Friday, July 24, 2009

The Couch Potato Series: Running With The ESPYs

"Ladies and germs, welcome to our coverage of the 16th Annual ESPY Awards! That's right…it's the only award show on television that rewards sports employees for…gasp…trying to be the best at their jobs! I'm your host, Michael Benjamin, and I just sold my dignity to the highest bidder on EBay! I've been practicing my fake-laugh for weeks! Let's Go!!!!!!!!"

(You have now entered Mike Benjamin's official retroactive diary of the ESPY's – and there's no turning back. Just don't give me sass about my decision to write an epic post-show diary of the proceedings. Hey, if ESPN's gonna show the awards on a five-day tape delay, why can't I do a retro-diary based on the rerun of the rerun? I can't wait to hear the high-pitched sound from a bleeped-out expletive!)

Like I was saying...LET'S GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6:31pm (EST): Our host Samuel L. Jackson, wearing a silky white three-piece, stops mid-walk to pose with Venus and Serena, who happen to get front-row seats to the ceremony. Next to them on the front row: Michael Phelps (and MOM!), Kobe and Vanessa Bryant, and…Matthew Stafford? (Just kidding.)

6:32pm: Any opening bets on the over/under for camera shots of Phelps' mom's tonight? 10? 20?

6:44pm (EST): Jeremy Piven and Marisa Miller (your typical smoking-hot supermodel) walk out to present the first ESPY – Best Championship Performance. Ten years ago, did you ever think that Piven would be one of the go-to actors in Hollywood? He was George Costanza's understudy, for Pete's sake.

6:47pm: Phelps takes home the first ESPY of the night, with Mom failing to hold back her crocodile tears. Why Phelps? Because as Sammy J predicted, this is the only year that anyone gives a crap about swimming. 6:50pm: Just so you know, I'm going to start calling Sam Jackson by his various movie roles for the rest of the retro diary. Like DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, I'm all about breaking up the monotony.

6:51pm: Jules (Pulp Fiction) introduces Will.I.Am and Danica Patrick to present the "Best Upset" award, which is accompanied by a pre-recorded "Damn!" to openly gawk at her hotness. Personally, I'm starting to get sick of the media fawning over Danica, even though she's won like NO races since entering Formula 1. Plus, she's just not that hot. She's like the sports equivalent of Erin Andrews. 6:54pm: The U.S. Soccer Team wins "Big Upset" award, with Landon Donovan hosting a bitter "Yeah, We Know Nobody Really Gave a Crap About Us Before Last Week" look on his face. He's just happy to be back in the tabloids after telling his ex-teammate (Beckham) where to stick his 25 million dollar salary.

6:55pm: Ahh! NOOOOO!!! Stuart Scott's eye in Hi-Def! He just broke my HD tuner. Crap.

6:56pm: Oh boy…they just showed Stacks Edwards (Goodfellas) acting like a bama for TV again. (Why does this sound so familiar?) I've got to give ESPN some credit here. It takes skill to squeeze references to chicken, weed, Obama, and F-bombs into a three-minute segment.

7:01pm: Rashida Jones and T.O. engage in some stale banter, with T.O. coming across as really lame. Since his off-field career has taken off, T.O. has always rubbed me as an athlete that just wants to be seen as funnier than he is. Dude, you don't always have to bring home the funny. That's why they created Ad Libs.

7:02pm: I can't believe Matt Ryan's taking home the "Best Breakthrough Athlete" award over D-Rose. Okay, so I guess it's cool to vote a perennial second-tier QB over a basketball player that will be no worse than Michael Ray Richardson before the coke. This looks like it's gonna be one of those ESPY awards that I'll be laughing out loud at in ten years on ESPN Classic.

7:05pm: Great thing about being a black man: Shaving your head takes 10 years off your appearance. Just ask Gary Payton. By the way, did you know that Sam Jackson's now 60?

