Archive for January, 2010
I saved the most difficult for last. Picking my favorite television shows of the past decade was by far the trickiest of the four lists. There was a wide variety of quality television in that span that I debated on selecting. Granted, television also managed to hit some historic lows thanks to reality programming. But the best of the best were truly something to behold. Once again, let me state that I don’t necessarily think that the list that follows encapsulates the best shows on television. These were the five that I most looked forward to viewing. To that end, the list is primarily comedies since that is my general preference. And with that being said, bring on the TV!
Top 5 Television Shows Of The Past Decade
This may appear to be a result of timing, since the final season’s premiere is only 96 hours away1, but this has been my favorite show for several years now. There is just so much to like about the show; the tightly scripted plot, the reoccurring themes, the literary references, the amazing character studies. I watched the first season on DVD over one long weekend back in 2006, and season two the week it was released on DVD. Since then it has defined essential viewing for me. Lost is now the television show that I reschedule events in my life around as not to miss it. And I love that the creators have decided to give it a definite ending date instead of letting it drag on past its prime. I think l Lost has set the new high mark for scripted television; hopefully the upcoming final season doesn’t prove me wrong.
2. Curb Your Enthusiasm
I spent a lot of time deciding whether to place this at #2 or #3. After lots of thought I think that Curb at #2 was a pretty good decision2. As I’ve mentioned here before, Larry David is a hero of mine. Larry has lots of horrible traits, but he always manages to call ‘em like he sees ‘em. Curb Your Enthusiasm managed to incorporate two of my favorite comedy tools into the show’s structure better than anyone else. I love the way almost every show ends with a joke that was subtly introduced earlier in the show, and I love the way that each season has included a story arc. But more than anything, I love the show for its numerous cringe-inducing moments. Some of my favorite comedies are the ones that make me squirm in my seat, and no one does awkward or uncomfortable quite like Larry.
3. Arrested Development
If not for the premature cancelation this show could’ve easily been #2 on the list. While I know that it was not the fault of anyone involved, it still was a letdown when the show ended. But before then, the first two seasons of Arrested Development were probably the funniest thing on television last decade. The show was master of the reoccurring gag and had a cast full of comedy ringers. It was packed with so many throwaway funny lines that it practically requires multiple viewings. Even now I find myself offhandedly quoting it all the time. It has left such an impression that the mere mention of full length feature film is enough to make me drool.
4. The Daily Show
This show has been so good for so long that it’s hard to fathom. Jon Stewart managed to transform the tired concept of a comedy news show into something that changed the way I look at news. And the rest of the cast is even harder to believe; look at the amount of talent in that picture! And seeing as I watch the DVR of the previous nite’s broadcast at dinner every nite, at this point it actually has become the daily show for me. But besides the jokes, The Daily Show did some of the best political and social commentary in a decade that needed more of both. More than any show on television, I feel that The Daily Show helped to define the last ten years.
5. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
There are so many shows that almost claimed the last spot. Wonderful dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and arguably the decade’s best all around show, The Sopranos, were all near the top of my list. And other comedies, like The Office and 30 Rock, could have easily been here instead. But right now I have to give the edge to Philadelphia. Granted, I watched all five seasons for the first time in 2009, so they may just feel fresher than everything else. But there’s just something about The Gang’s brand of dark humor that makes me howl with delight. This show has proved itself willing to go further to get a laugh than anything else on television. I’m still amazed at how willing the cast is to paint itself in a horrible light. And I think it’s that dedication that ultimately won me over.
And there you have it. My Top 5 of the 00’s started with a film about terrible, petty people and ended up on a show about terrible, petty people. The circle is now complete. Next month I will be moving on to other topics for my Friday 5. See you then!
1. Holy shit I can’t wait for the three hour(!) event on Tuesday. Even though the complete lack of any details about the show has been torturing me, it’s made the anticipation for the premiere even that much more exciting. I WANT LOST!!!
2. Pretty Prreettyy Prreeeettttyy good.
I must’ve been predetermined to be a Political Science major, because I love State Of The Union Addresses. Even if I’m not fond of the particular President giving the speech, I still love watching the SOTU for the political theater of the event. Stuffing that many inflated egos into a room always makes for some interesting television.
After laughing through most of the past several years of addresses1 it was a pleasant surprise to actually agree with most of our President’s remarks this year. The President even managed to make a budget joke:
Obama also spoke at length about the deficit, saying he would freeze government spending, but not until next year. When some Republicans snickered at the delay, suggesting through their derision that the President was not as serious as he claimed to be, Obama shot them a quick rejoinder. “That’s how budgeting works,” he pointed out, quite accurately.
At my office that’s a totally sick burn.
For me the most exciting thing to come out of the SOTU was this
High Speed Passenger Rail!
The President approved using $8 billion of the TARP funding for upgrades to rail lines in several major areas, including the St. Louis to Chicago line. The StL-Chi line scored a cool $1.1 billion to increase speeds on the track up to 120 mph. You can read more about it here and here
As I mentioned last year, I’m I huge fan of trains and I’m thrilled to see this project get the start up funding it needs. Good job Mr. President!
1 Say what you want about George W. Bush, but the man knew how to give an entertaining speech. In his 2004 address, his first after invading Iraq, he found time to complain about steroids in baseball.
Now that MTV’s epic television show/fail known as Jersey Shore has ended, I feel the need to say a few things. I’ve loved the Jersey Shore since I was a little kid, which makes said show equal parts horrifying and incredible. But before I go there, a little background.
The first time I went to the Jersey Shore was 1979. Here’s a pic of a one year old Captain at Ocean City, New Jersey.
I lived in New Jersey until I was four and my parents split. I moved with my mom and sister to St. Louis, and my dad stayed in New Jersey. For the next fifteen years my sister and I spent a month with my father every summer in New Jersey. There were many highlights to these summer visits such as Six Flags Great Adventure, The Bridgewater Commons mega-mall, the horse farm next to my grandma’s house in Philly, and trips to New York City. But usually at the top of my list was a trip to the Jersey Shore.
As an ocean lover who spent most of the year landlocked, I relished the chance for beach time. And since the Jersey Shore was the only beach I ever went to, I had no idea that there were nicer beaches elsewhere. So I spent 19 years thinking the Jersey Shore was one of most beautiful places in my life1. One of the best summers of my childhood was when my dad rented a beach house at Point Pleasant Beach for a week.
When my sister and I were young we spent most of our time playing in the ocean. As we got older we gravitated more towards the boardwalk; it’s practically designed for teenagers: games, shops, arcades, food and no parental supervision!
Since graduating high school I’ve only been to the Jersey Shore once and that was eight years ago. So at this point, most of my views on the Jersey Shore are heavily tinted through nostalgia filled glasses. With that being said, I’m still pissed that MTV has effectively ruined something I loved so much as a kid.
Actually, let me qualify that statement. I watched every episode of Jersey Shore on MTV and I understand why so many people watched the show. The producers started with the highly successful Real World template for a show: filling a house with eight walking stereotypes. But the ingenious move was that they picked eight of the same stereotype instead of eight different stereotypes. If everyone watches The Real World for the Puck character, why not put eight Pucks in the house instead of one?
Their instincts were correct. Watching eight Guido stereotypes consume massive amount of alcohol and fight with each other is some compelling television, especially when they are so willfully unaware of how their actions will look on television. I love mocking vain idiots from the comfort of home, especially when they are as dumb as The Situation and Snookie.
While I admit that the show is highly entertaining, my problem with the show is the location selected by the producers2. Most of these idiot kids on the show are from New York, but their moronic nonsense will now forever be associated with the Jersey Shore. The show could just as easily been called Long Island Summer House or Queens Night Club and been pretty much the same thing. It’s not like New Jersey has the monopoly on Guido stereotypes; remember these three from the Daily Show last year.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Long Island Wants to Secede|
Now when I tell a story about playing putt putt and the Jersey Shore or my favorite ice cream stand with the Dreamsicle soft serve cones someone is bound to ask me if I was also wasted in a hot tub or pumping my fist while doing said activity. The Jersey Shore already had enough image problems, dammit! Why can’t MTV just stick to ruining music?
1. I about fell over the first time I went to Florida and saw how pretty the beaches were on the Gulf side. I didn’t realize that ocean water was supposed to be blue and not have garbage floating in it.
2. I will say that if it had to be the Jersey Shore, I’m glad they picked Seaside Heights. My dad always thought Seaside Heights was ghetto and took us a bit further north to Point Pleasant. I would have been much more mortified if the house was at Point Pleasant.
Week three of my Friday 5 is short and simple: My favorite books of the past decade. This list was probably the easiest of all my decade lists to choose. Of the past ten years I spent less than five of them reading for pleasure. Sad but true.
While I was in college and grad school I made a rule for myself that I would not read for pleasure while I had other required reading for school. It just seemed silly for me to be reading if it wasn’t for class. And with both of my degrees focused on government, there was quite a bit of required reading.1 So much so that it took me a good year after each of my graduations to embrace reading as a form of leisure. So I really only read from 2002-2004 and 2007-2009, with an odd Harry Potter book thrown in during the off years.
However, since I moved to Florida and back I’ve been reading like a fiend to make up for lost time. My reading pace increased dramatically last year on the Metrolink, and I ended the decade at a respectable place. Well, enough apologizing for my unliterary years; let’s get to the list!
Top 5 Books Of The Past Decade
1. Sex Drugs and Coco Puffs
Way back in 2004 I was still unsure about recreational reading. I had picked up a couple of books that I rather enjoyed and one that I loved, but I wasn’t quite sold on reading. And then this little collection of essays passed to me by and I was hooked. I was vaguely aware of Chuck Klosterman from his days at Spin Magazine, but I had no idea of what he was capable of creating.
It sounds cliché, but his writing sounded like the thoughts in my head. Way back before blogs and online journals were common, I had never heard a voice from my generation seamlessly blending so many pop culture references into compelling narratives. He reminded me that reading and writing could be and should be FUN. Unfortunately, this realization came about a month before I started grad school and had to be put on the back burner for a couple of years. After graduation, I reread this book hoping that it would jumpstart my love of the written word. As you can see, mission accomplished.
2. World War Z
The past decade saw lots of fantasy novels being published about wizards and vampires. But for me it was the decade of the zombie, and this novel was the Twilight and Harry Potter of zombies novels. There are just so many things to like about this book. The use of an oral-history format was brilliant and enabled Max Brooks to globe-hop on a truly epic scale. The lack of a main character really made his story seem authentic, or as authentic as possible for a novel about the zombie apocalypse. The social and political commentary was subtle and dead-on accurate. And more than anything else, it was such an exciting read; I plowed through this in three days and then reread it four months later!
3. American Gods
The book that started it all. I’ve been a super fan of Neil Gaiman since my teenage years. I was infatuated with his Sandman comics from early in my teens, and I was hooked for life when I won a contest to have breakfast with him.2 This novel was released shortly after I graduated and it was the first book I read after college. It instantly reminded me of why I spent so much of my high school years wrapped up in reading. Neil has an amazing ability for creating contemporary mythology that is both believable and compelling. He writes fairy tales that are enthralling for both grown-ups and kids. He had several other great projects this past decade, but this was the one that stood out for me. Reminding a burnt-out college graduate the reading is still cool is no small task, but he did it easily.
4. Three Nights In August
This book came out in 2005, but I didn’t get a chance to read it until last fall. As it turned out, waiting so long to read it made the experience more enjoyable. Among other things, the 00s were a decade where I watched a ton of baseball games. I’ve been a diehard Cardinals fan since about 2002. As such, reading this all-access account of the 2003 baseball season that I followed so closely was a real treat. And reading about this season six years later actually made it a nostalgic experience rather than a contemporary one.
In reality, 2003 was a frustrating season as a Cardinals fan. But through the eyes of nostalgia I was able to appreciate it as enjoyable despite the outcome of the season. Instead of thinking about the specific games mentioned I was able to recall how much fun I had watching them with friends. And learning all the behind the scenes stuff that is highlighted in the book was exciting. It helped me to better understand a game that I already knew well. A great read for any fan of baseball, but a must read for Cardinals fans.
5. The Road
This was the first selection in the book club I started with my wife back in 2007. We were living in Tallahassee at the time and wanted to join a book club, but we didn’t know anyone so we started our own. This seemed like the perfect choice since Megan tends to like selections on Oprah’s book list and I tend to like post-apocalypse fiction. We had no idea what was in store. We became so invested in Cormac McCarthy’s main characters that it actually started to affect our moods. At certain points that winter we were both moping around the house because we were worried about the characters in the book. The way McCarthy describes the life and death struggles of the man and his son trying to navigate their hostile world is so heart-wrenching that we couldn’t help but be wrapped up by it. By the time we both finished we were exhausted; it took us about a year to pick our next selection. We still haven’t seen the film adaptation yet, partially because we know that it’s bound to be inferior to the book.
1. Which is not to say that I didn’t read some good books as part of my education or that I haven’t read any books about government since graduation. But even the best government books are no match for a great piece of fiction.
2. This is still one of the coolest and yet most frustrating events of my entire life. Having lunch with one of my literary idols was as cool as it sounds, but unfortunately for me the year was 1993. I was a super awkward 14 year old fanboy at the time and I was so starstruck I only managed to say ONE sentence to him. Now I would have about a million questions to ask him, but all I was able to ask at the time was “Are you really going to write a comic book about Alice Cooper?” DAMMIT!
For my second week of the Friday 5 I’ve decided to keep with the decade theme. With the film discussion over, it’s time to move on to my other favorite form of entertainment, music.
My first thought was to rank my Top 5 songs of the decade, but there are several good reasons to focus my attention elsewhere. The obvious reason not to focus on my favorite songs is that I’ve already discussed them at length. I created ten Modern Rock discs worth of my favorite songs of the decade. Whittling down these 200 songs to the Top 5 seems difficult and unnecessary. Besides that, I can’t hope to beat Shortcake’s convincing argument that Cry Me A River by Justin Timberlake is the decade’s best song
So instead I’ve decided to rank my favorite albums of the decade. This also was a difficult task for many reasons. For starters, this 00s have been correctly labeled as the decade when the album died. The decline of the record industry and the rise of iTunes created a strong disincentive for crafting entire albums1.
This move away from albums resulted in relatively few discs that were great from start to finish. Many of my favorite artists from the previous decade were better at creating singles than entire albums.
Another problem is the same thing I faced when picking my Top 5 films, the idea of best v. favorite. For example, I think Kid A by Radiohead was one of the 5 best albums of the decade, but I wouldn’t say it would be one of my favorites. With that in mind I based my selections on two ideas: Which album did I listen to most often from start to finish, and which albums would I be most likely to listen to start to finish in 2010. That criteria made the selection process much easier. So without further ado
Top 5 Albums Of The Past Decade
1. Is This It – The Strokes
Number one was a true no brainer. I can honestly say that this album changed my life. Is This It is easily on my Top 5 all time albums. I LOVE every song on this album; it encapsulates the 00s for me more than anything else that comes to mind. It sounds exactly like I think a rock record should sound. When it was released in 2001 I remember immediately thinking that The Strokes were the coolest guys on the planet. They were five scruffy New Yorkers who were my age and it felt like they were making an album just for me. Now that I’m at the ripe old age of 31 I can say that Is This It served as the unofficial soundtrack of my twenties.
2. Elephant – The White Stripes
The number two spot was the toughest decision on the list. I knew the artist would be The White Stripes, but I had a hard time choosing between White Blood Cells and Elephant. Both are amazing albums and both present a compelling case. In the end I chose Elephant for two reasons.
First, after careful examination I determined that it’s the better album from start to finish. White Blood Cells has amazing songs like Hotel Yorba, but it also has some filler songs, like Aluminum. Whereas Elephant starts out with the best intro of the decade, Seven Nation Army, and never really loses it’s momentum from there.
The second reason has more to do with what Elephant represented. As demonstrated by many bands last decade, it’s very difficult to follow up initial success in music. After the huge commercial and critical success of White Blood Cells, Jack White managed to make his band bigger and better with his next album. Elephant was the sound of Jack conquering the world; from 2003 on he owned the decade.
3. Our Endless Numbered Days – Iron and Wine
When I started making a list this did not immediately come to mind. It was only after skimming through my iTunes that it occurred to me how much I love this album. In fact this is the only album that was so good that I left it off of my Modern Rock discs; I couldn’t decide on a song because there are so many great tracks. It’s the quintessential mellow mood album and it always manages to remind me of the lazy days of summer. There is so much beauty and personal touches that I feel like I know Sam Beam personally. I’ll never understand why this album never made it big, while Coldplay and Dave Matthews continue to go platinum.
4. Funeral – Arcade Fire
This made a lot of Best of the Decades lists and for good reason. It’s amazing that a nine member band with such grand ambitions managed to make such a succinct album. Even now it’s hard to believe how densely layered and complete it sounds considering it was the band’s first album.
5. Suck My Mixx – D.J. P
Technology managed to decimate my musical attention span over the last ten years. Digital music and the decline of the album made it difficult for me to listen to most artists for more than a few songs at a time. Luckily The 00s were the decade of the mash-up, which are perfect for short attention spans. And while I enjoy the mash-up stylings of Girl Talk, no one does mash-ups better than D.J. P in my book. Suck My Mixx is like discovering an old friend that I’ve never met; the whole album is so familiar and so damn listenable. And to this day I think that mashing Tipsy by J-Kwon with Africa by Toto is the coolest idea ever.
1. I fully admit I’m part of the problem. The last time I purchased an actual cd in an actual record store was in 2005.