Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mad Men Recap Season 6 (Episode 13): In Case Of

Why Mad Men Episode 13 (Season 6) Worked:

  • Ted and Peggy.  What a complex relationship.  He's a good guy who can't help himself from doing bad.  And he's turning Peggy into a bitter, professional, single, career woman.   The back-and-forth between them was excellent in this episode.  Her final blast at him was chilling.  "Get out!" she hissed.  "Just get out!"
  • Megan's great 60s clothes.  She could have been a dancer on "Hullabalo."
  • Bob Benson manipulating Pete to drive the car at Chevy HQ.
  • Ted's conversation with Don about him wanting to move to LA.  It's always great when Ted lays himself emotionally open with Don.  He knows that Don knows what he's all about.
  • Don falling apart in the Hershey's pitch meeting.  Another great off-the-rails moment for Don this season.  And wonderful WTF looks on the faces of his colleagues as they wonder where he's going with his spiel.  
  • The partners meeting where they tell Don to take some time off.  Yep...that's exactly how it's done in real life.  Cold as ice.  But they were right.  Don was tough, though.  Good scene.
  • Lou Avery to Don at the elevator right after he gets kicked in the ass:  "Going down?"  Oh yeah...Don is going down for the count.

Why Mad Men Episode 13 (Season 6) Didn't Work:

  • Pete.  Too shrill, like he's been all year.   His mother falling off the cruise ship to her death just seemed like a lazy way to write her out of the script.  
  • Ted's seduction scene with Peggy.  The writing and acting wasn't solid, especially Elisabeth Moss. She needed to show more ambiguity.  Instead, she was cold and angry, and then she was suddenly hot.
  • Joan.  Not sure what she's been doing the last few episodes.

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 13 (Season 6):  B+.  If this wasn't the last episode, it would have received an A.  However, it ended more with question marks then exclamation marks....and that's not how a season finale should be.  We'll have to wonder if Don and Megan split, if Don gets his job back, if Pete gets his mojo back, and if Bob Benson reveals his game (do we really care about this last point?).

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mad Men Recap Season 6 (Episode 12): The Quality of Mercy

Why Mad Men Episode 12 (Season 6) Worked:

  • The Ted/Don conflict.  This has been a fascinating, well-played chess match all season and it continued brilliantly with this episode.  Don is wise to Ted's infatuation with Peggy and he can't let it go.  He knows Ted wants to spend more money on the St. Joseph's aspirin commercial so Peggy can get a Clio award.  And it culminates in the awkward meeting with the client where viewers think for 10 endlessly long seconds that Don is going to tell the client that Ted wants to spend the additional funds for Peggy.  In the end, Don gets most of the money and doesn't publicly reveal what he knows.
  • Jim Cutler pushing Bob Benson to work with Pete.  Harry Hamlin (as Butler) steals every scene where he utters a line including this one.  He's been great this season.
  • Pete uncovering secret information about Bob Benson.  Finally, Pete has a cause this season.  And finally, we're getting to see what Bob is all about.  (Although it was somewhat confusing about how Pete is going to deal with Bob going forward.)
  • Betty offering Sally a cigarette.  Naturally.  That's what blonde Republican moms did back in 1968.  But did you catch that Sally didn't really inhale?

Why Mad Men Episode 12 (Season 6) Didn't Work:

  • Don being sick and weak.  It's like Superman without his cape or Zorro without his sword.  He's just not that interesting when he's not a shark.  And it's becoming a mystery what he actually does at work besides napping, going home early and fighting with Ted.  
  • Ted's infatuation with Peggy.  Too heavy-handed especially in this episode.  Taking her to the movie in the middle of the day....come on!
  • Pete's anger at his mother in the office and other over-the-top behavior in the office.  He's become a one-note instrument and the sound is shrill.
  • Peggy's visit to the prep school dorm.  Some of the worst scenes of the season.  It felt like a dress rehearsal for a camp play.  The staging -- especially the fight -- was poorly staged.  The acting was completely wooden. 

