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Pop Culture's Highs And Lows Of 2014 Thus Far

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TRUE DETECTIVE HBO
"True Detective" is a pop culture high. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Here we are. It's the midyear point, which means we are finally within our right to declare 2014 a dud. We won't, though. It hasn't been that bad. We have an elevator, a hotel and a prison to thank for the bright spots in what's mostly been a dull six months. Here are the few highs and lows we could detect in the year's malaise so far:

  • HIGH: Sunday TV
    HBO
    Between "Game of Thrones," "True Detective," "Mad Men," "Veep," "The Good Wife," "Girls," "Penny Dreadful," "Silicon Valley" (pictured) and "The Leftovers," you probably know by now to keep your Sunday night calendar clear. It seems like every buzzy show not about a sartorially inclined D.C. fixer now airs on Sunday. How to split your time among HBO's offerings and other networks' can be daunting, but any upstanding TV fan has conquered the Sunday struggle.
  • LOW: The Bey/Jay press camp's struggles
    Getty Images
    The infallible Carter clan suffered some pains during the first half of 2014. Everything was going swimmingly, as usual, until some suggestive photos and a video showcasing a little elevator incident hit the Web. Nothing was the same. We spent weeks debating why Solange lashed out at Jay Z and whether the scene signaled thunderstorms for the Bey/Jay wedding bed. Then the duo didn't attend the Kimye wedding, and Kanye West began omitting Jay's name from his lyrics during live performances. There were reports of the duo's On the Run Tour fizzling out. (Those have since been largely denounced. Phew.) Everything will work out for America's first couple of pop, as it always does, but the past couple of months had the Beygency on high alert and the rest of us lighting candles to ward off the demons that overtook their spotless record.
  • HIGH: Brie Larson and Shailene Woodley rewriting the rules of young-Hollywood feminism
    Alberto E. Rodriguez via Getty Images
    As we become increasingly critical of gender portrayals in Hollywood, two actresses have shattered the way young females talk about fame. They've done the blockbuster thing, they've done the awards thing -- but neither is boxed into any particular identity. Moreover, they're shepherding a fierce campaign to dispel the incessant comparisons the media assigns to women. "As women, we are constantly told that we need to compare ourselves to a girl in school, to our co-workers, to the images in a magazine. How is the world going to advance if we’re always comparing ourselves to others?" Woodley told New York magazine. "I admire Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s everyone’s favorite person to compare me to. Is it because we both have short hair and a vagina? I see us as separate individuals. And that’s important. As women, our insecurities are based on all these comparisons. And that creates distress." Woodley and Larson may truly blaze new paths for up-and-coming women in Hollywood.
  • LOW: Superhero saturation
    Associated Press
    If the world isn't seeing superhero movies, it's talking about them. Three of the five highest-grossing films of the year so far are comic book adaptations ("Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "X-Men: Days of Future Past," "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"). In August, we'll see "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." The rest of the time will be spent tracking down rumors, anticipating casting news, hoping forgotten superheroes get their big-screen break and forecasting the never-ceasing onslaught of expensive butt-kicking. That we're on overdrive is old news, but as plenty of thinkpieces indicate, geez, are these movies getting boring.
  • HIGH: "Orange Is the New Black" Season 2
    Netflix
    The second round of Netflix's most successful show was just as watchable as its first. Three of the season's standouts -- Danielle Brooks, Adrienne C. Moore and Samira Wiley -- are seen here, but they're a mere morsel in the wonder of Jenji Kohan's series. Fans are on high alert for signs the show will stumble into the same bombastic territory "Weeds" did, and while Season 2 is not without flaws, "Orange Is the New Black" is again the year's most dynamic comedy.
  • HIGH: Lupita Nyong'o in "Star Wars: Episode VII" (and pretty much everything else about "Star Wars: Episode VII")
    Getty Images
    After that photo from the first "Episode VII" table read became the coolest way to electrify "Star Wars" fans (not that it takes much), every piece of news to emerge from the Rebel Alliance base elicited bliss. The apex came about a month after the first cast photo, when Lupita Nyong'o joined the lineup. She's rumored to be playing a villain in the film, which sounds perfect to us. Also in great "Star Wars" news: everything except Harrison Ford's on-set injury, but especially the fact that Rian Johnson will write and direct "Episode VIII," and at least write "Episode IX." The Force is strong with that one.
  • LOW: The "Frozen" soundtrack dominating the Billboard chart for weeks on end
    Associated Press
    "Frozen," you're great. The world loves you. But we are so over you. Primarily the fact that you were the most popular album in America for 13 of the first 20 weeks of the year. In truth, we're not down on "Frozen" so much as we are the dearth of notable new music. The movie came out last November, yet barely any albums could dethrone its Billboard perch during the first half of 2014. That's great for Disney and tiresome for anyone who enjoys music, particularly those without small children or singalong predilections.
