Sometimes it seems as if only Daniel Mendelsohn and the New York Review of Books can criticize AMC’s “Mad Men.” Only someone like Mendelsohn, whose work is devoted to mythic themes and to the eternal, can look past the crisp elegance of Don Draper’s pocket square and the show’s captivating visual style. Only someone like Mendelsohn can see its aesthetics as fantasy, a dream of living in a time when drinking and smoking were encouraged, when people would cheer you on for sleeping with your secretary, (when offices had secretaries), when men wore hats, and uniformed elevator men led you gracefully to your floor. And it could only run in a journal like the New York Review, a journal that started during the New York printers’ strike of 1962-1963, an event that would have transpired sometime during “Mad Men’s” third season. Only a publication designed to be academic and comprehensive, someplace that wouldn’t even review “Mad Men” until the end of Season Four, can look past the immediate joys of watching the show.
Then, at other times, it feels as if some sort of cultural window opens and everyone (myself included) gets their two months to criticize “Mad Men.” The joys of watching disappear. Its slowness becomes tediousness. Its oblique approach to historical events feels ridiculous against the backdrop of radicalism, of escalating war, and of rioting and mass protests.
Yet directly engaging with historical events is even worse. The aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King dominated this season’s fourth episode. Characters were scared; characters were hopeless. Everyone was glued to the TV because that was the only thing they knew they could do. They debated whether to go to the office the next day and what to do at the office. Were they really supposed to work?
It’s a perfectly rational discussion for two characters — even two real people — to have. But the conversation also highlighted what was until then the bland ok-ness of Season Six. For weeks, nothing happened. Themes were sketched; elements of eventual movements were gathered; breakpoints between the characters flashed up. Accounts came, accounts went; you could tell that something would happen, but nothing had.
The Mad Men are us. That was the message “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner offered from the stage at a 92d Street Y talk last night, sitting in between Don Draper’s wives — January Jones who plays Betty Draper, now Betty Francis, and Jessica Paré who plays Megan Draper. Caryn James moderated a discussion and the audience was treated to iconic clips from the show, but Weiner was the real MC, mugging and quipping for nearly two hours with the appreciative Manhattan crowd.
Weiner teased the audience with a reminder that we all have a bit of self-loathing Don Draper and slimy Pete Campbell in us, and that we watch their fictional comings and goings each Sunday night not to gape but to relate — although he suggested that the attractiveness of his cast (the actresses flanking him and lead actor Jon Hamm not least among them), certainly helps smooth the way.
But “Mad Men” has become a cultural touchstone for more than just sharp suits and retro hairstyles, he said: “It’s accidentally related to our everyday life because it’s on a human scale and has a lot of moments of privacy.” The nontraditional, slow-burning plotlines take place in homes and workplaces, and focus on characters being disappointed even when they get what they want. Just like us, apparently.
For instance, viewers’ outright hatred for Pete Campbell, the most bratty and entitled WASP of all the characters, is stirred up because “he is them,” Weiner said. Pete’s ungratefulness grates in particular, by reminding us of our own tendencies toward dissatisfaction. “He’s every bad thing you’ve ever done all at once.”
The sixth season of “Mad Men” kicked off last night with an unsubtle theme: death.
Welcome to 1968, a time of social and cultural shifts and the continuing defeat of the Vietnam War. Death is something the characters cannot seem to escape. Don knows it all too well, from the suicide of his younger brother Adam in Season One, to his own military service in Korea, to the suicide of his co-worker Lane Pryce. Death comes to chase Don down in this episode as he faces an existential crisis, trying to find out why he is so unhappy.
The season opens with Don and Megan seemingly in paradise, as they lie on a beach in Hawaii — but it’s apparent that Don is not enjoying himself. He broods as he reads Dante’s “Inferno, ” a tale of death and crime, the beautiful scenery around him contrasting with his facial expressions.
The camera is sure to give an extra few seconds to Megan, who has landed herself a role on a soap opera and is now a small-time celebrity, getting stopped for autographs in the hotel. Don clearly is unhappy with Megan’s success and makes it clear that she no longer satisfies him. She may be a pretty face, but Don seems to be searching for a deeper connection. The camera seems to purposely focus on Megan’s bottom as Don’s voice-over reads from his book, “Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
Advertising, it’s fair to say, is in Ben Feldman’s blood.
Yes, he technically plays a fictional advertiser, the Jewish copywriter in AMC’s award-winning drama “Mad Men.” But Feldman says it was his excellent marketing skills that landed him the role.
“The casting loved that I was a Jew in real life,” Feldman told JTA. “They were looking for the typical character, a Jew with a heavy accent, and I played it up for all it was worth.”
A 32-year-old traditional Jew from Washington, Feldman is best known as the token MOT on “Mad Men”: the terrible blazer-wearing, Brooklyn-accent talking, shamelessly outspoken Michael Ginsberg.
Feldman’s first acting gigs were in off-Broadway plays. Eventually he scored roles in TV shows such as “CSI” and “Living with Fran,” as well as in small films.
He thought he was about to hit it big when he moved to Los Angeles for a sitcom produced by Adam Sandler titled “The Mayor.” Feldman starred in the pilot, but the show never aired and eventually was dropped, providing the struggling actor a crash course in the capriciousness of the entertainment industry.
On March 26, a day after the premiere of the new season of “Mad Men,” a group of New Yorkers packed into Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher hall to soak up another dose of mid-century nostalgia: the New York Philharmonic’s spring gala program “Anywhere I Wander: The Frank Loesser Songbook,” featuring the works of the Jewish composer and lyricist who reigned during the glitzy heyday of the American musical comedy.
It was Marvin Hamlisch who wrote that “everyone is beautiful at the ballet” — no one, to my knowledge, has ever claimed the same about the philharmonic — and yet on this chilly spring evening an air of old-fashioned glamour wafted through the hall. Women wore furs; champagne was sipped. As the orchestra noodled onstage, the trumpeter practicing not a tough lick from Tchaikovsky but rather the swelling, love-struck strains of Loesser’s “Rosemary,” something like titillation rippled through the crowd.
I suspect that certain people like hearing the Philharmonic — in this case led by Ted Sterling with a lineup of Broadway veterans and opera superstar Bryn Terfel — play this sort of thing more than they care to admit. Broadway tunes are what orchestras trot out for outdoor picnics and the pops concerts that make classical music purists wince, and yet it’s significant that the Philharmonic has chosen to feature musical theater composers (Loesser this year, Stephen Sondheim the past two) when the goal is to delight its most generous patrons, who are ostensibly devotees of more serious fare.
The publication of “Truth and Consequences,” an inside look at the Madoff family, has been moved up to the end of October.
“Modern Family” took home five Emmy Awards at last night’s ceremony, while other awards were taken by “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” “The Good Wife” star Julianna Margulies, Kyle Chandler from “Friday Night Lights,” “Mad Men” for best drama and Martin Scorsese as director of “Boardwalk Empire.”
Not everyone loves Jon Stewart, however. Especially not Esquire’s Tom Junod.
George Clooney’s “Ides of March” will open the Haifa International Film Festival.