Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!

It's never officially Halloween until I hear this on the radio, so I was tickled pink when I finally heard it this afternoon.  Probably would've heard it sooner if, y'know, I actually listened to the radio more often, but WHATEVER

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Mark Vs. Grouse

Let's face it, fellow humans --- birds are slowly turning against us. Were it not for the decorative birdhouses we've built to appease them, they might well have begun the full-fledged assault already.

I myself have particular, painful, knowledge of just how vicious our avian adversaries can be. My grade school sat at the bottom of a hill behind my house, and thus every morning I'd set out down the hill to get to class. The hill itself was rather rough, covered in grass and bushes and whatnot, but there was one clear path that ran along a small trench that went almost directly from my backyard gate to the schoolyard below.

One catch: the trench was also an ideal nesting place. Almost every day I walked down that hill, I was accosted by a grouse that leapt up to squawk at me for getting too close to its babies. I'm pretty certain that it wasn't just one bird, either, that was just stalking me Jaws-style. The attacks came at various points along the path, so I'm guessing it was a whole mess of grouses (greese?) that were happily living there like it was their own personal Sesame Street, only to occasionally rise up against the big galoot of a 12-year-old that invaded their personal space twice a day. The hell of it was, while I could count on an attack coming on a more-or-less daily basis, I never knew where specifically the grouse would pounce. Though it was a group of birds, I simply referred to my nemesis as "The Grouse" since for some reason I was never attacked twice in any one given trip up or down the hill. It was almost like the birds were sitting in a group drawing straws, and on Tuesday it would be, say, Squawky's turn, he'd jump out at me, and then Squawky would go back to the gang and accept some high-fives and backslaps.

You might ask, of course, why didn't I take a different path down the hill? As I said, it was a rough hill. And there was a path RIGHT THERE. It was a matter of principle. I could've also taken the long way around my block and walked down to the school down the concrete steps, but that would've taken an extra 10 minutes, and it was a journey I rarely took unless it was raining (since a grouse attack on a muddy hill is potentially disastrous) or I was walking home with someone. And, I refer to my earlier's a matter of principle. Here I was, blessed with a school literally in my backyard and I wasn't going to throw away that perk of a short commute just over a few pesky grouses.

And my principles stood strong, since I eventually won that battle. By the eighth grade, the birds stopped attacking. The real reason for this cease-fire was probably due to, I dunno, the increased development in the area, so the birds took off. But if you talk to my mother, it's because one day, she saw a hawk circling around in the sky and taking periodic dives towards the hill. So my mum grabs a broom, goes outside, and starts waving the broom in the air in an attempt to scare off the hawk and 'save' the grouse's nests. Since this event coincided with the start of my eighth grade year and the end of the attacks, she claims that by chasing off the hawk, The Grouse (using their Borg-like hive mind) appreciated the gesture and let me pass by as a sign of respect towards our family.

Problems abound with this theory. It is 100 percent more likely that the hawk was diving at a squirrel or rabbit, rather than a grouse nest. Also, I'm pretty sure the grouses didn't get another in a town hall-meeting format and announce that now the Broom Lady's son was to be given free passageway through their territory. A grouse can't hold a gavel, so how would they know when to stop and start the meeting, anyway?

But, since the attacks stopped, my mother's native creation myth persists to this day. Hey, what the hell, maybe that was the reason, for all I know about a bird's mind operates. All I know is that I was able to confidently stroll up and down that hill like a regular Fast Happy Cat without worrying that at any moment, a squawking pile of feathers was going to appear as if from nowhere.

All of life's problems can be solved by a middle-aged woman with a broom.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Song Of The "Year"

Does it count as my favourite song of 2018 if I didn't hear it until this year, even though the track is actually 13 years old?  Since damn, the Cardigans (of all bands) made a real rock gem here.  It's even good enough to overcome my inherent bias against songs with overly long and too-cutesy titles.  On the plus side, at least there wasn't a bracket involved.  If the title was "Bad Dog (I Need Some Fine Wine, And You, You Need To Be Nicer)," I wouldn't have even clicked on the link.

Friday, October 26, 2018

American Canceled

So after naming “American Vandal” as my best show of 2018, I’m now having to write a post about how it’s been canceled?  What the hell, Netflix?!  Between this and Luke Cage getting the axe after its* best season, it’s like they’re trying to trying to punch me in the stomach.

* = I originally wrote “his,” as if Luke Cage was an actual person responsible writing and directing a show about himself.  Actually, a more comedic, Garry Shandling-ish semi-mockumentary about a Marvel hero would be a great idea.  Launch this for Wonder Man, please!

Now, I’m pretty sure American Vandal will catch on with another network, since the positive buzz is just too big to ignore.  Netflix canceling the show in the first place is troubling, however, since it would imply that this instant masterpiece didn’t catch onto a particularly big audience.  I guess there could be some behind-the-scenes studio reasoning behind the decision (i.e. why Luke Cage and Iron Fist were canceled), though the Occam’s Razor answer is probably that American Vandal didn’t draw enough eyeballs.

How depressing.  American Vandal is such a blast on so many levels that it is legitimately one of the best shows I think I’ve ever seen, though two seasons.  All at once, it is…

— a pitch-perfect spoof of criminal documentaries.  Much has been made of the legendary scene in the first season when they do a computer-animated re-enactment of an alleged handjob, and with good cause.  I think that scene was in the second or third episode, and it is almost universally hailed as the moment when everyone realized they were watching something special.  (Uh, the show, not the CGI handie.)
— a legitimately engrossing mystery unto itself.  It’s the kind of show where, after the second-last episode of the second season, I took a ten-minute break to try and figure everything out.  This may have involved taking some actual notes.  Needless to say, my wild guess ended up being so completely off-target that it frankly ruined my dream of ever becoming a Sherlock Holmes-style detective on retainer at Scotland Yard.  American Vandal’s mysteries are so wonderfully revealed in a way that doesn’t cheat the viewer whatsoever, and make total sense with everything we’ve seen beforehand.  I should also note that, technically, the first season doesn’t *officially* provide the solution to the mystery, though I think we can infer that the theory presented is true.  I won’t say anything else since I wouldn’t dream of spoiling any details.
— an insightful look into modern teenage culture, particularly in how social media and the internet impact literally everything kids do nowadays.  It would be one thing if the show was just a total spoof, and that would make it great enough simply on that level alone.  But the added tragic tinge that underpins these stories really elevates things to a fabulous degree. 
— one of the funniest shows on television.

It does all four of these things with incredible aplomb.  The level of detail that goes into this show is amazing; virtually any freeze-frame of any Twitter feed or TV screen used in a scene reveals lots of hidden jokes. 

“Premature Theories” (the fifth episode of S1) is one of my single-favourite TV episodes in a long time, and a great example of American Vandal firing on every level.  The episode features Sam and Peter breaking down the events of a big high school party using collected video and images from various social media feeds, and it is completely fascinating from start to finish.  The result is a dozen little details, some hilarious character beats, some clues about the mystery (or, both the main case and a few other side mysteries that crop up along the way), and an absolutely brilliant way to portray a modern detective show.  This isn’t Sherlock going to his mind palace, or the CSI team finding some obscure clue via forensic analysis — these are details all publicly shared by the “suspects” and it’s up to the clever amateur investigators (Peter and Sam in the narrative, but really all of us watching at home) to piece everything together.

This show absolutely absolutely needs to find a new home, and hopefully some network or streaming outlet will step up to provide the third season that any fan of quality television needs.

Monday, October 22, 2018

TV Show Rankings, 2017-18

I'm foregoing my usual "Alterna-Emmys" format since I no longer feasibly watch enough TV to properly weigh in the world of television.  Even though this is a list of 33 (!) shows from the last 12-13 months, that's still a drop in the bucket compared to the sheer amount of quality programming available on myriad networks, cable outlets, and streaming services.

I probably don't even watch enough to properly split comedy/drama categories anymore, though given the number of "dramedies" out there, I'd almost argue that these divisions are becoming increasingly meaningless.  Let's go with just one sole acting category for all genres, leading to...

BEST ACTOR: Bill Hader/Barry (a fantastic role for Hader, who is one of the all-time SNL greats but I didn't know he had this kind of range in him)
BEST ACTRESS: Betty Gilpin/GLOW (I realize that Alison Brie is "officially" the lead, but two seasons in, I think the narrative has definitely evolved into a co-lead situation)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Melvin Gregg/American Vandal (close call over Henry Winkler, Tituss Burgess, and the Good Place guys in this one)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alfre Woodard/Luke Cage (the classic Marvel series trope of relying on a great villain to carry the heavy lifting acting-wise.  Alia Shawkat gets honourable mention as perhaps the only highlight of Arrested Development's truncated, and maybe ill-advised, fifth season)

With the hardware handed out, let's go to the power rankings!  These are only the most recent seasons of shows, unless cited otherwise.

33. Ghosted (note: I gave this one two episodes before quitting)
32. Family Guy
31. Easy
30. Modern Family
29. Survivor: Ghost Island
28. Saturday Night Live
27. Arrested Development
26. Curb Your Enthusiasm
25. Letterkenny
24. Fallet
23. Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers
22. The Simpsons
21. Agents of SHIELD
20. The Apprentice UK 13
19. Amazing Race 30
18. Jessica Jones
17. Brockmire
16. The Good Place
15. New Girl
14. Black Mirror
13. Eight Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown
12. The Punisher
11. The Americans
10. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
8. Orange Is The New Black
7. Luke Cage
6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
5. Stranger Things
4. Nathan For You
3. Barry
1. American Vandal

Friday, October 19, 2018

Hot! Live(ish)! Music!

Flight Of The Conchords, "I've Got Hurt Feelings"
I'm very pleased that FOTC is back, touring and making a new album.  If I ever get around to making a "Best Short-Lived TV Shows" list (ooh, what an idea), then their two-season HBO program is definitely in the running for the top spot.  I'm glad Nigel's feelings weren't hurt too badly here.

R.E.M., "Fall On Me"
I have a strange criticism about "R U Talkin' R.E.M. Re: Me?", which was the Scott Aukerman/Adam Scott podcast created as the follow-up to R U Talkin' U2 To Me?"  For the original, the Scotts seemed to be at the same rough level of U2 fandom, whereas with this one, Adam is SUPER into R.E.M., while Aukerman seemed unfamiliar with big chunks of their discography.  It made for kind of a weird listening experience, as Aukerman didn't have many deep feelings after listening to this material for (what in many cases was) the first time, whereas Adam basically uniformly thought it was all awesome.  I expect these podcasts to have heavy on the nonsense comedy, whereas R.E.M. Re: Me sounded way too much like an actual music podcast at times.  It probably also didn't help that U2 is my favourite band and I'm only somewhat into R.E.M., so my frame of reference was a lot smaller.  Anyway, here's a great R.E.M. tune.

Margo Timmins, "If I Should Fall Behind"
Okay, so, not exactly hot LIVE music here, but still, such a pretty cover.  I stand by my assessment that this is a top-10 Springsteen track.  Margo Timmins (and/or Cowboy Junkies as a whole) is one of the better bands who can deliver amazing covers despite having somewhat middling original material.  Man, talk about damning with faint praise.

Willie Nelson, "The Scientist"
Another non-live song, and fine, I'm breaking my own rules twice over.  People, do I regret calling this series Hot LIVE Music years ago and not just something like Hot GREAT Music, thus unnecessarily boxing myself in?  I do!  Why must I live within this box of regret?!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Great Moments In Pun History

Some years ago, I was flying back from Seattle with my buddy Trev when our United Airlines plane encountered a slight delay.  We had a stopover in Chicago and, upon landing at O'Haire, we couldn't actually leave the plane for about 20 minutes since the plane couldn't find an open gate.  My guess is that a herd of cattle probably wandered onto the tarmac and got in the way, that makes sense.  (Cows are always causing havoc in Chicago.)

Anyway, this apparently wasn't the first time that Trevor has been held up by United.  He proceeded to tell me about how a delay on another recent trip had prevented him from making his connecting flight, which also led to him losing his luggage.  All of these problems were met by the United staff with a veritable shrug, though it seemed like the connecting flight could've been asked to hold on for the (several) passengers waiting to get onboard.  Not like any other flights were leaving for London, Ontario that day, that's for sure.

The upshot was that Trevor was bemoaning the fact that United was screwing him again, and noted "there was precedent."  To which I replied…

"I guess you could say it was the Precedent of the United Lates."

Trevor just responded with a slight eyeroll.  COME ON.  This was some first-class punnery right here.  I had half a mind to call the Wordplay Hall Of Fame.  I mean, man, that's some great on-the-spot improv, and really, it even had a secondary meaning.  After all, we were in Chicago, and the actual President of the United States at the time was from Chicago!  Hidden depths!  This pun had more layers than an Arrested Development season (one of the good ones).

Since I demand adulation for such a great pun, I'm re-telling the story here.  Don't sit on your hands like Trevor, a.k.a. No Reaction McGee.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Toronto's Worst (Stretch Of) Street

I had to specify "stretch" since it isn't fair to condemn all of Harbour Street for the sins of basically just one block.  But Harbour between Lower Simcoe and York has been a nightmare for months now, all due to a perfect storm of construction choices.

First off, a new condo is being built on the tiny sliver of land at York and Harbour.  If you're scratching your head and wondering why anyone would bother with such a tight squeeze of a building, this is Toronto --- if there's a spare square foot of space available, someone will have designs on it.  So this has led to lane closures on both Harbour and Lakeshore, which is just a super idea for two of the city's consistently busiest roads.

Secondly, and perhaps most pressingly, the York Street off-ramp at the Gardiner was demolished a few months back, and replaced just a smoothed-out ramp that takes drivers straight onto Harbour, rather than having them bend around down to York to go north (or turn right onto Harbour or Lakeshore).  A good idea in theory, though the rest for that bendy ramp was to help keep the Gardiner's traffic separate from the usual Harbour traffic to prevent some ungodly merge.

Well, guess there's an ungodly merge.  You have the two-lane Gardiner ramp meeting up with the two lands on Harbour, except it's actually just one lane on Harbour, since the far lane (normally the left-hand turn lane) is sealed off by construction.  So now you have a makeshift left-hand turn lane that is virtually always backed up to Simcoe and beyond, plus two lanes' worth of highway traffic joining the fray.  Of those highway folks, at least several are planning to turn left, so they leave their ramp and immediately try to cut over to the turn lane and butt into the line, leaving the people on the one normal Harbour lane having to try and negotiate into one of the Gardiner's ramp lanes (assuming those lanes are clear due to people trying to get into the left lane).  Compound this with the fact that York Street's lights at the Harbour corner and the Lakeshore corner are set so that seemingly only a few cars at a time can actually make the turn, and it leads to a real kerfuffle.  That's right, a kerfuffle!  Pardon such extreme language.

Adding to the problem is that cars driving along Harbour are no longer allowed to turn right onto Lower Simcoe, as I'd imagine many people did to avoid that snarl.  Turning left form Lower Simcoe onto Queens Quay is something of a nightmare unto itself, given the people consistently clogging those lanes to turn into a parking garage, heavy pedestrian flow going down to the Power Plant and other lake shore attractions, and a very brief traffic light.  So you're basically just going from one mess to another, though at least on Lower Simcoe, you don't have to worry about some jackass from the highway trying to cut across three lanes just to wait to turn left.

FRUSTRATION~!  This condo can't be finished quickly enough.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

NBA Predictions

Theoretically, I should wait until (or if?) Jimmy Butler is traded before I make my picks, since his presence could certainly have some impact on the order.  But, let's be real, it won't make any impact on the NBA Finals.

EAST: Celtics, Raptors, Bucks, 76ers, Pacers, Heat, Wizards, Hornets
WEST: Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, Lakers, Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Spurs

Obligatory "the West is streets ahead of the East" comment.  I'm omitting the Nuggets (just barely) and Timberwolves (since I'm assuming Butler will eventually be dealt) from the Western bracket, though both teams would be fifth seeds at the worst in the East.  Am I really picking the Charlotte freaking Hornets to make the postseason?  Egads.

EAST FINALS: Celtics over Raptors
WEST FINALS: Warriors over Thunder

NBA FINALS: Golden State over Boston, six games
After four years of facing the Cavaliers, the Warriors at least get a new opponent, but the dynasty continues.

Thursday, October 04, 2018


It was on this day in 1989 that Secretariat, the greatest racehorse of all time, passed away at the age of 19.  Secretariat was the Triple Crown champion in 1973, winning all three races by increasingly incredible (and hilarious) lengths.  You could make a sandwich in the time it takes the next horse to cross the finish line at the Belmont Stakes after Secretariat won the race.

In honour of this magnificent creature, I have just one question...WHO'S THAT AT THE DOOR?!?!