Thursday, May 31, 2012

One of the Perfects Retires

I underrated Nicklas Lidstrom. I ranked him only as my #19 player of the decade of the 2000s. With that in my mind, I criminally underrated him. It took me a while to fully understand the brilliance that was Nick Lidstrom, the supernova of a star of a defensemen for the Red Wings for the past 20 years, in which time the Wings never missed the playoffs, and earned over 100 points every season of the past 12. Lidstrom won 7 Norris Trophies as the NHL's best defensemen. Sure, some of his more recent wins were probably earned more on reputation than play (last season), but, like his partner in history for the 1990-2010 NHL experience Marty Brodeur, he should have won a few earlier in his career when he was denied. Lidstrom was a key member of four Stanley Cup winning teams in Detroit, including a well-deserved Conn Smythe Trophy win in 2002, and was by all accounts an incredible leader on the ice (he was the Captain of the Red Wings after Steve Yzerman retired) and a selfless man off of it, yet none of this really describes Nick Lidstrom. What does is simple - he was perfect. Not perfect in the sense of a perfect team or a perfect season, but if you could construct the best possible defenseman in the NHL in the modern game, it would simply be Nick Lidstrom. Everything about his game was perfect.

He had the sleek skating style that few, if any, matched, being able to glide around the ice. He had the incredible hockey IQ to break up plays, read passes, know how and where to clear the zone, to drape forwards. He had the shot that somehow always seemed far more effective from the point than it should have been. He had the soft hands to make great passes. Although he wasn't all that big, he had the ability and the intellect to use his body perfectly to nudge forwards out of the way, to space his defensive zone. He was the best penalty killer the Wings had, and the most crucial element of their power-play. He was the definition of an NHL defenseman. My personal favorite defenseman was Scott Niedermayer (to me, he was always better than Scott Stevens, but not as integral to the Devils identity) but other than Niedermayer's peerless skating ability, everything Scott did well, Nicklas did just 5% better, and when you add that up across every facet of playing defense in hockey, that's a large gap. The Greatest defenseman that anyone under 40 has seen (because they wouldn't have really seen Bobby Orr) just retired today.

The Red Wings will probably be fine going forward, especially with the loads of cap room which just increased without them having to pay Lidstrom (I'm pretty sure they are going to get Nashville's Ryan Suter from what I have heard, and are probably good players in the Parise race), but that era of Red Wings hockey that Lidstrom defined is coming to an end. Throughout the mid to late 2000s, the Red Wings were the best team in hockey. After the Wings won the 2002 Stanley Cup with the old guard as the face of the team (Yzerman, Shanahan, Chelios, Hasek, Draper, etc.) and were bounced in the 1st and 2nd round the next two seasons (#2 and #1 seeds in those years) the lockout came. The game opened up, the old guard left, and the new Red Wings came in and just dominated with an incredible, frustratingly exact efficiency. The more notable names because of their scoring were Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but Lidstrom was the key. He set the tone, and the rest of the team followed. Outside of those three, the Wings never really had a supremely talented player, but they always won over 100 points and nabbed one of the top seeds (from 2005-2006 on, the Wings were the #1, #1, #1, #2 and then #5, #3 and #5 as age and injury set in). The real peak was from the '05-'06 season through the '08-'09 season. They were just playing hockey at a fantasy level, with sleek perfection. Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Filpulla, Kronwall, Ericsson and others were key, but Lidstrom was the glue of the team, the true perfect representation of what that Red Wings era stood for.

Lidstrom was one of the few athletes I have seen that mentioned during his retirement that he knew he could play more, but wanted to go out before his play started to slip, and while it robbed the fans of some more games of watching Lidstrom perform, it makes sense. Lidstrom's remarkable career was defined by his unwavering brilliance and it would have been sad and jarring to see a Lidstrom at 80% of his real powers. I don't know if I will ever see any athlete so embody and perfect the characteristics of his position like Lidstrom. Manning and Duncan are the only ones I can think of, and that is high, high company. You never really appreciate a great defensemen in hockey until they are gone, and as a Devils fan, I have first hand evidence as I never really saw just how good Niedermayer was until I had to watch the Johnny Oduya's and Mike Mottau's of the post-Niedermayer era. Wings fans will have the same problem, only with a better player. Wings fan appreciate Lidstrom already, but they will appreciate him more now that he's gone, and Lidstrom will still be probably truly underappreciated, because accurately appreciating perfection is close to impossible.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

NHL Stanley Cup Finals Pick

I haven't picked against them yet, so I sure ain't starting now. I know the Kings are on a run like no other, beating the 1-2-3 seeds in the Western Conference, all in 5 or 4 games, and not losing one single game on the road. Of course, the Devils are on quite a run of their own before nervously taking out the Florida Panthers, by dispatching the post-1st round favorite in Philly in 5, and the Eastern Conference's wire-to-wire #1 seed in six, and it only went six because Henrik Lundquist stood on the exact top of his head in Game 3. Either way, this season will end with the lowest seed to ever win the Cup since the current format started. I have no real basis for making this pick. The Kings have the edge in goal, and their defense is probably a wash with the Devils and their forwards are also really close. Both the teams have good special team units. The Devils are the better team over the course of the season, but the Kings have been better in the playoffs. Either way, I like the Devils because so much is riding on this. Brodeur can really put the cherry on his career sundae with this one. His playoff record has been spotty since the Devils most recent Cup win in 2003, and this will make him unique, being a starting goalie for a Cup winning team 17 years apart (16 seasons), which, I haven't looked this up, might be one of the longest stretches of championship winning in history. Parise can be a cup-winning captain (which will make his impeding leaving of New Jersey all the more interesting), and Ilya Kovalchuk (and the Devils organization for signing him) will earn that contract. This Devils team can finally, hopefully, show the NHL world that they don't play "Devils" hockey (which the 2000 team didn't either). For the Kings, they can win their first Cup, but come on, do we need another Southern Cali team to win a Cup? No, no we don't.

Again, I have no reason for making this pick other than homerism and the fact that these teams are really close. Cases can be made for each. The Devils are a worse matchup for the Kings than either Phoenix or St. Louis, with a better forecheck and more front-line offensive player. The Devils are a better team to me than either, especially Phoenix. The East was the better conference all year (five teams with 102+ points, four in the same division which is more impressive since they play each other so many times) and I think the conference will get their just reward. I've been a hard-core sports fan since about 1999, and this is the longest in my time as a fan without one of my teams winning it all, but I think it ends this year. The Pick:

Devils in 7

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Comedy Power Rankings

My last post about Community got me thinking about my personal list of favorite comedy programs. I'm not really a fan of drama on TV. Of course, there are exceptions (The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Good Wife, Deadwood), but I would rather laugh than cry or be tense. Comedies also usually have less staying power than Dramas, so it is interesting to see how many of my favorite comedy programs lasted few years. So, here is my initial power rankings of my favorite comedy programs. A few notes about this:

1.) I'm only ranking comedy programs of which I have seen a majority of episodes or enough to basically understand the show fully; therefore the following are invalid: 30 Rock, The Office, Parks & Rec, The Big Bang Theory, Eastbound & Down, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Entourage, Will & Grace, Scrubs, Sex and the City, Frasier, other random old shows not listed and many others. Of course, this means I like every show on the list. That makes sense since if I didn't like it, I wouldn't keep watching it, and therefore wouldn't watch it enough to have it qualify.

2.) I'm ranking past shows and current, and for the current, I'll indicate if that show is trending up (has a chance to get higher) or trending down (the opposite). I haven't seen much comedy pre-Seinfeld, so nothing from there (I Love Lucy, Cheers, etc. is ineligible).

3.) I've specified 'comedy programs' because this is more about any show on TV where the point is to make the audience laugh. So live shows are included, fake news shows, sketch shows. It isn't limited to just sitcoms.

Anyway, let's get to the list.

18.) Saturday Night Live (since 2004 - when I started watching)

Obviously, the show has been going on long before I started watching TV, and there have been numerous "golden eras" of the show before 2004, but that is when I started watching. Saturday Night Live to me has always been an enigma. Individually, the people are almost always really talented. Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte and Darrell Hammond could do about anything and I would laugh. The other players during this time (Fey and Poehler in the beginning, Rudolph, Samberg, Wiig, Keenan, Armisen) have all been talented. But to me, this era of Saturday Night Live has been less than the some of its parts, always underserving talented cast members, rehashing unfunny stuff and not being original enough. If I had one suggestion to Lorne and the rest of the SNL guys it would be to play original sketchs and not rehash and re-do so many old sketches. Even the good ones eventually get tired. That said, the best part about this era of SNL was the advent of the digital short (which might be on the way out with Samberg reportedly leaving). From their breakthrough with 'Lazy Sunday' to seeing Natalie Portman rap, to 'Dick in a Box' through the iconic 2008-09 season which saw the Lonely Island bros. knock out 'Jizz In My Pants', 'Like a Boss' and the best 'I'm On a Boat.' Saturday Night Live in that way adjusted to this new exciting medium. Along the way, there have been memorable characters and moments, but this SNL era for me is represented by the digital short, Tina Fey's Palin (and an all-around great 2008 election season) and way too many actors as hosts. And of course, Peyton Manning's brilliant turn as the host.

17.) Modern Family (Trending Down)

I'll admit that I did find the first season of Modern Family to be mostly brilliant. The representation of Cam and Mitchell was well done, Gloria's eccentric Venezuelan-ness was still new and hilarious, and I could look at Julie Bowen all day. What irks me about Modern Family is that it hasn't tried to grow at all (other than having Lily, well, literally grow). Mitchell and Claire are even more self-righteous. Gloria is still loud. Manny is still a man trapped in a kid. Haley is still a ditz and Alex is still the smart one. All of these traits and characterizations seemed fresh in the first season but now seemed tiresome. Modern Family is still capable of brilliant moments, and they mostly are in scenes and episodes where the entire family is together, but individually its becoming pretty weak. Nothing is worse, though, than Cam becoming such a stereotypically gay man. Cam in Season 1 was great because not only was the large, high-pitched gay man, but also an ex-football player and farmer and tough clown. For a man that played football, why is he now often depicted of having that effeminate way of running? Surely he couldn't do that on the football field. The biggest bright spot for the show over the last two seasons is that Luke has become a hilarious character. One of my favorite side-plots of any comedy show this past season was his bizarre, unexplained, hatred of Lily, Cam and Mitchell's baby. I understand why the show is loved, and I'll admit is still does have superb acting and is good at emotional moments, but it is far more broad than the show it started out as, and for a show that drew ratings big-time from the outset, I'm not sure why it changed.

16.) SportsNight

If I could only judge it by Season 1, it would be far higher up. Aaron Sorkin is a master of dialogue, and to me, his magnum opus in this regard in SportsNight (and particularly the first season, which he had a much bigger hand in). The story of CSN, the #3 sports network (since they do refer to ESPN, I can only imagine what the #2 network was supposed to be) through the eyes of their two anchors, the stat researcher geek who lands to hot director assistant, and the showrunner and her boss. The acting was brilliant all around (particularly Felicity Huffman as Dana). Of course, the writing, fit with all the usual Sorkinesian banter and back-and-forths was impressive. The only reason why SportsNight is not higher up is that the plots were all a little flat. I never, ever bought into Casey McCall's relationship with Dana, nor did I totally believe the whole "nerd gets the hot girl" arc with Jeremy and Natalie. It all seemed a little too easy, I guess. The second season become far too serialized in this sense which was distinctly different from the first season where most of the plots were simply about the show itself. The best comedies to me, especially ones like SportsNight about specific businesses, make working there seem fun, and I've never wanted to work in Sports media more than seeing Casey and Dan each night, and the fun all around for the Continental Sports Network. It really was a shame that Aaron Sorkin decided to give up on SportsNight to focus more on The West Wing. I understand it from Sorkin's perspective, but he gave up on something that could have been a lot more special than the very good show it was.

15.) Happy Endings (Trending Up)

Of all the current shows on this list (6 of the 17, not counting three who's spots are mostly set in stone, since they aren't serials) Happy Endings has the chance to rise the most. It's a weird show where I fully believe in my heart that creator David Caspe and the rest of the group totally changed the show after it started. The genesis of the show is Alex flees from her wedding to long-time mate Dave, and those two and their four mutual friends have to deal with the consequences. Honestly, that show sucked. They basically gave up on it halfway through the first season and turned Happy Endings into a rapid-fire joke sprint that centered around the wacky lives of six friends in Chicago. Since two of the six are married (the crazy-in-love Brad and Jane, which might be right behind Marshall and Lily for my favorite TV Comedy Marriage) and one of the others in gay (Max, right behind Barney as best supporting character for me as well), the relationship tension is minimal, but that is fine. Just like Arrested Development, I don't give a shit about the plot. The brilliance of the show is the writing, the timing, the acting and the set-up. It's just many, many jokes per minute at a rate faster than anything I have seen since Arrested. It's not as smart and savvy (there aren't many visual jokes and call-backs) but it is as referential and witty. The end of the 2nd Season hinted at some more relationship stuff, but they handled it well. The show also features my favorite current running gag which is Elisha Cuthbert's character, Alex, eating a shit-ton of food at all times. Also, Happy Endings figured out how to utilize Casey Wilson's many talents far better than SNL ever did. The only issue is that Dave is a rather boring character surrounded by 5 goofballs, but they turned that into a meta-joke late in S2 and I loved that too. Look out for Happy Endings over the next two years.

14.) Friends

If I was judging Friends by its first two seasons, it would be much higher. Friends in S1-2, where there was only one real romantic story-arc between the cast (Ross & Rachel, which back then was truly brilliantly constructed over the first two seasons), was witty, smart and openly hilarious. After that, it turned into a something of a comedy soap. The acting was still good, and it was funny, but Friends in its later seasons focused too much on relationships, and maybe more than any long running show on this list, it lost the sense of its characters. Many shows that last a long time are criticized for turnings its round characters into one-note caricatures as time goes on, where each characters particular eccentricity overtakes the character as a whole. For Friends, this virus affected almost every character. Joey went from a slightly air-headed actor to a complete idiot (early seasons showed Joey's level of inteligence to basically be comparable to Phoebe's). Ross became way too sappy and emotional. Monica became a neurotic, raging bitch as her OCD escalated. That said, the show did have a pull, and more than maybe any other show, any combination of its characters had chemistry and worked. Also, early Chandler Bing may be my favorite comedy character of all time. Friends was far too famous for what it deserved, and lost its brilliance as time went on (I mark the end of Friend's brilliance with Ross saying "Rachel" and Monica and Chandler hooking up) but for a while, it was Gold.

13.) Freaks and Geeks 

I wrestled with putting it on the list for two reasons; 1 - it was an hour long dramedy that wasn't all that funny all the time, and 2 - it was only on the air for one truncated season. It was damn good in that one season, but who knows what the show would have done had more seasons come. The characters were all in high school anyway, so I really wonder what Season 2-4 of Freaks and Geeks would have been. That said, it was too good not to put it on the list. I don't revere it the way some do, and think that it was a little too sappy at times and understanding (I never understood why Lindsay was fully accepted by the 'Freaks' in the first place, or why Cindy Sanders would ever give Sam a once-over), but it did give a great representation of high school as a whole. Freaks and Geeks should also get credit for being quite a good period piece, representing high school in the early 80's accurately. Freaks and Geeks was led by a comedy genius in Judd Apatow, and had great actors that have gone on to do well (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, John Francis Daley), and these combined to create an excellent show for 18 episodes. My struggle is would this show have continued at that lofty pace for another 50. That is really hard to do, and especially for a show that at the outset starts off at a very transient age bracket with 15-18 year old characters.

12.) How I Met Your Mother (Trending Steady)

Oh, how this pains me to place it so low. The good news is after Season 5, it probably would have been lower. I'm done thinking this show will ever come close to what HIMYM was the first two seasons, but each of the last few years has been consistently good enough. Anyway, it is better to talk about the show when it was one of the best sitcoms on TV. In its first two seasons, HIMYM may have been the hippest show on television. The random things they created (Slapbet, Robin Sparkles, The Naked Man, etc.) were all great. The show did a great job connecting with the audience outside of the half-hour on Monday, creating dozens of fake web-sites from the show. I still say that HIMYM can do emotional moments better than any other sitcom on television today (just cue up the entirety of Marvin Eriksen's death and funeral from Season 6 for proof), but it has lost some of that incredible charm and mystery from S1-3. I think the narrator telling the kids (and transitively, the audience) that the day Ted meets the mother is the wedding has both solidified the show (no longer was in just floating in limbo like Seasons 4-5) but also hampered it, as all of Ted's relationships in-between we know end in failure. I feel sad for the creators (Carter Bays and Craig Thomas) because they probably never envisioned HIMYM lasting nearly this long, and they have to stretch out what they most likely had pegged as a 5-year story, but that is the spoils of success at times. When it is done, I'll probably only remember the good times, where it was the most inventive, savvy 'traditional' sitcom I have ever seen.

11.) Everybody Loves Raymond 

Everybody Loves Raymond and Friends were essentially siblings, both put on the air and eventually taken off the air within one year of each other. To me, Friends was the better show originally, and because of the fame of its actors and its hip connectivity to the 20-somethings, it will forever be the more 'important' show, but to me, Raymond is better in totality. Unlike Friends, Raymond never lost what it had in the beginning, and you can make the argument it became better over time (a lot of this for me has to do with the fact that I enjoyed the kids more as kids than toddlers and babies). Everybody Loves Raymond followed the same formula for episodes for nine years, and my God was it successful. It helped that the cast was brilliant. Unlike Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano is a damn good actor (just see his work on Men of a Certain Age) and the whole cast, from Doris Roberts to Patricia Heaton to Brad Garrett to the late great Peter Boyle, had tremendous chemistry with each other. I could listen to that family argue with each other for days. In a lot of ways, they were a precursor to Arrested Development as it was a fresh take on the family sitcom. Instead of trying to create laughs out of a normal family, Raymond created an incredibly strange, spirited family and presented it as traditional. In the end, because of this and other successes, Ray Romano might be one of the most underrated comic minds of the last 20 years.

Now we get to the Top 10, where all of these shows are brilliant. It was hard for me to actually decide on a ranking of this Top 10 other than the final four, which I knew going in. They all have just amazing moments and qualities.

10.) Whose Line Is It Anyway?

At its best (Colin and Ryan's banter during games like 'Greatest Hits', 'Infomercial', or 'Scenes From a Hat' or 'Props' or 'Hats') this show was incredibly funny. The reason it isn't higher is mainly because I wasn't a fan of some of the games they played (Any singing game other than 'Greatest Hits', 'Hoedown' or 'Irish Drinking Song', or 'Sound Effects'). To me, it lives in its best form on Youtube, where I can view continuous streams of its best moments, and in that forum, there are few things better. Drew Carey was a solid host (cementing his place in my personal list of favorite 'hosts' and comics I want to see succeed mainly because he seemed like such a nice guy), and played off of the cast well. Wayne Brady is one of the more talented people I have ever seen, and Colin and Ryan were, well, Colin and Ryan. It was impossible not to love those two, and they were incredibly sharp. The fourth always rotated, but I've never not liked or appreciated a cast member. Even after its real run finished, Whose Line lived on on nightly syndication at 10 PM on ABC Family. As years have gone on, it's been pushed back to midnight, and probably it will soon be off the air, but it will live on in Youtube, and it will be the best example of improv comedy on TV maybe ever.

9.) Community (Trending Down)

I had a real hard time placing Community, a show I spent about 1,500 words bashing just three days ago. At its best, it was the best sitcom on TV (at the time) by far. Episodes like Remedial Chaos Theory (which is so universally praised and still not overrated), their original paintball episode 'Modern Warfare', their first homage with a Goodfellas parody in 'Contemporary American Poultry' and others were just a lot better than anything comedic on TV. My issue was that it appeared in parts of Season 2 and throughout much of Season 3 that it was trying to hard to appease to its fan-boy niche, and create a show that was more about what its fans wanted than what it was good at. It's homages were initially used sparingly, but late in Season 3 it became almost every other episode. It got trapped in its own brilliance. Because when Community did those episodes right it was magic, it gave Community, in my mind, a sense of invincibility that it could accomplish any homage and concept no matter how abstract, which made their strikeouts more prevalent. I have no idea what Community will be without Dan Harmon. My guess is it will be more of a witty, smart show about seven weird friends in a Community College, which is essentially what it was in Season 1. I loved that show too, more than much of the 3rd season. However, it will never be what it was at its best, which is the best experimental comedy I have ever seen.

8.) The Colbert Report

Speaking of shows that were hard to place, The Colbert Report will forever be tied to The Daily Show. To me, the Colbert Report wasn't as groundbreaking as many think (it is essentially the same basic total satire of a news show that the original Daily Show with Craig Kilborn was, or what Weekend Update is at its best), but it is the first to make the focus the host, and it is by far the smartest. Nothing about the Report gives me more joy than to see Colbert and his staff just brilliantly tearing apart the hypocrisy in so much conservative speech even though giving the facade of a conservative. It is true genius. Colbert's interviewing style is easily the most entertaining I have ever seen. I will say that he is a little unfair, because while he usually is in character with the support of his crowd and is able to say outlandishly, foolish things without reproach, he then flips sides and will attack with reality. It isn't really fair to do both. Either way, it makes for great television. The show is really perfect for Colbert, who has been able to constantly sell this character for near seven years now without ever seeming like he was doing schtick that didn't land. I don't rely on the Report for actual news like the Daily Show, but if I want to laugh more, I'm going with the acolyte over the master.

