One of television’s best shows is back, and brings with it darkness heavier than ever before. The sunny, "Zou Bisou Bisou" "Mad Men" days of last season are long gone. The strong, defiant older men of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are fading, while the younger men are embracing the times (as seen by their sideburns, fashion, and facial hair. Harry looked hilarious.).
“Mad Men” has always had its share of darkness, best amplified by the leading man, Don Draper. But this show has also always thrived on subtlety, causing viewers to interpret, analyze, and guess almost every dialogue or action taken in each episode. The season 6 premiere ditches subtlety: In this episode, death is omnipresent.
You see hints of death in obvious ways: The news that shakes Roger Sterling; the conversations between Don and his new friend, Dr. Rosen; the incident with the doorman, who we thought was a goner but was revived; and in most conversations Don has with just about anyone.
Then, morbidity creeps in during the most positive of subjects: Marriage is the reason, says a Vietnam soldier who is about to tie the knot, that may save him from death in Vietnam. He hears it gives soldiers something to live for. Darkness lurks when Don somehow turns a pitch about Hawaii, or paradise, into a message that is chock full of allusions to suicide. Heaven, he says, is acquired only if something terrible happens. You hear it in jokes that Betty makes, who, after commending a 15-year-old on her violin skills, makes terrible jokes about her husband raping said teenage girl. (That was horrifying, even on Betty standards.)
The reason for this bleak theme? Peggy’s man Abe Drexler said it best: “It’s about time this unjust war is having an effect on commerce.” It’s about time the Vietnam war, which resulted in thousands of soldiers dying every year, caught up to our “Mad Men” friends. There was no trigger point-- no killing of a soldier (we all thought it would be Joan’s husband, right?), no reaction of a war-related news story. The darkness was just there—a real presence that seeped into these characters. Note: It seems that the episode ends on January 1, 1968. The Tet Offensive launches about a month later.)
In other notes:
Megan. You don’t see this theme directly reflecting in Megan Draper, whose rising stardom is evident by the amount of weight she has lost. Unlike her husband, who seems deeply disturbed, Megan seems blissfully happy, and blissfully ignorant in her newfound career as an actress. How could she not know Don is sleeping with their neighbor? I don’t think she is aware, but I think she’s choosing to overlook it. Not in a Betty Draper kind of looking-the-other-way, but in a more, self –absorbed, I-only-care-about-myself kind of way.
Peggy. She is the new Don Draper (minus all the scotch and adultery … so far). It was enthralling to see her save the day on a huge account, yet still learning lessons in leadership. It was the kind of moment (the victory, not the lesson) that we have grown accustomed to Don achieving. And it is brilliant of creator Matthew Weiner to show one star rise while the other falls.
Sally. Teenager! Just like Peggy is so her boss’s protégé, Sally is so her mother’s daughter. I thought she would reflect more of the hippie zeitgeist of her times, but she just seems like a normal adolescent with a sharp tongue. (Remind you of anyone? Her mother, perhaps?)
Joan. We want more!
Pete, Harry, Ken, and Stan. Cool hair / sideburns / beards, dudes.
Race and religion. Don is friends with a Jewish doctor (which seems more significant than Roger’s ex-wife’s Jane’s religion or Don’s ex-lover). His secretary, Dawn, seemed at ease with Don and the staff, unlike last season, where she was called “black coffee” in the season 5 finale. Can’t wait to see how these subjects are explored further.
The episode itself is called “The Doorway,” which I took it to mean the doorway between life and death, and the doorway Don is standing in— the inner turmoil and restlessness inside of him has never been so clear. (He’s cheating on his wife, something that seemed implausible in most of season 5, and got so drunk at a funeral he threw up. Really?) We see the older generation struggling with the times. (Betty in the East Village was one of the best scenes, next to the scene of Roger receiving some grim news.)
Although some of my favorite season 5 moments were heart warming-- Don and Joan’s day out, Peggy and Don running into each other in a theater-- I am looking forward to this “Dante’s Inferno” themed season, even if it will make us long for the show’s, and history's, supposed good ol’ days.
After a few moves around the schedule, NBC's comedy "Community" landed a Thursday night time slot and made its return last night. The show's fourth season kicked off episode "History 101" with a cold open on cast member Joel McHale as Jeff Winger, an exiled former lawyer who enrolled at Greendale Community College in the show's first season ("But I thought you had a bachelors from Columbia?" "And now I have to get from America.") and over the course of three seasons fell in sync with an island-of-misfit-toys study group.
In the premiere (which marks the group's final year at GCC), Troy (a former high school football star played by Donald Glover) and girlfriend Britta (Gillian Jacobs as a psych major who enjoys psychoanalyzing everything and everyone around her), progressed into a hand-holding phase in their relationship. (And we mean, literally, holding hands. Not co-dependency.) Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) is continued to make any and every excuse to dress in drag, Annie (Allison Brie) stayed perpetually chipper, and Abed (Danny Pudi) retreated back into his own hyper-reality based on pop culture and blanket forts.
The most notable difference in the season may be the tone of the show since it was announced that Chevy Chase's character, Pierce (Chevy Chase), will not play through the rest of the season. Chase split from the show partially through taping season four with a "mutual agreement" over Thanksgiving and McHale recently opened up to Howard Stern about his own on-set feud with the 69-year-old actor. A swap in producers (which included the departure of show creator Dan Harmon) may also be notable to the show's bigger fans.
Early critiques of the episode have been mixed, including thoughts from Slate.com, Vulture, and The New York Times:
"It didn't seem like they strayed too far from the show's core. It just walked a very fine line and stumbled." -- Slate.com
"This season, Community came out of the gates like a guy running a four-minute mile to start a marathon. There is no way the pace is sustainable, but it was a lot of fun to watch." -- Vulture, NYMag
"The show has been dumbed down, its humor broadened past recognition, and the two episodes provided for review — Thursday’s season premiere, 'History 101,' and the Feb. 21 entry, 'Conventions of Space and Time' — have fewer laughs between them than a single good scene from the old 'Community.'" -- NY Times
Did you watch last night's premiere? What did you think? Will you continuing watching season four?
Do you prefer "fashion victim" or "ensembly challenged"?: The cast of "Clueless" reunited for an Entertainment Weekly photo shoot for the mag's "All-Star Reunion Blowout" feature and sat down with "Good Morning America" to talk about their iconic '90s teen flick. While the late Brittany Murphy (a.k.a. Tai) was missing from the group, the cast reflected fondly on their scripted Beverly Hills high school years. When asked what they thought their characters would be today, Alicia Silverstone (a.k.a. Cher) was quick to the kicker: "married to her brother." Like, duh.
(P.S. Where was Paul Rudd, anyway?)
What did you watch this week? Did you catch the premiere of the last season of "30 Rock"? Did you see Boston's own Caitlin Michael's on "The Voice"? Or were you busy defending the honor of Big Bird on Twitter post-debate?
The "Modern Family" + 1: Even though Sofia Vergara lost to co-star Julie Bowen in the supporting actress category at the 64th Emmy Awards, she certainly took the spotlight on Wednesday's season premiere of the ABC sitcom. Vergara’s character, Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, revealed that she was pregnant at her husband's 65th birthday. Despite making it clear that he didn't want any surprises for his birthday, the dad-to-be took the news unusually well.
"Glee" goes Vogue: "Sex in the City" starlet Sarah Jessica Parker made a guest appearance on the Fox series' third episode, "Makeover," as a Vogue.com editor. As Kurt's mentor, SJP attempts to sway Chis Colfer's character to pursue fashion rather than Broadway while breaking out in song. Naturally.
Heavyweight competition on "X-Factor": On Thursday's episode, one contestant shocked the judges with both his inspirational story and the performance that followed. Freddie Combs of Greenville, Tenn. explained to the panel how he almost died in 2009, after his weight reached 920 lbs. Currently weighing 540 lbs., Combs took the stage in a wheelchair and performed a rousing rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings." All four judges provided Combs with the golden "yes," moving him onto the next round of the competition.
"Grey's" singin' the blues: After a fateful plane crash ended season 8 with a lot of unanswered questions, Thursday's season premiere of "Grey's Anatomy" revealed that Mark Sloan has died. McSteamy had been in a coma for 30 days and according to his wishes, he was taken off of life support. Next week’s episode will backtrack to what happened during the month that passed before the doctors were rescued.
Thoughts on this week in TV? Comment here.
Lifetime's much-hyped made-for-TV movie based on the life of Elizabeth Taylor, starring Lindsay Lohan, finally has a trailer... a teaser, at least. The 30-second clip gives us a peek at the up-and-down, on-and-off-screen love affair of Taylor and Richard Burton as portrayed by Lohan and "True Blood" actor, Grant Bowler. While the teaser leaves much to the imagination (Lohan's sole trio of sound bites include future classics, such as: "I hate you!" and "Who's counting?"), our interest was piqued by what the network has pegged as the "Biggest television event." After all, one character sums up what appears to be the plot quite perfectly: "They drink. They fight. They fornicate!"
The film will debut on the Lifetime network in November.
Thoughts on the trailer? The cast? Comment here.
NBC confirmed that "Saturday Night Live" veteran Jason Sudeikis will be sticking around for the 38th season of the late-night sketch comedy show, which kicks off this weekend with guest host Seth MacFarlane and musical guest Frank Ocean. The announcement about Sudeikis comes after a summer of "will he, or won't he?" speculation, following the departure of "SNL" favorites Kristin Wiig and Andy Samberg, as well as relative newcomer Abby Elliot.
While the actual details of the agreement and the length of the seven-season comedian's stay are under wraps, executive producer Lorne Michaels told the New York Times, "Right now the idea is that Jason will go through at least until January."
There's been some media speculation that the incentive for Sudeikis to stay aligns heavily with the upcoming election and the undeniable need to keep the 36-year-old's Mitt Romney impression on retainer. Whether or not his contract will extend through January and the remainder of the season ultimately depends on Sudeikis and NBC, but if there's truth to the speculation, it could have something to do with the eventual outcome of the 2012 election.
The 38th season will also welcome three new featured players to the cast: Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson, and Cecily Strong. The trio are all Second City alums, the multi-stage improv comedy group that counts "SNL" greats, Chris Farley, Mike Meyers, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler among its former members.
Will the young'ns bring in the laughs? Check out clips of their work below and let us know what you think in the comments.
Aidy Bryant as "Gretel" -- yes, as in: "Hanzel & Gretel" -- in a therapy session, trying to work through those post-gingerbread-induced stress issues with her brother.
Tim Robinson wants you to know that his baby ... is really not that cute.
And Cecily Strong is the worst tour guide in Canada. Like, ever.
After trying out a whopping 59 possible co-hosts since Regis Philbin left his morning talk show gig in November, the producers of "Live! With Kelly" have finally found Philbin's replacement to host alongside Kelly Ripa. Nick Lachey, Josh Groban, and even Ripa's own husband, Mark Consuelos, have appeared as guest hosts since Philbin left the show. Wondering who made the cut? The new co-host will be revealed on the show's season premiere on Sept. 4.
--Kristi Palma, Boston.com Staff
The ever-so-popular period drama "Downton Abbey" won't return to screens in the US until January 2013 but the folks at New York Mag's Vulture somehow managed to snag a look at the season 3 trailer. Granted, it's a video of a video (complete with background giggles), but it gives us enough to sustain the next few months: Shirley MacLaine being sassy and wearing furs (!!) and most likely the biggest storyline of the season: "all of the money is gone." (Dun dun dun.) Plus, the roaring '20s fashions are so in-sync with the upcoming Gatsby mania.
Check out the clip below and share your thoughts in the comments.
90210's original cast unites, here comes Honey Boo Boo (whether you like it or not), and NBC's smart Olympics move
Old Navy teamed up with original 90210-ers Jason Priestley (Brandon), Gabrielle Carteris (Andrea), Jennie Garth (Kelly), and Luke Perry (Dylan) to create three 30-second spots for their back-to-school and fall denim campaigns. Both Tori Spelling (Donna) or Brian Austin Green (David) were notably absent -- but there's always spring. Here's our favorite below, but Fashionista.com has all three up for your full one minute and 30 seconds of viewing pleasure.
In other news of television stars trying to hold onto a good thing, Alana "dollah makes me hollah" Thompson's TLC show, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," debuted this week with strong ratings. According to E! Online, "the premiere of their show attracted 2.2 million viewers last night and was No. 1 ... among all ad-supported cable in its time period among women 25-52/18-39/18-34." The show follows the 6-year-old "Toddlers and Tiaras" breakout star and her Georgia family through their day-to-day activities and her pageant pursuits, no matter how tragic they may be. Not hooked yet? To quote Thompson: "You better redneck-ognize!"
And finally, in other ratings news, NBC made a strategic pilot placement that may pay off in the long run (or at least it did this time.) The channel previewed Matthew Perry's new comedy, "Go On," immediately after their nightly Olympics coverage, resulting in a whopping 16.1 million viewers. (#NBCWin) The show officially premieres on Sept. 11.
AP Photo/Dan Steinberg, file
According to Tyler Perry, Bobbi Kristina is not prone to diva moments.
RadarOnline reported in May that Whitney Houston's only child left the set of his sitcom "For Better or Worse," too emotional to proceed since she was still mourning the sudden death of her superstar mother. Perry not only came to her defense in an impassioned missive on his website, he recently sang her praises when asked about her acting debut.FULL ENTRY
Arsenio Hall is back on the scene.
The comedian, who shot to fame in late '80s and early '90s with his popular late-night talk show, "The Arsenio Hall Show," is returning to his TV roots with a new program on set to air on CBS in fall 2013.
"I know it's very crowded out there in late night, but I really believe that what I do, is a little different than the way the other guys do it," Hall said during an interview with "Entertainment Tonight."
Hall also mentioned that his ideal first guest would come from the hip-hop world, like Eminem or Jay-Z.
It looks like fans were waiting for the return of "Dallas."
The Wednesday night premiere of TNT's updated version of the '80s smash scored 6.8 million viewers, which makes it the top scripted cable series debut of the year, according to Entertainment Weekly.
"If you were a fan of the original 'Dallas,' once you hear that iconic theme song start in the new TNT iteration — complete with split-screen images — resistance may be futile," Boston Globe critic Sarah Rodman said of the show.
Did you watch "Dallas"? If so, what did you think? Let us know!
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsMatthew Gilbert is the Globe's TV critic.
Sarah Rodman is a staff TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Glenn Yoder is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.