Mad Men: “Flight 1”

Wow – Mad Men continues to impress! In this episode in particular, the attention to detail was simply amazing. It began with a party scene (more on that later), then went back to the office the next morning, where people were huddled around a radio: it seems that American Airlines flight 1 had crashed in Jamaica Bay (and yes, that actually happened). Later in the episode, one of the characters goes to Mass, and not only is the priest celebrating the Mass in Latin (Vatican II hasn’t happened yet), the crucifix is also draped in purple cloth… and yes, the American crash did happen during Lent in 1962. It’s the attention to detail that really makes this show so special; most other TV shows would have had the Mass in English, or forgotten to drape the crucifix in cloth (or both). But not Mad Men.

As mentioned, the episode opens with a long party scene at Paul’s place in Montclair, New Jersey. Paul makes a big deal about telling everyone from Sterling Cooper how “artsy” and bohemian Montclair is. He lords over his party with his new beard, ascot, a pipe… and his new black girlfriend! Paul is a pretentious twit, and his efforts to be “cool” are obvious to everyone. He’ll get his comeuppance later in this episode, trust me.

We then move ahead to the next morning, where everyone is huddled around the radio, listening to news reports about the plane crash. People start making off-color jokes, including Pete… who finds out minutes later that his father was aboard the plane that crashed:

It’s never been a secret that Pete and his father didn’t get along. Pete’s dad hated his son’s profession (he famously called Pete a “pimp” in “New Amsterdam” in season 1). Pete’s dad – from a now-broke blueblood New York family now coasting by on their name alone – was an overbearing bastard, the type of guy that only tells his son that he loves him once or twice in an entire lifetime. Although Pete is often played as a jerk, it was nice seeing him look around the office for sympathy, specifically how he looked to Don as a father figure. But more on that later.

While all that’s going on, Sterling, Cooper and Duck are having an intense conversation. It seems that one of Duck’s contacts from his London days works for American, and they are interested in possibly changing ad agencies in the wake of the crash. There is, of course, a catch: Sterling Cooper currently represents Mohawk Airlines. And thus, a huge conflict erupts between Sterling, Cooper and Duck (who see huge dollar signs if they can land the American account) and Don (who thinks it’s unfair to ditch Mohawk Airlines just for the chance of landing American). This is, of course, quite revealing. Don is, at heart, a con man. You’d think that he’d be all for trying to get an account that could get him a summer home in the Hamptons. But no: Richard Whitman has so thorougly become the man he is pretending to be that he can’t see things as they actually are.

We then visit the Campbell family as they “grieve” over the loss of their father\husband. Many online pundits seemed to misunderstand this scene. It’s an old-school WASP family that has absolutely no idea how to grieve, much less deal with each other:

It’s slightly familiar (although my family wasn’t nearly as stiff as the Campbell family). The bit where Pete’s mom pratically forces Trudy to take the pink elephant is so… human. She sees her world collapsing around her – especially since Pete’s dad apparently not only spent all of his own money, but also spent a huge chunk of his wife’s trust fund too. It’s awkward, in much the same way that scenes from The Office make you cringe… only this time it’s not funny.

Next its off to the Draper home, where Don only wants to rest after a trying day. Unfortunately for Don, Carlton and Francine are coming over to play cards. There was a lot going on in these scenes: Don teaching his young daughter how to make mixed drinks (that’s probably considered “child abuse” thse days); the kids sneaking around, trying to see what the adults are up to; Don and Betty’s differing opinions about their son tracing a drawing and claiming it as his own (Betty: “he’s a liar”, Don: “boys will be boys”); the almost complete reversal of Don and Betty’s roles in the home (sometime between late 1960 and spring 1962, Betty started wearing the pants inside the Draper home, and now Don is the whiny, needy one – more impotence on his part?); lastly, there’s Don’s nickname for Betty. During season 1, he usually called her “Birdie” – now she’s “Bets”. What does that mean, exactly?

Continue reading Mad Men: “Flight 1”

“Mayakovsky”

By the way… if you watched the season premiere of Mad Men last Sunday, you probably recall that the episode ended with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) reading a poem. If you’re curious, the poem is called “Mayakovsky”, and it is indeed part of the Frank O’Hara book Meditations In An Emergency that featured prominently in the episode.

The full text of the poem is as follows:

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

Incidentally, Meditations jumped from 15,565 to 161 on Amazon’s sales ranking list after Mad Men aired last Sunday night.

I have resisted the urge to say this about Mad Men so far, but I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way now:

You HAVE to love this show or you’re stupid.

Mad Men: “For Those Who Think Young”

Season 2 of Mad Men kicked off last night, and I finally figured out why I love this show so much: when I watch it, I am completely and totally sucked in to this world. When Mad Men is on, I’m not watching a bunch of actors reading lines – I’m watching a magical time machine that’s taken me back to the early 1960s. Mad Men isn’t a simple television show – it’s a portal to an earlier time.

Season 2 begins on February 14th, 1962 – 14 months ahead of where season 1 ended (yet another reason to love this show: it’s never explicitly stated that it’s 14 months later – the writers assume that you’ll be intelligent enough to figure it out as the show goes on). Some things are the same. Some have changed. Perhaps the most shocking change is in Peggy – who went from shy secretary to junior copy writer in season 1. Peggy now a serious Sterling Cooper employee. She feels like the only professional woman in the office, and needs to lord it over the secretaries so that they’ll remember that she’s not “one of them”. Her conversation with Don’s new secretary is priceless:

"Lois... do you know where Mr. Draper is?"
"Lois... do you know where Mr. Draper is?"

And then there are the Drapers. Don and Betty appear to be together again – not a peep from Don’s many mistresses – and superficially appear to be happy together. I personally think that Don is just happy to have a family and beautiful wife (love the intro in the hotel!), so he doesn’t want to mess it up. He feels like he dodged a bullet. He’s also worried about his health. I think Don feels like the world is closing in on him. His life has been one lie after another, and now his health is on the line. I think Don’s more worried about karma being right around the corner than the police. And something’s not right with Don and Betty’s sexual relationship. In this episode, they check into a hotel for a little “Valentine’s Day Lovin'”, but Don is unable to “close the deal” so to speak. Other web sites have speculated that Don “couldn’t perform” because of a health issue; I thought everything with Don and Betty was just awkward. You be the judge…

Don is also erratic at the office. He’s running the office from afar: he doesn’t return calls, he misses all kinds of office talk, and he misses meetings:

Waiting on Don...
Waiting on Don...

There are also changes on the way in the advertising world. A client has begged Roger Sterling into hiring a team of “young guns” to do their ad. Indeed, word on the street in the advertising world is that clients want younger and younger people working on their ads. Youth is “in” in a big way in advertising. What will this mean for Sterling Cooper’s staff?

There’s still a lot to be said for manners, though. Another reason I get sucked into Mad Men is that it portrays an era that, although inherently sexist, bigoted, and racist, was far better behaved than the people of today. There’s a great scene where Don walks in an elevator with these two guys that are explicitly describing a sexual exploit. At the second floor, an older lady gets on the elevator. The two guys continue with their story in front of the older lady… until Don the guy telling the story to take off his hat (hidden message: shut the hell up):

"Take off your hat."
"Take off your hat."

There is, of course, a lot more going on with the show. I won’t take up your time going through all those things… but I do want to end on “The Book”. Early in this episode, Don is in a bar eating some lunch (when he should have been at the meeting pictured above). A guy at the bar is reading a book of poems called Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara (Amazon). Don ends up with his own copy, which he mails to someone. Who? We don’t know:

Who is Don thinking of?
Who is Don thinking of?

Lastly… TV Squad (in this recap) said that “January Jones is one of the most beautiful women on the planet”. I can’t say that I could argue with them. Enjoy one last screen cap:

Ms. Betty Draper
Ms. Betty Draper

Set those DVRs!

Folks, I’ve said it a dozen times on this site: Mad Men is the best show on TV right now. Full stop. Period dot.

Season 2 starts on July 27 at 10 p.m. ET on AMC. But the network is having a season 1 marathon this Sunday! Additionally, many cable providers (Time Warner for one) are offering season 1 in full OnDemand (in SD and HD in many markets).  If you haven’t seen this show yet, you should really set your TiVo or check the OD channels, because really… as I’ve said it a dozen and one times already: it’s an awesome show.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Mad Men has received highly positive critical response since its premiere…. A New York Times reviewer called the series groundbreaking for “luxuriating in the not-so-distant past.” The San Francisco Chronicle called Mad Men “stylized, visually arresting […] an adult drama of introspection and the inconvenience of modernity in a man’s world”. A Chicago Sun-Times reviewer described the series as an “unsentimental portrayal of complicated ‘whole people’ who act with the more decent 1960 manners America has lost, while also playing grab-ass and crassly defaming subordinates.” The reaction at Entertainment Weekly was similar, noting how in the period in which Mad Men takes place, “play is part of work, sexual banter isn’t yet harassment, and America is free of self-doubt, guilt, and countercultural confusion.” The Los Angeles Times said that the show had found “a strange and lovely space between nostalgia and political correctness”. The show also received critical praise for its historical accuracy – mainly its depictions of gender and racial bias, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the high prevalence of smoking and drinking. Mad Men has received a score of 77 (generally favorable reviews) on the media review website Metacritic.

The article also says:

The series made Emmy history in 2008 as the first basic-cable series to be nominated for best drama. Jon Hamm was also nominated as best actor in a drama for his performance as Don Draper.

The series won the Golden Globe Award for Best Drama Series and Jon Hamm won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor In A Drama for his performance as Don Draper.

Additionally, the series won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best New Series. American Film Institute picked it as one of the ten best TV series of 2007.

The cast of Mad Men were nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, and Jon Hamm was nominated for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series.

The episode “Shoot” won the Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design for a Single Camera Television Series.

The Series was awarded a 2007 Peabody Award.

It’s good. Believe me, folks! Set those DVRs, people!