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.