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TV That Matters 4/19: Mad Men, Smash

By Matt Ern, Columnist

 

Mad Men - "Signal 30"

Grade: A

This episode heavily features two of my favorite characters: Lane and Pete, both going through crises.  Throw in the return of Ken Cosgrove with his short-story writer subplot and you have the recipe for a great episode.

Pete and Lane are both men looking for something more out of life and are unhappy with their current positions in society.  Lane questions his importance at the agency, but sees an opportunity to prove himself when he brings in Jaguar. Besides the business, he believes he has found a new friend in the company's president, a fellow Brit. He tries to land the client on his own, but Pete manages to snake it away from him, suggesting that he, Don and Roger take the client out to dinner in order to seal the deal. When the account falls through, Lane decides to settle things with Pete the old fashioned way, a fistfight at the partners meeting. 

Meanwhile, the suburbs are crushing Pete. It starts with a leaky faucet that he fails to fix (and then is shown up by Don who fixes it at a dinner party in front of Trudy). Pete's attempt to flirt with a young girl in his driver's ed class is undercut by a classmate of her's who is literally called "Handsome."  So when dinner with Lane's client leads to a trip to a whorehouse, Pete sleeps with another woman.   

Don tries to explain to Pete that he's throwing away a perfect life and suggests he learns from Don's own past mistakes. Their conversation in the cab ride home suggests that Don may actually be growing and learning, as he sees Pete going down the same path that destroyed his marriage with Betty. But by the episode's end, as Pete remarks to Don in the elevator, he has nothing. 

As the end voiceover of Ken's latest story suggests, Pete is not a happy man, despite the fact that he has a seemingly perfect life. He has everything he thought he wanted and yet he finds himself desperately clamoring for something more,  yet that something will never be attainable.

 

Smash - "The Movie Star"

Grade: C

Smash is nearing the end of its first season and as it limps across the finish line, I have to question what made NBC decide to pick it up for another one. At this point in the season, very little about the show feels fun or worthwhile.  The various (unlikeable) characters' personal lives have started to overshadow the storylines revolving around a mostly stalled musical and the show's own musical numbers seem to be lacking lately.  

The one breath of fresh air in this episode was Ivy and Karen's relationship developing into more of a friendly rivalry. Ivy is still trying to scheme her way back into the part of Marilyn, but they both have a common obstacle/enemy in the movie star brought in to replace them both as Marilyn.  

But the episode's titular movie star arrives with her own set of problems for the showrunners, she can't sing, her personal life is a mess and she wants to rewrite Tom and Julia's script to cut down on the "singing and dancing around" and include more scene delving into Marilyn's psyche. It's hard to imagine the conception of a character who takes a part in a musical and then complains about all the music, but that's what Smash is serving up to us.  

Most of Smash's musical numbers are now different arrangements and performances of the songs we've already heard, and as such they're starting to lose a bit of their appeal. Getting to see Tom sing last week was fun, but there's nothing like that going on anymore.

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Hofstra's Presidents throughout the years