Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"...Please take that as both a sign of disrespect and a pointed reminder of my casual illiteracy. Which enrages you more?"

Kyle's Favorite Books of the 90s:
please note that the title is not "Best Books of the 90s" (though they are for me), as I realize just how subjective this can be (of course, you don't see me re-naming my music or TV lists, do you?)

Honourable Mention: Gerald's Game by Stephen King
(man, this book totally skeeved me out); Dark Tower III: The Waste Land by Stephen King (very good, but paled in comparison to The Drawing of the Three, my favorite King book and one of my twenty favorite books ever); the first half of Four Past Midnight by Stephen King ( The Langoliers and Secret Garden, Secret Window were both terrific--that said, I can't remember a single thing about the other two stories, The Library Policeman and The Sun Dog); The Death of Superman by various writers (now, look, I wrote a paper about this as an undergrad, so it probably deserves a spot on the list, but, the more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards the fact that "Superman dying" worked better as an idea (or a talking point...or a news story) than the actual story surrounding his death. (Put another way: the notion of it greatly exceeded the execution.) Go on, tell me that you read the entire "Reign of the Supermen." No, you didn't....because it was too long and dragged out--in fact, if you read Les Daniels's Superman: The Complete History, you'll discover that DC deliberately dragged it out longer than the writers wanted, since it was such a hit.); Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg (note: I'm positive this would've charted on my list had my copy not been cruelly stolen from me while I was waiting to collect my bags at Pearson after an 18-hour flight from Australia. Damn you, airport thief! I hadn't even gotten to the kidnapping! How did it turn out?); Silent Partner by Jonathan Kellerman (my guilty pleasure of the 90s--especially memorable because I was in Los Angeles while reading about the seedy side of L.A--"hey, look, mom and dad, it's Sunset Boulevard! That's where Dr. Delaware found the murdered hooker!!"--does not chart solely on the basis of me not being able to remember a single important plot point...which is a pretty good reason, all things considered.)

Hard Courts (1991)/A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour (1993) by John Feinstein: the former is worth it for the stuff about McEnroe alone (including the shocking revelation that Mac--in his last, best chance to win one more major title--was DQ'd in the 4th round of the Australian Open for swearing at the chair umpire--if this happened today, it would lead off PTI for a week...), plus the inside scoop on how horribly corrupt the sport was in the early 90s (fun fact: Feinstein, a former writer for Tennis Magazine, was so soured by his experience writing Hard Courts that he pretty much gave up on tennis forever after its publication), while the latter introduced the general public to the concept of Q School (and endeared the likes of obscure players such as Brian Henninger andPaul Goydos to thousands of readers). Talking about this too much kind of makes me sad, as I think that Feinstein is really just going through the motions at this point, and should probably stick to TV work and dropping F-bombs during Navy Football radio broadcasts. Ah, well.

23. The Firm by John Grisham (1991): ah, yes...mock away, but remember, this isn't called "the 25 Best Pieces of Literature of the 90s," so escapism is fair game, and this--released in 1991--is escapism at its very (or near) best. I recall devouring this book over a weekend and developing an unhealthy (mostly because I was 12 at the time and wouldn't have my first drink for four more years) fixation (which remains unsated) with Red Stripe (the drink of choice during protagonist Mitch McDermott's sojourns to Jamaica). Yes, the movie was poor. Yes, A Time to Kill is arguably better. Yes, Grisham has more than likely been replaced by a sentient novel and script writing computer program in the last dozen or so years...but The Firm was a thriller in every sense of the word. (Note: I haven't read this since it came out, and it's entirely possibly it's aged incredibly poorly--remember: Civ Pro II pretty much ruined Damages for me--but so what? It was good fun at the time.)

22. Fatherland by Robert Harris (1992): if for no other reason than it proves that you can write interesting and engaging counter-factual history without relying on Mole People, Cro-Magnons, or apes. Poses the question: what would the world be like had the Nazis prevailed in WW2, Hitler never died, and the Holocaust never been discovered? (OK, technically that's three questions.) More chilling than thrilling (and only partly because, in this alternate reality, Joseph P. Kennedy is the U.S. President--shudder) it has one of the most memorable (and bleakest!) endings I've ever come across.

21. Microserfs by Douglas Coupland (1995):(continuing my habit of bitching about things I ostensibly seek to praise...) the last (only?) good thing he'll ever write? Quite possibly. I went on a real Coupland kick after reading this, but most of it disappointed (Shampoo Planet. Gen X) or was just a total mind-fuck (Girlfriend in a Coma). Carrie had great things to say about Life After God, and others have touted Miss Wyoming and Hey, Nostradamus, so maybe I'm selling him short. This one really resonated with me at the time, even though 95% (ok, I had a 386 at the time, so really: all) of the computer stuff was over my head. Probably the best workplace novel in history (though Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End, released last year, made a laudable effort--I highly recommend).

20. Animal Man
(Issue #19 through #26) by Grant Morrison (1990): ooooo, provocative! This storyline, conceived by Grant Morrison (the uber-talented but wildly uneven writer who, depending on the month, is either doing a great job (issues 1 and 2) or totally butchering (issue 3) Final Crisis, DC's current maxi-series) tackled the very cool question of: what if a comic book character realized he was a comic book character? It started with Animal Man--an admittedly kinda lame comic book hero by the name of Buddy Baker who can take on the attributes of animals he is near--discovering that his family has been brutally murdered and it culminates in Buddy breaking the fourth wall (in #26--an outstanding issue) and confronting Morrison (i.e. the person who decided to kill off his family). The ending I won't spoil, aside from saying that it's handled perfectly. Pretty solid proof (along with #15 on this list) that people who don't take (certain) comics seriously should hit up Sterling Cooper for a job.

A Widow for One Year
by John Irving (1998): I'm kind of making this pick under duress, since Irving has to be included, but I wouldn't categorize this as even one of his three or four best (Curious? A Prayer for Owen Meany; The Hotel New Hampshire; The World According to Garp; and The Cider House Rules are all superior). But the first third here--focusing on Ruth, her parents (Ted and Marion), and Eddie--is very strong. (This first section is apparently the basis for the indie film The Door in the Floor, which, somehow, I didn't see. Did anyone? Was it good? Shuk, I'm guessing you saw it. It sounds like it should be good...)

18. All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992): ok, fine, the so-called "Border Trilogy" is pretty damn overrated (The Crossing, which follows ATPH has precisely one really good scene...and is completely forgettable aside from that; Cities of the Plain--#3--is better...and altogether heartbreaking, but feels too padded by half), but All The Pretty Horses, which, truth be told, I didn't read until January of this year, is gorgeous.
"She put the horse forward and came on and as she came abreast of him he touched the brim of his hat with his forefingers and nodded and he thought she would go past but she did not. She stopped and turned her wide face to him. Skeins of light off the water played upon the black hide of the horse. He sat the sweating stallion like a highwayman under her gaze. She was waiting for him to speak and afterwards he would try to remember what it was he'd said. He only knew it made her smile and that had not been his intent. She turned and looked off across the lake where the late sun glinted and she looked back at him and at the horse (p. 131-32)."
Not sure if that really comes across in such a small excerpt, but: such a deceptively simple passage, which actually conveys everything you could possibly need to know about their nascent relationship. McCarthy is the master of the economy of words.

