Sunday, July 31, 2011

BOOKS: August is a Review Month

I've got one editor stomping his foot at me to write. I've got companies wanting me to write program code. I've got books to read and TV DVD's to watch.

Naturally, I've decided to get out a bunch of five-star book reviews over the next four and a half weeks.

Really, I've got 106 books listed as five-star entries in my Calibre database and I've only reviewed 26 of them in this blog. So, I'm going to cut a third off that list of overlooked books before September dawns. Or so I hope.

I'm writing them in batches and plan for one a day. But if I miss, I'll do my best to get a multiple day soon to catch up.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

SPORTS: Congrats On Retirement and Hall for Watson

If you're going to retire and want to go out on a bang, it's hard to argue with the denouement of Bob Watson's pro lacrosse career. Earlier this year, Whipper Watson led the Toronto Rock to the National Lacrosse League championship, avenging last year's final loss to the Washington Stealth. For Watson, it was a chance for a ring for his other thumb, having earlier lead the Rock to five titles. He's been the league's top goalie twice and finals MVP twice. And in this century, his team actually finished just short of winning the title twice more, losing in the finals.

In other words, Watson's been really good and so, as a result, have been the Rock.

Watson retired immediately after the title game and it took all of a few months for the electors to the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame to vote him in as their newest member. With a voting total of 84 percent. Watson didn't just ride the Rock to the Hall, he also summered frequently with my hometown Brampton Excelsiors. The Excels' frequent participation in the Mann Cup over the years was also part of what made Watson so Hall-worthy. In fact, Rock owner Jamie Dawick went so far as to say Watson was the greatest goalie of all time.

Uh, hold on a sec. Greatest NLL goalie of all time? I think the case for that is pretty solid. Greatest goalie in Brampton Excelsior history. Uhhhhhh, not so much.

First, let me say that I admire Watson greatly. I know he looks gargantuan in his goalie gear when you see him on TV or in person. But truth be told, he's not much bigger than me, or at least the pre-middle aged me without the spare tire. His ability to get in the way of shots for the last 15 years in the NLL and through the summers in the Ontario Major Lacrosse League was tantamount to will (and later experience), being vulcanized with all that rubber being hurled at him. A pleasure to watch and a good guy to boot. Nothing I'm about to say takes away from that.

BUT, in my opinion, Watson's only the third-best goalie I ever saw wear the Excelsior maroon and white. Who was better?

Larry Smeltzer was one. They say the golden age for every child is when they were 12. Back in the late sixties, right about that age for me, the Junior A Excelsiors swung possibly the greatest trade of the franchise's long and storied history by obtaining Ron Weatherhead, Murray Shannon and Smeltzer from the Elora Mohawks for some kids (and I'm sure, some of Ev Coates' money). Weatherhead was a big centreman who reminded one of Jean Beliveau off skates. Shannon was a good defensive wing-man (this was back in the day when teams had lines rather than offensive and defensive units). And Smeltzer was simply awesome in net. The trio was the secret to serious Excelsior contention for the Ontario title and the Minto Cup.

Between Brampton and the title(s) were the Lakeshore Maple Leafs starring Paul Sugate, Bill Coghill (later an Excelsior head coach) and Joe Timpson. The Leafs were the favourites, but Smeltzer didn't care. A burly guy with a brush-cut sprouting some curls, Smeltzer was the wall that wouldn't break. Smeltzer was the difference in the end as the Excelsiors did manage to knock off the Leafs.

Smeltzer had a decent career in senior lacrosse. But it came at a time when there wasn't a pro loop to keep him going. So he retired young. And he didn't retire as an Excelsior. But in the maroon and white? Almost the very best I ever saw.

Which brings me to Dennis Maruk's little brother Barry. Dennis might have been a scoring sensation in the NHL. But he wasn't the best athlete in the family. That honour belonged to Barry, the acrobatic little guy who led the Excelsiors to the Mann Cup championship back in the early 80's. He played for John McCauley's last team, a title winner back in 1981 (if I remember correctly). He stopped shots, he passed as well as any goalie in the game ever did ... and he scored goals. Not infrequently. Rather regularly in fact.

Maruk won the Mike Kelly award for the finals MVP in that Mann Cup final. Guys like Terry Sanderson, current Rock GM and assistant coach, were on that team. The club imported the Wasson brothers from Peterborough for the national championships, adding them to a team that had Bobby Burke, Tom Patrick at his prime and the one-man runaway train, Gord Keates. Steady Barry Richardson played one side on defence, Ian Douglas the other. 'Course, Barry was in charge of hitting Patrick in a sideline scrum early in the game to get the big guy going. (on orders from Gus, the head coach). But with all that offensive firepower, Maruk was the star. There wasn't a single facet of the game he didn't excel in. Diving acrobatic saves? Check. Racing, stumbling back to cover the net after one of his forays up the floor? Check. Passes right on the nose for breakaway chances? Check. Handling the ball killing penalties? Check. Assisting AND scoring? Check, check, check.

I spent that Mann Cup up in the press box doing the TV broadcast of the finals in a sweaty Memorial Arena. Dead of the hottest part of summer. No air conditioning. The kind of heat that just naturally takes your breathe away. That's the environment that Maruk rose to the occasion in, while wearing that sweat-creating goalie gear.

As good was Watson was this spring and as good as he's been in a long, illustrious lacrosse career, he still wasn't the best goalie I ever saw. One other thing? Dawick can be excused for waxing profusely in declaring Watson the best ever.

But Terry Sanderson, who saw Barry Maruk, didn't say a thing. Why spoil the moment when only we old codgers know better?

SPORTS: Waiting For The Other Shoe

Today's trades by the ever-interesting Alex Anthopoulos have certainly created a most surprising situation in Toronto. The Blue Jays now have too many outfielders of decent quality!!

That was my concern earlier this year when I contemplated an outfield of Travis Snider, Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera. I just shuddered thinking again of the defensive inabilities of that particular trio would have been. I understood not getting too much more in the way of outfield depth, with the assumption that Jose Bautista was eventually going to move back to right field. But I still worried about Snider, who I've been very public about not impressing me much.

Out of the box, Davis impressed me offensively, but I hate his catching motion and he got hurt, forcing Corey Patterson into the line-up. When Davis came back, he didn't bring the stick with him, and we found out that Davis doesn't possess the instincts of a centre-fielder. Sure, he'd run down balls with his magnificent foot speed. But those, and ones he missed, were made much harder by ... let's call them circuitous routes to fly balls. We instantly put updates on Anthony Gose on our daily newsfeed.

