Monday, March 30, 2009

Panther football

-- Dillon Panthers

It's been a rough week for your trusted blogger, so I come here to delve into one of my favorite topics.
Scripted television, of course.

The best show on television right now is a show not very many people watch. The best show on TV right now is not 24. It is not Lost. It is not Mad Men.

It is Friday Night Lights. This little football-show-that could is having the best season of any program I'm watching right now.

There's already been a book and a big movie about this. High school football in Texas can almost be called a cliched topic, like cop shows set in New York City or medical shows with beautiful young doctors. Trust me when I say that Friday Night Light does not deal in cliche. It deals entirely in authenticity.

That's the one word that always crosses my mind when watching this show. The characters, the situations, the dialogue, the camera work ... all bleed authenticity. The audience is being plopped into the middle of a small Texas town where football is king and the lovable teenagers just try to get by. They're not watching some shiney Hollywood re-enactment. It feels like a documentary. It feels very real.
Start with the relationship that centers the show, that between Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami. They argue and bicker quite often but their chemistry is perfect. They act like a true, committed married couple. Sometimes when I watch The Office I forget that Jim and Pam are engaged. Not with this show. Their love for each other is impossible to miss and resonates in every scene, in subtle and not so subtle ways.

From there, go right down the cast list. Where there's a big stereotype trap, FNL hops right over it or veers to the side on the strength of soild writing and gifted actors. Take Tim Riggins, your typical hunky, tortured football player. On any other show, he'd be eye candy for the young ladies and nothing more than a beer-swilling, future gas-pumper to everyone else. In this show, he's a well-meaning, fun-loving yet very confused and unfocused kid who needs guidance.

Then there's Smash Williams, who would be a tired, trash-talking, brash star running back based on Booby Miles in the book. In the show, Smash is the man of the family, very smart, determined and impossible to root against. He doesn't come off as unbearably cocky, just infectiously confident.

Admittedly, some of the plot points reek of an After School Special, from the birds and bees talk with the rebelling teenage daughter to steroid use. But again, they avoid the trap because the acting and writing are relentlessly authentic and captivating. There have been several scenes that have turned me into a puddle. Yes, cynical, unsentimental me. Many of them involve Jason Street, the former star quarterback paralyzed in a terrible accident on the field who spends the rest of the show trying to cope with his new situation and establish a new identity.

It's very, very, very tough to make me emotional watching a show or movie. Friday Night Lights has succeeded in double digits (I've lost count). The goal of any form of scripted entertainment is to make the audience feel invested in the lives of the characters. That's where horror movies fail for me. I can't care about meaningless stereotypes that are getting slashed to death. Friday Night Lights succeeds in making you like every character.

Yes, I said it. EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER. How many shows can say that?

So I know all seven of you probably don't watch the show. It's on Friday nights, though that's not an excuse. I work Friday nights and watch it on Hulu over the weekend. I think you should watch. It has football. It has good looking people for both genders. It has a Tyler Hansbrough look-alike at QB right now. And it's damn good and deserves a bigger audience.

So if you ever find yourself bored, catch up on this show and come back and thank me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

One of The 25

I have no problem with Curt Schilling, who retired yesterday. Sure, he never met a camera he didn't want to stalk. Sure, he never missed an opportunity to share his opinion on anything. And yes, he even campaigned for George Bush the day after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004.

Still, I'm a fan. On Thanksgiving in 2003, the Sox visited Schilling and worked out a deal to get him to Boston with the express purpose of breaking the 86-year title draught. Schilling embraced the pressure and proceeded to have a Cy Young worthy season. His postseason exploits have been well chronicled.
Nibble at his flaws. He was the guy who promised to bring a title to Boston and made sure it happened. They don't win it without him. He was the best pitcher on that team from Opening Day until October 27th, 2004.

