Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's Wrong With Mad Men?

Unlike a lot of Johnnie come latelies I've been watching Mad Men since season 1, episode 1. I was impressed by its complexities, its pacing, its acting, its dialogue and of course Christina Hendricks's formidable assets. Season 1 was as good as TV gets, especially Roger's one liners, everything about Pete Campbell, and Betty Draper's slow burn mental breakdown. Season 2 fell off a little, but so far season 3 has been very disappointing, almost sloppy in its writing (that flashback, the fire alarm, yikes) and its directing. (The acting, fortunately, is still brilliant). So why has everything gone pear shaped? Some possible reasons:
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1. It's AMC's fault. Episode 1 was a reboot for all the new viewers AMC was expecting following the good Emmy news, which is why they made Matt Weiner recap so many old stories instead of advancing into new territory. It felt like we were treading water, but we had to do that to give new viewers a chance to catch up. Episode 2 was the real episode 1 laying out slowly the themes of the new season. Things may therefore get better as we go along.
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2. Mad Men has jumped the shark. Comedy series usually hit their stride in season 3 but drama series tend to stumble in their third year. The writers used all their best ideas in the pitch and season 1 and their next best ideas in season 2 and by 3 they were exhausted. This is true of: The Sopranos, ER, Battlestar Galactica, NYPD Blue and many other shows.
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3. Hubris. Matt Weiner has forgotten that you need a slave standing next to you in the chariot whispering "you too are mortal and will die some day."
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4. They wrote themselves into a corner by letting Betty get pregnant. A pregnancy is usually a very bad thing for a show, cf: Lucy, Bewitched, The Flintstones, Friends etc. etc.
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5. Nothing's wrong. All we are doing now is slowly circling the major themes in typical Mad Men fashion. This isn't Law & Order or House, chum, Mad Men demands viewer attention and patience. Just relax, sit back and all will be well.