GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION PART 4: “THE ANTIHERO”

With the advent of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and the tens of cable networks in the 21st century, never before has the American television viewer have had so many viable options to watch. Because of this increased competition for the American viewer, it has forced each avenue that produces television series to up their game. The result has been a new Golden Age of Television. Once again I will focus on three more series that have aired within the last 10 years that are indicative to this golden era we live in. These three shows all have in common lead characters who are antiheroes.
According to Webster Dictionary, the definition of an antihero is: a main character in a book, play, movie, etc., who does not have the usual good qualities that are expected in a hero. Antiheroes have long been a staple of daytime soap operas. The most popular, iconic figures on daytime television have been antiheroes. Characters such as Todd Manning, John Black, Sonny Corinthos and Luke Spencer being four of the most famous of the soap opera genre. The first iconic antihero to be portrayed on primetime television was James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano when “The Sopranos” debuted on HBO in 1999. In my opinion, the single greatest antihero in television history was Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of high school chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White on AMC’s landmark series “Breaking Bad.” The show premiered almost exactly 10 years ago and had an incredible five year run. I didn’t watch a single episode of “Breaking Bad” until last year. When I began watching, I couldn’t stop. Cranston’s portrayal of White in his rise from a nerdy high school teacher to a murderous and manipulative drug lord was breathtaking. You find yourself rooting for White because even though he’s dealing in mass quantities of crystal meth, the crack cocaine of the 21st century, you understand his reason for his involvement with this illegal venture. White has stage four throat cancer, and he’s trying to make as much money as possible before he dies in order for his family to be financially set for life after he dies. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out another iconic antihero from the show: White’s former student Jesse Pinkman, portrayed by Aaron Paul. Jesse’s drug addiction and abandonment issues has you rooting for this young man to overcome his problems, despite the fact that both he and White are both making and distributing the most dangerous and addictive illegal substance since crack cocaine. When you also factor in the unscrupulous characters they have to deal with in distributing crystal meth and the father-son bond the two develop through their partnership, you find yourself heavily invested in their quest to obtain their goals.

Before the introduction of crystal method, the most lethal illegal substance that was the most destructive was crack cocaine. How crack cocaine was introduced into American society is the main plot line of John Singleton’s “Snowfall” that premiered last July on FX. Singleton grew up in South Central Los Angeles where he saw through his own eyes the devastation that occurred from the drug being flooded into the area. “Snowfall” has an ensemble cast that looks at the advent of crack from three angles: the CIA, the drug cartels and a young 19 year old African American male portrayed by British actor Damson Idris. Idris plays Franklin Saint, a college dropout who accidentally comes across cocaine through hanging out with his rich White friend who introduces him to a South American drug lord. Then, on a journey to Oakland, Franklin is taught how to turn cocaine into crack, and Franklin, with the help of his aunt and uncle, begins to see not only how potent the new drug is, but how quickly it sells on the street. Franklin is motivated in dealing drugs because he wants to get his mother out of South Central. You find yourself rooting for Franklin, another antihero, because he’s a very intelligent young man who adores his mother, despite the fact that you know in hindsight the incredible destruction that crack cocaine caused the inner cities throughout the United States. Like White and Pinkman, Franklin has to outwit and outmaneuver several unscrupulous and immoral individuals who are trying to kill him.
The single, most fascinating antihero in cinematic recently had a classic series based on his exploits as a Baltimore forensic psychiatrist. “Hannibal” the series ran on NBC for three seasons between 2013 and 2015. The show centered around Dr. Hannibal Lecter and his relationship with the FBI Behavioral Sciences, headed by Jack Crawford. Crawford’s star profiler is Will Graham, an instructor of FBI agents and a man who can recreate a crime scene by looking at the scene and visualize exactly how the murder was committed. Graham is portrayed with an amazing vulnerability by Hugh Dancy. Graham is mentally scarred by his unique gift to get inside a killer’s mind. It takes an incredible psychological toll on him, and because he’s psychologically affected by this, his boss Crawford, powerfully portrayed by the legendary Laurence Fishburne, orders him to see Dr. Lecter for a psychiatric evaluation. Lecter, whose iconic character is portrayed by the marvelous and charismatic Mads Mikkelsen, uses this as an opportunity to gain the trust of both Crawford and Graham. Lecter helps Crawford and Graham solve several crimes involving serial killers because, unbeknownst to them, Lecter is one as well. Lecter, through his sessions with Graham, begins to psychologically torment and torture him. Lecter is a psychopath, but like Anthony Hopkins before him, Mikkelsen plays him with such charisma and smoothness that the audience can’t help but hope that Lecter will see the error of his way. Lecter is the ultimate psychopath, so there is no hope for him. I highly recommend that readers of this column who’ve never seen this series go find it as it’s the perfect prequel for the Hannibal Lecter series of movies starring Hopkins.
In my opinion, the most fascinating characters on television and in movies have always been the antihero. Characters who are heavily flawed who through mostly shady and illegal methods gain money, wealth, revenge and\or justice. All three shows have as their protagonist classic and legendary antiheroes. Never before in the history of network television has their been so many antiheroes portrayed on television. As I continue to cover this Golden Age of Television, many more will be focused on.

THE FINAL ESSENTIAL ALBUM OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER”

DISCLAIMER: I want it to be known that I truly believe that R Kelly is a pedophile and sexual predator. The recent allegations that he is harboring a cult of young females as his sex slaves is another in a long line of sexual deviant behavior that he’s been accused of in the past 23 years. I no longer support him as a musician or individual. That being said, he was an integral part of the last two years of the New Jack Swing Era, and I’d be doing that era a disservice if I didn’t include the two classic albums he oversaw despite his sordid past and present. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “DIARY OF A MAD BAND”

In my opinion, the single, greatest group of the New Jack Swing Era was Jodeci. With their two headed monster as lead singers, K-Ci and JoJo, combined with their band mate DeVante Swing’s incredible songwriting and producing, Jodeci continued their prolific run with the release of their second album. Released on December 21, 1993, “Diary of a Mad Band” is considered by many experts to be the group’s singular, greatest album. While I prefer their debut album, “Diary of a Mad Band” does contain my two favorite songs ever recorded by Jodeci. I covered their rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” in my article about “Uptown MV Unplugged.” I will begin this article talking about what I feel is the greatest song they ever recorded: “Cry for You.” More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “12 PLAY”

DISCLAIMER: I want it to be known that I truly believe that R Kelly is a pedophile and sexual predator. The recent allegations that he is harboring a cult of young females as his sex slaves is another in a long line of sexual deviant behavior that he’s been accused of in the past 23 years. I no longer support him as a musician or individual. That being said, he was an integral part of the last two years of the New Jack Swing Era, and I’d be doing that era a disservice if I didn’t include the two classic albums he oversaw despite his sordid past and present.

R Kelly first caught my attention during the summer of 1992. While riding with my parents in their car, I heard the song “Honey Love.” I assumed it was Guy’s new single as the lead singer sounded just like Aaron Hall. To my surprise, it wasn’t guy but a new group called R Kelly and Public Announcement. They had just released their debut album “Born Into the 90’s.” At the time, they felt like a cheap imitation of Aaron Hall and Guy. Kelly even had the same look as Hall by wearing sunglasses and sporting a bald head. Kelly would leave the group and a year later release his debut album “12 Play.” This album was the greatest sex oriented album in 20 years since Marvin Gaye’s iconic “Let’s Get it On” album. It would also begin Kelly’s reign as the premier R&B male vocalist for the next two decades plus.

“12 Play” continued in the New Jack Swing Era’s style of having gospel style singing. While nowhere spiritual or religious in content, R Kelly’s vocal style is taken straight from a Baptist church. Kelly’s vocal range was far stronger than Hall’s. Hall was a classic baritone who rarely sang as a tenor or falsetto. On “12 Play,” Kelly showcases his incredible vocal range. On the uptempo hits “Bump n’ Grind” and “Sex Me,” Kelly sounds exactly like a Hall ripoff, as he sings in a predominantly baritone voice. “Bump n’ Grind” was an incredible hit, going to number one on both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts. Both these songs were the initial singles off the album. They were the perfect appetizers to the sensual love songs that were next to be released. These songs would be some of the greatest sensual ballads ever released. It would also begin the separation between Kelly and the rest of the R&B male solo singers of that era.

The first ballad released was “Seems Like You’re Ready,” a sensuous ballad about a man feeling that he and his girlfriend are ready to consummate their relationship. He shifts vocally from tenor to baritone, and the lyrics, while overt, are cleverly written and sung by Kelly, “I can smell your perfume. Step into my bedroom. Let me love you constantly. Oh, oh, your body is my playground. Let me lick you up and down. Make you feel like a woman should.” As I stated earlier, the ballads of this album are so reminiscent of Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” The similarities between Gaye and Kelly are eery. Both had incredible vocal range. Both were incredible songwriters. Both men had a fetish for younger women.

The next release off the album was another sensuous ballad, “Your Body’s Callin.” Another ballad that highlights Kelly’s vocal range. The song is about Kelly surmising that his woman is hungry for him: “I hear you callin’, Here I come baby, to save you, oh oh, baby no more stalling. These hands have been longing to touch you baby. And now that you’ve come around, to seeing it my way
You won’t regret it baby, and you surely won’t forget it baby. It’s unbelievable how your body’s calling for me. I can just hear it callin’, callin’ for me.” Both ballads were two of the greatest love songs of the entire 1990’s. It also began a trend of the best songs on his albums being the sensual ballads.

“12 Play” went on to sell over six million albums. It began Kelly’s domination of R&B, as he’s been the most prolific R&B male singers of the last 25 years. While I initially felt that Johnny Gill would be that artist, Kelly surpassed him and every other artist of that era. Kelly would be that last great writer and producer of the New Jack Swing Era. We will revisit his writing and producing acumen in an upcoming article.

TRACKLIST- 12 PLAY

1 Your Body’s Callin’ 4:37
2 Bump N’ Grind 4:15
3 Homie, Lover, Friend 4:22
4 It Seems Like You’re Ready 4:38
5 Freak Dat Body 3:43
6 I Like the Crotch on You 6:37
7 Summer Bunnies 4:14
8 For You 5:01
9 Back to the Hood of Things 3:52
10 Sadie 4:30
11 Sex Me, Pts. 1-2 11:27
12 12 Play 5:54

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “I’M READY”

In the fall of 1993, New Jack Swing was still the dominant style of music in R&B. 1993 would be the last year that New Jack Swing would dominate the soul music landscape. In the fall of 1993, several classic New Jack Swing albums were released. The first we will focus on is Tevin Campbell’s “I’m Ready.” More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: MTV UPTOWN UNPLUGGED

During the beginning of 1993, Gangsta Rap had become the biggest seller in hip hop, with Ice Cube, 2pac, Geto Boys, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Death Row Records leading the charge. Despite Gangsta Rap’s infiltration of the music industry, the New Jack Swing style of R&B music was still going strong. On May 31, 1993, the entire roster of Uptown Records, the record label that dominated that entire era, appeared on the innovative and groundbreaking concert series, “MTV Unplugged.” Only the biggest and most popular acts of that era appeared on that program. “MTV Unplugged” showcased an artist’s ability to sing live without the crutch of a recording studio. To shine on this show, you needed to not only have a great voice, but great stage presence as well. Uptown Records was more than ready for this task, as they sent out their heavy hitters Jodeci and Mary J. Blige, as well as their new solo vocalist Christopher Williams to showcase their incredible singing voices. Twenty four years later, this edition of the iconic concert series has become one of the greatest episodes in MTV history. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “WHAT’S THE 411?”

On July 28, 1992, Mary J. Blige’s debut album “What’s the 411?” was released. Her first single, “You Remind Me,” was an infectious uptempo tune written and produced by Dave “Jam” Hall. It set the tone for the album’s success. Blige, like Jodeci the previous year, had her look and style orchestrated by a now Uptown Records executive Sean “Puffy” Combs. Combs had Mary dressed like a female version of Jodeci. The result was seen in her next single and first music video, “Real Love.” In that video of another infectious dance track co-written and produced by Fat Boys member Prince Marky Dee and Mark Rooney, Blige and her backup dancers are dressed as tomboys in full baseball caps and jerseys. While both songs were excellent records and top five Billboard R&B hits, it was her next single and video that made her my favorite female singer of all time. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “OOOOOOHH…….ON THE TLC TIP”

Heading into 1992, the first four years of the New Jack Swing Era were completely dominated by male singers. That was no longer the case in 1992 with the release of several classic albums by female acts. 1992 would be the year of the female. That all commenced on February 25, 1992 with the release of TLC’s first album, “Oooooohh……On the TLC Tip.” More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “DANGEROUS”

Many legendary figures in the history of the world, whether it be in sports, politics or music, have adapted to the times in order to continue their career. When Muhammad Ali lost a step, he became more reliant on his incredible chin and heart. When Pedro Martinez lost some zip off his fastball, he became more of a finesse pitcher. When Michael Jackson and his brothers left Motown in the mid 1970’s, they signed a deal with CBS Records and the legendary music label, Philly International, headed by the legendary songwriting duo of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. Philly International was dominating the 70’s urban music scene not unlike Motown dominated the 60’s urban music scene. The Jacksons, led by Michael, adapted to the Philly sound and created some of their greatest music. It’s a formula that Michael used when he approached Teddy Riley to help produce the album “Dangerous.” The result: the single, biggest selling album of the New Jack Swing Era in which it sold over 30 million albums worldwide. More