TV

'Mr. Robot' Is the Only Show for the Here and Now

After just a single season Mr.Robot has established itself as the show most in touch with the new wave of television drama.

There are no dragons, no zombies, and no expansive teams of period-piece costume designers involved in Mr. Robot, instead, there is the here and now. The show came out of nowhere and took over the summer of 2015, permeated the television landscape and Reddit message boards alike. It did so by placing its central drama, and its main character, square in the middle of our current world. Mr. Robot accomplished this impressive feat not only by infusing world headlines into its script, but also by changing both the way we look at a hero and the way we look at television drama arcs as a whole.

Creator, showrunner and sometimes director Sam Esmail has been reticent to embrace this notion. In an interview with Andy Greenwald of Grantland, he admitted that the symmetry between the events of Mr. Robot and real, often shocking world news has been coincidental, if not borderline creepy. He just wasn’t sure he was all that proud of it, joking that maybe a show about world peace would better suit the public good.

Hacker culture is not something that many people have a firm grasp on, myself included. It wasn’t what drew me to the show and honestly, it really isn’t what’s keeping me around. Like any good convention, hacking is like the code written to create your favorite program, cool to see but not nearly as useful or interesting as the bigger idea and final product. That being said, hacking needed a definitive place in drama, andMr. Robotis undeniably that.

Almost in response to how current the idea of hacking really is, the opening sequence of the finalé was able to sneak in a little nod to current events by mentioning the well-known Ashley Madison “dumps”. Back in July a hacking team who call themselves, “The Impact Team” got their way into the website Ashley Madison, a site which allows married men and women to communicate and meet with other users in an attempt to have a discreet extramarital affair. “The Impact Team” hacked the site’s database and threatened to release all the user account information if the parent company, Avid Life Media, did not shut down the site forever. Eventually the data was released via the dark net and soon many of the emails surfaced which attached users everywhere to the morally seedy site.

This isn’t the first large-scale hack we have seen in recent years. The Sony hacks and even the hacks involving personal pictures of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton all made headlines in recent years, leading to increased paranoia and confusion about what hacking really means in our modern culture. What’s different about the Ashley Madison hacks is that they are the first big data breach that you could argue was for the public good. People who sign up for a website whose tagline reads, “Life is short. Have an affair.” are not people that get any sympathy. Avid Life Media has released several statements calling “The Impact Team” terrorists, but I think you’d have to search pretty hard to find someone in the general public who would categorize these acts anywhere close to terrorism.

Mr. Robot has similarly grappled with this idea. On the surface, what FSociety is doing is inherently seen by the public as good. They are taking down a multi-national cooperation whose business practices have been questionable at best and downright murderous at worst. At the same time, the members of FSociety, and especially Elliot, don’t always seem to be working from a place nobility. Part of Elliot’s motivation if pure revenge, which although is based in somewhat of a good place, is still not always the most altruistic source.

In the finalé the general public, in the world ofMr. Robot, seems to love that FSociety has finally followed through with their promise to take down E Corp, but when we see them it has only been a weekend since the hack and little is known about how taking down such a huge force will really affect the world. FSociety’s actions are surely more terroristic than that of “The Impact Team”, but the similarities are there, making the addition of the current event to the finale more than a clever little trick but an important reminder of how contemporaryMr. Robotreally is.

As I said, though, hacking is simply a convention which the show uses for a bedrock from which to grow its true drama. The real drama lies in Elliot’s search for himself and his reconciliation with a tumultuous past.

I have already warned of impending spoilers, but just so the outrage is limited even further what I am about to discuss is something that should be seen before talked about.

If you made it this far you know that Mr. Robot is not what we were led to believe and in fact is not quite real at all. The head of FSociety is Elliot and the actions taken by the society can both entirely be credited and blamed on him alone. One of the many effects this had on the series as whole is that it changed it from what was kind of a double bill, to a decidedly singular performance. Mr. Robot is inside of Elliot’s psyche, making Elliot the be all and end all of the show.

It's no secret that most television dramas seem to work best with a singular focus that stands out as the main vehicle for our view into the world of the show (Man Men, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos). There are notable exceptions (The Wire, Game of Thrones) but Mr. Robot was a show that needed a strong singular voice and it seemed to have it from the opening moments in the coffee shop. The real question that was going to be answered during the ensuing ten hours of television was what kind of character we were getting with this bug-eyed, intense central figure.

Much has been made about the many changes that have occurred in television drama, but one of the most prevalent began just before the turn of the century with Tony Soprano. Soprano was the first case-study in how a show can be wildly successful despite having a main character who is always doing horrible and unjustifiable things to good people. As is the case with all unique moments of success, this got repeated and repeated. It also created some of the best characters in television history, from Walter White to Don Draper to Jax Teller to President Francis Underwood. The list is goes on and on, and you will notice when combing through the list, that aside from House of Cards, every one of these shows is no longer on the air. These characters have run their course, some ending well, others not so much but one thing is for sure, they’re gone.

Two things could have happened during this changing of the guards on television drama. One, showrunners everywhere could have retreated back to their writing rooms looking to come up with the next bad, yet somehow admirable main character. Or, they could establish a whole different archetype.

In truth, something entirely different happened in the case ofMr. Robot. Creator Sam Esmail was not trying to make a television show centering on a new kind of hero, he was trying to make a movie about him. The thing is, he just couldn’t stop writing, and rather than cut up his script to get it down to a reasonable 120 or so pages, he decided to take it to Anonymous Content and see if they thought it could be a television show. When USA signed on, giving him a relatively long leash, he jumped at the opportunity, and thus a new hero was made.

Elliot Alderson is not an antihero, Elliot Alderson is also not a hero. What Elliot Alderson really is, is an archetype that has actually been around for centuries but has never fully been teased out in the way that Esmail and team have. Elliot Alderson is an unreliable hero. The moment we learn that Christian Slater’s character is nothing more than a machination in Elliot’s mind everything we have seen, heard or thought is jumbled around in a sea of uncertainty.

This turn works so well because from the first moments of our time with Elliot we have been placed smack dab inside his brain. He literally talks to us in a way that we could have only dreamt of with Heisenberg. We not only see what he's doing, but we get hints as what he's thinking about doing, why he'ss doing it, and what he may do next. It's only after he learns that he can’t trust himself that we learn not to trust him, and by then we have done so, at least partially, for about eight episodes.

With more than any other character perhaps in television history, we are fully along for the ride with Elliot, and the ride is about as disorientating than any I can recall. Nowhere is this more evident than in the beginning of the finalé when Elliot, and we, wake up in Tyrell Wellick’s SUV with no idea what has transpired during the last two days. We don’t even get to experience the hack all because Elliot himself, doesn’t get to, and after all is said and done, we only truly get what he gets.

This idea of an unreliable point of view will surely be duplicated, but just the pure logistics of what it takes to make this work will make it hard to be done so efficiently. It remains to be seen whether some writer will be able to make something work the way Esmail has done, make a show decidedly for the here and now and be both different and familiar. It may happen again, but I would not hold my breath.

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

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Melkbelly splices insanely supercharged punk energy with noise-band drums and super catchy pop melodies. It's a bewildering, intoxicating sound which has caught the attention of underground Chicago audiences. We ask singer Miranda Winters how it works.

"I've always, I guess, struggled to decide what kind of music I wanted to play, something sort of abrasive and loud or something sort of pop and folky. I would bounce back and forth between the two," says Miranda Winters, the dynamic singer who careens between pretty girl pop croons and banshee wails in the course of, really, almost any song in the Melkbelly catalog. "When we first started Melkbelly, the goal was to figure out how to make them work together, but I don't know that we actually knew that it would work when we started."

Keep reading... Show less

The everywhere-at-once trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith goes it alone, alternating Monk tunes and Monk-inspired originals for solo trumpet. S L O W.

Wadada Leo Smith is having a great run in the critical eye. In 2016 he topped many polls with his meditative but free composing and presentations, collaborating with the likes of Vijay Iyer and making jazz move in interesting new directions. He has long been fascinated with the music and legacy of Miles Davis, an obvious brass inspiration, and he was among the first to revive real interest in Davis's later period of playing.

Keep reading... Show less
5

Where female pop musicians tend to age out of the field, country musicians tend to possess a greater reverence for their predecessors, lionizing their greatness and proclaiming their influence at each and every opportunity.

The fact of the matter is much of country music – both classic and contemporary – would not exist as we now know it were it not for Maybelle Carter and her work with the first family of country music, the Carter Family. An unprepossessingly talented guitarist with a keen ear for good songs, Mother Maybelle is arguably the wellspring from which all subsequent country artists have sprung. Her approach to the form, nuanced guitar work and the tight familial harmonies all played a substantial role in shaping what would become Country & Western and finally just country music.

Keep reading... Show less
6
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image