Television and Mad Men

So, the season premiere of Mad Men happened Sunday night. I DVRed it and watched it later that night. We’ll get into my thoughts on it later, but I’m glad it’s back. First, let me explain my television viewing habits: I rarely if ever watch network tv, I watch a lot of the History, Discovery channels and all their offshoots. I usually don’t sit down planning to watch something; I just check my block of channels and can usually find something interesting to watch. I have at the moment 4 shows that I actually keep up with and will religiously watch: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Homeland. I’ve watched other shows like Dexter in the past, but those four are my go to shows. Now I realize that makes me a bit of a tv snob since at least the first two are critically acclaimed but not actually watched by nearly as many people as many other shows.

Anyway, Mad Men is back after a fairly long hiatus. It at one time was my favorite show on television and I’d still highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys intelligent, well written, and well shot tv shows. But I have to say, I was more than a bit underwhelmed by the two hour premiere. In the past there’s been many episodes of Mad Men or the other shows I’ve mentioned where the time flew by and I was sad when they ended. Sunday night I actually caught myself looking at the DVR to see how much longer was left. It still looks great, has some great characters, and had some good scenes, but nothing that reached out and grabbed me.

Of course the one thing about Mad Men is that it’s one of those shows that’s often paced a bit slow, and even more often takes a few episodes to really get going, which is why those with short attention spans often can’t get into it. So I’m not going to stop watching it, I just hope that the next episode grabs me.

As I was thinking about why I wasn’t that impressed with the first new episode of a show I love, I came up with two theories: one being that after it having been gone so long and in the interim and me watching shows like Homeland and Game of Thrones which are far less understated and more conventionally “exciting” that my palate wasn’t quite prepared for the pacing of Mad Men immediately. This could very likely be the case so I’m hoping that I’ll get back into the world of it by the next episode.

My other theory was that Matt Weiner, the creator/showrunner, has a bit fallen prey to what I call the “David Chase” syndrome. David Chase if you don’t know him, was the creator/showrunner of the Sopranos, arguably one of the best, most influential shows of the past 20 years. I loved and still love the Sopranos, but towards the later seasons, Chase had the reputation of getting a bit full of himself. His vision of his show was the interactions of a family plus the psychiatric stuff, with the fact that it was a Mafia family being somewhat secondary. He reportedly didn’t like the fact that fans of the show focused on the violence and organized crime parts of the show, or even that they rooted for Tony, a complete psychopath.

There would be episodes composed entirely of Tony having a dream and his issues with his dead mother, or him in a coma dream where he was just a salesman at a convention, where it almost seemed like Chase was thumbing his nose at the people who didn’t “get” his artistic view of the show. Then there was the famous ending of the show *spoiler alert* where the family was all together in a diner and all of a sudden the screen just went black, so suddenly that people actually thought their cable might have gone out. But no, his ending was just a fade to black with no resolution, and since then in interviews he’s hinted one way or another as to what happened almost playfully. Many fans and critics actually took this lack of resolution as his ultimate fuck you to the fans who glorified in the violence of the show but didn’t get “his” vision.

Now I don’t know a lot about Matt Weiner, other than watching every episode of his show, and hearing some about his negotiations with his network, AMC, but I kinda get the idea that he might be in the David Chase mold of showrunners. As in he has his vision of the show and where it’s going to go, and doesn’t really care what other people think. There’s definitely been some Tony Soprano dream-like episodes of Mad Men over the last few seasons, and I get the feeling that Weiner considers his show more art than entertainment at times. So while I generally love the show, there may be times where I just don’t get his vision for an episode here and there.

The first episode of this season was certainly well crafted, written, acted, and shot, and I can appreciate that, but I found it ultimately unsatisfying, even boring at times. As I’ve said, I don’t know if that was because I have gotten used to more action and suspense filled shows and need to ease back into Mad Men, or if I just didn’t get Weiner’s vision in this particular episode. I’ll certainly be watching next week and I’m sure the rest of the season, I just hope that it really grabs me at some point as all previous seasons have.

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One thought on “Television and Mad Men

  1. What struck me most about this episode is how much some characters have changed and how others had not. May be it shouldn’t have been two hours but may be all the “catch up ” is done

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