Top Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season One (2007) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite Season One episodes of AMC’s “MAD MEN”:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON ONE (2007) Episodes

1 - 1.12 Nixon vs. Kennedy

1. (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy” – In this superb episode, Sterling-Cooper’s employees have an all-night party to watch the results of the 1960 Presidential Election. Also, Pete Campbell discovers that Don Draper’s real name is Dick Whitman, who had been officially declared dead during the Korean War.

2 - 1.10 The Long Weekend

2. (1.10) “The Long Weekend” – During the Labor Day weekend, Roger Sterling decides to cheer up Don over the loss of a client by arranging a double date with twins. During the date, he suffers a heart attack. Meanwhile, Joan Holloway has a double date with her roommate and two out-of-town businessmen.

3 - 1.05 5G

3. (1.05) “5G” – In this poignant episode, Don receives an unwelcome visitor in the form of his half-brother, Adam Whitman, whom he had not seen since the Korean War. And when Ken Cosgrove gets his short story published in a magazine, a jealous Pete asks wife Trudy to convince an old boyfriend to publish his story.

4 - 1.01 Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

4. (1.01) “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – The series’ pilot episode introduces Manhattan advertisement executive Don Draper and his co-workers at the Sterling-Cooper agency, as he struggles to maintain Lucky Strike as a client for the agency.

5 - 1.09 Shoot

5. (1.09) “Shoot” – A larger ad agency tries to lure Don from Sterling-Cooper by hiring wife Betty Draper for a modeling job. Meanwhile, Pete devises a strategy to help the Nixon campaign.

Advertisements

“MAD MEN”: Sex and Bobbie Barrett

The fans’ reactions to the character of Bobbie Barrett during Season Two of “MAD MEN” have always intrigued me. In this day and age – namely the early 21st century – I never understood why they had held her in such a low regard. Let me explain:

“MAD MEN”: Sex and Bobbie Barrett

I enjoyed Season Two of “MAD MEN” very much. In fact, I would say that I found it even more interesting than Season One. Many fans have commented that the female characters seemed to have developed a lot more in this past season than they did in the first season. And yet . . . when Season Two aired during the summer of 2008, many fans – both male and female – expressed a great deal of hostility toward one of the new characters – namely Bobbie Barrett. My first question is . . . why?

Why had there been such a great deal of hostility toward Bobbie? What was it about her that made her hated by many of series’ fans? As we all know, Bobbie is the wife and manager of insult comedian, Jimmy Barrett. The Barretts were first introduced in the episode (2.03) “The Benefactor”, when a drunken Jimmy, who had been hired as a spokesperson for Utz Potato Chips, insulted the owner’s wife. Sterling/Cooper’s own Don Draper had to meet with Bobbie to arrange for Jimmy to apologize to the Schillings, the owners of Utz. Don and Bobbie’s meeting eventually resulted in both of them having sex inside somebody’s car. Later, Bobbie tried to get more money from Don (in a hallway of the restaurant they and Schillings are at for the apology) in exchange for the pay-or-play contract of her husband’s. Don manhandled Bobbie and threatened to ruin Jimmy. And Bobbie appeared to enjoy the attention. She later convinced Jimmy to apologize.

Despite this violent encounter, Don and Bobbie’s affair continued in the following episode, (2.04) “Three Sundays”. After meeting at Sardi’s for cocktails in order to celebrate Jimmy’s new television series in (2.05) “The New Girl”, the pair encountered Don’s former mistress, Rachel Mencken, who got married. They eventually left Sardi’s and ended up in a car accident, on their way to the Barretts’ beach house in Stony Brook. The affair finally ended in (2.06) “Maidenform” when Don learned from Bobbie that he had developed a reputation for his sexual prowess amongst Manhattan’s career women . . . before leaving her tied up during another sexual encounter. Bobbie was last seen in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, during a party held at the Stork Club, celebrating Jimmy’s new show.

I have to ask . . . why was Bobbie hated so much by most of the fans? The owner of one blog continued to call her ”the Odious Bobbie” in reviews for nearly episode in which Bobbie appeared. Others have called her sick, twisted, perverse, a skank, a whore, evil and God knows what else. When Bobbie gave Peggy Olson the ”be a woman” advice in how to deal with Don and other professional colleagues, many fans came to the conclusion that she was advising Peggy to use sex to get ahead professionally. In fact, many assumed that Bobbie also used sex to get ahead as a talent agent. And yet, the series has never hinted that Bobbie actually did this. What crime did Bobbie commit to produce such hatred?

