The Ongoing Gimmick of One Don Draper

What’s been progressively annoying me about AMC’s Mad Men is the persistent use of Don’s “moment of brilliance” during an ad pitch. It’s reminiscent of the gimmick House leaned on when, in the last 5-10 minutes, House suddenly and miraculously has an insight which in *almost* every episode, results in a diagnosis that saves a patient’s life when it seemed impossible. Now, every show on TV has some sort of gimmick, or least leitmotif — Dexter always evades detection; same with Walter White; or to back some ways, and to quote Howard Beale from one of my top three favorite films of all time, “Kojak always gets the killer, [and] nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker’s house.”

But in network shows like House, those gimmicks are 1) expected; and 2) the reason you watch for an hour — the entire premise of the show is the unsolved mystery of what particular ailment with which this individual is afflicted. Same with Dexter and Breaking Bad — the show isn’t *about* the gimmick, but the gimmick functions as the yeast that makes the bread rise, so to speak. Mad Men, on the other hand, aspires to be a revelatory show, one that strips bare the essence of a man, the people around him and most ambitiously, an era of American history still pivotal to this very day. In Mad Men, the gimmick seems out of place, unnecessary and has now become just annoying. This has not been a good season for this show, and what I just wrote is only one aspect of why I hold that opinion.

Addendum: Beyond the above critique, I also believe that the show has become somewhat stagnant this season, perhaps coasting a bit on its previous success and confident that the massive hype surrounding it will carry it into next year’s planned final season. Peggy has taken over from Don as the most intriguing character on the show (although she’s never not been intriguing) — which is awkward, as the show has delved increasingly more into Don’s psyche while marginalizing the stories of its other major players. We hardly see Roger anymore, whose experiment dropping acid was one of the highlights of the series and convinced me that major developments in his character were en route; Joan, who had also become one of the most intriguing characters on television has receded ever more into the background. Yes, we want to know Don’s secrets, his past, his whatever, but at this point I really don’t care that much about him. I’m not invested in him as a person, whereas the three above-listed individuals I actively want to know more about. And disclaimer: despite the criticism, Mad Men is still — and will remain — must-see TV on Sunday nights for me. I still love this show, just am disappointed with what, so far, is its weakest season.

~ by Benji on May 11, 2013.

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