Reviews

NewsRadio - The Complete Fifth Season

Marisa LaScala

There must be some kind of NewsRadio curse that keeps its actors from ever turning in a comedic performance better than the ones on this show.


NewsRadio - The Complete Fifth Season

Distributor: Sony
Cast: Andy Dick, Dave Foley, Vicki Lewis, Jon Lovitz, Joe Rogan, Stephen Root, Maura Tierney
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: NBC
First date: 1995
US Release Date: 2007-03-20
Last date: 1999
Amazon

The fifth and final season of NewsRadio began with an impossible task. How could the lighthearted workplace comedy continue after the surprising murder of Phil Hartman, an actor beloved by both his coworkers and fans of the series? That the show managed to face Hartman’s death head-on by incorporating his character’s funeral into the season premiere -- while turning in one of the funniest episodes of the whole season -- says a lot about the nature of NewsRadio’s unconventional brand of humor. Not every show can make laugh-out-loud jokes about a botched eulogy, a friend completely in denial about death, or going on a bender to get over a loved one -- yet those are just the opening moments of NewsRadio’s fifth season.

But just because the comedy is a little offbeat doesn’t mean the show shirks all the conventions of a typical sitcom. In fact, the series whole-heartedly embraces these conventions, almost refusing to innovate. There’s a three-camera setup. There’s a studio audience with audible laughter. There’s a straight-man lead and a whole slew of wacky sidekicks. And that’s the way they like it. "It's very hard for a single-camera show to make me laugh," says writer Josh Lieb in a DVD commentary, available on sporadic episodes. "American audiences are accustomed to shows being four-camera. It makes them feel like they're a part of the audience."

In this way, the broad gags and rhythms of NewsRadio approach comedy from the opposite direction as all the other left-of-center workplace sitcoms that followed suit, most recently, The Office. While The Office opts for a realistic feel quasi-cinema-verité style and the single-camera format so detested by the NewsRadio crew, NewsRadio chucks all sense of realism out the window for zany plots about magic intelligence-enhancing drinks, hypnosis, Freaky Friday-like role reversals, and a form of martial arts called “Joe-jitsu.” If The Office finds comedy in small, awkward interactions between two emotionally honest characters, NewsRadio would rather see Joe Rogan falling through an air vent. Yes, this is stubbornly straight-up network sitcom comedy. Thankfully, the writers know how to finesse it so that it’s actually funny.

Really funny. When put-upon boss Dave Nelson (Dave Foley) says he’s sick of slackers and fantasizes about firing someone -- possibly everyone -- in the office, it’s a genuinely silly, not uncomfortable moment. When a new executive says that he'll give up being "evil" to win the hand of Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney), it comes across as rollicking, not ridiculous. And that’s how, eventually, they were able to ring a few laughs out after the loss of Phil Hartman. Throughout the series, the writing is so tight and witty that when watching the DVD's gag real, it's tempting to hope that the actors make it through the scenes without breaking down because the jokes as they are written are more hilarious than the bloopers.

Though the show is not willing to escape the confines of a traditional three-camera sitcom, the fifth season of the NewsRadio series finally loosens up and plays with its own format a bit. The series tries experimenting with multiple-episode story-arcs, veering away from its strict policy of stand-alone episodes. Of course, this was a slow evolution, with executive producer and creator Paul Simms being reluctant to change the show's winning formula. "I thought that when you watch it in reruns, you'd want to have whole story," he says on one commentary track. "Now every show does multiple story arcs."

Undertaking such an arc NewsRadio, undergoes a subtle transformation that builds on its already comedic foundations. Instead of focusing the continuing plotlines around the overused, unsatisfying device of a love triangle of some sort (a tactic even the iconoclastic The Office was powerless to escape), the series really swings for the fences and comes up with an off-the-wall saga about corporate boss Jimmy James (Stephen Root), his suspected involvement in a legendary hijacking, his escape from jail and life on the lam, and his dealings with archrival and replacement Johnny Johnson (expertly played by Patrick Warburton). This story arc may be the pinnacle of the show's creative achievement.

It’s in this type of interplay -- stretching boundaries of a typical workplace sitcom without ever subverting them -- that is able to coax some of the best work out of its diverse cast. (Seriously, there must be some kind of NewsRadio curse that keeps its actors from ever turning in a comedic performance better than the ones on the series. Just think of what Andy Dick, Joe Rogan, and Dave Foley have starred in since -- can you say Celebrity Poker Showdown?)

"I remember specifically [the first multiple-episode] arc," says Simms. "I was feeling weird at the start of the fifth season. Phil [Hartman] wasn't there and I didn't feel like myself. I consciously rededicated myself to the show on this arc. And it was fun again." So you can look at the series' ultimate season just a typical three-camera show -- an artifact of the mid-90s when, according to Simms, two years earlier NBC had 18 sitcoms glutted in its prime-time lineup. But then you’d be missing out on its quiet, pioneering efforts, and a ton of laughs.

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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