Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Other People's Writing

* Shea Serraro of The Ringer provides a ranking of the 32 greatest Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez moments in honour of The Sandlot's 25th anniversary.  If you're ever having a discussion with friends about the greatest fictional athletes, Benny The Jet is a very solid first-round pick.

* I'm embarrassed to mention that I watched Jersey Shore for its first four seasons, but honestly, I swear, the first season was genuinely entertaining.  (I should've quit while I was ahead.)  Vulture's Molly Fitzpatrick captures the madness in an oral history of the show, and really, come on, I dare anyone to read this and not laugh at some of the pure absurdity.  From the first few paragraphs about the casting process alone, we learn that Snooki's application was smudged with bronzer, Pauly D's casting was clinched because he owned a tanning booth in his own house, and The Situation's first move upon arriving for interviews with producers was to whip off his shirt.

* Wrestlemania month brought forth quite a bit of good wrestling-related writing, including this profile of The Undertaker by The Ringer's Thomas Golianopoulos.  For a related and really weird viewing experience, I suggest checking out YouTube for footage of "Mean Mark" in his early WCW days, when he's managed by (of all people) Paul Heyman himself in his old "Paul E. Dangerously" persona.  I should note that last year, I wrote a post about Undertaker's seeming retirement, though it appears as though he'll still periodically pop up for matches now and then, albeit shorter matches as a nod to his new hip and his fiftysomething age.  Given his gimmick, perhaps it isn't surprising that Undertaker wouldn't ever officially bury his career.

* And finally, there's the highlight of this OPW, a profile of Cody Rhodes by The Ringer's Mike Piellucci that looks at Rhodes' determination to prove his potential while working on the independent wrestling circuit and outside of WWE's sphere.  Now, wrestling for NJPW (the world's second-biggest wrestling company) may be cheating a bit in terms of the "independent" idea, not to mention joining an already-established and red-hot faction in the Bullet Club.  Even still, it's a great piece about Cody, his career, his life, and his at-times-problematic amount of extra pressure on him as Dusty Rhodes' son.  It's an interesting contrast with the Undertaker profile, in fact, as an example of how major success in pro wrestling is always just one gimmick or storyline away.  Mark Calaway got an amazing character in 1990 and absolutely made the most of it all the way to WWE immortality, while Rhodes never got a full crack in the main event, perhaps to WWE's detriment.  Who knows how many huge stars fans have missed out on because of bad timing, bad luck, or Vince McMahon's whims?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Strawman Argument

More and more restaurants are now serving drinks without straws. I realize and appreciate the environmental benefits of this decision....but yeah, I'd much rather have a straw than drink directly from a glass that countless people have used in the past.

Should I start bringing my own straws to restaurants, or would that be too much of a finicky, Niles Crane-ish move? Apparently there are such things as portable, reusable glass or metal straws that people can carry around for just such an occasion. But then I'd have to take the onus on myself to properly wash and maintain said straw, not to mention withstand the public barbs that would be leveled my way literally every time I used it in public. The person or people I'd be eating with would respond with (at best) an eyeroll, and at worst, open mockery.

I fully admit that this is a silly concern of mine. Last night I was at a straw-less pub and, when I asked for a straw, the server simply brought me one. Also, it occurs to me that drinking from a heavily-used glass is no different than eating with heavily-used cutlery, though I'm not about to start bringing plastic knives and forks to restaurants. 

So, this whole post was pretty pointless. Content!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sky Full Of Song

Florence & The Machine's new album is out in June, and here's the first single.  Short review --- I like it!  It's nice and low-key.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

NBA Playoff Predictions

For the first time ever, the NBA playoffs are...up in the air?  What is usually the most predictable bracket of all now actually carries quite a bit of uncertainty this season.  A fourth straight Cleveland vs. Golden State Finals would be an upset at this point, and you can make a solid case in 6.5 of the 8 first-round matchups that the lower seed will win.  Could be one of the few (only?) times in NBA history that we'll see a bunch of crazy upsets, and a truly unexpected Finals?

* Raptors over Wizards in seven
It would take this kind of wacky season to give the Raptors a legitimate shot at winning the Eastern Conference, though as good as they've been all season, there are two strong reasons for doubt.  One is a basketball reason: Toronto's bench depth won't matter as much in a short series where the teams have plenty of rest, thus leaving matters largely in the hands of the Raps' starting five.  One is a narrative reason: are the Raptors really going to make the NBA Finals?  Really?  It's hard to get too bold about a team that has its two best players perform inconsistently (to be kind) every postseason, and all the bench depth in the world won't overcome another vanishing act from DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry.  While I fully expect the Raptors to make this series harder than it needs to be on themselves, their problems may not quite be as dire as Washington's twin issues of a) John Wall not being 100% and b) the Wiz playing better when Wall is out of action entirely since his teammates may or may not all hate him.

