“You really like those AMC shows don’t you?” a woman asked me recently. To which I said, “Yes, I do.” For AMC means it when they say story matters here. Also, it’s their compelling characters who give depth to their stories. Therefore, both story and characters matter at AMC.
Furthermore, it’s the stories that really capture us, when a character starts out good and ends up bad, or vice a versa. “That’s a bildungsroman,” another woman said to me a while ago. For if I hadn’t met her, I perhaps never would have heard of such a word. Bildungsroman, a German word, is basically about a main character in a novel going through moral and psychological growth. Like in the book and film Captains Courageous when the spoiled rich boy begins bad, to become good. Or in the Star Wars saga when Anakin Skywalker begins good, turns bad as Darth Vader, to be finally redeemed by his son Luke Skywalker in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
On good vs. bad, much has been discussed about the character Don Draper of AMC’s Mad Men, as the series finale aired last month on May 17, 2015 concluding seven seasons since 2007. Monster, bully, selfish, Don Draper, exceptionally acted by Jon Hamm, has been called all of that and more, all basically, to be left and free for anyone’s assertion. Nevertheless, faithful fans never intended to watch Mad Men every Sunday night expecting Don Draper to one day become Gandhi. Only because, it has been consistently shown to fans that there’s more to Don Draper than his vices, and about the show itself, all taking place mostly in the 1960s.
Such as, on the surface, it may appear that Don Draper is a selfish person. But is he truly a selfish person? In season 4 episode 12 titled, “Blowing Smoke,” the year is 1965. The start-up ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP), formed on December 16, 1963 to evade a takeover by rival giant McCann-Erickson, is now trying to sail afloat. Lane Pryce asks the partners to each contribute a set amount of cash to stay in business. Don, Roger Sterling, and Bert Cooper to each give $ 100,000, with Lane and junior partner Pete Campbell to each give $ 50,000. Only Pete didn’t readily have $ 50,000, who afterwards said so to Don. Then Don says, “Pete, I’m doing everything I can.” Later, Pete tells Lane. The Englishman then smiles while saying, “Calm yourself. Don paid your share.” “What?” Pete replied. To which Lane added, “Perhaps, you weren’t supposed to know that.” Later on Pete sees Don across the hallway. Their eyes meet. Pete gives a grateful nod. Don also nods. Then both men walk purposefully away.
Yes, we’re in 2015. And $ 50,000 may not seem much to some. Still, $ 50,000 is a lot of money. Need proof? Just ask anyone with college loans.
Though in the year 1965, it helps to pause to appreciate the magnanimity of what Don Draper had done. According to dollar times dot com, in 1965, $ 50,000 had the same buying power as $ 376,301 now (bls dot gov figure is $ 375,554). Furthermore, Don also paid his share along with Pete’s, to combine at $ 150,000 then, having the same buying power as $ 1,128,904 in 2015. Also earlier in the same episode, Midge Daniels seeks Don, catching him as he just left work while in the grand lobby of New York’s Time-Life building. Don helps her out at her apartment by giving her $ 120.00 for one of her paintings, which has the same buying power as $ 903.00 in 2015. And speaking of college loans earlier, the cost of tuition at Harvard in 1965 was $ 1,760. So make no mistake, both $ 50,000 and $ 120.00 had amped-up turbo powered worth in 1965.
True, Don Draper is not a saint, for even both actor Jon Hamm and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner have been known to agree, in their own words, during countless interviews. One such interview is in GQ magazine’s April 2015 edition. For on page 171 of the article titled, “Don Draper’s Gonna Die!” by Brett Martin, lead actor Jon Hamm states, “I’m the guy who lives with the guy every day, and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no,'” he says to those people who would excuse Don’s behavior. Even so, Don Draper, advertising creative director, whose real name is Richard “Dick” Whitman, is not at all the sociopath some readily claim him to be. For on Quora, titled, “Does Don Draper have some traits of a psychopath?”, Liz Mullen, sports writer, gives a sterling, thoughtful, balanced answer. The following are excerpts as she says, “He feels guilt and remorse. He feels more love for his children than Betty Draper Francis, the mother of his children. Sociopaths feel nothing.” By also mentioning his ex-wife, Ms. Mullen makes another good point in that Mad Men is not all about Don. For Roger, Bert, Pete, Harry Crane, Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway all have some culpability about them, making them all believably multi-dimensional.
Don has done bad things, but he’s no Walter White. Leading us to Walter White from AMC’s Breaking Bad that began in 2008, and concluded on September 29, 2013 after five seasons. A great show, which exceeded in every way in acting, writing, directing and cinematography.
A true bildungsroman character to the max! For in the online article titled, “Breaking Bad: How Vince Gilligan Created TV’s Greatest Anti-Hero,” by Sanjiv Bhattacharya on September 22, 2013 for Esquire, it stated that lead actor Bryan Cranston was blown away by the pilot script. Then afterwards, it states, “… when Gilligan explained that he wanted to change this chemistry teacher from good to bad. ‘My jaw just dropped. I told him, I don’t think that’s been done in the history of serious television.'” And after all was said and done, Breaking Bad would go on to win 16 Primetime Emmy Awards and well deserved every one.
Breaking Bad wasn’t monochromatic. Shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico as the story unfolds of a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook, drug dealer, and killer, with wife Skyler White, acted by Anna Gunn, trying to maintain home and hearth, Breaking Bad also showcased a colorful diverse cast, like AMC’s other yet current great show, The Walking Dead. Besides Walt, Skyler, son Walt Jr., baby Holly, DEA agent brother-in-law Hank and his wife Marie (sister of Skyler), and Walt’s accomplice former student Jesse Pinkman, there are many ethnic characters such as Hank’s friend DEA agent Steven Gomez, assistant principal Carmen Molina, Krazy 8, Combo, Huell, Gus Fring, Andrea Cantillo, son Brock, Tuco, Hector and the deadly Salamanca Twins. And there’s another character, the beautifully shot desert panorama by Michael Slovis.
About Breaking Bad’s popularity, Melissa Bernstein co-exec producer on season 5’s DVD sums it up by saying, “Vince is very much about what would a real person do?” Another reason of the show’s success is that it blends humor with drama. And this leads to The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead is quality drama. For the central theme is not about the gore or survival, but about cherishing humanity. We cherish that which is elemental if it is on the verge of being lost. Lead character Rick, acted by British actor Andrew Lincoln, and his group have moved into new digs this past season 5. A walled community of spacious homes so beautiful, you’d think each could be on the cover of Architectural Digest. And it’s a show truly worthy of an Emmy.
In fact, I’ve gone as far by sending a one-page letter this past March 20, 2015 to the head of the Television Academy, Chairman Bruce Rosenblum. For within I stated, “As a fan of The Walking Dead, I implore you to please become aware of the Emmy worthiness of this AMC TV drama.” Yes the ballots are out, as mentioned recently on June 15, 2015 in USA TODAY. And Mad Men may take it all. Still, to use the words of Badger in Breaking Bad‘s series finale, he says, “Damn, man, couldn’t he [Jesse Pinkman] at least throw a brother a bone?” And so to the voters of the Television Academy, on behalf of all The Walking Dead fans, please grant the show at least an acting, writing, or a directing nomination. Long live The Walking Dead, and AMC.
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