Thursday, May 27, 2010

More TV Nerdness (Lost v. 24)

I'm a sucker for television. What can I say? So I'd be largely remiss if I didn't post some of my thoughts on the series finales of two of the most influential shows of the decade.

Lost and 24 have both been staples of prime time television, each commandeering large fan bases in their early years. Given you haven't been spending the last 6 years in Lancaster, PA you know that each just had their series finales. I'm here to make fun of them. Sorta.

I'll make this quick so you can get back to playing Solitaire and texting your other friends at work. Also, spoiler alert. Then again if you haven't seen the episodes by now you're probably Amish and don't believe in the evil that led you to this blog (aka, Facebook).

3 months ago I blogged about how disappointing I expected the season finale of Lost to be, seen here. Clearly I was speaking out of my caboose. I loved the finale! I thought they did a great job given the mess of story lines they had created. In true Lost fashion they left the ending open to interpretation so that the viewer could choose an explanation based on what they believe. Was the whole island made up? Was this just Jack's story and his 'purgatory'? Was it a dream? Did they die immediately after the plane crashed? (Obviously not. Did you even watch it, dummy?)

I know such a fuss is made about how they didn't give us enough answers and yadda yadda. But think of it this way. If everything was explained you'd be A) frustrated because it wasn't explained the way you wanted it to be or B) satisfied by the explanations but bored of the series because it would lose its appeal. The show thrived on characters and the 'water cooler' factor. We all had to talk about each episode with someone else to figure it out. You want answers? Create them for yourselves!

24, on the other hand, I felt different about. Let's set this up first. 24 thrived on its revolutionary story telling style (everything in real-time, ticking clocks, lots of yelling) and guys were hooked because it was teeming with action, killing, conspiracy and (pardon my language because I don't curse) bad-assery. And there was only 10 minutes of relationship stuff each season.

So the series finale was a very attractive idea. How would they resolve the life of one of TV's most intriguing characters? Answer: Pretty much how they ended every season of 24. Jack disappears, we don't know what happened to him, his family is in danger.

I can't stress enough how much this felt like the end to just another season. Did the writer's know they were ending a SERIES. One of the most influential ones on television?

My take is this. We all know 24 went on for about 1-2 seasons too long. Story lines got a little cheesy, we missed a lot of the regular characters (heck, they brought Tony back from the dead to keep it going), Jack was aging. I think the writers wanted to meekly bow out of television and move into movies, where I expect they will do much better. I mean, the only exciting part of the final hour was Chloe shooting Jack. But that was only exciting because Bauer raised his own gun to his head and you thought, "NO WAY!" then quickly realized, "Duh. I'm an idiot."

The Lost finale was memorable, emotional, action packed, character driven and curious. Everything the show had been for 6 seasons. 24 was unrealistic (this coming from a guy who buys into Lost), broken, disjointed, frustrating and sappy.

My buddy Chad pointed out in his blog that Jack went bonkers after Renee Walker was killed. He had spent approximately 30 hours of real-time with her. Prior to this his wife was killed, his close friend Audrey was captured and tortured and Jack didn't even give us one good, "TELL ME NOW OR I SWEAR I WILL KILL YOU RIGHT HERE!" But because its the season finale he was sent on a revenge soaked quest for justice? Give me the regular Jack back!

Lost placed so much emphasis on the characters, their journeys and the relationships they shared. Its what kept us coming back to the show. Sure we say we watched to find out what the island really was, but you know you cried when Kate and Claire were delivering Aaron while Charlie had his moment of realization. You know your eyes watered when Sawyer and Juliet were reunited by the candy machine. I know I got teary eyed as Desmond pinned Linus to the hood of his car with right jabs to the jaw bone. I mean, c'mon! So emotional!

You know what 24's defining moment was for the characters? Jack mumbling something like, "Chloe- I never thought it'd be you who stood by my side all these years." Chloe saying, "Thanks Jack," then turning to Cole and Arto, "That's it. Shut it down. What happened here didn't."

Is there a worse line to be delivered by a worse character in an episode this big? That was it. Those were the final words of 24. "What happened here didn't."