* Cavaliers over Pacers in seven
LeBron James has carried garbage Cavs teams to the Finals before (2007, 2015) but this would be his greatest carry job yet, given the potential strength of the rest of the East.  The Cavaliers have LeBron, Kevin Love and... *tumbleweed GIF*  They cannot play defense whatsoever, and thus if every game is going to devolve into a shootout, the Cavs are simply going to eventually be outgunned by teams who have more than three good players (LeBron counts as two guys).  Indiana, however, is not one of those teams, as they basically have Victor Oladipo's outta-nowhere superstar season and little else.  It'll go seven games since these two teams really aren't too different from each other, and with LBJ ultimately being the difference-maker since he'll be damned if he goes out in the first round. 

* Bucks over Celtics in seven
a.k.a. Giannis Antetokounmpo's coming-out party.  It is very possible that Brad Stevens can coach rings around the actual mannequin Milwaukee has on its sideline and lead his depleted team into the second round, though part of me feels that the Bucks won out by facing a Boston club at its lowest ebb.  This is the series that Giannis cements himself as a top-10 player in the league.
 
* 76ers over Heat in six
The Sixers' transformation from doormat into Finals contender in just one season has been stunning, and I probably don't need to remind you that we've already seen one Philadelphia team go from mediocre to champion in this very year.  Miami is a well-coached, veteran team that will definitely give the Philly youngbloods some wakeup calls, but I think the 76ers simply have too much talent.

* Rockets over Timberwolves in five
There really isn't much difference between the Rockets and Raptors in a narrative sense, with the exception being that Houston was just so dominant in the regular season that people have made them the prohibitive favourite despite some bad karma.  Forget about DeRozan and Lowry....James Harden, Chris Paul, and Mike D'Antoni have a long history of postseason failures on their resume.  It won't hurt them in the first round since Minnesota is clearly overmatched, except I can see the Rockets losing one game in goofy fashion to let the whispers continue into round 2.  Frankly, the "will they choke?" narrative will only go away if they beat the Warriors and/or win the title.

* Thunder over Jazz in seven
Man, I'm picking a lot of these series to go the limit.  Here's another close one, based solely on the fact that the great Donovan Mitchell may still be a bit young to carry a team by himself.  There's too much veteran talent on the other side between Paul George and Mr. Triple-Double.
 
* Warriors over Spurs in six
Wait, "and/or"?  Is there really a chance the long-assumed Golden State/Houston West finals doesn't happen?  It'd still be surprising if it didn't, but the Warriors looked way better going into the last three postseasons than they do here.  Steph Curry is out until the second round, and even then, may not be 100 percent when he does return.  Draymond Green has looked a step off all season.  Golden State's bench depth is non-existent, so if another injury hits, they could be screwed.  These are all some legitimate question marks for a team that has been treating the regular season like a dress rehearsal, and it's rare to just completely flip the switch in such a fashion for the playoffs.  I'm giving San Antonio two games here out of sheer respect for Gregg Popovich, even though the Spurs are still very much the inferior roster.  This has been a rough year for us Kawhi Leonard fans, as Kawhi seems to have taken his "Phantom" nickname seriously.  I have to believe that Leonard won't be a Spur for much longer given the apparent gulf between he and the franchise, so it truly becomes a shame that we'll never see a proper full-strength Spurs vs. full-strength Warriors playoff matchup during Golden State's dynasty era.

* Pelicans over Trail Blazers in seven
After playing up how unpredictable these playoffs could be, I've only picked one upset so far, and Bucks-over-Celtics isn't really an upset given Boston's sudden lack of Kyrie Irving.  So I'll break the chalk and predict another playoff coming-out party, this time for Anthony Davis.  The Pelicans responded to the loss of Boogie Cousins in two fashions.  Firstly, they just kept an incredible pace to their offense and tried to simply run other teams into the ground, which is probably what just about any undermanned team should do.  Secondly, Davis went supernova and single-handedly kept this team afloat.  After years as a bit of a forgotten man in New Orleans, you have to wonder if Davis is a little annoyed at all the hype given to other "next LeBron" stars and is eager to not let this rare playoff appearance go to waste.  This series is a coin flip, but sorry Portland.


