Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mad Men Season 7 (Episode 7): Waterloo

Why Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 7) Worked:
  • Culter's take-down of Don.  Vicious.  His assessment of Don's talent was chilling: "I am deeply unimpressed." The depth of Cutler's evil corporate ways is bottomless.  He's really blossomed as a character.  j
  • Don's forceful response to Cutler trying to push him out of the agency.  Don finally grows a pair this season.  A BIG pair.  
  • Don's split with Megan.  A masterpiece of minimal writing.  Hamm's face says so much.  And great use of dead air.  
  • Bert Cooper's assessment of the leadership talent in his company in a discussion with Roger.  Incisive.  The guy may be weird but he knows how to manage.
  • Bert Cooper's death.  Brilliantly handled the way it was brought up.  For a few minutes, we weren't sure exactly who from the agency had died.  It was easy to speculate that Don committed suicide after the breakup  of marriage and the attempt to push him out of the agency.
  • Sally kissing Neil.  Neil's response: "What do I do now?" He returns to the office.  And Sally?  She whips out a cigarette.  A future ice queen is born.
  • Peggy's pitch to Burger Chef.  Pitch perfect.
  • Joan's slow change to a cold-hearted businesswoman.  Chilling.  
  • The moon landing.  Well produced as the show cut from various groups of Mad Men watching the landing, cementing the theme that television was the great unifier of the time.  
  • Cutler's surprise vote for the McCann merger: "It's a lot of money," he reasons.
Why Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 7) Didn't Work:
  • Don's squeaky-voiced secretary and her surprise kiss.  Out of character and out of left field.
  • Peggy's chubby young neighbor.  The bond is baffling.  Worse yet, it's really boring.
  • The merger.  The partners agree to a $65 million sale in a two-minute meeting.  Completely implausible especially for a show that really sweats the details in the office.
  • The ghost of Bert Cooper singing and dancing to "The Best Things in Life Are Free." What a weak wrap-up to a very strong episode.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 7 (Season 7): B+  Don and Roger asserted themselves big time in this episode and that really made this episode sing. (Although the song and dance number really hit the wrong notes as a first-half conclusion.)  The bare-knuckles politics in the office continued to  provide great dramatic fodder although the McCann buyout was a bit hasty.  It's hard to know exactly how the ball will bounce in the second half of this season but there are enough loose ends to make us wish the season begins sooner rather than later.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mad Men Season 7 (Episode 6): The Strategy

Why Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 7) Worked:
  • The early tension between Don and Peggy over the Burger Chef campaign.,
  • Don admitting that he just came from the movie "I Am Curious Yellow." Probably only 27 people watching even knew about the movie but it was a very cool thing to do in 1969.  (It was a porn film, in case you're interested.)
  • Don explaining to Peggy about how he works creatively.
  • The Madras sports jackets.  Pete and Bob Benson really rocked them.
  • Bob's "proposal" to Joan.  He needed her to be his beard so he could rise in corporate America. He thought she'd need his security.  Her response: "I want love." One of the better scenes in recent weeks that didn't revolve entirely around the office.
Why Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 7) Didn't Work:
  • The work for the Burger Chef tv commercial.  Usually, "Mad Men" shines when it focuses on the creative work that goes into an ad campaign. However, almost all of the scenes about the Burger Chef campaign were about as bland a limp lettuce.
  • Bob bailing out the gay client from jail.  The scene in the cab as they left the jail was confusing and poorly written.
  • Pete's fight with Trudy at their Cos Cobb house.  Another confusing and poorly written scene. 
  • Don and Peggy drinking in the office, having a heart to heart, and then dancing to Sinatra's "Strangers in the NIght."  Another scene where one could only wonder: What is this about?
  • Stan's beard.  It's so bushy, it's practically its own zip code.  Distracting.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 6 (Season 7):  C-.  A lot of nothing happened in this episode.  Don still hasn't recovered his mojo.  His marriage appears tenuous. He's become...uh....what's the word -- boring! Peggy feels pathetic now. Pete's relationship with his girlfriend doesn't ring true. Let's hope for a first half season-ending wallop next week. This was pretty thin gruel tonight.    

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mad Men Season 7 (Episode 5): The Runaways

Why Mad Men Episode 5 (Season 7) Worked:
  • Don's barging in on the tobacco pitch meeting at the end of the episode. Ballsy.  That's the Don we love.
  • Stan getting high in the office.  He was taking a semi-hidden puff at his desk, right? Did you catch it?
  • The mini-skirts.  Can't get any shorter.
  • Don's management advice to Lou. Lou's reply to Don: I'm not taking management advice from Don Draper.
  • Ginsberg spying on Cutler and Lou in the computer room.  Shades of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."
  • Henry's outburst at Betty. Finally, he has an interesting scene. But who knew he was such a male chauvinist pig?
Why Mad Men Episode 5 (Season 7) Didn't Work:

  • Ginsburg's nervous breakdown.  Poorly played. Over-acted. Didn't ring true. Enough with his obsession with the computer.
  • Stephanie the pregnant niece. Hard to know what that was about. And hard to get emotionally involved in her story.
  • Megan's party. Eh.
  • Sally's nose. Eh.
  • Don's threesome with Megan and her friend. The most cringe-worthy threesome since "House of Cards." And those awkward morning after moments.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 5 (Season 7):  C.  Another mediocre episode.  Only Don's scene at the end with the tobacco executives saved it and gave viewers something to look forward to next week. His relationship with Megan is going in reverse, and even worse, it's boring.  The only upbeat part of the episode is that hopefully Ginsberg become institutionalized and never sets foot again in an ad agency -- or on "Mad Men."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mad Men Season 7 (Episode 4): The Monolith

Why Mad Men Episode 4 (Season 7) Worked:
  • Freddy's rah-rah speech to Don after he goes on his bender. Finally, someone gives Don some useful advice and some harsh medicine to swallow.
  • The computer installation in the office.  Yes....computers represented disruption in every sense of the word.
  • Lou's salary increase to Peggy -- with nasty strings attached. 
Why Mad Men Episode 4 (Season 7) Didn't Work:

  • Don's degradation.  It doesn't feel like an interesting plot twist now; it's more like he's being dragged through the mud for 60 minutes.
  • Don's alcoholism.  Yes, we know Don has a drinking problem but this episode really brought it front and center instead of keeping it in the background.  And that pushes the show in a dangerous direction. We don't want Mad Men to be a program about substance abuse, we want it to be about the 60s and advertising.
  • Roger's visit to retrieve his daughter at the commune. Grade D melodrama featuring some of the worst writing and plotting of the season. It was like a watching a completely different show.
  • Peggy. She used to be one of the show's most interesting characters.  Now she's a one-note bummer.
  • Lloyd, the computer installer. It was hard to figure out his role in tonight's episode. The interactions with Don were strange and stilted.  
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 4 (Season 7):  C-. This episode was way too downbeat.  Don's boozing in the office. Don's degradation. Roger's dysfunctional family.  There was nothing remotely entertaining or upbeat about "The Monolith." Let's hope Don comes roaring back with some great copy and takes his place at the top of the food chain.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mad Men Season 7 (Episode 3): Field Trip

Why Mad Men Episode 3 (Season 7) Worked:
  • Don calling his secretary Dawn in the opening scene.  We feel Dawn's tension as the phones in the background are ringing off the hook.  We also get a front row seat at Don's anger and humiliation at his increasing marginalization at work.  Then the ultimate insult happens: his secretary puts him on hold!
  • The meeting Peggy, Stan and Michael had with Lou Avery.  So uncomfortable.  And Lou Avery secures the crown as the world's worst boss by taking the meeting with his legs wide open. Ick! He looks like he does "strategic consulting" for Spiro Agnew.
  • Megan giving Don the boot minutes after they made love. Wow....that was a powerful scene.  It was difficult not to feel sorry for Don.
  • Betty's non-stop smoking. So interesting.  (And the only thing interesting about her these days.)
  • Don's job hunting dinner at the Algonquin.  It was a small scene and generally good, except that the blonde coming to the table -- and apparently coming on to Don -- was a bit confusing.  (Or I am stupid in not fully understanding it?)
  • Don's return to the office. That had to be the most awkward scene of the  year in television.  It was impossible not to squirm watching it.  It was SO apparent that he wasn't supposed to be there. Don's humiliation apparently knows no bounds.  It was brutal -- but absolutely compelling to watch.
  • Roger (John Slattery) states his case for Don to return to the agency. Fiery! Slattery's finest dramatic scene (not humorous) on the show in years, perhaps ever.
  • Don agreeing to the awful terms for coming back to work.  The humiliation continues.  And reporting to Lou Avery?  Gotta tune in next week to see this food fight.
Why Mad Men Episode 3 (Season 7) Didn't Work:
  • The school trip to the farm. We'd rather have watched corn grow.
  • Bobby Draper. We'd rather have watched corn grow.
  • Betty. So boring.
  • Henry. Can't remember the last time he was in an interesting scene.
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 3 (Season 7):  A-. Another excellent episode. The office scenes just explode off the scene and they crackle with tension and energy. Don's plight and downward spiral are driving the show to new heights this year. Will these developments lead to a Don Draper redemption  for the season finale?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mad Men Season 7 (Episode 2): Happy Valentine's Day

Why Mad Men Episode 2 (Season 7) Worked:

  • The Valentine Day's flowesr gimmick.  That was an exceptional plot device and only faltered when Peggy blew up at her secretary (see what didn't work).
  • The faulty squawk box gimmick.  Nobody liked the squawk box, not even in 1969.  Clever writing.
  • Don's failed attempts to cover up his absence at the office.  It was easy to feel sorry for him.  The show is better when he's a cad, but this adds an interesting new dimension to one of prime time tv's most compelling characters. 
  • Don letting his hair down with Sally. Another well-written, completely believable scene.  Don is changing and it's happening before our eyes.  
  • Sally.  She played a critical role in this episode and it helped make this a memorable one.  Her unexpected visit to the office to see Don after she lost her  purse was dramatic and Kiernan Shipka made the most of these scenes.  
  • Secretary merry-go-round.  Everyone seemed dissatisfied with his or her secretary and all those personnel problems rolled up on Joan's desk. Nice subplot.
  • Lou. Such a dick.  But so believable.
  • Shirley's (Peggy's secretary) groovy orange dress.
Why Mad Men Episode 2 (Season 7) Didn't Work:

  • Downbeat tone.  We're not having a lot of fun in Season 7. 
  • Pete's (Vincent Karheiser) bad hair piece. Distracting.
  • Pete's hot LA girlfriend. Really? She can do better.
  • Peggy's rant about her flowers. A bit much.
  • Pete's rant about the ineffectiveness of his role in LA. A bit much
Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 2 (Season 7):  .  A-. Great writing and intriguing subplots made this episode memorable.  Everyone at the agency seems unstable and on the verge of collapse.  It's highly stressful to watch -- but completely addictive.  Can't wait until next week to find out what happens next.

Mad Men Season 7 (Episode 1): Time Zones

Why Mad Men Episode 1 (Season 7) Worked:
  • Fashion.  The producers (and costume designers) really caught the groovy late 60s fashion zeitgeist, especially Megan (and especially the head scarf!). Don is looking dapper but pretty square.
  • The music. Using the  60s music is an easy call, but the producers worked it in deftly, especially the last scene of the episode with Peggy.
  • Freddy's opening monologue.  Clever.  Now that's a series opener!
  • Don gliding on the electric walkway at LAX.  The scene was brilliantly stolen from the opening sequence of "The Graduate."
  • Joan's scenes with the CMO from Butler Shoes.  She kicked ass.
  • The delivery of the tv console the size of a coffin to Megan's Laurel Canyon home.  That's how the rich watched tv back in the day.
  • Roger's breakfast with his daughter.  Extremely well written, especially the daughter's line.  He's so out of touch with his child that it was sometimes painful to watch.

Why Mad Men Episode 1 (Season 7) Didn't Work:
  • Don and Megan's relationship. We know that there are huge problems between the two of them.  However, it's just not that much fun -- or interesting -- watching the relationship implode.
  • Don's encounter with a strange woman on the LA-JFK redeye.  Yawn -- Don's excessive philandering is becoming a drag.  And it feels a bit implausible that every woman he meets in every encounter wants to bed him.
  • Ken's rants.  Over-the-top.
  • Roger with the hippie woman.  60s cliche alert.
  • Peggy.  She's a bummer, man.  (However, we are interested about what's going to happen to her.)

Overall Grade for Mad Men Episode 1 (Season 7):  B.  The final season got off to a strong but not spectacular start.  It's a bit downbeat but overall we're optimistic about where the series will go from here.