Chloe nailed it. I actually wish it didn't.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The End of the Finales

Apparently everyone has stopped trying.

Last night was the season finale of the best night of television: NBC's Thursday night comedy - Community, Parks and Rec, The Office and 30 Rock. Four hilarious shows back-to-back featuring likable characters, entertaining story lines and all the snarky retorts you desire.

Naturally the idea of the season finale offers up a wide range of emotions for me. Excitement for new comedy, sadness for the end of the season, comfort in two hours of comedy gold, and disdain again for the end of the season, then confusion over my absurd range of emotion, followed by surprise at the realization I have actually been taking a hormonal replacement supplement instead of Ibuprofene, then sadness again (probably due to the imbalance of testosterone in my system), then rage and, well, you get the idea.

After I stopped crying and finished rearranging my sock drawer I turned on the shows and settled in for what should have been two hours of comedy magic.

Let's just say 'supremely disappointed' doesn't even begin to describe my feelings.

Here's the thing- a season finale should accomplish at least one of three things. It should either A) answer a ton of questions viewers have about the season while posing a few more setting up the next one (i.e. Lost); B) resolve the action of the season and tie up all the loose ends (i.e. 24); or C) get you right to the cusp of something they've teased you with all season and then throw in a twist that will crush you and then excite you about the next season (i.e. The Office).

The Office has mastered the finale category. They were brilliant at season finales. I would say Lost was just as good at it, but let's be honest- when you can make up anything you want and defy all the laws of logic or reason it isn't that difficult to come up with an exciting cliffhanger.

All four shows, yes, ALL four shows used the same gimmick to end their seasons. Its so formulaic. Continue season as planned, add light comedy, and end with an unexpected twist in a relationship between characters. This has been done successfully with only one couple:

Oops, I mean...THIS couple

Community centered its entire episode around Jeff Winger choosing between two women and then at the end of the show...TWIST! Parks and Rec was finally going to resolve feelings between two characters until....TWIST! The Office, which has been sub-par lately, had a regular episode until they remembered:

Writer 1: "Crap! This is the season finale! We didn't prepare! Um....add something about Jim and Pam at the end."
Writer 2: "But...they're married, they have a baby and they're happy. There's nothing else."
Writer 1: "Fine! Just pick someone people like and put it in after the episode."
Writer 2: "I'm bored and my paycheck is huge. Someone get me a latte."

Then there's 30 Rock, which is usually a good source of non-conformity, but has centered its past 6 episodes around Jack's sorted romances and Liz's inability to meet the right man until....TWIST!

4 for 4! Are you kidding me?! First of all, no one is watching these shows for the relationships. It's comedy first, Dwight second, and the relationships way down near the bottom to give the show credibility and ensure it can last for 8 seasons. Come up with something original!

They even advertised the 'after-the-credits' part of The Office because that's usually when they drop some bomb on you. This season's was so predictable that Michael Scott's reaction wasn't even noteworthy. Such a disappointment.

Do you know the worst part about the whole thing? This morning I see on Twitter and Facebook that the season finale of Grey's Anatomy featured some sort of sniper shooting people in the head! And I missed this!? For the first, and last, time ever I wish I watched Grey's Anatomy instead of NBC's Thursday night line-up. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

Bring back the Scranton Strangler for The Office season finale for Pete's sake. Don't toy around with tired old story lines.

I mean, at least make Troy from Community eat a giant cookie, or have Andy Dwyer flip his motorcycle over a car and break his arm, maybe even have Dwight devise a plan to buy the Scranton office or bring in Matt Damon to be a hilarious pilot. Something!!

What's that? All that already happened? Oh. Um...spoiler alert?

I knew I loved these shows for a reason.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Winning the Lottery

I've heard it said many times that life is cyclical. I dunno if I believe that, but I know I've been hiding behind that excuse to justify whats been happening to Washington sport's teams in the past decade. It's uglier than a love child between Kramer and Costanza.

