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Author Topic: Mad Men
rick derris
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Starts on BBC4, sunday 2nd march at the very sociable 10pm slot

looks very good, any north americans able to confirm this?

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Reed
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It's pretty good, but once the novelty of the premise wears off it drags a little. I am interested to see season 2, however.
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rick derris
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yea, I thought it was pretty good
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Hieronymus Bosch
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This is really good. I reviewed it for the TV column this week.

quote:
That old chancer Ian Paisley, who this week announced his upcoming retirement from public life, has roughly as much time for smoking as he does for Irish nationalism, the Pope, line dancing and what he quaintly terms “priestcraft”.

His infamous line about the devil’s buttermilk got a vast number of airings in the press down the years, cementing his notoriety as an anti-happiness figurehead of renown, but he had it in for smokers too. Some time in the 1960s, upon entering a Belfast press conference where the room was thick with cigarette fumes, he declared contemptuously: “The breath of Satan is upon us.”

Paisley would have lasted for about forty seconds watching Mad Men (BBC 2 and 4) before snorting in disgust and switching over to Songs Of Praise. It’s got more plumes of smoke in it than all the stacks of the Ruhr Valley at peak time, and every second person on screen has a cigarette clasped in their fingers. Hardly surprising given that one of the tasks of the main character, Don Draper, is to look after the Lucky Strike account at the advertising agency he works for. Draper, a lounge-lizard Bryan Ferry type with immaculately Brylcreemed hair, is creative director at the firm, and therefore one of the rulers of Madison Avenue. You have ad men, and then you have Mad men.

All this is taking place a long time in the past. 1960, to be precise, at the very dawning of the consumer age, suffused in the optimism of the post-war years and the “nostalgia for the future” of the advances being made in technology, with the turbulence of the civil rights struggles yet to happen and the patrician Eisenhower winding up his term in the White House. Mad Men captures exactly the same moment that Donald Fagen explored on his classic 1982 album The Nightfly, a collection of songs that revisited the obsessions of his youth in late-1950s New Jersey. The lush musical contours of that record are echoed in Mad Men’s soundtrack, a slick confection of jazz and loungecore that evokes a cleaner, simpler – whiter? – world.

In Mad Men, the macho culture of the times is conveyed sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly – though, of course, it wouldn’t have been particularly subtle itself at the time. “I have an important appointment right now,” one young executive tells his wife on the phone, “so why don’t you go shopping, or something.” It’s the casual “or something” that loads the line with its cruel, dismissive power.

“Don’t overdo it with the perfume,” a female employee in the office tells Draper’s new secretary. “Always have a needle and thread. Keep a fifth of something in your desk – Mr Draper drinks rye.” Bringing out the secretary’s typewriter, she chirps: “It looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use.”

In the opening episode at least, the secretary seems to be a kind of punching bag for the unreconstructed social mores of the era. When she goes to a doctor to get contraceptive pills, he writes out the prescription and warns: “It’s $11 a month. Don’t think you have to go out and become the town pump to get your money’s worth.”

Naturally, where there’s sexism, there’s racism too, though in this first episode, it’s of the mild and commercially expedient variety. When Draper is asked by a colleague, “We ever hired any Jews?”, he replies: “Not on my watch. We’ve got an Italian.” It transpires that the colleague wants a Jewish ad man who can be deployed to work with a Jewish client. “You want me to run down to the deli, grab somebody?” says Draper.

It’s established early on, with a scene showing him eagerly interrogating a waiter about his smoking habits, that Draper is brilliant at his job. He takes notes avidly and voraciously, a human hoover sucking up every last bit of data, always alert for signals. And he’s a true believer, as all good advertisers have to be. When a sceptical doctor acting as a consultant on the Lucky Strike account raises health-related concerns, he tells her: “The issue here isn’t: why should people smoke? It’s: why should people smoke Lucky Strike?” Then he tosses her report in the bin.

This must be one of the most visually striking US television shows ever made: every frame is full of pulsing, rich colours, sharp suits, elegant furnishings and handsome features. The script can’t quite match the stately beauty of the images, but Mad Men is genuinely funny in places and never less than thoroughly watchable. The relative novelty of the central plot concept will wear off in time, but it’ll be a surprise if the intrinsic quality isn’t retained.


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wingco
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Very good review, HB. Missed this, must catch it.
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The Horse
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I wish I had word counts like that!

I'd echo what others have said: this is a great show. Very Sopranos-y.

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Hieronymus Bosch
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Ha ha, Horse, that's barely half the column. The whole thing is 1,700 words long. It gives you plenty of room to say what you want.

The downside is that you invariably stay up until half three in the morning finishing the fucking thing.

[ 06.03.2008, 12:38: Message edited by: Hieronymus Bosch ]

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The Horse
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Good Lord. Even when I write for the web they only let me do 500. You bastard.
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wingco
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500? Luxury!!
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The Horse
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Usually, it's 80 or fewer, so even with 500 I don't know what to do with myself. 1,700 would cause me to have some sort of meltdown, I think.
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wingco
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What annoys me, when you do these short reviews, is an assumption on the part of readers that that was all you could manage, that you'd simply run out of stamina.
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Hieronymus Bosch
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Agreed. It's an insidious and insulting assumption that the punters have to be spoon-fed their reviews in capsule-sized form. But there's no going back, it seems.

I also do two CD reviews a week for our paper, and I have the same problem. You're talking 110 words at most. Happily, I'm a sub-editor at the same paper, and my colleagues are kind enough to let me make my own cuts to the word count if I have gone over budget. I am very fortunate in that regard.

But the TV column in our paper still gets a vast, rolling-tundra amount of space in which to pitch its tent. I'm currently filling in for the guy who normally does it. I've deputised for him before plenty of times, but at the moment he's on a lengthy sabbatical.

It's good crack -- and good money (although, for staff-member-related payroll reasons which are too boring to go into, the taxman gets roughly 47% of the proceeds from everything I write) -- but it eats up a lot of your spare time. Watching a programme, scribbling notes while it's on, pausing it when necessary to take said notes, and then sitting down and spewing out 1,700-ish words, and it's all got to be delivered first thing Thursday morning. The usual incumbent has become a bit tired of it, and I understand why.

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The Horse
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Do you have to do one show or is it a round-up?
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Hieronymus Bosch
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Each week I usually review three or four programmes. This week, the other programmes were Selling The 60s, about the real-life Madison Avenue, which preceded Mad Men on BBC 4; an RTE documentary about the framing of a Donegal publican by the Gardai in the mid-1990s; and the increasingly bizarre Late Late Show, again on RTE.

Generally I try and watch each one at the time, while writing notes, and then sit down on Wednesday evening with those notes and rattle out the column. My handwriting has gone to shit since my schooldays.

[ 07.03.2008, 01:34: Message edited by: Hieronymus Bosch ]

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The Horse
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I appreciate it's an onerous task, but next time you're up past three, take comfort in the fact that I am still madly envious!
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