Sunday, June 28, 2015

Olympus Has Definitely Fallen

This review may contain some spoilers, but I use that term loosely, as I won't actually be "spoiling" anything for you. Trust me, I'm doing you a favor by telling you what happens. Just spare yourself the 2 hours needed to actually watch the film.

A while back I watched "White House Down," a cheesy action flick with Channing Tatum about an attack on the White House. It was OK for what it was. There was another really similarly themed movie that came out that same year, which I assumed would be the better of the two. It took a while, but "Olympus Has Fallen" finally arrived on cable. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, or "Training Day" fame, and with an all-star cast including Gerard Butler, Dylan McDermott, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, and Melissa could you go wrong. This movie, my friends, is how. What happened to the good old days when action and action/comedy films had sharp, witty dialogue, solid performances, thrilling scenes, and plots that may not have been completely believable, but at least followed some sense of logic? Die Hard, Midnight Run, the Lethal Weapon films, Beverly Hills Cop, Total Recall. I haven't seen an action film like that in ages. 

OHF was just a complete crap fest. Butler was actually serviceable as the hero. But if you want to see him in a decent performance in an actually decent film, try "Law Abiding Citizen," which ironically also features Jamie Foxx, who was in "the other White House movie." Once you get past Butler, there's pretty much nothing redeeming about this movie. Dylan McDermott plays a fellow Secret Service operative who ends up being the token traitor, as he sells out to the North Korean terrorists who take over the Washington D.C. landmark. There is never a clear motive established for his character having wanted to harm the President or his country. Yeah, there's the money factor, but shouldn't we assume it would take a little more than that to turn an operative whose sole job it's been to PREVENT the President from getting hurt? 

The sort of MacGuffin of the film (an object that one or more of the characters spends the majority of the film trying to obtain) are the "Cerberus Codes." It's explained that these were a set of three in possession of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, one held by the Secretary of Defense (Leo), and one by the President, that when entered into the computer (conveniently located in the White House bunker where all three of those people were being held hostage), would basically give access to and control of the United States' nuclear arsenal. The North Korean villain started to torture both the Chairman and the Secretary to get their codes, but the President (Eckhart) ordered them both to give up the codes, insisting that he would never give up his, so they would be useless to the terrorist. 

The evil Kang's plan to subvert this ploy by the President, was to capture his young son, knowing that the threat of harm to the kid would break the President and lead him to surrendering the final code. However, the very next thing that happens is the kid rescued by Agent Mike Banning (Butler), and everyone in the bunker finds out that he is safe. Then, for some reason that can't possibly be explained, Kang is able to obtain the third code from the President anyway. Completely nonsensical. To add to the mystifying actions by the characters in this film, the Speaker of the House (Freeman), who is now the acting President, since the Vice President is also being held in the bunker, caves into Kang's demand that the US start withdrawing all of its troops from the North/South Korea border. THEY'VE ALREADY RESCUED THE PRESIDENT'S SON and supposedly thwarted Kang's entire plan, so why would he possibly make this decision? 

Of course, Agent Banning ends up shutting down the Cerberus system as the "clock" ticks down to its final seconds...a tired and predictable action movie sequence. And then, he kills Kang in one of the most boring villain kill scenes I can remember. 

Overall, this film was a waste of everyone's considerable talent. Hard to believe they assembled a cast and director like this and got these results. Even more incomprehensible is...THERE'S GOING TO BE A SEQUEL!! "London Has Fallen" is due out next year, and almost everyone except Fuqua is returning. Yeah thanks!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Top 40 Songs of 2014

For me, 2014 could be labeled the year of the comeback. Several of the songs on my year-end best list are by artists who either have not put out material in a while, or whose stuff I haven't liked in recent years. I'd say, overall, it was a good year for singles, although some of the songs on my list are so close in quality that I seriously had no idea what many of the Top 10 songs would end up being. As usual, my compilation is meant to give an alternate take to the Grammy Awards, and the traditional year-end lists. Maybe you'll think I'm crazy. Maybe you'll discover something you'll like. The widget at the bottom will give you the chance to listen and decide.

40. Word Crimes - "Weird Al" Yankovic
For me, Al has always been a genius, but the novelty has kind of worn off in recent years. This was one of his best tracks in a very long time. I guess it's the grammar snob in me, combined with my hatred of the original "Blurred Lines" that led me to enjoy this so much. Click HERE and listen while watching the video...a must see.

39. Heart to Heart - James Blunt

38. Greens and Blues - The Pixies
Never been a big Pixies fan, but this track, off their first full-length album in 23 years, was ultra-listenable.

37. Lightning Bolt - Pearl Jam

36. Breakfast in Bed - Catrien Maxwell

35. Mother - Lissie
A decent cover of the 90's Danzig hit. Lissie is such a talented and overlooked singer.

34. Take a Chance on Me - Swedish Hitz Goes Metal
Another cover tune - this one a very campy remake of the ABBA hit single. Swedish Hitz Goes Metal features the lead singer of a power metal band called ReinXeed, and did an over the top version of the pop dance track that just works on every cheesy level for me.

33. California Wasted - Toad the Wet Sprocket

32. You Ruin Me - The Veronicas

31. Ordinary Love - U2

30. I Don't Know You Anymore - Bob Mould

29. Thirsty For My Tears - Joan Osborne
Osborne never really went away after her signature hit, "One of Us," but I, like many others, have not been following her career. So this track was a nice surprise. Could have been a big radio hit in another time, another place.

28. Final Masquerade - Linkin Park

27. Same Damn Life - Seether

26. It's Holy - Veruca Salt
For me, one of the most anticipated rock reunions in recent memory. I'm anxiously awaiting their new album, but for now, getting to see them live, and hearing the two singles off their EP, were enough to whet my appetite. Not many chicks rock like Nina and Louise.

