The following post contains spoilers from fifth season of Orange Is the New Black.
My Netflix viewing habits are weird. When I first subscribed, I was fully subscribed to the idea of “binge watching” that has been made popular by the increased accessibility of TV shows in the Internet Age, but I drifted away from that method and made a conscious effort to savor watch shows more often. Save some for later, I thought. I did not want to burn through a season in a weekend and then have to wait a year for more.
In the age of Peak TV, or more aptly, the Age of So Much TV Compared to So Few Hours in the Day, there is no right or wrong way to watch. The shows you like will always be there, unless they leave your preferred platform and you find yourself racing against the clock like I currently am with Futurama. Last year, I had a bachelor party to go to in Maine the weekend Netflix dropped Season Four of Orange Is the New Black, so the pressure to finish it was off to finish it right away, and I took my time with the season.
I did not end up finishing Season Four of OITNB until the week before the fifth season dropped on Netflix, and I am glad I did not have to wait a year based on the way the fourth season ended. After the COs, under the command of captain of the guard Desi Piscatella (played by former Denver Broncos defensive lineman Brad William Henke), reacted violently to a peaceful protest, and killing Poussey Washington (played by Samira Wiley), a nonviolent and universally liked inmate, in the process. Had I binged Season Four, I would be waiting a year with the prison on the verge of riot, with an inmate pointing a gun at a corrections officer.
The events that concluded Season Four set up a Season Five that spanned only a couple of days, as the inmates rose up, took the COs as their hostages and in an effort led by Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks), attempted to negotiate for justice and better living conditions at Litchfield. After eight or nine episodes, I had a warm fuzzy feeling that change might actually get accomplished. Things were looking up, but then I remembered: Wait, there are still five episodes left. This won’t end well. There was too much time left on the clock and Taystee was playing the negotiations as aggressively as the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of Super Bowl LI. Also this show is grounded in reality, and in this reality, there has never been a prison riot that changed the world for the better.
One peculiar thing about the way we watch TV these days is that it’s hard to tell when to talk about it. When there were only three networks, everyone was watching at the same time. In my early college years, you had to give 12 hours to allow people to catch up on Hulu in case they went out the night before and missed Community, or The Office, or 30 Rock, or Parks and Recreation (RIP NBC’s last great Thursday night comedy lineup). My friends and I would usually make a point to watch the Thursday night NBC shows online between classes Friday morning so we could talk about them at lunch. Now, it’s chaos. There are network shows, cable shows, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Seeso, and probably a dozen other platforms I’ve never heard of. All of it is available at the same time, and if you do have friends or co-workers who watch the same shows as you, they’re probably not on the same viewing schedule as you. Stay off Twitter. Stay off Reddit. Stay off everything until you finish.
My favorite dramatic television series of all time is HBO’s The Wire. For better or for worse, I use The Wire as context in my head for pretty much any drama show I watch. Game of Thrones is basically The Wire, but in a realm with dragons and magic. The moral ambiguity and lack of a true protagonist also helps my case against accusations of oversimplification. OITNB is a lot closer to The Wire because it takes place in the present in the United States of America, was inspired by a bestselling work of nonfiction, and both shows say a lot about the country as a whole, not just one prison or city. What The Wire did for illustrating the problems with the War on Drugs from all the points of view involved, OITNB is doing now for one of its byproducts, the Prison Industrial Complex.
What impressed me about The Wire is that there were no wasted characters, and at the end of the final season, the viewer had closure–not satisfaction, but closure–with every interesting personality who came on screen, and it felt like a good stopping place, even though the world did not end and nothing really got fixed. It all came full circle, and that was the point.
As I was watching Season Five, I was talking about it with my friend Ally via Facebook Chat. We went back and forth exchanging comments about the show, frequently announcing how many episodes we had seen, in an attempt to not spoil anything. At one point, Ally expressed how upsetting it was that Poussey was the one to die. Why couldn’t it have been Brooke? Poussey was a universally liked character within the walls of the prison, and made a star out of Samira Wiley. Even characters like Kate Mulgrew’s Galina “Red” Reznikov and Dale Soules’ Frieda Berlin, two of the toughest, most cunning inmates on the show, were visually broken up about Poussey’s death. That was the point.
Unlike Game of Thrones, OITNB does not kill of most of its characters–at least not yet–but the system of narrative justice is every bit as cruel as what George R.R. Martin might have written. While not as heavy-handed as valuing honor more than life itself, compromising honor to save your daughter’s life, only to be executed with your own sword for confessing to a crime you did not commit, Poussey’s story is written in a similar spirit. Any inmate could have been killed in the peaceful protest, but the fact that it was Poussey made it particularly tragic. She was too violent for West Point, yet too peaceful for prison. On top of all that, Poussey was the prison’s librarian. Nobody would have gotten a bigger kick out of this terrible tragedy than Poussey Washington the literary buff.