First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss (1996): I like this book so much more than the man it's about. I seem to have misplaced my copy, but I recall lots of juicy bits about disorganized Bill was (including the famous story that, when he was a law professor at the University of Arkansas, he was such a procrastinator that while his students were working on page one of his final exam, he was frantically writing--and, I guess, though never stated, photocopying--page two. That's so good that it almost has to be apocryphal). Good stuff too about Bill's time as a Rhodes Scholar (where Oxford's academic freedom almost crushed him) and the occasionally chilly nature of Bill and Hil's marriage (I know, you're stunned). Of note is the time--and I swear this is in the book--that Bill plays with Chelsea while singing Dolly Parton's "D-I-V..." under his breath. Good times.

16. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990): you know all the cool stuff that didn't make it into the movie? Malcolm's extended riff on chaos theory (replaced in the film by Goldblum creepily hitting on Laura Dern hardcore, even though her boyfriend (Sam Neill) was right next to her in that jeep) and the reason why the computers weren't working properly (they weren't accounting for increases in the dinosaur population)? That's what made the book awesome--taut, tense, and genuinely surprising (whereas the movie--scoring an altogether too high 7.8 on imdb--was basically just a two-hour ILM infomercial). I'm tempted to put this a bit lower since the sequel (in book form) was atrocious, and even worse on screen (to this day, it's the closest I've ever come to walking out of the cinema--if you're curious, it's when the girl started using gymnastics moves to take down the velicoraptor), but that would be unfair.

15. Worlds' End: The Sandman, Vol. VIII by Neil Gaiman (1993): This may well strike people as fanboyish (or, worse, as a desperate attempt to be hip), but I can live with that. You could make a case that I should probably include the whole series here, but I think it skews things a bit too much (for list purposes, at least) to include the entire saga, which spans seventy-five issues and eight or so years. (Also, to my great shame, despite owning the complete collection, I've only read three of the volumes--this, #1, and #2--in their entirety.) Issue #54, which is called "The Golden Boy" (though, oddly, not about Rick Mirer) tells the story of Prez Rickard, an eighteen year old who becomes President (this was based on a forgotten--and by all accounts: atrocious--comic that was published in the early 70s, though that one featured an eighteen year old Prez as Prez whose intense paranoia made Nixon look like Dave in comparison) and is absolutely mesmerizing. Easily one of the five best standalone issues I've ever read.

14. A Man in Full
by Tom Wolfe (1998): First things first: does this book pale in comparison to The Bonfire of the Vanities? Definitely. Am I troubled by the fact that Wolfe hasn't written a single thing of consequence (or, in the case of the article about mutual fund planners appearing in Portfolio last year: anything that's readable) in the ten years since AMiF was released (see in particular the execrable I Am Charlotte Simmons)? Absolutely. Neither point, however, changes the fact that AMiF kinda kicked ass. (And though these are words that I'm sure I'll look back on ruefully in six years: I remain gobsmacked that this hasn't been made into a movie. Is it because Bonfire was the worst cinematic adaptation of a great literary work in history? Oh.)

13. High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby (1995): this may be unpopular, but screw it: this is not as good as About a Boy. That said, the book's protagonist (Rob Fleming) is a believable and generally (except when he's being a heel) likeable guy. Of course, any narrator who has a predilection for listing things will always have a soft spot in my heart...

12. The Green Mile by Stephen King (1996): dunno if it was the way it was rolled out (serialized over six months, a la Charles Dickens), that King broke format (barely any horror elements to speak of), or if he was just really on his game, but I thought this was absolutely tremendous, in larger part because King absolutely nailed the ending (part six is virtually perfect).

11. Timeline by Michael Crichton (1999): forget the only ok movie, this book just goes. This is clamoring to be remade as a six-part HBO (hell, I'd settle for FX) mini-series. Make it happen.

10. Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War by David M. Kennedy (1999): Includes some of the best history writing around. The following is about the "typical" American male (culled from census data) in 1930:
"Raised in the country without flush toilers or electric lighting, as the 1920s opened he moved to the city, to an apartment miraculously plumbed and wired...Jobs were plentiful for the moment and paid good wages. With hard work he was making a little more than a $100 a month. He had been laid off several times in the preceding years but had built a small cushion of savings at his bank to tide him over when unemployment hit again, as he knew it must. The stock market had just crashed, but it seemed to be recovering, and in any case he owned no stocks--for that matter, neither did anybody he knew. Evenings he "radioed." Weekeneds he went to the movies, better now that they had sound. Sometimes he broke the law and lifted a glass. On his one day a week off, he took a drive in the car that he was buying on the installment plan.

He was living better than his parents had ever dreamed of living. He was young and vigorous; times were good. He had just cast his first presidential vote, in 1928, for Herbert Hoover, the most competent man in America, maybe in the world. In that same year he married a girl three years younger than he. She gave up her job to have their first baby. They started to think of buying a house, perhaps in one of the new suburbs. Life was just beginning.

And their world was about to come apart (p. 42)."
9. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (1997): a great collection of essays, with topics on a wide array of things: professional tennis, modern literature, serialized TV, a week on a cruise ship (one of the high points--more on that in a bit), trigonometry, state fairs, and David Lynch. The footnotes in particular are altogether delightful.
"Michael Joyce is, in other words, a complete man (though in a grotesquely limited way). But he wants more. Not more completeness; he doesn't think in terms of virtues or transcendence. He wants to be the best, to have his name known, to hold professional trophies over his head as he patiently turns in all four directions for the media. He is an American and he wants to win. He wants this, and he will pay to have it--will pay just to pursue it, let it define him--and will pay with the regretless cheer for whom issues of choice became irrelevant long ago. Already, for Joyce, at 22, it's too late for anything else: he's invested too much, is in too deep. I think he's both luck and un-. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well (p. 254-55)."
8. Means of Ascent: LBJ, Volume II by Robert Caro (1990): you didn't ask, but Caro--hard at work on LBJ vol. 4, one hopes--has written one of the five best books of the 00s (The Master of the Senate: LBJ, Volume III) and of the 80s (The Path to Power: LBJ, Volume I), and the best book of the 70s (The Powerbroker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York). Oh, and these are the only four books he's written. So, yeah...he's a pretty good writer. While it's fun (well, actually, more like "agonizing") to read about LBJ brazenly stealing the 1948 Senate race in Texas (seriously: wars have been more subtle), what really makes this book is that it doubles as a biography of one of the most interesting historical figures you've probably never heard about: former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson (and LBJ's opponent in '48), who was kind of like Roy Rogers, if Roy Rogers were totally fucking awesome.

