Monday, August 04, 2008

The Best Damn Show on TV


Sorry for the hiatus fanboys & girls, but these bones (and stomach, heart, whatever...at least I don't pop Cialis) can fail on a brotha once he passes age 45 but still thinks he's 25. Will forward musings and relayed reflections on summer boondoggles such as Comic Con, UNITY (journalists convention) and the vaunted National Bookclub Conference (sponsored, it seems by the Gibraltar of African American literature...Triple Crown publishing) soon.
And now back to the topic at hand. With The Wire kaput (and Simon & Burns' new project Generation Kill a bit disjointed but still damn good), what is there to watch? Showtime's offerings such as Weeds are a bit too idiosyncratic; unless you are an unrepentent bamma there's no solace in Tyler Perry's House of Payne or Flavor Flav's coonfest, Under One Roof. Clowns lobotomized by too much G4 banter are drooling for Heroes. And maybe we do need Jesse, Sr. and Rev. Al to shut down VH1 once and for all. Have you seen the latest crap like Jamie Foxx and "Farnsworth Bentley's" From G's to Gents, and the frightening new stuff on the way, including the return of "New York?" Look, that foolishness with Ludicris and Barack was allegory for deeper divisions between normal people and miscreants. As DC native, radio/ol' Channel 20 star and street bard the late Petey Green once said: "I was a thief, a junkie and a plain damn fool, but see, I knew that about myself and never fronted, and I took the skills I learnt in those things and built myself a better man, not glorifying that shit." Lord, where did that 'tude go? Just because we can do something, does it mean we must? That should be the mantra for America in the 21st Century. So as an antidote to this comes--with all due irony--a show about the un-politically correct, plain vanilla, racist, sexist, robot world of our nation at the dawn of the 1960s. AMC's Mad Men. Nominated for beaucoup Emmies, star vehicle for perpetually despondent hunk John Hamm (and only the cool people realize the cute touch in making Robert Morse senior partner in a 1961 ad agency--reprising his role in the 1962 comedy, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Damn, if Rock Hudson was still alive he'd be perfect in a cameo). Critics love it. Hell, even NPR talked about. Even Newsweek. Of course Wal Mart/Dancing With the Stars "middle" America (I'm using an amalgam of mine and Bill O'Reilley's terminology) hasn't embraced it, and it's no surprise neither have the texting- and Xbox 360 youngsters to whom the current braindead ad biz is a slave, nor have the Fox News scumdits. That's some irony for you, as this show's a creature of the caricuture of the a halcyon US of A the Hannity and Limbaugh types and certain ne-cons seem to pine for. Smoking, drinking...white boys large and in charge and luvin' it. Negroes running elevators, women swishing their girdled asses. Hispanics, well, out of sight...Jews, well, annoying, left-wing and yet unobtrusive unless you live in Brooklyn or Greenwich Village. So it's the Bush White House in cuffed highwater slacks and collar pins. M-M-Maybe not. The Hitchcockian opening credits animation should give you a clue...
Rather, writer/creator Matt Weiner gives us a mirror on history--as shown through the banal activity of living. Reality, almost, though a TV drama. The prose and plot archs of the scripts are wonderful; unlike the overkill period-piece vernacular of a Deadwood, you don't have the flat sitcom language you hear in Bewitched reruns. People speak and act as they did back then, when yours truly came into this world, a babe of JFK's "Camelot," of a civil rights movement oiled and ready to spring, of a space race, of an arms race, of rural denigration and the first inlings of urban decay. Yeah, speaking of Bewitched, Sterling, Cooper (the ad agency) is Darrin Stevens's "McMahon & Tate" on a diet of benzadrine and Scotch. This is the world of Madison Avenue advertising agencies in the TV and magazine media's "golden age." It was a corporate hustle, man-in- the- gray- flannel- suit rat race, but it was also artful, poetic. You see and hear it in the both the prop copy and artwork and commercials on the show, and real ones. Yyou see and hear it lived through amazing characters. Yep, even through the black folks pushing mops on the show, because that's how it was. Even through the "girls" in the "secretarial pool" (in the 80s it was called "word processing") pushing their boobs up in reinforced bras. Actors playing "real" people engaged in selling fantasy. You gotta love those layers.
Funny, around that time in "real life," then FCC-chair Newton Minow declared TV a "vast wasteland;" Edward R Murrow delivered his famous RTNDA Convention speech (see the fictionalized version here from Good Night and Good Luck). Minow's aged and Murrow's long dead. Still I wonder what Murrow's ghost would say to Minow about television now, the fate of journalism, new media, info-tainment, advertising...our America? Yeah, I'd bet they'd hang with the late advertising guru, David Oglivie, and Minow'd lament wilst Oglivie and Murrow wail/chain-rattle in disgust like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol. Both the living and the dead would have nothing to atone for but failing to beat it into our heads, so we could in turn beat into the heads of twentysomethings and teens, that we can do better, we can aspire, we can enrich a commonweal spiritually (and materially) and not just enrich ourselves or build fences around our households. But hey, they'd all be tuning in on Sunday to AMC's Mad Men, for sure. So should you. [Watch Season One episodes with your digital cable on-demand... Mrs. Nat did in two damn nights, no lie]. Other than Barack's nomination acceptance speech, a few Olympics events and an NFL pre-season game or two, what else better's on TV?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Lisa said...

