Friday, July 25, 2008

"I don't believe it would sound any better if it were true..."

In Praise of Mad Men: the blank Qs is an old idea of David Foster Wallace's; the stilted writing is de moi.

Scene: AMC Headquarters; Alexandria, Viriginia; Network head's office.


Hi, I'm Matthew Weiner. Nice to meet you.


Never heard that before, honest. It's actually pronounced "whiner," but good one nonetheless. You probably don't know me, but I was David Chase's right hand man on The Sopranos...and I actually wrote 12 of the episodes.

Q. of those dream episodes was my doing. (Two if you include "The Test Dream.") Sorry about that. I don't know what the fuck we were thinking. I think Chase was secretly high on mescaline for a few weeks in '06. Can you imagine if that had actually been the last season? We'd have been crucified!

But I wrote the one where Christopher died! Props for that?


Yeah, did kind of suck after the first five minutes. My bad. Hmmm...come to think of it, I didn't really write anything of consequence on the show ("Soprano Home Movies" probably comes closest) Still, I wasn't as bad as Imperioli!


Outstanding question! I'm actually hear to pitch my new show to you. Are you ready? OK. Remember all those really shitty ads that aired in the fifties and sixties? It'll be about the guys that created those. Awesome, right? It'll be great!


Your blank stare says it all: you're hooked, aren't you? Well, then, allow me to continue. These "Mad Men" (a short form for Men who work on Madison Avenue, a term the ad men coined themselves), will all be on the wrong side of history: afraid of technology, skeptical of gimmick advertising, treat TV with disdain. Wait it gets better: they're Nixon men that are gutted when JFK wins--I know, right?

And they'll treat women like absolute dogshit. I mean like reckless affairs at every turn, talking about women like they're not even in the room, dismissing their input, and jokes like this:
[as the ad men enter the conference room] the doctor says to him: "I hope you're happy. While you were out finishing a round of golf, your wife was in a horrible accident. She's going to need round-the-clock care. Bathing, toilet..." Then the doc turns to him and says "I'm just kidding, she's dead. Hey, what'd you shoot?"
One episode will even center around Don (he's the main character)'s wife going to therapy because she's a borderline depressive. She'll pour her heart out to this therapist throughout the episode and then, at the end, Don will call in to speak to the shrink, and he'll tell him everything about Betty! Ho ho. Boy, will she be embarrassed. Or, worse, maybe I won't reveal to her that Don knows about these sessions--that'll make it extra excruciating when she eventually finds out!


And you're going to love the actors we've got lined up. Remember What About Brian?


No, not him. You think AMC has Barry Watson money? Good luck!


No, not her either.


the little guy that looked like a gnome? No. Remember Dina? She was married to Dave and had the three kids. Well...remember that dick she had an affair with? It's him!


No, don't go on imdb, I'll just tell you. His name is Jon Hamm. He's also been on Providence, The Division, The Unit, and CSI: Miami (for 2 episodes!). I know! I can't believe he was available either!


Who else? How about January Jones? She was in American Wedding! And John Slattery (aka the smug principal on Ed). And we've landed Elizabeth Moss, one of the Barlett daughters from The West Wing.


No, the uglier one. [beat] We've even got one of the guys from Angel.


...Well I'll have you know that that "little snot-nosed douchebag" can act, good sir!


Now, I can sense by the way you've been eyeing up that gold letter opener for the past ten minutes, having now just grabbed it and presently attempting to slit your own throat that you're somewhat skeptical about this project. But, let me assure you, it'll somehow work.

Hamm will be an absolute revelation, and will bring the goods every single time. He'll be so convincing that you'll want to buy a carton of Lucky Strike even though you haven't smoked in years and build your house out of Bethlehem Steel. (Hell, you'll even try drinking scotch--even though your experiences in this department have universally been negative--just because it looks so damn cool on the show.) In the season finale, he'll deliver a pitch to Kodak, based around the seemingly innocuous and decidedly unsexy slide projector (then a novelty) that'll be so pitch-perfect, so riveting, and so jaw-droppingly fantastic that you'll be moved to tears.

He'll be the most charming asshole--sorry Mr. Soprano--in TV history. The most complex and inscrutable television character in years and years. You'll be repulsed by him, yet charmed. Disgusted, yet undeniably drawn to him.

