‘Tis the midseason

I’ve been giving the midseason shows  a few weeks to digest before I pass judgement on them. Now that I’ve had a heaping helping, I think I’m ready.

“Bob’s Burgers”

I did not have high hopes for this series, which may be why I love it so much. It manages to be funny, disturbing and sweet all at the same time. Bob, his wife Judy and their children Helen, Louise and Gene all run a family burger business at some wharf-side town. The kids are kooky and funny, the wife is a bit of a nag (or as Bob calls her “The Secretary of Nagriculture”) and the supporting cast pops in and out just enough to ensure you can’t remember anyone’s name.

Part of the fun for me is catching the name of the Burger of the Day on the chalkboard in the restaurant. It is always some really bad pun and as often as not Louise, the younger daughter who always wears bunny ears, will change it to something better (or at least funnier). This is a great addition to Fox’s animation lineup on Sundays if for no other reason than it isn’t another Seth McFarland series. I hope it sticks around for a while.

Traffic Light

This is another in a long line of “pack-o-pals” shows. The conceit of this one is that the three men interact with each other via the cell phones in their cars as much as face to face. There was some mumbo jumbo in the pilot about the traffic light being a metaphor for life, but I didn’t pay it much attention.  The three guys are Mike, a married lawyer with a toddler; Adam, who just moved in with his girlfriend; and Ethan, a British cad who has a new girlfriend every week.

The writing is clever, but they’re not breaking any new ground here. How often can you listen to dudes complain about their relationships? It was airing right after “Raising Hope” on Tuesdays, but Fox has moved it to Wednesdays after “American Idol.” I’m not sure if the shows both appeal to the same audience.

Perfect Couples

NBC must have high hopes for this series to squeeze it into an extremely packed Thursday night line up (“Community” “Perfect Couples” “Parks and Recreation” “30 Rock” “Outsourced”). It is also a pack-o-pals show in which two of the three couples are married and the third is engaged. I have high hopes for it because it has Olivia Munn in it. There are some interesting dynamics at play and the show is funny, but I get a little uncomfortable watching these characters screw up what should be mundane situations. It frustrates me that Dave just doesn’t tell Vance to get the hell away from him.

The big difference between this and “Traffic Light” would be that the women in this show get equal time with the men. That and no kids. Both shows make me feel old, somehow.

Mad Love

Another pack-o-pals show that focuses on a new relationship between blonde doctor from “Scrubs” and the nerd from several of the “American Pie” films. His best friend is the funny fat friend from “Reaper” and the fake dad from “Sons of Tuscon.” Her best friend is the crazy secretary with cockeyed nipples from “Arrested Development.” The writing is funny, but I’m tired of shows that try to “explore relationships” in funny, clever ways. Blonde doctor (who was also the replacement Becky on “Rosanne” for a year or so) is quirky and neurotic; pie nerd is affable and tries too hard; his best friend is a quick-witted ham-fisted oaf and her best friend is a quick-witted sharp-tongued witch. I’m betting it doesn’t get picked up for season two.

Harry’s Law

I like Kathy Bates and I hope that she finds herself a good series to lead someday. “Harry’s Law” isn’t it, but there are some good things about it. I like the recurring character of Tommy Jefferson, but I think if he and Denny Crane were to meet in an elevator, there would be some sort of rupture in the space/time continuum. I’m just not sure the current weekly plot line of how much Harry doesn’t know about the disadvantaged denizens of her neighborhood is going to hold out. She’ll win an Emmy.

The Chicago Code

I like Jennifer Beals and I’m hoping this works out for her. She plays Teresa Colvin, newly appointed superintendent of police for Chicago. She worked her way up the ladder quickly because she grew up watching her father pay off crooked city officials and criminals which drove his hardware store out of business. The action is great and the story engaging. Her enforcer is Det. Jarek Wysocki, who is one of these tough cops who doesn’t take any guff (I picture Homer Simpson yelling at the TV “He gets results you stupid chief!”).  He’s got a young partner and the three of them are going after the big crooked Alderman Ronin Gibbons (wonderfully and evilly portrayed by Delroy Lindo).

I picked this up on a whim and I’m glad I did. It’s much better than some of the other offerings like . . . uh . . .

The Cape

If you’re still watching this series, I wouldn’t get too attached. The effects are good, but the characters are ridiculous and no one cares.

That’s about it for the networks. There are some good series on cable that I’ll get to next time. If you’re looking for something good to watch, I recommend “Lights Out” and “Justified” on FX, both are very engaging in very different ways.


Why does the right hate smart people?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written on this subject.

I first came to that conclusion a few years back when the right was championing President G. W. Bush as one who leads by following his gut. They bragged that he doesn’t do nuance, didn’t need to be intelligent because he’d surround himself with good people and besides, he’s the sort of person you’d want to sit down and have a beer with.

That’s not the sort of person I wanted for president.

The right has always disliked the unions because collective bargaining took money out of coffers that would be better spent giving tax breaks to corporations. The right likes welfare so long as the benefactors have country club memberships. Yes, the right hates unions, but they have a special place in their gall bladders for teachers. Boy, do the right wing hate teachers. They hate them almost as much as they hate post-born children (pre-born children are so precious that some legislators want to consider killing an abortion provider justifiable homicide).

The right sees teachers as a drain on the public budget and the fact that they can collectively bargain for what little they are paid enrages them.

My wife was a public school teacher for a long time. She did some work for her local education association and tried to explain to her own colleagues why teachers’ unions aren’t a bad thing, no matter what O’Reilly or Limbaugh say. She was not always successful.

So believe me I’ve heard it all.

Teachers are lazy. Teachers are incompetent. Teachers only work nine months a year. Teachers can’t be fired. Teachers shouldn’t do it for money, they should do it for the love of the students.

Years ago, I had a friend who looked into becoming a teacher. She wanted to teach high school Spanish. She spoke Spanish fluently, but was appalled to discover that it takes more than mastery of a subject to be a teacher. You have to learn how to impart that knowledge effectively, which means taking classes on how to educate, passing tests, attaining licenses, passing board certifications, spending the first few years on probation as supervisors watch over your shoulder and keeping at least one eye on the crazies who manage to get into office at the local, state and federal level who have never spent a day in the classroom, but understand what’s wrong with the system and want to fix it by killing the unions. None of which addresses the way these teachers perform what is supposed to be their jobs: teaching.

Then you have students who have no respect for teachers because their parents and political leaders obviously don’t. Why should they listen to someone who is obviously trying to bankrupt the state with their plush lifestyle and cushy jobs?

It’s crazy. Meanwhile, fewer hours are spent teaching and more are spent filling out paperwork and preparing students for huge life-changing standardized tests (which they’re not supposed to teach to) to justify their meager salaries and an annual three months of unemployment (for which they cannot draw unemployment).

Why would anyone want to be a teacher? That’s the looming crisis that the right wing can’t see coming and have no real answer for. If they get their way and teachers lose their collective bargaining rights, how do you recruit more teachers?

“Oh, we’ll get business leaders and professionals to leave their high-paying jobs to come teach in charter schools in which skills are emphasized over logic and problem solving.” Good luck with that.

“Well what about tenure? That’s the problem, Mike, teachers get in these jobs and you can’t fire them even when they can’t teach anymore.”

If I had a dime for every person who brought up tenure without understanding what it really means and the purpose it serves, I’d have enough to solve the budget crisis in Wisconsin.

Tenure does not protect an unqualified or incompetent teacher from being fired. That’s stupid. Tenure is there to protect academic freedom. The tenure system means you can’t fire a teacher without just cause. If a teacher can’t do his or her job, then a school administrator can absolutely fire them and should. Without tenure, a school board could fire a teacher because he or she spoke up at a union meeting, or was a particularly good negotiator, or went to the wrong church or had enough seniority that it would be cheaper to hire a first-year to replace them.

Tenure is a good thing. It protects good teachers without protecting bad ones. For every example of an incompetent teacher that kept his or her job due to tenure, I can point to a host of school administrators who didn’t want to do the work required to get that teacher removed. It’s as simple as that.

It used to be that teachers were a respected member of the community. You taught your children to respect and listen to them. Businesses depended on them to educate the next generation of workers. But the right has lost sight of that. They use every budget crisis, every contract negotiation to whittle away at public education. They claim to be patriots and Constitutional constructionists. Well, the Constitution provides for a free and public education for every child. Yet any time a Republican gains control of a legislative body, education funding is one of the first places to get the knife. It’s pathetic, shortsighted and dumb. Which places it right in their wheelhouse.

Everything You Know About Andrew Johnson Is Wrong…

Living in Greeneville, you learn very quickly that they love them some Andrew Johnson. The main road through town is Andrew Johnson Blvd. The local bank is Andrew Johnson Bank. The 17th president is buried here. His house is a National Park site. His old tailor shop was moved to the inside of the Andrew Johnson Visitors Center. The Andrew Johnson Presidential Library and Museum is on the campus of Tusculum College. At one time Johnson was mayor of Greeneville.

Growing up in Middle Tennessee, Johnson was a bit of a footnote in history class: Lincoln’s vice president, took over when Lincoln was assassinated, impeached for showing favoritism to the South during Reconstruction. Last year, a group of museum professionals went on a tour of the Capitol in Nashville. The tour guide was showing off the portraits of the three men from Tennessee who became president: Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson. She called him a traitor. This, of course, ruffled some feathers (and understandably so).

Johnson was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act because he believed it flew in the face of the separation of powers. The Supreme Court later agreed with him and declared the act unconstitutional.

Today, the U.S. Mint sent representatives to the second oldest town in Tennessee to unveil the President Andrew Johnson dollar coin. We pulled the kids out of school to go see the festivities, which included a presentation of colors by a local Civil War reenactment group (Union soldiers, btw), a local first grade class led us in the Pledge of Alegance,  remarks from the president of Andrew Johnson Bank, a biographical sketch from the local Andrew Johnson impersonator, remarks from the chief counsel of the U.S. Mint and then every child received a brand new, shiny Andrew Johnson dollar.

Girl Scouts served cake featuring the coin. Andrew Johnson Bank set up a tent where the adults could buy the dollar coins. It was a fun ceremony and a real piece of history, the sort of thing numistmatists dream of.

Tennessee is an odd duck in that the state is divided into three sections, the “Three Grand Divisions” of Tennessee. My experience from living in two of the three is that the people on this end, don’t care much for the way Andrew Johnson is treated by the other two. They know Nashville exists out there somewhere, but have no reason to worry about it much. And Memphis might as well be in Arkansas. But I’ve grown to see the charm of this place and have learned to appreciate the local flavor.

In April, Greeneville will host a convention of Lincoln impersonators. I cannot wait.