Looks like we won’t be seeing Don, Peggy, Joan, Roger, and Pete until 2012. While we wait to see our favorite ad man, I’ll be watching these films for my fill of 60’s fashion, social and abusive drinking, marital unrest, and the corporate rat race.
THE APARTMENT (1960)
Without Billy Wilder, there would be no MAD MEN. PERIOD. The opening shots of Sterling Cooper offices in the pilot are direct lifts from Wilder’s 1960 masterpiece. The film even gets named checked by Joan and Roger in Episode 10 “The Long Weekend.” Wilder’s snappy dialogue and vivid characters probably provided MAD MEN writers with inspiration as well. Wilder’s hero, C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has ambitions for management and lets execs use his apartment for their dalliances. Once he realizes the murky machine he’s mixed up in through his relationship with elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), he longs to be more than a corporate stooge and regains his dignity. How Wilder orchestrates tender moments with comedy and devastating drama is rarely out done on MAD MEN or anything else. Two episodes that come close for me are Episode 7 “Red in the Face” from season 1 and “The Suitcase’ from season 4.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008)
Don and Betty’s fights on MAD MEN never came close to the fervent hatred trading between Frank and April Wheeler in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the Wheelers hope a whimsical move to Paris will save their doomed marriage. Like the Draper marriage, the union crumbles under the weight of a lie.
“Mad Men” is back and within 2 hours made realize what had been missing from my life for the past 17 months. The 2-hour premiere quickly dispatched the laundry list of questions left by last season’s finale with new concerns, excitements, and higher stakes. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is still finding its way back creatively and financially after losing Lucky Strike. The groovy, airy offices that caused so much excitement last season seem eerily sparse. Less clients, less employees, less work. I’m excited for what Matthew Weiner has in store for this season. I’ll leave the deeper analysis to the always reliable and entertaining Slate TV Club, but there was one arc that captured my special attention.
Has Roger Sterling (John Slattery) hit bottom? The normally cool and oddly wise account operator struggles haplessly through every scene. Without the biggest account to shield him, he does not even warrent a full time secretary. Roger seems lost; not making strides to sign new business he resorts to flirting with Pete Campbell’s secretary to poach his meetings. His name may still be first on the letterhead, but inside the office he barely matters.
On top of his miserable work life, Roger’s personal relationships are mired in resentment, anger, and insolence. Roger and Jane trade insults and are so distracted by their mutual hatred they ruin Megan’s surprise party. Roger digs his hole deeper giving an impromptu toast to Don that bares his insecurities and insults Megan. And how about his reaction to Joan and little Kevin! Watching that scene just made me cringe.
Roger’s descent points to what may be a prominent story line this year: how the civil rights movement will affect the office dynamics. Roger, playing the ad man pranks of old, blithely suggests SCDP advertise themselves as an Equal Opportunity Employer. To him, picket lines and protests are a joke. His bad humor not only shakes Joan’s sense of security, but brings in a slew of Black applicants the company is neither financially or culturally prepared to hire. There is a line forming, dividing characters like Pete who don’t laugh at Black protesters being hit with water bombs and Roger who creates more problems for everyone by not taking civil rights seriously. Roger is falling fast. The only question is how far and who will he manage to drag down with him.