All this year we've used this space to chronicle the annals of pop culture. Specifically, whether or not certain members of this all-encompassing umbrella term are overrated or underrated.
The time has come to focus our microscope a little more sharply and turn our critical eye on the year that was.
So, here they are, the first annual All Overrated/Underrated Awards in the fields of music, television and film.
The "'Everywhere' by Michelle Branch" Award for Most Underrated Record of the Year:
The Winner is:
"Run (I'm a Natural Disaster) by Gnarls Barkley
Guess where this song peaked on the Billboard Hot 100? Top 20? No. Had to be Top 40? Guess Again. Ummm, Top 60. At Least? Nope, try 114. 114! For the most fervently funkadelic record in years. For a song with the raw bombast of George Clinton
combined with the smooth soul of Teddy Pendergrass
coming from one of the hippest bands on the planet. This song got no love and no recognition while the infinitely inferior "Crazy" by the same group hit #2 a few years ago while winning Grammys. Does this make any sense?
The "'Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?' by Paula Cole" Award for Most Overrated Record of the Year
The Winner Is:
"I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry
Just about everything controversial is overrated, and this one had controversy dripping from its Cherry Chapstick-covered lips. It's a song about girls kissing girls after all! Nevermind the fact that its music is dull and monotonous, the singing sounds like it was processed more times than a stick of String Cheese, and Perry came out with three or four better records this year, this one is about girls kissing girls!
Think of it like this. If the lyrics were something like: "Let's go away to the country/Leave all my cares behind me/Let's get away from the city. . ." would anybody have even listened to it? Of course not.
The "Cate Blanchett in 'I'm Not There'" Award for Most Overrated Film Performance of the Year:
And the Winner is:Viola Davis
This isn't any real knock against the performance - Davis did a solid if not spectacular job in the time she was given onscreen. Here's the problem - that time came out to about four minutes: Not nearly enough time to develop or explore a character, let alone to give a great performance. Despite the fact that her role is a glorified cameo, critics associations showered her with awards from the start of Oscar season. Someday, critics will realize that acting is more than walking down a street and crying at the end of a short monologue (in maybe the worst-directed scene of the year. Dosen't John Patrick Shanley know how incredibly distracting it is to have people walk and talk in such a charged scene?). Someday they'll realize this, but probably not anytime soon.
The "Chris Cooper in 'Breach'" Award for Most Underrated Film Performance of the Year:
And the Winner is: Michael Sheen
It's true that Frank Langella's Richard Nixon was superb, but Michael Sheen's David Frost was every bit its equal. Sheen inhabited his character with the same zeal as Langella, finding his own truth in a portrayal of a real-life character.
Despite this, critics ignored him completely, heaping all the praise on Langella and raving about Sheen with the same type of enthusiasm they might reserve for a table lamp. Yes, Langella's role was more flashy, but Sheen's performance was every bit his equal. Yet nobody talks about him. Strange.
The "Crash" Award for Most Overrated Film of the Year
And the Winner is:
Yes, calm down JokerFan8281 or WhySoSerious1512, you don't have to fire off your 600-word comment about how "The Dark Knight
" isn't overrated, because it's not winning this award.
No, this goes to Thomas McCarthy's spectacularly awful "The Visitor" that, despite its overwrought preachiness, distracting plot twists, and story that must essentially reset itself whilst introducing a major character at the halfway point, was simply adored by critics. In fact, if there were a critics' Oscars for films released in the first five months of the year, "The Visitor" would have won at least Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor (though there's nothing overrated about Richard Jenkins' sublimely subtle performance).
"The Visitor" is everything that is wrong with so-called critical darlings: It's boring, it has no real story, what story is there is told in a meandering way that takes away from its impact, and the writer/director lectures us rather than showing us a series of events to make his point. Yet this all adds up to brilliance in know-nothing critics land. Alas, we all have to live with it.
The "Jackie Brown" Award for Most Underrated Film of the Year
And the Winner is:
It seems that for the last few years all Judd Apatow
has to do is breath near a comedy for it to become both a critical and box office success. Starting with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin
" and going through to "Pineapple Express
" films from Apatow and his troupe have been stockpiling cash and accolades for three years now. Then, Paul Rudd and several other Apatow regulars deliver the best movie yet from this bunch and it gets virtually ignored. How did this happen?