7.) Curb Your Enthusiasm (Trending Up)

In almost the exact same form of the show coming up next, Curb has rebounded with two really strong seasons back-to-back after a small lull in the middle (for me, it was S5-6). Curb has become more pointed and obnoxious of a show in its later years than it was in the beginning (which was truly just about the audacity and eccentricity of Larry David), but no less funny. I do miss Cheryl, as she was always a great foil for Larry, but single Larry David has really been a great creation, and introduced a new angle to the show, where we can see Larry screw up relationships in a myriad of ways. To this day, I am shocked that most of the dialogue the viewer sees is improvised, but it makes for such realistic speech. I love how Curb has become almost a yardstick to measure how famous you are. Mostly, the actors that get to play themselves are people who are actually comedy friends of Larry's (the Seinfeld cast, Rosie O'Donnell and of course, Richard Lewis), but the real test of fame in hollywood to me is if you get to play yourself on Curb, like Ted Danson, John McEnroe, Ricky Gervais or even Michael Yorke, while seeing who has to play a character. All credit deservedly goes to the genius that is Larry David (who I think people now realize was a far bigger part of Seinfeld than most originally thought) who showed not only how to break the Seinfeld curse, but gave us a real Seinfeld finale.

6.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Trending Up)

It's time to stop kidding around, Always Sunny is the best basic cable sitcom ever, and it is not close. It is already the longest running cable sitcom, and is contracted for at least two more years. It is also far more groundbreaking than it is given credit for. What Rob McElhenny, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day did was basically beat the system. These three unsuccessful actors decided that instead of auditioning for roles, they would create their own show. Currently, the people that get to star in their own show is not a very long list, and it is generally given to people that were far more successful than these three (Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Louis CK). FX showed incredible trust and foresight in giving these three goons a show, and man have they repaid FX times over. Always Sunny also had a dip in Season 4-5, but has rebounded with a strong Season 6 and a really good Season 7. They may be pushing some of the characters (Charlie has become a bit dumber, Dennis a lot more sociopathic) but the general tone remains. Also, they almost seamlessly integrated a new central cast member with Danny DeVito, and that has been magic. I bet Chevy Chase is so upset that he gets saddled with Pierce, while Danny DeVito has the time of his life portraying Frank Reynolds. McElhenny, Howerton and Day are really all geniuses as they have basically created a comedy machine. The show is so much smarter than it is given credit for, lampooning and satirizing so many aspects of the world with great takes on the mortgage crisis, American Idol, the movie Invincible, the movie Million Dollar Baby, the healthcare system, Facebook, municipal politics, gay marriage, the modern music industry. It is a show so much more than just five idiots screaming at each other, and I hope it has a long life ahead of it.

5.) Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn

I believe that this is the show that was on the air the shortest amount of time of any on the list, and other than mediocre-quality Youtube videos, it is inaccessible, but it was brilliant. I actually think that along with the show at #1, this was a show that would do so much better today, where comedians are becoming more marketable than ever. There were so many things to love about Tough Crowd, from the great chemistry between Colin and the regulars (Patrice O'Neal, Greg Giraldo, Jim Norton and Nick DiPaolo), but here are my top three: 1 - how merciless the cast and Colin was to anyone who came with prepared stuff and written lines, 2 - how Colin Quinn fought to keep jokes that bombed on the final cut, as proof that comedians aren't always perfect in joke delivery, 3 - how it was the one comedy show to feature prominent conservatives. Quinn was more of a true independent, but Jim Norton and Nick DiPaolo were unabashed conservatives. Neither was fully a Bush supporter, but they were able to cut through a lot of the BS of the left at the time. The show was cut because Comedy Central thought it was too controversial and they were already dealing with a racially controversial show in Chappelle's Show and a political one in The Daily Show, and wanted Colin Quinn to cut back to mostly pop-culture topics. Colin, thankfully, gave Comedy Central a "Fuck You" to that request, and the show died with its legitimacy and honor in tact. (The greatest irony is that it was replaced essentially by The Colbert Report). I implore anyone watching to check out Tough Crowd and see smart comedians just sit down and be funny with each other (and the ones that aren't funny get torn apart by those that are), and also to watch Patrice O'Neal and Greg Giraldo (not to mention Jim David and Todd Lynn) at their best before their demise. The foundation of the show is so strong that I have no doubt it would have succeeded if it started today.

The Last Four really are a cut above, my personal Mt. Rushmore of Comedy on TV.

4.) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Greatest example of political news satire, the Daily Show keeps churning along 15 years later (12 with Stewart). Jon has gone from a wiry, brown haired 30-something, to a gray-haired man pushing 50, and the show has become more serious and thoughtful (particularly the interviews) but it is still the best example of smart comedy. To me, there is no shame to say that you get a lot of your news out from the Daily Show. It presents the real news, to real stories, and tears them apart. Jon Stewart's stable of correspondents is so deep that even the newer ones that are talented (Al Madrigal, Jessica Williams) seem lost compared to the brilliance of the established vets (Jon Oliver - who I can't believe doesn't have his own show now, Jason Jones, Sam Bee, Aasif Mandvi, Wyatt Cenac). His show has been a breeding ground for comedy gold (Colbert, Carrell and even lesser known names like Rob Riggle, Rob Corrdry, Ed Helms, Mo Rocca, Matt Walsh). Stewart effortlessly uses these other talents that surround him to create a show that isn't so much about him but by him. Unlike Colbert, Jon Stewart really highlights the idiocracy rampant in Washington (and in America in general even outside the realm of politics). There is a reason Stewart will win that 'Best Variety Show' Emmy until he finally retires (hopefully around 2030) and that is because the Daily Show is, essentially, perfect.

3.) Chappelle's Show

Here's another show that would have found even more success had it been airing today, but my God, was Chappelle's Show just incredibly brilliant in every way. Nothing tore down racial, political, economic and stylistic barriers like Chappelle's Show. I feel like it gets unfairly pegged as a show that fed off of racial tensions and racial differences, but so many memorable sketches were so far away from racial comedy. Chappelle's Show was just pure genius at every level, from small hilarious plot items like Prince being good at basketball and serving waffles, to the juxtaposition of the Wu-Tang Clan and businessmen, to the stupidity of The Real World or Making the Band. Chappelle, though, was at his best when the conversation did stick to race, but not about the prevalence of race in America, but just the general difference between black and white. Black Bush, the Special Edition of Law & Order, Wife Swap, these were more about the different life experiences of black adn white America, and it was all hilarious. But there were times where Chappelle took the "easy" way and just riffed and random shit, like his "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong" or "A Moment in the life of Li'l John" or a personal favorite where Chappelle owns a cancer-stricken kid in street hoops. Obviously, it is painful that Dave walked away from Chappelle's Show (both this and Tough Crowd ended withing months of each other - I have a feeling if Comedy Central was running Tough Crowd and Chappelle along with TDS and Colbert today, it would be a Comedy power-house) but he left 23 episodes (and hours of extended scenes that are all great) of pure genius. Chappelle's Show was the best sketch show ever, even over SNL at its best, and it really isn't all that close.

2.) Seinfeld

The two biggest reasons for me placing Seinfeld over Curb is that Seinfeld did it for longer, and more times a year (22-24 episodes a season against just 10) and did it without cursing and censors, and Seinfeld was just as funny. The show did change a bit without Larry David in its last three seasons, but that was going from an A to an A-. The four main characters were so well defined, and contrasted so well with each other. Elaine might be one of the funniest female sitcom characters ever. Kramer is probably the best eccentric/quirky sitcom character, and no one I have ever seen does physical comedy like Michael Richards. Of course, George Costanza was brilliant in every way, a more depressed, more cynical, more bombastic version of Curb's Larry David. That said, what made Seinfeld truly special were the other characters, with Newman, Mr. and Mrs. Costanza, Susan, Puddy, and all the other supporting characters all being well cast and written. It was also such a great topical show, creating more phrases than any other show I have ever seen ('master of your domain' being my favorite). What Seinfeld really excelled at was in no small part because the main cast was just four deep, keeping the four together and letting them play off of each other, which was always so good. Another subtle thing I loved about Seinfeld is that the characters laughed, a lot. Too many times in Friends or other shows did the characters never laugh at each other. That was never a problem with Seinfeld. It took me a while to truly appreciate how brilliant it was, but I don't think there will ever be a traditional sitcom to top Seinfeld.

1.) Arrested Development

I debated if it merited number one over Seinfeld mainly because Seinfeld did it for a lot longer than Arrested Development, but really, I just haven't seen anything close to Arrested Development in terms of all-encompassing comedy. It could play straight comedy, physical comedy, puns, references, meta-moments and layers of satire, while adding visual gags. Watching Arrested Development was really like going on a treasure hunt for jokes, and they were often subtle, hidden and needed repeat viewings the unearth. A lot of why this worked was that even when all this crazy was going on, the cast kept it all natural. The cast in its entirety was so good at keeping all of the dialogue and situations mixed with the plausibility of reality. Another thing I really have grown to admire in Arrested Development, especially when contrasted with Community, is that it had a cast with 9 main characters (10 if you count Oscar from Season 2) and really shared air-time and storylines between all nine pretty evenly. Community has found in increasingly hard to service seven characters. Arrested Development made it look easy (and made fun of itself when it failed to, with Michael qupping "I feel like I haven't seen her" when Maebe was brought up in the 3rd episode of Season 2 after appearing infrequently in the first two episodes). In truth, Arrested Development made everything look easy, from writing, to casting, to directing, to pacing. It is The Wire of comedies, in that it did everything you can ever ask from a comedy program and did it all pretty close to perfect. I guess the only knock is that there were no affecting emotional bits in the show's run, but at its foundation, it was a comedy. It's job was to make us laugh, and not only did it do that, but Arrested Development made us think as well.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Community Problems: Redux

I wrote about Community in the middle of their 2nd season last March, and there I wrote that I found it the most Arrested Development-like sitcom I had seen since the original, and the fact that its then minor problems were making it fall short was depressing. Well, one hiatus-filled season later, Community has far bigger problems in my eyes, even discounting the loss of creator Dan Harmon.

Community has finished its transformation into this weird, experimental fantasy show that is built off of the machinations of Dan Harmon's mind. Sometimes, this leads to great results (the first part of their 3-episode Finale where the group were transformed into characters in an 8-bit Video Game) but often leads to ridiculous episodes meant for a niche of a niche, catering to fan-boys who consider Community to be the perfect utilization of everything the TV medium has to offer, and would rather contract malaria than criticize the show (I'm looking at you, Pillows vs. Blankets). Community, in my mind, has the most obnoxiously large and aggressive online fanbase of any TV show, and the show has basically become a product meant to be sold only to these people. Harmon basically gave up any attempt to win over casual viewers and to make his show marketable to people that weren't willing to let comedy and plot slide for thematic brilliance. This is part of why he's being canned (the other being that he is by all accounts an arrogant, demanding, infuriating jerk), and why Community is falling further into the hole it created for itself.

I loved the first two seasons of Community. It featured 7 characters I was invested in, plus great writing. It also featured a constant sense of bent reality, that all of these crazy things could well be happening in a joyous little grove that was Greendale Community College. Season 3 mostly lost this completely, as the center of the Community universe changed from their drab study room to Abed & Troy's apartment. Where a cast of 7 characters that effected you was peared down to just three or four that got a majority of the storylines, and a character that was almost disregarded entirely other than to screw with him (Pierce). Community kept shedding any semblance of relatability, and more importantly, reality, until it was essentially a four man troupe that decided to take on the stylistic narrative of the day.

What was once a well that was dipped into once or twice a year (theme episodes) overran Season 3 to where they were more present, especially in the post-hiatus episodes, than the 'other' episodes. Some worked (8-Bit Video Game, Heist Movie spoof) and some fell flat (Law & Order, Ken Burns Documentary spoof). That well was first dipped into with Community's brilliant Goodfella's parody in S1, and followed with quite a few in S2 (the Apollo 13 spoof, Zombie Movies spoof, Clay-mation, Documentary spoof, Spaghetti Western spoof), but they were all still grounded in enough reality that they were believable (the closest to crossing that threshold was the Zombie Spoof, which at least was explained away with the school being infected with a strange virus). Season 3 kept the idea of giving Harmon's take on different mediums and themes, but lost the college aspect of the show, and even the character aspect of the show.

Unlike Arrested Development, where the writing and acting was so brilliant that it didn't matter that the viewer wasn't really invested in the plot and story-arcs regarding any character, Community's characters are in large part the heart of the show. At least that was the case in S1 (which is the closest to a true-Arrested Development type show I have ever seen), and even in S2 this carried forth. That was all lost in much of S3. I'll say it right now, other than Jeff and Britta, I don't really feel attached to any characters, or feel that any character has grown in a believable way.

Troy has turned from a jock that learned to embrace his more artistic, "nerdy" side, to a complete fool overly-dependent on his quasi-homosexual relationship with Abed. Troy hasn't had a good solo storyline apart from his silly dalliance with the Air-Conditioner Repair school. Troy really has became a character that is very often seen in many other shows - the wife whose only storylines revolve around her husband. Annie is a character who hasn't really changed at all (that said, the Dreamatorium episode in S3 did have the best Annie storyline maybe since S2's Celebrity Pharmacology). I have no idea what the appeal to Annie is other than her ample breasts, and the weird life-form that Annie (and more Alison Brie) as a sexual figure never ceases to amaze me.

Pierce and Shirley have been almost completely marginalized. They had the tandem story of opening the sandwhich shop, but did anyone really care about the plight of it? Pierce's evil story-arc in S2 may have raised some questions about why the group would be friends with him, but at least it was damn entertaining and gave Chevy Chase something to do other than act like a 70-year old with dementia, which is essentially what Pierce has been in S3 (apart from the 8-Bit Video Game episode). Jeff is still important because he is the cog that holds the whole thing together, but other than different variations of the same speech, has he really changed. I'll give the show credit for the fact that they have made Britta a great character. Gillian Jacobs, to me, is the breakout star of Community. Britta has changed from purely a sex-symbol for Jeff and a feminist to an admittedly dumber character, but much more humane. She cares for things, she wants to be a psychologist, but mostly, she just wants to be accepted as being a smart human that is not a screw-up.

That brings us to Abed, who has had the most character moments. Abed is a strange character, who started out as a man addicted with TV, but could see the world better than anyone around him. Some of this is still there, but he's now become just a socially-incapable idiot genius. On three different occasions post-hiatus, an episode centered around examining Abed (The Impressions episode, the pillow vs. blanket fight, the Dreamatorium) and all of them essentially reached the same conclusion - that Abed needs to accept help and stop catering to his fantasy world where everything runs like it does on TV. That's fine, but do it once. Don't have Abed learn about himself only to undo that learning and show him with the exact same problems only to have him re-learn about himself two episodes later. Analyzing Abed has been done since the show's 3rd episode (where he creates a faux-movie about his relationship with his dad using Jeff & Britta) and done again in S2 (with the My Dinner With Andre spoof), but in S3 it became a defining arc that didn't have growth in long-form. Everything in one episode about Abed's mental state was just rehashed with different themes again and again. Also, how is the viewer supposed to believe that Abed would have a mental freak-out if Cougartown was put on hiatus (what happened in the S3 premier) if he's a TV know-it-all and therefore should now that hiatus and cancellations are a part of life. Why would Abed have a freak-out about daylight savings time if he understands the world? Abed is being both shown as a mental case in some episodes, and the person who sees the world the clearest in others. There's an issue with Abed.

All of this really goes back to Harmon who went from running a truly inventive show about 7 unlikely friends in Community College that traipsed along narrative themes, into a show built for the sole purpose of being consumed by a select class of people. There's nothing wrong with that, I guess, but then no one should be surprised when the show gets bad ratings and is on the fence. Anyway, another issue with Community is those people, those uber-fans that can see no wrong, and go on Twitter, and AV Club and messageboards across the internet every Thursday night and unabashedly praise to show to no end. When anyone tries to criticize it, they are met with attacks of "you know nothing about comedy", or "go back to watching 2.5 Men" or my personal favorite, "There's no other show that would try [insert weird theme here], this is the greatest thing on TV." While that last one may be true, that doesn't mean that Community's failures should be erased because they had the guts to try. Hell, Glee is a damn daring show. It's basically attempted to put on a musical each week on broadcast network TV, yet Community fans would stick their nose to it, and even lauded their Glee-spoof (which I found oddly distasteful towards Glee, a show that maybe is not as good as Community but is far, far more successful - it seemed based in a lot of jealousy). Community is a good show, it is often a great show, but it is not beyond reproach.

Overall, is Community ruined? Yeah, but mainly because Harmon is not coming back for a 4th season of a show that is far down its own ass at this point. There is nothing wrong with the show spiraling into itself to the point of surreal Dream fantasy episodes and Annie's Boobs. It still has its moments, but without Harmon that side of the show will likely be gone. I don't think the show can reverse course back to the at least more acceptably slanted Season 2 at this point even with Harmon, and I think the new guys are going to try to make a sharp 180 back to Season 1. It will probably end with Community toppling over itself. That's fine in the end. Shows come and go all the time. Better shows have met even crueler fates (Arrested Development), but Community at least got three seasons where Dan Harmon could do what the hell he wanted, isolate the people that would stick to the show no matter what, and pear down to show to those basic people's needs. It worked, but the next time Abed painfully screams in his dreamatorium, even less people will be there to watch it. I will, but I'll be dreaming of Abed back in a study group.

Monday, May 14, 2012

NHL Conference Finals Picks

For the first time since 2003, my team is in the conference final in hockey. Those Devils were a great team (108 points - 2nd in the East, gave up only 166 goals all season, scored 218 - which was damn good in the pre-lockout NHL). These Devils aren't as good. Marty Brodeur is less dependable. That said, I'm just as excited, mainly because it is the Rangers that the Devils will face. I wasn't there to really take in 1994, so besides missing an iconic NHL series, I haven't really been haunted by the "Matteau, Matteau, Matteau" play (it also helps the Devils won the next season, and since 1994, have finished better than the Rangers in all but three seasons, and also won three Stanley Cups). So this series is less about revenge and more about regional bragging rights. The Rangers, sadly, I like because they remind me a lot of the 2003 Devils. Great goaltending led by three good defensive pairings, and a deep offensive set of players none of whom is overly talented, but all solid. As for the Western Conference, the Kings have been incredible. On one hand, it is commendable to see an 8th seed look this good, but on the other hand, it raises questions about what the hell the Kings were doing in the regular season. Other than the addition of ex-Flyer Jeff Carter, the Kings in the postseason is essentially the same as the Kings from last November. The talent is immense, and they've finally put it all together. Anyway, let's get to the picks.

Western Conference Finals - Kings (8) over Coyotes (3) in 6

The Kings are just better. First of all, the seedings are almost irrelevant and are not close to an indicator as to the Coyotes supremacy. The Kings ended the regular season with 95 points, while the Coyotes won a mediocre but tight Pacific Division with 97. The Kings have more talent on offense with Kopitar and Richards both playing great, and Dustin Brown having an awesome postseason. The Coyotes are deep, but none of their lines are particularly scary, and the Kings can match them with depth. The Coyotes do have a slight advantage in my eyes on the blueline, but what is shocking is they give up a ton of shots with Smith facing over 30 a game. For the first time in these playoffs, the Coyotes will not have a large advantage in goal. Jonathan Quick has been brilliant in these playoffs as well as all year long. I just don't see the Coyotes winning this series on paper, and given the fact that the Kings mentally are on such a roll, I can't really predict some ethereal reason giving the Coyotes an advantage. Plus, I really don't want to have the possible Devils=Coyotes Stanley Cup Finals and then a never-ending round of "Is anyone watching this?" come from the media. No matter what happens out East, having an LA team will be a good ratings draw.

Eastern Conference Finals - Devils (6) over Rangers (1) in 6

Just like last round, part of this is a Devils fan having biased hope. That said, this is a really close series. Since the Rangers, you know, play defense, the Devils' forecheck probably won't have the suffocating effectiveness it had against the Flyers. It is odd saying this, but the biggest edge the Devils have in this series is their offense. Their offense is deeper, faster, and more talented than the Rangers offense, especially with the Devils 4th line since Steven Gionta and Steve Bernier came on board being really effective in the offensive zone. Kovalchuk looks totally invigorated over whatever treatment he undertook between games 1-3 of the last round. The Rangers defense is, as said, much better than the Devils defense, but the Devils defense has been a lot better in the postseason. Even strength, these teams are really even, with even a slight edge over the course of the season for the Rangers. I think the Devils can really own the Special Teams advantage. Their penalty kill was historically good in the regular season, and while it was awful against Florida, it really clamped down against the Flyers, and the Devils PP has quietly been over 20% in the playoffs. On the other side, the Rangers powerplay, with the exception of their heroic performance during Joel Ward's 4-minute major, has been erratic in the postseason. Overall, these teams are close. All I am hoping for is a long good series, and for Marty not to go out with bad performances. This pick is about 40% with my head and the rest pure heart. I want another run. I want Marty to win Cup #4, and Patrik Elias to get another Cup. I want Parise do have a real decision on his hands in the offseason, and to have the fact that he just won a Stanley Cup as the Devils' captain on his mind. I want Kovalchuk to get a ring which he deserves after doing yoeman's work for a crap team in Atlanta. Marty Brodeur could retire in the offseason, and Zach Parise could leave. This team could be very different in 2012-2013, but for right now, they are really, really good. They deserve this. One last fact, since losing in 1994, the Devils are 4-0 in Eastern Conference Finals, including twice beating the #1 seed that season (including a loaded 2003 Senators team) in their building in Game 7.

Enjoy the hockey. Enjoy what could be the last special moment for Marty and the Devils.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ranking the Talking Heads

The impetus for this post started when I watched the Spurs/Jazz Game 1 on Sunday, being called by Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown, who has to be pushing 80 by now, and it was only furthered after watching Inside the NBA on TNT the last two nights. For all the people that like to claim that they watch the game on mute, or would readily switch to some viewing alternative with just crowd noise and no commentators, I'm someone who readily admits that commentators are vital and necessary, and the good ones make a game that much better. The sports world has now been infused with as many halftime/pregame/postgame shows that they've taken on a life-blood of their own, and a lot of that is berthed from the success of Inside the NBA. Anyway, this is just my personal rankings of sports broadcast media's best studio shows (pregame and postgame) and announcing teams. My one caveat is that I can use teams and shows that are now gone, but I'm limiting this to just the past 10 years, which is basically my true life as a sports fan. Obviously, not everyone is listed, but I do go across the breadth of my personal opinions, from the worst to the best. One caveat is that the show/team had to be there for at least two years, which is mainly because my real #1 was there for just a year, so I put them at honorable mention.

Studio Shows

Honorable Mention: Ahmad Rashad, Gary Payton and Chris Webber (NBA GameTime on the NBA Channel)

I've spoken about this trio before. They were only together for one season, but my God was the duo of Payton and Webber just brilliant. They did offer some insight, but it was mostly them just making each other and the audience laugh. This will come across racist, but they just made it seem so damn fun to be a black man who can make people laugh. A lot of the time, the funniest moments were when both were just laughing and mumbling out some incoherent bullshit, but at home, we all knew whatever it was The Glove just threw out there was funny, so we laughed along with them. They are gone, but never forgotten.

9.) ABC/ESPN NBA Halftime with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, Magic Johnson and Chris Broussard

I understand why ESPN took this direction, having just a roundtable of four basketball players, made up with two basketball journalists, one average NBA player and one legend. They tried to copy the Inside the NBA team, but in my opinion, they really struck out. Why is Inside great? They are really, really funny and have great chemistry. Chemistry in these settings is the single most important thing a team can have, and the ESPN guys do not have it at all. They are not that funny. Wilbon just seems out-of-place without TK by his side. Magic talks in way too man platitudes. I do like Jon Barry, though. Finally, Broussard needs a tan.

8.) NFL on FOX Studio with Curt Meneffee, Terry Bradshaw, Michael Strahan, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson

7.) NFL on CBS Studio with James Brown, Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason

I'll talk about these two in tandem. They both kind of followed the same formula. One loud, gregarious, black guy (Strahan & Sharpe), one ex-great QB (Bradshaw, Marino), one ex-coach (JJ and Cowher) and one other guy (Long & Boomer). Both shows have the issue of laughing way, way too much at things that usually are not too funny. The one reason why I put CBS one spot ahead is that they seem to give a little more actual worthwhile analysis. Also, I love James Brown and find him a lot more palatable than Curt Menefee.

6.) ESPN Grand Slam Coverage with Chris Fowler, Chris McKendry, Darren Cahill, Brad Gilbert, Pam Shriver & Mary Joe Fernandez

This crew mixes and matches with each other (with either Fowler or McKendry being the host, and the others providing analysis). They are used at their most effective in Australia (where ESPN doesn't care to really pimp it out with Hannah Storm, or schintzy studios), and they are really, really good. Tennis coverage has a lot more downtime than one would expect and they do a great job keeping it interesting with good analysis and underratedly good humor that goes through multiple accents (Cahill's Australian brand of humor is great). Plus, Fowler is money as a host. One of ESPN's last few genuinely great personalities.

5.) ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown with Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Steve Young and Michael Irvin

They were only a tandem from 2003-2005, but this was ESPN Sunday Countdown at its best. Again, ti was before ESPN took a hammer and beat Countdown to death as it is now, but back then, the show had great chemistry. Berman is ingratiating doing highlights with his stupid phrases and voices, but he is a really good host, great at splitting time between all the analysts. Young and Irvin had great interplay, and Jackson is still among the most genuine analysts. These were also the days where Rush Limbaugh was on the show, and it gets more credit just for that experiment, which people forget really did work, and what Rush said wasn't even that bad (Watch the clip - right before break, Irvin says "Rush is right:).

4.) ESPN Basketball College Gameday with Rece Davis, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis

To me, basketball Gameday is a little more un-ESPNed as football Gameday, with Corso and his mascot heads. I think Fowler is a better host than Rece Davis, but that doesn't make up for the fact that those three analysts work really well together. The only one that is kind of expendable is Hubert Davis, because his kind of Bilas-lite, but he doesn't try too much. None of these really go for laughs (which is why I don't put Vitale with them), and I love the little things like Bilas's impeccable diction and Digger's matching hi-liter and tie.

3.) NFL Network Gameday Final with Rich Eisen, Deion Sanders and Steve Marriuci

This group is no more because Eisen finally gets time off with Fran Charles now replacing him for Gameday Final and Michael Irvin coming along, but when these three were doing Gameday Final from 2008-2010, they were special. Eisen has really shone at everything he has done since leaving ESPN, with a great witty attitude with a likable hint of arrogance. Deion in highlight settings is quite funny, and Marriuci worked really well with Deion. I would not want Deion giving too much analysis because he has too many 'boys' in the NFL, but there is not much time for analysis in this show. Just highlights and three guys having a lot of fun together.

2.) ESPN's Basetball Tonight with Karl Ravech, Harold Reynolds, Peter Gammons and Tim Kurkjian

They were doing the show as a foursome primarily from 2002-2004. At this point Baseball Tonight was an untouched dream of a show. (it was ruined permanently by John Kruk and having stupid segments with made up arguments). Ravech is a brilliant host. Reynolds gave really good analysis of game situations. Gammons is a legend. Kurkjian's voice just makes me smile. There wasn't much humor in the show, but man was it exceedingly well coordinated with these four. It was a baseball nerds dream, and just a great place to escape every night at 10 with four guys that loved baseball in every way possible.

1.) TNT's Inside the NBA with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith

What else? The team that set the standard for studio analysis. There is no studio show I have ever seen with better chemistry. After 10 years together, this threesome does seem to truly love each other. They know each other so well, and can poke and prod each other at ease. Charles Barkley is one of the most famous basketball players in the world, but he doesn't act above Kenny or EJ. Ernie is awesome as a host, and really quick-witted. Kenny gives good analysis, which makes up for Charles being hit-or-miss in that department. What they do, overall, is keep you entertained and wanting to spend time with them. What I love about Inside is that it is truly free. Charles has cursed multiple times on air. He's insulted (playfully, usually) the staff and crew working the show. They give inane opinions. They have fun, and TNT has never tried to force them to do anything other than bring in Shaq, which admittedly looked good on paper. I love Inside the NBA, and I hope it never stops.

Announcing Teams

8,767.) John Miller and Joe Morgan (ESPN Sunday Night Baseball)

I would take any national announcing team over this duo. Miller was an average play-by-play, and Joe Morgan was trapped in 1980. Their total blind hatred of any new metrics or any new way to think about baseball was grating. Thank God, ESPN finally realized that these two are just lost in today's baseball world.

4,256.) Joe Buck and Tim McCarver (MLB on FOX)

I find it sad that baseball announcing on the national level is just awful in every way. Buck is actually better in this capacity than in football on the whole (although Buck definitely ramped up the energy in 2011 - so maybe it is getting better), but McCarver is the white, slightly more intuned Joe Morgan. However, the one difference between McCarver and Morgan is that McCarver doesn't shut up as much, and says really awful puns and jokes. Morgan just seems lost.

10.) Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (NFL on CBS)

I hate Phil and Nantz because they are so WASP-ey. Nantz has a serious hard-on for Brady and the Pats. Simms screws up a little too often. The one thing I kind of like with these two is at least they work well together. The end product is not great, but Nantz and Simms know how to fill time, know how to work off of each other. There is no awkwardness that some of the other booths (like Buck, Aikman, Collinsworth from 2002-2004) have.

9.) Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire (ESPN Sunday Night Football)

It is interesting people unrelentingly hate this team, and this is probably the announcing team that I am disconnected the most from the general populous, but I loved what this group brought. They did not provide good analysis (although they did well analyzing why the Music City Miracle was indeed a lateral and not a forward pass), but they had a lot of fun together. They had the same energy that a lot of studio shows had, but just during the games. Now, that is not what I usually want from an announcing team, but these three made me laugh, a lot.

8.) Martin Tyler and Andy Gray (Sky Sports/FOX Soccer Premier League/Champions League)

The biggest problem I have with soccer announcing is that the play-by-play guy talks roughly 85% of the time, and the analyst is really marginalized. Now, there isn't that much to analyze on a minute-by-minute basis as some other sports, and there is little downtime to do it (similar problem happens with hockey announcing), but it makes an announcing team seem like 1.5 men talking. That said, Tyler and Gray work really well together, give great analysis when they do, and are the best soccer group for me.

7.) Chris Fowler, Pat McEnroe and Darren Cahill/Brad Gilbert (ESPN2 Tennis)

This is an extension of the ESPN Grand Slam studio show in the above list. Tennis has no play-by-play, so announcing tennis is really different. It really is just filling up the 20 seconds between points, and these guys do it really well. Either Cahill or Gilbert will be in the crowd, giving sideline analysis (which I love when they actually show them talking, and there are random people just watching the game next to them). Pat McEnroe is not his brother, but he's a solid analyst with good opinions and works well with Fowler, who is all-boss all the time. If you want a low-cost, not-too-flashy group that will do nothing less than a solid job, this is a perfect trio. One last random thing about this group is that any time ESPN2 plugs some upcoming sports event or show, they will all weigh in on that sport for the next couple minutes, and all their opinions on the NBA/College BB/NFL or whatever is usually pretty good. They know sports in general, and really know tennis.

6.) Doc Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre Maguire (NHL on NBC)

Since this is all national teams, I can't use my real favorite hockey team of Doc Emrick and Chico Resch (the Devils announcers), which brings them a little further up the list than they should be, given that Doc Emrick is THE BEST play by play guy. His calls are incredible. When a guy misses, or there is a great save, and his voice just goes high and he reacts wildly, it is incredible. The game moves so quickly, and the man who has the puck changes so rapidly, but Emrick never misses a person who has the puck and rattles off those names perfectly, every time. My only issue with this group is McGuire. I love the idea of a guy inside the glass between the bench. It is a great innovation to hockey announcing that works really well. The issue is McGuire too often has his teams that he favors, and he talks a little too much and undercuts Olczyk's time. I actually like the group better in the brief period in round 1 where Olczyk was out sick and it was just the two of them. Either way, because of how incredible Emrick is, the group is held in high regard for me.

5.) Al Michaels and John Madden or Cris Collinsworth

It is easy to knock the highest profile football announcing team in the world (and it definitely was with Al and John, and in my mind still is with Al and Cris), but they really are that consistently good. Al Michaels had/has great chemistry with Madden and then Collinsworth (which isn't always the case with Al, who notoriously had a really frosty relationship with Boomer Esiason during the '99 season). They just have a cache from so many years of MNF/SNF calling massive games basically every weekend that just makes their games feel more important because of Al Michaels and John/CC being there. Both Madden and CC are great analysts, and give insights and analysis of things like line play that most color guys miss. They show the beautiful minutea of a football game. Madden had some grating moments, and CC does now (again, he loves Brady a little too much) and Michaels will be really opinionated for a play-by-play guy, but with them, it always feels like a big game.

4.) Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown (ESPN Basketball)

By far, the most underrated announcing team in a major sport. Pure class and efficiency. There is nothing too flashy with this duo, but they are quality in every respect. Hubie Brown is a brilliant analyst that is very much like Madden in that he will see things and talk about things during the game that most miss (like particular defenses or offensive sets). Tirico, like he does in MNF, is respectful of his role and gives consistently great play-by-play while allowing loads of time for Hubie to talk. The two have great chemistry with each other, and give a lot of information without overshadowing the game itself. They don't get the highest profile games (which is fine, because the group that does is yet to come) but Tirico and Hubie make any game they announce fun and interesting.

3.) Dick Enberg, John McEnroe and Mary Carrillo (US Open on CBS)

"Oh, My!". Dick Enberg retired in 2011 from the US Open (and will be replaced quite well by Bill Macatee), but the real stars are McEnroe and Carrillo, who are brilliant together. McEnroe is incredibly funny, and underrated with his analysis. Carrillo is extremely good as an announcer. She's not scared to call anyone out, or trade barbs with McEnroe, who is not afraid to go right back. Their banter is brilliant together, and Enberg ties this together (I should say that Mac and Mary are also paired with Ted Robinson at Wimbledon and they do a great job there too) with an air of importance with the sport. No team is more interestingly combative and entertaining at the same time.

2.) Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery (March Madness on CBS)

Nantz and Packer were basically Nantz and Simms with the WASP meter up to 11. Nantz and Kellogg are just boring. Gus Johnson is way too excitable in general (I'm not a fan). Verne and Bill should be doing the Final 4. Their region that they announce immediately becomes my favorite region. Raftery is getting old and he's not as wild as he used to be, but he's still the most witty, innovative analysts. Unlike so many other analysts, Raftery's oft-used catch-phrases are fun and enjoyable. Verne has one of the best announcing voices ever, and sets up Raft really well. They are, to me, the most perfectly paired announcing duo that I have ever seen.

1.) Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy & Mark Jackson (ESPN Basketball)

My dream NBA announcing scenario is this group paired with Inside the NBA. That would be perfect. Anyway, this trio was so good that I was legitimately furious with the Golden State Warriors for hiring Mark Jackson, robbing me of one-third of the best announcing team in the world. So many great lines. "Bang!", "Hand down... Man down", "Mama, there goes that man again". Finally, add Jeff Van Gundy, who might be the funniest analyst in the world, to the mix and his great ability to go off on tangents that are equally strange and humorous, and you get a perfect cocktail. NBA junkies love this group in every way, from their catchphrases, to the outros I never expected Jeff Van Gundy to be anything close to as funny as he is on ESPN, and the duo of JVG and Breen is still solid, but these three were just pefect. All I can say is 'Bang!" They were magic.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.