A Great Mad Men Article!

The Chicago Tribune blog has this excellent article about season 2 of Mad Men, and why the show – especially the second season – can sometimes be hard to watch:

I suppose the word “sentimental” is not considered complimentary, but I do think that the Carousel scene in the Season 1 was one of the greatest pieces of sentimental writing I’ve ever seen. In his pitch to Kodak executives, Don beautifully evoked the comfort and warmth of the past – a past that, in his case, was almost entirely a fiction (the pictures were real, the peaceful contentment they depicted was a sham).

This season, however, we’re not seeing the Don of the Carousel scene, the Don who was at least a little hopeful about finding both safety and emotional intimacy. This season, Don appears to have given up, somehow.

Those with more focus and more drive aren’t finding the satisfaction that eludes Don. I suppose what makes this season more sad is the fact that there’s more pain to go around. We’re not only seeing Don’s questionable choices, we’re getting glimpses of many different people’s difficulties. Peggy Olson, Duck Phillips, even Pete Campbell’s wife – it’s not that they had it easy last season, it’s just that we’re getting a good long look at the obstacles they all face.

It’s definitely worth a read!

Mad Men: “Maidenform”

All the Internet pundits out there just gushed over this episode, calling it “the best of the season” and “the best episode ever”. On the other hand, while I feel that the episode had some great moments, there was just something that I didn’t like about it. Like last week’s episode, it felt “off” for some reason (this episode even more so). That doesn’t mean that Mad Men isn’t still the best show on TV right now. Let’s hop right in to the recap:

This episode begins with Betty, Joan and Peggy getting dressed. In the background, “The Infanta” from The Decemberists’ 2005 album Picaresque plays. I did not like the modern music playing during the opening, and that has nothing to do with my like or dislike of The Decemberists – any modern music would put me off. Although I don’t want to paint Mad Men’s producers into a “you must use music from 1962″ corner, I hope they don’t do that again.

Anyway, at the office, Don meets with everyone over the Playtex account. It seems that the Playtex people – whose advertising has always plainly advertised the merits of their bras – are interested in possibly changing their campaign to mimic the dreamy, fantasy world of their main competitor, Maidenform. As was the case with American Airlines, Duck is all for giving Playtex a new look, while Don is unconvinced that change would be good for Playtex. Once again, the two openly disagree.

As Duck leaves the meeting, his secretary rushes up to him to tell him that his ex-wife, children and dog are waiting for him:

It seems that Duck’s former mother-in-law is sick, and his ex-wife needs to spend some time with her; thus, she dumps the kids (and dog) with Duck. Duck takes it in stride, though, telling the kids that he has a great hotel room lined up, and has awesome tickets to a play.

While all this is going on, Pete, Peggy and Sal discuss the direction of the Clearasil account. Pete thinks up his own tagline (“Thanks Clearasil”) over the muted objections of Peggy, who has her own ideas for the campaign.

On Memorial Day, we see the Drapers at a country club party. Don runs in to a guy that “did some work” for the CIA in Cuba, while Betty runs bumps to Arthur Case. The two have an enlightening conversation (“Lets be friends!”). As soon as the Draper children rush up and hug their mother’s waist, Arthur seems to instantly lose interest in Betty. It’s hard to tell what will happen from that. Betty previously pushed Arthur away when he tried to kiss her, but as we know from previous episodes, Betty is a sexual time bomb waiting to go off. Although she appears to value her marriage more than anything, I wonder if she’ll be strong enough to avoid infidelity in the future.

Continue reading “Mad Men: “Maidenform””

Cool Post on Mad Men Blog!

I just wanted to post a link to this cool article on the Mad Men blog about some of the women’s fashion on the show. Although most of the post wonders what modern designers characters like Bobbie Barrett and Betty Draper would wear today, there’s some interesting stuff near the end of the post about Joan’s wardrobe:

– The bras that Christina Hendricks wears on the show are based on an actual 1960s bra found at a thrift store in New Orleans. The costume crew bought the bra and, once they knew it fit Christina perfectly, carefully took it apart, and used the “bra parts” as a pattern to make several new ones for the show.

– Most of Joan’s clothes are genuine vintage dresses. However, the costume team usually buys dresses that are five to six times too large for Christina. This gives them a lot of extra fabric that they can play around with while altering the dress.

Mad Men: “The New Girl”

Mad Men is a funny ol’ show. I went outside for a smoke after last night’s episode, and I thought about how little “action” there was in this episode. Nevertheless, I was amazed at how much “stuff” was crammed in this single episode. And the more I thought about it, the more “stuff” I remembered. This episode reminded me of one of the “slow” episodes of Lost, but at the same time there was an entire season of “Lost answers” crammed into this one episode.

