Category Archives: Mad Men

Top 10: TV Shows of 2012

10. 30 Rock

“30 Rock” hit a bit of a rough patch at the beginning of 2012. However, it bounced back for its seventh and final season and has turned out some of its best episodes in years. Most notably, this season saw Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) finally tying the knot in a wedding that was both moving and wacky in a way that only “30 Rock” could deliver. “30 Rock” is one of the best heirs to the sitcoms of the 70s with its fearlessness in tackling race, political, and gender issues for huge laughs. In fact, it ended the ridiculous “are women funny?” debate with a monkey wearing a suit. No other show on TV can deliver so many jokes in such a short span of time. “30 Rock” might be winding down, but the many doors it opened for the flood of single-camera comedies that have emerged over the years will always be present.

9. Archer

“Archer” is far and away the best animated show on TV. A spy spoof that puts “Austin Powers” to shame, “Archer” proved that its spectacular first two seasons were just a warmup for how perfect season three would be. Few comedies currently on TV have plots as smart and intricate as “Archer” does, whether the bumbling heroes are trying to get rid of a dead body or fight villains in outer space. What makes “Archer” so unique is the neat little backstories it gives to all of its characters, which expanded in ever satisfying ways this season. For example, Archer’s constant literary references suggest someone much smarter than he acts. “Archer,” however, never has to hide its sophistication. It continues to be one of the sharpest satires currently on TV.

8. Homeland

I was a late convert to “Homeland,” and I am not ashamed to say that I caught up in less than one week. “Homeland” hit a bit of a rough patch this season. However, those who immediately jumped ship need to learn a thing or two about TV history, and that “Homeland” is in the same company as some pretty great shows that have had faulty seasons and then bounced back. Even in the implausibility, there has still been plenty to love about season two. The show made a pretty risky story move early on and then built it up to an interrogation scene that was one of the most finely acted and scripted in TV history. However, this season went through a few big bumps in the road. One was literal (a car accident that was worth it only for allowing actress Morgan Saylor to shine) while others were illogical (see: Skyping with a terrorist on a Blackberry). Yet, I was still compelled to watch “Homeland” from week to week, and discuss with every other fan I knew. Many other shows have gone through rough patches early on, and I have faith in where next season will take us.

7. Happy Endings

The funniest show currently airing on network TV (while another one is still in an overlong hiatus) is also the most underrated. “Happy Endings” took the concept of “twenty/thirty-something friends” in a big city to insane new heights throughout seasons two and three. It does self-referential better than most shows on TV, and it knows when to be over-the-top and when to be human. “Happy Endings” doesn’t just succeed in its endless mocking of sitcom tropes, but also how natural the ensemble feels together. Often, it just feels like a tight-knit improv group going crazy in whatever direction they desire. Plus, it has my favorite married couple on TV (Brad and Jane) and the most hilariously non-stereotypical gay character since “The Sarah Silverman Program.” In the vein of “30 Rock,” “Happy Endings” could probably cram more funny into five minutes than most shows ever could in an entire season.

I think it’s the pronunciation that sold me.

6. Game of Thrones

2012 was the year I got back into fantasy. “Game of Thrones” was one of the many shows this year that helped push the medium forward, as it pushed its own storytelling ambitions in new directions and away from its source material. It truly blurred the difference between film and television with the episode “Blackwater,” which contained a battle as epic as anything in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. What I always liked best about “Game of Thrones” is that even when it travels into the territory of dragons and the undead, it still remains incredibly grounded, as this story is much more of a political allegory than a battle of good versus evil. If “Game of Thrones” has proved anything to me, it’s that moral ambiguity is way more interesting than battles of absolute good against absolute evil. Without it, where the hell else would we get amazing characters like Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Cersei (Lena Headey) Lannister, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson)? Well, I think I know how everyone feels about Joffrey.

joffrey slap

View the top 5 after the jump

5. Girls

Amidst all of the controversy and unrighteous indignation, “Girls” had the most solid first season of any new show that debuted this year. Virtually overnight, Lena Dunham deservingly became a household name. “Girls” is a mixture of both the trademark edginess of HBO, and the trademark awkwardness of the Apatow brand. This show about Brooklynites in their early twenties treads a lot of new ground and says a lot more about this generation than most other works in any form of entertainment have. Yet, Dunham is too modest to try and become the voice of a generation (a fact that is mocked in the very first episode). “Girls” caught my attention in every episode for its cinematic audacity (scenes of pure dialogue that nearly hit the ten minute mark) and chaotic humor that might take multiple viewings to fully appreciate (“I’ll be your crack spirit guide”). Each episode opens with completely different theme music. In one year, Dunham created an indelible new world and filled it with lively and memorable characters. Many people criticized the show for its lack of diversity. I found this claim to be ridiculous, as it does not acknowledge the world these characters inhabit and it does not at all do justice to the substance of the show. With all of that out of the way, I think it’s easier to appreciate the nearly flawless first season of “Girls.”

4. Breaking Bad

What more can I (or everyone else) say about “Breaking Bad” that I haven’t said already? Probably not much, but I don’t mind reiterating. As it prepares its swan song, “Breaking Bad” has proved itself more brilliant than ever. I’m still waiting for Vince Gilligan to top the season four finale, but for now I can live with a train robbery and a meth-induced montage. “Breaking Bad” has always been excellent at keeping us at the edge of tragedy, and never letting us know when we are going to go off the cliff, and this past season was no exception. The first half of season five found Walter White on top of the world, with no worlds left to conquer. He had gone so far off the edge that at times, it was hard to tell whether or not he wanted to back away. All I know is that any barriers of safety for the audience that once existed have all evaporated. I have no idea where “Breaking Bad” is headed for its last few episodes. All I know is that it still has a lot of ground to cover, and it shows no signs of letting any of us down.

3. Mad Men

“Mad Men” now carries the honor of being one of few shows to peak during its fifth season. When most are winding down, “Mad Men” rediscovered its mojo in new, exciting, and profound ways. It all added up to the best drama of the year. The writers of “Mad Men” are like few others, and they went into the surreal this season, catching Don in the middle of an elaborate dream while Roger experienced an LSD-fueled reality. Supporting actors such as Christina Hendricks and Vincent Kartheiser gave beautifully nuanced performances. Meanwhile, Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) was a welcome new addition to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The ad executives faced unimaginable tragedy even in a season filled with dark humor (one of the best, yet saddest, gags involves a Jaguar that won’t start). Like the world around them, the characters of “Mad Men” have been allowed to change and evolve. Into its fifth season, “Mad Men” still continues down the dark abyss of American Dream, still exploring whether or not America really offers second chances.

2. Community

2012 has been a rough year for “Community.” It got put on hiatus multiple times, it was nearly cancelled, it lost one of its stars (Chevy Chase), and the mastermind behind it all (Dan Harmon) was fired in what can only be seen as a network and a studio out of touch with the times. Even with all of the trouble in the real world, “Community” is like the Dreamtorium: a place to escape from reality and into the mind of one very strange individual. In its season three, “Community” was darker and more inventive than ever. It put the Greendale Seven into a videogame, a heist movie, and an Ed Burns documentary. In each of those, it was a stunningly faithful homage that brought depth to its richly created characters. “Community” is special in that the weirder it gets, the less it forgets about its characters. “Community” might not be made for everyone, but if you are not ever won over by Dean Pelton’s man-crush on Jeff, Troy’s innocence, or Britta’s ability to ruin everything, then you have no heart. “Community” wants fans, but season three seemed to display a show that cared less about getting high Nielsen Ratings (which, with the Internet, will soon be irrelevant) and more about telling good stories. “Community” includes some of the most innovative storytelling that we’ll never see again on network television.