One would point out that Bobbie has engaged in extramarital sex. Her affair with Don lasted at least four episodes – from “The Benefactor” to“Maidenform”. Yet, Bobbie is not the only female on the show guilty of this:

*Peggy Olson – Sterling-Cooper secretary turned copywriter, who had sex with junior executive Pete Campbell after knowing him for less than 24 hours in Season One’s (1.01) “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”. Pete, I might add, had plans to get married the following day and told Peggy before they had sex. Seven episodes later in (1.08) “The Hobo Code”, Peggy and a now married Pete had sex again, inside his office. Peggy gave birth to their son, in the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”.

*Midge Daniels – an art illustrator who was engaged in an affair with the very married Don Draper between “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “The Hobo Code”. In fact, Midge and Don’s affair had been going on for five years by Season One. Don finally ended the affair when he realized that Midge was in love with someone else.

*Joan Holloway – Sterling-Cooper’s office manager who was engaged with the very married Roger Sterling, one of the firm’s owners, during Season One. When the affair began, the series has not yet revealed. Their affair was already on-going when revealed in (1.06) “Babylon”.

*Rachel Mencken – the head of a department store, who hired Sterling-Cooper to revamp her store’s image. Although both she and Don became attracted to one another in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, their affair began in(1.10) “Long Weekend” and ended in (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, when Don suggested they run off together for the West Coast and Rachel realized that he did not want to run away with her, he just wanted to run away . . . from some problem. She called him a coward and ended the affair. Later, she married a man named Tilden Katz.

*Hildy – Pete Campbell’s secretary who had a one night stand with married Sterling-Cooper junior executive Harry Crane, during an election night party held at the firm’s offices in “Nixon vs. Kennedy”.

*Jane Siegel – introduced as Don’s new secretary in Season Two’s (2.05) “The New Girl”. After Joan threatened to fire her in “The Gold Violin” for encouraging some of the junior executives to take a peek at owner Betram Cooper’s new painting inside his office, she turned to Roger Sterling to intervene on her behalf. They eventually began an affair and Roger eventually left his wife, Mona, for her.

*Betty Draper – Don Draper’s ex-model wife, who eventually learned of his affair with Bobbie. She kicked him out of the house for a while. But after discovering that she was pregnant, she had a one-night stand with a stranger at a bar before reconciling with Don.

Well, apparently Bobbie was not the only female guilty of extramarital sex. Hell, she is not the only character guilty of extramarital sex. So, what was wrong with her? Some have complained about her aggressive nature. Which struck me as irrelevant, considering that she was not the only aggressive character in the series. Bobbie might be the only aggressive female in the series. So was that it? Men were allowed to be aggressive, but not women?

Bobbie was also a sexually aggressive woman who happens to like kinky sex. She had made that quite clear in the way she wrestled with Don inside his car, and when she failed to be put off by Don’s aggressive manhandling of her in“The Benefactor”. She also revealed to Don that when she learned about his sexual prowess, she set out to seduce him in order to have sex with him.  Was it possible that Bobbie’s sexual aggressiveness turned off most fans? Would they have preferred if Bobbie was sexually submissive . . . allowing men to seduce her or make the first move? Would they have preferred if Bobbie had limited her sexual preferences to the Missionary position or bent over, positions considered submissive for women? Or would they have preferred if Bobbie was a man?

Not only did male fans condemned Bobbie’s characters, but so did a good number of women. The blogger who had nicked named Mrs. Barrett – “Odious Bobbie” was a woman. Even Matt Weiner had joined the act in his interview with critic Alan Sepinwall about Season Two:

“People were upset about Bobbie Barrett, that she wasn’t Rachel Menken, and I’m like, she’s not Rachel Menken, and he’s not in love with her, and he says no. But he should never have slept with that woman.”

I am still a little perplexed by Weiner’s statement. One, he had called Bobbie “that woman” – something I do not recall him naming any of the series’ other female characters. And two, he stated that Don should have never slept with her. On one level, I agree with him. After all, both Don and Bobbie were married to other people. But why did he say this about Bobbie? Why not about the other women with whom Don had cuckolded Betty? Why not say the same about Midge Daniels, Rachel Mencken, Joy or any of the other women Don had sex with during his marriage to Betty? Why Bobbie?

Bobbie Barrett’s reputation with “MAD MEN” has improved since Season Two ended nearly two years ago. Many fans have complimented Melinda McGraw for her superb performance of the memorable Bobbie. There have been fans who have finally understood the meaning behind Bobbie’s advice to Peggy in “The New Girl”. And there have been fans who view both Bobbie and Jimmy Barrett as metaphors used to reveal more of Don’s true nature.

