November 2007


Film.com blogger Jason lists the TV shows he’s thankful for, and includes Mad Men. Meanwhile, Film.com blogger Ethan Morris lists Mad Men as one of the biggest turkeys of the year (along with the dreadful Bionic Woman).

I’m personally thankful that Morris is in the minority here.

Here’s a lyrical essay on the bygone era of the department store. The author extolls the beauties of shopping circa 1950–1960, and mentions Mad Men as “an antitode to shopping nostalgia.”

Like all nostalgia, I know that mine has a strong reactionary underpinning. If there was a fantasy quality to shopping in the past, this is because it diverted women from the fact that they had nothing else to do. They were effectively barred from the workplace, and shopping was their opiate. They were obliged to think of themselves as ornamental creatures, to be corseted and festooned in ways that seem deforming and sadistic now. See the AMC series Mad Men for a good antidote to shopping nostalgia. All that cigarette smoking, daytime drinking, sexual harassment, and stultifying suburban conformity was the price paid for a great retail experience.

Still, the waning of department store culture entails a loss of beauty. That bygone experience, no matter its gender oppressiveness or its health hazards, was an esthetic one. Not just the product counted, but the experience of buying it; not just the ends, but the means. Everything contributed — from the color-coordinated restaurants and swankily snooty hair salons to the changing rooms with triptych mirrors and upholstered armchairs. I can still whiff the inimitable mix of cigarette smoke and Chanel #5 that wafted through the aisles, still recall the comforts of fawning saleswomen, still hear the spike heels clicking down the polished aisles and see the long red fingernails tapping on the glass counters. Gone is the sense that going to a department store was a peek into a magical woman’s world.

It’s a shame this author stuck to the theme of shopping as a women’s world, and didn’t branch out a little. This author has a Jewish-sounding name (Paula Marantz Cohen) and talks about her hair frizzing up. Mad Men addresses the specific “Jewish” nature of some department stores (Menken’s) as opposed to the WASPier chic of a Saks. I’d be interested in reading an article that branched into the ethnicity of the department store experience. I’m just barely old enough to remember it, and not in the kind of nuance that such a rememberance would require.

At TV Squad, Bob Sassone tells us what he’s thankful for at this time of year.

1. A second season of Mad Men: You know how it usually goes. You love a TV show like it’s your wife or husband, and then the show is canceled after its first season because of low ratings or some other reason involving numbers. But that’s not the case with AMC’s Mad Men. I’m not completely surprised it was renewed, because when you have a period piece drama on one of the niche cable channels, there’s a hell of a better chance of it getting renewed than if it was on NBC, Mondays at 10. Most times when a show is called “adult” that just means there’s a lot of violence or a lot of sex or it’s on cable so they can swear a lot. Mad Men is adult in the truest meaning of the word: intelligent, well written, well-acted, and focusing on adult themes of relationships, society, and the workplace.

We’re thankful too, Bob.

Salon has just issued their second annual Sexiest Man Living. Started a year ago to contrast the predictability of People’s Sexiest Man Alive, each man is accompanied by several paragraphs of elegantly-written prose extolling the erotic and personal virtues of the hotness hero.

And this year’s #1? None other than our own John Hamm, about whom writer Joan Walsh says “We’re awarding Sexiest Man of the Year honors to Jon Hamm but we have to acknowledge: It might be Don Draper who’s won our hearts.”

Here’s some more choice excerpts:

Watching AMC’s “Mad Men” is a sensual feast. Matthew Weiner’s devotion to getting 1960 right means we feel Joan’s girdle and Peggy’s scratchy dresses, taste the rye and the steak and the oysters, glory in the pastels of Betty’s peignoirs; our eyes water at the end of every episode from all that cigarette smoke. The sexual politics are remarkable; the sex is even more interesting, and the hot center of it all is Jon Hamm, who plays Sterling Cooper creative director Don Draper, haunted, predatory, at the top of his game, miserable.

Hamm has glossy movie star good looks, great bones and a killer smile, made riveting by Draper’s pain and artifice. He’s the unhappy adman selling happiness. He’s in on the big con, and yet he’s not, entirely; in fact, he’s dying to believe in what he’s selling. He’s the misfit Organization Man, an elitist egalitarian; he makes conformity seem sort of brave and sexy.

And here’s a contender for best quote of the week:

God, I’m going on about this plot. Maybe it’s Matt Weiner who’s America’s sexiest man…

“What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” (Smoke Gets In Your Eyes)

“Fear stimulates my imagination.” (Smoke Gets In Your Eyes)

I love these, they say so much about who Don is; terrified and alone.

“Sterling Cooper has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich.” (New Amsterdam)

And this one speaks of a sharp mind, the ability to create flowing language that has made him successful, and a perceptive grasp of what’s going on around him.

It’s not airing tonight.

I can’t even talk about it.

We all know that there are some actors who are bad in many things, but sometimes great. Was Halle Berry the “best actress” of 2001? Not possible while people like Streep are alive and working. Did she give the best performance that year, in Monster’s Ball? Arguably yes.

Some actors are limited, and some are just uneven, but sometimes the director or the script brings something forth in that actor that had maybe been less visible. Those are inferior actors; if you need a good director to be good, isn’t that like, say, needing glasses to see? Isn’t your vision, by definition, inferior to those who don’t need the appliance?

Why do I bring this up? Two words: Vincent Kartheiser.

He was hateful and awful in Angel. He was the Wesley Crusher of that show. And now, as Pete Campbell, he’s kind of amazing. Now, maybe it’s that playing a petulant, pain-in-the-ass teenager is inherently less compelling than playing a petulant, pain-in-the-ass married adult. Or maybe the scripts here serve him better. Joss Whedon is known for bringing great performances out of so-so actors (not. naming. names.) but maybe in this case he fell down.

Or maybe Kartheiser is a bad actor in the right role.

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