TV

Archer: A Perfect Satire of Modern America

The funniest show on TV, FX's cartoon Archer, skewers the mentality of today's "Masters of the Universe" on Wall Street.

At one point in the FX cartoon Archer, Lana, a co-worker of the titular character, snaps at him: “I’m sick of you getting the best assignments just because your mother’s the boss. Do you know what that’s like?”

His reply: “Besides awesome?”

The funniest show on TV, Archer is about the dysfunctional private spy agency ISIS, run by the mother of the protagonist. Her son, Sterling, is an impeccably dressed spy with expert-level fire-arms ability, a drinking habit and a sociopath's disregard for the feelings of anyone around him: think if James Bond looked like Don Draper and acted like George W. Bush.

In the pilot, he has to break into the ISIS mainframe to alter his business account: he had been running up a massive bill jet-setting around the world with a series of high-class prostitutes.

In a series of anecdotes told in Family Guy fashion, we find out that he dumped his personal butler’s entire wardrobe out the window for improperly poaching his egg, impregnated his maid and paid for her abortion three different times and brazenly cheated on Lana when they were together.

ISIS, a satire of the omnipotent agencies typically found in spy movies, barely functions at all. The other main characters -- Cyril, the nebbish accountant, Pam, the gossiping HR executive and Carol, the slutty secretary -- are too busy wrapped in their own petty personal dramas to do much actual work.

Archer, oblivious and impossibly vain, succeeds mostly in spite of himself. He has the casual arrogance of someone who has been given everything his entire life; no matter how often he side-tracks a mission by hitting on hostesses, needling Lana and fretting about his wardrobe, he figures it will work out eventually.

A graduate of an elite prep school, Archer is a stereotypical member of the WASP elite.

A hundred years ago, a kind of “nobless oblige” mentality existed amongst similar scions of American families who graduated from schools like Exeter and then Harvard. FDR, born in 1882, attended Groton, whose headmaster preached that Christians had the duty to help the less fortunate and enter public service.

But as the Ivy league slowly changed from aristocratic to meritocratic institutions, with test scores replacing family connections as the key to admittance, a different kind of elite was created. They didn’t feel like they owed the common people anything; after all, since they had “earned” their place on top of society, they deserved the fruits of their labor. Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, which preached that most of society was free-loading off the cognitive elite and would fall apart without them, appealed to their vanity; instead of going into public service, they flocked towards Wall Street.

Sterling Archer is a pitch-perfect satire of this mentality: a man who could save the world but chooses not to. When his co-workers strike for a living wage, he is completely unmoved, refusing to give up any of his bonus to “the drones”. He takes particular delight in provoking confrontations with the hapless Cyril, a classic beta male who Lana takes up with to spite Archer after their break-up.

Imagine if the average American told a Goldman Sachs trader: “I’m sick of bailing out the financial markets to the tune of trillions of dollars while the economy falters. Do you know what’s that like?”

They’d probably shrug and respond with something along the lines of, “Besides awesome?”

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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