Category Archives: TV

The Mundanity podcast

In case you didn’t know, I co-host a podcast with all around swell guy and my good friend Shawn. It’s called the Mundanity podcast, and once a week we talk about all things pop culture, including movies, music, television, and anything else that comes to mind. We have a blast doing it, and if any of you are so inclined to listen that would be just swell. You can listen on our site, listen and subscribe on i-Tunes, or subscribe to our RSS feed using your favorite podcast app. And hey, if you like what you hear or want to tell us that we are terrible, leave us a review and a rating on i-Tunes and let us know what you think.

With that in mind, it occurred to me that most of what I write here falls under the broad category of pop culture, so I’m going to try and move all of that over to the other site from here on out. If you like what you read here then I encourage you to follow me there. I reserve the right to pop into this space from time to time and use this space to write things that fall outside of pop culture sphere, but for now I’m concentrating my efforts there and trying to consolidate. Frankly I’m just too lazy to try and maintain two sites at once.

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read my stream of consciousness ramblings and follow the site, and I hope you’ll continue to do so over at my new home. If you like what you there you can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and just about any other social media outlet. Shawn’s in charge of that social media stuff and he’s done a great job blanketing just about every site known to man.

Cheers,

JLo

The predictable, confounding, infuriating, and ultimately satisfying Mad Men finale

Mad Men is without question one of the great television dramas of all time, and maybe one of the last purely character dramas that will gain a wide foothold of cultural significance. With seemingly every show on television obsessed with one upping itself with plot twists, Mad Men was stubbornly resistant to the trend. The show was intimately intertwined in history, but its characters remained outside observers, watching events like the Kennedy assassinations, the Chicago riots, and the moon landing on television just like everybody else. One can imagine the machinations and back flips one of the current generation of show runners might go through to insert Don, or Roger, or Peggy directly into these events, but Matthew Weiner was content to let them unfold around a cast of characters and focus instead on their reactions, everyday lives, hopes and dreams, and disappointments.

Many have speculated for years that Mad Men had only one possible ending, one that flashed before us every episode during the opening credits: Don Draper plunging to his death in imitation of the falling man silhouette. I never thought that Weiner would choose to end the show with anything so dramatic, though he certainly hinted and toyed with that result for much of the final episode. I was frankly surprised at the episode that Weiner delivered, as it bordered on an old-fashioned, upbeat ending, with each of the major characters getting a send off and the man in the middle seemingly finding redemption (until THAT commercial ran before the close). It’s probably best to mirror Weiner’s approach and take the round robin tour through the characters as we left them.

Pete & Trudy: On a show defined by shallow consumerism, it’s appropriate that the show’s two shallowest characters (well, maybe they aren’t as shallow as Harry Crane, but its a near run thing. Do NOT get in Harry’s way when he’s hungry) found each other again. Pete did show one of his occasional glimpses of humanity saying goodbye to Peggy, but she has a way of uncovering the best in everyone, even Pete. Dear Trudy, you know Pete will disappoint you eventually, but at least you get unlimited use of a private jet out of the deal, so it’s probably worth it to you. They say success is fleeting, but that has to be doubly true of any success that stems from the efforts of Duck Phillips, right? Caveat emptor, Peter.

Betty, Sally, and Bobby #what? 5?: Ah poor Betty. You gained wisdom, clarity, and a sense of self-worth finally, and all it took to cement it was a terminal cancer diagnosis. She showed admirable strength and determination during her final phone call with Don (it was fitting that Don’s final three phone calls were with Sally, Betty, and Peggy, the three women left that he truly cared about, but more on that in a minute), firmly but lovingly rejecting Don’s proposal to return and take the children. Betty, you may have been a crap mom for most of the show, but you ended well. Sally’s eventual nervous breakdown and rebirth as a self help guru in the 80s will likely be delayed for a few years thanks to you and your efforts. Well done, Birdie.

Roger Sterling: Speaking of someone who needs his own talk show, tell me you wouldn’t watch a one-hour, Dick Cavett-style talk show/variety show called Sterling’s Gold (based on the best-selling book)? Enjoy Montreal, Roger. Don summed Marie up best: You know she’s crazy, right? (Best: Joan’s reaction to Roger’s reveal of the identity of his latest, and possibly final, flame.)

Joan Harris: Let me just say this: I LOVED Joan’s final storyline. For so long she’s been defined by what she looks like and what men want to do for her/to her, good and bad, so it was really thrilling to see her cast off a seemingly dream relationship to pursue her new career. Even Peggy, seemingly her ally but someone who she has always had something of frosty relationship with, has consistently underestimated Joan and dismissed her potential based on her looks. Rock on, Joan Harris. You deserve it, and don’t let the fellas define who you are anymore, and stay away from the cocaine, m’kay? (I’m totally willing to overlook the fact that your move to independence was definitely underwritten by the generous bequest to your son from Roger, ensuring his future regardless of what happens to Harris Productions.)

