Mad Men Meet Mozart

The award winning TV series Mad Men had escaped my notice until a few days ago. Hearing a lot of good things about it I decided to watch a few episodes. After viewing the first three I’m mystified what the fuss is about. Set in 1960 it depicts the lives of a number of people connected with a Madison (hence one meaning of Mad Men) Ave advertising agency’s employees and their bosses. The series aims at verisimilitude trying to capture the feel of 1960 New York. It fails utterly. Everybody talks like an Ibsen epigone. They smoke so much that the HD resolution is obscured by fumes. I lived in New York in 1960. People smoked a lot back then, but not as much as on this program. They also didn’t do it looking like 11 year olds imitating their parents. The acting is as stiff as the dialogue. People never talked that way, certainly not in Manhattan. There wasn’t even a single button down shirt in sight. The show is a comic book version of the early sixties.

What’s any of this to do with medicine or opera? In the first episode a new secretary goes to a doctor to get a prescription for birth control pills. She gets it, but only after receiving a lecture from her male doctor on not abusing it by becoming the borough slut. She also gets a pelvic exam without a nurse in the room. Didn’t happen then, doesn’t happen now. Physicians dispensed contraceptives in New York during the 50s and 60s with as much aplomb as they wrote for Darvon.

The third episode depicts a Saturday afternoon birthday party for the protagonist’s daughter. We know is early March, 1960 because we’ve been told that Elvis just returned from Germany at the end of his military service. That was March 2, 1960. The radio is on at the birthday party and we hear that the Met is broadcasting The Marriage of Figaro (which is the title of this episode) starring Robert Merrill and Joan Sutherland. To begin with,the Met always calls Mozart’s opera by its Italian name – Le Nozze di Figaro. This is OK because the TV audience wouldn’t recognize it by that name. Figaro was broadcast in early 1960, but in January not March. Furthermore neither Merrill nor Sutherland ever sang in this opera during their long Met careers. And to cap the mishmash Sutherland didn’t make her first appearance at the Met until November of 1961. It took about a minute to check all this out. If verisimilitude was the goal the script writer easily could have done the same.

Of course, all of this would be irrelevant if the show were any good, but it’s not. That it’s won a lot of awards speaks tomes about the competition. Clumsy is the adjective the keeps coming to mind. I’ll go back to Uncle Miltie.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine


3 Responses to Mad Men Meet Mozart

  1. feliciam says:

    TV shows are really silly these days. I can hardly watch them.
    Speaking of TV and opera, though, I was watching one of the wonderful Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episodes (“The Illustrious Client”) and they did a great tie-in with Don Giovanni, playing excepts from different performances/arrangements during the action. And I suddenly realized that Doyle must’ve based the his villain on DG. I won’t give it away but you should watch it if you get a chance–it was very nicely-done.

  2. Operafilly says:

    **we hear that the Met is broadcasting The Marriage of Figaro (which is the title of this episode) starring Robert Merrill and Joan Sutherland.**

    In 1960 I saw Sutherland in Lucia (my first live opera) a San Francisco road production. I remember well that I, in provincial southern CA got to see her before NY did. And I can’t recall Merrill in any Mozart.

    I haven’t had TV for 15 years. I’m told I’m not missing much.

    Operafilly, the primative one!!

  3. Steven Yafet says:

    Impeccably argued, and quite a can of worms here. I found myself trying to tell my father what “Mad Men” was, and why I was so addicted to it. (I tried it out in December, prepared to hate it. But my wife and I were glued to it, one of few things we ever agree on, and had to watch all the episodes available through Netflix. Note we are not TV fans, having no cable or satellite subscription.) Mad Men is classified as a “drama” but in the moment I came up with “soap opera” which still seems right to me. Whereupon my father, 87 years old and as impatient as ever, categorically dismissed the whole idea and I was left to justify my bad judgment for myself.

    Anyway, I think Mozart would be completely delighted. The complexity, interweaving plot lines, delightful commedia del arte elements, the characters squirming with their fate, unable to escape the writers’ control. The authenticity criticism cannot be refuted although my wife especially gives points for good period detail. Some things have to give: it is not authentic, not like Italian Realism, or like the play the young Barton Fink wanted to write (how the Coen brothers certainly enjoyed making a fool of him!) Drama, soap opera, and Nozze: none are authentic. Mad Men is not a documentary.

    “Stiff” acting, probably better to say “stylized”, is absolutely required. Not unlike on the opera stage, where you do not want to see the diva shuffle her feet or put her hands in her pockets. So refreshing to have everything presented on the stage in front of you – no quick edits to show the gun in the blond lady’s pocket or anticipatory scary music. The whole show is tightly “staged”, real theater, gripping with suspense. Everybody is in character, in the welcome bounds of theater – kudos to writers, directors all. For once, we are not reduced to rooting for the good guy. What other show can offer that?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: