Month: February 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

What I’m Watching

I thought it had been longer, but it was March 5, 2013 when I last shared the list of shows I’ve been watching. With the fantastic return of “The Americans” last night, it seems like the perfect time to offer up my current list. Last season’s rank in parenthesis.

  1. “The Americans” (4) A year ago it was too new to put this high, but season one was phenomenal and, as I’ve already said, last night’s season two debut did not disappoint. Two amazing scenes (Philip meeting with the Afghanis, and then Philip and Elizabeth discovering their comrades in the hotel room) were fan-freaking-tastic. And most of the rest of the show delivered, too. Just a brilliant show.
  2. “Community” (5) I gave up on the show after about three episodes last year. Dan Harmon’s departure as show runner and writer was painfully obvious. I heard there were some better points in the season, but I was never tempted to watch again. But with Harmon’s return, I decided to give it another shot. And it was great from the first episode. I loved the way they handled the departures of Pierce and Troy. I’m looking forward to its post-Olympics return tonight to see where they take things.
  3. “Parks & Recreation” (1) Another show that handled the departure of key cast members wonderfully. The show is just so smart and perfectly pitched and full of laughs. Great cameos nearly each week. And some of the best characters in recent sit-com memory. It’s a damn shame that this hasn’t won any Best Comedy Emmys.
  4. “Modern Family” (2) It just keep chugging along. Its Emmy streak was finally broken, which should have happened about three years ago. But just because it’s a B+ show now doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it. My biggest complaint about the show is often things are wrapped up too nicely in the closing scene. But it is still consistently funny and sweet, if a step behind “P&R.” At least to me.
  5. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NR) The newcomer for 2014. I watched the pilot back in September, liked it a lot, and added the show to my DVR schedule. For some reason I never started watching it, though, and didn’t finally jump back in until the Holidays. Thank goodness I did. With some key members of the writing team coming from “P&R,” it’s no surprise that there are a lot of common elements. Humor that is right up my alley. Quirky characters aplenty. I think the Emmy win for Best Comedy was a reach, but this is surely a promising season one. Hopefully they can get stronger the way “P&R” and “The Office” did.

Honorable Mention:
“Archer” (3) I LOVED the premise for this year, moving to Miami and rebooting it as “Archer: Vice.” But as has always been the case with this show, one minute it’s brilliant, the next it is wildly uneven.
“The New Girl” (NR) S. has watched this show from the beginning. Often I would find something else to do. The whole “adorkable” thing put me off a bit. But eventually I caved and paid half-attention, which has turned into watching two of every three episode. A funny, fun show, but not top five material. Also worth noting this past Christmas was the first time I would watch Elf and think Zooey Deschanel looked wrong as a blonde.

Some TV Notes

The Americans returns tonight! The Americans returns tonight! With another potentially big winter storm in the forecast, this is just the news I needed to get out of bed in the morning.

The AV Club says season two starts off quite well. Here’s a good look at where the series is as the new year kicks off with some interesting details about how the show is created.

The Americans aims to break the second-season curse

While you’re at the AV Club, here’s another one to add to your reading queue.

Reviewing episodes for 40-year-old game shows may not sound like a lot of fun. But I found this look back at Match Game fascinating. I loved that show back in the day.1 In college, I think I spent a lot of mornings when I was skipping class watching the updated version, hosted by Bert Convy, that often featured Brad Garrett and Marsha Wallace.

Anyway, if you remember the 1970s version, this article is funny and enlightening. There was a lot of wink-wink, nudge-nudge gay humor for example.

Somers sat in the upper tier next to, and mock-sparred with, Charles Nelson Reilly, who also joined in 1973 and continued through a 1990-91 revival. Not concerned with being recognized as gay, Reilly was a role model for a lot of youngsters who didn’t yet realize they needed one. In contrast to the misanthropic Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares, Reilly was a “good gay” who winked at the audience and looked genuinely sorry when he didn’t match contestants. When the question is about a “really weird” woman who “keeps her husband in a blank,” Reilly responds with “closet.”

That’s brilliant! And I bet not everyone got it back then.

10 Match Game episodes that hit viewers right in the blank

  1. Top 5 favorite game shows, pre-puberty edition. Match Game, Tic-Tac-Dough, The Gong Show, Press Your Luck, and The Price Is Right. I say pre-puberty because I think most boys only cared about Barker’s Beauties once the hormones kicked in. 


After KU clinched at least a share of their 10th-straight Big 12 title last night, a discussion list I’m on started throwing out things that weren’t around the last time KU did not win the conference regular season championship. The iPhone and iPad. Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Twitter.

I realized that a lot of us have kids that have never known a world where KU didn’t rule the Big 12. M. was born eight months before the first title in the stretch. That, famously, was the year I stopped watching games for a week because I couldn’t behave during, and more importantly after, games and thought I needed a break to be a better father.

Some things haven’t changed much. I needed a long cooling off process shoveling snow after the San Diego State game back in early January. I guess I’ve learned to focus that negative energy.

There is plenty of talk about the significance of the streak. I don’t know what to add to all that. Obviously, it’s pretty damn cool. I enjoy how the national media has really run with the story each season as the streak stretched beyond five years and became something unique in the modern sports world. And I appreciate all the crazy stats the pop up this time of year. Bill Self’s conference titles vs. home losses totals. KU’s road conference record compared to other teams’ home records. How every team that is in, or was in, the Big 12 has had a losing conference record at least once over the streak.

It all boils down to something we all know: KU has been really freaking good for a long time. Sure, there have been disappointments along the way. But the title streak is a reminder that even with some notable losses in March, more often than not when KU takes the court, they’re the most talented team, the best prepared, and have a pretty good coach running things. And then they usually take care of the task at hand.

I’m finding this one especially sweet, and not just because of the nice, round symmetry of the number 10. Or because it’s something that likely won’t be repeated any time soon in the super conference era. Rather, I continue to believe that while this team has nearly limitless potential, they won’t realize it this year. I worry a bit that the Wiggins-Embiid-Selden year will be remembered for a bad shooting night in March. Thus, I really wanted them to grab this title as their own. When people bemoan the realities of the one-and-done era, this will be a reminder that this batch of youngin’s was pretty damn good.

I know some of you will recall that, not too long ago, I wrote that this would likely be the year the streak ended. I would have been thrilled if KU had gone 3-2 in their first five Big 12 games, figuring San Diego State exposed a bunch of weaknesses that conference foes would take advantage of.

The Jayhawks quickly proved me wrong. They won their first seven games of the conference slate. Shows how much I know about hoops, I suppose.

I honestly believed that, though. And I hope my view of their current flaws is another over-reaction and they’re going to make a deep run in March. I still worry about how they guard the perimeter. I worry about their point guard play. I worry about how they play defense in transition. I worry about Wiggins going 3-15 on a night when no one else can buy a shot. I worry about Embiid getting hurt. I worry about a team full of young guys cracking under the extreme pressure of March.

So really, despite all of KU’s success over the years, I’m no different than every other fan this time of year. I see plenty of great things, but probably focus too much on, and over-emphasize, the flaws I also see.

It’s been another great year for Kansas basketball. I’m hopeful that last night’s celebration won’t be the last, or the high point of the 2013-14 season.


Of Bears And Lego

This weekend was L.’s turn with her class bear, Baxter.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, many classes send a bear or other stuffed animal home with kids for a weekend. They usually come with a book in which the adventures of the bear are recorded. When it’s your family’s turn, you take some pictures, write down the weekend’s activities, and send it back on Monday. C.’s class is still doing it, in fact. She had Tony, the bear their pen pals in Lithuania sent to the States, a week ago.

One of our big activities for the weekend was taking Baxter to the Lego store. He had been to the Lego movie with one of L.’s classmates so we decided to do it old school.

Lego1 is quite the racket. They’ve gotten smaller than they used to be and somehow became crazy expensive at the same time. I think it’s impossible to buy a kit of any decent size for less than $30. Even some of those sets, once you’ve assembled them, can be held in the palm of your hand. The girls were grabbing things they wanted and when we flipped them over to check the price, saw three figures a couple times.


My other complaint is how you can not buy just a set of random Lego, at least in the store. They have bins where you can buy individual pieces. But there’s no 200 piece starter set, or something along those lines, displayed. If you check Amazon you can find them. And I bet toy stores have the assorted piece kits. At at the company stores, though, everything appears to be a rigid set. Star Wars, super heroes, Lego Friends, famous buildings and vehicles, nature scenes, etc.

When I was a kid…

Never mind.

We also took Baxter down to the LVS to do some winter checking, had a visit from an aunt, and took him out to eat on Sunday night. Oh, and watched plenty of Olympics and college hoops. L. was sad this morning when she had to take him back, but she was happy when I asked her how sharing her stories went in class.

I’m going with the official view that when you make Lego plural, you do not add an S. That bugs me, though. I always called them Legos. But you know how I love to pronounce things correctly… ↩

One More Reporting Note

I forgot to add this to yesterday’s Reporter’s Notebook, and it’s a must share.

At the game I covered Tuesday night, there were two older women sitting right behind me. I’m guessing they were both in the ballpark of 70 years old. Early in the game, they were aggressive in their comments towards the home team.

“Come on, Andrew! Follow your shot!”
“You have to help from the weak side!”
“Work for smarter shots!”

These were real Hoosier ladies. They knew their hoops.

As the game got away from the home side, they got more frustrated, though. Like a lot of fans I run into, they have a rather one-sided view of the game. The other team fouls. Theirs does not. The other team travels. Theirs does not. And so on.

“Come on, ref, he moved his pivot foot!”
“Hey! Watch the elbows out there!”
“They’re all over him!”

They were fun to listen to.

But my favorite line of the night came at the beginning of the fourth quarter. My team was up by 18 and one of the assistants was doing the standard check of how many timeouts were remaining, who was in foul trouble, and so on with the scorer’s table. The assistant was still standing up when the ball was inbounded and one of the ladies wasn’t having it.

“Sit down, coach!” she yelled at him.

I about pissed myself.

As they game devolved into a bunch of missed threes by the home team and layups for the visitors, they reduced their volume and grumbled to themselves. I hope I get out that way again sometime so I can listen to their commentary.

Forgotten Miracle

As all of the US and Canada prepare for today’s women’s gold medal game and tomorrow’s men’s semifinal games in Sochi, here is a fun read on the 1960 gold medal winning US team.

On the first day of practice in Squaw Valley, for a workout open to coaches of all of his upcoming rivals, Riley told his team to stage a fake fight to give the impression that the U.S. squad was nothing but a bunch of cowboys. If he couldn’t beat the Soviets and Canadians in skill, he figured, maybe he could beat them psychologically.
But the fight quickly evolved from a mock battle to a real one. Riley, a military dude who knew how to pick a battle to win a war, let the fight go on for several minutes — long enough to convince enemy observers that the States team were undisciplined madmen.


The Real Miracle On Ice

Oh course, the fun trivia tidbit about the 1960 team was that Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 team, was the last man cut from the roster. After the US won, his father looked at him and said, “Looks like they cut the right guy.” That slight fueled Brooks the rest of his life.


Reporter’s Notebook

We are in the heart of the winter sports season. Girls basketball sectionals were last weekend, and none of the teams I cover survived to regionals. I believe that’s the first time that has been the case since I started working for my paper. Boys basketball has two more weeks before sectionals begin. I covered the girls state swimming and diving meet last weekend and will head back in a week for the boys finals.

A few stories from the road that don’t involve possible drug raids.

I’ve been lucky to have several terrific basketball games this year. But perhaps the best was one I did back in mid-January. The best girls team in our county, CG, who got as high as #7 in the 4A rankings, traveled my direction to face a big conference rival, NC. NC jumped all over them early. It was 23-4 late in the first quarter as NC was hitting everything they threw up.

CG steadied themselves, hit a three to cut it to 16, and slowly worked their way back into the game. A 9-0 run made it an eight-point deficit at the half.

In the second half they kept battling but still trailed by 7 with 5:00 left. Then they started drilling threes and NC suddenly couldn’t buy a shot. CG took the lead on a deep 3 with 1:30 left, then hit all four free throws in the last minute to win by five.

It was such a ridiculous comeback that some of the CG girls were crying out of disbelief and happiness after the game. It was a fun game to write about, but also nerve-wracking. I had to change my mental pre-writing process about four times as the game ebbed and flowed.

I got the CG girls two more times before their season ended, including a win that clinched them a share of the conference title. That was a huge deal for them, as their conference has produced nine of the last 13 state champions, and one (mythical) national championship team. They were a fun team to watch, their girls are great to talk to, and their coach is probably my favorite across all sports. Damn shame they ran into their nemesis in sectionals and couldn’t get out.

My total margin factor is looking good thanks to a couple big wins by my teams. It is currently +44, and that’s with a 42-point loss in there. It could be worse. The same team that lost by 42 lost by 69 two nights later. Fortunately I was not at that game.

I’ve shared before that one of my favorite things to do before games and during breaks in the action is check out the track and field records boards posted in most gyms. I found an all-time winner last night while doing a boys game.

I was at a little 1A school. Most of the records were recent, but there were a couple that pushed back into the 80s. But two really stood out. The boys 800 record was set in 1956. And the boys 100 record was set in 1949. Nineteen forty-nine! By far the oldest record I’ve seen, which automatically makes it the coolest. My buddy Ed in ATX said the time (10.9) was in doubt because it was surely hand-clocked. He also suggested I track down the guy who set the record and see what he’s up to. If the home team was within our reporting area, I would absolutely do that.

As I said, I had the girls state swimming meet last week. It’s kind of amazing how good swimming is here in Indiana. Each time I cover a state meet, it seems like some kind of national record is broken. This year, my home ‘burb school, CHS, won their 28th straight state title, putting them one off the national record for most consecutive titles in one sport. I was not covering them, so that only filled a paragraph way down my story. Their 200 medley relay team also broke the national public school record, and two other swims of theirs were the second-fastest high school times on record. Some girls from California or Florida may go out and break those times next week, but it’s pretty cool that some kids from the Midwest are putting up numbers like that.

Finally, I was reflecting on how my process for writing has evolved over the six years I’ve been covering high school sports. I guess it’s not really the process that’s changed, but my inner writing mechanics have. The way my mind processes material during the game so I have a framework for what to write about afterward. How I identify what parts of the game are important so I can recall them when it’s time to write.

I remember the first couple years I wrote, I would struggle to find a way to get to 250-300 words, which is about the minimum my editor wants most nights. There were nights when I sat there, having tapped out a crappy lede, thrown in some stats, tried to highlight a key sequence or two, and after I added a quote, I was still sitting at 300 words.

I think my interviewing has gotten a little better, although I admit I’m still not great at those quick, post-game conversations. I get better material from coaches and players than I used to, though.

Now, even for a shitty game where there’s not a lot to write about, when I get through my first draft I’m usually well over 500 words. Not all of my stories are great. And our editor doesn’t ask for greatness when there are many nights where we’ll have 30-40 minutes to get him a complete box score and story. But comparing the stories I file today with the ones from my early days, I think the current ones are much better. I can always find an area where I could have written better or given more detail or explained a stat better. In general, though, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do: giving people who were not at the game a feel for what happened.

So, anyone want to pay me handsomely for my mad journalistic skillz?

Breaking The Beatles

I’ve tried not to get sucked in too much to the Beatles Arrive In America nostalgia wave. Mostly because I feel like I’ve read plenty about them already and it’s enough for me just to spin some of their tunes.

This piece, though, is fantastic. In it, Billboard takes an in-depth look at the process of getting the Beatles on American radio in 1963. I don’t think I realized how much work it took to get them on the cultural radar here, and then how quickly they became the biggest thing in the country.

Most interesting to me was how it took – shocking! – violating copyright laws to finally get American radio to adopt the band. Funny how that made the music industry in 1963 and then blew it apart 40 years later.

It’s quite long, but well worth the time.

How the Beatles Went Viral: Blunders, Technology & Luck Broke the Fab Four in America

Requiem For A Van

A week ago Saturday was a big day in our house. After eight years and fourteen days, we cleaned out the minivan, drove it to a local car dealer and left it as we drove away in a new Jeep Grand Cherokee.

That’s right: our days as minivan owners are over!

I must admit, that minivan served us well. We drove it to Michigan, Florida, all over Indiana, and to Kansas City several times. We hauled lawn mowers and snow blowers and mulch and baby furniture and Christmas trees and tons of groceries in it. The girls had plenty of room for themselves along with a friend or an aunt or a grandparent to squeeze in with them. When the girls reached school-ages, the push button doors made it easy for them to hop in and out on their own.

It wasn’t sexy, but it was useful.

And it was also time for it to go. A couple of the doors were getting creaky and balked at working properly on cold mornings. New tires were in the future. The seats in the middle and back rows were forever stained by eight years of car seats and dirty shoes being rubbed across them. We managed to keep the miles fairly low for a vehicle its age and knew that any chance to get a decent return on it was beginning to tick away. Plus, there was the need for a vehicle with a trailer hitch so we can expand our toy collection down at the Local Vacation Spot.

Add all that up together and, after a month of research, we settled on a Grand Cherokee. I like it a lot. I’m not sure the girls love it as much. Instead of being spread across two rows of seating, they’re now forced to share a single row. M. was especially upset about the new arrangement, as she is in the middle and claims C. and L. are always touching her and elbowing her and otherwise bothering her. I keep telling her to think about the trade she’s making: less room in her seat for more fun in the water in the summertime. When that doesn’t work, I usually start yelling that we can’t take it back and she needs to get over it because we’re stuck with it for three years.

Solid parenting.

Anyway, the minivan era is over in our house. Pour a wine cooler or Zima or something out for Daddy’s Blue Van.

A Very Special Reporter’s Notebook

There are plenty of notes stocked up from the last month of high school basketball and swimming. But coming home Tuesday night, I had a bizarre encounter that warrants sharing on its own.

I had just left an especially scintillating girls basketball sectional game1 and pulled onto the main drag of a small town about half-an-hour east of Indianapolis. About a quarter of a mile in front of me, I saw an Indiana State Trooper pull on to the road and head the same direction I was traveling. So I was careful to keep it at the 25 MPH in-city speed limit, and not punch it too hard once we hit the city limits. In fact, I gave him plenty of space, as he didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry.

As I puttered along on the two-lane, county road about six car-lengths behind him, I noticed two cars coming up behind me very quickly. The first, a pickup, didn’t hesitate. They gunned it and flew right around me. I slowed further, as I expected them to duck back in front of me when they saw there was a cop ahead of us. He did slow a bit, but got right up close to the cop.

Interesting and bold, I thought.

Seconds later the second car blew by me. But this time it was another state trooper. Surely he would hit the lights momentarily and pull the pickup over, right?

As I waited for that to happen, a third vehicle approached from behind, again very quickly. And again, it flew right around me. This was a county sheriff SUV.

Something was going on. But none of the three law enforcement vehicles flipped their lights on at any point, nor did they or the mystery pickup sandwiched between them go terribly fast once they got around me. I slowed a bit more just to give myself plenty of time to stop if they did hit the sirens at some point.

After about a half mile, there were lots of brake lights in front of me. The pickup ducked into a farm on our left. The second state trooper and the sheriff also pulled into the farm, but on the opposite side of the grain silo as the pickup. Ahead of me, the first state trooper continued on, but very slowly and with his brake lights on. As I passed the farm, I saw a man jump out of the passenger seat of the pickup and start running towards the equipment shed. Hey, wait a second. That looks like a rifle in one hand and a flashlight in the other. What the hell? And was that a guy from the passenger seat also running towards the shed?

It occurred to me that I might want to get the fuck out of Dodge.

But ahead of me, that first state trooper was doing a three-point-turn in the middle of the road to reverse his course. And, amazingly, there was another unmarked cop that had been in front of him that was turning around as well. Once they got headed back east, they zoomed by me and then I zoomed my ass out of there.

When I figured I was a safe distance away, I just starting laughing and yelled, “Holy shit!” out loud.

Since no sirens or lights were ever engaged, had I stumbled onto a raid of some kind? Was the pickup carrying undercover officers? Perhaps it was a training session, prepping for some big drug bust in the future. Or, as I told one of my college buddies referring to another one of our knucklehead pals who became a cop, were they just cops out f-ing around at an abandoned farm?

I checked the news when I got home and there weren’t any stories about something going down east of Indy. Same for the paper the next day. And again today. Even a Google search for any news from that town shows nothing new.

So I don’t know what the hell was going on. But it sure made the drive home on a bitterly cold night a little more interesting!

  1. A first round battle between a 1-19 team and a 2-16 team. And the 2-win team had crushed the 1-win team by 45 back in December. It wasn’t the worst game I’ve ever done, that came a year ago when I watched these same teams play an early season game. But it still sucked. 
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