Tag Archives: The West Wing

The five best TV dramas of all time (according to me)

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You may remember a few weeks ago when I put together a list of what I thought were the five best TV sitcoms of all time.

A few of you were mad I omitted “Taxi,” and “Mad About You,” and M-A-S-H,” and on the first two I see your argument, but I just never got the appeal of Alan Alda and crew working to save lives during the Korean War. I mean, I get why people loved it, but it just never did it for me.

Now, since dramas deserve equal time, I present my five favorite one-hour shows of all time.

5. L.A. Law: The greatest show of my childhood, and one I used to beg to be allowed to stay up late for. Sleazy but lovable Arnie Becker. Straight-laced legal wizard Michael Kuzak. Tough-as-nails prosecutor Grace Van Owen. Crotchety old Douglas Brackman. Tax attorney Stuart Markowitz and his bride, Ann Kelsey.
These were the brilliant legal minds of Mackenzie Brackman, and they brought the funny, the serious and the heart-tugging emotions every week. Thursday nights at 10, I felt like I was getting a glimpse into “grown-up world” television. “L.A. Law” never patronized its viewers, always brought interesting cases, and was the forerunner of so many of today’s legal dramas.
It’s entirely possible that my friends Marc, Andrew and I were the only 12-year-olds in America debating Arnie’s sex life and Abby looking for her kidnapped son, but man did we love that show.

I miss it still.

4. Friday Night Lights: One of three shows on my list that I didn’t discover until very late in its original run, or after it was over, the tribulations, joys and heartache of the Dillon Panthers, and everyone around the West Texas football team, was simply sensational. I’ve never seen a show beloved by such a cross-section of people as this one; Kyle MacLachlan as Eric Taylor, and Connie Britton as Tammy (aka Mrs. Coach) led an incredible cast, the writing was sensational, and it pulled on your emotions like few others.

The scene that hooked me for good was early in the first season, in the third episode, when Taylor had his team run up and down a hill in the rain while screaming at them.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
If you’ve never seen it, the whole run of the series is on Netflix. So good.

3. Breaking Bad: I’m cheating a little here because my wife and I aren’t finished with all five seasons of this glorious show (right now we’re three episodes away from the end of season 4), but it’s been so incredible, living up to all the hype so many people in my life have promised, that it’s already No. 3 on my list, and quite possibly moving up.
A high school chemistry teacher stricken with cancer, his troubled but good-hearted (mostly) protege, and an indelible cast of drug dealers, lawyers and family members have made this probably the best piece of television made in the past decade.
Just as everyone told me, Season 1 was really good, Season 2 was better, Season 3 was even better, and Season 4 blows them all away (yep, it’s incredible).
There isn’t a single flaw in this show, and it’s so beautifully constructed that most of the time when the episodes end my wife and I are both open-mouthed, jaws dropping, uttering “Wow.”

2. The West Wing: I’ve always told myself that this and my No. 1 choice were dead even in every way, but if I absolutely had to choose, the Jed Bartlet administration comes in second. Loved this show from the minute I first started watching, at the start of season 2, and its first four seasons were so incredible I could (and have) watched them on reruns dozens of times.

The casting was perfect, especially Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), and Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet. Aaron Sorkin’s writing was cracklingly brilliant, the storylines were fascinating, and the humor and drama blended beautifully.
The last two seasons weren’t quite as magical, but as a whole “The West Wing” was still better than any other network drama ever.

1. The Wire: Nothing I can say here except that “The Wire” is the greatest piece of pop culture entertainment I’ve ever experienced. I’ve proselytized about this show to so many of my friends and family that many have watched it just to shut me up, I think.

David Simon, over five seasons on HBO, created a masterpiece, weaving the lives of drug dealers and police officers in inner-city Baltimore into a coherent narrative that stands up to anything else that’s ever been on TV.
“The Wire” treated you as an adult, forced you to pay attention, and rewarded you for watching all the way through.
I bow down to you, David Simon, and me and millions of others are grateful that you created such a fantastic show.

 

A fantastic oral history of “The West Wing.” Monks with mad dance skills. And the Rangers win another epic Game 7

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If you gave me truth serum (or threw Wonder Woman’s lasso thingie around me) and asked me what my favorite TV show of all time was, I’d say it’s a tie between “The West Wing” and “The Wire,” and would be unable to choose a favorite (and yes, my 5 favorite sitcoms and 5 favorite dramas are definitely blog posts you’ll be seeing on this site sometime soon).

“The West Wing” was, for me, a perfect show: It was funny, it was brilliantly written, it had tremendous heart, and it moved me emotionally like few shows ever have.
I miss it very much, and still watch the reruns with my wife on DVD when we’re in the mood for some snappy patter.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I saw this on the Web Tuesday: The Hollywood Reporter did a pretty lengthy oral history of the show, interviewing Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme (the creators) and almost all the major actors, including Rob Lowe, Allison Janney and Bradley Whitford.
Some of my favorite nuggets from the piece (and I highly recommend reading all of it): Eugene Levy and CCH Pounder were almost cast as Toby and C.J.; Sidney Poitier was the first choice for President Bartlet (and wow, would that have been a different show), and Bradley Whitford (Josh) had no idea he would be the one shot at the end of Season 1 until the day they shot the scene.

Really great stuff.  And now, one of my all-time favorite scenes, from when Bartlet greets one of his Cabinet secretaries who has to stay behind in case the Capitol blows up during the State of the Union:

**Next up, nothing much out of the ordinary to see here, just some Buddhist monks dancing awesomely in NYC to Beastie Boys music:

Rangers Penguins Hockey

**And finally, the New York Rangers. The NEW YORK RANGERS!
I’m exhausted after watching that game, pacing around the apartment, screaming. I don’t know what to say, except:
— Henrik Lundqvist is the best big-game goalie in hockey, and I’m so glad he’s a Ranger.
— Brian Boyle and Brad Richards, two Rangers who get all kinds of crap from the fans, both with huge goals Tuesday.
— This run to the Conference Finals (4 wins away from playing for the Cup) is so completely unexpected. They had no business winning this series over the more talented Penguins, no business at all.
— And Sidney Crosby, who scored ONE goal in this series: Can you imagine if he played a sport more American fans cared about, what the hailstorm of criticism raining down upon his helmet would be today? Wow. The Blueshirts totally shut him down.

Shocked. I’m shocked the Rangers are still around. Eight more wins.

Newtown football, helping a town heal. My favorite “West Wing” Thanksgiving clip. And a homeless man honored for his ethics and generosity

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And a Happy Good News Friday to you you all; hope everyone had a terrific Thanksgiving. Mine was stellar as always; family and friends gathered at my aunt’s in New Jersey, where once again I had the best meal I’ve had all year (that’s about 20 years consecutive for that streak). Man, I love everything about Thanksgiving; I have so much to be thankful for, this and every year.

Today I give you a couple of stories of goodness and hope, and a little leftover Thanksgiving humor.

First, a heartwarming little story from Atlanta. Joel Hartman is a homeless man living in Atlanta when he found a wallet while dumpster diving for food a few weeks ago.

Instead of taking all the money, he saw that it was a tourist’s wallet with a foreign ID card. He then took the remarkable step of visiting four hotels before finding out the tourist was staying at the Omni Center hotel.

He turned the wallet back in to hotel security and when they asked, he didn’t give his real name.

The hotel manager was so impressed with the gesture that he tracked Hartman down a few weeks later by canvassing the neighborhood, so to speak, to try to find the hero.

Hartman was then treated to a week-long stay at the Omni, a week’s worth of room service, and given $500.

Beautiful all around.

“When you’re looking through food in the garbage can, it’s probably one of the toughest times of his life. But when you find somebody’s wallet and you do the right thing, I think we’d like to do the right thing by this person,” the hotel manager, Scott Stuckey, said.

**Next up, since yesterday was Thanksgiving, I feel like you’d certainly enjoy this clip from the best turkey day episode of “The West Wing.” This is a compilation of scenes that are among the show’s funniest ever, when C.J. Cregg has to be in charge of which turkey gets pardoned by the President, and which gets eaten.

I laugh every single time, especially toward the end when Donna asks, “You can’t pardon a turkey?” And Bartlet’s line about the Oscars slays me too.

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**Finally today, this is, of course, going to be an awful December for the people of Newtown, Conn., as the one-year anniversary of the horrific school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary dawns on us.

There’s not much good news to be found in the Newtown tragedy, but if you look hard enough, there are a few reasons for the townspeople to smile this year.

The Newtown High football team just completed an undefeated regular season. The Nighthawks have gone 12-0, while dedicating their season to those innocent children killed last year.

“Our players are hungry to win the championship to give everyone in town a great Christmas present and something to feel happy about a year after such a horrible tragedy,” said Newtown High’s head football coach, Steve George.

It’s a ridiculous oversimplification to say anything as trite as the football team bringing a whole town together, and of course a football team’s wins aren’t going to salve any wounds.

But you know what, sports really do help bring communities together sometimes. And maybe, just maybe, if Newtown High keeps winning and makes people in the city feel a little bit better for a few hours a week this December, it’ll be a wonderful thing.

http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/11/23/homeless-stolen-wallet-hero-hotel-thanksgiving

The women of Saudi Arabia finally get some rights. A dog who can bark the Batman theme. And naked shoppers invade Germany!

I begin Good News Friday with a story that should be shocking, because it seems so silly that it hasn’t been allowed before.

But for the first time this summer, the nation of Saudi Arabia is thinking of, perhaps, allowing its female citizens to compete in the Olympics.
I mean, how ridiculous is this? It’s 2012, and one of our biggest allies in the Middle East, a country that represses women to a nauseating degree (see the above clip, and while, yes, I know it’s from a TV show, the sentiment and facts spouted are true), is only now allowing its women to compete against athletes from around the world.

I know, I know, it’s a small step forward. I know it’s good news that finally, the oppressed and abused women of Saudi Arabia are slowly getting a few more rights.
It just disgusts me that it takes so long for sexist societies like Saudi Arabia to acknowledge women are anything close to equal.

And now, for something completely different. Check out this dog that can bark the Batman TV show theme song.

**Finally, this story qualified as good news to me, because it’s so fun and silly. A supermarket in Süderlügum, Germany came up with a joke promotion, offering free groceries (basically a shopping spree) to the first 100 people who showed up to the store naked on the day of the grand opening.
Apparently they didn’t think anyone would actually do it.

Unfortunately for the store, 250 people showed up (including quite a few from Denmark), causing a near-stampede.

“Especially popular were alcoholic beverages and sweets, which are more expensive in Denmark,” according to a translation of German news site, Bild.de.

Well, sure. When I’m nude there’s nothing I want more than a Clark bar and a Heineken.

“Stickfly” a spectacular Broadway show. The most famous phone number in music history lives on. And “Shameless” back for more fun.

I don’t go to Broadway shows much (not living in New York for the past decade kinda hindered that), but now that I’m back I hope to go a lot. I love a good play. Musicals? Eh, they’re OK, I like some of them, but I’ve been dreadfully bored at others (Is there a man alive who didn’t sleep through “Cats” back in the day?).

When my girlfriend and I heard about this new play “Stickfly,” produced by Alicia Keys and starring Dule Hill (Charlie from “The West Wing”) and Mekhi Phifer (he’s been in a ton of movies), we immediately figured it’d be good, and gobbled up tickets.

Saw it Sunday night, and sakes alive, it was fabulous. It’s a comedy/drama about two African-American siblings, Spoon and Flip (played by Hill and Phifer) who bring home their girlfriends/fiancees home to the family compound on Martha’s Vineyard to meet the family. One of the girlfriends is white, but that’s almost beside the point (this is definitely not “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”)

Hilarity ensued. So did sharp, Mamet-esque writing, terrific acting (especially from Condola Rashad, Ahmad and Phylicia Rashad’s daughter) and some fantastic plot points that kept you on your toes. The play hits on themes that are usually not talked about anywhere in the media, like the below-the-radar racism that still exists, family dynamics that can spark after years of dormancy, and other juicy topics.

I love live theater for many reasons, but mostly because you really feel like you’re a part of the action, an active observer of what’s going on a few feet away from you.

For a couple of hours, I was totally lost in this fabulous play. If you live in the NYC area, it’s playing at least through the end of February, and tickets are reasonable (we sat in the sixth row and paid only $35.)

Go see it. It’s way better than spending $14 to see some crappy movie.

**It seems to happen every few years, and always makes me laugh out loud. I’m listening to the radio Monday and hear an ad for some company called Metro Franchising, out of New Jersey. And I’m not really paying attention at all until the broadcaster gives the phone number: 201-867-5309.
And I suddenly snapped to attention: 8-6-7 5-3-0-9. Take it away, Tommy Tutone (and it took all of my willpower as a 36-year-old adult male to not immediately call the number and start singing, just so you know.)

**Finally, the fantastic Showtime show “Shameless” is back for a second season, and I couldn’t be happier.
I love me some “Shameless.”
Last year when it debuted I thought it was fabulous; a supremely-dark comedy about 21-year-old Fiona Gallagher (the beautiful and talented Emmy Rossum), her alcoholic father Frank (William H. Macy), and the six siblings Fiona is basically raising on her own.
After seeing some promos for season 2 I was a little dubious about where the show was headed, but after Sunday night’s season premiere I feel a little bit better. Looks like they’re upping the stakes when it comes to Frank’s self-destruction, giving Ian a more sizable role, and getting Kevin and Veronica, the crazy next-door neighbors, more to do.

The show is really, really funny and well-acted. If you’ve got Showtime, I highly recommend it.

Myron Rolle, an athlete to root for. And Charlie Crist flies solo, literally

I haven’t given you an athlete to root for in a while, so let me tell you a little about new Tennesee Titan Myron Rolle.

Rolle was a star defensive back at Florida State, with good speed, great cover ability, and all that you’d normally be looking for in an NFL player.

He’s also one of the smartest college football players in America, and I don’t mean that like, he knows when to blitz. He didn’t play for Florida State last year because he’d won a Rhodes Scholarship, and took a year away from football to study at Oxford.

So who wouldn’t want a guy like this on their NFL team? He’s a great football player, a role model (he wants to open up free medical clinics in the Bahamas, among other things), and an incredibly intelligent young man.

And yet, Rolle lasted until the end of the sixth round last week in the Draft, when Tennessee plucked him.

Why did he fall so far? Because NFL teams are scared of smart people. Seriously. They don’t want guys with other outside interests, or players who are too “smart” for their own good. Some even asked Rolle how he could “desert” his team last year to take the Rhodes scholarship.

This is pathetic. The NFL is filled with morons who only know how to read a playbook. And here’s a guy with some actual “life” skills and intelligence that can’t be shown on a blackboard with X’s and O’s on it, and he gets passed over for six rounds.

I hope Myron Rolle becomes an NFL All-Pro. He’s exactly the kind of role model the NFL needs, not guys like Terrell Owens.

Here’s a good column by Jemele Hill on Rolle, and a great background story from last October by Pete Thamel in the New York Times.

**And now, just for fun, and because I can’t watch it enough, Leo and Ainsley’s first interview from “The West Wing.”

**So the big political news here in God’s Waiting Room Thursday was Florida governor Charlie Crist, a man who once described himself as a “Ronald Reagan Republican,” deciding to bolt the GOP and run for the U.S. Senate as an independent.

This is no principled change of heart for old Charlie, though he doesn’t really fit in with the new hard-right Republican party. He was going to get drubbed in the upcoming primary by Marco Rubio, so Crist realized the only way he could win would be to run as a third-party candidate.

Is he going to win a general election? Probably not. I’m hoping he and Rubio spend the next six months beating up on each other, so Democrat Kendrick Meek can win.

What kinda made me sad Thursday was that after Crist’s announcement, most of his staff, including his campaign manager and communications director, resigned. Just because he was no longer a Republican. Don’t you sign up in politics to work for an individual, as much as for a cause? So basically the staff who spent thousands of hours and years working for Crist, suddenly bail on him because he’s not a Republican anymore.

That depresses me.

Congress does right by journalists, a tear-jerker from Joe Poz, and a great “West Wing” moment

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Sometimes, in the midst of worrying about health care and Afghanistan, immigration and global warming, Congress actually gets around to doing something tangible that affects the here and now.

Last Friday was one of those days. A story in the New York Times said that after years and years of promises, a federal media shield law has been proposed by Congressional Democrats, and it stands a good chance of passing and becoming law.

For those who don’t know, a shield law would protect reporters from being thrown into jail, or fined heavily, if they refused to reveal confidential sources. This law would’ve helped Matt Cooper, who was about to be jailed in the Scooter Libby case, and Judith Miller, the NYT reporter who was imprisoned for three months for not revealing the source of a CIA leak.

The law, which will be voted on by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, is something I feel is vital (obviously, being a journalist, I may be a bit biased here). Some of the most important stories in American history, like Watergate, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and Enron’s crookedness, have come from journalists who used anonymous, confidential sources to reveal information.

No journalist that I’m aware of wants to use anonymous sources, but sometimes that’s the only way to get the information. I feel like a law like this is particularly important when you have an administration like we just had, when vengeance and punishment are dished out for “disloyal” people who actually dare to speak truth to power.

Throwing reporters in jail doesn’t accomplish anything. Don’t give me the “protecting national security” angle, either; that comes up in very rare cases.

Allowing journalists to use all means necessary to do their jobs, and protect their sources, has helped expose some of the biggest corruption and scandals in U.S. history. It’s about time Congress realized this and has taken up the issue.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go watch “All The President’s Men” for the 78th time.

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*** So my man Joe Posnanski has written another beautiful blog essay, about a group of people from a small town in Kansas who got together to … well, I’ll let you read it. I’m always amazed at the power of people to do good. It just takes one person (in this case, one person who wants to help people get mammograms) to start the ball rolling, one person who aches to do good.

Poz’s post takes a little while to get going, but stick with it; you’ll be smiling by the end.

**So I’m pretty much over the Jets loss to Miami Sunday, but this stat, printed in Rich Cimini’s excellent blog in the New York Daily News, just blew me away. The Jets, in their 49-year history as a team, had only allowed 17 kickoff returns for touchdowns.

In only ONE season, 1970, did the Jets allow two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Then, Sunday, in one quarter, they gave up two to the same guy.

I still can’t believe they kicked to Ted Ginn again after he scored the first one. There’s belief in your team, and then there’s just outright stupidity.

**And now, one of my favorite scenes ever from “The West Wing,” for my money the best one-hour show ever on TV.

This is the last scene of an episode where Donna Moss (who I just loved so much) tries to get President Bartlet to give a proclamation honoring her favorite teacher, Mrs. Morello, who’s retiring. I just love this scene so much.

That “inglorious basterd” Tarantino made a great flick

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OK, first things first. The U.S. Open has started; I’m blogging it daily for my newspaper; here’s the link for my thoughts on Day 1: Pretty routine day, Venus Williams nearly went down, and Andre Agassi gave a great speech.

Also very psyched for the “Rescue Me” season finale Tuesday night; I have no idea what will happen except that I’m sure some characters will almost die, Tommy will survive, and there’ll be lots of sex and violence. How could anyone not love this show?

And could someone please explain to me what the hell is going on with the Kansas City Chiefs? New coach Todd Haley fires the offensive coordinator in the preseason.  He can’t be that stupid as to panic over a team’s preseason results, can he?

Well, it is the Chiefs. Boy it stinks to be a Kansas City sports fan these days.

And oh yeah, last month you may remember I was bellyaching that there were no creative basebell nicknames left. “The Splendid Splinter,” “Joltin’ Joe,” “The Human Rain Delay,” all those were fabulous.

Well, thanks to my sportswriting god Joe Posnanski, I have found a new great one. Royals soft-tossing minor leaguer pitcher Chris Hayes has acquired the nickname “Disco.”

Why? Because he throws in the 70s.

Perfect. I so hope he makes The Show.

OK, now on to the “Siskel and Ebert” portion of our blog; saw two really good movies over the weekend; will save the other one for tomorrow because quite frankly, I’m not sure you all have time to read 1,500 word blog posts.

Quentin Tarantino, to me, has been like that long-lost friend you see every once in a while, have an awesome time with, and then when they leave you’re like “Why don’t we spend more time together?” Only time goes by and you forget about the friend for a while.

When I actually take the time to watch a Tarantino movie, I’m wildly entertained. “True Romance?” Brilliant. “Pulp Fiction,” well, if you don’t think it was great, than we’re probably not going to get along. “Jackie Brown” was also solid.

But I don’t know why, but I tend to miss a lot of Tarantino’s movies. Still haven’t seen “Kill Bill” in either of his volumes, and I’ve missed some of Tarantino’s other flicks, too.

But I am extraordinarily pleased I wandered to the cinema (I always loved that word, “cinema,” sounds so old-fashioned) Saturday to see “Inglorious Basterds.”

You know how there are some movies where at the end you’re like “I spent 9 bucks for that?” Well, let me tell you, you get your money’s worth here. The story, which I’m sure you know by now, is about a group of ass-kicking Jews in World War II, led by, of course, Brad Pitt, who try to kill as many Nazis as they can.

(Let’s pause for a moment. You know, you just don’t get to write the phrase “ass-kicking Jews” very often. Reminds me of that great scene in “The West Wing” where after Toby and Sam are in a bar fight, Toby calls back to Washington and talks to Will Bailey, who already knows about the brawl.

“It’s big news in Washington?” Toby asks.

“Are you kidding?” Will replies. “A Jew won a bar fight. It’s big news everywhere.”

(God, I love Aaron Sorkin. But I digress.)

 Along the way in Tarantino’s film, we meet some superbly drawn characters; Tarantino is fabulous at giving his characters dimension. There’s Pitt, who I only love in his comedic performances, as the non-Jew leader looking to scalp Nazis. There’s a beautiful Jewish woman, Shoshanna,  who escaped and now plots revenge.

Every actor is fabulous in this movie, but the absolute standout is the German SS Colonel Landa, who mesmerizes you every time he’s on screen. If this guy (Christoph Waltz) doesn’t get an Oscar nomination out of this, I’ll be pissed.

Now of course the movie is totally fiction, and the ending is truly mind-bending in its improbability. But that’s the point of movies, isn’t it, to show us a world we can’t imagine?

Four stars for this movie from me. It’s not as good as “Pulp Fiction,” but to me this is Quentin’s second-best film.

Again, it’s a movie with Jews kicking ass for two hours. When do you ever get to see that?

Certainly not at my high school when I was growing up, that I can assure you.

Federer and “Mad Men:” A beautiful Sunday

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Sunday has always, always, always been my favorite day of the week.

No question about it, Sunday rules. From the Sunday New York Times, which I’ve been reading since, I don’t know, ever, to NFL games, sleeping late, and just the whole relaxed vibe of the day, I am totally, madly, deeply a Sunday fan.

This particular Sunday was pretty darn good: Roger Federer and Don Draper made up my the bookends of my day.

First, Mr. Federer. He had a sensational weekend, dispatching Andy Murray, who’s owned Fed lately, in the semifinals Saturday of the Cincinnati hardcourt event (I’m sorry, but I refuse to write out “Western and Southern Financial Group” as the name of the tournament.).

Then on Sunday, Federer barely perspired in slamming Novak Djokovic, 6-1, in the first set, and winning a close 7-5 second set.

Federer was at another level; I once made the comment that, like in “Spinal Tap,” he can raise his game to 11, while everyone else was stuck at 10.

I actually think the win over Murray was more impressive than beating Djokovic, although both opponents have owned Federer of late. Murray came in absolutely rolling, moving past Rafael Nadal (more on him in a minute) to reach No. 2 in the world, and hardcourt is his best surface.

But while Fed may not be the same guy who dominated so easily a few years ago, he’s not the “bum” who struggled to reach the finals of tournaments earlier this year.

He played beautifully against Murray, attacking the Scot’s second serve, powering forehand winners, and just moving about the court like a butterfly on a spring day (sorry to get all poetic on you).

He was perfect from the baseline in both matches; Sunday you could tell Djokovic (who had a fine week himself) had no answer for Federer.

How do you beat Fed when he’s playing like this?

An imagined conversation between player and coach:

Player: So, um, Roger’s serving 120 miles per hour out wide. How do I deal with that?

Coach: I dunno.

Player: His forehand crosscourt is killing me.

Coach: Yeah, try to stay away from that.

Player: His backhand down the line is eating me up.

Coach: Yeah, stay away from that, too

Player: You want me to stay away from his forehand AND his backhand?

Coach: Yep. OK, I’m going to get lunch. Good luck kid.

It’s truly been an amazing turnaround for Federer this year; if you told me in February, after once again losing to Rafa in a Grand Slam final (for the 3rd time in the last four Slams), that Fed would win the French, win Wimbledon, and be a bigger favorite than Tyson over Buster Douglas going into the Open, even I, a huge Fed fan, would’ve laughed.

But man, who’s going to beat him in Flushing Meadows? I see No. 16 coming right around the bend, as the No. 7 train pulls into Queens.

**Now, about Nadal … Here’s the thing about most tennis fans: We can’t bring ourselves to root against either Federer or Nadal. There are no villains here; both guys are likable, incredibly talented, decent champions that a lot of us want them both to do well.

But after watching Rafa in a few matches since his comeback, I’m worried about the Spanish lefty. He’s moving OK, the knees don’t seem to be bothering him, but he’s just missing … something (I’m using italics too much in this post, I’m noticing. Got to cut that out. Wait, was that out loud?).

Take Saturday night, in his semi against Djokovic. Rafa was getting pushed around the court, playing way too much defense. Novak was dictating everything, and Nadal was scrambling just to stay in points. I know it’s his least favorite surface, and he appeared to have his stomach taped (which baffled the ESPN announcers, and me as well), but I don’t think Rafa’s close to 100 percent yet.

Maybe it’s mental, and he’s worried about re-injuring himself. Whatever it is, I don’t like our chances of a Nadal-Federer final, or even semi-final, at the Open.

**One more tennis thought: ESPN, you’re killing me with these tape delays, especially on matches in America, where’s there’s no time difference issue! I avoided the result of Nadal-Djokovic for a few hours Saturday night, and then watched it on ESPN. But first ESPN shows 10-15 minutes of filler, then toward the end of the second set, I KNEW Nadal wasn’t coming back, because ESPN’s programming window was about to close. It didn’t help, at 5-4 Djokovic, when they ran a crawl saying the stupid “NASCAR Now” show was going to be on at 12:09. Gee, anyone think Nadal was making a comeback at that point?

Tape delays take all the surprise away. And I do love surprises.

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***OK, on to “Mad Men.” Big fan of the show, have been since the wife and I started watching it three years ago. I will say, though, that I think the amount of hype the show has gotten has been a little ridiculous. I mean, I understand pop culture arbiters fall in love with a show, and the media elite write and talk about it endlessly, but I don’t ever recall so many writers trying to seem “hip” by writing about “Mad Men.” It’s a really good show.

But let’s not put it in there with “Hill Street Blues” and “The West Wing” and “The Sopranos,” yet, OK?

Anyway, after two episodes this season, my reaction is: Eh. Not thrilled with the way it’s started (SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you haven’t seen Sunday’s episode. Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.)

I feel like the whole British ownership storyline is forced; I don’t really care about it, and I don’t think the writers have done a great job explaining how this will work. I also feel like they’re pushing some of the best supporting characters, like Joan and Ken, out of the way.

But there’s some good stuff brewing, it looks like. They’re finally developing Peggy’s character more; I feel like they’ve never given her enough to do, or shown us more of who she really is.

The writing is still excellent, and every scene the wonderful John Slattery is in makes me smile (Seriously, who’s been in more great stuff than this guy in the last 10 years? He was in “Ed,” which was criminally unloved, he had a nice guest role on “Desperate Housewives” for a while, and now he’s fantastic in every scene he’s in on “Mad Men.” Love this guy.)

I like where they’re going with Betty’s father, and they may even be setting us up for a discussion of Sal’s homosexuality, which ought to be wildly interesting.

If they would just have more bad things happen to Pete, I’d be happy. Man I hate that guy. Can’t he fall down a well or something?

Anyway, step it up, “Mad Men.” You’re better than what you’ve shown so far this year.