He was one of The 25. And for that, he has my eternal gratitude. It's that simple for me. Focus on the off-the-field stuff all you want, but on the field, he was a stud and he played a huge role in one of the greatest championship runs in American sports history.

Now on to the Hall of Fame debate. Curt Schilling was 216-146, good enough to be 80th on the all-time wins list. He's 15th on the all-time strikeouts list with 3,116. His career ERA is 3.46. But it's the postseason where he made his true mark -- 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA. That record is the best in the history of baseball with at least 10 decisions. You can make the case that he's the best postseason pitcher of all time.

The low win total will hurt him, because of course he should have stuck around an extra five years so he could scrape up 10 wins for the Rays or Mariners. That would please the Hall voters who will compare Schilling's career to pitchers who didn't have to face juiced up players, juiced up baseballs and small ball parks. He also made some enemies with the baseball media, the same media who will hold his Cooperstown fortunes in their hands.

This is the same group of voters who won't vote 100 percent for Ricky Henderson, Ted Williams, etc for the Hall of Fame. These voters, the "guardians of the game," are some of the dimmest, most self-important pricks you can find outside an RNC meeting. For me, deciding whether a player deserves enshrinement comes to one question.

Was he one of the best at his position during his era?

An unequivocal "yes."

And don't talk to me about wins, which a pitcher doesn't have all that much control over. He pitched for crappy Phillies teams for years, teams that blew his leads and didn't give him any runs. And don't talk to me about other pitchers with similar resumes who aren't in. Different players from different eras, and mistakes from the past shouldn't mean we have to keep making the same mistakes in the future.

And in an age when we decry boring athletes with nothing to say, Curt Schilling was at the very least interesting. There were plenty of times where I wished he'd shut up, but then again, do we want all athletes to talk like Tom Brady, Derek Jeter or Tiger Woods? Wouldn't that be boring?

If he doesn't make the Hall, I won't jump off a building. I'll still remember him as the guy who came to town with the weight of 86 years of incompetence and heart break, said he'd bring that to an end and followed through. I'll remember his first start in a Red Sox uniform, against the Orioles following a crap start from Pedro Martinez. He toyed with them that day. I'll remember, of course, the bloody sock game. I'll remember the moment when, in the locker room after winning the World Series, he gave a toast: "To the greatest Red Sox team ever assembled!" It always, without fail, gives me goosebumps when I see it. And I'll remember the second World Series he helped bring to Boston, just for kicks.

Mostly, I'll remember always feeling secure when he took the mound. You knew you'd get an anti-Matt Clement performance. He was fun to watch. He didn't walk guys. He was smart on the mound and gave you everything he had.

And -- just to remind you -- he was one of The 25.

A huge part of The 25.

End of discussion.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Steven J. Suarez vs.9-to-5'ers

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,

Take a look at the 9-to-5 people. Just look at them.

Don't you wanna punch them in the mouth?

They refuse to wear jeans and 10-year-old sports t-shirts to work. They leave snippy little messages, like "Thank God it's Friday!" or "My weekend is gonna be so rad, yo!!" Well, what about the people who BEGIN their work week on Friday? What about the people whose weekend is Monday and Tuesday? What about them?

Do these people have a voice in our society? Do they have a champion?

Ladies and gentlemen, let's look at the plaintiff in this case, one Steven J. Suarez. He begins his work week at 7 p.m. on Friday. Then he'll work from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday. A weekend of girls, booze and heroin already a distant dream, Mr. Suarez chugs into work at 2 p.m. on Sunday, then the same on Monday. Finally, on Tuesday, the light shines at the end of the tunnel.

But no one cares.

Free tickets to big games will be raffled on Friday afternoons. All the "normals" will join up and go to Happy Hour at a local bar, where they will eat cupcakes from between a waitress' breasts. They will attend dances and functions on Saturday nights. They will have a beer and watch football on Sundays.

I shan't ask you to blame these people. They only take advantage of their situation. But when some people walk into said place of employment at 6 p.m. and ask "Why are you guys still here?" then all the power of our legal system should be utilized.

When a well-dressed employee looks askance at Mr. Suarez in his jeans and t-shirt as he prepares for the graveyard shift on Friday, that employee should be jailed. Mr. Suarez could very leave work on Saturday morning as the sun comes up, which has happened numerous times. So fuck off about his clothes, OK?

Sorry for the language, ladies and gentleman of the jury, but this is a grave topic, a topic far too often ignored.

When a crankypants 9-to-5'er turns up his nose at the off-color jokes that may or may not be told at 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I ask for the death penalty. The graveyarders can't go to the birthday parties, the July 4th barbecues, the concerts or even their own co-workers' weddings. But 9-to-5'ers have the temerity to criticize what goes on at work while they're passed out in some seedy backward alley awash in a array of bodily fluids? Really? Really???

While you sleep, they work. They provide the blanket of freedom the 9-to-5'ers enjoy and then these 9-to5'ers question the manner in which they provide it! I'd just assume they go on their way - to their box socials, book clubs and American Idol voting - and say "Thank you."

Either way, we don't give a damn what they think is appropriate!*

My colleague for the defense, Scumsack Dribblebottom, will say we choose this line of work. We make our own bed. And I grant him that, to some extent. It's part of the job. Mr. Suarez has known that for a long time. What Mr. Suarez detests is the pomposity, the obliviousness and the hypocrisy. He's angry, my friends. He's an angry, bitter old man. But he's right. He's sick of being an outcast -an other - because he does the dirty work.

If he's going to be robbed of any opportunity to engage in indiscriminate drug use in bars that are much too cool for him, then, by golly, someone's gotta go down with him.

I think the snooty Joe Iced Coffee who leaves work at 4:30 p.m. every day is a good place to start.

I rest my case.

*Unless, of course, you are a superior, then it's whatever you say, sir (or ma'am).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Quick thought

Those who thought The Daily Show and The Colbert Report would slink away into oblivion after Bush were dead wrong.

You've been enlightened.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who will write the Book of Face?

A wise friend of mine once pondered the idea of writing a book about Instant Messenger conversations. It would cover the do's and don'ts, the pitfalls and the conveniences of rapid, typed communication. Alas, this friend has yet to complete this work. And it's probably out there in some form of another.

That's moot. What I need some clarification on Facebook.

Ever heard of it?

That site is my social portal to people I know very well, people I should know better, people I knew way back when and some I've never heard of before. Because of Facebook, I can tell if some random person from high school is married or what job he/she has or where he/she lives and whether he/she is depressed or happy. I can tell what kind of Dunkin' Donuts product he/she purchased that morning. I can know if "Life sux." It's the classifieds of my social circle. Heck, I find out stuff about my own family through Facebook.

Of course, many old farts have pondered this phenomenon at the New York Times or The Economist. How will Facebook and other social websites affect society and the way people interact blah blah blah. As an old fart myself, I figure I should chime in. I work for a huge media conglomerate, too. Here are some important questions/critiques/complaints/random observations.

1. Birthday wishes: This is a tricky one. Essentially, what's the cut off period for wishing happy birthday to someone you haven't seen in a long time? A year? Five years? Will I come off as creepy for wishing someone a happy birthday if the Spice Girls were popular the last time we spoke to each other?

Also, I feel a certain pressure to come up with something witty. The person's wall will be littered with "Happy Birthday!" messages and you know I just can't be like any ordinary schlub. So I'll make an age joke. Maybe a sex joke. Something different. It takes work though. It really does.

2. Status comments: What's more pathetic? 1. Someone who posts a comment on a certain person's every status message/note/link. 2. That I notice when someone posts on everything even if they're not commenting on mine? To protect the innocent, I won't use names, but I noticed the above a few weeks ago and it started to grate on me. Every time I scrolled through the news feed, I saw this one person commenting on everything.

Some people are Facebook-aholics. They post 15 status messages a day and comment on 15,000 others. I, for one, don't think we need the running commentary. Everything in moderation.

But am I a Facebook-aholic just for noticing this? Or does that just make me a keen observer of my surroundings? You decide.

3. Do I know you? I'll accept anyone who friends me. I have "friends" on Facebook from England -- people who thought I was the Steve Sears from Berkshire. I'm friends with people from high school who I never talked to, not once. I want as many friends as possible, OK?

When the "People You May Know" tool came out, I went through a few of them, but I always wondered, "Is this weird? I haven't seen X since 2001." I just couldn't stand the same three people in the toolbar at the side. Facebook was literally begging me to friend those people and I gave in. The people that are left now are either complete strangers or ones that I just can't justify friending because we spoke once during 10th grade Chemistry. There's one kid now who I thought was a complete jackass in high school. I won't friend him. Yet Facebook will dangle his face in front of me for all eternity.

The big question is: Where's the line between being a semi-stalker or just an old acquaintance looking to reconnect in a very superficial way?

4. Wahhhhh: Remember when Facebook redesigned a year or so ago? People howled about their privacy. They set up online petitions. What they didn't get is that THEY JOINED FACEBOOK. That's what the site's for, letting friends know what you're up to. If you want privacy, move to Wyoming and read books. When a free social site makes it easier to be social, I think holding a Internet Tea Party is an over-reaction.

I've seen some complaining about the new homepage, which doesn't seem much different that the old. Again, the site's free. No one forced you to join. Now go complain about more important things, like Julio Lugo being employed by a major league baseball team.

In conclusion, despite the over-abundance of applications and under-abundance of anything really important, Facebook is cool.

And someone should write a book about it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who watches the Watchmen? I do

I saw Watchmen. The verdict from Jeff and Emily is in: FAIL! What do I think? Well, you've come to the right place!

I appreciate this film tackling the superhero genre from a different angle, that of normal, very flawed people fighting crime, most of whom are either retired or forgotten. We've also got a terrible Richard Nixon impersonator in the White House and it's 1985.

The opening fight and the title sequence are well done, the pages of a graphic novel translated to the screen with some great choices for music. It also goes without saying that some of the special effects and images in this movie are impressive. However, I do find myself less impressed by special effects now that every movie seems to have them. Think of a billionaire finding 500,000 in his or her pockets. Been there, done that.

Frankly, it tried to pack in too much. Too many scenes that did not matter and could easily have been cut. There's a final showdown that falls under its own weight with overwrought, comic book diatribes. And the junior Silk Spectre? The acting just did not cut it. The romance angle with her bored me. Every big superhero movie has to throw a romantic angle at the audience, but I wanted to drop it or duck out of the way.

Mini-spoiler alert.....

Did they show the Comedian killing JFK in the opening credits? How do you just toss that into a movie as an aside? Perhaps its covered in the graphic novel, but that doesn't excuse it.

As any journalist will tell you, it's cutting things out that makes a good article a great one. Better editing would not make this a classic, but it could have made it a very good movie. And having a more coherent ending would help as well. It's interesting and bold, for which I give the movie some credit, but it just falls flat.

I give this film the patented Steve Sears rating.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Name game

One of my favorite past times from college was making up names for video games, Madden specifically. We came up with a few good ones, like Vin Books, Ian Sophocles and Miguel Arruba.

My mind has been wandering the past few days, and guess what popped in? Fake video game names. Yes, I have a strange brain.

So here's what I came up with.

1. Osiris Crumblepot: Osiris is your aging power forward who's been around the league and is always good for some "veteran presence." He never quite lived up the hype coming out of college. He made some bad investments. Was temperamental with the media. But he's good enough to ride the bench and perform his M.L. Carr impersonation.

