Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Best Man Speech

For Shawn Smith
December 11th, 2010
Smyrna, Tennessee

Hi there. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Ken Devine, and it's an honor to be Shawn's Best Man. And now for a story.

About seven years ago, two guys were looking for girls in Nashville on New Year's Eve. These guys spent most of their evening at a local bar, but instead of trying to pick up girls, they just ended up watching college football. So after an uneventful evening, they decided to pack it up and head home a few hours into the new year. But that's when things got really desperate.

So, these guys made it back to the apartment complex where they lived. But despite not having talked to one girl the entire night, they weren't about to call it quits. So in a last-ditch effort, they drove around the apartment complex, just patrolling the streets and combing for any sign of life. And in particular, any female who might have been walking around by herself at 3 in the morning.

As if that wasn't pathetic enough, things sunk to a new low when they rolled down their windows and started screaming things like "WHERE ARE YOU?" and "COME OUT OF THERE!" To no one's surprise, no girl actually took the bait.

Shawn and I came up empty-handed that night, but we never stopped in our pursuit of women. Over the years, we had some success here and there, but never really found the girl we were supposed to be with.

About five years later, it was early 2009, and that's when Shawn met Niki. In the beginning they were friends who worked together at State Farm, and later discovered that they lived in the same apartment complex. And much like me and Shawn, Shawn and Niki quickly bonded over a love for Pearl Jam and rock music and college football.

Now, at the time I was actually living in New York, but I kept hearing from Shawn about this new girl he was hanging out with, and how cool and attractive she was. And I just remember thinking that it wouldn't be long before their friendship developed into something more. And that's exactly what happened.

I didn't actually meet Niki until I was in town for Shawn's bachelor party a few months ago. But when I finally did, my first impression of her didn't change at all. Niki is passionate, energetic, and extremely hard-working. She's smart, strong-minded, and beautiful. And she just has this great, magnetic spirit to her. Niki's just somebody you want to be around.

Now, Shawn on the other hand... No, Shawn's a great guy. To me, Shawn is the most honest, loyal, kind, and understanding person I know. He's my best friend. And in his relationship with Niki, he's grown to not only be this incredible selfless partner, but also a loving father to a child whose now his. And if that doesn't speak volumes about his level of commitment to both Niki and Aidan, then I don't know what does, because that's what love's all about.

But, I think one of the best things about Shawn is that he's a believer. Through all of the ups and downs in his life—whether it's Ole Miss's upset of Florida in the Swamp in 2008, or the really dangerous car accident that he was lucky to survive about five years ago—Shawn's always believed in God's plan. And it's not just something that you learn in church. For Shawn, it's more of a natural sense of God's purpose in his life, and an understanding that no matter what happens, God's always in control. And it's this purpose—this direction—that's led him directly to Niki and Aidan, whom he'll continue to love and bless just as deeply as God has loved and blessed him.

Now, being single for the better part of your life isn't easy. I can attest to just how hard it can be. But what makes me happy is knowing that despite all the loneliness, and after all the dead ends and times of wondering if things were ever gonna change, the best guy I know married the best girl for him. And there's no better feeling than knowing where you're supposed to be in life and who you're supposed to be spending it with. So, while that search is finally over for Niki and Shawn, a great new adventure is about to begin.

All that's to say that with Shawn now officially off the market, and me getting married next year, I think it's safe to say that our days of creeping on girls in apartment complexes at 3 in the morning are over. But that's probably a good thing.

So, with that, I just want to say congratulations to the bride and groom. Niki and Shawn, I also want to thank you for being such great people, such wonderful friends, and for positively affecting the lives of each and every person in this room. It's why we're here for you now, and why we'll always be there for you.

I love you guys.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One Little Victory

And even Stephen Abraham agrees with me.

"Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible."
—Francis Bacon

And another: "The perfect excuse for war"
Filth? Ha!: "Shame on all the skeptics"
Rebuttal: "Shame on all the skeptics"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On The Night

One of the best things about music is the discovery process, because by and large, music is a constant pursuit. This explains why we often only like music that we find ourselves.

Last month I discovered On The Night, a gem of a live album by classic rock outfit Dire Straits. This was a treasured find for two reasons. One, because Dire Straits' already great songs sound greater live, where the band has room to explore their unique sonic textures. And two, because I can't help but feel that this album was overlooked when it was released in 1993, lost in the shuffle of grunge's heydey and the twilight of a career.

Fronted by Mark Knopfler, one of the most masterful finger-picking guitarists of our time, Dire Straits made music that was always a little left of center. The British quartet emerged in the post-punk era of the late 1970s to play what was decidedly not post-punk. Actually, their body of work makes for an interesting study, given the melding of roots rock, blues-jazz stylings, MTV-made singles, and slow-burning ruminations. And even as their sound grew to incorporate some of the cheesier earmarks of the '80s, Dire Straits maintained a pop sensibility while never losing their mature edge.
"The band's music was offset by Knopfler's lyrics, which approximated the winding, stream-of-conscious narratives of Bob Dylan." —Allmusic
On The Night works so well because it does what any live album should do, which is capture a band at its peak with the intangible energy that can't be felt from a studio recording. As evidence: the exuberant buildup of the already happy-go-lucky "Walk Of Life"; the realization of arena-rock power on "Heavy Fuel"; the dark intrigue and palpable eeriness of "Private Investigations"; and the simple romantic beauty of the three-note licks on "Romeo And Juliet". Although some of these moments are represented musically in their studio counterparts, none are actually felt the same way.

But the greater success of On The Night is the transcendence of the songs themselves, over half of which are augmented with more progressive arrangements. With the free reign of the live setting, songs like opener "Calling Elvis" and closer "Brothers In Arms" expand gracefully without overstaying their welcome. Moreover, most of the 10 tracks here are jazzed up and countrified with liberal use of saxophone and pedal steel guitar, which provides a warm richness that plays to their advantage.

On The Night provides a snapshot of an under-appreciated band in their prime, not long before they hung up the guitars for good. While it includes most of the hits, the set list plays naturally, without the obligation to include all the hits—"Sultans Of Swing" and "So Far Away" are noteably absent, but not missed.

Even though Dire Straits is long gone from the modern zeitgeist, on this night, we can all look back and savor the moment with a fond sense of retroactive nostalgia.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Less for More

A few months ago, I dined at Spunto in Soho for lunch, and I think it's time I said something about it. Because after all these years, my long-feared suspicions have been confirmed: The thin-crust pizza market is a racket.

Does it taste good? Sure. Is it worth the price you pay? Not unless it's Marion's.

Just look at the menu: $13 for a large pie without any toppings. Since plain-cheese pizza sort of defeats the purpose of eating pizza in the first place, an additional layer of toppings will cost you five more bucks. I'd be tempted to try one of Spunto's house specialty pizzas if it didn't put me out $24.

I realize that some people are okay with paying whatever for thin-crust pizza because they prefer that to thicker crusts. Honestly, I wouldn't be opposed to the prices if I didn't get hungry an hour or two later.

So if anyone else's experience is anything like mine, thin-crust pizza ultimately serves as a snack, but you end up paying a full meal's price for it. This isn't right, especially at chains that charge the same for thicker crusts.

Preference is one thing; principle is another.

Monday, August 2, 2010

One Ring To Bind Her

How to propose to your girlfriend in 13 steps:
  1. Create a relationship crossword puzzle. Include inside jokes, pet names, common likes, and references to relationship history.

  2. Leave crossword puzzle for girlfriend to find when she comes home.

  3. Wait for girlfriend to meet you at the secret location revealed by unscrambling certain letters on the crossword. One location could be Belvedere Castle in Central Park.
  4. Give girlfriend a big hug and kiss when she does finally find you off to the side of the castle, away from all the tourists.

  5. Present her a single rose. Then say, "Well, I guess we can head back home now." Make sure she knows you're not serious.
  6. Pull out the ring and say "Do I even have to ask?" with a knowing smile. But follow up with "Will you marry me?" just to be sure.
  7. Take pictures.

  8. Appreciate the complete randomness and coincidental timing of a former hockey teammate running into you moments after popping the big one...
    "I was strolling through central park on Saturday afternoon with a lovely coed. As we ascended to the platform of the castle that resides off the southwest edge of the Great Lawn, I glanced to my left and saw a very familiar towering god-like figure. So familiar, after a quick double take I zoned in and got closer, it was no other than the one the only Kenny "Marquee" Devine. Not only was the sighting out of left field, couple it with the fact that literally moments earlier in that exact spot with his princess in hand, he asked the lady of his life that eternal question.....and she graciously accepted. Hearts across America broke this weekend. Kenny, congrats big guy...From every last member of the Tea Time community, we wish you nothing but the best....salud"
  9. Take more pictures.

  10. Accept the fact that, yes, Billy Squier's "Love Is The Hero" is indeed playing in your head. But it's cool.
  11. Dine at a great steakhouse.

  12. Tell the world.

  13. Feast on a celebratory breakfast the next morning, with whipped cream symbolizing your sentiment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rest in Peace

NEW YORK—Shortly after 9:30 p.m EDT on Monday, July 19th, Dell computer White Lightning was officially pronounced dead from owner decommissioning. Lightning, a Dell Dimension XPS T550 purchased for around $3,200 in July 1999, was just days away from what would have been its eleventh birthday.

During White Lightning's 10-year tenure, Bill Clinton was impeached, MySpace blew up, the Red Sox won the World Series, and owner Ken Devine got a girlfriend.

Devine maintains that Lightning had a great run, but he's alone in that sentiment. Every other person who has come into contact with the mainstay machine insists that it was a painstakingly slow death over the course of a decade where computer technology advanced by several leaps and bounds. In fact, family members attest that Devine's stubborn refusal to even consider replacing the sluggish dinosaur bordered on cruelty—more so, perhaps, to himself.

Yet critics agree that the 550 MHz has-been had a short stint of glory in its first year of existence, when 16-megabyte video cards ruled the personal-computing frontier, and 20 gigs of hard-drive space was much more than anyone would ever need.

Yes—people really lived like this.

No one's sure how, but White Lightning managed to run on the Windows 98 Second Edition operating system all the way until late 2006, when a freak system-file deletion wouldn't allow Devine to re-enter Windows. A tech-savvy co-worker came to the rescue and bypassed Lightning's hard drive by adding a second one running Windows XP—an operating system already half a decade old.

Devine enjoyed the much-more-stable XP, but had his first realization that Lighting was behind the times when he received an iPod for Christmas in 2007. The portable music device was a fraction of the size of his computer, but at 80 gigs, had the storage capacity of four times more than his once-super computer.

After months of contemplation, Devine reluctantly decided on Monday that it was time to replace White Lightning with Black Thunder, a far-superior Dell machine configured by a pair of former co-workers who felt sympathy for Devine's situation. The duo was compelled to end the years of neglect after learning of Devine's surprising contentment with his long-running personal-computing history. Oddly enough, the speedy PC now adored by Devine sat in his closet for the past 15 months, just waiting for its chance.

"I just felt like it was time," said Devine on retiring his old friend. "Whitey was taking longer naps, and he just sort of gave up when I tried to watch videos on YouTube. I only saw a new frame like once every 15 seconds."

Devine revealed that the key to preserving such an antiquated computing device was a steady diet of program management and maintenance, particularly with nightly shutdowns.

But more than anything, an unprecedented level of patience.

"The good news is now I don't have to put my clothes away or make a sandwich while my computer is booting up," he said. "But I think this whole experience built a lot of character, both for me and White."

"I wouldn't change a thing," he added.

Lightning is survived by PC siblings Blue Bronco and Black Stealth, the latter of which has been in a coma for the past several months. Brother Red Bull passed away quietly in 2007.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Why Soccer Still Sucks

Four years after writing about the issues I have with soccer, I have to say I've enjoyed watching the latest World Cup, and my interest in the game—with its finesse, chess-match strategy, and surprising level of physicality—has increased.

But the more I try to appreciate the sport, the more it frustrates me. Soccer's still got some issues to work out, particularly with unfairness...

#1: Ghana's a Goner

The latest exhibit: Ghana falling in penalty kicks to Uruguay on Friday. I really have a problem with the intentional handball by defender Luis Suarez to prevent Uruguay’s instant death in the final minutes of extra time.

Would I have a problem if Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan had converted on the ensuing penalty shot to clinch the contest (which he should have)? Not with the outcome, no.

Do I blame Suarez for reacting in a manner that would deny a game-winning goal? Not at all. It was a natural act of last resort and self-preservation.

The problem I have is with the rulebook, namely the black-and-white nature of the handball infraction. There's a big difference between an unintentional handball at midfield and a deliberate handball at the goal line to prevent the ball from going into the net. The fact that the handball rule does not distinguish between these two situations that carry very different implications is a serious flaw, because it allows for cheating.

And that's what happened Friday—Uruguay cheated. Okay, technically they didn't "cheat" within the laws of the game, but it was cheating at its core. From a legal perspective, you could say the handball was a smart move because it was the only option to stay alive. But if the rule was truly fair, this option shouldn't have existed at all—the goal should have been awarded instantly on account of goaltending (one thing basketball does get right). I'm astonished by the lack of challenge and outrage with this rule, especially from Ghana. But writer John Leicester is with me:
"Suarez knew what he was doing. He took a calculated risk... He knew that the punishment for handling would be a penalty for Ghana. But that had to be better for Uruguay than losing to a last-gasp goal."
In a small measure of consolation, Suarez will sit out the semifinal match against the Netherlands, but will return for the finals if Uruguay advances. FIFA found Suarez guilty of "denying the opposite team a clear goal-scoring opportunity."

That's a nice way of putting it.

In a just world, the Ghanaians would be the ones preparing for the Netherlands on Tuesday. It didn't matter what happened on their penalty shot—the game should have already been over.

For more evidence that the handball rule enables cheating, look no further than Suarez himself, who instantly celebrated from the sidelines when Gyan booted his penalty shot off the crossbar. Much worse, he openly expressed zero contrition with his decision, claiming the punishment of being ejected from a World Cup game is "complicated."

"The way in which I was sent off—truth is, it was worth it," he said. "I think I made the best save of the World Cup."

#2: No Instant Replay

The USA, England, Mexico, and Portugal were all victims of poor officiating. If there was instant replay, who would be playing Tuesday and Wednesday? The 2014 World Cup has to get the officiating system right. With the level of international outrage that only soccer can present, I'm hopeful.

#3: Low Scoring

Out of all the games I've watched this World Cup, the one thing that continually irks me is the lack of scoring opportunities. This is the biggest thing holding the sport back; the main reason why most of us play soccer when we're young but only catch it once every four years.

It's an accepted truth that you tend to like things you grew up with, the only things you knew. Thus, many non-American "football" fans have no problem with low-scoring matches because they didn't grow up with the NFL, NBA, or NHL, where scoring is frequent and gratification instant. The disparity in the popularity of the game outside the United States can be explained by cultural expectations.

But as I've watched these matches, I've thought about ways to balance the sport and improve the game so that it's less restrictive and more interesting to watch. Here are a few suggestions that will never be adopted, but whose implications are interesting nonetheless:
  1. No offsides
  2. . Is there any justification to leave offsides in the game other than the fact that it's always been there? Like hockey's riddance of the two-line pass, eliminating offsides would be the easiest way to improve the game without fundamentally changing it. As in hockey, forwards would actually be rewarded for slipping behind their defenders. Scoring opportunities would increase, saves would be made, and overall interest would heighten. Offsides could even be redefined to be when a player advances into the penalty area before the ball has entered it (again, similar to hockey, the sport it most resembles).

  3. Fewer players
  4. . Reducing each side from 10 players to eight would be a pretty radical change, but I can't help but get excited about the passing and shooting lanes that would open up, and the faster pace of the game overall. One of the main reasons shots are so low in soccer is simply because there are too many players that clog up the area in front of the goal.

  5. Penalty-kick distance
  6. . Everyone knows that relying on penalty kicks has never been a great way to determine the winner of a match. So why not keep the kicks but move the shot placement back to the top of the penalty area? You know, to give goalies a higher probability of stopping the shots than Stevie Wonder.

    And while we're speaking of overtime, why is there no sudden death in the extra-time period (the opposite problem the NFL has)? Isn't the point of overtime to fairly determine a victor in a timely fashion?

    Here's what it's like in the current system: Two teams battle to a tie over the course of 90-plus minutes. One scores a huge go-ahead goal in the extra session, but not so fast—the game isn't over. They've got to continue on in the hopes of not allowing their opponent to tie the score again for the remainder of the 30 minutes. Apparently, people love seeing penalty kicks.
If you're a purist against these rules, consider these stats through July 1st from novelist Richard Greener:
  • The Group winners in the 2010 World Cup (Uruguay, Argentina, United States, Germany, Netherlands, Paraguay, Brazil and Spain) averaged 656 touches per game, with only 6.3 shots on goal in a 90-minute contest.
  • Argentina, the most aggressive offensive team, attempted a shot on goal 1.28% of the time it touched the ball. They've averaged 2.3 goals per game.
  • The worst teams, Honduras and New Zealand, averaged only 1 shot on goal per game. Honduras played their entire schedule of games without making a single goal.

In the absence of alterations to the game, I have to agree with Greener's prediction that American interest in soccer will remain largely unchanged in the years to come, unfortunately:
"Here, unlike other places, we look for sustained action and the ever-present opportunity to put points on the board. Finding neither in soccer, interest in the United States will remain limited to events like the World Cup, with fan interest created by the marketing of false patriotism for a few weeks every four years."

Guess I'm not alone after all: Why Soccer Sucks: The Antidote To World Cup Idiocy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seconds Out

Sometimes things don't end the way you want them to.

After headlining serial television through most of the 2000s, 24 finally bid farewell to TV on May 24th (fittingly), capping off eight adrenaline-pumping seasons. But compared to its groundbreaking genesis that reinvented how stories could be told on TV, 24 went out with more of a whimper than a bang.

The invincible Jack Bauer was once again betrayed by the country he's saved so many times from total annihilation, and is once again on the lam. There was a tender scene with him and Chloe as the final seconds ticked away, but it wasn't the particularly affecting conclusion that 24 deserved—at least, at one point in time.
"24 came onto the air in 2001 as a form-breaking serial that looked strikingly different from anything else on TV. As all successful insurgents do over time, though, it became another institution, with its own familiar forms, tropes and patterns. And last night, 24 said goodbye—to TV anyway—with a closing that was much more like just another season finale than a series finale." —James Poniewozik
The major impediment with 24's finale was that, after all this talk about this being the end, it wasn't—the last episode just served as a setup for the forthcoming movie that's been in the works for months. And it didn't help that 24 had an impossible act to follow, with most of America still reeling from the fever-pitch finale of Lost the night before.
"I know these last few months have been difficult ones. It must be hard to look at the brass-band sendoff for Lost, whose serialized story was made possible by your success, and not compare it to your own less-glorious finish." —Sam Adams

It's interesting to juxtapose the two serial thrillers, because for me, Lost was always second to 24at least for a while. And in terms of where 24 stood, there was no clearer marker in the sand than when I called Professor Thom's in January about when the next Bauer Hour would be. The NYC bar had held 24 viewing parties for years, handing out free shots of Jack Daniels every time Jack killed someone. But when I spoke to the owner, he said that they had canceled the Bauer Hour this year due to lack of interest. However, still on the schedule was Lost, whose viewing parties continued to be marked by long lines and sitting-room-only crowds.

In the end, 24 could have learned from Lost. Plotting a show's demise in its prime is never easy or sensible in today's philosophy of goldmine entertainment, but 24's atrophy was self-inflicted, opting to exhaust itself over the course of 192 episodes rather than go out on top. Even as a die-hard fan from the very first hour, I was hoping that the producers would end the series after three or four seasons (circa 2005), having Jack die a hero's death in the final seconds (the only truly fitting ending). Because even though 24 suspended reality from the start, it was still grounded enough where there was no way someone could have as many bad, sleepless days as Jack Bauer, right?

But as it turned out, 2005 was right around the time when Jack Bauer became a household name. With the 24 epidemic spreading, I can't completely blame FOX for keeping the juggernaut rolling, but they had to know that the longer they dragged it out, the more preposterous it would get and the less serious people would take the show. As Lost taught us, a serial is a different animal that has the potential for huge payoffs. The caveat: You've got to end it at the right time, on your own terms. Compromise, and you'll have a price to pay, as well as a far dimmer legacy.

That's not to say 24 didn't have some good seasons in the latter part of its run. Seasons 5 and 7 are actually two of the stronger ones, continuing to push boundaries and execute impossible twists despite waning originality. But there was an aura from the first few seasons that was gone.
"Those were heady times, when everything seemed new. People went nuts for your continuity-driven concept, which seemed to flout every canard about TV's dwindling viewership. Rather than chase after an audience's attention, you demanded it, and promised to reward it as well. The heedless momentum of your real-time rush turned the rules of television inside-out. Rather than returning to the status-quo ante at the end of every episode, you promised that things would change, and keep changing. There was no going back." —Sam Adams
With the show's rigid structure and the act of resetting of the clock each season, the writers had little wiggle room in the corners they were forced into. But you have to give them credit for surprising us more than you thought they could for eight entire seasons, because most shows couldn't have survived that long with a gimmicky plot conceit. Even when you thought it was just another mole inside CTU or a seemingly benign subplot, there was usually something else in play. Our jaws dropped less, but the turns weren't all predictable.

"I know they get incredibly burnt and bent," Sutherland said of the show's writers. "The more you do it, the more you paint yourself into a corner, and I think, 'How many times have I played the same moment over and over?'"

One of the biggest corners was limiting the counterterrorist operation to Los Angeles for most of the show's run. Aside from a stint in Mexico during Season 3, it's a shame that it took 24 six seasons to get out of LA, because the last two seasons (set in Washington D.C. and New York City) added a much-needed freshness. But it was too little too late.

Executive Producer Howard Gordon said he called it quits because he couldn't see another season in the cards.

"The real-time aspect was one of the propulsive devices, but it was very restrictive, even with the absurdities, the license we allowed ourselves."

But no matter how implausible the twists were, the backbone of the show—Kiefer Sutherland—was consistently remarkable. His unceasingly intense portrayal of Jack Bauer as hero/antihero was the one thing that was always believable. Even when the quality of the show dipped, Sutherland was a class act that compelled us to watch from week to week, season to season, to see how much saving the world several days over could torture one man's soul.
"There are many moments in television that are simply unforgettable, and the moment Jack was told that Renee has been killed ranks among the most gripping I've ever seen. There seemed to be so many emotions bottled up in his eyes. For all the things he's seen, all the predicaments he's lived through, and all the bullets that have whizzed past him, THIS moment seems beyond his comprehension. It was a finely tuned, well-oiled moment of epic drama." —Dereyck Moore

One thing 24 will be remembered for was its uncanny ability of being a step ahead of real life, with its 9/11-style attacks, means-to-an-end torture tactics, government conspiracies, and an honorable black president. Not to mention viewing habits.
"If nothing else, 24, you helped changed television forever, pushing the networks towards uninterrupted seasons and redefining the way the industry used DVDs to market their shows. Every time someone devours a complete season to prepare for the next one, they have you to thank." —Sam Adams
When asked if he would have rather had 24 end a year apart from Lost (which would have happened if not for the writer's strike in 2008), Gordon was both humble and cognizant.

"All I can say is, I hope we will be missed as much as Lost. I hope we will both be missed."

Lost may be my favorite TV series, but there was none more addicting or instantly gratifying than 24. I reminisce on getting hooked on the show during my latter days in college, watching it week to week in dorm rooms while the rest of the world was somewhere else. That's what I miss the most.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fantastic Journey

"You're going home... Find yourself a suitcase. If there's anything in this life you want, pack it in there. Because you're never coming back."

SPOILER ALERT: If you ever plan on watching Lost, stop reading here. 121 episodes from now, you'll understand.

On Sunday, May 23rd, an incredible journey ended for millions of people around the world, and a golden era of serialized television came to a close.

On that same evening, people who had never seen Lost couldn't have not felt the effects of its conclusion. The magnitude of the hype had built to monumental levels in the weeks leading up to the finale. Retrospectives, panel discussions, and predictions for the last episode were everywhere you looked. Interviews with the creators and actors were hard to miss. Hollywood figures and famous fans like George Lucas expressed their love for the sci-fi saga.

For anyone not stranded on a deserted island, exposure to Lost was inescapable.

For Lost fans everywhere, the 2½-hour series finale on Sunday night was the Super Bowl, a finale to end all finales. When the date of the last broadcast was announced months ago, people cleared their schedules, rebooked vacations, and balked at attending weddings (as well as work the next day). Bars, restaurants, and movie theaters sold out tickets for viewing parties nationwide. ABC was relentless in plugging and promoting the show every second they could, and even made sure that the finale was simulcast with the West Coast broadcast throughout Europe. Their fee for a 30-second commercial during the finale? $900,000.

Yes, May 23rd was the television broadcast event of the year. For Lost fans, it was better than the Super Bowl—it was a chance to be a part of history. And I made sure I didn't miss it for the world.

Planning a Funeral

Three years ago I made a bold prediction. Lost had just catapulted itself to another level with an already legendary, game-changing flash-forward at the end of its third year. And shortly before the season finale aired, ABC agreed with the producers that the franchise's sixth season in 2010 would be its last—a completely unprecedented move for a popular series that was only halfway to the finish line.

At the time, my statement struck me as a bit extreme as I typed it, but I couldn't shake the sense that it was too off-base. Here's what I said:
"After watching the landmark Season 3 finale with an end in sight, it's not hard to foresee the epic buildup that will result in the final seasons, or get the sense that Lost could go down as the best TV drama of all time."
Three years later, I stand by what I wrote. ABC believed in this show, trusted the producer's plan, and honored the story by promising not to run it into the ground like so many TV shows before it.

Best of all, ABC's atypical choice allowed them to reap huge dividends in the end. Because on Sunday night, Lost made a profound statement to the world about what a TV show can accomplish. Perhaps more importantly, it served as a cautionary tale for TV executives everywhere...

This is the reward you get for not selling out and mining every dollar.

This is the payoff you earn for respecting your viewers and preserving narrative integrity.

This is what you can share with the world when a creative concept isn't exhausted.

This is what happens when you do the right thing: You get the best TV drama of all time.

All that's to say that I was beyond proud to be a Lost fan on Sunday night. Game on.

The Circle Closes

Reactions to the metaphysical finale were mixed, but I found it enormously satisfying. Despite certain ambiguities, I thought it was surprisingly direct and clear, absent of any WTF?-type bones for us to chew on for the rest of eternity. Of course, it wouldn't be Lost if they didn't leave us a few scattered seeds or make us rethink a few theories. But months and years from now, I think we'll have a good idea what it all meant.

"The End" was one of the few episodes of Lost that actually felt long to me, and in a good way. Clocking in at 103 minutes, the mammoth conclusion was loaded with everything that Lost does best: climactic confrontations, mind-tripping mysticism, poignant character dynamics, and romantic reunions. Different aspects recalled different movies for me: Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Passengers (check out the eerily similar plot in this one), and yes, even the final scene from Titanic.

Speaking of final scenes, Lost's closing seconds have got to rank among the best ever put to film: Lasting, unforgettable images that represent the greatness that is Lost, and immediately recall the wave of emotions we all felt as the book finally closed in the most perfect way possible.

The evocative images: a wounded Jack clutching his side and trudging through the bamboo forest on a slow, solo funeral procession to what will be his final resting place. Vincent running up and laying loyally at Jack's side, instantly creating the sweetest and most sentimental moment out of all 121 episodes.

And best of all: Jack seeing the Ajira plane flying overhead, then smiling in ultimate triumph just before closing his eyes for the last time and dying a heroic death.

"It worked."

Combined with the Sideways shots and Michael Giacchino's stirring musical accompaniment, only the heartless couldn't have been moved during this sequence. My heart was deep in my throat.

Re-watching the episode by myself the next day, I had a similar reaction to when I watched the end of Six Feet Under, weeping for the death of someone I'd known for six years, emoting purely on a soul level while marveling at the sheer, rapturous beauty of it all. It will remain one of the most powerful and cathartic moments I've ever experienced.

Deus Ex Machina?

It's a fair criticism that the effusively spiritual conclusion of the Sideways world wrapped up a little too perfectly, and maybe a little out of left field. But I don't think it's right to call it a cop-out.

Think back for a minute and recall the endless hardship that the castaways suffered for six seasons: all the deaths, abductions, flaming arrows, and fish biscuits—not to mention the single, traumatizing act of surviving a plane crash, which is enough to keep anyone in the psychiatrist's office for years.

They went through hell on the island, with their faith and resolve continually tested around unexplainable, supernatural events. Along the way, the one thing that kept them going was the love that they all expressed for each other, in the bonds of friendship, romance, and simple alliance. And decades later, when they were finally able to move on together, their souls found salvation in a heavenly afterlife.

From the perspective of yin and yang, this narrative duality and ultimate redemption through love is the fairest, most organic resolution Lost could ever have. After all they'd been through, a down ending wouldn't have been right.

Still, what purpose did the Sideways world serve beyond "setting up an emotional ending, creating misdirection, and filling time"? Could we have done without it? Would you have felt differently about the religious emphasis had the final scenes taken place outside of a church?

Technically, the main storyline could have been resolved without the Sideways story. But would you have wanted the final season of Lost to be an eight-episode miniseries? What about the connection between the light on the island and outside the church? Are some of the implications of the once-alternate universe no longer true?

Current detractors may have been OK without the Sideways, but it inevitably would have disappointed the thumbs-up crowd, upset that after all the inexplicable connections these people had to each other, there wasn't some larger meaning to it all.

It always ends the same.

Fans of Science, Fans of Faith

Of course, there was no way that everyone was going to love the ending of Lost. Aside from gross misinterpretation whose reconciliation I'll never fully understand, how you received it is something of a Rorschach test. How spiritual of a person are you? Do you tend to side with faith or reason? Were you prepared that the producers weren't going to tie up every loose end?

But most of all, how cynical of a person are you?

The last episode left my emotions so exercised that by the time it was over, I didn't really care about not knowing all the answers, because they didn't matter so much. Further, I couldn't really think of any burning mysteries that I absolutely had to know, although it turns out there are many more unanswered questions than I thought.

Would I have minded if we were Dharma-dropped a few more morsels? Of course not, though in a few months we'll get some. In the end we have to accept that out of all the stories about the island that the producers could tell, this is the one they chose, and this is how they told it.

From what I can gather, people who generally disliked Lost wanted the story to be told their way, in a manner that was comfortable and familiar to them. But those of us who stood by Lost did so on the faith we held in the ultimate vision of the show. The plots twisted and turned, the answers didn't come easy, and we were unsure where we were being led. But we succumbed to the brilliant insanity of it all and kept riding the polar bear.

"You can believe whatever you want—that's the truth. But you're so close, James. It would be such a shame to turn back now."

The truth is that on Lost, the science was never "real" science, and the show's conceit was style over substance; more poetry than prose. And at times we realized that some questions were a little better when they went unanswered.

"The power of the show is the air of mystery that it always preserves," said Craig Detweiler, director of Pepperdine University's Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture.

It's so true.

But blogger Marjorie Sweeney summed it up best when she compared Lost to mythic folklore passed down from generation to generation:
"Lost has never been a tightly scripted, contemporary sci-fi narrative—it's much more like the sprawling epics composed by ancient bards riffing by the firelight as they swigged from their wineskins. Like classic poetry passed down through oral tradition, there are all kinds of detours and dead ends, standalone stories and evolving mythic themes that ebb and flow through the episodes—as well as the ongoing stories of our heroes and heroines. Maybe there's no way it can all add up, but so what?"

What We Lived For

One thing that most of us can agree on is that there will never be another Lost. Sure, great shows will come and go, but it's unlikely that we'll ever experience anything like the cultural phenomenon that Lost was, especially on network TV, which is dominated by family sitcoms and police dramas. This is especially apparent when you see would-be franchises like FlashForward try to emulate Lost's formula, only to face-plant in their first season.

"The next Lost won't resemble Lost at all," said Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment Group. "The next Lost will be something completely different, something that is ambitious and takes incredible risks and surprises people."

Lost was a storyteller's dream; magical, escapist entertainment that captured our imaginations, challenged our ways of thinking, tugged at our hearts, and rewarded our pursuits all at the same time.

It's the one show whose episodes were worth watching twice. Aside from solidifying the general plot in our minds, we were compelled to spot Easter eggs and dissect the puzzle pieces in order to solve the elaborate mystery that the world was trying to crack. And this is where Lost became another animal entirely: with the fans.

Lost spawned a global cult following unlike any other. As hard as it was to wait eight months between seasons or even a week between episodes, this is exactly what cemented the obsessive community of the show. But aside from all the Lost mania that swept the Internet, the best part about Lost was simply talking about it. At the office it was the ultimate water-cooler conversation that spun all kinds of theories and interpretations. When you learned that a co-worker watched Lost, you pulled them into the circle. For those who didn't watch, you couldn't help but televangelize the show in a "you'll thank me later" kind of way.

Why did we watch Lost? Because we identified with the flawed characters seeking redemption, and felt connected to their humanity. We saw something of ourselves in them, and formed inextricable bonds as we watched them live, die, and love for six seasons. We watched because we, too, may have also been looking for answers, whether we realized it or not.

We loved Lost because it changed our lives, and we saw how it changed others. We were moved by its heart and soul. And we'll never forget the fantastic journey it took us on as Lost transcended television to become something bigger than us all.

Life After Lost

As we learned, letting go isn't easy. But we all have to move on.

I'm happy to say that although I'll miss Lost, I haven't had any kind of postmortem depression with the show being over, as silly as it sounds. Really, it's a truth that's not far off, because for many of us, Lost was the constant for the past six years of our lives. It spoon-fed us long enough where its mysteries were never far from our minds. Lost was an institution that we turned to, and will forever remain an icon in our minds.

The good news is that when one journey ends, another can begin.

"I'm going to have to go back to civilization and see what my next adventure is," said Jorge Garcia, who played Hurley.

Me too, dude. Me too.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Local couple resolves argument using telephone

By Ken Devine

SEATTLE—Rick Montgomery and Sarah DeMarcos, a couple of three years, recently abandoned typical text messaging to save their relationship from certain doom.

Sarah, 27, called off their engagement after she'd reached her breaking point with Rick's control-freak tendencies. Minutes earlier, she learned that Rick had gone behind her back to contact her mother about mailing the remote control for Sarah's 12" excuse of a TV—a controller that's been sitting idly at her mom's home for months. Just sitting there, collecting dust.

Furious, Sarah immediately sent a disapproving text message to Rick that initiated an interminable, back-and-forth texting argument that carried over past midnight, with no resolution in sight.

But shortly after receiving a text from Sarah that said "IT'S OVER. GOODBYE", Rick decided to pick up the phone.

"I kind of forgot that I can call people on my phone," he said, using hand quotes and motioning to his cell phone’s keypad. "You just press this green button, and it calls someone. See, like this," he demonstrated.

"Honestly, it was kind of an accident when I pressed it," he admitted. "But once it started dialing, I was like, 'What the hell?' You know, just let it go."

According to DeMarcos, the whole thing was a big misunderstanding, and the couple was able to resolve their relationship-threatening argument within mere minutes.

Best of all, the engagement is back on—for now.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Celebrity Sighting #8

One good thing about walking around Midtown on Saturday night? Crossing paths with Tony Goldwyn (a.k.a. the bad guy from Ghost).

Tony was walking arm in arm with his wife around 46th Street. I noticed him immediately as my brother and I walked by him. But just to be sure, we doubled back and creepily followed him for a few blocks to get the confirmation.

You may be wondering what Tony's been up to since having his viscera serrated by a broken-glass window in 1990. Although the angry ape reapers proceeded to drag him off to Hell, Tony resurfaced for a few notable films in the next 10 years or so:

Kuffs (1991)
The Pelican Brief (1993)
Nixon (1995)
Kiss the Girls (1997)
Bounce (2000)
The Last Samurai (2003)

I'd actually completely forgotten about Tony until I saw The Last Kiss in 2006, a film that he directed. The movie has a cool opening that features Snow Patrol's awesome "Chocolate".

According to IMDb, Tony had a less prominent film debut in 1986, in which he played the role of Darren in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI.

"I got skewered through the chest after uttering about three words," he said.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Cup

Watch Lost and go to bed early, or hold the Stanley Cup?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Basketball Sucks (Redux)

Three years ago I wrote why I don't like to watch the game of basketball in a provokingly titled article, Why Basketball Sucks. (This happens to be the predecessor to my more recent, exaggerated, and deliberately polarizing post, Why the NFL Sucks. Also: Why Soccer Sucks.)

Notice I said that I don't like to watch basketball—I didn't say anything about playing it, which I did up until middle school. In fact, I happen to be the 1992-93 champion of my hometown's Pass, Dribble & Shoot contest. To this day I'm still not sure how I miraculously placed first in these competitions in consecutive years, since I was just decent at basketball and ended up finishing ahead of guys who went on to play for my high school team. It's been years since I've hit the hardwood, but it was always fun to play.

Now, every sport is better to watch in person, basketball included. But there are two reasons why I dislike watching basketball in particular:
  1. Too much scoring. The back-and-forth nature of the sport and the frequent amount of scoring is the big killer for me. One of the reasons that makes football or hockey more interesting to watch is that a goal or a touchdown isn't scored on every single possession. So when those things do occur, they're meaningful.
  2. Survival through infractions. When your team is trailing in the final minutes of a basketball game, desperate measures sink to a new low. With a remote chance (at best) of victory, the only way to climb out of the hole is to foul the hell out of your opponent—which almost always just puts you in your grave. Not only does this disrupt the flow and make games very frustrating to watch, but it exposes an inherent flaw in the sport: survival through infractions. There should be a rule that prevents teams from doing this in the final two minutes if they're trailing by more than 10 points—something to prevent the prolonging, end the futility, and put lame-duck teams out of their misery.

    When it comes to last-ditch efforts, survival through infractions is easily the worst late-game strategy in all of sports, and the only one where penalty-taking is encouraged. Think about it. In football, teams have the hurry-up offense, the onside kick, and the Hail Mary at their disposal. In soccer and hockey, teams can pull their goalie for an extra attacker. In baseball, well, you just have to figure a way to actually beat your opponent without resorting to gimmicks.

    Toward the end of a close game in all of these sports, you won't see a defensive lineman deliberately jumping offside, a hockey forward taking an avoidable roughing penalty, or a slugger leaning into a pitch to get on first base.
My basketball article is one of a few I put on in the hopes of making a few dollars here and there. Well, the best part about posting those in a more public forum certainly wasn't the money, but the comments (16 and counting, toward the bottom) that I continue to get to this day are just as valuable. With a title like "Why Basketball Sucks", I instantly set people up to either love or hate me, which I've found really amusing. Below are my favorite selections:
  • Basketball owns all sports, man why do u diss basketball, ohh because u aint knowing shit about the sport
  • Ha! this article is a joke. Hockey and soccer are snooze-fests which is why no one watches them. Considering the ball/puck size to goal/net ratio and the lack of scoring, it's hard to even call them athletes. Everyone just flails around, hardly controlling the puck/ball, like a bunch of idiot barbarians with no strategy. You couldn't pay me to sit through a boring hockey game. It may be fun for you playing since you dont have any real athletic skill, but as a spectator (girl) your sport puts me to sleep.
  • Basketball does suck...nothing makes me laugh more than when ESPN or some other sports network gives a basketball score in the 1st or 2nd quarter.....Rockets are up on the Bulls "10 - 8" ......oh,like that's score's not gonna change a million Why give the damn score???? who cares!!! Hockey rules!!
  • THE WORLD is watching tv during the FIFA WORLDCUP! dont be so american, it sucks as much as basketball
  • Basketball offers no fun or excitement... It's like cloning sheep.
If you read my original post, you'll notice that toward the end, I do credit basketball for its skill and athleticism. And despite what my enemies at think, I don't think it's a bad game. I just think it's got some issues.

One thing basketball's got right is March Madness, which is really a beautiful thing. In what other sport can I ignore the entire season and somehow come out near the top in office pools year after year?

But it's more than that. Actually, it's kind of like the Olympics—it doesn't matter if you've never followed international snowboarding—you want to see what happens because it's the Olympics. March Madness has that same kind of magnetism that pulls you in, even just casually, because you know everyone's attention is on it.'s Michael Rosenberg is with me in his most recent article, Why the NCAA tournament is best sporting event in America:
"The NCAA tournament starts around St. Patrick's Day and encourages you to watch a different TV with each eyeball while taking no-look sips from your pint...wait, that's not what I meant to say. What I meant is that if you're old enough to drink, you have sat through enough lousy Super Bowls and boring World Series games and monotonous NBA Finals to appreciate how reliably awesome the NCAA tournament is. There are two reasons for this:

1. It's never overhyped.
2. It never disappoints.

This is the rare sporting event that is riveting if you know everything there is to know about it or nothing at all... Thanks to its universal gambling appeal, the NCAA tournament brings people together."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Big Leagues

First it was Electronic Gaming Monthly. Then it was Stuff. Now, years later, it's Rolling Stone:

I wrote this letter to the editor in response to writer Rob Sheffield's commentary on Lost from two issues prior. What appears in print is a condensed version of what I originally submitted, but I'll be sure to express the omitted thoughts when the series concludes in a few months.

An added bonus: having my name grace the same space as journalist Matt Taibbi, a fearless political writer who delivers hard-hitting analyses "written as if during the middle of a bar fight."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blame Canada

I knew the USA-Canada hockey game on Sunday night would be big. I just didn't know how big a U.S victory would be.

For obvious reasons, this was Canada's game to win. And after watching both teams play their first few games, I figured the Canadians, with the clear advantage in star power, wouldn't have trouble disposing of a much younger, inexperienced American team by 2-3 goals.

But in my mind there was only one handicap Canada could have given Team USA: Marty Brodeur. They played him in goal, and it cost them big-time.

Don't get me wrong—there's no doubt that Brodeur is one of the best goaltenders to have ever played the game. Here's a brief glimpse of his killer resume:
  • The NHL's all-time leader in regular season wins, shutouts, and games played
  • More than 30 franchise records, including most all-time regular season and playoff wins, shutouts, games, and lowest goals-against average
  • Three Stanley Cup championships
  • Four-time Vezina Trophy winner, four-time Jennings Trophy winner, 10-time NHL All Star, and a Calder Memorial Trophy winner
  • One of only two NHL goaltenders to have scored goals in both the regular season and the playoffs; the only NHL goalie to score a game-winning goal.
Brodeur is known for his hybrid goaltending style by standing up more than butterfly goalies, who drop to their knees often. It's gotten him this far, and even at his veteran age of 38, I'd still take him over half the goalies in the NHL.

But when I've watched Brodeur play periodically in the past few years, he's given up questionable goals, mostly as a result of his unconventional style of play. During this relatively new generation of super-athletic, butterfly-sliding goalies, Brodeur has become outdated. But don't take that as an insult, Marty—you've been incredibly successful as New Jersey's starting netminder for the past 19 seasons.

Canada started Roberto Luongo in net for their opening Olympic game against Norway. Apparently coach Mike Babcock planned on going with the more-experienced Brodeur as his No. 1 for the tournament, but wanted to get Luongo's skates wet in case he needed to call on him later. But instead of anticipating sub-par play from his starting goalie, Babcock should have stuck with Luongo (an All Star in his own right, playing on his home ice), similar to how the Team USA coach Ron Wilson preselected Ryan Miller to play the entire way. Babcock handed the reins over to Brodeur against Switzerland in the second game.

Had Luongo played against Team USA on Sunday night, I'm not so sure so many Americans would have been celebrating. I say this chiefly because the 6'3" butterflyer would have stopped the goals that Brodeur let in. And this goes back to what I was saying before: Brodeur may have been a better goalie five years ago, but Luongo is now.

Brodeur's biggest issue was the same one I've seen in the past few seasons: save selection. Consider the evidence:
  1. Even though the first goal was deflected in by his own teammate, a standard butterfly would have prevented the goal, instead of Brodeur going going paddle-down with his stick.
  2. On the second goal, the butterfly would have been more effective than hesitantly stacking the pads on a low shot through traffic.
  3. On the third goal, Brodeur's lack of stick pressure allowed the puck to seep through the five-hole with his stick between his legs in a rare sideways position only seen from Squirt- and Mite-level goalies.
  4. On the fourth goal (which proved to be the game-winner), Brodeur gambled and dove with a poke check, but didn't connect. Way out of position, he frantically tried to recover, but not before Chris Drury capitalized on a mostly open net.
Overall, Brodeur didn't have a horrible game—he made some big stops at key times. But for Team Canada in the Olympics in Vancouver against the USA, it wasn't acceptable. Babcock later agreed, giving the nod to Luongo for as many more games Canada can play as they head down the path of most resistance to the gold medal.
"We're in the winning business. And to win in any game you need big saves. You need momentum-changing saves, and we're looking at Lou to do that for us. He's a great big butterfly goaltender. If you look at the way pucks went in our net last night with traffic, which is the way the game is now [emphasis added], sometimes just being down in that big butterfly, things hit you and just bump into you. We believe Lou gives us a real good opportunity to win, and so that's why we're going with him."
I don't blame Canada so much for their loss as I do Babcock. His realization about playing the right goalie came a few games too late.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice was Ryan Miller, winning goaltender and instant American hero. Even with Brodeur's unsatisfactory performance, the Americans would have lost without Miller, who played the game of his life in stopping 42 of 45 shots and holding the Canadians off until the very end.

But when asked about winning the goaltending battle, he couldn't shake the the impression still held by so many—an impression that may begin to fade in the near future:

"I'm just trying to build my resume. Marty's the best."

Related: Olympic hockey is best showcase for the sport; don't ruin it, Gary

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Area man able to get on pec-fly machine for first time

By Ken Devine

NEW YORK—Manhattan resident Craig Sullivan reported that he used the pec-fly machine at Frank's Fitness on Friday for the first time ever.

Sullivan, 38, said that he'd been trying to get on the popular pectoral machine ever since he joined the Midtown gym almost eight months ago.

"It's been beyond frustrating," admitted the wiry, flat-chested real estate manager. "The 'fly' is the best for building up your chest, but I guess every guy in here knows that. Even when I'm working out during off-hours, some buff jackass is always monopolizing it."

Sullivan said that despite the virtual impossibility of using the LifeFitness-brand machine and his zero-percent success rate, he always held out hope for the off-chance that he'd one day enter the alcove next to the free weights to find the machine unattended.

But after continually being denied and forced to use the standard chest-press machine instead, Sullivan's patience finally paid off. After finishing his workout around 8:50 p.m. on Friday, Sullivan said he was about to hit the showers when he was struck by one of those rare "what if?" moments shortly before Frank's was set to close.

"I walked past the free weights on my way out and then just sort of stopped and turned my head," he recounted. "I can't explain it, but I just had this feeling that for once, the machine might be open. When I rounded the corner and didn't see anyone there, I almost crapped my pants."

Unfortunately, by the time Sullivan overcame his excitement, adjusted the seat, and set the proper weight at 20 pounds, he was only able to squeeze in a few reps before an announcement was made over the loudspeaker that the gym was about to close.

"I stayed on it as long as I could, but eventually one of the trainers came up and told me I had to leave so that the last few employees could go home. Almost got almost a full set in, though."

According to Sullivan, getting on the pec-fly machine this one time is really the only plus in a long list of grievances he’s had with Frank’s Fitness. Among them: perpetually malfunctioning treadmills, tip-hungry locker room attendants, and dripping-wet bathrooms and showers that constantly reek of a distinctive mildewy funk.

But none aggravated him more than the general invasion of personal space in the locker room.

"There's no space in the locker room, or anywhere in this city, really," said the St. Louis native. "Someone is always bumping into you, and there's always naked man ass in my face."

Sullivan elaborated with something he calls "The Law of Locker Room Proximity"—a so-called truth he coined after many locker room tribulations.

"You could be one of two people in the entire gym—the entire gym—and you'll end up picking the locker next to the one other guy who will come in as soon as you sit down," he explained. "Never fails."

"I'm cursed," he muttered with utter defeat.

In describing his overwhelmingly negative experience at Frank's, Sullivan mentioned that he once thought of ending his membership, but hesitated after learning of the hefty early-termination fee.

Plus, he thinks he may be able to get another crack at the pec fly someday.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why the NFL Sucks

I wrote about this subject a few years ago, but after watching the Vikings get eliminated in overtime by the Saints last weekend, I thought it was worth reviving.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge college football fan, but I don't care much for the NFL. Other reasons aside, one thing that really irks about the NFL is its sudden-death overtime system. It's wrong and unfair.

Because football is a game of alternating possessions, it doesn't lend itself to a system that determines its winner based on who can score first. Although the college game is flawed with the BCS, its alternating-possession system works well in overtime, where both teams have an equal chance to prevail. Sudden death works best in more fluid, back-and-forth sports like hockey, where possession changes often and the system provides the edge-of-your seat thrills that it's supposed to. It just doesn't have a place on the gridiron.

In football, the sudden-death system favors the offense. Yes, the offensive team has to receive the ball on their end of the field, but they only have to move the ball about 40 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. And this is what kills me the most about watching teams get eliminated from the playoffs in overtime: After a hard-fought game, sudden death essentially allows the random flip of a coin to likely determine the winner—but not necessarily the best team or the one that deserved to win. It's just cheap.

I remember watching the Titans beat the Steelers in overtime a few seasons ago on a Gary Anderson chip shot—well, chip shots (there were penalties). As Nashville began to go crazy, it felt like a victory that was neither decisive nor satisfying—all it proved was that the Titans could kick the ball through the uprights on their first possession in overtime. Could Pittsburgh have pulled that off had the coin flipped their way? Probably. But the Titans got to play the next week while the Steelers were done for the year.

The only way to improve the NFL's sudden-death system is to make teams go the length of the field to score touchdowns. Making it mandatory to get into the endzone would certainly make it fairer for the team playing defense, but the games would run longer. There's a downside no matter how you slice it, but above all, the factor that should take precedence is fairness.

The Vikings shot themselves in the foot several times against the Saints. But if there was no sudden death, Brett Favre might be playing next weekend in another Super Bowl. And although I'm not an NFL guru, Favre vs. Manning is a matchup that even I would be excited to watch.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Take a Bow

I'm not a big watcher of late-night television, but with all the recent drama around NBC's late-show lineup, and after watching Conan O'Brien's final shows last week on The Tonight Show, I realized that I have a lot of feelings on the subject.

Everyone should watch Conan's heartfelt farewell monologue. In the last segment of his last show, Conan laid down the arms that he'd been relentlessly bashing NBC with since he saw the writing on the wall a few weeks ago. In a rare moment of seriousness and sincerity, he closed with a classy statement to thank his longtime employer—the same employer he had faithfully and tirelessly served for over two decades, only to quickly become his adversary in his last two weeks of employment—not to mention the butt of all his (very funny) jokes.
"Between my time at Saturday Night Live, The Late Night Show, and my brief run here on The Tonight Show, I've worked with NBC for over 20 years. Yes, we have our differences right now. Yes, we're going our separate ways. But this company has been my home for most of my adult life. I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I wanna thank NBC for making it all possible. I really do."
On His Terms
You have to empathize with Conan in the same way that he empathizes with people on his show, because you can only imagine how devastating his decision was to step down from a dream job that he spent the better part of his career chasing.

But despite the fact that his show would have been pushed back just 30 minutes later to 12:05 a.m., Conan couldn't do it on principle alone. As a purist and a fan, he couldn't bring himself to participate in what he termed "the destruction" of The Tonight Show, according to a written statement. Conan refused to compromise. Earlier in his career under similar circumstances, maybe he would have. But not now.
"I sincerely believe that delaying The Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn't The Tonight Show."
In the same statement, Conan also showed deference to Jimmy Fallon, whose show would have been bumped back even further had Conan gone to 12:05. Even when he was finally on top, Conan didn't forget about the little guy. It was a position he knew very, very well.

On another note of professionalism, Conan was gracious in his untimely exit, choosing to see the glass as half-full.
"But despite this sense of loss, I really feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian—every comedian—dreams of hosting The Tonight Show. And for seven months, I got to do it. And I did it my way, with people I love. I do not regret one second of anything that we've done here.

I encounter people when I walk on the street who give me kind of a sad look... I have had more good fortune than anyone I know, and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-11 parking lot, we will find a way to make it fun."
The Wrong Guy
If they're not kicking themselves right now, NBC execs will when they realize what they've lost. It was one thing to not cut the cord with Jay Leno in 2009 after determining Conan to be his successor five years prior, but it was just insulting to restore Leno's prime placement a mere seven months after the baton had been passed. NBC should have stuck with the newer host who has the better range of generational appeal—the guy they chose to lead them into a new decade of late-night entertainment. Instead they pulled a Brett Favre-type reversal.

Leno is also to blame. If he didn't want to get out of late-night, he should have never agreed to step down years in advance while supporting his eventual successor. He should have taken his show elsewhere. And because The Chin hasn't backed down from a chance to reclaim what was his for a long time, he'll be in an unenviable position next to the martyred Conan when he returns on March 1st: as the bad guy.

During his final slate of episodes, it was really clear that Conan O'Brien is the one guy that NBC shouldn't have screwed over. General NBC trashing aside, Conan was intent on taking NBC for every penny he could—and he made sure everyone knew his rebellious stance. As parting shots, he introduced one-off, 11th-hour characters to the show that weren't so much funny as they were "crazy-expensive."

To illustrate further, the first line from the opening monologue of his last show says it all:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have exactly one hour to steal every single item in this studio."
King of the Jungle
Out of all the late-night hosts, Conan has always been my favorite because of one simple, underrated quality: humility. Conan embraces self-deprecation like no other. Quite wisely, he's learned that he can always fall back on a bad joke or a failed bit by making fun of himself, be it his ridiculous hairdo or general uncoolness. Conan is simply more likable because he always beats everyone to the punchline. And with his instant comedic analysis, he's also the first to admit to his audience that a joke or bit wasn't funny (which actually makes it funny). His no-ego approach naturally makes him someone you want to root for. And we did.

As someone who understands and appreciates the depths and nuances of the human condition, Conan closed his goodbye speech, ever so humble and wise:
"And finally, I have something to say to our fans. This massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming for me. The rallies, the signs; all this goofy, outrageous creativity on the Internet; the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain. It's been raining for days—it's literally pouring out there.

Here's what all of you have done: You've made a sad situation joyous and inspirational. So to all the people watching, I can never, ever [chokes on tears] thank you enough for the kindness to me. I'll think about it the rest of my life.

And all I ask is one thing, and I'm asking this particularly of the young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least-favorite quality. It doesn't get you anywhere.

Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you: Amazing things will happen. It's just true."
Free Bird
The good news is that Conan will be back at some point in some form, and he'll continue to do the show he wants to do. In a way, it almost seems right that a maverick such as himself didn't stay on a mainstream show more than seven months, because his spontaneous, wildcard humor never really fit a mold other than his own. His departure also validates his identity as a fringe comic who was able to take more creative liberties and abide by an anything-goes approach in the early hours of the morning. Conan's always been a man of the people.

So maybe in the long run, this will be the best thing that ever happened to him. Conan, above anyone, is a firm believer that when one door closes, another opens. It's just true.

After all that, Conan left us with one great last gem on his blog:
"I ask you to take away from all of this one thing: inspiration. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has hopes... Make something. Do something. You can make it happen.

As I sit in this office with no windows, the only sound the whoosh of the little fan that pushes the hot air around my office, I can tell you this: There is no difference between me and you. You can do this. You can do anything. You just have to get out there and do it."


Saturday, January 9, 2010

State of the Union address postponed after 'Lost' fans march on Washington

By Ken Devine

WASHINGTON—Thousands of Lost fanatics staged a historic rally outside the White House this weekend, protesting the potential February 2nd date of President Obama's State of the Union address that would conflict with the ├╝ber-anticipated premiere of Lost's sixth and final season.

