September 02, 2012

Randomannual football predictions

Every year I try to use my extreme lack of knowledge to predict the NFL season and occasionally the Big Ten. I never actually go back and look at them though (laughing). Here are my NFL picks from last year (actual results in italics)

AFC Playoff teams:

North: Steelers (12-4)   Ravens 12-4
East: Pats (12-4) Pats 13-3
South: Texans (9-7) Texans 10-6
West: Chargers (12-4) Denver 8-8
WC: Ravens (9-7) Steelers 12-4
WC: Jets (9-7) Bengals 9-7

NFC Playoff teams:

North: Packers (11-5) Packers 15-1 (!)
East: Eagles (11-5) Giants 9-7
South: Saints (10-6) Saints 13-3
West: Rams (9-7) Niners 14-2 (self-directed facepalm at Rams pick)
WC: Cowboys (10-6) Falcons 10-6
WC: Lions (9-7) Lions 10-6

NFC North:

Packers: 11-5 15-1
Lions: 9-7 10-6
Vikings: 7-9 3-13
Bears: 4-12 8-8

Super Bowl: Steelers over Saints Giants over Patriots

Final Tally: 4 out of 8 division winners, 6 out of 12 playoff teams. I kind of underestimated the Bears last year (laughing). And I have no idea how I gave a Vikings team led by Christian Ponder 7 wins. Here's my NFL WAGs for this year

AFC Playoff Teams
East: Patriots 13-3
North: Ravens 11-5
South: Houston 12-4
West: Chargers 9-7
WC: Buffalo 10-6
WC: Pittsburgh 9-7

NFC Playoff Teams
East: Giants 10-6
North: Packers 12-4
South: Falcons 10-6
West: Niners 12-4
WC:  Lions 10-7
WC:  Eagles 9-7

NFC Central
Packers 12-4
Lions 10-7
Bears 9-7
Vikings 4-12

Bonus: Big Ten Standings (I refuse to use their stupid division names)

Division  1
Wisconsin 7-1 (They get aOSU and MSU at home, Nebraska on the road)
aOSU 6-2
Illinois 4-4
Purdue 3-5
Penn State 2-6
Indiana 1-7

Divison 2 
Sparty 6-2
Nebraska 6-2
Michigan 5-3
Iowa 4-4
NW 3-5
Minnesota 1-7

August 19, 2012

Futurama top 25 episodes

(updated since I somehow forgot How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back, one of my all-time faves)

I love Futurama so much that I would even consider the blasphemy of putting it above Golden Age Simpsons, at least on quality of episodes, characters, jokes, etc. You can't really beat The Simpsons when it comes to cultural impact, when I experienced it, how it paved the way for Futurama, etc. etc., but on a purely episode to episode basis it's pretty close. I love the characters on Futurama much more than I ever did on The Simpsons, even before my view of Homer was retroactively diminished as he went from buffoon to jerk in post golden era seasons. Lisa is my favorite Simpsons character by far, but I'd put Leela, Fry, Zapp, Zoidberg, and the Professor ahead of her.

I was trying to cobble together a list of top episodes for fun and found this baffling top 25 at IGN that put Amazon Women in the Mood as it's "undisputed" number one, when it wouldn't even make my top 25, let alone my top 50 in the series's original 72 episode run. However, it did remind me of just how many great episodes there are, and just how hard of a task it is to rank them.

So here's my top 25. To be fair to those rankings. I'll stick with the original 5 seasons and add some honorable mentions from the rebooted series. Spoilers abound, obviously.

25. I, Roommate

The episode in general is just okay, but this is the first appearance of Calculon and All My Circuits, which is one of my favorite running background jokes on the show. It also has one of my favorite lines - Fry: "I can't tell if he's objecting or backing up!"

24. Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles

23. A Leela of Her Own

The baseball, er, blernsball episode! Bonus points for guest star Hank Aaron, and for using the Mets instead of the Cubs for the terrible baseball franchise.

22. Mars University


21. War is the H-Word

If we hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.

20. A Taste of Freedom

Zoidberg is one of my favorite characters on the show but I've never been as big of a fan of the Zoidberg-centric ones. This is probably the best. His lawyer is great too. "I demand a Satanic funeral!" *groan*

19. Fry and the Slurm Factory

Slurms MacKenzie! The Grunka Lunkas were great in this episode too

18. The Day the Earth Stood Stupid

A good episode in its own right, and it set up some even better ones down the road. Also the first appearance of the Nibblonians, which are always great. Sometimes they fear they ARE cute.

17. Love's Labours Lost in Space

The first appearance of the transcredible Zapp Brannigan. Also, Nibbler. "Kif, I have made it with a woman. Inform the men."

16. The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings

A great Leela-Fry episode, and worked well as a possible series finale.