1. Louie

After much thought, I could put no other show in first place. “Louie” is not necessarily an “event” type show, but I found myself eager every Thursday night this summer to watch it live. I knew that every week would provide me with a totally unexpected episode. “Louie” is the most unpredictable show on TV, and with every episode, Louis C.K. manages to break down all sitcom conventions without being snarky or obnoxiously ironic. This season, he proved himself as a master of dramedic storytelling. He nailed the sentimentality of so many moments and steered them away from sappiness. Whether surreal or realistic, each episode felt like a short movie that could only be made with the raw inspiration of New York City. Yet, C.K. took his fictional character to new places this year. In a three part arc that included the best celebrity cameo I’ve ever seen on TV, Louie tried to host the Late Show. Another episode had him at a strip club with Robin Williams. And then another had him involved in a boat chase. The season finale, which brought him on a journey of self-discovery in China, reduced me to tears. Some might call “Louie” gloomy, but its message is so positive: life will never be easy or predictable, so we might as well roll with whatever is thrown at us. The feeling that people in the 70s first got when watching “All in the Family” and “Taxi” and the feeling that people got when first watching “Seinfeld” in the 90s, I got while watching “Louie.”

Not from the show, but this is one of my favorite bits from Louis C.K.

Honorary Mentions: Parks and Recreation, New Girl, Portlandia, Veep

Analog This: My 2012 Emmy Winners

I think everything that can be said about the many problems with last night’s Emmys has already been said. Instead of ranting about Jon Cryer and “Modern Family” ruining everything, I will just say that I am happy that Louis C.K. got rewarded both for changing standup comedy and pulling off perhaps the greatest fart joke ever and making it last for an entire episode.

Here are my winners for the best the year had to offer in television. Keep in mind that many of these people and shows weren’t even nominated for Emmys this year (after the jump):

Outstanding Comedy Series: “Girls”

Outstanding Drama Series: “Breaking Bad”

Outstanding Writing (Comedy): Chris McKenna, “Community” (Episode: “Remedial Chaos Theory”)

Outstanding Writing (Drama): Erin Levy, Matthew Weiner, “Mad Men” (Episode: “Far Away Places”)

Outstanding Actor (Comedy): Louis CK, “Louie”

Outstanding Actress (Comedy): Gillian Jacobs, “Community”

Outstanding Supporting Actor (Comedy): Nick Offerman, “Parks & Recreation”

Outstanding Supporting Actress (Comedy): Eliza Coupe, “Happy Endings”

Outstanding Actor (Drama): Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”

Outstanding Actress (Drama): Lena Headey, “Game of Thrones”

Outstanding Supporting Actor (Drama): TIE: Giancarlo Esposito, “Breaking Bad”; John Slattery, “Mad Men”

Outstanding Supporting Actress (Drama): Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men”

Outstanding Directing (Comedy): Jay Chandrasekhar, “Community” (Episode: “The First Chang Dynasty”)

Outstanding Directing (Drama): TIE: Vince Gilligan, “Breaking Bad” (Episode: “Face Off”); Neil Marshall, “Game of Thrones” (Episode: “Blackwater”)

Outstanding Variety Series: “The Colbert Report”

And if I were to make this list a little bit longer: Jim Rash (“Community”), Donald Glover (“Community”), Danny Pudi (“Community), the rest of the cast of “Happy Endings,” Amy Poehler (“Parks & Rec”), Chris Pratt (“Parks & Rec”), Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”), “Archer,” “Bored to Death,” Allison Williams (“Girls”), “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (everything about the episode “Palestinian Chicken”), “Portlandia”

From “Game of Thrones” episode “Blackwater”

Analog This: A Blockbuster Summer for TV; Maybe Less so for Movies

No one can deny it at this point: there is something wrong at the movies. Tentpoles and remakes just won’t seem to go away. A good movie feels like a treat that is too good for its own good. There is good hope when something like “Moonrise Kingdom” can find an audience. However, when even Batman can’t deliver, there must be a problem. However, one place I couldn’t find a problem this summer was on television. While film has already broken down so many barriers, TV is just figuring out how to do the same thing.

