Mad Men s1e1: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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image courtesy of this Gallery

Hello, hello! Due to my own personal mania and a splash of popular demand, I’ve decided to undergo the Herculean task of rewatching and writing about all 92 episodes of Mad Men. Now these won’t be super duper in depth like my season 7 reviews, and I’m sure I’ll combine a couple of episodes into each post at some point, but certain episodes will merit more yappin’ than others. So uh, here goes!

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image courtesy of Imgur

With the opening shot of the Mad Men pilot, we are greeted with the back of a shadowy figure at a bar. He’s in a crowd of breezy people, yet he is alone. Who the hell is this guy? What’s his deal? Here’s a vaguely fried Don Draper in a bar, grasping at straws for his upcoming Lucky Strike meeting.

The pilot of any series will lay out the greater themes to come, and Smoke gets in your Eyes is no exception. And one of the things I find magical about a well written show or movie is how we, the audience, are merely dropped in. This isn’t the beginning of something, we are entering into something, this narrative as it has already progressed.

The character introductions are sort of hilarious. We’ve got Peggy, the oldschool Brooklyn girl trying to make it at her first big job in the city. Pete, the boorish young guy who’s about to get married to the photo of Matthew Weiner’s mother as Trudy hadn’t been cast yet. Sal, the closeted gay man who makes approximately 100 innuendos implying that he’s gay. Joan, the snarky fun girl. There’s jokes about technology and the lack thereof in 1960. Pilots, man.. thankfully the rest of the series is far more subtle.

The real meat of this episode starts with Don getting schooled in a meeting with Rachel Menken. Here, we can see that she’s cut from a different cloth. She is serious about her business, and apparently Don is having none of that. He really fucked it up, and has to do some damage control later on in this episode..

And then, the Lucky Strike pitch. This pitch defines a lot of what the series is ultimately about.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is?

Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear.

It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK.

You are OK.”

Does Don really know what happiness is, or is he just trying to reach out and touch people with what he thinks happiness implies? The notion that he’s adrift is emphasised when we see his meeting with Rachel at a bar that evening.

Don: The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call “love” was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. You’re born alone, you die alone, and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.

Rachel: I don’t think I realised it until this moment, but it must be hard being a man, too.

Don: Excuse me?

Rachel: Mr. Draper, I don’t know what it is you really believe in, but I know what it feels like to be out of place. To be disconnected. To see the world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. And there is something about you that tells me you know it too. 

Don: .. I don’t know if that’s true..

I mean, good goddamn. Rachel immediately saw through his elaborate bullshit façade and succinctly called him out on it. He showed his ass just a little, and she doesn’t have time for that. This brief but potent exchange lays important groundwork for the episodes to come. Don is both fascinated and bewildered by her honesty.

At the end of the pilot, I found myself faced with a couple of questions. Why do we want what we want? Is that all there is? The more you dig into those questions, the more you’ll find, and the deeper that hole gets. The show will grapple with this dizzying idea for the next 7 seasons.

Don heads home to the suburbs of New York state, set to Caravan.

And ah fuck, this guy’s married??

shitjustgotreal

image courtesy of Imgur

Hey-o, thanks for reading!

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Late to the Party: Hollywoodland

Nearly 10 years ago to the day, Hollywoodland came out. I remember wanting to see it, but for whatever reason it didn’t happen and it promptly fell off my radar for an actual fucking decade. Joke’s on me. But thanks to the modern miracle of everything being available on Netflix/HBOgo/Hulu, I’ve been able to catch up on movies and TV I simply never got around to seeing.

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image courtesy of Uproxx

So, though I am freakishly late to the party, I wanted to put some words down about Hollywoodland. I really dug it. Early oughts Bennifer-era Affleck is pretty great, though around 2006 he was semi-fresh off the trash barge trio of Jersey Girl, Gigli, and Daredevil. Affleck brings out the allure and magic in George Reeves along with sharp vulnerability. There’s also his crushing, deep-seated disappointment just under the surface, whiling away and ready to explode.

Hollywoodland is a dramatised version of the rise and mysterious death of George Reeves, TV’s Superman. The movie starts with Reeves’ bloody suicide and works its way backwards with Affleck playing Reeves via flashbacks. Fictional washed up PI Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) tries to piece everything together. It’s a love letter to noir, a vintage hard boiled crime drama. And thankfully it’s not all shallow junk either, there’s facets to the characters and their surroundings, right down to the soundtrack.

On a sidenote, is there such a thing as a NON-washed up PI? TV and movie detectives are never not a piping hot mess. Always just on the verge of full blown alcoholism, drowning in cigarettes and stains, weathered hair.. they’re all fucked up. Someone name me a detective who has their shit together, please. The closest one I can think of is Val Kilmer’s Gay Perry from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but even that’s a bit of a reach.. anyway.

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hey, these guys KINDA have their shit together.. image courtesy of Vanity Fair

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…..ah, fuck. image courtesy of Tumblr

Reeves is a man who’s at a bit of a slump in his career, but he appears unflappable. The first time we see him as a non-corpse, he’s hunting down A-list tables at a club and cleverly inserting himself into paparazzi photos. This is how he meets glam 40-something Toni Mannix, and ultimately how his path veers to that tragic ending.

The characters in Hollywoodland all want something tantalizingly just out of reach. Boozed up Simo is grasping at the idea of the whole thing being a murder/conspiracy, if not only to resurrect his flagging PI career but to look admirable in the eyes of his young son, who was devastated at the death of Superman himself. We watch him turn from doing PI work as a means to an end to instead giving a damn about what he’s doing, and what it means for the greater good and his estranged family.

Toni, wife to MGM studio head Eddie Mannix, wants to keep Reeves in a box that’s only for her. She laps up his attention like so many Gibsons, and flips the fuck out when he breaks things off with her to be with a younger woman. Could she have ordered a hit?

Eddie Mannix, hypnotically portrayed by the late great Bob Hoskins, is one of those guys who has it all, yet has the stones to yearn for more. He’s got brass balls, bringing his non-English speaking mistress out to dinner with the wife and Reeves. This dinner is like being in fucking bizarro land.. Toni floats the idea of buying a house on Benedict Canyon for Reeves and Mannix is like “whatevs”. Shortly after Reeves’ death, Mannix tries to have a nice moment with Toni before their lavish anniversary party, but ends up firmly reminding her that she is his. Lends some gravity to the idea that perhaps he had Reeves killed in order to keep Toni in her box..

And the ambitious Reeves, grateful for the paycheck and stunned at the fame from TV, is profoundly vexed with where he’s ended up. He’s resentful and fraying at the edges. Think about it for a second – here’s a guy who had a goddamned speaking role in Gone With The Wind, and now he’s wearing a washed out Superman costume, turned into a cartoon of a man doing cringeworthy public appearances. He wanted so much more from his life and career, yet here he is in a house that Toni bought, with a fiancée who’s rapidly losing interest in him due to his waning career prospects.

Reeves’ true frustration is on display in the final minutes of the film, when Simo views a demo reel from Reeves’ manager. He’s showing off some fighting moves for a wrestling gig, but you can see on his face that he’s just done. Totally defeated, doughy, with a pained expression going through the motions. At that moment, Simo believes (along with myself) that maybe Reeves had committed suicide after all.

Hollywoodland is well worth a spin. Great performances, an intriguing story, wonderful music. I found it to be a more charismatic L.A. Confidential.

Thanks for reading!