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Mad Men: Still TV’s Gold Standard

22 Apr

Mad Men returned to our screens last week for its final series, and after only two episodes it’s clear that it has lost none of its lustre. For seven years it’s been the gold standard in television. Its stars and writers have collected award after award and counts viewers all over the world who wait anxiously for every new episode as each one ends perfectly balanced on a precipice, with issues to be resolved and truths to be revealed.

But what is it exactly that makes Mad Men so great. What is it that has sustained it, and in many ways improved it over seven years. Is it that it so perfectly captures the social and political upheaval of the 1960’s with the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce acting as a microcosm of America. As American values and norms change so does SCDP. The overt sexism and racism of the first few series subsides by the seventh and even the Waspish Pete Campbell has developed some level of tolerance, although it’s not all positive, and as we near the end of the sixties we can also see the optimism of Kennedy’s America give way to the cynicism of Nixon’s.

It not just captures the changing values and norms of the 1960s but everything about the decade with the most exacting historical authenticity and continuity. Every rock song, news report, TV show down to the box of Ritz crackers that Don munches on this week’s episode are historically accurate. It’s enough to make any history junkie slap his wrist and beg for another hit.

Is it that despite its name and most of its main characters it’s a tome on feminism and the empowerment of women. Peggy Olsen has come a long way from being just another secretary for the men to ogle. In eight years she’s worked her way to being a senior copywriter, earning the respect, much of it begrudged, by the men of the office. If the change in SCDP represents change in America in the 1960s, then Peggy, and to an extent Joan, represent the changing roles of women.

Or is it less that what the Mad Men represent and more who they are that makes it so good. Mad Men has the most fascinating characters who are perfectly developed and full of complexity and contradiction (and most often inner-conflict), none more so than Don Draper. The Mad Man himself appears as if he were from an ad that he created, possibly one for Brylcreem, or Trilby hats. He is a figure to be admired for what he is and to be pitied for who he is. He is like so many men, an artifice waiting to be revealed for what he is, and to which he still seems to be as unsure to as the rest of us.

But maybe it’s more simple than that, maybe it’s just down to the aesthetics. Mad Men is an elegant world of Scandinavian furniture, British sports cars and Japanese electronics with men dressed in finely woven charcoal suits and women in pastel chiffron dresses. It’s not grimy or gritty, like great TV shows like The Wire and The Sopranos were, and like so many have been since, given that grime and grit seem to make a show more real, and real seems to be today in TV something that is good in itself. And yet Mad Men feels as real any of them.

It is for all these reasons and many more that Mad Men has come to be defined by its greatness. It’s easy to forget, given that we view it every week in our homes, that a TV show can be art. Mad Men is a work of art which is great whether you believe art should be appreciated for its style alone or also for its content. There are few works of art that tell such well-drawn stories, full of such well-developed characters as Mad Men, and few shows, if any, have recreated, and just as importantly, recorded a period like Mad Men has done for 1960s America. As for its content, it’s hard not to interpret something in almost everything, whether there is initial intent or not, such is the great subtlety and nuance we have become used to over seven years.

Mad Men like so many other shows of this golden age of TV, Breaking Bad in particular, doesn’t feel like a television show but rather a series of short films, and not just because of its production value but because of how new and unique every episode seems. The film critic Roger Ebert said that “every great film should seem new every time you see it,” which I think is as simple and as good a phrase as any to sum up why Mad Men is as great as it is.

Originally appeared on The Huffington Post


Johnny Depp reminds world that Westmeath exists

12 Nov

Damien Molony: Irish rising star of Ripper Street and Being Human fame interviewed by me in Sunday Independent

12 Nov

Kate McGrath: Star of Merlin and Dracula interviewed by me in Sunday Independent

12 Nov

George in, Tyler out for royal baby

24 Jul
george vi

George VI: Great-great grandfather and likely namesake of future King

Now that the royal baby is born, worldwide attention, or rather anticipation, turns to his name, which William and Kate have just under six weeks to decide.

But though this monarchy has come to be defined by its modernity, those whom may expect a future King Tyler, Josh or even Jack, that most popular of baby names, will sadly be disappointed.

There are unwritten, albeit rigid rules for naming heirs to the throne. Minor royals, or at least those unlikely to be crowned, can be called Zara or Beatrix, or even Tane. But for those that would be King or Queen the options are finite indeed.

Since 1066, there have been only nine regal names for Kings, two of which are unlikely to be in the mix, given that King Stephen was a usurper, and King John, well he was a bit useless as Kings go.

The likely seven options are William, Henry, George, Charles, Richard, James, and Edward. Given that there are Princes William, Charles, Henry (Harry) and Edward (Charle’s younger brother), there is an even greater chance that he shall be either James, Richard, or George.

If  he is to be named James, and succeed to the throne, he would be the first King James since James II, the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign in Britain.

If he is to be named Richard, he will be the first King Richard since the much-storied King Richard III, whose remains were recently discovered under a city council car park.

Given the want of this monarchy to avoid controversy, and appease public opinion, the obvious name for the future king is George, the last of whom was King George VI, the popular war-time monarch, and father of Queen Elizabeth II.

And with the bookmaker Paddy Power offering odds of 2/1, it looks like William and Kate will likely stick with tradition and go for the safe, albeit slightly boring, name of George.

Class discrimination goes both ways

17 Apr


Trenton Oldfield: Tarred all at the race with the same brush

Class. It’s a theme that while having a large degree of resonance here in Ireland, dominates British society like no other. Its boundaries are clearer there, with style, accent and address providing key markers as to someone’s position in society. While the archaic indicator of class was formerly one of financial means, the advent of the nouveau riche, best exemplified in docudramas like The Only Way is Essex, means that class now tends to be delineated by education, occupation and cultural preference, rather than wealth.

In the wake of Trenton Oldfield’s disturbance at last week’s University Boat Race, there have been a slew of comments made by members of the British public lending tacit support to the self-professed ‘anti-elitist’. Most are churlish and tend to follow a similar trend, lambasting the participants and viewers of the boat race as ‘toffs’, ‘snobs’ and ‘hooray Henry’s’, terms which, while not highly offensive, do betray a kernel of bigotry on the part of those who post them.

There seems to be a blithe acceptance that it’s okay to chastise someone for attending a world-class university, for playing cricket, or for preferring a glass of Port to a Vodka and Coke. It’s an acceptance that exists here, albeit on a smaller scale. Such casual disdain seems based on the inference that anyone that would enjoy such things is almost definitely a snob, with an assumed disdain for the majority, who have never graced the hallowed halls of a private school, or shown an interest in the comic styling’s of P.G. Wodehouse.

Assuming that everyone that enjoys a regatta, or maybe a varsity rugby game, belongs to some elite bourgeois set, typified by an inherent snobbish revulsion for the other classes, is to assume a logic that would portray everyone in attendance at a Premier League game, or indeed a GAA game, as a clamour of foul-mouthed benefits cheats, with garb inspired by Vicky Pollard and the bargain bin at JD sports. Both follow assumptions based on outmoded stereotypes, both belie the truth, both belong to the bin.

While there’s no doubt that a detestable element exists within the upper classes, one that is forever bound to breed resentment from others, to tar everyone with the same brush is just  as ignorant as to assume laziness on the part of every member of the working class. Many, if not most, members of the upper class were born into a state of privilege. Wanting the best for them, their parents, often without their child’s consent, sent them to private schools, from which they had a spring board to the top tier of third level institutions. Yes, the opportunity afforded to them was greater than most, but that is no way justification to assume a bad character on their part.

Their chances in life, afforded by the accident of birth, may be greater than yours and hence somewhat unfair, but as the great comedian Chris Rock once said, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Stripping for Kony; What ‘Middle England’ made of Jason Russell

25 Mar

Jason Russell: Proved that you don't have to be a college student to be nude in public.

Schadenfreude: Satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s expense. It’s a word that perfectly synopsizes the case of filmmaker Jason Russell, of Kony 2012 fame. The Evangelical Christian was arrested last weekend, following a naked meltdown on the streets of San Diego.

Although possibly afflicted by psychosis, it was hard not to giggle as the 33-year-old, in full nip, stomped about the pavement like a sugar-filled youth.

But even funnier than Russell’s public nudity, has been the reactions to it. Nowhere was this better exemplified than on the web pages of the Daily Mail.

 “Don’t believe everything you read in the news” said Octavia from London. “Keep in mind the best way to discredit someone is to pretend their crazy”. Hmmm. While we all like a good conspiracy theory, it’s hard to see the sanity of a man who masturbates on a street corner on a Saturday morning.

One Daily Mail reader suggested that Russell’s odd behaviour was a ‘publicity stunt’ to bring attention to his cause. One would hope not. The last thing the public wants to see is Bono’s ‘tackle’ tackle the plight of orphans in Ethiopia, or Roy Keane’s arse endorsing guide dogs for the blind.

Befitting of the paper of ‘Middle England’ , one reader saw the need to import Russell Brand into the conversation. “The sort of thing I can imagine Russell Brand doing one day” said William from Liverpool. No need. The great bane of Daily Mail sensibilities did this ‘sort of thing’ in 2003, masturbating atop a satellite van during a May day rally, giving William ample reason for post-hoc disgust.

Not all readers corresponded to type. Unable to resist a dig at Evangelical Christians, Torsten from Boston said that “born again Christians do things differently”.  Of course, Russell’s not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, member of the ‘God Squad’ to go off the rails in such debauched hilarity.

As you would expect, the comments tended to veer toward the incoherent. But even within the jumbled mess of misspelt words poor grammar and crazed mental calculation, a general public feeling could be deduced. One that said that while it’s wrong to poke fun at someone in mental distress, it’s hard to resist a giggle at a grown man in the buff.