Mad Men

The Knick

In the seven years since it debuted, there have been several constants in the reaction to Mad Men: the critics have loved it, everyone has nursed a crush on Jon Hamm, and viewers have asked where the black people are. The time span covered by the period drama, from early 1960 until (presumably) the end of 1969, was one of extraordinary shifts in race relations in America. This was the height of the Civil Rights movement, after all. But that’s only happening in the background noise on Mad Men. This is entirely intentional on the part of creator Matthew Weiner and his writing staff, who have made it one facet of the isolated world of Madison Avenue advertising movers and shakers in which the show dwells. It’s debatable whether that’s a justifiable excuse (I can see points both in and against its favor), but even accepting it, there are still times where it’s just odd to be viewing the ’60s through an almost entirely white lens (most notably in the episode that addressed the death of Martin Luther King Jr.). In any case, it might be easier to swallow had the myriad shows produced in the hopes of mimicking Mad Men‘s success not followed its lead on this front. The period piece genre, which gains traction each year, is one of the most lily-white milieus on American television, and that’s even by the standards of the already overwhelmingly white prestige drama herd. Pan Am, Vegas, Magic City, Halt and Catch Fire, Turn – all of them have little-to-no diversity […]

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Putney Swope Boardroom

If there’s one movie I’d like to see referenced on Mad Men before it’s all over and done with, it’s Putney Swope. The cult classic, about an advertising agency run by an increasingly militant black man, opened in New York City on this day in 1969. That puts its initial release as just before the events of the most recent episode of AMC’s TV drama (the last before the season 7 hiatus), aired back in May. But the movie continued its remarkable success through the fall, giving Don Draper plenty of time to go see it. If he can take a few months to catch up with I Am Curious (Yellow), and if both the show and the character are hip enough to that art film’s existence, they’d have to be to Robert Downey Sr.‘s record-breaking hit, especially when it’s a satire of his very industry. Whether or not he’d recognize any similarity between his own work and what’s depicted on screen is another story. Putney Swope follows its title character (played by Arnold Johnson yet featuring dubbed vocals by Downey) as he goes from being an ad agency’s token black executive, specifically its music director, to head of the company, through a board vote gone wrong. He renames the place Truth and Soul, Inc., fires most of the old white guys who just put him in charge and ceases business with all clients who produce war toys, alcohol and cigarettes (Draper would be proud). He forms a new team that is all black save […]

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Mad Men Best Things Bert

Don Draper is losing his mind. This is not a new theory, but after last Sunday’s season finale (for this half of Mad Men’s final season) it looks like it is becoming a fact. A season that has had Don fighting to keep everything – his job, his marriage, his family – finally allows our battered protagonist to end things on a high note with Don back on top at SC&P, letting go of a marriage that seemed only to weigh him down, and building an honest relationship with his kids (well, Sally at least). But then the true cracks start to show.

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Sleepaway Camp Movie

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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Mad Men Season 7 Waterloo

Cooking a hamburger is difficult work. Patties must be placed on a griddle; they must be flipped; they must be taken off the griddle at a time neither before nor after they have reached the ideal temperature (I’m sure I’m glossing over several key steps, thus illustrating the extremely difficult process we’re working with here). Burger King knew burgermastery is something attained only by a precious few. This is why, in the 1950s, they commissioned the creation of a Flame Broiler, a giant machine that transports disks of meat across conveyor belts through jets of fire, thus ensuring every patty emerges cooked to perfection. No longer would fast food chains require multiple tenured professors of burgerology on payroll. Burgers were finally for the people. The brothers who actually built the first Flame Broiler, Frank and Donald Thomas, realized the innate potential of a great greasy contraption that could perform all the same labor as a high school junior, but with none of the backsass. So they packed up their machines and they started their own fast food joint: Burger Chef. The first franchise opened in 1954, and in the next ten years, Burger Chefs sprouted up all over the country. By 1968, Burger Chef was a big deal —  big enough that the whole company was bought out by the General Foods Corporation. But not even the corporate world could contain the massive growth spurts of Burger Chef and his boy sidekick Jeff, because General Foods buckled under their titanic, […]

