Television
Mar 27, 2012

THE WRITING ON THE CEILING: MAD MEN IS BACK

I just woke up from a horrendous fourteen month long nightmare of non-smokers, gender equality, teetotalers, and ethical businessman. Terrifying. I was like Martin Sheen at the beginning of Apocalypse Now. Thankfully, I have awoken to the summer of 66’, the advent of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. The Mad Men are finally back.

This time their drama starts with ‘A Little Kiss,’ amongst other things. Things have gone seemingly well at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in between the end of season four to the start of season five. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is turning forty, and the cliché that has become his life turns full circle as his gorgeous young secretary-turned-wife decides to throw him a surprise party.

The charming but worthless Roger Sterling (John Slattery) has lowered himself to hovering over Pete Campbell’s (Vincent Kartheiser) secretary so that he may poach a meeting or two. At least he’s trying, kind of. The row that started last season between the two has moved laterally into office envy, with Pete wondering why Roger’s is bigger than his. Probably genetics.

Peggy is still seeing the beatnik journalist who will probably end up on J. Edgar’s radar. She loves the fast lane business life, but she seems compelled to tap dance on that line between her world and his. As the conflicts both at home and abroad escalate, it will be interesting to see how she reconciles the two worlds.

One thing missing from the two-hour premiere was Betty (January Jones), Don’s ex. Probably because the writers spent so much time last season making her as unlikable as possible they thought the audience needed time to warm back into the world.

For a show that has done so well, and had so many interesting things to say about creativity “We’re the least important, most important thing there is” or even television itself “It’s derivative with a twist. That’s what they’re looking for” and can hew so much history organically within the story of the characters they have never had one of those iconic moments. I always describe the show to people in generalizations: great writing, every episode is like a short film, the look and coolness of it, but I have never had a specific moment to point at and say ‘WOW! That will stick in my mind forever’. Funny that a show about advertising has lacked that one memorable scene that captures a quintessential moment. Until now.

The moment came during Don’s surprise party, when his new wife Megan (Jessica Pare) gave him his present, with the entire office as audience to it. The early hipster band fires up and Mrs. Draper starts a burlesque show singing ‘Zou Bisou Bisou’ (translates to Oh Kiss Kiss). There is simply no superlative for how hot it was, as the burlesque turned into a lap dance. Jaws, both male and female, became agape. Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) would later quip of Don’s reaction “I saw his soul leave his body”. This little song about a kiss becomes a great source of office fodder, and a source of tension between Don and Megan. We see glimpses of a desperate woman realizing that she is surrounded by sadists and masochists, and unsure of which one she is. Thank you Mrs. Blankenship.

Don’s sourpuss attitude leads to some silent treatment from his coquette wife until they work it out later through a humiliation fantasy that he took to rather naturally.

This show, unlike any other, is an experience for me. I imagine firing up a lucky strike, slapping on some Pond’s cold cream, rolling down a woman’s Topaz pantyhose, wooing her with some chilled Mountain Dew. We’ll have Heinz kidney beans for an appetizer and followed by a Bird’s Eye frozen dinner, which means I will probably not need the Secor laxative later, but after all that smoke I will need Clearasil and maybe some Vicks for my throat.