IR Television Review: MAD MEN [AMC]

The tendency of people to find themselves again always seems to reflect in some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Don Draper of “Mad Men” is no different. In trying to affect his own sense of moral center, he is moving against who he really is and not what he is appearing to be. After the jump in years which made intuitive sense, the ideas of the entire agency begin to show the motivation of who they want to be. Pete Campbell, the newly fulfilled partner in the firm, wants to create the perfect view of what life should be in his eyes but, in doing so, feels even emptier than what Don has become. In doing this parallel storyline with Pete’s fading morality and belief in what is really definitely shows the dexterity of Matthew Weiner’s writing. The progression of “Mad Men” is cyclical but also universal: one always wants what they don’t have. This is especially true in high-competition industries.

The handling of the female lead story lines, particularly Joan and Peggy through the season, shows two characters moving towards the same center from completely opposite directions. Joan starts off the season as a new mother trying to adhere to her place but realizing that this is against her nature which she promptly rectifies at a certain point. Peggy’s ambition, like everyone, reflects in how much she is needed and what she has learned. When she comes to a life change (which also inter-played with her decision in an earlier season arc), she makes the right decision. At one point, she and Pete intersect and the slight moment created is just enough to show the cycle.

Don meanwhile, in this deck of cards, is trying to be the doting husband and be supportive in what ways he couldn’t with Betty because of the secrets he is hiding from her. His wife, albeit 15 years younger than him, knows all his secrets and he tries to stay in line but anything that is familiar can eventually get boring which eventually strays his thoughts. The intention of the closing of “You Only Live Twice” shows that life renews itself but creates the same temptations. The use of different emotional components like Don’s supposed hallucinations of one of his old conquests coming back to haunt him shows that the ghosts are still there. Like Pete who is experiencing his similar problems of year past, the belief of redemption is steeped in thoughts of middle-dom which does not suit this world. Life is short.

A-

Advertisements

IR Print Interview: Jon Hamm For “Mad Men” [AMC/Cable TCA]

Don Draper, as a functionality of modern man set within the structure of a 60s era world, has become a focal point and personification of ambition and cool within the modern TV landscape even as his own personal demons threaten to bring him down. Jon Hamm, embodying Draper in full costume with a tumbler of Scotch at the AMC “Mad Men” Cocktail Party at the Winter Cable TCAs, discusses with The Inside Reel’s Tim Wassberg the notion of ambition and the changing face of this titular character.

Tim Wassberg: Can you talk in terms of the new season of the aspect of ambition versus life experience in Don Draper?

Jon Hamm: I think they are very closely related. I think sometimes your life experience can inform your ambition and very often ambition can inform your life experience. And I think that Don has a crazy life experience. He has a double life. He comes from nothing. His ambition has certainly got him where he is. Often the problem with people who are incredibly ambitious is what happens when you get there? Then what?

TW: What questions does Don Draper ask himself?

JH: Is this it? Are we done? What’s next? That kind of stuff. If your ambition is to rise to the top and you get there and there is another mountain, you go “Oh Shit!” Or if you look around and there ain’t no more mountains, then what?

TW: Can speak on the evolution of Don’s psychology both in his physicality and emotionally as he puts up more and more masks.

JH: I think what happens is that everybody gets old. None of us are immune to that particularity. Some age faster than others and other age, psychologically, not at all. What ends up happening is that your life happens, and you get older. And sometimes what happens when you get older is the things you did in your past, which seemed so big and so hard to deal with, kind of don’t matter anymore or matter less. I think Don is in a place in his life where that is beginning to happen.

TW: Does that mean Don is more prone to second guessing himself?

JH: I think he is just getting older and realizing the old saying: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. And, by the way, it’s all “small stuff”.

Puppets, Sharks & Regular People: The 2009 TCA Cable Summer Press Tour – Feature – Part I

The essence of cable is based between the aspects of reality, scripted essence and the angle of creative paradoxes. The key is pushing the envelopes in more ways the one and not creating the aspect of nitch as much as the angle of the now. The Cable Portion of the Summer 2009 TCA Summer Press Tour speaks to the angle of the voice versus the perception of the idea.

