Monday, September 26, 2011

Best of the best

Since I just witnessed an all-time great episode of television last night, and I know the world desperately needs this, I will rank the ten best shows currently on air. They don't have to be currently in-season, but they must be still in production. So no Friday Night Lights or 24.

Another rule: All shows ranked below are scripted, fictional series, comedy or drama. So no Daily Show, Colbert Report, Jersey Shore.

Let's get on with it already.

10. Sons of Anarchy: While uneven, the boys of SAMCRO eek onto this list by sheer entertainment value. This show is never boring. And the acting, especially from Katey Segal, is top notch. SOA also gets points for having Maggie Siff on my screen. Much appreciated.

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm: After eight seasons of Larry David haggling over inane social customs with ignorant, oblivious, spoiled Hollywood bourgeois, Curb often feels rote. Larry fights a hostess of a fancy restaurant and then needs this hostess for a big favor at some future point in the show, only to be rejected. Cue the theme music. However, every other episode or so - counting "Palestinian Chicken" - scores a knockout and invigorates the series. If Curb were a baseball player at this point, it would bat around .270 but hit 25-30 homeruns.

8. Boardwalk Empire: Beautifully rendered, well acted ... this is a professional show in every regard. And the topic - the rise of the gangster lifestyle in the 1920s - is ripe for great storytelling. Yet the shows often leaves me feeling cold. I watch the characters. I am entertained by them. I do not feel for them. It makes this list because it's well done, but Boardwalk has yet to reach its full potential. Tony Soprano brought a real intensity to The Sopranos that is lacking with Nucky Thompson.

7. Louie: I've been reading plenty of proclamations along these lines: Louie is the best show on TV. I won't go that far. Some episodes fall flat, like the time Louie and his girls visit the racist aunt. What makes Louis ONE of the best shows is its ability to make me laugh one episode and feel enormous catharsis the next. This is not strictly a comedy despite the presence of the No. 1 comedian in the world. The episode with his suicidal friend was better than what most dramas can offer.

P.S. And the segment where Louie was on TV defending masturbation has to be one of the funniest of the year.

6. 30 Rock: A year ago this would be much higher, but the show lost just a smidgen off its fastball. That does little to detract from the funniest set of characters to come down the pike in a long time. Even if an episode here or there fails to live up to the show's standards, the combo of Jack Donaghy/Liz Lemon/Tracy Jordan will never fail to get me through 22 minutes. A show that is a pure joy to watch.

5. Justified: This FX offering flies under the radar a bit. Timothy Olyphant was born for the role of Raylan Givens, the laconic, prone-to-violence federal marshal Raylan Givens. Walton Goggins shines as his smooth antagonist Boyd Crowder. Never before has backwoods Kentucky been this intriguing.

4. Parks and Recreation: Just beats out 30 Rock as the best comedy on the air. Season 3 was damn close to perfect. Andy Dwyer is a riot. April Ludgate is sarcastic apathy at its finest. But this show is awesome for one reason: Ron Swanson. The gruff, libertarian, "man's man" boss of the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana is comedy gold. I put him up there with Donaghy, Costanza, even Homer (Simspon, not the guy who wrote "The Odyssey") I could watch a show with just him complaining about his job. If you can't or don't want to watch this show, at least YouTube the character.

3. Mad Men: My main problem with Mad Men in seasons 1 and 2 was that many episodes did not move the plot along one inch. The show fell in love with its characters and setting and forgot about the "stuff actually happening" part. While still awesome television, I would not say it's No. 1 for that reason. But they have rectified that issue the past two seasons. This is the most dissected and talked about show among the TV snobs in America (and I include myself in that group). Many would say it's by far the best show going - it's won four straight Emmy's for best drama. I disagree, but that doesn't mean I dislike it. This show is gold and the biggest mistake HBO has made in years was passing on this sure-fire critical hit.

2. Game of Thrones: Speaking of HBO, this is the best series the channel has produced since the final episode of The Wire. Tremendous acting. Awe-inspiring to look at in HD. What really sets this show apart is plot. They burn through it like Sherman to the Atlantic. Every episode ends in a great plot twist, including the biggest twist of the year in the next to last episode. And if you feel there's a dearth of great female characters on TV, watch this show. Arya Stark. Cersei Lannister. Katelyn Stark. Daenerys Targaryen. You might have no idea who these people are. You should. But ... the best part of this show is BY FAR the performance of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, aka "The Imp." He's one of those ambivalent characters who you're not sure is good or bad but you're sure is damn interesting. Simply, he's phenomenal. As is this show.

1. Breaking Bad: I must thank Jeff Schaible for turning me on to this show. I saw the commercials for the first season and assumed it would be one of those trippy stoner shows, like a televised version of Trainspotting. I was not interested. Then I started watching, and it's clear that while Mad Men wins all the Emmy's, it is not the best show on its own network. Bryan Cranston so dominates the role of Walter White it frustrates me when he's not on the screen. No show does suspense like Breaking Bad. It's the Cohen Brothers on AMC - the desolate settings, the pathos of sudden violence and black comedy. And it just gets better and better. The most recent episode - Crawl Space - had my heart pounding. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. There's no question in my mind this is the Tom Brady (not yesterday's version) of television shows, and I say this aware that I haven't watched all of them. I just know.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Two weeks have passed since I spent my first full day in my new single apartment in Coconut Creek. I can safely draw some conclusions about my new abode. Why not share them?

The first night I slept in this place, a powerful sense of loneliness consumed me. I did not see it coming, either. I've spent time alone in apartments before - the summer of 2006 in Brookline being a prime example. But for some reason, the sentiment turned intense that maiden night. I grew up sharing a room with three sisters, then had roommates in college and roommates/housemates in Florida. It took me a few nights to get used to it, but I am.

It's awesome being able to watch what I want when I want now. It's great to not have to worry about waking anyone up at night or in the morning, cooking, watching a movie or practicing the xylophone. I rule this house! ME!! The power is intoxicating.

The location is quite nice. I'm right at the entrance on the first floor. I don't even have to share a hallway with my neighbors. Speaking of which, I've yet to meet a single one. I rarely see anyone milling about, sitting on their porch or anything. The guy next door drinks a lot. I can tell by the Budweiser cardboards I see outside his door every other day. But that's the extent of my knowledge concerning the near dwellers. Perhaps they are shut-ins like me.

My new complex is across the street from a supermarket plaza and I'm withing walking distance of a Starbucks! How neat is that? I walked the 15 minutes last Sunday. It was 92 degrees. I drove to the same Starbucks today. What can I say? Florida is not friendly to pedestrianism.

It hasn't all been lollipops and coffee milk here. I've had an ant problem - little sugar ants crawling all over my countertop and kitchen floor, even my nightstand on one occasion. There are some sultry teenagers who like to hang outside my apartment, smoking their cigarettes and looking intensely at me when I walk by. You don't scare me, street toughs.

The one negative that keeps popping up in my mind is the longer drive. My old place was so damn close to work. I got spoiled by the seven-minute drives back and forth. Now it's closer to 20 minutes. I know many would still love that commute, but after four years, the short drive burrowed into my system and it's hard living without it. Every night when I'm driving back I think, "Shouldn't I be home by now? Why am I still in this driving machine?"

Besides those minor quibbles, I'm enjoying the new digs. Consider yourself in the know.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A damn good night

That was awesome.

I just returned from Sun Life Stadium having witnessed one of the greatest exhibitions of the quarterback science in NFL history. I saw two fights, one between a man and a woman. I saw parachuters and a stealth bomber.

And I finally saw NFL football in person.

The 9/11 tribute was great to see in person. And the stealth bomber flew directly over my head. (I was high up there.) Stealth is a good word for it. I didn't hear it coming. There are motorcycles and scooters louder than that fine piece of American weaponry.

The game started inauspiciously with Chad Henne turning into Michael Vick. But then Tom Brady came out and showed that the Dolphins couldn't do much to stop him. Seeing him play on TV is one thing. Seeing him in person is another.

I had a nice coach's tape eye-view from my seat next to the moon. The plays develop in flash. Four or five guys running routes with only three seconds to decide where to throw it. And when he does throw, the space available is tiny. And he just zipped pass after pass after pass into those tiny spaces.

Surgical is a word used often to describe Brady, and it's damn appropriate. That first bomb he threw to Matthew Slater ... his back was to me so I sort of saw what he saw. There was a sliver of space and he zoomed a perfect dart.

Then there's one of my favorite live sporting moments I have ever seen live. The Pats were at the half-yard line driving toward my section behind the end zone. Brady was barely visible behind all the lineman buried deep in New England territory. He throws a seam route to Wes Welker. I couldn't tell if he caught it. Then he's running in my direction and I lost it.

I was quietly rooting for the Home 11, but I could not help myself on that play. Just awesome. That sent whatever remaining Dolphins fans home for the evening.

The game was far from the only interesting thing I witnessed. In the second half the people in my section started to get rowdy. There was this one female Dolphins fan who was cussing at every Pats fans walking up the aisle. "Suck my d&%$!" Or "Suck his d%^#!" while pointing to whom I suppose was her boyfriend.

A trio of Pats fans just laughed it off. But seconds later, the Patriots scored. I believe it was the Aaron Hernandez touchdown. That trio came back down to talk some trash to this lady. There were words exchanged. Another Patriots fan sitting across the aisle from me started to horn in on the action, using naughty words to describe this fine lady.

So one of this lady's friends approaches him and they jaw at each other until she splashes beer in his face. That involved the Pats fan's girlfriend and the lady's boyfriend. Some shoving, pointing fingers, all egged on by the crowd of course.

"Control your bitch," the Pats' fan said to the boyfriend. That only escalated matters. The girls started shoving a bit, but at that moment, the authorities intervened. They were just about to the eject the Pats fan but, shocking, Dolphins fans came to his defense and he was allowed to stay.

Later on, there was another fracas seven or eight rows up. A Pats fan was ejected for this one. Seems the police have a little bias, but then, Miami fans have to win at something, right?

I stayed until the final whistle. I wanted to soak it all in -- the half-empty stadium now taken over by Pats fans, who already had represented themselves in impressive numbers. I exited on the opposite end of the stadium from where I parked (my sense of direction failing me again) but I did happen to drop by a fleet of buses that were taking the victors to the airport.

This blog makes adding photo difficult, though my photos aren't great anyway, but I did see some Patriots board the buses and talk to family and friends. There was Chad Ochocinco. Nate Solder. Julian Edleman. BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Deion Branch. Vince Wilfork. Albert Haynesworth. And Bill Belichick himself. No Tom Brady, unfortunately.

But he made up for it on the field, don't you think?