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Goodbye, How I Met Your Mother. Its been swell.

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve post anything about TV, but I feel compelled to give a quick tribute (ok, much like Ted, not so quick) to one of my personal favorites, How I Met Your Mother, which gives its hour long swan song on Monday 3/31.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may remember what I wrote about the show in This Old Show: 3 long-in-the-tooth personal favorites that I may just retire from my repertoire. Below is a brief summary of what I spouted early on regarding the final season of the HIMYM:

“And here is my dilemma: after Ted meets the Mother, will anyone even WANT to tune in after that? I’m one of the few who has completely enjoyed the ride of Ted’s journey to find his soul mate. I haven’t found the series taking too long of a time to reach the endgame. Actually, I think we are at the perfect point. He sees her, they finally meet, and he just KNOWS she’s the one. I’m not exactly sure I want any more. My only real complaint of the show is that Ted’s love interests are never very interesting. This casting of the Mother has got to be strong. In some ways I almost feel sorry for the actress who plays her: talk about extreme expectations and pressure!… Can the show successfully fill 22 episodes next season with Ted falling in love with the woman-who-will become-the-mother, ending with what we all assume will be his wedding?  My fear is that the last season, which we knew was coming, will be a let down of sorts and a disappointing end to what was such a promising beginning with this series.”

First off, let me say that I couldn’t have been more wrong in my previous assumptions. Instead of creating an entire season revolving around Ted meeting and getting to know the Mother, the brilliant writers created an entire season around the events leading up to a different wedding- Robin and Barney’s, to be exact.  Now, this season was certainly divisive: some loathed the premise of 20 odd episodes taking place within a 48 hour span, while others, like myself, have had a ball. Was this the best season yet of the series? No. Am I eternally glad I tuned in for the final season? Absolutely. All my fears about who was to be cast as the Mother and how that was going to unfold proved to be completely unfounded- Cristin Milioti is delightful. The writers did a wonderful job of incorporating her into the story without it being solely about Ted Meets Mother. Even if this wasn’t the most funny or the most cohesive season, it’s ending on the perfect note and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved for making such a likable and enduring TV show.

Without further ado, here is my solemn and heartfelt goodbye to a show I will remember fondly and forever link to my years living in Los Angeles.

Goodbye Best Pilot of 2005:

As I mentioned in my previous post about the show, I was an extra in the pilot episode and I distinctly recall thinking this was the funniest pilot I had ever had the pleasure of working on. It was a long 4 months of pilot season of background work, and I am pretty sure I was in every single one of them. But HIMYM was by far the best. It will always have a special place in my heart, and I can look back with pride and some frustration on my first year in Los Angeles, desperately trying anything to make it as an actor.

(If anyone is wondering or is planning on watching season 1, I was in McLaren’s in the pilot episode and if you look in the background of the scenes with Barney talking to Ted at the bar, search for a girl in a black blazer with a blonde pony tail sitting with a group in a booth. C’est moi.)

Goodbye Patrice:

Just as Lily screaming “Son of a Bitch!” and her eyes going demon red is my husband’s favorite running gag on the show, Robin screaming at Patrice- the world’s most annoying perky co-worker- will forever remain mine. I think I love it so much, albeit sheepishly, because we all have that one true friend who would probably lay down his or her life for you and is, for whatever reason, someone you can’t stand at all. Robin’s irate and non-sensical frustration at Patrice drives me to giggles every single time.

“You’ve never looked more beautiful, Robin”- Patrice

“NO ONE ASKED YOU, PATRICE!!!”- Robin on her wedding day, in her dress, to Patrice who inexplicably ended up as her bridesmaid.

Goodbye to a realistic show about 30-somethings:

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: the writing duo Carter Bays and Craig Thomas captured something incredibly unique and relevant in their writing of a group of friends in their 30s. In your 30s you are a little more settled into a career, you probably have a steady income, and you are mostly likely getting married and starting a family. Yet, as I’ve discovered since hitting my 30s, you  never quite feel like an adult, even though you are going through the motions of adult-like things. What the show magically and successfully managed to capture was that delicate balance as one move into adulthood with all its wonderful trappings, while still trying to maintain one’s youth. Relationships with friends change as they start having kids. Parents and close family members die. You realize you hate the career you chose for yourself in college. Friends fall in love, get married, and move on, while your life seems to remain the same. This all happens after the big 3-0, and I’m glad it was represented well on the small screen.

Goodbye Neil Patrick Harris:

By all accounts, Barney never should have been a likable character never mind lovable. On paper he was a womanizing, scheming, lying and manipulative douche bag and the only person capable of bringing any heart or substance to him was Neil Patrick Harris. Bravo sir, you deserve some serious props. I’m sad that no one on this delightful show ever got the award recognition he or she deserved. If I could have an Emmy go to anyone, I would nominate Harris. He kept Barney funny and charming year after year, while still maintaining an underlying vulnerability and childlike naiveté that crept to the surface during his relationship with Robin. It would have been extremely easy for the writers to keep Barney as the comic relief without any believable depth, but they chose not to and Harris obviously did his homework on why a character would actively choose to act in the most outlandish and selfish ways. This show marked a sort of comeback for Neil Patrick Harris, and I sincerely hope this is not the last we’ve seen of him.

Goodbye to the HIMYM writers and best uses of running gags:

I will share a little secret while I was on the set of the pilot. The character of Rajiv was probably just meant to be a one episode walk-on until Carter Bays and Craig Thomas gave him the line “Signal”, which he said in such a funny way that had the entire writing staff and audience of background workers completely in stitches. It was such a fluke, a one-time thing to make the scene just a bit more funny than it already was and it worked. I would like to think that the character of Rajiv was born in that moment. And I think this describes the writing on the show as a whole: the two writer/creators were always listening and knew how to best leverage the comedy.

From Kyle MacLachlan’s The Captain to the Slap Bet to the Ducky Tie to the Playbook to Robin’s Canadian-ness to Barney’s mad cap reenactments to the fact that we only saw one body part of the Mother each season, these writers mastered creating some of the best and most imaginative running gags ever. Even the premise of the entire show is one long gag: Ted can’t ever tell just a story; he must recount an entire epic. I will miss the risks this show took each season. You could argue that the running gags were merely filler, but I think they were part of the grand plan of the entire series all along, and I for one thought them genius.

Goodbye Robin Sparkles (and honorable mention, Alan Thicke):

Oh wow, the episode modeled after VHI’s Behind the Music about Robin’s Canadian pop-star alter ego Robin Sparkles was one of the funniest of the entire show’s run. Every famous Canadian got his or her due. And who knew Alan Thicke could be so hysterical?! Every episode featuring Sparkles and Thicke were so crazy, so OUT THERE, I fell into an utter laughing fit. I love it when shows go delightfully weird- not jumping the shark weird- just a little left of center. It keeps the writing on its toes, but also I think the actors secretly love it. This is probably what has kept the show so fresh for most of its run, too.

