Saturday, June 22, 2013

Such great hypes (or, The Thin Line Between Love and Hate)

In my magnum opus a few months ago about the "state of television, the state of me" I went on and on about how I'd like to stop drinking the haterade and be less overtly critical of the television shows I watch.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. How's that working out for me? Well, how much time do you have?

A few weeks after I wrote that, Mad Men's sixth season debuted to a hype and buzz so large and overwhelming it almost made me nauseous. Even if the premiere had been OMG AMAZING it would have been overkill. But the two hour season premiere was just pretty meh. B-grade, nothing special.

Some critics bought into that hype, hailing it as a fine mini-movie of sorts, an existential rumination on the nature of life and love and death. Others were less enthusiastic. This was a gloomy season premiere, and it would turn out to foreshadow just how depressing and blah this season (which ends Sunday night) has been.

As the weeks went by, I found my eyes hurting so badly from how hard they rolled at the anvillicious dialogue (a photographer to Don: "just be yourself"); or the truly wtf-eriffic drug trip episode "The Crash"; or the Grapes of Wrath-esque, overly defined and symlolic flashbacks to Don's brothel beginnings; or Don's rumination that "every time this company gets a car account it turns into a whorehouse." Like, okay, Matt Weiner, we all went to high school, we get it.

This season was the first of Mad Men that I'd ever watched in real time, as it aired, actually able to engage in the conversation surrounding the show. And boy is there conversation. Twitter Sunday nights is basically just one giant #MadMen party. Then come the recaps (how many do you want? how many do you really need?). Then the GIFs. Then the recap of the recaps (I kid you not). Then the recap of the comments on the recaps. Then the think-pieces.Then the think-pieces on the think-pieces ("What our theories about Megan Draper being Sharon Tate say about us"). It's Mad Men-ception. Then it all starts over again.


Oh my God, after three days I was about ready to just disengage from it all. Maybe I wouldn't have minded it so much if the season had actually been season one-level terrific (and season one is absolutely terrific, which I rediscovered when I rewatched a few weeks ago; the differences are stark from this season's mediocre outing). Or just not so very average. Maybe if I was a Mad Men superfan I actually would have loved it.

(I read something really insightful a few days ago that posited that some people love a show and its characters and its world so much that just the episodes are enough for them. Others watch to see good (or, occasionally, great) TV. So just inhabiting that world is not enough. I think everyone has that one show where we're not exactly oblivious to the criticism but we just don't see it. There's something in our head and our hearts that subconsciously blocks it out. If you've ever read Tom & Lorenzo's Mad Men content you'll know that their show is Mad Men. (Coincidentally, mine is Homeland.))

Alas, Mad Men is not my show. Or at least not this season. It's true that a lot of my disdain from the season has come from its mediocre narrative direction, misuse of characters, eyeroll-worthy dialogue, and overall staleness. It was the feeling that I had seen all this before but done so much better. Every year showrunner Matt Weiner says he just puts everything on the table, all his ideas, and holds nothing back. After watching this season all I can say is "Really? This is the best you got?" (And also some of my disdain comes straight from my disdain for this man, whose ego wouldn't even fit through all the doorways mentioned this season.)

But a lot of my disdain for the season was just intensified by its omnipresence. It was everywhere. I could not escape it. And the hype for the season was completely disproportional to how good it actually was.

Tatiana Maslany, the lead actress of the new BBC America series Orphan Black, has also been fed and re-fed into this hype machine. She plays several different characters on this show about clones and makes it look pretty easy actually. I binge-watched the whole thing in one weekend because I'd heard such great things about her performance and I was not disappointed. It's a breakthrough role and a wonderful performance.

So for two days I was like, cool, a new show that I can watch that has a kickass female character (well, actually several characters) at its center.

And then, like the beast it is, the hype came in. Coinciding with the beginning of Emmy season, suddenly Maslany was all over Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, you name it. Then people started tossing around words like "perfect" and "incredible" and "the best thing on television in years" and... wait for it... "best actress alive."

Which, I mean... I cannot with that. After a few days' distance from the series I began to become a bit more disenchanted with the debut season, which was great but by no means spectacular, or really even close.

Add in a few weeks' distance and some great hype and now I'm just plain annoyed at how overhyped this performance is. It is a great performance, but I've seen better. I've seen better in the last six months even (*ahem* Emmy Rossum, supremely underrated on Shameless).

It's incredibly frustrating for me to see these pieces online, to see these critics and journalists exaggerating the brilliance of any one show or actor. Because no show, no actor can ever be that good. Prop something up on a pedestal, hype it to the moon and back, and inevitably it will fall, inevitably someone will feel the need to take it down a few (or a few thousand) notches. It's our way. It's our vicious cycle. This is how backlashes are born.

It's a very thin line between love and hate. Between bringing attention to something or someone worthy and saturating the medium so entirely with their image that we scoff and turn away. And critics wonder why people hate Lena Dunham so much.

For a performance as career-making as Maslany's (make no mistake, this is a career-making performance, and the focus on getting her Emmy recognition is grossly misplaced, because that seems kind of inconsequential in the grand scheme of things; I'd posit that her not winning or getting nominated for an Emmy would actually raise her cult status more, and cult status in 2013 is nothing to scoff at), it troubles me to see what should be a wholly appreciated performance so overhyped and worked up that nothing could possibly live up to it. "Best actress alive"? Seriously?

Perhaps the most troubling is that these things are of course cyclical. If Maslany is not nominated for an Emmy next month rabid fanboys and fangirls with curse the day voters were born and then forget about it in a day and a half. When the Next Big Thing comes along (remember Jennifer Lawrence mania a few months ago?) we'll forget about Maslany, too. I can see the headlines now: "Greatest actor to ever breathe in the history of the world and why you're a moron if you don't think so." Meanwhile, Mad Men's season ends this week and we'll be treated to a few dozen meta think-pieces before we stow away our Don Draper shrugs for ten months (although Breaking Bad's final season debuts in August, and while I'm told the hype isn't as deafening for that series, never say never for a final season of a fanboy-crazed series).

Eventually we'll come down from these lofty heights, either by force or just through sheer indifference. What will the next shiny thing be? What new thing will we be capture our ADD attention spans for twelves weeks? What will be our next obsession, our next love/hate?

I would say I'm waiting with bated breath but I'll beat everyone else to it.

1 comment:

  1. well-written. I am a Mad Men fan. still. have enjoyed this season, and just as much as the show, the commentary (I don't read the comments though) - especially Tom&Lorenzo. but I was also a SATC fan...