Reviews

24: Season 2

Cynthia Fuchs

'This is a red meat show. People kill people and go eat a sandwich right after.'


24

Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Dennis Haysbert, Sarah Wynter, Carlos Bernard, Reiko Aylesworth, Michelle Forbes, Sarah Clarke, Elisha Cuthbert, Penny Johnson Jerald, Xander Berkeley, Laura Harris, Phillip Rhys, Sarah Gilbert, Donnie Keshawarz, Francesco Quinn
Subtitle: Season 2
Network: Fox
Display Artist: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
Creator: Joel Surnow
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2003-09-09
Last date: 2003
Amazon
Jack, I don't have to remind you that the last time I let you interrogate somebody, you shot him through the heart.
-- George Mason (Xander Berkeley), "1-2am"

That's basically our show in a nutshell... you struggle to get to the phone and all circuits are busy.
-- Joel Surnow, Commentary track on "3-4am"

You Americans.
-- Yusuf Auda (Donnie Keshawarz), "10-11pm"

"I'm always amazed to see it come together. Because so many times, you're so close to it that it doesn't seem like it's going to be very good." If you've seen even a couple of episodes of Fox's "real time" series 24, you likely won't be surprised to hear that Carlos Bernard, who plays Tony Almeida, has a sense of humor and humility. Still, it's entertaining to hear him yuk it up with costars Sarah Wynter (who plays hapless but incredibly gritty bystander Kate Warner) and Michelle Forbes (Presidential Assistant Lynne Kresge), as they watch the fourth episode ("11am-12pm") for Fox's second season DVD collection.

Over the 45 minutes, the three remark on one another's good or bad hair, enthuse about their camera people and writers, call star Kiefer Sutherland "the Keifernator," and joke about the show's lapses into convention ("Look at this guy with his arm!" Bernard giggles when he spots corny behavior by a victim of the explosion at CTU [Counter Terrorism Unit], at whose offices much of the show is set). From the sounds of it, they actually like working on this show.

And no wonder. The series not only takes on a timely subject -- ongoing and organized terrorist threats against the U.S., this season set in L.A., where a nuclear bomb is set to explode -- but it also treats its performers with unusual care, granting them unusually lengthy onscreen minutes in which to build characters. Indeed, it is somewhat amazing," to borrow Bernard's term, to consider that the show commences production each season with only six or so episodes written, that the confluence of events and storylines is only imagined late in the season, that the actors don't exactly know who will survive or not; on one of the DVD set's documentaries, a casting director says she tells agents wondering about character arcs, "If you don't die, you can come back." Still, it does "come together" and make for compelling tv, and despite the Perils of Kim (Elisha Cuthbert).

The new DVD set is certainly well outfitted (especially compared to the notoriously no-frills first season), with commentary tracks on six episodes (some more engaged than others), and a seventh disc with two documentaries, "On The Button: The Destruction Of CTU" (in which FX Coordinator Stan Blackwell dryly observes, "You don't want too much Styrofoam flying when you do an explosion, 'cause it's so light. Nothing ruins a frame more than one piece of fluttering concrete coming down like a leaf"); and a two-part documentary, "24 Exposed," about the making of the final two episodes (with a focus on the shootout and fighting between Jack and an array of feisty villains).

This in addition to 49 deleted scenes and alternate takes, and the original extended version season premiere, which remains excellent, even on repeated viewing: the moment when Jack, sullen and short-tempered following his wife's murder last season, shoots that slimy suspect point blank in the chest is seriously disconcerting. As George Mason (Xander Berkley) looks on, appropriately aghast, Jack instructs him, "That's the problem with people like you, George. You want results, but you never want to get your hands dirty... I'm gonna need a hacksaw." (As producer Joel Surnow pronounces, "This is a red meat show. People kill people and go eat a sandwich right after.")

The season had much to live up to, given that the first was critically lauded, but took some time to gather a broad audience (this process including the repurposing of episodes on Fox's sister network, FX, such that 24 was available to view, for a few months anyway, repeatedly (though not nearly so often as the Law & Order behemoth or Seinfeld reruns, for that matter). Jack's transformation from morally upright hard worker to singular angry ex-agent is efficiently conveyed in the first episode, "8am-9am," as he appears, "inactive," walking away from the camera in a split screen, next to Tony walking toward the camera. Grizzled, flannel-shirted, and stalking his daughter, Jack's still suffering from the traumatic events 18 months earlier, but NSA calls him in anyway, as he's the only guy with a remote chance to respond usefully to a "domestic terrorist alert," a nuclear device timed to go off within 24 hours. Of course he's the only guy. He's Jack Bauer.

The "domestic" aspect of this terror always works across boundaries in 24 -- the private and public domains are continually collapsing here. As Forbes notes, "Read it on paper, and you expect it to be like heightened melodrama," but, between Jack's job at CTU (however reluctantly he returns to it) and the extraordinary/daily crises faced by President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), the series neatly inserts imminent, global catastrophes. As Forbes notes, the directors work this line repeatedly and unusually, for television: "Here," she says, "they let the camera rest on all of these characters' faces, and they let their eyes speak what isn't being said." It's a productive way to exploit tv close-ups, as well as these particular actors, all great faces. (As director Jon Cassar puts it during his commentary, "It's all about the faces, the looks, the raised eyebrows. We don't need the visual eye candy that other shows have").

This season's plot, as Sutherland notes in "24 Exposed," runs more or less (and often uncomfortably) parallel to current headlines, except, as the politically outspoken Sutherland offers, "Our show is about trying to stop a war; our country, unfortunately, is at war." During shooting (much of it in Toronto), cast and crew were only too aware of these correspondences ("It was just hitting a little too close to home," says Forbes), and the series made its own (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) assessments of the wrong-headedness of U.S. administration policies.

Such assessments are most plainly realized in the terrorist plot, in which Second Wave, a group "officially not recognized by any of the Middle Eastern States," threatens to explode a bomb in downtown L.A. This sucks in everyone at the office, including Paula (Sara Gilbert, who is terrific) and Michelle (equally sharp Reiko Aylesworth), who brilliantly juggles her part in the ticking bomb plot, her daughterish relation to George, and her growing attraction to self-interested Tony.

The series also handles politics in a slightly offset way, for instance, in the supposed wedding between pert Marie Warner (Laura Harris, currently making charming trouble in Dead Like Me) and Reza Naiyeer (Phillip Rhys), the latter introduced speaking Arabic on his cell while speeding along in his red convertible, that is, just asking to be profiled by viewers, up until the point that he walks up behind his fiancée accompanied by vaguely menacing music. Wynter says in her commentary, "I think it was really gutsy for [the terrorist] to turn out not to be [Reza], but my very white, very blond, very privileged, very cheerleading kind of sister." (At which point Bernard adds, if only he knew she was a cheerleader, Tony "woulda been mackin' on her.")

Other commentaries include the one over "3-4am," by Sutherland and Surnow, which solicits my favorite comment of the whole package, from Sutherland: watching a series of images sans Jack: "When I look at these scenes, it's just other people, other people, other people, just waiting for Jack" (he hurries to declare this a joke, in case you're wondering). Another commentary, for "1pm-2pm," features Cassar (who directed 10 episodes this year) and Sarah Clarke, who plays Nina (to file under gossipy trivia, she is recently married to the terrific Xander Berkley, whom she met on last year's set). Like everyone else, they discuss their affection for the series structure (Clarke likes "the constant storylines coming at you") as well as the episode in which Jack first confronts Nina (murderer of his wife), specifically, the smart use of surveillance monitors and window or doorframes to mark the tension and confusion caused by her re-appearance at CTU. "It's like two fighters," Clarke says, watching Jack and Nina square off in a sequence of unnerving close-ups, "Round after round."

The season's other brilliant return belongs to Sheri (Penny Johnson Jerald), with machinations as sinister as before. This complex, powerful woman can do anything, it's clear, the ethical and emotional arrangements in her own mind are always breathtakingly focused on her relationship to that man she loves. At the same time, Sheri is part of the show's commitment to intelligent and politicized casting; watching a scene with characters of color, Johnson Jerald notes during her commentary track, "This is the beauty of 24 here, in terms of casting. I enjoy it when I see people who look like me and look like other people and represent the full spectrum of people, without making a big deal out of it."

Definitely less well rounded, much like last season, Kim's annoying storyline stumbles from calamity to calamity. Again, she's caught up in serial dangers, so that her box is always about to break out into chaos: dashing about in her tight little top, she's always in dire need of Jack's help (that said, she does eventually come into her own, and proves wholly capable of the sort of "red meat" violence for which her father is infamous). Still, she tends to distract him from whatever latest international fire he's forced to put out (as Johnson Jerald says, "Look at the difference between Dennis and Kiefer, just in terms of the manly look. You have this clean-cut, very Presidential man with power, and then this rugged look of this man who's going to save the day). Working as a nanny for a little girl whose father is abusing her, Kim escapes with the help of her gorgeous beau Miguel (pop star Innis Casey), runs right into the arms of hard-charging head case Kevin Dillon, then has to deal with the apparent fact that her father is playing Slim Pickens on a nuclear warhead. Again, he's the only guy. He's Jack Bauer.

As Jack careens from mishap to tragedy, he's set off against the President, who behaves in the noblest manner imaginable, no matter what disasters head his way. Haysbert describes his performance this way: "I live in a world where there are no accidents." It's an apt way of looking at the responsibility Palmer shoulders (Haysbert says he models the character on Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Colin Powell, and does his best, even off set, to seem a role model; "My personal belief," he says in his incredible voice, "Is that I have to maintain a certain footing."

Leave it to Sheri to see though this gallant posture, as when she confronts Jack with his own only guyness, his lonely absolutism, in the final episode, "7-8am." "You're a very impressive man, Jack, but you see everything as either good or bad, just like David. And the world is so much more complicated than that." 24 appreciates these complications, even if it might wish Jack is right. It reveals dangers from within the U.S. administration (emerging from corruption and ineptitude equally), from within the perfect Southern Californian family, from within those "corporate interests" propped up by government policies. It also gives you a hero, but he's mad about it.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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