Like a carpenter who makes stairs

The rise and fall of The Office

The Office hasn't been as good the last couple seasons, but its prolonged run has undeniably changed television.

The Office hasn’t been as good the last couple seasons, but its prolonged run has undeniably changed television.

The cynics among us would probably say The Office was over as soon as Michael Scott shed his microphone, uttered a final, muted “that’s what she said” and boarded a flight to Colorado and left Dunder Mifflin for good. They might say that although we didn’t know it at the time, The Office needed Michael Scott. Bringing Will Ferrell in as a short-lived replacement was only the writing on the wall, bringing in James Spader was the nail in the coffin: there would be no one who could tread that line between painfully awkward and painfully funny as well as Steve Carrell did as Michael Scott.

The ninth and final season of The Office just wrapped up shooting. It’s hard to remember a time when The Office wasn’t on, and although the last two seasons have been lackluster, The Office will be remembered as one of the best sitcoms of our generation and certainly one of the defining shows of the early 2000s.

Living the dream

Why Parks and Recreation is TV's best show

The Parks and Recreation department, shoved into a hybrid hatchback.

On April 9, 2009, after an episode of The Office, what was billed by the press as a spin-off show called Parks and Recreation launched.

Parks and Recreation didn’t start as humbly as The Office, which was in the middle of its best arc of its fifth season, and one of the best arcs in the entire show. Earlier that year, The Office was featured by NBC after the Super Bowl, and was really as strong as it had ever been. And on April 9, an episode of The Office called “The Michael Scott Paper Company” provided as strong a lead-in as NBC could provide. Unlike The Office, the cast and crew weren’t all no-names: not only was the show co-created by Greg Daniels, the creator and longtime showrunner of The Office, but the cast also featured SNL alumna Amy Poehler and Office alumna Rashida Jones. And at 9:30 PM, after The Office ended, Parks and Recreation debuted…in a sandbox.

It’s been all uphill from there.

Amusement in retail

Despite my best efforts, the Conficker.c worm is set to do something tomorrow. No one really knows what, for sure, but since such a large number of computers are rumored to be infected already (between five and ten million, if CNN is to be believed), the mass media such as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have taken notice.

With such a large portion of the computing population threatened, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear my local radio station, WTAM, interviewing an expert on the subject on this morning’s Wills and Snyder show. I was surprised, however, to hear who the “expert” worked for:


I haven’t really mentioned Geek Squad in this blog yet, but those of you who talk to me in person probably know my feelings on this organization.

To put it bluntly, portraying Geek Squad as an expert on anything computer-related would be just about as believable as Michael Scott being called to CTU to replace Jack Bauer (since Jack is indisposed, currently).

The fact that Geek Squad exists isn’t really avoidable – it’s a market that really had no competition (at least on that level – you might have your neighborhood computer guy, or you might have your nationwide tech support company for hardware issues or Windows or other software, but nothing that’s all-encompassing) when Best Buy entered it, so it made a lot of business sense for Best Buy to do so. Why WTAM had them on the air, though, is beyond me. Surely they could have found someone from Microsoft’s local headquarters to talk about it for a few minutes. Surely they could have gotten a professor from CSU or a professor from Case to talk about it. Surely they could have gone down to their own IT department and brought that guy up to talk about it.

Instead, someone from Geek Squad showed up. Now to be fair, the guy wasn’t completely incompetent. He recommended patching your computer, using anti-virus software and using a firewall. Let me assure you: this is the best Geek Squad has to offer, and even if you see one person like this at your local Best Buy, the rest of the team is not like that.

I implore you: don’t go to Geek Squad for anything. They’ll cause more harm than good.

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies

I’ve been meaning to blog about some of these things for a while, but never really had enough for an entire entry. Therefore, it’s back to tidbits.

  • I’ve gotten really into Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares lately. Both are reality shows with Gordon Ramsay as the host/chef/boss, but while Hell’s Kitchen is a competition like Survivor, Kitchen Nightmares, if it were on ABC, would be called Extreme Makeover: Restaurant Edition. Two reasons I like these shows: a) restaurants are a fair industry (more on that in a minute) and b) Gordon Ramsay is hypnotizing, whether he’s yelling at a competitor on Hell’s Kitchen or pouring his passion into resurrecting dead restaurants. Ramsay’s philosophy goes along with what I said in a), and it’s pretty simple: restaurants that are successful are restaurants that do things the right way. Too many industries are rewarding to companies that cut corners to earn an extra buck or maybe break some rules to avoid hassle.

    The common theme with all restaurants featured in Kitchen Nightmares is that the food isn’t good, and the food isn’t good because the kitchen isn’t stocked with fresh food or isn’t clean, and those two things occur because the chefs or owners are trying to cut corners. Inevitably, in each episode, Ramsay gets in there, cleans up the kitchen and basically just revitalizes the menu with fresh ingredients and the rest takes care of itself.

    The same is true of competitors on Hell’s Kitchen: aspiring chefs who aren’t team-oriented are gone; chefs who can’t cook are gone; chefs who lack passion are gone. Ramsay has two shows on FOX, and he uses both of them to push his brand: pour your heart, soul, and mind into it.

  • The reason I’ve gotten caught up on both of these shows is thanks to a great new website: Hulu. Mark Cuban wrote about it in July, and now that networks are catching on, Hulu is taking off. It’s not just the fact that it’s a video site with actual TV shows: it’s the fact that Hulu is a well-designed, well-executed system. Each show you watch has some commercials (only thirty seconds each, for the most part, some less), but they’re unobtrusive (as in, they don’t create popups, they don’t cover the entire page (here’s looking at you, ESPN.com), and once they’re gone you’re left to your video. The video player is executed nicely too, with all the common controls and excellent quality, and it lets you skip around however you want without loading a new commercial each time (basically, if you try to skip a commercial break, you’ll see a commercial). And unlike YouTube’s main page, which feels cluttered and disorganized, Hulu’s main page is wonderfully designed and looks awesome.

    Just for fun, here’s the Super Bowl ad:

    (Of course. As I’m trying to rave about Hulu, the Super Bowl commercial wasn’t available from Hulu. +1, YouTube.)

  • The entire Indians team is now in Goodyear, AZ preparing for the 2009 Indians season. Many analysts agree with my prediction that the Indians will win the Central, albeit cautiously. Their reasons are that the Indians rotation, after Cliff Lee, is questionable.

    I’m looking for Fausto Carmona to bounce back and emerge as the true ace of the Indians staff. Cliff Lee had an amazing season last year, but I don’t see him repeating that this year (although it’d be nice if he did). Carmona’s stuff, if he’s on, is simply electric, and he’s not yet in his prime. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, has a good fastball and an above-average curveball, but he’s not going to throw that fastball by you, so he’s more of a control specialist.

    In any case, the Indians aren’t quite sure about the rest of the rotation. Carl Pavano is a huge question mark (although I have a feeling that he’ll be someone like Paul Byrd: he won’t pitch phenomenally, but he’ll get enough run support to win). Jeremy Sowers has quite a bit to prove, but he showed signs of improvement at the end of last season. Aaron Laffey showed what he could be last year and then ran out of gas; I’m looking for him to regain that form. And that’s not even thinking about Zach Jackson, Anthony Reyes, or Scott Lewis, who all pitched last year for the Tribe with varying degrees of success. Dave Huff is being mentioned too. And don’t forget that Jake Westbrook will be back hopefully in mid-season to give the rotation a boost.

    So sure, the Indians have some question marks in their rotation, but they also have some options. (The same goes for most of the team, actually.) And as fun as it is to speculate about these things, I can’t wait for the season to start so these questions can start getting answered.

  • Isn’t Feburary a sweeps month? Why are there no new episodes of Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother or The Office until the week of March 2?
  • Video of the day:


    Probably one of the better fan videos you’ll ever see. Absolutely awesome.

Hope all is well, wherever you’re reading this from, on a cold and snowy Thursday morning.

A head full of hopes…

Some tidbits from a cool Sunday evening in Cleveland, post-Feast of the Assumption edition.

  • Apple is screwing stuff up a lot lately. First was the well-documented MobileMe issues and now are the 3G coverage problems. Here’s the thing about Apple: they design sexy hardware and sexy user interfaces, but the underlying code and foundation is crap, especially at first. At any other software company, they teach you to design from the ground up (i.e. get the network issues fixed before worrying about MobileMe, and get MobileMe’s e-mail fixed before you worry about more services). At Apple, it’s backwards, and it screws them every time. Why do you Apple fanboys allow it?
  • TV shows I’m looking forward to this fall, in order: How I Met Your Mother, Heroes, 24 (counts, because there’s a prequel in November)… Monday Night FootballSeinfeld reruns (actually those should be higher)… and finally The Office. We’ll see if The Office is able to turn itself around, but I’m not hopeful. And I somehow forgot about House, which I’m a half-season behind on but love everytime I watch.
  • The Browns play the New York Giants in Monday Night Football (preseason edition) tomorrow night. A couple things to watch for:
    • Will Kellen Winslow play?
    • Will Derek Anderson complete two drives?
    • What kind of circus catch will Braylon Edwards make?

School’s starting up pretty soon, so I’ll be back on more of a regular schedule with the ol’ blog. Until then, have a good week and I’ll talk to you when I can!

Allergies

Spring is here! In my world, that means baseball is back, school is almost over (but not winding down) and the flowers are in bloom… which means my eyes are itching like crazy.

I’ve never had really intense allergies that require a perscription or anything like that; it’s more often than not just a minor annoyance for about two weeks while the pollen is really heavy. But seriously, why can’t I have allergies in the winter time? If things have to go bad, I might as well get it all out of the way at one time, right?

  • In computer world, particularly Linux world, the big news of this week is Ubuntu 8.04′s launch on Thursday. I’ve never really liked Ubuntu, as most of you who read this blog know, but it’s nice that it’s able to make Linux so easy for those who want to pose as computer nerds for a while or those who are too cheap to buy a copy of Windows and too lazy to pirate it. One thing Ubuntu has got going for it, however, is a lot of driver support – when I installed 7.10 on my laptop a few months ago, the wireless just worked, there was no fiddling with getting firmware, cutting it up and then wrapping the drivers with NDISWrapper.

    I’m using Fedora 8 (Werewolf…I know, Ubuntu’s codenames are much cooler) on my laptop and on my desktop. I’ll probably keep it on my desktop for a while as part of a dual boot system – Fedora does a great job at doing what it needs to do. On my laptop, however, I like it more and more every time I try it but at this point it still doesn’t quite have the polish that Windows XP has. (For example, for some reason when I move my mouse around in this textarea while editing this blog post, Firefox decides it needs to grab the icon of the Blogger favorites icon and insert the URL into the post. First of all, why would I ever want to do that? And secondly, where do I shut that off?) I like the prospect of using Linux exclusively on my laptop (primarily because instead of having to install bloatware like Dreamweaver and Acrobat Pro I can get much better software that doesn’t use as many resources), but I’m not quite there yet.

  • Today is Earth Day, meaning Google has their obligatory Earth Day logo and everyone else is all “save the Earth!”. Still not sure what the point of Earth Day is – sure, we can all respect the environment today, but tomorrow… I mean, we have to go to work, right?
  • The Indians play the Royals tonight, C.C. Sabathia vs. Gil Meche. Given these two starters’ ERA thus far, this is a pretty unfair matchup. But C.C. has to turn it around sometime, right? There may be no better time than tonight.

    In other Indians news, Jake Westbrook got put on the 15-day DL (I have no idea why, he seemed fine the other night), and Ben Francisco was recalled to the Major Leagues. If I were Eric Wedge, I’d start Francisco tonight and see what he does. The offense needs a spark, particularly in left field.

  • Quote of the Day:
    If life throws you a curveball, take it to right field.

    Rick Manning, color commentator, STO

On a final note, it’s nice to have The Office back, isn’t it? Looking forward to the rest of the season, even though its shorter than it’s supposed to be, because word is that NBC ordered 30 episodes for next fall. Until later, stay well and enjoy the weather!

And just like you, I’m wondering why…

I know, I know, I’m slacking in my non-baseball-related posts of late. The good news for you is that hopefully that means I’ll have quite a bit more to say than usual! (According to my calculations…)

  • …alright, so maybe there’s still some baseball stuff. But come on, we’re only a week into the season and there are some huge things happening already!
    • My favorite story thus far has been the Kansas City Royals, who are 6-2 and in the lead in the AL Central. This is a team that is perennially picked to finish last, and until a few years ago, with good reason. Lately though, the Royals are becoming less and less pathetic, and it’s my belief that if they were in the National League, they’d be a playoff team.

      And heck, they might be a playoff team this year. The 2008 Royals remind me very much of the 2004 Indians: young, inexperienced but quality pitching, a career DH who does nothing but hit (Indians: Travis Hafner, Royals: Billy Butler), and a budding franchise player who might blossom into one of the game’s all-time greats (Indians: Grady Sizemore, Royals: Alex Gordon).

    • I picked up Brian Bannister for my fantasy team a couple days ago; that kid looks like he’ll be good.

    • Another interesting story in the central is the surprisingly bad start by the Detroit Tigers. They started the year with the second highest payroll in the major leagues, and they won their first game yesterday.

      I’ve said all winter that good pitching will always beat good hitting; and if you don’t have good pitching, you better be outslugging your opponents all the time. The problem is, if your offense goes into a funk (like the Indians did last summer, like the White Sox did last year, like the Yankees did last year), and your pitching is bad (unlike the Indians, like the White Sox and Yankees of ’07), you’re not going to win many games. Not only that, but the Tigers opened the season against the aforementioned Kansas City and Chicago, both of whom are off to hot starts.

      I fully expect the Tigers to win a lot of games this year, but I don’t think they’ll get out of the first round of the playoffs.

    • Actually, a lot of teams predicted to do bad are off to great starts, including the Baltimore Orioles (who I expect to regress pretty soon) and the St. Louis Cardinals. I read a book last summer about Tony LaRussa, manager of the Cardinals, and I refuse to believe he’ll have a bad team. They may not win the division or make the playoffs (although anything is possible in the NL Central), but they’ll win some games.
    • The Red Sox and Yankees revive their rivalry tomorrow night at Fenway Park. Count me interested. It’s always fun to watch these teams play because their fans are so obnoxious and when two teams of obnoxious fans get together, hilarity ensues. Plus, they’re two great teams with two great offenses and watching them play will feel a lot like postseason baseball. Unfortunately it appears ESPN will be covering the Cavaliers and the Bulls tomorrow night.
    • The Indians have signed Fausto Carmona to a 7 year contract for up to $43 million, with $15 million and 4 years guaranteed. Fantastic move by the Indians, especially with C.C.’s free agency looming near. Carmona was dynamite last year and I have no reason to think he’ll be any worse this year. You might not find a cheaper Cy Young candidate in baseball.
  • And in non-baseball related news, The Office is back tonight! I have some theories about the rest of the season, which I might post tomorrow after they’re all proven wrong tonight. It’s really weird actually being excited to watch tonight, because I kind of got used to it not being on.
  • Has anyone visited MikeHuckabee.com recently?
  • I would write a quote of the day, but I can’t do this one justice by just writing it, so enjoy:

Hope everyone’s enjoying the weather, and enjoy The Office tonight!

I’ve seen a million faces…

Hello from the first floor of Kelvin Smith Library in the “heart of campus” of Case Western Reserve University! It’s sunny, about 40 degrees, and baseball season is less than 36 hours away from getting underway!

