Monday, March 24, 2014

The Butchering of The Bay Harbor Butcher

I put it off long enough. For the last two seasons I pained my way through the slow decay of one of my favorite TV shows of all time. I dragged that last season out to almost a year after it ended...but tonight was the night. I have finally finished "Dexter".

Before I get into this I'm going to reveal how I wanted the show to end. I've never been one to write fan fiction, but if ever there were cause to do so, this is it. 

I came up with this theory after season four's brilliant finale, and I felt so proud of it. Season five would happen in real time, and after that there would be a huge jump in time. Harrison would be in his teenage years and would be killing squirrels and neighborhood dogs. After all, just like Dexter, the death of his mother would have left him permanently scarred. Dexter would try to teach him The Code, but wouldn't be able to bring himself to reveal who he was to his son. He couldn't scar him more, he had to protect what was left. 

Naturally, Deb would find out who Dexter was, and, being true to her character, would force herself to turn him in. Not wanting to hurt anyone any more, Dexter would abandon his life in Miami and go on the run. The last season would follow the fugitive Dexter Morgan as he tried to outrun the police. But in the end, Harrison would catch-up with him. Just like Dexter did for his brother, Harrison would put Dexter in his own kill room, and take his life the way Dexter took so many others'. The last shot would be coupled with a final narrative from Dexter as his life ran out of him.  Fade to black.

But oh no. The writers didn't want to bother with well-constructed plots and foreshadowing and all that awesome writer stuff.  Harrison's not a serial killer, the world never finds out who the real Bay Harbor Butcher was....Dexter doesn't even get arrested.

I'll give this to you writers: you almost had me. Despite the ridiculous and impossible events that led up to it, when Dexter dropped his sister in the water and sailed off to kill himself...the tears built nevertheless. I came this close to crying over the end of a once-great TV show. Sure, the rest of the episode, hell, the rest of the season may have been complete shit written by the seat of your pants...but at least you made a tear-jerker out of the final moment.

But oh no.

He's not dead. He's a lumberjack! And he's ok. He sleeps all night and he works all day.

I shouldn't be surprised. If I hadn't been so far behind I would have live-tweeted this season about how farfetched it was. Every episode felt like the men and women of the writer's room just went: 

" let's introduce this psychiatrist who actually knew about him his whole life, basically made him who he was, and never wanted to meet him until now." 
"Yeah, yeah...and what if this random under-five character turns out to be her son!" 
"...who's really going to be the main antagonist of-"
"-The last four episodes!"
"And how about in the last two episodes we introduce the concept of hurricanes!"
"Oh yeah, we're in Miami...but somehow we made it through eight years without that ever being a thing!"
"You think anyone will notice?"
"Nah...we got away with there being a new serial killer in Miami every couple of months."
"True, they haven't even noticed we completely forgot he has two adopted step kids."

I don't think I'm far off. With all the great villains the show made over the years...the final season just decided not to have one. In its place, a bunch of loose ends that...kind of get tied up? There are too many moments to mock and too many out-of-character moves to dissect for me to even begin. Instead, all I can do is sit here and be sad. 

There was a time the start of a new "Dexter" would be such a thrill. I'd hear those first few notes and I'd smile right along with Dexter as he smacked that pesky mosquito. But towards the end I couldn't even bring myself to pay attention to the full episode. I'd dream about the days where John Lithgow was on the screen, the story was actually pretty brilliant, and the twists were shockers instead of poorly conceived deus ex machinas.

It's unfortunate that there isn't more to say, but even the actors didn't seem to want a part of the final season. There were no interviews, no talk show appearances...everyone just stopped caring. Poor Michael C. Hall did his best up there, but even his brilliance couldn't save this train wreck. "Dexter" suffered a long and painful downward spiral. When I think of this show, I will do my best to focus on the good times: Biney, Trinity, Rita, Miguel, The Skinner...hell, by the end I even missed Doakes and Lila, and I hated those two. 

Now I will begin my plan of reading the novels. Originally I saved them so I'd have something to continue the legacy with. Now I will read them to hopefully restore it.

Rest in peace, Dex...I'm sorry they did this to you.

