Friday, May 25, 2012


Oh, the disappointment in watching a highly-regarded program just to get in on the cultural zeitgeist and discovering said show hits me the wrong way. I watched three and a half episodes from the first season of Misfits which is a pretty sufficient amount of time to decide you hate the show and don’t want to see it again.

Is the show awful and everyone’s* blind to it? Am I the one that’s off?

Misfits is one of the pioneers in the trend of content distributed through an online TV-watching platform.

The show is supposed to be in the vein of a superhero-genre-meets-ordinary-world show akin to Heroes. The superheroes, in this case, are five juvenile delinquents in the UK and the show is set during their period of community service.

The superheroes, however, are not just unusually ordinary. Their adolescent angst is in full force and some of them might easily be classified as depressed. Watch people brood over what they see as a bleak existence is generally not something that will appeal to your average TV viewer looking for some escapist fare. However, this perhaps more honest approach has been done well a few times before (I’m thinking “Weeds” as the moderately good example and “Party Down” as the holy grail of this subgenre).

In most cases, however, depressed characters don’t bring a profound realism. In this case, the characters aren’t just depressed. They are depressing to watch. Not to mention, somewhat bland and unremarkable: I’d be hard-pressed to argue that the five characters are more substantive or well-rounded than your average one-hour CW drama.

I could see how the characters might have been intended to be more. Simon, the shy one, spends all his time brooding about what must be something significant, but the hints of something greater never manifested into anything interesting in what I saw. Similarly, Nathan the loud and obnoxious one, is occasionally fun but mostly just obnoxious and loud (I’d give Nathan's obnoxious/funny ratio a 95/5 split and that’s still generous).

Lastly, if I haven’t written much about the superhero aspect of the show, it’s because it doesn’t dominate much of the screen time. Characteristic of the UK version of The Office, the show doesn’t center around people doing work so much as sitting around on talking when they’re supposed to be on the clock. Again, this tends to work better with interesting characters and interesting conversations.

With the Incredibles, Heroes, Watchmen, and Sky High playing on the Disney Channel every other week, simply deconstructing the Superhero genre is nothing novel anymore. One needs to have good characters and this show isn’t it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

American Horror Story from a cultural vacuum

There’s nothing like watching a TV show in a vacuum, by which I mean not having read a single review, critical analysis or piece of press before digging into a program so you’re free to form your own opinions. I suspect that there would be a lot less groupthink (deemed by myself to be measured by critical agreement) on shows if critics didn’t spend good chunks of their time philosophizing together about what makes shows like Community or Parks and Recreation (I like one of those two) so great.

Catching up on the series several months after the fact, I had little choice but to watch American Horror Story in a vacuum in order to avoid spoilers. It was precisely because of that solitude that the experience was so exhilarating. I couldn’t afford the luxury of complaining about maladjusted plot twists or nonsensical plots because I was too distracted trying to piece together what I was seeing. Other critics, in the meantime, enjoyed a think-tank effect: Comments on the A.V. Club message boards, reading of press material, or talking about the show on the twittersphere allow for the combined efforts of hundreds of people to decipher together clues. The experience of deciphering what you’re seeing becomes so much easier that you don’t get the full experience.

The end result is this jaded review from the highly-respected (and not necessarily wrong) critic James Poniewozik of Time Magazine. Poniewozik is a self-admitted heavy twitter user as well:

“A silly assault of whatever crazy ideas Murphy and Falchuk wanted to throw in there (Ghosts in gimp suits! Naked Dylan McDermott! Shape-changing maids!) mixed in with some performances that at least got the joke (Jessica Lange, mostly) and others that unfortunately didn't (Connie Britton), all of it so fast and relentless and loud that little of it had the intended impact on me.”

I don’t disagree with Poniewozik’s “fast and relentless” assessment. I found the experience of watching the show’s first couple episodes jarring, but it was a disorientation that grabbed my attention. Sticking with the show paid off primarily because of the rather artful way in which the pieces of the puzzle fit together. It’s not unusual for a show these days to follow in the footsteps of "Lost" and arc its episodes in complex ways, but for a Ryan Murphy show, I found a surprising amount of internal consistency in all the plot threads. Combined with Murphy’s strengths (yes, he has them, or why else would we be watching Glee?), particularly his ability to juggle a large number of eye-popping flashy characters within a 42-minute frame, I’d call this show novel in a unique way. Equally good is that the show’s episodes work very well as stand-alone episodes. I particularly was fascinated by all the faux mythology that the 2nd episode, “Home Invasion”, was built around. In a vaccum, I’m restricting myself from looking up if it was based on anything historical, but that’s certainly more than enough to spark curiosity.

I will, however, concede to the haters that Ben and Vivian don’t make an engaging center for the story and that the show deserved better leads for its inaugural season. In my admittedly limited experience with Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott, neither has ever worked for me. Britton is most closely linked in TV land with Friday Night Lights which I have not seen. I remember her more for her role in the erosion of the character of Mike Flaherty by playing the transformation of Nikki from pining subordinate to demanding girlfriend so poorly.

I also strongly question why some of the characters are so nonchalantly evil. Echoing the growing sentiment that Murphy (and his two co- execs) didn’t always have a handle on how dislikeable characters like Kurt or Mr. Schu could be on Glee, I found Tate to be a more disturbing, dark, and unpleasant personality and I get the sense that he was written more sympathetically. Ghost or not, Tate is the equivalent of a serial killer and has done some awful things: Deflowering Ben’s daughter, tormenting Ben, sleeping with Ben’s wife under false pretenses, and killing the gay couple. He should have inspired Sylar-like levels of in-universe dread and had his own Vaderish evil theme by episode six. Instead, the daughter hangs around him and the dad just has a casual attitude of “I can’t treat you anymore here, but maybe around the corner in the coffee shop.”

Similarly, the character of Larry Harvey (Dennis O’Hare) added to the mix as a sometimes useful juxtaposition with the rest of the gang who all sport faces that aren’t disgusting. Of all the puzzle pieces that came together, Harvey’s story never had me invested to figure out the truth to his story and, somehow, he didn’t feel satisfying. Logistically, I also question why he would nonchalantly kill Hayden.

On the whole, though, I think story dominated over any weak links in the characters, and except for the leads, no one was unengaging.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Playing GM of television: 2010-2011 Season

I saw this post by Andy Daglas the other day, in which he plays out a hypothetical scenario wherein he can trade TV characters from show to show as if he were a sports GM.

1.    Sheila Shay (Ana Gasteyer) from Suburgatory to Revenge in exchange for Nolan Ross

Ana Gasteyer will fit right into the Hamptons and imbue the melodrama with a little bit of humor. Nolan Ross will move across the street in Sheila's place and give Tessa a more competent partner-in-crime than the overly affable Malick. Against the monotoned Dahlia and the Dahlia-like girls at her new school, Tessa needs all the help she can get.

2.      Tate (Evan Peters) from American Horror Story gets sent to In Treatment in exchange for Adele (Amy Ryan). Constance (Jessica Lange) gets loaned out.
Tate needs someone effective to help cure his problems. Ben (Dylan McDermott) clearly can’t do the trick and is secretly enabling Tate’s ghost-murdering ways. On Dr. Paul’s (Gabriel Bryne's) turf, Tate will finally get fixed and if you throw Constance in for a few guest spots, it’ll be a fun family session. 

In the meantime, Dr. Ben needs some help himself. The striking Adele will jump in and fix the damage and, yes, the two will probably either bang or have an emotional affair, but that's the best thing that can happen to him. His marriage to his wife is clearly in trouble. His first thought when his wife wanted to move because of possible ghost sightings was to throw her in an institutionalize her. 

