Monday, June 11, 2012

Mad Men Season 5 Report Card

Uneveness characterized Mad Men season 5.  The season started very slowly but then about mid-season things heated up and reached a dramatic high when Joan agreed to sleep with a client for a partnership and Lane hung himself (not because of Joan but he surely would have benfited from some practical pillow talk with her).  But the season ended with a whimper, not a bang.  For the second year in a row, here are my grades for Mad Men's characters (not the actors playing them):

Honor Roll
  • Lane Pryce:  A (last season  -- A).  Lane embezzled company funds to cover a personal cash flow problem.  How we rooted for it all to work out for him even though he was a cheat and a philanderer.  That shows a lot about the rich complexity of his character.  In the end, he hung himself.  We'll miss his dry-witted Pryce-lines that rolled off his tongue so effortlessly.

Teacher's Pets
  • Roger Sterling:  B+ (last season -- A-).  Roger took LSD and then he tuned in, turned on but didn't drop out (at least not in this season).  He split from wife #2, got fellated in an empty ballroom at an industry awards dinner, and drank with impunity.  He had the best lines of any character but the non-stop boozing in the office made him seem like a Madison Ave. version of Dean Martin and at times the character drifted into ugly cariciture.
  • Marie Calvet:  B.  The Quebec cougar.  She's both hot and ice cold.  The introduction of her character added a rich dimension to the mostly boring domestic scenes at the Draper household. 
  • Pete Campbell:  B (last season -- B).  He became more snake-like than ever but he's growing very quickly as a ruthless businessman.  If I'm starting a business, I want Pete Campbell on my team.  (He's a lousy boxer, though)  The way he pimped out Joan was masterfully done.  He made us cringe but we couldn't stop watching him.  Points added for his doomed, sordid affair with crazy Beth.  Points detracted for being so unlikeable. 
  • Beth Dawes:  B.  Our favorite desperate housewife.  The character could have been fleshed out a little more, but we liked what we saw.
  • Howard Dawes:  B.  He gives life insurance salesmen a bad name.  (Wait a minute....they already have bad name.)  He was a one-dimensional slime ball but you couldn't take your eyes off the screen when Howard Dawes was in a scene.  You know something bad would happen or would be said. 
  • Peggy Olson:  B- (last season -- B).  Days of whine and roses for Peggy.  She found love but she seemed to be sucking a lemon for most of the season.  Yeah, Don ragged on her but she wasn't exactly Miss Congenitality.  Good career growth and she embodies certain aspects of the women's movement of the 60s.  If she could only learn to stroke her clients the way she strokes strange men in a movie theater....
  • Joan Harris:  B- (last season -- B).  She had a baby, which is now a very minor plot point.  Her marriage collapsed.  She slept with a client to become a partner.. Yes....a lot of interesting things happened to the Joan Harris character.  But some how she seemed less interesting this season.

Average Joe's

  • Don Draper:  C (last season -- A+).  This season, Don was like Zorro without a sword. Megan manipulated him.  He lost his office mojo.  His kids became a hassle.  His in-laws annoyed him.  Work was routine.  He became so....what's the phrase? the resut of us.  It's hard to think of any great scenes he had this year (and that includes the drinking scene with Joan). 
  • Harry Coooper, Ken Cosgrove, Bert Cooper.  C (last season -- C).  Supporting players who move the plot forward efficiently.
  • Stan the Art Director:  C (last season -- D).  Not as annoying as last year.  They should develop him better next year.  I think there's a good back story waiting to be told.
  • Megan Draper:  C- (last season -- B-).  It felt like there was too much emphasis on Megan this season.  Her leap to copywriter happened too quickly.  The show bogged down when it focused on her issues. 
  • Sally Draper:  C- (last season -- C).  Most of her scenes fell flat.  I predict a much bigger role for her next season.  She will blossom into a screwed up, beautiful teenage girl -- the product of a broken marriage -- smack dab in the middle of the 60s. 

