Tag Archives: Mad Men

The Search for Significance: The Television Industry and the Golden Globes

Earlier this evening, my brother directed me to a piece at Slate defending the Golden Globes, something that we don’t see particularly often. Indeed, that is very much the impetus behind Tom Shone’s argument, praising the Globes relative to the Academy Awards for a collection of strong choices that the Academy would undo a month later (such as, for example, the Globes honoring Brokeback Mountain only for the Oscars to choose the turgid Crash instead).

Shone’s argument is interesting, primarily because it does little to hide its anecdotal nature. He argues that while we might contest many choices that the Globes have made over the years, they have done enough good in enough instances to be “worth it” in the end. While some might question the value of their existence, Shone believes that looking at even a handful of examples where they were legitimately ahead of the curve, or where their whims happened to match with how cinematic history would remember a particular year in film, justify any travesties they might otherwise commit.

My brother’s question to me, upon informing me of the article, was whether I would suggest the same could be said for television, a thought that I was preoccupied with throughout tonight’s Golden Globes broadcast. Whereas the Golden Globes line up comfortably as a precursor for the Oscars, the Globes’ relationship with the Emmys is complicated by their differing eligibility periods and voting structures. However, building on Shone’s argument, there was evidence within tonight’s broadcast that some of the Globes’ voting habits that we might otherwise vilify in particular contexts proved to benefit shows that I like, and shows that may not necessarily be lauded to the same degree come September.

My takeaway from this is not necessarily a validation of the Golden Globes or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but rather an increased belief that our assessment of award shows needs to become more nuanced, both in terms of how we perceive them as cultural entities and in terms of how we consider their industrial – as opposed to cultural – significance as a framework for understanding their greater “meaning.”

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Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “The Suitcase” (Mad Men)

“The Suitcase”

Aired: September 5th, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

The atypical nature of nearly every episode on this list was not really something I planned, but “The Suitcase” sort of feels like the apex of that particular trend. On the one hand, it’s everything you expect from a Mad Men episode: it’s moody, it’s emotional, and it features two amazing performances from Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss. This is nothing out of the ordinary, and in those terms the episode is par for the course as far as Mad Men‘s “formula” for great television.

However, from the perspective of story and character this is anything but typical. Mad Men‘s entire fourth season was built around the differences between appearances and reality, of the way in which Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had to invent an imaginary second floor in order to convince clients they were the right agency for the job, and “The Suitcase” makes the logical leap to explicitly connecting this to Don Draper’s personal subterfuge. In an intense battle with the most important female presence of his present, he reveals the wounds felt by the loss of the most important female presence in his past, and the result is perhaps the year’s finest hour of dramatic programming.

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My Top 10 TV Series of 2010

My Top 10 TV Series of 2010

December 23rd, 2010

I wasn’t going to make this list.

I did a Top 15 shows as part of The A.V. Club’s Top 25 Shows of 2010 list – which is really fantastic, and features my writeups on United States of Tara and Cougar Town – earlier this month, so I technically thought about what my Top 10 was, but looking back on it I didn’t like it. Knowing that the list was going to be aggregated, I think I steered clear of series I knew didn’t have a chance, or at the very least ranked them lower than I might have otherwise, and the result was a list that wasn’t wrong so much as it was unrepresentative of a broader view of the year in television.

And yet, since I have this particular outlet and have been in a list-making mode of late, I did put together a Top 10. It’s largely the same, although I’ve made a few changes to make it slightly more representative. This does not imply that series were elevated above their station in order to add a sense of diversity: there is no hierarchy here, and I consider these 20 series to be on more or less similar levels (outside of those shows which I clearly label within the writeups as the finest within their respective genres, which should not come as a surprise to anyone).

And I like the sense of diversity. These shows aired in different countries, at different times of year, and on a wide range of networks, and represent the ten shows which make me very glad to have been both obsessed with and paid to write about/study television in the past year.

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Cultural Crowdsourcing: The Top Scenes of 2010

The Top Scenes of 2010

December 17th, 2010

So, the Top 10 Episodes of 2010 series will be taking a hiatus as I head into paper mode over the weekend (which means it will finish on Christmas Eve, in case you hadn’t done the math), but in ruminating on the subject I wanted something to spur some discussion over the weekend.

