Why the early 2000s were great:
We were in middle school. This is actually a terrible thing. But today, I can allow myself to look back on those times as funny. There was one advantage, however: as a result of my tweenage social awkwardness, I spent a lot of time observing, absorbing, and scrutinizing the happenings of pop culture, and therefore vividly remember a lot of the sweet stuff that was going on at the time. Stuff like…
Apple started changing the game, introducing the iPod and iTunes, as well as crazy crap like the Power Mac G4 Cube.
The “End of the World” video. This thing was viral before going viral was even a thing — pre-YouTube, when you had to watch it in Flash animation. It also led me to say “I am le tired” on a constant basis, something which all my high school buddies give me crap for/associate with me.
Razor Scooters. Allowed every kid, no matter how clumsy, to do a cool trick — the bunny hop. EXTREME!!
Pimp My Ride and suped up cars. For a short while there, I totally wanted to one day own a pimped out coupe with monitors on the backs of the headrests and sweet rims. A really, really short while, I swear.
This was a pre-smartphone world in which corny movie montages still poked fun of how businessmen in Manhattan walked around all day holding Motorola RAZRs to their ears. (Now, everyone has a cell phone and we spend our time fiddling with them every 45 seconds, even while out to dinner with friends.) No wifi networks everywhere, no YouTube, no iPads, no apps, no Facebook, just — and barely — MySpace. You HAD TO tune in to your favorite shows when they aired on TV because on-demand episode-watching on your laptop wasn’t a thing. You had to internalize and cherish the best and worst things you saw on TV, because you weren’t assured of ever seeing them again. Example: Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction.
Those days, for better or worse, you actually had to DO something in order to become famous. Obviously I’m cool with really talented people getting discovered on YouTube these days, but then again, nowadays you can also become somebody just because you tweet a lot. Or because you’re a Kardashian.
Allen Iverson led the worst team in history to the NBA Finals. I don’t think people realize how good Allen Iverson was. Also, Bob Sura played for my hometown Warriors. And with some of the best dunks we’ve ever seen, Vince Carter and Jason Richardson reinvigorated the dunk contest, with a whole lot of help from TNT’s new EJ, Kenny, and Charles crew. (That said, some bad shit happened in the early-2000s NBA: Michael Jordan came back and tarnished the greatest career finish of all time, one so good, so cliché, and so storybook that even Disney would have rejected it as an ending to an Air Bud movie; the Blazers choked against the Lakers in Game 7; the Kings fell victim to the most one-sided officiating in history in Game 6; the USA Basketball program went down the drain; Grant Hill’s Hall of Fame candidacy was ruined by injuries; Antonio McDyess’s career was derailed; Gary Payton was traded and became Old Gary Payton; Joumana Kidd was everywhere; Antoine Walker was somehow a star; and Hakeem and Ewing played for the Raptors and Sonics.)
Melo, Warrick, and McNamara led Syracuse to the NCAA title, paving the way for the one-and-done stars of the late 2000s and today. I’m not actually sure this is a good thing, but their road to the championship was exciting so whatever.
Ichiro!! (And speaking of Asia becoming a huge market for American sports, we have to mention Yao Ming, one of the more underrated stars of the 2000s NBA. Loved that dude.)
Also: steroids? What steroids?
Defense winning championships in the NFL (see: Ravens and Bucs).
Ronaldo. The real Ronaldo. Related: this happened at the 2002 World Cup. One of my favorite Ronaldinho highlights, almost entirely because of the broadcaster.
Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Jason White, and Matt Leinart won the Heisman. Nice.
American Idol still mattered. Same with Survivor, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Fear Factor, and Sports Illustrated. (And yes, all of them are still around today in some way or another, as hard as that is to believe.)
Friends was still on. Yup, I watched it. Loved it too. Except for that whole Joey and Rachel getting together thing. That was random as hell and never made any sense.
Family Guy was cancelled, but then, due to intense fan support, it came back!
Ken Jennings. 74 straight Jeopardy! victories! 74!
Chappelle’s Show. Probably the most culturally significant comedy routine/show/anything of the 2000s. If you’re not convinced, check out this excellent rundown of all the funniest sketches from the show’s history.
Entourage premiered. It was actually good back then, which is hard to believe given the lingering stench of its last few seasons.
The O.C. I avoided this show generally, preferring to make fun of people who watched it, but I was SUCKED IN when Olivia Wilde starred as the hot bisexual chick who got with both Adam Brody and Mischa Barton. So yeah, I guess I did watch the show. Anyway, back in 2003-04, Barton was the hottest thing ever. That worked out well.
Craig Kilborn hosted The Late Late Show. Just kidding; Craig Ferguson’s the best.
Arrested Development. I honestly don’t have much to say about it, because I was never a fanboy, but this is pretty damn funny.
