Saturday, December 20, 2014

SPORTS: Fran Rider was a Hall of Famer 30 Years Ago

The news yesterday that filtered down through the Internet to me that Fran Rider has been elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame brought back warm memories and an over-riding sense of happiness for me.

Back in the late 70's and through most of the 80's, my job was being a Sports Reporter under another Hall of Famer, editor Ken Giles of the Brampton Guardian. Each year, I knew my 'beat' included The Silver Stick Boys' Hockey Tournament bracket at Bramalea's Victoria Park Arena over Christmas and the March Break Brampton Canadettes Hockey Tournament held in Mississauga, of all places. The tournament had outgrown it's humble origins in Brampton to become "The Largest Women's Hockey Tournament in the World!"

So, I saw a LOT of tournament hockey. There was also the Brampton Atom Lions Hockey Tournament for 10 year olds (Wayne Gretzky played FIVE years in that tournament and his first ever LIVE on-air interview was with The Boss, Ken Giles, after one fabulous game at the event. Brantford always seemed to lost to Whitby, though). The season-ending Chinguacousy Tykes Tournament for the LITTLEST kids was the year-end capper that meant softball was soon to take over my life.

I LOVED tournament hockey. Still do. Not as much as my brother Wayne, who schedules his life around the Christmas-time World Junior Men's Hockey Championships. Oddly enough, he so loves the TV broadcasts, that I've never been able to get him to GO to one of Canada's games when they are playing within hailing distance. Maybe next year as circumstances are putting a kibosh on any travel for me this year. Not up to cheering right now.

Did I mention I LOVE tournament hockey? Well, maybe the most fun of the tournaments for doing my job was the Canadettes tournament. The reason was one of access. Rider held court in a tiny office at the complex where the games were played. She would spend HOURS talking about hockey, not just women's hockey, but hockey in general. Sure, she had an overly-willing audience in me, but she spared not one moment she had available to just yak with me and any other reporter who dropped by.

And did she ever sell the girls' game! And when she needed a heavy hitter, she rolled in Hazel McCallion, the Mississauga Mayor for Life, until she stepped down a few years back, well into her 80's. McCallion, a force of nature at the worst of times, was always at her best pitching women's hockey. This was a woman who BUILT Mississauga out of a conglomeration of small western Toronto suburbs, but who lived and breathed hockey before politics. The two of them were good for a broadsheet page of quotes every spring ... even though some of the quotes were re-runs.

Still, if Rider had decided to buck McCallion in politics, I'm not sure of who would have won. Rider was about ten years my senior, putting her in her late 20's, early 30's when I first met her. She was already pushing being too old to be playing competitive hockey at her age. She laughed at retirement talk. Kept laughing for another TWO decades. She played AND ran the tournament AND created the Women's Hockey League in Canada and the US AND politicked for the Olympics to create a women's division. And she never was defeated, only delayed a little. Occasionally.

Still, she did it with the velvet glove approach until it became painfully obvious that the iron fist had come out. She COULD wield that fist very effectively. So much so, that she made enemies. But even amongst the enemies who earned her eagle-eyed glare from under the black as midnight blunt bangs, they all had to respect her.

I remember a LOT of little stories from the tournament, too many to enumerate here. The players from all over the world, including my favourites from Sweden (hey, I was a young man, don't look at me like that) and Israel (who KNEW!?!), as well as the local lasses that let me write as much as I wanted to because of all the good local news copy. I watched Hall of Famer Angela James grow up (I happened to be keenly aware of both her hockey AND softball career). I watched many, many of the future Olympians and Gold Medal winners play as precocious teens. Tweens even.

And through it all, Rider kept up the PR push, the let's talk hockey until YOU quit plan. Cuz I'm never going to quit. And she did it with a smile and a general love of hockey and of 'her girls and ladies.'

Fran Rider was a Hall of Famer decades ago. It just took until this week for Rene Faisel and the rest of the old fogies (i orginally typed in doyennes, but there is a discernable LACK of women on the executive) of the game to confirm it. Congratulations Fran.

Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good end to this post.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

SPORTS: The Next Step to Fill the Nest

There is a reason Alex Anthopoulos is the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and you and I are not. I think a plan for the future was moved into phase two last night with the Blue Jays' trade of Anthony Gose to the Detroit Tigers for second base prospect Devon Travis.

It creates a road map that borders on being short AND long-term savvy. There's a couple more steps involved in this post-season makeover of the close-but-not close-enough Jays of 2014. A team that demonstrated it COULD compete, but ultimately didn't have the depth to actually pull it off.

And here I am waxing prosaically about the acquisition of a player that will not start 2015 on the field at Rogers Centre. Oh, he'll wear Blue Jay togs before the year is over, but he'll be in Buffalo on opening day.

Here's what I think AA does to round out his Winter Wish List. He signs Russell Martin and Frankie Rodriguez and then deals Mark Buerhle for Matt Kemp and dollars to come in the 2016-2019 time period. Don't know how many dollars, but it will be SOME to off-set Kemp's contract payments. AA might flop a relief pitcher or two from the group he has available, but I think the moves I just mentioned finish off his transaction page appearances.

Let's examine the fallout if AA does what I suggest.

In Canadian-born Martin, the Jays get a catcher that can share a season-long workload with Dioner Navarro, with the other getting DH at-bats from the freshly-freed position previously held by fan favourite Adam Lind, a guy who turned into a one-sided power-poor singles hitter last year. I'm in the group that thinks getting him off the bases, where he was a clog waiting to happen, and opening the DH spot to spell any player who needs a day off from the Rogers Centre tarmac, was a REALLY good idea.

Martin will have a bunch of duties. He'll catch the majority of games, including when R.A. Dickey pitches. That means bidding adieu to Josh Thole and his anemic bat for 30+ games this season. Martin also has a little 3B history and wouldn't be out of place at 1B on games where you want Edward Encarnacion resting between swings of the bat. Heck, in a pinch, Martin could play LF. And there was that hare-brained scheme to have him start at SS in the last World Cup. Yep, he'll play a lot of games. Navarro is a guy who tops out at 100 games max and probably would be best at somewhere around 90. With some extra duty at DH, he and Martin have catcher covered. And with Navarro an expiring contract, he leaves open a spot for A.J. Jiminez in 2016. And Martin's three or four-year contract will be up just about the time that Max Pentecost should be Big Show bound. Short and long term catching solved? Check.

The starting infield on Opening Day will be Encarnacion, Maicer Izturis, Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie. Not a hearty and hale bunch by any means. But one you should be able to take into battle in 2015 to start with. Izturis is only keeping the seat warm for the newest Jay farmhand, Devon Travis, freshly moved from the number one spot in the Detroit Tiger Prospect List to the starting job with the Buffalo Bison, where he will get some AAA seasoning. Izturis is the forgotten man for Toronto, a guy who actually looked to be off to a decent start in 2014 before getting hurt and lost for the season. Is he a star? Nope. He's a career backup on the last year of a contract with a hot prospect breathing down his back. He'll either meet the challenge or give way. Second base short and long term solved? Check.

It's hard to argue against the other three starters as not being injury prone. In Encarnacion's case, its aches and pains. But he's got a David Ortiz vibe. He'll sign an extension to his really, really inexpensive contract sometime in the next 12 months. First base long and short term solved? Check. (Oh, the reason why he'll get big bucks for a three-year extension? The kiddie corps starting pitchers will allow for spending on Encarnacion and Jose Bautista up to 2020).

Lawrie's the wildcard. He'll play good enough defence at third to off-seat the plummeting defensive range of Reyes. He'll provide some power and some speed and maybe hit, maybe not. Is he the long and short term solution at third? Who knows? I don't. But I want the Canadian kid to stay healthy, harness his spectacular physical talents and be a checkmark in both columns. I'm biased, but I'm a Lawrie supporter.

Reyes is a guy I would LOVE to turn into a DH at home (and in Tampa), while having him play shortstop the other 70 games or so. I don't think Izturis can be a shortstop and not having anything more than Ryan Goins (The starting shortstop in Buffalo until the turn of the decade) leaves one checkmark off the list. Reyes is the short term solution at shortstop. The long-term solution? Somebody who signs NEXT winter, maybe after being acquired in a mid-season trade this year.

Moving to the outfield, we have Kemp and Bautista bracketing the kid(s). Bautista, as mentioned, gets an extension for his post 2015 Blue Jays career. With the departure from the books of contracts of 2014 regulars Lind, Navarro, Buerhle, Juan Francisco (for at least a month) and maybe even Dickey, the 2016 payroll has a distinct kid-'n-vets vibe. And don't forget no Rickey Romero money left either. With kids having really, really small payouts, it leaves room for Bautista and Encarnacion to cash in along side of Kemp, Reyes and Martin.  So, the corner outfielders are taken care of short and long term too. One caveat? Kemp and his health are no sure thing.

In centre field, the Blue Jays will start Dalton Pompey. I don't think they will go with Kevin Pillar to delay the hometown hero's clock from starting to tick. That would be possible if Pompey has a bad spring and needs the confidence booster Buffalo might provide. But I suspect manager John Gibbons is right in proclaiming Pompey's the guy. Pillar is no old coot himself and there's a bit of Michael Brantley in him. Might require going elsewhere, or he might stay and make Kemp redundant and an expensive bench piece (which he's been, at times, with the Dodgers). But Pillar is not a bad fourth outfielder. However, he might need at bats in Buffalo early. Either coming or going, he becomes a fairly decent fourth outfielder. Betting the farm on Pompey seems reasonable from this corner as there aren't any warning signs other than his injury-delayed progression through the minors. That was until vaulting from A to MLB in one year made 2014 a season to remember. Centre field long and short term solved? Yep.

The composition of the four-man bench squad could go in a lot of different ways. Left-swinging Andy Dirks Seems almost assured of being that fourth/fifth outfielder, although he's basically just a left-fielder. The only other reasonable left-handed bench guy would be the switch-hitting Justin Smoak, an erstwhile first-baseman and DH. He's got to show he's worth being on the squad for more than just power that has come and gone in his big-league career. Pillar, Danny Valencia and John Mayberry Jr. are all righties. Four of the five will stay. Pillar has options left and he makes sense to begin in Buffalo. Thus, I make the bench out to be the rather DH-ish oriented boppers in Smoak and Mayberry with Dirks providing late-innings relief for Kemp and Valencia combining with Izturis to provide middle infield and third-base backup. This is an ALL short-term solution set outside of Pillar. If any of them got traded for a shortstop kind of guy, it wouldn't shock me. The 2016 version will probably be a lot different.

With the Buerhle-Kemp trade being largely salary neutral for this year, this offensive group actually comes in a significant bit cheaper than the 2014 version. It starts five RH swingers in Martin, Encarnacion, Lawrie, Kemp and Bautista with four, count 'em, four, switch-hitters in Izturis, Reyes, Pompey and Navarro. The batting order? Reyes, Lawrie, Bautista, Encarnacion, Kemp, Martin, Navarro, Pompey and Izturis. It bunches up both the RH's and the switch-hitters. I could see Kemp and Navarro swapping spots against some right-handers. But it's not going to be an easy line-up on pitching staffs whatever hand the hurler throws with.

The starting pitching staff is young, save for the old goat, Dickey. He'll have to make do with Martin catching him, but the athletic Martin should be up to the task. After Dickey comes Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchinson, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez. The long man in the pen will be Estrada, who has breakout bullpen arm capability. And Daniel Norris and Kendall Graveman are a heart-beat away in Buffalo. That's the eight arms you HAVE to have to start a season. I have NO problem with this kiddie corps, that will only get younger when Norris supplants Happ (and/or Dickey) in 2016. Long and short term solution solved? Check.

Which brings us to the bullpen. I've got Frankie Rodriguez signing for the money that Martin doesn't suck up. He becomes the new closer. And he starts my ulcer hurting. Frankly, Frankie worries me. But Martin will take most of the Blue Jays' 10-20 million free agent dollars. In fact, I think the Jays have to dig into the 2016 budget to sign him. The best part? No losing a draft pick. In fact, the off-season plan seems free of qualifying offer signings other than Martin. And that one comes back in the form of the compensatory pick not re-signing Melky Cabrera will bring. It'll be about a dozen picks later, meaning the player is more likely to be a future bench piece than a starter. But Martin off-sets that. So, while signing a Dave Robertson is out of bounds, getting a FRod is certainly reasonable.

The lefty side of the bullpen is reasonable and should return in the form of Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup. I also think Sean Nolin breaks camp in the pen, to give the team three southpaws. Rodriguez and Estrada and ... ? Well, that is the question, isn't it. There was a lot of talk about 'fixing' the bullpen, but that's an arcane science at the best of times. If, in fact, the rest of the seven-man pen turned out to be Chad Jenkins and Steve Delabar, I could live with that. Todd Redmond's an Estrada competitor and who knows what kind of chance Kyle Drabek has now that he's a full-time reliever in mind and spirit. There's talent there that a changed mindset might release. The same thing might happen positively for Romero and wouldn't that be a wonderful story. Plus, there's the chance that the lessons of the early 90's might be re-learned. That's the era when future starters cut their teeth in the bullpen regularly, which would make Norris and Graveman candidates to join the equally inexperienced Nolin. This bullpen seems more long-term positive than short-term. But then again, it was only two season back that the Jays sent two relievers to the all-star game. Maybe the old adage about relievers needing short memories has some words of wisdom for fans and would-be GM's too.

And so we come to the end of this What I Did This Winter essay, as intended to be written by Alex Anthopoulos. He need not do whole-sale surgery to make the Jays a contender this upcoming season and for at least the next three or four after that.

And if you are counting, besides the Canadian GM, the Blue Jays would start THREE Canucks on opening day. On a contending team. What a BRILLIANT idea!! If I don't say so myself.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

INTERNET: I Hope Emily and Pawan and Praveen and Linda ALL Get Ravaging ...

This post comes without my admonishment at the top not to click on any link you might find in the comments section. While that cautions against clicking on links from people like Lee and Angela and Judy and My MOM, it also prevents an unaware reader who managed to get ALL the way to end of one of my posts from slipping and clicking on posts from Emily and Pawan and Praveen and Linda and the rest of the hijacked and fake names the mental midgets who spread spam use to post in Blogger comment sections.

That's right. There's a cadre of sweat shop workers who sit all day and copy and paste links into comments sections in Blogger posts. They have to do that because Blogger does JUST enough to stop robots from doing it. Which would be cheaper than using close to slave labour. So kids, and grand-gens and out of work slackers sit and paste all day, either using hijacked accounts (You REALLY should do better in setting up passwords and answers to the password revealing Who Are You questions). Or they set up a new Google account and blast away until enough bloggers complain and that account is shut down. Either way, it's a blight on society.

By the way, when you click on a link, a penny goes into the worker's pocket, the slumlord at the top gets a buck and the sites you go to are so virus and worm-laden, they will come CLOSE to shutting down your computer from doing anything OTHER than joining a zombie army to attack some site, an attack that generates the slumlord and the crap-site owners MILLIONS of dollars. You? You get to bring the machine to me or your local computer whiz and hand over a hundred bucks. Or thereabouts.

While I don't get many readers, let alone legitimate comments, the fact is, I still wanted to leave the teeny, tiny, tinsy, slim (what, you thought MORE T words?) chance of an honest-to-goodness comment getting through. I've had authors and people involved in the actual production of the shows I comment on, leave comments. I treasure those and the ones from friends. The rest of the crew, from the minions to the millionaires/billionaires, read my type:

I hope EACH and EVERY ONE OF YOU gets a ravaging sexual disease that leaves you on THIS side of death to suffer ... for decades.

Sound harsh, especially since I know children are involved? Yeah, it is. But the harshness is often required to stamp out disease. And this is a pock-marking blight on the whole internet. So, I'll stand by my statements. Not that you can comment and offer your support.


Because I've turned off commenting. The dedicated might travel to the email site and inundate me with crap. So be it. I'm getting it anyway. Yeah, I filter it all out, but some will get through. And maybe some of the some will be written well enough for me to consider clicking on it in an unprotected web browser. After all, I take LOTS and LOTS of medication. Get me at the right moment and I might even be nice. But those moments are statistically non-existent.

So, NO MORE COMMENTS. NO MORE PREAMBLE ON ALL POSTINGS. A small strike in the war on ... pick a name. I've thought of worse, said worse, and even typed worse. But it's fun, isn't it?

Something has been lost to me today, so I am sad. But something has been gained. And I will nap this afternoon, thinking happy thoughts of the slumscum not having any more dollars from readers here with an itchy click finger. Ahhhhhhh. sweet sonambulant slumber awaits. Montreal plays Philly in three hours.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

TV: The Top 25 Shows of 2013-2014

[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

Every year I call a halt to the TV season on my birthday and produce a list here of the shows I most enjoyed over the last 12 months. It’s my Top 25 TV Shows and I make no claim that they are the best in any way. They are the shows that I enjoyed the most. And I don’t enjoy what a LOT of critics enjoy. I do not look for the ‘new’ and avante garde. I like what I like and do not apologize for my taste in entertainment. So read ahead with that understanding. Oh, by the way, you’ll be doing LOTS of reading (It's pushing 10,000 words). You’ve been warned.

I had a rather tougher year making this list than in the past. The problem, I think, was the disappointment I had in many old favourites. Shows that have entertained me, sometimes a LOT, but have withered just a little on the vine. When I looked at my list of shows this year, there was The Big Bang Theory at 34, Hart of Dixie at 36 and the latest incarnation of The Dog Whisperer (Cesar 911) sitting at 37. Last year's champ, ESPN 30 for 30, couldn't muster a top-30 finish, getting only the 35th spot on my list. And you know, none of them deserved Honourable Mention. None of them. Because, in most cases, the shows threw away what little spark they had in my imagination.

As has become the practice here in the yearly awards, now it's time for the show(s) that made me disappointed and/or mad. Last year it was Arrow. This year it is Arrow. Symmetry at it's best. The acting is still wooden. The show can't get off that damned island in STILL too many flashbacks. And yet I still watch the show week after week to catch the inside references we old comic book coots love so much. You have to love comic books and you have to be steeped in DC lore, otherwise, this continues to be a waste of watching time. I’ve actually seen star Stephen Amell without his face in a rictus. Really, he CAN smile. I hope he does next season. Maybe with Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance moving towards assuming the Black Canary role and the inevitable pairing with Amell’s Arrow (the Green Arrow and Black Canary were a couple for decades in the comics), we can see some of the banter uplifted from grim and gritty to the occasional light comedy the comic book characters were capable of. By the way, I’m not ragging on comic books turned TV shows. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD wasn't good enough to make the top 25, but it's one of the Honourable Mentions this year.

So much for disappointment. On to the Bad. Starting with possibly a new low in Bad. Dads. Beyond horrible, approaching criminal. That bad. Dads had wonderful opening credits and a great theme song, Brenda Song and Nick Lachey's gorgeous wife Vanessa. And it was a complete waste of the talent of actors like Seth Green, Giovanni Ribisi, Martin Mull and Peter Riegert. It was misogynistic, racist and incredibly stupid. Oh, left out homophobic. If there was an ‘ist’ or an ‘ic’ they left out, I can’t think of one. Every single actor in this misbegotten career train wreck probably fired their agents after this fiasco. Mind you, racist humour wasn’t only the preserve of Dads.

George Lopez's Saint George, was incredibly offensive to me, and I’m not even Mexican-American! It’s an accepted belief that comedians are allowed to make fun of their own, but outsiders cannot. But Lopez’s caricatures of Mexicans only re-inforced stereotypes. Lopez once again depicted his mother character as just short of being an unloving monster, a master of meanness and uncaring. And yet I’ve never met a family of Mexican heritage where the mom was not big-hearted and a bit of a mother hen. So THAT offended me too. Lopez is always appealing himself. But every other Mexican-American in the show was depicted as boorish, stupid, mean or all three.

Now, being Canadian, I must point out a mistake of our own. Aside from Dave Foley mugging for the cameras, Spun Out was horrible. He played the role TV producers call the 'lovable lush with charm' type and informally refer to as the Dave Foley role. When he wasn’t speaking or reacting, nothing about this show was pleasing. No, I take that back. It did have Rebecca Dalton, making the show, the Canadian version of Ground Floor. But not as good. Not nearly as good. And Ground Floor was not good. Dalton was a dead ringer for an old co-worker from back in my newspaper days. One I had a crush on. And the resemblance was so spot on, I actually took to the internet to see if her mother might have been my old editor. She wasn’t. Once you got past Foley and Dalton’s appearance, it turns out Spun Out was a lot of ‘est’ and ‘ic’ done in the polite Canadian way.

I keep mentioning Ground Floor, an otherwise unremarkable comedy that features Briga Heelan (the floor resident) who I believe will break out sooner or later. John C. McGinley did his usual scenery-chewing part to try to inject humour. But despite the two shining lights, the comedy was not good. Not at all. Maybe the second season will turn the corner.

I know I’m supposed to get to the top 25 and I promise it IS coming. But a word about the supposed rebirth of the sitcom this past year. Indeed, some new half-hours made the top 25. But most didn’t. And, in an infuriating way, a lot of them were JUST this close to being good enough for a long run.

The Goldbergs was simply too loud and the Barry character (Troy Gentile) was too annoying, which off-set an otherwise really pleasing cast. The fix? Send him off to play Junior hockey and replace him with an exchange student. Young Sean Giambrone will also be a major star some day. The major problem with About a Boy was Minnie Driver, who I adore. Just not in the role as the new age hippie mom. (And yes, I'd fly away to NY to be with Adrianne Palicki too). It’s mean, but I’d have dear old Minnie pass away, leaving adorable Benjamin Stockham to be adopted by next door neighbour Will (David Walton) and Palicki’s Dr. Sam who comes home to become a newlywed and a step-mom all in a rush. The Millers has superstar Margo Martindale (as good at comedy as she is in dramas like The Americans), which almost off-set starring Will Arnett. Almost. Maybe a Bewitched-like switch in the lead. Anybody but Arnett. Arrrgghhhh!

Not all shows will be back for a second go around to test out my fixes. Back in the Game featured a totally unlikeable James Caan. How exactly do you screw up a show with Maggie Lawson? This one did. The fix would have had Lawson finding a new boyfriend with serious marriage potential, thus reducing Caan to cameos. The Crazy Ones needed to replace Robin Williams with John Larroquette to save a talented cast and a good premise. Larroquette could have been a long-lost brother who takes over when Williams keels over due to the excesses of his past. His character that is. Larroqutte would have then stepped in as a part of the cast, rather than the scenery chewer that Williams is. The Michael J. Fox Show needed one less kid (send the eldest, Conor Romero, off to college again) and one less sister (Katie Finneran, taking annoying to a whole new level), plus more workplace shenanigans. This was the most surprising and disappointing of all of these comedies. Sean Saves the World could have dumped the boss/bozo (Thomas Lennon) and might have lasted years. Sean Hayes was very likable and assembled an otherwise entertaining cast around him. Trophy Wife needed one less wife (number two, Michaela Watkins) and more showdowns between Malin Ackerman and first wife Marcia Gay Harden. Lastly, Kirstie. The assembled cast, which included Michael Richards and Rhea Perlman, could probably have pulled off the concept with any actress in Hollywood...except Kirstie Alley. Don’t know if it’s coming back (it shouldn’t), but a little radical surgery would have made the question moot. That's a long list of almost-were's. And the end of the disappointments.

The Honourable Mentions list includes a little bit of everything. Both of my ultra-violent shows from last year, Banshee and Vikings, did enough to merit watching in their sophomore season. I was more entertained by Banshee than Vikings, but it was gratifying to see Vikings get away from that bad turn to mystic mumbo-jumbo that it took in the last couple of first-season episodes. Both are cautious, with yellow police tape around them, recommendations for their second seasons. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD started off at near Arrow level season one horribleness. It managed to pull things around to the point of being pretty watchable by year's end. Clark Gregg is a surprisingly effective lead and Chloe Bennet and the dependable Ming-Na both created a little intrigue. Add a A little more polish (more Patton Oswalt, please) and it's a contender for next year.

The kids had some good stuff come down the pipe. The second season of Dragons, Riders of Berk was even better than the first year of the animated spin-off of the How to Train Your Dragon movies. And I had a great time watching Wizard Barristers - Benmashi Cecil and The Irregular at Magic High School. Both anime series were very watchable. I can also recommend another anime, Attack of the Titans, but it's far, far from being youth age appropriate. A real horror cartoon success. American cartoons-wise, Beware the Batman was short-lived and really a lot better than the critics said. And my guilty pleasure was Disney's latest scream-com, Mighty Med, a live-action series with engaging kids, goofy adults (a Disney staple) and enough pure love for comic books to carry the day. Well done.

Any Honourable Mention list would have to include Ambassadors, a wicked political satire based in a British embassy in a fictional country in the 'stans, plus returning British series of Jonathan Creek, The Indian Doctor and Silk. And there's a little gem out there called Serangoon Road from Australia about sixties era Singapore. A rather tight little drama that I, unfortunately, saw out of order. And let's finally say good-bye to Rake. Not the American abomination, but the Aussie original. It's been an interesting run.

On to the list:

25 Taxi Brooklyn French

A bit late to the party with it's debut in the last week of June, this hour-long dramedy features something not too old, Chyler Leigh, and somebody brand new, Jacky Ido. Ido is going to be a star, Hollywood’s next black actor with magnetism … and a real sense of humour. He plays Leo the taxi driver, who ends up ferrying around Leigh who’s Detective Cat Sullivan could come from any number of successful mystery books starring tough as nails female detectives. The show is a ‘re-interpretation’ of the movie, Taxi, a broad comedy penned by Luc Besson. The pairing of Leigh and Ido works incredibly well. It’s a buddy comedy without one of the two parts of the buddies really realizing that she is in a relationship. And, like in most buddy entertainment, the sum is better than the parts. So there are jokes, thrills and lots of car-chases involving Leo’s bright yellow taxi. That should be enough for almost anyone. The show’s not perfect. Sullivan is a bit of a cliché in that she has to track down the killer of her father. Castle anyone? I’d have thrown the idea overboard and made her dad a quirky professor of something esoteric at Columbia or NYU. I think that would have been a better idea than making her mother (Ally Walker) a constant source of irritation. Again, cliché run amok. But the drive to find the killer is what is driving Taxi Brooklyn in what I hope will be the first of many seasons.

24 House of Lies

It's raunchy. It's nasty. Nastier language-wise than I like and just at the limit of my tolerance. And, I think, it's probably a lot truer than people in the 'consulting' biz would like to admit. But that just makes it funny and watchable. Don Cheadle eats up the screen and Kristen Bell captivates it. And that's before the scheming sets in. Now in it's third year, I didn't think there was any more double-crossing and backstabbing left for House of Lies. I was wrong. Happily. The pairing of Bell’s Jeannie Van Der Hooven and Cheadle’s Marty Kaan was a long time in the making. And in House of Lies fashion, just as quick to come asunder. The last shot of Marty for this season was … emotional. There were other developments. Ben Schwartz’s Clyde actually became tolerable this season. Human even. On the other hand, there wasn’t a moment on screen for Josh Lawson’s Doug that I didn’t regret the writers wasting my time. Doug was annoying. Liked Monica’s come-uppance as Dawn Olivieri continued playing Marty’s ex with lioness ferocity. And Donis Leonard Jr.’s Roscoe got older and wiser and even more confused, if that’s possible. By the way, the fact that Glynn Turman, as Grandpa Jeremiah, continued to be a successful playa, gives hope to all of us old coots.

23 Almost Human

Science Fiction. Fox TV. Surprise, early cancellation. Just how stupid are we SF fans to continually invest in Fox SF and act like we are surprised when that network cancels the show before it's time to go? Smack. Hand to forehead. Idiot. Now, let's admit this show was not perfect. It had a bit of a scattergun approach initially, with suggested-at plots from the pilot left untouched before the jig was up. But the partnership between human cop John Kennex (Karl Urban) and android cop Dorian played by Michael Ealy, was starting to come together by the time the pink slip arrived in the email. The imagineering of the future for the show featured some real good ideas. Not the least of which was that the bad guys were always one step ahead of the good guys, stuck perpetually playing catch-up. The problem was that the bad guys were TOO far ahead. I would have liked the gap to be a bit smaller. I also identified with old grouch Kennex, who was just a little bit more spare parts than I am. Which made his early problems with Dorian easy to understand. Lili Taylor was an effective top cop and Minka Kelly’s Detective Valerie Stahl was moving in the direction of being Kennex’s romance partner, not that the big lug would figure it out until long after it became obvious to everybody else. Mackenzie Crook’s Rudy was weird as the cop-shop version of Q. But that weirdness led to at least one good episode. Almost Human was more future than now and would have been better a season from now. But it was Fox. Of course it got cancelled. Idiots, idiots, IDIOTS!!!

22 Republic of Doyle Canada (LY - 21st)

Okay, okay. It's here because it's got to be here. It didn't take a mean turn, like The Big Bang Theory. It didn't wear us out with secondary characters like Hart of Dixie did. But it didn't do a lot to stay on this list, except show off my beautiful Newfoundland heritage and let me watch Allan Hawco as Jake Doyle and company work. It's getting a little long in the tooth and I have the distinct impression its going to be completely missing from this list next year, but I love the show. NOT sorry in any way. Hear that Mom? NOT Sorry! It has Krystin Pellerin and that Newfie purr. It has mismatched adult adults Malachy Doyle, Jake’s dad, and Rose Miller played by Sean McGinley and Lynda Boyd. It’s a show that attracts the likes of Russell Crowe as a guest star. It even has a third generation detective in the making in policewoman Tinny Doyle (Marthe Bernard). Mind you, I continue to rail at the continued presence of bozo savant Des (Mark O’Brien), but did I mention the scenery? And I’m not a scenery kind of guy. We are talking about God’s Little Green Acre, aren’t we. The Doyles and even many of the recurring bad guys have become like family on my TV. And I have no problem recommending the show.

21 Revenge (LY - 7th)

You want some refreshing vitality injected in any show's third year. I'm ambivalent about the rejuvenation that was injected in Revenge Year 3, mostly because it had a distinctly "Bobby in the shower" vibe to it. (That's a reference to the year AFTER Dallas did away with Patrick Duffy's Bobby, only to bring him back a year later via the shower scene. It was all just a dream.) I wish I felt better about the McGuffin being pulled out from underneath 50+ episodes of watching. But it DID suggest some life was left over in this tale of revenge done hot. Questions about about the master manipulator Emily (Canada’s own Emily Van Camp) suddenly finding out she isn’t the one actually pulling the puppet strings. There’s the annual will she, won’t she aspect of the relationship between Emily and the scion of the Grayson’s, Daniel, played by Joshua Bowman. Through the whole series, Daniel’s probably the source of the most growth of any character in the series. Of course, the doyenne of the Grayson’s, the uber-nasty Victoria, played with relish by Madeleine Stowe managed to continue her all out battle(s) with Emily. To some success, but not much. And of course, there’s David Clarke (James Tupper). And with that, I end my review of the third season of Revenge. Don’t cliffhangers make you mad?

20 Broadchurch British

American TV is remaking this show as Gracepoint come this fall. Even importing star David Tennant to replay his role of the overwhelmed police detective assigned the task of stopping a child killing from becoming the powder keg that blows up a small sea-side town. Tennant has never looked more worn out. Indeed, there's a thread to the mystery that makes one wonder if DI Alec Hardy will solve the mystery before he, himself, keels over. There's a fire that starts with the first episode with the murder of a child that threatens to consume the town. We watch as small-town dynamics takes a close-knit community and unravels it at lightning speed. The media, specifically newspaper journalism (my old job), is shown at its worst. And its worst is plenty bad. It's a lethal mix that results in more death and the worst of us all coming out. It's bleak and dispiriting and well-done. You'll hate yourself for liking the limited series so much. The late news that there will be a second Broadchurch series makes me wonder how that will come about. I have a difficult time believing the town could even come close to surviving a second murder. And yet apparently Hardy and his number two, DS Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman return, which will set the second season squarely back in the now recovering town. Hmmmm, this will either be a writer’s triumph or an unnecessary rehash. Either way, we’ll have to await the finish of Tennant’s American commitment, one in which Fox has surprisingly decided to limit to just ten episodes, rather than trying to expand the 8-episode British original to 20 plus shows. And it means that second season that confuses me might very well start in late 2014. That’s good news.

19 Person of Interest (LY - 5th)

Not enough Bear. That was my first reaction to binge-watching the third season of Person Of Interest. A little too much god-like power (and even allusions), too. And just how many secret agencies and goofball cabals can there be out there? One more than you think. All the time. Still, what kept Person of Interest on the list this year was a mid-season casting change that had a smaller impact than did the sea change in The Good Wife. But it was close. Bringing in Sarah Shahi to replace outgoing Taraji Henson allowed for a very emotional send-off. And more Root, played with ethereal weirdness by Amy Acker. Two actresses to cover for the loss of Henson’s Detective Joss Carter. The well oiled machine that was Carter, fellow detective Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), operational head Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) and the whispering action star John Reese (James Caviezel), came acropper in the third season. THE Machine became one of the machines, plural. One of the shadowy organizations managed to get some manner of control. And the government befouled every attempt to fix things. Many of the shows this year were not saves for people in trouble. They were about looking after the core of what The Machine was all about. And with it kidnapped and the loony tunes from Vigilance putting Finch on trial, it was a slam-bam finish. Not quite as overall satisfying as the second season. Not enough of Bear the dog. The humanizing element for Finch last year. Bear could have done the job this year with Root if he had been given the chance. C’est la vie. NOTE: My next door neighbours have a German Shepherd named Bear. A nicer, more well-behaved dog I have never met. I like dogs. And after all of the Bear screen time in season two, I am permitted to be disappointed that the only time with Bear this year is when I venture next door.

18 Old School Australian

Another spring surprise and it just goes to show that a couple of old pros, like Bryan Brown and Sam Neill still have it in them to produce entertaining TV. It's a buddy comedy from down under, with all the delights and perks that entails. Brown plays the sprung ex-con, back on the radar of Neill, playing a now-retired cop, Ted McCabe. Still a cop in all but badge, McCabe wants to resolve the case that ended his career while sending Brown's Lennie Cahill onto one of Her Majesty's finest jails. The opening episode includes a HUUUUUGE clanker at the end where the bad guy yaks with nobody filming the confession. But it's more than made up for over the remainder of the series. There's a cadence and a whole new parlance of Aussie accents to make the show sound so good. It's a show for old coots BY old coots (and I suspect, for old coots). But if you like to see the cop-concrim buddy show done right, it's hard to argue with Old School.

17 The Escape Artist British

David Tennant. Again. Doing what he does best. Out-think the opposition ... and the viewer. And do it with a lot of savoie faire. Tennant's Will Burton, is a barrister-extraordinaire in this tight three-episode series from Engand. He's inordinately successful, which rubs opponents like Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo) the wrong way. Which pleases Burton immensely. Burton eventually discovers clever can be a two-edged sword and a client he gets off turns out to be a psycho. And Toby Kebbell makes Liam Foyle a REAL SCARY psycho (is there any other sort?). Thus, Burton has to have a showdown with the bad guy, who despite his scariness and an episode long ability to survive several attempts by lawyer turned murderer Burton, finally succumbs. Which ends up placing Burton square in the hairs of the justice system he has manipulated throughout his life. And riding to his rescue? None other than Maggie. All of this done in three episodes, where American TV moguls would be tempted to make it last 22 episodes for the first of a seven year run. And you wonder why so many British shows end up on this list every year. Or why so many David Tennant shows do.

16 New Tricks British (LY - 11th)

Had it been a decade? Close to it. And I could go on and on about how great it is to watch the old gang get together and do what they do best, solve crimes and entertain and prove that age and treachery trumps youth and inexperience all the time. But the old gang isn't the old gang any more. In fact, the old gang is just one man. And the gang is, still composed the same way. But not with the familiar old faces. So, does the new New Tricks work? In the main, yes. A strong start in Gibraltar to start the year doesn't ever stop as newness permeates the UCOS squad in London. It's a new character here, a new character there. And before too long, we have Dennis Waterman's Gerry Standing as the longest member in standing. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But a lot of the shorthand Standing was able to use with the gang has had to be redefined, changed around to accommodate his new role as elder statesman. I had become accepting of James Bolum's Jack Halford departing, although remembrances of Jack lead to two of the weepier moments this year (and by weepier, I mean ME tearing up). Denis Lawson's Steve McAndrew seemed to fit like a glove with Standing and the team magic missed very little. But the team dynamics did take a pounding when Brian Lane exited stage left (with beloved wife Esther) after the caper in Gibraltar, replaced by Danny Griffin played by Nicholas Lindhurst. It was a tough fit, with the Lane mania as Alun Armstrong played him, changing to external calmness, Lyndhurst's most obvious character trait. But, I came around. Then, with half the season to go, came the gut punch. The team was losing Amanda Redman and her DS Sandra Pullman. Incoming was young(ish) DCI Sash Miller, played by Tamzin Outhwaite. THAT took some getting used and I'm not sure yet whether it has the effect of putting my beloved Cold Case squad show from England on the backbench. Overall, this was a top 25 show (again). But unsettling is the head that lies of the New Tricks fan.

15 Mom

The early days of The Big Bang Theory were dominated by the self-absorbed antics of Jim Parsons' Sheldon. So much so, that any discussion of funniest characters on TV had to include him. As Sheldon passes from entertaining to mean, selfish and frequently unfunny, riding to the rescue of the reputation of the self-absorbed we have Allison Janney. Allison...wait! Allison Janney?? The occasionally acerbic but mostly professional competent everywoman from The West Wing? THAT Allison Janney? Yep. Who knew? Within the tall, tall frame of CJ Cregg was a comedienne of incredible proportions. And make no mistake, the eldest of the moms on Mom is pure comedic gold. Bonnie's little girl Christy is a mess. And of course, Christy has a little girl, Violet. And Violet's about to have a little girl. Cue scene one for the year. You've got everything you need to know whether you'll like the show or not. Janney great? Check. LOTS of mommy and mommy-to-be jokes? Check. LOTS of AA stories/jokes/emotional moments for Janney's Bonnie and Anna Faris' Christy (Mom Gen 2)? Check. There's a couple of supporting characters that really work, like cancer-stricken AA member Marjorie played by sad-faced Mimi Kennedy and Luke, the dumber than a rock with a vein of gold through the heart, played with lovable goofiness by Spencer Daniels. Faris' Christy is weary and wise to all the tricks of addicts and teenage moms to be. She's not so good communicating with people who don't fall into either camp. But she's making smarter and smarter choices all the time. She sees the end of the tunnel, especially when she finds her father, the same guy (Kevin Pollak), who her 'lying because she's breathing mother' has insisted left on the first train out of Dodge, when he found out about his impending fatherhood. About the only thing this comedic half-hour could work on for year two is turning daughter Violet (Sadie Calvano) into something less utterly dis-likable.

14 Real Time with Bill Maher (LY - 16th)

I wish he could do it without the crudities. But that's not going to happen. I'm not sure I'm aboard the train backing marijuana, although I support decriminalization (except for dealing to kids, in which case—summary execution). I'm not on board with PETA or his jihad against religions, even though my official position on religion is that religion is good. The practice of organized religion is bad. And I'm surely more accepting of the drugs that keep me alive. But in the main, Bill Maher and I think alike. He thinks funnier than I do (and that's before writers step in). But we are sympatico in most things. So, how did Real Time do this year? Well, it was going to be a top five show, AHEAD of The Daily Show, until this winter when Maher gave TV time to William Krystol. That shouldn't happen. In fact, Maher rails against JUST the type of person Krystol is. And when he was on the show, the red meat alert was not out. Maher, as he does with people who's opinions he disagrees with, when in person, treats them with civility. The solution to not savaging Krystol as the witless war-mongering tool that he is, is not to allow him airtime where civilized folks can be exposed to him. Let him inhabit the environs of Fox, where facts were a casualty long, long ago and only fools watch and believe the pundits. I know the electorate that does that is large enough to plague American politics, but why, oh why, make us listen to this windbag? That one show, back in February, or thereabouts, spoiled the whole season for me. And it was a strong season otherwise. There were left wingers and right wingers and conservatives of thoughtful stripes (David Frum, Reihan Salam and even soon-to-be-adjudicated Dinesh D'Souza will offer up interesting arguments). Lots of smart people and the odd religious person or two that Bill seemed to go beyond tolerating to actually liking. But there was that appearance back in November of Ann Coulter, long a weakness of Maher's. And Krystol. My stress levels reached near fourth heart attack levels. And that's why Real Time is ten spots lower than MOST of this past season rated.

13 Alpha House

It'll never be the same again. Internet killed the TV star. Okay, enough with vain attempts to find a cliché to describe exactly what Alpha House means to the TV viewing public. Alpha House was NOT a TV series, although I used a network cable connection to my TV to watch this Amazon show. And this was NOT an internet show, staffed by names unknown to anybody but their family, friends, and the people they work with in the day jobs. This was high production value, high end TV-making starring the likes of John Goodman, Clark Johnson and Mark Consuelos. Which would roughly be the A, B and C rank level of TV star. That's not to ignore the work of Matt Malloy and Yara Martinez, but I was trying to make a point. Amazon is in the TV business. Just not IN the TV as much as ON the computer and occasionally routed THROUGH the TV. But for all intents and purposes, Alpha House was a show that made you laugh … and think a bit. Goodman's Gil John Biggs is a southern political force from North Carolina who suddenly finds his job and purpose for being threatened by a contender. To say it's unsettling is … not CLOSE to how devastating Biggs finds it. Biggs cohabits a Washington DC house with three other Senators, Johnson's Robert Bettancourt (PA), Consuelos's Andy Guzman (FL) and Malloy's Louis Laffer (NV). Each of the Senators has to play the politics game, whether nationally, as in the case of Laffer, locally as with Biggs or in the bedroom, as with Guzman. Bettancourt seems above it all and floats there through much of this first season, until finally dealing with his ethics committee issues. Johnson, a local guy from Toronto, and a talented director, helmed the season ender. The series has been written by Garry Trudeau in the main, which means the comedy is black, black and blacker. But true moments of humanity showed through on Biggs' return back to the shores of North Carolina. All in all, this was a very, very satisfying show to binge-watch one night (it was a LOOOOONG night). Looking forward to downloading season two when Amazon releases it.

12 The Blacklist

Where exactly to put the 'breakout' hit of last year's TV season. An NBC show to boot. And one I disliked a fair bit while others were issuing the hosannas. Obviously, I was supposed to make it one of those shows in the bad half-hour comedy block you read about a half-hour ago. But a funny thing happened along the way. The Blacklist got better. Indeed, it started to EARN some of those accolades. Oh, James Spader never quit hamming it up. And I DO suspect the writers knew what they were doing all along. But the key was that Agent Liz Keen, played by Megan Boone, started developing a personality. Maybe a new acting coach? I dunno, but to the roughly half-way point I thought I was seeing Bionic Woman II redux. Michelle Ryan turned that show into something unwatchable and I was under the impression Boone was just another pretty face too. And as much as I enjoy spending my time with pretty women, however electronically, I wanted to be entertained, intrigued, thrilled, amused or any combination of the above. Spader's Red Reddington took care of the last, with some droll humour. That Reddington was barely different than Spader's Alan Shore of The Practice and Boston Legal mattered not a whit. It was wonderful to see the ham back on the tube. It's increasingly difficult to remember that Spader was once the king of the pretty-boy roles. He's settled into middle-age wonderfully. But I must return to the subject of Boone. She was completely unconvincing as an FBI agent right up until about the time her father died and her husband, Ryan (Tom Keen) revealed himself to be the louse that he is (or MAYBE revealed himself). The turn, a hard turn, from jailing the bad guy of the week, into dealing with vast conspiracies, saved the show as much as Boone discovered various expressions on her face come in handy. Emotions, who da thunk it? The rest of the show is above average in good acting. Amir Arison, Parminder Nagra, Diego Klattenhoff and Harry J. Lennix did good turns. Which leaves me hopeful that this is a long-running staple in the making. Just please don't let Boone become a blank slate. Again.

11 The Tunnel English/French

In Scandinavia, the show was called The Bridge. Moving further south, the English and French co-producers of the remake changed the title to The Tunnel. In either case, it's a serial murder mystery that requires often-feuding, always dismissive sides from two countries to solve the case, starting with the first murder that features a body half in one country and half in the other. Or so it seems. That it isn't exactly that, is one of the great moments of the pilot show and there's no reason for me to spoil the discovery of that for you. Now, having saved a juicy morsel for you, let me move on. Getting police departments to co-operate from one town to the next is usually … difficult. Getting coppers from England, such as Stephen Dillane's DCI Karl Roebuck to work with a weird French detective, Elise Wassermann, played by Clémence Poésy of Harry Potter movie fame (She was Fleur), well THAT defines difficult. Until Karl figures out Elise is smart and sexy, despite her off-putting non-involvement. That leads to the inevitable regrettable hook-up, which leads to all kinds of repercussions in Karl's home life (dunh!) but nothing positive in their pursuit of the mass-killing narcissist, The Truth Terrorist. The show has a lot of twists and turns through the ten episodes. And some weariness sets in until the final two episodes where the Terrorist is finally identified for sure, for sure and the denouement begins. I should mention that the show uses the natural home language of the speaker of the moment. Which means lots of English sub-titles for the action in France. Specifically, the police offices Elise attends every now and then (Have I mentioned yet she's a little OCD and a LOT functionally autistic, having absolutely no idea of how what she says can impact people, frequently grieving people? Guess not.). At the end, you are left wondering whether Karl's home life is irreparably damaged and whether a second go-around with Elise is in the cards. Or whether Elise might be interested in more play time with Karl's son, despite not understanding how that would effect Karl. Or whether there's another Chunnel-hopping madmen that needs stopping regardless of their feelings for each other. I hope there is.

10 Nothing Trivial New Zealand (LY - 14th)

I have memories, pleasant memories, of getting out to the local bar every week to play Trivia. Specifically, NTN Trivia. I played at a couple of different bars, frequently playing squarely against one of the best teams in North America, by the results. And my team, even when it was just me, held its own. I really, truly enjoyed the competition and the environment, despite the fact that I don't drink alcohol. Never have. And if the game had been available in somebody's home too, THAT's where I would have played the game. But the coming of the always-connected internet-aware phones really, really killed NTN Trivia nights for me. So, I stopped going. The Brampton Bumms were no more. I hadn't thought about those trivia nights in years until a few years back when I ran into this show from New Zealand. It's about pub quiz night and it's set in the current era. And it even addresses the issue of unscrupulous teams cheating. And because New Zealanders are every bit the polite people as Canadians, they don't cheat. Which means they all can enjoy a social night out, competition included. It's almost quaint. And it works for the team of Brian (Blair Strang), Emma (Debbie Newby-Ward), Michelle (Nicole Whippy), Catherine (Tandi Wright) and Mac (Shane Cortese). Over now three years, this fivesome have paired off, Brian and Emma, Catherine and Mac, Nicole and a succession of boyfriends, each running into bumps and outright roadblocks. The show isn't about pub quiz night, it's about five people living life as large as their circumstances permit. But this third season has been dark. Very dark. Rape intruded upon Michelle's life from an unexpected source, her psycho psychiatric therapist. And as soon as that horrible chapter in everybody's lives ends, the season ends with a thud. And I'm not just talking about the cancellation that leaves me wondering why oh why I invested in this series emotionally to such a degree. The answer is because it is was a good show, worthy of those minutes you spent watching it. (Sorry about having you find out this way, Brian. It's not coming back for a fourth season).

9 Brooklyn Nine-nine

On to something lighter, frothier and a helluva lot funnier. And a second show set in Brooklyn. Shows how mature I am that I don't blame the TV for the cheatin' Nets defeating my Toronto Raptors. How to describe Brooklyn Nine-Nine? It has the comic sensibilities of it's great grand-dad, Barney Miller. It has a lot of the slapstick features of uncle Get Smart. It's modern enough to treat homosexuality as a fact, like with distant cousin Modern Family. And it has attractive women. Works for me. The precinct police comedy has been around forever, but rarely this well done. Andre Braugher, the token black AND gay, runs the place with practiced patience and a guiding hand that reigns in the stunts of workplace clown Andy Samberg, playing Detective Jake Peralta. Even with tough as nails Sgt. Terry Jeffords (the always dependable Terry Crews), Peralta had turned the office into a playpen. Melissa Fumero's Det. Amy Santiago, a stick-up-her-butt butt-kisser was often the object of the play. Finding out she was actually competent and maybe even an eventual love interest wasn't something Peralta could figure out until Braugher as Captain Ray Holt, checked into the Dead End Job known as The Nine-Nine. And suddenly the place began to look like a precinct. Oh, most of the character caricatures still fumbled around, but there suddenly was a lot of promise in the squad. Peralta and Santiago were the stars, but nobody, criminals included, wanted to cross the tougher than REALLY TOUGH nails Det. Rosa Diaz, played with scary ferocity by Stephanie Beatriz. She seemed to have one crack in her hard exterior for Det. Charles Boyle, played with charm by Joe Lo Truglio. In the pilot, I was sure Boyle was nothing but an uber-clumsy bozo, strictly there for the slapstick and nothing more. Ooops. Turned out Boyle had a lot of layers to him and there's hope for Rosa/Charles still. Or maybe she just adopts him. Either way. Of course, the season ended on a cliff-hanger, with Peralta called up to a mysterious task force that leaves him missing from the Nine-Nine and unable to press his case for a future with Santiago. That might NOT be the most important facet of the change, but it is what it is … a setup for a second season of the best on-going network comedy, new or otherwise, this year.

8 Betas

Betas is a comedy. So how come Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets all the stellar judgements? Because Brooklyn Nine-Nine's coming back. And Betas isn't. Oh, and no network BROADCAST Betas. Yes, this is another Amazon production. And honestly, not many reading this will be interested in it. There was no reason whatsoever to expect Betas to have a second season. It was such an inside baseball series (Inside Baseball being a term to describe any subject that requires extensive niche knowledge) that when Amazon announced it was not going to be renewed, it hardly came as a surprise. So, the first season of Betas now stands as a stand-alone 10-episode mini-series. about start up companies in Silicon Valley. And I found it hilarious and even a bit informative. I failed when I started my own media company many decades ago and understood perfectly how things go south in this series from start to almost finish. The show got off to a slow start but then picked up steam (read, laughs) as the series went along. Four guys and a gal, Trey (Joe Dinicol), Nash (Karan Soni), Hobbes (Jon Daly), Mitchell (Charlie Sexton) and Mikki (Maya Erskine), have an idea and most of a plan. It's another social site/app and it has caught the eye of money-man George Murchison, played against type by Ed Begley Jr, who has ensconced the group into his incubator. That's a money and facilities setup that investors offer to get a piece of the end company. Most incubator ideas die still-born. Some perish quickly after the start. But the ones that hit, hit big. And that means money for everyone. But to get TO the money stage, the Betas have to produce a plan, a pack of other investors, a product and a demo day. At each stage, Murchison evaluates whether keeping spending money is worthwhile. He's rich and he's what the inside baseball people would call a douche-bag. Maybe even not that principled. It's tough to love a geek. But watching Betas might change your mind.

7 The Americans (LY - 8th)

Keri Russell's Elizabeth Jennings is one very, very scary woman. And hubby Philip (Matthew Rhys) has the stuff too, to snuff out lives almost weekly it seems. The Jennings are Russian sleeper agents at a time (the early eighties), when the Cold War was about to shrivel up, but was in its hey day. However, we knew all of that after last year's stellar first season for this show didn't we? So, how did The Americans get a boost up in year two? Well, complexities started to develop in the "who's scammin' who" relationship between FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and Russian Mata Hari Nina (Annet Mahendru). Was Beeman using Nina, wanting each and every last bit of information before dropping her? Or was he a man in love, willing to commit treason and do what it takes to steal away with the solution to his dissolving marriage? And was Nina still thinking of Stan as succor, or at the behest of new Soviet spy Oleg (Costa Ronin), tempting Stan into doing bad, bad things? Stan could represent safety for Nina's family in Russia and a new life in the decadent, and appealing, USA. For Oleg, played with playboy insouciance by Ronin, the Nina/Stan relationship COULD represent a coup for the newest member of the consulate brain trust. Or was all of this action being forced to a head generated by Oleg's own interest in being Nina's saviour? Of course, the whole year was not Stan and Nina all time. There was a couple of down turns as Paige (Holly Taylor) got caught up in religion, a taboo behaviour in Mom Elizabeth's eyes. Didn't help Paige's cause either when her supportive father caught her lying. Multiple times. That Philip didn't shoot the pastor who was Paige's spiritual guru, surprised the heck out of me. Still think it might happen. And of course, the other issue in the series was the lack of Margo Martindale in all but a few episodes. Martindale's Claudia actually hardly seemed her mommy dearest tough self. She seemed to CARE about the Jennings and the Connors, who's murders set the tone for a year-long mystery. Who killed the Connors and their daughter, agents all for the Russians? The answer closed out an exciting season.

6 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (LY - 2nd)

At it's best, The Daily Show was no worse than the second best show on TV this past year. But there's been some attrition in the supporting troops. John Oliver's departure to HBO and his own show (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) hurt a lot. Oliver showed he was ready to graduate, of course, guest-hosting for Stewart when he was off movie-making. But he's a featured player that hasn't been replaced yet. Jason Jones and Samantha Bee are still around, but they seemed to have topped out with their talent. Jessica Williams looks to be the go to up and comer now. Gratefully brought on to replace Olivia Munn (my annual mention of how disinterested I am in seeing her on my small screen), Williams also doubles now as the black voice. Well, the on-going voice. Larry Wilmore still trots out every now and then to calmly destroy whatever idiot racist idea that has reared its ugly idiot head. But Williams is out there most nights. The real missing part is Aasif Mandvi, although he does show up a bit these days. But mostly he's off doing the movie thing. Even writing one. Will Michael Che and Jordan Klepper bring back memories of Oliver and John Hodgman? Too soon to tell. And it's maybe the reason Stewart is taking more of the face-time than is usual. But how bad is that? He's still the best interviewer on TV. Viewers USUALLY get informed of something they didn't know. Or they just laugh. Cuz laughing is what the show is all about. And crying. Crying for the America that could be, but isn't because evil, stupid people still have too much say in the running of the country, from the President down to the local dog catcher. And when I say stupid, I mean idiot savants who's one talent is getting elected and/or getting into the public eye. I've got a list if you've got another hour to stay here reading. No? Okay. But in the meantime, keep watching Stewart to get your needed dose of the news. It surely isn't coming from any other news organization these days. And with that, I think I am going to cry myself to sleep.

5 Growing Up Fisher

Can J.K. Simmons do any wrong? If such a show exists, it certainly isn't this little spring series gem about the Family Fisher. Simmons' Mel heads the fractured Fisher clan, Mel having moved out to a bachelor pad after being divorced from his stuck in adolescence wife, played with the usual goofiness by Jenna Elfman. Oh, and Mel comes out as having been blind since puberty. Which comes as a surprise to all of his clients (he's a lawyer) and everybody outside of his family that knows him. It's a really sweet little comedy with a likable family with some quirks. As mentioned Mel's blind. And he loves both the perks and the occasional hurdles he has to overcome, being JUST a tad hyper-competitive. Like REALLY competitive. But always with heart, always with the underdog (unless it's a client) and always with his seeing-guide dog Elvis along for the ride. As mentioned, Jenny plays wife Joyce as barely older than daughter Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley). And here's the really nice thing. Katie isn't a horrible older sister to young Henry (Eli Baker). At least as narrator Jason Bateman retells it. Yes, this yet another descendant of the Wonder Years form of story-telling. But it works. Henry is just a kid. And like his dad, he seems to have a lot of heart and the goofy charm that he inherits from his mother. Even the background players appeal, with Lance Lim playing Henry's best friend Runyen, an oriental Fonz in the making. There's Isabela Moner as the light of Henry's life and Constance Zimmer as Alison, the patient, attractive neighbour who seemingly will hang with Mel despite whatever befalls them as they try to finish a first date. Several times. Simmons makes all this work with his believable portrayal of a blind man, one of the tougher acting roles there are. But the whole cast is just so darn likable that I will be mad the show got cancelled on their behalf. Grrrrrr!

4 White Collar (LY - 4th)

We have almost reached the end. The little manufactured nuclear family that is top FBI agent Peter (Tim DeKay), his wife (Tiffani Thiessen) and his surrogate son, the many-times convicted Neal Caffrey, played with charm and scamming in his heart by Matthew Bomer, have run out of caper stories to retell. Oh, but what a run it's been. A little mini-season that starts soon will run out the string, but barring some unforeseen disaster, White Collar stayed on top of its game til the end. Sure, there was no Hilarie Burton and too little of Marsha Thomason, with baby-making interfering. But Bridget Regan stepped in to become a major force, for good and bad, in Neal's life. Ahhhh, the dreaded femme fatale. Neal spent a LOT of time doing the good work of the FBI after making sure Peter was clear of last year's murder charge cliff-hanger. Then it was all about getting out from under Curtis Hagen (Mark Sheppard), seemingly with the help of Regan's Rebecca Lowe, or whatever her name was. All the while, Peter was struggling with leaving Neal behind as he and Elizabeth were pondering the move to Washington DC. Of course, to the rescue came Mozzie, the beloved best friend and einstein between bouts of paranoia, played by Willie Garson. Too bad he exited stage left just before Neal got snatched in the season's cliff-hanger. A satisfying season for White Collar with some pretty good puzzles to solve, thanks to Rebecca. The showdown at the fort was a major highlight.

3 Orphan Black Canadian/British (LY - 18)

Can a show drown in hype? I had that fear about Orphan Black which got discovered en masse last year (after I wrote about it, sniff, sniff), mostly due to Tatiana Maslany's incredible ability to play multiple roles, many of which were in the same scene. I didn't comment on that in my mini-review a year ago and I'm disappointed in myself for that. Maslany was great. But without the wizardry of the director and the head of cinematography for the show, the experience would simply not have been the same. Now, older (indeed 366 days older) and wiser (I've seen a special or two), I'm prepared to anoint the production crew of Orphan Black the greatest ever. Some of the camera tricks, despite me knowing the craft behind the magic, were spectacular. Now, was the show itself worthy of all the press? In a word, yes! Maslany added a few more clones to play, but the second series did focus in on the core three clones. Well, four when you include the scenes devoted to wacko Bulgarian clone Helena. Her scenes, mostly in an equally wacko religious sect headquarters, were all a waste of time. The core three of Beth, Alison and Cosima had a story to live through. Cancer-stricken Cosima needed the help of her 'sisters' to help find and then procure the cure for her special strain of problem. That left Beth and Alison to do the heavy lifting, even though Beth ran into a transgendered BROTHER clone Tony and Alison had a small problem with too many people (we're including hubby here) finding out about her murderous recent past. All along, we had Beth's daughter proving she might be the brightest of the lot. Always there to be a brave little girl and having the right word, the right code, the right whatever to move the plot along. Skyler Wexler did an excellent job as young Kira. It was quite the effective stew until the showdown at the end between Beth and evil fellow clone Rachel Duncan. I can just see One-Eyed Rachel being next year's big bad, even as we've had two seasons of Rachel being a big bad in the making, operating mostly from the shadows in the first season. I am really looking forward to what the creative team does for season three.

2 The Musketeers British

When I was old enough to appreciate the charms of Racquel Welch, she appeared in The Three Musketeers, a movie adaption of a particularly loved novel. I had probably re-read Alexandre Dumas's classic three times by the time the movie came out. I, to this day, love anything with the Three Musketeers of Dumas fame. And that includes this ten episode BBC series from England. You all know how the story goes. D'Artagnan decides to join up with the Musketeers, stumbling onto Athos, Porthos and Aramis on the way to Paris. There are the usual mis-communications in the meet-cute, which are all dealt with in short order. Once in Paris, the blue-clad Musketeers and D'Artagnan find themselves doing frequent battle with the Cardinal's Guards, the red-clad personal force of one of history's ultimate villains, Cardinal Richelieu. The Cardinal has always been played as deliciously evil and power-hungry. Frequently taking moments to work with twirling his mustache and stroking his beard. Signposts of villainy all. But in this series, we have none of the gloss and panache of previous movies and TV moments. The colours are muted, the scenery a muddy brown when it isn't grey. The Guard's wear red, but it's hardly fine livery. The Musketeers favour blue, but can be found in black or brown just as easily. Paris LOOKS like 17th century Paris, including the palace, which regardless of time and place, looks incredible. Which brings me to the ladies of the show, including Queen Anne played by Alexandra Dowling and D'Artagnan's friend, the unfortunately married Constance played by Tamla Kari. In both cases, the ladies frequently remind you of the phrase, “Heaving breasts.” The corsetry does wonders with the very beautiful women. The foppish king Louis played by Ryan Gage is mercurial at best, sometimes dangerously so. And Peter Capaldi, the future Dr. Who, plays Richelieu as almost more of a patriot then a really bad guy. At least for the first half of the series. He falls back into master manipulator after that, which brings me some comfort, and I hope he'll be back in the second series of the show. What about the four gentlemen at the lead of the show? Luke Pasqualino plays D'Artagnan as a callow, but willing, youth who matures greatly over the episodes, as he should. Athos (Tom Burke), Porthos (Howard Charles), and Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) are more than good actors voicing French characters in British accents. The decision to have a black actor (Charles) play Porthos and have his slave heritage worked into the story gave the series depth. Burke's Athos is very complex and serves as the captain in waiting for the group. Aramis is the playboy, who suffers greatly in one episode for being so. Look, I love the Three Musketeers, good or bad. Luckily for you, this is GOOD Musketeers.

1 The Good Wife (LY - 10th)

So we come to the end of this long, long post. The best show on TV this last year was The Good Wife, taking the throne for the second time in four years. The first half of the season was spectacular. Then came an incredible change of course that everybody, including the writers, had a bit of a problem handling. So, the last few stories were a bit of a drop off. But wow, the level of the second half might STILL have been good enough to win The Good Wife the top award. If I'd known Michael Fox was going to make a return to the show as sneaky, snake in the grass litigator Louis Canning for a long run, I'd have been rhapsodic. And his run was almost the least of what went right on the show. What went right initially was the splitting of the Lockhart, Gardner firm by the departures of the third-years, helmed by Alicia Florek (Julianna Margulies) and Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) to form their own firm. This had the effect of melting Josh Charles' Will Gardner's mind. He actually turned heel, if not outright villain. Suddenly, the BAD guys in Chicago were the good guys we rooted for over the previous four years. Wow! The scene of Will sweeping his desk of everything in rage brought on by learning of Alicia's duplicity, was one of the most powerful moments of the year. That set the stage for LG (the newly named Lockhart, Gardner) now to do all out battle with Florek, Agos in court. Above board and frequently below. It was theatre of the highest art. Then it all came crashing down in a courtroom with a kid who shouldn't have been there, an inattentive guard and his gun. A life snuffed out, a war ended by the intrusion of violence, not common sense. Will lay dead in the courtroom and then in the hospital. Two episodes where all the characters had to confront their feelings about Will (and the producers had to point out in several media sources, that Charles was the one who wanted to end his run in the show. It got to the point where Charles had to issue a letter. All to becalm a viewing public that was calling for heads!). Then it was back to lawyering and politicking. Eric Bogosian came in, playing slimy Nelson Dubeck, to go head-hunting in the vote-fixing scandal. He was hunting big game. And while he sniped from the periphery, Canning showed up to become the new Will Gardner. Too much too soon for Diane Lockhart. It quickly became her and Kalinda (still wonderful Archie Punjabi) against the assembled force of Canning and scumbucket David Lee (the always great Zach Grenier). Meanwhile Alicia was becoming more and more disengaged with the law and her new firm. Leading to an explosive final cliff-hanger for the year. Wow, again. Hmmm, what did I overlook here? Oh yeah, there was the season-long (or thereabouts) NSA surveillance on the lawyers. And their Alice in Wonderland attempts to halt it. Appearances from old faves. Yep, this was the best show of the year. And it wasn't even close.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


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It's done. Murdered by their own hands. Firefox is no longer a recommended product, it is a useless shell of make-work programming that used to be the go-to web browser for any computer user who wasn't stupid enough to trust Internet Explorer, the leading security sinkhole of all time.

But it doesn't matter how locked up Firefox became, the fact is, it has to be usable to be an option in the competitive world of web browsers. And with the release of Firefox 29 and it's supposedly spiffy new Australis interface, Firefox has become that most useless of all things, a boondoggle that takes so much time to get UP to being functional, that you realize later, the cost in time was simply too much.

And that's what Firefox's become for me. I HAD to spend the time because EVERYBODY who I deal with uses it. It's a REQUIREMENT. I would add in mandatory add-ins like NoScript, NoSquint and even, reluctantly, ran the AdBlock series of add-ins. Advertising drives the internet, but, as an end user, I had to do SOMETHING to stem the in-your-face blinking, burping, bollixing world of warcraft that had become Advertising. There were other add-ins that ended up being mandatory, including ones that made my HUUUUUGE store of Bookmarks available and accessible quickly. Add-ins to manage the tabbed interface where I would have literally HUNDREDS of pages loaded at once. The high was 348 pages.

I used Firefox like somebody uses an old jalopy that they restore and keep running because it's comfortable, works fine without all the dross and eye-candy that dominates THAT industry and becomes DEPENDABLE. I WORKED at (my) Firefox. And passed on that knowledge to my users like any good mechanic would.

And then I didn't. I actually stopped using Firefox. Not all at once. I DID switch over to a variant of Firefox called Pale Moon. It retained the 'old' Firefox interface even as Mozilla was making changes for change's sake. It seemed to run meaner and leaner and had a 64-bit version to fully use my 12G of memory waaaay better than Firefox would.

But even though I was coming to depend on Pale Moon, I still ran Firefox as my default browser. Why? Because I could lock it up tighter than a drum. Nothing 'accidental' was going to get by me when a program, maybe without my knowledge or okay, decided to fire up the web-browser and load up a page. Not in a day and time where JUST VISITING a web-site could lead to an infection. A BAD infection. So Firefox served a purpose. And I was actually running THREE web-browsers at the time, having a session of Google Chrome running all the time to access Google's apps, GMail in particular. I ran THAT one wide-open, but generally wouldn't use it for anyplace BUT a Google place. And TheFanSports590's on-line player. And Geekbeat.TV. And ... well, it's grown a bit. BUT I'M A PALE MOON GUY. So three active web-browsers it was.

There's no computer version of BFF. Doesn't happen. I'm on my seventh anti-virus program. Fifth firewall program, unless you don't count going back to the second one as the fifth. My file manager allegiance has switched four times. And heck, I was originally an APPLE guy. With published articles to prove it. I had a four-digit serial number. But one day, a Bridge partner and I had to drop by his office after a game to pick up some work he'd left there. I noticed a computer serving as a doorstop and inquired as to why a 15,000 dollar piece of equipment was just sitting there. Turns out that the accountant had a habit of destroying the computer after each use by deleting the whole operating system on the floppy drive. Every time. So, to help my friend out, I got a book and started reading. And I have kept about three pages ahead since then. No more. Sometimes a bit less. But you only actually have to be one page ahead to call yourself a computer consultant. True story.

I UNDERSTAND why things changed, although not why they changed so drastically not for the better, with Firefox. If you are a programmer who has developed the perfectly fine working part of the program you are responsible for, say the tabs at the top of the screen (or the bottom, if you are so inclined). What happens when the boss asks innocently, "Why am I paying you to sit around and admire your past work?" Erk! So, you invent some work. You want to PRETTIFY things, SIMPLIFY things. Which takes work. And many, many weeks of pay cheques. Out of that simple survival instinct, has a tombstone marker been erected.

This morning, I gave Firefox 29.01 one last try. Spent some time with Classic Theme Restorer. Nope. Didn't mix well. And it didn't succeed anyways. It couldn't do away with Firefox's "dumber than a Republican Tea Party get-together" devotion to a Chrome one-button-does-it-all hamburger menu. Chrome's weakness HAS been it's "everything through a single button" approach. DOES. NOT. WORK. Maybe for the great unwashed who never do anything but load one tab at a time, look at it and use Google to go on to the next page to look at. Firefox even uses the same three-line icon now. Google would sue, but why waste your time when it's become a universal symbol of Firefox's self-immolation? Firefox was pronounced dead to me today at 8:22 am.

So, where does that leave me and my users? I'm switching my professional responsibilities to Pale Moon. I feel genuinely hopeful that the developer of Pale Moon, who only goes by a nickname, will continue to integrate new Mozilla security improvements, while maintaining the look and feel of a successful product. I'm less hopeful, but not pessimistic, that add-ins will continue to work in Pale Moon to further create a secure web-browser. THAT will eventually pass because there isn't going to be anything new to trust to work in Pale Moon. Might. Might not. But the creative end of add-ins vis a vis Pale Moon is now at a creative dead end. But Pale Moon it is, although I know I will be able to continue to use a standalone Google Chrome browser to do my email and some stuff at sites I trust.

And I will now start looking at customizing a full-blown Chrome version to see what I can do to meet the old obligations I left Firefox to shoulder. All this trusting of Google doesn't come easy. The company's customer support is the worst in the industry and has been for years. The debacle over the killing of Google Reader still rankles a year later. And Reader wasn't the only project Google killed, orphaning trusting users right and left. But you have to put your money somewhere, and Google seems to have enough programmers trying to do the right thing, that I now recommend Google Chrome as the web-browser you should choose if you don't have immediate access to a computer guy. (I MIGHT be asleep, after all). There'll be needed add-ins of course, including the Chrome versions of NoScript, NoSquint, Adblock, ReminderFox, Flash Block, FlagFox, ffChrome (yeah, ffCHROME!), ForecastFox, and, and, and, etc. But I hope to get there over time.

But now is the time for us to mourn Firefox. It was a good run, more than a decade, which is 20 GENERATIONS in computer years. But it's gone. Killed by programmers with nothing to do but to kill what I loved. R.I.P.

Okay, mourning done. Firefox is dead to me and I've got to get ahead by a page when it comes to Chrome.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

SPORTS: Take My March Madness Sheet! Please!!

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Well, it's THAT time again, the two weeks of the year known as The Christmas of the Basketball Junkies. Others call it March Madness. And still others refer to it as vaguely something like March Break. To me ... Nirvana.

Okay, let's get the suspense out of the way. The story breaks at the Final Four that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has had it with recruiting (story's old news, thanks to Sports Illustrated and a friendly leak). So, the Spartans win one last final game for Izzo, spoiling the rest of the super terrific story line, the heretofore unbeaten season of the Wichita State Shockers. There'll be enough tears to end any fears of a drought in North Texas this year.

I'd be entering into Warren Buffet's Billion Dollar pool, but that's not open, apparently, to Canadians since isn't willing to take on my address. So, feel free to filch this sheet and make your billions in the second oldest way you can. Send me a taste of the winnings, if you have a conscious. No? I'd probably forget too.

Alright, the now famous Mugford Rules for March Madness (Patent Pending) get plenty of play here. Never bet against Tom Izzo. Check. Experienced backcourt and at least one rebounding horse. Check and double check. Always bet against Jim Boeheim early. While I didn't have the stones to call for a first-round exit, I'll be expecting Ohio State to do the deed on the weekend in game two for the Orange. Too short a rotation, not enough shooting from Frank Cooney. And really, I wouldn't be shocked if Western Michigan puts western New York out of their collective misery in the opening tilt.

So what upsets beyond Syracuse-Ohio State do I have on tap. Well, the requisite two number nines advance as Oklahoma State continues to prove the Selection Committee had SERIOUS brain cramps and Pittsburgh wins a battle of average teams with Colorado. 'Cept Colorado's average came BEFORE Spencer Dinwiddie was hurt before Christmas. Need a 5-12 upset. You should. How about THREE? S.F. Austin beats VCU in an all-Havoc battle by holding onto the ball better, Harvard does Canada proud (Laurent Rivard et al) and stops Cincinnati despite Sean Kilpatrick, and whoever wins the First Four battle between Xavier and North Carolina State (Xavier) will beat the very over-seeded Saint Louis Billikens. Another First Four winner, Iowa (having dispatched Tennessee) will stop Chaz Williams and the Minutement of UMass. And lastly, the opening round will see yet one more double-figure seed move on when Arizona State knocks off Texas.

Pretty interesting first round. Seven upsets in all. Enjoy it while it lasts. As usual, it's chalk for the weekend (unless you wear Orange). In fact, Michigan State will later hand three number one seeds losses in three straight games, doing the deed to Virginia and Florida before stopping the Shockers (71-68 if you were wondering). It will be a great game with none of the mass group hate for the Shockers like happened to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years back.

Other than the aforementioned Syracuse second-round dive, the only other upset will be in the West final when Wisconsin takes the measure of Arizona.

Chalk and lots of it. But LOTS of great games. The action in the West will be legendary. Dougie McBuckets will make Wisconsin sweat aplenty before the Badgers beat the Bluejays. I really, really wanted to have Creighton make the Final Four. And you know, if I had a buck to wager on a long, long shot, it would probably go on Oregon. The Wiggins story in Kansas survives a BIG scare in the first round to Eastern Kentucky but then runs acropper in the South final ... AFTER Joel Embiid returns. Go figure. Not much to say about the East. Finally, the Midwest gauntlet for Wichita State will only make THAT story better. Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan and then Wisconsin. If I should be wrong somehow, and Wichita State pulls off the 40-0 season, all future committees will be barred from including such major conference fodder as the NC State Wolfpack at the expense of mid-majors. Heck, I would have vastly preferred seeing the Green Bay Phoenix in the NCAA's in place of NC State, Iowa and Tennessee. (so would Saint Louis and UMass). But after Butler's back to backs, after VCU and George Mason, after Steph Curry's Davidson, after Gonzaga's yearly shoving it in the majors' faces, it's time to demand representation from the little guys with big dreams. No more than four teams from any league. Stamp it.

In the meantime, a fond farewll to Tom Izzo. Off to the Knicks or somesuch place to cash huge cheques and put the home visits and the cozying up to street agents and high school demagogues behind. Don't get me wrong, he'll discover Carmelo Anthony and the ilk aren't any bed of roses. And the chicken dinner circuit still requires an undiscerning palette. But he's decided it's time. And who am I to argue?

FINAL FRIVOLITY: Apparently, the odds of taking the field against a specific number of teams for a 50-50 bet is five teams. Me, I'd take Michigan State, Wichita State, Louisville,  Wisconsin and Kansas. Which side of the bet do YOU want to be on?

Thursday, January 09, 2014


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We are in that period of time called Navel Gazing. It is the time of year when baseball fans and baseball writers gather together to torture themselves about how to acquit themselves in the serious business of electing Baseball Hall of Fame members. It's no longer a case of whether so and so had a Hall of Fame career. But did he do it cleanly? That's the question, frequently without legal affirmation, that causes all the Navel Gazing.

The Hall of Fame will not be inducing Jack Morris next summer. He'll have to wait (probably) three more years to gain the honour when the Vets Committee will correct the (incomprehensible to me) the decision by the Baseball Writers Association of America to exclude him. The issue with some of these over-seers is a reliance on some hoary old statistics, most specifically his ERA. ERA is one of those easy to figure out numbers that SORT of correlate to what the eye sees. And Jack's ERA was too high for the doyens to avoid sniffing. The nose over-ruled the eyes, which saw a dominant career with a never-to-forget cap in a World Series. So he's out until the guys that played the game can put him in.

Another reason Jack didn't make the Hall, indeed he had an unprecedented DROP in support in this, his final year of BBWAA determined eligibility, was that the field had been fractured over the last few years by whether the individual voters would vote in suspected (and/or proven) PED users or not. This brought a well-head together this year of players with Hall of Fame numbers and brand new eligible players who also had the same. By one count, there were 17 players with Hall of Fame playing credentials on the ballot.

With a limit of 10 names per ballot.

Some players would HAVE to be left off. To some, the sheer need to continue backing their particular point of view required them to continue voting their own ethical agenda. Which, in some cases, let Morris acquire votes, as he had been steadily doing over the last few years. In the reverse, it left no room for Morris because newly eligible candidates did have more Hall-worthy careers than Morris, as did many of the suspected PED users. There is no reason to romanticize Morris' career and fluff it up here. He was a dominant pitcher for a decade and a highlight World Series video. But he wasn't as good as Greg Maddux. There is no shame in admitting that.

Bryan Curtis has written a marvelous and thorough piece at Grantland detailing the history of the PED era as it pertains to the writers chronicling it. It's must read journalism for baseball fans, journalists and the guys who study ethics all their lives at university. It names names, gives credit, shows the inertia of an entire industry to clean up its own backyard and allows some writers to plead mea culpa. In some cases, when given the opportunity, the writer plows on ahead and denies any responsibility. Won't read some writer's work any more, after reading the piece.

Which brings me to stating my opinion.

Willie Mays was my favourite baseball player. He used amphetamines. Most everybody did during the latter stages of his career. Bowls of bennies like candy were to be found around many a professional sports locker room in those days. And Mays, reportedly, was amongst the users. It pains me to write that. I know the Say Hey Kid was mortal, had weaknesses. It's dinged up that statue on the big pedestal that I placed him on. A little. Not enough to knock him off. But I can see the cracks. It hurts. Understand that.

Having said that, I am in the camp that would keep the SOB's who cheated with PEDs out of the Hall of Fame. I have no problem keeping them in the company of Pete Rose. I still feel Shoeless Joe Jackson was a different case, but that's a different blog completely. Rose broke the rules. No, Rose broke THE rule in baseball. Willfully and without apparent remorse. Repeatedly. He deserves to be banned.

Here's where I walk the fine line between allowing Willie Mays into the Hall of Fame and keeping his god-son Barry Bonds out. The amphetamines were available to all, in their time as the drug of choice. It was a time when clubs aided and abetted their use. No player was given undue advantage OR UNDUE DISADVANTAGE because of them. The bennies were used to help a player through the drudgery of a 154-game season, of having to perform at a high level for six months with barely 24 days of supposed rest and vacation during that time. Now, whether you think the drudgery excuse stands up the first week of the season (it doesn't) or not, is not germane. it was a level playing field.

What the Spotlight Five did was hare off to bathroom stalls and hotel rooms to do their drug work. By doing so, they were doing what the others of their ilk did. Hide their drug use. They were ashamed to admit to doing it, by doing it out in the open. And as such, I will accept their behaviour as their personal statement of their career. This is a Hall of Fame, not a Hall of Shame.

So keep the PED SOB's out.

Now, that allows me to smile while personally off-putting personalities like Bonds and Clemens are denied the ultimate reward for their sport. But it pains me when a generally good guy like Mark McGwire is hoisted on the same petard. He's also somebody who I don't believe actually DID have a Hall of Fame career. Not if Roger Maris didn't. Not if Paul Henderson hasn't made the Hockey Hall of Fame. One game, one year, does not a Hall of Fame career make. And McGwire didn't have Hall of Fame stats, when you discount the then Bombs record. But a helluva guy. I dismiss Sosa as a steroid-created candidate and Palmiero probably wasn't as heavily involved as others, but he'll never live down the shame of lying before Congress. Stupidity has a price.

I've heard many others opine that you must treat the PED era as a measuring stick for the PED players. That too many players were also using and, as such, you compare Clemens and Bonds to those players, rather than to the players down through history. It's a logical fallacy, Just as I ASSUME from reports that certain players were drug-fuelled, so do the supporters of this notion ASSUME Jose Canseco was right and that 80 percent of players were using during that time. Well, Canseco has occasionally puffed up his reputation (not to mention his body) and I'd call that number into dispute. But EVEN if that number was right, the players were cheating the game, themselves, the fans ... and AT LEAST 20 percent of their peers. Curtis' piece makes no bones of how frustrated some of the clean players were with their drugged up teammates and opponents.

And finally, the reason  the PED Five should be kept out. By using and succeeding, they forced their peers to make a decision. To risk health and maybe even sanity, to level out the playing field by adopting the drug regimes. Mark McGwire's success in transforming his body during Tony LaRussa's See-No-Evil regime in Oakland certainly had SOMETHING to do with Ken Caminiti's decision to hulk out later. That would be the LATE Ken Caminiti.

Oh, final reason part two. Jack Morris wasn't elected.