Not so much mad as just really pissed off

Trust me II Trust Me premiered last nght.  This is the new show from TNT starring Erik McCormack and Tom Cavanagh. 

The first charm of this show is that it does not indulge in caricature.  The last time TV presumed to offer us a glimpse of the world of advertising, it lead us straight into the delirious world of Newton Minow and Sam Mendes  

Mad Men gives as advertising as the dystopic industry that produces the "waste land" of American culture.  Both the culture causing and the culture caused are supposed to be shallow, manipulative and craven.  This is the US as given us by Mendes in American Beauty and more recently in Revolutionary Road. This is Pete Seegar's Little Boxes.  This is brahmin scorn affected by John Kenneth Galbraith.

But Trust Me offers another view of advertising.  Yes, it is "rounding" to suit the genre.  These characters are not fully developed.  Their emotions are a little bit predictable.  Their flaws a little too much paint-by-number.  But this is the way cable worked its revolution.  It's does not do nuance in the round-about but in the straight away.  It builds characters over several weeks and seasons.  

And that's the thing.  TV got better.  Thanks to HBO, the cable revolt and the network response there are now several shows that raise the standard, including a diverse set of offerings: The Closer, Fringe, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Life on Mars, The Wire, Ugly Betty. Indeed, TV is getting good enough that it might triumph over the movies and if I were NetFlix I'd be nervous about the prevailing trend.  

My point and I do have one: the "waste land" view  of America is wrong.  To support this argument, we may read into evidence the current TV Guide.  It's can't have been a wasteland. Something grew.  Out of commerce culture came.


Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1958. The Affluent Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Johnson, Steven.  2005.   Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.  New York.  Riverhead.

Minow, Newton. 1961. Television and the Public Interest. An address delivered 9 May 1961, National Press Club, Washington, D.C.

Thompson, Robert J. 1996. Television's Second Golden Age. New York: Continuum.

7 thoughts on “Not so much mad as just really pissed off

  1. Rick Liebling

    Last night was the first episode, so I’m not going to pass judgement – it’s too early and the actors have grown in to their characters.

    But if this show is going to be about the give and take between the two leads, it will have failed. If this show is going to be about which of the two lead characters ends up wooing Monica Potter’s character, it will have failed.

    They’ve got to dive deeper, waaaay deeper. Become a procedural the way West Wing at its best was a political procedural. Spend an entire episode on how a creative brief is written. An entire episode inside a focus group session. Really dive in to a pitch. All that can be tied in to popular culture to make it accessible to viewers.

  2. Sarah

    On your comment: “if I were NetFlix I’d be nervous about the prevailing trend …”

    Why? My husband and I have a basic cable subscription to get local channels and use NetFlix quite extensively. Lately, most of our NetFlix viewing has been entire seasons of programs from premium cable channels (Mad Men and The Wire) or programs hat we missed the first time around (Heroes and 24). Each season consists of several DVDs, and in most cases, one season gets us hooked enough to watch the next; in all, we order (and watch) more DVDs over a longer period of time. There may be something I am missing, but as long as NetFlix can include television programs in its catalog, it seems like they’ll be competitive.

  3. JohnO

    I agree with Sarah, I’ve even been able to watch the current season of CSI, only a week delayed (assuming for technical reasons to get the digital version onto their system).

  4. ignotus

    For those of us who lack easy access to your article that you mentioned in your original mad men post, could you maybe do a post summarizing how you see the culture of mid-century advertising? You keep alluding to how mad men gets it wrong, but I’d like to hear how it should be.

  5. Mary Walker

    Hmmm…it’s interesting to me that you seem to find “Mad Men” distasteful but see “The Wire” as a show that “raise[s] the standard.”

    Out of all the ones you mentioned, I’ve been most disappointed in “Sarah Connor Chronicles,” alas.

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