Sometimes it is hardest to embrace something when it’s being pushed on you. From the moment the AMC show Mad Men hit the airwaves, Molly Lambert led the charge to get me to watch this show. She would talk about it all the time, even while I was purposefully ignoring her and playing Mario Kart. She would tell me about the main character Don Draper, and the magnificent group of ad men who came up with campaigns for Israel and lipstick. And yet despite how awesome that sounded I spent most of my time staying up late to watch Golden State Warriors games and making wry observations about Stephen Jackson’s moustache.
Finally I picked up this glorious show. It is basically Revolutionary Road with a lot of advertising jokes. If Molly had read Revolutionary Road, I certainly would have started watching Mad Men a hell of a lot quicker. Shame on you, Molly, Richard Yates is one of the finest prose stylists of his time.
Here now Molly’s original scissor of the show, made all the more tragic in light of the writer’s strike.
“Love is Blind” — Annie Lennox (mp3)
“Sending Out an S.O.S.” — Sting & the Police (mp3)
by Molly Lambert
Sopranos producer and TV vet Matthew Weiner came up with the idea to rip off the jazzy New York in the fifties sexiness of Good Night and Good Luck and meld it with The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit. Its subversiveness comes from how it highlights the toxic racism and sexism of the era. It doesn’t hurt that they’re trying to sell Lucky Strikes.
Lucky Strikes remind me of my friends out on the West Coast
The pilot for Mad Men also features this summer’s other break-out star, Kristen Schaal, in a brief role as a secretary. Schaal plays creepy super-fan Mel on Flight of the Conchords.
Perhaps Mad Men‘s greatest coup is that it gets to plow the hereforeto virgin TV territory of the “authentic” fifties. The “fifties” is a concept synonymous with “fakeness,” as though it gave way in the second half of the century to “the real.” That would be a simplification, and false. But that’s how it’s been depicted on TV in shows from Leave It To Beaver to Happy Days.
It’s a great idea to do a show about why the fifties were an era that begged to be rebelled against, especially because TV was so instrumental in creating the image of that decade which has prevailed as a utopia for Conservatives. The misogyny and racism depicted haven’t exactly vanished from the Earth since then.
There’s no format for political commentary like a period piece, and Mad Men mines the tropes of fifties film and television to expose the rottenness at the heart of the Patriarchy. All this and no gunplay!
“Talking can be heroic,” Mr. Weiner said in an interview here on the studio set serving as Mr. Draper’s living room, arrayed with linen drapes, needlepoint pillows and copies of Flair, the popular ’50s magazine. “I loved ‘The Sopranos.’ But not every problem can be solved by killing someone. When you take that out of the mix, talking is kind of what you have left, although a lot of problems on this show are solved by sleeping with people.”
Needless to say, I am riveted. AMC demonstrates that no cable channel is beneath the ability to host great art. It’s a populist honor these days to be the creator of a smart TV show.
And there have been so many lately. We’ve lost The Sopranos, but there’s still Big Love, The Office, 30 Rock. Did you know David Byrne does the music on Big Love now, and the first season’s was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh?
Though that’s NO EXCUSE for the Avril Lavigne song “Girlfriend” being played during Bill’s sex scene with his Serbian lady woman. I’d also like to say I think Chloe Sevigny, an actress I always hated, is exquisite as Nikki. She’s like Nellie Oleson…
“She loves you, she loves me, she loves Barb. She’ll grow to love Nikki.”
This is absolutely a golden boundary-pushing era for the form, like film in the sixties and seventies. TV has grown up and become the medium of choice for dramatists. The long-form possibilities of episodic TV lend themselves well to that great genre, the serial.
Characters can change and learn over a period of time longer than two hours. Especially with the advent of DVD, which allows viewers to watch at their leisure, TV can produce much greater depth of story and feeling than film can even aspire to, due to the lengths at which they can draw them out.
Srsly though everyone. Business Time vs. Sexy Time.
is both nice!
Molly Lambert is the senior editor at This Recording.
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