Don’t Fall Asleep

One thing every parent (or potential future parent, in my case) has to think about when raising a child is when to introduce them to things we know may cause more harm than good. When do you show them that they won’t always be a winner – by beating them at a board game or in sports or a video game? When do you teach them that people can’t always be counted on and share with them a story of disappointment? And when do you let them watch a movie that may scare the bejesus out of them and give them nightmares?

For my dad, he felt that lesson should come when I was 8 years old.

I will always cherish the memory of sitting down with my dad to watch “A Nightmare on Elm Streret Part 4: The Dream Master.” The movie originally came out in the summer of 1988 and became the highest grossing horror movie of the 1980s. Freddy Krueger had become an icon of sorts, and actor Robert Englund had grown to the point of receiving top billing over the credits of the movie. My neighbor Steve had been pressuring me to finally start watching horror movies, so when the newest Nightmare film was to premiere on HBO that winter, I pleaded with my dad to let me watch it. Obviously, it was rated R and I was a child. It was quite the dilemma.

Dad decided to let me watch, on the compromise that he watch with me. The movie was gory, the killings were brutal, the naked girls were … naked. As a young boy, I firmly believed that my dad had made the right decision in allowing me to watch it … until I went to sleep. I don’t remember much about the nightmare, but I know the movie had the desired effect that the filmmakers hoped for. When I spoke with my dad about it, he did the most natural thing a father should do – he made me watch it again.

The difference with the second viewing was that my father explained how the special effects were created (to the best of his knowledge; he wasn’t an expert in the field, but knew enough to explain it, especially to an 8-year old). This had a profound effect on me: 1) it made me realize just how amazing horror movies are in general, 2) how the “Elm Street” series is one of the most incredible franchises ever, and 3) how Wes Craven was an absolute genius.

Craven was born in Cleveland just as WWII was beginning and at the young age of just 32, directed “The Last House on the Left.” It remains (at least to me) one of the most disturbing horror movies of all time, dealing with the scariest of topics for any parent: coming face-to-face with someone who hurt your child.*  The horror genre was soon about to change.

* I watch the original “Last House” at least once per year. It is seriously disturbing and the rape scene is one that can be incredibly uncomfortable to watch. I once met Martin Kove, who played Sensei Reese in the original “Karate Kid” and also played one of the police officers in TLHOTL when he was much younger. I asked him about making a movie like “Last House” and if he watches it anymore. He said he doesn’t watch it anymore since he had daughters. It’s that disturbing of a film. The remake is awful; it focuses more on the gore and violence than the psychological component.

In 1978, John Carpenter smacked Hollywood in the face with “Halloween,” about a mental patient who escapes a hospital to return to his hometown and start killing off teenagers. It was frightening because of the realistic nature – a plot so simple, it could happen any day in any town. Two years later, Sean Cunningham directs “Friday the 13th,” a ground-breaking slasher film in which every murder occurs from the killer’s point-of-view, enabling a “whodunnit” mystery surrounding the gruesome killings of more teenagers.

Then in 1984, Wes Craven joined forces with a fledgling little movie studio called New Line Cinemas to release “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Craven had read about people dying while having nightmares, then took the name of a childhood bully, and the look of a homeless man that scared him from the street outside his childhood bedroom window, put them all together, added a bit of the supernatural, and a legend was born. The tag line, “If Nancy Doesn’t Wake Up Screaming, She Won’t Wake Up At All” was so cool and different and apropos to the movie. The idea that you could fall asleep, and if the horribly burnt man with a glove of knives killed you in your dream then you were dead for real scared the pants off everyone who saw it. The film spawned 7 sequels, a TV series, action figures, a late-night 900-number, and more merchandise than could have ever been imagined after wrapping up filming just 30 days after starting.

Craven was the only man to ever direct more than one “Nightmare” film, sitting in the chair behind the camera for the original in 1984 and then returning ten years later for “Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare” in 1994 after not being satisfied with how the series ended with “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” in 1991. He took the story in a dramatically new direction, breaking the fourth wall and showing the fans that their fear can live on through film.

In 1996, he directed “Scream,” a new horror series for the new generation. It grossed over $160 million worldwide and set the new standard for the horror genre.* As usual, Craven was the mastermind. He even had a cameo as a janitor named Fred, paying homage to the character that brought him so much success.

* Following the release of “Scream” and the fear caused by the opening scene, the popularity of Caller ID nearly tripled in the country. On only a few occasions has a movie or TV changed culture so dramatically. It is often thought that the 1955 James Dean classic “Rebel Without A Cause” influenced the rebellious American teen and kickstarted the counterculture of the 1960s. Following the release of “Sideways” in 2004, Merlot sales dropped 2% and Pinot Noir sales skyrocketed 16%. Oliver Stone’s epic “JFK” led to the creation of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Act of 1992, which was a groundbreaking movement of the government to become more transparent to the public. And the Steven Spielberg 1975 classic “Jaws” severely effected the tourism of beaches, especially in New England.

American movies have had a long-lasting effect on the public. We grow to love the actors and actresses, but occasionally we learn more about those behind the cameras – the directors and producers.  Some, like Michael Bay, receive constant scorn by fans of series who feel he makes awful movies and ruins franchises. But for some directors, they become icons like the faces in front of the camera: Spielberg, Coppola, Stone, Scorsese, Kubrick, Hitchcock, and Allen. Wes Craven was an icon of horror. I had always envisioned sitting down with him one day and talking about a screenplay idea I had that would only really work with him at the helm.

I’ll never get that chance. Wes Craven died last week after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 76 years old. The nightmare of fighting cancer has finally ended. Unfortunately for us, the dream of seeing more from him ended as well. He will be greatly missed.


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Top Dramas

I love TV. I love it A LOT. I grew up watching TV all day, and all night. I watch even more today, thanks to the greatest invention ever – the DVR. I watch sitcoms, cartoons, reality shows, game shows, documentaries, sports, and most of all, dramas.

You wouldn’t have expected that if you met me. I love making people laugh as much as possible. I joke all the time – especially when it’s inappropriate to do so. When I’m at funerals, when giving serious advice to a friend, when I’m at AA meetings* – if I were in a TV show, and a joke would lighten the situation and provide awkward humor, I’ll say it. I often joke that I wish my life was a sitcom … all the problems would be wrapped up in 22 minutes, occasionally a superstar celebrity would drop by when it seemed that no one cared about the happenings in my life, and even serious moments would be lightened with some humor or a funny facial expression breaking an imaginary 4th wall.

*I don’t go to AA meetings. I don’t have a drinking problem, and I’m not an alcoholic. However, if I did imbibe too much and felt the need to go to meetings, I would inevitably make jokes.

But ultimately, dramatic shows are the ones to which we all gravitate. They are the ones we talk about the next day at school, or at work, or in Facebook groups. Sure, we may rehash a joke or line from a comedy, but those tend to fall flat when said out of context, or if everyone already saw/heard it. But those dramas – oh man. We can talk about those for days. Character development is far more enhanced in dramas. Story arcs are played out over a longer period of time.* Most of all, however, we love dramas for the variety of emotions they are able to evoke from even the staunchest of individuals.

*This does happen in comedies as well. It’s no more evident than in “How I Met Your Mother” which is in the 9th and final season dragging out a premise that could have been completed in a few seasons. I’m not complaining though, HIMYM is incredibly funny and has a lot of inside jokes that sometimes span several seasons, which can make the payoff that much greater.

I’ve made it known that I love lists. I love ranking everything because it gives me something to do. It gives me a sense of purpose, and is very often a point of conversation – and debate. It’s very important to realize that every list I make is, for the most part, a subjective list. These are MY thoughts, reviews, opinions, and rankings. Yours may no doubt be different. What I hope to accomplish with this, however, is try to give some insight into WHY I chose to rank these shows the way I did. I thought about creating a scoring system – I really did think about how I would score things like character turnover, episode count, award count, season length, on-screen time for major characters, number of A-level storylines, guest stars, plot holes, and, if applicable, quality of series finale (particularly the final scene of a series, which often makes or breaks the entire finale – obviously, this WILL be discussed).

Ultimately, I decided against that and concluded that it would make the post too statistic driven for something so subjective and emotionally connected. I will discuss certain things as I see fit. These are my Top 12* dramatic series. But first, I feel I can extinguish some fires ahead of time by mentioning the shows that did NOT make the Top 12.

*I chose 12 because these are definitive for me. After these 12, my rankings tend to sway and alternate. It’s also very tough to rate shows that are still on TV, because the rating can change based on new episodes.

Mad Men I am still watching this show (thank you, Netflix), and will be caught up by the time the 7th and final season begins airing this April. As it stands, it may crack the top 12.

The Wire I will catch the most shit for not having this show ranked higher, but like Mad Men, I haven’t finished it. The writing is incredible, and it may also crack the top 12, but I find it difficult to watch. Not because of content, but because of opportunity. It aired on HBO, and past seasons are not available On Demand in their entirety. I have to watch them on HBO Go – which means on the iPad only. I just don’t like watching TV on my iPad when I have a giant TV in front of me. I will get to them. Promise.

House of Cards Season 2 starts tomorrow, so it’s way too new to be one of the greatest ever, even in my opinion, but if the first season is any indication, it will be amazing. Kevin Spacey is incredible and if you’re into politics the way I am, or just like seeing how things really work in Washington, DC, then it’s a must-watch.

Boardwalk Empire It’s a great show. The characters are great; Steve Buscemi is phenomenal. But sometimes I tend to lose focus because some some plot lines are not as interesting. Great show, though, and definitely Top 25 of all time.

Law and Order: SVU Funny thing about this show: I did not start watching until last year. I began watching when I heard that the great Fred Norris of the Howard Stern Show was going to be on an episode. After that episode, they previewed the next one, which was guest starring Mike Tyson. So I watched that one, too. By that point, I was hooked. I’ve watched every episode since. At some point, I’ll take in one of the all-day marathons on TNT and watch earlier episodes.

The Walking Dead The first two seasons – phenomenal. After that, it began adding characters that were throwaway, laughable, unlikable, or just plain boring. And there are stretches of pure boredom as well. But once it gets going, it is edge-of-your-seat tension. And there are few shows that could actually make you root for the death of a whiny little brat of a kid by the second season, and now make you glad he survived because he’s turned into a bona fide badass. It’s also brought attention to the coolness of the crossbow and kitana, thanks to Daryl and Michonne, respectively. My biggest gripe? Shooting moving targets in the head while having almost no serious firearm training is a LOT harder in real life than the show makes it seem.

Game of Thrones Another show that makes you root for the death of a kid, although King Joffrey is less a kid and more just that kid from your old elementary school that acted like a sniveling, prepubescent asshole because he knows that even though he is hated by everyone, they need to pretend to like him because he has the cool toys. Peter Dinklage is outstanding in every way and was well-deserving of his 2012 Best Actor Golden Globe win. It’s created a myriad of “Winter is Coming” internet memes and countless other jokes and references. The imagery is amazing, the scenery is stunning, and there’s lots of gratuitous nudity (although South Park was right about all the “floppy wieners”). And the opening sequence is so awesome, with the most kick-ass theme music, that Jayson Werth of the Washington Nationals has adopted it as his walk-up song for every at-bat, which makes him a whole lot cooler in my book (despite his lack of fantasy production which caused me to drop him from my team).

Playmakers This show lasted just one season, because the NFL threatened ESPN with a boycott if the show was not removed. It was as real as real can get, with storylines of drug use, infidelity, homosexuality, and the everyday battles of playing professional football. An extremely well done series … but unfortunately, for only one season.

Freaks and Geeks Another show that only lasted one season – NBC cared more about ratings than reviews. It was featured the early work of such stars as James Franco, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini, Jason Segal, Martin Starr, and Busy Phillips, and also starred the great Joe Flaherty. Great writing, realistic stories, and incredible acting. NBC flat out screwed up shutting this one down.

Homeland Amazing show – just hasn’t been on long enough to warrant a higher placement. They just finished Season 3, and we’ll see how they proceed after the ending of last season.

Others worthy of at least a mention:

Shameless William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum kill it in every episode, and a supporting cast of largely unknowns provide amazingly cringe-worthy and uncomfortable moments in the life of a struggling family in downtown Chicago.

The Newsroom Jeff Daniels is superb, and if you have any doubt about his acting abilities, watch an episode of this series immediately following a viewing of him as Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber.”

Desperate Housewives Shut up. I liked it. It was a silly comedy/drama, but I got hooked on it. We all love gossip, even if we don’t admit it, and this show was chock-full. It was funny at times, sentimental at others. It showed how affairs hurt, lies are damaging, and family isn’t always who shares the same bloodline. True friendships can withstand almost anything. The finale was exactly how I expected it to be … life goes on

True Blood I love vampires, but sometimes this series veers too far off course by adding too many different supernatural creatures. Although I will admit that the dry humor is great, and Deborah Ann Woll is excellent even if she says nothing.

Heroes They added too many characters as the series progressed, and everyone seemed to have superpowers, but the first season remains one of my favorites ever.

Nip/Tuck The opening scene of the pilot, where Dr. Christian Troy meets the model Kimber, who rejects his pick-up lines until she realizes he’s a plastic surgeon, is still one of my most favorite scenes ever. The show was one of my guilty pleasures. It was over the top, outrageous, featured more plot twists and fantastical ideas than one could imagine, but it was really fun to watch. And the line, “Tell me what you don’t like about yourself” is something we could say in the mirror every day.

Prison Break It should have been a mini-series instead a 4-season show. Great premise, excellent execution, and Robert Knepper was chilling, but it ran too long and was too convoluted as it went on for a spot in the upper echelon of TV.

Knight Rider, The A-Team I list these two together because they weren’t very good who watching them now, as an adult, but boy were they entertaining. I dressed up as Mr. T for Halloween one year and met David Hasselhoff once.* I still look online for 1982 Firebirds to buy one day so I can build my own K.I.T.T. and just drive it to my dad’s to show him.

*I wore a mask; I did not use black face. But I did wear a bunch of fake gold chains and carried a plastic Uzi. I have a picture. When I met Hasselhoff, he was at the RI Convention Center (or Civic Center, I forget) and he was there with the KITT car. He was a dick to me because I called him Michael Knight and not Mr. Hasselhoff. My dad responded, “He’s 6, asshole.”

Ok, on to the Top 12. I could easily write an entire post about each of these, but I’ll try to be brief. Please keep in mind that I may divulge some endings/plot twists if the show is off the air. So beware …


12. Dexter (2006-2013) This ranking is more a casualty of other shows just being better, and the reason I dropped it lies mostly with the series finale, which made me feel mixed emotions. After the pilot, I thought it would be a dark, gritty, drama. But then I noticed the subtle humor that Dexter displayed. His tongue-in-cheek jokes made me smirk and chuckle despite the fact that he may have uttered them while dismembering a victim. As the series progressed, we were introduced to some characters that were despicable (Lila, in particular), lost some eye candy (the murder of Rita is still traumatic), gained some eye candy (despite her serial killer ways, Hannah was still gorgeous), saw some AMAZINGLY well acted villains (John Lithgow was simply chilling as The Trinity Killer), and met one of the most disturbingly inappropriate and hilarious side characters ever (Vince Masuka was probably one of the most realistic TV police employees ever – if you can’t make untimely sex jokes at work to keep things light around death, you’re probably a boring individual). All that being said, the finale was good, but not great. Dexter faking his death was a cop-out to me, but it was filled with emotion, as the goodbye to Deb was the most human Dexter had ever been. All in all, after 8 seasons and 96 episodes, it is worthy of a high placement.

11. Grey’s Anatomy (2005-present) Yes, it can get very much like a soap opera with the romances between characters, and I understand that this being on the list makes people question my toughness. But there are many plot lines of many episodes devoted ENTIRELY to specific surgeries and procedures. I’ve often said that if I had to go back to medical school, I would choose neurosurgery or trauma as my specialty. The show has been on for 10 seasons and over 200 episodes, and since Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey just resigned for another 2 seasons, it will surpass 250 episodes before it’s all said and done. That’s very impressive in today’s age of short attention spans and premature cancellations. That hospital has seen more tragedies and suspenseful moments (floods, power outages, mass casualties arriving, mass shootings in the hospital, etc.) than any hospital could in real life, but it’s still gripping entertainment. And the death of George O’Malley is still one of the most gut-wrenching episodes the show has ever done.

