'Zou Bisou Bisou' and the Simple Charms of Mad Men
[There was a video here]
Above is the Mad Men Season 5 premiere moment that had everyone talking immediately (never change, Internet, except to update yourself every few seconds). It's the performance of "Zou Bisou Bisou" (originally performed by Gillian Hills in 1960) by Don Draper's wife, Megan (Jessica Paré) at her husband's 40th surprise party. It was such a highlight that a callow shut-in would have been able to identify it as such.
I know because I am that shut-in, at least when it comes to Mad Men. Before last night's show, all I knew about the series was that it was set in the '60s, focused on an ad agency and that Don Draper cried once. I hadn't watched any of the 52 episodes that led up to it, nor did I have the days' worth of time to properly contextualize myself. Sometimes keeping up with what people are talking about is an insurmountable assignment, so I came up with an easier one to counter it. I tuned in with the plan to extract from my experience a piece bemoaning contemporary serialized TV and its exclusivity. It's an obvious point, sure, but one we take for granted in our fixating.
I had a hell of a time, for example, with The Sopranos, having crashed in at the beginning its fourth season because my then-new boyfriend was a fanatic. I rode it out from there, and while the family stuff was easy to grasp, the mob-family stuff was not. I never could really wrap my head around who hated whom and why many people were killed. I felt like a child, confused by the enormity of death, incapable of fully comprehending it. I'll get around to watching it from the beginning one of these days.
Happily, I found that viewing Mad Men was the opposite of what I'd expected: It was immediately tangible. I admired its wit, the self-assured performances, the tight clothes on the TV-stocky Jay R. Ferguson. Individual scenes were riveting in self-containment (specifically a wacky ad pitch to Heinz for a commercial involving dancing beans and a visit to the office by Joan, still out on maternity leave, in which her child provided a character-shading Rorschach for her co-workers). The retro details are alternately hilarious (Don Draper wears his boxers so high, he runs the risk of getting cream on them when he shaves) and poignant — the past Mad Men depicts and the present we view it in are in regular dialogue (much like Downton Abbey). "Boy is he queer," said someone about a flamboyant guy making announcements at the party, and the laughs of approval from his educated peers contrasted sharply from what is socially acceptable in 2012.
It was also great to enter a show four seasons in because I sidestepped exposition, which is almost always tedious and clunky. By now, the show knows what it is, these people know who their characters are, and it expects that you do, too. As someone who doesn't really, a lot must have gone over my head, but I enjoyed mining the subtlety more than having story shoved down my throat.
I found that the show, like the very best vintage couch, becomes only more comfortable as you sink in. The viewing experience was nothing but relaxing, not the frantic question-provoker that I'd expected. Watching something I knew virtually nothing about (and thus couldn't be expected to have a profound take on) was a treat for someone who writes about TV.
So, Mad Men, it was nice to meet you. Zooby zooby to you, too.