Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ontario's Worst Street

Well, look who's late to the party.  CAA has announced its annual list of the 10 worst roads in Ontario and whaddya know, Toronto's Dufferin Street was once again the winner.  Now, let it be known, your old pal Mark was on the Dufferin Street anti-bandwagon three years ago, and that was when it was only Dufferin between King Street and the CNE that was the problem.  Now, virtually all of Dufferin south of Dundas is under construction, making a bad problem even worse.  Getting from the CNE to Bloor is an adventure, and it's been a long time since I've been up Dufferin north of Bloor, but I'm sure it's a jerk.

Yet even though I'm the captain of the S.S. Hates Dufferin, I'd like to take a step back and point out another roadway that's even more worthy of the 'worst street' title.  This would be another Toronto boulevard known as Queens Quay, a.k.a. a dystopian nightmare that is seemingly lasting forever.

Now, in my earlier anti-Dufferin post, I noted that it was unfair to call a street under construction as "the worst" since obviously construction projects don't last forever and we're not seeing the road in its prime state.  Then again...the Queens Quay project is, indeed, lasting forever.  Beginning in June 2013, it will allegedly be finished in July 2015, which is kind of cool since now we can mark July 2015 down as the date when hell freezes over.  The devil can plan ahead to buy a snowblower.  There has already been at least one delay in the project and I'll believe it's done when I actually see it, or at least when I can drive down Queens Quay without screaming into the abyss.

I won't lie, this post *may* be inspired by a particularly awful experience I had on Queens Quay, oh, just last weekend, as a commute that usually takes me 10 minutes instead took upwards of an hour thanks to various redirections and full parking lots.  It was the perfect storm of construction, pedestrians, more construction, extra people down by the waterfront enjoying the long-delayed summer weather, construction, a charity walk and finally, more construction.  I'm actually not just being comically repetitive here --- there were actually (at least) four separate major construction projects going on in the rough rectangle of Bathurst, Queens Quay, Bay Street and Front Street that were holding up traffic.  Add in the extra foot traffic and it got even more awful.  Add in the construction on the Gardiner that will last until 2015 and it's somehow EVEN MORE AWFUL.  You'd think the city wouldn't schedule extra roadwork around an already heavily constructed area but only a non-Torontonian would be so blissfully logical.

The thing with Dufferin is that while the road itself is inarguably terrible, there are lots of easy ways to escape it.  You can always take a side street to get to, say, Dovercourt and try getting south that way to avoid at least some of the traffic mess.  On Queens Quay, however, their latest dreadful touch is that there's nowhere to go.  Once you turn onto Queens Quay from York, you're stuck until you hit Dan Leckie Way just east of Bathurst since all of the side streets are currently blocked off.  You can turn south, sure, but unless you have an aquacar, that's not going to do much good in Lake Ontario.  (Oh man, do I wish I had an aquacar.)  With nowhere to go, you're in for 2.5 kilometres that will feel like 2.5 trips across the solar system.  During that hellish drive last weekend, I had half a mind to get out of my car and start singing 'Everybody Hurts.'

Being next to the scenic lakefront is actually a funny contrast.  On your left, you have the lovely waterfront area with parks, shopping, art galleries, etc.  On your right, you have the Concrete Apocalypse.  What you might not see, however, is actual construction going on, since for all of the time and effort being put into this massive project, it's somewhat rare to actually see workers in action.  One would think that the city would have crews going almost 24/7 to complete this huge overhaul that's clogging up downtown, but there you go with your logic again.  Any of the candidates for Ontario premier or Toronto mayor would get my vote* if they simply promised to create jobs by making a 200% increase in the number of civic construction employees hired.  They can call it the "Let's Get This Shit Done" initiative.

= well, unless it's Hudak or Ford.  The ship has sailed on those two.

In the big picture, Dufferin may indeed be Ontario's worst road.  Right now, in this brief sliver of time, however, I would happily go up and down Dufferin while riding a Big Wheels than dare risk another trek down Queens Quay.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Previously On Mad Men...

There seemed to be a general consensus that Mad Men took a step back in its sixth season, or perhaps it was merely just overshadowed by more explosive shows like Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Americans, etc.  I dunno, I loved S6 and thus loved S7a* even more since we're starting to get some of these payoff moments that have been build up over 6.5 seasons of television.  "The Strategy" and "A Day's Work" were two of the very best episodes in the show's history for this very reason.

* = though the split-season thing is incredibly stupid.  I want to see those final seven episodes right this damn minute, not in 2015.  The zombie apocalypse could've happened by then!  If it does hit, I swear, I make it my mission to track down Matt Weiner, Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss or whomever to find out what happens in the end.  Hopefully they're still human by this point, though I dunno, zombie Vincent Kartheiser could be fun.  "How do those brains taste, Vincent?"  "NOT GREAT, BOB."

This program has been so heavily praised in so many ways that I'm struggling to find a new way to do it, so here goes.  Hidden within the shell of a thought-provoking drama, Mad Men may be the last great workplace sitcom.  It gets great mileage out of creating not only characters who confound our expectations when we first meet them at SC&P, but also characters who are perfectly defined within their boxes.  Look at how instantly we knew everything about Lou Avery's character, for instance, as the ultimate place-filler middle manager.  Or last season, when Bob Benson dominated the entire year as the ultimate office brown-noser (though obviously there was more to him than that).  Even longtime characters as Harry Crane and Ken Cosgrove fit perfect types as the Incompetent Guy Who Keeps Failing Upward or Good Dude To Have Around The Office.  For as rich as Mad Men's characters are, they're ultimately variations on characters we've seen before in a hundred other office shows.  Most of the SC&P gang are ultimately about 75% cliches, yet it's what's done with that extra 25% what makes this such a great show.

And on that note, here's a goofy look at the past's, er, less-nuanced roles.  I really, really hope Elisabeth Moss rolls her eyes at her castmastes' failed takes and mumbles "That's not how Hogan would've done it" under her breath.  And, apparently I'm a complete idiot since I've seen Mr. Deeds probably a half-dozen times in my life (the only tolerable Adam Sandler movie!) and yet only now am I realizing that was Jared Harris.  I need glasses.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Survivor Ratings: Tony

I've got to say, I did not expect to be writing a "Tony wins!" post at all, let alone a "Tony wins and I'm pretty okay about it!" post, if you'd asked me a couple of months ago.  Tony may be the Survivor winner I've changed my tune most on within the span of a few weeks, which is an achievement in itself, though I'm still hard-pressed to say he's more than a mid-tier winner for a number of reasons.

Before the evaluation, though, let me first state how refreshing it was to see a season that both had all new players AND had a final two, which is by far my preferred method of Survivor gameplay.  I'm pretty bummed out that they're immediately switching back to the Blood vs. Water format for the next season (and, presumably, more Redemption Island) since by this point, it's absolutely clear that one of the eight or nine returning players will absolutely win that game.  Every single season that has featured a half-and-half mix of newbies and veterans has featured a veteran winning and the newbies all being used as pawns, so I'd be gobsmacked if that pattern changed in the fall.  So for moment, allow me to bask in S28's semi-return to "old school" Survivor, though the season was also a little soured by another old-school element (you can probably guess what I'm going to say).  Anyway, to Tony Vlachos.

How He Won: In many respects, Tony's win further validates the point that Russell Hantz is terrible at playing Survivor.  Tony proved that you can, indeed, play this game like a wrecking ball and still win just as long as you're not an enormous jerk about it in the process.  In a way, Tony's habit of lying to everyone actually worked in his favour --- since he broke his word to EVERYONE, his lies didn't become betrayals, it was just how he was playing the game.  Had Tony been sitting next to someone other than Woo or Kass at the final two, he might've had to pay for his lies more, though he was wise enough to anticipate that problem early and thus gun for Spencer & Tasha (both of whom would've won easily) and even let Trish get voted out rather than use an idol to save her.  I would've been fascinated to see how a Tony/Trish final two would've gone.  Would Trish have Ambered her way to a win as the nicer half of her alliance, or would the jury have seen Trish just as Tony's pawn like they did with Woo?

As it played out, however, various jury members aired their grievances to Tony and seemingly got it out of their system before voting him to an easy 8-1 win.  Let's be clear here; Woo absolutely made a boneheaded move by keeping Tony around rather than Kass in the F2, yet while that was Woo's error, Tony gets the assist.  He cultivated such a partnership with Woo and, as he put it, "planted those seeds" that Woo couldn't bring himself to write Tony's name down.  Had the situation been reversed, there is not a doubt in my mind that Tony would've voted Woo out, since Tony had his eyes on the prize the entire time.

Tony benefited from a strong 'brawn' tribe that dominated challenges while the other two teams picked themselves apart, then once the field was narrowed to two tribes, made the shrewd move of going with Trish/Jefra/LJ to oust Cliff Robinsonn rather than stick with Cliff/Woo/Lindsey.  He was further helped by Lindsey inexplicably quitting after Cliff was eliminated due to her feud with Trish, and then when the merge hit, he ended up on the right side of the numbers due to the Kass flip.  This is where Trish deserved all the credit, as from the way it was presented to us, she was the one who convinced Kass to switch sides (kinda ironic given how the two ended up hating each other).  Even if Kass hadn't flipped and Jefra had been voted out 11th, however, Tony likely still would've lasted a while given his propensity for finding idols at the drop of a hat.  It's possible he lasts long enough to be the one who inevitably suggests to Sarah/Morgan/Jeremiah that they need to break up the three-Brain alliance, and then the game gets flipped again.

Once Tony had the numbers at the merge, though, he kept sticking to his plan and eliminating threats before they could truly arise, a la LJ and Jefra.  He caught another lucky break when he won that rock-drawing tiebreaker with Spencer at the auction, but still, it was more skill that luck that eventually got him the win.  Tony didn't win any immunity challenges, remember, so he was hustling all the way. 

Skillset: Okay, so the elephant in the room is obviously the "special" idol.  We last saw this type of "use it after you've been voted out" idol in S12 and S13 and it led to Terry finishing third and Yul winning the game, respectively.  The long and short of it is, that idol is too powerful and (like Redemption Island) antithetical to what Survivor is all about.  Once you're voted out, you're gone.  No do-overs, no second chances, boom, that's it.  The tribe has spoken. 

Thanks to Probst's desire to suck up to Tyler Perry, though, we got the super idol back this season and it sucked.  As Perry and Probst noted during the reunion show, the fact that Tony (who already had a normal HII) found it was overkill, yet I would've been just as browned off had Spencer or Kass or anyone else got one.  It just runs counter to what I think Survivor is all about.  While it's not Tony's fault this was an element in his season and it certainly isn't his fault for finding it and using it*, it plays a factor in how I rank him compared to other winners who didn't have that built-in advantage.

* = the argument could be made that the super-idol wasn't really a factor since Tony didn't use it and he had other idols anyway, yet obviously, just its existence helped Tony's game.  His lie about the idol's "special power" being that it could be used at final four was pretty clever and it worked, as nobody seemed to seriously raise the notion of voting Tony out then.

That said, good lord, could Tony ever find an idol.  While I hate the super-idols, I have no issue in general with the idea of immunity idols in the game.  First you have to find it, and then more importantly, you need to decipher the right time to play it.  This begets another layer of strategy from your opponents in terms of splitting votes and whatnot, and it generally makes the game more fun.  I have no problem with adding *some* kind of protective element within Survivor since it does serve as a lifeline to some players who can get unfairly screwed by one of the game's twists of fate.  Just giving someone an idol that straight-up saves you from a vote no matter what is too much, though. 

As noted earlier, Tony was more than just a walking immunity idol.  He played the game hard, he protected himself with a wall of goats and stayed just friendly and non-obnoxious enough to keep from becoming a Russell-esque goat himself.  Midway through the season, it seemed like Tony was playing the game WAY too hard and WAY too overtly, and I thought he was being set up for comeuppance.  (Plus, the 'spy shack' was hilarious nonsense.)  When he pulled that trick with Jeremiah during the tribal raid, for instance, his clever move was undermined by going back to his tribe and bragging about it; as LJ pointed out, why would you want everyone to know you're that sneaky?  Since Tony ended up with the million bucks, however, I guess his plate-spinning act worked out in the end….

Could He Do It Again?: ….though here's the rub, there's not a chance in hell Tony would last long in another game of Survivor unless he busted out an idol to save himself every round.  Everyone is too wise to his tricks now.  I kind of doubt we'll ever get a chance to see him back, however, given how he discussed his health issues in recovering from the show and the sheer length of time it took for him to readjust to normal life.  My suspicion is that Tony takes his money, goes back to Jersey, buys a chandelier for each of his kids and lives happily ever after.