Peggy (and Stan): So, the one thing I didn’t really expect from Mr. Weiner was straight up fan service. Mad Men has always been as much Peggy’s story as Don’s, but did anybody see the Nora Ephron movie ending coming for Peggy and Stan? I can see why she rejected Joan’s offer and the chance to be her own boss; she’s always wanted to succeed in advertising, and Joan’s offer, while enticing on the surface, would have been ultimately unfulfilling. (Also, see above about her refusal to take Joan seriously on a professional level.) Regardless, everybody’s thrilled to see that Peggy is seemingly happy, but little does know that by staying at McCann she’s likely steering into the path of Hurricane Draper again in he near future.

Don: First off, let say that I’m thoroughly unnerved by the sight of Don Draper in a denim jacket. It’s fitting that we get see his three phone calls with the there women left who he truly cares about, and each of them reject him in their own way. Even Peggy, who seemingly shows the most concern for him, doesn’t seem to spare him a second thought once Stan the Man comes into the picture. It slowly dawns on Don that none of these women need him, that they are truly better off and have made their own way without him. So surely here’s where Don is going to fulfill the reoccurring prophecy of the credits and hurl himself off the cliffs into the sea below, right? Well no, but at least Don’s transformation back into Dick Whitman is going to be made whole by some group therapy, self-reflection, and early morning meditation. But then we see the smile, and one of the most iconic television ads in history rolls and the meaning is clear: here is the ultimate triumph of consumerism over everything. Neither personal redemption, nor cultural ideals can stand in the way of a great Don Draper pitch, and in retrospect it should have been obvious (and it was obvious to one TV critic and his colleague). The Coke account was the bait that McCann used to try and lure Don into the fold from season 1, and presumably it finally succeeded. Mad Men has never shied away from cynicism, so it seems fitting that Don’s final moments should be a smirking, jingle-filled monument to the triumph of that cynicism to over all.

Whatever you make of the ending, Mad Men ended on Mathew Weiner’s terms, and I’ll miss it. It’s not too late, though, for Trudy to come to her senses. RUN FOR THE HILLS. TRUDY! Wait, there are no hills in Kansas.

Cheers.

Unleash the Mundanity!

I’ve been absent from this space lately, but it was for a good reason. I’m happy to announce the launch of a brand new pop culture podcast with my good friend and co-host, Shawn. It’s been a blast putting this together and we’re very happy to be able to share it with you today.

You can find the Mundanity podcast here on our website, or subscribe to our RSS feed here. We’re hoping to be up and running on iTunes shortly as well.

In episode 1 we introduce ourselves a bit, talk about the genesis of the podcast name, name our five time capsule films, and then talk in depth about House of Cards Season 3, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Better Call Saul. We then preview three of the upcoming blockbuster movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, and SPECTRE.

We hope you’ll have a listen and let us know what you think.

In the meantime, I’ll be finishing the best of the 1950s playlists this week and then tackling the final decade left, the 60s.

Cheers.

Parental face-palm theater presents…the body shape edition

The other day while getting into the car after a family trip to Target, the following exchange took place, completely out of the blue.

Son: “Why do girls have such gorgeous butts?”

Parents: *spit take*: “What did you say?”

Son: “That’s not what I meant to say. I meant gigantic.”

Well then. Later that day I eventually regained the ability to speak and asked him what had prompted that question. He said, and I remembered when he mentioned it, that there had been a woman at the store who was fairly small save for an admittedly very large backside. I explained to him that people come in all shapes and sizes for various reasons – some medical, some genetic, etc, etc – and it wasn’t a good idea to judge somebody based on their appearance, which, to his credit he had not done. His 11-year-old brain just didn’t know how to process what he had seen.

Since my son has had growth issues all of his life I figured he’d be pretty sensitive to this subject. After a moment of reflection this was his response:

“I know dad. I think you’re pretty cool even though you’re kind of fat.”

*sad trombone sound*

Um, well I guess I should look at the bright side and be happy he thinks I’m pretty cool, right?

Speaking of body shapes (this is kind of a weak transition, just go with it, m’okay?)…

I wanted to write a few words about one of the most amazing pieces of art I’ve come across in a very long time, and it comes from what is nominally a sitcom, though that word is woefully inadequate when it comes to describing this show. Below is a seven and a half-minute, unbroken, unedited segment of Louie that aired a little over a week ago. It’s an utterly brilliant scene, both for it’s content and technical presentation, in a series that is full of them (and it also happens to be NSFW for language if you don’t have headphones or have sensitive ears.)

