Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 MLB Predictions

My Top 25 Favorite TV Shows

So, I'm fully entrenched in True Detective right now. Not to the level of people who are dissecting screenshots to see connections to 'The King In Yellow'. I wish I was at that level. This could end up being the best show I've ever watched live from the beginning (Breaking Bad I started live in Season 3), and I wish I could be more involved in the actual discourse. Anyway, True Detective has started so well, so incredilbly, it got me thinking where it plays in my Favorite shows of All Time (that I've watched). My final opinion: It's damn good, but too early to judge. Especially since this show will be done in Anthology style, so Matthew McCaughnahey (which I almost assuredly spelled wrong) and Woody Harrelson are out after the first season. Who knows if the leads of next season can be as good. I'm reserving judgement until then.

Anyway, here's another few shows that I'm holding out judging for at least another year or two:
  • Veep - probably the toughest cut. It's been pretty spectacular in its first two seasons. I have some reservations if it can continue as the plot advances to where Selina is possibly running for President, but it has created an incredibly cutting style that is unmatched with anything else on the air.
  • Orange is the New Black - probably the best of Netflix's Original Series, it was far less dark than I imagined (I was picturing a female Oz), and far more introspective than I pictured. The amount of interesting characters they explored in just 12 episodes is pretty stunning.

25.) The Larry Sanders Show

I haven't finished the entire show, but from what I have seen, it does 'Behind-the-Scenes of Show Business' better than any show I've seen. It isn't the absurdist show that 30 Rock is, but had a great cast of characters, and used guest stars, which it had basically every episode, quite well. It just wasn't always funny all the time.

24.) Shameless

Shameless is now on its 4th Season, and it is going through some large changes making it very different from what the show used to be. Jimmy(Steve) is no longer a character, Fiona is in a steady job (for now), Lip is in college, and, of course, Frank can't drink, but the lifeblood of the show remains. Shameless showed a really unique side of America, the lower-class white community, that hadn't really been shown before. It wasn't always shown well (almost anything involving Sheila in Seasons 1-3 didn't work for me), but it was unendingly entertaining.

23.) Oz

Just like The Larry Sanders Show, I haven't seen all of Oz, but I've seen enough to get a good idea of what it is all about. Oz was the first real HBO drama to be critically acclaimed, coming a good three years before The Sopranos and five years before The Wire. Telling the story of an experimental unit of a prison, Oz was able to combine the exploration of different themes and thoughts with drama and prison intrigue. It was always informative, but a little slow at times.

22.) Archer

I've backlogged Archer Vice right now, but through four seasons, Archer has become one of my favorite wasting-time shows that I put on in the background. I can't get enough of the fast-paced dialogue, the ridiculousness of Sterling, the brilliance of what is essentially Lucille Bluth, and everything else that makes Archer so damn funny. My only quibble is I'm not always a fan of the HR people back at the office like Pam and Cheryl.

21.) Everybody Loves Raymond

The best traditional sitcom I have seen still gets high praise for me. Everybody Loves Raymond was more like a series of little plays, using a few characters and even fewer sets. Everyone's role was well-defined and consistent. There was little character growth but there never needed to be. Instead of put the family in funny situations, they made the family respond to normal situations in the funniest of ways. A consistently good traditional family sitcom should not work in this environment, but Raymond not only worked, but got better as it went on.

Some Really Very Good, Underrated Shows (Plus one early-2000's love affair)

20.) Happy Endings

Man, if only Happy Endings was on NBC, it would have been easily entering its 4th season right now. I've never seen a show start out aimless but find itself so quickly and so effectively. The show started out as a romantic comedy of a group of six friends reacting to one of them leaving another at the alter. That version ended in about 4 episodes. After that, it became a brilliant, pop-culture, caustic joke-machine. I've never seen a show mine so much comedy out of friends being mean to each other. They also quickly defined each character into solid, separate roles that all worked. It's extremely rewatchable, as you pick up little nuances in the performances that make it so damn joyful. It would be higher if it lasted more seasons, and if the first eighth of the show didn't suck. In retrospect, it would have been amazing to see how long they could have kept the pace up,. Even at times in third season it slowed down, but just for an episode or two. After that, they would return to being the most rapid-fire joke show in the last 10 years.

19.) Party Down

It's odd to hold a show back for only lasting three seasons only to extol the virtues of a show that lasted just two, but Party Down was really, really good. It's a pretty novel idea created initially by Paul Rudd, and then by his friends Rob Thomas (not the singer) and Dan Etheridge. They, combined with one of the most talented casts you will see, created a really good show that did not ever have a bad episode. They took eight people that were extremely talented, gave them good material, and let the talent do what talent will do. What killed the show, ironically, was that incredible cast, as they couldn't hold such talent forever on a show on Starz that no one watched live. First, it was Jane Lynch getting called for Glee, but what ended the show effectively was losing Adam Scott to Parks and Recreation. They did leave behind 20 episodes of pure gold, detailing the lives of cater-waiters just trying to have fun in whatever ridiculous situation their job puts them in.

18.) Whose Line is it Anyway

It's a show that still works better in Youtube form when you can pick and choose your favorite sketches (or just watch loops of Colin and Ryan bantering in the intros to various sketches), but the show was ahead of its time. It was when UCB and the alt. comedy/improve was just becoming mainstream in clubs, but far before the same was true on air. Still, Whose Line left us with tons of episode of laughs upon laughs. Sure, it wasn't totally improv (the cast members knew what games were being played, and the show was edited), but it was pretty much improv, and showcased a bunch of talented people. Apart from Wayne Brady, and to a point, Greg Proops, none of them have found lasting success outside the show, but my God they were gold on the show. Whose Line should have been more successful, but it was always a cult hit with tweens (I was among that group when the show was on the air), and found a lasting presence online.

17.) Parenthood

There shouldn't be a place for family dramas in the current TV landscape, but Parenthood continues to work. Sure, they've had their missteps over the years (let's just pretend Kristina never ran for mayor of Berkeley), but they've also had some incredible shining moments. All the early material with Max's asperbergers was brilliant, grounded a show that took a while to flesh out its other characters. Like most shows on this list, the acting was brilliant from the beginning. Every character was well cast, even Ann-hog/Beal/Plant/Annabeal Veal herself, Mrs. Mae Whitman. All the stuff with the Siblings Braverman has been awesome from the beginning, including every scene when the four of them are together. They've touched upon basically ever family conflict (divorce, affairs, adoption, child rearing, illness, cancer, money, moving) and done almost all of them well. The show will probably end soon, and just in time to finish off that Bingo! of Family Drama topics with a perfect A- average.

