All good things, and all that.
Last night, Mad Men was dethroned as best drama on television at the annual Emmy Awards by the gripping new series Homeland. In fact, Mad Men was shut out entirely, with none of its 17 nominations resulting in an award.
The record of four straight wins for best dramatic series, held by The West Wing and Hill Street Blues, which Mad Men tied last year, remains. Frankly, as I made clear from the beginning during the past season, and even more so at the end, I thought that Season 5 was a down year for the show. Much as I like it, I don't feel it deserved to break that record.
The season past was too gimmicky, the show's once clockwork, character-driven plotting too often lurching from one "water cooler/Twitter-worthy" stunt to another. But Mad Men can win a record fifth Emmy as best dramatic series -- LA Law is the only other series to win four, though it did not do so consecutively -- sometime in its final two seasons with a return to form.
Mad Men suffered an upset last night at the Emmy Awards.
Incidentally, you can see my archive of several years of pieces on the series by clicking here on The Mad Men File.
Even though Season 5 was a down year for Mad Men, it was still clearly one of the best shows on television. It took something very special to best it. Which brings us to Homeland. I'm pleased that Homeland won for best drama.
As usual, there are some spoilers ahead.
Claire Danes won the best dramatic actress last night for her great turn as a brilliant and troubled CIA officer who is convinced to the point of obsession that a popular Iraq War hero is actually an operative for Al Qaeda. The win by Danes, who has shined in material from intimate dramas to the Arnold Schwarzenegger scifi action epic Terminator 3, was widely expected. Not at all widely expected was that Damian Lewis would win for his portrayal of the former Marine POW who now turns to Mecca. Lewis was fabulous a decade ago in the classic miniseries Band of Brothers as a noble and heroic World War II paratroop officer. He is every bit as effective in this far more ambiguous role, for which he was very cleverly cast.
As an old X-Files fan, I was happy to see two writer/producers from the '90s Chris Carter classic -- Howard Gordon (who also ran a little show called 24) and Alex Gansa -- join with writer Gideon Raff, whose Israeli series inspired Homeland, to win the best writing award for the show's scintillating pilot.
But as terrific as Homeland is, I'm not sure how they will draw it out for more than a few seasons. It's not a stable milieu for the leading characters. How long can a CIA officer who's subjected to electroshock therapy persist in her pursuit of a suspect? How long can a potential Manchurian candidate teeter between acting, not acting, and acting in different ways?
Homeland goes into its second season after a near sweep of the top Emmy Awards in television drama.
Mad Men is a great novel for television. In a sense, it's foolhardy to judge it on a week to week episodic basis, just as it would be foolhardy to judge a novel based on one chapter. But that's how we consume television. (At least, that's how we traditionally consume television. If you watch a series on disc or as a season download, the experience is different.)
But even though creator Matthew Weiner has a less tumultuous setting for his show than Gordon, Gansa and company have with Homeland, Mad Men has a problem built into its structure, too.
Which is time moving on in its 1960s setting.
Mad Men was absolutely brilliant in its evocation of the early 1960s. But the early '60s, the mid-'60s, and the late '60s are quite distinct from each other. The first three seasons run from early 1960 to Christmas 1963. From the early days of John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign (in the pilot we learn, in amusing fashion, that our Sterling Coo crew is on the Richard Nixon bandwagon) to the immediate aftermath of his assassination. And while the show is not at all "about" JFK, though he is a persistent presence, it very much stems from a lost period in post-World War II/pre-Vietnam War American history called Camelot, after his favorite musical. A lost paradise, if you will, which, as it happens, was not. It was more of a heyday. It was certainly the high water mark for New York City.
Depicting that period was a big part of the unique value-added of the show. What was old, and, unlike the late '60s, not overexposed, became new again. It's the early '60s look and feel of Mad Men that made the series a fashion and design phenomenon.
Mad Men swept to the Best Drama Emmy in each of the three seasons set in the early '60s. Season 4, in which the series began to get out of its period comfort zone, felt like a bit of a stretch, but the series was still worthy of the win, though the overall number of Emmys was down. (Just as happened with The West Wing in its fourth and final best drama victory.)
Now the show is heading to the late '60s, one of the most over-exposed periods in American history, a time of multiple cliches. Mad Men has been good at avoiding cliche. That only gets harder as the decade goes on.
But I'm confident that Weiner and company, which includes a terrific cast playing characters that continue to intrigue, will find a way in Seasons 6 and 7 to conclude this journey in compelling fashion. I'll be surprised if Mad Men doesn't get that record fifth Emmy as best dramatic series. And at some point, Jon Hamm, who has created a multi-faceted portrayal, is going to have to win the best actor award for his simply iconic Don Draper.
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