Play it again if you need to. Savor it. It’s alternately funny, sad, endearing, uplifting, and awkward in turns, and probably unlike anything you have ever seen on TV before. If Woody Allen had written anything half that good Hollywood would be falling over itself to award Oscars to him (and then probably spending weeks wondering out loud if it was sending the wrong message by honoring such a scumbag, but still.)

This is why, along with Mad Men, The Americans, Orphan Black, Fargo, Game of Thrones and The Returned, amongst others, I say we are truly in a golden age of television, when something THAT good can appear on your screen on a random Monday night. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Cheers.

A tale of two zombie shows (well, kinda)

This is a tale of two zombie shows.

One is massively popular, based on inventive and rich source material, and shown on a network that is responsible for giving the world some of the best television drama ever made. It is also god awful and fast becoming completely unwatchable. The second is set in France and shown with English subtitles, getting an American remake that looks too horrible to even contemplate, and shown on a network that hardly anybody gets let alone knows about. It also happens to be incredibly creepy, painfully original and watched by virtually no one.

The first show of course is The Walking Dead, which had its mid-season premiere on Sunday evening. I’ve written before about my frustrations with this show, but I’ve always given it the benefit of the doubt. After Sunday, however, I’m just about done giving it second/third/fourth/fifth chances.

Here’s what you need to know about me when it comes to zombie shows/movies – I should be THE target demographic for this show: massive George Romero fan, loved Shaun of the Dead and World War Z (book not the movie, haven’t brought myself to see the movie yet), have read a decent amount of the WD graphic novels, and watched this show religiously on Sunday from day one and the frankly amazing premiere. That premiere episode held so much promise with the incredibly creepy scenes of Rick waking up and slowly discovering that the world has literally collapsed around him blending into the heart wrenching portrait of Morgan and his son Duane, holed up in their house and struggling desperately to survive. It was everything you could have hoped for with this type of show: tense, moody, shocking, a bit gory (but not overly so, fear and scares were more important than outright carnage and violence), and above all, populated with compelling, interesting characters. It’s no coincidence that by far the best episode since the premiere was last season’s “Clear,” which involved Rick, Michonne, and Carl going on a search for additional weapons and supplies and encountering Duane.

For the most part since the premiere, however, The Walking Dead has bounced between disappointing and just outright boring, with only one weapon left in it’s dramatic arsenal, the surprise death of a major character. I understand this is a zombie show and there needs to be a certain amount of death to make it realistic, but it can’t be ONLY about Michonne wielding a katana, Darryl being awesome, and the occasional Herschel or Lori dying and stay compelling over the long run (or, maybe it can – this is basically all that has happened in four years and the ratings are 50% higher than the Breaking Bad finale and many times higher than the best audience Mad Men has ever pulled.)

Anyway, for me this show has simply been one missed opportunity after another, and I’m pretty much done. Seriously, how was the Welcome to the Tombs episode not an amazing, claustrophobic battle between Rick’s group, the Governor’s people and the walkers instead of the anti-climatic thud of a clunker that aired? You know, pretty much what ended up happening anyway several episodes later, only set INSIDE the prison, with the maze of dark, treacherous passageways providing a hellish atmosphere and natural advantage to Rick’s group, negating the superior numbers at the Governor’s disposal? (Ok, I’ll stop. Promise. But you know I’m right. That would have been AMAZING.) Instead, what we’re left with is Carl eating an industrial sized can of pudding and Rick stumbling around like Rocky Balboa after one too many beatings (if you imagine Rick and Carl’s sniping last night as Rocky and Adrian arguing it was infinitely more entertaining – “You can’t win, Rick!”). I’m probably going to watch one more episode next week, lured in by the promise of Darryl doing something awesome, and if things don’t improve drastically and a compelling way forward for the show established, then I’m out for good.

Now, about that other show. I’ve written briefly before about The Returned and how amazing it is. It is literally the anti-Walking Dead – no gore, no cheap stunts, and actual characters. It’s not even a zombie show, even though the dead are returning from the grave. It owes as much if not more to David Lynch than it does to George Romero, and much of the tension and scares come from the atmosphere created by the cinematography and the soundtrack as it does from the story itself. I won’t repeat myself again about all of it’s virtues, but mention it here for two reasons: as an example of what The Walking Dead could be with a little more care and vision, and to tell you that season one is coming to Netflix streaming at the end of February (February 24 to be exact, the same day that Breaking Bad Season 5 drops).

If you trust my taste in anything, I implore you to binge watch the living daylights out of this and revel in how horror and mystery can be done without massive special effects budgets and the need to constantly raise the shock bar. May I even suggest that you open up some free time on Sunday evenings to watch by eliminating a certain other show from your DVR? (And no, I don’t mean Downton Abbey. Long live the Dowager!)

Cheers.