7. About a Boy by Nick Hornby (1998): What I remember most about AAB is reading outside Thames Hall while waiting to write an exam, being unable to refrain from laughing out loud, and having nervous crammers looking at me like I'd gone insane. I really do wish Hornby still wrote like this. The movie is more than passable--a better adaptation than most--but runs out of steam at the end, inexplicably ditches the book's perfect ending for a far more awkward one, and in the humor department, in comparison, is sorta toothless.

6. The Fifties by David Halberstam (1993): such a brilliant and yet simple idea that it's stunning that no one has ever thought of this before: pick forty or so people, places, movements, things--here: Elvis, Bill Russell, McDonald's, The Feminine Mystique, McCarthy, the pill, the automotive industry, and so forth--and write individual chapters about each. Of course, it helps if you can write like Halberstam, which so few (if any) can. The best chapters are the ones that seemingly come out of nowhere, like his musings on the tragic life of the perennially gin-soaked Grace Metalious, author of the filthy (for its time...and still kinda now) Peyton Place. Maybe the all-time best bathroom book...provided you like to spend five-plus hours on the toilet.

5. Lincoln by David Herbert Donald (1996): OK, so you've probably guessed that I'm a pretty big Lincoln fan (to the point where I've now referenced him in two separate wedding speeches), so this book's inclusion likely isn't a shocker. This is probably the best one-volume Lincoln bio going (best twelve volume bio, by acclimation, goes to Carl Sandburg), and is beautifully written. Enough said.

Quick story: in July 2005, I had been living in South Korea for just over a month...and was fairly miserable. Homesick, drinking too much (I know: you're stunned), and generally feeling pretty sorry for myself. I taught from 12 to 7 Monday to Friday, and counted the minutes until I was done, whereupon I would head home, buy a two-litre bottle (or two) of beer (the absolute best thing about Korea--I'm amazed they haven't started doing this here yet), grab my iPod (I was listening to Set Yourself on Fire, Plans, and Funeral on pretty much an endless loop) sit on my balcony, and read this book. (This went on for about two weeks.) This was the best part of my day, by far...and I will always be grateful for that. And then I met this girl...

4. Truman by David McCullough (1992):
I would suggest that it's basically impossible to read this book and not fall sort of in love with Harry Truman. I would also suggest that this is probably a pretty good indication that McCullough goes a bit too far in defending the ever-embattled HST (his stubborness is definitely downplayed--or, at least, is characterized as a virtue far too frequently--and his post-presidency years--where he was, at best, kind of a dick (see his decision not to endorse Stevenson in '56), at worst: batshit insane--are kind of glossed over). Nevertheless, if it isn't quite perfect history, it's a fascinating read, and, at 1,000-plus pages, somehow never drags.

3. In The Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien (1994):
fabulous book. Summarized in roughly 50 words, it's: John Wade, a Vietnam vet and up and coming politician, runs for the Senate, but loses as a result of a scandal from his past. He goes to his cottage with his wife, Kathy, whereupon she disappears under mysterious circumstances. What exactly happens to her is never explained, though numerous theories are thrown out there.

In lesser hands, this would be maddening, but O'Brien shrewdly gives the reader just enough information for them to formulate their own ending, even if may not be the "right" one. Some of the best writing I've ever come across here, and lots of juicy meta-textual stuff that demands re-reading.

2. A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt
by Geoffrey C. Ward:
more than any other book, AFCT is what got me serious about history (that I eventually got decidedly cavalier about history and didn't finish my Ph.D. shouldn't be held against it!). The book, which covers roughly the two decades immediately before he became Governor of New York in 1928 (the title, incidentally, refers to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' impression of FDR, upon meeting him in 1933--"A second-class intellect. But a first-class temperament!"), is astoundingly well-researched...and the prose is even better. I can't recommend this more enthusiastically.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996): surprising absolutely no one, I assume. IJ is actually my favorite book ever from my favorite writer, so this was a no-brainer. When asked what it's about, I usually ramble on incoherently for five minutes...so why should I handle it differently here? It's about: a tennis academy in Enfield, Mass.; a rehab centre in same; addiction; North American politics; terrorism; philandering; film study; robberies; chemistry; talk radio; adolescence; a film so entertaining that it's said that if you watch it once, that's all you will want to do for the rest of your life; advertising; and wheelchair assassins. Confused yet?

As you no doubt know, DFW, (it goes without saying:) tragically, took his own life just over a week ago. A couple of people have asked me if I'm going to write some sort of tribute, and the answer is, well, no. When I got Shuk's message in my Facebook inbox (worst. way. ever, incidentally, to find out about something like this, but I digress...), for some reason I immediately thought it was a hoax (my mind wandered to that great Onion bit with the fake DFW break-up letter for some reason...). My second thought was "I can't believe he did this." My third thought was of all his writing about clinical depression (specifically, the stuff about Kate Gompert in IJ and "The Depressed Person"--about the bleakest thing you'll probably ever read...though DFW's obit in the NYT runs a close second--in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), which led immediately to my fourth thought, mainly: "how did we not see this coming?" I'm still there.

Without (hopefully) being (too) pretentious, smug, or selfish, his death is a major blow to modern American literature. In my heart of hearts, I knew he would never write something as good as Infinite Jest (or, far more likely, never write another novel period), but there was always that glimmer of hope that he might. That that hope is now extinguished bums me out to no end. He will be deeply missed.

Anyway, I think the most constructive thing I can for all five (up from three! It's been a big year!) of my readers is to provide a list of Ten David Foster Wallace things that you absolutely have to read:

DFW's Greatest Hits (in no particular order)

1. Infinite Jest: come on, already! I know it's a daunting task (I started it three times before finishing it), but it's well worth it. And, by the end, you'll actually come to love the endnotes...and even the footnotes and endnotes within those endnotes (I'm not making that up). If you're unconvinced, pick up a (or, hell, borrow my) copy and read the first fourteen pages (Hal interviewing with the University of Arizona) or pages 321-242 (the Eschaton game--which is wickedly funny). You should be hooked by this stage.

2. "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" in
ASFTINDA: the cruise ship story. Originally written for Harper's, it's laugh out loud funny throughout. To wit:
"...and the source of all the dissatisfactions isn't the Nadir at all but rather plain old humanly conscious me, or, more precisely, that ur-American part of me that craves and responds to pampering and passive pleasure: the Dissatisfied Infant part of me, the part that always and indiscriminately WANTS. Hence this syndrome by which, for example, just four days after I experienced such embarrassment over the perceived self-indulgence of ordering even more gratis food from Cabin Service that I littered the bed with fake evidence of hard work and missed meals, whereas by last night I find myself looking at my watch in real annoyance after fifteen minutes and wondering where the fuck is that Cabin Service guy with the tray already (p. 315-16)."
3. "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness" in ASFTINDA: as discussed above.

Commencement Address, Kenyon College, 2005: a little more on the nose than some of his other stuff, and a tad obvious in places, but very interesting. The last line pretty much makes the whole speech.

