"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mad Men in Shark-Infested Waters

Mad Men hasn't quite jumped the shark yet, but it's getting close.   I don't have time for a lengthy dissertation, but to put it bluntly, it's got two main problems, one involving the writing, and one involving the casting, neither of which is solvable at this late date, and perhaps both of which were inevitable.


As to the writing, for a long time now it's been evident that Matthew Weiner envisions Don Draper as his version of Tony Soprano (Weiner made his writing bones on The Sopranos).   We are supposed to watch the arc of his life and anticipate his death or, at best, his destruction.  

But Tony Soprano was always watchable and fascinating because he was always from the outset a nasty sociopath criminal, so we were surprised by moments of humanity with his family, and we wanted to see if he was redeemable, even though we knew he probably wasn't.    Draper is becoming increasingly unwatchable for the opposite reason -- he was sold to us as a dashing leading man type, but we are now compelled to watch him increasingly become a nasty sociopath with little human connection to his wife or children (or anyone, really).  

Wondering whether the Devil can be saved is interesting.   Watching a man we thought was heroic go to Hell isn't... it's frankly kind of depressing.   Thus last night's episode where Don indulges in some creepy sex play with his mistress, Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini), was almost unbearable.   I had to turn away.


Now for the casting problem.   This is somewhat inevitable, and Weiner is actually pretty obviously conscious of this and making an effort to make it into a thematic aspect of the show -- 7-8 years later, Jon Hamm just doesn't look the same.   He was male-model handsome when the show began, and he's still handsome, but he's also obviously 40-something now, and getting (as we all do), jowlier.   He doesn't obviously seem, just by being gorgeous, to be cooler than everyone anymore.   He's this guy now:

Okay, not bad.   A good-looking 40 year-old man.   And Hamm can play Draper as a guy the years are catching up to... too many late nights, too much booze.   OK, I get it.   But, still, he's not this guy:

This guy I would watch do anything because he's beautiful.   The other guy?   He looks like too many middle-aged lawyers in my firm.  


In a way the writing problem and the casting problem are the same problem... the central character is no longer the magnetic sexual beast he was at the beginning.   Now he's becoming a creepy middle-aged dude who should grow up already.   The kind of guy you wouldn't really like to have around.

So why watch?

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