Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sofia Vergara's VORP

The word “overrated” has far too negative of a connotation. By designating something as overrated, you aren’t saying that it is terrible or awful or completely worthless – and yet this often seems to be the stigma attached to it. For example, if I were to say that I thought the band Radiohead was a little overrated, I’m not at all saying they suck. I don’t think they suck. I think they are good – even really good. I just feel that the overall, general sentiment of the band’s greatness is a tad higher than it should be.

In order to be overrated, the matter at hand must retain some amount of skill or accomplishment to begin with. And while it isn’t a good label to have, it certainly isn’t as dreadful or concluding as people make it out to be. (I’d be honored, for instance, if someone thought this blog was overrated). It is with this accurate definition that I have come to define the phenomenon of sabermetrics… and Modern Family.

It’s hard to say when exactly sabermetrics was invented (sometime in the early 1970s) or who exactly started the trend (although Bill James is generally credited), but the uptick in popularity within the past 10 years is obvious. Sure, everyone knows about Moneyball or has heard the term “inside baseball.” But the sabermetric explosion is a relatively recent and modern fascination; its mainstream status is a 21st Century occurrence. Thanks to undertakings such as Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), sabermetric stats are readily and easily available to any fan of baseball (and even other sports) in print or digital form, 24/7. Things like OPS (on-base plus slugging), VORP (value over replacement player) and WAR (wins above replacement) have completely reformed how baseball and athletes are evaluated. In fact, without at least a peripheral knowledge of how these stats work, one probably can’t be much more than a casual fan. Saberemetrics have become ingratiated into the game of baseball…a little too much, in my opinion.

For the sake of a good rivalry, pundits perpetuate the idea that there are two camps: those that embrace sabermetrics (the contemporary, smart, nerdy, new-age crowd) and those that dismiss it (the old-school, gritty, archaic, no-blood-no-foul crowd). And while both of these subsets certainly have plenty in each corner, there are some that find usefulness in both. Nevertheless, the current “hipster” persona out there is that sabermetrics is the future, and everything (and everyone) else will just be left in the past. If you don’t embrace the statistics, you’re as good as the dinosaurs. If you honestly believe that desire, mentality, experience, toughness and brawn can override experimental and practical data, then you probably enjoy eating pre-packaged bologna and listening to Nickelback…or something like that.

Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t the two sides mesh together? Why can’t stats and feel for the game each fit into the same make-up of sports and athletes? I agree that flippantly ignoring sabermetrics is dumb. But swearing by them and nothing else is stupid, too. Sports are far too arbitrary and unpredictable, which is why sabermetrics are just bit overrated.

Somehow, I feel exactly the same way about the television show Modern Family. The program just started its third season on the air, impressively winning the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in each of its first two years. The show is abounding with great comedic actors and characters, and the unique structure of the family (if you haven’t seen it, it’d take too long to explain) always makes for interesting plot lines. With that said, the show isn’t as great as public opinion makes it out to be, by my judgment.  It relies far too often on ridiculous misunderstandings or obvious sitcom ploys in order to get laughs, and the majority of the characters are a little too one dimensional…but I still find the show funny.

I watch every week, and usually laugh out loud at least twice an episode. I love everything Ty Burrell does as Phil Dunphy (despite the fact that he is a member of those largely one dimensional characters I mentioned previously), and I don’t think Julie Bowen gets enough credit for her role (or at least I didn’t, up until she just won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy, which I agree is deserved). Bowen as Claire Dunphy is easily the most well-rounded, challenging character to play on the show. Other than that, you can pretty much guess what each character will be like in each show, and can recognize pretty quick what shenanigans will cause the storyline to spin out of control (in a generally funny and enjoyable manner). So no, I don’t necessarily think Modern Family deserved to win an Emmy two years in a row. And no, I don’t think the show quite lives up to the hype. The innovative and creative family setup and notable actors give the program a big boost of excitement and potential, which I feel isn’t always substantiated or fully realized. But it gets close, and the show is good. Overrated, yes, but still good.

It’s interesting how popular society frames different things. Deeming something overrated is kind of a backhanded compliment, downplaying an entity that has reached a certain level of popularity. Instead, overrated has come to define incompetence or failure. I don’t think VORP is worthless. I just feel that too much importance or trust is placed in statistics. And I don’t think Sofia Vergara is a terrible actress or completely and utterly unfunny. I just feel her character relies too often on her foreign accent and ignorance of American life. There’s a sizeable chasm between these two characterizations.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal opinion. I allege that sabermetrics and Modern Family are overrated, but there clearly has to be an opposition in order for my claims to even make sense. Whether or not they have merit is the part that’s up for discussion.

If only there were some in-depth, empirical way in which we could figure all this out…

Thanks for reading

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Ain't Changed, but I Know I Ain't the Same

Next Sunday, September 18th, is the date of the 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. To those interested and involved in the television or entertainment world, the Emmys are a pretty big deal, the Oscars of the “small screen.” Winners and nominations alike carry notable amounts of prestige and honor, and the awards are obviously important...unless, of course, they are not.

Year after year, it never fails that the Emmys (the actual nominations and winners) will be simultaneously lauded and disputed – praised for the rewarding of deserved selections, or condemned for the arbitrary nature of the vapid process.

It’s really interesting. For a show or actor that is popular among TV critics and others in the television industry, Emmy wins and nominations are pointed at as justified penance for a job well done (ex: Mad Men winning Best Drama last year; Bryan Cranston winning Best Actor in a Drama Series). But for shows and actors that are often viewed as overrated by the general public or are partial to Emmy voters and officials, those very same wins and nominations are discredited as favoritism and ignorance (ex: Entourage nominated for Best Comedy from ’07-’09; CSI nominated as Best Drama from ’02-‘04).

How does this make sense? Why do critics shout with glee when a show like Parks and Recreation gets nominated, but dismiss a Kathy Bates selection as if chosen at a grade school talent show? The Office has one Emmy win for Best Comedy Series in seven seasons, while Modern Family won the award in its first season, and has a good chance of winning for the second year in a row. To entertainment analysts, this would probably be used as evidence that The Office (a show with a longer and more impressive résumé) is underrated and undervalued, while Modern Family is a good show with a lot of hype and mainstream popularity. Both have the same Emmy credentials (in terms of wins), but the records would be used in completely different contexts when related to the particular shows. No, the Academy Awards aren’t on point 100% of the time, but they seem to hold a lot more clout and credibility. There is no quantifiable or measurable gauge for judging Emmys on a consistent basis. It is completely random and subjective to one’s specific opinion on each specific show/actor.

Interestingly enough, the Emmys aren’t the only thing that function this way. All-Star Games in the major professional sports are incredibly similar. In most cases, fans vote on who starts the game each year, with players and coaches then selecting the alternates. So not only are the starters selected by popularity among fans (Yao Ming was once selected as a starter for the NBA All-Star Game, despite having yet to play a game that season), but the alternates are picked based on popularity among the peers. PLUS, so many players elect to sit out the games in order to nurse injuries or have extra time off, forcing those that are less and less deserving to step up and fill the spots. Yes, ostensibly, All-Star appearances are reserved for the sport’s top players in each individual season. But more often than not, the openings go to the best players that are willing to actually play, which is rarely (if ever) the true top echelon of competitors.

How then should the honor be judged? When listing the accolades of a player – in relation to their overall legacy within the sport – number of All-Star selections is always brought up, and almost immediately. Scott Rolen, for example, will be a player that is most likely on the cusp of a Hall of Fame election once his career comes to end. He was a 1997 NL Rookie of the Year, 2002 Silver Slugger Award winner, World Series Champ, eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, and seven-time All-Star. His stats and honors are (almost eerily) parallel to Andre Dawson’s, who was elected to Cooperstown in 2010. Nevertheless, Rolen’s All-Star selection this year (2011) came about completely because about 5 or 6 guys “ahead” of him dropped out. He really had a rather poor first-half of the season (.241 BA, .276 OBP), making it into the mid-summer classic by default and necessity, which was widely evident and acknowledged at the time. But when it comes time to make the case for his Hall of Fame credentials in a few years, you can be guaranteed that his seven All-Star appearances will be prominently featured, despite (at least) one of them being completely unwarranted. How does that make sense?

There isn’t exactly a TV Hall of Fame per se, but there are certainly analogous situations when looking at the overall legacy of specific actors/characters. Steve Carell, who has portrayed Michael Scott on The Office, is leaving the show after seven seasons. He has been nominated for an “Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series” six times (including this year), but has never won. He has a shot at winning this season, but some will probably argue that even if he does, it will be partly as a reward for the previous seasons he went home fruitless. To the majority of TV critics (and fans), this lack of recognition (or lack of wins) is a travesty, a situation in which Emmys are pointed at as an institution of ineptitude, an overblown charade with terrible judgment. Alec Baldwin, however, has won two Emmys for his portrayal of Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. Most “in the know” would probably label Michael Scott as the better comedic character (despite the lack of Emmy hardware), but Donaghy would undoubtedly have plenty in his corner. Regardless, any conversation revolving around the merit of Baldwin-as-Donaghy would of course be centered on the back-to-back wins he secured in ’08 and ’09 – the very same awards that would be flippantly dismissed by the very same types of people in relation to Carell-as-Scott. So which is it?

The Wire – constantly mentioned as one of the best and most groundbreaking shows of the past decade among entertainment analysts – was nominated for two (minor) Emmys throughout its run, receiving zero wins. Two and a Half Men – the omnipresent go-to for TV critics as a show with much greater popularity and admiration in the mainstream sphere – has been nominated for nearly 40 Emmys, winning five. Should Two and a Half Men get more credit? Should The Wire get less? Is this an indictment on the Emmys? Or are the entertainment critics just too pompous and removed from the masses?

So many things in today’s society are completely subjective and arbitrary. But in the case of Emmys and All-Stars, it’s the inconsistency surrounding the capriciousness that makes it all so friggin’ confusing. Are they important or trivial? I mean, they obviously have to mean something. Otherwise, there would be no point to the existence of these things or the hoopla surrounding them. And if they do in fact mean something, then I suspect one can pretty safely assume they are representative of some semblance of importance…

Unless, of course, they are not.

Thanks for reading