Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Nice Guys Finish Last

Dwane Casey is a good man, bordering on being a great man. He was a black man playing on a still VERY WHITE Kentucky team when he was in college. He continued in the game after that by becoming an assistant coach. A good one. But he got falsely labeled as a coach who got caught paying off a player to come to Kentucky. The NCAA, in a rare moment of acting in the actual 'best' interests of the college game, kicked him out of avocation and passion. That the NCAA ended up being wrong is also par for the course. Outside of cashing cheques, there is little that the NCAA does right.

Casey was wronged. Exiled to Japan to continue his quest to coach back in America. Brought back to the States as an assistant coach in the NBA, Casey developed a reputation as a defence guru, and a good one at that. Everywhere he went, he was popular with the rest of the coaching staff, players, team support personnel and the media. By seepage, it also became something of a given that even the great unwashed masses, the fans, also liked him. He eventually got the head gig with Minnesota and then was dunkirked by an owner too new to the post-Kevin Garnett world to allow Casey to develop. His mistake ended up being Toronto's fortune as Casey was free to take over from Jay Triano who took over from  another Coach of the Year type, Sam Mitchell, himself a former Minnesota player and coach. The circle of the coaching life.

In Toronto, while in a historically good run, Casey has been exposed for what he's not. A good head coach. And his signature defence has failed to make the leap from good to great. Casey's rep has grown this year thanks to the revamped offensive attitude of the team, but Nick Nurse basically designed that change and it was ordered from on high by Masai Ujiri, the GM. Getting credit for extracting better offence from BASICALLY the same team as was available the year before ... when HE should have noted the failures and made changes... ANY changes... in the Raptor hero-ball offence where Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan pounded the ball before going solo waaaaaaaaay to often, seems like sneaking a peak at somebody else's paper and getting an A where only a B was deserved. NO, Casey didn't cheat, but NO, Casey doesn't get credit in this quarter for Nurse's work implementing Ujiri's command.

Coach of the Year? Ahhhhh, NO. Wouldn't even make my top three, with Brad Stevens, Quinn Snyder and Mike D'Antonio (hey, YOU try mixing two alpha dog ball-handlers on the same team and not have it blow up in your face). Nate McMillan also might be a better choice for the award.

Casey has proven, as a HEAD COACH, incapable of making the in-game adjustments winners have to make. He's won series, more than any other coach in Raptors' franchise history, but a lot of the wins were with better talent. He gets some credit for NOT SCREWING UP the better team, but too many of those games were too close to give him MUCH credit. His coaching, save for a single quarter in game 3 against Cleveland, rates as abysmal. His insertion of Lucas Noguiera, too often ignored because of his flaws and injury issues, suddenly put into that final game at a critical juncture ... with Jonas Valanciunas' dominating first quarter a seeming memory, ranks as one of the most curious coaching moves in recent memory. Casey, the fine man, and I'm NOT being sarcastic here, then LOST ME, when he explained the move as something the assistant coaches wanted. Under the bus is a bad spot to be.

Toronto will have to find a new head coach. And the irony that he MIGHT win the Coach of the Year in a sort of lifetime achievement sort of thing, is not lost on me nor on the Raptor management. The situation is similar to the one Golden State faced when they realized Mark Jackson had a limit to what he could do with the assemblage of young talent they had gathered. It was a bit of a tempest when they replaced Jackson with Steve Kerr. An announcer replacing ... well the future announcer. It was a trade of positions. Nothing I've heard OF Jackson or FROM Jackson since then makes me think it was a mistake. Ohhh, the World Championships MIGHT have occurred with Jackson at the helm. But I don't believe that. Jackson has a lot of supporters, not the least of which was because he's considered a good man. Where have I heard THAT before? Think, think, think ... yeah, right here.

In the best of times, Casey gets another job and maybe uses the experiences here in Toronto to learn and excel elsewhere. I actually hope that happens to him. Maybe in college, maybe in the NBA. He also could go back to the role that I think he's actually quite suited for: head assistant for defence. I think he KNOWS the game and can COACH defence. Just like players who range from sub-par to average to good to great, coaches have different levels of talent. Why would it be surprising that an expert on coaching defence might NOT be able to handle the subtleties of offence and of managing a roster of players? That's NOT the same expertise. And yes, many specialists DO learn other areas, but many just don't. But Casey is not a good enough head coach right now to lead a team on the VERGE of being GREAT into actually BEING GREAT.

I coached softball at significant levels. But I was flawed enough that the teams I was involved with that had the most success had me as an assistant coach. I knew the game and could teach it. But I was always stuck with the problem of thinking that I was a baseline as a player and that everybody should be able to do as well as me ... at a minimum. I didn't have talent, just a brain. And, yet, that brain could not assimilate that others couldn't think at the speeds I did. I still don't really get it. But it was true despite me ignoring the truth right in front of me. As a head coach, that flaw was magnified. As an assistant, my intensity was like a tool in a drawer. Useful in some places, not called for in others.

Reluctantly, I join the chorus to oust Casey. I've never actually been a FAN of his professional work, but I'm a fan of him, the person. Still, I place Raptor needs over his. The many rather than the few. The Raptors have to make changes. Somebody else, who won't ignore DeRozan's rather bizarre history of offensive improvements each season against a declining (from an originally pretty low intensity) interest in defence. The rationale? You can't practice defence all by yourself. All those hours DeRozan puts in the gym honing one offensive skill after another (his ball-handling and decision-making in crowds, shows even offensive skills that involve other players), can't be improved upon ENOUGH. A new coach, a new approach, might yet pull the complete player out of DeRozan. A new coach won't make DeRozan the principal ball-handler in pressure situations. That remains one of the most bizarre of Casey's decisions.

A new coach might not come from the obvious candidates, Nurse, Jerry Stackhouse or less likely Rex Kalamian. Tainted by association or too new to coaching (Stackhouse), makes any of them a risky choice. Me? I take Stackhouse in a New York second before he goes to Orlando. I wouldn't get too upset if Nurse is elevated. The coaching choices out there include a pair of Van Gundy's that I would be happy with. Jeff before Stan, by the way. NO to Jackson. I'm not sold on Mike Budenholzer as anything other than Casey redux. A guy to get TO the greatness line, but no evidence he'd bounce the squad past it. David Blatt interests me. A more experienced Jay Triano is available and Toronto has has sooooooo many reunions with players and coaches that I would hardly be surprised if he took a second tour with the team. Would Ujiri have the guts to pick Becky Hammon from San Antonio's bench? Hopefully, Jason Kidd's name doesn't float up to the top. I'm pretty sanguine about him as a person.

However, the time has come for Dwane without the Y to become EX-coach of the Raptors.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Answer to the Burning Question of the Day

Who's going to win March Madness. I dunno. And if anybody says THEY know, then start the comparisons to other pathological liars we know and don't much love. This is NOT a year for unequivocal predictions.

Who do I THINK is going to win? I entered in 13 pools at ESPN/TSN and picked EIGHT DIFFERENT WINNERS. But the one I entered in first had Virginia ripping down the nets.

I corresponded with my friend Frank last night and I had this to say: "It's going to be Virginia over Michigan State in the final. The Wahoos become team number four to go from unranked to the penthouse game, and will be the second to actually win the thing. ONE of the other three is the legendary Loyola Ramblers who beat Mississippi St in the first whites vs blacks game for an SEC team before losing to Cinncinati team in the final. Fitting that that team is back in the dance this year. 

Virgina has coaching, three guards, tough defence, three-point shooting and are coming in on a roll. Outside of NBA lottery draft talent, they check all the boxes. They DO have a chip on their shoulders. Unranked pre-season and all. Michigan State has coaching, tough defence, three-point shooting and a bigger chip. Having Miles Bridges get out of the spotlight by paying 40 bucks to charity takes ALLLLLL the mental pressure off of a school that's been nothing but bad news for six months. Their guard play will hurt them, but having two lottery picks sort of off-sets that. 

Arizona (coaching, three-point shooting, HUUUUUGE chip and lottery talent) makes sense for a final four, if Virginia wasn't on the itinerary. That said, the Wildgattos de Zona are my number two pick, NOT the Spartans. What about Villanova? The problem with THOSE Wildcats is the lack of a chip, which is odd for the normally junkyard dog Philly school. The 'cats won the whole thing too recently. And their draft talent is a lottery ticket AND Jalen Brunson. Not the other way round. I just think they are vulnerable to big teams and the Spartans are REAL big. Big enough to handle the Dukies before that.  

I'm leaning Gonzaga over North Carolina. Xavier doesn't impress me at ALL. The ONE GAME I want to see is the one that creates Xavier's vanquisher on the weekend. I am VERY interested in Missouri with Porter, Michael back in the line-up. I liked Missouri the last time I saw them and if Porter is the guy who people thinks he is (hopefully NOT the chucker from his first game back), then Missouri MIGHT be the story of the tournament. If not, Florida State going to the second week would qualify. But I BADLY want to see the Mizzou-Seminole game. "

I'm REALLY off first week upsets. Maybe Xavier, as I said. And that really depends on Missouri and both Porters being what people thought the Tigers might be at the beginning of the year. I think Florida State CAN beat Xavier, but I'm more hopeful it will be Mizzou. Texas is sort of in the same boat with the recent return of Mo Bamba, who I thought might be THE guy this year ... until I saw Deandre Ayton of Arizona. Put Texas as a maybe, along with potential one-guy star shows resulting in upsets for Oklahoma (Trae Young) and Alabama (Collin Sexton). But honestly, the only first-round upsets I see are #10 Butler over Arkansas in the East and #9 NC State as the obligatory 9/8 winner over Seton Hall in the MidWest. On the weekend, Florida and West Virginia feel like teams to go upsetting in the East. Beyond that, bupkus.

Which gets you to the second week of the tournament and sixteen teams with championship dreams, half of them legitimate. I'd be hugely disappointed to see Kentucky make it there, even with a good Canadian kid Shai Gilgeous-Alexander running the point. Oily John Calipari did his schtick on ESPN Bracketology Sunday night and reminded me how much I dislike the guy. Given his track record and Memphis and UMass, how in the world does this whole FBI investigation into bad things in college basketball game NOT INVOLVE HIM? Arizona is a team on a mission to finish out the careers of Ayton, Alonzo Trier, Rawle Atkins and coach Sean Miller with a vengeance. IF Miller's voice is matched against his real voice on that tape discussing money and Ayton, he's going to be cashiered out of the NCAA, probably for life. He'll get the Dwane Casey treatment in spite of being from coaching royalty (brother, father). That will be because he will be guilty of the one crime the NCAA can't overlook, getting caught by real law enforcement. And given Casey got five years DESPITE BEING INNOCENT, I figure the Miller penalty will be life plus a day. That is why I have Arizona as my number two choice.

The second and third week's of this year's NCAA will be the best in recent memory. THAT I PROMISE YOU.

Last thought: Jalen Brunson, Wendell Carter Jr., Miles Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Gary Trent Jr., Grayson Allen, Hamidou Diallo, Devonte Graham, Allonzo Trier, Rawle Atkins. Stars or pretty good players all. Not one of them is the player the NBA expects to call from their team FIRST when the draft goes this summer. One more reminder of why the pro game and the college game are so different.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

IF you write, they may come

Writing is a solitary experience unless you are at a newspaper covering a big story, too big for a single reporter, or you're experienced and understand the collaborative experience. Me? It's just me and my blank screen.

You should know that I've stopped writing my blog posts IN Blogger, the platform that this blog is hosted on. Nothing wrong with doing it there. But the process is too clunky to be comfortable to a 'wordy' wordsmith. Actually, the right word is pleonastic, which my editor at the paper I worked on a half-century ago said repeatedly was NOT a good thing (that was the unfortunate bit). I talk too much and I write too much. And my parenthetical style of writing would drive an editor daffy, these days.

Currently, I write in a product called yWriter. That's because, when I get the energy, I attack any of the baker's dozen of book ideas I have. yWriter is VERY novel-writing concentric software. It's got it's quirks. But I have a few HUNDRED thousands of words written in it, so it feels comfortable.

But it is NOT good for shorter stuff. Or for organizing notes. Or for a BUNCH of things. The chief charm of the program is that it is free. Well, free with the stipulation that you actually TRY one of Simon Haynes' books. Which I did. Not a 10 Kovids rated experience, but a decent time waster if you enjoy science fiction. And I do.

ONE of the other suite of utilities I use to TRY and improve my writing is a program called SmartEdit from Bad Wolf Software. It's like having an editor here that I have paid for and don't need to KEEP paying for. The program version I have is not the latest, but it does the job. I imagine the newer version would do an even better job, but I am a creature of comfort and SmartEdit is Editor enough for me. Although, if I win the lottery, I would definitely keep current. A SmartEdit licence is good through all minor revisions for a year.

I get a kick out of it because it's more of a checker than a changer. It asks me to review potential issues and let's me know when I've gone the pleonastic equivalent of going nuclear. For example, it checks for potential swear words and it noted I'd used Dick in the two chapters I turned in recently for Tales from Deep in the Hole, a Wishography loosely based on my career as a rep softball head coach at the ripe old age of 15. Now, as it turns out, Dick was the coach who ended my rep softball playing career. Well, in effect. He decided his son would be better than me as a second baseman (not even remotely close to being a fact) and sent me over to play third base. Now, you have to be two things to play third base at a high calibre of softball. Brave. And no, I don't possess that gene. And the possessor of a strong arm. The noodle attached to my right side never qualified for strength at any time in my life. So, I was out of softball as a just-turned teenager and into playing Box Lacrosse ... where bravery was ALSO called for. But I digress.

SmartEdit is a moderately decent over-the-shoulder post-writing nagger that is worth the price asked ($67US). I think it's worth the price if you think you have a book in you.

My Irish friend Darren, the man behind Bad Wolf, has also addressed a LOT of the inefficiencies in yWriter and, indeed, Microsoft Word. The world runs on Word and the world hates the experience writing on Word. It's big, slow and encumbered with a million things you don't want. There is a thriving business out there for apps that are simply blank screens with NOTHING there to deflect your attention as you beaver away writing your stream of consciousness. Darren's new program is Atomic Scribbler, which is a successor to Page Four. It's basically Page Four with a lot of sidebar tools for writers. Tools they will use. And if you want that blank screen, Atomic Scribbler can come decently close. It's a good implementation that will PROBABLY get better.

Page Four was a word processor with the personal likes of the software creator. So is Atomic Scribbler, but it's MOVING in the direction that seems most helpful for novel-writing. It has bits and pieces of such utilities as Persona and Contour (both of which I use) and has a Scrivener approach in the making (No, I don't use Scrivener, probably the pre-eminent piece of novel-writing software).  In concept, it's basically a less frantic Liquid Story Binder XE. Which I have tried to use. And failed.

I think Atomic Scribbler is a comer. Is it the kind of software I will plunk down my hard-earned dollars for? It helps that the product is on sale for 25 per cent off for the next week and a bit. That's $47US right now and it makes for an enticing package for purchase. Certainly worth investigating. The users support forum is nascent at the moment but is already showing signs of being a thriving idea-driven forum. That's extremely good news. Like Calibre from Kovid Goyal, this is a solo creator-driven product. How much Darren lets in the ideas of others is key for it's development. He definitely is writing a product a novel-writer would want. The question is, is that writer JUST him, or the legions of would-be Amazon catalog stuffers?

Lastly, while you are at Bad Wolf, check out All My Journals. Again, this product has the ability to fit INTO a set of writing tools. Especially blog-writing tools. Writing journals has kept my friend Brian sane for years. But he never blogs. He should, 'cuz he's got things to tell the world. But he seems immune to the need to spew verbiage, unlike me. Yet he probably writes more every month than I do in a year ... although I should get credit for programming code, since that IS how I make my money these days. I imagine that he could take his journal entries and PICK AND CHOOSE items to put out on the Internet. And that would be made easier by All My Journals. I point this out to readers (reader?) in case that impulse to write exceeds even Twitter's new 240 character limit. And at the same time, let's you use the program as your own therapist, one that sits there and listen (reads?) without comment or judgment. It's a good idea, well implemented.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Advice to Mark Shapiro, a LITTLE more publicly this time

When asked in May what I would do with the then-hot Toronto Blue Jays, my response was “Trade ‘em, all and rebuild for the arrival of Vlady Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette in 2019!” Obviously, Shapiro and Atkins failed to telepathically heed my advice and instead stuck with the group as is. So, what to do THIS off-season. Trade most of ‘em and rebuild for the arrival of Guerrero and Bichette in 2019. Obviously!

I start the off-season with the stunner, setting the stage for the re-emergence of the Philadelphia Phillies as a contender and acquiring talent, youth and payroll space in return. Marcus Stroman, one of the five best AL pitchers this year and controllable until the next decade, gets paired with what is PROBABLY JUST the Troy Tulowitzki contract (and eminence grise), plus ex-Pirate prospects and now ex-Blue Jay prospects Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire to bring back outfielder Nick Williams, 3B Mikael Franco and young pitching prospects Harold Arauz (gotta keep our Harold holdings consistent) and Austin Davis. Arauz is something of a comer and Davis is pure lottery ticket, code for left-handed. Having re-upped ALMOST Ex-Blue Jay Marco Estrada, the Jays would then also bring back Ryan Goins on another one-year deal.

I’ll explain why about the trades later. Now, Shapiro has to dial up St. Louis and get them to take Josh Donaldson, Roberto Osuna and Max Pentecost off their hands for SS Paul DeJong, catcher Carson Kelly and almost major-league ready pitching prospect Mike Mayers. The Cardinals would have to ship another mid-level prospect in the deal, but would hasten to acquire Donaldson, pairing him then on the Redbird's left side of the infield with newly- signed Zack Cosert, a free agent fresh from the Cincy Reds. Cosert, who was looking at slim pickings in free agency would sign so quickly, the pen would burn through the contract parchment. Toronto would respond by re-signing Brett Anderson. Hmmm, some ‘splaining to do on that one.

Lastly, the team management would then try for lottery team luck by sending Kevin Pillar, senior super-sub Steve Pearce and veteran bullpen lefty Aaron Loup to the New York Mets for unable-bodied pitcher Matt Harvey, prospect corner infielder Jhoan Urena (seems Urena’s go well in T.O.) and years-away pitching prospect Nabil Crismat.

Okay, here come the how-come’s/why-fors.

Stroman is the sole big long-term loss for the team. Simply put, he’s worth a lot on the open market and I think the Jays would be over-joyed to make the proposed Phil trade. His increasingly antagonistic attitude might bring back fond memories of Kyle Lowry, but do the Jays have time to wait for his maturing? The team loses Tulowitzki and his Goins-esque offence and par to sub-par defence, plus that massive locker-room presence would seem a loss. But that $20 million pay cheque for THREE more seasons is just a LITTLE TOO RICH for Canadian blood and bucks. And Stroman isn’t going to be cheap much longer, as he enters arbitration. Still, by giving up Stroman and the ‘seemingly easy to replace’ Tulowitzki’s field presence, the Jays get a starting outfielder in Nick Williams. Plus a starting 3B in Franco, although the mercurial Franco might end up in LF, 1B or somewhere other than in Toronto. Bluntly, Franco is a major-league lottery ticket who might be a reasonable Donaldson clone or Buffalo-bound or a trade dump to some OTHER team that thinks he still has potential. As for the pitching prospects, neither should see Toronto coming out of spring training this decade. Next decade? Maybe.

As for Philadelphia, the price here for Stroman appears to be Williams and an exchange of hoped-for comeback kids in Franco for Tulowitzki. Yes, there’s cash to pay out, but Philadelphia is out from under the horrid contracts that saw the once-powerful Phillies descend into irrelevance due to unmovable contracts. That day has ended, the new Ryan Howard, Rhys Hoskins, has arrived and a new TV deal lets the club acquire Tulo’s contract and not blanch. Ramirez probably doesn’t replace Williams, but the team will go for a big-name add in the outfield that already includes Oudebel Herrera and Aaron Altherr. Moving Williams creates space. As for the former Pirates headed their way? Organizational fodder, although McGuire fills a catching slot. For the Blue Jays, Arauz will probably make the bigs, Davis probably won’t. But that’s what prospect roulette is all about.

Now, over to St. Louis, who has a catching prospect ready for the big-leagues in Kelly, but is blocked til the next decade by Yadier Molina. And rookie phenom DeJong still has to outlive his sophomore season and the potential jinx (Aledmys Diaz anyone?). And the constant stream of Cardinal pitching prospects will barely notice a dip into the waters to lose Mayers. And in return, one of the three best third-baseman in baseball, Donaldson, plus their new closer in Osuna and a catcher to replace Kelly, but with a new best-arrival date of next decade, in Pentecost. In different times, Donaldson and Pentecost get the deal done. Probably. If the Cardinals can work out an extension with Donaldson first. But to NOT have the guarantee in place with Donaldson costs the long-term controllable Osuna. St. Loo might have to throw in another prospect, with Austin Gomber, a left-handed hurler at the AA level making some sense.

DeJong immediately fills the bill for Tulowitzki’s replacement, giving Richard Urena more time to mature with a full season in Buffalo. Urena, Bichette and Guerrero percolate for another year. And infield group of those three, DeJong and Delicate Devon Travis means having good, young talent, enhanced by one more year of Goins for some guidance. Plus, there’s Lourdes Gourriel en route and he’s an all-rounder who hopefully comes along at the plate, in which case, the Jays will have a LOT of interchangeable parts to man the infield and cover as fifth outfielders.

Carson Kelly jumps the Jays’ queue of catchers, giving Dan Jansen a season in Buffalo to get better. Once he proves his offensive dream season this season is sustainable, the Blue Jays could be looking at a Kelly-Jansen tandem with Russell Martin around for guidance, to act as a third catcher and do a little backing up at DH, 3B and maybe 2B, if necessary. Or, a Martin tandem with one of the kids might play for two or three years. The Jays also might be able to replace Stroman in the starting line-up with Mayers, or he might head to the bullpen to compete with the likes of Tom Koehler or he might be the plug-in starter awaiting problems in Buffalo. But he’s close. And that counts in the winter.

Which leaves me trying to explain giving the New York Mets three members of their starting 25 on opening day next year, without getting possibly anything in the deal. It’ll be tough losing Pillar, he of the Superman-quality catches. But all highlights aside, he’s NOT the gold-glove centre fielder he’s portrayed as. In fact, he trails Kevin Keiermayer again and has fallen behind Byron Buxton. Add in his in ability to get his offence going, and now’s the time to sell. Another season at the end of the Blue Jays’ batting line-up, with little reason to move him up, might leave Toronto with an untradeable, but popular, trade asset. And the Jays have outfielders in the pipeline. The same reason can be applied to Pearce, who’s rep is better than we saw this year, and to Loup, who is an example of the old Branch Rickey saw, “Better to trade a player a year too soon than a year too late.” Loup regained some of his mojo this year, and remember, it’s LEFT-handed mojo. Out now, before the trade idea starts to stink.

Harvey, the possible Stroman replacement and possible new Brett Anderson, is the lottery ticket here. He’s an ace a year away from free agency (and given who his agent is, it’s almost guaranteed free agency). A good year and the Jays recoup a prospect in the 30’s. Something less than a good year, then the Jays didn’t spend much money. C’est la vie. Jhoan Urena is a corner guy and Crismat a pitcher. Neither should show up before Russell Martin retires. But both are good bets to at least make The Show. But this whole trade is about selling declining assets for a shot at Harvey for a season and a draft pick. And who knows, maybe Harvey succeeds and likes Toronto enough to want to stay. Hey, ask Marco Estrada if that’s possible. 

So, what line-up does John Gibbons trot out in 2018? Martin will catch and Justin Smoak will play first base. Beyond that? Well, it’s nice to think Travis will man second all year long. Not a great bet, but a big winner if it comes true. DeJong will start at shortstop and Franco at third. The outfield will have Teoscar Hernandez in centre, with Nick Williams in right. In left? One of Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr. or Dalton Pompey will be in that spot come season’s start. Pompey’s in a make or leave situation. The other two can be in Buffalo. Which means I think Pompey might have an inside edge, if only he can stay healthy. The DH will be Kendrys Morales. He was an asset this year, barely. Next year he won’t be. And he’ll finish his contract as a pinch-hitter. He is what he is, a mistake that’s nowhere as huge as has been portrayed, but a mistake indeed. His switch-hitting power doesn’t play given his slothfulness on the base-paths. The subs? Kelly to play 60 cames as catcher, Goins, Ezequiel Carrerra as the fourth outfielder (and possible LF starter) and a 3B-type free agent who might get at bats in a platoon with Franco. Or Urena, who would be better off playing full-time in Buffalo at every infield spot. But I’ll stick with a one-year free agent. That’s the 13 slots for offence.

The pitching staff will be J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Brett Anderson and Joe Biagini/Matt Harvey. The loser of THAT battle will battle Tom Koehler for the long-man on the relief staff. The new closer will be Carlos Ramirez. He’ll probably give up a run in 2018. Probably. Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone seem like a decent trio of righties. The left-handed alternatives are a little … young … in Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody. But having shown they CAN pitch in the majors this year, hopefully the bullpen will remain a strength. If not, bullpens can be rebuilt on the fly. The key is Ramirez coming in and doing a reasonable impression of Osuna at a fraction of the price.

In all, the Jays will lose the contracts of Donaldson, Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista, as well as Loup, Osuna, Pilar, Pearce and Stroman. That’s something approaching $80 million in 2018 potential compensation. The incoming players won’t total a fourth of that. The Shapiro-Atkins tandem COULD immediately start spending some of that money themselves. Getting sixth, seventh and eighth starters wouldn’t be a bad idea. The talent clock HAS been reset to 2019-2020, with enough pitching to make Gibbons feel comfortable about that. And the newly athletic and multi-postional capable squad would be fun to let run and rip.

In fact, what WOULD 2019 look like if Guerrero and Bichette over-achieve again? The catching duo would probably be Kelly and Jansen. If not, Martin would back-up there, at third, maybe at second and take the occasional turn through the DH spot. The 1B would be Smoak and Travis would still be at second. The left-side of the infield would be best buddies Guerrero and Bichette, with DeJong and Franco being delegated to back-up duties along with Martin. The OF would be Alford, Hernandez and Williams. The extra outfielder would be Gourriel. And Morales would pinch-hit. (Actually, Franco would probably be traded if both Kelly and Jansen make the team). The DH? Rowdy Tellez. The starting five pitchers would be Sanchez, (the perpetually re-signing) Estrada, Ryan Borucki, Mayers and Biagini/Anderson. The relievers would be the same set or some combination that includes about the same mount of talent and payroll. And one OTHER guy would be signed. Either a big bucks starting pitcher (or two) or a closer (assuming Ramirez fails in next year’s audition). As I said earlier, maybe Harvey likes Toronto.

And the pitching talent would be starting to arrive. Sean Reid-Foley, Connor Greene, Jon Harris, Tom Pannone, Justin Maese, Crismat, TJ Zeuch, Luis Perdomo and Arauz. Jordan Romano, Francisco Rios and Shane Dawson have their fans. The big bet on Ramirez is hedged by Nate Pearson, who merely turned in a sub 1.00 ERA in leading Vancouver to a title. He’s pitching starting pitcher innings right now, but profiles as a closer … if that position is open.

Logan Warmouth, Richard Urena, Jhoan Urena, Tim Lopes and Smith, Jr. would be potential backups. On a viable Major League team. With a payroll that beggars the addition of a big-time Free Agent. Or three. Alas, no spot for should be Blue-Jay lifer Goins. Sigh. But DeJong, Bichette, Warmouth and even Gourriel are shortstops by vocation. So's Richard Urena.

All for the price for a learning season this coming year. An EXCITING season.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I Think I Smell Tobacco Road Smoking

It's time for that most important time of the year, March Madness. It comes at a time when I need total immersion into something that isn't health-related and sitting around munching chips, guzzling sugar-free and sodium-free Mandarin Orange soda while watching what I hope will be a steady procession of exciting games is enough to put me to bed happy tonight.

And, it's a year where ANYBODY in the top THIRTY in this bracketologist's nightmare has a chance to get past this weekend. Win a championship? Well, that's another thing.

A week ago, I was all over Oregon to dark horse their way to the title. Admittedly, the Canadian content, including local kid Dylan Ennis, had something to do with that. But I saw an Oregon team that was ready for the NCAA's before the year turned over. Sure, the Ducks got bored to the point of losing to non-title contenders. But the talent and the 'arrogance' that a title team needs was in plenty evidence. But this past weekend dealt the Ducks a cruel blow. Chris Boucher out for the rest of the season with a blown-out knee. Quack!!!!

So, if not Oregon, who? The guard theory certainly made me immediately think of Kansas. Then Josh Jackson did whatever he did and Kansas lost in the Big 12. There will be extra motivation for Jackson to atone for his ... whatever he did. And Frank Mason III has been other-worldly this year. But here's the thing. Like my previous infatuation with Florida, Kansas tends to disappoint with the notable exception of Mario Chalmer's comeback kings back in the 'Aughts. I think it's time to move Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk back to the Bin of Dreams I keep in the attic. Oh, this undoubtedly makes them almost automatically the favourite, but over time, I think it's best not to let my heart get broken into even smaller bits.

Can Malik Monk go all Aaron Harrison on the tournament and play six top-calibre games? I'm guessing not. So, not Kentucky, which somehow got drawn into the Region of Death, the South, with heavyweight road-blocks in UCLA and (if I am wrong) North Carolina in the way. Besides, John Calipari (The Grayson Allen of coaching) is still coaching there and his in-game coaching is .... NOT NEAR A MATCH for his recruiting.

Defending champs Villanova, the team after a short man's heart? Again, save for the Florida Repeatin' Gators from earlier this century, defending champ means "which round do they lose in?" And I think I have the one Big 10/16 team that will be a surprise this year. Wisconsin doesn't shoot free throws all that well, which will be okay for the first 37 minutes of the second-round game between the Wildcats and the Badgers. I think the Wisconsin lead at that point will be large enough to survive the intentional foul onslaught. 'Nova is worthy of the top overall seed. But with the Curse of the Champeen hanging like the Sword of Damocles, I'm calling on Wisconsin to dispose of the Champs.

Hmmmmm, North Carolina? Certainly from the Tobacco Road neighbourhood in the dominant ACC. Experienced up and down the roster. Joel Berry II might only be two-thirds of Mason III, but he's been very, very good ... most of the time. Justin "I'm not Josh and was NOT going to be confused with him ... until THIS year when all things JJ were great!" Jackson gives the Tar Heels TWO honourable mentions in the coming Mason III coronation as Player of the Year. But North Carolina needs Isaiah Hicks to play six relatively foul-free games in a row. Well, make that five. Sorry Texas Southern fans, both of you. Hicks and the UCLA front-line are not a match in Tar Heel heaven. So that's, what, three number one seeds down?

The fourth to fall and the one to go the farthest (well, tied with Kansas for the farthest), is the "finally-respected by the Bracket committee" Zags/Bulldogs of Gonzaga. They have major league front-court talent, which will have the needed neutralizing effect on Arizona when they meet in the West Region final. But an unfunny thing will happen in Phoenix in the Final Four. The Zags will discover that height matters ... unless the opponent can shoot over that height.

Which means a Duke-UCLA championship final. Which feels right in this year of bad, REALLY BAD pre-season rankings. Sure, injuries had an incredibly negative effect throughout the nation, including taking Harry Giles out of the Player of the Year discussion. And off the starting five for Coach K's Dookies. He'd be smart to stay in school and earn an even BIGGER pay cheque in the summer of 2018. But, history keeps banging us over the heads to take the money when you can. Losing one season means that BIG free agent contract is just another year away. All that said, Giles HAS to play big for the ... let's call them height-challenged Blue Devils.

And that's because the UCLA front-line is NBA-sized. And T.J. Leaf and his NOT height-challenged teammates will have Lonzo Ball creating lay-ups. Ball, however reminds me of Chris Paul. And Paul's exit from the college game was messy piled upon messy. And that was despite having more experience than Ball. Plus, it's not really Ball that I have issues with. It's his lightning rod of a father who will somehow dominate the Final Four stage from off-stage by saying something bizarre thanks to a willingly complicit Media. In fact several somethings in an unacknowledged battle with Comrade Donald for attention. The task of staying focused amidst the pressure of "CBS' One Shining Moment in the making," along with trying to neutralize his father's fodder of foolishness will prove a step too far.

Which brings me back to Duke. The "why nots" for Duke are easy to figure out. A bit of a tallness issue. The issues with Grayson Allen. That swoon when Coach K left the team for pain-relieving surgery. And EVERYBODY in the country seems to have a long-term dislike for the confidence (read AIR-oh-gantz) that seems to permeate every Blue Devil once the kid accepts the scholarship.

To me, surviving the injury bugs (Allen, Giles and Amile Jefferson, as well as The Coach), the ACC tournament, and yes, the confidence, combined with the experience, makes me think the Blue of Duke will outlast the Blue of UCLA in an entertaining final, 81-77. Why? I love Luke Kennard's game. With Allen back, the Bruins cannot swarm Kennard to force the ball out of his hands. Allen is the release valve for that plan. (and yes, Allen's well documented dirty play difficulty will dominate the media scrums in Phoenix for the rest of the questions beyond Mr. Ball.). I wouldn't relish playing Kennard straight up. And that is why I think this is yet another banner/pennant to rise to the rafters at Cameron, Duke's Tobacco Road home.

So, beyond UCLA and Duke upsetting their ways to the Final Four, what other water-cooler upsets do I see making tongues wag? I honestly, rarely go against chalk on the weekends. But in this year of multiple teams getting to that top ranking, I think I have to throw away tired old ideals. It's also the year of the Virginia commonwealth popping up in near-record numbers.

I think that the sweetheart that gets past the first weekend will be Middle Tennessee (knocking off Minnesota in a 5-12 game, and then Butler. Wisconsin's weekend whacking of Villanova (an honorary V-school) will be the upset of most importance as the tournament quarters the field. Otherwise, there's a LOT of Virginia action that will make the wahoos proud of their state. Virginia getting past UNC Wilmington won't be an upset, but a win over Florida WILL be, albeit a slight one. Vanderbilt, an honorary V-School, will win the 8-9 West matchup with Northwestern.

Virgina Tech will be Wisconsin's first victim, falling to the Badgers in an 8-9 game. VCU's loss to Saint Mary's is expected in a 7-10 clash. But I think that game might be amongst the tourney's best in the round of 64.

I like Marquette to top South Carolina in a 7-10 pairing. That, and the Wisconsin toppling of Villanova accounts for all the East upsets. I'm passing on the popular picks of SMU to down Baylor this weekend and East Tennessee beating Florida because everybody picks on Florida ... including me. But not THIS round.

The West upsets are positively going to be rare. Vandy over Northwestern and then pfft! Maybe it's the Xavier Rathan-Mayes fan in me, but I can't see Florida Gulf Coast beating Florida State, although it'll be fun to watch. The FGC Eagles do have upset momentum in a LOT of brackets. Not mine.

Lots of opening upsets in the MidWest. Michigan State gets the 8-9 nod over the higher-seeded Miami for no other reason than picking against Tom Izzo is dumb. If they weren't playing Kansas in the second round, I'd like the Spartans to make a run. Michigan, not to be confused with Izzo's squad, will drop a decision to 10th-seeded Oklahoma State. And in keeping with the upsets that will dominate talk Saturday morning, will be Rhode Island taking out Creighton. I passed on the trendy Nevada over Iowa State 5-12 upset. Other-wise, it's Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk to the Final Four. Literally.

Now, the South is going to be uber-entertaining. Not only do the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee back their supporters in taking the 5-12 game, but also eliminate 4th-seeded Butler before succumbing to North Carolina. The last of the opening round upsets is the usual 8-9 pot boiler as Seton Hall stops Arkansas. I wanted to have Wake Forest in the 6-11 game with Cincinnatti, but the Deamon Deacons failed in a First Four matchup with Kansas State. So, I will take the Bearcats over the Wildcats. Lastly, I passed on another trendy pick, 10th-seeded Wichita State, which will be shocked by the 7th-seeded Dayton Flyers. Shocked, if you go by the Hail, Mary pickers who believe explicitly in the KenPom ratings. After the games Thursday and Friday, UCLA does the upsetting, nabbing 2nd-seeded Kentucky, top-seeded North Carolina and then ANOTHER One seed in Kansas. 

Duke wins, and I already have the shirt for that.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Top 27 Books of 2016 .. The Early Version

2016 has been history for about ten minutes now. So, it's time for me to recall fondly the best books of the last 12 months ... as far as my enjoyment was concerned. I make NO allusions that these were the 27 best in terms of quality. But I enjoyed the heck out of them. And maybe you might too.

As usual, I wait until the end of the year and then do a search in my Calibre database for all the books that I scored 10 Kovids when rating them in Calibre. Kovid Goyal is the creative mind behind Calibre, the best eBook tracking system that there is. You can give Calibre a checkout by going to Features – calibre if you want. I guarantee that you will derive SOME benefit from the program if you read books via an eReader of whatever sort. And if you do, don't forget the DONATE button in the upper right. Otherwise, this program is free. So, spend to your consciousness's limit.

Now, this FIRST DRAFT of this past year's gems is going to be, by necessity, brief. Nature calls and the night is still young. To do work. Rumplestiltskin. But I did want to note the 10-Kovid books and I will comment on all but one of them later.

The list of books that rated my top score:

  • Jonathan Abrams's Boys Among Men
  • Ben Lindbergh's The Only Rule Is That It Has To Work
  • Bob McKenzie's Hockey Confidential

  • Elizabeth Bonesteel's The Cold Between
  • Lindsay Buroker's Star Nomad
  • Tanya Huff's An Ancient Peace 
  • Marko Kloos's Terms of Enlistment & Lines of Departure & Chains of Command
  • B. V. Larson's Dreadnought & Rebel Fleet
  • Ken Lizzi's Under Strange Suns
  • Arlene F. Marks's The Genius Asylum
  • John J. Nance's Orbit
  • Mike Resnick's The Prison in Antares
  • John Sandford and Ctein's Saturn Run

  • Jack Campbell's The Assassins of Altis & The Pirates of Pacta Servanda
  • Tanya Huff's Third Time Lucky and Other Stories of the Most Powerful Wizard in the World 
  • Kristen Painter's Miss Frost Solves A Cold Case
  • Jody Wallace's The Whole Truth

  • Jeffery Deaver's Where the Evidence Lies
  • Gina Lamanna's Sprinkled

  • Bruce Desilva's A Scourge of Vipers
  • Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg's The Pursuit
  • Paul Levine's Bum Rap

Young Adult
  • Zac Harrison's Crash Landing

I wasn't sure there was a standout winner even two weeks deep into Decemeber. I loved the laugh-out-loud humour of Huff's collection of short fantasy stories that date back decades, featuring the lazy and lusty wizard Magdelene. I think the book is every bit the equal of Henry Kuttner's Robots Have No Tails. And I spent an AWFUL lot of the year reading the works of both Buroker and Kloos, with both authors getting me to read more than a THOUSAND pages of their series this year. I admit, I came THISclose to repeating last year's conceit of handing Buroker the title for getting me to eagerly devour nine books in the Fallen Empire series. On the other hand, I gave three of the five books in Kloos's Frontlines series a full 10 Kovids. Does nine good to great books outweight five decent to great books? I don't have an answer either. So, no repeat of the series as best book concept I trotted out last year when K. K. Rusch won for the Anniversary Day Saga sub-series.

I was charmed by Painter and I thought Wallace had a brilliant take on super powers for the comic book-inclined among us. The sports books were strong this year and I enjoyed the antics of Lindbergh, the depth of investigation by Abrams and the look behind the scenes McKenzie enjoyed with a handful of hockey subjects. One of which was the dreaded David Frost blight on society, of which I was a small participant of. But McKenzie's look at it from the Sheldon Keefe angle was informative, honest and it might be the only positive to ever emerge from the darkness Frost brought onto the hockey scene over the last three decades.

But in the end, it was a book after my own heart. The fourth tome in the Liam Mulligan series of thrillers by New England mystery writer Bruce Desilva. I only was tipped to Desilva by an email from Lee Goldberg and many thanks go to him for that. Mulligan is, or was, a writer for a fictional Providence newspaper, hanging onto relevance by the width of a newspaper broadsheet. Enjoyed the first book in the series and then less of the second and the third was at best mediocre. Honestly, I wasn't sure WHY I picked up the fourth, A Scourge of Vipers. It's the completist in me, I guess. I had only four books in the series (a fifth has now been obtained) and I didn't want to leave one unread. As an ex-newspaperman who gets together with a couple of other old fuddie-duddies from back in those days about three, four times a year, there remains a certain romance in my memory for the good ol' days when newspapers were relevant. I loved the biz and was sorry I left it when I did, especially for radio and then a PR position. But with the unions moving into small weeklies at the time, I wouldn't have kept enjoying working at the paper I was at for much longer anyways.

Desilva's book is the most rivetting, gut-renching depiction of a smart-ass reporter with scruples finding a way to both save the day, end up fired and better off and find true love, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it. I wanted to BE Liam Mulligan by the time all was said and done.

More about the book and all the rest in the next blog. When will that be? Wish I knew. Check back frequently if you care. No promises as to when.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

And here is the top 25 ... honestly JUST 25. Well, NO more than 26.

Oops, forgot to hit the post button. Consider it done. Thanks Andrew for pointing out just how old and forgetful I became last week (turning SIXTY and all).

#25 The Good Wife

Farewell folks who have brought The Good Wife to critical acclaim. So good, even I had to agree it was top notch production AND highly entertaining. A multiple time best show on TV as far as I am concerned. This season's capper to the saga? Not so much. If I was being honest here, it is on the list because such a body of great work SHOULD be on this list. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who has this 'aw shucks, hanged dog' look that apparently drives women of an age wild, wasn't half-bad as a replacement for Archie Panjabi. Cush Jumbo was startingly good in her American TV debut, but I've known her to be great from watching her on Vera and Torchwood from British TV. And the show did really well to not only invoke the memory of Josh Charles' Will Gardner in the concluding hour and a half, but to actually make his memory something real and substantial. Applause. But how did somebody not speak up and note that the ending scene was actually as muddy as the last scene in The Soprano's? As uptight as Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart was, her relationship would not have ended with Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick the way it ended. Sorry. But nope. The show obviously didn't have a single concrete thing for Matt Czuchry to do, but kept him on for cameos. And Alan Cumming made Eli Gold entertaining to a point as a bathroom lurker, but it passed from amusing to farce to annoying rather quickly. The whole start of the year in that bond court was only saved by Cush Jumbo coming on as Lucca Quinn ... who is reputedly in talks for a spin-off. I'd watch THAT before I'd re-watch The Good Wife season seven. Still, a below-par The Good Wife is above-par for most of TV.

#24 Girl Meets World

I adore the whole cast of this show. Girl Meets World is a Disney screaming message-fest. But it's about kids and between bouts of moodiness, screaming is what they do. It's funny and the kids don't think all adults are stupid. Said adults don't think the kids are all morons that need schooling 16 hours a day ... preferably under the tutelage of somebody else. I thought Corey Fogelmanis as Farkle was the most impressive improver this year. The rest of the gang have caught up to heartthrob Peyton Meyer (Lucas), so he doesn't stand out as a sore thumb anymore, caught in a "I REALLY like him" triangle with the girls, Rowan Blanchard's Riley and Sabrina Carpenter's Maya. The gang, including the original Boy Meets World Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) got to high school just as spring turned to summer this year. I see no reason not to expect the program still to be running as the decade runs out four years from now... with them all in university. It is a superbly casted show (and no, I won't leave you out, Danielle Fishel as Topanga), but it's not perfect. I had been promised that we'd see George Feeney endcaps to the seasons and if William Daniels showed up, I missed him. And just to show you I'm not completely oblivious to some minor technical faults in the show, I honestly think Riley could make better choices in the shoes she wears (from the costume department). So there, the show no longer has a perfect report card and won't carry that pressure of trying to stay perfect into this fall's shows. 

#23 Humans (UK)

The most recognizable name in Humans is William Hurt, who plays a spaced out old inventor who is largely responsible for the fact that most families have androids in the house to do the work foreign-born nannies would do and to fill in some of the 'other' gaps in the social miasma that is civilization in a near future. Hurt's been hiding a defective early model of his inventiveness and treating the obviously failing/defective model as a son of sorts. In the meantime, while Hurt's George Millican is fending off the questions of detectives, a family suddenly grows to include a new synth (synthetic appliance) named Anita (Gemma Chan) to help out with a household in turmoil. Mom Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is working too much for the liking of Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill). In a bit of spite combined with exasperation, he buys Anita to change the dynamic in the family. The three kids all welcome Anita into the family at different speed. Little Sophie (Pixie Davies) is the first to attach herself to Anita. Then son Toby, a younger version of his father, finds Anita too attractive to ignore. That role's played awfully well by Theo Stevenson. Finally, the eldest, Mattie (Lucy Carless) lets her mask of smirking and nastiness drop just enough to concede that Anita is better than the sum of her binary bits. Which, as a super hacker, she knows rather more intimately than most. It seems Anita and a few other rogue synths have become self-aware. And that's not something the government can abide. Like computers, synths are now uibiquitous and finding out that they are slaves rather than chattel could destroy what's been going on. This remake of a Swedish series is reputedly not as good as the original. But I found that in the absence of a better handling of the idea, that this show was thought-provoking enough to make my list.

#22 Jessica Jones

At last. A comic book TV show! How could I have taken so long to get to one? Kidding folks. Be prepared for comic references galore from here on down. Jessica Jones is a Marvel property, one of the first reality bound characters in the Marvel Knights imprint. She'd been a bit player in several earlier series, being super strong and fetching looking in Spandex. But Brian Michael Bendis turned Jones into a detective that worked the streets of New York, mostly foregoing using her super powers. She was basically turned out as detective noire. The series didn't last long, but the whole Knights imprint has become the basis for Marvel's shows on Netflix. Jones married Luke Cage in the comics and is the mom of a daughter. The TV show starts pretty well at the beginning of her relationship with Cage. And at the beginning, Jessica Jones was a hurting, walking bruise, (also a lush) as played by Krysten Ritter, who has been mostly a comic actress to this point. She does a superb job of battling David Tennant in a contest of wills that draws other super-entities into the battle, but never really is anything but Jones and Kilgrave, the Purple Man going womano-a-mano. No question that Trish Walker (future Hellcat and played by Rachael Taylor) and Mike Colter's Luke, are important pieces in the battlefield. But this is how Jones summons reserves from somewhere to reverse the spiritual beat down she took at Kilgrave's hands years ago. And is still taking them. Tennant is skin-crawling horrifying as Kilgrave. Kilgrave is purple in the comics, which the TV show decided to not do for TV. Shame really. But this show doesn't suffer for that without the preconceived notion of The Purple Man. This is a show about street level grime and crime. If a super-hero show could ever feel real, this is the one.

#21 Limitless

A movie film made into a TV show rarely has a long life. It happens, citing M*A*S*H as the best possible example of surviving, even after low ratings in the early years. I might have mentioned Minority Report earlier. I should have expected that early plug-pulling from Fox. But having CBS, the network of the immortal M*A*S*H, bail on Limitless after one year was disappointing. I was a bit slow to warm to this show, but warm I did. The story's a familiar one by now. In the movie Bradley Cooper takes a little pill and that little pill makes him computer smart and more importantly, computer fast. Turns out, that's a good thing for Cooper's Eddie Morra. Cooper STILL plays Morra here, but a Morra headed for the White House from his perch as a Senator. He decides to pass along his chemical legacy and his inheritor as wise-cracking layabout turned brilliant is Brian Finch played with due irreverent attitude by Jake McDorman. McDorman belongs to a group of actors, Cooper and The Good Wife's Matt Czuchry are others, who can play that kind of attitude with some fun and a little gleam in their eye. Finch goes from a waste of oxygen to a key member of the FBI, as handled by Jennifer Carpenter's Rebecca Harris. Not a fan of Carpenter, but it's a minor nit. The REAL problem is that the FBI is dealing in the brain pill and there's so much of it floating around out there, that it spoils Finch's uniqueness almost completely. Finch fights back by nicknaming everybody (including his FBI 'team' and employing a meta approach to each week's episode that beggars the creativity of the Community crew. Very entertaining most weeks, as Finch exasperates by-the-book Agent Spellman Boyle (Hill Harper) and saves leader Naz Pouran (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) more than a few times. It was good that the creators wound down the show to a stopping point. But I wish they'd been able to figure out a way to get a second season on the air. If for nothing more than the special effects people imagining the mind of Finch, a very busy and confused place. RIP Finch.

#20 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah /  Real Time with Bill Maher

Political discourse has ground to a halt in the United States over the last 30 years as the Party of No refuses to engage in the legislative process, preferring to sit in their gerrymandered kingdoms and act like petulant two year-olds, freshly discovered of the power of NO! It's been extremely disappointing to watch Republicans refuse to try and find compromise and produce effective solutions to the uniquely Washingtonian word, gridlock. Having abdicated their responsibilities for so long has created the atmosphere that begat them Donald J. Trump as a nominee. Having let the fox into the henhouse, all anybody is doing is running around like chickens. Which means comedians of the stripe of Bill Maher and a nice young man, Trevor Noah, have comedy fodder falling like mana from heaven. It's inexhaustible. Except for the fact that it puts America into a frightful state where, thanks to the non-stop impugning of Hillary Clinton and her own clumsy handling of an actual mistake she made, there is some evidence that Trump might actually become President. Starting an unprecedented migration of Americans over our borders and into Atlantic Canada. Shudder!!! The problem with Noah has been the reliance on Jon Stewart leftover Jordan Klepper. READ MY TYPE. HE IS NOT FUNNY. I've railed against Klepper earlier, no sense repeating it. But honestly, please, NO MORE KLEPPER. As for the other half of the political commentary tie, Maher's been moving a little further out as he sees a future not to far distant off, where marijuana becomes legal country-wide, if only that oaf from Manhattan doesn't get in the way. He's championed some pretty out-there types, bordering on snake-oil salesmen, without producing anywhere near the knockout blow attempt that John Oliver tried. He also gives voice to right wingnuts on his show (and even let that harridan Ann Coulter back on the show) in an attempt to be fair, all the while denouncing the Republican practice of equivalency when it's no where close to being road apples to road apples. Frankly, Bill's disappointed me this year. I FEEL his frustration. But I came to his show in search of laughs. Has enough New Rules still to make his show must-see TV.

#19 The Tunnel (UK/FRA)

This is a season of overlooking imperfections. The Tunnel did not have a second season of the calibre of the first. It's sure hard to beat the shocking last scene of the first season's pilot show. So, the folks behind The Tunnel didn't try. Instead of somebody (to use that term rather loosely) dying right at the mid-point of the Chunnel between England and France, the deaths that drive the second season happen in the air over the Channel, just about half way between England and France. Once again we have English DCI Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane) put into a partnership with French commander of detectives Elise Wasserman, played by Clémence Poésy. Roebuck is old and tired with a wife and too many children at home. Wasserman is ... strange. She's a highly functioning sufferer from Ausberger's Syndrome. She strives soooooo hard to get around her lack of empathy with others while wanting to make the world a better place, safe from anarchists who blow things up and murder people seemingly at random. The randomness isn't true, of course. And the whole eight episode season is spent proving that. Wasserman makes some curious choices at the end, given what we had seen through a season and a half of the show. But the turn of events wasn't that far afield from what I thought her character was. The operating name for the season was, "Saboutage." A highly accurate name, that.

#18 Brooklyn Nine-Nine

And the imperfections keep on coming. I think this show is as tight a comedy as we have had on the TV for awhile. It's anything but a family comedy, unless you call the Nine-Nine a family in and of itself. You can make the case for that. But it's really about a bunch of misfits who really don't have a normal family life to retreat from the zaniness of work to. So, this whole show rises and falls on the workplace. And honestly, the workplace suffered this year on Brooklyn Nine-Nine due to Melissa Fumero's pregnancy and the need to keep her on the sidelines. Thus, we had her character Amy Santiago doing a riff on Orange is the New Black. With her and Joe LoTruglio's Det. Charles Boyle busy in prison, Andy Samberg's Jake Peralta was set adrift. The 'Adrian Pimento' sequence that brought in the perfect romantic partner for Stephanie Beatriz's Det. Rosa Diaz just completely fizzled. Balanced against all those CON points, we had a great year from Terry Crews' Sgt. Terry Jeffords and more deadpanning than I thought possible from Andre Braugher as Cpt. Ray Holt. And yes, Chelsea Peretti as Gina Linetti continued to be a key part in the mirth and frivolity. We also got a chance to see deadpanning of a different sort from Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller as Det's Michael Hitchcock and Norm Scully. (I still wonder why they hadn't renamed Hitchcock Mulder before it started but, then again, I'm hardly subtle in my humour choices). That's more PROs than CONs and it adds up to Brooklyn Nine-Nine still being a top twenty show. (But no more kids Melissa ... unless they come from a hookup between Amy and Jake).

#17 Arrow

I've ragged on clench-jawed lead Stephen Amell on this show for years. STILL don't like HIM. But that seems the consensus in the fictional universe Green Arrow of DC Comics fame inhabits. Even his fictional wife to be, Felicity Smoak, as embodied to near perfection by Canada's own Emily Bett Richards, chose not to like his fictional alter-ego one little bit between the borders of the start and end of the season. But enough about Oliver Queen. The surrounding cast got quite a lot to do this season with David Ramsey front and centre as John Diggle aka Spartan. His wife, Audrey Marie Anderson as Lyla Michaels, brother Eugene Byrd as Andy Diggle and adorable daughter (hey, all babies are beautiful between poopy pants) were the emotional core of the show, a spot previously held by Felicity. And the ups and downs of the Diggles as the team battled the season long baddie (Neal McDonough was AWESOMELY snarky as the delusional Damien Dahrk, the magic villain with a home life!). Things got nasty between the Dahrk's (can't forget Janet Kidder as his wife, Ruve, a spouse with an iron hand in a velvet glove kind of approach to Queen and company) and the Diggles. John struggled mightily with trust and betrayal issues. But in the end, Spartan was all hero, as usual, given his lack of actual, you know, POWERS! The other family dynamic was Felicity's family as Charlotte Ross and Tom Amandes made some really entertaining time on screen, albeit not with each other. Momma Donna actually was getting cuddly with Paul Blackthorne's Quentin Lance, while Amandes was busy being a baddie, The Calculator. All good fun. As was the introduction of Echo Collum as Curtis Holt, the future Mr. Terrific. Plus, the show spun off everything I didn't like about the show, save for those continuing to be dreadful flashbacks) sending former Black Canary turned White Canary Caity Lotz (dying apparently having that kind of effect on you) as well as Brandon Routh's Atom to the spun-off DC's Legends of Tomorrow. Hurray for the supporting cast. Great year all!!

#16 The Blacklist

Spoiler alert if you are going to binge this show. Nobody got fired and had their contract paid off. That's to reduce the wear and tear on you if you get stressed out about plot twists. Now, those turns inside turns inside reversals inside plot twists are to be expected in any CONSPIRACY show on TV. Hey, it's what makes binge-watching so rewarding. You do NOT have to wait until next week/month/YEAR! to see what happens after the cliff-hanger. And this show probably had the most cliff-hangers of any show on TV this year. It also had the always FAAAAAANtastic James Spader cracking wise and also letting the viewers into the real head of Red Reddington. The 'is he or isn't he' question about whether Red's the dad of FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen gets more definition if not exact truth during the year. Megan Boone, NOT one of my favourites when remembering the first season, did great, despite being very visibly pregnant during a LOT of the season. Have to admit, the switch from real life pregnancy to a prosthetic belly while doing some very stunt-filled shows made me respect Boone a whole heck of a lot. And like Arrow, the background guys were more foreground than usual, despite the attempts to spin off a show starring Keen's TV hubby, Ryan Eggold. Like Boone, Eggold turned his character into must-watch TV. But also let's give a hand to computer guy Amir Arison as Aram and Red's faithful sidekick Dembe played by Hisham Tawfiq. Both did an awful lot with little dialog, especially little in Tawfiq's case. The rest of the FBI Redddington unit, Harry Lennox as Cooper, Diego Klattenhoff as Ressler and Mozhan Marno as Samar didn't carry a false note through a really traumatic season. I'm SOOOO over conspiracies that I wanted NOT to like this show. I failed. Miserably.

#15 Dark Matter (CDN)

Syfy paired this show with Killjoys (featuring good ol' local town actor Rob Stewart) and I thought, briefly, about making the shows shared holders of this spot. But as much as I liked Stewart and female lead  Hannah John-Kamen) that show was too into colour filters and mind game plots. Watchable, just not Top 25 material. Dark Matter, another comic book adaption, on the other hand, worked wonderfully. The first season did the first arc of the comic book quickly and then moved on. It's a show about a spaceship full of interesting people, all of whom have no memory as to how they got ONTO the ship. In fact, the group just call each other by the number in the order in which they woke up. So, from One to Six, we had Marc Bendavid, Melissa O'Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr., Jodelle Ferland and Roger Cross. The other 'person' aboard is Zoie Palmer, who gets the two-word moniker, The Android, often shorted to just Android. Palmer does a great Data for the new millennium. O'Neil's Two turns out to be the leader type, and basically takes over, frequently with the help of the mysterious Five, a blue-haired waif who just happens to be both hacker supreme and small enough to fit into the tunnels that run throughout the ship. So, onboard the ship, it's girls RULE! All of the memory-wiped crew are actually criminals of great renown. Well, that's not strictly true. Five's definitely not a baddie full-time. And another baddie is an imperial Prince on the run. And there's the mole. And the one who isn't a crook but a guy looking for a crook (by looking LIKE a crook), but who is 'probably' a threat for season two if THAT season's premiere is any indication. Hmmm, not so crooked are the six. I like the non-dystopian view this show brings to the screen. Creators Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie are vets of the Stargate series (the REASON I started binge-watching in the first place) and the show's a Canadian production. Yeah! (plus season two is already better than season one!)

#14 Shark Tank (US/AUS)

Well, the Dragon's Den franchise (Britain and then Canada) begat the American Shark Tank, which has now birthed the Australian Shark Tank. And there's even an American spin-off called Beyond the Tank. Almost all of these shows are watchable, but the Den versions are ossifying with too many repetitive KINDS of investment opportunities being pitched while a lesser host of investors make their bids for startup shares. The American one continues to be pretty good with ex Canuck Den guys Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary and Robert Herjavec being signature cornerstones. Along with Mark Cuban, who is always entertaining to me (to NBA Commisioners, not so much). The regular even chairs have been rotated for awhile between Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran and Lori Genier. But they expanded a fair bit this year, bringing in other rich guys like TV twit turned serious mover and shaker Ashton Kutcher as well as acerbic Chris Sacca. The producers of this show have turned the beggars and dreamers that wander into the Tank with these guys and gals into a very entertaining hour each week. What boosted the show into the Top 15 was a successful Australian version with Janine Allis (think Grenier), Andrew Banks (think Jim Treliving from the Canadian Den), Naomi Simson (think Arlene Dickinson from the Canadian Den) and Steve Baxter, who's an Australian O'Leary which means he's blunt and to the point most pitches. But he's Aussie. And Aussie's are just nicer. What's even MORE interesting is the level of the financial pitches, all made in Australian Dollars, at levels only seen on the American show by teenagers coming on more for the mentoring than for the money. A really likable Shark Tank to play yin to it's American forebears' yang. 

#13 Daredevil

Honestly, the second season of Marvel's Daredevil was really the first season of The Punisher. Jon Bernthal ran away with the second season as Frank Castle, the man who's family was in the wrong spot at the wrong time and got killed off in a mob vs. mob skirmish. Castle takes his time donning the distinctive duds of The Punisher, but getting there is not even a bit of the battle. It's him against any gangsters willing to congregate in one place, letting him pump lead and explosives in rather large quantities. At the same time, he seems to be able to survive anything short of a nuclear explosion. Even from his almost death bed, he climbs back into action just in time for season one baddie, The Kingpin, to make a brilliant jailbreak and re-assume his mantle as the worst of the worst in the aftermath of the triangular battle waged by Castle, Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock/Daredevil and the gangs. Cox has a bad-luck season, making a hash of his law firm and his friendships with co-workers Elden Henson as a much braver in many ways Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, played by a more language-restrained Deborah Ann Woll this year. But the real fun when Castle isn't front and centre is Elektra, played by Elodie Yung, who is pitch perfect as the female counterpart to Murdock with both becoming kids under the tutelege of Stick, the all-seeing blind martial arts master played by Scott Glenn. The flashbacks (see, not ALL flashbacks are horrible) add definition to both Murdock and Elektra, who was adopted into the Natchios family. The Murdock/Page future romance was put on hold for Matt and Elektra to do their self-destructive thing. And the result was hugely entertaining. We all knew that Elektra's comic book costume wasn't going to make it to the little screen. But the costume they DID come up with was really quite good. All in all, a good season with a good after-the-credits type cliff-hanger that portends a DEADly season for series three. Can't wait.

#12 Hack My Life

I like Kevin Pereira's ability to be an every-man klutz with a 'what if'/'can do' approach to this series on productive hints to hack together solutions for problems we all face at one point or another. Well, maybe NOT all, but as a fellow klutz and forgetter of grocery/department store lists, I identify with the ex-front man for G4's Attack of the Show, the home for many years to many a geek. Now, Pereira isn't alone on Hack My Life. Smarmy Brooke Van Poppelen is sort of the counter to Pereira's optimism. Which means I'm not strongly in her corner. It's sort of like deja vu all over again, given how much I disliked Pereira's most common co-host back in the AOTS days. Van Poppelen isn't THAT horrible, but I think another take on a co-host could work. May I suggest Sara Jean Underwood who was pretty decent in the post-Pereira days at AOTS or even Candace Bailey. Maybe the chemistry with a change would take this staple of weekly watching (I honestly think binge-watching this show would explode your head) up to another level and into the top 10. Sounds like I'm pretty down on the show. But how could you NOT love a show where a sidewalk hot dog stand cooked the dogs with a car battery and two forks? Honestly, there ARE helpful household hints in every show. But that's the teaser to get you to the comedy.