Patterson certainly did better than be a fifth outfielder for the first half of the season. He was a danger to his teammates out there, but, in general he contributed as much as we should have expected from a fifth outfielder who suddenly was starting because Bautista's triumphant return to right was followed by an emergency u-turn back to third base. Hitting in front of Bautista, Patterson produced quite credible numbers.

But all mirages eventually go away and Patterson was revealed to be the fifth kind of guy he was. Eric Thames was brought up from the minors and installed as a starter, including being put into the same safe hammock between Yunel Escobar and Bautista as Patterson had occupied. Less speed, more power, higher average and a chance to see what kind of defensive proclivities Thames had. In a year of testing, not bad.

Then today, AA pulled the trigger on acquiring a CF who was one of the top 20 players in the game last year, but had been on the outs with his poor performance this year and an active social clash on-going with Tony LaRussa, one of the last "My way or the highway" managers. Colby Rasmus' act has been seen in these here parts before. Last year in fact. The same script had been applied to Escobar. And really, Escobar wasn't the first. Go back to the first (and only) Blue Jay dynasty. Sure it was fueled by the trade to acquire Joe Carter and Robby "The Human Rainstorm" Alomar. But the engine turned on thanks to former California Angel devil-child Devon White. Clarence Gaston took White under his wing, told him he started no matter what. The result, like it looks like Escobar is going to end up, was an all-star player. Despite the Ricciardi Interregnum that blemished a once-proud franchise, the fact is that these guys historically know how to get the best out of other team's discards.

Since I stumped in this blog for getting Rasmus (although back then, I hoped the price would be Snider ... which I still would have preferred), I'm hardly going to complain at the price AA paid to acquire Rasmus. He had to take on the contracts of a three relievers, two of which have Blue Jay backgrounds and the contract of Teahen, while giving up a bunch of relievers and semi-well-liked pitching prospect Zach Stewart. So, we are talking money, lost supplemental draft picks that Jason Fraser and Octavio Dotel would have brought back and not a single player who was necessarily in the plans for next year, let alone the succeeding few years when the Jays hope to be the beasts of the A.L. East. The only guy I have a twinge about is Marc Rzepczynski, who I think is going to be a good left-handed reliever in the majors for the next decade and change. But his most recent swoon has induced doubts into my mind.

So, a steal for the bright young mind running the Blue Jays. Right? Well, there are warning statistical indicators that Rasmus' offence last year was based on a bit of smoke (a very high batting average on balls in play, which was above norm for the league). And the good defensive rep hasn't been mirrored in the new-fangled defensive stats. It's a question of do you believe your eyes or what I tell you? Baseball people think he's got it all, needed a fresh start and will get in Toronto. Shame he's not Latino and can be enveloped into the Bautista group. But for the nonce, I think we will enjoy the moment. I like the trade, right or wrong. All it really cost was money. And if it does go south, Gose has a spot lined-up in about 20 months.

Which brings me to the current miasma that is the Blue Jays outfield. We're a few weeks away from Brett Lawrie coming up and moving Bautista to the outfield. Maybe less. Maybe days! But the Jays need to find playing time for Bautista, Rasmus, Snider (the currently presumed starting outfield, right to left). What to do with Thames? What to do with Davis, especially since he's actually been a contributor since surviving the June Troubles (went nearly a month without a steal, yet ended tonight tied for the league lead in steals). As for Teahen ... well, not many teams need a sixth outfielder slash fourth third-baseman.

Davis stays as the fourth outfielder, playing in left on days when the Jays play a tough left-hander. Which leaves the Thames situation. The guy is batting .300 since he came up for his second tour. And THIS is the guy who will have to be sacrificed to the heat of Las Vegas to delay the Snider/Edwin Encarnacion question? I belabour the obvious when I say I would end the fascination so many have over Snider and make him an ex-Blue Jay. But I'm in a very, very small minority.

But I think another shoe's going to fall to relieve the bursting outfield issue before Bautista returns to the outfield. It says here that the Blue Jays will trade Thames and a decent pitching prospect at the A League level to Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. It's a salary dump for the Astros who get somebody who might be able to start in right or left (depending on whether they trade Hunter Pence) plus a pitcher under their control for the next seven years who might just turn out to be the second coming of Rodriguez. What Toronto gets out of this is moving excess talent for a solid innings eater who resolves the question at the tail end of the starting pitching staff brought on by the designation for movement of Jo-Jo Reyes.  He's got a big ticket for a back-end starter. But it's only for the two or so years the Jays need somebody like him until the first wave of Toronto pitching talent starts to hit the big leagues.

The old saw is that you can never have enough talent, that too much is the best kind of problem to have. But with young kids needing playing time to determine their future on the Blue Jays, the idea of sitting major league outfield talent or sending kids hitting .300 (albeit in one of the nicest order spots in the bigs) back to the minors, is probably NOT in Toronto's best interests. If it isn't Rodriguez, then it should be somebody else. Toronto needs an innings-eating pitcher to get the kids through the last third of the season and possibly to provide a 2012 cushion too.

Until then, as much as I like the trades AA pulled off today, I sure as heck hope he isn't finished.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

BRIDGE: When Is A Win Not A Win?

Danny Ioannidis, The Golden Macedonian, pulled me out of retirement for a day of pairs play at the North American Bridge Championships going on this week (and last) in Toronto at the Royal York and the Sheraton Hotels.

And, while the results showed we topped the C Flight in both the opening Open Pairs and the Education Foundation Pairs last Thursday, the fact is Danny and I had our first below average sessions this century. Now, that needs qualification. I've been largely retired through most of this decade and even at that, Danny and I tend only to play major events together. It's been a long time since we are regular partners. He now has a successful partnership going with Steve Young, who he partnered into the finals of the Life Master Pairs this past weekend.

The last time Danny and I even came close to finishing on the wrong side of average was our last session at the World Championships in Montreal nine years ago when a clear top on the last hand of the afternoon got us to a half-point over average, a 50.1 per cent effort. We promptly left town.

So it was a little disconcerting Thursday to turn in a 48 per cent afternoon in the Open Pairs single session event. The score was deserved. We didn't play well, including on a hand I will get to shortly. We scurried off to find the McDonalds down in the bowels under the Train Station (we were playing across the street at the Royal York), and then returned to gawk at the scores. And right there beside our names was a C-1, indicating our position in the flighted events.

Imagine how I felt. Unworthy at any first-place result, for sure. Surprised too. Sure, it was an opening event. But how could so few C Flight players show up? Afterall, that had to be the reason Danny and I placed so high. (For the unfamiliar, in flighted events, they throw all the flights into the same event. You play A's, B's and C's, supposedly in the same ratio. A's can only place in their flight, while the lower flights can place in their own flight AND in any higher flights. I have seen B's win the A AND B Flights. I can't ever remember a C winning the A Flight, but I'm sure it's happened).

