad that I couldn’t combine these two loves. That all changed this year, when FXX launched the Simpsons World App, allowing viewers to watch every single episode of The Simpsons. All of them. All 26 seasons. It’s something we’ve been asking for for years, and now it’s here, and it’s utterly magical. While the majority of these episodes are obviously not too great (Don’t bother watching from Season 11 onwards), we’ve still got 10 classic seasons of prime comedy to watch again and again. So many jokes to rewatch, and SO MUCH TIME to do it.

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Hardest Working Performer of the Year: Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris (or NPH, as the kids like to call him) had quite an eventful year. Many celebrities write autobiographies, but NPH went and wrote his own “Choose Your Own Adventure” style biography letting you decide the fate of the child-actor-turned-superstar. He also starred on Broadway in the first major New York revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, giving a thrilling and heartfelt performance which won him a Tony Award. Also he was in the hit film Gone Girl. And an episode of American Horror Story. AND he’s hosting the Oscars in 2015. Damn it, NPH, what CAN’T you do? Well, he can’t stop, apparently.

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Best Damn Trailer Of The Year: The Star Wars Trailer

Are you a Star Wars fan? You’re not? Well, go watch the trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and tell me that doesn’t look AMAZING. Yes, the inner nerd in me is PUMPED for this new film to come out, directed by J.J. Abrams, and nowhere near the hands of George “The prequels are terrible films” Lucas. Even from the very brief shots we got, it looks like Abrams is bringing us back to some of the original style and iconography that made the original trilogy so memorable, as well as adding some of his own special effects and visionary flair to the mix. And that John Williams score? It can’t be December soon enough.

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Best Thing of the Year: Too Many Cooks

Thinking back on that wonderful time in October of 2014 when this video was released unto the world, it’s quite remarkable that something like this become the phenomenon it did. Was it the ridiculous nostalgic parody of theme songs from our childhood that triggered something in our collective consciousness? The way NO ONE knew what was coming next once “The Man” showed up? The fact that it was 11 minutes long and spanned various genres including cop-show, animated series, and sci-fi epic? Was it Smarf?! It was Smarf, wasn’t it? It’s almost too perfect an encapsulation of 2014; taking our most precious nostalgic memories and making something completely bonkers. And you know, it takes a lot to make a stew…

 

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