Debbie’s Totally Random and Completely Insignificant Pop Culture Awards of 2021

Hey, long time no see! I know it’s been a significant hiatus since my last post. As it has been for most people, the last few months have been very difficult for me, both because of the pandemic and because of various personal issues. I didn’t want to miss out on my pop culture awards, as this is one of my favorite things to blog about!

Remember, these are just for fun!

The Episode That Kicked the Ass of Anything at the Movies Award

Seven, Squid Game

I had so, so, SO many possibilities for this award this year! In spite of Covid and many production delays, television series, particularly from streaming services, have been kicking major ass! I’m still trying to catch up on many of them.

For my money, though, the series that stood above the rest is the South Korean phenomenon, Squid Game. The story of a debt-ridden man (Lee Jung-jae) who receives an invitation to compete for a fantastic cash prize by playing children’s games, I don’t think I’m giving anything away here by revealing it turns out that losing means losing your life.

Of course, when I first heard of this premise, I thought “Hunger Games for adults.” But the story is way more than that, in fact, it highlights how the Hunger Games movies (which I still love) really whitewash the violence (for good reason, they were marketing to children, after all).

Here, with no such limitations, the cruelty and barbarity of forcing people to fight to the death is breathtaking and disturbing in a whole new way. I chose the seventh episode of the series, not because it’s necessarily better than other episodes but because it disturbed me so entirely I had to pause watching the series for a few days before continuing.

The “game” in this episode is a bridge made of glass squares, some strong enough to hold a person’s weight and others that are so flimsy stepping on one sends the contestant who steps on it crashing to their death. It’s very suspenseful, and at this point in the series we have invested heavily in the main characters. The people running the game keep telling the contestants they are all equal and each have the same chance to win. But it is a rigged game, clearly a metaphor for the times we live in.

I don’t want to talk too much more about it because I don’t want to spoil it in case you’re one of the few people out there who hasn’t seen it. Just watch it.

The Apocalypse Doesn’t Have to Be a Total Downer Award

Station Eleven

Several of the later episodes of Station Eleven would have been in contention for the previous award, but the series ran into January, so one may win next time depending on what else comes out this year.

I’m thinking nothing will come out to beat those last few episodes, because this series is amazing. Many have been calling it a work of art, and for once, I don’t think people are being hyperbolic.

I will warn you—the first couple of episodes may be triggering. Taking place just before, during, and after a flu pandemic that quickly kills almost everyone, there are more than a few ways it resonates with the present. The timeline shifts several times throughout the ten episodes. It opens during, of all things, a performance of King Lear, as the main actor Arthur Leander (Gael Garcia Bernal) dies onstage of a heart attack.

Two if the people at the play, an audience member named Jeevan Chaudhary (Himesh Patel) and a young girl acting in the play named Kirsten (Matilda Lawler; Mackenzie Davis as an adult) are thrown together and end up having to ride out the pandemic together. The series pieces together their fates and the fates of other people connected to Arthur.

I don’t want to give too much away—this is better experienced going in cold, as readers of the book it’s based on seem not to care for the series as much. I will say that the story is as terrifying as you would expect. But it’s also way more hopeful than you would expect. In this timeline we’re living though, it’s good to be reminded that humanity isn’t completely lost, that art and love and human connection can sustain us.

The I Wish They Had Just Done a Reunion Show Like Friends Did Award

And Just Like That

Not gonna lie, I was excited when I heard about the Sex and the City continuation, And Just Like That. Even though Kim Cattrall was not returning as Samantha, the idea of picking up the lives of Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte was very appealing. What a fantastic premise, too, examining the way women’s lives change as they hit the post-menopause phase.

What a complete and utter train wreck this show has turned out to be. Unlike most people, I had no problem with them killing off Big (even pre-revelations about Chris Noth’s horrendous behavior). I always thought Carrie and Big had a toxic relationship and never bought their happily ever after.

I also think it’s great that they decided to make the cast more accurately reflect the diversity of New York City.

But man. They messed up on just about EVERY COUNT.

Do I believe Miranda could become disenchanted with her marriage and might find herself exploring new aspects of her sexuality? Sure. But the way they executed it has been so cringy and has ignored the history of her character. (Hey, remember when she gave Steve such a hard time for cheating? Apparently, the writers don’t.) Same with the friendships with the women of color added to the cast. They act like they’ve never SEEN Black people before!

Worst of all is how they have the characters in their mid-50s acting like they are in their 80s. Fine if they want to have Steve become deaf but how about treating it seriously and not as a joke to make him look like a fool? Do we have to hear every detail about Harry’s urine stream?