But a good number of Bobbie detractors remained. She was also the only one of Don’s known mistresses who had received such a strong level of hostility. And I can only wonder if any of this negativity might be a sign that despite the fact that we are now in the 21st century, society still demands that women adhere to some its ideal view on feminine behavior – in both real life and fiction?

“CINDERELLA MAN” (2005) Review

“CINDERELLA MAN” (2005) Review

When I had first learned about Ron Howard’s biopic about boxing champion James J. Braddock, I was very reluctant to see the film. In fact, I did not even bother to go see it. Instead, I merely dismissed ”CINDERELLA MAN” as a ‘”SEABISCUIT” in the boxing ring’. After I finally saw the movie, I must admit that my original assessment stood. 

”CINDERELLA MAN” and the 2003 Oscar nominated film, ”SEABISCUIT” seemed to have a lot in common. Both were released by Universal Pictures. Both films possessed a running time that lasted over two hours, both were sentimental stories that centered around a famous sports figure and both were set during the Great Depression. Unlike ”SEABISCUIT””CINDERELLA MAN” told the story about a man – namely one James J. Braddock, an Irish-American boxer from New York and Bergen, New Jersey. The movie started out with Braddock (portrayed by Russell Crowe) as a boxing heavyweight contender in 1928, who had just won an important bout against another boxer named Tuffy Griffiths. But within five years, Braddock found himself as a has-been struggling to keep his family alive during the depths of the Depression, while working as longshoreman. Thanks to a last minute cancellation by another boxer, Braddock gets a second chance to fight but is put up against the number two contender in the world, Corn Griffin, by the promoters who see Braddock as nothing more than a punching bag. Braddock stuns the boxing experts and fans with a third round knockout of the formidable Griffin. After winning a few more bouts, Braddock ends facing boxing champ, Max Baer (Craig Bierko), for the heavyweight title in 1935.

Despite the similarities between ”CINDERELLA MAN” and ”SEABISCUIT”, I must admit that I regret not seeing this film in the theaters. It turned out to be a lot better than I had expected. Director Ron Howard, along with screenwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, did an excellent job of chronicling Braddock’s boxing career at a time when he had been labeled a has-been by the sports media. The movie also featured some excellent fight sequences that came alive due to Howard’s direction, Crowe, Bierko, and the other actors who portrayed Braddock’s opponents. Although the movie’s main event was the championship fight between Braddock and Baer during the last thirty minutes, I was especially impressed by the sequence that featured Braddock’s fight against Art Lansky (Mark Simmons). In my opinion, most of the praise for these fight sequences belonged to cinematographer Salvatore Totino, and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill (who both received Academy Award nominations for their work) for injecting the boxing sequences with rich atmosphere and effective editing.

Ironically, the movie’s centerpiece – at least in my opinion – was its deception of the Depression. I understand that Howard had used the city of Toronto to serve as 1930s Manhattan and New Jersey. And judging from the results on the screen, he did an excellent job of utilizing not only the cast led by Crowe, but also the talents of production designer Wynn Thomas, Gordon Sim’s set decorations, Peter Grundy and Dan Yarhi’s art direction and Totino’s photography to send moviegoers back in time. There are certain scenes that really seemed to recapture the desperation and poverty of the Depression’s early years:

*Braddock begs for money from the sports promoters and boxing managers at Madison Square Garden
*Mae Braddock’s discovery of the gas man turning off the family’s heat
*The Braddocks witness the desertion of a man from his wife and family
*Braddock’s search for his friend, Mike Wilson (Paddy Considine), at a Hooverville in Central Park

Howard and casting agents, Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins, managed to gather an impressive group of cast members for the movie. The ironic thing is that despite the impressive display of talent on screen, hardly anyone gave what I would consider to be a memorable performance – save for one actor. Russell Crowe naturally gave an impressive, yet surprisingly likeable performance as James Braddock. Although I found his performance more than competent, I must say that I would not consider it to be one of his best roles. There was nothing really fascinating or complex about his Braddock. I suspect that screenwriters Hollingsworth and Goldsman could have made Braddock a more interesting character . . . and simply failed to rise to the occasion. I have to say the same about their portrayal of the boxer’s wife, Mae Braddock. Portrayed by Renee Zellweger, her Mae was a loving and supporting spouse, whose only kink in her personality revolved around her dislike of Braddock’s boxing. In fact, Zellweger’s Mae threatened to become a cliché of the countless number of women who end up as wives of men in dangerous professions. Thankfully, Zellweger managed to give an excellent performance and with Crowe, create a strong screen chemistry.

