Pierre McGuire: He’s Barking, I’m Mad

I  think the first virtue is to restrain the tongue: he approaches nearest to the Gods, who knows how to be silent, even though he is in the right.

– Cato

It ain’t a bad plan to keep still occasionally even when you know what you’re talking about.

– Kin Hubbard

I had the inestimable pleasure of watching Game 7 of the Boston-Carolina series last night on TSN.  Gord Miller was the play-by-play announcer and Pierre McGuire was the colour man providing his amplitude-enhanced analysis literally throughout the program.

Those who have survived broadcasts featuring Mr. McGuire’s garrulous, high-decibel work will know, or certainly suspect, that he has never had a thought pass through his mind that did not (in his opinion) warrant being related aloud immediately.  These frequent and vociferous pronouncements, packed quickly and tightly into the sometimes miniscule or imperceptible gaps between the play by play, may seem  – to those unfamiliar with Pierre’s unfortunate condition – unusual or even objectionable.

Some Olympic Thoughts

Usain Bolt: the guy nearly stumbles coming out of the blocks (dragging his left toe on the first stride), shuts the engine off at about 80m (foregoing a full-power effort for the last 8 strides of what is for him a 42 stride race) and STILL shatters the world record and lays down a 9.69. I really, really hope that’s not chemically-assisted, because I want to like this guy a lot. On the CBC, Elliotte Friedman kept his impeccable record intact for “most consecutive interviews featuring at least one astonishingly stupid question”. He mentioned to Bolt that Michael Phelps has seven gold medals in swimming, then pointed out that Bolt still has the 200m and the 4×100 relay to go and asked whether he could “equal” Phelps. Bolt gave him a look, you know the one, the “are you really saying that?” look, then said “No, I don’t think I can equal that guy – he’s great.” Next up in Elliotte’s interviewing arsenal: “Usain, in a fight between an eagle and a dolphin, who would win?” and “Usain, who was smarter: Leonardo da Vinci or Charlie Babbit from the movie Rain Man?” It must have been tough for Elliotte to fit that one in to what was a relatively brief exchange, just a minute or so in duration, but – as always – Elliotte made the bold choice to forego asking the questions the viewer would like to have an answer for, such as “why did you let up in the last 20 meters”, instead choosing to concentrate on some nonsense about a guy from a different country who competed in a different event on a different day and in an entirely different physical medium.  In fact, the fascination with Michael Phelps is becoming somewhat thematic with Mr. Friedman;  last week he asked Canadian swimmer Brian Johns, who had swam a Canadian-record time to simply qualify for the 400 IM final what it was like to swim against Michael Phelps – that is to say that in the immediate aftermath of the crowning athletic achievement of this young man’s life, seconds after he has finished competing at the highest level he or anyone else could imagine after years of solitary hard work and lonely dedication to purpose, Friedman essentially took him aside, pointed at Phelps and said, “Canada wants to know:  don’t you think THAT GUY is fast?”  Keep it classy, Elliotte.

This morning, Spouse and I were watching a bit of the women’s trampoline competition. We were having the perhaps inevitable conversation about the legitimacy of this event as an Olympic sport, when one of the announcers observed of a particular competitor that she needed to “bounce back” from a disappointing performance. We descended into gales of laughter and pretty much didn’t hear another thing anyone on the TV said because we were too busy wheezing and gasping for air in between howls of laughter about trampolinists on the rebound, trampolinists failing to obey the law of gravity and simply shooting off into space, etc.  Oh, sporting cliches:  you give us so many hours of joy, and what do we give you in return?

Spouse and I are both excited about the upcoming equestrian show jumping competition. The first round of competition was yesterday morning – we watched bits and pieces of the round as we were dressing for work and later – when we had gotten to work – certain of the trips via CBC’s streaming feed on the Net. Canada’s Mac Cone and Eric Lamaze each laid down a perfect trip with no time faults – Lamaze and Hickstead, in particular, were absolutely blazing around the course finishing three seconds under the alloted time on a course where I would venture to guess more than half the competitors accrued at least one time penalty. Canada also benefitted from Jill Henselwood and Black Ice’s clean, but slightly slow round (1 fault) and Ian Millar and In Style’s 4 jumping fault trip. Captain Canada and In Style got a little unlucky on that one, when the horse’s trailing legs came down on the top of the far rail of the last oxer, rattling the rail out of the cups in circumstances where it might just as easily have stayed up. Canada stands tied in the team competition for second place with one penalty (the lowest individual score posted by a team member in each round is not counted), behind a U.S. team that managed to post a penalty-free score with strong performances from Laura Kraut, McLain Ward, and – as always – Beezie Madden and Authentic. Biggest surprise so far: poor performance of the German team, who posted twenty-two faults in all, and who were well back in the pack.

I don’t want to jinx it, but based on the way Eric Lamaze and Hickstead have been going all year, I will not be surprised if they end up battling for individual gold with Beezie Madden and Authentic in a jumpoff for the Olympic title.   It would be a great story of personal triumph for Lamaze, who has twice previously been expelled from the Canadian team for drug-related reasons, and who comes from a disadvantaged socio-economic background and had to scratch and claw for everything he’s gotten in what can be a somewhat elitist sport, so going to places like the Asheville Recovery Center is one of the better solutions to face this problem.  It is tough for me to root against Beezie, because she just seems so genuinely nice, but I have to confess there is a part of me that would like to see Lamaze put his Olympic issues behind him most emphatically with an individual gold.  Spouse and I have been fortunate enough to see him ride Hickstead on a number of occasions, and – although I don’t pretend to know a lot about the sport – this partnership seems like one in which absolutely everything is going the right way at the right time.

An Open Letter to the Television Program Lost

Dear Lost:

It is with no regret whatsoever that I must inform you that our relationship has come to an end. Now it is time for you to go.

We have been seeing each other – off and on – for about two and a half years now. Oh, I remember well the heady flush of our romance when it was new and exciting. When I first met you, you struck me as unique and strangely fascinating. You sure were pretty to look at. We spent so much time together then. Those nights spent watching your Season One discs and getting to know your many hidden stories and secrets (through the flashback sequences especially) were so much fun. We laughed when Hurley said funny things and added the word “dude” to every line he said. We cried when Rose told the story about how much she missed her husband Bernard. The “mythology” bits of the story – the smoke monster and an erstwhile polar bear – were quaint and charming.

In retrospect, though, I think we both knew it wasn’t going to last. First, you changed. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, you stopped being about the characters and started to obsess about something called The Hatch and the alleged backstory behind The Others. At around that same time, you stopped coming around regularly – your episodes got repeated and you had nothing new to say to me. Quite frankly, I was already a little disenchanted with some of the things you were saying. I mean, seriously, this business with “The Others”? You know what that struck me as? That struck me as one of those stories I used to write in eighth grade English class, where the bad guys didn’t get a name because I couldn’t think of one before I handed in my composition. By the time Walt and Michael were being grabbed off a sea-faring escape raft by powerboating hillbillies, I was in full fledged doubt about you.

Remember what you did next? You invented about twenty more characters – the folks who had been seated in the Tail Section of Oceanic 815 – and then spent a season killing them off. I didn’t particularly like any of those characters. Some of them I quite actively DISliked, especially that Ana Lucia. I complained to Spouse that all Anna Lucia ever did was scowl menacingly and sneer threats at the camera. I opined that the pacing on the show was becoming aggravatingly glacial and that the plot was becoming cumbersome and juvenile. It seemed to me that you were very much making this all up as you went along.

It’s pointless to recapitulate the host of silliness that followed. Suffice to say that since around the time you killed off all of the Tail Section types, making the previous season a complete waste of effort. There have been exploding submarines and people kept as prisoners in a zoo; forced surgeries and exploding hatches; buttons that need to inexplicably be pressed lest the world come to an end; a soothsaying Scotsman and something called the Dharma Initiative. It seems like I haven’t had a clue what the fuck you’re trying to say to me for quite some time now. The one redeeming character that you did come up with – Mr. Eko – got killed too and I haven’t a clue why.

Your characters don’t say anything to one another anymore. They ask questions of one another, stare menacingly (and intensely, ALWAYS intensely) at each other – AND NOBODY EVER FUCKING ANSWERS. Interrogators inexplicably let their inquiries float off into space, unaddressed and unresolved. Everybody points guns at each other. Each episode begins with one group of people holding another group at gunpoint or otherwise as captives, frequently for no adequately explained reason whatsoever. Each episode contains a “dramatic” reversal where the people who were held at gunpoint to begin with end up taking their captors by surprise – and holding them at gunpoint. Sigh.

Anyway, I’m just letting my bitterness turn this into something personal. Suffice to say that I’ve lost interest. That was probably inevitable, given that I’ve lost the capacity to care about any of your characters. They don’t actually do anything other than react with intense stares and pointed guns to unspecified threats to their existence. So far from caring about your characters, I have actually started to kind of hate them. The last straw came when I watched this past Thursday’s episode – five days later, on tape, and only when I ran out of other TV to watch – and you showed me some shit about future Sayid meeting some guy on a golf course, making a bet about whose iron shot would be closer to the hole, then pulling out a gun and shooting him. You didn’t tell me who this guy was, or why Sayid was shooting him. It wasn’t particularly shocking to me, because there’ s more lead flying around this – ahem – deserted island than there was at Guadalcanal. It wasn’t particularly dramatic, because I long ago lost the capacity to be gripped by any sense of mystery on this ridiculous melodrama. Do you want to know what my reaction to this event was? I laughed uproariously at the absurdity of this hackneyed bullshit.

The upshot is that every time I spend time with you, I end up feeling like you’ve wasted my time and I’ve cheapened myself. I am angry at you, and I feel like you have broken promises you once made to me.

Whatever, I just don’t care anymore. So we’re done. I think it best that we not see each other again.

Oh, and by the way: it’s not me – it’s you.

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The Wire Season 2

Spouse and I just finished watching the last two episodes of The Wire (Season 2). 

Awesome.

Episode 10 has this one moment, a plot twist that neither of us saw coming in the least until it was happening, and the twist was so sudden and shocking, so enthralling (even though it concerns one of my least favourite characters from the season) that we sat speechless and stunned while it unfolded in front of our eyes.  The final two episodes of the season, representing a denouement of sorts for the year-long story arc, were two of the better episodes in the series so far.  It just keeps getting better.  Why haven’t I heard more about this show?

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Home again, home again jig-a-jig-jig.

It’s been a little busy around here this past week.  Spouse and I were away the week before last attending a funeral in Northern Ontario.  We got snowed in up there and missed an extra day of work as a result.  When we got back to work, a couple of days went by and Spouse came down with a wicked cold and, as we later learned, a sinus infection.    This thing has pretty much knocked her on her ass for three or four days, and I’ve been covering some of her work commitments as a result.  Add a couple of snowstorms into the mix (with all the attendant shovelling required) and there has unfortunately not been either time or energy for me to blather on teh Intarwebs.

That is, until yesterday.   Determined to chill a bit and get back some much needed energy, Spouse and I planted ourselves in front of the tube.  What I am saying is that I spent the time I could have spent with y’all perched on my couch and drinking in the entertainment from my TV set.  We had watched the first couple of episodes of The Wire Season One a few days ago;  on Saturday, we put that baby to bed.  We watched about eight episodes of the series, right up to the end of the first season.   What an amazing bit of television.  This show follows a major drug and homicide investigation into the Baltimore Projects subculture.  It tells the story on both sides of the wire.  It features some of the greatest characters ever invented on television – on the street side Bubs, Wallace and D’Angelo;  on the law side Jimmy McNulty, Bunk, Lester Freamon, Kima, and Sgt. Jay Landesman.  There’s also one of the great all time villains, Omar.  The acting on this show is absolutely top notch, especially Larry Gilliard Jr., the guy who plays D’Angelo Barkesdale (a lieutenant in the drug-dealing organization) and Bubs, played by Andre Royo.

We loved this show so much, I was in the car this morning and off to the mall to get seasons two, three and four.  I understand that season five, the final season of the show, is playing out on HBO right now.  Writer’s strike aside, why can’t network TV produce anything half this good?

And the product gives you a hangover, too.

Can’t stop laughing at a line from Cox Bloc. In a post about a William Houston article suggesting that Hockey Night in Canada ditch the Leafs and televise the Senators instead, Godd Till writes:

Switching out the Leafs also might not go over well with Hockey Night advertisers. The chance to connect with a fanatically loyal fanbase which consumes the product with dedication and verve no matter how vile it tastes and how sick it makes you: that’s gotta be Molson’s target audience right there.

Meanwhile, the John Ferguson Jr. firing that is approaching will surprise no one. The papers here are printing stories to the effect that the Leafs have been granted permission by the Phoenix Coyotes to approach Cliff Fletcher about taking on interim General Manager gig. What a bush league maneuver by the organization; how mortifying it must be for JFJ to have to sit in his office and act all normal, as if everybody doesn’t know he should be packing his shit up and getting ready to go; must make for some awkward moments around the photocopier.

A metaphor for JFJ trying to do his job these daysYou really have to wonder if this kind of thing has been going on for a while around the office, though. You know what I mean: suddenly, his lunch order starts coming back wrong when the gang orders take-out. In short order, nobody comes around to ask what JFJ wants for lunch at all and everybody “forgets” to mention that they collectively decided to go for Chinese. Next thing he knows, emails with near-humorous pictures of cats are being forwarded to every inbox but his, and nobody asks him to put a loonie in the lottery ticket pot. It’s all but over but the shouting, man. Please turn in your electronic access tag, and we’re going to need those Post-Its back.

Limbo, limbo, how low can you go?

Mike and I had a little discussion a few days ago, in the comments section of his site, about inter alia (which is Latin for “between beers”) the myriad of ills facing the NHL as it attempts to make some sort of an impact on the average American consumer.

At some point, Mike referred to the NHL as the “fourth” pro league; I pointed out that I thought he was being rather generous to the NHL in that regard. I said I thought there were some numbers on the NHL’s tv ratings performance in the U.S. that made it clear that professional hockey rated far behind things like figure skating and professional rodeo. I promised to try and hunt some of the data down and post it here.

Here is an article from the WaPo dated June 2006 that discusses some of these issues. The Post’s site sometimes requires registration, so I’ve quoted a couple of the more salient paragraphs below:

The big exception is television ratings — a key revenue driver and measure of a sport’s mass appeal — which have gone from bad to worse. The NHL playoffs, mostly relegated to the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), a second-tier cable channel known for hunting and fishing programs and its Tour de France coverage, have barely registered with the American public. NBC’s ratings aren’t great, either.

“You look at the playoff [ratings] numbers, and they have been beaten pretty soundly by poker and bowling,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

To be fair, a quick review of the article suggests to me that its general theme is the overall re-surgence and re-emergence of hockey after the lockout, except insofar as the TV ratings are concerned; attendance was said to be up and many signs were said to point to a successful recovery for the league, at least outside the realm of television. To finish behind bowling, though – I mean no disrespect here to Earl Anthony, but…dude.

How to chili cheese me off.

Has anyone else noticed a recent trend in the world of television advertising? I know that viewers in different physical locations will see different advertisements, depending upon advertising time sold locally by one’s cable company, but it seems to me that no matter where you are, companies have recently been attempting to beat you into submission by playing, replaying and replaying a specific commercial interminably during a particular program. During CFL telecasts this past season, for example, the undisputed worst corporate offender was Wendy’s: their spots featuring a “training knave” who is dispatched to replenish the supply of burger patties, only to discover (evidently crack-addled) actors rehearsing some sort of play in the restaurant’s freezer drove Spouse and I to distraction. It was easy to tell when one of those spots came on at our house, no matter where you were in the building – shouted profanities and the unmistakable sounds of someone leaping for the remote control and the sweet relief offered by the “mute” button were a dead giveaway. Even when you were in the bathroom, you could totally tell when the damn thing was on in this way. Other advertisers have offended using this method as well: Future Shop and its current series featuring the lanky doofus croaking some horrendous song purportedly authored as a Christmas gift for his girl spring to mind, as do any Coors Light ad and those bowel-movement inducing “This is ouuuuuuuuuuuur” country truck advertisements.

During Monday Night Football last night, I saw for the first time a Taco Bell ad in which Dork #1 harasses Dork #2 about the inadequacy of spicing in the fast food that Dork #2 has selected to purchase from Taco Bell (some sort of chipotle-flavoured cat food wrapped in a tortilla). The ad concludes when Dork #1 suffers the indignity of his own fast food purchase (from a fictional competitor) igniting in the paper bag he is holding in his hand. I should perhaps say more accurately that I saw this spot for the first thirty times last night – and then it was halftime.

I can’t understand the thinking behind this ad-buying strategy. If Taco Bell wants to annoy me beyond the bounds of civility and then remind me every six minutes of their institutional policy concerning callous disregard for my continued sanity, well then mission accomplished. What I need to know is why they are doing this to me and what commercial rewards they expect to reap from propelling me into madness. I know that there are some who will say, “Ah, but you REMEMBER the ad; that’s why they do it!” To this, I simply say that I have adopted a firm policy, as of last evening, of purchasing absolutely nothing from Taco Bell unless and until that ad is discontinued. Also, if I flip my lid and lose my job, then I’ll just be wandering the street in a bathrobe muttering about how the radio waves are controlling my mind and – this is important, you “Run for the Border” types – not bringing home the bling, which seriously affects the amount of disposable income I have available to drop on overpriced and under-nutritious foodstuffs.

For me, the continuous re-emergence of this particular commercial last night definitely adversely affected my evening; what was a very entertaining and compelling Monday night tilt between the undefeated Patriots and an insanely motivated bunch of Ravens kept getting intruded upon by the idiotic repetition of this stupid ad, to the point that I was finding it difficult to simply enjoy the game. To be clear, it is not so much the content of the spot that I object to – although the ad is dumb, it would probably be otherwise unremarkable if I didn’t happen to see it something like forty times in a little more than three hours. Yo, Taco Bell, how come you harshin’ on my pigskin buzz?

I know, I know, this is hardly the most controversial topic ever broached, but I need to vent on this subject. Seriously.

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TV timeout.

As mentioned on the sidebar, one of the sites I occasionally visit – okay, “haunt daily” is defective yeti.  Your amiable host at dy is Matthew Baldwin, whose great sense of humour permeates the entire site.  He occasionally shares a little bit of his own satirical writing.  If you check out the site, be sure to search the archives for the White House Text (Mis)Adventure – a funny bit that combines reference to the old Infocom text adventure games and the current inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with hilarious results.

Recently, Matthew posted reviews of some DVDs he’d been watching, one of which was Deadwood, a show that I haven’t got around to watching yet – though my brother gave me the box set of the first season last year for Christmas.  No, it is not that I did not like the gift, I’ve just been a little busy, okay ?  Spouse and I just recently finished watching The Sopranos, – I’d never watched even a single episode until this summer, so you can see that we’re playing a little catch-up here.   Anyway, my point is that Deadwood has been on the list, but has remained in the “on deck” pile nonetheless, as a result of some quality material preceding it in priority.   Matthew’s review has piqued my interest, though (he promised gunfights and robots, or at least half of those things – which sounds like a can’t miss recipe for entertainment to me) so I will be moving Deadwood to the front of the queue.  I left a comment at his site to tell him about one of the other series that has gotten in the way of my Deadwood viewing.  Here’s what I wrote:

If you like the mind-bending stuff and episodic serial TV that moves the plot forward, without a doubt, you need to get your hands on a BBC show called Life on Mars. There were only two seasons aired, something like 16 episodes in total, but the brevity of the series and the tightness of its story arc were very purposefully planned by its creators. The basic synopsis of the show is that a Manchester detective (Sam Tyler) investigating a particular crime is involved in a car accident; when he wakes up, he is in 1973. Each episode of the show has elements of a classic cop show plot, with the superadded dimension that the series as a whole is also challenging the viewer to decide (as Sam tries to decide for himself) whether he has actually time-travelled to 1973, has gone mad, or is in a coma and just imagining the events depicted in each episode. Sam is, of course, attempting to figure out how to “return” to his life in current-day Manchester all the while. The writing is absolutely top-notch, with each episode like a loving homage to the cop shows genre in general and 70s cop shows in particular, with the “time travel” question and the changes in social and policing mores permeating the whole cloth of the show and putting an absolutely fresh twist on the formula. The acting is also quite good, and some of the characters (such as Sam Tyler’s 1973 cop boss Gene Hunt) are extremely memorable and entertaining. I know that the basic nutshell explanation (time travelling cop) sounds a little doubtful, but my wife and I absolutely devoured all sixteen episodes and both felt it was the best show we’d ever seen on television. I know that the show was being broadcast on a network called Showtime here in Canada – but I’m pretty sure our “Showtime” is a totally different company than the American “Showtime”. It is also – ahem – possible to locate copies of the show on teh Intarwebs if you are familiar with Bitcomet and torrents.

Suffice to say that the amount of entertainment and plot development that the writers of this show managed to stick into sixteen episodes will make you want to fling everyone involved in the production of Lost into a very deep portion of the ocean.

Meanwhile, I will take your recommendation and finally open up the box of DVDs containing season 1 of Deadwood. Now, how am I going to convince my wife to watch wild-west robot gunfights?

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