Tag Archives: Matthew Weiner

Mad Men – “The Jet Set”

“The Jet Set”

October 12th, 2008

When most people arrive at their travel destination without their suitcase, they’re angry; when Don Draper arrives without his luggage, it provides a freedom that allows him to break free into (long) uncharted territory.

“The Jet Set” follows Don on a journey of sorts, as he flees the rigidity and direness of Cold War aerospace technology and the schmoozing of pie in the sky engineers searching to create the superhuman astronaut, instead jumping in a car with a young woman named Joy who, more than his meetings, offers hope for her her eponymous emotion. As he encounters those filthy rich and adventurous individuals known as the Jet Set, he also encounters a life that is so unlike his own it nearly scares him back to safety, but then surprisingly scares him back to something difference altogether.

There’s a lot of people who are reverting back to older perspectives here, some in desperate search of former glory or others who are simply collateral damage in the wake of the office’s bigotry. For the most part, it’s a stark reminder that the lives of our characters are the polar opposite of the show’s airborne guests: while they fly from exotic location to exotic location, our characters are stuck in place, struggling to expand their horizons at anything close to jet speed.

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“Truth” and Emmy: The 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards in Review

As Tommy Smothers received his Commemorative Emmy Award for his work on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he ended his (rousing) speech with a small note: in all languages, Truth means the same thing – what others make you believe. And while there are broad implications of this statement in regards to the world’s political climate, there’s a more direct application: the idea that that the decisions of the Academy are supposed to be seen as the “Truth” about last year’s best television.

Of course, what Smothers was getting at is that this is impossible, primarily because the definition of truth is so malleable and, in our case, adaptable. There might be one or two TV viewers out there who agree with every single decision made tonight, or those who believe in award shows as simple celebrations of excellence as opposed to any sort of competition. And even some people who consider themselves to be elite television viewers could open their favourite internet news site and find word that critical favourites 30 Rock and Mad Men took home the evening’s big prizes – surely, then, the Emmys are truly representative of the best in television.

But, if this is truth, I don’t want to know what fiction is – yes, there were quite a few deserving winners, but the criteria by which most categories were decided is severely divergent from anything even remotely approaching truth. For some awards, age defines truth: if they’re older than the other competitors, then they must truthfully be the superior performer. For others, truth is defined by past precedent: if we voted for you before, than there is no way that your greatness is any less truthful this time around. Conversely, on the same note, was the legacy win: if we nominated you for previous roles but you didn’t win, surely there was truth to our judgment and maybe you were truthfully great here as well.

For that reason, Stephen Colbert’s presence at these awards is all the more apt: his word, truthiness, defines the nature by which awards shows are decided. And there is no greater example of the dangers of truth that, while his writers were rewarded for coining the turn of phrase, he himself was not honoured for saying it out loud for that first time. And while there are greater injustices of truth around the world, let us for one night recognize the subjectivity of truth and the mixed up world of the Primetime Emmy Awards with some Headlines, of sorts.

[For more scattered, but also more fully-encompassing, reactions to tonight’s show, check out Cultural Learnings’ LiveBlog.]

“What’s Mad Men?”

While we critical types are applauding Mad Men’s victory in the Best Drama Series category (And Matthew Weiner’s win for writing the show’s pilot), I am sure there are millions of people saying something quite different: “What the hell is this?” You see, the amount of people who watch Mad Men is about, oh, 1/17 of the average audience for CSI. And while there has been some lowly-rated shows that have won in the past (Arrested Development, as an example), never before has there been a show on Basic Cable that has emerged from the pack to take the award for Best Drama Series.

And the impact it will have is yet unknown: the show, following Don Draper and the life of advertising executives and their lives outside of the office, debuted to little fanfare on AMC before downright exploding onto the critical scene. I’ve yet to see a critic who is ambivalent about Mad Men, even – it’s the kind of show that hooks people in. With a fancy-looking DVD set on the shelves, the second season airing right now on AMC (Plus with episodes available On Demand), this is a show that should be set up to receive a real boost.

