Archive for April, 2012

Curated: My TV Howl ‘Mad Men’ columns 2010-12

April 5, 2012

Missing from ‘Mad Men’: Don and Betty’s marriage

REMEMBER WHEN: The marriage of Don (Jon Hamm) and Betty Draper (January Jones) was imperfect, but that was the whole point. (Photo: AMC)


NEW YORK, April 5, 2012 — What’s wrong with “Mad Men” this season?

A couple of things, actually, but most notably: The defunct marriage of Don and Betty Draper, which, once upon a time, was the very heart of this show.

It’s gone and with it goes one of the great reasons for watching this show.

This finally occurred to me after watching the first two lifeless weeks of the new, fifth season of “Mad Men,” which is gracing us with its critically acclaimed presence after disappearing for 18 months.

The marriage of Betty and Don (January Jones and Jon Hamm) was once the centerpiece of this show.  It was what the show was about, principally, whenever you’d try and describe it concisely.

What’s “Mad Men” about? you’d be asked.  And you’d answer something like: Well, it’s about this guy, Don Draper, a quintessential Madison Avenue “ad man” of the 1960s struggling to balance his dual lives — one as a swashbuckling white-collar professional in midtown Manhattan, and the other as a family man with a pretty wife and two children who live far from the madding crowd in leafy Westchester.

And it didn’t hurt that the ad man and his wife were like the living, breathing versions of Ken and Barbie — perfection on the outside, while inwardly, they existed in a marriage fraught with tension.  He was concealing his various extramarital affairs, though she had her suspicions; and she was feeling unfulfilled and lonely as a home-bound suburban housewife.

Even when Don’s affairs became known to Betty, it may have been possible to preserve the marriage, at least for the sake of the show.  So what if that would make an already tense marriage even more tense.  Tension happens to be a terrific ingredient to have around when you’re concocting a drama series for TV.

Now, with the two of them divorced and remarried to others, that whole situation’s been tossed out the window.  Moreover, Don married a young, comely co-worker — which does away with another essential part of Don’s lifestyle: His ability to freely pursue his extramarital relationships in New York City, untethered and unobserved by his wife (in the era long before cellphones).  Are we really supposed to believe that Don’s done with his philandering?   And if he is, then is that part of the show now gone too?

It reminds me a little bit of “The Sopranos,” coincidentally a show on which “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner once worked.  “The Sopranos” was also about a guy who struggled to balance his home life and “business” life, but in this case, he was a Mafia don who sought the help of a psychiatrist because he had deep-seated issues with his over-bearing mother.

But then, the actress who played the mother, Nancy Marchand, unfortunately died and Tony Soprano’s mother died with her.  Of course, the show persisted after that, but the principal reason for telling Tony’s story in the first place was gone, and the show was never the same.

As if doing away with Don and Betty’s marriage wasn’t enough, now the makers of “Mad Men” have even done way with Betty — turning perhaps the most beautiful actress on TV into an overweight suburban housewife.  Sure, I understand the storyline behind it, but is this storyline worth doing that to January Jones?

What else is wrong with “Mad Men,” three episodes into the new season (yes, that two-hour premiere night counted as episodes 501 and 502)?

A couple of things gleaned from Episode 503 last Sunday (April 1):

Some things just aren’t ringing true: The pot smoking, for example.  Sure, we all know, or simply assume, that the 1960s saw a big rise in casual marijuana smoking, but mostly among the college generation.  But for two consecutive weeks now, actual grownups have been seen smoking joints within full view of colleagues from work — most recently Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) backstage at the Stones’ concert last Sunday, and a week earlier, Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), who casually mentioned that he’d like to go and smoke some “tea” at Don and Megan’s party.

Was casual pot-smoking of this kind really so sociably acceptable among actual adults in 1966?  Though I’m no expert on this, that doesn’t seem accurate to me.  It seems to me that for men like Don Draper, witnessing a colleague smoking dope in the 1960s would have raised suspicions that that co-worker was some kind of a druggie.  That’s how “drugs” — even pot — were perceived back then, or so I’ve long thought.

Roger used a line in a conversation with Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) that didn’t seem true to its era either.  It was when he was instructing Peggy to make sure she hires a male copywriter for an open position on the Mohawk Airlines account.  “Someone with a penis,” he said, describing the client’s preference.

Well, that sounds more like what a TV writer would compose for a character speaking in the present day.  Certainly, the line was written for Roger Sterling (John Slattery) as an example of his own casual, crass  chauvinism.  But somehow I doubt a man in the 1960s would have put it that way.  He just would have said Peggy needs to hire a man and that would be that.  It’s today’s world in which the word “penis” is used with that kind of abandon (particularly on television, as a matter of fact).  The usage here in “Mad Men” strikes me as careless writing.

Speaking of careless writing that should have been edited: The crack Betty’s husband, the  political operative Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), made about George Romney, then governor of Michigan and the father of the 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was completely out of place and ill-considered.  Why? Because we viewers all know that it represented a dig at Mitt Romney on the part of “Mad Men’s” writers and producers.

The line came when Henry, who apparently works for New York Mayor John Lindsay, told someone on the phone that he didn’t want Mayor Lindsay photographed with Gov. Romney at some sort of public appearance.   “Romney’s a clown and I don’t want him standing next to him!” Henry declares.

Here’s why the line should not have been used: Because it makes us, the viewers, suddenly think of the present day while we’re supposed to be immersed in the world of 1966.  For that reason alone, the producers should have resisted the temptation to include it.

And it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: It was also an obnoxious political viewpoint — again, with contemporary implications — inserted into a TV show where it had no business being inserted.

I could go on about all the things wrong with “Mad Men” this season.  But I’ll save them for next week.  And who knows?  Maybe the show will be back in top form this Sunday.  And wouldn’t that be great?


‘Mad Men’ new-season shocker: It’s boring

‘Mad’ men (l-r): Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) (Photos: AMC)


NEW YORK, March 20, 2012 — Here’s a surprise about this Sunday’s season premiere of “Mad Men” that might spoil the show for you: It’s terrible.

Yes, I know — it’s a shocker.  It might even be the first time any critic anywhere has ever used the word “terrible” to describe “Mad Men,” but there it is.  Sorry.

I hate to spoil a viewing experience for anyone, especially for a show whose return (after more than 18 months away) seems so highly anticipated.  But I can’t help myself: For the first time in my own personal history with this show, stretching back to its glorious beginnings in summer 2007, I was bored stiff watching the two-hour premiere that AMC sent over for preview.

The DVD came with a “letter” from the show’s creator and executive producer, Matthew Weiner, who requested, politely, that critics who view the preview DVD please refrain from revealing various plot points and other developments that might spoil the experience for the show’s fans.  Well, Matt, your secrets are safe with me because nothing much happens in these two hours anyway.

I’ll tell you what happened to me when I was watching it, though:  Some time during a lengthy party sequence (yes, there’s a party in the show — I hope that revelation doesn’t spoil the “experience” for anyone), I realized that I couldn’t have been more bored, and have rarely been so bored, in the process of watching a TV show.  And since it was “Mad Men,” which once upon a time was one of the finest, most electrifying TV series ever produced, this surprising onset of extreme ennui came as a huge shock.

I was so disappointed in what happened to this show that I started contemplating some of the words I might eventually use to describe it in this blogpost.  And besides “terrible” and “boring,” another one came to mind that is even worse: “Disaster.”

Before continuing, here’s a caveat: By all means, watch the two-hour premiere (it starts at 9/8c on Sunday, March 25, on AMC).  And you are more than welcome to enjoy it too.  You just might love it.  But I have a feeling many will not.

And that’s where the word “disaster” comes in.  The last thing an arty TV series like this needs is to come back on the air after an 18-plus-month absence and then bore its core audience to death.  However, that outcome is a distinct possibility.

Why? Well, to delve fully into those reasons might involve revealing details and plot points that Matthew Weiner might not want divulged.  So I’ll try and work around them.

Generally speaking, the whole thing seemed listless, sloppy and predictable.

In the listless department, the aforementioned party is exhibit A.  At just about the time I looked at my watch for the first time ever in the viewing of “Mad Men,” I realized that this party had begun to resemble an old Dutch still-life, with the guests standing or sitting around doing nothing.  At such times, you rely on a literate series such as “Mad Men” to entertain you with dialogue.  That didn’t happen either in this scene or any other in the two-hour show.

The party took place at a new Manhattan apartment apparently purchased between seasons Four and Five by Don Draper (Jon Hamm).  And at this point in this blog post, I was tempted to reveal what happened with Don and his new love, Megan (Jessica Paré).  Remember her?  She was a secretary in the ad agency in Season Four.  As that season came to a close way back on Oct. 17, 2010, she and Don were in love and he asked her to marry him.  (Forgot about that?  That’s understandable since it was 18-1/4 months ago.)  In his letter to critics, Matthew Weiner asked that we not divulge what happened there.  And like the good sport I am, I humbly acquiesce.

Anyway, like so many of the settings in this marathon “Mad Men” fifth-season premiere, Don’s new digs look more like a stage set than a New York apartment.  And so does the office of the ad agency, Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce.  It’s immaculate, like it’s a display at Ikea or one of those Design Within Reach stores, where they sell knockoffs of iconic mid-century furniture designs.  One thing it doesn’t look like: A Manhattan office where work is performed.

It doesn’t sound like one either.  If you watch the show, try and observe the sound made when people walk around — most notably in the SCDP offices.  Even petite Elisabeth Moss (who plays Peggy Olson) can be heard clomping around like she’s wearing army boots.  That’s because the floors give off a sound like they’re hollow, like a stage set, but not at all like the floors in a Manhattan office building.  They’re usually concrete.

Speaking of architecture, one character refers to an architectural feature in one of the SCDP offices as a “beam” when it is actually a column.  That’s sloppy writing.  Rule of thumb: Beams go across ceilings; columns are those things that go up and down.

And as far as this show’s predictability goes, that can be a problem when a series such as this — one that is about 95 percent character development and about 5 percent plot — has been around for four seasons and is starting its fifth.  We already know so much about the personalities of the principal characters — warts and all — that everything they do in this two-hour premiere seems old hat.

In his “letter” to critics, Matthew Weiner implored us not to divulge plot points that could ruin any surprises for those tuning in on Sunday to herald “Mad Men’s” return.  The thing is: The only surprise I experienced in the season premiere was my own disappointment.


‘Mad Men’ 10/17/10: Don in love? Yeah, right

THE THINKER: Don Draper in another moment of contemplation over the meaning of his life in the fourth-season finale of “Mad Men.” Photo: AMC


NEW YORK, Oct. 18, 2010 — Don Draper in love?  That appeared to be the case Sunday night as ‘Mad Men’ ended its sensational and oh-so unpredictable fourth season on AMC.

Unpredictable?  It was impossible to foresee that swinging bachelor Don (Jon Hamm) would suddenly flip head over heels for his willowy secretary Megan (Jessica Pare), confess that he’s in love with her, and then present her with a diamond engagement ring that he just happened to come by a few days earlier (left to him by the late Anna Draper).

Hey, Matt Weiner, what have you done with our Don Draper?  Up until this season-ending episode, it didn’t seem possible that Draper – who we’ve gotten to know all too well as a hard-drinking hard case who conquers and discards women like he’s James Bond – would ever fall this hard for anyone and then decide to get married and return to the kind of domestic situation he fled when his marriage to Betty (January Jones) fell apart.

And speaking of Betty, the shoe now seems to be on the other foot.  As Don contemplated a future of wedded bliss with bright-eyed, French-speaking Megan, Betty’s marriage to Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) appeared headed for the rocks.

Their status was left up in the air as the season finale came to a close on Sunday, but earlier, Henry angrily confronted Betty for firing Carla, the Draper household’s long-time nanny and housemaid, and not telling him about it.  Icy Betty abruptly fired Carla after Carla permitted troubled neighbor boy Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner) to go upstairs and say a quick good-bye to Sally (Kiernan Shipka) before the family moved.  Betty, who earlier banished Glen from seeing Sally, ran into him as he was leaving the house.  “Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean everybody has to be,” Glen told Betty before running off.  By the end of the episode, Betty was completely alone, hauling off the last box from the home she shared with Don, after hearing his news that he’s getting married and settling down again.

Reactions to Don’s engagement news varied according to gender.  His male partners at the ad agency congratulated him heartily, as did his chief copywriter and protégé Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss).  But privately, Peggy expressed herself more candidly when she bonded over cigarettes with Joan (Christina Hendricks) in one of the episode’s best scenes.  Peggy had almost single-handedly landed a new client, Topaz pantyhose, but her achievement was over-shadowed by Don’s engagement news, and Peggy decried the fact that one young woman’s engagement was more important than another young woman’s victory in the business world.

The fourth-season finale – titled “Tomorrowland,” after the then-futuristic Disneyland attraction – seemed to be aimed chiefly at setting things up for Season Five, particularly where Don and Betty’s respective home lives are concerned.  For Don, blasting off for his own personal Tomorrowland meant severing his budding romance with Faye Miller (Cara Buono), who didn’t take his engagement news well at all, and getting his financial affairs in order with the selling of two houses, his own former home in Ossining, N.Y., and the late Anna Draper’s house in southern California (during a trip to Disneyland with his children and Megan as temporary nanny).

With most of the episode given over to Don’s love life, the season’s most critical storyline, the future of the struggling ad agency, was left unresolved.  To find out what happens there, we’ll now have to wait all the way ’til next summer for Season Five.

What did you think of the ‘Mad Men’ season finale?  Are these 13-week seasons too short or what?  And what do you think about having to wait until next July to find out what happens next?  Wouldn’t it be great if ‘Mad Men’ could return sooner?


‘Mad Men’ 10/10/10: Inside Don’s bold PR plan

AD AGENCY ANGST: Don Draper (Jon Hamm, left) performed a financial rescue for Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser, center), but Don’s bold strategy for restoring the agency’s reputation seemed to drive senior partner Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) into a sudden retirement in this past Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men” on AMC. Photo: AMC


NEW YORK, Oct. 11, 2010 — Was Sunday night’s ‘Mad Men’ episode really only an hour?  So much happened to so many of the show’s characters that it seems impossible that all that plot development could occur in 60 minutes.

But it did.  In a very complicated turn of events, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) appeared to find inspiration in a heroin-induced painting for a p.r. plan aimed at improving his dying agency’s image in the Madison Avenue advertising marketplace.  The plan involved a full-page ad, written by Don, that he placed in the New York Times without consulting any of his partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

The ad sought to reverse the perception that SCDP was being abandoned by its clients, especially Lucky Strike, which accounted for nearly three-quarters of the agency’s income before quitting the firm a couple of episodes ago.  In addition, the firm tried to land a new tobacco client, Philip Morris, which was planning to launch a new cigarette brand aimed at women (presumably the brand that would become Virginia Slims), but lost to another agency.

So Don’s full-page ad declared that SCDP didn’t want cigarette clients anyway, that the agency refuses to be in business with companies that manufacture and market such a dangerous product.  The ad was aimed at burnishing the agency’s reputation, but by the end of Sunday’s ‘Mad Men’ episode on AMC, it had succeeded only in alienating Don’s partners, who didn’t seem to understand his strategy.  One of them, senior partner Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), appeared to quit the agency for good.  Is the eccentric Cooper really out?  Let’s hope not – he’s one of the show’s best characters.

Meanwhile, the rest of the agency’s senior staff set about firing people in a bid to slash costs.  Then, in an effort to sustain the agency, the partners all agreed to kick in up to $100,000 apiece to ensure that the bank continues the firm’s line of credit.  This put Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) in a bind as wife Trudy (Alison Brie) forbade him from emptying their bank account to save the agency.  Incredibly, Don Draper saved the day, secretly paying Pete’s share of the money.

As if all of the drama about the future of SCDP was not enough, the show returned to Don’s former Westchester home front, to the home of ex-wife Betty (January Jones), where the creepiest kid in all of TV – lonely neighbor boy Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner) – was pursuing a “friendship” with Don’s daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka).  Glen is the boy who vandalized the Draper home earlier this season, and a couple of seasons ago seemed to pursue an icky, inappropriate relationship with Betty, who seemed to come perversely close to acquiescing to his advances.  Now, Betty’s seeing the same child therapist who’s treating her daughter, even refusing to see a shrink better suited for an adult.  What can we say about Betty?  She is one damaged individual.

Perhaps the episode’s biggest surprise was the sudden reappearance of Midge (Rosemarie DeWitt), the bohemian artist from Greenwich Village with whom Don carried on an affair in Season One.  Now she’s a wraith-like shadow of her former self, an unsuccessful artist and heroin addict who allows her addict “husband” (we’re not sure if they’re really married) to pimp her out for drug money.  In fact, drug money was the whole reason she staked out Don in the first place.  He felt sorry enough for her to give her some cash and take the abstract painting off her hands that somehow inspired his p.r. scheme.  He did not feel like having sex with her, however, though she offered it freely.

Only one more episode left to go in the fourth season of ‘Mad Men,’ and once again the agency is up against the wall.  Will Don’s p.r. strategy wind up saving the agency and make him a hero to his partners?  Or will he fail?  What do you think will happen next Sunday?  How on earth will they wrap everything up in a single hour?


‘Mad Men’ 10/3/10: Lipstick on Peggy’s teeth

Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) informs Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) that she has lipstick on her teeth in last Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men.” Photo: AMC


NEW YORK, Oct. 5, 2010 — Clients may come and go, and the ad agency might be teetering on the brink of ruin, but there’s one thing you can usually count on when watching ‘Mad Men’: Place handsome Don Draper in a room alone with just about any woman, and the result will be sex.

That’s what happened on Sunday night’s episode of the AMC series about the New York advertising biz in the swinging ’60s.  Just minutes after she volunteered to remain after hours to help him read through some client files, Don’s willowy secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré), was offering him some executive assistance of another kind.  Naturally, the emergency facing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – namely, the loss of its biggest client, Lucky Strike – was pushed aside so these two could dance a horizontal mambo on Don’s office couch.

It was all too predictable, which was a shame because we don’t expect TV’s best drama to be predictable – we expect it to be unpredictable.  Wouldn’t it have been more clever if Don (Jon Hamm) had rejected this young woman’s advances – for a change?

Well, it wouldn’t have been a huge loss for Don if he did, since his new girlfriend – the research consultant Faye Miller (Cara Buono) – was waiting for him in the dim corridor outside his Greenwich Village apartment.  Of course, she had no idea he’d just had sex with someone else.  In fact, Faye is apparently so smitten with him that she showed up on his doorstep despite the fight they’d had earlier in the episode when Don asked her to violate the ethics of her profession and feed him information about the other agencies she works with.  By the end of the episode, she had become willing to do anything he asked.  Does this guy have a way with women or what?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the episode – titled “Chinese Wall,” the 11th installment of the ongoing fourth season – Pete and Trudy Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser and Alison Brie, who was not shown) had a baby daughter and Pete weighed an attractive job offer from rival ad man Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) – yes, folks, you thought his last name was “Shaw,” but it’s just pronounced that way.

Speaking of new relationships, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is now in L-O-V-E with the aspiring writer Abe Drexler (Charlie Hofheimer).  You see that?  Based on the recent rocky history of these two, their new love affair was totally un-predictable – that’s what we expect from ‘Mad Men.’  Peggy’s travails with men straddled the line between serious and comical in Sunday’s episode.  First, she happily sleeps with Abe, then gets seriously sexually harassed by co-worker Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson), and then believes a client is making a lewd pass at her with his tongue when he was actually trying to tell her silently that she had lipstick on her teeth.

This recap would not be complete without mentioning Roger Sterling (John Slattery).  Is he this show’s biggest jackass or what?  What a sad sack he’s become lately – concealing the loss of Lucky Strike from the rest of the agency (he’s known since the episode a week before), then carrying on this charade in Sunday night’s episode of faking a trip to see the Lucky Strike people in North Carolina, phoning senior partner Burt Cooper from a hotel in Manhattan (Roger told Joanie it was the Statler, now the present-day Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 33rd streets) and saying he’d just met unsuccessfully with the clients.  And he’s been harassing Joan (Christina Hendricks) to get her to renew their former love affair.  Fortunately, she seemed to have slammed the door permanently on that idea in Sunday’s episode.

Only two episodes remain in this fourth season of ‘Mad Men.’  Doesn’t it seem like the season just began?  Wouldn’t it be nice if they would make more than just 13 episodes per season?  With only two left, do you think there’s enough time to wrap up the show’s many storylines?  How do you think the season will end?


‘Mad Men’ 9/26/10: The high price of secrecy

PAJAMA GAME: Sanctimonious Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) ruminates on the consequences of deception in this past Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men.” Photo: AMC


NEW YORK, Sept. 27, 2010 — Talk about your mid-life crises!  The men of ‘Mad Men’ were mired in the muck of their own self-made messes on Sunday night’s episode of the AMC drama series.

The episode – titled “Hands and Knees” – was the 10th installment of the ongoing fourth season.  It began and ended with the Beatles.  At the outset, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) phoned daughter Sally (Kienan Shipka) some time during the work week to tell her he’d scored two tickets to the Beatles’ concert at Shea Stadium the following weekend.  Sally’s reaction?  She screamed, and probably continued screaming all the way to Sunday (Aug. 15, 1965), when the real-life Beatles concert drew 55,000 fans to the home of the New York Mets in Flushing, Queens.

At the episode’s conclusion, we heard an instrumental, ’60s-style, lounge-music version of the Beatles’ hit, “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” a very appropriate choice of music given the many secrets both revealed and concealed on the show.

Over-riding the entire episode: The possibility that Don’s big secret would finally come out as the result of a government background check set in motion by his application for a security clearance.  It had to do with an agency client, North American Aviation, a defense contractor involved in the sensitive business of providing aircraft and missile systems to the Department of Defense.

Don’s secret, of course, is that he was once Dick Whitman and adopted the identity of a dead lieutenant named Donald Draper during the Korean War as a way of getting out of the war.  As a result, “Dick Whitman” is still considered a U.S. Army deserter.  Few people know Don’s secret – among them, wife Betty (January Jones), ad agency colleague Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), agency senior partner Burt Cooper (Robert Morse) and, as of Sunday night, Don’s current squeeze, demographer Faye Miller (Cara Buono).

Incredibly, nobody squealed – not even Pete, who could have used the information to ruin Don and elevate himself in the agency hierarchy.  And even though Pete railed to wife Trudy (Alison Brie) about people who keep secrets, we all know Pete has one himself – that he had an illegitimate child with Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) in Season One.  Pete kept Don’s secret, even though it cost the agency this crucial client.

If Don was facing the possibility that a lifelong secret was about to upend his middle-aged life, then two of his partners faced mid-life crises of their own.  Roger Sterling (John Slattery), apparently already bored with his much-younger wife, has once again set his sights on Joan Harris (nee Holloway – Christina Hendricks), with whom he formerly carried on an affair.  She informed him Sunday night that she’s pregnant with his baby, stemming from their sidestreet tryst in the previous episode.  She went to Morristown, N.J. (a quiet suburb about 30 miles west of New York City), to have the pregnancy terminated.  Roger paid for it.

Meanwhile, upright Britisher Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) was forced to deal with his strict, assertive father, Robert (guest-star W. Morgan Sheppard), who came all the way to New York from the U.K. to order Lane to return to his family and patch up his relations with his wife.  In response, Lane took dad to the Playboy Club (with Don in tow) and introduced his father to his new love, a Playboy bunny who also happened to be black.  In one of the most shocking scenes yet seen on ‘Mad Men,’ Robert Pryce slugged his grown son in the head with his cane, then stepped brutally on one of his hands as his son writhed on the floor in semiconscious agony.

By the episode’s end, it was apparent that Lane’s father had won the confrontation as Lane announced at the partners’ meeting that he was headed home to England for a few weeks.

Incredibly, none of these secrets were the biggest of the evening.  The secret with the most far-reaching consequences for everyone at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was the loss of its biggest client – the one the agency depends on most for its financial health – Lucky Strike.  Roger was the recipient of this bad news and he kept it under wraps, nearly having another heart attack when he got the news.

And now, there are only three episodes left in the season for the agency to pull itself back from the brink of ruin – again! – which was also the situation in Season Three.

OK, ‘Mad Men’ fans: How did you like Sunday’s episode?  And with just three episodes left, where do you think we go from here?


1964: When ‘Mad Men’ collides with ‘Bewitched’

TV’S ORIGINAL MAD MEN: Darrin Stephens (Dick York, left) with boss Larry Tate (David White) on “Bewitched.”


NEW YORK, July 23, 2010 — Sterling Cooper Draper & Pryce?   Meet McMann & Tate.

As “Mad Men” opens its fourth season this weekend (Sunday, July 28, at 10 p.m./9c on AMC), the year is 1964 — Thanksgiving to be exact.

It’s a year after the assassination of President Kennedy and much has happened in the lives of the Sterling Cooper Mad men.  Their newly constituted agency — encompassing the names of partners Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) — is up and running in new offices in the then-ultramodern Time & Life building on Sixth Avenue, in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

In the real world of fall 1964, TV audiences were being introduced to another fictional ad agency, McMann & Tate, whose own Mad men were forever trying to lure and retain clients, while partaking in prodigious quantities of booze.

It was “Bewitched,” the ABC sitcom about one man’s effort to strike a balance between his home life in the New York City suburbs and his career in the pressure-cooker of the advertising business.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm, left) and Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) discuss the future of Sterling Cooper with Roger Sterling (John Slattery, seated). Photo credit: AMC-TV

He was Darrin Stephens (first played by Dick York), account executive at McMann & Tate.  Like Don Draper, Darrin was involved in a continuous struggle with clients.  Also like Don, Darrin reported to a white-haired boss, senior partner Larry Tate (David White).  Draper reported to white-haired Roger Sterling (John Slattery) until he, Draper, was elevated to partner.

The big difference between Don and Darrin is, of course, witchcraft.  Darrin’s wife, Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), was a real witch capable of casting spells on neighbors and clients (or, more frequently, undoing the spells cast by her mother, Endora — played by Agnes Moorehead).

Don’s estranged wife Betty (January Jones) might seem like a witch sometimes to Don, but she isn’t one.  He gets no help from witchcraft in performing his responsibilities as creative director at Sterling Cooper.

Sure, “Bewitched” was a silly comedy (a popular one, though, that lasted eight seasons) in which Darrin would suddenly grow donkey ears, compliments of his mischievous mother-in-law.  But in its depiction of the life of a Manhattan ad man in the mid-’60s, it bears striking similarities to “Mad Men.”

The one thing most people cite when they recall “Bewitched” is the consumption of alcohol depicted on the show — something that would be considered politically incorrect to feature so prominently and casually in a prime-time sitcom today.  Back then, though, you probably couldn’t produce a TV show about businessmen in midtown Manhattan without acknowledging the role liquor played in their everyday lives — at lunch, in the afternoons and after office hours.

Liquor, as a plot device, first turns up in the fourth episode of “Bewitched” — in October 1964 — when a prospective client comes to dinner at the Stephenses and Samantha turns him into a dog after he drunkenly makes unwanted advances on her.

In an episode that premiered a few weeks later, in November, Darrin is suspected of making advances of his own — on a teen-aged girl who comes to his office to interview him for her school newspaper.  The enterprising reporter starts pouring drinks in his office and when Darrin tries to take a drink away from her it splashes all over his suit, leading to rumors that he was carrying on a drunken affair with her.  “Bewitched”?  That sounds like “Mad Men”!

The real question for “Mad Men”: Will this show acknowledge the existence of “Bewitched” as part of the AMC show’s 1964 time frame?  “Mad Men” is a show whose producers, writers and set designers are meticulous about the details they apply to establishing the show’s place and time.  They simply must have a scene that acknowledges “Bewitched” and the tribulations of McMann & Tate.  Perhaps Don will go visit his kids on a Thursday evening at around 9 o’clock and find them watching the show.

Or maybe the ABC sitcom will come to the attention of Sterling Cooper’s head of TV, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), who might make a comment about the show during a meeting about a tough client.  “You know what would help us now?” Harry might ask.  “Witchcraft!”

Don Draper would likely reply dismissively, in a manner similar to Tony Soprano when he informed his crew that he was undergoing psychotherapy and one of them asked if it was like “Analyze This.”

“That’s a comedy!” said Tony, in an annoyed tone.  “This is serious!”

Contact Adam Buckman:


Nothing huge, just a small thing about HBO . . .

April 1, 2012

TRAGEDY and COMEDY:  Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones,” left) and Warwick Davis (“Life’s Too Short”) have ’em covered for HBO. (Photos: HBO)


NEW YORK, April 1, 2012 — Who else but your humble TV Howl correspondent would notice that, as one dwarf actor leaves the “stage” at HBO, another arrives to take his place?

The two little people in question: Warwick Davis — 42, 3’6″ star of “Life’s Too Short,” the seven-episode comedy from Ricky Gervais that ended its first season last Sunday on HBO; and Peter Dinklage, also 42, 4’5″ star of “Game of Thrones,” the drama about warring factions in something resembling England in the Middle Ages that returns for its second season this Sunday night (April 1) on HBO.

Why point out this unique and no doubt coincidental “changing of the guard” (as it were)?  No reason except that it gives me a chance to give “Life’s Too Short” some ink here.  And, to a lesser extent, “Game of Thrones” too.

I have no idea how many people tuned in for all seven episodes of “Life’s Too Short,” but I did and I loved every jaw-dropping moment of it.  This show was so “wrong” in its political incorrectness that I found myself wondering if Gervais had merely proposed it to HBO almost as a joke to see if they would say yes, simply because the folks at HBO like being in business with him.

And then the joke was on him because they did say yes.   So he and Stephen Merchant then had to actually produce this thing.  What they made was a “reality” spoof that had Davis starring as himself in a mock documentary about his life as a dwarf actor who had appeared in a number of movies with famous titles (parts of “Star Wars” and the “Harry Potter” series, to name two of them).

But in the show, he was seen struggling to find work despite those credits, while also trying to make his way in a world configured for bigger people.  If you missed this show, you missed incredible cameo appearances by Liam Neeson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sting (especially him) and Johnny Depp (especially him too).  (What are you waiting for?  Go watch it on On Demand.)

And you missed Warwick — a dwarf,  mind you, who’s making fun of what it’s like to be a dwarf — doing the kind of slapstick, physical comedy that hasn’t been seen since the silent era: Stumbling out of his SUV, climbing a bookcase to reach a trophy in one unforgettable scene, falling backward in his chair onto the floor of a restaurant and taking the tablecloth and dishes with him.

Much of “Life’s Too Short” was so painful to watch that you just sat there and thought, How on earth are they getting away with this?  In the season’s final scene, Warwick, penniless and homeless, was seen bunking in a friend’s dresser drawer.  I can’t wait for season two — if there is one.

Meanwhile, along comes Dinklage, who steals every scene in which he appears in “Game of Thrones.”  I’m a latecomer to this baffling, sprawling series about various factions of warriors and their kings who are all maneuvering into clashes with one another like some giant chess game.

But in the season premiere airing Sunday — which I got to see in advance the other day — Dinklage emerged as the most riveting character in the whole thing.  And that’s saying a lot because this is the kind of series that’s well-populated with serious actors — the kind of people whose bearing and voices suggest some sort of classical training on the British stage.

Not Dinklage, though.  He’s from New Jersey.

OK, so HBO has two dwarf actors appearing in consecutive series.  Does this mean anything?  How should I know?

Contact Adam Buckman:

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