Television verisimilitude

We know the procedural shows we enjoy on television aren't documentaries. We've heard enough exasperated complaints from friends to know this - one attorney friend refuses to watch "Law & Order" shows because he finds them so utterly ridiculous and unrealistic. But no network drama can show 44 minutes of phone calls and e-mail sending.

We recently stumbled onto a website that examines in detail the law enforcement reality of TNT's "Southland" (who occupies a high rank in the DVR to-do list). How realistic is the show? If you believe blogger Lee Lofland, very.


Woe are the post offices

It's not nice to admit, but we take great pleasure in reading stories of the U.S. Postal Service's economic troubles. Today comes news that the USPS is considering closing 2000 offices in a desperate attempt to cut costs and close massive budget deficits. How can you not smirk a little.

It doesn't take a Wharton MBA to diagnose the problem facing the USPS. All you need to do is spend time interacting with clerks at your neighborhood post office. If ever there was a more inefficient, disinterested, and lazy collection of workers than those who often staff the counters at a USPS post office, we have yet to have the misfortune of meeting them. Finding a friendly, competent postal clerk is a miracle on par with finding an extinct tree frog in the Amazon.

(The dullards who work at Rite-Aids could maybe make the contest interesting. We often wonder what sort of employment screening process goes into the hiring of Rite-Aid workers. No matter what location you visit, the workers are lost, confused, and always seem startled to have to work the cash register. Luckily, we now live in a Rite-Aid-free-zone and enjoy CVS and Walgreens. But we digress.)

Here are our observations about post office clerks.**

* Lazy - Why work quickly to make a transaction fast and snappy when you can move ever so slowly and drag everything out? No one's in a hurry here. It's not like we have a limited lunch hour to eat and run multiple errands. Take your time. Reach over there... and then reach over there... now thumb through the stamps - not too fast! Whatever you do, don't exert yourself. Bonus points for having to walk "in the back" to get something or ask a question, thus allowing customers to witness your laborious shuffle-step in excruciating half-speed.

* Chatty - You may have regular customers like Norm from "Cheers," but most people in line don't know you or your nephew or your crazy mother-in-law you like to talk about. Most people in line would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled than spend one more moment in your drab, airless lobby staring at out-of-date sales posters featuring Looney Tunes stamps. No one wants to watch you catch up with the lady who comes in once a week with sixteen packages for her boss. And your willingness to chew the fat with customers is always in direct proportion to the length of your line of customers.

* Stubborn - Speaking of long lines, no matter how long the line may get, please do not take the initiative to call for additional workers to come help you. You'll get to us when you get to us, right? More galling are the peals of laughter coming from the back as your coworkers dick around while we're forced to look at the back of the bald man in front of you for the 16th minute and wonder how he thinks he's going to ship a shoebox that isn't taped closed. Why can't your coworkers come out for a few minutes to chip in? Are they not properly trained in the sophisticated art of cash register button-pushing? That goes double for you, too, post office worker who actually walks by the counter, sees the long line, frowns, and then keeps right on walking.

* Upseller - If we want insurance or proof of delivery or any other damn stupid service you attempt to provide (seriously, the only difference between first-class mail and Priority Mail is the fancy red and blue envelope, right?), we'll ask. How many millions of collective minutes in this country are wasted each week by postal clerks running through their lame laundry list of additional services that you have to say "no" "no" "no" to? I'm mailing a letter to the Gas Company. Why would I want to insure it?

We suspect by now you sense a theme: bureaucratic short-sightedness and sedentary inefficiencies and a complete disinterest in customer service. Slow workers displaying little productivity will of course undermine an organization's profitability. The work of one motivated employee is spread out among three unmotivated employees, all of whom get paid the same. How about cutting loose some of the dead weight? Maybe the workers left behind might put a little bounce in their step. No, that won't work. Instead, let's just raise the postage rates. Or cut back to five days of delivery. That makes sense, right?

Some may argue that we don't understand the complex systems at work here. The problem is not so easily resolved. True, but all we can go by is what we see. And we see big problems. Most legitimate companies do everything they can to hide those problems. The USPS will let anyone take a look for little more than 44 cents.

**A disclaimer: post office mail carriers out lugging those big mail sacks and driving trucks from the passenger seat are a completely different breed, often helpful, energetic, and proactive in ways their in-house coworkers could never be.


We're told these are our favorite 20 movies of all time

The internet is nothing if it's not a repository for time-wasting addictions. One of our new favorites is Flickchart. By using some kind of fancy algorithm, Flickchart compiles your favorite movies by simply asking you an either/or question for a pair of movies. For example, which is better, The Dark Knight or Swingers? Click your favorite of the two, then up pops another pair. And so on.

Over the last few months, we clicked on 6000 of these pairs. Yes, 6000. The process allowed us to rank over 1000 movies. We tried to stick to one guiding principle in making the choices - would we want to see the movie again? Sure, we all can appreciate the originality of Citizen Kane or the raw power of The Deer Hunter. But like so many films, once was enough thank you very much.

So what did Flickchart tell us?

* We have contemporary tastes. The oldest movie on our top-20 is 1969's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and that one's probably ranked too high.

* Comedies aren't worthy. As much as we love a good comedy, our top-20 is exclusively action, drama, or thrillers. (Although curiously, one could argue that Dazed and Confused is a dramedy with a good dose of humor.) We're just like the Academy, it seems. Only "serious" movies are worthy of our praise.

* Nostalgia counts for a lot. Is The Breakfast Club truly among the best ten movies ever made? Of course not. But it struck just the right chord with us at just the right age and has ever since been an iconic film with a special place in our memory.

Here's our list (as of now):

1. Dazed and Confused - We really love this movie, but didn't realize how much we love it. But a number-one ranking feels right. In fact, it was just on some random cable channel today. We flipped past it, saw it, wound up watching 20 minutes. Considering it's mostly about high schoolers hanging out in a single 12-hour period, it's surprisingly compelling.

2. Die Hard - Obviously. The standard bearer for all post-80s action. I'm going to count to three. There will not be a four.

3. Children of Men - To give you an obnoxious Hollywood pitch, "It's Die Hard meets the end of the world." Genius. Probably the best post-apocalyptic movie ever.

4. Jaws - We can watch any part of it at any time - and it's probably playing on TBS right now. You're going to need a bigger boat.

5. Erin Brockovich - We're big fans of director Steven Soderberg and this is one of his best. The investigative thriller masquerading as a melodrama, with Julia Roberts giving the performance of her career. Even so, this ranking seems kind of high. One thing about Flickchart, the more movies get added to the list you're comparing, the harder it is for titles to move up or down. You have to hit just the right combination to bump a title one way or another. It's like slots.

6. Lethal Weapon 2 - Classic action comedy. We've seen it countless times, thanks mostly to the summer of 1989 when we worked at a movie theater that played it. I'm not a cop tonight, Roger.

7. Star Wars - At this point, I think we can all agree there's a certain amount of corniness here. And it's way too long. And the effects are... well, they're kind of quaint now. But nostalgia alone puts this in the top 10. We were in kindergarten when this thing blew our minds. These aren't the droids you're looking for.

8. The Breakfast Club - Way too high. A few more hundred clicks and this one would likely take a tumble.

9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - We ranked this one high early in the process, before we came up with the "would I watch it again?" rule. And it's been hard to get it to fall. We watched this again recently and we're probably good for another five years or so. What are you worried about? The fall'll probably kill you.

10. Syriana - We only saw this once, but it's the kind of gritty, complicated, "real" movie we always love. It stuck with us.

11. Lost in Translation - Yes yes, this is an acquired taste. Few of our friends liked it. But it's incredibly poetic and lush, a calm, quiet movie about random connections that have an unexpectedly profound impact. Plus, it's got Scarlett Johansson at her absolutely most enchanting.

12. Thelma and Louise - Perfect in just about every way, including the controversial ending. The men are all pigs (except for Harvey Keitel), but so what? Most times, yeah, we're all pigs. I can't tell if they're smart or lucky. Brains will only get you so far and luck always runs out.

13. No Country for Old Men - Another fairly recent title, but one that was seared in our mind. Epic scope, powerhouse acting, big themes, and a palpable sense of foreboding.

14. Memento - Probably ranked too low here. One of the most ridiculously clever scripts ever written. A masterpiece of plotting. Absolutely worthy of repeat viewings.

15. Spiderman 2 - It may be the best superhero movie of all time. Name a better one.

16. Empire Strikes Back - Definitely ranked too low, but Flickchart never asked us to pick between Star Wars and Empire. Star Wars would lose every time. The best of the six movies, without question. Anyone who says otherwise deserves to be frozen in carbonite. They should be perfectly fine... if they survive the freezing process.

17. Silence of the Lambs - Another polished gem from start to finish. Swept the five major Oscars (Actor, Actress, Director, Script, Picture). We won't blame it for launching the post-90s obsession with serial killers. Insert your own fava bean joke here.

18. Titanic - We were tempted to not vote for this one. It's a little embarrassing to admit liking this because now - 15 years later - it's become cool to make fun of the movie's dorkier elements and the way it appealed to 12-year-old girls (which is also the reason it made $1 billion with a B). But if we were to be perfectly honest, then it belongs on this list. We'd watch it again.

19. Independence Day - Another popcorn movie that appealed to wide audiences but wouldn't be in a discussion about truly "great" cinema. But there's something to be said about making good, solid populist entertainment. Ask Steven Spielberg. Among end-of-the-world disaster movies, none are this rousing and shamelessly patriotic. Bill Pullman for president.

20. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - This one's ranked too high. We admired it, enjoyed it. But we wouldn't rush out to see it again. Probably the film snob in us put a thumb on the scale for this one.

If you're curious, just missing the top 20 were: Swingers, Gone Baby Gone, Tootsie (a comedy!), Tombstone, Contact, Sunshine, Atonement, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (another comedy!), Rear Window (an old movie from before we were born!), and Slumdog Millionaire.

For the record, had Flickchart given us a chance, we would have put The Parallax View in our top-10. One of the creepiest, gritty, and most claustrophobic political thrillers ever made. Warren Beatty tries to infiltrate a secret agency that creates assassins. Rent it.


Cassette tape rewind: senior winter

The Cheese Fry was sunny with optimism in January of 1994. Kicking it in a sweet (if slightly ramshackle) apartment just a ten-minute walk from campus, dating a 20-year-old sophomore, daring to skip those boring film criticism classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, enjoying the prestige that comes from being of legal drinking age, looking forward to another summer working at cheerleader camps (yes, you read that right), and in general, strutting around like some big-time, cool college senior (our creaky sky blue 1979 Ford Granada not withstanding).

Here's the rundown of the top songs in the country just 17 short years ago: January 17, 1994.

1. Mariah Carey "Hero" - We're not ashamed to admit that some Mariah Carey songs (e.g. "Vision of Love" and "Anytime You Need a Friend") are guilty pleasures. But this one is particularly treacly and saccharine, the sort of thing written mainly to play at high school proms.

2. Bryan Adams "All for Love" - From his toothless, soundtrack period, not his angry-but-harmless Reckless rocker period. Seriously, how cool are the first few seconds of "Summer of 69"? Don't lie.

3. Ace of Base "All That She Wants" - We really like this song now, perhaps for pure cheesy nostalgia, but hated it back then. One of those songs that got very very overplayed on the radio.

4. Janet Jackson "Again" - We don't remember it.

5. Toni Braxton "Breathe Again" - Catchy in that 1990s smooth R&B sort of way. But when we think of Toni Braxton, we always think of the way romantic jealousies involving her helped break up the 1990s high-scoring Dallas Mavericks. Not to be confused with the 2000s high-scoring Mavericks who utterly collapsed in the 2006 Finals against our Sworn Enemy Dwyane Wade. But that's another blog post.

6. DRS "Gangsta Lean" - We had to go to iTunes for a refresher. It didn't help. If we didn't know better, we would have sworn this thing never got played on the radio.

7. Michael Bolton "I Said I Loved You But I Lied" - Can we all agree that the scorn and ridicule heaped upon Bolton is entirely deserved and warranted? How did this guy have a career?

8. Tag Team "Whoomp! (There It Is)" - A song whose life was unforgivably extended by its use at big sporting events. Criminally inane.

9. Tevin Campbell "Can We Talk" - Never heard of it.

10. Snoop Doggy Dogg "What's My Name?" - Now we're talking. Yeeah. We had yet to embrace the appeal of hip-hop in 1994. We were still in our Singles-Reality Bites (the two epochal movies of Generation X) grunge phase. But there's no denying the "Snoop Dog-gy Dogg-oh-ogg" hook.

In 2009, we looked at the top of the charts for July 1989.


Clear eyes, full heart

The Onion offers a thorough examination of the Cheese Fry's favorite coach, Eric Taylor. Sorry, Jimmy Johnson.

Next question: where can we get us a pair of those ominous wraparound shades that Coach Taylor likes to wear as he stalks the practice field each day after school?


10 over-unders: 2000s movies

The Cheese Fry thought it'd be easy to examine the big theatrical releases from 2000-2010 and put together a list of "overrated" and "underrated." What are the movies that have great reputations from wide audience and/or critics, but are actually quite ordinary and fail to live up to the hype? What are the films that were dismissed by moviegoers or panned by critics, but - if given a fair shake - prove to be worthy, compelling, and overcome bad press?

Turns out, most movies are rated exactly where they should be. Most people would agree that Little Miss Sunshine is almost a perfect movie while Van Helsing is absolutely terrible. Great movies attract good word-of-mouth and critical acclaim. Even if they flop at the box office, most people recognize those movies as being quality titles. "I heard that was good," they say. Conversely, lame movies suffer appropriately from negative worth-of-mouth and critical disgust. This includes huge hits at the box office. Millions saw Transformers, but how many really thought it was as good as American cinema can deliver? As a whole, we all collectively have a realistic understanding of what's good and what's bad.

So then, how to come up with a list of overrated and underrated of the 2000s? It's a shorter list than we figured it would be. So we made it nice and even and kept the list to just ten each.

Underrated - You may have heard it wasn't all that good (or just, you know, okay), certainly not worth your $10 at a local theater. But trust us. It's way better than you expect.
* 3:10 to Yuma
* 8 Mile - That Eminem kid, he can act.
* Blue Crush
* Bring It On - Unjustly diminished by a raft of lame sequels.
* Cloverfield
* The Interpreter - The sort of sophisticated, important drama/thriller that older audiences claim to love, yet never pay money to see.
* Reign of Fire - If you're going to do a dragon siege movie, make it a good one.
* Resident Evil
* V for Vendetta
* The Village - The backlash against M. Night is big and it is relentless. The Happening deserved moviegoers scorn and ridicule, but not this one.

Overrated - You probably heard it was amazing in every way. You have to go see it immediately. Uh, no you don't. Overblown and underwhelming.
* A Beautiful Mind
* Anchorman - Why does Will Ferrell insist on making us pay to see him try to amuse himself and his friends?
* Avatar
* The Dark Knight - Good, yes. The second coming of film, no.
* Gladiator
* Inception - See "The Dark Knight" above.
* Juno - Its snarky, too-cool-for-school preciousness wore out its welcome by the end of opening weekend.
* There Will Be Blood - And in the audience, there will be sleep. Sorry, couldn't resist. It's like that awful painting you see in the museum that you try to like because everyone tells you it's genius.
* Tropic Thunder
* Unfaithful

What do you think? Agree with this list? Are we way off base? Do you have your own over-unders?

Why you didn't win your fantasy football championship

* Waited too long to draft a quarterback (you were too busy loading up on #2 running backs)
* Drafted a quarterback too soon (why aren't you loading up on #2 running backs?)
* Lost a key game the one week you would have beat everyone else but your opponent
* Lost a key game the one week your opponent would have lost to everyone else but you
* Didn't make enough trades (you foolishly thought your team was solid when it was actually quite mediocre)
* Made too many trades (you foolishly thought your team was mediocre when it was actually quite solid)
* Didn't trust your gut about that one rookie and he turned into a 12-points-a-week superstar (who knew)
* Trusted your guy about that one rookie and he turned into a 0-points-a-week bust (who knew)
* Put too much emphasis on getting a good defense (defense wins championships)
* Didn't put nearly enough emphasis on getting a good defense (good defenses are a dime a dozen)
* Drank too much at the draft and made stupid, risky decisions (next year: Coke on ice)
* Didn't drink enough at the draft and made too-safe, conservative decisions (next year: whiskey in a flask)
* Put too much faith in the weekly fantasy website rankings (they're the experts)
* Put too little faith in the weekly fantasy website rankings (what the hell do they know?)
* Did way too much research before the draft and over-thought every move (look at my three-ring binder)
* Did too little research before the draft and used uneducated guesswork to make every move (look at my brand-new unopened fantasy magazine and my Sharpie pen)


2011 will be the Year of the Tweet

The Cheese Fry has at last joined the social media tsunami and taken steps to take full advantage of its foamy fury.


1. You'll find now under each post a little "Tweet" icon that will allow those interested to tweet any worthy blog entry. Take one down and pass it around.
2. You'll also notice in the far right column a feed to the Cheese Fry's Twitter account. Our invaluable 140-character observations on pop culture will be featured not only on Twitter but here on the Blogger "mother ship."
3. This blog is also now 100% searchable via your local neighborhood search engine.

Tell your friends and spread the word!

Another catchy commercial

Here's another recent TV spot that we find ourselves humming long after it ends. AdTunes (via a quick Google search) tells us the song is called "Chugjug" by a group called Family of the Year.

There's also something hypnotic about the visuals as well. Advertising research shows that one of the best ways to sell a product is to make a consumer think others are already using it - we all want to be a part of the crowd and belong. This spot surely drives that point home with style and warmth.

And yes, the Cheese Fry is a proud Advil user.

My mascot can beat up your mascot (NBA edition)

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, who better to flatter than ourselves?

We ranked the NFL mascots last year and wanted to do the same exercise for the NBA.
Which basketball mascots, in the real world, are the scariest? Which would you not want to meet in a cage match?

1. Suns– In theory, there’s nothing more powerful than a sun. Heat, light, radiation. And we’re talking plural suns here. It’s really no contest. Plus they have Steve Nash.

Next up are the big animals that can take you out with one flick of their claws/horns.

2. Raptors – We saw Jurassic Park.
3. Grizzlies
4. Bulls

Now the aggressive humans.

5. Warriors – It’s right there in the name. They fight. But then again, they are from the Golden State. How fierce can they really be?
6. Wizards – We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here and assume the can cast some really nasty spells.
7. Kings – They’ll just order someone else to kill you, like a Warrior or a Wizard.

Which leads to the smaller animals. You can probably fend them off, but they’ll do some serious damage first

9. Bobcats
10. Bucks
11. Hawks
12. Hornets – But only if we’re talking a swarm. One on one, it’s no contest. Just get some Black Flag.

We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now. Nothing much scary left. Might as well have an NBA team called the Accountants or the iPods.

13. Mavericks – Presumably they like to do things their own way.
14. Blazers
15. Celtics
16. Cavaliers – Whatever, dude. We’re, like, totally cavalier.
17. Lakers – We’ve never met a laker in the real world. Have you?

Now come some a couple of strange abstractions.

18. Heat – If we give the Suns the number-one slot, we should at least give heat some props.
19. Magic – Seriously, though. The "Magic"? Are they serious?

Which leaves a bunch of inanimate objects. A curious trend for NBA teams.

20. Rockets – Stick a nuclear warhead on the tip and we’ll see who’s scary.
21. Pacers
22. Clippers
23. Pistons
24. Spurs – They’d have to be really, really sharp spurs.
25. Thunder – Your mascot, Oklahoma City, is essentially sound waves.
26. Nuggets – You could hock them, we suppose.

It’s a four-way tie for last place.

27. Nets – At least it’s basketball-related. The next expansion team may want to look into trademarking the name Gatorade-Bottles.
27. Knicks – Aren’t these a kind of pants?
27. 76ers – Which is a what exactly, someone very very patriotic?
27. Jazz – At least thunder can startle you. Nothing much startling about “Birdland.”

Knee-jerk review: ESPN's 30 for 30 "Pony Excess"

1. The Cheese Fry was a geeky freshman at Southern Methodist University for the fall 1990 football season, the second season back from SMU's infamous "death penalty" punishment for repeated NCAA recruiting violations. For all four years of our college attendance, we witnessed first-hand the severity of that punishment. If we could muster a handful of wins, it was a miracle (Texas Tech beat the hell out of SMU one cold Saturday afternoon without throwing the ball a single time).
2. To this date, we harbor a deep, burning hatred for the University of Houston for its 95-21 shellacking of SMU in 1989. Andre Ware (one of those Heisman winner flameouts; poetic justice, if you ask us) was throwing the ball as time expired, hoping to crack triple-digits. Jackasses, each and every one of them. The funny part? We weren't even an SMU student at the time. We hate them anyway.
3. No college program will ever again get the "death penalty." The NCAA sees now that it's not just suspending a single season, but gutting an entire program for 20 years.
4. As one of the players describes the 1989 comeback season: "We weren't big, but we were slow."
5. Personal note: the Cheese Fry went to SMU with the filmmaker's older brother.
6. An impressive array of talking heads. Just about every local Dallas sportscaster and sportwriter is on hand to offer opinion and overviews, including the incomparable Dale Hansen of WFAA whose on-air expose signaled the beginning of the end.
7. They even dug up the old KXAS sports guy Scott Murray, surely the nerdiest, most uncool sportscaster ever.
8. Not sure if it's amusing or chilling that Eric Dickerson still won't say why he chose to come to SMU.
9. Great sound bites, as expected, from Skip Bayless and Norm Hitzges. We are big fans.
10. Little did we know that the Coach-Getting-Out-While-the-Getting-Is-Good move, recently executed by USC's Pete Carroll just prior to the Reggie Bush scandal breaking open, was undertaken by SMU coach Ron Meyer. Why stick around when you can let the next coach suffer the fallout?
11. Some very interesting theories are put forth here about how and why the scandal came to be. Most intriguing: the newspaper war between the Dallas Morning News and Dallas Times Herald led to the kind of intense competition that demanded big stories, like prying into the dirty secrets at SMU.
12. How stupid do you have to be to mail illegal cash payments to players' families using university envelopes?
13. We wonder whatever happened to Eric Dickerson's gold Trans-Am.
14. A football scandal that involved the governor of Texas. You can't make this stuff up, people. And one look at Bill Clements, with his squinty smile and down-home accent, and you know the guy is as crooked as they come.
15. SMU was so greedy and arrogant that it seems like they were recruiting and paying players they didn't even really need or want.
16. What might have been if SMU hadn't tied Arkansas in 1982 and instead posted an undefeated season.
17. An interesting theory that the absence of SMU on the Southwest Conference football schedules was the opening that Texas, A&M, and Texas Tech needed to justify leaving the conference.
18. The Cheese Fry had always figured that the "death penalty" was unjustified, but the documentary makes a pretty convincing case for its use. SMU was put on probation and warned many times. They even promised to clean house... and yet still continued to pay its players. With the knowledge of the school's board of directors and administrators. As one of the talking heads points out, this wasn't just some renegade, overzealous booster.
19. We recommend David Whitford's book A Payroll to Meet.
20. Another interesting theory, one may also explain the NCAA trouble the University of Miami faced in the 1980s: upstart programs who suddenly have success upset the apple cart. The traditional powers don't like newcomers to the party, such as when SMU upset Texas on national TV in 1982.
21. We wonder how compelling all of this would be to someone not so invested in Dallas and SMU.
22. Those are some pretty amazing option runs, Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
23. Perfect ending to the documentary - a montage of post-"death penalty" NCAA investigations and sanctions. Big schools cheat. That's just a fact of college football life. The trick is not getting caught.