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24 season finale

Short version: worst season, weak finale.

Long version: worst season, not worth wasting much time on, same for finale. The problem is simple: 24 is one of the stupidest shows in television history, so to work, it must keep the excitement level at such a high pitch that we forget to think while we watch it. If we think about it the next day and realize how dumb it is, that's no big deal. But if the show itself isn't exciting, then we're gonna think about how dumb it is while we're watching, and then the show is in trouble.

But it's hard for them to keep the excitement coming, because they've already done pretty much everything. And while I can speak from personal experience that there is much pleasure to be had watching 24 MST3K style, talking to the screen the entire time, that gets old pretty quickly, too. Robin spent the entire two hours of the finale watching out of the corner of her eye while she played solitaire on her Treo, which says everything you need to know about the excitement level. And there are only so many times we can do our non-alcoholic version of a 24 drinking game, whereby we are required to shout out certain catch phrases whenever they come up ... you probably have your own ... at our house, these include "chopper," "upload it to my PDA" (or the equivalent, "I'm uploading it to your PDA"), anything that refers to the clock in such a way that the true meaning of what is being said is "within the hour so we can have a cliffhanger ending," and, of course, the ever-present "Damn it!"

I recently finished writing a few thousand words on 24, wherein I asked the question, "can a leftist love 24?" The answer I offered was yes, just like we could love any show, if we just took the hair out of our ass and worried more about quality than with preconceived notions about how the world worked. But first the show needs to be good. Everyone loved 24 when it started, because it was good (in the case of 24, that means it was exciting) ... I can't see why anyone would still love it, based on the crap that was the just-finished season. It was so bad, it made me nostalgic for Kim and the mountain lion.

And the rumors are that the next season will be completely different, because even the creators know the show stinks now. But if "different" means the show will be more of a character study, it will fail, because honestly, who really gives two shits about any of these people? How many people have died over the years of this show? Tens of thousands. How many actually mattered? I can only think of two, off the top of my head: David Palmer, and Edgar Stiles. There were others that worked on the level of shock value, but that has nothing to do with character. I don't care about these cardboard cartoons, and it would be a big mistake to take the show in that direction. At this point I'm pretty sure the only proper direction for 24 is to cancel it.

Grade for finale: B-

Grade for season: C+

eventful life

It's been an eventful couple of days, in that "no one cares about my average day" kind of way. Yesterday, the extended Rubio family met to celebrate May birthdays (Julie, Neal and Geoff). Today was the memorial service for Robin's dad. The service was held at the Roddy Ranch in Brentwood, and it was a good turnout, and a fine afternoon getting together with the extended Smith family and the friends and co-workers of Bob Smith. Among the people who came out was Peter, my ex-brother-in-law ... he's flying back to New York very early in the morning, so he's spending the night sleeping on our couch, and we spent the last few hours catching up. It says something about family when someone who hasn't even been in the family for a decade or so is still a person you are glad to see.

Meanwhile, that bad Starbuck escaped outside yesterday afternoon, and spent the rest of the day and much of today playing her favorite "come get me, no you don't" game. But late tonight I heard her meow at the front door, and after some cajoling I was able to get her to come back inside. So now we're a happy family once again! I still miss Robin, though ... she went out yesterday to stay with the visiting family, and won't come home until tomorrow, so outside of today's ceremony, I won't have seen her for a couple of days. Come back, Robin!

sopranos f-word update

There may be a slight delay in the final two chapters of Steve Hammond's legendary updates ... no episode next week, and I'll be in Europe during the final two episodes, so I can't promise I'll have timely postings. But, god willing and the Slingbox functioning, we can hope for the best!

Episode 85- "The Second Coming"

Said the F-word 42 times
First utterance - 3:10 by John Stefano at the construction demolition site

Total for Season 7 - 407
Average per episode for Season 7 - 58.14

Total for all episodes - 4426
Average per episode - 52.69


Most ever in a single episode - 105 - Episode 19 "The Happy Wanderer"
Least ever in a single episode - 13 - Episode 27 "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood"

Most in season 7 episode - 91 - Episode 82 "Walk Like a Man"
Least in season 7 episode - 37 - Episode 67 "Sopranos Home Movies"

i've never been anywhere

Charlie did this, and I figured I would too, even though it's embarrassing. It's a Places in the USA that I have visited map. I didn't count a place if I just drove through it quickly, and I didn't count a place if I'd only been at the airport. Which didn't leave me much:

create your own personalized map of the USA or check out ourCalifornia travel guide

Pretty easy to tell which areas I avoid like the proverbial plague, wouldn't you say?

office addendum

Gonna steal from another blog. Alan Sepinwall got it right, as usual. Read his entire post if you aren't worried about spoilers ... it's great, again as usual. He got just the right screen cap from the last Pam scene, with the following comments (like I say, there's more, this is the spoiler-free version): "How amazing is Jenna Fischer? I'm serious. How amazing is she? That final talking head -- my favorite form of talking head, one where actual office action interrupts the interview -- was a little acting clinic."


the office season finale

This is as good a time as any to review the primary point of posts like this … not to convince people to watch what I watch, but to offer an evaluation of what I watch in the context of what I watch. In short, to further specify my taste preferences.

And Thursday night TV is a fine place to make the point. (Funny how we say "Thursday night TV" in the age of time-and-place shifting.)

First, there are the shows I don't watch. Many of this are excellent shows, I am sure … that I don't watch them means nothing more than they don't match my taste preferences. Take doctor shows. I have never seen an episode of E.R. or Grey's Anatomy or even Scrubs, if that counts as a doctor show. The only doctor show I watch these days is House, where the titular character is a mean-spirited, misanthropic atheist who thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Or take procedurals. I'm not exactly sure what counts here, or if forensic shows are supposed to count, too. But I don't watch any of the CSIs, I don't watch any of the Law & Orders, I don't watch Bones or Criminal Minds … I don't watch any of them. It's a bit of a lie to say I've never watched them, because they are on at my house pretty much any time Robin needs something mindless on the tube while she knits, and I suppose a bit of it rubs off on me, so at the least, I know if I actually watched one of these shows, I'd choose the one with Vincent D'Onofrio. Again, this has nothing to do with the quality of those shows … they just don't interest me. Neither do I watch reality shows … not American Idol, not Survivor, not Amazing Race, not America's Next Model. Every one of these shows might be great, and the fact I don't watch them is meaningless outside of demonstrating my taste preferences. I'm pretty sure a lot of these shows are on Thursdays … but I don't watch them.

What about the shows I do watch on Thursdays (or whenever I get around to watching them)? There are four. My Name Is Earl is a sweet-hearted show with an absurdist sensibility, with good performances, the surprising Jaime Pressly, and a knack for picking the perfect guest stars (not just Burt Reynolds as an asshole version of Burt Reynolds, but Norm McDonald, whose Burt Reynolds on SNL Celebrity Jeopardy is hilarious, as the asshole son of Burt Reynolds). But one day I looked at my DVR and realized I had five episodes of Earl waiting to be watched, and knew I had moved on … too sweet-hearted, is my guess (the show, not me). 30 Rock is a show I wasn't ever going to watch … it had that SNL smell to it, and I don't know anything about SNL unless it 1) happened in the 70s, or 2) is a YouTube hit (which means cowbells or Sean Connery vs. Alex Trebek). But a friend talked me into giving it a try, I found it very good, and by season's end, I had given it a B+ with the anticipation of better grades to come. Coming to the show, I didn't know who Tracy Morgan was, and all I knew about Tina Fey was that I, like so many geeks, thought she was hot. But 30 Rock is funny, its cultural references are subtle, the acting is excellent, and it refuses to be sweet-hearted. It is probably the latter that explains why I quit watching Earl but I look forward to another season of 30 Rock. Ugly Betty is sweet-hearted without getting too sappy about it, it has a distinctive sensibility (gay, Latino, or even at times both), it's one of the few places on prime time with Latinos, and it is justifiably more popular than these other shows I watch. I'd say I admire it more than I like it, but that's not true, because I do like it. But I can imagine other people liking it even more than I do.

And then there is The Office, which is easily my favorite of all of these shows. There is so much to overcome … memories of the classic British original … the increasingly non-sensical use of the documentary frame for the show … even the show's accuracy can be a problem (more than one person has told me they don't watch The Office because "I work it, I don't need to watch it"). The Office is smart and unafraid of its smartness, it is also stoopid when necessary, and unafraid of its stoopidness, it shows the American workplace (and specifically, the American office workplace) for the black hole of despair that I imagine it to be and does so in a way that is hilarious "because it's true." It shows how clueless bosses can be. It's a show that will stoop to any level to get a laugh, yet refuses to let anyone act out of character … for all their status as stereotypical icons (the doofus boss, the prankster, the suck-up, the alkie, the sweet receptionist), the characters on The Office are also finely-drawn, recognizably human characters. It is the latter that allows the series to pierce our hearts on those (thankfully) rare occasions when something heart-piercing is allowed to happen. I give up on shows that are too sweet-hearted, but The Office earns its sweet-hearted scenes by doling them out in a sparse fashion (like once or twice a season, tops) and by making us care about the characters, even as we laugh at them and their situation, before it offers up an actual Touching Moment ™.

One last time … I'm describing taste preferences here. I barely know anyone besides me who watches The Office. But if you are wondering what kind of taste I have in sitcoms (and I'll include Ugly Betty even though it is obviously more than a sitcom), just note that I place the other three shows in the high-B range, while The Office dallies between A- and A. And since an important part of my taste preferences is that I'm often immune to good comedy, that's a grade that is not suffering from inflation … if anything, it's too low. (The only current comedy that might be up there is Extras, which isn't being made anymore. Curb Your Enthusiasm has its moments, too, but it's erratic.)

I've managed to get all this way without actually talking about the season finale, the supposed topic of this post. But I don't have much to add. The finale gave people who love the show what we expect … not in an "I guessed that would happen" way, but in an "I knew the finale would be another great episode" way. The Touching Moment ™ was properly balanced with funny snark (and if for some reason you've read this far without actually having seen the finale yet, make sure you watch the last scene during the closing credits). I guess your own taste preferences regarding the various characters would affect how much you liked this one. Without giving anything away, I'll just note that my favorite character is probably Pam, and Jenna Fischer is … well, I think I know what they mean in England when they say "spot on," if I met Jenna in real life, I'd assume she was just like Pam, because she plays that character as if she wasn't acting at all. What she pulled off, the look on her face as she delivered her last line of the night … she's the best. And, since Google brings all sorts of people to this blog … Today Malone is the most recent evidence of that … if Jenna Fischer by some quirk of Google reads this, get well, Jenna!

Grade for finale: A

Grade for season: A

friday random ten, 1975 edition

1. Patti Smith, "Gloria." Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. I wasn't gonna say anything else … what else needs to be said … but the video link is terrific, from her April 1976 Season One appearance on Saturday Night Live. Robin and I had seen her two months earlier.

2. Hot Chocolate, "You Sexy Thing." In the 1974 Random Ten, dance music was represented by the funk of the Meters, and the list closed out with the New York Dolls leaving glam behind and hinting at … Now 1975 starts off with punk and disco. Change came fast. I believe in miracles.

3. War, "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Why, indeed. I'm not even going to bother posting a video link. For some reason, the last two songs invite those kinds of videos where the song serves as a soundtrack to something or other … what the person thinks is sexy, or what friendly message they want to express. Guess I'm not friendly enough.

4. Carol Douglas, "Doctor's Orders." Cheating a bit, since it came out in '74, but the album was '75. Douglas claims that her mother was Minnie the Moocher. Really … she was a singer, and Cab Calloway based the song on her. Or at least that's the story. (For another piece of Carol Douglas history, along with a couple of bars of "Doctor's Orders," click on the video link.)

5. Earth, Wind & Fire, "That's the Way of the World." Compared to Funkadelic, they may indeed have been hot air and no fire, but this song has one of the great "Yow" vocals of all time. If you like songs dedicated to World Peace, you've found the promised land.

6. Robin Trower, "Daydream." Back in the 70s, Bill Graham used to have these Days on the Green, where he'd sell out a baseball stadium by putting three or four top acts on the bill and letting them play all day long. It was like a well-run mini-festival, pretty much what you'd expect from Bill. It wasn't really the best way to hear music, although I heard a lot of great stuff at those DoGs. Mostly you just baked in the sun and watched people unfurl toilet-paper rolls from the top deck, the white chiffon floating halfway over the stadium. Moments like that were made for guitar solos … it was pointless to try anything else, as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young found out once when they tried to play a "wooden" set while the toilet paper flew ("sorry, Dave, the toilet paper's got ya beat!" shouted a drunk guy next to me as Crosby tried to get our attention). Those times were made not for just any guitar solo, but the trippy, drippy kind that Robin Trower played in "Daydream." Trower was famous in those days as Hendrix Reincarnated … I never got it, myself … he played really loud, and in concert, he would shout out his "THANKYAVERYMUCH" with such ear-busting enthusiasm that I can recall it to this day (and it still makes me wince). But when he played "Daydream," I forgave him everything … that one long note that he stretched out for what seemed like an eternity at the end of the solo was exquisite. And the best place to hear it was baking in a stadium, with toilet paper drifting overhead. The recorded versions I'm aware of do not come from 1975, but I appear to have on my hard drive a bootleg or something that is dated 1975, so here it is. (Fans of British blue-eyed soul singers fronting hard rock bands should love James Dewar, who for some reason seems forgotten.) If you can't guess, I highly recommend the video.

7. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, "Come on Baby, Let's Go Downtown." Tonight's the Night remains harrowing. An album about friends dead due to drugs, almost unbearably depressing, and then there was this song, which the All-Music Guide refers to as a "country barnburner … with a lighter touch." Hmmm, okay. The song, written by Danny Whitten (one of the two dead friends) is about scoring dope … that's why they're going downtown … and closes with the line "Pretty bad when you're dealin' with the man, and the light shines in your eyes." In one of the more subtly sad, heartbreaking additions to all of this, the album included a picture of Crazy Horse playing live, with their names at the bottom of the picture to match their position in the picture … Ben Keith, Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot, Nils Lofgren. Danny Whitten's name appears on the bottom, as well … but there's no one standing in his place in the picture.

8. Led Zeppelin, "Kashmir." I've told this story many times before … at this point, I can't remember what's real and what's apocryphal. In my first year as a grad student, a bunch of us went out to a local joint frequented by frat boys, to drink beer, eat pizza, and bond. Among our group was a woman … I hate to say I can no longer remember her name … she was a lawyer who decided to get a doctorate in English, and she always dressed very professionally, like she'd just gotten off work at the law office, with crisp blouses and proper skirts. She never said much in class … I found out later that the papers she wrote were brilliant, but we barely knew her because she didn't talk a lot. Nor did she talk much as we drank beer and ate pizza and drank more beer. In her case, a lot more beer. At one point, I looked down at the end of the table, and there she was, trying to hold her head up. I went over to talk to her … if not then, when? I asked how she was doing, and she looked up at me and replied "I love Led Zeppelin." She followed this statement by informing me that she often had the desire to pound out "Moby Dick" on somebody's head. She didn't last more than a year or two in the English program, and I have no idea what ever happened to her. (Puffy is not even in the same league with Run DMC as a rapper, but neither is Aerosmith in the same league as Led Zep. And "Walk This Way" is a good song, but "Kashmir" is the greatest monster riff in Jimmy Page's long career of one monster riff after another. Hence, the video link … "Walk This Way" is not the best matchup of metal and rap.)

9. Bonnie Raitt, "Sweet and Shiny Eyes." My favorite Bonnie Raitt song of all time. "Your sweet and shiny eyes are like the stars above Laredo, like meat and potatoes to me."

10. Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run." OK, so this list isn't always random. 1975 was one of the most important years of my life. In May, our first child was born, and that pretty much says it all. But since this is about music, there's no avoiding a mention of Bruce. How he was out there on the periphery of my consciousness for a couple of years, they played "Rosalita" on the radio once in awhile, but then the buzz started. OK, the hype, but first it was buzz, and I was intrigued. Word was he played the greatest concerts in the world. And he was coming to Oakland. So I got us seats … they were in the next to the last row … and then the album came out, and I brought it home, and we were visiting a friend down the street so I took the LP and we put it on her stereo. I decided to start with Side Two, because it had the title song on it. And thus began a long and so far unending ride. To this day I cry when I hear these lines:

Someday girl I don't know when
we're gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go
and we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
baby we were born to run

And everytime we get a new piece of audio equipment, the first song I play always has to be "Born to Run." And I still don't know when. Till then …

ugly betty season finale

The first season ended with a handful of cliffhangers, reminding us of the show's roots in telenovelas. There is a lot to like about Ugly Betty … America Ferrara is an appealing star, and of course she's "different" from the typical star, which helps. Many of the secondary characters are nicely drawn, and as long as you accept the over-the-top nature of the show, the performances of folks like Vanessa Williams and Judith Light are good. The show's visual sense is a hoot, as they say. In essence, Ugly Betty is the gayest show on television outside of I've Got a Secret, and more power to it.

I don't know what constitutes "must-see TV," but I watched every episode of Season One of Ugly Betty, so I must have wanted to see it. If I'm damning it with faint praise, that's probably more my curmudgeonly nature than anything reflecting the show. I want to say it's too sappy and bright, but in fact the telenovela angle manages to work some darkness into the narrative, so I'm wrong there, as well. It's fun to watch, but that's about the extent of it. Afterwards, I never feel the urge to talk about it, or to hunt down what other people are thinking. It's only my third-favorite show on Thursday nights (I realized I was Tino-ing My Name Is Earl, I'm three episodes behind, and even though I like it, I can sense it slipping out of my grasp, so Ugly Betty wins there, but The Office and 30 Rock are better then Betty).

Where I teach, they don't allow +/- final grades. If I have a student with a borderline B/B+, I have to give them a B, but I always tell them I wanted to give them a B+. I hate not having the +/- option. If Ugly Betty was one of my students, I'd give her a B and then tell her it was close to a B+. She'd be one of my favorite students, and unless she took another class from me down the road, I'd forget I ever knew her with a year.