And, I think scenes are the way to go. While every episode is technically composed of various scenes, there are often scenes which make an impact distinct from their larger context and linger in ways we wouldn’t normally expect. Sometimes they are conversations which seem to resonate beyond the episode into the series’ larger context, whereas other times they are simply scenes which make us laugh or feel some sort of emotion whenever we think about them. Others, meanwhile, are simply incredibly inventive or exciting – there are just an infinite number of criteria, and so I figured this is a job for all of us rather than just myself.

So, I’m going to start with five, and then I very much encourage you to nominate your own selections in the comments. There are, however, two rules:

1) Avoid Detailed Spoilers

There are some shows people haven’t seen, and so I would appreciate (and I’m sure everyone would appreciate) that you don’t go into explicit detail with spoiler-heavy analysis. If you think something (whether it be a death on Dexter or a major event on Lost) could be construed as a spoiler by someone who hasn’t seen it, see if you can’t use other signifiers (episode title, omitting character names) which could at the very least limit the damage.

2) This is Not a Contest

I don’t think we’re going to have this problem, as you’re all pretty civil, but this is not some sort of elimination contest to decide the best scene of the year – rather, it’s a chance to collect an assortment of scenes that people really enjoyed. Like I said, don’t think it will be an issue, but I wrote that I was going to have two rules, and then discovered that I really only had one rule, but decided that the impact of there being two rules may be in some way helpful. Also, whether or not anyone comments on the inanity of this particular paragraph will test and see whether people bothered to read the rules in their entirety, which is always fun.

One final note: I participated in a feature going up at The A.V. Club next week which recognizes scenes of this nature – I wrote about a couple of scenes there, and so I’ll be sure to link to that when it goes up next week. It also means that I likely didn’t include certain scenes here because I’ve covered them elsewhere in other capacities (whether in A.V. Club Features or in my Top 10 Episodes list). My list also tends to lean towards comedy, but “scenes” can mean pretty much anything you want it to be, so don’t feel limited by that.

Five of the Top Scenes from 2010

Fairy Janette performs “Iko Iko” – Treme

[Sorry for the awful quality – better than nothing?]

Treme had numerous high points, but for me the scene which most reflected the infectious spirit which it both embodied and disembodied over the course of its first season was Kim Dickens’ Janette drunkenly dancing in the streets of New Orleans trying to turn cars into carriages with her wand and absent-mindedly belting out “Iko Iko” at the same time. The scene doesn’t become anything sinister, nor does it seem at all self-destructive: it is just a woman, freed of her responsibilities, letting loose and bringing passerby into the revelry – when Janette responds to the teenager that she’s “Me,” it’s sad and beautiful at the same time, which seems to be Treme‘s modus operandi.

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2010 Emmy Award Predictions: Outstanding Drama & Comedy Series

Outstanding Drama & Comedy Series

August 29th, 2010

Despite being the biggest awards of the evening, I’ll admit that this is one of my least favourite categories to analyze: yes, this is where things should become even more interesting, but more often than not this is where the complacent power of inertia kicks in worst of all. While a good actor being killed by a bad submission has nuance, and a great submission can truly change the nature of a category, there is a sense with the Series awards that the episodes themselves are more or less irrelevant. If they submit tapes that resemble the series’ cultural influence, then it will be enough to make this a race of hype vs. hype rather than actuall quality.

Of the legitimate competitors for these awards, there is nothing that would cause me to become outraged or anything – while there are certainly some contenders which I would prefer, it’s more a question of which series have the quality to go beyond the hype, and whether or not the voters will actually see through those layers to find the actual most outstanding series on television.

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2010 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Acting in a Drama Series

Lead Acting in a Drama Series

August 26th, 2010

The Lead Acting awards on the Drama side this year are polar opposites: one has a clear frontrunner and a slightly tired set of nominees, while the other category has a ridiculously packed lineup of potential winners where no clear frontrunner exists and where I’d be happy with anyone winning the trophy.

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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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