28 February 2010

Whoa! Canada!

This is Roberto Luongo, the winning goaltender in one of the greatest hockey matches I've ever had the privilege to see.  It started as another one of those free-flowing, pretty games that typify modern Olympic men's hockey.  Canada went up 2-0 early in the second period, and the theoretically outgunned United States team could have mailed it in.  Instead, the Americans held their ground.  The third period seemed to be one long U.S. attack.  Luongo, playing on his home rink, held out until 24 seconds from time, when Zach Parise scored to force overtime.  Canada finally won on a Sidney Crosby goal set up by a stunning Jarome Iginla pass.  The Canadians earned their gold medal; and the fact that they even had to earn it speaks well of the American team.

Weirdly, and loosely, the trajectory of the Canadian men's hockey team in the Vancouver Games tracks that of the Games themselves.  (Reuters has provided a nice summary.)  The team started slowly, and its 3-1 preliminary loss to the same American team left us wondering whether it wasn't turning into one huge disaster.  With the weird weather, the glitch-marred opening ceremony and two devastating personal tragedies, we were also wondering the same thing about the Games.

But in the last week, everything picked up.  Actual winter weather rolled in.  Somehow, Joannie Rochette found the strength to skate.  (I sure as hell couldn't have done that.)  The Canadian hockey teams -- both of them -- shifted into gears no one knew they had.  (Beating Russia 7-3?  Whaaaa?)  The rest of the Canadian Olympians followed suit, racking up 14 gold medals.  (¡Catorce!)  And even that botched opening ceremony got fixed at the closing ceremony.

Nice recovery, Vancouver.  And congratulations from this American for that.

17 February 2010

Dueling 'dog shows

Networks have no way of telling exactly what will happen when they televise live sporting events.  They're live, after all.  But when two live events air at the same time, a weird juxtaposition can happen every once in a while.

Case in point:  last night's finals at the Westminster Dog Show.  As in years past, I caught bits and pieces of the coverage on USA Network.  But I did miss this year's most fun part, when protesters  crashed the stage.

What I was watching instead was the officiating disaster that was the men's-basketball game between Kentucky and Mississippi State.  To say the least, the home fans didn't take the final result well, tossing full water bottles at the officials and even taking a shot at Kentucky coach John Calipari as he was being interviewed.  In turn, embarrassed MSU officials didn't take that well.  Rightly, they're looking for the morons who threw the bottles, presumably so they can expel them.

The SEC has chosen not to penalize MSU, but that may simply be because the Bulldogs' postseason hopes probably died last night.  It won't be Kentucky or the bad refs that did them in, but their own student body.

16 February 2010

Our doubts are heels: A Venture Bros. Review

Hank:  Wait.  Did you just give good advice?
Dean:  I gotta go check the temperature in hell.
Dermott:  You can both blow me.

Dr. Byron Orpheus may be head of the mystical Order of the Triad, but he's also a doting father who often goes too far in protecting his teen-aged daughter from the world.  Despite that, Triana Orpheus manages to remain the most level-headed character in the Venture Bros. milieu.  When these two likable characters show up in a VB episode, that's usually a good thing.  As well as it has gone, Season 4 was still missing Byron and Triana.  Beyond soothing that concern, "The Better Man" gives Dr. Orpheus the spotlight.

The plot revolves around "the Second World," home to unsavory demons and the hapless souls they torture in perpetuity.  Torrid, arch-enemy to Dr. Orpheus and the Order, has opened a portal to the Second World, and a Cthulu-like being has emerged from it.  After easily escaping whatever control Torrid had over it, the monster proves to much for the Order to fight.  It falls to The Outrider, who had been chasing the creature, to send it back home, rescue the Order, and close the portal.  The incident especially embarrasses Dr. Orpheus, whose wife left him for The Outrider years ago.

Determined to outdo his rival, Dr. Orpheus attempts to create a portal of his own, but his efforts only meet with more humiliation.  To solve his problem, he must to return to the scene of his original defeat.  But first, he must leave Triana's closet, which doubles as his means of reaching The Master, his former teacher.

That doesn't work too well, either.  Her curiosity piqued by an awkward conversation with the Triad, she enters the closet... and meets The Master.  She's met him several times before, but those earlier meetings all ended with her memory wiped.  This time, The Master allows her to keep her memory.  At his urging, Triana reconsiders the plans she had for her future.

Meanwhile, Dean Venture, who has always had a crush on Triana, is also assessing things.  His twin Hank has pointed out that, since his relationship with Triana has really gone nowhere, he might as well seek other girls.  The boys go to the local mall, where, in a hilarious sendup of dating manuals, Hank "teaches" Dean "the ropes."  (The fact that Hank knows nothing about dating doesn't stop him.)  Later, they run into Hank's friend Dermott, con-artist in training, who offers Dean some truly useful advice.  The rarity of truth-telling from Dermott isn't lost on the twins.  But like Triana, Dean has just felt his life taking a new direction.

Meanwhile, back at the site of their first defeat, Dr. Orpheus isn't the only member of the Triad who's been plagued by self-doubt.  Jefferson Twilight has always wondered why, without magical powers of his own, he even belongs in the Triad.  Before he can return to those thoughts, the portal opens again.  Torrid and The Outrider emerge from it, engaged in a fight that devastates both men.  Torrid is banished back into the portal, but The Outrider is in a poor state, too.  The battle forces Orpheus to realize that his rival isn't all bad, and should be saved.

With the help of Billy Quizboy, the Triad attempts to revive The Outrider.  They establish contact with The Outrider, who admits that he once idolized Dr. Orpheus.  Orpheus is grateful to hear that, but now he realizes that everyone is now trapped in Hell.

Everyone, that is, except Jefferson.  It turns out that he does have a magical talent.  It's a small talent, but it's the only one that allows the Triad, Billy and the Outrider to escape.  It's a minor struggle, but Jefferson gets the saves... and a huge ego boost.

But the episode's coda belongs to Triana and Dean.  We'll never know how much romantic love they had for each other, because both of them have now outgrown it.  They will probably remain friends, but the time has come for them to move on.  Her father is moving on, too.  Having conquered the demon of jealously that had haunted him, he's ready to finally let Triana face the world on her own.  It's a poignant scene in a series that usually lives on mockery.

I've left out most of the humor that colors our heroes' efforts.  Dr. Orpheus takes a lot of mocking from both his cat and The Master, who appears in the form of his rather well aged ex-wife.  And leave it to a Dana Snyder-voiced character like The Alchemist to invoke a ritual that's disgustingly hilarious.  It's disgusting and it's funny.

Grade:  99/100.  This could be an enormous turning point for the series.

14 February 2010

Let it snow! But over there, please

As surely as the sun rises in the east, the fossilheads have jumped on the record snowstorms that have socked the U.S from the Metroplex to New Jersey.  Surely, they point out, this means that:
  1. Al Gore was wrong about the climate;
  2. The world isn't getting warmer, it's getting cooler; and
  3. Reindeer are mutant dogs.
Okay, I made that last statement up, but it's at least as true as the first two.

In any event, the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics this weekend has just provided an easy answer.  If the world is getting cooler, why on Earth do the folks running the Vancouver Games keep postponing the skiing events... on account of rain?

08 February 2010

Super Bowl XLIV: Some post-game scribbles

Well, my prediction was half-right.  I correctly predicted that one team would win because it kept its poise better than the other.  Alas, I thought that team would be the Colts, not the Saints.  Of course, I wanted to see New Orleans win, so I'm still happy.  Anyway, eliminating Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning from successive playoff games was a neat trick.  Congratulations to New Orleans and the Saints!

Mirror, mirror

I can't recall two Super Bowls mirroring each other as closely as last night's game and the one three years ago.  Here are some eerie coincidences:
  • Both Super Bowls XLI and XLIV took place at the same South Florida venue.
  • In XLI, the Colts were the visiting team.  In XLIV, they were the home team.
  • Both games started with devastating runs by the eventual losers.  Three years ago, it was the Chicago Bears storming to a 14-6 first-quarter lead over the Colts.  Yesterday, the Colts went out to a 10-0 lead over the Saints.
  • In both games, the score early in the fourth quarter was 22-17.
  • Finally, both games were sealed by late pick-sixes.  In 2007, the Colts returned an interception for the final touchdown.  Last night, the Saints returned a Peyton Manning-thrown interception for the last score of the game.

Wait 'til next year...

... before questioning Peyton Manning's legacy.  Yes, he threw some bad passes, but, frankly, his receiving corps isn't as good as, say, the ones Joe Montana enjoyed in San Francisco.  Had they played to their potential, the Colt receivers would've given the Colts a much better chance to win (and win decisively).  As it was, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garçon and Austin Collie all dropped critical passes that would've sustained Colt drives.

Wayne's performance was especially weak.  His 14-yard reception on 4th-and-2, early in the fourth quarter, got a lot of media attention.  It was pretty, but it wouldn't have needed to happen had he run his route correctly on third down.  With less than four minutes left, he blew another route so poorly that his defender, Saints DB Tracy Porter, read it like an issue of Spider-Man.  We know what Porter did next.  Wayne can't possibly claim to be a Jerry Rice, especially when he's proven that he's not even a Marvin Harrison.

Focus on the tackling

At least now we know how advocacy groups that aren't Taliban wannabees can get Super Bowl ads.  All someone like MoveOn.org really needed to do was have Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, an outspoken progressive, tackle his mother on screen.

God, Tim Tebow sucks.

07 February 2010

Super Bowl XLIV: Finally, my mind made up

It took me only a day after the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts advanced to this year's Super Bowl to realize that I shouldn't spend a lot of time analyzing it myself. I could've spent hours and hours crunching the 2009-10 season numbers for the two teams, but even that would have left me no closer to deciding who would, or should, win. A few minutes of examining intangibles, by contrast, got me a lot closer to making up my mind.

I'm rooting for:  the Saints.  Usually, one or both Super Bowl teams inspires great passion.  (The Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, loved by some and hated by others, are the most obvious examples.) Failing that, the public just likes one team more than the other.  (Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers were much more popular than the Arizona Cardinals -- even in wide swaths of Arizona.)  This year, neither case applies.  The Colts and Saints both enjoy high degrees of likability.  The worst thing I've heard about either side is that, well, the Colts won only three years ago.  Once, since 1970.  That's not exactly a reason for hating on any team.

I'll celebrate no matter who wins, but sentiment compels me to pull, a little bit, for the Saints.  Even 53 months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans can still use every morale boost it can get.  A Saint win would cap a truly remarkable comeback for quarterback Drew Brees, whose career obituary was being drafted when the Colts won Super Bowl XLI.  Finally, the Saints are Super Bowl debutantes, and they deserve a little love on that count alone.

The winner will be:  the Colts -- one of the most poised teams ever to take the field in the NFL.  The first pieces of evidence came back in 2007, at the end of their Super Bowl XLI run.  They didn't panic when the hated New England Patriots took a 21-3 lead in the AFC Championship that season.  When the Chicago Bears -- whose 2006-7 version won with short but devastating spurts -- made an early run, the Colts kept their heads and won solidly.  This year, nothing has panicked Peyton Manning and company, especially not the 17-6 lead they yielded two weeks ago to the Jets.  All year long, they've kept their focus.  That's true even in their two losses.  Having already wrapped up the playoff home field, the Colts treated those games as preseason-style experiments, aimed at finding and patching whatever weaknesses they had.

I don't mean to dismiss the Saints' poise.  They've also shown lots of it in their run to tonight's game.  Unfortunately for them, the Colts have been at the poise business for much longer.  Colts, 30-21.

(Done with 20 minutes to kickoff. Phew!)

04 February 2010

Duncan Hunter, Meet Hunter Gathers

As if there weren't already a trillion reasons to stop trusting Republicans with US national security, along comes Congressman Duncan Hunter (right) to speak out against the repeal of the infamous "don't ask, don't tell" doctrine.  Beyond allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the US Armed Forces, repeal would, according to Rep. Hunter, "open up the military to transgenders, to hermaphrodites to gays and lesbians."

Because God forbid, expert soldiers like Col. Hunter Gathers (left and above) would be able to serve openly.