Monthly Archives: April 2012

Perhaps I Was Wrong About ‘Girls’

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.

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Finding Hope in an Another Abysmal Red Sox April

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.

I Watched the Series Premiere of ‘Girls’ and All I Got Was This Headache

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.

Peter Dinklage, Tyrion Lannister, and the Value of Good Writing

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.

Programming Note

I’m on the West Coast this week, so that means infrequent (more so than usual) posting. I’ll try to hammer out a couple, but I’m not making any promises. You may now return to searching youtube for videos of cats.

Uninformed Baseball Preview: 10 Predictions for the Upcoming Season

Poor wardrobe choices aside, Evan Longoria is your AL MVP

The 2012 Major League Regular Season begins tomorrow at 1:00 pm EST when the Red Sox face the Tigers. Alright, so it really began last Wednesday, but who here actually paid attention to the As and Mariners in Japan? Didn’t think so. Anyways, with the season all set to kick off, let’s hand out some awards and make some predictions, all of which will undoubtedly be wrong.

1. AL MVP: Evan Longoria, 3B, TAM (ZiPS projection (AVG/OBP/OPS) .274/.367/.881, 31 HRS)

I’ve said before that I believe that Tampa Bay is the best team in baseball and Longoria is the Rays’ best player. He’s had four good to great seasons in the league already, establishing himself as one of the two best third basemen in the game along with Adrian Beltre. Now it’s time to take the next step and collect some hardware for it. I think Longoria’s OPS will be above .900 with 35+ homers to go with his customary stellar defense.

2. NL MVP: Justin Upton RF, AZ ( ZiPS (AVG/OBP/OPS) .283/.366/.871, 28 HR, 22 SB)

There are safer picks, like Matt Kemp and Joey Votto, but Upton is already so good at 24 years of age that it’s impossible to ignore. I could see the stolen bases dropping a little while the power jumps. Whatever the case, Upton has been historically good at a very young age and players who play as well as he has this early almost always improve as they age.

3. AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, RHP, SEA (ZiPS (ERA, K/9, BB/9, FIP) 3.00, 8.57, 2.54, 2.96)

Why not? The Mariners figure to be pretty bad this season, but Hernandez already won a Cy Young in 2010, when Seattle lost 101 games — perhaps the long awaited final nail in the coffin for pitcher wins as a relevant statistic. In any case, Hernandez, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander are the three best pitchers in the AL by a decent margin. Hernandez is the youngest of the three, Verlanders is due for a decent sized statistical regression, and Sabathia’s strikeout rate has been slowly declining in recent seasons.

4. NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, SF (ZiPS (ERA, K/9, BB/9, FIP) 2.92, 9.52, 3.17, 2.89)

Teammate Matt Cain just got the richest contract ever for a right handed pitcher — an overpay, but that’s another conversation for another day — and Lincecum should see his own big payday soon enough. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw seems to have grabbed the mantle of NL’s best pitcher from Lincecum and Roy Halladay and there’s been some hand wringing in San Francisco about “The Freak’s” diminished velocity this spring as well as his decision to junk his slider to preserve his arm. I’m not buying the anti -Lincecum hype. The velo drop could be a concern, but I’m not convinced that it’s not just a case of a veteran pitcher saving some bullets for the regular season. As for the no slider policy, it was Lincecum’s fourth best pitch anyways, and his fastball and changeup are so good that he could probably junk his curve as well and still be above average. Lincecum is perhaps the most successful slight-statured pitcher since Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax and while both of those guys had injury problems later in their careers I’m not going to worry about Lincecum until someone reports he’s having a MRI on his rotator cuff.

5. AL ROY: Matt Moore, SP, TAM

With Mike Trout getting sent to the minors for the start of the season (more on that later) there are really only two choices for the award: Moore and Darvish. Given their relative age and experience differences, I could see Darvish being the more effective pitcher in 2012 — that’s not to say I don’t like Moore, I love Moore. This pick is based more on my belief that some voters simply won’t vote for Darvish given his experience in NPB (the Japanese League). I personally don’t think that professional experience overseas should put a player out of the running for Rookie of the Year honors — after all Darvish is a Major League Rookie — but no one ever won any bets by underestimating baseball writers’ capacity for ignorance or logical fallacy.

6. NL ROY: Zach Cozart, SS, CIN

In my NL Central Preview, I highlighted another Red, catcher Devin Mesoraco, who looks to be a more valuable player than Cozart in the long run. Unfortunately, Mesoraco will begin the season backing up Ryan Hanigan. The other smart-money picks for NL ROY honors: Bryce Harper and Trevor Bauer, will begin the season in the minors and when Bauer finally gets the call it might be as a reliever. So, as Rob Neyer points out, Cozart kind of wins this by default of being the guy with the most at bats. He’s got a very good defensive reputation and the offensive bar for shortstops is set so low that he should be serviceable. He’s probably not an All-Star level player, but he might be the highest probability choice at this point.

6. The Nationals will regret sending Bryce Harper to the minors, as will the Angels with Mike Trout

Harper is 19, and he clearly has some work to do in the minors, but he has to be better than current center fielder Roger Bernadina, a replacement level player. The Nationals clearly consider themselves contenders, otherwise they wouldn’t have raided the farm system for a pitcher as flawed as Gio Gonzalez, or given a one year deal to Edwin Jackson, who is apparently on a mission to play for all 30 teams. The problem is that Washington plays in a division with three other playoff contenders — Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami — and even if Harper comes up in June they’ll have spent two months getting nothing from center field, which is something that they’ll have to live with if they miss the playoffs by a game or two. Harper is far from a sure bet to be two wins better than Bernadina over two months of the season, but there’s a possibility that he is, whereas everyone knows Bernadina has no upside.

The same thing goes for the Angels and their decision to send Mike Trout to AAA. Anaheim has a great rotation, but after Albert Pujols their lineup looks awful anemic. No one knows what to expect from Kendrys Morales after two lost seasons, Mark Trumbo puts up sub .300 on base percentages, Torii Hunter is clearly on the downside of his career, and Vernon Wells remains the poster child for bad contract decisions. Trout was pretty bad in his major league debut last season, but he’s been one of the three best prospects in baseball for three years now and it’s not like the Angels have a lot to lose by playing him now. Like the Nationals, they’re going to regret the decision to not start Trout from day one if they miss the playoffs by a game or two.

7. Jason Heyward will hit more than 30 homers

Perhaps not a huge stretch given the power that Heyward showed in the minors, but his high for a season in the majors was 18 in 2010. Of course Heyward is just 22, with only two years of major league experience, which makes the rumors of his demise laughable. After a 2011 season marred by injuries and mismanagement by Fredi Gonzalez, who benched Heyward for an extended stretch, the Braves right fielder looks like a good bet for a breakout season. Remember that it was just two years ago when Heyward was drawing Griffey comparisons — the good kind. Turner Field suppresses home runs, but Heyward has special power, the ball jumps off his bat to all fields. He’s a big reason why I believe the Braves are primed to pick up one of the NL Wild Card spots.

8. Three AL East teams will make the playoffs

You may have caught this if you paid attention to the win projections in my preview columns (it’s okay, I know you didn’t). For the record, I’m not a huge fan of the new playoff structure, which places additional emphasis on the divisions. I personally feel baseball should be de-emphasizing the divisions and moving towards a more balanced schedule so the best teams in each league are in the playoffs every year rather than those who have the privilege of playing in the AL Central (revolutionary I know) — but I digress.

In any case, the AL East is stacked, as usual. I’ve already made my feelings about Tampa clear. The Yankees may have been quiet in free agency, but they made some smart moves to shore up their pitching in the offseason. I think Hiroki Kuroda was a really smart signing even if his performance drops a little as he moves to a tougher league/park. As for the Red Sox, no one should be writing them off, even if Andrew Bailey is out until July. If not for a terrible April and September, they would have had the best record in baseball. I know, I know, hypotheticals are pretty worthless in hindsight, but its hard to imagine the Sox having two historically bad months again, right? Irregardless, I don’t see how this year’s team is worse than last year’s model, and I see plenty of reasons to believe that they could be better.

As for the non- AL East wild card contenders, there aren’t any in the AL Central, unless you really want to dream on Cleveland (you don’t), and you already have my thoughts on the Angels.

9. Will Middlebrooks will be the Red Sox starting third baseman by the end of the season

Bonus Red Sox prediction, because I like to stick to what I (pretend to) know. I’m not sold on Kevin Youkilis’ ability to stand up to the rigors of a full season at third base. Youkilis is a phenomenal hitter, but he’s always had a bad body for a third baseman. My guess is that he hits the DL at some point in June and that when he comes back he splits time between third and DH. That opens the door for Middlebrooks, a guy who Red Sox fans can dream on a bit. He’s improved every year he’s been in the minors and he’s an immediate upgrade defensively over Youk. Middlebrooks’ approach needs refinement, but he’s demonstrated some pop thus far in the minors. A more likely scenario for a Youkilis injury is Mike Aviles shifting to third and Jose Iglesias getting called up to play short, but I’m not convinced that’s actually an appreciable upgrade over simply calling up Middlebrooks.

10. The Texas Ranger will lose in the World Series for the third straight year

I know I just spent a good chunk of this column talking up Tampa as the best team in baseball, and that this prediction seems a bit cruel, but deal with it okay? I just have a feeling that Texas is heading down the path to becoming the baseball version of the late 80s /early 90s Buffalo Bills, an immensely talented team whose flaws reared their head at the worst possible moments. In Texas’ case, those flaws are manager Ron Washington, and a questionable starting rotation which lacks upside outside of Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz. Colby Lewis is the Rangers’ opening day starter. His 2011 FIP? 4.54. That’s a problem.

So who’s my World Series pick? The Arizona Diamondbacks. How’s that for bold?

Aaron Sorkin’s “Newsroom” Looks Really Aaron Sorkin-y

If you — like me — are one of the millions of NERDS who tuned in to last nights Game of Thrones premiere then perhaps you caught the promo for Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO program Newsroom — AKA Sportsnight II: This Time Without Sports. If you didn’t then here it is for your viewing pleasure:

All I can say is AARON SORKIN AARON SORKIN AARON SORKIN. Does this guy have any range at all? All he ever does is ‘behind the scenes everyone is complicated, but not really because all their problems are pretty trite.’ For the record, I actually like Sorkin, I love Sportsnight and The West Wing, hell I’ll even defend Studio 60, although The Social Network and Moneyball were kinda weak sauce . That said, this whole act is getting a bit old, no? Did this show really need to be made? I’ll probably still watch, but I guess what I’m trying to say is bring back Sportsnight. 

Mad Men Season 5: Everyone Gets Lazy

I’m in my mid-twenties and I’m a man of remarkably few accomplishments. I’m also tremendously lazy. I guess that’s why I can understand why Don Draper doesn’t seem to care anymore. Don’s pretty much got it all at this point. He’s at the top of his profession and he’s got a 20 year old wife who sings him “Zou Bissou Bissou” on his birthday. So what if he just wants a nap now?

Of course the truth about Don’s new found ambivalence is undoubtedly deeper than simple aging and contentment. Mad Men has always been more about the transformation of American culture than it has been about advertising. From the beginning of this season it’s become pretty clear that the show’s old guard is quickly falling behind the times. Last night’s scene at the Rolling Stones concert was instructive. 1962 Don Draper would have found a way to make that impossible situation work. 1966 Don Draper just isn’t cool enough and he doesn’t really seem to care.

For the past few seasons I’ve been operating on the assumption that Don would basically become Roger Sterling as he aged, a theory that I thought was confirmed when Don married his receptionist at the end of last season. It’s pretty clear now that that theory is flat out wrong. The two men have very different motivations. Roger Sterling has been on an alcohol fueled downslide for some time, but at least he’s still fighting, holding on to the ledge by his fingers, to paraphrase his own words. The reason is that Roger is a man motivated largely by pride. He can’t stand the thought of Pete Campbell — whom he brought into the business — upstaging him and he’ll fight tooth and nail to keep Campbell in his place. Don, for all his other faults, has never seemed a particularly proud man. His motivations have always been more about his insecurities. Those insecurities are now largely gone. Everyone knows about Dick Whitman now and Don can finally let his guard down and do what he really wants to do; sleep.

Don’s not the only one letting himself go. An interesting parallel is ex-wife Betty. Like Don, Betty finally has what she’s always wanted: a rich man who won’t cheat on her, and now she’s going to do what she wants; eat Bugles and ice cream*. Also like Don, Betty has always been driven by her insecurities largely linked to her incompetence as a mother and Don’s philandering**. Now the kids are older, she has help, and Don is largely out of the picture. Betty’s old weaknesses returned for a moment with the cancer scare, but as soon as she was in the clear, she went right back to her bad old habits.

There’s generally an overarching theme to each season of Mad Men, so far this season’s theme seems to be that everyone gets lazy.

* — January Jones in a fat suit has to be one of the most iconic TV images of the past year and possibly the funniest TV moment of 2012 so far. It certainly beats anything The Big Bang Theory has done throughout its existence.

** — I always found it interesting that despite his drinking and wenching, Don has always been the better parent of the two.