Procrastination Links

While I’m fortunate enough to spend my last two weeks of undergrad writing about television, we can’t all be so lucky. Here’s a collection of recent writings that can serve as enjoyable (and informative!) study breaks.

The Revolution Was Televised: The Conversation

Two of the most important television critics today, Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, in conversation with each other about Sepinwall’s (fantastic) new book, The Revolution Was Televised. They discuss the change from television in the ’70s and ’80s to recent dramas, the television vs. movies debate, and what happened to the Russian, among other topics. It’s a conversation full of incredible insight from two writers who have immersed themselves in these questions.

How Film Critics Use Twitter

Less about television, but with the distinctions being blurred (e.g. screening television series at film festivals) this examination from Jane Hu about the heightened use of Twitter for criticism is spot on. I especially like her acknowledgment of the “work/play” boundary that critics tend to ignore on their Twitter – evident also in Chris Becker’s Good TVeets, a weekly collection of the best and funniest Twitter commentaries about television events.

Tom and Lorenzo’s Mad Style

As someone who loves both Mad Men and obsessive fashion criticism, this weekly analysis is mecca. The writers pick apart screenshots of the characters and their outfits, and puts them into dialogue with the episode’s overarching themes. For a great interview with Janie Bryant, the show’s brilliant costume designer, there’s Vanity Fair.

What’s So Bad About Small-Stakes TV Shows?

Bullett makes a plea for the renewal of Bunheads, looking at the widening gap between “big” and “small” dramas on television. “Even if critics are willing to praise both the big and the small, the pro-bigness position, which rewards shows for breaking with the bad old TV of the past, is the one that’s been adopted by the more adventurous segment of the audience that’s fueling this golden age.” This case for finding quality in smaller-stakes shows is a great perspective – and I really would like to see another season of Bunheads.

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Mad Men S06E01, “The Doorway”

“What did you see when you died?”

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This is Don’s question, yelled drunkenly to his doorman as his coworkers try to hurry him into the elevator. Mysteriously opening the episode, the doorman’s brief death is what welcomes Don back to snowy New York after spending Christmas in Hawaii – reading Dante’s Inferno and silently taking in the sights, of course, as only Don Draper can.

The episode oscillates between hot and cold, or perhaps more aptly searing and chilling. Opening scenes in Hawaii lavisciously pan Megan’s tan flesh, fire-jugglers and smoking joints always in the background. Interiors are full of warmth and Christmas cheer (Betty and Henry’s house finally feels like a home, instead of the imposing mansion feel of last season), contrasted only by windows showing bleak skies of grey snow. Margaret talks of refridgeration, characters allude to California, Don’s tan clashes with the white walls of the office. It’s a sensory experience, as Don describes his vacation – the office is bright and cluttered, with a new floor and new faces (and new facial hair; Roger rolls around in fur and remorse at his mother’s funeral; the house in the Village that Betty visits feels desolate. Roger and Don both speak of “experiences” in the episode, and that’s what the premiere is. It’s a “shock” coming back to this Manhattan, catching up with old storylines and understanding new ones.

But is this really a jumping off point? Roger points out that “experiences are nothing,” that even though doors open they eventually close you back in. The reappearance of the Carousel Kodack slide indicates a cyclical pattern. Even seeing Don at the bar in Hawaii mirrors Don in the season 5 finale – a silent figure across the bar, their friend approaching Don with a personal inquiry. Many introductory shots of characters feature some sort of reflection in the background – in Roger’s therapy session, a bust, in Peggy’s apartment, JFK (in Megan’s public life, her character’s persona).

To a point the doubling in the episode matches a sense of déjà vu. Here’s a new eager account man, trying to usurp Ken and Pete for Don and Roger’s approval. Here’s Sally and Betty fighting. Here’s Peggy doing her best Don Draper impression. Here’s a clash between the revolutionary youth and the corporate, suburban adults. Here’s Don having an affair (with Linda Cardellini!!). Things have slightly changed, but not quite. It’s a question Don has dealt with throughout the series – how do you almost die, but then start over and keep living? Ultimately, the characters are their true selves no matter what year it is, or what the circumstances are. Will brown hair change Betty and her dark sense of humour (that rape reference!)?

“Heaven is a little morbid,” Don admits in a sales pitch. Notes of suicide still remain from last season, as his clients immediately pick up drowning motifs in Don’s interpretation of paradise – although, despite immersing himself in the Inferno, he doesn’t see it. I was affected by the doctor’s mention of anxiety, because that’s what I felt while watching – we are coming to the end of the series (Mad Men is set to run for another season, but who knows what tricks Matthew Weiner has up his sleeve), and in terms of time 1967 marks an enormous shift in American culture. In other words, the white light has begun to show. Get ready to shed your skin.

Quick Links: A Mad Men HOF

http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/72869/youtube-hof-the-best-of-mad-men

I normally wouldn’t be too excited about boiling a show down to a few of its “best” moments, but this list from Grantland is satisfyingly comprehensive. the scenes chosen have a wide range, highlighting the show’s ability to be romantic, comic, and tragic – sometimes all at once. And personally, I can never get enough of scenes between Don and Joan; “an uncommon pairing, probably because the wise folks at AMC are worried about melting your flat-screen” is a perfect way to describe the characters.