Monday, December 31, 2018

To The Absent Friends of 2018

Who knew when I started this Blog back in 2010 that one of the more popular features of it would be obituaries, or comments on "Absent Friends", a term coined by the great sportswriter Red Smith.

Before reviewing the entire list, I need to comment upon a personal loss for Marilyn and I, and to the entire Sproule Family, and that would be the death of our dear friend Bill Montrose.

I have written of Bill extensively in the past, and many of you out there have come to know him, or at least of him, through his many contributions both to this Blog and on Facebook.  He was a terrific guy, and we miss him greatly.

So, as to the other Absent Friends, The Grandstander remembered thirty-seven of them in 2018, and they were a varied lot.  We remember them one final time in 2018.

John Young
Bob Bailey
Jerry Van Dyke
Mort Walker
Adam Lynch
Roger Bannister
Linda Brown Thompson
Rusty Staub
Barbara Bush
Harry Anderson
Hal Greer
Bruno Sammartino
Margot Kidder
Richard Goodwin
Alan Bean
Bruce Kison
Len Chappell
Gabe Rivera
Aretha Franklin
John McCain
Neil Simon
Chuck Brinkman
Barbara Russell
Carole Shelly
John Gagliardi
Mary Alice Gorman
Jim Taylor
Paul Allen
Willie McCovey
Paul Zimmerman
William Goldman
Scott English
George H.W. Bush
Ken Berry
Sam Nover
Bill Fralic
Penny Marshall

Rest In Peace, All.

My Year In Movies for 2018

Okay, I am going to give you my Ten Best Movies for 2018, but first some stipulations.
  • I am not a professional movie critic, so I don't see every movie that gets released.  As a result, this is most certainly not an all-encompassing list of all 2018 movies.
  • I usually go to see only movies that I am inclined to see.  The means, although this is not always the case, that the movies I see will not include science fiction, comic book flicks, or foreign language films.
  • This list include only movies that I have seen  in a movie theater in the calendar year 2018 (there were twenty-five of them this year).   Three of my Ten Best were actually 2017 movies.  I am going to take those out of these rankings, so that my list will only show ten  movies that were released in 2018.
  • For the record, the 2017 movies that I am removing from my list are "The Post" (#4), "The Shape of Water" (#9), and "Get Out" (#10).
That said, and counting backwards from 10 to 1...

10. Crazy Rich Asians.  A romantic comedy featuring an all Asian cast.  Maybe you might see that as a gimmick, but you soon get over that idea as the movie unfolds.  An attractive cast and gorgeous location filming in Singapore.  Best line: "Nobody likes getting free stuff more than rich people."

9. Ocean's 8.  Another heist movie, only this time with an all female gang of thieves.  Lots of fun.

8. A Simple Favor.  A quirky little movie that casts Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as mismatched moms who suddenly become unlikely "best friends".  The friendship takes an unlikely turn when Lively suddenly disappears.

7. Three Identical Strangers.  A documentary about identical triplets who were separated at birth who accidentally learn of the others' existence when they reach their late teens.  What starts out as a feel good story of brothers reuniting takes a decidedly dark turn when they look to determine why they were separated at birth in the first place.

6.  A Star Is Born.  The third remake (or maybe the fourth, depending on how you count) of this old Hollywood war horse is certainly the best of them.  Bradley Cooper produced, wrote, directed, and co-starred in this one, but the true star is Lady Gaga.  She is absolutely fabulous in this one, and she alone makes this one worth seeing, although that is certainly not the only reason to go.  Look for the movie to get a whole bunch of Oscar nominations, and it may well be a big winner on Oscar night, including taking home the Best Picture award.

5. The Wife.  When this movie was released late in the summer, critics were saying that this would be the move that would finally deliver an Oscar to Glenn Close.  However, the movie wasn't a big hit, and both it and Close have disappeared in year end discussions and as awards season  approaches.  Close's performance as the long suffering wife an insufferably self-centered Noble Prize winning novelist was one of the two best performances by an actress that I have seen this year.  The other came in the next movie on the countdown.

4. Tully.  In this one, Charlize Theron plays a Mom approaching middle age who is about to have her third baby. When the baby arrives, so does a "night nanny" who is there to give the new Mom a break in her motherly duties that at times become overwhelming.  The movie delivers a twist that you never see coming, and that makes "Tully" one of the best movies of the year.  This was another movie that was released early in the year, didn't do big box office business, and has been forgotten.  Too bad, and if Theron doesn't at least snag an Oscar nomination, it will be a real injustice.

