Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Best TV Of The 2000's

Noted TV critic Alan Sepinwall recently blogged about his participation in a 'best TV of the 2000s' poll. He had to pick his six favorites in the categories of best drama, best comedy, and the best lead actors and actresses in dramas and comedies. Naturally, this post drew a lot of suggestions from readers and everyone (including me) threw in their own two cents about their own personal picks.

I've decided to reprint my choices here, with some mild adjustments to the original concept. Since I never know where to fit dramadies, and since so many of my favorite actors are part of ensembles and not really technically leads, I decided to shuffle the categories around and simply list a top ten general Shows, Actors and Actresses. It's a cheat, yes, but honestly, opening it up to a flat ten choices in all genres is actually quite a bit harder. Also, Sepinwall's poll said that any series that aired episodes in the 2000s is fair game, but I've stuck just to series and performances that really had their heyday in this decade. For instance, Kelsey Grammer did some fine work on 'Frasier,' over its last four seasons, but obviously his best days with the character were in the 1990's.

So here are my picks of the best on TV from the past decade....feel free to argue. That is, unless you agree with me completely, in which case we should be best friends. And if I'm not including your favorite show, just assume I haven't seen it. (p.s. Should I be writing this list before I start watching The Wire? Oh well.)

Will Arnett, Arrested Development.....The only question was, which of the AD cast would end up in the final ten? This is when it's hard to quantify the supporting vs. lead argument, since someone like Michael C. Hall (spoiler alert: Hall makes it) carries his whole show, whereas Arnett is merely one part of a great ensemble. I narrowly picked GOB over Tobias, George Michael and George/Oscar (don't discount Jeffrey Tambor in a dual role), but in the end Arnett got the nod just because he gave GOB's douchiness so many different dimensions.

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock.....No-brainer selection. It's funny, without SNL, Baldwin goes down in history as a well-regarded theatre actor and a mid-range movie star. Now, after umpteen brilliant hosting appearances, he's known as one of the best comic actors of our time. One Emmy already, and he should win another just for his pronunciation of 'Jackie Jormpjomp.'

Steve Carell, The Office (U.S. version).....Bonus points to Carell for both managing to live up to Ricky Gervais' original performance, and also creating a totally unique character independent of David Brent. I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!!!!!!

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad.....If I was ranking these in order, Cranston would be guaranteed a top-three position. He is just unbelievably, career-making good on 'Breaking Bad,' which has probably been the best show on TV this year. The original 'terminal cancer patient chemistry teacher becomes a meth dealer' premise has blossomed into an absolute emotional gut-punch every week. Cranston had two pantheon scenes in the last four episodes alone --- his attempt to bullshit his wife about his 'fugue state' disappearance, and his embittered rant at his ex-lover.

Michael Emerson, Lost.....Well, you knew someone from LOST was making it. It was just a question of whether it would be Emerson or Terry O'Quinn, and hey, since Ben always seems to get one over on Locke on the show, it only feels right that it extend to the list. Emerson had arguably the harder task in joining the show midway through the second season, and interestingly enough, his character wasn't supposed to be recurring. It was only because Emerson was so good that the producers decided to expand the Ben Linus character. Emerson has put himself in the running as the best villain in TV history, and this is inarguable even if it's eventually revealed that Ben isn't totally a 'villain' within LOST's story.

Ricky Gervais, The Office (U.K. version)/Extras.....Gervais already earned himself a spot due to David Brent, but then he had to go and just really reinforce things as Andy Millman on Extras. Is Gervais just playing himself? I remember an old interview with (of all people) Stone Cold Steve Austin, where he said that the best characters in pro wrestling are those when the wrestlers are just playing themselves, but with the volume turned up. David Brent is Gervais turned up to 11, and with an evil twist. Well, maybe not 'evil.' Just pathetic.

Michael C. Hall, Dexter.....I can only hope that this show stays fresh and manages to stave of the going-downhill warning signs of its most recent season. That doesn't really affect Hall, who has arguably the finest line to walk of any character on this list. He has to make you like a total sociopath, and hopefully the series keeps its balls and doesn't make Dexter too schmoopy now that he's married and has a kid on the way.

Jon Hamm, Mad Men.....In the words of Mad Men's John Slattery, 'even James Bond would love to play Don Draper.' A few actors could've matched Hamm's control and power as Don, but even fewer could've also managed the complete 180 that Hamm does when he switches over into 'Dick Whitman' mode. Even more impressively, Hamm himself seems to be something of a dorky goof in real life, so that's two totally separate personas that he's able to create for the show.

Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother.....The last of the no-brainer selections on the list. I started with Baldwin, Hall, Gervais, Cranston and NPH and went from there. It's funny that Craig Thomas and Carter Bays wanted to make a show with four mostly realistic leads and one over-the-top zany sitcommish character, and yet it's the sitcommish character who is perhaps the most fully realized of the bunch after four seasons. The biggest compliment I can give NPH is that at this time in 2009, people have pretty much forgotten about him as Doogie Howser. To escape that kind of typecasting is a Jackie Earle Haley-esque feat.

Richard Schiff, The West Wing.....Curveball! I had some real thinking to do over this last spot, weighing everyone from Chi McBride to Kiefer Sutherland to Terry O'Quinn to Grammer and David Hyde Pierce (since really, they were both still pretty damn good even in Frasier's latter years) to everyone else from Arrested Development and TWW itself. But Schiff gets the nod in the end because, of all the great characters on West Wing, Toby Ziegler is the most original and difficult to describe of the bunch. Just a wholly one-of-a-kind character that could only exist within the peculiar realm of an Aaron Sorkin show. In fact, it's notable that Toby as a character really sort of lost a bit of direction after Sorkin left the show. I find it hard to believe that Sorkin would have ever had Toby leak classified information about that shuttle launch and betray President Bartlett.

Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars.....No-brainer #1 on the ladies' side, and I'm not just saying this because Kristen Bell is a former winner of the Imaginary TV Girlfriend Award in my old student newspaper TV column. (An award that, in hindsight, sounds really creepy. Uh....) A few marks deducted for the very end of the series, when Veronica got just a bit too bitter and snarky, but I figure that the show was going off the air anyway and the writers were phoning it in like the New Orleans Hornets by that point. No fault of Bell's. Odd Veronica Mars-related question I've always wondered about: in the flashbacks they show of Veronica pre-Lily's death, she seems like kind of a vapid idiot, and your classic stereotypical 09er. There was no sign of the intelligence she showed in the present-day rest of the series as a detective. So basically, I'm wondering if Lily's death wasn't, in a way, pretty much the best thing to ever happen to Veronica? I guess this could've been a post on its own, but when else will I get an opening to discuss a cancelled teen detective series?

Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies.....The Olive Snook character was, on paper, a somewhat predictable fly-in-the-ointment to prevent Ned and Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles from getting together. Instead, the show took us in a more original and satisfying direction by having Olive and Chuck become best friends, while she still acknowledged her feelings for the Piemaker. Also, any situation that involves Chenoweth bursting into song is greatly appreciated. The writers even found a way to work in her rendition of 'Candle On The Water' in an episode that was obliquely based on (of all friggin' things) the old "Pete's Dragon" Disney movie. ABC are complete morons for canceling 'Pushing Daisies.' This cannot be overstated.

Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives.....I have one other Housewives character on the list, but Cross got the duke for taking the most one-note of the four major Housewives (the anal-retentive matronly 'traditional' homemaker) and still making Bree a semi-realistic, relatable character in spite of all the unbelievable nonsense that she's been through over the course of five seasons. I feel there's still some stories to be told with Bree, whereas in the cases of Susan and Lynette, the well is bone dry.

Tina Fey, 30 Rock.....Oh, Liz Lemon. Truly a hero of our times. I think the moment that 30 Rock turned the pop-culture corner was when I realized that almost every female friend I know who watches the show identified with at least one of Liz's quirks. Dismissing Liz as merely the normal center around which the rest of 30 Rock's crazy characters orbit is a disservice to all the time and effort that Tina Fey has gone through to make Liz a hilarious character in her own right. This one was the no-brainer of all no-brainers.

Alyson Hannigan, Buffy The Vampire Slayer/How I Met Your Mother.....Like Smilex gas, neither Willow or Lily alone would've gotten Hannigan on the list. In combination, however, those roles are deadly. Now, I did have to stretch my 'heyday in the 2000s' rule just a wee bit, since Hannigan's best work on 'Buffy' probably came in the show's first three season before Willow inexplicably became a lesbian and a planet-threatening witch, but even still, she put in good work no matter what the writers did to the character.

Allison Janney, The West Wing.....Another no-brainer. It says something that Janney was able to rank so highly on the list in spite of Sorkin's well-established difficulty in writing female characters. I always feel like the casting director is the underrated hero of any Sorkin show. Toby as played by anyone but Richard Schiff perhaps comes off as an unlikable curmudgeon. Jordan McDeere as played by anyone other than Amanda Peet could've been a fantastic character. And CJ, given actions like openly contradicting the administration's policies on dealing with Qumar and asking more (in my opinion) than her fair share of questions that a White House press secretary should know the answer to, could've devolved into another Mandy Hampton or Amy Gardner were it not for Janney's great work.

Ashley Jensen, Extras.....Has anyone done better work on a series and received so little recognition for it? Not real-life recognition (Jensen has won several awards), but rather recognition in the sense that of every conversation I've ever had about 'Extras,' the topics have solely concerned a) comparing it to The Office, b) comparing Andy to David Brent and c) how funny Stephen Merchant is as Andy's agent. Jensen is brilliant as Maggie. I'd watch a Maggie-centric show before I watched a Stephen Merchant-as-the-agent show, as funny as that would nevertheless be.

Kathryn Joosten, The West Wing/Desperate Housewives.....Another curveball, this one coming from the ladies' side. In just a part-time role on TWW, Joosten created a character so memorable that Mrs. Landingham became Jed Bartlett's emotional conscience for the rest of the series. Put it this way --- if Joosten hadn't knocked Mrs. Landingham so far out of the park, then 'Two Cathedrals' (perhaps TWW's best episode and one of the best episodes of any series ever) doesn't carry nearly as much emotional heft. But Joosten, like Hannigan, made the list due to the cumulative power of her 'Housewives' role, and if that series had any creative juice left, it would've made Mrs. McCluskey a central character three years ago. I mean for god's sake, they even brought in Lily Tomlin as McCluskey's sister, which is a comic premise that could fuel a whole new series, let alone a DH season. These complaints would probably carry more weight if I wasn't the last person in the world watching Desperate Housewives.

Jaime Pressly, My Name Is Earl.....Another no-brainer since Pressly's Joy character is one of the few true 'funny every time they're on the screen' characters on TV. Though My Name Is Earl throws in a few emotional curves every once in a while (i.e. the recent episode with Joy as Randy's childhood sweetheart), basically Joy's only role is to be funny as hell. Mission accomplished.

Amy Sedaris, Strangers With Candy.....A no-brainer after the fact, since it was only after I was perusing a list of 2000's shows that I suddenly remembered I had forgotten about the very funny 'Strangers With Candy.' Amy Sedaris is one of those people who should be more famous than she is. She just needs a vehicle to really push her into the limelight, though whatever theoretical role this would be would be hard-pressed to top middle-aged, ex-con, bisexual, racist high school student Jerri Blank.

Angel.....Maybe a bit of a surprise entry, as the 'Buffy' spinoff beats out Veronica Mars, American Dad and Curb Your Enthusiasm. 'Angel' was the rare show that actually got better as it went along, while its parent series 'Buffy' got increasingly worse. S4 was like a season of 24 in its ever-increasing pressure and crazy plot twists, while S5 wrapped up the whole concept of the series quite nicely by having the crew actually in charge of Wolfram & Hart. And as much as I would've loved to have seen a sixth year to see if the show would've continued to get better, I must admit that the final Angel episode was one of the best finales I've seen of any series. N.B. the guy who played Lorne, Andy Hallett, recently died. Aw man.

Arrested Development.....I think the episode 'Save Our Bluths (S.O.Bs)' was perhaps a little too self-indulgent and heavy on in-jokes. So that would be my pick for the, ahem, 'worst' AD episode. So the final score is 52 masterpieces, one okay one. Wow. I'm at a loss to think of any show that lasted more than a season that has such a high batting average of fantastic episodes. As much as the early cancellation galled me at the time, part of me is happy that Mitch Hurwitz got to do the show he wanted, no matter how brief it seemed. And really, 53 episodes is pretty substantial if you think about it. In this age of shortened seasons of cable shows, 53 episodes would've been five years' worth of stuff on an HBO program. And that's not even counting THE MOVIE~~~! WHICH IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING~~~!

Breaking Bad.....As I mentioned before in my half-entry, half-panting mash note to Bryan Cranston, BB is arguably the best show on television today. It creates gripping, panicked situations out of elements that would be throwaway sequences on another crime show. Getting rid of a body on, say, The Shield is an off-screen development. Getting rid of a body on Breaking Bad is a three-episode arc. It's also great that a show that began as a dark comedy is slowly getting darker and darker on its way to being what will no doubt be a near-traumatic drama. If you've never seen BB, the first season is only seven episodes long and is well worth a rental.

How I Met Your Mother.....While AD has the high batting average, HIMYM has the best conversion rate of any series I've seen in a while. Literally everyone I know who's started watching the show has become an instant fan --- there are no complaints of "it's too cute" (Pushing Daisies), "it's too confusing" (Lost) or "it's too boring" (The Office...seriously, this was an actual complaint. Egads.) But everyone, it seems, can relate to the antics of Ted, Robin, Lily, Marshall and Barney. The best way I can describe HIMYM is that it's like the lovechild of Seinfeld and Friends. If you just got a mental image of Michael Richards trying to seduce Courteney Cox, well, I'm sorry, but HIMYM combines Seinfeld's ability for great wordplay and comic setpieces with Friends' heart and ability to mix humor within a group dynamic. And, as I said before, Neil Patrick Harris literally couldn't be more perfect in this role.

Lost.....I just hope it ends well. At this point, I'm as invested in LOST as I have been in any TV series ever. I'm 85 percent confident that the producers have a distinct and mind-blowing ending in mind. Some of the blanks they've filled in this season has given me great hope that a plan has been in place this entire time. But still, nothing would be a bigger letdown than if this rich tapestry of a series unravels over its final season or last few episodes. A bad ending can just kill a series. You'll notice the absence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on this list largely because pretty much everything after the musical episode was just total garbage. I'm so worked up about this that I've spent all of Lost's entry worrying about the final season without even mentioning that to this point, it's one of the most unique shows and viewing experiences in television history.

The Office (U.S. version).....In the same way that Carell channels but doesn't copy Gervais, the US Office channels the UK Office but has a distinctly different and separate feel to it. The UK version is claustrophobic, the US version is more open and took fuller use of its large cast. Hell, even the large cast is itself unique to the US version, since the UK Office almost wholly focused on the main four characters. This current season has provided enough new twists --- the Michael-Holly romance and the Michael Scott Paper Company storyline --- that I have full faith that there's enough juice left in the concept to last at least a couple of more seasons.

The Office (U.K. version).....But of course, while the US Office did about as good a job as possible of translating the Gervais/Merchant masterpiece into a mainstream American sitcom, let's not forget that the original series is still very, very, funny. In just 12 episodes plus the Xmas special, Gervais/Merchant created arguably the most influential comedy of our age.

30 Rock.....By the end of this season, 30 Rock will have 58 episodes in the books. I feel a comparison post pitting it against 'Arrested Development' is warranted sometime in the future. A bold statement, but hey, 30 Rock is just that damn good. I'm so glad and maybe more than a bit relieved that Tina Fey delivered a show that was just as good as predicted, given that her, er, shaky (read: bad) last couple of years running SNL threatened her place on my list of personal heroes. But, she has more than held her position, and in fact now she sits comfortably between Paul Molitor and the guy who invented Sudoku puzzles.

24.....Okay, sure, the sixth season was a total trash heap. And the show has taken a lot of hits given its rather right-wing leanings, particularly in the ongoing debate about torture. But has any show recorded the number of Holy Shit moments that 24 did over its first five seasons? It is, in my view, the best pure action show in television history. Sure, the plots didn't always make sense and there were at least two situations per season that got a bit ludicrous ("Oh no! A cougar! Save me, Johnny Drama!"), but good lord can this show ever be gripping. For all of you TV connoisseurs who love this current era of self-contained serial dramas, I'd argue that it was actually 24 that really brought this era to mainstream network TV. At the very least, 24 is to be credited with the popularity of single-season DVD sets of television shows. 24 was so big that it even earned Kiefer Sutherland a guest appearance on 'Corner Gas,' which is the height of any show business career.

The West Wing.....The second season of the West Wing alone might have gotten the show onto my list, given that S2 was probably the single best season of any show I've ever seen. An old professor of mine once said of George Bernard Shaw that Shaw's greatest talent was his ability to deliver social commentary about ostensibly dry subjects within plays that were nonetheless witty, suspenseful and tremendously entertaining. Aaron Sorkin has that same gift. It takes a gifted writer to make being a White House policy wonk seem like the greatest job in the world.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hot! Live! Music! (all covers edition)

Lily Allen, Womanizer

Catch-22 for a songwriter. You've written a great tune but if you sell it to a living joke of a singer (let's call her, oh, Whitney Fears), 40 percent of the music-listening public will automatically dismiss your song as a piece of crap, and there's also a strong chance it'll be overproduced into an electronic garble that ruins your basic strong melody. But then again, since Whitney Fears is popular, you'll make more royalties selling it to her than you would by selling it to a more talented and credible singer (named, say, Tilly Fallon) who isn't quite as popular but would deliver a rendition that would really let your song fully be recognized as a solid pop tune. Quite the conundrum.

Los Colorados, Hot And Cold

So it's agreed, Ukraine is the most bad-ass nation on the planet, right? I'm not just saying this because I'm half-Ukrainian or anything. A country that can produce the Klitschko brothers, Carol of the Bells, my grandparents, that guy who ruined Kramer and Newman's RISK game, Andriy Shevchenko, the Boston Bruins' Uke Line, and the use of dioxin to decide elections has got to be pretty awesome, eh? Did you know that Canada has the second-largest Ukrainian population in the world, behind only Ukraine itself? (Fact taken from, of all places, an episode of Corner Gas.) Anyway, adding to the awesomeness are Los Colorados, who inexplicably have a Spanish-sounding name despite being from Ukraine and doing covers of American pop starlets.

P.O.S., Why Go

Holy crap, this is maybe my favourite one of the bunch.* Just a tremendous hip-hop cover of this Pearl Jam standard. btw, I still haven't picked up the remastered version of 'Ten' yet for reasons that remain inexplicable even to myself. I mean, sure, lack of money, but come on, it's Pearl Jam.

* = just kidding, my favourite is obviously the Ukrainian folk band.

Pearl Jam, Every Day

Not to be outdone in the cover department, Pearl Jam themselves counter with their version on a Buddy Holly classic. I guess to really avoid being outdone, they would've covered a P.O.S. song, but then I think the universe would've exploded. PJ played this song at a concert in Lubbock, Texas, the birthplace of Buddy Holly, and I can't help but think that concert-goers in Lubbock are probably fucking sick to death of hearing Holly covers. They have to be rolling their eyes at hearing a version of Peggy Sue, Think It Over, or Not Fade Away for the umpteenth time by some musician who had the super-original bright idea to play a Buddy Holly song in Buddy Holly's hometown. I'd like to think that the more postmodern Lubbock music fans have a running pool going about which Holly song is covered by the latest band who comes to town. Pearl Jam's contribution may have earned Jake Glanville of Lubbock a new fender for his pickup truck.

David Byrne, I Wanna Dance With Somebody

ha ha ha, wtf. Even better than the actual song is Byrne's far-too-laboured explanation of his reasoning behind doing the cover. The man once performed 'Psycho Killer' while wearing a body suit colored like a skinless human body --- his reason for anything should just be, "I'm David Byrne. End sentence."

Gnarls Barkley, Reckoner

It seems odd to criticize a song that I'm personally selecting to show you, but I'm not sure if I'm crazy about this cover. Cee-Lo has, objectively, a better voice than Thom Yorke, but Cee-Lo's vocals seem just a bit too overpowering for the melody, whereas Yorke's high warble finds just the right frequency. This quibble aside, it's still a Gnarls Barkley version of Radiohead's best song of the last decade, so the goodness just drips from it like sap from a tree.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Amy Poehler Ruins Everything

After two episodes, I'm not sold on "Parks & Recreation" in spite of the fact that there are a million things about the show that I should like. Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, both Office guys (plus, in Schur's case, also a guy and the portrayer of Mose Schrute). Lots of actors I like, a clever premise, it's on Thursday what's the problem?

In a word, Poehler. I'm not a fan. I haven't enjoyed Amy Poehler since roughly halfway through her first season on Saturday Night Live. Her first ten shows or so she was fantastic, and I was excited about his new addition to the cast. Then she started to phone it in like the Verizon guy. Her characters became increasingly irritating, she couldn't impersonate anybody and just to top things off, she stunk up Weekend Update for four years straight. I can think of only a few instances where I've enjoyed her work --- in Arrested Development and Blades Of Glory, where I presume Will Arnett's awesomeness rubbed off on her (or was sexually transmitted), in Mean Girls as Rachel McAdams' mother and as Andy Richter's sister on Conan O'Brien years ago.

You'll notice that Parks & Recreation isn't on that list. The basic problem is that after 60 minutes with her character Leslie Knope, there isn't much difference between she and Michael Scott. I realize that it's perhaps unfair to rank a brand-new show against one of the great sitcoms, but given the creative team, the documentary presentation and the entire look and feel of P&R, it's a fair comparison to make. Look at the U.S. version of the Office compared to the U.K. original --- though Michael Scott and David Brent are cut from the same cloth, Steve Carell has made Michael into a fully separate character from David. This is in part obviously because Carell has had four more seasons to evolve his character than Ricky Gervais did, but still, there is a clear gap between Michael's grown-up kid-looking-for-attention persona and David's wannabe-entertainer persona. I wouldn't call Leslie Knope a grown-up kid, per se, but she is definitely similarly clueless about the amount of respect she gets from her co-workers and she's certainly looking for attention (either from her mother, as seen in the last episode, or in her overall plan to rise up the political ladder to the White House). The other problem is that Poehler isn't a good enough actor to generate a character funny enough to carry a weekly sitcom. She's that particular kind of bad where she doesn't have a niche to go to in times of trouble. To cite another SNL alumnus who I don't like, Molly Shannon can at least be funny in small doses as a crazy lush. Poehler doesn't have a similar fall-back position. Look at those roles I noted earlier; there isn't any real commonality among them, and each role could've easily been played by a hundred other actresses just as well or better. It's like a pitcher who doesn't have a bread-and-butter pitch to use when his other stuff isn't working, and just tries to get by on throwing a bunch of shit at the plate to see what sticks. Am I calling Amy Poehler the Scott Richmond of comedy? Yes.

Aziz Ansari was okay, and I actually enjoyed Nick Offerman's government-hating government official quite a bit. I think I might've liked a show centered around a Libertarian city official more than the current version of P&R. But the fact remains that after two episodes, to quote Barbie when she was trying to give Ken a handjob, I'm not feeling it. I'll watch until the end of its initial run to give it a fair shake, but I'm not exactly fired up about the prospect of a second season. Rashida Jones probably isn't either, since her potentially lucrative career as the love interest in numerous Apatow Comedy Tree films may be threatened by her schedule being filled by this average show. She may try to fake her own death to get out of her contract, while a 'Rashida Smith' suddenly shows up playing, say, Leslie Mann's sister-in-law.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Random Nonsense

Has anyone ever noticed that Bryan Adams "Run To You" and Tom Petty's "Refugee" are basically the same song? I was at a party the other night when a guy (well, not just any guy, but rather Stone Cold Andrew Austin) picked up a guitar and started playing a few tunes, including that I thought was 'Refugee.' So I started singing along, only to react in confusion when everyone else was singing about how damn it easy it is to make love to you.* For the record, 'Refugee' was written in 1980 and 'Run To You' was released in 1984, so the copycat onus is on Adams with this one. What a piece of shame for a Canadian musical icon. Next thing you know, we'll realize that Adams copied "The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You" from a heretofore unknown R. Kelly b-side. (titled, of course, 'The Only Thing That Looks Good On You Is My Urine.')

* = What an odd lyric. Was Adams' previous experience with women limited to that chick from Men In Tights with the metal chastity belt?


There's a FLASHMAN MOVIE?!?!?! Good lord! And young Malcolm McDowell is an excellent choice to play ol' Flashy. I might have to track this one down. btw, I checked out George Macdonald Fraser's IMDB listing just to make sure that no other Flashman films had escaped my attention, and Fraser's credits themselves are good for a chuckle. I didn't realize that he also wrote Red Sonja (yes, the Schwarzenegger movie) and Octopussy (the Bond movie). Huh.


Went 5-for-11 on the UFC picks, with the most comically-wrong prediction coming in the Chuck Liddell fight. Poor Chuck....time to retire, big guy. If he's looking for something to do in retirement, he can start with this woman at the bar last night. I was sitting next to a table of people that included a couple, and this chick just could not stop going on about how attractive she thought Chuck Liddell was. Seriously. She kept saying he had such 'pretty eyes' and thought that if he shaved off his goatee, people would think he was a sex symbol. Needless to say, the rest of her table didn't agree. Her boyfriend disagreed vehemently enough that by the time the Liddell-Rua fight happened, he was openly rooting for Shogun. After the knockout, there was a big 'WHOA!' sound in the bar followed by a buzz of conversation. But after it died down, the girl chimed in with a perfectly-timed "Awwwww, poor Chuck!" that actually got a laugh due to her squeaky tone of voice. The boyfriend got off one decent line by saying that Chuck's pretty eyes just got closed (which wasn't technically true since it was a TKO, but still).

The punch line was that compared to this guy, Chuck Liddell was Brad Pitt. Now, I'm no prize myself, folks, but seriously, this guy was seven litres of ugly in a three-litre jug. He really had no call to be mocking his girlfriend's obviously skewed taste in men since it was clearly benefitting his gargoyle ass.


During the Jays game today, it was mentioned that Jack Cust's 40-game streak of reaching base had come to an end. My curiosity was piqued so I looked up the all-time record for most consecutive games with at least one hit, walk or hit-by-pitch. You'd figure that this is one of those especially skilled records that would have to belong to an all-time great, and sure enough, Ted Williams reached base in 84 straight games in 1949. Eighty-four games! That's over half of the damn season! This just in: Teddy Ballgame was pretty good.

My favourite Ted Williams anecdote is the one about his freakish eyesight. I mean, literally freakish --- when he had his eyes tested upon entering the military for World War II, the doctors determined he was in the upper percentile of possible human vision. Unsurprisingly, he ended up serving as a pilot. So one day, Williams was talking with his teammates about how he could tell a pitch was going to curve because the stitches weren't turning, indicating a greater break on the ball. His teammates reacted with, "WTF? You can see the stitches on a pitched ball?" Not only that, Williams claimed he could tell where on the ball he made contact. So during batting practice, they loaded up his bat with pine tar and had Ted swing away, as he called out his contact points. Sure enough, the pine tar marks on the balls corresponded with the spots that Williams was calling. Gods may not answer letters, but in Williams' case, he could sure read them on an eye chart.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

UFC Picks

There's a rumour going around that the UFC will be coming to Toronto in early 2010, since there's going to be a changing of the guard on the provincial athletic commission that oversees fighting events. If so, this might be the last UFC event in Montreal for a while, barring a Georges St. Pierre hometown fight. UFC in the Rogers Centre in front of 50,000 people? It's very possible.

Speaking of the UFC and Toronto, who should've been at the Jays game yesterday but Dan Henderson. He was there promoting the UFC's new on-demand channel on Rogers cable, so he threw out the first pitch and....basically everything else during the game. It was pretty funny. They had him in the crowd asking fans trivia questions, in the booth announcing the lineup for a half-inning, and had him sitting down in the TD luxury seats. I half-expected him to join the World's Fastest Grounds Crew or to challenge Ace the mascot to a dance-off between innings.

But enough of this nonsense, let's get to the predictions.

* Chuck Liddell over Shogun Rua, KO, Round Two
Rua is essentially fighting for his UFC career at this point. He lost to Forrest Griffin two years ago after coming from PRIDE with a ton of hype, and then took over a year off due to two major knee surgeries. His return fight was a truly pathetic match against Mark Coleman where both men just about keeled over due to exhaustion by the end of the first round. As for Liddell, there's even been some talk from Dana White that this might be a final reckoning for Chuck. I guess this wouldn't be a surprise given that he's lost three of his last four fights, but still, Chuck has been such a UFC icon that it's weird to think that even White is thinking of putting Liddell out to pasture. My pick is Liddell since, while Liddell did get knocked into next century by Rashad Evans, at least you could say that he just got caught (and he did win that first round). In Rua's case, he hasn't looked good since he's entered the UFC and after all the surgeries and out of PRIDE, I think he's already washed up. Chuck gets the knockout and gets back on track.

* Luiz Cane over Steve Cantwell, KO, Round One
Cantwell is a good fighter, but he's going to be in for an ass-kicking. Cane is one of the real up-and-comers in the LHW division and is a clear step above Cantwell in talent and credentials.

* Krzysztof Soszynski over Brian Stann, decision
I believe that if Sosszynski wins the fight, he gets an extra vowel for his name. Both guys are pretty evenly matched in a bout that wouldn't even come close to a main card if Soszynski wasn't a Canadian, but hell, since he's a Canuck, I'll give him the duke.

* Antoni Hardonk over Cheick Kongo, TKO, Round Two
My upset pick of the night. The UFC would like nothing more than for Kongo to keep winning, since this guy is a promoter's dream --- built like a brick wall, and hits like a brick wall that wears gloves. Though I guess thin gloves wouldn't really make the brick punches any less painful....this sentence makes no sense. Hardonk is cut from the same punching cloth, and in a fight like this it's just a question of who catches who first. What the hell, I needed to pick one upset, so I'll take the Donk.

* Anderson Silva over Thales Leites, KO, Round Two
Silva is coming off a disappointingly strange win over Patrick Cote last fall, and he has stated that he is very eager to get back in the cage and show what he can do. In an unrelated note, Thales Leites' family started an account on I don't even know why Leites is getting a title shot, let alone thinking that he has a chance, so I'm predicting another vicious Silva knockout. Apparently the winner (Silva) will be facing Demian "Crazy Submission Guy" Maia in August, which is a much more interesting on the fight. Maia actually has a good chance of finishing Anderson if he can get him down on the ground.

Undercard results....
* Jason MacDonald over Nate Quarry, submission, Round Two. The Athlete! Woo!

* David Loiseau over Ed Herman, decision. The Crow! Woo! Or, CAW CAW CAW

* Denis Kang over Xavier Foupa-Pokam, knockout, Round One. Will Kang continue to be the most underachieving guy in MMA and lose to this comically-named Frenchman, or will he finally pull his head out of his ass? I vote for the latter.

* Vinny Magalhaes over Eliot Marshall, submission, Round One

* Ryo Chonan over TJ Grant, decision

* David Bielkheden over Mark Bocek, TKO, round three. I sat next to a guy at Boston Pizza during a UFC event last year who apparently went to school with Bocek and was near tears when he lost to Mac Danzig. The guy was kind of a douche, so unfortunately that's my reasoning for picking against Bocek here. I am fueled by his tears.

* Sam Stout over Matt Wiman, decision. Absolute must-win for the London boy Stout, who's lost his last two fights. I predict that he'll take heart from the Knights' kick-ass win over Windsor last night and give London its second big sports victory in as many nights.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Day Of Days

As with most running jokes between my group of friends, this one started with a shitty movie. During the execrable "The Chronicles of Riddick," the evil tyrant (played by the immortal Colm Feore) at one point mentions that the day of his seemingly inevitable triumph would be a 'day of days.'

Later, after Vin Diesel has ruined things,* Feore angrily shouts, "This was supposed to be a day of days!" The random callback just cracked us all up, and as a result, the day-of-days quote has been used roughly a zillion times over the last five years. It was probably the most memorable thing from the film, aside from all of our wisecracks pretending that Feore was actually reprising his most famous role as Pierre Trudeau. Highlights included, "Man, Riddick is harder to deal with than the FLQ," and "Trudeau just took a long ass-kicking in the snow."

* = technically, I should've noted this as a spoiler alert, but now I've saved you from ever having to watch Chronicles of Riddick. You're welcome.

But, getting back on topic, it was the 'day of days' quote that stood the test of time, though its meaning has changed over the years. It has now gone from being just a random movie reference to being the Day Of Days --- the officially-recognized title for the day of the year when the weather gets warm enough for women to start wearing attractive springwear in public. Back at university, on a campus of roughly 16.000 women, this was basically a national holiday. It occasion. I actually ate outside on those days, rather than shoving food into my mouth while crouched Gollum-style in a corner of University College pouring over study notes.

Today, in London, our decent weather of late finally gave birth to the Day Of Days. The temperature shot up to 17 degrees. Local businesses the city over suffered huge man-hour losses due to a bizarre increase in sick days. Local golf courses, on an unrelated note, reported record business. The weather was so warm and gorgeous that I even felt confident enough to put away my enormous winter coat (a.k.a. Big Red) for the season. If it blizzards tomorrow, well, I guess you have me to blame for pushing fate like that.

So what did I do on the Day Of Days? I....spent it first packing, and then commuting from London to Toronto. There were surprisingly few women, in springwear or otherwise, walking down the side of the 403, so I feel like I missed out. Sigh. I'm getting so old. What was once a day of mirth and joy is now a day of making sure my clean socks are in the upper flap of my suitcase and picking which CDs to listen to during the ride.** Geez, I just realized that listening to CDs rather than mp3s is in itself a sign of age. Yikes.

**= Help, Rubber Soul, and the back-end of a Fatboy Slim greatest hits disc I was listening to the other day.

Then again, it's not like I had plans to go up to campus and sit around ogling. That's just creepy at any age. Maybe I'm just lamenting the fact that, women aside, the first proper day of spring is just generally awesome that should be enjoyed no matter what's on the schedule. Hindsight being 20-20, I should've stayed in London an extra day and hit the golf course, sat out on the deck or just gone on a walk or something to take in the warm showiness of nature. By the time I actually got to Toronto, it was late afternoon and a chilly breeze had just begun to pick up, somewhat ruining the whole D-of-D effect. C'est la vie. C'est la vie.

Bonus link: an editorial written by the UWO Gazette in 2005 (by a friend of mine) further chronicling this same Day of Days phenomenon. I really need to start working "add a few buckets of sexy" to my regular rotation of sayings.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stanley Cup picks

First, a look back at my preseason predictions. In the East, I had Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Washington, New York, Montreal, Philly, New Jersey and, er, Toronto. So that's six out of eight correct, which is pretty good unless you factor in that I missed the #1 team overall and put in the ridiculous heart-over-head Leafs pick. In the West, I had Detroit, San Jose, Calgary, Dallas, Anaheim, Chicago, Minnesota and Vancouver for another 6/8 performance. So overall, I think we can conclude that I'm the best hockey prognosticator of all time. Which means that this picks will be BANG. ON.

San Jose over Anaheim: The battle of California! Screw you, Kings! Sharks in five.

Detroit over Columbus: Good on the Jackets for finally making the playoffs, but while it would be cool to see Rick Nash go nuts, Detroit should take this one pretty easily. Red Wings in six.

St. Louis over Vancouver: The Canucks conduct their usual playoff bed-shittery. The Blues have been impossibly good over the last three months. I mean, this was a team that was neck and neck with the Leafs in the lottery race at the end of 2008, but since then they've been kicking ass and taking names. Blues in seven.

Calgary over Chicago: Arguably the hardest series to pick in the whole first round. I've stuck by thinking Calgary is a solid team all season, so no reason to stop now. Flames in seven.

Boston over Montreal: Don't worry Habs fans, the 125th anniversary is just around the corner! Plenty of time to build more unrealistic expectations around your team! Bruins in five.

Washington over New York: Ovechkin wins his first playoff series and theoretically does something amazing in Madison Square Garden that gets the New York media's attention for about five minutes. The Rangers, somewhat impossibly, scored the third-fewest goals in the NHL this year and still made the playoffs. Bizarre. Capitals in five.

New Jersey over Carolina: On the bright side, one of the two teams I least want to win the Cup will be out in the first round. On the down side, one of the two teams I least want to win the Cup will be guaranteed to advance past the first round. I'll go with Brodeur in this one. I also love that Paul 'Scapegoat' Maurice was fired from Toronto and is now instantly back in the postseason with the Hurricanes. This is what happens when Maurice deals with a non-idiot as general manager. Devils in six.

Pittsburgh over Philadelphia: Battle of Pennsylvania! Penguins come all the way back from their disappointing start and put Philly to bed. Penguins in six.

San Jose over St. Louis: The Sharks end the Blues' cinderella run, albeit not without a fight. In my preseason picks I actually had San Jose over the Rangers in the finals, so why get off the bandwagon now? Sharks in six.

Detroit over Calgary: Wings douse the Flames in order to set up the Western Finals that we're all expecting. Red Wings in six.

Pittsburgh over Boston: Upset! As consistent as the Bruins have been all season, I honestly cannot see them as a legit Cup contender. I don't know what it is. I see them as the new model of last season's Canadiens; a team that overachieves by taking the top seed, wins a round, but then gets dusted by one of the actual contenders. Penguins in six.

Capitals over Devils: In my opinion, these are the two best teams in the East and here they are in the second round. May be a minor heart-over-head pick since the Devils always play spoilsport by beating the lovable underdogs, but I find myself really rooting for Ovechkin and company. Capitals in seven.

San Jose over Detroit: As I said, I'm not getting off the Sharks bandwagon anytime soon. This series is almost guaranteed to go seven, and in the end I think the Sharks can do just enough to knock out Detroit in a classic matchup. On the bright side, their hockey team losing is only about the 31st or 32nd worst thing to happen to Detroit in the last ten months. Sharks in seven.

Washington over Pittsburgh: First of all, Gary Bettman would cream his jeans if it was actually Crosby vs. Ovechkin in a major playoff series. Second of all, it's interesting that a lot of hockey fans have semi-turned on Crosby, at least when it comes to favoring him against Ovie. It would somewhat hilarious to have Crosby pull the full heel turn and do something just pathetically unsportsmanlike or whiny in this series, thus turning him from the next Gretzky into the next Bobby Clarke. Capitals in six.

San Jose over Washington: There's a chance that the Sharks could be petered out by their epic series with the Wings, but given that the NHL schedules roughly a month between the end of the conference finals and the Cup finals, they should have time to recover. The Cup goes to a warm-weather city for the fourth time in the last six years. On the bright side, at least these Capitals put in a far better showing than the last Caps team to make the Finals, back in that season when they literally didn't show up against the Wings. It's true --- in game two, the Wings were just standing on the ice shrugging their shoulders, looking over at the empty opposing bench. In Washington's defense, Adam Oates threw a pizza party the previous night and things got a little crazy. Sharks in six.

Bonus prediction: the Leafs don't manage to trade up for the #1 overall pick, unless the Isles win it. Then all bets are off. The Islanders are one of the worst-run franchises in sports. It's possible Brian Burke might be able to acquire the #1 pick for Jason Blake, Vesa Toskala, a signed Dave Ellett jersey and a bag of magic beans.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Rivalry List

I have a file on my laptop simply titled 'Posts' that contains most of my blog entries, ideas for future entries, and nude pictures of Emily Post. You've seen my blog entries, you'll see the Emily Post pictures next February (as part of my annual "Spending Valentine's Day Masturbating To Pictures Of Famous Etiquette Authors" post), but for today I'd like to concentrate on one random entry that I never got around to completing.

Simply put, it's a list of rivalries. I think the idea was a Listamania concerning the top rivalries of all time, in all avenues of human life and pop culture. The sum total of my preparation towards this post was to list all the rivalries I could off the top of my head, and then....uh, well, nothing, since I completely abandoned the project. I mean, honestly, ranking EVERY rivalry ever? That's a lot of work. And it would've required a closer definition of the word 'rivalry,' since some of these cross over into blood-feud territory. A rivalry, in my mind, is a battle that is based partially in mutual respect and perhaps deep down a bit of enjoyment that you even have such a rival to compete with. In a blood feud, there's legitimate spit-on-your-grave hatred, whereas in a rivalry, you'd miss it a bit if you ever actually achieved permanent victory over the opposition.

I think what finally broke me was the sports category, specifically when I realized that I could devote about 30 entries alone just to college football rivalries. Ergo, the time commitment that I usually have allotted for my half-ass lists just wouldn't be enough for sch an all-encompassing topic. But since I'm loath to put that 15 minutes' worth of work I put in last year to waste, here's the rough draft of the rivalry list. There's no order involved, and I've split things up into categories to make navigation a bit easier. I've also highlighted a few of the more notable entries that deserve a bit of comment.

Frasier Crane vs. Niles Crane
Frasier Crane vs. Cam Winston
.....This storyline was undoubtedly the highlight of the last few years of Frasier. Cam Winston was a snobby guy (basically exactly like Frasier) who moved into the condo above the Cranes, and he and Frasier were at each other's throats about every little thing. It was hilarious. The apex of the feud was when Winston hung a giant American flag off his balcony after 9-11, ostensibly to express his love of his country, but really just because it blocked Frasier's view. And, of course, Frasier couldn't complain since then he'd look unpatriotic. Just a great character that I wish a bit more had been done with. He was played by Brian Stokes Mitchell, who I also saw starring in 'Ragtime' in Toronto in 1996.
J.R. Ewing vs. Cliff Barnes (Dallas)
Michael Scott vs. Toby Flenderson (The Office)
Jerry Seinfeld vs. Newman
Elaine Benes vs. Sue Ellen Mishke, the braless O Henry bar heiress
.....Fun fact: Brenda Strong, who played Sue Ellen, went on to greater vocal fame as the narrator on Desperate Housewives
Jack Bauer vs. Nina Myers
Andy Millman vs. Greg Lindley-Jones (Extras)
.....You know, that's one thing that bugged me about the otherwise excellent Extras finale. Greg never got his comeuppance. I mean, it would be one thing if he was just such a notable jerk that the joke was that Andy could never top him, but he was written and presented in such a way that you figured Andy would get the last laugh eventually. But, nada. Disappointing.
Cheers vs. Gary's Old Towne Tavern
Bobby Jon Drinkard vs. Jamie Newton (Survivor)
.....My pal Mario wrote a full entry about this rivalry during a countdown of Survivor's funniest moments, and it was a very worthy candidate. For those of you who aren't Survivor fans, these two went from just the natural competitiveness that goes between two tribes to going out of each other's way to show up the other. It culminated with the two of them getting in each other's faces and screaming incoherently following a ball-rolling challenge. Just to make things funnier, outside of challenges, they were both generally mild-mannered Southerners. They both just had a habit of letting their competitiveness turn them into the Hulk.
David Letterman vs. Jay Leno
James T. Kirk vs. Khan Noonien Singh
Dr. Richard Kimble vs. Lt. Phillip Gerard

Tom vs. Jerry
Bugs Bunny vs. Daffy Duck
....."Rabbit season!" "Duck season!" "Rabbit season!" "Duck season!"
The Coyote vs. The Road Runner
Ralph and Sam (The Wolf and the Sheepdog)
.....Here's an old Warner Brothers gem, the wolf and sheepdog who used to carpool and then punch the time-clock before spending the day pitted against each other.
Mickey Mouse vs. Donald Duck
Jem and the Holograms vs. The Misfits
Megatron vs. Starscream
.....When you think about, Starscream was a pretty unique character for a kids' cartoon show. He was basically Iago, except also a giant robot that could turn into a fighter jet. (If only Shakespeare had lived to add this detail to 'Othello'.) Starscream spent as much time arguing with and plotting against Megatron as he did actually fighting the Autobots. It was an early lesson to children everywhere that it never hurts to be deceitful in the workplace. Since some of these kids grew up to be stockbrokers and businesspeople, I think it's safe to say that 'Transformers' is directly responsible for the economic crisis.
Itchy vs. Scratchy
Homer Simpson vs. Ned Flanders
Maggie Simpson vs. Gerald, the Baby With The One Eyebrow
Peter Griffin vs. the Chicken

Edmond Dantes vs. His Tormentors.....I wish I could be more specific, but I actually have never read 'The Count Of Monte Cristo' aside from an abridged version I read in 10th grade French class. I also never saw the recent film version starring Guy Pearce due to the stupid tagline ("Count on adventure!")
Spy vs. Spy
Batman vs. The Joker
Superman vs. Lex Luthor
.....I would never try to tell Warner Brothers how to do its business, but seriously, Jon Hamm as Superman, Terry O'Quinn as Lex Luthor, and forget about all of this teeny-booper stuff. Brandon Routh...give me a fucking break.
Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin
Charles Xavier vs. Magneto
Reed Richards vs. Dr. Doom
Captain America vs. Red Skull
Green Lantern vs. Sinestro
Slytherin vs. Gryffindor
.....The whole house structure of Hogwarts never failed to crack me up. "Hey, we've got this one house that invariably produces evil wizards who occasionally try to take over the world. Should we shut it down?" "No....let's see where this goes...." I'd question why something so innately evil is allowed to exist, but then again, in real life we have the Republican Party.
Othello vs. Iago.....I'll bet if Jon Peters had produced the original 'Othello,' he would've suggested that Iago be a transforming jet. "It needs more beats, Bill, more beats."
Montagues vs. Capulets
Edmund vs. Edgar (King Lear)
Sir Toby Belch vs. Malvolio (Twelfth Night)
.....As far as my research can tell, Alan Rickman has never played Malvolio on either the stage or screen. This is a tragedy.

International politics
Canada vs. The United States
The United States vs. Russia
England vs. Argentina
.....I honestly considered putting this into the sports section since there's probably more animosity over Maradona's hand-ball goal in the '86 World Cup than there is about the Falkland Islands.
England vs. France
England vs. Ireland
Australia vs. New Zealand
.....The 'Jemaine dates an Aussie girl' episode might be the best in Flight of the Conchords history, which is saying a lot.
Pakistan vs. India
Israel vs. Most of the rest of the Middle East
.....One of the aforementioned 'yeah, this is more of a blood feud' entries.
Brazil vs. Argentina
Japan vs. China
North Korea vs. South Korea
Sweden vs. Finland vs. Norway
Czech Republic vs. Slovakia
Spain vs. Portugal
.....Spain probably should've had more representation on this list just from the Spanish Inquisition alone. See, this is why I dropped the ball on this list --- I simply had no stomach to take the time to research the actual great historical rivalries. For shame. I should be tortured with the pillows, or even worse, the comfy chair.

Celtic vs. Rangers
Arsenal vs. Chelsea vs. Manchester United vs. Liverpool
Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona
EVERY major college football rivalry
EVERY major college basketball rivalry
.....I'm just trying to save time here.
Yankees vs. Red Sox
Cubs vs. Cardinals
Cubs vs. White Sox
Dodgers vs. Giants
.....People forget that this one is so heated, but back in 1965, Juan Marichal hit Dodger catcher John Roseboro in the head with a bat. I'll repeat that --- he HIT HIM IN THE HEAD WITH A FUCKING BASEBALL BAT. Can you imagine if this happened today? Marichal would be thrown out of the league and be the lead topic on Pardon The Interruption for a solid week. In 1965 it was just a nine-game suspension. I was kind of hoping that Manny would've signed with San Fran in the offseason just to add some more spice to this old rivalry.
Mike Piazza vs. Roger Clemens.....The 'Piazza tipped the pitches to AL hitters, thus allowing Clemens to get lit up and embarrassed in the All-Star Game' is one of my favourite baseball urban myths.
Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux
Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby
Bobby Clarke vs. Eric Lindros
Canada vs. Russia
Canada vs. United States, women's hockey
Red Wings vs. Avalanche
.....This is only for the period spanning roughly 1996 to 2006 since right now, uh, it's a little one-sided.
Oilers vs. Flames
Bruins vs. Canadiens
Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens
Maple Leafs vs. Senators
Maple Leafs fans vs. Senators fans
.....Or, real fans vs. bandwagon jumpers. Everything Senators fans do is a joke. For instance, they bragged about the atmosphere of the 'Sens Mile' as a partying epicenter for playoff games. Um, are you kidding me? Flames fans did the exact same thing three years earlier. You losers can't even celebrate properly. Or, as Bryan Murray would say, you loo-shersh can't even shelebrate properly. Have fun missing the playoffs, jackasses. At least Leafs fans knew Toronto would be bad this year; you clowns thought your ass-backwards team were Cup contenders. Just pathetic.
Patriots vs. Jets
Patriots vs. Colts
Packers vs. Bears
.....Oh no, the Bears got Jay Cutler! Heaven forfend! How will the Pack ever deal with this neck-bearded idiot who's never had a playoff team and has already proven himself to have the temperament of a whiny eight-year-old? Have fun with another 7-9 season, Chicago.
Every AFC West team vs. Every other AFC West team
Every NFC East team vs. Every other NFC East team
Steelers vs. Browns
Steelers vs. Ravens
Lakers vs. Spurs
Lakers vs. Celtics
Knicks vs. Pacers
.....Or, Spike Lee vs. Reggie Miller.
Knicks vs. Heat.....Another sports rivalry that really only existed in the 1990's. Both of these Knicks feuds have died off given that the Knicks have been a joke for the last several years.
Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird
Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell
Shaquille O'Neal vs. Kobe Bryant
Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal
.....Best rivalry in sports today? Hell yes.
Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert
John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg
Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras
Steffi Graf vs. Monica Seles
Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer vs. Gary Player
Jack Nicklaus vs. Tom Watson
Nick Faldo vs. Paul Azinger
Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson
.....Psst, Tiger is winning.
Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali.....Thomas Hauser memorably described this feud as two men not fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world, bur rather for the heavyweight championship of each other. Years later, there is still bad blood, as Joe Frazier just yesterday insinuated that God gave Ali Parkinson's disease as punishment for all of the bad deeds in his life. Classy.
Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran
Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan
Brian Boitano vs. Brian Orser


Salieri vs. Mozart.....Honestly, I probably should've put this into the 'literature' section since their alleged feud has been at best exaggerated, at worst totally made up over the years. If anything, Salieri was a big supporter for Mozart. It's unfortunate that thanks to the movie, people now remember Salieri as nothing more than Mozart's bitter rival.
Tupac vs. Biggie.....Uh, call it a draw?
Oasis vs. Blur
Beatles vs. Rolling Stones
Sammy Hagar vs. David Lee Roth
Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana
.....Since we just passed the 15-year anniversary, I might as well reveal that I'm on the fence about Kurt Cobain's suicide. On the one hand, his death spared us from 15 years of terrible music. On the other hand, if he had lived, we would've been spared 15 years of idolatry surrounding a thoroughly mediocre band and this wouldn't have even been a feud since Nirvana would've gone the way of Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and all the other third-rate Seattle grunge bands, while PJ would've continued on their merry way to being awesome.
John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney

Pro wrestling (It gets its own category since really, the whole concept of pro wrestling is based on crazy rivalries)
Vince McMahon vs. Ted Turner/Eric Bischoff
Steve Austin vs. The Rock
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, which morphed into the Hart Foundation vs. America
.....This might be my favourite wrestling feud ever. It started out with Austin the cocky heel challenging Hart the returning hero, but evolved into Hart becoming more and more frustrated with American fans cheering Austin. It led to a legendary submission match at Wrestlemania 13 when both men turned mid-match, as Austin was cheered for not giving up and Hart was heavily booed. Hart responded by uniting with his brother Owen, brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith and longtime allies Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman into a new Hart Foundation faction. The trick to the storyline was that the Hart Foundation were hated in the USA but treated like national heroes in Canada, so the Hart group were both faces and heels at the same time. This was the storyline that really got a lot of my friends in high school back into wrestling, since it was universally agreed that Bret Hart was a god among men.
Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper
Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage
Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat
.....To sum up, Savage nearly crushes Steamboat's throat with a ring bell, then Steamboat spends several months recuperating as shown through a series of unintentionally hilarious vignettes where he has to relearn how to speak. Then Steamboat gets his revenge by winning the Intercontinental title from Savage at Wrestlemania III in what was basically the best match ever.
Jerry Lawler vs. Andy Kaufman
Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum TA
.....An old-school feud in the NWA that ended in an 'I Quit' steel cage match, where Magnum got the submission by jamming a piece of wood into Blanchard's eye. Um, holy shit.
Ric Flair vs. Sting
Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat
Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes
Undertaker vs. Mick Foley
.....Culminating in their legendary 'Hell in the Cell' match when, for starters, Undertaker tossed Foley off of a 20-foot high cage through a table. Then, Undertaker slammed Foley through the cell ceiling down about 15 feet into the ring. And, just to top things off, Foley ended up being slammed onto a pile of thumbtacks. In case you couldn't have guessed from the Mickey Rourke movie, you've got to be pretty tough to be a pro wrestler.
Midnight Express vs. Rock and Roll Express

Hatfields vs. McCoys
Takeru Kobayashi vs. Joey Chestnut
Jets vs. Sharks
Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr
.....Remember the hubbub when Dick Cheney shot his buddy in the face during a hunting trip? Imagine if Cheney had instead shot a guy, and killed him, in a purposeful duel to the death. And then imagine if the guy he killed was a former Secretary of Treasury and the guy on the $10 bill. Yeah, this actually happened. They should totally bring back dueling, it would solve a lot of problems. Sure, there'd be a lot of needless killing, but think of the huge increase in public glove-slapping!
Austin Powers vs. Dr. Evil
Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford
Jennifer Aniston vs. Angelina Jolie
Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed
.....I stand by my claim that Carl Weathers was unfairly robbed of an Oscar for this role
Rocky Balboa vs. Clubber Lang
Pepsi vs. Coke
Apple vs. Microsoft
.....I've got to say, after two years of owning a Macbook, I'm calling it in favour of Apple. Once you go Mac, you don't go back.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Miley Cyrus vs. Radiohead

The "feud" between Radiohead and Miley Cyrus already seems to have run out of steam, and I'm disappointed. There was a ton of comic material that was yet to be mined from the situation. I was hoping for just a full-out bout of nonsense where Miley rhymes 'Radiohead' with 'pseudo-friend' on her next record, which then gets everyone wondering if Radiohead will make a response, which would then lead to the wonderful spectacle of 12-year-old girls trying to decipher Thom Yorke lyrics. They'd be twittering back and forth, "When he says 'the raindrops' 30 times in a row, is he really saying that Miley is all wet?!?!" "OMG, your so right!!!!!" "Guyz, I think the computer voice in the background said something about Hannah Montana!!! It's so mean!"

I'm not sure which is my favourite part of this absurd feud. It's either Miley's claim that Radiohead were 'her idols,' or her teary declaration that she was going to 'ruin' the band by publicizing how mean they were to her. Yeah, way to stick it to them, Miley! Now they'll be forced to sell their albums online or only have their music played on alternative radio or....wait....

Two ways of looking at this: Radiohead's PR guy fielded the request and correctly assumed that his band didn't want to meet with Miley, and made a judgement call. Or, it was RH themselves who didn't want to meet with Miley and so it actually was a deliberate diss. In a purely objective sense, I can see how this might be construed as a bit dickish. I don't believe for a second Yorke's excuse that when it comes to doing backstage meet-and-greets, Radiohead "don't really do that," since if it had been someone like, say, Robert Plant wanting to say hello, Radiohead would've had all the time in the world for him. It would've cost nothing for Radiohead to spend a minute shaking Miley's hand, since, as their tour DVD taught us, Meeting People Is Easy.

That said, however, I can see Radiohead's argument. Would you really want to meet someone who claimed to be a huge admirer of yours, yet did something in your line of work that you had no respect for whatsoever? Do you think Stanley Kubrick would go out of his way to meet the Girls Gone Wild guy? Radiohead are pretty iconoclastic guys, so much so that I was surprised they'd even agree to perform at the Grammys in the first place. I'd doubt that they have much patience for what I'd imagine is actually a common occurrence in the celebrity world --- stars having to meet other stars that they don't like at all, yet they have to smile politely while trying to quickly think of the other star's least-objectionable material for an easy "Oh, I loved you in _____" compliment. This seems like a situation so commonplace in Hollywood that I'm surprised Larry David hasn't turned it into a Curb episode yet, where Larry meets a star whose work he doesn't care for, admits as much and then gets everyone mad at him for his lack of tact. The only comment that the probably somewhat bewildered Radiohead made in response to this Miley situation is, and I quote, "When Miley grows up, she’ll learn not to have such a sense of entitlement." Again, objectively, kind of dickish, but in this context, it sounds like the equivalent of something that Willy Wonka would say to Veruca Salt. If Radiohead were confronted with a PR guy saying that a Disney pop star had sent word through her manager that she wanted a private meeting backstage at the Grammys, I can see them declining just out of the sheer WTFness of it all. Maybe they thought they were being set up for a skit on Howie Do It. (Like, if you know Howie Mandel enough to realize it's him when he takes the wig off, shouldn't you be able to recognize him even in the fake outfit? I mean, if Howie Mandel walked into my apartment right now wearing a dreadlock wig, I wouldn't wonder who the Jamaican guy in my kitchen was, I'd just say 'Hey, there's Howie Mandel in a wig. I'll bet I'm about to be featured on that idiotic Howie Do It show.' Maybe I'm thinking about this too much.)

The most underrated funny element to this situation is that apparently Radiohead also shot down Kanye West's request for a backstage meeting and Kanye also declared war on RH, but nobody really paid notice to it since Kanye feuds with people on an hourly basis. I think he just started a feud with me based on this paragraph. But also, hey, if you're the media, you're obviously going to highlight the Cyrus angle. A Radiohead-Kanye 'feud' is something that is unlikely, but might've been conceivably plausible given that both artists are generally highly-acclaimed and at least travel in the same critical circles. A Radiohead-Miley Cyrus feud, however, is such a bizarre case of worlds colliding that it demands attention. On the bright side, by being sidelined in this feud, Kanye was spared my comparing him to, say, Augustus Gloop.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

I Want To Be An Advice Columnist

I'm surprised I didn't think of this sooner. I'm both a know-it-all AND I like to show it, so an advice column seems like a natural avenue. I even have a fantacular name for it --- Question Mark. (Since people will be asking me questions, and my name is Mark, ya see. You might wonder why I'm explaining such an obvious pun, but as an advice columnist, I need to get in the habit of talking down to my readers.)

Send me your questions, big and small, either to this e-mail address or via Facebook private message. Your name will not be included on your question unless you wish it to be, or I'll just make up some hilarious fake name like Wilbur Hornsnootin. And as a further step to ensure your privacy, your question won't even be answered unless it's a fairly anonymous situation. So for example, if I get a question like "Dear Mark, my wife Angelina Jolie keeps wanting to adopt more kids, what should I do?", then I might not be able to help you without causing a stir.

Now, you might be asking yourself what kind of questions will I answer. Well, let me answer that very first question in Question Mark history by saying that I'll answer anything. Relationship issues, auto repair, sports trivia, 15th-century Popes, the meaning of life, why Cito Gaston didn't pinch-hit Bautista or Millar for Overbay last night, deciphering basic Cyrillic text, casserole recipes, child-rearing....I'm literally a fountain of information. And all of it will be perfectly sound advice guaranteed to be of help!*

So send your questions today, lest ye be left behind in the birth of this soon-to-be legendary internet venture. If you don't get in on the ground floor, your query will be buried underneath the sure-to-come avalanche of e-mails and I don't be able to get to answering your question for months to come. This could be particularly damaging if your question is, "Should I cut the red wire or the blue wire?"

* = guarantee not guaranteed


Jack Bauer was unsurprisingly won the "who's the biggest bad-ass on TV" poll, with Corner Gas' Emma Leroy capturing the silver and LOST's Sayid Jarrah winning the bronze.

Next up, it's yet another sports-related poll on this sports-heavy week on the blog...who's your least-favourite team in all of professional sports? I included what are probably the most common options, but obviously the 'other' tab might get a bit of a workout. For example, you could really, really hate, say, the St. Louis Rams for some reason. Maybe Marshall Faulk tried to assassinate your uncle. Maybe Orlando Pace slept with your sister and never called her. Maybe Marc Bulger killed your fantasy team...oh wait, I actually do hate them for that reason.

Anyway, make your pick. Poll is up until the end of the week.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mark's MLB Predictions

National League West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers seem to be getting it together. They finally stopped wasting at-bats on the gruesome twosome of Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones and are going with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier as the incumbent starting outfielders in a move that was at least one year, probably two, overdue. They re-signed Manny after being one of the few teams to win a staring contest against Scott Boras. They brought in the O-Dog to replace the retired Jeff Kent, which is a step down hitting-wise but a big step up with the glove, even though O-Dog doesn't field as he did in his Blue Jays, 'JP is a pimp,' prime. The only trouble is that their rotation is slightly scary, but really, it's just a case of them lacking a true ace. With an ace, Chad Billingsley is a great #2, Kuroda is a solid #3, top prospect Clayton Kershaw is a very promising #4 and Randy Wolf is a good, innings-eater of a #5. Without that ace, everyone has to take a step ahead in the rotation, which shouldn't be all that bad. Bottom line is, I see the Dodgers taking down the division title thanks to their possession of a truly elite bat in Manny.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a tough pick going with LA as division champs, since if Arizona's young talent all continues to develop as expected, they won't just be division champs but probably NL pennant winners to boot. Stephen Drew and Conor Jackson made the leap last year, and Justin Upton was right there with them for the first six weeks of the season. Max Scherzer is going to be a full-time starter this year and I expect him to be cash money --- he, Webb and Haren are a potentially scary-good triple threat in the rotation.

3. Colorado Rockies. Their pitching staff is a pile of human feces, but otherwise, I like their lineup. As someone who's been riding Ryan Spilborghs' platoon appearances in fantasy leagues for the last two years, I'm very interested to see what he can do on a regular basis. There's also the presence of uber-prospect Dexter Fowler lurking in the weeds, who I like already just because of his awesome name. Dexter Fowler --- what a great baseball name. He's got to be good with a moniker like that, eh?

4. San Francisco Giants. Some people are high on the Giants as a dark horse, pointing to their rotation and some promising young talent. I'm pointing to the fact that Bengie friggin' Molina is scheduled to hit clean-up for them. Their lineup has a lot of table-setters but no table-cleaners. Renteria was a good signing, since he will likely continue his career-long trend of kicking ass in the NL (and, subsequently, being crap in the AL). San Fran is a year and at least two more bats away from being a real contender. And hey, next year, Barry Zito's contract is 365 days closer to being over! Huzzah!

5. San Diego Padres. Yikes. Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy need to steal away from this shitty team in the dead of night. They're too good for this sad-ass bunch of ballplayers. Brian Giles can ask "Can I come?" like Adam Clayton in the U2 Simpsons episode, but he'll be denied just as harshly.

National League Central
1. Chicago Cubs. Ok, the Cubs SHOULD clean house all season long and finish with the best record in the National League. They have the best team top-to-bottom and would be pennant contenders were it not for that pesky 101-year curse on them. Maybe the Cubs will thrive this season after having the 'win the title on the centennial of the last one' pressure lifted. (By this same logic, I guess the Montreal Canadiens will win the 2009-10 Stanley Cup.) The only question I have is Milton Bradley's ability to stay healthy all season long since he doesn't have the safety net of the DH spot if his knees are hurting, but the Cubbies have the lineup depth to withstand his absence. Then again, if he breaks down during, oh, say, the playoffs, then expect him to join Steve Bartman and the Goat in Chicago's hit list of postseason jinxes.

2. St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe I'm taking a wee bit of a flier here on the Cards, but if Chris Carpenter pitches as well as he has in spring training, then St. Louis will suddenly have both the best pitcher and the best hitter in the division. That's got to count for something. I also suspect that new third baseman David Freese is going to make injured Troy Glaus very redundant very quickly.

3. Cincinnati Reds. Their lineup is good from 3-to-6, but otherwise suck-diddly-ucks. Their pitching staff is pretty decent, though, and their bullpen is solid...screw it, the Reds are my mild semi-dark horse this season. I would go all the way and pick them as a long-shot wild card, but any hope of a playoff spot will be Dusty Bakerized out of existence by early September.

4. Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew made their first playoff appearance since 1982, and now it's back in the hole. No Sabathia and no Sheets equals a pretty atrocious rotation on paper. Honestly, I'm probably underrating the Crew a bit (any of the 2-4 teams in the NL Central could finish in any order), but I see a sharp dropoff after the heights of last year's wild card.

5. Houston Astros. Meh. The 'stros don't do anything for me. Roy Oswalt is starting to look a bit long in the tooth, so if he falters then that'll make it....yup, five bad pitchers. Putting a guy like Michael Bourn at the top of the order is a sign at this team is behind the times. Bourn's speed is counteracted by his awful, awful, sub-.300 OBP.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs are a collection of other teams' failed prospects (Andy LaRoche! Brandom Moss! Craig Hansen!) and veterans that would have trouble making the bench of a contender, let alone the starting lineup. How could a team with such a pretty ballpark and such an ugly team year after year? Not to blow my own horn, but I am 100 percent certain that I could run this team for a season and lead it to a better record than their current management team. In other words, reality show.

National League East
1. New York Mets. As hilarious as the Mets' late-season collapses have been over the past two years, I think they'll hold on in 2009. K-Rod and Putz will shore up the pen in a major way, and if you're in a fantasy league that tracks holds, Putz could be a total monster this season. And playing in a new ballpark usually seems to invigorate franchises. Look at what it's done for Pittsburgh, Washington, Cincinnati....uh....

2. Atlanta Braves. I love the Braves this year, and not just because I'm at the moment watching them pound the world champion Phillies. Strong lineup, deceptively strong rotation and as long as Mike Gonzalez can hold up his end of the deal as the closer, I think the Braves will give the Phils and Mets all they can handle in the race for the NL East crown.

3. Philadelphia Phillies. Just to reiterate, I'm NOT flip-flopping my Atlanta-Philly picks just based on the fact that the Braves are currently leading the Phillies by phour in the eighth. I just think a lot of things went right for the Phils last year that will be hard to replicate or improve upon. Jayson Werth as an everyday player is going to be an adventure at best. Their rotation after Cole Hamels is surprisingly poor, given that Brett Myers might suddenly forget how to pitch again and Jamie Moyer's painting in the attic is due to start developing some peeling sooner or later. Things I like about the champs: Raul Ibanez will have a big year in the NL. Ryan Howard will put together a full good season, not just a dynamite final month. Brad Lidge will get roughly a zillion saves. (p.s. another note from tonight's ESPN telecast...Steve Phillips just went on a huge rant about how Lidge will have to adjust mentally when he finally blows a save. Seriously? Lidge is a veteran closer. I doubt he'll be screaming himself to sleep. Unless that blown save is due to a 600-foot Albert Pujols home run in the playoffs, Lidge will be fine. Steve Phillips, you're making Joe Morgan look good. Just hush.)

4. Florida Marlins. Kudos to the Fish for including a retractable roof in their new stadium plans, which I honestly can't believe wasn't made mandatory in the plans of every new stadium built in the last 10 years (except in San Diego). I mean, the Twins' new park doesn't even have a they just not plan on scheduling any home games in April? And if the Twins make the playoffs, will the games be played at a diamond inside the Mall of America? I'm not sure why I'm talking so much about Minnesota during the Florida entry, but meh, the Marlins doesn't have much going on this season. They're still in another year of perpetual rebuild. I'm interested to know: for those of you who had a #1 pick in your fantasy draft this year, did you take Hanley or Pujols?

5. Washington Nationals. On the bright side, they fired Jim Bowden before he could sign the rotting corpse of Jack Benny ("He told me was only 39!") On the down side, everything else.

American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States of North America of Earth. The Angels are probably the worst of the best teams in baseball. They have a ton of holes --- injured pitchers, a terrible bottom of the lineup, a rapidly aging Vladimir Guerrero. I'm nominally picking them as the West champs just because the other clubs have even bigger troubles, but boy, it would not surprise me to see the Angels fall apart this season.

2. Texas Rangers. Kevin Millwood is the ace. Ew. This will be a classic Rangers team, built of shitty pitching and a stacked lineup. Between prospects like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus and proven vets like Hamilton and Kinsler, the Rangers should score a lot of runs, and they'll score even more if reclamation project Andruw Jones can revive his career as a platooner. I can see the Rangers finishing second due to the other teams' weaknesses, but don't have anywhere near the arms to contend themselves. By the way, you'll notice that this is the second straight entry where I'm playing the 'this team is flawed but the other guys are worse' card. The AL West sucks.

3. Oakland Athletics. I'm not sure what Billy Beane is thinking by acquiring guys like Matt Holliday and Orlando Cabrera, two guys who most pundits seem to agree will struggle away from Coors Field and just struggle, respectively. Could it be that Billy is feeling a bit of pressure from ownership? Jason Giambi, at least, will provide some pop, but otherwise the A's won't have the bats (and definitely not the arms) to seriously contend this season.

4. Seattle Mariners. Holy shit, did ANYTHING go right for the Mariners last year? Maybe it was a universal course correction for overachieving in 2007. They'll be slightly improved just because Ken Griffey (for all his age and injuries) is an improvement over fucking Jose Vidro at DH, arguably the worst designated hitter in baseball history.

American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers. Take two. Remember last season, when a number of pundits (including this idiot) picked the Tigers to win the World Ssries, only to see them sink to last place and play like a bunch of donkeys? Well, not to be outdone, I'm picking them to go from worst to first in this hard-to-predict division. They've cleared a bit of detritus out of the lineup and rotation, and while their decision to stick Rick Porcello in the rotation may be foolhardy from a service time and innings pitched point of view, I applaud Jim Leyland's balls. Anything is better than another season of Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman, a.k.a. the two worst pitchers in baseball that were inexplicably thought of as decent. That said, any staff that relies on Edwin Jackson and Armando 'Sophomore Slump' Galarraga as stalwarts is still begging for trouble. Calling it right now: Curtis Granderson will be a dark-horse MVP candidate.

2. Minnesota Twins. Were it not for Joe Mauer's Mike Tyson-esque injury to his spinal, I probably would've picked the Twins to win the division. Unfortunately, losing Mauer for potentially an extended period of time is a fatal blow to Minnesota's chances. That and their goddamn future open-roof new stadium (maybe I should be talking about the Florida Marlins here for balance). Minny does have probably the best, if least imposing, rotation in the division, and this team always seems to play better than it looks on paper, so keep an eye out for the Twinkies this year.

3. Chicago White Sox. Here's a team I don't like at all. The White Sox seem to be edging towards being one of those teams that holds onto its championship core a bit too long, and tries to refresh it with an awkward mix of prospects and veterans rather than just bite the bullet and rebuild. Chicago rode to a division title on the backs of some youngsters (Quentin, Ramirez, Floyd, Danks) stepping up, but now Chris Getz and Josh Fields are being asked to make the same leap and I just think it'll be too much to bear for the Pale Hose.

4. Cleveland Indians. See, I'm just an iconoclast. The Tribe are a very trendy pick to win the division, but I'm seeing the glass as half-empty here. A lot of Cleveland's success will hinge on how several players (Hafner, V-Mart, Fausto) rebound from injuries, and it's unlikely that all of them will return at the level necessary for the Indians to contend. It also seems like the Tribe is counting on platooners and second-raters like Garko, Choo, Asdrubal and Francisco to all suddenly become everyday contributors, so basically, the Indians have more if's than a Jules Dassin film festival. (Congratulations self, that was officially the most obscure reference in the history of the blog.) It wouldn't shock me to see any of the Indians, White Sox, Twins or Tigers win this division --- it's pretty closely-matched.

5. Kansas City Royals. Maybe it's Joe Posnanski's influence rubbing off on me, but I think the Royals might actually be frisky this season. Zach Greinke-Gil Meche is a decent 1-2 starting combo. Joakim Soria is a phenomenal stopper. The young hitters (Butler and Gordon) have another year of seasoning and may finally break through. There are some signs for optimism in K.C. land, but they're still probably two years away from being a true contender.

American League East
1. Boston Red Sox. I really liked Boston's offseason. They didn't make any major earth-shaking moves, but rather just a few tweaks and tucks to put their team in position to win another World Series. Takashi Saito, Ramon Ramirez, John Smoltz, Rocco Baldelli and (maybe) Brad Penny will all make the Red Sox better, and at a fraction of the cost of New York's big upgrades. Hell, Pedroia even starred in that funny commercial for MLB '09 The Show alongside the great Jerry Lambert, who is slowly becoming the king of baseball-related commercials. He was also the guy in the immortal Holiday Inn ad who doesn't know that Cal Ripken is a ballplayer. If the Red Sox are as good at baseball as Lambert is at commercial acting, they'll be World Series champs for sure.

2. New York Yankees. Yeah, fuck the Yankees. Teixeira will thrive, Sabathia will be great for the next two years before his weight gets to him, A.J. will fall apart like a papier-mache Jenga stack, the bullpen sucks and while their lineup is obviously still dangerous, there are some holes developing and nobody's getting and younger. Hopefully free crying towels are one of the new stadium's amenities. In summation, fuck the Yankees.

3. Tampa Bay Rays. Throughout this preview, I've mentioned a few teams who need to have a lot of things go right in order to contend in 2009. While I'm not seeing big things for any of them, last year's Rays are an example that lightning can in fact strike several times over in the same year. That said, I think Tampa will regress a bit this season. They're not going to be back to their old cellar-dwelling selves by any means...I suspect they'll still win between 85-90 games. But some of the breaks that went their way last year (Eric HInske inexplicably not sucking, the bullpen having career years everywhere you looked) might well not happen this time around.

4. Toronto Blue Jays. Sigh. See here.

5. Baltimore Orioles. Remember the Oriole Way, when the O's prided themselves not just on being a winning franchise, but also by being a morally superior franchise? Yeah, good luck with that. Unless Matt Wieters is called up and reveals himself to be Johnny Bench mixed with Mike Piazza (which, surprisingly, isn't far off the masturbatory praise that scouts are actually giving this guy), it'll be another losing season in B-more. Rest easy Blue Jays, your grip on fourth is secure!

NL MVP: Albert Pujols
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana
NL Rookie of the Year: Dexter Fowler
AL MVP: Mark Teixeira
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, or some one-year-wonder pitcher with puffed-up stats who couldn't carry Doc's jock
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters

NL Wild Card: Diamondbacks
AL Wild Card: Yankees

Division Serieseseses: Yankees over Tigers, Red Sox over Angels, Diamondbacks over Cubs, Mets over Dodgers

League Championship Serieses: Red Sox over Yankees, Diamondbacks over Mets

World Series: Red Sox over Diamondbacks

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Blue Jays Aren't Going To Be Very Good This Season

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Blue Jays in recent years is that they've sucked. Not true at all. The Jays have won 256 games over the past seasons, for an average of just over 85 wins per season. You might be surprised to learn that this is the eighth-highest wins-per-season average in all of baseball in that span. So the Jays have certainly played some good ball as of late, and have had a decent core group of players on the roster. Things aren't dire. They're not the Nationals.

The problem, of course, is that the seven teams ahead of the Blue Jays on that list all have playoff appearances and, in the cases of the Phillies and Red Sox, World Series titles within that three-year span. As do the eight teams following the Jays on the list. You have to get all the day down to the Astros at #17 to find another non-playoff team, and even then, the Astros won the NL pennant in 2005.

What am I trying to say here? Basically, the Blue Jays are baseball's answer to going to the best restaurant in town and ordering a hamburger. Yeah, the burger might be perfectly enjoyable, it's good compared to other burgers....but it's far from the best option on the menu. I realize this analogy is pretty ironic coming from me given that I'm infamously notorious for ordering burgers anywhere I go, but hey, I'm a Jays fan. It fits.

Unfortunately for Jays fans and burger connoisseurs alike, the meat is about to go bad. It's very easy to make the case that the Blue Jays' success over the last three seasons was the peak that they could've gotten from this group of talent, and now they're entering 2009 with an unquestionably weaker team than last year. And, just to remind everyone, this means they're worse than the team that was only good enough to finish 11 games out of the division lead and nine games back of the wild card. And, just to pour a little more ice water on your erection, this finish was the Jays' second-best in relation to the division lead and wild card in the last seven years. They have never even been close to a pennant race since 1993. (And that 10-game winning streak last year doesn't count. I'm sorry, but when you go into a series at Fenway thinking 'Ok, if we sweep all four, then we'll only be three back!' that doesn't really count as meaningful September baseball to me.)

So what's the problem? A sextet of reasons...

* After suffering through an impossibly bad hitting year, the 2009 Jays lineup isn't much improved on paper. Many of the same question marks from last year are back (Will Wells stay healthy? Can Rolen stay healthy? Can Rios finally break out and become a bona-fide threat? Can Overbay avoid hitting into 532 double plays?) alongside a few new ones. Is Hill's brain okay after apparently exploding last year? Will Scutaro continue to trick people into thinking he's better than Eckstein? Why the hell is Bautista making $2.4 million dollars? Can Lind and Snider step in and become productive every-day players? This last one is arguably the key to the season. It's definitely time to see what Lind can do on a regular basis. As for Snider, I'm not sure that keeping him in the minors for another year would've been a bad idea. After taking so long to make Lind a regular, it seems like they're doing the opposite with Snider and getting him to the majors as soon as he's legally able to drink a beer in the clubhouse. Hey, if he breaks out, that'd be great --- the Jays are long overdue to have a young prospect turn into a phenom. I'm just saying that it seems like the team's philosophy of "Don't worry, Snider's here, our lineup is better" and dusting their hands off in triumph is more than a little premature. I predict the Jays will be roughly 7th or 8th in the AL in hitting, which if they had done it in 2008 would've probably meant a playoff berth, but unfortunately....

* ....the pitching staff that was arguably the league's best last year has lost three of its starters. We're down to Roy "The god who walks as a man" Halladay, and Jesse Litsch. Just to reiterate, Jesse Litsch is now the #2 starter on this staff. Now I like Jesse a lot and think he's a decent pitcher. As the number five man in the rotation last year, he did a fantastic job. But put it this way --- I'm in three fantasy baseball leagues, all of which range between 12 and 16 teams. There are some really deluded people managing some of these teams, and they really get some odd thoughts in their head ("Maybe THIS will be Jeremy Bonderman's breakout season!"). But on all of these teams, nobody took Jesse Litsch. And this is the guy who the Blue Jays are counting on to be the secondary ace of the staff. The rest of the rotation will be comprised of David Purcey, Ricky Romero and Scott Richmond, all of whom will end up ranging between mediocre to awful. You might call this an overly cynical assessment, but c'mon, the Jays are taking three guys who should be at best fifth starters and throwing them into a division against Boston, New York and Tampa Bay? The only way the rotation will be above sub-par is if Halladay completes his morph into Hall-of-Famer Charlie "Old Hoss" Radbourn and starts to pitch every other day.

* Now, speaking of Boston, New York and Tampa Bay, that's really the crux of the issue with the Blue Jays. These teams, who were already better than Toronto last year, made moves to improve themselves in the off-season. Boston and NY, of course, always do this, and it looks like the Rays have turned the corner and will become consistent threats as well. Meaning that now, the Jays are even more screwed. Before, the AL East was like the Scottish Premier League -- only two teams win everything and everyone else plays for a consolation prize. Now, the division is turning into the Portuguese Liga, where it'll be three teams sharing the championship bounty amongst themselves. The Jays, of course, are Hibernian or Sporting Braga in this scenario, doomed to consistently be runners-up. As I mentioned earlier, the Jays haven't been a bad team over the last three years, but in the AL East, 'not bad' doesn't get you anywhere. Short of division realignment, the Blue Jays have to realize that their current strategy and this current group of players just isn't good enough to compete with the big dogs. It's one thing to have a team that needs a few breaks to compete, but when you need to get breaks yourself and then require bad breaks for not one, but two opponents, then you're shooting for the moon. Even if, say, Tampa regresses after their dream season last year, then what, the Jays can throw a party for finishing third? Whoop-de-ding.

* The Rogers Centre's popcorn tastes terrible. Oddly enough, the popcorn they serve in the press box is fantastic, so I'm not sure why that brand couldn't be moved down to the main concession area. Uh, anyway, back to baseball.

* The Jays did nothing in the off-season. In a winter where a number of quality players signed lower-than-market-value contracts due to the economy, the Jays couldn't even afford to get in on the bargain-hunting due to a spending freeze initiated by upper management in the wake of Ted Rogers' death. I can't blame J.P. Ricciardi for a lack of moves this winter. Hell, the guy is general managing for his job; you don't think he wanted to make some moves in an effort to stay employed? However, with the search on for a new team president who will almost surely bring in his own GM, maybe J.P. was able to channel his frustration into writing a really super resume. (I guess we can cross off a job with the Nationals off the list given the presence of Adam Dunn.) Nothing deflates a fanbase like seeing a team with obvious problems do nothing to address them. This isn't even a rebuilding plan --- it's just the team running out the clock until the new president is hired. Now, theoretically, the idea is that the Jays are writing this season off and planning to raise payroll again in 2010 to go along with this allegedly strong batch of prospects coming up from the farm system. I'll believe it when I see it. Hopefully this time 'raising payroll' doesn't translate to 'giving Frank Thomas a pointless contract' and the strong prospects don't follow in the footsteps of Curtis Thigpen, Russ Adams and (I'd like to be wrong, but I have a bad feeling) Adam Lind.

* Now technically, the Jays did make SOME moves. Kevin Millar is going to provide right-handed support at DH and 1B. Michael Barrett is the new backup catcher. And...uh, well, that's it. The Jays stuck to their usual off-season bargain-shopping of signing veteran/washed-up players to relatively small contracts to see if they can contribute to the big club. On the face of it, there's nothing wrong with this strategy. It's just that these moves never, ever pan out for Toronto. Brad Wilkerson. Shannon Stewart. Tomo Ohka. John Thomson. David Eckstein. Kevin Mench. Royce Clayton. Those guys are all rough, no diamonds. And even in this off-season alone, Matt Clement, Mike Maroth and Bryan Bullington were all signed for peanuts and contributed less than peanuts. The only one that you could argue worked out was Matt Stairs, who kicked ass as a pinch-hitter and occasional starter in early 2007, but fell back to earth with a thud once they took him out of his comfort zone and made him play every day. If you're going to give a roster space and playing time to a guy, at least have it be a young guy with upside rather than signing some piece of crap and wasting 200 at-bats in letting him prove that he's still a failure. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but Brad Wilkerson was just about the worst player in baseball last season (except for one memorable at-bat). Not to beat a dead horse about this, but surely he and Mench could've been spared in order to give Adam Lind more playing time? Yes, I realized I called Lind a potential bust in the previous paragraph, but I'm serious, literally anyone would've been better than 'Mencherson' last season. The Jays would've been better off finding the dead body of Tris Speaker, taking him to the Temple on LOST to be re-animated by the Smoke Monster and then taking their chances with a 50-years-dead skeletal corpse.

So yeah, aside from the pitching and hitting, the Jays are a pretty good team. They're good defensively. The bullpen should still be okay, I guess, in spite of the fact that B.J. Ryan seems to be imploding before our very eyes and Scott Downs might be the closer. Hmm, maybe I should've written out a negative paragraph about the bullpen too. Whatever, I think the pen is going to be garbage every year and yet they usually surprise me by having at least a couple of guys come out of nowhere with huge years. I'll call it a push.

The bottom line is after three years of decent baseball, I'm predicting the Jays for a mild free-fall. They won't suddenly be god-awful, but I'd put them at 75 wins, 81 at the absolute max. They'll still finish ahead of Baltimore, for what it's worth. Woo hoo? I would happily eat my words if the Jays have a good season, but honestly, I fail to see how this team could be anything but mediocre.

And of course, this is the season where I get the Toronto Star season pass, so I could conceivably attend every home game if I wanted to (besides the ones where I'm working). Nothing says season tickets like a 75-win ballclub! Oh, who am I kidding, I'd get that deal even if the Jays were the '62 Mets. Baseball is awesome. Plus, this Toronto Star pass is pretty much the best deal in the world. 81 home games for $115 bucks. I'm almost afraid to talk it up here for year that someone with the Jays organization or the Star will come across this post and suddenly realize that they could be charging twice as much. Then again, if someone from the Jays organization is reading this entire missive, they might be more focused on the fact that I'm throwing the whole team under the bus. I guess I'll know if I get the cold shoulder in the press box. Or, even worse, if I'm punished by having the popcorn replaced by the concession stand variety. If that's at stake, then never mind! Late April Fool's! Blue Jays for the pennant! PLAYOFFS~~~!