Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My top 20 (plus) shows of 2011

Hey, look! It's a new blog post!

Just got in the mood to write again, so what better in the last week of the year than go the lazy cliched route and do a "Best of" list? So here are my Top 20 shows of 2011!

(These are my top scripted shows...none of my favorite reality shows belong in the top 20 as "best", but they are some of my favorites, so my top 5 reality shows: 5) Work of Art; 4) Hoarders; 3) Top Chef; 2) Deadliest Catch; 1) So You Think You Can Dance)

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Raising Hope, The Office, Up All Night, True Blood, Modern Family, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife

20. Suburgatory – Was not expecting to like this one, but it’s one of my favorite new shows of the season. Creepy chemistry aside, the two leads are very enjoyable, although the fact that Jane Levy was supposed to be 15 for the first part of the season caused some weird dissonance. I HAVE a 15 year old daughter…they don’t look or act like that.

19. New Girl – Look, this all comes down to whether you find Zooey Deschanel annoying or not. I don’t, and Schwarz cracks me up on a pretty consistent basis. The show is still trying to find its footing in many ways, but when they let Jess just be clueless rather than infantile, it’s one of my favorite shows.

18. Psych – Comfort food. Consistently funny, and the many pop culture references are right in my wheel house, since I am roughly the same age as the writers and stars.

17. Louie – Louis C.K. is a genius, and this show is 100% his vision, so of course it’s good. Personally, I found it fascinating and certainly I admired his “no rules” form of creating television, but I found it hard to really ENGAGE in the material, which is a big thing for me.

16. Happy Endings – Just started watching this in the fall, or it probably would have been higher. This is just a really funny show with really funny people that I like to hang out with for 25 minutes every week. Elisha Cuthbert is surprisingly strong, and the rest of the cast is filled out with people who simply know how to be funny. Did I mention it’s funny?

15. Chuck – One of my most personally beloved shows. There have been some serious inconsistencies in the quality from week to week, but when this show is on its game it still hits every one of my pleasure buttons. There are only a few episodes left before it ends its (amazingly) FIFTH and final season, and I’m starting to miss it already.

14. Sons of Anarchy – Would have certainly been higher on the list if Kurt Sutter had not completely wimped out and blown the ending. (SPOILERS AHO…SKIP TO THE NEXT NUMBER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED ON THE CRAPPY SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON FINALE….). There is NO reason, plot-wise, for Clay to still be alive. None. He killed John Teller, a founding member and Jax’s father. He killed Opie’s wife and father (another founding member of the club). He tried to have Jax’s old lady killed, and possibly derailed her surgical career in the process. He roped the club into this arrangement with the drug cartel that has produced multiple deaths and tons of problems for the club. AND EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT. In this universe that Sutter has created, there is NO way for Clay to survive. And yet…next season, Clay will probably be sitting at that table, because Sutter chickened out and couldn’t kill off one of the stars of the show. Booooo.

I actually really liked the season up to that point…definitely would have been in my top 10. But between the botched Clay storyline, the ridiculous deus ex machina ending to the FBI investigation, and the whole Juice fiasco…I need to stop talking about it, or I will have to drop it further and redo the list.

13. Dr. Who – Honestly, the majority of the episodes of this show are just so-so for me. But…when you have a calendar year that includes “The Doctor’s Wife”, “A Good Man Goes to War”, “The Girl Who Waited”, and “The Wedding of River Song”, well…you make the list. Plus, Amy Pond may be at the top of my Favorite Redheads on TV list, and Matt Smith is very fun to watch.

12. Walking Dead – I enjoy this show, but I also understand that it is probably never going to be “great television”. Almost* all of the characters are extremely two-dimensional, as well as stupid, and virtually every decision is based on what the plot needs them to do, rather than what actual people would do. But no show does tension like this one, it is beautifully shot, and hey…..ZOMBIES.

* - The two exceptions to the crappy characters on this show are Daryll and Shane, both of whom I found to be EXTREMELY problematic in the first season, but whom I now wish would just branch off from everybody else and start their own show.

11. Archer – Continues to probably deliver the most laughs per episode, plus they actually made a bold attempt at continuity and serialization this season. But mostly, it’s on the list because it’s the show that makes me pause and rewind most often due to laughing too much to catch all the jokes.

10. Fringe – If I made this list in June, this one may have made the top 5. The end of last season had me calling it my “new LOST”. This season, on the other hand, has not been nearly as strong, mainly due to what I think was a major misstep in last season’s finale. Won’t spoil too much, because I still want you to go back and watch this show, but the problem is that the writers have painted themselves into a corner where it seems that either the characters I’m seeing NOW aren’t really themselves, or the characters I’ve been watching for the last three seasons don’t exist anymore. Either way, it lessens my investment in the characters. But, man…I can’t leave it out of my top 10 after the utter awesomeness that was most of season 3.

9. Cougar Town – Barely remembered that this one was on in 2011, due to the ridiculousness that ABC execs are putting the show through now, but the Cul de Sac Crew are probably my favorite group on television to hang out with every week. My love for Busy Phillips has been discussed here before, and the rest of the cast play off each other perfectly. To me, they are the most “organic” cast on television, in that I feel like they talk to each other like real friends do…they rip on each other, they gang up on each other, but they have an absolute loyalty and love for each other. Love this show, and can’t wait until they come back….whenever that ends up being.

8. Boardwalk Empire – Can’t believe this show is this low on the list, but I can’t put it above any of the ones above it. I love this show, and it’s because what some may call its “weakness” (that the plot is historical in nature and therefore unchangeable in many ways) isn’t really that much of a factor for me. I will ALWAYS value characters over plot, and this show does characters better than just about anybody. Plus, they had the guts to do what almost any other show would never do (SPOILER AHO!!!) by killing off a character who was ostensibly the lead this season. Hey, Kurt Sutter…this is how you tell a story. When the story says it’s time to die, then it’s time to die, and there was no way Jimmy could walk away from the decisions he made this season. Nucky could NEVER allow him to live…it doesn’t matter that the attempt on his life was Eli’s idea…Jimmy was in charge and could have stopped it, and Nucky knows it.

Even before the gut wrenching finale, this was a really strong season of television, with typical fantastic acting performances. Jack Huston breaks my heart as Richard Harrow every week, Michael Pitt was outstanding, Gretchen Mol was convincingly creepy, Michael Stuhlbarg as Rothstein steals every scene he’s in, etc, etc. This show does fantastic “moments” and character studies, and the fact that we know basically how the story is going to end doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of it in any way.

7. Justified – I love that this show has started to get mainstream critical approval. Crackling dialogue, delivered by fantastic actors, in a setting that immediately felt lived-in and real from the moment we stepped foot in Harlan, KY. If you grew up in the South, you KNOW these people….heck, you’re probably RELATED to some of them. The cast is phenomenal, but special kudos for this season go out to the magnificent Margo Martindale, who took a character that could have been a very two-dimensional villain and made you sympathize and even ROOT for her at times. This show comes back in just a few days, and I am STOKED. Yeah, I still say STOKED, when it’s appropriate, and it certainly is in this case.

6. Game of Thrones – To say I was excited about this one is a massive understatement, as the books the show is based on is my very favorite book series of all time. The show got off to sort of a slow start, as I think the creators actually tried to stay TOO close to the source material, but about a third of the way through they hit a groove and never looked back. Gorgeously shot, with a truly epic ambience. The creators have been handed a fantastic story, one which they obviously love, and they were smart enough to mostly let that story drive the narrative on the show while only embellishing around the edges. And, honestly, the embellishments were some of my favorite scenes.

Special credit goes to the simply amazing child actors that the show chose to play the vitally important young characters. The Stark children, in particular, felt to me like they leapt directly from the pages of the books onto my television screen, and I REALLY want to adopt Maisie Williams (Arya).

My only disappointment with the show, besides the slightly pedantic opening few episodes, is how little use they made of the direwolves. I know that animals are hard to direct, but the link between the direwolves and the Starks is one of my favorite aspects of the book…but, as usual, the books are better anyway.

5. Community - This one is hard to explain to people who don’t watch the show, or who have tried it and don’t enjoy it, but I’m going to try. WARNING…rambling ahead.

There is not a show with more ambition on television, in my opinion. They aren’t just aiming to be funny (though they are hilarious), they want to be…DIFFERENT. Not content to just be another sitcom that can live in perpetuity in syndication. Not a Chuck Lorre project, in other words.

I am square in the middle of the target demographic for this show…I don’t just enjoy watching television, I love exploring what makes television what it is, like examining various tropes and clich├ęs and figuring out why they work or don’t work. I love meta commentary. I am in my mid thirties (barely hanging on to them), so I recognize all of the pop culture beats that the show hits. It just hits so many sweet spots for me.

Plus, the entire cast is super talented, extremely funny in a very clever way. And, yes, I know the “cleverness” is what turns a lot of people off, but what can I say? I’m often guilty of assuming I’m the smartest person in the room, and that’s the vibe this show gives off when it’s at its worst…so I can sympathize.

This show has my heart. Six seasons and a movie.

4. Homeland - My very favorite new show on television this year. I’m not going to spoil anything, because it’s still new enough that you can probably find a place to watch it. I will just say that it is refreshingly bold in its narrative, in that nothing is dragged out simply because the length of the season requires it (hello, THE KILLING). There are several moments that happen a good 5-6 episodes, or even 1-2 seasons, before they would happen on a typical show, simply because…that’s when these things would happen if they were happening in real life rather than on my television screen.

And, seriously…I can not possibly over praise the work that Damian Lewis and Claire Danes do on this show. These are two actors that I am predisposed to like anyway, due to their previous work (I ♥ Angela Chase FOREVER), but wow…Lewis will find it hard to break in to the Cranston/Buscemi/Hamm/Hall/Grammar field for Best Actor (especially with Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte joining the fray soon with Luck), but if Claire Danes doesn’t get serious Emmy consideration then we need to consider shutting down the whole system.

Go watch this. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

3. Parks and Recreation – OK, I take it back. Among comedies, Community really has more of my BRAIN…Parks and Rec has my heart. No show brings me more sheer joy than this one…even when I’m not laughing till I hurt (which happens at least once every episode), I usually have a ridiculous grin on my face the entire time. I love every single one of these characters…even Jean-Ralphio (played by Ben Schwarz, who is probably in my top three favorite podcast guests).

The show just does everything well…character, story, ambience, you name it. Fancy Party is probably my favorite comedy episode of the year, and that is not because it was the funniest…it’s because it completely captures everything that this show is about, and what it’s about is pretty near perfect.

Plus, Ron Swanson…enough said.

2. Friday Night Lights – I still can’t talk about this show without getting emotional. This final season was a perfect send-off to a truly amazing show.

Amazing on so many levels…not just the truly spectacular acting performances (too many to name), the gut wrenching writing (I’m sure I wept openly at least once at every episode), the flawless direction (the show often looks and feels like the greatest home movie ever made)…but the fact that we actually got five seasons and that the writers were able to finish their story as they wanted, when we spent the first two seasons wondering if every episode may be the last one to see the light of day due to America’s stupidity.

This show is an American treasure. It’s television as an art form.

Texas, forever.

Clear eyes, full hearts…you know the rest.

1. Breaking Bad – Speaking of television as an art form…in my mind, there is no question that what Vince Gilligan is doing with this show is truly next-level stuff. It is visually astonishing. The story SIZZLES. The characters…well, more on them in a minute. Every single episode just flies by for me…I’m truly sad when it’s over and I know I have to wait another week before I can step back in to this deeply disturbing, wondrously wrought, bleak and yet somehow hopeful universe.

As for the characters, this show has a truly unique ability to surprise me without sacrificing the characters that have been built over the life of the show. It’s easy to surprise a viewer…just write a scenario that calls for a character to do something that we would NEVER expect. LOTS of shows do that, but most of the time the reason the character surprised you is because their actions completely contradict everything we know about that character. It is much more difficult to pull off what this show does, which is to have characters do completely unexpected things that first shock me and then cause me to say, “Yeah…that is EXACTLY what that character would say/do in this moment, because it is exactly in line with what we know about him/her.” It’s art, is what it is…and this show does it better than anybody.

From a storytelling perspective, there are few better. From a character perspective, there are none more well-developed and formed. From an acting perspective, there is no better cast. From an aesthetic perspective, no show currently has a better grasp on what their visual style is and how to best use it.

For all those reasons, Breaking Bad is my Best Show of 2011.


So, fellow TV fanatics...what's your favorite? Any that I'm missing? Let's discuss!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Links, thoughts on Game of Thrones and The Killing, and why I watch Reality TV..

Lots to get to, so let's get to it...

- I'm aware that some of you actually like to read blogs that update more than once or twice a month like I do, so if you like pop culture, great writing, and (specifically) great writing ABOUT pop culture, here are some of the places that I go to every single day. These are the blogs that this blog wants to be one day when it grows up:

Cultural Learnings: Written by Myles McNutt, this is a place to find really intelligent, well-thought out musings on mostly TV, but also books, movies, and the general zeitgeist. Myles not only writes recaps of several shows, but he also has a lot to say about the business of television and the nature of television criticism.

The NPR Monkey See Blog: Maintained and edited by one of my very favorite online writers, Linda Holmes, formerly of Television Without Pity. Linda can write extremely thoughtful essays (like this one about some concerns voiced about the reading habits of young adults) or more lighthearted stuff (like this piece that examines the abundance of bodily function humor in the trailer for the new Jim Carrey movie). Either way, she is fantastic, as are most of the other writers on the site. Linda is also the host of one of my must-listen podcasts, the Pop Culture Happy Hour.

The A.V. Club: This is my daily stop for recaps/reviews of almost every show I watch, but you can also find reviews and news items on movies, music, and books. They also do fantastic special features (one of my favorites they have done is the Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation series), and their Great Job, Internet! section is the place to find cool stuff on the interwebs, the latest memes, etc. It's not always safe for work or family viewing, but it's always informative and entertaining. (Speaking of informative, entertaining, and not safe for work or family, if you are a fan of Community (and if you are not, I'm not sure we can be friends), be sure to check out the four part interview Todd VanDerWerff is posting with showrunner Dan Harmon. A fascinating look into the writing process).

EW.Com: If you are just looking for the latest entertainment news, you can't go wrong with the Entertainment Weekly website.

And, of course, for recaps/reviews/opinion, you can't beat Alan Sepinwall's What's Alan Watching blog, or the Tuned In blog at Time.com run by James Poniewozik.

Feel free to let me know what your "can't miss" sites are, whether they are pop culture, Dawg talk (most of my daily visits for Dawg news/opinion are in the list to the right), or whatever. Also...how many of you listen to podcasts? I have a list of those, too, but I wasn't sure how many of you listen to them. For someone like me who spends two and a half hours commuting every day, they are a necessity.

- While I am linking...we are now 88 days from kickoff (Happy Arthur Lynch Day)! Bubba 'n Earl always do the best job of putting together a countdown, and this year I think they have been outdoing themselves. Rather than just a player/moment countdown, they are posting a new post every day exploring different aspects of Bulldog history, the upcoming season, members of the team or coaching staff, etc...just really good stuff.

- I mentioned a while back when I was listing my favorite current comedies/dramas that I had a similar list of reality shows, and I was almost embarrassed by it. It got me thinking about why I watch the reality shows that I do watch, and I figured out that I only watch the ones that have a very specific draw for me. I don't watch any of the fame whore shows....Bachelor/Bachelorette, Jersey Shore, any thing with "of Love" or "Housewives" in the title. I don't watch any sort of "Celebrity" or "with the STARS" show.

Here is my list, broken down:

American Idol/So You Think You Can Dance: These two are by far my top ones, and I think it has everything to do with my background. I grew up a performing arts kid, so I really relate to the specific dreams that these contestants have, and I love getting to watch those dreams come true on my television set. I love the idea of these people being plucked out of obscurity and becoming superstars, even if only temporarily, based (mostly) on pure talent. The best example of this was Chris Daughtry. He was a stock boy at Best Buy, having given up on his dream of stardom in order to provide for his wife and her children, and then BAM...he's a multi-platinum selling artist, all because he decided to audition for Idol. Call me a softie if you want to, but I love those stories.

I also am a fan of excellence, in really any form, and that is the another main thing that draws me to So You Think You Can Dance. Even moreso than Idol, these people have worked YEARS and put literal blood, sweat, and tears into becoming EXCELLENT at what they do, and I appreciate excellence.

Which leads me to...

Top Chef: I am in no way a foodie. Most of the stuff prepared on this show will probably never appear on my plate. But the contestants are all obviously talented, they have worked for years on their craft, and best of all, they take being the best SERIOUSLY.

Deadliest Catch: I watch this show for pretty much one reason...awe. Well, that, and to be reminded how easy I have it in case I ever want to start complaining about my job. That aforementioned two and a half hour commute? Nothing, compared to 13 hour shifts in sub zero temperatures pulling thousand pound crab pots onto a boat being tossed by a Bering Sea storm. This show fascinates me.

Survivor/Amazing Race: I watch both of these shows, mainly because there are several bloggers/recappers on the web whose work I enjoy that recap this show. I watch the shows so that I can enjoy the recaps...that's pretty much it.

Those are the ones I watch regularly, but the other one that ropes me in every time I see it on television is Hoarders. I am fascinated by the psychological aspect of the show...and, also, it makes me feel better about myself.

- Two shows that have been occupying my Sunday DVR slots will be ending soon...one of them building to a fantastic finish, the other one I'm only watching out of obligation at this point.

The former of those two is Game of Thrones. As a HUGE fan of the books that the series will be based on, I was both excited and mildly terrified to see how the series was going to turn out. For the most part I have not been disappointed, although I think I might be enjoying the show even more if I weren't so familiar with the source material. I can't stop myself from comparing what's on the screen to what was in the book, which means I am basically comparing it to images I have in my head. No film adaptation of a book is ever going to match up to our own imagination, and no adaptation will ever be able to go into the amount of detail and backstory that George R.R. Martin pours into virtually every page of his writing. One of my favorite aspects of the books is the rich and complete world that Martin has created, complete with its own customs, history, etc., and there is just not enough time on a television show to depict a universe that dense.

Having said all of that...this show is AWESOME. The first three or four episodes were very exposition-filled, and a little too much "tell-don't-show" for me, but now that the story has kicked into high gear it's been a fantastic ride.

To me, the show isn't quite to the pantheon level of my All Time Great TV list (which includes The Wire, Deadwood, LOST, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Sopranos), for a couple of reasons. Number one, the writing just isn't up to that level...it's good, but not great, and it can be pretty dry and humorless at times. Just about every show in that list dealt with some really dark or heavy material, but they found a way to inject humor, often when you least expect it. We're getting some of that here, mostly from Tyrion or Littlefinger...but it's still pretty dry.

The other issue is the larger one, in my opinion...the story that these books tell is brilliantly plotted and complex, and the show is doing the best it can to tell it effectively. For the most part, it succeeds...it's telling a great story. But the problem has been that there is so much plot that it leaves little time for any sort of character development. What makes a show truly special, rather than just great, is not just what happens...it's that you care about the characters that the story is happening to. Game of Thrones isn't quite there yet, in my opinion.

And if you are watching the show and haven't read the books, I'm not going to spoil anything...but buckle your seatbelts. The ride only gets bumpier from here.

As for the other show wrapping up its Sunday night run....well, let's talk about The Killing. This is a show that, for me, started with a lot of promise, but just hasn't lived up to that promise. To me, the show got into a very annoying cycle of "Oh, he's the killer!.....wait, no he's not....oh, it's DEFINITELY her...oh, never mind", to the point where I feel like we are just spinning our wheels waiting to get to the end. I mean, it can't be good that this past week's episode, which barely even touched the Rosie Larsen case AT ALL, was probably my favorite one of the season.

Like most AMC shows, The Killing keeps to its own pace, and that pace....is....slow. But I don't mind that, when it's done well (Mad Men, for example). But this feels like about five episodes of story stretched out over a twelve episode season. We spent at least four episodes examining Bennet Ahmed, and that turned out to be....nothing whatsoever.

It's still pretty well acted, and I have stuck around for the first ten episodes, so I might as well hang on until the end to see the resolution. But I am not that excited about it, and if it doesn't get a second season I won't be disappointed.

- OK, wrapping this thing up now. But let me throw one more plug at you before I go. Starting next Saturday night, BBC America is re-running the entire series of Battlestar Galactica. Even if you aren't normally a fan of sci-fi TV, you owe it to yourself to watch if you want to see one of the greatest shows produced in the last decade. Don't let anything you have heard about the ending scare you away...trust me, it's worth it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Random thoughts - Idol, the future of television, and more

- Sometimes I hate it when I'm right.



Some thoughts on the finale:


  • Beyonce is AMAZING. And J-Lo could not have been happy to have to go on after her.


  • Casey Abrams and James Durbin are legitimately funny.


  • Jack Black? Seriously? And...those girls didn't have fat bottoms.


  • Haley can have a nice career in the Adele/Amy Winehouse/Duffy genre. She just needs to get there fast while people are still buying it.


  • I miss Pia.


  • Speaking of which, Pia doesn't get a solo song, or even a duet, but we get a song from the Spiderman musical? And nobody was even INJURED during it? BOOOOOOOOO.


  • Carrie Underwood. Good grief. I'm glad I don't live anywhere near her...that girl is a restraining order just waiting to happen.


  • I am willing to bet that Scotty McReery's high school choral department doesn't have as hard a time getting guys to join as most high schools.


  • I gave myself a 45 minute fast forward buffer, thinking that would be plenty. It wasn't. Not even close.


  • Congrats to Scotty...he is now going to sell a whole lot of records, and I will never have to pay attention to him again.


    • - If you are an HBO subscriber and are NOT taking advantage of HBO Go, do yourself a favor and go to hbogo.com RIGHT NOW. You have access to the ENTIRE library of HBO shows, at no extra charge. You don't even need an iPhone...I have been watching season one of Sopranos and season 3 of Deadwood on my PC. For free, except for the $10 a month for HBO that I would already be paying.

      It's just another step towards the future of television. Pretty soon, it will ALL be web-based. After my post the other day, I was thinking about the logistics, and it may actually be easier than I thought...you could just pay your cable company just like you do now, since most of the cable companies are also internet providers, go to comcast.net or whatever, and then pick your channel (web page) and go watch what you want to. The only other thing to figure out is advertising, but Hulu has a pretty good model for that right now, I think. Just imbed the ads in the video, and even better (from the advertiser's perspective), don't allow fast forwarding during the ads.

      - Cougar Town fans...it may be too late now, since the season ended last night, but you should really be following @TheLarmy on Twitter. I'm not sure if it's actually Busy Phillips updating it or not, but it is Laurie in character, and it is consistently hilarious.

      - Last week's Parks and Rec season finale ended one of the most perfect sitcom seasons of all time.

      - Speaking of perfect seasons...I just started watching Survivor two seasons ago. Has any player ever dominated the way that Boston Rob did this season? It was like he was using Jedi mind tricks or something.

      - Guess what today is? 100 DAYS UNTIL KICKOFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Yep...the countdown starts in earnest now.


      GO DAWGS!!

      Friday, May 20, 2011

      RIP, Macho Man..a list in your honor

      Sad news today about the death of Macho Man Randy Savage...and the fact that he died in a car accident somehow makes it even more sad. Most of the time when we hear of a wrestler passing before his time, it is due to some repercussion of their lifestyle...drugs, steroid use, etc. Not that it makes their deaths any less tragic...but, yeah, it kind of does.

      So, anyway...in honor of the Macho Man, here is a list of the Top 20 wrestlers from the time that I actually was regularly watching (roughly 1984-2001). This is not necessarily a list of my "favorite" wrestlers...it's the ones I considered the best, based on in-ring work, mic skills, total body of work (including longevity and style adaptability) and the iconic nature of the "character" they created.

      Yes, I put WAY too much thought into this. And one thing I learned...apparently wrestling fans LOVE both Creed and Staind. That was disappointing, but not surprising.

      First off, honorable mention to a few who JUST missed the list: Scott Hall, Owen Hart, Magnum T.A., and Vader.

      20. Curt Hennig. Mr. Perfect was just a great character, and at his peak he really knew how to work a match. I'll never forget his 360 degree selling of clotheslines.


      19. Edge. Would probably be higher on the list based on his work after the time period I'm looking at...but even by 2001, he was already established as one of the greatest workers in the world, and was often hilarious on the mic.


      18. Jake The Snake Roberts. Inventor of the DDT, and creator of one of the most iconic and memorable characters of all time. Dude scared me to death when I was a kid...but I still wanted to be him every time we would imitate wrestlers on our trampoline.


      17. Arn Anderson. The enforcer. One of the legitimate tough guys in the sport, and almost nobody was better on the mic.


      16. Eddie Guerrero. CHEAT TO WIN, BABY!!!


      15. Triple H. Not the most consistent in ring worker, but for a time in the early 00's he could make a claim at being one of the to 2-3 in North America. Nobody since Hulk Hogan has had as much power behind the scenes.


      14. Sting. One of the great babyfaces of all time, and a very consistent in-ring worker who put on some classics in the late 80's and into the 90's against Flair, Vader, and others. Was never the same after the stupid "Evil Sting" storyline in 96-97.


      13. Chris Jericho. I probably have him too high, but he was always one of my personal favorites. A bit sloppy in the ring, but few were better on the mic, and his intro to WWF was one of my favorite mark-out moments as a wrestling fan.


      12. Undertaker. Had some of the worst matches I have ever sat through...but also created maybe the greatest persona in pro wrestling history, and managed to stay relevant through many iterations of the sport and several different wrestling styles.


      11. Ricky Steamboat. Generally regarded as the greatest pure babyface of all time, and one of this generation's greatest workers as well. When compiling a list of the greatest matches of the 1980's, he probably has at least three or four of the top five (at least two out of the trilogy against Flair, and his epic match with the Macho Man at WrestleMania III).


      10. Mick Foley. A true hardcore wrestling icon, and consistently one of the best in the sport on the mic, no wonder which of his personas he was using.


      9. Randy Savage. This is a guy whose in-ring skill gets overlooked due to his persona, I think. But he was a great worker as well as one of the most insane promo guys of all time.


      8. Dynamite Kid. Before the back injury, he may have been the best worker in the world. If you are a fan of pure, old school wrestling, do yourself a favor and look up some of his matches in Japan against Tiger Mask.


      7. Chris Benoit. Fitting that he makes the list just ahead of Dynamite, who was his hero. If this was based solely on in-ring ability, he may be number one. But the guy couldn't cut a promo to save his life. (poor choice of words?)


      6. Kurt Angle. One of the most athletically gifted and innovative performers I have ever seen, and could work a crowd as well as anybody in history.


      5. Bret Hart. The Excellence in Execution. One of the top 2-3 pure workers I ever saw, but only so-so on the mic.


      4. The Rock. THE most ELECTRIFYING man in SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT. Probably the 2nd greatest ever on the mic, and overcame a pretty rough start to become a better than average in-ring worker. Could definitely tell a story in the ring, and had some true classics in the 99-01 era. A huge part of the most successful time in history for pro wrestling, and one of its most recognizable figures.


      3. Stone Cold Steve Austin. All he did was singlehandedly bring the WWF into the "Attitude Era" and basically destroy WCW, along with the Rock.


      And...here is where it gets controversial...

      2. Ric Flair. The best promo guy of all time. Could carry a broomstick to a 3 star match. World Champion dozens of times over. And my #2 of all time by a razor thin margin.


      1. Shawn Michaels. I know I'm going to take some crap for this one. In my opinion, my top two are interchangeable...the only thing that puts Shawn Michaels ahead of Flair is that he wrestled so many different styles...as awesome as some of Flair's matches were, they had a tendency to follow the same patterns every time. Michaels has wrestled more styles, told a greater variety of stories with his matches, and that puts him over the top for me.



      OK, now it's your turn...where am I wrong? Who are your favorites? What are some of your favorite wrestling memories?

      Thursday, May 19, 2011

      Some REALLY quick Idol thoughts and some other randomness

      I actually thought about doing one of my old school recaps for American Idol last night, just to celebrate my return to the blog...and then I saw that it was two hours long. No WAY am I watching these people for two hours, much less recapping it.

      So, some very quick thoughts, bearing in mind that I watched most of Scotty and Lauren's songs on fast-forward...

      - Scotty is going to win.
      - Haley is going home tonight, even though she is my favorite contestant left on the show by a WIDE margin. It's not even that she's all that great, but at least she's interesting. Lauren and Scotty just go out and do the EXACT same thing every single week, and why wouldn't they? The show has removed the constraints of doing different genres every week, and the judges certainly aren't giving them any sort of constructive criticism that would encourage them to try something new.
      - Kudos to Haley for popping right back up after her faceplant...I think she only missed two words.
      - How badly did the judges sabotage Haley with the Judges Choice round? Scotty gets to sing a country ballad by Kenny Rogers (and the only good thing about it was that I got to answer back his line of "I'll never know just what she sees in me" with "ME AND YOU BOTH, BUDDY!" every time. ZING!!). Lauren got to sing a country ballad by LeeAnn Womack.

      As for Haley...they give her a song that A) is WAY too low for her in the verses, and B) has some content that, even after some judicious editing in the first verse, includes lyrics that are going to turn off a large part of an Idol audience that has always skewed conservative. "Is she perverted like me?" "Every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back I hope you feel it".

      It was just the wrong song...for her, for this show, and it especially gives her no shot of winning any votes from the apparent throngs of people who are voting for the other two.

      Whatever. That was too many words to waste on this show at this point. Just know that Haley is going home tonight, and next week's finale will likely be the first one in 7 years that I haven't been in front of my television for.

      - Remember my last post when I bemoaned the fact that network television has lost the ability to develop any new shows outside of reality television? The always awesome Linda Holmes at the NPR Monkey See blog expands on the point...here is the scorecard for shows that were presented at last years upfronts:

      ABC: ZERO shows still on the air...every single new show was cancelled within one season.
      NBC: ZERO shows still on the air...every single new show was cancelled within one season.
      FOX: Exactly ONE show still on the air...one out of three.
      CBS: They were the big winner, with THREE out of their five new shows still on the air.

      Total: Out of 20 new shows last year, exactly FOUR are still on the air...one year later.

      Yeah...they have to find a better way of running this business. This year, there are over FORTY NEW SHOWS that were presented at the network upfronts (some of them midseason, starting in January). Maybe that's the answer...just increase the pool to a massive size and you get a better chance of some sticking. The problem with that? That means there were TONS of shows cancelled to make room, and some of those may have been quality shows that just didn't get a chance to find their footing. Like Chicago Code, for instance, which celebrated its cancellation with its best and most Shawn Ryan-y episode of the season this week. Grrrr....

      By the way...go read the rest of that article. As usual with anything Linda writes, it's worth your time.

      - Top 5 dramas CURRENTLY AIRING, in order: Game of Thrones, Friday Night Lights, Chuck, The Killing, The Chicago Code.

      This one was tougher, because so many of the best shows aren't currently airing. If I were to include ALL shows, even those not on the air, the Top 10 list might look something like:

      1) Mad Men
      2) Breaking Bad (this might actually be a 1a)
      3) Game of Thrones
      4) Fringe
      5) Friday Night Lights
      6) Justified
      7) Boardwalk Empire
      8) Chuck
      9) Sons of Anarchy
      10) Walking Dead

      With True Blood, Glee, The Killing, and Chicago Code just missing the cut.

      Man, I feel like I'm forgetting something here...do let me know in the comments if you feel I have made a grievous error, won't you?

      I wasn't going to do a Top 5 reality show post because I didn't think I watched enough Reality TV to come up with one...but I'm embarassed to find that I might could actually do a Top 10. That will be coming...next time!

      Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment...I love engaging in TV conversations!

      Tuesday, May 17, 2011

      Don't call it a comeback...

      ...I've been here for YEARS!!

      That's right...this is actual new material on the old Stuff of Legend blog today. The last few months have been very....well..."interesting" doesn't really seem to cover it, but I guess it will have to do. Not going to get into it, other than to say that I don't have to be nearly as careful about voicing my appreciation of my favorite television hotties anymore...no strings attached, baby!

      So, I have TONS of stuff to get to, obviously. Lots of stuff happened while I was away that I started to blog about, but just couldn't work up the energy or motivation. Let's just pretend that I made my usual really cool and witty remarks about everything that has happened in the sports and pop culture worlds over the last three months or so and MOVE FORWARD.

      Let's get the sports stuff out of the way first, so that my sports-only "audience" (yeah, right...as if I still have an audience at this point) can check out once we get to what is really going to be the bulk of this post...

      - The Braves pitching staff has been absolutely ridiculous to this point...in a good way.

      Second in the majors with a team ERA of 2.94. First in the majors in strikeouts. First in batting average against (a paltry .218). First in WHIP at 1.09.

      Those are numbers that even the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz pitching staffs would be proud of. Top to bottom, this is the best staff in baseball. Philly probably has better starters, but their bullpen can't even touch ours.

      But, much like some of those '90s teams, the offense has been inconsistent, and really needs to get rolling if we want to stay in contention for the division. As good as our pitching staff is, it is unrealistic to expect the kind of dominance we are seeing right now to last all season...they will have rough patches when they need the offense to carry them.

      To me, the key is three guys:

      Dan Uggla: .202 avg, .664 OPS,
      Jason Heyward: .219 avg, .749 OPS
      Freddie Freeman: .226 avg, .678 OPS

      We need to get at least two of these guys going on a consistent basis if we want the offense to stay on track. I don't worry so much about Uggla...he's a proven performer who has a long history of starting slow and then heating up as the weather does. Heyward and Freeman, however, concern me, only because they don't have a proven track record. Heyward can't seem to stay healthy, and his numbers since his hot start last year are Francoueresque. Freeman is obviously going through the majors for the first time, so we have no idea what to really expect.

      And, of course, those two guys were also the SI cover boys. Coincidence? (yeah, probably)

      - I loved the Falcons move to get Julio Jones. Yes, we gave up a lot. Yes, I would have rather drafted A.J. But to me, this move says that our front office thinks we are ready to win NOW. The guys we would have gotten with the picks we traded away might have been nice for the future (although it could be the case that Dimitroff et. al. saw this draft as extremely top-heavy), but when you have a window to compete for a Super Bowl, you better take advantage of it.

      Two more thoughts: 1) the future picks should all be even lower than our pick this year, if the move pays off. Yes, that's an IF...this was a gamble, and all gambles have risks. 2) Who's to say we don't make other deals that get some of those future picks back?

      As for A.J....I would love to have him. But I can pretty confidently guarantee that we called Cincy with the same offer we made the Browns. It takes two to make a trade.

      My one qualm with the pick...Julio, as good as I think he will be (and I thought he was the second best WR in this draft, but would have been the best in the draft in most years), is still going to start next season as your #2 WR behind Roddy White. And we are paying him #6 pick money. That's a lot of money to pay your 2nd WR, no matter what the new CBA ends up doing to rookie salaries.

      - The Hawks. Whatever. I knew after the offseason that we had before the year started that this organization is not aiming for anything other than an occasional appearance in the second round. Larry Drew and Joe Johnson are not the foundation on which championships are built.

      We got lucky in the first round that we drew an opponent that was actually more dysfunctional than us. In the second round, it came down to the fact that Chicago has a superstar, and the Hawks only have someone who makes superstar money.

      Next year, we likely lose Crawford, and we don't have money to go get a difference maker because we gave it all to Joe Johnson.

      Whee.

      - I guess the biggest news to come out of Dawg Nation in the last couple of months is the apparent shakeup in the backfield.

      I wish Washaun Ealey well, and will always remember him for the night that he and Caleb RAN THIS STATE. But I will also remember him for wasted potential and an apparent bad attitude that was even more apparent to those who followed him on social media. I think he was given multiple chances to get his act together and chose not to...at which point, it's best for the team that he move on, no matter how much it hurts to lose your top rusher.

      Now we anxiously await news on Caleb King's eligibility. Yes, I think Isaiah Crowell is a real talent, maybe a game-changing talent...but I thought the same thing about some other highly recruited guys who never panned out, as well. Plus I just don't like the idea of going into the season with two guys who have never carried the ball in an actual game as your top two tailbacks, with the number three guy being an undersized back that Coach Bobo is apparently trying to murder (stop running him up the middle!!).

      As usual at this time of the year, I am really excited about the upcoming season. The defense should almost certainly improve, both because of experience in the system and some upgraded personnel along the d-line. Aaron Murray should be one of the top QBs in the SEC, as long as he gets time to throw and his receivers don't let him down.

      Should be more to come as we get closer to fall practice...which is only a few (well, a dozen or so) weeks away!

      OK...that concludes the sports-related portion of our programming. From here on out, it's a mishmash of pop culture stuff and other random observations, so if you aren't interested in that, no hard feelings...come on back next time (promise it won't be three months).

      - This week is Upfronts Week for the networks, which is when they all announce their fall schedules, introducing their new shows and confirming the demise of others. This is also the week that my phone dies around lunchtime, due to the fact that all of the TV critics and bloggers that I follow on Twitter are all tweeting the same news at the same time. I received 25 Twitter messages just while typing that last sentence.

