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Janet Turley

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Mad Men Season Five -- A Rough Start

Posted: 04/30/2012 11:34 am

Last night's episode was the most compelling of the season; provocative without being tawdry. Bookended from Sally's POV, we see the little girl not only thrust into the adult world of dirty deeds (walking in on Roger [her "date"] getting head from Megan's mother) but also that the lies start young (saying Mother Francis broke her ankle by tripping over Baby Gene's toy when the culprit was the phone cord stretched into the Sally's room). Additionally, Abe pops the question of "let's move in together" to Peggy's hidden disappointment, and then her mother chews her out for living in sin. Innocence is shed, disappointing and confusing both young and old.

Mad Men -- welcome back from what's been amateur hour at SCDP. I'm not talking about the copywriters, campaigns or maiden voyages on an acid trip. I'm talking about the series writers.

For four years, I've looked forward to Sunday nights and delighted in Roger Sterling's quips and Don Draper's antiheroic heroism. Yet, much of Season Five has left me... underwhelmed. Upon reading many of Season Five's glowing reviews, I thought -- Mad Men -- it's not you, it's me.

Then I reached out to friends and strangers and I realized I wasn't alone. One friend said the season premiere felt like "the actors were trying to remember their characters." I also had the pleasure of meeting someone who used to work on the show and all he could say was that Season Five was "boring."

Starting with the premiere -- Pete Campbell, who had finally grown into a man during Season Four, replaced his trademark simmering and plotting with whining and yelling, and if that wasn't enough, a slapstick crash into a support beam. The classically stoic Joan cried in Layne's office. Megan threw Don a birthday party just to be an attention whore (and that "Zou Bisou Bisou" felt like pure promotion for the actress at the price of storytelling). Peggy bitched about work (nothing new) but instead of marching through it, lobbed passive aggressive zingers at the fiesta. Then Don ran to his room and pouted that a party should never have been thrown in the first place. Between the close up of the Kevin's baby ass and Pete's temper tantrums, the premiere was an episode about a bunch of babies.

In addition, the show has lost its knack for subtle symbolism and parallels. For example, Episode Four's fixation on death opens with Pete watching the driver's ed "death-in-the-passenger-seat" film reel. Later, he's showing Ken Cosgrove his new record player and the brilliant part of this scene is the angle from which it's shot -- with the top open and the men gazing in, it seems like they're looking into a casket. But then the not-so-smart was Pete saying a "body could fit in it". Guys -- we got it already.

Throw in Fat Betty stuffing her face to "You Are Sixteen Going on Seventeen" (the little girl motif previously an undertone) and my beloved show has become as poignant as a made-for-TV movie.

The civil rights movement and the escalation of Vietnam are worthy of better storytelling than this.

Maybe it's just been a long, slow road to redemption. Last week's episode was one of the more entertaining of the season, but only because Roger took LSD and because of the wackiness that ensued. It was both hilarious and heartbreaking (from Bert Cooper on the dollar bill to Roger's confession that he just doesn't like Jane anymore). For me, it was sweet relief -- finally, a main character wasn't whining!

Roger's trip aside, the episode was an overwrought drag. Don was a chauvinistic jerk to Megan (both cried) and Peggy had a sh*tty day being a sh*tty girlfriend to Abe.

The characters weren't known for their likability but were a delightful train wreck in seasons past.

The relationships that we build with extended or episodic storytelling -- such as my favorite TV shows -- when they're great, I mourn their completion. It's like slowing down near the end of a captivating book just to make it last longer or putting off watching the series finale because the experience of being enrapt has been so fulfilling.

Alas, this particular relationship is one where the significant other has gone from dazzling to vapid. It's given me a wandering eye towards other programs and I've begun to stray.

Mad Men -- it's not me, it's you.

Anyone else feel the same? Looking forward to your comments.

 
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