Some of the other men, like Kartheiser, will be, admittedly, pretty loathsome, but you'll buy into to it because you know that, surely, there were (and are) assholes exactly like this one, and you root, weekly, for his comeuppance. (Rightly or wrongly, these Mad Men are completely oblivious--or, perhaps more accurately, indifferent--to the consequences of their actions, and that will make them strangely compelling.)

Unlike Breaking Bad, we'll actually give our female leads something to do [note: contra sister-in-law's kleptomania], and, more to the point, they'll deliver. Jones, as Betty, will do far more with less than you ever imagined, and break your heart in the process. Christina Hendricks' Joan, on the other hand, sees the world as it really is (or rather: sees how the men of the world really view her) and uses it to her own prurient ends. And then you'll have Moss's Peggy, the up and coming receptionist cum nascent copy editor, torn in either direction.

And when our rookie season ends people will be so stunned that they'll look at other new shows this year that we'll have sprinted by so quickly that it'll appear they're standing still and wonder aloud "what the fuck were these other guys doing? How can one new show be so far and away better than anything else that premiered this year, as for it to be almost embarrassing--that it seems almost unimaginable--that they all fall under the same category of 'television program'"? I wasting my time here?


Not sold, eh? about this? You let me put this on the air and I'll give you a sure-fire hit for free.


Ready? Gay Sherlock Holmes. Watson's his lover, and Sherlock is convinced that the doc is stepping out on him. Also: he knits competitively.


[collects bag of money] Weiner, you've done it again!


Friday, July 18, 2008

"I wish, too, but you're making it extremely difficult for me. I'm just trying to get these shoes back to my house so I can wear them..."

The State of the Blog: A Semi-Annual(ish) Feature

I. Since my previous SotB contained an outlandish promise (remember the ill-fated Gravity's Rainbow read-and-blog? No? Good), let it not be said that this one doesn't either. To that end, I'm proud to unveil the "Ranking the Presidents" project. From #42 (I'm only going to say this once, people, so try to pay attention: the fact that Grover Cleveland, who served two non-consecutive terms, counts as the 22nd and 24th U.S. President is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. It's one--hence 42 in total) to #1, in (I think) five parts, with the final part completed just before the November election (which may or may not be chronicled in a running diary, with special guests Misha and Jessica Biga-Wadstein). Tentatively, I'm looking at the the following categories:

High Points/Accomplishments: does not apply to all Presidents (I'm looking at you, Franklin Pierce!)

Low Points: always more fun to talk about, anyway...

Allowances for Instability (or lack thereof) of Time Period:
TR's contemporary lament--that he would always be underrated as a President because he didn't govern during a turbulent enough time (though Lord knows he tried to spice things up!)--has always fascinated me. Accordingly, I'll look at what was going on in America during each Presidents' tenure. Essentially, this can be viewed as a degree of difficulty component.

Fun Facts:
some of which may not even be cribbed from books written by hosts or correspondents from
The Daily Show (no promises).

In Writing:
as part of a longstanding goal to read a biography about every President, I've covered roughly half of these guys...and counting (presently, I'm reading Grant by Jean Edward Smith). This will be a brief review of those books, along with any recommendations.

In Popular Culture:
fairly self-explanatory.

Test of Time:
kind of nebulous...but, basically, this boils down to: does their Presidency look better or worse now than it did then? Given the potential overlap with AfI(oLT)oTP, I may fold these two categories into one.

Suggestions are, as always, welcome. (Hell, I may even get some friends to submit their own rankings.) I'll give credit where credit is due...and maybe even name the category after you!

II. Having just completed S1 of both Mad Men and Breaking Bad (note: actually a 2008 show. Rats.), I think it's time to quickly (and retroactively) rank my Top 16 Shows of 2007 (that is to say: the 2007 season--which may, confusingly, have begun in September 2006--for shows. In other words, S1 30 Rock is eligible, early S2 eps that aired late in the year are not. So, unless my math is off, things like S5 of The Wire, S1 of Chuck, and S1 of Life won't be eligible until my Best of '08 List...hopefully appearing in December. You know what? Now I'm confused. Stupid strike. Season in question in parenthesis):

16. The O.C. (S4): as an aside, does it not seem like three of four years ago that this final--and unexpectedly entertaining--season aired?

15. Heroes (S1): though, in the span of a few short months, it's become so bad that I no longer watch it, I maintain that season one (massive letdown of a season finale aside) was pretty damn good. And I say no to revisionism!

Veronica Mars (S3): on the plus side, in ditching this show, the CW re-committed itself to building a stable of quality programs, which has been an unmitigated succe--ohmygod, that network building is on fire!!

Top Chef (S3): every time I hear someone say they prefer Hell's Kitchen, I die a little inside.

South Park (S11): 14 episodes, 6 gems or near-gems (Cartman Sucks, With Apologies to Jesse Jackson, two of the three Imaginationland eps, Night of the Living Homeless, and Guitar Queer-0). Not bad.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (S6): I think we can safely say that the S2/S3 glory days are long gone, but this was a nice rebound season after a wildly uneven S5 in 2005.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S3): I'll be the first to admit that I was turned off by S1 of this show, but I'm glad we stuck it out, because, as it turns out, the show is fucking hilarious. I probably don't go a week without referencing the Dumpster Baby episode.

9. The Office (S3):
to be honest, I found season three to be more uncomfortable and sad than, say, riotous. Out of 23 episodes, only three--"Gay Witch Hunt," "The Coup," and, maybe my favorite of the whole series, "The Job"--really stood out. And the much-hyped Gervais-Merchant episode ("The Convict") ended up, if not an outright dud, than at least very forgettable. Nevertheless, a respectable season.

The Sopranos (S6, part two): makes it by virtue of "The Second Coming" alone. The rest of the season was (and remains) incredibly overrated.

How I Met Your Mother (S2): this, too, seems like several years ago, likely a byproduct of S3 being--for me at least--a major disappointment.

Extras (S2 + the Christmas special): a lot to love here...

Flight of the Conchords (S1): ...yet it's eclipsed by this show, which, amazingly, manages an even better job of incorporating the bumbling agent character. The rewatchability of this show is off the charts. I'm just very fond of it.

30 Rock (S1): what's left to be said about this show? Genius.

3. Lost (S3):
the season finale alone ("Through the Looking Glass") is enough to get this show on the list. Throw in some killer performances from the perennially under-appreciated Elizabeth Mitchell and Henry Ian Cusick, and you get a show that is firmly back on track. That, for a time, Heroes was favourably compared to this complex and challenging show now strikes me as patently absurd. And, if you don't think there's enough Lost analysis here, please see the following.

Mad Men (S1): I have to say, I'm kind of in awe of this show.

Dexter (S2): Great season. Great show. I went back and forth between this and MM for #1, before ultimately settling on this order. Having said that, I believe Mad Men to be on better footing, as I'm fascinated to see which direction it's heading in, while, with Dexter, I'm mostly concerned that they may (may) not have anywhere else to go.

III. Patrick Hruby's latest Page 2 article on sports video game flaws is...amazing, and I urge everyone to check it out. Five additions I would've liked to have seen:

1. It's effectively impossible to be a serve and volleyer in tennis games now. This could very well be a nod to real tennis, but that's probably giving developers too much credit.

2. Play-by-play and color commentary still sucks. If I'm a half game out of the Wild Card race with one game to know, the commentary should indicate as much, including providing live look-ins to the other relevant game. Same goes for when it's Michigan-OSU, and the winner earns the right to lose the National Championship game by 28 points, while the loser will struggle valiantly in the Capital One bowl. They need to get much (much, much) better at the situational stuff. Hell, I'm willing to bet that if they offered a subscription mode (say $5 a month) for some personalized commentary, this would be a runaway hit.

3A. Season mode in golf and tennis games remains unsatisfying. can recruit a high school punter from Pierre, South Dakota in NCAA Football '08, but you can't play in the U.S. Open Series, or compete for the FedEx Cup? This. makes. no. sense. Twenty second solution: buy the rights to the names and likenesses of the top 128 tennis players on tour, and the 125 PGA players that won a tour card the previous year. It'll be cheap. Believe me. (Hell, Frank Dancevic would probably pay you to do this.) Then make them all playable in the game. (Then add all the tournaments.) I know the trend is towards creating yourself now in sports games, but no, this is better.

3B. Ryder Cup mode! Come on, EA Sports! Just because Tiger routinely shits the bed in this event doesn't mean it shouldn't be included. This would be amazing online.

