Sports commentary quote of the year

“Tadej seems to — along with Eddy Merckx — have torn that script up and tossed it in the bin, and lit the bin on fire and threw the fire into the mouth of a volcano.”

—Bob Roll, during yesterday’s broadcast of La Flèche Wallonne, talking about how Tadej Pogacar seems to be defying all understanding of what’s possible for a rider during the course of a cycling season

Pop culture spoiled itself

I read this Vox article in the context of three recent viewing experiences Sara and I have had: Severance (season finale tonight… no spoilers!), Kenneth Branagh’s new version of Death on the Nile which we just watched the other day, and a completely different form of entertainment: cycling races.

We’ve been watching Severance as its episodes become available, so no spoilers are out there yet as we watch. The show very much is about shocking twists and cliffhangers, but our enjoyment of it is also about so much more than that — the Kubrickian cinematography, the nuanced acting by the first-rate cast, the deeper implications and social commentary in every passing moment of the story. Yes, we want — desperately — to know what Lumon is up to, but that’s not the only reason we watch.

We both already knew “whodunnit” going into the new Death on the Nile, and honestly I felt like you needed to know the story already to make sense of what was happening scene-to-scene, because this version is more than a little incoherent. Yet it didn’t seem like someone new to the story would even consider pointing the finger at anyone besides the actual perpetrators, right from the start, because its poor structure didn’t provide enough backstory to make anyone else a convincing suspect. Linette didn’t seem evil enough for anyone else to particularly want her dead. But despite these flaws, and actively criticizing it as it went, I was fully engaged the entire time. It was the most I’ve ever enjoyed watching a movie that I fundamentally disliked. Ultimately it was not “about” whodunnit, so maybe it truly was a movie for our times, in the vein of the Vox article.

Then there’s the cycling — clearly something where the end matters most, and can definitely be spoiled. And since we’re watching the replays several hours after the races end in Europe, my news feeds have already “spoiled” the winner. But I still enjoy watching them because it’s not just about who won. It’s about watching Tadej Pogačar boldly attack repeatedly on an insane climb, or Egan Bernal charging off into the mist on a mountaintop, or Caleb Ewen taking a spill on the tarmac with the finish line in sight, or Julian Alaphilippe wearing the maillot jaune for the entire Tour de France, only to lose it to Bernal on the penultimate stage when the race directors abruptly call an early end to the stage due to flash flooding on the other side of a mountain tunnel. Those are memorable moments that stick with me more than a mad sprint to the finish line, and what gets me excited about watching a bunch of lanky guys on bikes in the first place.

I think for the most part, Sara and I have definitely checked out of the pop culture world being talked about here. Partly it’s due to her vision; she just can’t track the fast movement and weird lighting in modern movies, especially superhero movies. But I’ve never cared about superheroes, whether it was comic books as a kid or the endless parade of giant “spectacle” blockbuster movies today.

We simply don’t pay any attention to any of that stuff. And it’s probably why, above exceptions aside, we are mostly these days either rewatching the grand trilogy of early 2000s NBC sitcoms (The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Community) for the dozenth time, or we’re watching BBC reality shows like Bake-Off or Escape to the Country. Hollywood just isn’t speaking to us anymore.

A few thoughts on David Letterman’s final show

Last night was the end of an era, David Letterman’s final Late Show.

Late Night with David Letterman premiered on NBC when I was 9 years old. I remember quietly staying up well past my bedtime on many school nights in the 1980s to catch Letterman’s crazy antics. It turns out I had a penchant for absurdist humor of a kind that I may never have known existed until I saw David Letterman. Growing up in a rather socially conservative small town in the midwest, Letterman was one of a few key figures in opening my growing mind to the possibilities in a larger world. That sounds a bit overblown, but really, it isn’t. Letterman’s show on CBS has become such an institution over two decades — something that I’ve taken for granted, really, and not watched much in years — that it’s easy for me to forget just how huge David Letterman was to me in my formative years.

All of that came into sharp relief for me last night as I just barely managed to catch Dave’s final show. I knew he was retiring, and I had been reading enough about him lately to know that his final show was coming up sometime soon, but I didn’t know it was going to be last night until about 20 minutes before the show came on the air.

I found out about it because my college jazz band director mentioned it on Facebook.

I was lying in bed a little after 10 PM, idly checking Facebook on my iPhone, intending to set the phone down and settle into a crossword puzzle before going to sleep. Seeing that Letterman’s finale was imminent, however, I quickly changed my plans and turned on the TV. This was probably only the third time our bedroom TV has been turned on since we moved into the house last November.

There’s a lot packed into that last paragraph. The futurism of constant communication and instant access to the world of information via the ubiquitous pocket computers we call smartphones. How old I sound when I think of myself sitting in bed doing a friggin’ crossword puzzle. The shifting (and diminishing) cultural significance of broadcast television.

When Carson retired, it was a momentous event. It seems like from the ’60s to the ’80s, everyone watched — or at least had on the TV — The Tonight Show, on a nightly basis. As much as David Letterman revolutionized late night television and shepherded in a new era, he also came at a time of change he couldn’t control, and was both a victim and agent of a cultural shift that ensured his legacy would never be as great as that of his hero and mentor.

And yet, Letterman is the Carson of his generation, at least as much as anyone could have been. (Leno? Give me a break!)

Without a doubt my most vivid memory of Letterman, and honestly one of the most vivid memories of my youth, altogether, was Crispin Glover’s notorious, possibly drug-fueled, appearance in 1987 when he tried to kick Dave in the face.

I was delighted to see that moment in the rapid-fire montage of stills from 33 years of Dave’s show at the end of last night’s finale. It just wouldn’t have been complete without it.

That montage was a nearly perfect conclusion to a lifetime of late night TV. According to some reviews I’ve read this morning, it was the main portion of the show that Letterman had direct involvement in producing. And it was apparently Dave’s personal wish to have the Foo Fighters perform “Everlong” behind the slideshow, because that song touched him personally in his recovery from open heart surgery 15 years ago. (Fifteen years ago!) It occurred to me that this conclusion was almost like Dave’s life — his television life — flashing before his eyes. But not just Dave’s life, our lives, as his audience. Even though I haven’t watched his show regularly since I was in college in the mid-’90s, there were so many familiar sights in these final few moments that I realized that in a way, this was all of our lives. For 33 years millions of Americans have invited this weird guy into their homes on a nightly basis, and he has shared moments of absurd delight with all of us.

Thanks, Dave.

What year did you watch the most Sesame Street?

To those who question the value of Twitter, I finally have a retort: this tweet led me to the invaluable (seriously, you try to put a value on this) discovery that someone has posted the extended Friday end credits from many (most? all?) seasons of Sesame Street on YouTube.

It certainly takes me back, and is also a helpful tool to identify the year when you watched the most Sesame Street. OK, maybe most people weren’t as obsessed with this show as kids as I was, but… well… I was. I watched it three to four times a day. Seriously. Even once I was in school, I’d get in at least an episode and a half before or after school up until probably about third grade. (Yeah, having an Atari is probably what killed it.)

Watching these clips, I’ve determined, not too surprisingly, that it was season 9, 1977-1978, when I watched it the most. I turned 4 during that season. I do remember the credits from the next few seasons after that, but this one is most firmly etched into my mind:

Here’s a handy guide to the first ten seasons:

The greatest danger of being at home on weekdays

Working from home definitely has its advantages. No commute, no oppressive cubicles, no annoying coworkers. But it does have its downsides, too. The worst, without a doubt, is the temptation to turn on the TV during the day. Not only is TV programming on weekdays unimaginably uninspired and uninteresting, but the commercials are truly painful. Most target the elderly (LifeAlert, Metamucil, etc.), but then you have the local commercials, which fall into two camps: law firms appealing to those who are at home due to injury or illness, and local businesses too cheap to spring for airtime at a decent hour. The latter category is without a doubt the worst of the bunch. And I just saw the single worst commercial ever in the history of this worst category. Luckily enough (for me, not for you, since now you’re going to have to see it too), I actually found it on YouTube. Enjoy…