3. Won't You Be My Neighbor.  A documentary about Fred Rogers.  In a world that seems to get darker and uglier every day, the message that Mr. Rogers delivered, and continues to deliver, in his landmark PBS children's television program stands out like a beacon.  Wonderful movie.

2. First Man.  The story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the first manned moon landing in 1969.  Critics loved this movie.  Lots of people loved this movie.  I loved this movie.  Yet many people, and people whose opinions I highly respect and often dovetail with my own (my wife, for example), did not.  Apparently, most of the movie going public disagreed with me, because this one never got much traction and it disappeared from theaters fairly quickly.  I thought it was a great piece of movie making, particularly the depictions of Armstrong's space flight during the Gemini program, and , of course, that moment when "the Eagle has landed".

1. Mary Poppins Returns.  I wrote extensively about this one just yesterday, so I won't restate it all here, but this sequel to Disney's 1964 classic has it all....fabulous performances by Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, wonderful songs and great choreographed dance numbers, beautiful and colorful costumes and production values (its a beautiful movie just to look at), and, most important of all, a terrific story with a wonderful message.  In an era where we always seem to focus on the negative, "Mary Poppins Returns" gives us all a huge dose of positivity.  I just saw this yesterday, and I could go see it again today.

Honorable Mentions:  "A Quiet Place", "Black Panther", and "The Party".

I also need to note that there a couple of 2018 movies out there that I am just not going to get to in calendar year 2018, foremost among them being "Green Book" and "Widows".   I'll get to them, I promise, but, alas, too late to make this list. 

Best Acting Performances: Glenn Close and Charlize Theron, as mentioned above, but also, and in no particular order...
  • Claire Foy, "First Man"
  • Bradley Cooper, "A Star Is Born"
  • Lady Gaga, "A Star Is Born"
  • John Kracinski, "A Quiet Place"
  • Emily Blunt, "A Quiet Place
  • Emily Blunt, "Mary Poppins Returns"
  • Chadwick Boseman, "Black Panther"
  • Steve Buscemi, "The Death of Stalin"
  • Patricia Clarkson, "The Party"
  • Saoirse Ronan, "On Chesil Beach"
  • Dick Van Dyke, "Mary Poppins Returns" (yeah, it's a cameo, but the guy is 92 years old; he has to be on this list)
We only saw two movies on TCM's Big Screen Classic series this year, but they were indeed classics:  Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard".  I'll say what I always say: nothing beats seeing a great movie as it is meant to be seen, in a theater on a big screen.

And a word about the worst movie I saw this year.  Sometime in mid-summer, reviews began appearing for "Gotti", a biopic about Mafia Boss John Gotti that starred John Travolta in the title role.  The reviews were so universally awful that I made a note that I just had to see it, although I wasn't going to pay full price to do so.  I finally saw it, and no charge, via Amazon Prime.  I like mob movies, and I always have liked Travolta, but, wow, this one was really bad.  If it doesn't kill Travolta's career, then he will become the Teflon Actor, much as Gotti himself was the Teflon Don.

Dishonorable Mention for Worst Movie:  "Red Sparrow".  Love Jennifer Lawrence, and I hope she got a really nice paycheck for starring in this bomb.

So there you are.  Can't wait to begin compiling a new list for 2019.

NFL Playoffs 2019

The Pittsburgh Steelers season began with a tie that felt like a loss, and it ended yesterday with a win that also felt like a loss.  In all honesty, I was almost relieved when the Ravens held off the Browns to win that game and eliminate the Steelers from the playoffs.  When you have to struggle so hard to beat a crummy team like Bengals 16-13, you just know that a Playoff Run by the Steelers this year would have been short-lived, and, frankly, I'll be glad not to suffer the stress that Steelers playoff games always give me, win or lose. 

The Grandstander will be doing a post-mortem analysis of the Steelers season at some point this week, but for today, let's look forward to the upcoming NFL Playoffs.

Throughout the NFL season, I have been doing a weekly Top Four (College Football Playoff-style) ranking of all NFL teams.  For today, I am going to expand upon that and give you my confidence ranking of all 12 playoff teams with a ranking of 12 being "most confident" down to 1, which would be "least confident".  Call it the "Grandstander Confidence Rankings", or GCR:

12. Saints
11. Chiefs
10. Chargers
9. Rams.
8. Patriots
7. Texans
6. Ravens
5. Cowboys
4. Bears
3. Eagles
2. Colts
1. Seahawks

Agree or disagree?  Would love to hear your comments and opinions.

