Allow me, if you will, to begin this review in the lamest way possible; with a disclaimer. I enjoy Aaron Sorkin’s work. I think that A Few Good Men is one of the 15 best movies of all time, I loooooved Sports Night, and I’m one of those rare people who’ll defend Studio 60. That said, it’s clear from watching Sorkin’s latest creation, The Newsroom, that he has been sniffing his own farts for way too long.
I first noted The Newsroom back in April when the first promo appeared, and to be honest the show didn’t look very promising from the beginning. Then the negative reviews started trickling in from various publications that I respect. Still, I though to myself, it couldn’t be that bad. After all, The Newsroom looked awful Sports Night-ish and had Jeff Daniels (who is awesome) and Sam Waterson’s crazy eyebrows, not to mention that guy from Slumdog Millionaire. Unfortunately, The Newsroom, is just indefensibly bad. From what I can tell from the first episode, it’s less a show than an amalgam of all the stupid cliches that have ever been uttered about politics run through the filter of Aaron Sorkin fast-talk to create a product that is simultaneously grating and frustrating, because there’s a great show lying underneath.
The Newsroom opens with our protagonist Will McAvoy (Daniels) sitting on a panel of journalists in a college auditorium right in between two screeching partisans. You see, these people with their unreasonable arguments are petty little creatures, unlike “the great man” McAvoy, who is eminently reasonable. Of course, no one sees what a genius McAvoy is because he’s carefully packaged himself to be the bland “Jay Leno” of news anchors (in the show’s own words). That is, until one silly blond little college student asks the dumbest question of all time, “Why is America the greatest country on Earth?” The other panelists come up with super lame reasons why they believe that America is great, but McAvoy is better than that and it’s time for him to drop some knowledge on these suckers. Deep within his genius brain, he has stored up a vast pool of knowledge about where America ranks in a ton of different categories, he’s like an America ranking Eric Karabell or Matthew Barry. Turns out, America by Mr. McAvoy’s formulation, is not so great. But, we can be numb one, according to him. Also, he’s hallucinating that his ex/ new producer is in the crowd or something.
Of course, this is all a load of BS. The America (and the American press corps) that McAvoy (and by extension the show) envisions, where everyone was totally manly and awesome never actually existed. Anyways, McAvoy’s truth bomb totally shakes things up because everyone thought he was totally lame and Leno-ish, but really he’s this awesome GENIUS and no one is ready for his truth missiles. Did we mention that he’s really smart, but also has real people problems because he is a real person. Fast talk, fast walk, joke about blogs, joke about twitter, fart, fart, wank motion.
Then McAvoy gets a new staff and they set out to change the face of cable news. If all of this sounds boring that’s because it is. In fact it’s a bunch of yelling and office politics mostly, which most people get enough of Monday – Friday. Add to thins the fact that the show is set in the near past and The Newsroom offers a strange, revisionist history of American media, re-framing the coverage of BP oil spill inaccurately.
There are of course bright moments to the show. The acting is excellent and there is a compelling human story at the heart of the shows plot. Unfortunately, it’s all so deeply buried in a layer of Aaron Sorkin’s farts that it’s hard to see. I guess what I’m trying to say is instead of watching The Newsroom I’ll stick to watching Sports Night on Netflix for the eighth time.
I love boxing, L-O-V-E it. At it’s best, there simply isn’t a sport that compares to the violent beauty of the sweet science. Don’t believe me? Watch this:
That said, after this weekend’s egregious (rigged?) split decision in Pacquiao vs. Bradley, I think it’s time to declare boxing dead. It’s simply not that compelling anymore. There are really only two “must-see” fighters in the sport: Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr — if you’re really stretching things I guess you could add Miguel Cotto and maybe Amir Khan to the list, but have you ever heard anyone say, “Can’t go out tonight, Miguel Cotto is fighting…” ? A fight between the two may be able to revive the sport, but don’t hold your breath for that to happen. Even if the two fighters’ promoters (Top Rank for Pac-Man, Golden Boy for Money) could come to an understanding (unlikely), Pacquiao still has to have a rematch with Bradley before any fight with Mayweather. Furthermore, since Bradley did “officially” beat Pacquiao, Mayweather has a convenient excuse to continue dodging the one man on earth who has a shot at blemishing his record.
