Archive for ‘Television Review’

April 8, 2013

Why Don Draper of “Mad Men” Can’t Stop Cheating

don draper season 6 hawaii

At the close of last night’s Mad Men Season 6 premiere, Don Draper reveals his New Year’s resolution to his latest mistress, saying “I want to stop doing this.”  Sylvia, Dr. Rosen’s wife, says she knew that to be the case.  However, Don’s use of pronouns, and absence of therapy sessions, paves the way for fun viewer speculation as to what exactly it is he wants to stop doing.  Better still, there can be discussion about why he, apparently, lowers himself, and periodically feels twinges of guilt.

Taking a Freudian approach, delving into Don’s sketchy, but unfortunately turbulent backstory is a necessity.  The women in Don’s life have been disappointing him, literally, throughout his entire life.  His mother, a prostitute, died while giving birth to him.  It’s difficult then to lay blame for Don’s issues at his mother’s feet because she certainly didn’t choose to abandon him; however, it was repeated to him on many occasions throughout his childhood that he was a “whore child,” so, even from beyond the grave, his mother’s character was a nuisance to him.  Abigail, Don’s stepmother, must not have been so wonderful to Don either because when Don is informed of her death from stomach cancer, he says to his half brother, the bearer of that news, “Good.”  Therefore, by the time he was a teenager and joined the army, Don’s positive experiences with women were likely minimal, if there were any at all.

In Betty, he found someone as childish as she is beautiful and, for a time at least, he could control her.  After years of infidelity, Don finally proves to be untrustworthy when Betty learns of Don’s prior identity as Dick Whitman.  The staggering truth that Don is a man Betty doesn’t know-a reality that any woman only minutely more aware than Betty is would have seen years prior-is finally too much for her to bear, and she files for divorce.  Rapidly, in Don’s eyes, the best thing about Betty, her immaturity, becomes the most infuriating aspect of her personality as he tries to navigate his new life as a single father.  Betty uses their children to control Don, making it increasingly difficult for him to be an effective, even loving parent.  In short, Betty becomes an incredible irritant to Don, just like his mother and stepmother.

Don tells Peggy towards the close of Season 5, “You help people, and then they move on.”  This was soon after Peggy had left Don’s firm where, under his tutelage, she’d learned all her advertising trade tricks, but, at that point, Don was really referencing his wife, Megan, and not really trying to impose guilt upon Peggy.  He checks himself and quickly insists to Peggy that he is indeed proud of her achievements.  In the case of Megan, Don was feeling duped because in his former secretary, he thought he’d found another woman he could control.  But when she gets the acting bug in her, he’s combative and tries to restrict her pursuits.  Turning over a new leaf, Don gives in, hopeful that he can still find comfort in someone so independent, and he lands her the gig in a commercial that his very own firm was producing.

mad-men-jessica-pare-jon-hamm-season-6-premiere-amcTo Megan’s credit, she looks intent on balancing her career commitments with those that come with being in a marriage.  For instance, she appears genuinely upset that she can’t attend Roger’s mother’s funeral, an event that Don, as a partner of Roger’s, would most certainly have to attend.  Don says he doesn’t mind, which also comes after he seemingly restrains some internal frustration at her newfound notoriety during their Hawaiian trip.  So, despite Megan’s best efforts to be a good wife, Don’s anxious anyway.

Don cheats on Megan because he expected her to be a disappointment to him.  Now, because she is doing her own thing as opposed to sitting at home waiting for him to arrive for dinner, Don’s bailing.  His current swing into infidelity is the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  All of the women in his life, his mother, step mother, Betty, and, though they weren’t a couple, even Peggy, have been a source of some varying degree of angst for Don.  It’s virtually impossible then for Megan to keep Don close, for Don’s just been waiting for a reason to leave her all along.

Don’s “first wife,” Anna, is the lone exception.  They had “an understanding” and “it wasn’t romantic,” he tells Sally in Season 5.  Anna was nice enough to allow Dick Whitman to go on living as Donald Draper and, when he asked her, nice enough to divorce him too.  Don struggled with her untimely death and now only speaks fondly of her whenever he must to the few people, all women, in his life who even know of Anna’s existence.  Anna could be an illustration that there is a section of Don’s character willing to turn itself completely over to one woman.  However, it might already be occupied by Anna, a dead woman whose entire presence in Don’s life, as someone who allowed Don to do whatever the hell he wanted, was a positive one.

So, as Don reads Dante’s book about “you know where,” to quote Roger, he’s pausing to actually reflect on his sinful actions.  Don doesn’t just want to stop sleeping around, he wants to thwart his reemerging tendency to sabotage relationships with women.  Perhaps it’s because Megan is proving to be simply a better woman than Betty  as she makes a concerted effort to not let Don down, despite wanting to achieve her own personal goals.  Or it could be that Don has matured and finally grown tired of the intensity that comes with cheating, the very thing that for years could have provided him with a thrilling rush of excitement.  Whatever the reason for Don’s potential enlightenment, the root cause of his behavior goes back quite a ways, and it’s a bit unsettling to think Megan, through no fault of her own, could experience some painful days if Don can’t figure this all out.        

January 21, 2012

Not 30 Rock Solid

In Nashville last summer, Tracy Morgan told an audience attending his standup comedy show that should his son make a choice to be gay and one day bring another man home, Morgan would stab him in the throat.  He would later apologize in a very public manner and the story eventually fizzled away.  On this past Thursday’s episode of 30 Rock, “Idiots are People Two!,” the unprovoked creative team decided to address the real-life controversy with a satirical version of the event, which is not out of the ordinary for the show.  However, the semi-autobiographical Morgan character, Tracy Jordan, found himself having to apologize for simply saying, “Being gay is stupid.  If you want to see a penis, take off your pants!  If I were turned into a gay, I’d sit around all day and look at my own junk.”  Liz Lemon points out the offensiveness of the notion that a person could be transformed into “a gay,” which is accurate, but the Jordan punchline fails to draw a true comparison between the two scenarios, making their attempt at lightheartedness ring distasteful.

When controversies such as this one erupt, people become offended for two reasons: 1) the content of the comment is insensitive to the liberties of the those who have been targeted and 2) the statement just isn’t funny.  Liz indirectly highlights this in the episode by saying to Tracy Jordan that it’s a bad idea to offend gay rights groups “because they are the most organized” of them all, making “the Chinese look like the Greeks.”  Jordan asks how his comment could be deemed offensive, but not hers, to which Liz ironically replies, “Because nobody heard me say it.”  Plenty of people heard her say it, and it was funny.  So, Morgan and anyone else who strives to be edgy in their works of comedy simply need to make sure that their statements are appealing to the mass’ sense of humor as opposed to genuinely concerning themselves with the level of offensiveness in their writing.

Perhaps another reason for this public displeasure with Morgan was that on any given night, a comic might not mesh with their audience, failing to win them over.  Having been raised on the streets of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Morgan’s life path, like anyone else’s, helped shape his raw comedy stylings.  Nashville could be the type of town where his act just didn’t translate well, giving patroners a reason to publicize anything remotely contentious after not receiving a satisfying level of entertainment for their spent money.

With that stated, Tracy Morgan spoke of committing a murder of his own child.  Most certainly, this was an overzealous attempt at humor, a right that Morgan should not find himself begrudged of.  But 30 Rock mimicked Morgan’s act with jokes that did not feature any suggestion of physical harm being done to another human being at all.  The result is that the consequential satire that turns up throughout the rest of the episode falls short of having a direct correlation to the real events, which completely takes away from the idea that there could be humor in what was an unfortunate incident.  This also creates a delayed watered-down effect on Morgan’s initial apology to GLAAD and the gay community.  GLAAD says they thought the episode was “hilarious,” namely the moment where Jordan calls the Glad trash bag company to say he was sorry for offending gays, but if 30 Rock finds the whole situation so funny, then how honest and genuine could Morgan’s real apology have been?  The truth is there was no humor in what happened last summer, hence the controversy; therefore a successful parody is impossible and only serves as an uncomfortable reminder of what went on.

September 24, 2011

Don’t Leave “The Office” Just Yet

I thought I’d play hooky.  Call in sick.  Maybe just not show up at all.  No, I wasn’t there, on my couch this past Thursday at 9 pm to catch the premiere of the new season of “The Office.”  I don’t know where the hell I was, but I’d completely forgotten about what had become my usual final-worknight-of-the-week routine for the past number of years.  However, my DVR didn’t.

I mean, Steve Carell was gone.  I used to watch him on “The Daily Show.”  Then he was the guy I’d recognized, but couldn’t quite place in “Bruce Almighty;” though I’d always remember Carell after outfunnying Jim Fucking Carrey in his own movie.  The man who had an unstable hairline was hilarious again in “Anchorman” and then “The Office” debuted with a brief 6 episode season in 2005.  It took some time to build an audience, going through a couple of times slots, but, in conjunction with “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” the show would launch Steve Carell into superstardom, ironically, knocking Carrey off quite a pedestal in the world of screen comedy.  Yes, Carell was funny on “The Office,” of course he was, but I personally felt that his performances on that show featured some of the best pure comedic acting I’d ever seen.  The Michael Scott character is one that t.v. has never seen before and will never see again.

And Carell was gone.  This spelled certain death for the show.  Who watched “That 70’s Show” without Topher Grace?  Nobody did and he was no goddamn Carell.

On top of that, I also felt that the show, even with Carell still in tow, was kind of jumping the shark to begin with.  The BBC series lasted 2 (yeah, that’s 1 more than 1) seasons, and was hysterical.  There were no weddings between characters, no babies to be had, and no famous guest stars showing up for a cameo.  With all of the romance of the American version dominating the plot lines as it went on into its 5th, 6th, and 7th seasons, it seemed as though the writers were going down the same path that countless other sitcoms had traveled before, just to maintain ratings.  Much of it was tastefully done on “The Office,” but “Friends” turned to crap once the babies started popping out and everyone started fucking everyone. (Rachel and Joey?  Give me a break.)  “The Office” recently pinched a hot chick into the cast, Kelly, to keep the big male 18-35 demographic around.  And the last episode of season 7 found James Spader becoming a candidate for Carell’s replacement.  I honestly thought his character, Robert California, was hilarious, but I doubted he would really fill the Michael Scott void adequately.  My mood went from skeptical to annoyed when (How funny?), of all people, Jim Carrey’s mug tainted my screen for just a few seconds.  Look, I like Jim Carrey, he’s done some of my most favorite comedies, but I hate it when Hollywood fits in a big name for a cameo, either in t.v. or film, just so the audience, in unison, says, “Holy shit! It’s [actor’s name]!”  It significantly compromises the integrity of the work and, in this case, there might as well have been a CGI motorcycle Fonzie jumping over the Fingerlakes Guy’s head.  I’d proclaimed that I wouldn’t watch “The Office” any longer.

Season 8’s premiere though had found its way into my DVR that had maintained its settings to record all new episodes of “The Office” throughout the summer.  Thinking my subconscience was telling me something, I gave the episode a shot and experienced a little bit of regret when Jim and Pam had announced a new pregnancy to go along with Angela’s baby bump.  I didn’t like the fact that over the summer NBC leaked stories about how James Spader had signed on to continue to do the show, leading viewers to believe Robert California would be the new office manager, completely obliterating the cliffhanger leftover from last season’s finale, just to find out that Andy was really taking over, while Robert would be the new CEO of the entire company.  And why, out of all of the branches of the corporation would the CEO have to work out of Scranton?

Despite those initial hiccups, “The Office” was still very funny.  It is still the best sitcom on network t.v. and this is because the show’s entire cast is incredibly talented, along with writers who consistently draw inspiration from pop culture. The whole bit on planking was great.  Stanley’s “new thing” on how to instruct people to insert things into their asses was solid.  Kevin’s diatribe on how everyone, even “the doctors,” has been wrong about him was snicker-worthy too.

It seems to me that with NBC moving Andy out of the main work room and into Michael Scott’s office was a statement that said, “We can’t replace Steve Carell, so we won’t.”

I doubt “The Office” will ever be as good as it was a couple of seasons ago, with or without Steve Carell, and I don’t know if this season will build on its quality premiere, but the show seems to still be a more than worthwhile watch.  So, if you can’t get into “The Office” on time, leave your DVR settings alone.  For now.

December 28, 2010

Queue Up Some “Weeds”

Weeds has been one of the best shows on television since its inaugural campaign in 2005.  It combines outrageous stoner-humor with “high” tension wonderfully.  I honestly don’t know how the creators of the series have kept it as funny and fresh as they have for this long when most shows have three or, tops, four good seasons as a shelf-life.  The acting is simply great.  Mary-Louise Parker is stunningly gifted and gorgeous as Nancy Botwin.  However, the comedy is mostly provided by the side-splitting sarcasm of Justin Kirk, who plays Parker’s brother-in-law, Andy.  Nancy’s two sons do an admirable job as well (Silas will provide you girls out there with something to look at, while the rest of us gape at Parker).

The premise of the show is this: Nancy’s husband tragically died some time ago, leaving her alone to raise two sons.  In order to maintain their upper-middle class lifestyle, Nancy takes to dealing marijuana in her suburban Los Angeles community.  Especially early on in the series, many of the main conflicts are sparked because men in the drug trade try to take advantage of her.  Andy is in tow to help out with the kids as they develop through grade school.  Kevin Nealon plays a local, Doug, who is one of Nancy’s best customers and friends.  And Elizabeth Perkins portrays Celia who is kinda, I guess another one of Nancy’s friends.

The most intriguing part of the series is that the audience is really challenged at times to sympathize with the main character.  We love Nancy because she is charming, hip, good-natured, (fucking hot) and ultimately is doing all of this for the benefit of her children.  However, I for one, see her get into many sticky situations and find myself wondering if she shouldn’t have just sold their huge house and gotten a normal job in the first place.  As the show progresses, her life choices glaringly and detrimentally affect her sons.  And the rising sexual tension between her and Andy create more confusion for her already wracked brain.  Regardless, if nothing else, the trials she experiences are quite thrilling and smile-inducing.

So get on Netflix right away and thrust Weeds Season 1 to the top of your queue and you’ll agree that this show has not gotten nearly enough attention as it deserves.