One of the Great Things About Mad Men, Besides January Jones.

January Jones GQ cover

Have you noticed how, in shows that are about characters who are writers (as, for instance, 30 Rock is a show about a writer, Liz Lemon, who creates a weekly SNL-type show called TGS), the creative product of the character in the show, if we get to see that creative product at all, is never as good as we’re told it is? We’re asked to accept that Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is a talented comedy writer, yet the sketch-comedy show she puts on every week starring Tracey Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) looks pretty lame.

From this, one has to conclude that even though Tina Fey writes a hell of a sitcom, it’s harder to write the sketch-comedy show that the sitcom is supposed to be about.

TV shows and movies almost always fail at this “thing within a thing” thing. That’s no doubt because writing the overall show or movie at a high level of excellence requires such expenditure of creative energy, little energy is left to make sure the glimpses of the characters’ work live up to their billing. One exception was the movie this summer called Funny People, a comedy/drama about standup comedians. When it came time for the characters in the film to deliver some standup, they were funny.

Another exception is Mad Men. Judging from other shows about creative types, the hardest thing for the show to get right is the advertising that the characters in it create. But Mad Men succeeds. When the point is that Don Draper and his creative team are coming up short, the ads which we see them present actually are lame; and when we’re asked to believe that they have solved a problem with some ingenuity, the ads we see them present actually are good, and sometimes excellent. We’re not just asked to “take the show’s word for it” that these characters can create good advertising. Hats off to the show’s writers.

Here’s an interview from GQ with one of Mad Men’s stars, January Jones.

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One Comment on “One of the Great Things About Mad Men, Besides January Jones.”

  1. […] Exceptions to the rule are few, and involve stretching the definition of “show within a show” a bit. In the movie Funny People, a comedy from last summer about standup comics, Judd Apatow managed the feat of making the material his standup comic characters delivered on stage funny. In Mad Men, Matthew Weiner has managed to make the ads created by his Madison Avenue characters good when they’re supposed to be good. In general, though, the show-within-the-show thing defeats the best of writers. […]


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