Still, if you enjoy a little sanctioned violence (you know you do) there’s no need to despair, there’s another combat sport out there which actually well-run and features compelling cards on a regular basis. Here’s a few reasons that you might want to consider just ditching boxing for mixed martial arts:
1. A wealth of compelling fighters
Unlike boxing, MMA is stocked with compelling and dominating fighters in nearly every weight class. Middleweight Anderson Silva is the current pound for pound king and the Bantamweight, Featherweight, Welterweight, and Light Heavyweight weight classes have their own dominant champs in Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Georges St. Pierre, and Jon Jones, respectively. Also unlike boxing, which has had its Heavyweight division dominated for the past half-decade by the thoroughly uncompelling (if underrated) Wladimir Klitschko, UFC’s heavyweight division is very much up for grabs with the likes of Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem looking to challenge current champ Junior Dos Santos, not to mention the possibility of a healthy Shane Carwin creating an extra bit of havoc. Boxing simply can’t compete.
2. A better promotion system
The fact that we haven’t seen a Pacquiao – Mayweather matchup is a real indictment of boxing’s promotion system.No such problems exist in MMA, where the vast majority of the best fighters are under the UFC promotion. I’m far from Dana White’s biggest fan — his personal feud with Fedor Emilianenko denied us the chance to see perhaps the greatest martial artist ever take on the best available competition — but there’s no denying that he’s done an excellent job turning UFC from a sideshow curiosity into a legitimate major sport. Consider this example of how much more efficient UFC’s structure is: when Bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz tore his ACL in training for his UFC 149 title defense against top contender Urijah Faber the promotion responded quickly by setting an interim title fight between Faber and the weight class’ next best fighter: 28-1 Renan Barao. In boxing, when we don’t get Mayweather v Pacquiao we get stuck with Pacquiao v Bradley and disappointment all around.
3. A simplified weight class structure
An underrated aspect of boxing’s decline has been the addition of the incremental Super- and Junior- weight class designations. While it’s cool to see a guy like Manny Pacquiao constantly change his weight to pick up titles in a host of classes, it would be nice to see him him defend those titles more often. MMA’s simpler weight classes creates more intrigue within the divisions. Familiarity breeds contempt among fighters and MMA has more legitimate rivalries — like Faber and Cruz in the Bantamweight division and Jon Jones and everyone else at 205 lbs — than boxing, where the two biggest “rivals” have never actually fought each other. Furthermore, not having the incremental weight classes creates more intrigue when fighters jump up a class. If and when Jones makes his much-anticipated jump to heavyweight, he’ll be going from 205 lbs to 265 lbs, kind of a big deal.
4. More exciting fights
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. The grappling aspect of MMA can sometimes turn fights into a soul sucking grind of two sweaty dudes rolling around on the ground. Still, there’s a nuance to wrestling, take-down defense, submissions, and jiu-jitsu that fight fans can grow to appreciate.
Mixed Martial Arts’ lighter gloves and more varied strikes lead to more knockouts, both often and early. While this makes the classic boxing wars of days past (Ward v Gatti, Ali v Frasier) nigh impossible, it does add more unpredictability to the sport. Stuff like this is pretty damn cool (I apologize for the poor video quality):
Additionally, the increased frequency of knockouts (I’ll include submissions here) takes power out of the hands of the scorekeepers which, as we learned from Pacquiao-Bradley, is a good thing.
5. Better fight cards
This might be UFC’s single greatest advantage over boxing. Consider the upcoming UFC 149 which was originally set to feature title defenses from both Cruz and Aldo. Unfortunately, both fighters were injured in training, making the card less compelling, bu the point stands. When was the last time a boxing card featured two of the sport”s five best pound for pound fighters in two separate fights?
For my money there’s still nothing that compares to a great boxing match. For all it’s excitement, MMA can’t match the awesomeness of an all out boxing war. Still, if I’m getting pay-per-view, I’d much rather shell out for a UFC card. That way, I know that I’ll see some intriguing fighters and see some good fights with outcomes that make sense. I wish I could say the same for boxing.
