Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mad Men: TV's Own Box of Chocolates

As we bid goodbye to the gang at Sterling Cooper until sometime next summer, this 1994 New Yorker cartoon by Lee Lorenz popped into my head.

In case we have forgotten, Forrest Gump polarized film critics and audiences. As Entertainment Weekly noted in 2004, "Nearly a decade after it earned gazillions and swept the Oscars, Robert Zemeckis' ode to 20th-century America still represents one of cinema's most clearly drawn lines in the sand. One half of folks see it as an artificial piece of pop melodrama, while everyone else raves that it's sweet as a box of chocolates."

Roger Ebert: “What a magical movie.”
‘Dirty Harry,’ Libertas: “. . . . it should be mandatory for any article about lousy Best Picture winners to include the words Forrest and Gump

Mad Men has unassumingly assumed the small screen mantle of such passion. There is no grey area for this world of saturated colors: you either love it or hate it. And that striation, because it is so extreme, is itself something of a phenomenon.

The general critical reception in July for MM was glowing. Then on a weekly basis Alan Sepinwall and Andrew Johnston's "Mad Men Fridays" at the House brought us beautiful, engrossing encomiums, speaking to every character and plot idea. An outsider could only wonder what amazing piece of art could inspire such response.

On the other side were the skeptics, one of whom was Diane Werts of Newsday: “Very little in this critically adored AMC series feels spontaneously genuine. After I ended up in the minority of negative reviewers at the drama's July debut, I figured I'd check back in down the road to see if I was missing something. But as "Mad Men" unreels its sixth episode tonight at 10 on AMC, I'm still left cold by the plethora of precision on parade.”

There are 7 comments to her piece: 4 say MM is absolutely brilliant, “best show on television,” 3 agree that she is “right on the money.”

It’s not that people don’t disagree about other shows, but there is something special, more passionate about the disagreement over this one.

I think it all goes back to the period-piece fantasy at its roots. We are witnessing women struggling to be taken seriously in the work place while men are exercising their primacy and trying to cope with the forces of change around them. How you relate to those themes will play in to how you relate to the series. And the debate between the “I was there, it was nothing/exactly like this” is an interesting subgroup within the camps.

Beyond that, it is the most cinematic, sustainable prime-time hour on the landscape (since Pushing Daisies can’t last). It ably quotes film, and it sometimes finds a lyrical sensibility that actually serves the storyline. I thought not having commercials in the final episode strengthened everything about it.

Now we have ¾ of a year to think about dandy Don Draper, and what—-dare I say like Scarlett O’Hara, who also realized what she wanted just as it walked out the door—-he’s going to do when he gets up off those stairs.