Some Thoughts on Ken Cosgrove

18 08 2010

I know I already blogged about the latest episode of Mad Men, and I promise this won’t turn into the Mad Men blog for the next several weeks, but I just had to blog when I realized I left out the most important development in the whole episode:  the return of Ken Cosgrove.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate – but only slightly.  Aaron Staton’s name has been in the opening credits since the beginning of the season, so I figured he’d be returning at some point.  (And we should continue to see more of him, I hope.)

It seems like of all the tertiary characters who didn’t make the leap to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Sal and Paul have the most partisans among fans.  The great thing about Mad Men is that all the characters, no matter how important, are well-developed and interesting so that their absence is felt.  (I was probably Duck Phillips’ only fan for a long time…until he starting sleeping with Peggy.  Eww.)  This may disappoint us as fans of a television show, but it is more true to life.  Fascinating people come and go from our lives all the time, just as we enter and exit the lives of others.

Still, if I’d had my wish to bring one of the old characters back, it wouldn’t have been Paul or even Sal.  No, my heart has always belonged to Ken Cosgrove.  I can’t say I thought too much about him one way or the other when I first started watching the show.  But in the third season, when they set him up as the perfect foil for Pete’s neurotic over-eagerness, I found that I really liked his character.  He seemed to be one of the few characters who was genuine and, more importantly, pretty much satisfied with his existence.  His and Pete’s very different reactions to having to compete for the Head of Accounts job said a lot about the character.  Pete immediately starts whining about how he deserves the job on his own, and that Ken isn’t as good as he is, and he’s pretty miserable about the whole deal.  Ken views it as an opportunity to prove himself.  He is happy and doesn’t resent it, which is probably one of the reasons he is ultimately successful in winning the job (no matter how much it doesn’t matter in the end) than Pete is.

In short, I think Ken is great.  He is smart, funny, but also a little bit goofy.  He seems almost…happy, which is a very strange thing in the Mad Men world.

So when Sunday’s episode started, and I heard Harry & Pete talking about Ken, I was so excited that it looked like I was finally going to have one of my favorite characters back, if only for a scene.  Of course, in typical Mad Men fashion, my expectations were upended.  There is no greater symbol of the depression that has taken hold of this season of Mad Men than that of a defeated Ken Cosgrove.  Sure, Don has been at his lowest this season, but we always knew it was just a matter of time with him.  But Ken?  Say it isn’t so, show!  Say it isn’t so!

Of course, I still loved every second of it.  Ken is still his earnest self – I read his comment about the world needing another Campbell to be a genuine one, devoid of any irony or sarcasm.  Also, he’s engaged, which will hopefully help him refine some of the rougher parts of his character (though I doubt his wife will be as good for him as Trudy has been for Pete).  But this Ken has endured some career setbacks.  His stint at McCann seems to have changed him greatly.  He was no longer his bubbly, jovial self.  We actually saw some cracks in him as he challenged Pete for talking about him behind his back.  This is the same Ken Cosgrove that pretty easily shook off Pete sucker punching him.  His ego has never seemed so fragile as it did in this episode.

I still love him though, and I’m looking forward to see what is going to happen with him next.


Some Rambling Thoughts on Hype

17 08 2010

One of my favorite Twitter pals, @AmbroseRay, has a new blog, Ambrose Ray Everyday, where he promises to muse about film related matters from time to time.  I love this kid a lot, so I was happy that he finally started a blog.  It’s hard to get a sense of how good a writer someone is from Twitter, but it turns out that in addition to cracking me up in 140 characters or less, he’s actually a really talented guy.

His first post was on Inception, and he makes some really good points about the film.  One of the things he brings up, and it’s a subject that I even debated with him some on Twitter, is that of the massive hype surrounding the film.

(I feel I must disclose, at this point, how much I loved the film, and how much I love Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker.  Inception isn’t perfect, but it’s a damn fine film.  One of the few instances where my high anticipation of a film was not actually let down by the film itself.  I’m not going to do a review of it because it’s been out for a month and there are plenty of reviews out there that talk about how wonderful the film is.  That isn’t the subject of this post, but I suppose it is important information that you can use to judge for yourself whether or not this post is worth reading.)

To be sure, the hype surrounding Inception reached near hysterical proportions.  This hype took two forms:  (1) the pre-release hype, which was everyone talking about how awesome the film was going to be and how much they wanted to see it in the months leading up to its release and (2) the post-release hype, in which a vasty majority of the internet film critic crew went absolutely gaga over the film and Nolan’s achievement and then audiences turned out to see it in droves.  (As of this writing, Inception is STILL a trending topic on Twitter.)

I did my best to avoid all those early internet reviews after the embargo was lifted, because I wanted to enter the film as fresh and untainted as possible.  Generally, I try to avoid reading a lot of film reviews before I see a film, especially one I’m really excited for, because not only do I not want to be spoiled (which is always a risk in reading any film review), I also don’t want my judgment to be colored by what I read beforehand.  (If I am ambivalent about seeing a film, reading a positive review from a critic I trust is usually enough to get me to reconsider, though even then I try to skim the review rather than study it.)  Still, it was hard to ignore the overwhelmingly positive response the film got in those early reviews.  (Later, more negative reviews emerged, tempering the film’s reception somewhat and creating many a fight among critics themselves.)  I was already excited about seeing the film, and hearing all this positive feedback did nothing to help.  Honestly, I began to worry that the film wasn’t going to be that great after all, that my expectations would be so high that there was no way the film could possibly meet them.

This is the problem with hype.  Well, one of the problems.  Hype can also be really annoying, especially if you aren’t that excited in the first place about the thing being hyped.  Even I started to get sick of hearing about Inception, and I’d been looking forward to its release ever since I first heard about it.

Too much hype can lead to a backlash.  The problem is:  the backlash is just as unwarranted as the hype, so long as it isn’t based upon the merits of the film itself.  There are people who will refuse to see something if it is too hyped, and will hold the hype against the film if they do see it, as if all the excess hype somehow affected the quality of the finished product.

This approach is just as wrong as those who let themselves get caught up in the hysteria of a film so that they aren’t really evaluating the work for themselves anymore.  The film should stand on its own, regardless of how many people liked it and how much buzz it generates.  Every film will have its detractors.  (I know of a couple of people I respect who dislike Blue Velvet, which is to my mind one of the greatest films ever made.  To each his own.)  The important thing is to be able to base your opinion on the film itself, rather than on all the noise surrounding it.  If you can get past the hype, regardless of your reaction to it, you are likely to learn more about film and more about yourself in the process.

“I don’t say this easily, but you are not a good person.”

17 08 2010

I don’t have much to say about “The Rejected,” the latest episode of Mad Men.  It was, to my mind, another fine episode in this sharp forth season, and it gets really boring after a while to keep repeating, “I loved it.”

I do, however, want to say a word or two about Don Draper.  One of the things that has fascinated me about the show is the love-hate relationship I have with its main character.  When I first started watching the show, it seemed that I either loved Don or I hated him.  Very rarely did I feel ambivalently about him.  Very rarely did I even have the “love” and the “hate” feelings in the same episode.  This is not to suggest that the character is inconsistent, just there are both great and terrible things about him, and most episodes seemed to highlight one or the other of these dualities rather than focusing on both of them at once.

This season has blended the dualities somewhat, and the result is that I have a very different reaction to the character.  No longer do I love or hate Don, even while he is doing things that I elicit my cheers or my sneers.  Instead, I just pity him.

For example, I didn’t like it when Don made the monumentally stupid decision to sleep with his secretary, Allison.  And I really didn’t like the way he acted the next day like it hadn’t happened.  (This week, despite my not loving or hating him anymore, I couldn’t help but cheer Allison in her assault on Don, especially her insistence that “this actually happened.”  Forcing Don out of his mindset where he just ignores all the stupid shit he does just might end up being the best thing Allison ever did for him.)  But I didn’t rage and fume at my television the way I did when Don harshly and repeatedly denied his affair with Bobbie Barrett in season two.  He was definitely behaving like a dick (or, perhaps, a Dick?), but underneath it wasn’t the arrogance of believing he should have gotten away with it.  Instead, there is a man in deep pain.  Don was, probably, always in pain, but never has it been so close to the surface before, never has it been so difficult for him to ignore.  The old Don would have done to Allison what he’d done to Betty – deny the truth even while it is being shoved in his face – but this new, fallen, Don just acquiesces to Allison’s insistence that what happened between them actually happened.

So, yes, now I pity Don, even as glimpses of the old Don, both good and bad, slip through.  (The moment when he smiles knowingly at Peggy as she tries on Dr. Faye’s engagement ring would have ended up my favorite moment were it not for this episode filled with so many great ones – he looked just like season one Don, there, if only for a brief moment.)  His life is a mess, and even though most of it is a mess of his own making, it’s still pretty difficult to watch.  Also, it’s difficult not to care, because we care about Don, whether we want to or not, whether he’s a “good person” or not.

I also really liked all the stuff between Pete & Peggy in this episode.  I have never been a big fan of them together, even though in a lot of ways they are – or they were – pretty perfect for each other.  But that last shot of their meeting glances spoke volumes about how their lives are taking them in completely different directions.  Pete is moving on into a live of conventionality – onward and upward on both the work and home fronts, in a life that is expected of him – though it also seems to be a life he genuinely wants.  And Peggy, with her new group of friends – mixed genders and mixed sexualities, young and fun, a new guard.  I think their look communicates that they both understand this, even if they are a little wistful about what might have been.

Both Elisabeth Moss and Vincent Kartheiser turned in fabulous performances in this episode.  Kartheiser, in particular, stood out to me, perhaps because I’ve never been particularly enamored of his performance before.  (Not to say that he hasn’t done a wonderful job, because he has.  Just that other actors on the show have jumped out ahead of him as favorites of mine.  When every single actor on your show is top notch, it’s hard to appreciate everyone’s ability effectively.)  He wins this episode with his subtle, bodily performance.  The scene when Peggy comes to offer her congratulations on his and Trudy’s pregnancy – his entire posture changes from his thinking she is talking about the account to realizing she is talking about the baby.  And he works that magic in practically even scene in the episode.  I might have to go back and view earlier episodes to see if I am struck by his performance in a way I haven’t been before.  Perhaps his performance is so good that it almost defies recognition.  (Though, in my defense, perhaps my subconscious has always recognized his genius, since my favorite Mad Men moment has to be when he delivers that speech to Peggy about hunting that is about so much more.)

Well, I didn’t want to do a review of the episode and that’s what I ended up doing anyway.  Happens every time.  At least this season ofMad Men has got me blogging again.  As usual, with any episode of Mad Men, I could go on and on.  But I think I will leave it at that, for now.

New Me, New Blog

16 08 2010

To say I’ve been blogging at my previous blog would be a drastic overstatement.  I have posted a few things there this year, but nothing special.

The thing is, I’m not even remotely the same person I was when I started that old blog.  I would still like to keep it and maybe use it for personal things I’d like to post.  But for my film and television related blogging, I am going to start using this site.

I’m not going to move my old film related posts to this site.  There weren’t that many of them anyway.  I’m just going to start fresh, here, tonight, with a post on last night’s episode of Mad Men.  Stay tuned.