Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Network television rips off Mad Men

Update: I meant to but I forgot to include The Hour, a BBC series that's similar to Mad Men.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It allows us to remember the past in a purely crystallized way. Thanks to nostalgia, we actually remember All That! as being a funny show. Thanks to nostalgia, we all had excellent relationships with our fathers and our girlfriends were the sweetest women in the world. Recently, network television has been trying to tap into the market of early '60s nostalgia, which Mad Men previously cornered the market on. In doing so though, what they're really attempting is to bring nostalgia to a time period that never existed.

Look at the fun they're having in the past.

The '60s were turbulent times full of great change and conflict. The whole decade was really just one glorified transitional period from the button-downed '50s to the wild '70s (with some drugs thrown in for good measure). And we even went to the moon. The networks have since created a prepackaged illusion of the '60s, popularized by Mad Men and bowdlerized baby-boomer stories. Pan Am and Playboy Club don't offer a respective look at a different time. Instead they offer a snow globe of kitsch, with some period-appropriate drama whenever it's convenient. Hell these are the television networks that ban smoking on most shows. How could they ever properly represent the '60s?

The '60s ran on paranoia and nicotine.

The comparison to Mad Men is unavoidable. Four years ago a slow-burn drama set in the '60s sounded like a bomb waiting to happen. Hell, all the networks passed on it. Even HBO and Showtime didn't want to gamble with it. AMC took Matthew Weiner's show in and it has payed off wonderfully for the channel. Having just won its fourth straight Emmy for Best Drama, Mad Men is the undisputed critical darling. And now, four years late to the party, ABC and NBC want to cash in on the era.

Amber Heard's hotness couldn't even save Playboy Club.

This is usually the portion where I predict the failure of both shows but Playboy Club already beat me to it. It took just three episodes for the show to fall flat on its face. Terra Nova even succeeded in finding an audience and that's just a Jurassic Park/Avatar mashup (Stephen Lang plays the same dude in both productions). And the funny thing is, Playboy Club and Pan Am are just as fanciful as Terra Nova. It's just further escapism. Critics and audiences seem to prefer Pan Am though.

The show is bolstered by Christina Ricci's big-headed appeal.

These two shows premiering right next to each other just shows how behind the networks are creatively. They're forced to ape previously existing successes, but with their own spin to make it their own. What they don't realize is that if they took chances with original programming than they could be the trendsetters, instead of having to go by what cable successes dictate. Even coping successes can turn into colossal failures, such as Playboy Club, so the network should take this as a lesson. That and everything that could be said about the '60s is already being done wonderfully on Mad Men (whether it be sexism, racism or general pigheadedness). What's the point of loading up a plane with forced-feminist when Mad Men's Peggy Olsen does it so much more effortlessly? If the shows had anything new to say than the story would be different but that's just their problem. The stories aren't different, only the settings.

I'll just watch New Girl instead. God I love Zooey.

1 comment:

  1. So I guess that whole question regarding "society reflects art or art reflects society" could be applied here as well. Do any TV shows actually reflect the times? Or do the times reflect what the TV shows are telling them they should be? "Friends," for example. Good reviews.