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 12 – “Nixon vs. Kennedy”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on April 10, 2010

Viewed late at night, on the proverbial couch, with friends.

Morning after the office party: embarrassing for everyone.

This episode of Mad Men takes place during the Nixon and Kennedy election. The office gathers around the TV with copious amounts of alcohol to watch the action. As the numbers get closer and the crowd gets drunker, one of the ad guys, Ken, chases down Allison, a secretary, as his friends shout out colors. He tackles her to the floor and lifts her skirt to find out what color her underwear are – blue. Everyone laughs and the viewer is relieved that Gloria Steinem exists.

Earlier that day, Pete Campbell discovers that Draper is considering hiring another ad guy for a job that Campbell wants. Instead of handling it with dignity, he goes the high school route and attempts to blackmail Draper with the information he’s found in the box he stole in the last episode. Draper runs off to Rachel Menken asking her to run away with him to LA, but she soon realizes he doesn’t want to run away with her – he just wants to run away. Draper returns to the office, calls Campbell’s bluff, and hires the other guy. When Campbell goes to the big cheese to tell him that Draper’s real name is Dick Whitman, Cooper says he doesn’t care. In a flashback, we learn how Draper became the infamous Don Draper. He basically got sent to a two man camp and when the other man died in an accident, Draper stole his dog tags.

This episode gives us a lot of background on Don Draper. When he was at his two man post, the two men come under attack. When it’s over they both light cigarettes and his superior points at some liquid at Don’s feet, when Don accidentally drops his cigarette, they realize it was gasoline. The explosion kills the real Don Draper and the new Don Draper gets sent back home, new identity and all. This brings up a lot of questions about Draper: Is he a coward? Or was it survival? Why did he abandon his (now dead) brother like that? And what kind of  butter fingers does he have to go around dropping his cigarette in gasoline? Still, this episode might be the most character development of Draper I’ve seen all season.

Don Draper #1 and Don Draper #2.

Also in this episode, Peggy Olson is starting to get on my nerves. While she’s learning to be a go-getter and I thoroughly approve of that, she can also be a whiny goody two shoes. Olson is so too pure to be pink it hurts (two Grease quotes in two posts – this is what a steady diet of kitschy pop culture gets you, my friends).

I have to admit, I didn’t really step outside of my normal viewing habits with this show. I was already considering it when I realized it was an option for our blogs. I tend to shy away from things that become rife with mainstream popularity, but I generally end up gimping on to the wagon a year or two later, as I’ve illustrated with this blog. The real reason I considered watching this show are the costumes. A subject I’m so excited about, I’m saving it for next time.

Rated 4/5.

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MAD MEN: Season 1 Episode 10 – “Long Weekend”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on April 8, 2010

Viewed at home, (I still hate this couch) early evening, by myself.

Roger Sterling can't handle the hotness.

On this episode of Mad Men, things are getting dark, twisted, and sexy. It’s about to be Labor Day Weekend and the Sterling Cooper mad men are working on Nixon’s ad campaign pro-bono, but they’ve got to cut the brain storming short for a meeting with Menkens. I haven’t reviewed too many of the Rachel Menken plot points, but Menken’s is a large department store owned by a Jewish family. One of the daughters, Rachel, is helping her father run the business and goes to Sterling Cooper for help revitalizing the store. She and Don begin a friendship, but it’s obvious they are both putting in a lot of effort into side stepping the mutual attraction they have for each other. Rachel puts an end to the flirting when she finds out Draper is married.

Roger Sterling passes Joan Holloway in the hallway and asks her what she wants to do that night since the whole city will be out of town and they can go where ever they want. She requests to see a movie and the two get in a spat. Her friend Carol shows up at the office because she’s been fired for covering for her boss and in a fleeting moment of empowerment, the ladies decide to hit the town by themselves for some real bachelor hunting.

By clicking this cut, you acknowledge that you are over the age of 18, or a 15 year-old boy that really needs more practice at finding porn on the internet.

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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 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 3 – “Marriage of Figaro”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on February 27, 2010

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

Pete Campbell: Junior executive in more ways than one.

This episode opens with Pete Campbell, one of the junior execs at the agency returning from his honeymoon. It’s important to note that Campbell is a complete ass. It is also important to note what his relationship to our sweet and innocent Peggy Olson is. Back in the first episode Campbell makes more than a few inappropriate comments about women (If anyone is making disparaging comments towards and about women, you can be sure that Campbell is probably the one leading the pack). He is entitled, egotistical, and doltish. But before this turns into a diatribe on my dislike of Campbell, let’s get back to his relations with Olson. At the end of the first episode, a drunk Campbell, who’s been out enjoying his bachelor party, shows up at her apartment. The first episode ends with Olson, fresh off her introduction to her inner vamp led by Joan Holloway, taking Campbell into her apartment for less than appropriate adult activities.

