Sunday, November 22, 2009

Larry David and the Duberstein Dilemma

The problem with reaching comic nirvana is that the bar is now set too high. I’m sure that very issue tortures creative types like Larry David. While the season finale still looms, the epic conclusion of the Seinfeld reunion arc, this past season of Curb Your Enthusiasm may be the greatest in the history of TV comedy.

So when we say goodbye to the cast of Curb Your Enthusiasm AND Seinfeld (again) on Sunday night, will this be the end of it all? That’s why Larry David is at the crossroads – will he return to try to cement his place in history as the Neil Armstrong of comedy, or is he already there? That this simply is as good as it gets so why bother to try again?

Because Larry David can’t just retire. He doesn’t fit in the real world, where he is a walking disaster. He belongs on set as the visionary executive producer, where he has power and respect, and gets to make the rules. On some level I can relate.

But whatever he decides, we’re just going to have to enjoy this particular train’s last stop. And what a ride. To see Larry and Jerry create, bicker, and feed off each other really gives us a clue how Seinfeld’s quirky dynamic came about in the first place.


Think about the intricacies in the “episode within an episode” of the faux Seinfeld reunion.

Like Elaine having a baby with Jerry’s sperm donation, and her kid calls him Uncle Jerry.

Or George making millions on his iToliet application, only to invest it with Bernie Madoff.

But the real genius was the way the Michael Richards situation was handled and the epic comedy scene with “the two Kramers.”

Leon, Larry’s housemate, serves nearly the same purpose as Kramer did in Jerry’s apartment – a hilariously dependant and oblivious sycophant. And Larry, like Jerry, is just as co-dependent as his friend/neighbor is.

Larry sends Leon into Richards’ trailer as an impostor for “Duberstein,” a dead man who passed from Groat’s disease, a malady that Richards has now been diagnosed with, in order to encourage him that he’ll pull through.

When Richards answers the door, Leon is wearing horn-rim glasses and a bowtie (failing miserably to represent as Duberstein the accountant). But Richards thinks he’s a black Muslim and cowers in fear, “Look I made a mistake…It’s been 3 years…Don’t hurt me! Please!”

While Larry David’s exposition of Richards’ public humiliation wipes his slate clean in one line, the scene-stealer is Leon’s wild portrayal of Duberstein at Richards’ expense. The lie just keeps getting more and more outrageous. I almost fell off the couch while I was sitting on it.
Leon spoke of himself in the third person telling Richards that “Danny Duberstein’s good at two things, that’s Math…and fucking.”

Leon tells Larry after the fact that he “Dubersteined the fuck out of that goofy motherfucker.” Meanwhile, Leon has never seen Seinfeld in his life and has no idea who anyone is while he wolfs down grapes on the set.

Everything seems under control, until of course it isn’t (thanks Marty Funkhauser). And those results ultimately pay off the Richards situation even more brilliantly.

While Seinfeld bragged often that it was “a show about nothing,” Curb Your Enthusiasm is a show about too much, or is it too much of nothing? The line is blurred forever.

We hope that tonight’s episode is the end of a great chapter in comedy history, and not the end of an era.

Larry David’s been Dubersteining all of us for 20 years. Why stop now?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Same Old Jets

This has been the mantra of the Jet fan for the last 40 years. A stretch in which they’ve had fewer playoff wins (6) than head coaches (12).

You can change the coach, the culture, the QB, the uniform, the attitude. But the Jets still find unbelievably inventive ways to lose. This week, it was Maurice Jones-Drew sliding down just short of the goal line so the Jaguars could drain the remaining seconds and kick the game-winning FG, which was really essentially an extra point.

You could make the argument during the Jets' 40 years wandering in the desert, that for Bill Parcells’ 3 years in charge the Jets had turned the corner for the turn of the century and were headed in a more positive direction.

Year 1, 1997 – Parcells took Rich Kotite’s sorry 1-15 bunch and made them a 9-7 contender for the playoffs overnight.

Year 2, 1998 – Took the Jets to the AFC Championship game. Had a 10-point lead before succumbing to eventual Super Bowl champion Denver. Enough said.

Year 3, 1999 – After Vinnie Testaverde tears his Achilles tendon in the opener, the Jets start 1-6. But behind 3rd string QB Ray Lucas, the Jets (who had nothing to play for) won 7 of their last 9, beating 5 playoff teams down the stretch to finish 8-8. It was as inspired as I had ever been as a Jet fan.

If Bill Parcells walked up to my front door and told me to “run up that hill!” I would have said “Yes sir!” But Parcells didn’t come to my front door, he walked out the Jets back door in the face of an ownership change.

Parcells installed Bill Belichick as Head Coach, and that lasted 1 day. Belichick took Charlie Weis up to New England and won 3 Super Bowls. But the Jets reverted to that same old script.

