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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Let Go

The title of this blog post refers to a couple of different ideas. One, it's the title of the song I'm featuring here...a beautiful ballad written and performed by Tyrone Wells, which I think serves as a moving tribute to any deceased person's memory. Two, it specifically speaks to what the folks of Newtown, CT will have to do as they move forward in the grieving process. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, it's a call to action for those among us who are holding steadfast to our political/ideological/social beliefs in the wake of a monumental's time to let go and at least consider that some form of change may be needed.

Please read...and listen.

Let Go by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

This is not a political diatribe. This is not a message from the left or the right. This is not a comment on ideals either Democrat or Republican. If you don't agree with what I say, that is fine...I could be wrong, and I freely admit that. This is simply the view from my small, insignificant hole in the world. We all see things through a tiny, narrow prism that defines our personal beliefs. None of those vantage points is exactly correct, nor exactly incorrect. We must corral all of those focused beliefs and re-evaluate how they add up. As an individual, each of us is practically powerless. As a society, we are not. We're smarter than this. We're stronger than this. And we are most definitely better than this. No ills of the world can ever be completely eradicated, but that doesn't mean that we should throw our hands up in the air and accept the status quo. That is a recipe for disaster. It should also be said that this editorial is not a specific response to the horrific violence that occurred in Connecticut last week. There are still various misconceptions about what happened, and many pieces of that puzzle still yet to be strung together. However, that incident should serve as a blaring wake-up call to all of us that change is needed. When 20 babies are snuffed out before their 7th and 8th birthdays, we must retroactively examine all the societal catastrophes that came before this.

So what should be done? I am not so self-involved as to believe that I alone have the definitive answers to that question. I do know that we can throw out the knee-jerk suggestions by both ideological sides:

"Ban all guns!"


"Arm everyone in America so they can defend themselves against those who would do them harm!"

These types of blanket solutions will accomplish nothing, and are completely unrealistic.

Some more reasonable suggestions are also floating out there:

Ban assault weapons

Enhance and enforce gun control policies

Pass more rigorous mental health legislation and provide more funding for related action

Enact more stringent guidelines for prohibiting violence in television, film, literature, and music

Furnish our schools with tighter security 

My personal opinions on each of these measures...

The main argument against banning assault weapons seems to be that it's been tried the mid-90's...and it failed to influence any decrease in violent crime, particularly deaths caused by those types of artillery. Apparently, our government is incapable of passing legislation without hundreds of associated loopholes. How about we examine WHY the ban failed, as opposed to just the fact that it did fail? How about our politicians start drafting legislation for the good of the people, as opposed to being for the purpose of furthering their own ideological and career-oriented agendas? If you're going to ban something, BAN it. Don't then say, "OK, except for this type of weapon, and that type, and that type...." There is no godly reason why an everyday civilian needs access to an assault rifle. If someone wants to keep a handgun locked safely away in their nightstand for personal protection, or a gun that's suitable for hunting game, then fine. There's not much we can do about that, and I think that's acceptable. Amassing a doomsday scenario-type high-powered arsenal is not.

With regards to other aspects of gun control...I'm sorry folks on the far right, but everyone in the country packing heat is not going to make us SAFER! I think some of these people are envisioning a scenario where someone like teacher, Victoria Soto, yanks her weapon from her desk, dives out into the school hallway like John McClane from Die Hard, and blows away Adam Lanza before he has a chance to take out any innocent bystanders. We simply cannot rely upon ordinary citizens to take the law into their own hands in these situations where a psychopath decides he's going to annihilate a public gathering of people. Even if that were a realistic expectation, in the meantime, the unintended consequences of us all having guns could end up being more dire than the isolated tragedies that mindset is ultimately designed to prevent. How many sons and daughters are going to accidentally find and fire their parents weapons? How many mentally unstable folks will continue to find access to high-capacity guns? How many of these well-intentioned citizens will fire and miss their desired target, injuring someone else instead? People point to the Constitution and the right to bear arms. Folks, I'm sorry, but this is a 230-year-old document. The founding fathers did not have our current society envisioned when they laid the foundation of this country. How could they have? Times have drastically changed, and we need to adapt accordingly.

Conversely, those on the far left are misguided if they think banning all guns is realistic. As we know from our past history, anytime we outlaw something completely - alcohol, abortion, etc. - the results are not what we had envisioned. There are always unintended consequences here as well. As many people have pointed out, those who want to do others harm will find a way to procure their weapons of choice, unless we focus on the specific aspects of our laws that allow this to happen.

So what's in between? We have made incredible advances in technology in almost every area of our lives. Why can't these advances be applied to weaponry? I work in the wireless industry, where everything is now focused on so-called  "smart" phones. The long-range vision in this field is that everything we touch in our daily lives is, sometime in the not too distant future, going to be wired into smart technology. Our shopping excursions, our household appliances, our cars, etc. will all be interconnected with our handheld devices and mobile apps. So, God damn it, why can't we make the guns smarter too? How about guns only being able to be activated via a registered fingerprint? How about the internal mechanisms being disabled when a perpetrator walks into a school, place of worship, airport, shopping mall, or anywhere else weapons don't belong? I mean, for the love of Christ, I need a f--king login name and password just to gain access to this BLOG...why on Earth don't you need one to operate a machine gun? If we can't prevent everyone from obtaining the weapons, maybe we can at least stop certain people from using them. I do think that there should be incredible lengths of red tape in place pertaining to the licensing and registration of guns. It should be difficult to legally obtain these items. Those of us who are stable and want to use them for innocuous purposes, will be somewhat inconvenienced, but in the end, they'll get what they want. Those who can't pass the rigorous background checks, age requirements (I think it should be 25+), mental health evaluations, etc., will be prevented from procuring weapons of any kind, and that's just the way it is (or should be). It may be a slippery slope in determining what the guidelines should be, but I'm sorry, this is an absolute necessity.

Regarding mental health, I personally can't envision what we can do in this arena, but again, I am no expert. However, I do think it's a debate that needs to be had so people more qualified than I CAN come up with some cogent solutions. How do we legislate better mental health? In many of these tragic incidents, there were not sufficient warning signs to suggest that the eventual perpetrators would become hysterically violent. But perhaps, in some instances, there will be ways to prevent the most hideous outcomes...for the good of the prospective victims, as well as the benefit of the disturbed individual.

Next, the debate on violent images and actions, as portrayed in pop culture, is one where my opinions probably diverge from those of many other people. This, again, is not to say that my way is the right way. I just don't see the correlation between listening to rap, or watching a Quentin Tarantino film, and someone walking into a school and shooting children. There's simply something else at work here. Why are 99.9% of us not so impressionable as to be driven to acts of unspeakable violence after having consumed these types of entertainment products? Is the "cause" in the cause and effect equation here the images of violence, or is it the lack of proper education, the broken homes, bad parenting, violence and abuse in the homes, inherent mental instability, and the like? Likewise, what would the actual benefits be from removing the aforementioned portrayals of violence? I am not convinced that there would be any measurable effect. That's not to say I am against having the discussion, but I think we need to keep our eyes open to the reality.

Lastly, school security. This is one area where I express my viewpoint with sincere regret. Unfortunately, I think it's come to the point where we need metal detectors, guards, etc. everywhere. This is not an ideal situation, but it's a necessity. The same way we hate being inconvenienced at the airport, in most instances (strip-searching Grandmas notwithstanding), this is done for our own safety. No, we don't want our kids to feel like they're going to school in a war zone, but if it keeps out the evildoers, so be it.

Just one more comment on something I briefly touched on I am generally not a political person, and I don't have many "pet" issues. But, if there is one thing I am incredulous about, it's the lack of attention we pay to the education crisis in this country. There is an associated lack of understanding (not just by politicians, but by the general public as well) of how education is the one segment of society that feeds into every single problem and nationwide concern. The economic struggles, political corruption, drugs and violence, mental health, even foreign policy issues...everything is affected by the quality of education. You cannot make an argument that it is not. So not only do we need to discuss issues like gun control (the symptom), we need to facilitate a revolution in the way we view our education structure (the disease). This needs to be done NOW. And I'm not talking about paying teachers more, or strengthening math and science curriculums (two misguided suggestions that are consistently floated around). Those are not solutions. I'm talking about a mass overhaul of the "one size fits all" and standardized testing approaches that we've been following for decades. Every child is different, and consequently has different educational needs.

In conclusion, I want to say that I am not a parent. I therefore don't have the same perspective that many of you have, following the devastation in Newtown. But I do have a baby nephew, and can't fathom him not being allowed to reach age 8. I can't fathom him not being able to go to high school and college, drive a car, get married, get a job, have kids of his own, etc. In providing service to one of my customers the other day, assisting her in adding a cell phone line to her account for her daughter, she lamented to me that she was 100% against giving her ten-year-old a cell phone. However, in her words, "...after this stupid shooting, I don't want to not have a way of staying connected with her throughout the day." As we spoke further about last week's events, I couldn't help but get a little emotional. Parents all over the world are now feeling that much more helpless in letting their young kids leave their side every day, and it shouldn't be this way. It can't be this way.

We need to be able to let go.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Top 15 Songs of 2012

I have to say that this has been the worst year ever in terms of my personal musical taste. Since I really started following pop/rock music in the mid-80's, 2012 would probably rank last in terms how many songs really struck my ear, and how many albums I would sit listening to beginning to end. With that having been said, it was relatively easy to come up with my Top 15 Songs of the Year...just sad that it was only 15. Here are the tracks that made this year in music somewhat listenable for me...

15. "45" by Gaslight Anthem - a good one to turn up loud while driving.