Remedial Readers
  • Glen Bishop:  D (last season -- F).  Poorly written character.  We're not sure what to make of him as some type of puppy love interest of Sally's.
  • Michael Ginsberg:  F.  What was the inspiration for this annoying, cliched character?  He seemed like he was plucked from cast of "Fiddler on the Roof."  He added very little to Season 5.  I pray that Y&R offers him a great copywriting job in episode 1 of Season 6.
  • Betty Francis.  We saw her very briefly in just a few episodes.  She was overweight and we were underwhelmed.  We didn't miss her this year.
  • Henry Francis.  Did he even show up?
  • Duck.  Bring him back.
  • Freddie.  He made a brief appearance advising Peggy on her career move and it moved the needle.  Let's hope he's got more lines next year. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mad Men Season 5 (Episode 13): The Phantom

Why Mad Men Episode 13 (Season 5) Worked:
  • Pete's scenes with Beth. Even though Pete's a dirtbag, you had to feel sorry for him.  And Beth's beauty is matched only by the dark cloud of depression that hangs above her.  The dialogue was sharp and brought into focus the complexity of their relationship.  Her peach-colored dress with the wide, white collar was a knockout.  
  • Roger's affair with Marie Calvet (Megan's mom).  Again, good dialogue.  Witty, sophisticated, adult....all helped by that sexy French accent and Marie's fabulous great dress and matching hat.  
  • Megan 's duplicity.  Her sexy friend Emily asks for her help landing a part in a tv commercial but instead Megan goes for (and gets) the part.  As Megan sinks into despair, she's getting a bit more interesting.  But does Emily have the last say?  In the season's final scene, Emily is scene hitting on Don in a bar.  (Although, I am a bit confused.  It looked like Megan was sitting at the end of the bar and Emily referenced "her friend."  Was this meant to be murky on purpose?  Weigh in.)   Are we meant to infer that Emily is starting an affair with Don? 
  • The ghost of Lane.  The producers referenced thim in a few smart ways.  First, the camera lingered at Lane's empty chair at the partner's meeting.  Then there was Joan's brief exchange with Don about Lane.  Joan:  "Why didn't I give him what he wanted?"  Don:  "What was that?"  Joan:  (raises her eyebrow).  And of course, there was Don'w well-written and uncomfortable scene with Lane's bitter widow. 
  • Peggy's scene at her new job.  She's not having fun.  This sets the stage for her return next season.
  • The camerawork.  Awesome.  Examples abound:  the shot of the five partners standing in their new, unfinished space (business is very good); Don looking at Megan's black and white screen test, Roger standing naked (presumably tripping on LSD) in front of a hotel window; and tracking the shot of Don on the soundstage where they are shooting the tv commercial starring Megan.
  • The soundtrack. "You Only Live Twice," sung by (I believe) Shirley Bassey.  Fit the mood and montage of those last wonderful shots from this season perfectly.   And a nice nod to James Bond. 

Why Mad Men Episode 13 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  • Don's toothache.  It made Don look weak and toothless (metaphorically speaking) and when he's not the lion king, the show lacks bite. 
  • Ginsberg in the meeting with the client.  Over the top and strident.  Can't he get hired away by Y&R next season?
  • Pete's fight with the train conductor, which hopped the track.  
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 13 (Season 5):  
  • B-.  Somehow, this episode came across as a denouncement after Lane's suicide last week. While good dialogue and interesting situations characterized episode 13, nothing really blew my hair back. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mad Men Season 5 (Episode 12): Commissions and Fees

Why Mad Men Episode 12 (Season 5) Worked:
  • Lane's downfall and suicide.  Masterful.  Almost every scene related to this tragic episode worked brilliantly:  Bert Cooper's confrontation with Don about the check; Don's showdown with Lance where he forced his resignation (and since when did Don become so virtuous?); Lane's wife buying him a Jaguar; Lane being offered the position as head of the 4A's fiscal control committee; Lane's failed effort to asphyxiate himself in his new Jaguar because it was so mechanically unreliable it wouldn't event start (genius touch!):  and ultimately Lane hanging from the door in his office.  
  • The lion in Don roars again.  We saw this in scene after scene in episode 5 and especially in the scene with Roger where he talks about the company getting big.
  • Don yelling at his daughter Sally:  "And turn off that damn tv."  Sometimes the shortest scenes in Mad Men are richest with irony.  
  • Don letting Glen drive his car (with him in it) back to school.  A light way to end a heavy episode.
Why Mad Men Episode 12 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  • So let's get this straight.  Peggy resigned in last week's episode and it's not mentioned at all in this episode?  
  • The scenes with Sally and Glen (especially the dialogue).  Get me rewrite!  And can't we find a better actor to play Glen?  The rare times he appears I feel like I'm watching dinner theater in Boca Raton.
  • Betty's remoteness with Sally.  It's not interesting. 
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 12 (Season 5):  
  • A.  Great writing, acting and plot development.  What more could you ask for in a scripted tv drama?  Bravo Mad Men.  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Odds: What Mad Men Character Will Plunge Down the Shaft?