#11 The Flash

This is my geek show. It's about a geeky guy who becomes a super-fast super-hero. I've been reading the comics since the early sixties and count the Flash as amongst my favourite comics of all time. The ONE little thing that niggles at me is how the comic book universe has turned super speed into this kind of ... The Force, from Star Wars. It's mysticism when speed should be all about the hard sciences. And the comic book universe now has more speedsters than you can count on your hands and feet. Too many speedsters almost spoil the fine broth that this show generates. That said, more and more characters enter into The Flash TV show from the comic book universe. We see Carlos Valdes' Cisco Ramon becoming a better Vibe than his original appearances in the comics would suggest. Danielle Panabaker's ever so sweet Caitlin Snow has a dark side (Killer Frost over on Earth 2). Barry (played with better effect than the public gives him credit for, by Grant Gustin) finally sees a future with Candace Patton's Iris West, after an early season fling with extremely likable Shantel VanSanten as officer/detective Patty Spivot. And Jesse L. Martin as the rock of the show, Detective Joe West, has a lot of opportunities to shine this season. The show helped spin off Legends of Tomorrow, losing Dominic Purcell (Heat Wave) and, unfortunately, Wentworth Miller as Captain "The King of Snark" Cold. Wally West as embodied by Keiynan Lonsdale and Violet Beane's Jesse Wells, are well on their way  to becoming Flash-Lites. Jesse is the daughter of this year's version of Harrison Wells, played with almost laser-like focus by Tom Cavanagh. The glimpses of Earth 2, a futuristic steam-punk version of Earth, was actually well-played. But the whole Jay Garrick thing was a baaaaaaaad plot device and it sullied the name of a great comic book character, the Golden Age Flash. Disliked it quite a bit, enough to drop the show nine pegs from my early season rankings. Teddy Sears SHOULD have been a great Garrick. He wasn't. The whole Man in the Mask reveal at the end was hardly a sop for those of us who suffered a virtual repeat of the first season's Zoom arc with Garrick/Hunter Zoloman in the second season. Again, a case against this whole 'speedsters on every corner' concept. But darn, as a FIFTY YEAR reader of Flash comics, the TV version still views like must-read TV.

#10 The Last Ship

The first of two summer series in the Top 10. That's a real good reason NOT to turn off the TV come June 1. The Last Ship didn't have a complete good first year. It started promisingly with an outbreak of 'The Red Flu' which becomes a global mass murderer in almost no time flat. But before it hits global pandemic status, the Nathan James, a US naval vessel is playing taxi to Antarctica for a scientist who MIGHT be developing The Cure (that's a pitch for a book penned by my friend, James McDonald). The problem is, that while Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) and the Nathan James are waaaaaay south of the border, the epidemic does become a pandemic. The Cure might be too late. And that first season ended in a dreadful horror show in Baltimore involving BURNING SICK PEOPLE to replace fossil fuels. Dreadful. But somehow, the second season managed to reverse course and become a thriller about not only further developing the cure and delivery capabilities, but it became a sea-based action series with plenty of time in the post-apocalyptic America for any land-lubbers (make that land lovers) like me. The reconstructed version of the USA was fairly well thought out and we started to form attachments to the heroes, from Dr. Scott to Eric Dane's Commander Chandler to XO Mike Slattery played by Adam Baldwin and on down through the crew. Other than Chandler's propensity to go all James T. Kirk (duplicating the dim premise that the captain of the ship LEADS all away missions), time spent with the crew was spent meeting and knowing good characters. Charles Parnell, Travis Van Winkle and Marissa Neitling all play crewmen that you come to care about. John Pyper-Ferguson's Tex is a scoundrel who always seems there in a pinch. The show MAKES sense, given the premise. And it IS a thriller, having pivoted almost completely to a geopolitical thriller in the third season with all the action divided between Southeast Asia (China, Vietnam and Japan) and the new White House in St. Louis. Mitra's gone, remembered frequently though. But the trade is we have Bridget Regan being an integral part of the good guys (so far). And Regan is a long-time fave. The Last Ship is summer entertainment, but it's not the video equivalent of light reading. 

#9 New Tricks (UK)

Farewell old friend. Rather, farewell newish friends and don't forget to salute the original cast who made this show so entertaining. Not. One. Regular. Lasted. Until the last show. Twelve seasons. More than a hundred episodes, 99 of which starred Gerry Standing (the last original standing as it were), played by Dennis Waterman. Each and every episode starting with that infernal title music "It's all right ..." sung with cheerfulness by Waterman, knowing that the jingle would bore a hole into your memory forever. Ahh, good memories, New Tricks. Now before nitpickers bring up Anthony Calf as the always hovering head man, DAC Strickland, he didn't become a semi-regular regular until 2005. In fact, he only appeared in less than half the episodes in all, although Strickland did stick around longer than the others. With the original crew all gone after Standing pulls a runner in episode one, the last-season stalwarts actually do a really good job. Amanda Redman certainly had a more than decent successor in Tamzin Outwaite as squad head for a dead-case files team. I'd been slow to warm to Nicholas Lundhurst as the team's odd guy, Danny Griffin. But this last season, he got out-weirded by the even newer Ted Case, played by Larry Lamb. Still, they teamed up with the relative veteran of the team, Denis Lawson's Steve McAndrew to do a good job solving historically unsolved murders, while living entertaining lives. I know this show had had a lot of controversy back in England about the stars seriously disliking some of the writing during the end of their first decade of production. But I always enjoyed what the actors did with that writing they disliked, being the pros the were. Not many shows not named Law & Order something or other get to 12 seasons these days. That the show quit on a high note is great. Once more with gusto, "It's all right ..."

#8 The Hundred Code (CDN/SWE)

You journey across the ocean to track down an evil man who has killed too many people, and almost killed your career. You arrive in Sweden where they all speak English, it seems, if you ask nicely. But you don't ask nicely, you demand. Still, all those blonde and blond characters seem to be good at the job of catching bad guys. So, two episodes in, you've caught the bad guy. And that's when you find out that there is a bigger bad out there. Who you also catch. Only to find that there is STILL a bigger bad to run to ground. (And that guy isn't the end of the badness ratings either). Welcome to The Hundred Code (aka every variation of The, 100, Hundred and Code you can think of), based on a book by Ken Bruen, Merrick . Dominic Monaghan is often-grating American cop Tommy Conley. He's more than willing to wear the mantle of Ugly American if it will help him catch a serial killer he's tracked back to Sweden. The killer that gives him nightmares. And now, he's sharing those nightmares, most notably with reluctant partner Mikael Eklund, played by Michael Nyqvist. It's an uneasy mix because Eklund is thinking about quitting the police force and the abrasive American is tough to handle. Actually, Eklund's not good at handling much at this point. His daughter Hanna, played by Felice Jankell, is really a passive-aggressive obnoxious woman in the making, who wants to hurry that part of her life along. Actually, when Hanna gets herself in serious jeopardy late in the series, I was cheering, just a little bit, for her to exit the scene. Does that make me a bad person? Watch and decide. MOST of the rest of the detective room is made up of good actors from Sweden. Charlotta Jonsoon, Danilo Bejarano, Kristoffer Berglund, Peter Eggers and Hedda Stiernstedt. You get to know them, even though most of the dialogue is in Swedish, but there are non-intrusive sub-titles. Roison Murphy does a good turn as a local ex-pat barmaid, Maggie, who listens to Conley. This being a Nordic police procedural, the overall tone is dreary on dreary. But the fascination that a bigger bad lies ahead in the next episode drove the series for me. And yes, I hear there's a season two ahead. I can't imagine bigger bads. But the Swedes can. 

#7 Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

This MIGHT be the best show on TV. MIGHT. The problem is that in the humour that drives the show, there is the fact that the long-form investigative pieces are almost always shining the light on the worst of life in America (there were two shows on Donald Trump ... just sayin'). The show makes you laugh, but it also makes you angry. Angry enough that this great nation south of the 49th, is beset by imbecility and avarice, often both at the same time. How much greater would America be if "Truth, Justice and The American Way," was most definitely NOT just a corny line from a Superman comic book (or maybe the radio series) penned by an ex-pat Canadian. Every country has its own dullards and doofuses. Certainly true here in Canada where we had a wannabe lord and master running the country for most of the last decade. And there's that problem our image suffered because of a now-late mayor of our largest city. In fact, I think Oliver might have devoted a segment on that guy. But it is sad that we now have to turn away from newspapers to get actual real factual provisions from joke shows on Comedy Central. Political commentary is now about how half of America learns it's news, albeit those commentators being comedians on Last Week, Real Time with Bill Maher and The Daily and Nightly Shows. The other half, of course, get their facts from the charlatans running right wing radio. Oliver is a ex-pat Brit who just seems to see the funny side in everything upsetting about America. He admits that he wonders just how far he has to go to force his bosses at HBO to reign him in. Thus far, no boundary. Even when he set up his fake church and accepted donations DESPITE SAYING his church was nothing but a fraud! They ended up collecting SEVENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS in donations before shutting down and giving that money to REAL charities. I was thinking of doing the same thing here, just saying I'm a charity worthy of your donations and giving an address for those cheques and real cash to just start rolling in. Would probably fail because I am not as funny as Oliver. Probably. And I'm Canadian and unwilling to do that to my six readers. BUT, if you have a spare buck for the Mugford Relief from Poverty Fund and want to send along a thousand bucks or two, my address is ....

#6 Distant Shores (UK), specifically Series Two

More than ten years ago, ITV in Britain produced a wonderful six-part series called Distant Shores. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was also a SECOND six-part series that followed up on the shenanigans of the first series. It took the producers two years to broadcast the second half, in 2007. Here in Canada, that second series did get a couple of replays over the intervening decade, but never where I was watching. I though the second series was a fake, not real. It wasn't listed at, my goto site for TV episode info.  Besides, the first series had ended perfectly with Peter Davison jumping ship (literally) and swimming back to shore on the island that had become the home and hearth for the Shore family. (Soooooo many metaphors to play with.) And the whole series reminded me so much of Scottish director Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, one of my favourite all-time movies. The whimsy of life on an island off the shores of North Northumberland (ONLY the British could get away with a place called North Northumberland), continues in the second series, with all of the Shores, Bill, wife Lisa (Samantha Bond), Harvey (Matthew Thomas Davies) and Kate (Claudia Renton) becoming even more integrated into life on the island. Of course, Bill, the island's doctor, continues to have his own trials and tribulations with NOT living in London. But it's Lisa that surrenders to some wanderlust, making waves about leaving. Harvey and Kate have their reasons for wanting to stay, not the least of which is that both have grown and matured because of island life. In Kate's case, heartbreak and happiness are two sides of a relationship with the Newcomer, Jake, played by Oliver Boot. Jake the Newcomer is the fox set amongst the hens, but with a good heart. Chief amongst the hens are Kate and Lainey, played by Emma Fildes. Lainey's got her hands full with Duncan's baby, but a romance with Jake blossoms nonetheless. Or with the apparent knowledge of Kate. While Jake does demonstrate a good, if not truthful heart, there is a far more serious threat to the harmony of the island in the form of Christine, played by Connie Hyde. Christine is a one-time fling of Bill's, now bent on turning the island into a wind farm. Thank heavens for TV repeats. I strongly recommend Distant Shores series one, one of the great little British gems of the early Aughts. A slightly lesser recommendation for this series, but not by much. 