Goodbye to the one episode in a sit-com that made me cry:

There were several heartwarming episodes on this show, but the one that got me was the episode which found Lily on the roof confessing to Ted that she’s not always as happy as she thought she’d be as a mother. It was so raw and incredibly truthful, and Alyson Hannigan absolutely nailed the moment. It sticks in my mind so vividly because the show can go from sheer comedy to drama in a blink of an eye, and it’s believable. These actors are so committed to being in the moment and understanding where their characters are coming from. I felt Hannigan touched on something real during that scene, and it was beautiful to watch her go through the emotion while Ted, who couldn’t exactly empathize with her, stood by her nonetheless as she poured her heart out. Ted listening to The Mother play the ukulele and sing La Vie en Rose from one hotel room balcony away is another really touching scene. I’ll miss those moments most of all as this series draws to a close.

 

I have no idea what to expect on Monday’s finale, but I’m sure I will shed a few tears. I know it’s only a show, but in my heart of hearts, I feel like I will be saying goodbye to a small part of my life tomorrow, happily and with bittersweet affection.

 

Mad/Bad/Sad…Glad Men?

Whooosh. This is a sigh of relief, by the way. We made it through another year in the land of Draper. Quite honestly, I waited a while to do this post (current season of Mad Men concluded last month) because I needed to digest and calm down. Now that the required “cooling off” period has passed, I’m ready to share some thoughts.

First of all: great news, I was wrong about this being the last season of the show (assuming it does get picked up, but really, why wouldn’t it?).  I had heard from a very credible source on the show that season 6 was indeed going to be the last, and the final episode did actually have some “Series Finale” undertones to it, right? I suspect this season concluded with a lot of loose ends tied up in a neat bow just in case AMC didn’t pick it up for a final romp. After all, Matt Weiner faced this very dilemma a couple of years ago, and perhaps he did his fans a great favor by creating a possible ending for the show if it doesn’t get renewed.

So assuming all goes well, we have another season (year 1969-1970) to look forward to. And after this wackadoodle roller coaster 6th season, I think we need it.

This season wasn’t my favorite and that’s hard for me to say because I have always felt this show has been not only consistently great, but has even surpassed itself at times. Season 6 was an uneven and bumpy ride from beginning to end and not an entirely enjoyable one. As with every season of Mad Men, the show has A LOT to say and if you compare the first episode with the last all of the seams come together, but if you take the season as whole- the beginning, middle, and end- it is not a smooth transition from point A to point B.

Consider the opening couple of episodes where Draper and Megan are sunning in Hawaii- Don looking morose and uneasy and Megan putting on her “brave face”- and Don presents his Hawaiian vacation campaign to the Sheraton folks back in NYC. He captures the idea of a man shedding his clothes, his shoes- his “skin” if you like- and all his worldly goods, and disappears into the surf with just footsteps remaining in the sand. This is Don’s idea of escape, an idea he is already familiar with, and an idea he would very much like to pursue again. Now take a look at the last episode: Don has the perfect opportunity to shed his skin- his wife, his job, his mistress, his kids, his miserable life- and disappear off to California. Only he doesn’t. The light bulb finally goes off and Don realizes- maybe for the first time in his life- that escape doesn’t mean freedom. It simply means “diversion”. His past has always haunted him (and it haunted him all season, what with the constant flashbacks to his days in the whore house) and would continue to haunt him unless he actually confronted it and told the truth for once.

(As a side note, I believe Don gave Ted the California trip not as a gesture of good will, but as a kind of last “fuck you, buddy and good luck”. Think about it: if Don knows full well that a trip to California, when you are leaving behind a pile of burning and damning personal baggage (in the form of Ted’s one night stand with Peggy), absolutely does not mean freedom and the past will eventually creep up on you, then why in the hell would he offer it willingly to Ted? C’mon, Don’s never been nice.)

This entire season was chock full of folks attempting to escape, folks finally revealing true selves, and  exposing the masks they hide behind. Who ended up becoming truly free? And who is very much glad for it?

It’s difficult to talk about the entire season as a whole without getting caught up in all of the drama and conflicts between characters, so I’ve decided to write about specific characters and his/her arc for the season (I’m excluding Don because, jeesh, enough about him already 🙂 ).

1. Megan Draper

Megan got a bad rap this season from a lot of critics, and I’m not sure why. She was mainly written off by a few as no longer important to the Don Draper story. But just as Don tends to cast off his women when they are no longer useful to him, I was saddened that the writers attempted to do the same thing. The point is that Megan was a wonderful character in her own right and this season exposed her very own coming of age that would have made Don’s own story much more trivial if she hadn’t provided some sort of emotional conflict to their relationship. The entire season featured Megan coming to terms with her new acting career, Don’s disapproval of her as an actress, her slow awareness of her crumbling marriage, and the dichotomy of playing twins on set while also playing two facets of the same woman in real life: wife and career woman.

Megan’s mask, if you will, was finally revealed during her last scene with Don when he announces they are no longer moving to California, despite the fact she already quit her TV show in preparation for the move. Megan simply can no longer play the role of “happily married wife to Don Draper”. And I saw a visible relief on her face when she can finally admit what she truly wants: her career. All season long she has struggled with this wish. What was the first thing out of Megan’s mouth when Don first announced the move? Hollywood. And what was the first thing she said when he revealed they were no longer going? Her show. Megan’s truth is that she outgrew their relationship long ago. Perhaps she needed him at one time- and I will contend she was never conniving in her relationship with Don (I believe she truly loved him)- but the need is no longer there.

2. Sally Draper

Oh, Sally. For a minute there, I was convinced Sally Draper was in a for a long life filled with intense therapy, extreme sexual hang ups, and a pregnancy at age 15 (probably with Glen, no doubt). There is nothing more tragic than not only learning at a tender young age that your parents are just as cracked and human as your worst nightmare, but to have that same cracked parent whom you used to worship lie to you straight to your face and manipulate your feelings and experiences to where you just don’t know who you are anymore, is downright cruel.

But I truly think that it was Sally who became the catalyst to prompt Don out of his downward spiral to the depths of lie-dom and cheating-town and back into truth-ville. I absolutely love the very final scene of the episode where Don reveals who he really is to his children, and the look of understanding, wariness, and fear that crossed Sally’s face was classic. Don has a long road ahead of him with his children to win back their trust. I also love his reaction to Megan’s terse statement referring to “Your screwed up kids”- he had a look of such shock and dismay as if this was news to him, but it eventually sunk in and made him realize that his daughter Sally is on a one-way road to following in his footsteps and completely fucking up her life. That she went from a scared young teen intimidated by a wayward woman burgling her dad’s apartment to a rough and tumble girl on the fast track to becoming bad news via drugs and alcohol in the span of 6 months was finally not lost on her father. If Don didn’t want his kids to live a life of lies, he certainly needed to start cleaning up his side of the street.

3. Bob Benson

No one wore a larger mask or had a bigger cover up this season than Bob Benson. He became the highlight of the web with every Mad Men fan wondering who he really was. A government spy sent in to investigate Draper? A gay man? An up and comer trying to take over the company? Just a nice guy? In the end it’s suggested he is gay. That he never really confirms yes or no is important, I think, because it further reveals just how complicated this guy is. He wears the mask of a helper, an average Joe intent on making good in the business world, and I actually think he is this and more, but he could just as easily been trying to read Pete and pinpoint Pete as a gay man as much as we the viewers did the same with him. In short, Bob was always reading people and adjusting his persona as needed. One minute he’s tough as nails and single handedly defeating Pete in front of the Chevy team, and the next minute he’s as cheerful as a clam in the sun and helping Joan carve her turkey and wearing a frilly apron to boot. It’s revealed that Bob Benson also lied about his past, much like Don, to get ahead. So we know a little more about Bob, but I don’t think we know the full story, not by a long shot.

