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Huffington Post: True Love: Are All Men Cheaters and All Women Weak? (18/08/12)

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“I’m sorry” is a phrase that gets used in BBC 1’s four part series True Love twice in two episodes – and both times it’s used by men to their wives after cheating on them with another woman.

The wives then on both occasions forgive their adulterous hubbies and in charmingly ironic mode, Jackie DeShannon’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love” pipes up, and everyone feels a little depressed. The irony of the title hasn’t escaped me – playing on our Hollywood ideas of romance then dashing our hopes with what love can be really like is a fairly interesting and often at times enjoyably angsty romp – but do the women have to be so terribly weak in it? And must the men all be selfish, monosyllabic cheaters?

We’re only halfway through True Love (so by now we really should be talking about where this is going) and with Billy Piper coming up into tomorrow’s episode god knows what will be happening in the final two episodes. So far however, whilst the music has been excellently moody and the cinamatography, peppered with gloomy walks along beaches and grey skylines, suitably atmospheric, beneath it all I can’t help but wonder whether this is just another Love Actually but for single or recently spurned women.

“Damn the men! Damn their cheating ways and roving eyes!” we women can all howl as David Tennant has marvellous sex with his ex who he loves much more than his wife, then watch him be forgiven because, after all, he’s all she’s got. And of course, it would have been more like Eastenders if she slapped him and slammed the door in his face and not quite so arty and angsty, but really, is this what we’re like? Sad and a bit taken to moping at home?

To say this is a sexist programme would be wrong, because I don’t think it does either sex any justice. In this way perhaps the BBC have gone uber PC and just been entirely negative to both males and females, just to make sure that neither can complain. As a one off episode either of the two already aired would have been stronger, because it would have highlighted the reality of love and how it’s not all quite Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. But with both episodes together, it just becomes an entirely depressing cycle, where a couple meet, the man cheats, and the women, torn between living with a cheater and single parenthood decides to ignore the affair for an easier life.

You may well argue that for a four part series on love, the Beeb very well can’t just have people joyously making out and rolling in the sand for half an hour – and I would agree – (listen they just can’t ok?!) But let’s hope that for the remaining episodes we get to see some different sides of this crazy thing called love, rather than an approach that whilst trying to be realistic, actually becomes a stereotype of itself all too quickly.

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Huffington Post: Goodbye Lane, Good Luck Peggy (06/08/12)

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SPOILERS – DO NOT read ahead unless you have watched Episode 12 of Mad Men Season 5!

The last two episodes of Mad Men before the finale have seen two main characters of the great Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office (which almost became Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Harris nee Holloway Cosgrove in the penultimate episode) bow out.

One – Peggy – left in uncertain triumph, by the elevator, to a new life. The other – Lane Pryce – left in much more tragic circumstances, hanged, ghastly grey, and almost certainly in a body bag.

Some time ago I predicted that either Lane or Pete would be getting the firing treatment, but I never imagined that Lane would end his time in America so regrettably. He certainly wasn’t my favourite character – us British could hardly ever find ourselves warming to such a tallyho over-the-top accent, even with the recent Jubilee celebrations. His face also had the misfortune of often resembling that of a confused puppy that had been chiselled out of a craggy rock face.

But to see him give up everything because of a moment of weakness reminds us all that Mad Men, whilst faltering in this recent season, still can pull the punches. Anyone who’s read Arthur Miller will recognise the familiar tropes of a man who without his work is nothing. With Matthew Weiner, it’s given that extra knife in the ribs when even his first mode of suicide and recently added office account – the Jaguar car – is unable to perform the required duty.

Peggy’s future, although a lot brighter and well, more realistic than Pryce’s, still is tinged with a strange dread. Although she went out in a blaze of The Kinks and a smile on her face, one couldn’t help but wonder whether there was something forced about this supposedly happy exit. Perhaps it was because of the suddenness of it all – we’ve all seen her threaten to leave many times before, so when she actually did it, it came as quite the shock. I can’t imagine this will be the last we see of Peggy, but will it ever be the same? Perhaps it’s also the fact that once she walks out the door of SCDP, writer Weiner can no longer control her life – once again as her career stops, so does her plot line and thus her need to exist. In fact, the worry is more that, as the series moves on and away with the lives of the office, if we do see Peggy again – will we care?