This summer (well, it’s been a long time in the making), cable and basic cable networks have nailed the formula down and created an entertainment experience that can sometimes rival even a great film. Now that everyone has a DVR box and access to the internet, shows can carry long stories in ways they never could in the past. Here are the shows that created a Blockbuster summer for the likes of AMC, FX, and HBO, amongst others:

Action/Thriller: Breaking Bad (AMC)

I don’t know if there is much more that I could say about “Breaking Bad” that I haven’t said before, but I’ll give it a try. “Breaking Bad” is one of the best dramas of all time in any artistic format. It is like watching a never-ending tragedy unfold. However, that tragedy is peppered with breathless suspense, spurts of humor, and unforgettable characters. “Breaking Bad” is how the Coen Brothers would make a show if they ever adopted the format. It melds many genres together, perhaps hitting its most breathless strides when pulling off little heists, such as the great train robbery they pulled off last week. Even as one of their best characters (Gus) “left” the show, “Breaking Bad” recovered by giving more screen time to its very colorful side characters, including Mike and Saul. It has been said that this show is about a chemistry teacher turning into Scarface. However, I cannot tell whether or not this will end like “Scarface.” “Breaking Bad” is too good for that. And while I cannot wait to see how the fifth and final season will end, I wish it never would.

Best Episodes of the Season: Madrigal, Fifty-One, Dead Freight

Epic/Fantasy: Game of Thrones (HBO)

Television has now gotten into the adaptation business. “Game of Thrones” has secured itself a long run, as George R.R. Martin hasn’t even finished writing his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of which this show is based. I have not read any of Martin’s books, but this show is all I need to be totally absorbed into the Westeros universe. “Game of Thrones” rewrote some of the basic rules of television when it killed off a key character in its first season. Now, it continues on its dark tone, as it is impossible to know who is safe and who isn’t. Season two saw Westeros expand, and some new fascinating characters were introduced, most prominently Theon Greyjoy. Meanwhile, old characters such as Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) were more evil than ever. In Westeros, that means they were more compelling, and more likely to have success. “Game of Thrones” continues to differentiate itself from all other entries in its genre through perpetual moral ambiguity. Every bad action can be somehow justified as right. Moral ambiguity is the root of good drama.

Best Episodes of the Season: Garden of Bones, A Man Without Honor, Blackwater

Arthouse/Awards Bait: Mad Men (AMC)

Here is yet another show that I may have said all that can be said about it. Yet, I cannot stop talking about it. This season’s was the best “Mad Men” has ever been. And this is a show that has won the Best Drama Emmy four years straight. Season five gave Don Draper (Jon Hamm) a new wife (Jessica Pare) and a new outlook on life. It took a trip on LSD, and then plunged into darker depths than it ever has before. Don Draper is a man who is too big for a movie, and “Mad Men” has been the perfect home for his development. “Mad Men” is an amazing character piece because it not only captures the period, but the people inhabiting it, the way it was meant to be.

Best Episodes of the Season: Signal 30, Far Away Places, At the Codfish Ball, Commissions and Fees

Only “Mad Men” could make a French song from the 1960s into a part of the current cultural lexicon.

Indie Fare: Girls (HBO)

This has actually been a fantastic summer for independent cinema, ranging from microbudget flicks (“Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Your Sister’s Sister”) to those that could connect to mainstream audiences (“Moonrise Kingdom”). A few months ago, if you were to tell me that one of my favorite shows on television would be a dramedy about the lives of four twenty-something girls trying to make it in New York, I would have scoffed, and then yelled at whatever “Sex and the City” rerun was currently playing on TBS.

But “Girls” managed to exceed all of my expectations. Lena Dunham, the show’s star and creator, crafted a world that is as welcoming as it is raw. It’s hard to be truly shocked by new content nowadays when all frontiers seemed to have been conquered, yet “Girls” continues to surprise in its explicitness, and its ability to find its voice and its realism in its most uncomfortable moments. Dunham is emerging as one of TV’s latest auteurs, with this very personal, semi-autobiographical series. True to its Mumblecore roots, “Girls” lingers long on scenes that could have ended long ago to great effect. The most memorable of these is a fight between two roommates which covers nearly eight minutes of screen time.

Executive Producer Judd Apatow said that he hopes “Girls” will teach men more about women. And it does just that, by not leaving its male characters to the side (Adam Driver, who plays Adam, became one of the show’s best characters). This season, Dunham also dared to answer a question that no one ever wanted to ask: what does Mrs. Weir look like naked?

Best Episodes of the Season: Hannah’s Diary, Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident, Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too, She Did

Awkward Comedy: Veep (HBO)

Instead of remaking a British show for American audiences, HBO decided to steal a British mind instead (commence brain drain!). Armando Iannucci, creator of “The Thick of It” and “In the Loop” brought his hysterically uncomfortable and pessimistic view of politics from Parliament to the White House.

As Vice President Selena Meyer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus shows once again why she deserves to be known as one of television’s best actresses. She plays the exact opposite of the very popular Leslie Knope from “Parks & Rec”: she’s seen how the political machine works, crushing the ambition she once had. She is bolstered by a strong supporting cast, which includes Matt Walsh and Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”). It includes tough, stinging dialogue along with an edge of meanness that puts some of Sorkin’s walk-and-talks to shame. “Veep” nails it best in the little details. It never reveals Meyer’s political party, or the name of the president. Some of the funniest moments lie in the more mundane tasks of the vice president, such as highly publicized photo shoots. And yes, the words POTUS and FLOTUS are hilarious.

Best Episodes of the Season: Catherine, Nicknames, Baseball

Experimental: Louie (FX)

“Louie” is the kind of show that cannot be defined by just a few words. It’s star, writer, director, and editor is America’s best standup comic. Every episode is also a half hour long. However, calling it a comedy wouldn’t do it justice. “Louie” changes so much from episode to episode. One episode might involve a homeless guy being hit by a truck. The next episode could involve a boat chase. Or diarrhea in a bathtub. “Louie” has an element of surprise that has been absent from almost every movie coming to a theater near you. It’s ability to stray from formula so well makes Louis C.K. one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. The work he is doing on “Louie” reminds me of Woody Allen at his absolute best. But to simply compare him to Allen is unfair. C.K. is a unique and incomparable voice. This current season has carried on the gold standard he set up for himself in season two, and has yet to disappoint. This has been one of the most exciting shows I have ever seen without continuous story arcs. Because of “Louie,” every Thursday this summer was a highlight.

Best Episodes of the Season: Telling Jokes/Setup, Miami, Daddy’s Girlfriend (Parts 1 & 2), Barney/Never

Analog This: Mad Men Season 5 Finale

Jessica Pare: Humanizing French Canadians Since 2010.

Warning! May contain some minor spoilers for the season five finale. Read with caution.

Two years ago, when the previous season of “Mad Men” was drawing to a close, I claimed that the fourth season was the best season yet (I’m also not entirely sure I actually knew what the word “dissertation” meant). I take it back, because season five blew every other season out of the water. And unless season six can work miracles, and I know Matthew Weiner is good at doing that, it will be tough to top this one.

Yet, the season finale, entitled “The Phantom,” was a little bit disappointing. It was definitely not a bad episode. I think my expectations for “Mad Men” are a bit too high. But when a major character dies a week before, it seems a little peculiar to only mention the tragedy once the week after. And while throwing in Don’s brother was a nice touch (it tied in with his guilt over Lane’s death), it felt a little bit out of nowhere considering the fact that Don was less haunted than usual by his past this season. As did  the cliffhanger, which questioned whether or not Don would return to his adulterous days.
Nonetheless, it was still a fitting way to tie together a fantastic season. A lot happened this season, and I’m hoping this list below can account for as much of it as possible. Here are some of the reasons why season five was so damn good:

It took a turn for the surreal: “Mad Men” took some storytelling risks this season. It often felt less grounded in reality. One episode involved an elaborate dream sequence in which Don murdered a woman and effectively extinguished a piece of his soul. It also included an LSD trip. More on that coming up.
The New Don Draper: Chuck Klosterman wrote a very thoughtful peace on “The New Don.” I didn’t know if Don would be as interesting a person without his alcohol, copious cigarettes, and many affairs. Turns out that can’t be possible. The new Don is a better Don because of Megan (Jessica Pare). To borrow a line from “Jerry Maguire,” she completes him. She is the ying to his yang. She is filled with the youthful energy and ambition that he was beginning to lose as he reached middle age. Also, while we’ve seen Don going through many existential crises with his family life, this was his first major existential crisis at work. For a brief while, the life of an ad executive didn’t seem to be for him.
The New Betty and Sally: I have to hand it to “Mad Men” for making two of my least favorite characters likable this past season. Sally (Kiernan Shipka) gets better the closer you draw her to the adult world. Meanwhile, Betty (January Jones) seems much less empty and shallow when she has a real problem to deal with. 
Michael Ginsberg: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce went through some major changes this season, including the hiring of its first African American, and its first Jew. Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) became one of the show’s best characters, with the ambiguous revelation that his backstory might include being born in a concentration camp. He also has an odd, outgoing, and unforgettable personality. Some might call him a Jewish stereotype, which to me is just another word for totally relatable.
John Slattery: As Roger Sterling, John Slattery walked away with every scene he was in with his hilariously sardonic sensibility. While evaluating his own purpose at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Roger became more valuable to the show than ever. He also had a few pretty big revelations this season. Speaking of which…
Roger Takes LSD: This season, the usually old school Roger attends a fancy party (surprisingly lacking monocles) and drops acid. It is not some stereotypically bad trip of melted colors, but rather one of the greatest scenes crafted on this show. It goes from funny (an orchestra playing every time Roger opens a bottle of liquor) to moving (Roger hearing the sounds of cars from his childhood). And it is all perfectly set to The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.” And most importantly, this wasn’t just some throw away scene: Roger really changed from it. And it effected him the rest of the season.
Something French: Season five kicked off with Megan’s memorable rendition of Gillian Hills’ “Zou Bisou Bisou,” met with a very awkward reaction from Don and company. The catchy song quickly reached the pop culture lexicon, and was even featured on an episode of “30 Rock.” Between this, and Francoise Hardy’s “Le Temps de l’Amour” making an appearance in “Moonrise Kingdom,” I hereby proclaim 2012 the year that 1960s French pop music became popular again in America.

Connecticut: It’s nice to see that my homeland became a representation for suburban boredom. I can’t say that living here is as exciting as living in New York City, but at least I didn’t grow up in Cos Cob.

Pete Campbell: Even after five seasons, I still don’t quite know how to feel about Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the ambitious child of privilege. On the one hand, he’s constantly selfish and conniving. On the other hand, he exemplified this season that even if you have everything you want, it’s possible to still be missing something. As Don became more and more of a moral compass, Pete transformed into the man Don once was [Editor’s Note: How could anyone possibly cheat on Alison Brie? How?]. Kartheiser is one of the ensemble’s best actors. Nonetheless, it was a great moment of schadenfreude to watch him get punched in the face.

Filed Under: First World Problems.
I can’t even say if this post does the entire season justice. What were your thoughts on season five? Were you satisfied by the finale? What questions do you need answers to? And did you finally figure out what this poster meant?

Why Hollywood Hates Your Stupid Suburb

Well, I guess everything nice can go a little bad, too.

While watching this past weekend’s excellent new “Mad Men” episode “Signal 30,” I realized something that I should have understood long ago: Hollywood loves to hate on suburbia. The offsprings of cities have come to represent boredom and loss of youth, amongst other things. They can be purgatory or hell, depending on how you look at it. Even when they do look nice, there is usually some joke behind it. In front of the camera,  a suburban town never looks like a purely good place to live.

Let’s start with this week’s “Mad Men” and go back and around. This episode found the spoiled heir Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) going slowly insane in his new home in Cos Cob, Connecticut where, according to his wife Trudy (Alison “#AnniesBoobs” Brie), there are no bakeries or Greenbergs. As a Connecticut resident, I assure you that there are in fact an abundance of Greenbergs.

So this is how people in Connecticut are supposed to dress?

The biggest objection one might have to a bunch of white people being miserable in the suburbs is that they probably have a nice enough car and a big enough house to keep them happy forever. It is entirely possible even for even the privileged to have emotions. By taking Pete, who has just moved out of New York City, and placing him in a bedroom community, “Mad Men” revealed that the reason people grow weary of small town life is because nothing happens. Some people need the adrenaline of big city life, and not a backyard with a pool.

