I‘ve heard lots of good things about the show Mad Men, and so, after the kids went to bed last night, Kelly and I settled down to watch the first two episodes. They were entertaining, maybe a little over the top, but the truth is that after two episodes, I was worn out. Two episodes into the show and there was already so much potential drama1 that, as a story teller, I could see the explosive proliferation of plot twists and struggles that would fill the rest of this season, and presumably, subsequent seasons.
Part of what spurred me to give Mad Men a try was catching a few episodes of Bewitched earlier in the week. As a kid, I remember spending summer mornings watching syndicated reruns of the show (I’m nowhere near old enough to have seen the show in first run) and it was nice to see it again. Darren is, of course, an ad man, and the show takes place in the 1960s instead of the 1950s, but memories of how much I enjoyed Bewitched made me curious about Mad Men.
The problems I have with Mad Men are the same problems I have with all television dramas today. First is that they focus on edge-cases, which is understandable, since they are easy targets for good storytelling. But it also means that the shows tend to be overly dramatic and those wear quickly on my limited patience with television.
The second–for me, more important–problem is that they are serials as opposed to series. I’ve discussed this before. I don’t watch a lot of television. When I do, I want to dip for some brain relief and entertainment, and dip out again. I always liked dramas like Magnum, P.I. because, despite being dramas, they were self-contained episodes, rarely, if ever ending in a cliff-hanger, rarely carrying an arch beyond one episode. You could watch an episode, any episode, be entertained for 50 minutes, and move on without a second thought. Not so with today’s dramas, including, it seems, Mad Men.
Let me be clear that my objections to Mad Men have nothing to do with the quality of the writing or acting. They are objections based on my own ennui with how dramas are produced today. I am not a serial TV watcher. I don’t look for a show that will last season after season. I’ve grown to despise cliff-hangers in dramas, and I hate how they chop up seasons these days. Most of all, I really dislike how you can no longer watch just one episode. Today’s dramas are made with binge-watching in mind. I’m not part of that audience so it makes sense that I don’t connect with those kind of shows.
I suspect that series (as opposed to serial) dramas are mostly a thing of the past, and this is one of those cases where like what I grew up with, and am simply not part of the serial-watching culture. That’s okay, I can deal with that. But it is disappointing when shows that sound good in principle are virtually unwatchable to me because of this.
- I use the term “potential” in the classical physics sense here. ↩