By Chauncey Telese
Hello everyone, as always I hope all is well. The NBA playoffs are here and my predictions so far have been idiotic. I had the Magic upsetting the Pacers (d’oh), D-Rose bouncing back from injury (d’oh), and I doubted the Clippers being able to contend against the Grizzlies (after attending game three, I realized just how good Chris Paul is in crunch time and I highly recommend you guys go see him in person).
Michael Jordan got humbled big time with his Bobcats setting the mark for worst winning percentage ever (which is astounding considering as a player he led the ’96 Bulls to the best winning percentage of all time). Hopefully, this teaches him to surround himself with competent people rather then sycophants and yes men (if Mr. Burns can learn that lesson, Jordan can). The Brooklyn Nets revealed their new logo and while the Black and White color scheme is interesting, the design isn’t (I’d be disappointed in Jay-Z but then again his album covers were never that dynamic either). I’m sure that Prokhorov and Jay-Z will be able to lure in the Brooklyn Hipsters by promising to play Foster the People, FUN, Group Love, and some bands that no one has heard of during games. They can also call their concession stands bodegas, do skinny jean nights, and have their cheerleaders look like the cast of “Girls.” Worst comes to worst, their fans will show up to games ironically.
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The Kings pistol-whipped the Blues and now they are ahead of the Coyotes. Kemp (who is hurt but he’ll be back), Eithier, and Kershaw are totally owning baseball in LA, while Pujols just hit his first home run. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again, it’s a great day to be an Angeleno if you don’t follow the Lakers. Seriously, that effort Monday was abysmal and I fear that this will continue. I can’t speak for Clipper Nation but I doubt they beat the Spurs more then once.
The Rams lost out on Justin Blackmon (damn Jaguars), but managed to salvage their draft by building up their secondary and giving Bradford some new targets. I would’ve tried to give him some protection as well but it’s not like they’ll be a force this year (though depending on how RGIII does they could have two high first round picks next year). The Colts did a tremendous job laying the groundwork for the Andrew Luck era, the Steelers rebuilt their offensive line (which made Ben smile I’m sure), the Vikings began their rebuilding campaign, and the Lions gave Safford more protection and more weapons (I envision a deep playoff run for them if Megatron doesn’t suffer the Madden curse). Meanwhile, the Browns drafted a 28 year old quarterback and the Seahawks made me happy by drunk drafting for the majority of the weekend.
2012 looks to be a MUCH better year for movies, especially after I saw the trailers for “Lawless,” “This Is 40” and the new trailer for “The Dark Knight Rises.” The images from “Django Unchained” look promising and while the reaction to the footage on “The Hobbit” was mixed, I trust Peter Jackson. Follow that up with the new “Prometheus” footage, The “Ted” and “The Watch” trailers, “Star Trek 2” pictures, 007 “Skyfall” images and Jack White doing the score for “The Lone Ranger”, and the stink that was 2011 looks to be eradicated.
Speaking of Jack White, I really enjoyed his solo album “Blunderbuss.” It still sounds like a White Stripes album (in this case more of a cross between “Get Behind Me Satan” and “Icky Thump”) but shows that White is also growing as a musician. I’m not sure how I feel about Linkin Park’s new single but am still excited for the new album (along with new albums by The Offspring, The Dirty Heads, Pennywise, Muse, Rage Against the Machine, Rancid, and Tenacious D).
“Veep” and “Girls” got renewed, “30 Rock” did an amazing live show (is there anything Jon Hamm can’t do at this point), Leslie Knope had a comeback win during the debate (and Andy proved that you can do “Rambo,” “Roadhouse” and “Babe” as one-man shows), and “Community” pulled off the best “Law and Order” parody ever done. Also, if you haven’t seen it yet I highly recommend watching “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23”.
I was saddened by the death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch. One of my first adult albums was “Ill Communication” and the minute I heard “Sabotage” and “Sure Shot” my ears would be changed forever and I thank him for that. The other day one of my childhood influences, Maurice Sendak, died as well. His books were a rarity because they refused to talk down to children and that’s what made them last. His interviews on “The Colbert Report” were some of the funniest and occasionally insightful things I’d seen on TV in awhile and it is sad that a literary legend has left us forever.
Getting to business, I’ve decided that I’ll split this column in two and spend this half on “Mad Men” and the other will cover five movies that have opened the summer season, that way I’m all caught up leading to Memorial Day weekend.
“Mad Men”: At the Codfish Ball/Lady Lazarus/Dark Shadows
Life is funny. One minute it can seem full of promise and the next be full of gloom. And sometimes you can achieve great success by paying for your mistakes (I realize I just made myself drop cool points by referencing Dawes). Don, Megan, Peggy, and Sally experienced a great deal of both highs and lows in life simultaneously. In the episode “At the Codfish Ball”, the show clues us in to something we always suspected. Megan is quietly unhappy. When we first met her in season four, she was an aspiring actress who became a secretary to pay the bills. She met Don and he fell in love with her youthfulness and the fact that was a million times warmer then Betty. I remember thinking this was the dumbest move Don has made but season five has shown maybe it wasn’t. Megan has been maligned for getting her copywriter position handed to her but she proves to be great at it. At a dinner with Hines, Megan learns that the Hines people are going to fire Don and she kicks it into third gear. She quickly whispers it into Don’s ear and they turn it into a couple’s pitch (a pitch that Megan conjured earlier). It was vintage Draper (down to Don pretending that the Hines guy came up with the idea to use the same mother and child in all phases of the ad) and she saves the day (the best part was Ken watching in awe and “shushing” his wife). They all celebrate her achievement and Peggy, in a moment of joy tells her “this is as good as it gets” and her face drops.
In this same episode, we meet Megan’s French Canadian parents who have come to see Don receive an award for the op-ed he wrote about how SCDP would no longer endorse Lucky Strike or any cigarettes (more on that later). Her father is a Socialist professor who despises Don’s wealth and Megan’s embrace of it and the advertising world. He is a failed author and takes out his bitterness on his successful son in law. He also is having an affair with a grad student with the knowledge of Megan and her mother (more on that later). Sally, meanwhile, is on the verge of being a teenager and at the beginning of the episode, proves to be the level-headed kind when she has to call 911 after her grandma breaks her ankle. Does it matter that it was technically Sally’s fault because she made the phone cord stretch through the hallway? No. She is already more responsible then her mom at least and is praised as such when she and Bobby arrive at Don’s. She is even allowed to attend the Cancer Society Ball later. Speaking as a kid who always went to stuff like that since I was 8 (my parents made sure to raise me to be mentally 30 by the time I was 10), that’s a big deal.
Before the big night, Don is aghast by Sally’s attire for the evening (a white skirt and go-go boots) because he is seeing his daughter as an adult for the first time. Her date for the evening is Roger (again we’ll get to that later) and Megan’s dad makes an idiotic gaffe by saying she’s like an eagle spreading her legs (I’d like to chalk it up to a loss in translation). We’ll get back to the Cancer dinner in a minute but I’d just like to say that John Slattery is the ultimate chemistry guy on TV. He may not be the best actor (he’s great but not a guy who starts) but he elevates himself and the show when paired with anyone. We’ve seen Roger have great scenes with Don, Ken, Pete, Peggy, and now Sally. Their scenes together made for the best pairing all year and I love that Roger gets to be a kid around Sally. At the dinner he has her scope out women for him and he becomes like a fun uncle for her. Getting back to Sally’s night, she feels like an adult and her wide-eyed excitement at seeing the ballroom says it all. She sees the codfish and while it looks weird and foreign, she tries it with out any fuss (I’ve been there too).
