Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My problem with MAD MEN this season


WARNING: This is one of those Ken’s an old crank who has to rant posts.

When I’m creating a show my first rule is that I’ve got to love my characters. They may be flawed – they should be flawed – but ultimately I love them and care about them. And hopefully, I can convey that to the audience and they’ll love them too.

Again, the characters don’t have to be particularly loveable. Sweet and earnest and always-doing-the-right-thing is also boring. The best characters are complex. They may have internal battles between good and evil. They may be scoundrels but deliciously so. Or they can’t get out of their own way. Or life’s dealt them a bad hand. Or Hitler was their nanny growing up. I dunno – there are endless possibilities.

And often times the more layers the better.

But lately I’ve observed a disturbing trend. (Now the rant begins) Series creators are making their characters so hateful that I stop caring.

GIRLS is a good example. Season one those girls were quirky and self-centered but sort of fun. And they liked each other. By season two I wanted to slap all of them. And they wanted to slap each other. The end result is ratings for year two have plummeted.

And this season I’m starting to feel that way about MAD MEN. As readers of this blog know I am a huge MAD MEN fan. The first few years were phenomenal television. I loved it so much I almost took up smoking.

But then things started to shift. Betty, who season one was my favorite character, became such a hideous bitch I now expect her to wear a coat made of Dalmatians. Still, almost everybody else had some redeeming qualities (although I’m still looking for Pete’s). Peggy was adorable, Roger provided comic relief, Joan advanced in a man’s world using both her brains and bra, and then there was Don Draper.

He was a man of mystery, trying to overcome a dark past, flailing, always feeling out of sync, endlessly searching for who he is and what will make him happy. And it helps that a great actor (Jon Hamm) plays him.  He could be infuriating but he was always fascinating. 

So for years we felt for Don, even looked the other way when he did dishonorable things like cheat on his wife with every woman other than Bella Abzug. The hope was always that he’d figure it out, finally be comfortable in his own skin, and that all of his good qualities would rise to the surface and he’d become a better father, husband, employer, and stop wearing hats already in 1968. And if he slipped up a little, well – he’s only human and we’ve come to expect that. Betty is trying to throw Hansel & Gretel in an oven, she’s a lost cause. But there was still hope for Don.

Until this season. Now he has a loving wife, a wildly successful career, and he has become television’s biggest prick. It’s not enough he’s cheating on Megan, but he’s doing it with another woman in his building and he’s all buddy-buddy with her husband. They socialize together. He invites the guy to the office. What a fucking asshole! Meanwhile, he tries to destroy his wife’s dreams simply because they inconvenience him. He never talks to his children, even on Christmas. And he’s a cold distant boss to all his employees while still demanding total loyalty from them.

Why should I care anymore about this miserable soul?  Because he gets to his front door, slumps down to the ground, and feels sad?  At one time there were glimmers of humanity, moments when he would exhibit surprising kindness. But not anymore. Not this season.  Even Jon Stewart noted it on THE DAILY SHOW last night.

And the other characters are not much better. Dear plucky Peggy has turned into a cold-hearted bitch. She’s becoming Don. And along the way she’s betraying trusted friends to advance her own career.  She's gone from saddle shoes to jack boots.

Joan has slept with an oaf who looks like Shrek to become a partner. Roger has no relationship with his daughter and is basically drinking himself into oblivion. Pete never learns. He only has affairs with women who are nuts. This must be his test to see if he’s attracted to them: He asks a woman to cook him dinner. If he comes home and a rabbit is boiling he jumps her bones.

As brilliant as MAD MEN creator Matthew Weiner is (and Matt’s a friend who I acknowledge is a better writer than I’ll ever be), I worry that he’s stopped loving his characters. And I fear his loyal audience is starting to feel disillusioned. I’m not saying make Peggy the way she was, or have Don play catch with whatever actor is playing his son Bobby these days – everyone can evolve, everyone can change (or not change if that’s your prerogative), but we want to care. This year that's becoming a real chore.  Please renew your vows.  Love your characters again so we can.  Or let Megan shoot Don.   Something to get us back!  

71 comments:

Jim S said...

Ken,

A writer I once met said at at a lecture that it was his opinion that people, once they get beyond a certain age, never really change. They can become better or worse versions of themselves, but they don't change. So when someone does something good they do it their way based on motives that are informed by the forces that shaped them in their childhood. When someone does something bad, the same thing.

So Don, given his childhood, well. But Pete not being happy with Trudy, just shoot him now.

David Russell said...