4. Peggy/Joan

I’m writing about Peggy and Joan’s arcs this season as one unit because both women experienced very similar scenarios.  Peggy sure got the shaft this season. She’s back at SDCP almost against her will, she buys an apartment she hates to please her boyfriend, said boyfriend then breaks up with after she accidentally stabs him (thinking some is breaking into her sad apartment in a neighborhood she loathes), she loves Ted and he dismisses her, she loses the credit for an account, Ted admits he still loves and woos her, and then Ted promises he will leave his wife for her and promptly regrets that decision the very next day and heads out to California on Don’s ticket.

Did you get all of that?

In the end, it’s Peggy wearing the pants and seemingly set up to run the agency in Don (and possibly Ted’s) stead. So happy ending, right?

Joan experienced a journey quite similar to Peggy’s. She’s moved up in the agency at the start of the season, a result of having to spend a cringe-inducing evening with a potential Jaguar client in order to secure business for the agency at the end of last season. However, Joan’s now realizing that her decision to become partner based on “delicate” terms, also comes with a price. No one truly takes her seriously (especially not Pete or Harry) and she admits to her girlfriend that after all this time she is still a glorified secretary. Faced with the opportunity bringing in a new makeup client, Joan has to do double-dealing in order to even get credit for a new account. We are to assume Joan successfully landed it, since she’s in the final episode with the partners breaking news to Don that he’s on forced sabbatical.

What’s interesting here is that both women got exactly what they’ve dreamed of- success and clout- but basically had to scratch their way to the top. Nothing was ever handed to them without a string attached, which is probably very true of a working woman in 60s. In the conflict scene between Peggy and Joan after the Avon meeting, Peggy exclaims that she never slept with Don to get where she is. Yes, that’s true, but she did sleep with Ted after that conversation and now she’s in Don’s office, in charge by-proxy. Of course, she didn’t willing sleep with Ted in order to get her temporary promotion (and we are left to wonder whether it really is temporary or not), but the similarity between her and Joan’s situation is glaring.

With Ted out of the picture, and Joan gently telling Roger to bugger off and that sex is no longer on the table, it will be interesting to see how these two women handle their new found power without having the trappings of a relationship hanging over their heads. Are these women now truly free? We shall have to wait and see.

5. Pete Campbell

Is there anyone more free than Pete? I think he’s probably the only character on the show is truly free at the end of the season. There is no mask to hide behind anymore: He no longer has a wife, his mother is now dead, he’s pretty much lost out on the Chevy account, and I think he is finally ready to step out of the shadows of Don Draper and become who really is. And only Pete can determine who that is now. He’s off to California too and as opposed to Ted, it’s definitely not an escape but a chance to start over.

All season long Pete has complained about the agency and his role in it, and Don even told him to maybe it was time to get out of the business. It was a tender moment (some reviewers even said it was too tender) when he has a final moment with Trudy and his daughter, and Trudy tells him he is finally free, to which he responds, “I just never thought it would happen this way”.  True, we never do, do we? I bet Don is thinking the exact same thing. Pete let a lot of his “Pete-ness” go this season. He’s come to an understanding with his family, rather than just be a horrible husband and sniveling son-in-law, and he even let Bob Benson off the hook by not turning him in for being a fraud (although I still contend Pete really did this not out of generosity, but because his mother had told him to leave that “nice Bob Benson alone”).

It might even be possible that Pete even came to terms with Peggy over the baby they made together and basically stayed mum about its existence, all those years ago. I loved the scene between the two of them at dinner with Ted- I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pete more real or relaxed. I think it’s safe to say that Pete is entering a new world completely untethered.

6. Betty

Besides Peggy, I think Betty is the only other character who has completely changed since season 1. Sure, there is still the essence of old Betty-catty, childish, and insecure- that rears its ugly head every now and then, but gone is the woman who clung to and hid behind her idea of the perfect wife and mother.

Actually, the scene that impressed me the most was when Betty went into NYC on her own looking for Sally’s missing friend. I don’t think the old Betty would sit in a squatters apartment and help two strangers make Goulash in a pot that probably also collected vomit and feces at one time. That Betty even cared, or bothered, to help this girl is truly remarkable. It reminded me of her first dealings with Glen and how she had struck up a friendship with the young boy.

There is a soft side to Betty that we rarely ever see, and I saw more of it in this season than any other. She’s tender to Don, understanding with Sally, proud of Harry, and appears to be an altogether rather confident woman. She’s definitely had her ups and downs, but she no longer blames others (as was her usual M.O.) and realizes she is responsible for her own choices. And yes, I realize she slept with Don and cheated on her husband, but the scene of her at breakfast just showed a woman as secure in her bad decisions as much as her good ones. And that is definitely not Old Betty.

Here’s to more Mad Men in 2014! I can’t wait to return to these characters.

There’s always money in the banana stand: I take a look back at 3 seasons of “Arrested Development”

Must confess that I was not one of the many who highly anticipated the return of  beloved and misunderstood TV show Arrested Development after a hiatus of 7 years and its season 4 premiere on Netflix this spring. Intrigued and interested, yes, but I worried that the show just wouldn’t be the same after all these years.

Instead, I took advantage of an Arrested Development rerun marathon on IFC channel and watched all 3 seasons of this spectacular show to truly find out if I needed to get back into the game and excitement over season 4. Consensus? Jury is still out. When there was initial talk of an AD movie about 5 or 6 years ago, I was ecstatic. But time passes, actors move on, we discover a new series to watch, and the original magic behind this ingenious show slowly fades away.

Or does it? Even though I’m not super psyched as the rest of the die-hard fans for the new season, I can still say its an incredible show. And it was an absolute pleasure rediscovering the Bluth family.

Here are the highlights from the re-watch of S1-3:

Overall thoughts:

Season 1 is by far the best of the bunch. This isn’t to say that the series as a whole went down-hill from then on, but there was a certain novelty to the specific kind of humor used on the show in the first season that tended to get overplayed and worn out as the series went on. Also, despite the fact that AD is still probably one of the most genius and hilarious shows ever to grace TV, it was definitely flawed. While it was one of the first sitcoms ever to throw inside jokes and subtle humor at its audience and not over explain the jokes (or sometimes not at all), there were moments when this formula went wildly astray- season 3, I’m looking at you- but it was also groundbreaking, ballsy, and twisted enough that it garnered such loving and devoted fans AND paved the way for other shows with similar humor to become “accepted” on network TV.

Perhaps accepted isn’t the right word, but AD just wasn’t beloved during its initial run thus dooming it to an early cancellation. Not many people got it. Even so, without AD would shows like 30 Rock, the American version of The Office, and Parks and Recreation even have had a chance? I don’t think so.

