Saturday, 24 March 2012

Mad Men Season Five Spoilers

Everyone knows that bloggers have access to information that the average person does not. And everyone know that bloggers are just like responsible, professional journalists in every way, including the fact that we cannot reveal our sources. It is for that reason that I cannot reveal to you how I came upon the scripts for every single episode of the long awaited fifth season of Mad Men. I can tell you that this will be by far the most interesting season so far, as the following spoilers will reveal.

1.  Peggy Olson, growing tired of Don Draper stealing her ideas and taking credit for them, devises an advertising campaign that will surely torpedo his career. She creates an advertising campaign for J. C. Penney that blatantly insults their customers as "old farts, hillbillies, and the hopelessly unhip." Don takes the bait, thinking that as the proposed campaign came from Peggy it must therefore be brilliant, and steals it. Naturally, Don Draper being Don Draper,  J. C. Penney loves the campaign and it proves to be successful, increasing their sales by 100%.

2. Jane Sterling learns of Roger's dalliance with Joan Harris and promptly divorces him. Neither is worse the wear for their experience. Roger simply finds another younger woman to marry him. Jane simply marries Bert Cooper.

3.  Pete Campbell grows increasingly unhappy with his position at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and looks towards greener pastures. He accepts a position from rival advertising firm McMann and Tate. It is not long afterwards that Pete is mysteriously transformed into a toad.

4. Unhappy with her life and her marriage to Henry Francis, Betty Draper Francis embarks on a journey of self discovery. This ultimately leads her to join the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

5. Megan Calvert deserts Don Draper at the altar when she decides to return to Montreal. As a result a broken hearted Don Draper gives up on women entirely, but not on having affairs. While mixing drinks in his apartment, he realises his blender is very beautiful...

6. The truth as to why Bobby Draper has been played by four different actors is finally revealed. The real Bobby was killed in an accident years ago and Betty has been hiring child actors to take his place lest Don find out the truth. The Beatles would later use Betty as a consultant when they needed to replace Paul McCartney for similar reasons. Here I must note that Don never noticed that Bobby (and Paul, for that matter) kept changing.

7.  Harry Crane, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's Head of Media, proposes the agency launch a television channel consisting of nothing but music promotional films (later dubbed music videos). The new channel, to be called Music Television or MTV, is vetoed by Don Draper, who worries that the channel might cease playing music videos one day in favour of insipid, poorly made reality shows.

8.  Roger Sterling, in the mistaken belief that he is still young and hip,  tries out for a new TV show called The Monkees. Needless to say, he is not cast in any of the parts.

9. Don Draper realises he has gone as far as he can at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. What is more he decides that he is tired of advertising and decides to pursue a new vocation--world conquest. He joins an organisation called THRUSH where he swiftly rises up the ranks to become the organisation's leader. In possession of several nuclear warheads, Don very nearly achieves his dream of becoming Emperor of the World when he is foiled by two U.N.C.L.E. agents named Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

If you haven't guessed by now, these really aren't spoilers for the fifth season of Mad Men. Even if I knew the spoilers for the fifth season I wouldn't reveal them (I hate it when people spoil a show for me). That having been said, with Mad Men returning tomorrow night, I thought I would have a bit of fun. And if you did happen to believe any of these "spoilers," then I only have to point out that a certain day is only a little over a week away--April Fool's!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

My Living Doll Finally Comes to DVD

Most people remember Julie Newmar as Catwoman from the Sixties series Batman, but before playing what became her signature role Miss Newmar had her own series. My Living Doll ran for one season on CBS from 27 September 1964 to 8 September 1965. Since that time a few episodes have surfaced on bootleg VHS tapes, DVDs, and more recently on YouTube, even though it has not been seen on television for decades. On 20 March 2012 the show finally saw its first DVD release. My Living Doll: The Official Collection Vol. 1 collects twelve episodes of the classic series (although one is included as a bonus) and includes several bonus features.

