Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad About Mad Men

We had a discussion on here a month or two ago about the perfect songs and movies, those with which you can't find anything that needs to be improved. It's one thing for a musician to have their song be the perfect embodiment of what they are trying to accomplish. It's even harder for a director to get the script, the actors, the camera people, etc. together to put together a flawless movie. But imagine a TV show that is flawless, hour after hour of absolute perfection. Every episode for two straight seasons.

Such is the story of the men and women of Sterling Cooper and their clients and families. Perfect. Every second is dripping with drama, every episode its own little story on the path to the larger story of society in the early 1960s. Story, story, story. For a show to be as perfect as Mad Men is, you need more than just story, but that's where the show begins and ends. The three leading men and woman -- Jon Hamm's Don Draper, Vincent Kartheiser's Pete Campbell, John Slattery's Roger Sterling, Elisabeth Moss' Peggy Olson, January Jones' Betty Draper, and Christina Hendricks' Joan Holloway -- pace the show and make up the largest part of the best ensemble cast on TV, but they would be nothing if it weren't the elaborate story. Much like in the best seasons of The Sopranos, each episode of Mad Men is very slow, with the events taking their time to develop and the nuance taking center stage. There's time to discuss the associate whose interracial relationship has put him in the middle of the budding civil rights movement, time to discuss the associate who is trying as best he can to hide his homosexuality from even himself, and so on and so on. Even the side character development is impressive, with Colin Hanks' fine work as a priest in the second season.

The story of Don Draper himself is too complicated to hit on quickly and I don't want to spoil if you decide to start watching. He drives the show and much of the plot is centered on the male power culture of corporate America, but the heart of the show is its three leading women. The second season dealt with each of them in depth, with the examination of Peggy's complicated relationship with Don leading to one of the finest episodes of dramatic TV I can remember seeing, "The New Girl". Delivered the way it is, the key line in that episode ("This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened.") is one of those breath-taking moments of writing that makes you want to pause the show, absorb what was just said, and then rewind and watch it all over again.

And, man, I'm just gushing at this point. Perfection. A show based on an iconic culture that has become inseparable from that culture -- just look at how the show has affected fashion -- and therefore has become iconic itself. Man, it's really just that freaking good.


Saw a couple of more movies today and I'll give in-depth reviews tomorrow. The quick hits (which may be enough for one of them)? If you like sci-fi and action, go see District 9. Drop what you're doing and go see it right this second. If you like to laugh, do not go see The Goods. If you like to not laugh at people trying too hard to be funny, by all means go enjoy it.

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