Monday, September 30, 2013

Senses Of An Ending

(If you're a Julian Barnes fan who surfed onto this page and are confused by the post title, click here for an actual analysis of Barnes' novel.)

I think, if I could've had a say in remaking Breaking Bad's fifth season over, I would've done it without the flash-forwards.  Due to the two glimpses we got into Walt's future, we knew that Walt would be a) still alive by his 52nd birthday, b) in possession of a big-ass machine gun, c) be living under an assumed name, d) his meth business would have been publicly found out, e) the Whites' home was condemned and Skyler/Flynn/Holly were god knows where, f) the ricin hadn't yet been used.

As oblique as the flash-forwards were, this actually ended up being a lot of information and it allowed a number of fans and pundits to correctly predict most of Breaking Bad's final episode.  It seemed a bit too simplistic for a show that reached great heights by always giving the audience one most unexpected, yet totally logical twist.  In this final season alone, we had incredible, "holy shit" twists like Walt's blackmail video for Hank, Walt temporarily kidnapping Holly and Walt's bitter revelation about Jane's death, delivered solely to spite Jesse at his lowest moment.  The finale lacked those kinds of major surprises, aside from perhaps the laser targets suddenly popping up on Gretchen and Elliott.

I wouldn't have even minded the flash-forward footage being used, but just in the finale itself and not months earlier so we all had a chance to put the clues together.  Once Walt gets the machine gun, you figured he was going to lay waste to Uncle Jack and the gang, but if we have just 30 minutes or so to process that info, that's better than several months of waiting and making it almost anti-climactic.  Same with the ricin --- imagine we had almost forgotten about that stuff and THEN gotten the scene of Walt telling Lydia she'd been poisoned.  (It was very unlike the show to actually have Walt spell out his tactics to her, by the way.  I think most viewers had figured out what had happened simply by the closeup of the Stevia package and her putting it into her tea.  Also, I'd love to be a fly on the wall at Stevia's marketing department today.)

So I would've liked one more surprise, and more Walt/Jesse interaction, from the Breaking Bad finale.  Aside from that, it was a perfectly good last touch on this story and it capped off one of the greatest final seasons of any show in television history.  I wrote months ago that if Breaking Bad could "stick the landing," it would probably have a case as the greatest show of all time.  The Wire had the journalism subplot that weakened its final season, Sopranos had the confusing final few minutes of its last episode, Seinfeld's last episode was widely derided, and several other great shows that simply run out of steam altogether by their final seasons or have long since jumped the shark.  Breaking Bad was great from start to finish.  I'm not sure if I'd quite rank it as #1 overall but it's definitely in the conversation.

Going back to those narrative twists, they helped Breaking Bad achieve its greatest trick, which was simply living up to everyone's expectations.  Think back to when LOST ended and how its finale had an impossible amount of pressure put onto it.  In hindsight, LOST's creative team wasted too much time in that final season and left the finale having to answer a ton of questions, so instead the show just gave everyone a nice ending and wrapped up at least the sixth season's narrative, if nothing else.  That's all well and good, except for future viewers who may be turned off by catching up on LOST via DVDs or Netflix since their friends will have warned them that "ah, it's not worth it, the ending isn't very good."

Breaking Bad won't have this problem.  It's a complete story from beginning to end, with nary a dull episode in the bunch, let alone a bad arc or something that stood out as a glaring digression or weakness to the overall story.  I mentioned earlier about some great shows that petered out by their finales, while other very good shows that fell just a bit short of greatness overall (i.e. The Shield, Newhart, Six Feet Under) are remembered more fondly because they all had amazing final episodes.  Breaking Bad had both --- it got off to a roaring start, had the incredible Gus Frings for the middle and then ended on a major high note.


