Friday, September 25, 2009

Best of the 2000s: TV Dramas (5-1)

The conclusion of the list that has captivated America.

5. Lost (2004-present): Has any show in the history of humanity engendered so much talk, so many theories, so many websites, so main brain-hurting treatises?

The story seemed so simple at first. A plane crashes on a deserted Pacific island, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves in an unknown land. Like Gilligan's Island right? Not at all.

Where to begin? The Others. John Locke's miracle recovery. The Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle. Flashbacks. Flashforwards. Jacob. The Swan. The Dharma Initiative. Constants. Time travel. It's impossible to sum up this show for a non-believer. Sometimes watching it feels like homework. You have to remember a tiny detail from Season 1 for something in Season 5 to make sense.

Nonetheless, it's fascinating, expertly crafted and thought provoking. John Locke and Ben Linus are two of the best characters of the decade. And don't forget, this is a show - at its core - that is about the redemption of troubled people getting a new start on a mysterious island.

It will come to and end next year in what is sure to be one of the most hyped series finales we've ever seen. The pressure on the writers will be enormous because we've been along for the ride for many years and there are many, many questions yet to be answered. I'm confident Lost will deliver. They've done it so far.

Best episode: Season 3 "Through the Looking Glass" This episode blew me away. I was literally on the edge of my bed by with my jaw hitting the floor by the time Jack was screaming to Kate at the end, "We have to go back!"

4. The West Wing (1999-2006): While George Bush did ... what George Bush did, we had a parallel president on NBC in the Bill Clinton model who was intellectual and surrounded by selfless public servants. A fairy tale? Not exactly. Just a brilliant and sometimes awe-inspiring show that made politics exciting and noble in age when it was anything but.

Martin Sheen completely dominates as President Jed Bartlett, a very moral, intellectual, moderate Democrat with his senior staff, led by Leo McGarry. Famous for its rhythmic, rapid-fire dialogue, the West Wing felt like something that was above normal network TV. It was art at it's best. In one of my favorite all-time scenes, Bartlett is in the National Cathedral after burying a lifelong friend during a political crisis that threatens his administration. After the church is cleared, he stares up at the stained glass window (the eye of God) and angrily rants in Latin. There were no subtitles. This show respected the audience. It knew that you didn't need to understand what he said. It was a man speaking to God and we shouldn't hear it. We just knew he felt betrayed. It's a brilliant, brilliant Hall of Fame scene. I command you to take three minutes and watch it if you've never seen it. Even out of context it should still impress.

It's unfair that Aaron Sorkin wrote many of these episodes by himself. How does one guy have so much talent? The first four seasons were as good as it gets. Seasons 5 and 6 suffered after Sorkin left the show, but Season 7 rebounded nicely. When I watch the news, I think there's no way I'd ever want to work in politics. When I watch the West Wing, I dream about it a little bit. In the end, it always came down to the writing and acting. A perfect mix for a show I refused to watch when it was actually on TV because I didn't get it. How foolish I was. Thank goodness for DVDs and Netflix.

Best episode: Season 2 "Two Cathedrals"
3. The Sopranos (1999-2007): Many consider this the top show of the decade. Perfectly reasonable. This show made HBO and brought the mob mystique down a level.

You must know about the show by now. It's about a New Jersey crime family led by Tony Sopranos. Tony is going through a mid-life crisis and needs to see a therapist. For the duration of the series, these sessions laid the foundation for a massively complex and fascinating psychological examination of a guilty, conflicted sociopath. The Sopranos depicted the mob as just another facet of a deteriorating work force, like auto manufactures. Except these guys are violent psychos feeling the heat from all directions.

James Gandolfini's performance will be remembered years from now. He probed every square inch of that character. He could be ferocious, cavalier, frantic and charming in just one episode. He deserves every plaudit he's received. He wasn't alone as great actor, though. The Sopranos was gifted with tremendous talent in that area. They make the episodes entirely re-watchable. Since every major character on that show -every single one - was a pretty despicable human being, it's a miracle the show was so popular. It's a testament to the actors and the writing.