On the other side of the coin, the brand of justice that is served to Piscatella is not nearly as satisfying as I would have hoped. It seemed that the same judicial system that came down hard on the inmates would also go out of its way to protect Piscatella. He was protected by his uniform, but he was just as bad as, if not worse than, any inmate in that prison. Instead, before he could be investigated, before he had to answer for the revelations of torture and draconian disciplinary measures, he was shot by a trigger-happy squad clearing out the prison at the end of the riot. It goes both ways. I wanted justice for the inmates, but I also wanted Piscatella to get what was coming to him, but the irony of reality would not allow for it, and that was the point.
I don’t know what the show does going forward. I am sure Season Six will be really good, but I don’t know how it can top what happened in Season Five. This was the most impressive season of Netflix-original television, and I did not think I would feel that way about a fifth season of any show. Now the long wait begins.
Warning: this column contains spoilers from all three seasons of the Netflix original series Bojack Horseman, though I did try my best not to give away too much, as I would like for more people to see it if they haven’t already.
I love TV, and I think this is the best time in the history of the medium to be a TV viewer, but I thought I was done having a favorite show that I was obsessed with on the level that I was when I was a little younger. It’s a similar kind of identity crisis I have written about with being a Red Sox fan post-2004. After a certain point in life, no new show can hold my attention and my obsession the way Community did or the way The Wire did and no late night talk show will ever be such a singular source for news satire the way The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was in 2008 and 2009. There is more TV in 2016 than there ever has been before, and shows from decades ago are more accessible than ever before, and while that is a good thing, it’s also overwhelming to try and keep up with it all. When Community wrapped their sixth, Yahoo!-revived, and final season (still waiting on the movie) a few months after Parks and Recreation‘s series finale aired on NBC, I thought I was done having a favorite show in the traditional sense. I thought I was passed being obsessed with Easter eggs and episode-by-episode Reddit threads. Like having the Red Sox win the World Series when I was fourteen, while older New Englanders said things like “now I can die in peace” and absolutely mean it, I was ready to transition into this next phase of watching TV without getting too invested… then Bojack Horseman happened.
As I’ve written about before, Community was the right show at the right moment for me in 2009, as I was transferring to a new college and there was this new show starring comedy legend Chevy Chase and That British Guy From The Daily Show (this was a good five years before John Oliver was a household name). The pilot episode aired a couple weeks after John Hughes died, and coincidentally, was loaded with references to The Breakfast Club, and it resonated so well with my own sense of humor that I started to think Dan Harmon created the show just for me. It was exactly what I needed out of a network sitcom at that point in my life, and I got to see a bunch of rising stars (Oliver, Joel McHale, Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Donald Glover, and Ken Jeong) rise over the seasons that followed. With Bojack, the stars were more established (Will Arnett from Arrested Development, Alison Brie from Community and Mad Men, Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad, etc.), but it was the perfect show for where I was in 2014. Netflix dropped the first season into the world the summer before I went back to college after a year and a half hiatus, and right after Robin Williams killed himself. I know television production doesn’t work this way, but it almost felt like the universe knew the world would need this show in the summer of 2014 before the summer of 2014 even happened.
On the surface, Bojack Horseman is a ridiculous premise that is really hard to explain to people at parties the way my friends would talk about Breaking Bad or Orange Is the New Black or Silicon Valley. Yes, it’s an animated show about a world where there are talking animals who interact with people and nobody really questions it, but that’s not the point. Yes, it’s too clever for it’s own good, and in every scene there are going to be a few things you miss the first time around. Yes, it looks like The Simpsons and SpongeBob Squarepants merged cinematic universes, but at the same time it’s more grounded than any animated show in history. At times I’m not sure it’s a comedy, like when shows like M*A*S*H and Cheers would go minutes at a time without making a joke, because at the end of the day, they were shows about characters the audience cared about and that mattered more than the beats and patterns of jokes leading to a commercial break to sell the ad space that kept the show on the air. Netflix shows have the luxury of not cutting to commercial, but unlike House of Cards, Bojack does not feel like it was created in a lab, based on an algorithm to bring fans of early 90s BBC drama, David Fincher, and Kevin Spacey together in one cynical, nihilistic juggernaut.
What I thought was going to be a fun show full of animal puns and show business references, like some sort of Arthur/30 Rock hybrid, ended up being an Arthur/30 Rock hybrid that also expressed the way we as a society view celebrities, success, and happiness in a very believable and insightful way. The show is centered around Bojack Horseman, a has-been sitcom dad from the 80s and 90s (think Ray Romano or Bob Saget) who was financially successful, but was perceived as a failure for years for not being constantly on TV since his show ended. When he does achieve critical acclaim, whether for his bestselling memoir in the first season, or for his portrayal of Secretiariat in the definitive biopic of the Steve Prefontaine/Muhammad Ali/Carl Lewis type star athlete of that universe, it doesn’t make him any happier. If anything, he’s more depressed the more the public thinks he’s great. When Robin Williams died, I wrote that while I would have loved to have the creative genius of someone like Robin, or Hunter S. Thompson, or David Foster Wallace, I would have to think twice about the personal demons that come with such greatness. Seeing Bojack struggle when the world seems to think he has it made was refreshing in the way it was portrayed.
