Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Defense of Four New Prime Time Comedies of the 2010 Season

Six new comedies came out on prime time this fall season and I've watched four of them: $#)%* my Dad Says, Outsourced, Raising Hope, and Running Wilde. I like them all and think that the kinks that came with the pilots can be eventually worked out.

The critical consensus is that of disappointment with some, if not, all of these shows. Since I've been liking everything I saw on the comedy front this season, it might look like I'm soft but it's more of an issue of me tuning out the crap. A good amount of TV is derivative and uninspired and I knew fairly early on that "Mike and Molly" and "Better than You" fit that category. The former (premise: fat schlub finds a woman willing to marry him) was also identical in premise to "King of Queens," "According to Jim," or "Still Standing"; the latter (some variation of newlyweds awkwardly adjust to larger social circle) looks indistinguishable from "Worst Week", "Til Death", "For Your Love" or "Everybody Loves Raymond." I was bored before I even tuned in and I'm thankful that only two shows on that level of blandness exist this season.

The other four new comedies each offer something original and for that they deserve our attention and the benefit of the doubt that given time they can grow. This is dually important because unoriginal and uninspired TV still populates the airwaves.

Here are those four shows:
1. Running Wilde on Fox
The Hook (What drew me into thinking that this would more than an ordinary show): Creator Mitch Hurwitz practically reinvented comedy with Arrested Development and Will Arnett and David Cross both excelled under his tutelage. The premise of a rich man who is absurdly out of touch with reality being brought down to Earth by the only woman he's ever had any contact with is certainly unique. On top of that, add in the two obstacles that she's: 1) Already engaged to someone and 2) Is voluntarily on the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum than him

How the show delivers: The pilot was sluggish but by just the second episode we saw the kind of intricately absurd plotting that made Arrested Development so great. We also saw the complexities of the love triangle once David Cross entered the picture. Also, this show has the same chemistry between Cross and Arnett with a much better framework that pits the two against each other in a way that Arrested Development never did: Cross's character was an asexual outsider without any business accumen, so he never competed with Arnett's the way Arnett and Bateman would compete over girls and status.

What the detractors say: The pilot felt a little sluggish to the reviewers as well but there were other complaints.

Every character on AD was strong but the butler and the secretary characters don't really seem to add anything. Already, added Mr. Luntz (the secretary) to their list of least likable characters writing that, "He seems to be half-British and also weirdly half-effeminate, but he also has no real point of view."

Three reviews I've come across don't like Will Arnett as a lead character for a sitcom. Ken Levine "does not find him funny for a second", TV Guide says the show delivers "more smarm than charm" (an implication to Arnett who's comic persona is all about smarm) and Time Magazine's James Poniewozik makes the unfavorable comparison of Will Arnett as the lead to Jason Bateman in AD.

My defense: Even though the reviewers only have the pilot to work with, they should be ashamed of themselves for writing off Hurwitz so quickly. Poniewozik is already proclaiming that Hurwitz's talent will shine through eventually but probably not in this series which sounds like he's writing his epitaph. The massive improvement between the pilot and the second episode shows how promising this show can be. Will Arnett was deservedly nominated for a supporting Emmy as Gob and regularly stole the show from an incredibly talented cast. He is more of an extreme than Bateman's Michael Bluth but he's counterbalanced by greater extremes as well and there do exist relatively normal characters in the form of Migo and Puddle.

2. Raising Hope on Fox
The Hook: Just like Running Wilde, my interest in the show comes from the past work of it's creator Greg Garcia who was behind "My Name is Earl."

How the Show Delivers: I'll concede that the show's premise isn't as novel as "My Name is Earl." One show was about a lowlife crook whose winning of the lottery inspires him to make entirely unique life changes for the better and "Raising Hope" is just about a lowlife teenager who knocked up a girl. However, many of the same elements of "My Name is Earl"- characters driven toward unexpected self-improvement; exploring people on the socio-economic fringes of Americana; characters who are endearing in spite of their stupidity; moments that are genuinely touching- are here as well and that's a good reason to invest yourself in this show.

