Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mad Men Season 4 Character Report Card

A very fine season 4 of Mad Men has ended. Before I dismiss the class for the year, here are my grades for the characters (not the attention in the back row!):

Honor roll:
  • Don Draper: A+. Head of the class. This season cemented Don Draper's status as one of the 50 best tv characters of all time (Tony Soprano...yuh hearing footsteps?). He was a slime bucket, amoral, sexual predator, and a violator of about every HR rule known to corporate bureaucrats....but I couldn't help rooting for him. And a tip of the fedora to both the costume designer who clothed him this year and his barber.
  • Lane Pryce: A. The Pryce was right! Lance stole almost every scene he was in this year. What a complex character. He seemed to have a stick up his bum yet he knew how to party with Don. He's definitely Mr. Bottom Line because he's so buttoned up, yet his personal life is a mess. His relationship with the Playboy bunny almost made his character hop the track but I'm willing to overlook in an otherwise very strong season for Pryce.
  • Roger Sterling: A-. What a wonderful evolution of the Sterling character this year (although the Sterling character displayed very little character). What a weakling. What a mess. Here's why I didn't give Roger an "A": I like the stronger, more self-assured Roger. The pathetic, weak Roger isn't as fun to watch.
Teacher's Pets:
  • Pete Campbell: B: He's still a weasel, but he's more sophisticated and confident. I particularly liked how Mad Men shows his conflicts at home brought about by the financial pressures in the office. But Pete is hard to like and I wonder how he will develop.
  • Joan Harris: B. The gal with the figure 8 figure got herself behind the 8 ball with her pregnancy and that offered a nice twist this season. I'd like to see a softer side of this character. She's in danger of becoming too one dimensional.
  • Peggy Olson: B. I like her professional development. She's really the voice of the awakening women's movement. But she's so uptight at times, it makes me squirm on my sofa. And I'm not sure about the Lesbian friendship. Where is that going?
  • Ida Blankenship: B. The gag of the old secretary got old pretty quickly, but it was good comic relief. Her death at her desk was brilliant. She's gone...but she won't be missed (by me).
  • Duck and Freddie: B. Minor roles this season but they are strong, colorful, tragic characters and I hope they'll have more work next season.
  • Megan: B-. She was a good addition to the cast this year. She's smarter than she seems and that may set up her character nicely for next season. (What are the odds she gets dumped by Don?)
  • Harry Cooper, Paul Kinsey, Ken Cosgrove: C. Supporting players who contributed to the season but had nothing really distinguishing.
  • Sally Draper: C. Uneven. Her scenes with Don Draper were excellent. However, most of the scenes back in Connecticut felt forced and stilted. Can't tell you how many times I dove into my Blackberry when those CT scenes were aired. But this character could have a break-out year in season five.
  • Bertram Cooper: C. His character was not fully developed this year. And his abrupt departure from the firm seemed unnecessarily hasty. (Unless it means he's somehow coming back next year.)
  • Henry Francis: C. Bland character but I like how he's starting to give Betty some serious pushback. He could make the honor roll next year.
  • Betty Francis: C-. Debbie Downer or Juanita One Note? She used to be this icy but interesting blond but now she's just a bundle of bad news all the time.
Remedial Readers
  • Faye Miller: D+. I never got Don's long-standing attraction to her. So many of her scenes felt stilted. Her best scene of the year was when he dumped her. That was the only time I cared for her as a character.
  • Stan the art director: D. Johnny one note. Okay, so he hits on Peggy all year. Is that all there is to this character?
  • Midge Daniels: F. Honey, you're no artist and you're certainly not a strung out junkie whose husband will prostitute so they can get another fix. It was like she dropped in from a Tarantino movie.
  • Glen: F. Can't tell if this kid is a creep and if Betty's actions are justified. It needs to be fleshed out better.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mad Men Episode #13 (Season 4): Tomorrowland

Why Mad Men Episode #13 (Season 4) Worked:
  • Don's engagement to Megan. It was crazy, stupid, impulsive....but it was really a concrete manifestation of how Don's descent. Sure....who wouldn't fall in love at night on a terrace overlooking a moonlit-drenched ocean with a swan in a knockout black dress (on $70 a week salary....who's her daddy)? The engagement announcement scene in the office was priceless: so many nutty things happen in the personal lives of senior management that this seemed ok to staff. When Don breaks the news to the partners and says Megan's full name, Roger blurts out, "Who the hell is that?" Very funny, because it reveals how he knows so little about the junior people at the agency. Even funnier is when Roger follows up with the line, "This calls for a drink....Megan, get some ice." A beat, and then he cracks a smile.
  • Peggy's heart-to-heart with Joan after the engagement announcement.
  • Don's cringe-worthy call to Faye after the engagement is announced. Well written....another scene that felt real. And kudos to the fine acting by Jon Hamm and Cara Buono (who I've basically trashed all season).
  • Don's drinks with Betty in their old kitchen. Very poignant. You could see why they married. I love him finding the old bottle hidden in the back of the cabinet. I loved it even more when Don and Betty left the room and the camera held on the bottle like it was a character in the series. Which seems only right since booze plays such a strong role in Mad Men.
  • The pitch to the stuffy board of the American Cancer Society. That felt exactly right and it was nice to see Don creating his magic as only Don can.
  • Joan's promotion to Director of Agency Operations...but not with a raise. Once again, she gets screwed by a senior executive at the agency.
  • Betty firing Carla. January Jones (Betty) finally gets to act a bit more this season. She's not just spreading her wings, she's climbing on her broomstick and playing the role of resident wingnut witch.
  • Henry's fight with Betty about Carla. There's a nice foundation being laid to have Henry bolt in Season 5.
  • Megan and her friend going to the Whiskey A Go Go. That was the hip place to be seen back in the day. (But who was playing at the club that night?)
  • Don's LA threads. Very cool and James Bond. Do you think we'll see him in bell bottoms next season?
  • Joan's pregnancy. That was slipped in almost casually. There's surely a bullet in Nam heading for hubby but will Roger then step in? Stay tuned for season 5.
  • Megan's dresses. Stunning.

Why Mad Men Episode #13 (Season 4) Didn't Work:

  • All of Glen's scenes. The kid can't act.
  • Don taking Megan to Los Angeles without any kind of pushback from anyone in the office and not an eyebrow raised. Seems like there could have been a 15-second scene written in.

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #13 (Season 4):

  • B+. While I'm generally positive on the plot development of Don proposing to Megan, I thought it felt a little out of left field for me. I would have liked to have seen a bit more scenes leading up to it. That prevented me from giving this episode an "A."

Later in the week I'll give my grades to the main characters of Mad Men Season #4.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mad Men Episode #12 (Season 4): Blowing Smoke

Why Mad Men Episode #12 (Season 4) Worked:
  • The overall sense of panic, confusion and dread as the agency continued to lose business and not land accounts. It felt very slice-of-life and underscores the strength of this series. The business scenes from the world of advertising feel real. Don Draper's lunch with the Heinz executive who implied SCDP might get a shot at the company's business in six months (wayyyyy too long for Don's company....they need the business and cash flow NOW) was pitch perfect. And I loved the way the news was delivered about SCDP not getting a shot at the Philip Morris business. A half dozen faces hit the floor as subordinates tried ease-dropping through the walls. A cold wind is blowing.
  • Pete's scene with his wife when he tells her they need to dip into their savings account for at least $25K to help prop up the agency. She tells him he can't. He shoots back: "You don't get to forbid me!" That scene showed how the pressures of work spill into the home. We realized Pete's dilemma and we also could see Trudy's point of view.
  • Don's "Why I Quit Tobacco" essay/ad in The New York Times. That was great writing and direction with his voiceover and shots of various people reading the published copy. Maybe it wasn't realistic that a partner would do this, but the troops needed a big gnarly idea and this was it. I particularly loved Don walking into the office fresh as a daisy asking his secretary if he had any calls and he was given a two-inch stack of messages. And everything that happened after that was great. The fake Bobby Kennedy call. Don's speech: "I'm not going to explain to you what I did. It's an ad for this agency. If you don't understand it, you shouldn't be in this business." Megan saying that she loved the letter (Fess up love all things Don.)
  • Don's hat. Dude knows how to wear a lid.
  • Don's smooth way as peels bills from his pocket. So much cooler than slapping down a credit card.
  • Don paying Pete's share to keep the agency afloat.
  • Peggy asking Faye for a drink. Sisterhood is powerful.
  • Betty's outfit when she finds Sally with her boyfriend. Kudos (again) to the wardrobe unit.

Why Man Men Episode #12 (Season 4) Didn't Work:

  • Don's encounter with freelance illustrator Midge Daniels and her visit to her village apartment. That hit all the wrong notes. First of all, I forget who Midge was (help me here) and I'm a pretty faithful fan. I never bought that she and her husband were junkies. Was the point of the scene to draw a line between cigarette addiction and heroin addiction? I couldn't tell. Worse yet, I didn't care.
  • Sally's scene with Glen the neighborhood boy. The show starts crawling when they pop up. And the boy who plays Glen can't act.
  • Cooper resigning from the agency. Huh? Did that really happen? Seems like that kinda slipped in through the back door. Shouldn't that have been a bigger moment?

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #12 (Season 4)

  • B. Solid effort marred by scenes with the freelance illustrator and the Sally scenes. The problems at the agency are especially riveting.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mad Men Episode #11 (Season 4): Chinese Wall

Why Mad Men Episode #11 (Season 4) Worked:
  • The sense of panic in the agency when word leaks out that they've lost Lucky Strike, their biggest client. Once again, the writing (kudos to scribe Erin Levy) excels and provides a realistic sense of the near panic and desperation of an ad agency in a free fall. The sequence of events started with the brilliant scene with Ken at dinner with his fiancee and her parents, and he learns from a rival that his company lost the account. That triggers a series of phone calls and meetings, all strung together in rapid succession. Textbook minimalist writing.
  • Don's heart-to-heart talk with his creative team about the problems they face and how to deal with clients. Anyone looking to learn about management should study this series. Don Draper may be a sh*t, but he knows a thing or two about leading a team in a crisis. I also liked his line to Peggy: "I'm counting on you." Anyone who's ever been told that by the boss will definitely bring out his or her "A" game.
  • Megan's (Don's secretary) outfits. It's like she's on a Paris runway. She's graceful like a swan. And like night follows day, we know what will happen...
  • Don's hook-up with Megan. Come on. This was inevitable. How could Don help himself? It's like asking a Lassie not to bark or Flipper not to swim. But did you notice that she made the first move? And Don's office couch is getting quite a workout this season!
  • Pete being offered a full partnership with rival agency CGC in the hospital waiting room, while his wife was in labor.

Why Mad Men Episode #11 (Season 4) Didn't Work:

  • Don's apartment. It's bugged me all year. It's dark and creepy. I don't buy that he'd live in that dump as a hot on-the-town advertising executive. I see him in an Upper East Side modern apartment with a terrace.
  • Stan the art director. The character hits only one obnoxious note week after week. I'd like to see another side of him.

Overall Grade for Mad Med Episode #11 (Season 4):

  • A-. I'm really into the financial problems of the agency and can't wait to see what happens. And Don's in a real love triangle between Faye and his secretary. Sunday can't come fast enough.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mad Men Episode #10 (Season 4): Hands and Knees

Why Mad Men Episode #10 (Season 4) Worked:
  • Don Draper's panic attack. Wow. He really freaked out coming into his apartment. Great acting by Jon Hamm; he really aired it out. Totally plausible. The neatly constructed lie that is his identity is starting to unravel. What an unexpected and totally fascinating plot development.
  • Don getting his daughter Sally tickets to Beatles concert. (Hold on to the stubs Sally....sell them on eBay in 40 years!). Great line: "You won't be mad if I wear earplugs." That shows how tone deaf Don is to the youth rebellion percolating all around him.
  • Dinner at the Playboy Club. Very risque and sophisticated for 1965. Mad Men's sense of time and place is impeccable.
  • The Feds visit with Betty. Lots of tension....would she sell him out? But she covered for him. She is definitely a Bond girl.
  • Roger and Joan's visit to the doctor where Roger showed that he was a stand up guy....after being a stand up guy in the alley.
  • Don's secretary's pink dress. Can you say knock-out? Can you say Temptation Island?
  • Lee Garner of Lucky Strike firing Roger in a restaurant. Another Mad Men business scene that bristles with reality. It felt like those scenes have actually been going on for decades in the expense account joints flanking Madison Ave.
  • All the scenes with Don and Pete. So much going on. But in the end, after all the tension, Pete was a stand up guy for Don (especially in the board room).
  • The partners meeting. The place seems like it's going to fall apart. So much was unsaid at that meeting.

Why Mad Men Episode #10 (Season 4) Didn't Work:

  • Many of the scenes with Lane seemed far fetched. Lane dating an African-American Playboy bunny. The bunny being attracted to Lane. Lane getting assaulted by his elderly, cane-needy dad.
  • Faye's scenes with Don. The actress can't carry the part. It's hard to understand why Don would fall for her.

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #10 (Season 4):

  • A-. Terrific plot developments. Some stunning acting. I can't wait to tune for Sunday's show to find out what happens.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mad Men Episode #9 (Season 4): The Beautiful Girl

Why Man Men Episode #9 (Season 4) Worked:
  • Miss Blankenship dying at her desk. Nice unexpected touch of black humor.
  • The artfully directed scene shot from the glassed-in conference room where an important client meeting was taking place while in the background staffers frantically tried tossing a blanket over Miss Blankenship (still dead) and wheeling her in a chair to another room, just so the meeting wouldn't be disturbed. More black humor, expertly served.
  • Soundtrack of Petula Clark's "Downtown" during the bar scene. The use of music in "Mad Men" is never overdone, very subtle and always pitch-perfect.
  • The way the uncomfortable but necessary topic of social issues that defined the 60s keeps bubbling up in the script. It's not heavy-handed but it keeps reminding viewers of the change that was about to sweep over the country far from the boundaries of Madison Avenue.
  • Roger and Joan making love against a wall on a dark street after the holdup. An unexpected development (for me at least....I thought Joan would know better by now).
  • Kiernan Shipka's acting as the rapidly unraveling Sally. Well done. This girl will get work. (But let's hope she doesn't turn into the next Lindsay Lohan.)
  • The last shot of Peggy, Faye and Joan standing wordlessly in the office. Was a very simple scene but it had a lasting effect on me.
Why Mad Men Episode # 9 (Season 4) Didn't Work:
  • Scenes with Faye. I don't think Cara Buono (Faye) has the chops to carry the role. And I don't think the role is written well.
  • Peggy's friendship with her lesbian friend Joyce. Not sure where this is heading and at this point it feels like an unnecessary plot point.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode # 9 (Season 4):
  • B-. Solid but lacking some of the intensity of the office politics that propel this series to great heights.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mad Men Episode #8 (Season 4): The Beautiful Girls

Why Mad Men Episode #8 (Season 4) Worked:
  • The elevator scene between Joan and Peggy. Seemed like Peggy got the shaft...or did Joan have a point about being PO'd with Peggy coming to her defense? I really wanted Peggy to get the credit but the outcome was surprise and a bit of crafty screenwriting.
  • The "Satisfaction" soundtrack at the top of the show. It really signals that there's a revolution taking place "out there" far from Madison Avenue. (Any bets when or if Don starts wearing sideburns?)
  • The mooning of Joan when she was chewing out Joey the copywriter. It was so subtle at first I wasn't sure that I saw it (thanks DVR!) but it really happened.
  • Joan chewing out the creative staff.
  • Speaking of the mooning, have you ever seen a US tv show supported by advertising with so much foul language and boundary-pushing antics? This is also one of the pleasures of Mad Men and it was on display for Eppy #8.
  • The Ray Charles joke.
  • The back-seat-of-the-car canoodling and then some. First Bethany goes "downtown" on Don Draper as the cab heads uptown. A few weeks later Don and Faye kiss passionately in another cab leading Faye to invite Don to a more intimate setting. Don declines. (The character is changing his behavior, always an interesting turn in a tv series.)
  • Peggy firing Joey. Very satisfying moment. Did most men really behave like such morons in the 60s or was it only Mickey Mantle?

Why Mad Men Episode #8 (Season 4) Didn't Work:

  • Don's voiceovers. Pretentious and contrived.
  • Almost any scene with Henry (although the dude is ripped as evidenced by the gratuitous scene at home without his shirt). The show slows to a crawl with him.
  • Miss Blankenship, Don's secretary. The joke is wearing thin.
  • The restaurant scene where Don and Betty bump into each other. Felt stagey and didn't hit the right notes.
  • Don's date with Faye. Another slowwwwwwwww scene.

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #8 (Season 4):

  • C. Weakest episode of the season. My feeling is that the politics of the office anchor the show; most everything else is a sideshow.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mad Men Episode #7 (Season 4) The Suitcase

Why Mad Men Episode #7 (Season 4) Worked:

  • The betting on the Liston-Clay fight. Another nice period detail.
  • Duck's birthday flowers to Peggy with the business card showing her as a creative director. The man can sell! But then the pitiful phone call where he's sitting home in the middle of the day hitting the sauce. In this show, booze comes across as public enemy #1 in 1960's advertising.
  • Don Draper's anti-Clay rant. It really shows that he's not really in touch with the new cultural realities of the mid-60s. I wonder if this will foreshadow some future business failures.
  • The fight between Don Draper and Peggy over creating advertising and who gets the credit. Best scene of the year (possible ever on Mad Men? Weigh in please.) The writing started going into Mamet territory. High praise indeed!
  • Peggy admitting she had never been on a plane. (A small moment but another great detail about the mid-60s. Airplane travel was a novelty for most Americans back then.)
  • Don Draper and Peggy drinking at the bar. At first I was getting nervous that this was going to take a sexual turn (and it was hanging in the air). But then it got to the baby she put up for adoption while the Liston-Clay fight was on in the background. Lots of interesting things happening all at once. Masterful.
  • Duck showing up in the office later that night and attempting to defecate on Don's furniture (even though it was really Roger's). And then the fight with Don. And Don puking. And then Don passing out in his office. OMG! So much happened. And all written and acted so perfectly.
  • And Don looking fresh and clean cut the next morning like nothing happened. What else did we expect? (Well...we are expecting him to really hit bottom at some point, right?)
  • The Simon & Garfunkle song at the end of the episode. The perfect ending to the perfect episode.

Why Mad Men Episode #7 (Season 4) Didn't Work:

  • Peg's mom had a botoxed forehead (during the dinner scene). A rare blown period detail. They couldn't find a middle-aged actress who had some age-appropriate wrinkles that would be standard in 1965?

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #7 (Season):

  • A. Best episode of the season.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mad Men Episode #6 (Season 4): Waldorf Stories

Why Mad Men Episode #6 Worked:
  • The under-the-table hand-holding scene during the Clio Award ceremony. Wonderful shot of Joan holding Roger's hand and then Don Draper's hand. Kinda sexy. Expected someone to get fresh. But it shows that Joan is both literally and figuratively holding the company together.
  • Lane's scene with Pete about his interview with Ken. It felt like a real corporate snapshot of how it really works at an agency. And all of Lane's scenes are pitch-perfect and Emmy-worthy. Restrained yet powerful acting.

Why Mad Men Episode #6 Didn't Work:

  • Don Draper's loss of mojo. I know this is a necessary plot development, but he was a more compelling and believable character as a slick Mad Ave. huckster not the out of control, drunken cad (although I did like the sequence when he went to bed with one woman Friday night and woke up Sunday afternoon with someone else). And I'm not sure Hamm is pulling off his descent that well. Not as nuanced as I'd like.
  • Flashback sequence. This was a hard call. It definitely fills in the back story but I really couldn't swallow Don Draper making the leap from fur coat salesman to ad copywriter.
  • Peggy's scenes with Stan the art director. OK....I get it that women were treated poorly but now the message is getting drilled relentlessly into my head.
  • Peggy's nude scene with Stan. Good idea that really needed to go through the word processor one more time. Lacked sexual tension or shock value or cleverness. Basically fell flat.

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 4):

B. Some interesting plot developments but episode marred by some overthe-top acting and writing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mad Men Episode #5 (Season 4): The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Why Mad Men Episode # 5 Worked:
  • The opening partners meeting about the dilemma of representing a Japanese auto manufacturer (this was only two decades after the end of WWII). The writers got the tone down perfectly and the scene wasn't too long or short.
  • The very subtle scene where Don's neighbor/nurse/potential lust interest asks Don where he was taking date that evening. The answer: Benihana! Excellent. That was probably the swankest joint in Manhattan in 1965. This series gets those details soooooooo right.
  • Betty slapping Sally for cutting her hair. That woke up the usually sleepy and depressing scenes featuring Betty. She is sooooooooo out of control.
  • Pete's showdown with Roger on the Honda vs Lucky Strike accounts. It felt like you were watching an actual confrontation at an ad agency between two executives.
  • Don's phone fight with Betty. Another short, pitch-perfect piece of dialogue.
  • The scene to create a fake Honda tv commercial featuring the intercutting with scenes from the rival ad agency. Clever!
Why Mad Men Episode # 5 Didn't Work:
  • Sally's scene with the babysitter after she cut her hair. Fell flat.
  • Scene with Betty and the shrink. Too inconclusive. (And I'm not a fan of most of Betty's scenes.)
  • Roger's scenes. I usually his biggest fan. His scenes in this episode felt overwritten. At first I thought it was clever how he insulted the Japanese ("I know how some people loves surprises," he sniffed in a veiled reference to Pearl Harbor.) But it kept going on and on. And his apology was not realistic.
  • The running gag with the incompetent secretary. Went too far.
  • Lane's congratulatory scene with Don after they won the Honda account. I had to look at the scene twice (thank you DVR!) to be certain that they won the account. Every now and then Mad Men lapses with some weak expository writing. But I did like Lane's description of a Honda: "a motorcycle with doors." And that's exactly what they were in 1965
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 5 (Season 4)
  • B. Overall nice job. Good plotting. But some scenes could have been tighter.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mad Men Episode# 4 (Season 4): The Rejected

Why Mad Men Episode # 4 Worked:
  • The bar scene with Pete and his father-in-law where he went to boot his account from the agency. Good twist with his in-law blurting out that Pete's wife was pregnant. Can't believe Pete lacked the guts then to tell his in-law that his company couldn't handle the account any more...but it was believable. And nice set design.
  • Peggy trying on Faye's wedding room while watching Faye's focus group. The scene said everything you wanted to know about Peggy. Good touch with Don noticing Peggy staring at the ring. Double good touch with Peggy noticing Don looking at her.
  • Faye's focus group when Allison breaks down....and Don looks like he ate a shard of glass. His sin keeps coming back to haunt him.
  • Peggy's scene with Allison where Allison implies that Peggy became a copywriter because she slept with Don. (Or at least that's how I interpreted it.)
  • Allison's resignation (bummer!). Best scenes of Mad Men Season 4 have been with Allison and Don.
  • Pete's play to get more business from his father-in-law. It's fun to watch him grow his shark fins.
  • Shortest scene of the night. Don typing his "I'm sorry" note to Allison. He strikes a rare chord of compassion.
  • Don's new secretary. Good comic relief (maybe a touch over the top but message received).
  • Peggy getting high at party with pot smoking lesbian.
  • Peggy not signing the card congratulating Pete on his wife's pregnancy and the subsequent congratulatory scene in his office and the subsequent scene of her banging her head on the desk (I'm not sure why she did this but it worked) and the subsequent scene of her lying down on her couch and the subsequent scene of her going out to lunch with her downtown friends and exchanging a meaningful glance with Pete.
Why Mad Men Episode 4 Didn't Work
  • The scene in the office when Don and Roger were on the phone with Lucky Strike. Pacing and staging were off. A rare mediocre scene in the office.
  • The steakhouse lunch scene with Pete and Ken. Who cares about what Pete said about Ken? Yawn.
  • Last scene in Don's apartment hallway. The old man yells to the old lady, "Did you get the pears?" Not sure what it meant but it felt pretentious.
Overall Mad Men Episode 4 Grade
  • B. Nice solid effort. The pacing is always faster and more upbeat without Betty. The focus group scene bogged down the show. Let's hope Allison returns.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mad Men: What TIME Thinks About Episode #3

TIME magazine critic James Poniewozik continues to write some of the most perceptive and analytical remarks about Mad Men. This week's review is no exception. He cites the strong acting especially Jon Hamm (has there ever been a better name for an actor?) as Don Draper and Jared Harris as the bottled up, meticulous, bottom-line-obsessed Lane (wonderful screen name, by the way). Poniewozik scarcely mentions the acting of Christina Hendricks as Joan, who is getting some serious call-outs this year for her on-screen work. I'm on the fence about it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mad Men: What Vanity Fair Thinks About Episode #3

This post in Vanity Fair about Mad Men episode # 3 really praised Lane's debauched night with Don Draper. However, writer Bruce Handy seems to knock last week's episode when Draper slept with his secretary. "Sleeping with his nice, compliant secretary last week was his single biggest sin in the entire history of Mad Men," wrote Handy. Not sure if Handy means that the story hopped the tracked and that was a sin, or that Don Drapers behavior was sinful. What do you think?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mad Men Episode #3: The Good News

Why Mad Men Episode # 3 Worked
  • One of the opening scenes with Don and his secretary. It is deliciously uncomfortable and very realistic.
  • Joan asks Lane for a day off and Lane acts like a cold fish. Another realistic and uncomfortable scene.
  • The scene in the bar with Anna Draper's niece Stephanie when she learns that Don works in advertising. "It's pollution," she sneers. "So stop buying things," he responds without missing a beat. Well written.
  • The scene in the car between Don and Stephanie. So many things happened in that sequence. First he hits on her (natch....but revolting), then he learns Stephanie's aunt has cancer and then he also learns she doesn't know that she's ill.
  • Don's scenes n the house with Anna when he's leaving. Jon Hamm acts superbly without saying a word.
  • The entire last 25% of the episode when Don and Lana bond over booze, go to the movies (Godzilla!), buy steak dinner (but don't eat the steaks), double date at a comedy club (a brilliant bit), and ultimately and inevitable wind up a Don's pad for the sordid hook-up. Fascinating and very believable.
Why Mad Men Episode #3 Didn't Work
  • Don dancing with Stephanie in the bar. Felt forced.
  • Joan receiving the flowers from Lane. I watched it twice and I still wasn't sure about the nature of the mix-up. Needed another pass through the word processor.
  • Joan's cut finger with her husband. The pacing of the scene felt rushed and the dialogue was stilted.
Overall Mad Men Episode #3 Grade
  • A-. The show is hitting its stride. What made this episode soar was the Don and Lane escapade. That was a dazzler.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Episode #2: Christmas Comes But Once a Year

Why Mad Men Episode #2 Worked
• The early scene in Don’s office where his secretary Allison was reading him his child’s letter to Santa. Surprisingly poignant. Good acting by Jon Hamm, who said very little, but the expressions on his face carried the scene. And good intimacy with his Allison, that paid off well later in the episode.
• Freddie, the alcoholic ex-account executive showing up in Roger’s office…and offering him the Ponds cold cream account. Felt real. And I loved how a real Ponds soap ad ran later in the episode….great product integration and virtually DVR proof (I watched the ad on my DVR).
• The meeting in the conference room with the Motivational Research Group, especially when Don bolts the meeting (don’t we all wish we could leave meetings like that?). Perhaps Don will become involved with the blonde executive in the knockout dress (paging Grace Kelly).
• All Freddie’s scenes with Peggy. The tension feels real and Freddie’s view of women is so prehistoric. At first, I wanted to like Freddie but these scenes fascinated and creeped me out.
• Roger’s amazing conversation with Joan about increasing the Christmas budget party, especially his references to her smashing red dress of Christmas past (King Leer surfaces again).
• Don at his apartment after the Christmas party. What a pathetic wreck of a man. His appalling seduction of Allison the secretary chilled me.
• Roger being forced to wear the Santa Claus outfit at the Christmas party by the Lucky Strike client. Just awful. That was paid off the next day this exchange between Don and Roger. Don: “Did you enjoy the Fuehrer’s birthday?” Roger: “May he live for 1,000 years?”
• Don giving his secretary her $100 bonus…the day after he seduced her in his apartment. Made her seem like a prostitute.

Why Mad Men Episode #3 Didn’t Work
• Don’s scene with the nurse in the hallway of his apartment building. She was too open in her interest for him to make the scene believeable.

Overall Mad Men Episode #3 Grade
• A-. Virtually every scene worked. The characters are smart, flawed and almost completely believable.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Episode #1: Public Relations

Why Mad Men episode #1 worked:
• Great office scenes, especially the short opening tracking shot introducing the new office. Every scene in the office was pitch perfect.
• Roger and Don talking about Don’s pending date and what to order at the restaurant. “Chicken Kiev,” suggests Roger (King Leer to me), “…butter squirts everywhere.” Good one Rog. Nice sexual undertone.
• Roger turning into a hard ass to Don when the Ad Age article comes out. “A missed opportunity,” he says (correctly) to Don.
• The Jantzen pitch scene with Don brilliantly telling the prudish Jantzen executives what they need to hear (until Don goes ridiculously over the top).

Why Mad Men episode #1 didn’t work:
• All scenes with Joey. He’s surprising weak
• Thanksgiving dinner with Henry’s family

Overall Mad Men episode #1 grade: B
• A very solid start to the fourth season. No fireworks, but hardly any dull patches.