While Danny and I grumbled about the afternoon and I had some sharp questions for a couple of plays, Danny gave me a pass. The shoulder was an issue, but the bigger problem was the fact I wasn't sharp. I hadn't faced real opponents at the table since the qualification round for the Canadian National Teams two years ago (which we won by the way). He went off wandering about and I retired with my Kindle to finish off Janet Evanovich's Smokin' Seventeen and to start Bill Carter's The War for Late Night (Both will get reviewed when I do a book review month in August. Here's a hint, if you like any one of the late night chat show hosts, GET CARTER's book).

The evening looked like a repeat of the afternoon. More mistakes on my part and a 46 per cent game at the finish line. But the same result, a C-1. In a field as big as that that played in the ACBL's charity game for the Education Foundation? Well, the same feelings manifested themselves. I hated 'winning' playing soooooo poorly. I did get a chance to see and talk to some old friends, some of whom had conventions named after them that graced my convention card. And, I did see Matt Granovetter and can confirm he's got three feet of beard now. That and that his wife Pam is still lustworthy. She's one of the nicest people I've ever dealt with.

After the game, the whole night continued to turn into a surreal nightmare. When we went to the car lot to retrieve Danny's car, we discovered the attendant had called it a night about ten minutes before we'd emerged from the Royal York to go home and lick our war wounds. We didn't even stop and gawk when we passed the Nikita television crew shooting an episode for the upcoming season in an alley-way between the Royal York and the car lot at the corner of Front and Simcoe (just so you NEVER EVER BLEEPIN' EVER USE THAT BLEEPIN' LOT). Danny talked to one of the crowd control officers, who called in a squad car to see what could be done. Not much, as it turned out. They (the officers) did inspect the booth as closely as one can inspect the booth, but no keys. They called the corp. number on the side of the mini-building and got the same voice mail Danny had gotten when borrowing a phone to make the call (Did I mention that Danny left his wallet AND cell phone in the car, too!).

The officers were all doing their absolute best. But it wasn't good enough. After two and a half hours, CAA finally showed up and broke into Danny's car to retrieve his wallet and keys (after a funny 20 questions to ascertain Danny was Danny).  I tried to hang in, but I eventually got into a taxi and paid 90 bucks to get home to my own bed. I assumed Danny would try for a room at the Intercontinental, but he actually stayed at the lot until the idiot showed up. At this point, I'm not confident I'll see the taxi money. One of the officers told me that this situation was NOT unusual and the matter was a civil one. Well, it wouldn't be as long if Danny exacted physical retribution. But not having my temper, he didn't. If I do see any money, it will be a long time coming. Did I mention the lot was at Front and Simcoe? And that it charges 20 bucks for parking and maybe you'll get your keys back if the operator feels like it? Front and Simcoe. You've been warned.

Okay, okay, a bridge hand for those that have stayed throughout (the hand comes from inputting it into JACK):

I held the South hand at all Vulnerable. I assure you both of the bids in front of me were legitimate, leaving me with a bit of a quandary. Either I negative doubled now, or forever held my peace. I 'could' bid a negative two diamonds, but that would lose hearts forever, if even a 5-4 fit existed. Or I could pass, since I was on the lightest edge of legitimacy for that bid. Even though I play the rock (disciplined bidder as adverse the shooter or aggressive bidder that is Danny's job), I opted for the negative double. Needless to say, the four heart call was a surprise. But there was Danny to affirm that he had a good hand with spades. And then the original overcaller thought he had enough cards to call five clubs, without support. I asked at that point if we were all playing with blue-backed cards. Didn't seem possible.

Having the worst hand at the table, I had an easy pass, the auction's first such call. It continued pass before Danny realized he had some diamonds and called five diamonds. Gulp. This was a bid I didn't really want to hear with my dearth of actual, you know, points. THEN, even more shockingly, I had to contend with a six club continuation by the original overcaller.

This started me thinking, an always dangerous thing. What hands could surround the table and produce the bidding I'd seen (not heard, we were all using bidding cards and the only noise had been my poor attempt at table humour).  Go ahead, decide for yourself. I'll be right here when you're finished ruminating.

First, there seemed to be something of a misfit, or conversely a double-fit for the opponents. Either they had long rounded suits each or a bit of support for each other while holding a semi-long suit. Danny had spades and diamonds, eleven minimum and more probably 12. It was barely possible he had 13 cards, split 8-5 between spades and diamonds. But I thought it rather more likely that he had 8-4 or 7-5 with a singleton. Surely, he had a couple of aces in that lot to explaining bidding while red. If so, six diamonds would be safe and the opponents would have to guess the right suit to lead and cash the one ace they did have coming to them. It was possible a heart over and a spade to ruff might set six diamonds, but that was tough defence. On the other hand, this WAS the North American championships. And what if I didn't continue this mad bidding. What if the same wacky distribution meant there was a slam their way too. Barring a Lightner Double, I was planning to lead my spade singleton. I finally broke in favour of the safety of being dummy. I bid six diamonds. Which was followed by three passes.

The play? The opening leader cashed the club ace and then led to his partner's ace for the setting trick. Had they not cashed out, Danny makes (He holds six spades to the AKQ and the AJxx of diamonds with his two singletons. The DUMMY's hearts all go away on spades on the 3-3 break. Or the clubs, depending on what wasn't cashed). Had I not bid and Danny passed, we beat their contract three tricks (three spades and a diamond). Had I not bid and Danny doubled and I had assumed it to be a Lightner Double, THEY would have made the hand on a heart lead, discarding spades and losing diamonds on the dummy's hearts.

And you wonder why I'm headed back into retirement!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

HARDWARE: And The Winner Is ...

My search for a tablet/pad has taken more than a year to come to an end. But the end is in sight. Within a month (not THE month), I will finally buy a tablet to add to the computer population here at the Castle of Confusion.

A while back, I basically came to the conclusion that I would await the arrival of the Samsung 10.1 Galaxy Tab come hell or high water. I didn't want an Apple iPad2 for reasons mentioned before--chiefly censorship and the lack of flash support. I did like the curated App store and the gazillion TV shows and magazines that supported the product. Plus, it was light, and I'm too old (alright, too lazy) to lug around something heavier. But as time went by and the Samsung didn't appear (it ships in Canada in August), other contenders had their chance to make me re-think.

Finally, I did a spreadsheet with weighted categories and tried to come up with an objective answer as to which device would be best for me. The contenders were the iPad2, the Samsung Galaxy 10.1, the Acer Iconia 500, the Asus EEE Transformer and the Motorola Xoom.

Weight (Told ya I was lazy): [15] Samsung 13.3, iPad212.3, Asus 10.9, Xoom 10.9, Acer 9.6.
Battery Life: [14] iPad2 14.2, Samsung 12.9, Acer 11.3, Xoom 11.3, Asus 9.2
Curated Store: [14] iPad2 10, Samsung 7, Xoom 7, Acer 6, Asus 5
Price: [13] Samsung 10.6, Acer 10.6, Asus 10.6, Xoom 8.8, iPad2 8.6
Camera: [9] Acer 5, Asus 5, Xoom 5, Samsung 3, iPad21.2
Reading: [8] all got 6
Web Browsing: [8] Samsung 7, Acer 7, Asus 7, iPad2 6, Xoom 5
USB Ports: Acer 7, Xoom 7, Asus 5, Samsung 0, iPad2 0
Storage: [4] iPad2 2.6, Acer 2.6, Asus 2.6, Xoom 2.6, Samsung -2.8
Accessories: [3] iPad2 3, Samsung 1, Acer 1, Asus 1, Xoom 1
Availablility: [3] iPad2 3, Acer 3, Asus 3, Xoom 3, Samsung 1
GPS: [2] Xoom 2, Samsung 1, iPad2 0, Acer 0, Asus 0

NOTES: All were WiFi models as I have no need for 3G/4G network devices. The Samsung model compared to the rest only had 16G of storage, which accounts for the negative score there. Apple exceed the maximum score for battery life because, well it's SPECTACULAR in that regard. My initial enthusiasm dimmed for the Samsung when it went back to the drawing board on the announcement of the iPad2 to produce a bigger, lighter competitor, at the cost of the external ports built in. For me, it was a bad trade.

If you're adding things up, ACER ICONIA 500 finished first with 72, followed by the Motorola Xoom 70, the Asus EEE Transformer 68, the iPad2 66 and finally the Samsung Galaxy 10.1 Tab 57.

Hmmmm, that was NOT what I expected. Although a few things have changed ... the Acer apparently does have GPS and the Xoom's price has dropped a hundred bucks in the States, but not here, and the weight issue has been thrown in disarray because weight DISTRIBUTION is as important, if not more important than dead weight measurements, the fact is I've decided on a different winner.

And the winner is ... The Toshiba Thrive. It's been on sale in the States since late July and will arrive in here domestically in August, almost at the same time as the Galaxy. The 32G version is priced competitively, but I could possibly live with the hundred-buck cheaper 16G version because the Thrive not only has a full panoply of ports, it even has built-in software to use with the devices. It also has a corrugated, easy-to-hold backplate (replaceable with different colours if you are so inclined) AND, this is a first in the product niche, a user-replaceable battery. WIN!

You can read a decent layman's review and a side-by-side comparison with the iPad2 here at the International Business News. As always, for more in-depth, check out

Yes, it's the heaviest of the lot, even tipping the Xoom. But, MOST reviews have mentioned how surprisingly light it did feel (and we are talking a quater-pound difference between the iPad2 and the Thrive). And that, ta-da!, is better weight distribution. You add certain audio and video fine-tuning (which not all reviewers found persuasive) and you can see Toshiba's long history with laptops coming through.  Unfortunately, there's a spate of trialware on the Thrive that will hopefully be disposable. That's one remnant of laptops I wish hadn't been carried over. Still delete or ignore, you don't have to run any of it.

I've also re-thought the app store category. I almost dispensed with it. Despite the gazillion apps Apple has, I have no need for about a bazillion of them. Not interested in social media, tunes, travel apps and most games. What's that leave? Well, I want readers. Readers for books, magazines and comic books. Turns out, Android Honeycomb is okay in those areas. A GPS system for those rare times I venture out beyond my comfort zone is good, but Apple doesn't have an app for that, because the iPad2 doesn't have a GPS. I only have crappy cameras in the house, a standalone 2Mp one and my venerable Sony Clie PDA. The Thrive, like all the rest of the Android tablets at least offer up a 5Mp that instantly becomes the best in the house.

Now, the Thrive is not without issues. The ports have covers and dongly, dangly covers tend to break off or get lost or both. The battery probably is the worst of the lot, but not by much (which is why you buy an extra). Flash is everything that Steve Jobs says it is, resource-stealing and buggy. But it is omnipresent on the Internet, including on the bridge site I like to play on-line at. Flash still gets the Thrive every now and then.

And last week, the Thrive was revealed to have issues with sleep mode. Not a good thing. And a good reason why I don't try to save the six per cent I have as a user of Canadian bucks to buy one down in the States. I'll let Toshiba figure out a fix and have that already done when they start selling here in my back yard.

When I get the Thrive (to be nicknamed Rivet or Ribbit--I'm up to R in my computer naming system), I'll be doing reading that requires a big screen or colour or both (think text books and picture books, magazines, and comics), watching TV through my new Slingbox that makes my TV a broadcaster over my private network, surfing the web and occasionally taking pictures or have it guide me whilst outside the house.

So, really, the winner is ... ME!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

LIFE: The Birthday That Was...

... a mixture of the best and the worst.

First, the BEST! An early start with nice words from an editor for my novel. Later, a relatively peaceful and quiet mid-day. Birthday treats in the form of TWO serving containers of lemon tarts (no meringue, naturally). And then I scored pretty good in the gift department, with the O'Neills doing the presentation. Another of the APC Pro 1000 Back-UPS was a welcome sight. And now I have a Slingbox. My TV wherever I want it ... with the Tablet coming in August. Or simply watching Dog Whisperer upstairs instead of traipsing down the stairs to see it on the big TV. And, it's a bit weird to hold a real life book, you know, the kind made out of dead trees, for the first time in a year. And I'm about a third of the way through it at this point. No surprise, it's the (17th) annual mid-year Stephanie Plum book by Janet Evanovich, a birthday tradition at this house. And I even got a Happy Birthday song from Georgia at Comic Warehouse.

But in to each day getting older, like officially older, there must come some doom and gloom. A couple of phantom unreproducible errors at two clients caused some consternation, although I found almost a reason for one of them. Then, I found out one of my clients screwed over a friend. I had to be talked down from firing the client right there and then. I'm still mad about it, but all that's going to happen in the short term is that the client has lost favoured nation status and the client's needs will be met when all else is done for everybody else. My upset eventually let to a fairly bad asthma attack right after the O'Neill's left. I could give you the details, but I'll simply say that it was unpleasant, as most stress-induced asthma attacks are. Lastly, one of the two terabyte drives in one of my network array of storage boxes is giving signs of giving up the ghost. I naturally missed the earliest signs last night and this morning. Soooo, after recovering (and cleaning up) from the asthma attack, it was a little disconcerting to see the big list of files on the backup drive disappear. From any computer connected to it. Patrick talked me through rebooting the NAS box and then rebooting Popeye and shutting down file managers on the other connected computers. After all of that, everything LOOKED normal. But, it's still clicking and clicking is NEVER good for hard drives. So, the backup is being backed up. Hope it lives that long.

Today is Angela's BFF Megan's birthday. I guarantee her's won't be like mine. Or at least I hope not. We are talking about an 'ornery' old guy (as I was described about 28 hours ago) and a 15-year old girl. Enjoy yours Megan.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Top 25 Shows of the Past 365 Days, Part 3

The ten shows that made my day when they were on the air. Not necessarily the best ten shows. Just the ones I watched and got the most enjoyment out of.  Dontcha just love the tortured syntax of that last line? Without further ado, my Top 10 (in reverse order):

#10 Burn Notice (#6 2009-10, #6 2008-09, #5 2007-08)

It's tough on heist shows, even when disguised as spy romps, to introduce new blood, especially when ending the season on a status-changer. Burn Notice pulled it off, with Colby Bell's Jesse being a fine addition to the little band of do-gooding spooks on the outs with the official spooks. The secret to Burn Notice is Jeffrey Donovan's hilarious deadpan voice-overs while his Michael Weston is doing something noteworthy. That and the great Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless tossing in bon mots for our age group (middle-aged and closing on senior citizenship, thank you very much). I've never been a big fan of Gabrielle Anwar's Fiona, but a girl's gotta do what a crazy girl's gotta do every now and then. Jesse basically took the place of Michael's brother Nate being around too much in earlier seasons. That said, it was actually good to see Seth Peterson (Nate) towards the end of the year. Amongst interesting developments, The Mentalist getting Red John, Fringe going Pilot 2.0 and Burn Notice becoming Not Burned Notice (in effect) are amongst the most interesting developments to look forward this fall/next summer.

#9 Hustle (British) (#11 2009-10, #8 2008-09)

Adrian Lester is money in the bank for the long-running British long con show. I am surprised when Dean Devlin swans about, claiming he and the Leverage creative team just knew it was time for a new caper show, but the fact is there were three seasons in the bank over in Jolly Olde England before Leverage hit the tiny screen. The difference between the smooth as silk Mickey "Bricks" Stone (Lester) on Hustle and Leverage's liquor-besotted Nate (Tim Hutton) is the difference between old school and new school. Mickey does more with a raised eye brow than most because Lester's the best at doing that. Robert Vaughn and Robert Glenister are as steady as a rock, to keep the analogy going. And the addition of Kelly Adams last year continues to pay off. I'm not a fan of Matt Di Angelo's hothead Sean, who's a pale imitation of the Danny Blue character played by Marc Warren in the first few season's. But the episode where Sean and Adams' Emma met, and conned, their father was pretty good. Best of the six episodes (have I mentioned how much I like smaller, high quality series yet in this blog?) however, was Mickey losing his mojo, only to have barman Eddie (Rob Jarvis) get a week in the good luck lane.

#8 Chuck (#8 2009-10, #3 2008-09, #3 2007-08)

I promised fealty to Yvonne Strahovski for life and I'm not backing down from that. Especially given some of the outfits the producers of Chuck got her into this year. But the energy of the show took a dip. Not enough of one to drop the show out of the top 10. And next year's final season is fully guaranteed to be back here. But chock that up almost completely to my affection for Strahovski and the various wacky denizens of the Buy-More store. Too many people know too many secrets for my liking. Half the charm of the early seasons of Chuck was trying hard to avoid letting everybody in on what's going on. It brought back fond memories of the days when Superman was bedeviled on occasions by Red Kryptonite--the old kind, not the rage-inducing kind from the TV show. Juking and jiving to keep secrets was what made this show so good, even my brother Rick liked it. And if you think I'm picky, THAT's a whole 'nother level to get to. It doesn't help that I really, really don't like Chuck's mom, Linda Hamilton. But enough kvetching. Fact is, Jeffster's Vik Sahay and Scott Krinsky did good with their time on screen and Adam Baldwin's Col. John Casey is almost always fun. Zach Levi, the title star, wasn't bad. It's just he isn't the callow computer nerd turned reluctant spy anymore. Some say that's progress. For me, at best it means treading water.

#7 Secret Diary of a Call Girl (British)
A supporting character took this sex-comedy from something worth catching and being occasionally titillated about, to a top ten ranking in this (probably) final season. In fact, I thought last year's season three of Secret Diary of a Call Girl was it and was surprised when a fourth series cropped up. Ah, happy surprises! Gemma  Chan's Charlotte took over the show as she took over 'the business' while Billie Piper's Belle was off in America expanding her business interests with a movie and trying to figure out how to handle the delicate question of Ben, the boyfriend, played with feckless determination by Iddo Goldberg. All the while, Charlotte is hilariously running 'the business' like she owns it. In fact, you get the idea she has no idea she doesn't own it. Throw in 'The Next Generation' in the form of Lily James' Poppy and you get a tour de farce.

#6 Endgame (Canadian)

Okay, Endgame has a bit of an advantage. It's homegrown and features a detective that is so agoraphobic, he doesn't leave his hotel suite, which I identify with more than I should. Think Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe or Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme. But without the physical excuses not to leave the dwelling. Shawn Doyle's Arkady Balagan is a former World Chess Champion and a bit of a jerk. Like House-level jerk. His world comes apart one day when he witnesses his fiance's death, which leads to his paralyzing agoraphobia. Forced by bills, Balagan decides to make his mark as a puzzle-solver, a detective who doesn't detect, as much as deduce. And the result is well worth watching. The Huxley hotel staff make great de facto assistants and Balagan isn't above using them. Sam (Torry Combs) is the almost Archie Goodwin (you'll have to read Stout to understand) and the gaggle of interesting girls include Katherine Isabele, Melanie Papalia and the criminally underused Lisa Raye. Colin Lawrence plays an exasperated Lt. Evans, the needed cop connection. Like the #7 pick just above, this is not an on-going series. But it's worth catching on Showtime in re-runs, when and if, if you know what  I mean.

#5 Episodes

Rude and crude and oh so funny. This seven-episode Showtime series better be coming back. It’s not the first show that was about the making of a TV show. But Episodes matches the best of its predecessors thanks in large part to the self-mocking performance as himself by Matt LeBlanc. Having Green Wing vets Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan play writers of an award-winning BBC show brought to America to duplicate their success State-side was brilliant (as the British say). It, of course, turned into a schmozzle, with LeBlanc forced upon them by dough-headed TV exec Merc Lapidus, played with cluelessness by John Pankow. It all goes predictably wrong, but there are some sharp turns by Kathleen Rose Perkins as a particularly self-absorbed studio exec and Mircea Monroe as Morning Randolph, an actress of indeterminate age, brought on to be LeBlanc’s love interest in the re-make. Morning is suspected of having some ‘work’ done and, despite reputedly having played William Shatner’s wife in a pilot shot in the eighties, is a dead ringer for a young Melany Griffith. Really young Melanie Griffith. The language is filthy, but there is no nudity, an interesting mix. Lots of sex though, if that helps.

#4 Republic of Doyle (Canadian) (#3 2009-10)

I'm not even going to pretend Republic of Doyle's setting in St. John's, Newfoundland doesn't have a part of play in my love of this series. Just hearing Krystin Pellerin's Sgt. Leslie Bennett purr out something or other is music to my hears. And I really do have a crush on the good seargeant as she's easy on the eyes too. But that aside, the Doyle clan's just an entertaining look at what a family detective business might be like. In fact, it's more or less, the Newfy equivalent of the Spellmans of Lisa Lutz's literary fame. And for me, that's pretty high praise.  It took the arrival of slimy and slick new Mayor Clarke (Rick Roberts) to finally get Jake Doyle (series star and creator Allan Hawco) to figure out Leslie's the one. And a whole series to bring Leslie back to the side of good. In the mean-time, Malachy and Rose (Sean McGinley and Lynda Boyd) finally got around the itch played by Rose's ex-husband (Nicholas Campbell) to make the living arrangements official. And even dunderhead Des (Mark O'Brien) made some headway with the headstrong Katherine, the youngest of the Doyles. Katherine aka Tinny, had her own fine moment of the show on the marijuana-growing episode.

#3 White Collar

The premise isn't unique. Heck, even Devlin admitted his show was a modern-day updating of It Takes A Thief. But the true descendant of that show isn't Leverage. It's White Collar. Take a thief out of jail and give him a good guy handler and let other felonious finks fear the result. Happily, the second season of White Collar seems to have shaken all the bugs out of that first run and become appointment TV. Matt Bomer has the Robert Wagner role as con-man turned reluctant partner Neil Caffrey. Tim Dekay has the Malachi Throne role as FBI Agent Burke, Neil's handler. I've professed love in the past for both Marsha Thomason and Natalie Morales, who were the first season eye candy. But I'm a REALLY big fan of Hilarie Burton who's appearance as Sara certainly entertained. She has regular status for the season current underway. (WIN!) And here's a surprise, I think Tiffani Thiessen does a good job here as long-suffering Burke's wife. But, and this is a good but, the show really seems to shine when weaselly Mozzie shows up. There's just something entertaining about Willie Garson and he imbues Mozzie with more personality than a background player should have. He doesn't exactly take over the whole show (hello Fonzie), but it's close. Any show with Mozzie at it's heart seems to work. Sure, it's a caper show with the over-arching "Kate's Death" issue to deal with. But there wasn't a weak episode in the second season, ergo, a third ranking for the year.

#2 Daily Show with John Stewart

I'm sorry Andrew. My pal Andrew has been inveigling me for years to watch The Daily Show so that we can yak about whatever latest comedic brilliance John Stewart et al came up with. I was a Jay Leno man. The almost midnight hour was for watching Leno's monologue. End of most discussions as it takes actually viewing to get across most of the gags you see on The Daily Show. There are puns aplenty on segment headlines and hilarious visuals to go with the comedy and smart social commentary Stewart provides. And Stewart might be the best interviewer around. I discovered this when I finally took a vacation from watching (well, recording and watching later) Leno. And I haven't gone back. I'm a convert. Andrew was right all along. The Daily Show is THE current events comedy show, even eclipsing Bill Maher's Real Time. Funny how that show only comes out on Fridays, the one night of the week Stewart takes off. Could it be ... possibly ... nah, it couldn't be. But when WAS the last time you saw Stewart and Maher in the same place. Ever?  At any rate, despite adding the bafflingly popular Olivia Munn as a reporter, the crew at The Daily Show seems forever capable of raising to meet the mettle of the host. Wyatt Cenac, Aasif Mandvi and John Oliver stand out amongst the correspondents. A little Jason Jones and Samantha Bee goes a loooooong way. Best of all, Lewis Black stops by every now and then for a rant. And that's usually a pretty good way to end the night.

#1 The Good Wife (#2 2009-10)

It got better. Last season's runner-up stands atop the pile of DVD's as this year's best show on TV. And while I'm willing to admit my tastes are eclectic, the fact is, a lot of people agree with me. It might actually BE the best show on television. A little defrosting of the severe-looking Alicia Florrick, as embodied by Julianna Margulies, was more than enough to boost this show. That, and Alan Cumming's fabulous portrayal of a would-be power broker who's nothing more than a girl-besotted horndog. Alicia continued to be torn between duty to husband Peter (always great Chris Noth) and her boss/old college friend Will (Josh Charles). Things in that triangle did move around this year as it developed another side, thanks to ever-mysterious Kalinda, the Emmy-winning role Archie Punjabi owns. The 'is she/isn't she,' 'did she/did she not' mystery continued for Kalinda who never appears at any point to belong to completely one side or the other. It might be TV's best character. Matt Czuchry's smarmy Cary went from Alicia partner-wannabe and in-house opponent to a pretty good in-court opponent. And all the while, Christine Baranski was doing everything with whatever limited time she had as Diane, the head lioness of the law firm until Alicia's arrival. Oh, she's still one of the managing partners. But she no longer operates under the delusion that the firm is just a partnership between her and Will anymore. The second season of The Good Wife might, just might, be as good as the one series of State Of Play. 'Nuff said.

Here's a list of my Top 25 Shows of 2010-2011:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Top 25 Shows of the Past 365 Days, Part 2

A day to go before the day before my birthday and the official end of the 2010-2011 TV viewing season. Continuing from yesterday’s countdown with the 20-11 ranked shows in giving me entertainment over the last year.

#20 The Mentalist (#15 2009-2010)

I wanted to award this show a higher honour. Afterall, shouldn’t there be something for nailing Red John? Assuming Bradley Whitford’s Red John was RED JOHN. If you know what I mean. I sure hope so. The fact is, we don’t know for sure and that’s the ‘Sylar’ problem with this show. Sylar’s return in Heroes’ second season was the show’s death knell. Nothing against Zach Quinto, but he stayed waaaaaay beyond his best before date. We’ve had three season of Red John being omnipotent in The Mentalist and having tentacles in impossible to reach places. It got a little pedantic. Still, Simon Baker is amusing at worst and enlightening at best. The supporting players never step out of place and into the spotlight for TOO long. We’ll see what Patrick Jane, sans motivation, can do next season.

#19 Lie to Me
(#24 2009-2010)

We’re going to miss Lie to Me, now that it’s gone. Tim Roth played Dr. Cal Lightman fairly unlikeable for most of the time. But the human lie-detecting machine Lightman was always worthy of respect. The unfortunate fact was that the premise seemed perennially on the verge of cancellation and the move of Lightman into the field more often, acting like a James Bond wannabe, was more a failure than a success. But the subject was always fascinating at its core and I’m a big Kelli Williams fan. Plus, Hayley McFarland was the second-best TV kid.  I just wish they’d stuck to HQ, brought the cases inside and tried to survive there, rather than out and about.

#18 New Tricks (British) (#5 2009-10, #7 2006-07)

I keep fearing the current season is the last for New Tricks and I keep being wrong. Hurrah for being wrong time and time again.  The cold case squad of geezers continues to amaze me with their ability to look into the past fourty years and find something to bring relevance to their retirement years. Alun Armstrong continues to be the heart of the show as barmy Brian Lane, who makes everyone else tick. That’s not to discount the efforts of Dennis Waterman and James Bolam. Of course, any show with Amanda Redman is going to be worth watching. It still has the best theme song going with Waterman warbling the title tune, It's All Right. Best of all, season eight is airing as we speak (read?).

#17 Monroe (British)

James Nesbitt is merely brilliant. He was the heart of the second or third best show over the last decade (Jekyll, jousting with Life on Mars behind State of Play). And here, he goes after House territory. He plays a neurosurgeon with a sarcastic wit and a crumbling personal life to pair with his professional successes and excesses. The secret with this series, as with all things British, is the limited nature of only having to write six brilliant episodes rather than the American-style 22. Nesbitt and company accomplish this and leaves me hoping we will eventually see more of the quite broken Dr. Monroe.

#16 Warehouse 13

I’m not a Saul Rubinek fan. No reason not to like the fellow Canuck. He just has a habit of playing characters who rub me the wrong way. So, I penalized Warehouse 13 for him in it’s debut season. On the other hand, the lead duo of Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly playing Pete and Myka are real drawing points. Add Allison Scagliotti’s Claudia this year and I had to admit, this replaced Eureka as my favourite SyFy show.  Best Christmas show of any series this year. Highly enjoyable.

#15 Candy Cabs (British)

I think Candy Cabs was the shortest series on the list this year. Three episodes. In some ways, this replaced Satisfaction as ‘Girls in Business’ show on the list. Not sex-workers this time out. Just a bunch of women looking to create a female-only cab company.  Now, surprise, surprise, discrimination does have some downsides as the ladies all find. Best intentions and all lead to unusual situations. Really loved the All English Ladies Final that capped the season. And the three-episode length was just perfect, despite a last scene to build another year on. Worth looking for.

#14 Real Time with Bill Maher
(#17 2009-10, #12 2008-09, #8 2007-08, #4 2006-07)

Ending three years of decline in my ratings, Real Time gets an uptick in the mid-term elections season. And the reason could be summed up with his reading of Congressmen Anthony Weiner’s emails together with Glee star Jane Lynch. You don’t have to write the comedy. Reality will do it for you. Still, Maher seemed genuinely engaged in this election year, recovering from the prior election-less year. Americans need to listen to this show more often. Maher lets conservatives come on and skewer themselves, although not to the same degree as Colbert or Stewart. The sad fact is, the same happens to the gutless Democrats who come with little else than slogans themselves. Maher’s ripping of former regular Politically Incorrect guest Christine O’Donnell remained fresh throughout the countdown to her election loss.

#13 Community

More or less paired with 30 Rock in the public consciousness, which almost made the list the last two years, Community turned it up a notch in its sophomore year. The humour was more biting and the Britta-Jeff version of Chuck and Diane was largely thrown aside to do a whole series of Mad Magazine-like media send-ups. Alison Brie’s Annie matured immensely and there seemed to be a stand on (Chevy Chase) Pierce’s tomfoolery. Which all led to Paintball II, a brilliant two-parter to finish off the season. While 30 Rock gets the headlines (albeit, of the idiotic kind thanks to Tracy ‘Meathead’ Morgan), Community was the funnier of the two shows this year. And while the gang eventually has to break up (Career junior college attendees are either janitors or teachers), I like the chances of Community going forward.

#12 Not Going Out

I was a little surprised to see Not Going Out hasn’t ever made the list. Neither has Lee Mack’s other starring vehicle, the faux game show Would I Lie To You? Both take advantage of Mack’s comic persona as a under-achieving layabout. In Not Going Out, Lee Mack’s Lee (they do the Tim Allen thing over there, too), actually got married to Sally Bretton’s Lucy, although it was strictly a fantasy piece. Hilarious though. There did seem to be some sensible defrosting of the Lee-Lucy relations, even after Lee let a soft porn production company take over the apartment for a day. Lucy’s brother Tim, aka Lee’s best pal, continued to be a font of comedy thanks to Tim Vine. (And yes, Tim Vine played Tim. Did I mention Tim Allen yet?). Out was Miranda Hart’s Barbara the Cleaning Lady, although that led to more of the dipso antics of Katy Wix’s Daisy. Oh well. (Notice, the ladies were up to using fictional first names). At any rate, Lee Mack is funny. Not Billy Connelly funny. But funny enough.

#11 The Big Bang Theory
(#14 2009-10, #1 2008-09, #9 tie 2007-08)

I can hear Jan Brady yelling Priya, Priya, Priya. The girlfriend everybody but Leonard seemed to hate, was a major not-good point this year. Ergo, a slide out of the top 10 for The Big Bang Theory. It was accompanied by an increasing role for dead-pan Amy Farrah-Fowler, as played by Mayim Bialik. A lot of people liked her. For me, I could pair her with Aarti Mann’s Priya and make both disappear without a tear or even a second thought. I liked Johnny Galecki’s Leonard pairing with Kaley Cuoco’s Penny. Still do. And yes, the ick factor of Penny and somebody else (Raj) is something I do NOT want to consider. But it least it wasn’t the rumoured Penny-Sheldon hook-up. And as funny as Jim Parsons is, there’s no recovery from that jump the shark moment. It’s going to be hard to navigate around the Penny-Raj pairing back to normalcy as it is. One highlight: the further humanizing of Simon Helberg’s Wolowitz thanks to the charm of Bernadette, played by Melissa Rauch.

Tomorrow’s Top 10 day and the last day of my 55th year on this planet. Let’s make it a good one.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Top 25 TV Shows of the Past 365 Days, Part 1

Well, it’s the time of the year when I look back fondly at what entertained me on the television (and the internet) over the last year. As usual, the list is in reverse-order and today’s posting covers shows 25 through 21. As always, I make no claim that this list is the last word in what’s best for the last TV Season. Just what I found entertaining. Your mileage may vary.

When I threw all the enjoyed shows into the hopper this year, I actually ended up with approximately 40. Two shows just missed out, tying for 26th. Shameless (The U.S. first season) was raw, really raw. But darn it, William H. Macy is good in anything he does, even here where he gives seedy a bad name. Big Emmy Rossum fan and all the kids were interesting, which is virtually unique in the industry. The come-and-gone Terriers was West Coast seedy and Donal Logue was just as good as Macy, although a little less seedier. Having a real conclusion to the first and only season just about got Terriers onto the Top 25 list.

Other shows worth mentioning include Leverage (a past #2 and #18 last year, but bogged down by Elisabetta Canalis and a bad over-arching story this season), Svetlana (a "throw it against the wall" sex comedy about a Russian madam), Stargate Universe (a much better sophomore season on the way to oblivion), Psych (never made the list, a total oversight, but still not good enough this year), Silk (Brit legal drama), Injustice (Another Brit one-week thriller series), Rubicon (Serious spies) and Better With You (with Joanna Garcia virtually re-playing her Reba role … which is OK with me). A late addition to the runner-up list was The Chicago Code, a Jason Clarke star turn if there ever was one. Loved villain Delroy Lindo too and Amy Price-Francis is getting sexier as she gets older. But headliner Jennifer Beals? Didn't work for me, and hated her concluding scene at a hotel bar.

The shows that dropped off last year’s list and were still going this year included #16 The Dog Whisperer, #19 Human Target, #20 Eureka, #23 NCIS and #25 Doctor Who. Too many repeats spoiled Dog Whisperer for me, while the SF trio had down years (as far as I was concerned). Too much multi-episode threading on NCIS for my tastes and ease of access to the program on a regular schedule. Still, there isn’t a bad show in the bunch, and I include Human Target, cuz Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley were entertaining throughout.

#25 Outsourced tied Drop Dead Diva

Might as well get the teeth gnashing out of the way now.  I’m probably Outsourced’s only fan. I loved the original movie and decried the changes made in the TV version (Diedrich Bader’s Charlie was SOOOOO unnecessary). But I liked the rest of the cast, thought Rebecca Hazlewood was dazzling and was willing to put up with Parvesh Cheena’s Gupta, the second of two stupid characters. The train episode was something unique to the show and it’s hard to find something new in comedy. But like I said, it’s MY guilty pleasure and this is MY blog. So, a tie for 25th is mandated.

Bluntly, the charm of April Bowlby and Ben Feldman as Stacie and Fred still drives Drop Dead Diva for me. And I really liked how down to earth Margaret Cho's character is. AND I actually enjoyed the inevitably doomed affair between Kaswell (Kate Levering) and Parker (Josh Stamberg). But here's the thing. I found Brooke Elliott's Jane to be much harsher looking and not nearly so winsome this year. And Jackson Hurst, the would-be David James Elliott, never seemed to rise above wooden this year. The newest season has a lot of Jaime Ray Newman, a generally good thing. But either Jane and Hurst's Grayson find some soul-mating, or this is the last season for DDD on the list.

#24 The Magicians (British)

The Magicians was a five-episode ‘reality’ show with various magicians pairing up with celebs to earn audience votes at the end of the hour. Lenny Henry was an amusing host and, let’s face, with no new The Zoo shows this year, I had to get my amusements via magic. Don’t much care for the noveau-style magic men and much prefer the Vegas-style acts that made it to this show. More next year, please.

#23 Nikita

Another U.S. remake, this time of a classic movie turned Canadian-produced TV series. Nikita did the heritage proud. Maggie Q made a fetching new Nikita and her protégé, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) promised an even better next generation. Add in a truly menacing Melinda Clarke as Amanda and Xander Berkeley playing to oily stereotype as bad-guy leader Percy and you had the mix that made the most of the original concept. Of course, the key ingredient to stir things up was Michael, played this time around by Shane West. It all worked, from the big reveal at the end of the pilot of Alex’s loyalties and then the extraordinary cliff-hanger to end the year.  The show sagged before a mid-season revitalizing break, but the first and last episodes suggest that this is the last time the show will be out of the top 20 during its run.

#22 Castle (#7 2009-10)

Yes, it’s a tumble for Castle. And yes, I found the dalliances by both Castle and Detective Beckett with others to be a waste of time. But it at least worked better than the Bones implementation of the same gimmick. I read both Richard Castle novels this year and find myself enjoying the whole Castle universe. Nathan Fillion continues to be whimsical and Stana Katic can read the telephone book, for all I care. And, let’s face it, Molly Quinn is the best TV kid going right now. Too bad the status quo had to be upset at the end of the season.

#21 Buzz Out Loud tied with Tekzilla (Internet shows) (#21 2009-10)

So, this is the spot for my computer news fix (or is it fixes?). Last year, it was Tekzilla tying with Windows Weekly, while the year before, the late lamented Cranky Geeks was actually 17th.  Paul Thurrott and Leo Laporte did nothing wrong with Windows Weekly over at the Twit Network ( It’s just that I found myself turning to Buzz Out Loud for the daily news commentary, rather than Twit’s Tech News Today. Basically, I prefer Molly Wood (who I think I might be developing a crush on) and Brian Tong (although I miss Rafe Needleman a lot), over Tom Merritt and Sarah Lane. I don’t mind Lane when she pairs with Laporte on iPad Today, the weekly show. And there are certainly other Twit niche shows that probably hit your sweet spot if you are into computers. But, for a weekly show, I like Tekzilla, which is actually twice-weekly these days, albeit with two different casts. The one constant is Patrick Norton, who’s probably the most engaging of all the show hosts mentioned so far. He does one show a week with Robert Heron that is very tech oriented and is sliced up for the weekly HDNation show and then the more traditional format with Veronica Belmont. Check out the shows at Lastly, I have to mention GeekBeat.TV, a thrice-weekly mini-cast with a longer Friday roundtable, all featuring bubbly and beautiful Cali Lewis. I’m just to old for perky and bubbly anymore.

Back tomorrow with the ten that didn’t make the top ten.