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Overrated Underrated: Imagine a year without 'Star Wars,' and enough with cross-pollinating comic book films

There's a lot of pop culture to sort through week after week. Times staff writer Chris Barton offers his take on what's up and what's down in music, movies, television and just about anything else out there that's worth considering.

UNDERRATED

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A year without 'Star Wars'

(Lucasfilm)

As we enter 2016, let's raise a glass of flat Champagne to the prospect of a distant 2021 because that year stands (for now!) to be the first free from the many tributaries of "Star Wars" and the acres of hype and speculation surrounding it. Not to say "The Force Awakens" didn't deliver, but isn't one of the charms of that galaxy far, far away its relative distance? On the bright side, maybe by 2020 all the toy companies will realize that Daisy Ridley's Rey is a major character.

George Clooney reunited with the Coen brothers

Next month's "Hail, Caesar!" isn't just promising because the Coen brothers are revisiting an Old Hollywood setting that gives us that Barton Fink feeling. It's also the return of George Clooney to one of their films for the first time since "Burn After Reading." Clooney may be a humanitarian, a tuxedo model prototype and a modern equivalent to Cary Grant, but his comic chops are never stronger than when playing a deluded rube from the minds of the Coens.

OVERRATED

'The Angry Birds Movie'

Granted, this isn't a film slotted for end-of-year awards consideration, but even as pop cultural cash-ins go, this one seems particularly strange. Setting aside the reality that the game's 2010 peak was roughly three lifetimes ago in Internet years, the cast remains bafflingly strong with a murderers' row of Jason Sudeikis, Maya Rudolph, Hannibal Buress and Kate McKinnon, just to name a few. That said, after all this time what do these birds still have left to be angry about?

Comic book cross-pollination

(Lucasfilm)

As shown in the expanding "Star Wars" universe, Hollywood's model for blockbuster-building is less about creating franchises than constructing perpetual movie empires, with the latest extensions of the "Avengers" and "X-Men" brands continuing this year. While DC Comics races to catch up with yet another "Batman" and the giddily nihilistic "Suicide Squad," Marvel's "Age of Ultron" proved the danger in packing together so many moving parts is there's no room for an interesting story.

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UNDERRATED

'Detectorists' on Netflix

(BBC/Starz)

Suffused with that same quietly oddball, bone-dry wit that must be in Britain's drinking water, this brief series built around patrolling the Earth for artifacts with metal detectors rises on the strength of the gentle humanity displayed toward its main characters. Led by Toby Jones of "Berberian Sound Studio" and the sad-eyed Mackenzie Crook (seen in "The Office" and "Game of Thrones") and set amid a startlingly lush English countryside, this is a show worth digging up.

Spoon's 'Gimme Fiction'

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A pivotal album from the durable band led by pop craftsman Britt Daniel, this 2005 release has just been given the anniversary reissue treatment with an array of bonus tracks and extras. While Spoon's most recent album, "They Want My Soul," may be its most undeniably direct statement, "Gimme Fiction" is where the band laid the groundwork for all that came after with unexpected textures and indelible melodies in tracks like "I Summon You," "I Turn My Camera On" and "Sister Jack."

OVERRATED

'Star Wars' greed

(Lucasfilm)

With the afterglow of "The Force Awakens" now upon us, something feels gluttonous about the online chatter speculating about the next film the moment the credits stopped rolling. While falling into such blockbuster thinking is surely giving into the dark side with so many sequels and spinoffs already in the works, isn't it enough that J.J Abrams & Co. somehow stuck the landing and delivered a movie that honors an adored story while moving it forward? Let's savor it awhile.

Chicago

(Jeff Daly / Associated Press)

At this point, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exists only to give record executives and vinyl collectors a reason to start a jukebox argument. However, its recent decision to honor the soft rock of Chicago (whose lingering contribution to music consists of its horn section and a host of overcooked ballads) while the more inventive Chic, the Cars and even Yes remain frozen out further reveals it as an empty tourist attraction. On the bright side, there's honor to being too rock 'n' roll for a museum.

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UNDERRATED

Marc Maron's 'More Later'

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

With his podcast "WTF," he may be a neurotic, unfiltered heir to the person-to-person interview thrones occupied by Barbara Walters, Terry Gross and Charlie Rose, but Maron remains first and foremost a comic, and his latest special on Epix confirms he deserves to be part of the conversation of the funniest performers working today. Always specializing in a self-lacerating honesty, Maron can find the raw marrow in a topic as innocuous as his late-night love of ice cream.

'A Very Murray Christmas'

(Netflix)

A uniquely twisted take on the classic holiday variety show, this arch dip into black-tie showbiz-ship from the skewed view of Bill Murray has all the tropes that would've fit nicely on a Bob Hope special — multiple musical numbers, deeply strange cameos and a satisfyingly heartfelt if vaguely boozy view of the holiday with the faintest air of longing. Plus, it features a surprisingly capable turn by George Clooney as a funk vocalist. What's not to like?

OVERRATED

Adele one-upping Taylor Swift

(NBC)

A mystic time-traveler capable of selling CDs as if it were 1997, Adele moved toward ensuring that her big year would continue with a recently announced tour, which features six nights in New York and L.A. Although representatives from Adele Inc. are surely clapping one another on their backs for besting Taylor Swift's concert runs in town this year, know that there's a long way to go before topping real royalty in Prince's 21-date residency at the Forum in 2011.

The buzz on 'Star Trek: Beyond'

In an adorably transparent attempt to siphon off the all-consuming conversation around the run-up to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," someone at the studio behind "Star Trek" thought it made sense last week to release the trailer for the next film in that franchise, which is directed by Justin Lin. Although the tactic may have worked for a half hour or so before "The Force Awakens" premiered, first impressions sure didn't make it seem promising to boldly go into "Fast and Furious" territory.

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