Monday, March 31, 2008

Whoooo! Smallville, Simpsons, and a final curtain call for The Nature Boy.

Man, somehow it's been a whole week since I last posted here. Well, no worries, as I'm here, I'm back, and ready to roll.

To start off, some TV Stuff. True, there's been a distinct lack of bigtime television programming of late, with Lost off the air, The Office and 30 Rock yet to return from the strike, and Jack Bauer not poised to return to save the world until the fall, and even then only for a one-shot special. However ...

- SMALLVILLE has been on a bit of a streak of late. Okay, the show at its best still can't really touch the likes of a Lost, but considering how much of a rut it's been in for much of this season, I feel like the last two episodes have definitely stepped up the game a bit. Thursday's ep, which featured a pretty intense showdown with James Marsters as Braniac, also showcased some really great performances by Michael Rosenbaum and Jonathan Glover as Luthor Jr. and Sr. respectively. I liked that there was finally a clear status-quo explanation given of Lionel's recent erratic behavior, and I also really like that Lex has pretty much dived headfirst off the deep end. There's no messin around anymore - the guy is evil with a capitol "e." I also enjoyed the fact that for once, the episode had a really nice sense of scope. Similar to the previous week's ep, things just felt "big." Sure, some of the epicness was diminished a bit by the lame, Scooby-Doo dialogue between Clark and Kara ("Gee-whiz, you mean Braniac is pure energy? Then he must have a power-source!") Still, it was a pretty cool scene when Braniac flew Kara up into outer space to some unknown destination, hinting at some unforseen danger yet to be revealed. That's what I want in a Superman tale - vile villains, epic scope, huge stakes, bigtime heroics. Was this a masterpiece of TV drama? No. But was it the second episode in Smallville in a row that really entertained and captivated me from start to finish? Most definitely.

My Grade: A -

- Now, I've read a few decent reviews of last night's SIMPSONS and KING OF THE HILL episodes. To me, I have to say that both were, if anything, somewhat low points in the season for each show.

As far as KING OF THE HILL goes, I just found the story to be pretty all over the place, and with Kahn as the central character, we got a pretty boring "Kahn tries to prove himself to condescending authority figure" stock storyline that, to its discredit, felt like many other episodes we've seen before, despite introducing an all-new character in the form of Kahn's father-in-low. There were some good one-liners -- Dale's remark about stealing another man's signature kareoke song was particularly funny -- but the main plot, as well as the Bobby-Peggy B-story, never really grabbed me.

My Grade: B -

Similarly, THE SIMPSONS had a few funny quips (Homer: Stop talking, boy. That's the TV's job.), but the plot, about Lisa becoming a ballet dancer, and then in turn struggling to ward off a smoking habit, felt utterly disjointed and was mostly just, again, boring. Toss in a go-nowhere B-plot about Homer's secret beef-jerky making, and you have the makings of a stinker of an episode. Even worse, I smiled at first seeing that the ep was including a parody of Roy Scheider-as-Bob Fosse from All That Jazz. Only problem was -- there was no real parody included. The character didn't have a single memorable joke or clever riff. Sadly, even an ending that saw Bart don a Mexican wrestling mask couldn't save this forgettable episode.

My Grade: C

- Now, I will confess here on the blog that, Sunday, a few friends and I gathered to watch the WWE's annual extravaganza - WRESTLEMANIA. This year's event was mostly notable for a single reason, and no, it was not the fact that boxing champion Floyd "Money" Mayweather would be competing in a cross-promotional bout with the gigantic Big Show. No, for longtime fans, the real draw of this year's WM was that it was all but guaranteed to see the final match in the storied career of "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair.

Now, it's no secret that I have been a huge Flair fan for years. How can anyone who calls themeselves a man not admire the self-styled "kiss-stealin', wheelin'-dealin', limousine-ridin', jet-flyin' son of a gun." The man who "styles and profiles." The originator of such classic catch-phrases as "To be the man, you've gotta beat the man," "What's causin' all this?", "Space Mountain may be the oldest ride in the park, but it's still got the longest line," and of course, "WHOOOOOO!" Flair has always had one of the greatest, larger-than-life personas of anyone in sports or entertainment, and is one of the greatest, most emotional talkers in the history of the wrestling biz. Many of his promos are legendary. His feuds with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Sting, Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and more, are classics. He led one of the most infamous stables of badass tough-guys in the Four Horsemen. And aside from all that, he is one of the all-time great mat wrestlers - a man who few doubted when he said he could carry a broomstick to a great match.

So yeah, we all got a bit emotional last night, when Flair stepped into the ring with another legend in Shawn Michaels. In the storylines, a loss would force Flair to retire as an active ring competitor. But in reality, we all knew that this was probably it. In a sport where few things are ever really final, this one was probably about as final as one can get. Afterall, the man is pushing 60. It's amazing what he can still do at his age and it's a given that he is endlessly entertaining on sheer charisma alone. But at some point, reality sets in, even in a business built on unreality. The good news is that the match was a classic. Michaels, in his forties, has the the ability at this stage that Flair once had to carry anyone to a classic, to accentuate their strengths and hide their weaknesses. And Michaels worked like crazy, breaking out flipping moonsaults through tables and all manner of bigtime maneuvers, while working with Flair to tell a story in the ring that packed in a ton of emotion, heart, and drama.

The finish of the match was a classic. Throughout the bitter back and forth fight, Michaels had a few opportunities to put Flair away, but hesistated - he couldn't bring himself to once and for all put an end to Flair's legendary career. With each hesitation, a desperate Flair would capitalize, swinging the momentum in his favor. Finally, with each man wobbly, an all out brawl ensued, with Flair hitting a flurry of his trademark knife-edge chops, each one producing a loud "thwack!" that echoed across the arena, each one inciting the capacity crowd to let out enthusiastic cries of "Whooooo!" But with a sudden blur of motion, Michaels stopped Flair cold with a devastating, out-of-nowhere superkick to the chin. Flair went down, as did Michaels, exhausted. But Michaels was soon back up, as Flair slowly crawled to his feet. Michaels was poised and in position for one more superkick, one more dose of "sweet chin music." If Michaels hit that one final kick, there was no doubt - the match was over. With tears in his eyes, Flair rose to face the inevitable. But Michaels, also tearing up, once again hesitated to pull the trigger. "Come on!" yelled Flair, waving his fists defiantly. If nothing else, he wanted Shawn to bring it, to bring his best, his A-game, even if it meant the end of everything. The camera closed-in on the Heartbreak Kid. "I'm sorry," he said. And with that, he unleashed one final blow to Flair, that knocked him out like a light. One, two, three. Hit Michael's music, that was all she wrote. All that was left was for Flair to get back up one last time, to acknowledge the crowd, all standing and applauding, one last time, and make the long, slow walk back to the dressing room.

So yeah, regardless of what else was on the card, it was a memorable night for all of us fans of The Nature Boy. For one last night, he was "The Man."

And with that, I'm out. Whoooooooo!

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