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Mad Men Season 7 Episode 3 Field Trip

Speculating about Mad Men is some nasty business – quite literally, as most theories regarding Matt Weiner’s beloved AMC drama series are all about ending the lives of beloved characters in increasingly gruesome ways, from predicting that Don Draper will leap off a high rise to his death to this season’s theory that Megan Draper is going to die in one of many terrible ways, from Manson family murder to plane crash – but the series’ continued interest in rooting its plotlines in reality means that such wild wondering isn’t without merit. Anything could happen, at least, anything could happen that at least sort of happened in our actual past. Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything big is going to happen on the show – as completely nuts as it would be to see Megan offed by the Mansion family, Weiner’s show has never so fully injected his fake characters into real history, and it is highly unlikely that particular storyline would ever play out – but plenty will continue to happen (such is the nature of life, episodic television, and history). Sure, we’re not likely to see any of the Mad Men team splashed across the front page of newspapers around the country, but we are likely to feel the fallout of what happens to various company accounts in a more personal way (life, you guys), because if there’s one thing we do know about the show, it’s that professional success sure makes the personal pains go down […]

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Mad Men The Strategy

There once was a time when Paul Anka, sitting somewhere among the streets and cafes of gay Paris, heard a song. A song that would change his life. A song that, according to Anka, was really shitty. “I thought it was a shitty record, but there was something in it,” Anka told The Telegraph in 2007. Harsh, yes, especially if you’re Claude Francois, whose 1967 hit “Comme d’habitude” is the toilet-quality (honestly, it’s not that bad) piece of music in question. But there was something lurking within “Comme d’habitude,” and Anka would eventually scrape that something out of its French pop shell. Years later, Anka would be hanging out with Frank Sinatra, doing those usual Frank Sinatra-adjacent things — dinner, drinks, casual association with members of La Cosa Nostra — when the Chairman of the Board dropped a truth bomb on Anka and the various mobsters present. He was out; he was done; the music biz was a fickle mistress and Frankie wasn’t playin’ her games no more. Anka was stunned, but he knew what to do. The only way to respect Sinatra’s decision to quit the music industry was to write him the biggest hit of his musical career. So Anka found his old copy of “Comme d’habitude,” which, conveniently, he had purchased the rights to after hearing it in France so long ago. And he picked it apart and he put it back together and he wrote a whole new set of lyrics that were much more in […]

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Mad Men Season 7 Runaways

The menage-a-trois has a long and storied history. I’m assuming that’s the case, anyway, because few historians have bothered to write down when and where people first started doing R-rated things to each other in threes rather than twos. There are surprisingly few cave paintings on the matter. But we do know that by the fifth century, the idea of three people romantically entangled was not entirely unheard of, to the point where three-way situations were a small but recognizable part of pop culture (on the ancient Greek equivalent of the E! network). And by the 1700s, three-way sex was all the rage with upper crust Europeans in powdered wigs (wig powder, naturally, is a potent aphrodisiac). Famed Italian loverboy Giacomo Casanova first lost his virginity in such an arrangement. Various dukes (William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire) and Counts (Adolf Frederik Munck) are also famous for committing this salacious act. And 19th century art, be it European, Asian or Arabic, is also riddled with the same thing (film would barely catch up with the menage-a-trois until the ’90s, with the 1994 Steven Baldwin classic, Threesome). This was something done behind closed doors, by a privileged few who only occasionally had their three-way sex committed to timeless and very public pieces of artwork. It wasn’t until the sexual revolution of the 1960s that the common man (someone like you or I) would think of such a thing. And I guess Don Draper can be lumped in with you or I, because […]