15. Mother's Day

Mom is a great secondary character in the series, and this is her best one. I find her henchmen/sons to be super-annoying (beyond what you're supposed to feel about them) but she is hilarious. 

14. The Sting

This is a good episode but I never felt the next level of emotional "punch" that they were trying to achieve. Despite the fact that at this point many of the characters have died (sort of) in the run of the series, I never really felt the stakes of Fry's apparent death in this one. They weren't going to kill the main character. 

13. A Head in the Polls

Nixon! I think this show overuses the Nixon jokes (Matt Groening is a little obsessed), but they worked here.

12. The Series has Landed

I've always enjoyed this one much more than the pilot, which had a lot of exposition to get out of the way to introduce characters and how Fry got there in the first place. This did a good job of establishing the stories that they wanted to tell on the show. It's also the source of one of the main team names I use for fantasy teams, the Crushinators, so named after the third of the moon farmer's three robot daughters.

11. Parasites Lost

This tells the Flowers for Algernon story even better than the original. 

10. Time Keeps on Slipping

I wish this series made more use of The Harlem Globetrotters, masters of particle physics.

9. The Farnsworth Parabox

Who doesn't love alternate universe episodes? Also, some great Zoidberg in this one

8. How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back

I just love this episode. The song that he sings in the end gets stuck in my head all the time.

7. Leela's Homeworld

Futurama's at its best when it hits the emotional chords, and this is a good one. Probably the best Leela episode. Also, I love the Cookieville Minimum Security Orphanarium.

6. Brannigan, Begin Again

Those filthy Neutrals. *shakes head*.

5. Roswell That Ends Well

I did do the nasty in the pasty! Which sets up...

4. The Why of Fry

I love the Nibblonians, and all of the Fry backstory conspiracy stuff all comes to a head here. Combine that with some great Fry-Leela stuff and you have a great, action-packed episode.

3. Xmas Story

"I'm gonna get you so many lizards!". The entire concept of an evil Santa Claus that roams the streets on Xmas Eve, punishing the naughty, is tons of fun. I also love the gag where Fry hangs from a digital clock.

2. Luck of the Fryrish

1. Jurassic Bark

These are both such great episodes, and hard to write about because of the emotions they stir up. Who would have guessed that an animated half-hour comedy show could put together two of the most poignant episodes to ever air on televison? Anyone who has ever had a dog knows what I'm talking about.

Honorable mentions

The movies ("season 5") were mostly meh, though Bender's Big Score was pretty good. They suffered from having to also be split into four standalone-ish episodes, and I thought that this was especially noticeable in Bender's Game.

I didn't see all of season six, but the two episodes that jump out to be included on this list are That Darn Katz and The Late Philip J. Fry, which would probably both go in at the low teens in this list. That Darn Katz did a great sendup of academia (Amy gets her PhD) and is the most quoted episode around here these days due to our dog Lucky's topical disinfectant spray ("Ooh, he's going to get such a spritzing!").

The newer Futurama episodes have been good but in general haven't been as great as the original run. Not that I'm complaining, if the original run was an A, the newer ones have been about a B+/A-.

October 01, 2011

Now You Know

Wisconsin delivered an old fashioned asskicking to Nebraska tonight. Welcome to the Big Ten, Big Red! After the nonconference games I wasn't worried about the offense. Russell Wilson joined a pretty good unit that didn't ask much of its QB, and he brought a lot to the able (and made Nick Toon look good for once).

My main concern entering B1G play was the defense, which hadn't been tested by anyone to speak of. It looked bad in the first game of the season against UNLV's "pistol" offense. They did just fine against Nebraska today, neutralizing their running game and keeping mobile QB Taylor Martinez contained for most of the game. The line got plenty of pressure on him, and the secondary picked him off three times.

About the only complaint was what happened early in the first half, when Abbrederis fumbled a return and Nebraska punched it into the end zone. It anchored a stretch that saw Nebraska jump on three fumbles. Two of them were their own, so apparently they had lots of practice at is (laughing) (h/t cdw).

Wisconsin's schedule looks favorable, with Illinois as the lone ranked team on the schedule. It's always tough to count on a win in the Horseshoe though, no matter how unsettled the aOSU QB situation is, and I'm still worried about Sparty after last year.

vs Indiana
at Sparty
at aOSU
vs Purdue
at Goldy
at Illinois
vs Penn State

Should be a fun ride.

When you say Wisconsin, you've said it all.

September 18, 2011

Wisconsin Non-Con recap

Technically the non-conference portion of the season isn't over yet, but I feel safe in saying that anything I say about the first three games will apply to the last one and then some.

But really, what is there to say? Wisconsin's offense looks incredible. My only concern on the offensive side was whether Russell Wilson would have anyone worth a damn to throw to, but Jared Abbrederis and Nick Toon have risen to the occasion. The Badgers are still getting plenty of yards on the ground, though James White hasn't seemed quite as explosive as he was last season.

The only hiccups so far have been some rusty play by Borland and Taylor in the UNLV game (understandable) that seems to have cleared up, and some strange line play against OSU. Early in the game both of Wisconsin's lines were being pushed around, which is unusual to say the least. They won 35-0 so they must have figured it out I guess.

Bring on Nebraska!

September 06, 2011

NFL season predictions

AFC Playoff teams:

North: Steelers (12-4)
East: Pats (12-4)
South: Texans (9-7)
West: Chargers (12-4)
WC: Ravens (9-7)
WC: Jets (9-7)

NFC Playoff teams:

North: Packers (11-5)
East: Eagles (11-5)
South: Saints (10-6)
West: Rams (9-7)
WC: Cowboys (10-6)
WC: Lions (9-7)

NFC North:

Packers: 11-5
Lions: 9-7
Vikings: 7-9
Bears: 4-12

Super Bowl: Steelers over Saints

September 05, 2011

UNLV 17 - 51 Wisconsin

Like last year, I'm going to try to do some quick thoughts after each game this season. It might be tougher this year because I'm at a short term position in Rhode Island and did not bring my TV. It looks like I'll be spending some time in bars this fall (for the Packers too, of course).

I barely followed Wisconsin football this offseason. About all I knew was that Watt, Carimi, and Kendricks were all drafted (and should play major roles for their teams this year). If you asked me this summer who the QB was going to be I might have said Tolzein --- I couldn't remember if he graduated or not. After I finally emerged from the football-shaped rock I was hiding under I heard lots of great things about Russell Wilson, but my concern was that he wouldn't have anyone to throw to. Between this and the talent drain from the draft I was uneasy with the predictions being thrown around about UW winning its division, let alone winning the B1G and contending for a national title.

How Wisconsin won: Russell Wilson got plenty of praise for his performance, but it was Wisconsin Football that won the day - running, running, and yet more running. At one point they listed all of Wisconsin's drives and they were averaging fourteen yards per play . Ball and White look in midseason form. Wilson looked great in the pass attempts he did make, though he overthrew two passes early. However, there's little doubt that the run game set those throws up so it will be interesting to see how he does against a stouter defense. The Badgers didn't see many third downs and those they did see were mainly third and shorts. Wilson made some great plays with his legs, and the best compliment I could make was that he didn't remind me of Brooks Bollinger*. He made good decisions on when to tuck and run and ran one in for an easy touchdown with WRs blocking down field.

*Bollinger was notorious to me for giving up on plays and trying to run with it. I can't count how many times I heard "Bollinger on the keeper....gain of one yard on the play".

How UNLV lost: I can criticize a few things about UNLV's game (mainly lousy red zone execution), but given expectations this was a win for them. Aside from the financial aspect (which was the main reason they set up this series), their "Pistol" offense gave the Badger defense fits, as well as the camera crew. I must have been misdirected five or six times with their option plays and had no idea who had the ball. They were consistently getting to the edge against a Wisconsin defense that looked very slow. The defensive line was definitely missing J.J. Watt, and Chris Borland (who I had completely forgotten about after he missed last year with an injury) did not seem like the impact player that he was when he won the B1G Freshman of the Year award after the 2009 season. Jesse Palmer or (ugh) Craig James mentioned that they could just be gaming Oregon State with their defenses this week, which is right about the level of analysis I expect from those two.

Game ball: Montee Ball

Next week: Oregon State (who just lost to a FCS team!) at Camp Randall. Wisconsin's non-conference schedule is nuts this year. Three games at home and one game at Soldier Field vs Nothern Illinois.

July 31, 2011

Summer TV Countdown: #2 Parks and Recreation and #5 Community

This summer, the Onion's AV Club published 4-part interviews with the showrunners of Community and Parks And Recreation (you can find the final installments, and links to the previous ones, here and here). In my brain Michael Schur will always be Ken Tremendous, so I refer to him simply as KT below.

(Obviously, spoilers if you haven't watched the most recent season of these shows).

These are both shows that I quite enjoy, but I had very different reactions to the interviews. KT's Parks and Rec interview reminded me of everything that I love about Parks and Rec, while Dan Harmon's Community walkthrough magnified everything I'm worried about on Community.

Let's start with the Community one, since it was first anyway. It's a show that is (intentionally) tough to define beyond the fact that it's a comedy. It has a large ensemble cast, pretty much all of whom work well together. It enjoys doing, for lack of a better word, spoof episodes, where they riff on some particular genre of movies or tv. Most importantly, unlike most tv shows (especially sitcoms) it takes risks by challenging and changing its characters and their dynamics, which is always nice to see. These risks the show takes, both with individual episodes and the characters themselves is why it can crank out such great episodes, but they don't always work out.

I thought the biggest character misstep they had this season was with Chang, who was the breakout star of the first season and was largely pathetic and used to little effect this year. What made his character great was how drunk with power he was in the first season. The change they made to his character was interesting in a "let's see what happens" sense and was an organic change with respect to the internal logic of the show, but despite adding the extra wrinkle with Shirley's baby this year it largely went nowhere, and the show suffered without him. Having more John Oliver was nice, but didn't fill in that gap. I don't know what else they could have done - it would have been interesting if he somehow became the new dean, but the current dean is so awesome that you can't write him off the show.

I wasn't a huge fan of what they did with Pierce in the second half of the season either, but I'll give them more of the benefit of the doubt there. He turned into a (even huger) huge asshole and it was hard to figure out why everyone was still friends with him. They did address this in the finale though, and it makes a little more sense if he's being set up as the villain in the next season, which could be interesting.

My biggest issue with the show, which was only magnified by this interview, is how much the show loves patting itself on the back for some of the sitcom-subverting things they do. I'm not sure why it bothers me so much - in some sense it's not too different from doing, say, the zombie episode or the war movie spoof that was the first paintball episode. In particular, I'm thinking of the Documentary Filmmaking episode, where they spoof the mockumentary format, Paradigms of Human Memory, where they spoof clip shows, and Critical Film Studies, where they base the entire episode on an elaborately framed joke related to a lesser-known 1980s movie.

People like what they like - I also am apparently the only one who doesn't enjoy the Troy freakouts they used in the second half of the season - but when the showrunner says things along the lines of "we don't have to reinvent television every week", and you take him seriously in context, it could lead to trouble. I recognize that it takes some careful planning to craft a good comedy show, but this kind of overthinking can spoil things. I don't have a problem with serious episodes - one of my favorites this season was Troy's birthday party. I thought it was just a factor of seeing how the sausage was made - I made these points in the comments to one of the interview parts and the interviewer said that all showrunners were like this.

Fast forward to the Parks and Rec interview with Ken Tremendous. He also goes into great detail about their strategy of crafting their show, but instead of making me nervous it just reminded me of everything I love about Pawnee and those characters in general. P&R isn't afraid of a little change either - it cut Mark from the show after the second season and more or less replaced him with Ben, Chris joined the cast, April and Andy got married, Tom quit his job. The show still had a few issues: they still generally have a tough time with Ann storylines, the Leslie and Ben stuff dragged a bit, and they could be in danger of leaning too much on Ron stories (though not too much, as every plot involving Ron has been absolutely hilarious so far).

The best part of the interview is just that you have a bigger sense of what KT wants to do with the show. Both Community and P&R have established a greater universe (Greendale, Pawnee) to interact with, but I have a better sense of what kinds of stories P&R wants to tell with its characters. Much more so than Community, what keeps bringing me back to P&R is that you get to spend time essentially hanging out with characters you like. The same is somewhat true in Community, especially with regards to Abed and Troy, Annie, and to a greater extent (for me at least) with Britta. But Community thrives more in intra-group conflict than P&R, which has much more to do with the inherent conflicts of governing. One thing KT mentioned about his vision for the show is that he doesn't like that most sitcoms are basically driven by jokes where the characters are all mean to one another. This is definitely something that's bothered me about a lot of the big sitcoms of the last 10-15 years or so, especially shows like Seinfeld (which I like less and less as time goes on) and Everybody Loves Raymond, which we used to love but just got tired of eventually due to all the hate flying around. The same is also somewhat true of The Office, though that show has some heart behind all of it.

Some of my love for the show also stems from the fact that I can connect with Leslie's (and clearly from the interview KT's) view of government, especially the parks. I grew up going on vacation to dozens of National Parks (as my mother worked for NPS for 30+ years), and my wife and I both worked at Harpers Ferry National Park when we were in high school/early college, where we met and worked with many more people who loved their jobs and were very good at them. Leslie is a proxy for everyone we knew who are good at their jobs and enjoy public service. There are certainly plenty of other people on the show who aren't such great examples but they all work anyway because they all respect Leslie.

I could probably say a lot more about Parks and Rec, but the appeal of the show is nicely summed up with what I said above about hanging out with characters you like. I'm really glad to see the show and Amy Poehler getting some Emmy love this year. Apparently Community didn't win any friends by essentially basing their Emmy ad campaign in Hollywood by telling people who haven't seen the show that they're idiots, so it's not that surprising that they got zero Emmy nominations.

Top three episodes for each show this season:
1. Flu Season
2. Fancy Party
3. Jerry's Painting

1. Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas
2. Collaborative Calligraphy
3. Consipiracy Theories and Interior Design