25. If You Love Someone - The Veronicas
I got into this Australian sisterly duo back when they debuted with "The Secret Life of..." in 2005. What started out, for me, as a great pop rock band with amazing vocal talent and smooth harmonies, has evolved into a dance-y/Top 40-ish disappointment. But on some tracks, their true talent shines through. Absent from the album scene since 2007, I was really hoping their self-titled third effort would represent a return to form. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the result. The two tracks I highlighted on this list, however, serve as an example of what the Origliasso sisters can do with their talents.

24. Invisible - U2

23. Sleepwalking - Lissie
Again, Lissie has gone largely overlooked in the U.S. Here, she's doing her best Stevie Nicks impression...clearly an influence.

22. Crazy Lucky - Better Than Ezra
"Better Than Ezra hit number one on the college charts this week. At number two...Ezra." - Norm MacDonald, SNL Weekend Update. Had to throw that in there. I've always been a marginal BTE fan. But their last two albums represented some of the best material of their career. With a five year hiatus since "Paper Empires," I was encouraged by this peppy lead single. As with many artists these days, the finished album ended up being a major disappointment. Oh well.

21. Back to the Shack - Weezer
Another good lead single. Another disappointing album from an artist I like.

20. Every Breaking Wave - U2
Three entries from the Irish rockers on my list this year. Impressive...since they hadn't done much to hold my attention in recent years. Their last album was abominable. I wasn't blown away by "Songs of Innocence" on the whole, but it was nice to see a few listenable tunes from a 35-year-old band.

19. The Moment - Toad the Wet Sprocket

18. I Hope You Find It - Cher
Yes, I'm a straight male and Cher is making an appearance on my year-end top songs list...ha ha. It happens. This was a straight-up pop ballad...actually written by a couple of country songwriters and originally recorded by Miley Cyrus. I do think Miley is a pretty decent singer, but Cher just blows her version out of the water. It's probably not a song you'd remember ten years from now. Just a simple love song.

17. Future Days - Pearl Jam
A few really good songs on their latest effort. "Sirens" was my #13 from 2013, and this one was almost as good.

16. Lanterns - Birds of Tokyo
There's usually one or two modern rock bands per year who release an album with one REALLY enjoyable track, and then disappear off the face of the Earth. I expect Birds of Tokyo to fall into that category.

15. House on a Hill - The Pretty Reckless
Taylor Momsen starred as a teen on the TV show "Gossip Girl," which I never saw. Now she fronts a rock band I know nothing about. Turns out, they have a few good songs on their latest album. Actually, this one was more than good. Haunting melody, painful lyrics, gravel-tinged vocal...great rock track.

14. I'm Not Your Suicide - Michael Sweet
Stryper has continued to put out quality rock music long past their commercial peak in the 80's. At the same time, lead singer, Michael Sweet churned out a really strong solo effort...punctuated by this title track.

13. Dying to Live - Scott Stapp
One of the best albums from the 2013/2014 timeframe, "Proof of Life" by Creed lead singer, Scott Stapp, provided one track included on my '13 year-end list, and THREE entries on this list. And yes, they're all in the Top 13.

12. A Song Can Be About Anything - Dan Wilson
The ex-Semisonic frontman has, against all odds, become one of the most sought after songwriters in the business today, having now won a Grammy Award for the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice" and penning the worldwide Adele smash, "Someone Like You." Due to his work with other artists, his own recorded material has been few and far between. "Love Without Fear" was therefore one of my most heavily anticipated albums in a while. I'd say it fell a bit short of some of his previous work, but this was one standout track. I actually enjoyed the live acoustic performance of this song, which I saw him do at Joe's Pub in NYC, much more than the recorded version. But listen to the lyrics...nobody can put a song together like this guy. A song about songwriting. Who does that?

11. Nothing More - The Alternate Routes
It's been hit and miss for these guys since 2007's amazing "Good and Reckless and True." Still awaiting an album release, but this solitary single bodes well.

10. Animals - Maroon 5
As far as I tend to stray from the pop charts, there are always a few radio hits that sneak in there. Maroon 5 continue to churn out quality pop tunes. This is one of their best in a while.

9. Crazy For You - Scars on 45
A talented British band that has gotten virtually no radio support here. This is the standout track on a solid album.

8. Sleeping With a Friend - Neon Trees
Neon Trees should just write and record one song for each album, because they've pretty much had one amazing single on each of their first three records, and that's it. The rest is filler. But boy, are they good at perfecting that first track.

7. Sun on Sunday - James Blunt
Easily one of the biggest surprises for me was how much I liked Blunt's 2013 release, "Moon Landing." The lead single, "Bonfire Heart" was my #8 for 2013. Here, I'm cheating a little, because "Sun on Sunday" was never released as a single, but it's my list, so for this year's Top 10, I've included a few tracks that were never singles, but should have been. This one is one hell of an apology song. I think the girl should forgive him.

6. Is There Anyone Out There - Toad the Wet Sprocket
In the year of the comeback, none was more pronounced for me than the rock quartet from Santa Barbara. One of my favorite bands of all time returned to the fold in 2013 with their first effort in 16 years. This is the third entry from them on my 2014 list, after having one on last year's, showing how strong a comeback it was. Not quite as good top to bottom as their 90's work, but that was a mighty high bar they set back then. This was another one that wasn't an official release, but it's far and away the best track on the album, so here it is.

5. Break Out - Scott Stapp
Such an upbeat and positive rock song...saying hello to a new'll never stop me...don't even try. Sounds like a great message. I wish Stapp was actually living his lyrics. Unfortunately, the only exposure the singer's gotten lately has not been for his incredible music, but for his strange mental and emotional behavior. Clearly on a downward spiral and still fighting demons from the past, Stapp recently completed a stint in rehab. Here's hoping he can get back to fulfilling the new start he sings about on the phenomenal "Break Out."

4. Two - Dan Wilson
In my opinion, the best track from Wilson's second solo album.

3. Museum of Broken Relationships - Veruca Salt
The lead single on 2014's Record Store Day promo EP...a blast of rock from Nina Gordon and Louise Post...not heard from together since the late 90's. Can't wait for the full-length album.

2. Try - Colbie Caillat
A totally unexpected selection for my number 2 song...I actually spent a bit of time debating which of my Top 3 tracks should be number one. I've sort of liked a couple of past singles from Caillat, but I think this is far and away her best. I wish this had been a much bigger radio success, as I think the track actually contains a very important message for young women. I'm not typically one who looks for "message" songs, but with all the self-confidence and self-esteem issues facing girls today, usually only exacerbated by media messages, I thought this was a welcome departure. The video concept was unique as well. Kudos to Colbie.

1. The Only One - Scott Stapp
Another uplifting lyric from the Creed rocker. Another great rock song. "Even when you feel so low like you might let go. I will be the first hand reaching out. I will be the last one giving up on you." I hope there are several someones reaching out to Stapp so he doesn't end up going the way of Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley, and so that we'll be able to enjoy future solo and Creed output in the moving forward.

Top 40 of 2014 by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 10 Worst Songs of 2014

"HONORABLE" MENTION: Anything involving Iggy Azalea. Iggy, you have a bangin' body, but you need to stop rapping...immediately.

10. Happy - Pharrell Williams
This is my number 10 because, all in all, it's not really a terrible song. It's just so god damn annoying.

9. Trumpets - Jason DeRulo
Another one that is not completely awful, but ironically enough, it's the titular trumpets that make it so irritating to listen to...along with the playschool-style xylophone sound effects.

8. Let It Go - Adele Nazeem
The original title for this composition was, "Nails on a Chalkboard," but the folks at Disney didn't think that would work well with the marketing scheme for Frozen. I'm honestly not even that impressed with Nazeem as a singer. I know she's an accomplished Broadway performer, but having a STRONG voice, doesn't automatically make you a great singer, and I'm not blown away by her.

7. Am I Wrong - Nico & Vinz
Yes, you're wrong. Very wrong. One of the most listened to tracks around the world. Why?

6. Rude - Magic
Maybe the reason that the father in the lyrics didn't want you to marry his daughter is because your song sucks. Ha ha. I could live without ever hearing this one again.

5. Stolen Dance - Milky Chance
Another worldwide smash that I just don't get. Besides having the most annoying song title vs. artist name rhyming scheme, this one just bores my ears. Totally bland.

4. Bang Bang - Jessie J. featuring Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj
Jessie J. had a couple of listenable pop tunes a few years back, and Ariana Grande is certainly a really good singer, although her music does pretty much nothing to showcase those skills. I have no real opinion of Minaj, other than that she seems to be a little odd. Jessie J. was so obviously just trying to write a hit single here...and she succeeded. Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily make it good, which it isn't.

3. All of Me - John Legend
I really thought John Legend was over several years ago. While women across the world were swooning to this song, I was vomiting in my mouth a little every time it came on the radio.

2. Spark the Fire - Gwen Stefani
Gwen burst onto the music scene in the mid-90's with No Doubt's "Just a Girl." That proved to be the last song of hers that I could stand listening to. This latest offering is just a joke. Gwen, please go fade off into the sunset with all of your money.

1. All About That Bass - Meghan Trainor
While I can appreciate the message about body image that Trainor is trying to convey here, I can't appreciate what happens to my ears when this comes on the radio. It is a truly abominable song, and I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would want to listen to this mess. Absolutely an easy pick for number 1. I knew this was the worst song of the year after hearing about 30 seconds of it for the first time. One of my least favorite radio hits of the 2000's so far.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

REVIEW: Gone Girl

One of the most popular and critically acclaimed novels in recent memory is adapted for the big screen by the author, given to prolific director, David Fincher, to helm, and finds the perfect leading man in Superman, Ben Affleck. Recipe for a great film, right?

I tend to take a contrarian view on all things pop culture. I don't do it on purpose. Sometimes I think my brain just works completely differently than everyone else's. Because I am often drawn to different books, music, tv shows, and films than the masses, I have earned a reputation of "not liking anything." In reality, I like a lot of's just usually different from what YOU like. This is again the case with "Gone Girl."

The novel certainly had its bright spots, particularly a chillingly cynical take on relationships. But, what started out relatively strong, collapsed into a ludicrous mess in the second half. So, when chatter started about the upcoming film, and the producers, the author, and everyone else involved in the project went out of their way to exclaim how the movie was going to be different from the book, I was intrigued. Maybe Gillian Flynn got some constructive feedback that led her to alter some of the weaker points of the novel. It's not often that an author writes the film adaptation for his or her own book, so I was curious how this would turn out. Maybe this could be one of those rare instances where the movie actually IS better than the book? Ha ha...joke's on me.

Different from the book? I felt like Flynn literally XEROXED the pages of her novel. There wasn't a single, solitary change. Not one different twist...barely a different word spoken in the entire film. In fact, amongst all the talk of Rosamund Pike being a lock for Best Actress, I seriously thought she was reading right off the pages of the book and they just digitally edited it out of the picture. If anyone deserves a nomination, it's Affleck. He was phenomenal. But once again, I see everything completely differently from everyone else. Pike's performance, to me, was one of the most wooden I've seen in a long time. I REALLY felt like she was reading straight out of the book. The parts of the book that were the most boring (Amy's diary entries) were also the most boring here. The ending, being identical to that of the book's, was equally as inane. But, what makes me the maddest, is the transparent ploy by the filmmakers to draw people in to see the making the absurd claim that the movie's story would be different than that in the novel. What an epic load of horseshit. This was clearly a ruse to make sure that people who read the book would feel like there would still be something suspenseful about seeing the film. So many people loved the book, so why lie? Then people like me, who did NOT enjoy the book, would have saved their $12 and not gone to see the film. Was "Gone Girl" the worst book ever written? No. Was this the worst movie ever? No. But, the blatant dishonesty leads me to grade the film as if it were. I give it an F. For "Fucking Lie." I will never read anything by Gillian Flynn again, and I'll have to consider very strongly whether to ever see anything by Fincher again either. Affleck gets a pass due to his strong performance. What a waste.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Top 40 of 2013

For those of you who, not unlike Taylor Swift, were left with an empty feeling in the pit of your stomachs after seeing this year's Grammy Awards, I give you the full list of my 40 favorite songs from this past year. Feel free to sample and discover something new using the widget below or the clickable links for a few of the indie selections.

40. No More Hell to Pay - Stryper
39. Sky High Honey - Matt Nathanson
38. Royals - The Knox Sisters
37. You Don't Know Me - Lizzy Caplan (from "Masters of Sex")
36. Slow Suicide - Scott Stapp
35. Lookin' 4 Luv - Julian Lennon
34. Lego House - Ed Sheeran
33. Who I Am - J. Antonette
32. Here's To You - Catrien Maxwell
31. Further Away - Lissie

30. Applause - Lady Gaga
29. Pretty Please - J. Antonette
28. Heart Attack - Demi Lovato
27. Seven - Ed Kowalczyk
26. Love Won't Bring Us Down - Ed Roland & the Sweet Tea Project
25. Got it Wrong - The Wild Feathers
24. Still Into You - Paramore
23. Nothing Left But Tears - Buckcherry
22. Bad For Me - Megan & Liz
21. Roar - Olivia Wise

20. Bleeding From the Inside Out - Stryper
19. Sun - Belinda Carlisle
18. Mz. Hyde - Halestorm
17. Waiting for Superman - Daughtry
16. Home Again - Elton John
15. Shameless - Lissie
14. New Constellation - Toad the Wet Sprocket
13. Sirens - Pearl Jam
12. Broken Over You - Vertical Horizon
11. People Like Us - Kelly Clarkson

10. Holding on for Life - Broken Bells
9.   Too Late - Mike Ruocco
8.   Bonfire Heart - James Blunt
7.   My Bed - Dixie Maxwell
6.   Counting Stars - One Republic
5.   Love is a Country - The Wallflowers
4.   Hero - Family of the Year
3.   Because We Can - Bon Jovi
2.   Freak Like Me - Halestorm

1. Erase You - Catrien Maxwell

Top 40 of 2013 by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 10: Television Acting Performances of 2013

While I'm in list-making mode, I figured I'd tackle TV actors. These were my favorite television performances of the year. My apologies to fans of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, and whatever other shows I haven't made the time to watch. Even I can only waste so much time in front of the boob tube.

10. Andre Braugher - "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
Braugher was also good in the short-lived drama "Last Resort," but most of that fell in 2012. I don't think people typically pay as much attention to acting ability in comedies, but Braugher does a fantastic job of playing the straight-laced police chief to Andy Samberg's goofball detective. This entire show was a big surprise for me, as it wasn't originally on my list of new shows to watch.

9. (tie) Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen - "Masters of Sex"
I'm still not sure how interested I am in continuing to watch this series about sex research pioneers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. I'm also not sure about how much of the content is based on actual events, and how much is thrown in for entertainment value. What I do know, is Sheen and Caplan have an undeniable chemistry as Masters & Johnson, and they absolutely nail the versions of those real-life people that the writers are intending to present.

7. Mandy Patinkin - "Homeland"
For me, Patinkin has been the anchor of this less-than-stellar show from the beginning. I know most people would choose either Claire Danes or Damian Lewis for that honor, but as usual, I beg to differ. I probably won't come back for Season 4, as I think they really went off the deep end with the most recent storyline. But I think Patinkin proved he's one of the best actors on TV in his turn as CIA operative and then director, Saul Berenson.

6. Josh Charles - "The Good Wife"
As has been noted in several media write-ups, it's quite rare for a television series to undergo as extreme a rejuvenation so deep into its run as "Wife" has in the first half of its fifth season. After a strong first couple of seasons, 3 and 4 for me were really starting to drag. Most boring of all was the cliche "will they or won't they" extra-marital tango between Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick and Josh Charles' Will Gardner. Then they did, and I still didn't care. The writers also started to squander a really strong supporting actress in Archie Panjabi's portrayal of law firm investigator, Kalinda Sharma. Now, suddenly, Margulies' and Matt Czuchry's characters break away from their law firm to start their own, and all hell breaks loose. Finally, the dramatic tension is back, and leading the charge, in my estimation, is Charles' fiery performance as name partner, Gardner. The utter betrayal he conveys on screen once Gardner and Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart uncover Alicia's scheme to take many of the firm's major clients on her way out the door, is pitch-perfect. Gardner isn't just out for revenge. He's out to single-handedly DESTROY the new firm. This is high quality stuff.

5. Tate Donovan - "Deception" and "Hostages"
Donovan is one of those guys you know you've seen in stuff, but probably don't know him by name. He's been doing movies and TV since the mid-80's, but it's only with his featured roles on a few television series over the past several years, that I took note of his talent. He was great in the first couple of seasons of the Glenn Close-led drama, "Damages." This year, he's been been outstanding in two different shows. Unfortunately, the performance that really stood out for me was as a brother of a young woman who was murdered, the crime at the center of the storyline for the only season of NBC drama, "Deception." This show deserved a longer run. I came close to including Victor Garber from that show on this list as well. I think Donovan was really the standout there, though. He has a smaller, but still pivotal role, as the father of the family who are the titular "Hostages" in another series that will likely only last one season. I'll be looking forward to seeing what Donovan does next. Hopefully, it will last longer.

4. Chi McBride - "Golden Boy"
Won't go into too much detail here as you can read more about this performance at #8 on my Top 25 One-Season TV Shows of All-Time post. Another example of a supporting performance that really carried a storyline to a higher level.

