Wednesday 28 May 2008

Mad Men - The First Series

Anyone still watching? I only ask because a few friends have given up and I'm a little surprised I'm sticking with it at times. The dearth of quality television may have something to do with it, but also the nagging thought that the series may at some point live up to its potential. The heavy handed signposting continues (It's the 60's you know) not to mention the smoking in every scene but it's undeniably well made with lighting and cinematography of the highest order. The script has its moments and the acting too but why isn't it quite satisfying?

I quite like Jon Hamm as Don Draper but he's no James Gandolfini. It's not a fair comparison obviously but there was always a vulnerability to Tony Soprano that meant no matter how violent or extreme his actions you still cared what happened to him. What a character. Draper on the other hand is a fiction, a 'whore-child' to begin with who uses the accident of war to assume a new identity, his life then carefully constructed in line with the American Dream. No wonder he's so good at knowing what people want. But to keep his fiction going he's not allowed to show much in the way of emotion, or maybe that's a repressed Sixties thing too. Barely a flicker as he heard of his brother's suicide, not much even in the final shot as he returned to an empty home. I like the conceit of a man who lies for a living leading a life which is itself a lie but I'm hoping it's leading somewhere.

It's Don's wife Betty that I've become interested in (don't be smutty). Through the series she has lost her naivety, whether through observing the lives of others or having her eyes opened to her own. There was something so touching about the way she reached out her hand to Glen (the little boy who had walked in on her on the toilet earlier in the series) in the last episode and admitted, as she hadn't to anyone else, that she was 'so sad'. 'Please tell me I'll be okay', she asked, but how could he? She seems to have developed more than any other character. Having discovered that Don receives reports on her therapy sessions she used last night's to send him a message; that she knows of his infidelity and doesn't like it. Clever girl.

In fact with the men being so obnoxious and hateful it was the female characters in general that held my attention. Peggy Olsen promised so much at the start but the whole gosh Peggy's put on some weight and is often feeling queasy in the morning story reached it's obvious conclusion with ooh I'm getting some stomach pains. Difficult to take very seriously. The pregnancy makeup was pretty good though. Joan Holloway kept up her impressive pout throughout and even tugged on the heartstrings a little with a simple kiss when Roger Sterling returned to work after his heart attack.

I'd like to take a moment to praise Rich Sommer who plays Harry Crane. With those heavy black specs and the lollipop he's been a quiet figure cracking jokes every now and then and content with the wife at home but he suddenly developed after his fling at the election night party. The sight of him in his vest and underpants, sleeping in the office after being kicked out by his wife was suitably tragic. More for him please in series two and more for everyone by which I mean there's only so much to enjoy in watching the birth of famous ad campaigns of the past. It has to be about the characters if it's to last, if not; how many will still be tuning in by the end of the next series?


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