I understand there's talk of a spin-off. Producers, consider my above alternate ending my application for the writer's room. And uh...I guess...ignore the bashing? No, you needed that.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

'With' vs 'Starring': Fallon's "Tonight Show"

I would like to take a minute to speak positively about something I haven't spoken positively about in five years: The Tonight Show, and more to the point... its shiny new host.

For a long time I did not like Jimmy Fallon. I, like many others, could not stand how he constantly laughed at his own jokes on SNL. But when he took over Late Night, he really started to find himself. He made that show equally as great as Conan and Letterman did, while simultaneously making it a completely original program.

It was for this reason I became thrilled when it was announced he would be the second man to take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. Now, those who know me know I don't have many kind words left to say about Mr. Leno. I used to, but I was outraged by his actions during the 2010 Tonight Show battle. I was then, and forever will be on Team Coco. When Leno returned to The Tonight Show, I removed myself from its viewership. I successfully, and proudly, boycotted the Tonight Show, not watching more than a passing clip of it for the past five years. I also made sure I was planted on the couch for Fallon's first episode.

It's been almost a month since he took over, and Jimmy's Tonight Show has done nothing but top itself night after night. Have I been on the couch every night? No...but I have usually watched most of each episode online the next day. The last two nights, especially last Thursday night with Billy Joel, has confirmed what I had been starting to feel all month: Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show were made for each other.

 You'll notice, that the title of his show goes back to what Carson and Parr used: "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon". Both of Leno's incarnations, as well as Conan's Tonight Show, used the title: "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno/ Conan O'Brien". I think that couldn't be more appropriate. I liked Jay's first show. I did. But I, while not alive for most almost all of Carson's show, have seen Johnny behind the desk and know why his name holds the respect it does. Neither Jay nor Conan's show was remotely the same. Jay participated in the Tonight Show...he took care of it for a good long time...but he did not star in it. Jay had some funny bits, but he was never outright funny. In stand-up? Maybe, but not on The Tonight Show. His show was much more about the guests than it was the host.  As for O'Brien, I'm still on Team Conan. I have also come to realize that he was never made to be the host of The Tonight Show. Conan's Tonight Show was a bit more focused on the host, but given his short tenure, and his unfortunate departure, I think the "with" is appropriate for him as well.

Now Jimmy...Jimmy is unquestionably "starring" in his Tonight Show. Take this Thursday night's episode for example. When Billy Joel began to sing "You May Be Right", Fallon all but took over the number. I didn't mind at all, the audience didn't mind at all, and Billy certainly didn't look like he minded at all as Jimmy proceeded to lay on his piano, dance in front of him, and practically sing the whole damn song.

I feel very confidently that Fallon, assuming he continues to produce the quality show he has been this month...and for the last five years on Late Night...will still be behind The Tonight Show's desk a few decades down the line. I certainly want him to be, and if you haven't been watching it yet, you should. I promise you'll have a great time. I acknowledge the legacy and the prestige that comes with the title of The Tonight Show, and that is all thanks to Carson. It's true: there will never be another Johnny Carson. But who knows. Give him twenty or thirty years and we may very well be sitting here saying "Man...there will never be another Jimmy Fallon."

Friday, March 14, 2014

The 30 Most Underrated Billy Joel Songs

On New Year's Eve, I was at Billy Joel's concert in Brooklyn. This was my second time seeing
him, and on both occasions I noticed something: several songs he would play were largely unrecognized by the crowd. On this particular occasion I overheard someone saying they had "never heard this song before!" The problem was, it was Billy Joel standard. Or at least, I assumed it was.

What I've come realize over the past three months is that most people only know a select amount of Billy Joel songs. Well, I'm here to inform you that Billy's talents extend far beyond the twenty or thirty songs that get rotated on the radio or that you play on your Essential Billy Joel CD. In fact, I'm willing to bet you skipped some tracks on that CD, didn't you? 

I want everyone to know Billy has great songs that haven't been played to death. The following list should serve you well if you've never heard some (or all) of them before. Use it as a won't be disappointed. I've included a YouTube link the songs for good measure. As per my last few countdowns, I did rank them. Perhaps fellow die-hards may disagree on some of my rankings, but they they will all certainly tell you each of these songs deserves your ear.

