Monthly Archives: September 2010

Mad Men, “Waldorf Stories”: Don Draper’s greatest hits.

Not only is Don Draper a drunk, but he’s a sloppy drunk. Sloppy as in, lose-an-entire-day, wake-up-with-a-girl-you-don’t-even-remember-meeting, coughing-up-cigarette-butts-sloppy. And come on, no one wants to be around that.

Don’s up for a Cleo award. Winning will make him look good, it’ll make the agency look good, and it’ll make him look good. Also the agency. And it’ll also give him the excuse he needs to sink to levels of depravity heretofore unseen on the show.

The ceremony hasn’t started yet, but it’s understood that, win or lose, everyone’s gonna get hammered, and so Roger and Don have begun loosening up even before they leave the office. By the time they read his name, Don’s already what Joan might call lubricated. And everything just goes downhill from there. Coming back to the table, Don spots Megan the secretary, who says that the reps from Life Cereal have finally gotten into town and are waiting back at the office. Pete, his head still firmly attached to his body, thinks that now might not be the best time for a meeting and suggests rescheduling, but Don will hear none of it. “Let’s put a cherry on this thing,” he says.

At the office, he launches into his pitch, which is just a sad, sad retread of his speech from the end of the season finale, “The Wheel.” And while he wowed the Kodak execs in that other meeting, this time the clients aren’t too excited about what he’s come up with. So Don starts riffing, throwing out bad idea after bad idea, until he stumbles upon, “Life cereal. The cure for the common breakfast.” An idea ripped off from Roger’s wife’s cousin, Danny. Life loves it, and Don & co. set off for an evening of drinking and merry-making.

I’m not a drinker myself, but I imagine that if I was, and I was trying to pick up a woman, I’d at least try and set my sights high. And that’s exactly what Don does. His first target is Faye. She’s smart, attractive and single. He drags her away from another man and tells her that her hair smells good before making veiled references to knocking boots. Faye, who seems to be one of the most pragmatic characters on the show, turns him down. Don’s already pretty far gone by this point, so he simply moves on. We catch him with a woman in his apartment, and with an interesting sleight of hand LOSE AN ENTIRE DAY as we see Don wake up with completely different woman. Much like Don, we have no idea where she came from. Don has to check the name tag on her waitress uniform just to get that right, before making the usual excuses and booting her out of his place. After she’s gone, Don lies on his couch and passes out… for the entire day.

He awakened by Peggy, who’s come to tell him that his new Life cereal slogan is stolen, and Don’s going to have to find a way to fix it. So the next day, he brings Danny back into the office and tries to buy the idea from him, but Danny’s not having it and asks Don for a job. This provided a nice parallel to Roger’s place in the episode, thinking back to his first meeting with Don, and what he did to try and get his foot in the door. After selling Roger a mink coat, Don finds an excuse to take him out for a drink. A few days later, he shows up to work, telling Roger that he have him a job.

There’s a lot of speculation out there as to whether or not that job offer was real. Some say that Don knew Roger would never hire him and so took advantage of his drunkenness. To be completely honest, I’m not sure where I land. This is something that Don certainly wouldn’t be above doing, but then again, Roger does like to drink. If Don is lying, it has some interesting implications to the whole Don Draper persona he’s built for himself. That is, the entire thing is built on lies, not just his personal life.

There’s a certain amount of nostalgia in Roger’s recollection of this entire episode, and a certain amount of bitterness, too. As he tells Joan, he’ll never win an award for finding a guy like Don. There’s a line from the third season finale that I’m remembering. Roger telling Don that he doesn’t value his personal relationships. And while Don hasn’t done anything outright to make Roger angry here, I think Roger’s stewing a bit because in his head he sees Don taking all the glory and not stopping to tell him thank you for everything he’s done.

I’d like to say that Don can’t slip any further than what we saw here, but the show’s surprised me before, so who knows.

Random thoughts:

  • I loved hearing bits of Roger’s memoirs, especially the story about not being allowed to eat chocolate ice cream.
  • Also great was Peggy calling Rizzo out on his BS. And the stripping. You can see her resentment toward Don building, which will pay off later in the season.

Mad Men, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”: Playing with it.

