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Like a carpenter who makes stairs

The rise and fall of The Office

The Office hasn't been as good the last couple seasons, but its prolonged run has undeniably changed television.

The Office hasn’t been as good the last couple seasons, but its prolonged run has undeniably changed television.

The Office hasn't been as good the last couple seasons, but its prolonged run has undeniably changed television.

The Office hasn’t been as good the last couple seasons, but its prolonged run has undeniably changed television.

The cynics among us would probably say The Office was over as soon as Michael Scott shed his microphone, uttered a final, muted “that’s what she said” and boarded a flight to Colorado and left Dunder Mifflin for good. They might say that although we didn’t know it at the time, The Office needed Michael Scott. Bringing Will Ferrell in as a short-lived replacement was only the writing on the wall, bringing in James Spader was the nail in the coffin: there would be no one who could tread that line between painfully awkward and painfully funny as well as Steve Carrell did as Michael Scott.

The ninth and final season of The Office just wrapped up shooting. It’s hard to remember a time when The Office wasn’t on, and although the last two seasons have been lackluster, The Office will be remembered as one of the best sitcoms of our generation and certainly one of the defining shows of the early 2000s.

Living the dream

Why Parks and Recreation is TV's best show

The Parks and Recreation department, shoved into a hybrid hatchback.

The Parks and Recreation department, shoved into a hybrid hatchback.

On April 9, 2009, after an episode of The Office, what was billed by the press as a spin-off show called Parks and Recreation launched.

Parks and Recreation didn’t start as humbly as The Office, which was in the middle of its best arc of its fifth season, and one of the best arcs in the entire show. Earlier that year, The Office was featured by NBC after the Super Bowl, and was really as strong as it had ever been. And on April 9, an episode of The Office called “The Michael Scott Paper Company” provided as strong a lead-in as NBC could provide. Unlike The Office, the cast and crew weren’t all no-names: not only was the show co-created by Greg Daniels, the creator and longtime showrunner of The Office, but the cast also featured SNL alumna Amy Poehler and Office alumna Rashida Jones. And at 9:30 PM, after The Office ended, Parks and Recreation debuted…in a sandbox.

It’s been all uphill from there.

Drink up me hearties, yo ho: the case for piracy

The fact that I’m still referencing Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat three years after it was required reading in my ENGL 398 class means, unfortunately, that I was wrong: ENGL 398 wasn’t completely useless.

This post occurs in real time

The cast of 24, Season 5

The cast of 24, Season 5

The cast of 24, Season 5

The cast of 24, Season 5

Apart from a certain other comedy “about nothing”, 24 has been my favorite show since it came on the air. You could say I grew up with it, sort of, as 24 began its run in 2001 when I was a freshman in high school. For a while, the show served as my career inspiration, and while I no longer stick to watching it live, I don’t fall behind by more than a couple days unless absolutely necessary.

That said, you may think I’d be wrought with grief after reading that 24, after 8 seasons, will end its run. I’m not.

That’s not to say I won’t miss it. But here’s some good reasons for 24 ending.

  • All good stories have to come to an end. Ever wonder why the news gets worse ratings than scheduled TV? Ever wonder why Olympic hockey does so much better than NHL hockey? Because they end. People like having a feeling of closure, they like being satisfied, and they like feeling like progress is being made. If the story never ends, none of those three criteria are ever met.
  • The writers are out of ideas. Really, who can blame them? So far in eight seasons, Jack has faced the detonation of a 747, an assassination attempt, another assassination attempt, the death of his wife, jumping out of a plane minutes before it detonated a nuclear bomb in the desert, being tortured by some guys who want something no bigger than an SD card, finding out that two incompetent morons (a theme in CTU) lost said device, a heart attack in the middle of a shootout, a drug addiction, his partner dating his daughter, a biological attack on a hotel, a train explosion, his girlfriend and boss being kidnapped, a nuclear meltdown, another 747 being blown out of the sky by a US plane, the threat of nuclear missiles hitting Los Angeles, the death of David Palmer and Michelle Dessler within minutes of each other, a chemical attack on a mall, a chemical attack on a hospital, a chemical attack on CTU, the “death” of Tony via Christopher Henderson (that turncoat), the President of the United States being in on the terrorist conspiracy, being shipped to China for a while, coming back to a nuclear bomb blowing up Los Angeles, then going to Africa only to be attacked there, returning to a trial in the United States, being betrayed by Tony (who was really alive *wink*), inhaling a toxic bio-hazard only to survive via a dangerous surgery to his daughter. Now Jack’s a grandparent. Seriously. At some point he either has to die of a bullet wound or exhaustion. (Did I forget anything in that list?)
  • The subplots are simple and predictable. Dana’s story, this season, has been laughable. Even the worst subplot in existence (Kim v. Cougar) was better than this one. In fact, ever since Nina’s death, I would bet the 24 writers were looking for ways to bring her back; since she died, the show lost much of its unpredictability. Much of this, I believe, is the writers trying to write for a more mainstream audience who can’t process more complex characters or plots, something that happens when TV shows become popular. But when parts of the story become uninteresting, it’s only a matter of time until everything else becomes uninteresting.
  • Old shows never die, they just fade into syndication and Blu-ray releases. 24 is meant to be watched marathon-style, maybe more so than any other show in existence. Once-a-week drama is fun, but the best way to enjoy 24 is all at once. Cable rerun marathons and the upcoming Blu-ray box set will be a great way to do that.
  • George Mason did it best: blaze of glory, baby. Ending on a note of uncertainty is much less preferable to going out with a bang.