Since we're discussing final TV seasons, holy shit, let's talk about Dexter.  Take everything I said about Breaking Bad and just reverse it 180 degrees for my feelings about Dexter's already-infamous final season.  It may have already become the new standard for A Bad Ending for a TV show.  You'll be watching a future show, it'll start getting shaky in its last couple of years, and when they announce its upcoming season will be its last, you'll be all, "uh oh, let's hope the show doesn't pull a Dexter."

Put it this way, if you're a Dexter watcher and a friend of yours who's never seen the show is showing some interest, you have a moral duty…nay, an OBLIGATION to firmly tell them to stop watching after four seasons and the end of the Trinity Killer storyline.  Stopping there would allow them to leave the Dexter experience on a high note, and you'd be sparing them the F-minus sixth season and the F-minus-minus eighth season.  (S5 and S7 were both good but not worth going out of your way to see.)  Let this show about a serial killer inspire you to more humane towards your TV-watching pals.  Friends don't let friends watch Dexter's final season.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sesame Street, feat. Fallon & The Roots

Other than having the crappy new Muppets up front (and yeah, Elmo may have been around for 30 years but he's still crappy and new in my book), this is pretty #Adorable

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The James Gordon Show

I'm cautiously optimistic about the new "Gotham" show that could be coming to FOX by this time next year.  The premise is catnip to an old comic nerd like this…it covers the early life and career of James Gordon in the Gotham City Police Department, before the Batman ever appears to help Gordon fight the city's mounting corruption.  There are a few different directions this series could go, for instance….

1. Jim Gordon stars in Your Basic Police Procedural
It should be noted that the series is being helmed by Bruno Heller, who has previously created "Rome" and "The Mentalist."  The first has its fans and the second is popular if generic, yet neither is the kind of must-see, ground-breaking TV that you'd hope a creator has on his resume.  This isn't to say "Gotham" couldn't be awesome, as it's not like a showrunner isn't capable of a breakout series or that every proven showrunner makes nothing but classics every time out, yet just imagine the level of excitement if, say, Vince Gilligan was behind this show.

It could very well be that "Gotham" becomes a more comic geek-friendly version of Mentalist, with the GCPD solving a new case every week and maybe one larger arc (a la the hunt for Mentalist's "Red John" serial killer) taking place over the entire series.  That larger arc could be the battle against the mob, certain major-but-more-mob-based Gotham costumed villains coming to prominence (Black Mask or Penguin, rather than Joker or Poison Ivy) or maybe the arc is just Gordon's rise to commissioner itself.  This would seem like the biggest waste of all, taking the rich premise of a pre-Batman Gotham and just making it into Gordon solving a case-of-the-week.

2. Jim Gordon stars in Bigville
The other bad option, in my view, would be to have "Gotham" be "Smallville."  Now, in fairness, I wasn't a Smallville fan though the show was certainly popular enough to run for 10 seasons.  I just didn't care for how a show that was allegedly about Clark "before" he became Superman basically just shoehorned every Superman character and gimmick they could into the series in an attempt to create as much fan-service as possible.

This shouldn't be "Gotham," either.  The concept seems to be a show that's pre-Batman, not "everything about the Batverse except actually have Batman in it."  The latter would just seem empty, and if Batman does end up being a character without actually showing him, then that's doubly pointless.  Batman becomes either Poochie or a deus ex machine in that scenario.

3. Jim Gordon stars in James Gordon: Year One
One major question I have about this series is just how far back they're going in Gordon's life.  If it's Gordon as a young cop joining the Gotham force, then just by timeline alone, there can't be any traces of Batman.

I feel like this idea would share similarities with the "generic procedural" concept, though it's also almost too limiting.  I don't want the series to be overwhelmed by Batman-related stuff, but obviously the series needs SOME reference to the source material, otherwise what'd be the point?  Setting the series too far before Batman's emergence would negate too much of the mythology, and also cut out some of the intrigue in Gordon's actual personal life.*

One interesting idea I've seen elsewhere online is that while Batman and Bruce Wayne can't be characters, that doesn't mean Thomas and Martha Wayne couldn't.  What if it's set early enough that Gordon actually befriends the Wayne parents early in his career, and their murder is the first season finale?  Gordon's attempts to solve the Wayne murders could be the aforementioned "big arc" of the entire series.

* = by this, I mean Barbara Gordon, who absolutely needs to be a very smart, intrigued-by-police work teenager in this series and played by a hell of a young actress.  Just the idea of Barbara-as-Veronica Mars is good enough for a series in itself.

4. Jim Gordon stars in Gotham Central
"Gotham Central" was an acclaimed comic series by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka earlier this decade and in a perfect world, this would be the idea being translated to TV.  Basically it just focuses on the GCPD's daily business of operating in the crazy world of Gotham --- it was "Hill Street Blues" if that show had taken place in a city with a Batman.  While I said I wanted at least some clever reference to the Batman source material in this new show, I could live with just minimal reference if it meant a really good, gritty cop drama was on my screen.

Interestingly, Commissioner Gordon was only a minor character in the "Gotham Central" series but obviously if he's just a beat cop or detective himself in this show, he could be inserted right into the everyday police mix.  The timeline could also be played with so that Gotham police supporting characters like Renee Montoya, Harvey Bullock, Crispus Allen, etc. are all Gordon's peers rather than his future proteges when he's commissioner down the road.  This could also easily be merged into the "Year One" model for a great cop show that's not a case-of-the-week premise but rather basically the Wire's type of police storylines.

5. Jim Gordon stars in (Just Before) Batman Begins
This would be my preference since it basically serves as the best of all worlds.  It's difficult to balance both a gritty, realistic cop show amidst the superhero elements but if it was pulled off, you'd have a masterpiece of a program.  In my view, the perfect series finale for this premise would be Gordon finally meeting Batman, who for the previous one or two seasons had been operating in the shadows as an urban myth.  Gordon may have met Bruce Wayne in a one-episode cameo before this, but Batman himself shouldn't emerge until the very end of the show's run.  Legally, I'm not even sure if the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman would be available to the FOX Network but if Gordon is going to be allowed, I see no reason why other Batverse regulars can't pop up.

If you set "Gotham" just a few years before Batman appears, then that gives you free reign for almost anything.  In this hypothetical show, James Gordon arrives from Chicago and dives head-first into tackling Gotham's corruption.  He rises through the ranks relatively quickly and is commissioner for the last season or two, so you can have Montoya, Bullock and company as his peers to begin with and then mine stories out of Gordon suddenly becoming their boss.  You have teenage Barbara adjusting to life in a new, very dangerous, city.  Gordon can have regular meetings with new district attorney Harvey Dent (who's a good guy in this series), police psychologist Jonathan Crane (who Gordon doesn't trust), teenage delinquent Roman Sionis (whose crimes are covered up by his powerful family) or hell, even calls in Dr. Victor Fries to testify as a science expert in some random case.  

* = another idea I've been elsewhere online would be to avoid having Bruce or Batman on the show…but Matches Malone is a recurring character in Gordon's investigations into the mob.  For non-comic fans, Matches is another of Bruce's alter egos, a fake identity that he uses to go undercover within the Gotham underworld.  Having Malone pop up would be the kind of very clever easter egg to fans that works a lot better than the overt, Smallville-ian method of simply having the comic characters just flat-out appear.   

The sky is the limit for a Jim Gordon TV series if it's done properly, which of course is the big (non-Riddler) question mark here.  I hope Heller has it in him to deliver a show that is both entertaining, creative and does justice to a great character with over 70 years of legacy. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jeff Daniels?!

This video basically sums up my opinion on perhaps the most inexplicable Emmy win of the night, Jeff Daniels taking down Best Drama Actor....(BREAKING BAD SPOILERS AHEAD, BE WARNED)

Now, I like Jeff Daniels.  Terrific, underrated actor.  On the face of it, Daniels winning "an acting contest" over Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Damian Lewis, Hugh Bonneville and BRYAN CRANSTON isn't a bad result at all.  Daniels winning for that particular unlikable, showy, hackneyed role on The Newsroom, however, is a bad result.

I gave up on "Newsroom" after four episodes.  I just couldn't take it anymore.  'The West Wing' was one of my favourite shows and even that had a few episodes where Sorkin's weaknesses (straw man foes, thinly-drawn/stereotypical female characters, hitting the same themes over and over) overtook himself.  'Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip' had arguably the best pilot episode of any show I've ever seen, which made the subsequent lackluster first season even most disappointing, especially when all of Sorkin's worst quirks just wouldn't stop interfering in every episode.  The fact that Sorkin also didn't seem to realize he was writing about a late-night sketch comedy show was also a wee bit of a problem.

"Newsroom" wasn't even kinda good, it was all just all Worst Quirks.  Waste of good actors, particularly Emily Mortimer who is beyond misused and embarrassed in a lousy role.  In fairness, maybe the show really picked up steam since my early departure and yet given the seemingly universal confused reaction to Daniels' victory, I'm not alone.

Daniels was the one possible Best Actor winner that I absolutely didn't want to see.  In reverse order, it went...

6. Daniels
5. Lewis, because he already won last year and while he's good in the role, two Emmys would've been one too many.  And, also because "Homeland" took enough of a nosedive in its second season that I didn't really care to see it overly-awarded.
4. Bonneville, just because I've never see "Downton Abbey" so I don't know how good the performance is or isn't.
3. Spacey, who I kind of expected to win since the Emmys love rewarding movie stars who appear in big TV roles.  I haven't seen "House of Cards" either, but going on track record, I would've been more okay with seeing Spacey win over Bonneville.
2. Cranston, since while I'd vote him as the best on sheer merit, he already has three Emmys and seems like the big favourite to win his fourth next year for this epic final "Breaking Bad" season
1. Hamm, who is now 0-for-6 playing Don Draper.  By this point I just have to throw my hands up and realize that it just isn't happening for Hamm at the Emmys.  It's a performance and character that looks effortless but is actually very tricky and layered, something that can only be appreciated by watching several episodes or even seasons to appreciate, rather than just clips-from-one-selected episode like how most Emmy voters get their screeners.  You could argue Hamm was just unlucky to run up against Cranston for the first three years, then unlucky to lose to Kyle Chandler for his going-away present for "Friday Night Lights," then unlucky to lose to Lewis for his big breakout role, and we're all unlucky for him losing to Daniels.  At least Chandler and Lewis deserved their Emmys, but Daniels?  In the words of one of those famous Sorkin straw man villains, boy, I don't know.

That's the pain of the Emmys in a nutshell.  For every inexplicable Daniels or Bobby Cannavale win, or every repetitive Modern Family or Jim Parsons win, they suck you in just enough to keep you coming back when they hand a trophy to an overlooked, deserving winner like Anna Gunn or Tony Hale or "Breaking Bad" itself finally winning a Best Drama trophy.  The alterna-Emmys are so much less stressful.  And with fewer dance numbers.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Other People's Writing

Been a while since I've unleashed an OP'sW on the world, so we have seven delightful items this month....

* Sportsnet Magazine's Naoko Asano and (my old student newspaper buddy!) Shannon Proudfoot have an oral history of how "Rudy" was made.  I remember watching this with my parents and brother when I was a kid and all four of us were just bawling during the climactic scene.  One of just three movies to ever make me cry --- the others were "Up" (the opening 15 minutes, good lord) and "E.T." when it appeared as if E.T. was dead.  Oh, uh, spoiler alert in case you haven't seen E.T. yet, but c'mon, the movie is 31 years old, people. 

* Another entertainment-related oral history, this one from Stephen Bowie of the Classic TV History blog about the legendary Thanksgiving episode of "WKRP In Cincinnati."  I feel like there is enough "WKRP was underrated" sentiment that the show has actually become properly rated over time.  Also, I'm apparently an idiot since I only just realized that the 'WKRP' call letters were an in-joke meant to represent the word "crap."  WKUD, don't touch that dial, you've got KUD on it! 

* Joe Posnanski looks back at a forgotten bit of NFL TV history, the Alcoa "fantastic finishes" segments.  Probably the best integrated product placement since Bryan Cranston had a Pepsi logo tattooed across his face for the final episode of Breaking Bad.  Oh, oops, spoiler alert.

* From Grantland, Bill Simmons inexplicably devotes one of his most extensive non-sports columns in years to a random documentary about The Eagles and makes it sound like a masterpiece of unintentional comedy.  My girlfriend is a big Don Henley fan (?) so maybe I should sit down and watch this with her, and then spend the rest of the evening apologizing for laughing throughout.

* Grantland's Robert Mays attends last week's 49ers/Seahawks game in Seattle and writes about how the S'hawks have quietly become "the coolest team in the NFL."  Well, maybe not "quietly."  After visiting Seattle last month and thoroughly falling in love with the city, all I can say is good for the Seahawks.  I can't even bring myself to hate them despite how much my Packers got screwed in that infamous Fail Mary game last season.  I hope the Seahawks make it all the way to the NFC championship game and give the Packers a good scrap before eventually losing by sixty points.

* David Block, historian of baseball's ancient past and subject of this profile by Grantland's Bryan Curtis, might be my new hero.  I knew about the Jane Austen/baseball link before, thanks to this epic Stephen Colbert routine.

* Finally, Grantland's Brian Phillips looks back at one of the funniest photo shoots of all time.  The U.S. men's soccer team did some posing for the New York Times Magazine back in 2002 and…well, this image gives you an idea.  Landon Donovan could score a hat trick in the World Cup final and still never live this picture down.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Key & Peele's East/West Bowl(s)

Wait a minute, I've never embedded the instantly legendary Key & Peele football names sketch before?!  Good lord, I was all set to post the sequel here but man, I'm WAY behind.

The original....

The sequel....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Joking Bad

It's a sign of how much I love Breaking Bad that I'll even link to a Jimmy Fallon spoof of the show.  If Bryan Cranston is ever asked to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game, he should eschew a ball and just chuck a pizza instead.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Oscar Favourites, For Now

You know that Oscar season has officially begun when TIFF starts taking over the city of Toronto, so since we're *just* on the cusp of the big Academy Award contenders being unleashed upon the world, here's who has the lead in my personal standings.  

Best Actor: Michael B. Jordan, "Fruitvale Station"
Michael B. Jordan is the Michael Jordan of The Wire's child actors.  Much is made of the Wire's fourth season (when the show made the incredibly bold decision to base its narrative around four untested adolescent actors) as the peak of that program's incredible use of young actors, and yet it all began with Wallace in the very first season.  People forget that Jordan didn't have that much screentime in that season but he's remembered to this day as a huge part of Wire mythology due to his performance…..and, to be fair, because "Where's the boy at, String?  Where's Wallace at?" was one of the most incredible moments in Wire history.

So Jordan could act then, but can he act now?  The answer is absolutely yes.  From good roles in Friday Night Lights and Chronicle to GREAT roles like this one in "Fruitvale Station," Jordan looks like the next big thing.  Oscar Grant could've easily just been played as a martyr but Jordan turns him into an actual person.  Jordan's Oscar isn't a perfect man by any stretch but that makes him a better man, if that makes sense.  He's always trying, striving.  It's a tragedy that Grant is taken at all, but especially so because he was a man who hadn't yet reached his peak.  It's a great performance that Jordan absolutely nails.  It's looking like this year's Best Actor race is shaping up as one of the most accomplished in recent memory, so if Jordan ends up NOT making the final cut for an Oscar nomination, it might not be surprising but it'l be a snub nonetheless.  And if there are five performances better than his this year, I'll eat my hat.

Honourable mention: Matthew McConaughey, "Mud"

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
I've written before about how Blanchett is seemingly incapable of just an average performance.  She's either blow-away amazing (i.e. Notes On A Scandal, the Elizabeth movies, The Gift) or she gives the most godawful over-the-top performance you've ever seen (i.e. Benjamin Button, Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Aviator, Hanna).  Thankfully this is one of her good ones and it's necessary, since Blanchett carries what is overall a shaky premise and script from Woody Allen.  You're never quite sure if this is supposed to be comedy, drama, dramedy, whatever, and so many actresses would've gone down one road or the other with the role, while Blanchett exists in all worlds.  Whereas Oscar Grant's flaws help you see the bigger picture of the man, Jasmine is a walking flaw with glimmers of genuine humanity that make you sympathetic to her.  Blanchett doesn't take the easy route and make her a caricature.

Blanchett, of course, has an Oscar already for her dinner theatre impression of Katherine Hepburn in "The Aviator," one of the most inexplicable Academy decisions in recent years.  That just shouldn't be.  It would be fitting with Blanchett's persona that she have two Oscars --- one for a bad performance and one for a great one.  She's like the Harvey Dent of acting.  I think she's the favourite to beat at this point, though a number of well-known actresses are coming up in big roles throughout the fall.

Honourable mention: Greta Gerwig, "Frances Ha"

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"
While Blanchett spun a number of plates as Jasmine, it's actually Hawkins who might have the even more thankless role as (on paper) the 'good sister' who is seemingly just as much of a screwup.  If you can't quite relate to Jasmine's issues as the wife of a white collar criminal, Ginger's more everyday problems are perhaps easier to digest, yet it also makes it easier for an audience to theoretically just write her off as a flaky twit.  Hawkins somewhat specializes in humanizing "flaky twits," as we saw in Happy-Go-Lucky a few years ago, a performance that should've led to an Oscar already sitting on her mantlepiece.  She is totally overdue for Academy recognition and would be a great addition to list of Best Supporting Actresses in Woody Allen films.

(I will say this was a very tough call between Hawkins and Spencer, and my decision was based on which was the trickier role to pull off.  If Spencer were to be nominated and win, I would have no objections at all, it's a stomach punch of a performance.)

Honourable mention: Olivia Spencer, "Fruitvale Station"

Best Supporting Actor: Danny McBride, "This Is The End"
I'll be honest, this is one that probably won't be here on my final, end-of-the-year Oscar ballot.  That said, damn, McBride just shows up like a bolt of lightning, does Danny McBride things for the middle portion of the movie and then is out, bitches.  It's a very funny performance that I'm sure was at least 50 percent improvised and was about 65 percent what it's like being around McBride in real life.

Honourable mention: Christopher Walken, "Stand Up Guys"

Best Picture: "Mud"
This just barely gets the nod over "Fruitvale Station" and it may be unfair given what both movies are trying to do.  Obviously the point of FS is that most audiences already know Oscar Grant's story going into it, whereas the reason I enjoyed "Mud" so much is that I had no idea what direction the story would take.  I'm just a sucker for a southern gothic crime story, I guess, though calling it a "crime story" seems reductive.  Jeff Nichols' previous film, "Take Shelter," got a little too caught up in its own mythology to really work (outside of a great Michael Shannon performance) but with "Mud" firmly planted in the real world, it's a much more effective character study. 

There seems to be a real Matthew McConaughey renaissance going on, as ol' Wooderson is getting a lot of mileage out of twisted variations on his "handsome, stoned but intense southern guy" persona.  "Mud" is maybe the best example of this phenomenon though man, it's hard to tell given McConaughey's flood of solid performances.  He had three acclaimed roles in 2012 alone (in Bernie, Killer Joe and Magic Mike), he has the awesome-looking True Detective series coming up on HBO and he has two potential pieces of Oscar-bait coming up this year in "Dallas Buyers Club" (lead) and "The Wolf of Wall Street" (supporting).  McConaughey's persona is so cemented in people's minds that acknowledging him as a tremendous actor may cause a few confused blinks, but hey, it's hard to argue against this recent body of work.

Honourable Mention: Frances Ha, Fruitvale Station, The Heat, This Is The End

Friday, September 06, 2013

NFL Predictions

I really wanted to get this up before the season actually began on Thursday night but, #Laziness.  Anyway, here are my predictions for the 2013 NFL season.  In short, you could talk me into almost anyone in the NFC having a good season and I'm not even sure there are a half-dozen legitimately good teams in the AFC.

NFC East: Giants, Cowboys, Skins, Eagles
I'll start with the toughest division to predict of them all, since you could tell me that these four teams could finish in almost any order at season's end and I would buy it.  I guess I can't see the Giants finishing last but other than that, anything goes.  New York is my pick to win simply because when in doubt, go with the team that is competently run.  Dallas could be good…but their innate Cowboyness will make them underachieve again.  Washington could be good….or RG3 will get hurt and we'll see that this team made the playoffs solely due to a hot streak last year, not because they're actually a good team.  Philly could be good….or Chip Kelly will become the latest college coach to flame out in the NFL and Michael Vick stinks.

NFC West: Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals
Remember back in the 1990's when Dallas and San Francisco were clearly the two best teams in football and the rest of the NFC almost didn't need to bother showing up?  That could be the case here with the Shawks and Niners, with one big caveat.  At the end of the day, we're all putting a lot of faith in teams with a second-year QB and a third-year QB who hasn't even played a full season's worth of starts yet.  My brother often points this out as a way of promoting his hero Joe Flacco, but he might have a point --- Wilson/Kaepernick/Luck/Griffin should need to put at least two good seasons on the board before we start crowning them as superheroes.  The complexion of this conference changes drastically if Wilson or Kaepernick simply take a step back this season.  As for the rest of the division, the Rams are still a year away though they continue to add good pieces, and the Cardinals made a huge mistake in firing Ken Whisenhunt.  I honestly believe this.  They overreacted to one bad season and fired the best coach in franchise history, only to hire a guy who caught lightning in a bottle in Indianapolis last year.  Also, Carson Palmer has been washed up for years yet people continue to insist he's good.  Palmer = Michael Vick.

NFC North: Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings
So how'd the Packers do in addressing their faults from last season?  Well, their rookie running backs show promise.  I guess Mason Crosby has remembered how to kick, kind of.  The defense is kinda okay?  Yeah, overall, I'm not crazy about the Green Bay offseason, considering the O-line still looks shaky at best, and keeping Rodgers safe should be the first, second and third priorities.  That said, I still like the Packers over the rest of the division by sheer dint of experience.  Admittedly I'm very worried about Chicago since hiring (of all people) Marc Trestman after firing Lovie Smith following a 10-6 year is a bold move that I think will ultimately fall on the side of genius rather than insanity.  Maybe there's just some innate patriotism that wants to see a top CFL coach succeed even though I couldn't give a damn about CFL football.  Anyway, the Bears are a wild card pick for me.  Detroit has a lot of sleeper buzz but sometimes the metrics that say a team is "unlucky" to lose so many close games don't account for a team full of stupid players and undisciplined coaching.  I'll pick the Vikings for last because there's surely no way Adrian Peterson can carry an entire franchise single-handedly again, right? Uh, right?

NFC South: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Panthers  
Tampa Bay and Carolina both have some sleeper buzz surrounding them but at the end of the day, so I think teams coached by Greg Schiano and Ron Rivera are going to beat teams coached by Mike Smith and Sean Payton?  Hell no.  I see the Bucs burning themselves out by Week 12 again and Rivera getting fired by October.  The Saints will be hugely invigorated by Payton's return but their defense is just too bad for them to be a serious contender.  All four of these teams aren't bad, frankly, so I see this being similar to the NFC East in that they'll all beat themselves up and only the winner will make the playoffs.  Go Falcons?

AFC South: Texans, Colts, Titans, Jaguars
Ughhh, this division.  Houston has a minimum of five wins from their divisional schedule alone.  The Colts are major regression candidates, the Titans are the blandest team imaginable and the Jaguars are just bad.  Now, all this being said, I'm picking Tennessee to be the surprise "awful team that ends up being kinda good" candidate for 2013.  I'm picking them since they're a LEGIT example of this phenomenon --- teams like the Chiefs, Lions and Dolphins have too much sleeper buzz and aren't considered to be actually 'bad,' whereas nobody gives a crap about the Titans.  I'm not saying they'll make the playoffs or anything, but don't be surprised if the Titans are 9-7 or something.

AFC West: Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders
Ughhh, THIS division.  It's even worse than the South, believe it or not.  The Chiefs are a bit better but the Chargers and Raiders are flat-out awful.  I'll be shocked if Oakland wins as many as three games.  It's for this reason that I'm picking Kansas City to make the playoffs --- lot of easy division wins here on the table.  While you won't win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith at QB and Andy Reid on the sidelines, they're still huge upgrades over what the Chiefs had last year at those spots and the rest of their team actually has a lot of talent (six Pro Bowlers?!).  I think this is enough to crack the postseason in what I think is a very weak conference.

AFC East: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets
It's a good thing for the Pats that they play in this tire fire of a division, otherwise they'd be in a shaky situation given their offseason.  So they ditch Wes Welker, Mr. Reliable and good for 100 catches a year, and replace him with the walking injury known as Danny Amendola.  But hey, no worries, the Patriots will just rely on their tight end passing attack anyway…oh, what's that?  Rob Gronkowski has undergone about 12 arm surgeries and Aaron Hernandez was charged with three murders?  Huh.  How about that.  I'm sure Brady really feels good about taking that team-friendly contract now.  These problems aside, New England is still streets ahead of Miami, who may not actually be a good team.  The Bills are *certainly* not any good and may already be in a quarterback crisis, while the Jets have been in QB crisis mode for about three years and are just a living joke.

AFC North: Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, Browns
If Cincinnati had better management and coaching (and, ok, maybe if someone better than Andy Dalton was QB), they'd be my Super Bowl pick.  There is a lot of talent on this team, complete with a potentially elite defense and one of the game's five best receivers in A.J. Green.  I think this is the year they go from wild card to division winner because the Ravens will take a bit of a step back.  As we saw on Thursday, the Ravens have a few roster depth issues, probably because they gave the second-biggest contract in NFL history to a borderline top-10 quarterback who had a few lucky weeks.  There is a school of thought that thinks the Steelers will return to prominence this season but I just look at that roster and see hole after hole at key positions.  An even crazier school of thought sees the Browns making a move, and LOL.

* Bengals over Chiefs
* Ravens over Patriots
* Falcons over Bears
* 49ers over Giants

* Broncos over Bengals
* Texans over Ravens
* Seahawks over 49ers
* Packers over Falcons

* Broncos over Texans
* Seahawks over Packers

Super Bowl 48: Seattle Seahawks over Denver Broncos
I remember picking this as a Super Bowl matchup about a decade ago in a school newspaper column, a prediction that ended up being as hilariously wrong as any prediction could be short of "Dewey Defeats Truman."  So now, why not, I'll go back to the well again.  Despite what I said earlier about maybe not trusting these second-year quarterbacks, I think Russell Wilson is indeed the real deal.  And I may be slightly biased by the fact that I was in Seattle last month and fell in love with the city, so I want to see it rewarded with its first pro sports championship since 1979.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tom Hiddleston & Cookie Monster

New bucket list item: be within the "crumb splash zone" while Cookie Monster is going to town on some sweet choc' chippers right next to me.