24 November 2009

Tuesday Gridiron (11/2009): Rusty tomato cans

Brian Westbrook did me a favor even as I dropped him from my roster.  I replaced him with Giants wideout Mario Manningham.  In the photo at the lower right, Manningham doesn't even have his pads on, which reflects the way I used him.  With AFC North WRs Santonio Homes, Mike Wallace and Laverneus Coles all facing tomato-can opposition, I felt comfortable leaving Manningham on the bench.

Some tomato cans Kansas City and Oakland turned out to be.

Leaving Manningham's 126 receiving yards on the bench was a mistake, but not as big as the one my opponent, Crown My Ass, made.  Playing Houston's Steve Slaton at running back would've given CMA an extra 37 yards -- the exact amount needed for a 0.04-point victory.  Instead, CMA benched Slaton for Buffalo's Fred Jackson, and Team Venture escaped with its fourth straight win, a 104.42-100.76 triumph.

At 5-6, I'm still just outside the playoff zone.  But with my league's longest winning streak and my strongest lineup all year, Team Venture could make a deep playoff run.

The Victory Weighted NFL standings (at the bottom of the page) now show playoff positions. Teams that would advance to the postseason appear with their projected seeds in parentheses. Officially, Cincinnati would get the AFC's second seed; New Engalnd, its fourth. Victory Weighting reverses that, since one New England loss and one Cincinnati win each came in overtime.

17 November 2009

Tuesday Gridiron (10/2009)

This was supposed to be my week of reckoning.  I now faced my former brother-in-law, who three weeks ago had agreed to give me Brett Favre and LeSean McCoy for Tom Brady.  I fully expected to pay for the two wins that came from that trade, because I would now be facing Brady.

In that case, I might have lost a narrow decision, because I also managed to score only 69.26 points -- in the process, leaving more than 30 points on my bench.
  • I started St. Louis return man Danny Amendola at wide receiver because, with New Orleans scoring so often, he'd be returning a lot of kickoffs.  This tactic has worked well since I got him, but this turned out to be the one week all season when the Rams didn't suck.  That meant that Amendola didn't get many touches.  Starting Dallas WR Roy Williams would've gotten me 10.8 desperately needed points.
  • Instead of honoring my own instincts, I listened to the pundits at Yahoo! and ESPN, who all told me to start Minnesota's Chester Taylor instead of Seattle's Justin Forsett.  As a result, I lost another 19.5 points.

This snapshot of last Sunday's Lolcats Lions-Vikings game helps explain why I won, anyway.  Favre passed for 344 yards, and the Viking defense overpowered the lowly Lolcats Lions.  My Viking contingent account for almost half my scoring, but the rest of my team did more than enough to win.

Especially since my BIL had traded Brady to my nephew.

So despite all my mistakes, Team Venture picked up a 69.3-49.2 win.  We're now 3-0 since the trade, 4-6 overall and in the middle of the playoff hunt.  Right now, I like my chances.

The bad news is that with a second concussion, Brian Westbrook -- my first-round pick this year -- is out for the season, and I will have to drop him.  Weirdly enough, his troubles have improved my team dramatically.

16 November 2009

Alas! poor 24. A Venture Bros. Review

"Return to Malice" heralds the end of Season 4's first quarter, so before I tell how well I liked it, it's time to survey the season so far.

The good: How big a risk was it for Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick to make Brock Sampson's resignation stick? This was the biggest character loss any television series has taken since the murder of Catherine Chandler in CBS's Beauty and the Beast (1987-90). Like Brock today, Catherine's role went to the core of that series. Her death led to the cancellation of Beauty after only 11 more episodes, and Brock's departure could easily have done the same to The Venture Bros.  But this is not CSI OSI: Brock Sampson. Brock had become too central, and it was simply time for him to go his own way. This was the right decision, done for the right reason and handled the (mostly) right way.

Generally, the season has been enjoyable. Even "Perchance to Dean," which I disliked, had some great moments.

The bad: (1) Was it too much to have hoped to see more Triana and Byron Orpheus by now? Maybe it's because she's had less time than the rest of the cast, but Triana has always struck me as the show's most level-headed character. We've been promised an appearance this season. (2) "Perchance to Dean," taken alone, was well intentioned but badly executed. I suspect, though, that we haven't heard the last from the Psychic Delivery Man.