4. Post-championship celebrations continue to be a massive letdown. Given that it took five to seven years to go from the static "shots of confetti falling down and people hugging" in Tecmo Super Bowl to the evolutionary leap of actual shots of the postgame celebration (Madden and NBA Live series), I'm not holding out much hope here, but is it too much to ask for an NFL Films style Year in Review video if you win the Super Bowl? How hard could it possibly be to compile all the best highlights from your season and set it to music? I'm not asking for John Facenda to narrate anything (mostly because I believe he's been dead for quite some time). I'd even settle for a Top 10 (when my brothers football team won OFSAA, they had a Top 10 at their team banquet...and it was just about the coolest thing ever)

5. Still no good next gen beach volleyball game (non-pornographic department). How is this possible? Super Spike V-Ball came out twenty years ago this October! This is a no-brainer people.

IV. Writing Schedule

1. In Praise of Mad Men: next couple of days
2. Real World Retrospective: late next week
3. Best Books of the 90s: conceivably: the week before the wedding, though it's entirely possible I won't get to this.

After that, expect a two-week hiatus (something about me getting married, a honeymoon, etc.). Things should be up and running the week of August 18th, with some Olympic Thoughts, Best Movies of the 90s, and--my favorite--a running diary of this year's Little League World Series Championship Game on the 24th.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"He's a lover but not a fighter. But he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas..."

Wimbledon Thoughts: Usual drill. Off we go...

Thumbs Up: to Canadians. From Frank Dancevic upsetting the incredibly erratic David Nalbandian in Round One, to Stephanie Dubois's near-miss against Chakvedtadze (more on this in a sec), to Alexandra Wozniak winning a match, to Nestor winning the doubles title (completing the career doubles slam). This is what passes for a major success in Canadian tennis in 2008 (that fact is probably worthy of its own "thumbs down," but we'll set that matter aside for the time being).

Thumbs Down:
to a spate of first-round retirements in the men's draw (seven--Nishikori, Volandri, Llodra, H-T Lee, Stakhovsky, Odesnik, and Lapentti--by my count...and this doesn't even include Monfils, who went through proper channels and withdrew before the tournament started, though only just). While I can't, in good conscience, advocate, as Brad Gilbert and others have championed, getting rid of prize money for first round losers (see the precedent setting decision in Baby v. Bathwater), (I think) I'm all for stricter (or, possibly, any at all) medical evaluations in the lead up to the tournament. This would result in legitimately injured players being replaced by lucky losers from the qualifying draw.

Thumbs Up: to Fabrice Santoro (the Magician!) finally getting to play on Centre Court (though I'm bemused that he had to ask to get this perk). Sure he lost in straight sets, but still: good times.

Thumbs Down:
while this will almost assuredly send Taylor into a fit of rage, I have to talk about this: the fact that the challenge system is available to some (but not all) players competing in the same event is grossly unfair. Case in point: on Monday, the aforementioned Carolyn Dubois missed a forehand winner on match point by--from all accounts--a fraction of an inch, yet had no recourse (i.e. could not challenge), because...she wasn't playing on a court (i.e. not Centre Court or the Grandstand) that was set-up to handle video replay. Now, on Tuesday, I happened to catch Jelena Jankovic successfully challenge a call early in the second set. In that case, her shot, which was initially ruled out, was, on appeal, called in. Now, what you need to know about this decision is that the ball didn't so much catch the line as be so close to the line that there appeared to be no gap between the line and the ball (again, we'll table my beef that a ball that's 99.5% out really should not be called in under any circumstances--especially if you take into account the margin of error)--a very narrow distinction, but a distinction nonetheless. Anyway, the point is, Dubois shot could very well have been in and the fact that she wasn't afforded the opportunity to question this was determined solely on the basis of her lowly ranking (hence, she was banished to an outer court). In other words, the system punishes those that can least afford to be punished. (And, yes, I'll concede that she could very well have been on the receiving end of a favorable call and thus made more money, but I find resorting to the whole law of averages thing weirdly unsatisfying here.) May not seem like a big deal, but, ultimately, Dubois missed out on 6,750 pounds (the difference between the prize money from losing in the second round and the first)--or about $13,500 CDN, which is a rather big deal when you've only make $80,000 all year.


Thumbs Up:
to Jon Wertheim, who is everything a tennis writer should be: funny, smart, willing to question the sport in order to improve it, and not hopelessly entrenched.

Thumbs Down:
to Bill Simmons, my one-time sportswriting hero, who is, unequivocally, not a tennis writer, but, apparently, fancies himself the savior of the sport, resulting in the single worst (also: most indefensible) piece of sportswriting I've ever seen. I can't decide what's more annoying:

(a) that he'll probably never mention the article again.

(b) that, if he does, he'll say something to the effect of "guys, I was totally joking. Why so serious?"

(c) that his suggested "improvements" seem to have been pulled at random from a hat ("um...what of...two sets? Yeah!"; a point for hitting someone with the fucking ball? Really, Bill??).

(d) that, two years from now, he'll hop on the tennis bandwagon and open that column with something ridiculous like "two years ago, everyone thought tennis was dead, but it's back, baby!"

(e) that, if he comments at all on the response to this piece, he'll almost assuredly characterize the tennis fans' reaction as "hysterical."

(f) that this piece is nearly (but not quite) as irresponsible as Gregg Easterbrook's seemingly vendetta-fuelled rants against Bill Belichick, but will never be addressed by's Ombudswoman.

(g) that of his last fifteen articles, a whopping ten have been about the Celtics, with the remainder consisting of the aforementioned tennis piece (HATE!), a not-very-funny "ramblings" column, a draft preview where he bickered (when he wasn't gloating) endlessly with Chad Ford, a so-so draft diary, and one insufferable piece where he talks about boring it is when all your teams have won championships. Well, fuck you very much, Bill. (It's got to be saying something that the best Bill Simmons article I've read in the last six months was an unpublished article of his from twelve years ago about high school basketball in Boston.)

(h) all of the above.

Thumbs Up: to the endlessly amusing Daily Telegraph beat reporters. From last Tuesday:

With a big white plaster on her right knee and a clinging white dress which looked as if it had shrunk in the wash, she looked something of a battered campaigner, and the style police should certainly advise against tucking the spare ball up her skirt so it bulges like some ugly white growth out of her right hip.

She looked, in boxing terms, like the perfect punch bag. But while Federer had been glorious, it is in no way misogynous to say that Ivanovic was so pale by comparison that her match was a challenge to the now accepted wisdom that it was worth the same money.

True, there were wonderful glimpses of what she could do as she manoeuvred the increasingly static Rossana into no woman's land and stroked home easy winners. But there was also too much hesitancy in her serve and in her movement around the court.

Back in the interview room such thoughts seemed ungallant to the point of traitorous. Fresh out of the shower, Serbia's most beautiful gift to the sporting world was all smiling, bright-eyed intelligence as she said how pleased she was with her game, and talked about "Number One" being a privilege as well as a pressure.
(What obsessive--some might even say "hysterical"--attention to detail!) I mean, that's just great (not to mention: hilarious) writing, as was an article that referred to Federer "murdering" Mario Ancic in the quarters and a headline bluntly stating "Nadal Puts Murray out of his Misery" (and, two days later, the wry "Marat Safin suffers as does the furniture after semi-final defeat to Roger Federer"). Note to the National Post: don't ever stop subscribing to this service during Wimbledon.

Thumbs Down: to all major Canadian newspapers (well: the Post, Star, and Globe & Mail, at least) for only listing the showcourt matches on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, making it incredibly difficult for Taylor, Dad, and I to make our suicide pool picks. Attention Sports Editors: why would I only want to know about 5 of the 8 upcoming quarterfinals? You wouldn't do that for baseball, would you?

Thumbs Up: to the Williams sisters. Now, I won't pretend that I'm a fan, or that I even like them (I don't, largely because they are two of the sorest losers in sports history), but I'd like to think I'm the kind of person who gives credit where credit is due, and these two deserve it. Say what you want about their interest level (and "flagging" or "inconsistent") is perhaps the most charitable way to describe it), but when these two are on their game, there's no one physically or mentally tougher. Going back ten years (to 1999) one of them has one at least one major every year except two (2004 and 2006). And they won the doubles title at Wimbledon, too--handily, I might add. Someone stop me, because I'm afraid I'm starting to respect these two.

While we're here, and it's only Friday as I write this, Thumbs Down to another brutally boring Grand Slam final between the two? The horror! Here's a tip: next time, tell both of them that the winner never has to speak to their father again. I guarantee you they'd bust their asses then.

[Note: Sunday now, during the (first) Federer-Nadal rain delay. OK, the final wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated, though the two looked someone-just-smothered-our-puppy dour throughout the match. I won't go as far as John McEnroe, who described it as a "borderline classic" (pretty sure it has to go three sets for that label to apply), but it was relatively compelling. Two comments about the color commentary from Mary Carillo--whom I'm usually a big fan:

1. I get it. You're a big doubles fan. Please stop saying that their participation in the doubles tournament is why they made it to the finals of the singles draw. They only went to the net 33 times combined out of 157 points played (roughly 20%). Let's not go crazy.

2. Also, was it absolutely necessary to breathlessly mention (after nearly every point!) how hard both girls were working? I believe you--they're trying hard.
Elena Dementieva aside, no one seriously believes these Williams vs. Williams matches to be choreographed at this stage.]

(But here's where I make the previous paragraph look like a backhanded compliment...)

Thumbs Down:
to the rest of the women's field for, yet again, totally rolling over. Ivanovic, Sharapova, Jankovic...go on. Does it have something to do with poor scheduling decisions (note what's missing here and here between the end of the French and the start of Wimbledon)? Absolutely, but being mentally soft plays a big role too. For Ivanovic, Sharapova, and Jankovic (the top three seeds on the women's side) to not even eek out a set between them in their losses (combined, the three won a mere a sixteen games in defeat) against three players ranked outside the WTA Top 50 (and two outside the Top 100) is embarrassing.

A while back, someone wrote in to Wetheim (though damned if I can find the link at the moment) lamenting the fact that when an unranked player upsets a top five seed on the men's side, the ATP is heralded as incredibly deep, whereas, when this happens on the women's tour, it's a sign that the top seeds are weak. Essentially, the argument went that the women's tour is screwed either way--Sharapova wins and it's because her draw was soft until the quarterfinals; Sharapova loses early and she's unfocused. Now, though I'm partial to the men's side, I find this line of thinking fairly persuasive...but also, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, irritating. I've actually given this a bit of thought and I think my answer is this: while I can't back it up empirically (always a great concession to make during an argument), upsets on the women's side seem to be more of the flash-in-the-pan ilk (see: Alla Kudryavtseva over Sharapova and Tamarine Tanasugarn over Jankovic) who fizzle out quickly, while upstarts on the men's side are usually quality players that that have the ability to go deep into the tournament (see, for instance, Mario Ancic knocking off Ferrer and going to the quarters, and Tipsarevic, who won only one more match after knocking off Roddick, but is a proven talent who pushed Federer to the brink in this year's Australian Open.

Now, to be sure, there are outliers (for instance, Rainer Schuettler advanced to the semis last week despite plainly being terrible, while Zheng Jie rolled to the semis after beating Ivanovic in Round 3, though I remain unconvinced that she's actually any good--ask me again around Labor Day). I dunno about all of this actually...I may need to re-think it. If anyone else would like to weigh in, by all means.

Thumbs Up: to ESPN's coverage. Really, really good job of taking the viewer to the most exciting match of the moment (more on that here), even if it--gasp!--features non-Americans. Now that's progress.

Thumbs Down:
to ESPN's running score ticker across the top of the screen. Ten days in still confuses me. If I see 3-5, it will always mean "3 serving 5," so why risk the confusion of it being the opposite? More to the point, why would you get rid of the old box score in the top left corner? To save one-one thousandth of the screen's total area? Silly.

Thumbs Up: to the hilarious mispronunciations in this clip, but Thumbs Down to...virtually everything else. I'm pretty sure it's OK to prefer men's tennis to women's, but do you have to be so ill-informed (and the best kind of ill-informed viewer, too, i.e. the one who loudly and frequently declares himself to be extremely well-informed) and cover-your-eyes misogynistic? Ugh.

My two favorite parts are when he: (a) claims that Ivanovic has done nothing of note (then what was that big trophy presentation in Paris all about four weeks ago?); and (b) mentions that Safin is playing some "Swiss nobody" (actually, Stanislas Wawrinka, presently ranked 9th--remember: tennis expert!--in the world...and, one presumes, rising, since he lost in the first round last year at Wimbledon, but made it to the 4th round this time), but that the match is likely to go five sets. Huh?

