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The Construction of Race in Modern Family’s Second Season

The Construction of Race in Modern Family’s Second Season

November 10th, 2010

ABC’s Modern Family has always been concerned with questions of race: that Gloria and Manny are Colombian, and that Lily is Vietnamese, were prominent factors in the series’ pilot, so questions of race (and racism) have been evident throughout the series.

And yet, something seems different in the second season. While nothing has been fundamentally changed in terms of questions of race, the show is going to racial humor more often and in a few instances from a different perspective. I would never go so far as to say that the series is racist, but in its desire to increase the amount of racial humor it seems to have forced the issue without allowing it to flow naturally from its characters or even its storylines.

While it is not enough to condemn the series, I would argue that the way race has been presented so far this season shifts ownership of these dynamics to the people behind the scenes as opposed to the characters within the series, creating problematic questions of authorship that threaten both the series’ realism and its complexity.

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Mad Men – “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”

“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”

August 22nd, 2010

Ted, the Don Draper-equivalent over at rival agency CGC, is not in Don Draper’s league: he is neither visionary nor genius, and yet by virtue of his insistence that he is a competitor he has been elevated to Don’s level. It’s the ultimate example of self-definition, of putting something out there (in this case, to the New York Times) and then turning it into reality. It doesn’t matter that Jai Alai went with another agency because its owner is delusional, or that Clearasil was a conflict rather than business lost: as it would appear to the outside world, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost two accounts and CGC (under Ted’s leadership) gained both of them.

“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” is filled with various examples of situations where appearance becomes reality, to the point where it even becomes a meta-narrative when the series’ positioning of Betty as a child-like figure becomes rendered in three-dimensions. It’s not the most pleasant or subtle of episodes, but it ends up making some fairly interesting observations regarding Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as an agency, as well as the series’ general approach to simulating the past.

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Season Premiere: Mad Men – “Public Relations”

“Public Relations”

July 25th, 2010

“It was going great until it wasn’t.”

Mad Men has always been a series grounded in duality, logical since Dick Whitman’s double life represented the central conflict within the series. Very rarely did the series ever move beyond the existential, largely avoiding direct action in favour of short glances, conversations with unintended prescience, and the growing sense that the balance could no longer hold. At the end of the third season, that duality was broken: Don’s secrets were revealed, Betty ran off with Henry Francis, and even the identity crisis at Sterling Cooper – caused by PPL’s influence over the company’s holdings – was eliminated when the pending purchase led to the formation of the independent Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

The third season was Mad Men’s two worlds finally colliding, and the fourth season premiere, “Public Relations,” demonstrates how that collision has never truly stopped. The direct conflict the series has always avoided has become something these characters fetishize and desire, and unfortunately something that has become untenable within the new business world in which they operate. Before, Don Draper was a sly yet self-destructive force operating with what he considered a safety net, and now he’s a sly yet self-destructive force who refuses to change his behaviour despite the newfound risk. And so his entire life becomes a collision, sometimes to his benefit and most times to the detriment of his business, his sanity, and his personal relationships.

However, the benefit of a collision is that you ask yourself important questions, wondering what went wrong and re-evaluating just what you want from the world around you. “Public Relations” is Don Draper seizing the day, choosing to stop running into the same brick wall at every turn and steer the car in a new direction – it’s possible that a collision waits just the same down this new path, but it’s a collision he can control, manage, and perfect.

And until it isn’t, it has every chance of being great.

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Season Premiere: Better Off Ted – “Love Blurts”

“Love Blurts”

December 8th, 2009

Better Off Ted came out of nowhere. It was a mid-season comedy on a network that didn’t do comedy, from the creator of a previous comedy that everyone liked but very few people watched. There was nothing inherent in its premise that really drew me in, and while its cast wasn’t bad on paper it didn’t seem like something that I would actively tune in to see on a regular basis.

And then I watched it, and it was one of my favourite new shows of the year.

The show was never even close to a hit, pairing with Scrubs and drawing decent but uneventful ratings. And then, after a surprising renewal, the show’s remaining first season episodes were burned off in the dead of summer to even worse ratings. It was a strange journey through the show, but through it all my love for the show carried me through.

And yet, Better Off Ted returns out of somewhere. It returns with expectations from viewers and critics alike who fell in love with the show, and it also emerges on a network that does do comedy and actually draws quite spectacular ratings for said comedy. As such, the stakes are now significantly higher, and debuting against the Biggest Loser’s finale and airing out of a deflated Scrubs is not going to help matters.

“Love Blurts” is a solid episode of the show that suffers based on these expectations, as I spent much of the episode imagining how the situation the show was presenting would have been better if they had done this, or implemented that, or gone back to past episodes and did what they did there. The show has become its own curse, and it leads to a premiere that kept me at a distance while doing more than enough to remind me why I missed this show and why I will continue to suggest it to anyone and everyone.

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