Monday, August 17, 2009

Mad Men Needs a Stronger Cage

Role reversal: Office manager Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) stands over copywriter Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss).

The season premiere of Mad Men, a satirical, but historically accurate view into the world of the early 1960s old school, male-dominated advertising business, aired last night, Sunday at 10 PM, on AMC (Channel 48 on Brighthouse Cable, Central Florida). The “star” (if you can name just one) of Mad Men, Jon Hamm, who plays ad executive Don Draper, has traveled the TV talk show junket, promoting the show to exhaustion. I thought I’d watch it to see what all the hype is about.

Now in Season 3, the series has won a multitude of accolades, everything from SAG awards (Screen Actors Guild) to Golden Globes, to the more obscure, Golden Nymph award at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival. A full list is on

I’ve seen Season 1 and 2 reruns off and on while flicking through channels during lazy weekends, where I’ve been mesmerized by the show’s cleverly animated and professionally scored intro. However, I’ve never watched the show in it’s regular timeslot. Now, I am making an effort.

My favorite characters are the working women: I commiserate with Miss Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss, who as a soft spoken woman, asks, but gets little respect despite her esteemed position as a copywriter. However, I also admire the moxy of office manager, Miss Joan Holloway, played by Christina Hendricks, who understands that although she may be a glorified secretary, she wields a great deal of power in the very male-dominated office.

The Season 3 opener, “Out of Town,” opened just-plain-strange, with Don Draper falling into a dream-like reverie about pioneer childbirth, while heating up a glass of warm milk for his pregnant wife. The opener was reminiscent of Twin Peaks, which after an award winning Season 1, lost it’s footing in the dreamy, meandering and very strange, Season 2 – not a good thing.

All quirkiness aside, my biggest criticism of the show is that it truly is a soap opera, not a series at all. Not only do you have to watch each and every show to keep up, the episodes themselves are not self-contained and the one-time viewer feels as if they are sitting in the waiting room of a busy office while witnessing a small snippet of an on-going drama. A really successful long running show will have two storylines: the plot of that particular episode which is 100 percent self-contained and fully explained; and the on-going plot which ropes viewers in and makes them want to watch the show again next week to see what happens. Daytime soap operas can succeed without doing this, with daily airings during worker lunch breaks and when students don’t have classes. However, a true nighttime soap opera has to have a much more seductive draw than the middle aged exploits of Mad Men.

I am happy to see the super talented Colin Hanks as the believable Father Gill (so believable, I didn’t even recognize him), and secretly hope that his character leaves the priesthood to marry the very nice and well-deserving Peggy Olson. The last series I watched Hanks in was Roswell, which gained a huge following during Season 1, but lost its way in Season 3 when the writers forgot that the show was supposed to be a weekly TV series, not just a quirky, sci-fi soap opera.

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