Monday, September 26, 2011

Best of the best

Since I just witnessed an all-time great episode of television last night, and I know the world desperately needs this, I will rank the ten best shows currently on air. They don't have to be currently in-season, but they must be still in production. So no Friday Night Lights or 24.

Another rule: All shows ranked below are scripted, fictional series, comedy or drama. So no Daily Show, Colbert Report, Jersey Shore.

Let's get on with it already.

10. Sons of Anarchy: While uneven, the boys of SAMCRO eek onto this list by sheer entertainment value. This show is never boring. And the acting, especially from Katey Segal, is top notch. SOA also gets points for having Maggie Siff on my screen. Much appreciated.

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm: After eight seasons of Larry David haggling over inane social customs with ignorant, oblivious, spoiled Hollywood bourgeois, Curb often feels rote. Larry fights a hostess of a fancy restaurant and then needs this hostess for a big favor at some future point in the show, only to be rejected. Cue the theme music. However, every other episode or so - counting "Palestinian Chicken" - scores a knockout and invigorates the series. If Curb were a baseball player at this point, it would bat around .270 but hit 25-30 homeruns.

8. Boardwalk Empire: Beautifully rendered, well acted ... this is a professional show in every regard. And the topic - the rise of the gangster lifestyle in the 1920s - is ripe for great storytelling. Yet the shows often leaves me feeling cold. I watch the characters. I am entertained by them. I do not feel for them. It makes this list because it's well done, but Boardwalk has yet to reach its full potential. Tony Soprano brought a real intensity to The Sopranos that is lacking with Nucky Thompson.

7. Louie: I've been reading plenty of proclamations along these lines: Louie is the best show on TV. I won't go that far. Some episodes fall flat, like the time Louie and his girls visit the racist aunt. What makes Louis ONE of the best shows is its ability to make me laugh one episode and feel enormous catharsis the next. This is not strictly a comedy despite the presence of the No. 1 comedian in the world. The episode with his suicidal friend was better than what most dramas can offer.

P.S. And the segment where Louie was on TV defending masturbation has to be one of the funniest of the year.

6. 30 Rock: A year ago this would be much higher, but the show lost just a smidgen off its fastball. That does little to detract from the funniest set of characters to come down the pike in a long time. Even if an episode here or there fails to live up to the show's standards, the combo of Jack Donaghy/Liz Lemon/Tracy Jordan will never fail to get me through 22 minutes. A show that is a pure joy to watch.

5. Justified: This FX offering flies under the radar a bit. Timothy Olyphant was born for the role of Raylan Givens, the laconic, prone-to-violence federal marshal Raylan Givens. Walton Goggins shines as his smooth antagonist Boyd Crowder. Never before has backwoods Kentucky been this intriguing.

4. Parks and Recreation: Just beats out 30 Rock as the best comedy on the air. Season 3 was damn close to perfect. Andy Dwyer is a riot. April Ludgate is sarcastic apathy at its finest. But this show is awesome for one reason: Ron Swanson. The gruff, libertarian, "man's man" boss of the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana is comedy gold. I put him up there with Donaghy, Costanza, even Homer (Simspon, not the guy who wrote "The Odyssey") I could watch a show with just him complaining about his job. If you can't or don't want to watch this show, at least YouTube the character.

3. Mad Men: My main problem with Mad Men in seasons 1 and 2 was that many episodes did not move the plot along one inch. The show fell in love with its characters and setting and forgot about the "stuff actually happening" part. While still awesome television, I would not say it's No. 1 for that reason. But they have rectified that issue the past two seasons. This is the most dissected and talked about show among the TV snobs in America (and I include myself in that group). Many would say it's by far the best show going - it's won four straight Emmy's for best drama. I disagree, but that doesn't mean I dislike it. This show is gold and the biggest mistake HBO has made in years was passing on this sure-fire critical hit.

