Archive | January, 2012

Spring 2012 Review: Touch

31 Jan

I admit I came into Touch with a bias, but I don’t think it was an unfair bias.  Unlike Alcatraz and The River’s premises, which sound interesting to me, Touch’s didn’t really.  I also may have less fairly brought bias against Tim Kring, the creator of Touch and of Heroes, who I still feel bitter towards while watching for Heroes, but I did my best to avoid taking that into my review of the show.

Touch is the story of an autistic boy and his father.  The father, Martin Bohn, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is a former journalist whose primary occupation nowadays is taking care of his son, and he has cycled through dozens of menial jobs to provide.  He’s facing crisis after crisis with his son, Jake, who hasn’t uttered a word in his life, and does things like climb up cell phone towers, but who also writes down lots of MEANINGFUL NUMBERS.  Martin’s wife and Jake’s father died in the September 11 attacks, giving the show completely UNNCESSARY 9/11 OVERTONES, one of my biggest pet peeves in stories and shows about New York.  Yes, 9/11 was a seminal event in New York history and yes, it can be used in a very powerful way to tell stories, and many times it has been.  However, at least as many times, it’s kind of been shoved in peripherally in stories that take place in New York to add extra free gravitas.  The story is suddenly a lot more dramatic because it somehow relates to 9/11!

Anyway, moving on.  So, Martin struggles to control his kid, and in the first episode, a social worker comes to temporarily take him away and openly questions whether Martin is up to the task of taking care of such a difficult child.  Martin, who realizes that Jake is gifted in certain areas, is starting to see meaning or patterns in the numbers Jake writes down.  He struggles to figure out their purpose, and eventually visits Danny Glover, an outside-the-system specialist on children with gift’s like Jake’s, who gives Martin some advice.  Basically, he tells Martin, in this episode and every commercial for the show, that Jake is able to see patterns that run throughout the world that the rest of us can’t, and it’s Martin’s job to interpret the patterns which Jake spits out like a robot.  Martin follows the numbers, and eventually realizes that through a series of planned or unplanned coincidences the trail his son set him upon eventually leads to the saving of a bus full of schoolchildren.  The social worker eventually comes to believe this too after Jake performs his magic on her, writing out her mom’s phone number which he could have no way of knowing.

The other plot involves three people across the globe, a call center employee in England who dreams about being a singer, an English restaurant supply salesman with a dead daughter on the road in Japan, and a teenager in Iraq who wants to be a comedian.  These three through a series of cell phone calls from the salesman’s lost phone, which contained the only copies of some pictures of his daughter, connect and somehow make each of their lives better.  The only relation this plot has to the Martin plot is that Martin, in his job as a baggage handler, picks up the phone at the beginning before forgetting about it as it goes on a plane to the UK.

Oh, yeah, and mute Jake narrates the show, and gives us big meaningful lessons about how everyone is connected but how we non-autistic people can’t see it.

I didn’t really care for the show at all, but I don’t tend to like just about any show where the main messages are about fate and all being connected and which seem to attribute GREATER MEANING to all sorts of random connections.  The show played on some fairly cheap emotion that didn’t feel earned at all.  I don’t think an autistic kid spitting out brilliant numerical patterns which can save the world is compelling.  I loved Kiefer Sutherland in 24, so it’s unfortunate but it’s back to the drawing board for the next great supernatural show.

Also, interesting fact of the day:  Kiefer’s full name is Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland.  Fantastic.

Will I watch it again?  No, I don’t think so.  I didn’t find the concept particularly interesting and the show itself certainly didn’t win me over.  I think a couple of fundamental tweaks with the concept could actually make the show significantly more interesting, but from the first episode at least it seemed like the show make a number of poor choices.

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Ads Watch: Toyota Camry – Kelly Clarkson

30 Jan

As Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger races to the top of the charts, the song is prominently featured in a Toyota commercial in which Clarkson and three other luminaries in different fields enter a Toyota Camry located in a warehouse of some sort.  Clarkson, in the driver’s seat, hits a button on the dashboard screen and Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) starts playing, and the passengers and Clarkson all begin dancing to the song.

This commercial is remarkable for one reason and one reason only.  There is absolutely no common thread I can find between the four people who sit in the car, singing along, in this ad.*  I have no idea whether there’s one demographic which all four are supposed to cater to, or whether the makers of the car have figured that through these four people the can get at, by one way or another, every potential demographic.

*Well, I’ve solved at least part of the explanation by actually watching the full minute long commercial.  What airs most often is an abbreviated version of the commercial in which the four people simply get into the car and start dancing..  In the full commercial, each member of “The Crew,” as the commercial is titled gets a full screen featuring him or her and what he or she represents.  Still, I think these particular choices are interesting/strange enough to warrant discussion.

Let’s break down the four passengers of the car.

Chris Berman – ESPN personality, SportsCenter host, known for his inane nicknames and his constant bossing around of Tom Jackson

Seat location:  Front passenger seat

Commercial description:  “Get Sports Scores”

Identifiabily rating:  High – if ESPN, as a network, over the course of its over 30 years has a face, it’s Chris Berman.  While others have come and go, Chris Berman still has his face all over the network, and all over Monday Night Football, one of the most popular sports programs there is.

Dancing enthusiasm rank:  3 – Moves his hands up and down a couple of times, turns his head side to side, at one point appears to look behind him to see how much the guys in the back are dancing

James Lipton – Host of Inside the Actor’s Studio on Bravo, where he interviews celebrities

Seat location: Rear driver’s side

Commercial description: “Buy Movie Tickets”

Identifiabily rating:  Medium – Lipton was at his most famous 10 years ago when Will Ferrell was doing a recurring bit on Saturday Night Live as Lipton.  Now, many people still probably recognize him, but his moment has passed

Dancing enthusiasm rank:  4 – He slowly moves his head back and forth about every five seconds, approximately two and a half times in the initial dancing scene, though I can’t blame him because as I just learned (which blew my mind), that Lipton is 85.  I still don’t believe that.

Andrew Zimmern – Host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods

Seat location: Rear passenger’s side

Commercial description: “Make Restaurant Reservations”

Identifiabily rating: Low – he hosts Bizarre Foods on Travel Channel.  It’s certainly a reasonably popular Travel Channel program, but that’s all it is, a reasonably popular Travel Channel program.  Anyone serious about watching a lot of food TV probably recognizes him, but otherwise, unlikely.  On Travel Channel Q ratings even, he probably ranks somewhere after Anthony Bourdain and the guy who unhealthily stuffs himself from Man vs. Food (Adam Richman).

Dancing enthusiasm rank: 2 – Even though unlike Berman, he displays no hand movements whatsoever, he’s all in with his head, bopping around and appearing far more generally enthusiastic than the other guys.

Kelly Clarkson – Singer, first American Idol winner who has charted ten top 10 hits

Seat location: Driver

Commercial description: “Stream Music”

Identifiabily rating: High – Clarkson and Berman vie with each other for the spot of most famous person on this list, depending on gender and age demographics.  Clarkson has managed to avoid fading away, coming up with a hit or two off every album, and currently has the #2 song in the country with the song from this commercial.

Dancing enthusiasm rank: 1 – unsurprising, as she is the musician in the group and it is her song they’re all lip-syncing to.  She moves her whole body back and forth, moves her arms around, and even manages to use her hands while driving.

Top Songs and Albums of 2011

28 Jan

Yes, this is a TV blog.  But it’s a Saturday so readers get bonus music coverage with a quick look at my top songs and albums of 2011.

You can listen to my top 40 songs at 8tracks.

Top 40 songs of 2011

1.  The Weeknd – The Morning

2.  The Smith Westerns – Weekend

3.  Cults – Abducted                                                                               .

4.  The Drums – Money

5.  EMA – California

6. Tune-yards – Bizness

7. Girls – Honey Bunny

8. Martin Solveig feat. Dragonette – Hello

9.  Metronomy – The Look

10.  Lykke Li – Love Out of Lust

11.  Kanye West – All of the Lights

12. Drake – Headlines

13.  Avril Lavigne – What the Hell

14.  Katy B – Katy On A Mission

15.  Yuck – Shook Down

16. The Wombats – Tokyo (Vampires and Werewolves)

17.  WU LYF – Spitting Blood

18.  Fountains of Wayne – The Summer Place

19.  Telekinesis – I Cannot Love You

20.  Avicii – Levels

21.  Dawes – If I Wanted Someone

22.  John Maus – Head for the Country

23.  Wiz Khalifa – Black and Yellow

24.  Dum Dum Girls – Bedroom Eyes

25.  Childish Gambino – Fire Fly

26.  Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks

27.  The Joy Formidable – I Don’t Want To See You Like This

28.  Dev – In the Dark

29.  Karen O with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Immigrant Song

30.  Kelly Rowland feat. Lil Wayne – Motivation

31.  LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett and Goonrock – Party Rock Anthem

32.  The Black Keys – Lonely Boy

33.  Selena Gomez and the Scene – Bang Bang Bang

34.  Rihanna – S&M

35.  The Antlers – I Don’t Want Love

36.  Cut Copy – Need You Now

37.  Nicki Minaj – Super Bass

38.  Elbow – Lippy Kids

39.  Chris Brown – She Ain’t You

40.  Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx – I’ll Take Care Of You

Top 30 Albums

1. Cults – Cults

2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

3. Tune-yards – W H O K I L L

4. The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Thursday

5. Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines

6. Katy B – On a Mission

7. Drake – Take Care

8. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

9. Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams

10. Yuck – Yuck

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – It’s a Corporate World

12. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

13. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

14. Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes

15. The Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

16. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

17. Washed Out – Within and Without

18. Friendly Fires – Pala

19. Childish Gambino – Camp

20. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

21.  Cut Copy – Zonoscope

22. WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

23. Metronomy – The English Riviera

24. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra

25. Beirut – The Rip Tide

26. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

27.  Selena Gomez and the Scene – When the Sun Goes Down

28.  Real Estate – Days

29.  The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

30.  Destroyer – Kaputt

Spring 2012 Review: The Finder

27 Jan

The Finder, a spin off from the Fox’s Bones from the same creator, should really be (like Bones as well, from what I know of it) on USA.  (disclaimer: I have embarrassingly never seen a full episode of Bones, so what I know about it is mostly taken from what I’ve read on wikipedia and what I’ve seen from snippets from accidentally leaving TNT on after Law & Order is over.  I hope to remedy this, but it hasn’t happened yet)  It has every aspect of a USA show down pat.

First, a short description of The Finder.  The titular finder is Walter Sherman, a former major in the military who was discharged after serious brain surgery.  He seems mostly all right, surprisingly, after this brain injury, but it has left him ( or kept the same, it’s unclear what changed after the inury) with a preternatural gift for finding things, or people, and any things or people, but it has also left him with some mental problems, including, friends worry, a possible breakdown if he can’t find something he’s looking for, which is his single-minded obsession.

He resides at a bar in the Florida Keys with best friend and lawyer Leo Knox (portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan) where he waits for clients to show up asking for something to be found.  In the beginning of the first episode, he finds a guitar for John Fogerty (good get, he sings Fortunate Son, and the theme song) and the body and story behind a deceased air force member’s disappearance for his son who comes in looking for him.  Rounding out the character list are Willa Monday, a gypsy and small time teenage criminal who is out on probation working at the bar (it shows how terrible I am at determining age, as I thought the actress who plays Monday, Maddie Hasson, had to be in her early 20s, but she just turned 17) and Deputy U.S. Marshall Isabel Zambada, with whom Walter seems to have a friendly and romantic relationship.  Walter and Zambada also appear to help each other on occasion professionally.

