Tag Archives: Jon Hamm

30 Rock, “Live Show”: Mexican soap opera.

Is it a gimmick for a traditional sitcom to do a live show? Yes. It’s not when it’s an essential piece of the show’s makeup. No one says that the live aspect of SNL is gimmicky. It’s also a gimmick to book guest stars, but it’s not a complaint I’ve heard leveled at ’30 Rock’s’ pantheon of celebrity guests. Performing live obviously isn’t an essential part of ’30 Rock,’ but it’s definitely within the show’s sometimes-meta, self-referential and over-the-top wheelhouse.

From Snapple to Jay Leno to Maryland accents, ’30 Rock’ has always been able to poke fun at itself, and considering the fact that it does take place behind the scenes at a live sketch comedy show, doing a live episode didn’t really feel like a stretch. I mean, ‘ER’ did it. And if the Cloon-hound can do it, then I would never begrudge Tina Fey and co. their shot.

I think there’s much more room for debate as to whether or not the show was able to pull it off. At its lowest points, the episode felt like an extended SNL skit. There were groans to be sure. Gags like Kenneth’s mindless giggling at Lutz’s shirt and Jon Hamm’s PSA (I love Jon Hamm, but he really could have been used a lot better here) were obviously used as filler while the next scene was setting up. The show’s pacing was also affected by the live audience they were filming in front of. But when the show was hitting, it was really hitting. Jack commenting that everything looked like a Mexican soap-opera. Carol telling Liz that he was in on the surprise party from the very beginning and that it was really expensive. Tracy pulling his Oprah wig off in the middle of a skit. And how the Chilean miners didn’t get stuck down there by being geniuses were all great jokes.

’30 Rock’ has a very unique style, and while a lot of that was lost to the logistics of doing a live episode, it still felt distinctly ’30 Rock.’ They got in a lot of topical jokes. There were a ton of guest stars (Dr. Spaceman!). I especially enjoyed the way the show handled its cutaway scenes. Seriously, can we all take a moment to remember how much we love and miss Julia-Louis Dreyfus? I know she was on ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ for five seasons, but nobody really watched that show, did they?

Was the episode a runaway hit? It really wasn’t. Some of that was the writing and some of it was forced on them. But I think by and large the whole cast and crew put a lot of work into the night, and it paid off. Color me happy.

Advertisements

“If we get jammed up, we’re holding court on the street.”

It does my soul good to see how far Ben Affleck has climbed out of the gutter post-Gigli. It’s that same feeling I had when I realized what a funny guy Justin Timberlake is. You see them on TV, nod and say, “That’ll do, pig.” Not really sure where I was going with any of that, but when I saw that Affleck was pulling double duty as director and star of The Town, it made me even more excited to see it.

Charlestown, a working-class area of Boston, has produced more bank robbers than anywhere else in the country. That’s what the film tells us right before we’re thrown into the middle of the action, with Affleck and his crew who are, strangely enough, robbing a bank. Things seem to be going fine until bank manager Rebecca Hall triggers an alarm and Jeremy Renner, who plays the crew’s loose cannon, takes her as a bit of human collateral while they make their escape. After the dust has more or less settled, Renner’s worried there’s a chance she could make them to the cops and Affleck agrees to follow her to make sure she doesn’t cause any problems. Everything’s going just fine, until whoops! They fall for each other? Now we’ve got ourselves a movie!

While their relationship deals with some of the class differences between Hall’s haves and Affleck’s have-nots, there’s also a bit of the same going on between Affleck and Renner. Renner’s already served nine years in prison for a murder he committed when he was a teenager, and as he later tells Affleck while planning their last job, he can’t go back. It’s this or nothing. And the fact that he’s accepted his lot in life only expedites that process. Renner’s character doesn’t posses the skill or the intelligence to make any other life for himself were the situation any different. Affleck, on the other hand, is better than that, and on some base level recognizes it.

And I guess I have to wonder whether or not playing it that way was intentional on his part. At one point in the film, Affleck tells Renner, “I’m putting this whole town in my rear view.” The implication being that he had tried the same thing several times before, but just when he thought he was out, THEY PULLED HIM BACK IN! I never really bought that. It seemed like Affleck operated on the assumption that he was here now, doing what circumstances had forced him to do, but it was only a temporary gig and eventually he’d leave. That was and had always been the plan. It’ll be interesting to see how many people instead interpret it as Affleck not being able to throw himself into his part.