This year’s NBA Playoffs have been great. We’ve seen a number one seed go down in the first round (Bulls), the Lakers implode (always fun), the rebirth of one of the sport’s greatest rivalries (Celtics – Sixers), the birth of what could be the league’s next dynasty — or next late 90s/ early 00s Sacramento Kings — (Oklahoma City), and the sport’s best player taking his game to the next level (LeBron). That’s why it’s such a shame that these playoffs are going to end in the least compelling way possible: a championship for the San Antonio Spurs, the blandest, least dominant “dominant” team in NBA history. Think about it, every other possible outcome is way more exciting than the Spur’s winning. If the Heat win, it’s LeBron’s coronation, he’ll cement his legacy, and Skip Bayless will have one less talking point. If the Thunder win, it’s the birth of a potential dynasty and Kevin Durant potentially surpasses LeBron as the game’s best player (Kobe remains in the conversation). If the Celtics win it’s a last hurrah for three Hall of Famers, who rejuvenated the Association’s most storied franchise, plus riot potential. The Spurs? Another championship for a consistent, but boring team that never won two in a row and would have been stomped by any of the teams that won the title between theirs. No one wants to see that. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable.
Look at how the remaining teams and how they match up with the Spurs. The Thunder have already shown that they can’t beat San Antonio, they haven’t even come close in two games. The Heat don’t have the depth or the big men to check Tim Duncan, and as last night showed, they have trouble defending speedy point guards like Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker. The Spurs, meanwhile, have the depth, pieces, and scheme to successfully contain James and Dwayne Wade. The Celtics probably match up best with the Spurs since Kevin Garnett is really the only player left in these playoffs capable of defending Duncan and Rondo owns Parker, but their roster is too thin and they’re not healthy enough to get by Miami. So yeah, the Spurs are the smart money to win it all.
Anyway, since we’re going to be stuck listening to and reading hagiographies of the Spurs for the next few weeks, I may as well take this opportunity to spew some bile on the whole affair by relentlessly hating on their entire roster. Admittedly the task is a bit harder since the Spurs no longer employ Bruce Bowen, a player whose only apparent skill was to try to physically injure his opponents, but I’ll try my best.
PG: Tony Parker: French. Allegedly slept with teammate Brent Barry’s wife. French.
SG: Daniel Green: Don’t lie, you wouldn’t recognize Danny Green if you saw him on the street. About as bland and faceless a player as you can come up with.
C: Boris Diaw: Name makes him seem Russian. Is actually French.
PF: Tim Duncan: For a player who is constantly celebrated as Fundamentally Sound and Plays the Game the Right Way ™, Duncan sure is a little bitch. In Tim Duncan’s mind, he has never committed a single foul. Marvel as he reacts the exact same way to every whistle, by turning his palms up and bugging his eyes out a full centimeter. Also, unless he’s calling “bank” every time, those shots shouldn’t count.
SF: Kawhi Leonard: What?! I don’t even….
Manu Ginobili: Constantly cited as counter-evidence for the Spurs being boring despite the fact that one player does not make a team exciting on his own (it’s a style thing). Has done more than any other player — except perhaps Vlade Divac — to spur the proliferation of soccer-style flopping in the NBA. Male pattern baldness.
Tiago Splitter: Has a dumb name.
Stephen Jackson: The Palace Brawl is unforgivable. Probably brings a gun with him to the supermarket.
DeJuan Blair: Played at Pittsburgh. Has no ACLs. I can literally hear bones grinding together in my mind when I watch Blair play. You’re welcome for me ruining your future viewing experiences.
Matt Bonner: Ginger. Still probably the most likable player on this team, which says a lot.
Gary Neal, Patrick Mills, Cory Joseph, James Anderson: As far as I’m concerned, these aren’t actually players, just names that Gregg Popovich invented. I defy you to name me one fact about any of these people without googling.
So there you have it, indisputable scientific evidence that the Spurs suck. Enjoy the rest of the playoffs.
