Tag Archives: Mad Men

Peggy & Betty & Joan, Oh My!: Rolling Stone does another TV cover

Rolling Stone follows up the True Blood cover with a celebration of Mad Men, calling it “the best show on TV.” I’ve always thought so, but after this week’s episode—Don’s “lost weekend”, Peggy’s assertiveness, when-Roger-met-Don, Pete’s Cosgrove-inspired meltdown—it’s feeling more like the best show ever (well, other than The Wire…or (the first 6 seasons of) The Gilmore Girls, I guess, but I digress…) Here’s the cover: Don Draper with Peggy, Betty and Joan, three of the women in his life. Seizing the pop culture moment, before the backlash begins, baby…? (Oh, before I forget, might that reference made to Don’s new art director—who’s clearly an insecure, sexist mess!—mean the possible return of dear old Gay Sal? Hope so…)

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TV Round-up: Big Brother, True Blood, Mad Men

Big Brother 12's Brendon and Rachel

All this love. All this pain. All my TV shows, or at least a bunch of them, have these characters suffering the slings and arrows of love affairs dying or being broken up or just coming to sad, centuries-old ends. On True Blood, Eric’s revenge murder has broken the thousand-year relationship between Russell, the Vampire King of Mississippi and his consort Talbot. On Big Brother, the houseguests evicted Rachel, the Vegas barmaid/chemist who made fire-engine red hair extensions famous, breaking up her alliance with swim coach/physicist Brendon, and temporarily putting a halt on their blossoming affair, by far the fastest-starting showmance in the history of my TV viewing. And on Mad Men, Don Draper’s not ending a love affair, but he’s learning a lesson about using women and the emotional fall-out of taking them for granted.

The thing is this, though: Why does the end of a vampire love affair resonate more strongly for me than the one between the “real people” on Big Brother? Why did I feel more moved by Russell’s howl of pain and fury than I did Rachel’s tears and Brendon’s pouts? Might it have something to do with the fact that, apparently, competitive reality shows and the showmances that drive them have run their course with me? From day one of this new season of Big Brother—the first season I’ve closely followed in about two years—I knew I wasn’t going to get too emotionally involved with this cast of characters. Why? Because there was something too knowing about each of them, too ready-for-the camera without being ready, it seemed, for the world. Is this what’s happened to society since the advent of reality tv? Have we created a nation of wannabe stars with personalities that seem dipped in acid and lizard spit? I don’t mean to be mean—or maybe I was just raised with a certain amount of decorum and politeness—but these people don’t seem merely dumb, they’re so cavalier about the feelings of others that they all seem like they’ve forsaken their humanity in the pursuit of half a million bucks. The things these people say about each other! The love affairs that begin three days into captivity! The breathless rushes to judgments and alliance-building, based on nothing more than shared commitments to clichéd notions of heteronormative masculinity!

I’m beginning to think this season of Big Brother might be the last one I can watch with any dignity. I find myself thinking the worst things about these people, wondering how they even function in the real world when they seem like such babies and monsters on TV. You know something’s very wrong when even the queer guy, Ragan (who seems like he might a cool dude), is one of the biggest dupes in the cast. Then again, perhaps he’s just laying the groundwork for a career in Internet porn like one of the last queer guys to appear on BB, so blind trust might be a quality he’s trying to cultivate before a national audience. (And I have a question about Ragan: what sorta PhD has 300 grand in student loans to pay back? Wow.) I will say this, however: the truly creepiest moment on Big Brother this season (and clearly, there have been many) was when CBS took a camera to Brendon’s ex-fiancee‘s house, where she detailed how she’d dropped him, calling him all kinds of names as she “watched” an episode with her family. If he was such a bad guy that you killed the engagement, why appear on his reality show to bad-mouth him—and let your mother add to the dissing? It felt so exploitative and nasty I couldn’t pull my eyes from the screen to finish my bowl of pasta. Apparently one doesn’t have to get “cast” on a reality show these days to show your true wannabe colors. Sometimes the easiest thing to say is, “No.” I think.

As for Mr. Don Draper: poor thing’s about to lose his best friend to cancer just as he seems to be swirling around the bowl in a mucous-y blend of whiskey and hooker hook-ups. I’m glad he’s away from Betty, but what has he gained in the process? An ugly apartment in the Village? I’m hoping this season of Mad Men gives Don a real good professional challenge to overcome, because his personal life is getting increasingly hard to watch, almost as bad as poor Joan and her Vietnam-bound hubby.  (Side note: Can’t the casting directors of these shows start finding some new actors for parts? Maybe I just watch too much TV—quite possible, at least until school starts!—but seeing Sam Page as Joan’s husband so soon after seeing him play Bree’s dead husband’s long-lost son on Desperate Housewives starts to confuse me after a while; I keep mistaking back-stories and mixing up character motivations.) Hmmm, now that I think about it, yes, I’m probably watching too much TV. But hell, at least it beats going to the movies for inception, I mean, “entertainment.”

Vive l’amour! Vive le Television! (I’m not being pretentious, I just have all this French in my brain as I’m studying to pass a language exam in two weeks. Pray for a brotha.)

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Reasons to be Cheerful Summer 2010

Every few months here at SCOTT TOPICS™ I like to assess my level of happiness. Of course, that can be a sorta futile exercise at times, considering a) the general state of the world and b) how busy I make myself and some of the ridiculous decisions I’ve made (go back to Brown AND still work at Giant AND try to finish a novel?) and continue to make (get a PhD?). That said, I did get to spend a great month in New York, visiting with my Mom and Pops, the greatest parents in the world (or at least they were from 1970 to 1980, and then again sometime in the late 90s—only kidding, Bryants, you know I love you), and seeing my lil sister, who keeps me grounded and likes to wax nostalgic with me. So I try to be thankful for the good things even when I’m chastising myself for being lazy or boring or jealous of my friends who got a chance to actually get a vacation this summer.

So, here’s my list of Reasons to be Cheerful. Maybe some of them make you happy as well…

  • Janelle Monae‘s album, yes, but also her amazing new video for “Cold War”—stunning, as they say, in its simplicity, making perfect use of her expressive face, and doing what rarely happens for me: making me like the song more than I had just listening to it on iTunes. As a constant complainer about the paucity of cleverness, drama and creativity in contemporary pop music, Janelle Monae has given me faith that music (and videos) that makes you think and feel can still be made with grace and smarts. Check out the vid here if you haven’t seen it:
  • Mad Men: Still so entertaining that I actually watch it first-run (and miss baseball) instead of DVR’ing it, just cause I have to. Even when its disgusting 60’s-era sexism and racism rears its ugly head—as, one guesses, it must, to stay realistic to the time—it’s never not watchable, and always resonant with such timeless meditations on loss, identity, desire and the often covert intricacies of pleasure. Scrumptious.
  • Shane Vogel’s Scene of the Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance: A book, among a few others, that gave me faith that perhaps this grad school thing might just work out. Vogel’s cultural history of the “Harlem Renaissance” nicely traces some of the historical debates around African American “uplift” as it theorizes on the critical cultural work done by the “Cabaret School” of entertainers, writers and musicians who found space in the nightclubs of Harlem to critique many of those debates. Maybe my favorite scholarly text since discovering Daphne Brooks’ Bodies in Dissent last school year.
  • Cardullo’s: A gourmet delicatessen in Harvard Square that actually makes sandwiches, which seem to be in short supply around Cambridge, other than the Subway stores I stumble upon. It’s the closest I’ve come to a stylish NY sandwich spot, where I can also get gourmet jam or pasta sauce if I’m so inclined (or flush with cash). And the peeps who work there are actually pleasant and nice—something else in short supply in Cambridge. (Is it a New England, or Boston, thing?)
  • The SPB Q Grad Chapter and otherwise: The success of my new blog feature excites me to no end. Glad that so many cool peeps have agreed to do my fun little questionnaire. Good to share some behind-the-scenes interests of folks doing great work in their fields. Upcoming Qs (Grad Chapter or otherwise): Farah Jasmine Griffin, Christina Sharpe, Alexander Weheliye, Patrik-Ian Polk, Bassey Ipki, and some others I’m just starting to confirm!
  • blip.fm: Thanks to my new Twitter friend @Fortitude1913, I’ve discovered this fun website that allows you to DJ your own playlists. It’s like a virtual digging into the crates. Music Geek Central. Go give it a whirl.
  • Twitter: I wasn’t much of a social network-type til my agent and editor convinced me, around the time of HUNG’s release, to get into the blogging/Internet world to make my presence known beyond print media. When I got to Brown in 2007, like every other undergrad in the world, I joined Facebook. And loved it. Then came Twitter, which I resisted in a major way—way too much screen time that wasn‘t devoted to work. Then I tried it, and the community of new peeps in my life, mostly other grad students going through a lot of the same dramas and issues, has made this new experience bearable in an crazy way. Go on if you haven’t; you might find a community that needs you as much as you need it. (shout-outs to @soulunderthesun, @happybrowngirl, @redclayscholar, @ashoncrawley @negrointellect @sherealcool, @roopikarisam & all the other phd-seekers who’ve made my Twitter-time fun.
  • My lacrosse stick: Who, even though I sometimes used to  lose him due to fear, insecurity, time constraints, away games or combinations of any of the above, always managed to get found. And I gotta shout him out for letting me call him “my lacrosse stick” in very public spaces. ; )
  • Peter Pan Bus: When I don’t have to be in NYC in a hurry (and thus fly), it’s easy (and cheap) to hop on the Peter Pan bus from South Station. Amtrak isn’t even on my radar anymore when I can sleep, chill, watch a flick or go on the Internet…for 18 bucks, and be in NYC before I know it.
  • Darieck Scott’s Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination: I came close to working with Professor Scott at Berkeley but decided to stay on the East Coast for my studies, but I can still learn a whole lot from this brother, an incredible writer and thinker. I cannot wait to get my copy of his new book in the mail later this week. Robert Reid-Pharr calls this theorization of the relationship between blackness and abjection “sophisticated, provocative, and indeed, titillating.” Sounds like a winner.
  • EBONY Magazine: Of course I grew up reading Ebony like every other black kid in the US of A. Never got a chance to write for it til last year’s tribute to Michael Jackson. Now, there’s a new editor-in-chief, my old Brown classmate author/editor  Amy DuBois Barnett, and I’m already writing for them. My “making-of” love jones article runs a coupla issues from now. Sending good thoughts to Amy in her mission to redefine EBONY for a new era and generation. Let’s all support a sister.
  • New De La Soul music: A coupla days ago I got a mysterious email. Opened it to find a link to a brand-new track by my favorite rap group of all time. De La’s recording a new album and this track, called “The Return of DST” might be on it. It’s a hot, funky, catchy lil record, clever as usual: paying tribute to DJ Grandmixter D. ST., the song eventually mutates into the actual Fantastic Five’s “gusto is going home with me” freestyle. (Which is sorta cute considering The Fantastic Five sampled The Headhunters’ “God Made me Funky” on that record—which was also sampled by De La on De La Soul is Dead‘s “Pease Porridge” and “Take it Off” from 3 Ft. High and Rising. It all comes full circle, old school to new school and all the way back again…) Hear the song here at SoulCulture.com.

So, till next time: don’t worry, try to be happy, and remember the things that make you cheerful…Oh, by the way, for those of you who don’t know the original song that gives this blog post its name and theme, here’s a video of Ian Dury and the Blockheads funky 1979 song:

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Links and Hijinks: Mad Men “origins”, “new” James Baldwin, True Blood’s Lafayette, & More Mel…

{Just a few tidbits til tomorrow…}

  • Mad Mad Mad Mad (Men) World: Next Sunday’s the day we find out what’s up with Don Draper and the gang on Mad Men…I certainly cannot wait to see what’s up a year after last year’s stunning finale. So, in honor of that return, here’s a question: is the hit show based on a 60s comic strip that no one remembers? Vanity Fair seems, jokingly,  to think so
  • New Blood: Does Nelsan Ellis, the great young, Julliard-trained actor who plays the incredible and ground-breaking character Lafayette on the terribly retrogressive (yet oddly compelling) True Blood, suffer from the typical “scared-to-play-gay” syndrome? Sure seems that way in this otherwise cute conversation between him and the crazy hot Kevin Alejandro (who I’m sorta, um, gaga for—you see what I did there?) on the set of the HBO show:

  • Sweet Baby James: And last but TRULY not least: At coffee with the calm, crazy-cool Tufts professor Christina Sharpe the other day, we agreed on the greatness that is Mr James Baldwin, chatting about his famous response to Norman Mailer with the brilliant essay “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy”—read it YESTERDAY if you’ve never done so; you can find it in this book or this one. I walked away from that coffee date not even knowing that there’s a new collection of James’ uncollected writings, The Cross of Redemption, edited and with an intro by author Randall Kenan, being published in August! (I won’t tell you about the cartwheels I was doing about this when the guys showed up to put in my air conditioner the other day; but it was more fun than embarrassing.) If you’re a Baldwin compleatist like me, this is like Manna from wherever Heaven is, and I can’t wait to get my copy. It’ll go on the shelf next to the French import of Harlem Quartet, the final Baldwin “novel” Professor Gates gave me (which has only been published in France—hopefully that’ll see the light of an American day soon…more on that in a later post…)

