Monday, July 26, 2010

Off Topic: Mad Men

As a counterpoint to work, I've been rewatching Mad Men, which is a dessert/chaser so that I don't have bad conference dreams all night long. At its best, it's like a good novel, and thinking about it has banished a lot of 4 a.m. obsessive work thoughts when I wake up too early.

Last night I watched the premiere, and here are some thoughts--with spoilers, so stop if you haven't seen it or don't care about the show:

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  • On the positive side, the pace was good, with a new office and a new energy. The light and one of the views in this new space actually echoes the opening credits, which was interesting. The only trouble is that the show has always included some brief pauses or silences to let the multiple motives of the characters and the implications of their actions sink in. That's missing.
  • On the other hand, they've converted Don from a part-time SOB with a troubled interior life to a full-time SOB with none, or none that we care about. He's all brisk surface, and none if it is pretty, even if the character is played by Jon Hamm.
  • Speaking of pretty, the new lighting washes out the planes of the characters' faces, making them look older, pasty, and not good. If your lighting makes people like Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks look bad, there's something wrong.
  • This episode had three plots: a sitcom plot with Peggy and assorted ad hijinks; a grouchy melodrama starring Don; and the beginnings of a tragic melodrama starring Betty.
  • The thing is, I didn't feel that I knew any of these people, even though I've seen every previous episode, and, what's worse, I didn't want to know them. There has to be a sympathetic or somewhat likable character somewhere, doesn't there, to engage the viewer? Maybe this isn't true in postmodern fiction where we're too busy being dazzled by the intricacies of the author's cleverness and self-referentiality to care, but thinking about character is what chases the work dreams away for me. When I woke up at 4 a.m. today, I chased the work dreams away by composing this blog post in my head.

    Any thoughts?

    Anonymous said...

    I was going to post on Mad Men today, too! It left me feeling bereft, but I couldn't put my finger on why. You did, so thank you. They didn't seem like the same people we left at the end of last season somehow.

    And I don't like full-time SOB Don. I need some likeable Don mixed in (and the way he stood in the doorway and watched his kids after he put them to bed actually made me think "Oh, here is where we are supposed to feel for him").

    I will say that I want more on the Joan story...she's so interesting.

    heu mihi said...

    Honestly, Mad Men lost me in Season 2, partly because of my inability to really like/relate to/care about/perceive much depth in just about any of the characters. I always felt that I was supposed to find Don sexier or more profound than I really did--the whole "But he switched identities!!!" plot left me totally cold, and frankly I couldn't see why so many women were flinging themselves at him.

    I liked the show initially, though, because I believed that it was going to offer some depth and insight into the characters lives. (And because it's visually so cool.) Instead, all of what I thought were the most interesting plots got sidelined while we had to watch Don have sex in California. I hear Season 3 is better, but I lost the motivation to watch. I suppose I'm old fashioned in that I like narrative momentum--it's why real life wouldn't make a good TV show!

    undine said...

    Ink, Don's the most complex character on the show, and to have him go all one-dimensional like that was disconcerting. What happened to Smooth, I-can-handle-it Don? He spent the entire episode in a snit. And exactly what you said: the few seconds in the doorway were the only traces of the old Don.

    heu mihi, they eventually get back to those interesting plots in season 3, but I know what you mean about checking out of a series that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. I think my distress about MM is that it's the only thing I really make a point of watching, so to have it be like a different series was disconcerting.

    undine said...

    I did watch it again, and I liked it better on the second viewing.

    Historiann said...

    My thoughts exactly, Undine, but I hadn't tied it into the different lighting. I still find the tossed-off historical references to be more like fashionable distractions rather than central to the plot or the characters. (For example, Freddie's brief comment about what "girls" want these days, and the reference to student activism at Berkeley in episode 3.)

    I also don't think the women's clothing is nearly as pretty, and that was a big draw for me. Everyone on the show (Betty included) has started dressing like Peggy, who has always been a frump. I get it that covering Betty in wallpaper-like fabric portends something about her character's current fate and marriage--but please. Well-dressed people can't be screw-ups in their personal lives?

    undine said...

    Historiann, I'm not as bothered by the historical references (maybe because I'm not a historian), but by the modern slang, when they use it, bothers me ("in a good place," "so over," "procedure" instead of "operation," the standard euphemism for abortion back then).

    But yes on the clothes! I know it's supposed to be winter, but every time Betty walks into the room looking upholstered in couch fabric rather than dressed, I get nostalgic for the old sun-dress Betty. Why hire someone like January Jones if you're not going to let your viewers indulge their Barbie dress-up fantasies?