Tag Archives: John Slattery

Mad Men – “Chinese Wall”

“Chinese Wall”

October 3rd, 2010

“I thought in the end you wouldn’t want to throw it away.”

The balance between business and personal affairs forms one of the central tensions of Mad Men, but the show’s characters all approach the issue from different perspectives. For some, it takes the form of large-scale conflicts, such as Peggy’s pregnancy back in season; for others, it takes the form of family conflict, such as Pete’s relationship with his father-in-law; for yet more, it takes the form of the simple fact that a dinner out is interrupted by a colleague who stops by with news about the business.

For Don Draper, however, it has always been an elaborate balancing act: desperate to keep his true personal affairs out of his business, he created the ideal life for a businessman: wife, two and a half kids, house in the suburbs, etc. And yet that was never Don’s personal life, not really: if anything, Don’s lack of identity meant that he had no true personal life, and what he had was lost when Ann Draper passed away earlier this season.

The tragedy of “Chinese Wall” is not the loss of Lucky Strike hitting the fan, or the departure of the client who brought Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce its greatest honour. Instead, the greatest tragedy is that Don’s search for a personal life has become indistinguishable from his business one. While I would argue that “Chinese Wall” is almost as consistently themed as last week’s “Hands and Knees,” what sets it apart is that it is a theme that has been central from the very beginning, and in the “last days of Rome” it becomes more important than ever before.

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Mad Men – “Hands and Knees”

“Hands and Knees”

September 26th, 2010

“Everybody has bad dreams once in a while.”

In a Twitter discussion, Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall had a discussion about the role of theme in Mad Men: to boil it down for you, Seitz suggested he was on the fence about “Hands and Knees” due to it being a “theme episode,” while Alan argued that every episode is a theme episode (while acknowledging that this may be simply because he, as a critic, looks for themes to inform his review).

The distinction I offered is that there is a difference between “theme episodes” (which I would argue “Hands and Knees” is) and “episodes with themes” (which is the majority of Mad Men’s run). The series is too thematically rich to go without themes in any particular episode, but “Hands and Knees” stands apart in terms of actively tying nearly every single story into that theme: instead of one bad dream, it’s a collection of bad dreams that happen simultaneously (insert Inception joke).

What makes it, and all good “theme episodes,” work so well is that the episode itself acknowledges that the consistency of this theme is ridiculous: everything that could go wrong does go wrong in the episode, as if every worst case scenario and everything they want to keep secret rises to the surface. The episode asks us to join Roger in laughter when we realize just how screwed these people all are, while emphasizing that everyone has a good reason to go on pretending as if none of it has actually happened.

It’s a very straightforward thematic episode, though, and writing out the same thing as everyone else seems like a waste of my time – as a result, I’m going to outline my thematic read of the episode very briefly before discussing some of the more ancillary elements of the story which may not clearly connect with the central theme.

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2010 Emmy Award Predictions: Supporting Acting in a Drama Series

Supporting Acting in a Drama Series

August 23rd, 2010

The complete lack of a frontrunner in neither Supporting Actor nor Supporting Actress in a Drama Series isn’t particularly surprising: these categories are always fairly stacked, and so predicting them is always a bit of a crapshoot.

This year, though, the lack of a frontrunner should prove particularly interesting, and potentially quite frustrating for the majority of television viewers.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

  • Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age)
  • Martin Short (Damages)
  • Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
  • Terry O’Quinn (Lost)
  • Michael Emerson (Lost)
  • John Slattery (Mad Men)

On the Actor side of things, it’s a problem of too much talent: while many are right to complain about John Lithgow getting dropped down to (and winning) Guest Actor from Supporting on a technicality, I think this category is better for his absence, as it allows people like Aaron Paul (still looking for his first Emmy win for this spectacular work on Breaking Bad) to have a legitimate shot at the trophy instead of appearing as also-rans. However, when he’s alongside someone as respected as Martin Short, and when former winners Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson are riding the momentum of Lost coming to its conclusion, Paul still seems like a small fish in a big pond (Slattery, as good as he is, is simply not going to be the Mad Men actor to break the series’ drought in performance categories).

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Mad Men the Weekend After: Critics accept “The Rejected”

Mad Men the Weekend After: Critics accept “The Rejected”

August 20th, 2010

I was without access to a television on Sunday evening, and in the chaos of moving I wasn’t able to get to this week’s episode of Mad Men, “The Rejected,” until yesterday. It was a bit nerve wracking to be in the dark regarding the episode, but this was a particularly strange episode to experience this with: I kept getting cryptic tweets about pears showing up in my Twitter feed, and every time I went shopping I had people asking if I had purchased pears at the store. It created an intriguing sort of mystery, a clue which I figured must be pretty important to have resonated so much with the audience.

Of course, the pears were an oddity, resonating with the audience because of how abstract that final scene seems in relation to the rest of the episode. This is actually one of the most thematically consistent episodes of the series in recent memory, leaning heavily on broad thematic material (in the form of a consideration of the value of marriage) and on our knowledge of previous events (in the form of Pete and Peggy’s divergent paths). It was an episode which rejected the series’ traditional sense that past and present relate to our own time and the nostalgic view of the 1960s, instead reclaiming past, present and future for these characters and their glimpses into the future.

And now, before I end up reviewing the episode in its entirety, let’s get onto “The Rejected” in a bit more detail and see what some critics thought about it.

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And Your Winner, by Submission…: Analyzing 2010’s Emmy Tapes

And Your Winner, by Submission…: Analyzing 2010’s Emmy Tapes

July 15th, 2010

Last week, I wrote a piece for Jive TV which described the next step in the Emmy Awards process, and the ways in which this post-nomination period is honestly more interesting for me than the pre-nomination period: as my Twitter followers have noted, I’m a bit obsessive about the submissions process, where the nominated series and performers choose episodes to represent their work over the past season.

It fascinates me because of how unnatural it is: performers can’t simply put together a reel of their strongest moments from throughout the season, they need to find a single representative episode (which, for supporting players, is cut down to only their scenes), and so what they choose is incredibly telling. For example, the cast of Glee have very clearly been instructed to submit episodes which feature big musical performances: Chris Colfer submitted “Laryngitis” because of the show-stopping “Rose’s Turn,” while Lea Michele submitted “Sectionals” based on her take on “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” These might not be their more consistent episodes in terms of overall material, but musically they are character-defining performances, and Glee has decided that this will be its Emmy focus. And yet, for Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch, their submissions don’t work as well when oriented around their most show-stopping musical performances, and so sometimes a series’ approach doesn’t match with each performer.

It’s a delicate balance, and one which I think best captures the equally maddening and addictive nature of this process, which is why I will now take a closer look at the submissions strategy from a number of series: for a look at how they look as categories, and for more submissions I don’t talk about here, check out Tom O’Neill post at Gold Derby.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama Acting

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama Acting

June 3rd, 2010

On the drama side of things, there’s fewer trends that we can follow through to the nominees than there are in comedy. There, we can look at Glee and Modern Family and see some logical directions the awards could take, but in Drama there’s really only one new contender (The Good Wife), and the other variables are much more up in the air in terms of what’s going to connect with viewers. Lost could see a resurgence with voters in its final season, or it could be left in the dust; Mad Men could pick up more acting nominations now that its dynasty is secure, or it could remain underrepresented; Breaking Bad could stick to Cranston/Paul, or it could branch out into the rest of the stellar cast.

That unpredictability isn’t going to make for a shocking set of nominations, but I do think it leaves a lot of room open for voters to engage with a number of series to a degree that we may not have, so it’s an interesting set of races where I’m likely going out on some limbs.

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Season Finale: Mad Men – “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”

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“Shut the Door”

November 8th, 2009

“I’m not going…I’m just living elsewhere.”

Every episode of television is a collection of scenes, individual set pieces designed to present a particular moment or to evoke a particular emotion or feeling. The scenes serve one of many potential purposes, whether it’s establishing a standalone plot within a particular episode, calling back to a previous scene or event in another episode, or even simply being placed for the sake of foreshadowing. A scene can change meaning as a season progresses, an awkward encounter with an overly touchy politico turning into a legitimate affair by the addition of new scenes that speak to the old one, for example. And, at the same time, other scenes are simply brief thematic beats designed to give the viewer the sense of a particular time or place, with nothing more beneath them than the aesthetic value apparent in the craftsmanship involved.

A great episode of television, however, is where every single scene feels purposeful, and more importantly where there is no one type of scene which feels dominant. There can still be scenes designed to engage with nothing more than the viewer’s sense of humour, just as there will be scenes that feel like the culmination of two and a half seasons worth of interactions. In these episodes there is a balance between scenes which unearth feelings and emotions from the past that have been kept under wraps all season and scenes which create almost out of thin air entirely new scenarios that promise of an uncertain future.

In a season finale in particular, this last point is imperative. A great season finale assures the reader that, as the quote above indicates, the change which is going to take place in the season to follow is both fundamental (in presenting something which surprises or engages) and incidental (in maintaining the series’ identity), both chaotic (in the context of the series’ fictional universe) and controlled (within the mind of the show’s writers). It is an episode that must feel like the fruit of the thirty-five episodes which preceded it while also serving as the tree for the twenty-six episodes which will follow. It is the episode that, for better or for worse, will be more closely scrutinized than any other, and for which expectations are exceedingly high.

“Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” is more than a collection of scenes. It transcends the concepts of script and screen to capture characters in their most vulnerable states, in the process tapping into the viewer’s emotions with a sense of purpose that the show has never quite seen. Where past amazing episodes have sometimes hinged upon a single scene or a single moment, or on the creation of a particular atmosphere, this finale is like a never-ending stream of scenes that we have been clambering for all season: characters say everything we wanted them to say, do everything we wanted them to do, and yet somehow it never felt like puppet theatre where the characters would follow the whims of Matthew Weiner more than their own motivations.