I feel the same way about Breaking Bad. At first there was this real conflict - this essentially good guy, faced with horrifying circumstances, taking actions WE THOUGHT HE DIDN'T BELIEVE IN, to support his family. It was an ugly nobility. By the end of season 2 I find him just to be an ass, and I have a hard time caring at all about him. I hope some semblance of humanity returns as I move into season 3 (yes I'm a little behind)

Ellen said...

The thing that's keeping me tuned in this season is the feeling that it's Betty's turn to evolve. I hope I'm right about that.

Tony C said...

Hit the nail on the fucking head. Well said.

Johnny Walker said...

Damn. This is a shame to read. I've not watched any MM yet, but I was looking forward to catching up on it.

Buffy made me suffer in a similar way in Season 6 -- it's no fun hanging out with characters who have lost their redeeming features :(

Hopefully someone in the on the writing staff will take note of this sort of feedback and course correct.

chrismo said...

totally agree, and have since i gave up the show in season two.

Johnny Walker said...

@David, Haha! Walter White does indeed become an ass, and you will hate him at times (especially part way through Season 2), but he's still very compelling to watch. You'll find yourself liking him again -- if not exactly forgiving him -- in time. It's a wonderful show!

Scooter Schechtman said...

Mad Men is a joyless soap opera. I've seen it inspire inspire the most infantile nostalgia from people who weren't born weren't born until after it's period setting,lovingly obsessing over each cigarette, hemline and wallpaper pattern...
Sorry officer, was I ranting?

Leslie Carroll said...

As an actress and writer I can get on board with complex anti-heroes (and anti-heroines) if we're shown a compelling reason for their bad choices/behavior. But Don's troubled childhood and stolen identity as an excuse for his jumping every woman's bones no longer flies. As a dramatic hook it's gotten old. It no longer makes sense. And yes, he has become unlikeable and a fine (and handsome) actor like Jon Hamm, can't even redeem the character. The only explanation for Don's affair with hie own neighbor, etc. (just like the director Derek on Smash's inability to remain faithful to a woman for more than 2 consecutive seconds), is that the character is a sexaholic, juat like he's an alcoholic or chain smoker and that there is somehow the thrill of the conquest (which is also tied into winning an account -- it's the thrill of the kill, and Pete's got that, too), that is part of their psyches. But that's not on the screen. We're not seeing that. And maybe the actors are using that in their script analysis (if they do any), but we don't need to see the seams of their work on a role. We need to see more justification for their bad behavior on the screen. Behavior can evolve; personality is fixed. Toss those balls in the air and see what you come up, Mr. Weiner, because I love the show, but your characters have started to chase their tails.

Anonymous said...

Even though the characters seem self serving and narcissistic, I feel that you have only scratched (and complained) about the surface and aren't looking at the bigger picture here. These characters are still evolving and haven't yet fully evolved (who has in real life???). They are also a product of the time in which they live (the Vietnam war, free love, etc.). I still find it very entertaining and what is television after all than enertainment? It's this or "Celebrity Apprentice" on Sunday nights...which would you still choose?

Pete Grossman said...

Right on, Ken (as they'd say in '68) Assuming this MM season is in the can, hopefully the creators have foreseen your insights and turn things around, or at least bend the road. If not, hope the creators hear you for the next round.

finnsmom1 said...

I couldn't agree more. I used to look forward to each episode with great anticipation. Now, I have to be reminded that the show is airing. I despise the majority of the characters and feel like a need a shower after watching.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I also bailed on this show during season two because I just didn't care about these people; I wasn't interested in them. No matter how much craft and talent was involved in the story, the story just didn't hold me.

However, I have stuck with Breaking Bad, maybe because the show always has surprises for me, and maybe because Vince Gilligan was always very upfront with his plan: "Walter White is going to go from Mister Chips to Scarface."

In interviews, I've heard him express his concern that Walter was becoming too much of a jerk and what could the show do to keep from going over that edge. Maybe just that realization keeps the show between the ditches for me.

Also, I think there sometimes is a phenomenon of creators getting sick of their characters and treating them like crap.

Rick said...

This is a little off topic. A while back Ken asked about comic strips and if anybody still reads them. I do follow a few and some of the best are web-comics. "Bug" is my current favorite, I heartily recommend it to anybody. This one had a TV related punch line that make me think Ken would appreciate it: http://www.bugcomic.com/comics/cirque-du-no-way/

1955david said...

I have the current episode of Mad Men saved to watch but I cannot bring myself to view it. In fact, I find myself dreading each episode as something of a chore. Your analysis identified my malaise. And I agree with you about the series Girls.

Anonymous said...

I'm aware of the idea that art can be appreciated multiple ways and dont want to be the guy saying that you're watching the show wrong but -"I loved it so much I almost took up smoking". You're watching the show wrong. These are awful people and not meant to be emulated. Like Tony Soprano, they are ugly people behind a mask of glamour that is only now in this season finally slipping. They advertise themselves well to hide a terrible product inside. They were always assholes.

Tracy Tran said...

I agree with you assessment that the characters are not likeable. At least in Breaking Bad, there is intrigue in Walter White. There is no intrigue in any of the characters, maybe Peggy, but that's it.

Also another thing Mad Men is on its last legs: Ted McGinley has made a guest appearance this season. That's the kiss of death right there.

Hollywoodaholic said...

What makes the show (and Breaking Bad, and the Sopranos, etc.) different (besides the writing quality) is precisely because these aren't the usual loveable gang of characters. You can despise them, feel morally superior, root for or against them to evolve (or even live), but they exist to defy your expectations of the usual TV faire.

Ryan T. said...

People keep mentioning BREAKING BAD but at least that show counteracts Walt's journey to darkness with Jesse's slow rise to maturity. MAD MEN is also doing this with Don/Peggy, but unlike BREAKING BAD, MAD MEN has many more Don-like characters overwhelming the show with Peggy not having the same screen time as Jesse (though that might be debatable in the first half of the last season of BB).

Stephen Robinson said...

The best "flawed" characters have positive traits. They usually a "good" people at their core. Conversely, the best "good" characters have flaws... something frustrating about them that allows us to connect.

Not coincidentally, Mr. Levine has worked on shows with excellent examples of both -- MASH and CHEERS each had a leading man who could easily have been a Don Draper. But both Hawkeye Pierce and Sam Malone were, at their core, good people. Flawed, yes, frustratingly arrogant at times, yes, but we liked them... not just because we enjoyed watching them be bad (the worst reason people watch reality TV) but because we saw ourselves or our friends within them.

This is probably why I didn't take to Frank Burns or Carla Tortelli as well. They were both just jerks. Charles Winchester could be an ass but he had a strain of nobility, as well -- what a wonderful character! And Norm Peterson was a shiftless loser but, deep down, he loved his wife and -- though he'd deny it -- cared about his friend Cliff.

I think writers have missed the fact that the best villains usually have traits we can admire -- usually ambition, determination, a self-awareness that our heroes can lack. I've tried to determine why I liked JR Ewing so much more than Don Draper. Perhaps it was because the people he usually went after we either idiots or pompous authority figures and that's something we wish we could do, as well.

craig m said...

On that subject, Loretta Swit's character took a personality u-turn over the course of MASH, particularly after Frank Burns left. Was making her more likable something Swit pushed for? (Speaking of Mad Men, when SPOILER ALERT Roger had his breakdown at the end of this year's first episode, it reminded me of Hot Lips after she learned a puppy was killed.)

Lizbeth said...

I must be an old crank who needs to rant too, because I agree with you completely, Ken. I am finding myself getting very, very tired of Mad Men, a show I once adored.

The only thing that has changed over the years is the fashions...and I understand Weiner is trying to make a point that these people are a dying breed stuck in an outdated era while the radical world changes without them and thus they are damned...

But while this is thematically awesome, it is boring as hell to watch. It's worse than watching paint dry. There isn't enough drama in watching people "not change" one iota or respond to the world around them.

Yes, in real life, most people don't change and find comfort in their familiar dysfunctional patterns of behavior. This drives me equally crazy (lol). I think this theme would have a lot more punch if we saw good things happen to people who aren't total alcoholic, cheating, narcissists. It would be great to see what happens to people who don't resist change and are actually healthy and thriving.

Mad Men could be a lot more interesting if it offered an equally-strong counterpoint to Don Draper -- a man or woman so sure of himself/herself who isn't damaged and broken and who makes things happen without destroying people.

Julia Littleton said...

I like the characters on Mad Men, but I've never LIKED them. They're not nice people, but they're complex (more or less) and layered and occasionally capable of learning, and that's what keeps me interested in them. Yes, with Don, Pete, and Roger, especially, enough already. Their sins are getting boring. Bit I'm still interested in Peggy's rise to management (she still has a lot to learn, but things are beginning to click), Joan's ability to cope with her past, Ted's emergence as a character (good, bad, ugly, or just crazy?), and Sally's adolescent angst. And, you know, Betty isn't so very bad. She's just brittle at the surface.

Andrea said...

It's become a chore to watch "Mad Men" for me, too. I often wait a couple of days. I have several favorite characters, but it seems they rarely get any screen time, and the ones I really can't stand (Megan, Betty) are on too much for my taste. (I think Betty would be a more interesting character if Jones was a better actress....also I hate to admit it, but her character is just too much like my awful grandmother to get any love from me.) Don is interesting, though obviously a terrible guy, but I've become tired of him and of his destructive patterns. I love Peggy and Joan, and I've been especially interested in their stories all along. I also enjoy the stories of some supporting characters, too, like Dawn, Ginsberg, Ken, Trudy, and Stan.

I miss Lane, and I rewatched season 4 not long ago, and found myself thinking that it sure is a shame that Bert Cooper rarely gets to do anything any more. So far, I think this season is a low point, but then again, last season was in a lot of ways, too. It could still turn around, and as it is, this show is still better than a lot of what's on TV, so I hope it does get better. But at this point, I might just wait until this season is over to catch up.

benson said...

Hate to share bad news but it appears Allan Arbus has died at 95. I'm sure Ken will reflect later.
RIP Maj. Sidney Freedman.

Diogo said...

this is an interesting point. I find that I don't really have to care about the characters as much when I watch tv, especially if it's on dramas. if you're gonna be telling jokes I expect you to be nice. I never really cared for Tony Soprano or if he lived or died, partly because I knew he wasn't going to die, he was the main character, but, the thing about that show was, for me at least, the story. I fully expect Walter White to die in the end, he has been bad(er) with each following season, but if he dies, the ride and the arch were still 100% worth it. granted network tv might not be able to pull this off at 24 episodes a year, but, certainly, a 10-13 episode cable drama can and should be able to sustain real unlikable, and not just House-unlikable characters.

SB said...

To me, the show was always a soap opera with substance. Now, it's just become a tepid soap opera severely lacking in substance.

The "Dallas" reboot is a much better soap opera without the illusions of being something deeper.

Stephen Robinson said...

I have always defended Margaret Houlihan on M*A*S*H -- even prior to her change from a primary antagonist. She's a woman in a man's army and she plays the game by the rules. She does not have the luxury of being a "maverick" like Hawkeye or Trapper (and later BJ). They are perceived as talented nutcases but are allowed their individuality. Margaret would be judged on behalf of all female officers.

She seeks the same thing in Frank as Hawkeye sought in Trapper or BJ (an ally in the insane asylum). The affair also allowed her to let down her guard. Unfortunately, because we detest Frank, we wind up judging her harshly.

For instance, if Winchester had been on the series from the start and he and Margaret had had a more complex relationship, I think we would have viewed her differently from the start. I can also see her truly believing -- even if slightly influenced by love -- that Winchester is better suited for command than the mostly incompetent (by all military standards) Henry Blake. But because Frank is a coward and a boob -- an awful surgeon and a worse officer, her siding with him makes us question her judgment.

Do people like Frank Burns exist? Oh yes, but the problem was that he was depicted on M*A*S*H as Hawkeye and Trapper perceived him. We never saw the depth. And there is always depth, even if the result is someone as awful as Frank.

Sharon said...

I seem to be of the minority here, but I still love this show and eagerly look forward to every episode. While I can see where Ken and others are coming from, I still find Don, et. al. to be fascinating and interesting. I can't wait to see where the writers will take them next. As much as I want the characters to learn from their mistakes and missteps, I know that real-life people aren't always like that. In any event, MAD MEN is still must-see TV for me, one of the few shows that I still make sure to watch the night it airs. That said, I realize that everything isn't for everyone. For instance, I watched the first season of BREAKING BAD and have no interest in watching the rest of it. It's just not for me. But MAD MEN still is and I hope it will be until the end next year.

Andy Ihnatko said...

I see this as a common disease...particularly with sitcoms. "Friends," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "King Of Queens," even "Cheers" -- the relationships between characters just slide into mutual contempt after a certain number of seasons. They're just there at the coffeeshop or wherever to hurl intensely personal and hurtful zingers at each other and as a viewer, I'm left wondering just why the hell these people hang out with each other any more.

"Frasier" was a notable exception. I love the path that this ensemble of characters took, from family members in DNA only to a solid unit of mutual love, respect, and support.

Stephen Robinson said...

Betty Draper's character is perhaps the greatest failure of MAD MEN. The plight of the '60s suburban housewife -- bored out of her mind and often drugged out of her mind because the realistic depression she's experiencing is handwaved by the sexist society as a psychological failing -- deserved better than to have Betty become a Disney villain. Keep in mind: Her husband cheats on her constantly and she also discovers that he's been lying to her for years... and the show manages to present her as the villain during this storyline and Don as sympathetic.

I think the worst moment for me -- around when I stopped watching -- was when Betty was overtly cruel to her black housekeeper. Yes, casual racism existed at that time (it arguably still does), but unlike Don's actions, this was presented more as a "kick the dog" moment -- when a character mistreats or bullies a thoroughly likeable and sympathetic character. The only gain in such a scene is to underscore that the person doing the mistreating and bullying is an irredeemable ass.

What I respected most about how Frasier Crane was written during the third season of CHEERS is that he never had a "kick the dog" moment in which we would now clearly root for Diane to leave him for Sam. (He actually had several occasions of the reverse, specifically when he sides with Diane over his own mother, when Diane claims that she's threatened her life.) This was good writing and it wound up giving us a viable character for 20 years.

Anita Roll said...

I'm wondering if Betty is starting to evolve with the whole village episode and dye job. Will she start sneaking off to the village to take art lessons and fall into other cultural experiences? If so Don may come full circle.

Anonymous said...

I used to hope that Don would learn something, but now I just see him in 1978, poolside in California, shirt open, leathery skin, coke spoon around his neck, 22-year-old blond panicking as he has a heart attack.

Mark said...

Ken - care to share any thoughts on the passing of Allan Arbus?

The Sidney Freedman episodes of M*A*S*H were some of my favorites -- did you write many of them?

Al said...

I understand your point Ken, but I do disagree. For me, from the first episode Mad Men has been a tragedy. I assumed Don Draper at minimum would continue to spiral down the drain as we get closer to the modern era.

I think that's why we get the occasional view from an outsiders perspective. In last nights show, Don's secretary Dawn, described SCDP as an awful place to work where the trash bags sound like New Years Eve and people cry in the closet. I think the whole conceit of the show is about this small enclave of 50's ethics and morality within the SCDP offices as compared to the turmoil right outside the doors.

I don't really like any of the main characters, but I do empathize with them, which to me is more important. Don is pretty much a scumbag, but knowing his past makes me understand why he's a scumbag. And help me see what he can't which is a look forward to his ultimate destruction.

I wonder Ken, if your desire to like the characters you write is why you gravitated towards comedy rather than drama. As a writer myself, I want to like my characters also, and have a real hard time putting them through the challenges the plot requires. With comedy though, laughter lightens the load a bit.

Jim McClain said...

Agreed on every point, Ken.

Question Mark said...

"Mad Men could be a lot more interesting if it offered an equally-strong counterpoint to Don Draper -- a man or woman so sure of himself/herself who isn't damaged and broken and who makes things happen without destroying people."

While Ken Cosgrove obviously isn't "a strong counterpoint" to Don in terms of screentime or overall importance, it occurs to me that he is by far the most morally-level and well-adjusted character on Mad Men. Part of me thinks Ken is the glue that's really holding SCDP together.

Eleanor said...

Ken, meet Don Draper, a guy we aren't supposed to like or love.

That he continues to be dissatisfied with what he has, continues to sleep around with whomever is convenient, continues to ignore his children, continues to employ a double-standard should come as no surprise to you or anyone.

He's not exactly lying on the shrink's couch trying to figure out his life. He likes it just the way it is until he doesn't - and then he searches for ways to get more of the narcissistic supply that his true self demands in order for him to live.

The first thing we learn when dealing with a narcissist - or a sociopath - is we can never be enough or give enough to make this person happy or to make this person love us. It's a game where they will win and we will lose. Always. We have a conscience, they don't. This is why they win and will always win. We care; they don't. It's our biggest failing when dealing with the narcissist and/or sociopath.

The best advice when recognizing a narcissist/sociopath, if possible, is to run the other way and never look back. If we don't, the narcissist will suck us dry, requiring more and more of our attention that we supply to them. And this attention can be negative, positive - doesn't matter. What matters is: attention and a constant supply of it.

Both Betty and Don were written as narcissists (a huge problem for children of this pairing; hence, Sally...) This pairing was doomed as each required the same of others; Betty and Don had to move on to partners who were weaker and who could provide narcissistic supply. It was a logical progression of both characters.

Megan supplied Don - until she didn't. So Don being Don looked around for someone convenient who would. Not sex - narcissistic supply. And not "insight" such as his newest conquest alluded to in the last episode. Just attention. Prepare for Don to find yet another woman soon; he's not looking for "insight."

If Weiner writes him any other way, or neatly ties up his Draper character into a tidy bow of happiness at the end of this series, now THAT will be not only a disappointment, but also, a profound cop-out to who this character truly is.

Aside from all of that, my biggest complaint is Weiner and the other writers on the show can't seem to write a scene longer than two or three minutes.

-bee said...

When Mad Men hit the air, the very first image was and still is of a man plunging down the side of the building - which MAY be metaphorical but has always left the possibility open that Don literally will crash and burn at series end.

Being that the show seems to be about the dark side of the promise of the American dream (pull yourself up by your bootstraps and play by the rules ensures a happy life) is another aspect that does not leave me expecting a good outcome for Don.

I DO see a problem in some of the first episodes of this season, in that especially with Don's latest affair, it is not advancing the character but pulling him back over old ground. There is really nothing about Sylvia that sets her enough apart from his old conquests and that is a big problem - its all so same ole, same ole.

I know some people had problems with the flashbacks last week to Don's childhood but I LOVE those because they do help develop the character and show us new things - as far as I'm concerned - MORE DEPRESSION FLASHBACKS!

In any case, I also think the character of Megan is a problem. The actress is absolutely lovely and charming - but alas is not as Audrey-Hepburn-iconic as I think Weiner is probably aiming for. I think all this focus on Megan does diminish the show overall a bit.

I am thinking Betty may eventually be a character to yield some surprises. It DOES seem like she is being set up to travel down a road of self-discovery.

So I dunno, I am seeing some problems in the show, but for different reasons than those you stated. I do still LOVE the show though and still look forward to every episode.

Mac said...

Interesting. I always thought the Sopranos was a staggering achievement in that regard because it made you care (and kept you caring) about awful people. They were always watchable - even in the throes of depression.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Question Mark: Agreed, about Ken Cosgrove. He also seems to be happily married with a wife who both supports his interests and has her own career. Henry is also a grown-up, and I suspect Dawn will emerge as one, too. I find it interesting to watch both Joan and Peggy struggle separately with how to become executives/leaders - there are no guidebooks for them to follow. So I don't think Peggy has turned into a cold-hearted bitch so much as she's figuring out a new path and making some mistakes along the way.

wg

CamrioKid said...

Kate = Wendy Peffercorn!

Anonymous said...

So interesting what you write. I feel the opposite. Season Five: I thought I'd stop watching, due to Megan. Who is she, anyway? Jon Hamm had a big job pretending to love her in the persona of Don Draper. I completely understand all you are writing. Can see your point. During Season Five I wished Mad Men would have ended at the end of Season Four. So far, for me, Season Six, is ... I'm not sure - sort of a return to Season Four - I don't know - having an affair in his apartment building, with his wife's friend, his admiration for his lover's husband ... this better be good ... so much symbolism with the cross etc. I'm hoping show holds together to get us to Season Seven - I get this feeling "fans" will discuss which season they became disenchanted in ... I'd say Season Four ( minus Megan ) was perfect ( same with Breaking Bad - could four seasons be enough?)

tv recycle st. charles mo said...

I got an interest watching that, is this still being shown.

James said...

That was what I thought the problem was with the sitcom Buffalo Bill. I enjoyed the show, but I liked the supporting characters while hating him. And it wasn't a fun hate, like hating Frank Burns or Herb Tarlek or Archie Bunker. Those guys were essentially powerless and only hurt themselves. Every time Buffalo Bill broke JoJo's heart, I wanted him dead. He had power and he was dangerous, and instead of being fun it just came off mean.

momo said...

I remember seeing the movie MASH when I was about 8 and an Army dependent. The biggest laughs in the theater were when the jeep driver shook his head and said "Goddamn Army" because the audience was mostly GIs. They recognized something bigger than the story: being in the Army is FUBAR and also SNAFU. That is to say, I don't watch Mad Men because I want to identify with the individual characters as good or bad; I watch it as if I were eavesdropping on my parents. I was 10 in 1968, so I "remember" a lot of things from the first half of the sixties, but from a child's perspective. Mad Men is like reading their diaries.
Joan's husband walking in to announce he's joined the Army without consulting her? my dad did that to my mom. The drinking, smoking, cheating, sexism, racism, confusion over changes? Yup. That was then. And some of it still is now, and some of it is not.

What I find fascinating about the show is precisely the fact that people are caught up in changes that are bigger than a redemption arc, and some will evolve (like Peggy?) and some will resolutely stay the same (like Don?) but none of them will really understand what they are going through until 30 years later, if they are lucky. And their kids will look back on those days and shake their heads, copy their clothes, but maybe set aside at least some of their prejudices. or maybe not.

Anonymous said...

I don't need characters to be likeable, only interesting, and the characters on Mad Men are still pretty interesting to watch.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I feel invested in the show, the characters and the time I've put into Mad Men and will see it through to the end, if only to find out what happens to everyone.

The only thing I might have changed would have been to slow down the year progression. The Mad Men series that captured our attention was about an era rarely depicted in film and TV - the early 60s. In addition to the dramatic ups and mostly downs of the characters, we saw how much that era, its style and the growth of media still has a effect on us today.

But once you pass the summer of love, you get into a series of events that have been done over and over again dramatically. It was turbulent, it was counterculture, it was groovy and colorful. But we've been there, done that, many times on many shows and films.

We all know that M*A*S*H lasted longer than the actual war, why couldn't the early '60s do the same?

That said, it's pretty interesting that Don's having a fling with Velma. Will he get away with it, or will he be unmasked by those meddling kids?

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Such a coincidence that you should post this just after this week's episode. I said the same EXACT thing. I actually said I wasn't going to watch the show anymore because Don had turned into such a hypocritical asshole. He doesn't like the fact that Megan has a love scene in her soap, so what does he do? He then goes to his neighbors house and screws her. What an asshole! I know it's only a TV show, but you're right, I now hate his character and don't want to see what he evolves into any further. Matt Weiner has lost me. So there...

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...

I am no longer finding my inner Don. There's nothing left to connect with. (In contrast, Breaking Bad is supposed to be about someone turning reprehensible. It's a chronicling of bad decisions.)

But they finally seem to be kicking Peggy back into gear. She was always supposed to be the character who grew, I reckon.

Der Olli said...

I haven't seen the new season yet, so I did not read your whole post.

"But lately I’ve observed a disturbing trend."

Is this really a new trend?
I thought it started more than 10 years ago.
Take "The King of Queens" for example.
I liked the first few seasons, but can't watch the later ones, because it seems like the characters hate each other so much.

jessica said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who is feeling this way about Mad Men, especially about Don. One thing that allowed me to forgive him his naughty ways was his ability to come up with genius advertising ideas to "save the day" at work. Now he's not even doing that. Instead of saving the day, he's destroying everything good in his life.

Right after the most recent episode aired I said to my boyfriend, "Don better redeem himself soon." I have hope he will, and I have hope the show will, too.

Anonymous said...

My sense of the show was not to show the evolution of the people (especially Don), but the evolution of the Times. The sea change from 1960 to 1970 was huge; not everyone moved along with it. Don comes into the 60s as a huge success... But by 1968 the cracks are showing; he's not with it, he's slowing down. I think it's fascinating to watch as people sink our swim.

Tom Quigley said...

One of the things you obviously have to do with a character like this is keep giving the audience a reason to at least feel some empathy with him, if not like him altogether.

One of the first discussions I heard of when Norman Lear was developing ALL IN THE FAMILY, was how do you make people feel something positive for an out an out bigot like Archie Bunker, and they came up with I think a brilliant strategy -- make him loveable through Edith's feelings for him. At the end of the day (or each episode) no matter what Archie had said or done, because we loved Edith and we knew that she found something loveable in Archie, we couldn't help but feel that his character still had some redemptive value.

MikeN said...

> I loved it so much I almost took up smoking.

Was the anti-smoking lines on Becker put in at the insistence of the government? I remember reading a story about how networks can avoid running PSAs by putting things directly into plots.

MikeN said...

The obvious thing is that the writer has no idea what to do, and the show should have ended.

I was expecting something like this to happen as Don had objected to dropping Mohawk in an attempt to get American Airlines, but now says he doesn't want Mohawk, he wants American.

The whole storyline with Pete is a waste of time unless he ends up leaving for Shaw, or 6 year old Little Pete shows up.

Jeffrey Mark said...

My uncle Hal was Don Draper's age back in the mid-late '60s. He too was a creative director at a large ad agency in New Yoek back in the day. 'Unc was a heavy smoker and drinker like Don Draper and a bit of a womanizer as well. He was damn good at his job like DD is. Where DD has not grown and "gotten with it" during the '60s. 'Unc changed with the times and kept up being the hip cool ad guy on Madison Ave. He rolled with the changes in the culture because he had to stay on top of his game and show the up and comer "kids" that he was still relevant in his mid 40s. 'Unc is now around 85 and still kicking ass.

RCP said...

I agree that Don has become totally unlikeable - I ended up switching the channel on the bastard after he made his wife feel like crap for kissing a fellow actor in a scene, then headed out to screw his neighbor's wife.

Tom Quigley: Interesting point about making Archie Bunker lovable through Edith's feelings for him. I can't abide bigots, but liked AB from the start - if he'd simply been an obnoxious bigot and nothing more he would have quickly grown intolerable. Another endearing quality was his tendency to use malapropisms:

"Patience is a virgin."
"Last will and tentacle."
"You know, that French actor, Morris Chevrolet."

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I actually think the trend towards completely unlikeable characters started with British TV - who can stand Sybil in FAWLTY TOWERS? The characters in COUPLING would have sent anyone screaming if they had to actually interact with themm in real life. And so on. Like so many other British trends, that one has caught on in the US, too.

wg

John said...

I think we owe it to the show to see how the whole season plays out. I totally agree the show has been frustrating so far this season, but it's early.

jackscribe said...

In three words, Mad Men 'jumped the shark.'

John said...

I think the term "Jumped the Shark" has jumped the shark.

Unknown said...

Another interesting point of view:

http://www.pajiba.com/think_pieces/no-one-hates-don-draper-more-than-don-draper.php

luciuspaisley said...

Despite the fact without the fans there wouldn't be a show, I must admire his determination.

'Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has a message for critics of season six: "Fans don't run the show."'

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/box-seat/new-season-mad-men-gets-whacked-over-the-head-20130425-2ig4e.html

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

It's funny ... I felt the same way, only I reached this point at the end of the second season. I just couldn't do it anymore ... For me, entertainment needs to really entertain, and I found that MM wasn't doing that for me. It was depressing me, and I hated everyone on the show. I really admired the sets and costumes, and I thought the acting and directing were excellent, too. I'm sure the writing was and is outstanding, but I couldn't appreciate it because I felt like no one had a soul! :-)

Xian Qi said...

Ken, I think it's too early to cast judgement on the season, because we don't know what's being set up for the next two thirds.

These limited-run shows with 12 or 13 episodes a season (Mad Men, The Wire, Homeland, etc) are constructed like a one-hour show spread over 13 hours. In other words, instead of doing 20 minutes of set-up, another 20 of exposition, and 20 minutes of emotional payoff, these shows are doing 4 episodes of set-up, etc, with the emotional payoff coming in the last third of the season.

These shows are constructed for a patient audience. While agree with you, Don has become quite a unlikeable prick, I'm fascinated to see where the character is going. By having such an intense affair with someone just one floor below him, this looks like a set-up for impending disaster. (Like the saying goes, don't crap where you eat.) If the season ends where Don gets away with it and he's still a prick, then I will completely agree with your assessment, Ken. But I think he is about to be humbled in a way he hasn't experienced. Let's wait to see where all this goes.

Laurie Zerwer said...

It's not about Don's being likable, it's about his being believable based on the character we have gotten to know over the course of the show. And I just didn't believe it when he started playing domination games with Sylvia and then turned into a little boy when she decided to end it. I don't believe that is Don. Another moment, when Joan snapped at Don for losing his temper and firing the pig from Jaguar that she slept with... I didn't believe that was Joan. Because Joan smoother than that. MADMEN is not as dark and interesting and powerful as it once was. That being said, it's still better than 90% of what's out there. And so I shall continue to watch.

oh holland said...

After last night's episode I cannot escape my long-evolving conclusion that Mad Men is as dull as soap residue. Except for occasional flashes of Joan, the series seems like it's mostly about the writers' own dull self-absorption.

Zach Rose said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jennifer Aguiar said...

Mad Men is a drama about one of New York's most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm's most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Donald Draper. It tells the lives of the men and women who work in an advertising agency in New York in the 1960s. The agency is enjoying success, but the advertising game becomes more competitive as the industry develops. The agency must adapt to ensure its survival. Don Draper is a talented ad executive at the top of his game, but the secrets from his past and his present threaten to topple his work and family life.

R said...

Late to the party on this one but I just caught up on the whole season over the break and this post was pretty on-topic. A handful of random thoughts I had while reading it:

Pete's redeeming quality, for me at least, is that all the success from his machinations (and there are quite a few) goes to people other than him. He's a successful schemer who never seems to personally benefit. My enjoyment with him is trying to guess, and usually being wrong, how his scheme will both work and yet blow up in his face.

I generally liked what they did for Betty this season when they took her out of the sphere of the kids (the camp episode was something of a highlight). I can't speak for her interactions with the kids, I may have made liberal use of the FF button whenever they were on the screen. It was nice to see Jones once again have the chance to play with a bit more complexity than "lightly painted 2x4".

Speaking of the kids, Sally is still unwatchable, I still don't even know the boy's name (or care to learn it) and creepy Glen now looks like he could grow a better 'stache in a weekend than I could in a month. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about that last part.

I've been done with Don as a protagonist for a while, I haven't watched the show for him in at least a few years and this year didn't change that. He's rivaling Glen for creep factor and I want to smack him upside the head almost as much as Betty wants to do it to Sally (note: that assumes she didn't during one of my FFs).

I'm at the point where I believe the most unrealistic part of the show may be whenever a character, either male or female, actually looks Joan in the face first. For all I know she went blonde in episode 2 and while 99% of the time that type of comment would be intended as a wink or a chuckle on my part, this isn't one of those times. If she also wore an eye patch I'd expect the eye patch to be the second thing to catch someone's attention. Or third, depending on your viewpoint.

I originally had and still have no clue why they thought Bob Benson should be a character, they already have too many characters so they introduced one that had no short- or long-term impact and give it significant, pointless screen time. Wolk is better than that. Weiner should be too. Perhaps they felt the need to get rid of Pete's mother and that was the least outrageous way they could think of.