Fare Thee Well, Mrs. C.

Sad news for all self-respecting soap fans. Jeanne Cooper, Katherine Chancellor, is gone. Hers was a wonderful life, and she left a legacy of amazing work. Let’s see her in action and getting her due (with a classic acceptance speech!). Good night, Ms. Cooper.

MAD MEN: Scene of the Week

Busy, busy night as two agencies become one (and Peggy better come up with something catchier than SCDPCGC!). This was one of those Mad Men episodes where so much worked that I’m hard pressed to find the highlight. Do we go with Pete spotting his father-in-law in a whorehouse? Pete losing the Vick’s account? Pete outing his father-in-law to Trudy (come to think of it, Pete and Tom were sort of the disturbingly odd couple of the evening)? Then there’s Peggy languishing in her hellhole with Abe while dreaming about Teddy and Emerson. Roger finagles a meeting with Chevy. Don severs ties with Jaguar (and sticks slimy Herb with the check) then decides to join forces with Teddy (you could practically hear the bile churning in Peggy’s stomach). Astounding moments one and all. But nothing topped the, shall we say, impromptu partners’ meeting.

Pete stumbling down the agency steps to rail at Don for losing Jaguar just as SCDP is about to go public was the perfect setup to this roller coaster of a scene. Pete is enraged. Don goes from righteous to petrified to his usual brand of smug thanks to Roger’s well-timed announcement of the Chevy pitch. So Don orders Joan to get the creatives in his office. And Red is not amused.

Now in Don’s defense, it wasn’t just his hatred for Herb that led him to send the jerk walking. The other partners whoring Joan out just never sat right with him on a chivalrous/chauvinistic level. In Joan’s defense, Don is an ass. Everyone knows that Joan can more than take care of herself, and Don should have given her the credit to live with the consequences of her actions. But instead he chose to play “the hero.” It, like so many of the poses Don Draper strikes, had nothing to do with reality but rather his idea of reality. Or as Joan so perfectly put it, “Just once, I would like to hear you use the word ‘we.'” We saw little fallout from Don’s miscalculation for the remainder of this episode as events roll towards the merger. But in addition to the repercussions from that bit of impulsiveness (and it already seems like Roger, and especially Peggy, are not at ease with Don’s Hail Mary pass), what does all this mean at the next partners’ meeting? Pete, already on the verge of some kind of breakdown, will be all shades of bitter. Joan will see Don, the one partner who ironically did not view her as a mere piece of meat, as an adversary rather than an ally (can’t wait for Peggy and Joan to commiserate!). And Don will be more and more isolated from the world around him on every imaginable level. Fabulous episode. And we’re only at the season’s halfway point! What will come next?

MAD MEN: Scene of the Week

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I like the Mad Men episodes where our anti-heroes get hit with some devastating piece of historically horrible news and try to make sense of the increasingly chaotic times in which they live. Season Three saw
“The Grown-Ups,” and everyone barely enjoyed the wedding of Roger’s daughter in the wake of JFK’s assassination  Last night’s “The Flood  took things a step further. Nearly all of our major characters were attending and hoping to be recognized at the ANDY Awards (ironic that only Megan went home with a prize; but then again, she’s good at whatever she wishes to do at a given moment), when the news broke of another assassination, that of Martin Luther King, Jr. People act out in various ways in the aftermath of the tragedy. Pete tries to reconnect with Trudy, and when he’s rebuffed he takes it out on Harry (who totally deserves it for only focusing on how the murder will impact SCDP’s revenue stream). Roger’s creepy new friend, Randall, sees the tragedy as a call to change via an extraordinarily disturbing pitch. Peggy sees her dreams for an Upper East Side apartment lost in the sauce, but it doesn’t phase Abe who envisions a totally different future for them (and I’m still not quite sure if she’s elated or terrified by his idea of tomorrow). Dawn and Phyllis endure the awkward sympathies of their co-workers. We even get to peek into the Francis household as Henry ventures into Harlem and comes away from the whole experience deciding to run for state senate. And poor little Bobby worries that Henry will also be felled by a monster’s bullet (which is like a punch in stomach for Don and maybe not completely far-fetched given Henry’s new plan).

On the subject of Don and Bobby, I appreciated their shared awe when watching Planet of the Apes as well as Bobby reaching out to the usher with his innocent (and spot-on) observation that human beings like to escape into fantasy when the real world becomes to much to bear. But as Don finally talks to Megan (like really talks to her for the first time all season) about his complicated feelings for his children, I thought that I might be watching the most honest depiction ever of what it means to be a father. Getting the girl pregnant is essentially an everyday task for the virile male, and while the mother-to-be likely forms some connection with the being inside her over the course of nine months, the father does little more than wait for the child to enter the world. When he or she does, can you really blame the man for not instantaneously adoring the stranger in his midst (especially if he had the tortured childhood of Dick Whitman)? So it’s no wonder that Don, the King of Fakery, only played at loving his oldest son. But whether it’s the shared experience of taking in the film or Don seeing his son capable of the empathy that is often foreign to him, Don has a moment of clarity and feels what he always thought a father should feel. Will it last? Can Don get past Bobby’s concern for Henry, who is currently the more consistent father figure in the boy’s life? Who knows. But for a brief moment, Don solves one of the many mysteries of his life. An unspeakable tragedy will do that to a person.

MAD MEN: Scene of the Week

When you have an episode that features Joan and an old friend making out with young boys in the East Village and Joan on the verge of becoming a different, possibly wiser, mentor to Dawn than she was to Peggy, and those are not the best scenes of the night, you know you’re getting a superior Mad Men outing. When Peggy comes face to face with three men (four if you count Ken in the restaurant) whom she has personally and professionally betrayed for a shot at the Heinz account, you’re headed for a classic. And yet, it’s a smaller character in the Mad Men universe who stands out on a night that completely erases my fears that the show will no longer be fun in the wake of Lane’s demise (and I really had that concern; brilliant as that last season was, nothing was ever quite the same on The Sopranos after Silvio whacked Adriana). But back to the man of the hour…

Harry Crane first appeared on our screens as a dumpy, bespectacled, sweet, and shy media buyer for the old Sterling Cooper. His one-night stand with Pete’s secretary, Hildy, leads to a rarity among these characters: a guy showing true remorse for stepping out on his wife. The Crane marriage is righted by Season Two (and a little Crane is soon in the picture). Then Harry does something kind of unexpected and ultimately brilliant. He recognizes the power of television with regard to advertising and essentially invents both a job and an entire department for himself. Good on, Harry! He’s still a bit of a bumbler (Sal might still be at the agency had Harry not screwed things up so royally with Lee Garner, Jr.!), but he more than earns a spot when Sterling Cooper as we know it is put to bed and SCDP is born.

Then Harry starts to devolve. His slimmer physique brings with it a brashness, an arrogance, an all-around smarminess that makes him less than an office favorite (and we come to learn that his home life is far from ideal), and yet Harry manages to succeed where television is concerned (go figure!). So naturally he’s pissed that Joan “slept her way to the top” (look, we all know that Joan more than deserves to be at that partners’ table, but she had to make a calculated sacrifice to get there). Harry is not without a leg to stand on. Sure his defense of Scarlett is more about waving his dick around than actually caring about his secretary (and let’s be real; Scarlett did break the rules), and Harry’s assumption that Joan starts the partners’ meeting by ratting Harry out just goes to show how self-involved he is. And yet, Harry is kind of right. His finger is on the pulse of what will ultimately become the best tool in the world of advertising, his ideas are not without merit (“Broadway Joe on Broadway?” I’m in!), and hard as it was to listen to him abuse Joan, “I’m sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight,” caps off one of those beautifully awful moments that Mad Men does so well (“That’s what the money is for!”). Harry might be an ass, but he’s an ass with a point (and make no mistake; if SCDP continues to underestimate Harry as Don did Peggy, the firm will be short yet another employee who sees what the next decade is about to unleash).

MAD MEN: Scene of the Week

Before we get to the highlight of the evening, let’s give props to Jon Hamm for a far superior directorial outing (“Tea Leaves” was arguably last season’s weakest episode). It started a little slow (Peggy’s getting no respect at work, Don’s whoring it up with Sylvia, and Pete has a quickie that, to him, is of little consequence).

Then things start to happen. Megan shares the saga of her miscarriage with Sylvia (and does anyone else think that Sylvia’s kind but critical reaction foreshadows a new kind of crisis for Don should he not cool it with this lady?). Herb from Jaguar reappears and drives Joan to drink (and however much of a douche Don was in this episode, kudos for sabotaging the jerk in front of the Jaguar higher-ups). Pete’s afternoon delight comes back to bite him in the form of a battered wife with a bloodied nose. And that’s when Trudy starts to get wind of what Pete has done. And that’s what leads to the best moment of the night.

Trudy Campbell has always held a special place in the Mad Men universe and in my heart. I shouldn’t have liked Pete’s too-cheerful, poor little rich girl wife, especially in the beginning when it seemed like Peggy and Pete were being primed as the show’s ultimate love story (that ship has long sailed!). Maybe it’s Trudy’s ever-optimistic outlook or Alison Brie’s charming portrayal, but Trudy is far from the caricature she could have been. In Brie’s hands she is a bright and loyal individual whom Pete has not been worthy of for quite some time. So when the shit hits the fan, when she shows him the door in her own unique style, it’s a thing of utter beauty. For a split second, Pete almost seems relieved to have an out of the marriage that has dissatisfied him for so long. But Trudy’s playing a different game. Whether or not she knows Pete for the dog he has been for years or she’s finally wising up is besides the point. Pete is about to endure an entirely different kind of hell than the ones he’s known in Cos Cob. Trudy is not Betty, and Pete doesn’t get to pull a Don and start over (possibly for the best considering how well that’s currently working out). He will keep his distance and appear on Trudy’s arm when the situation requires his presence. Or as the lady herself puts it, “I’m drawing a 50-mile radius around this house, and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.” And she ain’t fooling. I’m sure that Don’s own fraternization with a neighbor will yield its own horrific consequences. But for now, Pete truly has nothing, and while I have moments of sympathy for the man, he currently deserves every dose of Trudy’s bitter medicine.

MAD MEN: Scene of the Week

Mad Men is back! All is right with the world. Last night’s super-sized episode, “The Doorway,” might not have packed the same punch as last season’s opener, “A Little Kiss,” but it still provided two fantastic hours of television. What stood out for you? Was it Roger treating his therapy session as an opportunity to indulge in a little performance art, or the silver fox finally breaking down over his mother’s passing while clutching Georgio’s shoeshine kit? How about “Slumdog Betty” mixing it up with the hippies in search of violin prodigy Sandy (I think Betty might be on the verge of her most compelling storyline since Season Three). Don losing his lunch at Mama Sterling’s funeral, and Peggy in full Don mode with her new underlings were also highlights.

But you can’t go wrong with a Don Draper pitch. Sheraton is not too keen on Don evoking suicide when suggesting the Sheraton experience is “the jumping off point” for something better. Don doesn’t even try to backpedal in light of the association; rather, he pushes forward and ultimately hits on the notion that the aspiration for anything better is morbid to the core because gain means leaving something behind. It’s sort of the antithesis of Roger’s therapy rant. Mr. Sterling sees all of us going through doors and getting nowhere whereas Mr. Draper knows all too well that you can approach a doorway as Dick Whitman, a man with misery as his only prospect, and emerge on the other side as a dashing advertising executive ready for love and professional glory. So we can, we do move forward, but the realization of goals is bittersweet because something is always sacrificed when jumping off from one point to another. And that, my friends, is where I think we are in the Mad Men universe. Heck, Peggy’s already made the leap away from Don; what she has seems to be working, but it’s come at the cost of the place that was her home for so long (it is nice to see that she and Stan are finally friends given the grief he gave her when he first came on the scene). Everyone is about to jump off, and I think that in some cases people are going to find kinds of happiness. But every triumph will be coupled with a loss. There’s a great quote from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Perestroika: “In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”

Welcome to Mad Men, Season Six.

 

The Return of the King: MAD MEN is back!

I can’t quite believe it! After months of waiting and worrying and wondering, Don, Peggy, Joan, and the gang (sans Lane – sad!) are about to return to our homes in a new year with a new set of adventures. There are burning questions to be answered! What is the current state of the Draper marriage, and is Megan’s acting bug burrowing into Don’s side in the form of a frustrating thorn? Is Peggy missing Don as a mentor at her new job, or she is blossoming into the next phase of the modern woman now that she is no longer dealing with his stifling tutelage? What of Roger? Is he dropping acid on a daily basis in the futile hope of recreating the magic of that first, blissful trip? Will Ken pick up where the late Lane left off and throttle Pete for… well… just being Pete at some point in the season (one can only hope!). One question that needs no answer, needs not even be posed, is whether of not SCDP is benefiting from Joan’s place at the partners’ table (the woman can do no wrong when it comes to business affairs).

I’m counting down the seconds until 9pm, and I hope to able to revisit each episode after it airs by spotlighting a specific, standout scene. While my posts are likely going to be briefer this time around, I will do my best to pay tribute to what will undoubtedly be some of the best episodes of any TV show this year. Happy watching!

30 ROCK: Penultimate Tears

Short and sweet. Long week, people! Kenneth getting the keys to the NBC Kingdom and Liz adopting little carbon copies of Tracy and Jenna brought tears to my weary eyes. Way to surprise me even at the end, Lemon!

2012 Televised

Farewell, 2012. Here’s what I watched, for better or worse. Let’s dig in!

BEST DRAMA: Mad Men

After a lengthy absence, everyone from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was back in full force. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to label Season 5 as the best of this outstanding series (I often go between Seasons 2 and 4 depending on the day), but this was indeed an amazing collection of moments as our characters hurtle closer towards the denouement that will be 1970. From “Zou Bisou Bisou” to Lane and Pete exchanging punches in the conference room, from acid trips to Hare Krishnas, from the prostitution of Joan to the suicide of Lane, each episode had the impact of a Ben Hargrove (or should I say Dave Algonquin) short story.

BEST DATE: Louie and Liz – Louie

Talk about acid trips! This was a Woody Allen filmscape turned inside out and upside down. Rooftops (from which I really wanted Liz to jump), dressing rooms, and can we all just take a moment and revel in the orgasmic splendor that was the detour to Russ & Daughters? It was never going to end well (as later episodes showed, maybe?), but what a night in Manhattan that I never wanted to end.

WORST USE OF A CLIFFHANGER: NCIS

Now I love me the escapades of Gibbs and his team, and I was on the edge of my seat during Season 9’s finale. But when the show returned, a summer’s worth of momentum evaporated in five minutes. Here’s the thing. Everyone knew that all of the actors negotiated new deals, so no one was going the way of Sasha Alexander’s Kate or Lauren Holly’s Jenny. But spread the revelations out a little bit! Bang! Ducky’s fine and Jimmy’s right there with him. Boom! Abby and Gibbs make it out of her lab with just a few bumps and bruises. Blammo! Ziva and Tony are killing time in the elevator, and she’s able to get a cell phone signal and speak to her father in Israel! And that piece of glass in McGee’s side? He’s fine after the commercial break. Don’t get me wrong. Season 10 is going strong with “Phoenix,” “Gone,” and “You Better Watch Out” among the highlights. But this was a waste of suspense on par with the Moldavian Massacre fallout.

BEST CHARACTER: Hannah Horvath – Girls

Played to utter perfection by series creator Lena Dunham, aspiring writer Hannah is without question “a voice of a generation.” Smart and funny but also self-absorbed and lazy, everyone has either been or known a Hannah at some point in their lives. She’s both the cool kid you want to hang with and the needy relative you desperately avoid. I can’t say I approved of every move she made in the show’s spectacular first season (weird as Adam is, she did him wrong by agreeing to move in with Elijah), but I understood that Hannah is driven by both fear and desire (like most of us). She is the most complex and the most compelling character to emerge this year, and I’m longing for January to see what she does next.

BEST EXAMPLE OF “EVERYTHING CONNECTS”: Boardwalk Empire

It’s more than a bit of throwaway dialogue from Lansky to Luciano. Boardwalk Empire faced a monumental task. Would the show work without Michael Pitt’s Jimmy? Admittedly, things got off to a slow start. Despite an awesome final ten minutes that had me longing for the next episode, the show still produced one of the most boring hours of television all year. But in the home stretch, wow! Eddie’s shooting tied into Chalky’s paltry narrative when his almost son-in-law, Samuel, is the only doctor available. Margaret’s quest to bring prenatal rights to AC paves the way for her to abort the late Owen’s child. And the strained relationship between Nucky and Rothstein allows Capone (and, probably, Van Alden) to stake their own claim to the boardwalk. Just great storytelling that fills one with hope and anticipation for Season 4.

WORST STUNT CASTING: Christopher Meloni – True Blood

So I pretty much stayed clear of these vampires and werewolves in the Bayou, but the announcement that Stabler was joining the cast sucked me right in. And I’ll admit, as crazy and overcrowded as Bon Temps is, the show gets to you, and I’ll be watching again next season. Still, Meloni was utterly wasted as vampire Guardian Roman. Why cast him if he’s only there to bide time until Denis O’Hare’s Russell steps to center stage as the most sadistic vamp going? I’m sticking with the show, but what a waste of a tremendous actor.

BEST COUPLE: Leslie and Ben – Parks and Recreation

Despite the conclusion of Leslie’s successful campaign for councilwoman and Ben’s gig in D.C., they found their way back to one another to build a life in Pawnee. Can we just stop and marvel at the proposal in their new house, a moment that Leslie wants to freeze in time to remember for always? I dare say that nothing was more romantic all year. Without question, this couple will defy the sitcom odds. They’re together, they’re happy, and there is no threat of the magic fading. From Leslie’s attempt to join their families with her unity quilt, to their encounters with a hated Eagleton architect, to a gift from Ben to Leslie in the form of VP Joe Biden himself, each and every note was exquisite.

WORST SECOND ACT: Homeland

A bit of a cheat on my part. I still have to watch the last five episodes of Season 2. But there’s a reason the going’s been so slow. After a freshman season showered in deserving accolades that took the characters to the point of no return, this show has backpedaled to the point of absurdity. From post-shock treatment Carrie being sent to Beirut (and conveniently finding Brody’s damning confessional tape) to the afore-mentioned Brody sitting in on video feed of Abu Nazir’s near destruction only to be granted the opportunity to text his former captor of the impending danger, this is one twisted pretzel of a mess. While the performances are still strong (and Carrie interrogating Brody was all kinds of amazing), Homeland seems to have found its voice at the expense of the audience that adored it in the first place.

BEST COMEDY: 30 Rock

Season 6 and the bulk of Season 7 will stand as one of strongest final bows of any sitcom ever. Liz became The Joker and wed as Princess Leia, Jack and Avery said goodbye after he fell for her mom and made a TV movie out of their whole affair, Tracy took steps towards respectability and becoming his own version of Tyler Perry, and Jenna and Paul tried a “sexual walkabout” before making their way to the altar. They slammed The Wiggles, featured Jon Hamm in blackface, and sent Elaine Stritch’s Colleen to her final resting place in hysterical style. I’ll really miss this show, but it’s going out on top.

…and

BEST TRIBUTE: “One Moore Episode” – Portlandia

Yeah. I’ve would’ve risked my job and utility service to continue watching Battlestar. An eager James Callis (“but you need to listen to me!”), a disgusted Edward James Olmos (“I command because I have the discipline to command!”), and a clueless Ron Moore (“flying the freak all over the place” ), set this geek girl’s heart on fire. The Doctor Who shout out was the icing on the cake, but “Be careful. Psychologically. It’s television.”

Bring it on, 2013!

R.I.P. Jack Klugman

Some sad news for classic TV fans this Christmas. We mourn the passing of Jack Klugman. Best known as Oscar Madison and Quincy, he also made his mark on Broadway (he was the original Herbie to Ethel Merman’s Momma Rose in Gypsy), in a number of Twilight Zone episodes, and in the films 12 Angry Men and Days of Wine and Roses. In addition to the legacy of his work, Klugman was the classic survivor who battled back from throat cancer, reclaimed his lost voice, and continued to grace stages and screens of all sizes in the last years of his life. Just a great actor. Let’s pay homage with some glimpses of the man himself in action.