Saturday, April 04, 2015

TV Watch: Seasonal notes -- "Better Call Saul," "The Middle," and of course "Mad Men"


It's the birth of the "real" Mike! (Foolish as those other guys are made to look, I'll bet the actors were thrilled to be doing a scene with Jonathan Banks.) In this corner, the next-to-last episode of Season 1 of Better Call Saul registered as a "wow!"

by Ken

There's been an inordinate amount of crap to wade through on the TV scene, but also some oases. This includes a number that probably deserve -- and may yet get -- individual attention, but which I didn't want to go uncelebrated.


"You're not a real lawyer," Chuck McGill says to brother Jimmy. And cruel as it seems, is he wrong? Then again, if he hadn't had Jimmy forced out of the case that he found, who knows?

I'll be interested to go back and rewatch all the episodes, which I've enjoyed thoroughly, but which I suspect will prove even more absorbing now that we've gotten to know the characters so much better. This past week's episode, however, "Pimento," the next-to-last Season 1 episode, struck me as a total "wow!," with the biggest payoff we've gotten to date for our investment in these characters -- notably the four central ones: the brothers McGill, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean), their lawyer colleague Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), and of course Jimmy's future right-hand man Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) -- the first instance of Mike being Mike.

How great was it to see Chuck fighting his way through his crippling sensitivity to electricity to actually return to HHM? (And the preparations everyone at the firm made, and the reception they gave him?) But more than anything, for me, there were those two great Jimmy-Chuck scenes -- first, as Chuck breaks the news to Jimmy that the two of them can't handle the potential blockbuster class-action case Jimmy has dug up, that there's no choice but to turn the case over to HHM. Already, I found myself remembering that these are two of the all-time great comic actors -- and remembering because there's nothing at all comical about what these guys are doing here. And then there's the scene excerpted in the above clip, as Jimmy reveals to Chuck that he knows it was Chuck who forced him out of the case. Awesome stuff!


Sue has figured out that Axl has to be nice to her. (This is the least blah of the three clips ABC extracted for promotion from an episode that had at least 10 splendidly clip-worthy moments. Does the network have any idea what makes this show so good? Could this have anything to do with why so few people know how good the show is?)

I guess it's just a coincidence that ABC's two enduring quality sitcoms, Modern Family and The Middle, both have a daughter facing the agony of college application-and-acceptance. Of course Alex Dunphy (Ariel Winter) and Sue Heck (Eden Sher) don't have much else in common, but both shows have found fresh and engaging angles on the subject. I loved the plot line in last week's Modern Family of Alex's deep depression over her CalTech acceptance. I assumed she had lied about having been accepted, but the actual answer was way better -- especially since it was her grandfather Jay (Ed O'Neill) who instinctively understood, leading to a rare and really sweet moment between them.

For Sue, well, this whole year has been, finally, the Year of Sue. I think it's been wonderful the way the writers have found for her to finally begin emerging from her hard-luck cloud -- in a way that began to allow her to feel some confidence in herself and to imagine some hopes for her future. And that set up the wonderful moment of the Heck family celebration of the fact that -- they're poor! Finally they get to cash in on their financial misery!

It was also an episode that made great use of some of the show's inventory of recurring characters:

• Dave Foley as Dr. Fulton, Brick's (Atticus Shaffer), er, peculiar psychologist-counselor (who might be thought of as either half-hinged or half-unhinged, depending on your outlook)

• Norm MacDonald as Mike Heck's, er, peculiar brother Rusty, with a scene in which Mike (Neil Flynn) suddenly is forced to revisit their relationship through the eyes of a kid brother who worshipped a big brother who pretty much tormented him their whole lives.

• Gia Mantegna as Devin, the latest of Axl's (Charlie McDermott) way-too-good-for-the-jerk-he-is girlfriends, who made it possible for Sue to get some fake but nevertheless demonstrated loving from her tormenting big brother.

And it was an episode in which Frankie (Patricia) performed one of her trademark cringe-worthy meltdowns. Yes, I cringe; this time I'm pretty sure I said out loud, "Stop!" But of course Frankie can't stop. Only this time, with help from, of all people, Dr. Fulton, she fought her way back, and while her effort at mitigating the damage threatened to become as unbalanced as the original wig-out, she got through it, and even saw some payoff.


Matt Lauer talks to the Mad Men crew on Today.

Naturally the folks at the AMC blog have some suggestions to prepare for this final run of episodes.
10 Ways to Get Ready for the Mad Men Premiere This Sunday
[from -- links onsite]

The Final Episodes begin this Sunday at 10/9c — are you ready? Here are 10 ways to prepare for the beginning of the end…

1. Missed any episodes last year? Catch up with the Season 7 marathon on AMC, beginning Sunday at 2:30/1:30c and running until the premiere at 10/9c. You can also watch full episodes on (cable/satellite provider log-in required).

2. Relive the whole story with The Complete Mad Men Fan Companion. View props, blueprints, sketches, and photography, which include behind-the-scenes quotes and potent moments from all seven seasons.

3. Watch Matthew Weiner’s commentary on ten Fan Favorite Scenes, including the “Lawnmower Incident,” Lane’s fistfight with Pete, and the reunion between Don and Betty.

4. Take in the cast perspective with the Last Round With the Cast videos: Don’s Secret, Pete’s Life Lessons, Roger’s Awakening, Peggy’s Transformation, and Joan’s Ambition.

5. Get the scoop on all of last week’s Mad Men events, with full photo galleries.

6. See what other fans have to say: Watch the full set of Mad Men Tributes as Gary Oldman, Sarah Silverman, David O. Russell, and others reminisce and say goodbye to a favorite show.

7. Count down each and every punch, cigarette, and affair with Mad Men by the Numbers.

8. Check in on Mad Men: The Fan Cut. Watch fan versions of scenes from the very first episode, and share your favorites.

9. Put your knowledge of Mad Men trivia to the test with all the Ultimate Fan Games.

10. Join the Mad Men Social Club for early and exclusive access to photos, videos, interviews, features and more.


Don's Season 4 office, one of the two Mad Men sets reassembled in the Museum of the Moving Image's Mad Men exhibition, is apparently featured in this AP video accompanying Frazier Moore's rave review. (Maybe you can get it to play.) There's now a line on the museum's Web page for the exhibition which advises: "To avoid lines on weekend days, visitors are encouraged to arrive before 2:00 p.m.")

Today, following a screening at the Museum of the Moving Image (in Astoria, Queens) of Warner Bros.' spanking gorgeous 3-D digital restoration of The Wizard of Oz (there are daily screenings at 12:30pm through April 12; there's also a daily 45-minute "Wizard of Oz Character Remix" every day 12 2:30pm, recommended for ages 5-10), I finally got upstairs for my first look at MoMI's much-heralded Mad Men exhibition, which runs through June 14 and has been really packing crowds in.

At the wonderful sold-out March 20 MoMI event celebrating Mad Men and creator Matthew Weiner, the honoree tried to describe his reaction to seeing the exhibition, for which he and the rest of the Mad Men team had provided abundant cooperation. He had first seen it the day before, he said, and was kind of overwhelmed by seeing seven years of his life on display. (There are, among lots of goodies, a generous assorment of his notes, memos, and scripts.) Seeing it again that day had made it all a lot more manageable, he said.

The crowd today was so abundant that I focused on the things that were viewable without shuffling through the enormous procession, like the two actual rooms reassembled from warehoused sets: the original Draper kitchen and Don's Season 4 office. Not only has each set been lovingly put back together, but for each there's a screen display with an assortment of scenes shot on that set! Beyond that there's just so much that I know I'll have to clear more time to take it all in.


And it looks fabulous!

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At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all of the needs facing us in the real world, why waste so much time and effort on fiction?

At 7:32 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Because fiction is one of our most powerful tools for making sense of the real world. I have to wonder about anyone who doesn't get this.

There's more to be learned about our "real" needs, hopes, and disappointments from Mad Men than from all the "fact"-based posts ever posted online put together. Probably 10 times more. Maybe 100 times.

That's why.



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