Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mad Men: The Smartest Show, this summer

From last week's New York Times:

‘Mad Men’ Has Its Moment

Matthew Weiner stood on the set of his hit show, “Mad Men,” ready for his close-up in extreme anxiety. He was watching the rehearsal of a scene that seemed fine to me, better than fine, but his staccato commentary was a scene in itself.

“He should be standing,” he said of an actor who was seated.

“That should be on the table,” he said of an accordion folder that an actress had placed on the floor.

“They’re overreacting, paying too much attention to each other.” He heard himself and looked slightly sheepish. “You’ll see it turn from theater to movie in the next take,” he told me. “I want them not to pay too much attention to each other, so it feels real, more perfunctory. Not that TV thing.” His smile was wry. “I’m very impatient.”

He should give himself a break. Everyone else has. “Mad Men,” about the world of advertising on Madison Avenue set in New York in the early 1960s, languished for years after being rejected by HBO and Showtime before the unlikely AMC (formerly known as American Movie Classics) picked it up, making for its first scripted drama series. The show had its premiere last summer and won instant critical acclaim, a Peabody Award and the Golden Globe Award for best drama. Its second season begins July 27; the DVD set of the first season goes on sale July 1.

Weiner (pronounced WHY-ner) is the creator and show-runner of “Mad Men,” which means the original idea was his: he wrote the pilot; he writes every episode of every show (along with four other people); he’s the executive producer who haggles for money (he says that his budget is $2.3 million per episode and that the average budget for a one-hour drama is $2.8 million); and he approves every actor, costume, hairstyle and prop. Though he has directed episodes, most of the time he holds a “tone meeting” with the director at which he essentially performs the entire show himself so it’s perfectly clear how he wants it done. He is both ultimate authority and divine messenger, some peculiar hybrid of God and Edith Head. “I do not feel any guilt about saying that the show comes from my mind and that I’m a control freak,” he told me. “I love to be surrounded by perfectionists, and part of the problem with perfectionism is that by nature, you’re always failing.”

Weiner’s achievements with “Mad Men,” which is produced by Lionsgate, are plentiful, starting with the storytelling. Setting it in the early 1960s, on the cusp between the repression and conformity of the cold war and McCarthy-era 1950s and the yet-to-unfold social and cultural upheavals of the 60s, allows Weiner an arc of character growth that is staggering in its possibilities. It also gives him the opportunity to mine the Rat Pack romance of that period, when the wreaths of cigarette smoke, the fog of too many martinis — whether exhilarating or nauseating — and the silhouettes specific to bullet bras only heightened the headiness of the dream that all men might one day become James Bond or, at the very least, key holders to the local Playboy Club.

Deepening the tension between that fantasy and reality, Weiner has put Sterling Cooper, the fictional ad agency that employs the show’s characters, on the old-school, WASP side of the equation, letting them revel in their racism, sexism and anti-Semitism. It was during that period that the creative revolution in advertising was taking off at agencies like Grey and Doyle Dane Bernbach, where Jews and some women held leadership positions. That Sterling Cooper’s creative director, Don Draper, is played by Jon Hamm, a leading man in the Gregory Peck mold who manages to make his sometimes oblique and often heartless character into a sympathetic figure (and won a Golden Globe for best actor), eases the pain.

The show’s design, the almost fetishistically accurate sets and costumes, has been lauded from the start. But Weiner is wary of deifying the visual. “The design is not the star of the show,” he said as he led me through the offices of Sterling Cooper. “I don’t want to be distracted by it.” He never forgets that his characters are not movie stars; they are the people who go to the movies and try to emulate movie stars. “I’m against clean and glamorous,” he said. “I like to respect the popular culture, mass production and also people’s eccentricities. The temptation is to become Mannerist. People have old things and new things, and as someone who loves the period, it’s very hard to resist the idea of getting the perfect 1960 everything, but I want it to feel like a slice of life. People’s hair is messed up, there are sweat stains, their collars are not perfectly flat. The actors tie their own ties a lot of the time, and it makes a big difference.”

Read More Here...


Post a Comment

<< Home