Thursday, February 28, 2008

#5

The Sopranos

Oh boy, here we go. The manliest show on my admittedly effeminate list (so far), and I've got it four spots lower than most people would say it belongs. In fact, when I told some of my chimp friends (as opposed to my knitting circle friends) that I was doing this list, the sentiment from most of them was, "Number one's gotta be The Sopranos, right?"

Nope. And I'm going to do something counter-intuitive here. Instead of making a case for how good it is, I'm going to take the decidedly odd tact of pointing out what's wrong with it.

Just to stifle potential apoplexy, I like all the things about it that everyone else does: The great dialogue, authenticity, violence, characterization, and the fact that almost anything about the mob is entertaining. Oh yeah, and that it pretty much single-handedly changed television is kinda important too, I guess. There are other shows I've mentioned that wouldn't have been made without the success of The Sopranos; Rescue Me and The Shield come to mind.

So it's great, ok? But here are three things I didn't like about it:

1. The interminable wait between seasons. Charles Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities one chapter at a time, week after week, in a London newspaper. Now that's a guy who knows how to keep momentum. David Chase could've taken a page out of Dickens' book (Zing!).

By the time a new season started, I'd lost all excitement and anticipation I'd built up from the end of the last one. I couldn't remember who was mad at whom for doing what. Remember, this isn't a a movie franchise. You can spend two hours with Batman Begins to get you pumped and ready for The Dark Knight. Due to The Sopranos' labyrinthine story lines, you almost have to watch the whole season to refresh your memory.

A year-and-a-half is too long between tv seasons. Period. And having to read about all the dopey contract struggles in the meantime only made matters worse.

Side note: I'm not sure of the last time I was more pumped for a movie than I am for Bale vs. Ledger this Spring.

2. Speaking of those curvy, complex character arcs and plot lines, count me among the myriad people who were constantly asking on Monday mornings: "Wait. Who is Alfredo, again? Are we supposed to know him?" Especially toward the end of its run, Chase's hubris at times exceeded his storytelling ability. There were lots of minor characters that weren't developed enough so that the audience was on a first name basis with them, and yet their names were often bandied about as if they were people we should be intimately familiar with.

There are defenders of this show who think the whole thing was all genius and insist that intelligent viewers who paid attention were always able to discern and digest the minutie of every conversation. Well, I saw every episode, and I consider myself fairly intelligent (I have a college degree and use words like "minutie" in everyday speech), and I was often confused. I wasn't alone.

3. My last point is purely subjective. You know how if you're really not expecting much out of a movie that's gotten pretty bad buzz, but you pop it in, and you're pleasantly surprised because it's better than you thought it was going to be?

Well, The Sopranos was the exact opposite of that for me. As I've already stated, I really liked the show. It's in my top five, for pete's sake. But some people just WILL NOT SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT HOW GREAT IT IS. Look, I get it. It's art. The acting's amazing. It's revolutionary. But it is not without flaws. Nothing is. After awhile, I felt like if it came out that David Chase actually wrote Godfather III, people would have re-examined it as a masterpiece. All the hype made me like it a little bit less. Not enough to cause visceral hatred of it like I have for Titanic, Chicago, or American Idol, but enough to bump it down a bit for me.

I know you were expecting me to bag on the ending for my last point. Well, to quote Dana Carvey quoting George H.W. Bush: "Not...gonna...dah-it." Although I thought that the abrupt and excessive blackness was a perfect example of Chase being too clever for his own good, I didn't have a problem with the ambiguity of the ending, or the entire scene up until that point. The point of that episode was that nothing had really changed for these fundamentally immoral/dysfunctional people, and never would. In that way, it was a lot like the much-maligned Seinfeld finale, which I thought was much better than it was given credit for.

Oh, one last complaint about The Sopranos: Although we were often treated to the silicon-enhanced talents of the females in the employ of the Bada Bing, it was rare that a feature character took the plunge. Meadow? Adriana? Hell, I would've taken Carmela.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Album tracks, continued

Note: Read the post below this one first, or don't read at all. You've been warned.
One thing that occurs to me while combing through these hidden gems is that it's possible in 20 years or so this might be a lot harder to compile. The music industry is more singles-based than ever. In fact, the hip-hop genre seems to be exclusively singles-based. The #1 song in the country right now is by a rapper named Flo-rida. How many songs has he recorded? One. He doesn't have an album.

It would be a real shame if that happened to the rock genre (contemporary country, btw, can go straight to hell). Some of my favorite albums recently have been thematic, such as Green Day's American Idiot or My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade. Of course if you go back through the history of rock you find seminal thematic rock albums by The Who, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles. So hopefully, there will always be a place for that, even if people are downloading them instead of buying cd's.

Ok, back to the list. Since I just mentioned MCR, let's start with them. The Black Parade was my favorite album of 2006, and in my top 10 ever. My favorite song on it, "Disenchanted" never took off as a single, for whatever reason. It's one of those amazing, anthematic power ballads that you can't help but sing along to.

Speaking of anthems, it's always pretty ballsy to put the word "Anthem" in your song title. It's even ballsier just to name it "Anthem." But that's what Blink 182 called the last song on Enema of the State, and it lives up to its billing. Ironically, it wasn't as popular as the follow up, "Anthem Part II" from their next album, which wasn't as good.