What a waste.

The Perfect Antidote to the Shit Show And Just Like That Turned Out to Be Award

Harlem

I was complaining about And Just Like That to my sister and mentioned that I wished the show had centered about the four women of color talking about their cringy white women friends, and she said, “There’s a show like that. Watch Harlem.”

What delightful show! It centers around four ambitious women who are witnessing the gentrification of their neighborhood. Camile (Meagan Good) is a college professor hoping for a permanent post at Columbia while still smarting over a long-dead relationship, Quinn (Grace Byers) is a struggling business owner looking for Mr. Right, Tye (Jerrie Johnson) runs a successful dating app for LGBT people of color, and Angie (Shoniqua Shandai) is a singer/actress who is seeking fame and fortune while couch surfing at Quinn’s.

It’s not new as far as the “several women friends seeking love and success” formula (not even because they’re Black; Living Single, for instance, predates SATC) but it’s very funny (particularly when Angie is rehearsing a musical based on the movie Get Out, these scenes are a SCREAM) and very New York centric, highlighting a neighborhood we rarely see portrayed in a positive light. Can’t wait for Season 2.

This is the Western I’ve Been Waiting for Award

The Harder They Fall

Anyone who’s been following this blog knows I love, love, LOVE Westerns. However, I have been disenchanted with many modern Westerns because they are always the SAME and rarely even attempt to fix the problematic aspects of classic Westerns. If I see ONE more Western advertised about a traumatized ex-Confederate soldier and/or rescuing a white girl from Native American captors, I’m going to freakin’ HURL.

Then along comes The Harder They Fall, a Western featuring a nearly all-Black cast. Does it have many classic Western tropes? Yup. But it also has unique aspects. You’ve got your revenge plot, as well as your fight over a town plot, but the town in question is a “Freemen’s Town”: almost entirely made up of Black people, founded by the formally enslaved after the Civil War. This historical fact is so little known that social media was lit up with outrage over how “unrealistic” this is, a perfect example of how inaccurately popular culture has portrayed the American West.

Nearly every character is based on a real-life African American historical figure, though they are all highly fictionalized. The vibe is very Sergio Leone (I have to laugh out loud at the bros who claim the movie “stole” from Quentin Tarantino when he steals from everyone, including Blaxploitation films of the 70s, another strong influence on this film).

The cast features powerhouses Idris Elba, Delroy Lindo, Regina King, Lakeith Stanfield, and Danielle Deadwyler (who is spectacular both here and in the aforementioned Station Eleven). The soundtrack is also fantastic, a melding of hip-hop, soul, gospel, and jazz.

They left the movie open-ended. I’m ready to saddle up for the sequel!

THE OMG Why Are Critics So in Love With Movies About Horrible People Award

TIE:

The Power of The Dog and The Lost Daughter

Unlike many TV series last year, I found most of the films that I watched incredibly disappointing.

I am such a huge fan of Jane Campion’s film The Piano and was very psyched when I found out she had directed a Western! I was so sure I would love it, especially since it seemed to have a lot in common with one of my favorite films of all time, Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven.

It’s true there are similarities (early 20th century setting, an ugly story set against a beautiful American West vista) but I found it far from engrossing. The protagonists in Days of Heaven are not evil people; they are trapped in a system that they can never rise out of, so their actions are understandable. The Power of the Dog is just about horrible people, even though they try to redeem them by “explaining” why they are horrible.

The acting is uniformly fantastic (particularly newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee) but the film is a chore to sit through. It’s also highly disappointing to see a female director make a film where the one major female character is little more than a plot device.

The Lost Daughter also features stunning acting turns and in this one, women are the focus. Olivia Colman can do no wrong in my book and Jessie Buckley, who plays her character as a young woman, is also amazing. I strongly appreciate a movie that doesn’t idealize motherhood. But you can achieve that without making the protagonist a raging narcissist.

I know these are unpopular opinions and expect both films to win a boatload of awards, but it would be nice to see drama movies about complex human beings who aren’t also total dumpster fires.

Well, this has gone on way longer than I expected. I probably forgot some things, so I may do a follow-up. Hope to do more blogging in 2022!

In the meantime, please enjoy Sleepy Skunk’s 2021 Movie Trailer Mashup:

3 thoughts on “Debbie’s Totally Random and Completely Insignificant Pop Culture Awards of 2021

  1. Awards blogs are always fun! That’s why I’ve been doing one for years, except mine (of course) are about sports. But like you, I invented my won…and far more fun…categories.

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