Reviews

Jonny Zero

Cynthia Fuchs

As they run off down the street, Jonny and company look for all the world like yet another coming of the mod squad.


Jonny Zero

Airtime: Fridays, 9pm ET
Cast: Franky G, GQ, Brennan Hesser, Ritchie Coster, Chris Bauer
Network: Fox
Amazon
And we can make money to burn
If you allow me the latest game.
I don't ask for much, but enough room to spread my wings,
And the world finna know my name.
-- Roots with Cody Chestnut, "The Seed 2.0"

Just released after four years in prison, Jonny Calvo (Franky G) hits a bus to New York City, the skyline showcased in on-beat frames, the soundtrack booming the Roots. The tint is slightly sepia and the angle slightly skewed as Jonny makes his way across the bridge to a schoolyard, marked by a U.S. flag blowing in the same wind that tosses garbage in the street. And as he looks through the chain-link fence that separates him from his young son, Jonny smiles, tentatively and genuinely. Behind him comes the menace: his former associate in shiny black SUV, trying to pull him back -- as they say -- inside.

Dynamically directed by action filmmaker Mimi Leder and shot by Michael Grady, the pilot episode of Jonny Zero looks great, all urgent pulsing and colorful ingenuity. This goes some distance toward disguising the essential banality of the script, which has Jonny set up to fight bad guys and less bad guys if he wants to stay clean -- that is, out of prison and within reach of his son, little Vincent (Sean Moran). Running from the SUV, Jonny heads down an alley, where a bucket drummer pounds his instrument; the camera cuts to Jonny's parole officer Gloria (Aunjanue Ellis) calling his name, then calling the cops to "report a failure to appear." Jonny arrives just as she's spelling his name, slides into the chair opposite her desk and explains his tardiness: "I missed my bus," he beams, all happy-cat teeth. She's unimpressed, but sends him in search of legitimate work, mopping floors at Captain Jack's, a pirate-themed kids' restaurant. (Little does he know that he'll soon be wearing an octopus costume and carrying a pizza through a crowd of screaming meemie kids, who actually look less childish than the gang goons who stop by to harass him.)

Here at the restaurant, the requisite legend emerges, since one of the kitchen workers, a geek named DJ Random (GQ), details some of the more excessive points of Jonny's rep, that is, he's a former bouncer, dealer, and/or junkie who supposedly twisted a guy's head off (other storytellers have him killing a guy with one punch), thus leading to his recent manslaughter conviction. The designated sidekick, Random immediately pushes his way into Jonny's business by inviting him to stay at his jerry-rigged abandoned-warehouse digs. Their relationship seems primed to provide the series with the tiredest of homosexual anxiety jokes, demonstrated in the pilot when a woman watching from behind the duo mistakes their efforts to remove a ring stuck on Jonny's finger for a dollop of gay sex action.

Such broad strokes do Jonny no favors. As a tough guy with a soft heart, he's already burdened with clichés (he doesn't like guns, he's got an available gorgeous ex-girlfriend to ensure his straightness). The first episode lays out most of these in a hurry, from the poignant dad and rejected son to the ex-brute who now only wants to do right.

No surprise, this proves to be something of a trick, as Jonny is hunted by two reprehensible types. The first is his former employer, a British gangster named Garrett (Ritchie Coster), whose minions are the ones driving the SUV and dropping in at Captain Jack's. Spotting Jonny being outright dissed by his grocer dad, Garrett steps up, melty ice cream cone in his paw: "Father-son relationships," he sniffs, "they're complicated." And with that, Garrett recalls his own patriarchal difficulties, resolved when he cried at his dad's funeral, brought on by the fact that Garrett killed him. On the other hand that's really the same hand, FBI agent Stringer (Chris Bauer) wants Jonny to return to work for Garrett, in order to play Stinger's "best bitch informant." Grrr.

Stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place, Jonny's starting to resemble every other ex-con who ever tried to swagger and make sense in a tv series. Still, he perseveres in his own pursuit of the straight and narrow, and finds himself lucky when a victim is literally tossed to the street in front of him by a really mean bouncer. A plainly out-of-his-element white guy (Victor Slezak) engages his help to find missing daughter Danni, a.k.a. Velvet (Brennan Hesser), currently working in strip and goth clubs -- apparently a different joint each night, as she's fired every time Jonny finds her and makes a scene. She's cute and high-voiced, so as to seem young, but also experienced enough so that her hanging round with Jonny doesn't look untoward.

At the end of the first episode, the newly formed trio escapes an exploding building. As they run off down the street, Jonny and company look for all the world like yet another coming of the mod squad. Designated "alternative detectives," they will be taking cases that legitimate cops won't take, the Team Angel of the human set. Already they seem appropriately confused, cynical, and frankly silly all at the same time.

While the appeal of the adult-inclined "urban" police drama is surely time-tested (NYPD Blue, the Law & Orders), the youth-oriented version has yet to be secured in any enduring form. Perhaps this is a function of kids -- performers and viewers - growing up. Or perhaps the rebel-youth angle can't be shaped to fit the law-abiding cop model over time. From the resilient New York Undercover to the decidedly less earnest Players and Fast Lane, the search for a reliable hip-hop cop show formula remains unsuccessful. Here again, in Jonny Zero, the mix is shaky, as Frankly G works the charisma angle, the girl's a wifty cipher, and Random is just flat-out corny.

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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