Arrested Development vs Mad Men, In Season Progress Review. I Go Full Armond White

29 May

I’d love to talk a bit about both Arrested Development and Mad Men, and it isn’t because I find some major connective tissue, but it is because they are the only two shows that I am watching right now (not really counting the wayward episode of Storage Wars that I just happen to catch for hours on the weekends...YUUUUUUP).

The only connective tissue lies in my expectations of both shows, and I have to say something about Mad Men first:  Oh Mad Men, I thought I was watching something much more than you were. it’s an interesting feeling to mistake a show to be some big important cultural thing only to find that it’s just a soap opera. Ain’t nothing wrong with soap operas, of course, but they’re best enjoyed knowing full well you’re watching one and not as hindsight realization.

I only have that sinking feeling on our current season of Mad Men Season 6 because season 5 was downright killer and even iconic. Peggy leaving Don Draper was a roller-coaster gut punch. It was easy to excuse the lack of racial diversity because the story  was about how crap it was to be white and alive in the 60’s, the characters themselves even flirted with their own disgusting racist views amid the interoffice drama,

But what’s the excuse now? I mean, Martin Luther King Jr’s been shot, the Mad Men office has hired a black secretary, but blacks remain the Other. The more new episodes that air the more I am starting to believe that I gave the writers too much credit. I was expecting the show to bloom into something like the Wire’s season 4,expanding the scope of the drama by incorporating the black experience subtly into itself with Dawn, the black secretary, who once told Peggy how scared she was of taking the train home at night (my first clue might have been there as this was told and not shown).

What’s happened instead is that the show has spun its wheels and recycled plot lines from the other white characters and it’s just…a drama about an ad business set in the 60’s. Yawn.

Did you see Grandma Ida by the way? She was the nappy haired she-devil / magical negro home invader that has perplexed pretty much every one who watches this show. It’s clear that she meant to signify something, but you just can’t symbolize a woman belonging to a whole race of people you neglect to write about unless you’re myopic. I laughed when she appeared because I realized I was watching a big dumb show, ah well.

Arrested Development has taken me by surprise, in turn, by doing something Mad Men has failed to do, and that is to forcefully push characters and raise the stakes. I can only take so much of Don Draper’s stupid child-in-a-whorehouse past, but I loved watching Michael succumb to his hopeless failures in episode 1 of the new season.

“It’s so dark, so dark” I heard people whine. Jeez, it’s only so dark if you weren’t paying attention to how self-absorbed Michael really was in the old series. The show has thrown the characters to the wind and it takes its sweet time detailing where all of these lovely cornballers land. It doesn’t all work, for instance, the character of George Sr. just isn’t funny and he headlines two episodes, but I think we all tend to be obsessed with what works and doesn’t work when we should be obsessed with what enthuses and what causes awe.

Awe, that’s what it is, I’m excited to watch the episodes of Arrested Development I’ve yet to see while I approach new episodes of Mad Men with eyes almost half rolling in their sockets. I suppose it can be said that Mad Men “works” better than the fractured rubik’s cube style of storytelling in Arrested Development, and maybe it’s a symptom of almost turning 31 (thank you), but I’ve seen enough dramas that want to assert that they are high art and not enough high art masquerading as comedy.Also, it’s funny. People say comedy is subjective but I also think a lot of people are just miserable fucks.

Arrested Development is probably the first genuinely exciting scripted comedy I’ve ever seen, and unlike a lot of critics, I actually like the characters, that is, I consider them “likeable.” The show is all about details, gestures, turns of phrases, and if you like that sort of thing then the characters are just full of them. You can say it’s a sort of style over substance, but if substance is Don Draper’s withering mom complex, then please keep your substance within the privacy of your bedroom.


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