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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (6/18/12) 7:05pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

[Missed a week, on account of laziness.]

Movies:  <none>
TV:  Friday Night Lights [4x09-4x13] [spoilers], Mad Men [2x01-2x08] [minor spoilers]
Books:  <none>

Friday Night Lights [4x09-4x13] [spoilers]
This finishes out the fourth season of the acclaimed network drama (my, those are some words you don't often hear in the same phrase any more).

First off, good Christ, does Jason Katims know how to end a season.  Bringing a good chunk of the cast together for Thanksgiving dinner at the Taylors felt like a lovely coda for the season, and bringing Saracen through one last time let us find the ending for his stories.  He breaks things off with Julie.  He confronts Landry, rather hilariously ("I swear, you're like a girl."), and we close on his eyes, uneasy, as the plane heads for Chicago.  That's a wonderful ending.

Also, I loved Tami's through-line for the end of the season, if only because it felt so inevitable.  Yes, of course, if a student came to her asking about an unwanted pregnancy, she would respond exactly how the district rules said she should.  And of course Luke's mother, as characterized, would go after her for that.  And of course the school as a whole would finally see it as a chance for revenge against her for sending Luke to East Dillon.  All the dominos they set up in the first ten episodes neatly knock themselves over in the last three.

I've been less interested in the gang storylines on FNL.  I can't say they're inaccurate -- what do I know about gang violence? -- but... well, I can explain it this way.  Sometimes, when somebody's lying, you can tell because of a lack of detail.  Everything stays vague.  Of the few things you find out, none of them are unexpected or out-of-the-ordinary.  That's kind of how the "gang characters" feel to me -- it's like the writers had a dim awareness of black criminals, and sort of hand-waved that into scenes.  They do admirable work making Vince a real character -- but honestly that only makes the crime-world seem more vacuous by comparison.

On top of that, these storylines bring an unavoidable feeling of "white folks swoop in to save the day".  They hang a lantern on this -- at least one character remarks about that in "The Lights in Carroll Park" -- but that doesn't make the unease go away.  And honestly it's not the fault of anyone involved in the show -- we just live in a world with a bazillion things like Dangerous Minds, and it's hard for them not to evoke those less sophisticated stories when they're telling theirs.

But that's a minor quibble -- generally, the storytelling here was top-notch, and I'm sure to finish it off with season five before too long.

Mad Men [2x01-2x09] [minor spoilers]
This is, of course, the AMC drama about Don Draper, an ad executive whose life gets upended by the wrenching social changes of the 1960s.

I've written about the show's first season here, here, and here, with that second post neatly summing up what I find interesting about the show.

With season two, I'm starting to suspect that it's just my lot in life to respect this show more than love it.  Yes, I can see that the show has impeccable period detail, both in its set design and in its characters' attitudes, but I derive no great joy from that.  It's more just a respectful, "Ah.  Yes, that is accurate.  Well-done."  And its patient, slow-burn pacing is a nice variation from every other TV show I watch, but again, I don't find it something to be ecstatic about.

I don't know what it would take for me to love this show.  More humor?  More melodrama?  Occasional bear attacks?  I suspect that whatever I could ask for would change the show fundamentally from what it's setting out to do.[1]  I can tell it's accomplishing what it means to.

It may be that, while the show has tension in individual scenes, I find myself not feeling much tension in the overall plot.  An episode ends, and I don't find myself wondering where the season's plot will go next.  The next episode starts, and I don't find myself very curious about how it's going to end.  I'm sure that other people watch this show in a much more engaged way, but for me it feels somewhat similar to watching clouds drift by -- pretty, but easily interrupted.

I suppose that's a fancy way of saying that, at this point, I don't sympathize with the characters.  If Don's marriage falls apart completely (and let's be honest, I know enough spoilers to know that it does), well... hmm.  Okay, then.  Sucks to be them, I guess.

That said, it's fascinating to see how they leverage the period to generate tension.  Our view of the 1960s includes so many things you *can't* do and so many things you *can't* say.  To our modern sensibilities, 1962 feels like a minefield of taboos and behavioral strictures.[2]  So of course, Mad Men can be, start to finish, scenes with people who can't do what they want and can't say what they want, with dialog constantly fraught with tension that somebody might step out of bounds.

What's ironic, I suppose, is that these characters are very unlikely to step out of bounds, as they've grown up with and internalized all the social rules of the era.  Maybe it's internalized to such a degree that they don't consciously *want* to say the things they're not supposed to.  No, they're going to walk along the social tightrope because they've walked that tightrope their whole life.  Meanwhile, all the rest of us can imagine is ourselves in that same position, having one inattentive moment and stepping off into the abyss -- saying the wrong thing and mortifying everyone.  It's an artifact of its being a period drama.

Ah well.  I'll finish out this season, and surely watch the rest of the seasons in due time.  But I'll always feel kind of gypped that I'll never love the show the way the world does.

For next time:  I'll finish off season two of Mad Men, and perhaps move on to the not-very-good first season of Parks and Recreation.

[1] ... except for the bear attacks, of course, which would make perfect sense in context.
[2] Of course, the 2010s no doubt have their *own* set of taboos and strictures, but it's damn hard to perceive what they are while you're in the middle of them.

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