TV

The Goldbergs: The Most Jewish Show on Television

This show is an example of "melting pot" art from the tail end of the Ellis Island era in popular culture, when the wide variety of accents heard in city streets was reflected on the vaudeville stage, on radio, in comics, and wherever pop culture served the mythology of the mainstream.


The Goldbergs

Distributor: Shout! Factory
Cast: Lilia Skala, Hilda Bruce, Michel Rosenberg, Dora Weissman
Release Date: 2010-03-16
Amazon

In 1949, CBS began broadcasting two heartwarming sitcoms about an older generation of immigrants who spoke heavily accented English while raising their Americanized offspring. Both shows were broadcast live and ran until 1956. One show was Mama (aka I Remember Mama), about a Norwegian-American family. It ran consistently on the same network and achieved such popularity that when it was canceled, public outcry briefly revived it. The other show was The Goldbergs, a phenomenal radio hit whose TV career was rocky, to say the least. Since both shows were live for most of their run, these benchmarks haven't been easily accessible. Thanks to the archival restoration efforts of UCLA, what remains of The Goldbergs can now be seen, 60 years later.

It takes about five minutes of watching any random episode to conclude that there's never been a more Jewish show on television. Then again, for all the Yiddish humor, we don't initially see the Goldbergs observe Jewish holidays, go to temple, or show any signs of living Jewishly -- aside from an almost concealed menorah on the sideboard. At least that's how it seems in the earliest episodes here, but hold the phone. As we get deeper into the series, we go deeper into real Jewish tradition.

The show is an example of "melting pot" art from the tail end of the Ellis Island era in popular culture, when the wide variety of accents heard in city streets was reflected on the vaudeville stage, on radio, in comics, and wherever pop culture served the mythology of the mainstream. In this world, foreigners were amusing but good-hearted people who were just trying to be as American as apple strudel. So who's that hanging on the wall over the piano? Nu, George Washington, the father of mein country, who else? The Goldberg's Jewishness is conveyed in terms of such ethnic humor at the service of Americanism. The comedy, the very identity of the program unreels in heavily accented banter and gestures, full of "nu's" and "so's" and malapropisms and mispronunciations. "Don't put words in my vocabalerry," warns Molly.

Mind you, this show depicts an important side of Jewish life in America, and it was necessary for immigrants to see themselves in pop culture. Still, the more deeply represented Jewishness of the suburban family in the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man, where the plot turns on rabbis and bar mitzvahs, has largely been absent from pop depictions of Jewish Americans ever since Al Jolson told his rabbi father that instead of being a cantor, he wanted to don blackface (like a real American) and be The Jazz Singer in that classic paradigm of assimilation.

Gertrude Berg created, produced and wrote The Goldbergs for radio, where its combo of warmth, simple stories, funny accents, and determined universalism made it a hit. The mythological impetus can be seen in its original title from 1929, The Rise of the Goldbergs. Playing Molly Goldberg, Berg became a rare powerful woman in the industry who controlled her own program. This tremendously popular show ran almost continuously, sometimes on more than one network, through 1945. Twelve radio episodes from the war years are included as bonus MP3s in this set.

The radio series is famous for its catchphrase "Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Bloom!" as Molly hailed her neighbor for a good gossip. Molly discussed her husband Jake, a wedding dress wholesaler, and their thoroughly American kids Sammy and Rosalie, who were hep to the jive. The concept was partly autobiographical with Molly based on Berg's grandmother, Jake on Berg's father, and the kids on her own children. Rosalie can also be seen as a version of Berg herself, the girl who would grow up to mythologize her family, not unlike daughter Katrin in Mama.

According to the website of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, the radio version confronted Jewish problems directly on occasion: "One memorable episode, aired 3 April 1939, invoked Krystallnacht and the worsening situation in Nazi Germany as the Goldberg's Passover Seder was interrupted by a rock thrown through their living room window. Other stories referred to family members or friends trying to escape from Eastern Europe ahead of the Holocaust." Now that's torn from the headlines.

For much of its run, it was a daily 15-minute show on the Columbia Broadcasting System, which branched into the fledgling TV industry. A natural impulse for "radio with pictures" was literally to depict radio's hits. Jack Benny made the transfer with great success, and his program is a fascinatingly alternative template that, to quote a song from Cabaret, doesn't look Jewish at all, and which resurfaced almost intact as Seinfeld, but we digress. When Berg's radio run ended, she refashioned the material into a Broadway hit, Molly and Me, and eventually persuaded CBS to try a TV version.

The TV incarnation began auspiciously. Berg became the first winner of an Emmy for best actress in a comedy. The first three seasons aired on CBS from January 1949 to June 1951. Then the show went off the air in the midst of the Red Scare controversy, thanks to the blacklisting of co-star Philip Loeb. It returned sporadically over three networks and syndication. All but the final season were broadcast live, and therefore most of the episodes are lost. Of the 71 in this set, all that are known to exist, the last 39 comprise the season filmed for syndication. The first 31 are all that's left of six seasons.

Only seven CBS episodes survive, the earliest from August 1949 and the latest from March 1951. They are produced by Worthington Minor and directed by Walter Hart (who did the 1950 movie version), with the last one directed by Matthew Harlib. Berg remains the writer. She was a prolific dynamo comparable to radio's Norman Corwin or TV's Nat Hiken, creator of Sgt. Bilko and Car 54. ("Nat Hiken! The man was a genius!" to quote Zippy the Pinhead.)

The basic situations are very simple, even flimsy. Somebody usually acts on a conclusion that turns out to be wrong, with Molly's meddling either working out or not. "Molly, you're going to leave your finger out of this pie even if I have to put my foot in it," says Jake. The raison d'etre isn't these plots but how they're spun out (some might say padded) with the verbal comedy and character observation that really drives the series, all of which is performed with a combination of broad caricature and the naturalism endemic to live TV. "Not at all," shrieks Mrs. Cramer in her nasal pitch across the airshaft, waving a hand for emphasis, "and if people can't be people in time of an emergency, you don't have to be a person at all, and finished!" If you left out all the gratuitous interplay, the stories would run five minutes.

Mrs. Bloom is referred to but never seen, at least not in the surviving episodes. Each show begins and ends with Molly at her window speaking directly to the audience, signing in and out with a pitch for Sanka coffee and how it has 97 percent of the caffeine removed and the sleep left in. (This was when it also had a picture of what looks like an Arab or Indian in a hooded robe and a beard.) Molly's spiels feel both well-worn and spontaneous, complete with unfinished sentences and repetitions and endless bits of verbal business. She is a mountainous, bosomy woman with large, black, widely-parted hair like a helmet. I assume and hope it's a wig.

As on radio, Molly is surrounded by hubby Jake (Philip Loeb), Uncle David Romain (Eli Mintz), and teens Sammy (Larry Robinson) and Rosie or Rosalie (Arlene "Fuzzy" McQuade). She yells out the window to her neighbors, Mrs. Esther Cramer (Betty Walker) and Mrs. Hermann (Dora Weissman). These two regulars aren't mentioned in the standard reference books, Alex McNeil's Total Television or Brooks & Marsh's The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, but they appear in most of these surviving CBS programs. We're lucky if the closing credits bother to mention anyone else who appears in an episode. Henry Lascoe makes two appearances as the self-centered and grasping Cousin Simon, who at one point stays with them when he thinks he's dying.

The show's charm and intimacy derives partly from its likeable characters and their ingratiating patter, partly from the single setting (we're literally never outside Apt. 3B of 1030 East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx), and partly from a notable absence. This was too early in TV for a studio audience or a laughtrack, and this alone does wonders in allowing the show to breathe and to touch gently on serious emotions. It underlines the show's intimacy and its origins as a serial. I Love Lucy, shot on film, would pioneer both the audience and the "sweetened" laughter. It's not too early for a multi-camera system; at least two cameras are used and possibly three. I Love Lucy often takes credit also for the three-camera system, and that's not completely fair.

We can see in The Goldbergs a quality also visible in another live show produced for CBS by Minor, who was in charge of the network's dramatic programming. On a DVD collection of Studio One episodes, E.G. Marshall notes that Minor's CBS had a house style that he calls subjective, following its characters around with an inquiring camera. He contrasts this with what he calls the objective style of Fred Coe's NBC at the same era.

Although I've observed that Jewish realities don't pop up on these shows, one shouldn't be too hasty from partial evidence. One show opens with exciting news -- Molly has been contacted by relatives in Europe from whom she hasn't heard since before the war. As Jake observes point blank, it's good news just to hear anything at all, and Molly talks about how smart her father was to come here because otherwise where would she be? This touches on truths the series is too discreet to dwell upon but smart enough to acknowledge, after all. Perhaps these are touches observed and appreciated by certain viewers, somewhat like the details of African-American heritage in the corners of The Cosby Show while it was busy being "universal".

These seven episodes constitute our evidence of Loeb's term as Jake. Berg insisted on keeping him and working to clear his name, and the stalemate with the network and sponsor ended the CBS run. According to some sources, Loeb voluntarily left the show and Berg kept him on salary after he was replaced for NBC. Loeb's work dried up and he committed suicide by sleeping pills in 1955. Although the Goldbergs were always praising what a great country their families had moved to from Poland, at least one among them wasn't so well served in the new world.

When the show returned to the air from February to July 1952, it had moved to NBC and was produced and directed by Hart. Formerly a weekly half-hour, it was now a 15-minute show three nights a week. Math tells us this must have yielded more than 60 episodes, of which exactly two survive. Molly now hawks kitchen knives and vitamins. Jake is now played by Harold J. Stone, a prolific TV actor who two decades later appeared in another sitcom with Jewish themes, Bridget Loves Bernie. He seems to have been cast to resemble Loeb, for they both were tall and distinguished, with touches of grey in a full head of hair.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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