TV

'Dexter' gets a life

Ellen Gray
Philadelphia Daily News (MCT)

"Dexter" spent the spring on CBS, but with the writers strike now history, television's most sympathetic serial killer is back on premium cable Sunday (9 p.m., Showtime).

Which is, let's face it, where he probably belongs.

There are way too many people on CBS trying to catch people like him.

Not that things are ever easy for Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), who eluded the FBI only to find himself this year facing a very different kind of trap _ one baited with the possibility of something approaching a normal life.

For a man who's never seen himself as anything but a monster masquerading as a human being, the very idea is both terrifying and tantalizing.

It's also a tricky leap forward for the series, which until now has had Dexter taking baby steps in his personal interactions, while making it clear he's going to continue carving up certain of his fellow monsters at regular intervals.

How do you domesticate someone like that?

The arrival of Jimmy Smits as a man desperate to make Dexter his friend further complicates things, though perhaps for Smits most of all.

His character, a prosecutor and a political animal, is in some ways harder to fathom than Dexter: Angry, a bit arrogant and yet woefully needy, he seems to be a work in progress in the episodes I've seen so far, serving mostly as a disturbance in Dexter's well-ordered world.

I can't tell where Smits' prosecutor is going to end up, but am hoping it's not in pieces at the bottom of the bay.

___

There may have been an elephant in the room during the filming of this season's "Californication," which premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime, but I'm pretty sure the cast and crew were too busy orchestrating the sex and drug scenes to notice it.

Hey, there might have been an entire thundering herd.

Before the reports that David Duchovny had entered rehab for sex addiction, I'd never really understood what he saw in "Californication's" sexually voracious Hank Moody, a character whose temperament matched his last name.

I'm not sure I do now, either, since I'd like to keep the man and the character separate, whatever their troubles.

I can see what Moody might see in Duchovny, though: The actor can't save Hank from being pathetic, but he at least makes him funny.

That's a burden that any actor should be sharing with writers, but "Californication," a show that's ostensibly about an accomplished writer, has never struck me as that well-written.

It is, however, well-cast, and surrounded by Natascha McElhone (who plays the love of Hank's life), Evan Handler (his agent and best friend) and the remarkable Madeleine Martin (his daughter), Duchovny has the kind of support group he needs to deal with Hank's problems, anyway.

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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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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Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

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Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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