Tag Archives: television

Hollywood Endings: The Shield and The Sopranos

26 Nov

(Editor’s note:  The Hangover swung and missed on much of our interpretation of the Soprano’s ending.  Please see:  http://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/the-sopranos-definitive-explanation-of-the-end/)

The Shield’s seven year run of grit ended last night with an episode true to its stomach-wrenching nature.  One could not help but draw contrast to the ending of the Sopranos, HBO’s signature crime drama.  The relative merit of each can be seen through the music used to define the episodes.  For The Shield, it was Vic Mackey’s opening drive through his city to X’s Los Angeles, a seminal punk cut that characterizes the chaotic undercurrent that runs like a riptide through LA.  In contrast, the Sopranos ended with the Soprano family having dinner in a restaurant known for onion rings while the trite, Top 40 strains of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ dominated the scene.  These musical choices alone indicate the merits of the respective finales.

The Sopranos finished in a sea of symbolism.  As Tony, Carmella, and AJ order lousy food, Meadow tries to park her car (signifying how the family will never fit in to mainstream America?).  A man walks in the restaurant, scopes out Tony and heads for the bathroom (Mob hit man?  Innocent passerby?  Or a symbol of the potential threat that will always hang over Tony’s head?).  The camera pans to a young couple obviously in love enjoying their dinner (Symbolizing a young Tony and Carmella, when they believed–cue Journey–their futures were bright?)  The screen turns black as Meadow runs in the restaurant, leaving millions of Americans thinking that HBO has just crashed.  No, the disaster wasn’t in their set.  It was in the guts of the Sopranos producers and writers, who took the “arty” way out–failing to make the definitive statement that writers most often consider critical to story-telling.   Then again, maybe not.  Perhaps The Sopranos team wanted to leave us believing that the Sopranos would never know what lay ahead for them, and that was the curse given Tony’s chosen occupation.  But these are just The Hangover’s interpretations.  Others have seen the episode quite differently.  On the excellent Television Without Pity site, there are 226 pages of interpretation.  That indicates a problem; after six seasons, the producers should have been able to provide a meaningful resolution.  To fail to do so is to walk away from one’s responsibility as an artist.

The Shield, however, concluded with an earned, tough clarity.   Desperation built.  Frustrations grew.  Betrayal became a way of life.  Death was a choice.   No major character escaped unscathed.  Shane, Ronnie, Dutch, Acevada, Claudette, Julien, Corinne, Steve, and Tina all leave wounded.   The filmmaking was brilliant, as letting the final minutes play out on Vic Mackey’s face showed the commitment, faith, and cajones that was clearly lacking in the Sopranos finale.  The price that Mackey pays for trying to walk the wire between justice and morality is clear:  There’s nothing left inside.   Powerful storytelling trumps pretentious symbolism:  Writers and viewers can agree on that.


Common Sense Election Anaylsis

5 Nov

There are a number of reasons that Barack Obama won the Presidency yesterday, receiving more votes than any candidate in history.  Most of them are fairly obvious. 

  • George W. Bush was a really bad president.  Certainly, John McCain suffered from his party and policy affiliations with the current President, just as the majority of people suffered under his administration–unless, of course, you were in the top 1% of income earners, worked for or invested in Big Oil, or were on the Board at Halliburton or Blackwater.
  • John McCain was a lousy campaigner.  McCain’s best moments of the entire election cycle were his QVC skit on Saturday Night Live, his Monday Night Football Interview with Chris Berman, and his concession speech.  His best debate line, “Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago,” would have hit harder than a wet sponge if he hadn’t spent the last six months trying to maintain his Party’s base by highlighting his belief in Bush policies. 
  • Barack Obama really connected with the people.  He was a great speaker.  He had a clear message which he delivered with charisma, focus, and detail.  It worked.
  • The Republicans failed to scare the electorate as they did in 2004.  They were unable to generate a polarizing social issue such as “gay marriage” which carried Ohio for Bush in 2004.  In fact, due to the economic collapse, more Americans were frightened of losing their jobs and homes than they were by lame Republican attempts to portray Obama as a socialist, Muslim, terrorist, or–holy cow–a liberal. 
  • Religion, a huge component of Bush’s 2000 victory, became less of an issue.  After eight years of Bush-Cheney international and economic disaster, maybe the good Christian voters began to realize that God wasn’t actually a Republican diety. 
  • Obama ran a clean campaign, and after two elections of Bush-Rove tactics, it appears that a more positive message resonated with voters.  As CBS News reported:  “Nearly every TV ad McCain ran last week was negative, compared to just 34 percent of those by Obama, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Advertising Project released on Wednesday. “
  • When a candidate moves from who-they-really-are to who-they-think-they-need-to-be-to-get-elected, they lose.  Reagan was an ultra-conservative.  Bill Clinton was a centrist.  George W Bush was a God-fearing jughead.  Obama is a liberal (Apparently, not such a bad thing these days).  The 2000 John McCain didn’t court the Religious Right, employed an independent, critical thought process, and wouldn’t have stood for the type of negative campaigning that Bush-Rove used to sink McCain’s 2000 bid.  That all changed in 2008, and the results speak for themselves. 

Other Election Highlights:

  • Last night, the Fox News Channel crew looked and acted like a bunch of six year-olds who raced down the stairs only to find coal in their stockings.  Boo hoo.   Waaaaaaaaw.
  • Ben Affleck’s Keith Olbermann skit on SNL (perhaps the best episode of SNL since the glory days of the Belushi era).
  • The Hangover finally voted for a Presidential Candidate who won.  (It’s the first time since 1980, and that was a mistake.  Hey, I was a binge-drinking teenager at the time.)
  • The Hangover is still trying to remove John Edwards’ populist hook from his mouth, firmly planted during the primary season.  Only a true douche bag could have campaigned “for-the-people” while knowing that an affair with the biggest coke slut of the 1980’s was waiting to come tumbling out of the closet.  What if his message (which was a good one) had caught on?
  • Anne Curry delivers good news:  anytime, anyplace, but especially on MSNBC’s election night dressed in all black:

Maybe the mainstream media isn't so bad, after all.

The Maverick, John McCain, Not Even America’s Best

7 Oct

“John McCain is a maverick.”  Americans have heard that thousands–if not millions–of times over the last few months. We’ll hear it some more, too, as election day approaches.   While McCain contends this “maverick” status will make him a good president, The Hangover remains dubious.  The truth is, McCain isn’t even the best Maverick the United States has to offer.  Therefore, as a public service, The Hangover offers its list of:

Best American Mavericks:

America's best maverick: Bret Maverick

1)  Bret Maverick as played by James Garner

The television show “Maverick” aired from 1957-1962, with Garner playing Bret Maverick from ’57 to ’60.  The show was a comedy-action-western featuring three Maverick brothers and one nephew, all card-playing sharps who dressed well, cracked jokes, and then did good–often reluctantly.  The Museum of Broadcast Communications termed the show “a subversive Western with a dark sense of humor.”  The show can still occasionally be seen on the Encore Western channel. 

Only one or two of the Maverick clan were  featured in an episode, with Garner’s Bret being the lead during the shows creative and ratings peaks.  Garner’s charisma, timing, and acting were impeccable.  Bret Maverick’s ability to carry the day against even more underhanded and over-sized foes made him an icon.  While the typical western character wore jeans and flannel, Bret Maverick operated in his fine gambler’s suit.  He would outsmart his adversaries more often than he’d outslug them, but he was adept at both.  He won chips and broke hearts, including his own.  He always intended to act in his own self interest, but rarely did.  Bret Maverick is the mark against which all Mavericks should be measured. 

2) Mark Cuban

Cuban made his fortume as a technology entrepreneur during the Internet boom of the ’80’s and ’90’s by being a maverick in his field.  He’s currently rated the 161st richest American, not bad for a kid from a working class family.  But Cuban is not only a business maverick, he owns Mavericks–the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA.  He also writes a maverick blog:  http://blogmaverick.com/.  While the Dallas Mavericks have yet to win the NBA title under Cuban’s stewardship, the team is always in the playoffs and made the finals in 2006.  As a real maverick, Cuban is often fined by the league for speaking out, speaking truth, and sharing his opinion, whether it is in his best interest or not.  If only our politicians talked as honestly and straight as Cuban.

