Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"We're gonna need to watch that again...."

Best Lost Episodes Ever ( far): To commemorate the Season Four finale, Shuk and I thought we'd go with a (highly subjective!) list of the best Lost episodes thus far. What follows is Shuk's Top 15, followed by my Top 15, followed by comments from both of us on the other person's list. (Lists were compiled separately, then discussed together. This has been cross-posted on Mark's excellent blog, too.)

Shuk's list will be first, followed by mine. (Shuk's comments are in red, mine in blue--sorry, Sean!).

The whole thing isn't exactly light on spoilers, so if you're planning to catch-up on the show this summer (or at some point), read at your own peril.

Shuk's List

15. There's No Place Like Home, Parts II and III: I think it's safe to predict this will be one of the best episodes in the history of the series, right? It's nominally fifteenth now, but sure to shoot up the list after it actually, like, airs. I cannot wait to see the gruesome method of death that's awaiting Keamy. It'll be hard to top the troika of the Hurley van/Sayid's neck-breaking with his legs/Sawyer shooting Tom from last year's final episode, but I have faith in the Lost writers. btw, the guy who plays Keamy looks exactly like Toronto FC goalkeeper Greg Sutton if Sutton really started hitting the roids.

Response: I think we're in complete agreement on this one. On a scale of 1 to 10, my excitement is about a 37 for Thursday night.

14. Greatest Hits: Unlike seemingly all of Lost's fanbase, I actually liked Charlie a lot and never got sick of the character. This episode was therefore a pretty nice farewell, even though Charlie didn't technically die until the next episode. His saving Nadia was a pretty cool surprise--I love the random character connections within the flashbacks. I had to laugh, though, at the ultra-cheesy "the day I met Claire was the best day of my life" #1 entry on his list. For a British rocker, that was pretty emo. And, somewhat hilarious, I guess that means the best day of Charlie's life was the day that Oceanic 815 crashed. Classy. If you think about it, that had to be a pretty shitty three-month period for Dominic Monaghan. First he's written off of Lost, then he and Evangeline Lilly split up like three weeks later. Harsh.

Response: I have this a bit higher, but I feel about the same about the ep (except I never liked Charlie). Here's something weird: Wikipedia still lists Monaghan as dating EL, but Lilly's page claims that they've broken up and that she may or may not be seeing Jeremy Davies. Now, from a character standpoint, this is a clear upgrade, as Faraday is very intriguing. But, in terms of the real world, I dunno...doesn't Davies strike you as the kind of guy who plays extremely weird characters because he is, indeed, extremely weird? More to the point, isn't she too hot for either of them?Right, right...the episode. As far as the Charlie-Claire thing goes. He falls in love with her almost instantly...for seemingly no reason (but presumably due to side-effects from massive withdrawal). And she (sort of) reciprocates why exactly? Because he kidnapped her child? Honestly, I could never (or cared to) follow their "romance."

-----> Jeremy Davies? Seriously? Jesus. Is every other single guy in the Lost cast gay or married? Perhaps Lilly is trying to reverse Kate's bad reputation amongst hardcore Lost fans by dating the geekiest-looking guys she can find.

-----> Let's not forget, Charlie is a rock star. He is genetically conditioned to seek out the hottest woman he can find and start making a move. Pregnancy? Pfft. That's just more of a challenge. And Emilie de Ravin was 'TV pregnant,' a.k.a. still completely gorgeous and slim except with a 15-pound latex gut. One weird thing I just realized about this episode....I was re-reading the episode capsule for Walkabout, and totally forgot about the scene when Charlie is hitting on Shannon by getting a fish for her, and Shannon is actually just using Charlie to prove to Boone that he can 'fend for herself' (a.k.a. manipulate men to work for her)? So in Charlie's world, he had the greatest day of his life by meeting the woman of his dreams, and then two days later he's hitting on another woman. Rock and roll, baby.

13. Exodus: To most Lost fans, the two-part S1 finale was overlong, didn't explain anything, and as unsatisfying as your average episode of Heroes. I, however, thought it was awesome, but that might be because I didn't see it live. I saw the entire first season in one weekend-long block, and I already had the first two episodes of S2 taped and ready to watch afterwards. So when Exodus ended and everyone flipped out because they STILL didn't know what was down the Hatch, I just tossed in my tape of the S2 premiere and picked right up where I left off. Admittedly, I can see how that cliffhanger of Jack and Locke looking down the Hatch would've been pretty frustrating to end on for four months. But at least I still got to share in the frustration of not knowing what the hell the Monster was even after it was 'shown' in the episode.This quibble aside, this was one emotional episode. The raft leaving, the slo-mo montage of everyone getting on Oceanic 815 in the first place, Arzt blowing up...ok, maybe not that last one. Why couldn't Arzt have stuck around and become a regular? That guy was comic gold. I'll bet Lindelof & Cuse feel the same way, which is why they bring him back for a flashbacks every chance that they can get.

Response: interesting that the two of us seem to have flipped the S1 pilot and finale on our lists, with you preferring the former to the latter. While being able to watch the S2 premiere afterward must have been satisfying, I'm still baffled as to why Lindelof & Cuse decided to be so coy with the final reveal. The more I think about it, the final moment letdown of the S1 finale probably played a greater role in the S2 hangover than most of us thought. (Also: you didn't watch Lost when it aired originally? How in the world did I not know this.) (Also: I don't ever want you to compare this show to the lazily cobbled together 44 minutes per week that Heroes has so obviously--and inexplicably--become.)

-----> You knew I didn't watch Lost when it aired. Don't you remember during those poker games at your old house when you'd bring up the show and I'd do everything short of sticking my fingers in my ears and saying LA LA LA LA LA? I watched the entire first season in one three- day explosion of TV over Homecoming Weekend '05. Literally the only break I took was spending Saturday morning at a Gazette alumni event, and then skipped the actual game to go home and watch more Lost. I am social.

12. Confirmed Dead: Like with Exodus, last week's episode or Confirmed Dead, Lost does multi-character flashback episodes very well. In a way, it's better to just have a quick-hit look at one character rather than four or five segments about one character in one episode that just reinforces the same tired points (i.e. most Jack or Kate episodes). Confirmed Dead had the additional challenge of showing us quick flashbacks of not just four characters, but four brand new characters, as well as making them interesting enough to drive the season's main plot of the freighter invasion. Miles had probably the most interesting flashback given the oddity of his ghost-hunting adventure, Faraday was the least-established (but he got the most to do in future episodes), Lapidus got just enough to establish him in his role as helicopter jockey, and Charlotte had the most to do in actual real-time Island action. This was probably for the best given that Charlotte's whole role this season has basically been to stand on the beach, look suspicious and deliver "uh oh" reaction shots whenever Jack, Sun or Juliet directly questions her and Faraday. I can't help but think that if Kristin Bell had taken this role last summer, the part would've been greatly expanded. Then again, then Bell might not have been in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so I guess everyone wins.

Response: Very good episode, but the weak final reveal (Ben has a man on the boat) kind of tainted it for me.Much as it pains me to say it, wouldn't Kristen Bell be too young for the Charlotte role? Rebecca Mader isn't exactly rocking my world here, but at least she's semi-believable established anthropologist. Now, if they were looking for a sassy detective...

-----> According to IMBD, Kristen Bell was born on July 18, 1980 and Rebecca Mader was born in 1979 (no date). So, I don't think age is really a factor. Bell just seems younger because she's short and played a teen detective for so many years. The final reveal was decent, if incredibly obvious that the mole was going to be Michael.

11. Numbers: Perhaps my favorite element of the first season was how each episode seemed to present a different case for several characters being the focal point of the show's mystery. Who was the most 'important' character on the Island? Was it Locke and his seemingly empathic connection to the Island? Was it Walt and his apparent psychic powers? Was is Claire and her baby that no one but she could raise? The best example of this was Hurley, who went all year being the comic relief, and then suddenly in the fourth-last episode of the season we had the spectre of the six numbers thrown at us. The close-up of the Numbers on the hatch was a pretty good shock ending, too. The episode is this low on the list since it kind of underscored the ridiculousness of Danielle's character ("Hey, there's another woman living on the Island, but instead of pumping her for information, let's just leave her alone except for the random plot-driven moments when we need her!") and, in hindsight, the Numbers didn't really end up amounting to much of anything. Lostpedia has a whole entry about how the numbers actually represent the "Valenzetti Equation," but this has never come up on the show yet. I did love Hurley freaking out over seeing the numbers on his odometer last episode, so perhaps that was just a hint that the writers will get around to explaining those numbers at some point in the next two seasons.

Response: a good episode that just missed making the cut for me. The incredulous look on Leonard's face when he hears that Hurley played the numbers in the lotto remains quite chilling. As for the numbers themselves, I, too, buy in to the Valenzetti Equation theory. (Though I've read in a few different places that Lindelof & Cuse are a little horrified at how much significance viewers have placed in the numbers and that--since the payoff they have planned isn't all that great...and could never match the ridiculous expectations--that's why they've decided to put the Numbers angle on mothballs for virtually the entire season.)

-----> Lindelof: Gee, the fans seem to be taking these numbers pretty seriously.
Cuse: Well, we do put them into the show at every opportunity.
Lindelof: But we put Kate into every episode and her character is useless.
Cuse: True. Hey, do you think Evie Lilly would date us?
Lindelof: If Davies can do it....

10. One Of Us: This is the ep that really elevated Juliet from being just a complication for Jack-Kate-Sawyer into an interesting character in her own right. Elizabeth Mitchell has a great poker face. Two major pieces of info from this episode that have somewhat been forgotten about --- one, the Others put some kind of an implant into Claire that caused her sickness. Did they similarly implant their other captives, i.e. Jack, Michael, Sawyer, Kate, etc.? Two, Juliet somehow knows about Sawyer killing that guy in Australia before he got on the plane. So clearly either the Others had access to more than just basic information about the crash survivors, or else Sawyer has been publicly identified as the killer by the Aussie police and he'll have to face a murder charge if he ever gets off of the Island.

Response: Agreed. I went back and re-read the episode summary for this one and realized I'd completely forgotten about the whole implant angle. Clearly, this has to come up again (possibly on Thursday night, with a sharp turn in popular approval leading Juliet to stay--not by choice--on the island?)

-----> Juliet could be off the Island ala Michael, though I guess she could go back to her old life and just say that the job at Mittelos didn't pan out. Or she could still be stuck on the Island in the future. Or she could be killed off Thursday night. Or she spends her time doing shots of whiskey while yelling slurs at pictures of Katherine Heigl. Who knows?

9. Deus Ex Machina: The episode in nine words: Locke's dad is the worst person to ever live. I love how Kevin Tighe and Swoosie Kurtz are both like, five years older than Terry O'Quinn in real life. They must've taken parenting tips from Dr. Henry Jones. Also an important episode because it introduced the drug smuggler's plane, delivered Boone's fatal injury, and also was the first step in establishing Locke as dangerously obsessed, not just the wise island sage.

Response: agreed. Great episode. Though I'll just quickly interject that I'm somewhat dismayed by how much Locke has changed since S1. I'm guessing there's redemption in sight for him, but every time Locke is on screen, my first thought is now "hey, isn't that the guy that killed Naomi with zero repercussions?" That doesn't sit right with me. (And don't even get me started on the sub...)

-----> That was followed up by Jack trying to shoot Locke in the head, except the gun jammed. And nobody ever mentioned it again. And Rose even said, "I'm not going with Locke, he's crazy." AND THEN SHE WENT WITH JACK! I choose to interpret that scene as Rose really just going whenever Sayid went.

8. Cabin Fever: ...and this was the episode that restored some of Locke's mysticism after basically sidelining him as a dangerous obsessive for most of the season. The flashbacks of Locke's past were just jaw-dropping...I actually yelped when Richard Alpert showed up in the window of the nursery. And then to have Matthew "Evil Dave Chappelle" Abaddon show up as Locke's orderly, man alive, this show is creepy. And then Claire showed up all calm and shit in Jacob's cabin! And Keamy was beating the hell out of Michael, but Michael just wouldn't die! Man alive!(Yes, I realize this degenerating into fanboyish glee isn't very smooth, but hey, the episode happened just two weeks ago. I need time to decompress.)

Response: I think this is in a dead heat with my selection of "The Other 48 Days" as "the episode we completely disagree upon." I dug the Locke flashbacks (loved the visit from Alpert and can't wait for his "test" to eventually be deconstructed/explained--that it allegedly mirrors the test that potential Dalai Lamas are given is wicked cool. And the bit with the guidance counsellor is a nice callback to "Walkabout"), his dream (Godspeed was suitably creepy), and the growing fan theory that since Locke and Ben's lives mirror each so closely, maybe one is supposed to (or, in another timeline, already has) replaced the other. But, once again, the trip to Jacob's Cabin was a massive letdown. I'll go so far as to say that, at the moment, I hate the cabin angle, as it never seems to deliver the goods. We keep thinking we're going to see him and then we get...Jack's dad? Weak. (Though slightly better than the previous installment, where he was seemingly invisible.) This episode is also a perfect example of your Danielle theory (key character that is inexplicably never mined for information). Locke gets to ask one question about the island (that we saw--at least) and he fucking blows it on the intentions of the smoke monster? I think I actually screamed at the TV.

Evil Dave Chappelle...good Lord, that's funny. (Also: start watching The Wire already, as Lance Reddick (Abaddon) is all kinds of awesome there.

-----> I don't think we're going to actually see Jacob before a season finale (so, maybe...Thursday?). You were let down by the two cabin visits? I loved them. The first one was just a mindfuck of epic proportions. The second brought "Jack's dad" into the picture as a confirmed ally of Jacob, and plus had the double surprise of happy-to-be-there Claire. My friend Mario mentioned the fact that Doug Hutchinson (the guy who plays Horace) plays a loathsome creep in pretty much every other role he's ever had, so I'm thinking that Horace will end up meaning a lot more in the future.

7. Through the Looking Glass: Probably a bit lower ranked than expected, given that I spent the entire episode alternately pumping my fist and grinning like a goofball. But in future viewings, the flash-forward revelation will lose all of its bite. Frankly, if you're a champ at anagrams and were able to decode the Hoffs-Drawlar funeral home hint, the big twist ending would've been given away 20 minutes into the episode. But still, this episode was pretty awesome. Charlie's final fate, Jack beating the hell out of Ben, the surprise Walt cameo, and the entire sequence with Hurley using the Dharma van against the Others.

Fun fact: I was actually at work on the night that this episode aired, and rather than wait a day and try to download it, I got the extra west coast channels on my Rogers package just so I could see it when I got home. So, essentially, I paid an extra $2.99 per month for three months just to see this episode 'live.' Well worth it.

Response: good old, time shifting. Is there anything it can't do? Agreed re: Hoffs-Drawlar (though I didn't pick up on it...and I'm guessing you didn't either.) I see what you're saying about how it may not be as rewatchable as some other top episodes (though, even if you ignore the flash-forwards, the island stuff alone makes it worthy of inclusion), but I also think it's important to look at these episodes in terms of being major events or moments. For instance, no subsequent viewing of The Usual Suspects can ever be as satisfying as the first go-round, but I still firmly believe it's one of the ten best movies of the decade (subsequent post on that topic coming...sometime).

-----> Oh man, get ready for my harsh rebuttal about that upcoming post. Ten best of the decade?? Seriously?

6. The Man Behind The Curtain: Finally, the Ben show! Lindelof/Cuse knew they had a lot of expectations to pay off with the first Ben-centic episode, and what better time than this to bust out Jacob. Plus, the weirdly unaging Richard Alpert. My theory is he's a Highlander. Next season, Christopher Lambert and Adrian Paul join the cast. The show will then plummet downhill in quality.

Response: an unequivocally great episode. My failure to include it is probably inexcusable (though, again, the Jacob scene sucked).

5. Raised by Another: This episode combined the two aspects I enjoyed most about the first season of Lost. First, the major subplot was Hurley putting together a census of the survivors, which is one of those logical post-crash activities that someone might do if they were actually in a plane crash with a bunch of people. As much as I enjoy all of the bizarre mysteries, I think I'd equally enjoy a show that actually was about people stranded on a remote island. Like, the middle hour of Cast Away. Anyway, the other element I liked was, as I mentioned in the Numbers entry, every episode and its subsequent flashbacks brought a new character into the who's-most-important argument, and in this case, it was Claire and her baby that (according to the puffy-faced psychic who looked like Odo on DS9 even without makeup) couldn't be "raised by another." The episode also had one of the best cliffhangers in Lost history, of Charlie and Claire nervously facing down a newly-revealed-as-evil Ethan. Thomas Mapother is a legitimately scary-looking dude.

It's fun to look back on some of these old episodes and remember some of the dropped or forgotten plotlines. Like, remember when that Scott/Steve guy was killed after Ethan threatened to kill one survivor per day unless Claire was returned to him? Scott/Steve was found with, and I quote, every bone in his body broken. Given that what we later learned about the Others (they're just normal people, not supermen), this stands kind of incongruous four years later. Maybe Scott/Steve was actually a Monster victim, and Ethan just took it as a happy coincidence. And whatever happened to the surviving member of Scott/Steve? If they ever did another Nikki-and-Paulo-esque flashback episode about the background characters, I nominate him. Maybe he could usurp the dead guy's life.

Response: wow...this one didn't register with me at all, mostly because I think Claire is such a big, dull dud...and because (thus far) they've blown the whole "Aaron has to be raised by Claire or he'll end up the devil incarnate." I may have to reserve judgment until the show's run is complete. [Obligatory mention that Mapother is Tom Cruise's cousin.] Ethan was scary as hell. Shame he wasn't on the show longer. To be honest, I barely even remember this Scott/Steve thing. That's...peculiar.

-----> This episode was, in a way, Claire's last hurrah. [Note from Kyle: this was 71 episodes ago.] Before her kidnapping, she was the only seemingly happy character on the show. While the logic of a pregnant woman taking a c'est la vie attitude to being stranded on a deserted island is faulty, it was kind of nice having one character that wasn't burdened down by issues on the show. After her kidnapping and subsequent amnesia, however, Claire got a lot more dour and her importance to the show was heavily minimized. And I wouldn't pass judgement on the 'Aaron may be evil' storyline yet. There has to be a reason why Christian and Claire get such priority seating in the cabin. Perhaps Aaron grows up to be Jacob.

4. Live Together, Die Alone: On the face of it, it was a pretty bold decision by the Lost producers to devote an entire two-hour season finale to a minor, not-even-a-cast-member character. Fortunately, Henry Ian Cusick is awesome and Desmond immediately became one of the most popular characters on the show. This episode also got him his regular job, as after Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje told the producers he wanted to leave the show, the decision was made to add Desmond to the show and (if you believe internet scuttlebutt) take over the "flashes through time" storyline that was originally planned for Mr. Eko. Anyway, SO many great little moments in this one. The introduction of the Desmond/Penny storyline. The first appearance of the very important Charles Widmore. Desmond buys his boat from (of all people) Libby. The Swan station blows up. The surprise re-appearance of Clancy Brown as Kelvin, Desmond's previous hatch partner. The tube in the middle of the jungle that had spewed out countless notations from the Pearl Station. The mysterious station in the Arctic that was shown at the end of the episode contacting Penny (NB, the first time on Lost that we actually saw a real-time look off of the Island). And, of course, the foot statue. Surely that has to be explained one of these seasons, right?

Response: [nodding] Of all the mysteries on Lost (and Lostpedia lists no fewer than twenty-nine of them), I'm most curious about the four-toed statue. (In case you were wondering: I've got Adam/Eve and Kate's horse tied for last.) I kind of dig the notion (even though I think it's probably too difficult to communicate on-screen) that it's from a different reality where they managed to alter the equation...but that alteration fundamentally (or, possibly, just slightly) changed what humans looked like--hence four toes instead of five. Or it's a production error. (Kidding.)

-----> Adam and Eve are almost certainly two current characters, it's just a matter of guessing who they will end up being. I think the only way I'd be surprised is if Adam & Eve turned out to be the actual Adam & Eve, which would probably take the show in a pretty weird direction. I think the mystery I'm least curious about is (going by the Lostpedia list) Hurley's imaginary friend. Seems pretty clear it was an imaginary friend. Plus, I'm secretly jealous of Evan Handler and want to usurp his life.

3. Walkabout: I think most people would have this episode in their top three, if not #1 overall. It was the episode that first established that Lost was going to be a pretty unique show. Sure, the previous few episodes had already revealed the existence of the Monster, but when you throw in a twist like the Island healing a crippled man, that takes things to a new level. It also, arguably, made Locke the face of the show in S1 given that he became the symbol of the unusual Island. Fun fact: the working title for this episode was "Lord of the Files," which, frankly, would've dropped its grade a notch or two.

Response: Awesome episode (#4 of my list), horrible working title. I'm actually kind of dismayed they even considered it.

----> Hey, this is the same crew that green-lighted "All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues." What the hell does that even mean?

Follow up: have you noticed that people never say "green lit"--even though it's still grammatically correct and wayyy easier? What's up with that?

2. Pilot: You could make a strong case for Lost having the best pilot episode in TV history. A pilot is supposed to make you want to add the show to your regular schedule, right? By that logic, I can't see how anyone could've watched the first episode of Lost and then not tuned in the next week. You had the great drama of the rescue, the wide array of characters, survival elements, and the hints of something being not quite right about the Island, like the polar bear or the Monster. Also, this might be the only pilot in TV history where the title of 'Pilot' actually is meaningful, since the pilot eats it at the end of the first hour.

Response: see, but, nothing really happens in the pilot. We didn't know anything (or, really, learn anything) about the characters. Consequently, I find it difficult to rank an episode that's basically entirely set-up this highly.

As for the best pilot ever, I find it hard to disagree, though The West Wing and ER probably deserve to be in the conversation.

-----> This could be a whole separate list on its own. Of recent years, Pushing Daisies and Studio 60 had pretty wonderful pilots. Frasier's first episode was very good. I remember the Sopranos' first episode as being excellent.

1. The Constant: In case you couldn't tell from the two Desmond episodes in my top four, I'm a sucker for the Desmond/Penny story. While this episode wasn't as whole-cast-centric as much of my other favorite episodes are (it's basically all Desmond, Sayid and Faraday), this was as good an episode as any show has ever done. The sometimes-hackneyed device of time travel was dealt with in an original way that made it seem semi-believable, and in terms of the show's mythology, it answered some major questions about what kind of time distortion was taking place on (or, as we learned, around) the Island. This episode also confirmed that my ideal Lost spinoff would be Sayid and Desmond, traveling the world solving crimes with Penny as their financier and maybe Hurley as the comic relief. I can't say enough about what a good addition Desmond was to the show.

Response: my #2, but could easily have been #1. Just a wonderful hour of television. Quick question: if, as you say, Eko was supposed to be the central character in "Flashes Before Your Eyes," does this mean that he would've been "The Constant," too? It certainly seems like the two go hand in hand, but the thought of this episode not being a Desmond-Penny showcase makes me feel a little ill. Did arguably the best episode of Lost almost never happen?

Lovvvve the spinoff idea, though I'm putting in a request that Lapidus be involved, since Jeff Fahey is terrific. Along similar lines, I've this impending sense of dread that Sayid and Desmond--whose budding friendship was one of the unexpected treats of S4--will be turned against each other in S5 and S6, since, if Ben wants to kill Penny, who better to send than his #1 assassin (Sayid)? (One last thing: have you heard rumblings that Sayid actually did kill Penny in "The Economist," but she was a slightly different looking Penny from an altered timeline? I don't buy it, but it totally creeps me out/makes me sad.

-----> I'm not sure I buy the 'altered timeline' thing until we actually get evidence of it. I think that might be a twist that would just make the show a bit too confusing, even for hardcores like us. A future Sayid-centric episode where he's forced to choose between his duty to Ben and his friendship with Desmond sounds like something that would end up on our 2010 version of Lost's Best Episodes. At this point, one would think Sayid's loyalty to Desmond would easily win out, but this also raises the specter that Penny did something/does something horrible to enrage Sayid.

-----> The "Eko has the flashes" storyline is perhaps my favourite Lost plot rumour. I have no idea how it would've worked. Would Yemi have been his constant? Or maybe even a more random choice like Claire's psychic? Chalk it up to what may have been, along with Michael Keaton-as-Jack and the original conception of the Kate character as (essentially) a combination of Juliet and Rose.

Follow up: definitely Yemi. My top choice would probably be "Jack was supposed to die in the pilot" (which, I guess, is the same as the Michael Keaton thing, since it was supposed to be a one-off). Didn't even know about the Kate thing--I think it's safe to say it would've been better (basically by default) that way.

Honourable mentions (there are four of them since, y'know, four is also one of the Numbers): The Economist, Flashes Before Your Eyes, Special, The 23rd Psalm.

Response: on my list; on my list; had to look it up because I didn't remember it (verdict: meh...never been a huge Walt fan--and, yes, that can properly be considered a play on words); honourable mention on my list. Very surprised you don't have "The Brig" there, too.

-----> I really liked the Brig. If we had done a top 23, it would've made the cut. The only thing that dropped it for me a tad was that Cooper descended a bit into cartoonish supervillany and that it probably would've worked better as a Sawyer flashback episode.

Kyle's List

(since I'm, apparently, physically incapable of doing a list without having a tie somewhere...)

"There's No Place Like Home" (4.12 - 4.14): Given that the finale is a three-parter spread over two weeks, I'd anticipated this being all wind-up and no pitch. Instead, we were treated to an impressive hour that, in true Lost fashion, posed as many questions as it answered. I'm bordering on outright giddy for next week's finale...and am willing to bet that parts two and three will vault "There's No Place Like Home" comfortably into the top five. For the moment, Jack's reaction to finding out about Claire is, alone, enough to secure a place on this list.

-----> Great minds think alike. After watching this show for four seasons, I'm still torn on whether or not Fox is a good actor. I mean, he's obviously 'good,' but I can't decide if he is capable of greatness or if he's held back by the character of Jack.

Follow up: I'd say Fox is an above-average actor (with the occasional flash of greatness--see his reaction upon meeting Claire's mom last week and everything in his original flash-forward), but is hampered somewhat by his character. You can only do so much with the flawed/vaguely dickish hero angle (...and 100,000,000 Hamlet fans shudder for no discernible reason).

-----> Great, now I've spent the last five minutes trying to come up with more Lost/Hamlet character comparisons. After Nikki and Paulo as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I'm stuck.

T16. "The Shape of Things to Come" (4.9): had the final scene between Ben (Michael Emerson) and Charles Widmore (Alan Dale) been just a little bit better (or merely average) instead of almost cringe-worthy (see, for instance, the usually-reliable Dale's atrocious delivery of "well, then, I guess the race is on for both of us"--though, in fairness, there isn't a lot you can do with something that schlocky) this would be much higher, because there's a lot to love in this episode, including Ben being a total bad-ass and possibly the show's best written (and shot) death scene. Emerson brings it every single time.

-----> I just wish the big Ben/Widmore confrontation had been built up a little more. It was only a few episodes earlier we learned that Widmore was Ben's enemy, and even then, we couldn't believe it since 99% of everything Ben says is horseshit. I half-expected Ben to shake Widmore's hand when he walked into his room, or call him 'Boss' or something.

Follow up: I thought the same thing about Ben/Widmore working together. That would've been an interesting twist, though this war by proxy thing has loads of potential. By the way, have you read the description of the H.G. Wells' book that the episode title is borrowed from? It sounds absolutely fucking insane. This leads to include that Wells had to be an opium (or ether) addict and that his estate has managed to keep it under wraps for sixty years....

14. "Expose" (3.14): I'm fairly certain I'm in the minority here, but I thought this episode was incredibly clever. For the uninitiated, Nikki (played by Kiele Sanchez) and Paulo (Rodrigo Santoro) joined the show for S3 as characters that were on Oceanic 815, but hadn't been off-camera thus far. Fans, concerned that not enough info was being released about existing characters let alone new ones, lashed out. In response, showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof cancelled plans for a multi-episode arc and killed off both characters in a one-off episode. I like it for the meta-references (Nikki, upon being asked to rejoin the cast of the fictional in-show program referenced in the episode, responds "thanks, but I'm only a guest-star, and we all know what happens to guest-stars"; a bewildered Sawyer shouting "who the hell is Nikki?" mirroring much of the fan discussion), how it played with time , the little touches (according to Lostpedia, aside from Nikki's dying gasp, the two characters only speak in flashbacks), and the nifty twist (which I won't spoil for those that--inexplicably--have yet to watch the show). Did it advance the story? Not in the slightest...but it was lots of fun...and you can't ask for much more than that.

-----> Heh, I was wondering if you'd include this. In a way it's a shame that Lost fans have become so focused on 'answers' and 'the Story' since with just a limited number of episodes left, it means we probably won't get to see little sideline amusements like Expose anymore. If more of the background characters had been elevated to Paulo/Nikki/Rose/Bernard levels, this show could run for three more seasons. Did you ever read the original concept for 'Expose' had Lindelof/Cuse not decided to kill the characters off? It was going to be Nikki's flashback episode, except all of his flashbacks would've been from her TV show. So, in the last scene, we would've found out that everything we learned about her in the previous hour wasn't true. Fun fact: for about a week before this episode aired, Lostpedia listed it as 'Expos' in the upcoming listings. I was baffled --- were Delino DeShields and Tim Wallach going to show up in the Others?

