A lot of the waxing nostalgic about the good old days stems from these good old days appearing to be a simpler time. Watching the 2000 through 2003 episodes of I Love The 2000s, it’s difficult to argue that not being the case in terms of pop culture and technological advances. (Obviously 9/11 and the aftermath made them far from “simple” times, but the way these episodes are framed, you’d never know.)

2004, however, comes across like the transition episode and year, perhaps because it was exactly a decade ago. It’s the first year that actually feels recent, despite it being ten years ago. As mentioned in the last episodes’ review, this was also the year when I Love The 90s first aired, creating pop cultural awareness for a whole new generation.

In 2004, I saw Mean Girls in the theater with some classmates the day it came out. It was a spontaneous event; these girls I had been trying desperately to fit in with had made plans at the last minute to go to the mall and see the movie after school. As the new girl in school and generally terrible at making friends, I had somehow been able to insert myself into this situation and tag along. Of course, having not prepared to do anything besides go home after school, I had no money for the movie and they had to help me stealthily sneak past the ticket taker with some good old-fashioned misdirection in order to get in. All went according to plan and we watched Mean Girls together, simultaneously realizing that something special was happening.

Well, I’m not sure they understood that something special was happening, because as soon as I compared the movie to Heathers afterwards their eyes all either rolled into the back of their heads or they just went blank. It’s probably the same reaction most people reading this had as soon as they even saw Mean Girls show up in this review. The film has become so prevalent around the Internet that it’s almost maddening.

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Still—there are legitimately teenagers today that have not even heard of the movie Mean Girls.

Again, what feels like yesterday to those of us even talking about the I Love The… series right now is literally a lifetime for many. But watching the year back now in the form of this series, one thing comes across as abundantly clear:

2004 was a terrible year.

It really is a matter of 2003 and years prior feeling like the products of  a simpler time. The overall clip content of the year 2004 just feels off in comparison to what’s been shown on I Love The 2000s in the previous nights. Bush’s re-election, John Kerry being portrayed as a coward, and Howard Dean’s scream are all put on display in a way that casts a spotlight on how politics have been sorely missing from this series. The popular reality shows in this year are now The Swan and I Want A Famous Face, reality shows where people beg to have drastic plastic surgery performed on them in front of millions of television viewers. The first Saw movie opens the floodgates for the genre of torture porn. We’re reminded that Catwoman exists.

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The episode even goes out of its way to bring in more negativity, as evidenced by the Lance Armstrong segment. What begins as talk of the whole Live Strong phenomenon becomes talk about Lance Armstrong being a cheat and a fraud. Just two nights ago, the series made a point of not talking about Tiger Woods’ scandal until the 2009 episode. Now no punches are being pulled.

The strangest part of all of this is how the celebratory nostalgia vehicle returns once I Love The 2000s enters 2005. 2004 is an outlier in the series (both …2000s and I Love The…), and because of that, it might actually be the best installment of I Love The 2000s so far.

2005 is back to the status quo, which is not a problem for this series, but it really is jarring after seeing a slightly less rose-colored version of I Love The 2000s. If 2004 is a transition year from those “simpler times,” 2005 is the year that embraces the modern era as we currently know it. SNL Digital Shorts, the power of Brangelina, the terrifying nature of anything resembling The Polar Express—that becomes the new normal. There’s even the introduction of the “new” Weezer, with their album Make Believe. Whether or not you believe it’s a change for the better is always up for the debate, but there’s a clear changing of the guard here.

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Stray observations:

  • How Old LaToya Was Here: In 2004, 15-year-old me was a sophomore (and new student) in an Atlanta high school. I only spent the year there before my family and I moved to Florida and I became the person I am today. (No, not a 16-year-old girl.)
  • On the subject of Mean Girls, according to one of I Love The 2000s’ experts: “Better than Clueless. Better than Heathers. Better than Fast Times.” A controversial pop culture opinion if ever there was one.
  • The Year In Britney for these two years also signals the changing of the pop cultural guard. While the previous years were essentially “Everything’s coming up Spears,” 2004 includes Britney’s two weddings, while 2005 features Britney and Kevin Federline’s UPN reality series, Chaotic, as well as their divorce. Things really were simpler before 2004.

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