Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thoughts on BSG's "The Plan"

After watching the DVD release of the Battlestar Galactica movie "The Plan," there are only two conclusions you can come to about its worthiness for viewing:
  1. If you're a fan of the show (even one disappointed by the finale), you'll probably love the "The Plan."
  2. If you're not a fan of the show, and are looking for a stand-alone BSG experience, you won't have a clue what's going on and it will leave you scratching your head wondering what all Peabody-winning, Top 10 List fuss was about.
Much like BSG's other foray into supplemental moviedom ("Razor"), "The Plan" constructs its narrative out of out of gaps in the four season run of the seminal show. Where "Razor" gave us an entirely new character as an audience POV, Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen in a breakout performance), "The Plan" centers mainly on the motivations and actions of the Cylon Cavil from before the attack on the colonies, up through the time the Cavils were discovered by the fleet to actually be Cylons and airlocked. (Man, how I've missed frequently using the word "airlock"). Dean Stockwell, as expected, is captivating as the various Cavils, showing different flavors to his malevolence as his incarnations scheme to cleanse the universe of the human pestilence. There's also nice work here from Rick Worthy, who plays the Cylon Simon/Number Four, seen only occasionally during the run of the series. He gets some nice moments to play as one version of Four is with the fleet, and has established a relationship with a human woman and her child, while yet another is on Caprica with Anders and his team of Pyramid playing resistance fighters. (Sadly, we don't get much insight to his version of Four that was working on "the farm," nor does the movie provide any insight to the reasons behind the ovary harvesting taking place there). Though we do see some of the other Cylons behind the scenes (mostly via pick ups from the show), only Tricia Helfer also gets some significant new material to play as Number Six (her gum chewing, trashy version of Six is particularly inspired and funny).

So does "The Plan" really reveal anything monumental and heretofore unknown about the motivations and mechanics of the master Cylon plot? Not really. But for fans of the show, it's an engaging and interesting look at the Cylon's struggle with their nature and the ramifications of their decision to wipe out the human race.

  • The special effects here are breathtaking. We get some gorgeous shots of various colonial planets before the fall, and during the robot holocaust. Also, the scenes of the basestars mounting their attack are stunning, and on par with anything you'll see in a huge budget theatrical release. Plus, lots of toasters!
  • Edward James Olmos is the director here, and he does a terrific job. There are some significant action scenes that are well handled, but he also demonstrates a knack for effectively showcasing his very able cast in the quieter moments. He also deserves a big "attaboy" for seamlessly blending the old footage from the show (in tone, look and feel) with the new material filmed for "The Plan," often combining the two for a more revelatory expansion of a critical moment we've seen before.
  • Jane Espenson's script fills in the details nicely, giving us resonant character beats, particularly from Cavil and Four. And of course, as Espenson usually does, she bring the funny (which was often missing from BSG over the course of its run). Cavil has always had a prominent snark subroutine, and "The Plan" is no exception ("Let's get this genocide started!"). His interactions with the other Cylons in the fleet are priceless, and Helfer's new "slutty Six" also gets some choice bon mots. (Worth noting is that when Helfer started with BSG, she was a former model with little acting experience, but it's amazing how she grew with the show and has consistently displayed some serious acting chops. Her handling of the difficult material, and showing different shades within a single model of Six AND across multiple models of the most multidimensional Cylon, is very impressive).
  • Bear McCreary's score is, as always, stellar.
  • Here's a tiny easter egg for you, that should delight fans of the original series:
Go to the extras menu
Highlight the Admiral to Director featurette
Now navigate to the right with your remote
You should see the BSG Seal appear – hit enter

Given how "The Plan" is so intricately woven into the fabric of the series, I'd give it an A- for fans of the show, and a C- for noobs. It doesn't answer all the lingering questions (but really, did anyone think it would?), but it's sure as hell entertaining, and makes me want to break out my series DVDs all over again. So Say We All.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving thanks....from the future

Just about every blogger has put up posts today listing all the things for which they are thankful. Honestly, this has been a shit year, and my list would undoubtedly inspire unsolicited calls from the suicide hotline. Fortunately, with the aid of a Summer Glau-resembling cyborg, a frozen donkey wheel, an annoying Japanese comic-book fan, the Guardian of Forever and Marty McFly, I've retrieved my "thankful" post from the 2010 version of my blog, and herewith present it to you:

What I'm Thankful For (November 25, 2010):

Joss Whedon just signed on to do a new genre show for Showtime.

Living back in the motherland of Georgia.

Aaron Murray, SEC freshmen of the year, and part of a 10-1 UGA team.

Atlanta Braves, National League champs, who captured the pennant with a 2.32 ERA and .245 team batting average.

That months later, we're all still noodling over the unbelievable, unexpected yet completely coherent Lost finale.

Continued efforts to realize (all of) the first amendment.

My new geeky girlfriend, who is into reading, blogging, football and a retina-burning volume of television watching. Our three biggest arguments to date? Proper etiquette for sneaking a flask of whiskey into a ball game; Better captain -- Kirk or Picard; and how many TiVos to have in the living room (2 or 4). Also, her preternatural sex drive.

Emmy wins for NPH, Jon Hamm (or Michael C. Hall, or Hugh Laurie), Jim Parsons and one of the Big Love Chicks. Nominations for Party Down, Sons of Anarchy, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, John Noble and Tim Roth.

That V and FlashForward both became more like Battlestar Galactica than Heroes.

Urban Meyer suffering through his first losing season at UF.

Troops are home, healthcare for all, lower taxes across the board and the supernatural has been removed from the process and institution of government.

Paul Johnson has taken his gimmick offense elsewhere, and Tech goes back to 3rd rate table scraps coaching.

Another season of Fringe, which keeps getting better and attracting more viewers.

The Falcons are in the middle of their unprecedented third winning season in a row.

SyFy puts on more shows that are, like, sci-fi.

Retired from sports broadcasting this year: Lou Holtz, Mark May, Bob Davie, Chris Berman, Shannon Sharpe, Terry Bradshaw, Chip Caray, Gus Johnson, Andre Ware, Matt Millen, Jon Gruden, Pam Ward, Stuart Scott.

Invention of the miracle bourbon, coffee, nicotine and cheese fries diet, which really works!

UGA's new DC reminds people of Erk Russell.

That random lottery ticket I picked up on whim at the liquor store hit, and the realization that vast wealth doesn't make me any more of an asshole than I already am.

No one has spoken about the "fake baby" on Glee in quite a while.

Tim Tebow went undrafted, was busted for crack possession and solicitation of a male prostitute, and never heard from again.

My oldest cat's sudden decision that he doesn't like people food, and is too lazy to jump on the table or the countertops.

The ability and mental wherewithal this year to stay in much better touch with my close, dear friends.

I'll take potpourri for $6,900, Alex

In honor of gluttony, football and the subjugation of indigenous peoples, how about an overstuffed potpourri roundup?

A Buffy quiz. Oddly, when I took it, I thought I was a perfect 20 for 20. However, there appeared to be one or two of the "correct" answers coded incorrectly. See how you do and if you have any complaints.

A really good list of the 15 Best Sci-Fi movies of the Aughts.

10 sci-fi books that should be made into movies.

A good podcast interview with Alexis Denisof (Buffy & Angel's Wesley, also appearing on Dollhouse for a return engagement soon as Sen. Perrin). Starts around 23 minutes in.

20 movie inspired band names.

10 Best "Box Office Bombs" of the Aughts. (And I FLOVE 6 of them).

Mo Ryan chats with the lovely and talented Morena Baccarin. (And wasn't the V finale pretty cool? Still not at Lost or BSG levels, but improving, no?)

Cinematical takes another look at the disappointing X-Files movie
. (which, for the record, I thought was a great character study and beautifully shot, and would have made a great episode).

Interesting viewer take on the "Wheels" episode of Glee in an "Ask Matt" column from TV Guide (scroll about halfway down). I'm so sick of politically correct bullshit. So actor Kevin McHale has to be in a wheelchair to play a character in a wheelchair? Really? I can't believe people raised a stink about this. I'm disappointed Morena Baccarin doesn't eat rodents in real life. How horrible that Stephen Moyer doesn't subsist only on blood. Wait, Terry O'Quinn wasn't really healed by a magical island? Oh, however can he play this role? Jim Parsons isn't a physicist? Sam Waterson isn't a lawyer? Zach Levi doesn't have a computer in his head? Bill Paxton doesn't have three wives? How can we believe this??? What about the verisimilitude?

SI's big college football survey is pretty damned interesting. Check out the SEC section.

Interview with cast and creator of one of the best, and most underrated, sci-fi shows out there, Farscape.

Funny, how times change on TV.

A goodbye to Dollhouse, including a link to a stupendously wrongheaded assessment of Whedon by Lisa De Moraes.

30 killer closing movie lines

I love Richard Dawkins and I love Hermione Granger, but.......ew.

Movie marquee FAIL.

Roland Emmerich is a schlockmeister supreme, but I like his take on organized religion.

AV Club's Best TV Shows of the Aughts. And their list of the Best Episodes (from shows not on the "Best Show" list).

Terry Gilliam, who was one of many auteurs once attached to filming Watchmen, offers his thoughts on Zack Snyder's adaptation. (See my thoughts on the "Ultimate Cut" here).

The NY Times ethicist wishes for a more reasonable dialogue about religion.

Is Kirk Cameron Dr. Horrible? (I find a more compelling argument for the Freeze Ray).

Uni-Watch looks at the 9 worst sports uniforms ever (My eyes! My eyes!) Further down, you will find a link to some fan suggestions for improved NFL unis for teams that have junked theirs up. I particularly like the suggestion for the Falcons. (Please, no more white on white. I hate white on white).

Paste has their take on the 20 Best TV shows of the Aughts. Their readers compile a list, too.

Paste also has a list of the 10 Best Internet Memes of the Aughts.

Will JJ Abrams take on one of my favorite childhood toys - The Micronauts - as a big screen movie? (It was also an underrated Marvel comic, too).

Speaking of "toy movies," the Peter Berg Battleship movie suddenly sounds much more interesting.

I haven't yet seen Transformers 2, but this FAQ makes me want to revel in its awfulness.

Discover looks at the 5 Best and 5 Worst "science-based" movies.

Yes, all the Browncoats squeed when Castle donned his Halloween costume. But did you see something else in the background?

Did anyone else realize that Anthony Stewart Head auditioned for The Devil on Reaper (a role that eventually went to, and was well played by, Ray Wise)?

Gallery of an artist who paints dolls to look like famous characters and actors. Astonishing.

15 Funniest Animated Sports GIFs.

IMDB's Top 250 Movies of All Time, plotted on a map.

The 10 Most Cliched Character Types in Sci-Fi.

That should be enough to keep you busy as you watch bad football, overeat and overimbibe, and nod in and out of consciousness on your couch. Happy Turkey Day, Y'all!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sad News

UGA VII, also known as "Loran's Best," passed away today at his home in Savannah, GA, from an apparent heart attack. UGA VII had started his tenure at the beginning of the 2008 football season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Who is the real alien on V?

I'm convinced the real alien on V sent to infiltrate earth's defenses is Elizabeth Mitchell. No, not the Erica Evans, the FBI agent character she plays on the show V. The actress Elizabeth Mitchell.

Why, you ask? Because in a business overpopulated by no-talent famewhores and self-aggrandizing divas, Mitchell is remarkably "down to earth," talented and refreshingly normal. Geeky, even. Read any of her interviews (like this one in EW, or this one with IF) and you'll find:
  • Like many of us, she watched the original V miniseries as a kid.
  • She loves sci-fi, and sci-fi fans, and enjoyed Comic-Con.
  • She was a huge fan of Firefly, and was geeked out about working with "Wash" and "Inara" on V.
  • She's also a huge Star Trek nerd, and was dropping hints about her love of the franchise to her Lost producer (and Trek revitalizer) JJ Abrams.
  • She's modest, humble and grateful.

Longtime TNRLM readers know my love for Lost, and that Juliet was (and is?) one of my favorite characters. So.....insanely hot, Emmy-worthy talented, real-life geeky, sweeter than pie and starring in beloved nerd franchises. Too good to be true, obviously. The only explanation is that she is indeed part of a group of aliens sent to infiltrate the planet's population, and woo legions of geeky fanboys* to her side for the inevitable extraterrestrial takeover. Well, bring on the rodent buffets and fascist outerwear - I'm hopelessly smitten.

*Not just fanboys. What about fangirls? Who can forget her turn as Angelina Jolie's lover in Gia? She recently said of Angie's lips, "“Pillowy and fabulous. Honestly, you got lost in her lips. It was almost overwhelming, like a peach.”

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut

One of the things I noted in my original review of Zack Snyder's Watchmen movie was that I would wait for a DVD that contained all the footage filmed that the director wanted to include, as well as a complete integration of the parallel "comic within the comic" Tales of the Black Freighter. Well, that DVD version has been released as "The Ultimate Cut." If you want to read my take on the movie as it appeared in theatres, you can find that here.

If you're a fan of the comic, and enjoyed the movie, then "The Ultimate Cut" is a must own. The additional filmed material adds depth to the story, and except for a few transitional quibbles, the inclusion of the Black Freighter animation works pretty damned well as a alternate media metaphor for Adrian Veidt's savior complex. In revisiting my original review, all the criticism and praise for the film is still pretty accurate for this expanded version. A few updated thoughts:

  • I was pretty harsh on Matthew Goode's portrayal of Veidt (C+). Upon further reflection, I would probably up that a bit (B-). I saw more shades in his performance the second go round, though I still think he telegraphed his motivations more than he should have, and his arrogance wasn't quite as "altruistic" and "pure" as the comic depiction.
  • Malin Ackerman's Laurie is still lovely, still poorly written, and still woodenly acted. Amy Acker would have been a fantastic choice to play Laurie, and would have completely rocked the mix of self-loathing and powerlessness necessary to make Laurie something more than a cardboard cutout.
  • The music choices are still too obvious and jarring, and become more so on a second viewing.
  • The old age makeup, while still problematic, isn't as bad on the small screen.
  • I wanted more scenes with the newstand vendor and the kid reading the comic, and this was one of the major additions to this cut. The characters raise the "human stakes" of the film's conclusion, as well as giving us a reason to transition into the Black Freighter comic.
  • Speaking of which, I think the hand drawn, animated version of Freighter was well done, and ably performed by Gerard Butler. I would have preferred a more graphic filmic transition into and out of the comic (ostensibly, using computer animation to morph to the comic prop into the world of the pirate cartoon).

Other than that, the film still remains an ambitious, if slightly flawed, passion project that probably comes as close to realizing Watchmen on the screen as we could have hoped for. I haven't yet listened to the commentaries (from Snyder and comic co-creator and illustrator Dave Gibbons), but the other DVD extras are simply stellar, particularly the "Under the Hood" faux-documentary (which features a brilliant and heartbreaking performance from Stephen McHattie).

All in all, a great addition to the DVD collection and a definite "buy" for fans of the property. Movie: A- DVD: A+

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why the Dollhouse cancellation doesn't make me suicidal

Of course, plenty of other things do, but strangely, the cancellation of my beloved, frustrating, challenging and almost always entertaining Dollhouse, doesn't.

Obviously, I'm a huge fan of Joss and his work. I've posted hundreds of times about the whedonverse (Angel, Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse included). Friday nights were appointment television as far as I was concerned. Amazon shipped the season one Dollhouse DVD the day it released, and of course, I'll be ordering the season two DVD the second it's announced. However, I'm not gnashing my teeth and rending my garments over the axe falling on Dollhouse (like I was over Firefly and Angel). Maybe it's because:

  • We all knew it was coming. Even if you're not a hysterical Nielsen watcher (and I am), you knew the show was tanking in the ratings. I believe it was the lowest rated network show ever renewed for a second season, and in this day and age, you have to build on the numbers (or at least hold on to the meager audience you have) or you're getting the heave ho. Simple as that. Dollhouse didn't get the numbers it needed to survive, and the writing was on the wall after the first few episodes of S1.
  • The second season feels like a bonus. It probably shouldn't have seen a second season, and the fact that we got one -- one that will be produced and (they're assuring us) aired -- is a pleasant surprise. Plus, Joss knows the situation as well as anyone (having planned the "end of the story" with the elegant and harrowing "Epitaph One") and is being given time to bring the show to a close knowing the renewal won't happen.
  • At the end of the day, let's face it. Joss (and Dollhouse in particular) just wasn't well suited for traditional network TV. His gifts for challenging characters and long form storytelling weren't going to work in CSI: Dollhouse or NCIS: Rossum Corp. For 12 combined seasons, he was able to work his magic with Angel and Buffy on smaller "netlets" that didn't get the intense and soul-crushing ratings pressure that even a Friday night slot on a Big 4 (well, 3 if exclude on life support NBC) network engendered. It's much easier for a big network to throw up cheaply produced reality pap or slot a House rerun and draw a bigger number.
  • There's no "bad guy." Joss (and to a certain degree, SMG) ended Buffy on its own terms. But the WB canceled Angel while the ratings were stable and it was in the middle of a creative resurgence. And lord knows we all realize how FOX fucked Firefly over from the very beginning. But this time? Despite the incompetence with which FOX handled the crew of Serenity, it was a completely different regime. Joss only put Dollhouse together, and on FOX, because of Eliza and her overall deal with the network. And despite some initial tinkering and requests for more procedural case of the weeks, they really, honestly were supportive. They put it one place and left it there. They promoted the hell out of it leading up launch. They said the right things even when the ratings were lackluster. They happily (though inexplicably, from a Nielsen standpoint) renewed it for a second season. They completely left Joss alone to do "his" show creatively for the balance of S1 and all of S2. And even though it was pulled for sweeps (and the numbers thus far bear out the business wisdom of that decision), they've financially committed to producing all 13 S2 eps, AND to airing all 13 eps, which is something many, many canceled shows just aren't afforded. So even though many are still bitter at FOX over Firefly (and justifiably so), you really can't hurl any invective at FOX this time. You can't blame them that people didn't show up to watch on Friday nights.
Will I miss Dollhouse? Yes, of course I will. It had its growing pains and foibles, but it was always "must see TV" for me. However, I understand the realities of the business and if you weren't expecting this result, you probably haven't been paying attention. We got two terrific seasons of a thought-provoking, interesting and unlike-anything-else-on-TV show and for that, we can be grateful. And from what I've read, there's a stream of unbridled awesomeness coming up as it draws to a close (Ray Wise! Summer! Alpha and Saunders return!) So congrats to Joss, Eliza, Dichen, Miracle, Enver, Olivia, Harry, Franz, Amy and rest of the wonderfully talented cast and crew for giving us such a terrific little show for as long as they did.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords

Last night, ABC's much-discussed, much-anticipated reboot of the seminal miniseries V debuted. It was a definite hit with viewers, and received pretty well by critics. What did I think? Well, I'll give you a few quick impressions after this paragraph (WARNING: I'll be discussing SPOILERS).

The original V is one of those things that many of us of a certain age regard with great fondness from our childhood. Back in the day, the miniseries was king. Every one was a ratings grabbing event, filled with a star studded cast, and usually built on a popular piece of literature (think Roots, Holocaust, Winds of War, Shogun, The Thorn Birds and everything else keeping Richard Chamberlain employed throughout the 70s and 80s). Then there was V. I watched, and enjoyed, all the more highbrow miniseries with my parents, but the networks really weren't programming them for me (at the time of V's original airing, I was a few months away from entering the lucrative 18 - 49 demographic). But for a sci-fi obsessed teen, a miniseries about (supposedly) benevolent aliens arriving on earth was right in my wheelhouse. Yes, there were interesting and, for the time, relevant messages about conservation, the energy crisis and a sometimes too on the nose parable about the rise of fascism, but it had hot chicks, space ships, lasers and lizard people who ate live rodents and bred with humans to make hybrid alien babies! Awesome!

In the genre business, the reboots have been coming fast and furious recently, and have met with mixed success. For every Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, there's also a Bionic Woman and Flash Gordon. So while I was anticipating V, I was also withholding judgment, based on the scattershot record of Hollywood "honoring" or "raping" our childhoods. Plus, there were many stories about V being a troubled production, what with production shutdowns, showrunner turnover (they're now on number three) and script problems.

Well, after watching last night's pilot, I'm happy to say that I feel "unviolated," and that V does a great job creating something new and fun, all while hitting some of the beats that made the original story so enjoyable in the first place.

Here's what V got right:

  • The cast. Not only did they assemble folks with a familiar genre background (Firefly, The 4400, Lost), they also cast very capable and very easy on the eyes performers who handle the material with the right mix of earnestness and playfulness. I love Elizabeth Mitchell, and she can do no wrong in my book. She's perfect as the harried mother and FBI agent trying to get to the bottom of the conspiracy. Joel Gretsch is great as a skeptical priest and Scott Wolf seems to be having fun as a slick and career-obsessed TV newsman. Best of all though, is Morena Baccarin as the leader of the Vs, Anna (a fitting successor to the breakout character of the original, Jane's Badler's scenery and rodent chewing Diana). Morena's "otherworldy" beauty has never been put to such a good use, and she just nails the part, with a disarming and off putting "sincerity," slightly too-perfect diction and a reptilian blinking pattern that unnerves as it captivates. The only hesitation I have with the cast thus far is the broody teenage son of Mitchell's agent, and the gorgeous but thus far wooden Laura Vandervoort is a Visitor recruiter.
  • The effects. For a TV show, they were pretty damned good. On a television budget, it's a challenge to make spaceships look and feel "real" in a completely alien world, like on BSG, and integrating them into the current time Earth we know is even harder. But the massive alien motherships were well designed and looked wonderful combined with shots of "our" cities.
  • The pace. Holy shit, did a lot happen. The avalanche of plot turns and developments came fast and furious. They arrive! They're welcomed! People are healed! There are sleeper cells of aliens that have been here much longer! Mitchell's partner is a lizard! There are "good" aliens on Earth! We got more in 42 minutes of V than I have in over a month of Flash Forward. And while the pace has me worried a bit about the future (see below), I understand why they did what they did. Like I reminisced above, I have a fond recollection of the original miniseries. So does much of the audience that might be tuning in. Plus, in the two plus decades since, we've had X-Files, Independence Day, Roswell, District 9 and any number of aliens on earth plots in pop culture. There would be no massive surprise to audiences that the aliens are coming to our planet, and might be reptiles who don't have our best interests at heart. So why string all that out, when we all know it and expect it? Let's lay out the scenario, hit the familiar plot points, and then get on with telling the story that the new show wants to tell.

Here's what V needs to work on:

  • The pace. Yes, I just praised it. At the same time, if the show continues to burn through revelations and developments this quickly, A. they're not going to have much time for character development with this talented cast they've assembled, and B. they're going to blow the transmission on the storytelling engine in no time. Now, I'm not advocating a Lost season 3 (which, hit or miss, was still pretty damned good television based on all the goodwill and character arcs built up) which spins its wheels for while, but there's a difference between sitting down to a nice five course meal and being let loose stoned in a Sizzler.
  • Familiar Ground. The "are they or aren't they" territory is pretty well trod, most recently with the Cylons on BSG. Anyone who didn't know Alan Tudyk was a lizard probably hasn't watched TV since My Favorite Martian, so the producers need to walk carefully here and play with (and subvert) our expectations and conversational knowledge of all the tropes.
  • Cliche and Cheese. Sure, there's a certain amount to be expected in a show like V, and that's fine. But if I wasn't being so entertained, I could have filled out a pretty big "really?" list along the way. Mitchell finding her kid in a crowded city in about 2 minutes? The hammy opening references to JFK and 911? The too obvious and trite dialogue, including references to "universal healthcare" and "hope?" The mopey adolescent, straight out of central casting on the CW? The lame geek references to other sci-fi movies? V needs to watch itself and handle the dialogue more skillfully, like Whedon, Lindelof and others do with wit and a twinkle in the eye.
  • Politics. Already, I've seen both right wing and left wing pundits latch on to the show and its supposed allegories and messaging. "Anna is an evil false prophet just like Obama!" "The government and people are getting duped just like the Bush years!" Oh, please. Remember, we're talking about evil alien lizards in big spaceships who probably have a McHamster franchise on their home planet. History is rife with stories of conquering hordes and valiant resistance fighters, so if the show is smart, it will play with politics on both sides of the aisle and have fun, all while keeping the stakes high for humanity.
So, V got off to a very solid start in my book and I'm looking forward to next week. Who's hungry for rodents? B+

Monday, November 2, 2009

Just how bad is it?

Georgia's demolition (again) at the hands of the Gators wasn't unexpected, given the recent history between the two programs. There may have been a glimmer of hope coming into the game, in that we had two entire weeks to prepare and Florida had looked less than stellar on offense for the last few games. However, if your O isn't clickin', UGA has just the prescription to fix what ails ya: a healthy does of "D," Free-Willie Style.

I'm going to take a look at some defensive history here, though that in no way excuses the rest of Saturday's debacle: The ridiculous "weak sauce" of the surprise XFL uniforms. The inability of our QB (a supposed "game manager" and studious 5th year senior) to not lock onto receivers, throw the ball away, or hit his target accurately. The rampant and continuing lack of discipline on both sides of the ball, resulting in yet another avalanche of debilitating penalties. The juvenile and minor league sideline celebrations. The bang your head against a granite countertop, inexplicable special teams coaching. The befuddling result of two weeks of coaching preparation that promptly put us down by two touchdowns in a matter of minutes. (Not that there weren't some bright spots amidst the Halloween horror. Butler and Walsh continue to perform at an All-American level. The running game actually looked solid. The offensive line coalesced somewhat. Bobo's playcalling didn't make me want to set myself on fire).

Once again in an important game, the defense of Willie Martinez was poorly schemed, woefully prepared and exhibited the sturdiness of Charmin in a rainstorm. Just how bad has it gotten? Let's take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

Note: when we refer to "major rival" games, I'm including scores from (only) games against South Carolina, Clemson, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Georgia Tech). All other statistics come from the season's full slate of opponents, including in and out of conference teams, bowl games, SECCGs and the smattering of home game cupcakes.

First up, let's take a look at the scoring statistics from some underperforming teams from the Goff era:

H/C Goff Goff Goff
D/C Bell Bell Bell
Yr 1989 1990 1993
Record W6 L6 W4 L7 W5 L6
Avg Pts Allowed 16.5 27.5 26.3
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 21.7 32.4 31.2

For Rival Games Only

Avg Pts Allowed per Game 20.8 29.8 29.2
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 23.5 32.6 27.2

The D actually put up some decent numbers in Goff's first year, giving up only 16.5 points on average, 21.7 points in the six losses. Also, in all three years, the difference between the average performance of the D and the performance of the D in the "games that matter" wasn't that much - a delta of 2 - 4 points.

Now let's take a look at Goff's next two teams, when he changed D Coordinators twice:

H/C Goff Goff
D/C Campbell Kines
Yr 1994 1995
Record W6 L4 T1 W6 L6
Avg Pts Allowed 25.7 23.4
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 37.6 33.7

For Rival Games Only

Avg Pts Allowed per Game 27.1 29.6
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 29.0 37.5

The points given up by the D remains, on average, in the mid-20s. However, you start to notice something: When we lose, we're giving up points by the bushel. Especially in the games that matter. (Compare the 37.6 ppg given up in a loss during the Swamp Fox's time on the sidelines to Goff's first year, when we only gave up 21.7 ppg. Also, in Goff's last season, we surrendered an average of 29.6 ppg against our rivals, and a whopping 37.5 ppg in losses to them).

That, among many other things, was enough to get Goff fired. So let's take a look at two Jim Donnan squads. His first and his last:

H/C Donnan Donnan
D/C Kines Gibbs
Yr 1996 2000
Record W5 L6 W8 L4
Avg Pts Allowed 23.4 17.7
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 27.5 27.8

For Rival Games Only

Avg Pts Allowed per Game 37.8 27.8
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 43.3 27.8

Average ppg allowed from Goff's last year to Donnan's first was about the same, and we improved by almost a TD in our performance in a loss. But look how we performed against our primary rivals: Giving up just shy of 38 ppg and over 7 TDs per game in a loss against rivals. Yikes. The D improved (how could it help but?) by the end of the Donnan regime, giving up an average of 17.7 ppg, but look at those last three numbers from 2000. Do they seem similar? That's because they are all the exact same. We lost four times. We gave up 27.8 ppg in those four losses. And all four were against our primary rivals. And that was all she wrote for Coach Donnan.

So how does that career-killing performance compare to the Men of Martinez? Well, let's go to the numbers (note: full season for 2008, season to date 8 games for 2009)

H/C Donnan Richt Richt
D/C Gibbs Willie Willie
Yr 2000 2008 2009
Record W8 L4 W10 L3 W4 L4
Avg Pts Allowed 17.7 24.5 29.4
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 27.8 45.0 32.5

For Rival Games Only

Avg Pts Allowed per Game 27.8 35.8 35.8
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 27.8 45.0 35.3

Almost any way you look at it, the D that got both Donnan and Gibbs shitcanned was appreciably better than what's been going on in Athens the last couple of years. This year's 29.4 ppg given up is the highest of ALL the years compared. Willie's 35.8 ppg in the games that matter (for two years running) is astonishingly high (more than five TDs per game!) and second only to the Donnan/Kines debacle from 1996.

Whew. That hurts my retinas just looking at it (and without an eye gouge courtesy of Brandon Spikes). How do all these porous units compare the "Glory Days?" Glad you asked. Here are the same categories of numbers from a few SEC Championship squads:

H/C Dooley Dooley Richt
D/C Erk Lewis BVG
Yr 1980 1981 2002
Record W12 L0 W10 L2 W13 L1
Avg Pts Allowed 11.4 10.2 15.1
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 0 13 20

For Rival Games Only

Avg Pts Allowed per Game 17.2 7.7 17.3
Avg Pts Allowed in Loss 0 13 20

THAT, my friends, is what good D looks like. Now, every year can't be a championship year, but there's a vast gulf between giving up 10 - 15 ppg on average, and almost 30. And there's a Big Damned Difference between holding your rivals to 17 points (or 7.7!) and the current Willie benchmark of over 35.

Now, is this a fair analysis? We all know the old saying about statistics. And there are a lot of variables to consider, too. Injuries. The changing nature of the game, and the more prolific offenses of recent years. The longer schedule and additional games. The varying quality of opponents on the schedule, and the up and down cycles of the conference and our primary rivals. But you can draw a few conclusions:
  • We're currently performing on D at a level that historically, has gotten people fired.
  • Even worse, in the games that matter most to the team, to the coaching staff, to the players, to recruiting, to championship aspirations, to the alumni base, to the monetary contributions, to the regional and national media and to the overall shine and health of the program....we're getting killed. And getting killed at an exponentially horrifying clip.
  • Despite protestations of hard work and buckling down; and despite the glow of highly ranked recruiting classes from fertile ground, we're just not getting any better. In fact, we're getting worse. Much, much worse.
  • Whatever magical juju it is that makes Dawgs into "Junkyard Dawgs," we haven't found it recently. And I'm not a coach (nor have I been in "The Arena"), but I don't think the answer lies in garish fashion statements or aggressiveness that results in penalties (penalties that extend opponent drives, shortchange our drives, and yet don't add any intimidation or productivity to the whole mess).

So how bad is it on D? And where's rock bottom? The numbers will bear that out, but the most important question is, what the hell are we gonna do about it?