The Sopranos. Not much to say here — it’s just a really good show — other than the fact that it’s absolutely epic that rock musician Steven Van Zandt was cast as a central character without ever having acted before. Oh, and his real-life wife played his wife on the show.
This guy. I have a recording of that performance on my iTunes. LimeWired it and everything.
DBZ. Dragon Ball Z actually predates the 21st century by quite a while, but the English-language version of the show soared to popularity in the States once Cartoon Network started airing it on its Toonami weekday-afternoon block in late 1999 and into the 2000s. My brother and I came home from school every day to tune in to the incessant staredowns and episodes-long buildups to fights. We were so hooked.
And now, some guest blurbs from Avinash Chak!
“Smoking or non?” When’s the last time you heard that question? The glorious early 2000s, that’s when. I remember a time when, without having to be ironic about being ironic about it, you could still use words like “bro,” “epic,” and “awkward.”
Jackass — the harbinger of the new millenium. 90s attitude crept into the 2000s as a group of skater punks and slackers discovered the simplest way to appeal to America’s youth, by filming themselves pulling dangerous stunts and pranks with sadomasochistic humor. This, however, was no cheap gimmick; the skits required creative writing and imaginative engineering. Whether the show entertained you or disgusted you (or both), there’s no denying its cultural significance. Nothing embodied the splendid, youthful arrogance of feeling invincible more literally than Jackass.
MADtv was a wilder, more hit-or-miss alternative to SNL. Some of the sketches made you more uncomfortable than they made you laugh, but MADtv had its moments like Miss Swan’s “he look-a like-a man” (apparently she wasn’t doing a horribly racist impression of an Asian woman but of her own Hungarian grandmother and Bjork) and Stuart’s “look what I can do.” Bobby Lee was still relevant. Will Sasso was consistently hilarious. His Kenny Rogers and Randy Newman bits made me ROFL before ROFL was a thing. And these days, we can thank MADtv alums Key & Peele for what might be the closest thing on TV to Chappelle’s Show.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Hosted by the leprechaun known as Regis Philbin, this simplistic game show somehow captivated the whole nation. I guess the multiple-choice format made us feel smarter. The first guy to win did so in the most swagged out way possible. And as far as we know, Regis never tortured anyone for getting too many right answers.
Speaking of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle had not yet stooped to pseudo-Bollywood Orientalist melodrama. In 2002, 28 Days Later changed the horror game. The rage virus revolutionized zombie fiction, transforming the hobbling, unmenacing corpses of tradition (seriously, it makes no sense how competent people get killed by them) into a formidable force of vicious, SPRINTING beasts. For the first time, humans looked like they were totally fucked. Add to that the beautifully haunting opening, a cast actually capable of acting, and the atmospheric and paranoid soundtrack, and you’ve got one of the best horror films of all time. In the final showdown, Cillian Murphy goes full native (which in this case means zombie) and demolishes heavily-armed soldiers in an ingenious display of one-man guerrilla warfare. And then Hollywood welcomed the brilliant Irish actor by typecasting him as that creepy villain with really blue eyes.
There’s nothing funny about 28 Days Later’s zombies, but Shaun of the Dead is a different story. Absolutely brilliant mixture of horror and comedy, embodied perfectly by that scene when they discover the zombie chick in the backyard. “Oh my God, she’s so drunk!”
The Man Show. Before Joe Rogan and Doug Stanhope took over and Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla moved on to bigger things (well, Jimmy at least), The Man Show was one of the funniest, most wildly inappropriate shows that wasn’t South Park. You know you crept past your parents’ bedroom and snuck downstairs at midnight to tune in and check out all the “guy stuff” you were way too young for. And you probably had no idea all that guy stuff was intentionally ridiculous and exaggerated. Also, Girls on Trampolines.
The Best Damn Sports Show Period before they dropped Chris Rose. Maybe I’m partial to Rose because he’s a proud Clevelander who went to my high school, but Best Damn was just as good if not better than any of its counterparts on ESPN. Knowledgeable yet humorous, nice-guy host surrounded by characters like Tom Arnold and John Salley. What’s not to love? Making fun of John Salley for riding the bench to four NBA championships with three different teams never got old. Best Damn brought us priceless moments like the fantastically staged Tom Arnold-Michael Strahan brawl that fooled viewers and the media. Best Damn was the perfect sports show — with authority for the sports fan and entertainment for the casual viewer.
The WWE was still the WWF. Don’t deny it; pro wrestling was kind of awesome when we were kids. Yeah it’s fake, but so is reality TV. I, for one, would rather watch dudes pretend to beat the shit out of each other by doing actual physically impressive things with cool names (and sometimes actually get beat up) while staging elaborate melodrama than watch a glorified sex tape vixen and her family pretend to be legitimate people. At the turn of the century, the WWF had great personalities like Mankind (and Mr. Socko), Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Rock (who has gone from “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment” to straight-up the most electrifying man in entertainment. And yes, I stand by that statement). The Attitude Era featured the irreverent antics of D-Generation X, motivating a generation of tweens and pre-tweens to run around playgrounds innocently crotch-chopping and yelling “suck it!” Also, pro wrestling video games were the shit! I’d still spend a whole day playing forty-man Battle Royales in WCW/NWO Revenge. Anyone got an N64?
Now back to Ike.
Pixar kept crushing it. No duds during the first half of the 2000s, only masterpieces. The list: Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles.
SNL, Zoolander, Old School, Anchorman, and everything else Will Ferrell touched. By the way, did you know that there’s another version of Anchorman that’s viewable on YouTube? It has an entirely different plot, created with unused footage from the original. Crazy to see how they were basically just filming a bunch of funny-ass scenes and then randomly putting them together into some semblance of a narrative.
Eddie Murphy still kind of mattered, following up late-90s comedic successes in Mulan and Bowfinger with funny turns in Shrek and I Spy. And I don’t care what the critics say, I Spy was funny. (Related: Mike Myers still mattered too, so much so that he was able to get Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, John Travolta, Nathan Lane, and Gwyneth Paltrow to appear in Austin Powers in Goldmember in 2002. His next two starring roles? The Cat in the Hat and The Love Guru. Yeah.)
Rush Hour 2. Roselyn Sanchez at her apex. Jeremy Piven hitting on Jackie Chan in Vegas. Chris Tucker still skinny, and still screaming like a chick. Done deal.
Die Another Day. An incomparable cinematic achievement whose legend only grows with time. The lovely Rosamund Pike. Madonna in a Razzie-winning turn as Pike’s — wait for it — world-class fencing instructor. A terrible, inexplicably successful Madonna song as the movie theme. A North Korean bad guy who TURNS INTO A WHITE GUY. His partner in crime Zao, who has diamonds stuck in his face. Halle Berry (admittedly hot as hell) following up her Oscar win by becoming possibly the worst Bond Girl in history. Said Bond Girl, Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson, meeting Bond then deciding to sleep with him after 21 seconds and a line or two about birdwatching. Dame Judi Dench struggling her way through the campiness and pining for a franchise reboot, knowing that they’d keep her as M because she’s so badass. Brosnan looking older and more unfit for the role with every passing minute, but still owning it like a boss. A Maori henchman named Mr. Kil. Michael Madsen as a douche NSA agent. An ice castle. An INVISIBLE CAR. An evil plan centered on a satellite-controlled beam of sunlight that feels like a total rip-off of the GoldenEye weapon. Bond evading said solar beam in a snowmobile, then surfing to safety on a tsunami-sized wave of arctic water, using a piece of the wrecked vehicle as his surfboard. A climactic fight scene taking place on a DISINTEGRATING airplane. And finally, THIS chase scene.
Gladiator. The ultimate always-on-TNT flick. But don’t be fooled by Ted Turner’s apparent obsession with gruesome deaths, epic war scenes, and incestuous monarchs; Gladiator is a great freaking movie. I shed a tear every time I watch the end. OK, maybe not anymore, but the first 35 times I watched it. TNT is admittedly overdoing it a little with this movie.
City of God. Probably my favorite movie ever. In all seriousness. Watch it.
Team America: World Police, Not Another Teen Movie, Van Wilder (Tara Reid, anyone?), Harold & Kumar, Scary Movie, Pootie Tang, and other (random) comedic glory.
Adrien Brody won an Oscar for The Pianist. He was the youngest Best Actor winner ever at 29. When he won, the entire audience of A-Listers — even his competitors — cheered wildly for him. Then he forced himself on and made out with presenter Halle Berry, and everyone cheered even more wildly! During his incredibly long but great acceptance speech, he told the orchestra to shut up when they started playing him off and they actually stopped! Hollywood loved him, he was unquestionably cool and talented, and he seemed destined for huge things. But other than The Darjeeling Limited and maybe King Kong, I don’t think he’s done anything good since. (I’m not counting Midnight in Paris because his part was pretty small from what I understand.) What happened?
The first Pirates of the Caribbean. I remember being straight-up floored by Captain Jack Sparrow. Floored. These days, you catch any glimpse of those movies and nothing about Depp strikes you as interesting, but back then, I’d never seen a (leading!) character like that. He was nominated for an Oscar for it!! And don’t let the egregious money-grubbing sequels fool you: the first one is phenomenal. Pure blockbuster joy.
