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Sadness and the Big Moments: The Finale of “How I Met Your Mother”

“We’ll always be friends. It’s just never going to be how it was. It can’t be, and that doesn’t have to be a sad thing.”

And so here we are again, with a series that most of us here at NPI liked–if not enough to offer serial reviews—ending in highly scorned fashion. How I Met Your Mother has gone the way of Lost, or even of The Sopranos, its conclusion drawing ire from fans and critics alike.

Series finales, especially for quote-unquote comedies, are really difficult, for the reasons John S laid out a year ago post-The Office. I mean, let’s face it: Endings in any fictional work are hard and typically forced, because in real life things don’t really end. The kind of closure we expect from a story isn’t intrinsic. There are always going to be loose ends and unexplained details and things we never find out. Fiction writers have to navigate their way around this, usually by killing characters or by having them unwittingly broach the fourth wall by weirdly acknowledging a finality that shouldn’t exist diegetically.

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Simpsons Classics: “Summer of 4 Ft. 2”

Simpsons Summer of 4Ft2

The calendar has turned to July, which can only mean one thing: Time to celebrate the greatest summer episode in the history of television.

The television season, like the school year, pretty much runs from September to May, meaning that most shows never explore the summer as in-depth as the other seasons. For The Simpsons, “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” is a rare episode that dives into what goes on between one season’s finale and the next’s premiere, and it does so with near perfect execution.

Season One
Life on the Fast Lane
Bart Gets an F
Lisa the Iconoclast
Mr. Plow
22 Short Films about Springfield
Treehouse of Horror

The finale of the seventh season — originally airing May 19, 1996 — is centered on Lisa’s often quixotic quest to find friends. The final day of school reveals that overseeing the layouts and fonts of Retrospecticus, the Springfield Elementary yearbook that excels in “immortalizing your awkward phase,” doesn’t make Lisa the most popular girl in school. The family’s trip to the Flanders’ beach house in Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport offers her a chance to try on a new personality and win over friends, which she does for a time. It’s a sweet episode.

Yes, I know I’m prone to the charm and realism of Lisa episodes. But what makes “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” so groin-grabbingly transcendent is its absolute embrace of its setting—both the Independence Day time and the Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport place.

It does this through sensational animation throughout the episode. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on like a six-month Simspons hiatus—probably the longest I’ve had since 1992 or something—but “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” jumps out as a landmark of animation excellence. So much of the humor in “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” is derived from subtlety and precise execution. Take the scene in which Flanders offers up his beach house to Homer. Homer’s posture at the beginning of the scene—hand on hips, legs crossed, his eyes half-closed*—transfers a wealth of information about his relationship to Flanders. If you’ve never seen an episode of The Simpsons, this posture alone would communicate how Homer feels about his neighbor. Continue reading

NCAA Tournament Preview: Jim Nantz calls your champion!

Filling out a bracket? I’m not 12 anymore.

Trying to predict the bracket? I did that before it was cool.

So how to fill the predictive void created when I watched less college basketball than ever before? Why, by trying to predict what terrible line Jim Nantz is going to use to announce a national champion!

Nantz’s line always becomes a topic of conversation during the championship game, but I’m diving in early. With a detailed knowledge of his punning tendencies and affection for history, I have come up with Nantz’s line in case any of the 64 remaining teams in the NCAA Tournament win their next six games.

You’re welcome.

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MLB Postseason Preview: Giants vs. Reds

San Francisco Giants (94-68) at Cincinnati Reds (97-65)

OVERVIEW

Contrary to the muddled playoff picture in the American League, the National League’s top three has been settled for some time. The Reds and Giants each clinched their divisions rather early, winning them by nine and eight, respectively — the two largest margins in baseball. Two years removed from a surprising run to the World Series, the Giants are back looking for more postseason magic. The Reds can improve on their 2010 postseason by 1. Getting a hit in each game they play; and 2. Winning one of those games.

LINEUPS

Contrary to what you might think (and what I thought when I started writing this sentence), the Giants actually outscored the Reds this season by an average of 0.3 runs per game. San Francisco has been led by otherworldly performances from Melky Cabrera (in the first half) and probable NL MVP Buster Posey (in the second half). Posey posted a .336/.408/.549 line for the season; since the All-Star Game, his OPS is something like 3.600 (fine, it’s only 1.102). Posey, combined with the addition of Marco Scutaro, have allowed the Giants to overcome Cabrera’s suspension—which, mind you, ends if San Francisco gets to the NLCS (although the team has indicated it would not bring him back).

Cincinnati’s offense revolves around Joey Votto, who would also be in the MVP race if he hadn’t missed 51 games. Votto’s .474 on-base percentage is the highest (min. 475 plate appearances, the number Votto had on the dot) by a non-steroid user (sorry Bonds and Giambi) since Edgar Martinez in 1995. Even counting steroid users, it’s the 11th-best of the divisional era. At the same time, Votto was more a doubles than a home run hitter this season. The rest of the lineup makes up for that drop in power. Jay Bruce hit 34 homers, Ryan Ludwick had a comeback year with 26 long balls, and Jersey’s own Todd Frazier hit 19 as a rookie fill-in for Scott Rolen at third.

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Unabated to the Quarterback: The NFC East

We’re taking a different route with our NFL preview this season. Eschewing typical predictions—those require some form of legitimate knowledge—we’re asking what each NFL team means. An NFL season is a research paper, and each team enters it with a thesis statement.

New York Giants (11-5)

Why Aren’t the Giants Any Better?

“Virtue is nothing but a just temper between propensities any one of which, if indulged to excess, becomes vice.” —Thomas Babington Macaulay

Our introductory question is perhaps a counterintuitive one, given how, you might remember, the Giants won the Super Bowl last season for the second time in five years. But New York was, by the basic measurements, the worst team to ever do so: Its 9-7 record was the worst by an eventual champion, and no team had ever advanced to the Super Bowl after accumulating a negative point differential during the regular season, let alone win one.

It is hard to reconcile, then, these two different Giants teams — the one that was so thoroughly mediocre during the regular season (they lost to the Redskins! Twice!) and the one that steamrolled the 15-1 Packers and edged the Niners and the Patriots in the playoffs. Which team are the Giants really?

The answer, and this has been true for some time, is frustratingly in the middle. The Giants are a flawed team capable of overcoming those flaws in short bursts but not, it seems, for sustained stretches.* They are the modern sports franchise that thrives when it is counted out: the embodiment of every “Nobody believed in us!” cliché. The us-against-the-world mentality seems particularly powerful in football, a sport so built on emotion and where wanting it more might actually mean something.

*The counter-argument you can make here is the first dozen games of 2008, when New York was 11-1.

On the other hand, the Giants would also be better served if the NFL were like the NBA, where mediocre regular seasons were routinely rewarded with playoff berths, so New York could coast from Weeks 1 to 17 and then do its thing each January.

People believe in the Giants again, which is precisely why they shouldn’t. Continue reading

Funner Times at Malibu Sands

It’s the longest and most mundane symposium ever! Three years ago John S wrote about his experiences watching the Malibu Sands arc of Saved by the Bell. This summer, I watched the Malibu Sands arc of Saved by the Bell—mainly because I had just finished the first season of Game of Thrones and needed what a personal trainer might call a cool-down period.

Consider this setting the record straight.

—The issue to be raising isn’t over volleyball as a spectator sport. Clearly, Top Gun proved you wrong there. The issue is the sustainability of a beach club dynasty with an ever-changing roster of volleyball players. Just how can North Shore—the Valley of the beach, amirite?—continue dominating Malibu Sands for a decade when the players on its volleyball team (i.e. staff members at the club) presumably change each year? Now I know what you’re thinking: that I’m essentially describing major college sports, which obviously have dominant and doormat programs. But North Shore doesn’t have a coach; that much is obvious. Malibu Sands’ is Kelly. What we’re led to conclude, then, is that North Shore’s owner actively recruits excellent volleyball players to work at his club over the summer—likely costing himself hundreds of dollars in workplace efficiency—simply to beat Leon Carosi in a bet.

What did Leon do to him in the past to deserve such vengeance? Continue reading

Prior to the Snap: Super Bowl XLVI

So here we are: This is it.

I should have asked earlier; do you want an epigraph? Only one?

Knock yourself out: “It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams.” —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” —Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”

“In truth the way matters but little; the will to arrive suffices.” —Ibid

“This, to use an American term, in which discovery, retribution, torture, death, eternity appear in the shape of a regularly repulsive nutshell, was it.” —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Those last two sound familiar: There are only so many that work that well for a Super Bowl.

Are you at least excited for this one? Obviously. But two weeks is still too long. This game needs to be played the week after the championship games.

But a week’s too short! Play the game on Wednesday!

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