I like to work out, you know, for the ladies. Unfortunately, I live in the deepest recesses of suburbia, so my gym has TVs in the weight room. Even more unfortunately, due to the hour at which I choose to work out, some of those TVs are often showing ESPN’s First Take, a show which I can only assume is produced for the sole purpose of appealing to whatever it is meth addicted toddlers grow up to become. Anyways, today on First Take, professional yellers Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith were discussing Terrell Owens’ recent appearance on Dr. Phil, and how it will affect his Hall of Fame chances. As far as I can tell, that conversation is the perfect storm of stupid. Let’s break it down: Bayless and Smith, two of the five WORST sports personalities in the history of sports going all the way back to the first time a caveman threw a rock; Dr. Phil, the Milwaukee’s Best of therapists; Terrell Owens, whose name I thought I would never have to see or hear again; and the NFL Hall of Fame, a place so stupid that it won’t let Cris Carter in already. Ladies and Gentlemen, we can stop looking, we’ve found the singularity. Luckily, the TV was muted and I had my iPod in for good measure so I didn’t have to hear any of the actual conversation, but I feel like my gym should be refunding part of my dues just for subjecting me to seeing it on the screen.
Hey have you heard that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim which is on the West Coast of the United States in North America are 9-15 and in last place in the AL West? Who could have seen this coming for everyone’s favorite World Series pick? Well, no sane observer of baseball would have picked the Angels to finish in last place (they won’t), but I was among the few to predict that they wouldn’t make the playoffs. So while it’s still really early, allow me a moment to gloat, and explain why things aren’t going to get any better in Orange County.
1. The Angels lineup is atrocious
Ok, Albert Pujols will likely hit a homer at some point, and he definitely won’t post a Chone Figgins-esque .547 OPS for the rest of the season. Still, there are a few reasons to believe that Pujols may never again be the same caliber player he was with the Cardinals. The first factor is his age. Pujols is listed as 32 years old — which the history of Dominican imports suggests is a sketchy figure to begin with (my guess is he’s closer to 34) — which means that for all intents and purposes, his prime as a player is over. A normal aging curve wouldn’t have Pujols dropping off the cliff he has this year, but it wouldn’t have him getting better either. Add to that the fact that Pujols is moving to the tougher league and from a hitters park in St. Louis to a more pitcher friendly environment in Anaheim and the days of Albert Pujols, superstar may be at an end. I don’t put much stock into psychological factors, because I can’t read players’ minds, but the sniping between Pujols, his teammates, and hitting coach isn’t encouraging either.
As for the rest of the Angels lineup, it’s pretty bad. Mark Trumbo has made significant strides in his approach this year and is actually a productive hitter now, but he doesn’t have a position because he was pretty awful at third base and the Angels already have four outfielders. Kendrys Morales was once a beast, but he’s missed two full seasons after a horrific leg injury so it’s going to take some time for him to be productive again if he ever is. Howie Kendrick is an abover average second baseman, but he doesn’t take walks. Chris Ianetta is an above average offensive catcher, but I’m not sure Mike Sciosca (he of the Jeff Mathis man crush) really appreciates his skill set (drawing walks). As for the rest of the everyday players, they range from average regulars (Alberto Callaspo) to aging, below average former stars (Torii Hunter) to negative value guys who really shouldn’t be playing anymore (Vernon Wells). Calling up Mike Trout is a step in the right direction, but counting on a guy who can’t legally buy alcohol to carry your lineup isn’t a recipe for success.
2. The Angels bullpen is pretty bad too
Former GM Tony Reagins gave set-up man Scott Downs a three year contract last winter. Even though giving relievers contracts longer than two years is generally a bad idea, Downs has probably been the lone bright spot in the Angels bullpen this season. That said, his K rate is way down (very small sample) and he’s got a 100% strand rate and .200 BABIP against, so he might be due for some regression. The rest of the bullpen has been atrocious (ERA in the 5s), not Red Sox bad, but still pretty bad. And unlike the Red Sox, the Angels don’t have the offense to simply bludgeon inferior opponents into submission.