It is a finale that never wastes a single scene, and which marches towards an uncertain conclusion with utmost certainty. Somehow, in a finale which does not shy away from scenes which are both disturbing to watch and destructive to the show’s tempestuous sense of balance, it maintains a cautious optimism by demonstrating that not everything will fall apart at once, while retaining the right to have everything in shambles by the time we return with Season Four. It’s a singular achievement, an hour of television which sits perfectly in the gap between the past and the future while never feeling as if it takes us out of the present, the moment in which these characters are captured in these scenes.

So, shut the door and have a seat: we’ve got some discussing to do.

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

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Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • William Shatner (Boston Legal)
  • Christian Clemenson (Boston Legal)
  • Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
  • William Hurt (Damages)
  • Michael Emerson (Lost)
  • John Slattery (Mad Men)

This is the kind of race that really makes you curious to know just what voters are really thinking about going into the ceremony. This is an intensely deep category, with quite a few potential contenders left to the sidelines, so it’s really a question of what voters are looking for in a winner and how well people’s submissions match up with that.

Last year, no one gave Zjelko Ivanek a chance because he was the character actor in a cast of giants, but with a stunning and emotional submission he was able to beat out a lot of bigger names. And really, that’s what is perhaps most interesting in this particular race: for all of the big names, it might just come down to whose submission really strikes at the heart of what voters want to see.

As much as it pains me, I think Michael Emerson is out of the race. He had an amazing submission last year and wasn’t able to pull out the victory, and his submission this year isn’t nearly as impressive. I would also tend to count out William Hurt – he wasn’t given the material on Damages to win out in a category this competitive, and while his name assured him of a nomination there really isn’t the room for him to pull out a victory. And while I think that he’s done some interesting work, Christian Clemenson is going to get overshadowed by his colleague, and go home empty-handed.

For me, this leaves your perennial winner, your wave of popularity choice, and this year’s Ivanek. For your winner, Shatner has a few of these statues in his trophy case already, and no one can deny that Denny Crane was an enigmatic character that made a lasting impact. The problem is that he has won before, and while voters overlooked the show’s mid-season demise when getting him into the category there isn’t that buzz factor about it. Yes, it’s the last time they could give Shatner an Emmy, but it’s not the first, and that’s going to mean they’re less likely to crown him here.

John Slattery was nominated last year, and I think he does an amazing job as Roger Sterling on Mad Men. The issue with him is that he is really riding the show’s success: he’s got a solid submission, and he certainly does strong work, but he’s also riding the wave of success of his show, winning last year’s drama Emmy and remaining the talk of the town when it comes to award shows.

But yet, I have a feeling about Aaron Paul, who I think is going to walk home with this one. He is the perennial dark horse, but so was Bryan Cranston last year, and I think a young actor really emerging out of the shadow of his Emmy-winning co-star is the kind of story voters can get behind (plus, although I am remiss in watching the show, I’ve heard the submission is really good).

Predicted Winner: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

He might be the dark horse, but he’s the kind of story that voters will move towards and that will stand out as a grittier performance in a category of either comic performances (the Legal men), more science fiction fare, and the slickness of Mad Men and Damages.

Runner-Up: William Shatner (Boston Legal)

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2009 Emmy Nominations: And the Nominees Are…

Emmy2009Title

And the Nominees Are…

2009 Emmy Nominations

For analysis of the surprises, the snubs, and everything in between, check out:

Power to the People?: 2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis [Link]

However, in list form, the nominees for the 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are…

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Big Love
  • Breaking Bad
  • Damages
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Simon Baker (The Mentalist)

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Entourage
  • Family Guy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Office
  • 30 Rock
  • Weeds

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards Predictions

Last year, during this important period of the pre-Emmy festivities, I had a bit more time to really delve into some key issues. This year, things are busier, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to make some prognostications about the end results. I’m going to be discussing more themes and the like tomorrow in my Emmy Preview, but for now let’s get to what we really care about: predicting who is actually going to walk home with Emmy Awards.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boston Legal (ABC)
  • Damages (FX)
  • Dexter (Showtime)
  • House (FOX)
  • Lost (ABC)
  • Mad Men (AMC)

There is some wiggle room here, as each some has something (Pedigree, viewership, buzz, etc.) that makes it stand out, but there is nothing on this list quite as emphatically received and, more importantly, different from your standard fare than Mad Men. I’ll discuss more of this tomorrow, but its combination of a small network, a small fanbase, fresh-faced actors and its attention to detail will be unstoppable.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • James Spader (Boston Legal)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)

This is a category where only one thing is important: that James Spader finally loses. Either Hamm, C. Hall or Laurie are in a position to usurp last year’s winner, and I’ve got my money on Michael C. Hall. After getting snubbed here last year, and with his show in the big race, voters might choose to recognize his brave and fantastic performance even when the show itself loses them with its dark atmosphere. But, this is maybe the night’s most up in the air race.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)

This race, however, is not up in the air at all. Its highly serialized nature and red herring use might keep it from being the best drama series on television, but there is no way that Emmy Voters can ignore Close’s pedigree with such a richly portrayed character (even if I’d argue that character isn’t nearly as important as voters might think it is to the show’s success).

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