My Slight Unexpected Obsession With Man V. Food

Adam Richman - Man v. FoodA note to any current or aspiring cable TV programmers: never underestimate what viewers you can pick up at the wee hours of the morning.

In recent years when I visited my friend Rob in Portland, ME, we’d come back from the bars and occasionally, he’d have an episode or two of The Travel Channel’s Man v. Food on his DVR. I always thought the show was really entertaining but always forgot about it after I left…even after I found myself watching a marathon after everyone else had passed out.

Almost three weeks ago, Rob told me the show did an episode in/around Portland, so I had to watch. In the process, I decided to start DVR’ing the series in case there were a few others along the way that were worth my time.

In that time, something crazy happened. It seems I’ve become a bit of an addict (think TV antenna instead of heroin needles).

As it stands today, I’ve torn through at least 40 of the 56 episodes and have no plans to quit until I’m completely caught up. I watch a couple episodes at night and maybe one if I come home for lunch. Alright…maybe two at lunch.

For the love of Monte Cristo, what’s happened to me?

If you’re not familiar with MvF (yep, I’m now using the acronym), it’s a 30-minute show that revolves around host Adam Richman and his travels across the country to take on various mass quantity and heat/spice-centric eating challenges. As I’ve watched, it’s incredible to note just how many of these various challenges there are and I don’t think he’s even come close to scratching the surface.

The show does get formulaic at times, especially when you rip through several at a time. The show essentially breaks down like this:

– Opening sequence where Richman lays out the location, challenge and a challenge-related pun.

– Intro of the city he’s in and a stop by a local restaurant for one of their famous dishes. Phrases like “mouth-watering”, “savory” and “delicious” are thrown around liberally.

– Hunger usually ensues at this point. Never watch this show on an empty stomach. EVER.

– After the first commercial, the 36-year-old Richman takes us to another local spot for another famous offering. These stops are where the show really shines as Richman is masterful at illustrating what makes these places so important to the city. It is The Travel Channel, but it’s still noteworthy how well done it is.

– Another commercial and we get the challenge itself where Richman shows how everything is made, usually feigning fear and spitting out more quips, and then, it’s on. He even has a crowd around him, filling the dining establishment to cheer him on as he shovels food and drink down his gullet.

– Halfway through the challenge, we get another commercial but not before a tease that Richman is struggling with the challenge (conflict!).  We return, he either succeeds or fails and that’s the show.

And that, my hungry friends, is MvF in a nicely wrapped 24-minute bow.

So what makes it so good? Mostly, this guy:

Richman is instantly likable and looks unlike most hosts on these types of shows. Slightly overweight, he comes off like a normal person and acts as if he’s having the time of his life. I learned that he is a trained actor and you can tell as there’s a bit of ham (pun slightly intended) in his act, but it works. His trademark “MMMMMMMMMMMMM!” when he samples something he likes is worthy of a drinking game.

(I keep thinking of how to put together an MvF drinking game, but that seems too far….or maybe not far enough. I need help.)

The producers and those that line up the locations before hand are the unsung heroes as they always seem to connect with the region he’s visiting. For the Portland edition, I honestly had never heard of Trade Winds where he did his challenge (it’s in Arundel, which is just outside Portland) but he also hit up Nosh in town and a seafood restaurant in Cape Elizabeth. It was a wide variety but also a great slice (pun!) of the area’s food offerings.

But every stop seems so interesting to go to. After the Durham/Raleigh/Chapel Hill, NC, edition, I texted my friend Brittain (a UNC grad) to see if she had been to one of the locations. It creates immediate destinations to visit upon visiting some of these locales, key when you’re visiting Butte, Montana, Boise, Idaho or Richmond, VA.

There are some hokey spots in each show (the forced crowd prompts as Richman eats and the post-challenge “press conference” questions are awkward at times), but when you’re talking about a show that is about a guy doing food challenges across the U.S., I suppose that comes with the territory.

Why do I like it?

I’m not a big travel show or food show type of guy, but there’s something about Man v. Food that I can’t shake. Perhaps it’s because I’d love to travel around…or maybe because I rarely cook for myself…or simply because I find it so awesome that each of these cities has their own unique niche of food and there’s a story behind it.

No matter what it is, MvF doesn’t make you work too hard mentally and will make you chuckle from time to time. Isn’t that we really want with shows like this?

With the Billy Burger challenge right here in Manchester, NH, perhaps one day I can meet my new hero in person and be one of the hokey people cheering him in the background.