5. "Octet" in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men:
hypothetical scenarios run amok. Riveting. You can probably safely skip the rest of this, as it's fairly uneven (though the final "Brief Interview"--the next to last story in the collection--is worth reading).

6. "Host" in The Atlantic (2004):
note: it also appears in
Consider the Lobster, but under different--not as good--formatting. I'd recommend downloading the copy I've linked to.

7. "Little Expressionless Animals" in
Girl With Curious Hair: admittedly, this story doesn't quite work, but the concept is so intriguing (girl wins 700 straight games on Jeopardy!, thus destroying the program--and, remember, this came out roughly eight years before we knew who Ken Jennings was) that you probably owe it to yourself to read it.

8. This two-page long sentence in "Mister Squishy" in
Oblivion: the entire story is worth checking out, but it's this sentence where DFW really shines.

9. McCain's Promise (2008):
going to follow my own advice, since I haven't actually read this one yet. The article it's based on ("Up Simba!" in Consider the Lobster, which, itself, was a lengthier version of a '04 Rolling Stone piece) is quite good, so if you don't feel like shelling out an extra $15 bucks for slightly more material, CTL should do the trick.

10. "Federer as Religious Experience" (2006) in
The New York Times Play Magazine: dude knew his tennis.

(Bonus: "The Future of the American Idea" in The Atlantic's 150th Anniversary issue: thought-provoking, yes, but what I really dig is his casual reference to "Federalist 10" in his footnotes. Goddamn, was he cool...)

"This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened..."

Team Up #4: Kyle and Shuk Discuss the Emmys

Mark: So yeah, Emmy madness! What was the ratio of Emmy-watching to football-watching on Sunday night?

Kyle: Hmmm...probably about 3 to 1. We had it on ABC when the Emmys were running and then I flipped it to NBC during the breaks...but I was following the game play-for-play online like a psycho (fantasy implications and all). You?

Mark: Surprisingly close to half-and-half. The Packers kept on disgusting me with their play-calling, so I flipped over to discover Howie Mandel disgusting me with his inane patter. Then I flipped back to more bad football. It was a yo-yo of discontentment on Sunday night.

Kyle: Yeah...that was an odd game. They seemed very tight (and not in the cool way when kids say it). It was Carrie, Ryan, and I here and, throughout both events, I kept muttering, "oh...Shuk isn't going to be happy." Then Lost lost and I think I just blurted out "poor Shuk!"

Kyle: ...so they both may or may not think I'm obsessed with you...

Mark: Wait, you're NOT obsessed with me?

Kyle: (Officially: it's a healthy fixation. Unofficially: well, you know...)

Mark: You know what, though? As much as I was pulling for Lost to win, at least I was consoled by the fact that a) it has a Best Drama trophy already (hmm, almost wrote 'Best Dharma' there) and b) at least Lost lost to a good show.

Kyle: Good points. Would've been nice but, ultimately, I was pulling for Mad Men (and anti-pulling for Damages).

Mark: Yeah, if it lost to Mad Men or Dexter, no big problem. If it lost to Boston Legal or House, well, that would've been galling, but at least my parents would've been happy. But if Damages had won....to quote my friend Matt, there would've been shit on the Academy's floors. Is Damages really that bad? I've never actually seen it.

Kyle: I mean, it's ok (barely). But, really, it's like a decent legal thriller that lasts for 11 hours. Would you watch a director's cut of Fracture that was that long? It's incredibly shallow, and, even if I weren't going to law school I think I could figure out that their tactics are blatantly ridiculous.

Mark: So really, we should be celebrating its defeat. Huzzah! *clinks glass* I guess this leads us into the first talking point, 'biggest disappointment.' As I said, I had made my peace with a potential Lost loss, but Michael Emerson losing just really pissed me off.

Kyle: Actually, this is the one place where Damages is pretty strong, with two worthy candidates. Ivanek was deserving -- note: not MOST deserving...that was clearly Emerson -- and, how shall I put this: he probably won't be eligible next year.

Mark: I was shocked both since Emerson lost but also by the fact that Ivanek won....he wasn't on the radar at all. But I guess in hindsight it wasn't surprising given that he's been on pretty much every show on TV at some point, so he's built up a lot of goodwill.

Kyle: If I'd been in any Emmy pool, I would've allotted no more than 5 points out of 100 to Emerson. I just thought he had no chance (if not Ivanek, then Danson). Remember, these are the same people that didn't think Henry Ian Cusick made the top five. For "the Constant." The best Lost episode ever. Which featured only him and one other character.

Mark: A fair point. Though Terry O'Quinn won in a semi-upset last year, so I figured they'd want to give at least some token nod to Lost given how it got screwed in every other category.

Kyle: Hmmm...true.

Kyle: I have three big disappointments: 1. Jeremy Piven winning Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy again. As Sepinwall noted: he was given NOTHING to do last season (which was completely terrible). NPH or Rainn Wilson (who, if I'm not mistaken, has never won) were both far more deserving.

Mark: Agreed (more on this later in the 'most deserved/undeserved' topic).

Kyle: 2. (this one you'll dispute) The Amazing Race winning Best Competitive Reality Show AGAIN. Did you know that they've given this award out SIX times and it's gone to TAR every year? Top Chef--perennially underrated--was a better choice.

Mark: It is somewhat absurd that TAR has won every single time, but given that it was the only one I watched of the nominees, I can only applaud the Academy's wise choice in this case.

Kyle: Grrrr.

Kyle: And 3. the hosting. My God, the hosting! Those first five minutes (post-Oprah...hell: including Oprah) were among the most painful minutes I've ever spent watching television. I cannot for the life of me fathom how no one (Kimmel, evidently, aside) figured out that doing an opening monologue about nothing was a disastrous idea. It almost ruined the whole night. The crowd was stunned into silence for about half an hour. It'd be like Conan's warm-up guy coming out at 12:20, taking a dump on the stage, giving the crowd the finger, and walking off.

Mark: A commenter on TWOP put it best....'they could've gotten the five nominees from any other category and they would've done a better job than these five. Including the tech categories.'

Kyle: lol...initially, I actually thought it was a send-up of bad hosting, but, no, they were actually trying.

Mark: I actually think Tom Bergeron would've done a solid job if it was just him as a solo act. Maybe Probst too. But the other three....ye gods. Though then we wouldn't have gotten to hear Heidi Klum introduce Boreanaz as star of 'The Bones.' Between that and being stuck with Lauren Conrad as a presenter, it was Angel's worse night since Buffy sent him to hell.

Kyle: I was out paying the pizza guy, so I missed it, but I was following the EW liveblog and couldn't stop laughing. The Bones! They should actually change the title to that.

Mark: That's actually the working title of my pilot script about a skeleton who solves crimes. I'm hoping to get Calista Flockhart. (rimshot)

Kyle: Nicely done. btw, how big of a fuck you to viewers (or possibly to Hills fans) was it to have LC give out the two writing awards of the night?

Mark: It would be sort of awesome if the MTV cameras followed her there, so we can get a Hills episode about 'LC's Emmy experience.' If a scene shows up of, say, Paul Giamatti shaking her hand that ends up on the Hills, I think the universe would explode.

Kyle: Confused Hills viewer: "Is that her grandfather?"

Kyle: At least Probst acknowledged that it was their fault the show was running long.

Mark: It was great how it took about five minutes for the hosts' performance to become a running joke. I think it was Piven who got things rolling in his speech.

Kyle: I'm just stunned that they got through rehearsal. Had to have been a case where they didn't even practice it and just said "ah...we're quick on our feet. We'll be fine." But no, they weren't. And they broke the only rule I remember from being a radio co-host: "don't talk when someone else is talking. It sounds awful." Howie, Howie, Howie...

Mark: That was a career-ending performance from Mandel. If that group of hosts was Voltron, he was the head.

Kyle: [frantically wikipediaing "Voltron"]

Mark: Best/worst presenter?

Kyle: Best: Gervais. He may have saved the show with the Carell bit. His Golden Globe speech when he was the unexpected winner for the original Office remains my all-time favorite. ("I'm from Britain. You may remember us. We used to rule the world before you did.")

Mark: No arguments here...Gervais should host the show next year, no question about it. How awesome would Gervais be at a roast? My god, he would be legendary.

Kyle: Stewart and Colbert were solid, but I wasn't blown away by the prune bit.

Mark: Honorable mention to Sally Field, as she and Tom Hanks temporarily reliving Forrest Gump was pretty cute.

Kyle: That was adorable.

Mark: Oh! And NPH and Kristen Chenoweth. Maybe they could host the show next year. If NPH and Chenoweth were to host, it would raise their profiles and give them a better shot at winning, too. I wonder what their bit was that got cut?

Kyle: I'm almost certain they were going to sing something. Ever seen NPH belt out "Confrontation" with Jason Segel on some random talk show? Awesome.

Mark: Here's the clip!

Mark: Have faith! I choose to blame any problems from last season on the strike.

Kyle: Let's hope. But I hate the whole Barney/Robyn thing, which is apparently unavoidable.

Kyle: Lots of bit-cutting sniping last night, eh? Someone else mentioned it. Maybe they should have steered clear of those (Conan's aside) painful "hey, we're on the set of [insert famous show here]. How cool is this?" segments.

Mark: Yeah, it seemed like they had the idea to do a big blowout for the 60th anniversary, but then were told at the last minute to get it to three hours or else. Those tributes to, like, seven randomly selected great shows were pretty pointless. [Note: all but one coming from shows from the 90s or the 00s--way to give the shaft to every other program than The Mary Tyler Moore Show released prior to 1985, Emmy Producers!]

Kyle: And who the hell picked those scenes? The Desperate Housewives one, in particular, went nowhere and was painfully dull...they even bricked the West Wing one, which seems almost impossible. "Here's a scene were President Bartlett pontificates about assassinating some random terrorist"--the hell?

Mark: As the last DH fan on the planet, that was horrifying. To quote the Itchy & Scratchy boss when meeting Abe Simpson.....God, you're so old!

Kyle: As for "worst presenter," I dunno...I hate (coughEmmywinnercough) Kathy Griffin...and much of the Rickles stuff was intensely uncomfortable (especially when he later won and came back all "aww shucks. I'm so damn lucky!"). That might be my pick...but mostly everyone else was forgettable.

Mark: I actually enjoyed that bit. Griffin wisely just kept out of it and let Rickles do his thing. So we've agreed, next year's five hosts should be NPH, Chenoweth, Gervais, Rickles and Carell.

Kyle: Again, not the biggest Rickles fan. Could he come as Mr. Potato Head? Anyone (professional hosts aside) that really got on your nerves?

Mark: The Laugh-In thing was technically a presenter, right? That was painful. Laugh-In is quite probably the most dated show of all time.

Kyle: As it was happening: I actually called home to ask my mom "is that what Laugh-In was really like?" My God! Horrifying!!

Mark: Okay, best speech. I'd have to go with Cranston. He seemed genuinely touched to have won.

Kyle: That was very heartfelt. As was, surprisingly, Colbert's speech. I dug Tom Hanks (esp. the stuff about the election of 1800), but was totally distracted by his (the consensus at our place was ladies') glasses.


Hanks: Oh shit, I forgot my glasses!
Rita: I don't have mine either. Just ask the guy next to you if you can borrow his.
Hanks: Good idea. Excuse me, sir....
Ron Jaworski [Note: The Polish Rifle!]: Overheard you Tom, here you go!

Kyle: hehe...I liked Smothers too...though he seemed a bit rusty.

Mark: Smothers was good. Now THEIR show isn't dated at all. I remember watching it as a kid and howling at them and this one great deadpan stand-up comic they had. Man, I should look that up on YouTube....

Mark: It was odd, Dick Smothers was there, but....didn't get an Emmy? Did he not write? He already had one? He wanted to give his brother a moment in the sun for all those years of Mom liking Dick best?

Kyle: Yeah, I wondered about that too. I think (though I haven't bothered to verify any of this) that Tommy was the one that was considered radioactive at the time, but Dick was safe, so he probably got his at the time.

Mark: Makes sense. Seems odd that a guy named 'Dick Smothers' could be considered the normal one, but there you go.

Kyle: But my favorite was (again) Tina Fey...the one where she thanked her parents.

Mark: Yeah, Fey was 3-for-3 on good speeches. She is truly awesome. Was there really a 'worst' speech?

Kyle: Probably not. Piven came across as a smug fuck, most likely because...he's a smug fuck, but his dig towards the hosts was deserved.

Mark: Worst part of the speeches was that literally everyone got played off by the orchestra after about 10 seconds.

Kyle: Agreed. The pacing was horrible. Totally hypocritical of the Emmys to let big wheels like Hanks and Close talk about politics, but if some no name director wins, they just cut him off altogether.

Mark: Perhaps they're fans of irony. "It's important that we live in a country where freedom of express.." CLICK.

Kyle: lol. How annoyed would you be if you were an award winner, got played off, and then came back to your seat to watch them throw it to a gratuitous commercial during that interminable "best reality host" segment? I would've been like that guy that went after Noel Gallagher...

Mark: Heh. You would know his moves, too.

Mark: Biggest shock?

Kyle: Cranston, definitely. Loaded category and he manages to come away with it? That was stunning. You should watch Breaking Bad, by the way. The first season is only six eps.

Mark: That was the biggest surprise award-wise, for sure. And yes, it's on my list of shows to get to. I just finished S2 of Dexter, so I'm getting there. The biggest shock for me was "Huh, how about that, the guy who wrote Recount is named Danny Strong. Odd that there's two guys with that name in Holl....OH MAN, THAT'S JONATHAN FROM BUFFY!!"

Kyle: Oh, right...I meant to tell you about that. I remember reading about it in Time and thinking I was in the episode where he's the biggest star in the world.

Kyle: Minor shocks: Matthew Weiner winning Best Writing For A Drama Series, not for "The Wheel" (the brilliant season finale), but for "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (the great, but not nearly as memorable series premiere). Also: Damages got Best Ensemble over Mad Men during the Creative Emmys--how is that even possible??

Mark: I'd have to check this, but I would wager that pilots more often than not win the writing awards. It's easier for new viewers to judge the pilot since the whole point of a first episode is to introduce the conflict and characters. They might not have appreciated the nuances and payoffs of The Wheel.

Kyle: Hmmm...that actually kind of makes sense. Though, as a rule, applying logic to award shows is a bad idea.

Mark: True. Most deserved/undeserved win? (We've sort of covered this already, I guess).

Kyle: The big ones were good for the most part: MM, 30 Rock, Fey, Baldwin.

Mark: I'd throw in Colbert Report winning the writing award as well. Long overdue....though this might ruin Colbert's running joke about being screwed at the Emmys.

Kyle: Nice one! He can still fall back on losing to Rickles for Best Variety Host. He's now lost to Manilow, Tony Bennett, and Don Rickles. Seems unfair to put a season's worth of work from Colbert or Stewart up against a one-off performance. Can't they just get rid of the token golden oldie in that category, since they invariably win? I mean give them a new category, not, like, kill them or anything...

Mark: Whatever, Kyle. You've wanted Tony Bennett dead for years.

Kyle: [darts eyes around furtively] I don't have the foggiest idea what you're talking about...

Mark: It's the dog with the shifty eyes!

Mark: Most disappointing win was Piven, agreed. That's his third Emmy. That puts him in the ballpark of David Hyde Pierce, John Larroquette, etc. and that's just not right.

Kyle: Speaking of Laroquette, did you know that OMNI is now showing Night Court re-runs? I can't decide if it's aged poorly or not. Larroquette blatantly ogling prostitutes he's ostensibly supposed to be prosecuting is still pretty hilarious.

Mark: Ooh, I'll have to check those out. I loved Night Court. If I could somehow borrow your height (editor's note: Kyle is 6'6"), I'd go as Bull for Halloween.

Kyle: That's a good idea!

You: "hey, everyone, I'm TV's Richard Moll!"
Everyone: "huh?"

Mark: Hmm, you're right. I'd better go with my backup idea....Evan Handler.

Kyle: "Hey, everyone, I say less than 100 words in the SATC movie and spend a disturbingly high proportion of my on-screen time shirtless and on top of Charlotte!"

Mark: So to complete the costume, I need to get in bed with Kristen Davis? Well, if you insist....

Kyle: Careful, she might try to drink you.

Mark: ***Mark's response here was removed in the spirit of keeping this chat from getting an NC-17 rating***

Kyle: Yeah, I really teed that one up for you, didn't I?

Mark: I would've drilled it, then ran off the tee box riding my club like Boo Weekley.

Kyle: Gah...I'm too bitter to even discuss the Ryder Cup.

Mark: Never underestimate the power of Sergio to find new ways to gag. Prediction: Monty is the captain in 2010 and Europe has it clinched by Saturday evening

Kyle: 1. Did you think Europe had a chance at any point on Sunday? (I just wasn't feeling it for the Euros this time. They looked flat on Sunday.) 2. Faldo's getting killed by the British press, but I'm not sure what else he could've done.

Mark: 1. Yeah, absolutely. Wasn't it 10-9 at one point? It was just then that the three close matches in progress all went America's way. 2. It's ironic that the slam-dunk captain's pick (Casey) played poorly, while the question mark (Poulter) was probably the best player of the weekend. But still, not picking Clarke was a critical mistake.

Kyle: Picking Clarke was probably a no-brainer, but I like Poulter over Monty. Eventually, you need to start looking to the future, otherwise, when Monty breaks a hip in 2012, all the youngsters would be totally untested. (Also: Poulter went 4-1).

Kyle: Still want to know how poorly Clarke played aside from those two tournament wins NOT to qualify for the team. Also: the course was way too easy. Wasn't it slightly suspicious that Holmes (who, if I'm not mistaken, ordinarily puts like Happy Gilmore) was routinely dropping 30-footers?

Mark: Still say it was an ego thing. Faldo wanted to be the sole veteran leader of the team, hence no Clarke. Valhalla has never been known for its difficulty. Though, really, they generally stay away from the real monster courses for the Ryder. I guess they figure the pressure is tough enough on the players.

Kyle: Both good points. Wait, what were we talking about again?

Mark: Pretty sure this was a Ryder Cup chat, but.....oh wait, the Emmys. We've got to pull this together, lest we end up as badly off-track as last night's broadcast.

Kyle: Zing! Do we have anything left? Lightning round?

Mark: Best/worst overall category and any other WTF moments, but we could just wrap those into a lightning round.

Kyle: I think we both agree that Best Actor in a Drama Series was the powerhouse of the night. Worst?

Mark: Dramatic actress seemed weak, though that's just because I don't watch any of those shows. Supporting actress in a comedy was pretty ridiculous.

Kyle: TOTALLY. Jean Smart? Really??

Mark: The only acceptable winner there was Chenoweth. No doubt.

Kyle: The whole category was screwed up, though: Poehler over Wiig from SNL, Holland Taylor, Vanessa Williams, etc.

Kyle: Best Miniseries should've been done by acclimation, instead of: John Adams and three piles of garbage (2.75, actually, as the first hour of Andromeda Strain was kinda cool).

Mark: Battlestar and the Wire both finally get token writing nods, and of course neither win.

Kyle: For a split second, I thought the Wire might come through. Oddly, I was rooting against it, both because the nominated episode (the series finale) wasn't especially mind-blowing and because, since it didn't win, I can still trot out the fact that According to Jim has won more Emmys (one) than the Wire, one of five greatest shows in TV history. Yay, bitterness!

Mark: It's weird, the Oscars usually uses the writing awards to recognize the "you're probably the best, but you're too quirky to officially award" nominee. But the Emmys never do.

Kyle: Hence Flight of the Conchords getting snubbed...although it's hard to argue with Fey's win...or even the other 30 Rock script ("Rosemary's Baby"--"I'm assuming that a Halderman reference.")

Mark: If only MILF Island had been nominated.

Kyle: Have you heard the rumor that they were supposed to give Best Song out last night, but buried it during the Creative Broadcast because there were rumblings that "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" would win?

Mark: Wow, I didn't even know they had a 'best song' category.

Kyle: Yup. It was Damon, FoTC twice (Most Beautiful Girl and Inner City Pressure), something from MADtv (still on the air, evidently!), and something I'd never heard of.

Mark: To the interweb! I have to find this just so I can make sure that Dick In A Box got its just reward two years ago. What won?

Kyle says: (It did.) And Damon won. Apparently Silverman gave a somewhat heartbreaking speech...

Mark: Well good.

*dusts off hands triumphantly*

Hopefully Marshall's song about slapping Barney was also considered.

Kyle: There's a site called "The Envelope" which lists what people submitted and what was shortlisted. Not sure about Slapsgiving.

Kyle: What about Groban's medley? Thumbs up or down? And, either way, what do you wish had been included that wasn't?

Mark: I only caught bits and pieces of it, so I don't know what did or didn't get it. Pretty sure the Emmys did this exact same thing 10 years ago, but with Jason Alexander and a barbershop quartet doing the songs. But I've got to say, Groban busting out the Cartman voice for the South Park song was pretty gold.

Kyle: Three omissions: Charles in Charge, Doogie Howser M.D., Office (UK). I'd totally forgotten about the Alexander thing. I actually found it quite winning. I think they should do it every year.

Mark: It's one of those bits that would totally sink or swim depending on the performer. Good thing Groban has a sense of humour.

Mark: Checking that Envelope list now....Lost won the Emmy for sound-mixing. Slow clap.

Kyle: Phew. That ties them with Entourage and Masterpiece Theatre for '08. (sad face emoticon)

Mark: Well, I think we've run through everything we wanted to say. Kyle, as always, a pleasure.

Kyle: Stealing my line! Likewise...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Be more constructive with your feedback!"

2008 U.S. Open Recap: Standard structure. Six up and ten down, eh?...I appear to be growing more curmudgeonly in my golden years...

Thumbs Up: to Roger Federer. Funny how his slump now looks like a very impressive year, isn't it? Three Grand Slam finals (and, in the fourth, he lost to the eventual champ in the semis), one major win, a gold medal (ok, fine, in doubles. Still...), three overall titles, 54-12 record, $4.4 million in earnings. Talk about a bar being set impossibly high.

Yeah, it would've been better had he beaten Nadal in the final on Monday and, yeah, he's looked positively ordinary at times this year, but I think this tournament proved what he's really made of. When all is said and done, he's going to be remembered as the greatest ever. (Suck it, Rob. Does the Andreev win qualify a gritty five-setter?)

Thumbs Down: to this horrible, horrible TSN and TSN2 boondoggle. That's right: boondoggle. I type words I would never say so as to appear more important.

I'll elaborate: in recent years, we were lucky enough to have the TSN Alternate Feed, which would pick up the slack and show tennis in its entirety when the main feed was showing some lousy CFL game...or NASCAR. But starting a couple of weeks ago, TSN launched TSN2, so that people can tune in to the second station if they don't like the programming on the first...except Rogers--a not unpopular cable provider--and Bell don't have a deal in place for the new station (there are rumblings that TSN's asking price is way too high...not that that really matters to Rogers, since they invariably pass on price increases directly to their loyal customers), so now we have regular TSN (channel 30) and, on Channel 407 (previously the alternate feed) we have...the exact same TSN again. Great.

I think you can see where this is going. Two Fridays ago, I'm at my parents' place and want to watch Roddick's Round 2 match against upstart Ernest Gulbis, but TSN was showing CFL...shuffling the tennis to TSN2 (which--again--we don't get). Awesome. Now that was annoying enough, but it was compounded by the fact that the guide said they were going to air tennis on tape delay at midnight, but when 12 rolled around, they aired--without explanation--shitty, shitty Friday Night Fights. Way to alienate your viewers for absolutely no reason, TSN!

Thumbs Down: to TSN proper, for just being plain stupid. When I was back in Toronto during the week, I wanted to tune in the Djokovic-Roddick quarterfinal on Thursday night, except this was the same night of the NFL kickoff game, so, instead of being able to watch the match (which, you guessed it, was on TSN2, aka the station no one has), I was stuck watching a choppy feed online (in Spanish!), while trying not to fall asleep watching Redskins-Giants (which, I might add, was also available on NBC). Yes, they did cut to the tennis once the football game--mercifully--ended, but they were already in the third set...and that's not really the point now, is it? I know that TSN has a deal in place for NFL games televised on NBC and I'm sure the game got a pretty big number, but it still infuriates me. Yet--somewhat amazingly--TSN wasn't even the most incompetent network covering tennis. That distinction belongs to...

(Major) Thumbs Down: to CBS Channel 4 Buffalo. So I'm home Monday afternoon, eager to watch the men's final at 5 p.m. Upon tuning in, I see...the 5 o'clock news. OK. Quickly jumping online, I discover that CBS 4 has elected not to air the tennis. Final. Of. A. FUCKING. MAJOR (which was originally supposed to air Sunday afternoon), instead fobbing it off on sister station CW23, except we DON'T FUCKING GET CW23 IN TORONTO!! Morons!! By the time tried to log on the USOpen.org to watch it online (knowing full well that it wouldn't work, since I'm not a U.S. resident), I'd worked myself into an especially frothy rage lather. At this point Carrie (God bless her) called and suggested that I try Hoops, our local sports bar. And, sure enough, they had it (using a Seattle CBS feed). I'm so disgusted that I can barely even talk about this except to say: Congratulations, CBS 4, you've won the coveted "Worst Station in the History of the Fucking Universe."

Thumbs Down: to Canadian tennis players who flamed out ever so swiftly in this year's draw. This includes Frank Dancevic (straight set loser in the first round), Caroline Wozniak (lost in the first round in singles...and doubles!), Stephanie Dubois (who didn't even qualify, but at least won her first qualifying match). Even Daniel Nestor, seeded #1 in the men's doubles draw, crapped out in the Round of 16. Yikes! And on the "it's actually way worse than you think" front, please note that there were zero Canadians in the Boys Singles 64-player draw (Under 18s, basically) and only two girls in the Girls Singles draw (and they both lost in the first round). So...yeah. Prop bet: The Lions will win the Super Bowl before a Canadian (male or female) wins a singles Slam title. Any takers? (If you exclude Wonziak, who has shown glimpses of Top 20 talent, I'd probably be willing to make it "Slam semi-final").

Thumbs Up: to Andy Roddick. OK, I did claim that he was done after Wimbledon this year, and I still kinda stand behind that, but the Roddick we saw during this fortnight was much more the Andy of 2003 (i.e. confident, dominant, electric) than the Andy of 2006-08 (i.e. shaken, stubborn, infuriating). Fabrice Santoro (who, disappointingly, acted like a big fucking baby during his first round match against A-Rod) looked legitimately terrified at times.

Thumbs Up still more: to Andy's press conference, which remain wildly entertaining. Click here for a great Q&A session after his beatdown of Gonzalez in the Round of 16.

Thumbs Down: also to Roddick, who after dumping the first two sets played himself--somewhat improbably--back into his QF match against Djokovic, winning the third and up a break in the fourth and two points away from pushing it to five, only to totally gag it away by way of back to back double faults (allowing Djokovic to break him) and then--and this one is potentially unforgivable--playing a ridiculously stupid drop shot during a long rally at 5-5 in the tiebreak. I'm still not sure how Taylor's head didn't explode.

(a rare) Thumbs Way Down + a Wag of the Finger to: Novak Djokovic, who, at the ripe old age of, what, 20?, has become almost pathologically obsessed with the crowd. Upon beating Roddick, Djokovic let loose with the following, as boos cascaded down on him.

For the record, here's what he's objecting to:

Q. With the way he plays and his style, does it almost mandate that it's going to be a grind? Because it's not easy to knock Djokovic out of points early, even if you're playing well.

ANDY RODDICK: Oh, sure. You're going to have to go to work. He goes to work pretty much every point, and, my service game, he's going to put returns in, he puts guys in pressure. It seems like a lot of times there'd be breaks back and forth with him. You know going in that you're going to have to go to work.

Q. When asked about his injuries today, mentioning the right ankle as opposed to the left ankle, the other day ‑‑

ANDY RODDICK: Isn't it both of them? And a back and a hip?

Q. And when he said there are too many to count.

ANDY RODDICK: And a cramp.

Q. Do you get the sense right now that he is...

ANDY RODDICK: Bird flu. [Kyle here: lol--great timing]

Q. Lot of things. Beijing hangover.


Q. He's got pretty long list of illness.

ANDY RODDICK: Anthrax. SARS. Common cough and cold.

Q. Got a lot of things going on with him.


Q. Do you think he's bluffing?

ANDY RODDICK: No, I mean, I'm sure ‑‑

Q. The way you're saying it, almost means you feel like...

ANDY RODDICK: No, if it's there, it's there. There's just a lot. You know, he's either quick to call a trainer or he's the most courageous guy of all time. I think it's up for you guys to decide.

Listen closely, Novak, because I'm going to drop some knowledge on your head:

1. I know you loved it when everyone loved you (see: last year). Those impressions were classic. But: get over it. In everyone's defense, they didn't quite realize what a dick you (and especially) your parents are.

2. You're. From. Serbia. It's called the U.S. Open. It's not reasonable for you to think that the crowd is going to be behind you. Why this fact eludes you and you felt the need to go into full-blown Ivan Drago mode, I'll never know.

3. Roddick was kidding! Are you so hyper-sensitive that you can't realize that Roddick is being facetious roughly 90% of the time?

4. Even if he were being serious (and, in fairness, he may have been for the section where he references "couragenousness"), you yourself said the exact same thing in your post-match on-court interview with Michael Bartan after your 4th round match. I heard you! When asked, "what do you think about your next round opponent [still undetermined at the time]?" you answered: "I dunno. Whoever it is, I know he's going to be healthier than me."

5. I could almost (almost) understand this if you lost. It'd total be sour grapes, but, when you're dejected, sometimes that stuff just pops out. But: you WON--so why be such a little bitch about it?

Thumbs Down: to James Blake.
I don't know if there's ever been a world-class player who has been so thoroughly lacking in ingenuity. Watching [him] 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.
OK, technically that's just a cut and paste from my Wimbledon post and (again: technically) it's referring to Andy Roddick, but all of it holds true. Blake has Top 5 talent, yet--and this gets more and more amazing major by major--has never made it to the quarterfinals of a slam. I like Blake a lot and he's by all accounts a great guy (though his on-court demeanour still leaves a great deal to be desired), but that's inexcusable. A guy that beats Federer at the Olympics less than a month ago simply should not be struggling against the likes of Donald Young (Blake beat him in five tough sets in the first round). We saw Young (8-18 on the year) play in the Saturday Qualies for the Rogers Cup and, frankly, while he may grow into a competent pro (at the moment, I'm unconvinced), at the moment the professional game seems completely baffling to him and he doesn't even deserve to be on the same court as Blake.

Thumbs Up: to Mardy Fish. Nice August run, McFly: semis in LA, finals in D.C., quarters at the Open. (and put up a good fight against Nadal for two sets--not bad for someone who lost five consecutive matches in June and July.) All the while rocking K-Swiss gear (that wine coloured shirt? Loved it.). I'll be honest, I have a soft spot for Fish, who, so far as I know, is the only guy on tour who wears ankle socks (like me!). But...

Thumbs Down:
to the Mardy Fish that played sets three and four against Nadal. I know you're a big hitter (48 winners) and that that leads to more unforced errors, but, my word, I've never seen someone miss shots by five or six feet as routinely as Fish did that night. It says that he had 53 errors for the match, but given that he played a perfect first set, that's pretty terrible. He had Nadal on the ropes...and then totally threw it away. Dial it back a bit.

Thumbs Up: to Jon Wertheim (for continuing to write about tennis) and to Bill Simmons (for abstaining). If you're even a casual fan, JW's page needs to be among your bookmarks.

Thumbs Down: to Ana Ivanovic, who flamed out in the second round to French qualifier (and world number 188) Julie Coin. Please, please, please stop referring to this as "one of the greatest upsets of all-time" MSM. Longtime readers will know that I'm totally in the tank for her, but, looking at this objectively, she's 4-3 since she won the French Open (which, btw, was in June). Her thumb is hurt, she's not terribly mentally tough, everyone lets down a bit after winning a major: pick your excuse. Any way you cut it, something is wrong with her. (Also, bring back the one-piece dress, Ana. I'm convinced this wardrobe change is at least 35% to blame--ok, that part's not so objective...)

Thumbs Up: to Ser--xdhiwfdsqydrrrrk. (Sorry, fingers rejecting request.) To Serena Williams. Win tournament without dropping a set? Check. Play an actual quality match against your sister? Check. Regain the #1 ranking? Check.

While I found the media's griping about Venus and Serena (ranked 7th and 3rd, respectively) playing each other in the quarters to be totally ill-informed (look it up, people: they put the 1 seed in the top half and the 2 seed in the bottom half. After that, they draw for placement. I've watched them do this in Toronto (though I have no idea why, since it's dreadfully dull). There's no conspiracy here. In fact, the only conspiracy would be if they decided the sisters had to be on the opposite side of the draw. If you don't want them to play each other for the finals, I would suggest that you kindly ask them to play in more tournaments--like, say, Indian Wells--so that their rankings don't artificially drop and throw off the seeding. Let me know how this goes...), you have to hand it to Serena. When's she's on her game (and in some semblance of shape) she appears to be virtually unstoppable.

Thumbs Down: to yet another straight set women's final. Yes, it was mildly entertaining, but did anyone really think Jankovic was going to pull it off (and, by "it," I don't mean "her underpants during a changeover"). Obviously not. This now makes nine straight grand slam women's finals decided in straight sets (Mauresmo-Bartoli in the '06 Wimbledon final was the last to go three) and sixteen of the last twenty (in particular, you have to go back to 1995, when Graf knocked off Seles in three, for the last U.S. Open to go the distance. Wow.)

Criticisms aside: I thought this was a very good tournament...and while I'm pretty sure I say this after every major, I think the game of tennis is in great shape. Now, let's all go to sleep until the end of January.