The penultimate season of Mad Men starts in a few weeks, so it’s a great time to look back at some of the show’s definitive episodes. “The Wheel” is undoubtedly one of them. As A.V. Club writer Todd VanDerWerff writes, that pitch to Kodak is still incredible:
Somewhere in the middle of that pitch, though, he [Don] realizes the place he longs to go is the place he’s already talking about, even if he won’t allow himself to feel that for more than a millisecond. He’s trapped by time, as we all are, forced to live our lives in sequence, as the same, flawed people who never really realize the truth of who they really are at heart, which is wounded and beaten and fleeting. But also, possibly, kind and good and capable of something outside of themselves.
True Detective is getting an incredible amount of buzz, from the lead actors to the dark, Twin Peaks like storyline and high end cinematography. I’m not quite onboard yet with all the high praise; the jury is out until we see where this eight episode season ends up. But one aspect is undeniable: Matthew McConaughey is doing amazing acting work and remains the most interesting aspect of the show. This LA Review of Books delves into the show, but really is most about McConaughey’s resurgence from romantic comedy punch line to A-list actor:
While McConaughey certainly signed off on those roles [in many romantic comedies], it’s difficult to blame him for what was, in essence, the work of the contemporary star machine, with its imperative to find charisma, cast it in a blockbuster, flatten it out, and relegate it to B-pictures when the concept, not the star, fails to catch hold. McConaughey was never a bad actor: he was just a bad Hollywood actor.
He was bad, in other words, at playing the annoying manchild who “grows up” to be a bourgeois provider, bad at playing supporting actor to a CGI franchise, and bad at being a palatable white guy who stands in for the audience. Think back to Dazed and Confused: McConaughey isn’t either of the main dudes who earn our identification. He’s the weirdo in the peach-colored jeans hanging outside by himself and giving no fucks.
Tested’s Will Smith gave the Xbox One a second chance as a universal remote after a negative run last month:
As far as I can tell, Microsoft hasn’t changed anything with the way the TV functionality works since the Xbox One’s launch, but my behavior has changed. I use the TiVo remote to navigate to whatever I want to watch, but if I need to pause, play, or even fast forward whlie I’m watching something I use the basic voice commands. “Xbox Pause” and “Xbox Play” are reliable and work well, even though using the voice commands for more complex tasks remains maddening.
But it looks like there’s some serious power concerns that may keep him from using the setup over the long run.
Really cool to see The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff go way back and review the pilot episode of this great show. He’s following up with reviews of the whole first season in coming weeks.
Breaking Bad may have been gone for a few weeks now, but stumbling on this wonderful video essay really drives home how much DP Michael Slovis had influence over the show’s look. It’s illuminating to see a video essay with the original soundtrack removed like we see here; you’re left with nothing but the images and your memories of the original episodes.
It feels like something’s missing when Sundays roll around with Breaking Bad forever out of the picture. But thankfully the excellent podcast The Ones Who Knock has kept the discussion going for the last two weeks. It’s hosted by Slashfilm Cast head Dave Chen and Pajiba editor Joanna Robinson, both who are uniformly been excellent. This is the podcast’s final episode; it’s a big look back at the last season and the series’ impact as a whole.
Andy Greenwald, writing for Grantland (warning spoilers for the series finale ahead):
In the end, there was no art. Only science. And this was sort of the problem, wasn’t it? After five-plus years of watching everything break bad, the finale gave us 75 minutes of watching everything break just right. There was plenty of sweet coincidence and even sweeter revenge. The timing was deliberate, and immaculate…
But was it equally satisfying? I’m not so sure…There’s been a great deal of talk these past few weeks about how Gilligan is a moralist, but I have to say, I have my doubts. After last night, I’d say he’s an aesthete, one who admires clean lines and elegant design above all else.
This is pretty much exactly some of the problems (or questions?) I immediately had scattering about my head after wrapping the finale. Enormously enjoyable? Yes. And as always, the visuals and acting worked extremely well. But it felt a bit too tidy in the end.
Then again, maybe we’ll all have dramatically different feelings days, weeks or even years later. Already my feelings are starting to change on Breaking Bad’s earlier years, mostly for the better and some for the worse.
TV critic Maureen Ryan, writing for The Huffington Post:
“Breaking Bad” is an undoubtedly a great show, but, as is the case with too many television dramas, for while there it didn’t really know what to do with its female characters. The AMC drama clearly struggled to make Skyler and Marie Shrader (wife of DEA agent Hank Schrader) anything but subsidiary figures who rarely moved into — or deserved — the spotlight. Their behaviors and reactions were easy to predict, and if the writers didn’t show consistent interest in their emotional lives and the women’s inner depths, why would viewers care about them, let alone have positive responses to them?
While I can’t express myself as eloquently as Ryan does here, I got the same feeling when reading through Anna Gunn’s NYT editorial. Gunn makes a lot of good points about some of the extreme Skyler haters on the show. But especially in Breaking Bad’s first few seasons, Skyler just wasn’t that fleshed out as a character; she was at times pretty easy to root against (Mad Men’s Betty, as Ryan writes about later, shares a very similar problem.)
Andy Greenwald nails the big confrontation that ended Breaking Bad’s latest episode (Spoilers ahead):
Forget the delicate dance of cat and mouse a generation of TV built on coy delay had prepped us to expect. Here, the cat punched the mouse in the nose and called him a monster. The mouse then stood up, casually brushed himself off, and transformed into Satan. It’s awfully rare to see television so unafraid of delivering on what it has promised. And it’s quite possible that no show has ever promised more than Breaking Bad.
The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff, writing a great companion piece to the Grantland article I linked to earlier this week:
In a way, this is the show simply taking the greatest weakness of clockwork plotting—a tendency to make everything all about one thing and the emptiness of character and theme that can provoke—and turning it into a strength through sheer relentlessness. With rare exceptions…every element of this story is about what happens after Walter makes his choice in the pilot. This isn’t a new thing to say about the show, by any means, but it’s often hard to appreciate just how thoroughly this kept the series from the kinds of goofiness that other clockwork-serialized shows have collapsed into.