Thursday, May 07, 2015

To Create and Kill a Show

“Babe, I swear they are going to get around to wrapping things up. There are only a few more episodes left of this show. Wait, they brought back Glen Bishop. JFC, I hate this show. Wait, now Don is driving to Wisconsin for that GD waitress!”

I once wrote or said that no matter how Mad Men ended, I was going to enjoy the run because one day it’d be gone, and I’d miss it. I’m still enjoying the visuals, the good acting when it happens and every Big Red + the Redettes or Roger Sterling appearance, but this show is nuking fridges non-stop now. They brought on 59 year old Mimi Rogers to play some artistic photographer that Stan wants to impress and ends up sleeping with, which happens right before she makes a pass at Peggy. They brought in that handsome middle aged guy with the smooth voice who in one episode goes from being a “I’m a free spirit, no plans, baby” wealthy, early retiree to “I’m gonna move near you Joan, and be a part of your odd family”. They managed to do this in the same episode as bringing back Glen Bishop to be creepy once more , but maybe so Matt Weiner could subject us to his son who can’t act his way out of a paper bag one more time. This all feels like filler. One can kill a show, an idea or any creation if one gets high of their sense of ability. Reading online rants about the final seven episodes, one can feel that nearly annual tension between fans and creators about how a television show is coming to a close.

It is Weiner’s problem. Weiner wrote tight stories with definitive development of characters. Weiner enjoyed being able to suck people in thinking it was simply his creation to meander about with and indulge his personal whims and gripes. Weiner got too cute and had no clue how to wrap up storylines or character arcs. The show transitioned from a drama to a soap opera, and with the pretty, retro setting, few cared. How much does actual storytelling matter when Banana Republic now sells Mad Men inspired clothing, and despite few viewers, the show is tops for pop culture cool. Where is Don’s downfall? Why is nothing wrapping up with 4 episodes to go? Where is Pete’s end? Why are we watching Matt Weiner’s son act wooden once more with Betty?

Let me take a stab at Glen Bishop. Glen Bishop, little dark haired ugly kid that he is, is obsessed with former model, blonde beauty next door Betty Draper. He gets creepy with her as a little kid, and keeps the obsession going to age 18. She rejects him, which is the proper mom thing to do. I can’t imagine why Matthew Weiner with his chip on his shoulder and Southern California childhood would write in such a weird pairing for 7 seasons between the ugly, swarthy boy next door (played by his son) and the pretty blonde shiksa, sorry, woman down the street. A middle aged man wouldn't write in his teenage gripes into the critical final few episodes of his creation? It looks like it. What a waste of screen time.

If you’re looking for the spot when Mad Men crumbled, it would be the end of season four which also coincided with debate and contract discussion about how many more seasons there would be. Weiner was angling for more green, and this made talk of season five being the final season or not. Look at season four and consider the slide into misery that Don Draper experienced. Hookers, a shitty apartment, his family was gone, the company was in a tight spot… this was all far from the opening season. This was the "is Don going to meet his end, is Don going to clean up, and is the fraud going to be revealed" moment? Season four had him fooling around with Dr. Faye Miller who accurately told him that he only liked the beginning of things, and it still set the show up well for his quick marriage at the end of season four to blow up in season five. Season five could have been set up with his second marriage fizzling because it was a horrible, rash decision, the company needing him to be a true leader and Don fails and then he ends up dead in an alley curled up next to a bottle. The audience did not get that. Immediately, season five introduced new characters that did not add to the wrapping up of the show like a wild Jewish guy, a black competent secretary, and no one but Weiner and the SWPL reviewers cared. Screen and story time were wasted on elements that did not keep story arcs on track.

We are just viewers. This is Weiner’s creation, and even if he has become incredibly arrogant about his ability, it is his show. Chuck Klosterman wrote years ago when the Sopranos ended about the recent anger fans will not just feel upset but vent online about how a show ends. This feeds into sensitive showrunners' stewardship of shows. The fans now feel owed something. How I Met Your Mother’s ending was so horrific and the show stretched well beyond “sell by” date that fans were vicious enough to cause the showrunners to consider re-shooting a new finale. Why bother? That was their creation and their art. The viewer can interpret and react to the product, but the artist and craftsman owes them nothing. 

This is most likely fueled by the Internet and the awkward situation where America’s common shared culture has moved not just beyond consumer culture, but even more tenuous, niche and incohesive, to entertainment culture. Many people have become the sad Bill Murray character in Scrooged where they can’t remember details from their childhoods but they can tell you about the homecoming episode of Little House or the game winning home run on Courtship of Eddie’s Father. A show is born, grows and dies. Audiences feel angry if things do not go as they expected. Is it really for the audience to pass judgment or are we to indulge creators like Weiner when they delve into stupidity or waste time? Have viewers considered they are watching a fictional story and wasting time in their lives? Weiner might have killed the show in season five, but you killed your identity when you bought the Banana Republic slacks inspired by Don Draper and started drinking Gimlets to stop being you and start being Don. Weiner gave you enough, now let him end his creation.


Anonymous said...

The latest episode showed Weiner's cards. The show was always about social justice. "Look how bad it used to be", "here's the progress!"

People used to like show because it was about cool guys. It turned into the story cool guys losing everything, and the woman who used to be under their thumb rising up. Feminists busted a collective nut over the last episode, but the show has gotten much, much weaker because people really just wanted to watch a show about alpha males and Mad Men became a show about tearing them down.

NZT said...

For my money the Conrad Hilton arc was the last good major plotline of the show, and they flubbed the conclusion of it badly. After that it became clear that Don wasn't going to move up to face higher-stakes challenges, and the show frittered away multiple seasons on soap opera melodrama while pushing the advertising business into forgettable B-plots. They brought in dull new characters while refusing to get rid of ones who had overstayed their welcome. Betty should have dropped out long ago, and even Roger probably should have died a few seasons back. No one cared about Lane's black hooker girlfriend or the romantic troubles of Roger's bratty daughter. Sterling Cooper gets bought, gets sold, merges, de-merges, gets bought again, who cares. SJW moaning about feminism/blacks/Jews started popping up in a show that had been mercifully free of it. 60's counterculture touchstones start popping up everywhere, because of course we need even more media about what a big deal the 60's were.

I agree it's become ridiculous how seriously "fandoms" take their relationships to pop culture, and that fans can be obnoxiously entitled. As someone at MPC recently commented in reference to the Marvel empire, it's like a religion to some people. That said, as long as you keep some perspective it's perfectly fine to have an opinion and critique a TV show. Mad Men showed a lot of promise early on, but couldn't sustain it and is now likely to end with a whimper. Weiner didn't make the show out of the charity of his heart, he got a ton of money and fame out of it and it's not somehow ungrateful to be annoyed that he screwed up a good thing. Yes it's his creation and he can do what he wants with it, but it absolutely is the viewers' place to judge if the results are any good and hold him to a standard of quality.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Good point NZT. The Hilton arc was great.

I personally think they should have used the Don-Betty divorce to write Betty out ENTIRELY yet allow the Don-Sally stuff to happen. They struck gold with the actress who plays Sally Draper being fantastic.

At the same time, they could have had Roger killed off at the end fo season 4, and then Don has to assume Roger's leadership position in season 5. He enters season 5 with a dumb new marriage and big new title, but season 5 becomes the year he proves to be a fraud and 2nd marriage dissolves, leaving him a drunk fraud dead on skid row.

Anonymous said...

I saw the first season of this show but lost interest after that. Looks like I won't be seeing any more of it then...

Suburban_elk said...

Good review. My thoughts on the show are disjointed. It was disappointing. I thought Don was going to save us.

I can’t imagine why Matthew Weiner with his chip on his shoulder and Southern California childhood would write in such a weird pairing for 7 seasons between the ugly, swarthy boy next door (played by his son) and the pretty blonde shiksa, sorry, woman down the street.

Glen Bishop was awful, and he keeps getting worse. Having him join the Army to go fight in Viet Nam? His looks are so opposed to the American teenagers who went over there, they were the opposite of him, he projects clumsiness and physical ineptitude. The Viet Nam soldiers were dupes (sorry), but they were American working class guys and athletes with big hands and lanky frames.

Sally Draper, i don't know. How they (the directors and producers) creeped out on her. The panties and first menstruation? i mean come on. I liked the scene where gramps had her reading history to him at bedtime. Gramps was a great storyline, those difficult family problems that have to be resolved because senility and death. That was good stuff.

But less good, later on, when Sally was at the prep school and the boys snuck in to party - the acting was strange ("wooden") but the dialogue memorable. At first i thought that maybe it was a deliberate style of presentation - the awkwardness of youth and adolescence, where kids are acting adult, and they are not comfortable or confident. Maybe it was. Youth and adolescence is extremely hard to narrate. For an example of an attempt that fails in the same way, the movie Stand By Me - wow, that movie sucks. It is so bad that, unlike Footloose, it can not be enjoyed as a bad movie. It gets five stars on netflix though so there is something in it that appeals to nostalgia?

On the larger question of where does Mad Men belong in the culture, and what is our common culture. Those are good questions. Mad Men was promising and it failed to deliver and somehow we knew that it would (fail).

SoBL has him dead in a ditch with a bottle in his hand. If David Chase had been involved, perhaps.

SRBEL said...

I'm 4 episodes into season two and the SJW bullshit is creeping in already. This post almost guarantees I will pull the pin on it now.

Anonymous said...

Pop culture had replaced religion for a lot of people.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

I watched the first few episodes and quickly pegged it as a Jewish show. It simply didn't work for me. The Roger Sterling character, however, is a classic.

bjdubbs said...

You nailed it. I stopped watching at beginning of season 5 (by "watching" I mean fast forwarding through all the scenes that didn't take place at the office) because the black secretary was too much. To go from the legendary Ida Blankenship ("“She died like she lived -- surrounded by the people she answered phones for") to the noble black secretary was a real disappointment. Doesn't sound like I missed much in the last few seasons.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that Weiner is so stupid and immature he can't even complete the vision of what a bitter Jew should be able to portray—the show ending in the death of the white man.

I was interested in how this show will end from an artistic point of view because I read a comment about how Don Draper (real name Dick Whitman aka white man) was a stand-in for the great WASP boogie monster, and he was going to jump off from the building and kill himself just like the silhouette from the opening credit. That would be the twist that the audience deserves (the ending that everyone saw every episode but no one saw it coming) and fulfills the artistic agenda of a Jew who can't get over the slights from his teenage years.

But Weiner can't even do that. It's ironic that we're seeing liberals subvert themselves. Weiner imagines a show in which white men are evil and he gets criticized for not portraying diversity in a period drama. Everyone caves in, and we have this mess. Stupidity all around.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Here's a potential end. At the start of season 5, he did a pitch to a hawaiian hotel about footprints in the sand and a guy's clothes on the beach as he went into the water. Don thought of fun and escape. They thought of suicide. What if the show ends with Don in california, stripping his clothes off and dying in the Pacific?

Odds: 100-1

Anonymous said...

"I'm 4 episodes into season two and the SJW bullshit is creeping in already. This post almost guarantees I will pull the pin on it now."

Interesting. I have watched one episode (the first) and have read an anecdote (actually, 2-see below) about another. Based on that little exposure, I felt like I had the show pegged, and this statement reinforces my 'sense.'

On the first episode (its been years, and my memory isn't exact), there is an intereaction between Don and a black waiter (?) about cigarettes or something. Even in the pilot episode, I could see that race relations were being criticized. And the one anecdote I have read about: a family is in a park eating lunch, and when they leave, they leave their trash around. The second anecdote that I just remembered: someone gets drycleaning, and lets her kids play with the plastic bag the clothes came in (i.e. unsafe).

With this little exposure, I could see that the show was not a show about cool 50's culture: it was a show about how flawed the 50's really were. You could just sense the writers: 'here's the story of this episode: how do we inject a cultural flaw into it, to remind viewers how bad things really were?' like a weekly requirement-kind of an adult after-school special, with the required morality lesson.

I don't watch much tv/movies: I just don't think modern writers can write-SWPL morality just ruins everything-they can't NOT preach to us. One episode and two anecdotes of Mad Men convinced me that they ruined it, from the very beginning.