on 23 September 2009
I can't think of much to say about this that I didn't say in my review of Season 1. If there's a difference, it's that the behavioural period details (misogyny, casual violence to children, ubiquitous cigarette smoke etc.) aren't rammed down our throats as much - a good thing.
As in Season 1, the acting is a joy to watch. There is not a weak link. I particularly liked Mark Moses as Duck Phillips, a character who'll be familiar to many who've worked in the private sector: the ambitious loser who won't settle for anything less than senior management, his career portfolio a catalogue of misjudgments.
I didn't give this 5 stars because beneath the style, there is some variability in the quality of the writing; while in most episodes it is excellent, in a couple of them the dialogue is a little predictable and the plotting contrived. I also observed numerous verbal anachronisms (e.g. "Your job is to manage people's expectations" - sorry, but no way did people talk like that in the 60s!). You may say this doesn't matter, but given the obsessive attention to period detail in the sets, I feel it's a valid criticism.
There is always a danger with long serials that they end up somewhat "soapy", with characters changing to fit plots and provisional climaxes gradually undermining the dramatic tension. I'm not saying this has happened with Mad Men, but I'm starting to wonder if there's any real answer to the question, "What is Don Draper like"? The promise of a resolution to his identity crisis still hangs in the air, and I don't feel it can be put off indefinitely.
Don't get me wrong, this is an excellent drama, with substance behind the style. As I said above, the acting is wonderfully subtle, and the writing often is too; where it's not, the acting and the direction still carry it.
Welcome back to wonderful world of Mad Men. Season 2 still has everything that made season 1 so perfect, the world class acting, the perfection of the sets and costumes, the gorgeous cinematograghy, the artfully chosen music, it's all here with little change yet somehow this season is even better.
Tuning into Mad men is like having your own time machine, I never saw the 60's, I'm from Gen X and have been raised in a world of fast food and quick edits, of "I want it all and I want it now", life is hard and fast, stressful and cruel but when I turn on Mad Men everything disappears and I'm transported to a world where the photocopier is a brand new state of the art invention, where people broke down and cried when Marilyn Monroe died because a sad and lonely lady had lost her life, not because they'd lost a source of gossip or someone to hound via gossip internet sites and hunt with packs of paparazzi, a world where a size 14 woman is seen as voluptuous goddess and not ridiculed and vilified for having the nerve to look like a natural woman.
It's not a perfect world, it's racist and sexist but here we see the green shoots of change, Peggy works doubly hard as any of men, who last season laughed at the idea of women being anything more than homemaker or secretary yet now they start to see her value and even begin to credit and encourage her. We see Joan make a decision to carry on working, even though her fiancé thinks it's not necessary and unseemly, we see the beginning of the space age and the roots of the technologies that will colour our lives today and most importantly of all we see the civil rights movement start to take it's wings, which we now know will eventually lead to a gentlemen called Barack Obama taking his rightful place in the Whitehouse. We even see Betty make some strong and powerful decisions and start to try to regain something of herself.
After every episode ends I'm left in wonderful dreamlike haze of calm and full of memory's of my past, as Don Draper said in what was probably the best piece of television I have ever seen and will ever see:
It's delicate, but potent
Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound
It's a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone
This device... isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine.
It goes backwards, forwards.
It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.
It's not called the Wheel.
It's called the Carousel.
It lets us travel the way a child travels.
Around and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved."
That's Mad Men, for those that say it's boring and nothing happens, you're kind of right, but for me it's a time machine and one I long to get in again and again.
on 12 July 2009
I first stumbled across Mad Men on BBC Four early last year, but despite enjoying what little I saw, I never really invested my time or interest in it, and I ended up, after three episodes, neglecting to watch. However, after reading rave reviews and the show getting a hearty thumbs-up from Russell T Davies (and my Mum), I got myself a copy of the DVD. I'm so glad I did. I suppose the main benefit of owning a show on DVD is that you can watch the show back-to-back, and that's just what I did. In the run-up to the second season airing (again on BBC Four), I marathoned my way through the 13 episodes, and this time, the show really grabbed me. By the time Season 2 kicked off, I was up to speed and well and truly immersed in the brilliantly realised 1960s setting.
For those who don't know (and shame on you if you don't), Mad Men is an American period drama created by Matthew Weiner, one of the executive producers/writers of The Sopranos. Set in the smoke-filled offices of Sterling Cooper - a fictitious advertising company based on Madison Avenue, the show is replete with observation, atmosphere and some of the most well-drawn characters to appear on television. The 1960s setting immediately allows the show to stand out from the crowd, and permits the show to do things a little bit differently in comparison to your contemporary run-of-the-mill US drama series. The first season is set in 1961, using the Presidential Election Campaign between Kennedy and Nixon as an effective backdrop, whereas the finale of the second season played out during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The music score compliments the period tremendously, employing artists of the era to help add to the "feel" of the show. Complete with authentic costume and hairstyles, the viewer is easily able to immerse themselves in the beautifully crafted Mad Men universe. The glamour of the 1960's is gloriously realised, and although the production is remarkably polished and stylish, there is still an abundance of substance to be found.
Another appealing aspect of the show is the fact that you actually learn something too. We all have our perceptions of the 1960s, but Mad Men puts us straight. If you will, it teaches us what we thought we knew. The focus on gender roles - on the whole, women are exploited and the men are womanising is also expertly explored. The frustration, the forced silence of many of the female protagonists, the expectations of married life, the notion that a woman should know her place all come under question. Homosexuality is also touched upon in Season Two. A closeted married businessman who clearly lusts after one of his colleagues, but can't voice his feelings because being gay was illegal in the 1960s. These scenes - predominantly in "The Golden Violin" (the seventh episode) are very emotional and affecting. Religion and the role of a Priest is also highlighted in Season Two, as is abortion, the comedy of the era, the place of children, love, and obviously, the pressures of a business environment in the world of advertising.
Mad Men without its central lead character - the enigmatic, suave and sophisticated Don Draper (Jon Hamm) would be like fish without chips. Draper is at the centre of the action. He is arguably one of the coolest, most engrossing TV characters of all-time, right up there with Tony Sopranos in the complex department. He is, in many ways, a total bastard. He constantly and remorseless cheats on his wife, and - without giving anything away - isn't necessarily everything he claims to be. Still, he has a way with people. He is charming and, quite clearly, as irresistible to people in the show as he is to the viewer. It is to the credit of Hamm and the writers that what is, essentially, a hateful character, is brought to life with such vivid conviction that he is engrossing and, dare I say it, very likeable and attractive. There's something about him. His manner, his demeanour, his confidence. But, beneath all the talk, Draper is clearly a desperately lonely, lost man. He uses women and drink to mask it, and the last three episodes of Season Two take the character to all-new territory.
With a stronger, more cohesive storyline, Season Two was an improvement on the first season, in my view. Maybe it's because I was more invested in the character's lives and the world of the show, but I think the writing stepped up a gear. Nothing short of spellbinding, quite frankly. "A Night to Remember" was just about perfection, and the Season Two finale will take some beating. The journeys of the characters were all superbly executed. Don Draper, our flawed hero, went on a voyage of discovery - combining flashbacks, a few revelations, some home truths and some rather surreal Twin Peaks-esque elements along the way. His wife, Betty, grew up and realised that she was living a lie. Fragile, cold and miserable, watching her character develop was most rewarding from a viewer's perspective, as was the growth of Peggy, who transformed into a vibrant, strong, confident woman throughout the course of the season, in a fashion which was both totally believable and also very moving. Poor Pete Campbell was put through the mill - learning the truth about a major event that occurred at the end of the first season, standing up to his stepfather, losing his estranged Father in a plane crash and finally accepting that his marriage was a sham. And then, Duck - who ultimately got what he deserved.
From the stylish opening credits, to the ceaseless chain-smoking and drinking, to the dissection of society, Mad Men is a feast of a television series. It's a rich tapestry, made all the more so by the fact that the drama is consistently underplayed and underwritten. With the majority of your TV drama fare, writers and actors have a habit to go over-the-top, favouring witty unrealistic dialogue in favour of genuine emotion. The emotion in Mad Men is always palpable. Even when there is no dialogue, the acting is so good that you can recognise what a character is feeling. The writing is some of the best I've seen - quietly gripping, if you will. The show is definitely what I'd consider to be a "slow burner" - it takes a while to adjust to the setting and characters in play. Rather like "The Wire", but ultimately, much more viewer friendly. The characterisation is sheer perfection, and the attention-to-detail and concentration on the tiniest of things is what sets this show apart from the rest. Armed with Emmys, Golden Globes, a BAFTA, a Writer's Guild of America Award and a prestigious Peabody, the show has wowed its critics, and rightly so. There hasn't been a television season as outstanding as Season Two of Mad Men since the third season of The Sopranos back in 2001. I eagerly await the next installment, due to air in America in August.
on 30 July 2010
The first series of Mad Men was slick, entertaining, beautiful to look at at and all in all class TV. I wondered, could it get better with series 2? The answer is a huge YES. This is even better because the slightly light weight/superficial painting of the characters in series 1 has been replaced by a much more in depth look at individuals' motives and how they connect with past ( and secret ) experiences. They all become more 3 dimensional and so as a viewer my initial series 1'judgement' of them has deepened to a more compassionate understanding of why they have all done what they have done. It is a much more emotional series which draws you in.
There are so many issues raised on the nature of relationships between men and women so food for thought as well as entertainment....how much did 1970s feminism change things?
It is GREAT television. I am trying to put off my addictive need to go straight onto series 3 for as long as possible!
When things get bad, we tend to look to the past. And the bleaker the future looks, the further back we search for comfort. As the new millennium keeps disappointing us, TV shows set on the 50's and the 60's (once a rarity) keep growing in numbers. Many have tried and failed. MAD MEN tried and closed the deal. And have been doing so for 5 seasons now.
