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Category Archives: whatever mad men

I’ve had season 2 of Mad Men sitting at home for a while now and have yet to muster the courage to watch it, considering my qualms with the first season, though I do hear that season 2 delves deeper into the thematics and characters that interested me the most in season 1. And I guess season 3 is about to start too? And everyfuckingbody in the world has an avatar of themselves in the Mad Men style? So I suppose to combat the slobbering fanboy response to this show I wanted to read a good critique of the show, because I have not seen one. Lo and behold, I have to go across the pond. Far be it from me to give it up to a British paper for taking down an aspect of American culture, but this piece of criticsm is so full of Right Ons:

Mad Men is an unpleasant little entry in the genre of Now We Know Better. We watch and know better about male chauvinism, homophobia, anti-semitism, workplace harassment, housewives’ depression, nutrition and smoking. We wait for the show’s advertising men or their secretaries and wives to make another gaffe for us to snigger over…Mad Men is currently said to be the best and ‘smartest’ show on American TV. We’re doomed.

How it works better as eye candy than intellectual stimulation:

The less you think about the plot the more you are free to luxuriate in the low sofas and Eames chairs, the gunmetal desks and geometric ceiling tiles and shiny IBM typewriters. Not to mention the lush costuming: party dresses, skinny brown ties, angora cardigans, vivid blue suits and ruffled peignoirs, captured in the pure dark hues and wide lighting ranges that Technicolor never committed to film. Sooner or later, though, unless you watch the whole series with the sound off, you will have to face up to the story. It’s a commonplace that portrayal of the past can be used to criticise the present. What of those cases in which criticism of the past is used to congratulate the present? I suppose it does at least expose what’s most pompous and self-regarding in our own time: namely, an unearned pride in our supposed superiority when it comes to health and restraint, the condition of women, and the toleration of (some) difference in ethnicity and sexuality. Mad Men flatters us where we deserve to be scourged.

And finally, an honest takedown of Jon Hamm:

Whether one finds all of this claustrophobic and ludicrous or tightly wound and compelling depends very heavily on one’s opinion of Don Draper. Draper, as written, is a kind of social savant. He knows how to act in every emergency. He deploys strategic fits of temper to attain his ends. He’s catnip to women. As played by Jon Hamm, though, his manner hardly matches his activities. Hamm looks perpetually wimpy and underslept. His face is powdered and doughy. He lacks command. He is witless. The pose that he’s best at, interestingly, is leaning back in his chair; it ought to be from superiority, but it looks as though he is trying to dodge a blow…One never sees hunger or anger in Hamm’s eyes, only the misery of the hunted fox. Either he is playing the hero as a schlub in deference to a 21st-century idea of masculinity as fundamentally hollow and sham, or he’s completely underequipped to convey male menace…In the classic Hollywood cinema, there was a name for the role Hamm should be playing: the Mug, who seems OK at first but in the end has to give up the girl to Cary Grant or Spencer Tracy.

And then there’s the final paragraph, which gets to exactly why Mad Men is so frustrating: This show really can reach a painful level of truth, pathos and tragedy in our country’s imperfect history, but soon after reverts back to the norm of winking, smug condescension. But whatever, it’ll win the Emmy. Friday Night Lights was robbed.

To the people who are Mad Men-ing themselves, is there an option if you are not white? I don’t actually want to do it, since I don’t really like the show that much (I do have season 2 at home thanks to Netflix), but I was just curious.

Oooooh look I said “cinema” instead of “movies” or even “film” because I am a douchebag who studied film theory and watched cinéaste crap like Daughters of the Dust which only exists to be taught in feminist film theory classes. After we saw Milk the day after Thanksgiving (it’s really good though redundant if you already know the story, but still undeniably powerful thanks to a) the social and moral uplift of Milk’s story, b) Sean Penn’s best performance since Dead Man Walking and the first time he’s been actually likable since Spicoli yes everyone has said that sorry, c) I have no idea why people are falling all over themselves to praise James Franco since he just sits there looking pretty and/or having a sourface in Michelle Williams’ Brokeback Mountain role when in fact the second-best performance is by Josh Brolin, giving tremendous depth to an underwritten role–the whole screenplay is problematic), George and I somehow brought up DotD, because we always do, and I fucking still remembered the director’s name: Julie Dash. I don’t know why this is relevant. We also decided that we absolutely need to watch Revolutionary Road, because OMG that shit looks boring. How many fucking movies need to be made about the soul-crushing ennui of middle-class white America?

Which brings me to Mad Men. There was an article in New York magazine recently regarding “Quality Show Fatigue,” which I pretty much agree with except I never watched The Sopranos. I definitely went through this after season 4 of The Wire was done, and then I fell in love with Friday Night Lights. The Wire‘s final season and FNL‘s second season were both disappointing, the latter’s much much MUCH MORE so. So I needed a new temporary Greatest Show Ever, and thanks to a birthday present month-free subscription to Netflix from George (as well as prodding by my roommate), I enjoyed Battlestar Galactica until the end of season three when I just got so tired of its melodrama. And then there was this hoopla surrounding Mad Men, reaching peak level in the fall due to: winning the Emmy, Jon Hamm’s buzzed-about appearance on SNL, and the notice that Hamm would appear on 30 Rock (another Greatest Show Ever moment, but that’s a comedy so it’s in a different category?…certainly Greatest Comedy Ever since Arrested Development) as Tina Fey’s love interest. So I thought, what the hey, might as well give it a shot, and got the first season from Netflix.

When I finished it, I thought the same thing I did after I saw the first season of Six Feet Under: there’s a lot to love, but mainly I just find it irritating. What I love are the tiny details of the period captured in the set and costume design, how GOOD everybody looks even if they’re not conventionally attractive, Christina Hendricks’ curves (I watched that woman and was like “wow, bonerz”), and a fascinating sense of power dynamics w/r/t gender that I initially thought would be glossed-over. Glossed over because this: Don Draper is not that interesting, and the whole show centers on him. WOW the successful white male feels trapped by his successful perfect whiteness so he acts like a successful white male conquering women and booze and jobs and life like they’re the American West and Indians and Algeria and Vietnam, oh WAIT to give him depth let’s go into his Ayn Rand-aided backstory don’t you guys SEEEEEEE???!??!!!!! he’s tormented and conflicted! boohoo the travails of white men. Which looks exactly like Revolutionary Road. And I understand that we’re supposed to be critical of Don Draper while still finding him sympathetic and relatable, but there are far too many times it feels as if we’re being nudged into seeing him as a hero in his antihero-ness. Also annoying: those LOL-in-retrospect! jokes, like about how there’s no machine that makes copies of paper. Zing ’60s!

The most interesting facets of Mad Men to me are the women’s stories (and part of my interest in the show was seeing if it would compare somehow to Far From Heaven), and how their lives and dreams are affected by the rampaging masculinity surrounding them, especially Draper’s wife (who gains increasing depth over the course of season 1, from doe-eyed naif to hellzapoppin’ no-shit-taker) and Peggy (who is severely disserviced by that ludicrous plotline that took all of two minutes to be revealed even if episodes earlier it was apparent to everybody BUT the character, which is fine except **WEE OH SPOILER DRUDGE SIRENS WOOOOO** how do you not know you’re preggers?! **END OF SPOILERS I SHOT DRUDGE JUST TO WATCH HIM DIE**). Also the absolutely most fascinating character to me is sniveling bastard Pete Campbell, because THERE. There is a story about the suffocation of privilege and status of the white American male that is told with a new and interesting slant. We see his complete emasculation time and again, and his machismo is off-putting not just in that “ugh, sexist” way but in a way that the viewer can understand–he’s all act, and a joke of one at that. Everyone sees it but him, and there he still is trying on Don Draper’s cock-of-the-walk pants. His lack of self-awareness is touching and its attendant repercussions are delicious while Don Draper’s expositions are all smoke and fire that somehow manages no heat.

*

I started rewatching The Wire a few weeks ago and have now begun season five again, dreading its ludicrous twin storylines of LIES AND FAKERY, though this time around I appreciate it more, and can delight in the shit in there that’s funny. While watching season five, I realized why I despise this hipster weiner guy at work so much (not just because he talks about Grizzly Bear or says shit like “I don’t empathize with the criminals or the poor because I’m a classic American narcissist”) who will thankfully be leaving soon: HE LOOKS AND SOUNDS LIKE FUCKING KLEBANOW, who is like top 5 most hated Wire characters ever. Seriously that dude popped up and his whiny clipped voice boomed from my speakers and it was all Eureka-time. Thanks to The Wire, I will always hate dudes who look and sound like this.

*

Lastly, I had a dream last night that Kyle Chandler died! 😦 I woke up and was relieved, especially considering how there would be no Friday Night Lights without him. Seriously I even dreamed of an opening credits sequence where Connie Britton’s name was first, not Kyle Chandler’s! WTF is wrong with me, for real.

I have to say that I am elated about season three thus far, that it has redeemed the awful simplicity and sensationalism of season two by returning to the roots of its quality: the spectre of football over a small town and its inhabitants, the optimism of promise and the wrecked broken humanity that accompanies the beauty of faded dreams and glories, and the organic and REAL push-pull dynamics of interpersonal relationships. This season has seen the pleasures of disparate pairings, new/old faces causing untold ripples in their wake, and especially the memories of the familiar: we know so much about the citizens of Dillon, TX because we’ve lived with them, and the actions of the characters–while sometimes maddening and frustrating and terrible, like those of old friends–always feel right this season, like Well Of Course You’re Being Stupid, Tyra/the Rigginses/Buddy! (as opposed the horrible fever dream that was season 2). Here’s to welcoming back old friends.

Oh yeah, GREATEST SHOW EVER.