One thing we’ve witnessed in the past ten years is television’s rise of the antihero. Tony Soprano. Dexter Morgan. Al Swearengen. All bad guys who do bad things, yet they posses a few redeeming qualities, and as abhorrent as they can be, we still like to watch them stab, shoot, beat and bludgeon those around them.

To a certain extent, Don Draper belongs in this group, too. He’s a liar, a drunk and a cheat. And while all of those things have been evident in him from the very beginning, they’ve really been driven home in season 4 (especially the drinking). Again, all bad qualities, but while the characters’ conflicts and the ensuing drama keep us coming back every week, it’s nice to every once in a while take a break from all that and watch everyone at the top of their game, working together to screw over somebody else.

“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” was definitely a break we needed in what’s been the show’s darkest season so far. When SCDP finds itself in competition with two other agencies for a run at Honda, who’s just now expanding into car manufacturing, Don has to figure out a way to make the agency the shining star, while at the same time following the rules that the Japanese company has set for the competition.

Don’s a person who, for as much as he’s trying to run from his past, really can’t stop clinging to it. While around him, the Sixties are really starting to become the Sixties, he’s walled himself off in a dark, depressing and incredibly conservative apartment. In a conversation with Faye he says, “Why does everybody need to talk about everything?” The unspoken line here being, “Back in my day…” But for all his unwillingness to move forward, it IS an unwillingness, and not necessarily something he’s incapable of. And his idea to pull a fast one on that douchebag Ted Chaough and CGC is proof of that.

And it really was perfect. Joan letting CGC’s director catch a few glimpses of what they’re doing. Don coming into her office with the motorcycle. And best of all, Peggy riding it around the empty stage. And in the end it all worked out. The agency’s ruse got CGC to produce (eg: sink a ton of money into) their own commercial. And Don removing SCDP from the competition because he didn’t want to be bound by Honda’s rules earned them the top spot in the company’s eyes, even though they never really planned on leaving their old company.

And if the episode had ended with Pete and Lane delivering that bit of news, and Don turning to the camera, winking and saying, “Nailed it,” I wouldn’t have been disappointed. But development’s in upstate New York provided some good counterbalance to Don’s caper shenanigans.

Sally and Bobby are at Don’s apartment while he’s off on a date. While Bobby and the babysitter (Don’s neighbor Phoebe) are watching TV, Sally sneaks into the bathroom and cuts her hair. And you can’t help but feel for her. I think everyone understands that Sally’s going to be a screwed up girl just by virtue of having Don and Betty as parents, but when she says things like, “I just wanted to be pretty,” right after asking Phoebe if she’s sleeping with her dad make it all the more clear. This is a girl who’s desperately seeking her dad’s affection.

When Don takes the kids home and Betty sees what she’s done, she slaps Sally across the face and sends her upstairs. And I think everyone will agree when I say that it only gets better from there. A few nights later, Sally’s sent home from her friend’s slumber party when her friend’s mother finds her on the couch…*ahem*…you know.

Nearing the end of her rope — which looks to be very short — Betty and Henry decide to send Sally to a psychiatrist. While Betty’s setting things up, the two talk and get to know each other, and I think that talk really said as much about Betty as it did Sally. When she saw what Sally had done to her hair, she told Don that when she was a little girl she dreamed of having long hair, that her mother used to threaten her with cutting it whenever she was bad. All her life, Betty has had this image in her head, the picture perfect family life. It’s something she’s always wanted (notice the smile that crept across her face while she was staring at the dollhouse), and she’s so blinded by rage over what Don’s done to destroy that that she doesn’t see that some of the blame lies at her own feet. That even though she wasn’t sleeping with every man she came across, she’s still just as inept a parent.

I just wanted to say a quick word about Pete, because for some reason, he always feels like the main character no one pays attention to. While I found Roger flipping out on the Japanese interesting, the real interesting part was Pete’s response to the whole thing. When he told Roger to his face that he was using his outrage as a way of keeping Pete from bringing in new accounts, it really illustrated how much the character has grown over the past few seasons. Now that I think about it, it feels like we can use yelling at Don or Roger as some sort of metric for character development on the show.

Terriers, “Fustercluck”: Get your head in the game.

