As a baby boomer, I grew up exposed to one iconic husband-and-wife workplace team after another. We had Lucy & Desi, Sonny & Cher, Ozzie & Harriett, John & Yoko, Maury Povich & Connie Chung -- even Bill and Hilary Clinton. (Remember "two for the price of one?') Now, we find Matthew Weiner exploring what it means dramatically for the Drapers to work together and then go home to live out the rest of their day. What great fodder the husband-wife workplace couple provides for a show!
My own ad-biz novel, The Minefields, pivots on this same axis. Sam Spiegel (the protagonist) and his wife, Amy, jointly run Sam's family's regional ad agency, Spiegel Communications. They share a professional life at work and a personal life at home, where they raise a family together. This work-play dynamic provides much sturm und drang. What makes it such a wonderful dramatic vehicle is its implicit unpredictability. The friction one observes is all real, never pretend. These relationships are never neat or easy. That is why they play so well.
Take the last two back-to-back episodes of Mad Men (6 and 7) and you begin to understand the dramatic potential. Last week, we explored the dark side of the relationship as we watched "boss" Draper treat his wife/associate as if she were his toy poodle, yanking her away from helping save the Heinz Baked Beans account so she could join him for an afternoon tryst thinly disguised as client field research. His self-indulgent escape to Howard Johnson's quickly devolves into a personal boondoggle. All the pent up tensions of the boss-employee/husband-wife dynamic boil up and overflow as the Drapers nearly slice their marriage apart.
This week, Mad Men treated us to the relationship's "upside" as Megan's conceptual abilities brilliantly burst through, saving the Heinz account. Megan taps into her own real life experience serving Don's kids spaghetti as a substitute for fish and realizes it represents a multi-generational family tradition with potential implications for Heinz. She substitutes beans for spaghetti and makes the concept of beans as a multi-generational comfort food for kids the backbone of a new ad campaign.
What a difference a week makes, as Don's admiration for Megan now comes, first, from his appreciation of her smarts rather than her sexy face and body. Not to worry, he gets there, too, before the hour is up, but this time, her brainpower has fueled the amour. How marvelously modern Don appears when his admiration for Megan no longer stops at "skin deep."
Life has clearly demonstrated the perils inherent in the husband-wife workplace duo. Of the six marriages mentioned earlier, two, Lucy & Desi and Sonny & Cher, ended in divorce. John and Yoko stayed together, but their relationship helped dissolve one of the most successful musical collaborations of all time. Ozzie & Harriet's marriage never crumbled and Maury & Connie seem O.K. (but they did stop working together on the same show). Bill and Hilary, the ultimate boomer workplace couple, continue to keep it together as the inner workings of their highly public, turbulent union continues to shock, inspire, baffle and befuddle us at times. I am sure Mad Men's writers will continue to mine their lives for inspiration as they test new plot twists and show ideas. What material will they ultimately spin into the future ups-and-downs of Don and Megan? Who knows? But rest assured it likely will fill our plasma screens with plenty of sound, fury and surprises.
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