Limit Your Exposure

There is some seriously good writing going on in TV these days. More worst-writing on that here. But like all good writing, it seems it takes me longer than most to get to it. Or maybe not. Nomatter. My better half watched six seasons of Mad Men last year. When we got the DVDs the plan was to watch it together. For reasons that I won’t go in to, I wasn’t able to get through the first show of the first season. Let’s just say that a TV show about the origin of #americant and our consume-to-survive, winner take all, fascist society… plus my connection to advertising (in a past life), was a bit much. And. Yeah. I got that out of the first fifteen minutes of S01E01 of Mad Men. That said. I didn’t give up on the show. I mean, come on, I ripped six seaons of it to our media library. And so. It has lingered with me all the while–because it’s obvious there is some level of quality here. Oh well. Better late than never. Or?

I started binge watching Mad Men about three weeks ago. Depending on the weather, the drinks the night before, the performance required by my better-half, I’ve been able to get through two or three shows a day. And guess what? I’m ok with this show. Seriously. In fact, this is one heck of a TV show. I mean. Come on. How are THEY doing it? How is it that ambitious producers, seeing the opportunity of too many channels on TVs across America are able to come up with of this sort of show? The answer, dear wrost-reader, is quite simple.

First, let’s start with what this show really is. Mad Men, in essence, is nothing original. It is, in fact, a regurgitated soap opera from day-time television. I suppose this would be the right moment to say that when I was a kid I watched day-time TV. I remember Days Of Our Lives, As The World Turns or Young And The Resless. Well, I didn’t really watch those shows. What I did was, when I came home from middle school, I watched my mom watch her “story” while I had my after-school milk and cookies and my mom smoked her Marlboro reds chased with a glass of coke and a nip of rum. In fact, to this day, my mom takes an hour every afternoon to watch her story–although she’s long since quit Marlboro. Now. With that in mind, and with the knowledge that day-time television is the worst of the worst of TV broadcasting, how is that producers are able to put together shows like this that do nothing more than copy the past?

I have no f’n clue!

But I will say this. As unoriginal as this stuff is–heck, add some violence to it, Mad Men is the same as The Sopranos or Game of Thrones–the thing that makes this shows worth (binge) watching is one thing and one thing only. The writing. And I’m not talking about the writing of what the characters/actors say. But the whole production is so well put together that there are moments I pause in the middle to grab a hammer to close my open mouth. I sit there in awe at how some scenes evolve, how they are so beautifully crafted that I stop breathing so that nothing interupts what I just experienced. Take for example the following scene.

Setup: Mad Men S03E01 “Out of Town”. Dan Draper and Sal Romano are on a business trip to (I think) Baltimore. Dan is womanizing a stewardess in his hotel room. A bus boy has come up to Sal’s room to fix the air conditioner. I believe this is the first time in the show Sal’s “coming out” breaks the forth wall. But here’s where the fun begins. These encounters are interupted by a hotel fire alarm. Dan and the stewardess immediately head down the outer fire-escape and thereby pass Sal’s room below. Dan sees Sal sqirmishing to get his pants on while the bus boy also dresses. Sal and Dan’s eyes meet. I guess in a day-time soap some silly drama music would play here. But the writers leave it at that until the two men are on the plane home.

Scene: Airplane in flight. Sal, preoccupied, reaches over and pushes up the sun screen of the window revealing a blue sky. Dan is leaning back, asleep in his chair next to Sal. Dan wakes up.

Dan: What time is it?

Sal: (Looking at his watch.) One-fifteen.

Dan: (Still leaning back.) We should be back in the office by three.

Sal: (Preoccupied, concerned.) You going back to the office? (Dan nods.)

Dan: (Pause. Moves his seat back-rest forward and leans over toward Sal. Sal looks worried at Dan.) I’m gonna ask you something. And I want you to be completely honest with me. (Sal, still worried, nods.) London Fog. It’s a subway car. And there’s a commuter… looking up. And there’s a girl with her back to us. She’s wearing one of those short tan ones but it’s open. We know what he sees. (Pause.) Limit your exposure.

Sal: (Pause. Nodding, relieved.) That’s it.

(Pause. Sal cracks a smile. Then Dan cracks the same smile. Both men are relieved.)

Dan: (Upbeat.) Good. (Dan leans back in his seat.) -end-

“Limit your exposure” of course is Dan’s way of telling Sal to stay in the closet but also, the way this scene pans out, shows that Dan’s OK with what he saw the night before. Sal also knows he has nothing to worry about by going back to the office when their plane arrives. Obviously Sal doesn’t want his sexual orientation to get back to the macho office environment–which up to now has only been exposed to homosexualitly in the form of a heavy accented character from Russia that had no qualms admitting that he likes “the sex with the men”. Without a doubt this scene is on my list of scenes I wish I could talk to the authors about how it was put together. But I reckon that’ll never happen.

And one final thought. As I praise the writing of TV shows like Mad Men, etc. I also want to be clear that I am very critical of them, too. One of the things that really bothers me about Mad Men is that there is only one accredited author in the show. It is obvious that the secret to writing anything half-way decent for TV is dependent solely on the number of talented but obviously starving writers that have to turn to this type of work to sustain their consume-to-survive lives. With that in mind, I’m very proud and content to be a failed writer who resorts to binge watching the worst of the best of TV after ripping it to my media library and only writes for a blog read by three people a day. At least I will always be able to claim that I worst-wrote all my own stuff–and it would be true. But I guess that’s the world we all live in, eh? Money talks for the writer of Mad Men, bullshit walks for the rest of us. The world and I would be fine, if not better-off, if shows like this didn’t exist. Oh well. So much for the fight. Smoke if you got ’em. And. I’m all for limiting exposure.

Rant on. -Tommi