‘Terriers’ is a show that works much better when it skews dark, and these past two episodes have been perfect examples of that. “Fustercluck” brought us back to some stuff that had been set up in the pilot. And right when you think you have half an idea of where the rest of the season is going to go, everything gets turned upside down. Sometimes literally!**

Hank and Britt are approached by Lindus’ wife and asked to visit her husband, who’s still locked up in county. When she gives them a thousand dollars, Hank gets the feeling she may be desperate, and they’ve got nothing else going on, so why the hell not? They make the trip and the prerequisite jokes about what a dope Lindus is, all in jail and everything. Hank’s still hurting over his friend Mickey’s death, so as far as he’s concerned Lindus is right where he wants him. Lindus swears his innocence as far as Mickey’s concerned, even though he admits to killing the man in the lifeguard tower from the pilot, which kinds of shuts Hank up for a minute and makes him think. Finally, Lindus gets to why he asked them there: He needs Hank and Britt to steal a quarter of a million dollars for him. In return they get a cut, and the name of the man who murdered Mickey.

When I saw the commercial for this week’s episode, I was a little worried. That shot of Hank and Britt looking over blueprints with Lindus’ wife felt a little too Ocean’s 11 (funny that Ted Griffen created the show) for me. A little too professional for Hank and Britt, who are anything but. But in the end, their break-in felt like some of the season’s best writing so far. I love the chemistry between Logue and Raymond-James, but I’ve complained before about how cutesy their banter can sometimes get. So when Hank gets back in the truck, the money tucked away in his briefcase, and gives that subdued, “Are you gonna drive at some point, please?” it really felt like a cut above what we had seen so far.

So things are going along pretty much as we’d expect. They give the money to Lindus’ wife, they get their cut, and Hank visits the guy who killed Mickey, who turns out to be a low-level drug deal who was paid to get close to him. Then they discover that Lindus has made bail and find him at an airstrip, his wife and son in tow, about to hop on a plane. The PI’s demand answers and drag Lindus off to get them.

And that’s where things go sideways. Lindus runs off, gets hit by a car, and dies on the floor of Hank’s bathroom. It’s like Hank and Brit can’t help but dig themselves deeper and deeper. After taking Lindus, his wife went right to the cops claiming her husband had been kidnapped, and now Gustafson shows up looking for him. And now they know that if someone hired the dealer to get close to Mickey and kill him, there’s someone even above Lindus pulling the strings. The show has taken so many unexpected turns in just four episodes that I couldn’t even guess where it’ll go from here. But tonight really felt like it was on top of its game, and I have high hopes that it’ll be able to stay on that level.

Another unexpected turn this week. The shadowy figure we spotted climbing into Hank’s attic at the end of last week’s episode turned out to be his mentally-unstable sister Stephanie, played by Logue’s real-life sister, Karina. She a genius MIT-grad who escaped from a mental hospital and oh my how this could have been screwed up. But even though she only hovered around the edges of the episode, she really brought a lot of presence. By the end of the episode she’s found Lindus’ dead body — which Britt had stashed under some boxes in Hank’s bathtub — so I’m hoping she’ll stick around and maybe get a little more involved in things.

**Not literally.

Modern Family, “The Kiss”: Who’s the better kisser, me or your dad?

I don’t know exactly how much of a groundswell of support there was for ‘Modern Family’ to portray Cameron and Mitch as an actual gay couple, rather than two guys with good fashion sense who happened to be raising a kid together, but I feel like “The Kiss” was a response to whatever criticism was out there. There was a bunch of stuff tonight that all tied back to kissing, everyone gets together for a big family dinner, the focus is on Cam and Mitch, and then, AND THEN…the camera pans away as the two share a small peck in bad lighting. Ugh. Or, equality!

I’m not saying that I want to catch the two of them dressed up in their gimp-garb (that phrase is considered intellectual property, so hands off) exchanging safe-words, but I’ve always thought that they seemed like a very genuine couple. It was the show’s hands-off policy with the two of them that always kept them from feeling like fully realized characters. They were almost there, but not quite. So I guess I have to give the show, and ultimately the network — because I’m positive that this a problem brought on by ABC and not the showrunners — SOME credit. But the quick pan away really felt like the show fumbled the ball, in the endgame.. .on the sidelines, if you’ll allow me to make a sports metaphor.

I guess we could go into the reasons for a decision like this, but it feels like we’d only be treading over the same old ground. There’s obviously a big reluctance out there in TV land to do anything that won’t appeal to every demographic, as evidenced by this year’s incredibly bland and sometimes cringe-worthy pilot season. But what can you do? Watch AMC and HBO, I guess. Have you caught ‘Rubicon’ yet? Pretty good!

The rest of the show had a lot of good beats, so I’m a little hesitant to dock the whole thing too many points. Like I said, I feel this is more of a problem with the network than anything else. So, what about the episode stood out? Phil’s jokes about why the tupperware containers would get separated from their lids. One thing I don’t think will ever get old is Gloria talking about Colombians living up to Colombian stereotypes, which is to say that if you ever cross one, they’ll kill you and use your body as some sort of coke mule. Funny stuff, right? There was also some good stuff in the Alex/Haley story, but not necessarily in the resolution with Alex’s crush and the (not so) surprise discovery that Claire was a real wild child. I’m thinking more of the back and forth between Alex and Haley, specifically Haley’s line about Alex and her lesbian sandals. It only recently occurred to me that, because ‘Modern Family’ will probably stick around for a while, we’re going to be there to watch these kids grow up, at least a little bit, just like we saw with Walt on ‘Lost.’ I’m seeing that with Alex already. Maybe it’s just the age, but her character seems a lot more introverted this season, much more than she was in season one. What does it all mean?

My final post-mortem: It felt like the episode was split into two pieces, and because that second half was so clearly building up to the Cam/Mitch smooch, it came off as really anti-climactic. Some good beats in there, but not enough to overcome the overall “meh-ness” of the episode.

Things We Like #14: Greg Giraldo

Comedy lost a great today. He’ll be missed.

Glee, “Britney/Brittany”: Like roofies? Yeah, totally.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve had seven beers, seen a great concert (Jenny and Johnny), come home to Adam Levine and Dane Cook on television before turning on Glee. So, suffice to say, it’s been a night of highs and lows.

That’s as far as I got in this write-up last night before I fell asleep on the couch – it was about the time that the boys did their “Stronger” routine on the field, but oddly enough, when I watched it again today, I didn’t feel like I had missed much while I was drooling on my couch cushions. I mean, what is there to say about this episode, really? It was a series of Britney Spears videos remade by the cast of Glee with some weirdly disjointed dialogue scenes stuffed in between.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the episode – at least the first half. Remember what I said last week about the balance between creative and contrived? Well, the first half of the episode may not have been that creative, but it was damn entertaining, and I didn’t mind the ridiculous plot devices (Nitrous oxide-induced Britney fantasies. Say that out loud if you don’t think it’s a pretty out there) because the dancing was so awesome. Seriously, Heather Morris can WORK IT. Yes, I know she was the choreographer on the show before she was a cast member, but I was still floored by her moves.

And Brittany and Santana are some of the most fun characters, but they have to be used sparingly, and this was a great way for the audience to see more of these two without wearing out their respective shticks. So, A+ to the opening Britney/Brittany number, but things went downhill from there. Why do we have to hear Rachel sing a heart-wrenching ballad at the end of every episode? Rachel sucks. I mean, she’s an entertaining character, but let’s be real. She’s a jerk and represents everything men hate about women (except the tight body). I just hope the legions of pre-teen girls who idolize her don’t think that the way she treats Finn – or anyone else for that matter – is acceptable and that deep down, they, like Rachel, are just hyper-talented and misunderstood late-bloomers waiting to be swept away by the captain of the football team. Ain’t gonna happ’n, cap’n. But then again, this is supposed to represent high school, and acting like a self-centered bitch and setting up your boyfriend and being passive-aggressive are all part of the high school girl experience, so whatever. Maybe they get a pass, but it still makes me cringe and root for a reunion with Quinn when Rachel says things like “I want to be the only thing that makes you feel good.” Vomit.

I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to write up this show, because seriously, the more you think about it, the less entertaining it is. Boardwalk Empire, Glee is not. My unsolicited advice to Ryan Murphy? Limit these kinds of episodes or you’re going to lose the audience that actually enjoys the story and character development. This one was more fun than not, and maybe after Lady Gaga, Madonna and Britney, we’re finally done with fawning tributes to pop icons. I kind of hope so… I’m ready to get back to the Glee kids breathing new life into classics.  But… what do I know? Last night’s episode got the series’ highest ratings ever.

One last thing about Mr. Schue… since when does he need to get more impulsive? Oh, that’s right, since it served to move the plot forward. Who exactly is supposed to b the protagonist in this story? Who is the audience supposed to identify with? I used to think it was Mr. Schue, but this season especially, he’s insecure, a spotlight hog, and more than a little unbalanced.

Best line: Not a line, but how hilarious are the pamphlets in Emma’s office? “Proper Wiping: Easy as 1-2-3?” Let’s be real, here – poop jokes are never not funny.

Shoehorned-into-the-show-song: “Only Exception.”  The closing number… a tearful ballad…. from Rachel…. once again.  Wank.

Boardwalk Empire, “The Ivory Tower”: Vote Republican.

While ‘Boardwalk Empire’s’ pilot set several plot threads in motion — and delivered some good action sequences — this week’s episode pulled back and spent some time fleshing out its characters.

First, Nucky Thompson. I’m not sure if this has more to do with Nucky or the way Steve Buscemi plays him, but I get the feeling that he’s a guy who’s still trying to get the hang of being a gangster. When Jimmy walks into his office like nothing happened, Nucky tells him he’s got 48 hours to get him $3,000, the price of being a gangster in Nucky’s town. I asked myself, “What’s he gonna do?” I guess after seeing what happened to Margaret’s husband last week, I should just take Nucky at his word and pony up with the money.

Part of my problem may have to do with how jaded I am from having watched ‘The Sopranos’ and movies like Casino and Goodfellas. That is to say, Nucky isn’t Italian and his operation isn’t run like a Mafia family. Still, I see him as somewhat of a proto-gangster, or maybe someone who wouldn’t be so quick to shoot you in the kneecaps. But then again, Mr. Schroeder.

I liked Nucky’s montage, showing that he’s a man of the people, and how he manages to hang onto power. While all those mob movies portray characters who traffic in violence, Nucky seems much more likely to throw money at a problem.

Agent Van Alden became a much more interesting character this week. In the pilot he came off as some sort of Evangelical abusive father with that, “It’s a godly pursuit,” line. After his conversations with Nucky and Margaret, I thought we were seeing the beginnings of an actual personality poking its head out, all until we found out where Margaret’s ribbon disappeared to. As he wrapped it around his hand and took a good, deep sniff I half expected him to start whipping himself like that albino monk from The DaVinci Code. There is something interesting there, with his Jesuit straight man going up against Nucky’s material excess. Van Alden isn’t blind and understands that Nuck’s “as corrupt as the day is long.” They played nice enough during their talk, but it’ll be interesting to see them together once they become increasingly at odds.

At the end of the pilot, Jimmy’s seemed to be riding high on the hog. Knocking off booze. Teaching Nucky lessons about being a gangster. And he spent his money like there’d be about that much coming in every week. He was moving up in the world until Nucky knocked him back down and told him he about the extra three grand. How sobering for him. He had to take what little money he left, along with stealing back some jewelry he had bought his mom — after his new pal Al Capone hung up on him. He got Nucky his money, and was taken back into his good graces, but you can tell things are going to be different from now on. Nucky took some pleasure in humiliating him, and blew the $3,000 on a roulette bet just to rub the salt in nice and deep.

I’m really interested to see how Nucky’s relationship with Margaret develops, and wonder if she’ll eventually turn into the show’s Peggy Olsen. While it’s obvious that Jimmy will eventually be gunning for Nucky’s seat, I could see Margaret turning into more of a partner. She turns down the envelope filled with money given to her by Eli, instead telling Nucky that she prefers to earn her keep. When she asks what she can do, Nucky tells her to vote Republican. We already established that Nucky’s a champion for the little fella (sometimes literally)[/Homer Stokes], and I could see him using Margaret as his advocate, his woman on the street.

One thing the show does that I really enjoy is switching between AC, Chicago and New York. Checking in on Capone and Rothstein elevates the story to a much grander scale than we might get if we stayed only in AC. I wonder how long it’ll keep up. And speaking of Rothstein, he had some great lines this week, telling Big Jim’s shooter about killing a man by making him choke on a billiard ball. But better than all of that was Nucky telling him to see what happens if he ever shows his face in Atlantic City again. Hardcore stuff. We need to get t-shirts made.