7:07pm: Yes! Sylar (Zack Quinto) from NBC's Heroes and a woman wearing a dress littered with glitter are on stage now. Go ahead, Sylar! You know you just want to tear her head off! She deserves to be punished for her fashion felony!

(*Personally, I'm just excited at the fact that there's another Zack in our lives. Shoulda been you, Mark-Paul Gosselaar.)

7:11pm: It's a crime against sports that "Best Game" award was given to the Super Bowl in a year that had the Phelps relay, the Celtics Game 4 comeback, and the Tiger/Rocco duel. Plus, I've already had my fill of Ben Roethlisberger for the night. Just saying.

7:12pm: I just got faxed a transcript of Santonio Holmes acceptance speech: "Hey yall, thanks for letting me win. I look forward to performing more crotch grabs next year."

7:13pm: Similar to the Oscars, ESPN is doing a quick rundown of all the crappy winners that won't get any television time during the show. Why cut the ESPYs short? It's not like we're in a rush to watch WNBA highlights.

7:15pm: Sam Jackson: "It's nice to see all the true fans out there." Uhh, who's he talking to? Isn't he in a theater full of athletes?

7:16pm: Mace Windu and Wyclef collaborate on an old-school blues rendition praising sports fandom. Here's hoping that Will Leitch or Bethelhem Shoals jump on stage and start doing the Charleston.

7:19pm: The Guy Who Akeem Thrashes (Coming to America) begs the audience to get up and dance. Cameras just cut to Dara Torres awkwardly flexing her guns in place. I guess no matter how much success a white person has, they'll never be able to make up for that inherent lack of rhythm.

7:24pm: Hey, look, it's Barack on the big screen! Didn't you know that he's a big sports fan too? Man, he's so relatable to his constituents! (For the record, Barack's sports fandom is starting to get so played out now. It'd be great if he spent all this time trying to fix our economy. Or, better yet, getting me a job.)

7:26pm: Ahh, they just cut to Condi Rice clapping! My retinas! Too much ugly in Hi-Def!!!

7:28pm: Great piece about Arthur Ashe, Nelson Mandela, and the power of rugby uniting the peoples of South Africa. I'm really impressed by the fact that we're actually watching a second-class sport (played in an African nation, no less) get a serious chunk of television time. I guess ESPN's trying to cover their rugby highlight quota for the year in one fell swoop.

7:35pm (EST): Who's that girl sitting next to T.O. in the audience? Judging by her lack of guns, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that she's not an athlete. Just playing a hunch.

7:37pm: Why does Nelson Mandela's grandson look like a poor man's version of the guy from Blood Diamond? More important, why did ESPN cut to the one guy (Jim Boeheim) who's definitely not going to donate a cent of his cash to the cause? Everyone KNOWS he's gotta save that cheese for his recruits!

7:42pm: Jeff Gordon walks out with Olivia Wilde from House to present the "Best Moment" award. I'm just glad to see that Jeff decided to go with the Filene's Basement look for tonight's festivities. Glad to see that his celebrity status hasn't dissuaded him from shopping at his neighborhood discount retailer.

7:46pm: Wow, they just cut to Mike Phelps' mom about five times in the last twenty seconds. Wait, make that six. She's about twenty camera shots away from taking home the Mateen Cleaves' "Most Face Time For A Complete Non-Factor" award and hosting her own mid-morning cooking show.

7:48pm: Peyton Manning is freaking hilarious. I can't wait for him to host a game show in twenty years. He's our generation's Carl Weathers. Or, more likely, the anti-Rick Fox.

7:54pm: Condi Rice, again, is on stage. I know she's got a lot of free time nowadays, but they couldn't find ANYONE else to present this award? I'm now three HD Tuners in the hole. Thanks a lot, ESPN. 7:57pm: Doesn't Nastia Liukin look like…every single white teenage actress you've seen? I swear I just saw her making out with Pacey on an episode of Dawson's Creek this morning.