2. Shelby Cervantes: A young, hot-shot outfielder, ala Jacoby Ellsbury. He's speedy and has some pop -- at the plate and with the ladies. He might develop a drug problem and expose himself in front of Tim McCarver during a post-season celebration.

3. Dunk Travers: Another old center who was great in his hey-day, but can only wear the Marc Blount face as he sits on the Pervis Ellison memorial bench seat. He could play the Patrick O'Bryant roll for a contending team.

4. Gunther Ponchatrain: A middling, career backup quarterback. Think Scott Zolak but with a cool name and even better Louisiana accent.

5. Tra'LaShawn Colson: A speedy wide receiver who always hurts his hamstring but makes you forget about it with the occasion 90-yard touchdown catch.

6. Samson Punchbox: Easy. A two-tooth hockey defenseman with little-to-no skill on the ice but tremendous potential to break a pool cue over your head in some sleazy bar after the game.

I do not ask anything of you, my loyal readership. But I have a request. I want you to add to this wonderful list. Come up with a cool name for a fake athlete. Surprise me. Enlighten me. Delight me.

If you don't, I will be very disappointed.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Steve's Peeves

A big "Fuck You" goes to my apartment complex. At the ripe hour of 8:30 in the morning, I awoke to the wonderful sound of a chainsaw not more than 10 feet from my bedroom window. They were trimming the palm trees, apparently, and they continued to do so for a couple of hours.

This wasn't the first time, either. I've long grown used to interrupted sleep, since my slumber hours conflict with 75% of the country's population. I'm lucky if I can get more than 5 hours uninterrupted three times a week. Kids playing outside and yelling loudly at 9 a.m. Fine. Power washing the sidewalks at 10 a.m. Whatever. Mowing the lawn at 8. I hate it, but I accept it now.

But a chainsaw? Right outside my window? On the dickishness scale, that's a solid 10.
Maybe I should perform similar loud acts at 2 a.m. I'm wide awake, so why not? Hell, I can do 3 a.m., too. I can buy a drum kit and practice. I can run my own midnight circus with rabid dogs and bears. How would you "regular" sleepers like that? Keep it up, and you may find out one day. Two can play this game.

It just really, really, REALLY grinds my gears.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What to see

Slumdog Millionaire deserved the Oscar.

A great concept for a movie. A poor kid answers game show questions that, by destiny, relate to big moments from his life. Each question brings a flashback, from the time he's a tiny tyke in Mumbai until he's well into his teenage years. You probably know most of this by now. A tad predictable, but very engaging. Any movie that makes the audience care about its characters has achieved something.

And it doesn't travel down the same tattered path, not for me anyway. I haven't seen many movies set entirely in India. So, after seeing three of the Best Picture noms (Milk, Frost/Nixon and Slumdog) I'd go with Slumdog, with Frost/Nixon a close second.

Coming out today is Watchmen, another epic superhero movie. I know nothing about the graphic novel so I'll be going into it blind. I've passed up many special effects bonanzas in the past, but this one looks like a doozy. And supposedly, the series is deeper and more complex than most comic book films. Starting tomorrow, the movie season begins in earnest. Here are a few big ones I'm eager to see.

1. Angels & Demons

Count me in as one of the many people disappointed by The DaVinci Code movie. Tom Hanks was fine, but the material did not translate well into the screen. I can damn near guarantee you Angels & Demons will be a big improvement.

Unlike The DaVinci Code, this is a straight up mystery thriller. There aren't many monologues on the secret meaning of a painting, which draws interest in a book but falls flat in a movie. The book is one of the best page-turners I've ever read. You hear this all the time, but seriously, I could NOT put it down, so much so that I got a splitting headache one time after going through 150 pages in one sitting.

2. Terminator: Salvation

I've yet to see the third Terminator movie, but the second one is up there with The Rock as my favorite action movie. I've also been watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a fine show that eschews pure special effects and delves deep into the characters and changes its format from week-to-week sometimes.

Being late to the party once again, I just saw an extended trailer for the film and it blew me away. Christian Bale, while probably a world-class prick, knows how to pick a good movie. He will nail John Connor, that's for sure. This will be our first extended introduction to the Terminator world, post Judgement Day. While I've stopped trying to figure out the time travel effects of this series, the chance to see John Connor become the big threat to SkyNet that he is has me pumped to see this.

3. Public Enemies

Johnny Depp. Christian Bale. Michael Mann. How can this go wrong? The buzz is out there for this movie already. It covers John Dillinger and other thieves while the Feds hunt them down in the 1930s. A film about bankrobbers during bad economic times should strike a chord, considering there's a fair amount of people who want to rob some banks today and others who would cheer them on.

I can smell the Oscar already.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rush and 24

Is it 1995 right now?

I've been listening to No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom album (which is pretty good) and Rush Limbaugh is everywhere. From CNN to political blogs to newspapers to CSPAN to Comedy Central, it's Limbaugh, Limbaugh, Limbaugh.

Unfortunately for Rush, this isn't 1995 anymore and he's stuck outside the trendy nightclub of American politics begging the bouncer to let him in. Yet, there he is, on every square inch of media.

Some say that the Democrats have pulled off a brilliant political ploy by bringing up Rush Limbaugh at every opportunity in attempt to portray an unpopular (with everyone who's to the left of Genghis Kahn) radio talk show host as the leader of the Republican Party. It's worked. Now every major figure in the party cedes to his every whim. He's Jabba the Hut and they're his servants. Great work, Dems.

Too bad this political Jedi mind trick means I have to hear about this guy every day. He's no longer fresh. His ideas have been repudiated. He's past his prime. He shouldn't matter anymore. As much as I deplore the Republican Party, they should have a better spokesman than that guy. That way, I'll be spared his new celebrity status, which he must love right now.

Fun fact: You know what's one of Rush's favorite TV shows? 24.

Segue time!

We're at the middle of Season 7 and it's been quite a ride. No show - and I've watched many - has ever come close to matching the suspense this one can create. It's just fun to watch, and this season has seen a rejuvenation.

However, the on-going torture "debate" falls flat. Credit them for trying. But how is the debate supposed to be fair when you have Jack Bauer on one side - he of the super powers - and sniveling bureaucrats on the other. Besides these clueless suits, you'll have the sensitive agent who doesn't want to torture but relents when there are no other options. They always see the light, even if they find it distasteful.

For several seasons, 24 has presented torture as necessary and useful. Fine. I accept it as a great literary device to create suspense and drama. Just don't use this an allegory to the real world, because 24 and the real world have very little in common.

If the United States of real America resembled the 24-verse, the following would be true:
  • Two nuclear explosions on U.S. soil
  • Air Force One shot down
  • Scores of deadly bio-weapons attacks
  • Nuclear plant meltdowns
  • A terrorist plot/cover up run by the president
  • Months of suicide bombs
  • Assassination of a former president after he survives about 15 previous attempts
  • Kidnapping the president

We'd be losing our minds. There would be no U.S. It'd be ThunderDome time as Tracy Jordan would say. So in Monday's episode, Bauer is thwarted in his attempt to torture information from a senator's aide. As a result, terrorists infiltrate the White House and we're supposed to think to ourselves, "Well, torture would have worked. Let's do that in real life."

Wrong! To believe this, you'd have to accept that a gang of 12 soldiers from an African country could invade the White House, which is one of the most secure buildings in the world, by swimming in the Potomac, drilling a hole in cement, bypassing the security in the cellar, breaking through a conveniently soft cement wall and mowing down Secret Service guards like they're redshirts.

In the real world, torturing the guy would not have mattered because to attack the White House in that manner is impossible. So anytime a conservative cites 24 as reason torture should be used, ignore them.

That said, the episode was as tense as they come. The show still has it. It just doesn't have credibility in the torture discussion. Got that, Rush?