Also, Sawyer's "who the hell is Nikki?" line was, while funny, ridiculous. SAWYER wouldn't make mental note of the hot Latina in jean shorts? Shyeah.

Follow up: For as much as some people hated "Expose," they would've despised the original concept even more. If you're going to crib from Dallas, please God don't let it be from the dream season. I read about the "Expos" thing, too. Apparently the ABC press release referred to it as such. Bizarre.

Good point re: Sawyer. Possible explanation: he slept with her off-camera and never bothered to get her name.

-----> That's a good point. Sawyer could've carried the whole conversation just by calling her "Shorts," "Jean Genie," "Rosalita," etc.

13. "The Economist" (4.3): After this episode aired someone--though I can't for the life of me remember where...possibly a commenter on Sepinwall's blog--wrote "remind me again why Sayid isn't the leader?" and I haven't been able to shake that thought since. Because, let's be honest, he's awesome and (very much unlike Jack, the actual leader) seemingly always right. "The Economist" rams this point home, with Sayid at his Bondian best. Very entertaining...and more than a little heartbreaking.

----->This was a tough cut from my list. The reason that Sayid isn't the leader because, storyline-wise, you can't have such a logical and level-headed character as the central figure of a show with so much weird stuff happening. I'm just highly glad that Naveen Andrews finally became a big part of Lost again after two seasons. If Michael Emerson wasn't a stone-cold lock to win the Supporting Actor Emmy, I'd give it to Andrews.

Follow up: just say it, Shuk. It's because he's Iraqi, isn't it? Racist.

-----> Cuse: Boy, I sure am racist.
Lindelof: Me too.
Cuse: Want to fill our show with various minority characters and then gradually kill them off or marginalize them?
Lindelof: Sounds good. But won't people be onto our racism if we do that?
Cuse: Not if the first two we kill are the whitebread half-siblings. It's the perfect cover.
Lindelof: You've done it again, Carlton.
Cuse: You're pretty good yourselves, Damon.

Director's note: these lines should be read in the voices of the Duke brothers from Trading Places.

12. "Pilot, Parts 1 and 2" (1.1 and 1.2): Since this episode--the brilliant first five, post-crash minutes aside--wasn't terribly thrilling or especially (save for Jack memorably explaining the count to five thing to Kate) well acted (witness Charlie, going for portentous but falling on the wrong side of "lamely," ending the first episode by asking "guys...where are we?"), I can't shake the feeling that this is kind of an honorary inclusion. That said, these two episodes laid the groundwork for what followed, so it deserves to be here.

----->Twelfth? Wow, really? I don't see how it could possibly be anywhere lower than top-five. Now, that being said, it's sort of funny how the pilot bears little resemblance to the show as it is now. At this point, major plot points/characters like Ben, Juliet, Jacob, Widmore, Desmond, Penny, the Freighter crew, etc. were all just gleams in Lindelof/Cuse's eye.

Follow up: back in March, the Washington Post did a Top 64 "Lost Madness" bracket, in an effort to determine who was the fan favorite and many lamented that two characters that weren't even in the first season--Ben and Desmond--made it to the final four (Desmond ultimately won, with Sayid and Charlie also making the final four). Now, it turns out this is a little misleading, since, the way the brackets were structured, only one 815 survivor could make it (and one Other had to), but, even if the brackets hadn't been setup that way, I find it difficult to believe the final outcome would've been much different. (One last thing: what's more surprising: Charlie going to the final four, or Kate lasting to the Sweet 16? Personally, I'd argue that having Jacob in the Elite 8 is the biggest reach of all.)

-----> The DarkUFO Lost [Note from Kyle: that site freaks me out...and I rarely sleep well after reading from it] blog did a 'favourite character' poll in the summer, and Desmond defeated Locke in the final (Sawyer and Jack were in the final four). That poll was set up a bit differently, though, as the 100 or so starting characters were paired off in random matchups throughout the tournament. So, in the first round, you could've conceivably had Sayid face Jack right off the bat. In conclusion, Desmond is awesome. Also in conclusion, it says something about the show's quality that they're able to integrate new characters so well into the ongoing story. Put it this way --- if they did a favourite West Wing character bracket, I doubt the final two would come down to Arnie Vinick vs. Kate Harper.

Follow up: Kate Harper! [bashes own head off keyboard] Vinick, I must say, I didn't mind all that much. Admittedly, there wasn't much depth to Vinick's character--though he looks like Othello (note: this would ordinarily be a Hamlet reference) in comparison to Brolin's Ritchie. This probably has a lot to do with Alan Alda being awesome.

11. "Deus Ex Machina" (1.19): Initially, I had "Three Minutes" (2.22) slotted in here, but the more I think about, the more strongly I feel about "Deus Ex" being list-worthy--mostly because, otherwise, my list would be completely devoid of references to Locke's dad being a complete asshole. The flashback contain therein is, simply put, the meanest thing ever--indeed nearly mesmerizing in its cruelty. But what makes the episode for me is the final scene, with Locke banging on the mysterious hatch door that simply won't open (something I've always maintained is nod to Krajicek being locked inside that creepy military silo--and banging helplessly on an inner wall--in an early season X-Files ep), seemingly defeated, begging the island for an explanation, and absolutely ready to give up when, all of a sudden, a bright light turns on inside the hatch and the episode smash-cuts to black. It's a fabulous scene in its own right, but the payoff, when it comes (see #3 below), makes it that much better.

-----> So, what happened to Three Minutes? It doesn't make the #11 spot, so it drops off the list entirely? Wouldn't it have just been #12?

Follow up: good point. Explanation: the more I thought about, the less I thought it needed to be included. Ultimately, it got bumped entirely.

10. "Greatest Hits" (3.21): I'll be honest, I was never a fan of Charlie (and the fact that he was in love with Claire--probably my least favorite character on the show--usually meant that his episodes were exercises in frustrations for me)...but this one got to me. Sweet without being saccharine, this one--which flashed on the five greatest events in Charlie's life (hence the title)--was very well done.

-----> Agreed.

9. "Flashes Before Your Eyes" (3.8): The first of three Desmond-centric (pitch-perfectly played by Henry Ian Cusick) episodes to make my list. At first glance, this may seem excessive--given that, by my count, twenty-nine characters (over 81 episodes) have had flashbacks--but he's my favorite character (and, as mentioned, Cusick flat-out rocks), so screw it.

Here, we have Desmond coming "unstuck" in time and flashing back (or, if the producers are to believed, actually travelling through time) to London circa 1996, with some great stuff between Desmond and Penny (the love of his life, as played by Sonya Walger), and Desmond and (the absolutely ruthless) Charles Widmore (Penny's dad). I'm not quite sure if everything makes sense (see especially: everything to do with the Ms. Hawking mindfuck), but, for me, Desmond + time travel = awesome episode.

-----> Great episode, but it missed my list just because I think LTDA and Constant were stronger, which made this one pale a bit in comparison. I can't help but wonder what the Eko version of 'Flashes Before Your Eyes' would've been like if AAA had stayed on the show and thus gotten this storyline.

Follow Up: (My thoughts on this almost being Eko's story can be found in my response to your list.) your logic, Rattle & Hum should be omitted from the best albums of the 80s because U2 also released War and The Joshua Tree?

8. "Man of Science, Man of Faith" (2.1): By virtue of the first scene alone--a day in the life an unknown man in some sort of bizarre dwelling (only later do we find out it's Desmond and he's in the hatch)--this is worthy of inclusion. The flashback--Jack becoming the "hero doc" and the attendant consequences of such impossibly high expectations--is pretty cool too. Be honest, you can't think of "Make Your Own Music" without thinking of this now.

-----> You could put together a pretty strong Lost-related mix CD --- Make Your Own Kind of Music, whatever that Mama Cass song was that was playing when Michael tried to crash his car, Buddy Holly's Everyday (Locke's mother is dancing to it at the start of Cabin Fever), Building a Mystery, Downtown, Redemption Song, Wonderwall, You All Everybody, Good Vibrations, Shambala, and the Glenn Miller band song that Hurley and Sayid found on the radio. Anyway, this episode was also notable since it marked the last time that Jack had an interesting flashback.

Follow up: ...and maybe Damien Rice's "Delicate" (a favorite of mine, truth be told), which plays on Hurley's discman (I don't believe it was an .mp3 player) as a S1 episode winds down, only to have it conk out when he runs out of batteries, which I've always interpreted as C&L saying "fuck you...this song is totally overused in montages now."

-----> Ooh, good call, that was a funny scene.

7. "Exodus, Parts 1 and 2" (1.23 and 1.24): Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first: it's the only season finale (of three so far) that fizzled at the very end (closing with a descending shot down the newly-discovered hatch simply didn't do it for me) and the show got a little too cute with the numbers popping up everywhere (I think the last straw was Hurley passing a girls volleyball team, with the jerseys adorned with 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, which prompted me to blurt out "OK, dial it down a bit, Lost"). But everything else was pretty tremendous. This two-part ep was the first indication that the show could flash on more than one character without watering down the suspense.

----->Agreed, though you apparently liked it a bit more than I did. How crazy is it that this great episode is, to date, clearly the least impressive of Lost's season finales? This just gets me even more stoked for Thursday.

Follow up: I know. Arguably only Dallas (seasons 1 through, say, 8), The Wire (all five), and The West Wing (everything except for S3) can rival Lost in terms of season finale conversion rates.

6. "One of Us" (3.16): wow. Otherwise known as "the episode where Elizabeth Mitchell [Juliet] acts circles around the rest of the cast." This is the best the show has ever been at portraying how an outsider might be perceived by the Lostaways (umm...not favorably) and, in turn, how the outsider might view them. Again, I can't really say enough about EM's performance here--it's astoundingly good.

-----> And yet, Mitchell didn't get an Emmy nomination. Unbelievable.

Follow up: I know. Actual winner? Katherine Heigl....which is out and out disgraceful.

5. "The Other 48 Days" (2.7): Terribly underrated. The scene with Ana Lucia and Goodwin on the hill talking/analyzing/trying to kill each other is easily one of the show's five best moments (and, interestingly, is actually enhanced by revelations in "One of Us" and "The Other Woman"). Also: seeing the crash from another perspective was phenomenal.

-----> Boy, this one was not on my radar at all. I felt too much was crammed into this episode -- it could've easily been two hours long and been sort of a Pilot 2.0. And, casting Brent Carver as Goodwin was pretty much a dead giveaway that the character was going to be a villain of some sort. Can't help but feel Lindelof/Cuse dropped the ball on the tail section characters, presuming of course that their hands weren't tied by outside forces (coughcoughDUIscoughcough).

Follow up: Interesting! I thought you'd be high on this one. No love for the Ana Lucia-Goodwin showdown? Or Bernard finding out that Rose is alive? Or the actual crash scene? I quite liked this.

4. "Walkabout" (1.4): ...if you'd told me after I watched "Walkabout" that there would be three episodes stronger than it in three years time, I'd of said "goddamn, Lost must've ended up being one outstanding show." And I would've been right. Terry O'Quinn (who was justly nominated for an Emmy for his performance here but somehow didn't win) is terrific here.

----->Another great fact gleaned from Lostpedia: though O'Quinn (finally) won an Emmy last year, he was only in 13 of Lost's 22 episodes. This was the second-lowest appearance total of anyone in the cast in S3 (Emilie de Ravin had 12 episodes, and Yunjin Kim also had 13) who didn't get killed off earlier in the year. Definitely a feast or famine year for Locke fans. I also got a kick out of the scene later in the season when Boone asks Locke what he does, Locke replies "Regional manager of a box factory," and Boone doesn't believe him. Was Locke the Creed of his office? Or maybe the Dwight?

Follow up: "What is wrong with this woman? She's asking about stuff that's nobody's business. "What do I do?" Really, what do I do here? I should've written it down. "Qua" something, uh... qua... quar... quibo, qual...quir-quabity. Quabity assuance! No. No, no, no, no, but I'm getting close."

3. "Live Together, Die Alone" (2.23): Let's be honest, Season 2 was not terribly strong, and it took this kick-ass season finale to restore my faith in the show. Desmond--up to this point a (at best) secondary and ill-defined character--gets the flashback treatment for the first time (which, you have to think, posed somewhat of a risk for a show that had come under critical and commerical fire in its second season)...and it's an absolute gem. It was also the first time that I really believed that the producers were capable of seeing the big picture and not just (as my dad never tires of saying) making it up as they went along. I love the mythology it enriches here (Desmond's arrival, hatch orientation, the explanation behind inputting the numbers), the ends it tied up (why the crash happened--I think; the invisible map from "Lockdown;" the light coming from the hatch in "Deus Ex Machina," etc.), and the mysteries it introduced (the polar research station, the four-toed statue, could the Others actually be the good guys?). Great stuff all around that had me begging for, of course, the show went off the air for five months, then totally bricked the first six episodes of S3 (the unfortunate Jack-Kate-Sawyer in captivity saga/mini-season). So it goes.

----->Agreed. I had this one at #4. My favourite little moment from this one was, during the final scene in the Arctic station, there was a Muzak recording of 'Make Your Own Kind Of Music' playing in the background. Awesome.

Follow up: totally missed that music cue. Very cool.

2. "The Constant" (4.5): My sense is that Shuk and I will probably have 10+ episodes in common...and I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be his #1 pick, since he is--like me--totally in the tank for Henry Ian Cusick's work as Desmond. After what was arguably the season's worst episode ("Eggtown"--which was totally boring save for one decent reveal at the end) featuring yet-another segment in the agonizing Jack-Kate love saga (which, I'm sorry, doesn't work and, more to the point, will never work) Cuse/Lindelof and company delivered a fantastically compelling episode that highlighted why Penny and Desmond is (are?) Lost's true love story. And while I think that the show skirted all (or most) time paradox issues in a way that was probably just a tad too pat, this was beautiful, beautiful stuff from start to finish. If you didn't tear up (or out and out sob) while Cusick and Sonya Walger bawled and, generally, acted the shit out of that climactic Christmas Eve phone conversation, well, you probably don't have a soul.

-----> Agreed. I'm interested to learn more about this 'time barrier' that surrounds the island. I think that was one of the theories surrounding the Oceanic Six, that they were the ones far enough away from the Hatch explosion to get through it without any Desmond-esque side effects, so that's why they were the ones who could leave. (Jack/Kate/Hurley were all at the Others' dock. Sayid and Sun were off on the boat sailing to the decoy door. Aaron had been treated by some of that vaccine that Desmond injected into himself, plus whatever in utero treatments Ethan did to him when Claire was kidnapped.)

Follow up: I think you may be right on the money here. Can't wait to see how this plays out....