8:01pm: I can't believe they seated Mike Tyson directly behind Kurt Warner. Either Kurt's walking out with a tattoo directly above his right eye, or Tyson's gonna end up a born-again Christian by the night's end. I really shouldn't be hoping for this, but I'd like to see Matt Leinart try to give Kurt lip when he's got Iron Mike on speed dial. I know he saw what Tyson did to Andy from The Office. (Or, his friend, anyways.)

8:05pm: Came back from a commercial with a random guy on-stage screaming "I AM THE CHAMPION! I AM THE CHAMPION!" at me in my LaZBoy. (That's gotta be the worst Final Cut dissolve-edit EV-VER.)

8:08pm: Looks like Phelps is going to clean up on the men's side of the awards bracket tonight. Kobe's got to be seething by now. Yup, yup…they just cut to him making that clenched jaw smile. (And you Laker fans thought that he put that one away for good.) I'm holding out hope that we'll see his "chipmunk face" by the end of the night.

8:11pm: Don Meyer's gotta be pissed that he's not winning an award for holding the record for more dubs all-time, but because he got mowed down by a tractor-trailer and is down his left leg.

8:13pm: After what's gone down with the Erin Andrews video over the past few days, doesn't Don Meyer have to feel like he just got hosed? Last week, he would've been another dirty old man. Now, he's a full-fledged pervert. ESPN really should've edited out his "Glad I walked the red carpet behind Erin Andrews! (with a cheesy smile)" comment.

8:14pm: Michael Phelps' mom camera count: 14. Who had 20 in the prop bet?

8:23pm: "BULLETIN, BULLETIN, BULLETIN, BULLETIN! No more Stevie Wonder behind the piano! No more dreads that start at the back on his scalp and continue down his back! No more fake laughs from Kobe in the first row!"

8:27pm: Crap. Guess we're not gonna get the chipmunk from Kobe tonight, since his team brought home the "Best Team" award. Wait, why is Sasha Vujacic on-stage? Did he even hit a three at all during the playoffs?

8:28pm: Mister Senor Love Daddy (Do The Right Thing) jogs out to wisk us away to ESPN backstage coverage with his blessings, and finishes the show with a duet with Stevie Wonder amidst confetti and Matthew Stafford man hugs.

8:59pm: At last, the ESPYs have been signed, sealed, and delivered. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Who wants to watch the post-ESPY's Backstage Show? Umm, me neither. Adios.

(For more pictures of the ESPYs, here's the link. You're welcome.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Couch Potato Series: "Hey, Your Brother is SMART?"

Folks, I need you to be honest for a second.

When someone mentions the phrase “sports blogger”, what’s the first image that comes to mind?

YES! That’s it!

"Alec, I’ll take a fat, lazy, white guy living in his parents’ basement for $400, please!"

Since I began writing regularly four years ago, I fought hard to erase that unceremonious image from your brain. We writers are a proud group of creators who work hard to ensure that our fart jokes are done timely and properly to maximize the funny. Yeah, so what if we like to work in the basement? Everybody knows heat rises in the summertime!

However, since my return home, I’ve afraid that I might slowly become that dreaded stereotype. Granted, I’m still going out for job interviews and social outings, but I just haven’t been able to channel my inner Michael Scott to the laptop. I’ve become like Jon Favreau’s character in Swingers, only with less disposable income and more awkward phone calls.

Let’s be clear: I’m still black, thin and living in my own room. I mean, it’s tough to find the chemical reagent Mike Jackson stumbled on back in ‘83. (Too soon?) And as for the skinny, I shattered my piggy bank to buy a set of Perfect Pushups. Hopefully I’ll build up enough muscle tone to avoid constantly getting mistaken for Oscar Proud on Sixth Avenue.

The tough part about being a sports blogger right now is this: The sports landscape is DEAD during summer. I’m talking like Sinbad’s stand-up comedy career. D-E-A-D. If I hear one more sports talk radio jockey grumble about Joba Chamberlain’s need to go to the bullpen, I’m going to split their head open with a battle axe. It’s gotten repetitive, which can only lead to one thing: BOREDOM.

In a dual effort to jumpstart my creative juices and keep lactic acid from building up in my cataracts, I began to re-read my favorite posts. After looking over my "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "A Different World" reviews, I’d decided to resurrect my ginormous plan and alleviate these dregs of, well, summer. I think we’re due for another “Throwback” sitcom synopsis.

(Before I continue, let’s pause for this quick station identification. Simmons made a valid point concerning the death of M.J. in a recent mailbag, and I’ve just got to bring it up again. Was anyone else thinking that Michael Jackson might just hop out of his coffin at the Staples Center memorial? I did. Think about it. Michael Jackson’s provided us more memorable moments than most major sports franchises and even some developing nations. Why not top it off with the greatest histrionic performance ever? During the entire ceremony, I was hawking that coffin like it was the draft lottery envelope at the ’84 Ewing Sweepstakes. Honestly, if Mike decided to jump on stage during Lionel Richie’s solo, I wouldn’t have been totally surprised. For one, it would’ve been the best TV moment in history, and Michael Jackson was tailor-made to eviscerate the stage. It was only after they wheeled his coffee out the door that I thought to myself, Wow…he’s really gone. Just thought I’d throw that out there before diving headlong into this column. Thanks for the memories, Michael.)

“Smart Guy”: March 26, 1997 – May 16, 1999 (3 Seasons)

My Introduction
: I don’t do this often, so I’d better make it count. Since BET recently decided to program re-runs of this classic series, I decided to take advantage and watch the channel. For the record, BET’s got to be the only channel that still advertises cell ringtones and lump sum payments. But to be fair, BET has done a great job of getting into the syndication game. Yes, I know I just complimented the same network that gave us the disaster dubbed the BET Awards. I will now light myself on fire. Toasty.

Promise not to laugh when you read this. There is a stark difference between “dorks” and “nerds”. And Master T.J. Henderson from Washington, D.C. was no “dork.” Heck, Smart Guy was a television show created For Nerds By Nerds, like a FUBU equivalent for young, black bookworms. This family situational comedy (or, sitcom) was centered on our hero T.J. (Tahj Mowry), the innocent tween accelerated to the tenth grade due to his capacity for higher learning. More often than not, young T.J. would be found matching his academic intellect against the street smarts of his older brother Marcus (Jason Weaver), a debonair dude more interested in smooth-talking high school honeys with his partner-in-crime Mo Tibbs (Omar Gooding). Marcus and T.J. do a great job of annoying their older sister Tasha (Essence Atkins), all while their young pops (John Marshall Jones) makes sure they stay out of trouble. Over those short seasons, this simple concept develops rapidly into an exciting comedy.

The Main Characters That Held The Show Together And Gave Danny Kallis and Suzanne De Passe Jobs (B-): Can’t really give you an honest answer to this one. The show faltered after three seasons, probably because the show was built in a limiting vacuum. Whenever you build your show around a promising child star, the cute factor inevitably comes into play. That’s why Rudy got replaced by Olivia on Cosby (even though she is drop-dead gorgeous now), why Bart and Lisa will never grow up, and why T.J.’s creative hit show had a built-in expiration date. Nothing kills the cute factor faster than a teenage face splattered with acne. Just ask Alicia Keys. Ouch.

Rising Stars (C): I’m convinced that scoring great roles in Hollywood is like trying to break in to a pick-up game of park hoops. You’ve got to establish yourself right off-bat or you’re screwed. If you don’t, your acting career can go one of two ways: Home Shopping Network or cameos. There’s no shame in pulling a Jaleel White and stacking your filmography chips with obscure episode cameos and movie one-liners. My college roommate Josh and I laughed for about an hour at Jaleel’s “Show’s Over” line in Dream Girls because those were literally the last two words Urkel spoke in the entire movie. Just. Epic. It was like a referendum on his entire career post-Matters. That, my friends, is unintentional comedy.

Anyway, the actors from “Smart Guy” never ended up making the leap. Omar Gooding had a legitimate shot to break into the rotation with his portrayal of the lifted running back D.H. in ESPN’s “Playmakers” until the NFL pulled the plug on the show. (I need to get a copy of that first season.) What’s wrong with showing professional football players doing lines of coke and anabolic steroids, NFL?
Moment the Show "Jumped the Shark": Like I mentioned earlier, Smart Guy was a show with a short shelf life. And that’s was before they changed the theme song during the show’s high popularity point. In an instant, the show stopped giving off the “Hey, there’s a 10-year-old in 10th grade! What a concept!” vibe and started moving awkwardly towards the “I guess we’re going to try and tackle mature subjects now” phase. The lesson, as always: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sometimes, it’s that simple.

Eye Candy (B+): Before talking about this category gets more uncomfortable than a fake out-make out, I’ll drop three quick sentences and keep it moving. Whenever four out of the five showcase characters on a sitcom are men (with the “Dad” character being a widower), it’s a mortal lock that legions of hot women will be included. Once the opening credits rolled across the screen, I’d already mentally written three sure-fire scripts for the show (Dad gets back on the dating scene, Mo/Marcus fight over cute girl, T.J. falls in love with hot teacher). I’m just glad that the hot girlfriend rotation for Marcus and Mo didn’t get to unrealistic “REALLY???? Come ON!!!!” levels like Will had going on that last season of The Fresh Prince.

Theme Song (B+): I don’t think executive producers have fully realized it yet, but the best theme songs are the ones that you do a terrible job of mock-singing to yourself way after the show’s over. Smart Guy does this perfectly with the signature “He’s a Smart Guy!” line looming at the tail end of the song. Think about it. How many times did you imitate that “Shoom! Chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-CHOOM!” noise from the very beginning of the Family Matters theme? (Or, maybe it was just me. Perhaps I’ve said too much.)

Best Season (Season 2): Not too many to choose from here, but I’ve gotta go with Season 2. Better theme song (with Omar Gooding getting credit in the credits), better screenwriting, better girlfriends, better Mo, better child acting…better show.

Worst Season (Season 3): Season 3 of Smart Guy reminded me of that screwy last season of Family Matters when Urkel and Stephon both existed at the same time, old Harriet left for more loot, and the crazy experiments just moved weirdly towards science fiction levels. I mean, the show was destined to end. Young Teej was on the cusp of puberty, Yvette was on the brink of college, and Jason Weaver was ready to begin his career of one-hit wonders and black audience blockbusters. Basically put, the Smart Guy schtick had run its course. Show Rank: 870 out of 18,234 shows. In other words, astoundingly average.

My Overall Rating (B): If I stopped and made a time capsule of stuff from middle school, I’d have to toss in a director’s cut of Smart Guy (along with a copy of Pokemon Yellow, of course). Smart Guy exists as a representation of late-90s culture, when DVD’s were just beginning to replace VHS, when cell phones were on the cusp of being affordable for everyone, and when boy bands ruled the pop charts. The Disney Channel owes Smart Guy their livelihood as a network, as the show effectively bridged the gap between their ridiculous paid-Disney Channel movement (anyone remember when they gave us one free weekend of Disney per year?) and the Even Stevens/Lizzie McGuire generation. Smart Guy, we'll never forget you. Well, at least I know Latavia and LeToya won't.

I’m just waiting patiently for Tahj Mowry to pull a Drake “Hey, Isn’t That the Guy From Degrassi?” on us and lay down some background vocals for Trick Daddy or something. Hey, you know it’s coming.
Keep enjoying the summer, everyone.

Mike Benjamin is an aspiring sports and comedy writer that hails from Queens Village, NY. You can check out more of his work at his blog, Points Off Turnovers. Make sure to start following him over at Twitter, too.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sir, Can You Please Sign On the Dotted Line?

The most exciting day on the NBA calendar is the start of the free agency period. NOT.

I’ve always imagined David Stern pre-free agency acting like Ryan Seacrest at the very end of American Idol when he’s pressing loyal viewers (not named “Mike Benjamin”) to dial I-D-O-L-S zero-whatever for Bo Bice, Tamyra Gray, or some other singer not named Kelly Clarkson destined to flame out like the famed Justin Guarini. (I think I saw him working at a Denny's last week.) I just know our commish is standing at his oak desk eager to announce the year’s salary cap, eager to figure out sneaking ways to manipulate the next collective bargaining agreement, and bent on pushing another playoff officiating fiasco under the rug. It’s hard out there for a pimp.

But why is this day so special? Well, it’s because it’s the only day where you’ll see journeyman power forwards ask for ridiculous deals (Charlie Villanueva), one-dimensional players get overpaid (Ben Gordon), and former Knick players (Quentin Richardson and Zach Randolph) get traded for one another in a furious attempt to cut salary and dump garbage. I'm just giddy for the day Joe Dumars is forced to give Rip Hamilton away for 60 cents on the dollar. Yes, Pistons's coming.
Truth be told, this first day of free agency holds the most intrigue for die-hard fans around the country. To us, these stoolies are the guys that have the potential to propel our players to the playoffs and beyond. Heck, the guy that your owner let walk away looks like the missing piece to our championship puzzle! Of COURSE we’ll overspend to get him! (By the way Magic fans, that’s the reason you won’t be having Hedo Turkoglu in your starting lineup next season. Enjoy groaning as Vince hoists fadeaways from the loge section while your best defender (C-Lee) matures in my backyard (New Jersey). You can thank your brilliant GM and greedy power forward for that.)

The most intriguing part, of course, is always seeing how your team will respond to the chaos. For example, when I saw that Memphis sent an offer sheet to David Lee on Day 1 (10 mil/year), I chuckled like Wimpy before tearing up a plate of hamburgers. Seriously? Do you really think D-Lee’s going to rely on the likes of Chris Wallace to assemble a championship-caliber team in a dead basketball market? Now, thanks to Hedo’s controlling wife (Jackie Christie must've gotten to her) forcing Turk to select Raptor irrelevancy over Blazer resurgence, we’ll probably get to see David Lee don a Knick jersey for the next five years.

Unfortunately, the gloom and doom of free agency begins to seep in after the big names leave the market. Simply put, the rest of free agency pretty much equates to dumpster diving. Got a roster spot to fill? How about looking at Travis Diener! Need a walking poster to fill your summer league team? Take a look at Robert Swift! Mulling over sending a player to Europe to blossom? Why not! He’ll enjoy getting paid in Euros!

So, eager NBA fan, enjoy watching your rookies and journeymen battle for the final roster spot in Summer League over the WNBA’s lugubrious glory. Yes, I’d also make that decision 10 times out of 10. (The WNBA: Expect layups. Sorry Candace.)

In reality, the NBA should just go ahead and let the networks turn Summer League basketball into reality television. You’re telling me folks wouldn’t tune in to watch a guy named Christmas play? You’re telling me that this wouldn’t beat out Wipeout for ratings? Think about it. It’d be like Knight School, only 37% less racist!
Anyway, now that it's finally stopped raining on the East Coast…go ahead and enjoy the summer. I know I will.

(Lebron, I’ve got my eye on you. And Dwight, work on your post game. You'll be glad you did.)

Mike Benjamin is an aspiring sportswriter that hails from Queens, NY. You can check out more of his work at his blog, Points Off Turnovers. Make sure to start following him over at Twitter, too.)