Monday, December 30, 2013

The Legend of Romo

            It’s that time of the year again. December. For Cowboys fans, a familiar feeling is in the air. The Cowboys looked good in November, going 3-1. The defense wasn’t great but heading into the last 1/4th of the year, they look in prime position to take control of this VERY winnable division. At 7-5, the Cowboys could probably go 2-2 and have a shot at the playoffs. It will be close, but given the amount of talent on this team, the Cowboys should get into the playoffs.
            Stop me if you have heard this story before. This was pretty much the same scenario the Cowboys were in last year. And the year before. And two years before that. And a year before that. In fact, the cowboys haven’t been in a comfortable position heading into December since 2007. That was 6 years ago! They haven’t made the playoffs since 2009 and have lost two consecutive regular season finale “win and your in” games (3 in the last 4 years.) For one of the most storied teams in NFL history, that is sad. For “America’s Team” it is pitiful.
            Its easy to make excuses. Have they been injured? Yes. Have they had bad coaching? Yes. Have they just been plain unlucky? Yes. But, since 2006, one thing has been more consistent than anything else: Tony Romo. The most talked about quarterback outside of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady has a bit of a reputation, very similar to that of the entire Cowboys team. He looks great, in fact ELITE, in September, October and November. He makes plays. He manages the game. He leads this team. But, come December, he fails. He throws the game away. In 06, it was this fumble. In 07, this interception. In 2012, this interception. And it goes on and on.
            Unless the Cowboys win a Superbowl, the question will remain: is Tony Romo to blame? Are all of these apparent blunders truly his fault or is there something deeper here? Many defenders of Romo have used statistics as their primary tool. Since he started in the league, there has not been a QB with a better fourth quarter rating than Romo. That’s right: not Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Drew Brees. Romo has also lead 22 game winning drives in his career. Since 2006 (when Romo entered the league), Tom Brady, considered the most “clutch” QB since Joe Montana, has 20. On paper, Romo is one of the best in the game. But there is no other QB with as many lowlights in big moments than Romo.  
            Of course, many articles have been written on this subject. My personal favorite is this one by none other than Bill Simmons. If you’re too lazy, it basically says to turn away from all conversation about Tony Romo. Like the meaning of life or whether UFO’s exist, conversations about Tony Romo only leave you feeling sad and frustrated. ESPN Dallas (yes that exists) writes a “Tony Romo: hero or villain” piece every other week. And you can bet Tony Romo is talked about every Monday morning in almost every office in Dallas. If Romo got a nickel for every time his name was mentioned, he would be richer than Bill Gates.
            So, I’m not here to talk about Romo, at least in the way you are used to hearing about him. In short, I cannot add to the debate about whether Romo is good or bad, elite or not, franchise or folly. Everything that has been said on the topic is out there and, like I said, Romo will never get the credit (or solace) he deserves unless he puts it all together. I’m not here to talk about what did happen, rather, what could have. The question that this article will address is one that needs to be explored: what if Tony Romo never existed?
            Let me repeat: What if Tony Romo never existed?
            To clarify, I don’t mean this question literally. Obviously, there are philosophical and metaphysical implications by “never existed.” What I mean is, what if Romo never played QB in the NFL? This question is not all that crazy considering that Romo probably shouldn’t have been an NFL QB in the first place, if things go as they normally do for people in Romo’s situation.
            For those that don’t know, Romo was not some highly touted or scouted player from Alabama or Ohio State. He was a small town kid that went to a small town college and played small town football. He went to Burlington High School in Burlington, Wisconsin. If that doesn’t scream small town, then nothing does. He attended Easten Illinios University, a Division 1-AA school in Charleston, Illinois. Ever heard of it? Now, Romo was a pretty damn good QB in college. He threw 85 touchdowns and was the first player FROM HIS CONFERENCE to win the Walter Payton award.
But, again, this post isn’t about Romo. In fact, a post like this wouldn’t even need to exist if Sean Payton wasn’t around. See, even though Romo was good, damn good, he didn’t catch many NFL scouts’ eyes. They were much more interested in future NFL superstars like Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller and Rex Grossman, all of which were chosen above Romo in the 2003 NFL Draft. In fact, Romo wasn’t even drafted. He entered into the abyss of undrafted free agency. He probably would have stayed there forever if Payton, a member of the Cowboys coaching staff at the time and ALUM of Eastern Illinois, didn’t give one to a fellow alum and place Romo on the Cowboys practice squad. The rest is history: Romo proves he is a NFL player, then starter, then pro bowl player.
But, let’s say none of that happened. Let’s say Sean Payton didn’t use his bias to grab Romo off the streets. Let’s say Romo faded into the background. Where would the Cowboys be now? Hoisting multiple Superbowl trophies? Doubtfully.
Let’s take a time machine back to 2006 for a second. The Cowboys were 10 years removed from their last championship and at least five away from NFL relevance. Gone were the days of the triplets and the doomsday D. This was the Bill Parcells era featuring a veteran and declining Drew Bledsoe, and a whiny and overpaid receiver in Terrell Owens. It’s not that this team was bad. The defense was actually pretty solid and they had some young talent. They were just lacking that spark, that special player who could take over a game. They were, at best, a boring team and, at worst, uninspiring. Facing the facts, they were a mediocre team that had been mediocre ever since 1998. This was a team that had a ceiling, a floor, and not much in between.
In 05, the team was 9-7. But, don’t be fooled, their record was much better than the team was. The team stated 2006 3-2, which was pretty good given that their offense was inept. This was a 5-0 defense playing with a 1-4 offense. It was obvious Bledsoe was done. He couldn’t make the throws needed to win games. In Week 7, he was pulled for Tony Romo and never saw the field again.
But, remember, in this universe, THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Romo doesn’t exist, so Bledsoe keeps playing. Maybe Bledsoe gets pulled and is replaced by whoever the second string QB is. Who was it? It doesn’t matter. The Cowboys didn’t draft a young QB that year so it would probably be another random practice squad player like Romo was. Maybe the Cowboys would luck into another Romo. Probably not. This universe is about probability, though, which is why Romo never got a job in the first place. So, a scub comes in to replace Bledsoe or Bledsoe, the scrub version, plays the rest of the season out. It doesn’t matter. The Cowboys finish the way they were playing: good defense, bad offense, no playoffs.
Now, it’s 2007. The Cowboys finished with a mediocre record. The good news? The defense played well, they have a solid running game (Julius Jones and Marion Barber), a good o line, etc. Now they just need a quarterback. Bledsoe’s contract is done and he retires. If the Cowboys can find a quarterback, they have the team needed to finally get this team back to relevance, back to America’s Team.
It’s 2007 and the Cowboys are in luck! This year’s selection of QBs is touted as one of the best yet. Since the Cowboys finished only mediocre, and not horribly, they will have to probably trade up to get the franchise QB. But, for this team that is “one player away,” it is worth it.
It’s 2007 and there are two QBs at the top of this class. At 6’6, JaMarcus Russell is the can’t miss prospect of this draft. He has a rocket arm, is athletic, and can make any throw. He lead LSU to a Sugar Bowl Championship and is expected to lead whatever NFL team he is drafted by to a NFL championship. Is a little lazy? Sure, but once he gets paid, he will get motivated.
Or, the Cowboys could luck into another can’t miss prospect. Brady Quinn is held as the perfect NFL prospect. A smart, athletic leader from Notre Dame, Quinn brought the fighting Irish back to college football relevance. He is the real deal and is the perfect player to be the face of the franchise.
It’s 2007, not 2013. We know better. We know Quinn ends up being your average NFL backup, unable to make the throws and unwilling to lead a team. We know Russell ends up being one of the biggest busts in NFL history. In fact, the best QB in the 2007 draft class is probably Matt Moore, who was an undrafted free agent that, ironically, the Cowboys signed. We know this because hindsight is 20/20. The Raiders didn’t know it when they drafted Russell with the first overall pick and paid him a six year, $68 million dollar deal, with $31.5 million guaranteed. The Browns didn’t know it when they “stole” Brady Quinn late in the first round and paid him a 5 year, $20.2 million dollar deal with up to $30 million in incentives. But, most importantly, Jerry Jones didn’t know it.
An interesting fact about Jerry Jones: he has NEVER missed out on a player he wanted. Call him crazy, a bad owner, a worse GM, but the man gets what he wants. And, frankly, that’s at least 50% of the reason why the Cowboys had 3 Superbowls in 4 years in the early 1990’s. It’s also 50%, at least, of the reason why the Cowboys haven’t won any since. Jerry Jones has made some horrible decisions since that time. One thing he did right was trust Sean Payton, if for only once, on Romo.  But, remember, that never happened here. What happened here? Jones was looking for “the one.” The next Cowboys franchise QB to put on magazines and commercials. And this class had two of them!
Let’s say it was Russell. Jerry sees this athletic, playmaker and falls in love. It’s not that incomprehensible. In fact, it seems quite possible when you think about Jones’ love of pure talent. There may have never been a more talented prospect than Russell, ever. Motivation issues? Nonsense! The Cowboys have Bill Parcells, the motivation coach of the century. If anyone can whip him into shape, it’s Parcells. Plus, once he gets that fat contract, Russell will WANT to win. He will be the franchise QB of the Dallas Cowboys!
Of course, there’s that problem of the Cowboys having a mid draft pick in 2007. But, with some wheeling and dealing, Jerry could get Russell. It may take a lot but Jerry always gets what he wants. Always. Plus, this is my world, I do what I want with it!
So, with the first overall pick, the Cowboys land JaMarcus Russell and the headlines spread across the country. Can you imagine that Russell to Owens combination? Dallas fans are going insane- buying as much JaMarcus Russell memorabilia as they can. Russell is ushered in as the savior of this franchise. People are crowding Valley Ranch to watch the throws, the bombs! Russell had a contact problem in Oakland, so he missed all of minicamp. That wouldn’t be a problem in Dallas. There’s no way the #1 overall pick, franchise QB of the Dallas Cowboys, AMERICA’S TEAM, isn’t getting paid. In fact, he probably gets more than in Oakland. Much more. And the circus starts in Dallas….
Maybe Parcells does get Russell in shape. Maybe a solid running game, a good group of veteran receivers and a solid o line is exactly what Russell needed. Maybe JaMarcus Russell ends up being much better than Romo ever was…
Wait, what am I saying? Not a chance in a million years. Good players make bad teams good: Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, RG3, and Peyton Manning all were in similar situations as Russell and made their teams relevant. Russell didn’t. He couldn’t handle the pressure of Oakland. He got fat and lazy, literally. He had all the tools but just was not a craftsman. You think the pressure of being the Dallas Cowboys QB would change that? Could you imagine what would happen if he put up some of the clunkers in Dallas that he did in Oakland? He wouldn’t hear the end of it, from the media, to the coaches, and certainly the owner. Being the QB of the Dallas Cowboys does one of two things: it makes you fight against the hype or succumb to it. Which one sounds more like Russell? Add in the money from the contract and side deals and you have the ultimate recipe for disaster.
But, let’s be real for a second, the Cowboys probably could not get Russell. For, as good as Jerry Jones is, he would have to fight an aging and senile Al Davis. There is no way he is letting Russell go. The Cowboys would have had to turn to plan B: Brady Quinn.
For as good as Russell was, Quinn was nearly as good. Maybe he couldn’t throw the ball as far as Russell but he made up for it, possibly, in intangibles. He just had that look in him that he was meant to play QB in this league. He went to Notre Dame and had the classic Notre Dame look. Maybe Jerry wouldn’t have been enamored by what he saw on the field, but the second he got Quinn alone in an interview, there’s quite a good chance he would be blown away. You could see Quinn as the face of this franchise. And, he was also a ridiculously good college football player. He seems like the perfect project for Parcells.
Remember how Quinn fell in the 2007 draft? That’s only good news for the Cowboys. In fact, ironically, Quinn fell to the Cowboys draft spot before they traded it away to Cleveland, who ended up drafting Quinn in that spot. Of course, the Cwoboys had a rather late draft pick because they were a playoff team. But that didn’t happen in this universe. The Cowboys have a mid pick, which would have been good enough to land Quinn.
Yet again, Dallas explodes. Is he the spectacle that Russell was? No. Does it matter? Hell no: he’s the new QB of the Dallas Cowboys! He is still featured on PLENTY of magazines, interviews, etc. He gets paid a fortune, more than in Cleveland. And he is thrust into one of the most pressured filled jobs in professional sports.
It is more likely that Quinn succeeds on the Cowboys than Russell. After all, being the QB of Notre Dame is also a pretty damn important job. But, here, the lack of talent is obvious. Quinn cant hit Terry Glenn on a crossing route, TO on the outside, or Witten in the middle of the field. He isn’t bad, maybe not even a bust. But, he is mediocre and, frankly, probably not all that much of an upgrade over Bledsoe. He can’t make the throws and certainly lacks the spark the Cowboys were looking for in the first place.
Before readers take to the comment sections, keep in mind I get it: this is all speculation. Who really knows if this happens. Who is to say what is likely or not. The only thing I know is what I see on the field. Russell is talented but unmotivated. Quinn is a poor decision maker and inaccurate. Maybe Sean Payton and Bill Parcells change that. Probably not. Why? Because both Russell and Quinn were given time, a lot of it. They were both given different systems, and different weapons. Neither produced in smaller markets with less attention. I can’t imagine Randy Galloway, or any other Dallas media member, helping either of these guys out.
Maybe the Cowboys are a little more prude here. Maybe they decide to sign a veteran free agent and draft a QB in later rounds. Okay, so they sign Jeff Garcia and draft Drew Stanton? They sign Matt Schuab and draft Trent Edwards? How does this help?
The Cowboys probably end up in a much worse spot any way you slice it. Russell and Quinn are signed to long term deals, so there isn’t a chance in hell that the Cowboys get a chance at a franchise QB until at least 2010. Then what? The Cowboys waste three more years until they can draft Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, or Tim Tebow. Then what? It’s not like any of those guys end up anywhere. How long is it before the Cowboys even come close to the playoffs? How long is it before they become the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and other teams who were good LONG before I was born?
Let’s flash back to reality now. Its 2013. The Cowboys haven’t made the playoffs in 3 years. It is tough, if not seemingly unfair, to be their fans. December rolls around and, as sure as the smell of Gingerbread and the rush of Christmas, the Cowboys will lose. They have a QB who frustrates us more than anything else and a team who lives vicariously through our frustration.
And yet, things could have been SO MUCH WORSE. The Raiders have not recovered from JaMarcus Russell, financially or emotionally. The Browns have not recovered from Brady Quinn. No free agent QB or late round draft pick has come close to the success of Tony Romo. Does it suck that the Cowboys are 8-8 the past two years and look to be headed towards the same place this year? Yes. But, this team is relevant! They have been in pseudo-playoff games the past couple of years and have actually won a playoff game in the past four years. That’s one more win than most NFL teams.
The Cowboys have messed up, a bunch. They have notoriously overpaid players, in fact, they are in as much debt as America is next year (not actually.) They have changed out coaches, coordinators and systems and nothing has been the “perfect fit.” But, you know what, they matter. Every year that Romo has been QB they have mattered. They have looked good, even great, during the season. It’s a shame they can’t finish but at least they started. In the past five years, Jerry Jones got one position right: the QB. It just so happens that is the most important one to get right.
So go ahead critics. Tell me how Romo chokes, how he is overrated, how he will never be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. You know what, he will never be JaMarcus Russell either. He will never be Matt Schuab or Jeff Garcia. In fact, he at least has the chance to be elite. Whether he does it up to fate, but one thing is for sure, he will always be talked about.

Monday, October 28, 2013

My NBA Predictions


1. Heat
2. Pacers
3. Nets
4. Knicks
5. Bulls
6. Pistons
7. Wizards
8. Bobcats
9. Cavaliers
10. Hawks
11. Bucks
12. Raptors
13. Celtics
14. Sixers
15. Magic

Heat over Bobcats
Pacers over Wizards
Nets over Pistons
Bulls over Knicks

Heat over Bulls
Nets over Pacers

Heat over Nets

1. Warriors
2. Rockets
3. Clippers
4. Spurs
5. Thunder
6. Grizzlies
7. Blazers
8. Mavericks
9. Pelicans
10. Nuggets
11. Jazz
12. Wolves
13. Kings
14. Lakers
15. Suns

Warriors over Mavs
Rockets over Blazers
Grizzlies over Clippers
Thunder over Spurs

Warriors over Thunder
Rockets over Grizzlies

Warriors over Rockets

NBA Finals: Heat over Warriors

NBA MVP: Stephen Curry
Coach of the Year: Mark Jackson
6th Man: Luis Scola
Most Improved: Kawhi Leonard
Defensive MVP: Dwight Howard

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My NFL Predictions This Year

The NFL is the hardest and most random league to predict. Given that, here is my best attempt:
* indicates wildcard

AFC East:
Patriots- 12-4
Dolphins- 8-8
Jets- 6-10
Bills- 6-10

AFC North:
Bengals- 13-3
*Ravens- 9-7
Steelers- 8-8
Browns- 7-9

AFC South:
Colts- 10-6
Texans- 9-7
Titans- 7-9
Jaguars- 4-12

AFC West:
Broncos- 11-5
*Chiefs- 9-7
Chargers- 3-13
Raiders- 3-13

NFC East:
Giants- 10-6
Redskins- 8-8
Cowboys- 7-9
Eagles- 3-13

NFC North:
Packers- 12-4
Bears- 9-7
Vikings- 8-8
Lions- 5-11

NFC South:
Falcons- 11-5
*Buccaneers- 10-6
Saints- 10-6
Panthers- 6-10

NFC West:
Seahawks- 11-5
*49ers- 10-6
Rams- 6-10
Cardinals- 6-10

Broncos over Chiefs
Colts over Ravens

Bengals over Colts
Broncos over Patriots

Bengals over Broncos

49ers over Giants
Falcons over Buccaneers

Seahawks over 49ers
Packers over Falcons

Packers over Seahawks

Packers over Bengals

Cowboys make the playoffs over the Buccaneers

Sunday, June 2, 2013

In Defense of Ted

Hello all,

I have appreciated the comments I have received from my last post so I am going to do another long one on popular culture.

The subject of this post is the subject of a much-heated debate between my friends and contemporaries, namely that of Ted Mosby.

If you have not seen the TV show “How I Met Your Mother” then you need to stop whatever it is that you are doing, follow my blog, and then watch every episode of the show. Don’t do it for me, you will be a new and better person for watching the show.

For you see, every great TV show says more about the audience members than about the characters in the show. There is nothing quite as existential and self-defining then realizing that you ARE a character in a TV show. When you have the undeniable connection with a fictional character played by a professional actor who is just reading off a script, and he or she is staring into the camera, and you find yourself staring back at yourself-it is in those moments that you find the trueness and beauty in life.

But I digress. I, like millions of others, had that moment at least once when watching HIMYM. There is something about the characters, the adventures, the bar, and the lines given by the characters that tickles your soul and touches the brain waves processing the show.

Ironically, though, the show’s biggest criticism is its lack of originality (which is ironic because I was just describing its uniqueness.) Every other show has a Barney Stinson- the classic male chauvinist whom has internal issues, which he is hiding behind the illusion of the flirtatious and gregarious nature for which he expresses constantly. There is certainly an argument that Neil Patrick Harris plays the character differently and, some would say, better than others in similar roles. I think that is the case. But, almost no one would say that the character concept is unique.

Then, there is Robin Scherbatsky, the classic case of identity crisis portrayed geographically (from Canada) or by name (Robin Sparkles), Robin is not necessarily unique either. Her style is different, and certainly Cobie Smoulders interpretation is quite rare, but almost every tv show has at least one character who hides their past and refuses to accept their true identity while establishing a new one.

Marshall and Lily are unique, in their own rights. Most “big guys” on television are the bumbling idiots for which Marshall contradicts. Furthermore, Marshall’s gregarious yet caring nature are often dichotomized in television shows yet somehow are mellifluously together in HIMYM. Lily is the sweet, caring girl who suffers through an identity crisis of her own (nothing new) yet continuously maintains her role as a loving and dependable friend and wife. Maybe paradoxically, Lily is both sexual and motherly in her interpretation of said character.

Yet, together, Marshall and Lily are the classic cute couple who fight for the sake of the plot and are madly in perpetual love with each other. Seeing them together is expected and, at some points, dull. That’s, of course, the point of them as most of the humorous scenes occur when Marshall/Lily is told something or does something that the other is not supposed to know about and results in the inability for one to keep it a secret from the other. Lucy and Ricky me already!

(I know I have been speaking in rather broad generalizations but this really has nothing to do with the subject of the piece, so if you want specifics, hang on tight.)

In fact, the concept of the gang hanging out at a bar is eerily reminiscent of Friends, Community, and even the Cosby Show or Full House. There just isn’t that much originality when it comes to the show.

Yet, you ask, why do so many people like the show? Why is it consistently amongst the most watched on Netflix, and nominated in awards shows?

Most will reply that I have answered the question with the evidence that I just provided. The show isn’t original, and that is a good thing! People love the same old stuff in different contexts. Almost every show is a copy cat of another and that’s why people love TV. HIMYM is the next “Friends” in a different context with slightly different characters in a different time period. The fact is that HIMYM actors and writers are very good at imitations (which is, of course, the point of actors) and it yields good results.

To me, that response is unsatisfying, at best. Anyone who is an avid fan of HIMYM realizes that there is, at least, a difference between HIMYM and other shows. Whether that difference is better or not is subjective and irrelevant. The point is: something about HIMYM is unique.

I think what makes HIMYM unique is Ted Mosby.

(Before you react, keep an open mind. The fact that you have agreed with most of what I have said before should give you credence that I can support this thesis.)

Many believe that Ted Mosby is the most archetypal character in the book (or should I say on the screen?) He is the classic hopeless romantic who is smart but gets in his own way because he wants to find the one. He is the “plot” character whom, without, defeats the show and yet never gets the spotlight because of his mundane nature compared to the eccentric side cast. He is Michael Bluth, Jeff Winger, and maybe even Danny Tanner. (get it?)

I am here to dispel that myth and bring the truth to light. Ted Mosby is not only a unique character that separates the show from the other similarly situated shows but also is the truly best character based upon objective metrics.

Let’s start with the unique part:

A) Ted Mosby is not just a hopeless romantic, but is also a picky one. He doesn’t just want to find his sole mate, he wants one who: likes dogs, plays the bass guitar, does the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, plays tennis, likes old movies, who’s favorite food is lasagna, wjo’s favorite book is Love in the Time of Cholera, and wants two kids. That’s not only a tall order but a nearly impossible one. Throughout his girlfriends, be that Victoria, Stella, Zoey, Victoria again, and the multiple “one episode” others, none come even close to matching this exact description.

But so what, right? We all know the real mother does match all of these characteristics and that, because of the match, is worth the wait for Ted. Besides, picky hopeless romantics aren’t that rare or inconceivable as to be the reason why HIMYM is separated from the rest of the others.

Here’s the bang: despite the fact that Ted is committed to all of these characteristics as the matchmaker for his wife, he still loves Robin. What’s more, Robin is almost none of these characteristics. She can’t have kids, hates lasagna, doesn’t do all the random stuff (base, Cholera, etc.) and, most importantly, does not want to settle down and be romantic. She is spontaneous and he is secure. She wants freedom and he wants to be forever bound with his lover. She is conservative and he is liberal (in the lifestyle way, not politically.) Ted and Robin have nearly nothing in common and yet, Ted still believes, through the ENTIRE SERIES, that he is meant to be with Robin. Call it stupid, or sweet, or funny, or sad but you have to call it something: unique.

B) Ted Mosby is a genius. He does the New York Crossword puzzle, reads philosophy and can engage with the brightest intellectuals about literature and the fine arts. On top of that, Ted is a rising star architect in the architecture capital of the world. He is featured on the cover of New York magazine because he built the headquarters of GNB and looks to have a bright future in the business. Yet, Ted also is noted for making some of the stupidest decisions in the show. He engages in stupid behavior constantly, is easily convinced by girls to be different people, and is unhappy most of the time because he cannot figure out basic social interactions and obvious signs.

You seem to be comparing apples and oranges. Ted is book smart but lacks common sense, which is actually quite common. Furthermore, most TV shows centered around a genius have the same problems, so it is certainly not a reason why the show is unique.

The key element here is Marshall. Marshall is the character who is often portrayed as the book smart character (Colombia grad lawyer at three big firms) who lacks common sense (fish jokes, Minnesota social norms, etc.) Ted is different. Ted is genius who, despite being a genius, cannot come to terms with reality but, at the same time, is so depressed about the reality of his situation that he makes dumb decisions in order to avoid it. He is an optimist who uses pessimism as a primary motivator. He is passionate about his work yet succumbs to the pressures of practical matters in his best accomplishments (becoming a professor, Mosbius designs failures, tearing down the Arcadian.) Most importantly, he thrives off of intelligence yet chooses friends who are often antithetical to the very notion. He is paradoxically intertwined with theoretical problems and real issues. That is a lot of things but it is certainly not copycat.

C) HIMYM is a comedy but, ironically, the main character is supposed to be portrayed as the least funny. Ted is meant to have a couple of good lines but is more of a plot mover to allow the other characters to plug and chug. Despite this role, Ted can also play the side character just as well as the others can since he is not the main character of every episode. As well, certain episodes when he is the main character, he does steal the show (Pineapple Incident being the best example.) He is a diverse character who can play many different roles but can also, and is almost always, the main character of the show.

This is by far the most debatable claim in the paper. First, Ted Mosby is not funny. His lines are often way too forced and obvious. Second, he cannot play a side character as well as the others. There is no comparison between him and Barney Stinson. Third, this certainly is no unique quality of a comedy. Main characters will play side kick to the side characters regularly and will do a great job with it too.

Let me start by saying that I agree with fake italics guy: this is my most debatable claim in the paper, which is why I will make sure to thoroughly cover the objections. Let’s start with the first, that Ted Mosby is not funny. Humor, as the saying goes, is based on shared experiences. Maybe it is because I have been in similar situations before, but the fact that Ted is supposed to be the more relatable character on the show means that, of course, we can empathize with him in certain contexts. Regardless of whether he is the funniest character, he does have some good lines. For instance, take the episode where he just keeps repeating the word “bowl.” That’s pretty funny. Or when he and Marshall are high at the concert with Lily. The point is that Ted Mosby is funny. But, he is probably at his best when he is a side kick. I think this is best shown in the episode when Robin learns she can’t have a kid and Ted makes her that big meal. I am laughing about it just writing it. Or when he is helping Marshall get over Lily in season 2 and he is trying to get Marshall off the couch. These are all classic moments.

(By the way, if you find yourself disagreeing with the examples I am giving you, you may want to consider re watching the episodes or remembering the first time you watched the episodes. I honestly feel like if you are not laughing, you are just disagreeing with your sense of humor just to disagree with me which is counterproductive to even reading this article.)

Now, here is the most important claim. The claim that Ted’s versatility (shown above) is unique. You are right that most main characters can play side kick roles and be good at them, but that was not my original claim. My claim was that Ted, in being the main character of the show, Ted can switch to the side kick instantaneously and then switch back to the main character too. What does this mean? Well, of course, we see episodes through the lens of Ted and via his narration so that automatically puts Ted in a unique role in the story. But, in the story, Ted can play with the characters and the roles of them. The fact that Ted is so normal makes every irregularity of each character pop. Yet, the fact that Ted has weird quirks about him too also adds value to him as a character besides just as a plot mover. Unlike other “normal” characters who can play side kick, Ted as the main character has all of the qualities of a side kick (interesting personality/backstory) and yet has all the normality to play the main character and make him seem relatable. That is why Ted is unique by being truly versatile.

So, just to recap, I was explaining why Ted makes the show unique, and I gave three reasons. First, because he is a hopeless romantic who is in love with someone incompatible. Second, Ted is book smart, has street smarts and yet rarely uses either when facing tough decisions. And third, Ted is versatile to play both main character and side kick and is good at either.

But those are just reasons why Ted makes the show unique. The second part of the statement was that Ted is also the best character on the show. It is understandable to agree with the first part and disagree with the second part since “best character” is very subjective. However, I would encourage those of you who disagree to then replace the word “best” with “most underappreciated.” My point here is to show how Ted has value beyond carrying the plot and a couple of funny lines.

A] Ted Mosby is telling the story of how he met his children’s mother and the entire story is told through the lens of Ted. This gives Ted a difficult job of tying every tangent back to a plot line which, unlike other main characters like Seinfeld, forces Ted to take the high road on certain skits and tricks. Often, Ted will be the one to turn humor into drama or turn a meaningless prank into something that helped him discover his children’s mother. And, somehow, Ted has to mask it all behind a humorous lens as to not lose the viewership.

This seems to be a reason why HIMYM is unique, and maybe the relationship between future Ted and present Ted is interesting, but that has no bearing on whether Ted is the best character. Being the best character is the one that makes you laugh the hardest or has the great memorable catch phrases like “suit up” or “lawyered.” What Ted does is commendable but certainly does not merit him the best character.

Here is the problem: that logic assumes that HIMYM is nothing more than a comedy sketch. The reason why HIMYM has lasted so long is not the one liners and schemes, it is the fact that the characters mean something to us. Sure, without the jokes there would be no show, but without Ted the jokes wouldn’t make much sense either. Ted makes everything in the show work (as I have said before) but he also makes everything in the show special. The fact that, as an audience, we are Ted’s eye means that we, in a way, are Ted. We feel bad for Barney when he talks about his dad, we feel bad for Marshall when Lily leaves him. Notice that we find ourselves more frustrated with Ted than we are feeling bad for him. That is because we are more likely to be angry at ourselves then we are to feel bad for ourselves. It’s psych 101! Yet, it also means that we, at a basic level, hold Ted to higher standards and judge him more than the other characters. Ted is the best character because we hold ourselves higher than we hold other people, naturally. Maybe there will never be a shirt of Ted Mosby, but would you ever make a shirt of yourself with your own catch phrase on it? Those who say yes aren’t being realistic.

B] Barney Stinson is probably the fan favorite of all the characters on the show. His womanizing and eccentric attitude garners things like “The Bro Code” and “The Playbook” which are full of rules and tricks for getting some. Let’s face it: NPH is probably the reason why people get hooked on the show and why the show has the viewership is what it is. Yet, Barney makes sense without Ted. Don’t believe me? Think about Barney without Ted. It’s a show about a married couple and a single guy who is gone every night on elaborate schemes getting girls. Why would they hang out? Plus, it definitely doesn’t make sense that Lily so abhors Barney’s schemes and yet they still hang out. And how does Robin work? Does she still hang out with Barney if there is no Ted and see that contrast? Plus, most of Barney’s best lines are making fun of Ted or using Ted in some way. Barney would be out a “lame single guy” jokes and all the other jokes would get over done. No, Ted is necessary as a means to Barney’s end.

Okay, but that kind of proves that Barney is the best character and not Ted. The fact that Ted is only necessary as the butt of Barney’s jokes means that Ted makes the show work and Barney makes it good, which is what I came in here thinking. This says more about Ted’s position rather than his character.

What italics guy is forgetting is that best character is not the funniest. I can agree that Barney is the funniest character (I still think Ted is, but that is probably just me). Here is an analogy. Imagine a comedian that kept using the same 5 or so jokes every time you saw her. That would get pretty boring after a while, but the truth is that is what Barney does. It is either a joke about Ted, some scheme to get a girl, calling Marshall and Ted girls, making fun of married life, making fun of Canada, making fun of Lily and being pregnant or making some sexual joke. That’s Barney’s whole gamut, and it has remained funny throughout the show, because of Ted. Ted’s ability to set up Barney, to throw him easy softballs, to carry the plot right to Barney’s silver platter, and to go along with Barney on his adventures is the necessary component to make Barney good. But it’s more than just making the show work, right? What Barney fans don’t realize is that Ted often responds to Barney’s skit with side commentary which is not only humorous but also emphasizes Barney’s flaws and/or qualities. Why does that matter? Because Barney’s “awesomeness” is really just a veil for the pain he hides about his father or other personal issues. Without Ted, we as an audience would never have access to that information and thus wouldn’t understand Barney. So, basically, if you fully appreciate Barney, then you must agree that Ted is the best character. Like I said, Barney may as well be the funniest but Ted is the most adept.

Congratulations, you have made it to the end! The fact that you read it all means two things. First, it means that you had a bunch of time (jokes) and second it means that you somewhat understand what I am saying even if you don’t necessarily agree. You get it: Ted is a unique character that lightens up the important factors in the show. You also understand the arguments for why that makes him the best character and also why, the fact that Ted brings character depth to the show and that he makes Barney funny are also reasons why Ted is the best character.

And yet, you may still have trouble admitting that Ted is the best character on HIMYM. I mean, Robin Sparkles? Classic. Marshall? Timeless. And how could anyone beat Barney Stinson, (the only emmy award nominated actor on the show for the show)? And how can anyone be the best character anyway?

The easiest response I can have for any one of those questions is simply by watching an episode. But, don’t watch it for pleasure but take the time to notice Ted and everything he is involved with. Notice how his witty responses actually set up the big jokes, often at his own expense. Notice how Ted moves the plot and sets up each character with each movement while simultaneously making or continuing to set up the big joke. And, enjoy it when he makes the punch line, as those are the most rewarding for a character with the biggest burden on his back.

Just sit back and notice. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Too Great For the Big Screen?

Hello all, 

Normally, movie reviews aren't my gig but that may change depending on how this one goes. Please comment below and follow the blog (to the right-->). 

Everyone agrees that movies made about books are always worse than the book itself (see Harry Potter.) In fact, most people go into these movies with low expectations since the eloquence and depth that can be written a book is so often replaced by special effects and plot line tangents to sell tickets. 

It's a weird relationship between books and movies, almost paradoxical. Movies gross millions more than books do and are more widely seen than books are read. Yet, as a culture, we frown upon these observations. They illustrate the apathy that has defined the modern age. As technology has boomed, fine art has busted. The war between comfort and control ended with the invention of electricity and has become almost ancient history. 

Why do I bring this up? Because, ironically, it is the message of The Great Gatsby. If Fitzgerald was anything, he was a social critic. As evident throughout Gatsby, the glitz and glamour of Jay Gatsby is meaningless. He has all the money and popularity in the world and yet is empty. 

Thus, Baz Luhrmann had an impossible task. He had to make an expensive movie which contained some of the most prominent stars of the 21st century and convey the message that consumerism is bad. He had to write a script based on one of the top five most acclaimed authors ever from his most acclaimed book. Not just that, but certain lines from that book had to be included but not too many words since then it would be cheating. Oh and if that weren't enough, everyone wanted him to fail and, even if he didn't, it was still going to be worse than the book.

I could not imagine a more difficult project to take on. Gatsby is long enough to make a movie about and short enough so that omitted scenes would be noticeable. It was permissible for Harry Potter to omit chapters, if not whole sections, of each book. Heck, it would have been a bad movie if the Potter franchise did use every sceneEvery word and every movement of these characters had to be intentional. 

Here's another caveat: intelligence. Lurhamann couldn't assume everyone had even read the book, let alone studied it in their literary analysis classes. He had to make the characters relatable and predictable so your average movie watcher won't get lost in metaphors. But, he had to cater to the "english class" audience as well, as those voices would be the loudest. He had to add depth to these characters. 
Thinking about it, I don't know how anyone could make this movie and satisfy all its necessary conditions. There is just too much here to deal with, and too many different types of people to please. Maybe Gatsby isn't meant for the big screen anyway. 

My guess it was this kind of thinking which motivated Lurhamann to make the risky decisions he had to make. He was going to piss someone off, so why not do it in style?

Style is a good word to describe the movie. Many called it overwhelming, and from the start of the movie, you could see why. The lights weren’t just bright; they were overexposed. The clothes weren’t just colorful; put together, they created a rainbow. The characters weren’t just vivid; they were animated. Every detail of the movie was over the top. To draw an analogy, it would be like eating the frosting of a cake.

And it wasn’t just the setting and clothes. It was also the characters. Jay Gatsby needed to be perfectly flawed and brilliantly naïve. He needed to be glamorous yet seemingly wise. Most of all, he needed to be recognizable. If the audience was truly going to be enamored, immediately, by Jay Gatsby then Lurhamann had only one choice. He needed to be Leonardo DiCaprio.

If Gatsby needed to be glamorous, then Nick had to be real. To cast a Nick, he needed to be like us: overwhelmed, excited, and most of all, curious of Gatsby. We will get to interpretation later, but Toby Maguire was, if nothing else, relatable.

Of course, Tom is the easiest character to cast: greedy, snobby, self-interested rich, power hungry, villainous bastard. Basically, any guy in Hollywood can fit that role (jokes, jokes). Joel Edgerton was probably the biggest no name of the production which is saying something because he has been in Star Wars and Zero Dark Thirty. Nonetheless, for a guy with little experience playing a big role, he was a good Tom for what Lurhamann was looking for.

Which brings us to the question, what was Lurhamann looking for? (We will get to Daisy later). Like I said above, Gatsby needed to be followed to a “t” but also interpreted differently, so that he wasn’t copying. That was the above all goal. But, possibly the one good thing that Lurhamann had going for him was that he could interpret Gatsby almost any way possible. While being one of the most recognized books of all time, it is also one of the most debated. What does the green light mean? Is Gatsby a hero? Did Tom ever really love Daisy?

For me, Lurhamann revealed his interpretation is his soundtrack. (As a side note, if this movie does not win best soundtrack of the year, and if Lana Del Rey does not win best song in a movie, then the academy got it wrong.)
The mix of 1920’s jazz and modern day rap, to the eye, seems odd. One does not mix two distinct genres with very different stories and expressive tones. Yet, in the movie, is the style which Lurhamann uses. You feel the historical awe of the Golden Age and the excitement of the beats of the 21st century. A rush of different yet positive emotions is felt throughout your movie experience, especially during the party scenes. In a way, you feel like a member of the party when you hear the music. It is meant to feel that way.

Lurhamann interprets the start of the book, where Gatsby throws the magnificent party and when Nick first moves to New York, as a circus of new experiences- magnificent if not overwhelming. That’s exactly what he gives us.

And yet, as is obvious by the soundtrack, Lurhamann also takes the movie seriously, including the plot line. One of the critiques of the movie is that the plot has been sacrificed for exploiting the glitz of Gatsby. That is completely false.

He gives us the melodramatic “Over the Love” by Florence and the Machine when Gatsby has failed at getting Daisy. He gives us the intensely introspective “Kill and Run” when Daisy kills Myrtle. He gives us an orchestra of 1920’s soft music to magnify the feelings of Gatsby and Daisy and of Gatsby in general.

But there is one song, which deserves all the credit for this interpretation of The Great Gatsby. Not only is Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever performed, but it is also displays the heart of the conflict which Lurhamann highlights. Lurhamann meshes two important themes from the book into the center of the film: the inability to recreate the past and the desire to be comfortable rather than satisfied. Both concepts are exemplified in the song and both concepts are focused in the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy.

The chorus and basic premise of the song is a question: will you still love me when I am no longer young and beautiful? This question can be divided into two parts, each of which relates to the concepts, which Lurhamann presents. The first is the “no longer” part. We all grow old, change and, at some point, die. Will you love me when I am about to die? Ironically, this seems to be a question more for Gatsby more than for Daisy.

Daisy, at one point in the movie, says “I wish I had done everything with you” where “you” refers to Gatsby. What she is saying, namely, is that she wishes to have lived her life with Gatsby so that, now, they could recount memories of the past with each other as well as create new ones in the present. She has accepted time’s role.

Yet it is Gatsby who wishes to erase five years. He wishes to recreate them, in a perfect house with unlimited money and everything either of them could want. It is not that Gatsby does not want to grow old with Daisy, but that is not his concern in the movie. He wants to stay young and beautiful forever.

The second part of the chorus, and premise of the song, is the “young and beautiful” part. This is focused on Daisy rather than on Gatsby. Clearly, Gatsby is attracted to Daisy for real reasons. He loves her beauty, her grace, and her style. He loves her happiness and wants to share (all the good sappy stuff.) But, Daisy is much more mysterious, both as a character and in terms of her relationship with Gatsby.

This is a good time to return to the casting of Daisy. This was undoubtedly the hardest role to cast because, simply put, she is the main character of Lurhamann’s interpretation. There is no way around it: the entire plot and each character’s interactions depends on Daisy Buchannan. She had to walk the line between mysterious and naïve. As a member of the audience, Daisy had to be a character you never really wondered about, until you realized it was too late for you to start. She is the lynchpin of the plot, but no one could realize it.

This is why Lurhamann had to cast it perfectly. Anyone too recognizable, like DiCaprio, and the audience is already putting symbols and labels on her which means she is noticed. Anyone new, and the audience is eyeing her skeptically. No, she had to bring a name which was only recognizable by name, as opposed to performance. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Carey Mulligan.

You have seen the name in passing. If you are a true movie geek, then you may have seen Pride and Prejudice or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. She shined in these roles but neither of those movies are going to trigger your memory when watching Gatsby. No, she had to be fresh but professional.

Taking that into account, you know realize how her casting had a major influence on Lurhamann’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby. Daisy did love Gatsby, but not because he was beautiful in the way that Gatsby was enamored with Daisy. She loved the glamour, the mystery, and the comfortable lifestyle, which she was provided. Where Gatsby was looking for eternal satisfaction, Daisy was looking for a worry free life. Is it any surprise she chose Tom?

What started as a movie review has turned into a plot analysis! No, here is a summary. The Great Gatsby was a failure, since any interpretation of the book was going to a failure. Yet, in this mess of glitter and lighting, Lurhamann created meaning. He recreated the magic everyone felt when reading the book, even if it was for a brief moment.

For me, it was when Nick uttered the last line of the movie, and of the book, which made me realized why Lurahmann did The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s last line, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” is timeless. And, I guess that is the point. Lurahmann’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby is just as much of a critique of the 1920’s as it is of the 21st century. We have become so comfortable with our apathetic lives that we didn’t even realize that someone just made a blockbuster movie criticizing extravagance.

So, go ahead, destroy the movie. Tell me it fails to reach the power the book gave us. Tell me DiCaprio was an uncomfortable lead or that Nick was too meek. Tell me that Lurhamann used too much glitter.

It was an impossible movie to make. And Lurhamann did a damn good job with it. I qualify The Great Gatsby as a must see movie and should be nominated for best movie of the year when award season hits.