Brian’s Decade in Review: The Loose Ends
The 2000s were quite a ride. An unpopular war and a tech school killer were bookended by two collapses (the World Trade Center on 9/11/01 and the global economy during the last two years). Ending as badly as it started, it became the decade that most would rather forget.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. A lot happened along the way from those first few moments of realization that the Y2K bug was a hoax. We became familiar with hanging chads, Brittney Spears kissed Madonna on television, and Janet Jackson’s breasts turned the FCC on its, well, ear. The iPod overtook the Rio player to change how we download and listen to music. Social networking became the fastest method of communication, self promotion, and finding that old high school buddy you’d rather forget. As a reminder that it wasn’t all dark skies, calamities and bad reality shows, let’s look back on a few random moments, loose ends, and the “I forgot about that” stories that shaped the first part of the 2000s.
Biggest Sports Collapse – New York Yankees: As a Yankees fan I can’t bring myself to use the phrase “comeback,” especially when it involves the Boston Red Sox. Semantics aside, what happened during the 2004 AL East Championship series could best be described as the greatest choke in baseball history. Not having won a World Series since 1918, and after being routed 19-8 in game three, the Red Sox seemed on their way towards baseball futility. With the Yankees up 4-1 , the Red Sox found themselves three outs away from being swept from the series. David Ortiz’ two run walk off in the bottom of the twelfth started a comeback . . . or a collapse depending on your point of view . . . which was completed three days later with a 10-3 routing at Yankee Stadium. Boston would go on to win the World Series, the first of two championships. The Yankees fans lost their chants of “1918,” but true to the back of the t-shirt, “it won’t be another 86 years before we win our next one,” the Yankees still ended the decade off with a championship of their own.
Whatever Happened To . . . The Chandra Levy Case: This was the meaty crime story with legs. Chandra Levy, a Washington, DC Federal Bureau of Prisons intern, had been last seen on May 1, 2001. Reported missing by her father on May 6, the story took its tabloid turn a day later, with police and intense media focus turning towards an affair Levy had with Democratic Congressman Gary Condit. Condit, not helping his public image at all, refused polygraph testing as well as avoided directly answering the questions Primetime Thursday’s Connie Chung had asked. While the police never considered Condit a suspect, the Levy family played the media like a fiddle, keeping crews at their doorstep in an attempt to bring justice to their daughter. The networks would eventually leave the story cold, focusing their attention on the World Trade Center attacks. In April of 2009, a Salvadorian illegal immigrant named Ingmar Guandique would be arrested and charged with Chandra Levy’s death. His trial is set for January 27, 2010. Congressman Gary Condit’s reputation suffered, losing the democratic primary election in 2002 and losing his Congressional seat in 2003.
Greatest Scream – Howard Dean : Coming in third never sounded more thrilling. Democrat Howard Dean had the younger, more hip vote; he had some of the Hollywood vote; he certainly had more of an outlined plan than anything rival John Kerry laid out (Kerry seemed to have a plan for everything, we just never certain what it was). He received key endorsements and was making political noise. On January 19, 2004, Howard Dean was responsible for a different kind of noise. Howard Dean placed third in the Iowa Caucuses, in back of John Edwards and John Kerry. Undeterred by the loss, the flu, as well as seeking to energize his base, Dean rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to rattle off what he envisioned for the future of the campaign: state after victorious state. Seeking to be heard above the crowd, he become more emotional, ending with a scream that sounded like cats mating while having their tails trampled. Many of us woke the next day wondering who on earth the screaming lunatic was, only to find out that it was a politician who placed third in a primary. Really. Some say Howard Dean never overcame certain key endorsements. The rest of us believe the banshee wail did him in. If AC/DC ever needs a new lead singer, Howard Dean might be their man.
Greatest Television Roasting – Jon Stewart on Crossfire : Jon Stewart made a huge name for himself in the 2000s, going from standup comedian to one of the most influential men in media. Stewart may see The Daily Show as “fake” news; however, it’s still the place many seem to be using as an actual news source. Years before he held Mad Money host Jim Cramer’s feet to the fire, his January ’04 appearance on CNN’s Crossfire set a standard for cringe broadcasting. Stewart used his appearance not as a plug for his show, but seemingly to take down hosts Paul Begala and Carson Tucker. Starting with a plea to “stop hurting America,” Stewart used every tactic in his arsenal to expose Crossfire, as well as talking head media. Stewart never relented, keeping the pressure on despite Carlson’s attempts to steer the interview towards safer territory. When Carlson told Stewart that he was more fun on his own show, Stewart’s response, immediately before a commercial break, was “you’re as big a d**k on your show.” CNN would cancel Crossfire in January of 2005, with CNN’s incoming president Jonathan Klein citing Stewart’s appearance as a reason for taking it off the air. Was it as uncomfortable as the Jim Cramer take down? Probably not, but Cramer still has his show. Crossfire was CNN history and the noise from talking head programming decreased shortly after.
Most Engaging Yet Confusing Television Program – Lost: This show lives up to its name. Oceanic Flight 815 taking off from Sydney, Australia and bound for Los Angeles, mysteriously goes off course and disappears in the Pacific ocean. While the rest of the world believes the plane is at the bottom of the ocean, its survivors are stranded on an uncharted tropical island. To explain the first season alone would require an article far longer than this one. Told in flashbacks, eventually in flash forwards, the story of the survivors, as well as the island itself, becomes more unclear with each passing episode. Each survivor splinters off not only onto their own present paths, but in some cases multiple futures and pasts. “Others,” “Freighter People,” “Hostiles,” a second or third batch of survivors . . . Multiple knots in the story develop, becoming tangled even greater as each of the five seasons wears on. The massive confusion hasn’t been a deterrent for the die hard viewership of 11 million who tune in each week. After each episode, “Losties” head to the online forums to dissect and discuss the possible meanings behind the show they had just seen. The series that started in 2004 is scheduled to conclude in 2010, with the promise that the biggest questions surrounding Lost will be answered. Not everything will have a resolution. Nestor Carbonell who plays “Other” Richard Alpbert on the show, said that some questions have to remain a mystery, as they should, like the island itself.
Biggest Television “what the hell?” moment – The Sopranos “Made in America”: The biggest question surrounding any television series is, “how will it all end?” Fans were split on The Sopranos. Would Tony Soprano be offed? Would he finally be arrested? Or would he have to suffer the ultimate punishment, living the rest of his life as Tony Soprano? The penultimate episode, “The Blue Comet,” had seen Bobby Baccalieri murdered in a train store, Burt Gervasi killed, as well as Phil Leotardo’s mistress. Silvio Dante was shot in the street, and Tony was on the run. The final moments were of Tony Soprano hiding out, slowly walking up a flight of stairs carrying a rifle, and laying in bed (“going to the mattresses,” ala The Godfather). It left Sopranos fans an intense next-to-last episode, as well as a week to contemplate how this all would end. Very few people remember the first 55 minutes of the final show, but everyone remembers the last five. Tony Soprano sitting in a diner, ordering onion rings, waiting for his Carmela, Meadow, and Anthony Jr. to join him. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” played on the table jukebox, Carmela and Anthony Jr. eating their onion rings as though they were receiving communion, Meadow unable to park her car properly, and a man in a Member’s Only jacket disappearing to a bathroom in back of Tony. The camera shots continuously switch, Meadow gets out of the car, Tony looks up . . . the cable goes out. You looked at your cable box too. We all did, in utter disbelief . . . until the credits began to roll. Once the shock and anger wore off, the speculation began. Did he live or die? What happened? My personal belief is that Tony Soprano was shot by the Members Only jacket guy, given the nature of the camera changes. You knew that it would be a hotly debated topic amongst Sopranos fans. I’m sure David Chase knows for sure, but I doubt he’ll ever tell.
Biggest Comeback in Music – Trey Anastasio (Phish): When we last saw our musical heroes, it was on August of 2004, in Coventry, Vermont. Phish’s Coventry festival was to mark the end of the band, the final two shows of their career. Many had to abandon their cars roadside and hike miles in order to get into the campgrounds after bad weather forced the organizers to turn fans away. Those who ventured in saw a train wreck of epic proportions, an anti-Last Waltz of sorts. In front of tens of thousands, as well as a national audience who paid decent money to see the theatrical broadcasts (I saw both), the wheels came off. The downward spiral that started in 2003 reached its head that weekend. While three other band members played admirably, lead singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio played horrifically, visibly strung out, a shell of his fun loving self. Looking to drive the Phish legacy further into the ground, Anastasio’s solo releases went from bad to worse, his solo live playing remained weak at best. His drug problems came to a head with a 2006 arrest for possession of hashish, heroin, and three prescription painkillers. After reaching bottom, 2009 saw a sober, renewed Trey Anastasio. Phish reunited in March of 2009 with three tight, yet well played shows in Hampton, VA. The year also saw two additional tours, a Halloween festival, and a New Year’s run. His other personal rewards had to have been playing with boyhood idol Bruce Springsteen at Bonnaroo, and alongside The New York Philharmonic. Most of all, the vibrant performance skills were as stunning as they had been before the fall. Welcome back, Trey. You’ve been missed.
Biggest Thunder Stealer– Michael Jackson: In an alternate universe, June 25, 2009 would have been Farrah Fawcett’s day. She was the flighty, yet stunning blonde with the long, flowing hair from the 70s poster so many of us had tacked to our walls in teen-aged adulation. Taking a role on a show with the name Charlie’s Angels (never mind that it was a crime fighting show) seemed fitting. She was iconic–a link to a polyester era. When Fawcett lost her battle with cancer, network news focused their coverage on her. There were to be tributes and remembrances, celebrities weighing in, and Larry King was to devote an entire program to her (sorry Farrah). By 6 pm EST, Farrah Fawcett was an afterthought, replaced by the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. You could call it a study on the shark attack qualities of the media and their facile ability immediately to drop one story to focus on another. Regardless, Michael Jackson was the inescapable talk that evening wherever you went or whatever you watched, drowning out every other news story, and relegating Farrah Fawcett to “oh, by the way” status. In some warped way, I imagine, at least for her family, it was for the best. Let the paparazzi pursue their morbid photos of Jackson’s body, and let Farrah Fawcett rest in peace.