Jets fans are generally a pessimistic lot, but my outlook is tempered because I’m still basking in some New York Yankees afterglow, so I gave the Jets and Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez plenty of slack early.

But halfway through the season, the Jets were 4-4. They were coming off a bye week, and had finally put away those dumb throwback jerseys. I had been tough on their wins, thinking about what they needed to shore up. And I had seen hope in their losses, knowing the razor-thin margin between their .500 start and being 7-1. And star players like Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington were gone for the year.

But now it’s mid-November and as long as you’re still competitive (unlike Eric Mangini’s pitiful Browns), it only matters if you win or lose.

And Jets fans had their hearts broken again. Next stop for the 4-5 Jets...Foxboro. Maybe the Jets can summon a late-game stop, a mistake-free QB performance, or a big play on special teams (god forbid). They'll sweep the Patriots and climb right back into the playoff picture when they return to Jersey. But they probably won't.
"Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is there something worse?" Bruce Springsteen, The River

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

One Door Closes, Another One Opens: The Mad Men Season 3 Finale


I was always mesmerized but never quite understood the Mad Men opening animation. But now it's all falling into place.

Designer suit-wearing, slick and handsome ad man is nameless and faceless. Since everything is built on lies, he is ultimately alone and lives constantly in the shadow of his own demise. Have you met Don Draper?

He is an anti-hero of the caliber of Tony Soprano, and why do we love him? For his charisma and his skill. He sells people on ideas. He is calculated and instinctive. He is the smartest man in the room.

As a viewer I wondered why we were being sold that Don's wife Betty was the bad guy when she filed for Divorce. Yes Don is thoughtful, and a loving father, but his identity is a fabrication and he's been a serial philanderer. If it weren't 1963, Betty would have made minced-meat out of him in court.

While the scenes documenting the final split are heartbreaking, the confrontation over Betty's "life raft" Henry Francis, and telling the kids that Dad is moving out, it is still the secondary storyline. There's Don's "other" divorce.

When Don learns from Conrad Hilton that Sterling-Cooper is being sold for the second time in a year, the wheels go in motion. It takes just a few short days to turn Sterling-Cooper into a rogue ad agency that pirates the guts of the old agency in a weekend ransack.

First Don convinces Bert Cooper, the company's patriarch to forgo his "golden tomb" to give it one more shot. Then he sells Roger Sterling. Then Layne Price, the London bottom-line-man assigned to gut (and unknowingly liquidate) Sterling-Cooper. Then he has to sell Cooper and Sterling on Price, "can any of you do what he does?"

While balancing the time spent as his family is ripped apart, Don sells the once snot-nosed, now ever-evolving account man Pete Campbell to join in, if he brings his accounts of course. And finally Peggy, who takes a little more convincing. It's great to see elitist copywriter Paul Kinsey shattered when he realizes that Don took Peggy instead of him.

Throw in the triumphant return of Joan Harris to whip their outfit into shape with her organization and logistical wizardry and voila, "Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price."

The nameless, faceless ad man once again exudes confidence, as he sits in his position of power. And what difference does it make what his true identity is? You'll believe whatever he tells you. You'll buy whatever he's selling you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Send the Heisman to Lake Hartwell

In a year where the big names of college football have not individually distinguished themselves (though Tebow and McCoy's teams certainly have), there's a multi-threat speed demon coming on even faster than his team is.

I thought I saw it all when C.J. Spiller ran, caught, returned, and ran some more on his way to a Clemson record 310 all-purpose yards two Saturdays ago in a thrilling 40-37 overtime win in Maimi. But he wasn't done.

Last night against Florida State he bested his own brand-new school mark with 312 in a 40-24 win over Florida State, sending Death Valley into a frenzy.

If there has been any knock on Spiller, it's that he's not an every-down back. That didn't seem to bother Reggie Bush supporters, whose numbers Spiller's compare very favorably to. But in his most recent tour-de-force, Spiller carried 22 times for 165, with a lot of hard yards late in the 2nd Half.

Spiller and teammate Jacoby Ford work year-round for Tiger athletics, running indoor and outdoor track for Clemson.

Ford is the NCAA Champ in the 60m. And Spiller is the anchor on Clemson's 4x100 relay team. Come to think of it 100 meters doesn't seem like too much ground to cover for a big-time return guy. Try 6 career kick return TDs.

Spiller is the most exciting player in college football, and Clemson with their team speed, pass rush, secondary play, and surprising poise from frosh QB Kyle Parker may well be a rematch vs Georgia Tech away from an ACC Championship and BCS bid.

Then expect to see Spiller in New York. And expect him to bring home the hardware. Go ahead, name a better candidate to run against him.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Bittersweet Time for a Yankee Fan

I always try to be a champion for the underdog. My annual NCAA bracket is filled with irrational pie-in-the-sky dreams. So it's a wonder to many that I am an obsessive Yankee fan and they want to know why.

The old baseball adage is "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Absolutely true, but I prefer another mantra "It's the journey, not the destination." My love for the Yankees is my love for the routine of life.

While football (my other love) also stirs my passions, a football weekend is generally either spent working, or spent with the kids. But baseball is for weeknights. Kids are asleep, you can watch your team and multi-task. 162 games a year - it becomes part of you.

That's why I don't kill John Sterling, the bombastic voice of the Yankees. Because he's seen every Yankee game for the last 19 years. He sees things on the field and relays them because he notices. He's seen every pitch of Mariano Rivera's career and every at bat of Derek Jeter's. And that's what I feel like when I watch over 100 Yankee games a year from a couch in Savannah, Georgia. And I can turn on the YES network during the day and digest all the buzz with the equally bombastic Mike Francesa, because he knows what's going on too.

Being a baseball fan, much like being a baseball player, is an everyday job. Baseball is about the day-in, day-out grind. About who's pitching today, who's in the lineup because someone's injured, or who needs to bust out of a slump.

I love checking in on sites like Pinstripe Alley and throwing out arguments for Molina vs Posada or Chamberlain: starter or reliever. To bitch about Joe Girardi's over-managing or blast Johnny Damon's defense, or praise the relief work of Alfredo Aceves, or live the late-game heroics of Melky Cabrera again and again.

So the Yankees have the highest payroll in MLB by far. So they have A-Rod the lightning rod. So what? Nothing can stain the beauty of the game or make me lose interest in the season.

I watched Game 6 on Wednesday night and reveled in World Championship glory, but ultimately a 5-4 victory in June over Oakland is just as exciting. Only now it's time to take a hiatus and see how to build on this for next season. The goal remains the same.

Yet I am sad now because opening day is almost 5 months away. Even a World Series ring has a hole in it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Feeling Blue about Rob Green

Our friend Rob Green has passed away at 47 years young. Thanks to Bob Borts for furnishing this iconic picture of Rob captaining a TV tape room with his trademark Detroit Tigers hat.

I had lunch with Rob on Saturday, just about 3 hours to kickoff at Wake Forest University. He was himself, bitching about Tim McCarver's World Series commentary, recalling classic movie lines and favorite Kids in the Hall sketches. He was fired up about his Central Michigan Chippewas taking on BC later that afternoon.

I even tried to rope him into working the Detroit Bowl game the day after Christmas. He asked if I was going to pay for his divorce.

On this day he was also complaining of excruciating back pain, that had been with him for weeks. As a free-lancer, he was (as most of us are) afraid to go to a doctor because he was under-insured and he needed to keep working.

A couple of hours later he was suffering from chest pains and EMTs came to the truck to take him to the hospital.

Two days later, he had surgery in response to a brain hemorrhage. He made it through the procedure, but died during recovery.

He was a cantankerous sort, just gruff enough to be beloved by so many. A true character in a business filled with them.

I didn't know him as well as a lot of people I work with, but I did live in Michigan for 3 years and we crossed paths there and everywhere. I was proud to be one of his 463 Facebook friends and I will miss his frequent status updates featuring rock'n'roll song lyrics.

RIP Greener. I will rock my infamous green corduroys today in your honor.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pettitte and Forgettitte

When there’s money on the table, you want a money pitcher. And Pettitte’s postseason history and 1,000-yard stare speaks to that.

I remember all the way back to Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, when Andy Pettitte was just a 24-year old 2nd year starter. He outdueled the best pitcher in baseball, John Smoltz, in a 1-0 squeaker. The Yankees closed out Fulton County Stadium winning all three in Atlanta and took the World Series in 6 games.

Then in 1998, Pettitte outpitched the best pitcher in baseball, Kevin Brown, in a 3-1 win in Game 4 in San Diego, completing a World Series sweep.

Now, he hasn’t always come through in the World Series – a couple of different Game 6’s come to mind, including getting pummeled by Arizona in ’01 and losing the clincher to Josh Beckett and the Marlins in ’03.

But more often than not, he’s going to gettitte done for you. And last night was a perfect example of that. There was no need to panic after giving up 3 early runs. Andy pretty much shut down the Phils the rest of the way, and added a key Pet-hitte RBI-single off of 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels for good measure.

Pettitte finished with 6 solid innings and his major-league record 17th postseason win. The length of the start is nothing unusual for the Yankees’ hurlers. All 12 postseason starts have gone at least 6 innings.

Next up is CC (aka Cruise Control) Sabathia. He’ll take on Joe Blanton instead of Cliff Lee, whom the Phils are hesitant to use on 3 days’ rest. Can Blanton beat CC? Not likely. But the Phillies lineup sure can.

But the bottom line is the starting pitching. As long as the Yankees keep getting high quality starts, they will surely take home the title. And maybe we won't even need to see our man Andy in Game 6 (his bad number), as it may already be wrapped up.