The one strike against this show is obvious. The series finale was a disappointment. Knowingly artsy, it played around with the audience. The final cut to black was just not befitting a show of that caliber. It deserved a better send off, but still does not detract from this great all-time series

Best episode: Season 3 "Employee of the Month"

2. The Wire (2002-2008): The great American novel of our time.

It's Charles Dickens for 21st century America, chronicling the lowest of the low on the gang-infested streets of west Baltimore to the levers of power in city hall and the police department. The Wire was a searing portrait of a crumbling American infrastructure. It had no famous actors. It was one of the only shows on TV to have a majority black cast. It was shot in Baltimore and it unfolded with the pace and detail of an epic novel, not a TV show. So you understand why it's not as well known. A pity, because it was greatness. Pure greatness.

Unflinchingly realistic, The Wire was always a tragedy of an America who's prime had long passed. This show's main character, Jimmy McNulty, did not show up in Season 4. What other show could pull that off? They did because the character was the decaying city. Not to say that Omar and Bunk and Stringer Bell (the best villain of the decade) were forgettable. They were anything but that.

I give a lot of credit to this show. What other entity really cared to follow inner-city schools? The death of working-class jobs? The true tragedy of drugs on African-American communities? The fall of the newspaper? All these vital sociopolitical developments usually reserved for shows on PBS no one watches came to light on a fictional HBO program. It truly performed a public service while giving us one of the best American series of all-time.

Best episode: Season 3 "Middle Ground"

1. 24 (2001-present): Are you surprised? I doubt it.

This isn't the best acted or best written show in history or even the decade. So how can I rank it No. 1? Because TV is supposed to entertain and no show has been as entertaining as 24. The hardest thing to do is comedy. The second hardest thing to do is a good thriller. It's tough to keep today's audience in suspense, but 24 still does, eight years after its debut.

24 came along at an opportune time. We just got hit with 9/11 and terrorism suddenly became the foremost issue in the country. Along came a show on Fox that dealt with just that topic. As we tried to hunt down real terrorists, we had Jack Bauer kicking ass. Even as a liberal, there's a part of me that hopes we have a guy like him on our side. He acted out our revenge fantasies as we never really got it in real life for 9/11.

Kiefer Sutherland carries this show. It would be just average without him. When it careens into the ridiculous as it often does, he always grounds it right back. Other characters helped, too. Tony Almeida, George Mason, Michelle Dessler, Charles Logan and Chloe O'Brian to name a few. They keep the suspense at almost unhealthy levels, with a great assist from the show's famous calling card - it's real time element. It provides a constant feel of doom just around the corner. That's what a ticking clock always does.

I'll never forget watching the first season as a freshman in college. I had never seen a show like it. Real time. Complicated plot pieced together episode by episode. And a main character who takes the good parts of James Bond and makes him more interesting. The season finale shocked me like nothing I saw before or have seen since. It was a kick to the stomach when Jack found his pregnant wife dead just before the episode faded to black. At that time, what other show would do that? Kill off a main character so brutally? They all do it now, but not back then. They took a gigantic risk and it paid off. It meant that anytime a character was in trouble, he or she could actually die. Hence the suspense.

24 is not as good as it used to be, like any show that goes on into its sixth or seven season. That said, no show is as fun to watch. None. And isn't that the point?

Best episode: Season 1 "11 p.m.-12 a.m." The greatest hour of scripted television I've ever seen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Best of the 2000s: TV Dramas (10 through 6)

I watch too much TV. I admit this. However, it makes me more than qualified to list the best dramas of this decade. For the record, shows like Mad Men, Deadwood, Damages and Alias just missed the cut. It was tough to whittle this down to 10.

10. Six Feet Under (2001-2005) -- The only television series that really -- truly -- dealt with death. The despair, tragedy, confusion and even humor of death arose throughout this series, brought to us by American Beauty and True Blood honcho Alan Ball. This HBO drama chronicled the Fisher family, led by free spirit and narcissist Nate, who returns to his family-run funeral home after the death of his father.

At the beginning of almost every episode, Six Feet Under showed the death of the Fishers' new client. The manner or the ramifications of that death often interwove with the problems of the family, like closeted homosexual and control freak David, repressed mother Ruth and angst-ridden teen Claire. This show, more maturely and more accurately portrayed death than any TV series that's ever aired. The melodrama grew much too heavy at times, but the great acting and the deep themes always came through. It gets extra points for having perhaps the greatest series finale I have ever seen. It made me ... emotional.

Best episode: Season 5 "Everyone's Waiting"

9. Dexter (2006-present) -- Another Michael C. Hall show. So convincing as David Fisher in Six Feet Under, he effortlessly portray likable serial killer Dexter Morgan on the show that made Showtime a serious network. He's creepy. He's unnerving. He's many things, but what makes Dexter Morgan such a fascinating character is that he's a psychopath who mutilates his victims (always criminals who have gamed the system and need to be punished in his eyes) and then treats his girlfriends kid's like his own. As hard as he tries, he actually does have sincere human emotions. His urge to kill is insatiable.

Dexter is a one-man show. There are other redeeming characters, especially Dexter's sister Debra and foil Doakes, but they are Dickie Simpkins and Luc Longley and Dexter is Michael Jordan. It's a great character study that also mixes mystery and the macabre to become one of those shows you just can't stop watching once you start. Hall's performance in every episode is the main reason, especially his droll and often darkly funny narration.

Best episode: Season 1 "Born Free"

8. True Blood (2008-present) -- Here's Alan Ball again, this time with a show that couldn't be any different than Six Feet Under. The biggest watercooler hit for HBO since The Sopranos, True Blood is classic Southern gothic and vampire camp. It follows Sookie Stackhouse and Company in a backwater Louisiana town as vampirea are "coming out of the closet" now that a synthetic blood drink called True Blood means they don't have to hunt people anymore. Yeah, some parallels to gay rights in this show, but such deep themes take a back seat to plain supernatural fun. This is the most screwed up show I've ever seen and nothing comes close. From constant sex scenes, gory, bloody violence and more than a few WTF? moments, True Blood is like a comic book serial, always ending on a cliff-hanger.

Humor can turn a good drama into a great one and True Blood has plenty of that, mostly from awkward vampire Bill Compton, idiot brother Jason Stackhouse and the flamboyantly gay and totally awesome Lafayette Reynolds. No character is wasted and no moment is boring. You'd have to be a corpse not to find this show entertaining. What it lacks in the usual HBO depth it more than makes up for by just being damn fun to watch.

Best episode: Season 2 "I Will Rise Up"

7. Friday Night Lights (2006-present): For such a sports-crazed society, there aren't many successful, scripted sports-themed shows (besides Indianapolis Colts games). FNL isn't the best television show in the country right now because it's about football, but because it is amazingly authentic. Where it could fall into traps with high school cliches like jocks and geeks and stern teachers, it gives us fleshed out, endearing characters of every stripe. Smash Williams is cocky, but he's a nice kid with the weight of an entire family on him. Matt Saracen is shy and introspective, yet he is the star quarterback. There's not a single solitary character you can't root for in some respect. Everyone has faults. Everyone has redeeming qualities and FNL applies this to everyone in the show.

The reason it's No. 7 on this list, besides the facts mentioned above? It has the best couple on TV. Forget Ross and Rachel or Sam and Diane. Eric and Tami Taylor have the most believable relationship I can remember seeing. It's what I imagine any successful marriage to be like. They push each other's buttons. They have their fights. But they always support each other, through the travails of his football team to raising a teenage daughter. Coach Taylor has more than one kid in a sense. He's the father for all the players on his team and often goes out of his way to help them, hiding his sensitive side with a gruff, no-nonsense demeanor.

Not enough people watch this show. It's good for an entire family and it really is a brilliant snapshot of small-town American life. As I've said before, it's the best TV show currently on the air.

Best episode: Season 1 "Blinders"

6. The Shield (2002-2008): The show that put FX on the map.

This decade will be known for the relevance of the anti-hero. Don Draper from Mad Men is described as an anti-hero. He's got nothing on Vic Mackey. The fascist leader of a Los Angeles strike team, Mackey kills, bribes, beats, cheats, steals and breaks every law imaginable ... all while wearing an LAPD badge. Taking on the gangs of the fictional and hellish Farmington district, Mackey only cares about getting the bad guy. Laws, constitutional rights and common morality don't matter much.

This dearly departed program never took an episode off. Michaek Chiklis nails the brutal ferocity of Mackey while making the viewer somewhat understanding of why he is the way he is ... because there's no other way, not in the gang-infested areas of L.A. Opposite the extra-legal strike team were two law-abiding, smart and troubled detectives who turned out to be two of the best characters on the show -- Claudette Wyms and Dutch Wagonbach. They served as a perfect counterbalance any time Vic planted evidence on a guy or shot a fellow cop.

The intensity grew season by season, helped by appearances from Glenn Close and Forest Whittaker. By the final seventh season, you knew there was only one way for this to end for Mackey and his crew and it wasn't good. It sure was fascinating to watch. You can't get more intense than this, folks. The final few episodes of the series were bone-chilling.

Best episode: Season 5 "Postpartum"

Monday, September 21, 2009

Patriots analysis you can only find anywhere on the Internet

(Thank you Google Images. This still makes me laugh)

A few thoughts on the Patriots after two weeks ...

  • I underestimated how long it would take Tom Brady to find his groove. After a few good preseason outings, I just figured he'd come right back and be the Hall of Fame QB we know. Instead, he played one of the worst games of his career yesterday. Some credit goes to the Jets defense, but there were plays to be made. Sammy Morris was open a few times for long gains and Brady just missed him. And, toward the end of the game, he was not stepping into throws. He'll get it back, but in the meantime, it just feels wrong to watch a Brady-led offense this dysfunctional.

  • Was anyone out there like me when the Pats had a 3rd and 2 late in the game and came out in their jumbo set and thought, "There's no way they're getting this?" Once upon a time, this team converted those opportunities often. This year, they've been stuffed each time. You don't win Super Bowls with a running game that can't get two yards when needed. They better fix it soon. It's embarrassing.

  • One pleasant surprise? The play of the defense. Without Jerod Mayo, I expected Leon Washington and crew to pitch a tent in the middle of the field all day. The Pats shut them down in the first half, but New York moved the ball on them in the second. All in all, not bad. They played well enough to win.

  • One caveat: New England knows it's OK to play defense on third-and-long, right? Because lately teams have had too easy a time converting them. Case in point was the third-and-long conversion in the fourth where Leon Washington ran up the middle, turned around ten yards down the field, caught the ball and made the first down without having to break a single tackle. That's inexcusable, but too often a pattern with this defense. Sometimes, teams don't even have to work for it. When New York had 3rd and 28 in the first quarter, I was legitimately afraid they would convert.

  • While Mayo was missed, Wes Welker was missed even more. He's the go-to guy when Brady absolutely needs to complete a pass. He's the hot read on the blitzes. He's the one who gets the extra few yards that Julain Edleman can't. Here's hoping this isn't a long-term issues for the sake of the Pats and my fantasy team.

  • I had no idea before this season that Rex Ryan was gigantic. Bill Simmons made me laugh when he said you don't want to follow Rex Ryan into the bathroom. Most NFL coaches aren't in great shape, but my goodness Ryan is big. He won't have to kiss Belichick's rings, but he certainly love making out with Ring-Dings. (I thought of that myself. I should write for Leno.)

  • The troglodytes on the Internet have already declared Tom Brady's career over and the Patriots season done. In an odd way, I'm kind of glad the Pats aren't peaking in September and October. They peaked too early in 2007. When they won their Super Bowls, this team found it's niche in November and December. This still won't disqualify me from swearing at them during games, but let's put this into perspective. They started 0-2 once and won a Super Bowl. They started 2-2 and won a Super Bowl. This team will play better. I'm sure of it. Unlike Jets fans, we Pats fans know championships aren't won in September.

  • When I watch the Ravens and Steelers on defense, I wish the Pats were a bit more like them, flying to the ball and swarming with fierce tacklers. Belichick employs more of a read-and-react defense that seems to be on its heels. For instance, why weren't they blitzing the hell out of a rookie QB? Put some pressure on him, force him into mistakes. Instead, Mark Sanchez had eons to throw and any QB will look good without a pass rush. This has been a problem for several years. New England just can't get consistent pressure on quarterbacks, therefore making guys like AJ Feeley, Seneca Wallace and Mark Sanchez look like Troy Aikman.

  • The Jets are going to the Super Bowl. Haven't you heard? I might as well brace myself for the migration of obese, disheveled and obnoxious Jets fans with their Bubby Brister jerseys as they stroll into town in February with the firm belief that they don't root for one of the most pathetic franchises in sports. Maybe I'm just bitter. They did win a championship yesterday and anytime the media jumps on the Jets bandwagon, it means rings galore. Just like last season when the Jets beat the Pats in overtime and everyone put them in the Super Bowl. That worked out wonderfully.

  • I do have to say that Jets defense looks very good. However, I also have to say there were plenty of plays to be made on them as well. Plenty. The Mean Green D might not be so lucky in Foxborough later this season.

  • Where can we find a third receiver who can, you know, catch the ball? First we had Reche Caldwell. Then Jabar Gaffney. Ben Watson has his issues. Doug Gabriel. Now Joey Galloway. One drop happens. Three, four drops and you should be playing for 0-3 Northeastern. Please, Wes Welker, get your ass back on the field!

  • The Atlanta Falcons are next. I want to see an offense that is finally starting to find its timing and a defense that scares people, like the Dynasty ones used to. They should be able to do some of that on Sunday. Also, this team plays well after terrible losses. Pats 28, Falcons 20.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

SteveCentury: The Tale of the God-Forsaken Bike

I used to own a rad mountain bike. It was blue. It had wheels. I can't recall the model or anything more specific, except to say it was cool. I was in the fifth or sixth grade and rode my bike all over the place. This was back in the old days when kids played outside and did stuff that required physical activity.

One cloudy Cranston day I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood and I ended up in the parking lot of a cheap jewelry packing factory right near my street. I was a minute away from my house. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by local street toughs on bikes not nearly as cool as mine. They surrounded me and the leader of the pack demanded I get off my bike. I didn't answer at first. He said it again while menacingly getting off his bike. He was scary. To save myself from a beating, I got off the bike and they took it. I ran crying to my house.

A police officer came by and I gave a description. He didn't seem all that interested, but he was polite. A couple of days later, the cops called us to say the thieves had returned the bike. A miracle! I had my bike back.

Now, my memory is hazy these days, so I can't say when this next thing happened. All I know is that it was a sunny day and my bike was resting peacefully in our garage with the door open. I was up in my bedroom when one of my sisters ran up to tell me someone had sneaked into our garage and ran out with my bike. I couldn't believe it. No good description either. Just a guy. I looked at our dog Sparky (may he rest in peace) and he was sleeping soundly. I thanked him for guarding the property with such ferocity.

We didn't bother going to the police and I didn't bother buying a new bike until years later when I was bigger and no one would screw with me. I still miss that bike to this day. Apparently, it was really cool since it got stolen twice. I wonder what happened to it ...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Are you ready for some football?

The NFL is back. Everyone is happy, ecstatic even. I'm just not sure I am.

Of course, I'm pumped for the Patriots. Tom Brady is back. The offense is loaded. The defense seems a bit shaky, but I'm hopeful they can be more than adequate. Barring another catastrophic injury, they should be back in the playoffs at the least. Fans across the country (except Oakland) all have hopes for this season. Everyone is going to be in the playoffs. Fantasy leagues are starting up. Beer, football and Viagara commercials on Sundays. What's not to like?

As I don my "cranky old journalist" hat, I must admit I feel a touch of dread. NFL means lots of extra work. And I mean LOTS. Comes with the territory, and frankly, it's not all that bad. But it does mean Sundays are going to be long and stressful. As thrilling and suspenseful sitting at a desk for nine hours can possibly get in my business.

Anytime a new major sports season starts I get the same feeling. It's just how I am. Football is a tad different because one of my favorite things to do throughout the years was sit down and watch the Patriots. I can't do that anymore. The game is on a small TV across the room and there's usually a million things going on. No longer can I observe the small things about the games, like who's blocking whom, who blew the coverage, etc. I like my work, but not being able to really watch Pats games anymore is one of the things I miss the most.

Now, if they're the only game on (like this Monday night), it's much better. But throw in the usual amount of stress I feel watching a Pats game (as anyone who has ever watch a Pats game with me can attest) with work duties and you have one jittery fellow.

So that explains the less-than-euphoric feeling I have as the season begins.

Speaking of the Pats, I used to pick a no-name player who would breakout (watch out for Tully Banta-Cain this year), but since I can't watch preseason games that much anymore, that task has grown tougher. I liked Shawn Crable, but he's out for the year again. So I think Sebastian Volmer will play a big role this season and I think Adalius Thomas is due for a comeback season. I also expect Brandon Merriweather to make the leap to a borderline Pro Bowl player.

As for predictions, I obviously expect a good season. Of course I think they can win the Super Bowl, but I'm not the most objective observer. The defense will definitely have to improve the pass rush if they want to win a fourth ring. They were terrible getting off the field on third down last season and a big reason was that QBs has days to pick apart that average secondary.

I don't see the Steelers repeating. The Chargers and Colts will be there as always. Maybe some Hard Knocks luck will vault the Bengals. The Jags could bounce back, too. Let's say the Pats and Chargers meet again for the AFC title game - this time in San Diego. Pats win and face the Giants in a Super Bowl XLII rematch 40 minutes from my apartment in northern Miami. New England gets revenge for THE GAME THAT ZACH REFUSES TO TALK ABOUT and Randy Moss wins Super Bowl MVP.

Sound about right?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Best of the 2000s: TV Comedies

The 2000s are coming to an end. Well, most people think that. There are those who say the decade ends after 2010 since there was no year 0, but does anyone consider 1990 part of the 1980s? No.

So in terms of pop culture, a decade that brought the world the presidency of Incurious George, Facebook and the rise-fall-rise(?) of Britney Spears is near its completion. This means endless "Best of the Oughts" series in every newspaper, website or VH1 program you could ever want to see.

Well, I'm about to beat them to the punch.

Yes, I have calculated my best-of lists and over the next few months I will unveil them, covering movies, television, music and more. Let's start with the best television comedies from 2000-through 2009.

Too early? Perhaps. But this first list has very little chance of changing the rest of the year. No new comedy can come out that will supplant the following 10. My only steadfast rule is the show must have more than one season. So, without further rambling, I present to you ...

Top 10 TV Comedies of the Decade

10. The Colbert Report: Former Daily Show correspondent Stephen Colbert nails this sly, hilarious send-up of uber-conservative talk shows like Bill O'Reilly's. He plays the role so perfectly that many Republicans actually thought (and might still think) he's one of them, which explains why he was invited to host the White House Correspondents Dinner three years ago. It's satire in its purest, most cutting-edge form.

9. Late Night with Conan O'Brien: On the strength of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's visit to the Star Wars premier, this absurdist late, late night talk show makes the list. There were no limits to how absurd and random this show could get, from the Masturbating Bear to the Jewish Turtle Riding the Mechanical Bull to the Walker Texas Ranger lever. It had the comedy of a couple of college kids high on pot and Fritos thinking up non sequiturs in a dorm lounge. More than once this show made me laugh so much I lost my breath and cried.

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm: Seinfeld on steroids. All the awkward social faux-pas of your normal British comedy with the "what's the deal?" vibe of Seinfeld, Larry David's show is the funniest HBO has ever had. The true achievement is you're not thinking "damn, this is a Seinfeld rip-off." Curb takes what made Seinfeld the show of the 1990s and takes it to new, more profane and obscene levels. Susie Essman is the true star. No one cusses with as much ferocity, and elicits as many laughs in the process, as she can.

7. Real Time with Bill Maher: Imagine if the participants on Meet the Press could drop F-bombs and say what they truly felt? Throw in a comedian who has never been afraid to push boundaries and, like magic, you have the best political talk show in America. Bill Maher cuts to the bone and in a time of madness and idiocy in D.C., he makes me laugh and even open my eyes a bit. Thank goodness, because he certainly helped me get through the Bush years and even under Obama, he has not lost anything on his fastball.

6. South Park: This show never seems to go away. I remember when it was the brash, disgusting new kid on the block in the late '90s. Now it's sort of a grandfather, setting the stage for similar cartoons that followed. It hits and misses, but when it hits, it hits hard. The Scientology episode, the Woodland Creatures episode, the "They're takin' our jobs!" episode highlight a consistent run for this lovable bunch of allegorical cardboard cartoons.