14. Domino by Jessie J - not a big fan of her other stuff...particularly the annoying "Party in the U.S.A.," which she penned for Miley Cyrus, but this was one of the catchier songs of the year

13. Silenced By the Night by Keane - these guys seem to have one or two great tracks on each album, and that's it. This is the one that stood out for me on their most recent effort.

12. This Moment Now by Tyrone Wells - discovered this amazing singer at the SXSW festival a few years back. He churned out two albums and an EP this year - and I must say, I don't think much of it stands up to his prior work, but this was one of the songs that captured my attention.

11. Days Go By by The Offspring - about 20 years in to their career, these guys are still churning out great rock songs. Not a bad feat.

10. I Miss the Misery by Halestorm - the one album of the year that blew me away, largely because Lzzy Hale is simply unrivaled as a singer in the world of hard rock right now...if there is still such a world. That's also why this is not their only appearance on my list.

9. Rise by Ed Kowalczyk - the former lead singer of the band LIVE continues to be one of the best songwriters out there. I was sad to see the band break up, and his solo stuff is not quite as good top to bottom as the group stuff was, but chances are, he'll end up on my year-end list every year he releases anything.

8. Burn it Down by Linkin Park - Linkin Park is what I would describe as a "Greatest Hits" act for me. I've pretty much liked every single they've ever released, but not much of the rest of their album material. And that's fine...a few great rock tunes on every album.

7. Love Bites (So Do I) by Halestorm - and here they are again. How appropriate that one of my favorite modern bands tips their caps to my favorite band of all-time, Def Leppard. This song has nothing to do with the Leps' only number one hit (that fact is unreal as it is), except that they are both awesome. By the way...I don't think I'd wanna mess with Lzzy.

6. Stars by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - I only discovered this song a couple of weeks the most unpredictable place: on "The Voice"! I don't normally watch these banal TV "talent" contests, but I happened to flip to this when nothing was on, and caught contestant Amanda Brown singing the hell out of this, which of course led me to look up the original. I dare say that Brown practically outdid Grace Potter, but the original definitely stuck with me. I can't really get into Potter's other stuff, so this will have to do. Also, it should be said that the next time I accidentally came across a performance on "The Voice," the results were entirely different - one of those dreaded group performances (which are always horrific) - this time a certified mauling of Journey's "Any Way You Want It." Yikes.

5. I Won't Give Up by Jason Mraz - this one surprised me. Mraz is always trying to do that rhythmic lyrical gymnastic thing like he did on his original hit, "Remedy" years ago. This one is just a simple love song. No frills...just a great melody. I'm sold.

4. Headlights by Morning Parade - I suspect this is the only song I'll ever like from these guys. A real standout track on an otherwise forgettable album.

3. Everybody Talks by Neon Trees - as soon as this came out, I declared it the catchiest song of the year, and I think that has held up through the end of 2012. As with many of the songs on this list, it was the only track on their album that did anything for me. I guess the pressure on artists to put out a "hook"-y single is alive and well...and apparently it works in a lot of cases. 


Wait, did I forget number TWO?

For the first time in the celebrated history of my blog, I could not make a decision between my top two songs. Yes, there is, in fact, a TIE!! I know, I know. You're all jumping out of your seats in disbelief. But it has happened. What can I say...the ladies ruled this year. And two ladies with incredible voices at that. Not shocking, but one of these artists put out my favorite album of 2011, and the other released my favorite album of 2012. So it's only fitting that they share the crown this year. So read on to find out who they are, and sample almost all of the songs from the list in the widget below if you'd like to decide for yourselves just how crappy my taste in music is :-) Thanks for reading...

1. (TIE) Here's to Us by Halestorm/Dark Side by Kelly Clarkson 

"Here's to Us" is one of those songs that you could imagine singing along to with a bunch of strangers in a bar (think: "Closing Time" by Semisonic)...if you were a character in a cheesy movie. Yes, these are not the deepest lyrics in the history of rock music, but sometimes an amazing vocalist, great melody, and cheerful sentiment is all you need. And Lzzy actually makes the word "Fuck" sound not dirty. One other incredible thing to note about this song - the cover of it done by the cast of the show "Glee" marked the only instance I have ever heard where the FOX TV characters didn't completely destroy the track they chose to remake. It was actually a serviceable (yet nowhere near the original) version

The title track to Kelly Clarkson's fifth studio album, "Stronger," was, remarkably, the biggest hit of her career. Almost as remarkably, the next single, "Dark Side," fell with a thud, as it missed even making the Billboard Top 40. Following suit with my track record of going against the grain of popular opinion - even when involving a multi-million album selling artist - I had pegged this as my favorite track on the album as soon as I listened to it the first time. This is saying something, considering how much I like the entire CD. That's OK...I continue to like Kelly's dark side, and every other side of her as well. 

    Top 15 of 2012 by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark