Closing the Book on “Mad Men”

Closing the Book on “Mad Men”
Sterling Headshot
“Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a dress.” God bless you, Roger Sterling. (PopSugar)

Tonight, it ends.

The story of a guy named Don Draper and the life surrounding an advertising agency in New York’s 1960’s. But, this story doesn’t begin with a script written by Matthew Weiner. It actually began, innocently enough, with a group performing in Des Moines one night. Critically acclaimed group “RJD2” performed at Vaudeville Mews. Popular for the tune “1976” and “Ghostwriter”, little did anyone, or even the group, would know that that another tune “A Beautiful Mine” would be selected by Weiner to be the opening theme to “Mad Men.”

Yes, Des Moines, you had a small part of television history, besides being the home of January Jones (Betty Draper Francis).

We tend to easily toss the banter of “greatest show ever” at anything we just watched (“The Sopranos” and “MAS*H” for examples), but there is something about television series that pulls us in like a black hole. But, there is validity to what The Sopranos and Mad Men mean to today’s television. It was unique, it had interesting characters that resembled the people we’re around these days.  I dare you to tell me you didn’t run across an Uncle Junior, Paulie Walnuts, or a Roger Sterling in your daily lives? Or wait, we wished we would run across people like that…

Remember when Peggy Olson in Season 1?  My how time have changed for Peggy. (Frank Ockenfels / AMC)
Remember when Peggy Olson in Season 1? My how time have changed for Peggy. (Frank Ockenfels / AMC)

Anyway, I have always been fascinated in how we watch television: how we view it, how we expect it to end and the reaction to it when it ends in the way that we did not anticipated it.

Do Colonel Henry Blake and Rosalind Shays come to mind?

As I wrote back in 2010 about the ending of The Sopranos, the idea that we want a perfect ending to a show is only wishful thinking. Shows should challenge our thinking and attitudes on what we think our perceptions are and to get us to view it a different way.

Larry Gelbart nailed it when how he described on MAS*H killing off Henry Blake. The viewers were upset that the writers would create such a killjoy in adding in Blake’s death, but the writers’ had another angle for viewers to understand: MASH wasn’t just a sitcom…it was a sitcom/drama about the reality of war.

So, as AMC closes the book on “Mad Men” this evening, don’t be surprised if the ending you expect isn’t the one you want.

Mind you, Weiner did work on The Sopranos. Anything can happen…just don’t expect it to live up to your own unrealistic expectations.


The lost art of television themes

"Lost" and "24" had their endings. Read about "L&O" ending, courtesy of the NY Times.

I have an eccentric passion that I enjoy listening to and with the help of YouTube, I can watch. I’m a big fan of television show themes.  Not the short 5 second opening that shows the title and fades out to a commercial.  There are iconic themes that link us to the shows that has kept us entertained through the years.  “Law and Order” ended it’s long 20-year run Monday night, but that popular theme by Mike Post will remain ingrained in our minds.

Ever wonder what the full version sounds like?

With the inspiration from Andrew Clark (aka The Brand Chef) with his “Groove of the Day” and the website Fang Bites who is currently listing the best sports themes, by sport, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of my favorite t.v. show themes from across the spectrum.  Today, I have a few from England I want to share.

“Coronation Street” is a prime-time soap opera on ITV.  “Corrie” for short is one of the longest running series in world television history that will mark it’s 50th anniversary on television this winter.  The instrumental is very smooth and slow, like a warm summer day, though the show is depicted in a tough, worn down neighborhood in London.

“Danger Man” is considered to be one of the best television spy shows made.  In America, it was called “Secret Agent” with the wildly popular U.S. theme (and song) done by Johnny Rivers.  This is the original theme version by Edward Astley titled “Highwire.”

Here is the American version:

“The Prisoner”, the series I referenced to on Monday about “Lost”, stars Patrick McGoohan, who also starred in “Danger Man.”  McGoohan played an agent who decides to resign, only to be sent to an undisclosed island, where he poked and prodded to give the “real” reason he’s quitting.

The next one is the theme from “The Sweeney” starring John Thaw, who later became universally known as Inspector Morse on PBS series “Mystery.” Thaw and Dennis Waterman played two cops in a special unit charged in tackling armed robbery and violent crimes.

The final one for now is the beautiful moving theme from the Inspector Morse series.

There are no “perfect” endings

Allegory: a form of extended metaphor in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy.
Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.

(Courtesy, Literary Terms website)

Zoloft or Goomahs?

I was a big fan of “The Sopranos” during their 8-year run on HBO.  I became a fan not only in part of the characters and the story plot, but how David Chase crafted the series to evolve around a mobster, his family, and his crew.  From drug use to battling depression, The Sopranos explored what life is really like for the world of the mafioso in today’s society.

The final episode of the series was one of the most watched in television history.  However, the final scene has continued to be one of the most talked about, for the sole purpose of no one knowing what really happened to Tony, Carmella, A.J., and Meadow.

Here is the final scene, courtesy of YouTube:

I’m in the minority when I write this:  I thought it was perfect.  Why?  It goes back to Twitter a few days ago, when someone tweeted (or typed) that the new James Cameron film “Avatar” was an allegory to war.  It brought back something that I had long wanted to write for a Juice blog, but I didn’t think anyone would understand it.  Hence, the definition of “allegory” at the top of this blog topic today.

All shows are not meant to have an ending, good or bad. Some of them are an allegory, and “The Sopranos” fall in that category.  A great example, or comparison of this, is the popular British cult classic “The Prisoner”, starring the late Patrick McGoohan. who died last January.

I’m not a number! I’m a free man!

McGoohan starred as a secret agent who announced his “resignation”.  His superiors were not keen with the news and decided to transport him to an un-named seaside village as they try to find out the reason why he was quitting.  The final episode and scene from “The Prisoner” was also generated a large litany of controversy itself in 1968.  British viewers had hoped to see who was “Prisoner #1” and whether Prisoner #6, McGoohan’s character, would escape from the island as a free man.

They came away more confused than they imagined.

Courtesy of Crackle, is the final episode of The Prisoner, titled “Fall Out.” And watch the final 20 minutes or so to see how the series ended.

“Fall Out” from “The Prisoner” released February 4, 1968

Strange and trippy, eh?  Well, as McGoohan pointed out in this 1984 interview below, the show was an allegory (3:02-5:13).  Plus, as he said with interest, he was “happy” that the viewers were upset by the ending.  Fast forward and listen to clip from 6:08-6:32 mark and listen carefully to his explanation.

I agree with him with the viewers.  Viewers tend to automatically assume that there will be ending to a story.  However, “The Sopranos” and “The Prisoner” are what they are in reality:  a fictional story.  Viewers are left to make out what the ending is in their own minds.  Which is what Ray Bradbury did with “Farenheit 451.” I remember reading Bradbury’s classic in high school.  Our teacher assigned us the task to write out the ending individually.  It made us open up our minds and come up with our own answers.  Which is what David Chase wanted us to do with when the shot of Tony looking up to see who was walking into the diner cut away to black.

Ray Bradbury left the door open…to make your own ending

Unfortunately, the majority of the viewers were not interested in exploring the ending in their own minds.  They wanted an ending that would satisfy their own curiosity, rather lazily.  I called The Sopranos finale perfect.  We don’t know what happened next.  Did Meadow walk in and sat down to eat with her family?  Did she walk in with a gun?  Did someone “whack” Tony?  Or was the whole family cut down?  Who did it?  The feds or someone who had it out for Tony?

We will never know.  That’s the perfect part.

Till then, “be seeing you.”