Seen the promos but never watched. I saw the star on some talk shows and yes, he is a hunk and yes he always seems to appear weary.

"Unrepentant bamma" comment is killing me! You will upset many people with that but I have you back. Good to see you posting again.

P.S.: My cousin was at the Comic Con and saw the Star Trek sneak preview and he is going crazy and met Zoe Saldano as Uhura--he says Wynona Rider is playing Mr. Spock's mother?! That should tell you what a geek the boy is!

Anonymous said...

That first commenter must be in the wave of rightwing racist azzholes who are terrified by Barack. They just cannot face reality or differing views without their heads exploding, and what on earth did you write in this blog post to offend him?

Regarding your post, I did watch a few season one shows and was mildly surprised at how good it is, and how the actors are so skilled.

eisa said...

now that the wire is gone, i have a distant 2nd best in mad men. great writing. amazing set design. fine acting. it's a phenomenon.... but i still miss snoop n em.

eisa

Chicama Vineyard said...

As a YOUNG child of that time, I can attest to the authenticity, even though I grew in the south. I recall the dress, the wonderment over things like a Xerox machine in my daddy's own office with the Alabama Fisheries Bureau, TV dinners, crinoline and the commercials!

More intriguing to me however are the well drawn characters. Very complex people. Hamm's is the most conflicted of any leading man on television.

I agree with you regarding that incident with the rapper and Senator Obama. It does nothing but cement in the minds of too many of my friends and neighbors that Senator Obama is the exception among African Americans, rather than a shining rule.

Pebbles Flintstone said...

Chris,

I'm with Mrs. Nat -- LOL! I too watched the first season in two days on-demand just to see what the hype was about. After the first show, I was hooked! The characters are indeed complex and Hamm is wonderful. Draper seems to be too deep to fully understand, but as the show goes on, you definitely want to dive in and find out more. My second favorite character is Pete Campbell. I hated him in the first episode, but as they peel back his layers, his character is just as complex and well drawn.
The early 1960's is such an interesting time in American history (I was born in the mid-60's), and I find the political incorrect -ness of it all appalling yet intriguing. I think to myself -- "why didn't they get it"? Then I realize that they got it -- folks just chose not to care. If you are interested in this era, and in the context of the show -- go to You Tube and type in "commercials 1960"s" There is a treasure trove of they type of ads that Sterling Cooper would have produced.

66mustangwrangler said...

Glad you are "back." Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Are there now any popular and critically acclaimed shows with African Americans in front roles? Nah. I think we've clowned ourselves in all senses of that term, and we don't seem to ask for better dramas.

By the way, The Shield is the best damn show on TV. Followed by Rescue Me and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, then comes Mad Men.

a work in progress... said...

The Best Damn Show on TV???

I initially came to your blog after a search on a book I just read, Casanegra. It´s a great collaboration.

Your comments on the state of Black readership was refreshing and astute... , but Madmen being the Best...?

I would resoundingly differ, but I´ll write again when I´ve done the OnDemand challenge.

In the interim I would say that the best show WAS ¨Tell Me You Love Me.¨ There was sex, but most importantly there were some well rounded characters in all of the couples that really represent one couple from the early years struggling, the late 20ś early 30s years of Careerism; the middle passage (LOL) and then as senior citizens or near that.

Most importantly, the program was a great examination of relationships that was truly real to the point that it didn´t seem American because it dealt with the subject matter without down playing it with comic stupidity.

Alas, the show came to an end with with a climatic [pun intended] season-ending with promise of the next season.

Oh well the show was cancelled ¨allegedly¨ due to the sexual content... this is cable folks where we have the foul-talking Shield and the blatantly violent Wire, but a little sex will get you canned? Go figure.

BTW: The Wire´s best moment was the scene with Snoop getting the nail gun... It was the Baltimoron version of James Bond and Q ... LOL

Kala Nation said...

About time someone else besides the Kala Nation and its warriors see the need to cleans Black culture.We have lost our sense of self respect that is why we tolerate high crime and corruption among our so called leaders.Embarrassment is a word we need to bring back.It seems these illiterate rappers are leading our culture down a self destructive path.

lincolnperry said...

White Males behaving badly, it was the best of times and for Negroes it was the worst of times!

Mad Men, meets my very expectations of White Folks at the worst!

Sorry, Chris I rather watch Marines shooting ragheads on HBO, if thats any consolation.

lincolnperry said...

I been watching and reviewing Generation Kill, written by the same people that brought us the Wire, David Simon and Ed Burns.

At least some of the White Boys have remorse for their sins!