Thursday, August 18, 2011

What I'll Be Watching This Fall

We're about a month away from the new 2011-2012 fall TV season getting underway.  Here's what I'll be watching.  Really quickly, here are the top 5 summer shows that are currently in season right now:  5. Wilfred, the new comedy is hilarious and has already been renewed for a second season.  4. Damages, after a long hiatus due to its move to DirecTV's Audience Network from FX, this season has picked up and gotten really good.  It's like Law and Order meets 24.  3. Entourage, the HBO show is in its final season and has plenty of storylines to wrap up.  2. Rescue Me, also in its final season, Tommy Gavin and company have definitely pulled out all the stops.  Plenty of laughs as usual and also a lot of poignant drama, like last night's footage from Ground Zero.  1. True Blood, after a good, but not great third season, the vamps and company are back in a very good season thus far.  The battle with the witches is definitely heating up!

Despite several promising and entertaining series being canceled after last season, there are still some very good shows returning.  First and foremost, Dexter and Boardwalk Empire will be returning on Showtime and HBO respectively.  These shows alone are reason enough to subscribe to their premium channels.  Two of the best shows on TV right now, hands down.  Showtime will also premiere Homeland starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis of Life fame.  I'll give it a shot, especially since I'll have Showtime already for Dexter.

With regard to network dramas that are returning, Fringe leads the pack.  The JJ Abrams sci-fi series may not be Lost, but it's the closest thing we have now that hasn't been canceled.  Hawaii Five-O and Law and Order: SVU will also be back.  The Walking Dead will also be back on AMC.  A very good zombie series. 

As far as returning comedies, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is by far the best and funniest show out there.  ABC's breakthrough hit Happy Endings, CBS' How I Met Your Mother, and the animated Family Guy and The Simpsons.  I've decided to give The Office my standard probationary two episodes to see how James Spader is taking over Steve Carell's lead, but I was very underwhelmed with last season as a whole.  Spader is going to have to have a great couple of episodes in order for me to keep that on my DVR.  The usually reliable 30 Rock will be back, but has been pushed to midseason due to Tina Fey's real-life pregnancy.

While there aren't too many great returning shows (the aforementioned shows being the exceptions), the new show lineup is even thinner.  JJ Abrams is taking another shot with Person of Interest.  Despite Abrams failed espionage show last year in Undercovers, Person of Interest does seem to have potential.  Its test ratings were apparently through the roof, the highest of any drama in 15 years, according to CBS.  I may also give Ringer a shot.  It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Nestor Carbonell of Lost and The Dark Knight.  A show called Revenge on ABC.  Maybe give Whitney a shot, starring comedian Whitney Cummings?  Don't know about that one, but like I said, the list is lean this year.  I will give How to be A Gentleman a shot.  It stars David Hornsby, Rickety Cricket from Sunny and Entourage's Kevin Dillon.  MTV's infamous Beavis and Butthead will also be returning this fall.  Remember them?  Huh huh...he he...

There are actually some promising shows set to debut midseason this year.  JJ Abrams is producing another series titled Alcatraz, starring Jorge Garcia (Hurley from Lost).  Kiefer Sutherland will return to TV in the series Touch, by Heroes creator Tim Kring.  Jack Bauer with superpowers!

Anyway, the tricky thing with all the new shows is that I have yet to even see previews for them, so at this point, I'm going solely off of descriptions and star power.  We'll see how it all shapes out.  Here's my schedule below.

The Simpsons, Fox 9/25
Family Guy, Fox 9/25
Boardwalk Empire, HBO 9/25
Dexter, Showtime 10/2
Homeland, Showtime 10/2
The Walking Dead, AMC 10/16
The Firm, NBC midseason

How I Met Your Mother, CBS 9/19
Hawaii Five-O, CBS 9/19
Alcatraz, Fox midseason

Ringer, CW 9/13
Apartment 23, ABC midseason

Law & Order: SVU, NBC 9/21
Revenge, ABC 9/21*
Happy Endings, ABC 9/28

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX 9/15
Person of Interest, CBS 9/22
The Office, 9/22*
Whitney, 9/22*
How To Be A Gentleman, CBS 9/29
Beavis and Butthead, MTV 10/27
30 Rock, NBC midseason

Fringe, Fox 9/23

Touch, Fox midseason

* denotes 2 episode probationary period
shows in italics are new

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Glass Half Full

The Colorado Avalanche's seasons have been a roller coaster ride of late.  In 2008, the Avs reacquired stars and fan favorites Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote and made a strong late season push to make it to the playoffs.  They upset the Minnesota Wild before eventually falling to the hated Detroit Red Wings.  In 2009, they finished at the bottom of the Western Conference and third from the bottom overall.  The silver lining was of course the high draft pick that turned out to be Matt Duchene and then Ryan O'Reilly in the second round.  Their rookie year, the Avs were back on track making the playoffs and giving the #1 seed Sharks a run for their money.  It seemed as if these young rookies as well as new goaltender Craig Anderson were propelling the Avs in the right direction.  However, last year, Anderson suffered a couple injuries and never quite regained his 2009-10 form.  On February 18th, 2011, Anderson was traded to Ottawa for fellow goalie Brian Elliott.  Elliott would prove to not be the Avs answer in goal to say the least.  The Avs would finish the season in the penultimate spot in the standings.  They drafted highly touted prospect Gabriel Landeskog with the second overall pick.  A Swedish-born player, who played juniors in Canada, Landeskog was considered by many the most NHL-ready of the 2011 draft class.  Barring an injury or an absolutely terrible camp, Landeskog will almost certainly be on the Avs opening night roster.  He has a highly impressive junior career including becoming the first European-born captain of the Kitchener Rangers, but as Alexandre Daigle, Ryan Leaf, Jamarcus Russell, and Patrick Stefan will tell you, it not about what you do before you're drafted, it's all about what you do afterward!

The Landeskog pick certainly makes sense.  He's pegged as a power forward, a position the Avs were in dire need of after trading away up-and-comer Chris Stewart.  The controversial trade sent Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for former #1 overall pick Erik Johnson, Jay McClement, and a first round pick.  Expect big things from Johnson.  Considered by some to be a bust already, Johnson is only 23-years-old and missed an entire season due to a freak ACL injury.  In fact, many people are picking Johnson to take the reigns as Avs captain following the retirement of captain Adam Foote.  Avalanche Executive Advisor/Alternate Governor Joe Sakic compared Johnson to former Av Rob Blake.  With Johnson no doubt leading the defensive corps, the blue line also boasts a returning Kyle Quincey, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury.  He'll be in the final year of his contract with a lot to prove.  Although the Avs have traded away promising defensemen like Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen, 2009 draft picks Stefan Elliott and Tyson Barrie are expected to bolster the Avs defense in the very near future.  The Avs also signed big free agents Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien.  Both these guys will add tremendous size as the Avs blue line was very small last year.  While the Avs did trade away veteran and fan favorite John-Michael Liles, Elliott is said to have skills that will make Avs fans forget about Liles and Shatty.  Finally, the Avs first round pick from the Stewart-Johnson trade turned out to be Duncan Siemens, a defensman who's been called the toughest player in the WHL.  At only 17, Siemens will probably spend one more year in juniors, but expect him in an Avs uniform making an impact very soon.

In addition to drafting Landeskog, the Avs signed former Minnesota first round pick Chuck Kobasew to add depth to their forward ranks.  At center, the Avs have Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and Ryan O'Reilly.  Those are three very solid centers.  2010 first round pick Joey Hishon might have a chance to make the team as well and may be converted to a winger since the top three center spots are filled.  Hopefully, the Avs will see more of the Peter Mueller who was acquired in 2010 and was phenomenal in his 15 short games with the Avs before a couple of concussions put him out of action for over a year. 

The old cliche is that a team is only as strong as its goaltending.  Craig Anderson is now gone.  Longtime backup Peter Budaj is now gone.  Brian Elliott is now gone.  In a bold move, the Avs traded their 2012 first round draft pick for former first round pick and once goalie of the future in Washington, Semyon Varlamov.  Varlamov claimed the #1 job from former Av Jose Theodore a couple years ago, but was unable to retain it last year due to injuries.  Ironically, Tomas Vokoun, the veteran all-star many picked to sign with Colorado, ended up going to Washington.  Many people have criticized the Avs' acquisition of Varlamov, especially at the price of a first round pick, but Varly could certainly experience a breakout year similar to Craig Anderson in 2009.  He says his injuries are behind him and being a former first round pick, he has the talent to be a legitimate #1 goalie.  The Avs also picked up former Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup champion Jean-Sebastien Giguere.  Although he's been injury plagued the last couple of years, Giggy still has some gas left in the tank and will be a good veteran mentor for the younger Varlamov.  The Avs new goaltending tandem will be solid.

In conclusion, I expect the Avs to be good.  Sure, I'm an Avalanche optimist, but I do think they have what it takes to get back into the playoffs this year and give their young guys some playoff experience.  I think this year, we'll see a team more like the 2007-08 and 2009-10 teams rather than the 2008-09 and 2010-11 teams.  I don't think the Avs are quite a Stanley Cup contender yet, but perhaps a first round upset and a berth into round 2 of the playoffs.  Keep in mind, the Avs core guys are still in their early 20s.  Finally, here's a look at Giggy's new Avs mask.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summer Blockbusters!

Ok, for my second non-Avalanche, non-hockey blog, I've decided to touch upon the big summer blockbuster movies.  You may agree with me, you may not.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of comic book movies.  I think about 80% of the Blu-rays I own are comic book movies.  This summer has been a pretty good one for the aforementioned genre.  Marvel graced us with three films this summer, two of which will lead us into next year's The Avengers, with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.  2008's Iron Man and last year's Iron Man 2 also will lead into The Avengers.  I though both Thor and Captain America were good, solid flicks.  Chris Hemsworth, who made a brief appearance in 2009's Star Trek as Captain Kirk's father took on the role of Thor.  He certainly looked the part.  He had Thor's trademark long blond hair and beard and he certainly put on the necessary muscle to embody a Norse god.  Thor also boasted a worthy supporting cast of Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, and Anthony Hopkins.  While not a household name, Tom Hiddleston did a good job as Loki, Thor's brother and the film's primary villain.  He will return in The Avengers as well.  Thor had a good, entertaining story and was a good mix of comic book and mythological elements.  I would certainly welcome a Thor 2 after next summer's Avengers flick.

The second comic book flick of the summer was X-Men: First Class.  When I first heard about this project, I honestly wasn't too excited.  It seemed like they were just rebooting the X-Men series after 3 pics and a Wolverine spin-off.  However, First Class played much more like a prequel to Bryan Singer's 2000 film and even featured cameos by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Rebecca Romijn as Mystique (although Jennifer Lawrence played the character for the majority of the film).  Sure, there are some definite continuity errors between First Class and the other X-Men movies.  *SPOILERS AHEAD*  In X2, Hank McCoy is seen as still human looking, but in First Class, he transforms into his blue Beast version.  Professor Xavier is paralyzed at the end of First Class, but at the beginning of X-Men: The Last Stand, an older Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is seen walking with Erik Lensherr.  The Emma Frost character does not lineup with the Emma Frost depicted in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  *END OF SPOILERS*  However, despite the inconsistencies, I really enjoyed First Class.  In fact, I would say that it was my favorite flick of 2011 thus far.  Jennifer Lawrence was good as a young Mystique and I think she will be very good as Katniss in the upcoming Hunger Games series.  Michael Fassbender of Inglourious Basterds was also very good as young Eric Lensherr.  Expect big things from him.  James McAvoy was also good inheriting the role of Charles Xavier from Patrick Stewart.  Seasoned actor Kevin Bacon also made a very good villain in Sebastian Shaw.  I hope they follow through with making First Class into a new prequel trilogy.

The only DC venture this summer was Green Lantern.  While Ryan Reynolds is probably the most well-known actor to take the big screen this summer as a comic book hero, Green Lantern was actually the only film of the four to receive negative reviews.  I liked it.  Sure, it was by no means the best comic book movie of all-time, let alone this year, but it was good and entertaining.  Reynolds was a perfect Hal Jordan (and he would also make a perfect Wally West/The Flash) and Blake Lively was good as Carrol Ferris, Strong as Sinestro, and Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond.  Green Lantern was criticized for being to comic booky, but sometimes it's okay for comic book movies to be comic booky!  Not everything has to be serious and realistic like Christopher Nolan's Batman series.  The Fantastic Four series got similar criticism.  When you're dealing with a hero who has a ring that can create whatever he imagines, it's going to be comic booky.  Same with a guy whose power is to stretch himself and a guy made out of orange rock.  While Green Lantern was not a huge success at the box office, I do hope they green light (pun intended) a sequel to further explore the character and build on the series.

The final comic book movie of the summer was Captain America: The First Avenger.  Chris Evans, who was already a familiar in the Marvel world after playing Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in The Fantastic Four and its sequel played Captain America.  Evans has a reputation as playing funny, wise-cracking character such as Johnny Storm, Jake Jensen in The Losers, and Nick Gant in Push.  However, he displayed his acting ability in Captain America by showing a serious side.  He also bulked up to play the super soldier.  When watching Evans in Captain America, you did not think of Johnny Storm.  Newcomer Hayley Atwell was good as his love interest and the always reliable Hugo Weaving was a good Red Skull.  Weaving always plays villains well like Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy and voicing Megatron in the Transformers movies.  Tommy Lee Jones was also solid as the cliche Colonel.   Captain America was the darkest of all four of the movies, but was very good overall.  In fact, it pretty much leads right into The Avengers! 

Other than comic book films, I thought they did a very good job wrapping up the Harry Potter series.  Surprisingly, The Deathly Hallows Part 2 was only the second of the series that I've been able to see in theaters.  The other one was The Half-Blood Prince.  I enjoyed the latest Pirates of the Caribbean flick.  Even with the departures of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, I would say it's the best Pirates movie since the original.  Bridesmaids was funny, but I didn't love it as much as Heidi did.  Some of the movies I missed this summer, but want to see are Super 8, the new Transformers, and Cowboys and Aliens. 

Looking ahead, we still have Immortals to look forward to in November, which will hopefully gain better recognition than the Clash of the Titans remake did.  Future Superman Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto, and Mickey Rourke lead that cast.  In December, the first of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy comes out with Daniel Craig as the lead.  I am currently finishing the Swedish versions of the series.  Next year, Hunger Games comes out in March and in July, the conclusion of the most epic comic book series of all-time, The Dark Knight Rises.  While this may not live up to The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's masterful performance as The Joker; Nolan, Bale, and company will no doubt end the series well.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Captain Colorado

The million dollar question right now is who will be wearing the "C" on his jersey come opening night for the Avalanche.  Any hockey player will tell you that it's a tremendous honor to be selected to represent your team as its captain.  Let's take a look at the Avs' former captains.  Joe Sakic and Adam Foote.  Needless to say, whoever takes over the captaincy will have huge shoes to fill.  Even though Sakic and Foote were both great leaders, they were also very different.  Sakic was a phenomenal, Hall-of-Fame scorer and a quiet, lead-by-example guy, while Foote was a punishing, bruising, hard-hitting defenseman who held people accountable.  So...who will it be?  Let's examine the top candidates.

Matt Duchene
Matt Duchene
Pros:  In his brief NHL career, he has quickly established himself as probably the biggest fan favorite on the team, he earned a nomination for the Calder Trophy his rookie year, and he became the youngest player in franchise history to lead the team in scoring last year.  You could definitely make the argument for Duchene; at 20-years-old, he has established himself as top NHL center and will be the featured center of the Avs for many years to come.
Cons:  He's only 20 and could use more time to focus solely on his game rather than having the added responsibility of being the captain of the team.

Milan Hejduk

Pros:  He is by far, the most experienced and accomplished member of the Avalanche.  He is the last remaining member of the 2001 Stanley Cup team and the only current Avalanche player with a ring.  He's a former Rocket Richard winner and a 3x All-Star.
Cons:  Hejduk is very quiet and unimposing and may not want the responsibility of being the captain.  He's been an alternate captain for several years and might actually prefer that.  He would also be great to mentor a younger captain.

Erik Johnson

Pros:  He's hungry to prove that the St. Louis Blues gave up on him too early.  Sure, Johnson has his critics.  He was a former #1 overall pick on 2006 and hasn't won the Norris Trophies people expected.  However, due to a freak knee injury in 2008, he missed the entire 08-09 season, so he's only had 3 full seasons in the NHL.  Missing an entire season at 20 is sure to hamper a young defenseman's growth.
Cons:  He's only played 22 games for the Avs and as previously mentioned, he has yet to fully prove himself.  The potential is absolutely there, but do you give the "C" to potential?

Paul Stastny

Pros:  He's a 2nd generation Av (counting the Nordiques) and at 25, he's already established himself as a premiere player in the NHL.  Nearly a point-per-game player and a 2-time All-Star selection.  He may not dazzle you with flashy moves, but he's consistent and makes the wingers around him better, like any great center.
Cons:  When Stastny signed a big contract a few years ago, some people expected him to become the next Sakic or Forsberg.  While Stats' numbers certainly aren't bad, they're not Super Joe's or Foppa's.  Since he's on the tail end of his contract, the trade rumors have begun.

People have also mentioned Ryan O'Reilly, who is said to be a great leader and have a tremendous work ethic.  However, like Duchene, he's only 20, but doesn't have Duchene's point production to his resume.  People have also talked about giving the captaincy to Gabriel Landeskog.  Way too premature for that.  Landeskog has to make the team first (which he will).  Despite his many accomplishments and vast potential, the captaincy has to be earned at the NHL level, not in juniors or the draft.  Please vote for your pick to the right!