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Culture

Five Years of PopMatters: Television

Television continues to be a captivating window into our world, for better or for worse, and throughout all these shifts and events, PopMatters has worked to keep readers informed of what's going on in the strange universe of the boob tube.

In the last five years, that love-to-hate-it and still-ubiquitous medium, television, has seen a dizzying number of changes. Network television has lost tons of ground to cable (as the recent Emmy Awards can attest). Audiences are turning more and more to the cable news networks for information, while those networks slide further and further towards tabloid journalism to maintain ratings. We've seen the possible beginnings of the death of the sitcom, while one-hour crime dramas continue to captivate. And of course, there's the dubious rise of that most sycophantic and puerile form of voyeurism, reality TV. Finally, the most enduring visual moment of the last five years, the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, are impossible to imagine separated from their context of TV.

Television continues to be a captivating window into our world, for better or for worse, and throughout all these shifts and events, PopMatters has worked to keep readers informed of what's going on in the strange universe of the boob tube. Under the guidance of editor Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters has given readers plenty of reason to pause, to stop and consider what it is we're watching and the implications of the messages we receive. With a dense archive of intelligent criticism under its belt, the PopMatters Television section is a great place to turn for a sense of televised recent history and media culture.

PopMatters Editors' Picks

Watching Ellie
Review by Kevin Devine
Devine's review is a fine example of how PopMatters gives writers freedom to be creative and funny in their work.

Embedded TV
Feature by Cynthia Fuchs
The conflict in Iraq and television coverage of Operation: Iraqi Freedom are among the most historical events of the last five years. Fuchs provides a clear-eyed look at television representation of the real, messy world of war, giving readers a sober view of distinctions between fact and mediated reality.

Arrested Development
Review by Stephen Kelly
This example of a straight television review displays how the critical analysis of our reviewers often separate the substance from the hype. It also shows the general expertise of our writers, who speak knowledgably about their topics.

Band of Brothers
Review by Mike Ward
Here's an excellent example of how PopMatters reviews can offer cultural analysis in the context of discussing a specific product. Ward's examination of how and why audiences continue to engage with historical war fiction in a post-9/11 environment is astute and well-focused.

C.S.I.: Miami / C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation
Review by Cynthia Fuchs
In analyzing character, tone, and setting, Fuchs provides insight into the things that make a great show click, and offers a compelling reason why it's difficult to duplicate this formula in spin-offs.

Malcolm in the Middle
Review by John G. Nettles
This is a good example of a PopMatters writer using a review to make an insightful commentary on larger social issues. Nettles takes the example of Malcolm in the Middle and other Fox family sitcoms to discuss how media depictions of the nuclear family have changed — and how some things haven't changed at all.

Queer as Folk
Review by Michael Abernethy
A fine example of a well-researched and intelligent review, Abernethy displays PopMatters' commitment to cross-cultural analysis. His take on the at-odds critics of this show is careful and precise, and he offers persuasive analysis of the show's true content as well as the problems it engenders.

Star Trek
Review by Rachel Hyland
Taking on one of the most sacred cows in television land is no small task, but Hyland goes for it big time, choosing to look at Star Trek's entire franchise. Her criticisms of the various series are pointed and well thought out, while her fan's reasoning for the show's success is fair, witty, and engaging.

nip/tuck
Review by Cynthia Fuchs
Being able to offer negative criticism is relatively simple, but what Fuchs does here in showing how the theme of superficiality can wind up being superficial itself is balance the substance against the sensationalism, and she cuts a narrow path between the two to reveal a show's internal weaknesses and critical failings.

Model Minority
Feature by David Leonard
This expose of submerged racism is a wonderful piece that shows how PopMatters writers approach popular culture with a sense of history and awareness. Of all the various media pieces that looked at Hung's 15 minutes, this is one of the most intelligent and thought provoking.

Male Bashing on TV
Feature by Michael Abernethy
Abernethy provides some funny, sarcastic, and thought provoking comments on this little-discussed phenomenon. Again, PopMatters scores by tackling larger issues in the media world and how they reflect on our culture.

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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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 Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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TV

'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

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6

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

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