  • On that note, I was watching the Indians play their final exhibition game of the spring thanks to a free preview of MLB.tv (don’t get me started…):


    It was raining in Atlanta (actually, thunderstorming, which was kind of cool) so rather than risk injury to players they put the game on rain delay. Now, for those of you who don’t know, MLB.tv basically rebroadcasts the local network’s broadcast over the Internet, so I was watching the PeachtreeTV (I don’t know either, I guess Atlanta is like that) broadcast, and they switched into the rain delay programming…which was a rerun of Cheers. That’s right: for a minute (until MLB.tv realized what was happening) I was watching a rerun of Cheers on MLB.tv. The irony is amazing.

  • In other sports news, the latest “Cinderella Story” Davidson destroyed Wisconsin last night. I watched most of that game (from a random bar in Parma) – it’d be pretty tough to beat a team that was raining down threes like Davidson was. They play UCLA next, so that story is probably over.
  • And now a message to the voters that will be deciding our next president: you’re not voting for the candidate’s pastor, you’re voting for that candidate. Look, what Jeremiah Wright said (and perhaps what he believes) is wrong, but that doesn’t mean a) that Barack Obama believes the same thing by extension, and b) that the guy doesn’t have other good qualities that makes him a guy Obama would have hung around with all those years. Obama’s been defending himself since those videos surfaced – and he’s not even in them!
  • From the Clinton campaign, Chelsea Clinton defended herself the other day against a Monica Lewinsky question. Basically, it was a fair question, but in Chelsea’s defense (she’s not as evil as her parents yet, it’s easier to defend her) it was a fair answer. I don’t know that Hillary has ever answered that question, but it’s certainly not Chelsea’s responsibility.
  • While the Democrats are bickering about seemingly everything, John McCain is, all of the sudden, becoming less annoying. The fact is that he shouldn’t even be close in this race – he supports a war that most Americans do not support and on the number one issue (apparently) to most Americans, the economy, he “doesn’t know that much”. But the longer the Democrats fight this out, the better he does.

    That’s NOT to say that I agree with Howard Dean (YEAHHHHHHHH!), that we should end the “fight” before the convention. Even worse, there is speculation within this piece that if the Democrats don’t resolve this that Al Gore will be at the top of the ticket with Obama or Clinton as the Vice President. First, how does that solve anything? Then they both are still fighting about who gets to be the VP. Secondly…are you kidding? What’s the point of a primary if we can just choose a new candidate at the convention? It’s like Al Gore is the father figure of the Democratic party (I don’t really know why, he hasn’t held public office in eight years) and he’d be saying, “well, you kids can’t settle this yourself so I’m going to settle it for you.”

  • Saw this article on the front of CNN.com the other day. Now, yes, you feel sorry for the woman in the article, but notice a couple things. First, she somehow can afford all of that nice furniture and lamps in the background but not food for her family? And how is it possible that you go from $70000 a year to, “weeks later”, having no money for food? This is the point of having savings accounts and not racking up debt! As we enter these hard times with the economy, make sure you know what you’re reading, what the angle of the reporter is, and think about it a bit before jumping to any conclusions.
  • Finally, the quote of the day:
    MICHAEL: We can no longer be friends and when we talk about things here we must only discuss,ah, work associated things, and uh, we can consider this my retirement from comedy and in the future if I want to say something funny or witty or do an impression I will no longer, EVER, do any of those things.
    JIM: Does that include “That’s what she said?”
    MICHAEL: Mmm-hmm…yes.
    JIM: Wow that is really hard…you really think you can go all day long?…well, you always left me satisfied and smiling, so…
    MICHAEL: That’s what she said!

Hope everyone has a happy Saturday and a nice weekend!

The Office – Fun Run

Wow…that’s all I have to say to season four, episode one of The Office, which debuted tonight. Without spoiling anything for the unfortunate ones who have yet to see it, there are two scenes that I really liked. One was the cold open, before the credits, and the other was one of the ones during the run. Outstanding. It was an hour-long episode, and my sister called me halfway through to recap. She had forgotten that this week’s was an hour long, and to be fair, the scene before that halfway point would have been a great place to end a half-hour episode. Good stuff. Can’t wait until next week.