« Goon: Canadian minor league hockey = comic gold | Home | Why we love eating crap »

April 16, 2012


Real (Mad) Men and Don Draper the plumber

Mad Men, sink leak

One problem I've had with the last season or two of Mad Men is that a lot of episodes went by when nothing happened. That's not the case with Season 5 so far--I think it's been really good, lots of things happening, lots of character development, and LOTS (too many?) of Roger Sterling one-liners.

Last night's episode focused on Pete Campbell, still one of the show's most interesting characters. As much as Pete is a pompous jerk that everyone sort of hates, he's become a jerk with so many complex, glaring insecurities and personality flaws that it's fascinating to watch him fail to do the right thing or be content with his very nice life, again and again, in ever-changing ways. If the theme of this episode was "what it means to be a man", Pete gets it spectacularly wrong at pretty much every opportunity. What's impressive about the show, and especially Vincent Kartheiser's acting, is how compelling the character is when he's such a loathsome jackass.

Apart from the chronicle of Pete Campbell, failure of masculinity, I liked the new aspects of Don's development this episode. He gives in to both Megan and Trudy (wearing a hideous plaid jacket Megan bought for him to a party he doesn't want to go to) with conciliatory grace, but can still take off his shirt and get under the sink to fix the kitchen faucet, which turns on his wife enough to pull over on the Hutch and get busy on the ride home. (Despite all that, Don still seems resolutely unhappy and potentially suicidal.)

The worst part of the show was Pete's conversation with the high school girl during the driver's ed class break. Her dialogue was so clunky and stiff, it sounded like the director told the actress to just ad lib about the tumultuous 60's and she came out with something that literally sounded like, "We're living through a truly fascinating period of cultural transition here in 1966 American society, that's as anxiety-provoking as it is thrilling. The times they are a-changin'!"

What was up with that?! It was almost as bad as the scene a few episodes ago with Don talking to a teenage girl backstage at the Rolling Stones show, when she says something about how her character symbolizes the alluring vitality of youth and freedom, and pretty much uses those words. They need to get a lot better with this generation gap dialogue.

The board room fistfight and Bert Cooper's "reschedule the meeting" line were almost as shockingly hilarious as the lawnmower foot-severing. Any episode with office bloodshed is a good one. John Slattery directed this one.

Side note: if you're familiar with FX's funny animated spy sitcom Archer, check out Sterling Archer Draper Pryce. It's really good.

categories: TV
posted by amy at 11:57 AM | #

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


I believe the answer to "What's up with that?" is something like "Mad Men has always been yet another entry in the long line of Boomer historical fantasies, with exactly the same thoughts [such as they are] of every other. This was thinly disguised so long as the counterculture was mostly offstage, but as it becomes more prominent, the show's terrible unoriginality is getting more obvious."

Er, I don't like this show.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard at April 16, 2012 3:15 PM

I've tried to get into this show, even going so far as to buy the first two seasons, but it just leaves me cold. Some of your comments above about the writing being too on the nose are similar to ones I made to you years ago. It just feels too clunky, too often.

I want to like the show for many, many reasons, but it just isn't happening. Now, that Girls show you mentioned in a recent post looks good. It's fun just reading all the comments people are making about it.

Posted by: Tim at April 17, 2012 7:43 AM

Yeah, sometimes when Mad Men tries to depict actual historical events or cultural happenings, it comes off as very contrived, almost like a Forrest Gump kind of historical fantasy checklist. In general, I think the show has gotten better as it goes along. It's at its best when it's content to be a well-written soap opera about people's lives at home and at work, but can get clunky when it tries to make a statement about How Things Were Then, especially when it takes that winking mock-horror attitude to sexism, racism, smoking, etc. But as an exploration of characters' interior lives, relationships, aspirations, and failures, I think it's among the best shows.

Its depictions of societal changes *as they relate to individual people's lives* are very good, for example Joan's changing role in the office over the years. But throwing in references to off-stage historical events or a few anti-Semitic jokes here and there always struck me as hollow and unnecessary. The JFK assassination might be the only historical moment they handled really well. But stuff like that is not why the show is good, in my opinion. I think the episodes focused on work and clients are often the best ones.

This episode was a little contrived and definitely too "on the nose"--just because the theme is "what it means to be a man" doesn't mean that every! single! thing! in the episode has to be solely about that.

On the whole, I still love it, mostly because I care about the characters and want to see what happens to them, which is ultimately what makes any show good.

Posted by: amy at April 17, 2012 10:32 AM

Yeah, I've heard from a few people that I should stick with it---I made it through 5 episodes and just got fed-up with the smug "those 50s conformists were so dumb!" attitude. But I really do like the slowness of it, and of course the lovely design, so maybe I'll try again. But first, Breaking Bad, maybe.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard at April 17, 2012 3:16 PM

you can run, but you can't hide, FB.

Now watch the rest of the series like a real man.

(although feel free to skip over any flashback sequence ever)

Posted by: The Belgian at April 17, 2012 5:17 PM

Ok, Amy, you've convinced me; I'll take another stab at season 2. Again, I WANT to like, having paid for it and all.

Posted by: Tim at April 18, 2012 8:38 PM

It really is good and fun to watch most of the time, I promise! I didn't start watching regularly until season 2, so maybe season 1 is just harder to latch on to.

And actually, I feel like the "those dumb 60's conformists!" attitude the show sometimes takes is really more of a subtle commentary about how little has changed from then to now, in terms of how people relate to each other. At first I thought the audience was supposed to feel smug about our supposedly progressive views in comparison to how things were then, but now I just notice how little has really changed.

Posted by: amy at April 19, 2012 11:41 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)