Anyway, using these confidence rankings, here are my predictions to NFL Wild Card Weekend coming up on Saturday and Sunday:
  • Texans over the Colts
  • Cowboys over Seahawks
  • Chargers over Ravens
  • Bears over Eagles
Actually, the only one of these picks where I might be a bit shaky is the Chargers over the Ravens.  Baltimore beat the Chargers a few weeks ago in LA and this game is in Baltimore, so if there is to be an upset as defined by the GCR, this would be the one.

I will be redoing the GCR after each Playoff weekend.

Oh, and you know how I always say, "watch but don't bet"?  Well, I will be visiting the Rivers Casino on Wednesday, so I may get a wager down one or two of these games, just to make it interesting.  I wonder if I can get a bet down on the Over/Under for the number of times "Phillip Rivers Whines To The Officials"?  I would for sure bet the OVER on that one.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

"Mary Poppins Returns"

It took until the 364th day of the year, but I believe that I saw today what was, for me, the best movie of 2018, "Mary Poppins Returns".  As I indicated in my most recent Grandstander post, I had just seen the 1964 original a few days ago for the very first time, and I loved it, and it was great to have it fresh in my mind when seeing this one today.

As some might think, this is not a remake of the 1964 original that starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.  It is rather a sequel to that one.  It takes place a few decades after the original one.  Michael and Jane Banks are now adults, and the recently widowed Michael is still living at 17 Cherrytree Lane with his three young children, and he is faced with a multitude of problems, the foremost being that the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank is about to foreclose on a loan and repossess his house.

As his sister Jane tries to help him in his efforts to keep their family home, who comes into their lives once again but the mystical and marvelous nanny of their youth, Mary Poppins.

I won't say anymore about the storyline or the plot, so you need - I mean you really need - to go see this one yourself.

The movie was directed and choreographed by Oscar winner Rob Marshall and it gives you great music and dance numbers, beautiful and colorful costumes, amazing animation and special effects, and a simply wonderful performance by Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins.  It would be unfair to compare her to Julie Andrews, so I won't, but if you judge her on her own merits, she is just terrific.  She can speak volumes with the look on her face and the raising of her eyebrows, and man oh man, can she sing.

Blunt and Miranda
"Mary Poppins and Jack"

Instead of Bert the chimney sweep, this one gives us Jack, the lamplighter, or "leery", as played by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  This is Miranda's first big show biz splash post-Hamilton, and perhaps the expectations were too high for him, thus some critics have been lukewarm to his performance, but I thought he delivered very well in the role.  One of the musical numbers did feature him doing a rapidly rhyming semi-hip-hop number, so that was kind of cool, but this certainly was NOT "Hamilton meets Mary Poppins" if that's what you were expecting.

Another criticism I have heard of this movie is that, well, it's okay, but the songs can't hold up to the songs of the original movie.  Maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps, those critics should allow for the test of time to see if some of these numbers will grab hold of the public and become the next "Spoonful of Sugar" or Chim Chim Cher-ee".

Let's face it, in 2018, there was a lot of stuff going on out in the world that was unpleasant and discomforting.  "Mary Poppins Returns" is a movie that gives you something that is fun to watch and to listen to, that is beautiful to look at, and, more importantly, sends a quite positive message, and ain't it nice to see and hear something positive?

To me, at least, "Mary Poppins Returns" is the best movie that I have seen in 2018, and it gets the full Four Star rating from The Grandstander.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

"Mary Poppins"

One of the movies on our "must see" holiday list is the new "Mary Poppins Returns" from Disney.  The realization then hit me that I had never - as in NEVER - seen to original 1964 film version that starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, and that earned Andrews an Academy Award for Best Actress that year.  Marilyn had seen it, but her memory tells her that she probably saw it with her mother when it was first released all those years ago.

So, we obtained a Blue-ray edition of the movie and watched it last night, and were perfectly delighted with it.   The mix of live action and animation was so perfectly done, and you have to think that such an accomplishment had to be mind boggling back in 1964.   Andrews was perfectly delightful in the title role, and she surely deserved that Oscar.  (The nominated actresses she beat out that year were Anne Bancroft, Sophia Loren, Debbie Reynolds, and Kim Stanley.  Not bad company.)