But it’s also not a mainstream show, the kind of show that the people who make CSI a hit are going to gravitate towards. It’s a period drama that, while painting some fascinating characters, does so at a pace that, while I like to give them the benefit of the doubt, might scare away a fair chunk of potential viewers. Still, though, let’s ignore for a second the financial or ratings realities of television: here is a show which, in a single season, built stunning characters, an amazingly realized world, and a sense of self-identity that has led into a tremendous sophomore year so far. Simply put, this was the best show on TV last year – few would argue that point of those who’ve seen it, so let’s hope that number increases ever so slightly in the weeks to come.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmys LiveBlog

I’m foregoing the Jimmy Kimmel-style opening hour that ABC is airing (Edit: Or I was, until a particular moment), or any of the red carpet deals, in favour of digging into some of the actual awards themselves. I wrote my predictions late this week, and had planned to write up more of a general preview, but time got away from me.

In truth, there’s isn’t much to say that I didn’t say when the nominees were announced: it’s an awards show that offers the most opportunity for legitimate winners accepted by both viewers and critics that the Emmys have seen in recent years. At the same time, it also has every opportunity to remove all relevance the Emmys could ever have. This is the double edged sword of having more progressive nominees: the fall from grace is only going to be harder.

For example, the Best Actor in a Drama Series category is like a ticking time bomb: Hugh Laurie, Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Gabriel Byrne all stand as strong candidates from well-liked shows, but James Spader (Three-time winner in the category) sits waiting to wipe out any sort of optimism we may have about the rest of the awards. Even those of us who watch the Emmy Awards with great interest are going to be shaken by such a decision: as the night goes on, we are going to have many of these moments, beacons of hope either raised up or snuffed out.

So, follow along as we go on this epic rollercoaster ride, this wondrous journey through a year in television as a bunch of (likely) out of touch or (hopefully) intelligent saw it.

7:30pm: I was informed by my brother that Tracy Morgan was going to be part of Jimmy Kimmel’s opening Barbara Walters mock-fest, and I’m darn glad I turned in considering that it features a baseball-bat wielding Morgan attacking the set of How I Met Your Mother in order to enact revenge against nominee Neil Patrick Harris.

7:33pm: Okay, so this has definitely more comic value than expected: notification process goes from Ben Stein, to Brad Garrett, to Nich “Buttercup” Lachey, to William Shatner, to Rachael Ray, to Kobe Bryant, to Jon Hamm, to Martin Short, to Nastia Liukin, to THE HOFF, to Regis and Kelly, to Tina Fey. Purple Monkey Dishwasher style. And then she dances. And she owns a Macbook like mine. This makes me happier than it should.

7:42pm: Selma Hayek was on Ugly Betty? Her whole self? I don’t remember…most…parts of that.

7:49pm: Is anyone aware of a Canadian network who is actually doing a pre-show? I realized at a certain point that I didn’t care enough to find one – instead, relocating to the basic cable TV and catching the end of the newly Steven Weber-infused Without a Trace.

7:56pm: We’re getting close – Tom O’Neil over at The Envelope has the order of events, so we’re starting off with Oprah! And then Supporting Comedy Actor (go NPH).

7:58pm: Honestly, how many crime procedurals did storylines with nearly murdered leads? CTV is having a field day sensationalizing Without a Trace and CSI: Miami.

8:00pm: And here’s our opening, complete with the various memorable TV quotes being quoted by various industry types. There’s too many to note: ends on Spader and Shatner.

8:01pm: Man, am I ever glad to see the normal stage again: Oprah, meanwhile, saunters out to welcome us to the show reminding us that nothing else speaks to us like television. That was a really, really bad line about the book buying, though – we get it, you own our souls.

8:04pm: And now it’s our cavalcade of hosts, with Probst going tie-less, and Heidi Klumn wearing a suit. It’s really, really attractive. Meanwhile, Howie talks over everyone, Seacrest is his schmaltzy self, and Heidi Klum kind of looks like she is terrified to be there amongst these people. Mandel breaks out the political jokes, and they keep saying it isn’t a bit, but Bergeron and Klum are just standing there. It’s just strange. This whole five hosts thing seems…unfortunate. “The odds have improved considerable,” though, is sharp.

8:07pm: And Shatner for the save.

8:08pm: Okay, that being said, I will have to say that Heidi Klum is muchbetter in the dress. And now for our first award: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, both nominees later in the show and one of them enormously pregnant, to present Supporting Comedy Actor. This comedy bit is too simple by half, but they love it. Nominees: NPH, Rainn Wilson, Cryer, Piven, Dillon. This is, sadly, Piven’t to lose.

8:10pm: The graphics feature really cheap little picture photoshop work, and it must be said: NPH definitely had the best little clip. And the Emmy goes to…Jeremy Piven? Ugh, I’m getting bored out of my mind with this, Emmy Voters. Please, for the love of all things good, stop giving this man awards.

