Overcoming Triviality of Television Series / Quotes from Mad Men (Season One)

Despite my strong preference for television as a personal source of entertainment with regards to media consumption, I watch significantly less TV series than the average viewer. In fact, I can hardly get motivated to start following current series, mainly because of the unbearable tediousness they bring along together with all the witless and entirely shallow characters and storylines. People watch them to kill time and to keep themselves entertained. Both very legitimate reasons of course. It is why I cannot pass judgment on women for being obsessed with Glee, New Girls and GCB, or dudes for watching Lost, Fringe and CSI. Everybody gets entertainment as one pleases, but I have not been able to figure out how certain content can be perceived as entertaining in the long run if the characters playing in it do not share the slightest commonalities with people from the real world. This can work just fine within a movie, if well executed, but why would somebody check it out week after week, episode after episode? Personally, I find it very tiring being exposed to fictional material that was only produced with the aim of being hip and original, but instead ends up in an awkwardly distorted reflection of the actual reality that does not produce any uniqueness at all. Today’s content is being sold by adding unnecessary exaggeration to it. “Human” characters do not seem to be sexy anymore. This factor remained absolutely crucial for me though when it comes to the question whether I am about to watch multiple episodes or seasons of a specific TV series or not, whether I will immerse myself in it completely or not, and whether I will account it a good entertainment product or not.

There are two series I consider PERFECT and probably unbeatable in every sense, each from one genre. On the comedy side, King of Queens has more heart than any other sitcom I have ever seen and it works with a few, but very unique yet tangible characters that interact with each other in a perfectly elaborate social setting. Unfortunately, it is not being produced anymore. On the drama side, I see Mad Men as a masterpiece that stands out from the whole bunch of past and current television productions. It is the only TV drama I am aware of that succeeds in overcoming the general triviality of television series in such an impressive way. Not only does Matthew Weiner portray the mores of the sixties and the social and economic advancements of the United States in a ridiculously meticulous and authentic way, but he also created an incredible complexity to every single character. Tastes differ and I know that many of my friends will find it boring, especially those who rate South Park, Family Guy and American Dad among their favorite series. I recommend everybody else to start watching it, and do that from the very beginning in order to comprehend how the storyline and the characters unfold. I have been following the first four seasons very keenly on DVD. The fifth season is currently airing on AMC. In order to offer a glimpse into the excellently depicted moods of the sixties and the advertising business of that era, I am going to share some quotes that stroke me instantly. These are the extracts from the first season. The others will follow within the next few weeks.

S1/E01 (30:37): “Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams, with reassurance, that whatever you’re doing: it’s ok. ‘You are ok’.” (Don Draper)

S1/E01 (39:03): “You mean love? You mean a big lightning ball to the heart, when you can’t eat and you can’t work and you just run off and get married and make babies. The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me – to sell nylons. […] You were born alone and you die alone, and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts, but I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” (Don Draper)

S1/E02 (41:08): “What do women want? Any excuse to get closer.” (Don Draper)

S1/E04 (35:19): “New York is a marvelous machine, filled with a mash of levers and gears and springs, like a fine watch, wound tight, always ticking.” (Bertram Cooper)

S1/E04 (38:54): “I bet daily friendship with that bottle attracts more people to advertising than any salary you could dream of.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E05 (40:57): “People wanna be told what to do, so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.” (Don Draper)

S1/E06 (02:29): “Stop smoking so much. It’s a sign of weakness. You know how Hitler got Neville Chamberlain to give him everything in Munich? He held a conference at an old palace that forbids smoking. And after an hour and a half of not smoking, Neville Chamberlain would have given Hitler his mother as a dance partner.” (Bertram Cooper)

S1/E06 (19:05): “When a man gets to the point when his name’s on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E08 (27:40): “I’m not one of those boys who look forward to escape the wife and kids. I’m really a home buddy. But New York: When you arrive and that train starts slowing down and it gets all dark, my heart pounds and I think: I’m gonna climb that staircase and be in New York.” (Elliot Lawrence)

S1/E08 (39:36): “Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.” (Don Draper)

S1/E10 (09:18): “Well, honestly, the unpleasant truth is you don’t have anything. Your customers cannot be depended on anymore. Their lives have changed. They’re prosperous. Over the years they have developed new tastes. They’re like your daughter: educated, sophisticated. They know full-well what they deserve, and they’re willing to pay for it.” (Don Draper)

S1/E10 (15:35): “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing him.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E10 (15:39): “You know what my father used to say? Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get in with for the wrong reasons and eventually they hit you in the face.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E10 (16:33): “Remember, Don, when God closes a door, He opens a dress.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E11 (10:44): “Peggy, just think about it – deeply – then forget it. And an idea will jump up in your face.” (Don Draper)

S1/E12 (37:50): “The Japanese have a saying: a man is whatever room he is in. And right now, Donald Draper is in this room.” (Bertram Cooper)

S1/E13 (33:50): “Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old pro copywriter, Greek, named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is ‘new’, create an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. What he also talked about: a deeper bond with the product, nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek ‘nostalgia’ literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘the wheel’, it’s called ‘the carousel’, let us travel the way a child travels, round and around, and back home again. It’s your place, where you know when you’re loved.” (Don Draper)


4 thoughts on “Overcoming Triviality of Television Series / Quotes from Mad Men (Season One)

  1. I have never seen one episode ..yet.. of Mad Men. I did hear about it a while ago from someone else that it was a good show. There is a lot of rubbish on TV,Trash TV is one expression we have over here! It’s hard to know what to pick or continue to watch. It is a time filler but also some shows I really enjoy, and almost can’t miss. 🙂

    • Everybody has certain preferences when it comes to TV consumption and the expansion of the programming variety is basically a good thing, because everybody can find something that fits those preferences. However, watching TV series can turn into a habit very quickly. It is when people do not reflect on the actual content anymore. Today’s television producers are aware of that so they would focus their work on the form rather than the content. You will find the same trend in the music industry. I am not actually criticizing it, because: 1. I can still find content I personally consider great, 2. everybody is given the freedom of choice, and 3. it creates jobs in the entertainment industry.

    • Yes definitely important to start with Season 1, Episode 1. You’ll like it, it’s extremely involving. Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to check out Californication in detail yet, but people have been telling me that it’s quite fun. Once I have more time, I wanna catch up on The Sopranos though.

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