Reviews

Do You Love or Hate Zooey Deschanel? 'New Girl: The Complete First Season'

Being focused on Jess, the whole show takes on a seemingly passive-aggressive defiant position by saying: This is who I am, take me or leave me.


New Girl: The Complete First Season

Distributor: Fox
Cast: Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, Lamorne Morris
Release date: 2012-10-02
Amazon

Zooey Deschanel is an acquired taste. From her status as the reigning Queen of Twee due to her stints in the indie band She and Him, to her scene-stealing parts in horrendous movies (Failure to Launch anyone?), people either love her or truly despise her. Those who love her envy the character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer, and wish Zooey would kick their proverbial asses in love. Those against her think she’s responsible for the deifying of the Etsy/DIY culture and blame her for making hipsters become mainstream. Yet even those who dislike her, can’t help but fall, at least once, for those big blue eyes, the batting of the eyelashes and the bows and bright colors that make Zooey who she is.

In fact, there’s an episode of New Girl dedicated precisely to these mixed feelings. In episode 11, “Jess and Julia”, a cynical lawyer played by Lizzie Caplan tries to get Jess (Deschanel) out of paying for a traffic ticket but ends up wanting to punch her for going through life by knitting and playing cute, because this is not how grown ups live... However by the end of the episode she’s been slightly won over by Jess’ behavior because, well, there’s only one of them in the equation who’s bitter. This episode pretty much sums up the feeling of watching New Girl for the first time.

The pilot establishes Jessica Day is exactly who we imagine Zooey Deschanel to be: a lovely woman, with more quirks than there are stars in the sky, the kind who comes up with theme songs to describe her current emotional state. We first meet Jess after she breaks up with her boyfriend and arrives at the apartment of three single men who reluctantly take her in as their new roommate. The guys, of course, have distinctive personalities that will clash/compliment with Jess’ own behavior. Nick (Jake Johnson) is a law school dropout who works as a bartender and spends the day obsessing about his ex-girlfriend, Schmidt is an office clerk in love with himself and Winston (Lamorne Morris) is a former basketball player returning to the States after a stint in Eastern Europe.

The show quickly establishes itself as a regular post-Friends sitcom in which a group of 30-somethingsgrow up together, give each other advice and conjure weird sexual tension (the main apartment in the show has one bathroom where all characters interact together at some point). What makes New Girl different -- and something that arguably takes a lot of episodes to realize -- is that it lacks any kind of cynicism. Being focused on Jess, the whole show takes on a seemingly passive-aggressive defiant position by saying: this is who I am, take me or leave me.

However, there's nothing truly defiant, or passive-aggressive about the show. Any ill feelings are direct projections of the audience that has trouble believing a character like Jessica Day is real. Strangely enough, there haven’t been many accusations of the show as being misogynistic, when it can be argued that Jess is an idealized woman; a Madon-nerd/whore figure, if you will, who embodies innocence with almost animalistic sexuality (episode 8, for example, explores Jess’ odd sexuality while highlighting Deschanel’s unconventional sex appeal).

What remains true about the show is that in Jess’ somewhat delusional behavior there is a primitive wisdom our society has ignored in favor of over-thinking everything. There's something particularly clever about the way in which Jess embraces the good -- and especially the bad.

Her character’s maturity goes beyond that of her roommates without ever becoming overpowering. We understand that Jessica’s choice to remain “delusional” in a chaotic world might be the biggest revolution to a female TV character’s sexual empowerment since Carrie Bradshaw published her first column in Sex and the City. Jess grows as a human in each episode, and Deschanel portrays her with enough bubbliness and pathos to make us root for her search for happiness.

The show’s title might not make sense at first, because there’s only so far you can go around carrying the adjective “new”; however, it never meant to be just about her being the new roommate. The word “new” suggests that she is a woman reborn every time she wants to be; a creature who constantly adapts and evolves in order to survive.

The three-disc DVD set of the complete first season includes all 24 episodes with three of them featuring commentary from the cast and crew. The set is rounded up by a series of regular featurettes including one about the costumes, the writing and one featuring Lamorne’s audition tapes. Other extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes and extended scenes with never before seen jokes. Overall the set is worthy for any fan of the show.

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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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