On the other end of the spectrum, we see a foil to Bojack’s misery in the form of a talking dog named Mr. Peanutbutter, voiced by the great Paul F. Tompkins. While Bojack is known for an old sitcom called Horsin’ Around about a bachelor horse who adopts three human orphan children, Mr. Peanutbutter starred in a weirdly similar sitcom about a bachelor dog who adopts orphan humans called Mr. Peanutbutter’s House, that was created by David Chase and Steven Bochco, and a really catchy theme song. While Bojack wallows in self pity, constantly insecure with himself and his fame, Mr. Peanutbutter is happy-go-lucky and well adjusted, and Bojack resents him for it. For the audience, whenever things get too dark for Bojack, Mr. Peanutbutter is there to lighten things up and remind us that we clicked on this animated show to be able to laugh in the first place, but his antics are not presented in a tacky way.
The show boasts a recurring voice cast that’s as strong as any animated show out there. Stenley Tucci voices Herb Kazzaz, the creator of Horsin’ Around and Bojack’s former mentor and best friend. Stephen Colbert voices a talking frog who owns the Hollywoo talent agency that represents both Bojack and Mr. Peanutbutter. Kristen Schaal voices Sarah Lynn, Bojack’s TV daughter whose career took a Miley Cyrus-like trajectory from child star to pop sensation. Keith Olbermann voices Tom Jumbo-Grumbo, the bombastic cable news anchor who happens to be a whale, in a hilariously self-deprecating, self-aware performance that fundamentally changes the way I see Keith Olbermann. Just to name a few.
My favorite episode so far came in Season Three, entitled “Fish Out of Water,” when Bojack went to a film festival in an underwater city. There is almost no dialogue, and the underwater aesthetic looks very different from anything else the show has done to this point. The story of the episode is a bit of Lost in Translation meets SpongeBob Squarepants with the episode of Arthur when Arthur missed his bus stop mixed in. Without giving too much away, that episode showed all of the things that makes this show great while simultaneously being completely different from everything the show has done before or since. It’s just another misadventure in the human (or horse?) experience, and we are nothing more than the things we do and the connections we make. Every day, people try, but even if they succeed, happiness is no guarantee, but you still should try.
I’ve only scratched the surface on my thoughts on this, weird, quirky, clever, wonderful show, and it’s weird to me that even though I finished the most recent season a few weeks ago, I’m still thinking about it all the time. That’s unusual for a Netflix show, and it’s unusual for any show these days. I have to give credit to Raphael Bob-Waksberg for creating something like this. I didn’t know this was something I wanted, and now I’m not sure where I’d be without it. Then again, what do I know? Do I know things? Let’s find out.
I have lived in New England my entire life, and always took for granted that Red Sox Nation was as staunch a region for baseball fandom as you will find anywhere in North America. The 86 year stretch without winning the World Series gave Red Sox fans an identity, a shared suffering that was passed from one generation to the next. Another city had longer title droughts, but Chicago’s baseball misery was diluted by having two teams (the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 for the first time since 1917 but that was never talked about nearly as much as the Red Sox, let alone the Cubs who still have not won since 1908), and the fact that they ChiSox and Cubs never came as close nearly as many times as Boston did. Winning it all in 2004 was great. For me, that first World Series win will always be the highlight of my sports fandom. Nothing will ever top that American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Red Sox. Nothing. Boston teams can win as many championships as they want, and nothing will top 2004, especially anything the Red Sox do, and that’s a problem for baseball.
That last paragraph serves as a warning to Cubs fans and Indians fans, and Mariners fans, and Rangers fans, and Astros fans that your baseball team will never matter as much as it did before your long awaited championship, because it’s not just a Boston problem. The Red Sox have won the World Series two more times since 2004, and the Patriots have won two more Super Bowls, and the Bruins and Celtics each won championships of their own. Boston has done an absurd amount of winning this century. The Red Sox have, along with the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, been one of the models for how to win in modern baseball, so when they’re not winning, instead of getting angry, fans just change the channel. If the Red Sox can’t be relevant, the Pats will be starting back up soon enough and the NBA and NHL have done a great job (the NBA more than the NHL, but still) of turning their 82 game season followed by a two month, sixteen team tournament into a 365 day cycle of relevance with their respective drafts and hot stove cycles. Football and basketball are juggernauts, with football dominating the narrative on national sports radio and TV shows most of the year, and basketball having a real chance to catch football in the United States and catch soccer internationally in the next 20 years. Hockey has a problem in that it’s a regional sport. It’s a niche sport because it matters more than most things in Canada and in certain American cities (like Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh), but in those cities, there will still be interest in the Stanley Cup Final even if their team is not in it. While baseball matters in more American cities than hockey does, it’s relevance is much more localized.
If the Red Sox miss the playoffs, the playoffs do not matter in New England. I know this because I follow baseball more closely than most people in their mid-20s, and while all my friends were in on the Red Sox title run in 2013, it was really hard to get people to talk about all the compelling stories in the baseball postseason last fall, even that super fun New York Mets team, and even with one of my closest friends literally being named Daniel Murphy. The Red Sox have a likeable young team this year, with their top prospects finally living up to the hype we have been sold from the beat writers for years. The offense has been incredible, and longtime designated hitter David Ortiz has been the rare case of a player on a farewell tour, still playing like has always has. The problem is that the pitching is not good enough to keep up with their excellent hitting, and all of this offensive production could be wasted. If things go south, David Ortiz, one of the greatest playoff performers the game has ever seen, could play out the string in August and September in meaningless games, with the fanbase focusing on Patriots training camp and the potential Tom Brady vs. Jimmy G quarterback controversy. If you’re not in a fantasy baseball league (which I have not been in a few years), it is incredibly easy to lose touch with the rest of Major League Baseball. Baseball should be doing a better job of marketing itself. They have as much good, exciting talent under the age of 27 as basketball and hockey, and all three sports are doing better than football in that regard, but the excitement is localized. Red Sox fans are thrilled about Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr., and we see more of Baltimore’s Manny Machado than fans in other divisions, but a star like Bogaerts, or Betts, or JBJ, or Machado, or Mike Trout in Anaheim, or Bryce Harper in Washington, Marcus Stroman in Toronto, or Trevor Story in Colorado, or Noah Syndergaard in New York, or Kris Bryant in Chicago, or Joc Pederson in Los Angeles, or Carlos Correa in Houston does not get the same kind of national buzz (with the possible exceptions of Harper in Trout) as Karl-Anthony Towns, or Anthony Davis, or Russell Westbrook, or Connor McDavid. The pieces are there to generate interest beyond one’s local baseball club. They just haven’t figured it out.
Baseball, in a lot of ways, is trapped in centuries past. It’s a game without time limits, for the most part, that adopted instant replay long after the other three sports, that feels content to cater to older fans rather than actively cultivate new ones. Some of that is a good thing. The idea of following the same team that my grandparents followed as children is kinda cool. My grandfather died in 2000 and never got to see the Red Sox win the World Series, but I got to see them win it twice while I was in high school. Red Sox baseball is a tradition older than any of the other Boston teams, having played their first season in 1901. The Bruins played their first season in 1924 (making them the oldest current American NHL team), the Celtics played their first season in 1946, and the Patriots have been around since 1960. History can only get you so far in modern sports, though. It was the Patriots, not the Red Sox, that first turned Boston’s championship fortunes around in 2002, and it was the Cavaliers, not the Browns or Indians that broke through first for Cleveland, a team that was rarely if ever relevant without LeBron James on their roster. Kids today do not care about Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, or Sandy Koufax. Why should they? Baseball’s history will always be there, but baseball’s present should be what we’re celebrating.
Baseball needs to lighten up a bit. Cool things happen in any baseball game, but there are unwritten rules that prevent players to act like they’re having fun compared to the other sports. Jose Bautista flips a bat after a dynamite home run in the playoffs last year for the Toronto Blue Jays and old school baseball people lose their minds over it. What could be celebrated as a trending .gif the way fans would celebrate a Rob Gronkowski end zone celebration or a menacing Dirk Nowitzki fist pump or a Jaromir Jagr goal salute is condemned as being bad for the game in baseball. A guy like Bryce Harper plays with the kind of swagger people are used to seeing on a basketball court and people call for him to get off their lawn, so to speak.
I want baseball to do well. I want it to stand the test of time, and I want it to still matter in 40 years. For that to happen, baseball is going to need to adapt to the 21st century. Things could be more fun than they are. The powers that be just need to let it happen.
It was fun while it lasted, but it was really sad to see how the 2014-15 season unfolded for the Portland Trail Blazers. Almost overnight, they transformed into a title contender after years of mediocrity, but their fall back to earth was as fast as their rise. A year removed from Damian Lillard’s Game 6 buzzer-beater against the Houston Rockets, their season ended in the form of a five game rout at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies, and the path ahead for the Blazers appears to be as clear as mud.
Maybe we overrated them. Maybe they were never as good as we thought. I wanted to see Portland become a powerhouse, and after their appearance on Portlandia (Blazers owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey were also featured in sketches from that episode), they were the suddenly coolest team in the NBA outside of the work of art that is the San Antonio Spurs. They had a lot of great personalities from the fearless little point guard that could in Lillard, to the perennially underrated veteran superstar LaMarcus Aldridge (Seriously, this guy hasn’t been talked about enough until recently in the discussion for best forwards in the NBA. It is tough that he plays in the same era as LeBron James, Tim Duincan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Anthony Davis.), to Robin Lopez, who looks like Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez’ evil twin because he his(I don’t know that he’s literally evil, but the fact that he let his hair go all Sideshow Bob on us while Brook kept his tight makes me suspicious), to tough guy Wesley Matthews. Also, they have great fans. One thing the NBA has really gotten right over the years has been putting teams in cities that are that don’t have a major league team in football, hockey, or baseball, which breeds a rabid fanbase like you see at the collegiate level or like the following hockey has in Canada. Portland is one of those cities just like San Antonio, Oklahoma City (sorry, Seattle), Memphis, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento, and Blazers fans, along with Portlandia has made me want to live there at some point. At the trade deadline, the Trail Blazers added shooting guard Arron Afflalo from the Denver Nuggets, a former UCLA standout so good that Kendrick Lamar he’s mentioned and praised in a Kendrick Lamar song, and they appeared poised for a deep playoff run. Then Matthews got hurt.
The injury to Wesley Matthews exposed just how vulnerable any NBA team is to collapse. The Blazers were a tight knit roster, artfully constructed with players in their prime (aside from Lillard, who still has a high ceiling, but his defensive shortcomings currently hold the 24 year old back from true super-stardom. They have an experienced coach in Terry Stotts, who won a championship as an assistant under Rick Carlisle in Dallas, and who has implemented a great offense in Portland. All of that is great, but the injury to Matthews, one of those hard working Marquette basketball players like Jae Crowder or Kenneth Faried, was a huge loss. Matthews was the tough guy that helped the skill guys shine, like what David West does for Indiana or Draymond Green does for Golden State.
The 2015 Trail Blazer are hardly the first championship contender to have a season and possibly a legacy derailed by injuries, and they certainly won’t be the last. My Celtics won a title in 2008 (the only one of their 17 that happened in my lifetime), had an even hotter start in 2008-09 before Kevin Garnett wrecked his knee and fell in seven games to the Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy-led Orlando Magic in the conference semifinals, came back older and slower the following year, but made the 2010 NBA Finals anyway before a knee injury to Kendrick Perkins in Game 6 left them with no answer for Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. In 2011, they traded Perkins away, and had to rely on Shaq’s pushing 40 year old body, which inevitably did not hold up. In 2012, it was young Avery Bradley whose injury combined with LeBron’s arrival as a champion that derailed their last attempt at the illusive second title for that Celtics team. In the summer of 2012, Ray Allen signed with the Miami Heat, and the era was over. In Portland’s own history, injuries to Bill Walton, and more recently Greg Oden (who was drafted #1 overall, ahead of Kevin Durant in 2007) and Brandon Roy (drafted #6 overall in 2006, the same year the Trail Blazers also picked LaMarcus Aldridge at #2) have left fans and pundits alike wondering what might have been. I’m sure Blazers fans would love for a run like what the Celtics enjoyed, or even one like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are in danger of losing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to free agency, injury, or both, have had, but their window with this roster appears to be even smaller than it was even a couple of months ago. It’s amazing and frightening how quickly things can change.
The dark cloud looming over Portland’s summer is the impending free agency of LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA has the feel of a franchise superstar, and before a couple months ago, he was a consensus favorite to play in Portland for the rest of his career and retire as a Blazer.This is a franchise that has had a lot of talented players go through the organization, but few, if any stayed there forever, much like the Atlanta Braves. Even Hall of Famers Bill Walton (who was the MVP of the 1977 NBA Finals, Portland’s only championship) and Clyde Drexler (who helped bring Portland to the NBA Finals before losing to some guy named Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls) eventually found greener championship pastures in Boston and Houston. People had hoped that Aldridge would be the Trail Blazers’ Chipper Jones in that regard, but the way this season ended makes it a lot harder for Portland to bring him back. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and even Hank Aaron played for other teams, but Chipper was only ever a Brave. Bill Simmons wrote in one of his recent mailbag columns that Aldridge could stay in Portland out of loyalty, but as he enters his second decade in the NBA, it likely wouldn’t be the best basketball decision for a good to very good player who needs a ring to be remembered as a great player.
There are homecoming options for the Texas native if he signs with the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, or Houston Rockets. Dallas has an aging superstar in Dirk Nowitzki, and a roster in flux after the disaster that was trading for Rajon Rondo this season. They’ve been a consistent contender outside of their lockout-shortened 2012 championship hangover, but in the short term, they do not seem like a better basketball situation than Portland. San Antonio just lost a thrilling seven game series to the Los Angeles Clippers, after winning their fifth title in fifteen years. They have the best coach in the NBA (and the second best to build a franchise around in the history of the game after Red Auerbach, with all due respect to Phil Jackson and Pat Riley) in Gregg Popovich, they’re the only game in town the way the Trail Blazers are in Portland, they have a great mix of young and veteran talent, and he has the chance to be the “next guy” when Tim Duncan eventually retires. The burden of being the next guy is not for everyone. For every Dave Cowens to follow Bill Russell, there are a dozen discouraging examples like the revolving doors at the quarterback position the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos experienced after Dan Marino and John Elway retired. That’s why the Houston Rockets, who have not won a title since the mid 90s with a completely different roster, and are still looking for a third All-Star caliber player to go with Dwight Howard and James Harden, might be the best place for Aldridge to land. There are also young teams in the East like Boston and Orlando that LMA could make into something exciting.
The future is murky, but it is hard to believe the Trail Blazers will be better next year than they were the last two. We will see, but there isn’t much to feel good about in Portland right now if you’re a basketball fan.
“And Jesus wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”
Dean of Students
Greendale Community College
The idea of Community ever getting six seasons and a movie used to seem as far-fetched as The Cape, the ill-fated NBC super hero show from 2011 that first inspired Abed Nadir to shout “Six seasons and a movie!” while cosplaying as the title character in the Greendale cafeteria, getting six seasons and a movie. I would say that stranger things have happened, but it’s harder to come up with examples than it should be. Let’s see: Two and a Half Men got a dozen seasons despite never being funny and having cast turnover that undermined the name of the show, J. K. Simmons is an Academy Award winning actor, but is still the marketing face of Farmer’s Insurance and the voice of the yellow M&M, and the Boston Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the NBA after trading away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. These things can all be explained away by things like Nielsen ratings, the work ethic and mindset of a career character actor, the shrewd negotiating of Danny Ainge, and the top-notch coaching of Brad Stevens, but Community‘s survival on the brink of cancellation since the night it debuted in 2009 is a reflection of the world we live in today. Maybe that’s what Kevin Garnett meant when he said “Anything is possible!!!!”
Nothing lasts forever, but now it seems like Community might improbably challenge that statement. This is a show that NBC never felt comfortable promoting, that had its creator fired after three seasons, that was at its best accessible to a very narrow audience, but that audience stood by it through EVERYTHING!!! and now it has outlasted The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and the countless bad sitcoms NBC tried to use to push out their last great Thursday night comedy lineup. It has outlasted once immovable fixtures in the sports world like Brett Favre, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joe Paterno, and Martin Brodeur. It outlasted The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (for real, this time), The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and The Colbert Report, while David Letterman and Jon Stewart plan on getting out of the talk show game before 2015 is over. For a show that could have been cancelled before The Cape even when on its three month run, that’s really impressive.
I do not expect Community to become a multi-decade institution the way The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live have (and quite frankly, I would be worried for Dan Harmon’s health and well being if he had to keep putting in the effort he puts into this wonderful creation of his for an extended period of time), but there are definite parallels between the shows. The Simpsons thrived because the late great Sam Simon had the foresight to build an equally dysfunctional village of characters around Matt Groening’s hilariously dysfunctional family when developing the show. Community was as great as it was because it was about more than Study Room F. It extended beyond the Greendale Seven. Greendale Community College was a character on the show, and it was full of characters.
Like Saturday Night Live, critics have been ready to pronounce Community dead from the moment Chevy Chase left the show. Some things really don’t change in 40 years. SNL got by with the addition of Bill Murray and with increased emphasis on John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, while Community replaced Chevy’s Pierce Hawthorne at the study table with Jonathan Banks’ criminal justice professor Buzz Hickey, and when Donald Glover departed midway through Season Five, filled the void by giving more screen time to Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, and John Oliver. It’s a show about a community college, the kind of school most people only spend a couple of years before moving on, and if the TV landscape it was born into in 2009 had not evolved the way it had with streaming sites and hashtags, it might have been over by 2010, gone the way of Firefly or Freaks and Geeks, a giant “what if?” full of stars who moved on to bigger things. I can’t blame Donald Glover for moving on…or Chevy Chase (who doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. The way I see it, Community validated how bright his star was in the 70s and 80s.)… or Yvette Nicole Brown… or Jonathan Banks… or John Oliver. The cast keeps changing, but Greendale is still as weird as ever.
For me, Community was the perfect show at the perfect time. In the fall of 2009, I had transferred to Fitchburg State College (now Fitchburg State University) after a freshman year at UMass Dartmouth. It wasn’t community college, but it made me closer to home after not having a great year. It was a show about misfits at an underdog of a school, and it felt like Dan Harmon was writing a TV show for me, personally. Somehow a show with that narrow an audience was allowed to be on network TV, but then again, it was on a network that made Conan O’Brien move to Los Angeles to host The Tonight Show, only to give it back to Jay Leno seven months later, so they had bigger problems than the fact that the only people watching their Thursday night comedies were college kids the next day on Hulu.
We did it. The fans won the age old battle against the network TV system and ratings. I will enjoy Community as long as they keep making new episodes. It began on network TV and now only exists on the Internet. That’s the way things are going. Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Yahoo, interesting creative projects that never would have made it on television are thriving online. Last week, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tina Feys new sitcom, debuted on Netflix and was amazing. NBC could have had it, but it went straight to Netflix. Good shows don’t need TV, and TV never wanted Community, so the world now makes more sense.
This post took about a week longer than it should have, trying to include as much about what made Robin Williams important to me as possible without writing what a million other people had already written about such a wonderful entertainer. I probably didn’t do a very good job, but this was something I needed to write about.
I feel like a large chunk of my childhood died yesterday. Robin Williams really was an all time great, both as a comedian and as an actor, and the world is a sadder place without him. He has meant so much to me, and I can think of so many moments that he created that have made me laugh or made me cry, but at this moment, I’m having trouble trying to write about him.
