Tuesday, February 16, 2010

All-Star Jammin' - NBA Thoughts, 24~!, and More!

Well, back from a long weekend and back to the grind. This week is going to be slightly crazy. My parents were supposed to have flown into LA from the east coast *last* week, but due to the snowstorm over there (well, morel ike fear of a snowstorm - turns out it wasn't actually much of a storm), their flight was cancelled. They rescheduled the trip, and now they'll be here Tuesday through Sunday. Good times.

Anyways, it was a fun three-day weekend, and I felt like I got the chance to both relax and be productive. On Friday, I hit up the famous "Friday Night Live" event at Temple Sinai in West LA, for the first time ever. Basically, it's a Shabbat service followed by a gigantic gathering of Jewish young adults for basically a giant reception/party/schmoozefest. It was fun, I ran into some Birthright Israel peeps, and it was cool to see so many young Jews in one place. It definitely felt like the place to be.

Meanwhile, it was a huge weekend for sports. The Olympics in Vancouver kicked off in grand fashion, with an interesting opening ceremonies. Even more exciting for me though was NBA ALL-STAR WEEKEND. I caught all of the various events and festivities, and as always it was a lot of fun to see the NBA's best square off in the three point shoot-out, the dunk-contest, and the All-Star game itself.

Still, there was no denying that this year's dunk contest was flat-out weak. In the last few years, guys like Dwight Howard have helped to bring some excitement back to the show - so much so that rumors swirled that big guns like LeBron or Dwayne Wade might enter the fray this year. Instead, the oppositte occurred. Dwight Howard dropped out, and the contestants were mostly no-names. Past winner Nate Robinson won basically by default, and the crowd was never all that into the whole thing. So I say: the NBA needs to do something to get the game's biggest names back in the contest. Throw in some veterans, some newbies ... hell, get that D-League guy who apparently did a 720 in the D-League dunk contest. But this year's dunk contest was, undeniably, a let-down.

The rest of All-Star Saturday Night was fun - the best part is always the celebratory atmosphere, and the TNT crew always seems to have a blast calling the event. As is often the case with TNT's NBA coverage, half the fun is just watching the banter between Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Reggie Miller, Ernie Johnson, etc. I will say - I got a kick out of Paul Pierce of the Celtics pulling off the surprise win in the 3-Point Shootout, and then declaring himself one of the "best shooters of all-time." Wow. Hey, the guy doesn't hold back, got to respect that - right?

The actual All-Star Game on Sunday was actually one of the better games in a while - a close game that was competitive but still had dozens of jaw-dropping highlights. It was strange not having Shaq in the game - he's practically been Mr. All-Star Game for years now - but it was also fun to see some of the newer guys, like Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo - step up. And of course, between LeBron, D-Wade, and Dwight Howard, there were plenty of human-highlight-reel moments. Typically, The All-Star Game is when I start to really get into the NBA season and start to pay closer attention to the standings and big matchups. So yeah, I'm excited to see how this NBA season plays out - it's going to be interesting.

And now, some TV reviews ...


- Well, this week's ep was definitely more fun than last week's. But, the same basic problems still persist - whenever Jack is kicking ass, things are good. But just about every other character and subplot is really tanking. Some are boring (everything with Hassan and his daughter), and some are just plain cringe-worthy (Dana Walsh and her redneck stalker). The Dana Walsh storyline sometimes threatens to be so-bad-it's-good - I mean, her stalker's dumbass friend grabbing his cellphone and calling Dana a bitch - well, that was sort of funny. But, the storyline as a whole is just terrible, and worse, it lessens the intensity of the main nuke plot. I mean, if Dana, one of CTU's top operatives, runs away from her desk to deal with this other stuff like every two minutes, then it can't be *that* urgent, can it?

Speaking of urgency, 24 thrives when there is a sense of urgency and desperation driving the action. Even if this is the show's ninth season, we still need a reason why these characters are going full speed ahead for 24 straight hours. This episode was frustrating in that regard, because there were a couple of instances where characters like The President, Hassan, Renee, and maybe even Jack would, under normal circumstances, call it a day and go home. So far, the plotline on 24 is relatively low-key compared to what Jack and co have dealt with in the past. No one is really in danger yet - all that's at stake is a peace deal that seemed to be on somewhat shaky ground to begin with. The problem then becomes that we don't really get invested in the plot week to week - we just tune in to see what kind of badass, violent thing Jack will do next. I mean, it used to be that most of Jack's big "holy-$#%&" moments were at least somewhat organic to the plot and context of the story. Time was running out, the clock was ticking, etc.

That said, there were some scenes in this ep that definitely brought the awesome. Jack escaping from his torturous predicament was a classic moment of Jack Bauer Power. Same goes for Jack's under-the-table gun battle with the Russian crime boss. Jack went hardcore and put that Commie right through a table. Great stuff. And the following scenes were great as well - with Jack casually syncing up with the President. I mean, how many people not named Jack Bauer can hand you a cell phone and be like "dude, it's the President of the United States." More gravitas-infused moments like this, please.

Ultimately, this season of 24 just needs something to give it that extra dose of energy. Really, Renee's psychotic / violent breakdown is the only real storyline with any bite so far this season. The actual threat - nuclear rods loose in the USA - is nothing special. Jack has no real personal stake in the mission - he's basically just there because he's a workaholic who can't seem to stay retired. And the political intrigue is basically non-existent. And geez, where's Aaron Pierce?!?!

It's easy to get distracted by an episode that has a couple of kickass moments of vintage Bauer awesomeness. But ... business still needs to pick up soon to help salvage this season.

My Grade: B


- Man, the "Absolute Justice" episode of Smallville was so good ... it was hard going back to "normal" Smallville in its wake. Luckily, this past Friday's episode was an above-average effort. Not in the same league (no pun intended) as the previous week's stellar effort, but still, a fun little adventure. I mean, hey, I will never complain about live-action Zatanna, and it was cool seeing the fishnet-clad master of magic back for another appearance. This ep was much better, actually, than Z's first appearance. It was a more light-hearted ep, but it was fun. This one started off in the midst of a Comic-Con style comic book convention, with Lois and Clark on the scene for the Planet. But when a young boy steals a rare comic - a rare comic that also happened to be cursed - he undergoes a magical transformation similar to the hero of the comic book in question - morphing from unassuming boy to superpowered man. The episode has some fun with the Captain Marvel-style shenanigans, even having Chloe fall for the new mystery man-who-also-happens-to-really-be-a-boy. There were some nice Zatanna moments (including a playful seduction scene with Clark), and some cool homages to Captain Marvel and Miracleman in the storyline, which saw the boy-turned-hero begin to snap thanks to the overwhelming influence of the cursed comic. Still, while the ep was fun, it was also pretty cheesy in parts. I wish Smallville would have followed up on "Absolute Justice" by doing a definitive Zatanna ep, that really took Clark on a journey into the world of magic that the character embodies. Plus, this was another in a loooong line of Smallville eps where the plot is predicated on mistaken identity and people not being who they appear to be. After all the cool twists and turns in the previous week's epic episode, it was a bit frustrating to see Smallville go back to the well yet again.

My Grade: B


- THE SIMPSONS has one of those episodes that was saved from being a total dud thanks to several jokes that hit the mark. In this ep, the Simpsons travelled to the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, after Homer and Marge join with Skinner and Agnes to form a Curling team. Of course, Homer ends up being the weak link in the team, causing a rift between him and the rest of the squad. Meanwhile, Lisa gets Olympic pin-collecting fever. So, yeah, the plotlines in this one were pretty predictable and basically old-hat to longtime Simpsons fans. But, the episode managed to get in some pretty good Canada jokes, and featured a nice cameo role for Bob Costas, who was clearly very game. These various moments of inspired comedy helped save an otherwise forgettable ep.

My Grade: B-

- FAMILY GUY had some funny moments in an ep that is sure to be somewhat controversial, in which Chris tries to win the affections of a girl with down-syndrome. The ep had some pretty good cutaway gags and consistent laughs throughout, though few if any moments of true hilarity. Still, this was probably the most solid comedy of the night overall, and the ep felt more focused and less ADD than some other recent FG installments.

My Grade: B

- THE CLEVELAND SHOW had a pretty strange ep. The main plotline, with Cleveland's friend beginning to date a mousy woman who turns out to be mean and violent, well, it was alright but never fully clicked. And the subplot with Cleveland Jr. swallong Rollo's fish and acting as if he were pregnant ... just weird. There were some pretty funny moments though sprinkled throughout the half-hour - the climactic fight scene between Cleveland's wife and the mousy girl-turned-enforcer was pretty funny, for one.

My Grade: B-


- It's kind of amazing ... over the last couple of weeks, somehow, the first hour of NBC Thursday night comedy has eclipsed the second. Community, which I was lukewarm about at first, is now really starting to fire on all cylinders. Parks and Recreation went from having a questionable first season to having a stellar Season 2. In fact, over the last few weeks, Parks has been so good, well, it just might have become the funniest show on television. The show has managed to combine sharp humor with surprising realism and heart. The ensemble cast is really gelling. And the show's never been funnier. This past week's Valentine's episode was another excellent installment. I thought 30 Rock and The Office were pretty good but not great this week, but I just wanted to give a shout-out to Parks & Rec - if you haven't watched yet, give it a shot.

- Okay, I'm out for now. Back soon with thoughts on LOST.

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