Back to the present, or the not so present…well, back to this current episode, Campbell returns to work freshly married, honeymooned, and as jerky as ever. He makes it clear to Olson that he’s married, and that their night together was one time only. While Olson probably wasn’t in the mood to celebrate his return, the rest of the office has paid a Chinese family to sit in his office as a welcome home gag. He opens the door to find them eating, while a real live chicken wanders around his office. He closes the door and turns to the gathered office and says “Who put the Chinamen in there?” Everyone laughs because racism is OK in 1960. Meanwhile, the ladies of the office are passing around a well worn copy of banned literature: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.


Don Draper: Thinking hard, drinking hard.

In this episode we also see the brooding Don Draper get recognized on the train by an old army buddy. We already know Draper has done military service since we’ve seen him peeking at a purple heart medal in the privacy of his office. However, the friend calls him “Dick Whitman” and Draper, though he seems uncomfortable, speaks with remarkable familiarity with the guy. Both Draper and the audience is left unsettled by the exchange between the two men. Later in the episode a few of the junior executives confirm what the show has been hinting about since episode one: Draper is a mysterious man who releases very little personal information about him. Even his wife seems to barely know him.

Speaking of his wife, Betty Draper is becoming more helpless and child-like as the season goes on. It is their daughter Sally’s birthday and Draper must help Betty with the party and build the playhouse that is Sally’s big gift. Among the adults at the party is Helen Bishop, the divorced woman who just moved in down the street. In the kitchen, the neighborhood women subtly pick at Bishop’s divorced status. When Betty asks Don to get the cake, he leaves and doesn’t return. He spends the time lost in thought and parked near the train tracks. When he returns late in the evening with a dog for Sally, his wife is clearly angry and distraught. The episode ends with Draper leaning against the couch and losing himself in his thoughts again. It is becoming clear that Draper is far more complicated than he lets on.

This was my least favorite episode so far. It was depressing and many of the characters are becoming difficult to like. In fact I don’t feel a strong connection to the majority of the main characters, so it’s hard to care when bad things befall them. Hopefully the next episode will have me caring more.

Rated 2/5.

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MAD MEN: Season 1 Episode 1 – “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”

Posted in Mad Men by LaurenStheTA on February 25, 2010

Viewed at home on my couch, evening time during a slushy snow storm, with a friend.

I viciously went after Mad Men, Season 1 because I figured it was about time I gimped my way onto the Mad Men wagon – two years after the show officially premiered. So one email on February 11th at 12:01 PM on-the-dot-later, I’ve got Season 1 in my hands and I’m mindfully expecting visions of guilt free cigarette smoking, leisurely two martini lunches, and killer vintage fashion. Most of my expectations were gathered from this trailer I watched a few days ago:

After the show.

So I was wrong about the guilt free smoking. This episode had one of the central characters, the dashing Don Draper (creative director of the agency), pondering a new way to sell cigarettes now that the public knows the truth about the link between cigarettes and cancer. Upside? This doesn’t keep anyone from getting their nicotine fix.

As far as the entire show goes, I liked it – but it didn’t hook me. If I saw this premiere on TV, I wouldn’t mind catching the next episode, but I wouldn’t go through a whole lot of trouble to make sure I saw it. Much like Don Draper’s attitude towards his extracurricular women, I’d probably keep it casual.

In this episode we meet most of the main characters – like Margaret “Peggy” Olson. She new, she’s green, and it looks like she’s going to be testing the waters of being a woman in a male dominated work environment. No doubt these waters are murky, but she has Joan Holloway to guide the way. Holloway is more experienced in just about every sense of the word and kills a 1960’s wiggle dress so hard it should be illegal. She tells Olson everything a woman needs to know to be successful at the agency – this advice includes wearing shorter, tighter skirts, investing in some aspirin and needle and thread for her boss, and the right sexist gynecologist to go to for birth control pills. Olson will be an interesting character to watch evolve and Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway) is proving to be a scene stealer.

One of the major redeeming factors of this show is how true they’re staying to the time period. Oddly enough, this might also be what makes me a little subconsciously uncomfortable with Mad Men: there doesn’t seem to much glossing over the negative stuff. The writers seem to revel in being able to show the dirty side of a decade that is fraught with issues that were born and raised in the Valium addled suburban neurosis of the 1950’s. And for that, I’m definitely willing to give it some street cred.

Rated 3/5.