Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Biggest ‘Lost’ Surprise Yet

It had to happen sometime, but I never, never expected it to happen this soon.
Wow, did tonight’s episode of “Lost” suck or what? This was, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst of this very Emmy-worthy show’s 26 episodes.
No show is perfect, mind you, especially any series on broadcast TV that has to come up with 24 hours of television a season. It’s impossible to keep a high level of quality each and every time out when you don’t have the HBO luxury of half as many shows produced in, what, twice the time or more (hello 18 month layoff for “The Sopranos”). Frankly, it’s amazing what the producers behind “Lost” were able to accomplish last year, with not a blemish to their record.
In broadcast TV, though, the lull usually hits somewhere in the teens—you know, after the initial rush of creativity that launches a season, but before the final ramp-up to the season finale. Somewhere around February, writers will be scrambling around in the dark scrounging for any sort of way to fill 42 minutes of air time.
But after such a blistering start in 2004-05, I’m a little worried that “Lost” misfired so quickly in its sophomore campaign—they had an entire summer to work on this! Really, tonight’s show wouldn’t even qualify as “well, it was bad by ‘Lost’ standards but it was still pretty good compared to all the other junk on TV.” No, ladies and gentlemen, this one just tanked.
First off, it focused heavily on Michael, played by the series’ weakest regular actor, Harold Perrineau. After making us wait an entire episode to find out what happened to Michael’s raft and son after the former was attacked in last year’s season finale, we really didn’t learn anything more tonight. Michael and Sawyer spent nearly the entire episode floating around on bamboo being harassed (and not very convincingly) by what we were led to believe was a shark. The squabbling scenes between Michael and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) were so poorly written, even Holloway’s innate spark couldn’t save them.
Back on the island, the action in The Hatch moved not an inch. At the end of tonight’s episode, we’re right back where we started, only now we know the little, itsy-bitsy details of what happened in the time between Kate’s capture and Jack’s arrival. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to it; why we were forced to sit through an entire episode for what seemingly could have been shortened to one or two scenes, I’ll never know. The only little nugget we got for our time was Desmond’s disbelief that healthy people were out on the island—apparently he was led to believe the world was coming to an end … or something like that.
Even the “Lost” trademark flashback was lackluster this time around, with a rather formulaic, no intensity look back at how Michael decided to let his son Walt go way back when, which of course is supposed to make us realize how painful it is for him to lose him again now to The Others. I kinda assumed that from last season’s Michael/Walt episode. I really didn’t need any more help, thank you.
And now the whole ill-conceived raft storyline is over after it barely got off the island. Everybody’s back “home” and The Others are bearing down on Michael, Sawyer and Jin, while Desmond still has a gun to Locke’s head back in The Hatch. Wow, that actually took them an hour?
Look, I’m not about to jump raft and give up on “Lost.” If there’s anything I’ve learned about the show’s co-creator J.J. Abrams, it’s that he seems to always have a plan and it all works out in the end. (Take last season’s “Alias” run, for example, which seemed off its game to start but finished with a big, big bang in a spectacular return to form. More on that show to come, I’m sure (crossing his fingers that the fifth (and probably last) season doesn’t destroy the entire series).)
But if there are a few more episodes like this before Christmas … well, let's not jump to any conclusions just yet.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

How 'Bout Them Cowboys!

As a Redskins fan, last night was a long, long, long time comin’.
I was 16 the last time Washington beat the Cowboys in Dallas. That’s literally a lifetime ago. Since 1995, I’ve gotten a driver’s license, graduated from high school, graduated from college, got married, and worked for three different publications in three different states.
That’s a long time to wait for one victory.
Last night’s 14-13 Redskin win over the hated, despicable, filthy, no good stinkin’ Cowgirls was nothing short of a miracle. I’m not deluded into believing it was anything other than divine intervention. And I’m OK with that, because miracles have been in short supply around here for, oh, the past decade.
For those who either couldn’t stay up late enough (or early enough, in most cases), or simply gave up hope, let me recap the game: The Redskins’ offense, led by 35-year-old Mark Brunell, was inept for the first 55 minutes of the game. The aforementioned No. 8 spent almost as much time on the ground under a pile of Cowboys as he did throwing the ball, and when he managed to get a pass off, it was most likely a five-yarder or an incompletion followed by a punt. Until late in the fourth quarter, Washington averaged less than four yards per play; that, ladies in gentlemen, is pathetic. Thankfully, the Redskins feature one of the best defenses in the league, which managed to give up a measly 13 points on the road in an overheated stadium full of revved-up rednecks in silver and blue (Cowboy legends Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were added to the “ring of fame” last night at Texas Stadium, making the night’s outcome all that much sweeter).
So when the Skins got the ball back (again) with about five minutes to play and down two scores, I said, “If they don’t score a touchdown on this drive, I’m turning it off and going to bed.” You have to understand I’m the type of ascetic fan that typically watches every last second of every last game, just in case.
Well, last night was one of those cases.
The drive started out in typical Redskin style, i.e. backward instead of forward. After he was thrown to the ground like a bag of dirt, Brunell faced third-and-27 from deep in his own territory, surely an untenable situation and prelude to a loss. As Brunell dropped back to pass, the receivers were covered (again), so he stepped through the pocket and began running—shuffling, really—down the field; he gave a limp-leg move and all of the sudden, the Redskins had fourth-and-short instead of fourth-and-a-mile. A quick pass in the flat to James Thrash and they’re back in business.
Or so I thought. Ineptitude tried to rear its ugly head once again, as penalties and busted plays led to another fourth down, this time from the Dallas 39 and 15 yards needed for a new set of downs. This is it, I said, game over. And yet, I was wrong yet again, as Brunell floated a rainbow pass over the outstretched arms of Dallas safety Roy Williams—a Redskin nemesis if there ever was one—and into the waiting arms of new wideout Santana Moss, who fell down in the end zone for Washington’s first touchdown of the 2005 season.
Suddenly, it’s a ballgame, and I’m trying not to wake the neighbors in celebration.
So the Skins defense holds again—aided by more intervention from above in the form of a holding penalty that reversed a clock-killing Cowboy first down—giving Brunell and the boys have the ball back with a full three minutes on the clock, an eternity in the National Football League, even for the Redskins.
Turns out Brunell only needed about 30 seconds. In what is certainly the best ball I’ve ever seen No. 8 throw, he fires—yes, fires—a gorgeous strike to Moss, who is again streaking past Cowboy defenders, this time for a 70-yard touchdown that left me screaming (neighbors be damned) at 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005, a time and date that will surely go down in both Redskin and Cowboy lore. Because the Skins’ defense held yet again and Washington players doused Joe Gibbs with water like he had just won the Super Bowl.
This game may not have meant as much to Gibbs as his three previous championships, but he said afterward, and I would agree, it was one of the top regular season games of his career, pre- or post-9/11. It was his first victory over Dallas coach Bill Parcells in nine tries, the Redskins’ first win in Dallas in 10 tries, and the first time Parcells has ever blown a fourth-quarter 13-point lead in 78 tries (yes, 78, that’s not a typo).
Yeah, it’s just two games, but better to be 2-0 than 0-2 (which they could and maybe should be).
Yeah, they shouldn’t have won this one, but the Cowboys have stolen so many games during the past decade, the Redskins were due.
And, yeah, the offense has only scored 23 points in two games, but I believe when this season is over, we’re going to look back at these last 14 as the turning point of the year. You could tell after the game that the players—especially the offense—had a big weight taken off their shoulders.
It was interesting to hear Clinton Portis say after the game that Moss had to convince Gibbs to let the speedy receiver go deep. I think Gibbs has been in shell shock and suffering from self doubt since returning to this franchise, and maybe it takes something like this for him to finally stop coaching scared and start coaching to win some games.
I’m not about to lose my head and say Washington can win the NFC East, because it won’t. I’m not going to say this group is going to win 11 or 12 games, because they can’t.
But with two down already, nine victories now looks like a genuine possibility, whereas one quarter of football ago it was more like a Dexter Manley pipe dream.
When the 2005 schedule was released, everybody in Washington (including me) griped about getting a Week 3 bye; now, I think nothing could have worked out better, because the players can carry this momentum with them into practice for the next two weeks as they prepare to host a playoff contender in the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 2. Brunell needs all the time he can get to acclimate himself to this new group of receivers, receivers who now trust him to get the job done in crunch time, and, more importantly, deliver the ball with touch and speed. (And not to break my own arm patting myself on the back, but if you look at the post directly below this one, I can say I believe I had this one.)
Sports are such a crazy business. Just look how the fates and hopes of so many people can change, almost instantaneously, in the span of two nice-looking throws from a quarterback in the twilight of his career. The next 15 weeks certainly will be filled with anguish and anxiety, but for the first time since Coach Joe announced in January 2004 that he was returning to the city that loves him, the people of this city have hope that the team we love has a chance to do something special.
Who knows?

Rating the Stars

Geek. Nerd. Dork. You have too much time on your hands.
You may think one or all of these things after examining my favorite albums of all time, and I’m OK with that.
Let me explain how I came up with my list.
Apple’s iTunes allows you to rate songs in your playlists from one to five stars. As you should have already figured out just by the nature of this site, I’m a sucker for ratings and reviews, so I naturally started to rate some of my favorites while I listened to them. As I’m also basically a completist, rating a few songs started a snowball rolling, and I kept going and going until a good chunk of songs from my favorite artists were filled out. I then added up the ratings and divided by the number of songs on an album (interludes and other such oddities excluded to avoid skewing lower than deserved) to come up with an overall record value.
Here’s how I defined the stars:
• 1 star—Song skipped basically every time it comes up
• 2 stars—Skipped regularly, but not mandatory
• 3 stars—Not skipped when it comes up, but not usually sought after, either
• 4 stars—I go looking for this song
• 5 stars—A must-listen every time the CD is in
As with placing a value on anything artistic, this is not ironclad science. The rankings for albums of a single band are dead on, but because I only compared each song to other songs by that artist, looking at albums from multiple bands doesn’t always accurately reflect my overall tastes. For instance, there’s no way if I was stranded on a deserted island I would take my top-rated Dave Matthews Band album (“Under the Table and Dreaming” at 3.92) over a middle U2 album (say, “The Unforgettable Fire” at 3.52). Likewise, “Led Zeppelin IV” is my top-rated record, but U2’s “Achtung Baby” actually means more to me. Also, there are albums dragged down by a couple of clunkers that I would still take over an album that has a higher score based on consistent quality (like I would ever choose “Led Zeppelin I” over “Physical Graffiti”!). Like I said, this isn’t organic chemistry here, but I do think it’s an interesting conversation starter if nothing else. You should give it a go—it’s kinda fun, and a lot more interesting than solitaire.
Anyway, here’s the list (to be updated periodically as I buy new CDs and take time to rate those and others).

Led Zeppelin, “Led Zeppelin IV” (4.625)
U2, “Achtung Baby” (4.45)
Bruce Springsteen, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (4.40)
Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run” (4.375)
Pearl Jam, “Yield” (4.33)
Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon” (4.33)
PJ Harvey, “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea” (4.25)
Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U.S.A.” (4.25)
Dashboard Confessional, “A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar” (4.21)
The White Stripes, “Elephant” (4.21)
Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here” (4.20)
U2, “The Joshua Tree” (4.18)
Alkaline Trio, “From Here to Infirmary” (4.17)
Pearl Jam, “No Code” (4.17)
Rage Against the Machine, “Renegades” (4.12)
U2, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” (4.09)
Dashboard Confessional, “The Swiss Army Romance” (4.00)
Nirvana, “Nevermind” (4.00)
Pearl Jam, “Vitalogy” (4.00)
Saves the Day, “Stay What You Are” (4.00)
Soundtrack, “Singles” (4.00)
Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska” (4.00)
U2, “Zooropa” (4.00)
Wilco, “Summer Teeth” (3.94)
Dave Matthews Band, “Under the Table and Dreaming” (3.92)
Coldplay, “A Rush of Blood to the Head” (3.91)
Dashboard Confessional, “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most” (3.90)
Led Zeppelin, “Led Zeppelin II” (3.89)
The White Stripes, “De Stijl” (3.85)
U2, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (3.82)
Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (3.82)
PJ Harvey, “To Bring You My Love” (3.80)
Led Zeppelin, “Led Zeppelin I” (3.78)
Fall Out Boy, “From Under the Cork Tree” (3.77)
Dave Matthews Band, “Crash” (3.75)
Nirvana, “In Utero” (3.75)
Led Zeppelin, “Physical Graffiti” (3.73)
PJ Harvey, “Dry” (3.73)
Stone Temple Pilots, “Tiny Music” (3.73)
Stone Temple Pilots, “Purple” (3.72)
Led Zeppelin, “Led Zeppelin III” (3.70)
Pearl Jam, “Binaural” (3.69)
Wilco, “Being There” (3.68)
Led Zeppelin, “Houses of the Holy” (3.625)
Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising” (3.60)
Bruce Springsteen, “Tunnel of Love” (3.58)
U2, “Pop” (3.58)
U2, “The Unforgettable Fire” (3.56)
The White Stripes, “White Blood Cells” (3.56)
Dave Matthews Band, “Busted Stuff” (3.55)
Bruce Springsteen, “The River” (3.55)
Dave Matthews Band, “Remember Two Things” (3.50)
PJ Harvey, “Rid of Me” (3.50)
Pearl Jam, “Vs.” (3.50)
Bruce Springsteen, “Devils and Dust” (3.50)
U2, “War” (3.50)
The White Stripes, “Get Behind Me Satan” (3.46)
Wilco, “A.M.” (3.46)
Bruce Springsteen, “Lucky Town” (3.40)
U2, “Boy” (3.36)
Bruce Springsteen, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” (3.33)
U2, “Rattle and Hum” (3.33)
Pearl Jam, “Riot Act” (3.29)
Dave Matthews Band, “Before These Crowded Streets” (3.27)
Led Zeppelin, “Presence” (3.14)
PJ Harvey, “Is This Desire?” (3.08)
Led Zeppelin, “Coda” (3.00)
Bruce Springsteen, “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle” (3.00)
Bruce Springsteen, “Human Touch” (2.86)
U2, “October” (2.73)
Led Zeppelin, “In Through the Out Door” (2.71)