16.) Men of a Certain Age 

Just like the show at #19, Men of a Certain Age lasted just two seasons on the air, before it could make a real lasting impact and totally figure itself out. But whatever it did, it worked incredibly well. Ray Romano was always underrated in his acting on ELR, but he proved just how good an actor he was on this show. Of course, it was hard him to even stand out next to Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher, all getting good material and playing the hell out of it. This show probably had the lightest stakes of any drama, but those light stakes just made it realistic, really, incredibly, realistic. Romano gave each of the main three characters some interesting beats to play, but the overarching tone was to get over disappointment and enjoy whatever you can about that 'Certain Age'. What I really loved about the show was the small set of recurring characters it had, but how well placed they all were inside that shows ecosystem. A great blend of overarching darkness and small moments of joy.

15&14.) Veronica Mars & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I'll admit, I've seen every episode of these shows. They're hard to really place apart from each other, as they follow similar constructs: a strong, beautiful female high-school girl who has a special talent but lives as an outcast. She befriends some other strange people, has an older male guide, and solves everyone's problems. There are major differences. Veronica Mars was far more grounded. It did a lot better actually showing the dynamics of a high-school environemnt. Buffy added fantasy to the mix, but also did better in romantic storytelling. They're both excellent shows. Buffy probably reaches higher peaks, but Buffy also lasted past its expiration date and suffered with lackluster Seasons 5 and 6. Veronica Mars, coming a good seven years after Buffy premiered, never got the chance to last that long, but that allowed it to leave before it got dated. Both the lead actresses were wonderful in their roles. Buffy had a stronger core group of supporting characters (Xander, Willow, Giles, Angel for a period, Spike for  period), but Veronica Mars had a deeper stable of dependable, if not true supporting, characters. Buffy kind of perfected the 'Big Bad' style of storytelling, while Veronica Mars did as good a job of playing out a murder mystery as anything you will see on a more adult show. Two great shows, and I'm not even close to joking.

Some Really Great Shows

13.) Parks and Recreation

Like many shows that lasted over four seasons, Parks and Recreation settled into a nice little groove, consistently churning out B episodes. They're still doing it too. What's nice about Parks is there has actually been character development that seemed really natural. Ron's now married. Tom's a semi-successful entrepreneur. Leslie's achieved her dream and now lost it. Beyond all this plot development laid an extremely funny show. Parks and Recreation did a far better job satirizing politics than people gave it credit for, but more notable was just how well they wrote that world. Nothing seemed more funny and eccentric than the town of Pawnee. They also were smart enough to limit the use of Ron Swanson, an unending pot of comedy Gold. Like HIMYM, Parks and Recreation is nowhere near as good of a show post Season 4, but unlike HIMYM, it is still a good show, and good enough to basically hold this ranking going forward.

12.) Curb Your Enthusiasm

There is a non-trivial chance that Curb never returns. Of course this will be a sad-thing, but Larry David has generally said that he'll stop when he no longer has ideas, so it's probably better for him to stop off a solid season. Curb probably isn't as consistent as many of these shows, but few reached the heights it did. Few were able to feature such well-to-do characters and still make them grounded. Making Larry single kicked the show in the ass after some less than stellar seasons in Season 5 and 6, and returned the show to its old glory (reuniting Seinfield did that as well). It's stunning that the show is mostly improvised, as the jokes are so sharp, so witty. Also, no show has used guest stars better. Sure, Curb gets to use recurring characters playing themself, but they've made those characters almost always seem more than just stunt-casting. Curb's left a lasting impression on the comedy world for a lot of other shows to copy. Hopefully just one of them can come to close to matching it.

11.) Game of Thrones

Full disclosure, I haven't ready any of the books, and apart from one spoiler I know nothing of what is coming forward. Anyway, the show rebounded from a slightly (relatively) disappointing 2nd season with a great 3rd season and a real hope for a great future of the show. There's a couple things this show does better than any I have scene: shoot the show in incredibly beautiful locations, and create lovable, hateable characters. They force people to accept the bad guy, but they make the bad guys so damn good. Game of Thrones has a large cast but they've done a great job of casting the show. There are few weak links in that cast, which matters a lot when they're given odd literary material to play with. This is one of the few film projects based off a book series that will probably be better in live-action form.

10.) The Colbert Report

The Colbert Report will never be better or worse than it is right now and what it was five years ago. It hasn't really ever changed apart from some segments replacing others. It's about Stephen, it is about him being incredibly talented and great in character, and challenging people to know how to enjoy satire. The writers are brilliant in being able to have genius takes on obscure news stories, but the researchers are the key. It is a lot easier to satirize a story and make the host the start when you are talking about asininely ridiculous things as they do. Anyway, The Colbert Report also found its foothold in giving us some of the most interesting interviews you can see anywhere. Colbert does use an unfair tactic about defending his position in character (see: ridiculous), but prosecuting his interviewee's position out of character (see: realist), but that just leads to some awesome, awkward, hilarious interviews. Because of Jon Stewart's summer hiatus, The Colbert Report finally won the 'best variety show' Emmy last year, and better late than never, as it definitely has deserved more than just one over its almost nine-year run.

9.) Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn

The Colbert Report essentially replaced Tough Crowd after two seasons, and thankfully they kicked Tough Crowd off the air for something worthy. A while ago I wrote that Tough Crowd would do much better today when standups are more notable in the public. I'm not so sure that is true. These were mainly the East Coast comics, the one's that burnt each other all the time, that responded with completely politically incorrect insults. It wasn't the West Coast let's-all-be-happy comedian group that kind of dominates today. Also, it featured conservatives. Big conservatives. But that's what made Tough Crowd so great. It didn't only have liberals, it didn't stick to any talking points. In fact, Colin Quinn quit the show than accept Comedy Central's directions to focus more on pop culture and less on politics and race. The show debated some interesting topics, but the real joy of watching the show was it shined a light on the famous back-room table discussions at The Comedy Cellar. It showed comedians just riffing on each other, pounding the comedian who told a bad, pandering joke, making fun of each other all the time. Sometimes the discussions went off the rails, but there was alwaays some jokes to be found. Colin Quinn cut as little as possible to show the jokes that bombed, showed the negative reactions, but also show just how much great comedians made each other laugh, and they made us laugh too.

8.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

I said two years ago during my Comedy Power Rankings that It's Always Sunny was the best cable sitcom of all time. I still believe that to be true, and the two seasons that have happened since then only strengthened its position. It's Always Sunny, despite becoming more and more mature, has still been able to tie itself to its amazingly raw beginnings. Always Sunny has been able to satirize everything quite brilliantly and still show itself to be the raw, fast-paced dialogue based show it was in the beginning. They incorporated Danny DeVito brilliantly. Always Sunny has proven itself to be far smarter than anyone could have imagined. Rob McElhenny, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton have shown themselves to be as adept as writers and show-runners as they are as actors. It may mask itself as a show about five doofuses 'running a bar' while coming up with crazy schemes of the week, but the show is showing the idiocy in everything in the world.