Paul Giamatti received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Braddock’s manager, Joe Gould. Many had assumed that Giamatti had received his nomination as a consolation prize for being passed over for his superb performance in ”SIDEWAYS”. After seeing his performance as Gould, I suspect they might be right. I am not saying that Giamatti gave a bad performance. He was excellent as Braddock’s enthusiastic and supportive manager. But there was nothing remarkable about it . . . or worthy of an Oscar nomination. If there is one performance that I found impressive, it was Paddy Considine’s portrayal of Mike Wilson, Braddock’s friend and co-worker at the New York docks. Considine’s Wilson was a former stockbroker ruined by the 1929 Crash, who was forced to become a menial laborer in order to survive. Although his plight seemed bad enough to generate sympathy, Considine did an excellent job of portraying the character’s bitterness and cynicism toward his situation, President Roosevelt’s ability to lead the country out of the Depression and the world itself. I hate to say this, but I feel that the wrong actor had received the Oscar nomination. God knows I am a big fan of Giamatti. But if it had been left up to me, Considine would have received that nomination.

We finally come to Craig Bierko’s performance as Max Baer, champion boxer and Braddock’s final opponent in the movie. Baer’s character first makes his appearance in a championship fight against Primo Carnera, following Braddock’s surprising upset over Corn Griffin. From the start, he is portrayed as a brash and aggressive fighter who does not know when to quit. And it gets worse. Before I continue, I want to say that I have nothing against the actor who portrayed Baer. Like Crowe, Zellweger and Giamatti, Bierko had to do the best he could with the material given to him. And he did the best he could. Bierko, being an above-average actor, infused a great deal of energy and charisma into his portrayal of Baer. It seemed a shame that Howard’s direction, along with Hollingsworth and Goldman’s script forced Bierko to portray Baer as some kind of callous thug who felt no remorse for killing two other fighters in the ring and was not above needling Braddock at a Manhattan nightclub by making suggestive remarks about Mae.

Baer’s son, Max Baer Jr. (”THE BEVERLY HILLIBILLIES”) had been naturally outraged by what he deemed was the movie’s false portrayal of the boxer. What the movie failed to convey was that Baer had only killed one man in the ring – Frankie Campbell – and had been so shaken up by the other man’s death that it affected his boxing career for several years. Nor did Baer ever make any suggestive remarks toward Mae Braddock. He also hugged and congratulated Braddock following the latter’s June 1935 victory. I really do not know why Howard thought it was necessary to turn Baer into a one-note villain. Someone claimed that the movie needed a nemesis for Braddock that seemed more solid than the vague notion of the Depression. If that is true, I believe that Howard and the movie’s screenwriters turned Baer into a villain for nothing. As far as I am concerned, the Great Depression made an effective and frightening nemesis for Braddock. This was brilliantly conveyed in Braddock’s bout with Art Lasky. At one point in this sequence, the New Jersey boxer seemed to be on the verge of defeat . . . until his memories of his family and how the Depression had affected them . . . urged him to a hard-won victory. Sequences like the Braddock-Lasky fight and Braddock’s search for Mike Wilson in the Central Park Hooverville made the Great Depression a more effective nemesis than the one-dimensionally crude behavior of falsely portrayed Max Baer ever could.

Despite the movie’s badly written portrayal of Baer, and slightly uninteresting major characters like James and Mae Braddock, and Joe Gould; ”CINDERELLA MAN” is still an excellent biopic that featured exciting boxing sequences. More importantly, it is one of the few Hollywood films that revealed an in-depth look into one of the country’s most traumatic periods – namely the Great Depression. Flawed or not, I believe that it is still worth watching.

“MAD MEN” Season Two Quibbles

000204ry

Within a few months, I managed to become a big fan of the AMC series, ”MAD MEN”. I became a fan so fast this past summer that after watching two episodes of Season Two, I purchased a copy of the DVD set for Season One. And fell deeper in love. As for Season Two, I thought it was excellent. In fact, I consider it a slight improvement over Season One. But . . . I do have some quibbles about it:

 

“MAD MEN” Season Two Quibbles

1. Duck Phillips – I had once complained on the “Basket of Kisses” site that by the end of Season 2, Duck Phillips (portrayed by the superb Mark Moses) seemed to resemble a minor villain that Don Draper had to defeat. Someone responded that Matt Weiner never intended to portray Duck Phillips as some kind of villain. After reading two interviews that Weiner had given, I now see that I had been right to accuse him of such a thing in the first place. How disappointing.

2. Don’s Approval For Pete – Why did Pete Campbell need Don Draper’s approval? What on earth for? Pete is a grown man in his late 20s. His existence at Sterling Cooper should have meant more to him than acquiring the approval of someone as flawed as Don. He did not need Don’s approval. He did not need anyone’s approval to exist. And the fact that he gave up a promotion to snitch on Duck – all for Don’s approval – makes me realize that Pete has not matured one bit.

3. Bobbie Barrett – Matt Weiner’s comments about Bobbie Barrett made me realize a few things about the show’s fans. Judging from the comments I have read about Bobbie over the past few months, I get this feeling that most fans viewed Bobbie’s sexual desires and aggressive personality in the same manner that Joan’s fiancé, Greg, had viewed Joan’s sexual history. And since these fans certainly could not drag Bobbie to the floor and rape her, they resorted to calling her every bad name in the book and then some.

After 46 years, our society has barely changed. It seems as if even in the early 21st century, we have maintained a whore/Madonna complex about women. Even Weiner labeled Bobbie as ”that woman” in his interviews about Season Two. He also claimed that it had been wrong for Don to sleep with Bobbie. I do not understand this comment. What was Weiner trying to say? That it was it wrong for Don to have sex with Bobbie and not wrong for him to cuckold Betty with women like Rachel Menken, Midge Daniels and Joy?

4. Paul Kinsey and Sheila White – What on earth happened to the storyline featuring Paul Kinsey’s romance with Sheila White? The season’s second episode – (2.02) “Flight 1” – reveals that Paul is involved in a romance with an African-American woman named Sheila White. This revelation causes a rupture in Paul’s friendship with Joan Holloway, when the latter makes racist comments about the romance. Two episodes later, the romance is hinted again when a visiting Sally Draper finds a photo of Sheila on Paul’s desk. In the episode (2.10) “The Inheritance”, Sheila makes another appearance on the show. She and Paul have a fight over his reluctance to join her in Mississippi for a voter’s registration campaign. He eventually joined her after being pushed out of a trip to California by Don Draper. When Paul returned to New York in (2.13) “Mediations in an Emergency”, Paul informed his co-workers that Sheila had dumped him after three days.

All I can say is this – WHAT IN THE HELL HAPPENED? What led Sheila to finally dump Paul? Unfortunately, Weiner never revealed her reason. He simply ended the romance on a vague note. What makes this move even more annoying to me is the fact that many fans did not question the vague manner in which the romance ended. Instead, they crowed that Sheila had dumped Paul because of his pretentiousness.

One aspect of good cinematic storytelling is that one should ”show” what happened and not tell. Weiner ”told” the viewers what happened to Paul and Sheila . . . and he failed to tell the entire story. This makes me wonder if Weiner had decided not to continue exploring Paul’s relationship with Sheila in order to please the fans. If most of them had defended or made excuses over Joan’s racist comments about the pair’s romance, it really is not that hard for me to come up with this possibility.

5. Peggy Olson’s Meteoric Rise – Could someone please explain how a young woman between the ages of 20-22 or 23, managed to rise from a secretarial school graduate/secretary to the senior copywriter for Sterling Cooper in less than two years? I realize that Peggy was a natural talent in the advertising business. Both Freddie Rumsen and Don Draper recognized this. And I had no problem with Don promoting her to junior copywriter in the Season One finale – (1.13) ”TheWheel”. But what on earth made him promote her to senior copywriter around the end of Season Two’s (2.09) “Six Months Leave”?

One, Don was rather peeved that Peggy had failed to inform him about Freddie Rumsen’s drunken “accident”. And two, there were other copywriters at Sterling Cooper who were capable of assuming Freddie’s position as the senior copywriter. Who? Well, there was Paul Kinsey. I realize that Paul’s pretentiousness and romance with Sheila White made him unpopular with many fans. But Season Two also proved in the episode, (2.06) “Maidenform” that he was just as talented as Peggy. He also has more experience than her, which would have made him the perfect candidate to replace Freddie. Personally, I believe that Don had allowed his mentoring of Peggy to get the best of her and promoted her at a time when she did not really deserve it.

* * * *

Aside from the above quibbles, I thought that Season Two of ”MAD MEN” was excellent. I would go as far to say that it was actually an improvement over Season One. I would be very surprised if it ever failed to earn an Emmy nomination for Best Drama, next August.