Meet Don Draper (Jon Ham), a Madison Avenue water-walker (and based on real life ad-man, George Lois). He is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. He is brilliant and secretive. He wants to keep walking the tight rope with no safety net. And definitely no contract. He is a chain-smoking, hard liqueur guzzling, womanizing alpha male. He is a loving father of three, married to a picture-perfect ex model. He has it all. And yet he cannot find peace. Because he learned early on that the world is always yawning at your heels, eager to yank everything you love away.
From bursting with joie-de-vivre Roger Sterling (hilarious John Slattery) and ever scheming Pete Cambell (baby-faced Vincent Kartheiser) to the gorgeous women (such as barbie January Jones as Don's wife), the cast is one perfect pick after another. And the writing is brilliant, reproducing the tastes and smells and nuisances of the era around Camelot, while drawing you in to the personal stories of characters polished yet inevitably flawed.
The 50's and the 60's were before my time so it is not nostalgia that makes me love the show. Yes, I find the era mesmerizing and (probably undeservingly) less complicated. If nothing else, though, back then they knew how to dress. Women looked feminine and men looked manly. You see January Jones on the red carpet, for example, all dressed up and groomed for a Hollywood function - and that modern image cannot hold a candle to herself dressed for everyday(!) life in the 50's. When did we loose it? When did we decide men should stop wearing suits and hats and women should start wearing sweat-suits outside the house? I, for one, blame the hippies!
This is one of the best TV shows ever and this box-set includes season 2. There are three more. Season 6 is eminent whereas season 7 has already been green-lighted. As I have said again before, good TV is best watched on DVD. Make weekends out of it. It is much more enjoyable to watch an entire season in a couple of days than having to wait week(s) between episodes. And (quite ironically, in this case), you will not have to suffer the...commercials.
on 9 August 2009
Series 1 was outstanding and Series 2 maintains the level of interest and entertainment. The acting is excellent particularly Johm Hamm. The writing and direction have good pace; there are surprises in the story and the obvious is avoided. One of the strong points is that the fashions,conventions and mood of the era are accurately portrayed. At the end of Series 2 we are left with enough unanswered questions to make us hope for a Series 3.
on 22 October 2009
I heard one or two people tell me that they found this season initially hard to get into, but although it may take a few episodes to once again reach its best there is no doubt that this is as at least as good as the first season if not slightly better. They've managed the problematic 'difficult second' exceptionally well and although once again not a whole lot happens, it still holds your attention right to the final episode. All the ingredients are still there; excellent and cleverly-chosen music, sharp writing and skilled acting. Jon Hamm is still enigmatic as Don Draper while the direction of some of the female characters (Joan, Betty and Peggy in particular) is very interesting as they adapt to a changing world. As always it's visually stunning and fully deserves the praise it gets, being great escapism and pretty much as good as TV can be.
on 15 April 2009
Question: In these days of increasingly mediocre TV, what could be better than finding a new TV series that is utterly gripping?
Answer: Discovering that series two picks up seamlessly from where series one left off, that it is of an equally high standard and discovering that the end of each & every episode still leaves you wanting more!
Actually, not strictly true as the storyline in series two starts off two years down the line from where series one left off but, unlike so many other TV shows, the buzz, the originality and the quality of acting remains of an equally high standard.
There is no doubt at all why the debut series carried off so many awards.
I recently read a fascinating interview in the Sunday Times supplement with the brilliant Matthew Weiner (the man behind the show) and his attention, no, make that his obsession with the detail ~ of the period, the clothes, the attitudes of the early 1960's setting ~ of this show & it clearly explained why everything works just so, nothing is left to chance.
It proves the old maxim 'the harder you work, the luckier you get'.
Shows like this don't just happen, they are skillfully created.
The other great thing about Mad Men is the music, especially as the end credits play out, using the less obvious pieces of 60's music ~ I'm now off to buy the soundtrack CD.
If you haven't watched this series, you must start with series one otherwise, frankly, it will make no sense whatsoever.
You will also need to have some patience as it takes a few episodes to settle into.
But if you give it the time, it will, genuinely be worth it and then you'll be thrilled to find there are a full 13 episodes to each series!
on 13 November 2009
TV series do not come better than this. Brilliant in every department: cinematography, editing, acting, casting, psychological characterization, historical veracity (pursuit of "the American Dream"), corporatism, portrayal of social constraints in a 'free' society, influence of the press, the search for quick fixes, self-censorship, reliogisity, power games at every level, the position of women, the domestic treatment of children, the cyniscism of 'the American male', the power of advertising, raw humor, the need for glamor, American self-reliance, self-destruction in a roaring sea of material wealth, and, above all, great current relevance. The list is endless.
on 9 August 2009
This is a 3 disc boxed set of about ten 45 minute episodes. I think they are best viewed one episode per sitting. The story lines don't seem to be as strong as in the first series. Some of the episodes seemed to me to be too subliminal, like fairy tales.
Don Draper's character has become too transparent and obvious. I preferred him as the more menacing, secretive, manipulative personna of the first series. The best character is his disturbed wife Betty who remains beautiful, troubled and on edge.
The series is facinating as a study of the clothes, life styles and social mores of early 1960s corporate America.
I look forward to buying the next series.