Reviews

Studio 60 Live on the Sunset Strip: The Complete Series

Mehera Bonner

Despite its purported faults (critics were divided), Studio 60 Live on the Sunset Strip holds up well on DVD, as viewers can quickly proceed to the next episode without losing momentum, without losing the smart, subtextual thread of the prior episode.


Studio 60 Live on the Sunset Strip

Subtitle: The Complete Series
Network: NBC
Cast: Steven Weber, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson
Length: 931
Distributor: Warner Home Video
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2006/10/18
UK Release Date: 2008/01/28
US Release Date: 2007/10/16
Last date: 2007/06/28
Amazon

Aaron Sorkin’s 2006 Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is essentially The West Wing meets Hollywood with slightly more humor and an emphasis on cultural, rather than electoral, politics. The show takes place behind the scenes of a Saturday Night Live-esque comedy show, and focuses on the sticky business end of comedy as cultural critique, as well as the relationships of the actors, producers, and staff putting the show together. At first, it's virtually impossible to look at Matthew Perry without thinking “Oh my god, it’s Chandler”, closely followed by “Where’s Monica?”

But I quickly became comfortable with and attached to his character, Matt Albie, (executive producer and head writer of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) as well as to his partner Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford). Perry certainly demonstrates that he has a range of comic and dramatic ability that extends far beyondFriends, and Bradley Whitford is as wonderful as he ever was in The West Wing, Adventures in Babysitting, or Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise.

Part of the thrill of watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is certainly the fact that it is a behind the scenes exposé, allowing viewers to wonder, “is this really how it is on Saturday Night Live” or “should I become an executive producer of a TV show so I can hang out with funny people all day who are also really into politics?” Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is very self-aware about its position as a vehicle for an inside look into the world of a comedy sketch show. For example, guest actors play themselves (most notably Sting, whose guest appearance consists of him sitting on stage playing a lute), and both Saturday Night Live and The West Wing are mentioned in the dialogue.

The show does such a good job of establishing its place in Hollywood, as the viewer knows it, that it seems like it actually may exist, too, and is therefore very believable. The entire cast, down to the extras, shows talent and promise, and though at times there is some over-acting and over-sentimentality during some of the more political scenes, the performances of the lead characters are stand out.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip received mixed reviews during its time on the air, and was often criticized for not being as good as The West Wing. Rather than compare the show to its more famous and well respected "older brother", if you will, if one can watch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and try not to think about how much better The West Wing is, they might be pleasantly surprised. It is true that the show can’t seem to find its place between comedy and drama. Some episodes seem entirely devoted to making the viewer laugh (such as “Nevada Day” parts I and II, in which the characters end up in Pahrump, Nevada due to a series of wacky hijinks involving a half smoked joint, a speeding ticket, a Jesus costume, and an Emmy winning performance by John Goodman as Pahrump’s resident judge) and some episodes seem to forget the comedy completely and embark on political drama that seems more at home in The West Wing than in Hollywood (e.g., the impossibly fast-thinking, perfectly articulate historical / cultural-political-loaded response to any subject regarding the ever-present culture wars, past and present).

Though it would be nice to believe that members of a comedy sketch show are constantly involved in social and political debate, and they're quick to pull historical examples or speech-stopping-one-liners out of their proverbial hat (as we became accustomed to in The West Wing), the show is more believable and likable when comedy is at the forefront. The effort to incorporate such heavy-handed cultural politics into the show is admirable, and sometimes, it's successful.

But all in all, Aaron Sorkin failed to find the right balance between the cultural political intent and the simple, entertaining comedy, though perhaps he would have achieved this had the show been given a second season. Despite its purported faults (critics were divided), Studio 60 Live on the Sunset Strip holds up well on DVD, as viewers can quickly proceed to the next episode without losing momentum, without losing the smart, subtextual thread of the prior episode.

On DVD, viewers are likely to develop a deep attachment to the characters and feel compelled watch all 22 episodes in one weekend without ever wanting to leave the couch. I laughed, and then I got really emotional and weepy at all the romantic scenes. I developed a crush on executive producer Tripp. I was completely panicked when Jordan (Amanda Peet) had to have an emergency D-section, and I certainly wasn’t taking any phone calls or letting anyone talk to me during the series finale.

Unfortunately, the special features on the DVD are nothing to hold the phone for. There is a short, behind-the-scenes feature, consisting mostly of clips from the show and the pilot. There is also commentary from Aaron Sorkin and producer Thomas Schlamme, but again, nothing to get too excited about. What will catch and hold your attention is the undeniably great acting and script of Studio 60 Live on the Sunset Strip. It will leave you wanting more.

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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