* Cavaliers over Raptors in six
* 76ers over Bucks in six
* Rockets over Thunder in seven
* Warriors over Pelicans in six

* 76ers over Cavaliers in seven
* Warriors over Rockets in seven

NBA Finals: Psych!  Golden State wins it again, beating the upstart Sixers in (appropriately) six games.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Superstition Street

It was on this day 45 years ago that Stevie Wonder appeared on an episode of "Sesame Street" and tore. It. Up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Stanley Cup Predictions

* Nashville over Colorado in five
It might seem weird to spend most of this paragraph talking about an unrelated team, but whatever, this series is an easy call.  And, between the Roy and Subban trades, a Nashville vs. Colorado is a perfect place to discuss/laugh at the ongoing trainwreck that is the Montreal Canadiens.  It blows my mind that they're apparently sticking with Bergevin and Julien, and not giving this team the total housecleaning it so desperately needs.  In the last three seasons, the Habs have twice missed the playoffs and been a first-round knockout the one year they did make it --- can you imagine a Canadiens franchise ever standing for this kind of mediocrity?  It blows my mind.

* Winnipeg over Minnesota in seven
Great underrated regional rivalry here, as Minneapolis is the closest NHL city to Winnipeg.  I'm still not entirely sold on the Jets as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.  They seem like the typical "one year away" sort of team that has a big season to announce itself on the scene, but is still missing a piece or two.  I may be underrating the Jets or overrating the Wild in predicting a seven-gamer here, but I think it'll be tight.

* Anaheim over San Jose in six
The Ducks were my preseason Stanley Cup pick, so I might as well at least take them to get out of the first round, especially when they're facing such notable chokers as the Sharks.  Prescient as always, let's note that my predictions included the Rangers as Anaheim's finals opponent, plus the likes of the Oilers, Blackhawks, Stars, Canadiens, and Panthers all making the playoffs.  Smooth Jimmy Apollo's got nothing on me!

* (Las) Vegas over Los Angeles in seven
Conventional wisdom said that the Golden Knights would be the usual terrible expansion team, and then conventional wisdom said that they wouldn't keep up their hot start, or that they'd make the playoffs, or win the division.  And now, the same pundits are making the Kings a popular upset pick for the first round.  To this I say, oh ye of little faith!  I'm sorry, what makes L.A. particularly impressive?  Their 50 years of NHL experience over Vegas won't make a lick of difference since I just think the Knights are better.

* Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in six
The Eagles' Super Bowl and the 76ers' potential status as Finals contenders gives me some pause that we're living through a Philly sports renaissance, but on paper, this isn't a tough matchup for the Penguins.  I don't want to say that the defending champs caught a break but....well, they totally caught a break.  The Flyers aren't bringing much to the table here aside from an interstate hatred.

* Washington over Columbus in six
This one could be tricky, as it's not out of the realm of possibility that Sergei Bobrovsky stands on his head to steal a series.  If there's any team the Blue Jackets could upset, it's definitely the notoriously choke-loving Capitals.  I'll go chalk here since I'm a chicken with basically all of these predictions, but this one gives me some significant pause.

* Tampa Bay over New Jersey in five
Easy series here for the Lightning, so I'll take the space to rant about the NHL's stupid playoff structure.  There is some major lopsidedness going on when you arrange the bracket by divisions.  Going by point totals, the East is 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. t3, 5 vs. 6, and t3 vs. 7.  This is certainly not fair to the Bruins and Maple Leafs, and it really isn't even fair for the Lightning, to have to face one of these titans in the second round instead of in the Eastern final.  The sooner the NHL decides to re-adopt the old playoff format the better.

* Toronto over Boston in six
Yes, the Leafs have more or less owned the Bruins in recent games.  Yes, 2013 was a long time ago and the Leafs roster is almost entirely different.  Yes, the Leafs have essentially had three months to prepare for either the Bruins or Lightning, since the stupid playoff structure made the Atlantic's seeding a foregone conclusion weeks ago (aside from that brief spell when it looked like Toronto might still steal first overall).  But man, this is a nervous matchup for Maple Leafs fans simply based on all the history between these two teams.  The Leafs have been so good, and so promising this season, and to have them dropped in the first round again, and to the Bruins of all teams, would be seen as a real disappointment.  Even I'd be let down, and I still think Toronto is also in the "still a year away" department. 

Still, this was my preferred matchup of the two Atlantic powers.  I have little confidence that the Leafs can beat Tampa, but I can definitely see them topping Boston.  In my head, the Leafs got their playoff jitters out of the way last year and are now ready to make some noise in the second round.  Go Leafs go!