I was also somewhat surprised to see that the movie was just as much a showcase for Van Dyke as it was for Andrews.  He is of course remembered for his singing of "Chim Chim Cher-ee" (which won the Oscar for Best Original Song), but "Step in Time", the dance number that he led with the other chimney sweeps on the London roof tops, was spectacular.

A word about that Oscar for Julie Andrews.  The Best Picture winner, beating out "Mary Poppins", "Becket", "Dr. Strangelove", and "Zorba the Greek", was "My Fair Lady".  Andrews, of course, created the role of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway, but was famously bypassed for the movie part in favor of Audrey Hepburn.   Many were outraged at this bit of casting, presumably even Miss Andrews herself, but while "My Fair Lady" won the Best Picture Oscar, she, Andrews, had the ultimate revenge, winning the Best Actress Award, an award for which Miss Hepburn was not even nominated. Some claim that Andrews' Oscar win was some kind of sympathy/backlash for her not being cast as Eliza.  Who knows?

I have also been asked, how is it possible that I have never seen this movie, and I have put some thought into that question, and here is how I figure it.  When it was released in 1964, I turned thirteen years old, and "Mary Poppins" was not in the sweet spot for a thirteen year old boy, at least not this one.  I was also too young, or, more likely, too socially awkward to have had a girlfriend, so seeing this as a date movie was not in the cards for me.  Time marched, I grew up, got older, and never had children with whom I would no doubt have enjoyed watching "Mary Poppins".  So, it took the release of a sequel fifty-four years later to prompt me to watch this thoroughly delightful classic.  I figure not to make the same mistake twice, and I plan on seeing "Mary Poppins Returns" before the calendar turns to 2019.

On the down side, I have been singing "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" to myself ever since I woke up this morning.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

To Absent Friends - Bill Fralic and Penny Marshall

As often happens, real life has interceded with the writing schedule of The Grandstander in recent weeks and has prevented me from writing about the loss of two persons of consequence in recent weeks.  So let us now note the departures of two Absent Friends.

Bill Fralic

Bill Fralic succumbed to cancer last week at the age of 56.  He is probably the greatest offensive lineman to ever come out of the WPIAL (Penn Hills High School) and the University of Pittsburgh, and in a nine year NFL career (1985-93), eight of those seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, he was a four time All Pro and a member of the NFL's All Decade Team for the 1980's.  Being around Pitt people, it was known that Fralic was in failing health, so his death didn't come as a total surprise, but it still comes as a shock when the news arrives.

Fralic had established a successful insurance business in Atlanta, but he always remained true to his Penn Hills and Pitt roots.  He was a long time benefactor of his high school athletic programs, and it recently became known that when Penn Hills travelled to Hershey, PA to play in the state football championship game, which they won, the travel and hotel expenses for the entire team was picked up by Bill Fralic.


Penny Marshall
1943 - 2018

Actress and director Penny Marshall died earlier this week at the age of 75 due to complications from diabetes.  

The first time I remember seeing Marshall was when she played Myrna, Oscar Madison's secretary on the television version of "The Odd Couple" back in the early 1970's.  There soon followed a guest spot on "Happy Days" when she played tough talking chick Laverne Defazio who had somehow fallen into a date with square Richie Cunningham.  That appearance soon begot the spin-off series "Laverne and Shirley", in which Marshall co-starred with Cindy Williams.  That series soon became TV's #1 rated show and ran for 178 episodes from 1976 to 1983.  On that show, Penny Marshall showed a gift for physical comedy that had some people comparing her to Lucille Ball.

Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams
"Laverne and Shirley"

Marshall continued to act in films and television into the 2010's, but her work as a feature film director is perhaps where she will be most remembered.  There were many of them, but perhaps her best known and most remembered efforts as a director were 1988's "Big" starring Tom Hanks and 1992's "A League of Their Own", the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that came into being during World War II.  There really was such a league, and the movie gave a fictionalized treatment of it.  It starred Hanks, again, and Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O'Donnell and many consider it one of the best baseball movies ever made.

Actress, director, writer, and producer.  She was a giant of a talent.

RIP Bill Fralic and Penny Marshall

Saturday, December 22, 2018

On Exposition Park

In 1995, when the Pirates were three seasons into their twenty year losing streak and playing at a decaying Three Rivers Stadium, while PNC Park was barely a gleam in Mayor Tom Murphy's eye, a group of Pittsburgh Chapter SABR members set about the task of determining the exact location of home plate of long gone and pretty much forgotten Exposition Park, where the Pirates played their home games from 1890 to 1909.  (Disclaimer:  This was before I became a member of SABR, so I can take absolutely no credit for this.)  I wrote about this little venture back in October 2016, and you can reference it here:

Home plate was located, and it sits in a parking lot at the corner of General Robinson Street and Tony Dorsett Way.  As noted in that 2016 post, the spot was commemorated by this vinyl marker:

Well, weather, traffic, and, most likely, snow plows got the best of that marker, and in less than a year it was gone, and only a faint outline of yellow paint marked the hallowed spot.

Thus began a quest, or, rather, the continuation of a quest by my friend Len Martin, one of those SABR guys who located the spot back in 1995, to make sure that this spot was permanently marked and would stand forever.   Len designed and commissioned a stainless steel home plate, initiated a Go Fund Me campaign to finance it (59 people donated $2,630 towards this effort), and on Tuesday, December 18, the Home Plate pictured at the top of this post was installed.  After allowing 24 hours for the concrete to set and having finishing touches applied to the concrete, the marker was unveiled on Thursday, December 20.

None of this would have happened of not for the efforts, the passion, and the sheer determination of Len Martin.  It was Len who took it upon himself to make sure that this project didn't just die when that home plate was spray painted onto a Three Rivers Stadium parking lot in 1995.  It was Len who enlisted the assistance of the Heinz History Center (and thank you, Craig Britcher!) in these efforts, Len who designed the home plate marker, and, most importantly, Len who met with and secured the cooperation and approval of Pittsburgh parking magnate Merrill Stabile, who owns the parking lot.

So, CONGRATULATIONS and big kudos to Len.

Why do something to remember a ball park that has been gone for over 100 years?  Well, if you respect history, why NOT do something like this?  Marking the spot where Honus Wagner stood at the plate and faced Cy Young in the first modern World Series in 1903, may not be as important as, say, the spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous address in Gettysburg, but it IS history, and as such, it's pretty important, so I am glad that this was done, and happy to have been involved with this project, however peripherally.

Here are some photos that I took this past Tuesday and Thursday of this event.

 The hole is dug!

 Len Martin, Jack Becker of AT&T Sports, 
Andy Terrick, and Craig Britcher
Look for this story on "Inside Pirates Baseball" 
early in the 2019 season!

 The progression of the pouring of the concrete 
and setting of the marker.

 Awaiting the unveiling!
That's Pirates president Frank Coonelly in the gray suit.
Our pal John Sebastian (green jacket) joined us that day.
That's Len Martin wearing the Pirates cap.

 I think Len is negotiating with Frank for 
a lifetime free parking pass to all PNC Park events.

Play Ball!!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Steelers Sunday Night Fever: Stayin' Alive

Joe Haden with the key play off the game.

After three weeks of consecutive Steelers losses and the sturm und drang  that goes with such a streak, Rooney U pulled off what many, including The Grandstander, who placed a legal wager on the Patriots at -3 at the newly opened sports book at The Rivers Casino on Saturday morning, thought was impossible: they defeated the evil New England forces of Belichick, Brady, and Gronk 17-10 under the cold dark early evening skies at Heinz Field last night.  Entering the weekend with a 1/2 game lead over Baltimore, and knowing that the Ravens won earlier in the afternoon, and knowing that they have to play 11-2 New Orleans next Sunday, this game with the Pats was about as close to must win game as you could possibly get.