Last night, the NBA held its annual draft lottery. A system I love, by the way, because it facilitates the unknown as any of the bottom 14 teams has a shot at stealing the top draft pick. Let me walk you through the night.

As I said the bottom 14 teams in the league take part in the lottery, each sending a representative to accept the draft pick. They range from gimmicky (Danny Granger from the Indiana Pacers, with a 1% chance at getting the top pick, saying he was wearing a John Wall jersey under his suit) to sentimental (the late Abe Pollin's wife representing the Washington Wizards, slated to take the 5th pick in the draft based on draft percentages).

You spend the first 20 minutes watching terrible interviews and awkward questions, then someone reads out the draft order in reverse in the most uninspiring and dry way ever. Imagine a Senate hearing discussing standardized testing in schools-- I would have found that RIVETING compared to this.

However, the draft isn't dull the entire time. There is a brief moment of suspense when they announce the top three picks. This of course is ruined by the lack of emotion from any of the team representatives. Except for one little old lady.

Before I go on, we need to take a minute to acknowledge a great man. Abe Pollin had been the owner of the Washington Bullets/Wizards for 46 years. He totally transformed Chinatown after building the Verizon Center and contributed to the city in countless ways. He was a great example of a classic owner, a stand-up guy who did so much for the city and the sports teams here.

Seeing his widowed wife, Irene, represent him wearing his 1978 Championship ring on her frail little hand literally sent chills up my spine. If you understand the context you know how moving it was to see her stand next to these massive men representing the other teams and win the #1 pick in the draft. She stood with her mouth agape and the gargantuan Championship ring on her finger, mouthing "Oh my God!" Incredible.

It was almost like Abe Pollin was looking down over us. Which is bull turds cause he wasn't. But it makes for a nice sentiment. We all know the NBA lottery is rigged anyway.

So what does this mean for Washington? It means we can get an incredible building block for the future. It means we have the best chance to take the best player in the draft. It means we can finally make up for taking Kwame Brown with our last #1 pick in 2001. It means maybe, just maybe, we can get past this Gilbert Arenas drama and focus on basketball.


Common knowledge says to take John Wall, the point guard from Kentucky. He's explosive, lightening fast, handles the ball well and finishes at the rim. I've been on a National Player of the Year Evan Turner kick for the past 3 months or so, but I'm getting over that. I mean, he was the best player in college last year and Kobe thinks he's the best player in the draft.

Since when do I listen to anything Kobe says? That guy is a snake. Not a 'Black Mamba' snake, but a sneaky little devil snake. But wow is he good.

If you add Wall to the Wizards and start him and Arenas in the back court I think you've got something. Super athletic, super quick, small guards who can score, get to the rim and create opportunities for the rest of the team. They'll draw defenders away from the rim and open up our super star center JaVale McGee in the post.

Yikes...maybe the Wizards are further off than we thought.

Who knows though? Maybe John Wall is just the guy the Wizards need to attract some good free agents? No, not like Lebron and Dwayne Wade. But maybe Carlos Boozer, Rudy Gay or even Amare Stoudemire?

They definitely have the money if they wanted to. The Wizards have the 6th most cap space available to sign free agents this summer since trading away Antwan Jamison, Caron butler and Co.

Either way, it would appear that the cycle is turning in our favor. Maybe now it's Washington's time to regain its status as a dominant sports city. The Redskins seem to be on the rebound, the Caps have one of the best players in the league, and even the Nationals have pitching hopeful Stephen Strasburg working his way up through the minors.

It could finally be time for Washington to turn its reputation around and begin a new era of sports in D.C. Perhaps its our turn to be on the positive side of the cycle.

I mean, hey, everyone's gotta win the lottery sometime.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Billy Elliot

There are things in life that some people are just born to do. I'd come up with a list of them, but I just watched Jack Bauer cut a Sim Card out of a Russian's stomach so I'm a little distracted. The following, however, is a story about destiny, fearlessness, and the lack of self awareness. I hope it entertains you.

This tale, like all the great ones, starts at the beginning. It was approximately 23 years, 3 months, and 16 days ago. I emerged from my mother's womb as most babies do, but unbeknown to all in the room I possessed a powerful gift that only few have properly utilized.

My glaring white skin.

See, the expectations for white guys are quite low in many areas. We aren't expected to jump high, have family reunions, or succeed at any rhythmic activity. This includes, but is not limited to, things such as playing the drums, battle rapping, and winning dance competitions.

Obviously there are exceptions to this rule. Take 5 minutes and YouTube "White guy (fill in playing drums, battle rapping or winning dance competitions)". I'll wait.

I'm sure by now your 5 minutes have turned into 35 minutes of YouTubing, the viewing of 4 or 5 Facebook albums, and you inevitably posting a few comments. I'm assuming you stumbled back onto the link for this blog, remembered what you were doing half an hour ago and are resuming reading right.........


Let's get on with it. I don't fancy myself an exception to any of those rules. I do, however, think I am clever enough to utilize my perceived weaknesses as strengths. Which is how I ended up with my life motto, "All it takes to win a dance-off is a little bit of choreography."

Apply that to your life at your discretion. Just know, it led me to where I am today: Widely renown as, "A legend in his own mind, arrogant in the minds of most, and, according to some, in possession of a few redeemable qualities." (Rules don't apply to me, I can quote myself within my own writing. Whatever.)

I'll cut to the chase. As I mentioned earlier, people of similar ethnic origins as myself tend to lack rhythm. This is the crux of all my success. That, and my unassuming appeal. So when it comes to dancing, most people lower their expectations upon first glance. Thats when I strike, like a rattlesnake from behind the bush you're peeing on.

When it comes to what I look like dancing, there are two schools of thought.

What most people think:

What I think:

That's how I get you. In most dancing situations you need three things to look like you know what you're doing, at least one choreographed move, an X-factor, and an excess of white people. You'll see how those things play out momentarily.

Having a large white family means lots of opportunities to spend quality time with large amounts of other white people. Beach trips, family gatherings, and, most importantly, weddings.

Its easy to hone your skills and build your confidence when everyone else in the room is slightly liquored up and hopping up and down to "Cotton Eyed-Joe". Before the night is over people think you have moves like Travolta! (Remember, we're dealing with white folk).

If you know the McGraw's you know one thing, sometimes we lack self awareness. Mostly by choice. We have a high need to be appreciated and liked. So we look past what most people would consider "risky" or "out going" and forge ahead. Don't believe me? Have you been here yet?

That's why when my church (Grace Covenant) hosted a Marriage Conference that featured a dance, I knew I had to bring my 'A' game. Like in "White Men Can't Jump" when Woody Harrelson gets off the train looking like a dweeb so he and Wesley Snipes can swindle some fools out of their money. I had to play the part of misplaced white guy in an incredibly diverse church, lurking in the bushes waiting for my moment to attack.

The time had come when the fatal words were announced through the speakers, "Let's have a couples dance off!!" It was on.

Let it be known right now that there was no way the rest of this story happens without my amazing wife. I don't know of another woman in the world who would dance as emphatically or as heroically as she did in support of our quest. I am forever thankful for her.

So there we are. In the final two couples, us and the music minister and his wife. Naturally, we're up against the guy with more rhythm than the rest of the city combined. Don't get it twisted, this guy is a RIDICULOUS musician. He knows what he's doing.

As I said before, to be successful in most dancing situations you need one choreographed move, an X-factor and an excess of white people. We had the first two, but we did not have the third.

We begin the showdown with generic moves, nothing fancy. You can't bring out the big guns yet. A robot here, a MJ leg kick there, nothing big. Then we played to our strengths. We're white people, we're dancing....we did what we knew how to do.

The 'shopping cart'. Followed by the 'lawn mower'.

Bam. Choreographed moves. Check.

The crowd loved it. Of course they did. Their expectations for us were low and we are there to entertain. We obviously weren't going to beat the music minister at dancing. Plus, what's funnier than white people doing generic white people dances? I'll tell you what. Those same white people cockily waving goodbye as they pushed their invisible lawn mower across stage in an attempt to end the competition right there.

This seemed to only intensify our competition. They wouldn't quit. It was time for our X-factor.

What everyone in attendance didn't know was that I had spent the previous five years intensely watching 'So You Think You Can Dance' and I was hip to this new "krumping" movement.

Let's just say I hit him with something that looked like this.

And it was pretty much over.

The moral of the story? I suppose there are a few.
- Don't let your perceived weaknesses get in the way of achieving everything you want to in life.
- You truly can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

and most importantly....

- You don't ever want to challenge a McGraw at ANYTHING. You will lose. Or we will quit because the game is unfair.


Monday, May 3, 2010

The Straw that Broke the Campbell's Back

Two weeks ago, the Washington Redskins traded Jason Campbell, a former first round draft pick and 3 year starter, to the Oakland Raiders for a 2012 4th round draft pick. This is the equivalent of running over someone's dog and asking them to apologize to you.

Campbell has been a stand up guy in Washington, anybody will tell you that. He took the blame when necessary and pointed out areas of improvement while always promising to work harder. He wasn't one to call out his teammates or pass the blame onto others, something I respected him greatly for. However, the results never showed up. His performance was like abstract art, you really appreciate the effort but you're not quite sure what you're looking at or why you're paying him $7.74 million over the next two years.

I think the one flaw Redskins fans couldn't get past was Campbell's apparent lack of passion. He was, what football people call, "cerebral". Which is code for boring, disenchanting, and uninspiring. Don't believe me? Jim Zorn was also called a "cerebral" coach...

No matter what happened with the Redskins, no matter what aberrant behavior Clinton Porits would engage in or how many losses we had piled up we always got the same response from Campbell. "We need to work harder, do the little things and get it done next week."

I guess he's right, but from the leader of your offense you want more than that! You want passion, drive, determination. You want the other players to respect you and fear you a little. In the words of Michael Scott, "I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."

I appreciated Campbell taking responsibility, but it never motivated the team. You never had the sense that he was in control of things. Until now.

Like I said, getting shipped to Oakland is pretty much as low as it gets in football. They may not be the worst team in the league, but the culture, the management and the players truly make it a black hole. Getting sent there by a team you have been incredibly loyal too is worse than a smack in the face, its a groin punch.

So when I saw Jason Campbell running QB drills in Oakland in his practice jersey next the plodding landmass that is Jamarcus Russell, I saw something different from him. As he answered questions from the media he had this glare in his eye that said, "Dan Snyder, I may eat your Adam's apple with my Cinnamon Toast Crunch tomorrow morning."

I think the trade to Oakland was the final straw for him. He had been disrespected and unfairly blamed for all of the Redskin's problems over the past 3 years. Even though his total yardage, touchdowns, and completion percentage grew consistently each year in the league, football analysts said Campbell was the problem. After being dragged through the proverbial mud for three years, sacked 102 times and losing 27 games you'd think Campbell had seen his worst. Now he's in Oakland for at least two years in another new offensive system, trying to turn another franchise around with another front office in disarray.

Tough cookies bro.

I don't envy Jason Campbell, but I do wish him the best. I never thought he was the issue in Washington. I also didn't think he'd be able to win a Super Bowl, but he wasn't the guy responsible for the destruction of a storied football franchise. That would be this despicable midget -->

Given the Redskin's reputation and Campbell's career I'm actually pleased with a 2012 4th rounder. If teams were patient the Redskins would have ended up cutting Campbell and a team in need could have picked him up off waivers for an incredibly cheap price. Proving, yet again, that Oakland is the armpit of the NFL.

I expect Campbell will put up good numbers in the coming years. He'll do what he did in Washington, and I think he'll do even better. He's jaded now. He's determined. He finally has something to prove.

Unfortunately, he'll go down as a mediocre quarterback and nothing more. Which is a shame for a stand up guy who gave his all to play the sport he loved. He's the product of chaotic front offices and turnstile coaching. He was forced to learn new offensive systems almost every year, And all the while he held his head high and did what was asked of him.

I think Oakland was lucky to get their hands on him.

But I'm glad he's not under center in Washington anymore.