My first exposure to Robin Williams was probably Aladdin. Come to think of it, I’ve probably seen that movie more times than any other, since we had it on VHS, and it was the funniest movie we had. Robin carries that movie. He was absolutely spectacular. We ain’t never had a friend like him. Letting a talent like Robin Williams loose in a recording studio and then animating all hit bits and building a movie around it has to be one of the most brilliant ideas the executives at Disney ever came up with. Maybe someday we’ll get a Saving Mr. Banks type film out of it if Hollywood could ever find an actor to play Robin Williams. Then I saw Jumanji, and now I think of Robin Williams every time I cut myself while shaving (including yesterday!). As I got older, and saw more of his movies, I realized that he was good at being more than just silly. Movies like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poet Society pack more of an emotional punch. He, like Woody Allen, was always a comedian at heart, but was capable of transcending genre and doing so much more.
Williams was always a great interview for late night talk shows whether it was with Johnny Carson, or David Letterman, or Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Fallon paid tribute to him this week with a terrific impression and an emotional tribute. He even got Charlie Rose to crack up and lose his composure.
The key to my emotional connection to Robin Williams was that I saw what I saw of him at the right age. I was four or five the first time I saw Aladdin. I was six or seven when I saw Jumanji. I was 14 when I saw Dead Poets Society. I was 19 when I saw Good Will Hunting. He was a star in every stage of my life. I saw Tom Hanks in Toy Story growing up, and Bill Murray in Space Jam, but Robin Williams was a bigger star to me from an earlier age.
Robin’s death is sad for more reasons than one. It’s depressing to me that someone who achieves that level of success and is that universally beloved still struggles with the demons that cause him to take his own life. On one hand, I would love achieve the creative genius of Robin Williams or Hunter S. Thompson or Ernest Hemingway or David Foster Wallace, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t want to have to go through what they went through. Phenomenal cosmic power, itty-bitty living space. Robin Williams was able to use comedy as therapy, to express himself in different ways, but you could see in his comedy a human who was struggling through human emotions.
I feel as though we took him for granted. He was there for everyone’s childhood who grew up in the 70s or later, and he was only 63. I thought we would have at least 20 more years of Robin Williams material to enjoy, and I wasn’t ready for the ride to be over. Last year at the Emmys, Robin gave a heartfelt tribute to his friend and comedic mentor Jonathan Winters, who played Mork’s 40 year old alien baby of a son on Mork and Mindy, but I never thought for a second that the next award season would be full of tributes to Robin Williams.
The last great thing I saw Robin Williams do was his guest appearance in an episode from the third season of Louie. He and Louis C.K. attend the burial of a man they both hated, and seemingly everyone hated, and were the only ones there. They were both haunted by the thought of nobody being there, and decided to go. Afterwards they went to the strip club that this deceased jerk always talked about, and when they told the people at the club of his death, it turned into this weird scene of mourning for such a caring and generous and beloved man…at a strip club. Louie and Robin promise each other that they will attend the funeral of whoever dies first. Two years later, Robin Williams is gone, and we are the the crowd at the strip club. There has never been anyone like him, there will never be anyone like him again, and the world misses his funny, quirky presence. “Oh Captain! My Captain!”
I spent all of the 2013-14 basketball season thinking the Boston Celtics were poised to make a big splash this summer. It was a strange season, the first since 2006-07 that the C’s weren’t a playoff team, let alone a legitimate championship contender, and I thought it wouldn’t be long before they would be back in the mix. Instead, they fell to #6 in the draft lottery, and did not have enough assets to acquire Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers this week in exchange for 2014 #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and 2013 #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. It might be a while before the Celtics can compete with Cleveland, Chicago, and the best teams of the West again, but it’s not all bad.
There were no fireworks this summer in the way that Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck had hoped for during the season, but there were quite a few mildly exciting things that happened for the team. First off, the Celtics unveiled a new alternate logo, pictured in the top left corner of this article.
The green and white reminds me of the older version of the leprechaun logo that the Celtics used in the Larry Bird Era, and isn’t as busy as the newer one that debuted around the same time the team hired Rick Pitino in the mid-90s. Here are the two logos side by side:
The new logo is a sleeker, cleaner take on the classic Lucky the Leprechaun design that was first drawn up by Red Auerbach’s brother. It looks
a little a lot cartoonish, and I’m thinking of referring to it as the “Bugs Bunny Celtics Logo” in future blog posts, but many of the best logos in sports are shamelessly cartoonish. That’s another article for another day.
The other big uniform change the Celtics are making this year is that the road green jerseys will now say “BOSTON” instead of “CELTICS” like they did back in the 50s and early 60s.
Again, I’m a big fan of the change. The Celtics have the best uniforms in the NBA in my opinion, and the great thing about that organization is that if they ever want to retool their look, they can just borrow from the past. Many teams in all four sports continue to change their color schemes and completely overhaul their logos, but the Celtics will never need to do that. Their identity is secure.
Another exciting thing to happen off the court for the Celtics this summer was Brian Scalabrine’s homecoming announcement. While the parody of LeBron James’ Sports Illustrated article is funny enough in and of itself, the fact that White Mamba is returning to the Celtics is welcome news. Scal belongs in Boston. Even if he’s just a broadcaster (and filling the shoes of Celtics legend and color commentator Tommy “That is bogus!!!” Heinsohn during road games) for CSSNE, it’s great to see him as part of the Celtics family once again.