Now, The Finder as it relates to the USA prototype.  A two-fer main team sets it up right next to Psych, White Collar, and Royal Pains (and actually Sherlock, not on USA, as well).  Like all three of these shows, The Finder has a main character who has extraordinary skills, not quite supernatural, but far above the abilities of a regular person.  The second main character is responsible for harnessing these abilities, making sure they are used in the best way possible.  The Finder, likes these other shows, contains traces of slight darkness, just so we don’t get too happy, that we could have to deal with over the course of the show, such as Walter’s potential mental imbalance (actually Psych doesn’t have that at all, it’s mostly just comedy, but for White Collar it would be the constant concern Neil will turn back to his criminal lifestyle).  These shows also feel like they’re on mood medication – there’s no unrestrained highs or lows, and because of the lack of lows in particular, the highs aren’t necessarily as high.  The same factor that makes these shows so easy to watch a random episode of is what makes them not draw you in and captivate you enough to watch every single episode in order (even though I do for a couple of them, so hypocritical of me, but the point stands).  It makes them good, but makes it difficult for them to be great.

Will I watch it again?  Honestly, probably I won’t in any sort of regular fashion, but I don’t have any real objection to it.  The premise is not a bad twist on every other show exactly like this and I like Michael Clarke Duncan.  I didn’t not enjoy watching the episode, I just don’t necessarily feel compelled to come back.  Could be ideal watching when I don’t really want to pay attention to something, or when it hits its fifth season and starts having Sunday TNT marathons.

Spring 2012 Review: Alcatraz

26 Jan

Alcatraz is based on the supernatural premise that right about the time super prison in San Francisco bay Alcatraz was supposed to close, every prisoner disappeared instead of being transferred to other prisons.  These prisoners have started reappearing in San Francisco in the current day at the same age they would have been in 1963.  Main character and homicide detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) is solving a homicide which leads her to Alcatraz, and to a nerdy PhD who specializes in all things Alcatraz named Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia, or Lost’s Hurley).  The two of them briefly meet up with her “uncle” who was a guard at Alcatraz (played by Robert Forster), and eventually run into the paths of FBI agents Emerson Hauser (played by Sam Neill)  and Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra), who seem to already know about the return of the prisoner from Alcatraz.  Eventually they round up the inmate, and the FBI invites Madson and Soto to help out with the upcoming appearances of other former Alcatraz inmates in modern day San Francisco.  However, they’ll be on a need to know basis – it seems as if the FBI has a lot of secrets they’re not telling about why and how these inmates are coming back and who is behind it all.

We learn a couple of titbits in the two hour pilot which go toward these mysteries (the first two episodes were aired back to back).  First, Madsen believes originally that her grandfather was a guard at Alcatraz, and learns both that her grandfather was actually a prisoner, and moreso that her grandfather, also back at the same age he was in 1963, was responsible for the death of her partner, which happens in the first minute of the pilot (her partner falls off a roof as she tries to help in what has to be a homage to all-time great San Francisco film Vertigo).  We also learn that Hauser’s partner Banerjee hasn’t aged since the 1963s, like the escaped criminals.

Alcatraz is produced by J.J. Abrams, and comes with the imprimatur of some of the people who brought us Lost.  Like Lost, Alcatraz deals with the supernatural, and time travel in particular, along with big questions which leave the viewer waiting for answers which hopefully come sometime down the line.  Lost, however, started with a much larger story, was initially much more ambitious (I don’t mean that as a good or bad thing), and had a much larger cast.  Lost additionally had virtually no procedural aspect.

Although I haven’t watched Fringe, Alcatraz has a lot more in common initially with X-Files and with what I imagine Fringe to be about than Lost.  There’s a largely procedural element, a monster of the week, so to speak (inmate of the week in this case).  There’s also an ongoing long-term story which involves some shady super secret government organization which knows a lot more than anybody else about the mysterious circumstances, in this case, the disappearance and reappearance of Alcatraz inmates.

I appreciate that I know I’m in for the supernatural up front, and I don’t feel like the scope will continue to grow exponentially from season to season, compared to Lost, which is the upside of a more limited ambition.  Unfortunately, I also don’t find it nearly as intriguing as Lost from the first episode, though maybe, considering how I felt about Lost by the end, that’s a good thing also.  The show already has fallen into the cop cliche pile several times and while these cliches are so ubiquitous that I have learned to tolerate them well enough, it’s hard for a police-based show to be great without at least starting to break away from the most basic, such as the cop who cares too much, the cop who works best as a loner, and others.

The X-Files was an excellent show that became spotty and inconsistent, and a show in which the monster of the week or freak episodes were better than the long-term plot or myth episodes.  I’ve heard with Fringe the opposite is true, that the running plot episodes are better.  If this show can live up to the better-than-average if not great standards of these two shows, it will probably be at least a relatively enjoyable show if not a great one.

Will I watch it again?  I might.  I wasn’t blown away, but it was intriguing enough and I’m hungering for new shows to follow, particularly large mystery shows even though I know I’m likely to get hurt in the end.  After Luck, this is so far the second best new show, but I think there’s a fair distance between the two at the moment.

Spring 2012 Review: Napoleon Dynamite

25 Jan

Most humor isn’t novel, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s writing and acting that pulls it off.  Exact jokes word for word aren’t the same, but there are types of jokes, that are classics for a reason and can even transcend different types of movies and television series.  What pick and rolls are to basketball, these jokes are to comedy; everyone writing a comedy should know how to run these and they can go back to these tried and true jokes even when other attempts aren’t working.  Other animated series like The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad all work on these.

I noted a couple of classic joke types that were used in Napoleon Dynamite as I was watching the show that absolutely can work, but don’t.  For example, at one point, Napoleon is using an acne cream to eliminate a case of particularly disfiguring acne.  The acne cream has a list of potential side effects, parodying the type of side effects that appear on all sorts of drugs, and they are ridiculous.  This is supposed to be funny because of how ridiculous the particular side effects are, both in and of themselves, and compared to the fact that the medication is only an acne cream.  This is a tried and true type of joke and no one pulls it off better than Stephen Colbert.  In a regular Colbert Report feature, Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, Colbert frequent introduces products by his fake sponsor Prescott Pharmaceuticals, with all manner of ridiculous side effects, including autonomous nipple, wandering genital syndrome, and brain tooth.  I almost never fail to laugh at these side effects.  But when Napoleon Dynamite reads the side effects, it’s not funny.  The particular side effects aren’t that amusing, nor is the way he reads it.

There’s a couple of other examples of this.  One is a fake initial joke; use a series of initials as a shorthand in a conversation and then when another character asks what the initials stand for, the person who uses the shorthand reveals it, which is hopefully funny, because the initials stand for something ridiculous or particularly unlikely.  Napoleon Dynamite attempts this, but it’s done poorly.  Another example is the shows attempt at a Chuck E. Cheese style band of animitronic animals singing.  This should be funny.  The Simpsons did a classic version with the animals of Wall E. Weasel singing “You’re the birthday, you’re the birthday, you’re the birthday boy or girl.”  It’s hilarious.  Napoleon Dynamite’s “Taking Care of Pizza” misses the mark.

If I had to order the problems with this show, and there are several, the top might just be Napoleon’s voice and inflection.  The way he says things is irritating and not funny.  The writing certainly doesn’t help, but he basically challenges any humor on the show to get through the handicap of his annoying voice.

The other question is to ask here is – Why?  Why make this into a show, a few years after the movie was such a break-out hit?  There’s just no reason for this show’s existence.  It almost feels like side characters are forced into the first episode, as if to say, all of your favorite characters from the movie are back!  Rex is back (who can believe they were able to get Diedrich Bader on board?) for some reason in a scene!

I remember why I thought the movie was very overrated, but even that was better than this.  Maybe some of the jokes worked once, but not again.  Maybe the movie was slightly better planned out than any individual episode.  Maybe some of Napaleon’s idiotic mannerisms played better in person than they do as a cartoon.  Still, going down from the movie isn’t a good sign.

Will I watch it again?  No.  It’s bad.  Napoleon Dynamite, like Allen Gregory, is the type of show which should be appealing to me as an audience but misses its mark completely.  In fact, I’d actually say, from the first episode at least, Allen Gregory was slightly less worse, though the margin is close enough that watching more episodes could change it.  Still, Napoleon’s incredibly irritating voice is probably what sends Napoleon Dynamite below Allen Gregory.

Power Rankings: Firefly, Part 2

24 Jan

Part 2 of our Firefly Power Rankings.  Part 1 can be found over here.

4.  Alan Tudyk (as Hoban “Wash” Washbourne) – The year after Firefly ended, Tudyk appeared as Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball: An Underdog Story.  Next he was in I, Robot, Death at a Funeral, 3:10 toYuma, and Knocked Up as Katherine Heigl’s boss.  He was in episodes of Arrested Development, as Pastor Veal, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.  He was in three episodes of V and four of Dollhouse. He’s been a voice actor, voicing characters in Ice Age; The Meltdown, Astro Boy, and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, as well as in cartoons Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice, American Dad, and Family Guy and video game Halo 3.  He appeared in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and now appears in the main cast of successful first year ABC sitcom Suburgatory.

3.  Morena Baccarin (as Inara Serra) – She had a vocal role in three episodes of Justice League as Black Canary and appeared in three episodes of The O.C.  She was in single episodes of Kitchen Confidential, How I Met Your Mother, Justice and Las Vegas.  She appeared in six episodes of Stargate SG-1 season 10 as primary antagonist Adria.  She co-starred in TNT Treat Williams-led one season hospital drama Heartland.  She appeared in individual episodes of Dirt, Numb3rs, Medium, The Deep End, and The Mentalist.  She starred in two season ‘80s remake V on ABC as villainous alien and primarily antagonist Anna.  Her most recent role is starring in Showtime smash new series Homeland as Jessica Brody, the wife of longtime prisoner of war inIraq, Nicolas Brody.  I almost put Baccarin second because of Homeland, but changed my mind.  Still, it gets her third over Tudyk.

2.  Gina Torres (as Zoe Washburne) – She was in two episodes of The Guardian and in Matrix Revolutions (she was in the other two as well, but they came out before Firefly was done).  She appeared in seven episodes of 24 as Julie Milliken, wife of an important donor to President Palmer’s campaign, who had an affair with Palmer’s brother Wayne.  She appeared in a vocal capacity in six episodes of Justice League as Vixen.  She was in two episodes of The Shield, one of Without a Trace, and three of Alias, reprising a character she had played before Firefly.  She was the titular wife in I Think I Love My Wife.  She co-starred in one season Standoff on Fox aside Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt.  She was, over the next few years, in single episodes of Boston Legal, Bones, Pushing Daisies, The Unit, Drop Dead Diva, The Vampire Diaries, and The Boondocks.  She was in two episodes of Dirty Sexy Money, Eli Stone, Flash Forward and Gossip Girl.  She was in ten episodes of ABC Family’s Huge as a director of a camp for overweight kids and voiced Airachnid in the current Transformers: Prime animated series.  She’s currently co-starring in USA’s Suits as a lawyer and boss of main character Harvey Specter.

1.  Nathan Fillion – Immediately after Firefly’s end, Fillion was a recurring character on Alicia Silverstone one season sitcom Miss Match.  He was in two Justice League episodes as the voice of Vigilante.  He was in a flashback episode of Lost as a fiancé of Kate’s.  He got a second attempt at starring in a series in Fox’s Drive, but the show lasted a mere 6 episodes.  Fillion appeared in Waitress and in two episodes of One Life to Live.  He showed up in 11 episodes of Desperate Housewives as Dana Delany’s character’s ex-husband.  In 2008, he co-starred in internet production Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog by Joss Whedon.  He lent his voice to three episodes of Robot Chicken.  He got his now biggest role in 2009, with the debut of ABC’s Castle, now in its third season, and already renewed for a fourth.  Fillion has also voiced characters in several video games, including Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, and Jade Empire.  Playing the titular character in a successful show that has run longer than anyone else from Fifefly’s (well, except Adam Baldwin’s Chuck) gets him the top position.