3. The Competition is stiff
Coming into the season there were six teams (Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays) considered legitimate contenders for the two AL wild card spots. Two of those teams will win the AL West and East. Assuming that the Rangers have the West wrapped — again it’s early, but Texas is clearly better than Anaheim by any objective measure — the Angels still have to compete with the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, and Jays for two spots. All of those teams look better than the Angels. The Yankees rotation is a concern, but they can still thump. The Red Sox rotation actually looks pretty good now (Clay Buchholz as your worst starter is a good problem to have) and although their bullpen could be historically awful, it can really only get better, especially if Mark Melancon’s recent AAA success carries back over to the majors and Andrew Bailey returns in form, also the Sox, unlike the Angels, can score runs. Losing Evan Longoria is huge for the Rays, but they have the depth, and pitching, to survive. The Jays are due for some regression from their pitching — Henderson Alvarez is only striking out 2.5 per nine, making his 3.56 ERA a bit shaky — but their lineup is also good. Furthermore, all these teams are dealing with some serious injuries and therefore can look forward to improvements as they get players back. The Angels for all their underachieving have been the model of health, so no such luck there.
It’s not all bad for the Angels, in fact there are plenty of reasons to believe that they can be a contender. You just might want to revise those World Series prediction.
P.S. For what it’s worth, my World Series pick, the Diamondbacks, are four games out of first and look perfectly mediocre.
Everyone deserves a second chance right? At least that’s the assumption I was operating under when I gave HBO’s Girls another shot this Sunday night. In the time since I wrote my original post on the show, people have really piled on the series. Some of this was to be expected, after all, critics talked about Girls as if it were the best thing to happen to TV since Seinfeld, and then it wasn’t. Some of the criticisms (especially mine) are valid. Girls has a real nepotism problem, and is way too white for a show set in Brooklyn. Some of the criticisms are invalid. Lena Dunham being a bit chubby does not a bad show make. So keeping all this in mind, I approached the second episode of the series with a fresh set of eyes, and found myself pleasantly surprised.
Girls still isn’t a laugh riot, but it’s easier to relate to the characters when they’re not begging their parents for money or stealing tips from hotel maids. And there were some genuine moments of comedy in the episode, most notably the scene where Dunham’s character googles “stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms.” I would venture that many people have had similar experiences of neurosis when it comes to the risks associated with STDs, such is America in the age of politically correct sex education. It was also pleasant to see the excellent Mike Birbiglia making a cameo. Finally, Ashley Williams is really pretty.
On the other hand, some of the problems with the show persist. The characters still aren’t likable, although I guess this could be partly excused since some of them are dealing with real problems (some aren’t). I get that the show is trying to capture the hipster aesthetic, I just don’t know that hipsters are really a good source of comedy, or even a group to look to for a social message. For example, who the f*ck goes to a bar and orders a white russian? Ironic drink orders, not funny. And of course, it doesn’t help that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ new comedy Veep proved to be extremely funny in its first episode.
All in all, I’ve softened my take on the show a bit. I can definitely see what some of the glowing pre-premiere reviews were based on. I’m willing to give episode three a shot. Also, more Ashley Williams please.
Oh, for it to be March again, back when there was unlimited potential for the baseball season. Instead it’s late April, and for the third straight year, the Boston Red Sox are off to a horrendous start. In case you’re looking for a silver lining, there doesn’t appear to be one. After the last two poor Aprils the Red Sox missed the playoffs. Still, simply noting that bad Aprils lead to missed playoffs is probably too simplistic a reading of the 2012 Red Sox. After all, the 2011 version of the Red Sox would have made the playoffs easily if not for an historically awful September. In fact, while there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged about this year’s team, there’s also plenty of reasons to see potential improvement.
Let’s start with the bad, since it’s much more apparent. First off, the Red Sox pitching has been abysmal. They’ve allowed 100 runs on the season already, nine more than the next worse pitching staff, the Minnesota Twins. It’s hard to pinpoint one problem for the Sox pitching staff that can be easily fixed since everyone has been either terrible, or at best inconsistent. There have been some calls to return set-up-man turned starter Daniel Bard to the ‘pen — and they probably got louder after Bard came in to last night’s game against the Twins and stopped the go-ahead run from scoring from third base — but for reasons I’ll explain later, that would be a mistake.