Scalabrine was a fan favorite during the New Big Three Era where he carved out a role as the big redheaded guy in the huddle and the last guy on the bench, draining threes in games that Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett had already put away. After the C’s devastating seven game defeat at the hands of the Lakers in 2010, Scal signed with the Chicago Bulls, joining former Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, who had been hired as Chicago’s new head coach. He played a couple more seasons in the same role he had in Boston, but in a show that starred Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah instead of Pierce, Allen, and KG. This past season, he served as an assistant coach under Mark Jackson for the Golden State Warriors, but was reassigned towards the end of the season. After another early playoff exit, the Warriors fired Jackson and overhauled the basketball operation for the new coach Steve Kerr.
When it became apparent that Scalabrine would be looking for work, and that the Celtics might not be able to accomplish as much as they were hoping this summer, the guys from the Toucher and Rich show on 98.5 The Sports Hub decided to write a song to raise awareness and get Danny Ainge’s attention. Whether that song helped the cause or not, Brian Scalabrine is a Celtic again, and the world is better for it.
As for the changes the Celtics have made on the court, I think they drafted as well as they could with the #6 and #17 picks, acquiring Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State and James Young from Kentucky. They also signed former #2 overall pick Evan Turner, who played for the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers last season. Those are three young players who still have plenty of upside. It will be interesting to see who stays in the Celtics’ long term plans among the “gluttony of guards” as Cedric Maxwell called on the night of the NBA Draft. Between Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley (who signed a four year deal this summer to stay in Boston), Smart, Young, Turner, and Phil Pressey, that’s a lot of small talent.
The Celtics still have Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green, and Brandon Bass coming back for forwards, as well. Sullinger showed us a lot in his second year, after being limited by a season ending back injury and the limited amount of minutes Doc Rivers gave to young players as a rookie. Olynyk had a strong finish to his rookie season, finding a bit of a scoring touch by season’s end, and hopefully he can build upon that in 2014-15. Head coach Brad Stevens has a better roster to work with than he did his first year with the Celtics, and now the questions surrounding the Celtics should be less about draft position and more about playoff position.
The Eastern Conference is not very good. There is a reason the Miami Heat represented the East in the NBA Finals four straight years, and it’s not just because of LeBron James. There are a couple of very good teams. The past couple years, it was the Heat and the Indiana Pacers, but with LeBron’s return to Cleveland, and Indiana’s loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency to the Charlotte Hornets (yes, they’re the Hornets again!) and the loss of Paul George to a devastating injury in a meaningless game, it’ll be different teams this time around, in all likelihood.
The Chicago Bulls look poised to take the East by storm, with a healthy Derrick Rose coming back, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the form of Joakim Noah, and the signing of veteran star Pau Gasol. The Washington Wizards, having signed free agent ex-Celtics Kris Humphries and Paul Pierce to go with a pretty good young core headlined by John Wall and Bradley Beal, could be another legit contender from the East, but after that, it’s wide open…especially in the Atlantic Division.
The biggest thing to be excited about with the Celtics is the fact that they play in an absolutely terrible division. Here’s a quick recap of who the C’s are up against for 1st place in the Atlantic and an automatic playoff berth:
The Toronto Raptors finally broke through and made the playoffs last year, but lost to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round. They were the beneficiaries of being in a weak division in a year with six or seven highly intriguing draft prospects, so they won the division by default.
The Brooklyn Nets went all in for the 2013-14 season, but came up way short against Miami in Round 2, and lost their head coach (and perhaps the best player to wear a Nets uniform besides Dr. J), Jason Kidd, when he tried to usurp his own general manager before interviewing for the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching job when the position was still filled. Now Kevin Garnett is a year older, and Paul Pierce has taken his talents to the nation’s capital. What a mess
The New York Knicks are the New York Knicks, and not even Phil Jackson can change that. They’re going to keep trying to do their thing, and they’re going to hold out hope that the bright lights of New York and the mystique of Madison Square Garden and the star power of Carmelo Anthony will be enough to lure Kevin Durant to them. As always, they’re the Knicks, so they’ll find a way (or multiple ways) to mess that up.
The Philadelphia 76ers are blatantly tanking for a top five pick in the NBA Draft…again. This is their new thing: lose as much as possible, draft a guy who is hurt and won’t be able to play for a year (Nerlens Noel in 2013, Joel Embiid in 2014), lose some more, get another high pick, and repeat the process until the entire roster is loaded with potential. Wake me up when they start trying.
With Coach Stevens, and the assemblage of talent already on the roster, the Celtics have as good a chance as anyone to make the playoffs. Once they’re there, the probably won’t win it all, but they can at least make it interesting. In Adam Silver’s NBA, the playoffs have already become less formulaic than they were for 30 years under David Stern, and maybe, just maybe, anything is possible. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We’ll just have to wait and see what that anything will be.