Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mad Men Season Opener - Worth the Wait?

Long answer:

The episode "Out of Town" is an interesting balancing act. As we headed into the second season, many of the questions were left unanswered in a delightful/maddening tease. I was curious if Matthew Weiner would try that approach again, particularly with the increased scrutiny and expectations of this new season. Instead of trying to replicate or invert, he manages to dispense a good deal of information while still leaving a good deal unexplained. Without spoiling anything, I would say the following aspects are addressed but not fully investigated:
  1. The fate of Duck Phillips.
  2. Changes at the agency since the Brits took over.
  3. The increasing importance of TV at Sterling Cooper.
  4. Joan's wedding plans.
There is still much left to explore of those items and, hopefully, the first point in particular: considering the potential for drama around Duck Phillips' departure and the office meltdown witnessed in "Out of Town", it has become increasingly clear that Sterling Cooper is not a happy, healthy place to work.

Just as interesting are those elements left untouched so far:
  1. Peggy and Pete.
  2. Pete's relationship with his father-in-law.
  3. Peggy and Pete.
  4. Betty's state of mind post-reconciliation.
  5. Peggy and Pete.
I'm curious to see how the Peggy and Pete dynamic will play out: I have a sense that the true nature of their connection might fade into the background and devolve into a bitter workplace rivalry.

The opening of the episode was quite theatrical and struck me as too "stagey" by half at the time, but upon reflection it makes sense. We've spent a time away from the rhythms of Mad Men and it does the audience well to reacquaint themselves with the measured but steady tempo unseen in standard network TV fare.

Just as interesting is the connection Sal and Don experience during their trip to Baltimore. I've always thought that if anyone in the office could accept Sal's true nature it would be Don: as I mention in the book (shameless plug alert!), there is a closeted nature to Don's Draper/Whitman existence that can easily be seen as a gay sensibility.

Which leads to a bigger point: I think one of the reasons Don inspires such a strong following in the workplace is that everyone can look to him and identify an aspect of themselves, or at least a characteristic they'd like to emulate. This knack for identification makes Don a successful boss and a successful ad man.

One niggling point: I'm generally on-board with the ads Don creates, but his London Fog pitch is the first time I was left standing on the platform. Outside of the thematic resonance of the tag line, I couldn't help but emit a shuddering 'Bleccch" while the Sterling Cooper lackeys proclaimed its brilliance.

Short answer: Yes, it was worth the wait.

Also: John Doyle wrote a good article on the show and also mentioned the book launch (shameless plug alert!):


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Launch Day Part Two - Thoughts & Pics from McNally Robinson

I felt quite good on the way to the launch, and why not? The interview at CBC went well, threatening rain pushed past unleashed and Darlene and I were going to Swiss Chalet before the event.

Mistake #1: I listened to the CBC interview before heading to the event. If you read the previous post, you've got a sense of how little I cared for my performance. Other than the whole "bubbling" situation, I felt like a dope when I spoke about the troubles women faced in the workplace circa 1960 (which was, like, real hard) and I felt as though my answers were trite.

Mistake #1: We went to Swiss Chalet before the event. This is never a bad thing on its own, but coupled with an upsetting event (say, a poor interview performance) it can lead to ruin; for a big guy like me, being around all those carbohydrates when I'm feeling edgy is like locking an alcoholic in a Vintages.

The book store is quite swank and enticing. A section on the second floor is cleared away for these kind of affairs. Period-accurate chairs and lamp/table were acquired by event planner Carla (who did a bang up job) and I had time to worry about the empty sixty chairs facing me.

Good fortune #1: John Doyle from The Globe and Mail arrived and immediately put me at ease. It is obvious that he is not only a consummate professional, but a snappy dresser, too.

Good fortune #2: People showed up. Friends and family to be sure, but fans of the show anxious to talk about what they've seen and thought of the show. As much fun as I had being interviewed by Mr. Doyle, the Q&A picked up some interesting steam, particularly when one audience member happily disagreed with my description of Peggy as "selfish".

Good fortune #3: Many people said they heard the CBC interview and thought I sounded good. 'Professional' some said. Others said 'polished'. Apparently I didn't come across as a complete hick and for that I'm grateful.

Good fortune #4: We sold some books. Twenty-five, in fact.

Good fortune #5: Vodka gimlets, canapes and shrimp were served.

Mistake #3: Not acting fast enough with the gimlets, canapes and shrimp.

Next time, perhaps.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Launch Day Part One -- CBC Interview

The first thing I think about when approaching the CBC building on Front Street is that I've never been inside it before. Next, I realize that all I know about the interior is what I've seen on "The Newsroom" and that it actually looks smaller in person than on the small screen. Thirdly, I think that the Star Trek-style sliding security doors don't look all that forbidding, particularly because they are see-through plexiglass more at home at a drive-thru window than in the lobby of a national broadcaster.

Otherwise, I liked the place. The staff of "Here and Now", along with host Jane Hawtin, were quite accommodating to an interview newbie like myself. I'd like to thank them in particular for editing out the part where I suggested that Mad Men took place during the Civil War instead of the Civil Rights movement.

Also, anyone who accurately counts how many times I say "bubbling under" and its derivations will earn my lifelong scorn and contempt.

Stay tuned for my riveting account of the book launch. Also, pictures.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Let the Media Oversatuation Begin!

On the day of the book launch at McNally Robinson (Wednesday, August 12th for anyone in the GTA), I will appear on CBC's Here & Now to discuss Kings of Madison Avenue and the impending debut of Mad Men's third season. I will do my level best to charm, inform and flatter, then sit back and await the much-lauded Matt Galloway sales bump.

I know it's radio, but any thoughts on what I should wear? I'm trying to strike a balance between erudite and casual, so I'm thinking calabash pipe and footie pyjamas.

Excerpts of a Jon Hamm podcast interview with ESPN's Bill Simmons AKA The Sports Guy (how'd he wind up on ESPN?). He fields some tough questions about season three, which he adroitly non-answers, and manages a swipe at both Kathy Griffin and The Wire.

If the promo shot for the season three premiere is any indication, things will just get dicier for Don Draper.

Almost as interesting is the inclusion of KoMA in an Amazon list by customer Michelle Meyer, who raves "I have no idea if this will be any good, but I'm intrigued by the title and will probably pre-order it!"

I will hold you to that, Ms. Meyer.