As we near the end of Mad Men Season 5, a dark cloud hangs over the program....and the bottom of a dark elevator shaft lies beneath the offices of Sterling Cooper waiting patiently all season for one poor character to fall to his or her death.  Which character will suffer a gruesome plunge in the shaft to mark the end of the season?  (And it has to be the last shot in the last show of the season.  Right?)  Shades of "LA Law," where character Rosiland Shays took the one-way walk (if she lived she probably would have made partner at Dewey LeBoeuf and we knew how that turned out).

So here are exclusive odds from The Mad Men Review on which character is likely to mistakenly walk into the office elevator only to discover the bottom isn't there.

Pete Campbell.  Losing Pete would be a moral victory for the show.  He's such a low-life he sort of deserves to be offed.  The show might suffer.  I guess Harry will have to kick it up a notch.

Bert Cooper.  Mr. Expendable.  The program won't him miss a bit.  The firm will be financially healthier (I'm thinking with Lane's head on my shoulders).  It will provide the appropriate shock value.

Megan Draper.  The character isn't working out.  And her acting career is catching on fire.  This would put Don back in the game and the show back on track.  

Roger Sterling.  Let's face it.  Roger's at the end of the line....both as an ad pro and a character.  He's on the verge of turning into a caricature....or Dean Martin.   We'll miss his quips but it will be worse to see his character flail in the coming seasons.

Peggy Olson.  Last week's showed ended with her entering the elevator so she's definitely in the best post position to take a fatal fall.

Michael Ginsberg.  This is creator Matt Weiner's chance to correct the mistake of bringing this character to the show.  He's a minor character and the show wouldn't miss a beat without him.

Joan Harris.  You know the old rule from horror films.  If you have sex, you die. Think about that Joan.  But she's got a kid and that may not be so PC (unless Roger swoops in to take care of the child....but now we're talking midday soap opera).

Lane Pryce.  He's such an original character that it would be a crime to kill him.  But he's also embezzled corporate funds so you do the math on his survival chances.

Harry Crane, Stan Rizzo and Ken Cosgrove.  Expendable?  Yes?  Buzzworthy deaths?  Hardly.  And that buys them time.

Don Draper.  The falling man, indeed!  The show would come full circle.  But there's no way they make Don Draper plunge into that shaft.  He's the heart and soul of the show (even if he's having an off year).

No one dies.  And it's just possible that Matt Weiner  cooked up with open door without the elevator a few episodes ago just to create some dramatic tension  and get people like me to write about it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mad Men Season 5 (Episode 11): The Other Woman

Why Mad Men Episode 11 (Season 5) Worked:
  •  The whole Indecent Proposal setup. was a bit implausible but it was a great device to stir the pot and make things happen.  It was a springboard into tense scenes like the one between Pete and Joan when he first brings up the idea of her sleeping with Herb the Jaguar client.  "You're talking prostitution," she protests mildly.  "I'm talking about business on a very high level," retorts Pete.  Surprisingly, Don and Roger resist the idea of Joan sleeping with Herb.  Lane also got in on the action with some helpful (and lucrative) advice to Joan about nabbing a 5% ownership of the firm.
  • The clever replay of Don's scene with Joan when he comes to her apartment to tell her not to sleep with Herb.  In the replay, we learn that Joan already spent the afternoon with Herb. 
  • Don's short but bitter scene with Megan where she says she'll have to spend three months in Boston if she gets the part.  It was one of their best ever.  I think Jon Hamm is a better actor when he's playing the aggressor but in this scene, he totally nailed it as the lost, powerless husband. 
  • Lane's fixation on the Christmas bonuses.  London....we've got a problem.
  • Megan's audition with three men who treat her like meat....kinda like the way Herb views Joan.  
  • Peggy's resignation speech to Don and Don's failed counter offer.  It was her best scene of the season (finally!).....and his too.
Why Mad Men Episode 11 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  •  Don and Megan hooking up in his office. Enough with the supposed hot sex already.  Most times when they're on the screen together, I dive into my Blackberry iPhone.
  • Ginsberg pitching Don new Jaguar copy.  Annoying.
  • The cutting between Don's pitch to Jaguar and Joan's rendezvous with Herb.  A little too slick for its own good. 
  • The title of the episode.  Why not "Indecent Proposal?"
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 11 (Season 5):  
  • B+.  Very solid effort.  The premise was a bit contrived but they pulled it off with some sharp writing and top-notch acting.  But the big question:  does Peggy walk into the elevator shaft as she walks out of Sterling Cooper?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gone fishing'