  • HIGH: "Broad City"
    Comedy Central
    No pun intended when we call this stoner-friendly comedy one of 2014's highest "highs." Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson developed their beloved Web series into a full-fledged sitcom, and a bigger audience met the zaniest BFF duo to hit prime-time. There's a surrealism to the way "Broad City" is written, with dialogue and camerawork that are married to Ilana and Abbi's most intimate expressions. It's also just uproarious.
  • LOW: The "How I Met Your Mother" finale
    CBS
    Everyone's always up in arms about series finales, but usually it's dramas like "The Sopranos" and "Lost" that elicit this level of fury. "How I Met Your Mother" may go down as the most despised sitcom conclusion in history. The show's quality had waned in its final couple of seasons, but CBS had the opportunity to rewrite the series' legacy -- much in the way "Roseanne," "The Cosby Show" and "The Office" worked to salvage theirs years earlier. Alas, no luck: The titular mother died, placing a macabre cherry on top of an already onerous season. We'll never see the show in the same light again, no matter how vociferously the cast defends it.
  • HIGH: "Obvious Child"
    A24
    It's a pro-choice rom-com that isn't looking to make some ostentatious statement about abortion or love. It also points to an uptick in Jenny Slate appreciation, and that's something we can all agree on.
  • LOW: Paparazzo attacker guy
    Getty Images
    In 2012, Will Smith slapped Ukrainian journalist Vitalii Sediuk after he tried to kiss Jada Pinkett on a red carpet. This year the same "nutter" (Brad Pitt's word, not ours) grabbed Bradley Cooper's and Leonardo DiCaprio's crotches, peeked under America Ferrara's dress (aiming for Cate Blanchett) and struck Pitt across the face. Sediuk is now performing community service while wearing a shirt with Pitt's bare chest on it. The world is no longer safe.
  • HIGH: The "Black Jeopardy!" sketch on "Saturday Night Live"
    Dana Edelson/NBC
    "SNL" has seen high marks this year, despite a recent exodus followed by an over-expansion of the cast. Any number of sketches could constitute a top moment for Season 39, but we're assigning that honor to "Black Jeopardy!" for its smart take on racial divergence.
  • HIGH: Outkast's reunion
    Getty Images
    Andre 3000 and Big Boi were rusty when they took the Coachella stage for their first performance in 10 years. Festival-goers condemned the set, but when the duo returned for the second Coachella weekend, it was clear they'd received the message. A revamped setlist proved that Outkast was not skimping on their return to the spotlight. They've stormed through every performance since, and their calendar is full of 'em throughout most of 2014.
  • LOW: "Community" was canceled -- the one time we thought it wouldn't be
    AP
    At last, "Community" hit its stride and seemed like it might avoid the cancellation threats that beleaguered the comedy year after year. Then NBC yanked the plug. Thank goodness for Yahoo's save and another example of a fan base championing its fallen show.
  • HIGH: "The Fault in Our Stars"
    Associated Press
    John Green's best-selling YA novel spread its weepy wings across theaters, collecting an impressive $48 million out of the gate. Alongside "Heaven is For Real," it's one of only two films in the year's 20 most lucrative that was made for less than $15 million.
  • LOW: The YA literature debate it started
    Getty Images
    The day before "The Fault in Our Stars" opened, Slate's Ruth Gordon wrote a diatribe about why adults should be "embarrassed" to read young-adult material. Cue fiery debates about the purpose of entertainment, the quality of strong storytelling and the dumbing down of culture. Cue, also, the right to read and watch whatever one wants, the importance of recapturing adolescence as a means of informing adulthood, and the fact that "TFIOS" is a tentpole novel and movie that buttresses the more mature entertainment Gordon demands we embrace. If non-franchise movie-ticket sales and book sales are murkier than ever, why fault one of the increasingly rare titles that captures the zeitgeist of its own accord?
  • HIGH: The McConaissance continues
    Associated Press
    We're already mentioned that "True Detective" is great. The moody HBO drama premiered in January and was nearing its conclusion when McConaughey scored the Best Actor Oscar for "Dallas Buyers Club." The guy was everywhere for the span of about three months, and we never tired of hearing him holler, "All right, all right, all right!" Earlier this month, he won his first TV award when the Critics' Choice Television Awards handed him Best Actor in a Drama Series. He's essentially guaranteed an Emmy nomination for the role (and could win), and we'll see a whole other round of McConaughey love emerge when Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" premieres in November.
  • LOW: There's another "Transformers" movie
    Associated Press
    Read the reviews. Just read 'em.
  • LOW: Michael Jackson hologram at the Billboard Music Awards
    Getty Images
    The King of Pop died five years ago. This is how you honor him?
  • HIGH: The best-reviewed movie of the year is also one of the highest-grossing
    AP
    This isn't a foreign concept ("Toy Story 3" earned both honors in 2010), but the bulk of any given year's critical darlings are often not associated with colossal box-office intake. "The Lego Movie," which has 96 percent positive reviews and $257 million in domestic grosses, has already broken the barrier between critical favorability and widespread popularity.
  • LOW: Still no minorities on network late night
    Getty Images
    You go, Stephen Colbert! Exit that Comedy Central perch and grab the stuffy CBS audience by their "NCIS"-loving lapels. As sad as it is to see David Letterman's departure signal the finale of late night's old guard, Colbert's move opens the door for a new brand of humor, or perhaps a fresh format altogether. Unfortunately, it also does nothing for the lack of minorities who populate the network late-night scene. At least there was Arsenio Hall, but now we won't even have him. Colbert is a great replacement, so it's hard to pick apart this issue without talking in circles, but there's still a lingering sense of disappointment that late night is lacking so severely in anything but middle-aged white dudes.
  • HIGH: "Happy" has dominated
    Getty Images
    Fine, it's a tad overplayed. But admit it: You still adore "Happy." Pharrell Williams' hit spent 10 consecutive weeks at No. 1, making us smile and feel all sorts of corny, dance-worthy things each time we heard it. It also led to the Oscars' best moment (including groovy moves from Meryl Streep, Lupita Nyong'o and Amy Adams), a touching Oprah interview and a slew of viral videos.
  • LOW: The demise of "The View"
    AP
    Days ago, I was insisting everyone but Whoopi Goldberg be fired from the a.m. talkfest. Telepathy works. Sherri Shepherd and Jenny McCarthy reportedly will not return for Season 18 of "The View." Amen. The show needs more than Whoopi to remain interesting, and by all unofficial counts, Barbara Walters' retirement signaled that "The View" had truly collapsed. Going forward, the pressure is on to restore the show to what it was when Rosie O'Donnell and Joy Behar sat at the panelists' table. That means the guest co-hosts who parade through the studio every morning with increasing obscurity and dwindling allure need to be a thing of the past. Oh, and please don't cast a man. Just don't.
  • HIGH: "The Grand Budapest Hotel" may be Wes Anderson's best movie
    AP
    It's certainly his highest-grossing, as well as the highest-grossing opening weekend for a limited release in history.
  • LOW: People like Gary Oldman and Justin Bieber still can't keep their mouths shut
    Getty Images
    Because apparently Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Paula Dean didn't do enough to demonstrate the perils of public prejudice, it's 2014 and we still have people spouting racial invective. Bieber's blunder, to his slight credit, technically occurred when he was 15. That's at least moderately better than Oldman, who, at 56, managed to badmouth Jews, gays, blacks, women, media personalities and general political correctness in one fell swoop. The whole thing is so inane that it's almost not worth mentioning how shameful it is that Oldman couldn't take the time to craft words that didn't insult masses of people. But enmity, sadly, is nothing new in Hollywood. Good thing the public hasn't become any more forgiving.
  • HIGH: Same-sex weddings at the Grammys
    AP
    Macklemore and Ryan Lewis used their anthem "Same Love" to promote same love at the Grammys in February. Thirty-three couples of varying genders, races and ages wed with the nation as their witness while Mary Lambert and Madonna joined the duo onstage and Queen Latifah officiated. The event didn't provide the cultural climax the telecast's organizers were hoping for, but it was a touching moment nonetheless.
  • LOW: Camerawoman killed on the set of Gregg Allman biopic
    Getty Images
    Sarah Jones was 27 when she was struck by a train and killed on the first day of filming "Midnight Rider." A homicide investigation was launched while the death sent Hollywood reeling. A touching campaign, Slates for Sarah, had film and TV crews dedicating their clapperboards to the fallen camerawoman -- an unfortunate marker of the way the entertainment industry comes together to honor one of their own. More important, filmmakers used the tragedy to ignite a conversation about safety standards on production sets. They shouldn't need to have that conversation, though, especially not as director Randall Miller made efforts to resume work on the film.
  • HIGH: The return of "Rectify"
    AP
    This slow-burning Sundance drama was the one of 2013's best (and under-watched) shows. It's moodier than "Mad Men," as gripping as "True Detective" and as studied as "Six Feet Under." Season 2 has basked in rapturous reviews.
  • LOW: NBC's "Rosemary's Baby" miniseries
    NBC
    There used to be decent movies and miniseries on broadcast TV. If May's two-part "Rosemary's Baby" reboot represents anything, it's the fact that this is no longer true. It's not news for a remake to fall flat, especially when dealing with an iconic Roman Polanski film known for its idiosyncrasies. But NBC had such an opportunity with "Rosemary's Baby" -- the chance to revive a genre with a new take on a classic story. The marketing plan practically wrote itself. Instead, the final result came with a weak script, uninspired acting and no originality. And those ratings? Ouch.
  • HIGH OR LOW? The Kimye wedding
    Getty Images
    We don't even know. You decide.

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