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Author: Jeff Jensen (1-10 of 285)

'Mad Men' at midseason: So much right stuff, yet feeling lost in space

“Waterloo” was one more episode of Mad Men this season that used iconic historical references to imbue the narrative with dread and toy with our pessimistic assumptions about Don Draper and friends (and frenemies). The title—a nod to Napoleon’s last, losing battle—got us worrying that personal agendas would cause Don to sabotage the Burger Chef pitch or Peggy to botch it, or that the forces opposing their self-realization (the Cutler/Lou conspiracy thwarting Don’s atonement; the chauvinist, unjust culture impeding Peggy’s advancement) would win the day.

Instead, with the livelihoods on the line and all eyes watching, Don and Peggy rose to the occasion—chastened Don stayed the course of humility; ascendant Peggy showed she had all the right stuff—much like the astronauts of Apollo 11, whose history-making moon landing on July 20, 1969, a global spectacle watched by 500 million people, provided the episode with its other frame of reference. The portrayal of the media event in “Waterloo” played like a requiem for broadcast TV monoculture. Peggy, in a bit of business genius that caused Don to beam with pride, exploited the moment (and pulled from her life as landlord/surrogate parent to poor, Newark-bound Julio) to add some extra idealistic/maudlin Family of Man flavor to her Burger Chef pitch. Fast food will save the world!

Mad Men’s dramatization of the Apollo 11 mission also reminded us—or if we weren’t alive to witness it, taught us—that Neil Armstrong and company’s trip to the moon was a nail-biting thriller that had the world fretting about whether it would all end in disaster. Watching the Mad Men gang watching television with moon-shot jitters = the Mad Men audience, watching the final season full of worry, or for some of you, certainty, about another Don Draper implosion. Again, I say, this season seems to be interested in tracing the origins of contemporary cultural cynicism, functioning as a Rorschach blot that reflects back to us the degree to which we’ve been infected by it, and, perhaps, challenging its hold. “Do you want your brothers to think like that?” Don asked Sally in response to her “cynical”—Don used the word—response to Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind, a pose she swiped from the cool older boy visiting her home. “No,” she replied, with a smile that suggested she appreciated being called out, especially from her fallen but improving father. She expects him to aspire to a better version of himself; maybe she should do the same. READ FULL STORY

'Mad Men': Can you accept an optimistic, redemptive end for Don Draper?

The Monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most cryptic icons in all of pop culture. Back in the heat of the cultural conversation about the film, moviegoers wanting to crack the secrets of those sleek alien obelisks concerned themselves with many questions about their motive and influence. Do they mean to harm humanity or improve us? Do those who dare engage them flourish and prosper? Or do they digress and regress? To rephrase in the lexicon of Mad Men: Are these catalysts for evolutionary change subversive manipulators like Lou, advancing Peggy with responsibility and money just to trigger Don’s implosion, or are they benevolent fixers like Freddy, rescuing Don from self-destruction and nudging him forward with helpful life coaching? READ FULL STORY

'24' is back, but is Jack Bauer the hero we need right now?

Jack Bauer is back. But do we want him? Don’t feel the need to answer right away. The first hour of 24: Live Another Day gives you ample time to reflect on your relationship to the television icon. The grim savior of 8 terrible days — and one dog day afternoon in Sangala — keeps his scowly mouth shut and remains silent during the first half of the first hour during his latest lousy 24-hour-stretch (only 12 hours of which will be dramatized in this 12-ep revival). Silent Sphinx-Jack presents a mystery of suspicious motives for the CIA to decipher — and a still-life cultural object for the audience to ponder. Does Jack Bauer, War on Terror super-cop, have any place in our culture? READ FULL STORY

'Orphan Black': Why Sarah should die

“No way!”

That was my first response to the shocking revelation at the end Orphan Black‘s season 2 premiere. And it wasn’t the good kind of “No way!” either. It made no sense. We saw her die! It felt like a betrayal. The producers insisted she was dead! It was worrisome. This cheapens her season 1 arc! This threatens the integrity of the storytelling! This…this…this is awful!