8:11pm: Jeremy Piven gets mad points for making fun of the opening, though, but still – completely deserved, but utterly pointless and growingly frustrating win. I hate being so frustrated with a win that in a bubble makes so much sense, but the history says otherwise.

8:15pm: I’m hoping that a Jeremy Piven vs. The Hosts feud goes on all evening, but I don’t think Probst or Klum could handle it. Okay, actually, from her appearance on HIMYM Klum could handle it.

8:16pm: “LIVEEEE!…it’s like a nervous tick.” Oh Bergeron, you’re so much better than your show. In other news: they’re going to let Bergeron and Seacrest handle most of this type of stuff, I hope.

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Season Premiere: Mad Men – “For Those Who Think Young”

“For Those Who Think Young”

July 27th, 2008

The breakout success of Mad Men has been a huge surprise – when I started watching the show last summer, it was a cable show from a network that didn’t do such shows. It had the pedigree of Matthew Weiner, and it had some positive kudos from the critics, but what person would have predicted sixteen Emmy nominations, two Golden Globes, and a cultural firestorm so powerful that it even compelled the Canadian networks with the rights to the series to air the second season premiere before the first season has even completed airing?

But the time for kudos, set visits, really fancy DVD sets and excessive hype is over: while last season’s finale seems like ages ago at this point, it’s time to see whether the emotional resonance of “The Wheel” can be rekindled as the show picks up fifteen months later and in a whole different critical context: once a show without expectation, it has become perhaps the most closely watched sophomore session of the year.

And the series is showing its age, to use the opening episode’s central theme: it is a show that allows its characters to feel all of their insecurities in a way that ages them. If we look back to each character’s trajectory, and the series’ central transportation back to another era, a lot of it is about time and the way it changes people: whether it’s Betty Draper looking back to her modeling days or Roger Sterling having an affair with Joan, the voluptuous secretary, it’s all inevitably about returning to a younger self, a younger identity.

As the show begins its second season, it strongly and intelligently hits on this note, framing a story of a Valentine’s Day where “Young” is in and where those feeling time slipping away from them are hoping to hang onto everything they can. With a large ensemble cast and a number of emotional cliffhangers to deal with, the jump forward in time brings new facial hair, new jobs, and new rumours; in the process, it’s a new season of one of television’s finest dramas.

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The Women of ‘Mad Men’: An Essay

[So, admittedly, I had wanted to write about Dexter today, but I am simply not going to have time. In short, finale is good, but I have some serious issues with the season as a whole that keep my from joining the hype train. However, I can offer you the following: it’s my Lit. Theory essay about ‘Mad Men’, one of my favourite series of the year, and recently nominated for two Golden Globes. I wanted to throw in a couple of YouTube videos here and there to spice it up but there’s no time; so, it’s just 2800 words of me intellectually rambling! Enjoy!]

From a twenty-first century perspective, the 1960s present a strange and foreign environment in which social interaction was defined by an entirely different set of rules. Man Men, a television drama from Matthew Weiner, takes place in the world of advertising during an era where smoking is natural and where segregation defines African-Americans as ‘the help’. While these social issues are used to locate the show within this specific time, largely remaining unchallenged within the show’s narrative, the presentation of women within Mad Men is a more deconstructive element. The series presents two women, in particular, who find themselves intertwined with this fast-moving world dominated by male figures: Peggy, a young secretary turned copy writer who struggles with her weight, and Betty, the wife of the Head of Creative who is defined by her domestic role. The series may be focused on an industry and a time period where the role of women was marginalized, but it represents an opportunity for the show’s writers to emphasize how this marginalization impacts these two women in particular.

Specifically, the daily activities of the Sterling Cooper agency are particularly worrisome: the discourse of advertising speaks to all audiences but is written and created almost exclusively by male writers. This environment provides a fertile ground for an investigation of the role language plays in reaffirming or challenging the patriarchal order. Peggy’s attempts to break into this industry may provide the most extensive representation of feminist literary theory within the series, but Mad Men also emphasizes the level to which phallocentric discourses bleed into the life of a young wife struggling to come to terms with her own identity. Mad Men is not a feminist television series, as its dedication to realism keeps either of these characters from emerging in defiance of all their unfair treatment. However, that attention to realism allows the series to demonstrate the level to which patriarchal discourse was dominant in life and language during this period, historicizing this period of feminine experience.

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