Sunday, March 30, 2014

How I Met Your Mother: The Final Act

We’re going to lose a monster Monday night when HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER goes off the air. The show is closing shop with a 1-hour finale at 8PM on CBS. HIMYM is the most underrated sitcom of its era. It has not won a single Emmy of significance or spent a second in the Nielsen top 20, but it stayed strong for nine seasons, and that's no simple thing. The most celebrated comedies of the last decade are MODERN FAMILY and THE BIG BANG THEORY. HIMYM is as good as both.

When HIMYM came out, I was finishing grad school and getting ready to start the rollercoaster ride through my latter-twenties. I think I related best with the Barney character (Neil Patrick Harris) back then. I chased women on the weekends. I was certain the worst kind of life was being married and settled down and raising a family in the suburbs. Then I began my quest to find eternal love, and I slowly morphed into Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor). I even wore the sweater with the tucked-out dress shirt underneath. I wanted to find the person I’d settle down with, raise a family. Finding love is a long and complicated enterprise then it just happens. And now I’m most like Marshall (Jason Segel).

In the past decade, I don’t think there’s been a more quotable show than HIMYM. From Barney’s “Legen--wait for it--dary" to the “Bro Code” to “Suit Up” to the hundreds of cracks against Canadian living, it’s carved a prominent place in the vernacular. A few years ago I went to a wedding in Western New York, and one of the usher’s whole picking-up-women shtick was channeling Barney Stinson. He dressed like him, talked like him, high-fived like him. It was pathetic BUT it worked. Say what? The show made Segel a box office star. It reenergized Patrick Harris’s career, and I no longer associate Hannigan with that annoying band geek who said "Holy potatoes" to Jim in AMERICAN PIE. Hannigan is Lily now. Right now HIMYM is #42 in the Nielsen ratings. I don't get it. I never got it.

January 2011: my favorite HIMYM episode. It was called “Bad News,” and focused on Marshall’s and Lily’s quest to get pregnant. Marshall’s overbearing father (Bill Fagerbakke), who lives in Minnesota, wants nothing more than to be a granddaddy. Feeling the pressure from not getting pregnant, Marshall decides to get tested for fertility (or lack thereof). Both him and Lily are convinced that the fertility doctor is their friend Barney in disguise (which is weird because Marshall and Lily had previously agreed that they would not try to get pregnant until they met Barney’s doppelganger and/or twin). Marshall’s dad is so consumed with being a granddad that he travels to New York to see his son. He tells Marshall he’ll love him “no matter what,” even if he can't have children. Turns out the doctor is legit and lets Marshall know that he is able to father a child. After the doctor says this, Marshall says, “I was expecting bad news.” He goes to call his father in Minnesota, but his dad doesn’t answer, and all we see is an unfinished clock and paint supplies on his work bench.

Excited to tell Lily the “good news,” about his ability to father, Marshall runs from the bar where the whole gang hangs out in time to see a cab pull up. Lily climbs from the cab, teary-eyed, and tells Marshall that his father had a heart attack and "didn’t make it." The shot ends with the couple hugging, and Marshall saying, “I’m not ready for this.” Throughout the whole half hour the writers were dropping hints that a devastating ending cometh. But it wasn’t until the show ended and we had time to reflect, that we realized how perfectly it was all woven together. From the scene with his father in New York for the final time, to the shot of the unfinished clock on the work bench next to the ringing phone (representing being out of time), it was all great.

The writers found a way to display a number in every scene (whether it was #46 on Marshall's beer or #6 on the doctor's folder) counting down from #50 to #1 as the show progressed, to again symbolize the loss of time or a ticking clock, as is always the case in life, whether we know it or not. The #2 was shown on the broken clock and the #1 was shown on the cab that pulled up carrying Lily in the last scene. Awesome! It was HIMYM’s Sistine Chapel. And personally it struck a chord. My father died the same exact way, two years ago, to the day of that Monday night episode. So it was certainly an emotional reminder (for me) of how somebody can be here one day, gone the next. When I saw that cab pull up, and Lily climb from inside in the final scene, I said to myself, "Marshall's dad had a heart attack." I just knew it. As Marshall hugged Lily and said, "I'm not ready for this," I was brought right back to that moment/time in my own life. It was a great episode.

That’s what HIMYM did better than any show. It blended comedy--at times absurd comedy--with genuine, heartfelt storytelling. I can’t count the number of times that my chin trembled in the last two minutes of any given episode. It made me want to be a better person and love better, because love is the best thing human beings do. HIMYM taught me that. It was a show about love, devoid of all cynicism. Maybe it outstayed its welcome, ran too long, but I’ll be sad to see it go tomorrow night. A part of me will be going away with it. I don’t care how it ends. In life, the history is better than the mystery.

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Brian Huba

Friday, March 21, 2014

New dance same song

UAlbany gets handled by another supposedly “top-tier” basketball squad. AGAIN. I know the Florida Gators are ranked #1, but college b-ball is an apartment complex, and I didn’t see anything historically great yesterday. The final score of 67-55 appears respectable, just like last year’s final against Duke “appeared” respectable. But when it mattered the hometown Gators seized control and kept the Danes distant. The outcome was never in doubt. It never is with the Danes at the Dance. But they’re so happy just to be there. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to 104.5, and they’re airing a rowdy congrats to “Will Brown and the boys” for winning a play-in game and then being ritualistically dumped in round one. UAlbany is a sparring partner every year.

This is why UAlbany will never be a major player, even though the school has the endowment, facilities, and enrollment to make that happen. They are ensconced in second rate. Why is Syracuse SO MUCH better than UAlbany in all sports every year? ‘Cuse is basically in the middle of New York State’s Siberia. It may be private, I get that, but it’s not that much more impressive than UAlbany, all things considered. If Albany is going to get bullied into this basketball racket, let’s go all in, and put this place on the map.

I'm UAlbany alum. I once imagined my school reaching the national levels of a Michigan, or U Conn, or even a Florida. They sure have excelled in other areas i.e. Nano-technologies. Maybe that was highly-wishful thinking on my part. Maybe the Danes aren’t wired to compete on the court or the field. They have a great Lacrosse team, but lacrosse is lacrosse. UAlbany isn’t even the top basketball factory in its own back yard. That’s Siena, even though they're smaller than UAlbany’s broom closet.

Like I asked last year: When does feeling good about getting there end? Why shouldn’t UAlbany make the Dance? All they had to do was run through the America East Conference. They won a great game against Vermont, and there were some nice moments, I get that, but blah-blah-blah. Coach Will Brown has done a good job during his tenure. I can’t argue. He did “technically” win a tourney game, albeit a play-in, but I think we’ve seen what he can do. He gets there, gets beat. His teams are always struck by the bright lights. Why not make a run at a big name who can seriously recruit across the grid. Why won’t a stud come to the Capital Region for the right coinage and control? UAlbany looked like a high school squad on that court yesterday. They were never going to win that game. Let’s step this program up and start playing for some national pop.

Several top-seeded teams got threatened this week by “no-names.” Manhattan almost dumped Louisville. Manhattan has 3,000 kids; UAlbany has 20,000. Who cares about close but no cigar? There’s dozens of close but no cigars. UAlbany perennially cracks the Big Dance and finishes their business before the bus even cools down. This from the TIMES UNION, “UAlbany is scheduled to fly home on a chartered flight (provided by the NCAA) on Friday. The plane will leave Orlando at noon and arrive in Albany around 2:30 p.m. The Danes should be back on campus between 3 and 3:30.” What else is new? They’ll be watching the “real tournament” the same place I’ll be watching it: On the couch. The school has only qualified for the Dance four times in the Will Brown era, and are *1-4 in doing so. That would get a guy at Siena canned. (* won play-in game.)

Am I saying UAlbany should’ve been the first #16 to trump a #1? Of course not. This is larger than just one game. But I ask this: Why’s UAlbany only a #16? And if it’s always going to these low seeds, why can't the Danes ever be a Cinderella? When I was in high school, Gonzaga was always the Bracket-Busting team, the dangerous #15 or #16. Last year they were a #1. It can happen. You can move up (and down) in the world of NCAA Hoops. Mercer just dumped the mighty Duke. UAlbany's been Division I for a while now. At some point celebrating 64th place loses its luster.

So, yeah, congrats and blah-blah-blah

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Brian Huba: UAlbany Class of 2003

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pilot Error

I’m consumed with the vanishing of Malaysian Flight 370. It’s been one week, and there’s still no sign of the Boeing 777 or the 239 people aboard, and I haven’t watched so much CNN since 9/11. I can’t stop, even if the news is redundant or reduced to flat-out conjecture. I'm now tuning into Erin Burnett for updates instead of tuning in because she looks like Erin Burnett.

I’m hyper-afraid of flying, which has put a serious wrinkle in my vacation plans, and I think that fear comes from the fact that I can’t digest the idea that hundreds of thousands of planes take off and land everyday around the world, and nothing EVER goes wrong. How is that possible? How can the sheer statistics of what I said even add up? There’s (maybe) a few dozen aviation “situations” in America every year out of 64 million total flights, and it’s always “Pilot Error,” because commercial aviation is a business.

We’ve all heard the Flight 370 stories and shuffled through the conspiracy theories. Despite really clever Twitter pleas like: "Youve been missing a week, get back here 370," the plane and passengers are still MIA. The Malaysians have no doubt made clumsy work of the crisis, but this is not an everyday deal. I was watching THE PROFIT last Friday when the crawl came across about the missing flight, and my first guess was terrorism, my hope really. Then came the story about the two kids riding with stolen passports, and I was convinced. I wanted it to be terrorism because that would reinforce the fact that planes don’t behave they are behaved upon.

The saga has gone all over the grid. Countries jockeying for position while also trying to keep their full search-and-rescue capabilities off the world stage. The US has repeatedly stated that the plane is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and that’s where I believe it is. They have refused to label this a "terrorist attack," even when the Malaysian PM has called it such, and our approach has been organized and careful. The Brian Recovery Plan: Get these other countries out of the way and let America run the show.

So what did happen? Like I said, my first theory was terrorism. I thought the kids with the stolen passports got into the cockpit, killed the pilots, took control of the plane, and turned off the transponders. The plan was to fly-bomb some land target i.e. 9/11 with a full compliment of humanity, but they got lost over the Indian Ocean with no ground communication, ran out of gas, and crashed into the dark waters at night. But why would any terrorist turn a plane around and drive it back over the country-controlled airspace of the country it was stealing it from, like the reported radar track indicates? What terrorist group would have the whole world watching their work and NOT take claim for it? This story is the Super Bowl for terrorist groups. Only one junior-varsity group made some half-baked claim, and the Malaysian PM said, "shut up, you didn't do it."

My second theory was the pilots were paid off by some dodgy regime to steal the plane, kill the transponders, and secretly land it somewhere while the kids with the bad passports covered the passengers and cabin, all working together. So two pilots, one with three kids and huge community ties, agreed to have 240 people slaughtered and never be able to see said family again, just for a few million dollars from a ragged regime, who are probably gonna blow your head off when they get the plane? And of course, the plane went right back over the country that this pilot was stealing it from, because whatever situation played out, the radar shows the plane went back over Malaysia. Both theories are very Tom Clancy, but not how the real world works. After watching every clip of coverage, I've settled on a mundane conclusion in comparison.

I think shortly after crossing into Vietnam airspace and signing off with a final “good night,” something went wrong with the plane’s steering mechanism, or a freak electrical fire, or something with the lithium batteries below. The pilots may’ve put out a mayday call that went nowhere between airspaces. Maybe they couldn't put a call out. The plane then moved up and down through altitudes, as the radar indicates, crossing back into Malaysia to attempt a landing, that's why they went back. For whatever reason, the captain(s) couldn't land it and made the strategic decision to switch off the electrics, explaining the transponders going dark, and tried to steer the broken plane manually, if that’s even a thing nowadays. The electric may've blown before that. We only know about the transponders because that's the only component that communicates with ground. The idea was to steady the big bird and find a landing place, rocking up and down from 45,000 to 25,000 feet and back again, trying like hell.

This may’ve gone on for hours, maybe just minutes, until the plane got shot out to sea, pitched too high or fell too fast, began to break apart and plummeted into the Indian Ocean, sank to the bottom, exactly where the Americans think it is. Everyone was dead before the plane even hit, counting our friends with the funny passports. Later they'll say if the pilot hit the x-y-z button, the plane would've leveled right back out and been controllable or something, and we'll all say OK and feel good about flying again. In the end, the crash of Flight 370 will be officially filed as Pilot Error. Make the public feel safe enough to keep coughing up six hundred bucks for a coach ticket from Boston to Hartford.

Whatever happened up there, imagine the absurd fear those passengers must’ve felt when that flight was compromised, however it may’ve been done. I cannot dream a more helpless, skin-chilling way to leave the world, falling from the dark sky in the cabin of a crumbled jet. I’ve had more than my share of nightmares about this since 370 went poof in the night. Who lives their life ever thinking that’s how it’s going to end? Dying in a plane crash is statistically less likely than winning the lotto five times.

In due time, they'll get together and paint a PR ending on this story and make the public feel warm and fuzzy about flying again: Pilot Error. Why not? They're dead. But you won't see that last part in the official report.

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Brian Huba

Sunday, March 9, 2014

All right, all right, all right

It was the gamble of a lifetime and it paid off. Matthew McConaughey allowed his famously-chiseled body and big-screen looks to be disintegrated to play the starring role in the movie DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB, a role that won him the Oscar last Sunday. But I wonder if the gamble was worth it.

For a second, let’s put that highly-forgettable slew of rom-coms aside, and admit that McConaughey is a brilliant actor, always has been. There’s no winning when you have to carry Kate Hudson around a movie shoot, and Matt McC signed on for that chore twice. He’s always been great, see LINCOLN LAWYER, DAZED & CONFUSED and/or A TIME TO KILL for that, and he’s having his greatest year, see DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB, WOLF OF WALL STREET and/or TV’s TRUE DETECTIVE for that, carving up the profession like a man who’s been told he has a terminal disease. But the physical toll he underwent to embody these roles was off the charts, especially for a guy who lives half his life shirtless. I can’t imagine that transition was easy for someone like him, who was obviously into physical fitness and maintaining a certain look. And he was one of Hollywood’s best looking. But now, at 44 years old, I don’t know if he can get all the way back. Despite his brilliance in DALLAS and WOLF, he’s physically repulsive in both roles. It’s hard to look at him. He made a deal with the devil to get that Oscar moniker on his name.

I don’t know if I could do it. Recently I started Yoga. I feel better, stronger, taller, everything. I’ve incorporated it with gym work, a better diet, and my self-image has skyrocketed. I work on it every day. I feel great every day. I don’t know if I could watch my body and looks and self-image wither away. It would mentally rip me to shreds. But McConaughey did it to play a part in a movie nobody saw or cared about. He did it to win an Oscar. What a gutsy run at glory. As brilliant as he is, this was probably his one shot at the top trophy, and he went all in. I don’t know if I could starve myself, make myself sick, destroy the only body I’ll ever have to “maybe” win an award, even an Oscar, which is no small thing, I get that. I just don’t know.

After he won the Golden Globe for DALLAS it became clear he was on his way to Oscar. The Oscar's are basically a replay of the Globes. McC’s only true contender, in my opinion, was DiCaprio, and there was no way the Academy was giving Leo the award for portraying someone so unlikeable, who’s still on the talk-show circuit. Don’t worry, Leo fans, he’s gonna win a bunch by the time it’s done. It was McConaughey’s award going forward, and he’s now an Oscar-winning actor, he did it. And now there are reports that Mark Walhberg just lost 65lbs to play a part, and there’s very-very early Oscar buzz about it. My first thought: Tragic. I hope this isn’t the new Hollywood trend. "But, Brian, they have the best dieticians in the world." And I know Matt McC didn't invent starvation to win an Oscar, see Tom Hanks in PHILADELPHIA. Hanks did it at 35 not 45. But a grown man is not meant to live on saltines and flavored water for six months. Doing that is really risking your health, and when your health is lost, regardless of how many Oscar's you've won, you're just a guy with his backside hanging out of a hospital gown. I guess it shows the full nature of getting to the top of the most competitive profession on the planet. It's not all mansions and red carpets.

The Oscar’s are a political pony show, they have to be. I believe McConaughey had some kind of inside track before taking this role and blowing his big-screen body to dust. He must’ve understood that Oscar attention was in the cards. I read that he took pennies to play the part in DALLAS, going the Indie route vs. a possible $15-million-dollar payday as Magnum P.I. Many thought it was his only choice. Many thought studios would be reluctant to put big-budget money behind him, because of recent box office busts. Maybe this was a desperate grasp to right his career. But still, he must’ve known he had a real chance at Oscar. No way he underwent a yearlong hunger strike as a total crap shoot. It never is an unknown. Not when you have A-List connections. Even when he graced the Oscar stage last Sunday, he didn’t look like McConaughey, better yes but not back. I just don’t think I could commit to it. And that's why I'm me and he's him.

I guess so much in life is a give and take. McConaughey went so far to win. It may’ve been too far to ever come back from. I wonder if there’s anything that I would go that far to win.

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Watch Oscar Acceptance Speech:

Brian Huba

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sonic Boom!

Rumor is the Sonic fast food chain is considering a franchise expansion into the Capital Region. I’ve never been to any of the 1950’s themed Sonics, but their TV spots have played here for years, and everything looks so good. The milkshakes, burgers, fries. The commercial’s premise is always two twenty-something guys in a drive-thru, bantering witty while enjoying heavenly fast-food treats. And then I’d think: I really want to get some Sonic. Then I’d remember: there is no Sonic around here. Then I’d wonder: why do they put their commercials on Capital Region TV?

Growing up, I've always wondered how a marketing man could be so good at making the Sonic product look totally delectable, but also wasteful enough to buy TV time in a market where said product can’t be purchased. Isn’t the goal of promotion to make people buy what you’re selling? We were in. We wanted that Sonic grub. It was torturous. Damn you, Sonic.

For the record, the closest Sonic’s in Kingston. But like I said, that could be changing soon. A few local sites have already been proposed. It's gonna happen. And I’m not sure I care anymore. I’ve outgrown fast food, which is sad in the context of this tale. I don’t eat meat (not really, at least), so I’m not sure how serial my enjoyment of their cheeseburgers would be. I've developed a crippling inability to stomach high-fat ice cream w/ all the fixings. My Sonic time may be no more. I may be too old for this.

What happened to that big-eating kid who could obliterate ten cheeseburgers in one sitting? Back then greasy burgers and lots of ice cream was my calling card. I don’t know where that big-eating kid went, but I better find him some fast food fast. I have just the plan. So I’m turning that TV-watching dream into reality.

When Sonic grand-opens in the Capital Region, I’ll be there. In fact, I’m parking out front the night before. That’s right: This guy’s gonna be the first in line. I’ll channel the lunatic energy of eighteen-year-old me. That’s gonna be me again. The big-eating kid’s back, pounding double-bacon burgers and ice-cream castles. The Sonic dream’s so close. First in line; leading the charge.

On second thought, Sonic’ll probably open on a Saturday, and Saturday is my chores day around the house, so I might not be able to make it till mid-afternoon. Hum, I should get my workout in first, because I’m gonna be housing some seriously-sized burgers. Now that you mention it, I probably should pick up some lactose pills since I'll be straight raging on that high-fat ice cream w/ everything on top. Hopefully they offer almond-milk ice cream treats. That would be better for me. While we’re on the subject, it wouldn’t hurt to research whether they have organic and/or vegan alternatives, in case the old stomach is acting up that day. Cattle used to produce Sonic burgers are grass fed, right? Better check that. If I must eat meat, it has to be from grass-fed cattle. This could take some time.

But after that . . . You better watch out, Sonic. Within the first, um, two months of you opening that Albany-area branch, you’ll see me at your retail counter. Of course I’ll have a stack of nutrition reports printed off the Internet, and I’ll be painstakingly ordering your craziest vegan burger with lettuce and thin-sliced tomato, no sauce and no bun, followed by a small all-natural French fry and bottled water. Then dessert--oh boy it’s go time--almond-milk ice cream, one scoop, and put that bitch in 100% recycled cardboard. After I fully sanitize and take my fish oil to promote cardio health, watch this ravenous beast go nuts!

See, I was wrong, I'm not too old for this. I'm still that same kid I was before.

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Brian Huba