Tuesday, September 15, 2009

MAD MEN



Eugene O'Neil reading.


Can anyone define what makes MAD MEN the best show on TV (IMHO)? Is it the enigmatic nature of the characters, the way the writers tinge each scene with what is coming soon in terms of societal change, the sadness that each character carries inside, the almost intuitive grasp of how arcs can be very small and still satisying. I especially admired the scenes with the prison guard in the waiting room, the scene with Pete Campbell interrogating the elevator operator in the elevator (loved his line about how all jobs have their ups and downs), of Betty in her twilight sleep wandering the hallways of her life, of Don making hash for his daughter. All of these were harbingers of changes to come in the next few years. Brilliant for me.

21 comments:

Laurie Powers said...

It's all those things and also because the sets and the costumes and the camera work is just so damn beautiful.

George said...

Everything about MAD MEN is understated, Patti. The writers know their audience is intelligent and deliver subtle scenes that are emotionally charged. This is also one of the few TV programs that treat children realistically. I love the scene last week when Grandpa Gene had his little granddaughter drive his car down the street.

Patti said...

Laurie-Every scene is so meticulously done-every costume, painting, fabrics on chairs.it's as if it is filmed as silkscreens.
George-I thought it was a dream. What a shock. Is the boy's name Gene? I missed it because my husband was shuffling back and forth to a baseball game.
What a horror when they didn't include her in their grief. And what a surprise when the supposedly kindly teacher hit on Don.

George said...

What program on NBC, CBS, ABC, or FOX would include a child's grief as part of their storyline? The simple answer is: NONE. Don Draper is a chick-magnet so it didn't surprise me that the teacher hit on him. But I wonder who the father of the baby is... Remember Draper's wife had that sexual adventure during the Cuban Missle Crisis. How come you're not Queen of the Remote, Patti?

Patti said...

I would never change a channel. My passivity does me in.

Kieran Shea said...

It’s hypnotic because we are examining lives through a personal God-like lense, and every moment that the characters are oblivious we know things are not going to end well. These chimneys will get cancer, JFK will be shot, their world will come crumbling down, and lives will be destroyed. We hope that it won’t but we know that it will. The privileged of knowing history that the characters are totally unaware of. Fascinated by the “dynamite” under the bridge as the train approaches (oddly enough Bridge Over the River Kwai reference in a recent episode.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

That certainly is a lot of it. The word Negroes will disappear in a few years. Elevator operators too. Women in a twilight sleep. Men in waiting rooms, women getting paid less (sometimes), smoking everywhere. Yet this sounds like the show is just a grab bag of anachronisms. It is more than that.
It's the first show about depression, I think. Sadness, aloneness.

Fleur Bradley said...

I have yet to see it, so now I'm really looking foward to it. I reserved the first season at my library...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Fleur-Give it a chance to sort itself out. There are a lot of characters to sift through. Each of them interesting over time.

John McFetridge said...

There's something about the advertising world, too. The show isn't exactly judgemental, but you can't help but feel that old line about advertising agencies being the biggest waste of intelligence outside of Hollywood has some truth to it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The storyline about Admiral TV was fascinating. I wonder if there is truth to it. I guess yes.

Todd Mason said...

I have my own reservations about the ponderousness of the series at times, and that the characters can be rather too Archetypically clueless, but even with Ed Gorman's telling criticisms of its verisimilitude, I still enjoy it enough to continue watching. Hey, I like BREAKING BAD, too. AMC = All Miserable Characters.

Chad said...

For me, it's a couple things. It's just so well written in terms of dialogue and plot. It's nice to watch a show again on television that doesn't rely on the "Hey, watch me pull this out of my ass and even though it makes no sense, isn't it brilliant?"

It's so well shot. It's well acted. The music is nice (that scene near the end of Season 2 where Don is in California and the waves are breaking over him as Hank Williams is playing). The costumes are gorgeous. It's like watching mini-old movies.

Also, it's nice to watch something with adult characters.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is ponderous--but so many series allow their characters no time for inner thoughts, I don't mind it.
And yes, adult characters, struggling with changing times. When has a show ever documented that before. Most TV shows are completely disinterested in the time they are set in in terms of societal change. I can only think of that one with Alfie Woodward, more than a few years ago. MAD MEN may look like it's just about smoking and clothes, but it's not (IMHO).

Todd Mason said...

Hm. Most of the series I've loved have no paucity of adult characters...ONCE AND AGAIN, HOMICIDE, THE WIRE, DEADWOOD come to mind...and not a few of the characters in MAD MEN, aside from being caricatures, are caricatures of functional arrested development (also true of ST. ELSEWHERE).

To say that most television drama doesn't deal with changing times is, I think, to shortchange most of the more serious drama...it's simply that historical drama, such as I'LL FLY AWAY and the better western and other similar sorts of series, have this sort of comparison built in. People of our time commenting on the past. A bit like being surprised that sf drama has something satirical to say about the current scene, when it does.

Ponderous only becomes problematic when it becomes pretense of depth.

Todd Mason said...

Not disinterested series:
LOU GRANT
CAGNEY AND LACEY
HOMICIDE
THE WIRE
LAW & ORDER
ONCE AND AGAIN
ST. ELSEWHERE
ER
SECRET AGENT/THE PRISONER
THE DEFENDERS
NAKED CITY
NYPD
NYPD BLUE
HILL STREET BLUES
ALL IN THE FAMILY/MAUDE
WKRP IN CINCINNATI
FRANK'S PLACE
AMERICAN FAMILY (either of the PBS series by that name, although the tv verite docu series was AN AMERICAN FAMILY)
100 CENTRE STREET...

Todd Mason said...

And certainly SWINGTOWN and LIFE ON MARS (both UK and US) made a stab, with varying degrees of seriousness and success.

wv: strete, reminiscent of Message writer Craig Strete

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, but MAD MEN is looking back at it. I'm not saying no series comments on current times but few try to make sense of the past:I'll FLY AWAY was the one. LIFE ON MARS-I loved-but it was mostly interested in differences in crimes solving. SWING TOWN was entrenched in sexual mores.

Todd Mason said...

DEADWOOD, GUNSMOKE in its early "adult" years, ST. ELSEWHERE particularly effectively with some special episodes, THE WALTONS and to a lesser extent LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE in their "family-oriented" ways, CITY OF ANGELS peripherally, PEACEKEEPERS.

I haven't watched enough of, say, THE TUDORS or ROME to know how serious they might be thus.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Was St. Elsewhere looking back? China Beach.

Todd Mason said...

CHINA BEACH is a great example of doing that sort of thing better than MAD MEN, I'd suggest--and the more naive characters of CB actually learned something about life, which most of the MAD MEN seem remarkably resistant to. ST. E had a few episodes that cast back through the history of St. Eligius...Edward Herrmann was the notable guest star, as younger and older versions of his character.