Television review: Did “Mad Men” miss the mark this season?

May 23, 2012 – Ready for the season finale of “Mad Men”?

It’s closer than I thought. I gasped when the AMC announcer shared the news Sunday night that there are only three episodes left this season.

Season five seemed to pass quicker than previous seasons, perhaps because we anticipated its arrival for more than a year, and feel like I’m still waiting for it to begin. I can’t argue that the show declined this year — the writing and acting continue to be top-notch – but it has been my least favorite season by far. To be fair, there are three episodes left that may knock my socks off, but aside from the episode that had Roger Sterling tripping on LSD, this season has been a bit of a yawn.

All storylines are heavily wrapped in the mid 1960’s, when the times they were a changin’, and as much as I am fascinated by this part of our history I don’t think it’s playing out well for the characters. Dare I say there are times when they almost seem cliché?

Take Sunday night, for example. It’s been a long time since we’ve caught up with former ad executive Paul Kinsey. When we do, we discover he has a shaved head and is following Hare Krishna. That’s might not seem too far-fetched considering the times, but I have a hard time buying it. Besides, the beatnik friends of the graphic artist who was one of Don’s earliest conquests were much more interesting than a bunch of people in robes chanting, “Jai Sri Krishna” for two minutes. It seems the creative team is tying too hard to get their point across that this is the wild 1960s. We get it, we really do.

When the series started, the era played wonderfully to the storyline. It usually made me laugh because so many things were inappropriate in the early 1960s, at least by today’s standards. But those subtle references, as important as they seemed, were perfectly content in the background, and not thrown boldly in your face like they are now. Visually, it used to be beautiful. Now it looks like something straight from “The Brady Bunch.”

Sure, the hippie generation has taken over, but the costumes and sets seem almost too cartoonish. Factual or not, it’s overkill. They have me wishing for the softer, darkly lit home that once belonged to Don and Betty instead of the mod, funky Manhattan pad that belongs to Don and Megan. And this isn’t a statement about which wife is better suited to Don; it’s about what set is better suited to him.

This entire season is playing out like a set-up to show how America is changing and how insignificant Don Draper is becoming. OK, we get that too. He’s getting older and he’s “out of touch” with the changing times. He’s working less and enjoying it less now that wife number two has quit the agency to return to acting. I only hope this season is taking us somewhere, and it will soon make sense. Maybe I just need a little more patience, but I can’t help but think I used to feel like I was watching people’s lives unfold, and now I’m aware that I’m watching a television show.

I don’t want to be too negative because I still consider “Mad Men” must see TV. Perhaps that’s the reality because there were many who didn’t fare the 1960s well, just like these characters. My father always says that the 1960’s were the beginning of the end for this country. Who knows, we could be destined to hear that same philosophy from Don Draper; they’d be about the same age. One thing is certain, those pesky mid 1960s have definitely taken some of the fun out of “Mad Men”.

Still, with only three episodes left, I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

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4 thoughts on “Television review: Did “Mad Men” miss the mark this season?

  1. Jane,
    Although I didn’t start working in the agency business until 1971, I too have been glued to the TV for every episode of “Mad Men.”
    I feel exactly like you: the wheel came off the story arc this season. And like you, I can’t put my finger on exactly what’s wrong.
    Let’s hope for the promised major surprise in one of the final episodes.

    • Don, I saw the characters and creator on Inside the Actors Studio over the weekend. The show’s creator said he doesn’t know what will happen each season until he sits down to write it, but he knows exactly how he wants it to end. Interesting way to write a series…seems like he may be missing some pieces in between.

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