In short: I wasn’t wild to learn that somehow, someway, Helena — that sad, mad, Prolethean-warped, and apparently bulletproof Ukrainian killing machine — was still alive. READ FULL STORY

'Salem' review: 'American Horror Story' lite

In the 17th-century saga of WGN America’s first-ever scripted series, Salem, black magic is legit, religion is an oppressive farce, and witches keep nipples in the dardnest places. The fiction reimagines infamous history. Those witch trials of Puritan-era Salem, Massachusetts? A conspiracy hatched by honest-to-God witches — a relatively gender-neutral term in this world; they can be female or male — as part of a takeover of the town. It’s hard to see why they’d be so hot for this piece of New World real estate. Salem’s an allegedly prosperous port — computer-generated ships mill in the harbor — but the joint’s one of those too clean, too hollow, small exterior/huge interior Hollywood period towns. But, hey: The secret occult takeover of the United States had to start somewhere. READ FULL STORY

'Orphan Black' season 2 review: Tatiana Maslany continues to be one of a kind

For the women of Orphan Black, the world is an open prison, and self-determination is a tenuous contract with The Powers That Be, who view them only as property. Some take this raw deal to survive. Prim, panicky Alison sells out for security in the suburbs with a schlubby hubby who is secretly her jailer. Brainy Cosima ­bargains with a Faustian devil for a gilded cage — her own super lab — where she and her ladylove can pursue a cure for the disease that’s killing her. But woe to the one who refuses to settle: Sarah and her daughter are on the run from men who wish to exploit their bodies and all of Clonekind. Did I not mention the clone thing? Sorry. All these women are clones! Does that make a difference? READ FULL STORY

'Raising Hope,' 'How I Met Your Mother' and the obligation of a 'Legendary!' finale

Our TV week is bookended by sitcom goodbyes. It began with the series finale of How I Met Your Mother; it concludes with the capper to Raising Hope, tapping out tonight with back-to-back episodes, including one cheekily entitled “How I Met Your Mullet.” Created by Greg Garcia, who also gave us My Name Is Earl, the four-season-running Raising Hope was a sweet-and-salty sitcom about the daffy-dumb Chance clan — Virginia, the responsible materfamilias (Martha Plimpton); Burt, the air-headed dad (Garret Dillahunt); Jimmy, the teen-son-turned-teen-father (Lucas Neff); and Maw-Maw, the cracked and coarse grandma (Cloris Leachman) — collectively raising the titular babe, and was always a big-hearted, absurd amusement. One of its best episodes was the season 4 premiere, which featured Jeffrey Tambor as Virginia’s deadbeat dad, a self-centered gay man who skipped town because of perceived bigotry that was actually all in his head. The series finale sees the return of Tambor, with a story that thematically brings the series full circle. READ FULL STORY

The David Letterman Legacy will live on in every other late-night host

With the news that David Letterman will retire next year, the narrative that has defined the late-night talk show wars for decades finally comes to a close: The mismanaged end of the Johnny Carson era of The Tonight Show, a blundered hand-off with far-reaching, long-term, biz-changing ripple effects. It immediately put CBS in the late-night business, seeded the (staggered) rises of Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon, and settled and linked the legacies of Jay Leno (The Man Who Stole The Tonight Show. Twice!) and Letterman himself (The Man Who Should Have Been The Next Carson) long before the end of their runs. READ FULL STORY

'The Good Wife,' 'New Girl' and the hollow gamesmanship of TV 'game-changers'

It’s been a bad week to be a ‘shipper. Last Sunday, The Good Wife killed off legal eagle Will Gardner (Josh Charles), gunning down the dreams of fans who’ve hoped that the series would reunite Will with Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). That same night, Girls drove a wedge between Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Adam (Adam Driver): In a development as out-of-the-blue as the bullets that claimed Will’s life, Hannah was accepted into the University of Iowa’s prestigious writers’ workshop, then mishandled the communication of the news with Adam, who used the occasion to break up with her after a season of growing doubt about their relationship. A couple days later, another pair of scrappy-scruffy love birds surrendered to anxieties about their union when New Girl‘s Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) decided to decouple and revert back to just-friendship. All this, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin called it quits, too. It’s all very sad and Phil Collinsy.

With the three television shows, ‘ship death (and just plain death) brings creative opportunity (albeit not before an obligatory grief ep or two). As Mark Harris observes, Will’s death should seed “dramatic possibility” for several characters, notably Alicia and Diane (Christine Baranski). Season 4 of Girls (due next year) could feel like a markedly different show — one with new characters, conflicts, and of course setting — if Hannah follows through and relocates to Iowa. And New Girl – struggling since the sitcom put Jess and Nick together — has a chance to win us over anew by basically reverting to its original settings.

READ FULL STORY

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