Once again, a slow scrawl down will maximize the drama. 

30.) Worse Comes to Worst

29.) Get It Right the First Time

28.) Los Angelenos

27.) Weekend Song

26.) All About Soul

25.) I Go to Extremes

24.) If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)

23.) I've Loved These Days

22.) Christie LeeBilly has written many songs about his second wife, Christie Brinkley. This is probably the most direct.

21.) Everybody Loves You Now
Newer recordings are better, but this is the first from his debut album: "Cold Spring Harbor" 

20.) Baby Grand
With Ray Charles. Certainly his best duet. (His daughter Alexa has the middle name "Ray" in honor of Charles.)

19.) Travelin' Prayer

18.) Leningrad
Trivia: Both the stories he tells are true. He met Viktor the Clown during his tour of the Soviet Union.

17.) Tomorrow is Today
Trivia: Once upon a time, Billy tried to kill himself. He took his suicide note and turned it into the lyrics for this song.

16.) Somewhere Along the Line

15.) You're My Home

14.) Streetlife Serenader

13.) Souvenir 

12.) Ain't No Crime

11.) Stiletto 

10.) Goodnight Saigon

9.) Keeping the Faith

8.) An Innocent Man

7.) Big Man on Mulberry Street

6.) Stop in Nevada

5.) Zanzibar
If you have skipped any songs on the way down this list that you didn't already know...don't skip these last five. And then go back and listen to the rest.

4.) Vienna

3.) The Ballad of Billy the Kid

2.) Prelude/ Angry Young ManIt was this song that the person next to me at the NYE concert failed to know. For shame.

1.) Summer, Highland Falls

Monday, December 16, 2013

The 50 Greatest Characters of "Lost"

Nowadays it seems I am only prompted to write a post once every six months or so. My last several posts have all been regarding upcoming events: the GTA V release, the Oscars, etc. Today I write what might be my first response piece on this blog.

For the past few days, a BuzzFeed list entitled "The Definitive Ranking of 43 Lost Characters" has been making the rounds on social media. My initial response was outrage. I realize, of course, BuzzFeed created this list mostly to get laughs, as they do with...well...everything, but then I got to thinking of what a legitimate ranking of these characters would look like. Lost was rich with compelling and complex characters, not all of them "fan favorites". I took some time to look at other "greatest Lost character lists" and most were done by popularity, rather than by the character themselves. I was shocked at who was left off of most of these lists. I began to think that putting an order to Lost's best and brightest in this manner might be an interesting challenge.

Indeed it was.

The following list took me quite awhile to compose, and for those of you haven't just scrolled right to it, I thought I'd take a second to explain how I decided on the order. 

First, I thought of doing it by "overall importance to the story", but immediately dismissed it. Nobody wants to see Jack at Number One. So I decided the best way was to compare these characters based on these qualities:

1.) Their individual story arc and development. 
2.) Theories and debate the character provoked. 
3.) The actor's performance. 

Now then. Since 90% of the people who opened this article skipped all of this anyway...I humbly present who I feel are, in order, the 50 greatest characters on Lost

The List
(I suggest a slow scroll for maximum dramatic effect)

50.) Matthew Abaddon

Abaddon was always very compelling to me. His role wasn't made clear until near the end of his run, and viewers were forever guessing as to what his true purpose was. I liked that he was a bit of apparition, but I would also have liked to have seen him last longer.

49.) Nikki and Paulo

These two on the other hand... Nikki and Paulo were the perfect example of a major character (they fail to exist separately in my opinion, Paulo doesn't even have a last name) that was forced upon the audience. They popped up out of nowhere, not even from the log-carrying survivors and we were meant accept them. No one did. No one also liked that they apparently discovered many island secrets before anyone else, and apparently didn't care that they did. The only interesting thing about them was their death and good riddance. 

48.) Leslie Artz
What's not to love about Artz? Were you not overjoyed when he was found in the teacher's break room in Ben's flash-sideways? Were you not shocked at his rather sudden...departure? Let's be honest, we all still have a little Artz on us. 

47.) Ana Lucia Cortez
Ana Lucia was another main character viewers never quite got behind. It was only near the end that we started to feel for her. She was never the strongest character, nor the most popular, but she did have her moments. Her pre-crash scenes with Jack were great. And of course nobody could hate her when she met up with Michael in the end.

46.) Ilana Verdansky
Ilana, unfortunately, was one of those final-additions to the cast that were never fully realized. When she died, no one cared, and nothing changed. It made no difference. Zuleikha Robinson's performance was good, and Ilana played an important part near the end, but much more could have been done with her.

45.) Goodwin Stanhope

Had we seen Goodwin's character presented in chronological order, we might have loved him. Instead, we were left conflicted and indifferent. One of the more memorable Others, and early villains, we later saw a more caring and tender side of him (as we did with most Others). Goodwin was man that was full of surprises. 

44.) Mother

When Allison Janney suddenly joins a cast out of nowhere, you sit up and pay attention. In one episode, she gave us one of the most important, dynamic, and confusing characters the show had to offer. Some fans point at the Mother as the cause of all of The Island's problems. I find it hard to argue that point. 

43.) Roger Linus

Or as we first met him, Roger Workman. Ben's father was a bit of a Jack Torrance, and the main reason his son turned out the way he did. He wasn't around for very long, but Jon Gries showed us a very tormented and troubled man in his limited episodes. I felt for Roger, and his two 'gas' scenes were shining moments for the show.

42.) Stuart Radzinsky

Take a moment to remember that the first time you met Radzinsky it was as a bloodstain on the ceiling of the Hatch. Radzinsky is the first character on the list that was aided by the legend that went along with him. After "The Incident" little is known about how he made it to the bloodstain, and many theories swirled. In the time he had with us, however, Eric Lange was great as this balding Other.

41.) Horace Goodspeed
Another addition aided by "the legend" principle. I will never forget the scene where Horace was building the cabin, it was haunting. Another character first presented as a bit of apparition, a bit of a random connection from a flashback, and was eventually developed into pretty fantastic character.

40.) Alex Rousseau

We all wanted to know what happened to Danielle's kid...and then, after awhile...we were kinda sorry we did. Although she was a bit of a pain in the ass, Alex was a passionate, and loving young woman whose life was slowly, bit by bit, taken away from her...essentially since her birth. She was one of the show's real tragedies. 

39.) Elizabeth "Libby" Smith

Libby had theories flying long after Michael's impulsive shot. Although she never made the kind of return fans suspected, she permanently changed several characters with her death, and her past has always been a point of speculation and theorizing. 

38.) Eloise Hawking

First known only as "the ring lady" her introduction made infinitely compelling. Through the performances of several actors, we learned of Eloise's tragic backstory, and her key role in the island's past and future. 

37.) Charlotte Lewis

Charlotte's demise was unfortunate, but not altogether unwelcome. She was compelling, but also a little irritating as far as the main cast goes. But hey...she was no Nikki and Paulo. 

36.) Martin Keamy
You don't have to like them for them to be great. Keamy was a little shit from the moment we saw him and he only turned into a more twisted and vile creature as time went on and things got more desperate. You hated him, but you also couldn't ignore him. He was a fantastic villain and his showdown with Ben was a perfect send-off for him. Initially, anyway.

35.) Pierre Chang

We loved him before we ever met him...and then we loved him even more. Each new Dharma video was like a gift. He had theories flying for seasons before he actually showed up...and no one expected him be the bombastic grouch that he was. 

34.) Tom aka "Mr. Friendly"

No matter what Ben claimed...Tom was not one of the good guys. He put on a great smile, but the fact is he did a lot of a really dirty things. The complication is most of those things were done under orders. He was a fixture of the show from the moment he took Walt. 

33.) Shannon Rutherford

Shannon started out as such a stereotype. I hated her for much of the first season, but slowly her complexities were revealed (we all remember that backstory with Boone) and she became a more dynamic and interesting character. I think she went at the right time, though.

32.) Charles Widmore

A show like Lost needs a super villain and Widmore wanted to be it desperately. He captured our theories and our scorn. Alan Dale delivered to us a typical antagonist for many seasons, but ultimately there were more complex villains out there on the island.

31.) Ethan Rom

And speaking of villains, you never forget the first. When Hurley figured out the manifest, and Ethan showed up with Claire and Charlie in the jungle I nearly hit the ceiling. He was one of the first big shocks of the show, and it was hard to see his more dedicated and loving side in flashbacks after his hating him so long ago. 

30.) Mikhail Bakunin
The man who wouldn't die and you never wanted him to. The man who many speculated when you first saw him on that surveillance camera, was the mysterious "Jacob". Andrew Divoff's performance as Mikhail was spectacular and I loved every minute of it. 

29.) Frank Lapidus 

I feel a little bad about having Frank this low, but there wasn't much too him when you get right down to it. Lapidus was a great man, a dedicated team member, and the man who ultimately got them off the island. There was a lot to love, but not a lot to think about.

28.) Rose and Bernard Nadler

Perhaps the most loved couple on the show. Their one and only backstory was worth the wait, and their reunion in season two was tear-worthy. When The Man in Black came to their camp in season six, admit it, your heart came to a complete stop.

27.) Vincent

Vincent might be the most debated character on the show. From the very first shot, he was a fixture of online theories and discussion. Ultimately the theories of the whole show being in his head proved false, but no matter. We all loved it when Vincent showed up. Except of course that last time...when you cried your eyes out.

26.) Anthony Cooper

This is the one name I was constantly surprised was left off of many other lists. Anthony Cooper was a sly, shading, shit head of a father and a great contributor to John Locke's downfall. He had a shocking amount of Lost-connections, and a wonderful performance backing them up. 

25.) Walt Dawson

If Vincent wasn't the most theorized-over character, his owner was, at least for the first two seasons. Walt might never have been fully-realized, but he certainly captured your attention. There was much more ground to cover there, and I was always upset we never saw it. 

24.) Danielle Rousseau

Danielle was the first character we met on the island that wasn't on the plane. Mira Furlan did a wonderful job bringing this long-lost soul to life in a believable, compelling way. 

23.) Boone Carlyle 

Another fine example of a character that departed just when they got interesting. Boone's backstory played a large part in what made him such an unforgettable character. He was the first big loss for the show, and one we always wish we could have had back. 

22.) Claire Littleton

Claire's story took an unexpected twist when she disappeared for almost an entire season. Through her backstory, initial time with the survivors, and ultimate transformation due to her isolation, Claire underwent perhaps the biggest transformations of any of the characters on the show.   

21.) Miles Straume

He put out a tough exterior shell, but underneath that Miles had a very vulnerable core. His relationship with his father, although only briefly explored, was very well done. He had one of the stranger backstories on the show, but with him, it was never doubted.

20.) Michael Dawson

Michael did his best. Through all of his efforts, for all his different goals, after everything life tossed at him, one can safely say that Michael Dawson tried to do what he thought was right. Along the way, he made series of unforgettable, and shocking decisions that rocked the show.

19.) Penny Widmore

Penny drifted into the show like a dream. She a was a strong-willed woman that immediately showed us what Desmond was fighting for. As time went on, we quickly started rooting for her as much as for him. 

18.) Kate Austen

I think it was the writing that brought Kate this low on my list. Coming into the storyline, she was a wonderfully complicated character, but as time went on she back the fixture of a tired love-triangle and, ultimately, never knew what she wanted.

17.) Daniel Faraday

The show's misunderstood and under-appreciated genius. Jeremy Davies gave us three wonderful seasons to enjoy his work on the show, and he never let up for a second. 

16.) Jacob

The big reveal of Jacob was a long-time coming. He was a central character of the show long before we had a face to go with him, and once we did he was that much more interesting. But, if we're being honest, he was nowhere near as compelling...

15.) The Man in Black his brother. We saw him as smoke, we saw him as John Locke, we saw him as countless other incarnations, but it was in his backstory where Titus Welliver showed us what The Man In Black was really all about. Much was to be speculated about TMIB, and much will never be learned.

14.) Christian Shephard

Remember that first time Jack saw his father standing down the beach? (Of course, that was actually The Man in Black, but never mind that now) from that moment on fans were fascinated with Christian. existing primarily in backstories, Christian was a confused and desperate soul. 

13.) Jin-Soo Kwon
Of the original 'pilot' castaways, perhaps it was Jin that grew the most. I don't think anyone liked him when the show started. Well that certainly changed, now didn't it? Over the years Jin underwent a total reformation. Of course, we wouldn't learn he was reforming as opposed to transforming for quite some time.

12.) Mr. Eko
A man of a few words, that Eko, but it didn't take much for him to leave an impact. There might not have been a single other character on the show the fans were more upset with when they left. He was a man too wise for the island to let live. After all, he spotted that someone was impersonating his brother a mile away, and TMIB didn't care for that much. Nevertheless, his final scene with "Yemi" was devastating.  

11.) James "Sawyer" Ford

Sawyer was never short on surprises. Let us not forget how naturally at home he was as LeFleur. He proved to have many more layers than we initially expected, but ultimately he was the show's "Han Solo" from the minute he was introduced. 

10.) Richard Alpert 

In one single flashback, any doubts you had about how you felt about Richard Alpert were erased. It took a few appearances in a few different decades for Richard to really capture everyone's attention, but once he had it, he never let it go. In Ab Aeterno many of our questions about him were answered, and we learned more about him than we had ever wondered. 

9.) Charlie Pace

It was never easy being Charlie, and it never got any easier for him as time went on. But Dominic Monaghan turned in an incredible performance over Charlie's three seasons. Although he made some terrible decisions, his ultimate sacrifice more than redeemed him.

8.) Jack Shephard 

The born leader, who didn't want to lead, yet totally did. It wasn't until the final season that Matthew Fox really got some good stuff to work with with Jack. For most of the series it was just, well, Daddy issues. In that sixth season Jack almost became a whole new character, and I have to say...I liked the new Jack.

7.) Sun-Hwa Kwon

Unlike her husband, we saw that Sun had been both transformed and would transform again. The island gave Sun strength and once she found it she became a force to be reckoned with. Her secret understanding of English  also helped make her one of the more interesting characters early in the series.

6.) Hugo "Hurley" Reyes
For awhile it seemed like Hurley was only there for comic relief. If there was one thing Lost loved to do, it was prove people wrong. Hurley did just that. Hurley quickly proved to be a central part of the Oceanic family, and ultimately, The Island, but what made him stand out was his ability to see past external issues, and realize when the group was crumbling from within. 

5.) Juliet Burke

Juliet definitely took some warming-up to. I don't think I realized just how much I had come to care about her until she was killed. Her backstories were tragic and made you feel for her after initially viewing her as an enemy. The writing treatment with Juliet was excellent. 

4.) Sayid Jarrah
If anyone should have been leading the group, it probably should have been this gentleman right here. Sayid's backstories and decisions helped him standout as one of the most honorable characters on the show. Late in the series he became quite lost on his path, but ultimately gave his life to find it again.

3.) Desmond Hume
When we met him, no one expected Desmond to become as key of a player as he eventually became, but he was always fascinating. A Desmond backstory was a treat. The Desmond-Penny relationship was just perfect. Eventually, the man who came to the island by accident would be the man to save it. 

2.) Benjamin Linus
Enough cannot be said about Ben Linus. You either loved him, or loved to hate him...but love was there. There was a reason Michael Emerson was nominated for four Emmys: he was nothing short of captivating. From the Henry Gale days to when he actually, truly did become one of "the good guys", Ben Linus demanded your attention. 

1.) John Locke
And then there is John Locke. The physical embodiment of the central themes of show: dark and light, good and evil. John was perhaps first real mystery of the show. Oh sure, there was something in the jungle, but you knew that from the ads...that's why you watched the Pilot. You didn't know about this orange-eating, backgammon-playing, boar-hunting, scar-faced, ex-paraplegic named John Locke.You didn't know the shock he would deliver to you in "Walkabout", or in countless episodes after that. You could not have known how many people he would leave in his wake in his search for purpose: Helen, Boone, Naomi, the submarine, The Swan Station, etc. On a greater scale Locke became a walking metaphor when he, unbeknownst to us, became The Man in Black from the man who once just tried to find where he belonged. On a smaller scale, he is  the show's tragic hero: the man of faith who puts it in all the wrong places and all the wrong people, who is betrayed by even his gut feelings. Ultimately, despite how much he loved it, how much he felt he belonged to it...even The Island rejected John Locke.