Going back to thematic albums, one that gets overlooked is Hole's Celebrity Skin. I know there were some well-known singles (such as the title track), but the whole thing was pretty damn good. I guess people looked at the combination of Courtney Love and Billy Corgan (who produced some of the tracks) as an unholy spawn of egos. Too bad, because they missed the pure pop joy of "Boys on the Radio," the most enduring tune on the album.

Cake's first album was played pretty heavily on Sacramento radio stations when I was at Davis, but I doubt it was much of a phenomenon anywhere outside of their hometown. Unless people have gone back and purchased their debut Motorcade of Generosity or seen them in concert, they wouldn't know my favorite Cake song, "Jolene." For obvious reasons, "Satan is My Motor" the first song off Prolonging the Magic never popped, but it's frickin' great. The title track off Comfort Eagle is one of the least Cake-like songs they've ever done, with its driving rhythm and dark, cynical tone, but it's brilliant.

I played the first Counting Crows cd so much that I wore the spots off it, but so did most radio stations. Out of all the songs on August and Everything After, I suppose "Anna Begins" most closely qualifies as a great song but not a hit. It seems every album since then has been pr0gressively worse than the last, but "I Wish I Was a Girl" was a splendid ditty off This Desert Life.

Another band that saw its best days in the 90s (I need to get some new cd's, apparently) was Everclear. I love nearly every song on their superlative sophomore effort, Sparkle and Fade. The first song, "Electra Made Me Blind" and the angry, nihilistic "Twistinside" were both better than a few of the four or five singles off that album.

This leaves two of my favorite bands for last. The first is Jimmy Eat World, who have quietly carved out a role of the nicest, ugliest band in rock, while putting out four straight albums of soul-enriching beauty. None of the songs off their breakthrough album Clarity are very well-known, except by JEW fans, but "For Me This is Heaven" is probably the best. Their next album (self-titled) is probably their most commercially successful to date, mostly on the strength of their biggest hit, "The Middle." Ironically, I find this song annoying and can't listen to it because it's so played out. However, I can always find time for the last song on the album, "My Sundown." Speaking of end-of-album tunes, if someone DID put a gun to my head and made me pick my favorite song of all time, my first instinct would most likely be to go with "23," the staggeringly beautiful epic about finally being mature enough to handle a relationship. It's no coincidence I listened to it A LOT in the days leading up to my wedding. It's too long to play on the radio, thank god, because I feel like it's MY song. It's the one song I don't think I can ever get sick of. It's on Futures, but you should all just stay away from it because it's MY ISLAND.

On to what I consider my favorite band of all time, Pearl Jam. Like U2 and REM, most of their songs have been played on the radio at one time or another. The best one off their first album, Ten, that didn't receive much airplay is "Porch." Is it about abortion? I dunno, but I do remember Eddie Vedder getting up on his stool during an "Unplugged" performance of the song and writing "pro choice" down his arm. There isn't anything off the next two discs, Vs. and Vitalogy that wasn't played to death, with the possible exception of "Rearviewmirror." One of my favorite Pearl Jam anthems was released as a single, which would seem to run contrary to my whole thing here. But "I Got Id" came out just as some of the shine was beginning to come off the PJ apple, and it didn't get all that much attention, considering what a sweet song it is. Again, none of these are exactly unknown, but they're certainly not overplayed.

Pearl Jam started to lose some mo with its next album, Yield, and with increasingly fewer hits to step around, I'll go with "In Hiding." A lot of people HATED No Code, but I thought it was fairly decent. I never figured out why "Smile" didn't get more airplay, since it was exactly the sort of soaring-chorus anthem that made PJ popular in the first place. I own both Binaural and Riot Act but have use for neither. Those were dark times. They then returned to form a bit with a B-sides double album titled Lost Dogs. Perhaps it made them remember who they were, as "Down" was vintage Pearl Jam. They might not be all the way back yet, but the "avocado" album was a huge step in the right direction, with two legitimate hits. Neither of those were "Come Back," the last song on the record, and my favorite PJ song in a long while, replete with Vedder's signature wail. Come back, indeed.

If you read all this self-indulgent nonsense, congratulations. Sound off on it. What are your hidden faves? Which of mine do you dig? How many suck total hairy balls? Let me have it.

Taking a break from the list for random Friday drive thoughts

I didn't realize how gay the back end of my tv list would appear. Oh, crap. Did I just use "gay" and "back end" in the same sentence?

Anyway, we're halfway done and I need a break. Don't worry, lots of good shows are coming, and they're a lot more manly.

Manly coming? What the hell is wrong with me?

At any rate, I was listening to my "Green Day B-Sides" mix cd on the drive home. Basically, it's a compilation of all my favorite songs of theirs that weren't released as singles. Thus, they weren't played on the radio, so I'm not sick of them. It got me thinking that I should make a cd based on that same premise, but from lots of different bands.

I'm going to list a bunch of songs here, just going off the top of my head. I'd appreciate feedback and/or suggestions on the selections. The only criterion is that I've never heard any of these songs on the radio or used in a commercial, etc.

One large disclaimer: I'm only going to list songs from bands that are fairly well-known. I can't stand people who want to show off their musical acumen by showing how many obscure bands they know. Who the fuck cares how great the Beta Band was? Most bands who don't break big don't make it for a reason: they're not as good as the bands that do.

This is the same in any pretty much any walk of life, but only in music is it some sort of badge of honor to be unknown. You never hear anyone say, "Picasso was an overrated sellout. You know who was so much better? Porkshovsky from Poland. You would've never heard of him."

You know why Mudhoney never got to be as popular as Nirvana? 'Cause they weren't as fucking good. Get over it and stop begging me to listen to them. And for the last time, I'm not going to start worshiping The Arcade Fire. They just don't do it for me; I don't care how musically gifted they supposedly are. Oh, and lastly, Radiohead's new stuff is shit compared to its older, instrument-based albums. I'm not saying it's terrible, but just because you go "in a new direction" where you now use computers instead of instruments doesn't mean you're musical geniuses. Go back to playing the guitar. And Thom Yorke, I haven't understood a word you've sung since Kid A.

If any of that floated your boat, there's more angry musical musings of mine if you follow this link, with the added bonus that I make fun of J.T. Billeter: http://www.my.highschooljournalism.org/ca/pleasanthill/cphs/article.cfm?eid=5660&aid=85688

On to the list:

Green Day: "Going to Pasalacqua" off 1039 Smoothed-Out Slappy Hours, "Uptight" off Nimrod, "Church on Sunday" off Warning, and "Letterbomb" off American Idiot. I just picked the absolute best, but obviously I have enough here for an 80-minute cd. I can prove it; it's in my car. One of my all-time favorite bands, and as popular as they are, I don't think they've gotten enough credit for the way they've evolved. Are you listening, Radiohead?

Since we're on Radiohead, "The Bends," off The Bends and "Let Down" off Ok Computer. I would've put "My Iron Lung" on here as well, but you can download it on Rock Band (AWESOME to play, btw), so it can't be that obscure. It's almost impossible to say that one has a favorite song, because it totally depends on mood, etc, but if you ask me to list five possibilities, "Let Down" definitely makes that list. Achingly beautiful.

Guns N Roses: The only one that immediately pops into my head is "Rocket Queen," (off Appetite for Destruction) which I'll bet WAS played on the radio in its day, but it was overshadowed by all the other hits on the album. I actually don't love the beginning of the song, but the last two minutes are such a sweet contrast to the aggression of the rest of the album. I just looked at the Use Your Illusions, and the only other one I can see qualifying would be "Breakdown" off II.

U2: This was nearly impossible. It seems like every song they have was a single. I finally settled on "Exit" off The Joshua Tree after deciding that "Red Hill Mining Town" probably was well-known. If anyone has a suggestion on this one, I'd love to hear it.

REM: I always think of these two bands together. Same problem here. I might be fudging a bit here, but I'll go with "Country Feedback" from Out of Time, "Circus Envy" from Monster, and "Leave" and "Be Mine" off New Adventures in Hi-Fi, probably their most underrated album.

Smashing Pumpkins: The best song on Siamese Dream, which was their best album, was "Geek U.S.A." It wasn't one of the six or seven singles. Go figure. I also love the James Iha-sung "Blew Away," off Pisces Iscariot. Billy Corgan claims it was the only Pumpkins song he never touched at all, and thank god. I always thought "X.Y.U." off Mellon Collie rocked, but I knew it was too long to see airplay.

The Killers: I kept waiting for "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" off Hot Fuss to become a big hit, but it never happened. It was only the second-best song on the album after "Mr. Brightside," for gosh sakes. On Sam's Town, the last song "Why Do I Keep Counting?" has really grown on me. There's some great songs on their new b-side album, but let's see what gets played.

Stone Temple Pilots: Again, I thought the best song off their second album (did we ever figure out a title for that thing? There's a picture on the cover of what appears to be a baby riding a dragon/horse with some Chinese symbols, for whatever that's worth) was "Unglued," which was perhaps too short for the radio. Or did I just miss its era? It friggin' rocks, at any rate. "Seven Caged Tigers" off Tiny Music isn't bad, either.

Sum 41: "Handle This," off All Killer, No Filler. And "Best of Me" should be the next single off their new album.

Third Eye Blind: Skip this one if you don't like guilty pleasures or can't remember the late 90's. I'll try and make this quick: "God of Wine" off the self-titled debut, "Wounded" off Blue, and "Faster" off Out of the Vein. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Taking Back Sunday: "Head Club" off Where You Want to Be, "Slowdance on the Inside" off Tell All Your Friends, "My Blue Heaven" and "Twenty-Twenty Surgery" off Louder Now, which is a kick-ass album title whether you like TBS or not.

Weezer: Another of my all-time fave bands. I would say "My Name is Jonas," because it's my single favorite Weezer song (followed by "Perfect Situation"), but it's on Guitar Hero III, so again, not unkown. There's JT's favorite: "No One Else," along with "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here" off the Blue album. All of Pinkerton is underrated, but let's go with "Tired of Sex," the opener. Like most, I was not a big fan of Maladroit, but the closer, "December" is a tuneful lament. Off the Green album (I'm out of order here, I realize), I'll go with "Simple Pages" and "Oh, Girlfriend." And lastly, "The Other Way" is my second-favorite song on Make Believe and never made it to the radio, as far as I know.

The Yeah Yeah Yeah's album Show Your Bones was one of my favorites of 2006, and "Honeybear" and "Turn Into" easily could've been hits with more airplay.

Perhaps I should break here before going back to the start of the alphabet. Yes, I'm basically just going through my cd collection at this point. Eileen just came home, so it's time to make dinner (yes, I am whipped. She makes more money. You would be, too). Back later tonight, unless I run out of steam...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

#6

Angel

I'm actually having a hard time with this one. I put off writing about it for a week, thinking inspiration would come to me, but it never really did.

I know I really liked it, even though it was kinda rocky in the beginning. I know I loved the character of Angel, a Sidney Carton-esque vampire trying to redeem himself for hundreds of years of murder. I admired creator Joss Whedon's ability to take a spin-off and give it its own unique situation and tone.

I also dug the way it finished its run, which was a going-down-with-guns-blazing finale, rather than a happy ending. The acting was good, and just enough characters got killed off to make things interesting. I watched every episode, and I'd love to see them all again.

I'm just having a hard time thinking of much else to say about it without cribbing heavily from the show this was spun off, which will get its own plaudits further down this list. My well of verbal diarrhea seems to have run dry.

Why be so coy about the show this is taken from? Well, if there's anybody out there who doesn't know, the suspense will be delicious for them, now won't it? Muhwahahaha.

Oh yeah, and also, it's one of the only shows I can think of (along with the magnificent Battlestar Gallactica and the astonishingly hot Tricia Helfer, Cylon model Number Six ) where one of its lead actresses has posed for Playboy during the show's run. Thank you, Charisma Carpenter. Thank you and your splendid breasts.

Oops, I did it again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

#7

Gilmore Girls

Yes, I realize this one opens me up to more of those nasty homophobic insults you all seem to toss around with abandon.

I am a brave man. I can take your slings and arrows.

To be honest, I would've said all those same things had I ever given this WB/CW show more than a passing thought. The title doesn't exactly scream "manly," and you know that Nolanator is all about masculinity. But if I have a feminine side, hot mommy Lorelai and her precocious daughter Rory certainly got me in touch with it.

Early in my relationship with Eileen, I used to go over to her house on Tuesday nights. Her house, her tv...my misfortune. One of the shows she subjected me to was Gilmore Girls. Saying that I was "reluctant' to embrace the show would be an understatement. It had a completely girly theme song and opening montage full of hugs and awkward facial expressions. It was set in this fictional New England town that had "quirky" writ in large letters across every facet of its existence.

Oh yeah, and they talked INCREDIBLY FAST.

As with most well-drawn stories and characters, all this grew on me. The relationship between 30-something (and I mentioned HOT, right? Lauren Graham does it for me) former teen mother Lorelai and her MENSA daughter Rory (not hard on the eyes herself), which first struck me as unreal? I eventually found it quite endearing. I fell in love with the town's quirky colonial-style meetings and its quirky events in which the entire populace would participate except for its grumpy (and a tad quirky, to be honest) diner owner Luke, Lorelai's "are they or aren't they?" love interest.

I also appreciated the ongoing class struggle between make-it-on-her-own-steam Lorelai and her affluent and image-conscious parents. I even use the senior Gilmores as an example of the "East Egg" mentality when teaching The Great Gatsby. The fact that Mr. Gilmore was the head vampire in The Lost Boys only added to his appeal.

And then there's that wonderfully speedy dialogue. What first struck me as gimmickry and nonsense eventually turned into a deep respect for creator Amy Sherman-Paladino's knack for the rhythm of the English language, in addition to some fantastically crafty pop culture allusions. I actually had to look stuff up from time to time so that I could get the jokes. It's not often that tv has that effect.

I started watching with Eileen during season three or four; it was my idea to go back and rent all the old episodes. When the show completed its run last year, it was like a phase of our relationship had ended. We had nothing left to do but go and get married. That annoying, girly theme song? It was the only show's title that I wouldn't fast-forward through because I liked when Eileen sang the whole thing, replete with holding herself and shivering on the line, "when you're lonely...and so cooooold."

Oh god. Listen to me. This show may have made me more than a little bit female.

What to do? Oh yeah, BOOBS. There. Four-for-four.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

#8

Rescue Me

FX may well be the new HBO, or at least HBO-lite. You can say "shit," "cock," "asshole," and in one memorable Rescue Me episode, the delightful amalgam "twunt." You can show most of an ass and the whole boob except the nipple. Actually, it's possible Cinemax is the new HBO, but I don't get Skinemax, despite its propensity for soft porn. I just realized I'm now three-for-three in mentioning breasts in these tv entries. I'm not sure to be proud or ashamed. Let's lean toward proud. Why the hell not?

Anyway, I was hooked on Rescue Me from the pilot episode, where Dennis Leary dresses down a bunch of newly-minted firemen by calling them pussies because they didn't have to deal with 9/11. It was the first post-Sept. 11th show to really deal with the anger of the common man, particularly those much-revered NY City firefighters.

Of course, that anger doesn't come out in completely healthy ways. While these guys might be heroic on the job, they have myriad problems when not battling smoke and saving kittens. Alcoholism, womanizing, ambien overdoses, seeing ghosts of dead cousins: this isn't your typical "Yay firemen!" approach.

The best scenes are the ones at the firehouse where they sit around the table and shoot the shit. It's guy talk at its best, as with the aforementioned coinage of "twunt." But it's not just for guys; both my wife and sister are perhaps even more devoted to the show than I.

Occasionally the show can strain credulity and become surreal, such as when Leary (who is pitch-perfect as troubled super-fireman Tommy Gavin) kept seeing Jesus walking around for half a season, with no apparent symbolism other than the most obvious variety. Characters don't always act in ways that make sense, but some of that is excusable. It's all about dysfunction, and dysfunctional people don't always act in believable ways.

There's also sometimes a sense of the writers going a long way for a humorous situation, but the results are usually more hit than miss. The ep where the dimwitted Garrity unwittingly takes too many of Tommy's sleeping pills and goes on a zombie-esque shopping spree was hilarious, if a bit far-fetched. But I have heard of people on Ambien doing remarkable things, so perhaps it's more credible than it seems.

This show's still running, and I could see its tendency toward excess resulting in an unsatisfyingly melodramatic ending. But it will most assuredly be what Rescue Me almost always is: darkly funny and never boring, which are two things that the major networks can't seem to get right.

#9

Deadwood

The first of what promises to be several HBO series on this list. This one only ran for three seasons, and it ended badly, with no real resolution. Additional two-hour movies have been promised, but until they come out, no credit can be given.

However, in the short time it ran, the free reign of cable allowed David Milch to prove he could be the Shakespeare of profanity he only hinted at on NYPD Blue. His Ned Allen? Ian McShane as Al Swearengen (yeah, great name), one of the best tv characters of all time. Not only could he curse like a sailor poet with his manly, gravely voice, getting his prick (never dick, cock, or shlong- always prick) sucked by whatever whore was within arm's reach, but he was damn handy with a blade. His arc over the three seasons was equally fascinating. He went from out-and-out villain to the unlucky victim of kidney stones and a shady knife wound, eventually emerging as a reluctant hero of sorts in the final season.

McShane's role only slightly eclipsed the work of Timothy Olyphant, whom I'm a big fan of (he was the villain in the mostly forgettable Die Hard IV, and the no-nonsense drug dealer who hated the Family Circus in GO). Olyphant played Bullock in the Wyatt Earpesque ex-lawman who just wants to run a business but has had all he can stand and can't stands no more so becomes sherrif again role. All you'd need to watch is the pilot to be hooked on his character, where he hangs some criminals while holding off a mob at gunpoint in an incredibly intense scene.

As usual with HBO shows, the rest of the ensemble cast is filled out mostly with no-names who do fantastic jobs, particularly the creepy guy from season two who kills all the hookers. He later ended up playing a doctor on John From Cincinnatti, which Milch also wrote, apparently at the expense of those much-rumored Deadwood finale movies. That makes me hate that show even more than the fact that it's 12 hours of my life I'll never get back.

Much like The Sopranos, there's a lot of slowly-built ill will that culminates every three or four episodes in some well-earned violence. Also like The Sopranos, it can be pretty hard to figure out what's going on at times. There was an entire season's talk about "Montana" and "Pinkertons" that I never quite got. However, the sets are wonderfully muddy and authentic-looking, and every once in a while you get to see some boobs or even the promised land. Although sometimes it's on a prostitute of substantial girth, and it's kind of a turn off. Well, at least Al never seemed to mind.

#10

Party of Five

This is easily the most personal one on my list and the one I feel most guilty about including. Yeah, there were moments of unrealistic melodrama, and yeah, everyone was just a little too good-looking. But it had a lot of things going for it.

For one, it was set in SF, always a plus. And it had a cool premise: Parents die in a car wreck, five siblings of varying ages left to take care of each other. It also had some pretty dark storylines. Neve Campbell's character decided to have an abortion before the producers caved and gave her a miscarriage before she could go through with it. Matthew Fox's newish girlfriend ditched him as soon as he was diagnosed with cancer, which I thought was more realsitic than most shows would had the balls to depict.

But the absoulte piece de resistance (sorry, I don't know how to do accents) was the "Bailey's an alcoholic" arc during my senior year of college. Every Wednesday night at 9 pm, my future best man Charley and I would gather ourselves in front of the tv in my dumpy college house in Davis, two 32 ounces of King Cobra in hand from the liquor store across the street. Why only two? It was a school night! If you think this makes us sound sort of gay, the fact that we referred to the show only as "POF" probably seals the deal in your mind.

Anyway, when Bailey's ongoing issues culminated with an intervention led by his siblings, who explained to him that his dad was an alcoholic also, so the disease was in his blood and must be fought, we thought the usual after-school special solution was coming. I can still recall, almost verbatim, what Bailey said: "It's ok, I understand now. I'm an alcoholic. That's what I do. I drink." Then he drunkenly staggered out the door to his car, chased by Jennifer Love Hewitt, who managed not to stop him but only to hitch a ride which culminated in...yep...a drunken accident. Well, that was maybe some of the finest television I'd seen up to that point in my life. Charley and I quoted it for weeks.

Also, this show gave the world JLH's massive breasts. 'Nuff said.

A Project I Will Likely Never Finish

Lance's friend Scott (Myspace name: Taargus Taargus) did a pretty cool thing over the past couple weeks. He posted his top 10 movies of 2007, along with a bunch that either sucked balls or just missed the cut. I enjoyed reading the series, as his capsule reviews and personal thoughts either confirmed what I already felt about movies I'd seen or made me see them in a different light. Of course, there were films on the list I hadn't seen, and it made me want to check them out. He did it sans spoilers as well, so it didn't ruin anything I hadn't gotten around to yet.

At any rate, I wanted to do something similar, although these days it seems a mammoth task just to turn out one measly blog. In college, I wrote a lot of reviews (music, movies, books, even art- which I knew NOTHING about) for the university newspaper, and I don't think I realized how much I missed it until I read Scott's recap. To publish your opinions and even influence others is a rush (not to mention a substantial ego trip) for me, and I like the idea that someone might be persuaded to try something out on my say-so if my arguement is well presented.

Christ, that's a long buildup. What if I just get to it?

At any rate, I'm going to try something arguably more ambitious than Scott's 2007 movie list. I've been renting a bunch of tv shows on dvd lately (esp. with the lack of original material coming out due to the writers' strike). It's an opportunity that we as entertainment consumers have only had in the past five years or so, and Netflix makes it affordable. So I'm going to do a list of my own (Scott nailed this right on: everyone loves lists). It will be My Top 10 TV Show Dramas of All TIme. If it goes well, perhaps I will do a top 10 sitcoms list. But this is ambitious enough for now.

Disclaimers: The key word is "MY". Although I take critical response and overall impact of the show into account, personal bias clearly will play a role. Feel free to post your grumblings and atta boys accordingly. You'll also notice that a lot of these shows are more recent. Although I would argue the claim that tv is BETTER nowadays with the addition of cable and the attention to quality, I certainly realize that there were some well-done dramas I just never saw. I've heard great things about The Fugitive and Hill Street Blues. But I've never seen a single episode of either, so they can't be on my list. And even though I remember trying to stay up late and watch Dallas with my parents, I'm not qualified to judge its merits, although I gotta say, it seemed kinda ridiculous.

The Ground Rules:
1. A show must've run for at least three seasons. This disqualifies one of my absolute favorites, Rome. Et tu, Nolan?
2. The show must be a serialized drama. This means that the storyline must continue on from week to week. This eliminates anything like Law and Order, although that wouldn't have made my list anyway, as I find that show formulaic and silly. But it definitely nudged out one show I really liked: Quantum Leap, which had some serialized elements, esp. toward the end of its run, but you could skip a few shows, jump back in (pun lamely intended), and not have really missed anything.
3. The show will be judged on the entirety of its run, not just its prime. This really hurts a show like ER, which I was addicted to (along with everyone else) for a good three to four years but eventually stopped watching because of all the cast turnover and the fact that helicopters started crashing into the hostpital. The fact that this show is STILL ON and rated in the top 10 every week boggles my mind.
4. I have to have seen all or close to all of the episodes. That eliminates two of my current favorite shows, unfortunately: Battlestar Gallactica and The Shield. I've seen enough of these two to know that if I update this list in a year, they would both be in the top 10, but rules is rules.

Before I get to the Top 10, how about some honorable mentions? These shows didn't quite make the cut, but provided me with hours of enjoyment nonetheless. (Man, this list has more unnecessary buildup than an episode of American Idol. That show would be at the top of my list of "Top 10 Crappiest Shows People Inexplicably Like That I Can't Escape From, Making Me Absolutely Insane From January to June." That's a shitty title, actually. I'll need to work on that.)

The David E. Kelly Group:
There's no question that Kelly has a knack for orginality, quirky characters, and situational gimmicks. That only goes so far. In the early stages of Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Picket Fences, I was completely hooked. Then the gimmicks and surreality eventually become grating, the show goes off the rails, and people start to tune out, resulting in...you guessed it...more gimmickry and nonsense. All of these ended worse than Naomi Watts' decision to watch the tape in The Ring. Ironically, one of Kelly's worst shows, Boston Public, is the only one I stuck with until the bitter end. It was about teachers, and I thought at some point I could find something applicable to my life. Nope.

Miami Vice: I really liked this as a kid, and it definitely was unlike anything that came before it. However, all I can remember is the dark (yet pastel) vibe of the show, and that Phil Collins song: "I can feel it commmming in the aaayyyyeeerrrr toniiiight...ooohhhh looooorrrrrd." It also jumpstarted the career of Michael Mann, who directed two of my favorite movies ever: The Last of the Mohicans and Heat. If I rented all the eps and watched it again, would it be in my top 10, or would Crockett, Tubbs, and the cherry red Ferrari Testerosa all seem dated? I dunno. One thing's for sure: Edward James Olmos NEVER goes out of style. Watch the aforementioned Battlestar if you don't believe me.

The Larry Sanders Show: One of HBO's earliest series. It only misses the top 10 for two reasons: I've only seen about half the episodes, and I'm not sure it's a drama. But it's not a sitcom either. It's a dramedy. Whenever they come out with the complete dvd set (there's a "best of" disc out now to cut your teeth on), I'm all over it. One note: it helped launch the careers of Jeffery Tambor (playing the immortal "Hey Now" Hank Kingsley), Jeneane Garafolo, Sarah Silverman, and even Jon Stewart. It also had David Duchovny playing himself as a closeted gay man with a crush on Gary Shandling. Brilliant.

24: The toughest ommission, as I've seen pretty much every episode through six seasons. The last two seasons have been brutal, though. And I feel kind of dirty when I watch it, like I'm slowly becoming a Republican when I root for Jack Bauer to TORTURE THE SHIT OUT OF THAT GUY SO YOU CAN FIND THE BOMB/ANTHRAX/YOUR WAY-HOT DAUGHTER KIM!!!!

If you made it this far, you have my shock and my awe. Number 10 will commence whenever I feel like it.

I just re-read this, and I clearly need to cut down on my parenthesis use. Jesus.

Winter Break Blog

As per Lancie-Pie's request, and as a gift to all my loyal readers, I'm firing off my first blog since Summer Break. You could count on a lot more of these were I normally separated from my Xbox 360 and stuck at my in-laws' in Virginia.

To be honest, I have a lot of pent-up rants, but let's go with something fresh:

Waiting for my plane to leave for the East Coast at SFO a few days ago, I overheard a young woman, probably in her mid 20s, talking to the family next to her about her experiences in the military. Kaitlin (she introduced herself to the kids in the family several times, quite a talker, this one) was telling of her travels to India, where she was stationed as part of the Marines for a time. She spoke of how fascinating she found the culture, and how she and her boyfriend were bringing elements of it back into their lives in America.

She was clearly very pleased with herself.

Then she said that one of the constraints of her job was that she wasn't allowed to make friends with "the locals" in case someday "we might have to blow them up or something." She said this without a trace of irony. She said it like you might hear an auto mechanic say, "We have to put the oil cap back on when we're done or stuff leaks out." As if this were a nugget of unquestionable military common sense that is clearly part of "the job."

I actually thought I had heard her wrong, and then 10 minutes later she was talking about the lack of reliable translators who speak Hindi (I may be spelling that wrong). Apparently, they can't hire native Indians to do this job, again, "in case we have to blow them up."

She explained in both these cases that the military didn't want its soldiers to make connections with these people and become attached because in the event that we might, like, you know, have to annihilate them or something, that might make things difficult on them (the soldiers, not the victims of incendiary bombs).

She was very earnest about this. She had not examined this philosophy one iota.

Perhaps, then, I will examine it for her. After all, she's a soldier. It's her job to follow orders and not think. I'm the dangerous liberal intellectual, so I'll make the following points:

1. She was talking about India. One of our closest economic allies. The prospect of the U.S. ever having to "blow up" part of India is too terrifying to contemplate. If that scenario ever became reality, we have a lot more to worry about than whether or not some of our soldiers have ever attended a dinner party with the locals.

2. I'm not really criticizing her. She's young and doing what she's told without thinking (although I do see quite a bit of danger in that). But this is a pretty clear example of the de-humanization of a group of people. After all, if you don't really have to worry about the feelings and emotions of fellow human beings, it makes it a lot easier to blow them up. And I understand that's part of the military's goal. But should it be? In an ideal world, the military should be used to AVOID conflict, shouldn't it? And wouldn't part of conflict avoidance be a familiarity (or even, god forbid, a FRIENDSHIP) with local people, customs, etc.? Wouldn't other countries be less likely to be hostile if, instead of instructing our soldiers to be unfeeling robots ready to turn their guns on the populace on a moment's order, they could be seen more as members of the community, there to serve the ideals that our country proports to hold dear? You know, like freedom, democracy, respect for our fellow man?

3. The thing that bothered me most was the way Kaitlin said these things. It wasn't that she was trying to convince these people that these rules made sense, it was as if THERE WAS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE. This ethnocentric brand train of thought has been with Americans for a long time, and has clearly been heightened by the Bush administration's paranoia and pseudo-patriotic fervor. Look no further than how the Iraqi army was decomissioned after the invasion, creating hundreds of thousands of unemployed ememies. Or our lack of translators around the globe, making communications with foreigners (actually, when we're the occupiers, we're the foreign ones, right?) strained if not impossible. And don't get me started on the fact that the military expunged dozens of highly valuable translators for being gay. But under Kaitlin's (and by extension, the U.S. military's) ideology, America is always right, and outsiders (or American queers) are not to be trusted.

And if they step out of line, blow them up.

Faith

In our society, saying someone is "a person of faith" is a stamp of approval. In many parts of the country, there are no further qualifications needed.

"I'm not voting for that guy. He'll raise my taxes, eat babies, and start World War III."
"But dear, I read in the paper that he's a man of strong faith."
"Well, that changes everything! Where do we donate money to his campaign?"

I can't sleep this morning, and part of what's got me up is this whole idea of faith being a virtue. I once saw the British intellectual Christopher Hitchens (I'm reading his book right now) say that if faith were actually a virtue, it certainly is the most overrated one. The fact that he said it loaded on scotch and smoking a cigar only lended the statement gravitas and authority.

So what is faith? And is it a good thing?

Is faith the idea that when we die, if we've been good and accepted (insert your favorite savior here), then we get to go to a much better place? A place that we can't see or prove the existence of, and that no one's ever come back from and told us about, but something we really want to be true, nonetheless? So is faith then merely hope despite a complete lack of evidence or confirmation? And if so, what's the difference between that and making a wish on birthday candles, a dandelion, or a shooting star?

Or is faith believing in something that medical science tells us is physically impossible, like say...oh...I don't know...being born from a virgin and coming back from the dead? Is it virtue to believe there are exceptions to all known natural law, again, in circumstances that are completely unproveable? And if it is, then why isn't believing a magician's act is real and not illusion considered virtuistic? Magic is magic, isn't it?

Perhaps faith is virtue when it's used as my future mother-in-law once explained it to me. Over Christmas a couple years back, I heard her tell her grandchildren that in a couple days it would be "Jesus' birthday." As soon as they were out of earshot (if there's anytime to have faith in stuff, it's when you're a kid), I rejoindered with, "Well, actually, it almost certainly is NOT Jesus' birthday. It's just celebrated then to coincide with the Winter solstice as a compromise to get the Pagans on board with Christianity two thousand years ago." Her response? "Well, that's our faith," in a tone that signalled this was the end of the conversation. I thought of telling her she might check with higher-ups IN HER OWN CHURCH who would wholeheartedly agree with me had they even a modicum of theological training, but decided against it because I didn't want to buy myself 30 years of living hell. In this case, faith seems to be willfull ignorance.

I know I'm in the minority here in the good ol' US of A, but to me, reason, logic, realism, intellectual curiosity, and self-reliance seem like better qualitites to have than any of the types of faith I mentioned above.

Then again, maybe it's best I shut up and adhere to the words of the brilliant pop philosopher George Michael, "Cause you got to have faith-a-faith-a-faith-a." It sure does seem a lot less complicated than all this rational thought.

The Most Superficial Blog Ever

So, whenever I talk to people, they're all like, "What are you doing with your summer!!??" And I'm all, "I'm going to the dentist!!!"

Seriously.

I went to the dentist six times in the course of the last three weeks, including once today, to pick up new "bleaching trays." I write "new" because this is the second set I've had...within the last three weeks.

It all sounds pretty "Queer Eye for the Straght Guy," I know. But I'm telling you, it's just the perfect storm of narcissism. At the behest of my fiance', who wanted me to fix my admittedly woefull and graying front tooth for our wedding photos, I went to my childhood next-door-neighbor's dentistry. Since I used to babysit for his kids when I was a teen, he agreed to cut me a deal, and proceeded to tell me that not only did my janky-ass front tooth need adjusting, but my whole smile was completely ghetto and needed work. Furthermore, he would do it at a reduced rate because I used to put up with his devil spawn for $5 an hour.

Somehow, this became eight appointments over the next three months. Plus I have to put this clear, foul-tasting gel which is somehow bleach on these plastic retainer things and stick them in my mouth for two hours at a time every day for two weeks. If I happen to be surprised into holding a conversation during these sessions, I sound like Lispy McSpeechimpediment. Suddenly I have become what I once mocked: High Maintenance.

How will this affect my overall appearance? Well, let's do a history, shall we?
I'm going to be using the usual 10-point scale for the following ratings (basing score on looks only; guys, if you're ugly and want to get a girl much hotter than you are, be rich, famous, or funny- preferably all three).

I think I'm probably about a 4.6 currently. Not repulsive, but certainly not desirable. I was cursed at birth by being born a male redhead with little-to-no chin. I also have no discernable muscle definition (except in my gorgeous calves, which are like 9's), I'm pale as hell (except for these lady-killing freckles), and have a pretty solid beer gut. In high school, I was probably even a worse score- maybe like a 3.4, because I was still a male redhead, but also gangly with bad skin. I might as well have been that recurring teenage character with the crappy jobs on "The Simpsons." Ask any of the plethora of girls who turned me down back then if you don't believe me.

There probably was a day in college where I was my ideal weight: not too skinny and not too fat. I'm thinking it was in May of 1996, my sophomore year (up to a 5.5, perhaps). Then I had four 30-ounce King Cobras that night while watching "Party of Five," and that was that. I've been trying to get back to that weight ever since.

That brings us to today. A few people have already noticed that my teeth look whiter and straighter; I think that might bring me up to a solid 5.0. I still have two appointments left, and I'm hoping they vault me up to a 5.4 or so, near my college-age peak. I'm also dieting, attempting (most likely in vain) to lose 15-20 pounds by the time I get my tuxedo fitted.

On the day of my wedding, if my teeth are straight and white, and I'm wearing a slammin' tux which fits snuggly around a semi-svelte frame, and I gel my hair just right, I'm thinking best-case scenario I might be able to pass for a 6.1...maybe even a 6.4 if the lighting is low.

Of course, I'll be getting committed for life, where looks cease to matter much, if at all, and the irony will be so thick I'll probably stumble over it on my way down the aisle.

Good thing I'm marrying an 8.1. I told you chicks dig the funny ones.

Things That Fill Me With Pure, Unadulterated Joy

Friday after work...Regina Spektor's "On the Radio"...Triples alley...Eileen's kick move/kick dance...the third drink of the night...doing my Axel dance in a crowded bar...when members of the religious right get caught doing gay stuff...the end of The Usual Suspects ("and like that...he was gone")...Sarah Chalke on Scrubs...playing "Free Bird" with a partner on "Guitar Hero"...jokes about the Raiders...the last five minutes of the Six Feet Under finale...when the alarm goes off on a Saturday and I roll over, turn it off, and go back to bed...the sports page after all of my teams won that night...the thought of how W is going to look in history books 50 years from now...seeing "The Catch" replayed on "best of" lists...meeting up in the hotel room on the first night of a trip with friends...my video game chair...when Eddie Vedder stage dives in the "Even Flow" video...having a good excuse to drink before noon...my newspaper clipping of when Davis beat Stanford in football...hitting the point in craps, followed by a group hug of strangers...getting the parking spot right outside the building...Chuck Berry's "duck walk"...quesadillas.

From the week following my bachelor party this summer:

You know you're hangover's bad when...

As my plane was taking off after my recent stay in New Orleans, I looked out the window and had the following cross my mind: "Maybe the plane will crash. That wouldn't be so bad." There was no irony in this thought whatsoever. I wasn't exactly WISHING for death, but at that point in time, I wouldn't have minded.
To quote the immortal Sgt. Murtaugh: "I'm gettin' too old for this shit..."