Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Men Character Report Card Seasons 1-7

Don Draper was the dark knight of Mad Men for seven seasons but then  he saw the light in the finale.
It was a glorious seven-season run for Mad Men.  The show's fascinating and complex characters pulled viewers in episode after episode, season after season.  Sunday night's haven't been this good since the Sopranos.  (Well, come to think of it, we still have Homeland, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.) Here are my grades for all the major Mad Men characters who made Sunday night a such a special night since 2004.  (Thank you DVR technology who made ad-skipping so easy.)

And thanks to all the readers who visited this blog over the years.

Howard Polskin
May 17, 2015, 
New York City (where Madison Ave lives)

Honor Roll

  • Don Draper: A.  The man with the shady past cast the longest shadow throughout the seven  seasons.  The character was a lion in the office and a tiger in the sack.  He lit a cigarette with the sexy flair of Zorro drawing his sword.  No one wore a suit better or could take a belt of booze with more style at 11 a.m. than Don.  This character stands as a giant in the pantheon of tv drama history.  The character faltered in the final season -- we viewers like to see him as a shark, not a lost soul -- but Don kept us hooked for the better part of a decade.
  • Roger Sterling: A-.  The Lou Costello to Draper's Bud Abbott.  He provided comic relief throughout the years although his witty one-liners often masked the black heart of a ruthless capitalist.  Like Don the character sagged in season seven (and that ridiculous mustache didn't help).  
  • Lane Pryce: A-.  Lane Pryce stole almost every scene in the few short years he was on the show.  The uptight Brit had an enormous stick up his royal butt but he had a more complex dark side which made him one of the show's most interesting characters.  He had a fling with a black Playboy bunny and he embezzled company funds.  His solution: hang himself in his office. Now that's an interesting exit strategy.  
    Memory Lane: Let's not forget what a wonderful character Lane Pryce was.

Teacher's Pets

  • Peggy Olson: B+.  Great character arc for Peggy.  She starts as Don's secretary and eventually works her way up to a senior creative position.  Oh, and she was raped early in the show and had a child out of wedlock (that storyline was never fully realized and perhaps it was never really needed).  It was always interesting watching Peggy but this was a character so uncomfortable in her own skin, that sometimes it created difficulties watching her.
  • Duck Phillips: B+. Duck felt like a real creature of Madison Ave.  On the surface he was charming but he was flush with character flaws.  In one of the show's surprising (and surprisingly entertaining) plot twists, he winds up as Peggy's sexual partner for a while.  He shows up in season seven as a boozy, semi-tragic figure on the back nine of his career.   
    Duck acts more like a sly fox with Peggy.
  • Joan Harris: B: Another great character arc.  One of the pleasures of watching Mad Men was watching the career development of Peggy and Joan.  Joan simply didn't take crap; she was also a take charge type.  Her buxom figure often worked to her disadvantage and at times it was tiresome to see that theme exploited so much.  And the character could never be described as fun-loving or lovable (see Sterling, Roger).
  • Sal Romano: B. The married, Italian-American gay art director.  He didn't last many seasons but his plight as a closeted gay man in mid-60s corporate America set the ground-breaking and fearless tone of the show.  (When he refused to submit to the advances of a client, Roger fires him.)
    Sal gets propositioned by client.
  • Peter Campbell: B. Rapist. Liar. Adulterer. Yet somehow this character made us care about his plight and at times we couldn't help but root for his success. He made the job seem like it was all about boozy client lunches and call girls.  But hey -- it was the 60s -- so maybe that's the way it was.  
  • Jim Cutler:  B.  He didn't get enough screen time (and he was AWOL in the second half of season seven) but this character always created drama and tension.  Props to the costume department for giving Cutler beautiful suits and cool horn-rimmed glasses.
  • Freddy Rumsen: B.  The nice guy office drunk.  It was usually Happy Hour when Freddy showed up in a scene.  
  • Lou Avery: B.  Mad Men's most hated character.  We've all probably had bosses like him at some point in our career. Lou appeared only in a few episodes but he made a lasting impact.  
  • Sally Draper: B-.  If we made a movie about Sally Draper, we'd call it "Girlhood." It was fascinating and often disturbing to see the type of messed-up teenager she blossomed into during the seven seasons living in the Draper/Francis household.  
  • Stan Rizzo: B-. Over the years, the SCDP art director evolved from a shallow, hippie-ish hipster into a talent and sensitive professional.  Not the most exciting character but most of his scenes worked.
  • Bert Cooper: B-.  The strange patriarch of SC, he always added gravitas to whatever scenes he appeared in.  The character didn't have a lot of dimension but you gotta love the erotic painting above his desk and his policy of no shoes in his office.
Average Joes
  • Harry Crane: C+. Harry changed nicely over the years -- although he was anything but nice.  Both his sideburns and his responsibilities as the head of the burgeoning tv department grew significantly during the last few seasons.  Unfortunately, Harry had little to do in the show besides act as a schmuck.  
  • Betty Draper: C.  The character had stronger scripts early in the show (remember her fling with a lucky stranger in a coatroom?) but it was hard for viewers to warm up to her cold personality throughout the years (even after she was diagnosed with lung cancer).  The character never recovered after her marriage to Henry.  
    Betty Draper: better put down that butt. It's not good for your health.
  • Megan Draper: C.  The character had stronger scripts when she was Don's groovy secretary and in the beginning of her marriage.  The character got weaker as Megan pursued her acting career more earnestly.  Great threads though. 
    Megan Draper: always dressed for success (although she rarely succeeded).
  • Ken Cosgrove: C.  The account executive who lost an eye mid-way through the series.  For viewers, it was easy to lose interest in this character who showed more promise as a budding novelist earlier in the series.  
  • Trudy Campbell: C.  Desperate housewife.
  • Marie Calvert (Megan's mom): C.  Desperate housewife (French version).
  • Dr. Faye Miller, Rachel Katz, Midge Daniels and any other of Don's bedmates:  C. Over they years, they all morphed into the same character; Don's action on the side to be disposed of after a season.  
  • Ted Chaough: C-. The character had promise when he was first introduced but he became an after-thought in the last two years.  
  • Glen Bishop: C-. Wildly uneven character (not helped by poor acting) although it was an intriguing twist when the youngster asked for a lock of Betty's hair -- and she gave it to him.  And then there was the scene in season seven when Glen got real up close and personal with Mrs. Draper Francis...that was perhaps Glen's most riveting scene of the series.  
    Here's to you Mrs. Robinson: Glen puts the moves on Betty in season seven.
Remedial Readers:
  • Henry Francis: D. Henry never really developed as Betty's husband or as an Albany political functionary.  The show basically stopped in its tracks whenever he showed up.
  • Abe Drexler and Michael Ginsburg: D.  Bother character were annoying Jewish stereotypes and were probably the worst written roles on the show.
  • Bobby Draper.  Can anyone think of a memorable scene with him in it during the last three seasons?

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