Sunday, July 15, 2012

Forget your soaps, try Mad Men

Many years ago, I was once drawn into watching Emmerdale and from personal experience I know the addiction of soaps. I got out of that one and apart from a flirtation with The Bill, I have never become hooked again. I can’t quite tell you why, but I regard soaps as Karl Marx regarded religion, but hold them in even less esteem than he held religion. Despite the fact that my wife and my daughter - 51 and 16 in August - both avidly follow Emmerdale and EastEnders, I regard soaps as pap for morons (at which point I must repeat that I, too, have been there, and fully understand how - I would say perniciously - they can get under your skin.

A while ago, I wrote here that however good a series such as The Sopranos is, it is merely the first, wealthier, better behaved and classier cousin to soaps. Well, I have changed my mind, if only because show such as The Sopranos are most definitely not pap for morons. And, it has to be said, irrespective of what they are - pap for morons - a great deal of creativity, talent and professionalism is put to use in producing soaps. In just such a shame that at the end of the day the are nothing more but the cultural equivalent of Ready Brek or Cupasoups.

What got me thinking along these lines again is Mad Men, of which you might or might not have heard. It’s about advertising agencies and those people who work in them. The first series was set in the late-Fifties and the current, fifth, series takes us to the mid-Sixties, which gives the show ample scope to investigate the changing attitudes of that era - the growing civil rights movement, growing female emancipation, the evolution of youth culture and other changing attitudes. Putting it like that makes it sound all very worthy, and it is most certainly not that.
What sets it aside from others of its ilk is just how high its standards are: the script, the acting and the direction. Mad Men has the uncanny knack of conveying wordlessly merely by the pause an actor makes or a significant look. But it does so not in any ‘look at us, look at just how good we are’. It is immensely understated.

I believe the guy who came up with the idea, a Matthew Weiner, had previously worked on The Sopranos, so it is no surprise that he is keen to make a show which just shouts - or in the case of Mad Men - casually hints at quality. It has been criticised for ‘being slow’ and ‘not having a story’. Well, take it from me that that is bollocks. There is plenty of ‘story’ if ‘story’ is your bag and as for being slow, there is more going on beneath the surface than in any number of bloody soaps. OK, have it your way: if you want ‘fast-moving’ and spurious ‘drama’, stick to your average soap. If you want something a great deal more satisfying, give Mad Men a whirl. I like to think you won’t be disappointed.

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