A boy can dream, can’t he?

Josh Nason is a freelance journalist for hire, writing on mixed martial arts (UFC), Boston sports and email marketing but dabbling in his loves of music, comics, movies, TV and more. Follow him at Twitter and make his day, will ya?

Folding Jacks: Saying Good-Bye To LOST and 24

I’m no TV historian, but I can’t imagine there have been back-to-back nights like a week ago where two iconic TV shows came to a close like LOST and 24 did.

Within a span of 24 hours, two programs that combined for 313 hours of original content (13 days!) went into that celluloid good night, leaving some fans sad, some angry and others simply wondering what they’re going to do now.

Just like that, we don’t have Jack Shephard and Jack Bauer to kick around anymore.

Jack gets FOUND

I thought the finale was great, but leave it to the creators of LOST to split people down the middle, even turning those who didn’t even watch against the show. Call it the pack mentality, but for those who feel like they somehow got screwed over or “wasted their lives” because they didn’t get every single answer they were looking for, I’d say to take a deep breath and watch it again.

Finales of great shows are always up against an impossible standard: to satisfy everyone who came along for the ride. Unfortunately, this nearly never happens as everyone is looking for something different. With LOST, the expectation level for the close out got ratcheted up 100%.

A show this in-depth and this detailed could have never come to an end that would satisfy all the fans unless it was six hours long and even then, something like explaining that wacky Lighthouse would have been missed. And why did that statue only have four toes? I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

I’m not going to make you slog through more LOST finale conjecture and opinion as there’s enough on the interwebs to last a lifetime, but I will say this. The show’s character-driven story is really what I liked and is probably why I’m on Team I Like It when it came to the final 2.5 hours. Did it take some effort to understand? Of course. Was it a bit heady? Yes.

But another great line I heard was this, “To expect to be able to explain everything with a show like this an hour after it concluded was probably pretty unrealistic.”  It’s going to take time and another rewatch of everything to bring things full circle. God forbid the creators leave some threads up to imagination and interpretation…how dare they!

Regardless, I’m really going to miss Dr. Jack Shephard.

Out of all the characters on the show, I found myself gravitating most toward Shephard, the good doctor who finally found his redemption with the closing of an eye and our pal Vincent The Wonder Dog right next to him.

The thing I liked about him was that he was always trying to do right even if it came with pitfalls and mistakes along the way. To succeed, you need to fail and Jack definitely did a lot of both.

As the series evolved, Jack’s battles with Sawyer and Locke for alpha male of The Island were polarizing for some viewers who became drawn to Locke’s own spiritual evolution and those who preferred the bad guy persona of Sawyer. Jack became an easy guy to disregard and get annoyed with. Not for me. I always thought Jack was the man.

Maybe it was the on-again, off-again dance with eternal soulmate Kate, his search for introspection, his desire to lead and save people or maybe that cool-looking unexplained collage of tattoos on his left arm, but Jack and I? We connected, man. If he was real, I think he would be cool to hang out with, even in his giant beard, Scentless Apprentice-listening post-Island days. That was one of the great things about the show. With the ensemble that LOST put together, everyone had their favorites (except Sun and Jin…no one liked them).

But now, Jack’s long strange trip has concluded. He battled Smoke Monsters, his father’s memories, Others and most of the time, himself. The epic 120+ hour thrill ride that was LOST may be complete, but we met a lot of memorable friends along the way. I can’t think of a show ever being this good again or mean this much to so many.

Just don’t tell me that the finale completely invalidated the experience of watching the show.

The Clock Runs Out

Then, there was the 24 finale best described as “two-hour trailer for the 24 movie.” Spoiler alert: Jack is still alive and well, still running, still searching and still kicking ass after completing his eighth tour of duty in 24-hour format.

When 24 first started, it was a novel concept in looking at a full day’s worth of action spread out over the course of an entire season. Kiefer Sutherland’s playing of Bauer – a military-trained and honed bad ass that was a little bit Vic Mackie, a little bit Chuck Norris and a little bit Clint Eastwood – was spot on, the kind of guy you want to root for and watch because it’s just the American thing to do. Protect, serve, ask for nothing in return and then come back to do it again.

But as the series rolled on (especially starting with Season 5), the show really started to fall off. That once-fresh 24-hour format became stale. The things we used to overlook (no 5 o’clock shadow, no one eating or even with heavy bags under their eyes) became too much when combined with the following:

  • Jack always got the shaft: Seriously, how many times can a guy save the country before they stop questioning his every move? I think once would be enough for me, but after the fourth time, it became tougher to swallow.
  • Another CTU mole: Just me or would a simple background check have filtered out the annual CTU mole? I mean, once was good. But every season featured either a double-agent in CTU or the US government. It got to be an old and predictable gimmick, not an interesting turn.
  • Too many familiar characters killed off: I think the worm turned for me when Curtis Manning – one of Jack’s fellow CTU agents and friends – was killed by Bauer in Season 6. The next season, it was former CTU head Bill Buchanan. President David Palmer – played so awesomely by Dennis Haysbert – was assassinated at the beginning of season 5. Even Jack’s BFF Tony Almeida turned against him and got the bullet.With every character killed off, the show lost a bit of its soul and as a result, the human balance of Bauer.When it became a storyline in the final season that Renee Walker and Bauer were going to be a romantic item, I thought I saw the end of the show coming: the two riding off happily into the sunset after another successful day saving the world. A Russian sniper’s bullet changed that. The show really had an amazing cast of characters but more of them should had been around to see the end, not Freddie Prinze Jr.

The finale was good, but not great – fueled by the trap door that a movie deal had already been signed. Jack wasn’t going to die a fantastic hero-worthy death or allowed to be happy. No, he simply was born to run and until the 24 movie hits theaters, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.

While every TV season brings new shows that attract viewers and create buzzworthy talking points for millions, it’s going to be hard to top what LOST and 24 have been able to do for the better part of the past decade.

But like a photo album that brings back memories, that’s what DVD sets are for.

Josh Nason is a freelance journalist who has penned pieces for FIGHT! Magazine, Apollo (Australia) Magazine, Manchester Magazine and more. While he loves to write about mixed martial arts, blogging about music and observations on life are passions as well. Follow him at Twitter.

My Musical Bucket List: Five To See Before I Die

So someone says, “Hey…you’re going to die in a year.”  Isn’t the next logical thought, “Who should I see in concert?”

On Tuesday, four of us were in an interesting conversation about music that stemmed from my outing Monday night to see Pearl Jam in Boston. The sensational and musically-inclined Brett had mentioned that he had never seen PJ before which started a discussion on what bands we’d like to see before we died, otherwise known as ‘The Bucket List” chat.

I’m not sure when the whole Bucket List phenomenon started (I’m guessing when the movie came out, but my Spidey-sense is telling  me otherwise), but the concept has given plenty of people the chance to do what seems to be inherently human: a) making lists, b) thinking about doing fun stuff that they probably will never do and c) thinking about dying.

I sat back when Brett brought up the idea of the live music Bucket List and was fascinated at this subject I never had considered. Who would make my list? I love hitting up live shows, but with most of the music I listen to, I’ve seen nearly everyone that dominates my iTunes and even those who are nowhere near it. When shows come up, I try to find someone to go and make a night of it. Luckily, I have a lot of friends who do the same thing.

I thought a lot about the question and figured my first post here in nearly eight months couldn’t have been about a better subject. For public consumption, here are my five Bucket List bands I’d like to see before I die.

(A side note? We played this game initially with ANY band ever, even if they were broken up or non-existent. For the purposes of reality, all these bands exist now…or at least are thinking about existing. That will make more sense as you read on.)

Smashing Pumpkins

This one rocketed up to the top of the  list without question. Billy Corgan’s masterpiece quartet of the 90’s was a such a huge influence on me growing up that I’m stunned and somewhat frustrated that I’ve never seen them live before.

Part of the reason was my locale growing up: the thriving metropolis of the Oxford Hills, a part of Maine  known for mountains, country music and my dad’s killer curve horseshoe throw. Rock shows never came close to us,  save for Portland which was about an hour away. My first live show was in my freshman year of college, so up until 1996, I simply had never been to a concert. The Pumpkins’ heyday was from 1992-1997 so I was already behind.

Of course, the original Pumpkins would be my first choice but I don’t see that reunion happening ever. I’d gladly go see them now, but I almost feel like it would have an asterisk next to it. This isn’t the group that created Gish, Siamese Dream and what could have been the greatest album of all time if they just didn’t make a damn double disc in Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness. It’s now a slightly above-average alternative band who is giving away almost 50 new tracks for free this year.

But that doesn’t stop  my desire to see Corgan and crew rock out live. It’ll happen someday, even if it will be a far cry from the starting roster that helped dominate the 90’s alternative scene.

Guns ‘n’ Roses

I’m not ashamed to admit that I still love G’n’R despite what you might think of Axl W. Rose. I told you that Chinese Democracy deserved your respect and haven’t backed off that statement yet. Take that one to heart.

Like the Pumpkins above, this isn’t the classic Axl and Slash duo that brought us unforgettable albums and created anthems for late nights in bars across the world (Sweet Child O’Mine, anyone? Yeah, you know you’ve been that guy or girl swaying at 2 am after too many Amstel Lights) and in arenas across the world (my hockey job ruined my previous love of Welcome To The Jungle. I somewhat recoil and twitch Humpty Dance-style whenever I hear the first few chords.)

But you know what? I don’t care. As long as Axl is belting it out, isn’t that what matters? Actually, now that I think of it, fulfilling a full slate of tour dates should actually matter more, then Axl, then finding my old acid wash jeans and bandanna collection.

Rage Against The Machine

If you talk to any New England Rage fan that was alive in 2000, they probably will tell you they had tickets to the infamous 2000 tour stop in Foxboro with the Beastie Boys; the same one that got canceled after the Beasties’ Mike D got hurt in A FREAKING BICYCLE ACCIDENT which caused the tour to be canceled. By the time he was better, Rage had broken up. Thanks, Mike. Thanks a lot.

Now that it’s been more than a decade later, Rage has begun playing some dates again and it’s looking like a full-on reunion is very, very possible. They are playing a slew of European dates this year and hopefully, that will lead to them returning to U.S. soil in true touring band fashion.

There’s no doubt that as a 32-year-old, the 90’s were my formative years in music. With their brand of hard rock, RATM was a fusion of everything I liked at the time: aggression, a message, unique style and dreadlocks. I first saw ‘Freedom’ on MTV on Christmas morning in 1994 and never stopped being enthralled. Now that RATM is nearing the point of being an official band again, it’s time to prepare for the inevitable.

Hopefully this time, their opening act can stay off the two-wheeler.

The Who

At last count, I have just one Who song in my iTunes (The Seeker, inspired by my classic rendition/tribute on Rock Band) and even as I write this, I don’t know how that is possible. While I loved The Doors and admired the Stones and Zeppelin growing up, I really began to delve into Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry’s band over the past five years. The more I listen to, the more I like. Where are all my songs then?

If there was a group I’d be willing to spend big money to go see, it would be The Who. I was awestruck at their Super Bowl halftime show this year and thought the entire layout was just awesome. Their body of work will hold up against anyone’s and that style of rock has influenced many of my faves today, including Pearl Jam who routinely cover Reign O’er Me (including Monday night).

There have been rumblings about a tour this year which would be a must-see and likely hella pricey but sometimes you gotta pay for the quality, baby. Right after this, I’m going to go download a ton of their stuff so I can begin preparation in earnest. I can’t wait.

Blink-182

This was by far the hardest choice because I’ve seen all of my other favorites. From PJ to Incubus to Tool to Taproot to Deftones to Green Day to Linkin Park to Coldplay to Kid Rock to Eminem and dozens of others, I’ve experienced live shows for nearly everyone I care about.  Others like The Doors, Nirvana or Johnny Cash just aren’t happening for obvious reasons. Scanning through my music collection tonight, the one that really stood out was Blink-182.

Mostly thanks to Green Day, I really got into the pop punk sound and latched onto Blink-182, a trio out of California that sang 3-minute songs about a variety of immature subjects that were fairly radio friendly. Listening to these guys wasn’t exactly a night at the opera in terms of sophistication, but c’mon now: aren’t we all allowed to like who we like, regardless of what others might think when the windows are rolled down? (Except for Yanni or Matchbox 20….I can’t get with that.)

But just as Blink-182 evolved and put out an incredibly awesome and musically advanced self-titled album in 2003, bassist/vocalist Tom DeLonge left the group and formed Angels And Airwaves. leaving guitarist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker to form +44.  After Barker got in a near-fatal plane accident in September 2008, all three began talking about the future and decided to reform. Who knows what this version will bring, but if it’s anything like what I heard on that last album, I can’t wait to check them out live.

So that’s my top five of bands I’d like to see before I jump six feet under. I know you want to tell me who’re you’re dying to see, pun fully intended.

Josh Nason is a freelance journalist who has penned pieces for FIGHT! Magazine, Apollo (Australia) Magazine, Manchester Magazine and more. While he loves to write about mixed martial arts, blogging about music and observations on life are passions as well. Follow him at Twitter.

Why Chinese Democracy is a better Guns N’Roses disc than you think

gnr“Sorry, Chinese Democracy barely qualifies as GnR.”

While I was traveling on the T last month in Boston, I started listening to Guns N’ Roses’ latest effort, Chinese Democracy. If you haven’t heard of this disc or any of the production drama behind said disc, chances are that you probably aren’t into rock music, lived in Antarctica or simply decided to erase the thought of Axl Rose from your conscious being at some point over the past decade.

I had heard from some friends that they really liked it, but I was prepared to be less than blown away. I had purchased Democracy months ago and only briefly skipped through some tracks, never really fully embracing what I was hearing. But I made the commitment and focused into what Rose and his group of mostly non-original Gunners had to tell my ears and mind and I gotta tell you…I really liked what I heard.

“That album mostly sucks. I gave it three tries.”

I’m not a mega-fan of the band, but like many other white guys in their early 30s, I had the Appetite for Destruction tape that spun repeatedly in my yellow Walkman and participated in the debate over what Use Your Illusion disc I liked better (for the record, the blue one). While my musical taste has grown over the years, I still looked forward to hearing this new cd eventually – even if the path to get there took way too long to begin with.

What I heard was fantastic. From the title track to songs like Better, Madagascar and my personal favorite Shackler’s Revenge, this is a great disc. Totaling 14 tracks in all, you can throw this on and just listen to it from start-to-finish. While there is no Sweet Child O’Mine, Patience or even You Could Be Mine, the release of Democracy has added some good music to the G N’R catalog – even if a vocal group won’t allow these songs to enter the conversation.

“Sorry Josh, that was not worth the wait.”

But as you can see by the italicized comments throughout this blog, my opinion apparently is in the minority. Unfortunately for the band, they were in a no-win situation with the CD for several reasons:

– The on-again, off-again release of the disc over the last decade became a running pop culture joke. There was more stops and false starts than a ’85 Ford Escort with no oil so when the impending launch became very real, people didn’t take it seriously. I was in a Best Buy and saw a display that helped spark my memory. Marketers and fans just got burned out from the entire game and thus, killed a lot of buzz for the November release. Strike 1.

– This isn’t the original crew. A cop-out from some critics has been that Slash isn’t in the group and thus, it really axl-roseisn’t Guns. I can see where they are coming from because Axl and Slash were like a well-tuned WWF tag team of the 80s. But bands evolve and change and while this version has been bastardized over the last 10 years, it’s still Axl’s voice and I think that should count for something.

Being Axl is obviously its own curse as he’s one of the most polarizing figures in rock, even when he was holed up somewhere in the desert working on Democracy. Easy to overcome? For some, yes. For many others, not so much. Ah, the curse of a frontman that believes too many of his own clippings. Strike 2.

– If this disc was put out by someone other than Guns, it would have been hailed as one of 2008’s top rock discs. When you factor in all of the above, it would have taken a miracle for this to get the credit it truly deserved. Just out of spite alone, I feel that critics would never give Chinese Democracy a fair shake. It was either Appetite for Destruction II or bust and I don’t think that’s fair. If any number of bands had released this under a different name, there would be a huge buzz but because it was Guns N’Roses, the disc was seen as average at best.

Yes, they are a better band with Slash…but he’s not coming back. Yes, it shouldn’t have taken a decade to get this on the shelves…but it did, so deal with it. Yes, they should be touring to help support this…which I actually don’t understand at all but that’s beside the point.

Let go of your prejudices and give Chinese Democracy a shot. G N’R got you through the late 80s and 90s – you owe Axl that much.

Waving good-bye to MTV’s TRL, part of our youth

trl_logoI was surprised to read last week that MTV’s afternoon staple – Total Request Live – came to an end with a three-hour finale last Sunday. Perhaps coinciding with the seemingly-impending death of music videos, the show’s end truly marks the end of an era for myself and millions others that grew up watching it.

Actually, ‘grew up’ might be a little much as the show debuted in September of 1998 while I was entering my junior year of college. Still, it was a staple of my 20s (god, I feel old saying that) and provided a look into the world of pop music for more than 10 years, better or worse.

Carson Daly owes his career to TRL and now has a late-night talk show on NBC. Eminem and Kid Rock really came to form on TRL, as did a bunch of boy bands and their spinoffs, Britney, Christina and others. It was a proving ground for how well a band was marketed, what was hot and was the perfect ‘This is what we are’ show for MTV and the teen audience they pulled in. But after 2,247 episodes and a decade on air, TRL is now done. Continue reading