All that said, I’m thoroughly enjoying this season and I’ll miss it when it’s over. But for me, like high school, and college, change is inevitable, and all good things must come to an end. For me, I’ll be happy (and hopeful, for now) that the show went out on a high note instead of fading away.

P.S. For what it’s worth, my favorite season was season 3 for the computer attack, Nina’s death and Stephen Saunders. What was yours? Say so in the comments or somewhere where I post this.

My brain is hanging upside down

1977 was a tumultuous year for the city of New York: the soap opera feud between Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and other Yankees dominated the baseball season, the upcoming mayoral election promised change, and the record-setting climate led to a major blackout and riots.

Oh, and the “Son of Sam“, arguably the most infamous serial killer in history, rampaged the city.

All of this sets the stage for Jonathan Mahler’s book Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, and from that, the ESPN mini-series Bronx is Burning. I’ve seen the series before but recently acquired the DVD set and below are a few of my thoughts.

Bronx is BurningWhile the series is primarily about the Yankees and their pursuit of the first World Series in the Steinbrenner era, the Son of Sam subplot is substantially and capably covered. What sets Bronx is Burning apart is the way they interweave the two stories: Steinbrenner is shown (in typical fashion) worrying about the Son of Sam scaring off fans, and the detectives on the Son of Sam case are shown working on reports while half-watching the Yankees grind through their season.

Speaking of Steinbrenner, Oliver Platt’s portrayal of the eccentric, obsessed owner is simply a joy to watch. Platt not only nails the accent, but he nails the facial expressions and body language too. It would have been easy to paint the picture of Steinbrenner as a demon, but Platt makes him a very believable guy who wants to win, no matter what the cost. Even his costumes are excellent (particularly the suit with white shoes, and the suit with the turtleneck sweater).

Steinbrenner’s main rival, Billy Martin, is played by John Torturro, who also excels in his role. Scenes which Steinbrenner and Martin share are easily the most compelling, and that’s due in large part to Torturro’s ability to mimick Billy Martin’s bi-polar personality. He comes across as extremely passionate and extremely old school, a guy who doesn’t like the prima donnas generated by athletes (one in particular) in the 70s (wonder what he’d think now?).

(Interesting sidenote: Howard Cosell, the man who originally said, “ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning” while calling Game 2 of the 1977 World Series, was played by John Torturro in another great docu-drama, Monday Night Mayhem.)

Reggie Jackson (the aforementioned “one in particular”) and Thurman Munson are also tremendously cast and played, and the two actors do a great job of being almost complete opposites, setting the tension for many of the conflicts in the series.

Another thing I liked about the series was how it mixed in 1977 era video in with the new video. Most of the baseball action shown is from 1977 video, but rather than show the faces of the real players, the modern video is edited in nearly seamlessly and with no distraction. While most of the modern video looks authentic (great set design and props), the baseball video is a little bit suspect, as it appears to be shot in front of a green screen. But let’s be clear: this isn’t just a story of the players on the field, it’s a story between players on and off the field, so while a larger budget could have made the baseball video more believable, the compromise they made works very well.

Finally, since 1977 was around the birth of punk, The Ramones are heavily included in the soundtrack during montages, while an understated score is present for the Son of Sam murders and investigation scenes. The music choice is excellent, giving the impression of an ominous present but a hopeful future. If you’re a baseball fan, if you’re a history buff, or if you’re a fan of New York, you owe it to yourself to watch this incredibly enjoyable mini-series.