7.) Boardwalk Empire

Full disclosure, I've only finished watching the first two seasons and two episodes of Season 3, but I think it's time I can judge what I have seen. I'm fascinated by this world, by the show, by the deliberate pacing, the touches of the 20's. Boardwalk Empire is to me what Mad Men is to so many: a brilliant period piece showing a fascinating time in American History. It is slow, but so many of the greatest crime and mafia works of art in US history have been slow (The Godfather, Pt. 1 and 2). The show is tremendously well acted, and well paced. I would never have imagined Steve Buscemi being so good as such a tough man but it works brilliantly. It's one of the rare shows were I have really no complaints with anything they've done. It was pretty much all 'A-minus' work, and that is really hard to do so consistently. I also love how they've worked in real life event and people (Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, and so much more). The show has woven a deep, timeless tapestry of life in The Prohibition Era.

The Pantheon

6.) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

In one sense, The Daily Show isn't long for this world. Hints have been dropped that Stewart is far closer to leaving than staying. There's rumors that he will replace Dave Letterman as the Late Show host whenever he decides to retire, or maybe leave to produce movies. Still, as long as he's on The Daily Show, Stewart gives it the commanding presence it deserves and has always maintained since he took over 15 years ago. The show's definitely changed to a more overt criticism of news media and not just news, but remains the standard for political comedy discourse. His stable of correspondents have gone on to have success much the same way SNL players used to, and Stewart always used them well when they were on the show. The Daily Show has somehow kept its sense of purpose and Stewart has kept his enjoyment for all 15 years, which is an amazing feat given the amount of political turmoil the country has been through since he was hired. The show likely will carry on after Stewart leaves, and likely won't be as good, but The Daily Show, under Stewart's reign, has already made its mark on American TV history.

5.) Chappelle's Show

Chappelle's Show has fewer episodes of any show in this Top-10, but it didn't need to make any more to establish itself as one of the great shows of the 2000s, and one of the lasting culturally important comedy shows ever. Obviously, the part people remember about te show is the way it challenged race perceptions in the US, but that really is missing the forest for the trees. The show really excelled at just pointing out how different Black and White America was, and mining and incredible amount of comedy from just juxtaposing those cultures. Of course, when it just decided to focus on something random, not really pointedly connected to race, the show remained incredibly funny still. The amount of famous sketches are there, but they are backed up by a host of forgotten sketches that were just as funny. Chappelle left quietly under the night sky to Africa instead of doing a Season 3, and maybe just in time, as he left 24 great episodes, hours upon hours of great, rewatchable sketches, and a lasting comedic memory that will never leave.

4.) Seinfeld

For years I never watched Seinfield, never understood its appeal. Of course, the fact that I hadn't watched it made that second fact a little obvious. Then I started watching it. I started watching all the episodes. I started understanding its appeal, understanding what made it one of the best shows ever. I finally reached the point where I kind of figured it out. Seinfield was the best traditional sitcom because it found comedy in the most un-traditional of ways. It made its comedy in dialogue, in characters, in oddities, not in situations, not in romance, not in plot. It also got together four absolutely brilliant comedic actors/minds. Jason Alexander was amazing. Michael Richards was amazing. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was (and still is) amazing. Jerry and Larry co-wrote the thing. What do you get when you combine the creator or Curb Your Enthusiasm with another brilliant comedic mind of their generation? You get Seinfield, a show immensely rewatchable, a show that stayed funny over 150 episodes, over 10 years. No show on this list apart from The Daily Show ran longer, and few were better.

3.) Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad's incredible success commercially in its final season was odd to see as someone who had watched the show far earlier. It went from being a solidly watched show for cable (about 2 million) to being the most watched thing not on a network just like that. There's no show you can point to social media and Internet 2.0 being the catalyst of its success like Breaking Bad,. Of course, it helps that it was absolutely amazing. There may never have been a character short of Tony Soprano (a show I have yet to see) that was so well constructed, let alone well acted, as Walther H. White. The rest of the show had a nice, small, but well constructed cast, but it comes down to Walter White. In its totality, it is a perfect character piece, a great look at what really drives man, greed, love or desire. The meth (the science) went from the forefront to the background as the show went on, but what replaced it was more drama, more intensity, and more incredibly acted scenes. So much of what Breaking Bad was an exercise in the science of a TV show, in the creation of great moments, like the brilliant photography, the one-on-one dialogue, the interesting locations. Breaking Bad was a perfect showcase for what the medium can be.

2.) Arrested Development

I've written a lot about Arrested Development, and deservedly so. The show was that good at times, just a perfect show that encompassed everything you could ask from a comedy program. They could wear any hat, do any type of comedy. But the real differentiating factor was the show's tone, that it found almost immediately. It was that tone, that life, that allowed the show to portray what was seemingly a believable family made up of absolute narcissistic idiots. They were able to have absurdist ideas and dialogues and ground it in a relatble way. They did something impossible: essentially be a plot driven and joke driven show at the same time. They wrapped reference upon reference in the show, hid jokes behind jokes. I still find new jokes each time I watch episodes. The show was just so well written, so amazingly cast, and so well put together. It really comes back to that tone. Put on any random episode of Arrested Development and within five minutes you get that tone, you get the feeling you are watching a show unlike any other. 30 Rock tried to be that way, but it never got as grounded (or as funny). Arrested Development was pretty damn perfect. I highly doubt I'll ever watch any comedy that is simply just that good.

1.) The Wire

I've written way too much about The Wire, especially with a certain 50 Top Characters ranking back in the February-March of 2012, but I could probably pump out 10,000 more words. Here's the best thing about The Wire: It has essentially ruined shows for me forever. Nothing will really live up to the standarad that The Wire set about how good the TV Mdium can be. Nothing will match it's character complexity, it's plot complexity, it's mix of dialogue and style. Nothing will match it. Stuff comes close. Breaking Bad came about as close as I can imagine a drama coming. I will never give up hope for a show to match The Wire, but it's pretty damn unlikely.

Review of Berlin, Krakow and Warsaw, Pt. 2

Krakow: Krakow, as a city, has a lot of churches. It has a lot of other things too, like bars, and clubs, and restaurants, and museums, and trams; but it also has a churches. Is this a bad thing? No, not really. Churches in Europe are tourist attractions as much as places of worship. All the Churches in Krakow were beautiful, better than the best church in the US, with ornate carvings, astounding paintings, high, haunting arches. Everything about those churches, starting from their staggering age, is great.

To be honest, I don't remember which church was which anymore. The best, and most notable, was St. Mary's Cathedral in the Main Market Square, which became kind of like my Krakow Version of the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town; my central place. The Church immeidately stands out for its size and height, a regal building. Inside, it is definitely the most visited, as it had the most lights on of any church. Because of this, the ornate design stands out more than in the others.