Fueled by Internet speculation and ambiguous White House press briefings, Lost fans began arriving in droves early Friday morning after the topic of the February 2nd broadcast date reached a boiling point. Protesters from far and wide congregated quickly outside the front gates of White House and let their voices be heard with galvanizing chants ranging from "The Island wants you" to the increasingly threatening "We'll go Eko on your ass."

Other geeky expressions like "State of the Union = Bad Dharma" were seen on placards.

"I'm curious to hear what President Obama has to say about the serious issues facing our nation" said Lost devotee Andrew Stephenson of Philadelphia. "But honestly, the world has been dying to see this premiere for almost eight months now. We'll finally get to find out what happened when Juliet detonated the H-bomb."

"Obama's just going to have to wait," he concluded.

White House sources have indicated that as a result of the protest's size and intensity, President Obama is likely to push back his crucial speech for at least another week, and will broadcast his decision to the nation in the coming days.

"With the recent airline security failures and the latest job-loss report, the last thing Obama needs is a rabid contingent of Losties fans at his throat," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "There was a massive backlash a few years ago when 24 was pre-empted by a national address from President Bush, and his ratings never recovered."

According to Gibbs, the State of the Union was originally planned for January 26th, but was nixed once they discovered that it coincided with the premiere of the ninth season of American Idol.

"At this point it's looking like Obama's going to have to speak on a Sunday or Monday night when Chuck or The Bachelor is normally on," Gibbs said. "No one watches those shows anyway."

An ABC spokesperson reported that the network was pleased with the president's decision to put critical communication with the American people on the backburner for at least another week.

"The excitement for this premiere has built to an unprecedented, all-time fever pitch," she said, "and I can't imagine that anyone in America will actually be interested in what the president has to say about his dubious healthcare plan or the failing wars in the Middle East when they know they could be watching Lost."

White House intern Benjamin Holllingsworth, who said that he pointed out the bad timing to the administration months ago, admitted that he's not surprised by the president's decision to delay the address, and that Obama himself is rumored to be a fan of the epic serial drama.

"Well, he was born in Hawaii, so there's an obvious connection there," the 22-year-old staffer pointed out. "But he has this weird thing with lottery numbers—religiously playing 4 8 15 16 23 42 in the Pick 6."

"And he's not available most Wednesday nights."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

In the Years 2000

I can't believe the 2000s are history. It didn't seem too long ago when the Backstreet Boys were on top and Y2K was threatening humanity's very existence. Now I guess we have 2012 to look forward to.

I didn't even realize the 2000s (or "zeroes"—whatever we called them) were coming to a close until I got an e-mail in late November about submitting a list for best albums of the decade. And even though the number of truly great albums diminished in the past few years, I would be remiss not to mention the ones that played an integral part of my soundtrack during the past 10 years.

So without further ado, below are my favorite albums of the 2000s. While I think these are some of the best, I realize that there's a difference between what is good critically and what I like to listen to the most personally. For example, Radiohead's Kid A (2000) is a landmark album I own that's not represented here. Rolling Stone declared it the best album of the decade, and from a critical perspective, they're correct—Kid A is a better album than Chinese Democracy. But it's not an album that I crave to hear as much as Chinese Democracy. And I guess that's what it all boils down to: How do you want music to make you feel most of the time? It's different for everyone, and that explains the sheer range of musical tastes and diversity in best-of lists.

So, in closing, while this list leaves off a lot of other really good albums that I own, these are simply the ones I like to listen to the most; the ones that I feel carry the most power, beauty, and emotion.

My Top 10 Albums of the 2000s:
  1. The Darkness—One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back (2005)
    The Darkness only produced two albums before their lead singer derailed them with his coke addiction, and their first album got more attention than this one. Their debut has some great songs, but track for track, One Way Ticket is the clear winner. Yet despite a slew of sturdy, radio-ready singles and rich production values, it never really got much attention, nor has it made it into a Guitar Hero game, something The Darkness—with their falsetto-heavy, '80s cock rock—seem destined for. Therefore, I'll go on record saying that this is one of the most underrated and overlooked albums of the decade. It's also pure, absurd fun.

  2. Muse—Black Holes And Revelations (2006)
    As I listened to The Resistance, Muse's newest album released last September, a co-worker and I ended up talking more about their previous record, Black Holes And Revelations. The new one is good, like all their albums, but we decided that it was no Black Holes, which is the first Muse album I bought after spontaneously attending their concert with a high school friend who came into town, having never heard a single song of theirs. While I liked the show, I didn't think I'd get hooked on the band the way I did, and particularly this album. In fact, it was only when I went to delete certain songs I didn't want that I realized it was a keeper. And after that, this revolutionary opus of apocalyptic proportions continued to blow me away, spin after spin.

  3. Dixie Chicks—Taking The Long Way (2006)
    File this one under "Political Upheaval Makes for Better Ensuing Album" and "The Only Dixie Chicks CD I Own". After lead singer Natalie Maines bashed Bush in 2003, their fans called for their heads and dumped their CDs. But as seen in the excellent documentary Shut Up and Sing, what didn't kill the Chicks only made them stronger. Their answer to the world was Taking The Long Way, an unapologetic, un-countrified album in the vein of '70s Fleetwood Mac. Their heart and soul is in these 14 songs, and it's an incredibly moving, sympathizing journey.

  4. The Elms—Truth, Soul, Rock & Roll (2002)
    In 2002 a good friend of mine in Nashville turned me on to The Elms, a Christian rock band from small-town Indiana. I say "Christian" with an asterisk, because The Elms sound more real than any Christian band, and their Midwestern brand of rock & roll is more of a throwback to Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Truth, Soul, Rock & Roll is a potent sophomore effort filled with muscle and melody, and will likely stand as the peak of the band's career.

  5. Coldplay—A Rush Of Blood To The Head (2002)
    Coldplay has a lot of similarities to U2 in their universal appeal and artful approach to making music, yet because they're mainstream, a lot of people think it's "uncool" to like Coldplay. ("Know how I know you're gay? You listen to Coldplay.") Uncool or not, A Rush Of Blood To The Head catches Coldplay before they were very well-known, and is impressive in its breadth, beauty, and the musical landscape it paints. It's also a superior follow-up to a first album that was much more straightforward and subdued. (Are we seeing a pattern here?)

  6. The Decemberists—The Crane Wife (2006)
    The Decemberists are one of the few indie bands in my collection, but The Crane Wife was the Portland quintet's major-label debut, and not coincidentally, I think it's their strongest effort (although 2009's The Hazards Of Love is also good). What's cool about this album, besides its array of song structures and seafaring singing, is that it just rocks, especially the second song, The Island.

  7. Guns N' Roses—Chinese Democracy (2008)
    I guess that after all this time, a lot more was said about Chinese Democracy before its release than what effect it had after it finally surfaced in late 2008. Although I think it's a great Guns N' Roses album, I suppose that it's simply more exciting for people to talk about what they don't have, especially if it takes 15 years to get it.

  8. Elton John—Songs From The West Coast (2001)
    Elton John was one of those musicians I never thought I'd ever like simply because my parents liked him. Plus, he played the piano, which never seemed cool. I guess sometimes you just have to grow up to appreciate great music. I'm not very familiar with some of Elton's early albums, but this passionate 2001 effort is excellent from start to finish, and no doubt features some of his best work.

  9. Sheryl Crow—C'mon, C'mon (2002)
    This is one of those albums I remember more by where I was. It was about a month before college graduation in April 2002, and I'd discovered this great pop-rock album from Sheryl Crow. This is another all-around solid listen, and even in the year of its release, I remember thinking how untapped its potential was—there are several radio-worthy singles here that were never released. The other thing I remember is listening to this in my parents' van, slowly nodding off as we drove away from my school on graduation day. The whole circus finally over, I breathed a sigh of relief and let the music take me home.

  10. Chantal Kreviazuk—What If It All Means Something (2002)
    This is another strong, overlooked pop-rock album from the Canadian chanteuse. "In This Life", the first track and biggest highlight, is an incredible soaring ballad. And while I now prefer the Raul Malo and Martina McBride duet version, Chantal's cover of "Feels Like Home" is just as good in its own right. Let's just say I've known for a while that this song will be played at my wedding.