Monday, June 23, 2008

Mad Men Profiled In NYTimes

The New York Times printed a terrific article yesterday. Mad Men Has Its Moment is a profile of Matthew Weiner and the show. My aunt gave me a heads up about the lengthy, yummy piece. Wonderful reminders of pitch perfect tone, awesome dialogue as well as background on the origins and production (like casting!).

First the facts:
“Mad Men,” about the world of advertising on Madison Avenue set in New York in the early 1960s, languished for years after being rejected by HBO and Showtime before the unlikely AMC (formerly known as American Movie Classics) took its maiden voyage into original-series programming and picked it up. The show had its premiere last summer and won instant critical acclaim, a Peabody Award and the Golden Globe Award for best drama. Its second season begins July 27; the DVD set of the first season goes on sale July 1.
Yes, I've pre-ordered the DVD.
Weiner (pronounced WHY-ner) is the creator and show-runner of “Mad Men,” which means the original idea was his: he wrote the pilot; he writes every episode of every show (along with four other people); he’s the executive producer who haggles for money...and he approves every actor, costume, hairstyle and prop...He is both ultimate authority and divine messenger, some peculiar hybrid of God and Edith Head.
That hybrid made me laugh out loud! Very evocative and funny, if you know of Edith Head and her personality.

The dashing mysterious leading man evokes the dashing mysterious leading man in my life...(though I think not Gregory Peck but rather Cary Grant in Hitchcock's Notorious, an international man of inscrutability).
That Sterling Cooper’s creative director, Don Draper, is played by Jon Hamm, a leading man in the Gregory Peck mold who manages to make his sometimes oblique and often heartless character into a sympathetic figure (and won a Golden Globe for best actor), eases the pain.

When contemplating a new account, Draper asks his boss, Roger Sterling, played with perfect cynical pitch by John Slattery, “What do women want?”

“Who cares?” is his answer.

When a Jewish department-store heiress comes to the agency in search of a fresh approach for her business, Sterling tries to find someone Jewish in the company to include in the meeting. “Have we ever hired any Jews?” he asks Draper. “Not on my watch,” Draper says, before adding, “You want me to run down to the deli and grab somebody?”

Some more of the fun....
Knowing that these unsuspecting sexists and bigots sit on the brink of their doom is all part of the fun. It is also perverse entertainment of a sort (Weiner calls it pornography) to watch them smoke like chimneys (including pregnant women), drink like extras from “The Lost Weekend” and eat steak, cheesecake and creamed corn without consequences. Or mostly. When Sterling is felled by a heart attack, he laments: “All these years I thought it would be the ulcer. Did everything they told me. Drank the cream. Ate the butter. And I get hit by a coronary.”
The writing is key, laugh out loud funny at times -
ANOTHER MAJOR pleasure of “Mad Men” is its writing, which is consistently adult and witty. When Roger Sterling takes Joan Holloway, the voluptuous redheaded secretary (played by Christina Hendricks in a turn that pays an affectionate homage to Helen Gurley Brown’s “Sex and the Single Girl”) to a hotel room for a midday tryst, he says of the room-service lunch: “Look, we’ve got oysters Rockefeller, beef Wellington, napoleons. If we leave this lunch alone it’ll take over Europe.”
The time warp fascinates, but I agree with this:
It’s the universality more than the period that’s the hook, of course. Absent the surgeon general’s warnings, statins and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion or sex), the people on this show struggle with the same backbiting co-workers, unhappy marriages and ongoing search for the meaning of life that we do now. We’d like to think that things were simpler then, but what’s hard now has always been hard.
More on Don Draper, the lead, by the terrific actor who plays him:
Jon Hamm’s assignment as Don is to locate the emotions in a man who spends his life denying them. “Don’s trying to be a better guy,” Hamm said. “He’s trying to get back to what it means to be a person in a family. He has a marriage he’s not that involved in, kids he’s not that involved in, a brother he wasn’t involved with at all. He realizes these things have consequences. He tries to make amends a day late and a dollar short. That’s his great tragedy. He wanted the image of the perfect family, so he married the beautiful model. He takes his cues from advertising, the Coke commercial with the two kids and the dog. And there’s no there there, and why is that? It’s a curious thing.”
Read the whole piece and be sure to tune in later this summer. I posted some clips just last week. The Wikipedia entry lists where the series can be seen around the world - Britain, Italy, Norway, New Zealand, Brazil......

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