The ugly: Okay, okay, I get it. Sgt. Hatred is a pathetic substitute for Brock. That would be true even if he weren't a pedophile. While I'd like to see less Hatred, that's not going to be the case. All the attention he and his issues have been getting had better lead to a big payoff in the next month.

Henchman 21: What's the password?
The Monarch: I forgot. Oh, wait, I remember. I'm the f**king Monarch! Let me in now!

The Ventures and their friends have had to deal with Brock's loss, but Henchman 21 has had to deal with his own loss: the death of his best friend, Henchman 24. His lengthy mourning period drives Episode 43, "Return to Malice." In the months since 24's passing, 21 has not only bulked up but also, in effect, become the #3 person in The Monarch's crew. Nevertheless, 21 still mourns, and he still plays Hamlet to 24's Yorick. Revenge never left 21's mind, and the time has come to pursue it.

Without The Monarch's knowledge or consent (and in violation of Guild of Calamitous Intent rules), 21 leads a raid on the Venture compound and kidnaps the twins. 21 tries to get information from them using Chinese water torture, but his makeshift apparatus only wakes them up. Ultimately, it's 21 who gives up information, telling the boys about how he's spent the time since 24's death. That story includes a badly executed 21-gun salute, more time stuck in his mother's house, and eventually an acknowlegement of his own role in 24's passing.

Of course, Doc Venture and Sgt. Hatred go to Malice, the town where the Monarch and his crew live. It's also Hatred's former home town, and he ends up spying on his ex-wife and pathetically pitying himself. Meanwhile, a food allergy complicates an interview The Monarch was supposed to give. While his wife handles that, The Monarch lays down the law, first to his wife's infamous Moppets, then to the Venture boys (whom 21 has released), then finally to 21.

"Return to Malice" has fewer laughs than most VB installments, and far less action, but its component sub-plots mix and match well, leading to some nice payoffs, including a (gasp!) meaningful conversation between Doc Venture and the former Dr. Girlfriend. As a bonus, it's also a great way to bring a new viewer into the wackiness that is The Venture Bros.

Score: 95/100. It's a solid 'A,' no more, no less.

10 November 2009

Tuesday Gridiron: More lemony goodness!

The concussion that's been plaguing running back Brian Westbrook (shown at the right) hasn't done any good for either him or his Philadelphia Eagles.  For my fantasy-football team, however, it's done wonders.  Last week's 50-rosaries trade for Westbrook's backup, LeSean McCoy worked spectacularly, and that should have ended the story.  Alas, the Minnesota Vikings had their bye this week, taking with quarterback Brett Favre, RB Chester Taylor and their defense.  Combined with Westbrook's continuing health issues, it forced me into another major roster makeover.

My three new additions, Seattle RB Justin Forsett, the Seahawk defense and Kansas City QB Matt Cassell, proved to be the correct ones, combining for 53 points as temporary starters.  With all my other players also performing well, Team Venture romped to its biggest win of the year, a comprehensive 122-66 thrashing of the Flying Hawaiians.  Team Venture improved to 3-6 and, incredibly enough, back into playoff contention.  The new guys will be staying on the squad, and Forsett -- who joined literally two minutes before kickoff -- may even start on a permanent basis.  Hoo-RAH!

09 November 2009

Aye, There's the Flub: A Venture Bros. Review

 "There is no Hair Fairy, is there?" -- Dean

The 1985 Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX using the most powerful defense ever to take to the gridiron.  Superstars Walter Payton and Jim McMahon powered the offense, whose job that year was to simply mop up the devastation that the "46" defense brought upon its opponents.  Their only loss that season, a 38-17 defeat at Miami, happened mainly because the Bears had a rotten second quarter.

That second quarter kept coming to my mind as I outlined this post.  Every great champion has at least one episode that simply sucks.  The same is true of television series: there's always at least one episode that's obviously worse than the others.*  The Venture Bros. has had a great run, but "Perchance to Dean" is the first episode that I can claim to dislike.  It's not a bad episode, but with its larger-than-normal plot holes, it's not good, either.

It was nice to track a simpler plot line.  (Simple is good, once or twice a season.)  It was a pleasure to see a VB episode highlight Dean.  Finally, it was good to see movement in the relationship between Doc Venture and his twin sons.  Like the "46" that 1985 night in Miami, alas, none of these meshed very well.

In the core plot line, as punishment for a spectacularly funny insult, Rusty has handed Hank an excessively long list of chores.  Hank chafes, of course, and the arrival of his friend Dermott simply abets his rebelliousness.  Meanwhile, Rusty has decided to start training Dean as a scientist.

The basic Dean line actually works.  At first, Dean is uncomfortable with the idea of becoming a scientist.  It doesn't help when Rusty turns the Panic Room into Dean's mini-lab (no windows!).  But Dean has started losing his hair, and he soon starts experiementing with fallen strands of it.  In a hilarious sendup of progressive rock music, Dean finds even more inspiration in a listening room that Rusty had previously kept secret.

By contrast, Hank gets nothing but contempt, and it's small wonder that he decides to join the annoying (but popular) Dermott on another adventure.  I generally don't like Dermott, whose only interesting feature these days is his mysterious mother, who makes a voice-and-shadow appearance at the end of the episode.  (Right now, Dermott is just a bulked-up Nelson Muntz.)  As a foil for Hank, though, Dermott works well enough this time.

So far, so good.  In other VB episodes, the inevitable complications improve the plot, but here, none of the complications work.
  • D-19, the episode's main antagonist, is a deformed, paranoid and generally sad Dean clone.  Terrible actions notwithstanding, I could only feel sad for D-19.  Circumstances considered, the fate he meets might be kind.  The trouble is that D-19 deserved a better beginning.  From the opening sequence, we are supposed to believe that he (a) survived being literally flushed down a drain as an embryo, (b) made it to the Venture attic and (c) reached even the limited level of intellect he has -- all while undetected by Brock Sampson or the Ventures for at least 16 years.  All three conditions must have been met for D-19 to have any plausibility, but I didn't see evidence that any of them were.  Yes, Doc Venture misses lots of things that happen on his own property, but that doesn't resolve this hole.
  • Let's see if I have the psychic-delivery-man story line right:  Delivery man, inadvertently prodded by a frustrated Hank, alerts the sheriff of a bad feeling he has about the compound.  Sheriff brings in a SWAT team to raid the compound.  SWAT commandos move in, arrest Doc Venture and Sgt. Hatred and Hank, and take Hatred's PC (why not Venture's?), only to let it all go at the end.  In the first place, where have the cops been since the end of Season 1?  In the second, the tip-off from the psychic recalls only bad 1970s made-for TV movies.  Amusing references to the Branch Davidian and Heaven's Gate cult disasters notwithstanding, I didn't see any reason to have this subplot.  Maybe the delivery man will show up again in a later episode.
  • What is Sgt. Hatred still doing on the compound?  As a bodyguard, he's been an abysmal failure, and I'm surprised Rusty hasn't fired him.  His latest protection scheme, involving explosive mockups of Doc Venture, ties all the subplots together, but doesn't prevent either Dermott's intrusion or protect anyone from arrest.
Other issues -- the opening scene as Brock's first day on the job, Rusty's sudden change in behavior towards the twins -- would normally get their own paragraphs.  In "Perchance to Dean," however, these are just minor issues, worth just this little scribble.  The episode isn't as disastrous as some I've seen on other TV series I've liked (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), but I hope this is a low point.

Score: 78/100, including a +5 bonus for J.G. Thirwell's progressive-rock riffs.

*Excepting The Wire, whose clunkers still made great television.

03 November 2009

Tuesday Gridiron: Lemons to lemonade

I was going to post a sad, sad fantasy-football story last week, but this week it got a happy sequel.

It started a week ago last night, when things were looking good. My team, named after the Venture Brothers, trailed by six points, but two players were set to play the Monday night game. If Philadelphia RB Brian Westbrook and Washington TE Chris Cooley could gain 60 yards between them, I would win the game. Since both Westbrook and Cooley both took spots in the NFL's top ten at their respective positions, this proposition looked like a sure bet. Before quarter-time, alas, Westbrook suffered a concussion and Cooley broke his leg. Their total yardage stopped at 35, sending my team crashing to 1-6.