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies

I’ve been meaning to blog about some of these things for a while, but never really had enough for an entire entry. Therefore, it’s back to tidbits.

  • I’ve gotten really into Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares lately. Both are reality shows with Gordon Ramsay as the host/chef/boss, but while Hell’s Kitchen is a competition like Survivor, Kitchen Nightmares, if it were on ABC, would be called Extreme Makeover: Restaurant Edition. Two reasons I like these shows: a) restaurants are a fair industry (more on that in a minute) and b) Gordon Ramsay is hypnotizing, whether he’s yelling at a competitor on Hell’s Kitchen or pouring his passion into resurrecting dead restaurants. Ramsay’s philosophy goes along with what I said in a), and it’s pretty simple: restaurants that are successful are restaurants that do things the right way. Too many industries are rewarding to companies that cut corners to earn an extra buck or maybe break some rules to avoid hassle.

    The common theme with all restaurants featured in Kitchen Nightmares is that the food isn’t good, and the food isn’t good because the kitchen isn’t stocked with fresh food or isn’t clean, and those two things occur because the chefs or owners are trying to cut corners. Inevitably, in each episode, Ramsay gets in there, cleans up the kitchen and basically just revitalizes the menu with fresh ingredients and the rest takes care of itself.

    The same is true of competitors on Hell’s Kitchen: aspiring chefs who aren’t team-oriented are gone; chefs who can’t cook are gone; chefs who lack passion are gone. Ramsay has two shows on FOX, and he uses both of them to push his brand: pour your heart, soul, and mind into it.

  • The reason I’ve gotten caught up on both of these shows is thanks to a great new website: Hulu. Mark Cuban wrote about it in July, and now that networks are catching on, Hulu is taking off. It’s not just the fact that it’s a video site with actual TV shows: it’s the fact that Hulu is a well-designed, well-executed system. Each show you watch has some commercials (only thirty seconds each, for the most part, some less), but they’re unobtrusive (as in, they don’t create popups, they don’t cover the entire page (here’s looking at you, ESPN.com), and once they’re gone you’re left to your video. The video player is executed nicely too, with all the common controls and excellent quality, and it lets you skip around however you want without loading a new commercial each time (basically, if you try to skip a commercial break, you’ll see a commercial). And unlike YouTube’s main page, which feels cluttered and disorganized, Hulu’s main page is wonderfully designed and looks awesome.

    Just for fun, here’s the Super Bowl ad:

    (Of course. As I’m trying to rave about Hulu, the Super Bowl commercial wasn’t available from Hulu. +1, YouTube.)

  • The entire Indians team is now in Goodyear, AZ preparing for the 2009 Indians season. Many analysts agree with my prediction that the Indians will win the Central, albeit cautiously. Their reasons are that the Indians rotation, after Cliff Lee, is questionable.

    I’m looking for Fausto Carmona to bounce back and emerge as the true ace of the Indians staff. Cliff Lee had an amazing season last year, but I don’t see him repeating that this year (although it’d be nice if he did). Carmona’s stuff, if he’s on, is simply electric, and he’s not yet in his prime. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, has a good fastball and an above-average curveball, but he’s not going to throw that fastball by you, so he’s more of a control specialist.

    In any case, the Indians aren’t quite sure about the rest of the rotation. Carl Pavano is a huge question mark (although I have a feeling that he’ll be someone like Paul Byrd: he won’t pitch phenomenally, but he’ll get enough run support to win). Jeremy Sowers has quite a bit to prove, but he showed signs of improvement at the end of last season. Aaron Laffey showed what he could be last year and then ran out of gas; I’m looking for him to regain that form. And that’s not even thinking about Zach Jackson, Anthony Reyes, or Scott Lewis, who all pitched last year for the Tribe with varying degrees of success. Dave Huff is being mentioned too. And don’t forget that Jake Westbrook will be back hopefully in mid-season to give the rotation a boost.

    So sure, the Indians have some question marks in their rotation, but they also have some options. (The same goes for most of the team, actually.) And as fun as it is to speculate about these things, I can’t wait for the season to start so these questions can start getting answered.

  • Isn’t Feburary a sweeps month? Why are there no new episodes of Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother or The Office until the week of March 2?
  • Video of the day:

    Probably one of the better fan videos you’ll ever see. Absolutely awesome.

Hope all is well, wherever you’re reading this from, on a cold and snowy Thursday morning.