1. "Through the Looking Glass" (3.22): The proverbial game-changer, that totally revitalized the show itself. The only episode in the show's history that, as soon as it ended, made me want to go back and watch all previous episodes in a row. There are stupid twists (coughHarlanCobencough), decent twists, and then there are Lost-style punch-to-the-solar- plexus-twists. (Guess which category this one falls under?) Nearly one year later, I still get chills thinking about it. Right up there with "Two Cathedrals" in terms of near-perfectly crafted television.

-----> Like I said, watching the episode in the future will lessen its impact since we'll already know we're watching flash-forwards. As an actual stand-alone episode, however, it was indeed awesome.

Follow up: damn right.

Honourable mention: "The Brig," "The Long Con," "The 23rd Psalm," "The Numbers," "Three Minutes."

-----> Numbers made my list, Brig and 23rd Psalm were tough cuts. Three Minutes and Long Con were good, but nothing too special, in my opinion. Long Con was particularly undone by the fact that it set Sawyer up as a force to be reckoned with, only to piss it away and make him into comic relief for the rest of the season. Plus, the running subplot of Sawyer's stash was by far the dumbest thing about S1, and the season why Sawyer was originally my least favorite character. There is literally no good reason why the rest of the 815ers would've allowed Sawyer to keep the stuff from the plane for as long as he did.

Follow up: ...and, the more I think about, the more I realize that the con itself in "The Long Con" wasn't all that great. Oh, well. Agreed re: the other Sawyer stuff. It also seemed totally unrealistic that he was able to protect the stash at all times, despite spending 90% of his waking time reading children's books.

The worst (by far): "Stranger in a Strange Land"

-----> Agreed. Though I'd also nominate 'Whatever The Case May Be,' which ended up being a truly pointless waste of an hour. It's also a good thing that the producers have generally stopped giving their episodes cutesy names like WTCMB, Everyone Hates Hugo, All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues, What Kate Did, etc.

Follow up: I agree completely. ATBCHDI is easily the worst title of the show's run.

Final Thoughts:

By my count, if we assign 15 points for our top pick, 14 for #2, down to 1 point for #15, our combined Top Five looks like this:

5. "Pilot" (18 points)
4. "Through the Looking Glass" (24 points)
T2. "Live Together, Die Alone" (25 points)
T2. "Walkabout" (25 points)
1. "The Constant" (29 points)

"One of Us" would've been sixth (16 points), then "Deus Ex Machina" and "Exodus" tied for seventh (12 points).

As always, a real pleasure, Shuk. You are a gentleman and a scholar. I look forward to our next collaboration (which is not a euphemism for anything).

A fine list, Mr, Kyle! I look forward to our top 16 Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip episode countdown! The pilot will be #1 and...uh....

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Your playing days are over, my friend. But, you can always fall back on your degree in...[reads chart] communications!? Oh, dear Lord!"

Now, I know nobody wants to talk about college football in May. Nevertheless...

As you may or may not know, the college football Powers That Be voted against adding a plus-one game (two seeded semi-final bowl games--1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3--followed by a championship game a week later, as opposed to the present 1 vs. 2 championship match-up) to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), all but foreclosing the chance for a much-needed college football playoff until, at least, 2014. In doing so, the various conference commissioners made the following fatuous points:

1. We want to preserve the student athlete tradition.
2. Adding a playoff game would make the college football season too long.
3. A playoff would cheapen the regular season.
4. Even if we added a plus-one game, that would only ensure that the top four teams had a chance to compete for the National Championship, leaving teams from number five on down out in the cold.

To which I say (in case the use of "fatuous" wasn't a dead giveaway): what a bunch of bullshit. Let's go over this point by point, with a special bonus point for the especially heinous conduct of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

But, before we move on, I hasten to point out that I love college football. I think Saturday afternoons in the fall are a thing of beauty. I think there is nothing quite like the college football regular season. Hell, I even love the crappy 7-4 vs. 6-5 December 27th bowl game match-ups. All of that said, I continue to be disappointed by the way the NCAA packages the big games. (I still have nightmares about the totally execrable National Championship game in 2001--Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2--about which, trust me, the less said the better.) It's especially irritating because it could all be so easily avoided and improved. we go:

1. The "student-athlete" tradition. To borrow a line from President Bartlet from one of my favorite episodes ever of The West Wing ("17 People"): "You know, your indignation would be a lot more interesting to me if it weren't quite so covered in crap!" guys are opposed to a one-game playoff because it threatens the delicate balance between student and athlete? How interesting. To test the strength of your convictions, let's take a quick look at the Graduation Success Rates (GSR) for some leading Bowl Subdivision football programs (just a quick reminder here that, for calculation purposes, college athletes are given a six year window to graduate--i.e. 50% longer than an average student): Alabama (49% GSR), Arkansas (53%), Boise State (63%), Cal (52%), Florida (72%), Florida State (58%), Georgia (41%), Hawaii (45%), LSU (51%), Louisville (55%), Miami (70%), Michigan (73%), Michigan State (43%), Ohio State (53%), Oklahoma (44%), Oregon (55%), Penn State (76%), USC (57%), Tennessee (52%), Texas (42%), and Wisconsin (61%). All told, the twenty-one schools in question--comprised of the nine different schools that have won a BCS title (with LSU being the lone two-time champ) along with other traditional powerhouses (and Michigan State!)--have a completely mediocre 55.5% graduation rate. Put another way, for every 100 students who play for a Top 25 college football team in the United States, approximately 45 (!) of them will not graduate, even after six years. I'm sorry, that's appalling.

(I would, of course, be remiss if I didn't mention the programs that had commendable grad rates--Air Force at 92%, Army at 87%, Northwestern at 94%, Notre Dame at 93%, and Stanford at 93% --but they're very much the exception and not the rule. But that's not really my point, so let's just move on.)

And for anyone that thinks, by highlighting how ridiculously low the standards are (without even going into the fact that it's safe to say that the curriculum is often more or less rigged in an athlete's favor, or mentioning things like this or this), I'm advocating moving even further away from a proper student-athlete balance, I assure you I'm not (see point #2 below). Rather, my point is that the average Athletic Director/Head Coach, presently, doesn't give two shits about his team's grad rate, so it's totally disingenuous for Conference commissioners to hide behind this point.

2. A playoff would unreasonably lengthen the season, effectively turning football into a two-term sport. Well, on the one hand, I would argue that college football became a two-term sport about 15-20 years ago, when they started scheduling kick-off classics in late August (meaning that teams had to be practicing at least 6-8 weeks before that). On the other hand, the last six National Championships have been played on: January 8th, January 7th, January 4th, January 4th, January 4th, and January 3rd. In a plus-one system, the two semi-finals would be played on New Year's Day and the final--one presumes--would be held a week later. Meaning that the season...wouldn't be extended at all. But nice try.

3. A play-off cheapens the regular season. Really?? More than, say, LSU losing twice in the regular season last year (both in triple overtime, prompting Les Miles to make that idiotic quote in January that his team hadn't been defeated in regulation all year) to teams (Arkansas and Kentucky) that would finish the season unranked and yet still qualifying for (and winning) the national championship? More than that? Or the fact that, eight times out of ten, it comes down (for no real reason at all, if you think about it) to which one-loss team lost earlier in the regular season? More than that?

Does the NCAA basketball tournament cheapen the NCAA regular season? Does it seem like teams often phone it in once they've secured a tourney bid? I know that I routinely nod off during Duke-UNC (or Memphis-Tennessee...or Texas-Kansas....or UCLA-Stanford) match-ups.

Look, at one time--when, because of the massive disparity between the haves and the have-nots, combined with ridiculously easy schedules for powerhouses invariably led to two teams being undefeated at regular season's end--this was probably a valid point. If two teams from two power conferences were clearly the cream of the crop year in and year out, a playoff would be pointless, and would only serve to complicate things. But in a day and age when remarkably few teams emerge from the regular season unscathed, it makes little sense to cry out that the regular season would be watered-down by adding a playoff. Either it already is (and no one has bothered to complain) or it never will be (in which case there's no need to fret).

4. A plus-one playoff game would leave teams ranked #5 and #6 (and #7 and #8) out in the cold. Now...thanks to Civ Pro II (God, I hate you, Civ Pro II!) I know that lawyers, in their statement of defense for their clients, can plead in the alternative--in other words: if defense #1 and #2 are rejected, #3, which, in admitting certain aspects of the charge, may fly directly or indirectly in the face of the original defenses--but this one may take the cake. Basically, the Conference commissioners seem to be saying "a playoff would be too taxing on our student-athletes, would make the season too long, and would devalue the do-or-die intensity of the regular season....oh, and also: the playoff isn't remotely extensive enough." Um...ok. To borrow a line from David Foster Wallace: this is so stupid it practically drools.

Aside from all the arguments raised in point #3 (by that logic: should March Madness be extended to 96 or 128 teams? What about 256? Of course not), I can only say this: I can remember several years where three teams had a reasonable claim to playing in the championship game: one-loss Oklahoma, LSU, and USC in 2003 (with USC being left out); undefeated Auburn, USC, and Oklahoma in 2004 (with Auburn getting jobbed); and Michigan getting totally screwed over in 2006, when LSU faced off (and later crushed) Ohio State. I can't ever remember it being a dead-heat between four teams, let alone five or more, making the argument that such a system unjustly punishes #5 and #6 teams (last year: USC and Georgia, respectively) pretty spurious. (Furthermore, in any playoff system, there has to be some sort of cut-off--except, seemingly, the NHL--and capping it at four in college football strikes me as very reasonable.)

5. Specifically, this one is for the Big Ten. While I think my pithy Twitter remark from a couple of weeks back effectively summarizes my position ("Fuck you, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. If you're not going to support a +1 BCS game, then I refuse to defend the conference when it gets hosed"), I'll elaborate. I have to say, after all these years, I'm starting to get a bit tired of defending the conference (example #1: me loudly proclaiming that Michigan got jobbed two years ago--which they did--only to have them come out looking completely disinterested, shitting the bed in the process, and losing, badly, a glorified third-place game to USC; example #2: coming right up). Frankly, the Big Ten not backing this playoff system is totally gutless. Allow me to explain.

Just to clarify, here are the potential scenarios for the Big Ten in any given college season:

a. Michigan or Ohio State (or, conceivably though significantly less likely, a Big Ten upstart) finish the regular season undefeated and ranked #1 (see Ohio State in 2006 and also OSU in 2007--though they weren't undefeated).

b. Michigan or Ohio State win the Big Ten, but have a loss (or two). In the ordinary course of things, this would guarantee them a slot in the Rose Bowl (and, probably, a top 5 ranking), but they'd be on the outside looking in for the National Championship (see )

c. nobody escapes conference play unscathed, and the Big Ten winner has two or three losses. The Big Ten winner plays in the Rose Bowl (likely getting crushed by USC) but is barely ranked in the top ten.

Now, obviously a four-team playoff hurts the Big Ten in one of the above cases (as the team in scenario A would have to play an additional game), helps the conference in another case (in scenario B, the playoff probably allows the Big Ten to be represented in the final four), and has no effect in the third case (playoff or no playoff, the Big Ten winner in scenario C won't be vying for the National Championship). So, in effect, the Big Ten has voted no so they can protect scenario A, which is, frankly, a totally craven move. In other words, they're hoping that a B10 team will run out and hide at 12-0...and then somehow survive a championship game 45 days later against what is sure to be a more athletic squad from the SEC or Pac-10 (or, possibly, the Big 12). The problem with that is that the Big 10 rep invariably gets slaughtered in the big game, meaning that the Big Ten Powers That Be are defending a scenario where they're, more or less, doomed to fail. Any Delany had a chance to fix this (or, at the very least, make a stand)...and totally pussied out. There isn't a single thing I don't hate about this.

Also (if tangentially): is it not bad enough that I already despise our new coach--former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez--for feebly (and unforgivably) gagging when WVU lost to Pitt in last year's regular season finale (and thus costing his team a chance to play for the title) and then having the nerve to blame his players; for gracelessly bailing on his former program; for poaching talent from said squad for his new team; for losing out on highly-touted recruit Terrelle Pryor; for claiming he was forced (or, alternately, yet equally unsatisfyingly, "tricked") into signing a contract containing a penalty for early departure (I'm pretty sure that argument hasn't worked since 1870s Sicily, but whatever); for implementing an idiotic spread offense that suits three yards and a cloud of dust Michigan about as well as the Harlem Globetrotters running the four corners; and for generally being so disagreeable that our presumptive starting QB (Ryan Mallett) has fled to the University of Arkansas? Do I also have to put up with a conference commissioner who is a dick? Perhaps it's time to look for a new team...

6. Final Points and a Proposal. If I were making my case to TPTB of the BCS (instead of, you know, to no one), I would point out the following things, Harper's-style. In the ten years since the BCS's inception (details found here):

-The number of quality national championship games: 2 (Texas over USC in '06, OSU over Miami in '03).

-As a percentage: 20%

-Average margin of victory in the National Championship: 15.2 points.

-The number of quality BCS games (out of 42): 8 (the two championship games listed above, plus the '07 Fiesta, the '06 Orange, the '06 Sugar, the '05 Rose, the '00 Orange, and the '99 Rose).

-As a percentage: 19%

-Average percentage decline in the Championship game Nielsen rating since 2006: 22.5%

...I mean, I'm willing to bet that Grey's Anatomy is probably pretty good 19% of the time (something I refuse to verify), but that? Is not a good standard for college football.

Here's my modest proposal for a playoff. Eight teams (I'd prefer four, but I think that the major conferences will continue to balk at that number). The winner of the Big 10, Pac 10, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big East, and Notre Dame get an automatic berth (unless they're not ranked in, say, the top fifteen, in which case they wouldn't participate in the playoff, but would instead play in a stand-alone BCS game), with the rest comprised of at-large bids. No more than two teams from one conference would be eligible. Four quarterfinals on January 1st (at the Cotton Bowl, the Citrus Bowl, and two of the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl), two semis on January 8th (the two of the big four that didn't host a quarterfinal--this would rotate every year), and a National Championship game on January 15th (which makes the season a negligible seven to ten days longer than it currently is).

[Dusts off hands triumphantly]

OK, OK...there are a few problems: how do you determine the at-large teams? what if more than two teams from conference are deserving of a spot (see Mizzou, Kansas, and Oklahoma in the Big 12 last year)? And Rose Bowl traditionalists will lament that they will no longer get their Big Ten-Pac-10 match-up--to which I say, without being too glib (hopefully!): players used to routinely die while playing college football (read The Real All-Americans by Sally Jenkins if even remotely skeptical) and blacks couldn't play in the SEC until well into the 1960s--in other words, you can't hold onto the past forever and sometimes change is a good thing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Dammit! Who typed a question mark on the Teleprompter?"

Sorry for my infrequent posting (read: no posting at all) these past couple of weeks. I should have some BCS thoughts (such angry, angry thoughts) up in the next couple of days and then I'll get back into the swing of things...but, in the meantime, I have to post this, which I just saw...and which may be the greatest thing ever: