Saturday, September 11, 2010

IT'S NOT WHETHER YOU WIN OR LOSE; IT'S HOW WELL YOU PLAY THE GAME: The AL Cy Young race this year may be the most interesting one in a long time. That's not exactly because it's close. Just about everybody with an opinion thinks it's not close at all. It's just that a huge portion of the people you ask say that the Yankees' C.C. Sabathia is the only possible choice, and another huge portion of the people you ask say that there is no rational argument for anyone other than the Mariners' Felix Hernandez. (A small percentage of the people you ask would like to give it to Liriano or Lee.)

The argument for C.C. Sabathia is that he is going to hit and exceed the 20-win mark while pitching pretty well, which indicates that he just "knows how to win." The argument for Felix Hernandez is that he has been better than Sabathia in literally every respect other than the ability to play for a team that scores runs. Quite literally everything that a pitcher does, Felix has done better than Sabathia (including performance in high-leverage situations, which indicates the Felix pitches better when the game is on the line and puts the lie to the "knows how to win" line). Yet Sabathia is the favorite, because 120 years ago some writer decided to assign wins to pitchers, and because a diminishing but still significant number of baseball writers believe that everything that ever was should ever be, to the exclusion of sense and reason.

Yes, I am a Mariners fan. Last year, though, Felix had a great year and more wins than Greinke. You may recall that I said in this very space that Greinke deserved the Cy by a wide margin. Is there really any argument this year that Felix doesn't?
SHE CAST OUT HAGAR: Prompted by Adam's comment below, I rewatched Isaac and Ishamel, the (in)famous first episode of the third season of The West Wing in which Sorkin and the cast grapple with the events of September 11. A few thoughts:
  • Yes, it's contrived--we lock down basically the entire regular cast with a group of students as a result of a security breach, and each of them gets a brief monologue to the students "responding to a question"--but it's well made and designed within that contrivance. It was completely put together in two weeks, and given that, it's in decent shape.
  • Though Sorkin clearly pushes certain broad points of view, it's significant that the characters are not monolithic on the issues--for instance, CJ's entire monologue is directed to how the CIA is a good thing, while Toby is more skeptical. There's not a lot of debate or interchange, but there's clear difference in where the characters come from.
  • Man, John Spencer was good--he has to play the heavy here in a lot of ways, interrogating a White House staffer, and manages to make it work. (And it's an interesting bookend to his plotline back in Season 1 with Liza Weil as the intern who leaked data about him.)
  • Even though it's clearly written in and of the moment, it's fascinating how a lot of the issues the episode addresses are still in front of us. (I won't say more so as not to get overly political.)
  • While there's an opening warning about "don't worry about continuity," credit to everyone involved for keeping it relatively in continuity--the characters' positions all seem natural and not created for purposes of the episode. The one glaring issue is that Toby talks about a (positive) experience with his father's friend, which seems to be directly contradicted by the 4th Season Christmas episode, which revolved around Toby's frosty relationship with his father.
  • Man, Bradley Whitford has aged a lot since then (though part of that is due to the kind of character he's now playing on The Good Guys). It's particularly odd, since the rest of the cast has not seemed to age quite as much.
  • I then proceeded to watch Manchester, and had forgotten that Connie Britton recurred in Season 3 as Ron Silver's character's female right hand.
LIKE COBB, JOHNSON, MATHEWSON, RUTH AND WAGNER, ONLY WITH PASTIER SKIN AND LESS SOCIAL SKILLS: Greg Ambrosius, Matthew Berry, Scott Engel, Eric Karabell and Greg Kellogg are the inaugural inductees into the Fantasy Sports Writers Hall of Fame. I'd argue for Joe Bryant's induction solely on the basis of popularizing Value-Based Drafting, but can't think of who else belongs.
WE REMEMBER: It's a bit odd having a September 11 anniversary on a weekend, because that's not how we experienced the day itself, though today's perfect autumn-like weather here in Philadelphia is eerily reminiscent.

I have nothing new or profound to say today, but it's been a tradition here to provide some apolitical space for members of our community to speak their minds on their memories of or reflections on the day, or on those we lost or anything else you deem appropriate. Below the fold, still the song that hits me hardest about that day:

Friday, September 10, 2010

A FOUR-HOUR LOVE LETTER TO A SLAVE-BASED ECONOMY: Matt Zoller Seitz registers some disagreement with Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs and six other classic films.
THROUGH EARLY MORNING FOG I SEE VISIONS OF THE THINGS TO BE: Almost belatedly, but we have created a free NFL Suicide Pool on ESPN for the second straight year. Lou W. won it last year in fifteen weeks, and the rules are simple: pick one game each week (no spread), and you cannot re-use a team once selected. Good luck.
THE INTERNET IS INSENSITIVE: I clicked on a video about the fire in San Bruno, and I had to wait out a commercial for the Blackberry Torch. Not a joke.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

WHAT'S THE LEAST SLAPDICK TEAM IN AMERICA? So, I guess we should also talk about the actual football season as well. I find so much of preseason predictions to be about proving how smart one is rather than actually trying to get it right -- the same impulse that leads fantasy football owners away from drafting Hines Ward and Donald Driver also leads pundits to shy away from obvious conclusions like the fact that if you're picking against the Indianapolis Colts to win the AFC, as long as Peyton Manning's there you'd better have a damn good reason. And I don't have one. No team in the conference has improved enough to top them -- certainly not the goddamn snack eaters in Green and White as long as The Sanchize is at QB.

In the NFC? Let's assume some reversion to the mean for New Orleans. Certainly, they were slowed down a bit tonight. Green Bay is the sexy pick to beat them, and with good reason -- indeed, that's one hell of a machine they've built. It may come down to something as simple as who has home field advantage in January, but when we're talking about winners, the conversation ends with those two.

Sure, there's a lot of things I'm curious to see this season: year one of Kevin Kolb, Ryan Matthews, Denver's Virgin Air and Donovan McNabb in crimson; Mike Martz's impact in Chicago and Pete Carroll's in Seattle (presumed negative); just how much longer Belichick can surround Tom Brady with mediocre running backs and a lesser defense and still win; the rise of Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub and (hopefully) Vince Young; and, of course, whether the NFL does take concussions seriously.

This is the first Eagles season in almost a decade in which the playoffs can't be presumed or expected; indeed, I don't know what to expect. I'm hoping for something around 9-7, 10-6; more than anything, I'm just hoping they were right that Kevin Kolb was ready for this. And I hope we don't lose to all three of Dallas, Washington and New York at home. We may not be great again yet, but let's not suck.
"WE HAD, I TOLD THEM, THE WORST SHOWER DISCIPLINE OF ANY TEAM I'VE BEEN AROUND": The Tennessee Volunteers, now with 100% fewer Layla Kiffins, have had some locker-room staph problems. So their coach, Derek Dooley, did what any crusty ol' ball coach would do -- teach a master class on how to shower. That team is lucky Dooley is their coach, both because now they finally know how to use a loufa and because you do not want to take that seminar if your coach is, say, Rex Ryan. Or Joe Paterno.

One thing Dooley said that is likely to draw some derision is that cutting corners in how you shower "shows in how you practice and elsewhere." But I'm kind of on board with that. I used to laugh at the segment in the John Wooden documentary where a series of UCLA greats talk about how the first thing Wooden did at the first practice every year was break down exactly how to pull on one's socks. Now I'm acutely aware, when I go to the gym, of exactly when I've been sloppy in putting on my socks and lacing my shoes. If Dooley wants to mold his team into a squad of precision showerers, I say it can only help them.
YOU'RE WEARING MY SHIRT, LORELAI: It had been rumored for a while, but now that it's official, what do we think of Lorelai Gilmore and Casey McCall dating? (I will say that the brief summary offered in the interview excerpts is kind of adorkable.)
YOUR EARS WILL BLEED:The Village Voice sends a reporter to Cave-In-Rock, Illinois to investigate the Gathering of the Juggalos, which will quite possibly be the only time that anyone references Season 3 of The Wire in an article about Juggalos.
WE GOT SPIRIT, YES WE DO:Even though I'm not paid to do this, I did take a gander at last night's premiere of Hellcats. I suspect it'll be a success, as it's squarely aimed at the CW's demographic of younger women, and, for what it is, is generally well-made (a few sharp quips here and there, and well choreographed and shot tumbling/dancing, even though at a few points, it looks a lot more like strippers than cheerleaders, particularly during the long audition montage). But there are two big problems with the show that prevent me from watching again:
  • A lot of the supporting cast is pretty solid and well cast (Gail O'Grady as the lead's trashy mom, Sharon Leal as the cheerleading coach, Ashley Tisdale as the cheerleading captain), but somehow, they've cast Aly Michalka, who's a black hole of suck, in the lead. Michalka's character is supposed to be a sharp pre-law student, but seems to spend most of her time either staring off into space or dancing like a stripper. (Particularly unfortunate given that one montage is set to a song with the chorus "Party like a rock star! Shake it like a porn star!") Add to it that she's called "goth" by characters several times, and the casting makes no sense. (Michalka ain't goth in the least--see also people who need clarification on what is and is not steampunk.) They were plainly looking for an Eliza Dushku-type, and while Michalka has the pretty, she lacks the edge that's sorely needed for the show to work--she looks like a cheerleader. There's a better show there with a different lead (Missy Peregrym? Kristen Bell?).
  • While we go to massive pains to stress over and over again that the show is set in Memphis (with random Beale Street exteriors slotted in), it's painfully clear that the show is shot in Vancouver. Leaving aside that both "Lancer University" and "Memphis Christian U" have no basis in reality, there's no local color or interest at all beyond a few random references to barbecue and Beale Street. I had some sizable problems with Memphis Beat (folks, you do not hire Jason Lee as your lead, make him a moderately quirky cop, and then make it an utterly dour procedural), but at least it had local color. They need to use the setting better (or maybe at all) or stop reminding folks constantly of how they're screwing it up.
The only thing that might get me to watch again is that it's in a timeslot with not much else--yes, there's Modern Family and Cougar Town, but other network options are Criminal Minds, Hell's Kitchen, and Law and Order: Taking! It! Personally! Tonight, Nikita, which has gotten considerably better reviews, but a timeslot that all but guarantees I'll never watch again--against The Office, Grey's, Fringe, and CSI.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

DOWN IN DIXIE, ON A SUNDAY MORNING: A short ESPN film on the Admiral Ackbar for Ole Miss Rebel mascot campaign.
BENCH MANAGEMENT: Next in our series of lectures on Fantasy Football Theory and Practice is the following from our own J. Bowman, with whom I've been competing in FFL leagues for over a decade:
* * * * *

So your draft is done, and your starting lineup is capital-A Awesome. You’ve got elite talent at every position, the handcuff to your top RB, and that big sleeper receiver you wanted. Nothing to do now but sit back and collect Ws, right?

Not so fast. If you just leave your team alone for thirteen weeks, you’ll likely be heading into the consolation bracket, wondering what happened to your unassailable fortress of a team. Nothing is certain in football. Players get hurt (and not just the “skill” positions; losing a left tackle can have a detrimental effect on a quarterback’s production). Close position battles remain battles into the season; just because Justin Forsett is starting this week, doesn’t mean he’ll be the starter all year (or even that he’ll be the best RB on his team this week). Someone will take the combination of opportunity, improved skills, and good fortune to “come out of nowhere.” Last year’s “out-of-nowhere” stars will regress towards the mean. Talent in the NFL is fluid, and your bench needs to be fluid, too, as you hunt for the best spare parts for your particular situation. Successful bench management requires balancing two almost-contradictory concepts:

1) Points scored by bench players are points wasted.

2) A team with depth is more likely to win than a team with stars and scrubs.

WE KNOW SHE OWNS A YELLOW UMBRELLA AND A LITTLE METAL BUS: It's widely rumored that we're going to finally meet the other title character of How I Met Your Mother this season, and it's now confirmed that Ted will have a new love interest for at least 13 episodes this season--with Jennifer Morrison (late of House), Minka Kelly (late of FNL, and, more recently, of dog-related freakout fame), and Jacinda Barrett (yes, the actress/model from Real World: London, who was actually quite good in The Last Kiss), all in contention. Any of these seem Mother material?
ALL MODERATED BY EUSTACE TILLEY: For those in or visting New York early next month, there's a lot of interesting stuff at the annual New Yorker Festival, including an opening night screening of The Social Network, followed by a Q&A with Aaron Sorkin, Jesse Eisenberg, and Justin Timberlake, Q&A's with Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell, Bill Simmons, David Simon, Neal Gaiman, and Paul Reubens, performances from James Taylor and Regina Spektor, a discussion on the "The Vampire Revival" with Stephen King, Melissa Rosenberg (who wrote the Twilight films), and Matt Reeves (writer/director of Let Me In), a walking/eating tour with Calvin Trillin, and a panel discussion with Seth Meyers and other SNL performers. Tickets go on sale Friday.
THEY'RE RUNNING OUT OF JOURNEY SONGS: We're a little more than two weeks away from the return of Glee, and the song list for episode one has leaked--we'd already seen clips of "Empire State of Mind" (a full group number), so that's no surprise, and the selection from A Chorus Line will shock exactly no one, but it's a nice mix of songs (2 theatre songs, 3 recent hits, and an 80s power ballad). Take your guess for how these fit into the plot and who's singing them.
MAKE ME DANCE: Last night, unannounced, Ellen DeGeneres made her Broadway debut in a walkon role in Promises, Promises. Credit to the production crew for keeping it quiet and not turning it into a spectacle. I saw the production in June, and it's far better than the reviews indicated--yes, Chenoweth is miscast as the mousy girl, and while she sings the crap out of "A House Is Not A Home" and "I Say A Little Prayer," they're so plainly added in to give her character more to do that it distracts--but Sean Hayes is charming, the plainly Mad Men inspired design is a lot of fun, and Katie Finneran richly deserved her second Tony for playing a boozy floozy who has a single song that works perfectly.
THIS OVERGROWN KID WHO, DECADES AGO, REPRESENTED IRREVERENT YOUTH LONG BEFORE HIPPIES AND PUNK ROCKERS: Tom Shales reviews Jerry Lewis' performance at his annual MDA telethon, which raises all sorts of questions to ponder:
  • Is it unfair to even review critically such a broadcast, given the overall good it does in the world?
  • What ever happened to telethons? I feel like local stations used to broadcast more of them. Is it a combination of the dearth of local ownership of network affiliates and the increased focused on the bottom line? Is it that the Internet has made regular charitable giving easier and reduced the need for such broadcasts?
  • Can I get through a Jerry Lewis post without referencing The Day The Clown Cried and Spy magazine article on same?
  • Shales writes "Big stars like Joan Crawford (seen in a clip on the MDA Web site) don't come on anymore, but then, there aren't big stars like Joan Crawford anymore, are there?" Is this a bad thing? (Do enjoy the MDA's full list of celebrity appearances from 1966-2009. Including KISS! The Jackson Five! And a favorite of mine, below the fold.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

BUT THE BALL. HIS GROIN. IT WORKS ON SO MANY LEVELS! Judging from this sneak peak at TAR, Man Getting Hit In Groin By Football may soon have some competition.
UNEASY RIDER: I'm sure Sons of Anarchy (which returns tonight, kicking off the fall TV season, followed by new CW programming starting tomorrow night) is great--people I trust rave about it, and those members of the cast that I'm familiar with are pretty impressive actors--but I just can't get past the fact that I'm not interested in watching a show about a motorcycle club/gang (also, I understand that trying to start now is perhaps not the best idea). What other shows do you have a blind spot for because of subject matter or similar?

(Semi-related--debuting tomorrow night is FX's Terriers, which Alan loved, and which has a pretty damn solid pedigree, but be careful, since even with minimal network programming, there's a fairly severe pileup tomorrow at 10 with Top Chef and Psych finales, along with a Castle repeat, against the Terriers premiere--I'm picking up a later repeat.)
YOU GET A MEDALLION WITH A RAINBOW RIBBON! YOU GET A MEDALLION WITH A RAINBOW RIBBON! I GET A MEDALLION WITH A RAINBOW RIBBON! The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has announced that its 2010 honorees for lifetime achievement in the performing arts are singer and songwriter Merle Haggard; composer and lyricist Jerry Herman; dancer, choreographer and director Bill T. Jones; songwriter and musician Paul McCartney; and producer, television host and actress Oprah Winfrey.

McCartney was first announced for the honor in 2002, but canceled to attend a family wedding. (Paul Simon replaced him.) In addition, this is the first year since 2006 that none of the honorees are best-known for acting, and I believe you have to go back to 2002 to find a year without a film director being honored.

[Much in our archives about these awards. I'll stick with my 2008 call of Woody Allen, Meryl Streep and James L. Brooks as the most-overdue honorees still outstanding.]

Sunday, September 5, 2010

LIKE THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, ONLY WITHOUT THE OTHER TWO PEOPLE. ALSO, WITHOUT ... Any connoisseur of negative reviews will appreciate this Alastair Macaulay review of a performance by "dancer" Ann Liv Young in tomorrow's Times. I'll just offer one sentence as a sample:
Waiting 10 minutes for someone to defecate onstage is boring in the way that waiting 10 minutes for someone to produce a double pirouette or high C would be boring.