* Nashville over Winnipeg in seven
* Anaheim over Vegas in six
* Pittsburgh over Washington in six
* Tampa Bay over Toronto in six (sigh)

* Nashville over Anaheim in six
* Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh in seven

Stanley Cup Finals: In the battle of warm-weather hockey markets, I'll pick the Predators to get over the hump and top the Lightning in seven games.  Nashville vs. Tampa Bay was actually my preseason pick for the 2016-17 Finals, so maybe I was just a year early.  Rangers fans are desperately hoping this pattern repeats itself next season.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Will & Joel Vs. Art

Art the concept, not, like, Art Garfunkel.

I love that there is literally no difference between spoofs of abstract act that you might see on, with a nod to Will Ferrell, SNL or something to make fun of the bizarre concepts, and actual abstract art.  I mean, the Hammer Museum spent real money, time, and energy putting this exhibit together, and it is completely bonkers nonsense.

Perhaps the greatest bit of artistic merit on display here is Will Ferrell's sense of humour, as he even made Joel McHale legitimately crack up.  It's hard to get someone with McHale's practiced sense of being too cool for school to break that persona, but Ferrell does it multiple times.  The GOAT!
 

Monday, April 02, 2018

Out On The Simpsons


It all started with a schedule error.  I thought that The Simpsons was returning from Christmas hiatus on January 14 rather than January 7, and so I didn’t even realize I’d missed the 1/7/18 airing until glancing at a Wikipedia list of Simpsons episodes.  The description (Lisa meets a kid voiced by Ed Sheeran that I’m guessing essentially is Ed Sheeran) didn’t fill me with anticipation, so I put it on the back-burner.

The actual January 14th episode featured Professor Frink coming up with a Doomsday Ark to save Springfield from an unspecified future apocalypse.  The idea stems from Mr. Burns getting spooked by an old Orson Welles documentary, which gives frequent voice guest Maurice LaMarche the opportunity to once again bust out his Welles impression, and I once again pause to marvel at the long careers of the top voice actors and how much LaMarche has been able to work due to his Welles impression alon.  He was the voice of The Brain, for god’s sakes!

LaMarche aside, I found my attention during the episode….wandering.  As I recall, I had some work to do that evening and decided about halfway through the ep that I really needed to stop procrastinating.

And that was it for me and the Simpsons.  After over 25 years of faithfully watching every single episode, I’m tapping out.  (Not to be confused with The Simpsons: Tapped Out.)  I did threaten to walk back when it looked like Harry Shearer might be quitting the voice cast, though rather than another kind of “big event” reason to give up, it just wound up being simple apathy.  Now a half-dozen episodes have passed and it’ll be harder and harder to catch up, and Homer-esque ennui is setting in, knowing that I’ll never catch up.

Obligatory “the Simpsons is still funny” comment here, and the also-obligatory “it’s not as good as it was in the golden age of seasons 3-11, but even still” follow-up.  The issue isn’t a lack of laughs, however.  In a perhaps even more damnable indictment than simply not being funny anymore, it’s been a while since I’ve found Simpsons episodes to be memorable.  I can’t remember the last time I recommended that someone watch a previous week’s Simpsons episode because it was a true classic.  Honestly, maybe as much as the last 10 seasons have gone by in more or less a blur.  Watching The Simpsons became just a thing to do, a routine, occasionally a chore, rather than a program I was anxious to watch on any given Sunday night or Monday morning.

I realize that I’m one of the few who actually stuck with the show all these years.  Literally all of my friends moved on from the new episodes ages ago, and my recent decision has led to a universal response of “wait, you were STILL watching every week?!”  It’s Simpsons, man!  It’s the show that has made an incalculable influence on my personality, sense of humour, and view of the world.  Part of me deep down hoped that the show would have a (very) late-career renaissance, and return to its A+ form once more, though that may be an unrealistic ask.  I feel like reinventing the show too much in an effort to make it “better” would really make the show worse in the big picture, since then it wouldn’t be The Simpsons anymore.  There truly is no single greatest victim of its success in TV history than this show, as an astounding 18 YEARS have elapsed since the peak, and even then, you’ll definitely get some criticism from the fanbase about when specifically the Simpsons jumped the shark.*

* = my vote is Season 11, which is uneven in the first half of the season and also includes the first legitimate run of bad episodes in Simpsons history.  Everything from Saddlesore Galactica through Pygmoelian (four episodes) ranges from weak to terrible.  The 10th season is probably the real instance where you started to see weak episodes pop up, but S11 was the first time legit “this episode stinks” comments started to be made.

So I’m checking out on The Simpsons and now just gained an extra 21 minutes of my life every week.  Needless to say, I will be back for the last few episodes whenever the show finally does decide to end its run….so I might not ever watch again, since the Simpsons will outlive us all.  Forget Professor Frink, the program itself is the real Doomsday Ark.