Thumbs Down: to Andy Roddick, who is, as much as like him, D-U-N. Done. I don't know if there's ever been a top five player in the world who has been so thoroughly lacking in ingenuity. Watching Roddick play used to be loads of fun, since he has that monster serve and plays with such enthusiasm. Now? It's an exercise in frustration, as he simply refuses to change or, worse (but, to my mind, increasingly likely) it never even occurs to him to change up his game. I called my dad as Roddick was tanking against Janko Tipsarevic (a very good player--see above--who, nevertheless, serves--and this is being charitable--like a nine-year old girl) in the 2nd round and asked him why Roddick wasn't stepping well inside the baseline to return serve (he's renowned for being particularly weak in the department) and his response was "I dunno. It's like watching someone run into a brick wall over and over again." This was followed by a five minute rant about how no one serves and volleys anymore. I know, dad. I know.

Thumbs Up: Andy Roddick, for his always entertaining (and occasionally gut-wrenchingly honest) press conferences. Here's the transcript from the Q&A after the Tipsarevic loss. And, since I'd feel like a hypocrite if I didn't mention this, I'll ask: why are we so quick to shit all over the Williams sisters after they refuse to praise their opponents after a loss, but praise Andy for doing essentially the same thing? Racism. I've actually given this a lot of thought and I think it's because Andy is so self-deprecating. The mere fact that he mentions (repeatedly, in fact) that he choked is very humanizing, to the point where you feel bad for him (except for Rob, who continues to hate his guts for reasons beyond comprehension), whereas the typical Serena comment is along the lines of "well, I was so profoundly awful today that anyone could have beaten me," which endears her to precisely no one.

Thumbs Up: to Roger Federer, who, regardless what happens Sunday, is the single greatest washed up player in tennis history. 65 straight grass court wins! ( I can't stress this enough: that's incredible. The last time Federer lost on grass, Bush was still a popular president.) 17 straight majors where he's made it to at least the semis! He's amazing...and the clear GOAT in my mind. Like Mad Men's Don Draper, Federer, in his element, is absolutely fearless. And it's fucking beautiful.

[Note from Sunday afternoon, 7 p.m: ...but he's human, too.

While I'm incredibly disappointed Federer lost, full credit goes to Nadal, who has worked tirelessly to adapt his clay court game to grass, including beefing up his serve. A lesser player would've caved after watching two championship points fall just out of a reach in the fourth set, but he kept his head and, let's be honest, outplayed Roger in his own backyard. He is, in every way, a worthy champion. So, too, should it be noted that this is the best match I've
ever seen.

Now, did anyone of this stop from me taking an angry nap from 4:45 to 6:00? Well, no. Nevertheless...

Neither here nor there: have you ever seen Federer lob? Isn't this strange??

Thumbs Down: to the just-broken story that Andrea Jaeger--now a Dominican nun (honest!)--allegedly "threw" the 1983 Wimbledon final against Martina Navratilova. So the story goes, Jaeger, then eighteen, had a fight with her dad the night before her final, and--somewhat inexplicably--decided to seek out Navratilova's counsel. In doing so, she broke Navratilova's much-vaunted pre-match routine, and, feeling guilty, "let" her win. I suppose you can see where I'm going with this, but, given that Navratilova lost precisely all of one match during the entire year (in the 4th round of the French, finishing the year an unprecedented 86-1--believed by many to be the most dominant tennis season in history), won, not only the Wimbledon in question, but the U.S. Open and the Australian (then the last major of year, unlike now, when it's chronologically first), followed by next year's French, Wimbledon, and U.S. (yes, you read that right, six majors in a row), and that Jaeger had a lifetime 4-11 record against Martina (including Navratilova's 7-6, 6-1 beatdown in the '82 French final), is it not reasonable to conclude that Navratilova was, you know, probably going to win the '83 Wimbledon title anyway? Nun or not: how about this, Andrea? Shut up.

(Bonus) Thumbs Down: to tennis skeptics, including (as mentioned) Simmons and Misha (whom I respect immensely, but couldn't disagree more with here). Your silence after Sunday's final is deafening. Now, do I wish the ratings were better? Well, sure. But it bears mentioning (despite being egregiously obvious) that the sport has a worldwide following (witness the ten million--the actual number; I'm not being hyperbolic--Brits that watched Murray outlast Gasquet) and that perhaps we shouldn't read too much into ESPN's, admittedly "rather too close to zero than one is typically comfortable with" ratings. The game (if maybe not the industry) is just fine, thanks...and in extremely capable hands.