2. Game of Thrones: Speaking of HBO, this is the best series the channel has produced since the final episode of The Wire. Tremendous acting. Awe-inspiring to look at in HD. What really sets this show apart is plot. They burn through it like Sherman to the Atlantic. Every episode ends in a great plot twist, including the biggest twist of the year in the next to last episode. And if you feel there's a dearth of great female characters on TV, watch this show. Arya Stark. Cersei Lannister. Katelyn Stark. Daenerys Targaryen. You might have no idea who these people are. You should. But ... the best part of this show is BY FAR the performance of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, aka "The Imp." He's one of those ambivalent characters who you're not sure is good or bad but you're sure is damn interesting. Simply, he's phenomenal. As is this show.

1. Breaking Bad: I must thank Jeff Schaible for turning me on to this show. I saw the commercials for the first season and assumed it would be one of those trippy stoner shows, like a televised version of Trainspotting. I was not interested. Then I started watching, and it's clear that while Mad Men wins all the Emmy's, it is not the best show on its own network. Bryan Cranston so dominates the role of Walter White it frustrates me when he's not on the screen. No show does suspense like Breaking Bad. It's the Cohen Brothers on AMC - the desolate settings, the pathos of sudden violence and black comedy. And it just gets better and better. The most recent episode - Crawl Space - had my heart pounding. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. There's no question in my mind this is the Tom Brady (not yesterday's version) of television shows, and I say this aware that I haven't watched all of them. I just know.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Two weeks have passed since I spent my first full day in my new single apartment in Coconut Creek. I can safely draw some conclusions about my new abode. Why not share them?

The first night I slept in this place, a powerful sense of loneliness consumed me. I did not see it coming, either. I've spent time alone in apartments before - the summer of 2006 in Brookline being a prime example. But for some reason, the sentiment turned intense that maiden night. I grew up sharing a room with three sisters, then had roommates in college and roommates/housemates in Florida. It took me a few nights to get used to it, but I am.

It's awesome being able to watch what I want when I want now. It's great to not have to worry about waking anyone up at night or in the morning, cooking, watching a movie or practicing the xylophone. I rule this house! ME!! The power is intoxicating.

The location is quite nice. I'm right at the entrance on the first floor. I don't even have to share a hallway with my neighbors. Speaking of which, I've yet to meet a single one. I rarely see anyone milling about, sitting on their porch or anything. The guy next door drinks a lot. I can tell by the Budweiser cardboards I see outside his door every other day. But that's the extent of my knowledge concerning the near dwellers. Perhaps they are shut-ins like me.

My new complex is across the street from a supermarket plaza and I'm withing walking distance of a Starbucks! How neat is that? I walked the 15 minutes last Sunday. It was 92 degrees. I drove to the same Starbucks today. What can I say? Florida is not friendly to pedestrianism.

It hasn't all been lollipops and coffee milk here. I've had an ant problem - little sugar ants crawling all over my countertop and kitchen floor, even my nightstand on one occasion. There are some sultry teenagers who like to hang outside my apartment, smoking their cigarettes and looking intensely at me when I walk by. You don't scare me, street toughs.

The one negative that keeps popping up in my mind is the longer drive. My old place was so damn close to work. I got spoiled by the seven-minute drives back and forth. Now it's closer to 20 minutes. I know many would still love that commute, but after four years, the short drive burrowed into my system and it's hard living without it. Every night when I'm driving back I think, "Shouldn't I be home by now? Why am I still in this driving machine?"

Besides those minor quibbles, I'm enjoying the new digs. Consider yourself in the know.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A damn good night

That was awesome.

I just returned from Sun Life Stadium having witnessed one of the greatest exhibitions of the quarterback science in NFL history. I saw two fights, one between a man and a woman. I saw parachuters and a stealth bomber.

And I finally saw NFL football in person.

The 9/11 tribute was great to see in person. And the stealth bomber flew directly over my head. (I was high up there.) Stealth is a good word for it. I didn't hear it coming. There are motorcycles and scooters louder than that fine piece of American weaponry.

The game started inauspiciously with Chad Henne turning into Michael Vick. But then Tom Brady came out and showed that the Dolphins couldn't do much to stop him. Seeing him play on TV is one thing. Seeing him in person is another.

I had a nice coach's tape eye-view from my seat next to the moon. The plays develop in flash. Four or five guys running routes with only three seconds to decide where to throw it. And when he does throw, the space available is tiny. And he just zipped pass after pass after pass into those tiny spaces.

Surgical is a word used often to describe Brady, and it's damn appropriate. That first bomb he threw to Matthew Slater ... his back was to me so I sort of saw what he saw. There was a sliver of space and he zoomed a perfect dart.

Then there's one of my favorite live sporting moments I have ever seen live. The Pats were at the half-yard line driving toward my section behind the end zone. Brady was barely visible behind all the lineman buried deep in New England territory. He throws a seam route to Wes Welker. I couldn't tell if he caught it. Then he's running in my direction and I lost it.

I was quietly rooting for the Home 11, but I could not help myself on that play. Just awesome. That sent whatever remaining Dolphins fans home for the evening.

The game was far from the only interesting thing I witnessed. In the second half the people in my section started to get rowdy. There was this one female Dolphins fan who was cussing at every Pats fans walking up the aisle. "Suck my d&%$!" Or "Suck his d%^#!" while pointing to whom I suppose was her boyfriend.

A trio of Pats fans just laughed it off. But seconds later, the Patriots scored. I believe it was the Aaron Hernandez touchdown. That trio came back down to talk some trash to this lady. There were words exchanged. Another Patriots fan sitting across the aisle from me started to horn in on the action, using naughty words to describe this fine lady.

So one of this lady's friends approaches him and they jaw at each other until she splashes beer in his face. That involved the Pats fan's girlfriend and the lady's boyfriend. Some shoving, pointing fingers, all egged on by the crowd of course.

"Control your bitch," the Pats' fan said to the boyfriend. That only escalated matters. The girls started shoving a bit, but at that moment, the authorities intervened. They were just about to the eject the Pats fan but, shocking, Dolphins fans came to his defense and he was allowed to stay.

Later on, there was another fracas seven or eight rows up. A Pats fan was ejected for this one. Seems the police have a little bias, but then, Miami fans have to win at something, right?

I stayed until the final whistle. I wanted to soak it all in -- the half-empty stadium now taken over by Pats fans, who already had represented themselves in impressive numbers. I exited on the opposite end of the stadium from where I parked (my sense of direction failing me again) but I did happen to drop by a fleet of buses that were taking the victors to the airport.

This blog makes adding photo difficult, though my photos aren't great anyway, but I did see some Patriots board the buses and talk to family and friends. There was Chad Ochocinco. Nate Solder. Julian Edleman. BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Deion Branch. Vince Wilfork. Albert Haynesworth. And Bill Belichick himself. No Tom Brady, unfortunately.

But he made up for it on the field, don't you think?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Come on, Irene

Latest update from the "I Don't Need This Shit" department ...

A tropical storm is waiting in the seas of the Caribbean and South Florida is in her crosshairs.

Just last week a few friends and I were talking and it came up that I have yet to experience a hurricane or tropical storm in my nearly five years in Florida. It is quite a run. I hope I don't have to change that to "it was quite a run."

A hurricane is bad enough. No one wants to live through one of those, but that sort of weather disturbance is a fact if life down here. My main problem is the forecast time of arrival.

This Thursday and Friday.

That poses a problem. I am scheduled to move Thursday and fly up to New Jersey on Friday. The timing is delicate and the last thing I need is for an interruption in the form of 100 mph winds and torrential rain.

For the last eight months I've been looking forward to this move date. Words can't express how badly I've wanted to find my own apartment. And I NEED to do it before Friday.

The day after this move, I am scheduled to fly north for my first vacation in eight months. I desperately need this vacation and I don't want anything to go wrong. And I certainly don't want to waste days (potentially) of my precious time off.

Do I worry too much? It's early Monday. This storm could be over London by late next week. A friend of mine has already told me I worry too much. My mom agrees. I just have a bad feeling about this one.

I do have one thing going for me ... I actually purchased travel insurance with my plane ticket. I saw this coming months ago. Right when I found out that the wedding I'm planning this trip around was on Sept. 3, my brain started churning.

You see, late August and early September is the absolute heart of hurricane season. My constant worry-wartism served me well this time.

I'm so on guard about this I've checked the weather three times today. My usual system of checking the weather is looking out the window. The thought of having to drive up north has even crossed my mind. If my flight is delayed 24 hours, then the Mets tickets I bought would most likely go to waste. And my chances of trying terrible drinks at Zach's bachelor party would be severely threatened.

Take a deep breath ...

I won't go totally crazy unless this thing is still on track by Tuesday. Before then I promise only to fret and worry, giving me a few more gray hairs - as if I needed more.

If, however, the weathermen say Tuesday night Irene is coming to town, then I go into arms-flailing mode.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Reverend

"I can motivate just as easy as I can bring someone down."
The Boston Globe had Speck, with his array of strange quotes I'll always remember. "Where's the wellington, hi-ho?" being the No. 1 most memorable, and oft-repeated, line.

My current job has someone even more quotable. So quotable, in fact, that one of my co-workers keeps a wall of his cubicle covered in post-it notes chronicling the best lines this man mutters.

For the purposes of this blog, we'll call him The Reverend. That's his nickname. And this man knows how to give out nicknames. I am "Willy Lee," an ironic redneck name for someone who is far from a man of the South. Other nicknames include "Shandoor," "Yo-gee," "The Professor," "The Director," "Jitter Bob," "Remo," "Mr. Pink," "Spaniard," and my all-time favorite, "Fritzy," for a guy with Sideshow Bob style hair.

As The Reverend would say: "I don't give nicknames to individuals I don't like."

This man came to America in 1984 from Communist Romania. He's a New York sports fan who happens to be very good at ping pong. He's a no-nonsense individual with a manner of speaking and plethora of phrases I will use in my every day life. Here's a few.

Used to describe anyone who is disheveled, unseemly, messy, and usually, obese.

Sounds like fu...wayyy. Used anytime someone burps, farts or says something disgusting. It's used often.

Used to describe a clown deserving of no respect.

Criminal element
Used when talking about shady characters like Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, etc.

Those are just a few of his original phrases. But I'm here today to give you some of his best quotes. Enjoy.

On a man who likes to eat.

"He'll always be a pork. Food is too important to that individual."

On my frequent trips to Boston Market.

"Willy, that is a terrible establishment."

On an injured player.

"Is he broken? He's broken. Cadaver on the field. Career over."

On something that doesn't concern him or matter to him.

"That don't bother me no none."

On a particular co-worker making personal calls to you for a favor

"Any time he calls you, he has filthy reasons."

Here are a couple on his ping pong exploits. He does not lack for confidence.

"Whenever I am down, I rise to the occasion to show I am the superior athlete."

"Wanna lose with your ball or my ball? Your choice."

"When I serve it, I serve it nasty."

"Put any punk in front of me, and I'll beat him like a mutt."

"I made him bleed."

"His name is Alex. I'll take the English out of him. Call him Alejandro."

On someone having a cushy day or afternoon schedule.

"Those are banker's hours."

On someone calling me "Lord Willy" in honor of the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup.

"There ain't no Lord. There's only me, the baddest motherfucker on the planet."

That's all I can recall off the top of my head. There are more.

This guy is endlessly entertaining.

Monday, August 8, 2011

It's about time

The last time I opened the dusty drawers of this blog, there was a functioning American economy.

With hard-working citizens forced to barter human skulls for rat meat, I figure it's time to write something here. Usually I have nothing going on. Spouting off with inane comments on pop culture loses its luster after a while. So it's funny that over the past two months "stuff" has been going on and yet I wrote nothing.

I have failed you all.

Work has been nuts. I'm now somewhat of a supervisor. My dreams of middle-management have been achieved! While my compatriots wander off on their summer vacations, I've held down the fort at the Eye's sports website. Countless columns on the NFL lockouts ceded to countless columns on the craziest Free Agency news orgy I have ever experienced in journalism. I was so drained that I bought beer at 7/11 at 2:30 on a Friday morning and guzzled it out of a brown paper bag. My eyeballs pulsated with a dull pain and my senses were fried and beer provided the only remedy.

You can guess why I've been too lazy/almost suicidal to blog.

Throw on top the always enjoyable process of moving. I haven't packed a single thing yet and I'm almost exhausted. Hiring movers, buying all new furniture, purchasing mandatory renter's insurance, setting up bills ... this new place better be worth it. I move in the day before my first vacation of the year starts, so I will not be able to enjoy my new South Beach penthouse until early September.

I plan on making this an actual 'home.' Not in the sense of a huddled family around the fireplace, but an apartment that isn't just a collection of furniture in front of a television set. With this in mind, I purchased matching sofas and sleek glass-top tables. I might even get a plant or some artwork.

Also, during the last month or so I reconnected with this girl I mentioned in a previous entry. To her dismay, I had not struck big as an Internet entrepreneur nor had I turned into an Alcide-type hunk. The reconnection was mercilessly strangled in its infancy. The one lasting effect from this tired story was a lack of eating.

There were days when a persistent anxiousness dominated my waking hours to such an extent I lost much of my appetite for a period of about four weeks. Yes, I know I have major issues.

Warning: This part will most likely piss you off ...

Backtracking, I weighed roughly 170 pounds in college. I feasted on an almost daily buffet of coffee coolattas, muffins, pizza and pop tarts. I was still a stick figure, but I did not quite resemble a famine victim. Perhaps a malnourished peasant, but not famine. My weight remained consistent through the Florida years until I contracted food poisoning. The morning after that terrible day, the scale was below 150.

I figured I'd gain it back eventually. While some of it returned, a hefty amount of stranded pounds disappeared. The stress of the past few months curtailed my eating further. At this moment, I'm at 153. When I traveled up north for a short period of time in May, many Sears denizens commented on my noticeable thinness. My mom commanded me to eat more.

You know me: I do what mommy says. While I watch what I eat a little bit more than I used to, I no longer care if I drink too many frappuchinos in one week. I enjoy dessert with abandon. I still don't eat lunch, but I consume large dinners. And while I do my fair share of exercising, the intense heat of the Florida summer, combined with constant rain and work-related exhaustion have curtailed physical activity to some extent.

Yet my weight stays the same. I might reach 154 or 155, but that's about the limit. Could I eat nothing but KFC double-downs and watch every episode of the People's Court for a good month and not gain a pound? I'm starting to wonder.

Last week I went to the doctor's office with an ear issue. (The Schaibles might remember my 2006 stay in San Diego which involved a doomed job interview and nothing but Family Guy DVDs for several days ... that malaise occurred in large part to the same ear problem for which I visited the doctor most recently.)

One of the nurses could not even read my blood pressure because my arm was too thin for the flap. She had to get a smaller one. And after the doctor fixed the ears, she asked me how everything else is going. I told her that I cannot gain weight.

She only laughed. "Most people would cut a limb off to lose weight. As you get older, your metabolism will slow down."

She's right of course. But people told me my metabolism would start to slow in the late 20's, yet it is stronger than ever. While God/nature gave me graying hair, the social skills of a wooden chair, gorilla legs and a pipsqueak of a stomach, they also bestowed upon me a world-class metabolism (and a wicked split-finger pitch.)

Odds are my skeletal frame could gradually shrink until I'm nothing but a poor imitation of Benjamin Button. Before that happens, I must fatten myself up. Stay away from stress and hunching over my laptop and blogging more frequently would be a decent start.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Harsh, but true

Jason Stackhouse is tied to a bed, his rippling abs displayed prominently, while backward hillbilly Werepanthers (yes, it's as stupid as it sounds) gnaw at his torso.

The next week, Jason remains in his predicament as one of the female Werepanthers rapes him for the child Werepanthers to watch.

Why does this storyline exist? What the hell is a Werepanther? And, do the writers of True Blood think this constitutes good television?

Do they even care if it is good television?

True Blood started as a fun, sexy and campy vampire drama topped with nice helping of southern gothic storytelling. It never sought the status of The Wire or The Sopranos because that would be a hopeless endeavor. It tried to be fun and buzzworthy. The show's stars show up naked (save for some conveniently placed limps) and are always on hand to shoot the camera a sultry glare, their hair neatly coiffed and fangs showing.

And I admit, I watched. The acting is great, the production value is top notch. Every episode ends on a cliffhanger, usually involving Anna Paquin screeching into the camera followed by a quick cut to black. Not quite the definition of high-brow entertainment, but never boring.

As Season 1 became Season 2 and Season 2 became Season 3, my admiration for the show waned. I'm no prude, but the show devolved into vampire porn. There must be a site out there that counts down the minutes until a man takes off his shirt and a woman does the same. Don't even get started on the short time it takes before we see some, can I say, passionate and rough intercourse.

Still, I watched. True Blood had yet to break the No. 1 rule of TV - At first, do not bore.

Which takes us to the current season, which just aired its third episode. Let's count the screw-ups, shall we?

There's one everlasting truth in Bon Tomps -- no one is human. Everyone has some secret power. Everyone is either a vampire, a Werewolf, a shifter, a Werepanther, a witch, a mindreader and even a maenad. If someone in that hellhole Louisiana town is not some supernatural being, that person soon will be.

This leads to Mr. Stackhouse and his mind-boggingly stupid storyline. It's not fine that he remain a dim figure of comic relief; he needs to turn into a panther. The Werepanthers are dumb characters who waste precious time, yet every other scene involves them and their lack of teeth while they charmingly chew on dead squirrels.

They are far from alone in the wasteful character dump that infests this show. Tommy Merlotte ... don't care. Get him off my screen. He's annoying and useless. The witches ... again, don't care. Don't we have enough going on with vampires and Werewolves and warlocks and hobbits and sonic hedgehogs? Must we spend time watching Marni mumble in gibberish? Arlene and the baby ... just not interesting. Tara and her ratings-friendly lesbian relationship ... not interesting. Sam's new shifter support group ... more of the same. There's only 50 minutes or so of show time. Save it for Sookie, Eric, Lafayette, Jessica and Bill. Sprinkle the others here and there.

I forgot to mention fairies. The first ten minutes of the season opened with Sookie in some fairy netherworld where people eat glowing golden apples. These apples are bad! The fairies are farming .... people!! Oh wait, there's Sookie's grandfather! Let's have a heart-to-heart. Oh no! The fairy queen is turning into some kind of gremlin. Now every fairy is a gremlin. They shoot laser beams from their hands. (This looked straight from a show you'd find on Saturday afternoons on the old UPN network.)

Sookie and her grandfather jump into a closing portal and re-enter the real world. But heavens no, her grandfather is dying! Sookie cries. I'm broken-hearted because I've known this grandfather character for five minutes. He turns into a sickly gray mass and disappears. We're supposed to be sad.

I'm just mad at what this show has become.

Yet I still watch. It takes a lot for me to give up on a series. I have only done it a select few times (Boston Legal, ER). There is still just enough to keep me intrigued. I'm a big fan of Jessica. I like Bill as the King of Louisiana. Eric and Pam are always fun. But I'm setting an eye-rolling record for this season, and I doubt I'm alone.