"Role Models" is, quite simply, a perfect comedy. It's sublimely funny, to an extent that everybody forgets the jokes afterwards because they were laughing too hard and damaged many brain cells. It also has several excellent storylines running through it - all that come together in a monumental climax. In fact, it's pretty damn near a perfect movie.
Yes, it got pretty good reviews and did pretty well at the box office, but it didn't get the overwhelming and culture-penetrating slurping that most Apatow films receive. Maybe it's because everybody laughed so hard that they forgot they saw it altogether.
The "Peter Krause on 'Six Feet Under'" Award for Most Overrated TV Performance of the Year
And the Winner is: Tina Fey
as Sarah Palin
Yes, this was a good impression - but how hard was it really? It required a Minnesota accent, little makeup (since Tina Fey already looks like Palin) and essentially reading Palin's absent-minded comments verbatim. Was this really that tough? Was it really an impression that required a lot of work from Fey? Probably not. Palin maybe the most easily mocked political figure in the TV era.
Despite these simple facts, people rave about her portrayal to no end. Some say it was what decided the election, some say it was the best "Saturday Night Live
" character of all time, hell, Rosie O'Donnell
said without a hint of irony that Tina Fey deserved the Nobel Prize for her impression. Can't we all just calm down? It was certainly funny and Fey did a good job cutting to the core of Palin's shortcomings, but this was nowhere near the performance of the year, and certainly not worthy of awards given to people like Mother Teresa and Toni Morrison.
The worst thing about the performance is actually that people continually fail to recognize what a genius writer Fey is. Because acting is all they see, they never give Fey her due for writing some of the funniest episodes of "30 Rock" each season and just generally being the most consistently funny comic force on the planet. Having a mere blip in your comedic resume earning you accolades that your vastly superior work never could? Now that's overrated.
The "" Award for Most Underrated TV Performance of the Year
And the Winner is: Elisabeth Moss
in "Mad Men
For all the effusive praise this series receives (see below) barely any of it is directed at the actor giving the show's best performance, and maybe the best TV performance period this side of Bryan Cranston on "Breaking Bad".
Moss is an absolute marvel on this show, staying in complete control of an incredibly complex character while never losing site of the writers' place for Peggy in the thematic structure of the show. She's been given several of the most challenging scenes in the series thus far and routinely exceeds the superb material.
Despite this, nobody seems to notice her. They rave about Hamm and Slattery (sexism anyone?) who rightfully deserve praise but cannot match the revelatory fire that Moss stokess with such deft brilliance. Moss is a shining light for television actors, sadly one that most people are not seeing.
The "Friends" Award for Most Overrated TV Series of the Year
And the Winner is: "Mad Men
The proof that not everything overrated is bad. "Mad Men" is certainly an excellent show, but people really need to curb their praise of the program just a little bit.
First off, this is not "The Sopranos
". Matthew Weiner may have worked on that mafia drama, but "Mad Men" does not have the same sense of humor, basic entertainment value, or overall thematic agenda of its creator's previous series. And none of that is necessarily a good thing. It does have its same intelligence and sophistication, but it's not on the same level. Yet.
Secondly, "Mad Men" is not even the best show of 2008. "Lost
" and "The Wire
" had better seasons and "30 Rock" was also better this year. So stop calling it potentially the greatest show of all time when it isn't even in the top three of one year.
Thirdly, nobody watches this show. Nobody. More people watched "Do Not Disturb" than watch this show. To continue to compare it to "The Sopranos" (as many often do) that HBO show averaged about 8 million a week to "Mad Men"'s barely cracking 2 million. How can a show really be a sea change in our culture when nobody watches it? The answer - it can't.
The "Newsradio" Award for Most Underrated TV Series of the Year
" and "South Park
Somewhere between the Seth MacFarlane
crap parade and Jon Stewart's
rule over Comedy Central, the best two animated series in the history of television got lost in the shuffle, despite continually delivering exceptional seasons.
These shows share the common bond of being able to do social satire better than anyone else on the small screen. "South Park" is more biting and "The Simpsons" more broad but each is hilarious in its own way. Whether it's the Colorado kids' brilliant evisceration of Obamania or the Springfieldians' cutting Apple into miniscule slices, but shows never fail to bring the heat.
Despite the fact that these shows have maintained a high level of intelligent comedy for so long, nobody seems to talk about them anymore. Maybe it's because we've gotten to the point that we take them for granted - we simply know they're always going to be good so we cease to recognize the quality. Instead everybody seems to focus their positive attention on the smoldering train wreck that is "Family Guy
". Now that's underrated.
Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer