“A tagline for an ad-men series. Symbolism everywhere.”
A couple of years ago, a few high profile directors like Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese and Coppola, stated on different interviews that cinema was dying. The cause? TV series with high budgets. They aren’t against it actually. Every one of them is or was involved in a production of TV series. Spielberg with ‘Falling Skies’, ‘Under the Dome’ (Based on the Stephen King novel) and many more, Coppola with ‘First Wave’, Scorsese with ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and Lucas with all the ‘Star Wars’ universe by-products. They are not the only big screen directors moving his chips to the TV world. David Fincher is the executive producer of the lauded American remake of ‘House of Cards’; Gus Van Sant took a shot with the short lived (and excellent) ‘Boss’ and Shyalaman is on the same deal with the launch of ‘Wayward Pines’; even Michael Bay jumped to the series-wagon with the actually pretty good ‘Black Sails’. These guys aren’t morons. In their statements, a warning is present, but they have already put on the life vests. They aren’t sure that cinema is fading for the brighter TV screen. They are certain that is where talent is residing.
Let’s take the example of our object of study: ‘Mad Men’.
‘Mad Men’ is an AMC series about a group of people working on an advertisement agency all over the weird 60’s, focusing on the figure of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a handsome man on his forties, veteran of war, with many secrets and then some. But it’s the premise that simple?
Actually: is there a premise at all?
SERIES: ‘Mad Men’
PRODUCER: Matt Weiner
Cinema is dying –let’s keep that in mind for the sake of the argument, even when I think otherwise – because of dramas like ‘Mad Men’. In that bunch we can throw, the ended ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Shield’, ‘The Killing’, ‘Justified’, ‘Sons of Anarchy’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Wire’, ‘Six Feet Under’, and the ongoing ‘Hannibal’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Better Call Saul’, ‘True Detective’, ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Fargo’… the list is endless. And we are talking only of the US and only of the last fifteen years. David Lynch did it in the 90’s with ‘Twin Peaks’ and it’s a matter of discussion twenty five years later because quality is (and was) not on the discussion. All those series, and, of course, ‘Mad Men’ sacrificed money in order to get quality. Very few in that list are twenty-six episodes length. They reduce that number to the much more manageable thirteen. That way, action is not overstretched and audience doesn’t get tired or bored.
‘Mad Men’ was conceived in the feverish mind of Matthew Weiner, a writer with credits on the sitcom ‘Becker’ with Ted Danson, and the glorious ‘The Soprano’ which he became supervising producer. Even when they have completely different subjects, you can totally relate ‘Mad Men’ with the New Jersey mob which, at the same time, was a huge homage to ‘Goodfellas’ of Scorsese. ‘The Sopranos’ weren’t the mobs of ‘The Godfather’. No, they were the ones in the corner, waiting to bash some heads while throwing one-liners, discussing the current day events, and do some fine loving to some cumare. Plot after plot convoluting the whole argument, some getting nowhere, some ending, and some being just there, developing for a long while. That was the genius in writing, and is repeated in ‘Mad Men’. There is no plot actually. There’s just a setting and things sort of happen and some are solved, and some aren’t. You know what thing is like that? Life. Even when we aren’t mobsters or creative, we can relate to Don Draper’s ‘fuck-this-job‘ attitude. Even when Mad Men is set almost sixty years ago, lots of working girls can relate to open 60’s feminism of Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) or the repressed feminism of Joan (Christina Hendricks). There are others on this coral cast, like Roger Sterling (John Sterling), one of the owners of the company who is going through a middle age stage in-between trespassing generations, with all the doubts and concerns.
Also alcoholism, smoking and drugs.
Is not hard to relate to a decade so similar to this one we are living. The 60’s where a time of liberation, that exploded with Vietnam, the beatniks, and the soft revolutions (and why not, the hard ones). Check all the ‘revolutions’ upcoming with the legalization of pot, abortion talks, and manifestations all over the US for racial issues and outraging capitalism. And maybe you are a passive watcher. Like the ones on ‘Mad Men’. Don and his partners are just passing through. They don’t stay to hold the banner. They have opinions according their age, status quo, upbringing and education, and they struggle every day to change their POV trying to survive.
I don’t need to explain ‘Mad Men’ because there isn’t a subject. There are thousands. The important is the one you care.
For me is the middle age crisis. Don is a US famed creative writer for Sterling and Cooper ad-firm.
Along the seven seasons, Don goes from having an established family with a gorgeous wife named Betty (January Jones) and two kids (later three), to get a divorce, marrying his secretary, and getting yet another divorce. You have to love the guy.
Roger Sterling goes through something similar. His experience is more joyful because Roger is rich from the very beginning. He just doesn’t care. The only moment he gives a damn, is the moment he is swallowed to a family crisis that almost ends with him and his mental stability.
Don Draper, on the other hand, is already gone. He is not clinically insane. He is not normal because his upbringing in a whore house, the abusive parents, the war, and of course, his true identity, already jagged his brain. There’s a moment at episode 10 of this last season that is great. One of the creative writers is getting fired because he, unintentionally, insulted a client. The creative is ranting against Don, and suddenly he shouts: ‘Your only virtue is being good looking‘. Of course, that’s not true. But we have witnessed Don’s advertising magic (‘The Carrousel‘) along seven seasons. This kid worked in Sterling and Cooper since Don’s creativeness was already on the downside. That’s what is going on. You were a legend… well maybe. There’s nowhere to go from there.
‘Mad Men’ is ending forever in two episodes. The fourteen will be the last one of this great drama (the greatest if you ask me) that mixed romance, bitter sentimentalism, superb characterization, awesome score, and impressive direction.
Episode 12 ended with Bowie’s hit ‘Space Oddity’ after Don uplifted a hitchhiker on the way back to New York.
Probably, as we are accustomed with ‘Mad Men’, it will end in the most peculiar way.