What the detractors say: Of the four TV shows, Raising Hope is getting the most positive reviews even those reviews are pretty cautious. Most have said that the pilot isn't that great but that it shows promise. Looking at a couple of those reviews at Time Magazine and AV Club), there seems to be some criticism of the show treating their characters with contempt as well as the gags being lazy. Former TV scribe Ken Levine, who blogs here wrote "this show felt like all the white trash jokes they couldn’t get to on MY NAME IS EARL they jammed in here."

My response: I am in agreement here that the show's humor is unimpressive early on and coming from desperate places. At the same time, I would expect a low laughs-per-minute ratio on a show like this in comparison to a better sitcom. The humor doesn't come from one-liners but rather our relationships to the characters and those will grow over time. Early on, the change in pace and the general weirdness of "My Name is Earl" meant it took a little while to grow on you as well.

3. #@)$*() My Dad Says on CBS:
Hook: #@$*( My Dad Says comes from a unique source in the form of a guy on Twitter who started blogging funny things his old-fashioned dad was saying. That doesn't necessarily mean the show will be good, but it gets my attention because if the show is created by an outsider, I'll probably get a fresh perspective. Also, it is a perspective that is pretty relatable: Most of us have at least one elderly relative who casually says things in the privacy of their own home that would get us in a lot of trouble if those words came out of our mouths.

How it delivers: William Shatner, who can be easily pigeonholed in our heads as that caricature of his Captain Kirk character he's been doing for years, is delightfully fresh here. Thanks to the writing, his character is a relatively unique comic creation. The show has heart as well. When the father and son are dancing at the end of the pilot, it's an earned moment. The best indication, however, that I wanted to see more is simply that the show made me laugh. Numerous times.

What the detractors say: One reviewer (TV Guide) sees Shatner's character more as a "shallowly conceived grouch belching trite punch lines." Alan Speinwall and Joel Keller of AOL's TV Squad both think Shatner's character is too crude to solicit empathy although Keller thinks Shatner showed potential in one scene. There was also some criticism that the rest of the cast is somewhat weak in comparison to Shatner.

My defense: First off, the cast includes Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan who might be taking a while to find their chemistry but they certainly have the talent as evidenced by their work on "Mad TV." Jonathan Sadowski was a last-minute replacement and he's the straight man to Shatner's funny man so he doesn't have to be the show's strongest link. The major question here is whether Shatner is convincing and it's just a matter of me buying it whereas others didn't.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this show is on CBS. The network's bread and butter is mediocre middle-of-the-road comedies like "Everybody Loves Raymond" "Yes Dear" and "Two and a Half Men." Admittedly, "Raymond" has more pathos, but none of those shows were innovative in anyway, whatsoever. At best, they were good for a few laughs in a familiar setting. If it can get past the initial torrent of negative reviews and survive its first season, there's no question "#@$* My Dad Says" could at least deliver at the bar set by the other shows on the network.

4. Outsourced on NBC:

The Hook: Outsourcing is interesting. An article on what life is like for an American middle manager transplanted to India would be intriguing so a TV show set in that world would naturally be intriguing as well. It’s not just because I was a geography major in college but because it’s relevant and has affected people I know.

How it delivers: Outsourcing has a natural go-to place for its humor in the form of culture clash jokes and the writing seems competent enough that they know how to mine it. Culture clash humor is going to rely more on the relationships between the characters than the "Hey, you guys are wearing funny hats" type of observational shtick. In that category, potential is developing in the network of relationships that’s being established. The protagonist has an American colleague (Diedrich Baker) who’s kind of boorish, a passive-aggressive assistant manager and a team of subordinates with whom he’s having several awkward Michael-Scott-like moments. There’s also an flirty Australian love interest but she’s been kept in the background so far.

Criticism: Todd van der Werff of the A.V. Club declares this is the end of NBC Thursday night's glory days. According to him, the show's scenes between Americans feel like they're on a different show than the ones portraying American-Indian culture clash and neither are executed particularly well. Some critics found the characters boring like the blogger from Film School Rejects who named this show the failure of the season. James Poniewozik acknowledges "satire is a dangerous zone" but says the show is a disappointment with cheap jokes that insult the audience.

My response: Again, it's a matter of placing too much emphasis on the pilot. Characters might be one-dimensional in the pilot because there's not enough screen time to develop everybody and give exposition in 22 minutes. The show's breakout characters in Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson and Tom Haverford, seemed like dumb one-note characters in the pilot too. Swanson gave a speech about he preferred Chuck-E-Cheese to government and it seemed like the writers were trying too hard to inject the characters with quirks. Over times, his quirks formed part of a fully-fleshed personality that strengthened because it stayed consistent over several episodes. I could see three or four of these characters as pop culture stalwarts like Ron Swanson or Dwight from "The Office." In addition, there were only a few one-line gags in the pilot which is an indication that the show is going to be going for broader situational laughs.

Thanks for reading and be sure to click on my work at examiner.

Monday, September 27, 2010

TV actors who I wouldn't hesitate to watch if they were in a show

This past fall stars a number of stars who I have missed are returning to TV in a new role:
-Keri Russell, previously of Felicity comes back in the form of Running Wilde
-Will Sasso, previously of Mad TV and Less than Perfect, now comes back on Shit my Dad Says
-Will Arnett, previously of Arrested Development comes back on Running Wilde
-Maura Tierny of ER and Newsradio comes back to TV in The Whole Truth
-William Shatner, previously on Star Trek and Boston Legal comes back in Shit my Dad Says
-Skeet Ulrich of Jericho comes back in Law and Order: Los Angeles

This inspired me to make a long somewhat frivolous list of TV actors and actresses currently not working in TV as a series regular, who I wouldn't hesitate to watch the pilot of if they were cast in a new series. I'm including TV shows on their filmography that I've personally seen them in (not their entire filmographies):

AJ Langer: It’s Like You Know, Three Sisters-The vet of My So Called Life is very charming and has a good free-spirited ditzy vibe to her. She is also beautiful in a very Earthy way.

Alan Ruck-Going Places/Mad About You/Spin City-If anything, Spin City was not the right role for this guy. He's a lot gentler (think "Cheaper by the Dozen") than his Stuart character and there's a good role for that somewhere.

Andreas Anders-Joey, The Class, Better off Ted-The perky girl next door type is rediculously easy on the eyes and can play a love interest or foil to the protagonist like no one else. She's adept at playing those situations in sitcoms where the characters find themselves over their heads and on verge of panic.

Anna Belknap-Deadline/Handler/CSI: New York-Not particularly well-known, I was drawn to her in The Handler because of the way she conveyed a lot of emotion without ever taking over a scene. Like Mary McCormack or Amy Brenneman, she's capable of being bigger if the right part every suits her but she might got stuck in supporting roles for a while.

Amber Tamblyn-Joan of Arcadia-She was good in Joan of Arcadia and that TV show earned great reviews. There's no reason why she can't give TV a second try and play a character a little older.

Amy Peitz-Caroline in the City, Aliens in America, The Office-Her sexy Midwestern mom on Aliens in America was Emmy-worthy. There aren't many actresses at her age who could pull off grounded sex appeal so well.

Cheri Oteri-Saturday Night Live/Just Shoot Me/Sit Down Shut Up/Life and Times of Tim-This woman is simply nuts. Her characters are high energy and wonderfully absurd.

Chris Parnell-Saturday Night Live/30 Rock/Miss Guided-I see him as the perfect off-kilter straight man. With Leo Spaceman, he's the straight man to Tracy Morgan's character but he himself is a little bit off as well. He serves scenes well.

Christina Applegate-Married with Children, Jesse, Samantha Who-Has rebounded nicely from projects which didn't work out and her performance in Anchorman shows she can mold herself to whatever comic situation a script needs her to be.

Faith Ford-Murphy Brown/Maggie Winters/Hope and Faith-A competent lead who's worked in a number of shows.

Fred Willard-Roseanne/Maybe It’s Me/Everybody Loves Raymond/A Minute with Stan Hooper/Back to You/Modern Family-The man from Christopher Guest films is a witty improviser and digs his teeth into absurdity. If the show centers too much around him in a highly-anticipated way like "Back to You," it doesn't work as well.

George Takei-Star Trek/Heroes-He's like Betty White or David Hasselhoff in being a guy who gets a lot of random love later in life. He's a cult hero of sorts. I'd like to see him take that energy to a TV show. Besides if Shatner's on the air, why not Takei?

Harriet Sansom Harris-It’s All Relative/Frasier-She has a wonderful provincial accent that generates half the laughs you need alone.

Heather Page Kent-Life with Roger/Jenny/Stark Raving Mad/That’s Life-She was on four shows between 1996 and 2000 and then I have no idea what happened to her. In That's Life, the show that centered around her, she was a vulnerable spunky semi-independent woman in the mold of Ally McBeal and all the female heroines going back to Mary Tyler Moore.

Jamie Pressley-Jack and Jill/Happy Family/My Name is Earl-My Name is Earl deservedly won her an Emmy but she's played more dialed-down roles pretty well in the other shows I've listed.

Jennifer Esposito-Spin City, Samantha Who-With her Jersey accent, she has a little bit of an acerbic Chelsea Handler vibe to her and can play vulnerable just as easily as she can play condescending.

Joe Pantolillio-Handler/Sopranos/Dr. Vegas-In Handler and Dr. Vegas, he was less of a ham than James Caan is in Las Vegas as the tough guy in charge. I think he can depict more shades of grey in the kinds of cop procedurals and dramas that require someone to look serious and act as if they're doing something of grave importance.

John Stamos-Full House/Jake in Progress-Like the Hasselhoff, Stamos is turning into somewhat of a novelty item on TV. Seeing him appear on screen is an event in and of itself. He earns my fondness because he's self-conscious of his negative association with the schlock of "Full House" and the fact that the last time he was the epitome of cool was 15 years ago.

Jacinda Barrett-Real World/D.C./Citizen Baines-Like A.J. Langer, I've seen her play the ditzy, free-spirited girl to great effect but she also can do more, I'm sure. Another one of those cases of a personal crush as well.

Jessalyn Ginsing-Boston Public/Prison Break/Heroes/Glee-Ginsing is great at grey areas. She was the sort-of-heroine of Boston Public and can play dramatic in Heroes or melodramatic as in Glee. She was the "hot"-but-tepid teacher on Boston Public and hasn't faded.

John Michael Higgins-Arrested Development/Raising the Bar/Kath and Kim/Community-Many actors from Christopher Guest's list of actors can be plugged into a sitcom with good results (fun fact: Jane Lynch was primarily known for her association with Guest before Glee). John Michael Higgins is one of those guys that is great in a lot of things. He's particularly good as dumb boorish figures who don't second guess themselves.

Judy Greer-Arrested Development/Miss Guided/Archer-Miss Guided convinced me that she can play a very likable lead in a Mary Tyler Moore mold. Come to think of it, a great great number of female TV leads are in the mold of Mary Tyler Moore.

Julia Sweeny-Saturday Night Live/Maybe It's Me/Frasier-Most famous for her androgynous character Pat on SNL, Julia Sweeny was actually one of the more underused actresses on SNL and one who tended to enhance a sketch more often then detract from it. She can be a good side character and I have no doubt she can make that character funny and/or interesting. Interesting tidbit: She beat out Friend's Lisa Kudrow for her Saturday Night Live spot.

Lori Loughlin-Full House/Hudson Street/Spin City/90210-In retrospect, I've discovered Full House was an awful show if you're over 12 years old. Tanner, Coulier and Stamos were all pretty corny but Lori Loughlin's acting still holds up suprisingly well.

Mark McKinney-Kids in the Hall/Saturday Night Live/Wanda at Large/Studio 60-Nostalgia for the 95-96 season of SNL will go a long way with me. McKinney is a funny guy who can also play a good straight man and blends in on comedies pretty easily.

Paula Marshall-Cupid, Snoops, Webber Show, Gary Unmarried-She's bounced around on more pilots and guest spots that I have room to list here and she's had a few roles that have given me somewhat of a crush on her. She's versatile and has some degree of sex appeal.

Rachel Bilson-The O.C./Chuck-How often is the rich and shallow girl who's been cruel to the hero his whole life been the girl you root for in a love triangle? That's what Rachel pulled off on the first season of The O.C. She's sassy, smart, can play young and she can convincingly be a vehicle for Juno-esque dialogue.

Rena Sofer-Saved by the Bell/Just Shoot Me/Coupling/Heroes/24-Her New York accent might have been much in Just Shoot Me, but for the most part, she's an actress who always seems to be the best part of the show she's in.

Rene Auberjonois-Star Trek DS9/Frasier/Boston Legal-I loved him in the Rob Altman movies as well as Star Trek and his penchant for good material is as good as his ability to make characters more complex than they look on paper.

Robyn Tuney-The Prisoner/The Mentalist-I'd be equally happy seeing her in movies. I think she might be more of a movie person, but there's no reason that I wouldn't be happy to see her on a TV show. She's shined even in small roles (i.e. Hollywoodland, The Mentalist)

Taylor Howard-Boston Common/Two Guys a Girl a Pizza Place/Monk-Howard played the Mary Tyler Moore-type in Boston Common and played one of the guys in Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place. In Monk, she generated a lot more chemistry with Tony Shaloub than Betty Schram in my opinion. Very competent

Terry Farrell-Star Trek: DS9/Becker-Perhaps the best and strongest female character of all the Star Treks (when two of the three females before her were a glorified secretary and a glorified school guidance counselor, there's not too much competition) in playing Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Farrell comes across as self-assured and interesting.

Thomas Haden Church-Wings/Ned and Stacey-He's played the boor and the dumby pretty well. Since Sideways, I think he can return to TV and be more than that

Wendy Malick-Just Shoot Me/Frasier/Jake In Progress/Hot in Cleveland (short-lived)-It wasn't the lines on Just Shoot Me. It was her: She was a riot. Her melodramatic brand of desperate egotism made her one of the best characters on TV and she's been able to repeat that magic elsewhere. I can see her as an authoritative figure in charge as well.

Tony Shaloub-Wings/Stark Raving Mad/Monk-We've seen him as a scene stealer in one sitcom as well as a guy who can carry a show on his back.

Thomas McCarthy-Boston Public/The Wire-Most high school football coaches are supposed to be macho so I'm glad that McCarthy played the part against type on Boston Public.

Vanessa Marcil-General Hospital/Las Vegas-Playful and sexy, she delivers lines with tremendous assurence.

Vicki Lewis-News Radio/3 Sisters-In Newsradio's Beth, Lewis can lay claim to being the queen of all ditzy characters to ever appear on TV.

Will Forte-Clone High/Saturday Night Live/Sit Down Shut Up-The star of the McGruber movie, by now, has his own screen persona down. He's the confident yet clueless schlub. In voiceover work in Clone High and Sit Down Shut Up, he's been a riot.

Read my column:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

X-Men films verse the X-Men cartoon

Since stumbling upon it in 5th grade channel surfing one Sunday morning, I was an avid regular watcher of the cartoon as a kid.

Just as Robert Altman films and ensemble shows optimize your attention span by dividing it among multiple storylines, I liked how the X-Men delved into relatively interesting characters and then threw different side and recurring characters into the mix as the universe expanded. We're usually slow to recognize just how drawn in we are to action scenes and the X-Men had action scenes that involved the laws of science and so much more creativity. The way each person had different powers and they would neutralize each other in different ways made it more like chess.

That gush of anticipation that every fanboy feels when something they've embraced only in the often-lonely medium of comics becomes translated to the screen when all those comic books were turned into event films. I only felt that once with X-Men and I wasn't disappointed (with the exception that many of the characters from the cartoon weren't in the film) because the action scenes and production values were great. But most importantly, the film had such pitch-perfect casting. Halle Berry's only memorably piece of work outside of Monster's Ball to justify her Oscar was in the X-Men trilogy, a role which got better and more weighty with each picture. Hugh Jackman has made himself a star worthy of working with the industry's best directors out of Wolverine and deservedly so.

The downside of seeing these cartoons fully-realized on a live movie screen in such a satisfying way is that in retrospect the cartoon looks ridiculous. Of course, our standards of quality tend to change massively with age to the point where things we liked as kids don't hold up as adults. This is no exception.

Just watch the first minute and a half of this clip and cringe with me at its ridiculousness:

The action is accompanied by bad puns at a rate of something like 3.5 per minute. It's as if there's a rulebook in the X-Men training manual that says you have to accompany every time you use your powers with some sort of trash talking.

Also, look at the differences between the cartoons and their on-screen counterparts:
1. Storm had a hint of sexiness to her and she was grounded in a mix of idealism (i.e. the scene in X3 where she discourages Rogue from thinking of being a mutant as a disease) and world-weariness (i.e. having to turn Angel away from protection of a life as a mutant for no reason other than she can't handle the demands). In the cartoon, there's none of these shades of gray as Storm sounds as authoritative as Charlton Heston from the Ten Commandments.

2. Wolverine is defined by his raspy voice which his shows his cheerlessness and tough-as-nails persona from a scrappy existence. However, in the film, Jackman is capable of convincingly portraying a whole range of emotions underneath.

3. Maybe it was because the cartoon's writing staff were comic book scribes for whom portraying the subtleties of romance wasn't a forte, but Jean Grey was nothing more than arm candy for Cyclops. The writing staff said in an interview that the love triangle between Cyclops, Jean and Wolverine was the thing they were most proud of. What love triangle?! When Jean was so lovey-dovey with Cyclops in the cartoon, who would have thought that Wolverine had a chance?

With Famke Janssen's wonderful portrayal of Jean Grey, she's much more enigmatic in her affections driving the love triangle along much better. She's also a more empowered woman: The first time we see her on-screen she's referred to as Dr. Jean Grey. In her second appearance on screen, she's actually shown doctoring.

On the other hand, the cartoon versions of Beast, Professor X, and Cyclops are all more or less adequate in comparison to their movie parts. James Marsden, for example, didn't have much of a presence in the film and neither does the cartoon version, so it's essentially a tie. It's not entirely Marsden's fault: Since the movies are Wolverine-centric that makes Cyclops the douche who the hero's love interest is currently attached to, and that makes it beneficial that Cyclops is played by a professional schlub.

Beast can get annoying in the cartoon because the writers try too hard to make him sound intellectual, but he doesn't change that much in the film. He still quotes famous intellectuals during fight scenes but in far reduced frequency (he only has one fight scene) and he's equally as snobby in the film but there's more of a use for it as he's made a cabinet official.

Bottom line: There are some children's series that are well-done enough that you enjoy them as adults like Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs or Looney Tunes. X-Men, unfortunately, isn't one of them.

Here's a 4-part retrospective I just read on the topic:

Friday, September 17, 2010

more top 10 lists

This is where I look at a top ten list of David Letterman and create my own version:

Top 10 Ways in Which Barack Obama celebrated his birthday
10. Invited Tony Hawk over to show him how to do a wheelie over the West Wing staircase bannister
9. Wrote a card to Helen Thomas wishing her happy birthday but kindly requesting that she stay far away from him this year
8. Got a "one free dunk on me" gift certificate from Reggie Love
7. Put on floaties, an inner tube, a snorkel and his aquaman action figures and went on an underwater adventure in the Howard Taft bathtub
6. Appointed a Cake and Festivities czar
5. Got a "one free dunk on me" gift certificate from Michelle Obama
4. Read People Magazine instead of the usual 10-page memo he gets every morning about the days' current events
3. Pranked Joe Biden by telling him that he was thinking of going with Newt Gingrich as his running mate
2. Returned to his birthplace in Kenya where he sacrificed a goat and drank its blood with the medicine doctor who presided over his secret, undocumented birth
1. Drank a lot of tequilla and then drunk dialed all surviving members of the Nixon Administration because he hates that ugly portrait of him in the hallway outside the Oval Office

10 Ten Surprises at Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding:
10. A no-bid contract was procured for a DJ
9. Bill’s toast lasts 35 minutes and requires a teleprompter.
8. By sheer coincidence, Jack Abramoff was one of the waiters on the catering staff
7. Against the groom’s insistence, Secret service to escort Chelsea and husband on Honeymoon
6. Bill collected $200,000 in appearance fees
5. When it was time to say I do, the groom says “It depends on your definition of ‘do’” and winks to his irritated father-in-law
4. George HW Bush is Bill’s +1.
3. Because of conflict-of-interest rules between Cabinet level officials and lobbyists, Hillary wasn’t aloud to talk to over half of the guests
2. A two-thirds majority was required to get the Conga line moving in style
1. The actual wedding was a 12-person affair two weeks ago. This is just an excuse for Bill and Hillary to mingle with potential donors.

Monday, September 13, 2010

my own version of David Letterman's top ten lists

Lately, I've been working on my sense of humor and creativity. I've been submitting stuff to humor sites. I find that a lot of being funny in the written word comes down to phrasing. One exercise in creativity recently I've been doing is looking up the titles David Letterman's top ten lists at's website and thinking of my own ideas.

Some of them I'm really good at thinking up endless ideas for. Others less so. I was kind of stumped with "top ten ways Barack Obama celebrated his birthday" or "top ten things going through Ellen Degeneres' mind"

Here are a couple I did recently. I suppose because I'm a basketball fan, and because I was a geography major and spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the relationships between states, cities and federal government, I hit my stride with these two.

As I go to bed, I'll use the space between when I turn out the lights in a couple minutes and when I fall asleep to try to think of my version of Letterman's recent top ten list: "the top ten questions on the American Idol judge application"

Top ten signs your governor is losing it:
1. He rejects the stimulus funds, saying “No thanks, I can get Viagra for waaay less than that”
2. He pushes the state legislature to add Martians to the list of illegal aliens
3. In a bid raise state funds, auctions off the naming rights to the state capitol
4. Can’t pronounce the name of his own state and he’s not even Austrian
5. Has to be repeatedly be told by staff members that it’s not really feasible to conquer any neighboring states
6. Unaware that he’s entitled to the governor’s mansion, he stays at the Days Inn to save money
7. His reelection campaign motto is “At least I stayed until the end of my term (hint, hint: Sarah Palin)”
8. Recently Joined the birther movement.
9. Dismissed the state highway commissioner because he wanted to see flying cars from Back to the Future
10. Vetoed the state budget because it wasn’t presented with any cool or easy-to-read graphs and charts

Top ten reasons LeBron James joined the Miami Heat:
1. I wanted to be closer to my Hispanic roots. My real name is actually LeBron Jaime
2. You mean Miami isn’t in Ohio? (Play on Miami University which is in Oxford, Ohio)
3. I really feel like there's a budding bromance between me and Mario Chalmers
4. None of the players are attractive enough that my mom would sleep with them
5. Cleveland has the rock and roll hall of fame but I’m more of a salsa guy
6. I love the cuisine…especially the Chic-Fill-A at the Miami Airport
7. Miami Sea Aquarium gave me a 15% discount on admission
8. I was tired of playing second fiddle to Jamario Moon. In Miami, I might be the best player on the court
9. I would say I was making the best decision for me and my kids, but let’s be honest….my kids are easily pleased when they have a dad who can afford to buy them millions of dollars worth of presents, so it was pretty much me, me and me
10. Pat Reilly promised me if I don’t tell anyone, he’ll let me fly the team plane