3)  Raul Malo

Malo is the former lead singer of the Mavericks, a smooth Latin-tinged roots-country band that broke out in 2000.   While the music itself was excellent, the band’s focal point was Malo’s lush, deep vocals.  Rolling Stone described Malo’s voice “on par with the best of ’em:  Sinatra, George Jones, and Orbison.”  That explains why he continues to grow as an artist in a fine solo career.  This singer-Maverick is among the greatest of all time.

4)  The Ford Maverick     

A better maverick than John McCain

The Ford Maverick: A better maverick than John McCain

The Ford Maverick was a compact car built by Ford from 1969-1977.   With a price tag of $1995, it’s first year sales eclipsed records set by the Mustang in 1965.   Despite being labeled a compact, it’s sporty flourishes gave the car personality and a certain level of muscular elan.  It also proved to be dependable and fuel-efficient transportation during the fuel crisis of the 1970’s.  The Maverick rarely let down its owners and, in fact, The Hangover learned to drive behind the wheel of a ’76 four-door model.  This car was one great maverick. 


5)  Bart Maverick as played by Jack Kelly

Kelly’s role as Bart Maverick spanned the length of the entire Maverick series.  And while Kelly was not quite the force that Garner was, he was a model of comic, wry consistency.  The characters of Bret and Bart were not so different, both winners at cards, love, and the high life.  They were distinguished mainly by Bart’s gray hat (Bret wore black).   Episodes where both brothers co-starred are classics. 

6) Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki is the face and star of the NBA’s and Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks,  His lifetime stats reveal greatness.  As the leader of the Mavericks, over the last ten years he’s averaged 36.5 minutes per game, 22.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.  In this years playoffs, he raised his game when it mattered the most with 26.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game.  A real maverick comes through when it counts. Unfortunately, Nowitzki is a citizen of Germany and must be disqualified.

Other Notable Mavericks:

17)  Roger Moore as Beau Maverick.  Beau Maverick was a cousin of Bart and Bret.  Moore, despite being his usual suave self in the role, is also English and disqualified. 

38) Sarah Palin.  The Hangover is unsure how being a hockey Mom, potential book banner, religious zealot, and mainstream Republican make one a maverick.  But seeing as she hit Alaskan energy companies with a windfall profits tax–which actually put money in the pockets of regular Alaskans–she deserves recognition. 

53)  Robert Colbert as Brent Maverick.   Colbert starred in some episodes of the 1961 season, a poor man’s Bret or Bart.  Hence his position down the list.

72) John McCain.  Proclaiming (or having your running mate do so) oneself a maverick does not make it so.  What has McCain done to earn this status?  Co-write legislation that makes sense with Ted Kennedy?  Kennedy’s written legalisation with countless other Senators.  McCain did institute campaign finance reform; unfortunately it was a package that was more “gums” than “teeth.”  Special interest money keeps rolling into candidates’ pockets including McCain’s and Obama’s.  If McCain wanted to be a real Maverick:  he wouldn’t take that special interest money; seven of his tops aides wouldn’t be former lobbyists; and he wouldn’t have voted with George W. Bush 95% of the time.   

99)  Bret Maverick as played by Mel Gibson. Gibson lacked the charisma, self-deprecation, and nuance that made James Garner such as great Maverick. Not even a cameo by Garner could save this debacle. Australian mavericks must have been disheartened by Gibson’s performance.

278) Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as played by Tom Cruise.  This highly clichéd character in the highly clichéd Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun produced a highly clichéd and therefore low-rated maverick.

Reasons to Watch the Republican National Convention

1 Sep

The Republican National Convention should provide compelling television viewing this week.  Nothing’s more engaging than a bunch of aged, rich white guys (and one hot Governor Babe) telling the rest of the country what’s good for them. 

Eschew your usual shows and HBO movies and tune in because:

  • There is a battle of “larger forces” playing out right before our eyes.  It’s Karma and Nature versus The Bible Thumpers and Big Business.  This will be a battle more epic than Midway, more psychotic than Apocalypse Now, and more futile than The Alamo.  That’s right:  The Republican Administration totally disregarded and ignored post-Katrina New Orleans and now Hurricane Gustav has risen from a Globally-Warmed Atlantic to remind everyone how inept Republicans as a group can be.   Gustav will undercut and shadow what should have been the Republican spotlight.  Republican spin will be off the charts on Bill Simmon’s Unintentional Comedy Scale
  • Due to US Open tennis coverage, WWE broadcasts will be limited this week.  That means fewer spandex-clad lady wrestlers gracing the airwaves.  In a move to counter this crisis, John McCain has provided the country with Sarah Palin.  Thank you, Candidate McCain.
Vice President Palin is no wrestler in spandex, but she's not bad.

Candidate Palin: No master of the flying dropkick, but not bad.

  • If Weird Science is more your thing, you can hope that Sarah Palin gets to address the Convention on education.  She believes that creationism should be taught alongside evolution:   

                       “Teach both.  You know, don’t be afraid of information…Healthy debate is so important and it’s so valuable in our schools.  I am a proponent of teaching both.  And you know, I say this too as a daughter of a science teacher.” 

Perhaps she’ll get the chance to clarify if she’d like the Easter Bunny taught along with photosynthesis every spring.  And maybe she can mandate that Santa and his reindeer be discussed with NASA and rockets when the kids are learning about space flight. 

(It also makes me wonder how good a science teacher her father was.  And it’s hard to miss that Palin’s pose on Vogue echoes that of Kelly LeBrock’s on the Weird Science poster.)

  • If you enjoy the Psychic Hotline infomercials, you might spend your evenings this week flipping between the Weather Channel and the Convention.   Who can tell us which would screw up the country worse?  Another four years of Republican leadership or Hurricane Gustav.  See the reality play out against the possibilities.   
  • If you’re missing ’70’s reruns, you can find a couple much odder than Oscar and Felix:  It’s John and Sarah.  He’s a cranky, ninety-something former POW.  She’s a librarian-hot, forty-ish former Alaskan sportscaster.  Can two crazy Republicans share an Oval Office without driving the rest of the country crazy? 

Reasons not to watch the Democratic National Convention

25 Aug

Even if you’ve got time to kill, don’t waste it watching the Democratic National Convention.  That is, unless you want to see five nights of self-congratulatory flagellation.   Yes, the Democrats did manage to nominate an electable candidate, as they have since 2000.  But as we all know, they’ve done it before with nothing to show for it. 

On tap is five nights of unearned back-slapping and speechifying.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but the platform most Democrats ran on in the last mid-term election was to stand up to W. Bush and end the war in Iraq.  Yet, they kept voting for funding, and our troops are still there getting bombed and shot.  And in case you haven’t noticed at your local gas station, the Enron loophole is alive and well.  This is the party that is supposedly looking out for working and middle class Americans.  In the words of Charlie Brown, “Good Grief.”

It is almost beside the point, but any entertainment the Convention can supply can be trumped elsewhere on cable, with less boredom and more enjoyment.

Better bad acting than at the DNC

Melrose Place: Better bad acting than at the DNC

  • If you’re looking for melodramatic bad acting, go find some reruns of Melrose Place on the Soap Network.  Skip Hillary and Barack arm-in-arm, smiling and acting like they’re great friends, mutually thrilled to have finally unified their party.  Without Aaron Spelling to direct them, that bit could be one of the most painful events in recent television history.
  •  Democratic party officials and politicians will be full of vitriol, fire, and outrage this week.  Of course, it’s easy to stand up and bellow when you’re surrounded by ardent, nerdy supporters.  Remember, these are the same folks who let Rove, Cheney, and Bush push them around for the last eight years while barely making a peep.  Watch the Wizard of Oz and see if the mighty Wizard doesn’t remind you of the Democrats–especially after Dorothy pulls back the curtain.
  • When you were in high school, didn’t you find the student government people to be just a  bit pompous and full of themselves?  As if they were actually doing something other than putting on dances and making sure students paid their class dues?  Granted, some kids were normal teens trying to pad their college apps, but the ones who took it seriously–you might recognize them at the convention foaming at the mouth and thrusting Obama-Biden signs high into the air.  Do you really want to spend five nights with these folks?  Get a grip with some kids who have real issues–check out Season One of Friday Night Lights.  Not a Student Council geek to be found. 
  • Democrats will spar over the party’s platform, as if it matters.  As soon as everyone is elected, the politicians will go back to their primary job function–getting reelected.  Outside of a few issues such as health care and hopefully ending the war, no one will give a rat’s ass about “minor” aspects of what is supposedly the party’s agenda.  If you want to see staged, fixed, and meaningless fighting, The Hangover recommends the WWE‘s Monday Night Raw or Friday’s Smackdown.  In addition, the wrestling Divas are much hotter than the political wonkettes.  The Hangover will take Eve and Victoria over Nancy Pelosi and Rielle Hunter any day. 
  • If you actually want to gain respect for your Senators and Representatives, skip the Convention and watch C-Span.  Anyone that can stay awake while serving through a session of Congress deserves some degree of adulation.
  • Finally, if you want to see what’s at the heart of American politics, get your hands on Robert Altman’s Nashville.  The film is set at a political convention, and it will entertain, educate, and challenge more than this week’s pitiful Demo-fest.   

My Name is Nomar

29 Apr

It was a sad moment last Saturday when The Hangover was forced to put Nomar Garciaparra on the Disabled List of his fantasy baseball team, The Killer Rabbits.  (It was probably even sadder for Nomar’s real team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Yes, The Hangover is a minor fantasy geek, but what would you expect from someone who has a blog?)  It was probably silly to draft him in the first place, considering his performance the last few years.  But looking over the list of players, his name brought to mind the Nomar of ’97 to ’03, when he was one of the best players in baseball.  In hindsight, it was pathetically optimistic to believe that Nomar could reclaim those Red Sox glory years, when he was Rookie of the Year in 1997, a five time all-star, winning batting titles in 1999 and 2000, hitting 35 home runs in 1998,  and playing unbelievable defense.  I saw that player just about every night for seven years.  But Nomar is now an oft-injured shell of his former self.   When The Hangover thinks of Nomar, he’s reminded of Earl Hickey.

No, Earl Hickey is not a long forgotten shortstop for the 1939 St. Louis Browns.  He is the character created and played by actor Jason Lee on the NBC show, “My Name is Earl.”  Earl Hickey was a dirt bag, petty thief who never caught a break.  An unlikely chain of events put him in a hospital bed where he watched Carson Daly talk about karma on television.  Earl had an epiphany.  He would make a list of all the things he had done wrong in his life and correct them, one by one, and perhaps his life would improve.  As luck (or karma) would have it, once he starting crossing these nefarious acts off his list, things changed for the better.  Professionally speaking, Nomar Garciaparra is Earl Hickey–only in reverse.  

2004 was a contract year for Nomar, by then one of the Red Sox all-time greats.  In 2003, the Red Sox offered him a four year deal starting in 2005 at a rate of 15 million a year.  At the time, Nomar was considered one of the three best in the game at his position.  Ahead of him was Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid player in the game ( 25 million per season), and also the most productive.  Derek Jeter, who had won four World Series rings by then, was also being paid more (19 million per season).   It was a fair offer.  Nomar turned it down.  Then he became bitter about it.  And that’s when karma starting kicking Nomar in the ass. 

As Seth Mnookin details in this excerpt from his book, “Feeding the Monster,” Nomar became alienated from the Sox.   A market shift before the start of the 2004 resulted in a new offer from the team, only at 12 million a year.  Garciaparra was asking for 17 million.  (The fourth best shortstop, Miguel Tejada, signed a contract that off-season for 12 million.)  The Red Sox also explored trading for A-Rod, which further distanced and upset Nomar.  Then Garciaparra injured his ankle in Spring Training.  He couldn’t seem to get on the field, missing approximately 60% of the regular season games.  Sox management worried that Nomar was more concerned with being healthy as a free agent in November than playing throughout the season.  He began to despise the town, the team, and the fans that adored him.  Eventually, Nomar was dealt at the deadline for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz.  The Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918.

This is what happened to Nomar once he rejected that 15 million dollar a year contract and, in the words of Earl Hickey, turned karma against him:

2003:  Sox fall to Yankees in Game Seven of ALCS.  (Nomar hit .241, struck out eight times, and had 1 rbi in the series.)

2004: Hurts ankle in spring training.  Misses games.  Traded to Cubs, Sox win Series.

2005:  Signs with Cubs for 8.25 million.  Plays only 62 games, hits .283 with 30 rbi.

2006:  Signs with Dodgers for 6.0 million.  Makes All Star team.   Plays only 122 games, but hits .303 with 20 HR.  In only non-Sox playoff appearance hits .222 as Dodgers are swept by Mets. 

2007:  Signs with Dodgers for 8.25 million.  Plays only 120 games, hits .283 with 7 HR.

2008:  Signed for 9.5 million.  Still in April, batting .226, already on the DL twice. 

It’s obvious that Nomar isn’t what he used to be.  But The Hangover remembers when he was The Man in Boston, honored by all from Saturday Night Live to Newberry Street.  We chanted “Nomar’s better” when Jeter hit in Fenway.  The Hangover Jr. took his first swings in the backyard in his Nomar shirt, mimicking the famous toe-tapping, glove adjusting batting routine.  Nomar was once a sure hall-of-famer.   Now, he can’t even get through the first month of the season.   The Killer Rabbits may suffer, but The Hangover believes there must be some way for Nomar to change his karma.  He could start by releasing any bitterness harbored against the Red Sox and the fandom that once revered him.  If the fictional Earl Hickey can become a better man, then Nomar can be again what he once was.   

Casinos, yes. Television ads, no.

22 Apr

Although the societal merits of gambling casinos have been much debated, there can be no denying that Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have perpetrated a great evil againt New England.  Our sports channels have been inundated with several unsettling television commercials promoting the respective establishments.  Being a blackjack aficionado, The Hangover has nothing against the casinos themselves.  However, steps must be taken to end their advertisements.  

Foxwoods has been using television for years, most commercials starring a Sinatra wanna-be who wouldn’t have cut it as an extra in Swingers.  But things changed last year when the casino unveiled an unimaginative music video in which a comfortable suburban couple pulls up at the casino, steps out of their Old Navy outfits, and then springs to life in stylish evening wear.  They wine, dine, gamble, and then–dance.  That’s when the trouble starts.  One’s eyes are punished by the worst exhibition of dancing this side of a Junior High Spring Formal at an all-boys Catholic school.  The brunette, red dress-wearing soccer mom (the female lead) lacks rhythm, coordination, and grace.  The Hangover can’t even come up with a term to describe her un-sexiness.  It’s a miracle that the shot following the dancing scene doesn’t have the male lead at the bar with a double scotch, asking himself, “How did I get here?”

The ad must have proved fruitful, however, because Mohegan Sun (Foxwood’s rival) has countered.  Mohegan ups the ante with an all-out musical production number.  Remarkably, the soccer mom lead in Mohegan’s spot looks remarkably like the inept dancer employed by Foxwoods.  I can picture the Mohegan marketing genius telling the producer: “Find us a brunette who can’t dance and lacks charisma.  And goddamn it, make sure she’s got a feathered ’80’s haircut, too.”  The dancing is equally as bad as the Foxwoods video, relative to its genre.  The piece is reminiscent of a Drew Carey Show opening number–provided that the actors and dancers had spent the previous year drinking Buzz beer, killing all rhythm-influencing brain cells. 

The Hangover doesn’t think it is too much to ask to watch a Celtics or Red Sox game without being subjected to marketing infinitely more disturbing than the gambling it’s designed to promote.   Sure, it’s easy to think of clicking away, but one can’t underestimate the “car wreck” quality here.  And if you doubt that the ads are that grisly, consider this:  They can’t even be found on Youtube or the casinos’ websites.  Yes, they are that bad.  Please make them stop.