26 October 2008

Be Don Draper: "Mad Men" Has Arrived

Friends and family of yours truly will tell you that I am a bit of a snob when it comes to most television and movies. I am not the 'typical' American who really likes the summer blockbusters; in fact, that may be the time I'm least likely to be there. I like my story lines (no matter if small or big screen) to be complex, to have multi-dimensional characters, to blur the 'wrong' from the 'right'. Don't telegraph me the plot, but give me something instead I can wrap my head around and work out, maybe question even. Don't provide me a canned laugh track, but instead present me something witty and well-written so that I will voluntarily laugh out loud. Make me cry when I least expect it, make me smile when it's a tragedy. Don't give me what I've seen so many times before, but rather give me something totally unexpected, or something old taken completely in a new direction. All I ask (and here's the hard part) is that you please don't waste my time and money.

Sadly so much of what is on television and in the movie theatres now can't even give me half of that above list. No wonder I'm searching out more classic movies, or discovering the wonders that are the BBC®, BBC America® and Ovation® cable channels, or just simply reading more. I don't want to kill my television, nor do I want to boycott my cinema, but I would like something that challenges me once in awhile. I think it's a simple request, really.

For example, I adored "Homicide: Life on the Street" for so many of these things, but led mainly by the powerful acting dynamics between Andre Braugher and Kyle Secor. The show was not easy to digest some nights, as it was depressing, questioning, and provoking as the scripts frequently challenged viewers to examine topics as diverse as religion, justice, race, sexuality, and death. But, to those like myself who were as crazed with it, each episode left us wanting more...a tall order as cast members shuffled in and out in a semi-steady pace. Still, in my opinion, "Homicide" is one of the very best, if not the best, dramas to ever be serialized...and it still has not received the high praise it so richly deserves.

Lord knows, you learn to appreciate the gems and miss them greatly when they leave. And then you pray another such find happens across your path.

That said, my latest addiction is "Mad Men", over on AMC. Stunningly done and stylized to explore the personal and professional relationships of a group of advertising professionals in the early 1960s, this show is simply an undiscovered beauty. Complex story lines, three-dimensional characters, subjective conclusions...this is absolutely not the spoon-fed drama we Americans have become all too accustomed to seeing. Instead, this is Drama with a capital 'D'...and served with a constantly lit cigarette and half-full G&T, just for good measure. This is the show you always hoped you could find and support; this is the show you always knew could be made somehow. Thank God someone now is.

I'm far from being the only one in my praise, though. In just its second season, "Mad Men" has won 2 Golden Globe awards, and 6 Emmys (including the last one for Outstanding Drama Series, the first time such an award has been given to an American basic cable program). It's so good, in fact, that parodies and jokes about the show's coolness are popping up everywhere...I can only hope all the attention is bringing more and more viewers as a result. Even the good kids over at "Saturday Night Live" (who all of the sudden have decided to become smart again), have caught on to the rush of '60s ad cool and decided to run with it.

Ladies and gents, let me introduce you to "Mad Men"'s main character, advertising executive Don Draper (actor Jon Hamm). He's a war veteran with a past, makes the great money but has an unhappy trophy wife, two squabbling kids, and a loyal dog...yet he's a serial womanizer and deceiver, known for saying much with his eyes and far less with his words. (If "Mad Men" has perfected anything, it's the ability to have the entire cast use silence as dialogue and still make it look natural...something I thought "The Sopranos" never consistently pulled off. Enjoy the silence, indeed.)

Mr. Hamm, thankfully, can and does pull off the absurd side of his own meal ticket here, as the video clip below from "SNL" clearly demonstrates. Enjoy Don/Jon in all of his glory...

"Be Don Draper" skit from "Saturday Night Live", featuring actor Jon Hamm. Video embed from Hulu.

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