Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mad Men: The Best Show on TV?

I LOVE Mad Men. Love it. From the very first season, I've been intrigued by this show with such stunning directing, writing, and acting. Anyone who's a fan of The Sopranos knows that it was a show where the directors could subtly play with light and dark, where the writers knew how to take already fascinating characters and give them dark secrets to make them even more intriguing, and actors who knew how to take all these elements and make the most of them on screen. Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, was a writer on The Sopranos, and he certainly picked up a LOT while working there.

Seasons 1 and 2 were brilliant, but so far season 3 is my favourite. I think 6 episodes have aired already, and every week I keep meaning to write up something on it, but I keep missing the boat. So I'm writing this on Friday (while Dollhouse is actually on, but my husband is currently commandeering the TV catching up on last night's Flashforward and I'm FREAKING that I'm not watching Dollhouse in real time here!!) to post it on Sunday.

This season finds all of the characters in transition. Don and Betty have just had a new baby, and for the first few episodes, Betty was still pregnant and dealing with her ailing and aging father, who suddenly died right before she gave birth. For me, this is one of the most fascinating and horrific storylines yet -- no, not the whole father dying bit, but what it was like being pregnant in the 1960s!!! ZOMG. First of all, the maternity clothes were HIDEOUS, making this gorgeous woman look like she's wearing a tent the entire time. She smokes, drinks, and does whatever she wants while pregnant. No one worries about her "condition," even if she mentions it every once in a while, and there's no judgement against her for doing things. While I don't smoke or drink, and therefore had to give up nothing for my pregnancies, I have friends who would go out to a restaurant and have a small glass of wine and the looks they endured from people at nearby tables made them wither and push the glass away, ordering a water instead. (But at least their maternity clothes were more fashionable!) And that doesn't even BEGIN to cover the actual birth scene. Yowzers. It's white, sterile, clinical, and they pump so many drugs into Betty's poor frame it's a wonder that kid didn't have to go on methodone as soon as he was born just to deal with the immense withdrawal. Don walks her into the hospital, where she's promptly put into a wheelchair, he's told "your work is done now" and he ends up having an excruciating wait for several hours in the waiting room while Betty deals with nurses who know better, doctors who just jab her with needles to knock her out constantly, and hallucinations that are both vibrant and terrifying. I, on the other hand, remember coming into the hospital through emergency where I had to walk the length of the hospital to the bank of elevators that would take me to triage, and I had to stop every minute to have another contraction against the wall. Where was MY wheelchair??!! Oh, I kid. I'd take that any day over the horrible way they depicted it here. And today's generation often says, "And imagine those fathers who just sat around doing nothing in the waiting rooms" like they were somehow layabouts. I can tell you my husband would have much rather been with me, knowing what was happening, than pacing a waiting room for 20 hours not knowing a thing. And then there's the Bety staying in the hospital for a week, and Don going back to work a couple of hours after the baby was born...

But anyway, on to the rest of the show. There's an early scene where Roger and his ex-wife meet to discuss the impending wedding of their daughter, and the daughter tells the father that in no way does she want his new young wife to be there, because it'll embarrass her in front of everyone. He tells her that there's no way he's going to leave his wife at home, and looks at his ex, picks up the invite and says he'll be sure to tell his wife the date. (The kicker: the date on the invite was November 23, the day after JFK's assassination will be.) He later tells Don that he's not going to let his wife win this one, but clearly he's not considering his daughter at all. War among the exes at the expense of the children, sadly, is not something that had changed at all, even with 50 years under our belts.

Peggy is considering a change of her own, as she's not making nearly the money that the other copy writers are, and is being courted by another agency. Will she go? Meanwhile, Joan's husband was supposed to become the chief resident of the hospital, and she put in her notice to coincide with the day he was going. And then he doesn't get the position and tells her that she'll have to go back to work, which she can't imagine doing now that they've all had a party for her. Will Peggy leave, and Joan will go with her?

Sal has a brief flirtation with fabulousness as he not only gets caught with a busboy by Don in a hotel, but he performs a Broadway routine in the bedroom and his wife finally has that look in her eye like, "Oh. So THAT'S why you're not totally into this whole sex thing..." I wanted this to be the season of Sal, but that might have been it. Oh, and Pete Campbell and his wife perform a choreographed dance for the ages in the first episode that had me in stitches.

Meanwhile, the Brits have taken over the company, and in this past episode (my fave of the season so far), a young buck shows up from England, having gone to the London School of Economics, and he will be taking over as one of the heads, along with Don and Bertram (he forgot to add Roger's name to the flowchart). But Cosgrove, in the meantime, had just landed the John Deere account, and he brings one of their new riding mowers into the office. At the big good-bye party for Joan, everything is going swimmingly, and then Lois decides to hop on the lovely riding mower and ride it around the office. Unfortunately she forgot about the blades, and gets too close to the young Brit... and then this happens.

One of the craziest and funniest moments EVER on Mad Men (and that gif never gets old for me!) Only made funnier by Kinsey telling Roger that he might lose his foot, and Roger replying, "Just when he got it in the door" as a guy is squeegeeing the blood off the windows in the background. My husband and I were laughing our heads off, all the while horrified at the same time.

I wish Mad Men lasted the entire year. I can't believe it's almost done already. Why can't there be more episodes?? Right now, it's the best show on television (while Lost isn't running, of course!) and I think it's extraordinary.

And I'll mention once again that if you haven't already, pick up a copy of Jesse McLean's Kings of Madison Avenue, a book the establishes the socio-political context of the show, and which has made me watch this new season in a completely new and intriguing light.


Loretta said...

I caught up on the first two seasons this summer, when they cycled them On Demand... I couldn't agree more that it is one of the best shows on TV. It has become a total obsession of mine.

I do think, however, that the third season only started gearing up after a few episodes. I didn't find the first four as riveting as I found the entirety of the second season. But then starting with the birth of the new Gene, it has gotten incredible.

I found the party scene in the latest episode absolutely heartbreaking. There's that one moment where new guy (isn't his name actually Guy?) starts to toast Joan and she breaks down and I broke down right along with her. The thing that really amazed me was that it was such a small, simple moment, not built up with a lot of preface or overwrought soundtracking, and it was all the more affecting for it. A lot of current show runners *coughShondaRhimescough* could try to watch Mad Men as if they were back at film school, and learn something from it.

Anyway, it's going to be an exciting night, with the return of Dexter and a new episode of Mad Men. :)

Shelb said...

I love Mad Men. It's a change of pace from the rest of TV today but I don't consider it the best show today AT ALL.

They lifted quite a few things from Sopranos and I feel as if, unlike Tony Soprano, Dexter, any Lost lead or even Michael Scott of the Office, we don't know Don Draper well enough to really root for him.

He's got that mysterious storyline with him stealing the real Don Draper's life, except they don't go into it nearly enough to really flesh him out. We feel bad his family life as a youth was bad, but he actually turned into a pretty bad person when all was said and done. He becomes a non-murdering, less fleshed out character-wise version of Tony Soprano and that's not good enough for a lead character.

The rest of the show I think is pretty good, except alot of things are either forgotten (Joan getting raped? The Draper son is practically non existent except for being treated like shit by Betty) or totally fucking batshit insanely stupid (Betty's "relationship" with that kid!?! WTF was that? Don's screws some pretty risky women in terms of it being discovered by everyone else).

Other than that, one of my top ten shows on right now. I still find Lost, House, Curb, Office, South Park (just off the top of my head) as better, more entertaining shows.

B.J. said...

I loved the Sopranos, so when I was told that Mad Men was "The Sopranos without the language and violence" I was intrigued. I watched the first season, and I thought it was good, but it wasn't as fantastic as people made it out to be, probably because of overhype. Do you think the show just gets better and better, or stays the same (as far as level of quality goes)?

I intend to delve back in with S2 and S3 when I get more time and finish with the wedding planning.

Paticus said...

love the show, and have to agree on Sterling's line after the tractor accident...I was howling and cringing at the same time. I think he may be my favorite character on the show, vene before that line.

brent said...

Mad Men is a good show but that's about as far as I can take it. Maybe I would love it more if I had watched it originally on DVD instead of live. The "who is Don Draper" storyline was the only one that made me want to find out more... and then I was left a little empty with how it all turned out.

The "lawnmower" episode was the first time where "Mad Men" decided to NOT take itself so incredibly seriously. And it was a breath of fresh air.

Comparisons to The Sopranos are way off base. Not even at the base level of "it's a character show" are the shows even remotely similar. The Sopranos created richer characters in a much shorter time.

At its core, Mad Men is a show that unabashedly taps into a very specific time period and culture, one that lines up perfectly with award show voters. For better or worse, Mad Men knows exactly which buttons to push.

But is it a great show? I can't say it is. Just good. If anyone should be getting awards for this show it's not the writers or the male actors. It should be the production team and the actresses who consistently knock it out out the park and will keep me tuning in each week.

jack said...

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Unknown said...

Here's a question im tossing out.

If someone (like you and me) liked The sopranos and Mad men for all the small complexities of the plot, the humour in the darkness and the deep characters, what else is on TV anywhere in the world that we can watch. I'm tired of waiting week after week to be entertained by just one show and DVDs of the other.

What else do you watch. I also kind of liked entourage and californication. Im liking 'Glee' for the song and dance :P


serghei_romanu said...

Everything today must be about entertaining. Mad Men is just as good as The Sopranos and The Wire, just that it doesn't focuse on blood violence gangsters or drug lords.

Is a show for a serious audience, so it's only natural to have generated some satisfied viewers and some not satisfied viewers. It's a question about how one understand and appreciates the quality anof a tv show.

Mad Men did it for me, and I find season 4 as one of the best in tv shows history.