Friday, December 17, 2010

Playlist Week Day 5 -- Neil Young

[This weekend, I got the new issue of Rolling Stone, which included a bunch of specific playlists like Bono's David Bowie playlist or Ozzy Osbourne's Beatles playlist. So, for this week, I'll be doing five playlists of ten songs per artist/band each day with some brief comments on the song. All songs in chronological order.]

It's motherfuckin' Neil Young.

1. "The Loner" (1968) from Neil Young: The stuff about the guy being on the subway, sitting at the back, reminded me of me sitting at the back of the bus...

2. "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" (1970) from After the Gold Rush: Man, is that title wrong or what? Or is it? The "I have a friend I never see..." predicted the internet age... if you take it literally.

3. "A Man Needs a Maid" (1972) from Harvest: I love the Live as Massey Hall version of this where the lyrics talk about being 'afraid' a bit more. But, there's something sad and loneyly about this song. Some think it's sexist, but it's really just about a guy who's so lonely that he may as well get a maid, because that's the only way to have a woman around his place these days. I love the overproduction.

4. "Revolution Blues" (1974) from On the Beach: Angry and darkly funny. Sure, it's about Charles Manson, but it's also about how shitty LA is. One of those songs that I can play over and over forever.

5. "Cortez the Killer" (1975) from Zuma: Killer guitar work. "Cotez, Cortez, what a killer, man." What? He was!

6. "Campaigner" (1977) from Decade: "Even Richard Nixon has got soul." Imagine singing a song with that in it? Young went where he wanted. And this song captures something about politics and wanting to be loved. A rare one that's worth tracking down.

7. "Powderfinger" (1979) from Rust Never Sleeps: A story song that has a good driving rhythm.

8. "Crime in the City (Sixty to Zero Part I)" (1989) from Freedom: Fuck, this song is so cynical and bitter. The stuff about producing a record is just mean. This song is about as bad an indictment of the Reagan years as anything else.

9. "Harvest Moon" (1992) from Harvest Moon: "When we were strangers, I watched you from afar / When we were lovers, I loved you with all my heart." I love that line. For some reason, I obsessively listened to this song one day in my third year of university. I had this poli-sci class of maybe 30 people. A seminar class and one of the students in the class died. Class was cancelled as a result and I looked around when we were told and I couldn't see anyone missing. That feels like it should mean something, but I've never been able to figure out what... except that I'm a dick.

10. "Ordinary People" (2007) from Chrome Dreams II: A loooooooooooooong song, but one that sums up Young's caring about the average guy. As much as a man like Neil Young can. This brings in his political stuff, his Farm Aid stuff, his electric car stuff... not explicitly, but it's all there.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Playlist Week Day 4 -- Ryan Adams

[This weekend, I got the new issue of Rolling Stone, which included a bunch of specific playlists like Bono's David Bowie playlist or Ozzy Osbourne's Beatles playlist. So, for this week, I'll be doing five playlists of ten songs per artist/band each day with some brief comments on the song. All songs in chronological order.]

The only non-Canadian during this week of playlists, Adams quickly became one of my favourite musicians after I picked up his album lloR N kcoR on a whim. He works a variety of styles, willing to just dash off songs and work at a very quick pace. It's an attitude and work ethic that would have made him fit in with the music industry of the '60s/'70s, but he's seen as an oddity now -- someone who should slow down or simply bank his best material for ecclectic albums. Me, I prefer the less polished cohesive wholes he delivers. Then again, I'll take three very good albums in a year over one possibly better album once every three or four years... But, I digress. Ryan Adams!

1. "Come Pick Me Up" (2000) from Heartbreaker: Not many can write about fucked up relationships like Adams and this one helped kick off his solo career. What's worse: stealing someone's records or fucking their friends on his bed? I demand to know!

2. "The Bar is a Beautiful Place" (2001) from Gold (bonus 'side 4' track): Not a song a lot of people have heard necessarily since it was available on a bonus disc for Gold. This was one of my favourite songs of the summer of 2007. As a non-drinker, using this as my status on MSN had people wondering what was up with me... but it's just a sad song about self-destruction and a bad break-up. It's one of those songs that is so damn emotional.

3. "English Girls Approximately" (2003) from Love is Hell: The line "English girls can be so mean" may be about girls from England, but it will always make me think of girls in my English classes. Not that they were especially mean or anything... just pining over girls in classes and such. Also, the part where he goes "Just three words, my love: you meant everything" is fantastic. A double-meaning saying that she meant everything to him, but also she meant everything they did -- it meant something to her, too. That reminds me of something once...

4. "Note to Self: Don't Die" (2003) from lloR N kcoR: "Note to self: don't die for anyone / Note to self: don't die / Note to self: don't change for anyone / Don't change, just lie." Fuck, Ryan Adams can write some good lyrics that get at the heart of matters. Not that I necessarily advocate this approach. But, I always dug that.

5. "Rock and Roll" (2003) from lloR N kcoR: This song was really from the Love is Hell sessions and stands out on lloR N kcoR as this downbeat piano-driven song on an album of loud, brash rawk music. But, it's also a song that I can recite right now. Pretty simple. Sad. It's about being hung up on a girl. It's always about girls.

6. "Magnolia Mountain" (2005) from Cold Roses: "Lie to me like I lie to you" is another fantastic line. In my year as a Gazette Arts & Entertainment editor, this was my most played song. Just a beautiful, wonderful song that makes me want to sing along.

7. "The End" (2005) from Jacksonville City Nights: I love the way he crams in the line "The waitress tries to give me change but I say nah that's cool just keep it." It doesn't fit the metre or length of the line, but he gets it in there. A more romantic/nice flipside of "29" I'd argue.

8. "29" (2005) from 29: Driving beat, semi-autobiographic lyrics that make you not want to like Adams... it's a helluva way to kick off an album, but it's great at building as the song progresses. The chorus is fun to sing along to.

9. "Halloweenhead" (2007) from Easy Tiger: One morning, I thought my roommate Adam wasn't home, so I put this on loud and sang along to it a half dozen times or so. He was home and still hates me to this day for that. A stupidly absurd title and concept, but it's got great music and some killer lines like "I just watch, I don't go inside" or the shouting of "Guitar solo!" before the guitar solo. Shows off how catchy Adams can be...

10. "Magick" (2008) from Cardinology: But not as catchy as this song. Two minutes to accomplish what 99% of the shit on the radio takes five minutes to not accomplish. I could listen to this song forever. How this wasn't a #1 hit still baffles me. Michelle isn't really a Ryan Adams fan, but she loves this song. "So turn the radio on / So turn the radio up / So turn the radio up loud and get down / Let your body move / Let your body sway / Listen to the music play / It's magick, it's magick." Fuckin' a, man.

Tomorrow, we finish things up with Neil Young.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Playlist Week Day 3 -- The Barenaked Ladies

[This weekend, I got the new issue of Rolling Stone, which included a bunch of specific playlists like Bono's David Bowie playlist or Ozzy Osbourne's Beatles playlist. So, for this week, I'll be doing five playlists of ten songs per artist/band each day with some brief comments on the song. All songs in chronological order.]

For a long time, the Barenaked Ladies were my favourite band. At some point, that stopped being true, but I never lost all interest. They're the ex-girlfriend that I'm still friends with. That good friend you get together with every few months and have a fantastic time with, but then don't see again for another six months. Just the way it is. They can do jokey, they can do smart, they can do emotional... they can do funky, they can do rock, they can do pop. I still haven't heard their latest album beyond the first single (money issues -- it's on my Christmas list) and I'm curious to know how the Steven Page-less band sounds. As this list shows, my tastes tended to run towards Page's contributions.

1. "Brian Wilson" (1992) from Gordon: I didn't know who Brian Wilson was before this song. I knew the Beach Boys, sure, but not the man. This is just a great song. The band was more famous for "If I Had $1000000" but this was always their true 'anthem' song for me.

2. "What a Good Boy" (1992) from Gordon: A song about the weird gender politics and the bullshit we dump on our kids. This song touched something in me when I was in high school and sometimes struggled with the expectations of being the 'smart kid.' Odds are, those expectations were more my doing than anyone else's, but everyone struggles with the labels placed upon them (whether by others or themselves).

3. "Life, in a Nutshell" (1994) from Maybe You Should Drive: This is my favourite BNL album. They made an effort in some ways to move away from the funnier, lighter side of Gordon and there's some real struggling with the early 20s here, I think. This song is upbeat and great and just about having a really solid relationship that's going well. It's probably the most 'mature' song on the album.

4. "The Old Apartment" (1996) from Born on a Pirate Ship: A 'you can't go home again' song... strong playing on the instruments and the odd funny line, this song hit me a new way when I moved away from home. Even going back to my parents' place is a different experience. I love my life now, but there's something sad about losing that old home.

5. "One Week" (1998) from Stunt: How can you ignore the song that made the band 'overnight' superstars in the US?

6. "Conventioneers" (2000) from Maroon: This a funky, almost loungey song... a song that sounds like it should be used to seduce a woman if the lyrics didn't send the exact opposite message by the end. But, the end of the song is great as it shows how a flirty, sexually-charged relationship can exist... until sex is actually had and then what? It was all just empty flirtation with nothing underneath. Never had that experience myself, but I imagine it could be very awkward.

7. "Shopping" (2003) from Everything to Everyone: "Everything will always be all right when we go shopping." A song that's just about mocking George Bush and the Republicans for that 'shopping to fight terrorism' bullshit, this song is also incredibly catchy. It's just plain fun to sing. I once wrote a comic script where the centrepiece of the issue was a giant musical dance number in a mall with this as the song that everyone sings.

8. "Sound of Your Voice" (2006) from Barenaked Ladies are Me: Some rockin' guitars kick this one off and it's weird to know that this is a Kevin Hearn song that he passed along to Page to sing. This song has hit that personal spot with me where the chorus makes me think of the days Michelle is out of town or I'm out of town or whatever. Sure, it's a song about a guy who fucked up and screwed up his relationship... but, for me, it's just about missing that person you love. Missing them being around. You get oddly used to them. I also like the line "This little song is about second chances."

9. "I Can I Will I Do" (2007) from Barenaked Ladies are Men: A similar vibe to "Conventioneers," I love the way Page sings the title line.

10. "You Run Away" (2010) from All in Good Time: Is this the "Cannonball" of BNL? I do like how they made the first single about Page's leaving the band. It's a decent song and the underlying emotion carries it.

Tomorrow: Ryan Adams

Playlist Week Day 2 -- The Tragically Hip

[This weekend, I got the new issue of Rolling Stone, which included a bunch of specific playlists like Bono's David Bowie playlist or Ozzy Osbourne's Beatles playlist. So, for this week, I'll be doing five playlists of ten songs per artist/band each day with some brief comments on the song. All songs in chronological order.]

Today, it's the Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock band that's developed the status of the Canadian rock band. Every album of theirs since their first album has been #2 or #1 on the charts (more likely to be #1 with only three failing to hit that mark, while their first LP only reached #13). It's just some good rock music. My list is skewed towards their early albums a bit and I don't subscribe to the idea that they began to suck around the time of Phantom Power, but it's hard to deny the quality of their early material. Their later material isn't as catchy always, isn't as easy to get into... isn't as memorable at times. And listeners of the Splash Page Podcast will know the lead singer of the band, Gord Downie, for the bit of his song "We're Hardcore" that we use to kick the show off.

1. "Blow at High Dough" (1989) from Up to Here: The first song on the first Tragically Hip LP and it's about shooting a porn flick in a small town. It's a rocking song that starts off slow, but gives a great first impression of the band's sound. When you figure out/learn what the song is about, it's hard not to laugh at times. I do like the drumming.

2. "Long Time Running" (1991) from Road Apples: A quiet, moody song. When I hear this song, I picture Gord Downie or someone slowly walking down a dark street, wearing a suit with the tie undone, bottle of beer in his hand... it's that kind of song.

3. "At the Hundredth Meridian" (1992) from Fully Completely: A cool rock song. I love the line "I seem to remember every single fucking thing I know." Just a song that hits on that leve you dig. You know?

4. "Wheat Kings" (1992) from Fully Completely: A song, at least partly, about David Milgaard and his wrongful conviction for rape and murder. A slow, quiet song that has some great singing. Maybe it's the Canadian in me, but the line "Late-breaking story on the CBC..." appeals to me.

5. "Nautical Disaster" (1994) from Day for Night: Actually, I'd probably recommended the live version off Live Between Us with Downie prefacing the song with talk of a movie adaptation that's kind of funny. This is an odd song about a dream of a life as a lighthouse keeper. There's a nice build. The Hip does good slow builds that turn into big drums and lots of rawk.

6. "Ahead by a Century" (1996) from Trouble at the Henhouse: Probably my favourite Hip song. A mellow sort of song with a rock edge. "Disappointing you's getting me down" became my personal shame of a mantra for the past couple of years.

7. "Bobcaygeon" (1998) from Phantom Power: A story song. The video for this song is a completely literal interpretation of the lyrics and works really well. The way the verses repeat themselves is good.

8. "Fireworks" (1998) from Phantom Power: Another song with a line that stands out: "You said you didn't give a fuck about hockey / Well I never saw someone say that before." So Canadian and can't help but make me laugh. And I'm not a big hockey fan. I just know what a line like that means. The song is about not knowing what marriage and relationships are really about; spending too much time together and things turning into a weird cold war.

9. "It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken" (2002) from In Violet Light: The interplay of the music and Downie's vocals is startling. There's a real orchestral vibe to the way the instruments are played, while Downie just gives it his all. Downie is underrated at times, I think, as a singer. He's very good at emotion and mood.

10. "Now the Struggle Has a Name" (2009) from We are the Same: The title of the album comes from a line in this song. It seems like a song that sums up where the Hip are. Their album after In Violet Light was called In Between Evolution, suggesting that they thought they were on the brink of change, but, here, they seem to be reconciling themselves with the fact that no matter how much they try to grow, there's a core identity to band that holds them back. But, it's also that the name of the struggle is 'We are the Same.' How does a band that's been around for 20 years and seen massive success change and grow without causing their fans to turn on them? Oddly, this is all my reading of the song since none of that is in here. But, the song brings out those ideas.

Tomorrow: the Barenaked Ladies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Playlist Week Day 1 -- Hawksley Workman

[This weekend, I got the new issue of Rolling Stone, which included a bunch of specific playlists like Bono's David Bowie playlist or Ozzy Osbourne's Beatles playlist. So, for this week, I'll be doing five playlists of ten songs per artist/band each day with some brief comments on the song. All songs in chronological order.]

I'm beginning with Hawksley Workman, a Canadian singer/songerwriter/rock and roller/whatever else you call a guy like that. He's eclectic, energetic, funky, sad, fantastic, and other adjectives. I've seen him twice in concert and enjoyed both times quite a bit.

1. "Tarantulove" (1999) from For Him and the Girls: I love the slow, drum-heavy pace of this song. He almost seems to be slurring his words without actual slurring them. A very offbeat, weird feeling in this song. "Well, I'm no doctor, baby, but I know what's good for me" is a great line.

2. "Safe and Sound" (1999) from For Him and the Girls: A sweet, soft song. One of the sweetest and softest I know. This is a song that I didn't really get until my current relationship with Michelle. It's about love and assuring the person you're with that they can trust you completely and just feel safe... and damned if that isn't a great feeling.

3. "Striptease" (2001) from (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves: Funky and loud and rude and crude... this is my favourite song to get dressed to, ironically. If I were a stripper, this would be the song I stripped to. It's not exactly a strip club song, but whatever. Hawksley doing pure rock and roll.

4. "Anger as Beauty" (2003) from lover/fighter: This song has one of my favourite lines of all time: "Fighter soul alive in a whiskey-fueled rage." I wrote a comic script about that line once. This was the single that made me pick up lover/fighter and get into Workman's music.

5. "Autumn's Here" (2003) from lover/fighter: A song I play every year in the fall. Just Workman and a piano (a trumpet comes in later) totally describing the feeling of a windy, cloudly, chilly autumn day. He captures the feeling of the season so well. It's sad and melancholy. There's a line where he says "It's okay if you want to cry" and I remember waiting for the bus in the fall one day in my second year of university and being damn near tears for no good reason as this song played. A moment of beauty and sadness... So, this gets played every year in the fall.

6. "God Decides" (2004) from My Little Toothless Beauties: From one of his 'lost' albums, this song begins and ends My Little Toothless Beauties. This album is Workman's Tonight's the Night or 29 for me. This song is epic as Workman with a thumping death march of a beat and a piano runs down what 'god decides.' It's a nihilistic, angry song.

7. "You Are Too Beautiful" (2006) from Treeful of Starling: Another soft, sweet song. The chorus of "You are too beautiful to be in bed with me" always hit something in me. Because every guy worth a damn knows it's true about the woman he loves. Especially when he follows that line up with "If you could see the thoughts I see, if you could see my thoughts, baby, you'd agree." Sweet and lovely, but also hinting at the horribly perverted and fucked up shit guys think about. I like the subtle humour. Plus, Workman nails a wicked high note.

8. "It's a Drug" (2008) from Los Manlicious: A big heavy guitar begins this one. I'm a sucker for songs about how great music is and this song is just such a thing.

9. "Prettier Face" (2008) from Los Manlicious: Los Manlicious was the second album Workman released in 2008, paired with Between the Beautifuls and this song was on both. I prefer this version as it comes closer to capturing the stunning live performance of it that I saw at the second Workman show I attended. A depressing song of self-loathing that descends into the repetition of "And I can't hide these uncried tears no more" after some good lines like "Drinking just to empty the cup" and "Oh, baby, I've had enough." The live version was positively apocalyptic when he got to the repetition. One of the best live performances I've ever seen.

10. "You Don’t Just Want to Break Me" (2010) from Meat: Another song that descends into repetition with a similar tone, but I think he captures the empty sadness better here. This one has a little funkier of a beat and isn't as obviously self-loathing. This is more angry and accusatory than "Prettier Face." The repeating lines of "You don't just want to break me, you want to tear me apart" come after a shift in the music... it's almost like two songs smashed together after a slowing drum beat that suddenly switches. The repetition starts calmly but gains emotion as it progresses. I played this song over and over on the CBC Radio 3 website before the album was out.

Tomorrow: The Tragically Hip

Monday, December 6, 2010

Smarkass Reviews -- Full Impact Pro: The Usual Suspects

I got this at Zellers for five bucks along with the first Shimmer show for the same price. They even had a Glow DVD, a hardcore reunion special, and the first two seasons of XPW, all for five bucks each, but none of them seem like something I'd want for free, so they get left in the store. Last night, Michelle and I watched Full Impact Pro's The Usual Suspects and it was an interesting experience. There's the fun of seeing some people you recognise back when they were younger. Full Impact Pro is a smaller indie promotion, partnered with Ring of Honor until 2009 when it switched to Dragon Gate USA. I've seen a few FIP matches on the 'bonus' discs of Dragon Gate USA DVDs. When people talk about companies that run shows in gyms, this is a perfect example.

This show is from April 22, 2005 and is the introduction of tag team titles to FIP. Instead of having a tournament, the whole thing is set up with no rules. Somehow, we're told, a team will win the belts before the show is over. No idea how, but it will happen. In this respect, one of the announcers, Dave Prazak (who is also a manager) is amusing throughout the show, especially in the beginning, by just trashing the lack of a plan. At first, he seemed like the model for the Cole/Matthews team on NXT...

Match #1: The Heartbreak Express vs. The Carnage Crew
No idea who any of these guys are, but one of them is a fat guy whose character, as far as I can tell, is 'gay Dusty Rhodes.' I swear to god. He rips off Rhodes so much, but throws in extra camp behaviour that I can only surmise that, when coming up with what a big white fat guy could do, someone said "Just rip off Dusty Rhodes!" and someone else laughed and said, "Nah, that would be too blatant. Better play it safe and make it gay Dusty!" The match itself was very sloppy. The Heartbreak Express cheated a lot and there was a bit surrounding Gay Dusty Rhodes hurting his ass -- and one of his opponents smacking him on the ass, oddly. In the end, the Carnage Crew won, so... they won?
Winners: The Carnage Crew [*]

Match #2: The Carnage Crew vs. The Ring Crew Express
Almost immediately, Dunn & Marcos, the Ring Crew Express were out to challenge the Carnage Crew. This match was short and incredibly spotty. Spotty in that way where Dunn & Marcos would go for a tandem move and their target would stand there, waiting for them to execute it. They're a fun, cruiserweight tag team with a 'rock n roll' attitude, but you can see why they haven't really gone anywhere, not even a big run in ROH (though, they were there for a period).
Winners: The Ring Crew Express [1/2*]

Match #3: The Ring Crew Express vs. DP Associates
Prazak introduced the tag team he manages, DP Associates (Jimmy Rave and "Fast" Eddie Vegas) as if they would fight the Ring Crew Express. But, Prazak backed out of the match, saying he wanted to find the right opponents for his boys that night.

Match #3: Roderick Strong & Jerrelle Clark vs. Homicide & Vordell Walker
The first match of the night to really feature anyone I know with Roderick Strong and Homicide. This match was actually the best of the night. Strong and Homicide began things, and had some nice back and forth until things broke out into this frantic brawl/grappling section that reminded me of amateur wrestling quite a bit. After they broke it, Homicide staggered around, blaming 'too much weed' for why he couldn't keep it up too long. Walker wrestled a power game well, while Clark played on the agility and speed. Eventually, it broke into a free-for-all where terms like 'legal man' meant jackshit and Strong and Clark won only when Homicide was kept to the outside. No, I was impressed with the work in this match. Definitely the stand-out of the show -- and, oddly, like many tournaments, it had you wishing that this first-round (if you could say there are rounds in this show) match was the finals.
Winners: Roderick Strong & Jerrelle Clark [***1/2]

Match #4: Spanky & Sal Rinauro vs. Steve Madison & James Gibson
Michelle is infinitely amused that Brian Kendrick began his career as 'Spanky' (apparently named after his means of staying awake on long road trips... ew). I think that's the only reason she wanted to watch this one before the Shimmer DVD (she basically said as much). This match was a little disappointing. I don't think things ever really cohered. Gibson and Madison were decent, while Rinauro was unimpressive. Kendrick was somewhere between. Madison was the biggest of the group and he stuck out for that reason, never getting into a groove with the other three. I know others are high on Gibson (Jamie Noble), but he's never really impressed me. Maybe I haven't seen the right matches. His work in the WWE was fine and, here, he was a little better than the average FIP guy, but not by much. After the match, Madison turned on Gibson, blaming him for the loss (despite him being the one that was pinned).
Winners: Spanky & Sal Rinauro [**]

Interlude #1: CM Punk!
CM Punk finally arrived, FIP World Heavyweight Championship belt in his possession. He'd apparently stolen the belt from Homicide, the true champ. Punk was good on the mic. He put over his faction, the New Dawn, and his wanting all of the rejects, because he can turn them into the best. His example was Don Juan, a guy who thinks he's king shit, and is just kind of a joke. This continued until Homicide chased Punk around the ring and to the back. Punk was good on the mic, basically doing a less developed version of what he does now. I was happy.

Match #5: DP Associates vs. Evan Starsmore & Aaron Epic
Finally, Dave Prazak found the right team for DP Associates to fight: two jobbers! And, yeah, jobbers by FIP standards... you can imagine what that's like. This match was brief, but oddly longer than you'd expect with two jobbers. Strange.
Winners: DP Associates [1/4*]

Match #6: DP Associates vs. The Ring Crew Express
Quickly, after the match was over, the Ring Crew Express hit the ring to have the match teased earlier. DP Associates got a chance to show what they can do a bit more. There was a funny moment where Vegas turned around and started wailing on Rave, who was being held by Dun (or Marcos) and didn't seem to notice it was his partner that he was hitting. Weird stuff. I liked Rave, but Vegas just rubbed me the wrong way. I don't know why. This match was fine and gave the DP Associates a second win for the night.
Winners: DP Associates [*1/2]

Match #7: CM Punk & Don Juan vs. Spanky & Sal Rinauro
Punk came out again to cut a promo, saying that he had Homicide arrested (but would not be pressing charges) and would fight him at the next night's show, because he's a fighting champion. Spanky and Rinauro then challenged the pair. Punk was a little more jokey here -- both in and out of the ring. There was a funny spot where he had had Juan work over the arm of Spanky (I believe) when the ref was distrated, Juan facing away from the ring and slamming the arm again and again over his shoulder. They did that a couple of times until Spanky stuck Punk's arm over Juan's shoulder and he didn't realise that it was Punk. Oh, dumb heels, will you ever learn? From there, the faces were in charge for much of the match, but the heels still won with a little cheating. Spanky and Rinauro looked better here, while Punk showed some flashes of brilliance. Juan was... there.
Winners: CM Punk & Don Juan [**1/2]

Match #8: Three Way Dance -- Antonio Banks vs. Rainman vs. Jared Steel
You'll know Antonio Banks as the now-former MVP. His opponents were two rather large guys that seemed to hate him more than one another and double-teamed him at first. Matches like this are hard to work, but the added elimination-style set-up should have made that easier since there wouldn't be the breaking up of pinfalls since one of your opponents eliminating the other one benefits you. Well, you'd think that until Banks was pinning Steel, Rainman knocked Banks off, hit a move, and eliminated Steel. Um, why? From there, Banks showed a couple of Benoit-esque moves that made me laugh because of the way Benoit put over MVP for the US Championship. Banks tried for the multiple German suplexes and won the match with the Crossface. There was also an appearance by the Drive-By kick to the head in the corner. You could see the future MVP in Banks here. It was a decent enough match, I guess. It didn't get good, though, until Steel was gone and it was a regular one-on-one match.
Winner: Antonio Banks [*3/4]

Match #9: Three Way Dance for the FIP Tag Team Championship -- DP Associates vs. Roderick Strong & Jerrelle Clark vs. CM Punk & Don Juan
While Prazak said on commentary that it should be DP Associates vs. the winner of the other two teams since they had both only won one match, while DP Associates had won two, he then suggested on the mic that it be a Three Way Dance. What happened? I imagine it was someone looking at the time and realising they needed to wrap things up. The two heel teams worked as one, for the most part, working over Roderick Strong for the first part of the match until Clark finally got in and eliminated Juan (and Punk). That left a fairly standard face/heel pairing with the ending coming in a pretty dominant fashion as Strong was on the outside, allowing Vegas and Rave to hit the Double Penetration (and it resembles one...) to become the FIP Tag Team Champions. Not a bad choice since, out of the established tag teams, they had the best gimmick and could draw some heat with Prazak as their manager.
Winners and NEW FIP Tag Team Champions: DP Associates [**1/4]

Overall, it was a mixed show. Only a few matches really rose above 'mediocre' (and, then, not by much) aside from the Strong & Clark/Homicide & Walker match, which was quite good. A more focused show with a better game plan would have been better. It ultimately became a single-elimination tournament with random pairings, which is fine... if they established it as that. It's not like planning out a tournament is that hard, even if it's a gauntlet-style one like this kind of was. I definitely think it was worth the five dollars I paid, but that's about the most I'd pay for it at the same time. As I said at the top, it was cool seeing some guys I know before I knew them. CM Punk in particular is great to see in his pre-WWE days. He's definitely a guy who found his character early and has perfected it, and seeing some of the early stages of that is interesting.

Show Rating: 5.0 (out of 10)

Monday, November 29, 2010

King of the Ring 2010 Predictions

Tonight is the King of the Ring tournament for 2010. Technically, it's happening live right now, but, here in Canada, it won't be on for another hour since the Score didn't want to alter their regular programming schedule. The WWE put up the brackets today, so I figured I'd give my predictions:

1st Round
* John Morrison vs. "Dashing" Cody Rhodes: This is a tough one as I could see both men going past the first round against other opponents. Part of figuring out who will advance is looking at who they would possibly be facing in the 2nd round. I'd rather see "Dashing" Cody Rhodes go over, but John Morrison seems more likely. Winner: "Dashing" Cody Rhodes
* Daniel Bryan vs. Alberto Del Rio: Another tough one, but I'd rather see Del Rio advance since Bryan doesn't need the victory as much. Winner: Alberto Del Rio
* Ezekiel Jackson vs. Drew McIntyre: Wow. I look at the first two match-ups and I see two competitive matches where I wouldn't mind any of the guys advancing. Here, I see the 'Chosen One' who hasn't done shit and a muscle-bound freak that, if he won, would basically be King Mabel II. Winner: Ezekiel Jackson
* Kofi Kingston vs. Sheamus: This could be a decent match, but Kingston is here to make Sheamus look good. Winner: Sheamus

2nd Round (they gave the brackets for this)
* "Dashing" Cody Rhodes vs. Alberto Del Rio: I can see Del Rio making it to the finals, but would definitely rather see Rhodes keep advancing. Winner: "Dashing" Cody Rhodes
* Ezekiel Jackson vs. Sheamus: If there's anyone the WWE could have beat Jackson without making him look too weak in this tournament, it's Sheamus. Both men are power-based, so the former WWE champ going over isn't a big blow. Plus, this could be another way to play off Sheamus as weakened by the tournament for the finals. Winner: Sheamus

* "Dashing" Cody Rhodes vs. Sheamus: I'm of two minds here. I think winning the King of the Ring could work well for Sheamus. I would have him win and, immediately, Triple H's King of Kings music hits, suggesting that he'll finally come back to get revenge, playing off that nickname and being a past King of the Ring. But, no, Sheamus gets on the mic and laughs at us, saying that that is now his music, because he retired Triple H and won the King of the Ring, making him the true King of Kings. But, that seems a little... well, outside of what the WWE would book. So, unless they're going to use this as a way toa dvance Sheamus/Triple H, why bother? Besides, "Dashing" Cody Rhodes as King would be fantastic. Winner and the 2010 King of the Ring: "Dashing" Cody Rhodes

Let's see how wrong I am...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Smarkass Comments: Aborted TNA Instant Analysis (10.28.10)

One of the things I've been doing for 411mania lately is an Instant Analysis (review) of TNA Impact on Thursday nights. Well, halfway through last night's episode, a crisis came up and I wasn't able to finish watching the show (or writing my review). So, instead of letting it go to waste, here's what I had...

SEGMENT ONE: The Knockouts Live Up to Their Name

And Impact began with a backstage brawl... because one of those hasn't happened in a couple of weeks. Surprisingly, this one didn't involve Abyss; it was Mickie James and Tara, but quickly grew to involve Madison Rayne, the Beautiful People, and Sarita. It was a typical brawl, but with more screaming and hair pulling. And, like a typical TNA brawl, it just went on and on and on... Until they finally made it to the ring and Ric Flair came out with security. Then, it became 'everyone slap Ric' while he debated if he should hit Tara or Mickie James back. When he threatened to 'make a woman' out of both of them, I worried we'd finally hit the point where Flair feels the need to prove his manhood with an orgy in the middle of the ring. Thankfully, he just booked a match and ended the ten-minute brawl that stopped being entertaining nine minutes previously. Though, would someone explain to TNA that a match involving these six women after watching them fight for ten minutes isn't exactly exciting? Please? They do that every goddamn time: either have a long brawl lead into a match or have a match lead into a long brawl... What's wrong with just having a good match?

Rating: 3.5 out of 10

SEGMENT TWO: Making Fun of Concussions

Flair and Bischoff acting all buddy buddy is hard to believe... but I did love Flair wondering where Bischoff was for the last half hour... 17 minutes into the show (with commercials). Yes, the brawl may have lasted only ten minutes, but it felt like half an hour. After this, Bischoff and Flair made light of the idea of wrestling with a concussion. I know they're heels, but WHAT THE FUCK? Why not break out some steroid and somas angles while they're at it? Make light of pain killer addiction maybe? Why not have Brian Kendrick or some other young wrestler fake his death from heart failure? There are some subjects you just avoid in the wrestling business and this is one of them.

The Pope was out with a casket and cut a promo on Abyss because of his interference in his TV Title match last week. I do love hearing the Pope deliver a sermon, but that was interrupted by Abyss coming out. Abyss was pretty decent on the mic, too, saying the Pope isn't safe anymore -- and neither is any of his congregation, taking two members of the audience with him. Um, yeah? Decent start, but the finish was a little strange.

Jeff Jarrett was at his arrogant heel best by mocking Samoa Joe and Ken Anderson. Short, sweet, and completely dickish. He came close to hammering on the concussion angle, but was vague enough that it didn't come off as poor as the Flair/Bischoff stuff.

Rating: 5.0 out of 10 for everything except the Flair/Bischoff stuff, which falls somewhere in the negative... what the hell were they thinking?

SEGMENT THREE: Jay Lethal vs. Robbie E. in a Jersey Shore Street Fight
Match Result: Robbie E. pinned Jay Lethal via hairspray
Match Length: Around five minutes

Matt Morgan was out to educate Ric Flair on concussions and Flair's response: "It's the business. It's called professional wrestling." Wow. Veering wildly between after school special and horrible ignorance... THIS IS WHAT I CALL ENTERTAINING WRESTLING TELEVISION!

A Street Fight... something else that hasn't happened on Impact... er, since last week. This sort of match was a smart decision in that it allowed Robbie E. to hide some of his weaker points in the ring. More a brawl than a wrestling match, Lethal kicked things off in charge, while Robbie made a short-lived comeback before Lethal turned the tables with a kendo stick. Lethal's decision to go to the corner Cookie was standing by was an easy to spot opportunity for a clearly beaten Robbie E. to win and earn a title shot at Turning Point. And it was thanks to Cookie using hair spray against Lethal. Lethal beating on Robbie was entertaining, but the ending was forced and kind of awful.

Backstage, Angelina Love was visited again by creepy Winter who replaced the seamstress... but Velvet Sky returns and there's no Winter! Spooky. Katie Lea as Winter is done very well and this story is different. I'm not hating it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hell's Kitchen 8.03-8.06

Man, fuck the producers. When we last left Hell's Kitchen, there was a preview strongly suggesting that Raj (the fat, mentally unbalanced older chef) was going to stab someone. Shots of paramedics, angry confrontation, ominous music... all that was missing was big overlaid text saying "NEXT EPISODE: RAJ STABS SOMEONE! WATCH!"

Yeah, didn't happen.

Part of me is glad about that. But, only a part. I think that makes me a horrible person.

Only finally saw the four most recent episodes, because of various real life factors involving Michelle and her family that resulted in, Friday night, watching four episodes of the show with a break for supper. In those four episodes, I learned one thing that I actually already knew: when guys fight, it's obvious and doesn't last too long; when women fight, it's obvious and sneaky and lasts for fucking ever. Every goddamn season, the red (aka women's) team nearly implodes because they all decide to hate one another, shifting alliances on a week-by-week basis depending on who decided to fuck whoever else over lately. Sometimes, a guy is thrown in so we can see him pull his hair out, wondering what he did in a previous life to deserve this. In the blue team, people confront one another, but it doesn't drag the whole team down. I don't know... is Hell's Kitchen an unexpected study in gender group dynamics?

The show isn't really about anything else right now. Definitely not cooking.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Smarkass Comments: WWE Smackdown 10.08.10

Before getting into the second episode of Smackdown on SyFy, I want to direct your attention to 411mania where some changes in my writing duties have occurred. Previously, I was co-writing the High Road/Low Road column with Sat, doing the TNA Impact 4Rs, and overseeing the TNA PPV roundtable previews. High Road/Low Road and the TNA PPV roundtable remain the same, but I'm now doing an Instant Analysis of TNA Impact and the WWE Monday Night Raw 4Rs. In addition, I'll also be doing the WWE Superstars 4Rs. So, if you like my writing about wrestling, there's more of it each and every week. If you don't... why are you reading this post at all?

As for this week's Smackdown, I'll handle it in a random thought style as I watch (well, starting around half an hour into the show on the midnight replay on the Score...):

* Edge returns to Smackdown and what else returns? His awesome jacket! Hell yes! His match with Jack Swagger was better than their bout at Hell in a Cell. Edge was really working his ass off to do some different and innovative offence. Good exchange at the end, leading into Edge's win. If they keep improving with each encounter, this feud could make both men look fantastic.

* Missed the Divas match, wanting to catch the end of South Park. I stand by my choice.

* The Big Show stuff with Hornswoggle and the Dudebusters? Awful.

* "Dashing" Cody Rhodes & Drew McIntyre vs. Kaval & Kofi Kingston was decent. That's a feud I wouldn't mind seeing more of, honestly. The match, though, was too short.

* The Kane/Paul Bearer promo was standard stuff for this feud with the Undertaker. Nothing special, but well done overall. A little over halfway through the show and it's been a two-segment show (and those two segments featured one match...). A pretty weak episode.

* I'm tired and kind of want to go to sleep.

* I have been enjoying the clips of previous Rey Mysterio/Alberto del Rio encounters. Good way to build to their match.

* Line of the night courtesy of Todd Grisham: "MVP's got gold: he's a baller."

* During the commercial, turned it to the Giants/Braves game to watch Ankiel hit a pretty awesome home run. Out of the park and into the water!

* Dolph Ziggler/MVP for the IC belt was a dull affair that was more about the Dolph/Vickie/Kaitlyn story than the match itself. And that's a story I don't care about. I like Kaitlyn well enough, but whatever.

* Soooooooooo tired...

* The Rey Mysterio/Alberto del Rio match was good. Rare to see Mysterio so dominant in a match. del Rio looked more like a rookie, albeit with some decent offence, but that's fine against a two-time world champ like Rey Rey. I'm just happy to see Mysterio not using his typical hit-and-run offence and changing things up when the situation calls for it.

Overall, not a strong episode. The bookending matches were really good, though.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Favourite Interview: Ken Finkleman (March 2006)

For the last two years of my undergrad, I wrote for the Arts & Entertainment section of the student paper, the University of Western Ontario Gazette. My first year, I was a volunteer/writer, and, my second year, I was an editor. I interviewed a lot of people during those two years; mostly people in indie bands that were playing in town. But, my favourite interview of all time was with Ken Finkleman, the writer/director/star of some CBC TV series, most notably The Newsroom, a sitcom about a newsroom. It was done in the single camera style, the first season back in 1996-97 before returning in 2002 with a TV movie Escape from the Newsroom leading into two more seasons. Between the two version of The Newsroom, he did three mini-series that I have never seen, sadly (and discuss in the interview briefly) and, in 2006, he did a six-part mini-series called At the Hotel (my excuse to talk to him).

The phone interview I had with Finkleman was fantastic. Over an hour of talking -- mostly me listening to him hold court over my 23-year old self. I wasn't usually fannish or flustered, but I was a bit with Finkleman. Before the interview, CBC sent me some preview episodes of At the Hotel, but Finkleman didn't really want to talk about the show. That was cool.

At The Gazette, Q&A interviews were frowned upon even though that's the style I like reading the most. So, I had decided from day one to try and make my interviews as quote-heavy as possible. I'd ask basic questions if only so I could use what the subject said instead of having to say it myself. I would structure the interviews around what was said, not what the article 'should' be about. Going into the Finkleman interview, I had read an 'interview' with him in one of the big Canadian papers and it was roughly the size of my interview, but featured, maybe, three things Finkleman said, filling the article with information that the writer or editor thought was necessary -- the point of the article. Finkleman wasn't even needed! I always tried to avoid that style.

Also, the published article (which has the wrong author credited on the website) needed to be cut down a bit, because I wrote too much. That was rare for me; I was usually very good at hitting the desired length, but I didn't bother this time. I wanted it to be long and contain all of the cool stuff Finkleman said. I'm not entirely happy with the edited version and kept the original for that reason (the only time I've done that). Partly because I like the full version more automatically and, partly, because it was edited as part of training potential editors for the next year, so it's not as clean as it would have been had Anna (my fellow A&E editor at the time) done it.

Still, I look over the article and still see too much of myself, not enough of him. This was also the interview that prompted me to begin reading Haruki Murakami and, for that, I owe Finkleman a debt.


Ken Finkleman doesn't like my first question. I ask him about his new series At the Hotel, there's a pause of around ten seconds and he begins to ask me questions about myself. He asks about the paper and school, which leads to poetry and recommending that I read some poems by James Merrill. I can hear him looking for the book in his office because he wants to get the names right.

After a few minutes of this, Finkleman returns to my question and says, "Your first question is terrible. It's the sort of question you think you're supposed to ask and it's one I've been asked hundreds of times. The best question to ask is whatever made you inquisitive. Are you an inquisitive person? If you were sitting beside me on a plane, what would you ask me?"

An interview with Ken Finkleman is part conversation, part lecture. He seems to have so many things he wants to say that he begins one thought and before he can finish it, another one asserts itself. He references various writers and filmmakers, always asking "You know who he is?" As an interviewer, it can be challenging, but as a listener, it's captivating and highly entertaining.

At one point, Finkleman discusses getting older, saying, "As you get older, you appreciate things differently. I don't mean to say that because you're young and don't have as much experience, you can't appreciate things, but as you get older. Like sex. Sex is better. Oh, fuck – infinitely better when you're older.

"Poetry – you appreciate that differently. And, it's not because I have more experience, it's not that. It's like as you get older, your brain changes and you think about things differently."

Finkleman is the director, producer and co-writer of the six-part CBC mini-series At the Hotel and is most well-known for the popular, award-winning comedy series The Newsroom, which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in.

He is generally regarded as one of the most intelligent and creative people working in Canadian television. The third run of The Newsroom won a 2005 International Emmy Award for Best Comedy, a Gemini Award for Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series, and two Directors Guild of Canada Awards, for Outstanding Achievement in Direction – Television Series and Outstanding Team Achievement in a Television Series – Comedy.

But, Finkleman doesn't really want to talk about any of that. Any mention of his work is made to strengthen an argument he is making.

Most of the interview is taken up answering the question I would ask him if I was sitting beside him on a plane: why television? Why not films or prose or theatre? What is it about television that appeals to Ken Finkleman so much?

His answer is much simpler than you would expect: "Well, movies are hard to get made – especially in Canada. In Hollywood, it's hard, but you can get caught up in a community and get them made that way. And, at one time, I found myself in a community. Unless you want to do a studio hack job – you want to do something interesting, so you need a name attached."

Finkleman continues, "There are anomalies. But, even then it's because they know each other. Have you seen Capote? That had Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but he was only in it because he knew them. You need a name and the only way to get that is to socialize with the names."

Finkleman explains, "In Canada, you're in the position where you don't have the names to justify a big enough budget. They want a name to put on the marquee, which brings people into the theatre, which makes money. It doesn't have to be the biggest name, but one that will make the investment worth it."

Star power isn't the only drawback, Finkleman adds, "Canadian movies are in and out of theatres in a week. You devote a year – two if you're also writing – to a film and then it's just gone."

Television shows are similar in their temporary status, but in that case, it's by design. "In TV, it comes and goes – and more people watch it. Even if they don't like it, they're more forgiving because it's free," Finkleman laughs.

Even with shows he's done, Finkleman says he's the same way. "There are some episodes I really like and others I don't." But, the serial nature and the fact that there's always a second chance glosses over that quickly.

"It's extremely rewarding," Finkleman explains. "You withstand the failures. And it's fun. Shooting is fun."

This leads Finkleman off on a new tangent: discussing the purpose of fiction. He paraphrases Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, saying, "Good fiction connects – I'm sorry, the story connects in an indefinable way with the story inside reader. It has the quality of déjà vu. Isn't that amazing?"

He explains, "It's the reader and the work. The work is nothing without the reader. And the people that don't get it, resent it and call it pretentious."

The P word is a sore spot with Finkleman as his work is usually praised by critics or panned as pretentious crap. "It's never pretentious. It's always an attempt to express something big and meaningful. It can't be pretentious, it's just what it is. Deep down, I know I'm not pretentious.

"If a critic calls something pretentious, you know he's an asshole."

"It's because I'm a Jew from Winnipeg," Finkleman explains. "It would be okay if I were a German with a cigarette and long hair and a leather jacket and tattoos. But I'm not, so I'm not supposed to attempt to discuss those things."

Three series Finkleman did between runs of The Newsroom, More Tears, Foolish Heart and Foreign Objects, remain favourites of his because there he was able to flex his artistic muscles and explore themes not often explored on TV. But, fans waiting for them to show up on DVD may have a long wait.

Although Finkleman has a core of fans of his work, he doesn't believe that would translate in sales the way The Newsroom DVDs do. "There's no hook. There's nothing that would make people in stores pick them up."

He adds, "We did a study and found that there are 300,000 fans out there, across the country. What does that mean? Because I don't know. Is that good? Is that bad? I don't know. If you put 300,000 people in a stadium and me on stage, that would be pretty impressive, don't you think?"

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Smarkass Comments: Impact/Smackdown Similarity

Don't have much to say about this week's Smackdown besides liking it in general, while you can read my thoughts on Impact over at 411mania. But, I did have a quick thought about the two shows this week and a similar structure with their beginning and end segments.

Smackdown used current World Heavyweight Champion Kane in both the opening and closing segments of the show. The show began with a match between him and Chris Masters, closing with a promo segment involving the Undertaker and the return of Paul Bearer.

Impact used Abyss in both the opening and closing segments of the show. The show began with a match between him and Rob Terry, closing with a promo segment involving Rob Van Dam and an unconscious/beaten up Jeff Hardy.

Kane is giant, dominating monster often involved in ludicrous and inane stories, including his current feud with the Undertaker depending on who you ask (I really like it myself).

Abyss is a fairly big, dominating guy nicknamed the Monster often involved in ludicrous and inane stories, including his current feud with Rob Van Dam, his brandishing of a two-by-four with nails in it that he calls Janice, and his obsession with a mysterious 'They' that are telling him way to do... and pretty much everyone seems to hate that one.

Chris Masters is a musclebound wrestler hired more his look than abilities, which are sorely lacking compared to the rest of the roster.

Rob Terry is a musclebound wrestler hired more his look than abilities, which are sorely lacking compared to the rest of the roster.

Kane has shown dominance over a top-tiered wrestler, the Undertaker, by attacking him backstage to weaken him and keep him out of competition for a couple of months... but the Undertaker seems prepared to bring the fight to Kane at the next PPV even though he doesn't seem 100% yet.

Abyss has shown dominance over a top-tiered wrestler, Rob Van Dam, by attacking him backstage to weaken him and keep him out of competition for nearly a couple of months... but RVD seems prepared to bring the fight to Abyss at the next PPV even though he doesn't seem 100% yet.

The Undertaker being taken out of action was the result of an injury to his orbital bone and this story was crafted around creating an explanation for his absence. In the process, the Undertaker lost a shot to win the World Heavyweight Champion. His replacement, Rey Mysterio, won the belt and, then, lost it to Kane.

Rob Van Dam being taken out of action was the result of his contract status with TNA that limits his number of appearances. In the process, he vacated the TNA World Heavyweight Championship and the new champion is being determined through a tournament that will end at the next PPV... where RVD will also return to simply fight Abyss.

The Kane/Chris Masters match was surprisingly decent.

The Abyss/Rob Terry match was pretty fucking bad.

The promo segment to close Smackdown advanced the story well and reintroduced a person from previous feuds between the Undertaker and Kane.

The promo segment to close Impact... um, had people doing stuff that added nothing to the story.

I found the similarities in broad concepts interesting and the executions even more so, because there really was a disparity. (On another note, after rewriting Raw as if it were booked by TNA, I wanted to rewrite Impact as if it were booked by the WWE, but, honestly, couldn't think of a way to do it. I guess this little comparison shows some of what I would have changed with Impact to make it more like the WWE...)

Hell's Kitchen Season 8.01 & 8.02

Okay, this shit has gone around the bend.

There aren't too many reality TV shows I watch. That number has increased in my time with Michelle, mostly by adding the odd food-related show into the mix. Hell's Kitchen is a show I've always found entertaining/interesting because it's, presumably, people trying to win their dream job and fucking up a lot. The struggle is engaging -- and it's somewhat nice to see people being given a shot where they'll live or die based on how good they are. It's basically "You want this fantastic chef position? Fucking prove it." I can get behind that sort of thing. The competition aspect is based around preparing food and, if you do it well, you'll keep on going; you fuck up, you may be done. Every cool job should have a show like this.

Except every year, more and more of the early episodes are based around competitors that aren't going to win and are there simply because they will make things interesting and make you want to keep watching. This season, after two episodes (aired back-to-back), it's just shameless.

First up, we have Antonia, a line cook, who, in the first competition where the task was prepare your signature dish, produced a gumbo so awful that it made Ramsay (apparently) vomit, at which point he passed it around and everyone who tasted it reacted in a similar fashion. Later, during preparation for service, Antonia suffered a migraine that involved her shaking, clutching her head, and basically looking like she was a reject from a Cronenberg movie. She was then sent to the hospital, never to be heard from again. Michelle and I were puzzled, wondering if that was real, because it looked so absurd and staged. Person makes apparently shitty food, suffers from a medical condition that looks acted, and is gone... all on the first episode?

Then, there's Raj, the personal chef that has more cooking experience than anyone on the show (including Ramsay) and doesn't seem to understand anything. He gets drunk and starts doing karate moves. He bumbles around and can't cook anything. In the second episode, Ramsay confronts him about a ticket just called and Raj sort of shuffles around before admitting he didn't "quite catch it." He was up for elimination in both episodes and passed over despite obviously being among the worst (if not the worst out of the bunch). In the preview for the third episode, he seemingly attacks another chef with a knife. Yes. SEEMINGLY ATTACKS ANOTHER CHEF WITH A KNIFE.

Sabrina, a prep chef, had an attitude problem throughout, fights constantly with everyone on her team, brought food up to the pass way ahead because she couldn't coordinate anything, and, then, wanted someone else kicked off when she was brought up for elimination because that person snores. She's not as bad as Raj, but her near-tearful cries of "But I wanted you to see the food I made for you!" to Ramsay make me think her elimination will be coupled with an awkward moment where she lunges at him and tries to fuck him right there in the restaurant.

The eliminated chefs were a woman who cooked a little too slowly and a guy who couldn't get sushi rolls right. Both weren't going to win, but, come on, are you telling me the bumbling buffoon and crazy stalker lady have a shot in hell? It's almost not worth watching this shit until there's five episodes left, the crazies have all gone home, and you're left with the people you didn't know were on the show for the first few weeks, because they are actual human beings. Tucker had the right idea.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Smarkass Comments: NXT 09.21.10

Watching the third episode of NXT Season 3, Michelle and I both wondered what the point of this is. The quality has devolved to the point where the people watching it on TV shit on what's happening, the critics shit on what's happening, the live audience shits on what's happening, the announcers shit on what's happening, and even the performers shit on what's happening. The message is loud and clear: this show is rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreally fucking bad and the WWE knows it. So, why is it continuing on this path instead of switching to become something better? Why not try to improve things? Some have speculated that since NXT is on its way out, losing its TV deal when Smackdown switches to SyFy (the current home of NXT) next week, that the WWE is going to bury it on its way out. It didn't fail because the WWE couldn't sell it, it failed because it just didn't work no matter what they tried. I don't quite grasp the logic either, but it's hard to know what's going in Vince McMahon's head.

Personally, I don't buy that argument anyway. Why bury your show? Then again, I can't really think of a better reason for why the show is so goddamn bad. It's like they took the worst parts of the previous two NXT seasons (lame competitions/segments, unpolished/bad wrestlers) and lost the good parts (experienced/quality wrestlers, good use of the pros at times). It's baffling. While the truth behind what's going on at TNA right now would be a fascinating story, I would honestly be more interested in finding out the thinking behind NXT at this point. At least TNA tries to sell Impact as quality -- the WWE has given up on making NXT seem good. It's just a giant turd that they're stuck with for now and they've accepted that. Hell, they've embraced that and decided to let everyone know that they know.

A few random thoughts:

* CM Punk had a few good lines, but was pretty restrained.

* Um, if Aksana has been in the US since 2001, shouldn't she qualify for citizenship?

* When Michael Cole came out, I expected him to be carrying a half-empty bottle of whiskey and ranting...

* Naomi got the biggest pop of the night for calling the 'Talk the Talk' segment bullshit. And then they kept going.

* AJ dominated the night with two competition wins plus a victory in the ring. Considering she's the one with talent, best to just back her now.

* The musical chairs bit was pretty bad, especially since, yesterday, we happened to get to the point on disc three of The Best of Raw 15th Anniversary DVD where Eugene forced a bunch of people to play musical chairs to earn a title shot. That version at least had some storytelling with no one except Stacey Keibler and Jerry Lawler (wanting to follow Stacey and stare at her ass) participating at first... until the music stopped and everyone stood there for beat before making a mad dash for the chairs. Then, there was the green mist in Coach's face, Lawler sitting on Stacey's lap, Ric Flair shoving Stacey out of the way and then strutting only to miss a chance to sit in a chair. It also finished well with Chris Jericho grabbing the chair when Tomko tried to sit in it, hitting him with the chair, and then sitting in it himself to win. Yeah, it was kind of lame, but they at least tried to make it entertaining. Not so much this time.

Really, though, a bad show. And I don't know why it has to be that way.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TNA Raw: What if WWE Raw was TNA Impact?

Last night, while watching Raw, Michelle and I played a game where we took the segments and rewrote them as if this were Impact and TNA was booking these segments.

Show Opening featuring WWE Champion Randy Orton and former Champion Sheamus
General Manager Bret Hart comes out and talks about how Night of Champions was a giant success and proved, once again, that the WWE is where everyone wants to be and why the WWE is the most dominant promotion in sports entertainment. And one of the reasons why the WWE is reigning at the top? The NEW WWE Champion... Randy Orton! Orton comes out and Hart keeps going on about how Orton is the exact type of champion the company needs, how he's going to raise the bar, is the best in the world, etc. Eventually, after a couple of minutes of Hart praising Orton, Sheamus comes out and demands a rematch... which Hart agrees to. In fact, he wants nothing more than to see Randy Orton and Sheamus fight at Hell in a Cell for the WWE Championship and continue to raise the bar for everyone in the WWE and all across sports entertainment, proving again why WWE is the place where everyone wants to be. But, then, Vince McMahon comes out, talks about how great Orton and Sheamus both are, how their match at Night of Champions with Edge, Chris Jericho, John Cena, and Wade Barrett was the best match he's ever seen and how it makes him so proud to be the Chairman of the WWE... but, he doesn't think that fans deserve to have to wait until Hell in a Cell, because they're going to have a non-title steel cage match tonight live on Raw. (Said match would start with five minutes left in the show and end with both men either pinning one another or both escaping at the exact same time...)

"Dashing" Cody Rhodes & Drew McIntyre vs. Santino & Kozlov
With the Hart Dynasty out on commentary, they interfere in the match immediately, attacking Rhodes and McIntyre, and the match ends in a countout for some reason instead of a disqualification. Security tries to break up the brawl, but the four men keep finding new ways to escape and fight.

Chris Jericho vs. John Morrison
The match lasts a single segment instead of the two it took. Morrison still wins, but in a fluke victory that has Jericho pissed off and he attacks Morrison after the match.

Edge vs. Daniel Bryan
First off, Edge's backstage segment would have involved him talking to a documentary-style camera in the men's room, talking very quietly and seriously about how the GM is holding him back and screwing up his career -- his being booked to face Daniel Bryan being proof of this. The match itself would play out mostly how it did until the ending where Alex Riley and the Miz interfered (the Miz never cutting his promo -- he does that backstage to a documentary-style camera later in the show while he and Riley are texting on their phones) would have resulted in Edge beign disqualified, but the three men just beat the shit out of Bryan anyway, leaving him a bloody mess.

Layla vs. Melina
Everything happens exactly the same, but the match is five minutes longer. And there are more botches.

R-Truth & Eve vs. Ted DiBiase & Maryse
Nothing changes.

John Cena vs. Wade Barrett
Instead of Barrett changing it to a gauntlet match, Nexus simply tries to attack Cena, but Cena grabs the chair Barrett brought into the ring and begins to lay them all out but the show ends mid-brawl. The match that was announced at the end of Raw is actually announced online after the show is over. (I know this doesn't make sense with my change to Orton/Sheamus, but that was on purpose.)

Also, throw in some more backstage documentary-style interviews, some people walking around ranting about things that have nothing to do with the events of this episode, and something involving Goldust eating a hot dog, while looking very intensely at William Regal.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Smarkass Comments: Smackdown 09.17.10

So, no podcasting with Tim tonight, because he's sick means that I get to watch Smackdown when it airs. Michelle is also busy, working on a new gym routine that all of the instructors are learning/practicing tomorrow, so I figured I'd write about Smackdown as it airs rather than after.

Fun/shitty note: this week's episode was taped in Detroit. Michelle and I didn't go for various reasons. But, one good thing about living in Windsor is that, between Detroit and Toronto/the rest of Southwestern Ontario, there are many, many chances to see live wrestling throughout the year. Hell, WWE just had this year's Over the Limit PPV in Detroit! They usually hit the Motor City two or three times a year. So, no worries.

Segment #1: Christian's Peep Show with Albert del Rio as a guest
I've been digging Alberto del Rio. He's good on the mic, has obvious charisma, and is decent in the ring. Pairing him with Christian for his first extended feud is a smart decision since it increases interest in Christian and gives del Rio a great, solid veteran to work with as he gets his footing in the WWE. I also love the nickname 'Juan Bradshaw Layfield.' A good way to start the show and del Rio not agreeing to a match until he's ready is a good heel move.

Segment #2: The Hart Dynasty vs. "Dashing" Cody Rhodes & Drew McIntyre
A solid match. I've been loving "Dashing" Cody Rhodes since he took on this gimmick. It's really given him a strong focus for his character, which was fairly generic before. That added bit has made him better in the ring. Pairing him with Drew McIntyre seems a waste except to put McIntyre in a position where he can improve. This was a solid match that sets up a match between the two duos on Sunday at Night of Champions. That this newly formed tag team is getting a title shot shows how weak the tag team division is in the WWE. [**]

Segment #3: Kofi Kingston cuts a promo before his match
A fairly solid promo by Kingston setting up his Intercontinental Championship shot against Dolph Ziggler at Night of Champions. Nothing special, but Kingston on the mic is rare. He's got some basic skill and just needs more mic time to improve.

Segment #4: Kofi Kingston vs. Jack Swagger
HA! Duelling chants of "Lets go, Swagger!"/"Lets go, Kofi!" towards the end... this match was basically Jack Swagger kicking the shit out of Kofi Kingston for 10-15 minutes until some good back-and-forth with Swagger still maintain an advantage. Once they hit that point, it became very engaging to watch. I don't quite buy Kingston's victory entirely, but he needed it going into Night of Champions. Swagger was just a little too dominant for it to work entirely. It reminds me a little of Rey Mysterio's title defence against JBL at Judgment Day 2006. They should have cut some of the middle out to make it a little less one-sided. Still, once it hit the back-and-forth of the end, it was really, really good. [***1/4]

Segment #5: Trying to teach Hornswoggle to talk
oh god no fuck me this shit is godawful

Segment #6: Kelly Kelly & Rosa Mendes vs. LayCool
Michelle McCool and Layla breathers because of 'Smelly Kelly' was kind of funny. The match was typical Diva shit. LayCool wins before Night of Champions and the unification match. [1/2*]

Segment #7: LayCool picks who will face Melina at Night of Champions
Kaval still hanging out with LayCool? Awesome. I really like LayCool. They have their act down and it's amusing. McCool rigging the choice seems like a fake-out on the duo's part. I still think that, after Night of Champions, we'll have Layla carrying the Womens Championship, while McCool has the Divas belt... until they eventually break up and feud against one another to determine the real Unified Womens Champion.

Segment #8: CM Punk vs. Christian
Going into this, I expected interference from Alberto del Rio based on the show's beginning and his being on commentary ringside and I was... right. del Rio distracted Christian near the end by getting the on mic, allowing Punk to get the win. The match itself wasn't amazing, but solid work by both men, two of the better performers in the WWE. The aftermath with del Rio and the Big Show was decent. Set up the Punk/Big Show match and continued the del Rio/Christian feud. [**1/2]

Segment #9: Kane answers the Undertaker
Kane has been on fire on the mic during this feud. He's really shown how great he can be -- articulate, passionate, and just plain interesting to watch. The Undertaker's entrance was great for when the lights came on and Kane was behind the Undertaker. 'Taker made a face you don't often see: the 'oh fuck me!' face of regret/annoyance. Then, Kane just destroying the Undertaker? Very well done. Definitely the way to end the show leading into Night of Champions.

All in all, a pretty good 'go home' show with almost every segment focusing on leading into a Night of Champions match in some way. Really pushing the PPV. Unlike Raw, you can tell where the focus of this episode was.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Smarkass Comments: NXT 09.07.10

A few days late, but that's fine with me. Season three of NXT kicked off this week under somewhat strange cirumstances. Brief history lesson: NXT, which airs in the US on SyFy, is the replacement for ECW, the former 'third brand' of the WWE, which shrank in ratings as it went on, because no one gave a fuck. NXT is similar to ECW in that the point is to give younger talents a chance to perform on TV and improve their skills, against one another and veterans. ECW did this by acting like a regular wrestling show; NXT does it by being a competition. Start with eight rookies, pair them each up with a 'pro' and let them go, doing inane challenges, working in short matches, getting voted off one-by-one until one rookie is left as the winner, complete with a move to either Raw or Smackdown and a title shot on a PPV. The results have been mixed and the ratings not the improvement that SyFy wanted. So, SyFy will beginning airing Smackdown in October as the WWE flees the dying MyNetworkTV -- and doesn't want NXT anymore. Season two ended last week and that leaves a gap of five weeks, so the WWE did the smart, logical thing: they paired down the number of contestants to six and made it a show featuring women rookies. Yes, they appear to be trying to kill it off.

Now, the idea of NXT being women-only appealed to me quite a bit. I thought, prior to ECW ending but when its demise was heavily rumoured, that changing ECW to an all-Divas (as women wrestlers are called in the WWE) show would be interesting. Divas are, by and large, not good wrestlers. Their matches are thought of as a chance to go get some food, use the bathroom, whatever so long as it doesn't involve watching them wrestle. Part of this is the result of hiring women for their looks rather than their skills, but another part is that none of them are ever given a good chance to improve or get over with the audience. Each weekly TV show usually has one Diva segment at most, while numerous PPVs will go by with no Divas matches. That's not an environment where someone will improve and get over with the audience. But, an hour-long weekly show devoted exclusively to the Divas where they could all have stories and feuds, and get a chance to wrestle more? That sounded good to me. Probably a horrible business decision, but definitely interesting.

So, NXT season three being Divas only? Yeah, I'd give that a try. The results were... pretty fucking terrible. Former play-by-play man and current ruler Joey Styles said that it was definitely more 'E' than 'W' (entertainment than wrestling, both parts of 'WWE') and I can see where he'd take that approach, except for one thing: it wasn't entertaining. It was kind of brutal to watch these six women, only a couple of which showed any skills that would suggest putting them on TV as women wrestlers. Their promo abilities? Shit. Stuck in a dance competition? The fuck? The longest match had the two rookies wrestle some more after it was over and try to go for a pin! The other match was thankfully short -- blink and you missed it.

Not sure if I'll tune in next week, but... then again, if it's only on TV for the next few weeks, it may be worth watching while I can. Though, what happens after its run ends on SyFy is still not certain. It may become a web-exclusive show or be incorporated into Raw and/or Smackdown. We'll see. The first episode, though, was really bad. When Michelle is scoffing and joining in my mockery, you know it's shit, because she's more inclined to either not care if it doesn't interest her or, well, just be a nicer person than I am. When she joins in, you're in trouble.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Climbing Up the Walls: Six Feet Under 4.05 "That's My Dog"

For the past while, Michelle and I have been making our way through Six Feet Under. My mom watched the show religiously when it was on, so I got her the complete series a few years back when I was flush with fat grad school money and borrowed it the last time I was visiting (well, exchanged her complete series set of The Sopranos for it...). I can't remember when we started watching it. Sometime in July, I assume, but the seasons are pretty short (13 episodes each for the first three seasons, 12 for the last two), so who knows. It's a fine show. It took a little bit to win both of us over, but we're in a good groove now, watching the first six episodes of the fourth season today (for example). Like with most shows you just plough through on DVD, watching it in such quick succession hides some of the flaws (or makes them easier to ignore), but also heightens the attachment to characters. At least for me. You're spending so much time with them that it's hard not to feel more engaged with their little worlds. Tune in an hour every week with the odd break week and it's easy to maintain a casual distance, but a few hours every couple of days? You're in deep.

Which brings me to the fifth episode of season four, "That's My Dog." It's not the best episode of television I've ever seen, but it's one of the most disturbing. In fact, it's probably one of the most disturbing pieces of entertainment/art I've come across ever, mostly because it was created within the context of a television show. The episode seems like a regular episode of show with various subplots working, including one where David, the uptight-but-kind gay funeral director, stops to help a guy who says he's out of gas and just needs a ride to the nearest gas station. Something isn't right, obviously, but what happens is completely unexpected. You expect a robbery, you expect maybe some violence, but you get the entire episode hijacked along with David as the guy terrorises him, alternately being friendly and threatening to kill David. We're talking near escape gone wrong, forced drug use, lies, manipulation, a nasty beating, having a gun stuck in his mouth, gasoline poured on him with the threat of being burned alive... and with no explanation. At one time, David just asks why, how could someone do this to another person, how could they be so oblivious to their pain and suffering... and gets no answer. Mostly because what answer works? (The show revolves around pain and suffering without any answers, but this one seems worse, because the cause is sitting right there. Usually, it's the vague concept of how god could let someone die, but this... shit.)

I kept waiting for it all to be a dream since the show uses dreams/fantasies/hallucinations often, but it wasn't. It was a character that I'd grown quite attached to being put through hell while I watched. Part of me wanted to turn it off, part of me wanted to just cry, and part of me demanded I keep watching because I had to know what happens -- I had to see David somehow survive, for something good to happen.

I've seen stuff like this before in movies or comics or books... shorter versions, ones that didn't affect me as much, but this... this just left me sad and freaked out a little. I mean, this is your worst nightmare isn't it: you trying to help another human being who does everything they can to hurt and humiliate and tear you down like you're nothing? How do you watch something like that and not walk away slightly freaked out?

But, this was happening to someone I cared about -- even if he was just a fictional character. And that's something that television can do better than film, I think, because of its longform serialised nature: it makes you care more. Part of what makes this episode so powerful is that David Fisher is someone we've known for 43 episodes prior to this one. That's around 36 hours of television (which he wasn't on screen for all of, obviously, but still). Thirty-six hours of watching him struggle with his homosexuality, his relationship with Keith, his family, his business, everything... and then we have to watch him get punched and robbed and kidnapped and bullied and degraded and FUCK! It's just so damn cruel and effective.

The formula is also a tool here, because, like I said, the entire show is hijacked along with David. Once he's punched by his attacker, there are no other subplots. It's just those two guys and us as we watch. We can't escape, because David can't escape. It's not until the end, when he's walking down the street in a shitty neighbourhood, beaten, clothes torn and dirty, covered in gasoline, and a cop car stops -- he's found, not rescued -- that we get to leave as the episode fades to white.

We had to watch the next episode if only so that wasn't our last experience with the show of the day. Because, fuck, he didn't deserve that and, honestly, neither did we. But, hey, that's life and that's some damn good television... not necessarily enjoyable or entertaining, but well-crafted, well-executed, and a great use of the medium.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Culture: American Shopping & Food

Not exactly popculture, but wanted to do some random, quick thoughts on the short shopping trip Michelle and I took to Detroit (well, Troy) today.

* Michelle wanted to go to a mall she'd heard about from people called, oddly, the Somerset Collection. It's in Troy, Michigan, which is... part of Detroit, kind of... like a related town/city that falls into the General Detroit Area, I guess? I could be wrong. Anyway, this mall, I was told, has two parts: one side for regular shoppers and one side for wealthy shoppers. The two parts are divided by a street, joined by a skywalk. Sounded strange to me, but whatever.

* I hate crossing the border. American border guards just unnerve me with their rudeness and stupid, inane questions. My favourite is still from just under three years ago when I was going to a Neil Young concert in Detroit. I took the tunnel bus across and was asked how long I'd be in Detroit and said until the concert is over. A reasonable answer. Not for the border guard who demanded to know how long that would be... because I tell Neil Young how long to play for... Never had a good experience with border guards. And, trust me, if you look at me and think you're dealing with someone you should be worried about, you're too paranoid.

* The mall was a mall. Except for a lack of a single bookstore or music/DVD store. What the fuck?

* The food court was odd, for us, since there weren't any food chains represented... at least none that we recognised. They all seemed like generic stands. I'm used to food courts with KFC, New York Fries, Dairy Queen, Taco Bell... you know, places you've heard of outside of food courts.

* Michelle was once again reminded that I'm a better shopper than she is. Just a fact. Give me a mission and I will get it done quickly, efficiently, and for a good price. Then again, I've read studies that suggest men are better shoppers, so...

* One of our goals was to hit White Castle since I love burgers and it's a chain that isn't in Canada. I've heard about it and wanted to give their (in)famous sliders a shot. Michelle found the closest one online and it happened to be located next to a 7-Eleven, which is great, because that would give me a chance to check out any Slurpee differences, different types of chips, and different types of pop. I may like to eat crap, but I revel and love that crap.

* At White Castle, we decided to play it relatively safe and try a few things. Since I'm not a cheeseburger fan (don't like cheese on my burgers), I got three sliders and a pulled pork sandwhich, while Michelle got a slider, a bacon cheeseburger, a jalapeno cheeseburger, and a pulled pork sandwich. Prior to ordering, we asked what comes on the burgers and were informed that only ketchup and mustard are standard. This was a lie as we found out later, since onions and pickles are also standard. This didn't bother me, but Michelle prefers his burgers with no toppings at all.

* Ah, the slider... it was pretty disgusting. I like greasy burgers, I do, but even I balk when the bun is so greasy, it sticks to the cardboard container it rests in. I didn't want to touch the thing. But, whatever, it could still be good... not so much. It lacked flavour... I couldn't taste the meat, so overpowering were the pickles, onions, mustard (there was ketchup?), and, well, the taste of the greasy bun itself. On such a small burger, they really needed to lay off the toppings a little. Its texture was also unpleasant. The pulled pork sandwich was tasty, though. Michelle and I both enjoyed those quite a bit. The sliders... well, I ate her regular one because of the extra toppings. I managed to eat three-and-a-half of the four I had before just not wanting to shove that shit in my mouth. Michelle also quit halfway through her last one. While White Castle was disappointing, I was glad to finally give it a try, because now I know that it's not great. No more wondering and wanting to give it a try. (Also, eight burgers for seven bucks? Not a bad deal if you like 'em.)

* 7-Eleven was fun as I learned that Americans have such a weird selection of chips. In some areas, you have many different and odd flavours -- endless variations on BBQ from Lays, for example, except for... well, BBQ. Ruffles, a favourite of mine, has few flavours. Apparently, All Dressed is a flavour only available in Canada. Weird. No Sour Cream and Bacon, either? Doritos were mostly the same with the random different flavour, or name... I think our 'Sweet Chili Heat' is called 'Spicy Sweet Chili' or something. It was a little disappointing, but I did get a small bag of Sweet & Spicy Buffalo Wing Lays (that I'm having tomorrow thanks to being full tonight on slushy and supper).

* The clerk at 7-Eleven stopped me when I went to fill up my Slurpee mug, because they don't have refillable mugs for Slurpees, just Big Gulps? After inspecting the mug and seeing that, yes, it IS a 7-Eleven Slurpee mug, he let me fill it. I went with Coke, which was more carbinated than it is here. Michelle got a small Pina Colada one. I did enjoy that there were two straw sizes.

* Also got a 2L bottle of Cherry Coke, since they stopped making that here years ago. Was disappointed to find no Vanilla Coke. Michelle got a Twix ice cream treat and liked it quite a bit.

* We stopped at Kroeger's, a grocery store, to check things out a bit more, seeing a wide variety of chips -- kettle chips Lays? I guess we just have Miss Vickie's...

* Discovered Vanilla Coke... but it was only sold in cases of twelve cans at a price that's higher than our 12-packs, which was strange. Did notice that Pepsi is available in a few different varieties like 1 calorie Pepsi (why that AND zero calorie Pepsi?) and 'Throwback' Pepsi made with REAL sugar... what the fuck?

* Michelle nearly went crazy in the ice cream aisle with a few flavours not seen here.

* It was busier getting back into Canada than the other way around... strange.

All in all, a pleasant day. Nothing really interesting except to Michelle and I. But, it was fun.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

SpongeBob SquarePants 1.3 (Jellyfishing / Plankton!), 1.4 (Naughty Nautical Neighbors / Boating School) & 1.5 (Pizza Delivery / Home Sweet Pineapple)

[I continue to make my way through my SpongeBob Squarepanets DVDs...]

I think I may have gotten Michelle into the show. Well, not quite, but she wanted to do some cross-stitching this afternoon and I put this on, showing her "Bubblestand" as a sample episode. She enjoyed it (but didn't like SpongeBob's bubble blowing technique!) and was amused that I laughed so hard at Tom Kenny's "Bring it around town" rendition. She watched episodes 1.4 and 1.5 with me after that, and enjoyed parts of it. That's better than I expected for some reason. She did agree with my Looney Tunes/classic cartoon comparison.

Episode 1.3 (Jellyfishing / Plankton!)

The relationship of the sentient beings in the SpongeBob underwater world and the 'animals' is an odd one. SpongeBob has a pet snail and chases after jellyfish, which are treated like violent butterflies. Why are these creatures non-sentient? What makes a sponge or plankton inherently more advanced? Granted, there are hints of intelligence, but that's standard for this sort of thing. The bottom line is that there's a divide here and it seems somewhat random. Now, if it were only fish that were sential, I'd get it. Despite there being dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of species of fish, there's a common link there. Throw in dolphins and whales, and you're set. But why lobsters and crabs, but not snails? Why starfish, but not jellyfish? It's somewhat baffling.

"Jellyfishing" and "Plankton!" didn't blow me away. "Jellyfishing" basically had SpongeBob and Patrick torturing Squidward for no reason, while the jellyfish come off as both victims and total dicks. Some nice gags like the opening music, but not one I really enjoyed.

"Plankton!" introduces the show's main villain: a small, green, evil plankton named Plankton. He owns a rival burger place to the Krusty Krab called the Chum Bucket and his quest in life is to obtain a Krabby Patty to analyse it and reproduce it with the hopes of putting the Krusty Krab out of business. It's pretty inane stuff and, really, shouldn't be that hard to accomplish. But, of course, it is. I like how Plankton revels in his evilness by playing evil, bombastic music at the end of his evil monologues. SpongeBob not realising he's being controlled by Plankton was funny since it makes you wonder what his internal world is like. He must be used to his body just doing as it wishes.

Despite "Plankton!" being a 'big' episode, it doesn't feel like a proper introduction to Plankton. It's too small scale. Too wacky. The plot is the sort you expect for his third episode, not his first.

Episode 1.4 (Naughty Nautical Neighbors / Boating School)

There's a nice recovery with these two episodes. "Naughty Nautical Neighbors" is a simple morality play, while "Boating School" shows SpongeBob in the outside world a little more. They both play up the physical humour well. In the first, Squirdward is annoyed by the fact that SpongeBob and Patrick are having fun, sending messages to one another via bubbles, and he ruins it by creating his own messages. As a result, he soon has the two of them competing to be his best friend. In the second, SpongeBob wants his boating license, but can't pass the road test because of nerves.

"Naughty Nautical Neighbors" reminded me of sleepovers when I was a kid. I don't know how everyone else's sleepovers tended to go, but it was common for me (and my sisters and on The Cosby Show, too) for there to be a fight with my friend, causing ten to twenty minutes of hating one another before making up and forgetting that there was ever any problem. It didn't happen every time, but it seems like it did. Kids are weird like that. You hate someone, you like them again... I got in a fight once in the first or second grade when a friend was being mean to my sister, but we were best friends again when he accidentally knocked out a loose tooth (meaning I'd get Tooth Fairy money). That's what happens here. A stupid little argument seems like the end of the world for SpongeBob and Patrick, but they eventually make up and it's like there never was an argument. It was all stupid minor shit. No worries.

"Boating School" has a fantastic moment where Patrick is helping SpongeBob with his road test after they shoved a radio in his head, so Patrick could tell him what to do while watching through a telescope. I'm slightly bothered by the idea that Patrick is not only a good driver, but he's good enough to guide SpongeBob from miles away. But, the road test is almost over the poor, beleaguered woman, Mrs. Puff, that teaches at the boating school is so happy that SpongeBob has finally gotten over his nerves that she wonders aloud how it could have happened, laughing the entire time -- and she describes the Patrick/SpongeBob scheme exactly. Except she's laughing and SpongeBob is laughing, too, until she mentions that would be cheating.


SpongeBob freaks the fuck out. He's cheating. He's cheating! He just flips his shit, starts screaming "I think I'm cheating!" over and over again, loses control of the car, and crashes. Sometimes, SpongeBob is such a child.

Episode 1.5 (Pizza Delivery / Home Sweet Pineapple)

"Pizza Delivery" coming right after "Boating School" had me thinking that they just did two boating-related stories in a single episode. I lost track of how many stories I'd seen, so it seemed like a nice continuation, of sorts. It still works that way. SpongeBob and Squidward have to deliver the first ever Krusty Krab pizza right at closing (mostly because it's a chance for Mr. Krabs to make some money and that's what he loves most). Things go wrong when Squidward makes SpongeBob drive. All he has to do is back out of the parking space. Instead, he begins backing up and keeps on backing up until they run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. What ensues is them lost, tired, SpongeBob saying ridiculous things that he heard the pioneers did, Squidward wanting to eat the pizza that SpongeBob insists is for the customer. It all culminates in them finally delivering it and the customer being a giant asshole, claiming that SpongeBob forgot the drink he ordered despite not ordering a drink. When it nearly breaks SpongeBob, Squidward shoves the pizza (in the box) down the guy's throat.

This is a nice classic premise of characters stranded in the middle of nowhere. SpongeBob annoys Squidward while clinging to his faith in serving the customer. We get to see SpongeBob pushed to the limit of sanity as his idealism is nearly crushed by the reality that some people are loud, boorish assholes. Squidward shows his softer side by protecting SpongeBob from his awful truth. This was a needed episode as it at least established that Squidward isn't all bad. We had hints of that in "Naughty Nautical Neighbors" when he was enthused/surprised at SpongeBob wanting to play him some music (until SpongeBob played, of course...).

"Home Sweet Pineapple" does little for me. SpongeBob's house is eaten (or, more properly, drank) by nematodes. It's an amusing idea that never really works after it happens. I enjoyed the nematodes drinking the house and, somehow, that meant objects inside were drank, too. After that happens, SpongeBob looks forced to move back with his parents, but tries two things first: building a new house with Patrick and, then, staying with Patrick. Neither work out. Both have the odd decent gag, but, like I said, it never really works entirely. It's a fine, decent, average sort of episode. The solution at the end is eye-rolling.

More as I watch them...