Thursday, October 9, 2008

Trying on the relaxed fit Cranky Pants: Mad Men

(Spoiler alert: plot points from first and second season discussed.)

I don't watch many TV shows regularly. Though I have cable again because it's available at a reduced price, the only dramatic show I watch every week right now is AMC's Mad Men, which is winding up the second season and airs new episodes for a few more weeks at 10 p.m. on Sunday nights.

I enjoyed the first season enough that I rented it on Netflix to watch it again with commentary before the second season began. The pilot episode was terrific, and the actors involved brought up that there was a major buzz in the community about the show, people asking others if they had read for it, all of them feeling blessed that they got on the show. In the first show, we meet the main character Don Draper, played by the ridiculously good looking Jon Hamm, and it's clear we are supposed to root for him. He's not perfect, but he's a lot more sympathetic than Pete Campbell, an up and coming weasel played by Vincent Kartheiser. Other men we meet, both above and below Draper on the corporate ladder, and much more flawed than he is, or so we are led to believe.

Watching the show with commentary, a lot of people bring up that Don Draper is never happy, but I didn't get that when I watched it the first time around, especially in early episodes. We see him with his free spirited girlfriend Midge, played by Rosemary DeWitt, in the first episode, and he is enjoying himself, and not just because he has just had sex with a very attractive woman. (The big reveal at the end of episode one is the last scene, where we find out that he has a lovely house and a lovely wife waiting for him patiently.) Don actually likes Midge and respects her, but he dumps her in the middle of the first season when he realizes she is in love with one of her other boyfriends, which he knows she has, though he doesn't seem to mind.

I'm not enjoying the second season as much as the first, and it's not just the loss of the character of Midge or the increasingly obvious unhappiness of Don Draper that is making the show less interesting. The first episode was in equal parts about a historically accurate look back at 1960, the nuts and bolts of the advertising business and the introduction of the characters and conflicts we would be following. Now, the historically accurate part is confined to the actors wearing period clothing and smoking a lot, with irregular mentions of events from the day, like Jackie Kennedy giving the White House tour and the death of Marilyn Monroe. The change that annoys me most is the advertising part has taken a back seat as we deal with stories about the characters' personal lives. I really wanted to see more about the ad business, but the troubles in various marriages and relationships are more important to the screenwriters in the second season.

The main plot point that annoyed me was the surprise pregnancy of Peggy Olsen that was the big conclusion at the end of season one. Peggy, played by Elizabeth Moss, is a little thing, and she was put in increasingly large fat suits throughout the first season, but she was supposed to be completely unaware of her situation. Given that she is bright and competent, it's hard to believe she would be so dense, and even with the fat suits, she isn't so fat that she could hide being pregnant from others or from herself. (Real life events of the past few weeks have made this hard to believe story line even more annoying, don'tcha know.) In the second season, her child is barely even a plot point, as she is still single and working in Manhattan while female relatives take care of the never seen kid.

I'll definitely continue watching the show for the last three episodes of season two, but I hope the writers will get back to the historical stuff and the advertising, and make the big plot twists a little more believable in the future.


Jess Wundrun said...

Matty, now that you mention it, it kind of seems like a whole new crew of writers has taken over.

For weeks there was the creepy priest following Peggy around pointlessly and then nothing. (unless I missed something).

Now Betty kicked Don out and all she does is pout. Big whoop.

And the Roger Sterling/Joan Holloway thing was one of the best parts of the show but they seem intent on destroying the Holloway character. Sterlings dumping his wife is just stupid.

Still. I love that show. Bitching over, you are right. 1st season crushed second season.

Matty Boy said...

Jess, I agree with you. They have decided to focus on a lot of characters at the ad company, including Harry, Ken, Salvatore and Paul, and it seems like every scene they are in has been taken from the time that Joan would have been on screen.

The priest stuff didn't go anywhere, you're right. The Jimmy Barrett story DID go somewhere, the creepy insult comic and his wife, but I hated that plot line completely.

Whatever else I think of Don Draper, I think a male viewer of the show wants to envy him a little, and I wouldn't change places with him in the second season for a million bucks. And I mean a million 1962 bucks.

Let him do one more really cool presentation for a client this season. Is that too much to ask?

namastenancy said...

I loved the first season as well but the current season left me feeling blah. Thanks for articulating it so well.