Couch Commando

MAD MEN: Season 1 Episode 13 – “The Wheel”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on April 11, 2010

Viewed in the afternoon, on the couch, with a friend.

Betty Draper: Maybe if she turned down the lipstick, her husband could hear her.

So here we are. It’s finally come down to the very last episode of season one. Luckily, I don’t have to be sad since I’ve got two more seasons to catch up on, and this show isn’t going off the air any time soon. In this episode, Betty Draper is getting ready to spend Thanksgiving with her family. Don isn’t coming (mostly because he doesn’t want to) but he tells Betty that he can’t with his work load at the office. The next day Betty’s friend Francine is waiting for her to get home in a panic – she’s found out that her husband is cheating on her by looking at the phone bill. After Francine leaves, still distraught, Betty grabs the family’s phone bill.

Later at the therapist’s office, Betty Draper opens up a can of worms when she off handedly says,

Still, I can’t help but think that I’d be happy if my husband was faithful to me.

Woah, black Betty (Bam-ba-lam?). It’s clear that Betty is completely aware of her husband’s extracurricular activities.

At the office, Peggy Olson is running auditions for a radio spot. Impressively, she takes charge and even ends up firing a woman she hires when she can’t do the job to her satisfaction. Draper is working on a new campaign for Kodak and after looking at the box full of pictures from his brother, he calls him at his hotel only to have the clerk tell him his brother committed suicide.

Back to Peggy, she’s climbing the corporate ladder. Above her on the ladder is Pete Campbell, who drags in a new account for Clearasil. Draper thinks Olson will be perfect for it but Campbell says she’s just a secretary and not good enough for the account. In response, Draper calls in Peggy and immediately makes her a junior copy writer. She gets to share an office with another writer but before she can enjoy it, she starts feeling ill. Before you know it, she’s at the hospital where she goes into labor with Pete Campbell’s devil spawn. Yeah, that’s right ladies. That Seventeen magazine article about being pregnant for nine months without knowing it is true. You know, it’s true like that time George Bush told you that abortion would give you breast cancer? Is my sarcasm apparent?

Rosemary's baby. Ahem. Olson's baby.

Later a nurse comes into Olson’s room with the spawn and asks if she wants to feed it, but Olson just turns away without a word. The show ends with Draper returning home to an empty house. He sits on the stairs, depressed, and hold his head. The end of the show isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but I’ll definitely be watching the next two seasons to find out what happens.

After all that drama, I’d like to segue way to a more uplifting subject. Since I started watching the show, and even at the beginning when I wasn’t hooked, the one reason I would have kept watching is the costuming. The period costuming of Mad Men is amazing and for anyone who enjoys vintage clothing, a great show to be watching. I really enjoy vintage clothing and I worked in a costume shop while I was doing regional theater in the south. Two different productions of Bye Bye Birdie (a musical produced in 1960) later, and I think I’m pretty well steeped in 1960’s fashion.

Best dressed show?

Janie Bryant is the costume designer for the show, and she’s done an amazing job. A few posts ago I wrote about the color palette of the show – Bryant is largely responsible for the it. The show’s time period is great for costuming because it’s really a time when people weren’t afraid of dressing. There is so much color, texture, amazing patterns, and great design details to the clothing. Personally, I think this period is defined by the details. The perfectly executed kick pleat at the back of a skirt, the charming little bows and buttons, hidden pockets set perfectly into inseams and pin tucks, generous seam allowances, satin linings, and the absolutely masterful construction of clothing.

Joan and Peggy: 60's vs. 50's.

Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson are a great example of how transitional this time period was in silhouette. Holloway’s dress is more 60’s – the form-fitting dress with an attached scarf and a kick pleat in the front is killing me in the best way. Her fashion forward style also fits her character perfectly – the office manager sleeping with a partner wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less femme fatale. Olson’s dress is more 50’s – the wide circle skirt is an older, more conservative style which compliments her goody two shoes attitude. Bryant does an incredible job of matching the character with the right clothes.

