Saturday, November 19, 2011

Moving Day: The blog is relocating

For various reasons, I've decided to migrate my blog over to Wordpress. Visiting will automatically direct you to the new site, but anyone who follows or visits the URL should update their bookmarks/RSS/etc (you must be out there somewhere, right?) to

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sunday driver: What does AMC's scheduling say about its branding?

I contributed a discussion to In Media Res, a project of MediaCommons curated by friend of the blog Noel Kirkpatrick. Check out my thoughts on how AMC's determination to schedule their programs on Sunday nights represents a conscience branding decision on the part of the network - one that may not be working to its overall advantage.

Sunday driver: What does AMC's scheduling say about its branding?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guest-criticizing from around the web this week

Over in the realm of TV criticism, I've teamed up with friend of the blog Cory Barker of TV Surveillance for a couple of projects this week.

Check out our dueling takes on the pilot episode of HBO's K Street, a short-lived 2003 docudrama from Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney.

Then give a listen as Cory, fellow friend of the blog Les Chappell of A Helpless Compiler, and I ruminate for 90 damn minutes about Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead on the TV Surveillance podcast.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


One of the many reasons I adore Twitter is the way the hive mind can concoct some amazing things. A good idea can become a great idea can become something truly gazoinksbo, in the best possible way.

In that spirit, I give you a sampling of how I spent much of Monday evening with a group of Twitter comrades. In the wake of the news that some of the Joss Whedon Players have made a film adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, we naturally took it upon ourselves to cast some of the Bard's other works with our favorite denizens of the Whedonverse. And Christine Becker, who curates the wonderful @GoodTVeets, was there to chronicle the wackiness.

Check it out, shan't you? And then be sure to follow all these participants on Twitter, so as not to miss out on the next bout of inspiration that strikes we few, we happy few, we band of Scoobies.

UPDATE 11/3/2011: This carefully curated bit of tomfoolery is now available in Tumblr form, with all the original participants playing along.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In which I make my podcast debut

Do you enjoy reading about TV, except for the part where you have to read? Then why not try a podcast instead! In the inaugural episode of the ChicagoNow TV Tandem, Julie Hammerle of Hammervision and I gab about the season finale of Breaking Bad, the return of The Walking Dead, our favorite new shows of the fall, and just why Julie and the rest of femalekind insist on oppressing hard-working white men like me and Tim Allen.

A version should also be available through iTunes shortly. Check it out, and feel free to send questions, suggestions, or cookie recipies to We'll hope to make these podcasts a regular feature, so listener feedback will go a long way. You may even receive a cut of our profits!*

*Editor's note: Our profits are zero.

Listen to the
ChicagoNow TV Tandem podcast, Episode 1

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Vast Wasteland on the radio tubes!

On September 25, I was invited to appear on Blog Talk Radio's The Down and Dirty with Frank Fontana, discussing fall television. Starting at 26:40 in the clip below, I talk with the show's hosts about some of the season's early storylines, including Ashton Kutcher's debut on Two and A Half Men, Ted Danson joining the cast of CSI, my distaste for Jim Caviezel in Person of Interest, and my impassioned plea for everyone in America to watch Community and Parks and Recreation.

The Craftsman World of DIY Presents The Down and Dirty 09/25 by Down and Dirty | Blog Talk Radio

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

AOL's Patch, HBR, and sustainable local journalism

Last week, Maxwell Wessel posted an entry on the Harvard Business Review’s blog network critiquing AOL’s strategy for Patch, an experiment in local news aggregation that is currently a rather high-profile drain on the company’s coffers. I appreciate the thesis of the post: that rather than ignore or discard Patch, AOL should invest in it more intelligently.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why you'd rather be killed by a Mayan prophecy than a French psychopath

In the latest installment of  The New Cult Canon (a feature you should be reading regularly at The A.V. Club), Scott Tobias examines the grisly French horror film Inside, and questions how viewers gauge what is "too far" when it comes to representations of violence and death in movies. He notes how often people are repelled by the visceral depiction of individual deaths in horror films, but shrug off the far greater lethality implicit in end-of-the-world blockbusters from the Michael Bay or Roald Emmerich mold. Writes Scott:

As a rule, I’m reluctant to draw any hard lines on what horrors are beyond representation, because I recognize how subjective that can be. For example, I find the trailer for 2012 far sicker in its bloodless apocalypse fetishization than anything I’ve ever seen in “torture porn” genre, but clearly that opinion isn’t shared by the legions who gave a pass to the former while routinely turning up their noses at the latter.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Something something "write stuff" pun

As a writer, one of my strongest and most well-practiced skills is talking myself out of writing. This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the lamentably sparse updates of either of my blogs lately (hey, I had one good week in July there!) Oh sure, every now and then some diaphanous wisp of an idea floats into my head and I manage to mold it into 900 words of reasonably entertaining prose. But for every one that somehow sees the light of day, three or four others vanish ignominiously into the ether, having inspired little more than a few illegible scribblings or incoherent out-loud sputterings.

It's a discouraging state of affairs, and one I'm inspired to improve after attending a class/discussion group on blogging last night with genuinely accomplished blogger & writer Kate Harding, at Story Studio Chicago (a terrific resource for you fellow Windy City wordsmiths). In that light, I've decided that step one is identifying the most commonwell, excuses is such an ugly word; let's call them "perfectly sound and logical counterarguments"which lead me to abandon a potential piece of writing:

  • Somebody must have already made this exact point. Probably better. And if not, they will.
  • The DVR's at, like, 64%.
  • What sentient, literate being would ever even want to read this misshapen jumble of quarter-baked doofusery??
  • Hey, 18 new tweets!
  • Yup. This is it. This one would wake them all up to the reality that I am a hack and a charlatan. It must be buried and forgotten. The illusion of my competence must live another day!
  • Welp, this Dragon Age quest ain't gonna play itself.

Other creative types, please feel free to chip in with your own favorite self-defeating tactic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nostalgia: It's not just for Boomers anymore!

Every now and then, the New York Times likes to check in on the mystifying attitudes of These Kids Today. Case in point, this piece from Tuesday in which the Old Gray Lady reports on Nickelodeon’s (stupendously awesome) plan to revive a handful of beloved early ‘90s programs - including Clarissa Explains It All, All That, and Doug - in a late-night bloc on its Teen Nick channel.

It's clear, if baffling, that the headline - "The Good Old Days of 20 Years Ago" - is shooting for ironic juxtaposition. To the Times' brass and much of its target demo, anything that post-dates the Pentagon Papers probably seems like last Tuesday. When he declares, 
“That’s right: classics from the 1990s," writer Brian Stelter (a member of the generation Nick is targeting) probably anticipates plenty of readers harrumphing incredulously into their Sankas.

2011 TV Preview Part Four: The Network from Whence The Premise Came

Round four of America’s newest favorite way to kill ten minutes at work brings us to the network that started it all: NBC. It gave the world both The Cape and Community, without which this entire gimmick wouldn’t exist (for background, see the installments for FOX, CBS, and ABC), and without which I might be forced to actually put some thought into what I write on this blog rather than falling back on half-assed jokes and YouTube embeds.

A dozen new programs are tasked with resuscitating the once-proud Peacock from its perennial place in the ratings cellar. Proving itself to be a fount of originality, NBC’s line-up includes a modern day spin on classic fairy tales (...wait...), a sitcom developed by popular stand-up comic Whitney Cummings (no, not this one, a different one), a coming of age tale set in the world of musical theater (but not, y’know, THAT one), and a moody 1960s period piece centered on a brooding, nattily-attired anti-hero. Yup.

Eh, to hell with originality. I just want to know if any of these new shows will give us 2011’s answer to this guy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Breaking Bad: Box Cutter

Been a busy few days, but I wanted to register a quick reaction after the jump to Breaking Bad, which began its fourth season this week in a confidently low-key fashion.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Self-Interest ≠ Selfishness; A Brief Response to HBR

The current issue of Harvard Business Review features a somewhat frustrating piece by Yochai Benkler called “The Unselfish Gene.” It’s quite engaging in places, particularly when discussing some of the research regarding how context shapes people’s motivations, and in the resulting prescriptions for restructuring business environments to promote collaborative behavior. Unfortunately, the arguments are weakened by two fairly key misinterpretations central to his thesis. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2011 TV Preview Part Three: Separating ABC's "Meh" Wheat from its "Meh"-ier Chaff

Continuing to raise the bar for shallow, gimmick-based criticism everywhere, my highly scientific assessment of next season’s network TV schedule rolls on. See here and here for the first two entries in this series, in which I watch the trailers for a few new shows and predict whether they are bound to more closely match the creative nadir of The Cape, or the hopes once held by Mr. Nadir for The Cape. Today I take a gander at some of the whopping 13 new programs to be unleashed by ABC in 2011-12, while categorically refusing to suffer even a second of Work It, lest I pop a few veins and activate Dark Willow mode.

Friday, July 8, 2011

2011 TV Preview Part Two: In which CBS knows what CBS do

Yesterday, I took it upon myself - dedicated servant to the people of the Internet that I am - to predict the fates of some of next season's new television hopefuls. In lieu of pilot screeners or genuine critical talent, I've opted to approach this task with the next best thing: a preposterous gimmick: Which shows will wind up on the scrap heap before finishing out a season, like last year's poster child of ineptitude, The Cape? And which will become the sort of Nielsen-slobbering stalwarts that run for six seasons and a movie, as a normally wise man once predicted for that selfsame The Cape?

Today, I check in on CBS, which continues to dance with the fluffy multi-camera sitcoms and moody procedurals that brung 'em to the network TV catbird seat.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Look At The 2011 TV Season, Through The Lens of The Cape

No sooner does the current television season come to close than do the five (four? four and a half?) main networks begin directing our collective gaze to the awesome and amazing new shows awaiting us next season.

Some of these offerings may approach the sort of cultural ubiquity that renowned TV guru Abed Nadir imagined was in store for The Cape (i.e., six seasons and a movie). Others will turn out to be risible, misbegotten calamities that crash and burn in a blaze of anti-glory, like what actually happened with The Cape. Most will probably fall somewhere between those extremes, but I’m going to ignore those cases because they don’t conform easily to this admittedly strained joke premise.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pop culture is ready for its next favorite psychopath

This month's GQ excerpts an essay from Jon Ronson's new book The Psychopath Test, which examines the frightening likelihood that the subtly yet undeniably insane are prevalent in every area of society - especially in the upper echelons of power. Reading the piece - an intriguing mini-profile of a notorious corporate executive, "Chainsaw" Al Dunlop - motivated me to revisit two related texts that I've loved (though one of which I have
only the faintest memories of).

One i
s Snakes In Suits, a book co-authored by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, the psychopathy expert who designed the test which gives Ronson's book its inspiration and title. Babiak and Hare argue, with fairly chilling plausibility, that many traits endemic to psychopaths are also traits that drive a great deal of success in corporate America. (It's important to note here that, despite its grisly popular connotation, the medical diagnosis of psychopathy is not intrinsically tantamount to violent crime.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

From Gapers Block - Chicago Rot: Embracing the City's Dark Side

In a sparsely-furnished office in the Merchandise Mart, five recent graduates of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy are striving to write the next chapter in Chicago's film history. With their independent movie Chicago Rot, currently in pre-production, they're determined to change the perception of their hometown among film-goers and filmmakers alike. And by partially funding the project via the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter, they're inviting Second Citizens who share that vision to chip in.

Continue reading at Gapers Block

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A (partial) defense of History Channel

The announcement that History Channel will air a 10-hour scripted series based on the Bible, just a few months after very publicly rejecting a miniseries about the Kennedy family on the grounds of historically inaccuracy, is raising some eyebrows. James Poniewozik of, astute as ever, sums up the case well.

As a committed agnostic, I’m sympathetic to the argument that the Bible shouldn’t be regarded as a work of history in the sense that it accurately relates real world events which occurred in the past. Few but the most devout fundamentalists would argue otherwise.

But it’s absolutely a work of history in another sense. It’s a cultural artifact of rare significance spanning continents and millennia, on par with the Odyssey or Arthurian legend. It’s an ineffable, protean amalgam of historical truths, parables, cultural prisms, and good old-fashioned storytelling flair.

This makes it an altogether different case than that of The Kennedys, which sought to dramatize factual events - recorded, verified, remembered by plenty of people who lived through them first hand. Taking creative liberties with that sort of dictionary-definition history clearly runs afoul of History Channel’s nominal brand identity. I don’t think dramatizing the Bible falls under the same standard, and I similarly don’t think anyone would bat an eye if History announced it was producing a scripted tale of, for instance, Arthur’s exploits in Camelot.

Now, if we’re going to gripe about History Channel tarnishing or outright discarding its brand identity as one of cable’s preeminent institutions of nerdery - well, that's an argument I'm even more sympathetic too, as I rant about after the jump. 

Dispatches from The Vast Wasteland

The 2010-11 TV season winds down tomorrow. Over at The Vast Wasteland blog at ChicagoNow, I review the series finale of The Chicago Code, which comes to a satisfying if lamentable end; and I speak with Bill Lawrence, co-creator of Cougar Town and Scrubs, about the former show's second season finale Wednesday night. Check them out, shan't you?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Place your bets, Windy City

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has gone on the record supporting a casino in Chicago, an idea which has also been previously endorsed by new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Whether this long-discussed, often-thwarted plan ever becomes a reality remains to be seen. But any gambling enterprise that may set up shop in my hometown would be wise to tap into the parochial nature of Second Citizens. Might I suggest a few locally-flavored odds for future Chicago bookies to consider.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ending On A High Note: A Few Great Season Finales

The 2010-2011 network TV season draws to a close this month, sending us out into invigorating, socially well-adjusted, outdoor summer evenings (okay, fine, sending us flipping over to repeats and catch-ups on Netflix). In honor of this bittersweet time, let’s talk favorite season finales.

By no means is this meant to be a best-of-all-time catalog, since I can’t pretend to have seen all sixty years worth of television (careful observers will note that all of these episodes aired in the last two decades). Nor is this even a comprehensive list of my personal favorites. I have no doubt that I’m omitting some wonderful specimens from shows I love - Cheers and Homicide: Life On The Street come to mind - but which I simply haven’t seen recently enough to recall sharply. I’m also excluding series finales, which aren’t fair to compare given their built-in emotional triggers.

So, feel free to jump into the comments and share your own favorite, and tell me exactly why I’m an irredeemable soulless idiot for leaving it off the list.

(Oh, do I even need to add that spoilers follow? Well, this is the Internet, so yes. Yes I do.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Buffett Vs. Scott - The Tale of the Tape

The season finale of The Office, already stuffed to the gills with prayers for view-errr, I mean, guest stars, recently added investment mogul Warren Buffett to the roster of famous people who will jockey for the resume jewel of managing northeastern Pennsylvania's most famous branch office. The Sage of Omaha is as hallowed a name as there is in American business, but he's known primarily as a savvy investor rather than a leader of men and women. So how would he stack up against the man he'd be replacing, veteran manager Michael Scott? Let's go to the tale of the tape:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Anti-Superman screeds are moronic - but not because Superman's fictional

The hysterical kerfuffle over the latest issue of Action Comics, in which Superman renounces his American citizenship, has predictably inspired a huge amount of jingoistic blathering. And of course there have been plenty of calm, well-reasoned rebuttals from people who actually understand the point of the story and who aren't, y'know, morons.

But one counter-argument I've heard around the Twittersphere - partly in jest, partly not - basically amounts to, "Calm down, Superman's not real." There are many valid reasons to reject the anti-Superman screeds, but this isn't one of them. If you believe that fiction has a serious role to play in demonstrating and shaping societal values, then it's perfectly reasonable to be angered by a work of fiction that seems to spit in the face of the values you cherish - or worse, one you once regarded as sharing your values which suddenly seems to upend or reject them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Words worth a thousand pictures

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere recently - fulfilling my duties as both a Sandman devotee and a literary Chicagoan, since the book is April’s selection in our Public Library’s “One Book, One Chicago” program. As any Gaiman reader would expect, the story is propulsive and chock-full of rich world-building and encyclopedic literary allusions. But at times, I feel like the strictures of prose lead to pitfalls that a comic book would skip over: some of the characterizations are a bit too on-the-nose, and descriptive passages occasionally lean on triteness.

And then I come across a passage like this one (which I quote here without context in order to prevent spoilage):

“The marquis felt, then, that much of what he had gone through in the previous week was made up for by the expression on Hunter’s face.”
Only pure prose can render that moment so perfectly. In a comic book, the expression on Hunter’s face would have to be drawn by an artist, who interprets the meaning of the sentence and the scene a certain way. The reader’s interpretation of that drawing may, in turn, diverge from the artist’s intent, but will nevertheless be restricted to the range of emotions conveyed by a particular physical image.

As it stands, that passage encapsulates the competitive advantage of a verbal medium. By relying on the limitless malleability of language, Gaiman allows every reader to process the meaning in her own way. In that sentence, Hunter’s expression might be one of anger, shock, bemusement, respect, relief, astonishment, joy, disbelief. It might contain any combination of those emotions. So it contains all of them, while stating none of them. It’s a Schrödinger paradox of a sentence. It forces the reader to do a bit of work, to invest himself in a way that a visual medium cannot.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ATTENTION STARZ: I have your next historical-but-not-really drama right here

Followers of my Twitter feed will not be surprised to learn that I've been brushing up on my mythology - specifically, Edith Hamilton's Mythology, a sort of greatest-hits compilation of the gods and heroes of Greek, Roman, and Norse legend. What remains striking about virtually every one isn't what they reveal about the values and mentalities of antiquity so much as what they reveal about timeless human nature. This isn't a terribly original observation, but it's true: the roots of all storytelling are here.

Anyway, the one I'm really loving, one of the preeminent stories of its time but lesser known today, is the saga of Theseus. He was Athens's greatest hero, and dude was a straight-up knight of the realm: brave, just, and wise. And his story would make for a pretty kick-ass graphic novel or 13-episode TV series.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekend Round-up

My brief thoughts on Thursday's NBC comedies, including

A very funny but slightly disjointed Community, "Competitive Wine Tasting;"
A ho-hum The Office, "Training Day," that coasts on the wattage of guest star Will Ferrell;
And a superlative Parks and Recreation, "Fancy Party," which solidifies its place as my favorite show on the air.

I also beseech America to watch Cougar Town, an under-appreciated comic gem which returns from hiatus this week (reviews to follow Monday's and Wednesday's episodes).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dispatches from my TV criticism

Over at The Vast Wasteland, I have reviews up of some of this week's new programs:

Celebrity Apprentice, "Australian Gold," in which Gary Busey is on everyone's last nerve, except for the NBC ad sales department.
How I Met Your Mother, "The Exploding Meatball Sub," in which the frustrating outweighed the funny.
The Chicago Code, "Wild Onions," in which a series of vignette-style stories shed some light on partnerships old and new.
Modern Family, "The Musical Man," in which the show coasts on a contrived plot and some overly-familiar gags.
Justified, "Debts and Accounts," in which one of the most grippingly written and acted seasons of TV continues apace.

And from last week, my Q&A with fantasy author/former Buffy star Amber Benson.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sports Night Revisited, Episodes 12-13: In which a love triangle becomes a love rhombus

Season 1, Episodes 12-13: "Smoky," "Small Town"

A good story works its way into your system. But every fiction fan has a few immunities, aesthetic antibodies that will always reject a certain storytelling strain - a particular genre, character type, plot device, whatever - notwithstanding the quality of its execution. You might be congenitally incapable of enjoying a conspiracy plot, or a brooding bad boy character, or anything remotely science fiction-y, no matter how skillfully or originally it's handled. That's a normal aspect of fandom.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Platonic can be ideal

I've been trying to gather my thoughts for the next installment of my Sports Night retrospective, which I think will begin to tackle the will-they/won't-they/but-it's-TV-so-of-fucking-course-they-will relationship between Dana and Casey. It's a dynamic that never worked for me, and one reason why is that it felt so forced. The show tells us that Dana and Casey have been friends for 15 years, but never gives a second's thought to the notion that being great friends could be enough.

It irks me how often TV shows imply that a close relationship between a male and a female can't be valid or satisfying unless it leads to romantic entanglement, or sexual tension. I'm watching Friday Night Lights for the first time, and I was thinking about this while watching that show's handling of Tyra and Landry in season two. (SPOILERS AHEAD after the jump.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sports Night Revisited, Episodes 8-11: Drama is easy, dramedy is hard

Season 1, Episodes 8-11: "Thespis," "The Quality of Mercy At 29K," "Shoe Money Tonight," "The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee Tech"

When a friend of mine first started watching The West Wing, he remarked to me that he was surprised how funny it was. For a lofty political drama - which frequently discussed economic crises, capital punishment, and nuclear disarmament - it devoted a great percentage of its screen time to comedic scenes and side plots. The West Wing, winner of four straight Emmys for Oustanding Dramatic Series, was also one of the funniest prime time shows of its era.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Half-baked thoughts: Are we repeating the mistakes of the Jazz Age?

Because people (and especially journalists) innately seek points of reference from the past in order to understand the present, the administration of Barack Obama has naturally drawn plenty of comparisons to former presidents and eras. Are we living through a revival of FDR's New Deal, or the pessimism of the Carter years? Is the president an heir to Bill Clinton's frequently base-infuriating triangulation, or Ronald Reagan's knack for using an ideological facade to govern from a position of compromise? Or is he, y'know, Mecha-StalinHitler?

One comparison I haven't heard often is with the era of Woodrow Wilson and his Republican successors (Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover). I've been reading William E. Leuchtenburg's "The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-32" recently, and keep finding myself startled at how relevant the descriptions of the 1910s and '20s feel to today. The parallels I'm seeing are not so much between Wilson and Obama (though a few of those, some more superficial than others, certainly exist) as they are between the political and social climates of the respective eras.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sports Night Revisited, Episodes 5-7: The best of times, the worst of times for Sorkin's leading women

Season 1, Episodes 5-7: "Mary Pat Shelby," "The Head Coach, Dinner and The Morning Mail," "Dear Louise..."

As far as Internet truisms go, "Aaron Sorkin can't write women," is right up there with "Never start a land war in Asia."

I haven't always understood this criticism; I see it more clearly on the fringes of his work. You can tell Sorkin wants to write powerful, independent women with strengths and foibles and motivations. He has an idea of what they’re supposed to look like. It's just that a lot of times, the traits he's trying to imbue get lost in translation. At worst, this results in the caricaturish Lt. Cdr. JoAnn Galloway in A Few Good Men, who comes across as shrill and over-matched at nearly every turn (at least based on Demi Moore's portrayal in the film version; I’ve never seen any stage productions). On the other hand, Annette Bening’s formidable lobbyist-cum-presidential-paramour in The American President is well-rounded and engaging, with entirely believable moments of strength and weakness. (Of course, it’s fair to ask how much of the disparity here is due to the relative acting talents of Moore and Bening.)

Sports Night makes a conscious effort to present two female characters in positions of authority. As, respectively, the producer and senior associate producer of Sports Night, Dana Whitaker and Natalie Hurley are drawn as smart, successful women in the traditionally male-centric world of sports journalism. The challenges faced by women in this particular profession (no less today than in 1998, sadly) are arguably greater than in any other consumer industry. Those challenges form the wellspring of the main story in "Mary Pat Shelby," a story which continues - and is disappointingly squandered - in "The Head Coach, Dinner and The Morning Mail."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sports Night: Revisited - The first in an occasional series

One of the highlights of my dull and dispiriting summer of 2001 was falling for Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night. I can't remember if I watched the show during its initial two-season run on ABC in 1998-2000, but it didn't make an impression on me until I began watching the endless midday repeats on Comedy Central during those barren weeks spent at home from college.

I feel like the show is often dismissed these days when it's thought of at all. It's either overshadowed by Sorkin's far more successful (and superior) follow-up The West Wing, or pointed to as the first warning sign of the faults and excesses his detractors would come to loathe. So since I've been meaning to try my hand at television criticism for some time, I figured I would revisit one of my old favorites with a more critical eye.

I'll be working through the 45-episode series in blocks of three or four episodes at a time, grouping them by story arcs as much as possible, but primarily focusing on a couple of overarching themes. I'm not going to spend a lot of time recapping plots or identifying major characters except when necessary, but I'll try to make the discussions accessible to anyone with at least a surface knowledge of the show.

Finally, a style note: In order to distinguish between the show we're watching from the eponymous show-within-the-show the characters are producing, I'll refer to the former in the traditional mode of italics, Sports Night, and the latter in plain text, Sports Night.

With that in mind, off we go. One fan's reappraisal of Sports Night, ten years later, beginning at the beginning:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Belated reflection on a scene from Cairo

I've always been a sucker for a good team-up. I have this innate aversion to the human tendency to divide and categorize ourselves, like among like; the flip side of that is a soft spot for seeing those divisions transcended. Whether in real life (e.g., the "Christmas Truce" in the early months of World War I) or in fiction (like the countless iterations of the X-Men joining forces with Magneto's brotherhood), a story of rivals making common cause, however fleetingly, always strikes a chord with me. The power of these moments lies the paradox: noble unity made possible because ignoble divisions exist in the first place.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Flashback: An Elegy for Mitt

Reprinted here, a limerick I composed in tribute to Mitt Romney and his thwarted 2008 presidential bid, originally posted as a blog comment on The New Republic's website Feb. 7, 2008. Why? Beats the hell out of me. Inspiration takes odd forms sometimes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Modest Proposal for Climate Deniers

As the great blizzard of 2011 descends upon the United States, the only rhetorical device being deployed more frequently and more annoyingly than snow-based portmanteaus (or neoSNOWgisms, if you prefer, because God damn it I can't help it either) is right-wing idiocy about how the existence of cold weather disproves all climate science. Never mind that this claim has been dismissed time and fucking again, or that the elevated intensity of snowstorms is actually evidence OF climate change. We all know that science and logic just bounce off deniers like ninja stars made of Nerf.

Instead of trying to rehash these tedious arguments over again, I suggest we instead propose a deal to any climate denier willing to put his money where his noxious mouth is:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Office waves the white flag by bringing in Will Ferrell

Perhaps proving that I am well on my way to stuffy ol' adulthood, I was more perplexed than pleased by the news of Will Ferrell's four-episode guest spot on The Office. Ferrell will appear during the story arc that sees off Michael Scott, adding some seemingly redundant hoopla to what was already going to be the highly publicized event of Steve Carell's exit from the show.

Ferrell will appear not only in Carell's final episode but in one more after that. It's hard to see this as anything other than a panic move. Stunt casting of this magnitude can't help but create the impression that the producers don't have much faith in the show's ability to hold an audience once Michael Scott isn't at its center. That may or may not be true, but it's absolutely the message they (or NBC) are sending. Unfortunately it's one I happen to agree with.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Public Polling and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (A nerd two-fer!)

On Twitter, Steve Silberman links to a new report showing that only 52% of Americans know that vaccines don't cause autism. As another Twitterer points out, the veracity of online surveys is always tough to measure, since they tend to be self-selecting. But it raises another question for me, one I haven't seen addressed very much: Does the very nature of polling people about empirical facts make them more likely to think that the topic is more subjective than it really is? That is, is there a Heisenberg effect in polling, whereby one cannot effectively measure public opinion without also shaping it?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bridges to Nowhere

I suppose I don't have anything against bipartisanship per se. Nor do I consider it a positive good in and of itself. It's a helpful tool sometimes and a harmful one at others, mostly depending on who's wielding it, like the Bible or Wikipedia. What I can't understand or abide is the cult of Bipartisanship Uber Alles, and the notion of compromise as an end rather than a means, which is as empty as Evan Bayh's suit.

The latest exercise in empty symbolism is a proposal that members of Congress should sit in one unified mass during the upcoming State of the Union address, rather than following the usual practice of Democrats on one side of the aisle and Republicans on the other. You can practically hear David Brooks's heart fluttering like a 12-year old girl who's just been given a pony wearing a Justin Bieber backstage pass around its neck.

So this is what the world looks like through beige-colored glasses. Guys, there's still time to organize a pre-address singing of "Row Row Row Your Boat" in 535-part rounds. Okay, now just the junior senators!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Violent rhetoric and free speech

Many threads of debate have been winding through my Twitter feed today in the aftermath of yesterday's tragedy in Arizona.  One that I've been particularly tangling with concerns the role played by the media and political climate, specifically the venomous hostility that's de rigueur on much of the right. George Packer sums up the argument against "the ugliness to which our politics has sunk" in the New Yorker.  Over in Slate, Jack Shafer dismisses the notion that political speech might motivate violent behavior, specifically calling out Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose remarks have been much pored over in today's coverage.

Friday, January 7, 2011


This is a short story I wrote last year. Copyright © 2011 by Andrew Daglas. Reprinted here by permission of me.
Even after three months, the view from the 38th floor is dizzying.  The horizon stretching into the next state, the tops of neighboring skyscrapers hovering at eye level, the columns of headlights marching down the expressway like pixels in an arcade game – it all can still leave me wondering how I got up here.  Not that long ago, my view was from a garden level office, where I pushed papers for a nine- person insurance outfit while banging out my MBA.  One job fair, three grueling interviews and who knows how many lucky breaks later, here I am.  Top of the world, ma, like the old movie said.