The episode begins with Pete and Trudy visiting a fertility doctor. Pete seems to be going along with it, but as the doctor probes him mentally, it becomes apparent that Pete isn’t ready to be a father. Things weigh on him. The Bomb. The economy. The world in general. It all makes Pete anxious, and I’m pretty sure that his concerns are real, and not something made up for the doctor’s amusement. I did love Pete’s response to the doctor asking him to talk to the nurse about scheduling a time when he can give a semen sample: “whenever she’s free…”

Back at the office, Joan shows off her new engagement ring, and Bobbie Barrett calls Don wanting to “party” because she’s just sold the Grin and Barrett pilot (aside: I like how Joan closed the door to Don’s office after putting Bobbie on hold. She’s a good secretary).

Although Don claims to be working, he eventually meets her at Sardi’s. He orders drinks and food for the couple, then spies Rachel Menken (now Katz). We meet Rachel’s new husband, Tilden, and find out that Menken’s is now with “Grey”, a rival advertising firm. It was a short exchange, but we learned a lot here. Don seemed to be more excited about seeing Rachel then she did him. In fact, she was downright frosty to Don. Whatever happened between those two wasn’t good. In fact, it was bad enough for Rachel to leave for a new firm. So… does that rule out Rachel as one of the people that Don sent the O’Hara book to?

Bobbie then suggests that they go out to her beach house on Long Island. She wants to feel “the cold sand on my back” and the “the surf pounding behind us”. Don and Bobbie keep the party going in the car on the way there, passing a whiskey bottle back and forth between them. Bobbie distracts Don with a kiss… which causes him to have a pretty bad accident. Don subsequently gets locked up for DUI, being over New York’s limit of .15! He needs $150 to pay the fine and get himself out of jail. Unfortunately, he only has $63 on him. He calls someone to help him out:

It’s PEGGY! She’s so awesome! She arrives with $110, then offers to put Bobbie up for the next couple of days (Bobbie got a black eye in the accident, and doesn’t want to have to explain it to Jimmy). Peggy even offers to pick up Bobbie’s clothes from the dry cleaners so she’ll have something to wear, and drive Don to the airport so he can rent a car. Damn! If I’m ever an executive like Don, I want a Peggy Olson in my office!

At home, Don sneaks in the house, only to find Betty waiting up for him in bed. She’s pretty pissed, but when Don explains that he was in an accident, has high blood pressure, and thinks that the booze and pills might have had an adverse reaction which contributed to the wreck… well, Betty goes crazy with worry. It’s the last thing that Don needs at the moment. He tells Betty that he “didn’t want to worry you”. Betty says that he could have at least called him. Frankly, I agree. Dude, your wife is HOT… what the hell is wrong with you?

At the office, the males are in heat because of Don’s new secretary:

When it comes to Mad Men, I usually check a few resources before typing up these things. One is the TV Squad recap. Another is the DVD Talk TV forum. The last is the “Café Society” section of the Straight Dope Message Board. In all of those places, male commenters seemed to drool all over Jane… and frankly, I don’t get it. Joan is way hotter than Jane, and Peggy could be too (Elizabeth Moss is one of those girls that can be really pretty or really average, depending on her makeup and dress). Oh well… different strokes and all that…

Continue reading “Mad Men: “The New Girl””

Mad Men: “Three Sundays”

This week’s episode of Mad Men takes place over three Sundays: Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, 1962.

We begin with a hungover Peggy attending Mass with her family at their Brooklyn church. After a few moments, Peggy decides that she needs some fresh air, and so she excuses herself. As she approaches the door of the church, she runs into a visiting priest, Father Gill. The two have a brief (but meaningful) conversation, and Father Gill says that he’ll be eating lunch at Peggy’s sister’s place that afternoon. At lunch, Father Gill, who has lived in Rome, impresses the ladies with tales of the Vatican. Father Gill and Peggy have some sort of “spark” between them, and when Peggy says that she needs to go, Father Gill excuses himself in order to give Peggy a ride to the subway station. In the car outside the station, Father Gill picks Peggy’s brain for “marketing ideas” for his sermon the following week.

While all this is going on, Don has convinced Betty to skip out on a barbecue by getting frisky with her. Unfortunately, the kids interrupt them, and so the two end up spending a lazy Sunday on the sofa, enjoying drinks made by Sally, the family’s 8 year-old bartender. (I like Sally’s version of the Bloody Mary: 90% vodka, 10% tomato juice, and nothing else). Don and Betty later dance to a Bing Crosby song that Betty loves.

After a brief respite, the sin returns in full force on Monday. Pete and Ken have hired Vicky, a high-end call girl, to entertain a client. Roger stops by the table, and Vicky is (awkwardly) introduced as the client’s wife. Meanwhile, Bobbie Barrett goes to see Don at his office, with plans for a Candid Camera style show starring her husband, tentatively called Grin and Barrett. Last week, I said that I thought that Bobbie and Don didn’t do anything in the car; that illusion was shattered this week when Bobbie locked the door to Don’s office and threw her coat on the floor… presumably to keep her knees from getting dirty.

On the following Sunday, Don gets an emergency phone call from Duck: it seems that the American Airlines meeting has been moved up to the upcoming Friday, and Don’s needed in the office now.. Betty had stepped out of the kitchen moments before the phone rang, and while Don was on the phone, Bobby burned himself on the pancake griddle. Earlier in the week, Bobby also broke the record player, and there’s serious tension between Don and Betty over “who wears the pants” when it comes to disciplining the children. Betty, in a rage, takes Bobby to the emergency room, leaving Don to take Sally to the office.

Continue reading “Mad Men: “Three Sundays””

Cool Mad Men Sites

I know that some of you might be sick of all the talk about Mad Men, but I just wanted to let you guys know about two cool Mad Men websites.

The first is AMC’s official Mad Men site. Yes, it’s an official site owned and operated by AMC, but there’s lots of great stuff at there, like blogs, trivia games, episode guides and a lot more. The Mad Men blog is especially interesting, as it contains not only interviews with cast and crew members, but also the “1960s Handbook”, which focuses on background information about many of the places, objects and companies featured on the show. The site is, in my opinion, great, and if you like the show, it’s absolutely worth a visit.

The second site is a bit silly, yet thought-provoking at the same time. It’s called What Would Don Draper Do? and it features “questions” that people allegedly send in to the site, which “Don” answers. Think of it like “Dear Abby”, only run by a hard-livin’ guy from the 1960s. There are also lots of free-form quotes inspired by things Don says on the actual show. The funny thing is, the quotes tend to come across sounding a bit like fortune cookies… like “Don’t be cruel unless it serves both parties equally” or “Don’t fight. Say whatever she thinks you should” or (my personal favorite) “Teach your eight-year-old daughter to bartend”.

Both sites have RSS feeds, too… so you don’t need to check them all the time.

Mad Men: “The Benefactor”

Wow – Mad Men‘s getting dark again, isn’t it? It really is starting to live up to its tagline: “Where the truth lies”.

This episode begins with comedian “Jimmy Barrett” filming a commercial for Utz potato chips. Barrett – a pastiche of Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, and\or Gene Saks – has had a few drinks, and when Utz owners Mr and Mrs Schilling enter the room, Barrett launches a verbal assault on Mrs Schilling and her considerable girth. The Schillings are understandably offended, and Barrett is too drunk to care. A fiasco thus ensues for Sterling Cooper.

Unfortunately for the agency, Don is at the movies, looking for meaning (again)… this time in Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte. When he gets back to the office, the agency is in crisis mode. Don angrily fires Lois and vows to take matters into his own hands.

Meanwhile, two big things have happened: Arthur and Betty have more conversations at the stables, and Henry opens Ken’s paycheck and finds out that he makes $100 a week less than Ken. This causes Henry to call a friend at CBS to see if any jobs are available there. There aren’t, but his friend does mention that he desperately needs advertisers for an upcoming episode of The Defenders.  Why? The episode is about abortion, and none of his regular advertisers will touch it with a 10-foot pole. Henry thinks that he can sell the ad space to a Sterling Cooper client for pennies on the dollar, and comes up with a plan to sell it to his bosses. Most touching about this scene: the fact that Henry calls his wife for advice about his money situation, and that Jennifer actually gives him good advice. Henry and Jennifer are, more than any other couple on Mad Men, a “team”. They’re husband and wife in the “modern” sense, and it’s cute to see them together.

But then… everything gets dark. Don goes to meet Bobbie Barrett (Jimmy’s wife), to see what it will take to get Jimmy to apologize to Mrs Schilling:

Bobbie don’t play. She takes on Don at every turn, and at one point she suggests that Jimmy will apologize only if Don lets Jimmy have sex with Betty! Negotiations are at an impasse. Don offers to give her a ride home… when a hailstorm breaks out… and Bobbie kisses Don in the car! What happens next isn’t clear: several blogs have talked about how “Don slept with Bobbie”, but the official AMC recap only mentions the kiss. Personally, I’m not sure. I think he only kissed her, but I’m not sure about that.

At home, Sally asks Don if she can ride with Mom on Saturday. Don tells her no. Betty then gives Don his watch, which she’d taken to get repaired (and engraved as a special treat). Don looks at the engraving, says “Awww, Bets!” and kisses her.

Saturday rolls around, and Betty goes to the stables to ride. She, of course, runs in to Arthur. They have a long conversation, which ends with Arthur trying to kiss Betty. She refuses his advances, and in doing so looks absolutely beautiful. January Jones is one of those people that looks much better on TV than she does in real life. Which is a pity, because when she’s all dolled up as Betty Draper, she’s totally a modern day Grace Kelly:

Anyway, while Betty is at the stables, Don calls Bobbie to arrange a dinner between her and Jimmy, Don and Betty, and the Schillings. When Betty comes home, Don asks her how she feels about going to Lutece on Monday night. Betty is initially excited, but then she finds out that it’s a “business thing”. Betty asks if “this is one where I talk, or where I don’t talk?” Don gives her one of his trademark lines: “I need you to be shiny and bright. I need a better half.” She complains about the short notice and having nothing to wear. Don, seeing that she’s really complaining about not spending time with her husband, tells her that they’ll go alone sometime. He then calls her “Birdie” (for those of you keeping up with his nicknames). Hmmm..

Continue reading “Mad Men: “The Benefactor””

Good News and Bad News

Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news from the world of TV Land today.

First, the good news: according to Robert Seidman over at tvbythenumbers.com, Mad Men will definitely be renewed by AMC, barring some unforeseen ratings disaster. And why would AMC renew an incredibly expensive show that can’t even crack the Basic Cable Top 20 Ratings?

Well, two reasons: first, Mad Men is a darling of the critics. If the show wins even a handful of the 16 Emmy Awards it was nominated for, it will be a triumph for AMC, which would then inherit prestige it could never otherwise have had… especially since Mad Men (along with FX’s Damages) are the first two basic cable shows to ever be nominated for the Best Drama award.

But more than that, Mad Men gets what I like to call “30 Rock Ratings”. You may have noticed that there is little (if any) talk about canceling Tina Fey’s comedy, even though the show pulls down mediocre overall numbers. Part of this is because NBC management loves the show. Another part of it is that “industry insiders” also love the show. But the main reason 30 Rock stays on the air is that the show attracts an insanely wealthy demographic. In fact, among households earning $100,000 or more per year, 30 Rock actually ranks as the #2 show in America. As you might guess, advertisers cream over numbers like these, and upscale brands like BMW and Sub-Zero will line up around the block to advertise on 30 Rock. Mad Men is in almost the same boat: although less than 2 million people watch Mad Men every week, around 40% of those people are in households that earn $100,000 or more per year. So trust me: my favorite show isn’t going away any time soon.

But it appears as though another of my favorite (new) shows is going away, and that’s where the bad news comes in: it looks like Swingtown will not be renewed. Although CBS has not made any announcements about the show’s future, actor Grant Show has already shaved off his “porno mustache” and taken a role on Private Practice. This frankly isn’t much of a surprise, given the show’s ever-dwindling numbers. But at least we’ll have closure: according to Swingtown executive producer Alan Poul “[t]he season ends with a cliffhanger, but it’s also a completely satisfying ending. So, if we go forward, there are many new things that are set up to explore. And if we don’t go forward, there’s no feeling that we’ve been left with something incomplete.”

Sure, I’ll be sad that Swingtown is gone. Although I initially watched the show for its titillating premise, I’ve grown to care about the characters in what amounts to a conventional drama with a few peccadilloes thrown in for fun. Perhaps the show was a bad fit for CBS. It’s not perverted enough for HBO these days, and doesn’t seem to fit in with what Showtime’s doing these days. Maybe it would have worked better on FX or USA?

In any case, I’ve watched a lot of British TV in the past couple of years. Most British shows have 6-8 episodes per season, with a maximum of 3-4 seasons. Unlike American shows, which tend to go on and on and on over the years (Prison Break, I’m looking at you), most British shows have 32 episodes or less to tell a story, complete with a beginning, middle and end. And that’s that. And it’s kind of refreshing in a way. Instead of “I used to like that show, but gave up on it after season 13”, most British shows just end, and viewers move on to something else. So as long as Swingtown has a nice ending, I’ll be happy.

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””


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.