Megan’s dad meets a more upbeat Pete Campbell and when asked what he does for a living, Pete charms the guy and tells him that being a professor is important work. When he beams, Pete lets him down by saying “that’s what I do all day” and that represents the first disappointment of the night. The second comes a little later when Megan’s dad tells her that he is disappointed that she quit acting and while her Hines pitch was successful, she skipped the step where she suffers beforehand. This would foreshadow the next episode but we’ll get there. The next would come when Don is talking to Ken’s father-in-law who, out of respect, tells Don something harsh. He tells him that while all of the potential clients respect him for calling out cigarettes but they will never work with him because they fear he’ll do the same thing to them. Don is obviously crushed and the award all of a sudden becomes hollow. The biggest one though is for Sally who was having the time of her life. She becomes an adult quicker then she probably would’ve wanted to when Roger hits on Megan’s mom and because she’s in revenge mode, accepts his passes. They go off into a coat check room (though I’d be a little more discreet myself but whatever) and Sally catches Roger getting to third base. The second to last scene shows all of them at a table with their eyes sunken in and staring off into space. Sally gets the coda to this scene when she talks with Glen on the phone (I know he’s Weiner’s son, but still, why do we still have this kid around?) and he asks her how the city was and she declares it “dirty.” Well put.
The next episode, “Lady Lazarus” brings these bouts of disappointment to a head in a sense and it marked what I think is the pivotal point of the season. Ginsberg makes a terrific commercial pitch idea and begs to get the rights to a Beatles song. Don reminds him that obtaining the rights would be expensive (as Sterling Archer would say “thanks, Freddie Foreshadowing”). I doubt Don would’ve cared about the cost if he understood the Beatles. That’s what he’s had Megan for, to keep him young, but he’s aged culturally right before our eyes and it is a tad freaky. Megan lies to both Don and Peggy about her whereabouts that night and while one would jump to some sort of infidelity, it turns out that she auditioned for an off-off Broadway play. Peggy confronts Megan in the bathroom about her lie and Megan tells her that failing at the audition brought her more thrills then succeeding during the Hines pitch. This is a far-off concept to Peggy who reminds her that there are people who would kill to have the job she has now (and while Peggy never killed anyone, she did sacrifice a lot, including a baby, to be where she is now). Peggy convinces her to be honest with Don and when Megan is Don is faced with a tough call.
Does Don tell her that acting is a risky pursuit and she’s already a great copywriter and that their couples banter is already the talk of the town? Or does he let her go because at the end of the day it’s her happiness that matters most? Considering he watched Betty have to give up her modeling dreams and become the bitter psycho she is now, he opts for plan B. It’s not easy but he blesses this decision and he may lose a gigantic chunk of time with his wife but he perhaps knows that she’ll be happier when they do see each other. I’ll put a Walt White style pin in this storyline for now and address the idiocy and sadness that is Pete Campbell.
In his first major story since Lane decked him, Pete finds himself once again not happy. His train buddy, Howard is trying to convince Pete to move over his insurance policy to his because suicide coverage doesn’t exist in his current plan (we’ll get to that). Pete gets off the train to go home but Howard doesn’t (they live in the same part of town) and sees Howard’s wife (played by Rory Gilmore herself, Alexis Blidel). She knows that Howard is at his apartment elsewhere with a girl that isn’t her. Pete thinks she’s a damsel in distress (and an opportunity to validate his self-worth) and offers to take her home. He “worries” about her safety and follows her into the house. She revenge hooks up with Pete and while she is quick to dismiss it as such, Pete wants an affair (who doesn’t, am I right, Newt Gingrich?) In his defense, she does send him mixed signals and he tries to barge his way into her life and even tries to have dinner with her and Howard (awkward). She ultimately turns him down (though she leaves an ellipsis on that by writing a heart onto a foggy window) and Pete is once again defeated by the reality that is his life. He asks Harry “Why do women control everything?” to which Harry in a rare moment of insight says “They just do”. By the way, the best moment of comedy came when Pete is having a clandestine conversation with Howard’s wife in the phone booth and Harry thinks Pete is talking to him through the door and they are both confused as to why they are talking to each other.
Back to Don and Megan, her last day is full of cheerful good-byes and while the office marvels at her decision to leave. Ginsberg, Peggy, and Stan, are all baffled that she’d give up this life in order to venture into acting. Stan though, points out that she’s got it right because in advertising all you get at the end of the day is a can of baked beans. Joan and Peggy even have a moment where they may be friends but share completely different perspectives. Joan is cynical and thinks that when Megan fails she’ll just be a trophy wife. Peggy is more optimistic and is proud of her for knowing what it is she wants out of life (in fact she is the only person who knows what she wants at that office except for maybe Ken). Later, Don walks Megan to the elevator for the last time and stares down into the abyss of the elevator shaft as it goes down (normally I’d raise an eyebrow at the heavy handedness of the symbolism but this worked). Don is all of a sudden an old man again and has lost his bridge to the youth realm (and like Thor, he destroyed it for unselfish reasons). Before he and Peggy (she takes over for Megan in a couple’s pitch) he hears a song that is to take the place of the Beatles song Ginsberg wanted. Don assumes it’s the Beatles (to Ginsberg’s dismay) and Ken tells him it’s an old ’30s folk song (already Don’s age is showing).
The pitch inside the Cool-Whip (I wish someone would’ve pronounced it like Stewie Griffin but oh well) test kitchen is a disaster. Peggy has always been Don’s work wife but until Megan no one knew how bad their chemistry was. Instead of being a playful moment between a husband and wife it is a cringe-worthy moment that turns off the head of desserts (who apparently was played by the principal from “Saved by the Bell”). Peggy chews Don out for half-assing the rehearsal (by the way, that is big on Peggy for telling him to shut up, she’s clearly at his level now more then ever) and tells him to stop taking his anger out on her. After a long day, Megan greets Don at the door and before she leaves for her night class she gives Don The Beatles’ “Revolver” album to listen to (which isn’t a great choice if you want to immerse someone in Beatles culture because if I remember correctly that was their first foray into psychedelic territory). The needle drops and “Tomorrow Never Knows” plays (according to reports, Weiner dropped $250,000 for the rights) and a montage showing Peggy toking it up with Stan and Ginsberg, Megan in her acting class lying on the floor like a leaf (so true by the way), and Don alone in the apartment. He shuts the record off and goes to bed.
Last night’s “Mad Men” was a step down from the hot streak they’ve been on but it was still a decent hour of television that conveyed how we are all unfortunately capable of selfishness. “Dark Shadows” marked the return of Betty who is still struggling with weight gain. She is in competition mode when she visits Don’s apartment for the first time and sees how well Megan bonds with the kids (Sally comes to her for help with a Family Tree project), and just how much prettier Megan is then her. Betty attends Weight Watchers and is as open as she can be in discussing how hard the week has been for her. Betty at first let’s these unintended slights are but when she goes through Bobby’s homework she sees a love note Don wrote Megan (and a drawing of a whale with arrows in it) and decides to exact revenge. She lets it slip that Don had a wife before her and Megan and places the ball in Don’s court.
Sally is furious at Megan (who Betty mentioned knew the whole time) for lying to her and Megan is placed in a precarious position. On one hand, Megan is 23 and young enough to want to be Sally’s friend but she’s also her stepmom, so she needs to be some type of authority figure. Megan can’t quite handle it and promises not to tell Don about Sally’s inquisition. Of course, Megan tells Don and he goes ballistic. He yells at Sally and tells her that her mom is just trying to stir up trouble. Sally gets tired of being treated like a child and Don decides to flip the script and be frank about his marriage to Ann Draper (though he left out the part where his name is really Dick Whitman). Sally returns home and Betty eagerly awaits her daughter to report chaos. Instead, Sally reports that her dad sat her down, explained the situation, and even showed her pictures. Betty seethes and throws away the love note from earlier. Two great things about the scene is Betty missing the trash can (not sure if it was planned but it was cool) and Sally knowing damn well that Betty is disgusted by her plan failing.
I’ve been wondering whether or not Roger cared anymore that Pete has usurped him at the company. Apparently he does and wants to destroy him. Pete brags about a New York Times piece about hip ad agencies and how he is friends with the guy writing it. Bert Cooper is annoyed (especially when Roger jokes that the agency is now called “Sterling Campbell Draper Pryce”) and Roger decides to take matters into his own hands. After learning about Manischewitz wanting to make a wine geared towards gentile customers and because Roger has a Jewish ex-wife (Bert is surprised to learn they’ve been divorced so soon), he is the man for the account. He pays Ginsberg less money then he had Harry or Peggy (because he was tired of people bilking him for all he has in his pocket) to do copy for him and mentions that Campbell can’t find out. Roger even calls Jane and gets her to play the part of his wife in exchange for buying her a new apartment so she can start over (obviously there is a flaw in her proposal but we’ll get to that) and they meet with the Manischewitz people at what appears to be the Tiki restaurant from “Goodfellas”. The meeting goes off without a hitch (except for Jane being hit on by one of the account men but we’ll get to that) and they love the pitch Roger delivers for them. On the way home, Roger sleazes his way into Jane’s apartment and they hook up. The next morning Jane is crushed that he sullied her new place (though he did buy it, so technically it’s not a fresh start) and whether he meant it or not, he is remorseful.
The last act of selfishness is the saddest one because it involves Don desperately trying to get his pitch back. Don has been in cruise control all year and now that he has an abundance of free time so he’s decided to get his head back in to work. Their latest account is to come up with a pitch for Pepsi’s Sno Ball (which I’ve never heard of but if you have please email me). While working late on the weekend he rummages through Ginsberg’s portfolio and finds inspiration (okay, he’s stealing ideas). The only problem is that he backs the wrong horse (a phrase which we’ll delve into later). Ginsberg’s idea is to do a series of print and TV spots of someone getting hit in the face with a snow ball (not the drink though). Don’s idea stems from seeing a cartoon devil and claims when we first hear the word snowball we think of “snowball’s chance in hell” and the group likes it (but doesn’t love it) so they decide to run both by Pepsi. On the way to the pitch meeting Don conveniently forgets Ginsberg’s superior pitch in the cab and Pepsi buys his lesser pitch. Ginsberg fumes and the next day in the elevator he blasts Don. Don brushes off Ginsberg’s declaration with the line “I don’t think about you at all” and leaves the elevator. Normally this would be a classic Draper swagger moment but here it is the most fragile mast he’s had to put on. Don is clearly intimidated by this kid who knows how to tap into youth culture.
Don’s decline has been happening slowly over the course of the last two years and it’s only now that the audience can see how hard he’s fallen. The acts of selfishness have interesting codas in this episode as well. Betty gets a nice moment with Henry Francis who laments that he backed the wrong horse when he left the Rockefeller campaign and fears his career may be over. Betty (who is probably thinking she backed the wrong horse as well obviously) reassures him and at Thanksgiving claims to be thankful for everything she could possibly want (sneaking in that no one has anything better). On Thanksgiving, Don wakes up late in a hot apartment (or so he says) in boxers and a tattered robe and tries to open the apartment window. Megan refuses because of a toxic cloud over New York City. Obviously there is heavy handed symbolism here with Don being the only one hot, the use of a devil, and the toxic cloud. Not the strongest episode of the year (especially with Alexis Blidel botching the erotic dialogue in Pete Campbell’s fantasy) but still an engaging hour of TV.
This concludes part one. Part two will cover “The Avengers”, “Dark Shadows”, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, “The Dictator”, and “Battleship”.
Remember you can email me at email@example.com with any questions or comments.