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SPB’s Emmy observations: The Good (Wife), the Bad, & the Snubbed

Just some random thoughts about the newly-announced Emmy nominations:

  • Other than Andre Braugher, who I wrote about recently, there must not be any black folks doing quality acting on TV these days, just like back when The Wire was the best show on TV and never got any acting nominations. Where’s Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette on True Blood) or Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) or Regina King (Southland)…CLUTCH magazine wonders the same thing.
  • Really happy to see Archie Panjabi snag a nom for her supporting work on The Good Wife. Not only is she one of the sexiest (and coolly sexually undefinable) women on TV, her fierce combination of smarts, wiliness, attitude and dry humor makes her Kalinda one of the brightest new characters on TV…the read is, if this was a fair world—and Lord knows I love me some Julianna Margulies, who has managed to make me forget, week to week (in a good way), the wonderful-ness that was ER‘s Carol Hathaway—Panjabi would be playing The Good Wife instead of just saving her ass every week. Plus, she’s the best leather-wearer—jacket and oh-so-sexy boots—on TV.

  • Discovered Modern Family way late—and watched the entire hilarious first season in three days a coupla months ago—and I’m very happy for Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet’s noms as the crazy gay couple on the show. Their interaction is so real and funny I wanna be Cam and Mitch’s new BFFs—as long as they wouldn’t ask me to babysit. Stonestreet’s a genius at awkward humor and his sidelong glances rival Bea Arthur’s as Dorothy Zbornak on Golden Girls. Oh yeh, big up to Julie Bowen, too: the Brown University TV mafia rolls on!
  • Um, who REALLY thinks True Blood (which I also wrote about earlier) was as good this second season, as the first fun/silly season of the overrated show? Let alone good enough to be in the same Best Drama category as the sublimely good and always entertaining Good Wife, Mad Men, Breaking Bad or the extra-special Dexter? Clearly True Blood took Friday Night Lights‘ spot on the nomination roster. Did it get the nom because it’s the closest thing TV has to a “gay” show? That’s probably politically incorrect to say—or maybe I’m just not as trendily motivated as some?—but there you go. Otherwise I  just can’t see how this show got a Best Drama nomination.  If the Emmys really wanted to honor a vampire show, I advise they start paying attention to Vampire Diaries. Yes, it’s on The CW and yes its cast is crammed-full of pretty (overaged) teenagers, but damn if its not some of the best storytelling on TV right now, with real emotional stuff at stake (no pun intended). If you haven’t caught it, give it a try. If you’re a  true TV fan, you’ll be hooked. I assure you.

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Your Cheatin’ Heart or, TV’s Dirty (Middle-Aged) White Dudes

PRE-SCRIPT: Last year I wrote up a little thing about an odd trend I’d noticed on TV of late: Why does it seem like all the leading men characters on the “quality” TV shows that I love to watch, especially on cable, are all cheating on their wives?I dug it out in honor of tonight’s premiere of one of my favorites, Rescue Me, which details the day-to-day lives of a bunch of NYC firefighters and the loves and losses they incur as they try—not so hard, it sometimes seems—to grow up. This piece was written around the time I discovered the first season of Mad Men, which details the day-to-day lives of a bunch of NYC ad execs (in the 1960s) and the loves and losses they incur as they try—not so hard, it sometimes seems—to grow up. Since writing this, I’ve discovered a coupla more shows I’d add to the list: Showtime’s Californication, with David Duchovny as a sexaholically stumbling once-famous writer finding new life in the sunny climes of LA, and Breaking Bad, in which the excellently morose  and cancer-stricken Bryan Cranston marries himself to the drug trade as he sees his life ending before him. I titled the piece “Dirty White Boys” mostly because one rarely gets to see black middle-aged men suffer the slings and arrows of their failed dreams and hopeless home-lives–brothers rarely get to be more complex than Jesse L. Martin’s gambling detective on Law & Order a few seasons back—and you know how deep they got into back-story on that show.

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I recently spent a coupla days glued to my computer, amazed at the style and grace and novelistic tension that was the first season of AMC’s buzzy, award-winning show Mad Men. Loved everything about it: the men in their “grey flannel” suits living lives of quiet desperation to the swell of that swinging early 60s soundtrack; all the cigarette smoke and martinis and Manhattans; the knowing nods to how things have changed (pregnant women smoking and cocktailing; no child seats in the Buicks) and how they haven’t (straight white dudes still run damn near everything—well, except the country, haha!). I really loved the idea of, essentially, casting a Gregory Peck with sex appeal opposite a Grace Kelly as the rich, bored, frustrated suburban housewife Kelly might have become had she not bucked the Main Line Philly trend and went to Hollywood, then married a Monaco prince. Okay, not really Peck and Kelly, but Jon Hamm and January Jones are so on-target good as Don and Betty Draper—the repressed post-50s icons that they do play—that sometimes the show feels like a Douglas Sirk melodrama if it’d been co-written by John Cheever and Lillian Hellman.

But all that said, among his other transgressions, Draper’s cheating on his wife. Just like Tony Soprano did (and being that all these TV anti-heroes are pretty much just the cathode-ray Hi-Def Sons of Tony, it makes perfect sense, I guess). Just like Vic Mackey did on The Shield, and Jimmy McNulty did on The Wire, and Tommy Gavin on Rescue Me and Sean McNamara on Nip/Tuck. Has infidelity become the default “fatal flaw” for all the middle-aged TV heroes these days? And if so, why? Is it because rogue dudes make for more interesting viewing (and screwing)? Are these the proto-typical guys who other most guys wanna be and every woman wants fuck? Or are all the writers and creators of these shows lost in some post-Updikean literary netherworld where they think the push-and-pull passions of cheating spouses somehow rises their characters to the level of art? Perhaps it’s some blue-stated gay Hollywood agenda to prove that heterosexual love can be as wobbly, insincere, and unstable as the Religious Right (and others) claim homo love to be to prevent the desired stamp of “marriage”? I don’t know what the answer is. And I’m not trying to judge or anything but I do find it curious that almost any time I turn on the telly, I’m bombarded with the boxer-dropping shenanigans of middle-aged white dudes who positively love their wives and children to bits, but also can’t seem to get enough new pussy on the side. (And maybe I should add middle-class to that description? Interestingly, the most faithful guys I’ve seen on TV lately are a ragtag bunch of low-down motorcycle thugs on Sons of Anarchy, who may be surrounded by strippers and biker broads, but almost always go home to the Main Molls at home. Or is this just middle-class TV writers patronizing to the salt-of-the-earthisms that the working classes do so well?) Maybe the answer is to give myself over to Big Love, which I haven’t seen since the first episode bored me to tears a coupla years ago—is it still even on? At least that character got to marry all his potential mistresses. Or I’ll just have to watch Desperate Housewives, where the husbands are pretty boring and disposable, but at least they sleep in their own beds most of the time.

The only TV hero I watch consistently who’s not cheating on his wife—though he is pretty dirty (did anyone catch him basically jerking of on his best friend’s couch earlier this season?)—is not doing it because he doesn’t actually have a wife (anymore), and that’s Dr. House, the irascibly sarcastic misanthrope who also manages to make a living as a world-class diagnostician, who frequents hookers and pops (popped?) pills with a vengeance. Then again, I guess if he was still with his wife—who was played by the luminous Sela Ward, who I love, but is also, it sometimes seems, one of TV’s most cheated-on women—he’d have reason to cheat. It was her decision to allow the surgery that basically crippled him. Here’s to love…

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POSTSCRIPT: Please, if you haven’t already, please check out a new show on TNT (because They Know Drama) called Men of a Certain Age, not only because Ray Romano smartly puts a sad, comic spin on the crises of middle-aged American guys that feels thoroughly true and felt and considered, he was also brilliant enough to show that this is not the sole domain of white dudes who don’t have the knees to shoot hoops like they used to, that black men can be some fucked-up, father-hating, sad sacks too. Andre Braugher, TV’s reigning Important Black Actor these days (and deservedly so), is so good as the put-upon Owen Thoreau, you sometimes have to close your eyes so as not to see the drawn, blank look in his eyes that speaks to a life of bad mistakes and thwarted desire, of a guy struggling to make emotional ends meet somewhere in the middle of life. It’s sublime work. Check it out. The sad dirty dudes don’t always have to be white. Langston Hughes’s crystal stairs and raisins in the sun resonate as strongly as Updike’s running Rabbit—and hit you as squarely in the gut.

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Filed under drama queens, How Men Are, TV