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Thursday, March 31, 2011
Retro TV Round-Up: The Greatest American Hero "Pilot"

When The Greatest American Hero first aired in the early 80's, I thought this show was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Or at least the greatest thing since they canceled the original Battlestar Galactica and the new Buck Rodgers.

I saw a handful of episodes, though I can't recall much about the show except that it involved a teacher named Ralph who had this supersuit and he'd lost the instruction manual. Any nuances the show had beyond that were lost on me. I was tuning in to see Ralph take on the bad guys and what kind of wacky fun he'd have that week either trying to fly or understanding whatever new power was making itself evident that week.

I also recall the show would air past my bed time so if I wanted to stay up to see it, I'd have to take a nap that afternoon. I think this was the biggest impediment to seeing it on a regular basis because after school there was homework, time to play and endless repeats of Looney Tunes cartoons (if only they still showed them today).

Oh yeah, and I remember the theme song. I think everyone remembers the theme song.

Needless to say, I have fond memories of the show, even if they're a bit hazy. So, a couple of years ago when I saw the first season was hitting DVD, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and pick it up. It was an impulse buy pure and simple, a yearning to revisit something I fondly remembered from growing up but hadn't seen since then.

I recall I watched the pilot and a few episodes from season one. It was enough to make me want to buy seasons two and three when they hit stores. But then I got distracted by other things and stopped watching the DVDs. Again, it comes down to only seeing a handful of episodes of the show.

And while we're still in full swing of most current shows, for some reason last week I was consumed by a desire to watch the pilot again. So, I pulled out the DVD and started again, thinking I might make it another retro round-up journey for myself. The biggest difference is that unlike classic Trek, many of these episodes are new to me. And while I plan to watch at least the entire first season, I may combine several episodes into one post.

But, for now, it's the pilot episode.

One of my first thoughts on watching the pilot is that if you've watched the opening credits (which run almost two minutes), you've seen a lot of clips from the pilot. School teacher Ralph Hinkley takes his class out on a field trip into the middle of the desert. When their van loses power, Ralph sets out to find help and meets up with FBI agent Bill Maxwell. The two met earlier in a diner when the students were rude to Bill. Anyway, a space ship comes down, tells our heroes they're chosen to use the suit (Ralph wears it, Bill picks the assignments) and heads off. Interestingly, the alien representative is Bill's partner who is killed before the opening credits.

Of course, the two don't immediately hit it off. They're opposites--Bill is conservative, Ralph a bit more liberal. They go their separate ways and vow to never speak of it again...until the next day when Ralph is running late to a custody hearing for his son and decides to try out the suit. But he's lost the instruction book and is on his own. He tries to fly and it doesn't go well. This all leads to his being picked up and sent to a psychiatric hospital. He calls for Pam, his lawyer and maybe girlfriend (it's not clear whether she is or not at this point, though the episode quickly puts them together) to come get him. While there, he sees visions of Bill in trouble. Bill's been captured by a group of shaved headed guys who want to put the president out of the picture and put the vice president in charge.

Ralph convinces Pam to help him find Bill and escape. They go in, rescue Bill and then hatch a plan to stop this group from taking out the president. Ralph controls his flying enough to wave off the president's chopper and the plot is overthrown. Meeting again in the desert, the trio decide that they'll fight for justice on our home turf first and then expand the crusade later if necessary.

Watching the pilot again this time, I was struck by a few things. One is I'd completely forgotten that Ralph had a son--even from my watching the pilot a few years ago. Also, it's interesting that he's not romantically involved with Pam as the story starts (at least it doesn't seem that way) but this is quickly addressed. The two declare their love for each other in her car on the way to rescue Bill and discuss how Ralph's being a super hero could impact their marriage. It all seems a bit quick--more like the script wanted to put this card on the table in the pilot and not allow the audience to watch the romance develop. Either that or they decided late in the game Pam would be a love interest and they sort of just put this thread in there.

Given that I recall ads for an episode with Pam and Ralph getting married, I think we can gather it all works out.

It may seem I'm a bit down on the show, but I'm not really. For what it is, I liked it. The banter between Bill and Ralph is what makes it work. And while some of the plot threads don't hang together all that well, the three main characters are well developed and interesting enough that you can see how the show can and may develop. The series came along at a time when serialization wasn't quite what it is now, so I'm prepping myself for the thread of Ralph learning to use the suit not exactly building like it would today. I fully expect Ralph to have problems flying for a while now.

And while it's a bit obvious on DVD where some of the special effects are (esp. the flying), I still have to remember when the show was made.

All that said, I can see why the show was picked up and given a chance. I can see why it made an impression on me as a kid and why it's still fondly remembered to this day. Hopefully future episodes won't diminish that too much....

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/31/2011 01:21:00 PM | |
Monday, March 28, 2011
The New Basketball Coach
Driving home last night, I heard the news break that Tennessee had hired a new men's basketball coach.

My first though: already?!?

After watching the Elite Eight over the weekend, I was become excited by the prospect that the Vols might go after the coaches of Butler or VCU. Sure, it'd be a hard-sell, but isn't that why we pay Mike Hamilton the big bucks?

Apparently not so much.

Instead, the Vols have hired Cuonzo Martin. He could be the greatest guy I've never heard of, but 24 hours into his tenure I'm pretty skeptical. His biggest resume spot is that he's been to the NIT. And that he scored a bunch of three-pointers at Thompson-Boling against Kansas back in his playing days at Purdue.

I've got to admit I'm pretty unexcited by the choice. I feel as though the Vols settled or caught new car fever in the hiring. I've heard stories that Martin was potentially in line for another job should the dominoes begin to fall the right way. And it looks like Tennessee was eager to get a new coach onto campus to try and start building again in the wake of Bruce Pearl's departure last week. And so, we got "new car-itis" as it were and hired Martin.

I may be proved wrong. He could be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I'm wary, especially given how Jimmy Hyams and the writing staff at the Tennessean are on board as this being a good choice. Especially the Tennessean staff since they hate anything the UT athletic department does.

And while I've heard the theory that Hamilton likes to find up and coming coaches before they really get hot, my response to that is, "Yeah, look where Lane Kiffin got us." I have a feeling that this could be the final straw that shows Mike Hamilton the door as athletic director.

I've said it before and I'll say it again--it's time for Hamilton to go and Phil Fulmer to step in as AD.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/28/2011 07:34:00 PM | |
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Happy Birthday, Leonard Nimoy
Earlier this week, I took a moment to wish a happy birthday to one of the true icons of America television, William Shatner.

A few days later, it's time to wish a happy birthday to his co-star and friend, Leonard Nimoy.

Nimoy is, of course, best known for playing William Bell on TV's Fringe. No, seriously. He's best known as the actor who played Spock on the original (and again I must say it, still the best) Star Trek.

Of all those associated with classic Star Trek, it was Nimoy who took the biggest risks as an actor and for his career. Again, reading all the kiss and tell books on the subject of Star Trek and the behind-the-scenes, stuff I admire Nimoy for his passion for the character of Spock. Nimoy's battles for what he saw as the integrity of the character (especially in season three, which I reviewed all last summer) are compelling and interesting. Had it not been for the dedication to the character and his craft, I don't think Spock would have been nearly as memorable or that classic Trek would be as successful and long-running as it has been.

And it's been interesting to see how Nimoy stretched as an artist. He's a solid director, giving us Star Trek III and Star Trek IV as well as Three Men and a Baby. And he's had a nice late resurgence thanks to his work in the latest Trek film and his recurring role on Fringe. (If you're not watching Fringe, you should be!). He's retired now and I wish him all the best. Thank you for the commitment to Spock and for giving us one of the best characters in all of pop culture.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/26/2011 07:30:00 AM | |
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Happy Birthday William Shatner!
Today we celebrate the birth of one of the most recognizable actors in all of television, William Shatner.

You'll notice I didn't say the best, but most recognizable. Put Shatner into a show and his style of acting is instantly recognizable. It may not be the best, but it's always evident when he's on-screen.

Of course, Shatner brought to life the greatest captain in all of Star Trek history, the original and still the best Captain James T. Kirk. As most of you know, I love classic Star Trek. It's second only to Doctor Who as my all-time favorite television show.

If you're interested in seeing some of Shatner at his best and most memorable, here are a few recommendations.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- Arguably the best performance Shatner has ever given period. Interestingly, the commentary on the DVD reveals that director Nicholas Meyer did so many takes of certain scenes to get Shatner "tired" of doing Shatner and then actually acting. The proof is in the final result.

Star Trek: The Enemy Within. Kirk is split into two halves thanks to a transporter malfunction. One is good, one is evil. Shatner has a field day and does a great job of portraying the good and evil half of Kirk.

Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever. Those who say the man can't act should either see this episode of Wrath of Khan. Shatner delivers here. The final line of the show is haunting.

Twilight Zone: Terror at 20,000 Feet. One of the most famous episodes of this great series. One of the stepping stones to the greatness that is Captain Kirk.

Free Enterprise Shatner plays a character called Bill. Two middle-aged Trek fans see Bill in the bookstore, browsing porn and go up and talk to him. The movie follows the two trying to put together a movie with Bill as its star. Worth the price of admission alone to hear Shatner rap and the opening sequence with one of our young heroes channeling Shatner when being beat up on the playground. When Bill asks why the young guy is getting the crap knocked out of him, the guy replies "He said Han Solo could beat up Captain Kirk." Response by Bill: "Kick his ass." Pure and total brilliance.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/22/2011 08:37:00 AM | |
Monday, March 21, 2011
The End of an Era
It's the end of an era for Volunteer basketball. Bruce Pearl has been terminated as head coach of the team.

Whether or not this will help our fate when the NCAA brings sanctions against the program remains to be seen.

I wish that Pearl had gone out on a higher note than he did. Bad enough that the NCAA cloud hangs over the program, bad enough we didn't show up Friday afternoon to play in the opening round of the Big Dance and bad enough that the future of the program (which was once so bright) is now so unclear.

I'm not sure who we'll get to replace Pearl, but I can't think the coach will be of the same caliber. While Pearl built up the program to new heights, right now it's not exactly a great job. Again, most of this was brought on the program by Pearl.

It was six great years under Pearl. And while right now all I can do is think about the negatives of this day, part of me is still reminded of the good times. Pearl painted up orange to support the Lady Vols. The team beating Memphis to earn the number one ranking in the country. Advancing to the Elite Eight last year and being just one shot from a potential Final Four. The sight of Pearl in that orange sport coat taking on Kentucky and Vandy.

All good memories.

I just wish that I'd had time to make a few more. And see the dream of seeing the Vols and Lady Vols cut down the nets to end the tournament in the same year.

Thanks for the memories, Bruce. I just wish you didn't have to go out this way.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/21/2011 06:50:00 PM | |

The First of Spring
Weather-wise the last couple of days have been what many refer to "chamber of commerce" days.

And while it's a nice description, it isn't exactly how the phrase I'd use. For me, it'd be more along the line of "man, we need to go to the park" type of weather days.

While a student at UT, these types of spring days were always met with the statement, "Man, it's too nice a day not to head out to the park." And then you'd gather up friends and make plans to head out to the park, along with blankets, chairs, footballs, frisbees, water and possibly food to relax and enjoy the warm spring air. Of course, for some odd reason, you'd think that you were the only person on campus, much less the entire city, that had this brilliant idea.

And then you'd be shocked by the fact that not only did traffic come to a virtual standstill about half a mile from said park, but that there were also a lot of other people in town who had this same idea.

And then I'd think, "If only I'd got the idea sooner."

It's been that kind of weather the past couple of days. And while my time at UT was spent trying to get out to the park to enjoy the warm weather, these days I find myself relishing the spring days and warmer weather for an entirely different reason. It's kind of nice to enjoy a run outside in weather that's warm enough to be comfortable. You will work up a nice sweat, but you're not dripping and soaked like you will be come summer and you're not debating how many layers you need to wear as you did in the winter. And the breeze that is blowing is enough to make you feel good and not tear through whatever layers you're wearing as the cold winds of winter did.

And while some people may notice the trees blooming, the birds returning and the grass getting greener, these days I notice the coming of spring more by the number of people I see out exercising. It's always interesting to see the uptick in those outside walking, running, cycling or doing something the first few days of spring. Of course, we have to enjoy it while we can. Because those blazingly warm days of summer are just around the corner and while we may get a few pleasant days in the fall like this, it's just not quite the same as those first few magical warm days of spring.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/21/2011 03:53:00 PM | |
Friday, March 18, 2011
Tennessee and the Tourney
I've had a bit of time to ponder the Vols' colossal collapse in today's opening round of the NCAA tournament and I'm not sure how to feel about it. Is it better to have your teeth kicked in solidly for an entire half and lose by double digits as the Vols did or is better to have your heart ripped out at the buzzer like Vandy did yesterday.

I think in the long run, it's easier to take being in the game but coming up short than what Tennessee put out on the floor today.

Make no mistake--the Vols gave up on today's game. Once Michigan figured out only Tobias Harris was interested in being there and shut him down, it was over. The Vols just phoned it in and were an embarrassment all around.

Yes, I'm bitter...why do you ask?

If this is the last time we see Bruce Pearl on the sidelines as coach, it's a terrible final memory. Of course, the game was a microcosm of our entire season. So good early with so much hope, only to see it all fade away the longer the game went along until finally, we're left just shaking our heads and wondering what in the wide, wide world just happened.

It's also a shame that our state with four teams in the Big Dance couldn't get one team into the first weekend of the tournament. There was no way I'd pull for Memphis or Vandy, but I was hoping Belmont might make some noise. At least I can say their players looked like they gave a damn about being there. Unlike the guys in orange and white today...

At least the Lady Vols begin their journey through the women's tournament tomorrow. I need something to wash this bitter taste out of my mouth and I think the Lady Vols could be just what the doctor ordered.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/18/2011 04:42:00 PM | |
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Under the Bus
Forty-eight hours before the Vols are set to begin play in the NCAA Tournament in an arena they've struggled in and facing clouds of uncertainty about the future of the program, Mike Hamilton goes on the radio and throws Bruce Pearl and the team under the bus.

Yes, there are questions surrounding the future of Pearl at Tennessee. And yes, Tennessee probably needs to resolve those before the NCAA hearing comes around in June (at the very least, it will have a major impact on whether players go pro or not). But the timing of this whole thing just stinks to high heaven.

Instead of the epic battle between Tennessee and Michigan being the story for the game tomorrow, the story will be all about Bruce. CBS probably is loading up their graphics and their commentators are busy getting ready to regurgitate the entire saga again on the off chance that someone from Mars just wandered in and hasn't heard it just yet. It wouldn't shock me to see this distraction and circus, again created by Hamilton, doom the Vols to a one and done in the tourney this year.

And I bet Hamilton will use that as part of the reason cited for dropping Pearl when and if that axe falls.

See, because Hamilton is playing a great game of CYA at this point. Realizing that his fate as AD is tied to Pearl, realizing that he bungled the end of the Fulmer era and realizing that he's responsible for the whole Kiffin fiasco, it's easy to imagine Hamilton feels the heat. It's coming to a slow boil and I think if and when Pearl is let go that serious consideration needs to be given to cleaning house and showing Hamilton the door as AD at the University of Tennessee. As the leader of the athletic department, the responsibility for all of what has gone on rests firmly at his door.

And the fact that he's willing to throw his subordinates under the bus with a big game looming just shows how he's not the leader the UT athletic department needs right now.

I won't jump on the bandwagon and say that we should hire Phil Fulmer as AD if and when Hamilton is shown the door. But I will say it's probably time for a change at the time, regardless of how events with Pearl play out.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/17/2011 12:33:00 PM | |
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Book-A-Holic Frustration
It's that time of the month--the time I get to wrestle with frustration.

What's frustrating me, you wonder.

My local library system. I have nothing against the library system I use. In fact, I'm one of their biggest fans. But every once in a while it frustrates me.

A lot of this stems from a monthly newsletter I receive in my in-box, detailing a half-dozen or so new science-fiction and fantasy novels that are coming into print. Invariably, there's at least one I want to read and I'll click on the helpful "reserve it" link in the newsletter only to find, more often than not, the book isn't available at my library.

I then mutter to myself under my breath and become frustrated.

I've talked to the librarians about this on numerous occasions, asking if there's some way they can get an advance copy of said newsletter and at least have the books on order. Unfortunately, this is not the case. And while I understand the library system doesn't exist only to provide me with the materials I want to read, I still wish if they were going to advertise these new books, they'd at least get them.

And while I know one solution is to keep the newsletter and come back to it a few days or weeks later when the library may have ordered the books, I'm not sure this will work for me. As I learned in classes in school, an impulse buy on a book or magazine can happen within five seconds. These books are impulse books (unless it's an author I regularly read) and often times, I may have forgotten about them days or weeks later. Part of that is entirely my fault, but you when you're a book-a-holic, sometimes you just move on to a different book or books as your next impulse reserve.

Anyway, I figured since I've shared this frustration with friends, family and anyone else who would listen in the real world, this month I'd inflict my rant on the Internet.

I think I feel a bit better.....

But you'd better check on me in a month.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/09/2011 08:32:00 PM | |
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Movie Thoughts: "Piranha (2010)"

When I was in college, one of the weekly syndicated columns in our campus newspaper was movie reviews by Joe Bob Briggs. Briggs yardstick for whether or not to recommend a film was based on several things–the amount of creative deaths and gore included in the film and the amount of naked female flesh displayed on screen.

Joe Bob Briggs would have loved the update of “Piranha.”

Set during spring break, the story (such as it is) finds an under-lake chasm opening up and releasing hundreds of hungry, aggressive piranha into a lake packed with sun worshipers. In just under 90 minutes, you’ll see more blood, gore and topless females than you can shake a stick at.

If you’re the least bit squeamish by creative new ways to kill off people, don’t even bother with this film.

If you’re looking for a total popcorn movie (though I’d recommend you finish eating by the 40-minute mark), “Piranha” is more fun than it has any right to be. Director Alexandre Aja mines a ton of suspense by putting characters into the water and giving us POV shows from the attacking fish. And while I assumed certain characters were safe simply because they were played by “big name” stars, Aja plays with that by unexpectedly killing off those you think are clearly meant to survive the carnage.

This movie isn’t great. It won’t win an Academy Award and it’s probably not one that you ever need to see more than once. But if you’re in the mood for an over-the-top, guilty-pleasure, popcorn horror film full of blood, boobs and hungry fish, you could probably do a lot worse.

Watching the movie at home and without 3-D, it's obvious the film was created to be seen in 3-D. Part of the fun was watching for obvious moments of 3-D use.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/08/2011 02:13:00 PM | |
Monday, March 07, 2011
Book Thought: "We Big Big" by Rick and Bubba
We Be Big: The Mostly True Story of How We Became Rick & BubbaWe Be Big: The Mostly True Story of How We Became Rick & Bubba by Rick Burgess
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over the years, syndicated radio hosts Rick Burgess and Bill "Bubba" Bussey have written books on a variety of subjects from food to hunting to politics to marriage and just about everything else under the sun. But for fans curious about how the self-proclaimed "two sexiest fat men" alive got to the point that they'd have a large enough audience to become one of the biggest syndicated morning radio shows in the country, much less New York Times best-selling authors have been left to piece together the stories from what Rick and Bubba have said on the radio.

That is, until they get their hands on their latest book, "We Be Big," the behind-the-scenes story of how Rick and Bubba became Rick and Bubba. If you're a long time fan of the show, you're probably familiar with some of the details, but maybe you're missing a few essential steps along the way. Rick and Bubba each alternate chapters, revealing bits of their personal history and how it lead to the platform that is the Rick and Bubba show today.

As fans have come to expect, the story is funny, moving and authentic. Rick and Bubba wear their hearts and faith on their sleeve. And while they are able to point out how and why they've been successful, they're also quick to point out stumbles and failures they've experienced along the journey. And in all of this, the duo never lose site of where all the honor for their platform and opportunity really lies--that in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Make no mistake--these two men are sold out followers of Jesus and reading this book will challenge you to become a sold-out follower as well. The book pulls no punches, but it does it in a loving, entertaining and readable manner.

The only thing really missing from this book is the author's usual inclusion of a CD featuring "best of" bits from the show that are chronicled in the book. Hearing Rick and Bubba on radio is the best way to truly understand their appeal, but I can understand why a "best of" CD wasn't included here--there's just simply not enough room on one disc (or even two or three) to include the moments, stories and events chronicled in this book. The good news is they're pretty much all available on previous "Best of" CDs that you can purchase from their web site or via iTunes. (And no, I don't work for Rick and Bubba.)

But what's not missing is the authenticity that the duo shares on the radio. The power of their witness comes across on every page.

Fans of the show will eat this book up like Bubba's favorite goat drop cookies. Those, like me, curious about the evolution of the show will enjoy the first-person perspectives on how these two guys became "the two sexiest fat men alive." If you're not yet a fan of the show, give this book a try. You'll encounter a powerful witness and challenge. And you'll also have some laughs and tears along the way.



posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/07/2011 02:59:00 PM | |
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Thoughts on Charlie Sheen
For someone who's a big television star like Charlie Sheen is, you'd think the guy might have, oh I don't know, watched it a bit more. If he had, he might see how close his life is to imitating art or the second season storyline on Friends where Joey was a big star on Days of Our Lives.

You may recall that Joey made a critical mistake of putting down the writers, leading to the character's exit from the soap opera and the end of Joey's gravy train of success.

The more I hear and see of Charlie Sheen's public self destruction, the more I wonder if he might need to catch that particular episode in syndication and if it might serve as some kind of wake-up call.

Because the guy certainly needs one. He needs some real friends who really care about him and aren't "yes men" who will facilitate his current path of self destruction. At this point, Sheen is so far into the delusion that he's a "god" or "warlord" that I doubt anyone is going to be able to reach him and I wonder how long it will be before he ends up a vegetable from a drug overdose or in the coroner's office.

Sheen is far too in love with himself and his own self worth to be reached, I think. Someone needed to tell him that the reason the cast and crew of Two and a Half Men weren't getting eight paychecks wasn't entirely the fault of CBS and producer Chuck Lorre. A lot of the blame rests firmly at his door. Yes, maybe he could show up and deliver his performances after the raging benders we've all heard about. But it was his commentary and actions that led CBS and Warner Brother execs to call off the rest of the season, something Sheen seems to be blissfully ignoring.

I can only imagine what it might be like on the set should the series move forward without him. At this point, it seems easiest for CBS and Warner Brothers to cut their losses and start collecting residuals for syndication. Apparently in the whole Sheen vs. Lorre battle that Sheen himself has created, Sheen thinks CBS will chose him over the creative mind behind the show these past seven or so seasons. If this were a show where the producer had only one product on the network, I could see that. But with CBS also having The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly also from Lorre, it seems as if Lorre is a more valuable commodity to have in the long run than Sheen.

And it's not like Two and a Half Men is a new show that is going to keep on going for the next decade or so (at least I hope not.) The series has really outgrown its title and, quite frankly, is a shadow of its former self. When it premiered, it was a show that had a certain raunchy factor but it still had a heart at the center of it. Now the show has just gone for all raunch, all the time, while making virtually all the characters completely unlikeable. At the center of it you have Sheen, who is playing a thinly disguised fictional version of himself (as he did when he replaced Michael J. Fox on Spin City).

I will admit I used to like the show. And catching bits and pieces of it in syndication, I'm reminded why I did. It used to make me laugh, heartily, at least once per episode. Not so much these days in the few times I've dropped in this season.

If the show went away, I'm not sure I'd be that upset about it. Certainly at this point, the sad soap opera that is Charlie Sheen is far more entertaining than the show has been of late.

My hope for Sheen is that someone will get through to him before its too late. And instead of his the character of Charlie Harper vanishing, it will be Charlie Sheen's early death we're talking about.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/01/2011 01:20:00 PM | |
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