The Men Men Review is fishing in Florida. We'll resume the blog Wednesday night.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mad Men Episode 10 (Season 5): Christmas Waltz

Why Mad Men Episode 10 (Season 5) Worked
  • .Lane's dilemma.  And here I thought Pete ranked as the sleaziest person in the office.  Looks like Lane needs $8,000 and he'll have to forge a company check to get the dough.  But will he get away with it?  This dilemma created enormous tension in episode 10.  The partners' meeting was particularly well written.  It looked liked Lane might get his cash after all, but the firm picked a more prudent course.  The brilliance of the writing is that the audience is rooting for Lane not to get caught even though what he's doing is highly immoral.
  • Harry's Hare Krishna flirtation.  There were so many nice touches in this subplot as Harry tried helping a former copywriter-turned-Hare-Krishna-devotee.  Harry's checked overcoat caught the look of the times perfectly.  His attraction to the former druggie/prostitute Lockshmir rang true.  The best (and very sly) part of this storyline was Harry's Hare Krishna friend giving him a spec scriptfor an NBC drama by the name of .....Star Trek!  
  • Don's supposed laziness and lack of fire.....and his surprising turnaround.  We saw him in the beginning of the episode resting on the couch in the middle of the day.  And Pete calls him out for always leaving at 5:30.  But in the last scene at a company-wide meeting, Don gives an inspirational speech telling the employees that they'll have to work every weekend through Christmas.  "Prepare to swim the English Channel and swim in champagne in Paris," he implores them.  Let's hope for the sake of the firm -- and the show -- that the old Don is back.
  • Don and Joan hitting a bar in the middle of the day.  Lots of sexual tension in the air.  That'll pull viewers back next week to see what happens.
Why Mad Men Episode 10 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  • Joan's tantrum at receptionist.  A bit out of character for her to lose it like that at work.  But the scriptwriters needed an excuse for her to leave the office with Don.
  • Lockshmir hitting Harry after having sex with him.  Her anger was not clearly explained.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 10 (Season 5):  
  • A.  Outstanding episode filled with action-filled subplots.  Tension abounded in most of the scenes.  Don finally got his cajones back.   For the most part, Megan took a back seat and that gave more time for the excellent office scenes.  There's definitely a need to tune in next week to see what happens with all these important plot developments.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mad Men Episode 9 (Season 5): Dark Shadows

Why Mad Men Episode 9 (Season 5) Worked:
  •  Roger.  He was the best thing about episode 9.  He's still grooving on a  cool LSD vibe.  (Did you notice the day-glo orange scarf, the day-glo orange sofa cushion and the trippy psychedelic painting in his office?)  He also had some great lines like this one about the Jewish owner of Manischewitz Wine and his wife:  "How Jewish are they?  'Fiddler on the Roof''...audience or cast?"  And, "They make wine for Jews and now they want to make wine for normal people."  
  • Betty telling Sally that Don was married before. That 30-second conversation will result in $30,000 worth of therapy for Sally.
  • Megan and Don's fight over calling Betty.  
  • Don's elevator ride with Michael Ginsberg.   Don really gave him the shaft.
Why Mad Men Episode 9 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  •  Betty.  The show turns into thick porridge was she's on the screen.  Her eating disorder just doesn't seem that interesting (although power spritzing the Cool Whip directly into her mouth gave the show a much needed shot of adrenalin).  The scene with her and Henry eating steak at midnight was strictly low protein.  
  • The creation of the copy for the Sno Ball account.  Not very interesting.
  • Michael Ginsberg. He remains cartoonish and completely over the top.  The character sucks up way too much oxygen in every scene. 
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 9 (Season 5):  
  • C.  Nothing really happened in this episode.  No real intrigue in the office.  Nothing that reflected with tumultuous times of the mid-60s or the tremendous explosion of creativity and social unrest that marked the era.  And Don appears neutered.  He's lost his mojo.  And so did this episode. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mad Men Episode 8 (Season 5): Lady Lazarus

Why Mad Men Episode 8 (Season 5) Worked:
  • Pete's fling with the desperate suburban housewife Beth and his subsequent infatuation.  He's certainly one of the uglier characters on the show, but he's now becoming the most interesting.  The set up with his one night affair with Beth was tension-provoking and intriguing.  Their pillow talk afterwards was realistic.  "This must never happen again," Beth says.  (Yeah...right!)  It's a strange season on Mad Men when Pete's getting more action than Don or Roger.  Wonder if Beth will be a re-occurring character.  The hope here is that she will be.
  • Megan's career dilemma.  The twist in this episode was that Megan really wanted to resume her acting career despite her success and talent as a copywriter.  The developments unfolded quickly and dramatically.  You felt the weight of her decision especially considering the position of Don.  The conversation she had with him in the middle of the night felt real and heartfelt.  Don seemed confused and even hurt.  Her decision may harm the marriage.  After all, their work seems all they have in common.  Joan's reaction to Megan's decision was completely pragmatic.  "She'll just be a failed actress with a rich husband," she predicts.  Ouch.  (But she's probably right.)
  • Don and Peggy argue in the test kitchen about the Cool Whip pitch. Finally, Don emotes this season but he lets Peggy swear at him.  Dude....time to slip into your big boy pants. 
  • Roger and Don's heart to heart after Roger learns that Megan has quit.  The old lions lick their wounds. 
  • The wordless sequence at the end of the episode set to the psychedelic music of the Beatles "Within You, Without You."  Brilliant song choice and great video editing.  Plus the shot of Peggy working at her desk smoking a joint was sly and pitch perfect for the times.  (CORRECTION:  The Beatles song was actually "Tomorrow Never Knows."  The New York Times published an excellent account May 7 on how the producers secured the rights for the song.)
Why Mad Men Episode 8 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  • Don's passivity.  Except for the fight in the test kitchen, Don continues to be emotionally neutered for most of this season.  
  • The Jewish copywriter Ben Feldman.  This new character is cartoonish and annoying.
  • The open elevator shaft at the agency.  Was this an inside reference to the real tragedy of the advertising executive killed in an elevator shaft last December in New York?  If so, to what purpose?  It was confusing and felt somewhat in bad taste (or am I missing something?). 
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 8 (Season 5): 
  • B+.  Another very strong episode. Pete's fling and Megan's decision to quit elevated the night. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 5): At the Codfish Ball

Why Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 5) Worked:
  • Dialogue was exceptional tonight.  So many characters reeled off great lines.  The episode ended with a phone call between Sally and her weird male friend, a short while after secretly witnessing her step-grandmother performing fellatio on Roger Sterling.  Sallly told him she was in Manhattan.  "How's the city?" he asks.  "Dirty," she replies.  Cut to black.  Brilliant. 
  • The small period piece touches such as Ken getting the Heinz client tickets to the new Edward Albee play and Don in bed reading a James Bond novel.  Marie (Megan's mom) falling asleep in her bed with a lit cigarette was priceless, especially after Megan casually took the cigarette from her hand as ifthis type of behavior was normal (and it probably was to some extent in the mid-60's). 
  • Roger's conversation with his first ex-wife as he reveals some of the details of his trip.  
  • Megan saving the Heinz account.
  • The bonding between Peggy and Joan.  It's like witnessing first-hand the rise of the feminist movement.  Peggy reveals that she wasn't engaged at dinner but that Abe merely suggested they live together.  Joan tells Peggy they are "shacking up" (haven't heard that term for ages).
  • Megan's dad's line when he sees Sally dressed up for Don's award dinner at night.  "Little girls begin to grow up and spread their legs and fly away...."  "Spread their wings Daddy," Megan corrects.
  • The awards dinner.  So much was happening.  Pete's explanation to Megan's Communist dad of what he did for a living was brilliant.  Roger's flirtation with Megan's mom created tension and paid off with their hook-up in a seemingly empty room adjacent to the banquet hall.  And kudos to the beautifully framed last shot of the awards dinner with Don, Megan, Sally and Megan's parents all sitting unhappily at the table.
  • Peggy's mom delivered a powerful monologue when she learned that Peggy and Abe were "living in sin."  It captured all the moralizing blather of the political right from the 60s delivered with a harsh Queens accent.  You had to feel for Peggy (because nothing good will come of her relationship with Abe). 
  • Peggy's horrible checked coat.  If the producers dressed her in it to make us feel sorry for her, it worked. 

Why Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  • Don getting turned on by Megan in the cab ride from dinner with the Heinz client after she saved the account.  It was over the top.  

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 5):  
  • A-.  Crackling dialogue and some superb scenes (the awards dinner, Peggy's dinner with her mom, the Heinz account dinner), elevated this episode.  And Roger Sterling finally got his mojo back!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 5): Far Away Places

Why Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 5) Worked:
  • Don and Megan's trip to hell (to HoJo's near Plattsburg, NY).  Great details like the interior of the HoJo restaurant, the goofy hotel manager, the fried food for lunch  And the fight that erupted between the two of them was a long time coming with Megan expressing anger at the way Don pulls her away from her work (which also hurts the show).  The season finally sprang to life.
  • Roger's LSD trip.  This scene could have gone either way but it captured the spirit of the times.  The note he received when he began his trip with his name, address and the words "Please Help Me" was priceless.  The trip opened his mind to the fact that his marriage is dead.  Maybe he should trip next week to get his head back in the game at work.
  • Peggy hopping the rails.  Lots of interesting things going on with our favorite copywriter.  She insults clients, leaves work early to catch a midday movie, smokes a joint in the theater, and gives a strange man in the next seat a handjob.  Then she goes back to the office, bangs out some copy while drinking some Canadian Club and falls asleep on the office couch.  Is she having a nervous breakdown?  Not sure, but the show got damn interesting.
  • Bert Cooper.  He snaps at Don, "You've been on love leave!"  Don tells him to mind his business.  Bert:  "This is my business!"  Pow!  Take that Don.

Why Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  •  Maybe Peggy overreacted a bit too much during the Heinz presentation.
  • Roger's LSD trip may have been a bit too long. 
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 5):  
  • A-.  Finally, we had some action tonight.  Don and Megan's scenes were their best ever together, and it felt like we were spying on a real marital spat.  We still need to see the cool, calculated Don Draper for the show to really soar, but there are hints that we'll see him soon.  Most of the great Mad Men episodes take place in the office, so this episode was rare in that most of the compelling action took place away from the office. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5 (Season 5): Signal 30

Why Mad Men Episode #5 (Season 5) Worked: 
  •  The pub scene in the beginning with Lane and his wife.  It was a small window into his complicated life.
  • The first partners' meeting where Lane practically boasts about his discussions with Jaguar.
  • Roger's advice to Lane on how to be a great account executive during a business lunch.  "Be nice to the waiter....and don't let him near the check."
  • Don's checked sport jacket that he wore to Pete and Trudy's Saturday night dinner party.
  • Don and Pete's awkward ride in the taxicab after the evening in a whorehouse (where Don did not participate).  "Why do I feel like I'm riding with a nun?" asks Pete in the line of the evening.
  • Lane kissing Joan.  Her response was priceless (after she opened the door to his office):  "Every man in the office has wanted to do that." A beat.  "Hit Pete Campbell." 
Why Mad Men Episode #5 (Season 5) Didn't Work:

  •  The fist fight between Lane and Pete.  Very implausible on so many levels.  Lane should have just slapped Pete or thrown water in his face.  The show teetered on the edge of slapstick here.  I almost winced watching it.  .  
  • The scene in the brothel.  Somehow, it wasn't staged right.  The only part that hit the right note was when Pete went into the room with one of the women and the camera held on his cold face.
  • The driving school scenes with Pete.  Not sure where they were heading.  So many scenes this season go nowhere and this certainly was one of them.  

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #5 (Season 5):
  • C-.   Another subpar episode.  Don has becoming boring!  When Don is reduced to fixing faulty kitchen sinks, you know the show has sprung a leak.  Roger appears weak and helpless.  The show's two big guns are shooting blanks.  And the big tension is that Kenny's after-hours fiction writing escapades have been discovered.  It will be interesting to see how the conflict between Pete and Lane is resolved. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mad Men Episode 4 (Season 5): Mystery Date

Why Mad Men Episode #4 (Season 5) Worked:

  •  Henry's mom giving Sally a Seconal to help her sleep.  Better living through chemistry.
Why Mad Men Episode #4 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  • Don's cough and sickness.  Yes....I know that was the setup for him to hallucinate about him strangling his ex-lover, but the show is strong when he's strong.....and it's weak when he's weak.  And Don was completely weak tonight.
  • Don's hallucination about Andrea showing up at his apartment.  Good try but then never really pulled it off..
  • Most of Sally's scenes.  Slowwwwwwwwwwwwww.
  • Peggy's scenes with Dawn the black secretary.  Never really went any where.  
  • The running theme through the show of the murder of the 8 nurses in Chicago.  That never paid off in any meaningful way.
  • Gregg's homecoming.  Poorly written and stilted.  Joan's smackdown of him at the breakfast table had some spark to it but the marriage fell apart so quickly, that it felt rushed.
  • Michael Ginsberg.  Annoying.  And cliche meter is clanging loudly. 
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #4 (Season 5):
  • D.  Maybe one of the worst Mad Men's ever.  For this show to work effectively, at least half of it has to be about the world of advertising in the 60s.  Tonight's episode barely touched on that world and the show suffered. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mad Men Episode 3 (Season 5): Tea Leaves

Why Mad Men Episodes #3 (Season 5) Worked:
  •  Betty's health crisis.  Didn't see that coming.  But it was a clever way to provide cover for actress January Jone's real-life pregnancy.
  • The cool modern furniture in Don and Megan's apartment.
  • Henry smoking dope backstage at rock concert and then getting the munchies.
  • Henry finally gets a good line.  "(George) Romney's a clown and I don't want him (John Lindsay) standing next to him."  Hmmmmm...was there a 2012 message in that sentence?
  • Henry showing his nasty side. Don calls to ask about Betty's health and Henry doesn't tell Betty when she asks who called.
  • Pete's office speech after the company landed Mohawk that dissed Roger.  Finally we got a wee bit of office politics in this episode.
Why Mad Men Episode #3 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  • Betty's tea with her friend after learning she might have a cancerous tumor.  Poorly acted.
  • Backstage at the Stones concert.  Poorly staged and very poorly cast.  Didn't ring true at all.  
  • Peggy's interview with the Jewish copywriter.  Completely over the top. 
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #3 (Season 5):
  • C.  I said it last year and I'll say it again this year:  when the show focuses on Betty, it bogs down.   "Mad Men" is at its best when the show is anchored in the office and not enough happened in the office in this episode.   

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mad Men Episodes #1 and 2 (Season 5): A Little Kiss

Why Mad Men Episodes #1 and 2 (Season 5) Worked:
  • All of Roger's scenes.  Nobody boozes and bullshits at a business lunch quite like Roger.  His heart-to-heart with Harry was heartless, slimey and vintage Roger but he knows how to get what he wants.
  • Joan gently applying lotion to her baby son's butt less than an inch from his testicles.  "That feels good," she purred. The not-so-subtle subtext:  Joan knows her way around a male's body!
  • Kenny and Pete discussing the rocky state of the agency while Pete's nose is bleeding.
  • Pete coming home to suburbia after a long and lousy day at the office....and then eating dry cereal from the box, the fruit of his success!
  • The clothes.  Megan's dazzled but I also liked Pete's wild checked jacket and Stan's Rayon shirts (or was it Banlon?)
  • Megan's surprise birthday party for Don.  Had overtones of "Laugh-In."  She stole the show with her song-and-dance number.
  • Pete's move to get Roger's office.
  • The failed Heinz pitch.  
  • Lane's steamy phone conversation with the woman about the found wallet.  I think we were witnessing the G-rated birth of phone sex. 
  • Some good small touches:  the Mets poster in Lane's office; Roger smoking his cigarette while holding the infant.  
  • The Dusty Springfield song to close the episode. 
Why Mad Men Episode #1 (Season 5) Didn't Work:
  • Don and Megan, especially in the office.  This relationship in the office is changing the texture of the show and not for the better.The scene where he asked her to unbutton her blouse in the office hopped the track.
  • Joan's motherhood.  Another new role that changed the  heart of the show.  We don't want to see her as a weepy, emotional new mother.  We want the take-charge woman who runs the agency.   
  • Megan stripping to her undergarments to clean the apartment.  No way!

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode #1 (Season 5):
  • B.  Solid start to the new season.  Roger has never been better.  Pete's office plotting remains intriguing.  All the big issues of the 60s remain bubbling on the backburner and occasionally land front and center with a powerful impact.  Putting Megan back in the office especially as a copywriter creates tension at work but it's a risky move for the producers because it feels highly implausible.  And Joan as a new mother also doesn't hit the right notes. For the show to work in season 5, Don Draper and Joan have to be a more potent forces in the office.