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Mad Men Season 7 Monolith

Prior to 1935, if you wanted to drink something, you had your choice of bottle or cup. But post-1935, consumers had a third option: the canned beverage. Carbonated drinks like beer and soda were poured into tin cans, sealed to preserve freshness, and shipped to stores across the country, providing relief for consumers sick of the bottle industry’s monopoly on drinks you buy from a store. Except that most people were fine with the bottle monopoly, because early canned drinks tasted a lot like tin — an unpleasant side-effect of, you know, being stored for so long in tin cans. There was also much confusion in how to open a can of, say, Coca-Cola. Some models required bottle openers, while others had screw-on lids. Confusion ran rampant among the masses, and for a few decades canned drinks were not the popular item they are today. Then, in 1959, a man named Ermal Fraze invented the pop top, a handy metal tab yanked from the top of a can, leaving a convenient mouth-sized opening. Canned imbibement finally took the world by force, blanketing the world with discarded shards of razor-sharp aluminum, but also providing a level of thirst-quenching not possible from a bottle. And Coke, which had existed in cans since 1955, began revamping the look of the Coke can every couple of years, to keep this new trend feeling fresh. It’s the 1966 redesign that becomes a vessel for vodka (and trouble) in last night’s Mad Men, entitled “The Monolith.” […]

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Mad Men Season 7 Episode 3 Field Trip

French filmmaker Jacques Demy hit it big with his 1964 musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, garnering a Palme’ d’Or, a handful of Oscar noms, and even a name-drop on Mad Men a few years back. And because Hollywood was poaching foreign talent even back in the ’60s, Demy was brought stateside to make his first (and only) American film: Model Shop. It did not do well. Demy’s mainstream success came from French people breaking out into sudden song and dance, and Model Shop contained precisely none of those things. Instead, it was about a young man named George (Gary Lockwood) on the brink of physical and existential disaster. He soon loses his car to a couple of repo men, and he loses his freedom to a Vietnam draft notice that’s just arrived in the mail. And so George floats around LA when he stumbles upon Lola (Anouk Aimée), a French model and the protagonist of an earlier Demy film — the aptly titled Lola. The two share a brief, passionate night; they talk of their deep affection for Los Angeles; they part ways, both a little more learned in the deep and meaningful way that can only come from a 1960s French art film. And in “Field Trip,” this week’s episode of Mad Men, we find Don Draper wiling away his unemployed hours at the theater, thoroughly engrossed in Model Shop. As far as entertainment choices go, it’s kind of an awful choice (a depressed and aimless guy looking for […]

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Mad Men Season 7 A Day

“Elenore,” the 1968 single from The Turtles, does not have a particularly hard edge to it. Because The Turtles were not known for their hard-edged rock. They were known for “Happy Together,” which you’ve all certainly heard because it’s been in roughly eight billion movies, TV shows, commercials and classic rock radio stations. But The Turtles were tired of their bubble-gum pop reputation and their hit single about blue skies and holdin’ your girl real tight. They wanted to branch out and stretch their stylistic limits, much like other bands of the time (bands that rhymed with “The Cheatles”), but their label, White Whale Records, said no. What The Turtles needed was another “Happy Together.” So The Turtles wrote another “Happy Together,” a song so sappy and upbeat it could not possibly be taken seriously, a song with lyrics like, “I really think you’re groovy, let’s go out to a movie.” Surely, the world would know that this was a snipe at their previous, sugar-drenched pop. But they didn’t. The song went all Springtime for Hitler and became a huge hit, with White Whale and general audiences not really noticing that it was supposed to be stupid. When we hear “Elenore” in last night’s Mad Men (entitled “A Day’s Work“) it has a dual meaning. The song is sugary, but with a hollow center —  just like Don and Sally Draper’s state of affairs as it hums from the car stereo on the way back to boarding school. Don thinks […]

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Mad Men Season 7 Time Zones

Accutron: It’s not a time piece. It’s a conversation piece. The first Accutron hit the markets long before Freddy Rumsen was pitching it in such surprisingly elegant language. Actually, it had been selling for about ten years, debuting in October of 1960 (just around the time Mad Men‘s first season was drawing to a close). Watches of the time, and for several centuries previously, were built around a “balance wheel,” a little pendulum that shifts back and forth and keeps the watch’s hands moving. Watchmaking company Bulova did away with the balance wheel for their Accutron watch, inserting a fancy electric tuning fork and cementing Accutron as the first electronic watch in history. Those tiny metal forks also made the Accutron the most accurate wristwatch ever made, and a “horological revolution” (thanks, Wikipedia!). At least until 1969, when Astron debuted the quartz-powered Astron and Joel Murray, as Rumsen, sat down to do his best Don Draper impression in the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners (technically, this episode was set in January of ’69 and the Astron didn’t come out until December, but who’s to say Bulova didn’t have a little insider knowledge about the competition?). But at the time of Rumsen’s pitch, the Accutron was the cutting edge, and hearing such a sharp pitch about such a sharp watch sounds so very peculiar from a character best known for peeing his pants and collapsing into a sad, drunken heap. Scott Hornbacher, the director of last night’s episode, knows this. […]

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Mad Men Season 7 Promo Peggy and Don

Some TV shows adhere to our thoughts, like glue, tape or that brand of putty known for extreme silliness. These are shows where half the cast might be killed off during a formal wedding feast or where the protagonist’s Great Big Secret is discovered by his brother-in-law while on the can. Mad Men is not one of those shows. It’s something slower, more prone to introspection and a slow simmering burn than graphic violence and CGI dragons. It’s no slight against Mad Men. It’s just a way of saying that a series that opened its sixth season with two hours of Dante’s Inferno allegory is not built for the same kind of cliffhanger anticipation that dragon shows are. Add in the ten(ish)-month gap between the last new episode of Mad Men and today, and you may be a little rusty on the comings and goings of Sterling Cooper & Partners (you may also have forgotten that the series’ ad firm is now called Sterling Cooper & Partners, which has been the case ever since Don Draper and Ted Chaough got drunk and decided to smoosh their two firms together). No worries, that’s why we’re all here: for a quick look back at the old Mad Men and one last look ahead at this year’s shiny new Mad Mens.

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Mad Men

It is a great and terrible irony that a show about ad executives has such awful tag lines. AMC just dropped a thirty-second tease of the upcoming last-ish season of Mad Men, a tease that’s mysterious, tantalizing, and also riddled with really, really un-Mad Men-like puns. In bright, saturated colors and hypnotic slow-mo, all the major Sterling Cooper & Partners players stand around an airport and do various things reminiscent of air travel. Pete buys his ticket. Betty stands by a small army’s worth of luggage and huffs impatiently. Roger ogles a passing woman (as is required at all times by John Slattery‘s contract). And as Don Draper gazes out at this new world around him, wherever that world may be, a brief piece of text appears on screen: “It’s All Up in the Air.” You know. Like an airplane. And as the audience reels from such furious punnage, the teaser winds up and delivers the knockout blow:

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Andy

Movies and TV shows are fun to think about and discuss. Clearly. But as much as this is the case, there’s still a point past which we’re not talking about the movie or show in any meaningful way. One thing that becomes clear after doing any kind of serious critical work for any significant period of time is that, just because something’s there doesn’t necessarily give it meaning. True Detective is a great example: the best part about all those great McConaughey four-bong-hit college philosophy student monologues about nihilism is that they don’t mean anything with regards to the big picture. (Even with two episodes remaining, consider that an ironclad guarantee.) And sometimes people apply the same four-bong-hit college philosophy student mindsets to the movies and TV shows themselves. They lead Andy’s Mom to have a deeper identity, or for entire stories to shuffle off their context, so it’s always nice to have a reminder of what these theories really are. Here are some of the most beside-the-point “mind-blowing” theories about films and TV.

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2013review_tvshows

According to the kind of people who are prone to make such pronouncements, the Golden Age of Television ended this year with the series finale of Breaking Bad. But with more quality television on the air today than is humanly possible to watch, I don’t see how that could possibly be true.  The one big observation about the TV landscape this year that I’d like to make is that there finally seems to be a preponderance of shows about women, a much-needed correction to the masculinity-obsessed, anti-hero shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. I love and admire all of those shows, but I’m glad to see that the new opportunities for original programming that the proliferation of cable and now Netflix and Amazon offers has resulted in more stories about women. Without further ado, my picks for the 13 best shows of 2013:

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discs white house down

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. And for those of you still reading, how’d you like a chance to win a new Scream Factory Blu-ray of John Carpenter‘s Body Bags? Just leave us a comment below with the name of your favorite horror anthology and why you love it, and we’ll pick a winner on Friday 11/8. (U.S. addresses only!) White House Down John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a Capitol cop with aspirations towards the Secret Service, but while his application is rejected he gets a second shot when terrorists attack the White House with a nefarious goal in mind. Cale finds himself protecting the president (Jamie Foxx) while simultaneously trying to save his own daughter. All that and he still doesn’t get the job. Probably. You’ll have to watch. Director Roland Emmerich‘s film had the misfortune of following the near-identical Olympus Has Fallen into theaters, but while most folks will tell you you can only like one or the other I’m here to say I love them both. Olympus is the better action film, but while this one does just fine in that department its real strength is its energy and sheer entertainment value. The effects are shady, and I’m fairly certain there’s not a single scene in the film that was actually filmed outdoors, but Tatum and Foxx have fantastic chemistry that when combined with an absolutely ridiculous script will have you smiling […]

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Mad Men Split Season

This past week, AMC announced that it will split Mad Men’s seventh and final season into two 7-episode increments to air in 2014 and 2015, similarly to the way that Breaking Bad has been careening to its much anticipated yet seemingly breathless finale. On the one hand, this represents a business move that exists anywhere between shrewd and shameless, but one that is unlikely to anger fans who would be happy to follow Don and Roger well into the disco era, even if they’re ultimately only getting one extra episode as a result of the wait. But the decision has convincingly been perceived as an act of desperation on behalf of a network whose two brand-making critical darlings of original programming will soon see their end, with no surefire successor to take their place (perhaps Low Winter Sun should create a crossover story with The Killing). But what I find most striking about this decision is the fact that, perhaps more so than any recent quality cable show, Mad Men has done of great deal of work to identify itself through – and, in the process, help to define – what a television season means in the age of binge-viewing. By separating each season by discrete gaps in the historical procession of time, Mad Men has overtly defined each of its seasons as characterized through changes in its characters’ associations, lives, relationships, locations, business affiliations, etc. So, will each “part” of Mad Men’s final season take place in a separate […]

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Robert Towne

According to Variety, Robert Towne will be adding his Oscar pedigree to Mad Men for its final-two-seasons-that-they-are-calling-one-split-season. It’s an excellent merger of sensibilities, especially since it sees a guy who worked in television in the 60s writing for television set in the 60s. Towne’s accomplishment with Chinatown and his subsequent Oscar win have overshadowed an interesting career with three other Oscar nominations along the way, although his mainstream work tapered off after Mission: Impossible and its sequel in 2000. He’ll act as consulting producer for the show. Admittedly, it’s tough to tell if this is a great idea in practice, a great idea in theory, or if it’s just cool. On the other hand, since the show is practically fueled by cool, even that option seems largely viable. At any rate, we’re getting more writing from Towne, and that’s something to celebrate. And I wrote this all without quoting Chinatown. You’re welcome.

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Emmys

While award show prognostication it still a very inexact science, there is one thing that we can all bank on when it comes to the awards season nomination game – not everyone will be happy when the nods come down, and the word most often used in nomination coverage will always be “snub.” It’s easy to find fault with any award show, and someone’s favorites will always be left off. This morning’s Emmy nominations were undoubtedly rife with some major snubs – including Monica Potter for Parenthood, Mad Men creator Matt Weiner for writing, Parks and Recreation for comedy series, and breakout star Tatiana Maslany for her incredible turn(s) on Orphan Black – and we’re fairly certain we’ve  even snubbed some big snub-ees by not mentioning them here, for which we can only apologize. It certainly seems like it’s a losing game. Or is it? Sure, there will always be big-time disappointments whenever any big round of award show nominations are announced, but even in the midst of a stunning series of snubs, there’s still plenty of heartening news in this latest round of nods. We’ve got some hope for this year’s Emmys, and here’s ten big reasons why.

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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