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Television Collision: Going Mad for Mad Men

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Image In a few short weeks Mad Men will finally be back on the screen with its fourth season. Loved by critics and decorated with prizes, I still feel too few "regular people" watch this excellent show. Don't let quality scare you! Here to help is my assessment of the show's greatness from last summer.


Yes, I know. Two weeks ago I promised I would wail on NBC some more, specifically on their new medical show Trauma, but in all honesty that just seems so pointless. Everyone has heard of “The Leno Effect” by now and I don’t want to keep occupying this column talking about shows you shouldn’t watch if you can help it.

On the contrary, I should talk a lot more about shows you should watch. Quality television should be celebrated here, while the non-quality shouldn’t even be given any overly proportioned attention.
So it is my greatest pleasure to devote this week’s column to the best show on TV right now and for a long time: AMC’s Mad Men.

There’s only three episodes left in the show's third season and I can already feel the withdrawal symptoms heading my way. What consoles me is knowing that it will return for a fourth season, which didn’t always look like it was going to happen. Not because the ratings were bad – they are actually pretty damn good for a cable network as obscure as AMC – but because show creator Matthew Reiner wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go on with the show. (Now, we all know he just wanted more money, but it all worked out, so let’s not dwell on it.)

What often happens with TV shows or even movies that get hyped by critics as much as Mad Men has been (sixteen Emmy nominations speak a clear language [it won 3, btw]), is a sort of “quality backlash”. A lot of people – and on occasion I count myself as one of them – don’t like to buy into hypes and are skeptical of something that is celebrated and revered without much questioning or balance in judgment.

And yet, as off-putting as heaps of praise may be, Mad Men deserves all of it. At the end of 2008, after the second season of Mad Men, I voted it my sixth best show of the year. In retrospect, it should have been higher up on the list. I won’t make the same mistake twice, trust me.

The third season is just as delightful as the first two were and then some. Though the general pacing of scenes has increased – there are less lingering close-ups and silent moments – the plot around Don and his hidden past is thickening and providing all kinds of thrills. Lately, watching an episode of Mad Men is like waiting for a powder keg to explode, because this season has seen so many shake-ups already.

ImageJoan left Sterling Cooper. GASP. Will we see the lovely Christina Hendricks again? Soon? And then Sal got fired. GASP. And Guy had his foot cut off by a lawnmower. GASP. And Betty almost had a full-blown affair. GASP. She is also on to Don’s secret. This can only mean we are in for a heart-stopping finale this season.

I love how this show takes its time. The opening credits portray what the show is about at its center: the long fall of Don Draper. And although everything looked to be going his way at the beginning of the season, it is becoming more and more clear that his descent is in full swing and he is falling faster than ever before. Even the prestigious Hilton account can’t save him. (Side note: I find it utterly fascinating that the man Don is dealing with is supposed to be Conrad Hilton, (great?)grandfather of Paris Hilton. I wonder whether she watches the show to see if her grandfather is portrayed correctly… that would be the shocker of the year.)

Around this center of Don though, a flurry of characters are arranged all equally intriguing and “real”. Even a slimy eel like Pete Campbell has sides you cannot help but empathize with. There is no one-dimensional character on Mad Men, no one just acting as a foil for someone else or as comic relief for the audience. These characters can surprise you, annoy you and warm your heart all in one episode and that is quite the feat to accomplish.

ImageThe one character I actually feel most ambiguous about is Don’s model wife Betty. Yes, she is beautiful, but sometimes she is so cold, I shudder at the sight of her. And although she is not at fault that her marriage is falling apart initially, I just want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her out of her 1960s-housewife-complacency. Sure, she is strong and has a lot of self-control (who else could look like a million dollars and smile pleasantly at a gala dinner when they have just found out their husband may have been married before and may not even be called “Don”?), but she is also a victim of her time period and her own crappy childhood. I would even argue that there have been times in the series when Betty’s character outshone Don’s by a large margin.

You see, I could go on raving about Mad Men for a long time and I haven’t even gotten to the gorgeous color composition, the cinematic texture of lighting and set design and the continuity. Let’s cut those issues short by saying: Mad Men is one beautiful show to look at. Try it once, mute the sound and just look at the flow of the camera movement, the blocking and the blend of colors within one frame. You’ll see what I mean.

One more thing I have to mention though is the smart and fast-paced dialog. Anyone who has read my article about the “Slayer Slang” of Buffy knows that I am a sucker for good dialog. Turn your head for one second during Mad Man and you may have missed a subtle joke, an innuendo too subdued for our modern minds to immediately grasp. It’s brilliant. These days our senses are constantly under attack, everything is blunt and obvious and out there, we are losing our ability to feel the quiet moments and hear the whispers. I don’t mean to go all philosophical here, but in that regard I appreciate the throw-back to the 1960s in Mad Men even more.

No, not everything was golden back then either. Women smoked and drank during pregnancy, the Cold War was going on, couples got married just because it was the social standard and a woman had a hard time wanting to be as successful as their male counterparts (see Peggy!). There were just as many societal pressures as there are nowadays, but they were expressed with such panache and linguistic elegance. Most people can’t even THINK the way these Mad Men characters speak. Granted, most of them are in advertising and have a way with words, but TV is always an amplified version of reality anyway.

My recommendation for the best Sunday night you have had in a while is this: have some ice cubes at the ready and go out to get yourself a nice bottle of single malt scotch or any other highly alcoholic drink of your choice. Then take out a glass of your grandma’s crystal, put two ice cubes in and pour two fingers of your liquor of choice on top. Sit down in your favorite TV chair, grab the remote and turn on AMC at 10 p.m. (your local time). And while that cold, slightly throat-burning liquid finds its way into your body and bloodstream, watch the gorgeous people at Sterling Cooper struggle with life the same way you do, only with so much more style.

Sunday nights were made for Mad Men.



Recommended Collisions with your Television

(combine at will, all times EST, only new programming listed)


Tuesday, October 27th
 8 p.m.  So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
 10 p.m.
 The Forgotten (ABC)
Wednesday, October 28th
 8:30 p.m.  The Middle (ABC)
 9 p.m.
 Modern Family (ABC)
   Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
 9:30 p.m.  Cougar Town (ABC)
 10 p.m.
 Eastwick (ABC)
Thursday, October 29th  
 8 p.m.  Vampire Diaries (CW)
   Flash Forward (ABC)
   Vampire Diaries (CW)
   Community (NBC)
 8:30 p.m.  Parks and Recreation (NBC)
 9 p.m.
 Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
   The Office (NBC)
   CSI (CBS)
   Supernatural (CW)
 9:30 p.m.  30 Rock (NBC)
 10 p.m.  Project Runway (Lifetime)
   The Mentalist (CBS)
   Private Practice (ABC)
Friday, October 30th
 8 p.m.  Ghost Whisperer (CBS)
   Law & Order (NBC)
   Smallville (CW)
 9 p.m.
 Medium (CBS)
   Ugly Betty (ABC)
   Monk (USA)
 10 p.m.
Saturday, October 31st
Sunday, November 1st
 9 p.m.
 Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
   Dexter (Showtime)
   Desperate Housewives (ABC)
 9:30 p.m.  Bored to Death (HBO)
 10 p.m.
 Mad Men (AMC)
   Brothers & Sisters (ABC)
   Cold Case (CBS)
   Californication (Showtime)
 10:30 p.m.  Entourage (HBO)
Monday, November 2nd
 8 p.m.
 How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
   Heroes (NBC)
 8:30 p.m.  Accidentally on Purpose (CBS)
 9 p.m.
 Two and a Half Men (CBS)
   Gossip Girl (CW)
   Trauma (NBC)
   Greek (ABCFam)
 9:30 p.m.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
 10 p.m.  Castle (ABC)
   CSI:Miami (CBS)






Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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