I have already discussed the history of My Living Doll elsewhere on this blog, but for those of you who have never heard of the show I will give a brief run down on the series. My Living Doll was produced by Jack Chertok Television Productions, the same company behind the hit show My Favourite Martian from the previous season (1963-1964). The series was created by Bill Kelsay and Al Martin (who had both worked on My Favourite Martian), based on an idea suggested by Leo Guild.  It centred on a prototype robot designated AF 709, built for the United States Air Force and  in the shape of a very attractive woman (Julie Newmar). When the robot's creator, Dr. Carl Miller (Henry Beckman) found himself being transferred to Pakistan, he left the AF 709 in the care of his friend, psychologist Dr. Bob McDonald (played by movie and television star Bob Cummings). Dr. McDonald passed AF 709 off as Dr. Miller's niece Rhoda and took it upon himself to teach her to be the "perfect" woman, all the while trying to keep her true nature as a robot secret from the rest of the world.

My Living Doll debuted on CBS on Sunday, 27 September 1964, at 9:00 PM Eastern/8:00 PM Central. Unfortunately this placed it opposite NBC's Bonanza, then the #1 show on American television. Its ratings were then understandably low. In December My Living Doll was moved to Wednesday nights at 8:00 Eastern/7:00 Central. Unfortunately, this placed the show opposite another high rated Western on NBC, The Virginian. The show's ratings were probably not helped a great deal when Bob Cummings decided to leave the show. It was decided not to replace Mr. Cummings on the series, so that his sidekick, Dr. Peter Robinson  (Jack Mullaney) became Rhoda's guardian. Bob Cummings last appeared on the show on 27 January 1965. With ratings for My Living Doll extremely low, it came as no surprise that when CBS issued its tentative 1965-1966 schedule in February it did not include My Living Doll.  CBS would revise the schedule several times before it took its final form in May, but at no point did My Living Doll appear on it. Quite simply, My Living Doll was cancelled. The series would be rerun during the summer and its last episode aired on 8 September 1965.

While My Living Doll had been cancelled, it was hardly forgotten. Indeed, the mention of My Living Doll to men and even women between the ages of 52 and 60 will often elicit fond memories of the show. What is more, according to The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, the phrase "does not compute" originated on My Living Doll (it was a bit of a catchphrase for Rhoda).  It would seem possible that the Nielsen ratings never truly reflected the popularity of  My Living Doll. Indeed, it seems that it is better remembered than many shows with longer runs. For those wondering how a 48 year old show that ran only one season can warrant a DVD release, that is how.

Many today would probably consider the premise of My Living Doll to be extremely sexist, but the show really does not come off as sexist at all (especially when one considers it was made in 1964). First, the whole idea of Dr. McDonald teaching Rhoda to be the "perfect woman" seems to have largely disappeared after the first episode, so that the show became much more about Dr. McDonald trying to get the incredibly intelligent but also incredibly naive and innocent Rhoda to adapt to human society. Second, while a show with Julie Newmar as an incredibly sexy robot would seem custom made for sexual innuendo, there is actually very little in the show. In fact, I dare say the concurrent Bewitched contained much more in the way of sexual innuendo (and sex in general)! Third, like the contemporaneous Bewitched and the subsequent I Dream of Jeannie, more often than not it is Rhoda who comes out on top. This gives My Living Doll a slight feminist subtext much the same as Bewitched (although as Rhoda is a robot perhaps "individualist" rather than "feminist" would be a better word in the case of My Living Doll--despite her appearance, Rhoda is essentially genderless).

As to the quality of the show itself, My Living Doll compares favourably to both My Favourite Martian and I Dream of Jeannie. In fact, the dynamic between the lead characters on My Living Doll foresees the dynamic between the lead characters on I Dream of Jeannie in the days before Roger knew Jeannie was, well, a genie. Bob is trying to get Rhoda to adjust to human society and at the same time must keep her true nature as a highly advanced robot secret. At the same time Peter does not realise Rhoda is a robot and has a crush on her, so that he is always trying to get her alone. While the debt Sidney Sheldon owed Bewitched in creating I Dream of Jeannie has often been acknowledged, one has to wonder that I Dream of Jeannie doesn't owe more to My Living Doll.

Like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie (and Three's Company, for that matter) , My Living Doll is essentially a comedy of errors. in which Rhoda's naivete about human society or her many incredible abilities (she can learn almost anything in a matter of seconds) or the very fact that she is a robot creates complications that Bob and the other characters must then seek to resolve. This makes for some very funny comedy. Indeed, much of the comedy in My Living Doll is very sophisticated, so that in the end the series was in some ways better than My Favourite Martian and I Dream of Jeannie (although not Bewitched, which was arguably one of the best comedies of the Sixties). In "The Uninvited Guest" Rhoda develops the equivalent of a computer virus after reading the works of Lewis Carroll ((it seems that Lewis Carroll's mathematically precise rhymes interefered with her programming) at the very same time a fellow scientist is visiting Dr. MacDonald to investigate materials missing from Dr. Miller's lab (in fact, the materials he used to build Rhoda...). In "Something Borrow, Something Blew (Julie Newmar's favourite episode)," Rhoda naively accepts a millionaire's marriage proposal, with complications upon complications mounting throughout the episode. In "The Love Machine" Bob uses Rhoda's computer brain to perform the equivalent of a computer dating service, finding the perfect match for Peter from the various female employees at the Air Force base. Unfortunately, Bob's coaching the shy and awkward Peter in the matters of the opposite sex tends to complicate things. In "The Witness" Peter hits Bob's car and is told by his insurance company that he must sue Bob to prove it was not his fault or lose his insurance. Unfortunately, Rhoda's flawless memory, her inability to lie, and her ignorance about the proper behaviour expected of humans in a courtroom tends to complicate matters. Over all the quality of writing on My Living Doll was very high. This should come as no surprise, as many of the writers on My Living Doll also wrote for Bewtiched, Gilligan's Island, and fellow Jack Chertok production My Favourite Martian.

Not only did My Living Doll  have good writing, it also benefited from a sterling cast. Although the producers thought Bob Cummings was miscast (it was CBS who insisted upon his casting--the producers wanted Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or a young DJ named Bob Crane, later of Hogan's Heroes), he actually does very well as Dr. Bob MacDonald. His easy going charm suits the character quite well and his comic timing is impeccable, as might be expected of an actor with a good deal of experience in film and television. Doris Dowling was also very good as Dr. MacDonald's sister Irene (this being 1964, Dr. MacDonald moved his sister in with him and Rhoda, it being unseemly for a bachelor to be living with a robot who looks like a young woman), who is clueless as to Rhoda's true nature. Jack Mullaney is great as Peter, the shy and awkward physicist who likes to think he is a great ladies man. Of the male leads Mr. Mullaney was actually the funnier of the two, so that Bob Cummings is more often than not playing his straight man. Of course, the star of the show beyond a doubt was Julie Newmar. Miss Newmar's performance as Rhoda could well be one of the greatest in the history of sitcoms. As a robot Rhoda has no emotions and is totally clueless as to most aspects of human society, yet Miss Newmar endowed her with a warmth and innocence all her own. She was very convincing as a robot with no real knowledge of human behaviour. There can be no doubt that much of this was due to her background as a dancer. Having trained in dance, Julie Newmar was likely more aware of her movements than most performers, to the point that she can move like something that is not quite human (she also put this skill to use as Catwoman on Batman, where her movements were very feline). What is more, in My Living Doll Miss Newmar has an incredible vocal and emotional range rarely seen in other actresses in sitcoms of the time. A running joke on the show is that someone would say something to Rhoda, whereby she would mimic it right back at them right down to the tone of voice. If one needs no further proof of Miss Newmar's talents, one need only look at the episode "Something Borrowed, Something Blew," in which she goes from a New England lockjaw to a Southern "hillbilly" accent in a matter of seconds! Given the writing and the cast on My Living Doll, it is sad that the show lasted only one season. With a new male lead, I rather suspect the show could have lasted several seasons as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie did.

As to the DVD presentation of My Living Doll: The Official Collection Vol. 1, it is one of the best I have ever seen for a TV series (especially one that only lasted one season). The DVD set features a lot of bonus features, including:  a documentary retrospective on the series featuring Julie Newmar, producer Howard Leeds, and guest star Jackie Jospeph; an interview with Julie Newmar from 1964 from Lucille Ball's radio talk show Let's Talk to Lucy; the notorious alternate opening to My Living Doll (in which Miss Newmar was only wearing a teddy); a soundtrack of the music from the series; an episode of The Bob Cummings Show; vintage commercials that actually aired on the series (one episode is even presented with the commercials intact); and a photo gallery. In fact, I can only think of two bonus features that they could have included. First, it would have been nice if on at least one of the episodes they had included an audio commentary from Miss Newmar. Second, it would have been nice if they had included a booklet detailing the history of the series, as many DVD sets of television series do. In the end, however, even without audio commentaries or a booklet discussing the history of the series, they did an impressive job with the bonus features, which are many more than series that lasted longer and in some cases series that are still on the air!

In the end I only have one real complaint with My Living Doll: The Official Collection Vol. 1. The cover is only glued loosely at the long ends of the case, so that it could quite easily get torn. For those of us who wish to keep their DVD case covers in pristine condition, this is a major concern. I do hope that when and if they reissue My Living Doll: The Official Collection Vol. 1 that they take greater care with the cover!

In the end I would say My Living Doll: The Official Collection Vol. 1 would be a great buy for anyone who loves vintage television, who loves the fantasy sitcoms of the Sixties, or who loves Julie Newmar. It is a very well done and very funny sitcom that was very original for its time and still holds up very well. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the series actually did survive, so I am looking forward to the release of ;My Living Doll: The Official Collection Vol. 2!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Web Based Alternatives to Twitter

As many of you on Twitter probably already know, Twitter recently forced its new interface (dubbed "New New Twitter" by us long time users) on its users. Sadly, this interface removed much of the functionality of older interfaces. The tweet box is much too small and is set on the left side bar rather than at the top. Worse yet, one's mentions, retweets, and follows are now all combined. Needless to say, if one gets very many retweets and mentions in a day, this can get very confusing very quickly.

This has forced many long time Twitter users to find other Twitter applications to use than Twitter itself. Now there are many Twitter applications out there for phones, as well as several for home computers. Unfortunately, if you are like me and prefer to use a web based application for a computer rather than a separate programme, one's choices narrow considerably. There have been three web based Twitter applications I have used. Each has their strengths and weaknesses and I rather suspect that almost everyone might find them better than Twitter's current interface.

HootSuite is what I am currently using instead of Twitter. Strictly speaking, HootSuite isn't simply a Twitter client. Instead it is a social media publishing dashboard that can publish to Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Wordpress as well as Twitter. I started using HootSuite to schedule tweets when I was away from my computer. Even then, when I was still using the Twitter interface, I liked HootSuite's interface. The nice thing about HootSuite is that you can create separate tabs (they call them "streams") for your Twitter feed, your mentions, tweets you have retweeted, your tweets that have been retweeted, direct messages, and so on. What is more, one can adjust the size of the various windows containing one's streams to whatever size one wants.

Given that I currently use HootSuite instead of New New Twitter, I obviously think it is superior to Twitter's new interface. The fact that one can view his or her retweets separate from one's mentions alone makes it better than the current Twitter interface in my mind. What is more, HootSuite's tweet box is bigger than that of the current Twitter interface and located conveniently at the top of the page. Now there are some downsides to HootSuite. If you're one of those who likes to see what is trending (it was never a big deal for me), then you have to click on the cross hairs by the search box. HootSuite also refreshes less frequently than other Twitter clients. Still, it is far superior to what Twitter has tried to pass off as an interface of late.

Another Twitter client I have used is Seesmic. Like Hoot Suite, Seesmic is actually a publisher for social media. In addition to Twitter, it can handle Facebook and LinkedIn. And like HootSuite, Seemsic is much better than New New Twitter. Seesmic is capable of displaying one's various streams in individual windows, so that one can have windows for his or her twitter stream, retweets, mentions, and so on. Like HootSuite, then, Seesmic has the advantage of displaying one's mentions and retweets separately from each other. One big advantage Seesmic has is a long tweet box at the very top of the page. Of the various clients out there, it is probably the easiest to compose tweets in. If you are one of those who likes to keep track of what's trending, trends are conveniently located on Seesmic's left sidebar.  As to Seesmic's updating, it is nearly the same as that of Twitter.

Now there are some downsides to Seesmic. The biggest is that one cannot adjust the size of the windows. This can make reading tweets a bit hard if your eyes are not particularly good. Another problem I have noticed is that, even though there is a "remember me" box to click on the log in, I have to log into Seesmic between sessions.

The third web based Twitter application I have used is Echofon. Now Echofon has one serious disadvantage as a web based app--namely it is only available for Firefox. Now this doesn't bother me, as Firefox is my browser of choice. That having been said, if one prefers Internet Explorer or Chrome for whatever reason, he or she simply isn't going to be able to use the web based version of Echofon.

Anyhow, Echofon is installed as an add on to Firefox and displays as a panel in one's browser. One can vary the size of the panel or close it entirely. Echofon is very easy to use an refreshes as swiftly as Twitter's interface does. What is more, it alerts you any time you get a direct message or a mention. The tweet box is also conveniently located at the bottom of the panel and is decently sized. That having been said, Echofon has two big disadvantages that prevent me from using it regularly. The first is that one can display Echofon as the default panel or even in a separate window, but I have yet to figure out how to simply display it in a tab of Firefox. This is a serious drawback for we Firefox users who prefer to have all of our pages displayed in separate tabs rather than separate windows. True, one can use the panel, but that takes up a bit of space in any given window. The second drawback with Echofon is that if there is a way to view one's retweets, I have yet to find it. This pretty much keeps me from using Echofon on my computer, as I do like seeing if one of my tweets have been retweeted. Of course, if one does not mind not seeing if any of his or her tweets have been retweeted and they don't mind part of their Firefox windows being occupied by the Echofon panel, then they might well enjoy Echofon.

Regardless, all three of these Twitter clients are far better than Twitter's current interface. HootSuite and Seesmic allow one to see his or her mentions separate from their retweets, while Echofon allows one to see his or her mentions separately. All three have tweet boxes that are bigger and more conveniently located. While I have not seen any numbers confirming this, it would not surprise me given the superiority of these apps to New New Twitter that all three have seen a huge jump in usage since New New Twitter was inflicted upon Twitter users. In fact, I rather suspect both people who use Twitter from their phones and those who use it from their computer have probably deserted the new Twitter interface en masse. I rather think it would behoove them to change it as soon as possible.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

We're All Mad Men Here

"But I don't want to go among mad people," said Alice.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the cat. "We're all mad here."
(Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)

There have always been those shows whose true popularity is not reflected by the ratings. Star Trek was one of example of this. Even while it was in its first run the show had already infiltrated American pop culture. Mad Men, which returns to AMC next Sunday for its fifth season, is another prime example. The ratings for Mad Men are much lower than even shows on the broadcast networks that received only average to middling ratings, yet it has an impact on American pop culture since its debut in 2007 that even the highest rated shows on the broadcast networks have not had.

Perhaps because it is a period piece set in a time generally known for its fashion, the first impact that Mad Men had on American pop culture was probably on fashion. It was in 2009 that men's suits began to take on a more retro look, resembling modern versions of the clothing on the show. In women's fashions dresses and skirts started to make a comeback. It was that same year that Banana Republic, of all stores, partnered with AMC to create window displays featuring clothing inspired by the show as part of a promotion for its third season. Also as part of a promotion for the show's third season, Brooks Brothers offered a "Mad Men edition suit" designed by the show's costume designer Janie Bryant. It resembled a similar suit sold by Brooks Brothers in the early Sixties. Even such accessories as tortoise shell glasses and skinny ties have made a comeback because of the show. The impact of Mad Men on fashion has continued to be felt to this day. In fact, it can even be seen on other series. The suits worn by Neal Caffrey on rival cable channel USA Network's White Collar have a classic look to them not that far removed from the suits worn by the male characters on Mad Men. In the end Mad Men could have enough impact on current fashions that decades from now people might look back at the Teens as a time when fashions resembled those of the Sixties.

While I agree with the mainstream media that Mad Men has had a huge impact on fashion, I must strenuously disagree that it is responsible for making curvy women, such as the show's Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), more fashionable. Okay, perhaps curvy women were out of favour with the fashion industry and Hollywood, but they have never been with men. I can guarantee that at no point in the past seventy years would any heterosexual male have chosen Kate Moss over Christina Hendricks. Indeed, there is a reason that you don't see pin ups of fashion models in locker rooms--they are far too skinny. Mad Men then did not bring curvy women back into fashion with heterosexual men, although it might have made the fashion industry and Hollywood re-evaluate what they have been thinking for the past thirty years.

 In both the 2010 and 2011 seasons Mad Men may have had an impact on Broadway. Those seasons saw revivals of Promises, Promises and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying  (one of the possible sources of inspiration for the show), as well as the musical Catch Me If You Can (based on the 2002 film of the same name, which was set in the Sixties). Indeed, while Promises, Promises was set in the late Sixties in its original run, the revival was set in 1962, a time closer to that of not only Mad Men, but its source material (the classic movie The Apartment, another possible source of inspiration for Mad Men).

Of course, the medium upon which Mad Men  would have the most obvious impact would be television. In 2009 TNT debuted a show that was set in an advertising agency in Chicago, albeit in modern times. Trust Me ran only one season before being cancelled due to low ratings. In 2010 HBO premiered Boardwalk Empire. Although set in Atlantic City in late Twenties and early Thirties, it seems quite likely that HBO could have given the show the green light because of the success of the period piece Mad Men. While Boardwalk Empire may have happened with or without Mad Men, there can be little doubt that two shows that debuted on broadcast networks this season were the result of the success of Mad Men. The Playboy Club debuted on NBC in September2011 and lasted only three episodes. Set in Chicago's Playboy Club in the Sixties, not only was the show poorly written, but it was also very historically inaccurate. Pan Am debuted on ABC in September 2011.  The series centred on a group of pilots and stewardesses working for the airline Pan Am in 1963. It is not known if it will be renewed for next season or not. The latest show that may have emerged because of the success of Mad Men is Magic City, a show set to debut on Starz on 6 April. The series is set around a hotel in Miami Beach in 1959.

The impact of Mad Men upon British television is less clear. The British broadcasting organisations have always been more amenable to period pieces than the American broadcast networks. That having been said, it would seem likely that the success of the BBC's show The Hour in the United States may have been due to Mad Men. Indeed, the show, set in the BBC itself in 1956, was even described as "a British Mad Men" even though the two series are very different. Similarly, while ITV's Downton Abbey is set in the years before, during, and after World War I, it seems likely that its success in the United States could also be due in part to Mad Men. Mad Men may have created an appetite in the American public for shows set in the past, thus paving the way for the success of Downton Abbey.

Compared to the broadcast networks' top series, NCIS on CBS, the ratings for Mad Men would seem negligible. While NCIS has maintained an average of 19.91 million viewers this season, Mad Men only managed 2.92 million viewers in its last and highest rated season. Despite this, it is clear that Mad Men is much more popular than its ratings actually reflect. After all, the show has already had a good deal of influence on pop culture, everything from fashion to Broadway plays. And if the hoopla surrounding its fifth season is any sign, that is not something that is going to change any time soon.