One last toast

May 18th, 2015

Before I’m able to gather all my final thoughts on Mad Men and its concluding seven episodes we got to see the past couple of weeks, I will get something off my chest, that has been bothering me for a while now.

Shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, True Detective have made a special way of enjoying television possible. Every week, after having watched an episode it has gotten very normal to type in „Mad Men Season X Ep Y review“ and see where it takes you. There’s a lot of very intelligent people out there. And whether your friends and colleagues don’t like what you like watching, or don’t share your taste, or the questions you pose to the series you watch: through the discussion culture that has established online over the years, there will be someone, who shares your love/hate-love or whatever it is you see in any programme that you’re willing to read on and discuss.

Fandoms have emerged, tumblr makes it easy to become obsessed over the tiniest nuances and there’s critics you love to read and readers you love to argue with in the comment section of their weekly roundup of the episode of the show calling your thoughts.

Critics don’t know everything

Matt Zoller Seitz (he’s awesome by the way and loves Wes Anderson as much as I do) on Vulture for example, provides for a compelling and intelligent insight into Mad Men. I enjoy reading his recaps, his thoughts on consumerism and capitalism, on the dark overshadowing elements right out of greek tragedies and whatnot. But MZS is just a critic. There’s people out there, who aren’t critics but have studied literature, marketing, media science, history, sociology, psychology – the list could go on and on. And they see things, one critic could miss. Because they’re experts on their field. Which is okay, because a critic has to see the broad picture and not the specific details in the centre piece of a wedding table a wedding florist would see.
So, point 1: A critic is not an omniscient reviewer.

Others know stuff, too

Furthermore, people have opinions. That’s cool. The older I get, the more firm and paradoxically the more open I tend to be in my opinions. There’s stuff I figured out for me and which I believe in, and then there’s things I know not enough about. I know that I don’t know all the things the combined power of viewers and critics „get“ about shows. And that’s ok. Point 2: I don’t know as much as others.

And they’re better at it than I am

So then I go and search the web. Let’s stay with Mad Men here: I read about this amazing blog of Managing Librarian Billy Parrott. She collects all literary references on Mad Men, compiles reading lists for the main characters and analyses what we see on the show. Because I was familiar with the book, I “got” the (I think it’s Season 5?) reference of Dante’s Inferno, and I recognised a couple of books here and there. But there’s so much more to it. And Billy takes us with her, her knowledge, and shares the sweet nuances even a book lying on Betty Draper’s nightstand can make for the viewer. The same goes to say for the costume design, things we see on T.V. in the series, the setting and props, the flowers, details one might miss, were he not to be a specialist in the field. It’s an intricate and compelling world and I know so little of it. And that’s okay.

Haters gonna hate

Which leads me to the core of this little rant: I see, why it’s easy to hate on simple endings. On the obvious tying up of lose ends. But, and that’s a big one, shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, are not as simple and easy as they seem. They require research, meticulous thought and the taking of risks.

I know it’s easy to hate. It’s cool and you can show how you got it all and would have made such different decisions if only you had gotten the chance to write and direct. Betty Francis wouldn’t have had the fate she had ultimately had to suffer, there wouldn’t have been so many happy endings (but, are they really? More on that once I’ve gathered my thoughts). Commenters on Social Media think the decision-making in writing a show like this is lazy, if something happens that they’d foreseen (which barely happened on this show, trust me) or if something actually worked out for someone or if … I don’t know. There seem to have been a lot of „lazy decisions“, if you trust the commenters writing below recaps, on Twitter, Facebook or any Social Media.

I’m not saying everything is perfect with Mad Men. I’m complaining about the easy and simple way to hate on a colossus of decisions, established eight years ago and being played out now. It’s easy to complain. It’s harder to actually do. I’m not casting a shadow over those who think about plots and/or dialogues, or on those who have reasonable critique. I’m just stating: it’s easier to hate on something than to acknowledge its greatness somehow.

So, thank you for the greatness that I had the pleasure to witness in Mad Men, Matthew Weiner and everyone involved. Thank you.