 3.      Annie, Senor Chang, and Pierce get sent from Community to Glee in exchange for Sue Sylvester and Quinn Fabray (pre-wheelchair)
Abed and Troy need a more superficial and acerbic girl (possibly one who they might have more sexual tension with) to pal around with. With the temptation of Annie out of the way, Jeff doesn’t get the scarlett letter for bedding a barely legal coed, and Annie, as a peppy student assistant to Mr. Schu, gets better storylines to people closer her age. Plus, most of the guys will have crushes on her and the potential shipping combinations will be mind-boggling.

Meanwhile, Sue is getting tiring with her redundancy in trying to destroy the Glee club. As a pregnant P.E. teacher, she becomes the gang’s new nemesis, while Pierce boasts an attribute even deadlier than what Sue had: Crankiness. He won't even let Mr. Schu get through half a song without telling him to shut up, throwing some old-timey racist insult at one of his students, and boring them with stories. 

Lastly, Sr. Chang will be Michael’s crazy uncle who will have a Holly-Holliday-like 3-episode arc as Mr. Schu’s substitute upon a bad case of food poisoning. Chang gets fired once it’s discovered that he doesn’t have substitute teacher credentials but it will have been a fun ride.

4. 3-Way Trade: Jonothan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) of Bored to Death goes to Community, the rights to  John Goodman go to The Office, and Ryan Howard and Kevin Malone go to Bored to Death

Community needs a nerdy intellectual guy like Ames for a foil. A professor a few years younger then Jeff Winger who thinks he's six times smarter than him will irk Jeff. He'll also majorly crush on Britta and never ever get anywhere close to winning over her affections.

I don't want whatever character John Goodman plays to go over to The Office but just John Goodman and his comedic gifts and allow the Office writing staff the opportunity to mold a good character for him. I've never been in love with Goodman but I think with his bellowing, hefty frame, he could be a tough guy akin to Idris Elba's character and I could trust him to restrain the manic unpredictable energy that the writers have tried to infuse every manager with post-Michael Scott (Will Ferrell is an unusually bad example).

Lastly, maybe the only guy in the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin with a master's degree needs to figure out what to do with himself since he can't be a temp forever and still is too fearful of going to Thailand. So he moves to this hipster enclave of Brooklyn where people get him and works on writing a tell-all novel about his rise and fall from temp to CEO to temp again of the world's zaniest paper company. And the show goes all meta- because he will meet Steve Carell and Greg Daniels and try to persuade them to star in a TV show based on his book. Kevin Malone will also, by some coincidence too crazy for me to even come up with a plausible explanation for (although the Office writer's room will know how to handle this perfectly, transitions of power that make no sense seem to be their specialty lately), end up in Brooklyn too where he will reunite with long-lost brother Zach Galifianakis.

5. Twofer from 30 Rock gets traded to New Girl in exchange for Winston, Frank from 30 Rock gets traded to Don't Trust the B--- in Apartment 23 in exchange for Eli
I'd hate to see Winston leave the gang, but realistically, the chemistry between the other three is strongest, and the fussy Twofer might bring in a little more of a clash with the other roommates. Can you imagine the hidden resentment a law school dropout like Nick would have for a guy with the command of the English language that Twofer has? Winston wouldn't be the complete antithesis of Tracy Jordan that Twofer was designed to be. He wouldn't be the polar opposite of Tracy, but he'd add a lot of life and personality to the 30 Rock writers room

Meanwhile, Frank was born to play the combination  tambourine-playing health-inspecting simultaneously-creepy-and-non-threatening guy next door that Eli currently inhabits and Eli is the perfect compliment to Jenna who needs a stalker on top of his game.

6. Free agent Josh (Lonny Ross) from 30 Rock gets picked up by Up All Night
I've only seen two episodes of Up All Night, but it's a show about a TV show and Josh and his sex addict of an agent need another crack at a television show, so Josh becomes faux-Oprah's sidekick

7. Howard and Raj get traded from Big Bang Theory to 2 Broke Girls in exchange for Oleg and Han Lee. Stuart will be signed to a full-season contract.

Two Broke Girls has two strong leads with two appalling secondary characters while Big Bang Theory, well, basically the same thing, but what if we could take Howard and Raj and exchange them for walking stereotypes Oleg and Han-Lee. As Daglas pointed out when he made an almost idential trade, said, we need a Lenny and Squiggy for this Laverne and Shirley. I don't think Oleg, Han Lee, Howard or Raj combined could equal one Squiggy in terms of mating desirability, but Raj and Howard would be a massive improvement over Oleg and Han Lee. Raj would keep his mouth shut a lot more than Oleg, and Howard would come onto the girls plenty, but at least Max will know how to handle him. She'll probably punch his lights out, which is what Howard would need. The caveat, Howard has to break up with Bernadette (maybe temporarily).

In the meantime, Han Lee will put a face on the restaurant that the guys and Penny order their Chinese food every other night, while Oleg will serve as the pervy landlord super.

Because you'll need to round out the gang, comic book geek Stuart will return to school to get a higher degree and become a lab assistant and fill out the three's lunch table conversations.


Thursday, May 03, 2012 Article: Improving Road Situation in Arlington

The following is an article that was written for the website and reprinted here with permission from the proprietor of the site. It's on this blog for the purpose of providing a professional sample in the event that the website is down. 

The Improving Road Situation in Arlington

One of the things that unites Arlingtonians the most is that they all are heavily invested in improving the traffic situation in the area.

The roads aren’t particularly bad in the county. Driving along Lee Highway, Route 50, or Columbia Pike rarely leads to the type of congestion that one might experience further out along those routes.

The exception to this, of course, is the limited access highways. Arlington has two Intestate Highways: The Martha Custis Memorial Highway, better known as I-66, and the Shirley Highway, better known as I-395.

In Arlington, Columbia Pike recorded an average daily traffic count of 27,000 cars a day in 2009 according to Virginia Department of Transportation reports. Another major east-west thoroughfare in Arlington, Lee Highway, ranges from 18,000 to 27,000 cars a day.

In Fairfax City, by contrast, Lee Highway jumps up to 39,000 cars per day farther westward while Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) jumps to over 60,000 cars a day as it nears Tyson’s Corner. Considering the frequency of traffic lights, that’s well beyond any road’s ability to manage traffic during rush hour.

In both directions, 183,000 cars passed through Interstate 395 from the Quaker Lane to Glebe Road exits. Average daily traffic counts for I-66 ranged from 72,000 to 113,000 cars in Arlington and were roughly equal in Fairfax County. This is less of a problem, however in Fairfax County because I-66 expands to more than two lanes west of Arlington.

So, in summary, Fairfax has congested roads AND 4-line interstate highways that still get congested. Arlington has highly congested interstate highways, but it has manageable roads. 

 It’s also worth noting that the interstate highways are really a work in progress. The congestion at I-66 has been a heavy concern to lawmakers and different studies have been commissioned including one at the congressional level that was earmarked by Virginia congressman Frank Wolf.

            This past December, a multibillion dollar study led by the VDOT and assisted by several top transportation consulting companies on the East coast, held town hall meetings in Arlington and Falls Church to discuss key issues affecting pedestrian, bicycle, mass transit and vehicular traffic along I-66 and to prevent findings.

Their study found that I-66 was deemed overcapacity in the westbound direction in the morning rush hour (6:30 to 9 AM) from exits 71 to 69. It was also deemed overcapacity in the eastbound direction during the morning rush hour from exits 67 to 71 and 72 in the on to Washington and from exits 66-71 in the evening rush hour (4-6:30 PM). Clearly, the highway being overcapacity is not just an annoyance but a problem affecting the livability of the area and a highly costly one at that.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is sincerely concerned to hear what everyone in the affected communities have to say. Anyone interested in the future of this transportation corridor and wanting to voice their concerns can call the project hotline at the toll free number 1-855-STUDY66 or e-mail

            The study is currently in the stage of taking initial recommendations and in the near future (they’re informational packet states that they anticipate this to occur in April), recommendations will be drafted and another round of public meetings will be held to review those recommendations. More information can be found at

So yes, there is hope for a smoother commute for Arlingtonians, but it’s up to us to figure out how.

Article for Matt Centrowicz Jr. and Sr. Dominating the Distance Running Scene

The following is an article that was written for the website and reprinted here with permission from the proprietor of the site. It's on this blog for the purpose of providing a professional sample in the event that the website is down. As a former beat writer for a college track and field and cross-country program and fan of track and field as a spectator, it was a thrill to write this article and interview both Matt Centrowicz Sr. and Jr. and thanks go out to his assistant coach Bridget Bower for facilitating the interviews:

Matt Centrowicz Completes Family Ambition, Medals in South Korea

After capping off one of the best years a college junior has ever had in the world of distance running, Arlington resident Matt Centrowicz Jr. shrugs off the expectations as he returns for his senior season with the University of Oregon’s cross-country and track program.

“I just wanted to take it one race at a time,” said Centrowicz Jr.

After winning the NCAA championship in the 1500, Matt Centrowicz Jr. upset Olympic medalist and racing icon Bernard Lagat to win the national title in the event and qualify for the world championships in Daegu, South Korea where he became the first American-born miler to medal since 1987.

"When he qualified for the final, I originally thought we'd be very happy if he finished in the top 3 [at the national championships]," said father Matt Centrowicz Sr. "But that's the thing about when you're a young runner. You can explode literally overnight."

His father, Matt Centrowicz Sr., knows a little bit about competing in the Olympics as well. In the 1970’s, he was a two-time Olympian and former American record holder at the event. For one of those American records, he beat storied running legend Steve Prefontaine (the subject of not one but two Hollywood movies) to reset the mark in the 5K.

Matt Sr. is currently devoted to coaching in his 17th year at Coach of American University. In addition, he is in his 5th year as coach of the Pacer's Running Team in Clarendon where his presence has helped turn Pacers into a prime destination for post-collegiate athletes looking to take their running to a professional level.

More importantly, Matt Sr. is a cheerleader and supporter for his two kids as son and daughter Lauren (an All-American runner at Stanford University) have grown in their running careers. He flew out and watched his kids at the NCAA championships and the national championships although he was unable to make it to South Korea to see his son compete.

"Once his son got to Korea, he wasn't sleeping at night," recalls American University Assistant Coach Bridget Bower.

Although he concedes nervousness during the race, Matt Sr. added that he didn't have too much time to process the results because for the first couple of weeks, he was busy giving interviews on his son's victory.

"It was only when he got back and we had time to talk," said Matt Sr.

While Matt Jr. credits the elder Matt for being a big inspiration but both father and son concede that Matt Jr. gets his coaching from his collegiate coach.

“I guide him as a father. Things off the track,” said Matt Sr. “He already has a coach so I don’t interfere with that. There can only be one chef.”

Ironically, the dad didn’t push his son into running at all.

"He did a lot of reverse psychology," said Matt Jr. "He told me running was too tough and that kept me hungry."

Matt Jr.’s success is not just a victory for the Centrowicz clan but for American runners in general. When Matt Sr. competed in 1976 in the metric mile (1500 meters), only two of the top ten milers in the world were from Africa. Since then, the rest of the world has been playing catch-up in the distance events to runners from Africa and the Middle East.

When describing his son’s race, he remarked that it was nice to not watch the American fade out at the finish line for once.

“I think as Americans we can all be happy with that,” he said..

“There are a lot of messages of people saying how proud they are of me representing them,” said Matt Jr. “[It’s] overwhelming a little bit, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

In addition to being the home of Matt Centrowicz’s Pacers Running Team, Pacer’s walking and running store caters to runners of all levels with generous coaching advice, biweekly fun runs, and race sponsorships. They can be found on the internet at and by phone at 703-248-6893.