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Super Bowl XLV: What to watch instead of the game

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Given everything that's going on for Super Bowl Sunday, it's understandable if you want to skip this one. There's a rich, deep history of counterprogramming against the biggest sporting/TV event of the year for people outside typical sports-fan demographics--I'm putting my dollars behind Booda to take Puppy Bowl VII--but for Minnesotans who actually follow sports and traditionally like to tune in to the Super Bowl, this matchup could be tough to stomach. On the one hand, there's the much-loathed rival Packers, and on the other, there's the Steelers, who many Vikings fans still hold a grudge against for Super Bowl IX. (That, and they've alienated just about every other right-thinking sports fans via the unseemly off-the-field exploits of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.) Throw in a post-game tie-in to the cloyingly awful Fox hit Glee and the even more insufferable Black Eyed Peas taking the stage for the halftime show, and it's likely you might be looking for a different TV-watching agenda for this Sunday. Allow us to help.

[jump] THE GAME: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Miami Heat

 

We admit that finding an actual sporting event to center your day around is tricky if you're skipping the Super Bowl. But despite a lack of standard TV coverage (you'll need an NBA League Pass, a special sports cable package, or a tolerant sports bar to watch this) and an early start time (11 a.m. CST), this game is the closest there is to a must-watch non-gridiron sporting event this Sunday. For a team to root against, you have the freshly-minted evil empire Miami Heat, led by the mercenary, hometown-betraying LeBron James. And for a team to back, there's the perpetual underdog Los Angeles Clippers, drawing more outside-the-market attention than they ever have in their entire franchise history thanks to super-phenomenon Blake Griffin, who seems to play every game like it's a live-action version of NBA Jam. You might want to consider this preparatory research, too--in the event that the NFL's labor woes result in a full-fledged lockout, you'll need another sport to occupy your attention during the long, cold winter.

THE BOMBAST: Destroyed in Seconds

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One thing the NFL media machine excels at is ratcheting up hyperbole--playing up the life-and-death importance and gladiatorial bluster of what would otherwise be an entertaining sports diversion until the drama is disproportionately inflated to ridiculous levels. Naturally, the Discovery Channel is airing their shit-blowin'-up series Destroyed in Seconds directly opposite Super Bowl XLV as a brilliant piece of counterprogramming: If you're going to watch a show with commentator phrases like "a deadly obstacle course" and "not even his parachute can save him," it might as well be one that contains actual footage of real explosions, accidents, and elephant rampages. Maybe it'll stir up some moral qualms you might have against watching a program that turns life-endangering (and life-ending) disasters into lurid entertainment--but then, all those concussed running backs your fantasy league wants to "walk it off" might have something to say about that, too.

THE HALFTIME: Wild Style

So the will.i.am pop-rap juggernaut of low-impact, strip-mall hip-house is extending its candy-ass robo-tentacles across the NFL landscape in the final culmination of hip hop's big moment of spotlit compromise. Meanwhile, Kool Herc's laid up with kidney stones and can't afford surgery. Now would be a good time to revisit the music as it existed back when party rocking didn't require dumbing down and big-time spectacle meant tracksuits and a graf-art backdrop instead of whatever the hell this is. Charlie Ahearn's 1983 docu-drama Wild Style is still one of the most beloved old-school hip hop films, an essential look into the roots of the scene through some of its early titans of DJing (Grandmaster Flash), MCing (The Cold Crush Brothers), b-boying (The Rock Steady Crew), and graffiti (Lee Quinones). And now that dance-friendly disco-rap with good-time lyrics is an inescapable wedding-DJ standard, you might as well listen to it in its best form.

THE WRAPUP: "Lisa the Greek"

This episode of The Simpsons aired at the height of the show's greatness back in '92, when its Thursday slot placed it a few days before Super Bowl XXVI. The plot's one of those storylines that perfectly balances family pathos and high-concept satire: Lisa bonds with Homer after they both discover how uncanny she is at predicting the outcomes of NFL games, until she becomes disillusioned at how she's being used to help Homer win gambling money. In the process, there's plenty of opportunity for the show to lampoon football's violence (a pre-game graphic depicts a player decapitating an opponent with a clothesline), its commentator gimmickry ("The man who's right 52% of the time, Smooth Jimmy Apollo"), its more obsessed devotees (a cutaway to a freezing fan in nothing but a g-string and body paint of his team's colors), and its dopey spectacle (Bart, confronted with a lame halftime show: "Come on, snipers, where are you?"). "Lisa the Greek" became infamous for Lisa's accurate Super Bowl prediction, even in reruns--redubbing her prediction of the game's Bills-defeating victor from Washington to Dallas, which held true for Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII--but it's also one of the best all-around satires of football culture ever made for TV.

THE POSTGAME: Homicide: Life on the Street

From the early '80s to the mid '90s, the post-Super Bowl slot was traditionally used to showcase pilots and debut episodes of new series in the hopes that fans who were already comfortable on their couches and disinclined to channel-surf would be treated to a new favorite series. Some of these were successes (The Wonder Years; The A-Team), some of them were dismal, short-lived failures (Police Academy knockoff/Adam West vehicle The Last Precinct), but one of them changed an entire genre for the better. Homicide: Life on the Street helped turn the police procedural from a feel-good cops'n'robbers action romp to a dramatic, true-to-life examination of conflict, inter-department squabbling, and disillusionment in a major metropolitan area's detective unit. It lagged in the ratings, but it won enough awards and caught enough attention from the right places to get a new lease on life. And after its seventh-season run ended, it left a clear path for writer/producer David Simon's uncompromising successor, The Wire.

THE FINISHING TOUCH: Boat Trip

We know: This movie is terrible. It's filled with lots of lowbrow jokes at the expense of gays and women, all meant to reinforce the idea of macho hey-brah lunkheadedness as the best way for men to get laid and therefore be fulfilled as human beings. It's one of the most widely-panned comedies of the last 10 years, it's embarrassing, it's stupid, and it's insulting. But you've got to compensate for not getting to watch any of those hyped-up Super Bowl beer commercials somehow, right?