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 12 (Season 6):  B-.  Some decent office scenes but overall this episode felt slow and lacked the punch of the previous few shows.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mad Men Recap Season 6 (Episode 11): Favors

Why Mad Men Episode 11 (Season 6) Worked:

  • The entire subplot about Arnold and Sylvia's son trying to get out of the draft.    It was brilliantly conceived and had many different aspects to it.  First, there was Don's indifference ("Not our problem," he huffed to Megan.) but then Don slowly began to think of ways he could help.  And he clumsily reached out to GM clients at a dinner annoying Ted in an uncomfortably but strong scene.  Finally, he gave up his pursuit of Sunkist so Ted could land Ocean Spray but only if Ted helped Arnold and Sylvia's son get into the National Guard.  This led to a conversation with a grateful Sylvia and we know where this led to.  But the power punch of the night -- no, the whole season -- was Sally walking in on Don and Sylvia.  She truly saw the Emperor without his clothes.  But what happens next?  We'll have to tune in next week.
  • Peggy and Pete sharing boozy confidences at a restaurant while out with Ted.  There is a real connection there.  Good dialogue.  
Why Mad Men Episode 11 (Season 6) Didn't Work:

  • Pete's mother's relationship with her home health care worker.  Were they really physically intimate?  Do we care?
  • Bad acting from the teenagers, especially Sally, her friend and Mitchell.  Like lousy summer stock theater.  
  • Domestic blahs.  Everyone's home life is suffering:  Ted's, Don's, Peggy's, Betty's, and Pete's.  But it's not all that interesting.
  • Peggy's rats in her home.  Seriously, what was the point of that?  Just bite the bullet Peggy and move to the Upper East Side already.  
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 11 (Season 6):  B+.  A lot didn't happen for much of this episode.  But the pay-off of Sally catching Don and Sylvia was so strong that it changed the entire tone of the episode.  Bravo.  Can't wait until next Sunday.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 10): A Tale of Two Cities

Why Mad Men Episode 10 (Season 6) Worked:

  • The two conversations about the ridiculously long name of the firm.  Extremely believable situation.  Well written.  And very tight.
  • Roger's tips to Don on the airplane about how to deal with the LA-base clients.  Razor-sharp and funny.  And a lot of truth in what he said.
  • Jim (Harry Hamlin).  His droll character is making us (almost) forget Lane.  His looks (from the sleek dark suits to the oh-so-retro-cool black glasses) and lines are absolutely  perfect.
  • Joan's attempt to land Avon.  Wow.  This is a great plot development and very risky on Joan's part.  It's nice to see her character develop professionally.
  • The groovy clothes in LA.  Harry is really turning into a peacock.  And Roger really looks ready to swing in his red ascot.  Only Don looks out of it, like he just came from a Bethesda, Maryland, meeting for the election of Richard Nixon.
  • The use of the 1968 riots at the Democratic convention as a backdrop for many scenes in this episode.  We saw Megan's rising political consciousness (pro-demonstrators), which is very unusual for a prime time tv show.  And the riots surfaced in Roger and Don's meeting with Carnation when the boss dressed everyone down for even discussing the riots.
  • The Peggy-Joan smackdown....and then Peggy's rescue of Joan.  Joan really did hang Peggy out to dry bringing her into the unauthorized pitch meeting with Avon and Peggy was right to be angry.  So the scene with Peggy helping Joan later really paid off nicely.  And now we're left wondering and worrying if Joan will land Avon.  She and Peggy are joined at the hip on this one.
  • The LA party.  It was a bit cartoonish, but, hey, the times were a bit cartoonish.  Still, you could tell the wardrobe department and set decorators had a ball on this scene.
  • Pete puffing a joint in the office in  exasperation in the last scene of the night.  Great music ("Piece of My Heart") and an amazing shot from the waist down of a woman in a short yellow mini-dress and white boots gliding by Pete.  A brilliant ending to a brilliant episode.

Why Mad Men Episode 10 (Season 6) Didn't Work:

  • Roger insulting the short man continuously at the LA party. It wore thin very quickly.
  • Ginsberg.  Too shrill and over-the-top.  Weiner has trouble portraying Jews in more moderate colors.  

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 10 (Season 6):  A+.  The best so far this season.  Great office scenes.  Vicious office politics.  Piercing dialogue.  Great clothes.  Imaginative use of music.  It all came together in one seamless hour-long package.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 9): The Better Half

Why Mad Men Episode 9 (Season 6) Worked:

  • The office tension between Ted and Don with Peggy in the middle.  Well written and well played.
  • Megan's outfits.  Super cool late 60s threads.  The clothes are more interesting than the character.
  • The budding relationship between Pete and Joan.  Where is this going?  Will she wind up in the sack with him?  How weird would that be?
  • Betty's seduction of Don in the cabin in the woods.  Expertly played as she walked into the cabin and left the door open.  Don tentatively follows her in.  "Close the door.  You'll let the bugs in," she says coldly.  Best line of the year.
  • Peggy stabbing Abe.  If she wouldn't have stabbed him, I would have.  That character needs to go.
  • Peggy telling Ted that she broke up with Abe (expecting that he'll leap into her arms).  But then he turns all business.  Didn't see that coming and you really felt for her.

Why Mad Men Episode 9 (Season 6) Didn't Work:

  • Melodrama.  Ted falling in love with Peggy.  Don and Betty hooking up.  Arlene kissing Megan.     Way too much like a soap opera tonight.
  • Pete's conversation with the headhunter.  Poorly scripted.
  • Don and Betty's visit with Bobby at camp.  That scene just lay there.
  • Henry and Betty in the back of the car.  Since when is Henry such a player?
  • Abe's mugging.  It's like watching an entirely different television show.  Like "Welcome Back Kotter."

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 9 (Season 6): C-.  Like many shows this season, this episode lacked humor and cohesion.  The powerful ending with Peggy in Ted's office redeemed it slightly.   The office is far less interesting since they merged with Ted's company.  Has Mad Men jumped the shark?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 8): The Crash

Why Mad Men Episode 8 (Season 6) Worked:
  • Dr. Feelgood giving everyone in the office amphetamine shots so they could work on Chevy over the weekend.  Yep....that really happened back in the day.  Best sequence of lines.  Roger to doctor:  "I have a heart condition."  Doctor: "Don't worry about it."
  • Sylvia's "Don't let me hang up on you" conversation with Don after she found his cigarette butts outside the back door of her apartment.  
  • Dionne Warwick singing "Going Out of My Head" while Don pines for Sylvia.
  • Grandma Ida robbing the Draper household. That was genuinely creepy and surprisingly well done. 
  • Sally.  She's turning into one of the show's more interesting characters. By next season, she'll be a total piece of work.
Why Mad Men Episode 8 (Season 6) Didn't Work:
  • The office on speed.  Almost the entire episode focused on this and it was way too much.  Lots of gibberish and too frenetic....just like speed.
  • Don's flashbacks and disoriented state.  Too much psycho-babble going on there.  And the personality of young Don in the whorehouse doesn't really work.  He comes off as a dork and it's hard to believe he was ever a dork, even at 14.  
  • Stan putting the moves on Peggy in the office.  Zero erotic tension.  Surprisingly, the scene was a bummer.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 8 (Season 6): C.  The show gets some points for trying to do something different but "Mad Men" is becoming too dark and depressing.  Advertising in the 60s was supposedly fun.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 7): Man with a Plan

Why Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 6) Worked:

  • The merging of CGC with SCDP.  The insecurities, the petty jealousy, the rough all seemed real.
  • The opening scene where Don overhears the heated exchange between his lover Sylvia and Arnold, her obnoxious husband.  Don definitely has a dog in that fight.
  • "Musical chairs" at the first executive meeting of the two companies.  Pete really blows it when he comes in late and discovers that there's no chair for him so he finds the lowest ranking person in the room and goes for her chair.  That scene spoke volumes about how it works in corporate America.
  • Ted calling out Don for being 40 minutes late for a creative session.  Don's response was priceless.  He looked at Ted like he wasn't there, turned, and walked into his office.
  • Roger firing Burt.  Burt's response:  "You're a prick!" Roger's retort to that: "Damn it Burt. You stole my good-bye."
  • Don reading "The Last PIcture Show" on the plane.  Nice nod to author Larry McMurtry or the great movie of the same name.  
  • The episode's last shot of Megan sobbing silently while watching the coverage of the murder of Bobby Kennedy while Don sits on the bed clearly upset, but obviously not about Kennedy.  Great song in the background:  "Reach Out in the Darkness."

Why Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 6) Didn't Work:
  •  Don as a head case.  We like him better as the cool, cocky, assured executive.  He seems like he's going off the deep end and it's not making the show more interesting.
  • Sylvia in the hotel room.  What was that about?  All the scenes in the room had strong domination themes but it just felt off-key.  Some of the scenes were ridiculous or embarrassing (like when Sylvia is obviously pleasuring herself at one point).  We're glad Sylvia pulled the plug on the relationship. The show couldn't take too much more of that storyline.
  • Pete's anxieties.  It worked once or twice but he's becoming way too shrill.  He needs to get his mojo back.
  • Joan's ovarian cyst.  Not sure why this was a subplot unless she's going to develop some fatal disease later this season.  
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 6):  B-.  There were many interesting things in tonight's episodes and the story moved along nicely.  However, the hotel room scenes and Don's overall weirdness brought it down a notch.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 6): For Immediate Release

Why Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 6) Worked:

  • The opening scene about SCDP going public.  Great interplay between Joan and Pete (we rarely see that).  Good mix of sexual banter and business.  And Joan perhaps making $1 million in a public offering finally enabled her to get excited about something.
  • Roger shagging the flight attendant who oversaw the business class lounge for midwestern flights.  And dig that groovy outfit she wore.
  • The business dinner with the Jaguar client.  The wife was way too over-the-top but Don really grew a pair when he told the client basically to stuff it.  He was as cold and cutting as only Don can be and it was a welcome change for the show.  He's been too distant and remote (I know...I'm sounding like Megan.)
  • Pete's outburst to Don when he learned that Don fired the Jaguar client.  As usual -- as we've said many times on these pages -- the show works best when the focus is the work.  Joan really capped this scene with her own blast at Don and it was nice to see her show some from-the-belly emotion.  She's usually tightly wound.
  • Don's hail-Mary pass conversation with Ted at the bar in Detroit about merging agencies.  It made sense and the way that it came about was masterful.  The viewer never saw the details or the pitch to was all presented the next day as matter-of-fact in Ted's office with Don there as Peggy walked in surprised.  That's first-class writing at work.

Why Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 6) Didn't Work:
  • Peggy's relationship with Abe.  Bogging down and tonight's episode showing her and Abe in her new, noisy apartment was poorly written and had extremely cheesy set design (surprising for a show that gets most of those details so right).
  • Pete's hairline.  Don't mean to be mean but yikes!  Can't the "Mad Men" makeup department do something?
  • Joan's bustline.  It seems to be growing as fast as Pete's hairline is receding.  
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 6):  A.  The show was in top form with this episode.    There was a lot of drama, some good plot shifts, and key characters really spread their wings.  Can't wait to see what next week brings.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 5): The Flood

Why Mad Men Episode 5 (Season 6) Worked:

  • The real estate story line.  This was the most interesting part of episode five.  Peggy's interactions with the real estate agent felt real.  There were lots of great details like the reference to the Second Ave. subway that was going to be built soon and add value to the Upper East Side, where Peggy was looking.  
  • Pete's squabble with Harry in the office about the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Who knew that Pete would come out on the side of being sensitive?  That scene produced the most tension in a slow-moving, dark hour.
  • The awkward way the executives dealt with the black subordinates after the death of MLK.  The scenes weren't long, but they were powerful.

Why Mad Men Episode 5 (Season 6) Didn't Work:
  • The death of Martin Luther King.  The show handled this in heavy-handed manner that felt more like a history lesson than a piece of television drama.
  • Michael Ginsberg and his father.  Oy vey.  A hornet's nest of cliches and bad Yiddish accents.  And what's with the blind date with the school teacher?
  • Betty.  When she's on the screen, take a two-minute bathroom break.  I guarantee nothing's going to happen.
  • Don.  Since when did he turn into the Dark Knight?  He moped through the entire episode.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 5 (Season 6):
  • D.  This could have been one of the Mad Men's finest episodes ever.  Instead, this episode focusing on the aftermath of the death of Martin Luther King suffered from poor writing, few if any interesting plot points, and slow pacing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 4): To Have and To Hold

Why Mad Men Episode 4 (Season 6) Worked:

  • Harry's epic scenes.  Wow....Harry really crushed it in this episode.  His showdown with Joan about her firing his secretary was searing and his subsequent showdown with the partners and then Roger and Bert bristled with realism.  
  • Joan firing Scarlett (Harry's secretary).  Wow...Joan really crushed it in this episode.  With those curves, we mistakenly believe she's hot.  But in reality, she's wickedly cold and it showed when she pink-slipped Scarlett (and was subsequently overruled by Harry and not backed by the partners).
  • Sideburns.  Harry and Pete look very appropriate for the late 60's.
  • Dinner with the swingers.  Don and Megan go out to dinner with Arlene and Mel from Megan's television show and discover they want to swing.  The conversation was expertly crafted and was dotted with pointed references to the war in Viet Nam.  Well done!
  • Don watching Meagan's love scene in her soap opera.  Masterful acting by Jon Hamm without saying a word.  And the fight in her  dressing room showcased the episode's strong writing.
  • The pitch to Dow Chemical.  Love the tag line:  "Dow Chemical: family products for the American family."  Yeah right....Dow was manufacturing napalm that was being used in the Viet Nam war.  More excellent, sly writing.

Why Mad Men Episode 4 (Season 6) Didn't Work:
  • Joan's scenes with her friend Kate.  Not awful; just flat.
  • Dawn's scenes.  Not awful; just flat.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 3 (Season 6):  

  • A-.  Strong writing and memorable scenes made this an excellent episode.  As usual, when Mad Men focuses on the office politics and office problems, the show rockets to another level.   

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 3): The Collaborator

Why Mad Men Episode 3 (Season 6) Worked:

  • Pete.  He's so oily but he's so fun to watch.  Not sure what makes him so attractive to all these desperate housewives, but all his scenes click.
  • North Korean references.  Very sly and reminds savvy (or old) viewers that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • Brenda.  The domestic abuse scene was harrowing, especially with her dashing to Pete's home to "save" her.  And nice scene in Pete's apartment where he seduced her.
  • Dinner with Don and Sylvia.  Spicy stuff. That was dialogue fra diavolo.
  • Dueling marital deceits by Don and Pete.  Good editing.  And who's the bigger shit?  Stay tuned.

Why Mad Men Episode 3 (Season 6) Didn't Work:

  • The midday sex.  How does the agency thrive with Don and Pete in the sack so much during the day?
  • Love thy neighbor.  Don's affair with Sylvia is a bit ridiculous. The odds of him getting caught seem incredibly high.
  • Herb the heavy Jaguar dealer.  Overly heavy handed.
  • Frau Peggy.  She's been cast as such a frumpy buzz kill this season that it's hard to watch her scenes.  Meanwhile, on The Sundance Channel, she's lighting up the screen as a brooding, gun-wielding detective on the case in New Zealand in "Top of the Lake."  She's turning in the year's top of the hill performance for an actress in a drama.  
  • Pretentiousness.  The final scene of Don sagging in the doorway and the flashbacks of young Don in a rooming house.  The show bogs down when plot elements bubble with too much hidden meaning.    
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 3 (Season 6):  
  • B.  Pretty solid show (hey...Betty wasn't in it).  No real memorable scenes, but Episode 3 was miles better than last week's season premiere.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mad Men Season 6 (Episode 1): The Doorway

Why Mad Men Episode 1 (Season 6) Worked:

  • The problems with the clients that both Don and Peggy faced at their respective agencies.  Once again, as in previous seasons, the troubles of running an ad agency generated the most tension and drama, and offered the best opportunities for razor-sharp writing.
  • Photo of JFK in Peggy's apartment.  Nice touch.  But the apartment was a dump for a frump.  
  • Roger's one-liners.  When Don returns from a holiday in Hawaii, Roger says, "Hello Don Ho."
  • Use of music.  Nicely done from the Hawaiian music in the opening scenes to the violin music played by Sally's friend Sandy.  Very subtle but deft.  

Why Mad Men Episode 1 (Season 6) Didn't Work:

  • The two-hour length.  Felt slow and pointless for most of the lonnnnng 120 minutes.  No real narrative drive.  
  • Betty.  She's gained weight and lost her mojo.  Her scene in the village crash pad was poorly staged and poorly written.
  • The prosperity of Don's agency.  Huh?  How did it become so successful?   That needed a few explanatory lines.
  • The death of Roger's mother.  Most scenes about her passing almost single-handed put the nail in the coffin for this season-opening episode.  
  • Dr. Arnold Rosen.  Paging all ethnic stereotypes...please report to AMC on Sunday night.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 1 (Season 6):  

  • D.    A real hodge podge.  Feels like the show has jumped the shark.  Not sure "Mad Men" will work in the groovy part of the 60s.