The supreme epicness of the LOTR trilogy. So much to make fun of, and yet you can’t deny how captivating those movies were/are.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I don’t actually like this movie all that much, especially because I don’t find either of the main characters to be that likable or funny, but it’s worth mentioning for Joey Fatone’s random inclusion and for Andrea Martin’s epic turn as the crazy aunt who finds it appropriate to tell the white dude’s parents about her unborn twin the first time she meets them. Incredible stuff right there. (Oh, and the second and third-best moments are “You don’t eat meat? I make you lamb.” and “It’s a BOONT cake.”)
Jason Bourne! As in, Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne. As far as I can tell, those Bourne movies were direct influences on the Bond franchise reboot, so basically, you can thank Will Hunting for how kickass Skyfall was. And for how terrible Quantum of Solace was.
Bennifer. I remember being completely dumbfounded at the time by the media hysteria surrounding Affleck and Lopez getting together. Just didn’t get it. Looking back, all I can think is 1) Damn, they were big freaking deals back then, how weird (even with Argo doing as well as it has); and 2) If that kind of thing (two beautiful megastars in their primes start dating and seemingly go out of their way to be in the public eye) happened today, the Internet might blow up. There just aren’t any true present-day parallels: Jay-Z and Beyonce have been together since the Bennifer days and stay private, Angelina and Brad are both private and getting kind of annoying, The Biebs and Selena Gomez broke up, William and Kate are British, Reynolds and Lively aren’t famous enough, and a significant enough portion of the population just doesn’t give a crap about Twilight (Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson) or sex tape stars and their egotistical wannabe fashionista-rapper boyfriends (Kim and Kanye).
TiVo. Totally groundbreaking at the time, and back then I tended to think of it as a wholly unnecessary functionality that only spoiled rich people wanted. Now, on-demand, rewindable, and recorded movie and episode-viewing is a given, mainly so you can skip these.
The birth of camera phones. Big deal. Think about how many freaking Instagram pics you post every day. And did you see that comparison of St. Peter’s Square from the last two times a Pope has been announced?! Mad props to the one dude with a flip camera phone in 2005. Also, Snake on Nokia phones was the most addicting thing ever. And I know that started in like 1998, but the craze lasted well into the 2000s so whatever. Finally, I would throw my phone away if I had to use T9 texting today.
That Mitsubishi commercial featuring Dirty Vegas. That Diet Coke “Sparkle” ad featuring Paul Oakenfold. Diet Coke then killed it again with an ad featuring a prime Kate Beckinsale walking around poolside. Kit-Kat commercials actually had the “Gimme a Break” jingle in them. Now they just mix snapping and crunching noises in the rhythm of the jingle, which makes absolutely no sense to those too young to remember the old ads.
PlayStation 2. Xbox (read: Halo). GameCube. Last but not least (in my book!), Dreamcast. TrickStyle, baby. Crazy Taxi. Sonic Adventure. Dreamcast was totally ahead of its time. Amazing graphics. I will always hold it in high regard. (Also, how freaking spoiled was I that I had all four of the aforementioned consoles? Jesus.)
Dance Dance Revolution. I’d like to proudly admit to having owned one of the foldable DDR dancing mats for PS2. I think we used it once. Also, I still own it.
GTA3 and Vice City. Enough said.
The fashion. Watch American Pie 2 again. You’ll be shocked by what they’re wearing. I am also going to take the liberty of extending this to the late 90s — She’s All That being the chief reason. Sagging, white-tipped spiked hair, baggy everything, K-Swiss, AF1s, Ashton Kutcher’s stupid Von Dutch hats, more sagging, purple or navy-tinted shades, low-rise bell-bottom flare jeans, ridiculously wide skate shoes with fat laces, the list goes on.
Flannel wasn’t too frat or hipster (funny how both groups love the turn-of-the-century aesthetic). And you wore glasses because you needed them, not because you were a douche or an NBA player doing a press conference (not mutually exclusive). Also, rec-specs were still a thing! (Can you tell Avi wrote this?)
Throwback jerseys. Enormous, baggy, garishly colored retro basketball jerseys. Totally a thing back then. Now? Completely unsuitable for basically every occasion, even if you’re a ghetto-fabulous rap star (which in itself isn’t a thing anymore). That’s why soccer jerseys are selling well now, because they’re basically tight t-shirts that you can wear in normal settings outside of a stadium. And I believe that’s partly why the NBA is trying to market those sleeved game jerseys.
Music videos still mattered. “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias had tween girls across the country weeping every time they saw it. (Also, that’s some PRIME Jennifer Love Hewitt right there.) I came home from school every day and tuned in to MTV Hits (well, whenever DBZ wasn’t on), taking in every relevant pop song of the period and then downloading each one on LimeWire. I still associate tracks from that era with their videos, like Usher’s (overly) dramatic rain-dance routine from “U Got It Bad.” (By the way, 75% of the songs on his album 8701 feature “U” in the title. It’s incredible.)
Next up, Part 2 of SlackPost’s Ode to the Early 2000s, centered entirely on the music. Coming real soon, we promise.