TV

At the Intersection of Boob and Tube: The Bud-Sponsored Letdown of The Independent Television Festiv

Jodie Janella Horn

Our fearless writer gets to the ever-retreating bottom of the Independent Television Festival and several free beers.

I believe in free beer. I believe this very, very deeply. I believe this as deeply as some people believe in Jesus or Xenu. It is my right, nay, my duty as a citizen of Los Angeles to consume as much free beer as humanly possible, so as a general rule, I will attend any event sponsored by a beer company with zeal and diligence.

With this in mind, I attended the Budweiser-sponsored inaugural Independent Television Festival at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood and caught a smattering of independently produced pilots over the course of three days. While not exactly a star-studded event, it did provide me with countless bottles of beer, a few meals, and a newfound appreciation of the network system.

A proper Red Carpet Gala kicked off the festival, complete with the ass-sniffing that makes Los Angeles turn. The un-famous had a designated swath of carpet about the size of an ice cream truck on which to display the poses that they had been practicing in the mirror since childhood. A Z-list actress barked into her phone, "Babe! Can it wait? I'm on the carpet!" Another, vaguely familiar actor, swirled his baby in the air while scanning for a photographer to capture this display of ardent parental love.

The ITV Fest was birthed by A.J. Tesler, a 25-year-old actor best known for a couple of episodes of Gilmore Girls in order to provide an a showcase for pilots produced out of the studio system. He was inspired in part by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a show created and written by its actors that got its home on FX with a pilot shot on a camcorder.

Tesler, apparently the owner of a huge pair of brass balls, first shot two different pilots on his own dime and then created a festival to showcase them, pitching in his own money to make it happen. He's on to something with the festival idea; and the timing is perfect. With high-quality camcorders and professional editing software now available to any wannabe with an itch to create a TV show, frustrated unemployed actors can create their own vehicles.

Recent events have primed network executives for accepting a more democratic model of television creation. Public displays of network idiocy, like the cancellation of Family Guy which had the potential to be a big hit when not inhibited by the marketing doofs at Fox, have created opportunities for non-traditional avenues onto television. The WB passed on Nobody's Watching, which has since gone on to be watched nearly half a million times on YouTube. Recently NBC, eager to get somebody, anybody, to watch their network, decided to order a few scripts of Nobody's Watching. It will likely be a mid-season replacement for whatever mediocre three-camera sitcom tanks first.

The internet now serves to call out television on every one of its teeny tiny mistakes such as the suspiciously modern washer and dryer in Lost's hatch or inconsistencies in Buffy's stunt double's breast size. It's catching the big mistakes too, like passing on Heat Vision and Jack,, a 1999 pilot starring then semi-unknowns Jack Black and Owen Wilson that has now been viewed on YouTube over 340,000 times. Networks do a great job of selecting programming, except when it comes to the coveted 18-25 demographic, particularly the fellas. The Internet, however, is excellent at providing entertainment for this abstruse swath of the population. Ergo, the networks are finding sites like YouTube and MySpace indispensable for figuring out how to tap the ass of the most desirable demographic in America.

I know that Los Angeles is full of untapped talent that, if used properly, can prevent anything like Joey from ever happening again. However, I was disappointed with most of the shows screened at ITV Fest. I don't think being derivative is death to a TV show, but I expected outsiders to bring something new to the table. Most of the shows I saw were either shitty versions of existing TV shows or well-done shows that are exactly like what would be produced in the studio system.

Tesler created, wrote, and directed Saves the Day, a sitcom pilot about a smart-ass high school kid who "saves the day" every week with the help of a motley gang of friends. I too once enjoyed Parker Lewis Can't Lose, (synchronize watches!) but I can't see any reason why we need a new, unfunny version. And no, making Parker black is not a big enough change to necessitate a new show. Just… no. Please don't tarnish my good memories of those terrible shirts.

His second pilot, co-created with Tesler's fiancé, actress Jenny Starnes, and is almost as terrible. Reno 911 is funny because the people who make it are really, really hilarious; best of the best; champions of comedy. Not just anyone can do an improvised comedy well. There's nothing wrong with the scenario of a clueless mayoral candidate and his crackpot team fumbling a campaign, but there's also nothing wrong with writing some jokes in when they don't occur under improvisational terms. Then there's just being funny in the first place.

However, Tesler is involved in a third pilot that is actually pretty good. Almost Funny, written by comedian Dan Levy and festival co-organizer Steve Basilone, follows Levy as he does stand-up comedy in crappy locales. The premise seems flat, but it was well written and funny. A.J. Tesler stars as R.J. Tesler, a shitty comedian. He, um, plays the part well, showing that the ability to provide me with ample free beer and bottles of Costco-brand waters does not necessarily coincide with the ability to create great TV.

After enjoying the beer soaked company of Charlie Getter and Chad Xavier at the opening Gala, I was excited to see their pilot, Promosexual. It's home improvement "reality" show starring sculptor slash fame-whore, Marque Cornblatt, that follows the basic format of any home improvement show, but adds and unneeded false reality show motif. The first problem is that Cornblatt's renovations involve dumpster-diving and as little actual purchasing as possible. I love this, but advertisers will hate it.

The second problem is that it is a scripted show performed by non-actors that is meant to appear as reality. They pretend that the recipient of their renovations is unwilling, and that they must break into his apartment and then they pretend that they found a huge sex toy in his home. This is all overlaying a fake conflict with the show's producer and Cornblatt's struggles while creating and promoting the show. Deconstructionism is awesome, but not when it gets in the way of me learning how to make a rad fish tank mirror.

It was purely by accident that I caught the screening of Meet Tom Kramer, a reality show that follows a formerly-successful rehab patient as he tries to seeks out other men with his name to find out who is by meeting who he is not. It's similar to Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days, but hysterically funny. Tom Kramer, once the youngest member of the Directors Guild and now a gentile residing in a Hassidic sober living facility in Los Angeles, manages to pull off self-deprecating and misanthropic humor while being downright cuddly.

Once I was several beers down drunk-bitch creek, I happened to meet the director of Meet Tom Kramer, Rachael Pihlaja, "Seriously. No, no, no seriously," I slurred on her, "Can you, like, sell the show to some network? I like, really think Tom Kramer is awesome." Clearly impressed with my eloquence and the brilliance of my scheme to sell the show that she had come to the festival to sell, she offered to do her best. However, neither she nor I had seen any of the much mythologized programming executives at the festival. Rumor has it that folks from NBC, CBS, MTV and Comedy Central were present, but I was never able to visually confirm this.

I wanted the point of ITV Fest to be the unveiling of creativity that had been previously smothered by humorless network execs, but the real point was young, un-employed actors making lousy showcases for their undeveloped, but not non-existent, talents. I'm not certain that Tesler achieved much more than getting me drunk in exchange for seeing his name in pixels, as print media wouldn't touch this Z-list affair with a pole. While watching the shows I lamented the lack of professional editing that resulted in miserably slow-paced comedy, directing that could get me involved in character-motivated dramas, and ideas that will be sustainable over many seasons. As much as I love the idea of indie, these are things that are purchased with money or earned with experience.

If the Emmys are the red haired stepchild of the Oscars, then the ITV Fest is the retarded second-cousin of Sundance. I love what Tesler and company are trying to do and I think that the shoddiness of most of the shows at the first ITV Fest merely provide a lot of room for improvement for future festivals. Next year I would like to see more innovative shows, decent editing, and a better beer sponsor. And if the festival wants to get into the big leagues, I would like to suggest they recruit either a heartier domestic like Fat Tire or a solid foreign lager like Spaten. Budweiser is for amateurs.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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