Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Watcha Gonna Do?

My loyal viewership of WWE programming has slipped a little lately, so, regrettably, I missed out until just now on what has to be the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of American politics:

http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/6908728

Hard to top John McCain asking "Whatcha gonna do when McCain and all the McCainiacs run wild on you?" but, the clear winner here is Obama, who wants to know if you "smell what Barack is cooking."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Long-Awaited Treatise on Silly Baby Names

The trend among Americans in recent decades toward saddling babies (particularly sons) with ridiculous -- and, in many cases, made-up -- names has bothered me for a while. Nowhere is this trend epitomized more unfortunately than in the "Aidan rhyming trend," and, to me, no name epitomizes that trend more unfortunately than "Jaden" (and its myriad alternate spellings).

I finally decided that I needed to look into it, if only to satisfy my own curiosity (and, by cherry-picking facts in a relatively unscientific manner, to prove my own assumptions). I think I've gotten to the bottom of it, but, let's take a look at the whole issue together, shall we?

First, we must ask whether this perceived trend actually exists. If it exists, what -- that is to say, which name -- is to blame (the lead paragraph should give you a clue)? And, finally, is this trend harmless, or does it signify something slightly troubling about the state of American society and culture?

Well, the first part is easy: the trend exists. Heck, this baby name expert says so! It's part of a larger trend of boys' names ending with the letter "n" that I've observed myself. I've touched on this before elsewhere, but, I'll say it again; recently, while at a neighborhood park with my daughter, I walked past a Little League baseball game. In the course of ten minutes, I heard "Dylan," "Mason," "Jackson," "Aidan," "Mason" again, "Preston," "Wellsey" (I can only assume that one of the boys was named either Aidan, Mason or Preston Wells) and "John," which technically ends in "n," although I can hardly lump John's parents in with the rest of the group, even if it might not have killed them to have thought a little further outside the box.

The newness (I couldn't think of a better word there than "newness;" sorry) of such an overall trend has been disputed by some who learned from the 1960s that all old traditions, ideas and institutions were automatically bad and that new ones were automatically good; one progressive friend of mine in particular, with no choice but to admit that current baby-naming trends were ridiculous and without the option of conceding that a new idea can still be a bad one, was left to argue that ridiculous baby-naming trends have, in effect, always abounded, and that today's are nothing new. I welcome her challenges, because they force me to dig up proof (am I being hard on this friend of mine? Sure, but, maybe I'm trying to provoke a response out of her. I need her to keep me honest. I wouldn't have thought to prove the existence of the general trend if it hadn't been for her, after all). I bet if you spent days crunching numbers, which I'm not inclined to do, Laura Wattenberg's (she's the baby name expert in question) assertions that "[s]uch an overwhelmingly fashionable name sound ["-ayden"] is unprecedented" would ring true. This is, despite the protestations of my crazy friend (that's a "Simpsons" reference, not an ad hominem attack), a new and gender-specific phenomenon. It started in the mid-1990s, exploded at the turn of the century and shows no signs of slowing.

Let's look at some boring (to most people, probably; not to me) demographic data to see just exactly what happened when, and which name (or names) might be most at fault:

"Adan" is the first name that rhymes with "-ayden" to show up on the Social Security Administration's Top 1,000 boys' names list (hereafter, for simplicity's sake, the "top 1,000" or just "the list"), in 1928. It pops on and off the list until 1958 and has been in the top 1,000 ever since, but it didn't even crack the top 300 until 2004, almost certainly as a result of being co-opted by the rhyming trend. Its popularity has actually declined slightly in the last couple of years, and at least one baby name website gives its origins as either Hebrew or Spanish, making no mention of Ireland, from where "Aidan" is generally acknowledged to have come. "Adan" and "Aidan" aren't really even the same name, then, and "Adan" likely got swept up in the trend by coincidence. For our purposes, I think we can consider "Adan" to be a non-factor.

Next up is "Braden," which cracks the top 1,000 in 1970, drops out, then comes back to stay in 1974. I have no idea why. Let's just agree that "Braden" is an early guest at the rhyming trend party but not the primary culprit, since it (in all its permutations) is currently only the fourth-ranked "-aydan" name, and its popularity has sort of leveled off while other "-aydan" names that didn't exist 20 years ago have passed it (and by "exist," I mean "exist as a baby-naming option in the cultural consciousness of America). I only have so much time to waste writing this, and tracking down "Braden" isn't in the cards.

