The Pop Culture Circus of 2013 Should Be an Easy Act to Follow

A&E_opener_01_02_13For as long as I can remember, odd years have been better for me. I learned to walk in 1981; had my first frappucino in 1995; married my husband in 2007; and gave birth to our child in 2011. Of course I’m selectively editing here—the Melrose Place premiere in 1992 and Barack Obama’s election in 2008 were even-year highlights—but statistically speaking the odds are, as the The Hunger Games slogan goes, ever in my favor. This, of course, suggests that 2014 should be worse than 2013, a fact which normally would make me extremely depressed going into January if it didn’t seem sort of … well, impossible. I don’t mean that I couldn’t walk outside tomorrow and get crushed by an anvil—that is a real threat, especially if your daily to-do list includes obsessively stalking the Road Runner. But because so much of my life revolves around the consumption of, and reflection on, pop culture, I find that my overall satisfaction with the past 12 months’ media morsels—from movies to music to political scandals to celebrity Twitter feuds—figures significantly into my grade for the year. And by that measure, it would be hard to fail more spectacularly than 2013.

The Sound of Music  - Season 2013

Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music

It didn’t help that we went out on a particularly low note, sung with constipated aplomb by True Blood’s Stephen Moyer as Captain von Trapp in NBC’s ill-advised live broadcast of The Sound of Music. That might have been the worst thing ever aired on TV, and I watched an entire season of Living Lohan, so I know. In fairness, though, Carrie Underwood’s blank, frightened stare was a spot-on imitation of my reaction to many of this year’s freshman shows. While there were standouts, such as Orange Is the New Black, Orphan Black and Masters of Black—I mean, Sex, there were so many duds (Dads, The Goldbergs, Welcome to the Family, Do No Harm, Sean Saves the World, I could go on) that I felt like tossing bombs on them from a helicopter, Sharknado-style. Add to that the fact that two of my favorite shows ever—30 Rock and Breaking Bad—met their makers and that Mad Men belly-flopped up to the bar for a somewhat less-than-gimlet-eyed sixth season, and I was in such a mood that I didn’t even enjoy watching Michael Douglas bang the ivories (and Matt Damon) as Liberace in HBO’s Behind the Candelabra.

Then, of course, there were MTV’s infamous Video Music Awards, which actually took place a few blocks from my apartment in Brooklyn, and which I watched only through online GIFs the following morning. It probably shows my age to confess that my first reaction was confusion—Why was Beetlejuice humping a Kewpie doll?—and my second was that I had no idea what they were singing. No blurred lines here; apparently, I can stop … listening to any music not featuring vocals by Elmo. Incidentally, my 2-year-old was very into the twerking teddy bears.

I did manage to listen to two pop hits of 2013: “Best Song Ever,” by the floppy-haired fetuses of One Direction—because I’m very trusting and took the title (wrongly, it turned out) at its word; and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” which was actually very catchy, although I’m not sure how R2-D2 and C-3PO figure into the music video.

Downtown’s Life Is Beautiful festival, featuring Vampire Weekend and Las Vegas’ own stars the Killers and Imagine Dragons, was the hot ticket of the year. Sadly, I spent my time watching the auto-tune of Paula Deen awkwardly apologizing for making her waitstaff dress as slaves—a gem that I suspect will be overlooked come Grammy time.

Movies didn’t fare quite so poorly, although the Oscars telecast on February 24 hosted by a smug and bloviating Seth MacFarlane wasn’t great for morale. (As far as I’m concerned, the Academy has failed if Billy Crystal doesn’t enter on horseback.)


Kimye in Bound 2

Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, Blue Jasmine, Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Wolf of Wall Street: All of these fine films will make this year’s race a must-see nail-biter, with the added bonus that host Ellen DeGeneres will likely refrain from belting out a reprise of “We Saw Your Boobs.” In keeping with my generally playpen-bound existence these days, I watched most of 2013’s movies on the small screen, but two that I did happen to catch in theaters were This Is the End and The World’s End, both hilarious comedies that managed to make the very astute point that all is lost and we should just give up. (A few other blatant warning signs: Adam Levine’s crowning as People’s Sexiest Man Alive; Kanye West’s “Bound 2” music video.)

Speaking of the irascible Louis Vuitton Don, the scandals of 2013 were of exceptionally high quality, although the sheer number of them isn’t promising for the human race as a whole. We had the unmasking of Deen as a secret racist; Reese Witherspoon getting arrested while belligerently drunk; Anthony Weiner sexting—this time with a Las Vegan!; Lance Armstrong doping; Justin Bieber being photographed making a saggy-pantsed departure from a Brazilian brothel; Edward Snowden blowing the cover off the NSA; and, oh yeah, the entire federal government shutting down for 16 days. Lucky for us, Canadian police chose to declassify a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack right around this time, and suddenly John Boehner didn’t look bad by comparison. He would have made a great Captain von Trapp, in fact, if he didn’t cry so often. Maybe NBC will consider him for a live production of Les Miz next year.

That’s the thing about New Year’s. There’s a sense of magic that lingers over these first few weeks, convincing us that anything is possible; that everything will improve. And despite the stubborn persistence of our personal travails and the steady march of time across our faces, pop culture gets more of a break, with a slate wiped as clean as a brand-new DVR queue.

Who knows what fresh glories await us? Britney Spears just landed in Vegas for her residency at Planet Hollywood, which is intriguing if not exactly dependable (the last high-profile thing she did here, Jason Alexander, didn’t stick). In a week, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will host the 2014 Golden Globes, which is as exciting for me as a Hillary-RuPaul 2016 ticket. Miley Cyrus will bring her Bangerz tour to the MGM on March 1; who knows what inanimate object she might grind! Over the summer, reptiles will do for scales what vampires did for fangs as Godzilla and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles both stage long-awaited comebacks. The rest is, as Natasha Bedingfield would tell us, still unwritten.

But as I look ahead to the many, many weeks of my life I am willing to sacrifice, yet again, to screens both big and small, and to stages from Broadway to the Strip, I can’t fight the creeping, titillating suspicion that the odds may be finally with the evens.