TV

'Arrow': Today's Preferred Superhero, Self-Righteous and Rich

Traumatized and well worked out, Ollie takes aim at smug one-percenters.


Arrow

Airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm ET
Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson,
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: The CW
Director: David Nutter
Air date: 2012-10-10
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"The abduction was unexpected," observes Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), after he's escaped it by smashing a few heads and sending his kidnappers to the hospital. "It forced me to move up my plans. The man with the green hood was there and he's just beginning."

Such awkward phrasing might actually be appropriate for Ollie at this point. He's just arrived back in Starling City, following five years cast away, alone, on an island. During those years, you learn very quickly at the start of Arrow, this callow young fellow has learned not only to survive all manner of weather or privation, but he has also spent long, hard hours working out, climbing trees, and practicing parkour.

He's also been refining a superheroic persona, featuring that green hood. And in this adaptation of DC Comics' Green Arrow, Ollie's first appearance on screen -- all fast-cut point of view shots and hectic close-ups -- indicates that he's a brilliant athlete and scamperer on rocky cliffs, instantly capable of hailing the Chinese fishing boat that accidentally heads his way -- this hailing by way of arrows and a bit of fire he sparks with his knife in a second, combined to make an explosive bonfire on the beach, all ready and waiting for his about-to-be-rescuers.

It's an ingenious first two minutes of a series premiere, actiony and exciting and legible enough. From here, Ollie is restored pretty much instantly to his rightful-heirish place in the mansion inhabited by his Moira (Susanna Thompson) and sister Thea (Willa Holland), not to mention Walter (Colin Salmon), mom's boyfriend and erstwhile number two at Ollie's dad's company.

Ollie's insta-resentment of Walter underscores that his father (Jamey Sheridan) is missing, thus leading to expository (but still rather hectic) flashbacks, showing how father and son were on a party boat that went down in a storm, that dad made sure Ollie would endure by making him promise to "right my wrongs" and giving him a list of names just before shooting himself -- spectacularly -- in the head.

This bit of trauma sticks with Ollie.

It leaves him seeming a little at odds with himself. Depending on the scene, he's sullen or slick, grumpy or glib, and mostly inelegant. He beats up the bodyguard his mother assigns him, he shows frustration that his sister has followed him into a rebellious debauchery, and he's not at all caught up on what's happened since he disappeared, though his best friend Tommy (Colin Donnell) does his best to help, listing Super Bowl winners and noting the US has elected its first black president.

Still, Ollie remains out of place, distrustful when his mother assigns him a "babysitter" (a burly Afghanistan war veteran nicknamed Dig [David Ramsey]) and feeling guilty about his ex-girlfriend Laurel (Katie Cassidy), because, on the night his party boat sank, Ollie was bedding her sister on board, and, more trauma, the sister died. Now a lawyer at the local legal aid office, Laurel is plainly a Good Girl, and so Ollie determines to put her off. "You're looking at me, wondering if that island changed me somehow, if it made me a better person," he tells her. "It didn’t. Stay away from me, otherwise I'm just going to hurt you again." The camera cuts from his sternish face to her stunned one, as she is utterly unable to interpret his inelegance.

It's the sort of logic that drives and defines superheroes, compounded by the whole secret identity business. When Ollie moves out of his mom's house (Where, she points out a little creepily, she's left his bedroom exactly as it was five years ago, even though she thought he was dead) and into his father's abandoned warehouse. Here he hunches over a desk he stocks with the latest and greatest computers and other surveillance and gadget-making machinery. You know, because you have access to Ollie's frequently cryptic voiceover, that he means to use the Arrow disguise to right his dad's wrongs, by targeting dad's old colleagues, whose "crimes go deeper than fraud and theft."

Even as you might ponder what that can mean, Ollie sets to more training in his deeply shadowed warehouse, borrowing from The Dark Knight by inverting the lighting scheme of Superman's Fortress of Solitude (helpful, as Arrow means to fill in the void left by Smallville). Like Bruce Wayne, Ollie's an unhappy billionaire, looking to repair what his socioeconomic class has more or less wrecked. This leads him into the troubles usually facing comic book heroes, as he's intent on his self-appointed vengeance mission and less focused on the people around him, except as they serve as adversaries.

In Arrow, these include thugs and bullies as well as his dad's smug one-percenter cohorts and also the cops who have no idea what's going on. Like Chris Nolan's Batman, Ollie embodies the dilemma of the rich guy with loads of guilt, over being rich and also over being stereotypically rich. With five years of harsh-weather exile behind him, Ollie seems ripe for redemption, especially if he can manage it by serial brutal beatdowns. In this he is not like the farmboy Clark Kent, but instead embodies today's preferred superhero model, the outraged rich guy, claiming poor people's grievances and moral ground, living an austere though not deprived life, and lording over all foes his new clear-eyed vision of justice and self-righteousness. It helps that he's in the city, too, being prone to parkour.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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