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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


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

Tallafornia causes drop in national intelligence

3 Feb

Bad grades could become more prevalent due to Tallafornia

Dublin, Ireland-  The average level of intelligence (or IQ) for the Irish population has decreased in the past month as a result of TV3 reality series Tallafornia, according to a study released today.

The study, carried out by the National Institute for Cognitive Research (NICR), found that the average IQ level fell from 100 to 97 during a 4 week period between 30th December 2011 and the 28th January 2012, during which two episodes of the new reality show were screened to Irish audiences.

Its believe that the new TV3  reality show, inspired by the popular American show Jersey Shore, has caused such a drop in IQ as many viewers strain to comprehend the simplicity of the participants cast in the series. Dr. Kevin Skelsgaard, an expert attached to the study, said that the findings represented a rare reversal in normal cognitive processes.

“When we try to understand complex subjects that lie outside the remits of everyday thought, we often strain our brains in order to comprehend them, this can lead to a momentary increase in cognitive function as you try to interpret the complex into the simple” explained Skelsgaard, a professor in neuroscience.

“With Tallafornia, it’s very much to the contrary. The people in the house are so simple in thought that they lie far below most people’s comprehension. In order for the viewer to fully understand them, they need to decrease their cognitive process, almost like shutting off the brain. While this lobotomising effect is normally temporary, it can be permanent in some cases”

Mary Kearney, a resident of Templeogue, has already expressed her desire to take legal action against TV3 after reportedly suffering the lobotomising effects from viewing the show.

“It definitely affected me when I tried to understand it. The morning after I forget how to turn off the alarm clock, then I ended up pouring my Frosties into a pint glass and tried to eat them with a spatula. I didn’t realize this until my husband saw me”

Another disgruntled viewer from Meath was suspended from his work as an electrician for gross negligence. Negligence which he claims only resulted from watching Tallafornia.

“Normally I’m pretty clued-in, a pretty good electrician” said Mark Royce, a 23-year-old from Navan. “Anyway, I watched Tallafornia the night before and went to work the next day feeling slightly off. I wired something incorrectly, causing an electrical fire. I did what seemed sound at the time, I pissed on it. Nasty details aside, it looks like ‘little Marky’ will be out of action for a few months”.

Royce believes that were it not for watching the TV3 show he would have never wired incorrectly and suffered the resultant injury to his genitals. He is currently seeking legal advice on the issue.

Other reported incidents include a Wicklow teacher who forgot how many sides were in a triangle, while a Cork businesswoman claimed that she had to purchase a brand new range of Velcro shoes after she failed to remember as to how to tie her shoe-laces. In both cases, the individuals claimed that they had watched Tallafornia in the hope that they would be ‘pleasantly surprised’.

Such reports have caught the attention of the Department of Education, with one inside source claiming that the Ministers office was concerned that prolonged public exposure  to Tallafornia could have ‘severe economic and social ramifications’.

Neurological side-effects aside, many Tallaght locals have complained that the reality show casts the area in a poor light, with some citing the participants as only indicative of a small ‘idiotic’ minority.

“I think it’s terrible. I thought it would put Tallaght in a good light, show how great some of our young people are. Instead, I just saw a bunch of f**king eejits with nothing to say, one couldn’t even use a fork for f**k sake” said Marianne Cassidy, a nurse from the Jobstown area of Tallaght.

Despite the complaints, there are a significant number of people who enjoy the show, broadcast weekly on a Friday night.

“I think it’s bleeding deadly, I do” said Margerita McEvoy, an event planner from Clondalkin. “All the lads are fit and the girls are gorgeous, just pure class. I don’t know why so many people are complaining about them being thick. Sure why do you need to be smart. Bertie (Ahern) wasn’t and he ended up being President or Chancellor or what have you”

While McEvoy and others may enjoy the show, it seems that rising resentment from both concerned members of the public and the Department of Education could lead to the shows imminent cancellation. Whether or not the shows producers would bow to such pressure will have to be seen over the coming weeks.