On the other side of the tracks are FBI agents Jon Hamm (who I was really happy didn’t try to affect a Boston accent) and his partner, Titus Welliver. There isn’t an incredible amount of depth to either of these two characters. Both are the deeply committed and singularly focused lawmen you normally see in movies like these. However, the parts are very well acted. There’s a great scene in which Hamm and Affleck are finally pitted against each other in an interrogation room.

A good story, good performances and some great action set pieces, The Town is a real meat and potatoes story. There’s a lot of subtext there, mostly between Affleck, Hall and Renner, but I don’t think you really need to get all of it to enjoy it. I’ve heard the film being compared to Michael Mann’s Heat, but don’t really think the comparison holds up. I think any heist movie with people in street shooting automatic weapons is doomed to draw the same comparison. Sure, this movie doesn’t have Val Kilmer with a ponytail, but not all movies can.

Mad Men, “The Good News”: The C-word.

What I especially liked about last year’s season finale was how upbeat it all felt. Despite the fact that Don’s marriage was falling apart, the genesis of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce brought the show a new kind of energy that hadn’t been there before. Jump ahead a year, and that energy is still there, but you’d be hard-pressed to call it upbeat.

By no means is that a knock against the show. Mad Men has always been moody. It’s part of its charm, and if that were to simply go away it wouldn’t be the same show. However, it is nice to see our characters end up on top every now and then, but after this week’s episode I have my doubts as to whether or not we’ll be seeing any of that this year.

It’s been a tough year, so we can hardly fault Don for a taking a little time out on his way to Acapulco to visit Anna. After all, it seems like she’s the sole person Don can truly be himself around. But while we saw Don’s time in California in season 2 as a sort of rebirth, this time felt like just the opposite. Don’s becoming more pathetic by the week. In the premiere we see him getting slapped around by a hooker. Last week he’s making the moves on Allison. And this week he’s hitting on Anna’s niece, Stephanie. I’m not sure, but were men having sex with girls 20 years their junior frowned upon in the 60s? I’ll look into it.

Stephanie had more sense than Allison and shut him down pretty quick, and to add insult to injury, told him that the person he may care about most in the world has terminal cancer — and is completely unaware of it. Don’s transformation from the mild-mannered Dick Whitman when he confronted Anna’s sister over that decision was a thing of beauty. He tried beating her over the head with, when you think about it, all he really has in the world: money. Anna’s sister completely turned things back around on him by saying that he had no right to meddle in the family’s business. He was just an empty shirt with a checkbook. It obviously had some resonance with him and shut him up right quick and in a hurry.

I think Don knows that without Anna he’ll be truly alone in the world. In true Don fashion, he comes back to Manhattan and buries himself in his work, only to find Lane in much the same predicament. Having had her fill with the States, his wife has gone back to England and isn’t planning on coming back. Don tells him that he’s learned the hard way not to give advice in these situations (we all remember the Roger/Jane debacle), but the least he could do is take the guy out, show him a good time.

I guess you could call this part of the episode upbeat, even if it was essentially two guys drowning their sorrows in booze, Godzilla movies and cheap women (seriously, $25 dollars?!). It was hilarious if nothing else, and further cements Lane in his place as my favorite character on the show. I especially liked the words — or non-words — the two shared the morning after. Lane thanks Don for the welcome distraction, and Don gives Lane a slight wink and a nod. He’s a frat boy, giving the nerdy kid a small glimpse of the world he lives in. I can’t say with any surety if this will change their relationship in any fundamental way, but you never know. It would be nice to see Lane as more than just the disapproving parent who complains about the kids spending too much money. As with most things, time will tell.

There was a lot of Joan stuff going on in this week’s episode as well. But after Lane came in and sort of hijacked things, it all seemed a little inconsequential. If she does get pregnant and her husband goes off to Vietnam and is killed, Joan as the single mother could be a really interesting storyline, although it’s way too far into the future to really think about. But the show has made big jumps in time before, so maybe by the end of season 7 it’ll be 1985 and we’ll see Don wearing a denim jacket and driving a Delorean. You make fun but if Matt Weiner did it it’d be edgy and bold.

Other stuff:

  • “Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?” The look on Don’s face spoke volumes. I think now more than ever before, he realizes he’s going into the future alone.
  • “Joan, please forgive me. Lane.” Priceless.

Mad Men, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”: Could you bring me my keys? *wink*

Just like the sexy market research lady said, it’s all about what I want versus what’s expected of me. And we saw some of this play out not only with Don but with the entire staff of SCDP. So let’s take everything apart and see what it looks like once we’ve put it back together, hmm?

When the market researcher — Dr. Miller, for those keeping score — handed her tests out to the senior staff, asking them all very personal questions, Don didn’t waste any time coming up with an excuse and hightailing it out of there. Because the episode made it clear that this was a big deal to him, I felt it would resonate more later in the episode. I think we did see Don in a very different place than we’ve ever seen him before, but I found the payoff (if you can call it that) from what was set up earlier to be a little disappointing. In the end, it pretty much came down to Don telling Miller that he didn’t like people prying into his past. Okay. Point taken.

I think the much more important moment came later, when Allison brings Don’s keys to his apartment. What looked like a quick in and out turned into a quick in and out (see what I did there?) when Don comes on to her with those squinty, drunk eyes and his whiskey breath. For three seasons, we’ve seen Don’s philandering, and while we could all admit that it was wrong, I question how many people actually had a problem with it. After all, he’s Don. I know Tony Soprano went around killing people, but he’s in the Mob. What the hell else is he supposed to do? Tonight however, everything felt different. Maybe it’s the fact that Don no longer has a Betty to go home to, just an empty, sad apartment. I think it’s a safe assumption that Don never really expected Betty to leave him. But she has, and the kids are gone, and Don’s finding it harder to cope than he thought he would. Whatever the reason, the entire thing just felt dirty and made Don look pathetic.

There may have been a piece of him that realized as much, and that’s why he chose to go on the next morning as if nothing had happened. Although his attitude made Allison’s Christmas bonus feel that much dirtier. At least he didn’t tell her to get it off his nightstand. So while I felt Don’s story revealed a side to him we hadn’t yet seen, I didn’t think it came together the way the setup would have had us believe.

From beginning to end, I thought Peggy’s story felt much more cohesive. She’s making her bones in a man’s world and I think that in all her future romantic relationships, she’s going to be the dominating personality. Or at least too smart not to let the men she’s with walk all over her. Now, her boyfriend wants to sleep with her and she’s worried that sex could be as debilitating for her as it is for people like Don and Roger. Of course, this isn’t something she can say, so she’s told him that she would rather wait until they get married. It takes some talking with Fred Rumsen, of all people, to change her mind. But still, at the very end, when she and her boy toy are curled up under the sheets, you see the look on her face and know she’s wondering if the dynamics of their relationship have been irreversibly altered in some way.

While it’s always nice to analyze these character pieces, Mad Men has always offered its share of scenes that are just fun, and really bring you into the episode. In this week’s episode, that was the office Christmas party, which was dramatically upscaled once Roger found out that Lee Jr. was in town and was forced to invite him. You could almost hear the gasp of a million fanboys as we saw Joan leading that conga line. You have to wonder how much Lee Jr. knows about the inner workings of SCDP, but  he certainly got his mileage out of them, forcing Roger to play Santa and then standing back and taking pictures of everyone sitting on his knee with the shiny, new Polaroid camera they were nice enough to buy him. He’s obviously still playing the little kid who gets what he wants, although I’m not sure if getting it makes him happy. After looking back on his scuff up with Sal last year, I’m guessing not.

This week’s episode also saw the return of Glen, who’s set his sights on Sally now that he’s realized Betty is forever out of his reach. Seeing this kid on screen keeps me on the edge of my seat every time, because I’m just waiting to see what crazy crap he’ll pull next. When he breaks into the house with his buddy, and the two start throwing food around the kitchen, it took me a moment to realize that he was doing it to help Sally, rather than just acting out in some crazy way. Although, if it had turned out that Betty found half of her underwear stolen after getting home that night, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Other things:

  • In the two episodes we’ve seen this season, Lane seems to have taken a back seat to things, playing the stern father who has to tell his kids that they don’t have the money to eat at Papa John’s, but if they want to go to CiCi’s, that’s okay. Still, in a lot of ways, he’s my favorite character on the show.
  • I half-expected Roger to tell Lee Jr. where to stick his Santa costume.
  • Speaking of Freddy Rumsen, his return this week was an even bigger surprise than Glen’s.

Mad Men, “Public Relations”: I’m Donald Draper, b**ch.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Dickens wrote, and it seems the same is applicable at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the scrappy upstart that may be wondering if it’s bit off more than it can chew.

It’s a rare thing to see a show genuinely reinvent itself, especially a show as popular as Mad Men. But if “Public Relations” is any indication, it looks like that’s exactly what the show’s done. But while the stakes in Don’s world have definitely been raised and all of our characters seem to be in uncharted waters as far as their relationships with each other go, it still feels like our Mad Men, albeit a little brighter and snazzy in that this-is-how-bases-on-the-moon-will-look-one-day sort of way.

While things look like business as usual in the beginning of the episode,we can already see how different things have become. Don has always been a prize pony, as Connie Hilton might say, but now that the new agency is struggling to find its place in the world, he’s become more valuable than ever. And as his worth has gone up, so it seems that potential clients’ excitement over dealing with him has, too. The bottom line is that, if Don can’t deliver, everyone hurts.

Things are no less hectic back at the shiny new offices of SCDP, which look like they were taken straight out of the show’s title sequence. Things are a little more cramped, although we don’t see all of the hustle and bustle we saw at Sterling Cooper. From the people who have carried over to the new agency, I think we see the biggest change in Peggy, who’s really come out of her shell.

Not only do we see how different things are for Don, but also for his better half (although some might argue that point). I guess you can’t even call Betty Don’s better half anyway, as she’s now remarried to Henry Francis. It wasn’t any big secret before, but now that Betty doesn’t have her crappy marriage to Don to hide behind, I think it’s going to become that much more apparent what a bad mother she is. Henry already walks around with a look on his face that says he got more than he expected by marrying her.

But divorce or no divorce, Betty’s still under Don’s thumb to a certain extent. She has yet to move out of the house, which Don owns. And I doubt that’s something he’s just going to ignore for too long. When he asked Betty how long it would be until they were out, and Betty threw her hissy fit about not having found the right place for the kids, Henry stepped in, telling Don that their staying there was only temporary. This prompted one of the best lines of the entire episode: “Believe me, Henry, everybody thinks this is temporary.” Zing! I’m glad to see that things are about as cordial as they were when they were still married.

Now that Don’s officially on the market again, he’s free to pursue his philandering. Jane sets him up on a date with a friend who looks like she’s actually going to make Don work if he wants a chance with her. Of course, when Don’s feeling lazy, he can always call exotic-looking prostitutes to come over and slap him around for a while. That dominatrix stuff may have been the episode’s biggest surprise, and I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is, “Oh! Don feels guilty over the way he treats the women in his life, so he’s punishing himself!” I likely culprit, I’ll admit, but I don’t want to believe that the show would be so overt in its thematics.

Mad Men is a show that, unlike so many others, really hasn’t dipped in quality in the three + years its been on the air. Still, it still seems to have found a new energy that wasn’t there before. It’s flashier, it’s cooler and it’s meaner. Don’s got the world by the tail, but does he really? He copes, but you have to think that that can only go so far. There’s only so much the world can heap upon him. And when he breaks, as Fox Mulder might say, it’s going to be the biggest s**tstorm of all time. Don’t let the flashy lights fool you, things may not be as pretty as they seem.

Stuff I liked:

  • “John!” “Marsha!”
  • “It’s the Daily News. It’s one, big section.”
  • I like the character fine, but Joey sort of reminded me of Roy from that episode of The Simpsons. I half expected him to say things like, “Heeey, Mr. D!”
  • The picture of Kennedy hanging up in Peggy’s apartment.

Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

One. More. Week.