3. Peter Sarsgaard - "The Killing"
Like Tate Donovan, Sarsgaard is another one of those "I know I've seen that guy before" actors. Believe me when I say, I will now know him by name. His performance as death-row (and most likely innocent) inmate, Ray Seward, in season 3 of AMC's "The Killing," was a career-defining one. The show has, from the beginning, struggled to find its way, leading to it being cancelled and brought back not once, but twice. I'm glad it came back the first time, if for nothing else, than to enjoy this electrifying turn by Sarsgaard. Mireille Enos' Detective Linden was responsible for getting Seward convicted some years ago, but now finds similarities in a current case involving murdered teenage runaways that lead her to believe that Seward did not, in fact, kill the mother of his now 10-year-old son, Adrian. The story arc surrounding Seward gets somewhat lost as a secondary plot to the case involving the runaways, but I feel like Sarsgaard was the one who elevated the entire season to a level to which it would not have come close without him. Nowhere was this more evident than in the third to last episode, "Six Minutes." A brutally emotional back and forth, featuring Linden's last minute attempts to exonerate Seward, as he is scheduled to be hung shortly. Seward is a man torn apart by simultaneously believing he was innocent of this particular crime, but guilty of so many other things, including miserably failing his son. In what was an otherwise flawed season of an otherwise flawed show, this was one of the most compelling hours of dramatic television I've seen.

2. James Spader - "The Blacklist"
Here's a guy who came to fame in 80's flicks like "Pretty in Pink" and "Sex, Lies & Videotape." Not exactly roles that would earn consideration as an amazing actor, but he was certainly known. Then, it seems, he ended up doing nothing of any real consequence throughout the entire 1990's. Suddenly, he pops up as ethically-challenged attorney, Alan Shore, to revive "The Practice" for its final season in 2003-2004, which led to multiple Emmy Awards, for both that performance, and for portraying the same character on spinoff, "Boston Legal." Although, I believe that David Kelley and his team squandered the chance to develop a complex and intriguing character, by turning "Legal" into farcical satire, rather than straightforward drama, it still became crystal clear, that Spader's talents were at a level not previously evident. Now, he's back as a former government agent-turned most wanted fugitive-turned FBI informant in "The Blacklist." This was a stroke of casting genius, as Spader outshines everyone else on the screen, but at the same time, appears to enhance their performances as well. As with most of the other examples on my list, "The Blacklist" would most likely be a much lesser show without Spader. He deserves the upcoming Golden Globe for which he's nominated, although the Screen Actors Guild members were apparently watching TV with blindfolds on this season, as he was mystifyingly snubbed there.

1. Tatiana Maslany - "Orphan Black"
If you're saying "who?" you're apparently not alone. This sci-fi human cloning saga has been relegated to BBC America, which undoubtedly has limited its exposure in this country. It's actually a Canadian series, featuring Maslany, a Canadian, in the lead. Scratch that...make that the SEVEN leads. Throughout the first season, Maslany had to, at various times, get into character as seven separate clones, including four central characters that appeared in the majority of the episodes. So, on sheer level of difficulty, I'm selecting her for my #1. A Canadian playing a British, street-tough, single mother, a Canadian soccer mom, a Ukrainian nutjob assassin, and an American PhD student in easy task. There were times where the accents started to blend together, but overall, it was a masterful job. One has to wonder what Emmy voters were thinking when they failed to even NOMINATE Maslany for lead actress this past September. She is up for a Golden Globe, where I expect her to lose to Julianna Margulies. Unfortunately, "Orphan Black" is, like so many other cable series nowadays, being produced in limited-episode groupings, which require that you wait nearly a year between seasons. I don't think I'm going to care enough to return to this one when it picks up in April.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Top 25 One-Season TV Shows of All-Time

Since I'm always railing about how so many of the new TV shows I choose to start watching end up being short-lived, I figured it was high time I compile a list of my favorite shows that never made it past their initial season. Let it be said, that if you peruse professional write-ups on this topic, there are three titles that continuously pop up...Joss Whedon's sci-fi adventure, "Firefly," Claire Danes' debut project, "My So-Called Life," and the early-career Judd Apatow offering, "Freaks and Geeks." I never watched "Firefly" and only caught a handful of episodes of "Geeks." I did watch all 19 episodes of "...Life," and while I found it somewhat engaging, it didn't make my list.

Not all the entries were amazing shows. They were each memorable to me in some way, though. Many of them, it seems, had some kind of sci-fi it aliens, time travel, or whatnot. And the vast majority aired within the past 7-8 years or so...a fact that is owed mostly to the advent of one of my favorite inventions, the DVR. Why did these shows only last one season if they were so good? Conflict and turnover amongst the production staff, shoddy promotion by the networks, misguided airing schedules featuring long hiatuses between episodes, or simply lack of mass appeal, would seem to be the frequent culprits. So now, the list...

Honorable Mention: Push, Nevada (2002) - I may be one of the only people to ever have watched this. This ABC series about an FBI agent who visits the fictional small town of the title, trying to track a missing $1,000,000, was slightly ahead of its time. The gimmick of the show was that there were clues dropped each night that allowed the audience to participate in "finding" the loot. Visiting special Web sites was involved, and in the end, the winner actually won a million bucks. If this show had come out now, during the height of the social media craze, I'm sure it would have caught on much quicker. Alas, only 6 episodes were ever aired. In fact, the network had to simply reveal the remainder of the clues just so they could make good on the prize. This one didn't officially make my list, if only because I don't remember too much about how much I actually liked it. But I wanted to include it for being innovative...just a few years before it would have been cool.

25. Happy Town (2010) - Another ABC misfire...the network promoted this heavily in teaser ads, only to launch it in April, when it was guaranteed no one would watch. Should've just waited until the beginning of the '11-'12 season, in my estimation. Another mysterious small town...this one having enjoyed a 5-year respite after a past rash of child facing its first crime in a while. It had a mystical, Stephen King-like feel to it. Some good performances by Steven Weber, Sam Neill, and some other largely unknown players. I was disappointed this one only lasted 8 episodes.

24. Zero Hour (2013) - Hello again, ABC! I'm sure many of you remember the promos for this Anthony Edwards vehicle. It looked sooooo good. Then came the first two episodes...probably some of the worst television I'd seen in a while. Very disappointing. But then something funny happened. The show was yanked after the third installment, but the network did air the remaining episodes...and the show got a lot better. I think this one actually would have worked fairly well as a one-season effort, but of course the cohesiveness of the story tailed off a bit toward the end of the run because it wasn't CONCEIVED as a one-season program. Anyway, I got some enjoyment from it while it was around.

23. 666 Park Avenue (2012-2013) - I swear I didn't plan it this way, but this is the fourth straight ABC offering I'm mentioning. Also from this most recent season, this one was headed up by "Lost" alumnus, Terry O'Quinn. And let's just say, the guy can do subtle evil like few other actors. It's unreal to think how little success the "Lost" crew has had since the end of that landmark series. Only Michael Emerson ("Person of Interest") and Daniel Dae Kim ("Hawaii Five-O") have managed bona fide hits with their successive projects. This one was set in an eerie NYC apartment building...owned by a billionaire mogul played by O'Quinn, whose character was known by the audience to be either the devil, or at least one of his high-ranking soldiers. Would have been interesting to see where they went with this. They did manage to wrap it up, but again, the "we're gonna end it just to say we ended it"-type endings never prove very satisfying.

22. Mad Love (2011) - Finally, CBS adds to the futility. This was a rom-com type sitcom...basically "Friends" with four people instead of six. Those four people happened to be pretty endearing, in my mind. "American Pie" star, Jason Biggs and the very likable Sarah Chalke (ex-"Roseanne" and "Scrubs) were the leads, with Judy Greer and Tyler Labine providing lots of funny moments as the two friends who supposedly couldn't stand each other, but you knew would end up together if the series had gone on. Unfortunately, it didn't. Only 11 episodes were aired.

21. Alien Nation (1989-1990) - A spin-off of a very good 80's invasion movie, the TV series was a little more lighthearted, although it did a good job of exploring the racism that was perpetrated on the "newcomers." A different twist on the whole alien genre. No notable actors in the television version, but I think it deserved a longer life. Unfortunately, it aired during the early days of the FOX network, and the broadcaster's financial difficulties led to the untimely demise. It did, however, live on in five TV movies aired throughout the 90's. I can't say I recall much about them though.

20. Canterbury's Law (2008) - Before "The Good Wife," there was "Canterbury's Law" on FOX; the show about a lawyer, starring Julianna Margulies. Where TGW is more of an ensemble cast with many strong and known actors other than Margulies, she was definitely the central anchor of her previous series. I thought it had an intriguing backstory, with Elizabeth Canterbury dealing with inner demons resulting from the disappearance (on her watch) of her young son. That certainly would have been a continuous thread to explore, had the series lasted. It apparently wasn't meant to be, as the show fell victim to poor ratings and poor timing (the Writer's Strike shut down production after only 6 episodes).

19. The Chicago Code (2011) - Another FOX entry, "Code" focused on Chicago's first female police superintendent, played with a tough-as-nails grit by "Flashdance" hottie, Jennifer Beals, still looking great at age 47. The interaction between Beals and Delroy Lindo, playing a corrupt and powerful local politician, made this a must-watch for me. Sorry to say, not for many others. 13 episodes aired.

18. Rubicon (2010) - The only cable offering on my list, "Rubicon" had a 13-episode run on AMC. James Badge Dale, probably best remembered for playing Kim Bauer's boyfriend, Chase on "24," starred as an analyst for a small intelligence organization based in NYC. While working on matters involving foreign terrorism and the like, Dale's character discovers that there is a secret agenda being executed by some high up in the agency. It was a fast-paced thriller that kept my attention and was at times, difficult to follow. But it was definitely engaging. It's shows like this that probably would have been even better if they had been intentionally designed as, say, a two-season production.

17. Journeyman (2007) - Kevin McKidd went on to enjoy better exposure on "Grey's Anatomy," but first, he was the lead in this short-lived time travel series. He played a newspaper reporter who suddenly started jumping back in time, apparently to be able to save various people from certain situations. It doesn't sound too enthralling, I know, and apparently, it wasn't for the majority of viewers. I enjoyed the 13 installments that made it to my TV, though.

16. Awake (2012) - This is where things really start to get interesting for me. I think this entry on my list signifies a clear jump in quality from the lower portion. Like "Journeyman," this was an NBC production. I really felt this series benefited from an original concept, and strong performances. British actor, Jason Isaacs, probably best known as Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter films, starred as a police detective who suffers through a horrific car accident with his family. The lingering effects of the crash leave the character suspended in dual realities; one in which his wife died, and the other in which that fate befell his son. It's never completely apparent if he's dreaming one or the other, both, or perhaps is dead himself. It was a head trip of a show. As with several shows on this list, 13 seems to have been the unlucky number of episodes.

15. Reunion (2005-2006) - One of a group of six high school friends is murdered on the night of their 20th reunion. This FOX show chronicles one year in the friends' lives in each episode, starting back at their graduation, and also flashes to the present day investigation surrounding the crime. Only 9 episodes ever aired here, leaving the mystery unresolved for the U.S. audience. Apparently, the remaining 4 episodes were shown abroad. It would have been curious how they would have carried the story past the debut season, but I thought it started out strong. The cast members went on to work on other hit shows like "Brothers and Sisters (Dave Annable, who was a lead in another show on my list - "666 Park Avenue"), and "Grey's Anatomy (Chyler Leigh).

14. V (1984-1985) - It's kind of unbelievable that there were, not one, but two epic failures in trying to adapt a regular TV series from the two preceding sci-fi miniseries ("V: The Original" and "V: The Final Battle"), considering those initial outings enjoyed some of the biggest viewership numbers in television history. NBC's first attempt came right on the heels of "Final Battle," but just couldn't capitalize while the iron was hot. The oldest entry on my list, it was ridiculously expensive to produce, effectively ignored the events of the miniseries, and was also criticized for cheesy production tactics, despite its hefty price tag. I enjoyed the continuing saga of the Visitors, though, and was also starting to like the 2009-2011 reboot even more, when that one collapsed under the weight of behind the scenes tumult and sagging ratings. I didn't include the latter on this list, because it actually lasted into a second season. I really wish they would have gotten one of these two series right.

13. Deception (2013) - This was an incredibly acted and well-written series, centering around the apparent murder of a wealthy young woman, staged to look like a drug overdose. It's a classic whodunit, shifting focus from one family member to another, along with various peripheral characters entering the suspect pool as well. It was never heavily promoted by NBC, and just couldn't survive amongst all the reality shows and talent competitions. Victor Garber and Tate Donovan (currently appearing on "Hostages" - probably also doomed to end up on this list eventually) gave especially transfixing performances.

12. Kidnapped (2006-2007) - The first of three entries from what was, for me, a hugely disappointing '06-'07 television season, in terms of seeing quality shows meet untimely demises. Luckily, this particular show managed to bring everything to a somewhat satisfying conclusion within the 13 episodes that were produced. They didn't all air, however, forcing me to do something I never do - purchase a TV series on DVD. I had to see this one through, though. It's now available to view for free, in its entirety, on the site It's owned by SONY, so yes, it's a legal streaming site. I highly recommend that you partake. Jeremy Sisto, wasted on the vastly inferior current series, "Suburgatory," gave a masterful performance here, as did Timothy Hutton, Delroy Lindo (also appearing at number 19 on my list), and a host of other talented actors (including my first exposure to the beautiful Olivia Thirlby). Really wish this would have continued for at least a full 22-episode season.

11. FlashForward (2009-2010) - Ah, the "Lost" curse rears its ugly head again. First, we saw Terry O'Quinn appear at number 23, and Elizabeth Mitchell just narrowly escape inclusion by the "V" reboot managing to last into Season 2. Here, we find Sonya Walger (the former show's Penny), and Dominic Monaghan (Charlie, who suffered one of the most dramatic TV deaths ever) working together again. Everyone on Earth blacks out simultaneously for just over two minutes, causing mass chaos. During this event, everyone catches a glimpse of their lives at a juncture just over 6 months in the future, the titular FlashForward. The FBI investigates, using their own visions to piece the mystery together. It was a unique and well-executed, high-concept series, that did not deserve the fate it met.

10. Invasion (2005-2006) - Strange, water-inhabiting alien creatures appear and start taking over the bodies of local citizens. A great cast, including William Fichtner and Tyler Labine (who appeared at #22 on this list), great writing, and a captivating story arc kept me glued to ABC on Wednesday nights for 10 months. The show was created, executive produced, and co-written by Shaun Cassidy, brother and son of Partridge Family alumni David Cassidy and Shirley Jones, respectively.

9. Terra Nova (2011) - This FOX time travel epic was probably one of the most cataclysmic flops in television series history, given the level of hype that started during the '10-'11 season. Anytime Steven Spielberg attaches his name to a project, the expectations are going to be high, but here you also had Jon Cassar and Brannon Braga, who brought you the long-running hit, "24," and Alex Graves, who had worked on shows like "The West Wing" and "Fringe." A great pedigree for sure. But you could tell it was doomed before it started, when it was initially slated for a May '11 premiere and had to be pushed back to Fall due to production delays. The ratings ended up being not that terrible, but that was not enough to cut it for such an expensive venture. I always get a kick out of seeing how writers handle time travel stories, but this show didn't suffer from the usual paradox issues (if a character does such and such in the past, wouldn't that change this and that, etc.), because everyone basically was blasted back to prehistoric times where the only lives that could be affected were those of the dinosaurs. It did suffer from what I thought were unusually cheesy production and special effects, considering how much money was spent. But I found the story captivating...basically people of future Earth going back in time for a do-over, escaping the over-population and environmental problems of their time. All spearheaded by the mean guy from "Avatar" (Stephen Lang). A waste of a great idea, for which the bar was set way too high.

8. Golden Boy (2013) - While I feel like I was the only person who ever heard of this show, much less watched it, the ratings were actually not that bad for this series about an upstart homicide detective who ends up becoming NYC's youngest police commissioner. But, the numbers couldn't live up to the watermark set by other CBS procedurals like the "CSI" and "NCIS" shows. Here, each episode has Detective Walter Clark and his partner, Don Owen, tackling tough cases and battling combative co-workers and city-wide corruption. We also see flash forwards to Clark's time as commissioner, revealing troubling details about how he got there. The real standout for me was Chi McBride as Owen. His character had been towing the company line for years, never getting his well-earned promotion, but inching towards retirement with grace. McBride really exuded the toll that it took on Owen, and the urgency with which he tried to impart his career lessons on the inexperienced Clark. An amazing performance that I feel carried the show. Not far enough, apparently. Lead actor, Theo James, appears destined for stardom, however, about to hit the limelight in the film adaptation of the massive hit novel, "Divergent."

7. The Event (2010-2011) - The series opens with a mysterious kidnapping and a plane disappearing as it's being aimed like a missile towards a gathering where the President is speaking. We go on to learn that the President was about to reveal that he recently discovered the US had been detaining a group of alien visitors in a secluded camp in Alaska ever since they had crash landed there during WWII. Others had escaped to infiltrate American society. Later in the season, we learn that the "Event" of the title refers to the transporting of the aliens' home planet into our solar system so the remainder of their kind can join them in taking over Earth, as their planet is soon to be rendered uninhabitable. A sterling cast, featuring Jason Ritter (son of John), Laura Innes (ex-"ER"), Blair Underwood as the President, and Zeljko Ivanek (ex-"Damages") made this, for me, appointment television (well, appointment with my DVR recording, anyway). It was promoted pretty well. I have no idea why this one flopped. Unfortunately, it's not Ritter's last appearance on this list, and Blair Underwood just had an even harsher fate befall his most recent outing, "Ironside," which was canned after only a couple episodes (and based on having seen the pilot, it was the right decision). This show went out with a great cliffhanger, one never to be resolved.

6. The Firm (2012) - After "The Event," NBC follows up with this continuation of the story told in the 1993 Tom Cruise hit film of the same name, itself adapted from the John Grisham novel. It could have been called "The Disaster." It started with the lowest-rated regular season debut for any dramatic television show in NBC's history, and continued as one of the worst series flops ever on any network. The incomprehensible part for me is, the show was awesome. Picking up where Tom Cruise left off can't be easy, but Josh Lucas was such a likable and compelling Mitch McDeere...he drove all the action, and there was a lot of it, with ease. A strong supporting cast included Callum Keith Rennie and Juliette Lewis as great comic relief. Is my taste in television really so bad that I saw this one so differently from everyone else? At least they aired a full season of episodes due to some cockeyed financing arrangement.

5. John Doe (2002-2003) - Before hitting it big in "Prison Break," Dominic Purcell was FOX's "John Doe" for one intriguing season. A man wakes up on an island off the coast of Seattle, with no clothes and no memory of who he is...but he seems to know everything about everything else on Earth. While he helps the Seattle police solve crimes, he's also searching for answers about his own life. I don't remember many details about this show, other than it made for great television. The season ended on a cliffhanger, but if the alleged intended story the producers had in mind is accurate, maybe it's better they quit while they were behind. Supposedly, Doe acquired all his knowledge after a near-fatal boating accident, after which he (or his soul or whatever) traveled out of body to a spiritual plane where all of the universe's questions are answered. Just no.

4. The Unusuals (2009) - Ten incredible episodes. That's all we got. I guess some things aren't meant to be. If this show had been a bigger hit, Jeremy Renner may not have become the huge movie star that he is now. Since nominated twice for Oscars ("The Hurt Locker" and "The Town"), and appearing in several Hollywood blockbusters, Renner has been a true late bloomer in the industry. But here, he appeared as a homicide detective alongside other stellar performances by Amber Tamblyn as his partner, and Harold Perrineau (there's that "Lost" jinx again) and Adam Goldberg as another pair. The latter two were absolutely hilarious...I would have loved to see a spinoff movie focusing just on the two of them. The character development on this show was off the charts. I got the sense that the audience could have really cared about these guys if the series had lasted. Oh well.

3. Commander-in-Chief (2005-2006) - Geena Davis, an ingenious casting choice, rightfully won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actress for her role as the first woman President of the United States. Those were about the only good things that happened surrounding this series. In one of the biggest head scratchers of all time, ABC completely botched the launch of this show. It started out looking like a huge hit, but turmoil behind the scenes (creator Rod Lurie was ousted early in the season), and one of those ridiculous hiatuses that the networks always insist on these days, doomed this show to collapse. An incredible supporting cast, headed by Donald Sutherland and Harry Lennix (currently of "The Blacklist") and great writing weren't enough. This would have been ten times better than "The West Wing" ever was.

2. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007) - Speaking of "The West Wing," how do you get a show created and written by one of the most revered TV and film writers of recent years, throw in Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Timothy Busfield, Steven Weber, Sarah Paulson, and many more talented actors, and manage to only last one season? So, there were actually TWO NBC shows about the production of a fictional sketch comedy show that debuted in this fateful season. One had all of the above, the other had Tracy Morgan. One was awesome, the other had Tracy Morgan. One was canceled after one season, the other had Tracy Morgan. One had higher ratings, the other had Tracy Morgan. I watched exactly one episode of "30 Rock" and it was a steaming it had Tracy Morgan. I will forever hold that show in contempt because it got picked up, whereas this indelible Aaron Sorkin-created series was unceremoniously dropped like a bad habit, again, despite having better ratings. "Studio 60" was funny, dramatic, heartwarming, engaging, name it. A stroke of mastery by everyone involved. The pedigree was so good, I'm stunned to this day that they couldn't make it work.

1. The Class (2006-2007) - As I indicated previously, the '06-'07 season was the most heartbreaking ever for me as a fan of great television. Three of my Top 12 shows on this list, including the #1 and #2 entries, were from that year. This slot, for me, represents the single biggest catastrophe in television history. Created by David Crane, the mastermind behind "Friends," one would have thought this show had the potential to be hilarious. One would have been right. "The Class" was the single funniest show I've ever watched, and one of only two sitcoms to appear on my list. Careers were launched here...particularly those of Jesse Tyler Ferguson (now Mitchell on "Modern Family"), Jon Bernthal (ex-Shane on "The Walking Dead" and starring in the upcoming "Mob City), and Lizzy Caplan ("Cloverfield" and "True Blood"). Eight elementary school classmates become friends again after Ethan (hi again, Jason Ritter) arranges for a reunion-type party to celebrate 20 years since meeting his which said fiancee promptly dumps him. That's how the series starts...and it only got crazily more funny from there. The chemistry amongst the characters was flawless (particularly Ritter and Caplan). Throw in some incredible supporting characters (the interaction between Ferguson's Richie Velch and his cold fish wife, played pitch perfectly by Sara Gilbert - and a standout performance by former Star Search champ, Sam Harris, as the overwhelmingly gay but married to a woman and defiantly identifying as straight, Perry Pearl)...and this was one CLASS act. CBS missed a big opportunity here as they simply refused to promote the show. No appearances by the cast on any talk show in existence, no press coverage whatsoever, and the most glaring - a teaser for practically every OTHER show on the network (including pile of crap, "The Ghost Whisperer") during that year's broadcast of the Grammy Awards. Yet no mention of "The Class" anywhere. A colossal failure on the part of the network, and a colossal disappointment for, the announcement of the cancellation happened to fall on my birthday...yay. Perhaps the most confounding aspect of the failure is that the show was pulled in favor of "Rules of Engagement," which astoundingly lasted for seven seasons. That's right...the talentless gnome known as David Spade now has TWO seven-year sitcoms under his belt, and "The Class" failed. Incomprehensible. You can still find many, if not all, of the episodes on Youtube...some guy posted them, splitting each episode into three parts. I strongly recommend you treat yourself.