Reviews

Blossom: Seasons 1 & 2

Sarah Hentges
Mayim Bialik, Marcie Leeds

Without hammering home a moral lesson, Blossom was able to address issues like economic hardship, drug abuse, and sex in real, often clever ways.


Blossom

Distributor: Shout! Factory
Cast: Mayim Bialik, Jenna von Oÿ, Joey Lawrence, Ted Wass, Michael Stoyanov, Bernard Hughes
Network: NBC
First date: 1991
US Release Date: 2009-01-27
Amazon

Despite growing up watching Punky Brewster, to see a network TV show focused around a girl and her world in 1991 was a novelty for me. Even more novel is the fact that Blossom dealt with a variety of social issues in a very real way and featured two girls who were not your typical blond, blue-eyed TV stars. Because many might remember Blossom for Joey Lawrence and his “whoa”, we might forget the ways in which this show brought us stories about a quirky, intelligent, likeable, struggling girl. Without the DVDs, it might be difficult to remember how groundbreaking and truly enjoyable this show was—and still is.

We might remember, or try to forget, the big hair, high pants, or purple cowboy boots of Blossom’s world, and this DVD set brings us there. But it also brings us straight talk about sex, family, drugs, peer pressure, and divorce. Blossom’s father is a single-parent after her mother takes off for Paris, an element that is a source of struggle for Blossom but not an act that is outright condemned by the characters or the show. With her father, Nick (Wass), a sometimes struggling musician who writes jingles to support his family, her oldest brother, Anthony (Stoyanov), a recovering alcoholic struggling to find himself and stay sober, her “dumb” but endearing brother Joey (Lawrence) whose primary interests include sex and sports, and a “sex-crazed” grandpa (Hughes), Blossom and her family provide a way of discussing issues that was unusual for its time.

Without hammering home a moral lesson, Blossom was able to address issues like economic hardship, drug abuse, and sex in real, often clever ways. As much as Blossom and her family were comfortably middle class, they also sometimes struggled to make ends meet, like on episode 25, “This Old House”, when the family faces the prospect of losing their house when Nick can’t make a balloon payment or episode 26, “It’s a Marginal Life”, when Nick has trouble providing for his family around the holidays. And in episode 29, “Three O’Clock And All Is Hell”, Blossom is paired up for a class assignment with “juvenile delinquent”, Lou, who shows her just how privileged she is when they have to come up with a budget for a family of four and he knows all the tricks.

In addition, issues about “broken families” are handled without moralizing the “broken” aspects, as when Nick starts dating (episode 3) and Blossom has to deal with it, or when the kids make a video letter for their mother’s birthday (episode 31) and the show ends with us watching the video’s conclusion before the camera pans back to show the back of Blossom’s mother’s head, which cocks to an angle of sad reflection just before the credits roll.

But more than these issues of economics and families, Blossom tackles the issues surrounding drugs and sex in a way that other shows of the time didn’t. In fact, within the first few seconds of episode one, “Blossom Blossoms”, Blossom is buying tampons and trying to deal with becoming a woman without a mother in the house. And in several episodes, like episode 17, “I’m with the Band”, Blossom and best friend, Six (von Oÿ), discuss whether or not they would every “mess with” their hormones and take the pill and Blossom concludes that if she got pregnant she would tell her father she was pregnant but wouldn’t tell him she had sex.

Episode 16, “The Joint”, begins with oldest brother Anthony, a recovering drug addict, frying up an egg for Joey and repeating that famous line, “This is your brain on drugs” to which Joey questions whether he might get his eggs scrambled. Blossom and Six discuss whether they should or should not try the joint as an experiment in a way that brings up many of the controversies surrounding marijuana without being preachy or judgmental. The episode concludes with real, open conversation between father, daughter, and son(s) about drug use that goes beyond the “Just Say No” rhetoric of the times.

And so while it might seem that von Oÿ’s commentary that Blossom tackled “ground breaking issues equivalent to Ellen coming out of the closet on television” might seem like a bit of an overstatement, Blossom was ahead of its time in its frank discussions of sex and drugs.

While at times the episodes feel like one joke after another, perhaps emphasized by the live studio audience laughter, the show is clever, funny, and a refreshing portrayal of a girl’s coming of age experience. In addition, all of the guest stars, popular figures of the time—Will Smith, Salt-N-Pepa, Neil Patrick Harris, Alf, Rhea Perlman, Estelle Getty, and Tori Spelling, as well as icons like Little Richard and Don King—remind us not just of Blossom, but the entire era of TV sitcoms during the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The DVD extras make this DVD set even more valuable than the episodes themselves, not only because of the insights provided by the creator and executive producer Don Reo, and actors Mayim Bialik, Jenna von Oÿ, and Joey Lawrence, but also because of the context that these features bring to the moments captured by Blossom. In one feature Reo mentions that the original series idea was based around a boy with a hip musician father, and while the network (NBC) suggested the idea of centering the story around a girl instead, the network executives were not quite prepared for what Reo and his team brought to the network, and to television more generally.

For example, when Phylicia Rashad appears in the first episode as a mother figure who gives Blossom a demonstration of the facts of life by decorating a cake, the censors threatened not to show the scene. Perhaps because of the cost of Rashad’s cameo, or the fact that Blossom’s premiere followed The Cosby Show, this scene did air and established Blossom as a show that was not afraid to talk about girls getting their period, getting to second base, or experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Because of these issues, the show was also presented as a “very special” episode of Blossom in the days before TV ratings were all the craze. And the DVD of seasons one and two plays with this categorization by offering the features: “A Very Special Show”, “A Very Special Friendship”, and “A Very Special Style”.

Because Blossom was known for her quirky style, and because both Blossom and Six “brought back” the popularity of hats, “A Very Special Style” is an interesting look at the ideas of costume designer, Sherry Thompson, who made Blossom her doll, according to Bialik. Because Blossom did not have a mother setting the guidelines for appropriate dress, Thompson imagined a quirky style for Blossom that fit with her family and setting and allowed her to be an individual. Thus, Thompson uses a lot of vintage clothing—before vintage was “cool”—and ethnic clothing and patterns just as, she notes, people in the US were beginning to look around at what the rest of the world had to offer.

In addition to these “very special” features, Blossom: Seasons One & Two includes the original pilot and episode commentaries for several shows including my personal favorite, episode 22, “Blossom—A Rockumentary”, a playful show modeled after Madonna’s Truth or Dare. For those of us who watched Blossom as teens and pre-teens, the commentary by Bialik, von Oÿ, and Lawrence, who are now still our age, is a fun dimension and having creator, writer, and executive producer, Don Reo’s commentary there to remind the “kids” of what they forgot or didn’t know complements their re-discoveries well.

In his commentary and interviews, Reo notes more than once the “savant-like” talent and “bizarre gift” that these young actors had that really set them apart from other “child” actors. In fact, at one point in the first episode Six remarks to Blossom, “sometimes you’re so much like an adult it’s scary.” And this is one of the most powerful aspects of the show. The writing is sophisticated and clever and lets the teenage characters be teens with a kind of adult maturity.

Sure, Blossom and Six discuss sex and the possibility of pregnancy, drug use, and other topics in very informed, adult ways but they still struggle with the challenges that most teens face. Reo envisioned a story like Catcher in the Rye, a modern-day Holden Caulfield, and lucky for us, that character came in the form of a “slightly angst-filled” girl on a show that tried to “find the humor in serious situations”, as Reo puts it. Blossom is a diamond in the rough, often awkward, always shining and Blossom: Seasons One & Two is a gem for its originality and impact. And it is just as entertaining today as it was 18 years ago.

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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