      This is also the week when I wish I could go back and be a television writer. One that could actually get paid for the mountain of words that are about to spill out all over this page.

      I am legitimately fascinated by things like network strategy...what new shows get greenlit, what gets cancelled and why, putting together a nightly primetime schedule and things like lead-ins, synergies between shows, etc. I'm a geek for several things, but this type of stuff is probably where I geek out the hardest.

      I am especially intrigued to see how the networks are adjusting their strategies to deal with the brand new paradigms that they are now facing. It hasn't been too long ago that a "hit" TV show drew 20-30 million viewers a week. Now, with cable stations providing TONS more original programming, some of which is considered to be much higher quality than the typical network show, plus the rapid increase of either "timeslot shifting" (people DVR a show and then watch it whenever they want) or alternative means of watching television (OnDemand, DVD/Netflix, Hulu, etc) networks can't DREAM of hitting those types of numbers, with extremely rare exception (Super Bowl, etc). In my opinion, where this has hurt the most is in the development of new shows. Quick, tell me what the big break out network hits have been in the last two years....and by "hits" I'm talking about shows that actually draw numbers that win time slots.

      GO!

      OK, time's up...I came up with Glee, Dancing With the Stars, The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Apprentice, and what seems like a dozen CSI, NCIS, L&O type spinoffs. MAYBE The Mentalist? It's almost all reality show drivel or boring procedurals (all opinions in this blog are mine, obviously...if you enjoy those shows, more power to you, and congratulations...you have LOTS of choices).

      Now let's look at the world of cable...for a cable channel, a "hit" doesn't necessarily mean "ratings", especially for the pay cable channels. It's all about brand prestige, reputation, and (for the pay channels) subscriptions. Mad Men. Breaking Bad. Boardwalk Empire. True Blood. Walking Dead. Justified. Dexter. I could go on, but you get my point...and that's without even mentioning shows like Sons of Anarchy, or Damages, or Weeds, or Nurse Jackie, or United States of Tara....all shows that, while they may not draw big numbers, all enhance the reputation and brand recognition of their networks.

      So...what's the difference? First of all, the obvious...cable networks can get away with things content-wise that broadcast networks can't. That is a definite advantage.

      But that can't be all of it. Seriously...what does Mad Men and Breaking Bad show or do that you can't get away with on network television? It's not anything that would really be missed, and it's not why the show works.

      I think a big part of it is that cable networks go into it knowing that they are never going to pull the ratings that would typically be expected of a network show, which relieves some of the pressure to yank shows off the air if they aren't pulling huge numbers. True Blood is a great example...when it premiered on HBO, it got less-than -respectable ratings, and in a network environment (assuming that it was a show that had network type content), probably would have been pulled from the schedule almost immediately. Instead, it was left on the air, the buzz ramped up (even if the quality didn't), and it is now HBO's biggest hit.

      I don't know what the answer is for the broadcast networks...they somehow have to find a way to sell advertising and make money, and for now their only real way of doing that is using a ridiculously antiquated Nielsen system. I foresee a future where ALL television is web based..NBC won't be a "channel", it will be a website. All of their content will be on the website, and you go and choose whatever you want to watch and it comes straight to your television. That is not something that we are years away from, at least not from a technology standpoint. We HAVE the TECHNOLOGY. What we don't have is a way of monetizing it that works for everybody...the networks, the consumer, the advertisers, the production staffs and writers, etc.

      I just hope they figure it out soon...I'm tired of every new network show I start to get into being yanked off the air before it has time to find its feet, with The Chicago Code being the latest example (and Lord, Shawn Ryan deserved better after Terriers). Broadcast networks, in my opinion, have to come up with a new definition of what a "successful" show is...we can't keep using the same parameters in a completely new environment.

      This isn't to say that there isn't quality programming currently on network television...but a lot of what I consider quality (Parks and Rec, Community, Chuck, Fringe, Cougar Town, etc) aren't ratings hits by any stretch of the imagination, and seem to live on the cancellation bubble, while stuff like The Voice, Biggest Loser, The Apprentice, etc. always seems to do huge numbers.

      So I am very thankful that some of my favorite shows have been granted a reprieve. Looking at the numbers, it's really hard to fathom why the networks have chosen so save some, while others have gone by the wayside...but I'm glad for it anyway.

      OK, I promise the rest of the bullet points will be shorter.

      - Speaking of upfronts, this is the trailer from the new show that I am most excited about...believe it or not, it's from NBC (I KNOW, RIGHT?!?)

      Looks pretty awesome, right? Which means that it will probably be cancelled by the time this post is actually published.

      - Is there a way to tell a new girl at work that you find her REALLY attractive? I mean, without coming off like a total creep?

      - Guess I should say something about American Idol. Basically, I give up. I said months ago that Scotty McReery was going to win the whole thing...based on my master thesis on American Idol Demographics (I should TOTALLY HAVE WRITTEN THAT), he has the Country Vote, the Teenybopper Vote, and the Grandmother Vote. Those are probably the three most powerful voting blocs in the American Idol Universe, so he is systematically destroying everybody in his path. I would be willing to bet that if they actually released the voting totals, he would be winning every single week. By TONS. Even before he broke out the "Vote for me or the terrorists win!!" strategy last week.

      And, gah...he makes me want to punch him in the neck every time he performs.

      The show has really missed both Simon and the different genre nights...without those two factors forcing contestants out of their comfort zones, everybody just does the same exact thing every....single...week. And the judges have been atrocious...the problem with praising EVERYTHING that everybody does is that it causes your praise to mean nothing. That was why it was always such a big deal when Simon gave positive feedback...you knew that if he was praising it, that praise was earned.

      Anyway...I'm definitely watching out of habit (maybe even obligation) at this point. And no matter what I say, I will probably be right back there every single season until it gets cancelled and puts both me and the show out of our misery.

      - Best five comedies currently on TV (either airing or just finished their season), in order: Parks and Recreation, Community, Cougar Town, Raising Hope, Bob's Burgers.

      Just missed the cut: Modern Family (too inconsistent, but when it's on its game there are few better), The Office (WAY too up and down this season, and the Will Ferrell thing was a disaster), Archer (been off the air too long to qualify, but no show delivers more laughs per second).

      What do you think? Let me know in the comments....next time out I will do dramas.

      - So I have one question about the Fringe season finale...if it was 15 years in the future, how come everybody looked the same as they do now? I'm not counting the 4 gray hairs that Peter had. Take it from someone who knows...15 years does a LOT more damage to a head of hair than that.

      Yep, that was the one question...everything else made perfect sense.

      - Right now, the album I am most likely to be listening to on repeat is Manchester Orchestra's "Mean Everything to Nothing." Nothing but quality, start to finish.

      And trust me, I love everything on Adele's "21", but I can't listen to it on repeat unless I want to throw myself off a cliff, only to have Superman swoop down and catch me, and then drop me from HIGHER. (tm Louie C.K.).

      - I think I am officially done with How I Met Your Mother after last night. This whole season has been borderline awful (hated everything about the Zoey storyline), but I stuck with it, in large part because I felt like we were promised in the season premiere that by the time we got to that wedding, we would be getting ANSWERS. Instead, all we got was more mysteries...who is Barney marrying, and (most of all), why is this wedding so important to Ted? It was strongly hinted in the premiere that this is when he meets the mother, and maybe it is...but we are certainly no closer to knowing now than we were 22 episodes ago.

      Look, I understand how hypocritical this is of someone who to this day will defend LOST with my dying breath...but the time for mysteries is over. They need to move the story FORWARD. In what way has the story moved forward this season? Marshall and Lily are pregnant (a storyline that you knew had to happen eventually), and Barney is marrying...somebody. And we still have no clue who the mother is.

      It's time. And, no, I disagree with those who say that once you meet the mother the show is over. The story of a relationship doesn't end when you meet...there could still be LOTS of story to tell after that, with the mother just being another character on the show, that would HAVE to be more interesting than the water-treading that is going on now.

      - I am now two thirds of the way through the Hunger Games trilogy...it's very interesting, gripping, exciting stuff. Definitely written for a younger audience, but the plot is tight enough that we older teenagers can still enjoy it. I would certainly recommend it to any parents with young adult readers...I bought my 13 year old a copy this weekend and can't wait to talk about it with her.

      - I apologize to all two of you out there who were looking forward to detailed recaps of Game of Thrones. First of all, I never really could decide on a format...do I write it with readers in mind, or non-readers? There is no way I have time to do both...it would be really hard to recap it from a non-reader perspective, having read the entire series multiple times, but I know that out of what little audience I have, the majority would be non-readers.

      And then...well, life got in the way and rendered the whole decision moot.

      The series has been fantastic...the look is amazing, the acting is superb (and, yes, I would still want to adopt Maisie Williams if it wasn't so obvious that she must have parents far more superb and amazing than I could ever hope to be). My only real issue with the show to this point is the editing...we seem to move REALLY quickly between scenes, which I think hinders the viewer's ability to fully consume what he's just seen. This is probably due to having SO MUCH to fit in to each episode...which then makes me nervous about next season, when they will supposedly have the same number of episodes to tell tons more story.

      But that's a worry for next season...for now, I am really enjoying the show. And what's better, several friends of mine who aren't fans of the book are loving it as well, which means that the writers and producers really are doing a fantastic job.

      There have been several scenes, especially in the last episode, that never actually happened in the book. Since I am trying to view the show as a separate entity from the books as much as I can, I can safely say that I have really loved every single one of them, and feel like they have added even more depth to even some of the main characters than they might have had without these additional scenes.

      Bravo all around, really...and for those of you who are watching and have not read the books, buckle your seatbelts. You ain't seen nothing yet.

      By the way, if you're going to comment on Game of Thrones at all, please...no spoilers for non-readers. Thanks.

      OK...I think that's enough for now. Even though I haven't even mentioned The Killing (liking it until last week...at which point I loved it), Chuck (perfect finale, and leads up to what I think can be a really cool final season), Firefly (watching it for the first time as it's being re-run on the Science Channel - is it too late to start a campaign to get it renewed?), or Deadwood (the one season I haven't seen, S3, just popped up OnDemand - all I can say, in the spirit of the show, is $%!@, &$*@, and %&!@#!).

      Ahhh...it's good to be back.

      Thursday, March 17, 2011

      TON of new Game of Thrones videos

      Don't have time to link to all of them here, so just go to these posts on Winter Is Coming to get the full list of the YouTube versions.

      - Post 1
      - Post 2

      My favorite line of all of the videos: "All Dany knows of her history is the stories that her brother has told her...and Viserys Targaryen is not a reliable narrator."

      Winter is Coming, folks! Only four weeks from Sunday!

      VERY quick thoughts on Idol Top 12

      Well, the hits just keep on coming, quite literally in this case...totaled my truck last night by creaming a deer.

      So, this is going to be really short...

      The REALLY Good: Stefano, Pia, James, Casey

      The Good: Jacob, Lauren, Scotty, Haley

      The Bad/Boring: Naima, Intermission, Thia, Paul (cold or not, that was awful)

      Who SHOULD go home: Probably Paul...that was two pretty rough performances in a row.
      Who WILL go home: Naima

      Sunday, March 13, 2011

      The Game of Thrones previews continue..



      Another update coming later, as soon as the other one that was premiered tonight shows up on YouTube.

      Winter is Coming...only 5 weeks from tonight!

      ~~~~UPDATED~~~~~~
      Second video added!!! (HBO only clip now...will add YouTube video as soon as there is a decent version posted)


      Thursday, March 10, 2011

      Idol Thoughts - Top 13

      Man, I have missed you guys! Hopefully some of you stuck around while I tossed my life in to the washer and hit "spin", because I am really excited about American Idol so far this season. It's like I have been saying to anyone who will listen...the secret to a successful Idol season has nothing to do with the judges and everything to do with the contestants. As long as you have talented and compelling contestants, the audience is going to be engaged, and only then will they even care what the judges say. And this season offers a very diverse and talented group, several of which I am really looking forward to hearing every week, as opposed to last season when there was Siobhan and Crystal and really not much else.

      Let's get on with it!

      Lauren Alaina - "Any Man of Mine": Ugh. She's off to a horrible start for me already, because I HATE HATE HATE this song. Apparently what Shania REALLY wants is a doormat. Was this supposed to be some sort of ironic statement against the objectification of women in most popular music? Either way...it sucks.

      Anyway, this is...fine, I guess. She doesn't do anything different from the original, as far as I can tell. You want to know what Simon was saying all those years when he called something "karaoke", this was pretty much it. Don't get me wrong...she has a very good voice. I mean, she would probably WIN the karaoke competition.

      She is also completely out of breath by the end of the song. She obviously had fun with it, but that's really all it was. A nice, fun, ultimately forgettable performance.

      Casey James - "A Little Help From My Friends": This is exactly what I was missing from Lauren's performance...an interpretation of the song. I LOVED the arrangement, loved the performance. Casey is quirky, no doubt, but he hit EVERY note that he attempted, and hit it with style. I worry that he could become Taylor-Hicks-y at some point, but for now I love him. Plus I think he is a LOT more self-aware than Taylor Hicks has ever been...he seems to get the joke more than Taylor did.

      This was really, really good.

      Ashthon Jones - "When You Tell Me That You Love Me": Here's the thing about Ashthon for me...she has all of the makings of a diva, but without the diva voice. She looks great, I actually love her attitude most of the time, and her voice is fine...it's just not "big" enough for me. She's hitting the notes, but there isn't enough power and OOMPH.

      This was another example of what I'm talking about...she certainly looks the part. VERY Diana Ross, with the hair and the earrings and what-all. But she just doesn't quite pull it off. It gets better in the bridge after she steps out from behind the mic, but she is extremely shouty on the high parts. This was OK, definitely good enough to stick around, but it was good-not-great for me.

      (I just used "for me" twice in my critique of one performer, which leads me to the most disturbing development of the Idol season so far. I am agreeing with Randy almost 100% of the time. I KNOW!!! I'm TERRIFIED as to what this might mean. Is there a glitch in the Matrix?)

      Paul McDonald - "Come Pick Me Up": I knew I liked this guy...Ryan Adams has a prominent place on my MP3 player, and his style fits perfectly with what we have seen Paul do so far.

      This performance was....hmm. I think I would have enjoyed it more live, and I DEFINITELY think I enjoyed it more than most other people, since I am a big fan of this style of music. But it was the very definition of pitchy, and the whispery tone of his voice never did really get strong enough during the chorus and he was overpowered by the band and backup singers. For once, I don't blame the production crew for that. He certainly uses the whole stage when he performs, though.

      Like J-Lo, I hope that America gets what the guy is about and keeps him around. That was a very chill performance, and I liked it...but at best he was only "around" the pitch for a good portion of the song, and I don't know that he has the fanbase to stick around for very long.

      Oof. J-Lo has never heard of Ryan Adams. Randy, on the other hand, is dropping names like WOAH. And Ryan continues to be awesome, doing the "Paul McDonald" as he gives out the numbers.

      Pia Toscano - "All By Myself": For the second week in a row, she definitely picked a "singer's song", one that if you have the voice for it you can really show out.

      And...WOW. She really showed out. TREMENDOUS vocal performance. And she looked fannnnnntastic. Almost distractingly gorgeous.

      She needs to work on stage presence...not a lot "there" in her presentation of the song, other than the annoying "Aaron Kelly Arm". You know, the move where you raise one arm to just over shoulder level, hold it there for a second, let it drop....and repeat about 30 times in a row.

      As for now, her vocal chops and striking beauty are enough to overcome the lack of stage presence...Carrie Underwood was able to ride that particular train all the way to the Idol crown, and then got some help on her performing style and has sold about a bazillion records. Idol itself has changed a lot since then, so it will be interesting to see if Pia can pull off the same accomplishment using the same bag of tricks.

      James Durbin - "Maybe I'm Amazed": I have to admit...I don't like this guy. He's way too "try-hard" for me...the forced banter, the constant playing to the crowd, and the devil horns MY GOD the devil horns PLEASE KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE DEVIL HORNS IT IS NOT 1986 AND YOU ARE NOT MOTLEY CRUE.

      Ahem...sorry. Having said all of that, I was pleasantly surprised that he picked Paul McCartney as his "Idol", and this was a perfect song choice for him. This was a great opportunity for him to dial it back and show us that he is not all flash and forced-rocker...he can really sing. He has a very nice tone to his voice, and his "scream" was used to great effect here...it came at a natural place in the song, fit the melody, and was perfectly on pitch.

      I still don't like a lot of his affectations on stage, but overall this was a series of very smart decisions executed with a lot of talent and skill. Well done.

      Haley Reinhart - "Blue": I am constantly forgetting that this person exists. I was surprised that she picked a country artist as her "Idol" (which...I don't think that is really what she did. She picked a song she wanted to sing and then tried to play it off like freaking LeeAnn Rimes is her Musical Idol. Whatever.)

      This is a very difficult song to sing, and she definitely struggled the first couple of times she had to transition from the falsetto "yodel" back into her chest voice, but it did get better as she went along. She really didn't do more than just a karaoke version of the song...no spin, no interpretation. She just sang it, and in an relatively acceptable fashion. That's all I got out of it.

      Jacob Lusk - "I Believe I Can Fly": Again...R. Kelly is not Jacob Lusk's idol and inspiration. He just wanted to sing this song.

      And, MAN....he SANG it. One quibble was that he overshot the pitch quite a bit in the build up to the finish, but once he got there...I struggled to come up with words to describe it. He took it to CHURCH. Musicality at its purest form. The guy is an undeniable talent, and this is now two weeks in a row that I feel like he has dialed his performing style back several notches to great effect. Wonder if that's coming from the mentoring sessions?

      Either way...this was fantastic, and probably should have closed the show.

      Thia Megia - "Smile": Ah, she takes on that Charlie Chapman classic.

      This started off really, really well...beautiful tone, and even more impressive control. Unusual to see that level of restraint in such a young singer.

      But then, the tempo changed...and this went horribly, horribly wrong. Pitch problems all over the place, awkward "dancing", fake smile that does nothing to hide the abject terror in her eyes as she realizes that this was really an awful decision. Just tough to watch.

      Stefano Lagono - "Lately": Oh, man...this is J-Lo's favorite by TONS. She loves this guy. And Ryan loves him too...he makes Ryan look normal-sized.

      The beginning of this was really rough...he has a very nasally quality to his voice when he is in his lower register that is going to be a problem for him. Then the club beat kicks in, and this turns into the dance remix. He definitely SOUNDED better in the second half of the song, but I really didn't like the arrangement. This was probably one of those arrangements that sounded a lot better live.

      Karen Rodriguez - "I Could Fall in Love": She bores me to tears, and I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this recap, so I don't have much to say. Except that she is probably the most pageant-y contestant this show has had in years, and I have yet to see any other side to her than that. I think I'm going to start calling her "Intermission", since her performance is an excellent time to take a bathroom break, grab a snack, check e-mail, etc....

      Scotty McCreery - "The River": OK. I don't get the appeal to this guy. At all. Is it a generational thing? Because, MAN...the screams every time this guy says or does something sounds like a Beatles/NKOTB/Bieber level collective explosion. I just....don't get it, I guess.

      And if you are going to sing a Garth Brooks song, why pick the absolute WORST Garth Brooks song EVER? I would have rather him done some Chris Gaines than this boring generic faux-motivational crap. "These waters are my sky"? What does that even MEAN?

      So he sits there and does the EXACT SAME PERFORMANCE HE ALWAYS DOES. And the judges just slobber all over it, and then Scotty says he tried to show them something "different" tonight.

      Am I losing my mind? HOW WAS THAT DIFFERENT? Because it wasn't that stupid Josh Turner song that I had never heard of before Scotty showed up, but now is embedded in my brain?

      Scotty and his apparently legion of fans just make me feel...old.

      Naima Adedapo - "Umbrella": And now I have to apologize to Naima, because that whole Scotty thing just took me out of that really happy place I was in for most of this show.

      She looks really comfortable on stage, and she was able to use her dance background to create what was really a very good performance. The vocal was only OK...I agreed with Randy (again? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME????) that the biggest problem was the end of the phrases. She was just letting them drop as she moved to her next dance move. Which is actually fine, considering the fact that she was attempting to create more of a "concert" feel to it.

      Say what you want about it...it was definitely "her", and it was different from anything else we saw tonight.

      FINAL THOUGHTS:
      - I know I picked some of them apart, but there is no doubt about the fact that every single one of these people can flat sing. TONS of talent. It's going to be very interesting to see which way the voting goes, especially with the new Facebook voting this season.

      - Nigel Lythgoe is back in charge of the show, and one of the first things he did was the long overdue firing of the director. Thirteen performances tonight, and the show not only came in on time, but Ryan and the judges had to vamp a little to fill the last few minutes. Great job with that, and also the production values seemed higher...no weird camera shots of the backstage area, the sound seemed to be mixed properly, etc.

      ***UPDATE******
      Just found out that last night's show was actually taped on Tuesday. So...never mind. It's easy to have a well produced show if you get to tape it the day before.

      - Really like the new "mentoring" thing they have going on with the Interscope folks. I'm interested to see if any of those producers start to stand out and become crowd favorites the way some of the choreographers have on SYTYCD.

      - Looking back this show seemed REALLY frontloaded. After Jacob performed, there was nothing but cannon fodder.

      MY TOP THREE:
      1 - Pia
      2 - Casey
      3 - James/Jacob (Tie. Yeah, I know...it was just too hard)

      MY BOTTOM THREE:
      11 - Lauren (This was pretty surprising. Had to factor in level of difficulty and song selection, which is why Paul beats her out this week)
      12 - Scotty (He beat out Thia because at least he managed to stay on pitch, and let's be honest...it was a smart decision to keep doing the same old crap.)
      13 - Thia (Sorry, sweetie. That was just not good)

      Who SHOULD go home:
      Karen. Not in my bottom three, but I think at least two of the people in my bottom three have the potential to be interesting.

      Who WILL go home:
      Stefano. Just a hunch, really, and probably not right since he's young and cute and will probably get some of the teenybopper vote. IF all of the teenybopper vote doesn't go to Scotty for some unexplained and possibly supernatural reason.