Friday, May 24, 2024

“Mad Men” Scores Lower Premiere Ratings than Usual As Audiences Expect Weekly Cheap Shocks


First it was the Red Wedding, and everyone died. Now that annoying kid king on “Game of Thrones” was offed without a word. On “The Good Wife,” Josh Charles got shot by a random character in the courtroom. Dead. On “Breaking Bad,” characters were knocked off without warning, and in brutal unexpected ways. All of it is to get ratings and drive the audience crazy. Cheap shocks for little pay off. “House of Cards” pushed major player Kate Mara in front of a train.

So “Mad Men” debuted on Sunday night to a lower than expected audience. Beautifully acted, exceptionally well written, with a story that’s teased out over many episodes, “Mad Men” had no sudden shocking deaths. No one was murdered. And while bloggers, Tweeters and some critics keep hoping Megan will be killed by Charles Manson, it’s not going to happen. “Mad Men” has had few shocks over its years. Maybe the biggest was the suicide of Lane Pryce (Jared Harris). Otherwise, Matthew Weiner’s characters react and act in ways that are identifiable to human beings.

That’s called drama. It’s not melodrama, which “Scandal” dishes out minute by minute. The only way to keep the audience interested, it seems, is to put everyone in peril every week. The lesson is, If you don’t come back we might kill your favorite character.

But it’s unlikely that Don Draper will jump out a window or fall down an elevator shaft. When Megan made note of their new home in the Canyons, its isolation and howling coyotes, Weiner was merely taking the piss, as it were. He’s heard all the Sharon Tate rumors. He was pulling your leg. And still, people took it seriously. If the next song from the Sixties on “Mad Men” were “Helter Skelter” it would be totally out of character.

Is the audience immune to regular drama? On “Law & Order SVU” this year it wasn’t just the guest characters in trouble. Olivia (Mariska Hargitay) was kidnapped and tortured by a crazy guy. How can Don Draper and his friends’ psychological portraits? “Mad Men” is logical, and elegantly told. Weiner is dealing with nuances of character. Peggy is not going to shoot an intruder in her building. She’s going to try and navigate the idiosyncrasies of her life to some kind of satisfying conclusion.

If you missed “Mad Men” on Sunday night because cheap shocks were triggered elsewhere, please do come back. The final march of the “Mad Men” through 1969 is already fascinating. It won’t be easy, or pat. You may have to wait for a real payoff. But that’s what worth it. And that’s what makes the show special.

A couple of things from Sunday night: Neve Campbell’s character could be an intriguing turn for Don. She was instantly with the program. Joan’s blossoming was historic. Also seeing Peggy up against a man who doesn’t appreciate her work skills was a great idea. So far, she’s had it easy. Will Bert Cooper die? I bet he does, in the second half of the finale series next year. Will Roger leave advertising for good? Will Pete and Peggy see their child? Sorry, no one’s getting pushed in front of a train.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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