Perhaps the most well-known recent example of suburban angst is “American Beauty.” Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is unhappy mainly because he has been rendered useless by both his family and his job. But he also seems to hate everything he owns, and these “things” are as useless to him as he is to everyone else. “American Beauty” does not suggest that every suburbanite is a miserable mess. The happiest and most together people in “American Beauty” is the gay couple. Perhaps that is because they have nothing hide, while everyone else seems to have so much to conceal. It is so easy to hide everything away behind a white picket fence. Filmmakers must think that city dwellers are less miserable because they are much more involved in the world they inhabit.

Even the portrayals of suburbia that seem positive are oozing with irony. The hilariously picture perfect Lumberton of “Blue Velvet” is just a front for violent perversion and creepy Roy Orbison impersonators. Same goes for the world of “Happiness,” where even the most stable family man can secretly be a child molester. In recent shows “Weeds” and “Cougar Town”* the orderly planned neighborhoods of Southern California and Florida are just made out of ticky tacky.


So maybe these examples aren’t saying that suburban life is totally terrible and you’re all spoiled rotten. The camera and the script are meant to capture hidden human truths, and a solid truth comes from the last line of “Some Like it Hot”: “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Everything that claims to be is just hiding some tragic flaws. Most suburbanites we see on the big and small screens are portrayed as prisoners: the men have been emasculated and the women have been tamed. Is this really what living in the country does to you, or is that just a part of getting old and having a family? That may be as difficult as asking whether the chicken, or the egg that needs you to pick them up at soccer practice, came first.

“Mad Men” did some good in making life outside of a metropolis seem half good: at least they acknowledged the fresh air and ample space. The most positive portrayals of the suburbs I have seen in film came from the eyes of teenagers living in very different eras: “American Graffiti” and “Dazed and Confused.” Maybe that is because teenagers are better at entertaining themselves. A life without commitment is definitely easiest. But then again, the 60s and 70s felt a lot more alive. There were still disc jockeys on the radio and small community theaters.

Big cities will always have that culture. Small towns are so prone to losing it. It is once that the uniqueness that makes us feel human has disappeared that suburban life becomes something negative. So Hollywood doesn’t necessarily hate your stupid suburb, it just hates how plain and monotonous small town America has seemed to become.

*Yes, I have seen “Cougar Town” and yes, it actually is not half bad.

I can’t get enough of this. There should be a spinoff sitcom called “Everybody Hates Pete.”

Now That The Oscars Are Over…

…I can finally start talking about important things again, such as the return of “Mad Men” on March 25. The show has been on hiatus for almost two years ago, and that unbearably long time almost made me forget how great this show is. “Breaking Bad” has taken over the spotlight as AMC’s best show, but one does not simply forget about “Mad Men.”

I bring this up because today, a very provocative teaser poster was revealed for the next season. Usually, teasers don’t mean much to me, but “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner can brilliantly tell the story of the entire upcoming season in just one image. From what I can tell, we will be entering a much less sheltered era. Things will become much more exposed, including Don Draper (Jon Hamm) himself. Weiner ambiguously says that by the end of this season, we will know what the show is really about. This fifth season could be the show’s best one yet. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves yet. For now, take a look at the new poster. Discuss:

Read more over at The New York Times.

Mad Men: Dissertation on the Best Season Yet

Warning: Spoilers for the fourth season ahead. Proceed with caution.

When the epic finale of the third season of “Mad Men” ended with the image of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) walking into his hotel, unsure of the future that lay head, I was unsure of one thing: how could the makers of “Mad Men” possibly make an episode of television this good ever again?
Well, Matthew Weiner did it again, for every single episode of the nearly flawless fourth season of “Mad Men.” “Mad Men” took the cautiously optimistic tone of “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” to a whole new level.
Uneasiness seemed to be the theme of this season. Season three ended with the assassination of JFK and season four was set to the backdrop of Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. This is no longer the 1960s that “Mad Men” first began in where big men in big suits could sit comfortably behind their desks and ignore the problems of the world. This was a time when reality was leaking into office life.
With this, we also got a changed Don Draper, for better or worse. At one point, we see him trading in whiskey for wine and even questioning his own smoking addiction and incessant love affairs.
Much of this season was really about change, and how people respond to it. In addition to that, the show gave us many welcome changes. A scenery change is always good, and the new office of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce allowed for even more pressing problems. Another welcome change was the show’s change in attitude. Despite the constantly serious subject matter, the show found a subtle, witty sense of humor this season. Much of this came through the show’s dialogue, mainly banter between the main characters. A lot of this humor also came from small, charming moments which seem inconsequential. One of the best that is easy to forget is Don and Lane (Jared Harris) sharing a bottle of whiskey in a crowded movie theater.
A few of the show’s principle actors also showed a few welcome changes. Mainly young Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper. This season, she dropped the lisp and whininess and became one of the show’s darker and more interesting characters.
Then there’s Betty Draper (January Jones). It is easy to hate on January Jones because, well, she’s sometimes something of a terrible actress. However, it’s hard playing a character that the audience is forced to hate, so she deserves some credit for that. In the last few moments, after all the horrible things she had just done (mainly, trying to ruin the happiness of everyone around her), she somehow came off as sympathetic. It’s easy to forget that her paranoia and hatred towards all things that breath comes from years of being cheated on by Don. Perhaps the best quote to define Betty this season is this: “Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean everyone else has to be.”
This season also managed to solve its Don and Betty plotline quite well through an unspoken midseason reconciliation between the two that was both revelatory and moving. Then there was those final moments as the two stood in there empty Westchester house, remembering their past and looking into the future. This announced the end of an era for “Mad Men.”
Season four of “Mad Men” brought the show to new levels both story wise and thematically. The characters reached new lows of desperation, whether it had to do with searching for clients or searching for lovers. In this we could find characters constantly falling back into old habits or falling into the habits of others. Every character in this mad mad world is always trying to be someone other than themselves.
And at the center of this of course is Donald Draper, played as strikingly and mysteriously as ever by Jon Hamm. Like the company he helped start, Draper went on a bumpy and confusing course this season. He oscillated between redemption and past troubles. The more his secrets unraveled, the more he felt he had to beef up his fake identity. By marrying the much younger secretary over Faye, he proves to continuously try to slip back into youth rather than move forward.
The greatest moments of “Mad Men” always lie in mystery and intrigue, just like with Draper himself. It’s not just mysteries like “who is Donald Draper?” it’s more like the mystery behind his true emotions and intentions. Am I the only one more interested in what Don was looking at out that window in the final shot than why Joan decided to keep Roger’s baby?
Overall, the reason season four proved “Mad Men” to be the truly amazing show everyone thinks it is is because this season really proved the show’s real ambitions. It is attempting to use the past, settings, and people to re-create the idea of America. Few shows have dared try to achieve something this big since “The Sopranos” and have gotten this close to being right. This season showed us the constant rising and falling of the American Dream. As from episode one, Draper has both exemplified and put down the myth of the self made man. What category he ultimately falls into still remains a mystery.
“Mad Men” has always remained fascinating because of the endless intrigue. What I love best is hard to say. It could be the fact that missing one facial expression can impact one’s perception of an episode. Or it could be how carefully every little detail is put on screen. Most importantly, I like it for a reason different from every other show I’ve ever enjoyed. While I enjoy most shows for having a sort of cinematic value, I enjoy “Mad Men” because its ambitions and overall contributions to the world are too grand to fit into one two hour time frame. The 1960s may be over, but the era of “Mad Men” will always continue.

If You Want Quality TV: Mad Men

In case you haven’t caught up with the incessant (but well deserved) media coverage in the past few weeks, television’s best drama, “Mad Men,” will be making it’s triumphant return tomorrow. The season three premiere will be airing Sunday, August 16 at 10 PM on AMC.

“Mad Men” is the best drama currently on TV (sorry, “Lost”). It does so by being multi-layered, well-written, well-acted, well-directed, and visually stunning. 
For those procrastinators out there who want to catch up on the first two seasons, you still have 23 hours to do so. For those of you who want to watch but don’t feel like watching that much television (note: I wouldn’t recommend against this; It would be time well spent), the recap attached below is very helpful: