Saturday, March 24, 2012

Do you watch Mad Men? (should you?)

Mad Men season five starts tomorrow (via)
Sally Draper: Not mad, and not men, but awesome (via)
I am current on Mad Men, ready to start watching "live" tomorrow night when season five starts. Nothing in this post will spoil anything for non watchers - for this is more for them (as I was one just two months ago).

First and foremost, I will always appreciate Mad Men's existence for the simple fact that it paved the way for Breaking Bad, the best show on television today. Its success helped reinforce AMC's dedication to original programming.

In the past, I've made attempts to watch this show - failed attempts caused partly to the late night nature of the marathons on AMC before I owned a DVR and partly because season one is bad* and sleep inducing. But since a friend owned the entire series on DVD, I was able to rededicate an effort to get caught up. After all, Mad Men has won 4 Emmys for Best Drama (placing it in a tie for most all time with Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and West Wing). Note: all four shows can be considered workplace dramas.

*Season one is bad. People got ultra sucked in by the retro of it, the setting's authenticity, the gloss of a partially unknown but always respected era. It was glimpses of this first season that fueled my adamant stance against watching the show. Often, I would launch into my crude impression of every episode when someone (especially a coworker) wanted to know why I didn't watch it.  The impression was just me picking up my phone and barking orders to an imaginary secretary named Trixie for scotch and smokes.  After watching all of season one, I stand my the claim.  For your review, a one line summary of each episode as viewed by the objectification of women referred to as "Trixie."
  • Trixie needs to show her legs
  • Lie down Trixie and tell the shrink all your problems
  • Where is Trixie walking, hopefully to get that Sara Lee from the freezer
  • Daddy doesn't love you, but loves Trixie
  • Trixie best not gossip about boss' privates
  • Trixie needs help getting zipped up
  • Burning the midnight oil is bad for Trixie's skin
  • How do you like your scotch Trixie
  • Trixie get your gun
  • Double the Trixie double the fun
  • Trixie likes the vibration sensation
  • It's not fair, Trixie
  • Congratulations, twice, for Trixie
Yes, that's harsh - and I'll back away from my "bad" comment and say that it was a well produced set piece with sub par content. It should have lost to Dexter that year (back before Dexter became reduced to a CBS procedure devoid of suspense). As the show went on, its depiction of women (or the importance of the female characters) changed. Perhaps it was a microcosm of the decade in general.

Sally Draper - respect (via)
But seasons two and three were great.  And I will also admit that I would not have enjoyed them if not for the character investment from season one.  It's when I realized my fundamental problem with the show, and was able to adapt.  I prefer shows with main arcs that result in a deep story from a far distance.  Mad Men devotes nearly all its time to character development and is not afraid to sacrifice plot. Soap Operas were able to build decades of success by constructing a fully flushed setting and having it's characters move and interact based on their own motivations - and Mad Men follows suit accordingly. Nearly everywhere plot drives its characters - but not here.  Season three is also when I realized my favorite of all the characters is Sally Draper, for reasons I will not post in order to maintain the spoiler-free spirit.

Thankfully I was not watching live at the end of Season 3, for its season finale was one of the more exciting well paced hours of the show - and a beautiful set up for Season 4.  I would not have been able to handle that hiatus (which wasn't even as long as the one about to end tomorrow). Season 4 had more doses of Sally being Sally and proved that the show was dedicated to be as dynamic as the decade it chooses to spotlight.

I'm not ready to vault it into my top five favorite shows right now (especially with Justified just kicking major Kentucky ass right now), but I'm excited to finally be current near the water cooler.

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