AMC/Mad Men Cocktail Party Entering in off the terrace into the grasp of sunset, the essence of the smoothness continues to build. Sitting on a posh chair swishing around a Manhattan inundated with a cherry as the scotch continues to flow, Christina Hendricks who plays Joan, the sly and in-control office manager on the series, twirls the men with equal precision around her finger working the terrace in a form fitting green dress, both retro and modern. Most of the cast seem to highlight much of their personas from wardrobe which was obviously highlighted from the costume department for this event. Jon Hamm positioned by the door was holding a gaggle of people rapt within his tales as the bar continued pouring. While traversing the party in the company of a younger and compelling 22 year old woman, the interaction came to  Rich Sommer, who plays Harry Crane, a rising star within the Madison Avenue office who always tries to find the balance but also the edge of the moral code prevalent in his work. The actor and his wife moved from New York when he got the gig and have been here for the compelling three years since. Our discussion turned to theater in NY which he has not done yet but would be interesting for him during the haitus. He reflected that it is in fact 7 months between shooting of the seasons to adhere to AMC’s specific airing schedule so there is much time down. As the cigarette smoke drifted in silky rhythm as cast member looking off the Roman essence of the terrace into the sunset, the characteristic element of the Emmy Award winning drama lushily made itself known.

TV Land The early morning essence of the shows began in earnest as the introductions began in earnest. Joan Rivers took the podium with gusto talking about her new series “How Did You Get So Rich”. When Rivers gets going, she is like a freight train with a lot of blue stops along the way. She spoke of Dustin Hoffman who lives next door to Barbara Streisand. His dog gets massages. She says why do you have to get any more relaxed when you can already lick your own balls? The people she interviews on her new show don’t promote envy because most of them came from nothing. However some of the objects they buy sometimes seem to defy description. She says that one guy opened his safe filled with money and she had an orgasm which she peppers with the follow up that it was the first time she had one since Melissa was born. She chuckles and even admits that this early morning joke might have crossed the line. She also enters her thought on the looming Jay Leno Show at 10pm since she herself used to have her own late night show. Her opinion is that people will get bored more easily and go to bed earlier. The crops will all be greener. The woman doesn’t pull the punches for sure.

Nickelodeon With the success of “The Penguins Of Madagacar”, the pursuit of the intention of more animation seems like a natural fit. With his long standing success as head of multiple studios, Michael Eisner would be one to know the landscape. With his new stop motion show “Glenn Martin DDS”, the irony is a bit closer. Unlike “Happy Days” which he shepherded in the 70s, this new show is more about a modern family being torn apart. Eisner says that the show is both “opposite and the same”. It is about family but this is not the 50s. Eisner explains that this outlay is no different from what he has done in his whole career. At Disney, it was a matter of more people in the process. He remembers when he came up with “Happy Days” when he was snowbound at Newark Airport. He further represents that the aspect of “Beverly Hills Cop” came about when he was stopped in Beverly Hills coming from Paramount. The “puppet animation”, as he puts it, is a natural extension. When he was at ABC in the 60s, he gave the go-ahead for the “Frosty” special, followed soon after by “Rudolph”. The laugh tracks present in “Martin DDS” are derived from his enjoyment of the laugh tracks on “The Jetsons”. He believes this new show will bring stop motion back to the forefront (which of course is a tall order). He reflects that with “Barney Miller”, he had trouble getting it on the air. “Cheers” had a brisk to it which also could be considered difficult. But all of these shows, in his mind, had an aspect of social commentary. By comparison, at Disney, he said they had the aspect that “the family that plays together stays together”. Star Kevin Nealon, formerly of SNL, says that his favorite shows were “Gilligan’s Island” and “Wild Wild West”. He sarcastically remarks that they were looking for a “voice” and he had one but it was difficult since he was being offered so many shows at the time.

Comedy Central Making a show with less than socially correct puppets has always been a mine for comedy. It is just a matter of hitting the right marks. Jeff Dunham has been working and doing his schtick as a ventriloquist for years. His routine with his crochety old compatriot Walter works precisely for the fact that the marionette can say things that he simply can’t. Dunham says he wants to give a real edge to the show. One of the first things that came to his mind was to have his Middle Eastern puppet Ahkmed do a sketch at the airport. The aspect that still fascinates him is that people still forget that the dolls are not real. His associates, when making the pieces, simply tell the interviewees to “pay no attention to Jeff”. Walter, his most famous creation, is inspired by one of his friend’s fathers from college. He says that when you would carry on a conversation with him and stare him straight in the eye, the man would seem frightened. Combine that, he says, with aspects of Bette Davis’ last appearance on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” where the actress simply said whatever she wanted. At this point, he brings out Walter, who simply says that “we have peaked” and that it feels “like it was in Chris Brown’s car”. Walter then proceeds to offer different headlines that go along with his pessimistic demise of this said show including “Dunham Show Dolls Out Cheap Laughs”, “Dunham Show Funny as Fucking Wood” and “Dunham Show Needs Helping Hands” (which elicits some groans from the background). Dunham goes onto say that they will be introducing a new character called Melvin The Superhero who doesn’t have any powers to speak of. He does admit that if he has a couple drinks, Walter is the character that will come out as it did on the second taping on one of his DVDs. He did a tequila shot just with a friend before the show and it hit him a little harder than he would have expected. Walter materialized in vigor. In terms of ventriloquism, as an art form, he does say that it is a dying art. He speaks of the annual ventriloquist convention which draws about 400 attendees, 8 of which work professionally. Of course the stigma tends to be always there.

History Channel With a show addressing social consciousness, the trick is not to make it too preachy in the overall scheme of its progression. With the new show “The People Speak”, the History Channel is attempting to highlight some very real perceptions of how ordinary people make a different. Matt Damon and Chris Moore who were involved with “Project Greenlight” believed in the project enough to propel it. Damon speaks that “People” shows how everyday citizens change the course of history calling it, for him, “a very empowering experience”. The aspect that drew him was simply the material. He says people have a relationship with the book and that it relays itself perfectly into this format. He admits that he put money to the piece but that the main thrust of the “locomotive” was done by the other involved parties. He says that the History Channel was the exact right outlet because he says, it has “exploded” buoyed by the fact that “there is an appetite for history” and that “people in general seem to be more interested in politics now”. He admits that in many big Hollywood films that there is a lot of waste but that “different films have different catering budgets”. He brings the focus back to “People” saying that “things have not worked out well for any citizens who have conceded to the bandwagon”. The real work is about “being pushed by regular people”

Chris Moore, long a collaborator with Damon, says ultimately what it comes down to, in terms of motivating a show like this, is manpower. On projects like this, people come on to help because they want to do it, not because of a paycheck. The whole design of this series, he adds, is to go into the schools and connect with the kids. He entices that Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam did a cover of “No More War”, Bob Dylan did Woody Guthrie and John Legend did a slave spiritual along with “What’s Going On” which gives the program pop culture as well as historical relevance. Howard Zinn, who wrote the book on which the series is based, notes the question of how many people who struggle for an 8-hour day. When people in schools sometimes speak of “the history collective” as he puts it, one tends to get a lecture on the masters of the freedom trail. The point, Zinn says, is “to teach qualitatively and not quantatively, to not just celebrate but to make people think” because “all citizens have the power of demanding”.

National Geographic Looking into the teeth of a Great White Shark might be a compelling moment even for the star of “The Fast & The Furious” franchise. Paul Walker, long an avid surfer with a love of the ocean (his black muscle car outside is strapped for his surfboard), was invited along for the ride by one of his friends who offered him the job as a deckhand to take the unprecedented task of bringing one of the massive sharks onboard. Paul, whom this reporter has met many times over the years, smiles saying that Jacques Cousteau is his idol. He mentions that he is on the board of the Billfish Foundation and when he got a call from exec producer Chris McKay on 4 days notice, he jumped at the chance to see the “awesomeness” of this animal up close although he admits “it hurt my surfing career”. McKay says that the progression in the field of microbiology allows these kind of studies to be part of the science agenda specifically in many ways in how it relates to astrobiology. The shark they captured nicknamed “Bruce” in an ode to the “Jaws” movies ate the outboard and props so it wasn’t the easiest capture.

Another more terran series in poise at Nat Geo is “Rescue Ink Unleashed” which follows the plight of some very tough guys (Eric, Joe Panz, Big Ant and Johnny O) who fight for the plight of abused and abandoned animals. They come in when the cops have done their part and things must be taken a step further. Joe speaks for the group saying that they stay on point until the situation gets resolved. The question becomes, if they show up, does it make a difference? His response is that they get the animal out of a bad situation. After they do the rescue, the vet gets involved and once it is determined there is no agression, the animals are placed into a better home. Otherwise, they come to the Ink Sanctuary called “The Clubhouse”. The process by which the cases are investigated is that a call goes to their girl Mary at the office. They then send in their guy, a former homicide investigator, that dispatches them to the situation if it warrants their attention. Then business is taken care of.

ESPN Having pop culture and media savvy filmmakers highlight what their sport icons mean to them makes for very interesting voices in a saturated market. “30 for 30” takes this approach by bringing some of these people together to create this kind of mosaic. For example, Ice Cube, filmmaker, actor and music star, takes on the iconography of the Los Angeles Raiders and what they meant to him. He says that his story is really the parallel between the Raiders image and what it did to the city of LA. He relates the fact that NWA (the rap group he was part of) took on part of that persona. He admits that Los Angeles, by rote, is owned by the Dodgers and the Lakers. The Raiders, as he puts it, were “the bad cousins that come to visit you”. He experienced that culture by being knee deep in that era of gansgta rap. It is at this point that, he says, the LA Kings hockey team changed their colors. Cube believes that this story is one that hasn’t been explored (and truly he is the person suited to bring it to light). He does this by interviewing many of the people interrelated at different points in this perspective from Eric Dickerson to Ice T to Marcus Allen to John Singleton. His piece he relates is more indicative of the community itself. Cube also opinionates himself on the lack of a current NFL franchise in the LA area saying “Los Angeles does not support NFL franchises unless they win” citing the Clippers as an example.

John Singleton, who worked with Cube on his seminal work “Boyz In The Hood”, thought that these stories across the board needed to be told not as they were in the media but by these respective filmmakers. The key here is to create a filter with something different. Fellow director Peter Berg, best known for action films “The Rundown” and “Hancock”, speaks of his segment on hockey player Wayne Gretsky whom he describes as a “very humble and shy person who was interested [in the idea] but not chomping at the bit”. He says he was most surprised to see the man becoming more enthusiastic as he came closer to the emotions. Berg speaks of being a Canadian and remembering how horrible the LA Kings were before Gretsky. He said that growing up in Edmonton Alberta where the athlete was originally based was an exercise in identity since the whole thought of the city was wrapped around this one individual. When Gretsky left for LA, it almost became a national issue which is what intrigued him about the story.

BBC The perception of British programming is the balance between the aspect of drama and the conceptual ideals that sometimes are able to traverse oceans. A good example is the passing of the baton for a show like “Dr. Who” which has enjoyed an exceptionally good run with its star David Tennant whom they are phasing out at the top of his popularity to maintain the brand. Creator/writer Russell Davies says that he and David were lucky to have worked together since they did “Casanova” originally for the BBC where he saw the essence of the Doctor. Davies says that there was a humor and comedy whereas most other actors who had taken on the part were playing it so seriously. He adds that there will be no massive distances between the doctors because it all has to do with experiences. One can’t depend on character hooks too much. The doctor maybe an alien and a timelord but ultimately for the most part he is human. That is the key.

Tennant, for his part, relates that, in view of his recent Comic Con experience, he admits that the doctor likes being “this doctor”. He says that the character, as well as himself, is reaching against the “dying of the light” where “the bell is tolling for him and he doesn’t want to go quietly”. Tennant agrees that it is exciting handing over the show in good health but that keeping it on with him, in the long term, was uncertain. With a future including two films and “Hamlet” for the BBC, his plate is hardly empty.

“Occupation”, another BBC series [this one shot in Morocco] takes into the strike zone the aspect of the war in the Middle East from the British perspective. Pete Bowker, the writer, says that the way the characters approach the war is key. Having a pint or a coffee becomes a major event. He relates a moment when a soldier told him that the only way his family would let him become a nurse is if he did it in the army. Another anecote came from another soldier telling him how they would clear a building. The humor came from the aspect of sticking your head around the corner and seeing if someone blows it off.

“Being Human”, by comparison, takes a middle ground between the two series, because of its inherent supernatural elements. Toby Whithouse, creator of the series, emphasizes the fact that, in reality, we don’t live in a genre. A person can have a normal conversation but it doesn’t mean that something tragic isn’t going on. In a matter of perspective, sometimes the relativity gives you more free range to work in because you can tell a massive and a personal story at the same time which allows you to look at the community in a distinctly different way. He says the stablizing factor is to maintain order in the house which he jokingly says he does by constantly making tea.

Mythic Bikers & Parallel Existence: Returning Television Fall 2009 – Part I – Review

As the new fall season enters in texture, the returning shows entering display a differential that plays the same with an added sense of knowing. With the cable networks still outpacing in general story, the writers on all sides are keeping their intensity at a high level which shows in the first inferences of the new.

mm3

Mad Men The key with this show is allowing the characters to breathe with finesse. The greatness of the show lies in its ability to let you watch the characters’ thoughts unfold with the knowledge that it might not work for them in the end. Don Draper continues to move in mysterious ways and his interaction with the would-be Conrad Hilton sends him on a disnomer of emotional proportions just when he seems to be finally bringing things under control. Don’s by-the-wayside Rockwell type moment with his daughter and newborn son show both the inevitability but also the paradox of the American Dream. As his relationship disentegrates with Roger over what should be a tryst and Cooper pulls a dark card to make him sign a contract, the walls seemingly are starting to close in again. Don is a MacGuffin more than ever. Add to this a rich surrounding of women between his wife (played with just the right amount of knowing by January Jones) who is looking for life extension especially after the death of her father to Peggy (played by an increasingly aware Elizabeth Moss) who continues to rise up the corporate ladder acting like one of the boys and finding her true rhythm in business deals. Also one must not forget Joan (played with distinctive knowing by Christina Hendricks), an exceptional shark in her own right who makes a decision based on traditional values that is inevitably biting back at her. There are also so many other characters that are secondary that are simply being ignored at times because the main proponents are so engaging and allowed to develop organically. This is the show’s great gift: its ability to create the essence of time while seemingly moving the story along without being rushed.

sons2

Sons Of Anarchy This story operates in an antithetical way because it is about instinctual, visceral and primal elements not shrouded by stiff suits (although Adam Arkin is giving it a run for its money). Last season, the culimation of Jax’s perception of Clay as a divisive change in the rule of the club made him a bit of a tragic hero. Kurt Sutter, who also worked on “Deadwood”, has created a modern family story shrouded in love, death, crime and brotherhood within a story about a biker club with killer follow through. He had the series run at an incessant pace with an almost “Godfather” exit in the finale last season. The thing about Sutter is that he doesn’t pull the punches. Gemma, played by Katey Sagal (who is also Kurt’s real life wife), is put through the wringer in the first episode that completely changes the dynamic of the season in an instant. Sagal takes on a whole different dimension in a sharp turn in terms of the choices she needs to make. This directly affects her life with Clay, who has secrets of his own, not the least of which is that he ordered the botched murder of an innocent woman in trying to kill one of his own men. Ron Perlman told me at TCAs that playing the role of Clay can be very uncomfortable. He likes Charlie [Hunnam] who plays Jax like a son so he says it is hard for them to go at each other with such thinly veiled hate. That for him is the challenge. People are pushing themselves on the show. Even in the first four episodes of this season, you can see Charlie Hunnam simply melding into the role but the fact of how he can modulate between the life of the club and the life at home with his re-united childhood sweetheart as well as his new son comes off as heartbreaking because you know something bad is going to happen as time goes on. This show has Emmy written on it simply because of the performances, especially Charlie. Even the way his girlfriend in the series has to assert herself in the politics and alpha female intensity of the club’s dealings to retain her man is great. The power here lies in the women which is a phenomenally underlying truth. This to me in a plethora of good TV is one of the most cutting edge shows out there because it doesn’t need a high concept to make exceptionally riveting. And where it is going is ratcheting up.

fringe1

Fringe At the end of last season, a new world unfolded before the eyes of the audience and of agent Olivia Dunham (played by Anna Torv). As the new mythology evolved, the story aimed to jump start the stakes. Whereas Jared Harris (who is also on “Mad Men”) led her to a bit of ruin last season, the key here is unfolding a showing an intensity of will, which seems to come to fruition when Anna emerges from nowhere into the world almost dead in the opening moments of the season opener. It is Peter Bishop (played with restrained authorship by Joshua Jackson) that takes control and finds a way to make the division work under threat of shutdown. The relationship between Peter and his father Walter (played with delicious inventiveness by John Noble) is really starting to anchor the series. There is a degree of connection that is starting to be apparent and the humor definitely is getting a following. At one point Walter is doing an autopsy but is having his assistant help him make pudding at the same time. There is just something in that paradox that makes it work. The cornerstone in terms of the drama does revolve around Dunham but a smile or two (like in “Castle”) works miracles. The crux with her that keeps developing is her relationship with men and the betrayal of her trust (which continues to happen). Her relationship with her former partner now dead motivated her last season. This year, the problem rests in her close friend inside at FBI who is not who she believes him to be. The shake up of this structure will continue to affect her both personally and professionally. In terms of mythology versus stand alone, the alternation continues. The second episode actually includes a Gollum-like creature as if something out of “Children Of The Corn”. “Fringe” shows that it is mixing it up but the ultimate personification of William Bell is still the focal point with [Leonard] Nimoy nowhere in sight yet with his presence still lingering. It is just a matter where this story leads since the danger is of the mythology becoming too intrinsic. The show has infinitely more potential than “Warehouse 13” yet that show already has distinct control over its trajectory which in turn creates the effectiveness and clarity in ways of its storylines. “Fringe” needs to simply optimize its machine which it has the power to do.

parks2

Parks & Recreation At the end of the abbreviated last spring introduction of this “Office” type mockumentary, its charm had not yet settled in. It was seemingly trying a little harder than it should have. However, the texture has seemed to relaxed heading into its fall progression. Having not watched “The Office” at its inset, the ability to see this show from inception focalizes that the inherent nature of it rests in creating the situation in an offset manner to the character development. The relationships in last season seemed to be more of a focal point whereas the starting point of this new season works because it makes use of events in each of the episodes to motivate the characters which inevitably works much better in terms of structure. The first episode has Amy Poehler’s character mistakenly marrying two male penguins at a function at a zoo seemingly creating a gay rights issue. The trouble that she and her Indian Carolina-born associate get into trying to live it down ends up involving a party where she is heralded as Queen. Another subsequent episode has Poehler discovering what is supposedly “marijuana” growing in the community garden she planted. While she is cultivating the garden, her associate is getting a suntan on a reclining chair nearby. It is just a perfect balance of earnestness and sheer ridiculous humor perpetrated by these two lead characters. There are couple more characters establishing themselves slightly but with the exception of Poehler’s boss pulling something in the most recent episode, there hasn’t been anything to truly diversify the rest of the cast in true form yet. But according to most, it took “The Office” in the US a couple seasons to get in stride. The question becomes will the ratings here be good enough in general to allow for that kind of possible success. Poehler fuels the show and the writing is starting to know what it needs to be so there is possibility but not quite yet.

The key with these first 4 returning shows is their different levels of intention and acceptance and how each is purveying its individual trajectory. “Mad Men” can make its story work while looking effortless in terms of character and interweaving storylines which has caused it to hit a stride of sorts in its third season after two exceptional seasons before. “Sons Of Anarchy”, in terms of energy, burns brighter with a sense of Shakespearean tragedy but rivals “Men” at times in terms of mythic perception even though it has not gotten anywhere near the kudos of the former. It however seems very steady in its identity and knowing what it needs to be. “Fringe” is a good show that is still very much finding its focus while discerning its balance between mythology and stand alone and between drama and biting humor leading towards the direction it is choosing. “Parks & Recreation” is a much simpler creature but, in the beginning of its second season, is realizing the the story/situation must take precedence and the character arcs will naturally follow. However, all in all, positive progressions for all involved, some more than others, but all showing a tightening of ranks.