I’ll watch Mad Men … but I’m not sure if I’ll enjoy it

The Big Cultural Event tonight is the return of Mad Men after a hiatus of what seems like five years.

I’ll be watching, but not with great enthusiasm.

I mean, I like Mad Men and all, but it just seems like so much work.

There hasn’t been a new episode of Man Men since June of 2013. It’s a complex show, with multiple plot lines and all sorts of profound statements being made. To be honest, I’ve actually forgotten what the hell is happening in Don Draper’s universe. I’ve had to read up on what was happening just to prepare myself for a new season.

I don’t really know if it’s worth the effort. Honestly, I like Mad Men, but I don’t love it.

I loved Breaking Bad, the only other show that comes close to the critical rapture and fan passion that greets Mad Men. There’s no denying that Mad Men is a ‘quality’ TV show (sometimes I get think it is so wrapped up in being a quality TV show it forgets to be entertaining), and is infinitely superior to 90 per cent of the formulaic murder-of-the-week dreck on network TV. But I’ve never found Mad Men to be as emotionally involving as Breaking Bad, as flat out entertaining as Justified (the just concluded season excluded), or as involving as Boardwalk Empire. But it seems that everyone takes this show so seriously — ponderous magazine articles about what it all means, Wikipedia entries that drone on for thousands of words, charts and graphs outlining what the characters were doing when last we met, the inevitable use of the word ‘zeitgeist’.

Sheesh. As Alfred Hitchcock said to Ingrid Bergman when she was struggling with her character in one of his films: “It’s only a movie, Ingrid”. And Mad Men is only a TV show — a good one, sometimes a great one, but quite often ponderous and wordy, and very full of itself. I’ll watch it, of course (since I’ve already invested 78 hours of my life to this show). Maybe I’ll PVR all eight episodes and watch then in a batch to get the full feel of what’s going on.

But I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to enjoy it.



The obligatory review of 2011. With videos!

Well, here we are at the end of another arbitrary span of 365 days that we call a year. And what a year it was! Things happened! Famous people died! Future famous people were born (how come nobody talks about that?)! Movies and TV shows were produced, some of them good, and some of them bad! The earth moved, literally in some cases, figuratively in others. It was a year of bests and worsts, mosts and leasts. Here’s my entirely personal list, which has no scientific basis.

Canada, Alberta and Edmonton

Least surprising political event: Stephen Harper gets his cherished majority, and  immediately sets about cranking Canada so far to the right that even American Republicans are saying: “Slow down, Steven.”

Most surprising political event: The NDP becomes the Official Opposition as Quebec voters elect 20-year-old barmaids who don’t even live in their ridings. Quebecers apparently mistook election for one of those terrible Just for Laughs gags shows.

Most surprising political development: Alison Redford comes out of nowhere (Calgary) to win the PC leadership, using a canny mix of populist promises and a guarantee to spend $100 million on teachers, putting her over the top as teachers flock to the polls.

Least surprising political development: Alison Redford reneges on her promise of fixed election date. Calling it a fixed date when there is a three-month window is like saying your dog is fixed if he’s only had one nut removed.

Most welcomed political retirements, Alberta edition: No more Ron Liepert, no more Lloyd Snelgrove, and especially no more King Ken Kowalski, who leaves the speaker’s chair with $1.3 million in his pocket. But he earned every penny of it. Just ask him.

Least welcomed political retirements (Alberta edition): Hugh MacDonald and Kevin Taft from the Alberta Liberals, neither of whom is running next year. The legislature will be a lesser place without them, if that’s even possible.

Most protracted debate: the Edmonton arena debate. Hey, we all knew Darrel Katz was going to get his way. What took so long?

Least welcomed retirement: Rod Phillips calls his last Edmonton Oilers game. I’m pretty sure you can still hear “HE SCOOOOOOOOOOORES” in the rafters of Rexall.

Most welcomed retirement (permanent): Serial killer Clifford Olson croaks. He won’t be meeting his child victims where he’s gone.

Worst season: The winter of 2011-12. Too much snow, too much cold, too much everything.

The World

Least effective protest: The Occupy Anywhere Movement. Remember those guys, hanging out in public squares, banging on drums and their old ladies (I assume that’s what they did to keep warm, anyway)? Now that they’re gone, the world has changed … how?

Most effective protests: Egyptians and Libyans and everyone else for overthrowing regimes by taking to the streets. See, Occupy people? THAT’S how it’s done.

Most hilarious political scandal: New York Congressman is ruined for emailing photos of his Little Congressman to women. His name? Anthony Weiner. And he doesn’t even pronounce it ‘Whiner’. It’s Weiner! This is like a sex scandal written by the staff of Family Guy.

Most recorded disaster: Japan earthquake and tsunami. Astonishing footage, like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kOpVUTXqS0&feature=related and this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceym2c18OQM&feature=related and this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTeQt3KmpNA&feature=related. Unreal.

Most welcomed political retirements (permanent edition): Hosni ‘The Modern Pharaoh’ Mubarek of Egypt, Muammar ‘Multiple Spellings’ Gaddafi of Libya, Kim (I Once Got 18 Holes-In-One The First Time I Went Golfing) Jung Il of North Korea, Osama (Honey, There’s Someone At the Door) bin Laden of 9/11 infamy, Silvio ‘Bunga Bunga ‘ Berlusconi of  Italy. It was a really great year for taking out the trash.

Most overwrought media coverage: The death of Jack Layton. The untimely departure of the NDP leader was given the full ‘great man has passed away, nation grieves’ splash. The cane he used only briefly was raised to iconic status, like Charlie Chaplin’s.

Most overwrought media coverage, international edition: Marriage of Prince Prematurely Balding to Princess Way Too Hot for Him. Honorable mention: death of Steve Jobs.

Least surprising riot: Let’s see now… cram 100,000 young and privileged people into a public square to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, add liberal doses of alcohol and drugs, stir in a hometown defeat. What could possibly go wrong?

Most baffling riots: Youths run wild in London. Still don’t know why.

Most hilarious commercial: Herman Cain’s utterly bizarre Smoking Man ad. No Saturday Night Live parody was funnier. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6VnTqpTqvQ

“Arts” and entertainment:

Most overrated TV show of the year: Two Broke Girls. Routine CBS style sitcom. But it stars two chicks, so that’s supposed to make it groundbreaking. I’d settle for funny. Also seriously overrated: Louie.

Best new TV comedy: New Girl. The only positive in a brutal year for TV comedy.

Best TV comedy: Parks and Recreation. By the way, the spinoff book, Pawnee, is hilarious. If you like the show, you’ll love the book.

Best new TV drama: Homeland, a genuinely gripping drama of post 9/11 America (and as an added bonus, with gratuitous nudity). Well worth downloading the first season.

Best TV drama: Breaking Bad. I hate to use a term like ‘pulse pounding’, but it made my pulse pound. One of the best seasons of any TV show. Ever. Honorable mentions: Garrow’s Law (a BBC series seen on PBS set in very, very, very olden times English courts; superb acting and writing), Boardwalk Empire (top notch HBO series about bootleggers and general criminal types in the 1920s; no character was safe), and Justified (crackling good lawman drama set in Kentucky).New season starts soon. Check it out.

Most disappointing TV finale: The Killing, which promised a resolution to a season-long murder mystery, then didn’t deliver. Producers actually apologized. Too late for that, pal.

Best books of the year (at least of the ones that I read): Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean; Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore; Life Itself by Roger Ebert; Fire and Rain, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

Most promising musical newcomer: OK, this is more of a prediction, since her album doesn’t come out until next year, but Lana Del Rey will be the talk of 2012 based on this song from this year alone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HO1OV5B_JDw&context=C35e71a7ADOEgsToPDskJqAaWUF6ojl0Vka21fUVFJ

Worst song. Ever: “Friiiiday, Friiiday…” You hate me for putting that song back into your head, don’t you? Fifteen million views and counting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVsfOSbJY0&ob=av3e

Best film I saw this year: Hugo, Martin Scorcese’s thrilling, awesome, touching 3D tribute to the early days of movies. Spend the extra to see it in 3D.

Most overrated movie: Bridesmaids. Yes, it was funny, and yes, it was entertaining. But one of the best of the year? C’mon.

Most confounding but strangely captivating movie: The Tree of Life. Have no idea what the hell was going on, but couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Worst movie by good people: Larry Crowne, a total turkey from Tom Hanks. And Julia Roberts!

Sporting stuff

Best sporting event: Canucks do not win Stanley Cup. There, I said it.

Most overhyped sporting event: World Junior Hockey Championship. Seriously, until the gold medal game, who cares?

Worst sporting event: Canadian women’s soccer team crashes and burns in women’s World Cup. Who did they think they were, Canadian men?

Most disturbing sports trend: Half of the NHL is out with a concussion. NHL baffled as to why young men who are hit at high speeds by other 250 pound men suited up likes knights of yore are suffering concussions. Must be today’s softer skulls.

Most surprising sporting event: Eskimos trade proven winner Ricky Ray for unproven non-winner Stephen Jyles.  But the trade must be good, because Esk GM Eric Tillman is a genius. Right? Please, somebody tell me I’m right.

Most surprisingly entertaining sports event: The rugby World Cup from New Zealand. Now that’s a man’s game.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add your picks. Always happy to hear from my reader(s).

Happy new year to you all, and thanks for reading.

For your summertime TV consideration …

Well, reader(s), it’s almost summer. And you know what that means?

Reruns! It’s hard enough finding something to watch without finding nothing but episodes of CSI: Nome and Law & Order: Des Moines that you didn’t watch the first time.

But fear not, fellow tubeophiles. There is plenty of great stuff, past and present, out there in TV land that you might have missed. As a public service (and because I haven’t written anything in a while), I would like to offer a number of options for your summer viewing. How you watch these shows is up to you; they’re available on DVD, and as I understand it there are (a-hem) other ways to procure these programs. But just do it. You don’t be disappointed.

1. Breaking Bad

If you haven’t jumped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon yet, there’s still time to cram before season four begins in July. Bryan Cranston, formerly the ever-befuddled dad in Malcolm in the Middle, is brilliant (three Emmy wins in a row as best actor) as a high school chem teacher who discovers he has incurable cancer. As a way to make money, he starts producing and dealing meth with the help of his wildcard former student Jesse (Aaron Paul).  A great, tangled story, filmed in sun drenched New Mexico, Breaking Bad is my choice for the best drama currently on TV.

2. Justified

Another cable gem, Justified stars Timothy Olympant as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. While stationed in Miami, Givens kills a bad guy in a justified shooting, which makes him a target. So, he’s sent back to his native Kentucky, where he becomes embroiled with the criminal element, some of whom are blood feud family enemies. Givens has a fascinating relationship with local bad boy Boyd Crowder (the brilliant Walton Goggins) which is one of the richest and most complex I’ve ever seen on TV. Superior acting and outstanding dialogue puts Justified several notches above everything else on TV (great theme music, too). Just finished its second season, so you’ve got lots of time to catch up.

3. The Wire

Truly one of the best dramas in TV history, The Wire was an HBO series that ran for five extraordinary years. While maintaining its focus on Baltimore police, each season had a self-contained, season-long story line about some aspect of the deteriorating city — the drug trade, schools, the seaport, city government, and the local media. A remarkable thing about The Wire is how much you begin to care about some of the baddest of the bad guys. And be warned — people die in this show, often in unexpected fashion. Likely the grittiest, most realistic show in TV history, The Wire is not for everyone. But those who like it, like it a lot. CAUTION: If bad language offends you, The Wire will send you screaming from the room. Also some gratuitous nudity. And some of the thickest ghetto lingo ever; I actually had to run the show with translation on the screen just to keep track of what was going on. But it’s worth the effort.

4. The Shield

The Shield ran for seven seasons without me even noticing. Tucked away on the FX network, I never discovered it until my sons alerted me to it. Thanks, boys.

The Shield follows the exploits of the Strike Team in the fictional Farmington district of LA. Led by Vic Mackey (the explosive Michael Chiklis), the team isn’t afraid to bend the rules just a bit to enforce the peace. For seven seasons, Chiklis and his team (also featuring the above-mentioned Walton Goggins) played the angles with increasing complexity. It’s super violent, with dozens of killings, but with a surprisingly human storyline about Vic struggling to help his troubled family. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that features a shocking moment in the very first episode that has an impact through all seven seasons, right up to the final episode, which may be the best series finale of any show, ever. Also very violent and adult oriented.

So there you go, folks. Four adult cops shows to keep you occupied during the summer months when you should be outside having fun.

Feel free to let me know what you think of my choices, and add a few of your own.