Monday, August 2, 2010

Professor Grampy Meets the Mad Men

This Mad Men episode tells us "Christmas Comes But Once a Year." So, Christmas in August. SCDP is breaking all the rules, even the one that usually puts Christmas in July. What iconoclasts.

The title of this holiday bonbon is such a specific cultural reference: it’s Max Fleischer’s 1936 animated short "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" (with that really catchy eponymous song) about the children in the orphanage. The tots wake up on Christmas morning, all happy because “it’s Christmas!” When they play with the toys left in their stockings, everything is so old and patched that they fall apart, and the little ones start crying. (The teddy bear that disintegrates in the little girl’s arms has to be one of the saddest sights in toondom).

Professor Grampy, from Betty Boop’s universe, is passing by, hears the sobs, and stops to see what he can do. He creates imaginative toys from the appliances, dresses up as Santa, and saves the day. The orphans all become truly happy with the new “toys” and they have a very Merry Christmas.

It’s a short that would be part of the childhood of all the adults in the Mad Men universe (along with World War 1, for Cooper, at least, and the Depression). The theme of desire and happiness is an underpinning of the entire series--Dick Whitman desired to be Don Draper; Joan desired a doctor/good provider for a husband; Pete desired to be taken seriously as an account rep. etc. The attainment of these desires has had mixed results.

The idea of Christmas just makes the theme more focused. The episode title reference is then paid off with Lee, Mr. Lucky Strike, a bore of a man who has everything and wants to manipulate others, like making Roger wear the Santa suit. When he opens his present, it’s a Polaroid camera. He says “As a kid, you ask for something and you get it and it made you happy,” betraying a sense of nostalgia for his own childhood, when getting something actually made him happy. The orphans playing with the vacuum cleaner and the kitchen-made sled know more real joy than he does. It's not an original idea, but the presentation of it is unique. And I think it's great for Weiner to bring Fleischer back into the spotlight, even if it's just for Maddicts.

And Beneath all the Tinsel

•Dr. Atherton and Faye Miller are brought in to ride the wave of psychology-based market research, juxtaposed against psycho teen Glen, who is vandalizing the Draper house to express his feelings Sally. Shades of the turbulence that will rock the decade in just a few years.

•We don’t know the exact date of this office party, but it’s worth noting that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was first shown on Dec. 4, 1964, and the party was probably later on in December than that. Could have been a nice reference.

•I LOVE Roger’s office. The white tulip tables, the vortex art, the bright orange and green accents. Wow. That’s the 60s. Don’s office still has paneling.

•Don is losing it. When Phoebe comes over, he pretty much insists that they haven’t met before (maybe you weren’t wearing your uniform), and with Allison the next day, he is unbelievably cold. All that drinking isn’t good for the grey cells.


scribbler50 said...

Great observations, M.A. (speaking of psychology-based market research) you've connected some dots I never would've noticed.

And that cartoon was the perfect ending. Wonderful! I particularly liked the umbrellas becoming the tree.

(Geez, how many days til Christmas???

cgeye said...

As pointed out on Maureen Ryan's review, another song used that phrase -- and it was a scabarous treatment of the ad-enabled holiday:

Shout out to Stan Freberg, from whose "Green Christmas" the episode's title came: "Christmas comes but once a year, so you'd better make hay while the snow is falling. That's opportunity calling you."

The rest of the routine is here:

Posted by: jlp | August 02, 2010 at 12:02 PM

M.A.Peel said...

Hi cgeye,
I saw that. Stan Freberg is a great touchstone for the series and plays into the commercialization of the holiday.

But I think the whole Lee Garner story point does harken back to the earlier, sentimental cartoon.

And isn't that what's so amazing about MM, the layers of ideas and meaning.

Thanks for stopping by.

M.A.Peel said...

Hi Scrib. So glad you enjoyed the Fleischer. I love Grampy, we need more of him now--someone who's always laughing, always trying to see who they can help. I think he'll be a new role model for me. M.A.

scribbler50 said...

Amen to that sentiment, we all could try a little Grampy instead of Grumpy. (Particularly me!)


cgeye said...

I can dig it -- a floorwax-and-shoe polish sorta ep.