Mad About Being Mad About Mad Men
The other day I read a fantastic article by Andy Greenwald of Grantland about what complexities and secrecy have made Mad Men (in his opinion) the best show on television.
Now, I’m a huge fan of television, much like Greenwald himself—but I used to pay little attention to what the internet said about the shows I watched. Enter the fifth season of Mad Men, and that’s when I first stumbled across one of Greenwald’s recaps of TV’s elite, so-so, and laughably bad TV shows.
What I found immediately in the recaps is that his take on these shows unearthed a great deal of character analysis and thematic subtleties that I felt stupid for not having picked up on during my own viewings. Like my good friend and noted Rembert Browne aficionado Andy Verderosa put it, it felt like the episode of The Office where Andy thought Jim and Pam were talking about a movie, but in reality they were discussing Pam’s strained relationship with her father.
Look. I won’t pretend writing about writing in this sense isn’t a little odd. But there’s some real value in discussing the discussion of our weekly indulgence in what the silver screen has to offer. So much of watching TV today has become the steadily rising background hum of conversation surrounding it week to week thanks to our connected lives. Immediate access to different perspectives on a story, or a piece of a story that you just watched, seriously enhances the experience of digesting its content. We learn things we missed the first time around. We slash through someone else’s ignorant claim. We argue, we agree, we create. It’s quite fucking beautiful, actually.
This isn’t so much an appreciation of Greenwald’s insight and writing ability [which are tremendous] as it is a commentary on a phenomenon of commentary itself. Now that we’ve been blessed with more than a few shows that seriously challenge the quality of top-notch feature films—The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad obviously being the four pillars—critiquing TV has become an increasingly rewarding experience. The conversation rises and falls with the cycle of TV seasons, and can last years (though hopefully not too many). Characters start to resonate with you so much that you’re referencing them in daily conversation. You’re just downright excited to watch next week’s episode, because not only do you love the show, but so do many others, and they’re all ready to talk shop as soon as you are.
As a showrunner/writer, I imagine watching people dissect and argue over characters you created is very gratifying. Even if their views don’t align with your own, it’s probably an interesting feeling to know people are talking about fictional characters as if they’re real—characters that you created. Being on the other side of this equation, I’ll go ahead and say it’s pretty gratifying for us too.
I started writing this article right before Roger Ebert passed away, and what everybody’s saying about how he popularized film critiquing really plays into what I’m getting at here. Critiquing TV is starting to reach the same heights, and that’s really awesome. Quality shows have been around for a long time, but were always regarded as less of an “experience” since you didn’t have to leave the comfort of your home to indulge in them. So now that the “golden age,” of TV has risen pretty much simultaneously with the explosion of connected devices, talking about TV has become a really unique and fun activity. It’s even starting to feel quite similar to how Maude Lebowski regards sex—a natural and zesty enterprise.