August 1, 2011

Mad Men now on Netflix streaming

Better catch up fast like me if you haven't seen it on TV yet, you never know when Netflix is going to yank it from their streaming service. I'll hold off on any big-picture comments since I've only gotten through the first season and a half.

It's true what everyone has said about the crisp writing, sympathetic characters, and lack of self-consciousness in the acting. Whatever the TV equivalent of a page-turner is called, this is it.

The emotional range isn't quite as broad as in Twin Peaks, although that's no fault here since part of what they're trying to recreate is a world where feelings were private. Nor does the plot have the same mythological quality, again fittingly given the exploration of the mundane. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes the TV classic with the next-most enduring reputation. Definitely the best in the past 15 years, when The Simpsons bit the dust.

Just some random thoughts from what little I've seen so far:

- There's an illuminating contrast between two helpers -- the Freudian psychoanalyst and the Catholic priest. The shrink tries to amplify certain of Betty's anxieties, and he blabs to her husband about what she has said, without her knowing. The priest tries to dampen the sinners' anxieties by reminding them that there's no offense so grave that God won't forgive them, so long as they change their ways, make an act of contrition, and so on. The priest allows himself to be influenced by a confession that he's heard, but he doesn't share it outright with interested parties (at least not so far).

- Twice so far overly ambitious characters have been told to knock off the Machiavellian bullshit, that they will be abandoned if they try to be feared instead of loved and admired. Since a lot of viewers, especially younger ones, won't appreciate the subtlety, it would be nice to hear an occasional reference to mafia-run ghettos as a reminder of where that dog-eat-dog mindset leads.

- Everyone has remarked on how different things are between 1960 and now. But what about how similar they are? There was lots of drinking and smoking, but just like today there was hardly any dancing. The dance culture gets started during the first half of rising-crime times and really kicks into high gear during the second half -- that was the mid-'70s through the early '90s the last time around, and the Jazz Age before that (when the Charleston blew up).

- None of the products push my nostalgia button, although I'm not their target audience in that respect. Still, it is a real treat to see bench seats in the front of the car. Bucket seats weren't so bad at first since they were still placed close together. Over time, though, the console between has bloated and pushed them farther apart. And forget about that Starship Enterprise-looking thing in a Prius. What's next -- a roof-to-floor partition between driver and passenger? The other person pushes a beeper button, and if you feel like talking to them, you can roll down the window between you.


  1. I thought that show was just for women. Although maybe I just assumed that since it lacks comedy or murder.

  2. I can imagine your book report on The Great Gatsby:

    lol, I'm not gonna lie brah, but I seriously thought this was just gonna be some more pointless chick lit, until they finally ran over that lady and ended with an epic murder-suicide. Like omg, SO sick.

    Plus only a sperg couldn't appreciate the humor in Mad Men.

  3. I give the Holy Sonnets 2 stars out of 5 (3 in a more generous mood) -- I mean, neat metaphors, but still mostly just a bunch of faggy chick lit. Ditto those other ones by Shakespeare.

  4. To be honest, I've never seen an episode of Mad Men, so I've never been exposed to its humor. But I also never heard it was a comedy show.

    I'm also not a fan of Shakespeare, even though many of his plays do have comedy and/or murder! Most people nowadays don't read Ben Jonson, who was considered one of the greats of that era, because our expected format is different. All that iambic pentameter may have been impressive back then, but to my modern ears it just seems stilted, and the archaic language makes it a bit like reading something foreign (Candide may be comparatively enjoyable precisely because it is translated into modern english prose). Shakespeare has become a cultural lodestone though, so we're all required to read him at school.

    As I recall, I didn't think Gatsby was interesting even at the climax. The comedy/murder test really works better for tv shows than novels.

  5. C'mon, you should be above that kind of shameless backpedaling. You tossed off a glib dismissal of a series that you haven't even seen one episode of.

    You said it "lacks comedy" -- not that it wasn't "a comedy show."

    And you weren't talking about whether you found it enjoyable, but whether it was a show "just for women," implying that it's standard chick fluff.

  6. Plenty of non-comedic shows have the occasional joke, but people don't primarily watch them for that reason. If you know a show is a comedy you can watch and expect to laugh several times per episode. Similarly, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a murder at some point in Mad Men (homicide is a leading cause of death for fictional characters in a number of genres), but it's not like a cop/action show where you can expect it to occur and play a major role in driving the story forward. Without that you're basically left with relying on the audience taking great interest in the evolving relationships of the characters without handy crutches to grab attention. Like a soap opera.

    I don't know where to get actual numbers, but this says the Mad Men audience skews female. According to Wikipedia, seven out of nine writers on the show are women, whereas two-thirds of the members of the writer's guild are men.

  7. Speaking of soap operas, a number of shows can get dragged down to that level when they shift away from the original primary draw and are depending on an audience that will continue watching because they've been watching. I even remember being annoyed by comic books as a kid (not that I bought any at the supermarket, but I was ungrateful enough to gripe about free stuff) that went in that direction. It's part of the serial format. Movies/novels are different. So chick shows aren't quite the same thing as "chick flicks".

  8. Mad men a show written by women for women.You must be one of 10 guys who like it.

  9. More shameless obfuscation -- you said "lacks comedy," not "comedy isn't the primary draw." Every episode so far is humorous.

    Maybe in the third and fourth seasons it will turn into a soap opera, but not yet. How many people making that accusation have actually seen those seasons, do you think?

    TV audiences are heavily female, so if Mad Men's merely "skews female," it's probably close to 50-50. Here are the ratings at IMDB:

    Basically, 9 out of 10 across all demographic groups, and male voters vastly outnumber females in every age group.

  10. Agnostic is awfully defensive considering that TGGP just made the truthful statement that Mad Men is a show for women. It would be more interesting to hear why a man should watch it regardless of its reputation.

  11. Sheesh, the primary draw aspect all I know. I'm a non-viewer. Like most people I don't just watch any show that comes out but hear what it's supposed to be like and then decide whether to watch. And that limited info is generally enough for a show to target particular demographics.

    "TV audiences are heavily female, so if Mad Men's merely "skews female," it's probably close to 50-50."
    I don't get the logic. If our prior is that tv audiences are heavily female, why would that bring our expectation any closer to 50-50?

  12. I don't think it was a "chick" show in its earlier seasons, since the episodes pretty much focused on drawing out the boundaries of this (comparatively) cruel and venal world of 50s America - like "Marriage of Figaro". Don Draper was, at that time, a pivot for this world to revolve around, a recognizeable figure - the hatted, suited Dad of thousands of 50's commercials. I think where the show went South was in how it began to exaggerate Draper's alpha male characteristics to pornographic proportions.

    They must have followed the "contrast is king" maxim. So many of the contrasts in Draper's character are almost clichee. He is, of course handsome and confident, but with a vulnerable, mysterious side. He is disloyal and faithless, yet still somehow a model father. He becomes ever-more self-destructive, and yet his face does not contain even a hint of excessive smoking and drinking. He is one of the best at his job, yet he doesn't demonstrate above-average amounts of workaholism, he is always losing accounts, and no one seems to complain or even notice when he unannouncedly takes of several weeks of vacation. No one seems to notice his moments of deep cruelty towards other employees (Sal). In real life, something would have to give, but in the show it just doesn't.

    Don Draper is about as realistic a representation of what a man should be and can be as James Bond. I suspect the writers made this turn when they realized that they had a ratings gold mine among their female viewers.

  13. "considering that TGGP just made the truthful statement that Mad Men is a show for women."

    Stop shrinking when you talk. What he did was glibly dismiss a series that he's never seen, and was wrong about the basis of that dismissal.

    No normal male who watched Mad Men would say it was "for women." You're a nerd who would think that about any show that deviated from the sperg extreme of the mechanical-vs.-social spectrum.

    So to find out what healthy males think of it, go re-read those IMDB ratings, or do you need to have that reported to you second-hand as well?

  14. What does "shrinking when you talk" mean? Psychoanalyzing?

    I would use words like "ignorant", or "flippant" rather than "glib", but whatever.

    I don't know what JL's viewing preferences are. I suppose the most "sperg" genre would be sci-fi, and I've never been into such shows. Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" programs or anime (I forget if the latter is part of the former) would also seem to qualify as appealing to dorks. When I watch tv it's generally both mainstream and male-skewing, with the caveat that I don't really follow sports. Rather than being on some extreme edge, I'd say that's more like the narrow-minded middle.

    Here's a profile some marketing company made of the prototypical viewer of certain shows.

  15. I was going to write something worthwhile but changed my mind after I found that TGGP has sperged out and shat up the comment section as he does at every blog I like.


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