I mentioned faltering in this season and there certainly has been some. Betty has become an obese ghost to the Draper household and her scenes now lack the depth (but not the girth!) that they once had. Don himself has started to look old, tired, without the sharpness of before. Characters and plot lines have been picked up, then never followed through (the opening concerning the black rights movement and the hiring of a new black secretary was made a big deal of then never mentioned again). The drinking got strained rather than frivolous. Even taking LSD was beautiful and controlled rather than reckless and daring.

But all this may change for the finale. Lane’s suicide will no doubt have a sizeable impact on Don – don’t forget that this is the second hanging that he’s had a part in – the first being his own brother in season one. We’re already starting to see glimmers of the old Draper, bursting into Ed Baxter’s office and offering all he’s got. If a career really is all the workers at SCDP exist for, then let’s see how far Don – wild, reckless and vicious – can go.

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Huffington Post: Lane Pryce vs Pete Campbell – Who’s Going to Get Dropped From Mad Men? (17/06/12)

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Signal 30, the fifth episode of Mad Men Season saw Pete Campbell back in the spotlight, only to get knocked down, or really punched down, again by that good ol’ toothy Brit, Lane Pyrce. It appears to me that this fight wasn’t just a business meeting gone horribly wrong, but the writers presenting to us a very possible likelihood that either Pete or Lane will be gone before the season is out. So who would you rather stay standing? The Brit or the baby?

Before taking your bets, let me assure you that these hallowed pages have had their success in guessing what will happen in Mad Men before, even to the extent of predicting bizarre turns of events, as proven by this week’s episode where, we did actually see a lengthy celebration of England beating West Germany to win the World Cup. Alright, so everyone didn’t get wasted on Pimms and Joan didn’t bake a Rule Britannia cake as I’d hoped, but details, dear readers, details!

Now back to the matter in hand, the contestants!

In the red white and blue corner…Lane Pryce

Attributes – Toothy grin, penchant for lusting over strange females, is married to Miss Honey

Special Move – The Stiff Upper Punch

Why he should stay – The melodrama that can be created by a simple trip to the pub once heightened British accents are used is spectacular as proved by this week’s episode. Lane Pryce may have remarked to Joan that he does nothing at SCDP (and then kissed her, to add insult to injury), but this simply isn’t true. With a name like Lane, Mr Pryce was always going to be the odd one out in the office and his spectacular proposal to go mano a mano with Pete Campbell was an idea of true British inspiration. Why hadn’t anyone thought of it earlier than this? Quite frankly anyone who is able to come up with such fantastic insults such as “you grimy little pimp” is alright in my book.

Why he should leave – Perhaps some new drama will be added by Lane’s spontaneous decision to kiss Joan but it seems that for now we’ve seen Mr Pryce at his most charged and it might be a long time coming before anything more remarkable happens to him. Just as he is an archetypal Brit stuck in America, so too is his character stuck in a quagmire of behaviour not quite perverse enough to make him an entertaining Roger Sterling, and not quite demure enough to turn him into…well any character outside of the SCDP office. Is being British really a strong enough character point for his stay to be welcome?

In the yellow-bellied corner…Pete Campbell

Attributes – Bitter stare, hurt slump, penchant for lusting over any females

Special Move – The Dick Whitman Stab In The Back

Why he should stay – If there was no more Pete Campbell in the office, there wouldn’t be anyone to sneer as someone managed to do well in their lives. And who on earth would handle the Mohawk Airlines account? The SCDP office needs an Iago (of the Othello rather than Aladdin variety – enough characters get attributed with bird names already in this programme), and without Pete Roger Sterling would have to be the chief mischief maker, and there’s only so many women he can knock up around the office before he has another heart attack.

Why he should leave – From the change between telling Don “I have it all” to slumping in the escalator whining “I have nothing” all in one episode, it’s clear that Pete Campbell is heading for a breakdown. What better way to end a dramatic season finale then to have him, in a fit of fury and jealousy, take Lane Pryce hostage in the boardroom of SCDP with the hunting gun he was supposed to have disposed of, cackling and shouting “NOW WHO’S THE PIMP?!” I’d rather see our beloved creep go out in a blaze of madness rather than drip over, like a particularly symbolic tap.

So who do you think should leave this season? With the gloves now off, will everyone be rounding up to give Pete a beating, or had Lane better watch his back?

What this episode should have been called – The Tale of the Grimy Little Pimp

What I’d like to see happen next time (but probably won’t) – Pete Campbell joins up with a new tag team partner to give Lane a beating – Fat Betty, Ken Cosgrove’s story writing take a fourth wall twist as he starts to write a screenplay about people working in an an advertising office and changes his nom de plume to Matthew Weinberg, and Don Draper takes Pete’s statement of similarity to a nun literally and signs up to live in a convent.

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Huffington Post: Mad Men Season Five Episode Four – Mystery Date Review (11/04/12)

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This week’s Mad Men preyed upon themes similar to those we’ve seen before in the series, but what it did so deftly was work upon them until they were something new entirely. Whether it was Don’s vivid, shocking dreams or the image of both Aunt Geraldine and Sally passed out from downing some Seconal, there was something quite hallucinogenic about “Mystery Date”; which really centred along the disturbances of strangers into a settled group, and the primal, unspoken feelings that can surface towards women.

It was always going to be an interesting episode that centred on serial killer Richard Speck, the man who, one day in Chicago, systematically tortured, raped and murdered eight student nurses. Not quite the same as last week’s “Betty got fat” subject really, was it?! And yet, Mad Men was perversely all the better for it. Each character found themselves affected in some way from the news, either consciously or subconsciously, which meant we finally had several interesting strands in one episode, rather than the usual sub plot of “Pete Campbell feels pleased with himself”. (But seriously, when is Pete going to get more to do?! He’s being side-lined like a regular Kinsey!)

Starting off with the character most notably affected by the news, Don Draper’s literally feverish dreams of sleeping with an ex-lover he bumps into (“my bad penny!”) had me crying out for him to stop – but at the same time I wasn’t overly surprised if he had turned back to his adulterous ways. I certainly got a bit more of a shock when (still in fever mode) he appeared to strangle her to death! Of course this was just that tired old adage of “it was all a dream” (or is that nightmare?). However, what should also be remembered Don’s violent passion still had to have existed in his head somewhere, even if it only manifested itself in a dream. I’m sure Freud would have a field day with it all, but all I can say is it shows once again the side of Don we’ve known all along – he will do anything to cover up his secrets.

And then there was another Draper, this time Sally and her own stranger, Aunt Geraldine, who for most of the episode might have accidentally sat on Betty without her realising it for all we knew. Sally’s phone call to her father had all the great hallmarks of the American teen (“it makes me barf”), and her growing curiosity around the murder case her Aunt forbids her to find out about shows she’s still got that stubborn streak.

Geraldine’s mad lessons, “that’s for nothing, so look out”, along with her “burglar alarm” – a large, glinting kitchen knife – do nothing to put Sally’s mind at ease, so of course it makes sense to drug the poor child to sleep when she finally learns of the story in the newspapers.

You can see one writer’s much more humorous interpretation of Geraldine’s lasting effect on Sally here, but the taking of sedatives to fall asleep once again echoed in a much milder way Don’s story, as once more there was a need to keep emotion, this time fear, bottled up and forgotten about.

Peggy’s storyline had a slightly happier feel to it, perhaps because of all the money she managed to swipe off of Roger! Yet again our little copywriter felt it her need to teach those under her how they could aspire to be like her – this time the new secretary Dawn that SCDP had to get in because of their accidental ethicalness. But it seemed that Peggy needed to be taught a thing or two herself when she let Dawn stay over, as, glancing suddenly at her purse she had left next to her new sleepover friend, it was obvious what she was thinking. Here the unspoken actually said it all – although Peggy may be progressive in some senses, she was pretty much right when she asked Dawn whether she “acts like a man” for she does, and specifically, a white middle class one.

This episode also saw the return of Joan’s “beloved” Greg from working as a doctor in the war. We all knew it could never work for long between these two, but the surprise was that this didn’t end because Joan decided to reveal the true father (Roger) of her new born baby to her husband, but rather that he would rather be out fighting the good fight than staying at home. Well, I’m sure there’s plenty that will be happy to fill his place, so good riddance to him!

Another aspect that I loved about this episode was the references to past occurrences that Mad Men is so subtle in doing. This time Joan reminded her dearest that he wasn’t as good as he made out to be – fitting in light of this episode’s subject matter, as indeed in the past Dr Greg went down in the estimations of many when he sexually assaulted Joan in her office at work in Season Two. So the rapist came back to be a husband, but found himself leaving wifeless. Perhaps now we can finally see Joan having a bit of fun again rather than having to hold back and play the good wife.

In the spirit of holding back there almost isn’t time to mention Michael Ginsberg’s feature in the episode – apart from to question whether it’s possible we could have a new Don in our midst (probably only in the advertising side, however, we all know who’s still wearing the trousers around SCDP). A haunting episode, the credits song “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)” truly summed up the confusion between violence and passion that so many of our characters faced and are facing.

What I’d like to happen (but won’t) – Don’s fever continues until the season becomes so confusing it’s not sure if any of it happened at all – did Harry really just slap Megan with a fish?! Peggy starts to get confused about acting like a man and being one in the office and starts to hit on the secretaries, and Pete Campbell finally is able to say something that doesn’t contain the word “Mohawk” in it (please for next time can someone think up a drinking game revolving around this).

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Huffington Post: Mad Men Season Five Episode Two – ‘Tea Leaves’ Review (04/04/12)

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“When is everything going to get back to normal?”, Roger asks Don in this second episode of Mad Men Season Five, and I couldn’t agree more. Don and Harry are backstage at the Rolling Stones, but there’s no pulsing track to accompany the ride, and only an offer of a joint to make it any way rock and roll. Betty, the pristine woman who was once terrified after a car accident because of how it could have made her daughter look, is eating ice cream sundaes by the bowlful. The carefree attitude of our mad men and women seems to have cost them a little, or maybe it’s just as Megan points out to her husband – they’ve grown up and are now simply so square, they’ve got corners.

Normal for Mad Men, however, isn’t normal at all – it’s inappropriate at best, and that’s what, as fans of Mad Men, we’ve become used to. Perhaps this is where ‘Tea Leaves’ felt strange – even with Betty’s sudden shock of a tumour, Don isn’t allowed to wallow in memories and scotch-tinted nostalgia as he may well have done in earlier seasons – in fact we barely see how it affects him before he finds out that she is in fact alright.

So as there’s no scene of Mr Draper feeling weak and emotional and behaving rashly, we’re left with his ex wife, alone in a hollow house, perhaps twice her size, but half herself. Whilst at first I was hooting along with the rest of them at ballooning Betty – it could not have happened to a worse character – by the end there (ironically) isn’t much of her to laugh at – she’s lost everything whilst Don has Optimistic Yet Realistic Megan (action dolls are being produced as I type).

Speaking of Zou Bisou Bisou, when will it feel normal that Don has such an accepting yet strong wife? The issue of psychology reared its ugly head for his ex once again this episode, but Don’s new wife Megan seems to be taking everything in her stride. There are already signs that mixing work with pleasure may not necessarily lead to happiness as Megan reluctantly agreed that talking about work at the dinner table isn’t her scene, so perhaps in this sense Don will be back to playing unhappy families some time soon.

In fact the only hope for anything normal regarding Mad Men is the hilarious new addition to the fold, Michael Ginsberg. Like Pete Campbell, but if he actually liked his parents, I’m predicting big things for this young copywriter – that is, if Roger goes on another booze trip with Mohawk and forgets that he wanted to fire him. With Daddy Draper getting old in the tooth it’s nice to see some fresh blood livening up the SCDP office – who knows, perhaps more lawnmower type hijinks will be following shortly.

Is there such a thing as normality in the world of Mad Men, and what does it mean if there is? Probably a lot of things for a lot of people – for Don it’s finding out what people really and truly mean by what they say – even if he does it backstage at a Rolling Stones gig. For Betty it’s being loved for what she looks like, so even when she finds out she doesn’t have cancer, she still can’t feel good about herself. For Roger, it’s a drink in one hand and a silver smooth quip on the tip of the tongue. Roger’s normal world may be changing, but that’s not to say that Mad Men should do – let’s hope that whilst the characters continue to grow in surprising ways this season (in Betty’s case, perhaps not too much more) there’ll still be some Old Fashioned left to pour, and I will be first in line with an empty glass.

What the episode should have been called – Tea Time (For One)

What I’d like to see happen next time (but won’t) – Don becomes obese in solidarity with Betty, Michael has a boxing match with Pete for the title of Bastard To Peggy Who Is At The Same Time Strangely Attracted To Her, Harry comes up with a brilliant idea that goes to plan faultlessly and everyone finds him charming and elegant.

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Huffington Post: Mad Men Minus Melancholy = Meaninglessness (02/04/12)

We’ve all had plenty of time to digest the first showing of Mad Men Season Five on Tuesday, an episode that is doomed to be forever referred to as ‘The One With Zou Bisou Bisou‘. Many of Mad Men‘s famous calling cards were there – Pete Campbell sticking out his bottom lip (as predicted by this fine blogger), the drinking, the smoking, Don getting off with a gorgeous woman – but something didn’t sit quite as right as it should have done. It’s taken me a little time to try and figure out what exactly that was, and I believe it’s the simple fact that beneath the slick machine of ‘A Little Kiss’ there was very little depth – a worrying thought but a problem that is hopefully only a cause of ‘Opening Season Syndrome’.

The plain truth is that for all its wonderful extras, Mad Men without its meaningful zoom outs juxtaposed with ironically happy music is just another empty nostalgia trip (I’m looking at you, Pan Am). Don’t get me wrong, there was some trouble and strife – Don hitting 40 was no doubt a worry for some female viewers – but there was nothing that really hit home anything like the magic of that carousel moment, or even the simple gesture of Don in Season Four falling asleep on Peggy’s lap.

Indeed many of the bombshells expected to hit had exploded in a time space continuum inaccessible for viewers, as Megan’s brief acknowledgement of Don as Dick Whitman took up no time at all. Nothing wrong with that you might say, if anything it refreshes the storyline, but it did leave a gaping hole in the two part special, one that even a room as big as Pete’s couldn’t fill.

Another reason for this was no doubt the complete absence of everyone’s favourite terrible mother, Betty. No real mention was given to January Jones’s character – as if Don, Sally and Bobby (read: yet another child actor replacement for Bobby that we are to take to be Bobby) had moved on just as she had packed up and moved to a different home.

I’d be greatly surprised if there isn’t a return to her (many) issues somewhere later on in the Season, but it was interesting how much her absence really did stop any tension normally somewhere present in the series from existing. Perhaps it signals a different type of episode that isn’t so much focused on Don trying to deal with family issues – Megan’s “direct” approach to her problems with Don (read: getting down on all fours in front of him in her underwear) certainly seemed to do the trick.

So if the episode wasn’t filled with any real angst what did it have? Sadly, there weren’t many wacky ‘absinthe in a water cooler’ moments either. In fact, I think one of the greatest crimes of the episode was that in a party made specifically for Don Draper, not nearly enough scandal went on – clearly the real reason why he wasn’t happy at the end of the night! Peggy got a little drunk, there were some promises of seeing a high Ken ‘N’ Pete (surely contenders for a spin-off rap project as an American PJ and Duncan) but apart from that, and Ye Olde Zou Bisou Bisou, we once again were left with very little substance.

Between this, Harry’s ‘hilarious’ incident with Megan, and Joan’s surprise Battle of The Bulge (well, she still did look mostly wonderful), we had an episode with not so much substance as snapshots of what could have been. Lane Pryce’s storyline was the closest to being a poignant Mad Men Moment, made even more shocking by the sudden (and very late) realisation by myself that the actress playing his wife used to play Miss Honey in Matilda.

In all seriousness, whilst Mad Men shouldn’t be trying to achieve any kind of solemnity, as this can only lead to artificiality, it shouldn’t also be trying so hard to create funny slapstick moments, without any of the deep, sticky glue that holds those moments together. As this is only the first episode of the season, there’s no reason this won’t be the case, but here’s hoping that the ending signposts even more obstacles and soul searching that the team will need to overcome instead.

What this episode should have been called – A Little Embarrassing French Dance

What I hope to see next episode

Lane becomes increasingly obsessed with the picture of the girl he has hidden and insists his secretary wear a mask to look like her, Harry and Ken leave many more Chinamen in Pete’s even bigger room and Peggy makes the same ‘Ballet of Beans’ pitch – this time for Secor Laxatives.