How Did Frank Thomas Only Make Five All-Star Teams?

Frank Thomas will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. He is easily the best hitter in White Sox history, and probably only has to fend off Luke Appling in any conversation of greatest player ever in White Sox history1. Thomas leads the White Sox in most offensive categories, and many of the ones he doesn’t he still ranks in the top 10. But what was very surprising was the fact that Thomas only made five All-Star teams with the White Sox. Paul Konerko made six. Something seemed off, so it was time to do some digging.

Year Age G HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ bWAR 1st Half
1991 23 158 32 109 138 112 0.318 0.453 0.553 1.006 180 6.9 0.961
1992 24 160 24 115 122 88 0.323 0.439 0.536 0.975 174 6.9 0.959
1993 ★ 25 153 41 128 112 54 0.317 0.426 0.607 1.033 177 6.2 0.970
1994 ★ 26 113 38 101 109 61 0.353 0.487 0.729 1.217 212 6.3 1.311
1995 ★ 27 145 40 111 136 74 0.308 0.454 0.606 1.061 179 5.3 1.143
1996 ★ 28 141 40 134 109 70 0.349 0.459 0.626 1.085 178 5.5 1.069
1997 ★ 29 146 35 125 109 69 0.347 0.456 0.611 1.067 181 7.3 1.115
1998 30 160 29 109 110 93 0.265 0.381 0.480 0.861 126 3.5 0.852
1999 31 135 15 77 87 66 0.305 0.414 0.471 0.885 125 2.3 0.931
2000 32 159 43 143 112 94 0.328 0.436 0.625 1.061 163 6.0 1.086
2002 34 148 28 92 88 115 0.252 0.361 0.472 0.834 119 1.9 0.774
2003 35 153 42 105 100 115 0.267 0.390 0.562 0.952 146 4.2 0.952

Looking at Thomas’ stats above for all of his full seasons with the White Sox, it’s really hard to figure out what went wrong. Thomas made all of his all-star appearances from 1993–1997. It’s a bit understandable how Thomas didn’t make the team in 1991, his first full season, but how did he not make it in 1992? His first half was a bit worse than his second, but he was coming off a pretty remarkable 1991. It just goes to show how undervalued OBP and OPS were then, as Thomas led the league in both in ’91 and ’92. Although he dropped off significantly, how did he not make it in 2000? He was a long established player at that point, and he had 18 home runs on July 1st. Let’s examine these two seasons.

In 1992, Mark McGwire was selected as the 1B starter, and no other 1B was selected to the roster, although DH Paul Molitor was selected, and the game was in an NL ballpark. McGwire had been an all-star the previous five seasons, so he had a major edge. But he was coming off a weak 1991 campaign where his home run numbers had dropped. He had clubbed 10 home runs in the first month of the ’92 season though, and had 26 home runs at the end of June. Plus he was voted in by the fans. Hard to argue with. Molitor was in his 14th season, and was a four-time former all-star. He led the league in hits and triples in ’91 in addition to hitting .325. He hit .319 in the first half of 1992 and had enough of a reputation to get in on that. Another hard to argue with decision.

The White Sox also had two other all-stars in 1992. Robin Ventura made his first (of two) all-star teams. He had his 23 home runs in ’91 and won his first Gold Glove. He was also coming off a monster June. It’s amazing he only made one all-star team, but he probably didn’t deserve to make it over Thomas at this point. Positional value played a big role here. Jack McDowell made his 2nd straight all-star game and would go on to win the Cy Young in 1992 (and 1993). It’s hard to argue with his selection as well.

What happened in 2000? Four first basemen made the cut, plus Edgar Martinez as DH. Thomas was essentially a DH at this point, which likely played a role in being left off. This was Giambi’s first all-star game, and PEDs or not, this was the beginning of his peak. He had finished 8th in MLB voting the year before, and had a pretty nice first half. Fred McGriff was 36, coming off a pretty decent 1999, had [15 home runs on July 1st], and was coming off a ridiculous June. More importantly, there was no one else on this Tampa Bay team that was an all-star, so he was helping fill a quota.

KC’s Mike Sweeney was similar. Also the only KC player to make the team, at least Sweeney was 26 and on the rise (he would make four straight all-star teams). Sweeney had a solid first half, and as the only KC player on the team, it makes some sense. Carlos Delgado was hitting his peak, and had hit 44 home runs in 1999. Delgado was essentially unconscious in the first half of 2000. He had 27 home runs on July 1st and hit .363 in the first half. Edgar Martinez hadn’t made an all-star team since 1997. The 2000 power surge netted Martinez 37 home runs. He never cracked 30 any other year (suspicious?). He hit .354 in the first half, so again it’s hard to argue with his inclusion.

The 2000 White Sox, who eventually won the division, had three all-stars anyway. Ray Durham made his 2nd team, and had clubbed 13 first half HR. He was the only backup 2B. Magglio Ordonez made his 2nd (of six) all-star teams. Ordonez was having a sick first half, and was probably the star of the White Sox at that time. James Baldwin was the last selection as a pitcher.

Was Thomas screwed? Maybe. Walks were so undervalued in the early ‘90s that him being left off the team in 1991 and 1992 is probably the worst, and likely wouldn’t happen in current times. It’s hard to find anything wrong with the selections in 1992, but the one player from every team rule no doubt hurt him in 2000 when he might have been more deserving than Sweeney or McGriff. Thomas’ steep drop off in 1998, and his injury shortened 1999 hurt him a bit. Those were his age 30 and 31 seasons, both considered prime years. So Thomas missing the all-star team on his own accord those two years were ultimately his demise.

  1. Appling edges Thomas in overall bWAR thanks to playing SS and being a plus defender. []

Mark Buehrle’s Surprising Success

Rany Jazayerli of Grantland on [The Curious Case of Mark Buehrle]( http://grantland.com/features/mark-buehrle-surprising-success):

By almost every metric, Mark Buehrle is a thoroughly average pitcher. So how has he managed to find such success, especially at his age?

Great read for any White Sox fan. Buehrle is the most underrated pitcher of the century so far. He is also the best pitcher in White Sox history at least as far back as Wilbur Wood. Had he finished his career with the Sox, and pitched as well as he had since he left, he would be 3rd all-time in wins instead of 6th. Even with his modest strikeout numbers he would be #1 by the end of the season.

He should still get his number retired, especially for his longevity and of course his impact on the 2005 World Series team.

Buehrle’s only shot at the Hall of Famer is sticking around long enough to win 300 games1, which doesn’t seem like something he is interested in. Instead he will go down as pitcher that defied traditional logic, who should have spent his whole career with the White Sox, and whom was never appreciated enough anywhere else.

  1. The article estimates he would need 10 more years to do so []

Returning to Diablo 3

After a nearly 1.5 year absence, I returned to Diablo 3 last month. I had an itch to play, and within a week I had purchased the expansion Reaper of Souls and have not looked back since. The improvements/additions are countless and the game is even more enjoyable than the first incarnation. For the purposes of this article, the “old/original” version refers to prior to the 2.0 patch released early in 2014, and the present day stuff refers to things after. Anything that specifically requires the expansion would be indicated as such.

Legendary Items

So-called “Legendary Items” are unique items, generally with excellent stats and some type of special feature, are pretty scare. In the original incarnation of Diablo 3, they were incredibly scarce. To put it into perspective, 6 months with the original version of the game netted just two legendary items. Two days with the most recent version netted three. Part of the reason for this is that Blizzard has built-in a failsafe that ensures players get one every several hours of playtime if they have gotten one recently. This is a nice touch that encourages all skill levels to play a bunch. The legendaries are also better than in the original version and are almost always better than rare items of the same type/level.

Adjusted Difficulties

In the original version of the game, there were four levels of difficulty, Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno. Inferno was basically impossible without the most elite gear, and the other modes were unpredictable at times. Now there are five base difficulty levels, Normal, Hard, Expert, Master and Torment. And there are six sub-difficulties that comprise Torment, meaning there are truly 10 difficulty levels available now. More importantly, these difficulties scale somewhat with character level. Meaning that a player who is level 20 on normal mode will face easier monsters than someone who is level 50 on normal mode. The rewards per difficulty level increase, so there is incentive to move up. But until Torment 2 and higher, nothing can be gotten in Torment 1 that can’t be gotten in Normal, just the likelihood of that changes.

Paragon and Level Cap

Paragon levels were added in a patch in the original version of the game, and basically offered a system of continuing to level up a character after the level cap (60) had been hit. Each level of paragon boosted skills just like normal levels did. The new system has been changed. Now this paragon number has an insane max and there is one number per account that is shared across characters. The points earned at each level can be put into a variety of attributes adding a new wrinkle to the game once level cap is reached. The boost from paragon isn’t so extreme that it makes players regular capped out players that much more inferior, but it at least adds to the “end game”.

The level cap itself remains at 60 unless the expansion is purchased. That bumps the cap up to 70 and unlocks one new active skill and a few more passive skills per class, including ability to use four passive skills at once instead of three.

Adventure Mode

Adventure Mode is probably the coolest addition of the Reaper of Souls expansion. Although a 5th act is also added, unless you are nut for the story/lore of the game, it’s nothing special. Instead Adventure Mode add a totally different concept to the “end game”. Instead of re-running the same levels in story mode like in the original incarnation Adventure Mode puts a new spin on it.

First are bounties. Essentially a bounty is a specific area/location in a particular act with a specific objective. When a new Adventure Mode game is started there are 5 bounties per Act. Basically a player goes to a waypoint and is given a task, kill a certain boss, clear a cave, etc. Upon completing this bounty, gold and XP are provided. If a player completes all five bounties in the same act in one game, they are rewarded a Horadic Cache, which is essentially a bunch of loot, including some cache-only legendaries, as well as more XP and gold. This by itself is a nice addition because it forces players to mix up what places they play and adds a bonus to completing a bunch at a time. But there is more.

Upon completing bounties 2 and beyond in a particular game, and within the cache reward are “rift keystone fragments”. Five of these fragments can be used to open a “rift”. A rift is a randomly generated dungeon with a high monster density, a lot more elite monsters and a goal of hitting a certain percentage of monster hitpoints accumulated. Once that number hits a certain point, a “Rift Guardian” shows up. These big bosses take time to kill and can drop good stuff, including Blood Shards (more on this soon). But more importantly, the randomness of the level and the higher monster density make this a bit more fun than regular runs or even bounties. Again, this is only available in Reaper of Souls.

Blood Shards and Gambling

The aforementioned Blood Shards that are rewarded for rift guardian kills are used for one thing, and one thing alone. Gambling with Kadala. Essentially a certain number of blood shards can be exchanged with Kadala for a random item of a certain type. In other words, a Wizard could trade 5 blood shards for an off-hand magic source. This is a way to quickly “find” a bunch of items and can produce both legendary and set items. Because blood shards cannot be used for anything else, this is a good place to try and land something really special, but just like everywhere else in the game, the chances are slim. It’s a nice touch, but it’s a bit limited.

Re-Rolling Skills and Transmogging

Another Reaper of Souls (I think) addition is the ability to re-roll an individual attribute on an item. In other words, a weapon might have 3 or 4 really good stats, and then one crappy one an no socket. For a certain amount of gold and crafting items a player can try to replace an attribute of an item with another attribute.

This system is very well done. First of all, it will show the player all the possible attributes that can replace the currently selected one, as well as their ranges in points. Once a player selects and attribute and replaces it, they are presented with three options. Keep the current attribute, or replace it with the choice of two that were randomly rolled. This means that a player can try rolling a new attribute but not be forced to keep it if it’s not an improvement.

Of course there has to be a catch (or two). As soon as the new options are generated the materials and gold needed are consumed. This “enhancing” of an item is costly. Second, the biggest catch is that only one attribute slot per item can ever be re-rolled (although it can be re-rolled an infinite number of times). In other words, if an item has increased life and increased attack speed, and I choose to re-roll life and replace it with +all resist, I can only re-roll +all resist in the future, I can never switch and re-rill increased attack speed.

Crusader Class

Also part of Reaper of Souls is a new character class called the Crusader, which seems to be heavily based on the Paladin of Diablo 2. I have spent a very small amount of time with the Crusader so far, but it seems like there are a lot of shield-based skills. The reviews around the interweb seem positive though, and I hope to spend more time with it soon.

Wrap Up

The 2.0 version of Diablo 3 was a great improvement that had definitely made the “end game” better than it ever was before. The new difficulty modes made it easier to find a sweet spot for a particular character, and legendary drop rates are so much higher that there is always a chance for something awesome right around the corner. Adventure Mode is by far the key piece of the Reaper of Souls expansion and is a must for anyone who wants to play the game long term. Re-rolling of individual attributes means that finding items that were just so close before, is no longer a problem. There is enough of a new feel to the game, and the promises of the 2.1 patch which is due in the next couple of months, are going to make it even better. So far, returning to this game after time away has been amazing.

Explaining Carmelo

There have been some Bull’s fans drinking the Carmelo Kool-Aid that he was always going back to New York. One person’s theory (my dad) was that he was trying to drive up the price, but that’s not how salaries in the NBA work. And when it all comes down to it, this was driven primarily by money, but only because Melo couldn’t get the money elsewhere.

Unlike baseball, salaries in the NBA have a limit. Not just in a salary cap sense (more on that soon), but in a sense that depending on a particular player’s experience level there is a maximum yearly salary they can receive. For example, if every single team had an infinite salary cap, no one team could offer a player a higher yearly salary than another player. But a team re-signing it’s own player can offer that player a 5-year contract instead of a 4-year contract. So even though the yearly salary can’t be higher, the total value of the contract can be higher if the player re-signs with their current team.

That is not the only advantage a team has when re-signing their own players. Because there is not an infinite salary cap, teams can only offer a salary equal to the amount of money they are under the salary cap. In the case of the Bulls this number was somewhere around $16-18 million if they amnestied Carlos Boozer1. So barring any sort of maneuvering, Carmelo could not only get an extra year on his contract with New York, but also a higher yearly salary.

There is a workaround to the salary cap restriction. Re-signing a player allows a team to go over the salary cap. This is why New York could offer Carmelo a “max” contract no matter what. The other workaround is to trade for players. Even if a team is over the salary cap, as long as they trade salaries away to make sure that their payroll doesn’t go up by more than 25% these trades are legal. When it comes to free agents like Carmelo, the answer is what is called a “sign and trade”. Essentially Carmelo signs a contract with the Knicks who have already agreed to trade him to another team. It’s hard to fathom a situation where this was not Carmelo’s #1 option. He would have received all the money he wanted plus end up on a very strong contender. Most likely Phil Jackson either refused, or asked the Bulls for more than they were willing to part with (likely some combination of Taj Gibson and/or Jimmy Butler).

Some would say that he should want to win bad enough to take less, but it’s easy to say that when $30M dollars is not hanging in the balance. The pressure in Chicago to win would have been pretty high. Most pundits were already saying Carmelo would easily make the Bulls the best team in the East. Staying in New York still leaves much lower expectations, and one would assume most of the pressure there now falls on Phil Jackson. Plus if Carmelo were to win a title in New York, he would be the hero of the franchise and that is worth way more than being second to Michael Jordan in championships in Chicago.

Carmelo is going to make some serious cash over the next few years, and the ceiling for winning in New York is well beyond anything that would come with winning elsewhere. As much as it breaks Bulls fans hearts, it makes a lot of sense for him.

  1. It’s not worth digging to deep into this concept, and it happened yesterday anyway []

Fix the Home Run Derby

I haven’t watched the home run derby in years. The roster of guys included this year made it intriguing though. The result, however, was an event that is way to long (nearly 3 hours) for a very weak payoff.

The current format features 10 players divided into two teams by league. There are only 7 outs per player, per round, down from 10 in previous years. Everyone hits in the first round, and the top three from each league advance. Whoever hit the most in the first round from each league gets a 2nd round bye, and the 2nd and 3rd place players from each league compete in round two. The winner of that round faces the player with a bye for their “league championship”. Then the winner from each league hits against each other in the final. That means there are four rounds, with the last three being single elimination “head to head”. That means that the two guys in the finals will be hitting for at least the third time, perhaps the 4th (or more if there are ties along the way).

This begin the plethora of problems with the contest. Why does each player need to hit so many times? Why are there “head to head” showdowns when there don’t need to be? Why does this thing take THREE hours?!? What is the payoff supposed to be for fans, seeing two guys “go at it” at the end?

Going back in past derbies, it’s clear the first round is usually the most exciting. At least in the old format that is the round where typically the most home runs were hit since the first few players had no idea how many they needed to hit to advance. But they always have to leave something in the tank for later rounds. The exciting part of this is the home runs (obviously). The players seem to hit fewer and fewer as the night wears on. Take last night when Todd Frazier beat Giancarlo Stanton 1–0 (!) in the NL final. There is nothing fun about that.

The ways to fix this don’t cater to TV and commercial values, which is what drives everything nowadays, so the following proposal is mostly irrelevant. But the real solution here is to make this thing one round. Start with 6 players, three from each league. Have a 7th “wild card”. This should be a guy from the team hosting the derby. It’s nice for the hometown fans to have their guy. Each player get’s 12 outs, and that is it. Whoever hits the most home runs wins. Sure the guy that goes last can stop if he beats the current leader, but everyone else will have to go for it all the first time. And better yet, there will be no rounds to save anything for so there is no reason to hold back.

There were 140 outs last night (not counting the two “swing offs”). This new format would drop that to 84, assuming there isn’t a tie. Have commercials after every hitter if need be. Put ads on the jerseys if that helps. But make this contest more entertaining, and definitely shorter! Watching a final after 2.5 hours in which the winner’s margin is 9–1 just is not entertaining.

World Cup Attention Does Not Mean Soccer is Popular

There was a ton of buzz about the World Cup this week in the United States. By far the most interest in soccer the country has probably ever had. Social media is a big part of this because people are intrigued by all of the chatter. It’s also the most popular sport in the world, and the biggest stage in the world, and one that only comes once every four years. A lot of true soccer fans are saying “FINALLY!” to the thought that soccer has gained some popularity, but this excitement is very premature.

In the same way the Olympics take over once every four years, it’s easy for soccer to do the same during the World Cup. Especially in a quiet period for sports like the end of June/early July tends to be. The US Men’s Team did alright four years ago, so they got some attention then. The ability to watch games online made it much more accessible, and again the constant talk on social media definitely piques people’s interests. But this is a bad way to measure people’s interests in the sport, in the same way that the Olympics measure people’s interest in swimming. Sure Michael Phelps can draw big TV crowds and insane interest, but at the end of the day people don’t care about swimming again for four years.

There are two major components that drove the interest in the World Cup in the US. First is the fact that it’s the biggest stage. Interest is always higher for the NBA Finals, Super Bowl and World Series much more than during the regular season because there is so much on the line. It’s the same reason that people don’t care about 99% of Olympic sports except during those few weeks every four years. The US men have never faired all that well in the World Cup either, and it’s one of the few sports actually played in the US (so not including things like rugby and cricket) where the US is not one of the elite teams. That desire to show these other countries that the US isn’t crap helps drive interest as well. Which feeds into the second main reason people cared so much about the World Cup, national pride. The speed and volume with which information travels around these days is remarkable. The country is move divided than ever, with political and social battles going on constantly. But during an event like the World Cup, every one can come together and be on the same side. There is something attractive about that to most people.

All of that rolled up together makes it seem hard to believe that soccer is going to gain much popularity outside of the World Cup. Will soccer attendance increase in the US between now and the next World Cup in 2018? Probably. But it seems unlikely to be significant. And four years from now, the US Men’s Team will be better, and people will be more into it than ever. But none of that should be confused with an increase in soccer popularity because that is just the wrong measuring stick.

The End of the Hippo Podamus

There hasn’t been an episode of the Hippo Podamus put out since early May. There also hasn’t been any explanation why, or what the future is, so it’s time to rectify that.

When the podcast started three years ago, it wasn’t clear where it was going, or more importantly how long it would last. Making it one year was amazing, and hitting 100 episodes was an impressive accomplishment1. There were several different formats, starting with just a single topic, before going to multiple topics and eventually back to single shorter topics. The different formats were about improving the show for listeners as well as making it easier on the people making it.

Coming up with interesting topics each week was harder than it sounds, and someone was always displeased with the decision. The show was about doing something fun though, more than it ever was about pleasing an entire audience all the time. In the end, a vast majority of shows were about TV and sports, which makes sense given the hosts biggest interests. In the end though, that made it difficult to find a large audience, which was by no means a dealbreaker, but did not help in the decision to cease production.

The final format of short, one topic shows, was designed to get episodes out quicker, and make them easier to put together, but the time saved on production was insignificant. Instead it just spread the time out over two sessions per week, which was not much of an improvement. In the end, the show stopped being more fun to make than the burden of creating it.

In the end though, doing a podcast was an unregrettable decision that was fun, and educational. It almost certainly won’t be the end of podcasting for me. I hope to regroup and do something new before the end of the year, but only time will tell.

Thanks to all of our listeners over the years. Your feedback and support was great.

  1. Does that mean we reached syndication? []

White Sox: Buyers or Sellers?

The trade deadline is a month away, but the question is already starting to show up:

It’s a decent question, which actually has a third answer, which is just to stand pat. Time to explore each option.

As Buyers

The White Sox are 7.5 games out, in last place, and have a –31 run differential. The chances of making the playoffs are incredibly slim, and the chances of advancing are even smaller. Jose Abreu is in his first season, and guys like Eaton, Gillaspie and Sale don’t have a track record for staying healthy. And making the playoffs but not winning a World Series isn’t terribly great. The Sox have a lot of holes, particularly their entire bullpen which repeatedly fails to hold leads. Things get dicey in the rotation after Sale and Quintana, although Danks has come around as of late. They could use a corner outfielder, or a more reliable on base guy near the top of the order, but it just doesn’t make sense to give away the few assets they have for an unlikely run.

As Sellers

Trading away players is never easy, and getting prospects back doesn’t work out all that often anymore, so in most cases it isn’t probably even worth it outside of the economical side of saving money. No matter what anyone says, no player is untouchable. Chris Sale and Jose Abreu could both be had for the right price, but it’s almost certain that price won’t be offered. Typically teams are not looking to trade young, affordable players so the list of guys the White Sox would try to trade is small, and the list of guys they could trade is even smaller.

It’s likely that the White Sox would be willing to trade anyone out of their bullpen, but no team is going to want that garbage. It would be excellent if the White Sox could dump what is left of Adam Dunn’s contract just to save a bit of money, but finding the right team to put the 1B/DH might be difficult. He would definitely be an upgrade for the Mariners, or maybe the Pirates. Even the 1st place Brewers could argue he is a minor upgrade over Mark Reynolds. Staying the AL makes the most sense because he could also DH. He doesn’t add any defensive value so his only extra use in the NL would be as a pinch hitter. Trading him in August when the cost would be lower and some team could grab him for basically nothing and use him as an extra bat could make sense though. The two most realistic possibilities are John Danks and Alexei Ramirez. Danks has come on very strong in the last month, and is in year three of a five year extension. Those last two years are definitely a problem, and the White Sox would almost surely have to pick up some of the cost. That might be too much for most teams though.

(Apologies to my dad) Ramirez makes tons of sense for everyone though. He has just one more year (plus a club option) so he is affordable for most teams. Ramirez has probably been a top 10 ML shortstop so far this season, and there are always teams that need a good shortstop. The number of available bats at the trade deadline looks like it will be thin, so Ramirez would be sought after if made available, giving the White Sox the chance to get someone to overpay. There are lots of teams that make sense here too. Seattle again, for sure. The Yankees would make a ton of sense if they decided to use Derek Jeter in a more limited role, but that is hard to do in his final season. The Brewers make sense again here too as Jean Segura has struggled some. The Washington Nationals could even be a candidate. Of course all of this is subject to change both directions. First players could improve in the next month, and second guys could get injured. If someone like Hanley Ramirez suffered a significant injury, the deep pocket Dodgers would make sense too.

Stand Pat

At the end of the day the best option is likely just to stay put and wait for the young players on this team to get better. Dunn will be gone next year so assuming the Sox wouldn’t have to pay any of his salary there is no harm in that move. Ramirez doesn’t have an obvious replacement in waiting so keeping him for the next couple of years isn’t the worst idea either.

This team will get Avisail Garcia back next year, and there are hopes that Eaton and Gilaspie are still going to get better. Adrian Nieto could get better as well. Sale and Quintana form a nice 1–2 punch, and if Danks resurgence is real the front part of the rotation is decent. Carlos Rodon could be in the rotation next year as well, and he could be the real deal. It’s possible that one of their prospect outfielders (Trayce Thompson or Courtney Hawkins) could finally be ready. Overall the Sox should get better in the next two years, and should wait to make a move until they are closer.

TURN’s First Season

AMC’s Turn wrapped up it’s first season a couple of weeks ago. The drama is about the first spy ring of the Revolutionary War. The premise showed a ton of the promise, and at least mildly had to be building off the popularity of the Assassin’s Creed video game series, but the show got mixed reviews, and started very slow before picking up a bit of steam.

Reminiscent of another AMC show The Killing, the premise was a bit misleading. The “spy” aspect of the show took weeks to start developing and went almost nowhere thus far. Instead the show tried and failed to be a character-driven drama that just wasn’t that interesting. Unlike Orange is the New Black, where the characters are just amazing and the plot doesn’t matter as much, this show fails to accomplish that task. And instead of opting for a more high action kind of show, they slowplayed it to the point of boredom.

The Revolutionary War is not an era that has been covered much in scripted TV, so there was a gigantic opportunity here. Unfortunately is was mostly wasted. Especially since period pieces can be very successful if done right. Instead this show, like The Killing and Hell on Wheels before it, is just an average drama that isn’t interesting enough most nights to be worth it.

Moderate Spoilers Below

Jamie Bell (a.k.a. Billy Elliot) struggles to carry the main character. His infidelities make it harder to root for him, and at times he seems like such a coward. Perhaps this is by design, but he just doesn’t feel right at certain moments. It’s easy to see how a stronger lead could have made a difference here.

As previously mentioned, the spy aspect doesn’t get going for a couple of episodes then seems to almost go nowhere after that. Codenames and code books get tossed about, but there is a minimal exchange of information, and nothing that would make any decent spy story. What’s more, so much of the action is confined to one little town that it’s hard to see the impact on the overall revolution. Granted, no one was expecting grand battle scenes straight out of The Patriot, but a little bit more expansion would have helped. George Washington showing up was a nice touch, but unlike the ways that Mad Men interweaved actual events, TURN has completed failed so far to make it feel like this story is part of the actual American Revolution.

Most of the other characters are dry, or nondescript, and overall the cast can’t make this show feel more interesting despite it’s potentially great subject matter. In the same way that Starz’ Black Sails felt less like a pirate show (at least in the first couple of episodes) and more like a political show, this one feels similar.

The tease of a big showdown in the season finale did not really pay off, but there was a final twist that came when Bell’s character shot a British solider stationed at his house. There is just the slightest bit of intrigue created here, but the show still has a long way to go.

The first season was probably enjoyable just enough to get a lot of people back, but it’s likely the leash will be short to get more into the spy action.

Mad Men – Season 7 Part 1

[Spoilers ahead for Mad Men. If you aren’t caught up, probably don’t read on at all]

Six and a half seasons are in the books, and after an uneven first half (or first quarter?), the first part of season 7 ended up being great for the most part. It certainly feels like it’s channeling the Vinnie Chase arcs of “new season, new movie”, but replacing the word “movie” with “company”. The early part of this season sure made it feel like Don was on his was to a sad ending. His life and career were crumbling. The plane was on it’s way down, and then somehow at the last minute he was able to pull it out of the nosedive. And now, more than ever, it’s hard to make out where this is all going to go.

With the ship going down, things made sense. Don was going to hit rock bottom, move on, and the show would end, but that would be an odd turn after the end of last season at this point. Leading to either a sudden death (heart attack? Angry Paul Kinsey returning and shooting him?), or a “life goes on” type ending. There are some who think the last season will be a major flash forward (10–20 years) showing where everyone ends up down the road. But seeing as Matthew Weiner studied at the altar of David Chase, things almost certainly won’t end so tidily.

The “reset” button on the season, as it were, makes it seem like this was almost a filler type season. And although Don learned a lot about himself, and Peggy took a big step up, overall the show kind of seems like it is right back where it ended last season. The moments were great, and any excuse to get more episodes of this show are good for everyone, but it is at least a little rough to see the forest for the trees right now.

Thankfully, Betty had a very limited role this year, and if not for Sally, it’s a wonder if that aspect of things would even still exist1 to be visited on a regular basis. Bobby and Henry might as well not exist, so having Betty there seems like just an excuse to keep Sally relevant.

Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell on the show, probably gets the least respect for his performance. But he has been spectacular over the years, going from twerp, to valuable resource, to crazier version of Roger Sterling with more rage. It’s weird to see how much he has Don’s back after the way Don treated him for so long at the first agency. His personal relationships are as screwed up as anyone, and he is the odds on favorite to have a sad ending to this story.

With just 7 episodes to go though, it’s hard to see another drastic shift in the company. That means that either something catastrophic will happen to everyone, just Don or that things will just continue on with the show just ending. Fans demand more closure these days, but Weiner doesn’t cater the masses, and it’s likely this show will end in an unsatisfying way to most people. But so far, the ride has been fantastic.

  1. I am of the belief that Sally will play a bigger factor in the last leg of this show []