The second major problem for the Red Sox has been injuries to their outfield. Against the Twins last night, the Sox started (from Left to Right) Cody Ross, Marlon Byrd, and Ryan Sweeney. Prior to the season, Ross and Sweeney were expected to form a platoon in right field with Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Carl Crawford in left. While Sweeney has been hitting very well and Ross was Monday’s hero with two home runs to tie the game and put the Sox ahead, the current outfield is a significant downgrade — defensively if nothing else — from what Boston expected to have in the offseason. You’ll note that I haven’t listed Bobby Valentine among the Red Sox problems. That’s because with how bad the pitching has been, I don’t see how Bobby V really could have made a difference either way. It isn’t as if the Red Sox have been losing a ton of very close games.
These problems aside, there are reasons for Red Sox fans to be hopeful. First, the pitching staff won’t remain this bad. Some of the pitchers — Matt Albers comes to mind — are probably past their usefulness, however, others have been victims of bad luck and small sample sizes. Alfredo Aceves may not morph into Jonathan Papelbon, but he’s not going to carry a 24.00 ERA for the rest of the season either. At the same time, the Sox have gotten much more out of the back end of their rotation than they could have imagined. Felix Doubront is striking out 11.25 batters per nine and Daniel Bard has a 9.49 K/9 mark and a 3.25 FIP. Bard may be struggling a little with walks, but simple arithmetic shows that moving him to the bullpen would be wasteful — turning 150 or more innings at that FIP into 75 or so is dumb.
A second reason for hope is that the Sox outfield should be improved over last year’s model once Crawford and Ellsbury return in the next two months. Sweeney has a 1.051 OPS so far on the season and is mashing righties to a 1.206 OPS. Meanwhile Ross has a .973 OPS himself (1.1015 against lefties). Even with a normalization in stats, the Sox’s right field platoon should be an upgrade over what JD Drew and Josh Reddick provided in 2011.
Finally, the schedule is about to get much easier for the Red Sox. They started the season with series @ Detroit, @ Toronto, vs. Tampa, vs. Texas, and vs. New York. All of those teams should be playoff contenders in 2012 and facing them all in a row would be a tough task for anyone, let alone a team with as many outside distractions as Boston. Contrast that with the next few series that the Sox play: @ Minnesota, @ Chicago, vs. Oakland, vs. Baltimore, @ Kansas City, vs. Cleveland, vs. Seattle. With that run of cupcakes, it’s not out of the question that the Sox could be in first place by the time they face of against the Rays on May 15th. If you think that’s irrational, take a look at that schedule one more time.
So what can the Red Sox do to ensure that they’re sitting pretty in May? I have a couple suggestions:
1. Stand Pat
Bobby Valentine was probably right when he called Saturday’s loss to the Yankees “rock bottom.” It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse. I’ve already outlined the reasons why I think moving Daniel Bard to the bullpen would be a mistake, but the Red Sox do have a pitching dilemma of sorts. Veteran starter Aaron Cook has a 1.33 ERA in AAA and can opt out of his contract in May. Cook is a former all-star and losing him for nothing would hurt, but simply giving him a rotation spot isn’t without significant risk. He’s been pretty bad the last two years, and he’s currently walking more hitters than he’s striking out in the minors, which is a major red flag. Still, the Red Sox run the risk of Bard and Doubront wearing down as the season progresses, so here’s what I propose: a six-man rotation. It’s not something often seen, but given that Bard and Doubront haven’t had a full season starting in the majors yet, and that Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz haven’t exactly been durable over the courses of their careers, it makes some sense. If Cook proves ineffective, Boston could move back to the five-man rotation, or try the six-man configuration again once Daisuke Matsuzaka is healthy.
2. Trade Kevin Youkilis
Bobby Valentine made an unforced error by talking about Youkilis on the radio, but there’s a kernel of truth to his statements. I don’t know about Youk’s desire to play, but his effectiveness as both a hitter and a fielder has diminished significantly. Meanwhile, heir apparent Will Middlebrooks is slugging .757, with eight homers in AAA including a recent stretch where he went deep in four straight games. Middlebrooks would offer an immediate defensive upgrade over Youkilis and he has little left to prove in the minors. Youkilis’ value is likely at an all-time low, and there aren’t a ton of obvious trade partners, but the Sox do have the flexibility of pitching him as both a first baseman and a third baseman. Perhaps the Dodgers, with their surprising early season run and gaping holes at both third and first would be willing to take a look? The best case scenario would involve Youkilis’ bat waking up a little to make him more attractive, but it’s pretty clear that his days as the Red Sox third baseman are numbered.
This April has been a tough pill to swallow for Red Sox fans, but it’s still too early to panic, especially when there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
All right, critics, here’s the deal. If you’re going to expend months and countless thousands of words talking about how good, smart, and important a show is; it actually has to be good. As a corollary to that rule I’ll add this: if you’re going to call something a comedy it actually has to be funny, and you don’t get off that hook by calling it a dark comedy. Let’s start with the second point. There’s been a rash of pay cable channels creating relatively undramatic dramas and then calling them comedies despite the fact that they contain no jokes. Perhaps the best example of this is Showtime’s Nurse Jackie which is somehow still running despite having no obvious appeal. In this vein, HBO’s new “comedy” Girls is not funny. I watched the premiere, twice, just to make sure, and I didn’t laugh once. As for how this ties into the first point, Girls is also not a good show.
How bad is it? It made me want to vote for Mitt Romney, because if this is the way my generation actually thinks then we might as well let our parents just burn this entire fucker down before we finally grow up. Of course, the characters (and even the cast) of Girls are hardly representative of everyone in their 20s. In fact, based on my own experience with being 24 years old, I have no idea where these people exist. As a point of reference, of my friends, the people I grew up with, met in college, and in the ensuing years, I’m probably one of the more shiftless individuals. In fact, I can find more than a few parallels between myself and Lena Dunham’s character on the show (I’m not making the effort to imdb this one so deal). I, like Dunham’s character, happen to be 24, with a very limited income. I’ve spent the last six months working on a novel, that objectively, kinda sucks. Unlike Dunham’s character, I wouldn’t be so pretentious as to attempt a memoir at 24, but potato, potahto amirite? Also, like Dunham’s character, I rely on my parents for financial assistance (though not to the same degree) and I have quite a few friends who do the same. The real difference between people like me, however, and people like the characters in Girls is that we don’t like the fact that we have to ask our parents for the occasional buck. In fact, it’s kind of a constant point of shame. I don’t think that I know anyone who’s quite as sociopathic as Dunham’s twat of an actor/woodworker (*double wanking motion*) boyfriend, who actually hits up his grandmother for money.
There would be nothing wrong if those two were the only characters on the show to hate. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single likable character in the entire cast. Not even Dunham’s parents, who are apparently smart enough to be professors, but not smart enough to realize that starting a blog is not the route to riches (trust me). I won’t go into the details of each character, because I’m lazy, but I will point you to this recap from Gawker, which sums things up pretty nicely. These people aren’t broad, idiotic stereotypes like the ones on 2 Broke Girls, but their navel-gazing angst, ennui, and senses of entitlement make them just as offensive.
Of course, a show can still be good if the characters are loathsome individuals. In fact, there’s a show that ran right before Girls which makes that fact abundantly clear. Eastbound and Down‘s Kenny Powers is probably a worse person than Lena Dunham’s character on Girls. He’s an unrepentantly racist, drug addled, man child wholly unconcerned with anyone but himself. Here’s the thing, you can make light of Kenny, or even root for him to pull his shit together because the show is funny, like a comedy should be. The only thing I’m rooting for Lena Dunham’s character to do at this point is get a job at McDonalds or something, I don’t care, writing is hard, I’ve gotta go call my mom and get some money. I think she has some left in her IRA.
Perhaps it’s in bad taste to write a post a couple of hours after posting that I wouldn’t be writing for a little while. That being the case, I managed to find some time between stuffing my face with tacos (sadly not a euphemism, as a New Englander I’m deprived of good Mexican food and as such spend most of my trips to California eating nothing but meat, beans and rice) to put to pen something that I’ve been mulling around in my head for about a week or so. But first, since we’re already in an apologetic spirit, sorry if this contains less than the requisite amount of fart jokes that you’ve come to expect from me.
As you may have gleaned from my seemingly nonstop praise, HBO’s Game of Thrones is in my estimation head and shoulders the best show on television. Still, standing head and shoulders (irony not really intended, if you can not intend iron in a blog post) the rest of that show’s estimable cast is one man; Peter Dinklage. Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister has, since his introduction, been the show’s most consistently likable and interesting character. Despite the first season’s natural bent towards making Ned Stark the center of attention, Tyrion consistently stole the show, at least in part due to the way Stark’s Boy Scout sense of honor led him to an easily predictable (in retrospect) early grave.* With Stark out of the way, the show now belongs unmistakably to Tyrion and Dinklage has been awesome in the role. Seriously, hand him all the Emmy’s right now, no one else need be considered. Still, while I’ve been a Dinklage fan since I saw The Station Agent on a plane when I was 14, the question that’s been nagging me is whether Dinklage just has a natural advantage over every other actor on TV: the strength of his writing.
Let’s start with the writing aspect. Along with, perhaps, Mad Men, Game of Thrones is TV’s best written drama**. The plot lines are complex, sweeping, and unpredictable. Characters who seem destined for greatness one moment find themselves getting executed in the next. What makes Game of Thrones truly great is the dialogue. The mark of great dialogue is that it reveals how a character thinks without saying it in certain terms. For example, simply from her interactions with others, we understand that the only type of power that Cersei Lannister understands is the Machiavellian kind (Her line about pulling out weeds is particularly revealing). In this sense, Tyrion Lannister is a wonderfully written character. His motivations aren’t always completely clear, he’s driven in part by love of a family that doesn’t love him back (with the exception of Jamie) and in part by a deep sense of shame stemming both from his birth and his first “marriage.” Tyrion’s a good guy on the bad guys’ side and he seems to be aware of that fact, but he’s also smart enough to realize that in his situation the good guys aren’t that different from the bad guys. In fact, the “good guys” have already tried to have him killed. As such, his outlet seems to be to call every other character in the show out on their bullshit, and in a drama about court intrigue there’s plently of bullshit to call out. The only other character on TV as complex as Tyrion is Don Draper (can you tell my viewing habits yet?) and Don isn’t as consistently likable as Tyrion for a number of reasons.
So yeah, Dinklage is at a natural advantage over pretty much every other actor on television, he has the best character to work with. Some of Tyrion’s turns of phrase this season have been nothing short of brilliant. Still, even as an aspiring writer, I’m loathe to chalk up Dinklage’s brilliance to the script and just be done with it. After all, Cerseri Lannister and Littlefinger get handed plenty of quality dialogue every week and I’m not ready to put Lena Headey*** and Aiden Gillan on the same level as Dinklage. It really isn’t something that can be reduced to a recipe: two parts source material, one part adaptation, one part actor, shake with ice and serve in a chalice. So for lack of a better equation, let’s leave this where we started and just hand Peter Dinklage every award we can find, k?
*Those who have read the books on which Game of Thrones is based will note that Stark is a classic heroic figure, a guy who keeps making decisions based on what is right rather than what he really wants: his marriage, becoming Hand of the King, not immediately outing Cersei and Jamie, the list goes on. Guys like that seldom make it to the top in real life and they always wind up dead in Westeros.
**What’s interesting is the contrast between the two. Mad Men relies on an economy of dialogue. The exchanges between characters are generally short and terse. You know, how normal people talk. It’s awesome in it’s realism. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, is full of lengthy, witty banter and epic speeches, yet in context, it doesn’t necessarily fell less real. You expect people in castles to talk like that. Two strategies, similar effects. I have way too much time.
***Headey has done a phenomenal job imbuing Cersei with the kind of sneering smugness that anyone who’s read the books imagines the character with, still I wonder if there aren’t dozens of female actors who couldn’t do the same. Also, she just looks weird as a blond.