The other best churches were the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Franciscan Church, and mostly for religious importance, teh Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy, home to the miracle appearance of Jesus to Sister Faustina, since made a Saint.

Now, to get to less religious things: drinking and having fun. Krakow is as good at these things is at is at churches. Krakow claims to have more bars per square foot than any city in the world. I'm not sure how true that is, but possible because a lot of bars and clubs (mostly clubs) are well hidden during the day time hours. At night, they're basically every three feet. Some are more notable than others. My favorite, and the one I went to more than once, was called CK Browar, a brewery/restaurant slightly outside the walls of the Old Town.

CK Browar brews its own beer. There isn't much variety, but the beers they do make are all good, especially their Weisse (wheat) and Ginger beers. The food there isn't the best, but no one really goes there for food. I was there for Manchester United's stirring comeback against Olympiakos, as Champions League games run nicely in primetime in Europe, which allowed me to meet a lot of futbol fans. I went out with them after to Wodka Cafe, an all-Vodka bar that isn't as trashy as it sounds. It's actually quite an educational experience. The guy behind the bar picks the Vodka's for you. They're all strange, but all quite good.

Overall, what I liked doing more than anything was having a beer sitting on an outdoor table of one of the umpteen restaurants lining the sides of Krakow's main square. It's more picturesque than any of the Platz-es in Berlin, a more European looking space. No cars are allowed, and it's just a clock-tower on one side, St. Mary's Basilica on the other, and a long, ornate building called Cloth Hall in between. It is really active during the day, but never really quiets. I used to go for my daily people-watching beer around 6PM, and it was still full.

Food in Krakow was really good for the most part. I went to mainly Polish places, and while I was slightly dismayed that most Polish cuisine was largely German cuisine in Berlin, they offered their own takes. What I really loved about the Polish Restaurants were their ambience. A great spot I went to was Restauracja Zdylaca, a little restuarant right off the main square that served an amazingly presented Cream of Vegetable soup (my Mom is probably really surprised reaading this that I had something like that), and even better Lamb Sausage.

My favorite restaurant, though was about a one-minute walk from my Hostel (not why I liked it). It was called Moriaska Oko, a Polish restaurant designed in the style of the Highlander people that once reigned supreme over a seemingly more Austrian part of Poland. They have live Polish music from Wednesday-Sunday in the evenings, and good food, so I couldn't resist. I actually went there twice, which probably wasn't the best idea given the range of options in Krakow to eat, but I enjoyed both meals.

OK, I've put it off too much, the most impacting site of Krakow, or in this case a-bus-ride outside of Krakow, was Auschwitz. Let's not delay this too much: it is an incredibly impacting, life-altering visit. I've been to one concentration camp before when I was 9. It was Dachau, arguably the 2nd most infamous camp. I don't remember it too well. I've also visited the sites of the Cambodian Genocide, and while that reign of terror was arguably more awful (just to reposit: they killed kids by bashing their heads against trees), but not nearly as large of a scope.

No, this was different. Undescribeable, really. In each room you visit, each 'barrack' as the Nazi's cruelly called it, there are pictures and evidence of the nazi's incredible breadth of terror. The guide, which is mandatory if you arrive after 10AM, doesn't hold back anything. There is a barrack that is created where each room shows you an incredible amount of some object that was discovered when the camp was liberated, like eyeglasses, suitcases, hairbrushes, and most awful, hair itself.

When those objects became part of the tour, as I saw many people start to tear up, including many in the various Jewish tour groups that were around. I can't imagine what this is like for them. It's hard even if you aren't connected to what happened. In a way, I started to ask as the guide told more and more disturbing stories of the Nazi's reign, I wondered if the (vast majority of) people that were sentenced to die immediately when arriving to Auschwitz-Birkenau didn't have it better off than those that had to live in those squalid conditions.

Visiting the camp should be mandatory for everyone, as I can't imagine anyone wanting to perpetrate any evil after going there. Visiting Auschwitz leaves a mark. A mark that I will never forget. I am so glad I got to have this opportunity. It is a part of history. World War II always will be, also as a lesson, and a marker. Never again there should be a reason for a World War, especially not on such heinous, terrible grounds.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review of Berlin, Krakow and Warsaw, Pt. 1

So, this past week I went to Berlin, Krakow and Warsaw. It was a pretty standard jaunt to Northeast Germany and Poland, hitting the major spots, and adding three cities, one country (Poland) and one airline (Air Berlin) to my lists. I thought about doing a diary like I did a year ago for this trip but one day in I really couldn't muster the energy. I honestly think having my trip be 105 days last year made the diary something that could keep me sane through it all. This was a normal trip. I didn't have three weeks off of doing anything like I did in India last year. This was all work, but also a lot of play.


Flying: I knew nothing of Air Berlin before taking them. I first thought they were a low-cost carrier type, and while they kind of are in Europe, they were not at all on the long trip. First I'll talk about their short trip. I took Air Berlin on a short flight from Berlin to Krakow. It was on a Bombardier Dash Q-400, a small prop-plane that somehow is used on an international flight. Either way, that flight was nothing, as any would be on that type of plane.

No, the real way to view Air Berlin is in the way I would use them, to fly medium-haul from New York JFK to Berlin-Tegel Airport. There, the flight was on an Airbus A330-200 plane, a nice normal plane. I was seated on one end of the four of a 2-4-2 config, with someone else on the other side, giving us each an empty seat to play with. The flight was great, my first overnight transatlantic (TATL) flight in a long time. The movie selection with awesome, even giving me The Godfather 2 to put on low volume and dark-screen and fall asleep to, making this the second time in two month's that I've used The Godfather, Pt. 2 to do something but actually watch it.

The food wasn't great on Air Berlin, but it wasn't bad either. Overall the flight was a good experience a great start to my trip. I wish I could say the same of British Airways. Now, I took it on far from a premium route (Warsaw to Heathrow), on a small plane, but it was the equivalent of US domestic travel. They offered drinks, just like they do in the US, and while they gave a flatbread sandwhich to eat, the sandwhich was cold and tasteless. There was no real entertainment, and by hte end of two hours I was glad to get out into that convoluted mess that is Heathrow, especially when you don't fly into or out of Terminal 5. At least this time I wasn't to do a 'random' carry-on search before boarding my flight to New York like I was four years ago.

Finally, we get to the flight I entered not really wanting to take, but ending up really enjoying: American Airlines Flight 107 from Heathrow to JFK. Now, while I am about to compliment American Airlines a lot, there are a few caveats. First, this is one of their flagships flights, aboard their brand-new Boeing 777-300ER, a plane the world first took to eight years ago but America just got their first. This was a flight they would pull out all the stops, and they did.

