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.