Reviews

'Raising Hope': I Want People to Look at Me Differently

Virginia, played by the incomparable Martha Plimpton, can be downright poignant. She works as a maid, a job that hasn't exactly sweetened her on life.

Raising Hope

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Lucas Neff, Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Shannon Woodward, Cloris Leachman
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Fox
Director: Michael Fresco
Air date: 2010-09-21
Website
Trailer
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Lately, friends have been sending me pictures from People of Walmart, showing tacky people in revolting attire shopping. I've also received pictures of "hillbilly 'riggins,'" ingeniously simplistic solutions to common problems, such as using a clothes hanger as a chandelier or poking holes in a soda bottle and attaching a hose to make a lawn sprinkler.

White trash culture holds a strange and enduring fascination for Americans. Many might point to The Jerry Springer Show as a starting point for such interest, but the truth is, U.S. audiences have long been fascinated by tacky "others." On TV, we've laughed at the down-home Darlings of The Andy Griffith Show, the fish out of water in The Beverly Hillbillies, the mercurial wisdom on display in My Name is Earl. We've watched them battle big city corruption (The Dukes of Hazzard), alien attacks ("The Invaders" episode of Twilight Zone), even invasions by city folk (Green Acres).

Most frequently, these character types -- short on money but even shorter on education -- are objects of ridicule. The sitcom framework surely encourages disdain and distance: ain't it funny that Granny thinks a croquet ball is a giant egg? Occasionally, however, rubes can resonate with viewers who don't consider themselves as such, when they're portrayed in a sympathetic way, dealing with issues and concerns similar to those affecting most viewers. We may still laugh at Granny's misunderstandings, but we also come to know her as a fiercely proud and self-sufficient woman who will go to any length to protect her family.

The Chance family of Raising Hope follows in the footsteps of previous "white trash" TV characters -- alternately horrifying and sympathetic. It's clear from the opening scenes of Raising Hope that the Chances are immature and naïve, regardless of age, and that son Jimmy (Lucas Fell) is as clueless a young man as can be found in the history of television. A single parent at the age of 25, he's predictably unprepared for the experience. His own parents are of little help; in fact, his cynical mother Virginia (Martha Plimpton) encourages him to dump the kid off at the local fire station, in hopes that someone might pick it up.

How Jimmy becomes a single parent comprises the plot of the series' premiere episode. Initially, Jimmy is a lost soul, looking for some meaning in his life, although he is easily distracted from his quest for meaning. After quitting his job with the pool and lawn service owned by his dad Burt (Garret Dillahunt), Jimmy goes home and sits down to map out his future. Hours later, all he has produced is a wonderful picture fit for a DC graphic novel.

Jimmy's world changes when he meets Lucy (Bijou Phillips), whom he believes he is rescuing from a dangerous predator. When he learns that Lucy has actually killed her boyfriend, Jimmy looksboth hurt and naïve. His mother, on the other hand, is wise and unflappable. The scene in which Virginia "captures" the dangerous Lucy is one of the comic highlights of the year, while also revealing her resourcefulness. Soon, the criminal is in prison, carrying Jimmy's baby, and shortly thereafter, Jimmy finds himself with a six-month-old to parent.

At this point, we're worried for the child's welfare, as the show has set up these adults as an inept, reckless, and mostly unhappy lot. Then, when the baby, named Princess Beyonce by her mother, keeps the family up all night, Virginia and Burt show their true parenting skills. Even to the end of the premiere episode, Virginia pushes the firehouse idea, but Jimmy wants to keep his daughter, telling his mom, "I'm sick of people looking at me like I have no purpose." Thus, the family finds that they will be raising the newly renamed Hope. It might sound like one of those "Awww" moments of so many family sitcoms; however, this scene isn't a "happy ending" to the episode. It's clear that the Chances are fully cognizant that their lives are about to change forever,

In addition to having a new child, Jimmy also has a potential new love interest, Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), the check-out girl at the local supermarket who helps him see more clearly via her own sarcastic and wry observations. Sabrina provides the episode with some of its laugh-out-loud moments, but the humor doesn’t ridicule the Chance clan as much as it illuminates each member's personality. For instance, flashbacks to Virginia and Burt as new parents amuse, but they also illustrate how inexperienced they were. Their concern about Jimmy raising a child comes from a personal understanding of the unique challenges awaiting him.

As it walks a line between between mockery and compassion, Raising Hope most obviously evokes a comparison with creator Gregory Thomas Garcia's last series, My Name is Earl. In the new show, however, the players are more believable and less caricatured (save for the dottering character of Maw Maw [Cloris Leachman], who walks around in her bra and French-kisses Jimmy, thinking he's her late husband). Virginia, played by the incomparable Plimpton, works as a maid, a job that hasn't exactly sweetened her on life. When Jimmy quits his job, believing there must be more to life than skimming the same pool repeatedly, she observes, "There isn't," just before she admonishes her coworkers who are impatient to get to the job. "You do realize," she tells them, "We're going to clean toilets." In Virginia's cynicism, we see Jimmy's future; without a purpose and direction, he may become as bitter as his mother.

We do, in fact, laugh at Jimmy's ignorance, most notably displayed in the "I threw up on the baby" scene featured in previews (but honestly, who hasn't wanted to throw up when changing a baby's diaper?) When we laugh at him, though, it is because we are sympathetic to his inexperience. Many of the things Hope endures in her first day with the Chances illicit gasps, but Jimmy's love for his daughter is always apparent, and that helps us root for Jimmy and Hope.

8

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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