Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Ain't Sayin' Archie's A Gold Digger, But He Ain't Messin' With No Broke...



....cartoon characters. Yep, Archie Andrews is getting married and it looks like he popped the question to Veronica instead of Betty in the landmark 600th issue of Archie.

Controversial. First of all, this is the first major change to Archie Comics in decades. Archie has attended roughly 782054 proms in his life and 350385 graduation ceremonies, so it was time for the poor boy and his Riverdale pals to finally evolve past high school. But frankly, Archie's decision to go with the snotty rich girl over the goody two-shoes Betty isn't all that surprising. Speaking as someone who read roughly a million Archie comics in my childhood, if there was one thing I gleaned from those hundreds and hundreds of repetitive stories is that Archie is kind of a fuck-up. He means well, and he's a good guy, but man, this kid can turn the simplest task into a series of comic hijinks. It only stands to reason that he'd botch his marriage by proposing to the woman that's all wrong for him.

The question, however, is if Veronica is indeed the wrong choice. After all, opposites attract, and cliches have never led us wrong in the past (except for that time when a stitch in time saved me eight). Let's break this down using Mark's Five Most Desired Qualities In A Woman....

PERSONALITY: The worst thing you could say about Betty is that sometimes she was too much of a do-gooder for her own good. Veronica, meanwhile, could get self-absorbed. But as far as actual personality goes, it's hard to pick. Just because Veronica was bitchier doesn't mean she wouldn't be able to carry on an interesting conversation. Frankly, the fact that she's shown interests outside of pining over Archie is healthier than Betty, who would spend all her time babbling about Archie in the same manner that Death's date on Family Guy would go on and on about animals. Screw it, Veronica takes this category.

BRAINS: Even. The success-to-fail ratio of each woman's zany schemes (in Riverdale, you're required by law to have one zany scheme per week under punishment of death) is about the same, so they're at least equal in shiftiness, if nothing else.

KINDNESS: Betty, by a country mile. Continuity in Archie Comics can shift from time to time (sometimes Betty and Veronica are best friends, other times they're bitter rivals, sometimes Betty and Reggie are dating, sometimes Jughead is merely indifferent to women instead of being an overt sexist, etc.) but the one constant in the comics throughout all the years is that Betty is as sweet as apple pie. I'm not saying that Veronica would kick a dog, but we know for sure that Betty wouldn't. I could see Ronnie reach 0.9 on the Vick Scale if a dog, say, swallowed a diamond earring or something. And then Archie would volunteer to root through the dog's shit to search for the earring because....man, Archie is just whipped as hell.

LOOKS: This usually has a lot of subcategories (face, body, eyebrow thickness, etc.) but in this case, we can simplify things since Betty and Veronica look exactly the same. Literally. Betty is blond and usually wears her hair in a ponytail, while Veronica is a long-haired brunette, but other than that, they're dead ringers. Was this an editorial decision, or did Archie Comics just employ a lot of lazy artists over the years? Maybe a future story will reveal that Mr. Lodge and Mrs. Cooper actually shacked up years ago, and Betty and Veronica are twins separated in some sort of Comedy Of Errors scenario. That's probably coming in Archie #700, unless they're going to deal with Reggie's heroin addiction first.

SENSE OF HUMOUR: Both have a love of corny puns, as evidenced by 60 years of comics. Aside from that, you won't exactly be seeing any of them cracking wise down at the Laugh Shack anytime soon. Another draw.

WHO WOULD BE BETTER IN BED: With the score 1-1 with three draws, we move to the tie-breaker. It's hard to figure for a number of reasons. One, should be be judging on sexual prowess in general, or on the specific sexual chemistry that they'd have with Archie? Two, debating how cartoon characters would bang each other is just a bit too weird and takes this whole thing into "this whole conversation bothers me" territory. If I had to wager, I'd say that Betty would be pretty steadily good at any time, whereas Veronica would run hot and cold. If you bought her a necklace, she would be all over you like stink on a hog, but it's also very easy to see her put up the frigid shield if she wasn't in exactly the right mood. It may be a moot point anyway given that ultimately, they'd be sleeping with Archie, and he'd probably screw things up in some goofy way. Like, he'd get the condom stuck on his head. Or he'd forget the condoms altogether and stall for time while his pal Jughead tried to secretly bring some over without the girl finding out, but when Jughead would probably step on a rake or rouse a guard dog and chaos would ensue. Literally, nothing in Riverdale's history has ever gone smoothly. These town is a national security threat. Can you imagine putting a guy from Riverdale in charge of America's nuclear arsenal? The president would push the button, and this clown would trip over the aiming mechanism or something, and it would be the end of the goddamn human race.

So as you can see, it's a pretty tight competition. Maybe Archie is making the right call. Who are we to interfere with this man's private life? If he finally wants to make a decision after all these years, let the boy make up his mind and propose. Or, maybe this is all just a set-up where Archie realizes that his true love is Big Ethel, and they run off together and have lots of gangly, ginger babies. Or, he realizes that Jughead is his true love and pays off that line from Chasing Amy --- "Archie was the bitch and Jughead was the butch. That's why Jughead wears that crown-looking hat all the time. He the king of queen Archie's world."

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Speaking of weddings to Veronica, I had a dream the other night. My buddy Trev and I were middle-aged men, and our twenty-something daughters were getting married....to each other! *record scratch* *cue 'I Feel Good'* Trevor was somewhat bemused about the arrangement, largely due to the fact that he would now be legally related to me, while I was just going totally gung-ho and and getting obnoxiously involved in the wedding planning. Trevor and I were arguing over who should pay for the lion's share of the ceremony, since we were both technically the father of the bride. Oddly enough, Trevor and I looked exactly the same in our early sixties as we do now, except he had a bit of gray in his hair and I...well, I basically look like an old man anyway. Is my subconscious telling me that Trev and I are Highlanders? I don't want to have to battle my good friend in a swordfight to the death. Let's stop the violence, Trev. There can be only two.

The dream accomplished two things. First of all, it got me even more revved up against Proposition 8, since if my little girl wants to get married in downtown Oakland, by god she should be able to. (A crack baby can be the flower girl!) Second, my daughter's name in the dream was Ingrid, which is such a great option that it's immediately going on the stand-by list of possible child names. Does my subconscious mind really like Casablanca? Should I be adding Laszlo to the list of potential names for a son? I draw the line at Humphrey. No son of mine will have a name that sounds like a yak coughing. Bogart could only pull it off because he was the coolest motherfucker in the world.

Oh, and it relates to the Archie wedding since Trev's daughter in the dream was named, in fact, Veronica. And Trev himself has red hair, like Archie. What kind of messed-up Oedipal situation is going in your household, Trev? Good lord. You can't marry your fictional daughter just because of a similarity to a popular comic series! Come to your senses, man! Leave your fictional daughter to my fictional daughter and let them be happy together! I don't want to have to hire a fictional bounty hunter to track you down and stop you from fictionally eloping!

I'm glad we got that settled.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mark vs. Free Hamburger Day



On the last Sunday of May each year (since 2007), Harvey's holds a Free Original Hamburger Day at all locations across Ontario and Quebec. The event runs from store open to 3:00 p.m. The purpose of this event is to "celebrate Canada's best tasting burger" and to bring in new customers who might not otherwise go into Harvey's. --- Wikipedia

Let's do this.

1. Google Maps told me there were two Harvey's outlets almost on a kitty-corner to each other at the corner of Keele and St. Clair. Riding up Keele, I found the first one easily and managed to get in line just in time to officially be standing indoors, though technically I was straddling the edge of the doorway. There is always a line on Free Burger Day. It's best to be prepared and not be put off like one guy who walked to the front of the restaurant, saw the line, said 'Nuts to this!' in a theatrical, Jimmy Stewart-esque manner and stalked off. This man is weak. If you want to earn a free hamburger, you have to be willing to sacrifice at least a little something. In my case, my time would've been spent sitting at home watching the baseball game, so I might as well convert that into driving around, listening to the baseball game as narrated thru the dulcet tones of Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby, and indulging in some burger madness. Or, if you will, I turned my leisure time into burger time.

Jimmy Stewart jumped on the gun on the line, since the Keele/St. Clair Harvey's outlet did an exemplary job of keeping things moving. There were no less than six people at the counter making burgers at any given time, and the cashier took orders with the efficiency of a German nun. The vast majority of customers were just looking for their free burger and nothing else, so the assembly line wasn't gummed up by too many orders of, say, onion rings. Or fries. Or Frings, a Harvey's specialty. From the time I got in line to the moment that sweet, sweet burger hit my lips, no more than 10 minutes had elapsed. Harvey's makes your time in line....a beautiful thing.


2. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I just drove right by the other Harvey's in the Keele/St. Clair area. I drove by a big Home Depot, so it's possible that the outlet was located within the larger store, akin to how McDonald's restaurants are found in Wal-Mart locations. I'll be honest, I probably could've stopped and done a more thorough search of the Home Depot plaza, but time was a'wastin.'

Since I have no burger-eating exploits to share in this entry, I might as well provide a bit of background on Harvey's for any American readers who may not be familiar with this outstanding restaurant aside from its name-drop on a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother. Harvey's is a fast food chain that, by coincidence, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Its signature item is, what else, the flame-broiled hamburger. What also makes Harvey's unique is that not only is the burger cooked right in front of you (unlike other fast food chains that cook it and do god knows what to the processed meat in the back of the store) and then add the toppings based on your personal preference. So you also avoid the awkwardness of biting into a hamburger that has, say, mayonnaise when you specifically requested that your burger be free of mayo, WENDY'S. (Er, I mean, generic hypothetical burger outlet.)

Harvey's burgers are, for my money, the best fast-food hamburgers going today. I'll leave it to others to comment on such delicacies as the Frings or Angus Burger since the original classic burger is basically the only Harvey's menu item that I really enjoy. Harvey's used to have outstanding fries, before the Great Fry Change-Over Of 2000, when suddenly a bunch of fast-food places switched to a crispier, grittier, shittier brand of french fry. It was a sad day. I swore off Harvey's fries altogether. Now, this switch came during a time when I often bought a box of fries from the Harvey's outlet at the Western student center and brought them to history class, so in hindsight, Harvey's change probably saved me about 25 pounds and pushed my inevitable heart attack back at least a couple of years. See how cool this restaurant is? They're even looking out for me! Thanks, Harvey's! (thumbs up)


3. The Dundas West Harvey's. There are certain areas of Toronto that make me feel as if I'm in a California film noir, and Dundas Street past the Bloor/Kipling junction is one of them. The boulevard gets wider, the area is strewn with fast-food joints and vaguely shabby long-time businesses, and I just feel as if J.J. Gittes is about to start washing my windshield at every intersection. (I'd give him a quarter. For a new nose bandage.)

I wish I could just write off my stresses about the Dundas West Harvey's with a simple, "Forget it Mark, it's Chinatown," but man, this was just a gong show from the word go. Everything that the Keele/St. Clair Harvey's did right, this location did wrong. The line was filled with old people and kids, which is just death to any sort of efficient operation. Nearly everyone was ordering their free burgers as a part of a combo. While these were customer-related problems, the restaurant itself wasn't doing itself any favors by putting a mere three people on burger-preparation duty. It was as if the franchise manager was too busy focusing on a crystal meth deal with Walter White to adequately prepare his staff for the rush they'd be facing on Free Hamburger Day.

The most glaring error was, by far, the lack of regard for the one free burger-per-customer rule. This was obviously the most critical rule of the day, since otherwise, some yokel could just stroll up to the counter, ask for 50 burgers and be on his merry way while the Harvey's CEO (Harvey H. Harverson, ESQ) choked to death on a disaster of a quarterly earnings report. But at the pit of anarchy known as the Dundas West Harvey's, at least two or three individuals made orders of three or four burgers when it was just them standing there at the register. Nuh-uh! What a load. I don't blame the customer...actually, it only occurred to me later that I could've just ordered three burgers right there and saved myself some driving, but...uh....never mind. Anyway, it was the fault of the dullard cashier for allowing such chicanery to take place under her very nose. For shame. For. Shame.

If the Keele/St. Clair Harvey's was the line of pathetic single men who paid cash with no chit-chat, the Dundas West Harvey's was the line held up by Grandpa Simpson telling stories about his nickel. It was close to 30 minutes before I got out of the restaurant, and with two more Harvey's left to hit and the 3 PM deadline approaching, it was going to be a race for the prize.


4. ...or not, since the fourth Harvey's on my list (across the road from Sherway Gardens, off of the Queensway past the 427) was part of a Home Depot. On the bright side, my theory about Location #2 was proven correct. On the downside, the line was by far the longest of the bunch, stretching deep into the actual Home Depot itself. It was a predictable state of affairs. If you've ever eaten at any department store food outlet, you'll notice that they aren't exactly the gold standard when it comes to staffing, cleanliness or overall quality. If your tray has less than one stain on it, you can consider yourself blessed. So it was clear that this Harvey's had just a skeleton crew on hand that was as prepared for Free Hamburger Day as your average seal is prepared for Canada's head of state. (Politics aside, how fucking bad-ass is this? Our governor-general thinks she's the villain from the Temple Of Doom.)

So once again, the Home Depot Harvey's thwarts my efforts. To fill space, I might as well describe what I've been eating all day. I've been avoiding any fries or drinks since I want to avoid being totally gluttonous, though since I'm driving around the city in a search for free burgers, the train may have already left the glutton station. I've just had a home-brought bottle of Coke in the car and feasting away at, in the parlance of Harvey's recent ad campaigns, the 'Mark Burger.' The Mark Burger has ketchup, mustard, pickles (two), tomatoes (two) and relish. This is all that's necessary to really launch the burger into the stratosphere, though at other fast food places, I wouldn't turn my nose up if onions came included. But since I'm given the choice, I don't need the onions at Harvey's, nor do I need the hot peppers or the mayo. Not to pass judgement, but if you like mayonnaise, well, the government should stop you from procreating.


5. My day concluded at the Queensway/Royal York Harvey's, which was where my journey really began over a year ago. It was on Free Hamburger Day 2008 when I was driving by this very location around 2:30 in the afternoon and almost swerved my car off the road at the banner advertising the promotion. It was on that day that I vowed to go hog-wild on FHD '09, and hog-wild indeed I have gone. The line was fairly long, but thankfully this franchise took its lessons from the Keele/St. Clair restaurant and had a system in place that would've given Henry Ford a stiffy. The only downside was the fact that the woman behind me in line was, by all appearances, a cartoon witch. She had the long wart-infested nose and everything. For a moment, a part of me wondered if Free Hamburger Day was made possible by witches such as this, who lured children into their candy houses and then cooked them in their ovens, before selling the meat to Harvey's at a discount price. I'll admit, the theory has a few holes, but honestly, Harvey's burgers are so good that even if you told me I was gnawing down on a small child, I'd really have to hesitate before putting it down. By the way, a hamburger made of child meat and covered with mayonnaise and relish is known as The Michael Jackson Burger. (Is Jacko still the go-to reference for pedophile jokes? Yes? Cool.)


So that was it for Free Hamburger Day 2009. Three burgers to my name, some fun times standing in line in a near-carnival atmosphere (there were balloons, that's sort of like a carnival....) and a nice scenic drive around west Toronto. Even better, I managed to keep those burgers down in spite of the fact that the damned Blue Jays ended up losing 10-2 that afternoon. All in all, it was a fine Sunday afternoon, and even better, it was all done for free. Well, unless you count the gas. And if you factor in what my time was worth. And the wear-and-tear on my vehicle. But really, Tertiary Costs Hamburger Day doesn't have the same ring to it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

TV Year In Review, Part Three: Reality Shows


THE AMAZING RACE
This is the first season of the Race I've ever seen where I haven't actively rooted against anyone. The producers did a remarkable job of assembling a douchebag-less cast*, and for the first time I went into the finale not minding if any of the three remaining teams took the prize. That said, it was kinda bullshit that two of three final legs were based in China when you had a team (Tammy and Victor, the sibling law students) of Chinese descent who spoke the language flawlessly and had actually been to some of the locations just a year prior for the Olympics. I mean, the producers shouldn't penalize teams just because they speak more than English** and the race routes are probably planned before the teams are cast...but come on, Tammy and Victor suddenly had a massive advantage in the Race's endgame. It wouldn't have been very fair if the racers had been directed to a country where everyone communicated with sign language, so Margie and Luke and the advantage, nor if they had gone to a country full of smoking hot redheads so Jaime and Kara would've gotten the edge. (If there actually is such a country, by the way, I'd like a brochure.)

That said, Tammy/Victor were probably the strongest team anyways, so their victory wasn't a big surprise. The Race's highlights this season included the endlessly entertaining duo of 'Orange County' writer Mike White and his elderly father, a classic boneheaded Race mistake (more on this in a moment), a preponderance of tasks that featured the teams humiliating each other while being laughed and pointed at by drunken locals, and an opening leg in Switzerland that probably inspired my parents' recent trip to the country. My mother just kept going on and on about the beautiful scenery and then proceeded to nearly laugh herself to death watching the racers try to negotiated a steep, slippery hill while carrying giant cheese wheels. Ok, I just got an image of my parents doing this themselves in Switzerland and now I'm laughing myself to death.

So, the boneheaded mistake. Kisha and Jen are locked in a duel with Jaime-Kara to be the third and final team in the finale episode. Both teams are racing to the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing, and Kisha-Jen appear to arrive first (this may have been an editing trick, but who knows). Instead of immediately searching for Phil, Jen heads to a porta-potty since she claims she's about to explode after chugging down a dozen bottles of water at a previous task. If you believe the editing, this slight delay might have cost Kisha-Jen a spot in the finals. Honestly, I can't really blame Jen for wanting to take a piss. The idea of using a bathroom is such an ingrained social more that it would probably be actually somewhat difficult to just outright piss yourself even if you wanted to. I see this error as less egregious as Vixen and Kent's legendarily stupid "we'll detour a team we think is behind us, instead of the team we KNOW are behind us" mistake from a couple of seasons ago, but then again, I wanted Vixen and Kent to win, so that screw-up hit me much harder. If it were me, frankly, I would've preferred to have been known as The Guy Who Peed On Himself But Still Had A Chance To Win $1,000,000.

* Okay, I guess Jaime/Kara were somewhat douchey with Jaime's consistent berating of cab drivers, but then again, they're smoking hot redheads. Let's just said I had a higher level of tolerance.

** Or, at least, they shouldn't until I get on the show teamed with my language-student cousin, who speaks five languages. She could handle the talking and the physical challenges, while I provided invaluable....uh...moral support? Comic relief? Copious amounts of sweat while walking uphill? See, I bring plenty to the table!




AMERICAN IDOL
Who gives a shit?



AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL
Who gives a shit?



DANCING WITH THE STARS
Who gives a shit? Wait, addendum! I still don't get how professional athletes are allowed to be on this show. Let's see, you have people who spent their lives training in balance and dexterity competing against, say, Cloris Leachman. That seems fair.



THE HILLS
Who gives a shit? The best 'Hills' moment of the year came when Sportscentre's Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole openly campaigned to host the Hills Aftershow. CTV GlobeMedia, if you hooked that up, I'd start watching. Just a suggestion.



SURVIVOR
Survivor took a casting turn this year that I'm not totally pleased with. Both the Gabon and Tocantins seasons featured what I call 'star casting,' whereas one person become such a Poochie-esque focal point within the show that it almost threatened to overshadow the rest of the series. This isn't to say that Survivor hasn't used this tactic before; Rupert and Jonny Fairplay were unquestionably the stars of Pearl Islands, Yau Man dominated the Fiji season, and my pal Mario once noted that every Survivor season has a 'narrator' of sorts who gives viewers the real dope on what's going on within the game via their confessionals.

And also, I should note that the two 'stars' of this year's Survivor series --- Sugar in Gabon and Coach in Tocantins --- were very entertaining. Sugar had the great, if slightly misleading (more on this in a sec) storyline of being the queen of Exile Island and overcoming her dad's death. Coach, of course, was a fascinating study in self-delusion. It's hard to describe Coach to someone who hasn't watched the show. Imagine a guy who thought he was the living embodiment of The Most Interesting Man In The World from the beer commercials, except that instead he was just a complete douchebag.*

* Top Ten Douchebag Moments From Coach

10. Throwing his jacket over his shoulder whenever he went up to cast a vote at tribal council. This became such a running joke that even the jury members once showed up at TC all with jackets over their shoulders.

9. Making no shortage of bizarre references and quotations in an attempt to make himself sound smart. Coach's allusions ranged from Pat Benatar to Friedrich Nietzsche.

8. Claiming that he was such a natural leader that, during the show-opening 'grab everything you can from the truck in five minutes' segment, he told his team with his eyes what to grab.

7. An overall sexist vibe that manifested itself by a) creeping out uber-hot Candace and then considering her a 'cancer' to the tribe when she didn't play along, b) considering every woman in the game save sycophant Debbie to not be worthy of his 'warrior alliance' and c) his "women take a pebble and turn it into a mountain" comment during the second-last episode. Just to add to the comedy: Benjamin Wade was actually a soccer coach...AT A WOMEN'S COLLEGE. That's right, this guy was put in charge of young women. Good gravy.

6. This is sort of an outside-the-game moment, but Coach was fired from said women's college because, incredibly, he didn't actually tell them he was going to be on Survivor. He claimed the time off was for medical tests, but after his week of leave expired and he didn't show up back at school, his ass got fired.

5. His boasts of playing the game in an honourable, honest fashion. In Coach's defense, a lot of players do this. "If winning this game meant I had to lose my integrity, then I wouldn't want to win!" is the mantra of many a losing player from the jury box. If you want to play Survivor without telling a lie, then prepare to be voted out very quickly. Anyway, Coach played the 'honour' card a ton of times, since in his view, real warriors conduct themselves in a warrior-like fashion. I believe he said this before he conspired to backstab Brandon, btw.

4. His insane tall tales, most notably his story about how he was dropped off by an Army helicopter in the Amazon jungle for a rafting trip, and was then captured by pygmies and spent three days in captivity before escaping. The scene where Coach told this story was amazing --- he finishes this cavalcade of bullshit, there is a moment of stunned silence from everyone in the group, then Brendan pipes up with, "So, how much does it cost to rent a military helicopter?"

3. A number of "oh, I've done that" moments. Yeah, he's that guy --- the Topper. You've met people like this at work or at parties. This is the person who, whenever someone says they've done something or had something odd happen to them, always has to chime in with a self-centered tale of how they've done something similar so they can remain the center of attention. Coach did this a lot, but perhaps his greatest boast was how he claimed to be a master of a secret form of martial art so hush-hush that you can't even find it on the Internet, and that he was only judged worthy of learning the method after months of study with a group of monks. This was in response to, I believe, Erinn saying that she did some yoga.

2. His whining attempt to get out of being sent to Exile Island, and then when he was sent, he decided to be a martyr and see the experience as a 'vision quest' and not eat, make fire, etc. (In all likelihood, this was because he was incapable of finding food or making a fire, even after over a month out in the wild.) When Coach returned to the game and competed in an endurance-based immunity challenge, he hung on until Taj mentioned that his back must be hurting him, thus giving Coach the out to quit. Of course, he didn't just quit...he fell to the crowd in a dramatic collapse. Coach also turned down Jeff Prosbt's offer of a checkup from the Survivor medical staff, obviously because his drama queen ass would've been found out.

1. His self-given 'Dragonslayer' nickname. This is compounded by the fact that when his loved one (his fucking assistant coach!) showed up, Coach told him that the nickname was given to him by the other players. If you took a shot every time Coach referred to himself as the 'Dragonslayer,' you would've been dead of alcohol poisoning about halfway through any Survivor episode of the last two months.


As entertaining as Sugar and Coach were, however, I'm not sure if I want to see more 'stars' in future Survivor seasons. The problem with the Survivor producers casting people like this is that I really didn't believe that Sugar and Coach were ever truly interested in winning the million dollars. They were only on the show to promote themselves and to play a role, so to speak. Even their names made them seem like characters, rather than actual people; they were Sugar and Coach, not Jessica and Ben. The problem with having a star is that, particularly in Sugar's case, it makes the show's editing seem more overt. Obviously, Survivor is one of the most heavily-edited shows on television and the producers are going to feature and highlight certain 'stories' for entertainment purposes. But when you watch Survivor and Sugar comes off as America's sweetheart, and then you read interviews with cast members after the show and find out that Sugar was universally hated and a grade-A bitch, well, that doesn't sit well. I'm not going to sit here in the year 2009 and decry the lack of reality on reality shows, but when a major factor in a game about social strategy is omitted entirely, that's not being fair to the viewer. The conceit of Survivor is that you get to see how 'real people' adapt to both a wild environment and the social dynamic of the tribe --- not how an actress and a self-promoting soccer coach piss off everyone in their tribes. I don't blame the producers for focusing on dominant personalities instead of less-interesting personalities in the game, but when those dominant personalities are cast in the first place with the seeming intent of being 'the stars of the season,' then it seems more than a little inorganic.

So yeah, that's my 'big picture' view of Survivor. I overall enjoyed both individual seasons, though I'm not sure I'd rank either among my all-time favourites of the series. Gabon was a pretty straight-forward tale of the underdog Fang tribe almost overcoming the arrogant Kota tribe, except that the Fang tribe wasn't very likable themselves. They were definitely the lesser evil in comparison to the sociopathic trio of Corinne, Randy and Marcus on the Kota tribe, but even still, the Fang power combo of Crystal and Kenny were a pretty sad couple to try and get behind. I'd argue that the season's only really great 'hell yeah!' moments came when Marcus was voted out to break up the Kota Onion Alliance (I am SO GLAD I found the pic of Corinne's shocked reaction and Matty's shit-eating grin from the subsequent episode when they saw that Marcus was gone) and at Sugar's big scheme to humiliate Randy with the fake immunity idol. Something of a bitchy move from Sugar, but hey, Randy was a real piece of work. And really, nothing Sugar did justified Corinne's unbelievable "I don't believe you were sincere about missing your dead father" jury speech. That was just fucking jaw-dropping. Remember when we thought that Sue Hawk's rats-and-snakes speech in Borneo was harsh? That was a kindergarten class compared to Corinne's bitchery. My favourite part about the whole Corinne experience was how she kept ragging on Sugar for being unemployed and without a college degree, and yet Sugar was an actress (so basically in a constant state of semi-employment) and Corinne's own treasured college degree came from.....Florida. Wow. Degrees from safety schools must be hard to come by in Corinne's neck of the woods. Why do I have a feeling that her whole fridge is filled to the brim with Gatorade?

As for Tocantins, the season became less interesting once it became apparent that either J.T. or Stephen was going to win. It was another 'underdog tribe overcomes the odds' story, and yet Coach's tribe was so fractured (it was Coach-Debbie-Tyson, then Sierra, Erinn and Brandon all as wild cards) that it didn't really feel like the JT/Stephen/Taj trio really overcame a great obstacle as much as they simply exploited the wide gaps that already existed in the Timbira tribe. It was good to see Tyson go, since while Coach was so over-the-top in his douchebaggery that he was entertaining, Tyson was just a garden-variety dickhead that deserved the blindside elimination that came his way. The season also suffered from the fact that the three best-looking women (Carolina, Candace, Sydney) were all voted out in the first six weeks. It left us with the likes of Sierra, who is apparently a model, but one of those ATM-esque models who gets jobs based on a unique look rather than being actually pretty. Wait a sec, I'm the same guy that accused Coach of being sexist, right? Just checking.

So where do Bob and J.T. rank amongst the past Survivor winners? In the top half, at least. Bob played about as close to a blameless game as one can manage in Survivor --- he was in an alliance, and when it was broken up, he simply kept winning immunities and made it impossible for the Fangs to vote him out. On top of that, he was such a nice guy that when he finally lost a challenge at the final four, Sugar decided that he had earned a chance to play for his survival, thus splitting the vote and causing Bob to beat Matty in the tiebreaker. Oddly enough, Bob didn't much screen-time in the season apart from his mild poor-man's-Yau Man edit. I have to believe it was because Bob, while a nice guy, was a pretty boring guy. Imagine Walter White without the meth dealing and borderline sociopathic behaviour, and that's pretty much Bob to a T. As for J.T., he also played a superb game, never picking up a vote or even ever being seriously considered for an elimination. I'd compare J.T. to Tom Westman, winner of Survivor 10, and like Tom, J.T. even got his way through the game thanks to a strong friendship with another dude. Of course, Ian quit the game in a deluded attempt to win Tom's respect at the final three**, whereas Stephen was still playing to try for the win, as evidenced by his play to knock out Taj at the final four. I'll admit, I was rooting for Taj to win, but I have no issue with J.T. winning. Here's the odd thing: J.T. had such an easy ride to the win that it almost makes me want to underrate him. I mean, you could argue that he was such a good player that he made it easier than it seemed (i.e. Brian from Survivor: Thailand), but I dunno, a victory is more impressive in my mind if the winner has to really work for it. Maybe someday I'll do a Listamania ranking the Survivor winners and we can decide this once and for all. Wherever J.T. finishes in that list, he is the undisputed champion of picking up the most Facebook updates from female friends of mine that praised his victory and looks in the same sentence. Needless to say, J.T. picked up more of these than, say, Bob. Sorry Bob. Chicks don't dig the bowtie.

** = Still, in my mind, the dumbest move in Survivor history. This was rivaled only by Erik voluntarily giving up his immunity and then promptly being voted out in the Fans vs. Favorites season.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fake Fighting, Real Fighting

A new PUNCH-OUT game?!?!?!

Holy shit, this looks AWESOME. I almost want to buy a Wii for this game alone. Will they get another heavyweight champion/future rapist to be the final opponent? Will it still be nigh-impossible to actually lose to Glass Joe? Has King Hippo somehow been elevated to main opponent, which doesn't seem to make sense given his simply weakness? Will the WVBA ever change their weight limit system so that Little Mac doesn't have to fight guys literally three times his size? Questions abound.


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UFC 98 picks!


* Sean Sherk over Frank Edgar, decision
Not too much controversy here. Sherk is a big LW, Edgar is a small LW, and as we've seen from Edgar's fight with Gray Maynard, he has trouble with big LWs who can wrestle. Sherk gets a relatively easy win and Edgar is sent kicking and screaming to the WEC.

* Drew McFedries over Xavier Foupa-Pokam, R1, knockout.
Injuries stink, since they lead to fights like these that shouldn't be anywhere near a PPV main card. It should be at least entertaining while it lasts, as it promises to be a slugfest that McFedries (coin flip) wins. It's hard to pick against XFP's hilarious name, but there you have it.

* Dan Miller over Chael Sonnen, decision.
This could've been a big proving ground for Miller, as he was originally scheduled to fight top middleweight Yushin Okami before an injury put Okami on the shelf. Sonnen stepped in on short notice, but honestly, I've never thought much of Sonnen as a real contender. Miller shouldn't have much trouble putting him away.

* Matt Hughes over Matt Serra, TKO, R3
The big grudge match finally takes place at least a year after people stopped giving a damn about it. I dislike both fighters, so I'm hoping that they both one-punch each other in the first five seconds and get a double knockout. The rumor is that Hughes may retire after the fight, so I'll pick him to go off into the sunset victorious, since he's a legit Hall of Famer and Serra is just a loudmouth who won a reality show and landed a lucky punch.

* Phillipe Nover over Kyle Bradley, decision

* Krzysztof Soszynski over Andre Gusmao, R2, kimura

* George Roop over Dave Kaplan, R2, fight stopped after Kaplan either gives Roop a free shot and Roop knocks him the fuck out, or else Kaplan is too sick to continue after he realizes his team spiked his water with semen. I'm not even joking.

* Tim Hague over Patrick Barry, R2, TKO

* Yoshiyuki Yoshida over Brandon Wolff, R2, TKO

* Brock Larson over Mike Pyle, R1, submission

* Lyoto Machida over Rashad Evans, decision
This is a difficult fight to call. Both men are undefeated. Both men have difficult-to-figure styles. And, perhaps most importantly, both men are known for being somewhat dull to watch inside the cage. Seriously, I could see this being a five-round snoozer that would make the Anderson Silva-Thales Leites bout look like a thrill ride. The UFC has to be hoping that either Evans wins in order to set up the big grudge match with Rampage Jackson, or that Machida wins so impressively that they can actually market him to fans who currently think Machida = dull decisions. Rashad won't make the same dumb mistake that Thiago Silva did in just running at Machida and hoping for the best --- seriously, Thiago's gameplan for that fight was apparently taken from the Simpsons episode where Bart windmills his arms and goes after Lisa. In spite of Evans' discipline and the sure-to-be-interesting Greg Jackson game plan, I really don't see Evans finding a crack in Machida's armor. The title changes hands for the third time in as many LHW title bouts as the UFC desperately starts hoping that Rampage can figure out a way to put Machida down.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On Notice! (Diamondbacks vs. Marlins)



1. When Dan Uggla homers, the announcers say "His name is Dan Uggla!" I love the idea of personalized catchphrases for home runs. Jerry Howarth should reserve 'And there she goes!' for a player who has recently been left by his wife.

2. Diamondbacks reliever Jon Rauch has a really ugly neck tattoo, which begs the question, is there such thing as an attractive neck tattoo? It doesn't help when Rauch himself is 6'11 and looks kind of like a maniac.

3. It's no secret that the Marlins have the worst attendance in baseball, but since I don't often watch Florida games, the sparseness of their crowds strikes me. This afternoon's game is a bit of an aberration since it's a make-up game after a rainout, but still, there is NOBODY there. It's like one of those high school football title games that is played at the Rogers Centre --- even with a decent-sized crowd of 1000 people (which is more than decent for a Canadian high school football game), the place still looks cavernous. Does the concession staff has nightmares where they're walking through rows and rows of empty seats, in the Florida heat, carrying a heavy rack of food, and they just....can't.....find....anyone?

4. If you ever had any doubt that I was a hardcore baseball fan, the fact that I'm watching an Arizona-Florida game on a Wednesday afternoon should remove all doubt.

5. Florida plays Toronto this year in interleague, and I'm working one of the games. Ergo, I will check another team off my 'seen them play' list. Once I've got the Marlins accounted for, it's down to just the San Diego Padres. Oh, how I longed for the day that I could bask in the reflected glory of Scott Hairston. Someday. Someday.

6. Is this a good time to mention that I picked Arizona to win the National League pennant? The Snakes currently sit dead-last in the NL West with a 15-23 record. And they're losing today. Oops. In fairness to the D-Backs, they (and my fantasy team) have been badly hurt by Brandon Webb landing on the DL. But Webb's injury doesn't account for the fact that they're last or second-last in the majors in average, runs, RBIs, OBP and hits. In summation, this is a bad time to be an Arizona sports fan. The D-Backs suck, the Suns are on the downswing, the Coyotes might move...how bizarre is it that the Cardinals have by far the best situation of any team in town? This is literally the first time this has ever happened.

7. Fredi Gonzalez looks like a fan who won a "manage the team" contest at a fantasy camp.

8. Ok, hear me out...the Marlins don't actually exist. Their stadium looks like one of those early 90's NES baseball games where the crowd is represented as a monochromatic colour. They've won two World Series titles in spite of being by and large a horribly-run franchise, which I figure is baseball's way of appeasing the city of Miami for going along with the charade. 'Orestes Destrade' is actually the name of a piece of Linux code. No human being could actually have the last name of 'Uggla.' I've figured it out. The Marlins were a creation of MLB, various statisticians who claimed that a virtual team was a good way to measure various statistical phenomena against real-life performance, the Lawnmower Man, the saucer people and the Rand Corporation. The Diamondbacks are playing against a green-screen right now. This is the truth. I've done it. I've found the glitch in the Matrix. Hanley Ramirez just morphed into Agent Smith and is....COMING OUT OF THE TV AT ME! GGKGKGJANEPTUWNELKGGGHEFEKGKGHGRKGNDFKDFGPXZLLVQNBNEE!!!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Housekeeping

Has it been a real bother to read this blog? Not content-wise (well, maybe content-wise...it's not like I promise quality) but rather, was this blog literally hard to read given the black letting against the burnt sienna background?

I recently received a few comments to this effect and while it was a bit surprising, it was not shocking. I keep my computer screen very bright, so it's possible that I just never noticed the dimming effect. And certainly I can't ask you call to jack up your screen brightness all the way up to 11 just to read my posts.

Ergo, time for a change. I had that old background for a while, anyway, so it's time for a fresher look. This time it's just straight-up white and black with the traditional purple header. I also changed the font* and added a couple of new links to the blogroll. Man, I put more work into fixing up my blog than I do in fixing up my apartment. The dishes in my sink would agree with me.

* = I read this article a few months back about how Comic Sans font is loathed by many in the typographic community since it's a font of 'lesser minds.' My MSN Messenger font has been Comic Sans for the last several years. Oops.

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Results of a couple of recent polls....

Of the first set of shows in my 'TV season in review' piece, your favourite was Flight of the Conchords. It picked up four votes to edge Mad Man by one. The rest of the totals...

Dollhouse 2
Pushing Daisies 2
Entourage 1
Corner Gas 1
Dexter 1
Eastbound and Down 0

It's interesting that the voting was so spread out. My buddy Dave put in a vote by proxy for E&D, so every program got at least one. (Of course, Dave couldn't be bothered to check out my blog in the first place, so he can just go straight to hell.)

Speaking of Dollhouse, it's coming back! FOX apparently got a clue and decided to renew the show that was getting gradually better and better over its debut season. It's very possible that Dollhouse will make The Leap next season just like 'Buffy' did from its first to second year. Woo!

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I have much less to say about the Beatles album poll. White Album won with four votes, Rubber Soul and Revolver each got three votes, and Sgt. Pepper only got one. Gotta say, it was a bit surprising to see Sgt. Pepper get so relatively little love given that if you asked a majority of people, they'd probably pick it as the Beatles' best record. (And no love at all for Abbey Road? Huh.)

If you really fancy yourself a Beatles fan, give this quiz a try. I love the Beatles and only cracked the 130-mark.

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Just so this whole post doesn't involve blog stuff.....hey, remember the 90's?



A few notes about watching this video today. First, Michel Gondry directed it?! Awesome. Fun fact: Lucas' father was the founder of Pottery Barn.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

LOST year in review




"Just when they think they've got the answers, I change the questions." --- Rowdy Roddy Piper

I feel like this quote should be posted everywhere, Montreal Canadiens locker room-style, around the LOST shooting set. It so sums up the experience of watching this show that I almost feel like we'll see a future episode where Roddy Piper plays, I dunno, Desmond's father or something.

The trouble about writing a LOST season in review after the finale is that, for the third straight year, the status quo on the Island is changed in such a way that it makes it hard to predict what the next season is actually going to look like. The S3 finale introduced the concept of flash-forwards. In S4, the whole Island moved. And now, in S5, we've seen....what, exactly? The Island destroyed by a nuke? The timeline changed so Oceanic 815 can continue on its merry way in 2004 and all of the characters' lives will continue as if the crash never happened?

Doubtful. I honestly believe that after hammering home the "what happened, happened" mantra for a full year that the LOST writers would just throw it all away for a continuity-shattering explosion. I believe Miles' theory was the correct one (that activating the nuke into the magnetic energy field was the actual 'Incident'), and that Miles' dialogue was included as a reminder/hint that Jack/Daniel's grand plan wasn't going to actually change anything. There were too many hints left in the final sequence at the Swan that things were proceeding as they had in the past --- Dr. Chang suffered a major arm injury, leading to the prosthetic arm that he had in the Swan's orientation video. Radzinsky's continued life, since he was pretty much the only DHARMA guy that didn't die and we know that his eventual end comes when he commits suicide after a stint at typing in the Swan's number code. And, as well, there are still some loose ends to be tied up back at the Dharma Initiative, like the fate of Horace (who curiously wasn't in the episode), his shady wife Amy and their soon-to-be shady son Ethan.

On top of all this, I would've maybe believed that Jack and company would've been able to change the future had we not seen the future playing out parallel to the story in 1977. If the nuke had blown up the Hatch and changed things, thus causing Oceanic 815 to never crash, then Sun wouldn't be around in 2007 hanging out at the foot statue with the Others. Her very presence in that setting is a time paradox that can't be explained (well, as much as sci-fi TV time travel rules can serve as an 'explanation') unless the nuclear Incident was part of the past all along.

So yeah, there's two paragraphs about time travel logic, and there's probably more to follow. This whole season of LOST basically required the audience to keep a pen and paper handy to keep track of who was when, where was when and when did who show up. In the minds of some, this was a bit much. I have at least a few friends who felt LOST really stuck its head up its ass with all of the time travel elements and the show just got too confusing for its own good. A lot of casual viewers seemed to feel the same way, as LOST got routinely trounced in the ratings by American Idol and Criminal Minds, two programs that (to be polite) don't exactly stimulate the viewer's intelligence.

But I loved it. I loved every moment of this incredible, challenging and brilliant season. It might be my favourite season of LOST yet since it was the first one to feature the stream-lined, non-Writer's Strike interrupted shorter season that Lindelof/Cuse pushed for in 2007. Some episodes were better than others, but there wasn't an outright weak episode in the bunch. Every plot thread tied together, everything built up to a crescendo and the season answered a ton of questions.

That's what I don't get about the faction of haters who used the "time travel sucks" or "the show is too sci-fi now" arguments to express their displeasure about Season Five. Not to sound too much like Hurley, but....dude, what show did you think you were watching? LOST has been sci-fi from its very first episode. Time travel, I'd argue, has been an element of the show since the very beginning --- remember the "Adam & Eve" skeletons that the Losties found in, like, the fifth episode? I'd bet cash-money that those skeletons end up belonged to two of the main characters, who somehow get displaced to the 1950's and eventually die in the caves, only to be found by their own group decades later.

Since the very start of the show, LOST fans have been begging for answers, and have had all kinds of theories about what the key element of the show would end up being. Religious allegory? Ghosts? Military experiments gone awry? Aliens? Time travel? Well, guess what, it turned out to be time travel. That's not to say that the other elements won't play a part still to come (since I'm betting Jacob's story ends up being allegorical as hell), but for Season Five at least, time travel ended up taking the door prize. And it ended up being the perfect vehicle to show us, rather than simply tell us, the answers that we've been looking for for all these seasons. Some fans were turned off, but I was enthralled. We didn't just find out what happened to Danielle's crew, or the Dharma Initiative, or the 1950's-era Others via flashback --- the characters basically LIVED the flashback, and we saw things first-hand. For those of you who didn't like this storytelling format, how else would you have liked to have the multitude of blanks in LOST's history filled in? A talking, pipe-smoking ape?

For those of us viewers who stuck around to see the story unfold, we were treated to a season that took place on four fronts. For the first half of the season, we saw the Oceanic Six try to get back to the Island, while the Sawyer/Juliet/Jin/Daniel/Charlotte/Miles/Locke group went through the time flashes as a result of Ben's half-assed job of turning the frozen wheel. The second half of the season then focused on Sun, Ben, Frank, the mysterious Ajira 316 passengers and (ahem) "Locke" on the Island in 2007, while everyone else was back in 1977. We kept expecting a full-on reunion to happen at some point, probably in the season finale, but to no avail. In LOST season terms, what's left of the original Oceanic 815 group hasn't been fully together since the first episode of S4, when the group split in half to follow Jack or Locke, respectively. A reunion still might not be in the offing for a while...unless the first scene of Season Six is everyone back on Oceanic 815 in 2004 like nothing happened, which would be a real mindbender. Jack sitting next to Rose, Nikki and Mr. Eko chatting it up, Libby watching the in-flight movie....yep, that would leave a lot of dropped jaws.

I'll admit, the time spent in Dharmaville did drag a wee bit, largely because the show returned to its traditional one character-centric episode format in the latter half of the year. Sayid's episode, "He's Our You," probably could've been streamlined a bit, and the Miles episode ("Some Like It Hoth") was a fun diversion but maybe a trifle unnecessary aside from being our first real look at Miles' background. But other than that, this season flew by at a cracker of a pace. Tons of ground was covered on all sorts of different LOST-mystery fronts.

Stuff we learned......Charles Widmore's background. Ms. Hawking's background. What happened with Danielle's crew. More hints about the nature of the Monster. More hints about the 'rules' that seem to govern the ongoing conflict on the Island. Loads of background about Dharma and its relationship with the Hostiles. How Locke ended up in the casket. Daniel, Miles and Charlotte's connections to the Island. Why each of the Oceanic Six decided to return to the Island. THE FOOT STATUE~~~!* Why you should never piss off Sun and then turn your back on her while she's carrying a canoe paddle. More about the mysterious Temple. And, oh yeah, we met Jacob.

* = my friend Adam, who has been obsessing over this damn statue for two seasons, will be in seventh heaven after last night's episode. I think the foot represented Adam's general fear that LOST would never be able to really explain everything, and the fact that the statue was introduced in the S2 finale and then never mentioned again just galled him to no end. But, all things are explained in the end.



The Jacob storyline is one I'll focus on specifically, since it took me by surprise in a big way. First of all, I would've almost bet my house on Jacob being revealed as one of the main characters we know and love. My suspicion was that the 'Incident' would launch someone into some kind of time limbo that would result in their being in the semi-corporeal state that Jacob seemed to be in when we saw him in the cabin. My roommate and I even made joking predictions about who Jacob would end up being --- "Jacob is Jin!" "Jacob is Paulo!" "Jacob is Vincent the dog!" My hunch was that Jacob was either Locke himself or Jack. A couple of days ago, my pal Mitch actually posted "Jack = Jacob?!?!" as his Facebook status, and I thought he had gotten ahold of a spoiler and had now ruined the finale for me, which would've caused me to go to his house and beat him senseless.* The one thing that I really didn't expect was that Jacob was actually the guy who pissed on the Dude's rug, and just happily living (!) under the foot statue and going about his business of weaving and catching fish. I also didn't expect to see Jacob pop up at various points of the main characters' lives, so that was three 'holy shit' moments for me in the first 10 minutes of the episode alone.

* = actually, Mitch once beat me in an arm wrestling match by comically pretending to bend his wrist down as if I was winning, and then summarily dispatching me in about 0.2 seconds. It was almost cartoonish. It was like arm-wrestling a post-spinach Popeye. I think me trying to beat up Mitch would go about as well as Mr. Eko's last encounter with the smoke monster.

Like in S2 with Desmond, the finale episode focused on a virtually unknown character. Whereas Desmond's backstory taught us about the Hatch's history, I can't help but feel that the story of Jacob and his mysterious rival --- the message boards already seem to have taken to calling him 'Esau,' in a nod to the Biblical tale --- has basically taught us the key to the entire show. It's all just a battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, just like how Locke explained the rules of backgammon to Walt back in the very first episode. Jacob represents free will and change, while 'Esau' represents destiny and fate, or (given how he coerces Ben into killing Jacob), maybe how to pervert free will. It looks like these two have been battling it out for centuries within the rules, until Esau finally found the loophole to kill Jacob and win the game. Or, at least, this round of the game.

Let's talk about Esau for a minute. (I feel like this name will soon become as outdated as when we all referred to Ben as 'Henry Gale' throughout the second season.) From what was inferred in the last few scenes of the finale, Esau is the one with the power to pose as or simulate dead people on the Island. Whereas Jacob was constantly shown touching items and people, such as all of the LOST main characters in the flashbacks, I'm guessing that Esau can only become corporeal in the form of a dead person. This is why he took so much obvious pleasure in eating that mango in the form of Locke after Ajira 316 had crash-landed on the Hydra Island. I'll also go so far as to say that Esau has been the one behind all the other walking dead images we've seen on the Island --- Christian Shepherd, Yemi, Ben's mother, etc. This would seem to put Esau in league with the smoke monster, since we've also seen Smokey apparently morph into Ben's daughter Alex, but I still have a hunch that the monster is a wild card that isn't taking sides in this eternal battle. Or, Esau actually is the Monster. Who the hell knows by this point.

But I think it's semi-clear at this point that Esau, or whatever his name is, is the actual big bad of LOST. He's succeeded in manipulating Ben, Locke and by proxy Richard and the Oceanic Six into all setting in motion the chain of events that allowed Locke's body to get back to the Island so he could pose as Locke and convince Ben to kill his eternal nemesis Jacob once and for all. Under this interpretation, Charles Widmore and Ben were both technically good guys, but ended up corrupting each other and getting distracted by their rivalry, thus allowing Esau to sneak in and use Ben's thirst for acceptance as a weapon. The Others, as Ben said back in the S2 finale, were actually the 'good guys,' trying to fight on Jacob's side in this battle. Jacob, as we saw in the opening scene with the Black Rock approaching, was happy to have new blood on the Island, which is why we also saw him seeking out the LOST cast and subtly influencing their lives. It might be a stretch to call Jacob a 'good guy,' per se, since he did allow Nadia to die and there is the somewhat larger question of what the hell he's been doing all this time besides chilling out at the foot statue. But whatever Jacob is up to, it's got to be better than what Esau Smokey has in mind for everyone now that he seemingly has control of the Island all to himself. Maybe the real story of the show is how Jack, Kate, Sawyer and company stand up against both of these controlling forces. The series has shown these characters as lost on a remote island, lost from each other, lost in their personal lives, lost in time and now apparently lost as stones on this big-ass backgammon game between the god-like Jacob and Esau. Maybe the final season will show the characters finally "finding" themselves and seizing their own destinies. As Daniel Faraday put it in a somewhat schmaltzy way, the humans are the variables in the equation.

Three casting notes for next year that may be spoilers....

* Emilie de Ravin will allegedly be back as Claire. The producers signed her to a holding contract for Season Six, essentially meaning that he could do whatever the hell wanted for a year, but when the next LOST season starts shooting, she has to be there. So it looks like we'll get an answer as to what was up with Claire in the cabin last year and if she might be a manifestation of Esau/The Monster, or what the hell was going on.

* Elizabeth Mitchell will be starring in a new version of the 'V' science-fiction series starting next fall. So, it's quite possible that Juliet's last hurrah outside of a cameo or flashback may have been using her last breath to detonate that bomb. We didn't see a Juliet-centric episode this season, but Mitchell sure gave it all she had in that last scene. If she's actually leaving the show, she'll be sorely missed.

* Throughout the entire finale, I kept asking myself, where's Poochie? No, wait, that's not it....I mean, I kept asking myself, where's Desmond? All season long I wondered how the LOST team would bring him back into the story, given that he was living it up with Penny and little Charlie back in the real world and had vowed to never return to the Island. At first I worried that he'd come back in search of vengeance against Ben for killing Penny and/or Charlie, but no, they both survived Ben's attack and Desmond only had a minor bullet wound. Hell, I half-expected that Jacob would be Desmond, as part of the aforementioned 'Jacob is one of the Losties unstuck in time' theory. But yeah, ol' Des just didn't show up, capping off a season where Henry Ian Cusick only appeared in seven of 17 episodes and was never really a major factor in the story at any point.

Now, I almost hate to bring this up since I love the Desmond character so much, but it's quite possible that Cusick himself isn't quite in Desmond's league as a good guy. Cusick is currently being sued for sexual harassment by a former ABC employee. On a show that has fired two cast members already for DUIs, this is the kind of thing that doesn't go over too well. Not to cast dispersions on Cusick without knowing any of the evidence, since this could very well be a cash-grab by a disgruntled employee, but given that Desmond's storyline could be considered finished, by all intents and purposes, maybe ABC will find it prudent to just release Cusick from his contract. Time will tell if we've seen the end of the Desmond/Penny story.


So yeah, that was that for the 2009 LOST season. Quick hits....

Best episode: The Incident, followed by LaFleur and Jughead. If Kyle and I ever do another best Lost episodes list, those three will be making it.

Best performance: Josh Holloway. Sawyer came back in a big way after being given almost nothing to do in Season Four. Also kudos must be given to the always-great Terry O'Quinn, since I have a feeling that his performance in the second half of the season will seem a lot more nuanced now that we know that he wasn't really playing John Locke.

Funniest moment: Dr. Chang questioning Hurley about being a time traveler in 'Follow The Leader' That scene will be high in the running for funniest moment of the whole series. Hurley brought the funny all season long; his "uh, what?" when James told he, Kate and Jack that they were in 1977 was also perfectly timed.

Best fight: Sayid cleaning house on the two assassins in the premiere was pretty cool, but the Jack vs. Sawyer battle in 'The Incident' was five years in the making. And Jack ended up getting hoofed in the nuts, so it was very much worthwhile.

Biggest plot hole: Two years ago, the show made it seem as if Jack had been flying over the Pacific for weeks trying to crash on the Island again. But this season, we learned that Jack's mental crack-up and drug abuse was caused by Locke telling him that Christian said hello. Locke was then killed by Ben in the motel room no more than a week later, and assuming that the LAPD wasn't totally lax about coming to investigate the case, we can presume that roughly 8-9 (knowing this show, it was eight) days passed between Locke telling Jack about his dad and Jack reading Jeremy Bentham's obit in the newspaper. So Jack had a total nervous breakdown and made a bunch of cross-Pacific flights in just eight days? The other major gaffe was the apparent fact that Dan Faraday was apparently just 27 years old this whole time, given that Ellie was apparently pregnant with him while she was in the Others camp in 1977. Charlotte, even more confusingly, was at least 34. Jeremy Davies, btw, is 40 in real life and Rebecca Mader is 27, so I'm thinking that the writers may have not quite thought the ages through.

Best character arc: John Locke. It might seem like an odd choice for a guy who was dead for most of the season, but Locke's story ended in the most sadly appropriate way possible. Here was a guy who always thought he was special and just wanted to be part of a community, but he was manipulated pretty much his entire life. If it really was Esau posing as Christian in the cabin, then Locke's instruction to move the Island was just another ruse. To top it all off, that scene in the premiere when a wounded Locke is told by Richard that he has to bring back the Oceanic Six and sacrifice himself? We later learned it was really FakeLocke Esau who told Richard to say that. So poor John sacrificed himself for nothing, just to have his corpse brought back to the Island and then usurped by Esau. Talk about a tragic ending. It kind of blows my mind that the real Locke that we've known and loved for all these years is gone and apparently not coming back, since 'dead is dead' on the Island.

Best random cameo: Michelle Rodriguez as Ana Lucia in "The Lie." Boy, I did NOT suspect that, given Rodriguez's allegedly checkered history on the show. Also, Rose and Bernard randomly popping back up in the finale was a fun surprise.

Best new character: Not 'new' characters per se, but I really enjoyed what we got to see of Dr. Chang and the younger version of Eloise Faraday.

Best death: Phil, who I'll always know as Jimmy Barrett from Mad Men. He gets crushed by a tower a la Shooter McGavin, and then is impaled by metal poles? As they say in France, le ouch.

Worst death: You know, for an all-powerful spirit/god, Jacob sure went down like a bitch, eh? Also, for a character who the show seemed to spend a couple of episodes building up, Caesar really down like a bitch, eh?

Biggest eye-roll of a moment: Pretty much any reaction shot of Jack staring longingly at Kate, or Kate staring longingly at Sawyer, or Sawyer staring longingly at Kate, or Juliet pensively staring at Sawyer or Kate wondering if her return will ruin she and James' relationship.

Most embarrassing LOST-related moment of the year: The climax of 'The Little Prince,' when the sea-faring raft finds a man adrift at sea, takes him aboard, and rolls him over to reveal that it's Jin. Even though Daniel Dae Kim's name was in the credits all year, seeing him surprisingly pop up made me actually yell "Jin! Fuck yeah! Woo!" while watching the episode, and then...I gave myself a self high-five. For real. A completely spontaneous, non-ironic self high-five. It was mortifying. Seriously, who gives themselves a self high-five in this day and age? I felt like administering a self five-across-the-eyes for that.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reason To Believe (or, A Zimmer Of Hope)(whichever is less cheesy)

I'm making my latest ESPN 'beat the streak' pick this afternoon, and I noticed something of interest. I actually had a winning streak going --- one game correct. Burnley beat Reading earlier today in Championship League soccer. My luck in the Streak game has been abominable over the last couple of months. I first started playing last winter and routinely rang up four or five-game streaks, but as of late, I've barely been able to get even one prediction correct, no matter what sport or event I shoot for. I've even taken crapshoots trying to guess cricket results, for god's sake. This is officially rock-bottom, or at least as rock-bottom as one can get when betting without actually betting any actual money. Go Burnley! And if my pick for tonight (Tampa Bay over Baltimore) is correct, then in the words of Cleveland manager Lou Brown, they call that a winning streak. I'm going for two like I'm coaching Boise State or something.

But the second thing I noticed, and the point of this post, concerned another sort of streak. One of today's options was "Will Ryan Zimmerman's hitting streak reach 30 games?" Over 96 percent of predictors said that yes it would --- that Zimmerman would get a hit tonight against SF's Matt Cain, and thus stretch his hitting streak to the mythical 30-game mark.

Thirty games seems to be the tipping point for when the average sports fan really starts to pay attention to a hitting streak. It has that nice round number quality to it, plus it's just past the halfway point to Joe DiMaggio's record 56-game hit streak, so the 30-mark seems like a reasonable enough point for fans to take a streak seriously. There have only been 46 hitting streaks to reach 30 games in the history of baseball, so with just one knock tonight, the Zim can join some pretty exclusive company.

But enough about the history of hit streaks --- I already spent an afternoon on no-hitters and I'm not ready to delve back into stats quite yet. What I was most interested in was the overwhelming 96 percent of ESPN.com voters who thought Zimmerman was going to keep it going tonight. It's hard to get 96 percent of people to agree on anything, but yet here was this huge majority believing that this third baseman for the worst team in the league was all but a sure thing to rack up #30 tonight.

Looking at the nuts and bolts of it, Zimmerman should perhaps be a slight favourite to keep his streak alive. He's a career 3-for-13 (.231) against Giants starter Matt Cain, but two of those hits are home runs. Both Zimmerman and Cain are right-handers, so the matchup theoretically favours the pitcher, though Zim's OPS against righties this year is a ridiculous 1.106 (his career OPS against RHP is .783). Cain, meanwhile, has actually been worse against righties than he has against lefties this year (.270 vs. .211 OBA), and for his career is a mere 13 thirteen average points better against righties than lefties (.225 vs. .238), albeit with a 1.18-to-1.38 jump in WHIP.

So if I had to make my pick for anything other the Rays over the awful Mark Hendrickson tonight, I'd say that Zimmerman would likely get his hit. But it's not a foregone conclusion by any means against Cain, and even less so when you consider that if you just had to make any random pick on any major leaguer to get a hit in any given game, your odds would be roughly better than one-in-four even with the best hitters in the game.

So why the 96 percent? People love hitting streaks in general, but if there was ever something that would provide some romance to a sport tainted by steroid scandal after steroid scandal, it would be a nice, long hitting streak that would throw a mild scare into Joe D's record. Let's face it, any hitter that goes on a home run binge or challenges Barry Bonds' record of 73 is going to face the whispers of performance-enhancement. That's just an unfortunate by-product of the age in which we live as baseball fans. Hell, even a hitting streak should fall under the same suspicion --- if a guy builds muscle, he's theoretically hitting the ball harder, and thus even if it doesn't go over the fence, that's still a bit of extra force that could turn a grounder into a liner and get it out of the infield for a base hit. But in the eyes of the layman, steroids just equal home runs. Zimmerman stringing together hits doesn't raise as many eyebrows as it would if he suddenly started cranking out dingers at a 50-jacks-per-year pace a la Brady Anderson. A hitting streak captures the imagination of a baseball fan in a way that few other things in the sport can. Zimmerman being able to keep it going over the next three weeks and actually approach the untouchable DiMaggio record wouldn't just evoke history and spark some life in what already seems like a joke of a Washington franchise, but it would get some focus away from A-Rod, Clemens and Ramirez and get it back on the game.

And of course, after Zimmerman goes 0-for-4 tonight, please feel free to post any angry comments blaming me for laying down the jinx. My only defense is that I have Matt Cain on a fantasy team. History, schmistory, I have a head-to-head matchup to win.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Best Shows Of The 1990's



So after that best of the 2000's post, my TV list-making jones wasn't quite satisfied. Naturally, I got thinking about what my favourites of the 1990s and 1980s would be, and an hour of reflection and cross-referencing Wikipedia later, I had my answer. I'm not going to get into any big analysis here, but I'll just restate my criteria that the 'best' years of the show had to take place in a particular decade, though there was no rule against a show or actor appearing in two different decades.

The 1980's list will be coming sometime soon. As for the 1990's, enjoy!

p.s. Wow, I totally forgot about 'Survivor' in the best of the 2000s list. Just a total braincramp. That would've taken Angel's spot in the top ten. So, as a bonus, stay tuned and try to guess which 1990's show I've cluelessly forgotten about!


SERIES
Batman: The Animated Series.....Best cartoon ever? Quite possibly. Incredibly, for all the thousands of comics and for Christopher Nolan's two movies, it might be the animated series that provided the best representation of the Batman character. Given all of the crap that Christian Bale took over his 'Batman' voice (a criticism I still don't quite understand), maybe Nolan should bite the bullet and have Kevin Conroy do a voicever for the inevitable third Batman film. You might also argue that pre-Ledger, Mark Hamill's Joker was the best representation of THAT character as well.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer.....Two and a half of Buffy's three best seasons came in the 1990's, so it gets the nod in this decade. But enough about that, time for the greatest Buffy-related anecdote of my life. Around 2003, my buddy Trev is sitting around reading the paper with his dad, and one of them notices an ad for (I think) Coles advertising a Buffy episode guide. Trev mentions that I'm a fan, and (once he and his father have a chuckle about my liking a show ostensibly aimed at teenage girls) notes that the book might be a good gift idea for my upcoming birthday. So Trevor's dad, being a retiree, says he'll go and pick it up the next day. Lo and behold, Coles doesn't have the book in stock. A mortal man would've given up at this point, but Trev's dad isn't the kind of man who would take an affront like that lying down. He DRIVES AROUND THE CITY to three different stores before he finally tracks down the Buffy reference guide in question. Now that's a fucking birthday present to hang one's hat on. Trev's dad = personal hero.

Frasier.....You could argue that 'Everybody Loves Raymond' was the last true old-school sitcom, but I always considered 'Raymond' to be more subversive than it let on. No, I'd say that 'Frasier' is the last high point of the old three-camera, studio audience type of show. Still holds up extremely well in reruns, too.

Friends.....After years of being on the 'oh, come on, Friends is a good show, what's your problem?' bandwagon, I may be wavering. It may be a case of overdosing on reruns between the years of 2005 and 2006. I'm currently on a cold turkey break, and come 2011, we'll see where things stand. Insert your own 'we were on a break' joke here. Also, this quiz is surprisingly hard. I topped out at 54.

Law & Order.....The only police procedural I'll ever watch. That's the problem with being an L&O fan; after it, CSI, Criminal Minds, and all the rest just seem like pale copies. Before they started splitting the franchise up along specific types of cases (i.e. SVU handling sex crimes, Criminal Intent handling more investigation-centric cases), the beauty of L&O was that any given week could see any type of crime that led into all manner of interesting directions or examinations of moral or ethical quandries that cops and lawyers face in prosecuting suspects. The whole thing just had layers that today's procedurals can't match. L&O was a legitimately great show for about the first nine or ten years of its run. That's tough to beat.

Newsradio.....Also makes the top ten in the 'great shows canceled too soon' list. Funniest show of the decade past the Simpsons/Seinfeld/Frasier big three. Favourite random Newsradio fact: several episodes in the second season were named after Led Zeppelin albums for no reason whatsoever.

Saturday Night Live.....It started out strong, cratered badly in the legendarily terrible 1994-1995 season, and then rebounded with the Ferrell/Shannon/Hammond/Kattan/Oteri/Macdonald cast. Can you believe that Darrell Hammond is STILL on the show? He's in only about 20 sketches a year, but he's there. At this point I can only guess that Lorne Michaels is keeping him on the show to monitor his sobriety.

Seinfeld.....Duh. I'm curious to know what a tween would think of this show, watching it fresh today. Would they think it was funny? Or has the Seinfeld/David observational style of humor become such an innate part of modern comedies that a new viewer wouldn't even find it particularly clever?

The Simpsons.....Duh. I'll do you one better. The Simpsons, from about 1992 to 1998, had the highest-quality run of any show in TV history. Just take a look at the list of episodes between those years and count the number of weak entries on your fingers. You won't even be able to fill up one hand.

Star Trek: The Next Generation.....The first Star Trek TNG episode I ever saw was the finale, which is something of an ass-backwards way of doing things, but still, it got me to go back to watch the rest of the series in reruns and started off the brief span of my life when I could legitimately be called a Trekkie. ST: Voyager officially killed that spark dead, but TNG was a legitimately tremendous series.



ACTOR
Jason Alexander, Seinfeld.....Does the success of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and the fact that Jason Alexander was basically just doing an impression of Larry David for all those years on Seinfeld detract from the greatness of George Costanza? Nope.

Will Ferrell, Saturday Night Live.....If you had told me in 1995 that the irritating guy from the Cheerleaders skit would go on to be one of the all-time great cast members in SNL history, I would've said you were crazy.

Dave Foley, Kids In The Hall/Newsradio.....Foley squeaks onto the list due to his combined brilliance on both KITH and Newsradio. I once performed Foley's "I have a positive attitude towards menstruation" monologue as part of my audition for my high school's production of Blood Brothers. Needless to say, I didn't get cast. I blame sexism. If the play had been called Menstruation Sisters, I would've been a shoo-in.

John Goodman, Roseanne.....Dan Conner probably wins the 'which character on this list would you most like to have a beer with' contest. I mean, the Cranes and Bill McNeill would get insufferable after a while, Lennie Briscoe can't have a beer due to being a recovering alcoholic, Dave Nelson would have coffee over beer, George and Kramer would get me involved in some zany scheme and I'd end up suffering like every other tangential character in their lives. I guess Chandler would be cool to hang out with, though he and I would inevitably get into a one-liner contest that would end in bloodshed and tears.

Kelsey Grammer, Frasier.....No-brainer. Fun fact: Grammer is the only guy to ever be Emmy-nominated for playing the same character on three different series (Frasier, Cheers, guest shot on Wings).

Phil Hartman, Saturday Night Live/Newsradio.....Hartman would've probably made it onto the list for either individual performance. Combined, he was a no-brainer. Sort of like his skull after his crazy wife shot him in the skull. Yikes, too soon?

Jerry Orbach, Law & Order.....The oddest L&O episode of all time is that one in the second season where Orbach (before he joined the cast as Detective Briscoe) played a sleazy defense attorney. It's legitimately jarring. You keep expecting him to hint that he's undercover or something. Oh, and note to David Caruso: you can put on as many sunglasses as you like, but Lenny Briscoe will has you beat in the sardonic-wisecrack-before-the-opening-credits sweepstakes.

Matthew Perry, Friends.....Like I said, tears and bloodshed. Even later-years Chandler (after he had been effectively neutered by Monica) was still pretty sardonic. I think I could take him, though. If it gets rough I can always bust out jokes about starring in 17 Again. I could also go with the drug addictions, but honestly, he's probably more embarrassed about being in a Zac Efron vehicle.

David Hyde Pierce, Frasier.....No-brainer. Apparently DHP played the Eric Idle roles in the original Broadway version of Spamalot, alongside the likes of Hank Azaria and Tim Curry. What star power! (Besides Tim Curry.)

Michael Richards, Seinfeld.....Too bad about the whole racial epithets thing, eh? It's like the Manny Ramirez steroid suspension; it casts a pall over an otherwise great career. We should've seen this coming; Jackie Chiles always seemed so upset at Kramer. Now we know why.



ACTRESS

Jennifer Aniston, Friends.....Yeah, as the series went on, she was basically playing herself. The next time I deign to watch Friends reruns, I'll try to pinpoint the exact moment when she started phoning it in. I suspect it was midway through Season Five. You might think is kind of a critical paragraph about someone who's nonetheless on the 'best' list, but Aniston herself is just happy that I didn't mention Angelina Jolie. Oops.

Christine Baranski, Cybill.....Remember 'Cybill'? That was Cybill Shepherd's short-lived vehicle in the late 90's. To cover the fact that Shepherd is an average at best actress, the network built an experienced supporting cast around her, most notably Broadway veteran Baranski. As the borderline alcoholic friend (in a role that, yeah, probably borrowed a lot from Absolutely Fabulous), Baranski stole the entire show to such an extent that noted egomaniac Shepherd insisted that scripts be rewritten so that most of Baranski's zingers went to her instead.

Candice Bergen, Murphy Brown.....No-brainer. When your performance is so notable that it attracts the attention of a U.S. vice-president, you know you're doing something right. Well, wait, it was only Dan Quayle....meh, let's pretend it's still impressive.

Ana Gasteyer, Saturday Night Live.....A hugely underrated member of that late 90's/early 2000's SNL cast. The Delicious Dish skit alone was almost enough to get her a spot on the list. Gasteyer is also notable for being one of the few SNL cast members that I can recall never seeing break character in anything. She was the exact opposite of Jimmy Fallon.

Madeline Kahn, Cosby.....Bill Cosby's follow-up to the Cosby Show didn't set the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination. But it at least succeeded in providing one last outlet for the late, great Madeline Kahn. 'Cosby' actually was kind of an underrated show. It was no 'Newhart' or anything, but as far as follow-up shows to major hits go, it held its own. Having the likes of Kahn in the cast was a big reason why. Having the likes of Doug E. Doug in the cast was an also big (but much lesser) reason why.

Lisa Kudrow, Friends.....Okay, I mentioned earlier about how I got burned out on Friends reruns. One thing I did glean from them before the fatigue set in was noticing just how much better an actor that Lisa Kudrow was than arguably anyone else on the show. She took the ditzy blonde archetype and took it in a bunch of different directions over 11 years. Kudos to Kudrow. Did you know she used to have a live-in relationship with Conan O'Brien? If they had procreated, that kid would've had the best comedy genes of any child since the offspring of Jackie Gleason and Bea Arthur. Can you imagine them doing it? Eww.

Jane Leeves, Frasier.....I busted out one Monty Python-inspired fun fact for David Hyde Pierce, and thus it's only fitting that another Python tidbit be used for another 'Frasier' star. Leeves had a bit role in 'Meaning Of Life,' but I'm not sure if she was a) one of the topless models who chase the convict who gets to choose his method of execution off of the cliff or b) one of the dancing angels wearing fake plastic breasts in the 'Christmas In Heaven' closing number. There were breasts involved in some fashion, but I just don't know if they were Leeves' own or just fakes. This may require some research.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seinfeld.....The no-brainer to end all no-brainers on this list. Her only downside was that I had to remove 'Elaine' from my list of potential daughter names since JLD's performance has taken over that name for all time. I'll just have to go with the next name on my list, Chick From Alias.

Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne.....No-brainer. This is the last time I'll be mentioning Roseanne on the list, and it was actually somewhat close to making the 'best series' category. Its first three seasons were okay and its last three seasons were pretty poor, but the middle three years of its run were legitimately great. One of the highlights was the episode where Metcalf's character, Jackie, is comparing sexual history with her new boyfriend and suddenly realizes that she has him outpaced in sexual partners by a score of 60-4.

Bebe Neuwirth, Cheers.....Yet another no-brainer. Lillith Sternin never failed to crack me up. I would've loved to have see her become a full recurring character on 'Frasier,' but still, her guest appearances (the ep where she and Frasier try to get Frederick in prep school or the one where she and Niles sleep together) were gold. And she was a huge part of the last couple of seasons of Cheers. Essentially, what I'm saying is, Lillith was more than Fair....man, is that really the last joke of the post? That's terrible. Talk about leaving on a down note. If only I had a story about Trev's dad driving around London in search of a Bebe Neuwirth autobiography.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

TV Year In Review, Part One

The first part of my recap of the 2008-2009 TV season will focus on the shows that have already wrapped for the year. Hell, a couple of them have been done for six months and their next seasons will be starting in August. But still, one cannot quibble with the 'year' part of 'year in review,' so here we are.



CORNER GAS
So it's six seasons and out for Corner Gas, by all accounts the most successful and arguably the funniest Canadian sitcom of all time. CG was one of those rare shows that found its footing early and kept on a consistent level for its entire run. I'm hard-pressed to think of any truly great CG episodes, but I definitely can't think of any bad ones. It stayed at a solid B/B+ plateau for virtually all six years, or at least the last five years once they got past the 'Brent has a crush on Lacey' aspect of the first season and decided to just focus on comedy. I look forward to CG reruns running on Canadian cable channels from now until doomsday.




DEXTER
I'm getting just slightly worried about 'Dexter.' The show is at its best when Dexter is a sociopathic monster. The fact that he's developed actual feelings for Rita and her kids just seems wrong, and while you might argue that blah blah blah it shows personal growth, who cares? He's not supposed to show growth. He's a lunatic serial killer. That's the whole point of the show. I'm also not crazy about the lazy romantic pairings that all cropped up by the season finale. Deb, Angel and even perverted ol' Vince Masuka all ended up in relationships? Hell, it was even implied that Dexter's dead foster father was up in heaven banging the spirit of Dexter's dead mother. This is supposed to be a crime thriller, not the Love Boat. The season's overall storyline was pretty decent, if carried entirely by the fact that Jimmy Smits was an awesome nemesis. His final demise should've been the season finale, rather than the lame one we actually saw that featured Dexter wiping out the Skinner is comically simple fashion. Overall thumbs are still up, but cracks are starting to show in the premise.




DOLLHOUSE
I really, really, really hope that the Fox network decides to be cool (for once) and brings 'Dollhouse' back for a second season. The series started out slowly, and creator Joss Whedon even said that things didn't really kick into gear until the sixth episode. At the time I thought this was an odd thing to publicly state --- "Hey everyone, don't bother watching for five weeks! You won't miss much!" --- but it was true. The first five shows are there basically just to establish the premise and characters, and only then did things really kick into high gear as the rest of the season explored the nature of the Dollhouse itself, rather than just generic assignments-of-the-week for Echo. The concept of the series and the motives of the non-Doll characters have been so fleshed out that there's easily enough juice here to last two or three more seasons.

The only weak link in the chain is Eliza Dushku, which is kind of ironic given how the basic concept for the series was apparently her idea. She just isn't enough of an actress to pull off the range required to be a 'Doll.' Compare her to Dichen Lachman or Enver Gjokaj (Sierra and Victor). Those two seem like completely different people in their different imprints, with the crescendo being Gjokaj's dead-on impression of fellow cast member Reed Diamond when Victor is imprinted with Dominic's mind. Echo's different imprints, however, are all just varying degrees of Dushku. The bright side is that Whedon seems to recognize this, as while Echo was still the central character over the final half of the seasons, the supporting cast really carried much more of the weight. Everyone else in the supporting cast, by the way, was pretty much awesome, from Lachman and Gjokaj to Tahmoh Penikett to Fran Kranz to Harry Lennix to Olivia "I'm The Only One In This Cast With A Normal Name" Williams. I'm giving special mention to Amy Acker as Dr. Saunders, since I'm convinced that she should've been cast as Echo and then 'Dollhouse' would've been playing at a higher level from day one. Amy Acker is fantastic. Whedon should've listened to Dushku's idea for the show, and then pressed a button that opened a trap door and dropped her down a laundry chute.




EASTBOUND & DOWN
This message is directed solely at my group of friends. Matt, Andrew, Eric, Trevor, Dave, Scott...how the fuck did we not come up with the idea of a show about a John Rocker clone becoming a high school gym teacher? We should be ashamed of ourselves. Talk about an idea that was right in our wheelhouse. E&D will be coming back for a second season, which is great news since six episodes was barely enough to scratch the surface of the comic potential that is Kenny Powers. It's weird; after the pilot (which was only one of the best pilots I've ever seen of any series), the show took an oddly dramatic turn in its middle two episodes, highlighting just how low Kenny had sunk, before building up the funny again with the amazing 'Kenny pitches to his old rival in the Ashley Schaffer BMW parking lot" episode. Theoretically, we've worked through the pathos now and S2 can just be straight-up hilarity. The best thing about Kenny Powers is that Danny McBride plays him as just a total douchebag. Even in his 'caring' moment, he's still the biggest piece of white trash you've ever seen. It's awesome. Hopefully we'll get at least ten episodes of E&D next season.




ENTOURAGE
I'm done with this show. At one point I found it to be quirky and enjoyable, and Jeremy Piven, Rex Lee and Kevin Dillon did a good job of carrying it on their backs for four seasons. But my god, has this thing ever run off the rails. Watching the past season of 'Entourage' was an epic chore. There was literally zero dramatic conflict in any of the storylines. At least with formulaic shows like House or CSI, you can appreciate how the characters have to use their brains to solve the problems. In Entourage, the characters just continually fall ass-backwards into a solution that bails them out. The deus ex machina has been used so many times that the gears lowering the god (or, more specifically, the studio exec or director who LOVES Vince and would love to offer him a major role or paycheque) are starting to squeak. This show has no balls. Also, in a mockery of statistical analysis, Connolly and Grenier are somehow managing to become even worse actors as the series progresses. This show is going nowhere, and I think I'll just get out of the rut now rather than waste my time watching a sixth season.




FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS
The word on the street is that Bret and Jemaine aren't terribly keen on a third season of FOTC since they're worried that either the quality of the episodes will start to suffer, or that they won't be able to come up with another batch of good songs to continue the musical aspect of the show. I can see their point, since the song quality even dipped a bit this season, but the comedy remains as good as ever. FOTC was probably the funniest show on TV last season that didn't involve Tina Fey muppet-walking down a hallway. Just about every single joke or concept worked, from the New Zealand prime minister's visit to Bret's gang to everything Murray and Mel said or did. I submit that the "Jemaine dates an Australian" episode might be the best one of the series, from both a comic and a musical standpoint. The songs were funny, the videos for said songs (shot by Michel Gondry) were both excellent, and FOTC exaggerating every single New Zealand and Aussie stereotype will never stop being hilarious.




MAD MEN
What's more to be said about Mad Men? If it's not the best show on TV, it's close. What I loved about the second season was that --- sort of like how the first half of Dollhouse's season was meant as just a build-up to establish characters and situations before really getting into the good stuff --- it almost seemed like the first season of Mad Men (as great as it was itself) served as a similar backdrop for the even better second year. The two-year chronological gap that will apparently exist between each season is a great gimmick, as it gives time for all sorts of new conflicts to build up and old ones to evolve off-screen, and then we see the fallout in the next season's episodes. For example, rather than just having an episode dealing with what Peggy did with her baby, having oblique hints dropped over the first seven episodes led to a much more satisfying payoff when we actually did get the full story. All of the major characters advanced in surprising ways; Don by accepting his past life as Dick Whitman, Peggy with her new copywriting position, Pete surprising turning from one-note slimy douchebag to being perhaps the most interesting character on the show and, to my surprise, January Jones (the weak link of S1, in my opinion) really elevating her performance and making me care about Betty Draper's evolution. I literally can't wait to see what's in store for Sterling Cooper in 1964. The odds of perpetual wannabe Paul showing up to work in a Beatles haircut: about 3-to-1.




PUSHING DAISIES
Sigh. I've made my peace with PD being canceled and gone forever, killed by a network that couldn't promote its way out of a paper bag (except when it comes to spoiling key scenes in LOST commercials or telling you when 'Dancing With The Stars' is going to be on). I just wish Bryan Fuller had taken the show to cable to begin with. The lure of a network show must be enticing, but had Fuller gone to Showtime, AMC, HBO, etc. instead of ABC, then I have little doubt I'd be sitting here writing about how psyched I was about the upcoming third season, rather than cursing ABC's name. On the bright side, the few remaining PD episodes will be aired in June, so we won't have to wait to see them on the DVD and the series can at least come to some sort of hopefully satisfying conclusion.