Wednesday, November 29, 2006 

23 Shows You Need To Be Watching: #21, The Simpsons

More on my look at the 23 best shows on TV today...

21. The Simpsons
Synopsis: Oh, come on.
Why You Should Be Watching: Look, if you're not by now, you never will. It's a cultural icon, a touchstone for the late twentieth century, blah blah blah. It's one of the best tv shows ever, and the only reason it's so far down on this list is that it's deep into retread mode now. After what, 17 years? it's only natural for the show to lose a few feet off its fastball. It's settled into a comfortable rut...this week, Homer becomes [insert occupation] or the Simpsons visit [insert exotic location]. It's still funny stuff, but it's mostly very, very familiar funny stuff.
Key scene: Where to start? My personal favorite was the Halloween "Harry Potter" episode where Bart was to turn a frog into a prince, but he forgot to do his homework and so just babbled out nonsense, turning the frog into a vomiting half-human that gurgled "kill me!" The show also still has a surprise or two, as with the recent Halloween episode that mocked the U.S. occupation of Iraq--and ended with a long, silent shot of a demolished Springfield.
Best line: Again, so many to choose from..."Hoy! Hoy!"..."Alcohol--the cause of--and solution to--all of life's problems"..."I wash myself with a rag on a stick"...and so on, and so on, and so on.

Previous Shows:
#22: Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
#23: Friday Night Lights

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 

Haya Doon, Y'all?

Goddammit, I've lived in the South my whole life, and I end up with a "Midland" accent? (Though the "big southern cities" bit is dead-on, I guess.)

I blame TV. But then, I apparently should be working in it, too.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The South
The Inland North
The West
The Northeast
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes


23 Shows You Should Be Watching: #22, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

Continuing my breakdown of the twenty-freaking-three TV shows I'm watching these days...

22. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Synopsis: Behind the scenes of a Saturday Night Live-esque show. Not the one with Alec Baldwin.

Why You Need To Watch: Because it's Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing. He's a hell of a writer, spiraling out dialogue like a lawn sprinkler, with one of the few distinctive visual and literary styles now on TV. Plus, Matthew Perry actually has range as an actor...who'd'a thunk it?

Key Moment: When NBC announced that Sorkin would be doing the show, and it would star Chandler and Josh Lyman. Since then, it's been...well, I wouldn't say disappointing, but there's just something about a bunch of millionaires working to fill a 90-minute sketch comedy show that lacks the gravitas of the moral and social dilemmas of the West Wing. Plus, there are weak-ass cheap shots at red-staters that underline Hollywood's leftward tilt while claiming to deny it. So at the moment, it's like watching Allen Iverson in a church league.

Quote: "We're all being lobotomized by this country's most influential industry that's just throwing in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn't include the courting of twelve-year-old boys. And not even the smart twelve-year-olds, the stupid ones, the idiots, of which there are plenty, thanks in no small measure to this network. So why don't you just change the channel? Turn off your TVs. Do it right now. Go ahead." --Studio 60's outgoing executive producer. It's a good message, but the way that it's force-fed down your throat, it's almost like a double-helping of broccoli.

Previous Shows:
#23, Friday Night Lights

Monday, November 27, 2006 

23 Shows You Should Be Watching: #23, Friday Night Lights

When I decided to write about the TV shows I watch, and you should too, I scared the hell out of myself. As it turns out, I make time for TWENTY-THREE shows, not counting all the ballgames, flip-arounds, and gotta-stop-and-watch'es (Raising Arizona, Goodfellas, the Godfathers, the Man With No Name westerns). It's a depressingly huge number, only slightly mitigated by the fact that not all of these shows cycle at the same time.

What's weird is that I almost never just sit and watch the tube -- I'm always engaged in something else at the time, like, say, writing blog posts. Still, the volume of this list, combined with the fact that I can't stand 90 percent of the "top" TV shows -- the CSI and Law & Order franchises, reality TV, Desperate Housewives/Gray's Anatomy -- leads me to believe that maybe, just maybe, TV isn't quite the vast cultural wasteland it was even five years ago in the pre-Sopranos days. Maybe, just maybe, HBO and FX and Showtime have managed to offset the tidal wave of prime-time crap, and more choice actually does allow for more quality.

Or maybe I just don't have the attention span to read anymore.

Anyway, for this little affair, I'm focusing only on shows that are currently on the air. So we won't include work like Homicide or Arrested Development, NYPD Blue or The West Wing, Cheers or Miami Vice, Keen Eddie or Lucky, Boomtown or Line of Fire. You should definitely look to catch those shows -- every one rises to the level of art at one time or another. But for now, let's just focus on the ones you can TiVo. Anyone who guesses what #1 is wins a script to SUNDOWN: ARIZONA #1.

23. Friday Night Lights
Synopsis: The story of a small Texas town in autumn, where everyone values God, guns, sex, and football...and most definitely not in that order.
Why You Need To Watch It: Because it's dying in the ratings, and unlike most shows, it doesn't deserve to. This show could have gone wrong so many ways, and goes right every single one. The acting, the music, the direction, the storylines...this show takes Faulkner's approach of finding the secrets of the human condition in a tiny postage stamp of land, and pulls it off.
Key Scene: The hush that falls over the stadium in the very first episode when the star quarterback takes a paralyzing hit. In most other shows, he'd get up and walk to slow, building applause and overwrought orchestral music. Here, with less than sixty minutes of show under our belts, we already know the quarterback's ending won't be a storybook one.
Great Quote: "Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to realize that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all at some point in our lives fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts: that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us. And that when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times. It is this pain that allows us to look inside ourselves." --Coach Eric Taylor, speaking to his team outside fallen QB Jason Street's hospital room. It's a scene of quiet, powerful dignity, and once you realize it won't be spoiled by Hollywood cheese, it hits you all the harder.

Sunday, November 26, 2006 

Southern Lit: "Smonk," Tom Franklin

Good God, is this a violent book. I'm talking violent in a way that makes Al Swearengen look like Roy Rogers. You pick up Smonk, you'd best avoid pizza...and hamburgers...and milkshakes...and, well, pretty much any kind of eating or drinking. And every time you read this one, you probably ought to take a couple minutes to recompress lest you throw a few C-bombs at your significant other or mom. Tom Franklin is a great writer, heir to the fine Southern tradition of brutal realism, but this book blows right through the standards of every single community up to and including Sodom. Rape, incest, dissection, castration, murder in all its many forms...the violence is so pervasive that it's almost symphonic.

Oh, and a swallowed glass eye gets recovered via sword surgery. It's all here, folks.

Anyway, the plot: it's Alabama, early twentieth century. Much like Faulkner's Barn Burning, we first meet E.O. Smonk on trial in a country courthouse. Unlike Barn Burning, though, Smonk doesn't get thrown out of town; instead, he does his best to haul every male in town straight down to hell with him. We'll soon see that it's classic Smonk, the kind of horrific bloodshed and death that the man specializes in. As the dying judge remarks ruefully after Smonk escapes,

Who wouldn't admire the gall of a fellow brings a machine gun and a peck of hired killers to his own goddamn trial? Who wouldn't admire a fellow never leaves a trail of evidence? That's got this far in the world and galled so many folks and killed twice that number and cheated the rest, all without being blowed to itty bitty pieces or hanged by his goddamn neck or succumbing to one of the countless infirmities he seems to collect like a goddamn hobby, hell yeah I admire the sonofabitch.

Also involved in the Smonk affair are a young woman named Evavangeline (not a typo), a whore who responds to the brutal advances of men by simply eviscerating them; Phail Walton, an absurdly devout "Christian Deputy" who has a most unique (and painful) method for controlling his sexual urges; and the town of Old Texas, Alabama, where the men are dead (thanks to Smonk) and the women in a pursuit that would make Edgar Allan Poe blanch.

This is the kind of hard-edged fiction that, like Cormac McCarthy, treads the line between the grotesque and the horrifying. Flannery O'Connor once remarked that all Southern writers are toiling away on the train tracks, with the freight train that is Faulkner always bearing down on them. That may indeed be true -- but E.O. Smonk is the first guy who could skin O'Connor's Misfit and hijack Faulkner's train.

Highly long as you know what you're getting into.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 

Song Hall of Fame: Guns n' Roses' "Paradise City"

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wrapped up each year by channeling my inner Ryan Seacrest and coming up with an annual list of the best songs of the year. I’ve put 2004 and 2005 online, and 2006 will show up in a month or so. I’ve also begun my own personal Hall of Fame; the initial class of nominees includes Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain” and Van Halen’s “5150.” Here’s the next one.

Guns n’ Roses was the last great larger-than-life rock band. Not saying there hasn’t been any good rock made since G n’ R; far from it. But Axl, Slash, et. al. were the last band in the long line of epic groups that began with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, and “Paradise City” was the last great epic rock song. From its strum-and-arpeggio opening major chords designed to call a crowd to worship to its naïve-yet-desperate lyrics to its tsunami of a close, “Paradise City” encompasses everything rock n’ roll should be, could have been, and never will be again.

There are a few songs that completely changed my perceptions of music the moment I heard them. Styx’s “Renegade,” with its “hangman’s comin’ down from the gallows” refrain, scared the unholy shit out of me when I first heard it in second grade (and chills me for entirely different reasons today). Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” somehow managed to fill a suburban Atlanta elementary schooler with existential angst. The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” touched the same societally-repressed chord in me that it did in millions of other white boys. And Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sliced through the early-‘90s glop of Hammer, Vanilla Ice and, yes, the by-then-bloated Guns n’ Roses like a machete.

G n’ R’s “Welcome to the Jungle” was the same way for me. The first time I heard of Guns n’ Roses, it was from my little brother, who’d seen them opening for Motley Crue back in the ‘80s. Back then, my brother laughed at the fact the lead singer of this wack-ass new band leaped into the crowd to fight a security guard, then got decked and thrown out of the arena—two songs into their set. Who’d have known that in a couple years, this skinny idiot would be the most famous rock star in the world?

Anyway, my brother had a cassette tape of “Appetite for Destruction,” and my buddy Tom and I decided to play it one afternoon. We never got further than the first song, “Welcome to the Jungle.” That opening riff, the scream, the menace, the power—holy shit, this was like getting hooked up to a car battery. We must’ve played that same song six or seven times in a row, PLAY and REWIND, PLAY and REWIND.

“Paradise City” was the sixth song on the album and the closer of Side 1 (back when albums had sides, ya whippersnappers). That was the “Stairway to Heaven”/ “Sympathy for the Devil” position, where true rock artistes placed their most devastating tracks. In seven minutes, it embodied rock music in general and Guns n’ Roses in particular—both devastating and overlong, both simplistic and world-weary. It was the kind of song that could bring a hundred thousand people to frenzy—I remember being on the field at RFK Stadium in D.C. when Guns n’ Roses closed their set with it, and the energy running through the crowd was flat-out primal. And, ten years later, it was the song that Axl wheezed through during one of his fitful “comebacks” with his journeyman band. He couldn’t have tattooed the words “GnR 1988-1992” on his forehead and been any clearer that the band’s best days were long past.

There’s a rumor that “Chinese Democracy,” which would only be G n’ R’s third full-length album of new material, believe it or not, is going to hit stores in the next few weeks. I’ve written about this before; I’ve heard half a dozen of the new tracks, and there’s only one twenty-second break in “Better” that even comes close to approaching the power and edge of “Appetite.” In the end, though, it doesn’t matter—as long as there are guitars and vaguely discontented kids, “Paradise City” will be waiting for them.

Sunday, November 12, 2006 

One Day You, Too, Shall Be Steve Spurrier's Bitch


So here's a post from Sports Gone South of which I'm particularly proud:

We fear for Jarvis Moss.

Moss, a player for the University of Florida football organization, blocked two kicks attempted by Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks yesterday, including a potential game-winning field goal. And while Jarvis Moss and the Gator Nation may believe the game ended when the ball deflected off Moss's meaty paw, the truth is, this game won't end until Steve Spurrier has the last word. Will Moss find the head of a gator in his bed? Will his offending left hand, severed and bronzed, one day adorn Spurrier's desk? All we know is that someday, some way, Steve Spurrier will have his revenge on Florida.

Why? Because Steve Spurrier is evil. And we can prove it.

With a tip of the visor to Chuck Norris, we present:

Steve Spurrier Is Evil: A Case Study

-"Steve Spurrier" and "evil" nets about 25,800 hits in Google. "Steve Spurrier" and "messiah" returns 813. "Steve Spurrier drinks the blood of Tallahassee infants" gives you one...for now.

-Steve Spurrier casts no reflection and no shadow, and only appears on television via a complex motion-capture program developed by those Lord of the Rings guys.

-Steve Spurrier names his bowel movements after various SEC coaches, depending on his degree of success against each one. He can drop three Fulmers and be back on the sidelines before the play clock runs out.

-Steve Spurrier advised Donald Rumsfeld on appropriate Abu Ghraib information extraction techniques, noting that "You can't spell 'total, uncompromising victory' without 'torture.'"

-If you should point out that there is, in fact, no "e" in "total, uncompromising victory," as there is in "torture," Steve Spurrier will simply have all traces of you erased from existence, like he did with President McDaniel.

-Steve Spurrier's visor, when thrown by Steve Spurrier, is capable of slicing through the hull of an aircraft carrier, and more than likely will come out the other side.

-If you rearranged the letters in Steve Spurrier's name, they would simply revert to spell "Steve Spurrier." No man alters the name of Steve Spurrier.

-Steve Spurrier has downloaded the souls of seven university presidents into his iPod, and forces them to dance to Fergie.

-If Steve Spurrier became the villain on '24,' Jack Bauer would be fetching Steve Spurrier's coffee between the hours of 7:00 am and 8:00 am, then cleaning up after Steve Spurrier's dog between the hours of 8:00 am and 9:00 am, then...

-Steve Spurrier once ate an entire Seminole Indian. He then stood onshore for three months waiting for a hurricane on which to dine, but none materialized.

-Steve Spurrier has never been dealt anything but pocket aces.

-Steve Spurrier has never lost a game...he's just been plotting an appropriate agonizing demise for every player on the other side of the field when time ran out.

-We're not saying Steve Spurrier had anything to do with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but when you place satellite images of Dealey Plaza atop images of Spurrier's Florida Fun n' Gun formation, the match is exact.

-Steve Spurrier has impacted today's NFL more than any man alive. How? Steve Spurrier so shattered the psyche of the boy who would become the NFL's Great White-And-Blue Hope that Colts opponents ought to tape Steve Spurrier head shots to their facemasks.

-Steve Spurrier knows the cheat codes to NCAA football...and we're not talking about a video game.

Feel free to add your own findings below.

Friday, November 03, 2006 

Pimp My Portfolio

Most of my sports writing is over at Sports Gone South these days. Every so often, though, I spread the love a little wider. Here are two outlets upon which said love has been spread.

--Over at the Chicago Sports Review, we made a case for a football Dream Team. You know it's time.

--And over at is the Internet version of a piece I wrote for Bluff magazine on poker players staking other players. Kind of makes one wonder if, say, Pedro Martinez might not have owned a piece of the Cards' action this season...


Wednesday, November 01, 2006 

Lit Review: Brad Meltzer's The Book of Fate

I love a good conspiracy theory. I could tell you ten different convincing suspects for who killed JFK. I love the thought that people actually think we faked the moon landing. And if you can get past the fact that three thousand people died, there's something perversely fascinating about the fact that people really believe someone planted explosives to bring down the World Trade Center.

So when I heard that Brad Meltzer, one of my favorite writers, was penning a book on the Freemasons and their secrets, I was in without needing any more. The Freemasons are legendary for their secrecy, and may or may not be pulling the strings on the whole world. For "proof," check out the site of this guy right here, who claims an evil conspiracy that encompasses everything from McDonald's logo to the godawful Oliver Stone film "Any Given Sunday."

Meltzer's book tells the story of Wes Holloway, a presidential aide who takes a bullet during a failed assassination attempt at a NASCAR race. The president's deputy chief of staff dies in the firefight, and the president loses his election bid when a photo of the attempt makes it appear he's hiding behind the wife of one of his big donors.

Flash forward eight years, and Wes sees--or thinks he sees--the allegedly dead chief of staff sneaking into the former president's quarters in Malaysia. And that sets off a whole chain of events that...well, I won't say more, except to say that Meltzer specializes in setting up a mystery, then pulling off the Purloined Letter trick of having the answer to the problem hiding right there all along in plain sight.

It's a damn good wintertime reading book, filled with the kind of nuance and detail that comes from dedicated research. While I would have loved to see some more Washington-based intrigue--most of the action takes place in South Florida--what we've got here is a book well worth checking out.

Bonus: visit Meltzer's website for some secrets about the Masons.


Jay Busbee runs Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR Blog From The Marbles, Atlanta Magazine's Atlanta sports blog Right Down Peachtree, and the Southern sports/humor blog Sports Gone South. He also writes for damn near anybody who'll throw him a buck and a byline, and he's at work on the books The Quiet Dynasty: The History Of The Atlanta Braves' Championship Run (2009, Sports Publishing LLC) and God Is A Bulldog: Georgia, Florida, And The Greatest Play In College Football History (2010, Sports Publishing LLC). Click below for more info on his novels, articles, and comics.
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