Reviews

ER / The West Wing

Samantha Bornemann

The West Wing's chief relationships have been tested and compromised, turning Sorkin's noble, fast-walking liberals into more than the sum of their quips and ideals.


Er

Airtime: Thursdays, 10:00pm EST
Cast: Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, Eriq La Salle, Laura Innes, Alex Kingston, Paul McCrane, Goran Visnjic, Maura Tierney, Michael Michele, Erik Palladino, Ming-Na (Wen)
Display Artist: John Wells, Michael Crichton, Jack Orman
Network: NBC
Creator: Jack Orman
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THE WEST WING
Regular airtime: Sundays, 8pm ET (NBC)
Cast: Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Martin Sheen, Joshua Malina, Mary McCormack, Janel Moloney, Stockard Channing, Dulé Hill, Alan Alda, Jimmy Smits

by Samantha Bornemann
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Things Fall Apart

"Funny how things work out."
"Not so funny, really."
-- Will Bailey (Joshua Malina) and C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), The

West Wing

"We were all here a long time before you. We worked together. You're the new guy. You need to fit in with us."
-- "Is this a damn social club?"


-- Doctors Kovac (Goran Visnjic) and Clemente (John Leguizamo), ER

The voice of NBC's hyperbolic promos has changed, but he's reciting the same ridiculous party line: ER, we're told again and again, is as good as it's ever been, and nearly every upcoming episode is so astounding, so jarring, that you must. not. miss it. Under the guidance of executive producer John Wells, big tragedy and big stunts have become so run-of-the-mill on the 11-year-old medical drama that one might say it "jumps the shark" every other week.

Loyal and even casual viewers have seen buckets of blood -- recall the schizophrenic patient who stabbed Doctors John Carter (Noah Wyle) and Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) and left them to die -- and so much high-adrenaline turmoil over the show's run that nothing shocks anymore, except maybe the series' desperate turn to the tasteless and macabre. How else to characterize the decision to sic two different helicopters on Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane)? First he lost an arm to the blades of a chopper; months later, back at work, another one fell on him. And the traumas keep coming.

It's no wonder, then, that West Wing fans panicked in 2003 when creator Aaron Sorkin left his high-minded series in the hands of NBC's Thursday night schlockmeister. They complained that Wells (an original executive producer on the series) would run Wing into the ground, turning it into another mish-mash of clunky storylines and ratings stunts. As his first episodes in charge followed up First Daughter Zoey's (Elisabeth Moss) kidnapping with President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) temporarily ceding power to John Goodman's Republican, their fears seemed well-founded.

More big events followed, from Donna's (Janel Moloney) near death in the Gaza Strip through last month's much-hyped, ultimately ho-hum live debate between Presidential contenders Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Vinick (Alan Alda). But West Wing didn't quite crumble under new management. Rather, Wells made collapse -- specifically, that of Bartlet's merry band of West Wingers -- the long-term story. On his watch, the series' chief relationships have been tested and compromised, turning Sorkin's noble, fast-walking liberals into more than the sum of their quips and ideals. They're also myopic, cranky, and sad.

Josh (Bradley Whitford) thought he could keep Donna as his Girl Friday forever. By ignoring her requests for more challenging work, he lost her to a competing candidate in the primaries and feels lonelier than ever as he struggles to run Santos' campaign. Strident Toby (Richard Schiff) was unhappy for ages -- so much so that Andie (Kathleen York) refused to live with him, fearing his gloom would infect their children. In this season's second-most-talked-about episode, he was revealed as a White House leak and fired by an angry, though not-quite-surprised Bartlet. "The one thought that hits the hardest," he told Toby, "is that this was somehow inevitable, that you've always been heading for this kind of crash and burn." Only C.J. (Allison Janney) remains at the President's side. Now Chief of Staff, she's often at odds with Josh, cut off from Toby, and fighting to make something of Bartlet's remaining lame duck term. The three could really use a goofy, gentlemanly go-between like Sam Seaborn to restore some of the peace. Does Rob Lowe really still have other plans?

If all this isolation, workaholism, and unease feel familiar, it's because such characterization is straight out of the ER playbook. Both series revolve around big-deal vocations -- politics, emergency medicine -- while occasionally spinning the focus to their principals' stunted personal lives. Mismatched, jaded coworkers find a way to work together, and then events (new management, new terms of office) conspire to shake them up.

To that end, a number of docs have checked in to County General over the years, most recently Eve Peyton (Kristen Johnston) and Clemente (John Leguizamo). True to pattern, Clemente has proved quirky (sneaking in a chimp as a patient) and bossy. And, of course, he has a secret backstory, namely, an affair with a married woman. Leguizamo is a consistently charismatic performer, but Wells and co. have been slow to find real things for him to do. The best they've come up with is a "pissing match" with Kovac (Goran Visnjic) over how to treat patients.

Johnston is faring better with her by-the-book nurse supervisor, but Leguizamo was lost early on amid the ongoing avalanche of guest stars. Just weeks after Clemente arrived, John Stamos appeared to flirt with Neela (Parminder Nagra) and usher in Serena Williams' sweeps-timed few scenes as a hysterical victim. The series is beginning to resemble Gunsmoke with so many characters floating in and out, stealing the limelight for an instant, just before they disappear.

And yet, some story constants remain, no matter how high-wattage the temp talent. Dysfunctional romance has been part of ER since the beginning, when Carol (Julianna Margulies) made her debut in a coma, having attempted suicide in despair over her dalliance with Doug (George Clooney). More recently, Kovac and Abby (Maura Tierney) depressed each other ("You're never happy," he memorably told her), so she took up with Carter for one of the most excruciatingly dead-end relationships in recent TV memory. Meanwhile, Kovac shacked up with Sam (Linda Cardellini), largely because he really liked having her son around. On one level, these mismatched pairs make for drab, anticlimactic television. On another, Wells' admirable if twisted devotion to depicting unhappy lives is, dare I say, rubbernecking fun. He's TV's go-to guy for "love" stories so uncomfortable you can't. look. away.

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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