Monday, July 26, 2010

MAD MEN: We're a family company...

4x01: "Public Relations"

Some late night rambling on the return of MAD MEN...

I hafta admit, it took a little time to get in step w the show's return, one year later and all. It's still its dark and dirty self, but didn't seem quite the smokey candy that I couldn't get enough of for three years. I think it may be the visuals, the aesthetics, on approach to the 70s, or perhaps it's the trappings of an upstart startup in Manhattan, or really, all of the above. It's just not so lush anymore.

The opening minutes were really strong. "Who is Don Draper?" I'm not even sure that's important anymore in my mind, but it has been a fulcrum on which much of the show has tottered at times. I thought his dodges were very fitting and true but also felt right away that it was an opportunity lost. On another level, I thought another opportunity missed when it was only revealed after the interview that the interviewer had lost his leg in the Korean War. That fact could have been an opening for Don, if not to open up more himself, then to question the questioner some, about the experience of war, motivations, wounds, things and people lost, and offer some truths couched in chit-chat. But not.

Still, I did find the beat again. And it felt very much like the first episode I saw, in a meta-way, following Don down this one path, and in the last three minutes, having him zig and zag onto another in a completely different direction. A perspective change. And one I appreciate for its simple slickness, cuz the story he tells to the Post interviewer is the story we watched begin at the end of last season. And it IS a perfect way to promote the company, just like Glo-Coat. It's a story that sells a product.

Some quick takes on characters. I like Betty even less. Don makes me a little bit sad. It was the Thanksgiving-in-bed scene that did it. I do still like my Peggy. Gotta say, her comment to Don, about how "All anyone wants to do is please you," doesn't sit quite right with me. She's spoken that supposed truth before, right? And it's... I dunno. Maybe it's true, but having her say it almost breaks the spell of the show somehow.

I really enjoyed the "John" and "Marsha" but between Peggy and whatzhishead. Can anyone tell me what that's originally from? I feel like I'm familiar with it thru Looney Toons riffs on it, and maybe some 70s sitcom references. =)

I was a little disappointed that her call about the bail money wasn't on her own behalf, hoping for more to be built upon or revealed about their most unlikely sameness and trust. I LOVE the shadowy connection between Don and Peggy, y'know? That they are in on each other's dark sides. More of Peggy's than Don's, of course—Peggy's child vs. Don's car accident with the comedian's wife.

I really DID like the post-bail-drop-in debriefing, tho. When Don asks her "Since when do you have a fiance?" and he breaks down her strategy of bringing him along to his door, and she is almost deflated by her transparency, but finds a silver lining—"Shows I'm thinking ahead, tho!"—which Don then unravels with a few additional words.

Seeing Don's ad for "Glo-Coat" or whatever it was, and seeing him see it, was very cool. The idea that the KIND of ad that it is is Something New at the time is a wonderful thing. Of course, Don is exactly the right man to conceive of such a thing. Drawing on romantic elements of childhood, his appreciation of movies, and his talent for setting and controlling perspective, he creates a short film that happens to be a commercial. Frankly, if I could be in that position, it's what I would try to do every chance I got—do what I want to do, make what I want to make, and have it be in the service of a client.

The Jantzen account was very interesting. Don used it to draw a line in the sand for himself, for creative in general, and perhaps for the direction of the new firm. The client is drawn to him because of his approach and success with Glo-Coat, but of course brings its own, unfortunately impractical, self-image to the table. Jantzen considers itself a "family company," reflected in their reps' prudish attitude toward the visuals and even the language of their product and the advertising of its competitors. The competition sells bikinis. They sell two-pieces.

When Don comes back with what he believes to be a clever and "demure" approach to selling bikinis—an attractive young woman in a bikini, but with the top covered by a black censor bar with the copy "So well built we can't show you the second floor"—the client balks. It's too racy, even "dirty." It's almost an intervention, to get the client to open their eyes to the realities of their product and the only sensible way to treat it and a sophisticated, if cheeky, way to sell it. When Don tries to snap them out of it, he gives it to them straight, saying something like "A two-piece is only a swimsuit and not underwear because of a slightly different design or material and a gentleman's agreement." Anyone who's had to deal with a client's preconceptions and prejudices in a creative endeavor has GOT to appreciate this scene. =)

On the home front, after a meeting with his attorney (or was it accountant?) he puts his foot down in regards to Betty's freeloading non-claim to their once-shared homestead, for which Don pays completely. It feels like both stands, with the client and with Betty, were driven by the same momentum.

Only once does the word "divorced" come up in the show and its from the lips of a college grad and gymnast (was she the preacher's wife in TRUE BLOOD last season?) that Sterling's daughter has set him up with.

Keep on keepin on~

* July 26. Paris Jen and the interwebz set me straight on the origin of "John and Marsha."

* August 24. KB and the wide world of webs clue me into "John and Marsha" used in advertising.

Yeah, I'm Olde, but not That Olde! I'm pretty certain I first encountered this almost vaudevillian meme in one or a few Warner Brothers Loonie Toons and/or maybe a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.

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