Stick a fork in Mad Men, season one is officially over for this viewer. To celebrate, I officially Mad Men-ed myself (if you hadn’t gathered it yet, the picture to the right is not actually me, but Enid from the film Ghost World). I’m alright with season one being over, mostly because I’m so looking forward to the next seasons I have to watch.
The first season, as a whole, was very enjoyable. I thought the first half was pretty slow starting, but by the middle and end of the season I was completely hooked. It’s hard to believe that HBO actually passed on this show – to be honest this show seems like it would be a better fit on HBO than AMC. But AMC lucked out and so have the dedicated viewers of the show.
One of the best qualities of Mad Men is that it’s incredibly rewarding to watch. The tiny moments of foreshadowing make the more dramatic plot twists a great pay-off for the viewer. In the beginning, I complained that the characters didn’t have many redeeming qualities and actually, they still don’t. But they are magnetically complicated and now that I know enough about their damaged histories, I care to find out what happens to them. The more I know about the characters the more I want to keep watching. Their lives seem risqué, even from the vantage point of 2008, when the first season aired. Despite the risqué subject matter, Mad Men manages to execute everything – unexpected pregnancies, office affairs, suicide, dark pasts, and homosexuals still in the closet with dignity, elegance, and class.
The first and following seasons of Mad Men have done well critically. Obviously, I don’t disagree. Some reviews, usually international such as the Mark Greif review in the London Review of Books, have criticized the show for “failing to do anything except congratulate the future” and called it an “unpleasant little entry in the genre of Now We Know Better.” I won’t say he’s dead wrong, but I will say he’s definitely failing to see the bigger picture. I will also say he could accuse me of the same thing. Really my biggest complaint is the lack of humor used in the show – of course it’s not comedy but Mad Men has a very sly, dark, and ironic sense of humor, and I would have enjoyed seeing them employ it more often.
I feel like I’ve tackled most of the major questions I wanted to answer about Mad Men, so in lieu of repeating what I’ve already said and making useless jokes, I would like to present the best hits of Couch Commando’s Mad Men blog posts from the first 2/3 of the show:
I’m very glad I went with Mad Men for this blog project. While it wasn’t far out of my viewing habits, who knows when I would have gotten around to watching it. And at least this time I had a place to gush about my favorite parts. I’ll definitely continue to watch the show. It’s always difficult to wrap things up, so instead of a lame attempt at summing up the whole season in one sentence, I’ll leave you with a video that does it better than I can (beware, NSFW):
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.
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.
Viewed late at night, with a friend, at home on my couch.
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.
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.
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.