Still funny after all this time

  • George Sr. in jail. “Caged Wisdom” still cracks me up.
  • The shows ingenious use of flashbacks and montages. My fave: after the narrator explains that a previous staged intervention by Bluths led to one of their best parties ever, we are treated to a montage of Buster playing piano while Tobias naked but for his jean shorts dances frenetically in the background and Michael is sitting at table, presumably buzzed, wearing what looks like puppet Franklin’s wig.
  • Tobias as a “never-nude”. Never not funny!
  • Franklin the puppet and Buster’s use of it to channel his inner rage towards Lucille.
  • The Stair Car (and later the Cabin Car) and all the jokes associated with it: inmates using the stair car to jump over the wall, Mexicans using it to jump over the border, Hop ons (or Live ins with the Cabin Car)… always hysterical.
  • “By the statue of the kid who found the severed hand”.
  • George Sr. hiring a man with a prosthetic arm to teach lessons to his children throughout the years, and then Michael tries to use the same gambit with George Michael: “And that’s why you don’t teach lessons to your son!” Actually, the Pier Pressure episode from S1 might be my all-time favorite.
  • Every Bluth doing own version of what he/she thinks is a chicken.
  • GOB riding up in his segue scooter and saying “Michael!”. Runner up: every time GOB says “Club sauce!”.
  • The opening theme song to GOB’s illusion shows.
  • Tobias as Mrs. Featherbottom.
  • Bob Loblaw and Barry Zuckercorn: the world’s worst lawyers.
  • Michael’s complete disdain for George Michael’s girlfriend Ann.
  • Lindsay trying to get back to her Fundraising roots and failing miserably (“I think I maced a crane, Michael!”)
  • Buster taking his instructions to act like a student of the Medford Academy (Children should not be seen nor heard) to heart and spends an entire episode lurking in the background and trying to blend in without being seen (“On the next Arrested Development: Buster heads to the kitchen” and Buster just sulks slyly around the corner).
  • George Sr. trapped in the attic for much of season 2.

Surprisingly UNFUNNY the 2nd time around

  • George Michael’s crush on his cousin Maeby. It started out funny in season 1 and the more the show hammered this joke home, the less funny the premise became.
  • The “Tobias is really gay” jokes. Again, had Tobias been written simply as a naive nerd who really was clueless about what came out of his mouth rather than a closeted “is he or isn’t he” character, then the jokes might have been more funny. Instead, the jokes and innuendos are so in your face and obvious that you would think Lindsay or SOMEONE in the family would say something to Tobias. This didn’t bother me first viewing, but definitely rubbed me the wrong way second time around.
  • Annyong. Totally didn’t laugh once during Annyong’s (hello!) brief stay with the Bluth family, despite finding the random adoption of this Korean kid by Lucille and George Sr. absolutely hilarious first viewing.
  • Michael’s co-dependent parenting of George Michael. Re-watching this relationship, and despite some very touching father/son moments, I found Michael’s needy and controlling attitude towards his son almost creepy and definitely over played.
  • Much of Season 3, but especially the Mr. F/Rita/”Michael goes to Britain” story arc. Actually, I didn’t find this arc funny the first time around either. I know the show was trying something new here, but there was WAY too much going on to truly appreciate the humor. And the humor was questionable at best. Rita as a mentally retarded love interest for Michael (though he’s unaware of her condition) was definitely a risky move.

Random Thoughts and Observations

  • The show knew how to use guest stars. Liza Minnelli, Ed Begley Jr., Henry Winkler, Judy Greer, Martin Short, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (just to name a few) absolutely shined on AD. Part of what made these guest stars stand out is that they melded perfectly with the wackiness of the characters on the show by adding just a twinge of wackiness on their own part. This is actually hard to do. I don’t think many of the guest stars on 30 Rock (with the exception of Jon Hamm and Paul Rubens) despite giving great performances ever quite fit into the crazy and offbeat world of the main characters and they tended to stand out like sore thumbs (sigh, Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek).
  • In order for AD to work, it required serious comedic acting chops from its actors and they delivered in spades. While the entire cast is fantastic, kudos go to Portia de Rossi, Jessica Walter, Tony Hale, and Jeffrey Tambor who deserve special mention only because I’m not sure it was ever truly known before this show how funny these actors really are.
  • Did you ever get the feeling that Michael’s dead wife was really an “Ann”? Family members here and there make snide comments about his wife, including a brief “her??!” from George Sr., and I’m wondering if this was an inside INSIDE joke referring to father and son going after the same kind of woman and Michael not realizing it.
  • So many Happy Days inside jokes! Question: was the British story arc supposed to be “Jump the Shark”…on purpose??
  • The show fudged many times over with the ages of the characters on the show. I think George Michael went from 16 to 15 at one point. GOB is supposed to be the older brother, but at one point it’s mentioned he’s 35 and then a few episodes later Michael says he is 35.
  • Perhaps this was intentionally done by producers/writers on the show as an inside joke, or they didn’t feel the need to explain it further, but the distance between Newport Beach (the Bluth homestead) and Hollywood is about an hour to three hours depending on traffic (and probably longer on a bus, etc.). For non- Los Angeles residents, the traffic between LA County and Orange County is HORRIFIC. So in order for Maeby to get to her studio job she would have to drive (at age 14 by the way) or take public transportation, but either way she wouldn’t have been home much. Same thing for Tobias- in order for him to even have a chance at a successful acting career given the commute distance he would most likely have had to move up to LA County. I wonder if this was done deliberately to show how naive he really was about the entertainment industry.
  • Untapped Relationships: Michael was the center of the Bluth world and almost all relationships revolved around Michael, with a few side relationships that didn’t have much to do with him- Maeby and George Michael, for example, or Lucille and Buster. Interestingly, Lindsay has virtually no interaction on her own with either GOB or Buster and I wonder why these relationships were not flushed out further by the writers. It seems strange that the only sibling she really interacts with is Michael. Maeby and George Sr. do not have any time together alone onscreen either.
  • The show works best when the characters are grounded in some sort of reality, stuck in an absurd world but with a real and strong need (Lindsay and Tobias at the marriage counseling session, for example, or Maeby fighting bias and discrimination as Surely Funke is another instance), and Michael always works best as the straight man. Obviously Michael has his own idiosyncrasies and failures, but the minute the show toyed with Michael not using enough common sense (this is the main failure of the rest of his family, but not his) the story tends to go off the rails. I think this is why the S3 British spy/Rita story line didn’t work. There was too much wackiness with not enough reality (Wee Britain, anyone?), and Michael coming off as a complete chump for no apparent reason.
  • All of the immigrant and ethnic jokes: I don’t remember the first time around, but were any of the comments towards Mexicans and Asians considered controversial at the time? The writers do insert some pretty risqué stuff.
  • GOB probably has the most complete character arc. If you watch the series as a whole, not many of the characters advance very much except GOB: he’s kicked out of Magician’s Alliance and then let back in, he has a serious girlfriend (Marta) and then they break up over Michael, he secretly elopes and then tries to get an annulment, and he finds out he has a long-lost son: Steve Holt!
  • All of the little side gags that the narrator or other characters choose to ignore are comic gold. The show was brilliant at letting its audience find the funny. Case in point: in an early episode in Season 1, Michael finds GOB alone in the copy room quietly running slices of bread through the shredder while he and Michael carry on a conversation about something else. Michael never mentions the bread. Why is GOB shredding the bread? Do we need to know? No, it’s just really funny to spot. Equally funny: Nellie, the mysterious consultant/possible long-lost sister, is listed as “Conslutant” and Michael doesn’t get the hint as to Nellie’s true talents…
  • This was not an easy show to just drop into mid-season and understand what was going on. I know because my DVR failed to record about 4 episodes between end of Season 1 and top of Season 2 and while I had seen the show before, I still had to do some backpedaling and wrack my brain as to the origins of George Sr.’s twin brother Oscar and how he came to the story. AD tried very hard towards the end of Season 2 and Season 3 to recruit new viewers, since it was aware the Network wouldn’t renew unless the ratings went up. I remember Jason Bateman’s passionate speech during the Emmy’s or Golden Globes asking viewers to spread the word and start watching the show. However, probably a lot of curious new viewers did try to watch and maybe couldn’t catch on to the very broad and intricate story lines the show had going at the time. It also might not have helped that AD made quite a bit of fun of the Iraq war going on during the time- a sensitive topic to be sure.

So folks, those are my thoughts! If you have any thoughts on Arrested Development or want to comment on the new season leave them here!

A check in with Mad/Bad/Sad Men

When I wrote my first post about Mad Men, I sort of roped in the first and second episodes of this season. I made the executive decision early on to not write a review of every episode individually because frankly there are already great reviewers at AV Club and Paste Magazine who write intricate and fantastic reviews, and I don’t think I need to add my view to the mix.

That said, I still think about each episode after it airs and have my own thoughts on the matter. Here are my stray observations of what is has transpired so far this season (and spoiler alert):

1. Prostitution theme reigns. We finally had an episode last night that didn’t hammer home Don’s ill treatment of women or include some flash back to his childhood where he basically learns the art of sex by the women who shill it for money (and take advantage of him, no less). I’m sick of this theme, and I’m ready for the show to actually DO something with it, besides just point it out. Also, my friend and I debated this: did we already know Don grew up in a whorehouse or was this element contrived and pulled out of a hat particularly for this season?

2. Bob Benson: exceptionally nice guy or brilliant mastermind? I personally believe Bob Benson is running the most cunning chess game/power grab of all time and will someday rule the world. And I’m happy Joan is along for the ride! Whether he is pure strategy or not, no one but Bob has been this kind to Joan in years. She deserves it!

3. Finally, Megan speaks up. Last week’s episode actually got me frustrated at Megan. How can this lady have not said anything to Don and his aloofness and distantness until now?!  Has she not even suspected he might be having an affair? Well, she finally laid down the law to Don that something has gotta change and she doesn’t know yet what it is, but she needs him on her side. It only took, what, 8 or 9 episodes for them to get on the same page?

4. Peggy said it best: “Move Forward”. Surprisingly, no other reviewer has made a comment on Peggy’s response to Don and his childish power struggle with Ted after he got Ted stinking drunk. This is the heart of the story this season, Don’s (along with others) inability to move forward. In this week’s episode, Don becomes so unable to move forward that he goes right back to the beginning. And sleeps with Betty. I don’t know how I feel about this latest development. Again, it has an aura of “contrived-ness” surrounding it. It was so out of last field, and it was only after last week’s episode writers had Betty lose all the weight and suddenly become “hot” again. Doesn’t seem too plausible, and I still think she would be the last person Don would want to sleep with. At the very least, this latest fling did jolt Don right back into the present. As he looks on at Betty and Henry enjoying breakfast “the morning after”, sitting alone at his table on the other side of the room, Don saw a happy couple enjoying each other’s company. Betty is happy- she even told him so- and has no plans on resurrecting an affair with Don; she doesn’t need it or him. I think for the first time ever, Don realized that he already has exactly what she has (probably what he has always wanted this whole time): peace and contentedness. However, he’s chosen to ignore his wife and marriage and seek happiness elsewhere. As Don never learns, but somehow Betty has, the grass is never greener on the other side.

5. Betty has the second best line of the season (to Don): “Poor girl…she doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to know you”. Also, as a third place winner: “I like how you look at me, before and after. And then I watch it decay…I can’t hold your attention”. She hit Don spot on with both lines.

6. The “Drugged out” episode last week was quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen on this show in a while. Watching Don chase Ken Cosgrove around the office while hopped up on some sort of mystery “energy” serum, we laughed so hard we had to rewind it twice.

7. Oh, and I don’t think Sylvia’s dream was really a dream. I think it was a realization that she would never be anything more to Don than a mistress, a plaything, and nothing more. I think she let him down easy by saying all signs in her dream pointed toward home. Something in the way Sylvia was complaining to Don about her marriage and his dismissal of her complaining, told me that Sylvia secretly had hopes something more would bloom between them. But after his dominance/submission session with her, it was pretty clear where he stands. He doesn’t want another wife; he already has one (and she complains too). The fact that Sylvia was the one to end things was a huge blow to Don, but a great development in the show. As much as I loved Linda Cardellini, I very much wanted this affair to end.

I just enjoyed a bad book (and some of my favorite bad TV shows were cancelled).

A dilemma I ran into very recently: I just finished “The Red House” by Mark Haddon and while I enjoyed it for what it was, I still thought it was NOT an overall great book. In fact, I don’t even know if I would call it good. But I liked it, how can this be??!

Also this week: I found out The New Normal and Go On were cancelled by NBC. Now, I will wholeheartedly admit that these were not good shows, by any means. Mediocre humor with stereotypical characters existing in a non-realistic world… They were sitcoms, for cripes sake! And somehow I found myself watching them every week, these nutty and silly little shows perking up my DVR, as comforting as a pair of old shoes. When I read they were officially gone (despite suspecting this was probably the case after the season ended), I actually felt sad.

So how is it we can enjoy something so much and yet still deem it awful?

When I read a bad book or watch or a terrible show, I usually get fed up and give up- “How dare I waste my precious time on such swill!” (my inner monologue is a 78 year old British woman). I think it comes down  to recognizing a piece of entertainment as “Good bad” and just plain “Bad bad”, whether it is bad humor, bad taste, or bad writing, something can cancel out the other and the show/book can ultimately be enjoyable.

In the case of The New Normal, Go On, and the novel “The Red House” they are all pretty funny in their own ways. The two TV shows never tried to be exceptional and the quirky casts grew on me, despite the completely hollow and uninteresting story lines. “The Red House” was such a simple story with honest and hysterical observations about human familial relationships, but set in a much more complicated setting and overall theme (that ended up not working). I read the book easily within a week, and even though I looked forward to my couple of chapters before turning off the light, I fully recognized that what I was reading was essentially not a good piece of writing. And yet, I kept turning the page- not necessarily waiting for it to get better, but because it was enjoyable enough.

I’m not sure the term “guilty pleasure” applies to this scenario, but I’m curious what other people think. How can something be good and bad at the same time? Anyone else have a Good Bad piece of entertainment to share?

This Old Show: 3 long-in-the-tooth personal favorite TV shows that I may just retire from my repertoire.