5. The Office (American): I never thought this show could succeed the way it has, giving the huge shadow it's British forebearer casts over it. The Office proved me wrong because it brilliantly Americanized what made the English version so good. They hit a home run on the Jim-Pam dynamic. They scored one of the funniest characters of the decade in Dwight Schrute. They don't waste any characters. And, while often hilarious and quotable, it always has a heart, which puts it a step above most.

4. 30 Rock: The funniest scripted show on television right now without a doubt. The jokes come firing at you like machine gun bullets and it can be a challenge to get them all, but the reward is great. Jack Donaghy. Liz Lemon. Kenneth Parcell. Tracy Jordan. Jenna Maroney. The main characters all have something to offer and some of the best lines I've ever heard have come from them, especially Jordan and Donaghy. The laughs come from the shortest, most benign asides. They come from background noises, like the radio station announcing a tornado in Detroit by saying it put out three fires. If I can re-watch an episode and still laugh like I did the first time, I know I have a keeper. This is one of those shows.

3. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: What would we do without Jon Stewart? I shutter to think of an American media landscape without him. While so-called journalists swallowed everything D.C. fed them the past several years, debasing their craft to horrifying levels, Stewart cuts through with the truth. And in most cases, the truth is funnier than fiction. No one is better at pointing out hypocrisy, be it our own as a people or from politicians and media. The fact this show does it four days a week and the fact that it elevates our national discussion on issues makes the Daily Show one of the more important and trend-setting programs of the decade. And it's a potent farm for comedic talent, from Colbert to Steve Carell, Rob Corddry and Ed Helms.

2. The Office (British): Many of the scenes in this show were so painfully awkward to watch, I laughed in self-defense. The important thing is I laughed. The laughs came often for a show that perfectly dissected Western Civilization's dissatisfaction with the modern workplace, but this was more than just a comedy. The romance between Tim and Dawn is one of the best, most tightly written ones I've ever seen. I rate this Office better than its American counterpart because it's unflinchingly realistic. It never betrays the fact that its a mockumentary and that the people in it are, at the end of the day, ordinary. The American version veers into absurdity and while it's funny, it's not realistic. Gareth could be a real person. Dwight could not. Michael Scott can get annoying at times and unrealistically stupid and foolish. David Brent, on the other hand, is one of the best characters in television history.

That's why this show is No. 2. Ricky Gervais is so freaking perfect in this role I'm still amazed by it, and the show ended a few years ago. He doesn't make you hate the character, which is a no-no for comedy. Ultimately, he makes you feel pity for him. He's so desperate to be liked that he'll do almost anything. We've all met people like that, though they rarely sail into Brent territory. As good as Carell is, Gervais' performance is the gold standard. It's up there with Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke, George Costanza or Archie Bunker in my mind. He was that perfect.

1. Family Guy: Little characterization. The plot never matters. You'll never cry or feel for the characters. All you'll do is laugh your ass off for 22 minutes. A comedy, above all, is supposed to make you laugh. It doesn't matter how. Family Guy has made me laugh more than any show I have ever seen and nothing comes within 500,000 miles of it. Nothing.

This show will go anywhere. It will cross the line, draw a new line and then cross that one, too. It's absurd. It's biting. It's smart. It's sophomoric. It's been described as the Simpsons on acid -- which is fair. Stewie Griffin is a wholly original character, one of the best cartoon characters of all time. Brian is great. He's a dog, but he's the one you relate to most. Chris has his moments. Meg is the punching bag. Lois is Marge Simpson with an edge. And Peter Griffin is dumb and fat. They're all great, but it's the secondary characters that separate this show from the pack. Quagmire. Adam West. Cleveland. Dr. Hartman. Tom Tucker. Carter Pewterschmidt. The list goes on.

This show will do anything -- ANYTHING -- to get a laugh. And you have to respect that. While it will never gets emotional like The Office or enlightened like the Daily Show, it gets me laughing like nothing ever has. It's provided me an endless array of quotes I use way, way too often. And the biggest reason it's numero uno on this list? I can watch an episode for the 10th time and crack up throughout the episode. It never, ever fails. Case closed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's a Mad, Mad World

I'm closing in on my three-year anniversary in Florida. Before I moved here, I thought of Florida as a very hot place with lots of old people. I was correct. I thought, when I drove out of Cranston on October 28th, 2006 ,that I may never see a Dunkin' Donuts again. I was incorrect.

Now that I've been here for so long, what else have I learned?

Florida is crazy. It's not a melting pot, it's a boiling pot. And good luck if you drop it and spill hot water on your feet.
I can suffer the most agonizing and twisted news you'll see without missing a beat. A kidnapped girl locked in a shed as a sex slave in California? Oh well. Thirteen killed in Afghanistan? Seen that before. Eight people dead in a mobile home in Georgia? That'll be a Law & Order episode.

I know I sound like a jackass there, but if I my heart broke for every evil, senseless news story I read, then it would be in pieces by now. I'd go insane.

So pardon me if I lose my mind talking about South Florida. Watch the first ten minutes of the local news in Rhode Island and you get a few violent stories followed by a broken water pipe in Westerly and or a new Sonic in Massachusetts. Down here, it's murder, murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, embezzlement, robbery, five drunk driving fatalities then some Viagara commercials. You might think, good, there's a break. They come back and it's four hurricanes forming in the Caribbean and a story on the devastated Florida housing market. Then you get sports and some highlights from a Marlins game attended by 50 people. That may be the most depressing news of all.

And Drew Rosenhaus is a sports analyst down here. Yeah, you read that right.

Then after a 22 minutes of death and misery, the anchors smile and promise to see the viewer tomorrow. Well, if the viewer isn't struck by a car or shot, that is.

The past few sweltering summer months have produced a dizzying parade of terrible events. Donte Stallworth kills a man driving drunk. This happens every night. Three people a day die in this area because drunk driving is a sport, a regional pastime. The movie theater down the street from my apartment was robbed at gunpoint early in the morning. A Taco Bell manager was stabbed to death in her store just ten minutes from here. Home invasions in the north Miami area are more common than thunderstorms. Gang violence is high. Old people wander off into the night and drawn in canals. A cop was caught sexually abusing another man.

And there's no coffee milk here.

It gets to the point where a murder story that would lead Rhode Island newscasts is relegated to a brief sentence.

I recently made the case that the country is going a bit nuts. Well, Florida is way ahead of the game. It's fun. It's lively. It's warm and sunny. But, damn, even a cynical newswatcher like myself can barely stomach the stories down here. Often times at work we have the games on CBS or NBC and we don't bother changing the channel. The news comes on and after five or ten minutes us tough, grizzled news vets can't take it anymore. It affects us more than stories from the Middle East or West Coast because this stuff is right down the road. We drive by fatal accident scenes all the time. We go to these stores and theaters that have been robbed.

I wanted to write a blog today about why Brad Penny can suck so much for the Red Sox yet look like Christy Mathewson in the NL. I thought about writing on Curt Schilling being interested in the Senate. But they were just little embryos of ideas until I turn on the computer, go to Talking Points and find that the GOP of my state is calling for parents to keep their kids home the day President Obama is set to address them.

They are afraid he will indoctrinate them into socialism. How? By telling them to study hard and get good grades.

Florida certainly has no monopoly on idiotic Republicans, but this made me visibly angry for it's sheer stupidity. It made me think how crazy this state can be sometimes. From the unpredictable weather to murders to nightly drunk driving accidents and nutty politicians, we've got it all.

When I was at the Schaible Wedding, I was asked countless times how I like Florida. I always said I enjoyed it. Good weather and all that. And it's true. I wouldn't want to do this:

"I love Florida, though I do fear getting shot 20 times in Hallandale and then getting eaten by an alligator while a hurricane destroys the state, shuts off power for two weeks, depriving people two weeks of CBS's new hit with LL Cool J, NCIS: Los Angeles."

I wouldn't exactly be the life of the party, would I?

Another rhetorical question: Does this mean I want to move to some leafy suburb in Kansas or Iowa. Answer: No, not yet. Those places don't have Dunkin' Donuts.