Before we get to the nitty gritty here, I just thought I would take five minutes to mention to those of you who haven't been paying attention, that right now the absolute best two hour bloc of television is on NBC from 9 to 11 pm. There are two new shows in that time slot and they're both so fabulous, yet completely different from one another, that the football game on Monday nights has become a complete afterthought for me. I will concede however that ESPN's terrible broadcast team and production decisions (two sideline reporters, stupid celebrity interviews in the booth during the games, etc.) is a factor in my disenchantment with MNF.
Heroes is a show that basically rips off X-Men. I mean, let's not sugar coat it here. It's about a group of people who are collectively coming to the realization that they have special powers and their trials and tribulations in dealing with this discovery. Not only do they have to be wary of government agencies who want to poke and prod at them like they're carnival freaks, but they also have to deal with an evil super-mutant who is looking to pick them off one-by-one. Oh and also all of them have to come together at some point to stop a nuclear bomb from being detonated in New York City in the near future. I know the premise sounds goofy, but it's a thousand times more compelling than I thought it'd be and it's impossible to change the channel once you get into it. The show totally hooks you in.
One character is an artist who needs heroin (or at least he believes he does) in order to be able to paint the future. Another can bend the rules of time and space to either teleport himself wherever he wants or just freeze time completely. A cop who can hear people's thoughts and a stripper who "loses time" like Ed Norton did in Primal Fear and turns into this killing machine are two other characters. There's a brother tandem where one can fly and the other while having no powers of his own, can leech whatever power a mutant close to him has, so if he's next to his brother, he can fly as well, if he's next to the artist, he can paint the future, etc. Though most of the cast is no names, except for the stripper, (played by Ali Larter) my favorite character so far, for hornball reasons is the cheerleader, played by Hayden Panettiere. She's the Wolverine/Bruce Willis in Unbreakable character in that she cannot be harmed. She's also only 17 in real life, so I'm going to hell.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on the other hand is the latest Aaron Sorkin vehicle. Sorkin's one of those guys where you either like him or you don't, with no in between. His previous shows were SportsNight, which was his take on SportsCenter, and The West Wing, which obviously was his spin on politics. While he did a great job most of the time on both, there were certain episodes/sequences/elements on both series where a viewer who was immersed in these subjects could tell that he didn't totally understand these worlds as well as he thinks he does. The best example I can think of is this episode of SportsNight where the anchors are preparing to cover the NFL draft and as the show concludes it's revealed that one of them got all 32 of his 1st round mock draft picks correctly. Anybody who really follows the NFL knows that is completely absurd. Mel Kiper is the most plugged in draft guy in the universe, and he doesn't get more than 11 or 12 in any first round.
Anyway, this time around Sorkin tackles a subject of which he's much more familiar: network television. Namely a late night weekly sketch show a la Saturday Night Live. The premise of the show is that Studio 60 used to be this hip edgy show that has fallen on hard times due to bad writers and corporate pressure to make all the jokes "safe" and inoffensive for the masses. One night the head writer/executive producer can't take it anymore and he freaks out and goes on air during the live broadcast and tells the audience to change the channel because the show is terrible and unfunny and corporations and the Christian right have made it this way. It goes without saying that he's fired immediately. Now the young new president of the network in charge of programming (Amanda Peet) has to find a way to restore the program to its previous glory so that they can all save face. She hires this executive producer/writer team of Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford who got canned from the show years earlier when the head guy who just got fired for telling everyone the show isn't good anymore fired them because he was threatened by their talent.
My description doesn't do the show nearly enough justice. Like I said Aaron Sorkin is a polarizing figure and you either really like him or you despise him. He makes his politics very clear in every episode and if the guy leaned any more to the left he'd tip over. What this means for the viewer is that they can expect at least one lecture, in the form of a three minute monologue from one of the characters, about why Aaron Sorkin's view of the world is right and yours is wrong. Also, his shows are extremely dialogue heavy. Every one speaks, very fast and very cleverly. Too cleverly, in fact. That's really my biggest criticism of Sorkin, not the endless preaching. His dialogue is so clever, no matter which character is saying the lines, that it comes off fake. Writers have all the time in the world to come up with a witty conversation between two or more people, but real life isn't scripted and nobody can think on their feet as quickly and deftly as the people on Sorkin's shows.
Still, Sorkin makes no secret of the fact that he makes smart shows about smart people for smart audiences and he has no interest in pandering to the common American denominator. What's ironic is that NBC airs at 8 pm on Mondays, just two hours before Studio 60, Deal or No Deal, perhaps the dumbest game show ever invented. It's the first one I've ever seen that requires no skill, intelligence, or special talent whatsoever on the part of the contestant. You basically just keep guessing numbers until your mathematical common sense > your greed. At least on The Price Is Right you had to know how much a can of peas cost. I have to temper my excitement with Studio 60, because it seems every time I get excited about a "smart" show it gets cancelled tootsweet. See: Arrested Development.
Speaking of arrested devlopment, the time has come to once again to talk about basketball players on those annoying "other" teams. I'll do these previews in the order of least interesting division to the one the Spurs play in. Of course this means the Atlantic is up first.
New Jersey Nets - All you need to know about the state of the woeful Atlantic is that the Nets will win the division once again by a healthy margin despite not being able to rebound whatsoever. Their starting power forward Jason Collins grabbed a whopping 7.2 boards per 40 minutes while shooting just under 40%. I know the Nets are the first team I've looked at, but I shudder to think that there could be a worse starting 4 in the NBA. If there is, the league is in worse shape than I thought. Their center Nenad Kristic isn't much better, at 8.2 rp40, but at least he can score effectively. New Jersey's only hope for a competent glass cleaner is their 1st round pick out of UConn, Josh Boone but I think he's way too undersized (and based on his collegiate career inconsistent) for the job.
Once again they will have to settle for outscoring majority of Eastern teams too untalented to keep up with them. Vinsanity should certainly be up to that challenge, especially in a contract year, and the spectacularly overrated Richard Jefferson can fill it up as well if he gets a running start. Ason Kidd is still hobbling around at 32, but for once he's actually got some quality talent to ease his load on the bench. Unlike Boone, Marcus Williams is a UConn rook I happen to think can actually play. I'd be interesting in seeing the Nets go to an ultra small ball lineup with Williams at the 2, Carter the 3, Jefferson the 4, and Kristic to 5. It wouldn't make them any more effective vs. a serious team, but just the thought of Carter having to guarding somebody near the basket kind of makes me giddy.
Boston Celtics - To say I'm bullish on the Celtics would be overstating things since I think they'll struggle to finish more than a couple games over .500, but this group is clearly on the way up and I'd rather throw my backing a year early with a team than just jump on the bandwagon after the fact. I think the young duo of PF Al Jefferson and C Kendrick Perkins are poised for a breakout year and if the two of them can combine for around 27 and 15 in 30 minutes of playing time each, the Celts will be excellent shape.
Paul Pierce will be more than happy to do most of the heavy lifting on offense, but he'll have some help with the always annoying Wally World. Szczerbiak will give you a steady 17 points on 48% shooting, but he'll give up 25 on the other hand because he'll be too busy letting the whole arena know that he's acknowledging the man who just set up his basket to hustle back on defense. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the guy is like a Ben Stiller character come to life.
The unstable part of the mix (aside from Doc Rivers' horrid coaching) is Sebastian Telfair. To say I'm not a fan of his would be akin to saying Mrs. Lincoln didn't particularly enjoy My American Cousin. Not only does Telfair have no jumper, but he has yet to prove he can be a competent floor leader on offense, and something less than a total sieve on defense. Oh, and he might have had something to do with a rapper named "Fabulous" getting shot. In Telfair's defense, when a guy calls himself Fabulous... well... I think you know where I'm going with this.
No, what's really exciting about them is their 2nd string backcourt of Delonte West and Rajon Rondo. Both guys are tweeners really, but there are no questions about either's desire out on the court and I'm firmly of the opinion that both will be a part of the solution in Boston. If it were up to me I'd start both, bench Telfair, move Pierce to his natural 3 spot, and use Wally off the bench for some instant offense, the way they used Ricky Davis before dealing him last year.
Toronto Raptors - It's not often you can praise a team's offseason when they made the most nonsensical trade of summer, but the fellas from T-dot got a lot more things right than wrong in the past five months, so I will forgive the Villanueva for Ford swap. What I never understood was why Villanueva was drafted in the first place. Not only did I not think much of him as a prospect, but he played the same position as their best player. Well lo and behold Villanueva proved everyone wrong, and what do they do but ship him out for a point guard with major durability issues and a ghastly shooting percentage. At least unlike Telfair, Ford has shown that he's capable of running an NBA offense and is a willing, if undersized, defender.
Anthony Parker returns to the states, looking for one last chance to salvage his NBA career after starring in Israel, and he should be adequate at shooting guard. The strength of this team are at the forward spots though with Bosh inside and Mo-Pete outside. Having The Steady Slovenian at the five spot should take some of the defensive (but not rebounding) burden off Bosh.
The starting five isn't very thrilling I'll grant you, but I'm kind of intrigued about the Raptors because of their bench. Garbajosa and Calderon absolutely destroyed all comers in the World Championships for the gold medal winning Spanish club and it'll be interesting to see if the tandem can translate their games to this side of the pond. Also on board is the dunkarific Fred Jones to give Parker some relief and 1st overall pick Andrea Bargnani looking to get his feet wet. While no one should expect big things from the Italian in his first year, it is comforting to know that he won't be Darkoed since the Raptors aren't exactly contenders.
New York Knicks - How low have the Knicks fallen? I'm picking them to finish fourth in by far the NBA's worst division instead of last and I feel daring for doing so. Surely one would be right to question the sanity of anyone picking a team with a Starbury-Franchise starting backcourt and Isiah Thomas as its coach to have even a modicum of success, but I think it'd be foolish to completely ignore the building pieces that Zeke has acquired in spite of himself. Or maybe I'm just that down on the Sixers.
Why do I not hate the Knicks? Four reasons: David Lee, Channing Frye, Nate Robinson, and Renaldo Balkman. I don't know if any of them can play worth a lick (well that's not true, I know Frye can) but if they just play hard the fans will be supportive. At this point their fans will settle for even the most microscopic sign of progress. They're not exactly the Fantastic Four, but here's hoping that the Capable Quartet are too young and too dumb to know that cool NBA players don't play hard. Maybe they won't be poisoned by the twin cancers in the backcourt for a while.
And maybe Eddy Curry will rebound. And maybe Quentin Richardson will be able to channel all that bent up rage at Marbury into actually venturing inside the 3 point line once in a while. And maybe Jerome James won't be a total corpse. And maybe Isiah will lead them...
Who am I kidding? Just play the four young guys and Jamal Crawford 40 minutes and hope for steady improvement. It's not like they have a choice. They're already a billion dollars above the cap and the Bulls have their 1st round pick next year, so forget that "Greg Oden will be our next Ewing" fantasy. This is what they're going to battle with, night in night out. It won't be pretty.
Philadelphia 76ers - "All ye with hope, abandon it here." Or something like that. I'm not the most well read guy in the world. Next to the Spurs I have watched, as a fan of AI, more Sixers games by far than any other team and trust me when I tell you that I've had it with them. Not only is every facet of this organization just as pathetic as New York's, but they don't even have any notable draft picks from last year or this one to hang their hats on. Rodney Carry? Bobby Jones? Louis Williams? Whatev.
It has long been established that GM Billy King is a complete buffoon, but not trading AI over the winter for 50 cents on the dollar wasn't just merely stupid. At this point it was also plainly cruel. It was personal. It was a bitter, vindictive insult to his superduperstar that "I may be going down, but I'm taking you with me." Just for spite. I realize that people have lots of different opinions of Iverson, but he doesn't deserve to be kept captain of this Titanic.
Of course you look at them on paper and they don't look that bad. Chris Webber gets you 20 and 10, but it's a papier mache 20 and 10. He's shot a combined 41% his last two years and his defense has reached Juwan Howard level softness. Samuel Dalembert is a gifted shotblocker as a center and a pretty good rebounder too, but he's a turnover machine on offense and gives up far too many easy baskets on his end. He's also constantly in foul trouble so he can't stay on the floor. Andre Iguodala personifies every negative on the court stereotype of the NBA player. All he does is dunk or shoot 3s, and he has no perimeter jumper to speak of. On defense he has a good reputation, but like Iverson and Dalembert he makes plenty of SportsCenter plays helping out on other defenders' men while routinely getting torched by his guy. Worst of all, despite having a lot of ability, he seems perfectly content to let Iverson and Webber take all the shots. Bruce Bowen taking five shots in 35 minutes I can understand. But for a guy like Igoudala it makes no sense. He seems perfectly content as long as he gets his one crowd thrilling alley-oop a night.
While management has finally come to the correct conclusion that Ashton Kutcher shouldn't be a starter for them (or for anyone else) since he can't pass, rebound, play inside the 3 point line, or guard anybody, it's the only decision they've gotten right all offseason. For some reason they have Kevin Ollie listed as their starting point. He's fucking terrible. I mean really, he's a joke. What is the point of him even being on the floor with Iverson? He can't score, nobody will ever guard him, and both of them are way too small to guard any real shooting guards on the other end. Between AI, Ollie, and Webber (and the constant mental mistakes of the other two) this will once again be a horrendous defensive club. I'm betting this will be the year that AI and Webber both finally break down. The former is long overdue frankly. It's been amazing that he's lasted this long. If (and when) this club gets off to a tough start both of them will get banged up soon after and neither will have any incentive to hurry back. I'd put the over/under on AI and C-Webb's combined games at 95.