Mad Men’s recently wrapped-up fifth season was possibly its best season yet, and at least its best since season two. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the most ambitious season thus far because it dealt most directly with morality—and was the least preoccupied with subject of happiness.
Most of the time, Mad Men is all about happiness: Is happiness an illusion? Is it ever sustainable? Are the things that make people happy the same? Etc. This can be compelling, but it tends to get self-indulgent and repetitive quickly.
What made Season Five so different, though, was that it took as its starting point the idea that Don Draper, the perpetually self-loathing protagonist, was actually happy. He was finally in a happy marriage; he had a cordial relationship with his ex-wife and he was getting along with his kids; his company was relatively safe, and his relationships with most of his co-workers were good. This was so jarring to some viewers that they seemed intent to find problems where none existed. Every fight with he had with Megan supposedly hinted at the faulty foundation of the marriage—even if the fight was minor and they made up afterwards. People seemed completely unwilling to accept the idea that Don could be happily married and generally content; it was so unlike the Don we were used to. Continue reading »
5. “God,” Louie
One of the reasons the superlative in the title of this post is “memorable” and not “best” is to make room for episodes like “God.” It wasn’t the funniest episode of the first season of Louie—and it wasn’t even necessarily my favorite—but it was certainly the most distinct and memorable episode of a show that was consistently original. I remember watching the scene in which the creepy, nameless doctor tells a young Louie to stab Jesus Christ in the wrist and thinking, “It’s very unusual that this is on television.” The dark humor, the nuanced take on religion, and the controversial point of view are all things rarely seen on TV, and yet they were precisely the kinds of things that made Louie such an innovative and enjoyable show. Continue reading »
Am I the only one who thinks Don Draper made the right choice? As Chuck Klosterman tweeted the day after Mad Men’s Season Four finale: “There’s always social pressure to disagree with Don Draper’s personal decisions.” This is oddly true in a way that’s not true of other television protagonists. In a television landscape that is littered with antiheroes, including serial killers, drug dealers, and mob bosses, Don seems to anger the audience the most for, basically, being a bad husband.
It is true that Don can be a rather lousy significant other—even during a season in which he wasn’t married he somehow managed to find a way to cheat, spurning Dr. Faye Miller, his primary love interest this season, to propose to his secretary in Sunday’s finale. This choice angered many fans, since Faye had become such a popular character and, well, we don’t know all that much about Megan the secretary (as Roger says when Don announced the news, “Who the heck is that?”).
And yet this choice is a great illustration of all the things Season Four did right. Continue reading »
In case you haven’t heard, the fourth season of AMC’s Mad Men premieres tonight at 10 PM. But you’ve probably heard. As I mentioned last year, Mad Men is quite the buzzworthy show, which means promotional material and spoilers are somewhat hard to avoid.
Luckily, I have been able to stay somewhat sheltered from the released information about this season—I prefer to enter new seasons with no preconceptions. This is particularly exciting in the wake of last season’s Mad Men finale, which set up a totally new realm for the characters to inhabit.
Season Three ended with almost all of the main characters—Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Peggy Olsen, Pete Campbell, etc.—leaving Sterling Cooper to start a new agency. Meanwhile, Betty was flying off to Nevada to marry Henry Francis. In other words, there are a lot of things to be explored as the new season picks up.
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At the end of “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency,” the best episode of the most recent season of Mad Men, Don Draper tries to comfort his daughter, who is scared of the dark. She is scared of the dark because she thinks that her new baby brother is inhabited by the ghost of their grandfather. Together they go to the baby’s room to look at it, and Don comforts her by telling her that the baby is not her Grandpa: “This is your brother. We don’t know who he is yet, or what he’s going to be. And that is a wonderful thing.” And then the episode fades to black and “Song to Woody” starts playing over the closing credits.
Bob Dylan’s “Song to Woody” is really a song about identity—or, more accurately, it’s about the lack of identity that comes with youth. It’s about how people define themselves before they’ve done anything important. And it is the most beautiful and brilliant song on Dylan’s first album. Continue reading »
John S already called the Aughts the “Golden Age of Television.” Now, he’s joined by Tim to help further justify that statement by recalling some of the most original and memorable characters the medium has produced over the last 10 years. We had one criterion: The character had to debut this decade. Some notable characters who did not make the cut include Gil Grissom (CSI), Mr. Bennet/HRG (Heroes), and Walter White (Breaking Bad).
As for the ones who did, we’re not saying we ranked them, but we’re also not saying the order is random.
Adrian Monk: The character of the seemingly all-knowing master detective has been around for some time now, dating back to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, at least. Adrian Monk didn’t reinvent the wheel on Monk, but in giving the detective a compelling backstory and severe psychiatric disorders—the latter usually played for comedy, except in the context of the former—it added a depth to what could otherwise be a stale cast character.
Furthermore, it’s hard to think of an established actor who has engrossed himself in a television role as much as Tony Shalhoub did for the eight seasons of Monk.* As the eponymous detective stricken with a severe case of OCD, Shalhoub mastered the portrayal of the neurotic genius, even if the show too often settled for being a network procedural that just happened to air on cable.
*There is one other guy on this list that has a case.
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Yesterday’s overview of the television of the Aughts made the claim that this was the Golden Age of television. Well, here’s the proof. These are the ten best seasons of TV to air from 2000 to 2009. The criteria are simple: The season had to begin and end between January 1st, 2000 and today (that rules out Season Four of Friday Night Lights). Also, I have to have seen it. (A person can only watch so much TV, so with apologies to fans of Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Rome, The Shield, and Breaking Bad Season Two–all of which I have yet to watch–I cannot include these seasons.) Finally, the list is not limited to one season per show, but it is heavily weighted against a show’s second-best (and third-best, etc.) seasons; I didn’t want to just make a list of seasons of The Wire and The Sopranos, but depth deserves some credit. Even within those parameters, though, several very good shows could not make the cut. Here is the illustrious “Honorable Mention” category:
All seasons of The Wire and The Sopranos not already included, Lost Season Four (2008), Mad Men Season One (2007), Breaking Bad Season One (2008), Heroes Season One (2006-07), The West Wing Season Two (2000-01), Dexter Season One (2006), Firefly Season One (2002-03)
And now, the Top Ten:
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What we read while trying to get into Justin Bieber’s Twitter account….