Going into this week, things were already dicey. Besides Cooley, my quarterback and three of my four best receivers were all on a bye week.  I could replace Cooley, but that still left me with four starting spots to fill, and no good way to replace them.

In desperation, I traded for Minnesota QB Brett Favre (left) and and Lesean McCoy (center), Westbrook's backup. It wasn't cheap -- I had to send my starting QB, Tom Brady (right), packing -- but it worked spectacularly. Favre's four touchdown passes combined with a 66-yard McCoy touchdown run to power my team to victory. Despite having to play 8-on-9 (one of my backup receivers gained 0 yards), my Venture Brothers team pulled off the 87-83 upset win.

The unexpected triumph boosts me to 2-6 and out of the league cellar. Next week, Favre has a bye, so I've picked Kansas City QB Matt Cassell to relieve him. With my best receivers (and possibly Westbrook) back in action, I should have enough to make win my third game in four weeks. Go Team Venture!

02 November 2009

Holy sunshine! A Venture Brothers review

Rusty Venture: How do you lose a Hank?
The Monarch: Same way you just lost 10 million dollars, genius!

For once, I'm on time with a post, which means I'm reviewing a Venture Bros. episode 7-1/2 days after its first airing.

"Handsome Ransom," the second episode of Season 4, takes The Venture Bros. back to territory it first visited last year in "Home is Where the Hatred Is."  In that episode's coda, noted pedophile Sgt. Hatred unsuccessfully tried to lure the Venture twins into his hot tub.  This time, it's Hank alone (shown above with Captain Sunshine) who becomes the object of a large man's affection.

If that last sentence frightens you, well, that's the point of "Handsome Ransom."  We see lots of hints that Hank is about to suffer sexual abuse -- and all of them lead to other places entirely.  Like "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel," this episode plays mainly to its already established audience, which has already dealt with Sgt. Hatred's unsavory obsessions.  Here, for that reason, I spent most of the episode worrying about Hank's well being at the hands of the differently twisted Captain Sunshine.  The good news is that my worries eventually turned into one long rollercoaster ride.

In "Handsome Ransom," The Monarch has yet another scheme against Doc Venture -- this time, kidnapping the twins for a $10,000,000 ransom -- interrupted an angry Captain Sunshine (voiced by Kevin Conroy).  Sunshine crashes into The Monarch's flying lair, beats him up, has him arrested (for no good legal reason) and flies off with Hank.  Years earlier, The Monarch had slain Sunshine's beloved ward, Wonderboy.  Hank's resemblance to the fallen sidekick inspires Sunshine to take him to his home, the Neverland-like Sanctum Solarium, try to turn him into the new Wonderboy.

As a thinly veiled amalgam of Batman and Superman, Captain Sunshine is unsettling enough, but the creepiness doesn't stop at his appearance or his home.  First, there's Sunshine's outfit, which, in modern symbolic language, is literally gay.  Then, Sunshine gives Hank a makeover.  Then, when Sunshine's butler hands Hanks a tube of jelly, we fear the worst.  After the break, though, it turns out that the jelly merely helps Hank fit into a Wonderboy outfit.  (The Monarch's later attempt to make the same trip provides a funny counterpoint.)

In fact, everything about Captain Sunshine that might suggest a threat to Hank turns out, instead, to be a manifestation of Sunshine's attempt to replace the late Wonderboy.  The true nature of the relationship between Sunshine and Wonderboy never comes to (ahem) light; we're permitted to know only that Sunshine really, really misses him.

Actually, that's not very far from the actual Batman, or his relationships with the various Robins.

It's a scary ride, worrying about Hank, but once his father rescues him, the episode becomes much easier to enjoy in retrospect.  That's a good thing, because "Handsome Ransom" is packed with hilarious gags, not all of which are shots at Batman or Superman.  Also, returning along with The Monarch and the buffed-up 21 are some other VB favorites.  Dr. Mrs. The Monarch proves the validity of her title, while Peter White and a rebuilt Billy Quizboy try to help their old friend Doc Venture.

Finally, I should mention that the action here takes place after the death of Hitler the dog.  That means that 9-12 months have passed since Henchman 24's death, with the lower figure still the "official" estimate.

Score:  94/100.  I am liking this episode more as time passes.  But please, enough with the pedophilia.