Here's what the Steelers had going against them, and how it all shook out:
  • James Conner was still out with an injury, and rookie Jaylen Samuels, who showed very little the week before against Oakland, had to play.  He rushed for 143 yards and caught two passes for 30 yards, each of which resulted in critical first downs.  He may well have been the MVP of the game for Pittsburgh.
  • Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, and was flagged for intentional grounding that proved critical during a Steelers drive in the second half.  It was not his best game, BUT he also threw two TD passes in the first half and completed several key third down passes.
  • Yips-afflicted kicker Chris Bosworth missed a near chip shot FG that loomed large, especially when playing Brady and the Pats, BUT he also made a longer FG late in the game that extended the lead to 17-10.
  • The Steelers defense gave up a TD on New England's first possession of the game that was so bad, it looked like  they only had nine guys on the field, BUT although we didn't realize it at the time, that was to be the only time NE was to put the ball in the end zone all night.
  • That same Steelers defense, which all season long has appeared not to realize that you were allowed to intercept the opposing QB's passes, came up with a critical one when Joe Haden (see photo at top of this page) picked  one off inside the five yard line when Brady appeared to be driving the Pats to a score.
  • As they did in last year's loss to New England, the Steelers could not manage to get just one more first down late in the game, and that gave Brady and the Pats the ball with 2:30 in the game on their own 25 yard line.  How many time had we seen that movie before?  Somehow, though, this time the Steelers managed a different ending.  Brady did drive the Pats down to inside the Steelers twenty yard line, BUT then threw three straight incompletions, including one on fourth down, and for the first time in what seems like a thousand years, Mike Tomlin's Steelers came away with a "W" over Bill Belichick's Patriots.  The game and the victory were both gut-wrenching and euphoric.
It has been mentioned on some national shows today that in that game, Tom Brady looked every bit like a 41 year old dude out there playing quarterback last night.  I am not saying that this is the end for the Golden Boy, nor am I writing off the Patriots as a Super Bowl contender, but those Pats last night didn't look like some of the Pats teams that we have seen over the years.  No, I am not saying that the end has arrived for New England, but are we seeing the beginning of the end?  Like I always say, watch but don't bet.

And a word about Mike Tomlin, whom the vast majority of yinzers in Steelers nation (not to mention Steelers Legend Rocky Bleier) wanted fired after the loss to Oakland last week.  He will get little, if any, credit for yesterday's win, but he obviously held that team together during what was a seemingly turmoil filled week as the team's (and, to be honest, his) greatest nemesis was coming to town.  He obviously did something right in preparing the team for this game.  Of course, there will be a lot of people who will never admit that.

That win also assured the Steelers of a winning season.  They can finish no worse that 8-7-1.  That will be twelve winning/non-losing seasons in Tomlin's twelve seasons at the helm.  Yeah, that's a guy who deserves to be fired, alright. Pffft!!!!

Finally, on personal note, I made a friendly wager with my cousin Jan Spencer, a resident of Maine and a New England fan.  The wager involved photos that we would have to post on Facebook if our team lost.  To her credit, before both teams left the field after the final gun last night, she posted the following photo on Facebook:


She certainly was a good sport about the whole thing.  However, there exists a very real possibility that the Steelers and Patriots could meet up in the post-season, so I am sure that she will want another crack at me should a rematch take place.  To which I say...You're on, Janice!

As I type this, it is a little over twenty-four hours since the end of last night's game, and to my knowledge, there has as yet been no pronouncement from Rocky Bleier.  Stay tuned.

Friday, December 14, 2018

"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" Season 2 (No Spoilers!)

It wasn't until Amazon's delightful comedy, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" swept the Emmy Awards this fall that we got around to streaming, okay, watching (is it cool or pretentious when one says that they "stream" a TV show or movie?) this terrific show, but better late than never as the saying goes.  When the show began, Miriam "Midge" Maisel was a happily married woman in New York City in 1958.  The personification of the "Jewish American Princess" stereotype, she had it all, a loving husband, two kids, a fabulous New York City apartment and an even more fabulous wardrobe.  Then, her husband, who aspires to be a stand-up comic (he does Bob Newhart routines at a Greenwich Village club at night) announces he is leaving her (he's having an affair with his secretary), and Midge's life changes dramatically.  She moves in with her parents (who have an even more fabulous apartment) and discovers that she has knack for stand up comedy. She hooks up with Susie Myerson, the assistant manager of that same Greenwich Village club where Joel has tried to perform, who becomes her manager, and starts her career as a stand up comic.

We absolutely love the character of Midge, played wonderfully by Rachel Brosnahan. Even when life kicks her in the teeth, she remains constantly positive and upbeat.  She still loves 

Rachel Brosnahan as Midge

her husband, Joel, and it is in her dealings with him after the split where she only shows moments of fear and self doubt, but she continues to troop on, and she is positively delightful.  It must also be noted that the characters that surround Midge are also terrific.  Alex Borstein plays Susie, the foul mouthed but secretly insecure manager.  Tony Shaloub and Marin Hinkle are Abe and Rose Weissman, Midge's parents.  

 Brosnahan and Borstein
Midge and Susie

Zegan and Brosnahan
Joel and Midge

Brosnahan, Hinkle, and Shaloub
Midge, Rose, and Abe

Michael Zegan is Joel Maisel, Midge's husband, and, Kevin Pollack plays Moishe Maisel, Joel's father.  They are just terrifically drawn characters.

Season One ended with Joel discovering that Midge is the gifted comic that he wanted to be, and she appears to make  a breakthrough in her fledgling career.

Season Two became available on Amazon just last week, and in what is both the blessing and the curse of streaming TV series, we watched all ten episodes over the course of seven days.  (What, we have to wait ANOTHER YEAR for Season Three!?!?! Damn.)  If anything, Season Two has proven to be even better that the first season.  I promised No Spoilers, and I will live up to that, but here are some of the highlights of Season Two:
  • Terrific on location scenes (and story lines) in Paris for Episodes 1 and 2.
  • Episodes 4, 5, and 6 center around the 1959 summer vacations of the Weissman and Maisel families at a Catskill Mountains resort.  These three episodes alone make watching this series worthwhile.  A scene of Midge doing an "initials dance" at the resort is wonderfully staged and played by Brosnahan.  Also, long shots focusing on the cottage when the Weissmans arrive and the unpacking of the car when the Maisels arrive are simply hilarious.
  • Episode 8 and the Yom Kippur break fast dinner at the Weissmans...fabulous and hilarious.
  • Midge's breakthrough appearance on a cheesy New York telethon.
  • The reappearance of comedienne Sophie Lennon, Midge's nemesis, as played by Jane Lynch.
Season Two ends with hints of big changes for many of the characters.  Makes you wish Season Three was available like RIGHT NOW.

If you have access to Amazon Prime video and have not watched "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel", stop what you are doing right now and start watching.  Yeah, I know it is the Christmas season, and that you are busy with a hundred-and-one other things to do, but, really, put them aside, maybe take a day off from work, and start watching right now.  Two seasons, twenty episodes, each about an hour, give or take a few minutes, in length.  Twenty hours.  You could have it all watched in less than one calendar day.

You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

This and That.....

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box....

Back on November 18, I wrote a post entitled "Quite  A Football Weekend for Pittsburgh" wherein I waxed rhapsodic about the recent fortunes of the city's football teams.  We were coming off of a six week stretch where the Steelers had gone 6-0 and Pitt had gone 5-1.

Since that post, the Steelers have gone 0-3, and have not looked at all good in doing so, and Pitt has gone 0-2 and looked even worse.

Guess it's all my fault.


The Steelers now have a one-half game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North. The Steelers have a schedule of Patriots, @Saints, Bengals. The Ravens schedule is Buccaneers, @Chargers, Browns.

Hope I'm wrong, of course, but, frankly, I'm not liking the Steelers chances of making it to the post season.

Then there are the Pirates.  Here's what our favorite baseball team has been up to this Hot Stove Season:
  • Traded a marginal outfielder and a marginal infielder to Cleveland for a utility infielder and two pitching prospects.
  • Signed oft-injured free agent outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall.  Once a top prospect of the Indians, Chisenhall has spent much of his career, it seems, on the DL.  It is hoped that he will adequately fill in for Gregory Polanco until he is able to play sometime in June.  Chisenhall will then become the fourth outfielder.
  • Re-signed Jung Ho Kang to a more team friendly contract (always important to the Bucs).  
  • In news just in, they traded pitcher Ivan Nova to the White Sox for a 19 year old pitcher and $500 K in "international slot money" which no doubt excites GMNH.
And while the Pirates were doing all of this, the Cardinals engineered a trade with Arizona for Paul Goldschmidt.

Who should feel more optimistic at this point, Pirates fans or Cardinals fans?

Actually, of the moves listed above, the one that may - MAY! - have the most impact on the 2019 squad will be the re-signing of Kang.  If - IF! - he can regain the home run stroke he exhibited in 2015-16, he will give the team some middle of the line-up power that they sorely lacked in 2018.  I will remind you, though, that Kang had had exactly six (6) at bats and two (2) hits over the last two (2) major league seasons.  So he is far from a sure thing as the Bucs get ready to open Spring Training in couple of months.


If we have learned one thing of value over these last few football weekends it is this existential fact:

Bad Steelers losses = better and funnier episodes of Pittsburgh Dad.