Reviews

Crossing Jordan: Season 1

B.J. Carter

This star-vehicle about a dysfunctional forensic pathologist, alas, doesn’t burn too brightly.


Crossing Jordan

Distributor: Universal
Cast: Jill Hennessy, Miguel Ferrer, Steve Valentine, Ravi Kapoor, Kathryn Hahn, Jerry O’Connell, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Ken Howard
Network: NBC
First date: 2001
US Release Date: 2008-05-06
Amazon

Lauded for her subtle but compelling work as A.D.A. Claire Kincaid on the original Law & Order series, news that Jill Hennessy would headline a new crime drama for NBC in 2001 would have caused quite a buzz. After toiling away in obscurity following Law & Order, it seemed she would finally get an opportunity to flex her acting muscles.

The first season of Crossing Jordan, Tim Kring’s crime melodrama, afforded no such opportunity. The first 23 episodes of this show, which made a surprising six-year run, are anything but subtle or compelling. Struggling to find its identity, this early incarnation is an uneasy balance of crime-lab inanity, procedural, and sitcom.

The pilot episode introduces us to Jordan Cavanaugh (Hennessy), a forensic pathologist who has lost her job in the Boston medical examiner’s office. Feisty and uncompromising, Jordan’s frequent encroachment on police investigations got her expelled from the autopsy table and into court-ordered anger management training in L.A. When an old friend, Dr. Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer), offers her a chance at redemption, she jumps right back in to her old job -- and old crime-solving habits.

Right away, the pilot introduces a host of glaring issues. First, as far as title characters go, Jordan is too transparent to hold our attention for more than a few episodes. Like countless other television heroines, she is rough around just the right edges -- temperamental, crass, driven, sexy, and self-righteous. The problem is, she comes off as a list of adjectives pitched to a Hollywood executive rather than a believable character worth spending time with. Her abrasiveness is so calculated that it nullifies any chance of unpredictable behavior, a quality which could have, at the very least, made her alluring.

Even the show’s attempts to add depth to her characterization go no more than surface-deep. We learn early on that her mother’s unsolved murder is the impetus for her career passion and that her father (Ken Howard) was a Boston police detective who used to bring his work home—literally. He and Jordan used to engage in role-playing to solve grizzly homicides when she was only 12-years-old. This revelation is supposed to be an endearing facet of their father-daughter relationship but is instead disturbing on a number of easily surmised levels.

Furthermore, the re-enactments of the crimes are so haphazard, all blurred motion and voice-over narration, it makes us wish they didn’t even bother. At times, we get the impression that the show’s creators began to regret the device, as well. The re-enactments seem to get increasingly shorter as the season goes along, with Jordan only appearing in some of them, as though the writers could not figure out how to navigate their own clumsy device.

The show dedicates a significant amount of energy to light humor that is supposed to make us comfortable rather than laugh, and to that end it succeeds. Jordan and her teammates, Drs. Trey Sanders (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), Bug (Ravi Kapoor), and Nigel Townsend (Steve Valentine) spend much of their time attempting gallows humor, trading dull quips, and aggressively flirting. None of the actors are skilled enough to elevate this material to a level of more than passing engagement, and so these scenes drift on by without making much of an impression. Like the characters themselves, really. There is also a half-hearted subplot involving Macy and his assistant Lily Lebowski (Kathryn Hahn) that is simply distracting.

The show does forecast signs of improvement, beginning with the introduction of Detective Woody Hoyt (Jerry O’Connell) in the episode “Wrong Place, Wrong Time”. Hoyt is fairly clueless, even for a television cop, but O’Connell plays him with an affable harmlessness that makes him the most outright likeable character on the show. When he has self-conscious, flirtatious exchanges with Hennessy’s Jordan, they are convincingly awkward; many of the strained looks and stammered lines from the other actors feel stagy.

Hennessy, too, steps up her game by toning it down as the season winds to a close. Her best works comes in the two-part finale “Secrets & Lies”, in which the deaths of two mental patients lead her to the shocking discovery that her own mother suffered from mental illness, a fact which her father never disclosed. She gets several emotionally charged scenes that allow her to strut her stuff, but ironically the scenes where she doesn’t have to do much are more revealing than the explicit ones. She effectively lulls us into her world of sleep-deprivation and loneliness so that her emotional eruptions hold more resonance. The excellent scene she shares with Ken Howard that builds to a shocking slap (I bet you can guess who slaps who) is a strong example.

Even so, the relatively strong season finale is too little, too late, exposing in stark contrast the weakness of the other episodes.

The special features include deleted scenes and commentary from the show’s creators. The real highlight of the set is Jill Hennessy’s conversation with Allan Arkush, one of the producers and directors of the show, about her character’s development over the course of the first season and what it was like working with the other actors. Hennessy is so gracious and charming -- everything Jordan is not -- during the segment that it only deepens the tragedy of the show’s first season: The Crossing Jordan team clearly meant well, but somehow their intentions fail to translate onscreen.

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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