Winners & Losers Of 2008 (Part Six)

Winner:  Tina Fey
The former Saturday Night Live head writer and Weekend Update anchorwoman began 2008 modestly but ended it triumphantly.  In April, her romantic comedy, Baby Mama, received mostly positive reviews and earned a respectable 60 million in domestic ticket sales, doubling its original 30 million budget.  Her TV sitcom, 30 Rock, which finished 102nd out of 144 shows during its first season in 2006 and was averaging 6 and a half million viewers in its second season, won its second consecutive Best Comedy Series trophy at The Primetime Emmy Awards.  (It was also awarded The Danny Thomas Producer Of The Year prize by The Producers Guild Of America.)  Fey, herself, took home two additional Emmys for writing the episode, Cooter, and for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series.  (Fey won a SAG award for her acting, as well.)  That’s not all.  The Television Critics Association singled her out for Individual Achievement In Comedy and honoured the show’s Outstanding Achievement In Comedy.  Plus, The Writer’s Guild Of America named 30 Rock Best Comedy Series.  By the time the NBC program’s third season premiere hit the airwaves, nearly 9 million viewers tuned in.
Before the return of her sitcom, there was Sarah Palin.  Fey’s pitch perfect impersonation of the hapless Republican Vice Presidential nominee on SNL helped boost the show’s ratings to its highest level in years.  Palin provided such good material on her own, there were times where Fey simply recited a number of her comments verbatim in numerous sketches.
Throw in a Vanity Fair cover story, a happy marriage, a healthy, young daughter and a breakdown of all her past, current (and possibly future) earnings, and you realize instantly that this beautiful, funny, smart, hardworking, tough yet lovable Chicago native had one hell of a year.
Loser:  The Republican Party
Arizona Senator John McCain was soundly defeated in the Presidential election.  Sarah Palin, the Alaskan Governor he selected as his running mate, not only embarrassed herself during interviews by speaking incomprehensively in response to straightforward questioning but also during public appearances when she smeared Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s supposedly nefarious associations and belittled his accomplishments.  After a brief honeymoon period, voters ultimately became turned off by her destructive, dishonest rhetoric.  Futhermore, when her governmental record was scrunitized, there was much criticism. 
Two months before the election, around the time a number of major American companies imploded, McCain was booked to do David Letterman’s late night program.  He cancelled citing the importance of flying immediately back to Washington, D.C. in order to help resolve the economic crisis.  Unfortunately, he was lying.  He stuck around New York for a fundraiser and was caught red-handed when Letterman watched him being interviewed by Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News through an exclusive feed.  (When the Senator finally made it back to the beltway, he was more of a nuisance than anything else.)  Letterman wasted no time in making mince meat out of him until McCain rescheduled and sheepishly admitted on the show that he screwed up.  Speaking of Letterman, he continued to hammer away at President Bush in those devastating Great Moments In Presidential Speeches bits.  Despite making peace with McCain, he was relentless in making fun of him throughout the rest of the year.
Bush’s approval rating dipped to the low 20s.  He is currently the most hated American President since Nixon.  The national debt has hit 10 trillion, more than double where it was during the Clinton era.  And don’t get me started on the trade and budget deficits.  No candidates wanted him campaigning on their behalf.  Some went so far as to not use the word “Republican” in their political advertising.  He’s so disliked by his own party that they would only allow him to make a brief speech via satellite from The White House during the Republican National Convention.  California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who later begged the government for bailout money, was a notable no-show, as was the widely loathed Vice President Dick Cheney.  Once celebrated New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani failed to win a single delegate during the primaries.  Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote a critical tell-all book about his years in the White House.
In February, Ohio Congressman John Boehner urged his fellow House members to leave when “a resolution condemning Harriet Miers [President Bush’s rejected Supreme Court nominee] and Joshua Bolten [Bush’s Chief Of Staff] for refusing to cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee and for refusing to honor a subpoena for legal documents” was about to be passed.  Whining about “political grandstanding”, as noted by, he didn’t feel that way about prosecuting President Clinton’s consensual affair with Monica Lewinsky 10 years earlier.
In March, Republicans were already bracing themselves for a bad election cycle.  (After tabulating all the votes, they lost 21 seats in The House Of Representatives and 8 more in The Senate, ceding control to The Democrats.)
In April, Iowa College Republican Matthew Elliott, who briefly worked for former Massachusetts Governor and failed Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2006, was charged with the murder of a young baby girl.  Not only that, he’s a registered sex offender facing other charges related to an earlier arrest the previous January.  That same month, Nevada Senator John Ensign, with a straight face, suggested out loud that for every eight votes Democrats receive in the November elections, Republicans should get a “mercy vote” to keep things fair.
Alaskan politicians like State Senator John Cowdery and US Senator Ted Stevens ran afoul of the law in July.  In late October, Stevens was found guilty on all seven counts he faced.  Astoundingly, he refused to not only bail on his re-election bid but to resign his Senate seat.  (Thankfully, he lost the election.)  That same month, The Indianapolis Star reported that Indiana Republican councilman Max Knapp was arrested for storing child pornography on his computer.  (The material was discovered when it was taken in for repairs.)
In August, Missouri Republican Scott Muschany, a married father of two, was charged with raping the teenage daughter of his mistress; Trainer, Pennsylvania mayor Eugene Maysky got caught drinking and driving for the fourth time; and New York State Legislator Alan Binder was arrested for bribery.
In September, Republican lobbyist Kevin Ring was arrested as part of the ongoing Jack Abramoff investigation, and in October, besides Stevens, Tan Nguyen, Delecia Holt, George Ortloff, Thomas G. Manuel, Mark Jacoby, Harold Trout, and Alan Fabian (look under “Latest Inductees” on that Republican Offenders link) were either convicted or simply charged with crimes ranging from fraud to bribery to perjury to possession of child pornography and solicitation of minors.
Late in the year, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, likely defeated by comedian Al Franken in a supremely tight contest, also had some explaining to do.
With so many fishy characters associated with this party, with so many allegations of wrongdoing to sort through (torture, illegal wiretapping, vote tampering, on top of so many others), how can any self-respecting conservative continue to support such a thoroughly corrupt and ideologically bankrupt organization?  Here’s hoping the incoming Democratic majority prosecutes them into permanent obscurity.
Winner:  Coldplay
That Joe Satriani lawsuit aside, Chris Martin and company were one of the few musical acts to thrive this past year.  Their fourth studio album, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (two song names combined into an awkward title), was their first to be produced by the great Brian Eno.  The famed U2 producer was a good choice to move the band out of its piano-driven comfort zone.  Loaded with moving, tribal soundscapes, the album is one of Coldplay’s finest.  Violet Hill, the first single which sounds better on CD than it does in the accompanying video, was downloaded some two million times in its first week on the band’s official website.  As for the other hits, Lost! wouldn’t sound out of place on Pet Sounds, Lovers In Japan is memorably moving and Vida La Viva, the subject of the aforementioned lawsuit, is melancholia at its prettiest.  The album was 2008’s most commercially successful worldwide, selling a remarkably hearty 7 million (almost a third of that total is from United States’ figures).  Critically, it was also a winner.  And then came all those Grammy nominations.
The CD is up for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album.  The superb Viva La Vida single (their only number one in America) is gunning for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group and Violet Hill is competing in the Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group categories.
Coldplay had so much material to offer that they issued a follow-up EP called Prospekt’s March.  Despite being a modest seller (just over 200,000 copies globally), it did receive mostly good reviews.
What’s to come in the future?  An inevitable settlement with Satriani, a very good Grammy night (surely, they’re the favourites for Album Of The Year and Record & Song Of The Year), and hopefully, more music by the end of 2009.
Loser:  Privacy
Despite not being in public office for three years, John Edwards’ sex life was deemed newsworthy.  An affair he had in 2006 was suddenly revealed by The National Enquirer and then eventually, by daily newspapers.  New York Governor Elliot Spitzer resigned after The New York Times reported that he frequented prostitutes.  Yes, he’s a hypocrite for using the same type of business he had been simultaneously prosecuting for years and, without a doubt, his wife and family were none too pleased about his indiscretions, but were his actions really worthy of a wiretap investigation?  Does one’s horniness really require this much scrunity?  Is all of this worth losing two otherwise highly successful Democrats?
Speaking of Democrats, few of them, including a flip flopping Barack Obama, seemed interested in not only opposing the granting of immunity to American telecom companies who illegally spied on Americans for years but also in preventing the Republican-supported secret warrantless wiretapping program from becoming legal.  So much for the rule of law and politicians keeping their noses out of our business.
Sarah Palin had to put up with a false rumour involving the maternity of her youngest child, TrigCindy McCain’s past drug use and alleged affair were also put out there for all to see.  And what is with all the breathless, nosey coverage of celebrities and their personal lives?  How many of them have actually asked to have every aspect of their day-to-day life covered by an increasingly out of control and hypercritical media?  Aren’t we more interested in their movies, plays, TV shows, books and CDs?
I guess not.
Winner:  Olympic Medallists
The brilliant Michael Phelps made history in the pool.  His 41-year-old teammate Dara Torres took home three silver medals.  (Prior to one of her races, she showed good sportsmanship by informing officials that one of her competitors needed a bit more time to prepare, due to a swimsuit problem, which was later acknowledged by an NBC reporter.)  The charmingly goofy and immensely talented Jamaican runner Usain Bolt stole the show on the track.  The babes on the American gymnastics team, who faced stiff competition from a Chinese squad with members who seemed younger than they were supposed to be (a controversy that was never properly resolved), fought their way to the podium ten times (two gold, six silver, two bronze).  And Canada had its best Summer Olympics ever.  Despite being run by an oppressive regime who could care less about democracy, human decency and the environment, China was nonetheless a fantastic location for these games.  What a waste of a breathtaking country, though.
Loser:  Will Ferrell
Unlike his former colleague, Tina Fey, this very funny Californian had a mostly underwhelming 2008.  In March, his latest sports comedy, Semi Pro, about minor league basketball in the 1970s, was released to poor reviews and a surprising lack of enthusiasm from audiences.  Then came Step Brothers.  While it made 100 million during its summer run, critics were divided.  Hopefully, his next film, Land Of The Lost, will perform a lot better both critically and commercially.
Winner:  Comebacks 
AC/DC returned with a new album for the first time in eight years.  Most critics liked it.  After selling a mighty impressive 800,000 copies its first week in America, Black Ice has thus far sold roughly 2 million copies domestically, plus 4 million more internationally.  Portishead, one of the big trip hop bands of the 1990s, released their first studio album in 11 years.  Third received very positive reviews.   15 years after the release of their last album, the underrated covers collection The Spaghetti Incident?, Guns N’ Roses finally unveiled Chinese Democracy.  Most critics liked it.  The communist government in China did not.  It debuted at number one in eight different countries including Canada.  Rolling Stone named it one of the best albums of the year.  The first single, also called Chinese Democracy, hit the Top 40 in America.  Four years after the disappointing Around The Sun, R.E.M. offered the hard rocking Accelerate.  The critically acclaimed CD was a welcome return to form.  Members of Led Zeppelin have been recording new material and plotting a world tour.  And after nearly 20 years, the fourth Indiana Jones movie finally hit theatres.  Reviews were mostly positive and the film earned almost 800 million globally.
Loser:  Comebacks
Some critics complained that Black Ice sounds no different than any of AC/DC’s earlier efforts.  Third flopped in America.  Entertainment Weekly named Chinese Democracy one of the worst albums of the year.  Despite a tie-in promotion with the Best Buy chain, the album sold less than 300,000 copies its first week.  Lead singer Axl Rose, the only original member left, refused to promote it.  The second single, Better, failed to hit the Top 40.  Despite debuting at number two its first week, Accelerate has sold poorly in the U.S.  Robert Plant wants no part of a Zeppelin reunion tour and wasn’t a participant in their recent recording sessions.  And Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is not nearly as loved as Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 18, 2009
2:27 p.m.
Published in: on January 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2008 (Part Five)

Winner:  CBC
The final Royal Canadian Air Farce episode was watched by over a million and a half viewers.  Studio 42 in the CBC Broadcast Centre, where many of the sketches were taped, was renamed The Air Farce Theatre, a lovely gesture.  The Week The Women Went was a hit, resulting in an upcoming second season.  The third season of Dragon’s Den, which was averaging 600,000 viewers every week, suddenly saw a spike in the ratings late in the year which resulted in an extra episode being ordered.  Jeopardy and Wheel Of Fortune, formerly longtime staples of CTV’s 7 p.m. weekday schedule, averaged high viewerships for its new home.  (The former, hosted by Alex Trebek, has had over a million sets of eyeballs tuning in on many evenings.)  The Rick Mercer Report, Hockey Night In Canada and This Hour Has 22 Minutes all retained healthy ratings.  Once Canadian Olympians started winning medals, large audiences tuned in to the network’s dependably solid coverage. 
Loser:  CBC
The badly reviewed Sophie, starring the ridiculously hot Natalie Brown, started strong but has since failed to maintain a large audience.  Othello tanked.  So did jPod, which was yanked from the schedule.  Ratings for former smash Little Mosque On The Prairie are way down.  The Border has suffered from inconsistent ratings despite an encouraging start (thanks to the writer’s strike in America temporarily killing production of its biggest hits).  The critically unacclaimed MVP was cancelled, thanks to low ratings.  Critics liked Intelligence, audiences tuned out, so it was toast, too.  Executives had no interest in convincing The Air Farce to do either another season or a series of specials.  (Will the younger comedians on the show be persuaded to do something else at the network?)  On the same day CBC executive John Bozzo announced his resignation, the publicity department was let go in favour of an outside firm for less dough.  Unfortunately, the unpopular move reportedly didn’t work as a cost-cutting measureThe latest DaVinci TV movie finally aired, after being delayed for a year, without being pushed by the aforementioned firm.  It attracted less than 400,000 viewers.  A number of Calgary Newsworld staffers were canned.  According to Canadian Press TV critic Bill Brioux, with the exception of news, there are no CBC shows available for viewing on Air CanadaAfter a four-year legal battle, Dolores Claman, the creator of the second Hockey Night In Canada theme, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2008, couldn’t convince the CBC to meet her terms.  As a result, CTV swooped in and made the deal.  TSN now uses the theme for its own hockey broadcasts.  CBC tried to make up for the blunder by offering viewers an opportunity to write a replacement.  Sadly, the winning entry is uninspired and pales in comparison to its predecessor.
Winner:  Barack Obama
When he announced his candidacy for the most powerful position in America nearly two years ago, few gave the Illinois Senator a serious shot at winning.  When Senator Hillary Clinton threw her hat in the ring, the media practically coronated her as the Democratic nominee for President.  (The Daily Show put together an astounding package of clips showing broadcasters like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough making fools of themselves and the TV journalism business by offering their premature prognostications.)  But after a long, close battle, Senator Obama made history.  He became the first black man to win a major party’s nomination.
That was just a warm-up. 
With the country completely fed up with the incompetence, corruption and downright nastiness of The Republican Party (President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, specifically), Senator John McCain, the right wing candidate for President, had to perform a complex balancing act of being a “maverick reformer” to independents, liberals and reasonable conservatives while simultaneously pandering to the same group of hardcore conservatives and far-right special interest groups he had earlier denounced during his previous run in 2000. 
Despite leading in the polls in late August and early September, Senator McCain could not compete against a phenomenon.  According to Wikipedia, once Senator Obama became the favourite in national polls, he never relinquished his frontrunner status.  As election day drew near, most pundits predicted a big victory for the Chicago Democrat.  When all was said and done, Obama handily defeated McCain in a landslide.  With nearly 67 million votes cast in his favour, the 47-year-old earned 365 electoral college votes against McCain’s total of 173, 28 states to 22, respectively.  What was remarkable was how McCain’s support was limited to the south and most of the traditional red states (the media had always sold him as an independent Republican with some liberal views) but some of the contests, like the one in Missouri, were extremely close.  (.1% separated the two candidates in the Show Me state.)  In other words, because he tried to persuade voters all across the country, Obama gave himself the best chance he could at winning as many states as possible.
As for his campaign, he refused to denounce McCain personally, frequently calling him “a war hero”.  But he remained very critical of the Arizona Senator’s political views and close ties to President Bush.  (At the end of one of his most memorable attack ads, a CNN clip of McCain talking about how he has voted with Bush’s policies 90% of the time was devastatingly effective.)  However, his greatest strength was his own voice.  In speech after speech after speech, Obama whipped his audiences into a frenzy with his articulation, cool demeanor and at times, his sense of humour.  (After it was revealed that Obama and Vice President Cheney are related, the Senator turned it into a recurring punch line.)
As blogger Glenn Greenwald has noted, despite his successful “change” campaign, Obama is very much an establishment politician, a centrist, if you will, but we shall see how he will actually govern.  (It is my hope that he will be more liberal than conservative.)  Despite the constant, phony fearmongering from Republicans and the media, voters were more swayed by Obama’s hopeful message for the future.  Let’s hope he puts those positive words into affirmative action.
Loser:  Stephane Dion
This former Environment Minister replaced Paul Martin as the leader of The Liberal Party Of Canada in late 2006, a surprise choice.  For a brief time, it helped the party’s sagging fortunes.  Then came the attack ads.  The ruling Conservatives wasted no time hammering him on his policy positions and his own comments.  By 2008, Opposition Leader Stephane Dion was looking less and less likely to become Canada’s next Prime Minister, thanks to disappointing poll numbers.
Many months before Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament in order to trigger an unnecessary election, Dion proposed a carbon tax, officially titled The Green Shift, as part of his environmental policy.  Despite the endorsement of Dr. David Suzuki, the plan was wildly unpopular with not only voters but also within The Liberal Party who were divided on the matter.  Not only that, Green Shift Ltd., “a Toronto-based consulting firm”, according to Wikipedia, filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against The Liberals for improperly using their name.
When the election campaign finally got underway, Dion continued to flounder.  His struggles with the English language deeply affected the communication of his message, which Sun Media columnist Greg Weston illustrated here and here.  According to Weston, Liberal candidates vying for seats in the House of Commons made a point of not mentioning him in their ads.  Always a good sign for victory.
When the election results were tabulated, Dion’s Liberals went from 103 seats to a mere 77.  Were it not for Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party’s own campaign screw-ups, their fate would’ve been a lot worse.  Days later, Dion announced he would remain leader until the next party convention.
Unfortunately for him, things didn’t quite go according to plan.  After Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s disastrous financial statement infuriated all the other parties in Parliament, The Liberals, The NDP and The Bloc Quebecois decided to join forces in order to bring down the government.  When a confidence motion wasn’t happening, they formed a coalition.  Then disaster struck.  On the same night that Harper addressed the nation, Dion offered a pre-taped rebuttal.  Besides being out of focus (with the book Hot Air clearly visible on a shelf in the background), the camera operator zoomed in far too close.  According to the Canwest News Service, “…on the French version of the address, Dion’s face was an unnatural shade of pink.”.  Furthermore, both addresses were delivered late to the TV networks, well after Harper’s speech.  Alan Park of The Royal Canadian Air Farce ended up delivering a hilariously inspired parody of the English version on the show’s final episode, complete with the blurry visuals and the addition of an unwanted and dangerous boom mike.
With Liberal MPs not terribly pleased about being associated with Quebec separatists, Dion fell on his sword.  Michael Ignatieff has since replaced him.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, January 12, 2009
11:43 p.m.   
Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2008 (Part Four)

Winner:  Radiohead
In October 2007, this English fivesome did something radical.  They released their seventh studio album online and allowed it to be downloaded at any price.  In other words, you could get all 10 songs for free, if you wanted.  But there were two catches:  One, the record was only available in this manner for a limited time.  And two, the sound quality didn’t impress everybody, particularly Trent Reznor.  Nonetheless, the one-time experiment received blanket worldwide coverage.  By New Year’s Day, 2008, the proper CD version was available for purchase in record stores and through online sellers everywhere.  It is one of the finest albums of the decade.
In Rainbows is so compelling, it inspired me to give Kid A another chance.  That record was so challenging and dissonant that only two songs (Optimistic and How To Disappear Completely) initially connected with me.  (Today, the whole album is brilliant.)  Now I understand what the band was trying to do back then.  Like U2, Thom Yorke and his bandmates are all about pushing the very boundaries of their talents to reach new emotional heights with their music.  They’re not above experimenting with noise nor are they against exploring depth in dark lyrical and melodic places.  Although In Rainbows is the prettier of the two albums, it comes from the same well of imagination as Kid A.
Not only has it sold well (it’s been certified Gold in the US) and earned tremendous critical acclaim, it’s the third Radiohead CD to earn an Album Of The Year Grammy nomination.  (OK Computer and Kid A were the others.)  In Rainbows is also up for Best Alternative Music Album (back when it was called Best Alternative Music Performance, the band won this category twice; in 1998 for OK Computer and 2001 for Kid A) and Best Boxed Or Limited Edition Packaging (for its exclusive “discbox” edition).  If that weren’t enough, the mesmerizing single, House Of Cards, is nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group, with the video snagging a Best Short Form Music Video nod, as well.  Finally, the record’s producer, longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich, has a shot at Producer Of The Year.  (In Rainbows has already won an Ivor Novello award as well as a Mercury Prize nomination.)
Getting back to the Grammys, Radiohead will probably win a couple of trophies when the awards are handed out on February 8.  How wonderful would it be if Album Of The Year was one of them?
Loser:  Stephen Harper
For two consecutive federal elections, the leader of the united Conservative Party Of Canada failed to secure a majority for his controversial, right wing party.  In 2004, he lost to Paul Martin and The Liberals.  During the rematch in 2006, Harper could only secure a minority.  Nearly three years later, citing a dysfunctional Parliament, he went to the polls for a third time, the fourth national contest this decade.  It looked like the charm.
It wasn’t.  Thanks to some needless blunders (among them, a much derided 15-second animated video (complete with fart sound effects) of a bird taking a crap on Liberal leader Stephane Dion, disapproval over debating Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Harper eventually reversed himself), lack of concern over the collapsing American economy, two allegations of speech plagiarism, and alienating both Quebec and the arts community by cutting public funding while claiming that such “subsidies” had “actually gone up” and further suggesting that Canadian entertainers were out of touch with “ordinary working people”), he was stuck with his second straight minority despite adding almost 20 seats to his overall total.
Even before the election, Harper was the subject of a number of controversies from the widely loathed Bill C-10 to the revelation that an alleged bribe, namely a $500,000 life insurance policy, was privately offered (and ultimately refused) in 2005 to the late Chuck Cadman, an Independent MP dying of cancer, in exchange for a vote against the ruling Liberals’ budget.  (The matter remains unresolved, as of this writing.)
The worse moment for Harper arrived after the election on November 27th.  In The House Of Commons, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty offered a controversial economic statement.  In that statement, he unveiled the government’s plans “to slash almost $30 million a year in public funding for federal parties”, a huge miscue CTV News revealed a day earlier.  The Bloc Quebecois, The Liberals and The NDP were so furious they not only vowed to bring down the government in a confidence motion but to also unite as a coalition in order to override The Conservatives’ minority status.  Harper hypocritically denounced the move as being against the wishes of the electorate.  (It was later revealed in The Globe & Mail that Harper sought a coalition arrangement with The Bloc in 2004 as did his predecessor Stockwell Day in 2000.)
Sensing immediate defeat, Harper cowardly asked Governor General Michaelle Jean to “prorogue” Parliament which she mercifully granted on December 4th, four days before the planned confidence vote.  (Parliament reconvenes in 18 days.)  If all of this weren’t bad enough, Harper also broke an election promise by appointing 18 people to The Senate.  (In the past, he stated his preference for an elected Senate.)
With Michael Ignatieff in place as the new leader of the Liberals and Harper’s minority status on very shaky ground, what are the chances of the prime minister surviving this crisis of his own making?  I say three:  fat, slim and none.
Winner:  The Pasadena Recovery Center
I never liked Dr. Drew Pinsky until I watched the first season of Celebrity Rehab, one of the best new TV shows of 2008.  The white-haired, bespectacled addictionologist earned my respect by offering compassion, insight, hope and a safe environment for his seriously screwed up patients.  Over the course of two moving, heartbreaking seasons, he helped people like Jeff Conaway and American Idol contestant Nikki McKibbin begin to understand the emotional triggers for their self-destructive behaviour, even if he couldn’t always convince them to permanently leave their drug taking and lingering traumas behind.  At the same time, the viewing audience, particularly those who don’t understand why addicts function the way they do, received an invaluable education about this terrible disease.  It’s not so easy to “just say no”.
Thanks to the assistance of staff members like the lovely Shelly Sprague and Bob Forrest, the program became an excellent advertisement for The Pasadena Recovery Center, the California setting for both seasons.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the facility received a lot more calls this year, thanks to its increased profile in 2008. 
While most “reality” shows are dumb and exploitive, Celebrity Rehab was neither.  To hear Rodney King relive his infamous beating, Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler reveal how he was kicked out of his mother’s house at age 11, Joanie Laurer talk about her fear-based relationship with her mother and watch model/actress Amber Smith shaking from opiate withdrawals while simultaneously attempting (and failing) to relieve her nausea by sticking her fingers down her throat is to experience true reality, the kind you almost never see on American Television.  The downright ugly side of addiction is there for all to see and that’s a good thing.  The more it’s shown as an unglamourous nightmare, the better to deter those with similiar cravings.  Learning about these very sad human beings this year didn’t inspire sarcastic derision and scorn (that Mad TV parody aside) but instead, empathy, respect and undying support.  No matter how many times Conaway flips out or cries or threatens to quit recovery (he’s yet to graduate from the program), we root endlessly for his return to happiness which seems so far out of his reach. 
I found myself tearing up at numerous moments.  Seeing Gary Busey at his most lucid and vulnerable moved me the most.  Despite that terrible brain injury, the root cause of all his paranoia and impulse control problems, he has a thoughtful, unique, sweet personality.  Someone offer him a decent part, already.
Dr. Drew Pinsky deserves all the credit in the world for convincing these lost souls to bare their true selves in public and for convincing us to listen to them.
Loser:  Al Pacino
This universally respected Academy Award winner had a disappointing 2008.  In April, he played a shrink/professor constantly hounded and threatened on his cell phone by an incarcerated villain he helped put away a decade earlier in the critically demolished 88 Minutes.  Out of the 118 reviews collected on the Rotten Tomatoes site, only 6 were positive.  The film made less than 20 million in North America.  Then came Righteous Kill, his third picture with the equally great Robert De Niro.  The film had its fans (Richard Roeper wrote a positive review in The Chicago Sun-Times) but they were in the minority.  The 60 million dollar production only earned back 40 million domestically.  Although the additional international grosses cushioned the blow somewhat for both features, it’s probably a safe bet that when discussions of his legacy come up, as they inevitably will, based on their critical reception, 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill won’t get nearly as much positive attention as The Godfather and Serpico.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, January 8, 2009
1:20 a.m.
Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 1:20 am  Leave a Comment