The food was OK, but had two large meals, which is not something I was prepared for on an evening flight. There were two outstanding aspects of their flight experience, both unexpected given my previous experiences with American Airlines. First was their beer, which was served colder than any beer I've had on an airplane ever, including trips on some of the most respected airlines in the world (All Nippon, Singapore Airlines, especially). Honestly, they were freezing cold. It was awesome.

Second was their movie selection, which was more thorough than anything I've seen. I would posit it was a selection of about 200 movies, 120 or so of which in English including some true CLASSIC classics (Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, The Sound of Music), some great modern classics (Amadeus, Goodfellas, Mean Streets, All the President's Mens), and all the modern one's you would want. What a great selection, and they do something most airlines I've taken apart from Thai Airways do: let you start watching when you're on teh ground before take-off, and don't switch it off. Honestly, I was watching Goodfellas when we were taxiing towards our gate in JFK. This was a great, unexpected finish to my trip.

The Cities

Berlin: Despite being by any estimable measure the third biggest tourist destination in Germany (behind Frankfurt and Munich), Berlin is a giant city. On the map, it doesn't look that big, but the blocks are big and the city is unwalkable. Thankfully, it has a huge, 24/7 transit system. Of course, that transit system is terribly complicated. This doesn't ruin your chances of getting around by train, but makes it take a bit longer than it should.

Thankfully, the rest of Berlin is really nice. There is more history there than other parts of Germany. Not only was it Germany's main political capital before WWII, it was obviously the center of Germany's political turmoil post WWII. Both histories are present. I got there early, and check-in at my hostel was at 3PM, so I had about five hours to kill. I started my walk near where the center of Berlin's universe used to be: near Checkpoint Charlie, a US Government checkpoint between the US encampment and Soviet land. From there I walked by a lot of, at the time not opened yet, exhibits about the Wall's history. They seemed to be pretty commercial so I wasn't too sad to not be able to see them.

The rest of my walk through Berlin took me to some of the more famous sites, like the stunning Brandenburg Gate, the various Platz-es that are all more impressive than the next, from the Postamer Platz, next to the glistening Sony Center, the Pariser Platz behind the Brandenburg Gate, and finally the Alexanderplatz, with the Radio Tower and St. Mary's Cathedral. They were all nice. From Berlin, to Warsaw, and especially Krakow, I wish the US had more 'squares' and open plazas.

Berlin itself has everything you would want from a city, but is a little spread out. What Berlin does have, and pretty centrally located, are museums. I only went to two, but they were both tremendously. Their main art museum, the Gemaldegalerie, was so vast that I had a hard time finishing it, something I've only have happened to my in Florence. They had a vast array of German artists, but also a substantial amount from the Dutch Masters, people I haven't really seen in museums since 2000. The other one was the National History Museum of Germany, which was a long walk through the history of Germany, or more exactly, the land Germany now entails and its surrounding areas, through time. It was a long museum, and got a little confusing, but it was always interesting, accompanied by some good exhibits.

It all really comes back to the walk near the Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall. On the way between Postdamer Platz and Pariser Platz is a large square with strange gray rectangular blocks, all representing the lives lost of people in Berlin, namely the Jewish people. A pretty chilling square (far less chilling than what was to come in Krakow).

The food and drink in Berlin was good and varied. Berlin actually has a lot of their top restaurants featuring other cuisines. I went to one, a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant for lunch one day. The other restaurants were various German fare (save for one meal I will get to), like wurst, Pork Knuckle, goulash. They were all at different places. One, the goulash, was at a Bavarian-style beer house near the Brandenburg Gate that I went back to another time to just have their delicious beer. The Pork Knuckle was at a charming little German-style restaurant also near the Brandenburg Gate.

The best meal of the trip, though, was at the massive food hall on the 6th floor of the KaDeWe department store, which is essentially Berlin's form of Harrod's. Their food hall was more exquisite though. They had many of food bars with limited seating serving various food all around the floor. I finally chose a fry-cooked fish bar and had Kingklip, which took a while for them to grill (in front of me), but tasted amazing.

Berlin was a great city, a good start to the trip. I left Berlin, headed to Krakow, which going in probably had the largest range of possibilities.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Wedding in India, Part 4

** I wrote the first three parts of this three years ago, in the two months following the actual events, the events of my cousin Vinitha’s wedding. I never wrote the last part, the part about her actual wedding. I tried it, but never found an interesting angle. I’m retrying it again. Hopefully it will come out better than those failed attempts. It’s crazy to think this December will be their 4th Wedding Anniversary. I would easily go back to that day today, but I can’t. What I have is memories. Great memories that I will hopefully will never forget. This was written completely in March, 2014. It does bring up things that I’ve done or learned over the past four years. If anything, it’s a 40 month retrospective.**

A Wedding in India

Family, Fun and a City That Does Sleep

(Part 4 of 4)

It was probably around 11:30 PM, when I found myself pissing into a bush of flowers with my cousin’s fiancée Ryan, when I had a weird flashback. I suddenly remembered a time 14 years earlier, at that same palace, at a similar wedding, when it was my eldest cousin and some other people (his friends?) pissing out a fire near that same bush. After I got past the fact that my eldest cousin at least had the wherewithal to piss out a fire and not piss into a random bush, I finally realized what 14 years meant. 14 years meant that this was no longer some distant memory. I was that person. I was now just 4 years younger than Avinash was then. 14 years isn’t that long. But in this sense it is forever. One of the only things I remember from my Uncle’s wedding in December, 1996 (nearly 14 years ago to the day) was scouring tables for extra ice cream. 14 years later, I’m pissing in a bush with a person I didn’t even know 24 months earlier. That’s progress, isn’t it?

Vinitha’s wedding was at the same location that my Uncle’s was 14 years earlier, at the Palace Grounds in the outskirts of Bangalore. With exactly none of my help, her people had decorated it beautifully (Four Years Later, I still remember) The colors were chartruse and gold (or maybe green and chartruse – I’m sorry Vin, I guess I don’t remember it). I have no idea what chartruse was, but it was a damn good color. What Vinitha really got that was damn good (apart from her husband), was weather. The climate in Bangalore in December is generally good, but this December night was perfect. It had a light wind, to make it livable, but that wind created a perfect balance between hot and cold. It was a magical atmosphere, the wind blowing through at a perfect amount. For one night, there was no more perfect place to be than the Palace Grounds in Bangalore.

The day started in earnest many hours earlier at St. Patrick’s Church in the heart of Bangalore. It was the same church I had been to many times previously for Sunday Mass, and once previously for a wedding, that of my Uncle and Aunt, 14 years earlier. That time, I was part of the wedding, their paige boy, bringing up the rings. All I remember about that experience is my insistence that my turbin did not fit (despite it fitting on my Aunt), mainly because I didn’t want to wear it.