I have only ever watched a handful of TV shows from start to finish, meaning from the premiere to the series finale and never missed an episode. Most shows I start somewhere in season 1 or 2 and go from there. For the TV series’ to which I devote my half hour or hour a week, I expect a lot. Some of the following shows I have threatened to quit every so often, but then I get surprised by a certain episode and am back in love.

However, there comes a point when even the best show, a show that has provided hours and hours of enjoyment through the years, has definitely run its course. I have a feeling my faves below are not long for my continued viewing pleasure.

1. Grey’s Anatomy

Oh, Greys…I will admit there was a time in my life when this show could do absolutely no wrong. Before I had cable or a way to really tape shows, and before I even had a decent working computer to watch episodes on Hulu or ABC.com (yes, I am aware it sounds as though I lived in a cave. I practically did), watching Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday nights at 9pm was an EVENT. I  made dinner, bought a bottle of wine. Even my boyfriend at the time knew not to call me during the 9-10pm hour. More often than not, 9:59pm found me at least either teary eyed, or outwardly sobbing (I still contend this had nothing to do with the wine). Grey’s Anatomy , when it was good, it was GOOD: an all-star cast, fantastic storylines, and even wonderful and talented guest stars. In fact, while I was interning at a talent agency at the time, it was well-known that to get on Grey’s was practically an honor. I mean, remember what it did for Elizabeth Reaser’s career?

It was the most popular drama on TV for more than a few years running. And then something happened circa 7th season. The show started to drift into Soap Opera territory. It happened a little bit earlier in season 5 too, with Katherine Heigl’s truly awful “Sex with dead Denny” story line, but even then I was willing to cut the show some slack. The fabulous thing about Grey’s is that the show tends to get right back on track fairly quickly. Until recently.

What happened in Season 7 and subsequent seasons thereafter is that it started to play around with the formula. Story lines and character arcs are becoming tired. Case in point: in an effort to shake up the format, the audience was introduced to a musical episode where Callie’s character views the goings on around her from her “out of body” state following a severe car crash. I almost quit the show right then and there. It wasn’t necessarily a Jump The Shark moment, but the show ventured into a gimmicky silliness that belied the serious and truthful characters and backgrounds the series took a long time carefully establishing.

We found the doctors facing yet ANOTHER life and death scenario (probably almost every character’s 3rd or 4th brush with death) in season 8, which I admit was a great finale, however we are now back to most of the story line in subsequent episodes revolving around “coping” and “getting back into the game”, especially with Christina, and this theme has happened more than once (after Derek’s shooting is a prime example). In short, it’s becoming clear the series is having a hard time continuing the story in a plausible and believable manner that doesn’t resemble a soap opera. Even the music this season, which the show brilliantly used in previous seasons as a way to showcase new artists, has that melodramatic soap opera-y feel to it and comes on only to announce to the audience , “Ooh, here comes a sad part!” or “Oh, Weber is about to deliver a life lesson stay tuned!”

Part of this dilemma stems from the fact that most of the characters are established, right where the audience wants them. And this is a good thing in a few ways: Mere has Dere and absolutely NO fan of the show wants this pairing broken up again. Christina has Owen, and I for one will quit the show next week if Shonda Rhimes messes with Christina’s love life again. Not that I think they are great couple, but rather, Christina’s love life has always been my least favorite aspect of the show. I can’t handle another go-around of “Christina loves Owen but can’t saying anything and Owen sulks around the hospital yelling at people”. Callie and Arizona are solid, and as for the interns, well, I know there are more than a handful of fans who could care less about these newbies to the show. While these established story arcs, which have messed with and broken over the course of a couple seasons, are good news to fans it does definitely make for some uninteresting TV.

We are now two episodes away from Season 9’s finale and the future of the series is still unknown. Will it come back for season 10? Who knows at this point. Do I want it to come back? Ack…I still don’t know. To tell you the truth, I could take it or leave it. Yes, Mere is pregnant and so there is another story line that sort of hangs in the balance, but I don’t know if I necessarily care enough at this point to watch Mere and Dere cope with parenting and potential onset of Mere’s early Alzheimer’s. Bailey might get canned, but lately anyone who leaves just comes back a few episodes later. I simply don’t see where the story can possibly go for another 22-24 episodes, without it being a completely unbelievable mess.

VERDICT: Grey’s Anatomy, I think I can finally quit you.

2. Bones

I am probably not the first to admit that from a writing and structural standpoint, when you compare this show to say, Mad Men, or Game of Thrones, or Grey’s Anatomy, Bones is not a good show. Part of its appeal, I think, is that it has always unabashedly remained a not great (it’s not really even in the league of great) but campy and enjoyable series.

I watched the premiere of Bones mainly out of curiosity. The series is based on books by one of my favorite crime writers, Kathy Reichs. The show is indeed nothing like the books. The very first episode of the series was an awful mess and I tuned out of the show for about half of the first season. However, as the show progressed, it became a wonderful and kooky blend of forensic science, anthropology and detective work with a lead couple who had similar chemistry to Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in “Moonlighting”. The series suddenly became very fun to watch. Sure, the plots are EXTREMELY formulaic, the setting is wholly unrealistic (I know it’s for the sake of the actors and dialogue, but no one wears masks when dealing with stinking and rotting bodies, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a sexy coroner in incredibly high heels), and rarely are there any continuing story arcs, but the supporting cast and the leads formed a reliable troupe of nerdiness and style that was comforting enough to check in on week to week.

Bones has had its moments of great drama, usually revolving around a stray serial killer or two. This is when the show, which normally relies heavily on its routine  formula of someone finding the body leading to an investigation then interrogation in every episode, is gripping. The standard plot arc goes out the window and the audience is kept in suspense. The show was also brilliant in keeping the sexual tension visible, but at arms length, with its two leads. The series toyed with a Booth and Bones coupling more than a few times, delighting and teasing the audience for a couple of years. I mean, I CRIED when Bones sat in Booth’s car sobbing when she realized she missed her romance window with him. I was one of the many fans who wanted Bones to end up with Booth.

However, the show ended up giving the audience exactly what it wanted a few seasons too early. Since Bones has been renewed for another season (I’m presuming its last) next year, this makes the third season in a row we’ve had Booth and Bones together. And it’s booorrrring! The sexual tension is gone and now it’s becoming unclear as to why I tune in every week. The cases are just too formulaic and uninteresting for me to keep going. Everyone is in a great space and conflicts are few. Hodgins and Angela are still a cool couple (I loved it when they got together too, also too soon) and the potential romance between Cam and the intern is intriguing, but the show never quite delves into either character enough for the audience to care. Same goes for Sweets and Daisy.

The show may be bringing back its serial killer-gone-loose story line with Pelant for the cliffhanger this season, which I think is great because he is scary and want to see this arc wrapped up, but I don’t think this will be enough motivation for me to keep watching next season. Where exactly can Booth and Bones go at this point? Of course there is marriage, but since they are practically married it’s kind of a “yawn” and feels like an anti-climatic way to end the series.

VERDICT: Depending on what happens in the next couple episodes, I will probably not tune in for the next season.

3. How I Met Your Mother

The show’s writers actually created a brilliant series by having the series’ endgame written into the show’s premise. The fact that we knew from the very beginning of the series that Ted would be meeting the Mother by the end of the series kept the audience hooked week to week. The only question became “WHEN” would Ted finally meet the Mother. Some folks say that journey has taken way too long.

I was actually an extra in the pilot for this series. Having done several pilots the 2005-2006 season, HIMYM was the only one I’d worked on where I knew without a doubt the the show would be a hit. The series is funny, relevant, and at times extremely moving. And most importantly, the writers and cast seem to understand the pathos behind people in their 30s so perfectly and compassionately.

There really isn’t anything else like this show on TV, or maybe ever. “Friends” came close, but that show never had its characters venture too far from the inner dating circle, leading to predictable couplings. Ted’s wife, on the other hand, is OUT THERE SOMEWHERE. We know it isn’t Robin or Lily, and so the game has always been afoot from the very beginning. I found one of the episodes a few weeks ago with Future Ted telling Present Ted to “hold on, she’s out there, you will meet her soon, just wait” absolutely heartbreaking and truthful. When we are in the midst of despair and sadness, it’s so hard to imagine a future of happiness. HIMYM has always done a fantastic job of keeping the audience tuned into the present while providing only a few hints into the future and the solution to the show’s riddle.

We’ve gotten glimpses of the Mother’s ankle, leg, and side arm. We know Ted will meet her at Barney and Robin’s wedding (if there is one. We know there is a reception, but anything can happen right?) The show has annoyingly and frustratingly, yet realistically, kept us in the dark for so long it knows we can’t hold out much longer. The Mother will most likely be revealed in a couple of weeks. She HAS to be!

And here is my dilemma: after Ted meets the Mother, will anyone even WANT to tune in after that? I’m one of the few who has completely enjoyed the ride of Ted’s journey to find his soul mate. I haven’t found the series taking too long of a time to reach the endgame. Actually, I think we are at the perfect point. He sees her, they finally meet, and he just KNOWS she’s the one. I’m not exactly sure I want any more. My only real complaint of the show is that Ted’s love interests are never very interesting. This casting of the Mother has got to be strong. In some ways I almost feel sorry for the actress who plays her: talk about extreme expectations and pressure!

If the show is wearing a bit thin this season, it is because the other characters are basically established. Only  Ted’s future really hangs in the balance. You could still argue that Robin and Barney are up in the air, but for right now I think Ted’s story line is crucial. Lily and Marshall are suffering from what every TV couple suffers through once a baby is introduced. I believe it has been said by critics that once you introduce an infant onto a show, the show dies. It’s not entirely true in this case, but Lily and Marshall have no where else to truly go besides poop jokes, no sex or sleep, and the usual complaints that they can’t hang out with their friends too much. The show did do a wonderful job of finding some new foils for these two, such as Lily’s unexpected dissatisfaction with motherhood (a topic not talked about very much, but should be!) and how the other friends deal with Lily and Marshall as parents (which is such a turning point in friend relationships, by the way), but I think we’ve reached our peak with these two.

Can the show successfully fill 22 episodes next season with Ted falling in love with the woman-who-will become-the-mother, ending with what we all assume will be his wedding? My only guess as to what might make it interesting is if Robin marries Barney this season, but next season she realizes she made a mistake and it should have been Ted along (brought on by the fact that he is now happy and settled). But then again, how much more back and forth can one audience take? Look, I WANT Ted to finally be happy and I do want Robin and Barney to make it, and I for one am not quite ready to let this show go. My fear is that the last season, which we knew was coming, will be a let down of sorts and a disappointing end to what was such a promising beginning with this series.

VERDICT: I will probably stick it out through to the very end, even if it means one more season of getting to know the Mother. I still love this show with all my heart!

Mad Men! … or, Bad Men.

Sigh. Don and Pete have fallen back into old sexual routines. And this time it’s closer to home.

We are now two episodes into this season of Mad Men, and no one is more excited than me. I was a bit late to the Mad Men bandwagon and didn’t start watching from the beginning until the series was well into its second season. Any show about the 60s was worth watching, in my book, and since I didn’t have cable at the time I was relegated to wait for each season on my Netflix. It was well worth the wait. My first encounter with the series premiere reached near religious experience proportions: the first episode was quite possibly the most brilliant of any series I’ve ever watched.

While the show maintains its brilliance and nuance to this very day despite a long and tedious year and a half hiatus as the creators and producers hashed out deals with AMC (and the series kept its momentum, mind you, and not a small feat), lately there is a small disturbance in the Mad Men force. I will admit that this season’s premiere –  its sixth and final (gasp!)- bordered on major doom and gloom. Don Draper is going through what is quite possibly the world’s worst case of a mid-life crisis.

And I’m troubled because up until this point, no matter what marital mess Don has fallen into I’ve always stood up for the guy, or at the very least, understood his point of view. I have to say, though, that with Don’s latest fling with apartment neighbor Sylvia, I’m unable to comprehend Don’s sadness and desperation less and less. Or, rather, my tolerance level has appeared to have piqued.

There is a recent and great interview in Paste Magazine with Vincent Kartheiser talking about the evolution of Pete Campbell and the sometimes tragic double lives he and Don lead:

“I think if people don’t want [Don] to win or don’t want him to succeed, then we’re doing something wrong,” he says. “Not us, but the show in general is doing something wrong. So it’s a good thing that people are sympathetic with him; although he may commit the same types of crimes or immoral acts as other characters on the show, we need to give him a pass. We needed to because that’s the way the story’s written. If you don’t want him to win, then we’re doing something wrong.” (to read entire article: www.paste.com/issues/week-88/articles).

Here is where I take issue: I think the show may indeed be starting to do something wrong because I find myself now unable to give Don a pass. Just what is wrong, however, is still a little unclear but I think it may have to do with this latest episode’s treatment of women.

My main issue is with Megan, Don’s wife. There is simply not enough wrong with her that I can tell which would ultimately cause Don to stray. And I am not saying that Betty, wife #1, deserved to be cheated on but I will get to her in a minute. Let me put my argument another way: if Megan’s pursuit of acting and brief lapse into alcoholism (that we are aware of, sure, but seriously the problem only showed up in one, maybe two episodes last season!) due to her failure to land acting jobs, which resulted in needing Don’s help and connections to book one commercial, and Don somehow couldn’t cope with playing second fiddle to his wife’s blossoming career (a career he knew she wanted before he married her, by the way) and now feels he needs an escape hatch, then in some way this exposes more of Don’s selfishness than any failing on Megan’s part.

As for Betty, it was easier to see the trappings and events that led Don to seek a mistress outside his marriage. We as the audience got more insight into Betty’s character than we have so far with Megan. We were shown her hopes and dreams lost, her troubled childhood, her brush with therapy, her apparent disinterest with motherhood, and while there was true affection between her and Don at times, the pair just didn’t work. Both of them got what they thought they wanted- house in the suburbs, Don’s career success, a beautiful family- only to discover later on that what made them happiest was almost the opposite. Compared to Megan, Betty Draper was complicated and even though Megan has had her fair share of backstory, she is still the anti-Betty.

Which begs the question: what is Don looking for?

Megan’s main fault (as far as I can tell) is that somewhere along the way she stopped being Don’s dream woman. When they first married and Don was in his euphoric love phase, he had the perfect woman that complemented the Don Draper enigma: beautiful, sexy, whip smart, hip, young, confident, and with just a touch of that naiveté and freshness that men like Don fall for. Most importantly, she was surprising talented at advertising. If you ever had a sneaking suspicion that Don has been secretly looking for a Peggy type as life partner, you wouldn’t be wrong. Not only did Megan have a knack for advertising, she worked at the same agency and therefore spoke Don’s language. He could communicate with her on a level that he could never do with Betty or several of his other flings. Also, given that they commuted to and from the office together, any après-work activities would have been fairly difficult for Don (though knowing Don, I’m sure he could have figured it out. He is diddling the lady down the hall now you know, and is none too discreet about it either).

Her fall from Don’s grace seems to coincide with her decision to leave the advertising office for an acting career, although you could argue that it happened a bit earlier when Don realized the woman he married is not always going to like the same things he does. Remember when he didn’t want a surprise birthday party and Megan threw one anyway? Remember when he REALLY wanted her to love Orange Sherbet at the Howard Johnson’s and when she didn’t, he peeled out of the parking lot after a fight and just left her there? Both events resulted in some heavy duty screaming and carpet sex. But besides these two incidents, there hasn’t been much in the story lines to justify Don’s apparent explanation to Sylvia in last week’s episode as to why he got into the affair that he and Megan were “drifting apart”. I think Don is drifting; I’m not so sure about where Megan exactly stands.

Perhaps her new career as a woman who plays pretend subconsciously rubs Don the wrong way: he has built his whole existence on pretend and maybe it hits too close to home. Megan is only playing at a facade; Don is living it. Another point to consider is that Don doesn’t necessary like to stand in the shadows. As Megan’s career continues to grow little by little, so has her star quality. One look at Don’s face as a fan of Megan’s soap approached her for her autograph in Hawaii spoke volumes. Someone, somewhere, will eclipse Don (god knows Pete’s tried. Peggy could do it. Bob Benson is certainly an eager beaver), and who will he be then? Megan and Syliva are currently polar opposites: Sylvia the older slightly more refined dutiful housewife and Megan the younger cosmopolitan actress. With Sylvia, Don stands out. He’s the bright spot on a lonely day. Is Don drifting from Megan simply because her star power is currently burning brighter than his?

On the other end of the Bad Men spectrum is Pete. Hard to root for Pete. Even though Pete Campbell has at times expressed moments of charm and compassion (he was very competent dealing with the Miss Blankenship body disposal and was quite a comfort to Joan when Lane died), the guy remains a smarmy scuzzball for most of the time. Throughout the series he has wanted desperately to become Don Draper without ever understanding what it truly means to be Don Draper. Hell, we aren’t sure DON even knows what it means to be Don Draper, as the latest episode “The Collaborators” contends. I actually thought it would be Pete who commits suicide last season, not Lane, as he was so completely miserable in career and marriage.

Pete’s affairs, as he even admitted last season, are always a “temporary bandage on a permanent wound”. It is probably the only moment I have truly felt compassion for the man. Pete seems to be stuck in a marriage that Don left behind. He’s in the suburbs- he hates it. His wife is rich and well connected- he’s used those connections and hates himself for it. From the very beginning when they got engaged, the audience was well aware that Pete’s marriage to Trudie was doomed. She wanted the perfect picture; Pete wanted whatever resembled Don’s perfect picture. Neither matched.

So when Pete’s latest female distraction- again, like Don, a neighbor no less- shows up on the Campbell’s doorstep, bruised and battered, Trudie showed perfect grace. She KNEW what was going on but gave the woman as much care as possible, something Pete couldn’t be bothered to show. And wasn’t it fantastic when Trudie finally called Pete out?  Pete blames her for forcing him to move out of the city, and therefore he is miserable. Trudie claims she never forced him, and anyway, if he was going to have an affair, she at least expected him to be discreet. We love Trudie.

Again, here is a case of a woman who did nothing wrong other than have an expectation for her marriage. A loving husband, a nice house, a kid- she’s been honest about wanting this all along. While no marriage is perfect, and even nice people are not always a good match, it is hard to root for two men who seemingly have it all and are choosing to literally throw it all away. And for WHAT? I think if I knew I may be more forgiving, but I’m just not finding it easy to sympathize.

That there is an overall theme of prostitution (and its repercussions) revolving around all of the female characters and the men in this episode is no accident. To the subtle and seemingly innocent exchange of cash for shopping between Don and Sylvia after a recent tussle in the sheets, to Don’s recurring flashbacks of moving into a brothel with his sometime prostitute mother (or step mother- I’m not sure) to the end credit song of “Just a Gigolo”, the theme hangs in the air over its cast like a bad cloud of cigarette smoke in this latest episode: dirty and clingy and impossible to brush away. Even Pete’s blunt quip, “Can you move things along?”, to the neighbor after an afternoon tryst, had a tinge of a prostitution feel to it.

But the issue of prostitution was hit dead on in the case of Joan. The man, and Jaguar client, whom Joan had to sleep with in order to land the agency the account and her promotion shows up unexpectantly at Joan’s office door. He even goes so far to refer back to their one night together and make assumptions. Joan has always, and will always, know somewhere deep in her soul that she paid a heavy price for her success. And as most of the men in this season are learning, what appears to be a simple and innocent affair on paper- no strings attached- has an actual cost, even when there is no physical money being exchanged. As Don is coming to realize, there is no simple affair. Sylvia asks him what he wants. He answers, “I want you”. It is implied that what is not said after that statement is “nothing more”, but Sylvia isn’t so sure. She warns him to not make her fall in love him.

We are left to assume, though, that Don learned his habit of lying and treating women like common whores from his childhood experience of living in a brothel and witnessing his mother (or stepmother. If anyone knows, please comment!) “help out” with the owner/uncle through a peep-hole. But what does this really mean? Don actually shows Joan- a woman who did really prostitute herself out for the sake of the agency- more reverence than he does his own wife.

There is a sense of discontent and something akin to sheer exhaustion among the men. They aren’t sure what will make them happy, but they sure know what ISN’T . Not even another woman seems to be doing the trick. Usually Don always looks at his new mistress as a possible escape route, but I’m not sure that is what is happening with Sylvia. Is she merely a detour? A throwback to a familiar habit? When Don gets scared, Don runs. We’ve seen it before. Come to think about it, all the men of last season who seemed to be finding their stride- Don happily married, Roger Sterling finding some enlightenment through LSD, and even though Pete was doomed in his last affair with Beth at least he was with a woman he genuinely cared about- have slid back into old patterns.

As Don slumped down to the floor in front of his apartment door after returning from another rendezvous with Sylvia, he knows he’s at a crossroads. He can’t turn back, but he can’t move forward. The man simply doesn’t know what he wants. Is it the woman one floor down with no real apparent strings attached, or is it the woman beyond the doorway with every single string attached you could ever possibly imagine? Can Don ever stop lying and “stop doing this” as he said to Sylvia in the premiere as they lay in bed? It’s a recurring theme and one I’m more than a little impatient to have rectified.  And my hope is, especially since this is the last season, the bad men of Mad Men will soon find out what is they really want.

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