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I Hate Mad Men (but I Don’t Want To)

December 30, 2010

“Mad Men Fever.” I apparently am a carrier or have been vaccinated, as I am three seasons into this show and feel less than Betty does at this point. There is no discernible plot, but it’s rather “watch these awful people find new ways to make themselves miserable.” I fell for that shit with “Six Feet Under” and managed to shrug off the more miserable “Tell Me You Love Me.” Great name for a show, by the way. Psych.

Mad Men takes place in 1960’s Manhattan, which begins and ends the list of things that make the show interesting. If it wasn’t for this nicotine yellow-stained backdrop, Bravo Television Corp would probably be addressing a class action suit that names them as the reason that so many viewers have crammed their television remotes directly into their eye sockets.

When I think of the gravitas with which this show presents itself, my thoughts immediately turn to the rock band Creed, who also lack the self-actualization to laugh at themselves. Whether or not you’re a music fan, you should know that a comparison to Creed, unless it’s inverted, is a really, really awful thing to say about something.

My gripes:

They kicked the closeted gay character off the show before he had a chance to really “gay it up.” That’s crap. This show is so painfully realistic that it makes me want to tone down my behavior while I’m laying on the couch watching it. I understand that the 1960’s were probably a hostile climate for gays, but in a television show, they could be a time of FABULOUSNESS. Ok, that’s pretty stupid, but constantly denying the viewer some of the juicier plotlines to afford more screentime to terse interaction and thinly-veiled? Now that’s what I call gay. (Like lame, not homosexual.)

Nobody has manners. Nobody says “Thanks, Peggy.” Or “I think it’s really great that you’re not behaving like a robot programmed to kill, Betty.” It’s always, “I’m fine.” punctuated with someone walking away asking if they should close the door. I’m not foolish enough to think that they producers are trying to develop likable characters and failing, but that leads me to my next point:

Why aren’t there any likable characters? The only character I like in the whole show is Sally, despite the fact that she’s on a path to turn into Eileen Wuornos in about 20 years. Peggy’s cute and interesting, but in the way a candlestick or Japanese orange juicer is, not a human. She has a quiet moxie, which is funny, cause at the very second I figured otu that she held that charactersitic I also figured out what I don’t respond to on television as a viewer and a man (boy) – quiet moxie. The show is a soup, the cauldron of which contains seething bosses, dead-on-the-inside wives (and not the funny ones like Arrested Development), unfaithful husbands that years ago undermine whatever sex appeal they might have. Can’t they have an orphan boy with emphysema that hobbles around the office bringing people coffee and cigarrettes and telling the crying secretaries that JFK is now an angel in heaven? How cute would that be? Infinity. It would be infinity cute. His name could be Jamie, and he could have a British accent. Infinity +2 cute.

Humor/self-awareness of the show? Not applicable. I’m pretty sure this show is made in a lab where everyone has to wear yellow haz-mat suits and if a fly gets into the lab, they have to shut down the season until the fly is removed. That metaphor sucked, so I’ll be more direct. This show has zero spontenaity. It doesn’t feel fun. I realize I’m probably coming off as a (sexy) valley girl, wondering where all the fun is, but I don’t really watch television where the sole payout is a human emotion. There are no wacky plots. Don and Betty go to Rome with Conrad Hilton! That episode might as well have been staged in a rest stop Arby’s during a blizzard. These people are robots, so even the payout of human interaction is a pipe dream. Here’s how we tell if Don Draper is having a normal day: 32 cigarettes, 6 scotches, 1 boned mistress. Bad day? 40 cigarettes, 7 scotches, 1 boned mistress. Great day? 40 cigarettes, 7 scotches, 1 boned mistress. You can try to tell me that their emotions are conveyed in the intricacies of their reactions, but you had better make a damn good argument, cause I’m not seeing it. You want to see the full range of human emotions? Put a camera on me while I watch an episode of “Mad Men.” I will show you the gamut of reactions, ranging from frustration to quiet rage to loud rage, to hopelessness, to sadness, and finally, once the credits roll, you will see acceptance. Acceptance that I just sat through another episode with nothing to show for it but a craving for both cigarettes and married women.

While that last part was a joke, I have found myself looking internally more and more during this show. I figure if these assholes aren’t going to react to the myriad circumstances in which they find themselves, then I’ll be the bigger person and do it for them. If Peggy is just going to sit in the kitchen with her thousand-yard stare, then Penn will do the dirty work for her.

“Guess what, Don? Penn’s leaving your straying ass! And he’s taking the kids! if you need me, I’ll be at my sister’s in Poughkeepsie! Also, I blew that congressman we had a fundraiser for!”

You can tell how suppressed I have been during this whole affair because of the number of exclamation points I dropped above. I bet the screenwriters of “Mad Men” had the exclamation points popped off of their keyboards their first day of work. Which would also mean they can’t type a numeric “1.” Interesting.

I do like how they just leap forward in time indiscriminately between seasons. I used to think that was their way of being a little playful and ethereal with their narrative devices. Now I just think it’s the only way they can get something to happen on this painfully slow-developing show. “Pete’s marriage is on the rocks? Well, let’s just suggest that it is, then make him single when we start next season.” Well, fuck me sideways with a lunchbox, guys. That seems like a moment of high drama that you would want to include. Instead, they dropped the whole adoption thing so that they could develop that simply divine “sugar daddy-houseboy” relationship between Conrad Hilton and Don Draper. That’s been a real thrill ride.

“Don, I’m giving you the Hilton New York accounts.”
(Focused scowl from Draper)
“Don, I’m taking back the New York accounts.”
(Focused scowl from Draper.)
“I think of you as more than a son, Don. Despite the fact that we’ve had nothing but an arm’s length professional relationship for three months.
(Focused scowl from Draper.)
“i’m gonna go work on a new David Spade pilot for TBS now, Don.”
(Focused scowl from Draper.)

And here are my thoughts on Pete Campbell: Pete Campbell sucks. He wants to go out with the guys cause his wife’s away, and he ends up bending over backwards to make out with a fugly German au pair. Why do I want to watch that? That’s lame. He’s pathetic. I get that that’s what they’re trying to convey. These people are desperate, and sometimes desperate people can do some pretty awesome stuff on television. Look no further than Bravo’s “Breaking Bad.” It’s the best show on TV, in my amazing opinion. And all the characters on that show are shitty people as well, but there are some pretty extraordinary circumstances that they go through that makes you question them and yourself. In “Mad Men”, people react to the Kennedy assassination the same way. They watch TV and cry. That’s NOT an extraordinary situation. I did that on 9/11 and so did everyone else. Well, I didn’t cry, but I stared vacantly at the TV all day, then I went to the most empty bar I’d ever been to in my life. Not compelling television.

As a writer and consequently, a critic, of pop culture, I will be the first to admit that the breadth of my expertise doesn’t afford me much depth. I don’t have the time or inclination to juxtapose “Modern Family” with the halcyon days of “The Donna Reed Show.” I’m not a TV critic. I’m not even much of a TV enthusiast, and shows like “Mad Men” are the reason why. So not being a TV critic, I am forced to an algorithm for evaluating shows, books, movies, and music. My algorithm generally consists of “What’s the point?” Sometimes if I’m feeling a little funky, I’ll change the question to “Why are they doing this?” And if I’m in a bad mood, or the show really sucks, I normally jump off with the question “Why hasn’t someone stopped these people from continuing to make this?”

So what’s the point of “Mad Men?” The stories aren’t extraordinary, they’re actually quite mundane. The characters are painfully realistic, but those guys that can paint pictures that look like photographs are never considered the best of class. Similarly, I don’t understand why the producers get so much credit for their work. It seems like they’re doing very little. The plot develops with the speed of a Special Olympic hurdler, which has recently been deemed virtuous since The Wire was praised as “gritty,” and critics lauded the delayed gratification that it parsed out so sparingly.

There are things that I like about “Mad Men.” I think the outfits are neat. I liked the totally fucked take on gender issues that the show danced with in the first season then abandoned. The reason for the abandonment is clear. The show started off as a group of people working in an office. However, since the first season, these office characters have really failed to engage each other, instead going off on their own trajectories. It feels like these people are all characters in the same show because that’s where they started. But now, with all the business formality that takes place at C-S, I scratch my head and wonder why Peggy and Joan are even on the same show as Don Draper. Sure, I’m going to find out in season 4 that Peggy had Pete’s baby for some reason, but it’s been 40 episodes, guys. If I keep looking forward I won’t be able to enjoy the awesome things unfolding right under my nose. Like the well-tailored suits and fine scotches. And…that’s it.

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