I don't know what she killed for that hat, but it looks fabulous.

I have to admit, watching Mad Men has even affected my own clothing choices. When I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year, I went vintage shopping with a friend who just happens to be a costume designer and fellow Man Men viewer. After our day on Magazine Street, we both ended up going home with 1960’s era wiggle dresses a la Joan Holloway. Now if I could only find a matching Don Draper to go with the dress, I’d be set.

Rated 5/5.

MAD MEN: Season 1 Episode 9 – “Shoot”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on April 7, 2010

Viewed at home on the couch, by myself, in the late afternoon.

Hello, Tyra? Meet Betty Draper, America's Next Top Coca-Cola Model.

In this episode, I actually started to enjoy the child-like ice queen known as Betty Draper. A few posts ago I predicted that we were about to see another side of Betty, and it turns out I was right. The meat of this episode is about a rival advertising agency trying to steal the suave Don Draper away from Sterling Cooper’s Madison Avenue roost. Jim Hobart, the man fishing for Draper, happens to meet the Drapers at the opera during a production of Fiorello!. He compliments Betty on her Grace Kelly looks and suggests she model for their new Coca-Cola ad campaign. Betty suddenly decides to take him up on it and make a sudden return to the modeling career she left behind when she met Don. Little does she know the offer is just another way for Hobart to steal Draper away from Sterling Cooper  – much like the golf clubs and the hefty salary he dangles in front of the “mad man.”

When Draper decides not to take the job at the other company, Betty suddenly gets dropped from her ad campaign and instead of telling her husband the truth, tells him that she’s decided to be a stay at home wife again because, after all, she hates having Don come home to leftovers every night. During her working mom absence, the kids have let the family dog snatch one of the neighbor’s pigeons, though the dog doesn’t injure it too badly. The neighbor threatens to shoot the dog if it comes on to his property again. At the end of the episode, Betty Draper does this to retaliate, and I fall just a little in love with Don Draper’s super square wife.

Peggy Olson: Have you called Jenny yet?

Back at the office, Peggy Olson’s weight gain has become office fodder. Weight gain, shmeight gain. Can anyone spell P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T with Pete Campbell’s devil spawn? Olson rips the seam of her skirt when she leans over in her chair, and covers it by wearing her sweater around her waist all 7th grade style. Joan Holloway tries to help by loaning Olson an ill fitting red dress.

I can’t believe how much I like this show compared to when I first started watching it. I’m ready to tear through the rest of the season so I can start up the second season. There is no doubt the show has gotten better as the season gains momentum – they definitely started to hit their stride mid-season. Mad Men is also a period piece – every last detail fits into the exact time period the show is set in. Despite this, the show manages to be completely relevant. While the offices and clothing are a bit different, and everyone might be a bit more drunk then they are now when noon rolls around, it still goes to show that the human experience hasn’t changed all that much.

Rated 3/5.

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MAD MEN: Season 1 Episode 7 – “Red in the Face”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on March 12, 2010

Viewed late at night, at home on my couch, with a friend, during a heavy thunderstorm.

Roger Sterling: A nauseating man to most - even himself.

This is Roger Sterling. He is a major partner at the Sterling Cooper ad agency, and the boss (read: drinking partner) of Don Draper. He has a wife and daughter, but he’s having an affair with Joan Holloway. In most walks of life, he’s generally despicable. In this episode, Sterling becomes an unexpected dinner guest at the Draper home outside New York City. When Don goes to the garage to search for more liquor, Sterling helps Betty take the dishes in the kitchen and ends up hitting on her. She resists him, and Don walks in sensing that something has happened between his wife and Sterling. After boss man leaves, Draper yells at Betty, telling her she was acting like a giggly school during dinner and blaming her for the episode in the kitchen.

The next day at the office, Sterling brings Draper a bottle of liquor and apologizes for the night before. He compares it to “parking your car in the wrong garage” and explains that “When a man gets to a point in his life when his name’s on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.” He likes to mention that his name is on the building a lot. Draper plays it cool, but he’s still verbally holding it against Betty. Later, we see Draper speaking with the elevator operator and handing him some cash.

Betty "Introspective" Draper.

Speaking of Betty, we see her grocery shopping the next day. She spots Helen Bishop (the divorcee from down the street with the serial killer-in-training son) and says hello. Helen tells Betty that she found the lock of blond hair in her son’s room and admonishes Betty saying, “He’s only nine!” Betty slaps Helen and runs out of the super market. I think we’re starting to see Betty come undone, which sounds bad – but I think Betty is going to start showing that she’s a lot smarter and more multi-faceted than everyone thinks.

A few episodes ago it was mentioned that Richard Nixon, a likely presidential candidate, might be using Sterling Cooper for his ads. Sterling wants Draper on the account so before a meeting with Nixon’s people, the guys go out to lunch. They eat a few too many oysters and drink multiple martinis, completely forgetting to discuss Nixon’s ad campaign. When they return stuffed and drunk, the elevators are out of service. With Nixon’s people waiting, Sterling huffs and puffs up the 23 flights of stairs while Draper barely breaks a sweat. Draper introduces himself to Nixon’s people and Sterling makes an attempt, but instead vomits martinis and oysters all over the rug in the lobby of the office. They give Sterling a moment to collect himself while Draper follows the men in to the meeting with a trace of a smile on his face.

The real women of Mad Men.

After writing in another post that I felt a certain scene must have been written by a woman, I decided to do some research on the writers of the show. As it turns out, seven of the nine writers on the show are women (pictured above). Unsurprisingly, the articles on the female majority confirms many things I would already assume. Of course, the writers have a larger pool of experiences to draw from since they’ve probably encountered many of the same problems that Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson would face in their work places.

I hate to admit that knowing so many of the writers are women makes me like the show more, but it is true. For that reason, I’m glad I didn’t know anything about the writers when I started watching the show. However I wonder if that has anything to do with the men of the show being less like-able. I’m definitely not one to believe that women can’t write for male characters, or vice-versa, but personally I have a harder time feeling sympathy for the male characters. Then again, this difficulty could also be a product of the fact that I’m female and usually tend to feel more kinship with female characters. Either way, it’s interesting to know exactly who it is behind the words of Mad Men.

Rated 5/5.

MAD MEN: Season 1, Episode 5 – “5G”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on March 9, 2010

Viewed on my awful Ikea couch, with a friend, in the early evening.

The Drapers: Drunk and disorderly.

This episode opens up with Don and Betty Draper getting back from an award ceremony – from which Don is carting home the big trophy. Arriving late and hung over to the office the next morning, everyone is full of congratulations for he and Ken, who in an exercise of publish or perish, got a short story printed in the Atlantic Monthly. Of course it turns out that Pete Campbell is a writer too, and he is absolutely perishing in the background – because Campbell can’t stand to see the spotlight on someone else. He  sends his wife Trudy out to her old boyfriend (a big guy in publishing) to get one of his stories published and the old flame agrees, but only after making Trudy an inappropriate offer for some extramarital fun. She demurs and later Campbell throws a temper tantrum because the publication he’s getting published in isn’t good enough for him. Who didn’t see that one coming?

Back in the office, Draper’s murky past is coming back to haunt him again. He’s in a meeting when Peggy Olson lets him know someone is in the lobby to see him. Cue the mystery music – the guy in the lobby is his little brother who spotted the elder Draper’s picture in the paper (from his award), and he calls Don “Dick.” Fast forward a little, and Draper is offering baby brother $5,000 bones to get lost.

Since that takes care of this episode’s summary,  we can move on to what I really wanted to talk about – the theme music and the opening title sequence of the show. A couple weeks ago I accidentally saw the last 15 minutes of a conference on opening title sequences. It got me thinking about how opening title sequences and music set the entire tone for a show. Every time an audience sits down to watch an episode, the opening title sequence is the first introduction they’ve got and it will likely be what they remember from the show long after they stop watching it. I mean, who can’t sing the “Fresh Prince” theme after all these years?

For reference, here’s the Mad Men opening sequence:

I’ve seen the opening sequence of Mad Men at least five times now, and I’m able to take a closer look at it each time. The theme music is an instrumental piece by RJD2 and fits the opening sequence nicely. It’s not too slow and it’s not too fast, but it’s mysterious, serious, intelligent, and sexy. The black and white silhouette of a businessman falling from the top of a building during the sequence is interesting as well – the fall is slow and languid, suggesting a dream-like state; some sort of suspension of reality. The style of the whole show is heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and during the opening they pay homage to a graphic designer and Hitchcock’s main man for title sequences: Saul Bass. Bass created the sky-scraper filled opening to North by Northwest in 1959 and was also responsible for the movie poster of Vertigo, which also featured the motif of a falling man.

What’s most impressive about the opening sequence and the musical accompaniment is that both are modern and contemporary in essence, but still visually recall the time period of the show. It’s done in simple, basic colors: black, white, and red. In the background old ads are superimposed onto the buildings – these echo the color palette used in the show. The opening is slick but not greasy, and it’s definitely smart. This is not a show that will talk down to you or explain it all to you. In a way, the opening keeps the show from feeling stale since it’s set in the past, but it’s modern enough to keep the attention of a present-day audience.

Rated 2/5.

MAD MEN: Season 1 Episode 4 – “New Amsterdam”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on March 1, 2010

Viewed late at night, at home on my couch.

This episode of Mad Men continues the Pete Campbell story line. His new wife Trudy surprises him at the office and she wants to take him to an apartment she’s found on 89th street. Campbell makes it clear his salary won’t cover an apartment like that, and Trudy makes it clear she is used to getting her way. This predicament finds Campbell at his parents house, asking for a loan. The Campbell’s are cold and rich.  In fact, the furniture of their parlor is covered in white sheets – the house is being prepared while they go to their summer home. As untouchable as they come off, it’s a wonder the parents aren’t covered in sheets as well. The tension between Campbell and his father, who doesn’t understand his job in advertising, is tempering the entire scene. We learn a few important things about Campbell in this scene: his family is incredibly wealthy because his mother’s family use to own everything north of 125th street, and they are not giving him a loan.

His wife’s parents, by comparison, are warm and friendly. Trudy barely has to ask before she receives. Her father tells Campbell to consider the money an investment in himself. He is uncomfortable taking the money, but he does for his wife’s benefit. Back at the office, we see again see the nasty side of the junior executive. Working on an account with Don Draper for the Bethlehem Steel Company, Campbell wines and dines the client behind Draper’s back and pitches his own idea to the client successfully. Draper decides to have him fired but then discovers in the senior partner’s office that Campbell can’t be fired because his family’s social status is too valuable to the ad agency.

Weird kid. Loving that couch.

The other interesting event in this episode involved the neighborhood divorcee, Helen Bishop. In the early evening Betty Draper is walking the new family dog and while walking by Bishop’s, sees her ex-husband beating on the door and yelling for Bishop to open it. He spots Betty and asks to use her phone. She declines and turns to hurry home. Later that evening Bishop comes over to apologize and thank her for turning away the ex-husband. A few nights after that, Bishop asks Betty if she could come over to baby sit because she has to go volunteer at Kennedy headquarters. Betty agrees and spends the evening with Bishop’s son, Glen. That evening is the first time we glean that the kid may not be alright. He walks in on Betty in the bathroom and stares and later after apologizing, asks for a lock of her hair. She spies a pair of scissors and gives him the hair before sending him to bed. Honestly, this scene was a little weird and unsettling. But instead of analyzing the little serial killer in training, I’d rather just see what happened next.

I’m realizing that I’m not as in love with this show (yet) as I would like to be. So many of my friends have expressed such fervent obsession for it that I was expecting to be hooked right off the bat. Perhaps it’s a slow build, but I’m not yet feeling excited about watching more episodes. I like the show, but you know, just as friends. For now.

Rated 2/5.

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