10. Smallville (2001-2011) Yes, it took 10 seasons and 217 episodes before Clark Kent finally flew. Yes, the first two seasons were mostly of the “freak-of-the-week” variety. But this show so adeptly chronicled the growth of Clark Kent to Superman while learning his powers and being tested by Jor-El through trials of moral and ethical strength, that it warrants being my 10th favorite drama of all time. As the show continued, we began to see more of the DC characters (heroes and villains) we know and love from the comics: Lois Lane, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, Cyborg, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Brainiac, Slade Wilson, Doomsday, Metallo, Toy Man, Amanda Waller, Darkseid, General Zod, and of course, Lex Luthor. It paid homage to the original movies and TV shows with cameos from Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Dean Cain, Teri Hatcher, and even a spot from the original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. And one of the coolest cameos for me on a personal level was the reunion of the Dukes of Hazard, when Tom Wopat guest starred as a politician and old friend of Jonathan Kent, who was played by John Schneider. I loved the Dukes of Hazard as a kid, and the scene introducing Wopat of course had him speeding up in an old Charger. The scenes of Clark in the Fortress of Solitude with subtle tones of Superman’s theme in the background still give me goosebumps.

9. House, M.D. (2004-2012) If we lived a better world, one without lawyers who would sue doctors for speaking the truth, I would have been exactly like Dr. Gregory House – snarky, smarmy, obnoxious, and hysterical. It was a show that, in the beginning, was primarily a “disease of the week” and followed a typical formula. But then the patient of the week became the B-plot and the main story became the character development of the drug-addicted House and his team and their relationships with each other. And the finale was as fitting as could be, with the title “Everybody Dies” (after the pilot was entitled “Everybody Lies”) as House gave up his career and faked his death to spend time with his best (and only) friend, who had only months to live. The show also took several serious turns throughout its 8 season/176 episode run, dealing with topics like suicide (and the fact that sometimes, we NEVER know why a person does it – that was one of the most incredible episodes of any show, ever), genetic diseases that impact our own future, abuse, the morals of helping someone who doesn’t deserve it, and even love and infidelity.

8. Sons of Anarchy (2008-present) The only show in my top 10 that is still on the air, SoA enters its 7th and final season in 2014. It follows the lives of a motorcycle club in California, and how the life impacts family and decisions. Part “Sopranos” and part “Hamlet,” it is an incredibly well written show and it’s a travesty that Katey Sagal has only been recognized for her outstanding work as the matriarch of the club once (2011 Golden Globe – Best Actress). I am intensely excited to see how the series wraps up, especially after how Season 6 ended on such a thrilling moment.

7. Rescue Me (2004-2011) Denis Leary hit a home run with his darkly comedic drama about the FDNY in the years following 9/11. Alcoholism was front and center, and constant heartache followed Leary’s Tommy Gavin. His family and friends provided constant entertainment and often very touching moments, especially about death, which followed Tommy like a shadow. The supporting cast making up the rest of the fire department and the dysfunctional Gavin family made the show have a seamless transition from comedic scenes to those of pure sadness. The series finale was funny, heartwarming and almost perfect. It was a poetic remembrance of those lost who sacrificed themselves for others. It was the most fitting way to end one of my favorite shows, ever.

6. ER (1994-2009) Fifteen seasons. 331 episodes. And 28 different actors appeared in at least 100 episodes. Another 12 appeared in between 50-100 episodes. The strength of ER was the fact that there was so much turnover in the cast; it made it real. People change and move on. And in television, it allows for exceptional reunion shows (George Clooney’s return was such a wonderful moment in the show’s history). It also provides the audience with such emotional connection to characters that when they leave, we feel a genuine loss. The death of Dr. Mark Greene, played by Anthony Edwards, was one of the most emotional episodes I’ve ever seen. Granted, my heart strings were pulled that much harder by the playing of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which always reminds me of my grandfather, but Greene and the cast of ER were the main proponents in my decision to become a doctor. So many moments are memorable, but two of them (in addition to Clooney’s return and Greene’s death) are scorched into my brain. The first was the brutal stabbings of Dr. John Carter (Noah Wylie) and Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) by a schizophrenic patient. John walks into a room looking for Lucy on Valentine’s Day in the hospital and sees a card. He opens it, sees blood on the floor, then is stabbed in the back by the patient. When he falls to the floor, he sees Lucy in a pool of blood on the other side of the bed. The other moment was actually the very next episode, which began with Dr. Kerry Weaver finding the two bodies, and the entire staff fighting to save their lives. I had goosebumps. I watched the show every week with my mom until I moved to college, and we talked about it every week after a new episode aired. There will always be a love for this show because of the connection I make with it. It only fell out of the Top 5 recently, and the only fault I could explain with any seriousness is that when you have 300+ episodes, there are bound to be several that fail to live up to the reputation that precedes them.

5. 24 (2001-2014) Jack Bauer is the single greatest TV action hero ever. There is absolutely no equal. The most original premise I’ve ever seen in TV history delivered. Every. Single. Time. I changed my cellphone ringtone to mimic that of the office phones at the Counter Terrorist Unit, and paid close attention to the handful of times the show used a silent countdown, which followed an important death to a major character. (It occurred 11 times in total over the 8 seasons and the movie “24: Redemption”. Season 4 is the only season to never feature a silent clock.) To air a show in real time does force the viewer to see some downtime, and the creators (Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow) admit that, which is why when they bring the show back for a 9th season this May after a 4-year layoff, they are switching to a 12-hour format to cut out that slow stuff. But when the action was moving, it was at such a breakneck speed that you grabbed your seat and held on. Kiefer Sutherland brought the character to life – with heart and soul and tortuous behavior. He could get any terrorist to talk, and his interrogation tactics were as enhanced as they could get. He was an unstoppable force aided by an undying love for his country. As far as a supporting cast, there was no greater sidekick than Chloe O’Brien (played perfectly by Mary Lynn Rajskub). And Dennis Haysbert was brilliant as the greatest TV president ever, David Palmer. Add the stunningly beautiful Anne Wersching as Agent Renee Walker and the gorgeous Elisha Cuthbert as Jack’s daughter Kim Bauer and you have a gold mine for success. But the best part of “24” was how frightfully real it COULD be. Thanks to the Patriot Act, we will never know how many potential terrorist attacks are thwarted every day. But there are disturbingly eerie similarities between President Charles Logan and the lies and deceit we’ve seen in D.C. over the past several years. And that makes us hope that there are agents like Jack as well.

4. The Sopranos (1999-2007) Without Tony Soprano, there would be no Walter White. Without Tony Soprano, there would be no Vic Mackey. He WAS the first great anti-hero; he was the bad guy we rooted FOR. When he would kill someone in cold blood? It’s ok; it’s Tony and that’s what he does. When he would cheat on his wife with his girlfriend or cheat on his girlfriend with his other girlfriend? It’s ok; it’s Tony and that’s what he does. We forgave his illicit behavior because he brought forth the fantasy of the mafia in all of us. He was the boss of the entire Soprano crime family, yet he had trouble controlling his kids. He possessed a quality that allowed us to relate to him. Most of us are not criminals; we have not killed people; we don’t make our living on the wrong side of the law. Yet we could all relate to Tony on some level. Maybe it was the frustration he felt at “work.” Maybe it was the strife he experienced with his aging mother, in whose eyes he could do nothing right. Maybe it was the excitement he felt taking his daughter to visit colleges or when he worked on his NCAA March Madness pool or when he’d feed the ducks in his pool. “The Sopranos” made us laugh with very dark humor; one of my favorite scenes in the entire 6 seasons was the fresh-off-the-boat enforcer from Italy, Furio Giunta, entering the Korean massage parlor to collect tribute from the owner and smashing his way in with a bat and then shooting the owner in the knee, all while Tony sat in his Suburban smoking a cigar and smiling as he hears the commotion. The series finale, particularly the final scene, brought forth scorn from TV viewers across the nation. Cutting to black during Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” created more controversy than any show in recent memory. Was Tony shot by the man in the Members Only jacket? If so, did he survive? Earlier in Season 6, he sat on a boat with his brother-in-law, Bobby Baccala, discussing what it might be like to get shot in the head. They surmised that “everything just goes black.” Unfortunately, with the death of James Gandolfini, we will never get the true answer, as the potential for a movie ended.

3. Breaking Bad (2008-2013) Here is where the ranking will cause the most debate. But if you think about it, in any list, when you get to the Top 3, there are bound to be debates and discussions because if you’re talking subjectivity, it is all based on where you place more value. Breaking Bad ran for 5 seasons and 62 episodes. Every single episode was stellar. Every. Single. One. Surely that kind of percentage warrants a higher placement, no? Well, while I do think that a 100% EEP (Excellent Episode Percentage) is a feat that is almost impossible to match in a show that runs more than a season or two, it’s not the only factor. Breaking Bad was an amazing idea of a show, written with genius, directed with brilliance, and acted with some of the greatest performances I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. The final 8 episodes were so impeccably made that people talked about them all week until the next one aired. Walter White (portrayed by multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (multiple Emmy winner Aaron Paul) made us laugh, cry, cringe, and cheer on their journeys from high school chemistry teacher and former student to the largest meth dealers in the Southwest. The supporting cast was equally amazing. Anna Gunn and Dean Norris were riveting. The dynamic between Walter and his DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (Norris) began on one side of the coin and flipped 180 degrees as Hank saw the mild-mannered, geeky, meek man transform into one of the most dangerous men alive. His opinion changed from feeling sorry for Walt to anger and even fear. The music throughout the show was mixed beautifully, with lyrics matching emotions and mood of the scene. The colorful scenery and imagery added to the analysis and foreshadowing. The finale answered questions and provided closure for every character. The final scene and accompanying music is masterful. It can be argued that Breaking Bad was the greatest drama ever, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for making that claim. But there were two shows that, for me, rank just a smidge higher.

2. The Shield (2002-2008) While this show is fiction, it was based on the LAPD Rampart Division’s anti-gang unit. The opening theme music is an in-your-face mix of guitars that wakes you up and gets you ready to experience something special. Many of the minor story lines were based on real events. The police technical advisor* for the show once told creator Shawn Ryan that “every cop will love this show, even the higher ranks who will publicly say they don’t.” Vic Mackey and his Strike Team were bad news for anyone committing crime in the Farmington region of LA. He bended some rules, broke others, and simply ignored the ones he didn’t like. But his was likable. He was funny, he was sincere, he loved his family and his children, two of which were diagnosed with autism.** This increased need for additional finances may have been what drove Mackey to make underhanded deals, or rob the Armenian Money Train, or have more back-alley relationships with those who should’ve been behind bars. Ultimately, Vic was about honesty and loyalty. The end of the pilot episode showed very clearly the extent to which he’d go to protect his team. The murder of Detective Crowley would be a lasting plot, culminating in one of the greatest scenes in TV history: Vic Mackey sitting down to confess his crimes in exchange for immunity, looks at the digital recorder and asks, “How much memory does that thing have?”

*The spell-check kept telling me that it should be “adviser” and not “advisor.” They are both accepted spellings and there is no difference. But ‘adviser’ is listed as the primary spelling in most dictionaries because it is an older version. It’s also 5x more common in current news publications. However, ‘advisor’ is commonly used as a job title and is only marginally more common in American and Canadian English than other varieties of English. I just wanted to clear that up for anyone that complains about my spelling.

**As someone who is becoming more involved in the autism community now, thanks to very dear friends with autistic children, the plot of Vic’s son being diagnosed was my first “experience” with autism. Seeing him and his wife try to cope at a time when many doctors still didn’t truly understand the diagnosis was real, sad and frightening. Here was this tough, strong cop who beat criminals with his fists, burned them on stoves, and threatened them with poisonous snakes, and he’s crying behind closed doors because he feels helpless to care for his child.

My reasoning behind placing The Shield above Breaking Bad is largely based on the finale and the final outcome of the main character. **SPOILER ALERT AHEAD** Both Walter White and Vic Mackey were powerful men who were likable and had funny personality traits but were ultimately awful people. They both killed people, and ruined the lives of their friends and families. Both wanted to provide for their families, get away with their crimes, and be happy. By the end of BB, Walt died after being shot by a stray bullet (although he was going to be dead from his cancer anyway), but had set up a trust for his children and family with more money than they could ever spend. He murdered everyone who crossed him, allowed Jesse to go free and in the final scene, died in a meth lab so everyone would know him to be the kingpin of a drug empire. At the end of The Shield, Vic lost his family to witness protection, saw his longtime friend Shane kill himself and his family (after knowing that Shane killed their friend Lem), saw his other friend Ronnie arrested for all the crimes Vic committed after Vic betrayed him, and in the final scene, was shown stripped of all power and glory by being placed at a desk job typing reports instead of being on the streets fighting crime. It was the worst Hell he could envision; it was the perfect punishment. And THAT is the main reason that this show ranks just a hair above BB.

1. LOST (2004-2010) Here we are … Number 1. My favorite drama of all time. LOST was so much more to me than just a show about castaways on a mysterious island. It wasn’t just a science fiction show. It was about relationships. It was about not knowing the lives of the people you meet every day. We are all connected and no meeting is by chance. We all have a destiny. The two major conflicts were science vs. faith. But it was more than that. LOST became a way of life for true fans across the world. Each season brought questions, and admittedly, they weren’t all answered by the finale. But that’s part of why it’s so great. In life, we don’t always get to learn the answers to every question. We are sometimes left wondering.

LOST introduced us to incredible characters. By the end of the show, every character had their back-story told in detail, and they all had redeeming qualities. The point was, everyone we meet is the way they are because of something that’s happened to them. This was actually part of the homily I heard at mass last Sunday. We don’t always know the stories of the people we meet daily, but everyone’s actions have a reason behind them. That woman in the market who’s throwing a fit because her coupon wasn’t accepted? Maybe she just learned a friend was very sick. That young cashier at the coffee shop snapping at a customer? Perhaps she just received a letter telling her that she was rejected from her first choice of college. The guy swearing and yelling at a worker in a store? He just buried a family member. That boss who suddenly seems distant and despondent? He just found out he was lied to and cheated on by the love of his life and best friend.

The relationships between the characters on LOST were deep and complex. They all had inner demons that they needed to fight to gain truth and salvation. It’s true for all of us. Sure, some of us hide it well, but we all have issues. LOST displayed that in the truest of forms. Jack Shephard – the orthopedic surgeon trying to live up to his alcoholic father’s professional reputation, while battling his own self-doubt; Kate Austen – the fugitive being chased by federal agents for killing her abusive step-father after being turned in by her own mother; Charlie Pace – the downtrodden heroin-addicted former music star trying to find his place in life and love; James “Sawyer” Ford – a con man living with the guilt of killing an innocent man on his hunt for the man responsible for his parents’ deaths; Sayid Jarrah – the former soldier in the Iraqi Republican Guard who misses the love of his life and lives with the memories of torture and war; Jin and Sun Kwon – a married couple from Korea trying to work through her lies and infidelity while he continues to love her unconditionally; Hugo Reyes – a millionaire who believes that his money has been the source of all the bad things that happen to him; Claire Littleton – the single, pregnant girl sent on the flight by a fortune teller who feared for the child; Boone and Shannon – a man who loves his step-sister and repeatedly saves her from self-destruction; Ben Linus – a mysterious man who lived on the island all his life, neglected by his father after his mother’s death, and seeking acceptance from anyone; and John Locke – a paraplegic who miraculously can walk after the plane crash and knows that his destiny (and the Island)  is something far greater than he ever imagined. Of course, there are many more characters throughout the 6 seasons, all of whom play an integral part in the story as it progressed.

LOST is my favorite drama of all time because of the emotions I feel every time I watch it. I try to introduce to it as many people as possible, especially if I think they need to re-evaluate their own relationships. If I can, I’ll try to watch every episode with them. I’ve even watched on my own while they watch 4 hours away, because I know that once they start watching, they’ll feel better, and making someone I care about feel a little better makes me happier. It sounds silly. It sounds stupid. But LOST has made my life better because I pay more attention to human emotion and behavior. Sure, I can still be a jerk sometimes myself, and I still make jokes if I see someone doing something dumb or making a fool of themselves. But I do that for reasons inside me – the need to make people laugh for acceptance, to make someone I love cheer up a little after a rough day at work or at home, or because I’m having such a bad day that I lash out. It happens. I now try to recognize why others might do it.

We were all meant to do something with our lives. We may never get the answer to what that is. Hopefully, some of us do. But I firmly believe that the people in our lives are there for a reason. It may be to teach us something, or for us to teach them something. And in the end, we are judged by who we are. LOST taught me that.

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Hitler and Parenting

I enjoy talking with kids (sometimes). I will usually talk with them about school, because I like to know what they’re studying and how the education process has evolved since I was a child.* They always seem fascinated to discover that I still remember the topics that they’re learning, as though it provides them with reassurance that what they’re learning now will someday be of major importance in their futures. I am (and always will be) a huge proponent of education. I have yet to meet anyone who has ever said, “Gosh, I really wish I didn’t know about so many things.” I mean, I wish I knew everything about everything. I’ve always said that if I get the opportunity to learn something I don’t already know, I’ll take it. If you tell me that we’re going to spend Saturday dismantling and rebuilding a carburetor, I’ll ask when and where do I show up with beer … because it’s something I don’t know how to do, but someday might need to know.

* Have you seen the way kids are taught math now? It’s flat out odd. My little cousin showed me a few years ago. The only specific thing I remember is that the new method appeared to take longer to solve equations than I could do in my head. For example, if the problem was to multiply 150 x 5, they wanted the students to multiply 100 x 5 to get 500, and then 50 x 5 to get 250, then add the two products to get the answer of 750. To me, this seems like more work than simply multiplying 15 x 5 to get 75 and then throwing a zero at the end.

Anyway, I have two young patients that are currently in middle school, and I truly enjoy when they come in for appointments, because they’re at the age when they’re actually past rudimentary subjects and are finally studying real topics. We talk about history and important pieces of literature and they ask about science and what they’d need to study in order to pursue different careers. Today, I asked them what they had planned for their weekend and they told me that they have a lot of homework, which included an essay on Hitler. (She incorrectly called him Alfred Hitler, which makes him sound much less scary.)* She asked me, “Why did Hitler do what he did to the Jews?” For the first time in a long time, I was stumped as to what to say.

*Incidentally, does anyone else wonder what Hitler was like outside of his desire to conquer the world? I do. I sometimes wonder if he had a sense of humor. I’m sure there are anecdotes and stories about his personality somewhere in the annals of history, but I’ve always been curious. I know he was an artist, and I’ve seen some of his paintings (which are far better than anything I could do). But it’s interesting to think that no matter what we may ever learn about his personal life, he will only be remembered for his brutal, despicable actions in WWII. We could learn that he rescued stray dogs, mended the broken wings of birds, and helped old ladies across the street, but he’ll always be an asshole.**

**Also, even though it’s an ugly mustache, I do feel bad that no man can ever shave his facial hair into that design ever again. Hitler has ruined the toothbrush mustache forever. Poor Charlie Chaplin – he wore it, and entertained millions, but it is always called the “Chaplin Mustache” as a second to “Hitler Mustache”.  Although it’s worth noting that Chaplin and Hitler were born 4 days apart and Chaplin ultimately played a spoof of Hitler in a comedic role in The Great Dictator (1940), which actually led to his decline in popularity, even though the film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor.

Now it’s worth mentioning with utmost clarity that I am in no way, shape, or form condoning any of his actions in WWII. I find it completely deplorable. My problem in answering was that I wasn’t sure whether I should delve deep into history and provide the girls with important facts or let them do the research themselves. Ultimately, I decided that the best answer given the time constraints (I had a new patient about to come in) was, “Because he was a completely insane man who felt that everyone who wasn’t German was less than perfect and he wanted the world to be perfect. So he felt it was his duty to exterminate anyone who wasn’t to his liking.” Is that a perfect answer? Far from it. But it seemed to satisfy them for the time being.

But then I got to thinking. How would I have answered that question had it been posed by my own child? I honestly don’t know. Should the day ever come where I do have a child of my own (and that day is becoming less and less of a reality, but that entry is for another day), I would no doubt expect my offspring to possess the natural desire to obtain information independent of my answers. But I know they’ll eventually ask me. And I’m curious how I’ll answer. This goes beyond any questions about Hitler, mind you. I’m talking about questions in general. I was a very inquisitive young boy, but my mother always made me look up the answer to every question I asked before she would give any additional input.* I will definitely be that type of parent, but I’ll want more out of my child. I’ll want them to look up additional theories and get as many viewpoints as they can. (This does not include conspiracy theories, although I will admit that for a split second after she asked me the question about Hitler and the Holocaust, I thought about the answer that would have been given had she asked Mel Gibson’s dad instead of me. But if my child comes to me with even one ridiculous conspiracy theory, there will be hell to pay.)

*Another thing that is becoming increasingly depressing is that many of my patients are beginning to show me just how old I am. I’ve already explained to several that when I was their age, only about 5 or 6 students had cell phones, and maybe only 15-20 more had pagers, and that the early beepers didn’t allow for text, so we had to come up with numerical codes to express thoughts, like “143” for “I love you” or “58008”, which was “BOOBS” turned upside down. They can’t believe that I had to look up information in encyclopedias at the library because the internet had not yet been fully implemented. And they were completely shocked to learn that I was already in medical school by the time Facebook was created, and in the beginning, the website was only designed to be accessed by college students.

I don’t know what kind of parent I will be. I’ve written in the past about how I’ll be a strict disciplinarian, but I am very afraid that I will unintentionally place undue pressure on my child to be (almost) as smart as me. I have always had a fear of having a child that doesn’t WANT to learn things, that is content with just getting by, that doesn’t want to work hard. I’ll admit, I sometimes had the same attitude. It was a curse in a way to be given the gift of a great memory. I could very easily sit in a classroom, not take any notes at all, barely pay attention, and walk out remembering at least 90% of the information without ever needing to read it again. That number decreased as I aged, which may have had a part in me developing this desire to read and learn as much as possible, and to study more. The older I became, the more maturity I developed, and the more I realized that education and knowledge is everything. I want that desire to be instilled in my children. I want them to ask questions, but I want them to have the inherent ability to seek out information without being told. I hope they’ll read, and that they’ll desire a healthy dose of fiction and non-fiction. I want them to be better than I am now, learn more skills, have more talents, and be more well-rounded.

I don’t envy parents in my generation. This is a society that rewards laziness and punishes hard work. It is becoming increasingly evident to children in their teen years that if you complain enough, you can get things for free. They see that if you don’t feel you’ve been treated fairly, you can sue. When I was growing up, if I told my mother that a teacher yelled at me, she’d say, “Well what did you do?” And she NEVER sided with me. The teacher was in charge, I was there to listen and learn and behave. She would even tell the school nurse on the first day of school that she was to never call if I complained that I was sick. Mom would say, “Unless he’s throwing up or has a fever, don’t call me. He’s probably faking.” (She provided me with the work ethic I have now. To this day, I’ve yet to ever call out of work for being sick.) If I said something wasn’t fair was, the response would be, “Life isn’t fair. You need to get that through your head if you want to succeed in this world. People will try to undermine you or knock you down and you can’t let them. Don’t let failure dictate who you are. Let your response to failure dictate that. But things will not always come easy, not for you. Work hard. You’ll be a better person if you do.”

I hope if I have a child, they at least learn that.

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It ain’t just a song …

Anticipation can be best explained as the act of looking forward to something, especially something that can be perceived as pleasurable.  Two things come to mind when I hear this word:

1) Carly Simon’s song, “Anticipation”

2) the quote, “Anticipation of death is worse than death itself.”

The first is obviously more famous.  It is fairly widely known that Simon wrote this song in the ’70s while waiting to go on a date with Cat Stevens, an English singer-songwriter who converted to Islam and now is known as Yusuf Islam.  The song was then used in a brilliant Heinz ketchup commercial.

The second was a quote that I read in the 1990 movie, “Hard to Kill” starring one of my idols, Steven Seagal.  In it, Seagal’s character scribbles the quote on a toilet seat in the home of man he is about to kill.  It is a great quote, but it is not the original quote.

No, the original thought came from the brilliant mind of Publilius Syrus, a one-time Italian slave who was so witty and wise, he was freed by his master and educated.  He has unleased from his mind a litany of maxims*, one of which is Maxim 511: “The fear of death is more to be dreaded than death itself.”

* Lest anyone not know, a maxim is a wise saying, especially one intended to advise or recommend a course of conduct.  It stresses the succinct formulation of an ultimate truth, a fundamental principle, or a rule of conduct. The word derives from the Latin word maximus, “greatest”, via an expression maxima propositio, “greatest premise”.  Incidentally, another of Syrus’ most well-known maxims is “Saxum volutum non obducitur musco”, which can be translated to “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

Getting back to Carly Simon’s song.  I find that we most anticipate the things that we think will make us happy, and these things tend to be romance related.  This is unfortunate, and not 100% of the time (people anticipate work, sports, I anticipate TV shows, etc.), but for the sake of argument, let’s focus on romance and relationships.

One of those moments in time when anticipation is highest for me is that moment my phone vibrates and has yet to display the caller ID.  I have yet to experience a greater sense of hope/excitement/fear/heart-stopping than that fraction of second when I hope and pray that it’s the person I’m waiting to hear from.  It’s every emotion all rolled into one split-second.

And I hate it.

The thing is, I know that if the end result is the desired one, I would absolutely LOVE that same second.  But when the call/text is from someone that ISN’T the one you’re waiting for, it’s such an intense disappointment.  For some, that disappointment is endless.  For others, it is short-lived.  For me, it is perpetual.  I am forever destined to live in that perpetual state of anticipation/disappointment, which helps me when writing these posts, but otherwise, it kinda sucks.

Relationships in general are a lot of work.  Many say that they’re worth it, but the more I see, the more I think that they’re not.  People get together for a number of reasons, but very few stay together forever.  Only 40% of marriages end with the death of a spouse; 60% end in divorce.  Think about that for a moment* – more than half of all marriages will fail in their attempt to last “until death do us part.”  Would you fly on a plane if there was a greater than 50% chance of crashing?  Hell, would you do anything (save for flipping a coin) where there was a greater than 50% chance of failing?  Except for you degenerate gamblers, most people would say no.  So why do we do it?

* Many people believe a “moment” to be a measure of time that is less than a second, and this is mostly due to a line from Cornelius in the play “Hello Dolly”.  Actually, a moment is a medieval unit of time lasting 1/40 of an hour, or 90 seconds.  So a true “moment” is 1.5 minutes.

I think we like the punishment.  No, I’m only kidding … a little.  I think we enjoy the comfort that comes with being in a monogamous relationship.  You never need to find a dinner date, never need to worry when an invitation has a “+1” on it, always have someone to talk about TV shows with, and always have that partner with whom to play board games with.  And of course, you never need to go looking for sex.  (I recognize that that is common in the beginning of relationships, and tends to disappear as the time passes.)  But other than that comfort, do we really think we can spend a lifetime with the same person each and every day?  Newlywed couples will disagree with me, but I think most of you that have been in long-term relationships will agree.  People get boring.  The jokes get stale.  The sex gets monotonous.  You know the old English proverb, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”?  That’s why people stray and cheat – we think things are better, but they’re not.  They’re just different.  The difference is what we desire.

I see relationships begin and end every day.  It amazes me when I see people so distraught when one ends.  I’m not being mean, I know the pain of someone saying they no longer want you in their life.  I’m just amazed because the probability of the relationship you’re in right now lasting forever is lower than that of it failing.  Chances are, the longer you’re with one person, the greater chance you have of the relationship ending badly.  You just become frustrated with the monotony, the same old stories, the same drama, the same bullshit, day in and day out.

Facebook allows us to see inside many relationships.  Your relationship status is public, and so many people are so starved for attention that they post all of their drama for the world to see and comment on.  But realistically, all we do is get aggravated with those statuses.  Call me cynical … I say I’m realistic.  Chances are, the relationship will end and you will be with someone else in the future.  Don’t fret, just move on.

But what do I know? I’m sure I’d be just as happy if I got a phone call/text from that special someone.  Then, all that anticipation would be rewarded.

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “friend” as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.”  It’s an interesting definition because really, how do you truly define a friend?  Is a friend someone who will be there to support you when you’re falling?  Tell you an honest opinion even if you might not like it?  Listen to you when you’re droning on and on about nonsense?  Help you bury a body at 3am?  Where does it end?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I was wondering just how many true friends I actually have.  It’s a humbling experience, to say the least.  How much will it hurt to find out that I might not have as many as I thought, or not have as many as I did when I was a child?  That’s hard to say.  As someone who rationalizes almost everything in his life, I have come to the conclusion that most of the people in my life should be considered more as an “acquaintance” than an actual “friend.”  This is not to say that the relationship is any less valued by me, just categorically different.  My mother once told me that you should be able to count your “true friends” on one hand, and that they should be considered based on quality, not quantity.  She told me that you find out who those people are when you’re at your darkest, most depressed moments, because they’re the ones who never leave your side until they know that you’re OK; they change their own schedules to make sure you’re taken care of.

With the creation of social networking websites like Facebook, the word “friend” has taken on a whole new persona.  No longer can we count our friends on one hand.  I’m always amazed when I think that there are people out there who stockpile friends as though they belong on “Hoarders” – they have THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of “friends” and many more on hold with friend requests.  Think of that for a second, you actually send someone a request to be their friend.  I don’t think I’ve verbally asked someone to be my friend since kindergarten – if ever!  Friendship just sort of happens.  You notice similarities in personality, sense of humor, common interests, and you feel drawn to spend additional time with that person.  In that aspect, the above definition makes perfect sense.  You have an affection or esteem towards another individual and want to spend more time with them because their presence makes you happier.

Sometimes, we separate our friends into different groups.  You have your “work friends”, “bar buddies”, “neighbors”, “childhood friends”, “sports teammates”, etc.  You develop circles of people that you associate with based on common interests.  If you’re a parent, you have an entire group of people with whom you may spend an inordinate amount of time with, yet not particularly like: the parents of other kids at your kid’s school or kids on your kid’s sports team.  And yet, as decent people, we try to become “friends” with them, even if the only thing we have in common is that we both decided to have a child in the same year and then live in the same area.  Why do we do this?  Why do we feel this inherent need to be liked and involved?

Not to get too technical, but personality types can be divided into four main types.  One of these expresses an intense desire to be liked by as many people as possible, and that person can actually display symptoms of sickness if they feel they are not liked by someone.  Almost everyone possesses this characteristic, but it is far more dominant in some than others.  And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I mean, who really wants to be disliked by anyone.  I know there are reality TV stars and celebrities who give the impression that they enjoy being despised by the public, but I would venture to guess that deep inside, they feel bad about being hated.  I know I try to stay strong and show that it doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t like me, but if I’m being honest, of course it hurts.  You never want someone to say hurtful things about you or spread false information regarding your personality.

Getting back to Facebook, we have also added a new word to the lexicon of our lives: “defriend.”  Never before did our society have a word to describe the action of no longer being friends with someone.  And this action can cause so many more rifts in social circles than simply choosing not to spend time or hang out with someone.  Before Facebook, if you didn’t choose to be friends with someone, you just avoided making plans to hang out with them.  Now, you announce to the world (or at least the hundreds of “friends” you have) that you’ve become friends with this person, but then they can see if you’re no longer friends when you decide to end the relationship.

That brings me to the main point of this post.  What type of behavior necessitates “defriending” someone you were friends with?  And should the decision take into account how well you know the person outside the internet?  I think it should.

For example, an ex-girlfriend from my college years recently de-friended me because of something I said to her in a text message the other day while we were making plans to hang out.  We’ve been friends for 8 years and remained friends after college ended for both of us.  We don’t live near one another, nor do we speak every day, but we were always friendly with one another.  Anyway, I made a comment in JEST about her math skills and grammar and evidently, she took enough offense that she deleted me from her friends list.  Several things about this irk me – 1) she didn’t tell me that she was offended, she deleted me and I found out WEEKS later (as I said, we didn’t really talk all the time), 2) she wrote me a letter when I called her on it and said that she was extremely upset, but I feel that if she was as upset as she claims, she should have said something, and 3) she deleted me after one comment that she admitted she knew I felt was a joke, despite an 8-year friendship.

I’m not posting to complain.  She made her decision and I respect it.  Will I still be her friend?  Of course.  To me, a friendship can withstand one person joking around.  Besides, texting contains virtually no tone, which means it’s very difficult to determine whether something is serious or sarcastic, whether it is meant to hurt or just taken out of context.

My point is this.  That act showed me that she was not a “true” friend.  True friends let things slide, or call to find out connotation, or understand that sometimes things aren’t what they seem.  I have very few friends that I consider to be true.  They know who they are.  They are people that I don’t have to see every day, but know that they’re there when I need them.  I haven’t seen one of them in 8 years, but it doesn’t matter.

Friends are there for a number of reasons.  I think that their primary purpose can be summed up with one definition: “one attached to another by affection or esteem and dedicated to making sure you’re never truly alone in life”.  I am very grateful for the select few people whom I consider to be MY friends, which is a group much smaller than I thought it’d be, but it doesn’t matter.

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Never Forget – A 9/11/01 Retrospective

Throughout history, there have been moments that changed the course of history for our country.  On April 19, 1775, shots were fired in Lexington, Massachusetts between British soldiers and American minutemen, and the Revolutionary War began, leading to the birth of the greatest nation on Earth, the United States of America.  On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, marking the beginning of the American Civil War.  On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany after German officials said they would sink any U.S. ships sailing in the Atlantic – this marked the U.S. entry in the Great War, now known as World War I.  On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, TX.  On December 7, 1941, a surprise attack by Japan on the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii left 2,350 dead and 1,178 injured, forcing the U.S. to enter World War II.

Ten years ago today, September 11, 2001, the world changed yet again, as a Muslim terrorist group masterminded a plot to destroy the U.S. by hijacking 4 commercial airliners and crashing them across the country, killing 2,977 people, and thrusting the country into war once again.

As with my parents’ generation and the Kennedy assassination, I will never forget the events of 9/11, or what I was doing as they unfolded.

That Tuesday began like every other weekday for me.  I got up around 6am, showered, and began to get ready for school.  I was 20 years old and a student at the University of Rhode Island, living at home in nearby Cranston.  I enjoyed living at home for the financial benefits, but also because it enabled me to do what I loved doing every morning, listening to The Howard Stern Show in the car.  In high school, I did get to listen to Howard on my short drive to school, which was only about 10 minutes in duration.  Unfortunately, if I didn’t time my commute perfectly, I would sometimes have an entire drive filled with commercials.  In college, however, I was able to listen for a while, as my drive lasted about 30-40 minutes.  Howard provided me with a great way to start my day every morning.

That morning, my day was to begin at 9:30 a.m. with a botany exam.  I was in the Pre-Med curriculum and needed to take as many science classes as I could, but I HATED botany (I still hate plants to this day).  I was approaching Exit 9 off I-95 South when I heard the news.  Howard was in the middle of discussing a jacuzzi escapade with the beautiful Pamela Anderson when the calls began to come in.

8:46 am – American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the north face of the North Tower (1 World Trade Center), between floors 93 and 99.

At first, before the reports came in on what actually happened, the mood was still light.  Remember, the initial reports stated that it was a small plane and most likely pilot error.  So there wasn’t too much panic at the moment.  I called my mother from my car to tell her to put the TV on at home – she had already heard on the radio and was watching.

9:03 am – American Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC), between floors 77 and 85.

As White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said to President Bush, “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack,” those statements were echoed by Howard and myself.  At that moment, I had so much rage, I couldn’t see the road clearly.  It’s a testament to the power of the brain that my body went into autopilot for the remainder of my commute and I made it to URI safely, because it seemed as though 100% of my attention was focused on the radio.*

* Have you ever noticed that when you’re listening to something intently on the radio, you look at the radio to hear it more intensely?  I do.

I sat in my car and listened for as long as I could, but I knew I had to go to class for that stupid exam, and my teacher was a bitch whom I knew would not tolerate tardiness under any circumstances.  And I was correct.  I walked in, said that we should postpone the exam because we should all be watching the events of the day unfold.  She stated, “You can watch it later; there are more important things at this moment.”*

* I thought about doing a bit of research to find out the professor’s name of my class, but decided against it because I knew that had I found out her name, I would have then looked her up and asked her why she felt that a silly botany exam was more important than anything at that moment.  I can only hope that she recognizes the error of her ways and feels bad about what she said.

9:37 am – United Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the western side of the Pentagon.

A woman entered the room while we were all taking the exam to inform us that the Pentagon had just been attacked.  At this moment, I stood up and emphatically declared that we should not be in that room at that time and should be watching as our country was attacked.  I told her that this was the start of a war and she yelled for me to sit down.  I hurried to complete my test so I could run back to my car and listen to Howard.  He did not disappoint.  He was stoic, relatively calm for most of the show, livid at other parts and, while he tried to keep things light, he was mostly a professional journalist similar to Cronkite, Jennings, and Rather.  I am extremely happy that I have that show on tape for my children (if I have any) to hear.

9:45 am – The entire US airspace is shut down and all planes are ordered to land.  The order is given that any plane refusing to land would be considered hijacked and shot down.

At the time, it was being reported that this was the first time in history that the FAA grounded all planes.  In fact, this was not true.*  My home in Cranston lay underneath the path of many planes as they approached to land at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick.  For the next two days, it was so odd to not hear any planes flying over my house.

* From 1960-1962, the US military conducted exercises to test the North American Aerospace Defense Command against possible Soviet Union air attacks.  The tests were intended to ensure that any attacks over the Canadian border or coastlines would be detected and subsequently stopped.  It was known as Operation Skyshield and was classified until 1997.

9:59 am – the South Tower collapses due to the damage inflicted by Flight 175

Words cannot express how I felt when I heard this happen.  My thoughts and prayers immediately raced to those who inevitably lost their loved ones.  One 911 call, made from Kevin Cosgrove on the 105th floor, eerily recounts the moments immediately prior to the collapse.  His last words were, “Hello? Hello! We’re looking, we’re looking over the Financial Center. Three of us, two broken windows”.   A second later, he yells in horror, “Oh God! Oh…!!” as the South Tower collapsed.  The call went silent.

10:03 am – United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in Shanksville, PA, as the passengers fight with the hijackers to prevent another crash into a building.  According to reports and flight patterns, it is suspected that the intended target was the US Capitol Building or the White House.

The ultimate act of heroism.  These men and women did not wake up that morning ever anticipating that they would be put in the position to save the lives of possibly hundreds of people.  Unlike the rescue workers that died in NYC, these passengers were not in a hero’s line of work, but rose to the test and displayed the courage that I hope all Americans possess.  I can only pray that if I was ever in that situation, I would rise to the challenge and do what I had to do to save others.  I’m sure I would.

10:28 am – The North Tower collapses.  The skyline of New York City is forever altered.

The twin towers were so simple in their design, yet, now that they are gone, seem so beautiful in their simplicity.  Two large columns that were largely criticized as they were being built, have become a symbol of unity and freedom, of hope and faith, of courage and determination.  For days, rescue workers searched the rubble, in vain attempts to find additional survivors.  After the collapse of the towers, only 23 survivors who were in or below the towers escaped from the debris, including 15 rescue workers. The last survivor to be removed alive from the WTC collapse debris was Genelle Guzman-McMillan, who was removed at 12:30 PM on September 12th, 27 hours after its initial collapse.  Sadly, there were other survivors detected over the next few days, but the debris and rubble were so extensive, the survivors died in the attempt to rescue them.

On September 11, 2001, 2,977 people died (I don’t include the 19 terrorists that hijacked the planes).  Of those, 246 were on the 4 hijacked planes that were used to destroy our country.  Another 125 people (70 civilians and 55 military personnel) died in the attack on the Pentagon.  And 2,606 died in NYC, whether they were in the towers or on the ground.  The New York city Police Department lost 23 officers.  The Port Authority lost another 37.  And the New York City Fire Department lost 343 firefighters, including the FDNY chaplain, Fr. Mychal Judge.

May we never forget those who woke up that day only to never see their loved ones again.  May we never forget those who sacrificed their lives so that others could live.  And may we never forget that there are still those out there who will stop at nothing to see our country fail and perish.  We must continue to pray for the safety of our military, and we must pray that those who make the decisions, make the right ones.

God Bless America and God Bless our troops.

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The Greatest TV Comedies

I was talking with a good friend of mine about which sitcoms were the funniest TV shows of all-time.  Obviously, this is an extremely subjective list since the sense of humor between people is vastly different.  Still, it’s fun to think about.

When I was a junior in high school, my American History class was required to create a presentation for the teacher.  My topic was the History of American Comedy.  I spent countless hours putting together a montage video (yes, DVDs weren’t readily available in my junior year) of different comedians and TV show scenes to make everyone laugh.  I’m proud to admit that I received the highest grade in the class and my teacher was thoroughly impressed.*

* When I stumbled on the report (the video is probably long gone or was taped over with a baseball game), I laughed all over again.  Although I will admit that my high grade was partially no doubt due to the fact that my teacher had a great sense of humor and some of the clips I showed were downright hilarious.  The presentation and video totaled over 25 minutes … far longer than the 10 minute recommended time.

Again, this is simply my favorite comedies of all time – TV shows that always make me laugh, no matter how many times I watch the episodes.  I encourage debate.

15. Beavis & Butt-head – Between the music video critique and the (for the time) crude language, this show made me laugh all the time.  I will admit that I find myself watching the music video segments more than the episodes at this stage of my life (more for reminiscing the music itself), but the stories still make me laugh.  When I found out that the series is coming back, well, it made me laugh all over again.  Mike Judge is the reason I still laugh when I hear dirty word.  Once you get Butt-head’s laugh in your mind, it’s very hard to eliminate.  “He said ‘hard’.”

14. Upright Citizens Brigade – A sketch show starring improv comics.  The four founders of UCB Comedy Theater (Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser and Amy Poehler) recreated some of their most memorable improvised sketches from their stage show and put them on Comedy Central.  Two of my all-time favorites are “Ass Pennies” and “The Little Donny Foundation“.

13. Entourage – Follow around a movie star as he shows just how cool Hollywood life can be.  That would have been all I’d need to hear.  I loved this show, the honesty and the humor, and I’m sorry to see it go after 8 seasons.

12. The League – An almost entirely improvised show, it centers around a fantasy football league members and is really just a half-hour of ball-busting and dick jokes.  And it makes me want to learn about football, which really says something.  It’s just about to start season 3, and has a total of 18 episodes, which is why it doesn’t rank higher.

11. Family Guy – It’s a brilliantly offensive show that pushes the limit with every episode, whether it’s a song making fun of Down’s Syndrome or AIDS, or discussing the importance of human flatulence.  Some people view the haphazard storytelling as cheap, but it’s hard to argue with it’s success.  The show was canceled on Fox, found new life in reruns on Adult Swim, then made a HUGE resurgence.  And to think, creator Seth MacFarlane was originally scheduled to be on one of the hijacked flights on 9/11, but overslept.

10. Seinfeld – The “show about nothing” was funny week in and week out, and gave birth to some of our society’s most memorable lexicon – “yada, yada, yada”, “master of my domain”, “not that there’s anything wrong with that” … the list goes on.  And I dare anyone to see a scene on any TV show with Wayne Knight and not think to yourself, “Hello, Newman.”

9. All in the Family – In the 1970s, the country was still getting used to civil rights and many people were very much still prejudiced.  Archie Bunker was one of those people.  He was a racist and a bigot, and yet amazingly lovable.  Seeing Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers before they each grew to the size of a house is also incredibly enjoyable.

8. The Office (US and UK versions) – I know it’s blasphemy to combine the two, since they are different, but it’s my list.  The British version, created by and starring the great Ricky Gervais, is a testament to the “less in more” approach that is lost in American TV.  Gervais made a total of 12 episodes over two seasons, then came back a year later with a 90-minute special that wrapped up everything.  The American version was more of an ensemble work, which will become even more apparent now that leading man Steve Carrell has left.  The US version gets a little long sometimes, usually because our TV seasons tend to run around 20 episodes and the weekly plots can sometimes be thin, but it is still a solid show that can guarantee several laughs in each episode.

7. Modern Family – I hope that when I grow older, my family is as funny as this.  It’s only entering it’s 3rd season, but the first two are so jam-packed with laughs, and is always a threat to sweep the Emmys, that it’s hard to ignore.

6. South Park – A show that began as an in office goof amongst co-workers has become the single biggest envelope-pushing show on TV.  Whether they’re accusing Tom Cruise of being gay or calling out the Family guy writers as inept, no one is off limits.  Even in the earlier seasons, they made fun of Sally Struthers’ attempts to help homeless African children and made claims that Barbara Streisand was one of the most evil people on the planet.  It can always remain topical due to the fact that the episodes take roughly 4 days (The Simpsons, by comparison, take about 32 days to draw) to make, thanks to mostly computer animation.

5. Arrested Development – The Bluth family may have been one of the most dysfunctional families in TV history … and one of the funniest.  It’s one of the first shows I can remember that didn’t use a laugh track.  Unfortunately, the humor was so over the heads of so many people, that the ratings dropped and it was canceled.  It would have been higher on my list had it lasted more than 3 seasons … but there’s always the possibility of a movie.

4. Married … with Children – Behind Homer Simpson, there might not be a funnier TV father than Al Bundy, the shoe-salesman from Chicago.  Yet, no matter how much he despised his wife and children, he (almost) always put their happiness ahead of his own.  This show is almost as true a representation of married life as a show can get (today’s “reality” shows are not reality at all).  This show also had one of my all-time favorite guest spots when legendary comedian Sam Kinison played Al’s guardian angel in a horribly hysterical spoof of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, where Kinison showed Al just how much better everyone’s lives would be if Al was dead.  In true “Married” fashion, Al chose to live because he didn’t want his family to be happy.

3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – I’m partial to shows without laugh tracks because I hate being told what’s funny.  This show is improvised (like Curb), but the characters are much more devious and rude … making it one of the funniest shows on TV.  Think “Seinfeld”, but with more vulgar themes – like finding a baby in a dumpster and poisoning flip-cup opponents.  Also, when the lone female character says that her pregancy “sucks a bag of dicks,” you know you have a winning comedy.

2. Curb Your Enthusiasm – Anytime you can take one of the funniest men alive, Larry David, and put him at the center of a completely improvised show, you will have a gold mine.  CYE makes me laugh out loud due in large part to how much I relate to Larry.  He voices what we all think, without hesitation or thought of repercussion.  The beauty of the show, year in and year out, is the knowledge that Larry himself has stated that he will never air a show if he isn’t completely satisfied with the end product.

1. The Simpsons – Not a day goes by where I don’t make or think of at least one Simpsons reference.  My brothers (and my father) have watched every episode for the past 23 years.  This is a show that has referenced just about everything imaginable.  The guest star list is full of A-list celebs* from 3/4 of the Beatles to numerous sports stars and other Hollywood legends.  It is showing no sign of slowing down and even the movie was hilarious.  For me, it’s been my #1 comedy since the mid-90s.

* Rumor has it that Homer Simpson himself attempted to get Prince William and his new wife Kate Middleton for this season – we’ll find out when season 24 premieres this fall.  The invitation can be found here.

There are obviously some glaring omissions – Friends, Sex and the City, Scrubs, Three’s Company, Weeds, 30 Rock, Frasier, Cheers, and many others.  I’m not saying that those shows aren’t funny … I love all of them.  But this is a list of shows that, if I see on the TV Guide, I have to watch for at least one segment.  These are shows that I have looked up scenes online in the middle of the work day because they’ll make my day a little brighter.  And that is the test of a true comedy.  Again, I welcome your feedback.

What are your favorites?

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