I'll tell you right now, I'd rank Tony around the middle of the show's all-time winners, and finally, you'll get a chance to see just where in the middle that is.  Yes, that's right, the LONG-AWAITED UPDATE to my original ranking of Survivor's champions is coming within the next month at the absolute month.  It will be worth it, I promise you….or not, who knows.  It'll actually be a lot of cut-and-pasting from my original ranking, so like a Survivor player who's been out in the woods for five weeks, freshness is at a minimum.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Peter Dinklage

Just when you thought the Game Of Thrones theme song couldn't get any greater...

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Two Dropped Shows

I'm one episode into the second season of House Of Cards and I'm thinking that's it for me.  The BIG MAJOR TWIST from that episode doesn't have anything to do with it, though how that big major twist goes about just adds to why I feel the show isn't worth investing any further time.

My issue is that they simply went too far over the top.  Going in, I realized that the whole point of the series is to show Frank Underwood manipulating his way through Washington, and everyone else is just a pawn in his wake.  Fair enough ---Spacey is certainly good enough to carry such a star vehicle, so if the plotting is a little thin and repetitive, his presence can still make HOC worth watching.  The problem is that I didn't quite realize *how* much everyone was going to be a pawn, as there is literally not a character on the show with an ounce of substance besides the Underwoods.  (I'm including Claire only by a bare margin, as I'm still not sure if she's supposed to have deeper levels than just a Lady Macbeth or if Robin Wright is merely a devotee of smell-the-fart acting.)  If none of the other characters have more than two dimensions, it makes it no fun to see Underwood outwit them.

The other problem is that Frank's "smartest guy in the room" reputation was almost immediately undercut by the show when they started having him just eliminate his problems with cartoonish crimes.  The first strike was the conclusion to the storyline with the teachers' union strike; instead of having Frank come up with a clever way to get his deal, you have a ridiculous scene involving him blackmailing the union rep in the dumbest way possible.  That was bad enough, and once Frank moved on to straight-up murdering people, well, that's when Fonzie Underwood jumped the shark.

There is simply too much good TV to watch these days, and I don't have the time to devote to a series that started as a B+ at best and is slowly devolving from there.  Honestly, it's a series I truly love (I'll watch the Simpsons forever, dammit), I'm finding myself more and more apt to just abandon any show that's showing signs of slowing down….

….and that includes Archer, which sounds nuts given that it's coming off its most creative season yet.  The entire spy agency premise was scrapped in favour of having the characters run a cocaine cartel, which led to some great laughs and tremendous episodes.  While I applaud the ingenuity and the balls required to upheave your entire hit show, I have to admit, the entire Archer joke-delivery system is simply starting to get old for me.  I'm not even sure if the series is declining, per se, but it just isn't doing it for me anymore. 

We could be facing a South Park situation here, and I'm not comparing Archer solely because both are animated.  While I've long been an admirer of South Park and can watch almost any random episode and find it funny, I haven't been a regular South Park viewer in probably 15 years.  I feel no compunction to watch week after week, though I have no reason to believe it isn't still funny.  Archer might be the same deal, as I might tune in for the odd episode here or there, but there's probably a better chance I'll just let the show go its merry way without me.          

So that's two shows down from my viewing schedule, and only about, oh, a couple dozen more on my "oh, I've been meaning to watch that" list.  By this rate I'll be totally caught up by the year 20Never7.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Agents of C.H.A.N.G.E.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was far from a perfect show in its first season, yet its biggest problem was how a lot of misinformed/misguided internet buzz makes it seem much worse than it actually was (a.k.a. "Girls" Syndome).  Let's take a look at the fanboys' biggest problems with the program and see how closely they corresponded to reality…

* The characters aren't interesting! 
True in the beginning, not really true (though not totally false) by season's end.  We all had a lot of built-in love for Agent Coulson from the Marvel movies, so Clark Gregg was given a pass, though I'll deal with my own issues with his character later on.  Besides Phil, Son Of Coul, however, there admittedly wasn't much to work with amongst the five other cast members.  Too conventionally TV-attractive, too generic personality-wise and, weirdly, there seemed some unnecessary doubling.  Did the cast really need two emotionally-closed off asskickers, or two chatterbox techies from the U.K.? 

As the season progressed, however, we got the ol' "show, don't tell" technique used to inform us why, exactly, Skye was such a brilliant hacker worth caring about or why FitzSimmons was such a two-headed science monster with actual chemistry, etc.  Ward turning evil made his character 100 times more interesting and cast his earlier characterization in a whole new light.  Things are still not perfect, of course, as I still feel like this show is one or maybe two really good characters away from taking off.  Part of the problem is Coulson, who is a terrific supporting player but not quite enough of an inherently interesting personage as a lead; the same could be said of Gregg, who often kills it in supporting parts but has made some weird acting choices   on this show. 

The thing about the cast, however, is that it seems to be very much in flux as we head into season two.  I see no way Ward can possibly still be in the regular cast, and Agent Triplett seems to have taken his place as the crew's designated special ops asskicker.  Fitz didn't die, yet apparently suffered some sort of trauma that will limit him; while I don't see Iain De Caestecker being just cavalierly written off, his character's status is a big question mark for S2.  It looks like we'll get Patton Oswalt in at least a minor recurring role (awesome) as the assistant helping the crew restart the new SHIELD, and rumours have persisted that Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill will join the cast now that 'How I Met Your Mother' has wrapped up.  The bottom line is that the AOS cast doesn't seem like a finished product so if you still have worries, they could be answered a few months into 2015.  It's also worth noting that Angel, another Joss Whedon show, didn't really get its full regular cast in place until the start of the third season, so some juggling is to be expected from….hey wait….

* This can't hold a candle to Joss Whedon's other shows!
Well, no kidding, that's because it isn't a "Joss Whedon Show."  While Joss is the EP, the showrunners are Joss' brother and sister-in-law, so while I'm sure he has creative input, it's not his baby. 

It is interesting, however, to note all of the Whedon flourishes that popped up in the first season alone.  Ward's character basically covered all the Buffy boyfriend bases in one year, going from a generic Riley type to (after his Hydra heel turn) a human version of Angelus.  Obviously the whole idea of cybernetically-enhanced super-soldiers is a comic book staple that long predates Whedon's shows, but you couldn't help but remember Adam, the much-maligned Buffy villain.  Similarly, Lorelei's character came off a lot like either Glory (from Buffy) or Jasmine (from Angel).  The design of the SHIELD plane, particularly the cargo bay, bore a striking resemblance to the Serenity.  In fairness, a lot of Joss' great ideas have been done in past shows -- he wasn't reinventing the TV wheel, just rolling it in a particularly clever new way -- so it could be I'm just reaching a bit to find comparisons where none truly exist.  It's not like you suddenly saw Amy Acker or J. August Richards pop up in…aw, come on!  (This is totally a joke, btw, I love both actors.)  

* The "monster-of-the-week" plots aren't interesting!
Can't really argue here.  By far, the highlight of the first season was the ongoing Centipede/Clairvoyant storyline that really kicked into high gear once SHIELD itself fell to Hydra (after Captain America 2 hit theatres).  There were some callbacks to those one-off episodes that tried to make it seem as though every episode played a small role in the agents' story, yet honestly, most of them didn't work.

Uh, I realize I just spent a whole paragraph saying how this isn't a "Joss Whedon show," yet now I'm going to compare AoS to Dollhouse.  You might recall that Dollhouse's first few episodes were also standalone "case of the week" adventures, which Joss felt were necessary to establish the complicated premise and (perhaps the real reason) because FOX felt they were easier jumping-on points for new viewers.  Joss openly admitted that Dollhouse didn't really get good until the fifth episode, and he was right --- with the premise established, that's when the interlocking plot got off the ground and that underrated show hit its stride.  I think the influence of both ABC and Marvel Studios will keep such a high profile show from ever being too mythology-driven, yet clearly a few big arcs have yet to be completed.  Skye's father, for instance, might well be the Big Bad of the next season.

* There aren't enough Avengers tie-ins!
C'mon, did you really think we'd see Robert Downey Jr. or Scarlett Johansson making regular cameos?  Frankly, I'm stunned Sam Jackson even made a couple of appearances, though given the depth of that huge long-term contract he signed with Marvel Studios, he may be obligated to appear in every Marvel project until the end of time. 

* Okay, fair point on the Avengers stuff, but…there aren't enough Marvel tie-ins in general!     
This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve with this show's online critics.  The best version of AOS is a show that is both entertaining and makes the most of its heritage in calling on the huge bench of major and minor Marvel characters.  The worst version of AOS is a show that isn't any good and basically forgets it's even related to Marvel.  What we ended up with was a show that was overall pretty decent and pretty related to the Marvel mythos, yet that wasn't enough for some of the fanboys, who seemingly expected a different random comic character to be featured in virtually every episode. 

Doing this, however, would've been nothing more than overt fan service.  As noted earlier, AOS is a major mainstream television project for ABC and Marvel, and it's essentially become the harbinger for several other Marvel TV series coming to both ABC and Netflix over the next couple of years.  The key word is 'mainstream,' as Disney wants to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.  The first order of business is to draw in the casual viewers, as Disney knows it can likely rely on the hardcores to watch anyways, even if it's to hate-watch.  There are just enough bones thrown to the hardcore crowd to keep them satisfied, such as how this AV Club reviewer basically wet himself with joy over a random mention of Man-Thing. 

Too many of the online comic book crowd spent so much time criticizing AOS for the show they wanted it to be that they didn't appreciate it for the show it is.  It's quite possible we get that full-on TV version of the Marvel Universe in future seasons now that the show has gotten its feet wet, but in the meantime, let's enjoy AOS as a B-level adventure show whose best days are likely still ahead.  I saw enough things I liked in S1 that Agents of SHIELD will still be on my viewing schedule in the fall, as I'm taking the glass half-full approach on this one.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Good Neighbor's "Toast"

Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett have been bright spots on SNL this season, and the digital short material has been pretty similar in tone to the viral video material they created when they were part of the 'Good Neighbor' comedy troupe.  That said, none of their SNL stuff has come close to this epic, which is about three sketch ideas in one and gets increasingly mind-blowing as it goes on.  It's possible they could re-use this for the show some day but a) this is already legendary enough in its current form and b) they'd just have to shoot another video since there is no conceivable way this could be done live.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Maple Leafs + Futility



So I obviously can't be a bandwagon jumper, so that eliminates teams like the Blackhawks, Kings, Ducks, Bruins and Penguins.  The Red Wings haven't really been capital-e Elite for a few seasons now but still, suddenly just becoming a Wings fan in the wake of their last 20 seasons of success would be pretty sketchy.  Choosing to root for the Leafs over the Wings back in their 1993 playoff series (and kicking off my Leafs fandom) was really THE major sports turning point decision in my life, and quite possibly my worst.

Though a few of these warm-weather markets have proven to be great for the NHL, I'm still not sure I could bring myself to actually root for one of them, so that eliminates the Panthers, Lightning, Stars, Coyotes, Predators and Hurricanes.

Moving to another Canadian franchise would seem a logical step, yet I can't bring myself to do it.  LOL at ever being a Canucks or a Senators fan.  The Oilers and Flames are both in ruins.  There's just something off about the Jets.  Going to the Canadiens would seem just a bit too traitorous, though really, my generation of Leafs fans hates Boston and Ottawa above all others; the Habs rivalry really hasn't inspired too much real bad blood over the last 20+ years since neither team has really been good at the same time.  Also, had I not been a Maple Leafs fan, I could easily have been a Canadiens fan, so there but for the grace of god…To use Chuck Klosterman's terminology, the Canadiens are the Leafs' nemesis, while the Sens or Bruins are the Leafs' archenemies.  This all said, it would be a step too far to suddenly don a blue-blanc-et-rouge jersey and cheer for Montreal.

The last thing I'd want to do is jump on the bandwagon for another sad-sack franchise, so that knocks out the Islanders, Sabres and (until they get a couple more good seasons under their belts) the Blue Jackets.  Somewhat controversially, I'm adding the Blues to this category as well, since while they're certainly a good team right now, what does it take with this franchise?  Something always seems to trip them up and prevent them from being an actual good team.  They looked like world-beaters for almost the entire year but then suddenly forgot how to play hockey over their last few regular-season games and were summarily dispatched by Chicago in the first round.  Tying myself to St. Louis just brings more heartache, and who needs that.

Rooting for the Devils, Rangers or Flyers usually coats one in an extra layer of obnoxiousness, so they're out. 

The Capitals and Avalanche might be the two most obvious jumping-on points for a lot of new NHL fans over the last 20 years, Colorado because of their Stanley Cups and Washington because of Ovechkin and their general success.  The Caps, however, seem a bit too stuck in the mud and might be headed for something of a rebuild.  As for the Avs, Patrick Roy automatically eliminates them from contention.

So this leaves a measly two remaining options, each with a flaw but what the hell, they're the best I've got.  The Wild are still a pretty new franchise and are called 'the Wild' but Minnesota is basically as Canadian as a U.S. state gets and I love their dark-green alternate jerseys.  As I've said before, if Minnesota and Anaheim worked out a franchise name trade and suddenly we had the Minnesota (Mighty) Ducks, I'd be completely on board.

The other option is to root for the Sharks, my (ahem) Stanley Cup pick.  There is a great argument to be made that San Jose is another long-term sad sack given their history of playoff chokes, none greater than blowing a 3-0 lead to Los Angeles this very season.  (You could also argue that they're a warm-weather U.S. team but have you ever BEEN to the bay area?  It gets mighty chilly there, even in the summer.)  My logic, however, is that this is the perfect time to jump on the Sharks bandwagon since nobody else is jumping on.  Plus, it creates one final chance for me to finally fulfill my lifelong dream of being nicknamed 'Mark The Shark.'

So there you have it.  These are my teams until the moment the Leafs finally wise up and can Randy Carlyle.  On the plus side, this may only take a few months into the 2014-15 season….given that Carlyle's assistants were all fired, you have to assume he's on a short leash.  That said, the fact that there's still a leash at all is mind-boggling, and the fact that Carlyle got a CONTRACT EXTENSION is just insane.  Brendan Shanahan is 0-for-1 thus far as the Leafs' latest hockey czar, and it doesn't fill me with confidence for the franchise's future even after Carlyle inevitably gets the boot.  By now I'm just outright expecting the worst over the coming Leafs' offseason; Gardiner, Kadri and Reimer all traded for "gritty character guy" Ontario players who will go into Clarkson mode as soon as they put on Leafs jerseys.

Go Sharks go.  Go Wild go.  Maybe at least Gardiner will end up with one of these teams.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Green Lantern's Name

Time normalizes many of the dumbest ideas, which brings me to the fact that "Green Lantern" is, objectively, a pretty stupid superhero name.  For non-comic readers, Green Lantern gets his name from the fact that he (and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps members throughout the universe) all have to charge their super-powered rings from a lantern-shaped power battery.  The rings only operate based on the wearer's willpower, but even the strongest-willed person around can't get anything out of a GL ring unless it has first been charged.  it's like how you can have the best race car driver in the world behind the wheel but it won't matter if the car doesn't have any gas.

Anyway, the "Green Lantern" name makes some sense once you know the whole backstory.  From a marketing and branding perspective, however, there are tons of flaws.  To wit...

* Who actually knows this backstory?  Pretend Green Lantern existed in real life.  One day, a green-suited superhero actually shows up and starts helping humanity.  While there would no doubt be intense speculation about the nature of his hero's powers, the general public would know that this guy could a) fly, b) have green energy all around him and c) could use that green energy to create objects and whatnot.  So, naturally, having "Green" in the name makes a lot of sense given the colour motif.  The problem I see here is that the average person would have no idea where the "Lantern" part is coming from.  Example:

Random person: Wow, thanks for rebuilding our dam and saving the town from flooding, mysterious superpowered stranger!
Green Lantern: Think nothing of it, just helping out those in need!
Person: Wow, whatever do we call you?
GL (with hands proudly on hips): The Green Lantern!
Person: ….uh, what? 
GL: That's right, the Green Lantern!  See, there's a little picture of a lantern here on my chest.  I didn't draw the logo myself but still, it's pretty cool.
Person: Wait, what does a lantern have to do with anything?  That ring you're wearing seems to be pretty clearly be your main deal, shouldn't we call you the Green Ring?  Or Ringman, possibly?
GL: Nope, it's Green Lantern all the way. 
Person: But that makes no…
GL: Look buddy, I fixed your damn dam, just go with me on this, okay?

I mean, it's possible that Hal Jordan/John Stewart/Guy Gardner/Kyle Rayner/any of the several earthlings who have held a GL ring at one time or another actually publicly explained the name and the whole power battery thing.  Except…that makes no sense either, since why would you reveal your power source like that?  Wouldn't your enemies then focus on finding this power battery and thus completely robbing you of your abilities? 

Forget "the colour yellow" being a Green Lantern's weakness, which is stupid enough in itself --- the real weakness is that a Green Lantern is a completely mortal person who is totally reliant on the power battery in order to operate.  Batman without his normal gear is only incrementally less dangerous.  Iron Man without his armour isn't much of a threat, except at least there Tony Stark himself is still a technological genius who can whip some kind of makeshift device or weapon in a pinch.  A Green Lantern without a working ring, however, is essentially useless.  Why call attention to your biggest weakness in your very name?**  Or, if the GLs just never explained their name, did the entire DC Universe collectively decide to just not ask about it since the Lanterns were being so cool about saving the world and whatnot?
  
* Who is supposed to be impressed by the name "Green Lantern"?  It isn't intimidating, like Superman or the Hulk.  It isn't descriptive, like Spider-Man or the Human Torch.  As noted, it's a name that requires a lot of explanation, which immediately makes it a non-starter in terms of striking fear into the hearts of criminals.  It doesn't even pass the bouncer nickname test.  Say you're in charge of hiring a bouncer for your nightclub and you're told that your final two candidates have nicknames.  One guy is known as 'the Punisher.'  Yikes, that sounds like a guy who can take care of business, no question.  The other guy is known as…you guessed it, 'Green Lantern.'  What, does he shine a bright light into people's eyes to try and calm them down? 

* If you're going to name yourself after your gear, why this piece of gear?  As noted earlier by some random person, "Ringman" or "Green Ring" are more sensible names for a Green Lantern.  Sure, you're again calling attention to the ring as the main source of your power, but in that case it's hard to avoid --- Green Lanterns in the comics are always pointing their rings at the bad guys to blast them with energy or what have you, though given the ring's wide scope, actually pointing your hand in the right direction seems redundant.

Naming yourself after your signature weapon is fine, in and of itself.  "Green Arrow" is a perfectly decent name for an archery-centric superhero.  "Doctor Octopus" has six mechanical arms, that checks out.  Hell, I'd argue that Aquaman would be perceived as much less of a joke to the general public if his name was actually "Trident."  But you're getting just a bit too obscure with "Green Lantern" especially when the actual lantern-shaped battery itself is rarely actually called a 'lantern.'  I haven't read a ton of GL comics over the years but of the ones I have read, the power battery is just called….the power battery.  Though it's a little abstract itself, I'd even consider that a better superhero name --- I'd be scared of a bouncer known as 'Power Battery,' wouldn't you?

If a new superhero called the Lightbulb or Captain Florescent was introduced today, we'd laugh it out of the building.  Green Lantern is just as dumb a name, but it's been grandfathered in by 70 years of history.  Green Ring forever, man. 

** = This was going to be a footnote but it ran so long that I just stuck the whole thing at the bottom of the post as a dessert course, if you will.  I've always been intrigued by the idea that comic book fans have a much wider knowledge of a character's powers than the characters themselves.  How would you properly 'scout' a friend or foe in this world?  Everyone would know that, say, Superman is hella-strong and can fly, but are lesser-known powers like the super-breath a known quantity?  Like, you're a minor hero teamed up with Supes at some point and he just busts out a freezing-cold gust of wind to stop an oncoming tidal wave or something.  You'd be like, "holy crap, where did THAT come from?"  Fans can feel this way too, as I think everyone was pretty surprised during the old Christopher Reeve movies when Superman could suddenly a) erase Lois' memories with a kiss, b) throw a giant saran-wrap S from his chest emblem and c) somehow turn back time by flying around the earth so fast that it "reverses the rotation," which even in comic-book science is an affront to the physics.

Anyway, it would seem to aid a superhero if they didn't make all their powers so publicly known in order to give them an edge in battles.  Green Lantern's odd name may actually help in this sense, provided that he never explains its origin.  Interestingly, in modern comics, the hero with the best sense of keeping secrets about himself is Batman.  I would presume that relatively few DC Universe characters actually know Batman doesn't have any powers, since he's so good about keeping up the mystique.  One of my favourite character details of the old Grant Morrison Justice League comics was that the younger heroes (Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and the Wally West Flash) were kind of intimidated by Batman, despite his being their teammate and the fact that either of them could decimate Bruce in a second if it came right down to it.  This is just more reason why Batman is the coolest.