What I can do for you is hazard a guess as to what happened with "Hayden," which was on and off the list from 1880 (which is as far back as the list goes) until 1947, then off to stay until 1986.

In 1981, coach Hayden Fry led the Iowa Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl, in 1985 he led them to a 10-1 regular-season record and another Rose Bowl berth, and in 1986 (the same year "Hayden" ended its 39-year top 1,000 drought) he became the winningest head coach in Iowa history. Since it only took 88 Haydens to account for that name's placement at #982 on 1986's list, I'm more than willing to accept that Coach Fry was the major reason the name came back. Also, consider that the TV show "Coach" premiered in 1989 featuring a main character named Hayden (named after Coach Fry, according to Wikipedia; I'm not going to link to everything, so just take my word for it), and Hayden's yearly rankings skyrocketed after that (going from 899 in 1988 to 167 in 1997, the year the show went off the air).

But Hayden's popularity held relatively steady during those halcyon "Coach" years, moving up the list only 27 spots between 1994 and 1999. In the next six years, though, as the Aidan rhyming trend swept the nation, "Hayden" moved up 52 spots (which means it was much, much more than twice as popular; take into consideration that each move higher on the list represents just that many more actual babies than a similar move lower on the list. Like, if two more people had named their son "Korey" in 2006, "Korey" would have improved 14 spots, from 981 to 967; but for Thomas to improve 14 spots from 51 to 37, it would have required 1,305 more Thomases). So the rise of "Hayden" coincides with the explosion of the Aidan naming trend, it doesn't predate it. "Hayden" is also less popular than "Jayden" and has fewer variations than "Jadyen" or "Caden," so I'm going to say that it's not really Hayden's fault.

Moving on chronologically, we next see "Aidan" show up in 1990. "Aidan" seems to be an actual name, albeit a then-obscure Irish one. That was before Aidan Quinn co-starred in Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985, and if you don't think that type of movie can help a name crack the top 1,000, you need to look at what Splash did to the name "Madison" (it went from not existing in 1984, was in the top 300 four years later and peaked at #2 in 2001-2002). And I'm sure there were other factors in the rise of "Aidan," not just Aidan Quinn, but, he's a handy thing to point to.

Here I'd happily concede that "Aidan" was solely responsible for the whole trend, since "Aidan" and its various other spellings would be, taken together, quite comfortably the #1 most popular boys' name for 2006. Our only problem with "Aidan" is that its popularity has declined while the trend has accelerated and, in 2006, it was overtaken as the most popular "-ayden" rhyming name by the made-up "Aiden." The 2007 figures should be out soon, and "Aidan" is even in grave danger of falling behind "Jayden," about which we'll hear plenty more later, believe you me.

Next on the list is "Brayden," debuting at 884 in 1991, and brace yourselves, because now the alternate spellings start showing up. But since I've already decided that the whole thing wasn't the fault of "Braden," let's move on.

"Braydon" shows up in 1992, as does "Caden," with "Kaden" to follow in 1993. Now, "Caden," in all its forms, shares some blame for this whole thing. It's not really, in the strictest sense, a name (a connection is sometimes made to an old Gaelic surname, and others say it's Welsh, but let's face it: that's probably just a coincidence. I mean, every combination of letters and syllables has undoubtedly been used as some sort of name for something, at some point); I think this is the first we're seeing of the pernicious trend of parents (generally moms, because... well, come on. What guy comes up with "Caden?") deciding to make up names out of whole cloth so that by God, their children will STAND OUT! Because THAT'S WHAT I -- that is to say, MY CHILDREN -- DESERVE!

What's particularly hilarious to me about "Caden" is that dads in 1992 obviously failed to put potential baby names to the "make fun of" test, even in the most basic way possible. "Saturday Night Live" explored this territory in a manner that's unlikely ever to be eclipsed, but "The Simpsons" did it also, in an episode that aired at the end of 1991, less than a year before most of the first wave of "Caden"s were born.

Most of the episode takes place in flashback; Homer and Marge are due for their first child, and they start to discuss names. Marge suggests Larry, and Homer says they can't name him that, because "all the kids will call him Larry Fairy." Louie is no good, because they'll call him "Screwy Louie." On they go: Luke, "puke;" Marcus, "mucous"... until Marge suggests "Bart." Memorably, Homer says, "Let's see... Bart, cart, dart, ee-art... nope! Can't see any problem with that!"

Well, the father of any "Caden" out there did exactly the same thing. He starting moving up the alphabet, got three letters in, and stopped juuuuuust before the letter that really would have been the dealbreaker.

"Let's see... Caden, day-den, ee-ayden, fay-den... nope! Can't see any problem with that!"

Wonderful. I mean, any "-ayden" Dad is guilty of the same, but, "Caden" parallels the situation on "The Simpsons" so perfectly that it deserves special recognition. Let's hope somebody starts worrying about this, or the top 1,000 is going to be inundated with names like "Baggot" and "Grouchebag" by decade's end. I'm not getting my hopes up, though, since "Tucker" has only been gaining popularity as a boy name since it popped up on the list in the late-'70s.

[it should be noted that my wife has a family of cousins with the surname "Tucker," and they're all wonderful people, but I think even they would acknowledge some major drawbacks -- okay, one major drawback -- in using "Tucker" for a first name]

In any case, "Caden," as I said, shares some blame for the entire Aidan rhyming trend; it's fairly clear that, after Braden, Hayden and Aidan, parents determined to showcase their originality by clinging like remora onto the two-syllable-ending-in-"n" boys' name trend in general, and the Aidan rhyming trend in particular, just started going through the alphabet looking for another letter to put in front of "-ayden."

"A" was just "Aidan;" "B" was already the province of "Braden;" so "C" was really one of the only letters left. Because "Dayden" sounds awkward with the two "d" sounds in a row, "Faden" sounds like "fadin'," none of the vowels really work at all, "G" is out for obvious reasons, "Hayden" already existed, "J" we'll get to in a minute, "K" is still "Kaden," "Layden" doesn't make much sense (although I wouldn't count it out), "Maiden" isn't a particularly good boys' name, "Nayden" is sort of going overboard on "n," "Payden" is pointless when parents searching for a girly trend name for their son already have "Peyton" (curse Peyton Manning for coming along and making this name borderline acceptable. Archie Manning has a lot of explaining to do when it comes to naming sons, considering that his youngest and most recent Super Bowl champion offspring is officially named "Elisha." Seriously), "Q" doesn't really make any sense and pretty much just makes the already-taken-care-of "K" sound, I wouldn't be surprised if "Rayden" is coming soon since "R" is one of the few available letters left, "Sayden" sounds so much like "Satan" that not even the dimmest parent could miss that, "Tayden" sounds weird but I wouldn't rule out anything at this point, "Vayden" would just be silly, "Wayden" sounds like "wadin'," "Xaden" is only a matter of time given that "Zayden" debuted in the top 1,000 in 2006, and "Yayden" sounds way too foreign (a lot of these trendy names start as variations on obscure nomenclature from the British Isles; I mean, sure, you want your kid to have a name no one else has, but, you still want him to sound like an English-speaking white person. Let's not get carried away).

So "Caden" is really the first made-up name to show up in the top 1,000, but I can't blame it completely for the Aidan rhyming trend. For one thing, it debuted at 870 in 1992 and then got less popular, almost dropping out of the top 1,000 in 1993 before bouncing back in 1994. But even in 1994, "Caden" was less popular (731) than the debuting "Jaden" (630), and in 2006 "Caden" (the most popular spelling) ranked below two forms of "Aidan," two forms of "Jaden," and "Hayden" and "Brayden." "Caden" gained ground more slowly than other "-ayden" rhyming names, so, although it's an early culprit, it's not the main one.

No, that would be "Jayden." It's the last name to show up (other than "Zayden" in 2006... I mean, honestly. "Zayden?"), but, unlike any of the other ones, "Jayden" debuted twice in the same year, with "Jaden" (more popular back then) and "Jayden" (more popular now) both hitting the top 1,000 in 1994. What's remarkable is that "Jaden" debuted at a much higher position on the list than any other "-ayden" name, or any other misspelling of any other "-ayden" name, ever had. It came in at #630 the very first time out, with "Jayden" following at #852. Taken together as one name, "Ja[y]den" debuted in 1994 at #430, which essentially means it didn't exist one year, and was in the top half of the top 1,000 the next. Back to "Ja[y]den" in a minute...

"Aiden" follows in 1995, debuting at a modest 935; the spelling "Aiden" didn't exist, you'll note, until "Jayden" and "Jaden" came along and then everything started ending in "-en." 1996 gave us "Braeden," 1997 somehow saw no "-ayden" names debut, and 1998 welcomed "Jadon."

And let's get into "Jadon," quickly; many baby name sources cite "Jadon" (a Hebrew name meaning, depending on whom you ask, "thankful," "He will judge" or "God has heard") as the basis for "Jayden," but, it seems as though someone realized after the fact that there was such a name as "Jadon" and decided, "hey, that must be where 'Jaden' comes from. After all, Biblical names have always been popular, and 'Jadon' is in the Bible!" And, really, who (other than me) would ever bother to argue with that?

If the Hebrew name "Jadon" was really the basis for "Jaden" and "Jaydon," though, wouldn't it have shown up first, instead of four years after two other spellings of the name? Wouldn't there be some people in Israel named Jadon (there don't really appear to be, although I'm sure there are a couple; this is the best I could come up with as far as Israeli name data)? Wouldn't things have started with the "actual" name -- like they did with Aidan, Hayden, Braden and Caden -- and wouldn't different spellings of "Jadon" have popped up subsequently, rather than "Jadon" popping up as a different spelling of "Jaden?"

"Jaden" and "Jayden" came first, "Jadon" was one of many alternate spellings to follow, and, since "Jadon" was the only version of the name found to have existed before the Twins won a World Series, people incorrectly (though understandably) assumed that "Jadon" is where the name got started. But it almost certainly is not.

Anyway, the floodgates open in 1999, when Ayden, Braedon, Braiden, Cayden, Jaiden, Jaydon, Kadin, and Kayden all show up in the top 1,000 for the first time. Many other forms have tricked onto the list since, generally at the rate of two or three new "-ayden" names a year, but 1999 was when it really happened. Why?

Well, I just now decided that it takes about five years from inception for a societal trend to really catch fire in today's America, so let's assume that's true. I mean, I don't have the wherewithal to prove that, but, out of curiosity, I looked a few things up: the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync all formed in '94 or '95, and bubblegum pop pretty much hit its apex in 1999... doesn't prove anything, but, at least it's an illustration of what I'm claiming. And I picked that particular trend because of 1994 and 1999, the two key years involved. Those years are also the two key years in the Aidan rhyming trend, because, as I have just illustrated, the trend exploded with eight "-ayden" names debuting in 1999, and if we trace it back five years we come to 1994, when "Jaden" and "Jayden" both showed up.

"Jaden," a made-up name that has skyrocketed in popularity in the last decade-and-a-half, is the embodiment -- and the primary culprit -- of the Aidan rhyming trend.

[and, to strengthen my case that it's really "Jaden"'s fault, let me point out that although "Aiden" and "Aidan" are currently most popular, the rise of "Jaden" has been more precipitous; the average debut position between 1990 and 2006 of any form of "Jaden" (and there are now eight and counting) on the top 1,000 is #816, comfortably higher than forms of "Aidan" (#867), "Braden" (#881), "Hayden" (#897), "Caden" (#901) or -- God help us -- Zayden (#871). I submit that Aiden/Aidan is more popular today only because it's been around longer and had the advantage of starting off as a real, actual name]

And so we come to "Jaden," "Jayden" and 1994, the real beginning of (and, in my mind, the main contributor to) the smaller trend that embodies the larger trend that embodies what is wrong with America. Or, at least a little part of what is arguably wrong with some aspects of America (there's no need to be overly dramatic, I suppose).

At this point, if you're like me, you're asking yourself, "so... what happened in 1994? 'Jaden' was probably inevitable, but what precipitated it's statistically improbably high debut that year? No other '-ayden' names ever debuted anywhere near as high, so something must have happened in 1994, right?"

You want to know what happened in 1994?

I found out, and, I'll tell you. It turns out, after all my years of wondering, that the ultimate responsibility for the explosion of this disturbing trend in baby-naming data lies with, well, Data.

You see, on February 14, 1994, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" aired an episode entitled "Thine Own Self," in which Lieutenant Commander Data, played by Brent Spiner, ends up on a strange planet with no memory of who he is or how he got there. A young girl, with no way of knowing his name, decides to call him "Jayden."

And, there you have it. Great work, WASPs and yuppies: you've bestowed upon your sons a fake name that a little girl gave to a robot on a TV show for nerds. In an episode that originally aired, for good measure, on what is indisputably the single most womanly day of the year.

There. We've isolated the origin of the problem: it's "Star Trek"'s fault (a shame, because although I've never been what you would call a regular viewer, I kind of like "Star Trek," particularly "The Next Generation"). Now: is it really a problem? I mean, so people are giving their sons silly, made-up names at unprecedented rates... does it matter?

I'd say that yes, it matters. The Aidan rhyming trend reflects two larger problems. First, it reflects the persisting idea among academic types (no one else would ever buy into it) that men and women are inherently the same, with differences emerging only as a result of cultural and societal influences and not, say, biological differences in brain function. That plenty of people don't actually believe this, and never have, is almost beside the point; anyone born since Woodstock has grown up in a culture in which is it believed that such a notion is believed. A not-particularly-grueling Google search turns up two different studies about how male monkeys prefer boy toys and female monkeys prefer girl toys; each article seems to take for granted the idea that people believe gender roles are imposed on children, that girls wouldn't want to play with dolls and boys with trucks unless that's what they were given. "It's thought of as a sexual stereotype," says the article on one study; "It's commonly believed that boys and girls learn what types of toys they should like based solely on society's expectations," claims the other.

For the purposes of our discussion, I'm going to assume that if it is believed that this is believed, then, at least to some degree, by some people, it is believed.

What does this have to do with the rhyming trend? Let's go back to our old friend, baby name expert Laura Wattenberg:
Traditionally, male names have been much less subject to the whims of fashion than female names. Parents were always more conservative in naming boys, and less likely to view their name choice as a style statement...

I've said before that androgynous names are a one-way street: parents like boyish names for girls, not girlish names for boys. But even as we choose more and more traditionally masculine names for girls, the way we approach naming our boys is moving toward the traditionally "feminine." Today, parents are extremely fashion-conscious with their sons' names as well as their daughters -- a first glimpse, perhaps, at how this generation will be raised.
The belief in the sameness of the sexes has begun to manifest itself in the naming of children.

Other than demanding to be called "Joe" instead of "Joey" before I started third grade, I haven't really given much thought to my first name over the course of my life. As far as I know, not many of my male friends have, either. My wife, on the other hand, decided for a few of her teen years that her name ought to be spelled "Karyn;" we still have some stuff with that name on it. This was, according to her, somewhat common among her friends. Simply put, this is something that girls do and boys don't.

But parents (mostly moms, probably) raised with the "progressive" notion that the sexes are basically the same must assume, then, that boys are going to want unique names, just like they (the moms) did when they were little girls. This would account for the presence on the 2006 boys' top 1,000 of eight (eight!) different spellings of "Jayden." For my money, though, the best evidence of the blurring of the gender line is the fact that various spellings of "Jayden" -- a name that was essentially made up in the mid-90s, remember -- occupy no less than five spots on the top 1,000 girls' names list for 2006. There have always been a few gender-neutral names (and a few names would gradually and organically shift from one sex to the other), but now we're inventing new ones.

[The only other "-ayden" names on the girls' top 1,000 in 2006 were "Hayden" at #416 and "Kayden" at #624, further evidence -- as if any were needed -- that this whole thing is really "Jayden"'s fault]

Generally speaking, boys and girls -- and men and women -- are different. Yes, progress means breaking down barriers, continually fighting to ensure that, in a country purporting to stand for freedom and liberty, equal opportunities are available to all. But such progress shouldn't rule out our ability to acknowledge the observable, evident truth, should it? We can encourage our children to observe and catalogue what is typical and to celebrate the fact that we live in a place and time in which the atypical is not to be automatically dismissed and is, in fact, often to be celebrated. But promulgating ideas about gender sameness that our kids will inevitably discover to be false is counterproductive (I was going to say it was "destructive" or "dangerous," but I decided it wasn't destructive or dangerous. Just counterproductive). And starting this process before our children are even born, by giving them made-up gender-neutral names, is just plain annoying.

But the Aidan rhyming trend reflects two larger problems, I have claimed, and the blurring of gender lines is just one of them.

The other problem, and I've touched on it a little, is the idea of parents that their children are particularly special and remarkable (every parent thinks her child is special and remarkable, as well she should. I think that many people now have come to believe that their specific children are particularly special and remarkable). The baby boomer generation led early Gen-Xers and their offspring (many of whom are now having kids) to believe that they would grow up to be special and, for the most part, they're not. They're just regular lame people, same as regular lame people have always been since time immemorial. The women in particular were promised a rose garden of work, home and family, all perfectly balanced with plenty of time to attend adequately to each.

So, when you grow up and are met by the world at large with chilling indifference, you're bound to be disappointed. But by God, your kids are going to be special. So special, in fact, that everybody is going to be able to tell how special they are by the awesomely special name you give them.

On the other hand, kids who grow up being told they're incredibly special and then do set the world on fire are naturally going to think their own kids are that much more special, having come from such special stock. So while disappointed people give their kids unique (read: stupid) names out of the false belief that it will make them unique (I've left the "them" to which I'm referring grammatically unclear on purpose), successful people give their kids stupid names because, in their minds, life has borne out their belief that they are incredibly unique and worthy of adulation, and so should their children be.

And then, of course, it's even worse for celebrities, who are as successful as the successful people but as insecure and disappointed as the disappointed people. That's when you get Kal-el, Apple and Moxie Crimefighter. And then regular people who are determined to advertise the specialness of their kids take their cues from celebrities, and the cycle begins anew.

As with gender sameness, it's counterproductive to build kids up to think that they're any more special than anybody else, because that's almost certainly not going to be borne out in their lives. The naming trend itself shows how even people who try desperately to be unique tend to do so in very similar ways. Radio host Adam Carolla used to make a point using polar bears: if you wanted to know about polar bears, he said, there was no need to study every polar bear. You could study, say, 100 polar bears, and, after enough time, you'd really know all you needed to know about the behavior of polar bears. The idea was that human beings are only slightly more complex.

We get carried away with the idea that everybody is completely unique and different and her own person. I certainly prefer to live in a society and culture in which people are free to make choices as if this were true, but, the fact is that in 1999, 497 women not only decided it would be a good idea to name their son "Caden," but decided that saddling him with that name wasn't enough; they were going to inflict upon him their very own, one-of-a-kind spelling of the name, a spelling that didn't even exist for anyone else. Meanwhile, "Cayden," "Kadin" and "Kayden" all debuted in the top 1,000 in 1999, with hundreds of women determined to be one-of-a-kind having done so in exactly the same way as hundreds of others.

Constantly telling kids how special they are amounts, ultimately, to pressure on kids to be special, to be unique, to stand out, to excel. I'm going to make what may be a bit of a leap here and assume that such pressure is relatively new; post-World-War II new, at least. I would imagine that, among the "Greatest Generation" and looking backwards on in history, parents were mostly concerned that their children be healthy and good (as in "virtuous"), whereas ever since the baby boomers started having kids, more and more parents mainly want their children to be healthy and excellent (as in "to excel"). But expecting your children to be especially outstanding is setting them up to fail; by the very definition of the word, the majority of children can't be "outstanding." Saying that everyone is special, as The Incredibles reminded us, is another way of saying that no one is.

Undue pressure on kids to be unique and excellent may help account for increases in depression among adolescents. I'm not saying that if you name your son "Jaidyn" he will automatically end up killing himself, but puberty is confusing and frustrating enough without adding "Jaidyn" (or, more precisely, the skewed perspective that leads to "Jaidyn") to the mix. The Aidan rhyming trend is symptomatic of a larger (new) desire to give kids -- even boys -- unique and increasingly unisex names, which is symptomatic of a larger desire that our children atone for our own failure to turn out to be incredibly special, which could well be symptomatic of a larger problem of increased confusion, frustration and depression in kids and young adults.

To put it succinctly, the use of "Jayden" as a boy's name indicates a denial by parents of inherent differences between the sexes; it also indicates a fixation of parents on producing children who are unique, special and outstanding, likely at the expense of producing children who are good.

To put it even more succinctly: "Jayden" is a silly fake name from "Star Trek," and is unsuitable for your kid.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Best Show on TV, Part 8

The Best Show on TV

"The Office" (NBC) -- 2/9/2006 - 4/2/2006
"Huff" (Showtime) -- 4/6/2006 - 8/26/2006
"Big Brother" (CBS) -- 8/26/06 - 10/4/2006
"South Park" (Comedy Central) -- 10/4/2006 - 11/30/2006
"The Office" (NBC) -- 11/30/2006 - 1/14/2007
"24" (FOX) -- 1/14/2007 - 4/5/2007
"30 Rock" (NBC) -- 4/5/2007 - 4/10/2008
"House" (FOX) -- 4/10/2008 - present

Okay. We're setting aside some rules here.

Generally, the title is recognized to have changed hands on the day upon which the title-change-inspiring episode aired, not the day upon which The Best Show on TV blog entry was written by me.

Generally, I have to be a regular viewer of a show to be able to declare it The Best Show on TV.

But there are special circumstances. First of all, I haven't done one of these in over a year, which is mostly "30 Rock"'s fault because it kept being The Best Show on TV, but I miss doing this series. It's a lot of fun.

Second of all, the strike messed everything up.

Third of all, I just realized that I was just a tiiiiiiiiiiny bit more excited to be able to start watching new episodes of "House" than I was about the NBC comedy lineup ("30 Rock" being the sharpest tool in that drawer, though not by much) coming back.

Fourth, and finally, I watched the "House" Christmas episode on hulu.com after having caught a rerun of the post-Super Bowl episode on USA or somewhere. Those two episodes -- along with a string of reruns from past seasons that confirmed that the greatness of those two episodes was no fluke -- did it. "House" is The Best Show on TV, even if I just got into it and have never actually watched a new episode on the actual night it aired.

I didn't watch "House" for a few years even as I heard from relatively reliable source upon relatively reliable source just how good it was. And not just good; absolute-top-tier-of-anything-on-TV good. I resisted because I knew the show was about a cantankerous, physically challenged doctor who solved medical mysteries with his staff ("staff" in this case meaning either "employees" or "cane;" take your pick), "CSI"-style, and, although I had no reason to doubt those who said the show was great, how great could it be? I figured the excellence ceiling for a procedural was right about at the D'Onofrio episodes of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" or the original "CSI," both of which I enjoy, but not as much as a "Shield" or "Office" or maybe even a particularly good run of "Survivor."

But it turns out my calculations were incorrect. The excellence ceiling for a procedural is The Best Show on TV, and "House" has reached it.

"House" does a masterful job of making sure each episode works as a self-contained piece -- a must for procedurals -- while weaving in character development that generally ties into the medical mystery du semaine. Hugh Laurie's Dr. Gregory House is a brilliant, stubborn malcontent who can't possibly accept that things aren't always the way he thinks they should be, and that people don't always think the way he thinks they should. He's also a classic narcissist-with-low-self-esteem, who sees himself -- though he wouldn't admit it -- as the proverbial piece of shit around which the entire world revolves. He has clearly channeled his frustrations in this regard not only toward the destructive practice of alienating everyone in his life, but also toward the constructive practice of attempting to bend illness itself (i.e., nature itself; i.e., existence itself) to his own will.

Long story short: he's not just your stock "closed-off grump who refuses to let anybody in" character. It runs deeper than that. Fathoms deeper.

But you don't -- as LeVar Burton used to say -- have to take my word for it. Check out "It's a Wonderful Lie" and "Frozen" for yourself. The latter episode features some guy drinking Oscar winner Mira Sorvino's pee, if you're into that sort of thing (which, based on a website I started in 1997 and can't talk about anymore due to ongoing legal action, I can assume that at least 86,000 of you are).

[it should be noted that "30 Rock" (as well as "The Office" and, for that matter, "Scrubs") return from writers strike-imposed hiatus tonight, so the title reign for "House" could be a brief one, in the manner of Kane or the late Yokozuna. We'll see. All hell's probably going to break loose when "The Shield" comes back this fall, in any case]

Hey, Kansas Finally Won!

Hard to call any bracket a complete train-wreck when you get two of the Final Four and you pick the champion, but it wasn't enough to win the office pool.

Still, the entire purpose of the tournament is to determine the champion, and, I alone out of anyone who finished anywhere near the top of the office pool correctly predicted that champion, so, really, the only classy thing to do would be to give me the money. You hear that, Tomika?

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