Mad Men – My Old Kentucky Home

2009 August 31
by kvanaren

I hardly even know where to start with last night’s Mad Men. The episode outdid itself with the number of scenes begging to be close read, ranging in blatant absurdity from Roger’s blackface number and Pete and Trudy’s Charleston to the countless unspoken moments of subtle eye contact and enigmatic dialogue. (Among the latter group I’d list Joan’s accordion performance and Peggy’s conversation with her secretary Olive high on the list of scenes that practically have a space for annotation written into the script.)

But my struggle with how to actually attack this episode stems from another direction entirely. Mad Men is begging to be analyzed, and the response to that invitation has suddenly begun to feel a little overwhelming. The usual suspects like Alan Sepinwall and Maureen Ryan of course have extensive commentary, and there are posts on Jezebel, the NYTimes Artsbeat blog, TIME and already three posts about it on slate.com. I didn’t fully appreciate just how appealing Mad Men is as a subject until I saw today that ABC News’ Senior White House Correspondent, Jake Tapper, has started writing weekly Mad Men blog posts. Apparently, we love to write about Mad Men.

The screenshot everyone will use from this episode

The screenshot everyone will use from this episode

It’s not hard to see why, especially with an episode like last night’s. There was something for everybody’s own Mad Men hobbyhorse. If you’re into gender studies, Peggy and Joan had plenty of material for you, with Peggy blazing new territory and Joan suddenly realizing her traditional ambitions have limited her opportunities. If you’re more into social history, it’s hard to beat the Kentucky Derby party as a snapshot of life at the brink of change. For the political scientists (I’m looking at you, Jake Tapper), we get Roger complaining about the Roosevelt marriage and the likelihood of Goldwater as a presidential candidate, and for the lit. geeks (I’m looking at…me), we get Sally reading Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Paul Kinsey reciting from Eliot’s The Hollow Men. And anyone into civil rights and the history of race in American must look at that blackface scene and feel like they’ve been handed a Christmas present.

Enter my mixed feelings. I am thrilled everyone is writing about Mad Men. Whoohoo, thoughtful dialogue about a great show! Plus, there’ve been some seriously impressive discoveries about the episode I never

Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall

would have found, particularly the revelation that Don Draper was almost certainly talking with Conrad Hilton (socialite and hotelier) in the abandoned country club bar. On the other hand… really, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? (The same could be said for The Hollow Men, but it was so obviously meant as a joke on Paul’s self-dramatization that it gets a pass). That text has been used a metatextual symbol for social catastrophe since the nineteenth century. The ‘X marks the spot, uncover-the-hidden message!’ cues in this episode were a little broader and more distracting than usual. It felt like the show’s desire to be legible and accessible in its references made the experience of watching less like an all-engrossing hour of television and more like a Find the Analysis puzzle book for grown-ups.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the episode. Who am I kidding, if there were an entire television show called Find the Analysis: A Visual Puzzle Book for Grown-Ups, I’d watch every week. But I’m pretty sure I’d pay more attention to the answers than the actual show. A day after “My Old Kentucky Home,” I find myself thinking more about the coverage than the episode.

Rough Drafts

2009 August 28
by kvanaren

One thing about this blog is that I have this sense I should be writing about topical, recent, or currently airing shows – the second episode of Project Runway from last night, the new season of Top Chef, or maybe Lifetime’s new drama Drop Dead Diva. (Actually, if you’re looking for thoughts on Drop Dead Diva, this is a great place to start.) If I write about stuff that’s happening right now, there’s a much better chance that you’re also watching it, which can only make it more interesting. The problem is, I frequently get pulled off onto long jags of television that hasn’t been on for years, or everyone’s already watched, or is so obscure no one could care less about it. And it’s hard to write about anything else other than whatever it is I’ve been watching for the last day and a half. So, sorry about that. But lately, I’ve been watching Sports Night.

Behind the scenes and the cast of Sports Night, cameras always visible

Behind the scenes and the cast of Sports Night, cameras always visible

Yes, Sports Night – the nineties pseudo-not-really half hour sitcom about a sports commentary show, the first major work in Aaron Sorkin’s TV oeuvre. My sister’s just watched all of it for the first time, which then got me back into thinking about it, and Alan Sepinwall’s been doing a summer project where he’s blogging about the whole show in two-episode chunks (with the help of NPR’s Linda Holmes). So it’s been floating around in my head for a while, and there is this to say about Sports Night: there are definitely worse things to have floating around in your head.

For one thing, Aaron Sorkin is one of the few people whose style is so distinct that he could rewrite The Princess Diaries and you’d still know it was him. The dialogue, the timing, the infamous walk-and-talk that were so characteristic to The West Wing are all already in place or in development in Sports Night, and it’s almost disconcerting to see them in a different setting coming from different mouths. Or it would be disconcerting, except that the setting and mouths, while superficially different, are also all practice runs for The West Wing. It seems as though the White House and a TV studio would have radically different atmospheres, but although one space feels a little smaller, the energy and tension are identical.

What makes Sports Night so fascinating for me is that it’s so obviously flawed. It’s a great show, and well worth watching, but it’s a swirling primordial soup of disconnected ideas that Sorkin is still trying to polish. Use trivial moments to metaphorically deal with giant problems. What does it mean to be female in a masculine landscape. Depiction of powerful male friendship. Build several plot lines that collide over one crucial issue. All of this stuff is in place already, and when Will shouts “is there a civilization?!” I can hear Josh and Toby shouting “do we have a civilization?!” five years down the road, but in Sports Night, the content is too big for the form. It’s just absurd to have all these sports anchors running around debating politics and social reform, a half hour isn’t nearly long enough to build the relationships in a plausible way, and in the first several episodes, there’s a laugh track! Somebody wryly cracks a joke, and suddenly there’s a laugh track, completely at odds with everything about the tone, pacing, and content of the show.

west wing 1

Martin Sheen as Jed Bartlet, President of the United States on The West Wing

Sports Night is that rare creature – a completed version of something that’s not quite done. Without Sports Night, it would be easy to see The West Wing as leaping fully formed onto the screen, like Athena out of Zeus’ forehead, but it’s clear that’s just not the case. Some things translated almost unchanged. Dana became CJ, Jeremy became Charlie, Dan and Casey morphed into the three-way brotherly love fest of Sam, Toby and Josh. But with The West Wing, suddenly Sorkin was able to give his coterie of focused, driven people a moral center to look up to. In the structure of a television studio, the chain of command keeps going up and up and up, and there’s no ultimate authority to love or respect. Isaac Jaffey is meant to be the mentor/father figure of Sports Night, but every time he has to kowtow to the network, that authority slips away. With the emotional and bureaucratic hierarchy of the White House, Sorkin could give everyone a loving, benevolent leader who both reflected their humanity and occasionally resembled divinity. Suddenly, with The West Wing, the form and concept fit the content.

When you’re studying literature, you often have a chance to look at early manuscripts or read rough drafts with annotated notes in the margins. Those resources are invaluable, and can tell you so much about what the author thought, the intention and process and assessment. Some of my favorites are from Charles Dickens, who made intense outlines of each chapter of Bleak House and then wrote notes to himself like “Kill Jo! No, not yet!” Margin notes just aren’t often available for television. Sometimes we get directors’ commentary on a DVD set, or hints through Entertainment Weekly and Variety about casting changes or new writers being brought in, but on the whole, it’s hard to find a rough draft of a television show. (Unless you’re actually in the writer’s room and working through various versions of a script. And if anyone out there has that kind of access – hook me up, guys!) This is why Sports Night is so priceless for me. As a show about a TV show, it’s a beautiful illustration of how television gets made, both fictionally and in real life.

Top Chef BFFs

2009 August 27
by kvanaren

Apparently, this is the week I love Bravo reality shows (or former Bravo, sorry Project Runway). I just last night got around to watching the season finale of Top Chef Masters, which aired last week, and I would like to announce my huge chef crush on Rick Bayless. Of course, it’s impossible to know with reality shows what got cut and what was edited to appear differently than it actually happened, but from everything shown on Top Chef Masters, Rick Bayless comes off as the classiest, most professional, passionate, meticulous, talented guy. And come on, look at him! (This is after judge Jay Rayner announced that Rick took Jay’s molé virginity.)

Rick Bayless; Oaxacan black mole

Rick Bayless; Oaxacan black mole

Aside from my newfound love of Rick Bayless, I think it’s worth mentioning that Top Chef Masters

It's okay, Art Smith. You can stop crying now.

It's okay, Art Smith. You can stop crying now.

was a pretty classy show in a lot of ways. The dynamic between the chef-contestants was totally different than on any other reality show. Rather than the desperately fame-seeking former celebrities who show up on places like The Surreal Life or the painfully ambitious young designers trying to claw their way into Fashion Week on Project Runway, the men and women who participated on Top Chef Masters are all extremely successful chefs who are doing it entirely for charity, fun and bragging rights. Sure, they want to win, but their lives are not on the line, and they all seemed comfortable enough with themselves to not be too threatened by the competition.

That kind of participant led to an entirely different type of reality show than the standard worst-behavior-makes-the-best-television programming. These people were nice to each other. They genuinely liked and respected each other. Whenever they were able, they helped and praised each other. For the most part, they seemed like decent human beings. I’m telling you, it was like watching some alternate reality show universe! One of the better examples of this bizarre, Twilight Zone television experience was the mystery box challenge, where each chef had to fill a box with ingredients that another chef would have to cook with. On the regular Top Chef, or on really any other show, this is an opportunity to screw someone over. Put pig’s ear in there, or Cool Ranch Doritos, or frozen fish fillets. Fill it with stuff you know they hate. And instead, all of the chefs ran around Whole Foods trying to fill their baskets with stuff they knew their fellow chefs would love to cook with. Roy Yamaguchi gave Art Smith a box he was thrilled with, and Roy told the cameras, “I really believe you have to give people opportunities and set them up for success rather than failure.” I think it was a first in the history of reality television.

By the end, it was clear the producers had conned onto the make love, not war atmosphere, and started giving them challenges best suited to making great meals. The final challenge was for each chef to re-create their lives as chefs in a four course meal, beginning with their first food memories and working through the dish that made them want to be chefs, a dish associated with opening their first restaurants, and a dish that represented their futures. As Kelly Choi explained it to the chefs, their faces lit up with pleasure. (Kelly Choi, by the way, was the one dark spot on the whole feel-good experience. Kelly Choi had the charisma and sparkle of a Barbie doll. Kelly Choi made Padma Lakshmi look like a rocket scientist with the food skills of Jacques Pepin.)

Final three challengers: Rick Bayless, Hubert Keller, Michael Chiarello

Final three challengers: Rick Bayless, Hubert Keller, Michael Chiarello

It’s not as though they weren’t competitive, and Art Smith didn’t cry every episode, and some of the chefs didn’t swear incessantly. It was still good, dramatic, entertaining television. But unlike Rock of Love or The Bachelor, it didn’t leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth (or a visually-transmitted venereal disease). So here’s to you, Top Chef Masters. I’m glad the regular Top Chef has returned to fill the void you’re leaving behind, but you’ve left my expectations a bit higher than they were before, and I think anything else is going to feel a little disappointing.

TV that ate my brain

2009 August 26

As someone whose job is ostensibly to think deeply and at great length about literature, I end up spending a lot of time thinking instead about why I find television so appealing and worthwhile. Among other things, there’s the bald fact that I love it and always have, but I’d like to point to two recently published pieces that illustrate the issue a little bit better than that.

The first is an op-ed by Porochista Khakpour that came out a few days ago in The New York Times. Written while working on her second novel at Yaddo, the writer’s colony in Saratoga Springs, NY, Khakpour describes obsessively watching the show Thirtysomething rather than working on her book. She writes first about watching it as a child and holding it up as a symbol of American adulthood, something she actively strove for in her own life as a child of immigrants. Now, watching it again as a thirty-one year old, Khakpour feels a “stew” of mixed emotions: “it is true, it is real, it is me, it is not me, it is horrible, and I love it.” Despite the show’s obvious distance from the world she sees around her, Khakpour sees Thirtysomething’s “devotion to the naturalism of everyday details and all the microcosms of absolute, roller-coaster intimacy” as “the real reality TV, every bit as boring and dazzling as the real ‘real life.’”

The other piece I found particularly engrossing was a blog post by Josh Friedman, the showrunner of the now-defunct show The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Friedman’s piece was written as a part of io9.com’s weeklong “TV that ate my brain” coverage (for which they made an awesome banner), and he writes about the role television has had in his experiences with therapy. Not only has television created unreasonable expectations for the therapeutic process, (“I want each session to be a closed-ended episode of CSI, and in truth it’s closer to a badly written soap opera that’s been stripped of the sex and the betrayals and the evil twins and replaced with a meandering, repetitive monologue”), the television Friedman writes plays an important role for his therapist. “When she watches Sarah Conner she doesn’t seen robots and Skynet and John Connor, she sees cancer dreams and death fetishes and the psychological damage done by the absent and perfect father.”

tv that ate my brain

Khakpour and Friedman are essentially enacting the same process while watching and creating television. For Khakpour, something made for mass audiences and viewed by millions of people becomes a personal object, relevant to her life in specific ways and available for study and interpretation. For Friedman, the process is much more fully integrated in his life – like Khakpour, he uses television as a tool to interpret himself, but those personal revelations are re-embedded into television and produced for mass consumption. Television shows are simultaneously accessible for an audience of millions and for an incredibly personal audience of one. Of course literature can do that same thing, and has been doing it for centuries. But the idea that television can play the same role in shaping our identities and perspective of the world is something we haven’t thought about as much.

For me, I wish I could say the show most closely equivalent in my own life to Khakpour’s Thirtysomething was Sex in the City, but I really didn’t watch it until college, when my perception of adulthood was much clearer. Alas, the show that signified adulthood and forbidden topics of discussion was that other show about young Manhattanites searching for love and success. Yes, when I was twelve, I thought life as an adult meant a life like the one on Friends. I vividly remember my babysitter debating with herself about whether it would be okay to watch it in front of me, and then hurriedly changing the channel when Ross and Rachel had sex on the floor of an exhibit in the Museum of Natural History. I remember her looking at me guiltily, as if she’d exposed me to something I was not yet ready to see. It never became something I went out of my way to watch, or anxiously looked forward to (unlike Babylon 5, to which I was passionately devoted), but whenever I happened across a rerun, I would store away ideas and vocabulary for future consumption. Rent control. Lesbian life partner. Spray-on tanning. Coffee shops. Blind dates. Being “on a break.”

Watching Friends now, it is hopelessly absurd and unreal. For one thing, apparently everyone in Manhattan is white (until Joey dates Charlie near the end, but that’s about it). The stupid jokes that come at carefully spaced intervals, the characters that quickly become caricatures, the absence of any problem that lasts more than 22 minutes – the entire sitcom format is antithetical to realism. But I remember watching it and thinking “one day I’ll live in an apartment!” So I sit now in my apartment and am glad to find people writing about television as a personal medium. It always has been for me.

Guess I'll have to wait until next season for Project Dune

2009 August 25
by kvanaren

After a long, convoluted and legally complex hiatus, Project Runway came back last week. Despite its new home on the Lifetime network, the show looks essentially unchanged, although it’s now accompanied by a bevy of network-building spinoffs (Models of the Runway, Project Runway All-Star Challenge). Hungry, arrogant, self-involved designers with touching life stories and wacky hairdos run around like mad people trying to create a fabulous piece of clothing in an unreasonably short period of time. Nina Garcia and Michael Kors snipe, Heidi Klum giggles and wrinkles her nose, and Tim Gunn is lovely. Welcome back, Project Runway.

One annoying quality of this new season is the surprisingly high number of weepy contestants – or has it always been this way and I just don’t remember? Johnny gets a little bit of a pass on this, because at least he had a fittingly dramatic backstory to justify his emotional breakdown and the subsequent Tim Gunn lovefest, but the rest were just egregious. Ra’mon, who was apparently a med student in neurosurgery and then decided to become a fashion designer? I am not moved enough by your passion for clothing to find your tears endearing. Also, you say this about your career history: “I went to med school specializing in neurosurgery, and towards the end decided that it was one thing to have a career I could be really great at, it was another thing to have a career I could be passionate about.” Oh yes, I too weep for your dreams, incredibly skilled neurosurgeon who almost made it through med school before finding himself.

Ra'Mon the former neurosurgeon, trying not to cry; Tim Gunn comforting Johnny

Ra'Mon the former neurosurgeon, trying not to cry; Tim Gunn comforting Johnny

Ari's transformative clothing

Ari's transformative clothing

Other than that, it was the same, familiar situations, but this time set in LA. Mitchell sent his model down the runway essentially nude, and Heidi said some bitchy things about models pretending to be taller and skinnier than they actually are. Louise is really into vintage Hollywood. Malvin is into androgyny and doesn’t watch the red carpet because he doesn’t differentiate between “different colored carpets.” Another designer, Ari, is all about avant-garde, experimental clothing, which leads to this amazing sentence: “I’m really into the idea of transformative clothing that would go into a tent, that would also have water purification systems, and you would be comfortable in it.” I can’t really understand what she’s talking about, or envision what those designs would look like, but just based on her concept and some of the images they show, I think she’s actually trying to make us all stillsuits so we can survive the desert sands of Arrakis. And you know, I’m okay with that. Too bad Michael and Nina couldn’t understand the usefulness of scifi fashion and decide to eliminate Ari. You’ll regret it when we’re running a mélange-based economy, Michael Kors!

Project Runway and Top Chef have always been my favorite reality competition shows, because at least the standard drama, backstabbing and weeping is set within the context of people performing a skill I find impressive. It’s silly, the contestants are absurd but take themselves extremely seriously, there’s high tension and surprise, and it makes a nice break from trying to write carefully about amazing shows like Mad Men and upsetting shows like Toddlers and Tiaras. So, welcome back Project Runway. I missed you.

Mad Men – Love Among the Ruins

2009 August 24
by kvanaren

A brief post on yesterday’s Mad Men while waiting at the Newark Airport:

Certainly, the most memorable and alarming moments from the episode last night were courtesy of the Ann-Margret clips from Bye Bye, Birdie, which was released in 1963. Seen as part of that whole wacky movie, the scenes with the buxom young lady singing “Bye Bye, Birdie” and lunging seductively at the camera aren’t all that shocking. I mean, it’s a movie with Dick van Dyke and a scene in a secret Shriner’s meeting, so everything feels equally aggressive and shrill. Within the context of Matthew Weiner’s restrained, subtly crafted visual aesthetic, though, those clips from Bye Bye, Birdie are jarring beyond belief. The disconnect becomes even more apparent as Peggy sings “Bye Bye, Birdie” to herself in the mirror, and that intense juxtaposition highlights the real tension of the episode. The first episode of this season was about masculinities, featuring images of Don as Don Draper and Dick Whitman, thrilling male love between Sal and the bellboy, the sparring between Pete and Ken. This second episode, “Love Among the Ruins,” was about femininities, and the distinct gap between Peggy’s reality and the fantasy she sells in advertising. As a part of that scheme, we also saw the conflicts in Roger’s daughter’s wedding planning, hints of Joan’s expectations for impending motherhood, and Betty’s struggle with her role as an adult daughter. It might be telling that the episode’s title, “Love Among the Ruins,” is also the title of a poem from Robert Browning’s 1855 collection, Men and Women.

mad men s03e02

After laying out the contemporary boundaries of these gendered roles, Don also gives us the key to how this season will proceed, by selling the Madison Square Garden on a message of change and progress. Peggy may be looking in the mirror and pretending to be Ann-Margret, but her own behavior and the power she wields in walking out of that nice young man’s apartment, suggests her own readiness for changed paradigms.

Desperate Victorians

2009 August 20
by kvanaren

BBC is currently airing a miniseries called Desperate Romantics. It’s about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of British painters in the nineteenth-century who pioneered a new visual aesthetic, worked with classical and medieval themes, resisted the cloying sentimentalism of the prevailing culture, and were totally obsessed with long wavy red hair. The main characters in the show are Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais (the brotherhood), Effie Gray, Lizzie Siddal, and Annie Miller (their famous and infamous muses), and several other amusing historical figures that stalk in and out of the script. In plots that are generally rather than specifically accurate, everyone sleeps with everyone else, vows true loyalty and then betrays each other, has terrible public scandals, and teeters precariously between artistic integrity, human decency, and financial solvency. It’s really quite entertaining, is what I’m saying.

The Brotherhood: Fred Walters, John Millais, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt

The Brotherhood: Fred Walters, John Millais, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hunt

John Ruskin

John Ruskin

The great thing about Desperate Romantics is that it treats its subjects and its period with almost no respect or reverence. Far from genius painters eternally considering the wisdom of the ages, the Brotherhood sweeps through the lower-class London social scene with verve and enthusiasm. And the gossip flows freely: one of the most influential men of his age, John Ruskin, actually has never gotten up the urge to sleep with his wife of five years (possibly because he’s into much younger female bodies), and hires Millais to seduce her. Poor Ms. Ruskin has to undergo a physical exam to certify her virginity at the divorce hearings! Of course, the eminent Charles Dickens is much more likely to be spotted down in the brothels with William Holman Hunt than isolated in his study like Ruskin.  It’s like an episode of The Real Housewives of New York City, but with more sex scenes!

And, to be fair, also more painting. What little respect does maintain a foothold in the series is reserved almost entirely for the infrequent masterpieces the Brotherhood manages to produce. Millais may have almost killed Lizzie Siddal by forcing her to model half-submerged in cold water, and Rossetti may have nearly murdered Millais for endangering the love of his life, but the camera scans Millais’ Ophelia with a loving eye. The reminder of why these self-indulgent, immature men deserve our retrospective attention comes as a palpable relief. The series’ creators and producers have described it as “Entourage with easels,” but those brief moments of historical clarity are a significant departure from Entourage. Yes, Desperate Romantics is about a group of young men struggling for artistic success, and but the fact of their historical relevancy adds a predetermined sense of conclusion to the series. Unlike the boys on Entourage, perpetually fearing they may quickly slip into oblivion, the long historical eye ensures artistic success from the moment the first episode begins.

Lizzie Siddal modeling for John Millais; detail from Millais' Ophelia

Lizzie Siddal modeling for John Millais; detail from Millais' Ophelia

The series’ one major misstep is the inclusion of a completely fictional character, Fred Walters, who joins the Brotherhood as a sort of honorary, non-painter friend. As a composite of several other historical hangers-on, I suppose Fred is meant to give us an outside eye on the Brotherhood and to provide us some contemporary moral compass against which to measure their quirks and faults. But in reality, Fred’s dopey, well-meant impulses toward reason and conventionality feel burdensome and saccharine, exactly the kind of sentimentality the Brotherhood claim to abhor. You’re left wondering why they would ever bear to have him around, and yet he keeps showing up, claiming to love revolution and nature.

Overall, though, Desperate Romantics is good for a lot of giggling at Victorian sex, a lot of snickering at artistic temperaments, and a palatable dose of art history.

Just in case anyone hasn't seen this yet

2009 August 19
tags:
by kvanaren

10 Things I Still Can't Decide About

2009 August 19
I got B minus?!

I got a B minus?!

I’ve been trying to figure out how to update my initial post about ABC Family’s 10 Things I Hate About You adaptation, and then yesterday Jezebel came along and helped me out. In this post about the show (which is full of episode clips, if you’re interested), Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart writes about the way Kat’s feminism has influenced the plot and dialogue, to the extent that recent episodes have revolved almost entirely around Kat’s feminist consciousness. Dodai suggests that the episode, which features Kat turning in a paper about discovering Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, effectively deals with issues of feminism and teenagerhood. Kat learns that her highbrow, liberal values don’t necessarily translate into quality work if she doesn’t put in the effort of emotional investment, and that just because she’s right doesn’t mean she’s not also “preachy.” I’m happy to agree with Dodai on this – being socially conscious does not preclude being self-obsessed. Compared to the average episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, 10 Things I Hate About You is positively philosophical.

One reason that’s been possible is the near complete excision of the actual plot of Taming of the Shrew. The character meant to be Kat’s love interest, Patrick Verona, lurks in the background, but without the financial incentive from the original plot, he’s lost his entire motivation for pursuing her. There are a few scenes where Kat finds him mysterious and possibly attractive, but he actively avoids her, thus freeing Kat to figure out how to convert her car to biodiesel. Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew inevitably ends with a Tamed Shrew, finally recalled to her feminine duties by a powerful male protagonist. On this new adaptation, Kat’s left to tame or not tame herself as she sees fit.

So that’s all well and good, right? It’s a show about strong female characters! It’s feminism that promotes confidence and self-reliance but not the nasty man-hating, anti-leg-shaving bits! Except that Dodai’s post on Jezebel doesn’t address the episode’s other main plotline, the shenanigans of Kat’s sister Bianca. While Kat’s off learning about compassion and emotional honesty, Bianca and her friend decide to star in a sexy internet show in order to earn money to buy purses. I know, you’d think I was playing that up for effect to make it seem even worse than it is, but I’m truly not. They start a subscription internet show to make money, and quickly realize they’ll get more viewers if they make out with each other. So they do. And they only get shut down when Bianca’s dad finds out.

Bianca and Dawn's web show and their avidly viewing audience

Bianca and Dawn's web show and their avidly viewing audience

Okay, okay, I get it, that’s the whole point of the show. Kat’s the feminist/shrew/intelligent one, and Bianca’s the popular/attractive/shallow one, and they both need to learn how to find fulfilling relationships. But isn’t there a difference between shallow popularity grabs and selling oneself on the internet for designer accessories? Shouldn’t Bianca’s dad have gotten way more angry about her willingness to prostitute herself than the chance a college admissions officer might one day see her doing it?

This is why I took so long to update my impressions of the show as it’s developed, because even after six episodes I still can’t decide whether it’s a worthwhile endeavor gone awry or something too complicated and poorly conceived to ever succeed.

One more note about this week's Mad Men

2009 August 18
by kvanaren

Did it strike anyone else that the premiere of this season was funnier than usual? The show has always banked on humor, often reserved for the audience’s delicious chuckle at the period (think of the pilot episode, with Joan unveiling Peggy’s typewriter and assuring her it’s been designed so women can use it). In the past seasons, though, that humor has always been accompanied by either a cringing realization of the underlying injustice, or a subtle shiver at the deeper darkness. When has Mad Men’s funny bleakness been more disturbing then last season’s completely bizarre Utz potato chips commercials? In comparison with that incredibly grim sense of humor, this episode was downright slapstick. read more…