This time I was a spectator, one of many. In my theoretical place was my youngest cousin, Nihal. He was only 3 years old, looking as cute as ever bringing up the rings. It was the circle of life. It was his own father’s wedding where I was the paige boy. At the time, our oldest cousing was 23. Now, not counting the cousins who were spawned from the man who’s wedding we were attending that day, the youngest cousin 19. The Circle Of Life.

Unlike my sister, I had no part in this wedding other than being an important, and active guest. My sister was a bridesmaid, which, when considering the dress selection, was a process that started about two years earlier, during a strange trip my cousin made to the US to shop for wedding stuff despite her now husband not having yet proposed. She was involved in the wedding. She had responsibilities. I had none. I was jealous at first, but when I realized that this allowed me to sit back, talk the shit with my cousins when the main festivities were going on, and enjoy life just the same, I was fine.

The wedding itself was perfect. I’ve already mentioned how incredible the setting was. To connect it to sports for a minute, one of the most exceptional sporting events I’ve watched was the 2007 NFC Championship Game between the Giants and Packers, mainly because of the conditions and setting. It was in Lambeau Field, in small Green Bay, at -3 degrees, with a wind-chill of -27 ( to put this in perspective with my Celsius abiding family that will be reading this – that is really effing cold). On that day, no place on earth was more important than Green Bay, Wisconsin. On December 27th, 2010, no place was more important, more special, more amazing, than the palace grounds.

The DJ was good, the alcohol was flowing, the family was present, Vinitha’s awesome collection of friends were present. Everyone was present. It was a special time to be alive. It was a place I had to be, and was lucky to be at. I hadn’t really met a lot of these people for five years or more. Back then I was just a kid, too naïve to know how cool my cousins were, and too young to know any better. This wasn’t then. I was no longer 15 (Quick note: I’m writing this two weeks before I turn 23, so I know how weird this sounds). I was old enough to do whatever I wanted (within reason). I was old enough to have something to talk about with most of the adults, and in this setting ‘adults’ encompassed pretty much everyone I knew. I was old enough to experience everything this wedding should be.

A couple highlights of the wedding, outside of the symbolic moment of realizing I was pissing where others did piss 14 years earlier, were these following moments. First was the dance floor, headed by a strong DJ who played all the right music, but also there was, I believe, something like a fog machine. that, whisked through the wind that pulled through the Palace Grounds, created an idyllic atmosphere that will rarely be matched (especially rarely in Bangalore – I hope to match it with my own wedding J ). Second was my Uncle (I’m intentionally leaving out the name, but given he’s the only living “Uncle” I have on that side of my family, and that most of the people who will be reading this are related to me, they’ll know who this is), first complimenting me on my tolerance. This was the first time I had really drank in front of him (I was a young 15, nowhere near ready to accept a drink, the last time I visited India – I’m pretty sure given our interactions since he would no longer be nearly as surprised). I felt proud that he said I had a high tolerance. Being still in college, I probably didn’t realize that this isn’t the greatest compliment one can receive, and also I’ve done reasonable work to undo that compliment over the past four years. Of course, my Uncle was not exhibiting his own tolerance when making that compliment, as he also challenged me to a drink-off with his wife, who he kept claiming could ‘drink me under the table’. I haven’t taken him up on that offer, partly because I’m not sure she would like to take him up either, but also partly because I like him having his delusions.

A wedding is a special time, not only because you get the celebrate the love between two people, but also because you get to get together with family and celebrate that together. This was the closest to a family reunion I’ve ever been a part of on my Mom’s side (slightly more of the living crowd was here today than was there at my Uncle’s wedding in December, 1996). I’ll probably never have this experience again. My cousin Marie’s wedding was in 10 months, but we had slightly fewer people in the immediate extended (no oxymoron intended) family attend, and also slightly fewer days together (though it was awesome still the same). My Mom told me at the time to treasure these days. They will never come again, not at this perfect confluence of ages among all of us. Discouting my Uncle’s three kids who were between 3-9 at the time, we were at the perfect age mix. As weddings come and go in our family, more will get more mature, more married, and more parent-ly. It will never be the same.
That’s not a bad thing, at least for me since I can remember it all.

I hadn’t heard the song Stereo Love before. At least I hadn’t heard it for enough time to know what I was hearing. I heard it the first time in India at my cousin’s roce on the 25th of December. It was one of a number of songs that would repeat themselves throughout the week together, but no song, at least to me, was as important or as lasting as Stereo Love. I distinctly remember Stereo Love was playing at Vinitha’s wedding, probably not for the only time, when my cousin Vikram told me that he had gotten back together with his old girlfriend Sheila, a wonderful girl he ended up marrying had having two (for now) adorable kids with. Stereo Love, with its own windy tune, became our (self-appointed) anthem of the wedding week. It was omnipresent at all the major events of the week. It was there for it all. If ever I hear that song, I immediately can return to a place where I’m at the palace grounds, feeling the brilliant wind on my hair, looking one direction at the palace lighted in chartruse and gold, and the other end with a long garden. 

Stereo Love was the song, but love was the anthem, the love between the two people who brought us all together to profess that love (To you, Vinitha and Chinny, I thank you for opening your home to me, and to Chinny for always remembering my name after that first meeting that week). The love between 13 cousins, or more really (sorry, Anthony, Maria and their three kids), 10 cousins, aged 35 to 19. The love between a family of 26 (alive), living the legacy of a Patriarch (Grandpa Harry) and Matriarch (Mummy – as we all called her) that started in Lighthouse Hill all those years ago. Love was the real story of that week, and if it takes an Edward Maya song to make me return to there, then so be it, because there is no place I would rather return to ever.

      - March, 2014

OK, so I did actually write this three years later. I wrote versions of this piece in 2011 itself, but never found anything that made sense or seemed interesting. Back then, all I could think about writing for the wedding was about how fun it was. That’s not very exciting. Now that I’m a working person, I feel like I can get away with admitting and revealing more (whether right or not) about my family, so it comes across better now.

Also, in full disclosure, I wrote this slightly drunk on the Streets of Krakow. I don’t know what that says about me other than maybe my Uncle’s wife was right to not challenge me. Unless, of course, you think this was incoherent, in which case Thank God she didn’t.

The last few paragraphs may come across a little sad, where I’m longing about a time that will never come back, when I was college and didn’t have the problems that exist in the real world, and when all but one living member of our immediate extended family could meet up. And that’s because it is, in a way. My cousin Marie, as I’ve alluded to a lot, had a wedding that October, and while it included about 90% of the main people Vinitha’s did, it was also 90% as fun. It wasn’t the same. It was great. I loved it. I enjoyed it. I could probably bang out a 3-part series on it if I wanted. I can’t stress this enough, the way Marie and Ryan prepared that event is something that I can only hope to match with my bride one day. It was ridiculously well-planned, and it all came about perfect in the little hamlet of St. Augustine, Florida. That all said, it wasn’t that week in India.

Over the course of writing this short four part story (and I say short because none of the first three parts were as long as ANY of my real entries in my RTW diary) I realized that the real star was time. It wasn’t India, or Bangalore, or the people, but this perfect meeting of time. This perfect little period where none of us were too young to not be able to experience something and none of us were too old to not want to. That mixture will never happen again. Heck, if I look ahead to my wedding, my youngest Uncle (“The Oldest Cousin”) will probably by past 50, and I will have cousins over 40 and my cousins will have kids who are above 20. Tell me that will be the same? No, nothing will be the same.

Of course, it helps that I was in college at the time and just old enough to really do stuff, and my cousins were all willing. As I’ve said previously, it really was a perfect time. That said every time I’ve met those cousins since them they’ve been just as willing to have that type of fun, to those that were there at Marie’s wedding, to my two visits to India since The Wedding, to even my trip to Houston just one month ago to visit Vikram (to say nothing of Vikram’s and my serendipitous meeting in Sydney last April). Maybe I’m overrating this, but I don’t think so.

As time goes on, we all have responsibilities that we grow into. Hell, more and more I realize that even then other than me, and my sister who had just graduated but hadn’t started her first job, everyone else had responsibilities. Still, maybe It was because for most of us we were in a foreign country, or it was the initial ‘Pinto’ family reunion for years and years we were all able to put those responsibilities aside that it worked.  It created this amazing little period where the pressures we all faced individually were all put aside.

Over the years, Stereo Love has become a stronger and stronger connection to that period of time. Even now, if I play it over the speakers in my car, I can return to that scene at the wedding, that immaculate feeling that this is what life should be. In the next ten years, I hope to meet someone I can spend the rest of the my life with. I can only hope at the celebration of my and that person’s love, most of my extended family on the ‘Pinto’ side (of course, on the ‘Menezes’ side as well, but they’re not relevant to this mini-sage) will attend. Hopefully to all of them it will be as fun as that week in India celebrating Vinitha and Chinny’s love. I can only hope there will be a song that comes out around that time that is as connecting to our experience as Stereo Love was to my (and my sister’s) experience in India. I hope that happens, as I hope it happens with my own sister’s wedding, to say nothing of my cousins Andy, Roy or Dhiraj (the three cousin’s older than my sister that are not married). I can hope, but it probably won’t unless one of us decides to get married in the Bangalore Palace Grounds. 

In (final) conclusion, I can’t thank my Cousin Vinitha, her husband Chinny, and her Parents, my Aunt Carmel and Uncle Peter enough. Because of their work, I was given the week of a lifetime, and the memories of that week that will last hopefully as long. I’m a pessimist by nature at times, especially when it comes to memories of the past. This is bad. I wish I was different and I wish I could change that. Because of this nature, I will always be a little sad that nothing will really ever live up to that week in Bangalore. Nothing at all, not even my own wedding. Outside of marrying the person I love, the rest of my wedding won’t match it. But that said, I was old enough then that I will always have the memories. Maybe, on day come 2030, Stereo Love will come on the loudspeaker, and I can immediately transport myself to that place, to that point in time, and feel what it felt to be alive and free and connected to my family closer than I ever have been. Until then, and no doubt I will write about that moment a lot, let Edward May and Vika Jugalina play you out…

Monday, March 17, 2014

What 'How I Met Your Mother' Meant to Me

How I Met Your Mother is ending in two weeks. It started in 2005. Back then, Peyton Manning had yet to win a Super Bowl and Tom Brady had won three of the last four (since, just to gloat, Manning has been to more and Brady hasn’t won one). Back then, I was in my Freshman year of High School, taking Honors LA with that devil Mrs. Gray (I can say these things because there is no chance she reads this), and some admittedly good teachers. Back then, the first iPhone had yet to be released. Hell, the Click Wheel hadn’t even been perfected. How I Met Your Mother debuted a year after the US Office, but before Parks and Recreation (started in the 2009-10 season), Community, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, and every single other sitcom currently on a network apart from Two and a Half Men. And within 14 days it will all be over. Ted will meet the mother. We will go back to not caring about the show. I just wish enough people never did.

How I Met Your Mother started out as a show the critics loved, but a show that got bad ratings (oddly, the ratings HIMYM got then would be considered excellent within five years – but that’s a story for a different day). It was inventive, playing with time and structure all within a show that had a traditional setup. It made you care and want for a relationship that they told you was doomed from the beginning. It was unlike anything else on TV at the time. Over the past nine years, the show has gained an audience, at least when compared to everything else on TV, but lost the critics support. It became a show that had to create barren plot devices instead of rely on its inventive roots. It was a show that had to ruin characters for jokes, and grind each laugh out of the five characters. It was a show I never hated, but hated watching knowing where it came from. This all could have been avoided, too.

Despite fledgling ratings at the time, and no certainty it would continue, HIMYM creator’s Carter Bays and Craig Thomas (Carter & Craig) ended the 2nd season not only without Ted meeting a mother, but with Ted breaking up with a woman and Barney literally in mid-word. The show could have ended then, and it would have been a beloved cult and critical hit, lamented for leaving the air too soon before they were able to please us and before Ted was able to meet the mother. But it would have been remembered as a great show, with two classic seasons that stand up to almost anything comedic ever put on television (honestly I, and many people more qualified than me, feel that strongly about how good HIMYM was through its first two seasons). Instead, it became what it became. It made Carter & Craig, not to mention the five cast members, exponentially more famous and rich, but it ruined a show that had something so good. And that’s where I come in…

I started watching HIMYM back in its 2nd season. Looking for a new comedy to watch after Friends ended (admittedly, two years before), I happened to come across HIMYM. The only actor I knew was Alyson Hannigan, but even then I hadn’t seen that many Buffy episodes at the time (and none of the American Pie Trilogy). But she was on it, Cobie Smulders, who was beautiful, was on it, and I knew Neil Patrick Harris somewhat from Harold and Kumar. I started watching in that second season, without seeing the first, and fell in love with a show so unique. It played with time, it perfected the idea of the unreliable narrator. More than everything, it was just funny. It had a great character in Barney that they knew how to use, and five castmembers that all worked well together. It was gold.
Seven years later, I almost feel bad saying I still watch it. I find it slightly better than most internet types, but it is squarely a disappointing 22 minutes each week, and it has been like that for a few years now. Somewhere after Season 4, the year that ended with Barney and Robin hooking up, the show lost itself. In a way, there’s a strange parallel between HIMYM and Friends. Both shows had two previously platonic characters hook up near the end of their 4th season despite them not being the romantic leads. Chandler and Monica was a real surprise, unlike HIMYM where Barney first realized his love for Robin in Season 3, but it was a shock nonetheless. Despite these being nice ideas at the outset, both crippled their shows forever.

This was supposed to be Ted’s journey. This was about Ted meeting the love of his life. It wasn’t about Ted’s friend and ex-girlfriend hooking up, getting married and coincidentally hiring Ted’s future wife as their bass player. What’s more is that we were supposed to be with Ted on this journey. The HIMYM pilot, a Top pilot of any show ever, was noteworthy in that it presented the story of a man talking about meeting his wife, then showed that man meeting, falling for and then wooing a perfect girl, and then ended by subverting the whole thing telling us, the audience, she wasn’t ‘The One’. It was pretty ballsy and it worked, but over time, Ted’s quest for ‘The One’ became sidelined, became a periphery story, something that kept the show moving but was never too important, and that killed the heart of the show.

In the end, what killed HIMYM really wasn’t the cast or even the creators, but the disease that kills almost all great shows over time: Nostalgia and a Loss of Ideas. No show is supposed to last 10 years. The business model doesn’t really allow it. Sure, some do. HIMYM will last nine. But most don’t. Few last even two years. I firmly believe Carter & Craig just never had nine years’ worth of ideas in them. At some point between Season 5 and Season 8, they ran out of stories for these characters. For some it was earlier than that. Barney was the real litmus test. He was ‘awesome’ in every way early on, but that was because outside of his success with women, he was awesome. He licked the Liberty Bell. He had a ridiculous job no one knew about. He was AWESOME. Over time what made him awesome devolved into his ability with woman and nothing more. It ruined Barney as a character, and was an early sign the show was running out of ideas.

What hurts the most was that even in later seasons, every now and then Carter & Craig hit it out of the park with something. The best example is the death of Marshall’s father in Season 6, a half-season long storyline that worked tremendously well throughout its run that year. The show still did emotional moments better than any sitcom on the air this side of Parks and Recreation (and even then, it is close), but kept on undercutting those emotional moments with the same theme over and over again. To count the number of times Ted has emotionally proclaimed to be giving Robin up for good I would need to start using toes. It hurt, because while it was always well acted and hit all its marks, it was always a sense of ‘this again?’.

So many times over the past four years I have thought that to myself.  Barney banging another girl? Marshall and Lily having another familiar marital squabble? Ted falling for and then letting Robin go? All of it felt too familiar and too recurring. It pained me to watch an original show mess itself up with old, tired stories. The show lost the sense of what made it great, which was those character and the stories they put them in. When I run through the storylines in Season 1, they all make me happy. They all make me remember a young show, fully of energy and unique excitement. It doesn’t at all resemble the show that it became today, a jaded, tired look at five friends who are too old to keep doing these same shenanigans.

It’s not fair to put this on HIMYM alone. They are victims to an industry-wide disease, one that effects almost every show. HIMYM is far from the first show to fall victim to it, and there will be many more in the future that fall victim to the same fate as well. It happened to The Office, it happened to Friends, to Cheers, to basically every show that lasted longer than five years. Honestly, it is happening, but to a lesser degree, on Parks and Recreation right now, which is a real shame given the amazing quality of that show through its first four seasons.

A great test to see if this is happening to a show is to try to think of the major storylines in each season. If the storylines are easier to remember during the early years of a show rather than the later seasons, you know the shows been afflicted with nostalgia disease, and it is so apparent in HIMYM. I can give you episode by episode story arcs for the first two seasons of HIMYM, and do about 80% of it for the 3rd and 4th seasons, but anything after that and I’m lost. I really can’t tell you what season Ted dated Zooey, or what season ‘The Wedding’ was first initiated as a plot device. That’s a problem. I can’t really name the episodes of the last few seasons. The great episodes of the first few just ran off the tongue. They were great. These are not, and it feels so bad to watch them slide further and further into mediocrity.

I used to love my weekly half hour with HIMYM. I was a constant contributor and poster on the HIMYM iMDB messageboard. That’s not exactly something to be proud of, but it’s not the opposite either. It was an interesting little community back then. I posted heavily throughout Season 3 and 4, and then slowly waned off after that. By Season 6, I was done. I don’t think I’ve posted there since ever. I don’t miss wasting that time, but do miss that Community, and that’s what How I Met Your Mother represented more than anything. It was a Community. Early on, not that many millions of people watched HIMYM. We were a little small community of people watching and enjoying this brilliant show. Then, HIMYM started finding commercial success and we all switched our time to other shows that were constantly battling renewals, like Community, Happy Endings, Parks and Recreation. Sure, it is easy today to say those were also just better shows, but compared to what HIMYM used to be, they weren’t.

I would put Season 1-2 of HIMYM up against any one of those shows, and against almost every sitcom I can think of apart from the true best of the best (Seinfeld, Arrested Development, to me). The show was that good, and it is so far from it now that it kills me each Monday. Sadly, I actually think the last few seasons are better than many other people, who have started to lump it in with Two and a Half Men, and even worse, the worst sitcoms that have been on TV in recent years. That’s not fair. It isn’t that bad, it’s just a show who’s setup never allowed for such LONG-form storytelling.
HIMYM will end in two weeks and we will finally learn how Ted meets the mother, and that story that serves as the thread connecting each episode of the show. But it also serves as a great way to view how far the show fell. Early on, Ted’s quest was something special about the show. The idea that it wasn’t Robin was sad, but impressive, as was Ted’s optimism. Over time, Ted got more and more annoying, the quest got more and more like a Rube Goldberg device. The little hints and near-misses became more and more idiotic and seen as a way of extending the show while still giving the fans what they wanted.

Carter and Craig never learned that this is not the story the fans wanted. I actually don’t know what story they did want, but it wasn’t some long story of Ted and Barney banging hundreds of girls while giving some hint about the mother every seven episodes. Early on, not every episode was about Ted’s quest, but a lot were at least about something tangible that Ted learned that turned him into someone better. This has continued but to no real effect. Every episode there is some sort monologue by Bob Saget (voice of future Ted) about something he learned but nowadays they’re all pretty terrible and shoe-horned into the same dumb plots.

I’ll always try to remember HIMYM as the show that was so good in its first few seasons. I’ll remember the long nights I spent after its 2nd season worrying about if it would be cancelled, if we would never meet ‘The Mother’, if the show would end mid-sentence. What if it was cancelled? The show would almost assuredly be on those ‘gone too soon’ lists that shows like Freaks and Geeks dominate right now. It would be remembered as a cult classic, as a ‘What Could Have Been’, instead of a ‘Why Did It Be?’. That’s no great legacy of a show, but that’s what happens when you last so long on TV when you never expect. The biggest gift a TV show can get, more time on air, can also be its downfall.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.