Programming alert: Something you may not have dared to dream about for a long, long time is happening in a few weeks: The first half of the seventh—and final—season of Mad Men will premiere on Sunday, April 13, at 9 p.m on AMC.
According to AMC, the last season of the award-winning ’60s-era advertising drama will be split into two halves—in a manner similar to the network’s acclaimed series Breaking Bad, which ended its successful run with a record high 10.3 million viewers in September 2013. Each half of the seventh season of Mad Men will consist of seven episodes (the second half is slated to begin in spring of 2015).
The popularity and buzz surrounding Mad Men may have been eclipsed more recently by edgier progeny such as Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, and other beloved basic cable series—or even new entries from Netflix including Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. But Mad Men is still considered hugely influential, not only for how it raised the bar for television excellence, but for renewing interest in ’60s fashion, style and culture, and sparking the national conversation about gender and race bias.
Last week, I was entertaining a group of friends at my home, and one of them asked to see a snippet of a show we were discussing that happened to be recorded on my DVR. When I turned on the TV and accessed the menu of my recorded shows, one of them exclaimed conspiratorially, “Ooh, let’s see what she watches!” and I found myself becoming flustered as I raced to exit the screen containing my list.
In retrospect, I had nothing too serious to hide—no episodes of “The Bachelor,” “Big Brother” or “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” were lurking there alongside the more universally accepted “Parks and Recreation” and “Parenthood” entries. (And since “Access Hollywood” is essentially a continuation of the local news, that makes it serious journalism, right?) But still, I felt open to judgment.
Sure, there are lots of trends we can hide behind these days (“hate-watching” is the new “not-watching,” and “binge-watching” is…well, just new), but the type of program that has really stood the test of time is the notorious “Guilty Pleasure,” a catch-all description for a show that we know we shouldn’t watch because it’s either too uncool, racy, mainstream, violent, old-fashioned, poorly written/acted, derivative, or just plain bad. In other words, we just can’t seem to get enough of it.
It’s January, we’ve had snowstorm after snowstorm, and we’re experiencing the coldest temperatures in decades. Time to call on AAA.
I’m not talking about the car-rescue organization, although I’m sure they’ve had more than their share of vehicles to jumpstart and pull out of ditches in the last few weeks. No, I’m referring to the three “A’s” of entertainment that are sure to get me through the wintry gap between December’s mid-season finales and the spring sweeps: “Accents,” “Awards” and “Athletes.”
ACCENTS: It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a proper British accent. (Heck, I even bought an outrageously expensive Dyson vacuum cleaner because the guy on the commercial sounded so exotic and all-knowing.) And now, three of my favorite imports are back on PBS or returning soon. “Downton Abbey,” the highest profile of the trio, recently kicked off its fourth season after last February’s tragically emotional season three finale. If you’re one of the few who haven’t given in to its addictive costume-drama charms yet, there’s still time to record the new episodes while binge-watching the first three seasons on DVD.
If you’re like me, you reacted with great trepidation to the news that Carrie Underwood was going to star in a live televised production of “The Sound of Music,” a sentimental favorite for baby boomers and beyond.
But advance press announced that this special holiday offering would be based on the original Broadway stage production, which was a particular treat to this musical fanatic; I grew up listening to my parents’ Mary Martin-starring “Sound of Music” soundtrack record on their giant console record player in the living room. I staged elaborate re-creations of “So Long, Farewell” with my neighborhood friends, I can sing the complicated middle section of “Do-Re-Mi” with aplomb, and I know all the verses to “My Favorite Things.” I learned to yodel like a goatherd before I was five, and almost burst a blood vessel belting out “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” with extra Reverend-Mother vibrato. (I even know how to solve a problem like Maria.)
Let’s face it: There was no way I was missing it. They had me at “The hills are alive…”
Maybe I'm just getting old, but I tend to regard any new holiday songs, movies or TV shows with extreme suspicion.
It may be a knee-jerk reaction to the preponderance of unremarkable Christmas pop songs that start bellowing over radio or department store speakers as soon as that last fun-size Snickers bar makes its long descent into a trick or treat bag. It used to be a special thrill to hear the familiar chords of a Christmas carol in a public setting, because it meant that the holidays were imminent, but this year, my first radio encounter with "Jingle Bell Rock" happened while driving home from work on Halloween evening.
Regardless of timing, the sheer volume of seasonal music can be overwhelming too, and the release of a holiday album seems to be a rite of passage required of all artists. One of the latest entries in the parade of holiday CDs actually comes from the wildly popular A&E reality show "Duck Dynasty." The album, "Duck the Halls—A Robertson Family Christmas," features tunes entitled "Camouflage and Christmas Lights," and "Hairy Christmas," in addition to more traditional offerings such as "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger."
Well, it’s that time of the year again: no more lazy, carefree evenings basking outdoors in the dappled sunlight. It’s time to get serious, buckle down and adhere to a strict routine. I’m speaking, of course, about the advent of a brand-new fall TV season.
I write this during a delicious week for a television fan, trembling on the cusp between the Emmy Awards ceremony and the series finale of “Breaking Bad.” And more importantly, after I spent the summer desperately binge-watching both “Orange Is the New Black” and the entire 2008-10 run of “In Treatment,” the season premieres of all my favorite series are finally starting to roll out this week.
For me, keeping up with returning shows requires dedication and discipline, largely because I’m too loyal to abandon even a sinking ship. When I become a fan of a television program, I am invested to the bitter end, even when my guilty pleasures offer all of the guilt and none of the pleasure. I stuck with “The Office” well past its quality expiration date, watched every episode of “Smash,” and (this one is painful to admit) I’m the only one I know who’s still watching “Grey’s Anatomy” (even my sister-in-law, a former GA fan, snorted in disbelief when I inadvertently let that fact slip out over Thanksgiving dinner…and that was two years ago).
Even though we spent the eighties taking Loverboy’s advice and “Working for the Weekend,” now that the proverbial “weekend” has arrived, we are squandering our relaxation time by watching TV shows about… working.
The workplace has a storied history as a favorite setting in television programming. We observed comedy writers’ rooms through the decades (from Dick Van Dyke as head writer for the Alan Brady Show, to The Larry Sanders Show to 30 Rock), and we’ve never lost our fascination with newsrooms (from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Murphy Brown to current HBO drama The Newsroom). In fact, I’m sure that most Baby Boomers can name at least one TV show that features the work life of a bartender or a comedian, a hotel owner, a high school teacher, a psychologist… and the list goes on.
There are few better candidates for ready-made drama than the Big Three of protagonists: lawyers, doctors and emergency responders—so it’s no wonder that some of the most classic series have revolved around these rich characters and their storylines. L.A. Law paved the way for Law and Order; Medical Center and St. Elsewhere gave way to Scrubs and ER; and Hill Street Blues begat NYPD Blue and its latest descendent, Chicago Fire.
I was born lacking the "perky" gene, and as a result, I've never been a big fan of playing games. Sure, my parents are quick to point out my brief flirtation with the board game "Hey Pa, There's a Goat on the Roof!" when I was a toddler in the sixties—but then again, everyone was experimenting in the sixties.
Any athletic expertise I possessed peaked with ping-pong and foosball in high school (both of which required me to essentially stand in one place and bend at the wrist). But I always enjoyed card games such as Solitaire and Hearts—which culminated in a torrid love affair with bridge a couple of decades later.
Bridge was the perfect game for me: it didn't require sweating, rolling dice, acting out movie titles, high-fiving or clapping (in fact, those activities are pretty much impossible when you're clutching a hand of carefully sorted cards). Instead, if you are good at sitting motionless for hours on end, politely sipping on beverages while psyching out your opponents, and refilling snack bowls on an hourly basis, you're pretty much a perfect candidate for bridge. Unfortunately, in this new millennium, friends who know how to play bridge are about as common as teenagers who voluntarily compose handwritten thank-you notes, so my skills have gone dormant.
I used to think that surfing iTunes was the perfect gateway to my pop past (“Hey, look! Here’s that song that was playing on the Himalaya ride at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1977!”). But then I got a subscription to satellite radio for my car and iPad—and the “wave of nostalgia” became a tsunami.
Satellite radio is a perfect bridge between musical moods. Learn the songs from a Top Hits station, and you can semi-impress teens by mouthing the [almost] correct words at high school graduation parties; try an electronic “chill” station to soothe that shell-shocked “Where-did-the-weekend-go?” feeling while driving to work on Monday morning; and pick a decade-specific oldies station when you feel a need to return to simpler times.
Recently, my husband and I stumbled onto a seventies music channel during a long car trip and encountered a blast from the past: a rerun of the old syndicated juggernaut "American Top 40" with Casey Kasem (who hosted the show from 1970 to 1988). We were deep in a discussion about household finances, but the sudden sound of the iconic voice announcing, “And coming in at number 32 this week…” put the conversation on hold and kicked off a heated spousal competition, complete with high-fives and bragging rights for the contestant who correctly predicted the most songs in the top five.
I don’t care what anyone says—turning 50 is a massive gut-check, and those who say that it’s not a big deal are either a) in denial, b) lying, or c) in their 90s. (Also, to all of my fellow body-conscious Baby Boomers out there, I apologize for using the words “massive” and “gut” in sequence.)
There are a few outward changes that occur right away: a routine doctor’s appointment suddenly involves new, eyebrow-raising procedures; my mailbox overflows with aggressive recruitment propaganda from AARP; and the “Breakfast of Champions” has changed from a mocha frappuccino with an Egg McMuffin to a cup of black decaf and a calcium supplement.
But some changes that accompany aging are less tangible—more of a mindset, really. In fact, even though Baby Boomers are a much more diverse group than their common nickname indicates, almost universally, we crave the one precious resource that, maddeningly, is dwindling at a seemingly exponential rate: time.