#5 Adam Ruins Everything

I raved about this show to just about everybody I knew during it's fall run. Adam Conover, he of the bizarre haircut, glasses and a willingness to stick his nose where it shouldn't belong, is a sort of an Americanized John Oliver lite. Where as Oliver shines his light where the bad guys and gals would prefer he didn't, Conover's schtick is dispelling myths. And there are myths aplenty. Adam Ruins Everything's first series ends with Adam Ruins Death (more accurately, ruins Death as an obsessive chance for some people to make money). But that first series also ruins giving to charity, security, cars, forensic science, restaurants, hygiene, voting, work, summer fun, sex (no, NOT the same thing as summer fun) and nutrition before getting around to good ol' death. I had NO IDEA of the power the car companies had in shaping laws, highways and even the design of most of the cities in America. Makes me want to shout for a do-over. And the Dr. Oz-like TV personalities really get the slap upside the back of the head in the Nutrition episode. But the final one did have a major impact on me. I had NO idea about the ever-changing laws in the States dealing with internment. I bet YOU didn't know either. Now, Adam and his graphic animators (half of every show features OUTSTANDING cartoon infographics), do not solely spark my interest in the show. Hayley Marie Norman and Emily Axford were the two ladies that mostly had their lives, marriages, almost marriages and even deaths (BOOOOO, HISS, HISS if Norman's not back for series two) interfered with by Adam the Noyd. The best part of the show is the pop ins by genuine actual experts to site source and fact for what myth dispelling they are doing. It's like the ultimate click-bait for the internet. I think there will be some VERY INTERESTING essays handed into school teachers this year, if the kids caught this Graded A+ show. I LOVED this show.

#4 Madame Secretary

There are two shows on TV that are perfectly casted. The first is Girl Meets World. The second is Madame Secretary. When you have to search the supporting casts for bit players to dislike, you know the casting director has assembled that rarest of rarities, a group of people you like and want to spend an hour with on Sunday nights. Kudos to those folks. I know couples like the McCords, Elizabeth (Téa Leoni) and Henry (Tim Daly), who argue once a year and that argument lasts less than the time to the next commercial break. But they are as rare as hen's teeth. Leoni and Daly have such good chemistry, you just know they aren't carrying on an off-screen love affair. The writing and the acting have them going hand and glove when administering to the not annoying kids played by Evan Roe, Kathrine Herzer and Wallis Currie-Wood (and yes, I was NOT a fan of Currie-Wood's Stevie in year one). But, as much as the home-life is a Life Magazine illustration, this is a work-place show. The workplace is also where the professional lives of the McCords continue to have serious overlap. There was Elizabeth's corner of the world, riding herd THERE on a group of staffers led by the incomparable Bebe Neuwirth (who did most of the herding). Sebastian Arcelus, Geoff Arend and Patina Miller had less impact than in year one, but that was to be expected with so much story time being devoted to Henry McCord. The Elizabeth side also, obviously, involved the President (Keith Carradine) and his henchman errrr Chief of Staff Russell Jackson (the brilliant as usual Zeljko Ivanek .... I think I might start calling the henchman role the Ivanek Role, he deserves that) in all kinds of hush-hush secrets. Still, the season belongs to Henry who becomes a manager for a spy within the circles of a Russian ruling secretariat that is drawn together like a garrote when the President of Russia, an American sympathizer, is murdered by order of a megalomaniac Mrs. President. The ensuing global tensions are riveting and the spy proves critical in maintaining world peace. But not without a price. The exact nature of that price is not known until virtually the last shot of the season. Powerful stuff. 

#3 Alan Davies' As Yet Untitled (UK)

There have been times this last year and a half when I needed a smile. Not a laugh, because some times things were hurting too much for a big belly laugh. But a smile, something to brighten up even the darkest of my nights. A smile is such a wonderful thing, replete with healing power and will-regeneration. It's like an oasis in the desert, absolutely necessary for life in certain circumstances. And consistently this year, I smiled while watching Alan Davies at work on As Yet Untitled, hosting four comedians in an hour of sit-around-the-bar yakking about the joys and travails about being them in particular, comedians in general. With drinks on the table and little fanfare before the show starts, this British version of a sort of the American The Green Room with Paul Provenza worked, letting you in on the neat people's table at the local bar for a Thursday night post-work get-together. Too early in the week for folks to go off the edge, just pleasant chat with stories and laughs and yes, smiles. Davies is also the co-star of the ever-great QI (which suffered this season through the other co-star, Stephen Fry, and his magic talents as they were). There, he is comedic foil for the put-downs of Fry and the show's gag staff. Here, in his own eponymous show, Davies is the deft director of the story-telling. Each visiting comedian gets to drop names (sometimes from across the table, at least during one episode where Jon Richardson was involved) and tell stories about how they started and how they survived their worst of embarassments. In other words, the basic working goo that makes people laugh. The show's schtick is that they must look back at the end for once catch-phrase to use as the show's title for that episode. I will tell you the titles run from naughty to raunchy in most cases. The word Penis DOES pop up rather often, even though one or two of the guests each week is a lady. Or may be BECAUSE there are ladies in the house. Either way, the reality is that this is a show designed to amuse and delight rather than try to put you on the floor in spasmodic laughter. I need one of those around here. Thankfully, I've got one.

#2 Tyrant

It's hard to know how to approach a show about a bad guy. Think back to the run of Dexter as a must-see TV show that eventually just became too creepy for watching. Breaking Bad, which was about a reluctant bad guy, that needed canceling just about the time when the reluctant bad guy became less reluctant. The Sopranos, a killer with a family, who eventually winds up in the gun sights of the very people he had commanded for so long, before becoming too .... nice. Nice on a scale, but too nice. Stories about bad guys have a beginning, a middle and very definitely an end. How long is Tyrant going to last? It's now in the midst of its third season and I see plenty of ways for the actors to serve out the industry standard seven year contracts. After all, we are talking the ages-old tribal warfare that is the Arabic world. Ashraf Barhom is really, REALLY good as the crazy AND evil AND very human Jamal Al-Fayeed, ruler of Abuddin, thanks to the timely (and expedited) death of his cruel tyrant of a father back in the pilot two summers ago. The funeral served as the means of a home-coming for Jamal's brother, Bassam, who had escaped to America for the life of a doctor with doctor wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) and two spoiled brats of children, Noah Silver (Sammy) and Anne Winters (Emma). Bassam (Adam Rayner) goes through somewhat of a rebirth while back in the home land, leading a coup against Jamal in the first year and becoming Jamal's saviour in the second. Much is made of the situation in Syria where a London dentist eventually becomes the monster that is that country's ruler. But watching the first two seasons of Tyrant, and you can see how the world inhabited by the ruled and their rulers in that part of the world easily can produce a devil and an angel (or should I say Iblīs and malāk, given the locale). It's peculiar watching evil get a human face, which is completely due to Barhom's acting quirks. It's also peculiar watching the titular good guy Barry/Bassam kill. The seventh episode of season two, The Awful Grace of God, was the best hour of dramatic TV I saw last year, a powerful ode to how awful war is. In addition to Sammy doing a lot of growing up in the second season, I should also mention Jameel's boy Ahmed, played by Cameron Gharaee also did a pretty good turn at maturing too. Might be hope for him yet.

#1 Gotham

Sub-titled Rise of the Villains through the first part of the year, Gotham became what Batman became after a rocky start in the comic books ... a classic. This second season took giant strides in fleshing out the Villain's Gallery of foes for the future Batman. Whereas, we really only saw Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor in a bravura performance) plus the nascent Catwoman, Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), plus a bunch of street level thugs and the occasional forgettable freak in season one, the second season brought us crooks aplenty. Azrael, the revived corpse of mayor (and major crook) Theo Galvan, was brought to life with smirking presence by James Frain. Future Two-Face aka Harvey Dent made more impact, thanks to Nicholas D'Agosto. The Firefly and Mr. Freeze both came back from the dead. All that coming back from the dead was because of B.D. Wong's Hugo Strange. Wong's chameleon-like ability to inhabit personnas make him a go-to actor. And he comes through here as the over-arcing bad guy through the year. Amongst the bad guys we also have to include one-time James Gordon paramour Barbara Keen, played by Erin Richards. She was bad, badder, and then good when it counted, which was a tad disappointing as I'm always intrigued into what turns a good person bad. Is it circumstance or something within them or a combination of the two? Whatever, we know what makes guys like Ben McKenzie's future Commissioner Gordon good. It is an indomitable will to overcome evil. Gordon has it, as does young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and his dashing butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee). Selina has more of it than she'd want to admit, putting her in the same boat with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, looking as disheveled as ever). Which brings me to the biggest metamorphosis of the year. Cory Michael Smith's Edward Nigma's evolution from police CSI to major loony-tunes The Riddler. It completed this year and the battle between The Riddler and the cops will be a lynch pin of however many seasons are left for this show. If it's anything like the comic book, we can sit back and watch the fun for the next 75 years. Or rather YOU will be able to. I'm just hoping to see the first half of that run.

That's it, my Top 25 in less than 13,000 words. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope even more that you'll check out the shows ... and maybe even the comics. 

  1. Gotham
  2. Tyrant
  3. Alan Davies As Yet Untitled
  4. Madame Secretary
  5. Adam Ruins Everything
  6. Distant Shores S2
  7. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
  8. Hundred Code
  9. New Tricks
  10. The Last Ship
  11. The Flash
  12. Hack My Life
  13. Daredevil
  14. Shark Tank
  15. Dark Matter
  16. The Blacklist
  17. Arrow
  18. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  19. The Tunnel
  20. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah / Real Time with Bill Maher 
  21. Limitless
  22. Jessica Jones
  23. Humans
  24. Girl Meets World
  25. The Good Wife