Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Period Pieces

I am absolutely convinced that "Mad Men" is going to bring on a flood of period pieces in television. It's going to be a shame, because I don't see how they could have the same type of authenticity.

"Life on Mars," a remake of the British show, was not very well received here in the States. I think part of the problem was that it was a gimmick (man is traveling back in time, to the horribly styled 70's) and part of it was that it was kind of boring. Granted, I only watched about half an episode, but it didn't hold my interest. I'll watch the pilot or second episode of any new show, but I don't stick around unless the show keeps me entertained. (That is not a difficult pre-requisite- I watch some crap shows.)

"Boardwalk Empire" is only two episodes in, but proving pretty interesting. I feel like the swinging 20's are overdone, and the show is slamming home the 20's point rather bit heavy-handedly. But still, it shows a lot of promise. And it's Steve Buscemi, he's fascinating to watch. (Michael Pitt, not so much. He's annoying, and his "acting"  hasn't improved since "The Dreamers.") It's got me cautiously optimistic and hopeful that Michael Pitt's character dies soon (not likely). Kelly MacDonald is amazing, as usual, and her story arc in the first episode was surprising but nice to see, moving along at a very quick pace.

I think "Boardwalk Empire" has set itself up to be endlessly compared to that other HBO show, "The Sopranos," because of all the mobsters. It's an ancestor to Tony and Carmela, based more in actual history (casting Stephen Graham as Al Capone was inspired! I'm not so sure about their Lucky Luciano casting, but we'll see). The production value is through the roof, which always helps. HBO's got the money to throw around, and I think that's what really helps in making the environment feel authentic and real.

The last period piece that I really enjoyed from start to finish (on TV) was "Deadwood," another HBO show. That show was funny, irreverent, and truly interesting. It wasn't accurate, I know, but I still consider a period piece because it was a western (another over-done genre). I loved the cast, the script (profanity and all), and the production design. I was not please when they canceled the show, though I could only imagine how difficult that behemoth must have been to produce.

My current favorite period drama is "Mad Men." I'm so glad it came around, because not only does it take place in an era that I'm fascinated by, it's really well done. So subtly written and not overly dramatic. It deals with serious issues, like women's suffrage, racism, alcoholism, nepotism, adultery ... all kinds of nasty themes that should be difficult to watch. It's not difficult to watch, it's beautifully done and, while very attractively designed, somehow seems real.

It's on AMC, so of course, it feels like a smaller show that the HBO giants. There aren't a lot of wide shots outdoors in the city, because they don't have the money to dress an entire city block in 60's attire. I think it works for the show, though- it feels intimate and lived-in, and almost confined to these specific places.

A lot of people find the show really slow, and I did, too, when I first started watching. Isn't life pretty slow, though? And in that era, when people didn't say what they really felt, life must have felt even slower. It's the moments, the sidelong glances, the quiet minutes while a character isn't doing anything at all. I can see why people say that nothing happens on the show, but things do happen- just not at a rhythm that we're used to, particularly given the breakneck plots of modern shows (any cop show, for example).

I find that the show makes me think, after I watch it. Why would Roger do that? What is going on with Don that he is trying that? How messed up is Betty? When is Joan just going to give in to change? There aren't many shows that literally make me think a few days post-watching. I love that about this show.

(Kind of spoiler-ish ahead.)

The eighth episode ("The Summer Man") of this season (the fourth) had a couple of lines that stuck with me. It aired two weeks ago and I'm still thinking about it, which is either a sign that my brain has ceased to function and all I can think about it TV, or that was quite the thought-provoking script.

Don, who has suddenly decided to start keeping journal (uncharacteristic), said "We're flawed because we want so much more. We're ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had."

Jon Hamm isn't my favorite actor. People fawn over him in this role as Don Draper, but I much prefer John Slattery as Roger Sterling, who plays his role with panache and humor. Don Draper's just ... boring. He's not as magnetic as he should be, with minions so prepared to follow him to the ends of the earth. I wouldn't follow him to the end of the street. He internalizes everything, I get that, but ... meh. That quote was so oddly introspective, it made me afraid that he's going to kill himself.

Our girl Joan (along with Roger, my favorites) has been feuding with Joey, who is under Peggy's jurisdiction. (Joey is adorable, but very 2010- he doesn't really fit in with the rest of the cast, in appearance or performance.) Joan finally loses it when Joey decides to draw a crude picture of her and tape it up to the window between her office and the creative pow-wow room. She skewers all of the creative boys to the wall, towering over them and looking each in the eye by turn:

“I can’t wait until next year when all of you are in Vietnam. You will be pining for the day when someone was trying to make your life easier. And when you’re over there, in the jungle, and they’re shooting at you, remember- you’re not dying for me. Because I never liked you.”

Her delivery is quiet, her tone pretty moderated. She doesn't go into hysterics, that Mrs. Harris. That's one of the traits I love most about this character- she doesn't freak out or faint, she doesn't need a man to rescue her. She's matter-of-fact and, though old-fashioned, she has her way of doing things that works for her. I bet she's a great office manager.

It took me forever to write this post because work's been nuts. I'm exhausted. Today, my eyes are swollen, I'm sniffly, and I've got probably another 10 or 11 hours of work ahead of me. Sigh. Back to the grind I go...