Why did the premiere of “Mad Men” leave me feeling a bit distant from that wonderful show? Lots of small coincidences should have drawn me closer: The guys’ new offices are in the Time-Life Building, where I actually worked for a spell (albeit eons after the early ’60s); the subplot about Jantzen swimsuits involves a company not just from Portland, but also the one-time employer of my own personal father-in-law, who moved his daughter, et. al, west (from his own company in Rockefeller Center) to take the gig.
Coincidences, pointless to point out. Except for the subtle connection between my family’s own ongoing creation/reinvention (moving houses, jobs, identities, etc) and the show’s evocation of that process as a (the?) key to the ever-evolving American ideal.
So what’s missing? I guess I don’t quite connect with Draper’s post-marriage crisis, particularly when it comes to hookers and punishment. I can certainly trace the psychological through-line, I guess, but that feint toward sexual kink is an easy one to make on TV (it’s either that or the guns come out). And what I tend to value the most about “Mad Men” is its willingness to abandon all the easy TV feints.
Here’s another option: I missed something important, or need to regain my patience for the next big twist, which is surely around the corner. We’ll see.
The climax of “Friday Night Lights,” on the other hand, (I’m a week ahead, thanks to a new DVD box) feels exactly right: What gets resolved feels right; what’s left hanging feels even more haunting, and satisfying in its own way. To me this season was so much about family; how they work, how they don’t, and how the ones we create are often far more important than the ones we inherit.
Yes, it’s a tv show. Yes, some old-fashioned memes must be respected and adhered to. But “FNL” does it all so well, and with such respect for the gray areas in life and character (e.g., Coach Taylor will, in fact, contradict his character building lessons when the game is on the line), that it’s impossible to give them grief for their compromises.
So much of the pop culture is Snooki-fied to the point of poison and insult, these are two excpetions that don’t. Even when they don’t work, they really try. And that’s more than enough.